29 September 2009

Reflection on Week 6 Teaching

In my class we contribute to a wiki, http://thescienceclassroom.wikispaces.com. I introduce this to students, not as a research paper, but as a website creation. I have found that students are much more willing to produce good, academic writing if they are putting it on the web, rather than simply writing for the teacher to see.  I talk a lot in the introduction about writing to an audience. When I show them how many people have visited our wiki in the last year and their locations, they are very interested in writing for someone who is on the other side of the world. This project literally lets students write to a global audience.
Another part of this project is the use of social media during the project, specifically social bookmarking. We use a site called http://delicious.com which allows students to set up an account and a network of peers (and me) through which they can share their bookmarks. This allows students to easily share website which may be useful to their peers (synthesis). It also allows me to see what resources they are bookmarking so I can keep an eye on their resources. I will look at their sources and visit with them individually about the (lack of) validity. Students really enjoy the social aspect of this and are more willing to share resources, whereas they wouldn’t normally make a point to give someone a website address if they were “doing this type of research the old way”, i.e. without social bookmarking. We have developed a specific tag for our bookmarks: “pcwiki”, which is attached to every bookmark and makes it easily searchable for this research project.
I am doing this much differently than I did last year. I found that on the first day of the project, I tried to give them too much information. Previously, I introduced the wiki, had them set up a wiki account, introduced social bookmarking, had them setup a delicious account, introduced research and had them start looking for a person/topic to research.
Today, we spent more time on social bookmarking. We talked extensively about Wikipedia and whether or not it is useful, both as a primary and secondary source. I shared the analogy (via @mishelleyb) of using it like a Reference Librarian: it’s a good place to start, but not something/someone you would cite in your paper. It has a lot of good information, but probably not enough to be detailed/in depth about your subject.
I didn’t even let them do any creation on the wiki. It is just too much to take in on one day. They get overwhelmed and discouraged and that’s not a good way to start a project. Thinking about today, every class was engaged, they kept up with me on the creation of an account, and I didn’t have to say anything to anyone about being on a site they shouldn’t be on. This is huge! Normally, the very first thing many students do is find a proxy server and go to http://myspace.com which is a major no-no in my class (and in the whole district, for that matter).
I am assessing my students by checking that they are actually setting up an account and beginning to contribute to the wiki. I grade their writing for content, grammar, and style. They are instructed to consider their audience when writing. I require them to do one section of the wiki each week (introduction, insight and influence, major contributions, etc.) and encourage them not to look at the entire project. I try to get them to focus on small pieces of the pie, not the entire pie.
This is only the second time I have had students work on this project. I taught this lesson 3 times today and didn’t change anything from 1st block through 3rd block. It works well and I feel I have found my grove on this particular project.

28 September 2009

Last Friday on NPR

I got the opportunity to listen to the webcast of last Friday's SciFri which was specifically about science education. There was a teacher named Susan Baker who uses blogs in her classroom which is what initially caught my eye. I found it through the NSTA website. I thought you might find it interesting.

17 September 2009

I was interviewed for the Yearbook

Below is an excerpt from an interview I did about how I assign projects in my class. I am different than other teachers in my school. I use a lot of technology, especially when it comes to projects for students.

When I assign projects, I use my discussion board http://tinyurl.com/bowies-board and have students sign up for the person/subject area. This way, there is no favoritism, no arguing, and no discussion about who gets what. It’s a first come, first served basis, so you have to be “on the ball” to get the person in which you are interested.

When we do a research project, students turn nothing in to me. We do it paperless. All students in my classes learn to contribute to a wiki. Each student, after choosing a person or subject area, creates a page in our class wiki and begins to add to that page. They add information, pictures, and videos. Whatever they want to make it their own. I encourage information synthesis. This is the process in which students research and choose information they feel is important, run it through their “worldview filter”, and put it on their wiki page. The address for our classroom wiki is http://thescienceclassroom.wikispaces.com. I have gotten a really good response from students on this project. We work on it for about 6 weeks, one day a week, with the rest of the work time done as homework, on their own.

I always request that students use technology when doing presentations. I have told them “I don’t come in and present information to you with a piece of cardboard, so you shouldn’t either”. I want students to recognize that the use of technology is required in college, so they need to start using it now. They will also encounter many different forms of technology when they finally get into their career, so the earlier they learn to use it, the better!

