31 December 2010

2010 in review

2010 was a really good year in the Science Classroom. We integrated technology even more than before and I grew a lot in my practice.

We spent quite a bit of time working on the textbook over at the Science Classroom Wiki. Students produced some great products and we even got some AP students to peer edit. I think this was a really good opportunity for all students to learn from each other.

Students created some presentations as a part of learning and they can be found here. This was one of my first forays into GoogleDocs and we haven't looked back since. This blossomed into a more recent adventure wherein students created the lecture notes we used in class. Students have taken the integration of GoogleDocs in our classroom to a new level, they have started using them in other classes, they share documents with me instead of turning papers in, they collaborate together on note-taking, and the list goes on and on.

Spending time in GoogleDocs in the classroom resulted in the creation of a presentation I gave to the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association called Google Will Change Your Life. (I'll also be giving this presentation to the Oklahoma Technology Association at their annual conference). I gave a presentation about Wikis, Blogs, and Discussion Boards with one of my colleagues to OTA back in February. Giving presentations has been an enriching experience and I've made a ton of contacts as a result. It has certainly increased the number of people in my Peer Learning Network.

Putnam City High changed over from a 4 block day to a 7 period day and there have been some pains involved (as usual) with the change. I personally have really enjoyed it but it has taken some getting used to. Students have had to learn how to get to class on time in spite of the fact that they now have nearly twice as many opportunities to be late. Teachers (especially those of us in science) have had to redo our curriculum while keeping labs as a part of our classes. This has certainly been a challenge. For whatever reason, it has been easier for me to add labs.

At the beginning of this school year, I decided it might be a good idea to toss my Lesson Plan book into the trash (figuratively not literally, Janie if you are reading this, don't freak out) and start putting my curriculum online. I created a Google Site and started organizing my curriculum to include every component required on our Lesson Plan forms. I really like having it online since I can access it from any computer that has an internet connection and requires no programs. I've even started including a link to each of my assessments since they have all been given online and are self-graded as a Google Form. Students have reacted positively to online tests and really like the timely-ness of the feedback I can give since they are graded before they walk out of the room. The online curriculum will be what everyone is doing in the near future, so I just thought I'd be a trend-setter and set the bar instead of trying to reach it!

I've been working on my Master's in Education and that has affected a lot of what I do in the classroom and has certainly changed my outlook on who I am as an educator and the confidence or lack of it that I have in myself. Everything I have learned through this program has been seen through the eyes of technology. This degree program has caused me to consider going beyond the Master's and look at a terminal degree. That's something I never thought I would do and certainly not something I thought I was capable of doing. Of course, I suppose that outcome remains to be seen since I haven't picked a school (or program)!

Finally, I just registered the domain jodybowie.com to make it easier for my students to access our classroom website. I think students will be more likely to use the site if they can access it easily. I'm working hard to make our website useful to students. One of my goals for this next year is to begin doing video capture of my lectures and embedding this for students who either miss class or need extra time to study.

So, this past year has been a year of growth for me. Has everything been positive? Probably not. Have I been more effective in my practice. I hope so. Have I solved all of the problems in my classroom? Definitely not. However, I think I have learned to engage students more effectively and that's certainly a big part of the battle. What kinds of things have you tried this year? What kinds of things will you be trying in the coming year? I've learned this year I don't have the answers to being the perfect teacher, but I have learned that if I ever stop trying to learn something new, I'll definitely never be the perfect teacher.

I think 2011 is going to have even more opportunity for growth. I surely hope so.

16 December 2010

Proposition 2 - Knowing your Stuff and how to teach it

Proposition 2: Teachers Know the Subjects They Teach and How to Teach Those Subjects to Students.

  • NBCTs have mastery over the subject(s) they teach. They have a deep understanding of the history, structure and real-world applications of the subject.

  • They have skill and experience in teaching it, and they are very familiar with the skills gaps and preconceptions students may bring to the subject.

  • They are able to use diverse instructional strategies to teach for understanding.

First of all, let's get this straight. There's no way I can be National Board Certified. I mean, my subject is Physics: the Study of How the Universe works. Some things in science are unknowable and Physics is one of those things. Of course, I am using a bit of hyperbole. There are some parts of Physics that I can know, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to say "I know Physics." The fantastic part about this subject is there are all kinds of new things being discovered on an almost daily basis, so there will always be something to learn.

So let's get real. I am learning new concepts of my subject everyday. I am much further along than I was when I began teaching 4 short years ago. I spend a significant amount of time thinking about Physics and I encourage students to do the same. I try to challenge them to think deep thoughts and you don't have to look very far in Physics to find fodder for deep thinking. I have spent some time doing actual Physics research, specifically on particle Physics. It was a 6 week project and the amount of information I learned was invaluable. I've been able to use the knowledge I obtained to show the true nature of science and teach students how science actually works. Often, students come into my class thinking there is a "right answer" and this is a misconception I try to dispel as soon as possible.

But wait! There is some salvation in the first bullet point! After teaching for 4 years and digging a little deeper each year, I am finally beginning to wrap my brain around why physicists do the things they do. I am starting to understand the reason physicists think the way the way they do. It hasn't been an easy road and I've got miles to go before I sleep.

I recently read a quote by Henri Poincare' that sums scientific thought up: "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful." This is exactly the kind of thought I try to get students thinking in class.

Oh Lord, from Feast to Famine in bullet number two! We go from the goodies of history and relevancy to the utter despair of student misconceptions. I really appreciate that NBPTS had the wisdom to mention experience and its importance when thinking about teaching. If one is an effective educator, experience will make them a master teacher. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "I've arrived" or "I know it all" because I surely do not! However, I think I have gained some great experience over the last few years simply by encountering more and more students and hearing more and more misconceptions and ideas.

The last point has to be the most difficult for me. I recognize that I am a person who really, really enjoys routine. I used to be a bus driver and I thrived on doing the same thing every single day. Even though this is good for me, I do recognize that teaching every lesson the exact same way is not conducive to keeping students engaged.

It has really been a struggle to do this for me and is definitely the part of this proposition that I must work on the hardest. However, this has really brought about a passion for me: technology. I use technology in my classroom to differentiate instruction and to increase student engagement. My issue with this proposition will really rear its ugly head when I have to give evidence of my success on this. I'm not sure how I can do that unless they will take my anecdotal evidence but I don't really think that's going to fly.

07 December 2010

Week 15, 2010-2011 school year

This week has been a difficult one as I get further and further behind. The overload of stuff that I have on my plate at this point definitely affects the way I interact with students and that's a hard reality to face.

I have been learning about students this week. One of my students told me that their car was stolen this week. Yikes. The things these students have to deal with constantly blows me away. I continue to wonder at the myriad of issues that is their daily life. It reminds me of the blessings I have. Insert thankfulness here.

Another student is dealing with a holiday season that is the first after the loss of a parent. Specifically, the parent passed away right at a year ago and it seems that is really taking a toll on the student. My heart breaks for this particular student. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to focus on anything right now.

Everything this week has been hard. When I do formative assessments during class (questions to students, which are review, basic recall) no one knows anything and everyone looks at me like I'm speaking a foreign language. At one point I stood with my face toward the whiteboard and hit my head on it a few times to try and get the cobwebs to go away. The problem was there weren't any cobwebs in MY brain! Some days it is just at the point that I have to wonder "What am I doing wrong?" or "What am I NOT doing right?" I see those as two very different questions and I have to say that I've asked myself both several times throughout the year.

I have come up with several answers, the most important being that I have too much on my plate to focus the best of my energy into the most important task, which is teaching my students to the best of my ability. This master's program is really wearing on me and I welcome the soon to come Christmas break.

I was asked to write an article for Educational Leadership about engaging the 21st Century learner. That's supposed to be published in February, so we'll see whether that comes to fruition.

I taught two classes at my alma mater in their degree completion program (which has given me the desire to teach Higher Ed) and I've committed to two more of those same classes, which are both in Tulsa, for the Spring and Summer of 2011. Additionally, I am scheduled to teach a traditional class at the same University this Spring and the thought of getting ready to teach that, for the first time, is weighing heavily on my mind.

I have been working hard at getting the skeleton of my curriculum online as a sort of "online plan book" with all of my lessons aligned to our P.A.S.S. It comes short little bursts of work where I'll work on it for several days and then go a few weeks without doing anything. It's a pretty major project and I am beginning to realize that it may be a multi-year task.

Another problem is that I am implementing several new things in my class this year. I've been beta testing and kind of critiquing the development of a new product while implementing it into my class. It's called Journie and you can read about it here. It's a great program and really engages students, but implementing something while communicating with the developers is quite a daunting task.

I have been integrating the use of GoogleDocs into my classroom this year, much to the delight of my students. While it tends to cut down on the amount of paper that is used, it does take more work to get it done. Along that same line, all of my tests and quizzes are online this year (via GoogleDocs) and that requires a lot of work on the front side, but really cuts down on the grading, after the fact.

