Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Twenty Tiny Caskets

I apologize. I need somewhere to put this or I simply might not make it through my day.

I am sitting here in the middle of the night, having been awakened by my six year old who is not feeling well and just wants to be near his mom. He has long since gone back to sleep, but I keep reaching over to give him little hugs and kisses that he will not remember in the morning. I have school tomorrow and I know I am going to be way too tired to cross anything off of my list, but right now, I am savoring this insomnia. My heart is full and I feel so blessed because today, my babies came home safe from school.

I have limited my television and internet use the last few days because I know that no matter where I turn, there will be coverage of the events (does tragedy even describe it?) in Connecticut. And I can’t watch. My mind cannot even begin to comprehend this one. So I am hugging my children and distancing myself from the storm.

As a parent, I cannot fathom losing a child. I cannot imagine going over to my mantle and taking down an empty stocking. I cannot imagine putting away all the angry birds scattered in every corner of the house because there is no one left to play with them. I cannot imagine sending my children off on the school bus never to see them again. I have been close to some who have traveled down that dark road and I have no idea how they found the strength to go on. There are not enough prayers in the world, but I will continue to send them up anyway.  

As a teacher, there are so many things that race through my mind. You cannot escape the pictures of the six adults who were lost and I am all too aware that in the society we live in, it could have just as easily been me. Today they are celebrated as heroes for protecting the life of someone else’s child. We give them that lip service, but do we truly have any idea what that actually means? Do we just assume now that teaching is an occupation that could possibly involve that sacrifice? I picture my boy's kindergarten teachers. Those calm souls who never seem to raise their voices, going through their days with the unbelievable patience it takes to teach toddlers to read and write. Would any of them protect my baby? Would I expect them to?

I wonder what goes through your mind when you know the children in your classroom are threatened. Do you think about shoving kids into closets or is it an automatic reaction? How in the world do you think fast enough to tell a madman that your kids are all in the gym in order to keep them hidden? Do you practice that?

I find myself wondering how I would handle a similar situation. I spend my life raising other people’s children, and as a result, I come to love so many of them. It’s really not that difficult when you realize they are more often than not kids who just want to know that someone cares about them. Could I sacrifice myself for these kids that I love knowing that my own children would grow up without a mother? I suppose that isn't something you think about beforehand.

Today I found myself watching my students more than usual. Found myself making an inventory of everything I knew about each one. That one lives with her grandmother because her mother is in prison. The girl next to her is in foster care because of things so unspeakable. He forgot to take his meds this morning so there is no way he is going to make it through the day without a trip to the principal. That boy wants to be an engineer and I am pretty sure the boy next to him is hungover. What issues are they dealing with? Are they happy? Hurting? Can I make it better? If I go to the music program tonight, would it make an enormous difference to that one child? Did I say something today that gave them a reason to be happy? Or something that tore them down? I nearly panicked this morning when I missed saying hello to one of the kids I passed in the hall because I know how important it is to him.

Four times this year my community has seen first hand how not having a purpose in life can devastate a person. Bright kids with their whole lives ahead of them decided there was no point. Was there something I could have done differently that might have sent one of them on a different path? When would I have found time for that? Helping students set goals and working out a plan to achieve those goals is not a priority for us because rich, white men in power have decided that a test score is the best way to decide a child's worth. You don't need counselors for that. Or librarians. Or even actual teachers.

People are going to try to spin this event into their own agenda. Is it about mental illness? Gun control? God was just having a bad day? I am honestly waiting for someone to come out and blame his past teachers. We will point fingers and try to assign blame somewhere other than where it might actually lie.

It belongs with all of us. I have no idea what his issues were and I have no intention of finding out. What I know is that we as a society were not there for someone who needed help. For all our talk of opportunity and hope, we as a people tend to turn our backs on those who need us most. Look away and we can pretend the problems don't exist. When the options run out, what is left? Our media told him it was okay to use violence as a solution to his problems and so he did.

I don't know what I can do. All I know is I will try to guide each child as they come to me. I can give them the tools they need to think critically and maybe show them that they can be successful when presented with a challenge. And I hope they know I am someone they can come to if they need help.

And I will hug my own children tighter in the morning, hoping and praying they never have to know what it is like to experience something like this.

Friday, December 14, 2012

She Lives!

Hello World!

I feel so out of the loop at this point I'm not even sure how to get back in. 

Soon, I will get back to reflecting on my teaching (oh, do I still do that???), but I am so excited for my kids that I really feel like I have to share. As you may know, I sponsor a Robotics team, but what you may not know is how something like that can completely take over your life. I discovered that last year, so I knew going in this year more or less what to expect. What I was not expecting this year was to continue on after Game Day. 

Yep. They did it. 

