Embracing digital teaching methods… and making uteruses out of Play-Doh

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?”

And finally

  • “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!

 

In honor of Halloween: Our Murder Mystery!

Gavin and I have  been observing in a middle school Living Environment classroom for the last few months, and last week we had the incredible opportunity to lead all the classes in a murder mystery science investigation! We started with a fascinating case study of the Tylenol Murders in Chicago from the 80’s. The overall lesson from the case was that cyanide prevents the mitochondrion in our cells from using oxygen to make ATP.  It was a terrific lesson plan aimed at teaching cellular respiration, and we decided we wanted to take it a step further!

 

 

So, we met after school and devised a plan. We would turn the case study into a murder mystery lab game in which the students would answer questions and solve clues to solve the murders as if they themselves were the forensic scientists on the case.

 

Naturally, the first step was to make it convincing. We had to spook up the classroom to make it obvious that something out of the norm was going on. We went in early and strung orange and black crepe paper from the ceiling in honor of Halloween. We asked the students from our cooperating teacher’s home room class to help us out with this before classes commenced, and they were more than happy to join in! This really had a powerful impact on student participation because the students in home room became excited for the classroom activity that they were decorating the room for, and as the students entered the room at the beginning of each period, they were excited and intrigued by what the change in decor might mean. (The students’ reactions to the room’s new look solidified in my mind how, when I have a classroom of my own, I’d love to do whatever I can to transform it from a boring school classroom into a comfortable, fun, appealing space.)

 

For the Murder Mystery Lab, Gavin and I devised a series of clues that the students would have to work through in order to receive further clues and instructions and ultimately solve the murders. Clues involved authentic-looking police and coroner’s reports, “blood” samples from the victims, a microscope slide of “cyanide”, information about different poisons, and the equation for cellular respiration: C6H12O6 + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O (glucose + oxygen → carbon dioxide + water).

 

 

Students had a blast working collaboratively and thinking critically to try to be the first forensic scientist to solve the case. Almost every group of students came to the correct solution, that cyanide poisoning was responsible for the mysterious deaths of the seven victims. After all the students had completed the lab, we debriefed as a class to review how cyanide killed the victims.

In cellular respiration, the mitochondria converts oxygen and glucose into water, carbon dioxide, and ATP (the cell’s energy source). The victim’s all died of hypoxia, meaning that they were oxygen deficient. Cyanide prevents the victims’ mitochondrion from being able to use the oxygen to make ATP, and tissues that require this form of energy, such as heart muscle cells and nerve cells, quickly expend all their energy and start to die. When enough of these critical cells die, the entire organism dies.

 

 

I’m particularly proud of this lesson. Aside from it being the first real lesson that we created and implemented, it included a lot of diverse ways for the students to participate, it was exceedingly engaging, and I do believe that it really cemented for the students the key lesson, which is that cellular respiration takes oxygen and results in ATP. The students have referenced this lab frequently since then, asking Gavin and me to do more activities like that with them. It feels good to know that the effort to make an engaging and differentiated lab was appreciated by the students as well!

I’ve attached the lab protocol that we created below. When it comes time for me to teach respiration to my own class of students, I already know what lesson plan I will use.

Lab Protocol

 

 

 

“It’s called Lyme Disease because it makes the venison taste citrus-y.”

Every healthy relationship is built on trust, right? So can I really be blamed for trusting my husband, the wildlife biologist, when he told me that Lyme Disease got its name from the citrus-y flavor it gave to the meat of infected deer??

 

 

… Ok yes, I guess that was one of my blonder moments….

 

Much like I was unfamiliar with the infamous brown marmorated stink bug before moving out here to the East Coast, so too was I blissfully unaware of the troubles of ticks before I moved out of Colorado. But that blissful bubble was popped when we moved to New York and continued to live our active, outdoor lifestyle here. Tick checks became a part of the routine after a weekend spent camping in the Catskills or an afternoon hiking in the Gunks.

Colorado: where the mountains are high and oxygen, foliage, and pesky disease-carrying bugs are scarce.

The Catskills: lush, alluring, and loaded with ticks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Previously, the idea of “checking for ticks” was just the inspiration for a cringe-worthy country song. (Sorry, Brad Paisley fans!)

