Act Like a Neuron: Understanding the Bio/Psych Connection

By OLu research partner, Brad Ermeling 


It could be said that everything psychological is biological because biology undergirds all that we learn in psychology. One of the first learning goals for AP Psychology students is developing a foundational understanding of these connections between the disciplines. Specifically, students learn about the structure and function of neurons and the role neurons play in shaping human behavior. 

Angela Wingert (AP Psychology) teamed up with colleague Jill Ronstadt (AP Biology) to help students deepen their understanding of these concepts. Ms. Wingert found that students can memorize and figure out the structural parts of the neuron but have more difficulty understanding how it functions in the body as part of a larger system. She also wanted to help students make a connection with drugs and understand how drugs induce changes in neurological activity and altered states (e.g., causing the neuron to release more dopamine).

The lesson storyline they planned included five main components: 

  • Activate prior knowledge and experience: Write about a personal experience involving an intense reaction to an external stimulus
  • Direct instruction: Introduce structural components of the neuron
  • Direct instruction: Introduce functional components of the neuron
  • Physical simulation Part I: Act out process of neural transmission 
  • Application: Learning about the neurological effects of drugs and altered states
  • Physical simulation Part II: Demonstrate effect of drugs in neural transmission
  • Extended Practice: Mouse Party (Web-based interactive learning tool)
  • Homework: Mouse Party Data Matrix

Learning through Simulation

The teachers worked together to introduce specific elements of the simulation activity that would help students capture the nuances of the transmission process and how much information is preserved or lost as a message flows within a neuron and across the gap to other neurons (from the dendrites that receive information all the way to the terminal buttons that release neurotransmitters across the synapse). Each student performed a role as part of the neural transmission process. Students connected around the room in a long, curving line and squeezed the shoulders of the next student in front, setting off a sequence of signals that culminated with the axon terminal button releasing neurotransmitters (balls of wadded paper) to the receiving dendrite. 

To demonstrate altered states, the teachers also designed a new element of the activity which would help students visualize the dramatic effects of different drugs (depressants, hallucinogens, stimulants, and opiates) on the overall nervous system. Mrs. Wingert brought up the two students who earlier played the roles of the axon terminal button and receiving dendrite and had them act out the effects of four different drugs with the same balls of wadded paper.

Depressants (alcohol) – Teacher slowed down transmission by partially restraining student acting as axon terminal from throwing neurotransmitters (wadded paper balls) across the synapse.

Hallucinogens (marijiuana) – Student acting as axon terminal tossed five extra neurotransmitters to receiving dendrite.                  

Stimulants (Cocaine) –  Teacher attempted to block the reuptake of neurotransmitters.

Opiates (Meth) – Student acting as axon terminal tried to pass 100 extra neurotransmitters across the synapse. 

Here’s how the lesson played out in the classroom. Click here to view a sequence of clips from the opening discussion, introduction to neuron structure, and whole-class simulation. 

Student Results

Two weeks after completing the lesson, the teachers analyzed students’ responses to test questions specifically related to neurons and neural transmission (see item analysis chart below).

Results from the test showed that students had a working knowledge of the neuron structure and understood many aspects of the neural transmission process. Work submitted from the mouse party assignment also showed they could summarize the action of a drug and its primary effect on the nervous system. Some students didn’t understand the difference between sensory and motor neuron sending and many struggled with understanding where reuptake takes place. 


Student Interviews

The interview excerpts below provide a snapshot from two students’ reflections on the lesson. Both students (Riley and Khalil) were also featured in the video clips previously referenced. Riley acted as the axon terminal in the simulation and Khalil was the receiving dendrite. 

 I: How did the simulation activity affect your understanding of neuron transmission?

KE: For the action potential to take place it has to reach a certain threshold to fire. The simulation illustrated this with the six students who acted as the cell body. When the last student in the cell body received five squeezes on the shoulder that was the threshold needed to initiate the transmission. If four students were squeezing and one wasn’t, that threshold still wasn’t going to be met…I think it also did a nice job of showing the handoff of the neurotransmitter from the axon terminal to the receiving dendrite.

RF: I think looking at a chart or diagram it just goes right over our heads and with this experience we will remember it…you can think about what you were thinking while you were watching it. 

I: Describe what you learned in the lesson about the connections between biology and psychology…how the structure and function of the neuron can influence your mental state.    

