Doing without cookie cutter labs

The Concord Consortium’s Teacher Ambassador program commemorates our 25th anniversary by recognizing 25 outstanding teachers who have included our digital inquiry resources into their STEM classrooms. We congratulate them on their innovation and creativity.

Kristina Koster, Hanford High School, Hanford, CA

Kristina Koster first became interested in teaching as a tutor for the TRIO Upward Bound program while in junior college. The program helps low-income, first-generation college-bound students get into and succeed in college by providing free afterschool tutoring, Saturday educational workshops, and college visits. Kristina recalls, “I was able to see that I could combine my love for helping people with my love for science.”

She’s now teaching biology and integrated science to 9th graders. A flyer circulating in her district drew her to our programs.

To encourage participation in class discussions Kristina gets help from a stuffed animal! Students toss it between speakers, and whoever is holding the plush toy has permission to speak while everyone else listens quietly. This activity usually works great, though it can also cause fits of giggles from her freshmen, like the time the stuffed animal accidentally bounced off a student’s head (bonk!) or when a student was talking with his hands while also holding a roll of tape, and the tape flew out of his hands (whee!).

Teacher Ambassador Kristina KosterKristina likes seeing their silliness, as well as their “brilliant minds and the support they have for their peers.” And as the mother of a joyful toddler, she’s used to such antics.

Kristina taught cellular respiration and photosynthesis using activities from the InSPECT project at San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, CA, where she taught last year. With a bit of guidance, students are able to set up and modify their own experiments. Students use sensors, Raspberry Pis, and Dataflow to see the amount of ambient CO2 go up and down. The activities help students interpret the graphs and the data they generate by “telling a story” of what they see in the data. For instance, while blowing into a sensor, students saw the graph spike and were able to explain that it was the CO2 in their breath that caused the increase.

She’s excited by all the potential she sees in today’s students, and is confident that they “don’t need ‘cookie cutter’ labs to get to the conclusion of a lab.” But she believes that teachers could benefit from more practical, hands-on curriculum and activities for students, plus training on how to implement new curriculum.

Kristina practices yoga as a peaceful antidote to her sometimes boisterous classroom. Namaste.

Favorite ice cream: Reese’s Moose Tracks, Strawberry Cheesecake, Rocky Road