This year my kids placed fourth in our hub and qualified for the Frontier Trails BEST Regional Competition. Talk about being blindsided. All season we had talked about what it would be like to go, but it truly was never really on the radar. But then it happened. So we spent another three weeks working on Mike and all his paraphernalia. Then we loaded up a bus and I hauled sixteen teenagers across three states into the unknown (again) to one of the most amazing activities I have ever witnessed. If you have ever been to a robotics competition, you know how crazy it is.* Go to a regional competition and it is that times ten. My ears are still ringing.

We had a blast. We learned a ton. We got to see the amazing creativity that comes out when you let kids run with an idea. We even placed higher than we thought we might!

I have been involved in a lot of activities in the time that I have been a teacher. None of those can hold a candle to the experience of a robotics team. My kids are excited about learning. They are excited about science. They are excited about accomplishing something difficult and amazing. They are excited about next year. We were at GAME DAY and my kids were making a list of things they wanted to do for next year. 

So it must be a good thing. Seriously. Look into it!

*You know kickoff at a football game where the band is playing, the people are cheering and the atmosphere just feels charged? At a robotics competition, this goes on for six hours. It. Does. Not. Stop.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Letter to My Colleagues...the BEST Robotics Edition

So I've been off the radar for the past month or so and the silence is killing me. Twitter gets read while waiting in the check out line. My Reader has 893 unread posts. And while I have been taking pictures left and right, I have no idea what day it is on my 180 blog.

For the second year, I have sponsored a Robotics Team at my school. Last year was a crash course for us and we were immediately addicted*. I never really followed up on that experience because it took me so very long to recover. Somewhere around February, I felt like myself again. Between that and just not sure what had hit me, I didn't really feel like I had any insight into the whole process.

But now....

Now I am sure that I simply must convince everyone that I possibly can. This is something that you simply MUST bring to your school.

There are a few different robotics competitions out there. FIRST, VEX and BEST are probably the most well known, but we participate in the BEST Program. Initially, this was simply because I got a card in the mail inviting us to the competition. I have found out since that, for us, anyway, this was the "best" way to go. (I know. There is a lot of wordplay that can be worked in with that.) 

When you start something like this at your school, word tends to get out. I have had a few teachers who have contacted me about starting a robotics team at their school and I cannot recommend it enough. When asked, I often find myself at a loss for words. There is really no good way to describe the chaos, the challenge, the excitement, the reward that comes from being a part of a program like this. It really is something that simply needs to be experienced.

Top Ten Reasons to Sponsor a BEST Robotics Team

There is something for everyone. This is not just about building a robot. This is a common misconception among just about everyone I talk to. The first part of the BEST competition is, of course, the robot. He**takes center stage because, well, he's the robot. Part two is THE Notebook. (This is actually how we refer to it as well; we treat it with the reverence that it deserves.) All teams are required to keep an engineering notebook that documents the entire process: brainstorming, prototypes, research, safety, recruitment, fundraising, testing, team building. All of it. The judges want to see that you didn't just jump in and throw something together at the last minute. They want to see how you decided on your ideas, how you decided whether or not something was going to work. They want to see the PROCESS at work. These two components are required for all teams to compete in Game Day. 

There is then the optional BEST competition. Against all advice, we participated in this our first year. I made this decision because I had kids who would not have been a part of our team if we hadn't. This turned out to be a good idea for us.

Because then they want you to sell your robot. So you have this robot, huh? Why should they choose yours over someone else's? The marketing presentation is done a few days before Game Day. We get all dressed up and take the robot into a board room filled with men in suits. We present as a company and talk about our budget, our company, our process and our product. 
 The fourth component of the BEST competition is the public relations booth. This is similar to what a company would have at a trade show and is set up at Game Day during the robot competition. It sort of ties everything together as it gives you a chance to show off your program to all the other teams. Pictures, CAD drawings, demographics and the ever popular free pen handouts can all be included here. 

Finally, we get to the spirit component. As Game Day is going on, your team is judged on how you interact with other teams at the competition. Did you bring people that are not a part of your team? How about cheerleaders? A band? Are you making noise? All of this is important and makes for an amazing atmosphere on Game Day.

2. Sleep, clean laundry and cooking supper at home are totally overrated. However, should you happen to spend your birthday building a robot, kids feel like they need to celebrate with you and will bring you ice cream cake...

3. You don't have to buy anything. This was the deciding factor for my administration. Not only was there no registration fee, but we did not need to buy any supplies. Your BEST hub provides all the materials you need to build your robot. In fact, you are not allowed to use anything else. Not only does this cut down on cost, but it also keeps everyone on a level playing field. Now that is not to say that you will not need money. You will need to get your team to at least three activities during the season. You will need some tools. Power tools. We have our essentials: scroll saw, miter saw, jigsaw, cordless drill and screwdriver (two), sander and dremel tool, plus various hand tools such as a hammer, hacksaw, screwdrivers (large and small), bolt cutters, wire strippers, compass, ruler, scissors and solder iron. We have quite a bit of other tools running around, but these seem to be the basics. If you participate in the BEST competition as well, then you will run into printing costs for flyers and brochures, booth materials, poster board, glitter (apparently we can't do anything without glitter), markers. Not a lot, but I think I spent around $700 this year on stuff like that. 

