Shifting Gears: Going Back Into Teacher Mode

I wouldn’t say that I’m in a state of panic.  However, looking at the calendar, I’m realizing that in less than a month I have to report back to school.  Next week, I’ll be attending a week-long training conference for school.  After that, I’ll be planning my curriculum and lessons for the semester.  So, I will be slowly shifting gears from vacation-mode to teacher-mode over the next couple of weeks.  I’m coming to terms with the not-so endless summer…

Part of my planning will include integrating the curriculum I learned last summer at Keystone Science School’s Key Issues Institute.  This past school year, I used part of the curriculum in my Health class during second semester.  The public health and environmental health aspect of the Key Issues curriculum was a perfect fit for my unit on infectious disease.  Students didn’t just read and do worksheets about bacteria and viruses–they became epidemiologist, investigating the cause of a mystery illness that is getting so many people sick in town of Silver City.

In the “Silver City Lab” student learned that the situation is very complex and that there are multiple players and stakeholders involved trying to solve this problem.  We discussed the different values that each of those stakeholders have in the situation and that coming up with a solution and resolution to the problem would not come easy, especially with each player trying to cast culpability on someone else.IMG_1670IMG_1688

These 7th graders had to understand the concept of pollution, contamination, and part per million (ppm).  In learning about threshold level limits, students came to realize that such a seemingly minuscule amount of a contaminant in one’s environment could have a very dramatic impact on a population.

Students learn how to do a serial dilution to help them understand the concept of ppm.
Students learn how to do a serial dilution to help them understand the concept of ppm.

During the investigation, students came up with many different theories.  Some hypothesized that a restaurant in the area was getting people sick.  Others, believed that it could be due to fertilizer from a nearby farm leaching into the water supply.  Some students thought that an old landfill was to blame.  Some pointed the finger at an adjacent chemical company.  It was great to see all of my students engaged, trying to get to the bottom of this problem!

To see if the restaurant was to blame, students tested stool samples for infectious bacteria.
To see if the restaurant was to blame, students tested stool samples for infectious bacteria.
To see if the restaurant was to blame, students tested stool samples for infectious bacteria.
 Note: these students were not wearing gloves because they weren’t actually handling the specimen trays.
After reviewing how water permeates through different types of substrata, students determine which water sources to test for possible contamination.
After reviewing how water permeates through different types of substrata, students determine which water sources to test for possible contamination.
Students test samples of water from various sources in Silver City for contaminants.
Students test samples of water from various sources in Silver City for contaminants.  Each number corresponds to a well on their map.

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At the end of the lab, students shared the results of their investigation.  As a class, we discussed possible solutions and, in the end, students realized how messy and complicated coming to a  seemingly easy resolution can be with all of the different stakeholders and their interests.

I’m looking forward to infusing more of the Key Issues curriculum into my lessons this upcoming school year.  I am very thankful for my sponsor, Alcoa, for sending me to Key Issues Institute last summer.  This is just the boost that my curriculum needed to bring real-world issues to life in my classroom.  Who knows?  After this some of my students may pursue careers in public health, environmental science, chemistry, law, environmental/political activism, etc.

What are some ways your teachers made learning fun?  Did any of the activities you participated in school influence your interests or educational/career choices?

 

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