how detrimental it would be to my sanity later this week if I don’t do any work today.
Because, we have some really yummy...
For the first time in 12 months, I was able to pay my credit card solely off of money I made, and not off of my savings from years ago or...
What can I say about the past few weeks? Yes, there have been moments where my heart catches with loneliness. Overall, though, transitioning to a...
I could not be happier about it.
I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, and if you are new-ish, you probably missed the spring/summer I spent applying, interviewing, etc.
It was founded by a philanthropist named Harry Knowles in 2003. Knowles was a successful engineer—he got wealthy from inventing the bar code scanner—and he felt strongly that he owed his success to the dedication of his own high school science teachers. When he was deciding how to wield his philanthropic power, he settled on investing in the teaching profession.
After commission lots of research his advisors noted that one of the biggest problems in the field of science teachers was attracting and retaining talent. Science and math teachers flee the field at staggering rates. The more highly qualified a science/math teacher was, the more likely she was to quit within the first three years.
From its inception, the core mission of KSTF has been to slow the attrition rate of talented young science and math teachers. They seek promising candidates through a very rigorous application process. You’re eligible to apply if you are currently enrolled in a teacher preparation program or are planning to enroll in a teacher prep program in the upcoming academic year. Once in, it’s a five year commitment. They award about 30-35 fellowships every year.
As a fellow, you are responsible for maintaining fairly high-level online collaboration all year long. You are required to attend three meetings in person—Spring, Summer, and Fall. Spring and Fall are small—just your year or just your content group—and Summer is ginormous, with every current fellow and many alumni and lots of resource teachers (education veterans). All travel and expenses are paid.
We’re required to do a minimum of 40 hours of professional development a year. They are pretty flexible with what that looks like; we write a grant and if the proposal has merit they fund it, travel and all associated costs, up to $3700 for the year. Last year I went to Acadia National Park and studied field ecology for a week; this year I’m going to an AP Bio training and a molecular biology workshop. Some fellows use PD money for tuition. If you’re student teaching during the fellowship, you get a monthly stipend. Everyone gets a stipend for June, July, and August to free us up financially to think about teaching. Classroom teachers have up to $1200 a year for materials; this year, I bought fancy water molecule models and some tabletop spectrometers.
Meanwhile, we are asked to develop reflective practices, and to share our practice within the KSTF community. This requires lots of trust and emotional investment. We focus deeply on a single lesson for four years with a small group to help us deepen our understanding of the content and pedagogy within our field. We’re also asked to inquire into our own practice and investigate specific pieces of our classrooms (I.e., you might spend a year thinking about monitoring and encouraging productivity, or a year thinking about how students do or don’t engage in meta-cognition). It’s expected that our work is data driven, though that does not ever really mean numbers.
We’re also expected to become leaders in our contexts over our five years of fellowship work. And leaders within KSTF. Ultimately, KSTF has a vision of enacting change in science education by “planting” effective, committed, creative, thoughtful, and intentional teachers in classrooms around the country.
I don’t know whether it will work. I do know that it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
More than one older teacher raised eyebrows and objections in my department when word got out I was letting my biology freshmen and sophomores operate bunsen burners. Did I know what I was doing?! Could the kids really handle it?!
Yes, and yes! Here’s the thing: I am unsure of myself often as a young science teacher, but this year, my students—all of them, every level of them—are wonderful in the lab. It surprises me sometimes, because in my first year, they were not always wonderful in the lab. Either my kids are uniformly better this year in every class (possible) or I learned something from last year (more likely).
The lab I’m in the middle of right now, calorimetry, is the biggest test of my lab supervision abilities and my students’ lab work. There are a lot of moving pieces—open flame, tasty foods that are strictly off limits, digital balances at risk of being stolen, lots of hot glass, tricky quantitative analysis, and procedure writing. It’s been smooth sailing for two days now. Here’s how I do it.
Got the idea from one of my teaching fellowship colleagues, and I finally feel at peace re: second week of school. This will be especially perfect for my ecology students and set them up nicely for designing a STEM fair project.
This year I didn’t know where I was going. Here’s what I’m thinking for next year:
Quarter One: What does it mean to be a scientist?
Quarter Two: How do living things interact with one another and the environment?
Quarter Three: What are living things made of?
Quarter Four: How do living things and ecosystems change over time?
I’d really like biodiversity to be a running theme. I’ll have to introduce it in first quarter. We’ll spend a lot of 2nd quarter on it, touch on it in 3rd quarter, and then spend a lot of time on it again in 4th quarter.
I have a lot of thoughts.
One of my biggest pet peeves in biology education is that there still exist teachers who are teaching straight taxonomy using “Kingdom/Phylum/Class/Order/Family/Genus/Species.”
Why does this bother me?
Biologists—practicing researchers—do not use this system anymore. It turns out to be highly arbitrary and not useful for testing hypotheses about relatedness. Delineating what is and isn’t a species is actually a tremendously complex question, and there are different ways to do it in different branches of biology. For example: the “classic” biological definition of a species said that any organisms that could successfully reproduce with one another and produce a fertile offspring belonged to the same species.
Neat enough, right?
WHAT ABOUT ALL OF THE THINGS THAT REPRODUCE ASEXUALLY?
What about hybridization—both natural and artificial? This definition of species is fine if you’re clear that that is what you are using, but it cannot be universally meaningful in biology.
The 5 kingdom system is defunct. “Protist” is not a biologically meaningfully designation. Why is it still being taught?
Ugh. I know why it’s still being taught. It’s still being taught because the way biologists really classify organisms—phylogeny—is poorly understood by many current science teachers
That must be it. There is no other reason to still be making kids memorize this bullshit Kingdom system. It’s so damn Victorian.
I guess the other possible explanation is that people think phylogeny is too complicated for kids but it turns out kids are great at phylogeny! I did phylogeny with my inclusion 9th grade ecology and they loved it. Highest scores of the year.
Phylogeny for everyone!
You might be wondering, “Why is this girl suddenly so upset about this? Just teach your blasted phylogeny and get on with things.”
Great question! It’s because I just went through the standardized exam I am required to administer to my biology students in June and there is a question that can only be answered by knowing “Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Order-Family-Genus-Species.”
I’m composing about three angry e-mails this evening about this. This is absurd. I am being forced to teach inaccurate science.
I’m not going to. I’m not going to subject my GT kids to a day of puttering through an archaic and arbitrary taxonomic system. We’ll do phylogeny, and the day before the test I’ll tell them that the county thinks it is critical that they memorize the biologically meaningless classification system devised in the 19th century and I’ll give them a hand out about it and they can memorize it or not. I’ll give them all a free point on the final to compensate for the question.
Who writes this nonsense? Ugh, I am beside myself. BESIDE MYSELF.