 

Now, the threat of Lyme Disease and other tick-transmitted pathologies are always in the back of our minds when my husband and I are spending time in the great outdoors. And after four years in the North East, it finally happened- not to my dog who spends every morning tearing through the underbrush in Mendon Ponds Park or to my husband who spends every day out in the wilderness studying native and invasive species. Nope, it happened to me- I got Lyme Disease. You always hear about the tell-tale bulls-eye rash, but I have to say, I did not expect it to be so… obvious. Have a look:

After a weekend spent camping in the Adirondacks, I thought I just had a particularly nasty mosquito bite over my knee. A few days later, though, as I was absentmindedly scratching the itch, I looked down and this rash was staring my right in the (bulls) eye. I hadn’t even noticed a tick on me, which was surprising because A) that’s a pretty hard-to-miss location and B) I thought that a tick had to be attached for 36 hours before transmitting the disease. I decided to do some digging…

 

 

While the CDC does state that in most cases, a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease may be transmitted, other sources say that this time frame could give people a false sense of security. Only around 30% of patients infected with Lyme Disease even recall a tick bite. This was certainly the case for me, as I wouldn’t have even considered Lyme Disease when I experienced the characteristic fatigue and headaches of the disease. I was way more likely to blame the grad school life for those symptoms than Lyme Disease!

 

Once a tick get situated on its host, it bites into the skin, inserting a feeding tube and a cement-like substance to help it stay in place during its feast. Many ticks have an anesthetic in their saliva that allows them to chomp down without the host feeling it. Transmission of the Lyme Disease causing bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, isn’t instantaneous, which is why it is commonly thought that a tick must be attached for a while before the host can be infected.

 

Only about half of Lyme Disease patients ever present with the stereotypical bulls-eye rash, so I am grateful that my symptoms were so obvious. Left untreated, Lyme Disease can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system, creating serious long term effects. How can only half of the people who are infected have the rash? What causes the rash to have such a unique, characteristic shape? I had no idea that the answer was so in-depth and fascinating…

 

 

I’m including the link to this article because there’s no way that I can do it justice by trying to summarize it quickly here in this blog post. If you’re at all interested in microbiology, read this:

 

 

THE BULLS-EYE RASH OF LYME DISEASE: INVESTIGATING THE CUTANEOUS HOST-PATHOGEN DYNAMICS OF ERYTHEMA MIGRANS.

Written by the American Society for Microbiology’s Ashley Hagen Griffin

Published by Microbial Sciences on April 30, 2018

https://www.asm.org/index.php/general-science-blog/item/7250-going-skin-deep-investigating-the-cutaneous-host-pathogen-dynamics-of-erythema-migrans-the-bulls-eye-rash-of-lyme-disease

 

Basically, B. burgdorferi is a spirochete that, once transmitted to the host, replicates locally and spreads away from the bite site at a rate of about half an inch/ hour max. The bulls-eye rash is caused by two inflammatory responses: First, the foreign salivary proteins are targeted by the immune system, creating a red swelling around the bitten area. Then, as the spirochetes replicate and spread outward, the redness and rash expand with them, creating the bulls-eye rash. The appearance of the rash will vary in individuals on a case-by-case basis, depending on the host’s personal immune response. When macrophages are cleared from the infection site more slowly, the rash will appear to be more homogenous. When macrophages are cleared more quickly, the homogenous erythema takes on the more typical bulls-eye appearance. So… kudos to my immune system for wasting no time in clearing those macrophages, I guess!

 

These little guys were swimming about in my leg. Cute, right?

 

 

Below, I’ve included some scary visuals from the CDC. Lyme Disease is spreading like… spirochetes away from the point of infection. So I suppose we don’t all have to like Brad Paisley’s song “Ticks”, but we would do well to heed his suggestions and spend a little more time performing tick checks on our loved-ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science STARS

As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, all us U of R students are leading an after-school club called Science STARS. Like our summer camp in Sodus, we endeavored to discern what science-y concepts were relevant or interesting to our students, and then we will develop a month and a half long after-school program to investigate our ideas. The summer camp that we led was in Sodus and very, very rural, so the concepts that were relevant to those students vary significantly from our current Science STARS students who, for the most part, live in an urban area.

 

At a pizza panel held during the students’ lunch, we picked their brains and came up with several club-worthy investigations, including but not limited to:

  • Animals in captivity (and how the psychology behind captive animals can be related to the psychology of students who may feel “captive” in the classroom)
  • Waste management, recycling, sustainability
  • The cost and availability of eating healthy in an urban setting (exploring the concept of food deserts)

 

My fellow team leaders (Kristi- http://getrealscience.org/ksestak/ and Lisa- http://getrealscience.org/ldavey/) and I chose to focus our investigation on food deserts and the cost/ availability of eating healthy. Our team name? The IncrEDIBLES!

