31 January 2007

From the book by KC Cole

There were some really significant insights into the nature of science in the book "First You Build A Cloud" that I really liked. Here are a few:

"Right ideas are seeds that flower into righter ideas, whereas wrong ideas are often sterile and do not bear fruit. Once Newton got the right idea about gravity, he explained a great deal more than falling apples, or even the orbit of the moon. He tied together the universe with one cosmic force in a way that allowed later astronomers to understand the motions and masses of all the stars and planets." KC Cole when speaking about the rightness or wrongness of an idea in science.

"In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations." Einstein and Infeld, The Evolution of Physics

Grade Inflation/Relativity

Today I was having an interesting conversation with my wife, who is a teacher at the college level, about whether there is grade inflation or relative grading based on how much effort a student puts into their work. I was asking her if teachers grade based on behavior/effort. I mean, as a teacher, will I be one who gives students enough points to get them to a "C" even if their point average is not enough for that? I guess the conversation came as a result of my class taking a test today. During the test, I was watching several of the students and I could tell who was putting effort into the test and who was just marking answers on the scantron sheet. There were students who didn't even read the questions. These are the same kids who, during the review, had no idea what the answers were and sat with a blank look on their face when they were called on.
So, when the tests are graded, who gets points when they need help? I suppose the answer should be really easy, but I have a problem with the fact that ANYONE ever gets any points without earning them. On the other hand, aren't the kids who make an effort to study "earning" their grade even if you have to give them a point or two over what their actual raw score is? (Bear in mind I am not talking about giving a student with a 50% point average a "C" on their report card.)
Some of this question bears asking because I look at the student's grade reports and I wonder how so many kids are passing this class with the (lack of) effort they put out. There is one student who finished a 40 question test in about 7 minutes and had no idea what was happening during the review, yet he has a "B" in the class. This kid talks incessantly, never does work independently, nor does he do much other than distract others during class. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a student who is quiet, asks for help, turns work in on time without being pressured to do it and has a "D" in the class. So how is that fair? If the "D" student were my child, I would wonder what was going on (especially if I had knowledge of the "B" student's behavior problems).
In this class there is weighted grading, i.e. tests/projects are worth>quizzes and worksheets. This would seem to benefit the struggling students who never turn in work; however, that doesn't seem to be the case here. I wonder if the teacher gets pressure from the coaches to keep kids eligible for sports? Surely at this level there is not that kind of business going on. At a 6A high school? Sure, but not at a middle school! I just can't imagine. So what is the deal? I can't figure it out and I see the kids, the teacher, and the grades. It's a mystery to me!

29 January 2007

Day 4 and 5

Things seem to have settled down a little bit in the classroom. Maybe it's a day to day thing. I found that the students were much more amicable in class today. There is an interesting dynamic in the classroom, between the teacher and the students. I am learning, slowly (due to my innate thick-headedness) that maybe things are the way they are because the teacher has been with these kids for 5 months. I've only been there a few days. I need to be the one to back off and see where I can fit into the situation, instead of trying to make the situation fit me.
I have to see what strategies there are already in place in the classroom that I can adopt to fit where I see the class going. I realize, finally, that I cannot come in and "wreck shop" on these kids. I have to assimilate into the classroom, within the parameters already set up by the current teacher. That may actually be more difficult than having my own classroom. These kids are with this teacher until the end of the year; I am only around until spring break.
Relationships. I have to go back to that. I have adapted this one word as my philosophy of education. If I forget that, I am in big trouble. So, all of that to say this: I have to back off, reassess the situation and see where I can fit in. Without that, I will probably be without a good recommendation, without any knowledge gained from the experience, and at a loss when it comes to taking over the class. It's hard to put the brakes on and back up, but if you are not careful, you might just go over the edge.

25 January 2007

Day 3 at Cooper

Today was difficult. I actually was in front of the class for a little bit. Things went along rather smoothly in 2nd hour, but 5th hour is one I would like to get back and do over. The problem is that there are no "do overs" in teaching. Yes, I know, every day is a new day, but you can never take the day before back. I just have to keep moving and learn from my mistakes. I thought discipline would come easy to me, but it really does not. I let myself get sucked in to the "responding to every little thing they say" problem today. I constantly have to remind myself that is not necessary. I could do that on the bus, but there was no learning going on during the ride home! That's the difference! I can easily forget that.
Lord, give me the strength to go back into the classroom tomorrow. Help me to realize there are no second chances, but there is always another day. Jesus please help me to learn from my mistakes and not to fall into the same trap every day. Thank you for your love in my life and the way you are always there. It's nice to have someone to listen to me, even when I am not having a great day. Amen!
It's good talk about the good days, but it's probably more important to talk about the bad. This is my chosen profession and I need to learn all I can from my cooperating teacher, even if I disagree with her methods and content delivery. I must remind myself that I don't know it all, I really don't even know anything. This is as much a learning experience for me as it is for the kids.

