Friday, December 31, 2010

Still Kickin'

Oh my.


A month or so ago, late at night, my dad called me and asked me if I had locked the doors to the house. Um, I think so. He said go make sure. Now, if you have ever been to my dad's house, you know that he never locks his doors. I'm not even sure his door are equipped with locks. I still am not sure on the details, but the gist of it is that my brother-in-law snapped. I don't know what triggered it. All I know is that there were many threats made, some veiled, some explicit about what he would do if my sister didn't make him happy. I have never before been so afraid for myself of the people I love. Not only is my dad locking his doors, he has been carrying a gun around with him. Again, if you know my dad, you know that the likelihood of him shooting himself in the foot is much greater than him actually defending himself.

To say the last month has been a struggle really doesn't begin to describe it. Slowly, we are starting to wake up from the nightmare and get back to life.

Oddly enough, during the last few weeks, school was least stressful part of my day. Sort of. Have you ever tried to teach while in crisis? I would say that it is extremely difficult, but I really don't remember through all the fog. Autopilot got me up through Christmas break.

Editing lesson plans? Didn't get done.

Word wall? I think I was supposed to put one up.

Reflection on teaching? Was I teaching?

But it's a new year. A good time to step back, take stock in what I am doing (right and wrong).

So Happy New Year everyone! Hope it's the best one yet :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teacher Tip #1

Don't wear your squeaky shoes on test day.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Last Minute Change of Plans

I had decided last week that I wasn't going to use modeling to teach my Applied Chemistry. This is a lower level class that is mostly taken by kids who have an IEP or are considered at risk. Essentially, we go through the first half of chemistry. I have taught it for several years and more or less have it set up where I am happy with what I do and how the kids handle the material.

So, today we started our new trimester. Can you guess what I did? My first class starts at 8:25. At 8:15 I decided to abandon everything I was comfortable with, everything I had worked so hard to build for the last five years.

I think they can do it. I think I can do it. The clencher for me was my class sizes. Both sections have less than 13 kids, so I am pretty sure I can give each kid the attention and help they need to get it.

I briefly thought about modeling one section and not other, but that seemed really insane.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Modeling Reflection


Okay. So, I've made it through my first trimester of modeling chemistry.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I'm just not very good at it. Yet.

We have a monthly PD session with everyone that was in the workshop this summer that has been my saving grace. It is wonderful to know that other people are having the same struggles as I am and to be able to get some ideas about how to deal with them. Our leader keeps telling us to be patient and that it could take about 5 years before we are truly comfortable with it.

Wait! FIVE YEARS??? I want to be good at it NOW!

I know, I know, patience is a virtue.

There are several things I need to work on. On the surface, they seem pretty straight forward, but they are key points and in practice, aren't so simple to correct.

-Kids do a lab and present their results to the class. This forces them to pay attention to the lab and try to work through what the results actually mean. This also has greatly improved our lab skills and measurement precision.*

-The explanations of the ideas is refined through questioning by me and ideally the other kids. At this point, I haven't been able to truly get my kids to ask questions of the presenters. They still turn to me to ask the question. One of my focus areas this trimester is to get more of a class participation during whiteboarding. They also expect me to summarize the lab and basically give them the analysis. I want them to feel comfortable writing their own analysis, but I'm not exactly sure how to take away that safety blanket. I think maybe I need to change the way I grade them. Maybe not so much whether they came to the correct conclusion, but whether the conclusion they have makes sense with their data. But, then, I want them to see the correct relationships, so I'm not sure how to find that balance.

-Modeling takes a LOT of time. We are half way through the course and we will start talking about bonding on Monday. If I had been following along in my textbook, I would have finished that up weeks ago and already been through chemical reactions. I would be lying if I said I wasn't starting to panic a little bit about that. According to our district curriculum** (and state standards), we should be way past that. I'm feeling pretty secure, however, with the knowledge that I truly believe my kids are coming away with a better understanding than they would in a more teacher-centered classroom. I wasn't so sure of this until we took our final on Friday. I set it up so that there was one question for each target that we covered this semester (SBG reflection to come). Basically, it was a giant retake and an opportunity to raise their grade on any targets they wanted. They panicked about which targets to test. They whined about how their grade could go down. They didn't study at all. They did wonderful on their tests. For all the "discussion" we had about how to teach and learn, in the end, they overwhelmingly DID get it.

-Our leader keeps talking about how modeling uses inquiry to learn chemistry. It doesn't. Guided inquiry, maybe, but true inquiry, no. Students do not come up with their own investigations, let alone their own questions. Those are all given. Maybe with time, it could evolve into that, but right now, my classroom is more of discovery driven than inquiry driven. And I'm okay with that.

I at least have a starting place. I'm thinking the discussion issue is the one I really need to focus on. That is too huge a component for it to not be moving along as smoothly as it should. This trimester I only have one section of chemistry, so this will serve as a trial run of sorts and I will get to turn around and fix some things immediately for the third trimester. I'm also not coaching this winter, so I will be able to prepare, reflect and adjust a lot more than I was able to this fall. So, all in all, I am excited about the upcoming trimester.

Isn't it nice to be excited about your job?!

*One thing I have not focused too much on this year has been significant figures. A lot of kids are still giving me answers with 8 decimal places. I have decided to leave that for now. My kids are feeling so overwhelmed with the changes that I don't want to push them over the edge.

**I might point out here that I hate our district curriculum. The person who wrote it just kind of copied our state standards and added in some other random stuff she liked to do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That's More Like It

So I plunged into Standards Based Grading this year, along with my Modeling. I have to tell you, it's been a pretty rough year. I am exhausted, but my kids are finally starting to get over their shell-shock.

A couple weeks ago, some of my kids started panicking about their grade.* And then it dawned on them that they could come in and retake some quizzes to help raise said grade.** For the last four weeks, I have had no less than 9 kids in my room before school, after school and during seminar. And then some at lunch and plan period.

Today, one of my girls finished a quiz and let out a nice long sigh. She really struggles with this whole thinking thing and has worked her tail off to even be passing. Then she turns to me and says, "you know, I really wish I could come in and make sure I understand some of this stuff before I take a test over it."

"Um, why do you think you can't come in and study for a test?"

An interesting conversation went on with the kids in the room. We as a staff seem to have given the impression that tests are used to not measure what the kids know, but what they DON'T know.

The universal feeling amongst the kids is that we as teachers WANT them to do poorly. Apparently, we LOVE it when kids fail our classes.

"Well, except you, Mrs. Schroeder. You let us come in and retake some things."

I really didn't know what to say to that. I can honestly say that I don't know a single teacher in our building that enjoys failing kids. Yet, somehow, these kids truly seem to believe that we spend all our spare time devising ways to keep them from passing.

So we dropped everything and had a study session. Not a catch up session. Not a retake session. We sat down and discussed everything that was going to be on the quiz tomorrow. The kids asked questions and did practice problems. I helped them and they helped each other.

It was a great time and I think we all came away from it feeling better about tomorrow. Several kids expressed interest in making this a regular session. I assured them that I would like nothing more than to help them learn the skills BEFORE they tested on them and it would be a much less stressful trimester if they didn't have to spend it trying to catch up.