We put together a super short Powtoon to give our students ideas of how to investigate this issue, but we are excited to see what direction our investigation takes when they are off and running with it!

When did it become September?!?

The days have gone from sweltering and muggy to cooler and breezy, and the nights are almost crisp. The sun is no longer shining through my bathroom window as I get ready in the morning, not having risen above the treetops yet. Starbucks has brought out its pumpkin spice latte. Fall is in the air…

 

…and although I havn’t been a student for three years, it still feels like second nature to gear up for a new school year this time of year.

 

This summer was great- working with the kids at Sodus and my fellow Stink Squad leaders was a terrifically positive experience. Now, I am student teaching with Gavin (http://getrealscience.org/gjenkins/) in an eighth grade science class and preparing for our after school club, Science STARS.

 

In our 8th grade science class, Gavin and I introduced the students to metamorphosis with a monarch butterfly caterpillar that my husband had spotted when we were camping in the Adirondacks the previous weekend. 

I set up a terrarium for the caterpillar full of milkweed and grasses. (The same terrarium that was Stinky and Bugsy’s old home- RIP.) By the time I was able to bring the terrarium into class, though, the caterpillar had already formed its chrysalis, and I was bummed that my students wouldn’t get to see it transform from caterpillar to chrysalis.

 AND YET AGAIN…

Mother-in-law to the rescue! Nancy had been walking in a park that very morning, found a monarch caterpillar, and brought it into the classroom. The students were captivated and inquisitive about the monarch’s life cycle and the inner workings of a chrysalis. Gavin and I created a worksheet for the students to record their noticings and wonderings about our new class “pets”, and I was thrilled by the wonderful thoughts and ideas the students came up with. Coincidentally, bringing in the monarch caterpillar and chrysalis corresponded with the unit that the students are currently learning: what does it mean to be alive? When students would say things like, “You can tell something’s living because it moves,” Gavin and I could ask them if that means that the chrysalis isn’t alive. I was happy to have been able to connect what they were learning in school to a naturally occurring phenomenon that they could experience first hand as they saw the caterpillar turn into a chrysalis, making the content in the class seem more relevant and interesting to them.

 

Below is some student work from the worksheet that Gavin and I prepared. We also voted as a class on what to name our “pets”- I thought that if we can get the kids to name the chrysalises, they will be more invested and interested in them!

 

Gavin (ahem- Mr. Jenkins) and I shared with the students the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis, but we weren’t real sticklers for that detail.

Mr. Jenkins also shared with me this amazing time lapse video of a monarch caterpillar transforming, and we’d love to be able to share this with the class when our cooperating teacher has the time. It was very fascinating for me, and I’m sure the kids would get a kick out of it too! Check it out!

 

Now we are all waiting patiently for our chrysalises to hatch so that we can release our butterflies into the courtyard at the school! I’m so glad to have had this experience student teaching, because now I think that I would like to implement this into my own classroom. At the beginning of every fall semester, I’d love to always have a monarch caterpillar that my students can watch throughout its metamorphosis. Talk about a cool phenomenon to anchor class lessons!

 

 

 

 

Halfway through camp…

… How is that even possible?!

 

The past few months of planning have all culminated in our leading middle school students in Sodus, NY in a science summer camp, and so far, it has been an utter joy! If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have sworn up and down that I want to teach high schoolers, not middle schoolers, but I gotta say, I love these kids! They are inquisitive, enthusiastic, and fun to teach.

 

I’ve written in past posts about what the topic of our camp group is, so I won’t go in depth into that right now, but I did want to share a piece that the Stink Squad has put together to incorporate a literacy component into our camp plans. In an effort to make scientific concepts like invasive species and biodiversity more accessible to these kids, I decided to utilize some multimedial forms to present our dilemma. I’m thinking back up plan if we’re stuck inside from the rain tomorrow!

 

The actual article this cartoon is based off of was sent to me by my wonderful Aunt-in-law, a researcher at Cornell- thanks, Caroline! I’ve attached the article below. It’s certainly worth a read. Readers, what are your thoughts on introducing this parasitic wasp to areas of stink bug infestation?

 

Scientists sic samurai wasps on stink bugs

 

“I make babies. And not the fun way.”

