Friday, April 08, 2005

Not Middle School

Boy, I do NOT envy middle school teachers. Cross that job off my list. Today I did the science education outreach program, in which people like me go to middle schools and teach kids about genetics. The kids get three days of this (not in a row), and in the process, they learn about genes, heritable traits, DNA, chromosomes, mitosis, etc. Good stuff. I had been wanting to try the program since I got here because I like kids and I like teaching.

First of all, the program is completely disorganized, so I didn't really know where I was going or what I was doing, but I'm good at going with the flow. The professor in charge of the program was there for the first class, and she gave the first 5 minute lecture, describing mitosis and doing a little choreographed interpretive dance to demonstrate. The other volunteer did it the second and third classes. Through that, I was thinking about how I would have done it differently, and what I'd have to clear up later on. That's just me being a picky TA. I'm good at that.

The rest of the class, we divided the kids into three groups: One group watched a video of mitosis that looked totally boring. Another group looked at pictures of mitosis and drew them. (Most didn't bother to draw the chromosomes.) And the third group (which I led) looked at karyotypes (the set of chromosomes in a cell). This was the best one.

I told the kids how you make a karyotype (take cells in metaphase, drop them on a glass slide, and the cell breaks, leaving a splatter of chromosomes), and talked about the number of chromosomes in a cell (46=23 pairs), and the sex chromosomes (XX for girls, XY for boys). Then I showed them some karyotypes and had them figure out whether they were looking at girls or boys. Then I showed them some abnormal karyotypes and had them figure out what was wrong with them (Downs syndrome has trisomy 21, Turner syndrome has one X, Kleinfelter syndrome has XXY).

Some groups were better than others. Some asked good (pertinent) questions, and some kids completely ignored me. At one point, I had about 8 boys who were so hyper (after lunch) that I couldn't hear myself talk, and I didn't even get to the abnorbal karyotypes. I'm sure they learned nothing. Some of the kids were fixated on "the gay gene", and decided that if XX is female and XY is male, then XXY is gay. I tried to correct them. Other kids were stuck on twins, and when I asked them what happens to a baby with trisomy 21 (three copies of chromosome 21, instead of two), they said, "you have triplets." There was one group of girls near the end who seemed to get it without getting side-tracked. That was like a breath of fresh air.

I like kids. I don't like having to yell to get their attention, and I don't like the chaos that goes with big groups of them. Also, how much of what I taught is really being absorbed by the kids? I'd like to teach something they might actually remember someday. So I'm not going to be a middle school teacher.

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