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BSIE 2010 Week 1 Observations

Jessica Watkins's picture

Going into the first week of the Summer Science Institute I was looking forward to a few things:

  • The opportunity to work with teachers not as a student, but as a fellow learner and scientist.
  • The opportunity to share the numerous thoughts I’ve been harboring for the past month and a half with eager adults who will (hopefully) use them in real-life situations with actual students.
  • The opportunity to people watch.

Yes, I said “people watch.”  Half the reason I’m interested in neurobiology is that it allows me to put a microscopic, scientific face to seemingly bizarre actions.  I am very much a people person.  The idea of sitting in a room of fifteen people for three weeks, of immersing myself in their behavior and observing their interactions, seemed like the perfect way to translate what psychological/neurobiological studies I had been reading throughout prior weeks into human behavior.  I have certainly not been disappointed.

Ours is an institute filled with diversity.  The participants hail from different cultures and walks of life; they teach at different levels and at different types of schools; they speak different languages and follow different religions.  With their myriad differences came just as many barriers to overcome, but this has made our discussion all the more stimulating.  For example, I had never before encountered a teacher from a country like Israel, where the education system is different in how teachers interact with parents of students.  The various views these men and women bring to the seminar table enrich our dialogue; they are from the old school, the new school, and every school in between.  

It has been most interesting observing the teachers’ behavior during group work.  Different personalities have gravitated toward each other and formed clique-like clusters (without the negative connotation, however), and the institute is shaping up to be a mini classroom in its own way.  Strong personalities and booming voices have attracted the meeker souls.  Even the way some of them speak up in “class”--the way some of them raise their hands, others jump right into the conversation and still others say very little--is reminiscent of a traditional school environment.  Hopefully most of them realize this, as it will shed some light on their students’ behavior in the classroom. 


The most gratifying facet of the institute has been knowing that all of our conversation--no matter how intense, controversial or joking--will impact the lives of students all over the Philadelphia area.  Before the institute my writing and interests seemed very enclosed within the Bryn Mawr community.  Now they have been woven into the fabric of a curriculum that will reach hundreds of children and shape their futures.  The institute, as well as the work leading up to it, has boosted my confidence immensely and made me realize that I am more than just a student.  My goal is to show the participants of the institute that they are much more than teachers--they are a resource for inspiration and encouragement relating to not only academics, but life in general.  Thus far each of them has proven capable of articulating original thoughts, although some of them do require a bit more prodding than others (but isn’t this the case in every classroom?).  Now we must help them translate these thoughts into lesson plans and educational material to bring back to their students.