Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 129: Astronomer Draft

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, to the 2016 Astronomer Draft!

As many of you know, especially those of you who are hoping to make it as professional athletes, before a player is drafted to a team for fame, riches and glory, that team researches the player.

For the next 20 minutes, you are to research the Astronomers on this list, or others as you see fit, to determine if you want to draft them to your team.

And by 'draft them to your team', I mean 'research their lives and accomplishments, present those findings to the class in a fun and interesting way and have some sort of culminating activity.'

This list contains a variety of races, nationalities, time-frames and genders so try to find someone who genuinely interests you.  No one likes researching a boring topic.

What do teams do during the draft if the player they choose has already been drafted? They find another player.  I suggest you make a short list of people who interest you so if they are chosen before your turn, you have some alternatives.

I have put all of your names into a cup.  We will now draw draft order.  If your chosen Astronomer is picked, make sure you cross them off your list and move to the next one.

The draft went fairly well.  I wish I had though of that format at the beginning of the day, but alas, I just presented it as "this is what we're doing."

The advantage to teaching the same class 5 times a day is that I can modify my presentation by the end, so 6th period had the draft.  I also told them that they could work with a partner, but if they did, I would expect a higher quality presentation.

My own task for this weekend is to make up a rubric to give them by Monday.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I haven't been sleeping well.

I've also been making poor decisions in terms of my physical well-being.

We bought bikes for my daughters this weekend and they love them.  They've been riding as much as possible and, when I get home for work, I join them.  Yesterday, we rode up and down our block for over an hour.  After that, I went to the gym and did 6 miles on the elliptical in a little under an hour.

When I got home, I showered and got into bed.  It was 8:45.

Then my wife got into bed with the iPad and starting watching Braveheart.

Instead of going to sleep, I laid in bed with my eyes closed, reciting the lines verbatim because Braveheart.

I made it to the betrayal of Robert the Bruce.

I should have gone to sleep 2 hours before.  I did not.

Today's class assignments sounded an awful lot like "some of you owe me stuff. Work on that while I stare into space."

If I am tweeting at 9 tonight, yell at me.

I did manage to get a few things accomplished.  I made up a list of 32 Astronomers from which my students can choose for their research projects.  I made a conscious effort to choose a mixture or genders, races, specialties and time periods.  My list ranges from about 300 BC to astronomers who are still living.  I'm hoping that everyone will be able to find someone that truly interests them.

The physics students either finished their momentum tests (those who were part of the 43% who were absent on Thursday) or completed a lab on pendulum periods.

Or they took naps and did neither.

I'm going to try to go to bed early tonight.  I also need to start composing a letter to my administration to ask for time off to present at NCTM.  Hopefully, I will not have to use my personal days this time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Day 127: One-Size-Fits-Some

Our Spring Break was Friday and Monday.  I wasn't ready to be back at work today, either physically or mentally.

The end of the marking period is quickly approaching and, with it, the traditional cries of "What can I do to get my grade up?"

My standard answer is usually "build a time machine, go back to day one and make different choices about assignments."

In reality, I'd be fine with them simply completing the first part.  If you're able to build a time machine, then clearly you have mastered whatever concepts I've been trying to assess and you can have the A.

This, along with my apparent inability to read a calendar properly, means that I am looking for assignments for my students, partially to pass time, and partially to give them the opportunity to boost grades.

As of this writing, the Astronomy class had 3 different assignments dealing with Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion.  All three involve graphing and answering analysis questions.

Many of the students worked, but many did not.  At least for today, I am not feeling responsible for the latter group.  As I have written before, a large portion of my students are seniors who need the science credit to graduate.  For multiple reasons, this only seems to occur to several of them right before the report period closes.

Two students accosted me in the hallway, threw their arms around me and escorted me down the hall, talking jovially the entire time as though I were their police sergeant and they wanted to talk me out of the meter-reader duty that I just assigned to them.

I used to think that school did a terrible job of helping students to understand long-term goals.  I'm not sure this is true.  The structure of school itself is designed around short-, middle-, and long-term goals.

Short-term goals are emphasized in terms of individual assignments, mid-term goals in terms of whole chapters or units, and long-term goals are in the form of marking periods, years and ultimately, graduation.

The problem is not that school doesn't emphasize these, but rather, much like most things in school, it uses a one-size-fits-all approach.

The current structure works well for many students.  I think, however, that when it doesn't work for a student, we look at how reasonable the system is and blame the student.

