Friday, April 29, 2016

Day 150: Underdog Sports Movie

Warning: The following post contains sportsball stuff, about which I know very little

In the English Premier Football League, football clubs that have a very bad season could, theoretically, be sent back down the minor leagues.  The collective judgement of the Premier League will say "I'm sorry, but you're just not good enough to play with us. Go back down, work on your skills and come back in a bit."

The Leicester City Football Club has not won a Premier League championship in 132 years, which is the entire history of the club.  They won the championship several times in the lower leagues, where they excelled, but never in the Premier League.

Last year, the Leicester City F.C. was almost demoted back down to the minors for their performance.

This year, they made it to the championships of the Premier League.  On May 1st, they will play Manchester United, a team that even non-soccer fans like myself know about, in Man United's home stadium of Old Trafford and if they are victorious, it will be one of the biggest coups in soccer history.

I know all of this because I am an avid listener of NPR on my morning commute.  As I absorbed this information while traversing the still dark roads that lead to the school, I immediately thought about every childhood sports movie that I watched while growing up.  The vast majority of these can be summed up in the following way:

Over-the-top (or horrifically negligent) adult unwillingly finds themselves in charge of a junior sports team, which happens to be in last place.  Over the course of 90 minutes, montages occur, infighting splits the group, tears and ice cream bring them back together.  While the kids are learning to be a team, the adult is finding something that has been missing from their own life, namely a family.

Everyone learns important lessons just in time to clinch the title from the champion team, which consists of bullies and is coached by the childhood rival of the underdog coach.

Sometimes the underdog team wins the championship through their own hard work.  Occasionally, right before the winning goal/run/hit/etc., someone gets hurt and is unable to finish the game.  In a Grinch-style heart-growing, the "evil" team stops fighting and carries the injured player across the goal line, giving the underdog team the championship win.

In my mind, I pictured a line of Manchester United players standing in a row off to the side while Leicester City players score enough goals to win the championship for the first time in the 132 year history of the club.  Oh the celebrations they would have!

But the victory would be unearned.  They may have been able to win on their own, but by the opposing team gifting it to them, they would never know.  They would have no idea if their efforts had been enough to have them rise to the top.

I'm not a huge fan of sport analogies relating to education, partly because I don't know enough about sports to make them effectively.  I'm also not a fan because I don't like the idea of students competing with each other for achievement, or battling the teachers.

Perhaps they work if you see the teacher as coaching a group of people to reach beyond their expectations of themselves, but I think that's thin.

In this case, however, I've been thinking about how the grading system is set up and what those grades mean to many students.

I gave my students the opportunity to improve those grades and a large portion of them took me up on it.  They used the chance to learn from their mistakes and have resubmitted VASTLY improved work.  I'm incredibly proud of their effort.

A few, however, have openly made the statement that they don't care about improving.  "I just want to pass."

I recognize that it may be a pipe dream to wish for the reverse, but it's what I want.

I want to be the teacher who hears "I don't care about the grades.  I just want to be better than I was."

I want to be able to foster the growth mindset in my students because I know it will serve them better in the future.  I don't want to hand them a medal just for showing up.  I want to fight for every ounce of that trophy and, win or lose, know that they did their best because it was what they wanted.

If all they want to do is pass my class, if they don't care at all about the material and are enrolled because they need the science credit, I can understand and appreciate that.  I don't consider their disinterest to be personal.  Unfortunately, that leads a few to believe that I will simply pass them.  Unfortunately, that's not the case.

I wish I had more time to help them get to where they want to be, but there are only 30 days left in the year and the mad scramble to reclaim points that were not earned in October is in full swing.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Day 149: The Vortex

Today was Bring Your Child To Work Day.  I didn't.

I was worried that my older daughter would be over-stimulated.

I was worried that my younger daughter would spend the day building an army of teenagers who would carry he on their backs as they march to violently overthrow the patriarchy.

I left them at home.

Many of the other teachers, however, did bring their children and nieces and nephews.  One of the science teachers helped to organize a schedule for the kids to follow so they didn't have to sit in slightly different classes than they do at their own schools.

In the biology class, there were several preserved animals available for inspection.  In chemistry, they did a flame test, burning different substances to watch colors change.  The gifted department set up a robot building station and the students in the musical help a preview performance.

I gave demonstrations with my new and improved (read: stable and balanced) gravity table.  I had objects of different mass and demonstrated how those objects gravitationally interact with each other.