Now if I could just figure out how to get this done during class time with all 25 of them.

*I know, it should be about the learning, not about the grade. We'll work on that next year. I can apparently only work two miracles at a time.

**The fact that I have repeated this option every day since the beginning of school had no bearing on this, of course, they figured it out on their own.

Wanna Mess With Your Kids?

1. Write out a multiple choice test.

2. Type in your rough draft and make all the answers "A" before you go back and edit.

3. Forget to go back and move the correct answers around.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Brain Considerate Learning

Kenneth Wesson was the speaker at one of the sessions I attended at NSTA. Go to his website*. Subscribe to the blog.

I was a bit leery as I watched him open up his powerpoint presentation. Nearly 300 slides. However, I am fascinated by brain research, so I decided to suffer through it.

There was no suffering. The man is brilliant, but can speak in a way that anyone can understand. Not only did the hour fly by, but we only went through 79 slides**. I would have listened to him speak all day.

Kenneth has done extensive research into how the brain works. Specifically, how the brain works when it is learning. I have spent the last several hours reading through his papers and I could say that I am fascinated, but that really does not begin to describe what is going through my head right now.

Every teacher should be required to learn about how the brain works. Every administrator should be required to learn about how the brain works. Every parent. Every day care provider. Every policy maker. Any one who works with children. Any one who makes decisions that affect children.

Because the thing is, it's not just about the brain. It's about nutrition. And health care. And emotions. And development. And so much more than just school.

*In truth, if I were to have stumbled onto this site, I probably would not have given it a second glance. It doesn't look like a site that would have this kind of information. Go beyond that. Click on every link he has.

**How many times have you ever seen the phrase "only 79 slides" and not cringed???

Saturday, October 30, 2010


So I just got back from the NSTA Regional Conference in Kansas City.


Just wow.

If you have never been to one, go. Just GO. You must find a way.

It is a surreal feeling to be surrounded by science teachers. These are people with the same challenges as me. And the same experiences as me. And the same goals as me. Yet, I don't know hardly any of them.

And I am willing to bet that each and every one of them has more than a few ideas that I could use in my classroom.

So many brilliant ideas, so little time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Think I Scared Them

I really lit into my first hour today.

Lab notebooks were due on Thursday. Nine of my kids were going to be gone for an FFA judging contest. They were told on Monday to turn their notebooks in on Wednesday.

They were told again on Tuesday. I wrote it on the board so they wouldn't forget.

And on Wednesday, again, they were reminded.

Guess how many turned in their notebook?


So this morning as I was handing out grade reports, there were a lot of complaints and claims that I never said they had to be turned in early.

Now, I rarely lose my temper, especially in class, but today*... well, I launched in to a pretty good tirade on responsibility and making an effort and how this is not MY learning, but theirs.

There was a pretty stunned silence. Then, "so can we turn our notebooks in now?"

No. No you can't.

But here is what you can do. You can make an appointment either before school or during parent conferences on Thursday and you can defend your notebook. It's going to be just like a whiteboard session. You will tell me about the lab. You will describe your results. You will interpret the relationships between the pressure, temperature, volume and number of particles of a gas.

Once you have convinced me that you didn't just copy your lab analysis from someone else, then you can turn in your notebook.

*What can I say, I helped my dad harvest all weekend and was up all night with a sick baby.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Really? Really?

Have you ever had the feeling that you have totally lost control of your class?

That was me today. We have spent the last couple days going through a three part gas law lab and due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, we ended up talking about all three graphs at once today.

Big mistake. Huge. I have to go shopping now...

Every graph we make, we write the equation for the line. At first, when the kids stared at me with those blank looks, I chalked it up to not being around much math in the last few weeks. Now, we are trying to write our fifth, sixth and seventh equations and still, I get those stares.

It's like they aren't even trying...wait...

I swear if one more kid asks me how to find slope, I will have my nervous breakdown and be done with it. A nice long hospital stay might do me some good.

And heaven forbid I actually have them try to SOLVE the equation with some known value.

Here is the actual equation we were trying to solve for T:
0 kPa = (0.221 kPa/C) T + 90.85 kPa

I tried that first hour. After the alloted 43 seconds of wait time, no one had ventured a guess as to how to solve for temperature. I gave them a hint. Nothing. I moved the 90.85 kPa for them. Nothing.

I'm not sure what to do about this. I truly do not believe that every single one of them has forgotten every single math skill they have ever learned.

Friday, October 1, 2010

At Least Some of the Hostility has Subsided

Today is our Fall Homecoming. We dismiss at noon for pep rally and parade, so no one comes to class expecting to do any work. Since I finally got my 1st and 5th hour chemistry classes back to the same spot, I didn't really want to do too much this morning.

So we did the imploding can demo and talked briefly about pressure changes. Kids then had the rest of the hour to tie up any loose ends in their lab notebooks.

A student raised his hand and said "I have a question."

One of the girls who was instrumental in the mutiny the other day happened to be in his group. She cast me a sidelong look and said "Garrett, don't you know no questions are allowed in this class?"

I grinned and reminded her that there are lots of questions in here.

Surprisingly, she smiled back and said, "Yeah, but you are the only one who gets to ask them, we are the ones that have to come up with the answers!"

Overnight, the climate in my room has shifted in a more positive direction. I'm not sure what happened, although I am pretty sure our librarian has been discreetly dropping hints to her regulars about the "difference between being a learner and being a robot."

Maybe it was our first test. For all the whining they did, most everyone did much better than I (and they) expected.* That may have won them over more than anything. It's hard to argue that I'm not teaching them anything when they do well on tests.

What ever the reason, I'm not complaining.

Off to a parade...Happy Friday!

*That is the exactly what I told them as I handed tests back. No one seemed offended...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lab Skills

I have a separate grading section reserved just for my lab skills. In my perfect world, I would assess each one of these skills every time we went into the lab. I am not, however much I would like to be, Superwoman, and trying to keep 24 kids on track is a job in itself. So as it stands right now, I have graded the skills when they turn in lab notebooks and a couple have been assessed on a quiz. I am fully aware that there are some kids who are just copying a good portion of their notebook from whomever they deem smartest in their group. This bothers me a LOT, but at this point, I am not sure how to handle the sheer volume of assessment I want to do.

Target #9 is an exception. Any safety rule that is disregarded (goggles, anyone?) is an automatic zero for that day's grade. I also make sure they are using equipment properly during their lab. For example, are they using a beaker instead of a graduated cylinder to measure volume?

Target #10 is the other exception. This was put in strictly to make my life easier. I don't know about your students, but mine seem to think I am the maid. I know which group is using which lab station and if it or any equipment used is left in a mess, I record the appropriate grade.

Now that I have recorded a few grades, I am starting to realize that #6 and #7 are turning out to be pretty much the same thing since we tie our equations in to our graphs. For example, we graph mass and volume and when we find the slope, we discover the equation for density. So I'm not so sure I need to keep both of them.

