X-Mas Men: When Science Teachers Host A Holiday Assembly

Many schools have holiday assemblies that involve singing, historical portrayals, plays, which are usually run by the drama department. But what happens when the science department takes over? Or specifically when two high school science teachers run the show?

X-Mas Men!

Our school is a private boarding school that grants scholarships to students from a limited means background. We have a Lower School (1st – 6th) and an Upper School (7th-12th). The assembly began a few years ago when we were trying to to make sure our students would have a good holiday. Because of the nature of our school’s admissions policy, we have  a lot of families that cannot provide financially for their children.

Our assistant academic dean suggested a Make A Wish idea.The students decorate an ornament with their wish on it and hang it on a tree. The wishes are then collected and the faculty comes together to make them happen. Granting 150-180 wishes with only about 20 educators is no easy task. In fact, our Make A Wish assembly gained recognition by various news groups when a student wished to hug the people of Newtown.

Organizing and granting the wishes are tedious tasks. Our assistant academic dean approached me and another science teacher about running the show. We are both young, enthusiastic, and childless – perfect for the long hours needed to pull this off. As most of you know, science teachers never do anything the easy way. Many became science teachers for the simple reason that we get to blow up, dissect, and infect students with our irrepressible love of science (often times doubling ingredients to reactions to get a bigger result). So how about infusing that spirit into our Holiday assembly?

It took my colleague and I .004 seconds before deciding to don our alter egos and bring some science fiction to a holiday that is severely lacking it. Some fiction is there though, and overlaps with sci-fi: an individual that can bend space-time, defies the laws of physics, and brings gifts to all deserving girls and boys. Seems like Christmas Beast and Wolverine Claus could potentially be plausible hosts for our Holiday Assembly.

Science teachers Scott Sowers (L) and John Romano don their alter egos for the X-Mas Men Assembly.
Science teachers Scott Sowers (L) and John Romano don their alter egos for the X-Mas Men Assembly.

 

The Holiday Assembly was the perfect time to highlight these teachers for the heros they are. I assembled the faculty and laid out the plan: we would film a video introduction called X-Mas Men. I would shoot and edit the video, play it at the beginning of the ceremony, and set the tone of a Holiday assembly straight out of the pages of a Marvel comic. With furried and clawed hands my colleague and I passed out baseball gloves, sketchbooks, breakfast sandwiches, candy, shoes, and a bicycle. 160 gifts in all were delivered to the students by two holiday mutants, backed up by a room full of everyday superheroes.

Teachers aim to bring a better educational experience to their students. They know that they cannot bring  their bad day, personal problems, exhaustion, sickness or anger into the classroom.  Storm may have been talking about teachers when she said “There’s more to it than simply possessing super powers. To be an X-Man means possessing a strength of will – of self identity – that nothing can subvert. For better or worse, being an X-Man means not merely being born a mutant….but a hero.”

Science teachers do not have an off button, we don’t just love our content, we live it. This passion is infectious. The students see grown men and women dressing as their favorite science fiction characters and living out childhood fantasies with genuine enthusiasm. These experiences are important to the development of the student scientist. They discover that science is not something to fear, but something to enjoy.

 

Author: Mike Klymkowsky

I am a Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I earned a bachelors degree in biophysics from Penn State then moved to California and earned a Ph.D. from CalTech (working for a time at UCSF and the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic). I was a Muscular Dystrophy Association post-doctoral fellow at University College London and the Rockefeller University before moving to Boulder. My research has involved a number of topics, including neurotransmitter receptor structure, cytoskeletal organization and ciliary function, neural crest formation, and signaling systems in the context of the clawed frog Xenopus laevis as well as biology education research, leading to the development of the Biological Concepts Instrument (BCI), a suite of virtuallaboratory activities, and biofundamentals, a re-designed introductory molecular biology course. I have a close collaboration with Melanie Cooper (@Michigan State) that has resulted in transformed (and demonstrably effective and engaging) course materials in general and organic chemistry known as CLUE: Chemistry, Life, the Universe & Everything. I was in the first class of Pew Biomedical Scholars and am a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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