I have presented at one conference so far this year and am waiting to see if my proposal has been accepted for a second and I am considering a proposal for a third in the Summer. The saving grace here is that my presentation is the same for all conferences.

My most difficult issue through the last several weeks has been the amount of time I spend helping other teachers with technology. I love working with my peers to integrate technology, but it's starting to cut into my productive time. I have started keeping track of the amount of time I spend doing it and will be asking for another planning period next year. I think I will have enough to show that it is warranted.

Finally, since I will be competing for Teacher of the Year for my district, I have begun thinking about all of the things I need to talk about on the application/portfolio, which was (at least part of) the impetus for this post. If it sounds like I am talking about all of the things I do that are good, I don't mean to brag, I just want to be able to represent my faculty in such a way that they can be proud.

As a side note, I was nominated as Oklahoma Technology Association's Technology Teacher of the Year. That will be announced in January. Just when I thought the year couldn't get any better/worse! :-)

06 December 2010

why did they pick me?

Two weeks ago I was selected by my peers to represent them as the Teacher of the Year. Putnam City High School has a fantastic faculty and I honored to be chosen, not only from among them, but by them. However, as MrScienceTeach so eloquently wrote on his blog, how do teachers know who is effective and who is not? The last time a fellow teacher was in my classroom during class was during my first year and she had to be in there to fill out her mentor paperwork.

I suppose there have been a few times that teachers have mentioned that students were talking to them about my class (this secretly makes me quite happy), but other than students talking about class, how do teachers know whether other teachers are "good" or not? I'll be honest, I'm not sure what criteria I used to vote for teacher of the year (other than not to vote for myself when it came to the final vote).

But really, why is it that we don't go and learn from each other? I mean, wouldn't taking some time to go and observe other teachers be a good use of our time? I know, I know. We all have a gazillion (this is like 1040 , in case you didn't know!) things to do and the last thing anyone wants to do is go to another classroom. But what if we did it just once a month? Or even once a quarter? Just once!

If it sounds like I'm complaining, I don't mean to. I'm honored to be chosen, but I just wonder why anyone did?

I'm pleased to be able to represent such an outstanding group of people. After looking at the district teacher of the year application, I am even more convinced that the system is flawed in some way. They want me to tell them what I do that is effective. What? Who would know the difference? What if I am a terrible teacher and just really popular (and a really good liar)? I'm not (hopefully to any of that).

Again, I don't mean to sound insolent or whiny. I just wish we could find a better way to evaluate who should represent our school because I'm not 100% sure I am the best man for the job. As I told a student the other day, there is a big difference between doing your best and being the best. Just because you aren't the "top dog" doesn't mean you didn't give it your all and I genuinely think the reverse is true.

All opinions here are my own and in no way reflect the faculty, staff, or administration of Putnam City High School. :-)

banging my head against the wall

Today bordered on an exercise in frustration for me in the classroom. You know, those days when no matter what the question is the students stare at you like some dolt staring unblinking at a painting after he has wasted $10 to get into the Art Museum, in spite of the fact that he has never studied art and has not context in which to view it.

Interesting, they stare at me as if they haven't studied. I wonder if there's some kind of connection?

Maybe its the time of year. I know that many teachers go through the cycles of anticipation, survival, disillusionment, rejuvenation, reflection, and back into anticipation. I think students go through the same cycle. So maybe we are just in the middle of disillusionment.

No matter the phase of learning we are in, it just seemed like I wasn't asking the right questions. Or maybe I was speaking a foreign language? Even though I don't know another language...seems a bit Harry Potter-ish to me.

The only thing that gets me through the day are the moments of lucidity in which students make a connection without much guiding from me. I get a huge kick out of students who have that big "I just figured it out" grin on their face when I turn around from the board. Those are the times when teaching is worth all of the other crap.

So, as I consider pursuing a terminal degree with an eventual move into Higher Education (pedagogy), what will get me through those days? Teaching how to teach isn't really conceptually that difficult. So, if will I ever see those light bulbs come on? I guess we'll see.

What is it that gets you through days like today?

p.s. - I'll go ahead and brag on myself for today. I teach a lot with analogies. It seemed that every time I got to the point I needed an analogy, it was right there waiting to come out of my mouth. I was definitely on the money for coming up with similes today. It was almost easy. Maybe I'm learning how to think like a scientist. Maybe I am just gaining more experience. Maybe it was just a good day.

30 November 2010

Proposition 1

As you may have read, I've decided NOT to pursue National Board Certification, at least at this time. I've not written the process off completely, but I won't be doing it as a part of this Master's Program. However, that doesn't mean I am immune to the good practice that NBPTS promotes and cultivates. Thinking about the core propositions is a good idea. So, what about Proposition 1?

It states the following:

Proposition 1: Teachers are Committed to Students and Their Learning

  • NBCTs are dedicated to making knowledge accessible to all students. They believe all students can learn.

  • They treat students equitably. They recognize the individual differences that distinguish their students from one another and they take account for these differences in their practice.

  • NBCTs understand how students develop and learn.

  • They respect the cultural and family differences students bring to their classroom.

  • They are concerned with their students’ self-concept, their motivation and the effects of learning on peer relationships.

  • NBCTs are also concerned with the development of character and civic responsibility.

I'll take it one bullet point at a time:

"They believe all students can learn." Do I really believe this? Well, I struggle with this for two reasons (actually one, but it sounds better to say two). As a science teacher, I don't believe anything! I either accept the evidence or reject the evidence, there is no room for belief in science (other than a basic belief that most people are honest and are not out to fleece their fellow man/woman). So, what does the data say? Where is the evidence that all students can learn? I have run across a few students who seemed not at all interested in learning what I was trying to teach. So, does that mean they weren't able to learn? I doubt it. What it probably meant was that they were being "taught" by a teacher who was bull-headed and very inexperienced. As I move further into my teaching career, I am building a fantastic toolbox from which I can pull more and more specialized tools. I am learning to engage learners as they come to me, instead of trying to engage them as I come to them. I can see growth in my teaching methods, specifically in my engagement of difficult and un-motivated students. In fact, I'm trying to learn what motivates students by asking them that exact question.

"They treat students equitably." I strive for this in every aspect of my student engagement. Whether it is harassing every student who is roaming the halls during my plan (harassing is too strong a word, more like challenging) or whether it is recognizing that my students come from a variety of backgrounds with a multitude of worldviews. This really seems like a no-brainer since we begin the year talking about perception and how that colors your worldview and affects the way in which students observe their surroundings. For instance, what I might perceive as yellow might look more orange to another person and this is based on both nature and nurture. In the same way, students might perceive the importance of an education in different ways. It's my job (and privilege) to engage them on in a way that makes what we are learning relevant to their lives.

"NBCTs understand how students develop and learn." If a teacher doesn't understand the basics of human development, specifically as it applies to the age they are teaching, they have absolutely no business being a teacher. Teachers must understand this or students will be getting instruction that might not be age (or developmentally) appropriate. Enough said.

"They respect the cultural and family differences students bring to their classroom." I personally have had a difficult time with this issue since I was just a little blond-haired kid, growing up in Southwestern Louisiana. I was not necessarily brought up to respect those people who were different from me. I was raised to notice those who were different than I, but taught to believe they were inferior to my "type". It was very difficult to realize this as an adult. I firmly believe that education, at least for me, has been the Great Equalizer. My education has taught me tolerance for others and respect for those who "look/act/believe differently" than I. My students do not come from the same culture as me. My students do not have the same experiences I had as a child. My students do not come from the same cultural/socio-economic/religious background as I. However, that doesn't make them "worse" than me. Who in the world can define "worse" anyway? It's all about perception! (Please see previous paragraph.)

"They are concerned with their students’ self-concept, their motivation and the effects of learning on peer relationships." As a person who has sturggled (and still does struggle) with self-concept, I can empathize with students. Maybe it's the result of self-imposed doubt or environmental factors that cause students to not be able to see that they are important and have something constructive to add to every situation. No matter the reason or cause, every student is able to achieve their best. I recognize "best" means many different levels. This is why teachers must differentiate instruction to meet each students needs. As a result, teachers need to know what student's needs are before they can be successful at meeting those needs. I have recently been discussing the issue of student motivation with students. Many of them aren't even sure what motivates them. As a teacher, its extremely difficult to motivate students when they aren't even sure what makes them want to be their best.

"NBCTs are also concerned with the development of character and civic responsibility." Surely there are not teachers who still are in the profession who don't want their students to be upstanding citizens with some sense of civic duty? After all, don't taxpaying citizens pay teacher salaries? I know, this isn't a legitimate reason to be concerned with this. Character and civic responsibility begins with classroom behavior. A classroom is a community and student's have to learn to how to be a part of that community. If they do, this can put them on the road to functioning as citizens who add value to the community of which they are a part.