Lab Skills

1. Identify the hypothesis to be tested, phenomenon to be investigated or the problem to be solved. (ΔHS.1.2.2a)*

2. Identify the tested variables and conditions to be kept constant during an investigation. (ΔHS.1.2.2b)

3. Communicate the details of an experimental procedure clearly and completely. (ΔHS.1.2.2c)

4. Record and represent data in a meaningful way. (ΔHS.1.2.2d)

5. Analyze laboratory data in order to clarify the questions, hypotheses or methods of an experiment.

6. Use common mathematical functions to analyze and describe data. (ΔHS.1.3.3b)

7. Use statistical and graphing data analysis techniques. (ΔHS.1.3.3c)

8. Recognize accuracy and precision of data depends on instruments used. (ΔHS.1.3.3d)

9. Use equipment properly and safely. (ΔHS.1.3.3f)

10. Follow all lab clean-up procedures.

So what do you think? Am I missing anything?

*The unbelievably unreadable jumble in parentheses is a reference to our state standards.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh The Irony*

Today I sat down with my mutineer's mother to lay out a plan to get her caught up and back on track. I had her son in class a couple years ago and she was a little confused about the changes that had taken place in my classroom. Once I explained the reasoning behind my teaching methods and grading practices, she really seemed to be okay with Lydia's opportunities to get her grade up.

I also talked about how I thought that once Lydia figured out the system, she would find it easier to pinpoint exactly what she needed to work on. I reminded Lydia that she could retake quizzes over those things she didn't know and not have to worry about the things she does well.

She asked me what had made me do such a complete overhaul of my teaching existence and I told her the story of Harley. The year I had him in class, we held meeting after meeting trying to figure out how in the world we could get him to conform to our rules. The story was the same from each teacher. "Harley does great on tests, but won't pass unless he does his work."

I can remember a little voice in the back in my head saying, "You know, there is something wrong here..." The problem was that it didn't cross my mind that the problem was with me. I know I shouldn't feel too badly since apparently no other teacher in the room did either.

I told her that it took me long enough, but I finally realized that I had not given that child what he needed. I told her how hard it was for me to admit and that I still lay awake at nights wondering why in the hell it took me so long to lose that ridiculous superiority complex and just help the kid.

I told her that it was my hope that this system would allow me identify each student's weak areas and really truly help them learn.

At this point I am getting pretty emotional and thinking I really don't want to cry in front of a parent, but I look up and this mother is in tears.

Because, even though Harley and Lydia are on opposite ends of every spectrum, Lydia is Harley's sister.

*I have never been too clear on the actual definition of irony, so I could in all probability be using the term incorrectly here. Just go with it and be glad I don't teach Language Arts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Mutiny

It all started with one of my extended absence students returning. Her close cousin was killed in an accident and she is dealing with a lot right now. She is also a pretty good student (although with an attitude) who is now a week behind, not just in my class, but in all of them.

And she is mad.

At me.

And my "whacked out grading system." I love that. I just graded lab notebooks and each student received scores on five of the Lab Skills targets.*

Once she started ranting about her failing grade (I enter missing assignments as zeros strictly for my bookkeeping purposes), a good number of kids joined in.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this "discussion":

"I want to read a textbook and fill out a worksheet." (4.0 student)
"We shouldn't have to know what we've done in a lab." (another 4.0 student)
"I don't get anything out of the whiteboarding." (This is as the student is texting under the table)
"I can't get a good grade with these target things." (This student didn't even turn in a notebook.)

There were others, some directed at me personally, but the gist of it could be summarized into one complaint:

"I don't want to have to work for my grade."

This is pretty much exactly what our modeling instructor warned us about. The kids who are traditionally A and B students are the ones who really struggle with figuring stuff out on their own. They have learned to play the game and when the game changes, they can't adapt.

Somewhat surprising to me are the kids who are emerging as really good thinkers. A few of my really low readers are excelling in this class, probably for no other reason than the pressure of fill-in-the-blank is not there. Hands on thinking seems to bring out the best in them. This is also kind of a wake up call when one of the A/B students claims that "everyone in this class is failing." Oh, the priceless look when someone who has struggled so much in the past speaks up and says, "I have a B."

I also have a couple really brilliant kids who are really thriving on this as well. They seem to be enjoying the new rules and are being challenged in a system that more often than not ignores them to focus on the low achievers.

All in all, I am foreseeing a few parent phone calls in my near future. I have been doing much better about that this year and have already put in a few calls myself. This has always been a weakness of mine and I am determined to do better this year.

What is amazing to me right this second is that I have never once thought that maybe I should go back to teaching in a more traditional manner. I truly believe that this is a better way.

Even if my kids delete me from their Facebook friends.

*Hmmmm...was going to link to this, but apparently I haven't posted them. Coming soon: Lab Skills Targets!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dealing with Absences: Mine and Theirs

Whew. Do you realize it is half way through September already? I have hit the wall. You know, that one that appears after the excitement of beginning school fades and you are facing the rest of the year? Really? It's just me? Hmmm.

I am struggling a lot right now with my classes, chemistry especially. I have had four kids with extended absences (out an entire week) so far. That coupled with me taking our cross country team early every Thursday is really throwing me off.

One of the big ideas with the modeling is that kids are a part of the discussion and learn the material by listening and asking questions of their peers as they are presenting results. It's a little hard to participate if you aren't there.

I have toyed with the idea of recording every whiteboard session, but that doesn't really seem plausible. I feel terrible just telling them to "go discuss it with your group," mostly because they just end up copying the work and not really making any attempt to learn anything. So while I'm venturing into unknown territory here, I have come up with a few ideas.

First, I have started a blog for my chemistry class. At the end of the day, I put a summary up of what each hour did* along with any assignment given. I am toying with the idea of having the students take turns writing up a conclusion for the day, but I am not sure of the logistics involved with that.

Second, I have created an answer key notebook. I don't grade homework and I could foresee my bulletin board becoming extremely disorganized and messy if I posted the answer keys there. So I went to the office and got a bright orange notebook and am collecting answer keys in there. Now if I could just find a convenient, accessible place to put it.

Third, I have created a website. I have done this for my Earth Sciences and wasn't really going to bother with chemistry, but it just seemed necessary. I have two students who are in the hospital right now and I needed a way for them to keep up on the labs. So I took pictures of each step of the lab and posted them on the site. It is my hope that they will be able to take data from the pictures and get to a decent conclusion based on that. Ideally I would just wait and have them come into the lab to make it up, but I think they are under enough stress without chemistry piling up. Eventually, I would like to add in tutorials for each unit, but I'm thinking I don't need to add to my to-do list right now.

What do you think? Any ideas? How do you handle kids who have missed so much?

Of course, both hours are NOT in exactly the same place :(

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Now Where Do I Sit?"

Want to really mess a kid up?

Change the layout of your classroom on a Tuesday evening.

Seriously. They have no idea what to do when they walk into a newly arranged room. I have had several kids for two years in a row and they sit in the same seat every day for both of those years. Every student who has walked through my door has stopped dead in their tracks and said, "Whoa*."

