Unofficial Twin Day

Teaching is all about building relationships. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. So, when you realize you own the same shirt as one of your students and it’s suggested to have a twin day… why not go for it. It certainly was a fun day in class.

And the teacher becomes the student…

Even though this was posed, one of us didn’t know where to be looking.

In case you were wondering; this did not help my case as a teacher looking so young. It’s probably a good thing I’m the only one in a tie most other days. But today, can you guess who’s who?

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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.

Importance of Open Dialogue: College

Friday the faculty and staff at my school had a special “School Pride Day.” Usually on Fridays we show our school spirit and pride by wearing our high school’s colors or apparel. This Friday was different, we were showing spirit and pride in the colleges or universities we have attended for undergraduate, graduate, and even a few doctoral degrees. So, without questions I was there in my favorite Saint Michael’s College hat and sweatshirt. The sweatshirt I purchased the day I visited campus and interviewed for acceptance, eight years ago this coming January (time flies).

The goal of this day was to help promote dialogue between students and teachers regarding higher education. To help increase awareness of more opportunities for continued education beyond the local colleges students are aware of. The target audience for these conversations was mostly juniors and seniors, those who are much closer to the process, but it was not limited to just those classes.

For me personally, and I’m sure many teachers out there,  one of the fears I had about opening up dialogue regarding college is that the conversation would instantly turn to topics like partying and drinking. Topics that juniors and seniors are curious about, but most likely have a skewed perspective on thanks to movies and the media. For me it came down to making sure the conversation happens in an appropriate manner, appropriate for school and between teacher and students, but also allows for a more accurate vision of what college means.

When my class of juniors and seniors arrived, toward the end of the day, the the first thing they said to me was that they hadn’t really talked with any other teachers about college. One student even said “I don’t think they got the point.” This motivated me to make sure I had a good, open, conversation with these 14 students, all but 1 being seniors. So, I opened the dialogue by asking for their questions about college. I chose a girl with her hand raised, who I knew would have an serious question to start us off:

“What was the hardest part of college?”

My brain instantly knew the answer, and as I formed my thoughts I knew this would be a perfect way to address what they were all dying to know, on my terms.

I responded that the hardest part of college was finding balance. Balancing academics, with the social aspects. In college it was a lot easier to find ways to distract yourself, procrastinate, or blow off work all together. It’s easy to do other things besides academics, with all of your friends living within a square half-mile or so, along with the fact that parents aren’t there to make sure you are doing your homework or studying, and that professors aren’t going to track you down at the end of class to let you know what late work you are missing.

As I elaborated on these ideas I was able to describe how I wasn’t a “nerd in the library every night” (their words), I made the best friends anyone could ask for and we made some great memories*, but I was also successful academically. We continued the conversation for close to 30 of the 42 minutes of the period. They continued to ask great questions about financial aid, where else I applied, how I chose Saint Mike’s. I didn’t end our discussion until I could tell it had transition into: now let’s just use up the rest of class.

After the class ended I felt good about our conversation. Students had questions answered, by someone still close to my own time in college, and it was a candid conversation. Most of all I feel like I was able to paint a portrait of college beyond that of Animal House and American Pie. I think by avoiding these conversations, just because they might be uncomfortable, it continues the problem. Instead, we should find ways to have these conversations in a manner that is honest and responsible.

 

*I dedicate this post to the gentlemen of 403 and Club Drome. Friends I’ll never forget.

Teaching: A Community Approach

95% of having a successful classroom where student learning consistently occurs, where students feel safe, respected and valued is based on community.

Well… I don’t actually have any quantitative data to support that figure. But, qualitatively speaking, based on my experience, I would stand by that statement 100%. Brain research clearly demonstrates that students who do not feel safe, be it physically or emotionally, are in ‘survival mode’ their brains have turned off all unnecessary elements in order to focus on those that will help them cope with the current unsafe situation around them.

