I Refuse to Be An Armed Teacher

I have been getting asked more and more whether or not I, as a teacher, would be willing to have a gun (either on me or locked in my classroom) in case of a shooting at school. But this has gone beyond people here and there asking what I think. Recently several politicians (you know who they are…right?) have publicly stated that arming teachers will put an end to the mass shootings that have been experienced by over 150,000 American students since Columbine in 1999. Yes, I specifically heard them say teachers. They are not talking about having police or armed guards in schools, that’s a different topic.

We are getting mixed signals. Teachers are told not to break up or get in the middle of a fist fight. “Call the administrator or school officer” we are told. And yet, it seems that many people outside of schools are saying that we should be breaking up school shootings. This would be significantly more dangerous. So which is it? Stay out of dangerous situations and wait for trained professionals or get yourself in there and risk getting injured (or worse…)?

So here is my response to whether or not teachers should be armed: NO. Here’s why.

1. There are plenty of teachers that have mental health issues. A lot of them. Some have full blown illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, etc. Others are just stressed to the max. Either way, as a group our mental well being isn’t the most stable. And that’s easily understandable given the difficult climate of education right now. We are not talking about issues that would stop us from being able to teach, but we also keep saying that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of people with mental issues. So if teachers with mental illness are not able to carry guns, will that affect their ability to get hired? What if all the teachers in the school have some kind of mental issue? Then that school just doesn’t get protected? 

2. Where will the time to train and practice for these scenarios come from? I have heard the argument that “police don’t train that much either”, but I don’t think that’s any excuse. So let’s say that teachers have to do annual training. Assuming this country is not asking us to give up our precious, already limited time with our families and friends, this would have to be time we are currently devoting to teaching. Is that really the best use of our professional development time? What will  we be giving up in order to make time for this? Will this mean we are less concerned about preparing our kids for post-secondary education or The Almighty Tests? I’m not a police officer. I’ve never even shot a gun. But I know there is a big difference between practice shooting at the range and training for an event like we are experiencing in American schools. This would not be a one time training and then hope your skills are sharp if/when you need them. So either we are asking teachers to give up more of their personal time, give up time in the classroom, or give up professional development time that would otherwise be used to make us better educators.  If this country is truly concerned about our education system pumping out kids who are prepared for adulthood, I’m not sure which of those options is going to get us there. 

*And please note here, I am not saying that teachers who want to carry their gun or have a gun locked away at school are in the wrong. I have talked with many teachers who have expressed they would be comfortable and willing to do it. They are typically teachers who already own guns and are comfortable using them. But I don’t think we can rely on that. Again, what if there’s a school where no one volunteers to be “that” teacher? Does that school just have to go without the same protective measures that others are getting? Will “are you comfortable being ‘that’ teacher?” be on applications now?

3.Teachers are biased. We have relationships with our students. It is one of the best, and yet most difficult, things about being a teacher. Often times, the shooters are current or former students of the school under attack. If a teacher has to put their head around a corner and decide whether or not to shoot the kid walking down the hall, that will be an incredibly difficult decision. What if it’s a kid who was in the bathroom when the lockdown started and now they are frantically jiggling door handles trying to find a room to hide in? What if they are actually the shooter? In the second or two it may take the teacher to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, it may be too late. Can you imagine the mental trauma a teacher will walk around with for the rest of their life if they shoot the wrong kid? Not to mention that the actual shooter is still active. Or what if the shooter is a student we had a bond with and we wait too long to make that decision? If teachers wanted to put themselves in a position of deciding whether or not to shoot people, we would have gone into some type of law enforcement. Assuming that because a teacher goes to the shooting range as a hobby or is a hunter they will be able to make these on the spot decisions is ignorant.