KE: I took honors anatomy and physiology…so I’m pretty familiar with the neurons and their structure. When we were talking about specifically methamphetamine…it releases so much dopamine that it floods the system and leads to one of the worst crashes you can have. I was really able to visualize that in terms of anatomy and physiology….Generally…when a drug is introduced in the process it either inhibits it or accelerates, which can be a good thing or bad thing but typically a bad thing causing an extreme high followed by a really bad crash and the high is super addictive for the body.

RF: I think with biology we learn the normal way our body functions and we learned in class what happens when you choose to alter that and you put different substances in your body…some can make it go a lot faster and some slow it down…I actually want to study psychology…not for research purposes but for counseling and I think we’ll have to know the science and biology. When you counsel people it will help to understand what they are going through.    

 Riley also shared an interesting insight about the use of video for reflecting on the simulation. In the moment, while she was performing the role of axon terminal, she was mostly focused on following instructions for her role in the demonstration and did not fully grasp what the simulation was illustrating. She described how helpful it was to see the video of the lesson a few days later and learn even more from the activity as an observer. 


Three big ideas emerged from the analysis, observations, and post-lesson discussions. 

Making complex ideas interesting and accessible

The teachers worked to design learning activities that were both engaging and instructive. The goal was not simply to entertain students but to deepen their understanding of neurons. Evidence from video observations and comments from interviews provide evidence that the simulation activity helped students visualize the neural transmission process and better understand specific elements such as the threshold for initiating transmission and the release of transmitters across the synapse. In future lessons, as a supplement to the simulation, allowing students to watch a video of their own engagement experience could further enhance their depth of knowledge and insight. The teachers are also planning some adjustments to the simulation to more effectively illustrate how reuptake takes place.

Maximizing cross-curricular connections

Ms. Wingert and Ms. Ronstadt approached his lesson with hopes of enhancing connections between biology and psychology. Their experience planning and teaching the lesson reinforced their interest and commitment to leveraging these cross-curricular opportunities. Both teachers plan to continue collaborative efforts to establish common vocabulary (e.g., terminal button vs. terminal bulb) identify gaps in content (e.g,. AP Biology no longer covers neural transmission so it will be essential to cover this in AP Psychology) and increase coherence between courses. Exposing students to key ideas and concepts in multiple contexts not only reinforces learning but also creates opportunities for deeper synthesis and application. 

Preparing students for life and work 

Teaching students about the connections between biology and psychology provides an important foundation for future studies, passing AP tests, and meeting requirements for college applications. More importantly, the teachers hope it will equip students with valuable information to pursue healthy, productive lives and meaningful professional work. 

Picture Notes: A Roadmap to Learning

In a HyFlex class, students are given more freedom of choice to decide how they best learn compared to a traditional classroom setting. While every HyFlex class on campus is run a bit differently at the discretion of the individual teacher, all classes are a mix and balance of on ground face-to-face time and online flex time. Encouraging students to make decisions about how they learn and helping them to see the benefit of working with a teacher one-on-one during office hours is something that makes HyFlex learning a prime example of 21st century skills in practice. 

In Mrs. Eklund’s HyFlex AP US History class for example, students can choose during a HyFlex period to watch a video of Mrs. Eklund giving a lecture and then take a quiz over the material, or come in for half of the class period and have her give the lecture to them in person. The students who chose to watch the video of the lecture didn’t miss out on any key teaching and learning; they were just able to do it at home or in the student union and work at their own pace. 

The students who came in during the class period were able to ask questions to clarify the material they didn’t understand and interact with Mrs. Eklund more since there were far fewer students in the room than a full class period. 

The lecture notes that Mrs. Eklund gives are unique as well, besides the HyFlex platform. She creates large picture “road maps” for their units; this lesson was on America’s Road to Revolution. At the start of the lecture, Mrs. Eklund recapped the first part of the “road” that the class had started the period before, and then launched into the new material. The visual anchors helped students see the timeline and cause and effect of events that led to revolution, and enabled students to more deeply comprehend the context surrounding individual events. With the entire map up at the board at the start of the class period, Mrs. Eklund was able to refer to it throughout her lecture while focusing on the students and their engagement. 

