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February 1, 2012 Are You Inspiring Your Students for Life? By Kristy Mall
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    When 4th grader Adam Hott read in his Weekly Reader magazine about how a gene from a firefly was transplanted into a tobacco plant, he was inspired. Fast-forward and that 4th grader from the small town of Litchfield, Illinois, is now Dr. Adam Hott, one of the educational directors at the progressive and impressive HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. At HudsonAlpha, they are mapping the human genome and have set up a vast consortium to work collaboratively with other groups in areas such as genetic research, and Hott loves that he is right in the middle of it! Hott said that that article helped him choose his career path. Though it's been difficult to follow that path at times, his fascination with genetics drove him to the position he holds today.

    I met Dr. Hott at a training session on genetics that I recently attended as part of a Professional Learning Collaborative grant through Middle Tennessee State University. I was chatting with him over lunch when I happened to ask what led him to his interest in genetics. When I heard his answer, I was surprised. While I have used magazines for years, it never occurred to me that one article could be the catalyst for a student's entire career path. Amazingly, as we continued talking, another member of my collaborative also confessed that he was inspired to choose his career by an article that he read in grade school. This confession led me to really think about how the choices we make in the classroom can impact a students’ life. For both men, one article in a classroom magazine shaped the rest of their lives!

    Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about how chance opportunities can create and foster interests and skills. He cites famous success stories in which an interest was sparked and then fostered by a seemingly chance occurrence. While Dr. Hott’s teacher probably never intended to create a future genetics specialist, that one article unlocked his future, and he still remembers the event vividly. On the drive home, I wondered, “What can we do as teachers to offer chances at inspiration?”

    Supplemental Materials

    The most obvious answer in this case would be to incorporate items like Scholastic News, SuperScience, DynaMath, and other fantastic magazines into our lessons. I am glad to say that I have been using these in the classroom for years, and I do know from personal experience that the students really enjoy the articles, which cover a wide range of topics and can spark some great discussions. I have had students be inspired to research more about the topics and even take the magazines home. Scholastic News is available online as well, and my present students enjoy reading the stories together on the whiteboard. I also use it to teach about paragraphs, topic sentences, story construction, and the use of visuals to enhance the story. As you have seen, these stories can have profound effects on your students. I will let you know if I discover that any of my students have been as inspired as Dr. Hott!

    Field Trips

    There has been such a focus on content that I sometimes hear teachers saying things like, “We don’t have time for a field trip,” or complaining that their kids can’t afford it. That breaks my heart because field trips are such excellent opportunities for hands-on lessons. I can still remember some of the awesome field trips that I took in grade school, and I encourage you to take at least one during the year. However, if funding is tight, try taking your kids on a virtual field trip.  

    Many of the topics that we teach are supported by online sites that promote virtual field trips. Many museums are set up for them, as well as famous sites. For example, the Lincoln Memorial Web site allows you to take your students on a virtual tour of the physical site and features explanations and lots of wonderful pictures. To see if a topic you are teaching is available virtually, simply type in your topic and “virtual tour.” I discovered the Lincoln Memorial site and other wonderful sites by typing in “Washington D.C. virtual tour” in my search engine. You can visit many famous sites all over the world with this simple method. Who knows? One of them may inspire a student to make the journey themselves someday or have a profound effect on them!

    While these may seem like simple suggestions, the lesson to take from this story is that we, as educators, may open up a world in the classroom that a child never knew existed and that will profoundly change their lives. I want to thank Dr. Hott (and his team) for not only teaching me some great lessons about genetics, but also this lesson on what a huge impact a teacher can have on a student, simply by bringing the outside world into their classroom. Thank you!!


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Susan Cheyney