Friday, April 30, 2010

Didn't See That Comin'

I have an exchange student in my Astronomy class from Brazil. Marcus is an ideal student with better English skills than some of my students.

My class integrates as much observational astronomy in to the curriculum as I can.Anyone who has ever looked at the night sky has seen the Big Dipper, either knowingly or accidentally. It is a prominent feature of the sky and is full of pointer systems that my kids can use to locate other major stars and constellations.

So during class, we are discussing ways to find Polaris, Bootes, Leo, Cassiopeia; all those landmarks that fill even the most unmotivated students with awe.

As we talked about Polaris and how to find north I couldn't help but notice Marcus looking a little bit lost. He dutifully filled out his map, but finally, he raised his hand and asked what was on his mind.

"Miss, I have never seen the Big Dipper. And what do you mean by 'the North Star'?" Heads swiveled in stunned silence. Thankfully, no one made any rude remarks about intelligence, but there was a second there that I really had no idea what to say.

Then it dawned on me. I asked Marcus where exactly in Brazil he was from. We got out the globe and he pointed to his home town.

Marcus was from a place SOUTH of the equator. He could never have seen the Big Dipper (in its entirety) or Polaris from where he lived because they never rise in his sky.

Well, once the kids discovered that little tid-bit, they went crazy. What stars CAN you see? Do you have a "South Star"? Does the world rotate in a different direction?

No, I'm not making that last one up.

This was such an incredible teaching moment that I never saw coming. Never even thought about. Sometimes, things just happen right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Out of the Running

Kansas has withdrawn it's bid for the second round of Race to the Top funds.

Thank goodness.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


We always talk about how bad we have it.

But you know what? It could be worse. So much worse.

Thanks to Pastor Ryan for sharing and making such a difference in this world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

SBG Step 4: The Retake and Future Assessments

A student wants to come in and retake part of his quiz. (Insert angelic choir here.) I have told them that they need to come in before school or during seminar to study the material before a retake is possible.

Now I am in trouble. How do they study? Some targets are easy to show that extra work has been done to relearn the material. Others, not so much.

For this particular student, I have him create a four square vocabulary card. He looks at me like I have completely lost my mind. Maybe I have. He seems to think staring at his notebook should be enough to convince me he has studied. "Really? Is that what you did the first time around?"

"Touche" is his response. (Yes, he really said that.)

By the time he finishes, seminar is over, so I take his quiz down to his powerclass teacher. Ninety seconds after the bell rings to start class, he bounces into my room, gushing how he did great. He understood. He KNEW the answers.

And so he did.

His "1" became a "4."

Three days later, the same target comes up on another assignment. The boy can barely sit in his seat he is so excited that he remembers it.

He has made a 42 card for every new term since then in this class AND ALL HIS OTHER CLASSES! Something has worked for him. Something clicked.

I feel like I am on the right track.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Black Hole

There is something wrong here. Very, very wrong.

Two weeks ago, our ag teacher was seriously injured in a cattle working accident. He has had surgery on a broken femur and is probably not going even be able to think about coming back this year.

On Tuesday, one of our language arts teachers was seriously injured in a traffic accident. A teenage girl crossed the center line (wanna bet a cell phone was involved?) and hit head on. Our teacher has BOTH of her legs broken and was flighted to a larger hospital to have surgery. She is out for a MINIMUM of 8 weeks. Although (bless her), every time the morphine starts to wear off she is asking for her plan book. Her husband has to press the medication button when she isn't looking. We got you covered, honey, don't worry about it.

The night before last, one of our science teachers was arrested for firing a gun in the general vicinity of her daughter's boyfriend. In all fairness, if my daughter had come home with this guy, I probably would have reacted in a similar manner. Still, you are not allowed to shoot at people. There is also a strong likelihood that alcohol was involved. She knows her science, but she is one of those teachers who should not be influencing young adults.

So we are all on tiptoes around here. Between all the crises and the fact that it is April, we are having a hard time getting any teaching done.

I'm just glad that I am not an administrator today.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SBG Step 3: The Grades

In my perfect world, each one of my learning targets would be assessed at least twice. At the moment, I count each assessment as 4 points, so each target would end up being worth 8 points total. I am really struggling with the percentages that result.

I don't like them.