So, what grade would I give myself on these issues? I would say "Needs Improvement" and say that with pride. I would say that I always need improvement in every area of my practice. However, that's true of any teacher and the best teachers are the ones who recognize it and do something about it. That's the reason I write on this blog. Reflection. It helps my students and it helps me.

10 November 2010

apathy vs. empathy

Tonight, during class, I heard two different presentations about parenting of students of poverty. Specifically, parents in poverty deal with issues about which we, as middle-classers, have no idea. Have you ever thought about the fact that parents, as decision makers, have limited options for where they can live? These parents aren't any different than any other parents, other than they are not as able to provide for their students as other parents.

  • What if you only had about 10 places in town you could choose to live because those are the places that would provide assistance with your rent?

  • Would this affect your mindset on getting involved with your child at school?

  • If you had to take government assistance to put food on the table would that change how you saw the world around you?

  • Would that affect whether or not you wanted to go to the school and talk with people who might have as many as 10 more years of education than you do?

  • Would that intimidate you?

  • Would you care at all about whether your student got their homework done if all you could think about was where you were going to get your next fix of drugs? What about if you were working 2 or 3 jobs and needed your older students to take care of their younger siblings, would you care about whether the homework got done?

  • If you were going to lose your job for being late one more time (because you have to take public transportation since you can't afford a car) would you leave your child home alone until the baby-sitter got there?

  • Would any of these situations change the way your parent your kids?

I recognize these may seem extreme to those of us who live our lives in the middle-class. However, for those folks who live below the poverty line, these situations are the reality that they live with everyday. I think it's pretty easy to say "Well THEY shouldn't make those bad decisions" but this is like saying "Well, the government shouldn't borrow money from China." The problem with that is that's just not realistic. I mean what other choice do we have when we need to borrow money? About the same amount of options poverty parents have when the electric company is about to shut of the lights, you are down to one more bottle of formula with no WIC coupons left, and payday isn't scheduled for another week. You go down to the ACE Check Cashing place and write a hot check (much like the government does with China).

As you may have heard me say before (if not, I'll say it in my next blog post), "We can talk all day about the problem, but in the end, what are we going to do about it? 'Cause bitching and moaning about the problem will only go so far. In the end, we have to DO something and stop just talking." Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs says that students must have the basic needs met before they can even begin to focus on learning. I think the same is true of the parents. We have to help meet their needs.

I recently taught a class at SNU in which I asked the class the question: "Who should be responsible for those people who are not prepared after a Natural Disaster happens?" I don't think that question is very much different than the situation these parents deal with every day. So, I would hazard that many people would say that we should do away with government programs that support people of poverty should be done away with because "we simply can't afford it". I say this because I hear about it when Kevin Ogle lets the viewers speak on The Rant and living here in Conservative Oklahoma, that's the prevalent attitude.

There is a strong resentment that there is a (perceived?) redistribution of wealth and some of "us" are working hard while most of "them" are sitting around enjoying the day. By "them" do you mean the mom with 5 kids who works 2 jobs to support them and still gets welfare to help put food on the table? What? She ought not to be having that many kids? Maybe her reality was that she struggled/struggles with her self-worth and therefore her sexual identity comes from the decisions she made while being intimate with multiple sex partners. This is her reality.

Maybe you think she should have gotten abortions? But wait! Conservatives are against abortion! Oh, abstinence? Why don't you come spend a day in MY classroom and listen to teenagers reality and then talk to me about abstinence. I'm sure they will be happy to listen to what is being said.

Yes, this has been a soapbox. I'm sorry. But when I see students coming to a teacher's classroom to get peanut butter crackers at lunch because they don't have money to buy lunch, it tends to put things into perspective. It tends to change the way I think about what's going on in my students lives. It tends to make me realize that my problems pale in comparison to the reality of my student's family life and all the (expletive deleted) they have to deal with every day.

So, what should we do about it? We need to keep funding programs that support, both financially and nutritionally, people who find themselves in poverty. We need to have some compassion for those around us in need. We need to look beyond "what people are getting from the government" and try to find out "why they need to take from the government". If the taxpayers shouldn't be responsible to help these folks, then who? (This is the question I asked in class about the uninsured/underinsured after a natural disaster). I think many would say "the Church/Charities". Okay, so what specific things do you see being done? What ever happened to that adage of "teach a man to fish feed him for life". Aren't we simply putting band-aids on a gushing wound by simply feeding people? What are we doing to actually get them out of poverty? What are we really doing to break the cycle of poverty?

Do your students know you care? Do you ever wonder why "that student" has so many bad days? What's going on behind the scenes? It may seem like I'm preaching or griping, but in reality I'm talking to myself, too. I hope, as teachers, we take our jobs seriously. I hope we think about more than just testing. I hope if we are teaching we are there because we care about students and aren't just trying to "have summers off". As I tell students: "If you aren't serious about learning, I'd rather you just not be here. Why don't you leave?" I think the same applies to teachers. We'll go out and get some folks who can have a burden for student learning to replace you.

Sometimes, I really need a reality check for what students are going through and that's what this is. I hope it helped you get a reality check, too. If you were offended by this post, I'm sorry you were offended, but I'm not sorry I wrote it. I'm learning to look beyond my own reality and this is the result of what I see now everyday.

08 November 2010

Reflection in Education? What's the point?

Reflection in education may be (other than critical thinking) the single most important skill we, as teachers, should be teaching students. I remember my undergraduate work here at SNU very well. We worked on our portfolio and each artifact had a reflection form with it. I even remember reflecting on a reflection once! I will tell you; even as a student who was an adult (I went back to school when I was 36) I didn’t really see the point in reflection.

It was not until I began my student teaching that I began to see reflection/journaling as an activity that was worth my time. I started to blog during my 6-week student teaching assignment at Cooper Middle School. I started to do it because I wasn’t allowed to teach (except for 1 week). I didn’t have anything else to do, so I started cataloging my days, reflecting on what I would do differently if I were the one pushing the buttons in class. I quickly learned that this was a great way to process and think through what was going on in my brain. I’ve learned since then that it is also a great way to chronicle events for later reflection. I love to go back and see just how much I’ve grown in my practice since I first started teaching.

Unfortunately, I only have students for one single year (sometimes I get them for two if they take AP Physics) and this generally isn’t enough time to instill the practice of reflecting. But maybe, just maybe, I’m planting a seed! Just this year, I have started having students blog each week using the following prompts:
1.    The thing that really stood out as being really significant to me this week was....
2.    The things I did this week that helped me learn best included....
3.    The things that hindered my learning this week included....
4.    I felt frustrated sometimes when....
5.    I was curious about....

While this is my first real attempt to have students do any kind of reflective writing, I feel like it could be improved upon (and will be). I have encountered some resistance to forcing students into the act of reflection. Many do not see the point and don’t want to work with the prompts. Even my own children (who are both in my class this year) are resistant. I definitely need to work on making this meaningful and useful for them. I hope, at some point, to have them go back and look at what they were thinking now at some later point in the year. Growth! It’s all about growth! They will see it, I just have to figure out a way to make it plain enough for everyone to “get it”.

Top 5 ways for me to be different

An excerpt from my journal. I'm trying to process and change the way I do things, this is for me:

In my opinion, a major part of this process is to give students ownership of their education. Students need choices in education, but first they need to be taught to make responsible decisions. When I first started teaching, I would get frustrated if students didn’t “get it” the first time around. When I am explicitly telling them information and they don’t “get it”, how can I expect them to pick up on the implicit lessons I’m trying to teach (like social democracy and decision making)? I’ve learned that students need to be taught numerous times, especially when we are learning life skills. I mean who cares if they don’t understand why the Earth has seasons (fall, spring, winter, summer)? Who cares if they don’t understand why when they flip a switch the light comes on? Okay, I care. But really, who cares? Will they not be successful in life without the knowledge they should get in my class? No. But if they don’t pick up on the life skills I’m trying to pass on to them, then we really have a problem! It no longer is an individual student problem; it becomes a systemic problem because education begins to fail society.

This is (in my opinion) the problem with our world. We have a generation of former students who see education as irrelevant to their everyday lives. All of the testing in the world won’t fix this problem. As I discuss these issues with other educators, I always end with a final question to them: Are we just going to sit around and complain about it? Or are we going to do something about it?

