On November 19th, I made my way down to Cape Cod. First stop was the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) to spend an entire day working with the new ABE tech, Hege Lizarralde. We reviewed good practices in kit assembly, storage options, and even worked on a small experiment to get the digest of Labs 2/2a down to 10 minutes with NEB's CutSmart buffer. Although my day at the MBL was an effective use of time, it was November 20th that is worth writing about.
I was invited into the home and classroom of ABE educator Sylvie Therrien, biology teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth High School. Friday's schedule was going to be hectic, with Sylvie's AP biology class assembling at 7:20AM. During this morning class, I talked less about my science experiences and trajectory and more about cyclins and CDKs (which coincidently I dreamt about lecturing the night before). My time to talk about me was to happen after school during DY's Bio Jam Session. Throughout the day, I traveled the halls of DY with Sylvie and interacted with students and colleagues alike, inviting them to our afterschool festivities. The plan was simple: talk about me and my passion for combining science and music.
Before the day was over, two freshmen biology classes entered Room 112. Sylvie and I introduced micropipetting, focusing on how this simple tool is similar to the pen of a poet. Maybe they understood the spectacular power of the pipette, or maybe they just liked pressing buttons, but these students exhibited great technical skills for first-time pipette holders. The principle of the high school stopped by with the Superintendent, Carol Woodbury. Although I took a backseat during their visit, it was a chance for me to watch this educator interact with her students. When I visit classrooms, I am usually leading or co-teaching a lab. My job is to get students excited about science. Rarely do I get a chance to see raw enthusiasm from an ABE educator in her or his classroom. It is a remarkable thing to witness.
The last bell rang and I became nervous. How many high school students would give up their Friday afternoon to hear someone rap about science? Many. In fact, Sylvie's colleagues and DY administrators made up one third of the audience. I rapped, they sang. I threw my hands up in the air, they danced. I inspired them, they inspired me.
Fast forward to 7:35am on December 21st. My phone's Facetime feature rings. It's Sylvie and her AP biology class, ready for our second annual AP Bio student Bio Jam. Sylvie is the only educator I know that has assigned her students to write a rap, song, or poem about science topics covered on the AP exam. It was such a hit last year that she decided to do it again. The topics ranged from Mendelian genetics to cancer, PCR to drosophila as a model organism.
I was impressed from the beginning with one student, Kathryn, and her ode to Mendel via Biz Markie. Don't worry- we plan to record and share it soon.
This break from the textbook is not a break from learning. It takes a solid scientific literacy foundation to write a song or rap that not only expresses content, but as with any music, expresses emotion. This link between learning and feeling is something powerful and is underutilized in classrooms. However, with ABE educators like Sylvie, we can reveal to students that you don't just do science, you can feel science.