Especially engaging were the narrative stories that Mrs. Eklund sprinkled into her roadmap. These little tidbits of knowledge will become the narrative anchors that help the events begin to stick together. IMG_2217

The Art and Habit of Inspiration

By OLu research partner, Brad Ermeling

CC BY-SA 4.0 (

Dawn Hamby teaches 18 students in her Advanced Ceramics class. She designed the course to equip young artists with essential techniques for creating and critiquing 3-dimensional art. Using various tools and media (e.g., clay, plaster, wire, cardboard) students learn to exercise creative freedom and explore new possibilities for independent, original work.

Despite their extensive background and interest in art, Mrs. Hamby finds advanced students struggle with original thought, developing artistic identify, and self-generation of creative themes. Most students still revert to copying images and ideas they find online or making minor alterations to finished examples. Various scholars and publications address these challenges for the elementary level student, but limited resources exist for addressing the unique developmental challenges of the high school artist.

Through this course, Mrs. Hamby hopes to foster student curiosity about important questions such as: How do artists work? What kind of skills and strategies do they employ to explore and express their ideas? How can I develop these skills and apply them to my artwork as well as other aspects of life? Most importantly, she hopes students will overcome their aversion to risk and cultivate new habits for originating and articulating ideas.

Practicing Inspiration

One aspect of learning how artists work is understanding the role of inspiration in art. In their own art projects, students may confine “inspiration” to finding and copying “cool” images on the internet rather than exploring their own artistic process and interests. Students may also presume that artists primarily find inspiration through dramatic moments of epiphany, while more often it’s the result of well-refined creative habits. Advanced artists develop a keen awareness of their own inspirational process and deliberately work through that process at the outset of a new project.

To help students move beyond such limited perceptions and cultivate more advanced habits, Mrs. Hamby planned a research lesson in second semester focused on artistic inspiration.

She began the class period with a warm-up writing activity and the introduction of three essential questions.

She then asked students to think about the sources of inspiration for each of the recent class projects they completed. She emphasized the difference between copying other artists and “reverse-engineering.” She also provided a case study artwork example by Janet Echelman, titled “One Point Eight.” The title of this work refers to the length of time in microseconds that the earth’s day was shortened as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Students studied the image as a class and took notes about five key process elements that contributed to the artist’s inspiration: subject matter, process, medium, context, concept.

Click here to view these opening segments about sources of inspiration.

Mrs. Hamby continued the lesson with a sorting activity involving cards with artwork images from their own class projects as well as images from other artists. Students worked in small groups to discuss each card and arranged the artworks into categories based on inferences about the artists’ inspirations. Some students sorted cards by subject matter or visual style instead of thinking about the artist’s sources of inspiration, so Mrs. Hamby used probing questions about the artist’s intention. Each group shared their categories of inspiration with the whole class and recorded the full list of sources in their sketchbook notes.

Click here to view the sorting activity.

Next, Mrs. Hamby asked students to explore personal sources of inspiration with a five-step brainstorming exercise resulting in a word-web of ideas for their next project:

  • Make a list of 20 things — What inspires you? What makes you want to make something? What makes you excited about coming to class? What do you wish you could do? What materials or techniques do you like to work with? What do you wish you could try? What do you love? What is a story you’d like to tell? If you could tell the whole world something, what would it be?
  • Circle Three ideas from your list above. How can you make these more specific? Write three ideas next to each one.
  • Word Web: From the three you circled, choose one inspiration that you will use for this project and place it in the center of the word web.
  • Branching out from main inspiration – List five five words that come to mind when you think of this of word.
  • Incorporating 3D design elements: How can you incorporate the elements of 3D design? Which principles will your sculpture focus on? How will your materials visually support your theme? How would you display this work?

Below is an example word-web from one student in the class.

Finally, Ms. Hamby concluded the lesson by asking students to write a brief statement describing their next project. Examples included:

  • I want to make a sculpture of people that explores unity.
  • I want to make a mixed-media fish out of clay or foam exploring one’s mental health with beach trash as a metaphor.
  • I want to make a horse running that explores light and movement.

Click here to view the final lesson segments on personal inspiration.

Student Results

After completing the lesson, we analyzed students’ word webs and corresponding project statements based on three main criteria: creativity, heart, and courage. Below are the results of this analysis based on 10 representative samples.


The results from the word webs reflected a wide range of diverse ideas and sources of inspiration. All but two samples showed clear evidence of proposed subject matter that was inspired by a topic of deep personal interest, and most of the final statements described projects with increased complexity, scope or scale.

