Sunday, August 24, 2008

Dreams of school

So one of the teachers at the workshop that I attended would tell me she had nightmares about her school. She said in one dream she was at the photocopy machine, and she really needed to make copies, BUT she couldn't find her master copies to start photocopying.

I've never had a nightmare but I guess all the talk about dreams finally entered my subconscious because I did have a dream about school. It wasn't a nightmare, but it something that could happen.

First I dreamt that my class was physically longer and that they had added 6 more benches to my room so it was now able to hold 54 students. One of the students sitting in the back, of course, was a knucklehead I had for only one semester last year (THANK GOODNESS!). In the back of the classroom in the other corner was 2 boys who were being smart asses. They would say something and I'd reply back, knucklehead from last year would laugh every time the 2 boys would talk back. The dream ended with me kicking them out to guidance. It wasn't a bad dream, definitely something that could happen, except for the way larger classroom. That wouldn't happen.

So that was my crazy dream. It wasn't bad, and I'm still looking forward to the new school year.

Last week for my worshop: A reflection

I just finished the last week for my inquiry workshop. I really enjoyed it and it has fired me up the start of the school year. At the end of the workshop we had to evaluate the program and fill out a HUGE questionnaire. One of the questions I had trouble answering was what I liked the most. I really couldn't decided. There were two aspects that I liked equally.

One, I liked learning! We spent three weeks going through common procedures in microbiology and molecular biology. Two subjects that I really enjoyed in college. We made plates, cultures, Inserted genes using plasmids, examined digested pieces to cut p the DNA, examined the DNA on an agarose gel and ran a PCR. I was so bummed that my PCR didn't work! It was such a short course that I did not get the chance to run the PCR again. Most of this workshop was HANDS on. It required me to remember and review what we would be doing before, or after, we did it. We had very active discussions about what we were learning, and I enjoyed the learning! It made me miss going to school myself and learn more on the subject.

The second thing that I enjoyed about this workshop was the dive right in attitude. It was essentially good, but to dive right in without really knowing what your doing, or having time to review what you will be doing, is hectic. Without really knowing what the product is we were asked to perform many complicated laboratory techniques that most of us have never done before. I had done some of these things in my undergraduate classes and in other workshops, but very few others had done this. Its not so much that I enjoyed the feeling of being unsure, its that I realized that this is what most of my students must experience when expected to learn some very complicated biological processes. This dive in attitude put me in their shoes.

Using Inquiry learning strategies in the class can help lower the amount of students not sure of what to do. Unfortunately I have found that most of my students do not like science. I found this out by asking them if they like science at the start of the year. So when I give instruction or lecture on a biological process they don't pay close attention because its something they are not interested in. Using Inquiry strategy I can get them hooked in by allowing them to choose what they want to investigate(within current topic of study). Now I'm not dumb, I know its not going to get all of them. But even a 10-20% increase in students who become interested in what we are learning because they get to find out information that they are interested would be excellent.

I also realized that I do want to go back to school. I want to increase/sharpen what I know.

So its a bummer that the workshop is over, but I did gain alot from it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Something funny.

If you saw the last Batman movie, here is a funny spoof based on the interrogation scene in the movie. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Well I am at Cal Tech this week. I took my camera to take pictures of the campus, but my dumb rechargeable batteries died. Need new ones :(

I did get some pictures. Here is the hallway for the building that my workshop is in. Its Spanish style. The Hallways are very beautiful as they have the plastered arched ceilings.

On the way to lunch we pass by this little turtle pond. I have never been interested in having a turtle as a pet, but these guys are cute!

Right past the turtle pond is this large park area with a water feature. Its a nice area to sit, feel the breeze and enjoy how peaceful it looks.

And thats all I got, cuz then my camera died. Oh well next week!

Frustration & Learning

In my second week in my inquiry learning workshop I have been frustrated, but I have also learned about frustration and how it interferes with learning.

During the second week we transformed some bacteria with the GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein).
Now I do teach Biology and I am familiar with the steps required to do transformation, but is something I have only done once before in another workshop, over 4 years ago.

