Monday, February 29, 2016

Day 110: Leap Day

The orbital period of the Earth around the sun is slightly less than 365.25 days.  Those extra digits after the decimal mean that every once in a while, we have to add a day to the calendar in order that make sure that the seasons don't switch every 180 years.

Since it's not EXACTLY 365.25, we can't just add a day every 4 years.  That would put us too far behind after a few centuries.  As a result, we DON'T add the extra day on every 100th year, but we do on the 400th.

It was a PowerPoint day.  I was sitting on tables, and the kids were paying attention and taking notes.  While I've had days that I found more exciting, I've also had MUCH worse days.  I don't like lecturing much, but it keeps the attention of the kids more than assigning them a task and saying "go."
You're not the boss of me, Morpheus!

In Physics, we briefly went over the first part of the test that they took on Friday.  The majority of the students did VERY well and I was pleased.  The take-home portion was another matter.  The questions were a bit more difficult and required them to branch out a bit.

I made myself available (through email) this weekend for students who had questions and only one took advantage.  I'm curious to see how they turn out.

I'm going to go read to children now.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Day 109: Relatively Bright

"We like worksheets!"

While I hate this sentiment, I totally get it.

Worksheet provide tasks in small, discrete and easily digestible packets.  Completing a worksheet means that the task is done.

Many of my students struggle with task completion, especially when it comes in the form of abstract goals, such as "write a paper about..." or "do a presentation on..."

I also suffer from this.  I've written numerous times about how much better I do with tasks when I have a checklist from which to work.  This isn't just in academic pursuits, but also chores around the house and in learning guitar.  The idea of "practice guitar" doesn't work for me.  I need things to practice and task to complete.

So I completely sympathize with my students who only do worksheets.

The activity that I gave on Wednesday, having them find the coordinates of stars and constellations, was a huge success.  Several students asked for more sheets.

Today, I started by talking about perspective.

"Is the car I'm holding up larger or smaller than the one I drew on the window? What about the ones in the parking lot?"

We had a conversation about relative size and how to tell which car is REALLY the largest and which one is just closer.

With this segue, we talked about absolute and apparent brightness of stars followed by **gasp** a worksheet to practice the concepts.

And they did!!

They worked very well and asked good questions.

I think I'll go back to using worksheets for a while...

The Physics kids received the second part of their chapter test today, but I was pulled into a parent meeting and wasn't able to be there to answer their questions.

When I returned, the room was in total chaos.  The kids were upset, frustrated and slap-happy.  This portion of the test had 4 problems on it and most of them had only finished 1.

I turned it into a take-home test.  I hope that the extra time will relieve some of the stress for them.  I'll send a reminder out tonight to let them know that I'll be checking my email if they have questions over the weekend.

I also think that I'm going to try an experiment.  I have become concerned about the stress level of one of my students.  It appears to be reaching a boiling point.  I think the world of him and do whatever I can to help him.

I fully recognize that my teaching methods are not great for everyone.  No teacher is perfect for every student.

I'm going to move back to a more tradition model of teaching for the upcoming unit.  Perhaps doing so will allow this student to regain his confidence in the material.  His work is already excellent, but I can't seem to make that clear.

In any event, I am happy to make this change for him.  If others don't benefit as well, I'll be shocked.

This was a crazy week and I have lots to work on and think about this weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Day 108: Taking Up Space

Today started out a little bit rough.  I had several...tense interactions with students and wished that there could have been a few of my colleagues present as flies on the wall to give me feedback.

With those out of the way, however, I was able to show off some of the terrifying beauty of the universe.

The ESO just completed a survey of the Milky Way and uploaded the pictures to their site for anyone to view.  They are incredibly detailed, high definition photographs of our galaxy.  The image that I downloaded and took to show my students was about the size of a movie (277 MB).  It's stunning!

I started with the full view image which is, admittedly, unimpressive.  In every class, however, as soon as I zoomed in, I heard gasps and their attention was grabbed.

we talked about the scale of the universe again and I reminded them that our galaxy alone has over 100 billion stars and that our is just one of millions of galaxies in the universe.
This is the same region of our galaxy as viewed through multiple wavelengths of light.
We talked more about constellations and I'm left searching for some interesting activities that don't involve computers.