To be fair, there are many students who hold blame for their own short-comings, but even those students could be helped by examining how we teach about goal-setting.  I believe that if we allowed for a structure where students who work well under pressure, we would have many more successes.

I know that I would have been more successful under such conditions.  I work best with an approaching deadline and a specific list of tasks to complete.  This plays out in my home life fairly clearly.

My wife wants to clean the house, so she says "we should clean the house."
"Sounds good to me," says I.  Then I sit down and check my e-mail over and over.

My wife wants to clean the house, so she says "here are the things I'd like to get done today."
"Sounds good to me," says I.  Then I get to work on that list of things and I don't have to sleep on the couch!

Telling my colleague about my intentions for this post led to an interesting post-school.  His claim, to which he may have swayed me, was not that the system was the problem as much as our application of that system.

He claimed that the "system" was the idea that in order to accomplish something, whether that is complete as a task, learn a skill or develop an ability, one must think and practice with intention.  School then evaluates and provides feedback to students, determining if they have mastered that skill well enough to move on to the next one.

He further claimed that it is the various modifications and applications of this system that cause it to be effective (or not) for the educational development of students.

I fear that I have not does his argument justice and will be happy to edit if he so desires.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a kindergarten student who has been ruined by school.  You are MUCH more likely to find a 12th grader who has been.  Something happens in the intervening years that drives students from being the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, "please let me please you" 6-year-olds into the jaded, angry, "I can't wait to get out of here" 18-year-olds that we send into the world.

These are typical image results for "Kindergarten Classroom" and "High School Classroom" respectively.

How much of the change in attitude is due to hormones and how much is due to the mounting pressure of "getting them ready for the world," whatever that means?

School is not completely to blame for this as students, like all people, are complicated.  Many things happen to people over 12 years, but there seems to be a disproportionate number who blame (hate) school.

How much conformity is reasonable to expect in order to prepare students to survive in society?

What do we really value and how do we know if we are doing a good job at that?

Why do we send kids to school?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Day 126: Heinz Day

The school had a (non-credible) threat for today.  That, along with it being the day before break and senior skip day, means that school attendance was around 57%.

57% percent attendance with 57 days left in school means that today is Heinz Day!  I'm going to buy a squeeze bottle of ketchup and leave a trail all the way home.

For the students who WERE here, I decided it would be a good day to watch Cosmos.  I decided to have them watch a different episode in each period, so I was highly entertained.  I also discovered that if you watch that series, you get almost the entire curriculum that I'm supposed to cover for the year.

My Astronomy course can be replaced by a subscription to Netflix.
"No worries, Aion. I got this!"

This is perhaps the most engaging educational program I've ever seen.  75% of the student who came to class today weren't watching.  One was even watching a DIFFERENT show on Netflix on her phone.

Another of my colleagues turned his classroom into a jazz club.  He wore a pseudo-tux and set up battery operated candles.  He said most of his students were on their phones as well.
"I don't care about the infinite majesty and mystery of the universe! What will happen to Jess at work today??"

Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, can we acknowledge that student engagement is a bigger issue than making our lessons "more engaging"?

It's time for Spring Long Weekend! See you all on Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 125: I'm Not Lou Costello

From February 8th until March 9th, my Astronomy students collectively missed 570 class periods.  According to our online management system, the students on my roster have collectively missed 4,365 days of school.

This averages to slightly under a marking period per student.  We do not have an attendance policy, so lack of attendance does not automatically guarantee course failure.

I can't go to 140 homes and pick up my students.  I can't call them to make sure they show up to school.

I can't convince them to be in school.

I need to focus on making the most of the time that they are willing and able to spend in my room.

I gave my students class time today to work on assignments that they had not yet completed.  Many of them used this time productively.

While I was walking around checking work and helping with polar graphing and question interpretation, a student pulled me aside.

Him: "Mr. Aion, we need to talk about my grade."
Me: "I'm not sure that we do.  Your grade is your business. Your learning is mine."
Him: "Uh huh... I got to get this grade up."
Me: "I understand. A good step to doing that would be working on the assignment that the rest of the class is doing."
Him: "Man! You always got something smart to say!"
Me: "I'm not being 'smart' with you. You want to know how to bring your grade up, and I gave you a place to start."
Him: "I'm not talking about this one, I mean for the marking period."
Me: "I know what you meant.  What I'm telling you is that you have an assignment to work on right now that you're choosing not to do.  If you are concerned about your grade, then you should be working on that assignment."
Him: "This is just one assignment. It's not going to help my grade as much as I need."
Me: "That may be true, but NOT doing it will certainly hurt your grade."
Him: "Well, I'm not talking about right now.  I need to get my grade up."

