Personal Circle of Life Connections
This builds on my previous post about “Personal Phenomena” and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Recently, I had a lot of time to think about this in the hospital. My daughter’s birth did not go exactly as planned… not that births ever do. However, my wife developed a sudden onset of severe Type I HELLP Syndrome which required a blood transfusion before an emergency Caesarean Section so high-risk that I couldn’t even be there for the birth. It was a close call with a long recovery. I had a lot of time to think and research as my wife (and I) spent 9 days in the hospital and my daughter spent 5 weeks in the NICU. I had never heard of HELLP, but suddenly it was real so I read, researched, and asked as many questions as I could. The learning was authentic.
Every student’s mother was inherently pregnant at some point in time so there is a built-in phenomenon with a personal connection. Birth is the beginning of life, and there are risks. I could now teach HELLP Syndrome as a phenomenon, but something more common such as Preeclampsia would probably be a better choice. Students are fascinated by real life. Cancer works because students likely know of someone who’s had cancer, or even better yet the common cold, flu, or chicken pox because every kid can relate.
Circle of Life in the Classroom
There are lots of other ideas to tap into this theme in the classroom. Many teachers, science curricula, and kits utilize plants, insects, worms, or fish at some point. Inevitably, some will procreate, some will die, some will get sick, and all will experience some aspect of the life cycle. Besides being an obvious tangent for corny Lion King jokes (my favorite), these are naturally observable phenomena and provide anecdotes to revisit later on with your class. Remember when…
I sure do. We use to have this life science kit that included beetles, snails, and gold fish. The beetles used to reproduce like crazy and escape, the fish turned the tanks into empty snail shell grave yards, while somewhere a new fish went belly up by the minute. We had what I called the “circle of life” talk at the beginning of the unit, and then the students became very engaged and connected to the learning. For example, despite numerous warnings, they couldn’t help but name their specimens which of course resulted in nothing but tears. I still chuckle a little about my biggest behavior challenge immediately naming his fish after himself right after my warning not to name them… with karma quickly providing balance to the universe because his fish promptly died.
Elementary Standard: NGSS 4-LS1-1: “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes: Students who demonstrate understanding can construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.”
Middle School Standard: NGSS MS-LS1-3: “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes: Students who demonstrate understanding can use argument supported by evidence for how the body is a system of interacting subsystems composed of groups of cells.”
High School Standard: NGSS HS-LS1-2: “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes: Students who demonstrate understanding can develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multi-cellular organisms.”
There are numerous motivating and engaging connections to be made. Any teacher who has taught health lessons gets this, so why not capitalize and use health as a vehicle to simultaneously teach the science of our bodies. In elementary, they are oddly separate subjects/curriculums but really are one and the same.
Now that my wife and daughter are home, healthy, and happy we are ecstatic. But we are also facing the other side of the circle. My cat Smokey, a.k.a. Science Cat, was recently diagnosed with the onset of kidney failure. I am again authentically learning as we care for her and ease her end-of-life transition. I have a connection and reason to care so I am motivated to learn. She’s been a good cat, lived a long life (approaching 16 years), and based on pictures from previous posts she obviously puts up with a lot. In the meantime, we’ve read, researched, and asked lots of questions as we treat her condition. We’ve learned that she most likely has one good year left if her treatment works well to slow progress of the disease. We intend to make the most of the opportunity and enjoy her as best we can. There are universal life lessons to be learned through this experience as well because everyone eventually faces the end of their personal life circle through death.
I hope that you will make the most of your opportunities to motivate, teach, and connect students with phenomena that will bring the next generation of science to life for them. If we should live life to the fullest, then we should teach about life to the fullest. The experience will circle back as you, hopefully, more authentically enjoy your craft of teaching via the amazing phenomenon called life:
Possible Resources and Connections
Previous Post on Bringing Learning to Life with “Personal Phenomena”: http://corelaboratewa.org/personal-phenomena/
Washington State Health Standards: http://www.k12.wa.us/HealthFitness/Standards.aspx
Teaching Channel Intro to NGSS Videos: https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/next-generation-science-standards-achieve
HELLP Syndrome Information: http://www.preeclampsia.org/health-information/hellp-syndrome
Caring Bridge Story (w/free login): http://links.t.caringbridge.org/ctt?kn=6&ms=ODAwOTIyMQS2&r=LTM2MzAzOTI3MjcS1&b=0&j=NzIxMzg5MDIxS0&mt=1&rt=0
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