facing fears

SCIENCE: This activity occurred during a science unit on genetics.

SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LITERACY (SEL): In this activity, students learn about fears and phobias and discuss whether they are genetic or learned. When live exotic insects of varying sizes were introduced into the lesson, students practiced managing their fears - and in some cases, overcoming them - within the safety of the classroom. They apply the tools they learned when they were younger, such as the breathing tool, to work through their fears and take a risk at trying something new. 

CURIOSITY: Students are curious about both the exotic insects and their own feelings about them. Often, their feelings are mixed and contradictory - excited and afraid, in awe and repulsed. This activity gives students the opportunity to safely explore with curiosity these emotions and delve into the natural world in a new way.

GROWTH MINDSET: Students arrive at the lesson often with the mindset that they're afraid and will never touch an insect of certain sizes. As the lesson progresses, they challenge themselves to take a risk and try something new, and in the end realizing that it might be okay.

SELF-UNDERSTANDING/SELF-DIRECTION: By examining one's feelings - and ones that may be unexpected - students gain a greater understanding of themselves. In this activity, students are self-advocates; they can determine without judgment whether or not they are comfortable holding the insects.

In 6th grade, students are in the midst of preparing for the transition from Middle Division to Upper Division. SEL discussions have grown increasingly sophisticated through their years at Mark Day.

For example, science and SEL are merged during a lesson on genetics, bringing the question about whether fears and phobias are learned behaviors or genetic. The lesson starts with a discussion around the questions, "if you have learned to be afraid, can you unlearn it?" and, "if it's genetic, can you manage it?"

Sixth grade science teacher Tim Evans and School Counselor and SEL Coordinator Theresa Hall work in conjunction with San Francisco-based organization savenature.org to bring exotic insects into the classroom, where students get to notice any fears they may have and practice their SEL skills to manage them. Students can gently hold the insects or pass if they wish. Every year, students surprise themselves by how well their SEL skills help them when a fear emerges.