Christopher Emdin just published a new book.

In an excerpt that I read, he talks about a conflict between a white teacher and a black student arising because of communications and expectation barriers.  The teacher expected the student to be on time for class and the student expected that being at the door was being on time.  Emdin doesn't make judgements on either of these people and doesn't claim that one is right and one is wrong.

What he does do is bring to light the fact that the conflict had arisen because both parties were working from different definitions.

A few weeks ago, I would have labeled my student of intentionally obtuse.  He still may be, but Emdin's example has me wondering about other things.

Is it possible that my student thinks he's doing what he needs to do?  Or, more broadly, is there a massive disconnect in culture that is leading to my students missing 4,365 classes and not understanding why they are doing poorly?

I think that there must be.  I  have been trying to understand and empathize with my students more.  Last week, a student confided in me that she had not been to her house in 2 weeks.  She has been staying with a family member because the father of her son got into some trouble and there were threats on her life and the life of her toddler son.

Knowing that this is happening certainly makes me more willing to be flexible, but how many kids are going through similar situations and never mention it?  One of my students lost a brother earlier this year and I only found out because his mother sent an email.  He never spoke about it.

How much of student failure is them being teenagers making poor choices and how much is a darkly tragic Abbott and Costello routine?
"Who's got your homework?" "Exactly!"
I am a funny guy, but I'd rather not be in that skit.  It was horrible for everyone but the audience.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Day 124: Not Math Class

Students are incredible at compartmentalizing material.  You would be hard pressed to find a teacher in 7th grade and up who hasn't heard "Why are we learning this? This is math class, not history!"

I don't blame the kids for this at all.  It's a clear function of how we have set up schools.  Elementary certification includes all subjects because they have the same students all day.  I don't know of any place, however, that offers a "Secondary Certificate."  Rather, secondary teachers get certified in subject areas.

I currently hold certificates for Mathematics 7-12 and Physics 7-12.  In the state of Pennsylvania, I am allowed to teach these subjects, and a few others that may fall under those certificates.  Apparently, anyone with a science certification can teach Astronomy.

The courses that could be seriously considered as cross-curricular are frequently offered as electives, optional classes for students who have completed their "core requirements."

There is a much longer post to be written about the structure and organization of classes, but that's for a different time.  My point is that by having separate courses for math, English, history, etc., the students get used to thinking mathematically only when in math class.  Math teachers are acutely (haHAH!) aware of this issue when it comes to assessments that are just SLIGHTLY different than practice problems.

"I know how to do it if the X is on the left, but not the right!"  This is a huge danger of procedural learning.

I bring it up because of the activity that we had in Astronomy.

Students were given orbital data for the planet Mercury and were asked to use it to answer questions about Kepler's Laws.  The first step in this was graphing the data...

...on a polar coordinate plane.

Out of the 60 students who were in class today (about half of my students were absent) there were maybe 4 who had seen polar coordinates before today and only 1 who had worked with them.

I anticipated this and gave them a quick primer at the beginning of class.

And then I explained it again to several groups.  Several times.

I understand that polar graphing is a bit different from cartesian, but not different enough to indicate the levels of confusion that I saw.

I want my students to be able to take the knowledge and skills that they have and apply them to different situations.  This works to a certain degree in Physics where they have a pile of equations and have to determine which ones to use.

In Astronomy, however, it's a struggle to get many of the students to apply concepts from other classes.  As juniors and seniors, they still have difficulty understanding that the topics that are covered in school are all interconnected.

They have difficulty with this because we don't teach it as though they are connected.

This is a failing of the school system and not of the students.

I like to think that in my math classes (read: when I was comfortable with the material) I was doing a better job of integrating cross-curricular work.  I know that I'm not doing it now.

If I keep these classes for next year, I'm going to make a concerted effort to do so.

I suppose I could make that effort with the 56 days I have left in THIS year as well.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Day 123: Zzzzzzzz

"Alright! Let's finish up the notes for the section and then I have some practice for you."

**10-15 minute discussion of Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion**

"Groovy! If you turn the page in your note packet, you'll see the page that I'd like you to work on.  If you have some difficulty with the scale for the graph, let me know.  Go to it!"

I gave this intro in all five classes today.  Anyone who claims that teenagers can operate well at 7 in the morning is living in a world of unicorns and rainbows.

As the day progressed, the students became more engaged with the activity.  I have fallen into the classic teacher trap of thinking that just because students are quiet that they are paying attention.  It became obvious today that a large portion of my morning classes, were not so much engaged as much as asleep.

