Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Biology Blues

Science classes are notoriously difficult to teach. They aren't held in classrooms so much as labratories, black countertop sinks surrounded by high chair stools. There are nozzles for both gas and water, ticking time bombs of temptation that almost no student can resist.

Taught in 9th and 10th grade, science classes are packed with fresh faced freshman and moronic sophmores. Biology is full of unresponsive, immature students conditioned like Pavlovian dogs by years of learned helplessness.

Earth science, a relic of the eighties, has been cut - it no longer fulfills the A-G college core requirements, so our school doesn't offer it.

Who needs to look at rock samples anyway?

Six of my special ed students have been programmed into a biology class full of unruly freshman.

We test the classes reading level: it comes back an average of 3.5. Somewhere between third and fourth grade.

My kids fit right in. I'm scheduled to be in Biology every day.

This is going to suck.

From the start the students can barely remain seated, their heads dart around the room, diverted by the smallest sound. Many stare ahead into space, dead to the world, unwilling to even crack open their books. Other kids hit each other, punching each other in the shoulder or back of the head, throwing pieces of paper as they duck tossed pens and pencils.

Half the class isn't even willing to bring a book.

"I'm sorry, I forgot it."
"I left it in my friend's locker."
"I left it here. It was right here."
"It's heavy, why do I have to carry it?"
"I didn't think we would need it today."

I smile and shake my head. "I'm sorry ladies and gentleman, no excuses."

I make them write letters home and have the letters signed by their parents about why they couldn't bring their books to school. If they forget the book a second time, I call home. Hope no one forged a signature....

Although there are two of us in the room, myself and a seasoned science teacher, we are outnumbered 22 to 1. I must use every trick I've ever used to maintain control and to teach this class. My voice oscillates like a roller coaster, my face becomes a canvas of emotion - I'm a marine in Afghanistan surrounded by a sea of potential terrorists.

The first experiment involves jello:

1. Pour 5 tablespoons of jello, mix into a beaker of water.

2. Pour 2 tea spoons of 8 different concentrates (orange juice, kiwi, lemonade, ect) into 8 differerent vials.

3. Mix 10 ml of jello mix into the 8 different vials.

4. Observe. Hypothesize which substances will mix and dissolve best into the jello mix. Write observations down.

This simple experiment falls apart from the moment the students are handed the jello. "Mister, how much do we put in again? He spashed me with water! How long are we suppossed to mix it? How much do we put in again? What spoon should we use? I'm confused mister, where does the jello go?"

One group doesn't even correctly perform the first step - they pour 10 tablespoons of jello into the beaker. I know this because after a few minutes they haven't made jello mix...

....they've made jello.

"Mister, how come it won't pour into the test tube?"

"Because you've made jello."

"What, but how are we supposed to do this?"

"You can't, you made jello."

"What about if we pour more water in, will that mix it up?"

"Dilute it? No, it's too late." I shake my head. "You've failed the experiment."

"But we just started!"

"You didn't follow instructions. Clean up. It's over."

The students stare at me in sullen silence. One of them pours more water into the beaker in an attempt to dilute the jello.

This turns the jello into wet jello. It's glued to the sides of both the beaker and the test tubes. It's going to be a bitch to clean it out.

One of them looks at the jello longingly. "Can I eat it?" he asks.

"No. Clean it up." I stare at the clock longingly.

Sixty days and fifteen minutes until the end of the semester. In prison this would be considered short time.

But there is no such thing as short time with an unruly class of barely literate students.

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