Monthly Archives: April 2015

Reflections on student ages

In class this week with Andrea we were asked to do a 3, 2, 1 where we identified our three favorite teaching moments, two biggest struggles, and one theory of learning science that we experienced this year. As a class, our theories were fairly similar and we all got to ooh and aah at each other’s favorite teaching moments but what really revealed our deepest thoughts in teaching, in my opinion, was when we discussed our struggles. We all had very diverse struggles and I imagine diverse struggles will continue to be a part of our careers … forever, probably. My struggle that I chose to identify was bringing content to students at the right level; more specifically, not going to far beyond what they need to know even if it’s super cool and I love talking about it.

I found this to be a smaller issue in my high school placement because chemistry is, by nature, intricate and full of nuances. However, where this struggle really took center stage was in my middle school placement. Because I was stretching myself, and teaching content that I hadn’t learned since I was 14 or 15 years old, I found myself spending a lot of time on Wikipedia and other Google search results to broaden my understanding of a topic so that I could talk about it in class. At first this sounded like a really good approach, so that I could answer any question and provide background if needed, but in reality it just ended up leading me to make my lessons and assignments more complicated than they needed to be. This ended up leading to a few very messy lessons and split-second lesson changes in the 4 minutes of passing time between my first and second classes. It was a good test of my flexibility and perseverance but definitely misrepresented my lesson planning abilities because I was stretching my students and myself too thin.

Switching from high school to middle school was hard; a lot harder than I thought it would be. Compounded into that transition is the fact that I went from co-planning everything to leading a room much more independently and the fact that some of my new students were as many as SIX years younger than my prior students. Turns out, this age difference creates an entirely different dynamic between teacher and student which I, once again, wasn’t expecting.

I don’t want to start going into sweeping generalizations of each age group because every kid is different from each other and there are probably middle schoolers with high schoolers’ personalities, and high schoolers with middle schoolers’ personalities. However, as groups of students, high schoolers and middle schoolers require very different things, which I’m sure change between years and between classes. This constant ebb and flow of student personalities and student needs are part of what make teaching fun, and definitely are a part of why I believe I will always enjoy teaching and adapting to new groups of students. However, some of the stark differences that I did notice between the two age groups did create a more stressful and intense experience than I was expecting. I think if I could do it over again I would do better, but I guess that’s really the whole point of student teaching, right?

One last thing before my Wall of Awesome

As many of your already know, today was our last day at our 8-week placements and so just like that, we’ve officially hit our “Wall of Awesome.” For my last day in middle school I knew I needed to gather some data on student comprehension of my most recent unit, evolution, but I also was reluctant to give a test on my final day. In order to work around this, I gave a mini- quiz/workshop that was open notes in order to assess student understanding of the major concepts in evolution. It was meant to be a quick assessment; five multiple choice with an “explain your choice” part attached and 10 short answer questions based upon a cladogram and a fossil diagram. Before I gave my students the workshop/exam, we did a set of practice questions that were similar to what the short answer were on the test to get them back in the mindset of evolution, since it had been three days since I last taught because of unrelated, uncontrollable conflicts.

The assessment itself, from a first glance, seemed to go well. It definitely took everyone longer than I had anticipated and so I found myself rushing to get my surveys done and thank-yous handed out. However, my students seem to be cladogram champs.

Overall, I am happy with my decision not to give a formal test but to give an assessment that looked very similar to their past workshops. The familiarity with the layout and expectations seemed to help everyone and the fact that I allowed them to use any and all notes (but no help from friends) seemed to lower the stakes so that it was a less stressful environment. That being said, there were some hurdles that I would need to think through more if I use this format in the future.; because this wasn’t formally labeled as a “test” I had a more challenging time keeping the room quiet so that everyone could work in the most beneficial environment. I believe this is because I encourage a lot of collaboration in workshop usually and so it was a tougher transition into a relatively short, silent workshop time. Additionally, I planned to give each class about half an hour to finish the workshop assessment and ended up giving very close to this amount of time. Because we started it halfway through the period instead of at the beginning there was no way for me to give students more time to totally finish it if they weren’t finished already. How would you go about remedying this without making in a more formal, higher stakes environment?