24 January 2007

Second day at school...

Here it is the second day and already I feel as though I am beginning to settle into a routine. I made a seating chart of each period. That really will assist me in learning names of the kids. I really made some progress on that task today. I probably learned at least one third of the kids names. That makes me feel much better about beginning to form relationships with the kids.
There seem to be some issues with discipline in the classroom that I may have to address at some time later.

Okay, I am so frustrated with Cox Internet! I will have to try to write some more later. I am too mad to speak right now.

23 January 2007

My first day at school

Today was my first day at Cooper Middle School; the beginning of my first student teaching assignment. It was a great first day! I learned about zero kid's names (give me a break there are 90 or more), I already know who my special kids will be (those requiring more attention than others), and I met about 20 teachers who all expect me to remember their names, too. On top of that, when I went out to my car to leave school, it would not start! It might just be the starter, but it could be more serious. In all seriousness, it really was a good day.
Today was so much different than all of the observations I have done. First, I was there all day; that was different because I got to see what a day in the life of a teacher is actually like. I think I was most surprised at how much "free time" they have. Now I know it's not really free time, but it is time to plan, grade, gather your thoughts, and think about what you might have done differently during the last hour.
I am very impressed with my cooperating teacher; she seems to really have it all together. She is a seventh grade teacher and has been teaching for more than 5 years. She has her national board certification and she is very patient with the kids. In fact, I probably should pay close attention to how she handles the kids in class. I think she is less strict than I am and that is not necessarily a bad thing. I tend to be quite demanding of kids when it comes to classroom behavior and I may have to ease up or go insane.
I felt like I had the subject matter in hand better than I thought I would. We are working on genetics and I think I could have taught the lesson after the first or second hour. Mrs. N. told me there will be occasions when I am unfamiliar with the subject matter and in that case I will just have to learn along with the students. The advantage is I have the book! With all of the answers even! Pretty cool!
I am excited to be in class with a few students with which I am already familiar. There are one or two in each class who have ridden my bus in the past. Knowing some of their background will enable me to better understand who they are as a person and what they might require as a student. Many of the kids at this school come from below poverty level socio-economic status. This affects all areas of their life, especially school. Most have no support from parents, so all work has to be done at school. I really have a heart for these kids and hope I can make a difference in their lives.

22 January 2007

Conferences as an undergrad, what's in it for me?

My first experience attending a professional conference happened in December, during the last week of the Fall semester. I missed class on Friday, but the experience was well worth the absence.
Let's rewind to December 2005 for a minute; Professor Mark Winslow, my university advisor, called me and asked if I would be interested in going to Salt Lake City, Utah for the National Science Teachers Association regional conference the following year. As any normal college student would, I replied with "Of course! But what is it going to cost?" So Prof. Winslow outlined his plan in which we would apply for a grant to pay my way, with the condition that I give a presentation at the conference. My first thought was, "What information do I have that would be useful to people who are already teachers?" He went on to relate just what we would talk about and convinced me this was a good idea, even though I remained skeptical.
So he submitted our proposal, we applied for the grant, and we finalized our travel plans. Before I knew it I was helping Prof. Winslow adapt a lab manual he had written to fit a free planetarium software. Unless you are registered as a vendor, the NSTA frowns on pushing a product during your presentation, hence our choice of a free software program.
He had written a manual to go along with Starry Night and we adapted this manual to fit Stellarium. Both programs are useful in assisting educators with observing opportunities when the weather does not want to cooperate. If it's cloudy outside, just fire up Stellarium and you can look at the sky on your computer. Teachers usually find observing difficult unless there are a number of telescopes for students to look through; these planetarium programs make it much easier to keep students engaged in the learning process by limiting the number of "telescopes" only to the number of computer monitors in their lab.
While I was at the conference Professor Winslow and I showed 65 teachers how they could use Stellarium in their classrooms and teach the "nature of science" to their students.
I was amazed at the receptivity of the teachers. Several educators told me how useful they felt this would be in their classrooms and that they would be "putting the materials to good use immediately". This was an enormous encouragement to me. Not only had I experienced professional growth, I had an effect on others that would trickle down to their students.
The entire trip was a great development opportunity for me. I worked on my public speaking skills,
I was able to attend several other presentations in which I got materials for use in my classroom, and I was able to visit with other pre-service and new teachers who have some of the same fears I have. We were able to encourage each other based on our own experiences.
I highly recommend attendance at a professional conference, if the opportunity presents itself. At the very least, when you get into the your chosen profession and are required to get professional development, try and convince your administrators to send you to a conference, even if you cannot give a presentation. National conferences are preferable, but regional conferences give ample possibilities for enrichment, too. Talk to your university advisor to see if there are conferences in your discipline that would fit your budget and schedule. If attendance at a conference or workshop is cost prohibitive, look for scholarship opportunities; they are available but may sometimes be difficult to find.