Our school has done challenge day the last few years and they have a saying: “Be the Change”. It comes from a quote by Mahatma Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So, is the education system broke? Yes. Are students apathetic about learning? Yes. But what are we going to do about it? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about it (because I can only control my actions, not anyone else’s):
1.    I am going to be the best teacher I can be. If this means I need to learn something new, I will; professional development is not just a requirement, it is a duty!
2.    I am going to build relationships with my students that instill trust and give them the opportunity to take risks in our learning environment. If this means I need to open myself up to students to show that I deal with issues in my life (get out of my comfort zone), okay! Show me the way out of my box!
3.    I am going to reflect on my practice and always work at being better. If this means I have to take time from my leisure activities to make my practice better, then let it be so!
4.    I am going to constantly look for new ways to make my curriculum relevant to student’s lives. If this means I have to learn new technology, I will! Students use tech outside the classroom to communicate, why should they be required to “disconnect” when they come into class?
5.    I am going to focus on speaking positively of my students. This means even though I get frustrated with the current state of my building, I will maintain a positive attitude so that I don’t bring others down. I will find anonymous outlets for my frustration (think an anonymous blog here).

27 October 2010

Student Empowerment

I've been reading in the book, Choosing Democracy, by Duane Campbell, as a part of a Sociology of Cultures Communities and Schools, ED 6093.

One of the quotes I liked was, "When students recognize their own cultural context, they can learn to think critically about it and make meaningful decisions about their life opportunities." Now, this is a quote I can get behind and support. I like the idea. However, I am not sure that we are able, as teachers, to get this point across effectively to students. Can I get an amen? There are students in my classes who are not having their basic needs met. Have a look at Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. There are a lot of students who come to school hungry. Their parents depend on the school to teach them how to be human beings. They depend on the school to feed them. Many of these parents are not even getting their basic needs met. Therefore, they are not meeting the needs of their children.

The quote above implies that students are able to reach self-actualization. How can we expect this if we are not able to meet their basic physiological needs, their needs of safety, and their needs of love and belonging? This last need, the need of love and belonging, really stems from a students identity, specifically their cultural identity. However, how do we as teachers make them care enough to learn their own culture? What motivation do they have to learn this? To identify with it? Some of them already have a culture, a group identity, generally this is in the form of a gang.

I have learned to accept that I cannot "reach" every student. This doesn't mean that I stop trying. I do, however, try to build relationships with each student. I am definitely not successful at this task, but I still try. It seems that this year I am being less successful than ever before. I am not sure why, but that is my perception for this year. It seems that even as I become more successful with my curriculum and technology integration, I become less successful at building relationships with students. I don't know, maybe I'm losing sight of what's really important.

Even as I write this I am frustrated because there are so many different issues that our students deal with. Teachers need to be equipped to handle pregnancy, drugs, hormones, relationship drama, and more. It is so difficult as a teacher to see students who are struggling with issues other than academics. The really sad part is that these issues usually affect their academics as well, which compounds a student's problems.

So, the meat of my thinking is this: what can I do as a teacher to meet students needs so that I can then motivate them to become culturally aware? To motivate them to be able to be successful in their studies? This is the way to student empowerment. Students who are successful in academics (there are differing levels of success for different students) have options. If students drop out of school or barely make it out of school, they are locked in to a low paying job for the rest their lives, barring some act of providence.

Sadly, these are questions that I don't have the answers to at this point in my life. If you have ideas, I'd surely love to hear them.

Critical Thinking in Mulitcultural Education

The chapter on "Promoting Democracy and Critical Thinking" in Choosing Democracy really hits a note with me. I am a firm believer in teaching critical thinking and I think many (if not most) students graduate from high school with inadequate critical thinking skills. This leaves them at a major disadvantage when it comes to being a productive citizen (working, voting, making everyday decisions) or continuing their education (the ability to be successful in higher education).

This comes as a result of teachers who have preconceived ideas about their students. That or they are so lazy, the easy way to do things is to continue on with the same old curriculum, doing the same drill and practice exercises and having students memorize the same stuff they have been doing for the last 20 years.

Students need to be able to take control of (or at least have a say-so in) their education. This is quite difficult for high school teachers, since students are coming to us from middle school where they are being taught "the right answers". I don't mean to lay the problems of the education system squarely at the feet of the middle school teachers. But in my school, a very large number of students come to me without the proper foundation to adequately draw conclusions, evaluate the validity of evidence, or otherwise make decisions regarding scientific investigations. Therefore, I am drawing my own conclusions.

But, I'm not here to crucify the middle school teachers. What I want to know is what to do about it. In my experience, the only thing I can do is try to teach students the critical thinking skills needed to make them more successful in life. This comes about in my class through leveled questions (with resultant class-wide conversations), graphic organizers (teaching chart building skills), and encouraging students to think for themselves. I purposely give students problems to which I do not know the answers. This way, I am not able to give clues other than guiding their questioning, relying on the basic concepts.

I prefer to think of it as teaching students to swim by pushing them off into the end of the pool. Fortunately, I am waiting there in the water to help keep their heads above water if things get a bit too deep.

This subject is especially appropriate right now since we are watching Contact in Earth Science. Students are confronted by some ideas that make them squirm a bit in their seats. I believe Piaget called this a "cognitive dissonance" or "disequilibrium". I have many students who are members of some religious sect, but are only so because their parents are. I try to challenge students to begin to think for themselves. One of the questions I pose to students is "But why do you believe that?"

In science, as in any discipline, its important for students to recognize that there is a major difference between belief in something and acceptance of something. Facts are things we accept: the birth/death of a friend, the beginning/end of a relationship, etc. I've known people who choose not to accept the facts (some of them related to my examples!)But belief requires an additional ingredient: faith. The ability to buy into an idea without any facts. It is based on emotion, feelings, ideas, but there is no evidence to support it.

So many students come to high school without the knowledge of the difference in these two concepts. This misconception handicaps them (sometimes for life) if they are not able to learn to think for themselves. I am happy to have students talk about religion in my classroom (in fact I have mentioned my faith on more than one occasion, when asked), but I try to get students to look inside themselves and determine why they believe the way that they do and get away from the tried but false adage of "because I was raised that way".

I've grown up a lot over the last 6 or 7 years and don't necessarily agree with everything I was taught as a child. This is due in no small part to my experiences in higher education. I've learned to think for myself and hope to instill this idea in my own children and my students. Its a very hard balance. I admit, in my parenting and in my classroom, I feel as though I am walking a tightrope trying to respect the ideas of my student's parents, while trying to persuade them to think for themselves and "question everything." I'm probably overstating the case there, but I get as close to the "question everything" line as I can without crossing it.

I would argue that critical thinking (and therefore democracy promotion) is the most important aspect of any student's educational experience. Students who miss out on this part of an education (as I stated earlier) can be handicapped for life. How can we expect them as citizens to vote responsibly if they are not able to evaluate the validity of the evidence presented in favor of, or against, a candidate?

Would it be out of the realm of possibility to consider critical thinking (or a lack of it) is the reason our educational system is in its current state? I mean, if students can't think critically and therefore cannot be informed voters, how do we know we have the best possible people running our government? For that matter, if they are not good critical thinkers, they are more likely to be apathetic about government anyway. A select few choose the people who make all the decisions that matter most to people who are in poverty. What is going on here?

29 September 2010

My brain got started and I couldn't stop it

I wonder about culture. What is it that defines our culture? Is it heritage? I mean, I understand that heritage is important, but really, what does that mean? How does what my family did or did not do, affect me? I mean, should I be responsible for them? If not, should I even claim them? I tend to think culture is more affected by nurture (environment) rather than nature (genetics).

I more readily associate with people I grew up with rather than those dead people I’ve never met. I understand that the path of my life was influenced in some ways by those dead people, but that has more to do with their actions (environment, both theirs and the effect they had on it) and less to do with what they had in their cells (genetics).

So, what defines/has defined MY culture? My parents and grandparents influenced me heavily since they raised me in a “christian home”. One of my grandparents was a preacher and the other was certainly capable of praying like one. I was required to go to church anytime the doors were open and this colored much of my early life. I was taught that there was a lot of difference between my culture and that of people who looked differently than I did. I stayed under the influence of my “raising” as an adult until I went back to school. This changed my cultural outlook (and my consequent “raising” of my own kids) significantly.

I no longer see people as “different”. We are all humans. I no longer listen to the “stuff” that conservative talking-heads spout each day on AM radio. I have begun to think for myself. As I have started thinking for myself, I have been thinking that people deserve a second chance. People deserve my respect until they do something to lose it. People don’t act as a group (unless they are an angry mob). Just because someone looks different, doesn’t mean they are different. It simply means they look different. On the other side of the coin, just because some one looks the same, doesn’t mean they are the same and share the same values and cultural norms that I do.

Culture is something that is taught. Culture is passed from generation to generation. Children who are a certain color/ethnicity are taught the culture in which they are brought up. I have known students who were not raised in the culture of their ethnicity because they were adopted. So what is their culture? I think society has such a misconception about culture and multi-cultural education.