Over the course of giving this demonstration to 6 classes and multiple groups of younger children, a colleague and I developed what will now be known as:

The Stages Of That Penny Thing At The Mall!

Stage 1: A student sees the vortex on the gravity table and exclaims "Bro! That looks like that penny thing at the mall!"

Stage 2: Three minutes later, a second student exclaims "Bro! That looks like that penny thing at the mall!"

Stage 3: Students around student number 2 turn towards him/her and say "Dude! He just said that like 3 minutes ago!  Where were you?"

Stage 4: Every 49 seconds for the remainder of the period, a different student will sarcastically declare "Bro! That looks like the penny thing at the mall!"

These stages repeated in every single class.

Several other teachers sat in on my demonstrations today while accompanying their kids.  I received some pretty positive feedback from the youngin's and the faculty on my "super cool" lesson.

The majority of my students were pretty into it as well, which was nice.  I did notice, however, a particularly large engagement gap between my students and the younger children, with the latter group being MUCH more engaged.

I wonder if this is a function of being a new environment for them or my own students being used to my shenanigans.

Or perhaps there is something inherent in the school process that fosters disengagement over time?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Day 148: Arrogance?

State Testing: Day 8 of 14

I had a productive morning!

I updated grades, modified the gravity table to make it more stable and level, and I started into Christopher Emdin's book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood.

Very rarely, even in college, have I annotated a book while reading.  Often, I have the passing thought of "huh! That's interesting. I should remember that!"

It took 4 pages into Chapter 1 before I jumped up to get a highlighter.

I will reserve a full report until after I finish the book, but of all of the things that jumped out at me so far, one has been occupying the forefront of my mind.

I engaged in a Twitter debate with one of these educators recently and was astounded by the fervor with which he defended his school's practice of "cleaning these kids up and giving them a better life."  With that statement, he described everything that is wrong with the culture of urban education and the biggest hindrance to white folks who teach in the hood.  First, the belief that students need "cleaning up" presumes that they are dirty.  Second, the aim of "giving them a better life" indicates that their present life has little or no value.

We want our students to be their best, but this makes me think about how often we actually want them to be OUR best.  I know that all too often, I am guilty of living vicariously through my students.  I want to shield them from the same mistakes that I made.

"Don't do that! I already did it and it didn't turn out well!"

All teachers do this to a certain extent.  We encourage students to study and complete assignments so they can go to college and make a better life for themselves.

Part of me sees this, not as coming from a position of privilege, but as part of the American Dream.  Isn't the whole point to have a better life, to go further than your parents?  I want my children to have a better life than I have.  I want them to be happier and more secure.

But my students are not my children.  I care for many of them as though they are, but that does a disservice to their own families and lives.  Each one of my students has a different dream, a different goal, and who am I to say that my hopes for them are better or more important than their own.

Is this simple adult arrogance?  Do we think that we know better simply because we have lived longer?

Is it a special brand of arrogance that is exclusive to teachers?  Our students are compelled to be in our classes.  We often tell ourselves that they should take advantage of the situation, that it would help them make a better future.  Whether or not this is true, that hardly matters to our students.  They are living their lives now and those lives are SO much more complex than "do your homework and study."

When we say "be a good student," how many of my kids hear "be a white student"?

If I want to help my students achieve their goals, I need to acknowledge that those goals may be so far removed from my own that I can't even recognize them.

A parent forcing their child to take piano lessons because it will make them a well-rounded person may be ignoring that said child is a dancer or painter at heart.

Clearly this book is going to force to go down roads that I need to travel.  Perhaps all teachers do, but I can't set those goals for other people.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Day 147: Gravity Table

State Testing: Day 7 of 14

After several attempts at trying to balance the gravity table in the way I wanted, I gave up.  Instead, I went down to the Phys Ed department and asked if I could have some Hula Hoops that they weren't using.

I had been avoiding them because I wanted the table to be bigger, but without a stable ring and stand, that wasn't possible.  I borrowed plastic and glass beads from the biology teacher and I was good to go.

Due to the testing schedule, I only saw one Astronomy class today, but they were fascinated by the beads rolling around on the table, gathering together in clumps and distorting the surface with their weight.

The physics kids were so enthralled that they dumped everything on the ground.  What a great way to demonstrate gravitational pull!
Gravity is a harsh and unforgiving mistress

Monday, April 25, 2016

Day 146: Stellar Dogs

"Tell me what you know about dogs."