Maybe I should start my morning classes with jumping jacks.  I have a certain amount of sympathy for them, since I know about half have jobs that keep them out late.  I'm just not sure what else to do.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Day 122: Skating

Minute 1 of Astronomy: "What can you tell me about astronomers?"

Minutes 2-15: A lengthy discussion of various astronomers and the solar system models that they proposed.  They did a great job reviewing the information that we covered this week.  The students who missed a day or two were able to fill in their notes.

During one class, a pair of young ladies sat talking about boys while we reviewed.  I turned to one of my other student are said "they are going to regret this discussion in about 10 minutes."

Ten minutes later when I handed out a quiz on the material that we just discussed, one of the young ladies said "Oh no!! I wasn't paying attention!"

I smiled at her and the kids near her laughed.

She did fine anyway, as did most of the students.

For physics, I decided that during a section on momentum, I could totally justify wearing my roller skates.

So I did.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Day 121: Kenyans

One of the running stereotypes of society is that Kenyans are great runners.  In truth, this isn't far off.  For the 2014 New York City Marathon, three  Kenyans finished in the top 10, including the first place winner.  In 2013, it was 5 out the top 10 finishers, including first place.

Many different theories have been put forth about why this happens to be, including altitude, different genetic make-up, methods of training and diet.  In 2013, NPR did a story on this exact question.  Researchers began examining distance runners and saw the not only was there a disproportionate number of Kenyans listed as top-tier runners, but that the majority of those Kenyans came from a specific tribe.

People who run will often tell you that distance running isn't about strength or speed, but rather about pain management.  Running hurts.  It hurts a bunch.  It hurts in your feet, your legs, your lungs, your head, your soul.

What the researchers found was that there wasn't much special about this specific Kenyan tribe in terms of diet, physical make-up or training.  Instead, they discovered that this tribe, through hundreds of generations of coming-of-age rituals, had managed to weed out the members with low pain-management skills.

For the males, the ceremony involved driving a spike through the head of their penis.  If they bore the pain "like men should" then (once healed, presumably) they were allowed to marry and propagate the tribe.  Those who cried out or refused the ritual were not able to pass on their genetic material.

The results of this was that this particular tribe happens to be better at managing pain than almost everyone.  This leads to the ability to push through the relatively minor pain of long-distance running and win a disproportionate number of races.

I was thinking about this because the last few weeks have not been great.  I have been annoyed, frustrated, tired, ill-tempered and poorly behaved.  I can't say if this is as a result of my students poor behavior recently, or if their behavior was a reaction to my mood.

Or, most likely, those were independent events which happened to feed off of each other.  People are amazingly complicated and when you bring multiple people together, those complications grow exponentially.  It's not inconceivable that a student stubbed their toe on Tuesday and a cascade of events caused them to be in a fight on Friday.

The factors that work into group dynamics are almost too complicated to measure, especially when I regularly come into contact with upwards of 200 students per day.

But today, the butterfly flapped her wings and I had a nice cool breeze.

We completed the notes on the history of astronomy and discussed half a dozen pivotal astronomers and astronomical model throughout history.

The kids took notes.  The tangents that we took were productive and interesting.

There were no conflicts.

I was singing and joking around with the students.

It happened in all 5 sections, with different questions leading to different, yet equally deep and valuable discussions.

I'm not sure what changed from earlier in the week, but I'm not going to question it.  I'm going to use this momentum to push as far as I can.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Day 120: Powerless

I think it's about time that I contact my own high school teachers (again) and apologize to them for who I was (again).

I am constantly amazed at the abilities of some students to make me feel inept and powerless.  I have no way to react to students who intentionally try to cause a scene.  I hate kicking them out, but that's often the only play I have.

I seem to be unable to defuse situations when students wish them to escalate.

During a demonstration about parallax, I throw a ball to a student who caught it.  Then I asked him to close one eye and I threw it again.  The idea behind this being that depth perception is both important and automatic.

When I threw the ball the second time, another student called out that "he's used to having something in his eye when he's catching balls."

When I told him that such comments were not appropriate or acceptable in school, he began screaming about how I'm the pervert for "thinking that I meant someone was going to nut in his face."

When I asked him to please clarify his comments, he refused and got louder and louder.  I moved his seat and he took his time going, loudly grumbling about how I was being weird and sick.  The move of 25 feet took 4 minutes.

All of this occurred after I had to remove a different student for his language and inability to control himself.
To clarify, the one on the ground is me.

