How a Book Becomes a Unit

One of our seminar assignments was to do a book paper and eventually, a mini-lesson based on our book. The purpose here (as I internalized it) was to try and find a book relevant to either our specific content or our discourse that would positively influence our practice. I went the content route because one of my struggles is with finding good hooks for the introduction of topics and units. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan is a wonderful look into how the food we eat gets to our table and what that means for all of us. It is filled with big ideas for both evolution and ecology while dealing with everyone’s favorite topic: food. Below is the paper I wrote, containing my summary of the book, its potential uses in a Living Environment classroom to plan activities, and whether it is worth the time and brainpower to read it and gain from it (spoiler alert: it totally is):

The big question: If you are what you eat, what are you and what should you be?


Michael Pollan examines how we eat, and how we ended up in the food world of today. Ecology, evolution, and health all come together in a multi-lens view of humans, past and present, as eaters. Through three distinct food “movements”: our current supermarket and fast food state of affairs, the growing organic movement and its pros and cons, and the feasibility of a meal exclusively of gathered foods shows us that there are so many ways to eat and things to eat beyond our supermarket shelves.


Since ecology and evolution are so much of the Living Environment curriculum, it is quite possible to use this book as a cornerstone to the curriculum. The big ideas in those units are throughout the book.

The themes of human evolution are everywhere and it offers a unique perspective on how we evolved into Homo sapiens as we know it. Structuring the unit with an essential question like “why is our diet so diverse?” We can examine out evolution and how cooking, our jaws, and our taste buds were all facets of evolutionary fitness. We as a species crave sugar and fat as a byproduct from our hunter/gatherer days when we did not know when the next meal would come. Now in our more sedentary lives it does a bit more harm than good in contributing to our growing health epedemic. One lab that can be done is one on our taste buds. After brainstorming what kinds of food are sweet, sour, salty and bitter, we can actually taste them ourselves and see what those foods have in common and why we would want to sense those foods, and what do we gain from eating those foods. The questions that would be raised in a lab like this are ones like “why is it an evolutionary benefit to crave sugar? Is it a benefit now? And what has changed from ancient man to now?” Since a big part of selection and adaptation is being able to get food readily, tacking evolution through that lens would be relevant and scientifically sound.

As far as ecology and human impact goes, the first part of the book is fantastic for that. Looking at the trophic pyramid through our food stocks shows the inefficiency of cows in converting food to mass, and the corn industry as a warning for an ecosystem that is not diverse. The book on the whole has a lot of case studies that could be used for looking at human impact on the ecosystem, for example the fast food indsutry’s demand for cheap beef leaving a good chunk of the agrarian U.S. as a single-crop mess destroying the soil to the farmers and chefs who believe in using every part of an animal of piece of farmland, and looking at the final meals from each part of the book can be a classroom debate with a lot of viewpoints including cost, effort, sustainability, and health.


Overall, I absolutely recommend this book to any teacher and to any person who wants to take a closer look at their food. It is also for any lover of food on the whole; it is a wonderful exploration of the connectedness we have to the food we eat and that everything that ends up on our plate came from someone’s work, care and passion.

See ya next week! I’ve got DNA models to make out of pipe cleaner backbones and (insert material here) nucleotide bases. Peace out!


A Winter Wonder Break

So this past week was Mid-Winter recess and instead of the tremendous amount of work I thought I was going to get done, I got some work done and spent the rest of it well, resting. I’m in a good place with the 56.5 million things that seem to need doing, but I think my old nemesis is creeping up on me a bit: realizing the gravity of a situation a bit later than I should. I dunno, maybe that’s healthy and I’m not blowing things out of proportion in my mind, but brain… a little bit more urgency would be nice.

During topics this week we got a chance to talk to a couple of charter school reps, which was interesting and once again brought the job search back to the front burner for me. I’ve continued to figure out what type of teacher I am, but now comes the time to really think about what kind of environment I would thrive in the most as a first year teacher. Considering I was the guy who chose his undergraduate education solely because “it gave me the most financial aid,” this is new territory. More research is necessary and a tiny bit more soul-searching. I know what I value as a teacher and as a individual in the professional world, but of the things I value, what do I value the most and the least (and, y’know, everything in between. The plan is to rank them here, just wanted to make that clear).

This week we read Chapter 4 of Wiggins and McTighe’s “Understanding by Design.” The chapter was about how to understand… understanding. By unpacking a word we use so interchangeably with almost every sort of knowledge acquisition by students, it made sense to really pry at the different types of understanding and how they are different to and play along with each other. A big part of understanding (and what most separates it from knowledge) is the ability to take what you know and use it in the right situations and to defend your viewpoint. The biggest and most difficult part of understanding was self-knowledge, which is understanding how we understand (quite meta). Understanding how you understand means that as a student, you know what habits and behaviors work best for you and as a teacher, knowing how your students make meaning lout of facts means that your curriculum drives them in that positive direction.

With that, I bring you yet another delightfully relevant image from “Surviving the World.” Check out his stuff, it’s quite good.

Students obviously create their understand differently depending on their experiences and their comfort levels. It’s something we’ve talked about ever since last summer and in having this week to look over my various requirements, something did click: all the theory and readings I’ve done align with the practices I’ve strived for. The only difference now is that the names of the things I am doing are becoming much clearer. So when I make a certain decision in planning or execution of planning, it now has a clearer name to which I attribute it to rather than saying, “I dunno, it seems like the right way to do it.”

Now, on to the next five weeks and everything that will come with it. The one cool thing is that all the stuff we have been doing in the summer and fall make the portfolio and EdTPA  not as daunting because it turns out, some of it has been done and I just need to add on to it through my analysis and reflection, which I now have quite a bit of experience in. So while it is daunting, some of it has been done, and the stuff that needs doing is clearer than the guidelines make it out to be.