Overall, the word webs revealed that students still need more assistance and practice moving beyond concrete topics of interest to elaborate on a concept or theme. But Mrs. Hamby was excited to see initial signs of students making connections between proposed subject matter and the emotion or message they hope to convey. She was also pleased to observe how the exercise helped students overcome “artist’s block,” and pushed them to unpack their own universe of ideas without copying examples from the internet. These findings were reinforced by student interview responses.

Student Interview

I: When you were grouping the cards into categories, what were some things you learned about where artists get their inspiration?

KC: I learned that you get inspiration from anywhere…Some of the categories we selected were nature, and shapes, and abstract objects, and people, like portraits of them, and also day-to-day life.

I: How has your approach to inspiration changed as a result of this lesson?

KC: I thought people thought of something randomly or something that impacted their lives. That was an eye-opener because lately I have been struggling with being inspired and what I want to make next…That was a lesson I needed right now. I’ve just been making whatever comes to me and that helped me dig deep and get inspired by different things.

I: How can we use an artist’s final product to understand the source of inspiration?

KC: First of all, what they made and what it’s made out of. Like the fishnet sculpture that Ms. Hamby showed us. I would have never thought that was made out of knotted fishnets. So the message that it’s sending and the different elements she used with that…like the movement of it…You can see how long it took…how they got there to make you feel a certain way about it.

I: How do artists approach the challenge of coming up with their next project?

KC: I think that like Janet and how she used the fishnet. I know that she was actually stuck and didn’t have her supplies so she had to totally come up with something new. Since I’m stuck with what I’m trying to make out of clay right now, I can maybe use different materials and be inspired to make something else like using wood or wire.

I: What have you learned about your own sources of inspiration?

KC: I feel really connected to nature…also I’ve really been into shapes lately and abstract things. And also colors and how they depict the emotion of it. Let’s say it’s all black and white or all reds or blues which make a tone of the piece.

I: Was there a moment or aspect of this lesson that helped you gain a new insight or understanding about the inspiration process?

KC: First we wrote down a whole bunch of stuff that we liked and I realized that I have a lot of choices and how we narrowed it down to one or two words. And how we went even more in depth choosing verbs and actions…Because I wouldn’t have thought about all the different things a horse could be doing. I was just thinking of making a standing horse but now I’m thinking of making it running, or eating…using light to show that it’s moving…I think that was helpful and I probably will use that in the future.


Looking ahead, Mrs. Hamby hopes to build on the success of this lesson and continue working with students to envision a sculpture for their next project. Students will think about materials, techniques, form, and the principles of design. They will create sketches of the final product and make a plan for researching any new techniques or materials.

In addition, based on the results from interviews, observations, and work samples, at least three big ideas from the lesson represent compelling avenues for continued refinement and study over the long term:

  • Providing opportunities to learn from the inspiration journey of other artists–working backward through an artist’s story to study both the experiences and decisions that shaped the final product.
  • Reinforcing new academic language and for describing the process elements that contribute to inspiration: subject matter, process, medium, context, concept.
  • Expanding effective use of tools and processes for exploring and elaborating on their own world of ideas and interests (e.g., word webs and other methods).

These approaches helped equip students with a productive framework for exploring and understanding art–what it represents, what the artist was thinking, and how they might adopt similar habits to ignite and sustain their own creative potential.

Writing in Chemistry

Mrs. Grasz’ Honors Chemistry class, took a short detour at the commencement of their first lab report to better understand lab writing and analysis. After completing their first lab report, students had the ability to take out their lab write ups and review with Mrs. Grasz what they did well and where they could improve. 

A very detailed and clear rubric is quickly projected on the screen as Mrs. Grasz begins to review what each statement means and how it can be applied to their own lab reports. Students take out their own report and a pencil for editing and she begins drawing pictures, writing sentences and phrases, and drawing graphs and charts on the board. She creates her own sample lab report, with images of what is a good, strong example, and what students should avoid. 

Each section of the lab report is addressed individually, beginning from a basic heading, that, much like all English teachers would appreciate, includes MLA formatting. She talks about using descriptive verbs to title lab reports, reminding students that no writing should include personal pronouns. Simultaneously, she names her lab. She dives deep into suggestions that would make a lab write up stronger, suggesting various methods for clarity and a more thorough analysis, or as she would call it, “evidence, reason, and relevance.” By the way, all terms which have been consistently used throughout various courses when teaching writing. 

As she goes through each motion, you see the wheels turning inside the minds of each of her students, and they her cling on to her every word. They want to do well, and they know that Mrs. Grasz has the key on how to achieve that. 

