What’s in it for them?

This is, so far, the hardest blog prompt I’ve had to respond to.  What, they want to know, does the Roberts Lab get out of this whole thing?  I’ve already written plenty about what it will do for me and for my students, but what about the people giving up significant portions of their day to help me with procedures, and explain new concepts over and over (and over and over….I think now I finally understand microsatellites!)?

I certainly hope they’re getting something out of it, because they are going way out of their way for me.  I knew that I would get to sit in and watch and try out procedures.  I had no idea that they would give up work time to help me play fish paparazzo (thanks, Ashley and Mandy!), or dig out their undergrad notes to help me understand a difficult concept (thanks, Erin!), or review my curriculum work with a fine tooth comb (thanks, Ashley and Reade!), or just generally invite me along for anything interesting that’s happening (thanks, everyone!).  Either these are the nicest people in the world, or there’s some kind of benefit here for them.

Over these four weeks, I suppose they get the opportunity to do what I do most of the year – share things that they find really interesting with someone who hasn’t heard about them before.  But, I think the real payoff comes down the line, because I’m going to take all this stuff back to my classroom and share it with my students and get them really interested.  And from there, as in all things with my students, the options are limitless.  Maybe someday, one of them will go on to study cichlids, and maybe they’ll even do it in the Roberts Lab!

So, why are you here again?

This week, I started my four week internship in the Roberts Lab at NC State.  It has been a wonderful week.  I’ve gotten to meet the fish, dissect some of them, collect tissue samples, extract the DNA, and run PCR and electrophoresis gels.  Everyone in the lab has been extremely welcoming and generous with their time and teaching.

What has been funny about this experience, however, is how many times I have been asked the question, “So, why exactly are you here?”  In other words, all that science stuff sounds cool, but why is a high school teacher doing it?  It has been, I admit, a little bit tricky to explain.

In the end, it comes down to my desire to make science real for my students.  Science, for many of them, is something that you read about in a book.  I want them to see that science is something to do.  So, when we study cells, we culture and identify bacteria; when we study ecology, we go out and explore the campus ecosystem.  It gets a little bit trickier when we get to genetics.  DNA and genetics are among the least concrete topics we study, and the processes and equipment needed to do genetics labs are mostly beyond our reach.  And, truth be told, I don’t know all that much about genetics lab techniques in order to figure out how to bring them into the classroom.

So, here I am, taking a four week crash course, figuring out how to make DNA and genetics come alive for my students, and maybe, if I’m lucky, how to put a little bit of it into their hands.  Wish me luck.  🙂


Reflecting on NCCAT

The NCCAT experience has been amazing.  My brain is just buzzing with information and ideas this morning.  I feel like I need to go home, sleep for a week, and then spend another week processing it all.  I now have a strong network of teachers who are going through the same experiences I am, and I am so grateful to all the Kenan alums who came back to share with us and support us.

I was surprised to find that the most valuable session for me was our day on the river.  I knew that it would be the most fun, but before coming, I wondered whether it would really relate to teaching, or just be a break and a bonding experience.  The skill with which the guides taught us about the environment, history, and culture of the area, without ever feeling like a lecture really inspired me to figure out ways to get my students into environmental settings they haven’t seen before, give them some adventure to wake up their minds, and teach them something relevant along the way.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll do that in my classroom, but there are a few things that I know will show up in my classroom this fall.  I will definitely be playing more music in my classroom (thanks, Eric Rowles!), and giving my students the chance to try writing lab reports as infographics (thanks, Vance Kite!).

The only session of the entire week that I really didn’t enjoy was the culture session.  I thought the information was really valuable, but the way it was presented, mostly as lecture with very little interaction, just didn’t work for me.  This is a good reminder to avoid this strategy in my own classroom, and to have four days of PD with only one not-so-great session is pretty impressive, and certainly better than any other professional development experience I have ever had.

Let the Fellowship begin!

I cannot believe that I am actually a Kenan Fellow.  I will admit that I applied for the program not knowing very much about it.  I knew I would get to do some kind of science, and I knew it would give me new, relevant material to bring into my classroom, but it wasn’t until this week that I really started to get an idea of what it would be like to be a Fellow.

Personally, I am excited to have become part of this group of fantastic educators, all of whom seem to be taking on dozens of different projects and initiatives.  I am someone who likes to keep striving and taking on new challenges, and I think that this program is going to provide plenty of challenges of its own, but also open up a world of professional advancement that I haven’t been able to learn much about since moving to North Carolina.  I am so looking forward to having this great network of teachers to share resources, ideas, and opportunities, and to continually push me to push myself further.

Of course, I’m not just in this for myself.  I also know that my students will benefit greatly.  The teachers at my school heard frequently last year that our students needed to spend more time looking at and analyzing data.  As a science teacher, I think this is a great idea in principle, but in practice I have a hard time finding meaningful, manageable data for my students to work with.  Now, with the help of the great researchers I’ll be working with, I can give my students access to real data, relevant to the topics we are studying, and, with a little work on my part, presented in a way that is reasonable to expect them to handle.  This summer, I get to spend four weeks in a cutting edge genetics lab.  I can’t bring my students with me for those four weeks, but with a little luck and the help of my mentor and fellow Fellows, I should be able to bring some of that lab experience to the students.