For this reason I make it my goal to do my best to make sure that in my classroom all students feel welcome, safe, and protected from outside forces. Honestly, and unfortunately, there are times when this does not occur. A snide remark from a peer, teasing, picking, or making fun of what some says or does. It doesn’t matter how I handle or deal with the comment or situation, the damage is done. The individual being picked on or teased has been demeaned, most likely feels like dirt and just wants to crawl inside his or herself and hide.

This is the worst part of teaching. I know first hand the feelings these comments cause. The extended impacts, the self-doubt and disrespect for one’s self. And, every time one of these situations occur I try to A) facilitate the repair of the student who may have been impact as well as B) try to have the antagonist see the situation from the others perspective. How would the comment make them feel. But again, the damage is done.

So, how can we prevent these situation from occurring the first place? Community.

Building community is an important process in developing a successful learning environment. From starting day 1 discussing classroom norms, to promoting respectful and positive behavior throughout the school year. And, a few weeks ago I had the chance to do just that. A group of 3 students put together this fantastic yet a bit unorthodox plan, a plan that would play a huge role in developing our classes community. Little did we know.

Background:1. On Fridays one of my College Preparation Biology classes has study hall in my classroom. 2. Throughout the week three guys had been scheming. 3. The same plan got shut down on Thursday in a history class.

What was the plan you ask? One student brought in a panini machine, another a loaf of white bread and a stick of butter, and the third a pound of american cheese (orange). Grilled cheese.

When the students walked in with their equipment I was hesitant at first, but then I thought what’s the worst that could happen. They had just completed in a big project the day before. They deserved a day to be teenagers and just make some grill cheese sandwiches. They were shocked and amazed when I approved their idea (though I did make them setup across the room from and lab equipment and storage cupboards).

It was the best 40 minutes of my week, and I would guess some of theirs as well. So, as everyone circled around watching, chatting, and laughing, the scent of warm melting butter engulfed the classroom. As each sandwich finished it was split and handed out and eventually most students, those who dared, were enjoying a nice Biology lab snack. It was a few minutes of the day when no one was worrying about popularity or status, but just purely enjoying life and the unexpected turn of events.

I’m glad the fire alarm didn’t get set off, but even if it had, I wouldn’t have regretted it, and I would have taken full responsibility. The group of 2o students that were in my room that day are better for it, and so am I. One of my own strongest memories from high school is making venison and eggs in a frying pan, on a hot plate, in chemistry class, my junior year (Thanks, Mr. Kelsey). It’s no wonder I let some  cheese sandwiches be grilled, I come by it honestly.

So, my advice to teachers out there is to do those things that help build community. Some days you just need to stop and smell the butter… or whatever the case may be. Most things important to be learned and experienced aren’t going to come from the pages of a text book. Once the community is built the rest will come.

P.S. It was the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had… in a Biology lab.

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

In science, and all content areas, a common hurdle teachers are faced with is finding and correcting preconceptions. I find one of my biggest assets and resources for student engagement in science outside of the classroom is also the bane of my existence: The Discovery Channel.

Don’t get me wrong, there are very few shows on The Discovery Channel that I don’t love, ‘Myth Busters’ is a classic favorite and ‘Curiosity’ has been a recent interest, with many in between.  My problem is not with the content, I am sure I would be amazed by the amount of fact checking and rechecking that goes into the production of shows, on top of the steadfast use of the scientific method.

However, I personally know that if I listen to an hour of information and facts I’m going to remember the big picture, but the small details, not so much.

Students, on the other hand, seem to become instant experts (or at least think they are). They will watch a show on Discovery and something in class will trigger a memory of that show. Leading to the classic line, I’m sure hundreds of teachers have heard, “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….”

For instance, tons of students love ‘Shark Week’ (as do I). They watch what sounds like hours of the programming and come to class as experts on sharks.

I get lines like:

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and a shark can’t bite with a force of 3000 pounds per square inch”

or

“I saw a show on The Discovery Channel… and sharks have 15 rows of teeth that replace each other when one falls out.”

First of all, this is Great! To have students engaged in science outside of the classroom is excellent. Yet, students use the line ‘I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…’ as a way to make what they are saying instant fact. Yet, I often find the ideas they remember are correct, but the details are off.

