CHAMPAIGN — In a lab in first-hour accelerated biology class at Centennial High School, freshmen students spent Wednesday morning making wet slides of various kinds of protists.
At the beginning of the lab, biology teacher Lynn Wiedelman helped Graham Walters, Lilly Bost and Kamryn Malenius focus their microscopes when they looked through and saw a blur.
As Wiedelman adjusted the knobs of the microscope and the students looked through, it wasn't hard to understand that their view was totally different.
"Oh my gosh, it's so awesome," Walters said about the euglena on the slide.
"Ew, they look like bugs," Bost added.
Wiedelman, who teaches biology at Centennial High School, was selected this year as an Astellas-NSTA Fellow in the National Science Teachers Association's New Science Teacher Academy.
It's her second year teaching at Centennial, and she teaches academic biology, accelerated biology and microbiology, which is a junior-senior elective. The goal is to expose students to life sciences, she said, and she has done labs like having students tape their thumbs to their hands and trying to complete different tasks, and having them extract DNA from a strawberry. Wednesday's lab exposed the students to protists, which can be found in everyday items like toothpaste and ice cream, Wiedelman said. Protists are one kingdom in which living things can be classified.
The fellowship is designed to provide intensive professional development to teachers in their second or third year, Wiedelman said. She was one of 14 teachers from Illinois chosen.
To apply, she had to write essays about her philosophy of teaching, and why she wanted to be a fellow. She's a graduate of the University of Illinois.
"I really enjoy bettering myself as a person," she said about why she applied, and she likes to learn new things and teach them, rather than teaching the same things repeatedly.
She has a science-teacher mentor in Hawaii, and puts together lessons and tries new things in her classroom, then writes reflections on them. She also has access to webinars featuring scientists and researchers, as well as experts in education. She'll also receive financial help to attend the association's 2013 National Conference on Science Education in April in San Antonio.
Because of the fellowship, Wiedelman said, she has been focusing more on having students follow up on what they've learned after labs, and incorporating literacy and writing into her classes.
She's working on helping students learn to read scientific writing, actually pull information from their textbooks and even understand articles in scientific journals.
She wants her students to know how to make a claim and use scientific evidence to back to up.
She wants them to be self-reliant, to be able to figure out how to find information.
Wiedelman, who went to William Fremd High School in Palatine, said she was inspired to become a teacher by her biology teachers there.
"I'm hoping to do that for some of my kids," she said, and hopes they all remember her as someone who taught them something.
Jill McLean, the content area chairwoman for science at Centennial, said that even though Wiedelman is only in her second year of teaching, "she has not acted like a beginning teacher."
"She is just constantly trying to add new ideas to the way she teaches, to her classroom," McLean said. "She's been a leader with developing some changes in our biology courses. She's not sitting back and letting other people decide what we're doing."
McLean said Wiedelman is able to engage her students and keeps them active in class.
"She just is doing all the things needed to become an amazing teacher," McLean said.
McLean said Wiedelman's chance to attend the association's conference will allow her to bring back ideas after she meets with science teachers from all over the country.
"She's the kind of person who will easily share those with us," McLean said. "I think we're all winning by having her taking part in this."