When I moved into this room, I had three rows of desks with just enough room to walk around the ends. If someone on the other side of the room raised there hand, I just waved. I had no good way to get there. Now I have an outside "U" with two mini-rows (kids call them islands) in the middle. And I love it. I can get from point to point in the room without any major student rearrangement.

It could be that they are still stunned, but I have noticed a change in the kids as well. They seem more attentive and less likely to strike up a conversation with their neighbor. Maybe they feel less isolated.

Even better, we have renamed this room. My principal has always called it the "chemistry lecture room.**" One of my kids has christened it the "chemistry discussion room."

*This is a direct quote.
**I have given up trying to convince him that I rarely lecture.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And the Thunder Rolls

I am beginning to hear the first rumblings of dissidence in my classroom. The kids are starting to realize that I am really, truly, not going to stand up in front of the room and lecture to them. This is making quite a few of them nervous.

Some of them are having full blown panic attacks.

Some are beginning to realize that the whiteboard discussions are their opportunities to ask questions and clarify what they know. Some are still too busy texting to even know what class they are in*. A few are cursing under their breath.

I'm having trouble with my 5th hour. There are a few kids in there that simply cannot stop talking. It makes no difference who they are sitting next to, that person is wonderful to talk to. It's also early in the year yet and we really haven't decided who the alpha male is going to be. There is a lot of big talk and strange teenage animal noises still being made and I am hoping this gets resolved in the next few days so we can all get down to work.

My classroom climate with this group is no where near where I want it to be, and I don't really know what to do about it, so the frustration is setting in.

We also just took our first real quiz. Some of my kids are having a hard time transitioning to the SBG.

Kid: "So what did I get on my quiz?"
Me: "Well, let's see, you got 3 out of 4 on Lab Skills target #8 and 2.5 out of 4 on Lab Skills target #3.
Kid: "Sooooo, what did I get on my quiz?"
Kid #2: "Can I do extra credit?"

They'll get there.

And so will I.

*People who decided cell signal blockers are illegal have never had a room full of teenagers to teach.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

They Might Believe Me Now

School started. Kind of without me. I never did get my classroom put together how I wanted it and I am really frustrated with the condition in which the previous teacher left so many things.*

But the modeling part is awesome.

The chemistry curriculum starts out with a six part lab that measures the change in mass under several different conditions. One of the key ideas that kids need to buy into here is that their data actually mean something. For so long, they have hurried through and ended up with numbers that don't tell them anything. It didn't matter because they never needed to use those numbers in any meaningful way.** They were TOLD what they should have gotten and that was good enough.

Not any more. During my workshop, we were advised to do the first part of this lab and then bring the kids together to discuss the data. It's pretty simple lab where the kids find the mass of a piece of steel wool, change it's shape and mass it again. Of course, the mass shouldn't change, and, of course, most kids don't notice all the little pieces that fall to the floor as they scrunch it up. Each group did the lab once and we compiled all those trials. Our data gave us absolutely no indication as to whether or not the mass stayed the same. This leads us into a discussion of being careful in the lab and paying attention to what they are doing.

So back to the lab we went. I wish I had a picture of the pure disbelief on some of these kids faces.

Kid: "You mean we are going to do it again???"
Me: "Well, were you able to draw a reasonable conclusion based on our data?"
Kid: "No, but couldn't you just tell us?"
Me: Evil laugh

We repeated the lab and compiled results. Guess what? Still no trend in the data.

So back to the lab we went.

By now they are kind of figuring out they need to pay attention. Third times a charm and we were able to show that we really didn't lose any mass.

But then, we had the next five parts to do. It took a day. We compiled the results. They did pretty good until Part Four. Our data was scattered everywhere.

So back to the lab we went.

Better. Getting there. Then we looked at Part Five.

So back to the lab we went.

By this time, kids are really getting after their partners for spilling a drop of water, and kids are checking and double checking their measurements. Then we started to graph Part Six. I got two bars into the histogram when it became apparent that they were going to have to redo that one too.

So tomorrow, it's back to the lab we go.

I just keep thinking about how if I had done this lab last year, I wouldn't have even given a second thought to how poor the data really was. Oh, I knew they weren't being as careful as they should and I would have to tell them that their data "should look like this," but I never could justify the time it would take to redo the lab.

This is different. Their data is going to shape what they know instead of the other way around. We have spent four days on this lab and I feel like we are accomplishing something.

And I am loving it.

*Although maybe not as much as my student aide, bless her, who has been busy attempting to clean glassware and cabinets for me.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

What a Nerd

I'm a terrible housekeeper. I hate to sweep and mop and dust and pretty much everything that goes along with cleaning.

But it's starting to get to me. And apparently my mother as well. She sent me an email with a link to the FlyLady. I sighed and admitted defeat and made a (short) list of household chores that I want to do every day.

So I do them every day. And then I put a star on the calendar. If I fill up my calendar, I get a reward. I know, I know, but it seems to be working for me.

The big problem is that I don't ever know what to reward myself with. Know what I picked this time? Two of Marzano's books.

What a nerd.

And I can't wait to read them.

Our district allows us to team up and do a book study for PDC points, so I am going to send an invitation out to our staff to see if anyone is interested.

I would like to extend the same invitation to you. Anyone interested in working through this with me?

Full disclosure: I have never been a part of, much less led a book study group, so I would be learning along those lines as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm...

So, we're back.

There are so many exciting things going on this year that I really can't wait to get started.

We have a new superintendent. He is incredible. Not only did he feed us steak on Monday, he led us in an afternoon of (extremely competitive) team-building that afternoon. His attitude is one of trust (we are NOT used to this) and he just exudes positive waves.

Yesterday was your typical mind-numbing professional development. Seven hours on K-12 literacy which I think was only understood by those who already have the training. If they were awake for it.

Here is an interesting set of facts about my district:
1. Every building in our district achieved Standard of Excellence in Reading.
2. Our district is on improvement for reading.

Apparently, our special education subgroup did not make enough progress for us to meet AYP. Actually, they improved quite a bit, but fell short by 2 points.

How messed up is that?

I get kids tomorrow! Two sections of chemistry and one of geology, as well as a reading intervention class.

We are going to start off by blowing up a coffee can :)

Here's to the new year!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Geology Targets

Well, it took me awhile, but I finally got everything moved upstairs. I still have two lab stations that are buried underneath homeless STUFF, but I am feeling much better about this.

I actually have to go back to school tomorrow. Thank goodness it is a workday and I can get settled in. During the summer, I didn't really feel like time was going fast, but now suddenly it's time to go back and I don't know where my vacation went.

Oh wait, I took a class and moved my STUFF.

I have focused mostly on chemistry this summer and almost forgot that I was going to teach a section of Geology this fall. I had written out a draft of targets for that class earlier in the summer that mostly consisted of chapter objectives in three different textbooks. It was a starting place, but I set about coming up with my critical targets.

I ended up with 67 standards.

This was so unmanageable that it was almost funny. Teaching a geology class can take kids in many different directions. Do you want to focus on historical? What about river systems? Glaciers? Deserts? Volcanoes? To be honest, I am not sure which direction I want to go. This will be (and has been) a big challenge for me when writing the class.

