Cheers to the End of the Year! (The end-of-year reflection assignment I used to end on a positive note)

Wow, I did not expect to be away from blogging for that long. But you know what happened. The transition to remote learning was swift – my school went from “we’re making a plan just in case” to “oooh, you have two days to prepare and then we go live” in the space of a week or so. We also went from “we’ll be back on campus after spring break” to “we might be back by May 1” to “this is how the rest of the school year is going to go”. So many ups and downs – I described it to a colleague as a rollercoaster of excitement as the car climbed the hill and started down, to the depths of despair as the “fun” wore off, and then the plateau of resignation as we were grinding through to the end.

But I don’t want to dwell on that experience. I wanted to find a way to end the school year on a positive note. We wouldn’t be able to do the usual final project and presentation; final exams were essentially canceled. We were told that all assessments had to be complete by the next-to-last class, so there was one final class session looming ahead. What could I do with my class that could keep them engaged when they knew there were no more grades to be doled out?

I read a blog post that talked about end of the year reflections, but now for the life of me I cannot find that post! (I thought it was one of my usual reads, but I have searched my Feedly teaching folder high and low and didn’t find it.)

That post pointed me in two specific directions that I incorporated into a final assignment. The first direction was Dave Stuart Jr.’s blog post on Pop-Up Toasts. Dave Stuart’s blog is one of my usual reads, so I’d probably seen this and had it in the back of my mind. In his blog post, he lists a few prompts that he gives students. He has them do a quick writing assignment, then has students fine-tune their toasts by working with a partner. Finally, each student shares their toast with the whole class.

The second direction was an End-of-the-Year choice board of prompts created by Teach in the Peach. The choice board included great, thought-provoking prompts for students to reflect on areas of growth.

Obviously I had to make a few modifications, since everyone was working remotely, and we only had one Zoom meeting per week for each class. I selected nine different prompts. I made one addition to the prompt to encourage (aka FORCE) my students to write more. I know my students – if the prompt said “My favorite lab/activity/lesson from biology class this year was . . . “, I would have gotten a lot of one or two word answers. So for many of the prompts, I added “because . . .” to the end of the prompt. I wanted to know WHY it was their favorite activity!

A week before the final class, I went over the assignment and the prompts. First, each student had to choose three prompts and write a brief reflection. I didn’t want a folder full of private reflections, though, so they had to post their reflection in a discussion post I set up in Schoology. I made them separate their reflections, so each one was a separate post. Second, each student had to respond to three of their classmates’ reflections.

I didn’t know what to expect – I didn’t know whether students were so burnt out and demoralized from the remote learning experience that they would focus on the negative, or if they would blow off the assignment because they knew it wouldn’t really change their grade much.

As I started reading their posts, though, I was gratified to see that they took the assignment seriously. Their reflections? *hand on heart* So amazing.

Not gonna lie, I copy/pasted so many of their responses into a spreadsheet for those days when I need a little pick-me-up. I’m also planning to make a slideshow of responses to the most popular prompt: “The top piece of advice I would give to next year’s biology students is . . .” so I can share it with next year’s students at the beginning of the school year. If we start the year with in-person teaching (*fingers crossed*), I will have it running on the screen as they come in on the first day of class.

On the last day of class, once everyone was logged in to Zoom, I put students in pairs and had them go to a breakout room to practice their toasts. When we came back together in the main session, I randomly called on students and had them share their toasts. They were thoughtful and funny and really great with each other. After everyone had shared, I made my own toast to them. I acknowledged the community they had built in their classes, the grace and grit they showed in shifting to remote learning, and their all-around fantasticness.

I’m glad for the people who inspired me to do this activity – unknown blogger that started the ball rolling, Dave Stuart Jr, and Teach in the Peach. It was a positive way to finish up a really weird teaching year.

Wow, what a school year that was!

Classroom Pets (part one)

I spent quite a few years resisting the idea of classroom pets.  I mean, let’s face it, I have three kids, one husband and two dogs at home.  I don’t need something else to take care of!  Over time, my colleagues have had classroom pets – fish, turtles, lizards and, infamously, snakes (there’s a whole blog post in itself).  And, even though they’re teenagers, there’s a constant clamor from the students:  “Miss, why don’t you get a (insert “simple” critter here)?”

I need low-maintenance.  I can barely keep plants alive.  I would feel guilty if I allowed a poor defenseless critter to die just because it had the misfortune to be in my classroom.

A couple of years ago, I hit upon the perfect low-maintenance classroom pet.  I went to a workshop for AP Environmental Science.  The leader had us do a lab using pillbugs to demonstrate animal behavior.  The leader had flown in from another state, and had no interest in packing up the pillbugs for his return trip, so he offered them to the participants.  Surprisingly (NOT), no one else wanted the pillbugs, so I took them and set up a habitat.  I’ll post another time about my pillbugs.

A couple of weeks ago, some students brought one of my colleagues a moth the students had found.  In a turn of events I still don’t understand, I ended up with this moth.  I didn’t even know what kind of moth it was.  It set in a jar in my classroom all day.  Honestly, my original intention was to get through the day, then release the moth outside my back door as soon as all the students left.  I soon felt guilty, though, that my colleague had entrusted this moth to me.  The least I could do was find out what kind of moth it was and make sure it could survive in the wild.  And make sure it wasn’t an invasive species – as much as I harp on my students about not releasing invasive species into the wild, I’d hate to be a hypocrite on the matter, even unintentionally.

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This is my moth friend.  I spent a few minutes on Google Images and quickly determined that this moth is a female Automeris io lilith, a species common in the southeastern US.  Cool!  But what do I have to feed it?  A little more research showed that the adult moths don’t eat – their function is basically to reproduce.  I had no idea whether this moth had mated before she was captured, but I decided to set up a habitat anyway.  The packrat from whom I inherited my classroom left a screened cage (oops, forgot to take a picture of that), so I added some paper towels, some branches from a tree outside my classroom, and some leaves.

This week I checked on my moth and saw . .  EGGS!  I am such a science nerd that this was cause for much excitement!  She has been laying eggs throughout the course of the week in little clumps.  I suspect she was laying them on the screen on the sides of the cage, but they were falling to the bottom of the cage.

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I had students research how long it would take for the eggs to hatch.  If the 15-20 days estimate is correct, we might get to see some caterpillars before school lets out for the summer.  That will lead to my next dilemma – the instars for Automeris io lilith sting.  Bad idea for the classroom!  Since this species is native, I will probably find a nice area outside and release them and let nature take its course.

If you want more information about Automeris io lilith, here is where I found most of my information:

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/misc/io_moth.htm

Start at the beginning . . .

I think I’ve spent more time trying to come up with something momentous, when I should just start starting.  I teach biology and AP Environmental Science at a suburban public high school.  My biology classes are a mainstreamed biology class where about 1/3 to 1/2 my students have IEPs for various learning disabilities.  I have a wonderful ESE-certified co-teacher – this is our 6th year working together, and we make a great team.

My goal with blogging is to share things I’ve learned as a teacher, opine from time to time on the modern state of teaching, and reflect on my teaching practices.