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Teach High School Science

One Cure for "Senior Slack!"
Judy Jones

About 10 years ago, I began to teach a class called, Biology 2 (Human Biology). That was my first experience with teaching high school seniors. I had always assumed that teaching seniors was a proverbial piece of cake. I certainly learned quickly that seniors bring their own set of challenges. One of these is the very real “senior slack.” Over the last 10 years I have taught the complete gamut of seniors – from those that will be valedictorians to those that may not graduate. And they all experience senior slack once the first semester ends. I think there is something about the high stress of today’s high schools, the frenzy of fall semester filled with college applications, and the need to keep those first semester grades up for the colleges that causes seniors to somewhat collapse when second semester begins. I learned early on that seniors will not study very hard for tests during second semester. Giving a final exam seemed rather worthless in light of this very real senior phenomenon. So ten years ago I hatched the idea of doing a big end of the year project (medical symposium) with my 70-80 Biology 2 students (99% seniors). I have made most of the specifics available to you as Word document, but I will briefly describe the Exhibition Project to you here.

Building Interest
This project has evolved over the ten years; I will describe its current form. When I introduce the project to my students, I try to spark enthusiasm by explaining that they will be allowed to choose any human health topic that they are passionately interested in. I explain that their topic might involve some disorder or disease that runs in their family; or it might be something that a friend or a neighbor has; or it might be something of historical interest to them. I also explain that for the “exhibition” part of their project, they can tap into their particular talents – which might be drama, art, or music, as well as writing, history, and of course, science. Today’s students are so blitzed with standardized testing (end-of-course tests, AP tests, and SATs) that my students welcome this chance to pursue in depth something of their choice. It always amazes me that each year the projects are simply wonderful. These projects are presented in an evening EXHIBITION to which parents, teachers, and community members are invited. Each year people comment on the high quality of the student’s work. This public appreciation, and the clear passion and involvement of my students, more than justify the project.

Specifics
There are three major pieces to this project:

  • A 6-7 page thesis-based research paper
  • A tri-fold brochure
  • An exhibition (a way to show the public what has been learned)

I have many “check-points” for this work to help my students pace themselves. These include annotated bibliographies, thesis statements, rough drafts or outlines, and exhibition plans. (Details are in the attachment.) There are a few days of class instruction involved. I need to introduce the project and build enthusiasm. I also need to teach them how to prepare an annotated bibliography and how to develop a thesis statement. I give them samples of tri-fold brochures and teach them the purpose of a brochure. If I have time in my schedule, I will plan on a few days in the library for them to do research – this helps move them along in the process. Students turn in their papers and one copy of their brochure on the day that they present their project in class. I allow each student about 10-15 minutes in class to present their research and their exhibition project.

The Exhibition will be shared in class as a formal presentation and also at the evening event for the public. We hold the Exhibition in 4 classrooms. One of the classrooms is large and has long tables – this is perfect for all the poster presentations. The other small classrooms are used for formal (audience-required) presentations and for computer-based or video based projects designed for circulating crowds. I always let students choose how they want to present their projects. Some students truly want an audience and others prefer the smaller group experience. At each of the student’s projects, we place 5 copies of their brochure for the public to take. This has been a very popular feature.

Organization
Most years, I form a committee of students from each class (perhaps a total of 6 students). These students meet periodically to plan the actual Exhibition Night. They help with all of the following:

  • Preparing a flyer to announce the Exhibition – this is copied on colorful paper and should go out to parents (both paper and email) as well as to other key people about 2-3 weeks in advance.
  • Preparing a program of all of the projects for the night of the Exhibition – this is a simple front-back one-fold program with a cover and a list of all the students with their project titles, organized according to the rooms they will be in and the type of exhibition.
  • Inviting specific community members (school board, central office personnel, etc.)
  • Press release
  • Planning the refreshments – we try to keep this very simple. Most years it is just finger food brought by my students. I provide sodas, water, ice, cups, and napkins.
  • Planning for set-up and clean-up (very important!) – Each year I have students who are eager to help so this has not been a problem.

A Few Highlights from the Last 10 Years

  • Two outstanding students did a project on Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression). Their thesis involved the issue of creativity and the effects of medicating. They took over a large room. They projected onto a large screen a PowerPoint presentation that ran itself. The presentation gave specifics of the disorder and then displayed copious examples of famous pieces of artwork done by artists suspected of having Bipolar Disorder. The walls were covered with artistically displayed poetry; there was a running tape of music as well as a table filled with books – all done by people thought to have this disorder. Walking into this room, we were overcome by the sense of beauty and creativity of these people. It was incredible!

  • One student did a photographic scrapbook of a little boy who had been through a difficult surgical procedure for a medical problem. After presenting her scrapbook, she gave it to the family. It was healing for the little boy to have his own story to read over and over.

  • For one memorable exhibition, a young man wrote a ballad about schizophrenia! It seems odd but it really worked.

  • One young man, who suffers from a severe fear of speaking in public, did his exhibition on the subject, prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and gave it as a formal “audience” presentation.

  • One pair of students did a wonderful poster on leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) and included all of the history associated with this disease.

  • A very poignant exhibition was about multiple sclerosis; this student’s mother had the disorder and she came to the exhibition to hear her daughter’s presentation.

  • One young man did his report on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. When this young man finished his presentation, he told me that he had suffered from this disorder most of his life and that doing the research and project had freed him to enjoy his life.

  • A very fun exhibition was presented by a young woman who had Attention Deficit Disorder and did her project on this topic. For the exhibition piece she took the pages from her senior planner (which was filled with the doodles and drawings she used to keep herself focused) and she created a spectacular collage of all these pages. When you looked at it, you felt ADD yourself!

  • This year a student did her project on Achondroplasia (a type of dwarfism) because her best friend, a student at our school, has this disorder. She brought her friend in and conducted a “live” interview as her exhibition. We all learned and grew to appreciate even more this wonderful young woman and her friend.

  • One young technologically gifted young woman did her project on traditional versus homeopathic medicine. She designed and produced an incredible video game that involved hunting for treasures in order to get information – it was the hit of the exhibition night!

And the list goes on…………………………..

I encourage you to consider this type of project if you teach seniors. You and they will reap great rewards.

Please contact me if you have questions about this project.

Download the attachment (Word document)

 

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