One of history's most diverse thinkers metaphorically depicted humanity's dangerous reliance on nonrenewable energy resources as an unborn chick in an egg. American philosopher, poet, scientist and mathematician Buckminster Fuller described the nutrients in an egg as the temporary and extinguishable support required for the development of an unhatched chick. Once the nutrients are depleted, the chick must break from its shell and cultivate its own mechanism for survival. Symbolically, he explained that the human population must view the use of earth's finite resources as the nutriment in an egg that can be provisionally relied upon in order to provide the necessary time and energy required for mankind to establish alternative energy sources for a sustainable future.
I use Fuller's metaphor to describe my own teaching philosophy: the role of the educator as that of a facilitator or provider of the egg. Using this mindset and a variety of learning modalities in my classroom, I am hopeful that at the end of the educational process, my students emerge from their shells with the necessary skills to be renewable sources of learning unto themselves.
Teaching, like the structure of any metaphor, has a topic and a vehicle. The topic is the intended knowledge that the instructor wishes to disseminate. The vehicle is the mechanism of cultivating the intended topic. Both should be continually addressed in lesson planning through self-reflection and assessment.
The topics: In concert with my institution's mission statement, it is imperative to foster learning in the content area without skewing the development of lifelong skills that will help students thrive in the professional community. Professors should facilitate interdisciplinary and general learning, not merely disseminate content-specific information. For example, deaf and hard-of-hearing students in our Laboratory Science Technology program not only require the crucial knowledge in the field of chemical testing but also critical thinking proficiencies, general science literacy, ethical decision making, global community awareness and workplace survival skills.
The vehicles: Effective teachers are versed in the scholarship of their field and also have the ability to teach the subject at a suitable level for the identified group of learners. Flexibility in one's presentation and an understanding of various learning modes are paramount to stimulating students who often enter the science classroom and teaching laboratory not truly understanding the subject, how it relates to their lives or how it will benefit them beyond merely fulfilling degree requirements or prerequisites. It is imperative for instructors to break down these barriers to give students an appreciation for the course material, an intimate relationship to the course and direction. By incorporating real-world issues, historical perspectives and interdisciplinary topics, educators can better express the importance of the course, facilitate student learning and make the subject captivating. The use of a variety of pedagogical tools—like supportive technology, inquiry-based and active learning and involvement in scholarly research—can further promote student success by assisting in the transformation of abstract ideas into applicable concepts.
Given proper nutriment, a chick hatches from the eggshell to become a reproductive chicken and a student develops into a knowledgeable lifelong learner. Keeping with this metaphor, I suggest a change in perspective on the age-old question: "Which came first: the teacher or the student?" I believe that teaching is reciprocal; thus, a teacher is a student. In the context of the shared mission of student success by the teacher and the student, instructors should be willing to learn, not only by keeping current in their field, but also by learning from their students. Ex ovo omnia (all from the egg).
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