Half of my students, instead of answering, do their bet impressions of dogs: tilting their heads to one side, looking confused, several making noises reminiscent of Scooby Doo.

The rest started giving me qualities of dogs.

"They bark."
"They have four legs."

Eventually, and without prompting, I heard "the bigger ones don't live as long as the small ones."

"This is very true," says I.  We have a brief discussion about dog breeds and how the larger ones, such as mastiffs, great Danes and wolfhounds have life expectancy of around 7 years while dachshunds, terriers and poodles can live twice as long, or more.

"Interestingly, this can also happen in people!"  I talked about the switch that gets flipped inside the human body when it's time to stop growing and how some diseases, like gigantism, don't allow that switch to turn off.

Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in recorded history, grew to a height of 8 feet and 11 inches.  Andre the Giant was 7 feet 4 inches.

Both of these men suffered from gigantism, complications from which contributed to their deaths at the ages of 22 for Wadlow and 46 for Andre.

At this point, my students equal parts confused and engaged.  We should be talking about space and stuff, but we're talking about dogs and giants.

"Large dogs don't live as long as small dogs.  The same thing is true with stars."

And there we have a masterful transition back to content through the cunning and creative use of analogy and comparison-drawing.

Or something like that.

I used this to continue talking about stellar evolution, following the life of a star from the stellar nursery all the way through its death as a black hole, neutron star or black dwarf.

I've received approval to show The Martian, Gravity and Interstellar in my Astronomy classes.  I have a nice collection of activities and work that will accompany them.  If time permits, I'd like the final assignment to be to compare and contrast the science in the three films.  Next year, if I am still teaching this class, I'll incorporate them into different chapters.

As soon as I know what I'll be teaching, I plan to design a calendar that includes the various projects that I want to cover.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Day 144: Mixed Reception

We completed the presentations today with very mixed results.  There were some truly excellent presentations and some that were...not.

After handing back the rubrics, I handed out my letters to the students who are in danger of failing the course.

The majority of the students thanked me for the chance to not fail.  They asked excellent clarifying questions about content, deadlines and expectations.

A select few took it as an insult that they needed to redo their assignment.

"I already did this!"
"You did.  You did a fairly nice job with the presentation, but you didn't really follow the rubric and your grade suffered as a result.  With the grade you earned on this presentation, along with the previous 3 marking periods, it's mathematically impossible for you pass the class.  You can, however, resubmit this assignment to improve your grade."

I was also asked why I wasn't reading the letter to them.

I explained that it was an optional assignment for student who wished to correct their work.

I truly hope they take advantage of this opportunity.

Overall, I feel as though this is an acceptable road to take for me, helping my students to balance achievement and responsibility.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Day 143: A Letter

State testing: Day 6 of 14

I've been toying with the idea of having my student resubmit their presentations.  Not every student, since several produced some excellent work.  Unfortunately, many presented what might generously described as a 6th grade book report.

My thought was to tell all students that if they earned less than a 70 on the rubric, that their work was unacceptable and it would be dropped down to a zero until they submitted a product that met the requirements of the assignment.

In the long run, I decided against this approach since I had not made that clear at the beginning of the assignment.

Instead, I wrote a letter.

It will be handed out to my students who did poorly on their biography presentations and are in danger of failing for the year.  It will also be mailed home to those students and I've posted it on our LMS for access by anyone with a password.

Fun note: When I posted it to the website, a student with excellent grades came to me in a panic because of the first line.  She received a notification because she's a responsible student and I had to spend a few minutes assuring her that she is not at risk of failing the course.  In fact, she could never show up again and still pass the class.

I want to afford them every opportunity to succeed, but they have to be the ones to do the work.
Student of Astronomy,

If you are receiving this letter, your performance on the Astronomer Biography Project, and therefore current grade for the 4th marking period, will guarantee that you fail Astronomy for the 2015-2016 school year. 
If you are a senior, this puts your graduation in jeopardy.

As an educator, my goal is not to prevent you from moving on in your life, but rather to ensure that you are ready and able to do so.  In this effort, I am providing you with the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and ability to perform at grade level.

You may resubmit your Astronomer Biography for consideration using the following deadlines and fulfilling the rubric on the back of this sheet.

Written speech:  Due Friday, April 29th
Video or audio recording of you rehearsing your speech: Due Tuesday, May 3rd
Final Powerpoint/Google Slides presentation: Due Friday, May 6th

You MUST meet these deadlines in order to have your work considered for resubmission.  All work must be completed outside of class and may be submitted electronically, either by sharing it through Google Drive, submitting it through Schoology or emailing it directly to me at

Do NOT wait until the last minute to submit your work.  “I couldn’t get to a computer” is not an acceptable excuse.