See? Six bottles of glitter...

4. You don't really need to do any labs in your chemistry class. You can totally convert your lab room into a machine shop. I have actually, for the most part, managed to contain the robot to one lab table and a corner. My classes know that they are not allowed to touch anything over there and I have not had any problems with that.

Insanity can be wonderful.

6. We in education give a lot of lip service to preparing our kids for the real world. We talk a lot about how important it is to turn homework in on time (every day) and why kids should only be allowed to use the restroom at the beginning of the hour and for goodness sake, do NOT exchange ideas with your neighbor. Sorry guys, that isn't getting it done. THIS is the type of experience that employers want our kids to have. They want to know that these kids have been presented with a challenge and come up with a plan to get it done. They want to know that this kid can work under pressure and not crack at the first hint of adversity. 

7. Failing is okay. Just fail faster because we only have six weeks to get it figured out. Learn when something isn't working and move on to the next idea. Last year, our big downfall was not letting go of something that wasn't working. I had kids who became emotionally attached to an idea and couldn't let it go because it was "his" idea. This year we were much better about seeing when something really wasn't going to work out and trying something new. If someone just couldn't let it go, I had them build a prototype of the idea. While this took time, it gave us a chance to visualize and decide. Sometimes that led us off in a completely new direction, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

8. This is not just for the "smart" kids in your school. When I try to convince someone to join us, the number one excuse is "I'm not smart enough to build a robot." That type of thinking drives me insane anyway, but what really bugs me is that those kids really believe what they are saying. I had one of "those" students in my first hour this fall. He has a lot of issues that all culminate in him not being successful in school, but he would come in every morning and ask how the robot was coming along. His down time in class? Spent discussing with another student their next steps in restoring an old truck. Seriously? Not smart enough to build a robot? Please. Every once in a while, he would wander over to the chaos and look over what had been accomplished. Once I was explaining one of the problems we had run into and he made a suggestion. I told him to write it down and leave a note. He did and we ended up using a slight modification of his idea. He was interested, but I never could convince him to come to a meeting. I am going to keep trying because I think next year, I might be able to convince him to come around.

9. Your robot does not need to be overly complicated. Keep It Simple, Stupid is a good mantra to live by in something like this. This served us well this year. Our challenge was insane: our robot had to pick up stuff off the floor, carry it to the top of a ten foot pole and put said stuff into various containers. We knew with our young, inexperienced team that we would not be able to do it all. So instead of trying to make our robot move in two dimensions, we stuck with one: pick up the stuff directly in front of us and that was it. That whole complicated thing will come with time, but realizing our limitations was a giant advantage for us.

10. Seriously...have you ever BEEN to one of those competitions? Quote from our first year..."Game Day was like a professional football game, a college basketball game, a NASCAR race, and epic science all in one!" - Mary

Still think you can't pull it off? You can. Jump in. Accept the challenge. If we can do it, so can you! 

We are a small school with 223 students in our 9-12 building. We are one of the smallest schools in our hub. This year, we had 22 members on our team roster, with 15 of those kids being the reliable, core workers. This was actually a pretty good number for me to be able to handle and keep on task. As the only sponsor (NOT recommended), I mostly just kept circling and asking whether or not there was something that needed to be done. 

I am not telling you this will be easy. It's not. It is chaotic, exhausting, messy and pretty darn difficult. But you know that person who said nothing worthwhile is easy? 

Yeah, that person was on a robotics team.

*I am finding that robotics is a lot like childbirth. While it is actually occurring, you start to wonder what in the world could have possessed you to do this, but a few months later you look back and think, hmmm...that wasn't so bad...

**Yes, we personify our robot. This year, it is a boy named Magic Mike. He has one arm... he had to climb a pole... anyway... didn't I warn you about the insanity here???

P.S.  This was written as an assignment in my graduate class as a way to explain the BEST program and why you should try it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Missing Class

For the second day in a row, we have not had class during second hour. Three hours worth of class time gone.

Yesterday, the sophomores took a field trip to Flint Hills Technical College to explore options there. This is important. Technical colleges are not what they used to be. And that is a good thing. Most people, when asked, will give a pretty negative review of a technical college even if they have no idea what goes on in one. Welding. I would venture to say that is the first thought that comes up. But it is not an accurate one. So it's a good thing that kids get out and explore those options.

I'm okay with letting kids go.

Today, we had an assembly featuring the Butler County Community College Headliners. I had never seen them perform before. Mostly I was upset to lose another class day to go watch singers.

And then they sang.


It was impressive. I couldn't find a video anywhere to share and to be honest, I can't even find a link to the Headliners on Butler's site. This is as close as I could get.