Since it has been made abundantly clear that the content isn't important, and since I have (possibly) graduating seniors, I'm struggling to figure out what I should be teaching them and why.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Day 119: Disconnection

**bee BEE DEEP** We're sorry, but the teacher you're trying to reach has fallen into a state of ennui and is unavailable.  Please hang up the class and try again another time.

I've been feeling very disconnected from my teaching recently.  A few interactions with the students have been strained, but mostly it's the content matter with which I'm struggling.

I spent so many years building up connections with teachers around the world that when I taught math, I knew exactly where to go to get resources.  With Physics and Astronomy, I feel as though I've been starting over and it's exhausting.

I hate that I frequently view topics as things to get through rather than to explore.  This happens much more in Astronomy since I'm SO much less familiar with the material.

We started talking about models of the solar system and the difference between the geocentric and the heliocentric models.  I found myself rambling for 40 minutes about the development of the atomic model over time, how models change based on cultural and religious norms, and why we would use one model over another.

My classes were light again today with perhaps a third of my students being absent for trips and various other reasons.  In two classes, I stopped mid-sentence when I realized that everyone was either asleep or trying to count the number of ceiling tiles in my room.

It's very difficult to engage them when I'm not engaged myself.  I find the topics interesting, but not with the level of depth that I need to delve in order to stretch what should be a semester course out to a full year.

A ton of teachers online have been excellent with giving me resources, but I've been feeling underwhelmed by them due to my lack of confidence in my ability to present them or my students willingness to complete them.

When you give an assignment that allows students multiple options and the one they choose is "I'm not doing this," it makes it very hard to gather the enthusiasm to put your energy into finding a new one.

My wife and I are very good cooks.  We are also fairly adventurous when it comes to attempting recipes or just mixing ingredients.  Our children, however, are not.  There have been many times when we will spend considerable preparing a meal only to have them scoff at it.

Like parenting books tell us that we should, we ask them to just try it.  The response for my younger daughter is, inevitably, as follows:

"I've tried it before when I was a baby and I didn't like it."
"...You've never tried this before. This is the first time we've made it."
"No, no. I tried it at memaw's house and I didn't like it, so no thank you."

They will then complain about how hungry they are.

Similarly, my students are complaining about how boring my class is.

Without the familiarity with the material that I have in mathematics, my attempts at students engagement are starting to feel like chocolate-covered broccoli.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Day 118: Smaller Bites

I had hoped that using the science contracts would help my student to get more engaged with their learning.  For many, it worked.  I received a ton of great demonstrations of knowledge and expressions of content-based creativity.

For many others, however, it was apparently too much of a change from their normal educational output.  In an effort to respect their comfort, and save my own sanity, I'm taking a break from the differentiated assessment and returning to traditional assignments for a while.

The reversion began today when I handed out the new packets.  In this chapter, we will be studying the history of astronomy and discussing how astronomical knowledge changed over time.

In the past, I had given them a choice of how they wished to cover the vocabulary and the vast majority of students chose to write definitions.  Today, I made that choice for them.

I had them take about 25 minutes and write the definitions in the front of their packets.  I advised them to leave space since many of the terms in this chapter might be better understood with drawings as well as words.

When they finished, I walked around stamping their books with a red check mark stamp.  I had forgotten how stamps can motivate students, even juniors and seniors.

"I'm a grown-ass man! I run my own life! Nobody can tell ME what to do! Don't forget my smiley face stamp, please!"

For the second half of class, we discussed the definitions.  As I had seen previously, they have a tendency to copy the words, but have no idea what they mean.  When I asked them to tell me what an ellipse was, I got technical definitions and no understanding.

The definition of a ellipse is the collection of all points around two focal points such that the sum of the distances from the edge to the focal points is always the same.  This is nice and confusing.

It's much easier to understand visually, so I build a box and showed them.
Start with two push pins to be used as focal points.

A string tied into a loop and placed over the push pins and then pulled tight.  The sum of the distances between my thumb and each pin will always be the same. 

Stick a pen in the string loop and drag it around the paper.  Poof! Ellipse!
This visual is MUCH easier to understand than the verbal definition.  With the picture drawn, it's also easier to understand many of the other terms we have this chapter, such as aphelion, perihelion and epicycle.

What the heck an epicycle?  Well, an epicycle is a small circles whose center moves around the circumference of a larger circle.

"Yeah, but what is it?"
This also happens at carnivals!
The motion of a person in one of the cars on The Scrambler is considered an epicycle.  They revolve around a point that is, in turn, revolving around another point.