If you have any questions about this resubmission, the assignment, your grade, the expectations, or the rubric, see me or email them to me as soon as you have them.

I wish for you to be successful.

Mr. Aion

Several students were confused as to why they would earn zero points just because they weren't ready to present.

There was also an issue with 30+ students being turned away from the school today for dress code violations.  I have very strong feelings about dress code, but I'll save them for another post.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day 142: Revision

State testing: Day 5 of 14

Presentation Day 2

I've written in the past about how different classes have different dynamics.  Today, it hit me again.  My 6th period started their presentations and (the students who presented) did a VERY nice job.

The first one truly set the tone that I was seeking.  His presentation was more in the form of storytelling than reading a list of historical facts.  Even though many of the groups fell short in terms of time, it was clear that they spent considerable effort on their presentations, both in terms of format and research.

My other classes, however, were a scramble to send emails, put their names on the presentations and, for the most part, read their powerpoints.  Again, several students were confused about due dates and didn't understand why they would earn 3/10 for "Time Limit" when, for a 5 minute presentation, they spoke for just over 1 minute.

I'm toying with the idea of making them redo the projects and adding elements and due dates:

Written speech due on Friday
Video of rehearsal due Monday
New presentation due Thursday

Any students who earned less than a 70 on the original rubric will be required to make up the assignment.

I think I pulled something in my neck this weekend.  I have a headache and am exhausted.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Day 141: Presentations?

State testing: Day 4 of 14

Today was the first day for presentations in Astronomy.  Students were assigned to pick a famous astronomer, research their life and accomplishments and give a 5-6 minutes oral presentation with supporting slides.  They needed to have a brief 5-10 question quiz to make sure students were paying attention.

I made up a rubric and everything!

They were told that all presentations needed to be completed and ready to present today.  They were told that I was going to drawing names out of a hat to determine who would be presenting, so everyone needed to be ready.

Many of my students were not ready.

Due to the delay with the testing, I only saw periods 2, 3 and 6.  When called up, here were some of the responses I received:

What is this presentation supposed to be about?
We were supposed to have a quiz?
I needed to send it to you?
Can I go to the library to finish it?

When I checked my email this morning, I had received 3 files.

Several students were making last minute changes (like adding a quiz) on their phones before sharing the files with me.

The presentations themselves left me feeling confused and frustrated.  I few of the students did a good job, but the vast majority gave presentations as though they hadn't even glanced at the rubric.  I spent an entire class period going over it, making it VERY clear what I was and was not looking for.

The presentation was supposed to be between 5 and 6 minutes.  The average for the class was around 2.  Several of the "quizzes" were questions read out of their notebook with no way to determine who was and wasn't paying attention.

I did get a few quizzes ahead of time and was able to load them into the Plickers program, which allows instant feedback.

Again, while a few demonstrated considerable time and effort, many appeared as though they were thrown together at the last minute.  Only one presentation appeared to have been rehearsed.

I'm writing all of this not as a way to complain about the students, but rather to express the depth of my frustration and concern.  A student from another period came in and watched, commenting afterwards that what she saw should have been embarrassing for a senior about to graduate.

"No college on earth would accept that level of work."

I'm spoken with my students about what they need to do in order to pass my class and, in many cases, graduate.

I'm not sure what else I can do for them.  The lack of achievement doesn't seem to come from lack of understanding, but rather lack of effort.

Last week, I attended Curriculum Night at the school to talk about my class to potential parents and students.  Several spoke to me of their concerns that it would be too hard for their child.  I feel as though I have made considerable effort to make sure than anyone CAN pass the class with a basic understanding of Astronomy with a considerable amount of depth possible for those who wish it.

I am distressed at the number of students who are not passing, or are right on the edge of not doing so.  I think that I have differentiated my instruction and my assessment to accommodate the various strengths and interests of my students.

One of the arguments that is often made against differentiation is that students will learn that the world will cater to them.  While I think that's true in a very few cases, the vast majority of students don't fall into this trap.

With that said, there's something going on.  I don't know how to address it and I don't know how to prepare my students for the realities of life outside of high school.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Day 140: Informal Experiments

I can't figure out how this week is STILL going!  Why isn't it May yet?