Now the first part is easy. We are given plasmid DNA that has DNA from a Jellyfish. A Plasmid is a piece of DNA that is found in bacteria, but is not connected to the bacteria's DNA. The Plasmid can move in and out of the bacteria and this is one way that bacteria can pass around the genetic information that makes them antibiotic resistance. What molecular biologist have learned how to do is to take a plasmid from bacteria and splice in another gene. Now this is one way that they make insulin for diabetics. They take plasmids, splice in the gene making insulin, put it into a bacteria and the bacteria will make insulin. They grow billions of E-coli and these E-coli produce insulin.

The plasmid DNA that I received came from a jellyfish that naturally glows green.

Each plasmid only carries one gene and each had a different gene from the jellyfish. So some might of have the gene for making the protein that glows, one might of have the gene for making the slime on the outside of the jellyfish or any other part of the jellyfish. We first had to transform the bacteria, that is trick the bacteria into taking in the plasmid. Once the bacteria takes in the plasmid it will produce the protein that was on the plasmid.

So this is what I grew. The top 2 rows have growth, but too much. When you have this much solid growth its called a lawn. In the third row only the first plate had growth, but these were colonies, basically little dots of growth. It was the same for the 4th row as well.

Me and my lab partner had success, we had one dish that grew bacteria that had taken in the plasmid with the Green Fluorescent Protein Gene! You can see the glowing green little colonies.

What was frustrating? The Stoichiometry (calculations) needed to figure out the concentration of bacteria cells per sample on the plates with colonies. This is something I have never done. Fortunately for me one of the classes I teach I do show how to do conversions, which is similar to what I'm supposed to do. So I kinda know how to set it up. I was also lucky is that my lab partner new what to do. So she showed me what to do. Thats good and bad, I learn better when I puzzle it out myself.

The next step is verification. When you transform bacteria to produce a protein you need to verify that you have the correct protein inside the bacteria. So you go through a process where you take the plasmid out of the bacteria and place the plasmid DNA on an agarose gel to see the length of DNA that you are interested in. Basically you look to see if the plasmid in your transformed DNA is the one you wanted in the bacteria.

So what was frustrating about this? The steps to do this were complicated as well as the calculations to make all the solutions we needed to make to perform the experiment. Now in the workshop we first meet to discuss what we are going to do, then we do it. The moderator/teacher of our workshop was going over what we had to do. She was going over the instructions in a fast manner and assuming we knew all the reasonings why certain things need to be done. This was all so frustrating. I was trying to listen and write down instructions. That is something hard for me to do because when I write I am comprehending what I heard, but then I get behind in what is being said. SO at one point I got lost and looked up to see who I could ask for what I missed and I saw that everyone was lost. I teach, I know what the "lost-look" looks like. The moderator (a post-doc student) didn't know we were lost. She didn't know because some of the teachers were nodding their heads lie they knew what she was talking about, and when the moderator asked "any questions?" no one raised their hand.

Now the kind of person i am is that when I don't know something I NEED TO KNOW NOW! I raised my hand and asked "I'm lost, I think everyone else is lost, please raise your hand if you are on the same page as the moderator" and no one raised their hand. So we had to back peddle a bit and we figured it out.

This was a good experience because this is exactly what happens to students in a classroom. They get lost and they just nod there head and wait until the bell rings. Whats worst is that students will not raise their hand to say they are lost. They have learned by high school (through bad teacher experiences) that if your the one that raises their hand to critique something in class you, as the student, risk of being embarrassed or made fun of or even in trouble. So I learned to pay attention to how I give instruction and to gauge their facial/physically reaction. so I don't lose them.

So once we did that we went to the lab. I actually did partially figure out how to do some calculations for the solutions we needed. We went through all the chemical steps to separate the plasmid and reculture it. We actually did this part on more than 1 samples so we would have more than one plasmid sample to test. Then we cut up the plasmid for just the DNA for the gene we grew in the bacteria. Once we do that we use a micropippete tool to place the DNA samples in the agarose gel.

SO these are micropippetes, you use them to distribute microlitres of fluid. That is 1/1000 of a ml, very small amounts.

The idea is that you cut up the DNA into little pieces. Then you make a gel, a jello like substance, that is about 1/4-inch thick and rectangular in shape about 3 inches by 4 inches. The gel is made in a mold that creates 12 small wells, or holes, on one end of the gel. You then micropippete a small amount of one of the DNA samples into one of the wells in the agarose gel. Then it is placed in a Electrophoresis tank and an electrical current is applied to the gel. DNA is polar, which means it has a positive end and a negative end. So when the electrical current is applied to the gel the DNA moves within the gel. This makes the DNA bands that TV uses in all there CSI shows. This is the Electrophoresis tank.

