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.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Day 49: All A-Bored

I bored myself today.  Even with staying home yesterday, I'm still feeling worn down.  Perhaps I need more vitamins.  The transition to having my alarm go off at 4:30 hasn't been very smooth.

In addition, beyond fusion, I don't care all that much about the working of the sun.  It's easy to let my passion show through when talking about various topics, but this one? Meh.

I am, however, concerned that if I rush through topics that don't particularly interest me, I'll run out of topics for this course.  So I've decided to add a project and give the students a choice about which one they would like to do.

1) Sun Research Paper: 2 pages exploring the relationship between the sun and the earth.  Students will pick a topic to examine (space weather, atmosphere, climate, etc.) and look into what effects it has on human endeavors or the world around us.

2) Layers of the Sun Model: Students will create a 3 dimensional model of the sun that displays, identifies and explains the purpose and features of each later.

Both projects will be due on the Monday before Thanksgiving and I think it will be in lieu of a chapter test.  I'm tired of tests.

I think a large portion of this comes from my lack of familiarity with this content in an academic way.  I love astronomy, but never having taught it before, I'm not sure which topics I need to hit and which I can skip.  I also haven't built up a list of fun activities yet.

In physics, we kept working through problems, going over the ones I asked them to work in my absence.  I think much of their trepidation will be set aside through practice.

We finished class with a classic "two trains are travelling towards each other" problem and had an interesting discussion about relativity.

If one train is going at 80 km/h and the other is moving at 120 km/h, is that the same as one train moving at 200 km/h towards a wall?  They had several theories.

On a related note, I love when I do Google image searches and come up with pictures from sites runs by my friends.  Thanks, Math Forum!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Day 47: Dropping the Ball

For various reasons, including a senior trip to visit colleges, my classes were fairly light today.  I finished giving notes for the section on nuclear fusion with hydrostatic equilibrium.

I know I've said it before, and I will say it again, but MAN! I'm learning a ton.

Rather than lecturing for the whole class, I covered a topic and give them an activity to work on.

I've been worried about Physics.  More specifically, I've been worried about the sequencing.  I've been following two different curricula that SORT of coincide, but not completely.  I'm finding myself covering topics (inclined planes) that I think could be explained better with free-body diagrams, but we haven't done those yet.  One sequence wants me to talk about vectors while the other doesn't.\

This is something I need to fix.  Pick a sequence and go with it, Justin!

I worry that I'm creating confusion, and probably because I'm confused myself.  I've been relying on my own abilities and knowledge of physics to get me though and I think that was a bad choice.

I'm going to go back and look more heavily at the sequence, plan my topics better and have a more consistent set of scaffolds.  I think I was planning for this class to be populated with students of a certain level of requisite knowledge and skills and that's simply not the case.

Rather than letting them flop and flail, I need to meet them where they are to move them to where I want them to be.

I know they are capable, but I also think I need to be providing more of a structure and clearly identifying my expectations.

Two students have dropped the class already.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Day 46: One Rule

Everything I've read and everyone with whom I've interacted all seem to agree on something about classroom rules: Make them short, make them simple.
This really should be my only class rule.

At the beginning of the year, I told my students that my main rule is that they are not allowed to stop other people from learning.  This means that if they are disrupting the environment to the point where I am unable to teach, we have a problem.

Today in 3rd period, we had a problem.  The side-talking was getting very out of hand, to the point where the students sitting directly in front of me couldn't hear what I was saying.

I asked the talkers to please keep it down because some people were interested in the lesson weren't able to hear me.  When they continued talking, I lost it.

I screamed for the first time this year.

I'm loud.  I'm VERY loud.  My volume increase with my excitement level.  The kids are used to me being loud.

They are not used to me screaming.  I saw looks of relief on the faces of the students who have been trying to learn in spite of their classmates.

I told them why I was frustrated and they seemed to get it.  The kids who were talking looked appropriately contrite.

So I resumed the lesson.

And they resumed talking.

"Please leave my room."

In the space of 3 minutes, I had to remove 4 different students.  I told them to stand outside the classroom, but they wandered off.

With the example made, the distractions removed, the rest of the class did incredibly well.  They were interested in the topic (how the sun produces energy) and we had a nice discussion.

