While I think most first student teachers would balk at the idea of easing into their first time teaching by tackling the human reproductive system, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience so far. For the most part, I’m impressed with how (relatively) mature my eighth graders have been while we’ve been talking about the human repro systems, and it’s apparent how interested and curious the students are in this topic. For example, as an exit ticket today, I had the kids write on stickie notes one question they had regarding our discussion in class. Here are a few of the responses:
- “There is a T.V show called ‘I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant’ how is it possible for not knowing your prego?”
- “What happens when you get an abortion? What happens to the baby? How does the baby die?”
- “Can you get pregnant while your pregnant”
- “Does the cervix have anything to do with water breaking?”
- “If the female dies can the baby still be alive?”
- “Is there a wall in the vagina?”
- “Why does the egg have to move to so many different places?”
- “Why do women throw up in the first weeks of pregnancy?”
- “Why does it hurt to give birth?”
- “Can you have sex when you’re pregnant?”
- “Can you get your tubes UNtied?”
- “How wide would the vagina expand during birth?”
- “Can you pull your brain out your nose.”
… Maybe that last question was out of left field, but I prefer to think that it was that male student’s way of sympathizing with the uniquely female struggle of child birth? Maybe?
The questions above were just the tip of the ice berg. We had such a terrific discussion fostered by wonderful student ideas and inquiry, and I am proud to say that I was able to do the elusive “master teacher” move of listening to student thinking during small group work and asking select students to share out their thoughts or questions during our whole class discussion to guide the whole group together to where I wanted us to go. It felt like I was the conductor of an orchestra. An orchestra of squirrelly cats, maybe, but a proud moment for me nonetheless.
So how did we get to a place that was so conducive to such great student inquiry? Well, I finally got to use a digital tool that I’ve been dying to implement in the classroom, Padlet! Our anchoring phenomenon involves a set of twin sisters from England, one black and one white. After watching a short video clip on the girls, I directed the students to a Padlet that I had created for each of the four periods. Included in the Padlet were guiding questions that hopefully made the concept we were discussing more relatable to them, like “Do you look like anyone in your family?” and “Why do some kids look more like their mom while others look more like their dad?” I was so pleasantly surprised by the kids’ abilities to keep their comments on topic and respectful, and how engaged they were with commenting. I polled each period about how they liked using Padlet, and nearly everyone responded with a resounding “We love it!”.
The use of the Padlet discussion set the tone for discussion and questioning in a safe and respectful environment. Then, we had the students break into groups to research one aspect of the human reproductive system. I had created a online PDF the night before where the students could practice their literacy by reading through the material I compiled, deciding what was important, and synthesizing it into their own slide. After about 15 minutes of research, we had each group present what they had found to their classmates via a Google Slide Show that everyone was able to contribute to. More engaging and effective use of digital technology in the classroom!
And lastly, to wrap up the female reproductive system, we did perhaps the opposite of digital teaching and gave the kids a bunch of Play-Doh and instructed them to make their very own uteruses. The students made tiny little Play-Doh balls to represent oocytes, and they demonstrated how their oocytes traveled through the fallopian tubes into the uterus, and out the vagina. Our cooperating teacher, being more familiar with 8th grade humor than I, then had the students take some of the Play-Doh from the walls of their uteruses and hold it in their hands. We told them to rub it around in their fingers and to really inspect their chunks of Play-Doh. Once their interests were piqued, we informed them what that chunk of Play-Doh that they had been toying with represented… Yep. Menstruation. The 8th grade boys especially got a kick out of that. The classroom erupted into a frenzy of “That’s nasty”s and “Ewwwwww”s and all semblance of our mature discussion before was lost, but hey, I don’t think they’ll be forgetting it any time soon!