It’s been a strange mix of fun and frustration.
During the first few weeks of my biology teacher internship I’ve done a lot of observing and assisting. Then I taught a few lessons that my host teacher had created. All of that went fine and I started getting comfortable with being in front of the students and dealing with their general teenage school-related problems: talking while I’m lecturing, not following instructions, trying to sleep, not having basic school supplies, etc. I’m definitely not an expert at handling these things yet; I just got a taste of it all. It took me a while to learn the names of about 60 students, but I think I finally have all of them memorized now. With those experience under my belt I finally tackled my very own lessons. I planned two days’ worth of instruction on “what is science” and the scientific method, and then I taught the lessons this past Monday and Tuesday. I also ran a “water on a penny” lab on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were days of just assisting and teaching mini-lessons created by the host teacher.
During the planning of my lessons, I focused quite a bit of energy on making them engaging and active. I incorporated an interesting puzzle that changed when a new piece was later discovered to illustrate the nature of scientific theories. I used a “hypothesis boxes” activity where the kids had to guess the design of a maze inside a box while also trying to figure out what types of objects were in there. The purpose of that one was to learn about making inferences, forming hypotheses on limited information, and using quantitative/qualitative data. I used a video of a magic trick to encourage the students to make observations and pick apart the trick. I lectured on how scientists conducted experiments to test the hypothesis that some non-venomous snakes are coloration mimics of venomous snakes. I used my graphic arts skills to create a very nice slide presentation to go along with the mimics lecture, using interesting pictures and graphics. The lessons on the scientific method included Redi’s and Pasteur’s experiments that refuted spontaneous generation. After that, there was tons and tons of practice identifying control groups, experimental groups, manipulated variables, responding variables and controlled variables. (As an aside: I had always used independent and dependent variables. Apparently manipulated and responding are fairly new terms that I now have to get used to.)
It took me quite a while to put this all together and I really poured energy into it.
Then today the host teacher verbally reviewed a lot of the information in advance of a quiz given at the end of the class. She asked the class what a theory is. She asked them to recall spontaneous generation. She had them identify the various parts of controlled experiments. The kids acted like they had never heard any of this before. A theory is a guess, they said. Responding variable? What’s that? I was embarrassed and crushed as I sat in the back of the class and listened to the dead silence following each question the host teacher tossed out there.
There was more bad news once the 10-question quizzes were graded. Barely anyone chose the correct multiple choice answer to a question about what a scientific theory is. They still struggled with parts of controlled experiments. Overall, there weren’t many outright failed quizzes, but there were a significant number of 60’s, the lowest passing grade possible.
My host teacher and I discussed the results. She told me not to take it personally. The students struggled just as much with the material she had taught on Thursday, and she had also done all of that verbal review with them right before the quiz. We reflected on what I could have done better and one thing I didn’t do during my lessons was have the students write many notes. So, there is the possibility that even though I tried to illustrate the term “theory” through a hands-on activity followed by a short explanatory lecture, the students could have benefitted from writing out the definition of a theory in some manner to better implant it in their minds. Nonetheless, my host teacher decided that we need to push the schedule back a day or two to make room for some re-teaching before we administer the full chapter test.
Next week I will teach a two-day lesson on the properties of water. I’ve already planned out the lessons, and I once again used my graphic design experience to create a nice multi-page worksheet. This time those kids will definitely be taking structured notes using those worksheets! I still have to assemble some materials and make sure I know what I’m doing, which includes the running of a pH lab.
In the meantime, I will be planning a one-day lesson on enzymes and chemical reactions. Then after that I will be really getting into the thick of it. I’ll be completely taking over the class for two weeks; the host teacher won’t even be in the room except for occasional observations. I think the subject matter I’ll be starting out with then will be cells.
But right now I’m taking a short breather this weekend. I need to shake off the feeling of disappointment that gripped me today. That’s not to say that I’m discouraged to any great extent. I certainly am having fun planning lessons, and interacting with the kids is a blast when they’re actually alert and engaged. They’re certainly not dumb! They’re mainly just disinterested, and that’s the steel gate of an obstacle that teachers must somehow overcome. Anyone have a blowtorch?
Oh, and reading about how much Florida teachers are under attack didn’t lighten my mood any.