The most useful ISACS Conference Workshop I have attended in the time I have been at the Academy was titled “Mirrors & Doors: Learning, Sharing & Comparing Our Stories”, presented by two members of the Orchard School in Indianapolis, IN. I use the ideas presented by the facilitators in numerous curriculum activities in my science classes in addition to sharing stories with colleagues and parents. Specifically, the conference challenged us to think: “By sharing our stories we see ourselves in others. How well do we know the people that we work with? How well do we know ourselves? How can we share and hear stories of others in a positive, meaningful, and tangible way?” (ISACS Conference Brochure, 2014). Here are several stories I use in my classes to help students understand and retain concepts like “meaning embodied in objects”, “visualization of a scientific principle”, and “intellectual property”.

Mr. Malcolm 1Crimson King Maple, Ginko, Weeping Mulberry, Osage Orange. These trees were all part of a field trip in which my class taxonomically identified the trees planted on our campus. I incorporated stories of those individuals who beautified our grounds with these trees throughout the walk. At one time, the campus had over 50 different species of trees, many of which were planted by Mrs. Price, the original owner of the three city lots which make up our Outdoor Classroom today. Other stories I shared that day included the time when one cow provided milk for the Price Family and some neighbors off a pasture east of Alumni Hall, the Quad filled with American Elm trees killed by the Dutch Elm Disease, and the memorial Green Ash trees in front of Hansen Hall dying from the Emerald Ash Borer. These trees were planted in honor of Mr. Wolf, an MPA teacher, and Mr. Kennedy, an MPA Board member.  I talked about who these individuals were and why we honored them. In each case, the trees were of more than scientific interest – they embodied meaning and memory.  

A story which I use each year when my 7th grade students study motion is about my motorcycle mother.  Yes, my mother rode a motorcycle. She has ridden figuratively many times in Room 212 here at the Academy to demonstrate acceleration. As she gets on her motorcycle, her velocity is 0 m/sec north. She hits the start pedal, revs the engine, and “wheelies” down the room to a final velocity of  50 m/sec north in 1 sec. We then calculate her acceleration (change in velocity divided by the time it takes to make that change). With this sharing of a story, a lesson on motorcycle safety becomes more vivid and a respect for speed develops. The image – an unforgettable one according to many – makes acceleration easy to recall.

Sustainable Nanotechnology, the role of  proteins in several types of cancers, and the text Biomedical and Health Information Sciences are each areas of science in which past MPA students showed interest and who have gone on to publish. My students have used quotes from these past students’ research in their labs. With the story of a student who sat in the class where they are sitting, who has taken their passion in science research and turned it into a career in science, students understand a little more about their true ownership of their own written words, they have more  respect for the authors of the published works they use in their reports, and they develop a commitment to the passions they are exploring. That students like themselves have published their own stories of research and discovery clarifies the concept of intellectual property for current students.

Still, we have to ensure that the focus of these stories, the emphasis, is the science, that the scientific concepts do not get lost in the narration. I invite you to tell your Academy story.  I invite you to write it down and share it.

By Thomas Malcolm

Mr. Malcolm teaches Middle School science at Morgan Park Academy, a Chicago Private Independent School.