We continued our work on H-R Diagrams today.  I gave out a worksheet to be completed by the end of class.  Those who worked well managed to finish.  Those who didn't, didn't.

While I was watching my 3rd period work, there were a few boys who opted out and, instead, decided to play with my constant velocity cars from physics.

At first, I was annoyed by their off-task behavior.

As I watched them, however, I realized that they were actually designing experiments and ranking the cars.

They started by racing them to see which was the fastest.  Then, they started them at different positions and times to see if they could get them to stop at the same place.

They put the cars head to head and had them climb an inclined plane to see which had the most power.

They were systematic and creative.  The asked questions that were interesting to themselves and developed ways to solve them.

They didn't use formal reporting methods and their error analysis was ...sketchy.

"Dude! Your pencil was in the way!"

In 6th period, a few students completed the assignment I gave and then attempted to make a bridge of paper that the cars could cross.  They stapled pieces of paper together and used weights to keep it from slipping off of the desk.

Once they made a bridge that held the car, they discovered that there wasn't enough friction for the car to make it over the edge of the far side.  They fiddled with various heights of each side and adding weight to decrease the slack in the bridge.

They also had no formal methodology.  They recorded no data and wrote no conclusions.

So what??  THIS is what we want, isn't it?  Don't we WANT students to be critically thinking, creating and solving problems, and developing methods of analysis?

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that had I asked them to do just this, they wouldn't have.  In addition to that, however I would word my assignment would have sent them in a specific direction instead encouraging exploration.

I had a fantasy of a completely unstructured school with rooms full of random toys and objects.  Students would create their own learning based entirely on their interests.  Teachers would be there to help assist when it was needed.  This would be an amazing place, but it's not a school.

In addition, I'm not sure that it should be.  Once again, I'm back to asking myself why we send kids to school and, once we figure that out, what I'm supposed to do with that information.

I watched my students experiment wondering how I could help them to formalize their explorations.

Then I wondered why I should do that.  The easiest way to ruin a child's love of Lego blocks is to show them how to play with them.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Day 139: H-R Diagram

"Since we don't have access to computers in this room and I'm getting a bit bored with watching you not work on your presentations, I'm moving on!"

Today we began talking about star classifications.  As usual, in my first period I taught as though I was the kid who didn't do the summer reading, but is still giving the presentation.

"So...these are stars and these ones are hotter and some are bigger than others and the colors are different based on all sorts of stuff so do this worksheet."

By 6th period, I had it down.

We began by watching Crash Course Astronomy

Following the video, we looked at a version of the H-R Diagram.  I asked them to tell me what jumped out at them.

We talked about the sizes of the stars, the colors and the band that runs through the middle.

I handed out worksheets and told them we would go over them and I would collect it at the end of class.

They worked!  As the day went on, the classes worked better and better culminating in 100% participation in my 6th period.

It was pretty great.

Over the summer, provided I know what I'll be teaching next year, I plan to make a calendar for my classes.  It will be something more specific than general curriculum.  I want to include specific videos, labs, projects, etc.

I know I saw this every year.  Hopefully, this will be the year I actually do it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Day 138: Rock Hammer

State Testing: Day 3 of 14

I've been thinking of getting a poster of Rita Hayworth to hang on the wall.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Day 137: Active Monitoring

State Testing: Day 2 of 14

There are few things that teachers find more tedious than "Active Monitoring" during a standardized test.

Active Monitoring means that test administrators are actively engaged while students are working on the test, moving about the room so they can be aware of student's actions!
Active Monitoring IS NOT: 
Catching up on e-mail
Grading papers
Surfing the net
Taking a nap 
                                                                -STAAR Test Training

So no grading, no reading, no spacing out for the duration of test administration, which can be 3-4 hours at a time.

Teachers who manage to avoid this duty often feel as though they've won the lottery.

This is such an issue that multiple lists have been written that detail the things you can do while actively monitoring test administration.  These lists often include things such as: memorize the first, middle and last names of all student in the room, find items around the room that rhyme, practice reciting the alphabet backwards and time yourself.

Yesterday, I counted the ceiling tiles and arranged different ways of counting them, including chunking them into Tetris pieces and Dr. Mario pills.  I color coded them in my mind.

Today, I decided to take a more health-conscious approach.

I have been attempting to eat healthier and be more active.  I have fallen off of my running routine lately and with my schedule, having to pick my daughter up from school and my wife going to roller derby, going to the gym has not been as regular as I would like.

