Biology teacher with viral videos looks to inspire critical thinking in his students

While he may have reached viral stardom over the summer for his Keurig impression, Devon Bowker is much more interested in science and nature.

The St. Cloud State University alumnus and Apollo High School biology teacher said that eight times out of 10, the content he shares on TikTok is science-related. However, it’s random one-off topics like the coffeemaker impression or a critique of Starbucks’ cake pops design that tend to get more attention.

“Hey, you know I do some science stuff, too, right?” Bowker joked. “I give up understanding the algorithm.”

Still, the viral videos have led quite a few people to reach out to Bowker after they stumbled onto his page because of the Keurig impression, only to realize he has other videos — such as ones about frogs, fireflies and why hippos don’t get sunburn. He said the app has helped create a secondary avenue for science communication. The videos have also reached some of his students.

“Sometimes it’s like tricking kids — they see that vertical format and the familiar filters and stuff, and maybe it catches their attention a little bit more,” Bowker said. “Before you know it, they’re like, ‘I saw that video — when can we do that demo in class?’ Or, ‘Wait, can you show me how you did that thing with the invisibility cloak with the oil?’ It kind of spurs this outside interest that can lead into other things in class.”

In his fifth year of teaching overall, Bowker is now in his second year of focusing on biology full-time in the classroom. He previously juggled the subject alongside physics, physical science and geometry.

“That’s been really nice because that’s kind of my heart right there,” he said of biology.

Devon BowkerAfter earning his bachelor’s in biology in 2016 and life science education in 2019 from SCSU, Bowker worked in naturalist programs helping with camps and hikes. He also worked in wolf conservation, conducting public outreach and working on education initiatives. It’s what helped him realize he wanted to teach.

“It’s that educational experience — seeing the light in people’s eyes when they have that curiosity reignited and they’re suddenly fascinated by something,” he said. “I want to chase that. I want to see how much I can spur that in people and maybe have a part in making some people’s futures brighter.”

Bowker entered the world of teaching in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and changed the landscape. When he noticed some of his students starting to worry about what was going on in the world and growing concerned as more information and data was being reported, Bowker had his class take a week-long break from traditional science education. Instead, he talked to his students about the initial panic surrounding the “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast in 1938, communications in science, the importance of staying level-headed, and information about the coronavirus. He said the discussions seemed to help assuage some of his students’ concerns, and some of them were able to comfort their own families and friends with what they learned in class. It also helped with the transition into distance learning, which challenged both Bowker and his students to keep communicating as they weathered the pandemic.

“It helped me to better understand my job as a teacher as not just delivering content, but also being that emotional support system at times,” he said. “The technology piece really pushed the envelope on what I thought was possible with teaching, and it forced me to be really creative with the things I was doing. A lot of the stuff I developed during that time I still use.”

In addition to some of the technology employed during and since the height of the pandemic, Bowker spent his summer researching and looking into the rise of artificial intelligence. He said AI presents a challenge to teachers to think of ways to embrace it and educate others about it, while tying into critical thinking and deduction skills with the rise of deepfake technology and other manipulations in tech.

While biology is the subject he teaches, Bowker said it acts as the vessel for the other lessons he hopes to pass on to his students.

“Whether or not a student graduates and remembers that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell — that’s the least-concerning thing to me,” he said. “My impact that I hope to have is that they walk away having faith and trust in themselves to be able to think and reason and to navigate the world through a lens that is curious but also questioning, and that they can critically think. They can explore and ask questions and they can take risks — those are the things that I think will take them everywhere else.”

Bowker hopes to give his students the foundation he received at St. Cloud State.

“I loved the diversity of the community. I felt like I just learned so much; I felt so humbled about my place in the world and my own experiences in learning about other people’s experiences from other parts of the world,” he said. “I feel like that’s set me up tremendously to be a better teacher because I had those experiences and being involved in stuff like I was. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”

Nothing makes him more proud than when a former student reaches back out to Bowker to bring up a conversation they had in class or a lesson that has since come up again. He finds himself reaching out to his former professors, and said it’s one of the best parts of being a teacher.

“The difficult part about teaching is the kids leave every year, and you don’t know if they remember anything. You don’t know if anything stuck, you don’t know if you had an impact,” he said. “They’re just kind of gone, and you have to hope that maybe you planted some seeds that will grow somewhere down the line.”

For those considering or about to enter the teaching profession, Bowker said to take care and to keep an open mind about what they may experience. Communication is key, and science and the education field as a whole have not been immune to the rise of misinformation and miscommunication.

“There’s a certain reckoning that happens when you get out into the field. You have your idealistic views of how science should work and funding of science and belief in science and how the public will perceive your science — you have that idea and then you go out into the world and it doesn’t quite match that. You cannot let that dishearten you,” Bowker said. “You have to use that as fuel for saying ‘How can I find — not necessarily better — but different ways of communicating my work? How can I communicate my work to the general public that doesn’t make them feel like I’m talking down to them or that I’m treating them as a receptacle of information? How can I make science conversational, approachable, accessible; how do I get other people involved?’ Because that has been the biggest struggle in science for the last gosh-knows how long, is that disconnect between the people doing the work and everyone else.

“How do you bridge that gap? I think now more than ever, going into the real world with an emphasis on how do I communicate my work, what I’m doing, its importance and why it matters to any audience — that’s probably the most significant part of your job.”



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