This is what we got after we took the gel out and put it in the UV ray to see the bands. IT WAS WAY COOL!

This is all we could do this week. next week will run a PCR, a way to reproduce the gene of interest in great amounts.

We ended the day having a discussion on inquiry learning and how we could incorporate the inquiry process in our classes. All teachers in my group realize that what we are doing would not be entirely possible in a basic biology class. Most of us, including me, do not have the tools or equipment for most of what we are doing. But we do take away our experiences with these procedures and an understanding how important it is to allow students to dig and figure out things on there own. This way they are engaged and when they are engaged they are learning.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Inquiry Learning

I am currently in a 3 week workshop on inquiry earning. Yes I know its August but there are no regrets. I made the commitment to attend the workshop, it was something I was looking forward to going to, and I AM SO GLAD I DID!.

First let me explain my summer situation. I really needed my summer vacation this time. This last year was particularly tough because of two things. First, I DID NOT PREPARE FOR THE START OF THE SCHOOL YEAR! I made the STUPID assumption that I could just do what I did last year for the first week of school and catch up with lesson planning over the weekends. Well that TOTALLY didn't work. I was just as bad as the kids :( . This compounded the second reason that made a tough year for me, my school changed its pacing plan for biology. It threw me for a loop and I never felt caught up. Part of that extended year-long feeling was also due to mismanagement of my time from time over the year.

So at the end of this school year I decided to make sure to prepare and plan for the next school year. One of my GOALS is to have lessons that meet the California standards but are not specific to my text book. This way when my school changes books, I'll be ready. In addition for preparing lessons I also planned to attend 2 different workshops over the summer. One workshop met for 2 weeks in the summer and will meet once a month over the upcoming school year. This workshop is on literacy, a focus on reading and writing. It's a good workshop that shows how to use strategies to engage students in their content reading. Basically it gives prereading strategies, build up, post writing strategies and rubrics to help grade what is written. The best part of the rubric is that shows examples of 1's to 6's. Thats helpful for me so that I can see examples of what a 3-6's is and compare it to my students. In addition I also got some free books on literacy strategies. English teachers got a GREAT binder that had 9 lessons that each teach different types of grammar.

I'm really happy about the latest workshop that I am attending this week. It is on inquiry learning. Before taking this workshop I thought Inquiry learning was hands on learning, nothing more of that. I'm learning that its so much more. I signed up for the workshop because I was told that it consists of a cohort of Biology teachers who are grouped together and
we would work laboratories for the classroom. If you are a science teacher having new and interesting labs are a MUST HAVE. If they are fun its a bonus! That is why I signed up for this workshop. Thats not quite what we are doing, but I don't care. In the 4 days I have been there I'm really learning alot about Inquiry learning and I am excited to take what I learned into the classroom this September.

When my year ended last year I knew my lesson needed work. Part of the change in my school's science pacing plan was to shrink it down from 36 weeks to 30 weeks for teaching all the Bio standards. The reasoning behind this is to have the students 100% prepared for state testing in May. I don't think this is a bad idea. The nice thing is that you have the last 6 weeks to investigate any area in Bio, such as classification, plants, biotechnology or microbiology. My lessons for the last year were mostly textbook driven with the focus of activities on reading, Cornell notes and Lecture. Followed by a test or quiz. The Labs were either grouped, demo's, or very truncated. What my lessons needed was more laboratory activities that engage the students and get them thinking.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think.

Let me give you an example with a laboratory that every bio teacher from high school to college does. The good old introducing the microscope lab. The day before the lab you introduce the microscope and give the student a handout or page numbers in the book to preview the microscope. The next day you might demo how to use the microscope (10-20 minutes) then allow the students to use the microscope. Now if your class is 50 minutes long the students really only have time to look at a few slides. Forget making them. That will be tomorrow and another demo. Then maybe later you give the kids a test so they can define the parts microscope and what they do.

This year I will be again doing the good old microscope lab, but using inquiry learning.