The module I am currently starting promises to be informative and I am looking forward to it. I’ll be “allowed” to do a research paper which is going to allow me to research my thoughts that have been started in the paragraphs above. I want to understand what the definition of culture is. What is it that makes us, as humans, who we are? Why are their wars fought over culture? Why do people get so bent out of shape about their culture? I understand why culture is relevant to education. But what I want to know is why is it relevant to everything else?

And there is the first 54 minutes of class. That’s just a result of the syllabus!

I'll continue this train of thinking over the next several weeks. She just said this should be a mind-set change for you (meaning the class). Too late. I think mine has already happened.

23 September 2010

Biological Functions

I don't normally deal in biology, but I was able to integrate it into a discussion in class the other day and I thought it might make for a good story. Many of you know I probably should have been a middle school teacher as I love poop jokes and this is certainly no exception.

I was explaining synthesis to my students and was trying hard to come up with an analogy that would help them understand the true meaning of it. We were reading a chapter from the physics book and I was wanted students to not simply summarize what they were reading. I was asking them to make it their own writing. (in case you are wondering, I had some success with this strategy) I told them to read a section from the chapter and then write a single paragraph about it. I explained that I wanted them to synthesize and not simply summarize.

In a stroke of genius, I thought of poop as a synthesis process. I began to explain this. I said, "You know how you eat something? And then it comes out the other end as something different? Like it actually looks and is physically different?" (yes, there are a few exceptions to this). I said, "This is synthesis!" I continued, "I don't want you to vomit onto the page after consuming what is in your book." I explained that you can still tell what was eaten if you vomit; but rarely can you tell what you ate after you poop! Voila! Synthesis!

How do you explain synthesis to your students? I know my way is a bit crass, but I guarantee they won't forget it.

16 September 2010

Final thoughts on Reading Comprehension

Do you ever have those days when things just seem to come together? The pieces slowly work themselves into place and its almost like putting a pair glasses on; you can step back and see the world clearly for the time. That is what the last two modules of my Master's program have been for me.

Assessment began to put things into place. I felt like I was finally learning how to truly assess student learning. Reading comprehension continued the trend. (maybe I should have been graphing my learning and really analyzed it with a trend line?) I found out that a lot of things I was already doing, like having students take text and put it into a chart, are great reading strategies. Little did I know! Anyway, there were so many strategies in the class that I was able to bring directly into my classroom, many as soon as the day after I had class, that are helping students interact with text in a meaningful way.

We are at a point in the program when I am ready for it to be over. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm not enjoying it, I'm just ready for the act of going to school to be done. Teaching a night or two a week and going to school one night a week makes my relaxing time more meaningful, but it makes exercising on a routine.

14 September 2010

Content Area Reading

“This I believe about teaching Content Area Reading” is the prompt to which I am supposed to respond.  At first glance, this seems quite easy, but after giving it some careful thought, it may not be such a small task. Nevertheless, I shall respond to the prompt and I shall share everything I think about the topic. What I believe about teaching Content Area Reading follows: it is a skill that should be practiced by every student. Not only that, it should be a skill that is taught by every teacher. Prior to this class, I did not think it was my job to teach students how to read. I did not think it was my responsibility to teach it. However, as a real example of how my teaching has changed, today I gave students a bellringer that was a simple logic problem. In the problem, there were clues about the names of 4 people, how they fared in playing some board games (i.e. 1st place, 2nd place, etc.), and what their ages were. These clues were bunched together in a large paragraph of text.  A paragraph that on first glance was a bit overwhelming to students and several of them let me know this fact, in no uncertain terms.

But alas! I had a solution: a graphic organizer! Specifically, I encouraged students to use a chart to organize their data and as a way to interact with the text. I instructed them to read the text carefully and begin to mark of things in the chart they knew were false. At some point, they were able to begin marking facts they knew were true! Eventually, we were able to determine everything we wanted to know about the 4 people and students were able to practice integrating a graphic organizer into their interaction with the text. This is a single example of how I have changed my thinking. I used to think students should already know about using graphic organizers. But, they do not! It is my job to teach them and I intend to do just that.
I also believe teaching Content Area Teaching is a skill that everyone can and should implement into their classroom. Students were receptive to the strategy I used in class. In fact, I think some of my students even enjoyed it! I am not sure the idea of every teacher doing this is something that will revolutionize education, although I do believe that it could. There are too many teachers who do not have buy in to the idea. I can honestly say I was one of those teachers who did not buy into the idea just six short weeks ago. However, after some instruction and learning few strategies, I feel confident that I will be able to implement this in my classroom and be successful with it.
While I do not see this as a practice that will be in every classroom, it is my sincere desire that I can somehow influence teachers to adopt this practice into their practice. Teachers across all curriculum areas would benefit, due to the simple fact that everyone of them has a text and students would get more out of any text interaction if the students were taught a few basic skills to help them be more effective when reading. If you are wondering whether I plan to continue suing these strategies, rest assured I already know what my Bellwork question is going to be tomorrow: a logic problem that is best solved using a graphic organizer!

07 September 2010

Thinking about thinking aka knowing about knowing

In Forget's "MAX Teaching with Reading and Writing" he quotes someone named Georghaides who was unfindable during a short web search. I prefer to know who an author is quoting, just because I like to see the kinds of things in which the author is interested. Nonetheless, I like the quote:

“Georghiades (2000) describes metacognition as a process of reflecting upon and taking action about one’s learning.”

I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of metacogniton: the idea of thinking about thinking. Some even describe it as “knowing about knowing”. In my class, I do ask students to think about and reflect about their knowledge and learning. In my opinion, this is no small task and probes the depths (or heights) of Bloom’s Taxonomy to the extremes.

Honestly, its not much of a stretch to ask students to think “deep thoughts” when you are teaching them about physics. Some of the greatest minds in physics are well known for doing “thought experiments”, in which they thought something along the lines of “what would happen if…” These great thinkers include Einstein, Schrödinger, and Heisenberg.

I’ve been priming my students to be ready to think deeply when asked. I am going to implement a blog assignment on Fridays (we have a great online learning platform that is new this year) in which students will be doing a “Glog” or Gist Log (as a blog). This Gist activity is something we’ve talked about in Reading Comprehension and I would love to learn how to do it better. I’ve never done it, so I’m not sure how to go from here. Right now, it simply looks like, reflect on what you learned this week and have already started doing a short activity as a bellringer every Friday in preparation for the project.

Many students have been (falsely) led to believe they were thinking deeply about something because “it was hard” or the teacher said “critical thinking” when they introduced the activity. I would say that most (if not all) Pre-AP and AP students have not been required to do much more than “get to the right answer”. However, in my class, I am much less concerned with their answer and much more concerned with the process by which they arrived at the answer.

To that end, I have instituted a series of brainteasers as my bellringer activity. Just today, after a logic activity, a student said, “This is stupid. This has nothing to do with Physics.” I went on to explain that they obviously had not the slightest clue about teaching an advanced science class; especially one in which students should be developing problem-solving skills. This was met with silence as I was probably on the verge of loosing my cool and I think the student picked up on that. Hopefully, the student will begin to see that I don't simply do stuff because its busy work. I think many students miss the point of a lot of the stuff we ask them to do.

So, as I think about thinking, I ask myself: "Self, what can we do in class to help students see the point of what we are doing?" I only hear silence. So back to thinking about thinking with the goal of knowing about knowing.

01 September 2010

my shortest post ever

It’s important to plan activities that have students in a collision with the information. They should be in the same place at the same time (to put it into physics lingo). Pre-planning these engagements will result in increased student learning. Consider the physical environment of the classroom when planning. Design your classroom such that it includes the type of interactions in which you are interested. There are three types of situations in a classroom: reader-text, collaborative, and engaged. Which one do you primarily use?

21 August 2010

Motivating Low-Performers

As I was reading Chapter 4 of Mark Forget's "MAX Teaching with Reading and Writing," I found a quote that talks about the difference between students who are motivated by success versus those who are motivated to avoid failure.

"Students whose focus is on striving for success derive emotional rewards from eagerly taking on new and challenging tasks.

On the other hand, Students whose focus in on avoidance of failure are often behaving in response to a lifetime of failures in the task."

Forget goes on to talk about what the manifestation of the later might look like and how to deal with those manifestations. The rest is interesting, but I was really struck by the idea that there are students who are more focused on not failing, rather than being successful. I guess maybe I realized this somewhere inside my mind, but I never really physically had the thought (are thoughts physical?) Anyway, this may help me to see many of my students, especially those who have not developed a love for science (yet).

I am already thinking of several students, (yes, I'm profiling based on appearance and class choice) many whose names I don't even know yet, who fall into the category of "likely low-performers". I'm going to have to think differently now about students who may act out in class or feign fatigue when they are in my classroom. Maybe they aren't just trying to be lazy or obtuse. Maybe they are simply not being successful and really want to divert my attention away from that fact.

