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 Ideal Bookshelf

The other day I was perusing the library, and I came across this gem: “My Ideal Bookshelf” edited by Thessaly la Force.

my ideal booksheld.jpeg

In a nutshell, they had a bunch of people across the board “select a small shelf of books that represent you–the books that have changed your life, the books that have made you who you are today, your favorite favorites…,” and then they showed the cover to the left. I just thought this was the coolest activity, and if I were an english teacher, this is the first essay that I would have them write.

I do wonder if there’s a science version of this though… my favorite invention? the discovery that changed my life? I’ll have to think a bit more on that.

Wowed and Proud I am

proud teacher

Today I had one of my student’s parents come in to talk to us about IVF. She works at an IVF clinic, and we were learning about mitosis/meiosis/genetics, so I thought this would be a perfect fit… and it was.

She just kicked it up to a whole ‘nother level: she started off with who she was and her education and what-not, but then she got into her work in IVF and what it is, and I was just blown away by some of the footage she was showing–embryos being fertilized, DNA being extracted from embryos, some success stories from IVF. Amazing.

But even more amazing was my class’s response to her: they took awhile to warm up to her, but once the questions started coming, it was like opening a water gate.

They were so interested in what she was talking about: they were asking her about the mitosis that happens at the very beginning of embryonic development, about the different stages in development, about potentially harming the egg when injecting sperm into it, about polyploidy, and on and on.

One students even said at one point “you must be heterozygous for Widow’s peak, because Anna (her daughter) doesn’t have one, but you do!”

Furthermore, she didn’t back down when they started asking the tougher questions: so how does abortion play into what you do? How do you feel about genetically altering a fetus? How do you select which fetus you implant into the parents? What if there was a viable fetus that had Down Syndrome? Would you inject it into the parents? To that, she turned it around to the students. What would they do? Some kids said yes, inject it, and some kids said no, but then one of my students said something along the lines of “It’s up to the parents. If they want a baby, and that’s a baby, then it should be up to them to decide, and either way, they’ll end up with someone they love.” And the whole class snapped for them (our way of saying that’s awesome). I was just… so proud I could have burst.

And not only did she handle those questions with grace, so did the rest of the class–granted, they did need a couple of reminders to listen to each other before butting in, but they were so respectful of her and of the subject matter, and of all the bioethics behind it. They learned something. You know?

Part of what was also so great was that she was validating so many of the things that were were learning in class: she tied in the stages of meiosis into showing us what a mature human egg looks like, she had some karyotypes up there, and she even got into some of the dicier issues of genetic editing and such. It was like my class was seeing why we were learning some of the things that we’re learning and how actual scientists need to know it. So now the question is–how can I begin to do more of this? Show them the real world application and bring it to the classroom?



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.

A Perfect Day

I wish I could take today and bottle it up, and then open the cap on bad days and get just a tiny glimpse of that bliss and happiness I felt all of today. Like sunshine in a bottle.

I just felt like I was getting compliments all day long, and they weren’t even coming from anywhere!

First there was an impromptu conference with a parent of a student that just opened my eyes in so many ways. This particular parent, whom I had assumed was a high-striver and didn’t care for the well-being of her daughter, was so compassionate. She was so worried that her daughter was doing too much and she was asking what she could do to help her, and it was just so heartening.

Later that day, I saw that same daughter in a class, and one of the girls was saying that today I really looked like a certain character from Big Hero 6 (see below).

And then I told them that I’d also been compared to the female from the show “Arrow,” to which one of them said “Just take any female superhero, and that’s Miss S.”

My cup overfloweth.

In another class, I tried a brand new activity with them, and they loved it, and they went with it, even though it was completely out of the blue, which was awesome. Don’t you ever just have those time when you think–this is so awesome that I have to try it. Now.

The female a capella group is finally beginning to get their songs together and ramp up the sass in it, which is so awesome, and then my day ended like this: it was a department meeting, and we were hearing news from all the departments, and then someone in the science department said that everything was boring in science. The head of school then looked at me and said “She’s not boring.” And after I laughed super loud, the person sitting next to me smiled and said “Well, you’re not.”

What did I do to deserve this life?



The Grade versus The Reasoning

I had a student come to me after school today and tell me that she wanted to discuss her essay with me because she thought that she deserved an A- and not the B+ that she got. And immediately I was turned off–who is she to say what grade she should get?

Her argument was that she’d made all of the corrections that we’d talked about together and that this was exactly the paper I wanted. She ended up pointing out her title and saying that she felt she should have gotten a 4/5 for it, and not a 3/5.

The first argument she made was… eh. We had talked about the paper before, but here’s the thing–I’m not going to grade your paper before I grade it. I can make general statements about it, but you’re supposed to be following the rubric throughout.

Once she made her second argument though, I realized she was fishing, and then I got mad. She just wanted that A mark on her paper and she didn’t really care which category it came from. It had nothing to do with the quality of her paper, and it had nothing to do with the learning itself–it was just “what do I need to do for this teacher to get an A?” Which is what in the end made me so sad.

What is motivating her (and most children that I’ve taught) to absolutely need to get the A on the paper?

How did we manage to create this whole group of students who don’t care about the learning itself, but about the grade that they get for it? Is this in the end better for them in any way?

I ended up telling her that I wasn’t going to be changing the grade on her paper, and she left in a bit of a huff.

If she had approached this problem though a growth mindset though, everything might have been different. If she had asked me to explain how she could have improved the order of her essay, or how she could have improved her title, I would have been more than happy to help her. Instead, she’s arguing about the grade and not the reasoning.

In hindsight (which is always 20/20 I hear), I’m sad about what I said about her title when she tried to argue that she should have gotten a 4/5 for it–I told her that it described the contents of the essay, but it didn’t grab the audience and make them want to read again. I should have re-phrased that. I’m also just sad for her. I wonder what is motivating her to need that A. What will an A get her? Maybe it’s because I’m on “the other side” now, and I’ve seen people burn out and neglect themselves just for a stupid grade.

This is my least favorite part of teaching. Students. Yes. Learning. Yes. Biology. Yes. Grading? No thanks. I’d rather just learn for the sake of learning.

The First Class

On Thursday night I went to see the students I taught pre-IB chemistry to as a student teacher receive their IB diplomas. It was… some kind of wonderful. Just reconnecting and hearing where they were at in the world and what their passions were… they were so grown up! All in college… and making a difference in the world…

The best part I think was reconnecting with an old student. I had only taught him for one unit, but we had a really good conversation about him and how he was doing. It turns out… he was lonely. And my heart just went out to him. Even though I didn’t teach him for very long, he was still one of my students, and I want him to succeed so much and it makes me so sad to hear that he doesn’t have everything that he wants.

And the weird thing was that some of them were so surprised that I remembered them, but you never forget the first ones. They taught me more than I ever could dream of teaching them, and for that, I’m forever thankful.