In Physics, we were scheduled to have a test today.  Instead, what I offered to my students was the chance to use the first of our double period to go over the chapter review from yesterday.  They could take the first part of the test during the second period and finish the test tomorrow.

As a class, they agreed.  I think the review session went VERY well.  We managed to clarify a few of the misconceptions and give some much needed pre-test confidence.

It's important for students to feel at ease during assessments.

I often write about Astronomy, but I want to take a minute to talk about the Physics kids.  I often find them frustrating, but they are such a great group of kids.  They are clever, interesting, strange, dynamic, funny and kind.  I don't have their attention all the time, but I know that I'll get it when I NEED it.  They ask good questions and involve me in their lives, including activities and interests.

They are always a great class with which to finish my day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Day 107: Star Hunt

Twice this week, I have stumbled onto great tasks for my students.

Yesterday, we talked about stars, constellations and the coordinate system that is used to locate them in the sky.  Rather than using X and Y, as we do on most graphs in math, or longitude and latitude, as we do on maps here on Earth, we use the system of Right Ascension and Declination.

To make things slightly MORE difficult, Right Ascension is measured on a scale of 0-24 hours while the units of Declination are degrees.

For today's task, I handed out a sheet with a list of 6 stars and 4 constellations.  The students had to use a star chart to find the coordinates of those objects.

They were also given 7 sets of coordinates and told to tell me what object was there.

And they worked!  They did great work!

I told them from the outset that the hardest part of the task would be actually locating the stars.  The charts that I gave them to use were fairly small and much of the writing was out of focus, but I have a 5 foot star chart taped my classroom window that they could use.

They worked together in small, self-selected groups, helping each to locate stars and double checking their coordinates.  They asked me questions and were actually interested.  In graphing...

I'm sure they had no idea that my ulterior motives were to get them to explore the sky...

In Physics, I had an exam review sheet waiting for them to prepare for the chapter test tomorrow.  They also worked diligently for the period! They worked diligently enough that I MAY postpone the test until Friday and go over the review tomorrow.

This is exactly how I would prefer my classes to go.  I do work ahead of time to prepare, give a very brief introduction at the beginning, and then let them go!  They haven't shown me in the past that this was really possible, but with how well they worked today, I will happily reconsider.  I will start looking for more ways for them to DO science rather than hear about it.

I'm sure the success of today was totally unrelated to the 2 students that I had to kick out and the 9 students who cut my classes...

Nah.  I'm sure it was just a coincidence.

This was a good day!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day 106: Draco, The Draggin'

At 2 am yesterday, I found myself in the bathroom with extreme...intestinal distress.  I'm a trooper, but by 3, I realized I would have to call off sick.

Since we had not officially started the new section in Astronomy today, I couldn't use the old standby of "keep working on what we've been doing."

Instead, I sent in a file with the mythology of 30 constellations, each one on a separate page.  I asked my students to pick 3 that interested them and write a paragraph summarizing the story.

When I came in today, I asked them to tell me what they had read.  I sat near the back of the room and we talked.

Me: "Tell me the myth behind a constellation."
Student: "So, Aphrodite and some other guy were being chased by this big monster thing and to get away, they turned themselves into fish.  That's Pisces."
Me: "Nice! How did they end up in the sky?"
Student: "The gods wanted to honor how clever they were."

Student: "Zeus turned into a bull and a hot girl got on him and he rode away."
Me: "Her name was Europa and where they ended up, the land is now known as Europe."
Student: "Also, one of the moons of Jupiter is Europa."
Me: "Absolutely.  So Zeus put the bull, Taurus, in the sky to show off how great he was at picking up women.  Literally."

We talked about the importance of constellations to early civilizations as a means of navigation as well as how to pass culture down through the ages.  We discussed how the human brain is hard-wired to see patterns, as we do in clouds or on the sides of buildings.
Skeptical mountain is skeptical

We also talked about mythology from different religions and cultures, including American myths, such as Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan and John Henry.

