This series focuses on how Faculty bring their passions to their teaching and how their approach to teaching and learning helps students achieve their personal best. In early May, we checked in with Michelle Sibrizzi, Science Faculty, as she conducts a Grade 7 lab.
King is always talking about developing lifelong learners. What is the key to inspiring students?
I think the key is making the content I'm teaching relatable to students, engaging, and exciting. I know that if you hook them, they become invested in what they're learning. You need to keep it interesting; it's about the way you present the material and how you can make it relatable that keeps kids engaged and wanting to learn more.
What does King's approach to teaching and learning mean to you?
For me, personalization means ensuring that each student feels that you know them and care about them, as well as understanding that there are different learning styles. In the classroom, I practice this by utilizing a variety of teaching methods. Biology is a hands on environment where we conduct experiments and dissections - group work - but we'll also have individual discussions. There are pictures for visual learners, videos and inquiry-based building activities and experiments to transform what they're learning into action. The homework I assign is open for interpretation, where students complete assignments to show they understand what they've learned. They may do this with written notes, drawing a picture, building a model, or creating a slide show. Whatever works for them.
Personalization for me can be as simple as if a student has a bad day or I've noticed he/she is struggling academically or socially, then I can be someone who they can turn to for support. Or a student and I can sit down after a test and go over how the student studied and what can we do in the future to ensure success. Personalization goes beyond just how you teach; to me, it means reaching out to a student who doesn't think you notice.
How do your personal passions influence your teaching? And how do you help students articulate their perspectives and develop their 'voice'?
I am passionate about helping others, so it goes hand-in-hand with teaching. Some of the most emotionally vulnerable years are the Middle School years, so I know how important it is for students to have someone who will listen and support them and also challenge them. They're often encouraged to give their feedback on topics we discuss, especially the developments in genetics. We share in small groups and if students are comfortable, they can share with the entire class. I think being comfortable with your "voice" comes from first trusting that you are in a supportive environment - that is paramount. Aside from Biology, we talk a lot about respect and how King is a community centered around kindness and virtues so everyone feels comfortable being who they are and expressing themselves free of judgment.
What do you hope your students take away from your class each year?
I hope that each year they walk away feeling challenged and also inspired and incredibly knowledgeable about not only Biology but also about important study skills and interpersonal skills. I want my students to walk away feeling like they've had a learning experience that was so exciting and interesting that they continue to talk about it years after. I know that I've done my job when I hear students say they want to be a cardiologist or a veterinarian or even simply say that after taking my class they understand what the 'doctors' are talking about in a medical tv show.
How do you create a personal and meaningful learning experience for your students?
I create a meaningful experience by relating concepts and teaching such a variety of topics that each student is able to find at least one topic of interest that they explore on their own after class. If I make connections to their lives, it becomes meaningful to them and they become more engaged; it's a win for everyone. Biology is a subject that naturally lends itself to that, where students have the opportunity to perform activities from dissecting the organs we discuss, listening to their own heartbeat using stethoscopes, understanding the physiological reasons why heart rate increases, to understanding cancer at a cellular level and even how genes are inherited.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Ultimately, I think it is important that students see their teacher not only as someone who is there to help them learn, but also someone they can trust and talk to about something that is bothering them, even if it may not be about school. Some of the biggest compliments I've received are about just being there and listening and taking notice when a student is down and asking them to talk about it or just listening to them. As Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."