“If it don’t add to my life, then it don’t belong in it”

Well, that’s a wrap! Seven months on a roller coaster of emotion, learning, and growth… for me and my students! We said goodbye yesterday and my 7th graders found out I would not return for their 8th grade year. I was truly surprised by the amount of upset and outraged students there were, three girls even cried!

Several students wrote me thank you/goodbye notes too, albeit a few were in the form of graffiti on walls, desks, you name it. But here are some of my favorites written on actual cards.

We had our bad times but…

“Thank you for help me with my work because if Ms. ***** was her[e] I would’ve failed”

Even with all the kind words though, some students just haven’t gotten the hang of spelling my name.

“If it don’t add to my life then it don’t belong in it.”

 

I’m gonna miss these kids for sure, but I’m excited now to be able to devote my time fully to becoming the best teacher that I can. I worked hard to devote my time to relationship building this year (my first year teaching, with no idea how to teach classroom science) rather than to content-heavy, science teaching. I’m hoping in the next 15 months that I’ll be able to find the balance.

It started a bit last night at our Thinkers and Drinkers event talking science (and community) with complete strangers and I can’t wait for everything else this program is going to hold!

All’s fair in a science fair

First off, let me apologize to anyone who’s interacted with me this week, it’s been a s**t one (ship! I said ship, miss!) and I haven’t handled it very well. But there are only 4 more days of school (and one more day to pack up the whole school for a move), so we’re in the home stretch now and we’re gonna make it, gosh darnnit!

But let’s stop worrying about me, what I really want to highlight this week is the super impressive work my kiddos have been doing. The Science Fair (described in my last blog post) is upon us. On Monday, students, teachers, and administrators will be touring the school to check out each and every room that’s been transformed into a science topic.

Our 7th graders were given the topic of seasons, particularly summer. We decided (and by we, I mean I encouraged students to remember and decide) based on our Planetary Motion unit  to divide the room into the north and south hemispheres of earth.

Each small group came up with their own questions related to their own lived summer experiences and researched (for the most part) their topics. Here’s the results!

Why do beaches close? Complete with lots of trash and “Miss, that’s a floating turd!”

What is summer like in the Southern Hemisphere? Not quite done, but this group is kicking butt on fun facts!

How do roller coasters say on track? Lots of drama in this group drawing straight lines, but hey, teamwork is just as important a lesson as science, right?

Why do we put chlorine in the pool? Is it bad for us? This group opted to create a rap instead of drawing- all by their choice!

Why do we get an adrenaline rush on a roller coaster? A kid I’ve had trouble reaching all year came up with this design- so proud!

Why do we have seasons? Definitely my art-loving group, they made 2 posters (see below), but did a great job decorating the room while still accessing science knowledge!

Why do we get an adrenaline rush on roller coasters? Lots of time was devoted to sculpting the perfect, scariest roller coaster here… still waiting for their information…

What are the benefits of vacations? You’ll note they’ve called it ‘Baecation’.

What are the benefits of swimming? Drawing the pool here got one kid more engaged in class than I’ve ever seen him!

The Science Fair will be on Monday morning so I’m definitely curious what other rooms have cooked up. The competitive gal in me wants to finesse the presentations a little bit, but the proud teacher in me thinks our 7th graders have put in so much time and positive effort that they’ll win the prize at the end for sure!

  

Bad Science Teacher!

So I deserve a slap on the wrist.

My school has just announced a Science Fair happening next Thursday whose theme is to transform your room. Every classroom K-8 will present their theme, unifying all subjects to show their scientific prowess. The 7th graders have drawn the theme of ‘Seasons’, particularly the season of summer.

Immediately I began brainstorming and collaborating with the other teachers who share my room (its not so much a science room as a science/art/health/home and careers room). Over the past few days, we were supposed to be getting the kids jazzed up about the project and having them share ideas. Silly me.

Instead of asking them open ended questions to get THEM to ask open ended science questions, I attempted to force my own ideas down their throat. Meanwhile across the hall in the social studies/tech/health room, the social studies teacher was leading an empowering ‘workshop’ where kids were coming up with their own ideas!

Students were asking questions like, “We use AC to stay cool in the summer, how do other animals do that?” or “We love going to Seabreeze, but how do roller coasters work? How do they stay on the tracks?” or “Is swimming in my pool at home actually good for me?” or even… “How do they know if we can swim in Lake Ontario?”.

Wow.

The social studies teacher, who has shared on several occasions that she’s “terrible at science”, had these kids thinking and questioning in the ways we’ve been discussing and reading about in class. And meanwhile, I, the science teacher, was telling kids how it was going to be. Again, slap me on the wrist please.

Bonus Moment!

Tbh y’all, it’s been a rough few weeks. With the start of the GRS program, 8th graders wrapping up testing, and the end of the school year at School #4, it’s been wildly busy (not even mentioning Ms. E’s personal life). But then today I had this moment that makes it all seem worthwhile. 

I’ve got this student, we’ll call him Devin, who has struggled academically and socially all year. He sometimes tries his best on assignments for a week and does fairly well, but he is inconsistent in effort and background knowledge. He’s a funny, happy kid, but Devin feels the need to make an inappropriate comment in class whenever someone else does, which naturally aggravates the other kids. He giggles at every little thing he finds funny, he rolls around on the ground (literally), and unfortunately becomes the butt of a lot of other kids’ jokes. But with as many conversations as I’ve had with Devin, tears he’s shed in the hallway, and phone calls home, he’s just not getting it. He can be really, really funny and adorable sometimes, but a real pain in the neck most others.