So I have narrowed it down. I am not sure I am happy with this list, but I will focus on these targets this year and edit as necessary.

1. Interpret elevation and topography of an area using topographic maps.
2. Interpret information shown in a geologic map.
3. Use seven main physical properties to identify pure minerals and minerals within a rock.
4. Summarize the rock cycle.
5. Describe the formation of the various textures of igneous rocks.
6. Identify and describe the formation of various types of igneous extrusions.
7. Classify igneous rocks.
8. Classify sedimentary rocks.
9. Describe the depositional environment based on the characteristics of a sedimentary rock.
10. Classify metamorphic rocks.
11. Identify the three agents of metamorphism and the changes they cause.
12. Compare and contrast contact and regional metamorphism.
13. Describe the process and limitations of radiometric dating.
14. Determine the relative ages of rock formations.
15. Compare the three types of unconformities.
16. Identify the major geologic and biologic characteristics of the Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras.
17. Identify and describe the three types of plate boundaries.
18. Describe the causes of plate movement.
19. Describe the three main types of folds.
20. Compare the structures formed at the three types of plate boundaries.
21. Use earthquake data to construct an Earth cross-section.
22. Relate earthquakes, volcanoes and plate boundaries.
23. Describe the three types of volcanic cones.
24. Explain how rock composition, surface area, climate and topography affect the rate of weathering.

Did I miss anything critical?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A New Aura

I have been moved to a new classroom this year. For various reasons, I am not terribly happy about it. Since I am (the only teacher) teaching chemistry this year, my principal wants me to teach in the chemistry lab. This makes so much sense that I can't come up with a good argument against it.

It's not all bad. I will move from one fairly small room to a suite that consists of a "lecture" room and separate, connected lab room. Now, any sane chemistry teacher would be thrilled with this because it truly is a perfect set-up. But as mentioned, there are a few problems.

Firstly, I have to move all my STUFF from my current room upstairs to my new room. Have you ever tried to move a science classroom? Do you have any idea how much STUFF there is in a science classroom? No, you don't. Even if you have a decent inventory of all your STUFF, I doubt you have any idea how much STUFF you have. Until you pull it all out of the cabinets and try to move it upstairs, you have no clue. For me, I am supposed to try to find a place to put all my STUFF in with the STUFF that is already in my new room. No easy task when you have (I'm pretty sure literally) a ton of rocks.

Secondly, did I mention I have to move all this STUFF UPSTAIRS??

Thirdly, and I think most importantly, the 'teacher' who has occupied this room in the past had a certain way of doing things that sits in stark contrast to how I do things. Namely, I expect kids to stay in class. Oh, I also expect them to do work.

Kids who have taken classes in this room have expected to do pretty much what they want, when they want. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a trigger in the minds of some kids that will make them think that in this room, even with a different teacher, anything goes.*

According to Facebook, there are rumblings of students not wanting to take chemistry or physics because the teacher will not be the same. Duh, why would you want to take physics if you can't get out of school thirty minutes early? I'm okay with that, but I am pretty sure there will be at least a low-level mutiny for the first few weeks of school.

The bright side is that I am not a brand new teacher, so kids at least know that I haven't allowed free-for-alls in the past. Of course, this is probably why the rats are fleeing the ship. That's okay, the fewer rats, the better.

I know it's coming and I'm gearing up for it. Wish me luck!

*The math teacher down the hall called this the "Room's Aura." Mine has a bad aura. This must change!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How Would You React?

I want this girl for my Secretary of Education.
I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer - not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition - a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Big Idea

Modeling is student centered cooperative inquiry in an active constructivist classroom.*

Without a textbook.

So modeling is based on inquiry and we all know that is a good thing. I have always had trouble with implementing inquiry in my classes. I was taught that inquiry was just letting your kids explore the ideas they wanted to know more about. In a room full of chemicals, you can probably sense my hesitation with that idea. Even if you can overlook the occasional explosion that could possibly occur, there is still the nagging suspicion that my little cherubs might not actually be learning anything.

Insert a solution to this conundrum. This modeling workshop is helping me to finally see how to set up my classroom so the kids are taking charge of their learning. And it is the complete opposite of lecturing.

Each unit has a specific design that has been carefully structured in an order to help kids come to the right conclusions and then reinforce those conclusions. Instead of opening a textbook and staring, glassy-eyed at a diagram on page 713 (while thinking about what they did last weekend), the kids start out with a lab. What really stands out for me is that several of the labs we have done are labs that I already do. Kids then describe not only what they did in the lab, but also what they think happens to the particles involved. Those kids are developing a model from their lab experience instead of trying to make sense of someone else's depiction of what happened.

The ideas are first described (by the kids) after the lab, verbally. Each group gets up and tells you what they learned. This oral presentation is often accompanied by a diagrammatic explanation on the whiteboard. I'm talking a diagram at the particle level. What's really great about this presentation is that those kids have to explain and then defend their models with the rest of the class. This is where they can adjust their ideas. Their discussions are lead by them with questions from me and the other students.
Why did you do that?
How did you do that?

The idea being that if you can describe your thoughts, then you probably understand them. I have had this happen to me many times. As I am talking to my kids about some concept, something occurs to me that never has before. Suddenly, I have a new understanding and a new connection to that idea.

Now what has been impressed upon us in this class is that it is the STUDENTS' responsibility to ask for clarification. The whiteboard sessions are in place of the lectures of a traditional classroom. For some kids, this could take some time to become comfortable in this type of situation. This is where the climate of your classroom is crucial. It's all about trust. Those kids need to feel safe in your classroom. They have to know that no question is wrong and that no one is going to make fun of them for not getting it. There are a couple teachers in my workshop that I really don't see being successful with this type of curriculum simply because of their personality. I could be (I hope I am) wrong.

Then the kids present their data graphically. For example, we measured the mass and volume of substance and graphed this relationship. Traditionally, they would already know that in all matter, there is a relationship between its mass and volume and this is called density. Here, instead, we are letting kids see the linear relationship between those properties. AND (I have to admit, I had never even considered this) those kids are going to put this data into the slope format to determine the relationship. So for example, we (as do most of my kids) know that the equation for a linear relationship is y = mx + b. In this curriculum, we are actually going to plug those values in add labels to all those variables. I don't know about you, but it usually takes my kids about half a year to make the jump from what we are doing in class to what they learned in algebra last year. Here, we throw them right into it and have them create an understanding of what the slope of that line actually means.
THEN the instructor comes in and brings closure to the experiment.** Once I have an idea that the kids truly understand that relationship, then I assign the term. Something along the line of "you know, there is a name for this relationship, and it is density."

So instead of those kids (not) listening to you lecture about density, where they have no ownership in what they are learning, they are taking control and telling YOU what they know. To be able to understand and explain an idea is a powerful ability.

If they can do that, then they understand the world.