Out of every student who was in class today, only 2 did not complete the assignment.  It seems likely that the idea of a larger assignment spread over a longer period of time may allow for procrastination to the point where it becomes overwhelming.

I worry that breaking it into smaller, more frequent assignments is hampering their ability to do long term planning.  At the same time, the students who are most in need of that skill weren't even attempting it before.

I think we will be doing worksheets and small assignments for the foreseeable future.  Perhaps there will still be time this year to ween them off.

Day 117: Conflict

Today was Assessment Day.  The students who were taking the chapter test did that while the rest finished up anything they owed me.  Some of the items that they turned in were pretty cool! I have a nice collection of Pringles Can Constellation Viewers, some very nicely done Powerpoints and a few 3-Dimensional constellations.

In addition, there were several students walking around today with stellarium hats on, which made me proud.

I had another altercation with the same student from last week.  It began by me asking him to stop talking and escalated from there until he was yelling at me to not ever address him personally again.  He accused me of picking on little kids and speaking in a disrespectful tone.

I managed to keep my cool long enough to ask him to hang back after the class left so we could figure out what we going on.

"This isn't working for me and I don't think it's working for you."

I attempted to have a conversation and hear his concerns.  He was upset about the tone that I was using in class, both with him and with the other students.  He said that he feels constantly disrespected by teachers and expects to learn when he comes to school, not to be yelled at like a little kid.

I think I made a mistake by trying to have the conversation before we were both fully calm.  I think that I was calm and tried to hear what he had to say, but it's possible that I wasn't.  I know his level of frustration was just as high, if not higher, than mine.

I should have waited to talk to him, but I won't see him again until Monday because of conferences and inservice.  I know myself and I know that if I HAD waited, I would have found an excuse not to have the conversation.

As it is, I will think about his frustrations and why he's able to set me off so easily and hopefully connect with him again next week.  He's a bright kid, as well as charming, funny, personable and friendly.  He's also a natural born leader and I hope that he will use his power for good.

Sometimes, with kids who are bigger and taller than I am, it's easy to forget that they are still kids.  At the same time, I also have a ton to learn about interacting with my students, about defusing situations and winning them back.  I am able to do this to a certain extent, but I still have a long way to go until I'm the teacher I want to be.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Day 116: Still Dead

I went to bed at 7 last night.  I was too cold, so I put on lots of clothes. Then I was too hot, so I took them off again.  At 2 am, I was tossing and turning and didn't want to wake my wife, so I got up and went to the couch.

At 4, I decided I was up and stood in the shower, letting the steam clear up my sinuses for 20 minutes.

I was at work by 5.

Today was another "finish up your science contracts, which are due tomorrow" day.  I stayed in my chair, trying to keep my head from spinning.  It worked, for the most part.

Several students made stellariums (stellaria?) and wore them around for the day.

Hooray for the space hat!

I'm honestly not sure how I made it through the day...

Monday, March 7, 2016

Day 115: Walking Dead

Every once in a while, I time my lessons incredibly well.

For some reason, I feel like death warmed over.  I'm achy, have a cough and a sore throat.  As it happens, I was planning to have today and tomorrow be work days for my students.  Their science contracts on due on Wednesday before parent conferences on Thursday.

For the most part, they worked incredibly well.  I praised them for it with my increasingly tired tone.  I closed my eyes during my prep and felt slightly better after, but clearly I need to go to bed when I get home.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Day 114: Burn It All Down

My district uses Schoology as our Learning Management System.  It's our online gradebook, classroom page and discussion board.  For people who went to college, it's like Blackboard, but more appropriate for secondary schools.  I have worked with many different systems and I have excellent feelings about this one.  I think it's very versatile and has a ton of useful features.

One of the features that I was utilizing today was the "View Assignment Statistics" feature!  Once the grades for an assignment are placed in the book, you can view the distribution of those grades.  These are two of the interesting distributions from the quiz today.

I am deeply fascinated by these two graphs.  In the first image, what jumps out at me is the lack of students in the middle.  The second graph is fairly representative of my marking period grade distribution overall.  I had no less than 10 students either refuse to take the quiz or turn it back to me with nothing written.

Both these make perfect sense to me in terms of how my classes go.  I think my course is fairly easy.  We cover the Astronomy content on a level that might be more appropriate for a lower-level course.  It is designed to be a place where students will learn new information and expand their understanding of the universe.  It is NOT designed to be a super-intense training for future astrophysicists.

