Written by 7th grade Science teacher Sarah Casterton and Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen.
Several weeks ago, a Decorah 7th grader approached science teacher Sarah Casterton asking if her mom could come talk to the class. The student had been born with a rare and often fatal cellular disorder (there are an average of 1.2 cases per million people), and she has usually been extremely private about sharing the details with her peers. This year, though, she recognized how her life experience could help her peers understand the science curriculum better.
Each year in 7th grade life science, students study cells. They begin their work with science teacher Sarah Casterton by learning about what Earth was like billions of years ago and how the first cell formed on early Earth. Students explore what the first cell needed in order to survive, what plant and animal cells look like, and what specific organelles (specialized structures within cells) do to help a cell survive.
Students have hands on experiences with cells during the year. They examine cork cells, cheek cells, and onion cells under a microscope. In addition, they received rainbow trout eggs and have been talking about their cells. They will continue to monitor these eggs as they grow into rainbow trout.
And this year, students learned about their classmate.
The student’s mother spent the day sharing her daughter’s experience with her classmates. Students learned about some of the specific effects of the disease, the treatment process, and the complications that are the daily norm for their classmate. They saw pictures of her as a baby and were able to see the physical effects of the cell disease. They heard stories about what the treatment was like, and learned that without this treatment she likely would have died. By hearing about how information that could have seemed theoretical has real-world implications for someone to whom they are personally connected, the material came to life for students and the content took on more real-world importance.
Coming next for the students is the discussion of cell division and what can go right/wrong in the process. This will dovetail into a genetics unit where students will discuss how conditions can be passed from parent to offspring.
How do you engage students’ life experiences in the curriculum? How has this changed your class’s understanding of the curriculum? Join the conversation by commenting below!
A blog dedicated to discussing instructional practices and reflecting on why we do what we do.
Blogs We Follow
Contact a Coach