Tag Archives: students

Save the endangered tree octopus!

6 Feb
Tree Octopus

Tree Octopus

It’s a well-known fact that new animals are added to the endangered species list on a regular basis, and sadly, we can’t save them all.  Species are going extinct at an alarming rate.

Today I present to you one of the latest that is sure to be on the endangered list soon: the Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis).  This awesome creature resides in temperate rainforests and lives a double life; they’re amphibious mollusks!  They are extremely intelligent with amazing eyesight.  They use their tentacles to climb trees in a form of locomotion called “tentaculation”.  Sadly, their breeding numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate due to “decimation of habitat by logging and suburban encroachment; building of roads that cut off access to the water which it needs for spawning; predation by foreign species such as house cats; and booming populations of its natural predators, including the bald eagle and sasquatch”.  (Info from the Official Save the Pacific Northwest Octopus site)

Hopefully, most people can spot the humorous and ridiculous points in the above story.  But can our students? 

The current student population consists of mostly tech savvy kiddos, usually much more so than we are ourselves.  They’ve grown up with computers, the internet, DVD players, Playstations, cell phones, mp3 players, etc.  They know the basics of using search engines to quickly find information.  Surely this is a huge advancement and advantage compared to the way we had to research our projects and research papers “back in the day”.  Yet teachers know that students will often go for what’s easiest (or, what gets homework and projects done the fastest) without bothering to stop and think if what they have found is valid or reliable. 

Researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted a study involving the aforementioned tree octopus.  The goal?  To test students’ ability to evaluate information they find online.  The results?  Sobering.  “The students not only believed all of the fabricated information, but also insisted on the existence of the octopus, even when researchers explained all the information had been made up.” (From dailymail article)

If students are going to continue to use search engines and the internet in general, teachers must incorporate ways to show them how to do so properly.  We need to teach them how to validate the content they find online.  Much of what has been taught in the past on reading critically is, of course, still applicable. 

  • What is the nature of the information being presented?  Is it original data, summaries of original data, anecdotal, etc?
  • Is the information current?
  • Are sources clearly documented?
  • What are the credentials of the original information and the sources listed?
  • Is the information verified by others in the field?
  • What is the purpose of publishing the information?  Is it geared to simply inform, sell a product, entertain, etc?

There are several good articles (on the internet! ha) about validating information and reading critically.  Here are a few, in no particular order:

Assessing and Validating Information Found on the Internet

Critical Reading Tips from Indiana University

E-how article on validating internet info

Evaluating Internet Information from Johns Hopkins

Fellow teachers, I urge you to broach this topic when an assignment comes up in which you know students will be using the internet for research. 

P.S.  Also, if we all teach critical reading and validation, then Wikipedia can be used.  It is not the devil.  🙂


Awesome idea alert

23 Jan

jenga Jenga.  Who doesn’t love it?

 So why not turn Jenga into a game to review with your students?

 The author at “I Want to Teach Forever” gives you the details.  Pure awesomeness.

Why do you teach?

7 Jan

Why do you teach?

Is your goal to make sure each of your students learns the geographic impact on the rise and fall of major empires throughout world history?  Must all of your students understand the value of finding the limit of a function?  Do your students need to be able to explain how the architecture of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells suggests a common origin?

These are all worthy goals, to be sure.  As educators, we are passionate about our subject areas.  Naturally, we would love for our students to love them as well.  Not many things could make me more proud than for a student of mine to go on to do great things in biology. 

Realistically, I know that most of my students will never have a career even remotely related to biology.  Do our goals as teacher’s need to include covering the subject matter?  Of course!  That is what teaching, fundamentally, is.  Yet I fear that many teachers get bogged down at this level of education and never consider what other things they can be accomplishing at the same time.

Perhaps Chris at Practical Theory illustrates this sentiment best–

For four years, kids share their lives with us. We see them grow up through some of the craziest times of their lives, and if we are lucky, we get to have some small impact on them. Within the context of f(x) = x -3 and Newton’s Laws and Their Eyes Were Watching God, we learn about each other, and we touch each other’s lives, and then they move on, and we have a new group of kids who we have to care for with the same energy and passion and dedication as we cared for the kids who just left. It is a bit twisted, really, but it’s kind of amazing too.

Amazing barely begins to describe it!  I think some teachers are scared of this aspect of the job, and thus it limits their teaching to strictly focusing on the academics.  Maybe they think it’s inappropriate to have fun with kids, to get to know them, to spend time with them as people.  Maybe they are uncomfortable trying.  Maybe they are worried that they are incompetent in this area, and thus they simply don’t try.  Yet, kids often don’t care what you know until they know you care

Teaching isn’t just about academics.  Maybe it should be, and maybe it shouldn’t.  I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother debate.  What I do know is that I choose to look at it differently.  Not only am I fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share my love of biology with teenagers, but I’m blessed to get to be a part of their lives.  And also blessed that they get to be a part of mine.