We got back to class and the kids couldn't stop talking about the show. These are kids that don't talk about anything in a good way. They were as impressed as I was.

One kid, one who is in danger of not getting a degree, now wants to join our school singers. Unfortunately, he will not be able to. Even if his schedule allowed it, our administration probably would not. He was not proficient on the state math assessment. So he gets pulled out of his "unimportant" classes to take a refresher math course. Maybe he will pass it this time around. He was also not proficient on his state reading assessment. Same thing. There is no chance this child will be able to take a class that he might enjoy and maybe even excel at.

What are we doing for our kids if we take them out of those things that they really are interested in?

How do we convince them that we are "doing this for your own good" when they hate every second of the day?

How do we make education about the kids and not about the adults?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Calling an Audible and Adjusting My Grading

Okay, so I have had some major shifts in my grading this year. As we start thinking about closing out this trimester, kids are really, REALLY starting to panic. And to tell the truth, I am getting a little nervous. As of this moment, out of all of my classes, I have one B. And that is as high as it goes. A smattering of C's. Lots of D's and a few too many F's. While it is not uncommon for my principal to comment that I have the lowest grades out of anyone, I normally don't care how my grades stand up against other teachers'.* But even for me, I feel like this is a bit on the low side.

I love the grading out of two. If I could just get my kids (and some teachers) to let go of the percent thing, all would be well (well, better anyway). I didn't realize how stressful and time consuming it was for me to have to decide whether or not a question should receive a 2 or 3. Oh yes, this is the way to go.

But not all is well. I am rethinking how I have set up my chemistry standards. This summer, I loved the idea of having a few overarching ideas that were non-negotiable in terms of understanding matter. Actually, I still do like that idea, but it is truly driving everyone crazy. This whole system has been a much larger shift for my kids than I anticipated, and adding in the extra step in deciding your grade is about to push some of us over the edge. It just seems like too much to decode at this point. So I have changed every standard to a gold standard and adjusted my figuring accordingly.

       F = 3 or more 0
       D = Any 0
       C = Any 1
       B = All 2
       A = All 2 plus 3 successful capstone projects

Capstones in chemistry are turning out to be a huge challenge. I knew this would be true, so I have not been surprised at my kids really not knowing exactly where to start. Physics is, I think, a little easier to come up with something to test. Go outside and observe nearly any phenomena and you can turn it into a physics project. In chemistry, even if you have an idea what it is you want to test, there are so many unknowns to take care of that really aren't common sense-type things. How much sodium hydroxide do we need? Should we do this in the fume hood? Will it blow up?**

At first, I told the kids that their capstone had to be in the form of a lab investigation. I still prefer this, but I have also opened up on that requirement. Students can, of course, still do the lab investigation, but they also
have the option to write a research article, create a podcast or a KA style video. I am also allowing them to work in groups of up to two, but each student has to have a separate write-up.

Really, though, I have only had two groups even attempt a capstone. I have one girl (who stares out the window a lot) who keeps saying her parents are soooooo mad that she doesn't have an A. In the same breath, she tells me a capstone would be too much work. I guess we'll see how that turn out.

Tomorrow is an early release for us. My plan is to show everyone what their grade would be at this point and talk about what can be done to show what they know. Maybe getting everyone on the same page and reminding them of the deadline will put a fire under them.

We also have parent conferences next week. I have this strange feeling that I will have a better turn out than normal.

*This was a BIG deal when I started teaching chemistry with SBG.

**This is more often than not said in an extremely hopeful tone.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why My Kids Don't Want Me to Be District Attorney: An SBG Tale

So today in some really weird tangent in my ocean science class, we started discussing our district attorney. Now, several students in that class have direct experience dealing with this particular lady and not all of those experiences have come out in what you would call an equal ending. They don't like her and think we should get a new one.

Last election, she ran unopposed, so there really was no other option, and my kids suggested that I should run next time.* They would vote for me!

Then someone piped up and said, "but, wait a minute, you only grade out of 2!"

This really caused some concern, especially with some of the kids that had gotten off lightly. Apparently, should I get to decide, you would either be a yes or no case. They weren't so sure this was a good idea.

Someone else jumped in and said, "well, even if you were perfect, Mrs. Schroeder would still make you do three hours of community service to get out of jail!"

At least they seem to be lightening up about the new grading and capstones. While they still aren't happy about the changes, the have decided to accept it and move on. I have had a couple ocean kids and one chemistry who have come up with some type of extension activity. So far, they are not as in depth as I was hoping for, but I am thrilled that they are trying.

*Not gonna happen.

**I realize they were not exactly clear on the difference between a district attorney and a judge. I'll leave that to the government teacher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chemistry Capstones...OK...Now You Can Freak Out

Earlier this week, my chemistry class got their first taste of my new take on that whole "rigor" thing.

