six classes, all with friendly, bright, decent kids
good, trustworthy colleagues all around
no big mistakes yet to have to overcome
encouraged but still really tired
I’m lucky to get to teach and especially to get to teach at Willard. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m teaching the best kids in the school. What’s crazy is how hard it still feels to do this even though I have nearly everything lined up in my favor. I can’t imagine what so many teachers feel like with the conditions they work under.
My prayer is that all of us in the school biz remember what a privilege it is to be a part of our students’ lives, have resilience when the inevitable bumps (or worse) occur, and pause in the busyness (at best) or chaos (at worst) to recognize the perfect moment when it occurs (à la Spalding Gray). Grace and Peace.
I am going to reveal a little-known trade secret about the modern high school Biology class — we no longer do most of the things that defined the experience for last hundred years or so.
1. We only teach half of the textbook (more about this in a minute).
2. We don’t do dissection — no frogs, no grasshoppers, no earthworms. I blame the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities. It’s too bad — we probably shouldn’t underestimate how many scientists and doctors were initially drawn to the macabre thrill of peering into the innards of various critters.
3. We don’t go on field trips. Again the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities.
4. We don’t study zoology or botany. Really. This one is harder to parse — maybe it’s just a logistical issue (one needs lots of stuff to do this properly), but frankly, classroom management of students who never learned good habits of working in the lab also comes into play. I strongly suspect, but cannot prove, that today’s students who grew up in schools saturated with the dogma of “collaborative learning” (aka “group work”) work less effectively than students from previous eras who primarily learned to work by themselves, and then later had opportunities to work together in a lab setting.
This year, I’m determined to begin to walk my way back toward a more balanced approach. My Honors Biology classes are going to rediscover the second half of our biology textbook — the chapters dealing with prokaryote, protist, animal and plant characteristics. Without real plants and critters I’m going to have to find interesting pictures and videos to supplement our text. It won’t be anywhere near ideal, but I hope it begins a process of moving back toward biology as a living, breathing thing — the very thing that captivated me (and so many others) when I was a young student.
I love Moleskine notebooks — specifically, medium-sized, kraft paper covered, grid-ruled Moleskine notebooks. As an organizationally-challenged person, these notebooks have, over the last two years, been the only thing standing between me and the entropy abyss. So today I went to the bookstore and purchased this year’s supply. Since I had a lot of work to do, I obviously felt compelled to decorate my new notebooks instead. I opted for a homage to Mondrian, a cube optical illusion and a fibonacci spiral (it’s cool that Moleskine notebooks are almost a perfect golden rectangle). I thought they turned out pretty well and I didn’t have to do any work. Win, win.
Here’s a tonic for our times — “A Self-Made Man Looks At How He Made It” by writer and blogger John Scalzi. I think we will return to this way of looking at our lives — eventually — but only after our culture’s arrogance and narcissism has driven us into the ditch.
She called up the Webb School of California, and found out it cost more to attend than she made in a year. But she was convinced it was the right place. I went and took the entrance test and had my interview with a teacher there, named Steve Patterson. I don’t remember what it was I said during the interview; I have almost no memory of that interview at all. But I was told years later by another teacher that Steve Patterson said that day to the Webb admissions people that if there were only one child who was admitted to Webb that year, it should be me.
Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Low-pressure extraction of alkaloids from oxidized Coffea arabica seeds with an emulsified colloid of liquid butterfat globules dispersed within a water-based solution. Very successful experiment. I hope I can replicate this.
First trial of an experiment for Honors Biology. Students develop a standard curve of changes in mass of uncooked potato slices in response to various concentrations of solute (either salt or sugar). A little surprising that the change leveled off so much on the upper end of the salt concentration series. Any thoughts out there?