A few people have been asking about my experience as an embryologist, so I thought I’d take to the blog to write about it!

 

Caught in action! Performing IVF at a micromanipulation scope

 

When I was a wee undergraduate student, I began wondering what sorts of things one could do with a Bachelor’s degree in biomedical science. I knew I loved science, and I’ve always had an underlying goal to make the world a better place, so how could I bring those two things together? As fate would have it, the year that I graduated from Colorado State University was the very first year that CSU was offering a new Master’s program in Biomedical Sciences with an emphasis on assisted reproductive technologies. I had a particular affinity for the reproductive sciences thanks in huge part to a very wonderful elective professor (thanks, Dr. Nett!) and an interest in the subject of bioethics (you too, Dr. Hickey!), so I was naturally drawn to this new Master’s program.

 

I entered this inaugural Master’s program with the intention to get involved in wildlife conservation. One of my graduate advisers, Dr. Barfield, was doing some extraordinary work with the American bison. I need to devote an entire post to her amazing contributions to the world of science and conservation. In a sentence, she utilizes in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in and effort to eradicate disease from bison populations and reestablish healthy herds in Colorado. Some of my fondest memories from my first master’s program were the early mornings spent out in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, herding bison.

 

https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caprock-canyons

As I progressed through the program, though, I found myself entranced by the technologies of in-vitro fertilization. I was fascinated by its relative novelty and drawn to its rapidly evolving practice. I wanted to be where the IVF action was. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of this exciting, relatively new scientific endeavor. So, upon graduation with  my M.S., I accepted a job in Manhattan, NY as an embryologist in one of the country’s most prestigious human IVF clinics. My time in NYC was a whirlwind of fun, friends, a long commute, and a very, very intense job.

  

Some fun photos from my life in NYC

 

 

As an embryologist, I was responsible for the care of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hopes and dreams every day. There was no room for error. Mistakes weren’t an option. In a way, it was the perfect job for me. I can be extremely careful, efficient, and meticulous, and those are three very important characteristics in every successful embryologist.

But what do embryologists actually do?

Following gametes through an IVF cycle:

Day 0:

1.) Gametes (sperm and eggs) are acquired. In male-female couples (I use this model as an example, but we did plenty of IVF with single parents or same-sex couples), that often means that the woman undergoes an oocyte (egg) retrieval procedure in which she is put under and a doctor aspirates (verb: sucks out) a woman’s eggs from her ovaries with a needle. The aspirate (now a noun: the fluid that was sucked from the woman’s ovaries) is then passed immediately to the embryologist who, through a microscope, searches for and isolates all of the oocytes.

The oocytes may look like this upon retrieval. The fuzzy, speckled fluff around each of the darker circles are the cumulus cells. The darker circles are the actual eggs.

 

It is an embryologists job to isolate the eggs and cut away, using hand-held needles, excess cumulus cells. Later eggs may be treated with an enzyme, hyaluronidase, to further strip the cumulus cells from the eggs.

 

2.) Sperm is processed. Often around the same time, the man in a male-female couple will produce sperm, which the embryologist has to “clean” by removing debris and then reduce to a concentration suitable for IVF.

Relatively “clean” sperm

3.) Eggs are treated based on IVF plan. There are two ways to fertilize an egg: ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) or conventional. With conventional fertilization, optimal sperm concentrations are calculated to reduce risk factors like polyspermy (when more than one sperm fertilizes an egg. This would be bad!) and the sperm is put into the dish with the eggs and hopefully nature will take its course. With ICSI, a single sperm cell is selected and physically injected into the egg. In both cases, only “mature” eggs, that is- eggs that have reached the Metaphase II (MII) stage, are fertilized.

(left) a “holding needle” holds the oocyte steady while (right) an “injection needle” pierces into the egg and deposits one sperm

 

Day 1:

1.) Fertilization is assessed. An embryologist looks at the zygotes (fertilized eggs) to assess whether or not fertilization was successful. Fertilization is assessed, in large part, based on the presence of two pronuclei. Below is a picture of a normally fertilized egg. The hazy, translucent ring around the whole thing is the zona pelucida, or ZP (it’s like the egg’s shell). The sharply defined circle inside the ZP encompasses the actual egg. Between the ZP and the egg on the left are the polar bodies (little tiny exclusions from the egg that bud off at the MII stage). Inside the egg, you can see two overlapping circles with little specks inside them. These overlapping circles are the pronuclei.