Because this year, I have introduce capstones. We are close to half way through our first trimester, so many of my kids are starting in on the grade anxiety. I have never really had a giant uproar over the standards part of my grading, so that isn't so much the problem.

But now...

"You mean, I'm not going to get an A in this class?"

Not easily, no.

"You mean I can be perfect and still not get an A?"

Nobody's perfect, sweetie.

"But, I'm a senior, you can't go changing the status quo now!"

Okay, I see your point, but too bad.

"So, this is like extra credit?"

Well, no, not exactly. Extra credit implies not a lot of work in order to get your grade up to where you want it.* When a student says, "can I write the definitions out twenty times to get my grade up to an A?" I just want to scream.

We discussed capstones this morning, and to be honest, I can't believe I haven't heard from a parent yet. For the most part, the reception was not favorable. We talked about why it is important for them to be able to not just memorize all this important chemistry stuff, but also why they should be able to apply it. And not just because it is chemistry class. This is a life skill, children.

To kind of ease them into it, we did a practice capstone with the last part of our conservation of mass lab. In that part, we add Alka-Seltzer to water. The mass at the end is not the same as the mass at the beginning. For our system, technically, mass was not conserved, but most kids recognized that it was because the gas escaped. So I had them think about what we could do to show that this incident did, indeed, support the law of conservation of mass. While much simpler than what I would probably require for a capstone, this was a good one to walk through and get them in the questioning mode.**

There was arguing. There was bribery. There was attempted blackmail and coercion. But we stuck with it and eventually, everyone came up with a plan and submitted a draft proposal. We went and did the experiment and I talked about what kids should have in a formal write up. There was even one or two, very grudging, "that wasn't so bad" mutterings in the back.

When it was all said and done, my kids seemed a little bit calmer. At this point, they are terrified at the idea of having to come up with ideas for a project. I totally get that. I am terrible at writing engaging questions, plus this is brand new to these kids. We spent so much time beating the curiosity out of them, that when we try to instill it back in, of course there is going to be some struggles.

But I'm sticking to my guns on this one. If I have learned nothing in the last few years, it has been that big changes can't be made if you give in even just a little bit.

*The most accurate portrayal of education in the media, ever, is the Spongebob episode where Mrs. Puff tries to give him extra credit so she doesn't have to have him back in class.

**Looking back, this was actually a lot more difficult for them than I thought it would be.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Inner Peace...A Modeling Update

I don't think there has ever been a time in my teaching career where I could say that I have truly become comfortable with what I am teaching. I taught at my first school for one year before getting married and moving on. My second year teaching was at a school so far away from my home that I moved to a closer district the next year. I taught at the middle school level for two years before being non-renewed, and fell into my current position the next year. I have now been in my district for eleven years, which might have found me in a fairly comfortable place if not for all the new classes I have been "allowed" to develop. In those eleven years, I have taught twelve different classes. Now, some have a little overlap, but creating a new class from scratch nearly every year was a lot more stressful than I realized.

Until today. Today, I got an idea what it really feels like to know what is going on.

Right now I have two sections that are working through the Modeling Chemistry. One is a regular chemistry class and one is what we call applied, that is made up of "those" kids.

My first year with Modeling was, well, tumultuous. The entire situation was new to my kids as well as to me. Even if they hadn't been so incredibly resistant, I am pretty sure they would have sensed my unfamiliarity with the process. They can smell fear, you know.

Last year was my second year, and while I was at least more familiar with the material, I still had some issues and wrinkles that I needed to iron out. Luckily, the kids I had were much less resistant. I think word had spread that I could take whatever they could send my way and stick to my guns. I am pretty sure that if I had given in, just a little bit the year before, I would have had a lot more testing of boundaries. As it was, I had a great group of kids who for the most part bought in to what I was trying to do. For my part, I spent a lot of time writing out exactly* what I wanted to accomplish with each lesson just so I could go back and remember what worked and what didn't. While I'm not obsessed enough to read it all out during class, it has proved invaluable to look over beforehand and remember what types of things tripped kids up. Since I seem to know where I want them to go, my questions and prompts are actually leading them there.**

The other day, I assigned the first worksheet in my chemistry class. This is not a common occurrence, as I really try to save homework for special occasions. The worksheets in the Modeling units are wonderfully done. These are not "right there" questions that kids can google, nor are they all repetitions of the same problem. When my kids came to class today, there was true panic going on. They had tried. They didn't get it. Their parents didn't get it. They were never going to pass this class.

It took awhile, but I reminded them that we had had this conversation about homework awhile back. Remember how it's practice? And struggling is actually a good thing? This doesn't count toward a grade, so let's whiteboard the problems and see what we come up with.

Then things got really tense.

The first couple of questions were pretty straightforward. The group presented and every head in the room turned to me to see if I was confirming their excellent work.

