Mississippi Teacher Corps

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Questions that I actually enjoy answering

The other teachers on my hall say that the group of students we have this year is much better behaved than last year’s bunch, although not as smart. Incidentally, I’ll take that trade any day. I definitely agree that this year’s kids are better behaved. It’s harder for me to judge which group is smarter; the kids I have this year are performing better, but it’s hard for me to sort out how much of that has to do with the kids’ innate abilities and how much has to do with me improving as a teacher. I do suspect that the other teachers’ assessment is at least somewhat accurate; I’ve noticed that my two “smartest” classes this year are not head and shoulders above my other students the way that my two “smartest” classes were last year. Something that has impressed me about this year’s class, though, is their ability to ask intelligent questions. I don’t recall having as many good questioners last year. Here are some of my favorite ones that kids have asked:

-After I introduced cells by saying that all living things are made of cells, and everything in our body is made of cells, a student asked me if dreams are made of cells. I thought about it for a bit and then said that we don’t exactly have “dream cells,” but that dreams are produced by brain cells as they transfer information from short-term memories to long-term memories. Wow, I needed to resort to my knowledge from upper-level biology classes to answer that one.

-In my beginning of the year overview, when I was talking about what percent of our DNA we share with various living things, I was asked if it’s true we come from monkeys. I had to be a little careful about that one, but I explained how primates are the group of animals with DNA most similar to our own, so there is good evidence that we share a recent common ancestor. I was then asked what was the first animal ever “created” on earth. I was stumped; I knew what kinds of bacteria were the earliest to emerge, but had no idea what living thing emerged as the first bona-fide animal. I looked it up and reported the next day that it was a sea sponge. As the other teachers at the school told me (I’m probably the only one who doesn’t go to church), the bible says that fish were the first animal. If I ever landed in hot water over what I said (which I doubt I will), I guess one could construe a sea sponge as a fish…

-Also in the beginning of the year overview, I talked a little bit about the space science unit we will do. I was asked if I believe in aliens and UFO’s, and what I think of Area 51. I told my class that I think there’s a pretty good chance that there is life elsewhere in the universe, though it might just be tiny bacteria, and I don’t think that any alien life forms have ever come to visit the earth. And I think most of the “information” we have about Area 51 is being spewed out by conspiracy theorists who don’t actually have a clue what they are talking about.

-After I showed my class a picture of a white blood cell attacking a bacterium, I explained how white blood cells recognize and attack things that are not part of the body but somehow get inside. A student stayed after class and asked if you went to the hospital and had Type O blood, but received blood from someone with Type A, would your white blood cells attack something in the Type A blood. We haven’t even talked about blood types yet! This is probably the most intelligent connection I’ve seen a student make.

-After a lesson on cells, a student stayed after class and asked if you could ever have problems from having too many cells. I thought about that one for a minute, then realized, sure, this kid just described cancer!

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