On Standardized Testing

standardized testing

This is s0 powerful. A public school teacher delivers a spoken word poem about standardized testing including this:

“Students who are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade are four times less likely to graduate from High School by age 19. At poverty, these students become thirteen times less likely to graduate on time. Multiply by one out of ten High School drop-outs spends time in prison, divide by racism, take the square root reality, subtract irrational numbers and unreal dreams, where will Monica be in five years?”

See the full poem here.



My favorite words


I have a joke with one of my classes–every time I feel them getting off track, I ask them what my favorite 5-letter word is, and they all say “FOCUS!” And then they get back to what they were doing.

I was talking about this to another class today, and they asked me what my favorite 7-letter word is. I said “biology.” Then they asked me what my favorite 4-letter word is. I said “love.”

And there you go. Biology, focus, and love. Teaching in a nutshell 🙂

Teaching Cancer is Exhausting

Today I came home and I was just dead on my feet. And I was thinking about why that was, and I just didn’t get it–my lessons were normal, there were no huge labs, I was in the office, I had some frees… what was different? The content.

Teaching cancer is exhausting. And it’s not that we have super amounts of activities–in my one class, they did a cool introduction to the hallmarks activity, and in the other they researched cancer treatments, but I think what’s exhausting about it is being so emotionally aware all the time–students ask me a lot of personal questions, and it’s so hard to be sensitive to where they’re coming from, and to be truthful, and to not insert my own opinions or stories into the matter.

We were talking about how you get cancer, or rather, how you get the mutations in your cells that can lead to cancer, and someone mentioned radiation, so we were talking about where radiation came from–the sun, X-rays, and some cancer therapies, and then someone said the killer, “But wait a second–if we’re using radiation to cure cancer, wouldn’t that just make more cancer?” And those are the times that I’m left speechless because yes, there is a potential to cause more cancer, but also no–sometimes radiation is the best treatment option. It’s just so hard with a topic that comes so close to home. For everyone.

Then while we were having that radiation conversation, someone mentioned that radiation on your skin could cause melanoma, and then I let it slip that someone close to me had recently died of it. And all of a sudden, I had this rush of emotions, and I was thinking about my friend, and I was on the verge of tears, and there I was in front of the whole class.

“I’m sorry. I love my train of thought.” And then in those couple of milliseconds I felt so… exposed. Because just then they weren’t talking, and they weren’t zoned out, and they weren’t doing whatever else they normally do–they were 100% watching me pull myself together.

It’s very…it feels soul bearing when that happens in front of the kids. Normally I’m Miss S and I laugh and joke about and have everything under control. But when that falls apart and they see something other than their happy teacher, it’s very jarring because it’s no longer part of “the act”–I’m no longer a teacher, but a person. And THAT they pay attention to.


That Class

I have this one class that I literally cannot wait to teach each and every day. The combination of kids is just… magical.

Individually, they are good, but as a whole, they’re awesome. The thing with them is that there is such a good mix: there are the couple of students who think differently–who care about why we’re learning and not just what we’re learning, there are the students who are super focused on the specifics and why things work the way that they do, there are the students who are genuinely interested in biology and what I’m teaching, and then there are just the funny students who ask the bold questions that no one else dares to, and who make it fun.

And together, they drive me each and every day to be a better teacher, because each student pulls at a different part of the lesson: so all in one, I’m teaching, the people who are interested, the big picture, the details, the application to the real world, and the fun of it. It’s such a thrill/

And the thing is that I gave them all a survey on who they would and would not like to work with on a project, and not one of them put anyone in the category of people to not work with.

And the question now is–how can I create more classes like that? Is it sheerly the combination of people or is it the way I structured the class from the beginning?

I guess it’s just about enjoying it while it lasts.

Friday Presentations

One of my colleagues started doing this and loved it, and I decided to try it, and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve implemented in my teaching. The idea is simple: each Friday throughout the year, I have one student in each class make a 5-minutes presentation on any topic in science that they think is fascinating using this Friday Presentation Rubric.

And kids LOVE IT. They look forward to this every week, and to be honest, I do to. It’s neat to see what the kids are really interested in especially because at the end, I have them say what field of science this is, and why it interests them.

Yesterday alone, my 4 classes learned about:

  1. The 9th super planet
  2. The Environmental Effects of Compulsive Tail-Chasing in Dogs (AKA Canine OCD)
  3. The Biology of Schizophrenia
  4. How The Drive for Success in Schools is Making Students Sick (she had the whole class take this quiz, which was fascinating–she didn’t ask them to reveal their results, but it caused a lot of self reflection)

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