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Growing Up With My Biology Teacher Mom!

I am very pleased to have a guest blogger today.  It is my very own daughter!  Hope has just turned 18 and is graduating from high school this week.  Among many numerous accomplishments, she is a National Merit Finalist, Presidential Scholar Semi-Finalist, All-State French Horn player, and daughter extraordinaire.  Please forgive my bragging.  This week is a milestone in the life of our family, and I want to preserve a bit of it by posting it on my blog.  

Hiking to a waterfall on the island of Kauai 
I asked Hope to write a few words about growing up with a biology teacher mom.  Here is what she had to say:

Hi.  My name is Hope.  I am a graduating senior at the high school at which my mom teaches.  My mom has asked me to write an article regarding a childhood guided by a biologically minded mother.  Here you go, Mom! 

I learned to identify wildflowers at an early age.  The Indian Paintbrush will always be one of my favorites.
There were no easy answers to questions I asked as a child.  The question, “Why is the sky blue?” did not garner the usual parental response, “Because God made it that way.”  Instead, my mom attempted to explain to me that light reflects differently off everything in the whole wide world and that for the air particles in the atmosphere, that color sometimes appeared to be blue.  As you can imagine, such responses were often met with blank stares.  However, this veritable encyclopedia of chemical, physical, and biological knowledge found in my mother often proved extremely helpful.  

Hiking through the mountains of
northern Georgia.
This was one big tree!
When I was little, I played with Barbie dolls, but I also played with science kits.  While my little sister took naps, my mom and I would learn about the buoyancy and viscosity of different liquids or play with ladybug homes, caterpillar enclosures, or ant farms. 
Yes, Mom, I know they are lichens!

On our trips to Michigan in the summer, I learned that the orange color on the rocks was actually something called a lichen.  When we finally studied algae and fungi in school, I was the only child in my class who knew what a lichen was.   We looked for pitcher plants in bogs, made plaster casts of deer tracks, looked for crabs with flashlights on beaches, and snorkeled on coral reefs.

Crab hunting

I will never forget what "allelopathy" is!

My science fair projects always actually investigated something.  We did not do “cutesy” projects like “Which gets you cleaner, a shower or a bath?”  Instead, I learned about allelopathy and spent a month squirting magnolia tree juice on poor little bean shoots.  I didn’t always win the science fair, but I always learned a great deal about science. 

Overnight spelunking trip

Hiking in Grand Teton National Park
Yellowstone National Park
My mom also served as a science tutor.  Where my textbook or teacher left off, she picked up.  In high school, she helped me understand electron configurations and light and dark reactions.  She worked me half to death when I took her AP Biology class, but I proudly earned a “5” on the AP Biology exam.  

While I do not plan to major in chemistry or biology, she has inspired my to pursue a career in science.  In the fall, I will be attending college to study computer engineering with a focus in robotics.  My dream is to become an Imagineer at Disney World.  I know that I will always have a proud scientific mamma and I’m sure she’ll love poking around in my lab as I loved poking around in hers as a child.
Mom in Yellowstone

My childhood was the greatest!  Thanks for all the adventures, Mom!

Let's Have Some "Pun"!

Fun Activity For "End of the Year" Blues

We only have one week of school left, followed by a couple of days of final exams.  My kids are antsy, hyper, jittery, tired, and generally uninterested in anything that resembles school work.  After doing battle trying to keep their attention on Friday, I decided (on a whim) to have them write a pun about biology, or anything related to science.  It was initially met with the usual round of grumbling, but after a few minutes, my students really got into this.  Some of the "puns" were really good!  And some of them were absolutely awful!!  :)  And some of them were just repeats of classic jokes we told in the 3rd grade.  Anyway, it did keep them occupied for a bit while we waited for the final bell of the day.

I thought I would post a few of the puns my students came up with.  Beware:  Some of these are sooooo bad they will cause you to moan!!  Enjoy!

What did the alga say to the fungus?  I'm lichen you!

What did the mushroom say to the pepperoni?  I'm a fun-guy!

What did the lipid say to the H2O?  You water get out of here.

What element on the periodic table describes my school day?  Boron

What do you call half of your large intestine?  A semicolon!

Beware of the guy running a scam because he mitochondria.

The teacher's lounge is full of staph.

What do you call one-millionth of a straw?  A microtubule.

What did one gene say to a neighboring gene?  Crossover and see me some time.

What does a doctor do to his patients?  He either helium or barium.

One organism's pickup line to another in a bar:  What's your phylum?

If you breath, you will respire.  If you don't breathe, you will expire.

How do you know if a cell is an egg cell or a sperm cell?  Pull down its genes.