I was just talking with my English teacher wife about this group of students this morning. My view of learning is getting a taste of teaching adults (which I love, by the way) and its changing the way I think about my own classroom. I realize that adult and adolescent learners are quite different, but honestly, there's not that much difference between thought processes when it comes to the adult learners and my physics students, at least. That said, Michelle and I discussed the idea that maybe I should do a small social/educational experiment in my class.

I polled students in all of my classes as to whether or not they would like to be treated like an adult and got a resounding "yes" from 100% of those polled. I gladly agreed to treat them as adults, as long as they continue to act like adults. Michelle suggested that maybe I talk about how being in class is analogous to having a job and install myself in a "supervisory role", since "boss" can have such a negative connotation. I hope to make some connections between being successful in class and being successful at work. There may be several of these students who already have a job and can actually learn (if I make the connection) how to be a good employee.Additionally, there are many of these students who are going to go directly from high school right into the workplace, so a little vocational skill training is a great thing.

The take-away thought from this quote for me is to recognize that many student are at different levels of motivation and are motivated by different situations and factors. Its my job as their "learning facilitator" to help them be motivated to be successful in my class. My measure of their success? If a student is able to do their best in class and do that most of the time, I think they are successful.

Do you have students in your class who are simply motivated not to fail?

18 August 2010

day 365

Today marks the final day of my 3rd year teaching. Tomorrow begins the first day of the 4th year. Do you ever wonder whether or not you are making a difference with your students? Well, that's good, because I certainly wonder about it. I wonder if I am creating an environment in which students feel comfortable to take risks? I have been thinking about what students think about my class when they come into the classroom.

I was able to hear a great teacher speak tonight. He talked about the idea of "faithful presence". We were at a dinner, at the president's house, with everyone who attended Lead Retreat, a week-long time of bonding for the student leadership of SNU. Every year, the First Family has everyone over for dinner during this time and Dr. G speaks just a short inspirational word to us. Faithful Presence was his message tonight. Honestly, when I heard that initially, I had no idea what it meant. My take-away message from it was "just being". It doesn't really matter what your job is. It doesn't matter if you are in some kind of leadership position. You can make a difference just by doing the very best that you can in whatever position you find yourself.

The other idea he talked about was "spirit of place". Again, I'd never heard of this. Here's the idea: when you enter a place, you change it's spirit and the opposite is also true. When you enter a place it changes you, too. This leaves me wondering about the spirit of my classroom and thinking about how different it will be tomorrow when student enter. It also makes me think about how students will be changed as a result of being in my classroom. I hope students will be changed in a tangible, meaningful way. I work to purposely create experiences for students that will impact their learning. Often, I fail, but I simply reflect and change what I am doing the next time.

Probably the best part of the whole process is the fact that I am affected by my students, as well. My life is enriched in ways I have never imagined as a result of the interactions I have with students, both at PC High and at SNU. Speaking of SNU, I'm sure I've mentioned that Michelle and I are class sponsors there and our kids are going to be Seniors! Already, we are getting a little sad to see this wonderful group of students prepare to graduate and move on to another chapter in their lives. This is bittersweet. We are thrilled to see them complete their time at SNU, but we are sad to lose them as a regular fixture, sometimes at our house and always on campus. We were a bit reticent to take the job when we were first asked, but I am so thankful we decided to say yes! Getting to know students outside the classroom is a completely different dynamic.

So, to sum up, what are you doing that makes a difference? Hopefully, you are being solid and stable for your students. They need your "faithful presence". Additionally, I hope your classroom is a place that changes students in a positive way. If its, not, I hope you reconsider what you are doing.

15 August 2010

Quotes and Notes from Forget

No, that's not pronounced "four-git". It's pronounced "Four-Zhay". If you didn't know that, I doubt you'll ever "forget" it again! Ha. That's an educational joke. Mark Forget is a well-known educational researcher. He wrote a book called "MAX Teaching with Reading and Writing" which is a textbook for my class, Reading Comprehension. I'm required to do two entries of what are called "Quotes and Notes" for each chapter of my reading. In typical fashion, I've decided to do my stuff here. I have no idea where the "notes and quotes" format comes from but I intend to reproduce it here, if possible. So here's my first attempt:

Direct Quotes from the Text

My notes, thoughts, reflections, and questions for further study.

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being."I love quotes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! I use his quotes in my classroom on my before class PowerPoint often. This perfectly fits my philosophy of teaching. Do not lower your expectations because of the level of the students. Set your expectations at the point you want your students to be. In fact, I had a personal example of this with one of my advisory students who was in my Physics class two years ago. I distinctly remember her saying, "This is too much! Why do you expect so much out of us! This isn't a college class. You expect too much and we just can't do all of this!" I explained (probably not in so rational of a voice as I had wished) that I set expectations high of all of my students. I said, "If I set the bar way down here, everyone achieves the goal. But, if I set the bar way up here, not as many reach the goal, but everyone achieves more!" I'm not sure she got it that day, but after she had time to process she did. I know that because she came and talked to me later and said "we sure had some rough times but I remember doing more because you expected so much." She went on to add, "I didn't really think I'd be successful in your class, but I did and I really think its because you set the expectation so high." Goethe's quote really hits home because of this specific situation.
"A second reason is that many who enter the teaching profession may take literacy skills for granted, not being aware of how they themselves acutally acquired the abilities to read, write, speak, listen, and think critically."I'm not really sure where I fall on this category. I mean I don't know if I take (took) this for granted or not. In theory, I should not have, due to the intimate relationship I have with an English Teacher. However, in reality, I don't think I ever really thought the process of "learning to be literate" before I started teaching and began having conversations with said English Teacher about specifically using reading in my classroom. I knew teaching reading and writing across the curriculum was the right thing to do, but putting that stuff into practice was another animal completely. I've learned (in no small part due to this class, already) some really good strategies for engaging students in text and writing. I think I do a reasonably good job of having students write, but I'm still learning a lot on how to implement good literacy strategies in my classroom. Critical thinking? Oh yeah, this is one of my pet projects. I love working on critical thinking skills. Most students think this means "thinking outside the box". They've got a lot to learn about thinking critically! Fortunately, my English Teacher wife has taught a class which was centered on critical thinking and she is more than happy to share activities which guide students through the critical thinking process.
"All effective teachers use some form of the three steps that comprise MAX. At the beginning of class, most teachers use some form of "anticipatory set" to get students thinkings about the subject matter."I really struggle with this. I'm not sure I always do this. I have worked towards doing this, but according to my peers, I've been identified as an effective teacher. Does this mean I can be effective without doing this? Or does this mean I'm doing anticipatory sets without realizing it? I'm not sure. I haven't specifically written this down anywhere in any plan book so honestly I'm not sure if I am doing this or not. That said, I am definitely going to be much more cognizant of using anticipatory sets so that hopefully I can be even more effective! Other than asking students what they know, I'm not sure exactly what other kinds of A.S. I can do. I'm certainly going to have to do some serious contemplation on what I can do to make this happen in class.
"Three essential steps must be incorporated for real cooperative learning to occur:

  • Individual writing on the part of each student before entering group discussion

  • Small group discussion in an effort to come to consenssus as to what the text means

  • Large group, whole class discussion, with the teacher acting as mediator/arbitrator"

While my thoughts may be completely off-base, all I can think about here is my second period class this year. I am going to have both AP students (who have had my Physics 1 class already) and Pre-AP students (who are just now taking Physics 1). I think about my AP students acting as coaches for my Pre-AP class. I think of them as teachers who are going to learn so much more because they are going to be teaching for me! I'll simply act as a mediator. Definitely not content delivery on my part! I'll be sitting back and making sure students teach correctly while doing continual formative assessment on all students to make sure they are grasping the concepts at the level at which they should. Physics 2 students should certainly be at a much deeper level than the Physics 1 students, but they should also be gaining some understanding of the basic concepts of Physics. Does anyone think this is a good idea? A bad idea? I'm thinking the 1st 9 weeks is a good time to give this a trial run. In fact, I might even let them look at the P.A.S.S. and see what their pacing should be. Problem-solving exercises with AP student leaders. I like it. What do you guys think?

14 August 2010

The reward is in the Finding Out

While grading this evening, I had Tweetdeck open and saw that one of my PLN posted to his blog. The post was about how science can inspire awe in people, specifically students. It discussed some differences between religion and science (which is a discussion that is near and dear to my heart). Within the post, there was a video of an interview with Richard Feynman from probably almost 30 years ago. If I remember right, he died in '86, so it would have been from the early '80's at least. He talks a lot about the nature of science, along with some fairly complex physics thrown in for good measure.

The "take-away" (at least for me) of what he had to say can be stated with these two quotes: "I don't need a Nobel Prize, the honor is in finding the thing out" and "there's a difference between knowing the NAME of something and knowing something".

