First tutorial session!

So last Sunday night whilst the rest of my flat were having predrinks before heading out, I sat in amongst the the merry party goers planning my lesson for the next day. The next morning I was again extremely nervous. I was drying my hair and pouring over my notes, convinced that I knew absolutely nothing. Why on earth had I volunteered to teach, I don’t know things! Not entirely unsure if I was reacting or not, I headed into school. First positive event in the experience, I managed to find the classroom okay! But the next thing I know I’m in the classroom and the teacher is saying she’ll just sit in the corner and do some marking, and she’s really excited to learn from somebody who is learning from experts in the field, and I’m standing in front of a group of expectant advanced highers with a whiteboard pen in my hand and my head has gone completely blank.

But it was fine, I took a deep breath, read over my notes and started talking. And it actually went quite well. I knew more than I thought I did. It sounds silly to say but it really showed me the depth and extent of the knowledge I’ve gained since starting university. 

The tutorial was on biochemistry so we started of by going over polysaccharides, condensation reactions and glycosidic links. It turns out the class wasn’t aware that they had to memorise the chemical structures of glucose and demonstrate what happens in a condensation reaction. What I thought would take about 20mins ended up taking the whole lesson. At the end of it though everyone knew how to answer the question, and understood the concept behind the question. I felt a bit more confident in my teaching skills at this point. 

Occasionally I struggled to read the students, they would nod when I asked them if they understood but I wasn’t always entirely convinced. The teacher soon cottened on to this and suggested they each write out the concepts I was trying to get them to understand. When this happened I think the students themselves realised the gaps in their own knowledge, wherein the teacher and I could go round the room and help fill them in. 

After a short break I came back for a second class, this time I went over lipids, tryglycerols, phoshpolipids and steroids. This was much less complicated than the polysaccharides as the students themselves did not have to memorise the chemical structures.

The teacher came up to me at the end of the lesson and mentioned how exhausting it could be standing in front of a class, something I hadn’t noticed until the moment she said it!

We agreed that I would briefly go over the contents of the cellular biology NAB that the students have to do the following week on the Friday. So my preparation was to go over the NAB myself and plan a brief revision session around the content of it!

I left on Monday much more confident with my own ability to explain things, and with an insight of how to improve the lesson. I think I took some basic things for granted, for example that the students would understand WHY chemical reactions happen, i.e movement of electrons, but of course not all the students had taken chemistry! Here I think it really illustrated how not having the background information, even if not necessary to understand the concept, can cause a mental block in remembering and understanding ideas. Next time I need to try and read each student individually and gauge whether or not they fully understand why things are happening. 

My ability to be articulate also dwindled after two hours, so maybe  write out some extra notes on my plan to jog my memory towards the end of the lesson for next time! 

I got a chance to talk with the students about their interest in science at the end of the lesson and almost all of them, bar one, are interested in a career in science! Just what we like to hear! Medicine, Vet medicine, physiotherapy, forensic science, biomedical studies.  I’ve noticed a trend these days that schools (and parents) push students into degrees that more obviously point towards a specific job, i.e doctors, nurses, vets, physiotherapists, forensic scientists. Not once in my own experience was scientific research suggested as a legitimate career path. I think this is something I will try to look into, get some opinions on – why not? What are the students attitudes towards a career in research? 

The students I talked to definitely seemed to have a passion about the subjects they wanted to pursue further studies in so that may not be the case here. Something else I would like to ask them about is their experience with science outside of school – do they read journals? Keep up with scientific news? Do they have favourite popular scientists? Read popular science books? I know that an interest outside of school developed later for me, so this is a personal point of interest. 

Until next time! 

