As a Biology teacher with dual certification in Communication Arts, I feel thrilled when the two disciplines can be creatively interwoven. When my high school implemented a building wide read-aloud model two years ago (we require a minimum five minute teacher led read aloud every period in every classroom) I was truly excited! Now I had an actual excuse to read in class with my students every single period.
Because of this, I am always on the lookout for interesting items to weave into and “update” the curriculum. Discoveries in the life sciences change the content so frequently that textbooks become obsolete just a few years into adoption. Using short web-based readings is a cheap and effective way to freshen the content and, often, to bring in primary resources.
Alternatively, the read aloud can be used as a way to add relevance by integrating high interest pieces that challenge and motivate teenage students. For example, the past few years in my Zoology course, we have read excerpts from Mary Roach’s novel Stiff. The sordid and sundry details of the history of human dissection or cadaver crash test dummies seem to provide a rather gripping way to engage students using text with a high reading level.
So here’s what I’m thinking
Last year during our study of genetics, I incorporated information about certain genetic disorders from Learn.Genetics. Specifically, I used readings from the “disorder pyramid,” so students could see the different “levels” of genetic disorders, from single gene to multi-factorial conditions. This website also incorporates still images as well as video clips so students can better visualize concepts. After introducing the site on the first day, I allowed students to determine subsequent readings.
Just this past July, I found a website that really inspired me. The Human Genre Project is the perfect interplay of literature and science. The website displays a colorful interactive karyotype of the 23 human chromosome pairs. For example, a click of chromosome #11 brings up poetry or short stories related to that particular chromosome. Attached to this chromosome is a short story entitled, “Seeing Light.” Written about the PAX6 gene, it deals with the evolutionary development of what we would call the sense of sight. Ideally, a specific gene could serve as the writer’s muse, but some of the works are about the actual chromosomes themselves. One of my personal favorites is from chromosome X and is featured with permission of the artist at the end of this post.
The value I intend to add this year comes from the use of both websites in tandem. In other words, I plan to begin with a more information-focused reading from Learn.Genetics , followed by a more artistic piece from The Human Genre Project. I hope that this will not only appeal to a wider spectrum of students in the classroom, but will also serve to show that scientists aren’t a bunch of grey-haired old guys in white lab coats.
What are you thinking?
Am I weird here? Would you be comfortable discussing elements of poetry with your Biology students? Am I the only biology teacher focused on the literary side of the field? At times I wonder how much of an oddity my dual background in both Biology and English makes me. However, my husband, friend, and coach also tends to align with me on this, and he doesn’t have a formal background in Language Arts. So perhaps I’m not so odd after all. Or maybe we both are. This is certainly possible.
PS- The Human Genre Project is still accepting submissions. Anyone interested? ;)
Thanks to*Screenshot from Learn.Genetics website, University of Utah *Screenshot from The Human Genre Project, various *Artwork: the telomeric tale of the mouse’s tail (after carroll), with permission from shardcore