What did one chromatid say to the other chromatid?  You've got chiasma.

What did the salt say to the water?  I solute you!

Try this with your students.  This can be done with any age group and with any subject area.
And don't forget:  The most important thing is to just have pun!

A Tribute to My Mom, the Biology Teacher

My mom passed away in 2001, but not a day goes by that I don't think of her.  My mom was a biology teacher, and now I am a biology teacher, too.  My mom was an inspiration to so many people.  We grew up in a very small, rural town in the deep south.  Many of her students never dreamed they could attend college and have a different sort of life than the one they were accustomed to.  She taught them that they "could" as well as teaching them biology.
I went back to my home town yesterday for my high school band reunion.  I kept hearing two comments over and over:  "You look just like your mother!"  and "Your mother was the best teacher I ever had!"  Both comments meant the world to me.
Growing up with my mother was quite the adventure!  At a very young age, I was looking at pond water under a microscope and marveling at the creatures I saw there.  I could spot liverworts and bladderworts growing so close to the ground in a swampy area that no one else would even know they existed there.  She always had her wildflower books with her, and the car would come to a screeching  halt whenever she spotted a potentially new wildflower along the road.  The car also stopped for turtles.  They simply had to be moved to the side of the road and out of harms way.  She showed me touch-me-nots and explained how touching them caused the cells to lose turgor pressure and that was why the leaves folded up.  Once on a family vacation to the beach, a dead sting ray washed up on shore.  We dissected it!  She took us fishing and canoeing and walking through the woods.  I caught lightening bugs like all kids do, but I knew the how and why of their flashing.
I have two daughters.  I have taken them on many of these same adventures.  They can amaze their friends with all sorts of biological  facts.  They love going on nature walks with me.  I thank my mother again for the closeness I share with my daughters.  She passed a love of nature to me, and as I passed this on to my daughters, we formed a strong and unbreakable bond to one another.
What choice did I have but to become a biology teacher, too?  I have now taught biology for 27 years.  I sincerely hope that I have inspired some young mind along the way.  Good luck to all my AP students who are taking the AP Biology exam tomorrow.  Thanks, Mom.  I love you.

PS - She was also an avid bird watcher.  She loved hummingbirds best of all.  Mom, this hummingbird is for you.

Validity of the EOC?? Questionable!

 This fish is disgusted by its environment.
This biology teacher is disgusted by the EOC.

So today in school, my Biology I students (my daughter included) had to take the EOC.  What is an EOC?  It is the bane of my existence!!  For those of you who don't know, EOC stands for "End of Course" exam. In my state, every student must take EOC's in certain courses.  We still have three weeks of school left, but the EOC was given today.  Why, you ask??  Because the exams have to be sent to our state department of education and graded.  We MUST get the scores back before the end of the year.  Why, you may ask??  So that the EOC can count 20% of their semester average.  Call me crazy, but this seems a bit much to me.

Here are my complaints with a state mandated "End of Course" exam:
1.   Who writes the questions on the EOC?  Certainly not me.  Is this fair to my students?  I don't think so.  I valued the information years ago, when we gave "achievement tests".  I could look at these test scores and see how my students were performing against various benchmarks.  This information let me know what I needed to do differently.
2.  I have a problem with the EOC counting 20% of the semester grade.  My final exam will count only 10%.  And 70% of the semester grade will come from the work done in my class during the course of the semester.  The questions on the EOC are written by some anonymous face that I will never see, and some of the questions are really bad.  I often think that whoever writes these questions must not know anything about biology!
3.   Teachers are forced to be automatons of information.  Many of the really fun and exciting things that I used to do in the lab had to fall by the wayside.  We are in a race against time to teach volumes of information.  Does this get kids excited about science?  NO!  Give me back some time for creativity.  Give me back some time to take the kids to the lab so that I can teach them what science is really about.

I understand all about accountability.  I understand that the "powers that be" want to make sure that every teacher in the state is teaching a core set of objectives.  I think this is a mistake.  Just as asexual reproduction produces offspring with no variation, mandated state testing is producing students who are clones.  Every biology teacher worth their salt knows that variation is key to adaptation.

It is my belief that we will eventually realize that the massive testing of students at the end of each school year is a mistake.  Students are not going to remember the volumes of information that we cram down their throats prior to the EOC.  Along the way, the teaching of critical thinking and problem solving skills are being lost in favor of fact after fact after fact.  An education does not consist of a set of facts.  A good education consists of the ability to be able to think and respond, not recite back facts.

Thanks for letting me vent a little steam today.  If you have opinions on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment.