Monday, February 9, 2009

Class Size

Last week, the students at YPSH started a new semester. This new semester is special to my students, the majority of which are in 9th grade, because they have now survived their first semester of high school. I noticed an improvement in their behavior at the start of this semester and I only expect it to continue. Behavior seems to be a topic of discussion lately, as our next TF meeting plans to discuss how students’ behavior affects on the learning environment. I suspect the relationship between learning environment and class size to be universal across all of high school education. Last semester, we had a class of 34+ students in a freshman biology class. Even with the teacher and myself there were always too many questions or, even worse, too many distractions. This semester the same class has shrunk to a ~ 25 students. This semester, the class environment is considerably more conducive to learning. I feel that this TF experience has cemented my belief that the education system will be creating bigger hurdles for itself, unless more teachers are hired and class sizes are limited.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Teaching the Organelles

This past Thursday, I tried two new activities as I taught the entire class for the first time this semester.

But first:
At the beginning of every class, the students typically have a journal question. On that day I asked each student to write down something related to biology, health, disease, or living things that they had a question about. I plan on answering 1-2 of these every time I come into class now, and may try to integrate my answers with the material they are covering at the moment. I have read their questions, and there are some really interesting ones (more on that in some other post).

On to teaching:
While preparing to teach the organelles, I was thinking about my Cell biology course during my undergraduate. It was during that class that I first enjoyed really learning about cell biology. I was going to try to replicate their teaching style - no powerpoint, no artificial figures, all chalk and chalk board, hand drawn pictures, and very straight talk. The more I thought about this method of teaching I though it may work very well because this is a completely different style of teaching than Ms. Papke. I knew I couldn't just talk to them though, and it would be better to integrate the class. I ended up teaching an activity where the students would tell me all of the rooms, components, and/or functions of a house and I wrote these on the board. Then we went through the list comparing each room or function to an organelle and its specific function in the cell. In general, I think the activity worked very well - some organelles worked much better than others. The second half of the class we watched the video, "The inner life of the cell" and I walked the students through certain organelles and processes within the cell. The students who were paying attention to the video got a lot out of it - I heard many students asking, " Is this happening in us? Right now? all the time?" Overall, I think the combination of board teaching and technology seemed to work very well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Midterm Progress

Hello all, the semester has become increasingly busy - for myself and the students at YPSH. Two weeks ago Ms. Papke handed my students their current grades including all of the assignments, their grades, and what was missing. The day was needless to say, extremely hectic. The majority of the students were not doing very well at all. One of the most disconcerting observations I made that day - and I beleive Ms. Papke already knew - was that the majority of these "failing" students were very smart. Most of them had done very well on their graded homework; however, these among these same students they all seemed to have trouble turning in assignments.  I was also surprised by the amount of students who seemed to have no idea why they were failing and were not happy with the result.  I spent the majority of that day - this was a make up day - comforting many students and trying to convey to them that they had plenty of time to fix their grade.  I remember saying - "you're doing pretty well if you can turn some of these items in, you just have to start knocking away at this "to-do" list" or "here, start with this project, its not too hard and if you can turn in some of these project you have 0's on you will be just fine."  I think many of these students - once past being overwhelmed - took the day to heart and worked diligently through the hour.  There is always an exception though - a few students seemed to be turned off by their lack of success and failed to seize the opportunity to turn in work they had previously failed to hand in.  I will find out tomorrow how many of these students were able to save their midterm grade.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hand Shake

To start ~ 2 weeks have passed since my last post, and there are a few housekeeping items to address first. First, I brought a microfluidic device into class 2 weeks ago and in the back of the room quickly noted the experiment seemed to give positive results, but would have been too difficult to demonstrate to the class. I did pass the device around at the end of glass while describing how biologists use many other tools beside petri dishes. The students seemed intrigued and had a few questions. Second, we will be learning about organelles soon. I am going to teach this subject to the class, and I think it will be really neat for the students to hear from me for an entire class period. Any suggestions as to how to do this are always welcome - I think I am going to try a group a activity with a round table like feel.

Now the topic I really wanted to talk about. Last week we (the TFs) listened to Richard Weigel (YPSD Assistant Superintendent) speak about how to use our proximity to the students as a teaching aid. More or less he was also talking about shaking hands and showing students respect - because they recognize respect and will reciprocate. Ironically, earlier that day I had gone to shake a student's hand, and he wouldn't shake my hand. The concept was foreign to him - it wasn't the cool thing to do. After a few moments - I took his hand, put it in my hand, proceeded with the handshake, and said "That's how you do it." I then told the student that I have to shake hands with my boss, people I work with, and people I'm introduced to all the time. He still said he would never do it, and I left the conversation at that. After hearing Richard Weigel that evening, I decided i was going to shake this students hand every day for the rest of the semester. On Tuesday I shook the students hand, twice, the student didn't object at all and seemed to enjoy the interaction. Even more surprisingly, we must have been observed by another individual in the class and she later wanted a hand shake. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The second week of classes at YPSH has concluded and I am ramping up for week 3. I had a very motivating conversation with a student last Thursday. The student was working on a lab report and started talking to me about how he wants to go to the University of Alabama. I thought this was awesome because I had not seen any foresight or drive in this student before. In addition, I used this moment to get very excited for him and tell him that its going to be a lot of work but its definitely worth it. I hope to see more of these goals come out of the students throughout the year.

Note: the experiment I mentioned last week was delayed because I brought the wrong materials with me last Thursday.

Two Days and an Idea

I’m a Biomedical Engineering Graduate student immersed in a 9th grade biology class at Ypsilanti High School this semester. This first week has been quite an experience for me.

Last week, Ms. Papke’s biology classes were charged with determining how well brine shrimp hatch/grow in different salinities (all prepared in Petri dishes). I later learned (through wikipedia), this experiment is very common as an introduction to the life sciences at the high school level. In addition, to keeping students focused I was trying to remember what 9th grade was like for me with my limited views of science at the time. I realized that any activity or concept that could relate what scientists actually do, what other tools they may have, and in general what types of questions scientists are really addressing may help motivate these students or at least elicit appreciation.

In my second class, I asked several of the students if they thought biologists did all of their work with Petri dishes. The responses varied: “No, they often go out into nature” or “No, sometimes they just watch animals.” How do I demonstrate – in a meaningful manner – what other tools biologists use?

Then it hit me - Microfluidic channels with a variation of the brine shrimp experiment. These devices are often being used in cellular cultures to study biological questions that cannot be answered in a traditional Petri dish. More over, these devices are tangible - the students can see them, touch them, and use them. Ms. Papke and I have developed two potential, very simple but elegant, experiments that we will try prior to a class demonstration. Hopefully, new tools will generate an interest in science and the many tools we have at our disposal.