Reflecting on the Monroe County Children’s Detention Center

In the spirit of double-dipping, my blog post this week will also be my reflection from my visit to the Monroe County Children’s Detention Center. I did not take pictures; it did not seem like the place to do so.

Both the tour and the discussion really opened my eyes to the intricacies to the criminal system as it applies to children and what that might mean for my future classroom and my practices. One new insight I gained through the experience was learning about the laws associated with minors in the penal system. The reduction of the population of children in detention centers means that there are more students than ever that are a part of the classroom who still have trials and pending court cases and dates. This adds another level of diversity in our classrooms now including students that may have been a part of the penal system. The result is students who are in and out of the classroom and may have gaps in their education, so that has to be addressed; the students still need to feel a part of the classroom and competent in the materials despite the missing school days, otherwise it can cause a disruptive class.

Another insight I gained was the type of education and the day-to-day life of the children in these detention centers. To be honest, I did not expect to see a lot of science work done. I was surprised to find that not only was there a lot science work up on the walls, but there was also a lot of good scientific discourse being used as well. I assumed that because of the circumstances the rigor and level of work would be vastly different, but that was not the case. There were pictures of students’ drawings of DNA molecules and a concept map about the different terms used in genetics. Looking at the student work I almost forgot I was in a children’s’ detention center, it just seemed like a non-traditional school building. The teachers who came in were RCSD employees and despite having to keep track of every potential materials used (since they would technically be contraband outside the class) and having a constantly changing class, create a really awesome classroom climate for these students.

As a science teacher, something I am wondering is how the students get their lab minutes or do any of the more intricate labs. The NYS relationships and biodiversity labs in particular require a lot of materials and rely on continuity in making the final conclusion. Since every student needs 1200 lab minutes to graduate, I wonder how that is accommodated in this setting. What would be the logistical pitfalls in doing labs and are they surmountable or are a lot of labs transitioned into a more paper-based form?

Another wondering I have regards the students who re-enter the classroom after time through the legal system for more petty crimes. What sorts of systems are in place to help these students come back into the classroom not just from an academic standpoint, but also a social one. It is already a difficult transition and when there are these constant interruptions in a child’s schooling, what can a school or a district do.

There was a lot I gained from our visit to the children’s detention center. The cultural pedagogy that I had been learning about came into play again, as many social factors came together to create yet another social identifier, one with its own unique challenges. But with all groups, we focus on the individuals and their learning and social needs. This visit help elucidate the problem, but there is a lot more I need to do before I help create a part of that solution.

So close to the end! Let’s do this!


Bittersweet Symphony

It has finally come. The day that seemed a million years away when we were looking at our calendars in August and were asked to use a colored pencil to shade in the days of an RCSD calendar. The day that seemed lost in the whirlwind of deadlines and lesson plans and wondering if you’re doing a good job and wondering what strategies work best of that one kid in seventh period…

The last day of student teaching and the last day at our eight week placement.

It’s sweet in that I feel accomplished. I remember coming into this school year so wide-eyed and a bit scared of the things to come. I wasn’t sure what kind of teacher I would be and how I was going to take all the theory from Summer A and B and apply it. Heck, I didn’t even feel comfortable in my teacher clothes. Now I feel comfortable being “Mr. Han” in all aspects, and I have very strong pluses  to build off of and clear arrows that I can work on to take my teaching to that next level.

It’s sweet because I’ve met some amazing people along the way. From the SSO’s who have a difficult job, but do it with a smile and a gentleness that is admirable to the secretaries that are willing to lend a hand to a student teacher who may not his stuff together on a particularly rough day, I have been blessed to meet these people. In addition, the other teachers that I had a chance to observe, who even though I would say “pretend I’m not here,” would take the time to explain their rationale and add to my notes. The teachers who would say “hi” to me in the copy room and give me words of encouragement when I needed them.

It’s bitter because I say goodbye to two amazing CT’s. Two caring, hard-working, and unbelievably strong women who I hope to grow up to be like one day. To Mrs. Barnum and Ms. Ortenzi, I could thank you every minute of every day and it still would not be enough. The things you have taught me, the tough love and gentle encouragement when I needed it, and the opportunity to work alongside you are things I will hold dear.

It’s bitter because I am leaving a bit of that behind for a new chapter. As hard as it was, there were moments of pure joy in watching the students grow, shine, and surprise me. The little conversations in the hallway, talking trash about each other’s sports teams and harmonizing to top 40 songs, that I will miss. I’m going to miss the students so much and miss the chance to create new little moments.

