The Teacher-Sage Remains... But Reinvented for NGSS

NGSS calls for increased self-directed learning and active student engagement in the science and engineering practices. So where does that leave the role of the teacher as a sage?

I always loved being a "sage upon the stage." And guess what? I still do.

Many of you might be aghast at an utterance like this, asking how could I support such a seemingly archaic and passive approach to teaching. But from my experience, being a sage is a positive quality. You see, it’s all a matter of definition.

At one time, someone with casual familiarity with the noun "sage" decided to denigrate its definition to that of a disengaged pontificator of facts! Its meaning according to most sources, however, is a wise and judicious person. With character traits like these, sages have the foundation on which master teachers arise.

Sages appreciate the meaning of the NGSS term "affective domain,” which is constructed in and around the emotional hook of engaging students. Students need to be motivated and enthused. They need to envision science as an ongoing part of their lives that extends beyond the classroom walls.

The power of the theatrical moment, whether delivered beneath a proscenium arch or in front of a primary teacher's desk, is indisputable. “Saging” upon the classroom stage can be every bit of an emotional journey as the recital of a Shakespearean soliloquy. It requires not only a deep understanding of the goals on which an internal script is composed but also unencumbered access to an arsenal of dramatic techniques and methodologies.

For me, effective theatrical delivery in the classroom is mostly wrapped around three qualities of performance: voice, props and movement. As I speak, I alter my tone, volume, cadence and may even bring in character voices. My props may be hand built or borrowed from the supply room.  And my movement within the classroom is choreographed to best shatter that fourth wall to make as much impact as possible.

NGSS calls for increased self-directed learning and active student engagement in the science and engineering practices, leaving the sage in an ideal place. Those characteristics of effective stage communication can be exploited in any situation, especially one that is based upon revolutionary changes in pedagogy and content.

Remember that the true sage does not profile his or her knowledge by reciting facts to be remembered and regurgitated. On the contrary, today's NGSS sage exploits theatrical devices to best engage, motivate, and facilitate both the construction of understanding and the appreciation of the three dimensions of science, underscoring the importance that teaching and learning involve a dynamic interaction between two partners.