Those students who are paying attention, turning in assignments and being at least semi-active in class, are doing well.

Those who are not, are not.  There are VERY few students who are doing the assignments and not doing well.

I'm not sure what to take from this that doesn't sound like "I'm clearly teaching.  They just aren't doing their part."

I know there are more factors in play here.  I have several different students say to me that "This is the only class I'm doing poorly in.  This and Algebra 2."

If that is true, I'm not sure if the Algebra teacher and I are doing what we are supposed to and none of the other teachers are, or vice versa.

Or if, again, this is a MUCH bigger issue than one teacher can legitimately tackle.

Either way, I'll keep encouraging them to push themselves and grow.

The other item that was on my today was an altercation with a student.  After they finished their quizzes, I let them listen to music or work on other assignments silently.  Several students throughout the day had their music up too loud (because I'm now an old man) and they were asked to turn it down.

One student stared me down.  I could still hear his music from across the room.  At that point, I asked him to put it away.  He then became very loud, claiming that I was picking on him, that he had turned it down and that other people had their headphones on.  I told him that I couldn't hear theirs and he claimed that he had turned his down as I asked.

In an effort to maintain equality, I had everyone else put their phones away.  Because I'm a bully and a petulant child...

The first student then began yelling.
"Stop talking, please. People are still taking tests."

He didn't.  It escalated.  I asked him to step outside.

He didn't.  I called security to remove him.

It took him 2 solid minutes to gather his items, yelling the entire time.  Over the course of that rant, it sounded to me as though he called me a bitch, but I wouldn't swear by it and he says he didn't.

This is not the first such encounter I've had with this student.  He knows exactly how to push my buttons and if he doesn't get what he wants when he wants it, he'll push them VERY hard.

And I let him.

I have no idea how to de-escalate these situations.  Irrationality abounds on both sides.  I've tried to speak with him individually when the situation is not so tense and he's amenable to the conversation, so I may have to try that route again.

There is no quick fix.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Day 113: Face To Face

I very much enjoyed today's astronomy assignment/activity.  As a precursor to the quiz on constellations that they're going to have tomorrow, I handed them a piece of paper with stars on it.

Their task to identify which part of the sky is represented, find the constellations and label the major stars.

After a few minutes of unmitigated confusion, several fits of tears and screams about how hard this assignment was, I calmed down and they got to work.  Those who put the effort in seemed to find this activity somewhat fun.  They saw it like a puzzle, which is a great way to see it.

Tomorrow's quiz will be almost the same, but they will have to identify which is the summer sky and which is winter as well as the direction of the North Star.

While they were working, I called them up to check in any of the work that they had completed for the Science Contract for this chapter.  I reminded them that everything was going to be due on Wednesday (the day before parent-teacher conferences) but anything they wanted to turn in early could come in.

I have high hopes for the Experimental/Creative sections of this chapter.  They have the option of making a Pringles Can Constellation Viewer, constellation cookies, constellation cake, or building a stellarium!
Astronomical knowledge makes great headgear!
Since they were working on their own today, I was able to scoot my rolling chair around the room and work one-on-one with a bunch of different kids.  I love doing this because it reminds me that so much of the negative student behavior is often a front.

There are very few kids who, in a one on one situation, are out of control.  In my decade in the classroom, I think I have encountered less than a dozen.  Kids want to be heard, want to be spoken to as though they are people with valid opinions and concerns.

I wonder if this could be due to the fact that they are.

One of the easiest ways to get attention is be a loud, obnoxious jerk.  Believe me, I know.  Sitting across the desk from a student, giving them my full attention, is a great reminder, for them AND for me, that there are other, more productive ways to give and get attention.

I would love to do this more often, but it frequently feels as though I'm teaching in the ghost house from Super Mario Bros.
Like the Weeping Angels, except less scary.

In Physics, I demonstrated the importance of impulse by jumping off of the desk, twice. Once by bending my knees and once by not.

I should send a note of apology to the teacher in the room below me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Day 112: Ouroboros

I am constantly amazed at how different groups of students react differently to the same lesson.

Today's Astronomy lesson was based around going through some of the major constellations and discussing the mythology behind each.  We started by talking about mythology from various cultures and how they are pervasive in our current society.  I asked them to tell me what myths they knew and filled in the gaps with names they didn't.

They were quite surprised to discover how much mythology they knew without actually realizing it.
"I'm the sexiest flower!!"
The narcissus was named for a Greek myth about a young man who starved to death while staring at the beauty of his own reflection.