Cue the crickets.***

Finally someone, almost with a twitch, said, "well, is it right??"

So I said, "do you think it is?"

These pauses are going to kill me.

The group presenting, of course thought they were correct. When I asked if anyone had written anything different, no one spoke up. So I asked them if they had any questions about how this group came up with their answers. Again, not a sound.

As the group started moving towards their seats, one student turned around with her paper and asked me if what she had was acceptable. So I stopped the group and had them go back up to their whiteboard.

Now, here's where it got tricky. We stopped and talked about the overall purpose of whiteboarding. It isn't just about copying down the right answer on your paper. This is about learning from each other and being able to ask questions when you don't understand. Not necessarily asking ME, but asking your classmates to explain their thinking.

The big question for this question was that the student had done the problem in a different manner, but came up with the same answer.**** There followed a huge discussion about whether or not this was "correct" for this problem. Apparently, in the past, there has been only one way to get to the right answer, and that is how the teacher has already explained it. No free thinking allowed.

Yeah, whatever. Personally, I would like to see this every time. While this student explained how she came up with her (same) answer, a couple other kids were nodding their heads. Comments like, "oh, I get it now" started rumbling around the room. Kids were talking to one another, asking good questions. There was really only one smart-alec in the room and he was put down pretty quickly.

By the end of the hour, I had students fighting to present their problem on the whiteboard. I had retreated to the back corner and didn't say another word.

It took us two days to whiteboard this worksheet. In fact, with this class, we are taking quite a bit longer on everything, but I am so okay with that. All of those little details that have taken all trimester to even get the nerve to bring up the last two years are being addressed here in the first month.

And they are buying into it!

So today, we are whiteboarding a lab. The discussions going on are amazing and so beyond anything I would have expected up to this point. I am wandering around the room listening, waiting for questions. There are none. I hear one group who seems to be struggling say "well, we will present it and see what everyone else has done. Maybe they can show us where we messed up." Whoa! Really? I move on to eavesdrop on another group. They have a gorgeous multi-color whiteboard that oh-my-goodness includes a particle diagram!

I'm pretty sure I'm dreaming here. I am also a little nervous because I don't really know what I did to get here so quickly (or, for that matter, at all). I'm not entirely sure I did anything at all. I think, though, that it comes from knowing exactly where I want my kids to go and having a plan as to how to get there. What I do know is that I have never been so excited, or relaxed, about where my classroom is headed.

*When I say exactly, I mean word for word, every-question-that-makes-sense-OCD-scripted type of write out.

**Now this is probably not news to most of you. I can see you shaking your head, wondering, "is she serious?" All I can say to that is, yes. Yes, I am.

***There seems to be a lot of awkward pauses in my room this year.

****Seriously, the stars are all in alignment today.

*****My footnote addiction seems to be getting worse...sorry about that...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

So Tell Me How You Really Feel

Now that we are a couple weeks into school, we are starting to get a little deeper into actually assessing some work. So now the questions on how to actually get an A in my class are really starting to be asked. There has been so much talk about GPA in my classroom lately that I am seriously starting to twitch.

My chemistry class is still pretty quiet. Most of them do not know me well enough to come right out and complain, but they are nervous, to be sure. I have an amazing first section this year, and they are pretty used to getting high grades. For the most part, they seem to be up to the challenge. We ended up walking through how to do a capstone* so they know what it should look like. I think they are slightly less anxious now.

However, students in my ocean science class, for the most part, know me pretty well. And they let me know exactly what they think about the new system. I have this class set up just slightly different than my chemistry. I don't have the blue and gold standards, mostly because wasn't completely happy with the standards I had written. This turned out to be good thinking because I have already changed some of the targets. I am really debating on this, because this system seems to be a little more straightforward with not as much in the way of decoding to figure out your grade. But then I like the idea of those big ideas, so who knows where this will all end up.

Today, I handed back an ocean science test along with a grade sheet. There was freaking out and some of them just can't let go of percentages. The majority of complaints seem to stem from the fact that they can't get away with not understanding something. To them, it is completely fine to not understand how waves travel through a medium because next week, they can do better on tidal movement. It will all average out and they will never have to come back to understanding waves. This is apparently a much bigger safety net than I had realized because there is some major panicking (and complaining) going on.

Going along with that is grading out of 2 instead of, say, 10. Or 50. Or some other arbitrary number. Basically, they either understand it or they don't. There really is no "partial credit" here. Again with the safety net.

I mentioned capstones to my ocean science and was immediately bombarded with the extra credit question. That is how they are viewing the idea of capstones. I am having a hard time getting them to see it from another angle, because they see this "extra work" as equating to "extra credit". I can honestly say I understand their perspective, but I think it's a little too overwhelming for them to cope with the idea of applying knowledge at this point. So we'll come back to that in a couple days.

