I have found amazing authors, teachers, homeschoolers, and just general resource producers and I want you to know about them, too. Today is the first in the Feature Friday Series here at The Learning Hypothesis.
I am so excited to share our first featured author with you, Bethany Lau. Ms. Lau was kind enough to participate in an interview with me and has a special gift for my readers.
Tell us a little about yourself, what is your background?
I was homeschooled until 8th grade and went to a public high school in Northern New Jersey. I went to Rutgers New Brunswick (the honors program) where I switched my major from physics to chemistry to genetics!
While at Rutgers, I worked in a lab where I learned so much about research, Drosophila fruit flies, and genetics in general. My undergraduate research project involved dissecting fruit fly larva BRAINS and squashing them on a microscope slide and taking pictures of cells in mitosis!
I then went to graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I continued my studies in biology. After receiving my Masters, I decided I wanted to teach high school. I taught high school math and biology until I resigned to take care of my own children at home.
Why did you start creating resources?
I have always loved creating resources for my own classroom. I have found that readily available resources, both from textbooks or on the internet, were just not that great for my students. The answer was to make my own and so I did! Once I became a stay at home mom, I missed teaching and I felt like it was a way to get back into education. Now I create resources that I plan on using with my own students in the future when I go back!
Mrs. Lau has been gracious enough to share one of her resources with us. Click on the image to download a periodic table worksheet.
What was an “aha” moment during this process? In other words, when did you realize that you were on the right track in terms of the resources you were creating?
My biggest “aha” moment is when I realized that what teachers need the most are resources that have lots of pictures and diagrams and that is what I should focus on. This is why I switched over from Microsoft Word/Powerpoint to Adobe Illustrator and I’ll never go back! I can make any diagram I want in AI after teaching myself the program.
What is your favorite topic to teach and why?
Genetics! It just makes so much sense and yet it is so deep and rich. Genetics is like a child of both math, statistics, and biology, and it explains so much of what makes life life. Teaching it is fun because some kids really “get it” when we start genetics. With the understanding of genetics, transcription, and translation, students can really understand how cells work.
What is your least favorite topic to teach and why?
This is a hard one because it is different from year to year. In my first few years, biochemistry (macromolecules, protein structures, etc) was my least favorite. It is so abstract, full of new vocabulary words, and it’s so hard for students to grasp by just reading or listening about it.
But then I stumbled upon a new idea on how to teach all 4 macromolecule types (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids) with beads and pipe cleaners and paper clips, and now I love to teach it! I really worked to refine the activities I wrote for them, adding depth to each activity that will help students understand later-in-the-year chapters (like genetics and protein synthesis).
In more recent years, I thought photosynthesis and respiration were the most difficult, so in this past year, I created some cut-and-paste activities for that unit.
If you could go back and tell your first year teacher self one thing, what would it be?
That of all the teaching and science lab setting up and all the after school meetings, of all of those, what a student will remember me for and what he will write back to me about years later is this: that I stood up to a clearly abusive boyfriend of a random stranger lady on a local commuter train and told him to leave the poor girl alone.
Apparently, my student was sitting several rows back and saw the whole thing. And he wrote to me years later, telling me that that was what impacted him the most and that is what he remembered me by. That I was willing, out of everyone, to stand up for somebody who needed help. Even though I’m not even 5 foot tall.
That teaching isn’t really about science or math or clubs or sports. It’s about being an example, a role model, and a supportive adult who can help these kids to grow into kind and supportive and hardworking adults. Students won’t remember what you taught them. They will remember how you were. How you cared for them. How they needed someone and you were there.
What is your teaching superpower?
I would say I have one superpower. I try to look and find and cultivate something good in each of my students. Even the most disruptive, uninterested student, I try and make some sort of personal connection to him or her. I try to get that student to see that I am really on their side, that I want to help them succeed, that I care about him or her as a person.
One of the ways I do this is I try and catch them doing something kind or smart or inspirational, and then I call home about it. In recent years before I stopped teaching to be with my kids, I would do this once or twice a week, calling home with something good to say, often for students who usually get different types of phone calls home. This technique makes the world of difference in connecting both with the family and with the student.
What is your biggest obstacle in the classroom?
My biggest obstacle is definitely handling mountains of paper. One year I tried to collect and grade every homework assignment. That plan lasted about a week. It’s just not do-able.
Also, I found that students, even good students, copy off of friends, share homework answers, and were spending way less time than I was on the homework. So I gave up grading homework. I only grade work that is done in class, tests, and lab reports.
What do you believe is the most important foundational message we need to be sending to kids about the sciences?
The most important message we should send to kids is to keep their curiosity. That science is a wonderful way to ask questions and seek answers about our world. Keep asking questions!
What is your favorite way to relax after a rough day?
While my kids are awake: take a walk outside if there is good weather.
If my kids are asleep: eat ice cream and read!
I love her story!