But instead of this being a lesson on what to do and what not to do, Mrs. Grasz creates an atmosphere of learning and fun. It is altogether fascinating to see how she has found a beautiful balance between the two. She proceeds to show a quick and humorous commercial clip about claims and evidence. The video is an image of a young girl who believes her father to be an alien. The commercial elicits examples of why her father is from outer space and once it commences, Mrs. Grasz asks the questions of utmost importance, “what was her claim?” and “what is the evidence she used to support her claim?” The light bulb turns on for all in the room. They have a tangible connection, as she has captivated her audience and met each individual student need.  

The remainder of the period is spent on continued help and clarification and students are clearly invested. Students take notes on the grading rubric, they cross out, add, and annotate their own lab reports, and meet with their group members to discuss ways in which they can make their first assignment stronger. Success. Mrs. Grasz smiles as she walks about her students, noticing the excitement and whispers of elation as each finds a better, clearler, and more articulate way to present their findings. 

The ability to present students with various modes of learning helps address every individual learning mode and there is no doubt that Mrs. Grasz has thought of all of it. Her expectations, while specific to her course, help students not just navigate the day to day labs in her Honors Chemistry class, but it also helps them become better and stronger writers all across the board, both in school and when they receive that diploma at graduation, which will in fact signify that they have the abilities and preparation to be successful adults.  

Pictures Painted in Words

Discovering Imagery in American Literature

By OLu research partner, Brad Ermeling


Christina Perez has taught American Literature for six years. She continues to find great reward in helping students explore contemporary issues and culture through the lens of American history, themes, and stories. While advancing students writing and critical analysis skills, she believes the course also enables students to grow as social beings and view other’s life experiences with interest and empathy.

Over the last several years, one of the teaching and learning challenges Mrs. Perez has faced is teaching students to identify and explain images in literature. “Unless it’s dripping in figurative language,” she explains, “they struggle to recognize, explain, and connect literary images to more important devices, and concepts for any given text.” Students are asked to use imagery throughout the course, but especially in second semester where students are expected to know, understand, and be able to readily navigate images when writing and articulating connections.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, Mrs. Perez tackled this challenge in her first unit with an emphasis on discovering imagery while exploring marginalized texts from Native American literature. She hoped to build a foundation in this first unit that would lead toward deeper understanding and analysis skills throughout the year, and ultimately prepare students for The Great Gatsby essay in second semester.

Images and Empathy in Native American Lit

The first unit is called “Marginalized Literature.” The course focuses on the importance of all American literary writers, including Native Americans, specific to this unit. Native American authors have been historically absent from the literary canon and marginalized because of their spiritual and social distinctions, not to mention their physical differences. Students uncover the importance of what it means to be American in a society that is founded on immigration and racial/social disparity. As they read through various Native American texts, both ancient and current, these writers often demonstrate their identity amidst personal anecdotes and accounts of their lives as Americans, through imagery/image.

Some of the essential questions in this first unit include:

  • Due to mistreatment, how do natives view America?
  • What is the Native American dream?
  • What is the Native American lens and and their newfound identity?

Drawing Images to Discover and Connect

To scaffold students’ recognition and use of imagery while addressing these topics, Mrs. Perez developed a new approach for students by introducing an imagery device chart (see example below), which requires students to think about the “pictures” that they see when they read.


She asked students to draw, write, and articulate the images they found as they progressed through a given text. Specifically, she wanted students to be able to identify at least one image, depict the image on their charts based on the author’s description, and articulate its importance in relation to the purpose of the text. Students would then use this chart as an organizing device for their writing, drawing on class discussions and newfound knowledge to articulate connections in their explanation and analysis.

Lesson Storyline: Superman and Me

The storyline for this culminating lesson included the following major segments:

1.Review examples of the “Native American dream,” covered in this unit. Discuss identities that have been assigned to Native Americans by society, and identities they aspire to.

Click here to view this opening review and discussion.

 2. Read Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me” and ask students to annotate/make           notes of important story elements.

Click here to browse through the narrative text.

alexisClick here for a short video with student responses.

3. Work through example image as a class with basic drawing from teacher’s chart. Discuss purpose of the image. Discuss how the image connects to the Native American identity.

Click here to study teachers’ example chart.

4. Work in groups to complete these steps with another image from the text.

Click here to view a short example of a student group discussing the image of  “superman breaking down the door.”