4. Public schools are government facilities and should be protected as other government facilities are. No one is asking lawyers or judges to carry guns in courthouses. Senators and their staff don’t protect the capitol building themselves. Why should teachers/principals/custodians have to? I have spent time at a government research facility. Just to get into the visitor center, we had to go through metal detectors, have our bags searched, have our IDs scanned, be on a guest list, and have a guest pass on us (all of which was after your car was searched at the parking lot gate). Now I’m not saying this is what needs to happen at every school around the country. But I am pointing out that there is a HUGE discrepancy in how we protect different facilities. There are certainly other steps we could take to protect schools instead of arming teachers. There is a reason that different careers have different job descriptions. No one person can do it all. We don’t ask police officers to offer counseling sessions to the people they arrest. We don’t ask judges to educate people about the harmful effects of drugs. We delegate these tasks and all work together. But for some reason, people think teachers can do it all. 

5. To me, the biggest issue is that arming teachers or principals or custodians or any other human in a school, if it goes correctly and according to plan, will only protect schools. The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history was at a concert venue in Las Vegas. The shooter in this event killed 58 innocent people. Roughly a year prior to that, nearly 50 people were killed in a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. Another 20 people were killed at their Sunday morning church service in Sutherland Springs, TX. We can’t arm schools and just hope for the best everywhere else. It’s just not fair. Yes, schools are government facilities, and should be protected as such. But we should also be doing something to stop these shootings from happening no matter what the location. I’ve heard many people say that arming teachers isn’t just about stopping an in-progress shooting, but scaring shooters off in the first place. “These shooters are cowards and want an easy target.” But what about all the other “easy” targets? If given the chance, they will still cause harm somewhere else. They’re not just going to see teachers armed, hang up their gun and call it a day. 

6. Last but not least, I would just like to point out that when someone outside of education tells teachers they need to be armed, it feels a lot like saying that teachers aren’t trying hard enough. And maybe this is just me being sensitive. But the fact that people think I, as a teacher, am the solution means that whatever I am doing right now isn’t good enough. People are suggesting that I’m not doing “everything I possibly can” to protect those students in my room. That honestly brings tears to my eyes. And that may  not be what these people think they are suggesting. They may think it’s just that: “a suggestion”. But what it really says it that somehow, it has become the teachers’ responsibilities to take on this gigantic, societal problem. We often have to buy our own supplies, give up time with our families and friends to work on what we have to get done, stress over whether or not we are doing enough to help each and every kid (not just academically), and now we are also being asked to stop shootings. I have to admit I am more than a little hurt and insulted. When is someone else (or something else- looking at you government) going to step up and take this one off our plates? There are a LOT of other possible solutions to this mass shooting epidemic we are in the middle of. We have to look at the options and throw out the bad ones. Focus our time and energy on solutions that are logical, possible, and will address the problem as a whole; not just one piece of it. Arming teachers is an option. But it’s not a good one.

I do appreciate you hearing me out. If you haven’t done so already, register to vote and be in frequent contact with your legislators (at all levels) no matter what you think the solution is. They need to know what we think. Having arguments on social media or writing blog posts is a great way to put your ideas out there, but these ideas need to go to the people that can do something about it. At the end of the day, we are all in this crisis together and have to keep the discussion going to come up with a solution. Feel free to leave civilized comments, I would love to hear your perspective.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Teaching Teachers: Professional Developments that Work!

I am a PD junkie. No, correction: I am a good PD junkie. There is nothing better than coming together with teachers from different schools, backgrounds, and views on education to improve our craft. These great PDs encourage me to continue learning new content. They make me excited to try new methods and ideas in my classroom. They make me want to be a better teacher.

And there is nothing worse than a one-size-fits-all required PD. If I have to sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other teachers and get a “pep-talk” from one more person (with no background in education), I just might lose my mind. And those online, mandated videos…. They are the worst.

