Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day 56: You Suck... cheating!

We had a prolonged discussion in each class about how terrible my students are at cheating.  I felt as though I was doing a teacher version of a Jeff Foxworthy routine:

If you can't tell the difference between the core of the sun and a sunspot but have no problem listing every step of proton-proton fusion, you might be a cheater.
"...No comprende!"

"That's cheese, yo!"

If your research paper includes embedded hyperlinks, you might be a cheater.

If you correctly answer a question that wasn't being asked on your test, you might be a cheater.

If you use exactly the same complicated wording as the person next to you, you might be a cheater.

Man, am I ready for Thanksgiving. I'm very excited to chat with my cousin, who has just become a teacher, spend time with my family and play all of the cool games I got from Kickstarter this year.

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.  To my Canadian friends, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving last month.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Day 55: Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V

I'm glad that I'm not an English teacher.

I like History and would have liked to have been a History teacher.  I like the stories and have had some wonderful teacher who brought the subject to life for me.  The primary reason that I didn't go into history (other than the fact that it's almost impossible for a history teacher to get a job in this area) is the fact that I didn't want to grade essays and papers.

That still holds true.  I hate grading essays and papers.  I forgot about how badly I do when I gave "write a 2 page research paper" as an option for the chapter assessment.

While the sun models, for the most part, showed dedication, creativity, the majority of the papers demonstrated my students' abilities to copy and paste from Wikipedia.

As I went through the paper that were turned in, I came to two very important conclusions which I don't think will be a shock to anyone:
1. Students don't read directions.
2. Students don't check their work.

As with the projects yesterday, a large number of students lost point simply because they neglected to follow the rubric.  They forgot title pages, they didn't type their papers, they didn't write to the designated length and they didn't write introductions or conclusions.

Several students didn't even turn in research papers, but printed out Powerpoint slides.

Most egregious, however, were those students who copied whole paragraphs from Wikipedia or I'm not going to really talk about plagiarism here except to say that those students received 0's and, if they want to make up the assignment, they need to get a parent signature to acknowledge why they earned the 0.

But two students who were out yesterday brought me models of the sun made out of cake today, so I don't care about anything else.

Yesterday in physics, we began by discussing elements of experimental design.  I challenged them to design an experiment that would verify the value of acceleration due to gravity that we've been using.

Today, they put those experiments into practice.  Each group had slightly different ways to verify the data.  One group used spheres of different sizes and density.  Another tried to minimize air resistance by constructing paper cones and loading them with different masses.  A third used fruit.

Seriously, they dropped fruit down the stairs.

I'm incredibly proud of the work they did today.  Debrief tomorrow followed by gorging on turkey!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Day 54: Where's The Cake?

I'm looking for alternate ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge of the content, other than traditional tests.  For this chapter (the Sun) They could either create a model of the sun, write a 2 page research paper, or take the test.  If they came in today without the first two, they would be choosing the third option.

The submissions I received ran the full spectrum from incredibly detailed and created to **yawn** "OH CRAP!!"

I gave this assignment 10 days ago.  I talked about it in class almost every day since then.  I mentioned it in my Remind texts to the students almost every day since.

Even with all of that, I received several messages over the weekend asking for more time because computers broke or parents didn't get the supplies, etc.  Also, there were several students who clearly worked incredibly hard on their projects, but didn't look at the rubric to see what was being graded.

A few students submitted "research papers" that were clearly copied from websites, had font changes in the middle of sentences, lacked sense and coherence, or were a single paragraph when they were supposed to be 2 pages.

On the other hand, there were a ton of students who demonstrated dedication to their projects, mastery of the material and pride in their work.  While the majority of the projects were made from cut foam, I also received submissions in clay, Playdough, paper, plastic and a half of a basketball.  One of my students made a video in Adobe and sent that in.

With a few exceptions, I was fairly pleased with what was turned in.  I'm hoping that if I continue to offer assignments that allow students to be creative, they will improve over the year.

I am, however, DEEPLY disappointed that I didn't get any cake.  I even brought in a stack of plates because I had one kid in each class tell me they were making cake!  What jerks!

This assignment also had me and one of my coworkers discussing the benefits and drawbacks of such projects.  The first thing is the struggle that I have with grading them.  It upsets me to see a project that has been loved and carefully attended earn a low grade because the student didn't check the rubric.  Conversely, I'm annoyed at having to give high marks to a student who turns in a last-minute project but managed to hit everything on the rubric.  The solution to the later is to make the rubric much more specific, broken down into artistic elements and whatnot, but I don't want kids to NOT choose the do the project because they lack artistic ability.