My phone logs my steps for me, so I marked down how many were recorded before testing started.  I also didn't want to wander aimlessly, so I selected a path that, while simple, didn't allow my mind to fall into autopilot.

After several circuits through the room, I decided that I wanted to find more statistics than just my steps/distance.  I timed how long it took for me to make 4 circuits, all of which fell within .5 seconds of each other.  I counted the number of steps that it took to get to the end of a column and how many to cross over to the next column.

I also decided that, in addition to keep the information, I should also mark down the path that I was taking, both as a list and as an annotated map of the room.

At the conclusion of today's testing, I had a nice amount of data, a scanned copy of which can be found below.

Here are the highlights:

Steps Taken: 8721
Steps per Circuit: 96
Time per Circuit: 50 seconds
Approx Distance: 4.3 miles
Approx # of Circuits: 90
Approx Time: 75 minutes

I actively monitored for 4.3 miles today!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Day 136: Course Selection

State Testing: Day 1 of 14

I spent the morning actively monitoring the state mandated tests for 8th graders.  I managed to get 4000 steps in a room that is approximately 600 square feet.  I made 9 Thumbs Up Circuits to make encourage students to do their best without violating the rules about test security.

As usual, I read the directions as though I were auditioning for MovieFone.

Our class schedule is strange for all of these testing days.  Students who aren't testing (mostly juniors and seniors, whom I teach) have a 3-hour delay.  They show up at the beginning of lunch.  In order to make sure that the morning classes don't get skipped, we have a rotating afternoon schedule.  Today, I saw the Physics kids, but I won't see them again until Thursday.  I won't see my 3rd and 4th periods until Wednesday.

Many students are opting to take these days off.  Those who DO show are having difficulty concentrating on anything.  I don't blame them at all.

I added a few columns to my grade book which let students see what percentage they need to earn for the 4th marking period in order to get a C, a B, or an A.

The juniors have received their course-selection sheets for next year as well.  I've been fielding lots of "Mr. Aion, will you sign my sheet so I can take AP Chemistry?"

I've had to have many hard talk with students that boil down to "You are capable of doing the work for that class, but as of now, you've yet to show me that you're willing to."

A large portion of my students, especially those who are brighter, seem to have the mentality of "I'll work in a harder class."

Hard work is a habit.  If you've spent the last 10 months building a habit of NOT working hard, it's going to be tough to switch back.

With that said, I recognize that I work my butt off for things that matter to me and often neglect those that bore me.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Day 135: The Tortoise and The Hare

Yesterday was the first student day since August of 2013 that I did not write a post here.  I just couldn't.  We had an early dismissal so that the district could attend the funeral.  I saw 4 of my classes and those were sparsely populated.  I sat and put in grades.

Yesterday was also the last day of the 3rd marking period.  This is the first year where I have seniors on my roster.  This means that students who fail my class are putting their graduation in jeopardy.

To this effect, I made a spread sheet.

There are fewer things that I find more satisfying that programming excel sheets.  I love being able to fill in a single block and have others auto-populate!  I am a nerd.

One of the science teachers sent me the excel sheet that he uses to calculate final grades.  On his, he plugs in the grades for the first 3 marking periods, scores on midterms and then fiddles with the numbers to find out what kids need to pass.

I started with his sheet and added a few columns.  When I input the grades already earned, my sheet calculated what the student needs to earn in the 4th marking period in order to earn a 60% for the year.  I also added a column that tells me if the student is in danger of not earning that score based on their past performance.

Then I color coded it!  If a student is guaranteed to pass the year, their score is coded blue.  Those who need at least a B have theirs coded as yellow with red being used for students who cannot mathematically pass.

On Monday, I plan to hand out form letters that say "You have X grade for the year.  In order to pass, you need Y in the 4th marking period.  I will help you achieve this, but ultimately, you need to be the one to earn it."

On top of all of this, I received an email yesterday that I suspect will be the first of many.  The substance essentially boiled down to "My child's college acceptance/scholarship requires him/her to have a certain GPA.  Right now, her/his grade in your class is putting that in jeopardy."

I am deeply torn by these types of emails.  I don't want to bump up the grade of a student who hasn't earned it, who hasn't demonstrated mastery of the concepts.  If a student is not successful in my class, especially though their inability or unwillingness to complete my assignments, I'm not sure how that will change in college.

The tortoise and the hare used to be a story that we used to tell kids that it's more important to be consistent.

Sometimes, that final sprint is enough to get you to the finish line.  Sometimes it isn't.