For instance, according to The Discovery Channel the record bite strength measured experimentally to date is 42,000 pounds per square inch, a bit more than the student thought, but on the other hand some species of shark do have up to 15 rows of replaceable teeth. Batting .500, not too shabby.

The students’ information gets to the meat of the idea: sharks have powerful jaws; they do have rows of replaceable teeth. But it leaves out important details like: what type of shark, the difference between strength, force and pressure, and did the student remember the numbers, or the science vocabulary correctly.

(Check out these Top 20 Shark Fact videos from The Discovery Channel for more great shark info.)

Oftentimes, we end up fact checking and at times have discovered that students, in fact, had remembered the exact factoid, but we’ve more often found the alternative. The main idea is correct, but the details are off.

Again, I love that students are remembering some of these big picture concepts and making connections in the classroom (I’m a sucker for a good tangent), but when I get “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel….” I know that I’m going to have make sure we do some research as a class and make sure students learn and remember the accurate information. Because, for some reason students can remember a miniscule fact, right or wrong, uttered by a peer, for months after, but can forget something I told them a minute ago. Imagine that. Weird.

Discovery, I beg you, don’t stop what you’re doing. You get students excited about science at home! I’ll keep doing my best to make sure the next “I saw a show on The Discovery Channel…” gets handle and we learn from it, just like all the rest of them.

Earth Day: Students Take Action

Happy Earth Day!

Today marks the 41st Earth Day since its formation in 1970; not to mention the 25th anniversary of my own birth, and I can’t think of a better day to share my birthday with.

Some would say the foundation of Earth Day served as the launching point for the modern evironment movement. Its goals include increasing advocacy, awareness, and changes in human behavior related to climate change, conservation of biodiversity, energy use, and natural resource consumption.

The pilars that Earth Day stands for are all issues I feel strongly about and  emphasize strongly throughout my instruction. So,  maybe it was fate that I have become a Biology teacher. Being born on a day which focuses to increase responsible and sustainable use of Earth’s resources. Maybe its just a happy coincidence, but I like to think the latter. Either way, I’ll take it.

In honor of this important day I have decided to postpone the genetics vocab quiz scheduled for today, hopefully my students don’t mind, and will spending the day both discussing the goals of Earth Day, but also taking action.

We will be using this opportunity to practice what we’ve learn and some have ‘preached’ in their homemade conservation videos from earlier in the year. The main work we will do today is a collaborative effort with all my classes to collect all the bottles, cans, and assorted trash that has accumulated around our school grounds over the past few months, and until recently have been hidden under the snow.

A second project we are working on hopes to increase biodiversity of bird life by creating a variety of types of bird house and feeders to attract more species of birds. This will hopefully lead to a greater variety birds, but also other forms of life in our surrounding ecosystem.

I hope this break from genetics, inheritance and punnett squares will serve to remind students of prior topics, but also instill that they can make a difference in protecting and conserving our environment and no action is too small to help.

Afterall, in a few months I’m sure most of them won’t remember what homozygous means, but hopefully all of them will think twice before throwing trash out a car window.

Sorry Mendel some lessons might just be a bit more important than green wrinkled or yellow round peas….

Happy Earth Day! What will you do today to help make a difference?

“Is that a clip on?”

“Mr. Reid is that a clip on?”

This was one of the first things a student said to me as I started my class with him. Apparently, I had done such a nice job tying my tie this morning that I could pass it off as a manufactured clip on. I’ll take that as a compliment, and I’m sure my Dad would be proud since he was my instructor.

This then evolved into a couple guys saying they didn’t know how to tie a tie, or had never worn one before. It isn’t often that I’m pulled so fully into such tangents, but they had me hook, line and sinker.

So, 20 minutes later, after instructing on my tie tying technique, and practicing it; we ended with this culminating fashion show shot. A couple of students even kept their ties until the end of the day.

Let’s just say we were the classiest Biology class in school today.

It just goes to show that most times, the best things learned in a science class, or any class, are the unplanned ones.

And as they left, I smiled and asked myself… well, you know.