5. Introduce example writing prompt for this text: Identify one image in Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me,” and explain its purpose (how) in defining the Native American identity. Be sure to tell me what is Alexie’s Native American identity.

Click here to view the teacher elaborating on this prompt during the lesson.

6. Study example response to this prompt and identify key components of an effective analysis.

Click here to study the teachers’ example response.

superman7. Work in groups to generate an original response to the prompt using notes from the device chart.

Click here to watch a group of students composing a response.

8. Exchange responses with another group to offer peer review and suggestions. Discuss responses and image analysis as whole class.

Click here to view an example of students providing and receiving feedback from their peers.

9. Review and discuss purpose of the chart: Have you found this chart to be helpful? How does this chart prepare you for reading literature and explaining imagery? How might you use this process in the future?

Click here to view closing segment.

Student Interviews

Student work and lesson observations from classroom video showed that students made deep connections with the plight of the Native Americans and empathized with the challenges this marginalized population faced in forging new collective and individual identities as equally capable and intelligent members of society. Students also made great strides throughout the unit in learning to select, analyze, and articulate imagery from the literary texts. Excerpts from two students interviewed below provide rich examples of this deeper knowledge and understanding. Both students (Aaron Rivera and Avery Warren) were also featured in the video clips previously referenced. Aaron is the student in the black shirt that is composing a paragraph for his group directly in front of the camera. Avery is the student in the red shirt, sitting on the right, directly behind this first group.

I: What is an image in literature? How is it different from other ways we use images in everyday life?

AR: Images in literature are more abstract and you have to find the meaning yourself…in real life it’s more straight forward. An image in literature is a device used by the author to convey a message–sometimes it’s through symbolism.

AW: An image is written in words…The author has to find the descriptive words so the listener can get a feel of what’s going on…that it almost takes them to that place where they can see it.

I: What images stood out to you in this story? Which ones did you select to focus on as a group?

AR: I imagined the poverty of the reservation and I tried to picture the superman comic… In the comic, there is a door placed in front of him. He broke down the door and it shattered. He used that to tell a story as if he was superman breaking through adversity and barriers in his own life…

AW: We selected the image of superman knocking down the door. It’s a metaphor saying that they were trying to knock down their own door. They were given an identity and they didn’t agree with it, so he knocked down that door and created his own identity.

I: In your own words, what does it mean to be marginalized?

AR: We have been using that term in class to describe the adversity that Native Americans have to overcome. It’s when society can attach specific identities to you or a certain group of people. A lot of people, especially the settlers, saw Native Americans as unintelligent because they didn’t have technology and because there was a barrier in communication between them.

AW: Like a margin on the side of the paper, they were pushed to the outside. The Native Americans didn’t have a say in anything. They were outsiders that did not matter. I felt bad that this had to happen. It brought up not only literature but also history. It brought insights about how life was them back then…we see the other side of the story and how they lived in a time of oppression.

I: What did this lesson teach you about choosing an image and providing sufficient explanation/evidence to support your analysis? How has the chart helped you? Tell me more about that.

AR: In explaining and analyzing an image, the chart has helped me to structure my thoughts…it asks you to connect it back to the overarching theme of identify and that’s the part the chart has helped me the most with. I remember last year when I would write timed-writes it was hard for me to understand how to write an analysis properly, but with this chart it was more clear to me…I was only explaining what the image means but would not connect it back to the overall theme of my essay. The overarching theme of the story is sometimes not the same as the image you are describing.

AW: We’ve been using the graph/chart with the story title, the image, a picture of the image, the purpose, and the identify. It’s been extremely beneficial because it’s helped with organization. Analysis is difficult for me. You can look at that image and think back on it and go in more depth…consider all the factors.

I: When you exchanged feedback with the other group about your paragraphs, what insights did you gain about the analysis process?

AR: They told our group that we were choppy in the part leading up to the final sentence about how it relates back to his identity. We didn’t really tie all the separate information together. We just listed it and then expected the reader to do it themselves. We assumed the reader would know that the superman image represented the author as superman without ever pointing that out.

AW: We told the other group that they could have been more clear in connecting the explanation and purpose to the passage that they chose. Because if you don’t connect them it sounds like you are just putting all these sentences together. It doesn’t flow or connect.

I: Is there anything else from this lesson that you think is important that I haven’t asked you about?