I know that they are the ones who choose to take a nap at the beginning of the race.  I know it's not my responsibility to carry them across the finish line.  I do what I can to shake them awake at the start of the race, but eventually, it's simply too late.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Day 133: Race and Safety

There is a blanket over the school.  Tomorrow is the funeral and the district is closing early so that students and staff can attend.

The district has already started receiving messages about the closing is inconsiderate to working parents.  Many of those letters have undertones (or overtones) of racism.  Since the student who passed away was white, several community members are claiming that the steps that are being taken would not have been had she been a minority.

I don't think this is true, but I don't think it's something that can be dismissed out of hand.  Regardless of the race, I think the district made the right decision to close.  The young woman has been a member of this district for her whole life.  Her mother is a teacher here and her grandmother was.  The number of teachers and students who had a connection to her can't be counted.

I believe that the same reaction would happen should a student of color also pass.

I hope that we never have to test my belief.

After school, I went to the funeral home for the viewing.  To say it was packed would be a massive understatement.  I arrived around 2:15 and didn't get into the parlour until almost 4.  The line of mourners wishing to pay their respects wound through the funeral home, out the door and around the building.  The parking lot was bursting, cars were parked on the road and busses from the school were dropping of students by the score.

I waited in line with a small group of students and we enjoyed each others company while we stood.

When we eventually made it into the funeral home, I found myself in the room with almost a hundred other people.  One of the students who spent much of the day with me yesterday, a close friend of the deceased, came out of the parlour.  Tears were streaming down her face and she was sobbing openly.

In an entire room of students, faculty, family, administrators and friends, she made a beeline for me, threw her arms around me and sobbed into my shoulder.

I stood there in the funeral home, amidst the crowd, holding my student while she wept.  I was at a loss for words, so I said nothing and just held her.

I am deeply honored and humbled that she was able to find safety with me, that I was able to provide her with that space, even in a crowded room.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Day 132: The Aftermath

Yesterday, one of the students in the high school put up a tweet that could be considered thoughtless and foolish at best, and malicious and evil at worst.

The student in question is a professed Satanist and has since stated that he meant no offense by his comment, that it was a poor choice of tone.  True or not, I do believe him.

The school went into revolt.  This student was threatened repeatedly and was confronted numerous times online yesterday and in person today.  Swift intervention of faculty, staff and administration kept it from escalating.

These incidents however, allowed me to have a conversation with one of my classes about perspective and actions.  Going off of the assumption the student in question was genuine about his beliefs, his comment could be seen as a poorly worded version of the Christian statement "he's with Jesus now."  This statement is not well-received by non-Christians because that's not their belief system.

I am in no way justifying the actions of this student.  I believe his comment was thoughtless, callous and attention seeking.

Regardless of my thoughts on this, it happened and now we are dealing with the aftermath.  I spoke to my students about the need to understand where others base themselves.

"You come around a corner and see your friend fighting someone you don't know.  You're going to join in and help your friend, right?"
"Well yeah!"
"What if your friend was the aggressor?  What if your friend started the fight and did so in a way that you can't justify?"
"...I would still help him because he's my boy."
"And if he punch the other kids little brother and stole his shoes?"
"Nah, he's on his own."
"You've already made the judgement to jump in without the knowing the story."

This was a much more involved conversation, but it seemed to me that many of the students were beginning to see that things were much more complicated than they had thought.

If a guy drives up onto the sidewalk and hits a child, he's to blame.  If the child runs out between cars and the man runs him over, the man may not be to blame.  The intent was different, but the result is the same.

After the student put up his tweet, other students immediately began calling him on it.  I asked my students what would happen if they bumped someone in the hall and that person starting screaming at them.  Almost every person in my class said they would flip out.  We talked about how, like most wild animals, teenagers get their backs up when confronted.  Even if they KNOW that they are in the wrong, it's difficult for them to back down.

Most adults can't do this either.

The fact that the tweeting student didn't offer and apology that they found acceptable was another version of this.  Even if he realized that he was in the wrong, which he did, it was very difficult to apologize with everyone attacking him.  In addition, if he felt those attacks were genuine attacks on his professed religion, it would make it even more difficult.

In the midst of grief, mourning and sadness, I'm glad that I was able to have a rational conversation with students about perspective and putting yourself in the shoes of someone else.

We teach more than content.  Sometimes, just sometimes, we get to teach empathy.

