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Jessica's First Draft

 I have been completing my work as a student teacher for the past five months at a high school in Mist Grove, California.  Westwood is the only high school in the Silicon Valley city of Mist Grove.  Westwood was a California Distinguished School in 1995, and it is very involved in school reform.  Westwood, much like Mist Grove, is a diverse environment with respect to race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  Students from a variety of backgrounds attend the school. The demographic make-up of the school is approximately as follows:  32% Hispanic, 28% White, 17% Asian, 16% Filipino/Pacific Islander, 5% African-American, and 2% Native American.  Approximately 33% of the students at the school are limited English proficient.

The class I teach is an introductory biology class made up of all sophomores, except for one freshman.  Our class has slowly shrunk throughout the course. There are currently only 23 students, of which nine are males and 14 are females.  The class is very heterogeneous with respect to race, ethnicity, and performance in the class.  The racial/ethnic make-up of the class fall in line with that for the school as a whole. Additionally, we have four special education students, as well as five to seven students who consistently perform above average on all of their assignments. 

The smallness of the class has allowed for, in my opinion, a sort of community to come alive.  There have been times when I have walked with my students to lunch, and I see them hanging out with many of the same students in the class.  I have worked to get more of my students involved.  For much of the first semester, it seemed that during classroom discussions only part of the class was participating. However, I have made a conscious effort to get more of my students involved.  I began calling on students who did not raise their hands.  I pushed them to use the knowledge they had (which was often written on the paper in front of them) to answer class questions. While it did not seem very helpful for some time, towards the end of the second semester I began to notice that more students would raise their hands.  Whether this was due to their fear of me calling on them, or their increased confidence, I am not sure.  However, it was nice to see more students participating.

There are times during class when I feel that there are a couple of students who look down on each other.  This often has to do with the students who perform well and the students who struggle more or who choose not to do their work.  Some of my students would rather work on their own than with others, but since much of the work we do within our science class is group work, especially with labs, students do not have much of a choice of who they are working with.    Most times students find a way to try to involve everyone at least a little.  I do a lot of walking around and interacting with the students, so students often seem encouraged to do some work with others, because they know that I will call them on it otherwise. 

My cooperating teacher, supervisor, and I decided that the last three weeks of the semester would be a good time for me to do some independent student teaching and present the unit that I developed in my Curriculum and Instruction course at Stanford.  My unit was on infectious diseases, and I would follow it with my STEP colleague's unit on genetic diseases. 

I was extremely excited to get my class all to myself.  It was going to be a real challenge, especially after just finishing up winter break and being away from the classroom and teaching for three weeks.  Prior to this unit, we had covered several topics of biology, including ecology, cell structures and functions, genetics, and evolution.  There was no apparent flow to the topics that we covered throughout the course, except that we covered the bigger topics of biology. To meet the state science standards, we chose to finish the course with genetic and infectious diseases. 

While my unit satisfied some of the state science standards, I also found myself wondering why it is that my students should be learning about this.  As I delved into it a bit more, I decided that since students are exposed to so many infectious agents out there, it would be important for them to know what causes them to get sick, how they can pass their illness onto others, how their bodies react to the infectious agents, and what they can do to prevent/treat these illnesses.  Since we are exposed to a number of pathogens ("bugs") everyday, we want to see what we can do to make sure that we can protect ourselves from these to the best of your ability.  There are a lot of  bugs that can cause a lot damage, and  I wanted to provide my students with tools the needed to protect themselves and others from infection and illness.  Hopefully, through studying this topic of infectious diseases, they would be able to get these tools and put them to good use.  Additionally, I hoped that I would spark some interest in my students minds with regard to science.

I had other goals in mind when creating my unit.  I wanted my students to experience some different types of learning, besides lecture.  I wanted to push my students to apply the science they were using to another situation. I wanted my students to see that they had the power to educated each other and themselves.  I also wanted to provide students with a learning situation that would likely hit on a number of strengths of students.  One challenge for us is finding a balance between those students are bored in the class and those students who seem to have a difficult time understanding the concepts we present in class.  Since there is such a wide range of abilities, it seems almost impossible to create a lesson that meets the needs of all of our students. I hoped that my unit might accomplish this.

The unit was entitled, "What's with those little bugs that cause such big problems?".  There were also several subheadings for the days within the unit:  What are the bugs?, How do the bugs make us sick?, How are the bugs spread?, How does my body fight off the bugs?, and How do we treat/prevent against the bugs?.  Some of the work that we did throughout the course helped to scaffold for the unit on infectious diseases.  Our work on cell biology was especially important.  Because students had already seen the structure of animal and plant cells, they could make connections to the protists and viruses that we looked at during the unit. 