 

Day 2:

Nothing! We leave the embryos-to-be in their incubators and let them develop.

 

Day 3:

1.) Assess development. At this stage, all of the embryos that have arrested (stopped developing) are separated from the ongoing ones.

A poor Day 3 blastocyst. The dark coloration, granulation, and differently-sized cells indicate sub-optimal development.

 

A beautiful Day 3 embryo. We see 8 cells, which is exactly where you’d want an embryo at this stage to be. All the dark specks on the ZP are sperm cells, which tells us that this embryo was fertilized with conventional insemination, not ICSI.

2.) Laser-assisted hatching. Patients may decide to have their embryos biopsied to test for genetic abnormalities. The biopsies occur on Day 5 or Day 6, but in order for them to be possible, the embryos must be hatching out of their zona pellucida. That means that on Day 3, the embryologist will use a laser and zap a small hole into the ZP so as the embryo grows and expands, it can easily push out of the ZP.

Near the bottom of each embryo, you can see the lines going through the zonas. This is where the embryo was hatched with a laser.

 

Day 4:

Nothing! We leave the embryos undisturbed in their incubators to grow and develop.

 

Day 5 &6:

1.) Assess embryo quality. Embryo quality depends on the amount of cells in both the trophectoderm (what will become the placenta) and the inner cell mass (ICM) (what will develop into the fetus). Number of cells isn’t everything. Qualities like organization, shape, and constitution also portray whether or not an embryo is high quality.

A beautiful, fully hatched embryo. The embryo has completely hatched out of its zona pellucida. The darker mass near the right of the embryo is the ICM. A close look under a scope would show that there are many cells comprising the ICM, although they have clumped together and organized nicely, so it’s difficult to distinguish one cell from another. The rest of the cells are trophectoderm cells- they will become the placenta. There are a TON of troph cells here, another indicator of a high quality embryo.

 

This embryo is in the process of hatching out of its zona. The ICM is the mass of cells near the top of the embryo that’s still inside the zona.

 

This is a very low-quality embryo. No discernible ICM, and very few, necrotic trophectoderm cells. The chances that this embryo would develop further is slim to none.

2.) Biopsy. As mentioned earlier, embryos that will be tested for genetic abnormalities are biopsied on Day 5 or 6. A small sample of 5-10 cells is taken from the trophectoderm, and the cells are shipped off to a lab for analysis. Biopsies allow us to detect various genetic diseases, as well as know the gender of the embryo.

 

3.) My favorite- vitrification! Aka. freezing the embryos. A single IVF cycle is likely to produce more than one viable embryo. Good practice is generally to only implant one good embryo back into the woman’s uterus at a time, so excess embryos can be frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored for later use. There is also growing evidence that pregnancy rates increase with frozen cycles- that is to say, a woman is more likely to get pregnant if she has all her embryos frozen on Day 5 or 6 and then comes back in a month or two to have an embryo thawed and then implanted back into her uterus.

And there you have it! IVF!

… kind of. I left out A LOT and definitely over-generalized, so take this post with a grain of salt. But now all you inquiring minds out there have some idea of what I did in my capacity as an embryologist!

I have yet to successfully keep a succulent alive…

… but I am happy to report that Stinky and Bugsy are still alive and thriving!

And, contained in their terrarium, they are not wreaking havoc on the local environment as invasive species are wont to do.

 

As our group prepares for our summer camp, we have been developing strategies for taking the allure of stink bugs and creating engaging, educational, and fun activities for our group of middle schoolers.

 

Our teaching goals:

1.) We want to portray an understanding of invasive species and why they’re bad for the environment. We’re working on activities that will allow students to trap insects and compare different environmental factors (biodiversity in the area, plant damage, etc) with invasive species populations.

https://www.tes.com/lessons/Ilig9NDcKXSH1A/alien-invasion

 

2.) Edge effects are changes in the type and amount of life that is present where two or more differing ecosystems meet. We are hoping to allow our students the opportunity to investigate first hand this phenomenon.

https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/permaculture/permaculture-design-principles/10-edge-effect/

 

3.) Science is messy! Too often, science is portrayed to young learners as a precise, linear thing that is intimidating and difficult. I saved the best for last because if there is one thing I want our students to take away from camp, it’s that science is messy and attainable and FUN!

http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/science/activities/first-second-grade/

 

“Te extrañaré”…

… said one of my students from Cuba. Normally I objected to my students speaking their own languages instead of English, but on the last day of school, I figured I’d let it slide. Below are some photos of my class and classroom from the last day of school.