I only wish that it didn't take a tragedy for my students to be willing to listen.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Day 131: Death of a Student

About 6 weeks into the school year, a colleague approached me to talk about one of my students.  He told me that she enjoyed my class, but that it was a major source of anxiety for her.  She was afraid of me and, even though she was falling behind, she didn't want to ask for help.

At that point, I had spoken with her a few times.  I knew that she had some thing going on, including several medical issues, but I didn't know the extent or the severity.  She was in a particular complicated and difficult class and, being one of the more quiet students, didn't always receive the attention that she wanted or needed.

After my colleague spoke with me, I pulled her aside and told her that I wanted to help her however I could.  Her medical issues sometimes caused her to fall behind in class, but she started coming to me to keep me up to date with her situation.

We started developing a better relationship and she began to confide in me about some of the things that were going on in her life.

About 5 months ago, her attendance became sporadic and eventually dropped off completely.  She began spending more time in the hospital for her condition.

Yesterday morning, I received a message letting me know that she had passed away.

I have no idea how to process my feelings.

I am devastated for her friends and family.  I hugged my children tighter yesterday and can't even imagine what it would be to lose one of them.  Several of my students broke down in tears today and I did what I could to comfort them.  I gave out hugs and comforting arm squeezes, but it's never enough.  Nothing that I, or anyone, can do to make this alright because it's not.

I am deeply honored to have known her and I'm grateful that I was able to make a connection with her before she left school.  I looked forward to her smile and her "Hi, Mr. Aion" each morning.

I checked in with her regularly to see how she was feeling.

I feel deep regret that I didn't check in with her once she left the school.  I thought about her almost every day, but never reached out.

Above all of this, I feel selfish for even trying to analyze my own feelings.  This tragedy isn't about me at all.

I'm doing what I can to be available to the students who need it.  My district is providing counseling for those who seek it, but I personally reached out to her friends.  I let them know how sorry I was for their loss and told them that if they wanted to talk, or just wanted a place to come and be quiet, my room was available.  Several of them took me up on the offer and spent a period telling me stories about her life.

We do what we can to protect our students, but there are some things that are out of our hands.
She was a remarkable, courageous, clever and kind young woman.  There are countless people who are grieving today, both and out of school.  I did not know her as well as would have liked, but I know I will miss her as well. 


The funeral for this young woman is on Thursday.  Our school will be having an early dismissal and providing busses to faculty, staff and students who wish to attend.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Day 130: Misogyny

Warning: The following post contains language not appropriate for school, or polite society.  I write the words in here as direct quotes from students.

I frequently find myself appalled and disgusted by the way some of my student talk about women, trans people and homosexuals.

A few examples that stick in my mind from the last week:

Two girls and a guy is super cool, but two guys and a girl is gay as hell.

I would never disrespect a female, but bro, this b*tch had the nastiest p***y.

I wouldn't ever be with a b*tch with small tits, I don't care how good she sucks it.

In addition to this, the boys have no problem talking about their numerous sexual escapades, real or imagined, but as soon as a female student mentions sexuality, she's immediately labeled a slut, a smut, or a thot.

I try to address comments when they crop up, but it's exhausting and unending.  If I try to engage them in a serious conversation about this topic, I am often told "it's not that serious" and it doesn't matter since they are talking to their friends.

In many cases, addressing the issue at all earns me the response of "Man, we're not talking to you, stay over there" or "This is Astronomy. Why don't you just teach us about space and leave us alone."

Recently, I've been cutting the conversation short and telling them to not have those discussions in my classroom.  This makes me feel like a coward because instead of confronting the ignorance and bigotry, I'm pushing it off onto someone else

I feel incredibly protective of my students, especially my female students.  I want my room to be a safe space.  The few students that I've asked about this tell me that they are used to it.

This response makes me incredibly sad.  They shouldn't HAVE to be used to it.  They shouldn't feel as though it is the norm, that it's something to be born.

This is not acceptable.

Interestingly, I noticed that very rarely do the students actually harass students who are openly gay.  They use "gay" as a derogatory term for each other, but it doesn't seem to matter to them when two boys in a relationship walk down the hall holding hands.

I've been told that the cultural reason for this is that it has nothing to do with sexuality, but rather about pretending to be someone else.  Closested students are made fun of, but openly gay students are left alone.

I'm not sure how true this is, but it does make a kind of sense and is consistent with what I know of my students.

I need to do a better job nipping this behavior in the bud right from the start of the year.  I cannot allow my students to think that such talk is acceptable.
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