But let’s keep this positive and focus on the good PDs. The ones that make my heart do little cartwheels…. Data shows that teachers need PD that is tailored to their specific situation (whether that be grade level, content, student demographics, etc.). Think of all the changes we as educators are facing today: new standards galore across multiple content areas, technology out the wazoo, and new information (climate change, anyone?) just to name a few. So teachers should be allowed (and encouraged) to choose the PDs that they need. Depending on the size of the district, some teachers might have great PD opportunities in their building. Others might have to go off campus- neither has been shown to be more effective, so don’t stress over that. However, many teachers have expressed that either way, they don’t want their PD run by their own administrators. Many do not see them as experts and the stress of evaluations takes away from the sense of “just try this and see how it goes”. There are also tons of great online opportunities for PD, allowing teachers to work at their own pace and tailor it to their personal needs and interests. But there are also some less than wonderful online options.

The beauty of PDs is that they really depend on teachers to make them better. Bouwma-Gearhart explained that “quality increases future involvement” and vice-versa. If there are great PDs out there, we need to make sure that other teachers know about them. And the more teachers that attend the PDs they want to, the more encouraged these organizations will be to improve what they are providing. That’s why I’m writing this post; to share quality PDs.

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I have been so lucky to have had some amazing PD opportunities, but it was definitely work on my part to find them. And every time I return and tell my colleagues about these amazing experiences, they always ask the same thing. “How did you find out about this?” Like I said, I’m a junkie. I am on a ton of email listservs and social media sites and apply for any PD that involves travel (my other weakness). So here are some great PDs that you should check out!

CDC Science Ambassador   

This one is seriously amazing. I attended this week long PD in the summer of 2015. You spend 5 days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta working with other teachers and CDC scientists to develop curriculum you (and any other teacher) can use in your own classroom. You also have the chance to sit in on training for the EIS officers (some of which truly changed to way I teach!). This program is open to 6th-12th grade teachers and the application deadline (for the 2017 program) is February 15, 2017!

Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers’ Academy (with Arizona State University)

This program comes highly recommended from a fellow teacher! These two-day workshops are open to teachers in grades 5-9 who are looking to implement improved curriculum in sustainability that can impact not only their schools, but the entire community. Workshops are held multiple times a year in different locations throughout the country and participating teachers are eligible to receive up to $300 to get the program started at their school. Application dates vary depending on the location and date of the workshop.

Teacher Classes at Brookfield Zoo

Another highly recommended program from several teachers I know in the Chicagoland area. These 2 day programs are aligned to NGSS and offered twice a month. They cover a variety of topics and grade levels. Each program is $160, with the option of grad credit for an additional $100. However, they run several discounts throughout the year. I haven’t attended one of these… yet. But they are definitely on my to-do list! They sound like an amazing way to get content knowledge from the experts, plus I’m sure your students will think you’re some kind of rock star when you share your experience with them!

Teacher Courses at the Museum of Science and Industry

Are you ready for this? FREE PD! I know some of us are fortunate enough to have PDs paid for, or at least get reimbursed for them. I also know some teachers have to use their sick days to attend PDs (not to mention pay for it themselves). MSI Chicago is so teacher friendly. These free programs are aimed at teachers in grades 4-8 and are aligned to NGSS. Courses are offered year round, and application due dates are in May and August.

I hope this gives you a place to start (or continue) your great PD search. I would love to expand out to other topics and locations. So if you have other suggestions for PDs that you’d recommend, please leave them in the comments!

Refuse to be another “burned out” teacher.

I’m not going to say that I’m burned out, but I feel myself moving in that direction. And it breaks my heart. I’ve been hearing and reading about teacher burn out since I started teaching 8 years ago. I said to myself, “That won’t be me. I love teaching. I love my kids. I love the people I work with .” And all of that is still true, yet I feel myself getting sucked into the angry mob of burned out teachers.

Statistics show this issue is not getting better. In fact, according to a study discussed in NPR’s recent Frustration. Burnout. Attrition. It’s Time to Address the National Teacher Shortage”, nearly 8 percent of all working teachers (over 100,000 teachers nationwide) are leaving the profession every year. And less than a third of them are retiring. The US Department of Education also recently released a study showing that 17 percent of new teachers do not make it more than 5 years in the profession. This particular study tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, saying that the percentage is significantly less than previously quoted. But the down side is that the number is increasing every year (as shown in their data).

