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Teacher of the Month: Melissa Brown

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Melissa Brown (pictured third from left) on vacation with her family at Kure Beach, North Carolina. (Photo: Amanda Eskew)

Melissa Brown
Teacher, Albemarle High School, near Charlottesville, Virginia

Background: Brown teaches Honors Anatomy & Physiology and AP Biology II. She has been teaching for 19 years, all at AHS, and developed the Anatomy & Physiology curriculum. Prior to switching careers, she was a Registered Medical Technologist. 

Question 1: Would you share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work?
Answer: I've always wanted to teach, but my high school guidance counselor swayed me to major in Medical Technology because I was "good in science and shouldn't waste myself on teaching." While working as a Med Tech, my favorite times were when medical residents were rotating through the labs, learning what we did. This spurred me to take classes while working, and eventually make the switch. 

Question 2: What fuels your passion for science and teaching?
Answer: Science is always changing. New discoveries are being made in science literally every day, and teaching allows me to learn along with my students. Biology seems to be changing more rapidly than other aspects of science. Technology is fueling those changes, and I can't wait to see what the next discovery will be.

Question 3: Do you have a science demo that students find particularly compelling? What makes it so interesting for them?
Answer: Biology I students planted corn seeds in clear plastic cups. The students, who had an average fifth-grade reading level, had not get gotten into the Genetics unit yet. As the corn seeds germinated and grew, they were learning basics of genetics. The timing of this common Biology I lab allowed students to discover the two traits (height and color) to collect data, make their own hypotheses, and eventually not only be able to "do" a dihybrid cross Punnett square, but to understand the concept. I believe this was because students discussed their results and reached conclusions on their own, with little guidance from me.

When the albino corn sprouted and began to grow, one student was very concerned and asked how that plant could grow. When questioned, he said the plant did not have chlorophyll, and so would not be able to carry out photosynthesis. Looking closely at the cup, he went on to say he thought the corn plant had to be using the "food" in the seed to grow, and predicted the plant would eventually die. Because of switching timing for this lab, students were able to discover the Mendel's principle of dominance, successfully carry out a complex Punnett square, and make connections between energy transformations and genetics.

Question 4: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer: I love to do special effects painting for the AHS Drama Department. Creating the illusion of different types of surfaces, combined with aging or damage effects, allows me to use my artistic abilities. Although time-consuming, I find the process very relaxing and enjoy being able to experiment to find the best way to convert bare luan or PVC pipe into cemetery walls and rusted iron bars, for example.

Question 5: What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?
Answer: I have a subscription to Science, which allows me to remain current with research and discoveries being made in all aspects of science. I also do online searches for information. Both of these allow me to remain current. Also, every spring I take my AP Bio students to the Shenandoah Valley Biotechnology Symposium. There are always scientists on the cutting edge of biotechnology present at the Symposium, and I get to learn about new research along with my students.