*This is my definition with as much edu-jargon as I could get in.
**What I really, really love about this is that this is one of the few times that I will be in front of the class talking to them.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Okay. So I've had a Twitter ID for quite awhile now, but haven't used it. I set it up last fall thinking I would use it as a tool in my classroom. @teachpaperless makes it sound pretty cool, but I never really got into it.

I'm still not sure I'm into it.

I just got back from my homepage. Frank (@fnoschese) (do I need the @?) left his ID on the NSTA list serve, so I followed him. Then I went to his following list and added a bunch more. Mostly these are blogs I follow, so I recognized the names. Some tweeted science stuff, some tweeted education stuff. Jason apparently had a pretty wild birthday party at his house yesterday.

How random of me.

Someone was following Barack Obama, so I looked at his following list. Hmmm...President of Russia, the OFA of every state and a couple people apparently in the middle of playing drinking games. Not sure what I expected there, but I don't think that was it.

I'm going to give it try. I just am not certain this is for me. To me, Twitter seems kind of like a blog on crack. Or at least with a severe case of ADD. I don't think I want to feel, I don't know, so IN TOUCH.

I better go check my page.

PS: @bravesearth

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Life for Old Labs

"Your kids will be shocked and angry when they first realize there is information on the test that came from the labs." This is a quote from our modeling instructor.

My initial reaction is shocked disbelief. Why wouldn't they be expected to recall information over the labs? Why would I not expect my lab class periods to be just as important as everything else?

Then it kind of dawns on me. Um...I don't do that.

In my classroom (as in lots of others), labs have been used to reinforce information that is given to the student usually in a lecture format. Here is a typical "learning cycle":'
Me: OK class, today we are going to learn about *drum roll, please* DENSITY!
Kids: *Grab pencils and notebooks ready to copy down every word I say.* Well, those who aren't texting, anyway
Me: Density is the unit we use to describe the amount of matter in an object. We use the formula D=m/v and the label is g/mL or g/cm3. Let's do some practice problems. Let's go do a lab to prove I know what I am talking about.
Kids: Do we get to blow anything up today?
Me: No. But don't forget to wear your goggles, because we all know they are oh so important when working with aluminum and water.

Everyone does lab and extremely simple (and sloppy) graph. They hurriedly copy their conclusion from the 'smart' kid and turn in the lab as the bell rings.

This is how I learned chemistry. This is how I was taught to teach chemistry. This is how I have taught chemistry.


I have known for a long time that this isn't how I wanted to teach. For goodness sake, if I am bored, my kids must be comatose. But up until this point, I haven't been in a position to sit down and really analyze my teaching methods (whole other blog post, there).

Herein lies the brilliance that is modeling.

The kids are going to do the SAME lab I have used for years. Except they are going to do the lab before the concept (or even the term density) is introduced. After we do the lab, all the groups come back together and record their results on a whiteboard. Each group gets to explain their procedure and their results. When we did this in our workshop, all the groups put all their data together and graphed all of it. (More on that later.) Then, instead of the instructor showing the graph and explaining what the data meant, the STUDENTS interpreted the graph and explained what the data meant.

This is the key difference. They are not 'proving' that I gave them true information and then memorizing the equation. They are proving to themselves that there is a relationship that needs to be defined. And they are discovering and explaining that relationship on their own.

Now the really hard part. You as a teacher are going to become a wallflower. You become the facilitator of the discussion and ask the kids to think about what they have observed and what it all means. In this system, there is little room for the teacher that likes to be the center of attention. So many of us like to hear ourselves talk. I spent a lot of years and thousands of dollars to learn this stuff and by golly, I'm going to impart some of it to my kids. But that isn't what education is about. It's about learning. And I have found that kids don't truly learn when they have to take notes for 62 minutes.

There HAS to be a better way.

Modeling Unit 1

Today we finished up the third day of our chemistry modeling workshop. We also finished up Unit 1 of the curriculum. This unit is probably the same unit that is done at the beginning of every chemistry class in the nation.

We discussed mass, volume, density, solids, liquids and gases. We covered unit conversions and significant figures.

Sound familiar?

I have been through that unit more times than I can count. Yet I have never come away with a feeling that my kids have understood a word I have said*. This feeling is always reinforced a few weeks (days) (hours?) later when density is mentioned again. You know the look kids give you that makes you want to check to be sure your hair hasn't turned purple? I get that a lot.

This feels different. Granted, I haven't tried it out on actual teenagers, but I just get a sense that this could work. It could possibly be that I came away with a better understanding. I minored in chemistry. I have taught this for years. I KNOW this stuff. But now I feel like I can truly TEACH it. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will be able to LEARN it.

*Truth be told, they probably didn't.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good First Impressions

As mentioned, I am suddenly involved in a chemistry modeling workshop. I have pretty high expectations for this class and I am sure you want to know how it goes. That and Jason wants to know :)

After all the required paperwork, we started class. You know it's going to be a good class when the first thing you do is blow up a coffee can. Well, try to blow it up. It didn't quite go as planned, but hey, fire was involved.

We were divided into groups of three and given a whiteboard. Not one of those shoe box size whiteboards found in the math department. I'm talkin' table size. Awesome. We were to draw the particles inside the can and how the particles changed over time.

Now, since I minored in chemistry, this was not too difficult of an assignment. For me. But this is something you do with your kids, like, on the second day of school. Each group then presented their ideas to the rest of the class. The teacher* asked clarification questions, support questions challenging questions. The rest of the class is also expected to ask questions of the presenters. One of the key ideas here is the creation of classroom climate. You want the kids to feel safe. They need to accept the fact that this is a science class and it is perfectly fine to be wrong. In actuality, we shouldn't point out something that might be right and wrong, but instead ask the kids to explain what they were thinking. If you see something that is wrong, move on to the next group with a transition such as "let's see what they did."

One pattern I noticed right away was our teacher asked most groups the same question. As we all know, kids don't always pay attention when a presentation is going on.** This forces those kids to listen to the questions as well as the presentation itself. And if they ARE paying attention, then by the end of class, they have heard the same idea five times.

Alan (our presenter) has been at this for several years now and has his questioning down to an art. He can get you to say the same thing three different ways really without you even realizing it.

This wasn't all we did today. We really got into lab writeups, lab data and lab data discussion. I am still processing this and will let you know more on that later.

So far, I love this. This is how I teach. Only soooooo much better. One of the problems that has been bothering me lately is the pace I move through the material. I always come away from a lesson feeling rushed and, I don't know, incomplete. Unsatisfied? I get the feeling that going through this process with my kids would not only involve the kids more in their learning, but also slow it down to make it more digestible.

A nagging feeling I have had in the back of my mind is how this is going to be reconciled with my other obsession (SBG, where have you been?). I am a bit worried I am going to have to sit back down and redo all my targets. I haven't even printed them off yet.

*It should be noted that we have two modes in this class. Teacher mode is us talking about our classrooms and asking classroom questions. Student mode is when we are supposed to be in the position of our students and act as they might during class. This is much more difficult for some than you might think.