I am thinking deeply about how to express these two ideas to my students. By the time they get to my class they are somewhere between 15-18 years old. Is it too late by this point to instill this kind of curiosity in them? Have they already moved past the point of enjoying solving a puzzle just for the pure joy of seeing something complex come to fruition? If so, how do I undo that?

The second quote is probably more complex for me. I can talk all day about inertia (Newton's First Law of Motion) and some students will get the concept. But do they really know Inertia? I mean, do I really even know Inertia? I guess what I am saying is, how can I teach beyond the concept and get to the root of the why if I'm not sure I understand it myself? Additionally, at my level of my teaching, is the mechanism (why) even important?

I tend to lean towards the idea that if I can get my students interested in science at a deeper level and teach some critical thinking/problem solving skills along the way, I have been successful. Am I wrong in thinking this? Maybe I am taking the easy way out by not learning physics at a deeper level. I don't know. These are the questions that keep me up at night and make me have nightmares of being naked in front of my class when I am able to sleep. I'm sure I'll have that dream at least once this week.

I'm going to go with Feynman and say that I'm okay with the not knowing. I'm okay when there are things that I don't understand because it forces me to think at a deeper level. Hopefully, I can instill the same level of comfort in my students, but also instill a desire to want to find out the mechanism of something and not just the how. In the words of one of my tweeps, "I don't know all the parts of drill, but I know how to use one!" You have to consider what the purpose of your teaching is. Do students need to know the name of something? Or do they need to really know something? Those two may not be mutually exclusive, but I think its a question worth asking when considering students.

As a result of this video, I had the best conversation on twitter to date. I even found two new tweeps as a result! People may think twitter is a big old waste of time but I'd have to disagree. It can be an enriching experience for your on-going education. On the other hand, it can be a big old waste of time!

13 August 2010

Life as I know it

Right now, life as I know it is about to get incredibly busy. Is this a problem? No, I don't think so. Life as I know it is getting busy because I have purposely chosen to do things that are important to me. They are activities about which I am passionate. No surprise that they all revolve around education.

I'm working on my syllabus for Physics for the upcoming year and thinking about my kids (yes, my own children) being my students for the upcoming year. One of those two will be a Senior here at Putnam City HS. (How many people have the opportunity to spend every single school day of their child's Senior year with them? Hooray!) I initially was thinking, "I've got to make this the best year ever", just for Jess' and JC's sake. But then I realized, why should this year be special for them? I want this year to be the best, but really I want it to be the best year for ALL of my students. I hope to build deeper relationships, get to know my content at a deeper level, and motivate students like never before. School starts on Thursday of next week. But, between now and then, it's going to be crazy.

I've already started teaching at SNU as an adjunct professor in their Bridge program. I'm driving to Tulsa once a week, on Monday nights, to teach Earth's Natural Disasters. I have another class, by the same name, here at the Bethany campus that starts a week from this Monday. Teaching adults is definitely a new experience for me and I am really enjoying it. I have been able to pass on my passion for Science through this experience and hopefully, it's just the beginning! (I'll be learning to be an Instructor in Astronomy and Geomorphology during the month of December).

I'm continuing in my Master's program in Curriculum and Instruction and that one night a week keeps me busy every weekend with lots of writing, reading, and thinking about my classes. This really is the reason I'm a bit stressed about the next school year. I have so many ideas and new things to try that I've been learning over the summer that it's going to be like starting from scratch. In some ways its exciting to think about a brand-new group of students with whom I can share my passion for Physics. In other ways, I feel a bit overwhelmed.

I'm going to try to take 6 hours as a "traditional graduate" student in some "by arrangement" classes to make up for my decision not to do National Board Certification. I need the hours to finish the Master's. That won't happen until the Spring, but I'm trying to get it all "lined out" so we are on track to walk at graduation in May and be done with degree #2.

I've been asked to teach several professional development classes between now and next Thursday. I'm doing an in-house webpage class, talking about assessing students through technology integration, and I'm trying to work on integrating our school calendar into all teacher webpages. It's really a lot of fun to be given a problem and asked to solve it using technology integration. I am learning that is something at which I can be successful. I have some really great colleagues that I am able to collaborate with on projects and that makes it a wonderful experience.

Science. Technology. Education. Those are three things I can get excited about! When someone asks me to share about any of those? How can I refuse? Even if it means I am (possibly) over-extending myself, I can't say no.

I have learned so much about myself over the last 5 years. My education at SNU and my experience teaching Physics at Putnam City has been the most rewarding vocational time of my life. Have I made mistakes? Sure! Will I still make mistakes this year? More than likely. Will I learn something new every single day? I sure hope so. If you see me in the halls and I seem a bit distracted, please don't take it personally. Just know that I am thinking about the next opportunity to share my passion.

21 July 2010

the final assessment project

We did a short video as our final project for assessment. I've learned a lot and the following is what I wrote to accompany my video (it's at the bottom of the page).


Last semester, while working on our classroom wiki, I used this rubric. I also gave this sheet as instructions. That was pretty much it. I didn’t assess to learn, I only assessed for learning at the end of the project. I knew this was not the best thing to do. I knew it was not correct practice, but I was not really sure what else to do or what to change.


After taking the module on Assessment, I have put a significant amount of thought into what I am doing in my classes, particularly on my wiki project. I realized I was not assessing students formatively and giving feedback in a manner, which would be productive for them. I was only doing a summative assessment and students had no chance to adequately prepare for this final assessment.

Students will now begin with the same sheet for instructions and they will be given instructions on a wiki: what it is, how we plan to use it, how to edit, and the purpose of editing. The instruction sheet is now posted to my website and is easily viewable by students at any time as a reference page. They will also be taught about the use of delicious.com (a bookmark sharing site) and will learn how to appropriately share their research sources with the instructor through Delicious, the bookmarking/networking website.

After their initial wiki page is set up (and weekly thereafter), students will use a formative assessment rubric to self-assess each week. They will also be required to blog about their research for the week. We will use the “discussion tab” within the wiki to accomplish this simple formative assessment. Students should write reflectively about their topic and the process of research. I will use this rubric to assess their reflections. In addition to self-assessment, I will do a weekly formative assessment using a similar rubric to the one the students are using. We will conference together so students can get weekly feedback on their writing and research.

Finally, after students have had an opportunity to correct the weekly conference issues, a summative assessment of their overall page will be done using this rubric.

My realization in this class has been something I teach in my own classes: “You cannot eat the elephant all in one bite.” This mantra certainly applies to assessment. It is unfair to expect students to be able to be successful on any assessment if they have not be getting little bits of assessment (with feedback) all along the way. I cannot expect students to be successful in their learning, nor expect them to even take responsibility, if I have not been giving them the tools for that success.

15 July 2010

Assessment, Session 5

The next to last session of the final module in Semester number 2. Then only one more semester!

The time has really flown by and my thoughts on my education have certainly changed over the last year, even over the last few months, the direction of my educational plans has changed. This is due in large part to the infinite wisdom of our legislators. Their actions have driven me to make some decisions I had previously thought undecideable. They decided that the National Board Certification for Teachers isn't important enough to fund. Meaning, they ceased funding the scholarship for the application process ($2500) and they suspended the yearly stipend for at least the next two years. Because of this, I have reconsidered my decision to sit for the National Board process. I know, that sounds like I was only doing it for the money, but that's not the case! I am reconsidering because of the timing of the process. The intent was for me to do it next year. SNU awards 6 hours of Master's level credit for mentoring during the application of National Boards. This would be the last six hours I would need for my degree in Curriculum and Instruction. However, since our legislators cut our funding, I would be doing the National Board process over the next six months, a full year early. If I apply this year, I would be eligible for reimbursement of the application fee and would be eligible for the stipend, if certified.

But, because I wouldn't be going through the mentoring process I would have to find six other graduate level hours to substitute for the mentoring hours, as mentioned earlier. The timing is the problem. If one wants to get into a doctoral program, one must have a Master's degree (usually) in hand. Because of stuff at @mishelleyb's place of employment, the time for her to do her doctoral program has arrived. This just so happens to coincide with me finishing my Master's. We got the bright idea to do a program together and found one that suits both of our needs, which begins in the Fall of 2011. Before I can be accepted into a program, I must have the degree conferred for my Master's. This means, I would be doing Nat'l Boards, while being a part of the lives of two fantastic teenage children, while taking 6 graduate hours online, while finishing the MACI program modules, while teaching full-time, and finally, while teaching some adjunct hours in SNU's bridge program (which I committed to before the Nat'l Board stuff came up). Can you see my dilemma?

