Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science

Preparation, preparation, preparation. That’s the key to good lesson. And that is why I sat down to a plate full of buffalo wings, tackled a pile of poultry parts, all in the name of science.

I had pile of probably 15 wings, it may not sound like much but they add up quickly. The first 10 went down easily, but then I started to feel like one of those guys from the Food Network. The ones who have to eat a 10 pound burger and a pound of fries in an hour to get a free t-shirt saying “I Beat the Mondo Burger” or something. For the last five wings I slowed down, but I pushed myself, dug deep. “It’s for science, for the students” was my mantra. Finally, the last wing finish, cleaned to the bone. I’ll admit it was a tough job, but I was willing to do it.

Now, some of you may ask: Is this science?

Heck Yeah!

The start of the second semester marks the beginning on my spring semester Honors Human Biology course. This year it is composed of 22 students, all with varying levels of excitement and engagement in the content, but none of them could expect what we would do in class Thursday, nor could they know earlier this week I put so much preparation into cooking, eating, and cleaning buffalo wings.

I have observed while teaching Human Biology student can easily make connections to the content because we are learning about their body and how it works. However, I’m no Doctor Frankenstein so its not so easy actually see human organs and tissues. We have to find alternatives to using human specimens to explore the concepts we are learning about. This is where the chicken wings come in.

As part of the unit on the skeletal system we spend time discussing different types of fractures, how they can occur, and what the healing process is for a bone. Though it would be truly a learning experience for students to participate in risky behavior like jumping from heights, slamming doors on their hands, or falling off of bikes or ATVs; I’m sure parents would not approve of, or enjoy having to pick their kids up at the hospital after getting casts. And I know Elwood saying to his mom: “But look, its a spiral fracture, see…!” or “I worked so hard Mom, I was the only one in class to get a compound fracture,” would certainly not let me off the hook for promoting such behavior.

So, instead we suited up. Protective eye gear on, nitrile gloves on,  assorted pliers, wrenches, bricks and  tin snips in hand.

Using this variety of tools the students manipulated how they twisted, bent, or crushed the bone, making a hypothesis about what type of fracture will result. They then sketch, analyze and compare the different types of fractures.

3 years ago I designed this lab using chicken bones to model how different fractures occur, what they look like, and how they differ from each other. It went over with great success. Who knew destruction could be such a great learning experience. My students continue to thoroughly enjoy it. So, each year since I have been tweaking and conducting this lab as a way to understand why different fractures occur, and what they look like.

Now, believe me, not all labs and activities can have such “full-filling” or tasty preparation, but the time put into such hands on, application based,  inquiry activities is well worth it, and the benefit surely outweighs the time commitment. I know there is some cliche out there that life is 80% preparation, 20% action or something like that; the same can be said about teaching. Putting the time into preparing a well designed, interactive and engaging learning experience is key to increasing the successful learning of students.


It’s Science Fair Season!

Yawn… Stretch… OH! Why, hello there!

I’m just waking up from a mid-evening nap as I try to recover from the past two and a half weeks.

Last night was the annual science fair at my school, marking the culmination of 2.5 months of planning, preparing, experimenting and analysis of student designed experiments.

The amazing thing about students is they have their own space time continuum.

For instance timing yeast fermenting for 15 minutes in student time, some how turns out to be 2o minutes in real time.

“Yes, Mr. Reid we’re watching the clock.” Sure you are.

The other astounding aspect of the student space time continuum is that 2.5 months of work actually fits into 2 weeks. Needless to say, this is why I am drained like the batteries sitting in that kitchen drawer, you know the one. The past two weeks have been a whirl wind of hours logged in the computer lab as I frantically try to move from student to student answering questions, explaining, clarifying and re-explaining information I’ve provided on atleast 3 handouts which I’m sure one if not two copies of are crumpled in every students backpack or locker.

Now, having tried to get students to start working, start experimenting, start analyzing, start anything since early December; it has been a difficult and slightly frustrating few weeks. When it comes to student procrastination there are two main ways to handle it:

1. You’re on your own, S.O.L., up “the” creek… that mentality. Students have had their time, missed due dates, and miss oppourtunities for help, so the can work it out on their own and whatever they get done, they get done.

2. Patience, repetition, and support… even at the eleventh hour sticking by your students helping them create the best product they can, even when you just want to pull your hair out.