The most fun revelation for me was telling them that they already knew a constellation from Japanese culture.
This is the Pleiades cluster.  It is a group of stars in the constellation of Taurus.  In Greek mythology, they are the daughters of Atlas.   The Japanese, however, know them by a different name.  The word they use translates to "unite."  In 1953, five Japanese companies came together to form a single company, Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd.  They adopted this cluster, and its Japanese name to be the logo for their line of automobiles.

It also happens to be the cluster that's inside the Mandelbrot tattoo on my leg...

Astronomy may not be vital is the hunter/gatherer sense, but the various aspects of this course are so enmeshed in society that it's impossible to not be touched by them.

It may have been the material, or the fact that since I still felt awful my energy was low, but the students were fairly engaged.  They seemed to enjoy hearing the stories and telling their classmates what they knew.

I'm going to take a nap now.  I'm exhausted.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 104: Sock 'Em

My classes were VERY light today.  It was an excellent way to end this week which, while very short, has been very frustrating.

Today was assessment day, which means that students had the option to either take the chapter test or complete another assignment that demonstrates mastery of the concepts.  At this point, the only students who actually take the test are the ones who either forgot to do something else, or have done nothing at all and take it by default.

The majority of the tests that I handed out were returned to me almost blank.

"I did the true and false section."

Many of my students are football players who have been accepted to, and given scholarships for, colleges.  I don't know how to get them to understand that their failing my class will put their graduation in jeopardy.

I worry about them once they leave the school, but ultimately, they have to make their own choices.

I hope that more of them make the choice to wear George Washington socks.

I'm tired and need this weekend.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Day 103: LOUD NOISES!!

I banned phones today.

As I handed back the quizzes from yesterday, I spoke to my students about my concerns over their abilities and/or willingness to complete work of quality.  I expressed my understanding for the idea that Astronomy may have been the last choice available for many of them and they took it because they needed the science credit.

I can appreciate that and try very hard not to take it personally.

What I cannot allow, however, is for a student who is uninterested in the subject to disrupt the environment for everyone else.

I explained to them that I knew that the majority of my students were doing what they needed to do and that the phones weren't an issue.  The problem was that the students who were allowing the phones to be an issue were making them an issue for everyone.

I talked about how I understood that every person in the room would feel it was unfair because they weren't abusing their phones in class, but it's impossible to make a policy that only pertains to a small group of individuals.

I had a mixed reception at this news and change in policy.

The first 10-15 minutes of each class found several students beating their chests, attempting to assert dominance.  The phrase of choice was "Don't be mad at us because you're having a bad day."

I also liked "Who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?"

"I am a strong, independent woman who don't need no man. I piss in my own Cheerios, thank you very much."

In each of my Astronomy classes, I had to remove a student for arguing.  I offered all of them to sit in the desk outside of the room until they cooled down and stopped yelling, one of whom took me up on it and came back in later.  Two others continued yelling at me and stormed out, never to be heard from again.

I made very sure to not yell.

We are always told not to get into altercations with students, not to have a power struggle, especially in front of the class.  What they don't tell you about is when that student takes 5 minutes to gather their stuff, cursing at you, calling you names and riling up the class the entire time.  They don't tell you what to do when the student continues to stand in the middle of the room screaming, refusing to either sit down or leave.

It was a rough day.

I'm hoping tomorrow will be better.  I have a few students in Astronomy whose opinions I trust on matter like this.  They stated that they thought I was being fair.  I asked them to let me know if that ever changed.

"This is how the Astronomy classes are.  Everyone knows it."

I REALLY want to change that perception. It may just take a few years to build up the reputation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Day 102: Teach Like Edison

As a huge fan of Nikola Tesla, I find it difficult to give Edison credit for anything positive.  With that said, I've been thinking about one of his quotes lately.

When Edison eventually developed a light bulb that could last longer than 1200 hours, he was asked about his numerous failures.  His response was:

It's entirely possible that this story is apocryphal and I'm simply too lazy to look up the truth.  The point is that this is the essence of Growth Mindset.  Rather than viewing missteps as "failures," it's more productive to view them as shining light on dead ends.