In 4th period, a student walked in with a late pass (that was signed for 15 minutes before he actually arrived) and immediately started picking things up around the room.  When I asked him to put them down, he told me that I was "all rude and shit."

So he left too.

I understand that people have bad days.  I understand that sometimes, various forces align and ton of stuff goes wrong, interactions are bad, conversations go sour.  I try to be understanding of students having bad days.  If someone needs to put their head down, that's fine.

What's not fine, or acceptable, is the destruction, willful or otherwise, of someone else's learning.  In 1st period, I had to remove a student as well because, while listening to headphones, he was laughing, dancing, snapping and singing.  He didn't even realize that he was and when we talked about it afterwards, he admitted that sometimes he does those things without knowing it.

When I asked him what he thought he could do to limit the distractions that he's giving off, he said he should probably not listen to music while doing his work.  I told him that I thought that was a good idea.  The problem that I had wasn't the music.  He got his work done and did it fairly well.  He was able to answer questions and participated well.  My problem was that what he was doing while listening to the music was creating a distraction to the other students and that was something I couldn't have.

He's a good kid.  I will try to speak with the other students soon.

5 minutes after the last student walked off, a different student (not one of mine) opened my door, poked his head in and said "what would happen if someone threw a bomb into Mr. Aion's room?"

I informed the principal.

In addition to this, there were 4 separate fights today, one of which I helped break up.  The video of that is circulating on Facebook.  Several students came up to me throughout the day to tell me what a beast I was.

That's me.  A beast.

Then I tried to wing-it with a problem in physics and messed the whole thing up.

Hooray Monday.

Friday, November 6, 2015



With today being the last day of the marking period, I had a stack of papers to grade and toss into the gradebook.  We had also finished a section on the structure of the sun, so I thought it might be a good day for a craft.


I found a really cool "Structure of the Sun" activity on The Wise Nest.  It was originally designed for elementary school, but I modified it by taking all of the labels off and removing the definitions.  I had colored pencils available and had them create a solar flip book with terms and roles for each layer.

The kids were really into it.  3rd period had about half of the students who just flat out refused to do the activity.  Since it was designed to help them and provide a fun way to learn the layers, I focused on the kids who was interested.  It was a great day.

We did have to have multiple discussions about how there was no "right way" to color or assemble it.

"It's a study guide for YOU. As long as the information is right and you understand it, put it together and color it however you want.


Since I didn't have to spend any frustration or energy on trying to get kids to stop talking over me, the extra manifested in the form of song and dance throughout the day.  I also kept yelling "ARTS AND CRAFTS DAY" in the style of an excited, deep-voiced toddler!

And then came Physics.  I put a scenario on the board.
I asked them to find the angle at which the tank would have to fire in order to hit the hoard of zombies that were 18 km away.

This was a MUCH harder problem than they were ready for.

I intentionally didn't work it out ahead of time.  If I know an answer or process, I have a tendency to answer their questions in a certain way that may lead them down an inauthentic path.  With this problem, I couldn't answer any of their questions, except for in theory.

In addition, when I started working through the problem with them, they were able to see my authentic process and struggle.

And struggle it was.  The numbers I picked were WAY too big and we ended up having to solve a quadratic with a "c" term of 7,779,240,000.  It was a mess.

But it was a glorious mess.  It didn't take too long to solve, but at the request of a few of the students for "more direct" ways, we dove back in and tried to work through it.  When the bell rang at the end of the day, I was energized and my students dragged themselves out, once of whom claimed that she was GOING to do it over the weekend because she hated not knowing.

**tear**  I'm so proud.

I also spent most of the day walking around asking people if they wanted to see a picture of my sun.
"I love my sun. He's so bright, but he keeps his distance."
 I don't know why I got weird looks.  Were they expecting a different picture?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Day 44: Swedish Fusion

I'm starting to think that rather than "today my students learned ...," I should begin my posts with "today, I learned..."

I am constantly amazed at how much Astronomy I'm learning each day.  By the time I get to my fifth iteration, I feel like an Astrophysicist!

Today, I learned about the different layers of the sun and its atmosphere.
I explained how fusion works by shaking, and then crushing together, two Swedish fish.  Then I ate them.