I know I’m going to wake up on Monday with a weird mix of emotions as I put on jeans (and not khakis).  There is a lot going on in my head right now. Part of it is because this last day snuck up on me, so I haven’t really given myself the chance to think about it. In navigating the student teaching life and all the pluses and arrows I often forget to process the more complex emotions. In the spirit of mindfulness I spill my bittersweet state of mind onto this blog. It was a hard journey, and there were moments when the last day could not come soon enough. Now that it is here… I’m not quite sure.

To the people at my placements: I would not be here without your generosity and kindness and I promise that I will pay it forward and make you proud.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Sorry about the late blog post, boys and girls. The break bug got a hold of me, including my travel plans going awry. But that’s what happens when you fly budget airlines.

As the title says, I went home for break. And it was wonderful. I got fed to no end and there is something about family. No matter how tired or how stressful I had been, they know just how to get a smile on my face. I am also willing to try to put aside the stress and share in the joy. After all, they are my family: the people who have been there through both triumphs and my blunders and love me for them just the same. Walking towards the car and seeing my mom’s smiling face and my sister’s half-tackle, half-hug reaffirms the reasons I want to go back to New York City to teach. In a profession that is often a whirlwind of work and emotion, it’s nice to know that the people who know you so well, love you, and can whip up some fantastic comfort food to help ease the difficult moments are just a short distance away and getting to them doesn’t have to involve major planning or expenses. As a kid, I always thought I wanted to be far away from my family and blaze the trail on a new life on my own, but I realize that having those supports makes the job easier and will help put things in perspective. I know that I am a difficult person, so the people who can support me and I can support are the ones I hold on to, and there is no support like my Mom’s gentle care, my Dad’s stoicism, and my little sister’s ability to make me laugh at myself.

This break was also a week of doing interviews and planning interviews. I’ve had interviews for three schools this past week and moved onto the next round for two of them and waiting to hear back from a third. Yay! Thus far, they have all been phone interviews. While some people may prefer phone interviews, I have to say I prefer face to face interviews. It may be more stressful to have to wear the formal clothes and have to look the interviewer in the eye, but I like having the nonverbal cues to work off of and the more natural flow of conversation that happens in person. As someone who can talk on and on, its nice to know when to shorten a vignette or know that using humor was effective or not. Those nonverbal cues make the conversation more natural and I think there is a bit more seriousness when sitting in an office in a buttoned shirt and tie rather than sitting up on my bed in pajamas talking into a microphone.

While Rochester has been good to me and I have certainly gained a more worldly perspective through my time in upstate New York, New York City has and always will be home. My motivation in being a teacher was to go back and serve my community and help the students who are trying to navigate adolescence in a place that is as overwhelming and dichotomous as NYC. Home is indeed where the heart is, and the chance to go back makes that clearer.

Where is My Mind?

People have said that my stream of consciousness at the beginning of my blogs was annoying. So that’s gonna stop.

In out Topics in Teaching seminar on Wednesday, we discussed the topic of mindfulness. It was an interesting one because all the previous ones were very tangible topics like “How to Write a good Resume” and “How to work with a co-teacher,” and mindfulness seemed a bit “woo-woo” as she put it. In what has been a stressful week, a seminar on mindfulness was not too welcome to be honest. There seemed to be no time on how to be mindful about ourselves when there is so much to do and not a lot of time to do it. The time might have been better spent revising a lesson and printing and organizing materials and all that jazz, but in we went.

The discussion on mindfulness also connected with self-preservation. If you are not mindful of your own self, then it is hard to be mindful of others. Similarly, if we cannot take care of ourselves, then it becomes harder to take care of others and a classroom. Again, this is an idea that runs so counterintuitive to what we are doing right not in this part of the program: sacrificing some of our needs to do as much as is expected of us. But mindfulness doesn’’t take too much out of a day to accomplish. While the activities we did were inherently stressful because we were bad at them, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness, some of which we already do but are not aware of.

Some of my mindfulness practices:

-Standing outside, doing nothing except breathing and listening to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones

-Taking a shower

-Cooking the perfect over-easy egg (or at least trying)

(Add yours in the comments if you so choose)

The biggest thing that I got out of that seminar was that mindfulness allows us to take our good and bad moments for what they truly are and make the most of them. Embrace the heck out of the good times because they are not going to last. At the same time, don’t wallow in the bad times because it’s not always going to stay this bad. Being mindful also helps us to learn more form these moments. Our pluses and arrows are weighted evenly and we don’t become complacent or utterly distraught. I am still working on it, but the seminar on mindfulness really helped me to see it again. I have to remember to be aware of my state and take the time to adjust because it really only takes a few minutes.

To wrap up this installment I provide a quote form one of the teachers in my building regarding that lingering doubt we all have: “Don’t kill the beast, but don’t feed it either.”

Enjoy the break everyone, I will be home and fed by my mother. It will be glorious!