Anyway, I'm supposed to be reflecting on class. Last night was a night for group project presentations. We worked on a selected response assessment (a pretest) for 8th grade mathematics vocabulary. We chose selected response simply because we were the "experts" on this subject. It was the chapter we had researched and done extra study on. It also lent itself well to our preferred use of technology, the Clickers! We chose clickers because they are able to give quick feedback to students. Questions in the assessment would be tagged with the particular concept and could give students (and teachers) a quick view of which concepts/words students needed more help on. Teachers can even print out a spreadsheet with the answers, notes, and concepts listed so students would have a visual representation of which areas they need extra study.

I've been impressed with this class, simply because it has been the class which has made the most connection with me for my personal practice in the classroom. I have realized that I have been cheating my students and myself by not putting enough work into my assessments. Sometimes, especially when you other obligations, its easy to just put together a bunch of questions out of the textbook test-bank and throw a test at the kids. This does them a disservice. Other than assigning a grade, student get no real feedback on their learning. They have nothing other than a report card grade to show for their efforts. This is especially true if students have not gotten any buy-in into the class already. They have absolutely no motivation to further their learning. Particularly so if they are not being successful in the class. By the way, I'm constantly thinking about how this is going to play out in August when I begin teaching adults, as well. I suspect somethings will be the same, but I also think much will be different.

We also conferenced a little bit, since one of our chapters deals with this practice. I was simply an observer for this activity since I had an alternate assignment. I never cease to be amazed that folks depend so much on me for technology ideas/practice when it seems to me that these skills should simply come naturally to people. I've been struggling with this issue for quite a while and I'm still not sure how to take the "attention". I don't always have a great self-image so when people give me compliments or depend on me to accomplish something, I'm not always sure how to take that. I do know this: when I started teaching 3 years ago (holy cow!) I didn't really set out with any kind of goals in mind. I didn't think I'd go back to school, I didn't set out to be on the "cutting edge of technology" in my district. I didn't think I'd be teaching technology classes to the best teachers in the world. I did simply follow my passions. Science and technology. Those two things are what I am interested in and teaching them to others comes naturally.

Who knows the plans that are in store for you? I certainly didn't think I am where I thought I would be. In the words of the great Douglas Adams, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." Teaching is definitely one of my gifts. Although its hard sometimes to think of what I do as work (doubt you could tell by all of my complaining). I'm so thankful to be given many opportunities to simply share things about which I am passionate. If you have anything to do with those opportunities, Thank You!

11 July 2010

reflection on Session 4 of assessment

We talked this week about the balance between the two assessment types: formative vs. summative. I admit, when we started this program, I didn't really remember what the meanings of those two words were. In fact, I remember in our first class, way back in September of last year, one of the program participants used them in a sentence and I drew a blank. I remember having those words in my Secondary Science Methods class during my undergraduate work. (I'll warn you now, this may turn into a reflection on the Master's program as a whole, rather than a single class session.) It seems I have come a long way over the last few years. It seems that only yesterday I was busy tinting every window I could convince folks needed tint. In reality, it was just yesterday that I was looking at a bunch of different schools, trying to decide which one has the right doctoral program for me. (thinking very hard about this one, we'll see. We would look at starting in Fall 2011, yes, I said WE).

So where does the balance between summative and formative assessment lie? We even did an activity from our text, which had us look at a unit and see how much of each type we did. I always feel like I'm doing enough formative assessment, but in reality I'm not really sure I am. I don't have a specific design (yet) as to when to formatively assess, I just pepper in some "check for understanding" questions throughout the lecture. I won't soon be repeating (probably not ever) that pattern again. I'm learning through my Master's that I have to be purposeful in everything I do in the classroom. Don't get me wrong. I do think there is room for the teachable moments. However, I am finding that to have true success in my classroom I must be pushing my students in a direction that is more focused than what I have previously been doing. That shows in my AP test scores this year. I (obviously) didn't have as good of a plan as I did in previous years. I only had 2 out of 16 pass. I know that isn't entirely my "fault", but I know I didn't do as good of a job preparing students for the test this year.

It is certainly possible that means I didn't have enough formative assessment in my curriculum. What is an AP test, other than a huge summative assessment? Granted, it may be the hardest test many students ever take, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the person who knows the most about the subject, the teacher. That person is me. I am the adult in the classroom and I take full responsibility for the preparedness (or lack of it) of my students.

A Master's program, especially one in Curriculum and Instruction, certainly makes one examine oneself as a practitioner of instruction. I used to only associate the word practitioner with the medical profession. Now, I recognize that word certainly lends itself to vocation of teaching. In fact, the teacher, as a practitioner of instruction, is not unlike the medical practitioner. I don't mean to say students enter your classroom "sick", only ignorant. Many students come to my classroom with absolutely no knowledge of the subject of physics. Of course, this is ridiculous since Physics is the Study of the Entire Universe. They have been learning about their surroundings since the day they first entered the womb, but I digress. In the successful teacher's classroom (even in mine), students leave the classroom with a deeper grasp of the subject at hand. Hopefully, and maybe more importantly, they leave with a stronger interest in the subject, as well.

Where does this leave us with assessment? More importantly, where does it leave ME with assessment? It leaves me in a place in which I must work harder at my job. I means I have to change the way I teach my class and insure that students get enough formative assessment (with feedback) so that when the summative assessment comes along they will be prepared to be successful at the task. I heard today from a colleague that his students used to have to take qualifying exams just to be able to take the summative test. Hmmm. Intersesting idea. Yes? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it!

06 July 2010

Reflections on #ISTE10 and assessment

Last week, along with about 17,999 other educators, I had the pleasure of spending time in Denver, CO dwelling on one of my favorite topics: technology in education. It really was great to get together in one place with people who are of the same mindset as me: using technology in the classroom can make a great teacher even better. I'm pretty sure every teacher there recognizes that technology is not the answer the myriad of woes that has befallen what was once the greatest education system in the world. Many technology advocates are more than just that, they are advocates (as I'm sure many other teachers are) for genuine improvement in education. Most want education reform to start with them. I certainly know I do.

technologySo, where does assessment fit into this change or at least into the idea? There are so many tools in technology that goes hand-in-hand for authentic assessment. In class we read an article by Thomas Guskey ("How Classroom Assessments Improve Student Learning," (2003), Educational Leadership, 60, (5)). If you have access to ERIC, I highly recommend the article. The take-away items from this article are extend instruction with assessment, give timely feedback after assessments, give some corrective training (kids need to un-learn what they learned wrong), allow students a chance to show their knowledge through a second-chance test. Teachers need to get back to the basic reasons for assessment and the rest (high-stakes testing) will take care of itself. GoogleApps for Education offers (free of charge) a particular tool that is invaluable in aiding a teacher with the previously-mentioned items.

First, engage students with the method of assessment. In my (very) informal research, most students would rather take a test online than take a paper test. Students react positively (usually) to technology. It would be very easy to allow students to take a paper test if needed. I guess my point here is that we do a couple of things by giving tests online, save paper, (and therefore money), use resources we already have (computers that aren't being constantly used), and allow student to interact with their education in way in which they are already familiar: through technology.

Second, give students timely feedback. If a teacher is using GoogleApps for Education, they are able to have tests graded on the day they are given. They can also give students a printed copy of the test with the correct answers. This can stimulate discussion (if students are so inclined) to find out why they missed a question. I think this could be a way to save class time for its intended use: instruction. This is an area in which I am sorely lacking. Feedback. So the reason I'm writing this is to tell myself that's what I should be doing.

feedbackThird, give feedback to teachers on what students have (or have not) learned. Again, I admit I am deficient in this area. I usually don't go much further than looking at the class average on a test. But when GoogleApps has a handy-dandy tool to see the percentage of correct and incorrect answers on a test, even in a neat pie chart, why NOT use it?!? Maybe it would be useful to allow students to see this information, too. They might benefit or see some kind of pattern that teacher miss? I don't know, but is seems silly not to use a tool this useful, especially when Google provides the service for free. As educators, we don't even have to use our own server space. Brilliant!

Lastly, second chances. Oh dear, this may be the hardest of all. I know in principal this is the right thing to do. The logic if the concept is...well, logical! I suppose I need to rethink my entire view of learning, or at least of assessment. Isn't the goal of assessment to determine if students learned something? And if so, what? Well, that means I need to re-teach after a test and then give the opportunity to show they learned it the second time around. What's that? You don't think life is full of second chances? Well then you don't know that I found my love of teaching after being in the military (twice) and working as a window tinter for many years before going back to school at 35 years of age. 2nd chances, indeed! More like 4th chances! Anyway, don't even get me started. I guarantee you there are teachers reading this who had to take a "second chance" on their subject-area test. If not, you guys are a heck of a lot smarter than I am. I didn't have to retake any subject-area tests, but the first class I ever failed in college? You guessed it! Physics, circa 1989!

So, I've certainly got a long way to go when it comes to performing authentic assessment in my classes. However, I guess that's the great thing about teaching, you always have a new group of students to work with next year! If you are anything like me, next year is always going to be the best year!