By Michael Mele
MMI Science Instructor
Class begins at 5:45 A.M., so don’t be late! I show up for class long before my students do. Not literally, of course, but my mind is already running in teacher mode from minute one. The first thing I do is check my phone for email messages. You know, every now and then, something strikes a student as urgent at 2:15 A.M. I need to be ever vigilant!
Then I go to the news and my mind is already meshing the events of the morning with my biology, anatomy, and marine science classes. Viruses are, of course, a hot topic and I think of how the morning’s news can be integrated into the classroom. What are students’ concerns? How can I make the world around them make sense to them in relation to what we are doing? In marine biology, it’s “why a horseshoe crab’s blood could save your life” and in anatomy it’s “guzzling milk might boost your risk of breaking bones.” There’s always something to give significance to what we do in class; you’ve just got to have your eyes open.
For my son, who endures the 45-minute ride through Hickory Run State Park with me, it’s either time to soak up a few extra minutes of sleep or time for impromptu biology class. It depends on what crosses our paths. Several days ago, it was observing a large porcupine muddle across the road and then talking about quill structure. A few days before that, it was the opportunity to witness identical twin Piebald (white mottled) deer and relate that to genetics. A year ago, we had the opportunity to see and get up close to a Cinnamon bear (black bear with reddish-orange fur) and talk about how that changes its chances of survival. I always try to get images of what I see because I think it’s important to take the time not just to witness it, but capture the moment for others. I have no qualms about stopping in the middle of the road for that picture either. What’s a good story without illustrations?
I never look at my long drive to work as an annoyance (unless, of course, the weather is really poor), but I see it as the chance to catch a glimpse of something unique and share that with my son and all of my daily classes. The commute provides me with a host of things to blend into class, whether it’s biology, the environment, anatomy, or botany. The point is, I have daily reminders of why lecture and labs are important. I want my students to be able to apply what they have learned in class to the world around them. Knowledge is worthless without application and although I’ll soon have a faster route to work with the addition of the turnpike slip ramp, I’ll never skip my morning class in the park. Sometimes if you really want to see the road ahead of you clearly, it involves looking left and right.