I pretty much had two camps in my ocean today. On one side are those who kind of accepted the idea and are going to humor me in hopes I change my mind when everyone's grades are terrible. The other side is made up of those who are still pouting.

What I really need to do a good job of is guiding my kids through this system. I can't just throw it out there and hope they catch on. This is such an enormous shift in philosophy that I'm not sure they are all going to follow. Giving examples and keeping kids from giving up is going to be crucial. And exhausting.

Lucky for me, my principal is on board. I gave him a print out of my set up and he was intrigued. A couple days later, I stopped in his office and he pulled out a little green book called A Repair Kit for Grading and asked if I had read it. No, do I have to? I was a little nervous thinking I had really done something wrong and he was going to make me revert back to a more traditional grading approach. However, he congratulated me on already implementing what he thought was a good system. Whew.

So tomorrow is a new day. My ocean is going to get their first taste of capstones and what it really means to take all this information and use it. Hopefully, we will discover together the difference between extra credit and actual learning.

*Another post that hasn't been finished yet.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Just...Don't Freak Out

On the first day of school, we talk for just a little bit about how students will eventually receive a letter grade for chemistry, not too much because this is what everyone else does and we want to move on to bigger and better things just as soon as we possibly can. Usually, there are some sideways looks and maybe even a few questions, but what I have noticed is that while there is nodding, the reality doesn't actually set in until there are actual marks involved.

Like today.

On Friday, we finished up our Mass and Change Lab, talked about the Conservation of Mass and turned in our lab notebooks. Pretty routing and straightforward. 

Today, the notebooks were handed back. Along with the notebook is a sheet that I have typed out comments about each target that is assessed. They look something like this...*
Lab Notebook Feedback Sample

There is always (even near the end of the year) that minute or so where kids are turning the paper over, looking for their grades. So I let them flounder for a while, mumbling among themselves, until finally someone speaks up and asks what everyone wants to know. "How did I do on this?"

Most of the time, I come back with something along the lines of, "well, how do you think you did?" This is often met with blank stares while they try to absorb what I am trying to say. I didn't give them a grade, and they have no idea how to handle that. Today, I had them talk to their lab partners about their comments. What are some things you did well? What do you need to work on? If you were to give yourself a grade, what do you think it would be?

I try to get them to see that it's not just about a number, but about what you can do to truly learn about something. Some try to make sense of it, some just humor me.

Then, I pointed to the wall where I have posted the targets we are covering at this particular time. Remember these green sheets we keep pointing to? Let's talk a little bit more about those. So today, I reintroduced my new and improved grading system. There were a lot of wary looking kids sitting out there. And then I handed out their grade sheets.

See, we use PowerSchool as our grading program, and I know there must be a way, but, for the life of me, I can't figure out how to get it off of percents. So if I put in 2 points as possible and you get a 1, it shows you have a 50%. Even after promising not to, some of them freaked out, although, thankfully, none of them cried.

While there wasn't much in the way of excitement about the new system, at least there wasn't any outright hostility. I think just getting over the initial shock and getting used to the idea will be smoother than past years.

I know that I like it much better than what I did last year. Getting rid of the 3 and 4 levels makes this so much easier. Where last year, I would have hem-hawed around and made a judgement call, this year, I can simply say, "not perfect" and give it a 1.

And then.....I introduced capstones. Now that is a different story. There was quite a bit to say about those...

*This is a critique for another day, but there are a few things I would change about this. I find myself only picking out the things a student did wrong. My goal this year is to also leave specific comments about what was done correctly as well. For whatever reason, I find this much more difficult. But I love typing it out. Copy/paste is soooooo handy sometimes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Failures, Mistakes and Other Learning Tools

Yesterday* on Twitter, Adam asked the question.
This started a conversation that has been bothering me since. Basically, we were trying to come up with working definitions of failure and mistake. Can either of them be fixed? Some mistakes can't, but failure also implies an ending. I don't know the answer, but I know I'm not going to get terribly hung up on the technicalities.

The whole theme was how to get kids comfortable with failing. We teach them from the beginning that it really isn't okay, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise in my classroom that they are afraid to go there.

This is never more evident in Chemistry than when we go through our first lab. It has six parts that reinforce lab skills and investigate the conservation of mass. After each part, we talk about the results and work through an analysis. More often than not, there is at least one set of data that really doesn't allow us to draw any kind of conclusion. We get to talk about precision and careful measurements and what constitutes good data. And we all get to try it again if we don't like our initial results.

Today, however, was the first day I ever had someone cry.

Part five: Does mass change when sugar and water are mixed? Her group had gained a significant amount of mass somewhere between here and there. When I called on the group to explain what they did and how they ended up with those results, it came out that they had forgotten to mass the sugar before they added it to the water. In the following discussion, I looked over, and bless her, she had her head ducked down to the table, sniffling into her lab notebook.

When I asked why she was so upset, she looked at me like I had drowned her kitten and said, "but I was WRONG!"

