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?