Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

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I Suck at Teaching Biology, but I’m Getting Better

So, it’s been no surprise that I’ve been fairly blog and twitter quiet this semester. I’m teaching Biology for the first time.

It’s not going well. I mean, they’re learning about cells and respiration and evolution and blah blah blah, but it doesn’t pop the way physics does. It doesn’t shine the way calculus does.

You may chalk that up to being a “required” course, but I’ve never really bought into that. My favorite students are usually the kids who make “required” courses so difficult on people.

For a while I was convinced that I’m just a boring person. It turns out that you need fellowship with other teachers.

I just had one of the most inspiring beer-ups with a teacher from across the county. You can’t really put a value on meeting with someone who has only students in mind. I can’t help but realize how all this BlueHarvest and book writing has impacted my ability to teach.

What a wretch I am for letting that happen.

Anyways, if you’re not following this guy (@physicsramble, Matt Harding), you really should be. Total dedication to kids and none of the fluff.

Epiphanies are Epiphanific

I’m just going to do what I know is right. No more planning every student action. No more guarded learning targets and goals. I want them coming up with projects and ideas, and I want to be a coach instead of a babysitter.

I’m using BlueHarvest1 to keep track of standards:

Second, I’ll be delivering TED-style content on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday. The goal here–and this was SUPER hard for some students to get–is that I inspire them to work on a project for a standard they don’t already have marked proficient (no/yes in the image). They’re so used the scheduled lecture and assessment pattern, I have to wonder if that is complicit in their inability to retain anything.

Students thought that we’d be on a timeline again, but I’m really trying to avoid that. I want them to do the work of connecting their ideas to my delivered content and whatever other source they use.

The rest of my job can be summed up as mentor and coach. Here’s a sample interaction from today:

Student: I want to build a wasp and a human in shop and color code all of the parts so people can see how they’re alike and different.

Me: Ok, but are you going to be ok when I say that some installed part isn’t quite right, and that you’ll have to change it in order to be marked competent?

Student: Yea, I guess that’ll be annoying at first, but it’ll probly end up better at the end. How many standards will that be?

Me: I don’t know, how many are you targeting?

Student: Well, like all the systems ones.

Me: Ok, that better be one BA model.

Student: It will be.

That happened today.

Screw points.

That kid has a severe learning disability.

Screw my trite little content schedule.

A Week in the Life:

Monday: 30 minutes: TED-style content, recorded and indexed on our server for later study. 60 Minutes: project design, content development, and execution.

Tuesday: 90 Minutes: Project design and execution

Wednesday: Same as Monday. Students may indicate that they elect to take a quiz over material they’ve been working on.

Thursday: Assessment Day! BlueHarvest is updated for each project kids are working on. Students take quizzes who have chosen to do so.

Friday: Same as Monday.

The quiz thing threw me for a loop. Some of them really wanted to keep taking quizzes. I decided that some kids really do get assessed well that way, so I had to work them in. Most kids are looking to avoid them like the plague.

Oh, this isn’t like how college will be?

I just can’t care.

My kids will know stuff, and they’ll know how to figure it out. If your system doesn’t reward that, then go suck an egg.

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8 thoughts on “I Suck at Teaching Biology, but I’m Getting Better
  • Greg Petersen says:

    Biology is very abstract. Many of the concepts can not really be concretely shown. Everybody sees the results of biology or more importantly what happens when it goes bad. That is where you need to come in. For example, don’t lecture on cell parts or even have them make a cell project. I mean you can if you want, but it will not help them truly understand what the cells and cell parts do. I’ve seen many pretty and yummy “cell” cakes, but the students still can’t tell me what happens when your lysosome doesn’t work. Show them a video of a kid with Tay sachs disease, then explain it is a lysosomal disorder. Then go from there. They should start to look at the organelle function and start to predict what could go wrong if that thing doesn’t work.
    To address boring, that is not really your fault. They will face cancer in their life time, are you really suppose to make that exciting?

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  • [...] putting together an excellent overview of how to design a PBL unit. And at “Think, Thank, Thunk,” Shawn Cornally has detailed his use of TED style talks and various relevant literature to [...]

  • “My kids will know stuff, and they’ll know how to figure it out.”
    This statement really says a lot about the kind of teacher you are. More teachers should care about their students like you do. I hope to have the same look as you do when I have a classroom of my own one day!

    I am the type of student who likes quizzes as well! Sure, they are aggravating and annoying but in the end, they have always helped me out!

  • Adam Cole says:

    What is the URL for those videos/talks?

  • Kelly Holman says:

    Wow. You’re my hero. Tomorrow I’m talking at a school board meeting about why we need to individualize learning for each student, and at the end I’m telling people to come here and learn about how to do it. (limited time, I figure I better use it on motivating rather than answering a question I haven’t made them care about)

    I’d love to see some examples of the M/W/F talks. Will you be putting them on the site?

    • Shawn says:

      I’ll be uploading the first few tomorrow during my prep. I’ll maintain a page for them. Thanks for the support. Let me know if I can help (skype in to meetings?)