After a few years of putting my chemical engineering degree to good use, I couldn’t help but feel that the way I was spending my time was not benefiting or contributing to society. I kept going back to my college years when I had tutored chemistry and enjoyed supporting students in their learning journey. So, much to my dad’s initial disappointment, I quit my high-paying job to become (gasp!) a lowly high school teacher.
I learned quickly that being a teacher was great! Here I was, contributing to society with the molding and shaping of young minds. At this early stage in my teaching life, I would categorize myself as a pretty traditional teacher. My lesson plans consisted of direct instruction, cookbook labs, and paper-and-pencil tests, with some quizzes sprinkled in for good measure. But my expectations were deflated quickly, once it was test time in my classroom. I quickly realized that my students hadn’t learned as much as I thought they had. Or, was it that I wasn’t ‘teaching’ them enough? My methods didn’t seem to be working, as my only measure of student understanding (test scores) was not indicating that a large amount of learning was going on. I began looking into alternative methods to inform my pedagogy, which is how I found POGIL. This method was the start of a radical shift in my classroom and myself. I started to realize the importance of the learning cycle, student-centered activities, and opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, the people involved in the POGIL community were fantastic! This is where my real education took place. Through attendance at conferences I was able to network with other passionate educators—I was learning so much! Not only was I being introduced to new pedagogy, but I was able to talk with other educators, hear their stories of POGIL implementation, and develop confidence in my abilities to impact change in my own classroom. Like all changes, implementation of POGIL wasn’t smooth sailing at first. My students resisted working together and wanted to know why I wasn’t ‘teaching’ them. But, I had anticipated some of these issues due to my new POGIL friends who shared their experiences, and I was ready for the initial negativity. Over time, my facilitation skills improved, I shared with my students the reasoning behind my decision to teach this way, and they began to see the value in collaboration and concept invention. The successful use of POGIL in my classroom also gave me the courage and motivation to take other instructional risks. I became involved in an action research project and field tested a new physics curriculum as I explored new ways to improve the learning environment for my students.
Eventually though, about 11 years into my teaching career, I began to feel burned out. While I still loved the students and knowing that I was impacting their learning, there were many other factors to contend with that were sapping my energy: parents, classroom management, social/emotional issues, district initiatives...the list goes on. As a result, I contemplated leaving the profession. However, the POGIL community was an oasis of support and positivity for me. Attendance at POGIL events such as the summer workshops always rekindled my passion for education. I would leave feeling motivated about making change and I’d feel inspired by all of the wonderful educators I met. This was especially true when I facilitated a summer workshop in Colorado Springs. As a facilitator, I was always fielding questions and sharing my experiences. Despite feeling less than excited about the current state of my career, I couldn’t help but discuss my POGIL classroom experiences with enthusiasm. The community helped me realize that I still wanted to have an impact on education, albeit in a different capacity. Through the encouragement of this group, I felt like I was able to tackle the challenges I was encountering and impact change to benefit myself and my students. I also pursued opportunities to get more involved with The POGIL Project which increased my confidence and knowledge in educational pedagogy.
Eventually, I did leave the classroom to pursue other opportunities in the field of education. I went on to support pre-service teachers in their student teaching experience and now serve as a science consultant at a state department of education. What is lovely is that the POGIL community has always welcomed me, no matter my role. They have made me realize that every POGIL-er has a valuable contribution to make and is encouraged to do so (and even sometimes volun-told). Through my participation in The POGIL Project, I gained the confidence to impact change in my classroom and in the wider field of education. My career vision quest isn’t over; my husband jokes that I won’t be satisfied until I’ve changed the world. And he’s probably right. However, participation in a world-class organization like POGIL is getting me one step closer to that goal.
Shannon Wachowski, Wyoming Department of Education