            Our work on the immune system was extremely powerful to me.  I had the highest expectations for this day, and also the greatest anxiety.  I planned to begin by doing a short lecture on non-specific immune responses (i.e. skin, mucous, tears).  From this point I would move into an immune system activity I first saw in a SDAIE workshop at STEP.  The activity was developed especially with second language learners in mind.  The immune system activity is a form of a jigsaw that helps students in groups to tease out different stages of the immune response.  Students were to first get into their home groups to see who was in their home group (made up of at least one person from each of the expert groups) and to pick up their expert group role card.  The expert role cards have cartoon drawings of the players (i.e. antibodies, virus, killer T-cells) and actions in that stage, definitions of terms, and a brief paragraph about is happening in their particular stage of the immune response. Following this students were to go immediately to their expert groups where they would talk through what they thought was happening in their particular sequence.  Through these discussions students should have understood their situation well enough to write notes to themselves on a 3.5 x 5" note card. 

Armed with their note cards, students were to return to their home group where they would explain their stage of the immune response to their group members.  The other students in the home group would explain their stages, and then the students would put the four stages in order.  Following putting the stages in the proper unit, students were to return to their expert group where they would prepare a skit to present to the rest of the class on their stage of the immune response.

            Going into this lesson I was a bit nervous about how it was going to turn out. I like the way it had gone with my STEP colleagues, but I did not know how my students would react to it.  They had never really had to teach each other concepts, and I knew that the immune system could be difficult to understand. Additionally, I was concerned about how long the lesson was going to take, because I knew I only had one day to complete the lesson. This activity has a number of different steps and transitions that have to occur, and I did not know how well it would flow for my class. I did not know if I was giving my students enough time to complete each of the steps, and I knew that I did not have time the next day for this activity to flow over into. I also did not know how well the students would react to the lesson.  I was unsure of how well they would understand what they were supposed to be doing, and if they would understand the different players in the immune response. 

Even with my anxiety, I knew that I liked the different approach to teaching it offered and was pleased that students would be responsible for teaching their classmates their section of the immune response.  Additionally, I was excited to see the students present their information in a creative way (skits) to their classmates.  However, this activity depended on students working well in groups, as well as taking responsibility for their own learning.  The would need to teach themselves and others about their section of the immune response.

            I opened class with my lecture on non-specific immune responses.  Students seemed especially flat as I went through the points I thought were important.  Students had their heads down on the desks, and although a couple of students asked questions, for the most part, the students' eyes seemed to glaze over a bit.  I tried to keep it interactive, reviewing information at the end of the lecture, but I was only able to get answers to my questions from a couple of students who typically answer questions.  At the end of the lecture I told the students that we would get to the rest of the immune response in our next activity.

            Moving into the immune system activity, I explained to students that they would have to use their time very wisely.  I emphasized, "this is going to be boom, boom, boom."  However, I caught myself at this moment, wanting more for students to understand this information than to move on and told them, "we might have to run over, okay, so that you can get the full understanding."  I then explained to them that they would be teaching their peers.  I went on to explain some terms that were on the role cards (infected, neutralize, stimulate, potent, spleen, and suppressor).  I wanted students to have the vocabulary to attack this exercise.

I had already picked the groups for the immune system activity.  They were heterogeneous (gender, academic performance, attitude, etc.) for both the master groups and the jigsaw groups.  I handed out a sheet of instructions for them with the general directions.  I instructed students to go to their jigsaw groups to pick up the piece of paper they would need for their master groups (papers were colored, 4 different colors for the 4 different master groups.  Each group had at least one color of paper in their jigsaw group).  Some students were not sure what they were supposed to be doing, and they just stayed at their jigsaw group tables.

My instructions were not especially clear for which master group was supposed to be in which place in the classroom.   It took students a few minutes to move to get their master group role cards and then to move to their master groups.  I got the students attention and told them that they should now be talking as a group, trying to flesh out what was happening in their scenario.  I continued, explaining that they needed to put their notes for what was happening in their picture on a note card so that they could explain it to their jigsaw groups. 

Students took about 20 minutes to figure this out. Some groups got right to work talking about what was happening in the pictures.  There were two groups that just could not seem to get started.  My CT and I went to these groups and helped them start outlining what was going on in their picture.  The discovery that I had wanted them to be doing was not happening. My original plan was to give students 15 minutes to work in their master groups.  I ended up giving students 25 minutes to figure out what was happening in their part of the immune response.

