Final Exams

I have successfully made it to my first spring break as a teacher! I’ve often joked throughout this year that I think I’ve worked harder and learned more as a teacher than I ever did in college or high school, which also makes my breaks and time off that much sweeter!book-sunglasses-beach_h5281

I am, however, hoping to use this time off to my advantage and finish up my lesson plans for the rest of the year (but at least this type of work can be done poolside!). When I consider TAKS testing, senior class festivities, and STAAR testing, it feels as though the year is almost over! The one thing I am still deciding about is the type of final exam to administer to my Anatomy and Physiology students. We have covered so much content that a written exam would certainly make sense. But since I have so much free reign with my A&P class, I would much rather stay true to my teaching philosophy and my vision for our A&P program, and allow the students a chance to showcase their creativity, critical thinking skills, and what they have learned throughout the year through some kind of project, experiment, or research.

I am consistently trying to prepare my students for the kinds of labs and projects they will experience in college, but am struggling to narrow the multitude of options to something feasible in a high school classroom. With that in mind, what kind of culminating projects have you done with your students, or do you think would be successful for high schoolers? Do you think a “final project,” as opposed to a written exam, will better prepare them and help them to develop the types of process and problem solving skills they will need in college?

Exciting Opportunities!

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone in the Educational Outreach Center at a local medical school. They have designed a unit on the cardiovascular system and cardiovascular health and hope to eventually take it public, free for everyone, on the web. Before they do that, they are trying to test the efficacy of their unit through a field test in over 60 classrooms throughout the Houston area. I applied to be a part of the field study, was accepted, and am beginning to implement my “assignments” in the classroom. I’m excited to see how it works out and to be a part of this!

After going to the orientation meeting for the field study, I was surprised that I didn’t know how many opportunities like this are available. If there’s anything you’re interested in, curious about, or would like to see how it would go over in a high school classroom, please let me know! I’m more than happy to adjust my schedule and test things out with my students. That’s what the first year of teaching is all about anyway, right? 🙂 I’m lucky that my Anatomy students are such a flexible group of kids who really take anything I throw at them in stride.  I love being involved in something that really encourages me to think and work outside of the box, and the students think it’s awesome that they’re involved with a medical school and “cutting-edge” lessons. If there are any other similar programs or professional development opportunities available in the Houston area, I’d love to know about them!

Students tested the effects of exercise on their heart rate
Students tested the effects of exercise on their heart rate

College Readiness

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my driving forces as a high school teacher is to address and reconstruct my students’ misconceptions. What misconceptions do you find that your students have most often? How do you address them: do you find it’s best to correct them immediately, or let the students struggle with their prior thoughts before they eventually get their “ah-ha” moment?

Similarly, I certainly feel the frustration of my students seemingly not having the necessary requisite knowledge to take Anatomy and Physiology. I do not want to do my students a disservice by not addressing their misconceptions at the appropriate time or not allowing them to build the foundation they will need for college courses. So what things do you wish your students knew before they get to you? What do you find your students are lacking most often? I know many high school students do not have the advantage of taking an Anatomy and Physiology course before entering college, so how can I, as a high school teacher, better prepare my students for you? What kinds of knowledge or information do you think gives students a “leg up” in college?

So Much Potential for Action Potentials!

Thanks for continuing to check the HAPSblog! I am really excited about all the possibilities that are being uncovered through this blog and can’t wait to see where our conversations take us.

Last week at Chavez we wrapped up the nervous system and will begin the circulatory system next week. One things my students seemed to struggle with was conceptualizing the “action potential”. What great activities do you have to really cement the process/visualize an action potential? At my school, we do not have access to YouTube, so finding videos on the fly is not a possibility if I find my students are in need of another visual. Many of the videos I found at home on an action potential are not very engaging anyway… Do you know of any helpful simulations or visuals? How do you teach this topic in your classes? And, lastly, what depth of knowledge do you think is appropriate for a high schooler on this topic?

Credit Recovery Courses

I have found that one of the great advantages, and challenges, of being a teacher at a Title 1 school is the abundance of opportunities for the students to make up credit, get ahead, and improve their grades. This winter break, students had the opportunity to retake classes they previously failed. An entire semester’s worth of Introductory Biology over four days, for eight hours a day. And yes, I taught it! It was a refreshing change for me since I haven’t been able to put my passion for biology to use this year, and gave me a new interesting perspective on all the opportunities we provide to our students to ensure their success. I was happy to see students taking advantage of that opportunity and working hard to improve.

Essentially, each day was close to an entire six weeks of content, and seemed like the students were seeing this material for the first time in their lives (granted, that happens after just a weekend, too!). Eight hours is a long time to spend working on only one subject, but I found that using inquiry and continually referring to the “big questions” kept the students engaged. This time schedule actually lent itself quite well to the use of inquiry, as many labs and activities can take hours. But with only four days to cover an entire semester, one might wonder how much the students are actually learning anyway, and how much they are just regurgitating. Here I say, once again, inquiry to the rescue! Tell me if you disagree, but I find that learning through inquiry makes it almost impossible to forget…

So, my question for you all… If you had four days to teach an entire semester’s worth of content, what would you focus on? How would your class run? Would you rely on inquiry? And finally, and perhaps most importantly, do you think it’s really possible?

Hello and welcome to the first post of the HAPSblog!

ChavezHighSchoolHoustonI’m Erin Russe, a first year high school Anatomy and Physiology teacher in Houston, TX. I received my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where I worked as the Lead Teaching Assistant with Dr. Peter English in the Hands-on-Science program for elementary education majors. Through this program, my training with the UTeach program, and a physiology course I took from Dr. English and Dr. Dee Silverthorn, I solidified my passion for science and really developed a desire to teach and use inquiry in my classroom.

I currently teach at Chavez High School, a Title 1, 5-A school in Houston, TX. I am teaching one section of A&P this year, with about 35 seniors. I am also teaching 5 sections of sophomore chemistry, which, this past semester seemed to demand most of my focus. Now that chemistry is mostly organized, I am dedicating this semester to rebuilding our Anatomy program. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to design the A&P program as I see fit, which is very exciting, but often overwhelming. A driving force for me, as a teacher, has been to uncover and reconstruct my students’ misconceptions. As a new A&P teacher, I sometimes do not know what misconceptions to expect, and I hope that the lessons I teach are not fostering my students’ prior misconceptions or allowing them to develop new ones. Because of this, I feel very strongly about the POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) methods and using inquiry in the classroom. I would be so proud and excited to build a rigorous and engaging A&P program around that!

Hopefully this blog will serve as an outlet for all HAPS members to share ideas, experiences, research, references, activities, and all things important to teaching Anatomy and Physiology. I envision this as a very collaborative and engaging space to ask questions, get answers, and work together to solve some of today’s biggest challenges in being a first year science teacher, and in teaching Anatomy and Physiology in general. What better resource could there be than a group of passionate experienced professionals? I am honored to have this opportunity to communicate and collaborate with you, and I hope this blog will prove beneficial or insightful to you, as well.