I’m sure that any of you reading this post (I’m assuming mostly current teachers) are aware of all the causes of teacher burn out. Things like budgets (or lack there of), mandates and standards, and administration from the federal to state to local levels that are unsupportive and not properly trained. I don’t want to go into them here…. because they bum me out. I don’t have the answer to those problems. What I want to focus on is how we, as teachers, can keep our candles burning a little bit longer in spite of all those problems.

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My first recommendation is to take of charge of what you have control over: yourself. So many teachers get so caught up in everything we are doing for our students, our families, our schools, and our communities that we forget about or just don’t have time for ourselves. There’s a reason I haven’t posted here in 4 months. I’m literally just too busy. I’m a mother of two little ones, I’m in grad school, I’m teaching, and I’m attempting to be a good wife, friend, and daughter. And I know I’m not the only one in this chaotic boat. A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I just literally couldn’t keep this pace up anymore. I needed a night off. Thankfully, he’s a wonderfully understanding human. I booked a room at a local hotel on a Friday night a few weeks later and spent the night with… myself. It was PERFECT. I ordered pizza, drank wine, and watched two whole uninterrupted movies. In the morning (after sleeping a solid 9 hours) I drank coffee and read my book. I went home a much more rested, happy, and patient person. And that carried into my teaching on Monday. It let me clear my mind and just unplug for a while. Maybe just a night at home will work for you. Or go out to dinner with friends. Find whatever YOU love to do, and do it. You deserve it.

My second recommendation is to be friends with the people you work with. And do things that friends do. Go out to eat. Let your kids hang out together. Meet up for drinks. There have been some big changes in staff and administration in my building over the last few years. With so many new faces coming in, it can be hard to find someone to turn to when I’m having one of THOSE days. And when you just bottle it up (even just until you get home), it’s never good. Teachers need to work as a team in order for a school to be successful. Being friends with your colleagues, not just “the teacher down the hall” goes a long way in reducing stress levels. And maybe even more importantly, the kids pick up on it. When you are standing in the hall talking and laughing like friends, the kids see the teachers are a team. I think it goes a long way towards building that sense of “community” that we all want in our buildings.

Lastly, you’ve got to keep the kids as the top priority. Seems simple enough. I spend 7 hours a day looking at them. But you have to find the good in them and remind yourself how awesome/funny/creative/amazing they are. This year I have started pushing myself to write down the little things. I have a clipboard with all 7 rosters (including my study hall) that I keep in my top desk drawer. When I see them do something good (ie. asked for help, brought in supplies for a lab when no one else did, pushed themselves in class), I jot it down. Then on Friday, I go through my list and email their parents with what I saw. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don’t. That’s not what’s important. It’s really about being more conscious of the good things and sometimes that means I have to look really closely. But it’s there. I’ve also had a LOT more one on one after class chats with students this year. I want them to see I’m on their side and that I believe in them. It also gives me the chance to see them as people, not just students, and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing.

It’s really easy… REALLY EASY to get lost in this burn out spiral. And it seems, from personal experience, that the more you let yourself focus on the problems (especially the ones that we don’t have direct control over) the harder it gets to stop. This isn’t me saying “get over it”. There are legitimate problems educators are facing today. And I have lots of thoughts on those… maybe another post. But while we are dealing with those problems, we have to keep our candles burning.

I hope these tips are helpful to someone out there. If you have other suggestions, by all means share it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by!

To Give Full Credit, or Not to Give Full Credit…

…That is the question.

I realize that late work is a touchy subject for some teachers. We all have various policies, and some schools have a blanket policy for all teachers. But this is my policy that I have adapted and changed over the years. I finally have a plan that I really like, so I want to share it with you.