I'm also deeply annoyed by the kids who do the bare minimum because that's how I operate when I don't have passion about something.  Even as I wrote that last paragraph, I could picture my mom rolling her eyes and yelling at her computer screen with something like "That's because that's who you are!"

The other idea that I was discussing with my colleague was that students will spend an inordinate amount of time on the aesthetic aspect of the project while minimizing the content.  Several of these models are gorgeous, but display no understanding of the underlying concepts.  This is where the feedback comes in, but I didn't have any student willing to revise.

Also, WHERE IS MY CAKE! Even the girl who did her sun in Rice Krispies wanted it back at the end of the day!

She did let me have a slice...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Day 53: Why?

We received an email from our district today with a brief survey to complete before or during our In-Service tomorrow.  When I opened it, I was stopped in my tracks by the first question.

Why do you teach?


How to answer this...

My first few thoughts were to answer with flippant and sarcastic responses:

  • For the glamour and glory
  • For the money
  • I got bored ending world hunger and curing cancer
  • The judge told me I needed "public service" hours

After a giggle or two, I began to seriously ponder my response.  I asked a few of my coworkers and got answers similar to my initial one.

  • For the women
  • Summers off
  • Healthcare for my kids
  • I don't know anymore

There were also several answer that, while serious and true, are not answers that I think are particularly good.  By that, I mean that they don't allow further discussion.  Much the way that when I ask my students to tell me what a sunspot is, they reply "a spot on the sun."  While that's a perfectly accurate answer, it doesn't REALLY answer the question.

  • I love to teach
  • I was born to teach
  • Teaching is great

I found that no one had an answer that they liked.  The people with whom I spoke were giving either severely truncated versions of reality, or nonsense.  There was a general consensus that this is a very complicated question.

I think it's also a VERY important question.

I firmly believe that everyone who teaches should regularly ask themselves why.  I know that every time someone asks me, I have a different answer.  Part of the reason for this is that as I interact with students, my reasons change.  Some days, I teach because I love watching the light of recognition in the eyes of my students when they discover something new, especially about themselves and their abilities.  Some days, it's because I love interacting with my students.

Some days I teach because I need healthcare for my kids.

When someone is trying to lose weight, they are often given the advice to not weigh themselves every day.  Some days you gain weight and some days you lose, but what you want is the overall trend to be down.

I think there are many parallels to teaching.  Some days I have definitive purpose and other days I phone it in.  As long as the overall trend is upwards towards purpose, I think I'm doing alright.

This is the answer I submitted:

My other answers are "I teach so that, eventually, I can be a teacher" and "I teach so that I can help my students discover ways to achieve their own goals."

And I would never deny my love for the reaction at the end of this video:

How would you answer this question?

I know how @Sneffleupagus would answer!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Day 52: Your Menu, Madam

I'm treading water a bit in Astronomy.  I couldn't get my classes into the computer labs because they were either being used or being repaired.  No one brought their art supplies for their projects, which is fine.

Thankfully, I figured this would be the case so I had a chapter summary sheet ready for them.  I gave them the chance to work on their projects or the sheets in class while I got caught up with some work I had.

I'm in the process of modifying a sheet from one of my colleagues that gives students a menu of assignments from each section and allows them to decide how they will demonstrate mastery.  The list is meant to be updated for each unit, but many of the options will remain the same.

  • Make a crossword puzzle with all of of the vocabulary words
  • Make vocabulary mini-posters for the WordWall
  • Answer the questions at the end of the chapter in the textbook
  • Create a concept map
  • Summarize the experiments that have been done on this topic
  • Do a lab at home
  • Write a creative story, comic book or movie script involving the vocabulary words
  • Write a song or rap about the main idea of the chapter
  • Build a scale model

These are just a few of the ideas.  Students pick one option from each section (Vocabulary, Content Learning, Experimental, Creative Expression, Assessment) with each assignment worth a different amount of points.  They have to select at least 50 points worth for each section.

Adding student choice gives them much more investment in their learning.  I will say that I'm annoyed at how many kids who constantly complain about having tests chose to take the test as their optional assignment.

Last week:
"Man! Why do we have to take tests? Why can't we do a project??"

