Quick, name all of the parts of a cell! Can’t do it? Well, the seventh graders in Morenci can, thanks to a special partnership.
For the last six years, Fairbanks Middle School teacher Etta Sechrest and artist Catie Goss have been teaming up to teach students science concepts using traditional textbooks, labs and artistry.
In the past, they’ve teamed up to teach Earth science and space science. But thanks to new state standards, this year Sechrest’s seventh graders are learning about cells.
Since August, they’ve been spending time in a world created by Goss using toys and other materials she’s brought in. A half dozen activity tables have been created to help the students get a firm grasp on the topic.
What’s a nucleus do? It’s the control center of a cell. What else is a control center? There’s City Hall set up on that table in the corner.
What digests lipids? There’s a cow on that table over there because the sMOOth endoplasmic reticulum digests lipids.
What’s DNA? Oh, let’s put together a bouquet of flowers, because you inherited all of your individual traits from your parents.
How on earth can all cells look completely different, but be made up of the same exact parts? Wow, there’s a table with cookie ingredients, cookie dough and cookies on display.
Goss, who grew up in London, received her associate’s degree in art at the age of 17 and moved to the United States 29 years ago. She was a visual display designer for years before going into the classroom to teach art, both as a volunteer and as a paid staff member. Six years ago, her son landed in Sechrest’s classroom.
She grew up watching nature shows and has always loved science, so when Sechrest asked her if she’d put her artistic skills to work, she agreed. That’s not to say, however, that she always knows the subject matter.
“I do not have a very great knowledge. I have what I would call the children’s knowledge. I have to do a lot of research,” Goss said. “Mrs. Sechrist will say this is what we are learning. We are going to learn the organelles of a cell. Then I will go and find a poster to help me out. From there I’m going to research myself what all of those organelles do, what their function is and then I’m going to look at that as a child and ask myself what would they be thinking? Oh, that looks like a banana.”
From there, she puts together activities, posters, worksheets and other visuals using toys and materials she’s gathered over the years, all while consulting regularly with Sechrest. She put together the latest room on cells about a month ago over the course of three or four days, working on it whenever she could take a break from her regular job as activities teacher at the Wildkitten Den. After the fall break, she and Sechrest will figure out how they’ll be teaching the kids their next topic.
Whatever it is, she and Sechrest said it’ll be educational and fun.
“I believe in children having a great time and if they’re having a great time it makes my job easy,” Goss said.
When Sechrest came out of retirement last year to teach science again, the first call she made was to Goss, she said.
“My students’ benchmark scores were always high in science and I attributed that to them being able to do such hands on labs,” Sechrest said. “I’ve always done lots of labs, but when Catie and I started collaborating together it took them over the top. It is not only scientific, but then it was artistic, too. They are totally hands on activities and labs.”
Although her time is more limited than it used to be and she’s not compensated for her work, Goss said she feels compelled to do what she can to help the students.
“It’s 100% about having children do well at school. If you fail to do well you can’t go to college,” Goss said. “I went to art college because that was what I was good at, but the truth is, art pays tiddly widdly. You can’t live on being an artist, generally speaking...Not getting paid well enough to live is a terrible situation to be in and so if I can come in and help children understand what is normally the hardest concept, science, than they won’t be in that position.”