Until a few years ago, my policy was any homework turned in late was worth 60% of the total points (our lowest D is a 70). So I would grade it, and as long as they got a 60% or higher, that was their grade. If they got 59% or lower, then I gave them that grade. What I did not like about this policy was that when I (or a parent, administrator, or student) looked back at the gradebook, you couldn’t tell if the low score was the result of incomplete work, the student not comprehending the task, or just that it was late. And then I had a group of students that forced me to change (so looking back, thanks kids). Their mindset was that it was better to turn in work incomplete (and I’m talking REALLY incomplete) than to get points off for being late. I’ve gone to great efforts to make sure that any homework I assign is enrichment and will help the students deepen their understanding. It’s never busy work or just because I feel the need to take up every free moment they have. So because they weren’t completing the work, they weren’t getting the information. And everything else they were doing in class was suffering as well.

So I had two big issues here; getting kids to complete the work and being able to tell if students were getting the knowledge and skills. Here’s what I now use: I will accept all late work until the day of the test for full credit (see, controversial… I warned you), but I will not accept ANY incomplete work. If a student hands in an incomplete assignment, I hand it back to them and explain the value of the work and that it’s worth more complete and late than the other way around. I rarely have a student hand in incomplete work more than once.

Now before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind, yes, I do know that turning work in on time is an important life skill. So when I say they get full credit for late work, that’s a tiny bit untrue. I keep a separate grade in the gradebook for “on-time” points. They get 15 points per quarter. Any time they turn in something late (or without a name), they lose one of those points. So there is an incentive for turning your work in on time, but turning in one or two late won’t trash your grade. It also makes it super easy to look at the gradebook and see if a student’s grade is low because they aren’t doing well on the assignment (which was complete, of course) or because they turned work in late.

gradebook

This policy has been working really well for me and my students. I know that in a perfect world, students would do their work well, on time, and completely finished. But this isn’t a perfect world. So for me, it is about choosing which skills are the most important (and realistic) for my kids and putting my emphasis there. I hope this is helpful to some of you. I’d love to hear your class policies in the comments!

Updates to Biology Reading Days

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A while back, I wrote a blog post about my Biology Reading Days. When I started this project, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with it. I now love it. You can read the original post here.

I will admit, not all my students share my enthusiasm for scientific literature. And that’s fine. What I really want them to get out of it is an exposure to this type of writing. Some of the books on the list are fictional stories (that are scientifically accurate). Some of the books are non-fiction explaining scientific ideas and events. Some of the higher level students actually struggle because they have never read something like this before. I don’t need them to have a Ph.D after reading the book, but just want them to come away with a greater understanding of the concept than they went in with.

So here are my updates:

1. Updated Book Lists: I now use this project with my freshmen bio and my jr/sr A&P….so two lists. I am always looking for new books to add, and taking off any I feel are too hard/boring based on student feedback. I post this for the students as a GoogleDoc, so I put positive student reviews in the comments.  AandPReadingList      BiologyBookList

2. Final Project: I still use the weekly reading sheets (found in the original post), but at the end they have to choose one of the following projects. This is a great way for me to see what their take on the book really was.  FinalBookProject

My final word of caution when doing this project: it is very much about you. This school year, I had a baby. I left reading days as a project for my sub thinking it’d be the easiest one. They pick a book, read it, and answer questions. Easy, peasy…. WRONG. I didn’t realize how important the conversations I was having with the students along the way were. When I returned the last week of the project, a lot of them were so confused, frustrated and bored with their books. They didn’t see the real world connections. And this is not a slam on my sub; she was great! But she hadn’t chosen and read the books (I’ve read about half). Those discussions about how awesome the author/story/concept is weren’t happening. Students weren’t getting productive feedback. And so a lot them felt lost. My point is don’t use reading days as a chance to catch up on grading/paperwork/endless other tasks we have to do. At least not the whole period. This is a chance to make real connections with your kids and get them excited about science (and maybe even reading!). I hope you AND your students love it as much as I (and most of my students) do.

Questions? Suggestions? I’d love to hear them n the comments! And don’t forget to Like me on Facebook!

