Today we are speaking with Bloom's biology teacher, Emina Sarač-Mehić. Mrs. Sarač Mehić oftens combines her passion and respect for biology with her love of creative work. In this interview Mrs. Sarač-Mehić speaks concretely about interdisciplinary learning and what she has learned from implementing an individual approach to learning.
Tell us something about yourself.
I am Emina, a teacher of biology and other subjects such as: Food and Nutrition and Combined Science in high school; and Nature in the 5th grade. I have a master's degree in biology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences - majoring in ecology, and I completed my graduate studies in teaching. I also enjoy doing creative projects...
You often include creative activities when teaching your subjects which has worked really well with your students. Where does your love for creative projects come from?
When I was in the first year of my studies, I lived in student accommodations with other girls. We had fun listening to music and making boxes and jewelry together until late at night. After the second year, I no longer lived with them, but I continued to make some things on my own. I took it a little more seriously - I made things to order for people and so on. In the end though, it remained a hobby, not something that developed into a full-blown business, because biology, scientific research, and working with children kept on calling to me.
Basically, I've known since the fifth grade of elementary school that I wanted to be a biology teacher. I first began having biology as a subject at that time, and it was so interesting that I often stayed with the teacher after class. The teacher allowed me to stay and experiment with the small microscope we had: to cut things and place them under the lens; to observe and watch. I just knew that I would become a biologist.
Over the years, my interests dispersed a bit. For example, at one point I wanted to be a pharmacist - but it was always somehow related to biology and the natural sciences. During my studies, I developed a love for ecology. It was not so pronounced in primary and secondary school, probably because the teachers did not emphasize that segment of biology. Then again, I was more interested in genetics at the time.
What made you decide to become a teacher then?
Watching my teachers. I was inspired by these people who made it all so interesting. I also wanted to support younger generations in becoming inspired by biology and nature themselves.
What would you like to convey to your students?
To begin, I would like to convey the feeling that we are part of nature, regardless of the fact that we build cities and build houses a little differently than other living beings. I would like to somehow highlight for them our intrinsic connection with nature, and show them how much we depend on everything working well in nature. Bloom is great because it is a school in harmony with nature.
I also want to develop in them that sense for doing research work, which is really interesting. I have already had the opportunity to accompany them to the science fair and I was pleasantly surprised at how interested the students are in any kind of projects of this type. For example, the last lesson I held with them in nature, I asked them to give me some feedback: what they thought about my classes; how did they feel about their year here; and what would they like me to improve about my subject to make it more interesting for them. Students who really willingly participated in those projects and who initiated ideas for projects, only asked for more projects and additional activities beyond that.
What have your students taught you?
They taught me that every child has the potential to learn, and that every child understands concepts differently. As a child, I went to a traditional school with 30 students in a class. I was one of those students who was interactive with the teachers and tried to be actively involved in everything. There were a lot of other students who were a little shy; who were withdrawn. But that doesn't mean that they weren't capable of completing the subject as well as I did.
What I really like about the school is that each child has the opportunity to sit down with me individually because I get to see how they work and how they learn. It helps me understand how to approach them better. I've been at Bloom for a little over a year now, and I've basically been learning how to teach them this entire year.
For example, I asked my students to give me feedback because I really wanted them to tell me what they would like me to improve about the way I impart knowledge next year. Some told me that it was too easy for them, that it wasn't challenging enough. It made me realize that I should maybe initiate and encourage each child more. I really tried to animate students who are not so involved by making them participate in both group and individual projects.
I'm glad that I got the feedback that it was too easy for them - that everything went too smoothly and that they needed something more challenging. On the other hand, there were also students who found it difficult and who perhaps needed me to simplify the material some more. I was able to really break down and simplify the material for some students, which makes me very happy.
Some students need drawings; some need materials to be made for them, some need to be shown concrete examples. For example, when 5th grade students were learning the parts and functions of a flower, and I did the same lesson with them in several different ways - from group work to individual work. We started by coloring the various parts of the flower, then we made the material together, plasticizing all those parts so that they could then assemble them. Then they were each given a worksheet, after which I used the material we had made together with each student. Then we went outside and took flowers apart, naming each part one by one. Each child connected differently with each of these approaches.
Do you have a favorite memory from the past school year? There are so many! The year was really intense. One of the highlights was definitely this project with "Rivers Full of Stories". When I was planning for the coming school year in June 2022, I had planned to do a play related to Biology and Nature with students in grade five and six. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I needed to find time to sit down and figure out how to make it interesting. In the meantime, an acquaintance of mine published a children's book called "Rivers Full of Stories". Then the idea just came to me that I could use that book as inspiration and invite the authors to come to the play.
I didn't expect the children to be that enthusiastic about working on the play. They were all thinking about what they would wear to represent each river, etc... During the process, they learned a lot about river eco-systems; about the importance of these eco-systems; and about the animals that inhabit them and are found around the rivers. I was delighted with the speed with which they learned these things.
I prepared the text for them and said that we could adjust it or shorten it if it was too long or difficult for them to remember. But it went so smoothly. There was one girl who was having a hard time and wanted to give up because two of her friends told her that she would never be able to learn her text. When I heard this, I told her: "If I thought you couldn't do it, I wouldn't have given you the role. I would have told you that maybe we should try it next year. I firmly believe that you can learn it. And you don't have to learn everything - we will adjust it. I will practice with you."
When she told me what those girls told her, I also asked her if anyone had said that she could learn it, because I had heard a friend encouraging her. She told me that someone had. Then I said to her: "Please decide now to believe in the positive things and motivations in life, and to believe in yourself. Think about it: do you believe that you can do it? I think you can, and your friend thinks the same." With that she suddenly became radiant, and within two or three days she learned the text as it was written. I remember thinking after the play that even if everything else had failed, knowing the way this student was impacted by the project would have been enough for me.
This is the reason we do what we do. We all forget half the things we learned in school. What remains are the experiences we had. That stays with you for life.