This is what I'm going to do. I will have the students use a blank sheet of paper in their science journal. I will take one microscope from the cart to show them how to properly carry it, I'll show them how to be careful with the stage and objective lenses because the stage can injure the objective lens. Then they will draw their microscope and figure out what all the dials do ON THEIR OWN. They won't be able to use the book initially, which will force them to write in their own words what each dial does on the microscope, but they will get to play (which is what they want to do) while they learn (which is what I want them to do) what the function of each knob or dial does. I'll give them slides to practice with. Hopefully this will also limit the "is this right Miss?" questions.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think, at their pace by investigating.

Now I'm lucky, I have computers (12 of them, so groups of three students per computer) in my room. They are old Apples, but they work with the internet. The next day I will have students investigate on the web how to make a wet mount slide, INSTEAD OF PROVIDING THE INFORMATION FOR THEM! I know if I give them a hand out most won't read it, let alone write a prelab. I hate having to say "If you don't have the prelab you don't get to do the lab". But if I show them how to search for information on the web then I am also teaching them technology skills. I can show them to look for the domain name as a clue to whether a site is a good source. As a homework assignment I can have them bring in something THEY WANT TO SEE to make a wet slide of for the next day. (Now this I will have to be careful so students do not bring in anything inappropriate into the classroom) I'll also have available your basic letter "e" as well as some thread to show depth. I think the students will (I HOPE) love exploring the microscope on their own as well as remember how they work.

Let me give you another example. One experiment that I do for Cellular Respiration is to use Yeast. I have the students place yeast, sugar and salt, in different combinations into test tubes. Then I have them place a balloon over the test tube. This is done to show the anaerobic reaction of yeast. The yeast eat the sugar and expel CO2 gas. I wrote the lab (A total late night project) I tell the students how much to measure out in each tube, how warm the water should be and how long. INSTEAD I think when we get to this point we will look up what conditions are good for yeasts and anaerobic reactions , and then I will provide the yeast and sugar and salt and test tubes, BUT LEAVE IT UP TO THEM HOW TO PUT IT TOGETHER! They write up the prelab telling me there plan, then they do the lab the next day. Not only are they learning how to research, learning about anaerobic reactions, and different types of yeasts (classification). They will write a better report because they figured out the procedure and they will improve their reading sills as they do research for their report.

Inquiry learning is actually teaching kids how to think, at their pace by investigating and creating their OWN experiments. Making their own questions and finding out their own answers!

So I'm currently in week one, day 4, of my workshop and am looking forward to the next two weeks, AS WELL AS THE START OF SCHOOL! Thats not crazy, thats just the difference between a job and a career!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Here I go again!

Well here I am trying to blog again. I do not have many current teaching experiences to write about because it is summer time. I have been teaching for 3 years and will start my fourth year of teaching this September. SO what have I done so far?

I took some time off with my family and friends.

I started some literacy classes. These are classes to show teachers techniques and strategies to improve a students reading and writing ability. These classes will meet over the next school year, about once a month. Every few classes is a different presenter. They are good classes because they show me ways to engage the student and help them become better readers, writers and thinkers. While these classes are geared for English teachers I know, even though I am a science teacher, I'm sort of an English teacher too in trying to improve their literacy skills when it comes to science. I was originally shocked that most students don't LOVE science when they come into the classroom. I think as little kids we are all little scientist, but I guess that gets lost along the way. I will admit there is ALOT of reading that is done in the classroom to cover the amount of material that is required by the state. These classes I am taking are showing me how to demonstrate techniques students can use to make sense out of the material they have to read.

I am also starting a class next week. It is for science teachers. Essentially I will meet other Biology teachers and collaborate on labs that we could implement in the classroom. Labs are an important part of a science class. In a science class the only interesting thing to all students are the labs that are done. Since each class only lasts 52 minutes, having labs that are easy to set up and take down, cost effective AND are COOL, is something I need to work on! Needless to say I am looking forward to these classes coming up.

I am also cleaning out my work space. I have way too many books and papers piled up on my desk at home, so I'm doing a little organization and clean up. That includes the computer too! I am almost done going through my fies on the computer. This is good because it reminds what I have done before, and what I can get rid of!

Last summer I didn't really prepare for the upcoming school year. There were moments when I wish I had redid some lessons or found something new. Teaching is a refining process and I don't want myself to become stale. I think everyone has had a teacher who has been using the same lesson/worksheet or test for YEARS. I don't want to reinvent the wheel every year,but, I don't want to be old and moldy either.