10 September 2009

Who knew Science was so dangerous? (aka my 100th post)

I think its very appropriate this post is the 100th to make to my blog. So, without delay, let's get to what I want to share: a day in the life of Bowie's Physics classes.

my trip to the ERToday was a crazy day. It started out like any other. I was able to remember that I had duty, so I went down there and "did my duty", literally.  First block went of without a hitch. We covered some homework and then proceeded to an activity I learned at an AP conference. Students stand one meter apart, stopwatches in hand, while another student (or myself) walks/runs/jogs past. Since they have all started their stopwatches at the same time, they stop their watch when I pass them. We use this data to make a graph of position vs. time. We interpolate and extrapolate. We find the slope of the line, which just happens to be the velocity. I show them how you can have a negative velocity. Literally, the activity is everything that is right about physics. Unless, of course, something goes wrong.

Like today, during second block. Things went horribly wrong. I changed things up a bit. Problem  #1: we did the activity inside, normally we do this outside, like we did in 1st block. Problem  #2: I was the person doing the walking/running/jogging, normally a student or two are the ones doing the running/walking/jogging (I'm no spring chicken anymore). Problem #3: I was wearing my most comfortable shoes, which also happen to be the worst shoes in which to run. Note to self: either wear your running shoes, or wear a helmet next time!

Trials 1-4: I walked, I jogged, I walked really slow, I walked backwards (negative velocity). Everything was fine. Trial 5: I decided to move at a variable velocity by starting at a walk, increasing to a run, then slowing back to a walk. And then it happened: I ran out of room when I got to the part where I should have been slowing to a walk. I put the brakes on and started to stumble. I had no more breaks, lost all control, and fell. My only thought was, "Hmmmm, there's the greenhouse (made of metal and glass) right in front of me. I'm going to go straight through the glass. This is going to be really bad." I went down and negatively accelerated my head in a very short amount of time, thereby splitting the back of my ear open. I immediately said a few words, which were hopefully not heard by my students, and  got up to sit on the bench in front of the greenhouse. I realized later this was the same bench that just a second ago was in contact with my ribs. I put my hand to the side of my head and thought, "Okay, this isn't that bad. But boy does this hurt!"

I looked up at my students and said, "Why don't we just skip Trial 6?" I looked down at my hand, upon removing it from the side of my head and realized I might have a couple of small cuts there, since I noticed some blood, but not an enormous amount. No problem. "Could someone get me some tissue?" Strangely enough, only one or two students were actually moving. (I think they were stunned that I was that clumsy.) Tissue arrives.

We returned to the classroom, I got them started entering their data into the excel spreadsheet. Standard operating procedure for this activity. I walked over to the stunned look of my department head and asked would he mind keeping an eye on my class while I walked to the nurse to get a band-aid on these little cuts on my ear. Of course, that was after an abbreviated description of what had just transpired. I look in on my students and said, "I'll be back in a little bit. Mr. Stark is across the hall if you need someone."

I proceed to the nurse's office, all the while noticing there is now a considerable amount of blood on my tissue. Concern begins to set in. I arrived, again to the stunned look of the school nurse. I explain. She says, "Let me see!" I remove my hand and she informs me that I have a "gaping hole back here". I immediately go into shock. I begin to sweat. The color, all of the color, leaves my face. I don't feel so well. I lay down. She recommends that I go to an after hours clinic. Then, upon further inspection and a pupil exam, she thinks I may need to go to the emergency room. I really begin to panic a bit. I show panic by the above listed symptoms. My symptoms increase, which does nothing to alleviate my panic (or my symptoms).

Michelle (my wonderful and amazing wife) decides to come take me when the word ER is mentioned. Initially, Jessica (my exceptional daughter) was going to drive me. We decide against that. I talk the nurse. It is worth mentioning that Michelle is on pain killers for some dental work which she had done yesterday. She may be over the legal limit as far as narcotics and driving goes. We're not really sure and frankly don't want to know.

By this point, I have talked the nurse out of calling an ambulance. She rolls me out to the student pick-up area in the wheelchair. My symptoms begin to resurface as they had subsided after laying down for a bit. I feel worse. I really begin to feel terrible. I tell my caretakers, the nurse and Teri Voss (an asst. principal) that, "I'm just going lay down here on the ground". In front of the school. On the concrete. Is that weird? As I begin to get to the ground (on all fours) Michelle rounds the corner to pick me up. I'm sure her first thought upon seeing my condition, head wrapped bandage and all, was "Oh Lord! He's practically dying. I'm just in time to say goodbye!"

To make a long story (somewhat) short, we get to the hospital. The doctor reassures me that I do not have a nasty head trauma and that I will be fine. I just need, oh about 15 stitches. Yes. From the top of my ear to the bottom, I am stitched. My ER experience was quite jovial, once I realized I wasn't going to die or forget who Michelle is (at least not anytime soon). I twittered while there. I even twitpic'ed.

The doctor and nurses were very understanding and made my time almost enjoyable. It takes an amazing person to do their job. Next time you talk to a doctor or a nurse, thank them for me. After all, someone has to pick up the pieces after we are done doing dangerous science!

