A Letter to Students and Parents

I began writing my course audit for AP Biology this week, which is always a fun thing to do. Part of my course description includes a short letter to parents and students at the beginning, so they have glimpse of my philosophy on the class and school. I also looked back at a course audit I had written for AP Chemistry my first year of teaching. The dissonance shocked me. This is from 2009:

Teachers, Students, and Our Roles

You will not succeed in this course if you become merely an observer. Learning does not happen by being a spectator. You, as the student, are expected to take your education seriously and to be responsible for your own learning. Your success will correlate directly to the amount of time and effort you put into your studies of chemistry outside of class.

At this stage in life, you are called to be a student. Time management will be essential in your success not only in this class but also in all your studies. This is not the only class you are taking. If you need help in setting up a “time budget,” you may see me to set up a study schedule to help structure your time and foster good habits.

My job, as the teacher, is to facilitate your learning through instruction in class as well as outside of class if you need extra support. Throughout this year, I will provide you with experiences that are meant to engage you intellectually and that will help you broaden your knowledge of chemistry. One way to maximize your success is to have open communication between one another. As we progress through the course, I need feedback from you as to how the material is being presented so we can maximize class time and ultimately enhance your understanding.

It is also my job as the teacher to design effective assessments of your learning. Exams, quizzes, and labs will help me make evaluations of your success in the class. Quizzes will be given twice in each chapter and a test will be given after every 2 chapters. All tests are cumulative and timed.

All of this is good information and important, but it is very condescending (to me) and really does not portray a very inviting class. Here is my letter for 2012:

Teachers, Students, and School

The world is changing. Simply memorizing facts is no longer appreciable in a digital world, where information is available any time, any where. This fundamentally changes the roles of students, teachers, and schools.

As a teacher, it is my job to help provide a starting point for your learning. I will be available to help answer questions, but it is also my job to ask even more questions. Biology is the study of history and science, but it is also the study of the world around us, which requires questioning and experimentation.

As a student, you are expected to fail. We learn by making mistakes. I will push you to make mistakes, but I will also support your learning as you evaluate those mistakes. You are expected to persevere and continue to make progress. Learning opportunities for multiple styles will be provided, which will allow you to craft your learning experience in AP Biology.

School will be a place of collaboration. While in class, you will be working in small focus groups that will in turn support one another through each unit. These groups will help you develop time-management and collaboration skills that are essential after your formal schooling is over. While in class, you will have the option to structure your learning time based around lab investigations, research, or application projects. We will focus on real-world uses of the information you are collecting and reshaping into something useful. Community outreach will be encouraged as part of the course.

I am already excited about next year.

I Can’t Teach Science

Ever since the State of the Union address on January 24th, I have seen more blog posts and articles on STEM than I have in a very, very long time. The problem is, they’re all focusing on the wrong thing.

I feel like I’m channeling Michael Doyle and even Dan Meyer today, but it really is getting to the point where the nation’s science, math, technology, and engineering teachers need to speak up more and let policymakers know that they aren’t allowing us to teach anymore.

Science can’t be “taught.” I can tell kids how chromosomes randomly separate into sperm and eggs that eventually might become a living organism, but that takes so much away from the magic of seeing how diverse life is when the two meet. I am required to teach how to find the probability of what the results of a cross will be, but you cannot cage life into a Punnett square. But, by law, that’s what I have to do. I’m evaluated on it. My students are evaluated on it. But, in reality, they aren’t being evaluated on what they know about science.

Science is living. Science is making observations, asking questions, and then finding what seems to be a good explanation for what you saw. Science is communal. They need time to debate, to discuss, and to troubleshoot. Otherwise, we’re just teaching letters and numbers now and that’s our science scores are so low.

Science has become artificial, and just like artificial grass, the burn hurts much more when you fall down.

Periodic Table of Cereals

Update 9/18/2012 – Unfortunately, the videos no longer work because the students closed their accounts. Feel free to use this Google Doc for the activity.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about students putting together a periodic table of cereals for a project.  Well, the final drafts are in and I got some work this year that blew my mind.  Some of the best are shown below if you’re interested in browsing through some.

As an overview, students picked 25 cereals and then had to organize them in a comprehensive table.  It had to classify both rows (periods) and columns (groups) as well as 3 other properties of their choice.  Some students opted to use this as a test grade and were also required to submit a video answering some questions other students chose to write about.  Anyways, enjoy their work!

These are two of the videos that stood out amongst the rest.