Fostering critical thinking and collaboration in the classroom
Randall Dunkin’s method of teaching science began to shift in the summer of 2007 during his experience with the U.S. Department of Energy's Academy Creating Teacher Scientists (ACTS) program through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).
The ACTS program placed science teachers in laboratories to work alongside scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, developing Dunkin's research and writing skills. Ten years later and teaching at North Adams High School in Ohio, Dunkin’s students still benefit directly from his experience.
His ACTS research posters hang in the classroom where he uses them to model three-axis graphs and to teach elements of photosynthesis and stellar nucleosynthesis. “Students must know that they are learning science from someone who can do science,” Dunkin says. “It has been said that those who cannot do, teach. The truth is that those who can do teach.”
Teaching is a passion for Dunkin, who constantly challenges students to think critically. Currently, he and his students are involved in an American Electric Power-funded outreach project on sound pollution. The idea originated in the classroom when students noticed sound-based instructional disruptions, including classroom humming and rumbling noises. These disruptions led them on a quest to solve the problem in the classroom and to educate their community about the dangers of sound pollution.
Dunkin organizes his classroom to emulate the way science is pursued in professional research institutions, including respectful collaboration with students who have diverse skill sets. “Finding collaborative success in a friendly but focused classroom provides support for students who do not believe they can succeed in science,” says Dunkin.
In past years, Dunkin has nominated two of his students to take part in the Joint Student and Technology Institute (JSTI) summer program. Sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency through ORISE, JSTI is a two-week, fully-funded, residential STEM research program for current high school students in the United States and Department of Defense schools around the world. Both students were amazed at the opportunities in science shown to them at JSTI and were energized to pursue science-based careers upon their return, he recalls.
Dunkin believes society must celebrate what it values. “If no meaningful recognition is given for student effort in STEM subjects, we risk not having that effort sustained by students or pursued by other students,” he says.
This principle shapes his efforts when designing activities, such as his students’ sound pollution project. “How gratifying it will be for my students if their research leads to improving classroom soundscapes or preventing hearing loss throughout our community,” said Dunkin.