AR: I think it’s important to know that the lesson has not just helped me with analysis in this format but it’s also helped a lot of other people I know. In writing the analysis, people struggled with organizing their thoughts and this chart helped people realize the order their thoughts should go in and how they should link them together.

AW: I think it’s important to realize the purpose of why we are reading these stories. It’s not only literature. This happened in the 1800s and it’s not something we should forget about. Everyone should be treated with equality.


As Mrs. Perez reflected on the lesson, she shared how pivotal it was to help students begin using the device chart not only to make a list of images in a story, but to employ it as a tool for structuring and preparing to compose a written analysis. In a subsequent assessment and writing assignment on “Burning River” (by Simon Ortiz) over 90% of the students utilized the device chart as a structure to plan and organize their composition. Some students showed substantial growth in analyzing and explaining images from the story with greater depth and examples from the text. Others showed marked improvement in connecting the images to the overall theme of identity. A few students showed advanced skill in both of these areas–unpacking the images and connecting them to the overall theme. About five students did not use the chart at all and left it blank while three others only used the chart partially. These students had weaker compositions with mostly summary and little original analysis. This provided evidence of the chart’s utility in scaffolding students’ analytical skills and writing. Mrs. Perez plans to share this evidence with the class to help them reflect on their use of the tool.

In her own words, Mrs. Perez offered the following insights and reflective comments for the lesson and described her plans for future instruction.

The process of analysis requires writers not only to read a work of literature and internalize the plot and author’s message, but it also requires the writer to think about the various elements that make up the piece. Specifically, in Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me,” my students were faced with a manifold of important images that address Native American identify. Students were not only expected to highlight important aspects of the story, but to identify images that illustrated the Native American dream. The chart helped each student organize their thoughts, focus on one image, and think about how that image demonstrated the Native American identity.

While it was evident students could think critically about each image identified, their ability to develop, explain, discuss, and connect their ideas to the bigger picture was lacking. This chart provided them with the opportunity to do just that. It provided a safe, yet organized space for each student to articulate their thought process without having to worry about verbiage and fluidity. Once the chart was completed, students could physically see their thoughts on paper. Once the writing began, they could take their articulated thoughts labeled in the chart and plug them in to their short responses. This would enable them to write the paragraph focusing solely on diction and flow. A task less daunting and much more organized.

Going forward, this chart will be invaluable for any writing format. As students continue in the next unit on Puritan Literature, the chart will prove helpful in organizing student ideas for The Scarlet Letter essay as they develop and discuss Hester Prynne’s character. While the original chart enables students to identify and think about the purpose of imagery, Mrs. Perez plans to incorporate a new chart component for The Scarlet Letter focused on “character trait/quote of characterization,” followed by the “purpose” of why Hester Prynne’s character behaves in this manner, and how that “connects to the novel as a whole” (her place in the Puritan society). The outline of this chart will continue to help students organize their thoughts and identify important characteristics.

Mrs. Perez looks forward to implementing this new component and assessing students’ continued progress as they build analysis skills and employ these tools on their own…even when not prompted by the teacher.

Growing Little Sea Urchins

This week in Miss Hernandez’s AP Biology Lab course, students forced Sea Urchins to reproduce to observe the development of growing embryos.

First, students induced the sea urchins to spawn (release eggs or sperm), they then collected eggs and placed the eggs under the microscope. Once they had the egg in a field of view, they placed a drop of sperm and watched fertilization happen.  Within a few minutes they watched the single cell divide into 2, then 4 and so on.  By the end of the day some of the growing embryos had reached 32 or even 64 cells.

Not only did students get to observe mitosis and the cell cycle but they observed fertilization, development, and differentiation. The students used new microscopes that have a screen that allows all the students in a group to see what is happening at the same time.  They also have a camera to record pictures.  Below is some of those pictures.

Ms. Hernandez reported that many members of her 4th period stayed through learning support to watch the growing embryos divide and develop!

In the first picture the bottom is a fertilized egg with lots of sperm trying to get in.  The above are a variety of growing embryos at different stages of division.

Figure Drawing Workshop

Recently, our Art students had a wonderful opportunity to come to an after school workshop with a live model to practice their figure drawing.  Mrs. Doss and Mrs. Mooney brought in 2 different models during 2 different after school sessions.  Students from a variety of art classes could choose to attend these sessions to practice their figure drawing skills.  Figure drawing is a tricky skill to develop to get the proportions correct (among other things) on a human body. As Mrs. Hamby, art department chair, says  “imagine 6 more semesters of students having these workshops and how strong their figure drawing will be!” Below is some pictures of students hard at work during this workshop.