Best of luck to my laptop, my immune system, and my left hamstring (two years post-injury and still giving me trouble).

Bye for now and good luck with everything!

Two Down (Can’t Believe It)

So it turns out having a developing but getting more awesome teacher voice has its drawbacks. The cough is still there and I am starting to sound like I’m a chain smoker what with the throat clearing and hacking cough and all. But on the bright side I think I’ve found my groove with this new placement and these students. This means I have also found my counter-sassing abilities again. Counter-sassing, for those of you that are unfamiliar is a classroom management tactic I find effective. If a student gives you a bit of friendly (or sometimes unfriendly sass), the key is to use humor to diffuse the situation while addressing a behavior at the same time. Hence the counter sass. An example happened in Wednesday when I had to tell pair of girls to make sure they were paying attention to instruction before they did their lab. One of them said, “are you calling us out, mister?” With my best California Valley Girl impersonation I replied with a “uh, yah.” It was a good moment for me. I knew the student enough that her comment was more about how I would respond and that she does well with humor. Knowing both those things I responded in the way that I did. Five minutes later she called me for help and the little moment was nothing more than that.

I have heard many people say that biology is the first science taught in high school because it is the most relatable to a student’s daily life. While this is true, it also comes with a huge drawback: because students have had their experiences with biological concepts, they also bring with them a set of misconceptions or come into a topic with partially constructed knowledge in a wide possible range. For example, say the words “endocrine system” and you might get a few blank stares. Say “hormone” or “adrenaline” and student’s prior knowledge and misconceptions will come forth. Even though the terms are all closely related, their connection and their scientific purpose are not as strong. In biology, the slate is less blank than it might be for other sciences, which is both a blessing and a challenge.

That was the main motivation for the decision I made when I came up with the Endocrine System model I had the students do. I wanted them to use their prior knowledge, but in a place where their misconceptions would not hinder their learning and could be dealt with at a later time, when they had more understanding to go off of. The model had the students use their understanding of shape specificity (that they learned through enzymes) and the body systems (which we had just talked about for two days prior).  I also picked hormones which were familiar, but used their scientific names as to prevent those misconceptions popping up until later. By calling it epinephrine instead of adrenaline, students would be able to go through the model with a hormone and focus on the model rather than what they think adrenaline does to the body.

I think one main thing I might change is that I would have the students try and deduce what the individual parts of the model corresponded to rather than me telling them. It would have grounded the model better and contextualizing it would have been a better experience.

Endocrine system effect cards

Hormone Cutouts

Endocrine System Modeling Capture Sheet

Since the next units coming up for me will be in genetics and evolution, there will be mixed prior knowledge and misconceptions aplenty, so balancing prior knowledge is a skill I will get some good real experience in.

Until next time! And while there is lesson planning, edTPA, and the ol’ job search. There’s always the little things… like a week to sleep in, catching up with friends and family for real, and moments to just make a cup of tea/coffee and stare out a window, so enjoy.

Student Teaching Placement 2: Teach Harder

Hello again! I am currently writing this blog with a bit of a sinus problem. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having your head being squeezed from the inside. Guess it just means I do have to take a little better care of myself. The usual stuff: get more sleep, cut out the processed carbs, put a hard stop on my work time so I can actually rest without dreaming of Warner Lesson Plans or materials management. This week is a bit more anecdotal, as a lot has happened and the stories are a huge part of the lessons learned.

So, this week was my first at my new placement. I now fully understand why we are to do two different placements at two different schools. Sometimes it feels like night and day. What used to be major concerns at my first placement are non-existent; the afterthoughts at my first placement have suddenly taken center stage. it is amazing how even in the same district drawing from the same group of students, that the school culture and expectations make that big of a change. To cut down on the hyperbole, they are still kids, and kids do kid things and that hasn’t changed. So the principles and lesson I have carried with me continue on.

Due to some unknown reason, there is another student teacher at my placement. When I got there, she was in week 2 of her first placement, a.k.a. where I was mid-September. Despite being a student teacher, I still weirdly end up being not the least experienced adult in the room. We do learn form each other and on the days she leads a lesson, I see a picture of where I was in learning how to lesson plan and take charge of a classroom. I remember how I made certain mistakes and learned from them and in those oddly reflective moments, I appreciate how far I’ve come and how far I’ve still got to go.

One story in particular really sticks out with me. In seventh period, there is a boy who is hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid, he is also a bit shy and is an easy target for his classmates. As the lesson went on, there was a bit of teasing from a specific group of boys and my CT intervened and spoke with them after class. In the chaos of it being my second day at the school, I did not pick up on it nearly as quickly nor acted upon the way I should have, but she did and apparently was the only teacher in the day to do anything about the situation. I believe this is a big reason as to why we write such comprehensive lesson plans and take the time to prepare. When you’re not worrying about the objectives and the timing and the scaffolding of a lesson while you teach, you can pick up on these moments faster and act upon them in the moment. Little actions that may really hurt a student are caught and dealt with on both sides. The bullies have to work through why its not okay, and the victim knows that you care. Inaction to a situation is basically saying that you are okay with what’s going on. While that may not always be the case, that is how it can be perceived. So, be confident and diligent in the planning and preparing so that not only are you teaching more effectively, but you are better suited to addressing and teaching life lessons.

It has been a wild first week. A snow day, senior capstone project launches, my first foray into expeditionary learning, an observation, lesson planning, the move to a new building. I feel like I’ve watched a movie sped up: my brain knows what happened, but  I haven’t had nearly the time to process it. The sinus pressure doesn’t really help either.

Here’s to a wild first week, and seven more wild ones to go. Bye for now!