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.