Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Well, it's almost time for school to start again - and I think I'm pretty much ready for it. I had planned to make some changes in my PreAP Bio curriculum this year - as always - and I've done some thinking and a little bit of work in that direction, but not much concrete work on it. Since there are only 2 1/2 weeks until staff development begins, I guess I'd better get busy! I feel pretty good about the sequence I already have in place, but have in mind some tweaks here and there in the topics included in some of the units. My goal is to enhance the students' understanding of how things work together for the organism's overall good.

After receiving my AP students' scores and information on where their weaknesses were (feeling pretty good here - not too many weaknesses!), I've also decided to make some changes there. Again, I feel pretty good about the sequence and don't see much need for change in that respect, but I do want to change the way we're approaching each unit. I plan to assign some pre-discussion questions for each topic and spend more time discussing rather than lecturing. If the students are somewhat prepared ahead of time, I think the depth of their understanding will be greater as we discuss each topic and do activities to reinforce the content as we go along. Hopefully, we'll have an even greater percentage of 5’s as a result! (Not complaining - our 29% far outstrips the national average of 6%!)

I'm once again looking forward to a successful school year - hopefully you are, too!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Learning how to tweet

I've had a Twitter account for a few years now, but I still haven't gotten the hang of tweeting.  I occasionally tweet or re-tweet something, but even though there are a few people who follow me, I feel fairly certain no one is paying attention or even cares about what I'm tweeting.  Tonight I tried to participate in a tweet chat - a school district chat about technology in the classroom.  Although I tweeted several things and used the correct hashtag, and even replied to a few folks' tweets, I never saw my tweets in the stream nor did I receive any replies to anything I tweeted.  I'm sure I must have done something wrong, but I have no idea what.  I guess I need a class in remedial tweeting!

I'm always reading about how great Twitter is for professional development and connections, and it seems to be the latest thing to use in education, but I'm afraid I just don't get it yet.  I have difficulty following what's trending and finding things I want to follow in the first place.  But mainly, finding the time to stay on top of it isn't easy.  Maybe if I could find that Remedial Tweeting class . . .

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Genes & Evolution

Yesterday while reading recent posts on one of my Edmodo groups, I was introduced to a video called "The Birth and Death of Genes" which discussed a unique group of fishes - the icefish - which have white internal organs and clear (well, cloudy anyway) blood - no hemoglobin or red blood cells.  These fishes were discovered near a remote island in the Antarctic Sea south of Africa in the 1920's and have been studied since then.  In recent years, after the development of DNA gene sequencing technology, scientists have discovered the precise mutation in the hemoglobin gene that accounts for the unique "heme" protein which carries oxygen for the fish.  They have subsequently determined the evolutionary significance of this - the mutated gene produces a sort of antifreeze for their blood which makes it possible for them to live and thrive in water temperatures well below the freezing point.  This seems to be a mutation unique to this particular group of fishes.  The video (only 13 minutes long) was really interesting, as are the classroom activities tied to it by HHMI - the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Isn't it amazing to think of the tiny little changes which add up over time to create the various differences between different organisms?  This is one of the things I love about teaching and learning about evolution - how seemingly minute changes can make such a difference over time.  One more miracle of life, which is what makes biology the most interesting of sciences!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

An era comes to an end . . .

I can't believe the end of the school year is already here!  It's been a busy year, with new testing coming in and added classes and 175 students here at the end.  And now, at the end of the school year, my time at A&M Consolidated is also coming to an end.  When I leave there on Friday, June 1, I will no longer be on the faculty of AMCHS after 10 years.  It's been a good 10 years - lots of changes along the way, both good and bad.  I started out teaching IPC, then both biology and IPC, then just biology, then PreAP and regular biology, and now PreAP and Biology-9.  Both of my own children have gone through high school and graduated within that time period.  And hundreds of Consol tigers have passed through my classroom - although I guess the actual number is over 1000 by now.  Wow - that's a LOT of kids!

The new era begins as the old one ends - it's exciting to be in on the beginning of a new school, with a new building and new traditions.  For the first time, College Station will have 2 high schools.  It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next few years - as CSHS grows and AMCHS gets smaller.  By the time this year's freshmen are seniors, both schools should be about the same size, which will also involve moving down to a 4A UIL rating from 5A.  I was living here when we moved up from 4A to 5A, although I wasn't teaching at the time, and it was very exciting to move up to the big time.  Now we're all looking forward to moving back down.  It will be so much better to have fewer students in the school - it's been really crowded the last few years.  By 2014, both schools should be at about 1500 to 1600 students - much more manageable than our current 2800 at AMCHS!