The physics class worked on another 2 dimensional kinematics problem.  I am starting to realize that I've really been missing doing math this year.  I find so much comfort in it, especially in the Physics where you have to figure out multiple steps to get to a solution.

I'm still tired and don't feel like writing today.  It wasn't a bad day at all and I'll leave it at that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Day 43: Catch-Up

With the marking period ending on Friday, the quarterly "how can I get my grade up" scramble is in full swing.

Since I am not under time pressure to cover certain topics and I'm not the kind of person who tries to use what Sarah Palin might call "gotcha" teaching, I have no problem taking a day or two to let kids turn in assignments that they owe and demonstrate that they do actually know the information.

The majority of my students spent today working on corrections to the test that they took on Friday.  They could earn back some points that they missed by writing the correct answer, an explanation of their reasoning and an explanation of what they did wrong the first time.

For those who had already completed their test corrections, or opted not to do them, I had them work on the next section of their guided notes, looking up information on the corona and chromosphere.

I couldn't help but notice a high correlation between students working on their guided notes and those who did well on this previous test.

It is a great time to be an astronomy teacher!  NASA just released a 30 minute video of high definition solar footage from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.  It is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in a long time (besides a baby's smile, a single blue flower in a field of yellow or a bald eagle soaring through the Rockies clutching an American Flag).
Since I had JUST talked about both the SDO and the photosphere yesterday, I felt justified it having this video run on loop in the background while the kids worked.  The music is gorgeous as well.

I think several students in the Honors Physics class are starting to realize how far out of their depth they are.  One of the trends that I've noticed is that students in advanced classes usually fall into one of two categories.  Either they have had enough background smarts to push them forwards, or they have great work habits and persistence.

The Physics class seems to be split about 50/50.  Many of these kids are naturally bright, but don't really know how to take notes, ask questions, or study.  When they find themselves lost, instead of buckling down, they tune out and wait for something that makes sense to them.

This is a fairly good short-term strategy, especially in classes that don't carry over topics and concepts from one section to the next.  It is, however, a terrible strategy for classes such as math and science where the topics are cumulative.

The students who only paid minor attention during the section on 1 dimensional kinematics are finding it difficult to keep up during 2 dimensional.  These are the same students who repeatedly simply don't turn in assignments.  I would care less about this if they could ace the tests, but that's not happening either.

Since "Honors Physics" is the lowest level of physics that's offered in my school, I'm wondering if I need to be changing my expectations of the students.

My issue with that is that there are several students who are working their butts off and doing amazing work and I hate to cater to those who won't work because they think they don't have to.

And after that last sentence, I feel as though I should call my parents to make sure they haven't died from the irony.

One of my coworkers stopped me in the hall today to tell me that she's been reading this blog lately.  She thanked me for my writing and what I share.  She told me that she finds it comforting to see that someone else is having the same struggles as she is, the same failures, the same questions.

When I spoke at NCTM last month, I said that I write for me.  I write to find my center, to keep myself on track.

But I would be lying if I didn't admit that I love interactions like the one I had today.  As a teacher, it warms me to know that I'm helping someone else, even if all I'm doing is sharing my struggles.

So I suppose I'll keep doing it.

Today is post number 400.

Here's to 400 more!

I'm lying! Can I be done blogging please??

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Day 42: 'Sup, Sun?

I started today by playing a video.

We are starting the unit on the Sun so I thought a cool video with nice animation would be a good way to introduce the topic.

"Phil Plait speaks incredibly quickly, so don't worry about writing anything down or even catching all of it.  Just pick up what you can and we'll talk about it afterwards."

Over the 10 minutes, there were a few exclamations of "holy crap!" and "that's crazy" which I took as a good sign of engagement and interest.

Then I told stories.  I've said before that when I lecture, I do so in the form of storytelling rather than fact listing.  Telling the same story 5 times in a row also means I get more of the facts right and am able to add more details.  In talking about the photosphere (which I knew nothing about 3 days ago) for 5 periods, I now feel VERY comfortable moving away from just the basic facts and make it more of a story.

So, who wants to know about the photosphere...


I'm feeling much better than yesterday.  One of the students with whom I had an altercation yesterday came up to ask me to sponsor the chess club today.

Sometimes it just takes a day or two to get your head right.