Zeus was famous for his philandering and often visited the beautiful nymphs on Earth.  In another myth, his wife, Hera, came looking for him.  One of the nymphs stalled Hera by being very long-winded and allowed Zeus to escape.  When Hera discovered what had happened, she cursed the young nymph so that she was only able to repeat the last few words that had been spoken to her.

The nymph's name was Echo.

The phrase "he flew too close to the sun" to describe someone who overextends themselves to their own downfall comes from the tale of Icarus and Daedalus, who made wings of wax to escape prison.  Icarus was warned not to fly too close to the sun lest his wings melt, but he neglected the advice and fell to his death.

Even the word "cereal" has mythological origins, being named after Ceres, which was the Roman name for Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and grain.

In  two of my five Astronomy classes, the kids were HIGHLY engaged.  The discussion moved forward quickly with them joining in with the various myths that they knew.  One class went particularly well through no doing of mine.  In that group, there was a student who normally is checked out, but was on the ball today because, as he said, "mythology is ballin'."

In the third class, the students seemed close to indifferent, while in the remaining two classes, they were actively disinterested.

Their disinterest triggered a vicious cycle of my unwillingness to be excited myself.  Or perhaps it was the other way around.  It's certainly possible that my telling the same story for the 3rd time, with the prospect for doing it twice more, sapped my enthusiasm which, in turn, triggered disinterest in them.

The chicken or the egg...

In theory, I should be the one to break this cycle.  I'm the teacher, I'm the adult, I'm the one with the maturity to take responsibility for the situation. (Shut up! I'm TOTES mature! You're just a doodoo head!)

I know this is how the cycle has to end.  Many days I can do it.  But today, it was a challenge.  It's exhausting to be spoken over all the time and it's hard to gather up the enthusiasm when you're exhausted.
"As soon as I'm done biting this bastard who's biting me, I'm going to make an AWESOME lesson for the Childlike Empress!"

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Day 111: Not Wrong, But Wrong

Student: "Mr. Aion, are you collecting this sheet?"
Me: "I am. It's due at the end of the period."
Student: "Good! I need the points!"
Me: "It's not really about the points. It's only going to be worth about 10.  This is more to see what you know."
Student: "Nah. I'm all about the points."
Me: "Really? Because we have had 2 different 100 point assignments this marking period that you just didn't do."
Student: "That was a lot of work. I'll just take the points for this paper."
Me: "So you'll have 10 out of 210 possible points. That gives you a 5%"
Student: "But that's not a zero, is it?"

Waiter, I'd like my order to go, please.

This interaction bothers me for two completely different reasons.

The teacher in me is sad that points are so important.  Ideally, I want my students to strive to acquire knowledge and skills instead of points.  At worst, I would at least like them to see their scores as an indication of what knowledge and skills they have demonstrated.  I KNOW that not every kid who fails my class does so because they don't understand.

In fact, very few of them fail for this reason.  The majority of the students who are failing my classes are doing so because they will not complete assignments, therefore making it impossible for me to accurately assess their knowledge.

In reality, I recognize that a large portion of the students are working for the grades as their primary motivation and knowledge acquisition as secondary or tertiary.  Whatever gets a kid to learn...  I'm certainly not in a position to judge motivations.

But this brings me to my other concern.

While I want my students to be motivated by curiosity and interest, but if they are going to be motivated by grades, could they at least understand how those grades work??

They know that passing is a 60%, but I think schools have done a mediocre job of getting to understand how cumulation works.  It's easier to start with a high grade and maintain it than it is to start low and bring it up.

In all honesty, I'm no better at this, nor was I when I was in school.  "It's not due until Friday. I'll do it later" has put me in more tough spots than I can count.

The issue that concerns me, however, is more than just simple procrastination.  It stems from the complete confusion that I saw on the face of student today when I told her that, having missed almost 80 days of my class and having not turned in a single assignment all year, she wasn't really going to be able to pass my class.

"Well, what assignments can I turn in."
"You could start with any of them and we can work from there, but you've turned in nothing and you're never here. Did you really think you would be able to pass that way?"

And she did.  She honestly did.  She's in 11th grade.

I'm not sure what to do with this.  It's not attitude as much as ignorance in the literal sense of the word.  Many of my students are simply ignorant of how long term planning works in terms of chapters, marking periods, semesters or years.

I am in no way blaming the students for this.  As with any issue, there are some who are culpable, but this is a much bigger problem.  There are deep and systemic issues at work here.  I'm not sure how to even begin addressing them, or even if I can.
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