Popular prof earns prestigious fellowship

Teacher of teachers named for national 3M Fellowship

David Blades

Gratitude fills Dr. David Blades.

A professor of science education and curriculum theory at the University of Victoria, his thankfulness toward his family and students past and present – “all these people who stand behind” – stems from tireless work in his ongoing mission to change the way science is taught in schools.

Born and raised in Victoria and a UVic graduate (with his PhD from the University of Alberta), the Oak Bay father, grandfather and teacher earned UVic’s 2014 Harry Hickman Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching and Educational Leadership.

A Killam scholar, he’s earned awards for teaching at three different universities as well as a Ted Aoki Award for contributions to field of curriculum studies.

This month, in recognition of his exceptional teaching and education leadership, Blades was named a 2016 3M National Teaching Fellowship. There were 10 issued across Canada.

“Professor Blades has shown outstanding educational leadership, both at the University of Victoria and across Canada, providing teachers with the tools they need to nurture a more scientifically literate generation,” says UVic president Jamie Cassels, also a 3M Fellow. “It’s very prestigious for the university… we’re on a roll for UVic,” says Blades, UVic’s 11th 3M Fellow.

His mission – readily accepted and personally crafted – is to create a science-literate population with a seed rooted early in the next generation by the teachers Blades personally trains.

“Students don’t enjoy secondary school sciences and that’s because it’s not relevant to their lives,” Blades says.

There’s a time and place and the right speaker who can create an amazing lecture – a Jane Goodall talk he attended once comes to mind and on occasion Blades too will offer a lecture – but experiential learning is where he lays his bets.

“My love and passion is the next generation of science teachers. My whole course isn’t me talking about it, it’s about them doing it,” Blades says.

And he’s been at it long enough to start hearing feedback from teachers heading up his or her own classroom. He sees through the eyes of his own grandchildren; walking one such youngster to his Grade 3 classroom at South Park elementary he casually asked how much science they studied. Much to his delight: “We do science every day” was the reply.

The delight grew exponentially upon discovering that third-grade teacher was a former student.

It sounds like success to Blades, who shows future teachers how to do more than teach students science concepts by relating their lessons to the students’ roles as citizens.

Young people enter teaching as a profession in a bid to change the world and that’s what he wants them to do. Blades encourages them: if you want your students to be democratic, teach them how; if you want them to care for the environment, teach them how.

That creation of “good citizens” and questioning, dovetails with with his other work – curriculum development or “why we teach what we teach.” Blades works with governments across Canada to develop relevant curricula based on ethics in a bid to have his former students go on to offer “teaching that is relevant and useful for the 21st century.”

“Every single person in society needs to understand what science is, what it can and can’t do for us and how it can help us engage in topics that are relevant to our daily lives,” he says. “I want my grandchildren to enter into a world where we’re able to enact more responsible ways of living on the planet and with each other.”