I helped myself to improve my mood by working on some 2-dimensional kinematics problems with the Physics class.  Hooray!

About a third of them had their heads down, waiting for us to either finish the problem, or not trying at all.  The other two thirds, however, worked VERY hard and I could actually hear brain gears grinding.  It was a glorious sound, seconded only by the cries of elation that a student gives when they have fought their way through a tough problem.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Day 41: The Good of The Many

I should have stayed home today, but I know it wouldn't have helped.

Yesterday, I started grading at 8:30 am.  When I finished at 3 pm, I had a headache, my stomach hurt, I was angry, frustrated and imagined myself as the worst teacher ever.

In my heart, I know this isn't true.  I know that my lessons are not super boring.  I know that many of the low scores are a direct result of the choices made by my students.  They CHOOSE to sleep during class, to not take notes, to not use the reviews, to not ask questions, to put their name on the test and then turn it in.

I know that when a student who was absent on Friday gets the test today, answers the first page while leaning on a locker, turns in it after 3 minutes and says she'll do the make-up, then spends the period talking to her friends, that she's making a choice.

I know that when a student calls me over to ask a question and then turns around and talk to his friend about sports while I'm standing there, he's making a choice.

I also know that part of school is helping students to make more productive choices.  I'm becoming less and less convinced that I know how to do this.

On a small scale, I can have conversations with students about their choices, but with 130, I'm not sure how to do it without having them think "he's talking about someone else."

My class is an elective science class.  Many of the kids in it are taking it because they need the science credit to graduate, and they thought it would be easier than Ecology or Chemistry.  It's not a hard course, but you do need to do more than just show up.

I KNOW that the score are a result of the choices that they make.

But that doesn't stop me from asking what else I could do.

When I start making of list of the things I AM doing to support them, I feel as though I'm making excuses.  I wonder how much of this is internal and how much is societal expectations that teachers never give up on their students.

For your own sanity, there has to come a point where you stop.  At some point, you have to do the math of how much you focus on one disruptive student instead of the 12 attentive ones.

No, you shouldn't give up any kid.  But why should one take priority over 29?  We have to serve every kid, but at what point does serving one student mean neglecting another?

These are questions that we can't ever discuss because no one wants to admit that they are giving up on a kid.

The reality, however, is that as a human being, I have a limited set of skills and there are students whose needs are beyond my abilities.

I am unwilling to sacrifice 29 for the sake of 1, especially when that 1 takes it as a personal mission to dynamite the classroom.  I know he/she has needs, that the behavior is rooted in something important, but I simply don't have the resources to cure those ills.

Spending 5 minutes on each student each day adds up to almost 11 hours each day.  So we focus our time where think it will do the most good.

Student: "Mr. Aion, I'm coming in Wednesday to retake a test."
Me: "Which one?"
Student: "I don't know which one! YOU look it up!"
Me: "I'm not doing that. It's your test that you want to retake. If you don't know which one it is, it tells me that you haven't prepared for it. That means it would be a waste of your time to take and mine to grade."
Students: "You're mad! Don't take it out on me just because you're angry."
Me: "Not at all. This is your grade and your retake, therefore is your responsibility."

I know that much of this response is a defense mechanism, trying to not feel stupid and lost, but that doesn't change my ability to deal with it.

I don't know how to explain that there needs to be some personal responsibility.

I called him up near the end of class and we cleared the air.  He looked up the test he needed and said he would study.  I felt better about it, but I'm wiped out.

When I told another student that he didn't know what he was supposed to be doing because he spoke over me while I was giving directions, he said something about "deez nuts."

And then something interesting and comforting happened.  While I was covering another class, a few students came from the din and asked me if I knew any math because they had some questions on their homework.

As we worked through the problems, as I explained concepts, I could feel myself calming.  By the time I had to head back to my own room, I was still upset, but in a much better frame of mind. This was aided by one of my own students also asking for help in algebra.

I find comfort and solace in the crunching and exploration of mathematics.  I love helping kids explore new methods in order to deepen their understanding.  It breaks my heart to hear a student say that a teacher requires them to use a certain method.  Math is beautiful and we our very best crush that beauty into rote procedures.  For a few brief moments today, I was able to help some students break out of that and see the beauty again.

It was glorious.

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