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?

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.

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.