Interview Season

So… For all of us here at GRS, it seems to be interview season because in the next few days, all of us are interviewing for full-time positions. Wow. In all the madness it does sometimes elude me that the next step is a job and that for the first time in 17 or so years, school is not in the immediate future. Well, I mean it is, but it won’t be me sitting in one of many desks. It will be me standing and delivering and being Mr. Han in Mr. Han’s classroom. Once again, wow.

As we are preparing for interviews and such, I figure it’s a good time to post some resources on the Haberman Protocol.  In short, it is the framework a lot of urban school districts use to select their teachers based on 10 dimensions. This is more or less stuff we already knew, but it is now distilled into distinct categories. We may not all be teaching in urban districts, but the framework still hold true for a good teacher, regardless of situation.

From the Haberman Educational Foundation’s Star Teacher

As I read these I see some of the ones I really haven’t thought about. One of them in particular is teacher burnout (covered by fallibility and “survives in a bureaucracy) , mainly because it is something that we don’t discuss too often, and why should we; there is little sense in discussing burning out of a profession we are not officially in and are currently working to attain. It would be like quitting a team before you even try out. With that said, we have seen first hand that teaching is a difficult profession. It tests our limits, gives us a lot to ponder and do at all times of the day and week, and despite our great accomplishments we  focus on our failure. Both “fallibility” and “survives in a bureaucracy” address the point that great teachers are able to balance their work and find support from the people and things around them. In reading this I am reminded how lucky I am to have the cohort with me on this journey. Hearing their stories and being able to share mine makes this a trial to share and therefore feels lighter.

Now how can this come across as an interview question when it isn’t directly about teaching practices you ask? Well ponder the interview question of, “So what are some things you do outside of teaching?” A good answer shows that you have some positive outlets to offset the inevitable strains of the job. Simultaneously it shows that you are a balanced individual who can bring real life and a real viewpoint to the students. For example, my answer would be that I cook, bake and play rugby (to offset the cooking and baking). They have many parallels to teaching, such as an attention to detail, a passion for the craft, and an intrinsic desire to improve for yourself and others. Additionally, by openly sharing my passions, I go from being “Mr Han, the living environment teacher,” to “Mr. Han, the science teacher who plays that version of football with no pads.” In all professions, employers are looking for well-rounded individuals and in one that demands interaction that well-roundedness and that human element is key.

I’m off for now, doing my best to nurse a pounding headache which I hope is merely caffeine-based and not something more sinister.

Good luck to you all in your interviews. You will do great. You have so much to offer through your caring, your patience, your kindness, and your desire to look at your own practice and say “this went well, but let’s try this part of the lesson a different way.” I aspire to the teaching qualities that some of you already have. We will do great!

Dude, It’s Literally Questions… About Questions

So, my CT forwarded me a document from Dr. Chan (aka the head honcho of science for the RCSD) on effective questioning in both planning and instruction. He also added in his email that this was what he was looking for when he observes his teachers, so for those of you with the RCSD in your future the document is below. You’re welcome!

Lesson Planning Questions II

A few big takeaways that I got from reading the bullet points on his attachments:

If a student gives an incorrect or weak answer, point out what is incorrect or weak about the answer, but ask the student a follow-up question that will lead that student, and the class, to the correct or stronger answer. “

I always aim for being positively reinforcing of a student answer that is not totally correct, but I think i err on the side of being too positively reinforcing to the point where I feel sheepish about correcting them in front of the class. I don not want to harm their self-confidence, but I do have to clear up misconceptions so there has to be a way to do both. I suppose a good approach is always to ask for feedback from another student and ask, “So-and-so, do you want to elaborate on/add to/ So-and-so’s answer?” This would be done both for correct and incorrect responses. It allows correct answers to be fully developed and incites more thinking, and it allows misconceptions to be corrected because I ask the follow-up for all questions, right or wrong, so the student doesn’t feel singled out for trying.

“Do not interrupt students’ answers. You may find yourself wanting to interrupt because you think you know what the student is going to say, or simply because you are passionate about the material. Resist this temptation. Hearing the students’ full responses will allow you to give them credit for their ideas and to determine when they have not yet understood the material.”

I find myself in a habit of cutting off students’ answers, even though I know it is a poor habit to have. It may be a habit of novice teachers (it is for me) to ask a student a question and simply listen for a few key words. from there we (or at least I) will say “nice,” and will fill in the rest of what we think to be the students’ answers. For me at least, I think this comes from a certain insecurity in my ability. I should have more faith in my ability and my formative assessment, but the critical and reflective sides of me sometimes get in the way, leading to my cutting off of students answers because I am relieved to hear that they are using the right vocabulary in the discourse. What I miss from doing so is missing a chance to formatively pick up on my misconceptions or to celebrate student understanding because if I fill in the blanks, it cheapens the thought-out answer the student gives. So here’s to fear giving way to a bit of courage and being confident that I know what to do on the spot if I need to fill in a misconception.