**What? That's just me?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chemistry Modeling

A few weeks ago, I got an email that was a forward from a forward from my principal. It was about a chemistry modeling workshop that was being offered at a university near me. I had heard people talking about modeling on the NSTA list serve, but didn't know very much about it. I only really knew I had always thought it sounded interesting when it was mentioned.

I emailed the lady in charge and was told the workshop was full. Darn. Maybe next time.

A few days later, I got a call from the professor in charge, was informed of a cancellation and am I still interested in attending. Of course I am.

THEN I went to the workshop website to find out more about the whole thing. In some unbelievable stroke of luck, I discovered the workshop was FREE. Plus, I was going to earn 3 credit hours. AND I get a stipend. I will also receive a technology package for my classroom.

AND! There are funds available to attend NSTA 2011!!! I am so excited about this last one. I have never been able to attend either a regional or national NSTA, so I am definitely going next year.

All of this along with some good professional development. I know, those three words rarely go together.

What a good summer.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chemistry Part II

Ever have a period of time in your life where you just can't seem to get anything crossed off your to-do list?

I am currently at the (hopefully) end of one of those. I went to my classroom yesterday and found a piece of paper in my desk that had the list of my goals for the summer.

And then I laughed.

So before anyone else woke up this morning, I sat down with my terrible chemistry curriculum and set my timer for 30 minutes. The timer is a great tip I picked up from the Fly Lady several years ago and pretty much the only one I have been able to stick with. I'm working on that.

Writing out the second trimester proved to take much less time than the first trimester did. This makes me pretty nervous. I think it's been so long since I taught regular chemistry that I simply wasn't sure what goes into the second trimester. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be quite a bit of editing involved with this set of targets. Nothing I haven't done before, I guess.

Second Trimester Chemistry
1. Predict the change in the rate of a chemical reaction when temperature, concentration, catalysts, inhibitors, surface area or reaction type change.
2. Describe the role of activation energy in a chemical reaction.
3. Convert the molar mass of a substance to moles.
4. Convert the molar mass of a substance to the number of particles of substance.
5. Calculate the masses (or number of moles) of reactants and products in a chemical equation from the mass (or moles) of one of the reactants or products.
6. Calculate percent yield in a chemical reaction.
7. Calculate the concentration of a solution in molarity, grams per liter, ppm and percent composition.
8. Identify the factors that affect solubility and rate of solution.
9. relate a solution's concentration to its colligative properties.
10. List the properties of acids, bases and solids.
11. Define the dissociation of strong and weak acids and bases.
12. Calculate the pH of a solution and classify it as an acid or base.
13. Calculate the concentration of an unknown solution before and after dilution.
14. Describe the use of buffers to stabilize pH.
15. Assign oxidation numbers to uncombined elements and elements within compounds.
16. Identify the reduction and oxidation processes within balanced half reactions.
17. Name and draw hydrocarbon structures using the IUPAC naming system.
18. Write formulas for alkanes, alkenes and alkynes.
19. Draw structures of isomers for alkanes, alkenes and alkynes.

Again, pretty sure there will be editing involved. Probably more so than the first trimester. It was much more difficult for me to decide what was critical with this trimester since these state standards are not the tested ones.

So I have my chemistry skeleton created. This is what every student MUST learn if they take my chemistry class. Now to flesh out the targets. My plan is to write an extended target for each one.

If the planets align correctly, I should be able to get at least the first half finished before school starts back up.

Maybe I should check the star charts.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Chemistry Part I

Okay. So I have sat down and really looked at next fall's chemistry curriculum. Last summer, we spent an intense week and wrote out our district's science curriculum. At the time, it made sense and looked like a good document.

Then I took it back to my classroom and realized it was a terrible document. Basically, we just rewrote our state standards. I realized that we have WAY too much information in those pages.

So, in the interest of SBG and concise information everywhere, I have started looking long and hard at what I need to teach in my classes.

I spent the entire morning trying to decide WHAT IS CRITICAL. For my first semester, I ended up with 15 standards. Not bad. Completely doable in a semesters time. They also allow for a little bit of wiggle room if the class is struggling or if the class is really clicking.

First Trimester Chemistry
1. Identify the subatomic particles, their locations and properties (mass and charge).
2. Describe the distribution of mass and volume and charge within an atom.
3. Determine the number of protons, electrons and neutrons in a given atom.
4. Determine the mass number of an atom.
5. Write the electron configuration of an atom.
6. Draw the Lewis dot structure of an atom.
7. Predict the oxidation number of an ion based on its Lewis dot structure, electron configuration or position on the periodic table.
8. Use an atom's valence electrons to predict it's properties.
9. Relate an atom's position on the periodic table to its reactivity, ionization energy, electronegativity and relative size of ions and atoms.
10. Describe the changes that result when an atom's electrons change energy levels.
11. Predict whether a pair (group) of atoms will form a covalent, ionic or metallic bond.
12. Name and write formulas for ionic compounds.
13. Name and write formulas for covalent compounds.
14. Describe the polarity of simple molecules.
15. Write balance chemical equations.

Maybe in need of a bit of editing, but I like this much better. This is what MUST be learned in my chemistry class. My plan at this point is for each of these standards to be an SBG standard at the 3 level of my 4 point scale. I realize some of these are pretty advanced concepts on their own, but this is what is one the state assessment, so that is how it made it to the critical stage.

Now I need to do this for the second trimester concepts.

Then the really hard part. I struggle a lot with expanding into the upper levels of learning, mostly because I have rarely had kids who could handle that type of assignment. Next year will be different, I assume (!).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Changing Rooms

I haven't accomplished much school-wise this summer. My daughter is playing softball, my sister got married last weekend and my son, well, my son is three.

My classroom has been cleaned out and the floors redone. Only now I find out that I am moving classrooms next year. I am teaching chemistry, so my principal is moving me upstairs to the chemistry "suite." It's a nice room, one room with desks for lecture situations and an adjacent room for lab activities. With any luck, we won't spend much time in the lecture room.

I'm not sure if this move is permanent or not. In all actuality, I'm not even sure what I will be teaching this fall. This leaves me a pretty big dilemma.

If you have never had a science classroom, you cannot begin to comprehend the amount of "stuff" that can accumulate. I inherited this room from a former earth science teacher a few years ago and STILL haven't managed to go through all the cabinets. (One key phrase here is "earth science teacher," I literally have a ton of rocks to move.)

Since I am not positive that I will not be coming back to this room, I really, really, REALLY don't want to move everything upstairs only to have to move it back downstairs next spring.


So for now, I won't move anything.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010



School's been out for a week now. The State track meet has come and gone. It's already doggone hot outside. And the custodians started stripping my floor yesterday.

Given that last little tidbit of information, I can't get into my classroom until at least next Monday. I thought about bringing my list home with me, but at the last minute, decided against it.

I am taking a week off. My kids and I are headed out to do a little geocaching and then to the pool today. Tomorrow, I see there is an NCIS marathon on USA. For some weird reason, I can turn that show on and get my house completely clean during the commercials.

My goal this summer is to spend one day a week in my classroom. If I can do that, not only will I have a clean room next fall, but I will also maybe have more than the first week mapped out for my classes. This is doubly important this year since it is entirely possible that I will be given another new class on the first day of school.