I have been trying to come up with a better way of reporting the overall grade. A student pointed out yesterday that he did not want to reassess a target he scored a "1" on because he did well on the other targets. These other targets bring his overall grade up to one that is acceptable to him and his parents.

This REALLY bothers me. That target is one that I decided was critical to this course and a student told me that it wasn't important.

In a percentage world, he is right, it's not important. I'm not sure how to fix this, but it must be dealt with.

To be honest, I'm not even sure if I am allowed to change this. Our district (like many others) has an official grading scale. It might possibly take an act of the BOE to change it.

And if I do change it, what do I change it to?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Kinda Miss My Kids

Last Wednesday was a normal day. I went to school, taught a little science and then made out my substitute plans for Thursday.

And Friday.

And today.

Know what we did yesterday? We had professional development.

When I get to see my 5th and 6th hour tomorrow, it will have been an entire week.

My 6th hour Astronomy is okay. I went ahead and started them on their final project. We obviously haven't covered everything yet, but they can get a good start and think about what their end product will be like.

My 5th hour Applied Physics, on the other hand, might be having some problems. While my Astronomy class is pretty needy, this class is beyond needy. Routine and structure are important to them. Feedback is important to them. One girl saw me in the hallway this morning and, nearly in tears, gave me a bear-hug.

It's good to know miss me.

See you all tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

So How Do We Make It Real?

Here is an interesting post by Jason.

I am floored by this. I'm not even sure what my reaction is yet.

How does this relate to testing?? We spend so much time testing our kids to find out what they "know." Forget all the research. Forget all the teachers, students and parents crying out that testing is not a measure of how good their school is.

This one simple quiz brilliantly shows that kids are learning.

How much of our testing is misrepresented simply by the context in which the questions were asked?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Facing Reality

I'm struggling today. I struggle a lot, but today seems to be the Armageddon for me. I read a post by Andrew this morning that just completely summed up what has built up my anxiety more than anything else.

What in Heaven's name am I doing here?

My daughter is 8 years old, in the third grade and recently completed her first round of Reading and Math State Assessment Tests. Looking at education from a parenting perspective is in some ways quite a bit different than from a teacher perspective.

We all think our subject is the most important, mostly because we love it ourselves. Now that I have a child in the system, I can't help but wonder if we just are not doing it right.

What are we preparing our kids for? College? Apparently not. Tech school? Please. A job? Sure, if you want to work at McDonald's.

Before we "progressed" into this century, kids were sent to school to learn about the things they would encounter in real life. What happened there? Did it start innocently with a solid belief in a "well-rounded" education, only to turn into the monolith it is now? (Love that term, Andrew)

I have a student now who knows she wants to be a nurse. Every Wednesday, she goes to school, attends track practice and then she goes to CNA classes. She goes to class AFTER school. Why can't she get that same education AT SCHOOL? Why don't we offer CNA classes through the high school? This girl could get a job the day after she graduates from high school. Obviously, these classes are not considered too advanced for a high school student.*

I had a student a few years ago who was simply doing the time. His father was a plumber. He wanted to become a plumber. Yet he was forced to sit through four years of high school in order to be handed a piece of paper that meant nothing to him. I tried everything I could to teach him Chemistry, but knew in my heart of hearts (and also because he mentioned it) that he could care less about isotopes.

Not every student NEEDS to understand isotopes. Now, if you are going into radiology or probably even nursing, you darn well better pay attention because you will be working with this stuff, but on the whole, we are forcing this on kids who will never, ever use (or even remember) it.

At the beginning of this year, we spent a morning meeting talking about the Kansas Career Pipeline. Basically, kids take an interest inventory and are given a list of occupations that align with those interests. I think we have all done this. But according the the KCP, we are then supposed to counsel kids to take certain class and get them started down the path to their selected occupation. I was so excited. This is brilliant. This is what kids should be doing in school...preparing for a career.

And then, school started. Administrators should know that any idea, no matter how brilliant, introduced on the first day of the school year will get buried in the excitement and chaos of the first day of school. Especially something that requires you to more or less restructure your counseling office. And so another great opportunity was lost to reality.

*I really have no idea what criteria she had to meet in order to take the classes. I think I remember some other students talking about being 16 and passing an exam, but I am not sure what all it entails.

My Menu