The first day back to school

It's the first day back to school for Putnam City, yet I am still at home. We were told to give the teachers one day back with their students before we invade their classroom. So here I sit. Good thing, too; I have much to do in Ministry, Church, & Society.
Snow is still on the ground here but the powers that be decided it was safe to go to school. We will see if the bus drivers can maintain their perfect driving record they had on the last day we were in school.
My kids were not really happy about going back to class, but I think it is preferable to losing their spring break.

18 January 2007


Let me begin by giving you some insight into what is required for your during student teaching seminar concerning Ministry, Church, & Society. The teacher candidate must spend 14 total hours with someone from the Dept of Religion and Theology. No big deal right? Let's continue: the candidate must also submit a proposal in which they describe how they plan to spend 8 hours at a church ministry or compassionate ministry. At the end of the semester they will submit a 5-6 page "reflection paper" about this project. Meanwhile, you must become involved in a local church every week and submit 12 "reflections" about that throughout the semester. The candidate must also submit a 6-9 page paper about The Universe Next Door and a 5-6 page paper about the Christian Teacher in the Public School. Now alone, this is really not that much work; but in the context of actually learning your job that you plan to do for the rest of your life? It seems like an inordinate amount of work to me.
I may sound like I am griping about petty little stuff, but from this side of student teaching I believe I am about to enter a semester that has the steepest learning curve of any previous one. The problem I have with this is that the curriculum in the School of Ed is designed so that you must do this during student teaching. Why not give this as an option in an earlier semester? I would have taken MCS long ago had I realized this was what was coming. Why not prepare your teacher candidates ahead of time? My advisor spoke with someone about this and their response was "Just have them take MCS before student teaching". NOW you tell me? Come on, why did I not know this 2 semesters ago? The entire purpose of this is to "convince" us to adapt regular church attendance as a lifestyle. I am almost 38 years old! If I haven't adapted this lifestyle by now, the likelihood of me doing so is extremely slim. That being said, I must tell you that I am on staff at a local church as the co-director of College Ministry. So just what am I supposed to get from this experience. I would much rather focus on my teaching right now and really learn how to do it and do it well, rather than add all of this other extraneous business into the experience.
Student teaching, in my opinion, is the most crucial semester for a teacher candidate. Its where you learn how to "make the rubber meet the road". Why cloud that with tons of writing? I mean, I am going to go to church whether they make me do it or not. I understand the point of MCS for a student who is still learning their place in God's kingdom, but the School of Ed should not design the professional semester so that the candidate has more stress than they should at such a critical time in their lives. Don't you think a young person would be more likely to get in church and stay in church if they took this class during an easy semester? I do, but then I am not a PhD who has a say so in the design of the School of Ed, so what do I know?

17 January 2007

Some reflective thoughts

Today, I had a second interview in a study on "Religion and Evolution: How do I, as a Christian, let the two live together in my brain?" Basically, my advisor is working on his PhD. and is interviewing people to find out about their views on God and Science. Sounds right up my alley, right? Well, sort of it is, but I don't consider myself a biologist, so it's not. I do however consider myself interested in cosmology, so it is. I won't go into my views right now, but suffice to say the first interview of the study was difficult. Winslow asked me some very pointed questions about my life and people who have influenced the person that I am. Well, those people don't all have a great relationship with me or persons of my immediate family and it was hard to talk about those relationships. The great thing was that it was very therapeutic for me. I felt totally free to talk with him because there was a certain sense of confidentiality to all of it. (and here I am airing my dirty laundry on the web!). Anyway, it was like going to counseling and talking to someone who just let me talk. He didn't pass judgement on me (I do that well enough myself), nor did he let on if he thought I was wrong about a particular relationship; he simply listened and let me ramble. I never knew just how great something like that could feel. It was like I had open the innermost parts of my soul and let someone see inside for a minute or two (more like three hours). I talked about things I haven't spoken of or thought about in years. I learned as much about myself as the interviewer did.

So all of that to say, "if you have issues in your life that you have repressed for a while, you would be surprised to find that it might be a good thing to talk about those things with someone". It worked for me!

