Science is everywhere. To demonstrate this concept to her students, Kellie Blair-Hardt asks, “What does the density of water have to do with anything?” Behind her, a picture of the Titanic sinking appears on a screen.
For today’s lesson on density, the school lab looks like the set of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and the students/agents are challenged with solving a recent crime. They determine the density of “blood” and four other fluids (later identified as cherry cola, corn syrup, corn oil, alcohol, and water) found at the scene and sort them in rank order.
Working in teams, the students display higher order thinking skills as Hardt gently reminds them to believe in themselves. “The fact that you have a disability doesn’t mean that you are not smart,” she tells them. True to point, in her classroom, the word is “disAbility,” spelled with a capital “a.”
Hardt earned an A.S. in general studies from Northern Virginia Community College in 1998, a B.S. in psychology from Virginia Tech in 2000, and a Master of Special Education in K-12 learning/emotional disabilities in 2005. She has been the president of VEA District 7 and the Manassas Education Association since 2011 and was elected to the NEA Board of Directors in 2012.
Melissa CollinsSecond Grade Teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School (Memphis, TN) Tennessee Education Association
As “Junior Scientists” enter Melissa Collins’ classroom, they don lab coats for an inquiry-based lesson called, “Sounds All Around.” First, they review the terminology—vibrate, pitch, sound waves, and musical instruments—that they learned last week.
After locating New Orleans on a map, they get up and dance to the music of Young Fella’s, a hip hop/rhythm and blues band that recorded there.
Teams are tasked with creating different instruments—a tambourine, a maraca, and a guitar. Their supplies include paper plates, jingle bells, shoe boxes, hair beads, bead wires, water bottles, and rubber bands. As they engage in this exercise, the young scientists use the scientific method and process skills to complete their lab sheets. They also learn that instruments must vibrate to create sound. As the class closes, the music swells again and the smiling students dance out of the room.
Collins received a B.S. in elementary education from Murray State in 1999; an M.Ed. in building level administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2005; and a doctorate in district-level administration from the same institution in 2011. She has been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and honored with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2008. Recently elected to the Memphis Education Association board of directors, she has also served as a delegate to the TEA and NEA Representative Assemblies.
Julia MarshallTeacher Interventionist and Literacy Coach at Rosewood Elementary International School (Rock Hill, SC) South Carolina Education Association
Julia Marshall begins every day with a question for her students, “Anybody upset about anything? Thumbs up or thumbs down?” With all digits pointing to the sky, she launches into her lesson. Last week, the students learned what Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks did and why they were so important to the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our focus this week is using our words as a tool to communicate because Dr. King initiated change by using his powerful words,” Marshall notes. The picture book, “Martin’s Big Words,” introduces the students to words like “abolish,” “boycott,” “segregation,” and “discrimination.” Then the students are up and moving to various stations that support their differentiated learning styles. There is the World Wacker Wall and Word Twister for kinesthetic learners while auditory learners can listen to a CD. Other students can read along on a tablet, or compose poetry or rap. “Each of you can be an agent of change,” she says, and “Everything you do today affects your tomorrow.”
Marshall received a B.A. from Clemson University in 1980; Magna Cum Laude; Phi Kappa Phi; Kappa Delta Pi. She earned an M.E. in school guidance from Winthrop University in 1986 and a doctorate in teacher leadership from the Richard Riley School of Education at Walden University in 2011. She received National Board Certification in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts in 2001 and 2010.
Leslie NicholasLanguage Arts Teacher at Wyoming Valley West Middle School (Kingston, PA) Pennsylvania State Education Association
Leslie Nicholas, widely known as “Mr. Nick,” wants students to know that understanding poetry is a lifelong skill. So, he picks two great poets of the 20 century—John Lennon and Paul McCartney—about whom students have learned in their history books. “Lyrics,” he says, “are poetry set to music.”
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night…Take these broken wings and learn to fly…"
Nicholas asks what the poem is about. It was written in 1968; what was going on then? There were protests—against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and women’s rights, he notes. What does the word “broken” imply? “Beaten,” a student answers. Nicholas continues to probe and asks if the students know any terminology from that era. Groovy or chick, perhaps? In the United Kingdom, he says, “bird” was slang for a young woman. But why a blackbird? Who could that be? And then it slowly dawns on the class that the song is about Rosa Parks. Who knew?
Nicholas was the Pennsylvania Journalism Teacher of the Year in 2002 and the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year in 2004. In 2003, he was a Teacher Ambassador for the Radio and Televisions News Directors Foundation. In 2004, he participated in a national, roundtable policy discussion on "No Child Left Behind." He has been an executive board member for the Pennsylvania School Press Association and is a lifelong member of PSEA and NEA.
Jennifer ThomasInstructional Coach and English Language Arts Teacher (San Jose, CA) California Teachers Association
Jennifer Thomas opens her English I class on character analysis by saying that she is, first and foremost, a teacher. She also describes her life as a daughter, a wife, a sister, and a beloved aunt. The students then consider their personal identities, define them, and share with the class.
Next, Thomas engages her students with a storytelling project called Story Corps, from the Library of Congress. One story is about a Mexican-American who grew up in the rural southwest in the 1950s. His name was Ramon and for his entire life it had been pronounced with a rolling “r.” At school, however, the teachers started calling him “Raymond.” Maria became Mary and Juanita became Jane. These children endured the Anglicization of their names and devaluation of their cultures. It stayed with them forever.
The students discuss how they would feel in Ramon’s place and discuss the impact that courage and tolerance have on a person‘s identity. Thomas hopes that the lesson encourages acceptance and celebration of differences and recognition that we are all characters in our own stories and not that different at all.
Thomas earned a B.A. from San Jose University with a major in psychology and a minor in social work. She also earned her teaching credential there in 2003. Her alma mater honored her with the Dorothy Wright Teaching Award twice—in 2006 and 2010. She has been an active member of the San Jose Teachers Association for her entire career in San Jose and currently serves as the organization’s Vice President.