Students are awesome

4 Jan

People say really stupid things to those that are grieving.  This was covered in a previous post.  However, people can be amazing during such times as well.

I received a sympathy card from one of my students over the Christmas break.  I knew who it was from when I glanced at the address sticker, and I figured his mother had sent it.  That alone was enough to make me smile and tear up.  However, when I opened the card, I saw that the writing inside was clearly the student’s.  Very nice.

white roseToday, on the first day students returned from the break, another student brought me a beautiful arrangement of white roses.  *tears* 

Sometimes teaching makes us want to tear our hair out (or someone else’s), but then things like this happen, and it’s all worth it.

Firework Fabulous–the MHS lip dub

21 Dec

On December 8, 2010, the students of Magnolia High School in Magnolia, Texas came together to create something truly special.  The students performed a lip dub to Katy Perry’s “Firework”.  Nearly all groups (athletic, academic, you name it) at the school were represented. 

The lip dub basically portrays the simple story of a new student entering Magnolia High, nervous on his first day.  He is welcomed to the school by all of the student groups (dancing around the school to “Firework”).  It creates a family atmosphere and the student is clearly at ease by the end of the video, assured that he’ll find  a place to belong.  It’s really neat.  Thanks, MHS, for inspiring us!

Why do students have poor research skills?

21 Nov

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education describes a study suggesting that many students lack basic research skills.  I think most teachers and professors would probably think to themselves, “Well, duh”  when reading this. 

Alison J. Head, a co-principal investigator for the project, said the results suggest that today’s students struggle with a feeling of information overload…Ms. Head said the findings show that college students approach research as a hunt for the right answer instead of a process of evaluating different arguments and coming up with their own interpretation.

I suspect Ms. Head is correct in suggesting that students are “hunting” for the right answer.  So why are students approaching school work and research in this manner?  And what do we, as educators, do about it?

Like, OMG, why are you so rude?

20 Nov

I’ve listened to my co-workers complain all year about how rude, snotty, mean-spirited, and lazy the students at our school are.  At first, I was puzzled.  Compared to my previous workplace (which was rife with drugs, sex, and violence), the students here are angels.  They are engaged in learning, seek their teachers out for extra help when it’s needed, are polite, and are just generally extremely fun to teach.

I wish I could remain under this enchantment, but I’m starting to understand some of my co-workers complaints.  Over the past few days I have witnessed several students (none of my own, thankfully) being rude, mean-spirited, and just generally acting like JERK FACES. 

Instance #1: While helping a fellow teacher  set up for a lab activity in her class, one of the senior boys, Jimmy, who had chosen his lab table called out to another boy, “Hey Peter!  Come over here.  Peter!  Peter!  Over here.”  Peter most definitely heard Jimmy asking him to be his partner.  Peter pretended not to hear and joined another table with much cooler boys.  I’m not one to let things like this slide, so I glance up at Peter and say coolly, “Come on, man.  You’re going to ignore Jimmy?  He’s been calling you for the past minute.  Not cool.”  Peter’s face turned red, and the teacher, also perturbed, then switched all the groups herself.  (Fortunately we have a good enough relationship that she didn’t mind me butting in.)

Instance #2: During one of my break periods today, I could hear some girls conversing in the science room next door very loudly before class began.  The conversation went something like this:

“Oh my god, you will not BELIEVE what happened.  Mrs. Robertson came into the bathroom when I was in there, and she STARTED TALKING TO ME!  I HATE when teachers do that.  I’m like, why are you talking to me?  Yeah, she said, ‘Hi, Bethany, how are you?’  We’re in the bathroom.  Oh, and then she TOUCHED my shoulder!  Ugh, I know!  I’m like, what are you a perv?”

I very nearly marched in there to proclaim, “Yes, clearly a teacher being friendly to you and speaking to you as if you are an actual person is clearly out of line!”  Somehow I restrained myself.  The teacher she was talking about is, incidentally, known as one of the kindest, most soft-spoken teachers on our campus. 

mean teens

Mean Teens

Instance #3:  While walking down the hall during the same off-period, some students were sitting in the hall (allowable, as it was their study hall period).  I overhear one young man say rather loudly, “I pay $25000 a year to go to this damn school.  Why should I care about the freakin’ rules?”  I stopped and slowly (and rather dramatically) turned around and stared him down.  One of his friends noticed me and started hitting him in the shoulder, whispering, “Language, dude, language!”  I simply shook my head, and turned back around saying, “No, not just language, guys.  Attitude, too.  Language AND attitude.”  After witnessing this last display of teenage snobbery, I was feeling quite ill-tempered.  I returned to my room and vented about the behavior of the students in all of these stories to a colleague. 

Then something unexpected happened.  The young man from instance #3 appeared at my door and apologized profusely and sincerely.  I suppose there is always hope for the next generation after all.  🙂

(As a humorous aside, when I was looking for images related to “apology” and “sorry” to include in this post, Tiger Woods kept showing up.)

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