End-of-Course Reverie

End-of-Course Reverie

I watch my students

click and decide

if I am a good teacher.

My voice is now silent,

so I try to stir them using only my mind

(but I don’t see anything happening).

I think about what I did

and what I didn’t

and wish I had a few do-overs

until my aching head

reminds me what a bad idea

that would be.

So I tell myself

“It’ll be alright–

or if not, it doesn’t matter (eternally).”

But unfortunately,

I don’t really listen to myself

any better than my students do.

So it comes down to the fruits of a thousand hours,

being placed in four bins to produce one number.

Pretty coarsely-weighed for so dear a harvest.

WDS 4/20/2013

the other half of the book

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.

this school year’s Moleskine notebooks

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.

chemistry experiments

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?

All in all a fun and easy experiment.

Teacher Man – by Frank McCourt

In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.

— Frank McCourt, ‘Teacher Man’

Last night our book group discussed “Teacher Man”, by Frank McCourt. This is such an honest and perceptive book about teaching (which means it’s also insightful about students, schools, and learning in general). McCourt, who died in 2009, managed to achieve the Holy Grail of teaching — to be independent, successful and appreciated by students. If you teach, or just want to know what teachers are thinking, this is the book.