I found this to work well, but I definitely see the positive sides of traditional tests. How often is it reasonable to use more informal, low stakes assessments when they resemble workshops that are more collaborative? And if collaboration is encouraged how can individual understanding be assessed in a way that can inform me of specific needs rather than general misunderstandings? This experience did open up a lot of questions but it did show me a viable way to assess understandings in a lower stakes environment. Given the chance to try it again I think I would just need to make some tweaks to the layout and implementation so that it can stand up on its own as a true assessment without losing its “workshop-y” feel.

Poisons in Jazz Age New York City

So, I know I already posted my book talk paper that I read over winter break but I just recently started another chemistry based book and thought it’d be a great read for some of you all. I had actually hoped to read this book initially when Jo Ann explained what the book talk book had to be but alas, after searching for my original copy it seemed to have found itself left behind at my ex-boyfriend’s house halfway across the country and so, I set to find a new book which resulted in this paper and book talk.

I had talked to Jill at length about how much I wished I could have that original book back but didn’t want to reach out in order to get it back and so Jill, being a true PIC/BFF and the SpongeBob to my Patrick, got me a new copy for Christmas this year =). The book is called “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum. Luckily, over break I have been able to start reading it for my third time and have really enjoyed it so far even more than the first two times (I’m only halfway right now). The main reason I think I’m enjoying it so much more this time around is because of how well it demonstrates the nature of science and how being included into the culture of science is seen as a privilege given to very few (when it really isn’t that way). And therefore, here is a halfway-point book talk about a second book!


The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York

Title: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Author: Deborah Blum

Big Idea: Science is tentative and often seen as exclusive of other disciplines


In this book, Blum breaks up the history of poisonings in 1920s New York City into each category of poisons, as they seem to have a rather chronological path through time. The book covers the many poisons including chloroform, wood alcohol, the cyanides, arsenic, mercury, carbon monoxide, methyl alcohol, radium, ethyl alcohol, and thallium.

Each chapter includes several aspects of the history of poisonings in Jazz Age New York in order to paint a vivid picture of all that happened to make forensic medicine and poisoning the complex yet intriguing spider web that they are today.

First, within each chapter is a historical account of how forensic medicine really got its’ footing in the laboratory and, more importantly, in the court rooms of New York. The chapters start by telling of the corruption within the medical examiner’s office and later on how it gets reversed and forensic medicine makes incredible strides forward by hiring a top pathologist, Dr. Charles Norris, from Bellevue Hospital at the time who went to great lengths to develop newer, more precise, and more sensitive tests to determine how a person had died. The chapters also includes multiple stories showing how a particular poison was used, often in multiple ways, in order to get rid of someone whom the poisoner didn’t want around (for whatever reason). These stories start with explanations of the crime scene, moving towards the story of what Dr. Norris and his team did in the lab to determine cause of death, and ending with the stories from the courtroom of who said what, what the verdict was, and what the (assumed) story of what really happened was. Some chapters include extra ties to things occurring in history at that time, for example the invention of the car, its’ increased popularity, and the ties to the increase in carbon monoxide and tetraethyl lead (TEL) (linked to mercury poisoning) deaths in car and gasoline factories).

Overall, “The Poisoner’s Handbook” tells an incredible, scientific and historical, account of how poisoning changed forensic medicine forever. The stories included within these pages cover multiple viewpoints of history including legal, scientific, historical, political, and technological of Jazz Age New York, which combine to create a colorful painting of what Jazz Age New York looked like, from both sides of the courtroom. People who would enjoy this book include people with scientific interests, people with medical interests, people with legal interests, as well as anyone with a strong sense of curiosity surrounding crime and science. Having a chemistry background would help in your initial understanding of the poisons before Blum discusses them; but, her descriptions of the physiological effects as well as her explanations of why these compounds and elements were so dangerous for human contact mean anyone could enjoy and understand the inner workings of poisoning in the Jazz Age of New York City through reading “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York.”