Friday, 30 March 2012

Hexagonal Learning

The spring term ended today, and unlike the end of the autumn term, where I may have slightly gone down the pub a bit, I came straight home to unwind. And yet, here I am, blogging about an awesome teaching moment today.

For a while I've been playing around with SOLO Taxonomy as an aid to learning. I'm trying it out with my AS Biology workshop, a one-hour class for extra support across both AS groups. They use sheets as devised by Tait Coles to get to grips with the hierarchy and identify targets for themselves. My main aim was to get them beyond multistructural thinking and into relational thinking.

For the final workshop of the term this morning, I decided to try the Hexagons. Some of the students were still struggling to consolidate their learning, so I asked them to pick the topic they were struggling with most. One group managed a little, and were able to put key events of mitosis into a sequence (though I may have pared down some of their text a bit):

Where it really worked, however, was with a small group of my high-fliers. They started off looking at cell membranes:

But it kept growing and growing. Periodically I came over, wrote another key term on a hexagon and threw it in to stretch them. By the end of the lesson it looked like this:

They had linked it through to protein synthesis, protein transport and the cell cycle, and at one point when they linked both CFTR and protein synthesis through to genetics I wondered if I should have got them to stick the hexagons on a ball to make all the links! They were thinking about where to put the hexagons and make the links, and one girl said she hadn't realised all the topics were so interlinked.

The next stage of this is for them to think about the nodes between the hexagons. They're showing relational thinking, but I need to get them to extended abstract if they are going to get the top grades at AS and A2. I should probably have tried to get them onto that today, but they were so enthusiastic that I wanted to let them continue for the full session!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Hugging Minefield

A heartbreaking end to the working day today. I was sitting in my lab marking some mock exam papers. One of my students appeared and asked if we could talk. And then this tall, confident young man just broke down in tears. Events of the past few weeks, months, years even, caught up with him. Poor lad is terrified of not getting the grades he needs, and he's got an awful lot of mitigating circumstances affecting his chances of achieving this. I grabbed a handful of paper towels in the absence of tissues, and he clung to them for dear life as we spoke. We went over what it was getting to him in terms of workload, how he was feeling, whether he was anxious or depressed, and what action he felt able to take at this stage.

On balance, he was in a better state when we concluded than he was when he came in. He knows he can come back and talk to me. But above all that, he probably needed a hug. I really felt he did. But I didn't think I could. Why? Well, we have guidelines telling us to avoid unnecessary contact with students. I'm normally quite a touchy-feely person. I do hug and kiss my friends when I see them. A hand on the shoulder, a high-five, a fist bump, all feature in my normal friendly repertoire. But I've toned it right down for dealing with students.

If I am seen giving a student, especially a male student, a hug, then that would certainly start a rumour mill going - some of my colleagues have raised eyebrows at my close working relationships with male students (though it is usually because the male teachers have a tendency to be really hard on the male students, oddly enough), and I can do without a lot of gossip about me. Some of my female students have put an arm round me, and one of my BTEC boys decided he would grab my hand and kiss it directly underneath one of the CCTV cameras (doh!), but reciprocation is definitely frowned upon.

Finally, I am aware that I've got a rather insecure (though adult, he was definitely in a vulnerable emotional state) student pouring out his heart to me; I don't want him to think that our relationship is anything more than teacher/mentor and student. Students can become infatuated with their teachers, and though I don't think I'm much of a TILF, I've overheard students talking about the hotness of the most surprising colleagues. Positions of authority appear to be quite an aphrodisiac *boak*.

It was much more straightforward when my poor husband came into the lab half an hour later and also burst into tears. That I could deal with. Teaching is hard work. He had his awful class today. They stole his favourite pen. There is nothing in the guidelines that says I can't hug my own husband at work, and frankly if he thinks I'm a TILF then that's all good...

How do you lot approach comforting students? I imagine for the under-16s it's a no-brainer - no contact at all. But how do you comfort sixth-formers and adult learners? Is it still such a no-brainer? I wonder if it will be easier for me to dish out hugs when I get older. A colleague in her 50s had no qualms about hugging any and every student, but she was by that point easily old enough to be their mother - I'm still just about young enough to be a cougarish girlfriend.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Practical Instructions

One of the Edexcel Unit 2 core practicals is the extraction of fibres from plants and the testing of their tensile strength. Students who have already done one of the AS physics practicals on Hooke's law should have had no trouble designing their own practicals, and I made sure there were physics students on each table to assist.

However, it occurred to me that the problem was not with biologists who didn't know physics, but with physicists who didn't know biology...

Why yes, that would be an entire stick of celery wedged between the bulldog clips. Extracting celery fibres. UR DOIN IT RONG.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Dear Students

Dear students,

This week has been one of those shitters, as far as weeks go. So this evening I've got myself a very large margarita (which you know is my favourite), and I'm toasting you as I go.

So this is for you and what we've all been through this week together:
  • For the A2 students who managed to do better in their biology results than in any other subject. You have shown a damn good understanding of the subject I love, and crucially given me bragging rights in the staffroom.
  • For C, who pleaded and pleaded for me to improve my predicted grade for him, and who said he would prove me wrong and perform better, well done. I am so proud of you, and I'll take spite as a motivator!
  • For A, who surprised everyone with an A grade, that was amazing - now do it again.
  • For F, who saw her results and hugged me, that meant a lot.
  • For the gang of boys I call the Women's Institute, your light sabre fight with the 1m rulers was fun this morning. Thank you for taking it in good humour when I implied there was a more Freudian explanation for your obsession with the big long sticks.
  • For my L2 group, thank you for only thinking to squirt the bottle of water at my computer screen, and not the big bottle of fake blood. That means a lot.
  • For S, who confessed she was responsible for this page because she felt I was an inspiring role model, you don't know how good that felt.
  • For K, who bounded into his genetics class on Monday to say he had an offer from University of Bedfordshire for biology, that is brilliant news!
  • For T, who has gone up against management, fighting for his rights and the rights of the other students, I am so proud of you. Some of the things that have been said to you today reminded me of another vindictive personality who made me cry hot tears of rage too.
  • For my amazing technician, who can keep his head when all about him are losing theirs (including me!), thank you for your patience and ability to pull practicals back from the brink.
  • For the ladies in the canteen who are so understanding when I run in, buy three cans of diet Coke and two Creme Eggs, you brighten up my day when I can feel the panic rising.
  • And for my husband, who has taken this week, only seeing me for a couple of hours at the start and end of the day, in his stride, and who, being a teacher too, just gets what it's like, and why I am doing this.
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