As the number of students in my classes grew (and grew, and grew), so did their success, culminating with the EOC results we got last Friday which showed that 99% of all the 9th grade biology students (on-level and PreAP) had passed the first biology EOC.  85% passed it at the recommended level (higher than the phase-in level), and over 41% were at the advanced level.  Amazing!  We were so worried when the first questions were released - there were only 12 of them but man! were they doozies!  If all the questions were going to be like this, NO ONE would pass it!  The kids were worried, and so was I.  However, when we stopped to think about it, we realized that the passing level would probably be related to the average score statewide, and we were most likely to be on the upper end of that scale.  I have no idea yet where the rest of the state scored, but I couldn't be more pleased with our scores.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my time at A&M Consolidated High.  I can honestly say I really liked all the students I've had in class.  I may not have always enjoyed their behavior and performance in class, but I genuinely liked each and every one of them.  If you were one of my students, please believe that I really care about you and send my best wishes for your success in life.  If you are a parent of one of them, thank you for sharing your children with me.  I hope I've had some sort of positive influence on each and every one of them - if nothing else, at least to pass my class so they didn't have to be in there with me anymore!  It's been a pleasure.  Now, on to the next challenge . . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Turning memories on and off

I read an article in the paper last week about a new discovery scientists have made about how memory works.  They were working with rats to determine how the hippocampus is involved in the development of long-term memory from short-term memory.  As part of the process, they used certain drugs to block the impulses from one section to another and found that they could turn on or turn off the processes involved in memory production.  It's exciting to think that this might lead to therapies to help people recover memories - those with brain injuries, Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions that impair memory.  Conversely, it could also be used to help those with traumatic memories to "turn off" those terrible memories that can incapacitate a person.

Of course, it would be nice to be able to have a "switch" that could turn on student's brains to help them remember what goes on in class.  Think how great their test scores would be!  Unfortunately, we don't have anything like that available to us at the present time.  Students have to learn methods to "turn on" their own memories by actually paying attention in class and studying for tests and to "turn off" distractors such as Facebook and TV and iPods.  Maybe someday there will be a way to flip a switch to help remember.  But for now, you'll have to depend on the "old fashioned" type of switch - the one that turns off the devices that distract you, in order to turn on your capacity to remember material more than one day at a time!

Friday, May 20, 2011

I can't believe I waited so long . . .

I can't believe I've gone the entire semester without posting to this blog! It doesn't seem like it's been 5 months, but I guess it has been. I do remember blogging, but now that I think about it, I posted to my OTHER blog rather than this one! Oh, well - better late than never!

It's been an okay school year. The students (for the most part) have been pretty good - no major problems - and not having to float after the first month was so much better than I could have expected at the beginning of the school year. Most everyone is doing either well or okay in class - only 1 or 2 that I'm really worried about passing. It's been a long year but we've all made it through.

I'm excited about getting ready for next year. Yes, it may be rough - larger classes, fewer teachers, less money, more stress over new testing - but it's a new year and a new start, a chance to improve the things I was less than successful at, to do a better job of inspiring my students, trying to excite them about biology. I'm excited to be moving to a bigger, better lab, much more appropriate for biology than this computer lab I've been in this year. I'm excited to be teaching the same courses in a new way, with a colleague I love teaching with, in a school I really love. It may be my last year at this school - who knows whether I'll still be here or will go to the new school that opens in 2012 - but I'm really looking forward to the new school year.

So to A&M Consolidated's class of 2015 biology students, welcome - I wish you a great and exciting freshman year. I hope you're ready to learn about LIFE!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another semester down

As I sit here, supervising my last class taking their last final of the fall semester, I've just realized that I've gone the entire semester without blogging one single time! It's been a fast - and busy - semester, and I think we're all ready for a break!

I started the school year "floating" between 5 different classrooms. It certainly kept me hopping! It was complicated at times, especially on lab days, but it was going just fine and there were no major problems. However, it was definitely an inconvenience, not only for me and my students, but especially for those teachers into whose rooms I floated during their conference periods. In fact, I think I was coping with the situation better than some of them were! At the end of the fourth week of school, my department head came to me with an offer - "we'll let you move into the Science Department computer lab as your regular classroom." Let me tell you, that was an offer I could NOT refuse!

The students and I have enjoyed the new classroom. There are various mismatched tables, chairs, and desks, in addition to the built-in lab tables and computers. My 4th period class has especially enjoyed the access they've had to computers during advocate - in fact, I think they've really gotten spoiled! Some of them have even been coming in here before school during finals to use the computers, since they weren't going to be able to during their class time! We occasionally have to trade classrooms with someone for a couple of days so the computers and their equipment may be used by another class, but it hasn't been too bad so far. On the required-attendance finals, they have kept the non-testing students occupied while the others are testing, which is always a challenge! And it's REALLY nice having a classroom - I'm trying really hard not to take it for granted!

Of course, one of the problems of getting a classroom after the school year starts is getting it organized, and that's where I haven't done a very good job. Since I didn't start out with a room, I didn't have a chance to develop paper-handling routines with the students from the start - things were a little different from classroom to classroom, depending on the situation. The end of the semester found me with huge piles of papers on every horizontal surface - desk, computer table, demo table. I've spent the last couple of days while the students were testing and during my conference period cleaning up, throwing away, and organizing. It looks a LOT better - you can even see surfaces! I hope to start the spring semester with a better system in place and keep up with the piles before they get out of hand!

It hasn't been a bad semester - I think I have only one student who will end up with a failing grade, and that's because she moved here a month ago and transferred in with a failing average. I'm sure there will be some changes and shuffling of students' schedules before the spring semester begins in January - there always are. I know of a few changes to be made here and there, but I feel certain most of them will be back in the same classes with the same core group. At least now they know where to find me before and after school!