Slime molds and the joy of being together

Things I will never again take for granted:

  1. Commuting
  2. Paying professionals to cut my hair
  3. Being in a brick-and-mortar classroom with real live students

I’d be happy to discuss the first two items with anyone interested. But here I will address the third and reflect on starting this school year still without it.

As I’m still stuck outside of China, I have been assigned an instructional partner on campus, and together we will be moving forward with a blended learning model in my classes. One of my goals for the beginning of this year is to purposefully incorporate into this model certain aspects of what I will refer to as the “analog classroom” that I and my students want and need.

One of these aspects is human interaction. Last semester, starting mid-March, I held a live zoom lesson for every single scheduled class. Even though the lessons were only 30 minutes long and started as early as 9am, they were generally well-attended and end-of-year survey results from my students indicated that the vast majority of them appreciated regularly seeing me and each other and would choose to continue having those lessons throughout online learning.

All 17 of my Bio SL students present in class and (at least pretending to be) happy about it

Luckily for the students, in September they will finally be together in the same room; unluckily for me I won’t! But as I plan for the blended classroom, I am thinking about the face-to-face interactions. We can do small groups, large groups, and one-on-ones. Students can face me, each other, my IP. I am thinking about the words they should say to each other and the facial and body language that should not go unnoticed.

Another aspect of the analog classroom I love – especially the science classroom – is the potential to captivate. Give students some materials, microscopes, an experiment, a living organism or two (or a thousand), an opportunity to ask questions, and let them run with it. Since February I’ve been mourning the loss of this precious time for practical work, and while I’ve replaced some of it with online simulations, it’s not the same.

In preparation for the first unit of Grade 12 Biology, I’ve been reading about and watching videos of slime molds. There are several reasons for this (that don’t involve comparing my students to fungi). Slime molds are incredible organisms that don’t easily fit into the categories we like to use and that challenge our big-brain-centered views on intelligence. You can watch time-lapse videos of these goopy yellow things solving mazes and individual free-living cells combining into masses that behave like a multicellular organism, complete with distinct growth stages and altruistic suicide.

The idea that I will rely on videos of mold growing (but seriously, they are so cool) to captivate students is not – should not be – new. But I am thinking about ways to get more mileage from these. What questions I can pose that will push their thinking beyond captivation and into inquiry, creativity, synthesis. I am thinking about what else my students can come up with that would be captivating for me. Because that’s what keeps me going as a teacher.

planner G12 Bio HL T4.1

First go at the new planner for an HL Bio cycle

Comments

  1. Caroline,
    You should be a writer! But then you are,as well as a teacher. You seem to have had success keeping the students engaged last semester. You are right to give them as much opportunity to see each other, and you, and to collaborate in smaller groups. Slime molds are amazing organisms eh? More on them later……

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