16 January 2007


Wow, what a day. We looked at this, looked at that, had stuff read to us. (don't they know we can read?) I have only been in seminar for one day and already I can't wait for it to be over. I am, in some ways, ready to go ahead and get on to the classroom so I can begin to learn how to be a teacher. I found out that I will NOT be at the same middle school with my children, but will instead be at the one I requested, where by bus kids are. I am so thankful to be going there. I love the kids from Lyrewood Lane that I used to drive on the bus. They have their bad days, but then so do I. We have established some good really good relationships and I feel obligated to spend some time away from the bus with them. How else can I possibly do that without student teaching? I suppose there are some ways, but this is certainly a convenient way to get to know them better. Who knows? I may actually teach some of these kids in high school...

11 January 2007

I missed comet mcnaught

Last night, while up at the school, one of my professors and I decided to try to see the comet I have mentioned earlier. So we go and find the security guard so we can get on the roof of the science building on campus (gotta have a clear, unobstructed view of the horizon) and when we get up there, what do we see? Clouds! Only on the western horizon! So I was really bummed out about that since this is supposed to be the brightest comet in the last 30 years or so. I saw Hale-Bopp back in '97 but I missed this one all together. I guess I will just have to enjoy it in pictures. By the way, if you are in the southern hemisphere, once the comet gets to the other side of the Sun, you may be able to see it, even in daylight!
I was hoping to take a picture or two of the comet, but so far I haven't even seen it. People used to think comets were messengers of doom, maybe this one just has nothing to say to me.

09 January 2007

Student Teaching coming up soon!

In the next few weeks I will begin the journey known as student teaching. I am terrified and excited all at the same time. Now you may wonder...why would he be terrified AND excited? Well I have taught on a limited basis so the nervousness of getting up in front of a group is pretty much gone. However, I am still concerned about my subject area knowledge. I mean what if I get up and tell them the wrong thing? What if I teach them wrong information? Now I know, you may be saying "Well, everyone is nervous about that their first year." So! I don't care about anyone else! I only am concerned with MY feelings right now. As I get into this adventure and start learning exactly HOW to teach, I will share some of my experiences and feelings here. Maybe someone who is getting ready to go through the same things I am going through now will be able to learn something from this little view into my life.

If you are encouraged, or disagree, or like something I say, or just want to say hello, please feel free to comment on anything I have said or made you think about.
Image courtesy of Jens Hackmann, see the original here

08 January 2007

How small are we?

Do you ever feel really insignificant? I do. I am going out with the telescope tonight. Anytime I do that I get the sense that I am a very minor part in the universe. It is so expansive and huge. Even the scale of the solar system boggles my mind, no less the vastness of the universe. It never ceases to amaze me that God, with all He has to do (i.e. take care of the entire everything) has time to care at all about what I am "bothering" Him with. He can take time out away from running the cosmos to listen to me ask for help with my problems. More than that, I am amazed at how He lives within my praise to Him. I am only one person (of billions), on one planet (of possibly millions of billions), in one solar system (among billions), in one galaxy... well you get the picture. I heard a statistic once that there are about 200 billion galaxies, in which there are about 200 billion stars (read possible solar systems here) in each one of those galaxies. Each one of those stars could have numerous planets and each planet could have a civilization on it. God must be really big to be able to take care of all of those possible people at once. It simply reinforces the belief that God is bigger than all of my problems and shortcomings. Pretty amazing...

photo courtesy of apod

07 January 2007

Get out your telescopes!

If you have binoculars or a small telescope and are far enough north, you should be able to view this visitor to our part of the solar system....

Unfortunately I have been unable to see it so far, as I am in Oklahoma and it is too close to the sun from my vantage point.

BRIGHTENING COMET: Comet McNaught is plunging toward the sun and brightening dramatically. It is now visible to the unaided eye both at sunset and at dawn. Amateur photographers have found that they can take pictures of the comet using off-the-shelf digital cameras with exposure times less than a second. Estimated visual magnitude: between 0 and -1. To see Comet McNaught, a clear view of the horizon is essential. In the morning, go outside and face east. The comet emerges just ahead of the rising sun. In the evening, face the other way--west. The comet pops out of the western twilight as soon as the sun sets. Binoculars reveal a pretty, gaseous tail. Northern observers are favored. The long, dark mornings and evenings of Canada, Scandinavia and Alaska are ideal for viewing this comet so close to the Sun. But the comet has been sighted in other places, too, as far south as Kansas in the United States and Italy in Europe.

Please visit http://spaceweather.com/ for photos, finder charts, and more information.

adapted from space weather news
photo by Alan Dyer, Alberta Canada