This week:
"Here's some projects for you so you don't have to take the test."
"Naw. I'll just take the test."

I distinctly remember writing about exactly this same issue a year and a half ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The 4 inner planets are to scale (1 hex block = 1000 km)
The 4 outer planets are to scale (1 hex block = 10,000 km)
The sun is to scale (1 hex block = 100,000 km)

And the Earth is flat!!

In physics, we had a discussion about experimental design and their reflections of the lab yesterday.  We talked about what things went wrong, what could be changed for next time and how the lab could have been modified to minimize human error.  Before the next lab, we will review what we talked about and, hopefully, will have improved results.

I think, perhaps, the conversation we had yesterday had a bit of an impact since our discussion today was very productive.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Day 51: What to do next...

When I lecture, they talk over me.

When I give them activities, they don't do them.

When I show movies with cool visuals and the voice of Mike Rowe, they take naps.

This by no means applies to all students.  There are a few in each class who are deeply interested in the content.

I suppose my lectures are boring, my activities shallow and my movies dull.  I do wonder if this problem is exaggerated because my classes are, technically, electives.   The kids take them either because they are interested in Astronomy or because they need a science credit.  Any science credit will do.  When it comes down to it, the things that I teach are not life-critical.

I believe this course would be much more effective as a semester course, allowing me to cover topics that the kids want to explore and not worry about the details of the chemical reactions inside the sun.  Should the kid know that stars fuse lighter elements into heavier ones? Yes. Do they need to know the specific of that process? Probably not.

When I speak with other teacher about this issue, they usually respond with "do what you can for those who are interested."

I feel as though I'm doing a great job of killing the topic for those who are interested, either by delving too deep into the technical aspects of the topics, or by spending so much of the class trying to control those who don't care.

I also had a with the Honors kids about their behavior and work ethic.  I am increasing my expectations for them and have faith that they can rise to the challenge.

When they came in, there were Hotwheels tracks attached to desks and chairs.  I am trying to get them to be thinking more critically, eventually developing their own experiments.  In order to move towards that, I gave them the ramps and the goal and left the rest to them.

  • Calculate the velocity of the car as it leaves the bottom of the ramp when released from Point 1, Point 3 and Point 4.
  • Find where the car would land when released from Point 2 and Point 5.

I told them that they needed to devise a way to record and organize data, graphing their information and demonstrating how to arrived at the results.  Then I said go.

There were some interesting discussions in the groups about how to record data, how to take measurements and how to predict results.  I saw some pretty excellent work happening as well.

After they finished collecting data, I wandered around asking obnoxious questions like "Out of curiosity, when did you start the timer?" and "how many trials did you do?"

Enough of these life-ruining moments and they will start to consider their experimental design BEFORE they run the experiments.

Me: "What are you doing to make sure you know exactly where the car lands?"
S: "That's not a problem. It makes a gouge in the floor when it hits!"

Or perhaps I'll be the one rethinking the experimental design...

Friday, November 13, 2015

Day 50: I Built A Sun

As I wrote about yesterday, in order to avoid giving yet another chapter test, I gave my students some options.

The could take the test if they wanted, they could write a 2 page research paper on the solar topic of their choice, or they could build a 3 dimensional model of the sun.

Many of the students are choosing to do the model and came up with some pretty cool ideas.  It appears that I will have at least one cake/Rice Krispie treat sun in each class and let me tell you how devastated I am about THAT.

One of my students is exploring the idea of making a pop-up book style poster with the various layers of the sun.  A few others talked about buying a Styrofoam ball and cutting a slice out.  I think there are some truly interesting ideas here and I'm excited to see what they come up with.

While they were working, I got out the hexagons!  I built my own solar model, complete with core, radiative zone, convection zone, photosphere, sunspots, corona, solar flares and coronal mass ejections!

I continued to be discouraged by the work ethic of many of the students in Honors Physics.  I think we are at the point where their intelligence has brought them success for the past 11 year in school and so now, several of them don't know how to work, or even what are Honors level expectations.

This is by no means all of them and, unfortunately, several students have the disadvantage that they were placed in my class without having completed the pre-requisite courses.  I don't blame them for this and most of those students are working their butts off to keep up.

I have no problem giving extra help to students who are busting their humps to understand.

Today's physics problem was about relative frames of reference.  I had a young man throwing a ball straight up in the air and I placed him on the back of a moving train.  We are going to have a chat on Monday about my expectations and it may include throwing things from trains.
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