A glaring problem, of course, is that education is not electricity and students are not light bulbs.  Both are infinitely more complex.

In grading my quizzes for Astronomy today, I began to wonder if my students were taking the same course that I was trying to teach.

At the beginning of each class for the past week, including today, I asked students to tell me something that we covered in the chapter.  We had a brief discussion with students eager to answer questions.  I reviewed the concepts at the end of each period and connected it with what we were talking about previous chapters.

Many of the answers that were returned to me on the quiz showed a complete lack of understanding of this section, and indeed a lack of understanding of many basic scientific principles.

This type of response was fairly typical.
I also received answers (multiple) to question 16 that read "Astronomers estimate that only about 1% of all solar systems can be detected with the photometry (transit) method."

To be clear, there were many students who did quite well and were able to demonstrate a level of understanding that I think is reasonable for 11th and 12th grade students.

As of this writing, more than 25% of my students have not turned in a single assignment for this grading period and only 20% are up to date.

This is week 14 for the weekly discussion assignments and I'm still getting students who claim they didn't know they had to do it.

A few chapters ago, I began using Science Contracts to include student choice in the assessment.  It worked well for a while, but for the last 2 contracts, the quality work that I've been getting has fallen off drastically.  Rather than using the options as a way to choose something that interests them, they are using it as an excuse to do the fastest assignments.

It's hard for me to see that and not feel as though it's connected with the lack of success on the quiz today.  By giving more choice, am I allowing them ways to not learn?  I don't want to give them fewer options.  I want them to find something that lets them express what they know and be creative with it.

But so many of them are choosing to do ... nothing.

On the 16 question quiz today, the majority of the students turned in mostly blank sheets.

Is this another version of "getting a 0 for doing no work is better than risking a low grade for the work I do"?

I am having difficulty feeling as though I'm doing any good.

I know that there are many students who enjoy coming to my class, feel safe talking to me about the important things in their lives, and are genuinely happy to see me.  I know that those are incredibly important.

At least at the moment, trying to focus on them makes me feel a bit like Unikitty.

But I must stay true to my beliefs.  I must channel Edison (not the part of him that ruined Tesla and short-changed a future of amazing inventions to promote my own short-term financial goals) and view this situation not as a failure, but as a step on the path to becoming a better teacher.

I want to be a good teacher.

Friday, February 12, 2016


I have been attending EdCamps for 3 years.  I have attended 5 in Pittsburgh, helping to organize 4.  I have attended one in New Jersey and one in Minneapolis.  I presented at all of these.

I believe firmly in the EdCamp movement.  I believe that the best way for teachers to improve their practice is to learn from each other in a low-pressure setting where they are highly engaged.  The EdCamp movement allows this because it incorporates choice into the process: you attend the sessions that are interesting to you.

Several months ago, my district sent out a survey asking people why they teach and what insights and skills they feel they could offer to their colleagues.  Behind the scenes, some incredibly hard-working faculty compiled this list and began moving towards an EdCamp-style professional development.

Shortly after, I was invited to help with the process.  We composed and sent out a second survey to the faculty of the district explaining the basic concept of the EdCamp and asked what sessions, if any, they would be willing to present.

The response was overwhelming! Almost 50 people said that they would facilitate or present on topics ranging from classroom management to physicality in the classroom.

This past week, faculty signed up for the sessions that they wanted with a cap of 30 per session, first come, first served.  During the past 5 days, I fielded tons of questions from people who were...dubious (that seems like a polite word) about the prospect of this inservice.  It was wildly different from anything that many of them had experienced.

Here's how my day went:

I arrived at 6:00, organized some items in my class and put the finishing touches on the presentation that I was planning to give.  I went to the lobby where people would be gathering and helped to set up the welcome tables.

At 7:30, people started arriving, signing in, finding out where their sessions were taking place.  They received raffle tickets for the door prizes and a name tag that read "Ask Me About_____." Our curriculum director provided breakfast for the district and people were able to mingle .