Political Biology

Source: josiahandfriends.wordpress.com

Source: josiahandfriends.wordpress.com

Today I’m sharing another one of my quarter projects, meaning my kids work on it once a week for 9 weeks. I really like this one because it gives the students the freedom to dive into a topic that they really are interested in. It requires them to find out what is happening in the real world and decide for themselves what the best solution is.

Each student chooses a biological topic (ie. global warming, animal conservation, organic foods) and then researches political connections. The end product is a letter to a politician explaining what the problem is and what they feel the government should (or should not) do about it. In some cases, the government is not involved at all but the students can take the side that it should be! They can disagree or agree with what is already being done (which means they have to actually know what is going on). Here’s the student instructions and research questions: Politician letter   I’ve done this project with my freshmen bio and with my upperclassmen bio 2, so there are modifications for both levels. My freshmen all write to President Obama. My upperclassmen have to choose their own politician (anyone but Obama).  They edit each other’s letters, and then I edit again if needed. I do actually mail their letters (well, the ones that meet all the criteria). We always get a response from the White House (though it takes a few months). I post the letter in my room, and the kids really get a kick out of it. Some of the other politicians will respond as well, and I give those letters to the student who wrote them.

Here’s what’s great about this project:

-They have to think for themselves. They can’t defend their solution with “my parents say”. We also do a discussion day where they tell the class their problem and solution, and then the class gets to ask questions to make them strengthen their defense.

-Writing a letter that will actually be sent gets them to put in more effort. It gives the whole project a purpose beyond “it’s good to know”. It does make them feel important and show them their opinion is valued.

-It’s great way to teach about credible sources and even bring in primary literature if your students are ready for it!

The Dream House Challenge

Our last unit of the year in freshmen bio is the environment. It is really one of my favorites because there are just so many great, hands-on ways to teach kids. Last year, we built compost containers (I wrote about them here), but this year we just ran out of time. But have no fear- we did another project that I loved and hope to be able to do again in the future.

We spent a good deal of time talking about traditional and alternative energy sources. Students worked in groups and each did a brief presentation to the class on one type (ie. coal, hydro, solar, nuclear). We talked about recycling, composting, and zero waste. Then I set them loose to design and build a (model) dream house. The dream was to be as eco and environmentally friendly as possible. Some made it known that wasn’t THEIR dream house… but too bad for them.

They worked in groups of 2 or 3, which I let them pick… sort of. I split the class into 2 or 4 groups and they had to choose someone from another group. I strategically put all the “hands-on” kids in one group, the creative thinkers in another. Each student was given the instructions and the rubric (which included due dates for each step) on GoogleDrive.  Here they are: Dream House Challenge    DreamHouseChallengeRubrics

They had about 2 weeks total to work on this, which really could’ve been longer… Here is how we approached it step by step:

Step 1: Pick the location of your home. I was more interested in the type of environment than a place (at first, some picked California… which I pointed out could mean lots of different environments). They have to think about the pros and cons of that environment (ie. temperature, seasons, rainfall, sun/shade).

Step 2: Research ecofriendly homes and design your own. I really encouraged them to be creative, it didn’t have to look like any house we’d ever seen.  They had to make a blueprint and calculate square footage. We measured my classroom as a reference point. Students used the app Floor Planner on Chrome to create their blueprint. It’s a free app, but you can only save one design at a time and it’s not collaborative (only one account can work on it). Beware- this app is ADDICTIVE! If you were ever a slave to The Sims (yep, I was) this can suck you in.

 In the meantime… I had a local solar power installation expert come talk to my kids. Each group came up with 3 questions ahead of time, which helped a lot. He was great…. Check out his blog!

Step 3: Use your blueprint to build the model of your house! They could use whatever supplies they wanted, but it had to match the blueprint (which means the inside had to be visible). In addition to the model, they also had to turn in a written explanation of their choices (ie. “we are using solar panels because….” “our house is in a forest because…”). And their model had to show whatever was in the explanation.