So needless to say when he came bounding in to my classroom this morning way before class was supposed to start, I had the terrible gut reaction of thinking “ugh, why is Devin here so early?” But I put a smile on my face and said good morning.

He came running over to my desk and said “Miss! I have something for you!” Okay, disclaimer: so knowing middle school students and especially knowing Devin, I thought it might be something gross like the old, rotten apple core he’d pulled out of a desk the week before and laughed insanely at.

But wow, was I surprised.

Devin pulled from inside his pocket a huge quartz mineral. He proudly said, “I found this in my backyard and thought of you and the rocks stuff we just finished!”

I was floored.

Not only did he find a rock and think of me (flattering, I know), but he brought it in and had connected it to the mineral testing and rock identification we’d just finished a unit on! I pulled out a magnifying glass so he could look more closely and explained that it was likely quartz and we could test it if he wanted. He had to get to another class, so we didn’t test it, but the simple idea that he was making science connections at home has me so inspired to keep teaching… even to the students who roll around on the floor and find rotten food hilarious.

The aforementioned quartz! About the size of a baseball.

Impact Moments

Well, we’re just finishing our second week as Get Real! Science students and I can’t believe how much thoughtful, intelligent, science-centric conversation our cohort has been able to have. We spent this week thinking about the culture of science and defining our own relationship with science. In addition, The Stink Squad (myself, Sam, and Alyssa) went to Sodus HS and attempted to collect stink bugs and other insects (and wow do I mean attempted- I think we got maybe 6 bugs total) with the hopes of studying the relationship between location on stink bug quantity.

Alyssa and Sam using aerial photography to survey the land.

By doing this, we’ve learned a ton about how to practice science in a way that will relate to us and to the community of Sodus. We’ve been developing our scientific curiosity by actually doing science! …and maybe more importantly, I’ve been noticing in my middle school classroom that actually doing science is how kids learn science!

This Monday, 8th grade students will be taking the grueling 80 question New York State exam. They’ll sit in a hot gym for several hours answering multiple choice and short answer questions as a culmination of two years of science education. Needless to say, I’m not hot on tests… especially tests in a hot gym filled with 40 middle schoolers. But they’ve got to do it to show that they have in fact learned a little something about the world around them.

So, this week, we’ve been reviewing for the exam. I really tried to make it fun- candy, jeopardy, and class competition were involved! But my kids just weren’t having it. Maybe 5 out of 18 students were following along and answering questions one day when we came upon the following questions in the 2015 exam:

June 2015 NYS Intermediate Level Science Exam

Now, as you can imagine, sitting and interpreting data you had no part in finding and answering questions based on that data is not how a 14 year old wants to spend their Wednesday afternoon. So I said, **** it, let’s try this.

I asked the group if they knew how to measure their heart rate. One girl said “you feel your chest!”, and another boy said “you count it!”, but none could actually figure out how to find their pulse. So even though all the students were seated and relatively quiet (a blessing in any middle school class), I said put your pencils down, we’re doing an experiment.

And we did! The kids were shown how to take their pulse and helped each other find a resting heart rate. Then, we went outside and the really energetic ones ran around the school yard. They then took their pulse and were amazed at the difference in themselves and between students. The ones who refused at first to jog around saw other students’ amazement at the change and even decided to jog (albeit slowly) as well!

We then came back inside and recorded our own data and the kids were able to easily answer the state’s questions. And this got me thinking, imagine if we treated every question on a test this way. Instead of just reading and deciphering what the correct answer might be, what if we actually did the question?

 

 

A new adventure awaits!

As I began this journey as a preservice (kind of) science teacher, I also had the chance to return to where my passion began: the creek at my grandmother’s lake house. As a child and preteen, I would spend hours exploring, lifting stones, and catching crayfish, all without goal or ambition.

This weekend, as I had the chance to rediscover this special place, I realized just how much influence such a small corner of the world has had on me. Watching tadpoles turn to frogs, watching water snakes gobble up those same frogs, and seeing flooding water wash away frogs, snakes, and rocks alike after a big storm were experiences that have driven my passion for science and a love for all the nature.

This past weekend, I saw the same incredible nature and more! Check it out…

Having a fun weekend and exploring nature myself is not where this story stops though. I have been incredibly lucky. The opportunity I received to have those exploratory experiences from a young age is not one that is afforded to most. The kids I work with in the Rochester City School District certainly do not get this same chance. Even walking the few blocks to school poses a threat to the kids in this community, so why would their parents let them wander down to a more local stream or park? Sure part of the lack of desire to explore is probably cultural (shout out to Medin and Bang, 2010- one of our interesting class readings), but a lot of it I believe is access based on race and socioeconomic standing.

Which leads me to my big goal as I embark on this beast… er, sorry, I mean journey of a program. I want to make science and these exploratory experiences seeped in experiential learning available to the middle school kids I work with. I believe strongly in equity for all students and I want to be a driving force of change for these kids. They deserve to make observations about the natural world to influence their decisions. They deserve to discover the effects of water on erosion. They deserve to hold frogs, gosh darn it… even if it is part of a dissection.

The first step is to be open to having the conversation with diverse groups of people, and that’s what I’m hoping this blog will help do. Even if you only skim (like a water bug skims across the creek), I hope the stories told here will inspire reflection and conversation elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to slither and slide your way into the comments below!

Oh and if that’s not enough content from the wise Ms. E, here’s a great article encouraging you to get out and explore for your own sanity!

Bang, M., & Medin, D. (2010). Cultural processes in science education: Supporting the navigation of multiple epistemologies. Science Education, 94(6), 1008–1026. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20392