After the high-energy kick-off, we heard a lightning talk from one of our instructional coaches.  She spoke about the importance of integrating writing.  She was a very dynamic speaker and several people in the audience were in tears by the end.

The first session I attended was on the importance of building rapport with students.  The participants discussed the various ways that they build rapport as well as challenges to doing so.

They started us off by asking us to think about the kid who makes us the most insane and try to write 3 things that we know about them.  Our task this coming week is to keep these things in mind during the coming week and try to remember that their attacks on us are not personal.
**Spoiler alert** They did totally kill it!

We discussed the various ways that we build rapport with students, like greeting them at the door, making eye contact and imposing High Five Friday upon them with a religious fervor the likes of which haven't been seen since Torquemada. (Ok, that was me.)

In between sessions, I popped into the cafeteria to drop off my raffle tickets and take a picture for the #WhyITeach photo booth.
Most of these were donated by amazing individuals and companies! Thank you so much!!
After a quick stretch, it was on to session 2!  Katrina Bryan spoke about how she uses stations in her science class.

The majority of the science department was there and, while I can't speak for them, I will totally speak for them.  We were blown away!  Those folders behind her each contain a science station.  They are labeled with things like "Read It", "Illustrate It", "Assess It", etc., each with its own task for the students.  Students pick a task, complete it and pick another, working their way through the section.  This is such a simple, and yet brilliant, idea!  I should say that Ms. Bryan obtained these from another teacher and modified them for her needs.

I left that session having excited conversations with some of the other science teachers and already making plans about how we could do something similar.

The next session was one where I presented.  It was an honor to be able to talk to a group of my peers about what I've been doing in this blog and answer their questions about using blogging as reflective practice.

No worries. I started off by telling them not to write as much as I do.  At this point, I'm closing in on 800,000 words...

A large contingent of the science department attended, most with the intent to harass me.  Unfortunately for them, their plans were thwarted when I blew them away with my engaging, dynamic and interesting talk.

Seriously though, I think they were surprised.  There were several people there that I didn't know and several of them came up to me afterwards to thank me and ask some more questions.

After lunch, we gave out door prizes to some incredibly lucky faculty!

This was followed by another lightning talk from a district administrator about passion.

The 4th session I attended was from my colleague in the science department who got me started working with the Science Contracts.  He spoke at length about how he sets them up as well as why and the research behind the idea.

Once again, the audience, primarily primary teachers (hehe...see what I did there? I'm so clever) were fascinated and impressed.  Since I also use the contract, I was able to give a second point of view on how well they work.

At the end of the 4th session, the faculty separated into small groups, each facilitated by an administrator.  We debriefed from the day, talked about the sessions that we found interesting and useful and discussed whether we would be interested in doing another inservice in this style.

The response was overwhelming.  My favorite quote came right near the end.

This seemed to be the prevailing sentiment from what I heard and what was relayed to me.  As I said, many people started the day feeling wary and unsure about the concept.  I believe that many were converted by the end.

This fills my heart with more joy than I can express.  While it feels great to have people find joy in that which brings it to you, what I find most invigorating is that everyone seemed to benefit.  Several teachers spoke at the beginning of the day about how they didn't get into the sessions they wanted.  They were going to topics about which they had no interest, or thought didn't apply to them.

At the end of the day, however, many of these teachers expressed how they were able to get actionable information from every session they attended.

Several teachers also utilized the hashtag that we set up to broadcast the great things that were being done!

There was a sense of exhaustion as we exited the building, but it was the kind of exhaustion that comes from doing something satisfying with people you respect.

Everyone is an expert in something.  Every teacher is doing something in their class that they can share for the benefit of other teachers.  We don't need to be hiring outside consultants to tell us how to teach.

The resources that exist within our own district (or yours) are more valuable than anything else.

My deepest thanks to everyone who helped to put this day together and everyone who took a chance on something new.

While this project wasn't really my baby and I tried to stay out of the spotlight, I can't help but feel proud of the work that was done.  I have faith that it will continue in the future and our teachers will continue to rely on each other for the support and resources that we have to offer.

Thank you all.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Day 101: Blank

There were several large physical altercations yesterday.  My classes were quite small today.  I'm not sure if those are related.

