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Orlando Marrero headshot

Affiliation: Alumnus
Program: MS, Teaching and Curriculum

It can be difficult for teachers to help students grasp a theoretical scientific concept like energy. But have them make windmills—and stage a competition to see which one generates the most energy over time—and they easily make a connection between the idea of energy and the use of energy to make electricity.

That’s what Orlando Marrero found. Getting his students to recognize such leaps of knowledge is the basis for his newfound passion for metacognition—the moment in which an old idea or misconception transforms into a new way of thinking.

“A lot of times we overcontextualize in the sense that kids tend to leave school thinking that everything they learned only applies to school, and if they run into it again somewhere else they can’t make sense of it,” says Marrero, who received his master’s in teaching and curriculum, with a focus on science education, at Warner. “I want to push a sense of relevance, to explain things in a way that tells them something about the world they live in.”

A seventh-grade science teacher at an all-boys charter school in Rochester, Marrero believes that he, too, must remain relevant. He is two-thirds of the way through a three-year summer internship program for physics teachers at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, also known as Fermilab, outside Chicago. The U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory, specializing in high-energy particle physics, allows Marrero to conduct research, get professional development, and receive grant money for classroom equipment.

As he works to stay on top of scientific trends, and to study what impact, if any, the latest discoveries have on our everyday lives, Marrero acknowledges that concrete answers are sometimes out of reach.

“The thing I want my students to understand is that we don’t always know what research is going to be important for down the road,” he says. “A lot of things being worked on are so abstract, like the pursuit of scientific knowledge for the sole purpose of amassing it, but it’s good to instill the idea that science is unfinished. It’s not just what you see in a textbook. It’s not just a package of information you need to digest.”

That’s where his emphasis on metacognition in the classroom comes in.

“I want the kids to be able to articulate when an idea changes from something to something else at a particular moment,” he adds, “so maybe they can identify those thought processes and use them again with any other new experience that might apply.”