One of my major goals was for students to explain the segments of the immune response to each other.  As I walked around the room, however, I felt that I was giving many of the students more instructions, guidance, and examples than I had originally planned on.  Additionally, when I gave students a two-minute warning for the first part of the task (writing the scenario in their own words to share with their jigsaw group), I noticed that the group my CT was working with, unlike the rest of the groups, did not have a single student who had written their notes yet. I was mindful of keeping the class on my schedule, but I knew that we could not leave a group behind. My CT and I walked step-by-step through the response with the group.  We seemed to put the goal of over having the students problem-solve with each other out the window. 

We moved onto the home groups following getting this group on track.  Students were to hear about the whole sequence of events from their group members and figure out what order they should go in.  I had emphasized less that they should be learning other people's parts, more emphasizing just explaining what was going on in their picture and what order these might go in.  I do not think that I gave students enough time to do this portion. Instead, worrying that I was going to run out of time, I ushered the students to their next group. 

I had the master groups start planning their skits.  Students got into their groups and starting figuring out their skits.  Again, this was rushed and they had to "hurry" (my orders) to get ready. Each group had approximately 12 minutes to come up with their skits.  As I floated around the room, I noticed that some students were acting out their skits, and I was excited to see someone so into being a virus. 

I was a bit disappointed when the students came up to do their skits.  I had expected students to be fairly creative and to really get into doing the skits.  However, the skits just did not live up to my expectations.  Three of the four groups simply had a narrator who explained the immune response straight from what had been on the original master group card.  Students wore pink pieces of paper with their role, and each student acted out a part of the immune response.  I had one group that was outstanding and really creative.

The students presented the skits in the order that they had come up with in their groups.  We voted as a class as to which skit should go first.  There was consensus on what the order should be. As each group got up, they simply went through their skit and presented their material.  Each skit took about a minute.  I did not make any transition between the groups presenting their skits, and I did not clarify what the point of each skit was.  I simply let the students present the material.

The following day I lectured students about how a vaccine works, trying to use the immune response activity from the day before to describe the process.  I used slides with the illustrations from the previous day and tried to walk the students through the information, but most of the students seemed to be lost. I continued the next class period (2 days after original immune system activity) and had students get into pairs and describe how a vaccine works using the immune system activity.  I used this a type of assessment.  I found that some students did quite well and had made the connections, however, a lot of students were still missing major steps in the process.

As I look back on this lesson, I see a number of areas for improvement.  The biggest area for me to work on is the timing of the lesson.  I had been so nervous about fitting this activity in during the 90 minute class period. I was concerned with getting through the material, and I feel like I explicitly stated this to my students.  In the future, I would work to expand this exercise to a 1.5 day lesson.  I feel like my rushing around did not enable students to really push themselves to understand fully what was happening in their master scenario, not to mention the other three scenarios. 

I feel that students would have benefited from an extended conversation in their groups about how their particular stage fit into the whole immune response.  I would have students take notes on the other scenarios next time, and perhaps have the students map out the role of each of the players (i.e. virus, macrophage, killer T-cell) in the immune response.  I feel like students needed to be able to put together the pieces of the puzzle to see what the picture looked like on the whole.  It might have been helpful to have a graphic organizer for students to use to put the different pieces of the puzzle together with. 

Making connections between the skits also seems very important. Next time I do this I would take time between skits to discuss what students thought was happening in the skits. I would work to make explicit the different players in pictures.  Additionally, I would try to map the individual players more clearly throughout the skits.

Another important revision to this lesson involves making my directions more detailed and clearer.  I realized that, although students had an instruction sheet with the general instructions in front of them, I was never especially clear in explaining the task to my students.  It would have been helpful for me to write the instructions on the white board, perhaps providing students with a flowchart for the progression of events in this lesson.  I think students would have benefited from seeing how each step of the process was going to contribute to the whole of explaining how the immune system works.

            Finally, and probably most importantly, I would push students to look to each other for answers to their questions, instead of me rushing to rescue my struggling students.  I might ask them to ponder what they could compare the particular players in the immune response to in real-life, instead of just giving them those that came to my mind.  I would push my students to work for their own learning.


Copyright 2000, Karen Hammerness, Stanford University. All the material contained on this site has been produced by Karen Hammerness, Lee Shulman, Linda Darling-Hammond, Kay Moffett, and Misty Sato. These materials can be downloaded, printed and used with proper acknowledgement, including the name and affiliation of the authors and the web-site addess.

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