ARCHIVED—Exemplary Practices 2008
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Making Science Real
Melanie Gertley teaches Science, Biology and Chemistry for grades 10-12 at West Kildonan Collegiate in Winnipeg. One day, she found herself subbing in for an English teacher whose class was studying Hamlet. "English was the bane of my existence," Gertley says. "I didn't understand Hamlet the first time around, " But what she did know was science.
As it turned out, the students were working on the final scene of Hamlet; the death scene. In other words, blood and gore. Using her science noggin, Gertley asked, "Why don't we recreate this but we'll do it CSI style?" Each student developed a psychological profile for each of the major characters. "Because I knew nothing of Hamlet, they had to use the text of the play to justify their psychological profiles," Gertley says. What followed then was a reenactment that involved bringing in teachers and students to process as if it were a real crime scene. For example, the character of Claudius uses poison so students had to research what type of poison he might have used. Even blood spatter was recreated. Like the characters on the television series, students sprayed and processed the scene.
Gertley's students also study gas laws through a scuba diving project. This project is also modeled in Blitz 3D so the experiments can be manipulated digitally on computer. Another project is called The Big Dig, where an archaeological dig site is created on the school grounds. Students select a time period and create all of their own artifacts out of clay. One student built an entire bison skeleton.
Gertley has also started a program for transitional students called the Seven Oaks Curriculum Cooperative. Five times per year, her senior students design lab experiments and teach them to transitional grade eight students to encourage their interest in science. Senior students also tour the junior schools in the area putting on mad science shows to spark interest. And there is another project on the go with Canadian Blood Services that encourages young people to donate blood. "Since the initiation of the program, student donations have gone up approximately fifty percent," Gertley says. Part of the program involves developing an advertising campaign. Three of the television ads students developed were so compelling, they will be part of the local TV campaign.
Gertley's programs have generated provincial and even, international recognition.
So Gertley suggests, ask a fundamental question like, Who is Hamlet? and the resulting answer may lead to significant science learning opportunities.