Teacher and Student: A Cycle that Never Ends

Fall 2016

Julia Won

Schulich Leader at University of Toronto

STAO (Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario) / APSO (L’Association des professeurs de sciences de l’Ontario) is a non-profit organization that promotes science education. Despite the name, you do not have to be a teacher to be a member! Every year, STAO runs a conference that invites educators and exhibitors to provide learning opportunities and resources for its members. On November 12th I was very fortunate and grateful to attend this year’s conference, STAO2016. 
When I arrived at the event, I noticed that the majority of the attendees were elementary and intermediate school teachers who shared a common goal: to enhance their repertoire of creative teaching methods, particularly for the STEM disciplines. There were a variety of workshops and panels facilitated by fellow educators who shared their experiences on how they innovatively taught STEM subjects in their classrooms. I participated in the “We Made It” workshop that taught me the importance in encouraging young students, especially girls, to explore the field of engineering. It was surprising to learn that many students have an unclear definition of “engineering” and one of the best way to expose students to this discipline is to engage them in fun, problem solving group projects. The workshop’s featured project involved saving civilians from a zombie apocalypse! In this task, participants had to transfer seeds (the civilians) in one cup at the centre of the table into another cup that was located at the other side of the table. However, in order to stay uninfected, we were not allowed to use our hands to move the cup and had a limited amount of household items to complete the task. The facilitators highlighted the importance of adding an imaginative component in student assignments as well as emphasized the value of corporation that is necessary in engineering. For more details on the zombie apocalypse and other interesting activities, I strongly encourage you to visit www.wemadeit.ca! 
I was also a helper in another workshop titled “End Each Unit with a Bang!” that was facilitated by middle school science teacher, Oreet Portnoy. Through this presentation, Portnoy hopes that teachers can assign projects that not only teach curriculum, but encourage students to love science. She featured some projects that she assigned to her own students at the end of each unit. These projects allow students to integrate everything that they learned and also require students to incorporate their own interests. For example, one project was to use pizza boxes and simple electric circuits to make a quiz board game about any topic! Portnoy also organized science fairs in her school where the intermediate students could showcase their work and teach the younger students. After the workshop, I had the chance to have an insightful interview with Portnoy. She shared that science is a subject that “opens doors” and it is an important field that develops independent and critical thinkers. Through effective science teaching in schools, students learn how to inquiry about the world. By doing so, when the students of today grow to be the adults of the future, they are prepared to solve problems. She also mentioned that teachers are always learning. As teachers, it is important to continue asking questions and take the initiative to help students. This is why Portnoy loves running workshops, she wants to give back to the teaching community and mentor new educators. Portnoy mentioned that being a teacher and student is a “cycle that never ends.” 
I also had the opportunity to interview Mike Frankfort, intermediate science teacher and STAO member. This past academic year, Frankfort was selected as one of the coordinators of the executive in the role of curriculum coordinator. He shared that a goal of STAO is to be “one of the leading voices of science education in Ontario.” Although the majority of members are teachers, anyone can purchase a membership. A membership will give discounted rates to conference tickets, newsletters, workshop opportunities, teaching resources, and the chance to be part of STAO committees. STAO is an organization that brings together teachers, students, scientists, and fellow members of the community who have a passion for education. STAO has been building this provincial network of science, and greater STEM, education for over 125 years. Frankfort hopes that STAO will continue to be an organization that promotes good pedagogy for the many years to come. 
For more information on STAO/APSO, please visit www.stao.ca