It is an IB Biology Year 1 class. A new transfer student has been added to the class and I notice that he isn’t as involved as his team members. I mention that he should be allowed to contribute to the lab. The “old timers” kind of give me “that look”, like “do you know what you are asking us to do?”
So, another member of the team assigns him the task of measuring out a buffer solution into a graduated cylinder. This is a relatively innocuous task. The expectation is that the student approaches the graduated cylinder at eye level and carefully pours the buffer into the cylinder. As the required volume is neared, a pipette is utilized to finish the measuring. The new student grabs the buffer solution and holds it at shoulder level and pours it down onto the graduated cylinder, spilling liquid all over the cart.
Silence follows as his lab mates glare at me clearly holding me accountable for the bumble and potential damage to their experiment. Of course, I’m shocked that a Junior in High School has not been taught this basic lab skill. It’s an IB course and I’m wondering how I can possibly teach this student what he needs to know while proceeding with the class.
In another instance, students eagerly access my web site and follow a link I’ve shared with them. A new student sits and stares at her computer with blank eyes. As I approach her to help her I realize she has no idea how the computer works, how to enter a web link (i.e. to my web site), or even how to conduct a Google search. Further time with her reveals that she hasn’t logged on to her school email or to PowerSchool yet, skills her peers manage as easily as using a phone. Again, I wonder how I can get her up to speed.
Just today I asked a group of students about the processes of photosynthesis and respiration, topics we covered in previous years at the school. Returning students eagerly share knowledge while new students shrink in shame.
What about the scientific method? Returning students have been taught the scientific method with vigor since the 6th grade. They can form a valid research question. They can identify variables. After 8th grade they can design their own experiments with moderate assistance. As they progress through the years they gain lab skills and become comfortable and competent with nearly any piece of equipment set before them.
So, when new students transfer in lacking what seems to me basic skills I find myself at a loss. Peers can help them with some tasks. I can turn to learning support and EAL teachers for other tasks, especially regarding the computer. However, in the end, these students require 1:1 guidance to bring them up to speed. How grateful I am to students who are willing to help and who are able to proceed independently while I coach new students in various situations.
I’m curious if anyone out there has ideas on how to ease this burden of new transfer students lacking basic skills expected of their grade level. I wonder if we could create a skills set for each level of science and put it as a requirement in he admissions process. Somehow I don’t think that would fly. Any suggestions out there?