Quick Visit

Another early start this morning- I’ll get used to them, I hope! I arrived to a classsroom empty of students however as the rememberance day assembly had stolen them for their many musical talents. This gave me an opportunity to run over the material I was going to cover with the teacher/what she wanted me to go over with the students. We settled on the topics they had been left to learn in their own time before the summer – Carbohydrates, Lipids, Functions of biological molecules and Nucleic Acids, with a particular focus on the biochemistry. When the students appeared for a brief 15 minutes before the assembly I asked them if there was anything in particular they wanted me to go over – the consensus was EVERYTHING PLEASE, but more generally the biochemistry aspects. The students who hadn’t also taken chemistry had struggled to learn the content. 

On Monday I will run a tutorial class for them (AHHHHH) with no time limit, which is reassuring. This gives me time to go over the content and plan a general structure for the lesson and some questions to focus on. I’ll need to brush over my biochemistry and make sure I know why I’m telling them how things are! The key to remembering processes in chemistry is understanding why reactions are happening – I’ll need to make sure I know this before I go about telling them! 

A week from now the teacher has asked me to briefly go over the content of the NAB the class will be sitting the next week. The academic level of the NAB is quite easy so it shouldn’t be too strenuous. Preparation will probably consist of me reading through the paper and making sure I know all the answers! 

A little bit of reflection – I was a lot less nervous this week, though I did have a little tingle in my tummy as I was talking to the class. My confidence levels are much greater when I actually know what I’m going in for. I definitely thought that teaching the advanced higher’s would have a more casual feel to it due to the closeness in age between me and the students, but they clearly don’t see me as that close in age to them! They spoke to me politely and just as you would a teacher! This was a bit strange but I don’t know why I expected anything else really! I’m sure they’ll get more comfortable with me soon. 

I’m planning to do the work for the tutorial on Sunday, so perhaps expect an exasperated post around about lunchtime along the lines of ‘WHY HAVE I FORGOTTEN ALL THE THINGS?!’

Until next time! 


A few goals & first visit to school!

Rachel’s Goals For The Year! 

So I have a few long term personal goals I would like to work on for this project. Each of these three goals are skills I want to develop over the next year through helping out in Firrhill High School  – so expect to hear a lot about my knees knocking as I attempt to communicate to a class of sixteen year olds why cells are cool.

  • Firstly I want to work on my general leadership/public talking skills. This encompasses the ability to stand in front of a class without turning into jelly and spitting one word at them all repeatedly as I try to remember what my point was. I think the way to best tackle this is to be thoroughly prepared. Plan my lessons in advance and memorise my key points. Hopefully this will keep me calm and prevent brain freeze and temporary speech paralysis. Interestingly this is only a recent problem of mine – in school I could easily and happily get in front of the class and talk away, make clear and valid points and answer questions. I wonder if it has something to do with not knowing the people I am standing up in front of anymore?
  • Secondly I want to improve my general teaching skills. This is a broad area  of improvement for me because I’ve never taught anyone older than 10 before. I’ve also never taught them anything other than martial arts or basic english. When it comes to developing my teaching skills I think I’ll have to make sure I really know what I’m teaching the kids through and through so that I can make sure they fully understand it.
  • Thirdly I want to develop my ability to communicate science. As it is I can rant and rave about new scientific developments and their significance in advancing our understanding of the natural world. I don’t know if I can translate this enthusiasm into a school syllabus. I’d like to see if I can get students interested in what they are studying beyond a necessity for passing their exams.

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ProScience Volunteering Begins!

Biology, in fact science in general, didn’t develop into a passion of mine until I reached my fifth year in secondary school. Whilst always academic enough to cope with the subject I didn’t find it interesting or relevant until I started studying it at a more advanced level. This interest was directly channelled from the enthusiasm of my teacher, a small and quirky physiologist with a contagious excitement about the natural world.

Now, in my second year of studying biology at the University of Edinburgh, I feel compelled to talk science to anyone that will listen! The ProScience volunteering project has given me just the opportunity to do this. Every week I will wake up unusually early, catch a couple of buses and talk science to kids in school. Provided I don’t fall asleep on the bus and wake up in Glasgow.

Hopefully this blog will be a useful tool to track my own progress, record my thoughts and feelings, and develop my skills as a science communicator and teacher.

Stay tuned!