Update: Breaking Video!

I was able to get some video of my accident. Enjoy!

08 September 2009

MACI Week 2 (Schmoker, 5-7)

I was particularly struck by the words of Mr. Schmoker about "higher order literacy demands" (which are in fact the words of literacy expert Richard Allington of the International Reading Association): the information age,

"places higher-order literacy demands on all of us ... these demands include synthesizing and evaluating information from multiple sources. American schools need to enhance the ability of children to search and sort through information, to synthesize and analyze the information they encounter. (2001, p.7)"

Wow! That sounds exactly like what I am doing with my students in class for a wiki project. I talk specifically about the synthesis of information. I let the students decide exactly what they think is important. I encourage them to fill their page with whatever they deem useful information about their physicist. They enjoy having the control over their assignment. It seems to give them ownership.

Students in today's age are given so much information they have to sift through and pick out the parts that are important/useful to them.  "Multiple Sources" indeed! Students must learn and understand what a "good source" is. They have to learn to discern useful information and sift out the chaff (see last week's post).

The major problem in today's society, especially where technology is concerned (how can you contribute to a wiki if you don't have access to the internet or even, in some cases a computer?) are the haves and the have-nots. I run into this in my classroom. Solution? Use the district supplied laptop labs or the wired desktop labs. We have begun to open our library up to students in the evening (one night a week) for students who need to work on this type of project. Also, I can't walk into the Warr Acres Public Library without seeing a student of mine in there on a computer. These are the "have-nots" mentioned above. Notice, though, they are finding ways to get access so they can finish the assignments, likely because they feel it is relevant to their lives. They feel they are beginning to have a voice and they are beginning to speak to an audience outside of the classroom.

I haven't even begun to address the fact that we are writing in an applied math/science class. Writing? That's the last thing students think they are going to do in my class. In many students, I have seen an improvement in their writing skills from the beginning of a semester to the end. Is that entirely due to my class? I seriously doubt it. But, hopefully I am contributing to their success, their "discovery of voice", the development of their higher-order writing skills.

The author talks about "Authentic Literacy". I love the quote:

"Writing is the litmus paper of thought ... the very center of schooling." - Ted Sizer

As I stated before, this is why all teachers must have students write. If students are writing, they are thinking. Strengthening that link between verbal and written communication is vital to having students actually write at the "higher level", as mentioned above.

Honestly, in my classroom, I don't get too wound up about where students are in their writing skills. I don't see that in my job description. I'm not prepared to teach a student to write. What I can do, however, is try to assign thought provoking writing which is relevant to the topic which we are discussing. This will help to increase their skill. That is part of my job. All teachers bear a responsibility to students to help further their writing skills.

Personally, I use writing as a way to learn. When I did my summer research, I wrote almost every day about what I was learning. It helped to get that information into my mind. It increased my academic vocabulary in physics. I now have a way to go back and see what I did. I now a wealth of information which I can use as a reference since everyday I had some lecture and some practical application or analysis of that knowledge. If I learned one thing this summer, it was the benefit of writing, just for personal gratification.

01 September 2009

MACI week 1

We are reading Mike Schmoker's "Results Now". I must admit, I felt like I was being forced to drink the "education Kool-Aid" and was worried that I might die. After reading the first 1/3 of the book though, I gotta tell you, I'm a convert. It seems a little far fetched that the change can happen so "easily" with the ideas the author has, but I agree: administrative leadership, curricular alignment, peer learning communities, and teacher accountability are the factors that will guarantee student learning is occurring. And if learning is occurring, it will show in test scores and we all know that is where the rubber meets the road as far as the federal government is concerned. (Thanks a lot President Bush)

Mr. Schmoker talks alot about the "buffer". That imaginary wall that is up. Its a wall between administrators and teachers. Its a wall between teachers and their colleagues. Its a wall between students and teachers. Its a wall that must come down. Teachers need to be transparent. If we aren't transparent, how can we know if we are being effective? How can our administration know what we need? How can you communicate with parents effectively if you aren't even communicating effectively with their child? Transparency! Open yourself up. Open up to criticism. Open up to praise. Open up to collaboration with your peers. Do whatever it takes to foster a sense of community in your classroom with students, in your department with colleagues, and in your building with your administrators.

I admit: I feel the need to justify whatever it is that I am doing in class when an administrator come into my classroom. Why do I do it? I have no idea. I am still new enough that I feel like I'm being checked on whenever "they" come in. In reality, "they" are usually just checking on a student or making me aware of some situation involving a student. My goal: work on that. Allow administrators to come in and (me) not feel intimidated by their presence. Get. Over. Yourself.

While I may have some reservations about the program (MACI), I can see that it can't help but make me a better educator. And that's the goal here, isn't it?