Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Disease Detectives

Students love to solve problems, and sometimes the simplest of activities can create excitement about an entire unit.  In sixth grade, we study infectious diseases and finding an interesting way to introduce the topic without scaring them about deadly diseases has been challenging for me.  However, we've created a disease detective activity that involves the whole sixth grade class, and it most definitely gets students excited about the upcoming unit.

The activity begins with a short introduction about the difference between infectious diseases vs. genetic diseases.  Then students are brought together and each student obtains a clear plastic cup containing an unknown clear liquid.  We ask the students to simultaneously exchange liquid using a dropper with another student to simulate having direct contact with another person.  We complete this for three round while the students carefully collect information about the order and person with whom they exchanged.  When the activity is complete we announce that unbeknownst to them, one student was infected with the deadly virus.  In reality, one cup contained a highly basic solution.  As that student exchanges the liquids with other students, they are altering the pH of their victim's solutions.  In dramatic fashion, we add "virus detector" (which in reality is simply phenolphthalein--a pH indicator) that makes their solutions turn bright pink to reveal if they've been infected.

The fun part comes in as students enter their data into the shared class data spreadsheet and try use logic to determine who was patient zero.  Below is a sampling of our class data:

This data generates lots of great discussion as well as a great introduction to epidemiology and infectious diseases.  I am always impressed at the level of thinking that many of these sixth graders do to solve this problem, and it definitely gets them excited to learn more about infectious diseases!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

It's not all about the kids

Many people upon hearing I'm a teacher say things like "You must love working with kids" or "I can imagine how rewarding it must be."  But if I am being totally honest, it isn't all about the kids.  I am really fortunate to be working in an environment of amazing professionals and intellectuals.  Additionally, these awesome people are also my friends.

So on those mornings when I am overworked and overtired, it isn't always the kids that get me out of bed.  I look forward to seeing my colleagues and know that they will support me, stimulate me intellectually, and above all make me laugh.  The type of camaraderie that develops amongst a great group of teachers is unmatched in almost any profession.  In higher education, where I worked for nearly 15 years, the environment was a lot more cut-throat and self-absorbed and I didn't have the same sense that we were in it together.  Here, everyday I know I am surrounded by people who have a real interest in seeing each other succeed.  And we take care of each other.

So while I wouldn't do this job without the sense of purpose I feel and the joy of helping kids discover new things, my colleagues are the real reason I continue to work here.

Hanging out on Halloween with this fun bunch.