Empathy and Understanding

My students have been working through their latest #pbl in my honors Biology classes. We have been focusing on Mendelian and Non-Mendelian Genetics in class while they have independently been working on their human genetics disorder #pbl outside of class.

The project started with my students doing basic genetic disorder research on the most common human genetic disorders that genetic counselors will see. They were to pick 21 disorders to do very basic, introductory research on so that they could identify possible areas of interest for their PBL activity. From this research, they were asked to identify a disorder that they wanted to learn about in depth. Each student then worked independently to learn about their disorder and plan a presentation for their peers about this disorder. I gave them a detailed rubric of required content that I wanted them to research so that I knew they were going deeply enough into their research, but the way in which they presented to their peers was up to them. While most students will use powerpoint as their medium, I have had students use Prezi, create a digital storyboard, make a brochure, create a video with voiceover, etc…they never run out of creative ways to present information.

The #pbl aspect of this project came into play when I let the students know that they are going to function as genetic counselors who will be counseling their patients through a diagnosis of the disorder that they have each been researching independently. I explained that they will need to write a detailed letter to a family explaining that they have been diagnosed positively with this disorder and present to the family all of the necessary information and options that they will have. I also explained that this is where they need to pull in their emotional intelligence and work from a place of empathy and understanding. A large portion of the disorders researched were terminal and affected children, this is a challenge for them to be able to do in a professional and caring manner.

Dr Kelly Fulk - genetic counselor

I had a local genetic counselor come in to talk with my students about the process of diagnosing someone and counseling them through that diagnosis. The letter written by the students serves as their summative assessment for this unit.I really love this experience for the students and I always receive good feedback from them about the process and what they learn. To make this a true #pbl experience for my student, I am going to ask Dr. Fulk (pictured above) to have some of the counselors in her office review the letters that my students write and ask them to provide some valuable feedback on their writing and the process.


Simon Sinek – Start With Your Why

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 Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, Start With The Why, was pretty inspiring to me. This is the second time that I have viewed this particular talk and in both instances, It struck a chord with me. I think he is correct in his assessment that everyone knows what it is that they do and that most people know how they do it, but few people actually know why they do what they do. In order to know why we do what we do, we need to take the time to be reflective enough to our purpose to identify our whys so that we can be inspiring to those around us. I don’t believe that most people don’t care about why they do what they do, I think that most people are so darn busy that they can’t take the time to reflect on what it is that they actually do and why they are passionate about that.

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I like Sinek’s graphic of the Golden Circle. Though simplistic in design, I liked how it addressed, quite specifically, the same concepts addressed above. In working through his ideas pertaining to the Golden Circle, Sinek introduced some powerful examples of individuals and organizations that lead from within the circle. These individuals lead from their whys, versus the organizations that lead from the outside in, from their what. The example that he used that spoke to me most readily was Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have A Dream” speech. He talked about how thousands of people traveled hundreds of miles to march on Washington DC on this day and that this was all organized before the internet. Trying to fathom how something like this could be organized before the internet is tough to even imagine. Sinek remarked that the people that showed up on this day did not do it for MLK, they did it because they believed in his why, in his mission. As an aside, Sinek made the distinction that MLK gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech and that made a huge difference. He is so right about that.

I also liked how Sinek said, over and over again, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. This really stuck with me this time and the last time that I watched this Ted Talk. After watching this Ted Talk last time, I immediately implemented the “What & Why” moment into my classroom. At any given time during any class period, I will stop what I am doing or what the students are doing and ask them, “can you tell me what we are doing and why we are doing it?”. At first, this really caught them off-guard and I think they believed I was trying to catch them at not paying attention but after this conversation one day I had a student ask, “Mrs. Cooke, we were talking about this with students from your other classes and they said you ask them the same thing. Why do you ask this all the time?”. I told him that I believe that if they, as the students, don’t know why they are learning what they are learning, and they are just going through the motions in the class, then being in the class is a total waste of time. They agreed that they feel like they are just going through the motions most of the time in most of their classes. I told them that they need to take the time to reflect on what they are doing in life to make sure they understand why they are doing it. We all need to take this time for reflection and repurposing our energies as our own whys change and evolve over time. I really liked Sinek’s talk but I think he needed to take his speech one step further and give some tips on how to understand your why; things that people can do on a daily basis to reinvest in their professional and personal lives to help them stay attached to and focused on their whys.