We all know that some activities hit and some miss. It seems a great mystery why some more memorable and others. The Anatomy Class Halloween lab when students use their knowledge of tissues to identify mystery organs obtained from the butcher shop, the Physiology Class Health Fair where students research a topic of their choice then plan activities and demonstrations for a public health fair, an exploratory science experiences where kids experience science through crime scenes; these are the ones that my students refer back to with satisfaction and fondness.
As I reflect upon my school year, it occurs to me that I have accidentally developed activities are a blend of specific ingredients that caused them to work. Students remembered them for years to come, referred back to them often as events that helped them to learn, connect with others, and deepen their interest in science. Knowing this, as I plan for next school year, I will use the essential elements of memorable moments. I hope that these scheduled occurrences, although totally intentionally created, will seem like serendipitous moments. I will also remain mindful of impromptu opportunities to harness intrinsic motivation and enthusiasm.
Primarily, I teach Anatomy and Physiology, some people have horrific memories of their experiences in these classes. I absolutely adore teaching them. I love the authenticity of teaching and learning about the body that we inhabit and how it evolved to be the imperfect organism that it is. By the end of a semester in my class, I want students to have an increased appreciation for the value of life and have made connections between their experiences in and out of class.
Stepping back to plan I have identified things that are naturally exciting for students, snow days, holidays, Boston Marathon, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Super Bowl, World Series. These events break the script of ordinary schedules and sometimes cause distractions. Why not use this increased enthusiasm to our advantage? There are certainly things in my content area that relate to these events. Just to name a few;
Snow days: hypothermia, extreme sports, homeostasis
Boston Marathon: heart rate, training, damage to feet and joints
Valentine’s Day: is there a better day to dissect hearts?
Halloween: appeal to students’ curiosity with mystery organs, tissue types
Super Bowl: concussions and prevention
World Series: Rotator cuff injuries, hand-eye coordination
With this new mindset, the schedule disruptions that were such a nuisance now are opportunities to create something unforgettable for students. Why not create a folder of plans to pull out for special occasions? Along the idea of sub plans; things to capture the energy of the room and use the enthusiasm to my advantage rather than trying to “talk students down” and coax them into participating in a lesson that they are not prepared to be engaged in.
Another way that lessons have been memorable for students is when they realize their own potential. When students write blogs to set and reflect on goals, they can visualize their learning. I have learned that this is also a method of teaching resilience in students. While I read their blogs, rather than reading to assess the content and grammar I make suggestions about activities for them to try or ways to meet their goals I began doing this because I was honestly interested in who my students are and what they hope to gain from taking my class. I have found that there are not many other teachers who do this; students are surprised that I am connecting the content to their future plans and they can relate to what they are learning. In the end, students have a feeling of accomplishment, satisfaction of a goal reached and job well done.
When students have this sense of pride it must be captured and shared. Ordinarily, students present reports and other research to their peers; why not have them recap their journey? Surely there is someone in the audience who will identify with their struggle and appreciate the process and resilience it took to accomplish a goal. The more people share their stories the more we see that we are more alike than different and making stories public is a way to validate and reflect upon the journey.