Sunday, October 23, 2011

let's talk about high school biology.

When I was a senior in high school, I thought it would be a good idea to take another biology class. In my school, in order to be considered a “Regents Scholar,” you had to take four years of math and four years of science in high school. I wanted that title, even though going to school out of the state (which I did) renders it useless. So it was either advanced biology or chemistry. Easy choice. Besides, most of my friends were in that class – what could be better? Turns out we all got something much different than we expected.

Our teacher was a friendly guy who would play his guitar if we were good and wore overalls on casual Friday. (There were also rumors that he walked his cat around town on a leash, but I never saw that with my own eyes.) He never worked from a textbook – every Monday, he’d hand out a list of terms for the week, and that was it. The entire class was spent studying the human body, so every now and then there would be a diagram, but that was the extent of it.

The advanced biology weekly structure was this: Monday and Tuesday were lecture days, Wednesday and Thursday were study days, and Friday was the test. The first week of school, we all thought we’d hit the jackpot. Only two days of actual class a week? Cha-CHING! As you may expect, we spent our Wednesday and Thursday study halls just goofing off, and the teacher said nothing. We all figured that a quick scan of the vocabulary terms on Thursday night would more than suffice.

We were absolutely wrong. All of us were so used to our junior high science teacher, whose exams had more pages of Far Side cartoons than actual test material. These tests were difficult. It consisted of a page of terms where we would be given the term and would be require to write the definition. This may sound like no big deal, but up until that point, any terms tests we’d had would be matching or multiple choice. And the terms were tough for a bunch of kids who weren’t used to having to study. We’d have to write out the difference between neurons and neutrons, which may again sound like a piece of cake, but we’d never had to do anything like that before. We had to write it well, too: if the definition didn’t contain a few key terms of the teacher’s choosing, we wouldn’t get full credit for the answer. The next page was usually a diagram that we’d have to label. When we labeled the diagram, there was no list of terms to choose from. You’d have to go from the terms on the first page and hope that you got everything right. For example, we’d get a picture of a brain with a bunch of blank lines pointing at different sections. Then you had to hope that you remembered all the parts of the brain and where they were located, or you’d hope that you were a good guesser. The third page was a series of essay questions, and they were impossibly general: “Explain how the brain works.” Many of us generally followed the “the more you write, the more likely at least SOME of it is going to be correct” rule. The fourth page was extra credit, which was our saving grace. The teacher usually threw in a gimme or two, but the rest would be something obscure: “What was the name of the guy in the coma I told you about on Monday?” One point for first name, two points for first and last.

Our poor brains had been on auto-pilot before, but advanced biology was about to change that. I was in this class with my friends Bob, Meagan, and Tiffany. We quickly learned that the Wednesday and Thursday classroom study halls needed to be utilized for actual studying. (Of course, since it was a free-range study hall, there was still a fair amount of slacking off as indicated from all the pictures we took during that class.) Bob and I taught Sunday school, so after school, we would head over to our Sunday school classroom and continue studying terms and anything we thought could show up on the extra credit page. Why the Sunday school classroom? Because it had bean bag chairs, of course.

We eventually got this down to a science (pun very much intended), but we still had to study our tails off to have any hope of getting a decent grade. It was all in great fun, though, and this was completely thanks to our teacher. During a break in a lesson about the reproductive system (he introduced the section by announcing, "Let's plan your sex lives!"), I found myself explaining to my friends what Conan O’Brien’s “string dance” was. Of course, we had to do a demo. Our teacher, instead of telling us to get back to work, exclaimed, “We’re learning about sex, and they’re DANCING!”
And could you blame us?
Clearly, he had a great sense of humor. The door to our classroom faced the hallway that led from the gym back to the locker rooms. Whenever gym got out, those students would knock on the door, yell, or peek in the window and make faces. One day, our teacher got tired of it. He put the classroom skeleton right in the window so it would be looking back at them. We stifled our giggles and eagerly waited for gym to get out. The first kid to look in the window shrieked like a small girl. The gym kids left us alone after that.
Her name was Jasmine.
Another favorite activity of our teacher’s was to print off old Reader’s Digest articles and have us read them and take a quiz on them for extra credit. His favorite was the series about a guy named Joe, and Joe’s organs each had a feature – but it was the organs telling the story. Hands down – our favorite was the article entitled “I am Joe’s Man Gland.” That was the honest-to-God title, and we really read that in high school advanced biology.

No truly great class is complete without a field trip. One April day, our class went on a field trip to the anatomy lab at the nearest college. That’s right: our field trip was to see cadavers. And not just plain old cadavers – cadavers being DISSECTED. The faint of heart had the option to stay out of the classroom, but to the best of my recollection, only two members of the class did. Everybody else huddled wide-eyed around the cadaver, only becoming squeamish when we were asked if we’d like to touch any of the organs.

Look how happy the cadavers made us.
Advanced biology was the strangest class I’ve ever had, and it was by far the toughest class I had in high school. The class itself was very laid-back, but you absolutely had to buckle down and know the information if you wanted to have a prayer at passing the tests. Thank goodness that class taught me how to study; college would have been an extra rude awakening if it hadn’t. All the same, it was a blast. Not only did I have an awesome class with my friends, it was interesting information being presented in a more exciting way than just “read chapter three and be ready for a test on Monday.” So if you ever have the chance to take a class from a guitar-playing, overall-wearing, mustachioed guy who goes by Woody, you won’t regret it.


  1. Calla!! Loved this article, took me back to the good ole days!! :)--Meagan

  2. Thanks, Meagan!! We definitely had some GREAT times in that class! :)

  3. O my this brought back some GREAT memories, caught myself laughing numerous times, and boy do you have an awesome memory and recollection of details! :) Love it, thanks for sharing! --Tiff

  4. Thanks, Tiff! I wouldn't have been able to remember all those details without all the crazy pictures we took! :) So much fun!!

  5. Hahahahaah!!! I would have completely forgotten a lot of this stuff if you hadn't said it. I have to say that was honestly my favorite class in high school. -Amber

  6. Hi Amber! It was my favorite class in high school, too. It was super hard, but it was SO much fun at the same time! Especially our goofy field trip :)