Socratic Seminars

In English 1, Mrs. Bowers tried something new with her freshmen students, having a Socratic Seminar. This process is not new to Orange Lutheran teachers as many use it in upper level English and Theology courses.  But Mrs. Bowers thought she would give it a try in her English 1 course. She writes:

“As we wrap up the book A Separate Peace, I taught and implemented a socratic circle! This is the first time these freshman were getting this instruction.
We have been discussing coping all throughout the novel, recently using a graphic organizer chart to track coping with Finny, and we are writing an essay over coping in this unit. At the conclusion of the unit, I introduced and implemented a socratic circle.”
She started the week with an explanation of what Socratic Seminars are and provided them a handout about it.  You can click here to see that handout.
The next day, they read an article about coping and did a paraphrasing activity.  They then worked on crafting their own answers to the open ended questions.
The final day was the day they had their Socratic Seminar where not only did they have the rich discussion, but they evaluated a partner and completed a reflection.  Through this process, they discuss the book but also how it impacted their life, and how to have a productive discussion with their peers.  All of these were rich and in depth learning opportunities for the student.

Crossing Curriculum Teaching: Yoga and Choir

Normally in choir, the students start the day with warm-ups, which include breathing exercises & the students standing in a specific order. However, for this exercise Mrs. Carvale asked the students to disperse to different parts of the room where they could sit away from their peers. She turned the lights off and walked them through a meditation exercise that prompted the students to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. After a few minutes of focused breathing, the students kept our eyes closed and listened to one of the songs that they are currently working on.

Prior to this day, Mrs. Carvale met with our yoga teacher, Mrs. Lark, so she could work on a mediation and breathing exercises.  Her goal was also to work on posture and emotion of the song, which are also both found in yoga and mediation practices. When asked about her experience Mrs. Carvale stated, “It was a great change to take a moment to LISTEN, rather than just always singing our songs. This exercise was great for the choir to hear & experience the impact that they can have on their audiences.”

After the students completed this, they reflected in their journals.  Below are a few quotes about their experiences:

“Yoga today was balancing. I enjoyed sitting at school and focusing on something other than my routine external pressures. Putting pressure aside and putting school in perspective helped me balance my emotions for a moment.” Susanna Bolin, 10th grade Honors Choir student

“As a singer, my body is my instrument. In yoga, breath is important when moving and is the foundation of all practices. Similarly breath is the foundation of singing. Meditation has helped me so much. I am glad that we got to spend this time in quiet, just being.” Dani Buschini, 10th grade Honors Choir student

“Taking a few minutes to sit, relax and focus on breathing was a refreshing addition to my day. It allowed me to pause, be mindful and forget about my daily causes of stress. Yoga correlates to singing as both heavily rely on breathing and relaxing your body. Caring for your body and allowing for moments of reflection and revitalization can give your body a nice break and make a great vessel for using your instrument to sing.” Danny Smith, 10th grade Honors Choir student

Working Conditions in Other Countries

Recently in Señora Holness’ Spanish 4 class, students were assigned a Spanish speaking country to study and learn about different working practices. The students had to research topics such as the length of a working day, how many work hours per week, benefits, vacation days per year, and length of maternity leave. Throughout this experience, students studied the working culture of their various countries while practicing the vocabulary of working practices. Once they compiled the information, they had to give a short presentation about their country to the rest of the class speaking entirely in Spanish. This allowed the chance for students to practice both their speaking skills and their listening skills. They also completed a graphic organizer about the different countries as they were listening. This allowed the students to compare the different countries working practices in one location.  Students really enjoyed the idea of a siesta in the afternoon and were fascinated by the length of maternity leave for new mothers. 


Also, as a break throughout the presentations, they had to work with a partner create a skit of different working practices and also practice the vocabulary that they are learning. One partnership did an interview, while another modeled a good versus a bad employee. All skits were a fun and engaging break from the presentations and also was another opportunity to practice vocabulary, speaking, and listening skills.  


Ava Dunwoody, senior, said “This project allowed me to utilize the skills I have been learning in the classroom in a practical and real-life example. Not only did it help me more readily understand the vocabulary of this unit, but it also helped me articulate my speaking skills in a way that will prepare me to speak Spanish more naturally. It was also a lot of fun.”