With my classes at about 2/3 attendance, they were much less rowdy than yesterday.  I started my classes with a formative assessment quiz, asking questions which will be on their actual quiz on Tuesday.

When they realized that I was asking random students instead of just the ones with their hands up, many of them became more engaged and even excited to show off what they knew.  For the last few days, I've been asking review questions as my warm-up and it seems to be helping to solidify the ideas.

I should be thinking more about this stuff, but this week has exhausted me and I need to put my focus on the EdCamp-style professional development tomorrow that I helped to organize.  I have a ton of plates to keep spinning and hopefully doing so will distract me from this past week.

This post was dull and without heart, so here's the newest video from OK Go, which I was able to justify showing in my Astronomy classes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Day 100: I Wish

Yesterday, instead of being in school, I was in court.

A few weeks ago, I helped to break up a fight across the hall from my classroom and I was called to witness in the pre-hearing conference.  I paid $14 to park at the courthouse, was never asked any questions, and was sent home 2 hours later when one of the defendants didn't have an attorney.

I returned today to find 2 students had been added to my roster in my largest and most boisterous class.

There seems to be an inverse relationship between student and teacher energy lately.  It's almost as though there is only so much energy and enthusiasm to go around and it must be split between the groups.

One of my other students asked me if anyone ever tried to bring a star to Earth.

Another student, who comes to school once every 2-3 weeks spent the entire class antagonizing the other students.

A colleague has come to a section in his class where the skill he's teaching is a multi-step process, the first of which involves counting.  A not insignificant portion of his students were stuck on that step.  We have spoken at length about students who are approaching the content from not just a deficiency, but a massive deficiency.  This is in no way the fault of those students and they are absolutely the victims.

I have no idea what to do about it.

I look around and I see challenges all over the place that feel insurmountable.  I feel as though I lack the tools, resources or abilities to fix any of these issues.

I'll let my man, Skee-Lo tell you all about it.

Wishes don't make things better, but they can give a direction for our goals.

In Physics, I was able to be the teacher I wanted to be.  I set up pulleys around the room and handed them labs as they walked in.  I was able to walk around putting out fires and working with them as needs arose.

I wish I could do this in Astronomy, but I'm not sure how.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Day 98: Not Personal

Why is it so hard for students to recover from a bad test, marking period or year?

So much of school is cumulative.  Each week builds on the previous one, each lesson uses information and skills from those prior.

If a student falls behind, even for a small period of time, it takes a supreme effort to try to catch up.  This is one of the reasons why deficiencies when a child enters school are such a huge problem.
 I started my classes today by asking some basic questions to review from last week.

"Name one method of exoplanet detection that we spoke about last week."'
"What does that method do to find planets?"
"What's one advantage of that method?"

If they couldn't come up with answer, I had them check their notes.  If they still couldn't, they shut down.

Angela Duckworth believes that in the face of adversity, students who are successful are the ones who push through.  Instead of giving up, they double down and try to make up for lost time.

She calls this grit.

I don't believe in Duckworth because I've seen these kids work their asses off on the things that matter to them.  For me to say that a kid is failing my class because they are lazy is overly simplistic and doesn't give credit to students who come from diverse backgrounds.

With that said, it's still very hard to be ignored and talked over.  It's hard knowing that you are trying to teach a subject that they don't care about at all.

It's difficult to watch a kid ignore your lesson and KNOW that in 5 minutes, you're going to have the conversation with them about how they would do the work if you weren't such a bad teacher.

I don't know how to convey to them that they COULD be successful if they were willing to focus their energy on my class.  I don't know how because I don't know what else they are going through and can't understand the situations that many of them face daily.

Diane Sawyer visited Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia a few years ago and produced this heart-wrenching piece.

While my school isn't ANYWHERE near this one in terms of poverty, violence, or need, there are absolutely students in my building who are.  They have needs that I can never hope to meet.  What I can do, however, is provide them with a space in which they can feel safe and heard.

Man, is it hard not to take their lack of engagement personally.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Day 97: Teach Like Gandhi

I am tired of being ignored.