“Determine what the question is trying to address i.e. what is the purpose of the question. What is the format of the question and what is the level of the question.”

To make more meaning of class discussions and instruction, the questions one asks have to be deliberate. Have them up one at a time on the board for kids to see, and have a few in your back pocket pre-planned with an anticipation of what students might say or where their troubles might be. The back pocket ones will get better with time, but for now, doesn’t hurt to plan them out.

“The questions you ask should help them practice these skills, as well as communicate to them the facts, ideas, and ways of thinking that are important to their learning in your course. “

The questions you ask prioritize for you and for your students which concepts, which skills, and which directions are going to be vital. By asking the right question, major concepts get sorted from details. Students often have trouble differentiating the essential from the non-essential and therefore will try to absorb everything with equal weight only to miss the core idea in favor of a vocab word that is useful but not necessary. If you choose to ask the big questions about the main idea, and more fact-checking questions on the smaller details, then it helps differentiate them.

Oh before I go, download clearprint. It’s a free chrome widget. What it does is… Say you wanted to print something from a website like a news story. What the widget will do is clear all of the clutter (the ads, the comments, the spam) out of the document and convert it into a pdf for you. You can then choose to delete portions of the article you find unnecessary or at the wrong level for your students. It is awesome. Trust me.

Bye for now!

Community: Past and Future

So… week 4 of 8 is just about finished. And wow has it been a wild ride. If I kept the rate of catharses I have now through my entire life, I probably would’ve stubbled upon the secret of life by the time I was 14. Unfortunately, with this many enlightening moments comes little time or mental energy to process all of them. The best I can do is process the ones I can, and keep the others for revelation at another time.

In preparing our portfolio and proving ourselves to be competent teachers with the potential for growth, one of the principles we strive to show growth in and continue developing is making science relevant to the community. For one thing, science cannot stand on its own. Throughout time, for good or for worse, science has been intertwined with people on the whole. Sometimes scientific growth was restricted, other times it was allowed to flourish. Science has always sought to discover and learn about the world not always just for the sake of discovery, but also for the benefit of mankind.

The NSTA has their ideas on what community-bases science should look and sound like, which can be found here.

With both those points presented, science has always sought to change and adapt our views of the world and creating a clearer picture. The issue is how we perceive science’s ability to create a clearer picture and how science actually works can be quite different. Students (and many other adults for that matter) sometimes view science as a set of a few great discoveries rather than a gradual understanding of the world around us. Science is also perceived as a few overarching experiments and discoveries rather than the discoveries that can be made by ordinary people in a wide range of scopes. as the old quote (misattributed to Newton) goes, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And that is true for all of us.

Picture this: A middle schooler who lives in a major city who is learning about the human body in science class. He learns about the heart, the brains, the lungs and on and on and on. He/She sort of gets what the teacher is saying, but doesn’t really see how it matters. That is until his/her teacher asks “does anyone in this class know someone with asthma?” He/she has heard that word before because his/her little brother has asthma. Much to his/her surprise, a good number of her classmates also raise their hand. Thus starts a project on how environmental factors affect our health. With the right scaffolds and the right amount of “messiness,” the student can explore asthma in his/her family, his/her block, and his/her neighborhood.

The student here is engaging in real science, while to him/her it may seem more like English or social studies. The interviews she does, the newspaper articles or internet sources reads are all collection of data to create an informed conclusion. By tying back the knowledge and understand she gains in class, he/she not only can see whether or not asthma can be a problem in her area, but how it is a problem and what to do about it. He/she reaches that second point and can see farther than just the correlation by “standing on the shoulders of giants,” that is, relying on the knowledge gained and shared by those before him/her.

In this way science is a communal endeavor. Not only in its use to help bring awareness or consider solutions to a community’s problems, but by relying on the knowledge that came before and to add to that wealth of knowledge for those in the future. The same goes for technology; we build upon what is pre-existing and strive to make it better for the present and future.

But a word of caution to this tale, much as scientific theories have been disproved and built upon, that cycle is not stuck in the past; it is potentially going on now. What we perceive as scientific truth may not be tomorrow, and we have to be ready for that and equip our students with the tools to be okay with that. Something we perceive as good today may not be tomorrow in light of new scientific evidence and separating personal biases form scientific fact is crucial. However it is our personal biases and the things we care about that drive scientific discovery no matter how big. I guess what I am trying to say is that while the process of science may seem and be devoid of the human element, science itself does not exist without that personal touch, whether it be learning from scientist of the past or wanting a better future.

With that morsel of enlightenment I lower the curtain on this one. The temperature is supposed to be improving. As for the weather… well it’s Rochester.

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.