When I found out that this year I would be supporting ELL students in a science class, I was immediately nervous. Science, while I found it interesting, was never my favorite subject in school. In fact, physics was the only class I ever got a D in, and for which my parents got me a tutor. My science teachers in junior high and high school had without exceptions been males. For the most part, they talked down to us. If you didn’t understand, too bad - you just did what you could. Science class meant lab reports and a lot of teacher talk. If you didn’t do well, there wasn’t much you could do about it. Back then, modifications and scaffolding did not exist. I was basically silent all the time in science.
When the year began and I walked into the first science class, I sensed this would be different. And it sure was. I could never have imagined that the teacher would have students constructing DNA, and then “critters”, as she calls them, out of candy: marshmallows, gummy worms, licorice, and Sour Patch kids. In fact, there were many things I could not have imagined, that were creative, interesting, hands-on, and just plain funny.
For example, who ever thought you would hear these comments come out of a science teacher’s mouth?
“Okay, now you’re going to unbutton the shirt of your partner” - said in the context of a lab showing how important our opposable thumbs are.
“See how far your Barbie will fall” - during a lab where each student pair had a Barbie doll tied by one foot to rubber bands and “bungee-jumping” to practice metric system measuring.
“Tomorrow, you will make Mallow babies, then you can eat the babies.” Or, “You can eat your babies tomorrow, don’t eat them today!” Or better yet, “Who are you having babies with?” This was the critter lab - students figuring out from Punnett squares how to construct a “Mallow” and and have it then reproduce with another Mallow, all using candy.
Then there was the time I walked into the science room to find the middle table labeled in huge letters: “ANUS”
Of course, there was a reason behind it as well. Students were learning about body systems. It was all perfectly planned and logical (even though it had come from a crazy dream the teacher had - yes, these are the sorts of things teachers dream about). Each table was labeled with a part of the digestive system through which students (and their candy) would travel. Needless to say, the teachers on our team had a good laugh out of that one as we started our team meeting at the anus table; we might have even laughed more than the kids.
There are other treats to walking into this science classroom. Bunnies brought in by a friend to demonstrate how albinism happens (imagine 13 year-olds carefully holding baby bunnies). Demonstrations of cutting planaria worms in 4 pieces to show how each piece would grow into its own worm. The day we went outside to competitively speedwalk (again to practice the metric system) and I couldn’t stop laughing watching some of our more challenging students walk, throwing their hips from side to side. Authentic comments praising all students: “That’s a great connection you just made - you are really great at always making those connections, thanks for that.”
In this classroom, I have felt my science-phobia slowly dissipate. Everything is done, and re-done, in ways the students can access no matter what kind of learners they are. ELL students are not only appreciated in this classroom, but praised because they are really learning 2 more languages: English and science.
And - icing on the cake - my daughter is lucky enough to have this science teacher this year. She especially appreciates the way her teacher makes everything visual so she can understand it. She loves science - thanks to her teacher. She’s also a great role model for so many kids - great for girls, for kids into science, for ELL students, and students of different abilities and colors. What I would have given to have a teacher like Ms.Welborn in 7th grade!