I'm tired of being spoken over.

I'm tired of having to answer a question that I just finished answering.

I'm tired of being told how boring I am.  I'm tired of hearing how boring other teachers are.

I'm tired of being called a racist for asking students not to scream profanity.

I'm tired of the bigotry, homophobia and misogyny that I hear on a regular basis.

I'm tired of the anger and hatred and frustration that I see all around me.

I'm tired of being afraid to stand up for what I think is right.

I'm tired of thinking that there will be a perfect school/class/lesson/activity.

I'm ready to be finding the things that work and building on them.

I'm ready to accept my students and colleagues for who they are and where they come from.

I'm ready to set an example for how I want them to be, but not be angry when they don't step up.

I'm ready to acknowledge that different people have different wants and needs.

I'm ready to stop setting goals for others.

I'm ready to clarify my goals for myself. to figure out how to do those things...

Totally unrelated, I'm worried that my blog is turning into a cat poster.  I'm going to take the weekend and try to get more edgy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Day 96: Blue Goals

It seems appropriate that today was talked about the Doppler Effect in Astronomy.

As a wave source approaches an observer, the frequency of those waves increases.  As it moves away from the observer, the frequency decreases.  This is manifested in the sounds made by a police car as it speeds by a pedestrian.

This same concept applies to light.  Unlike sound however, when light increases frequency, there is no sound to shift.  Instead, the color shifts slightly more blue.  Objects moving away are shifted slightly red.

Next Friday, my district will be holding a district-wide EdCamp-style professional development.  We put out a call for proposals last week and had 47 teachers and administrators volunteer to facilitate or present!

I will be presenting on one of the only things I know: Blogging As Reflective Practice.

There is a huge variety of topics being offered by our staff that range from data usage to classroom management to how to use Kahoot.  Everyone has something that works for them.  Much of the faculty is excited!

And many are not...

Several have expressed concerns about the format in respectful and professional manners.  I have had many discussions over the past week, especially with those who know that this is somewhat my baby.

There are others, however, who have complained very vocally about the idea.  They have done so in the manner that suggests that they are not open to conversation about the idea.  A few have openly scoffed the notion and denigrated the organizers in my presence without knowing that I'm on that list.

I'm writing this not to complain about my coworkers, but to remind myself of something important.

This is not personal.

I truly believe in the EdCamp-style professional development.  I know that I have claimed great benefit as a result of what I have learned there.

I also know that it took me a long time to get the point where I was even open to this type of development.  I don't blame others for not being willing or ready.

Much the way that the lack of interest displayed by a student in my class may be completely unrelated to me or my instruction, the same can be said for my peers.

The lack of desire to participate in this event is created by a long list of situations with my own existence not being anywhere on the list.

All I can do, just as in my classroom, is remain an advocate for positive change.  I will make myself available to answer questions as they arise and be positive about the benefits of this experience.

I will support those who need it.

I will also recognize that there is simply no way to please some people.  No matter how great something is, there will be people who will always find fault.

So how are these things related?

I don't think that I'm an amazing teacher, or an amazing colleague.  I know that I have many shortcomings in both areas.  In many cases, the opinions of my colleagues are well-founded.

I am, however, moving in the direction that I wish to be.

I see my goals and they are blue-shifted.  The distance doesn't matter nearly as much as knowing that I am on the right path and will stay the course.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Day 95: Notes

After watching my students take notes yesterday, and coming to the solid conclusion that most of them have no idea how to do so, I decided that today would be instructive on that point.

I began class by discussing with the how copying words verbatim from the board are a pretty terrible way to take notes.

Today's class was more of a discussion.  We recapped the topics from yesterday and talked about writing the salient points in the notes rather than every little mark that's on the board.

After that, I handed out a new article about exoplanets for us to discuss as a class.  I pointed out the headline and the sub-headline as ways to quickly summarize what the article is about.

