Featured #MSUrbanSTEM Sustainability Fellow:  Gretchen Brinza

Sustainability Fellow:  Gretchen Brinza

Bio:  Gretchen Brinza is a 5th and 6th grade science teacher at Alcott College Prep.  She is also both an author and pilot teacher for the Next Generation Science Storylines Project.  This past fall, Gretchen was honored as the 2017 Illinois STEM Educator of the Year (K-5) for thoughtfully integrating STEM into her science classroom. Check out Gretchen’s blog to see what she’s specifically been up to with her students!


The Power of “I Don’t Know.”

“How are we going to figure this out?”

“How do you do this?”

“Why does this matter?”

The answer is always the same:  “I don’t know.”

Over the past three years, my teaching has truly evolved.  Since my participation in the second cohort, the power of those three short words–”I don’t know”– has made an incredible impact.  I’ve learned more than I thought I could, taken more risks with student learning than ever imagined and grown more as a teacher-learner than I thought was ever possible.  

I openly admit I don’t know the questions students generate from our anchoring phenomenon.  The walls crumble around me as they realize I am one of them, searching for the answers too.  My students feel as if we’re on an equal playing field and their buy-in accelerates forward.  They begin to see related phenomena and their curiosities explode!

The power of “I don’t know” extends beyond not knowing answers.  It launches into how we’re actually going to find answers to the questions asked.  Should we design an investigation?  Build a model?  Watch a video?  Research?  Use someone else’s data?  Go on a trip?  Interview someone? Invite them to our classroom?  They begin to walk the walk and talk the talk of real scientists, like the Next Generation Science Standards calls for.  They recognize and reflect upon  the various work scientists do, the grit needed when failure knocks on their doorsteps, and the feeling they get when the heavy lifting is done and they’ve figured out all of our “I don’t knows.”

The moments of uncertainty also turn into the moments every teacher patiently longs for–when a student returns to say they’ve connected what they learned to something they saw or experienced.  They now understand why we worked so hard to figure out why something mattered.  

And lastly, the “I don’t knows” build a community of learners in our classroom. While students are learning science content and practices with each other, I am learning to more thoughtfully reflect upon my practice.  I realize I have many moments where the unknown is challenging or the awareness of failure hits me hard.  But it is in these moments, I realize that we have all made so much growth.

“I don’t know” transforms into “I understand…”

And then they ask, “Who can I share my knowledge with?”

Happy teacher here.