Those of you who have read any of my other posts I am confident you can guess which approach I utilized, and it was worth it. Students were able to understand and hold onto the scientific method as a way of learning about the world when they were supported and guided through its use, rather than struggle with it on their own in a pit of frustration and approaching deadlines.

The best ways of teaching are certainly not the easiest, so the science fair must be one of the best. It is a priceless learning opportunity.  Working so many levels of thinking: creativity and logic, as experiments are designed, analytical as data is crunched and graphed, and artistic and visual spacial as the display boards are created. Not to mention the importance of practicing and using inquiry from start to finish to develop those skills.

Though its been a tough and stressful couple of weeks, just as the past two science fair seasons were, I am glad we did it. Beyond providing students with important scientific experience it gives them as chance to share what they know with the community, as well as welcomes the community into our classrooms to experience some science.

The best part is not I can look back and see a job well done, and just in time for February vacation. Off to Miami… I’ve got to rest up for next season after all.

We’re All People

I think one of the biggest misunderstandings that occurs between a student and a teacher is that one forgets the other is a person too. Students want instant gratification and feedback. Expecting all assignments to be graded over night, the weekend, or even sometimes the same day. While teacher’s on the other hand, myself included of course, oftentimes forget that our course is only 1 of any range from 4 to 8 classes that they are taking, and place demands on them sometimes forgetting that they have demands coming from other courses as well.

These academic demands don’t even come close to the demands of surviving in high school’s society. Balancing the choices you want for your life with how you will look, will you be cool, will you have friends. Add this to sports teams, musics, theater and art groups and the endless list of other extracurriculars. And finally, top that off with all the demands the come from home and family; because lets face it, less and less kids are growing up in the Cleaver household these days.

As I’ve mentioned before, building healthy, trusting and respectful relationships with my students is my prime goal throughout the year. Building these relationships allows me to connect with and in the end guide my students though the educational process.

My strongest recommendation to facilitate the formation of these relationships is to remember where students are coming from. Remember all the demands that are pushing and pulling them in every direction and give them the benefit of the doubt. Remember we can never truly know 100% what else is going on in their lives.

The two weeks leading up to the exam I had a section of my whiteboard dedicated to telling the days and times that each class would have its exam. Almost everyday as I would go over assignments I would remind students of the date of their exam. The last Friday before the exams I had a student ask “so what day is our exam?” In my head I am thinking “are you serious?” (There may have been an expletive in there, I don’t quite remember).

Now, it helps that I am a patient guy, like brake pads it takes long sustained wear, over a period of time for my patience to wear out and reach the end of my fuse.  Just to set the stage with this student there have been chronic missed assignments because he was unclear on what it was, when it was due, or consistently asks “so what are we doing?” after probably 10 minutes or more of going over directions multiple times for a task.

So, let me tell you there has been gradual and sustained wear on my patience, yet I  was still able to muster it. I waited a second, took  a deep breath and drew his attention to the board and reminded him that his exam would be on Wednesday of the following week. I even instructed him it might be a good idea to write it down.

Wednesday rolls around and he’s a no show. As I’m proctoring the exam I’m on the edge of fuming. Thinking about how he’s probably going to come in the next day, put on his confused “oh I didn’t know” act that he has used so many times in the past, not this time I decided.

I went to bed  still kind of mad about the situation. I woke up Thursday, and as I sat in my classroom waiting for students to come in for their exam, still thinking about this student, I realized getting mad at this guy isn’t going to help him get organized. Its definitely not going to put him in a good place in his head to take my exam. I know I wouldn’t put too much effort into an exam for teacher who I’m pissed at for getting mad at me.

So, sure enough he walked in Thursday, and had been confused about the day of the exam. I smiled, said “good morning, don’t worry about it” and gave him his exam to take. As he was leaving he thanked me for letting him take his exam.

“Thank you” simple words melted my frustration. It was a much better outcome than even the best results of me getting mad at this student. Even though maybe getting upset would have made me feel better when he first didn’t show, it certainly wouldn’t have helped him, and it wouldn’t have been the same as receiving his gratitude for cutting him some slack.

I found out last week that his mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer, it has metastasized throughout her entire body and into her brain.

We never know where our students are coming from, never have all the variables. Sometimes Biology, English, history, and math just can’t compete with what life throws at our students, and it would be a mistake to force them  to. Try to remember that so you don’t make one the biggest mistakes of your teaching career.

I know I will never regret smiling that morning.