A First for Me

01 February 2005

Yesterday, I made a kid pass out in my class. This is the first time I've had that particular reaction happen because of something I'd done. I told my principal, who said, "Cool! How'd you do that?"

I was reading the first chapter from The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. In my class for sophomores, February is always "Infectious Disease Month." It's a good place in the curriculum to talk microbiology. And the description of Ebola contained in this book always hooks the kids. Usually, I just have kids ask to borrow the book. But yesterday, one young man took things a step further and fainted. Made for quite the dramatic impact.

A couple of years ago, I had another boy faint when a representative of the blood bank was talking about their work. Considering all the things we see in biology (dissections, pictures of genetic diseases or abnormalities, etc.), I find it interesting that the mere description of blood has been powerful enough to knock two boys out cold in the last three years.

I love teaching microbiology, but I am doing less of it this year. Very little of the subject is found in the state standards. I need to focus my time elsewhere. This reflects how science curriculum (in general) is changing. In the past, students (like me) learned a lot about plants and animals. There was very little chemistry involved. But with the advent of DNA, biotechnology, and advances in biochemistry, biology has a molecular focus.

In nearly every high school in America, students take the same sequence of science courses: biology, chemistry, physics. This sequence was suggested in 1893, the same year that the zipper was invented and that the amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. Biology was placed first in the sequence because it needed the least amount of equipment and understanding to teach.

Many districts are reversing the sequence. If a student can understand physical forces, then s/he can more easily grasp atomic models and bonding. And a kid who can master those topics will have a much richer understanding of biology. This will be one idea my district will discuss as we remaster our own scope and sequence.

In the meantime, I'll keep plugging biology with my sophomores. They are always full of surprises. And even if their minds have yet to be exposed to chemistry and physics, they are obviously imaginative enough to enjoy and react to the some of the richness biology affords. I wonder what will happen on Friday when we get to smallpox. :)

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