I had my students write:

3 main points of the article
2 questions that were raised for them by reading
1 new piece of information that they learned

We took 10 minutes to read the article and discussed what it meant.  I was incredibly impressed with the engagement and will continue to reinforce it over the next few days.  Tomorrow, we'll be talking about the methods of exoplanet detection and I'm planning to go through it slowly, giving them a chance to reflect on their notes as we do.  In addition, I'm hoping to bring more articles into class, giving them more opportunities to read and write.

They prefer to take notes because it's mindless, but they learn much more from discussion.

I'd rather have that.

Perhaps I'll have another student build me a satellite model to continue decorating the room.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Day 94: I'm A Bad Man

I have sent confusion and frustration through the ranks of my students.  I have upended what they know about note-taking and send them scurrying to the hills.

Or, more realistically, I have made many of them think that I don't know how to teach.

What did I do?  How do I strike this blow for student confidence and spark massive complaints?

I gave them guided notes that required them to do more than copy from a Powerpoint.

I provide guided note packets for my students to help them organize their learning.  I don't grade these packets because I don't want them to feel as though my way is the only way.  Up to this point, the packets have been laid out as an outline with section headers that match the Powerpoint slides.

This was primarily because I've been using the notes from the last teacher who taught the course.

For this chapter, I modified the slides and wrote my own guided note packet.  This means that the sections are more general with headings being questions rather than topics.

In this chapter, I'm asking students to synthesize the information, analyze what they feel is important and ask extension questions of their own instead of simply copying words that they will never look at again.

They were...less than pleased.

I watched as a large number of students frantically flipped pages in their books while trying to match notes to slides.  Several gave up and tuned out.

But many others gave up and tuned in.

They began asking insightful questions and engaging in the topic.  We talked about exoplanets, what we look for and travel possibilities.  We began a discussion of detection methods and the difficulties therein.

The majority of students ignored me, but those who didn't do so were fully engaged.

I was going to talk in this post about how schools train (or not train) students to take proper notes, but as someone who has never taken effective notes, I'm not sure what insights I have to offer.  What I do know is that when note-taking is something other than "copy what's on the board" most of the students have no idea what to do.

They (I) often don't get past the first of these.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Day 93: The Early Bird Catches The Racist Worm

We are contractually obligated to be at our posts at 6:45.  I usually roll into work about an hour before that.  There is almost no one in the building when I get there, and that's how I like it.

I know how I operate in terms of work and I know that if I don't get everything done for the day before the students arrive, I won't get it done.  So my alarm goes off at 4:30 and I'm at school by 5:45.  I deal with any remnants of the day before, make the copies I need to make and mentally prepare for the day.

This morning, as I approached the building, I saw a piece of paper taped to the front door.  When I went to examine it, I found the following:

I should take this opportunity to say that the district in which I teach is predominantly African American.  I'm not even sure where to begin with this flyer.  This man has a history of similar controversial signs and made the news a few years ago for this gem:
"Please pray for them. They have guns!!!!! A message from reverend Sheldon Stoudemire."

He posted these around the community, stapled them to utility poles and signs in the various neighborhoods.

This time, he taped the first poster to the door of our school.

I am thankful that I saw it, was able to take it down and gave it to our administration before out students arrived.

I could add statistics here about how school shootings are perpetrated predominantly by white students.  I could talk about how this "Reverend" is himself an African American male.   I could downplay the situation by making fun of his grammar and photocopy skills.

I could mention how disastrous it could have been for students to arrive this morning to a building that many already perceive as being on the wrong side of the race relations (regardless of the incredible effort that is put in by the faculty, staff and administration to counteract that perception) and have them find a paper of happy white children asking God for protection from the violent blacks.

Instead, I will again be thankful that I managed to take it down.

There are many disadvantages that I have being a white male trying to teach African American students.  I try very hard to understand the situations from which my students come, be they cultural, racial, economic or social.

I know that my background is very different from many of those with whose care I have been charged.  Over the past few years, I have become much more conscious of those differences and tried very hard to build relations with my students.  I don't sit backwards on my chair and try to "rap with them" as you would see in a movie.  I am authentic to me and my experiences while attempting to empathize and understand theirs.

I know that I cannot shield them from the ugliness in the world and in many cases, they have experienced more than I can understand.

But I can shield them from this.
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