My classroom was such a work in progress!

 

 

I tried to make my visuals relevant to the students, or else I would have the students be the ones making them!

 

 

Our wonderful class

Last week of school

No question about it- summer is here! It’s a scorcher outside today and I’m keeping cool by teaching my dog, Mishawaka, how to swim in my in-law’s pool. It required a lot of coaxing and praising but ultimately what finally did the trick and gave her the courage to jump in was the stick. If you throw a stick,  she’s basically guaranteed to go get it. Bringing it back to you, though? Well, we’re still working on that.

Like any proud dog parent, I could go on all day talking about my dog. But I digress… Back to the purpose of this post- the last week of school!

 

Seven months ago, I stumbled into a teaching position…

… where I am responsible for teaching English to adult immigrants and refugees. Although I was wildly unprepared for the job at stake, I dove right in with everything I had. I remember my first day- I was introduced to my class by the sub who had been filling in for the previous teacher. It hit me then how much I had my work cut out for me. Some of the students had never used a pencil or eraser before and didn’t know what a map was, while others had high school or even college degrees in their own countries but just couldn’t speak a lick of English.

I have my students put an arrow where they’re from. This picture is from January- we’ve grown a bit since then. Now I have students from China, Congo, Pakistan, Brazil, Afghanistan, and Thailand, too.

After that first day, I stayed late and scoured my new classroom for materials I thought would be helpful. I was surprised by what I found- mostly worksheets and crossword puzzles and reading assignments with instructions in English. I didn’t have any education on how to be a good teacher, but it was apparent to me even then that I would need to take a much different approach in order to effectively reach my students and address the vast differences in the experience levels of my students.

Eventually I got the hang of it, but in those early days of lesson planning, I would spend HOURS putting together a slide show to try to incorporate something to reach all of my students. We played Pictionary and Charades, Hangman and Guess Who, Simon Says and I Spy. I made interactive slides where students could sort pictures into categories or rearrange words to make sentences. Nary a cryptic or confusing worksheet was seen in my classroom.

And I gotta say, for a wildly unqualified and under-prepared teacher, I think I did a pretty stinking good job!

No job has ever matched the feelings of fulfillment and pride I felt when my students started to show such incredible progress. The classroom atmosphere transformed from quiet, frustrating, and a bit awkward to jovial, warm, and fun. My upper-level students are almost at a conversational level, and my most basic students are writing the alphabet, sounding out words and reading! My students will ask to sing the alphabet song together. “La la la?” they’ll ask, mimicking my early enactments of what singing meant. They encourage each other and use mixes of English and their own languages to try to explain concepts to classmates when there is confusion. If they see me struggling in my attempt to explain a new idea or concept (which happens relatively frequently), they’ll get right up out of their seats and walk up to the Smart Board and draw or write it out differently and explain it their way to their fellow classmates.

Last month, a fellow teacher and I took our students to the lilac festival. Here I am with 6 of my students.

It’s amazing to me how it’s possible to feel so connected with people when there is such a profound language barrier. We may not be able to tell each other our life stories, but I know without a doubt the character of my students. They have faced incredible obstacles and have come through the other side stronger and more determined. One of my students worked for the US Embassy in Afghanistan and stayed up all night in fear of his family’s safety as he would receive threats for working with the U.S. Another one of my students left her husband and several of her children in Africa to be able to come to the U.S. with some of her children in search of a better life. A student broke down into tears in class one day when he told me that the previous night his home city had been bombed. Four of my students came to the U.S. to escape a mass genocide. These are some of the kindest, most determined, resilient, and wonderful people I’ve ever met.

So, the last week of school.

I have been insanely busy balancing teaching, being a student, and working another job on top of it all, and I am looking forward to the reprieve that having more free time will bring once I’m no longer an English teacher. However, it’s very bittersweet. I will miss spending hours every day with these amazing people. I will miss sharing in their excitement as they overcome new academic obstacles and finally grasp new concepts. I’ll miss our “la la la’s” and our jokes (like how “banana” is just about the most hilarious word in existence). This job is just about the best introduction into teaching I could have asked for, and I am so excited to continue spreading acceptance, happiness, and education as a science teacher, too!

 

 

More Lilac Festival Photos!