Step 4: Present your model to the class and convince us it is the ultimate ecofriendly, environmental dream home. Here’s what I really loved- they graded each other’s models. The rubric is divided into “Peer Review” and “Teacher Review”. After everyone is done presenting, a rubric is put next to each model. The students go around and put a tally mark for whatever grade they think it deserves. Then I average the scores.

Here are some of my favorites:

They built a tree house for a rainforest... and included a sloth sanctuary.

They built a tree house for a rainforest… and included a sloth sanctuary.

No rainforest tree house would be complete without a rain barrel!

No rainforest tree house would b complete without a rain barrel!

The coastal dream house...

The coastal dream house…

Complete with floating solar panels and a slide ("to conserve your body's energy too").

Complete with floating solar panels and a slide (“to conserve your body’s energy too”).

Glass wall to absorb sunlight and a garden roof for insulation/food supply. (Do you kids love selfies as much as mine?)

Glass wall to absorb sunlight and a garden roof for insulation/food supply. (Do you kids love selfies as much as mine?)

Another glass wall for sunlight. This design was to be built over a river (which was supposed to flow between the basement pieces, creating hydropower).

Another glass wall for sunlight. This design was to be built over a river (which was supposed to flow between the basement pieces, creating hydropower).

Farmhouse on the plains. A really well built model, the roof came off to display the inside. Featured a wind turbine, solar panels, and a rain barrel.

Farmhouse on the plains. A really well built model, to roof came off to display the inside. Featured a wind turbine, solar panels, and a rain barrel.

And the mountain house. It was built into the side of a mountain (the green part) for insulation and protection from the wind. Also had solar panels!

And the mountain house. It was built into the side of a mountain (the green part) for insulation and protection from the wind. Also had solar panels!

Overall, I’m really happy with the results! Questions, comments, concerns? Leave them below!

“Today we made pee….” 

Last summer I attended a workshop through the University of Illinois’s extension campus. It was called “Mellow Yellow” and it was simply wonderful. Not only did they refresh my knowledge of kidney function (and dysfunction), but they gave us several hands on activities that were ready to use with students. The concepts that tied it all together were osmosis and diffusion, making it a great way to hook freshmen general bio students (face it, they’re interested in pee).

But what I am sharing today is a simulation that I use with my Anatomy & Physiology students. Again, this is in no way my own creation…. But I tried it with my students for the first time this past week and not only did they like it a lot, but I saw so many “ah-hah light bulbs” going off over their heads that I’m convinced it’s too good not to share.

Students obviously have to have a basic understanding of anatomy and I gave them an internal kidney diagram to look at as we went throught it. You use cheap, easy to find materials. I listed the specifics in the doc at the end, but the beads in water represent different components within blood, cups for blood vessels, a bowl and Latch-hook canvas are the kidney parts. 

Here’s how it works: 

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Start with all the beads and water in the Renal Artery cup. Put the latch-hook canvas over the bowl (AKA the nephron and glomerulus) and pure the “blood” over it.

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Right away the large blood components (red blood cells, white blood cells, and proteins) are caught in the filter. Move those into the Renal Vein cup. 

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Use the correct transporter proteins (colored spoons) to move the glucose, amino acids, and some of the salt out of the kidney and into the Renal Vein cup. This models reabsorption by the body (AKA diffusion). Stress that each spoon can only move that one specific molecule… That’s how it really works! This will take the kids a while (I have them work in pairs), and they’ll be amazed that your body does this so quickly in real life. 

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Last step… I ask what’s missing from the “blood” in the Renal vein. Thankfully, most of them notice there’s no water! Use the pipette or an eye dropper to simulate osmosis and move water from the nephron to the renal vein. 

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And that’s it. What’s left in the bowl is urine! It travels through the ureter and into the bladder. I finish up by asking what would happen if the glomerulus had a hole and that brings us to the next lesson on dialysis…. Which I’m hoping to actually have time for in next year’s class! 

Here’s my document with all the instructions if you want to save it:  Kidney Simulation

Questions? Thoughts on how to make this better? Share in the comments!