My Top Picks for Science Fair 2012

            A standard part of the 10th grade Biology curriculum at my school is designing, conducting and presenting scientific research at the science fair. This serves as an excellent opportunity for students to work through the process of the scientific method thinking creatively and independently as they design their experiment.
          Since, for most students, this is their first inquiry based science fair project, versus building a model… like a volcano (classic), they are constantly supported throughout the process. Multiple instances of formative assessment as they first design their experimental question and hypothesis, continue on to the development and completion of the experimental procedure, and finally during the analysis and discussion of the result. They receive feedback and suggestions at each step, as well a guidance and deadlines to try to defeat the terrible foe: procrastination.
           As we start this process as a class I have put together some of my favorite experimental questions as posed by my 10th grade students. These are favorites because of the creativity, the topics, or it is based on something that significantly piqued my interested as well. The wording is their own after having adjusted it based on the original set of feedback I provided.
My science fair top picks for 2012:
  • Are green detergents actually less harmful to the environment?
  • Do weather conditions impact deer movement?
  • Does playing video games stimulate your brain in way to do math problem quicker?
  • Does the price of bottled water influence people’s decision on which water tastes better?
  • Does snacking prior to reading increase reading rate?
  • Which denomination of US Dollar bill has more bacteria on it?

With all students having created questions, the next step is determining, how will they test them? What will they learn? I’ll keep you posted.

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A Time for ‘Cell’ebration!

Animal cell. Check out the actual phosopholipid bilayer of the plasma membrane.

This time of year opens up a can of worms for political correctness, emotional turmoil and distraction. Anyone who follows the media understands the sensitive nature of celebrating or recognizing religious holidays at public schools. Students experience a variety of emotions, many excited for the vacation ahead and the holidays, others in dread of spending a week at home in perhaps a not so good home situation. No matter the emotions, the week leading up to vacation is a wild one.

My method for working with all of these issues: celebrate for alternative reasons. It’s been a busy few months, I know my brain is ready for a break, so I am sure my students’ brains are as well. Thus, a perfect time to recognize the  hard work over the past months and take some time to breathe prior to midterm exams. To create this break we had our own personal ‘Cell’ebration.

Plant cell. Excellent 3D representation.

Given we are in the middle of our cell unit, students created edible cell models. Choosing to construct either a plant or an animal cell and represent those structures which define that type of cell. To accompany their model students either labeled or provided a key to identify how they represented all of the different organelles that would be found in their cell.

The final aspect of the assignment was that each student briefly presented, 1-2 minutes, how they made their cell, and what they used to represent each organelle. This provided an opportunity to practice cellular vocabulary and identifying the parts of the cell. By the end other students were helping each other with pronunciation of terms like golgi apparatus and rough endoplasmic reticulum.

Then we dug in. Enjoying the sweet reward of the past nights’ baking and decorating. A bit of happy downtime that all students got to experience. A Biology Cellebration.

It was a great day to be a teacher. I had the opportunity to watch as my student interacted in a low key, relaxed atmosphere. Many of the groups that have been defined throughout the year merged and enjoyed the time together. Though only a portion of the day was dedicated to science, the whole day was dedicated to our class community, something I feel is just as important.

I am glad I was able to create at least a few minutes out of the day when all students had something to smile about, and when you’ve got a piece of cell cake in one hand and cell cookie cake in the other that’s surely something to smile about.

Plant Cell. Yeah, that's two whole cakes.

A Future Worth Fighting For

My goal for my blog has always been to put out positive thoughts, ideas and experiences I have had as an educator. I focus on the positive and move beyond the negativity. However, there are somethings I can’t move beyond. My mind has been rolling over my thoughts, letting them fester for the past 5 days and it seems the only way to move on is to voice my outrage and support my colleague, my friend.

One of my best friends  has been working towards earning his teaching license tirelessly for the past 2.5 to 3 years. He has run into hurdle after hurdle. From having a program he was enrolled in cut, to finding out the program he enrolled in as an alternative would not actually lead to him receiving his preliminary license. Through these hurdles, among many smaller I’m sure he did not share with me, he has remained positive, dedicated, enthusiastic, and passionate in his desire to help make the education and lives of his students better.

He had figured out a plan, had flexed and went out on every limb, so that he could be working with students, taking classes, working a second job, and student teaching this spring. All in the hopes of that his hard work would soon pay off receiving his teaching endorsement in time to apply for jobs for next school year.

Last Friday he was given the option to resign from his position as a para-educator or be fired. His principal told him that he was not ‘contractually obligated’ to provide a reason. These were his choices.

Via online messages and status updates I knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what at the time. I was already going to Boston to visit him and other friends and found out from a third-party about the situation later Friday night.

When I saw my friend Saturday I could tell he was crushed. It was more than just losing a job. It shattered his dream, a house of cards he had worked so hard to build, all tumbling down. Just sitting with him, having him talk through what happened, I could physically feel the horrible feeling weighing down inside him building within my own stomach.

The only idea he had about any cause for the cut was that his supervising special educator had complained previously about lack of communication, but he was under the impression they had talked and come to common ground. *Note the two people working under this supervisor last year were also let go at the end of last school year. (Maybe a leadership issue…)

I have known this guy for 7 years. The entire portion of my life when I’ve had a well-developed frontal lobe, the part of the brain involved in judgement and good decision-making. Trust me, my life has only been better from the second I made the judgement to stick around this guy. Since his decision to become an educator having conversations with him about the students we work with, our passion, and our goals has becoming a common conversation every time we are together. Providing another thread that has strengthened our friendship. I would vouch for my friend in a second and know that all of his actions in the classroom are based on improving student learning.

I do not know all of the details. I do not work in his school. Still the idea that such a smart, passionate and hard-working individual could be put through what he has experience outrages me. In a field that is filled with aging professionals, on the verge of retirement when 401Ks rebound, many of whom are willing to change with the times, but some that are not so willing, how can we treat young professionals like this.

We need to foster a professional field that helps an individual succeed. A baseball team wouldn’t cut one of the best players in their farm league without due process and a good reason. So, why in education would we cut someone who is on the verge of moving from being a para to a licensed teacher, especially without a reasons. How can that person learn from a mistake, if there was one, if he doesn’t know what it is. To me it seems like bullshit (apologies) school politics that he was at the wrong end of. Maybe there is not legitimate reason, maybe his hard work makes someone  higher on the food chain look bad and they don’t like it. So, administration hides behind the contract, to soothe the squeaky wheel and making my friend the collateral.

I can’t help. I can’t change a thing. I wish I could, he deserves better. All I can say is buddy, get back on your horse and clear this hurdle and your time will come, it’s not our way of life to give up without a fight.