Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bio-English: Annotated Bibliography

Jones, Marge. "Bio-English." Active Learner: a Foxfire Journal for Teachers 1 (1996). 22 May 2008.

Bio-English describes a successful experimental elective offered at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. The elective course marries topics in biological science with writing, aiming to improve the students’ science vocabulary and grammar skills. The elective allowed students to form small groups, select their own topics, and set their own project goals, which ultimately increased the students’ interest in their work. The students also developed technological and research skills as they engaged in self-directed research from library resources and the Internet. The students selected and researched an array of topics including the effects of steroids on athletes, the linkage between gymnasts and eating disorders, exobiology, the effects of volcanoes on the ecosystem, and the physiology and psychology of domestic cats and dogs. During an evaluation of the elective at the end of the term, students responded very positively: some students requested to participate in the course again in the following term, while another student admitted that the course was his motivation for attending schools some days.
Marge Jones claims that the Principal of Theodore Roosevelt, Thelma Baxter, is an instrumental part of the school’s success, as she is well connected in the community, contending that Baxter has created a learning environment “where reform works”. She embraces elements of progressivism and incorporates the resources that the community can provide in order to maximize the opportunities for Theodore Roosevelt’s students.
Theodore Roosevelt is challenged with all the typical misfortunes of an inner-city education: poverty, crime, disease, and more. The extent of the elective’s success can credited to the DORR Foundation, which donated $12,000, which provided the students with the internet-equipped computers needed for the research-based projects.
The article’s author, Marge Jones, is an English teacher and Project Achieve coordinator at Theodore Roosevelt High School. She taught the Bio-English elective course at the school, and has been able to provide a primary account of the successes of the course.
The course is an example of pedagogical excellence. Bio-English is student-centered, interdisciplinary, project-based, and technologically relevant. The course allows students to be self-directed, and also provides the students with the opportunity to work in small peer-groups.


Ryan McGuirk said...

That Bio-English course sounds pretty awesome. It sort of reminds me of a class I took in college about Science and Literature (both a Science and English class), although my class experiences were not nearly so progressive. But I do think that perhaps part of the answer of how do we get away from teacher-centered classes might be to engage in more interdisciplinary courses. Doing so might de-center everyone from teachers to students and make the possibility of a truly new learning experience all the more possible. It also seems like it might be easier to justify progressive strategies to administrators if one is teaching a class--such as a hybrid--that has never been taught before.

N said...

The Bio-English program is a wonderful example of why I think the skills students learn in English class are important (by the way, I want to be an English teacher), and should be implemented across disciplines. The purpose of the program, as you explain, is to improve the students’ science vocabulary and grammar skills. But whether students are improving their science, history, or art history vocabulary, the important thing is that they are improving their communicating skills, which is an invaluable tool for life. This is one of the main reasons why English class, to me, is important. If you can write well, speak well, and have a rich vocabulary you can express yourself and your ideas accurately and effectively. Writing skills should be implemented in all courses, and the success of the Bio-English program is a good example of why.

UrbanEveEdublogg said...

What a great concept! I certainly intend to include literacy activities within my future science classroom. Journal writing, essays, research papers, and reflections are a few of the avenues I see myself utilizing.

The article which I chose to review: “Educative experiences and early childhood science education: A Deweyan perspective on learning to observe” by Elaine V. Howes. Teaching and Teacher Education: Volume 24, Issue 3, (April 2008), pages 536-549, mentions that the school of focus in the study, Monarca Elementary School, is focused in science, indicating the integration of literacy and science, upon which much of the classroom curriculum is based.

I think the interdisciplinary approach has the potential to be so incredibly effective as it connects everything better in the child's mind. Involving students in their own education, which the article I reviewed also speaks about, makes them question more and want to learn more.