But now my kids are up and we are off to play.

Monday, May 17, 2010

End of the Year Blues

We have four more days of school.

We have been counting down for a couple weeks now. By "we", I mean me and my kids. Since all our teachers started going down, there has been a cloud hanging over everyone here. That and there have literally been clouds hanging over us, we haven't really seen the sun for several days. Not your typical May weather.

So we are more or less just trying to get through to the end without blowing up my lab.

We have one more inservice for teachers next Monday, and we just got the schedule today. To say that I am shocked is a mild understatement. Basically, they are turning us loose to work on incorporating any and all of the previous inservice strategies into our curriculum.

This is such a huge deal, I can't even begin to describe it! Our district does not allow us to work on our own. Because you KNOW all teachers will immediately congregate in the workroom with their coffee and never get any work done.

Maybe I can even get some of those things on my list organized or (gasp) even put together!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Want to ramp up interest in any class?

Watch a live launch of the space shuttle on NASA TV. We watched this today during my Applied Physics. Atlantis made her final launch about 30 minutes into the class period and although not my Astronomy class, we made it a point to see. We put away all our work away and listened to Mission Control talk to the astronauts. We turned off the lights and saw the engines start to fire.

And when they reached zero time, goosebumps spread through the entire classroom.

The NASA Launch Commentator is awesome. I want to meet him. Every couple minutes, he updated us on the speed and altitude of the shuttle. These little tid-bits floored my kids. It took just 7 minutes for the shuttle to leave our atmosphere.

AND, the camera on the fuel tank gave us an incredible view of home.

Even if you don't teach astronomy. Even if you don't teach science. If you teach children, they need to see something like this in their lifetime. Kids (and grownups) can't help but be amazed by this.

Most common question? "Is this happening now?"

Second most common question? "What are they going to do in space?"

This sparked an incredible interest in the space program that I really didn't see coming. So we went to the library and looked up the specifics of Atlantis' last mission.

Not in the curriculum. Not in the state standards. Not on the state assessment.

Worth a "lost" teaching day.

SBG: Personal Reason #2

I'm used to low motivation in my students. I'm also okay with it. When I walk through my door in August, I am ready. It is my personal challenge to find out what motivates each student and turn that into a way to teach. Sometimes, it actually works.

Harley is not my typical student. He is smart, popular, athletic. And lazy when it comes to his classes. Mostly because he is really smart. Harley's big complaint is homework. He doesn't see the need to do any of it. Mostly because he is really smart and doesn't NEED to do any of it to understand what he is being taught.

We have had meeting after meeting with Harley and his parents about his grades. Every teacher says the same thing: "If Harley would just do his homework, he would be passing my class."

Last year, I was one of them.

I have failed Harley. Not in class (he did just enough to pass), but as a teacher. Ask him anything about my class; he can probably still tell you. He learned everything I asked him to learn.

For some reason, that was not good enough for me. Why did I punish this kid for not needing to work hard to learn?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Looking Toward Next Year

I have several scraps of paper in a pile on my desk that contain short notes about what I want to change in my classroom next year. At this point, I don't know yet which classes I will be teaching, so the notes are pretty non-specific. In a desperate attempt to clean off my desk, I am recording those ideas here.

Standards Based Grading
1. Love it. Need to tweak some things. Need to do away with others. I jumped in here at the beginning of the trimester with two classes (Astronomy and Applied Physics). In hindsight, I should have started with one class and done it properly. With nine class days left, I am simply overwhelmed.

2. I need to edit my Learning Targets. My kids have been terrific about the experiment and have rolled along with me as I changed things up*. When I wrote the targets, I was basically copying the state standards. Ugh. Some targets were too broad, some targets were too narrow, and some just didn't make sense. My targets need to be more clear as to what is actually going to be assessed. I want the kids to be able to read the target and know what they need to do. I am finding this is not an easy thing to do with Astronomy targets.

3. I want to have something of a rubric for each learning target. If you want a '4', this is what you need to do. If you only have 'this and this' then that earns you a '3'. Most of the kids I have need that kind of direction.

4. I want a tutorial for each learning target. In my "spare time" this summer, I might start on that. Some of my classes overlap in concepts, but that will still be a huge undertaking. Probably a several year undertaking.

5. I am pretty sure I can create online quizzes with Examview (yes, I know, I am soooo behind the times). I want those put up on my website so the kids can practice the concepts.

6. Each target needs a remediation strategy/practice/plan. When a student wants to come in and relearn Getting Your Bearings Learning Target 3, I don't want to have to scramble around getting something ready to go.

Teaching Methods
1. My delivery is terrible. Part of the problem here is that I have taught a new class nearly every year since I have been at my current school. With few, if any resources. A big part of my years have been spent just being barely a day ahead.

2. Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. Shawn, can I come live with you?

3. Differentiation is the word of the day. While I am told I do a pretty good job at this, I am still a little fuzzy on what it all is.

Wow. Summer vacation, here I come.

*It's entirely possible that they simply have no idea what's going on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Think I Might Be A Bad Teacher

This scares me.

SBG: Personal Reason #1

A few years ago, I was asked to teach Anatomy and Physiology. We are a pretty small school, so this has been a class that is taught when the interest is there and we can fill a classroom.

This remains one of the rare upper level classes I have ever taught, so maybe my perspective is somewhat skewed, but I saw a different type of motivation at work here.

Victoria was a hard worker. She was a straight A student. She was valedictorian.

She was a Grade Junkie.

It didn't matter what kind of work I threw at her, she got it done. Six page tests? No problem. The great by-product of having Victoria in class was that (almost) all the other students followed right along with her. I was thrilled. Finally, I could assign homework, and the kids would actually do it. I could give a test and not have to go buy a new pen to grade it.

Then one day, we had some down time. I can't even remember what the conversation was about, but the words that came out of Victoria's mouth stopped me in my tracks.

"I don't care if I learn anything, I just want the A."

I am still trying to reconcile that statement with what I am doing in my classroom. I started on my winding journey into SBG (although I didn't know where I was going) because of that one little comment made by my student. I didn't know where I was headed until this year. I now have a destination. Now all I need is a plan.

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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chewing My Own Arm Off

I have had another major realization today. I think I am trying to do too much. Not in the sense that I have a take-home job, two small kids, a puppy and am now coaching track.

I mean I am trying to cover too much material. Should my kids in high school astronomy be able to cover the same amount of material that I did in my masters astronomy?

My answer yesterday, apparently, would have been "Yes." Today, however, I am not so sure.

My four earth science classes are up for review by the Board of Regents. Since they are not titled "Biology", "Chemistry" or "Physics," this means I have to make a list of the major concepts covered in each trimester. I am limited as to the number of concepts I can submit, mostly because the BOR doesn't seem to want to read through every objective I have for the class.

The realization came as I was trying to summarize my Ocean Science unit on Currents. Again, trying to decide what is critical is the major hurdle I am trying to get around. I have fallen into the bear trap of trying to touch on everything while not actually covering any subject in depth.

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