And I said, "SO?"

Now, my classroom can rarely described as silent, but at that moment, you could hear the hum of my hard drive. She and nearly all of her classmates stared at me like I had truly gone insane.

"What do you mean, so?" she asked. "How am I supposed to get an A in this class if I can't even get the first lab right? I have to start catching up already and apparently chemistry isn't my thing and I haven't even gotten to the hard part yet."

Oh, Honey.**

I asked her if she knew what her group had done wrong and whether or not it could be fixed. Did she think maybe she could go back and redo her lab?

"Well, yes, but..."

"Then let's go do it."

That silent thing again...

"You mean we can fix this?"

Of course, child, how do you think you are going to learn if I just cut you off now? I WANT you to understand the conservation of mass, and I want you to understand it because YOU figured it out, not because I told you it was true.

To be honest, I'm not sure they all bought into it. I don't think they believe that I am going to allow force them to do it on their own. You can see it in their eyes. "Yeah, she might let me have ONE more try. On this easy lab. What if I REALLY screw up later on? What if I try it again and STILL don't get good results. What if chemistry really isn't my thing? What if I get a B?"

I'm not sure if this would be considered a failure or a mistake, and I don't really care. I just want my kids to feel comfortable taking risks in my classroom. This constant pressure to be perfect when perfect doesn't necessarily mean you have any idea what's going on. And for Newton's sake, quit quoting me wikipedia.

Maybe getting this out of the way early is a good thing. I am implementing capstones this year as a part of my assessment, and if I truly want my kids to go places with those, then they are going to have to take those risks and stretch those brains. I know it's scary and I know I am fighting a slightly inclined battle, but I truly feel like it's worth it.

And, really, I'm not good with crying.

*And by yesterday, I mean sometime last summer when I started this post and had to stop to get one of my children somewhere.

**Okay, first off, didn't you pay attention when I talked about grades and reassessment stuff??

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A 180 Photo Project

Last fall, Frank posted the beginning of his 180 Photo Project that was meant to document his school year by taking a picture of his classroom every day. Like so many things Frank does, I was completely inspired by this idea. How amazing to be able to truly peek into someone else's classroom. I really hope he keeps this going this year.

It's kind of funny as I sit here thinking about what types of things would be post-worthy. I would like to be able to say that out of my four classes per day, surely there is something awesome enough to take a picture of every day. And then the anxiety creeps in. What if there is a day where only a normal something occurs in every class? I worry about things like this!

Maybe this will keep me honest.

I, too, am using the Posterous app. A lot easier than I thought it would be, even though is seems to crash on me every once in awhile. Even the busiest, most technologically challenged teacher could do this. Take a picture. Write some words. Post.

So here it is, my 180 project.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Into the Ocean

Several years ago, I started teaching earth science. Like so many teachers, I tried to fit everything we could possibly know about earth systems into 180 days. I was overwhelmed and my kids left shell shocked. The vocabulary alone sent more than one student into tears.

When we transitioned to a trimester schedule, I convinced my administration to let me break out my earth science into its components. So now, I have Geology, Meteorology, Astronomy and Ocean Science as separate classes. The plan was to add in an Environmental Science and Climatology in a couple years, but a series of scandalous events found Chemistry taking up all my "extra" time slots.

Ocean Science has turned into my biggest challenge yet. As it turns out, not too many teachers have a separate elective entirely devoted to the subject. This has made it a little more difficult to collaborate and find out what works best. That and my limited knowledge of the ocean doesn't help either.

I live a short drive to the geographic center of the (contiguous) United States, and as a result, am about as far away from any ocean that you could possibly get. As you might guess, many of my kids have only seen an ocean in pictures and have no real concept of its splendid enormity or it's important impact on them.*

This puts my kids in a pretty unique position when they walk in my room. For one thing, this isn't something they have ever really learned about. There is no review in my class; everything is new. The flip side of that is that everything is new and pretty darn interesting.

I have had this class for a couple years now and am at least a little more familiar with the material. This is my year of the ocean and my plan is to really think about how to approach it. This has been a lecture class for the most part with some labs thrown in. Makes me want to cry. Ideally, I would like to use more of a modeling approach and have kids discover these ideas through observations and data interpretation. Again, without an actual ocean, that makes it a little more difficult.

So I started with my standards. Then I rearranged them. Then I rewrote them. I am sure they will change before the year is out. I need a new verb as there is a whole a lot of describing going on. I am finding it much more difficult to write standards for my earth sciences. These classes are based more on big ideas than skills and so the target for assessment doesn't seem to be as cut and dried, as well as a lot more subjective. At the same time, this makes for wonderful opportunities for students to connect ideas together.

One concept I don't have written up yet is Humans and the Ocean. I want kids to make connections between how humans impact and are impacted by the ocean. I have an idea that this will sort of be like a capstone for each unit, but haven't really fleshed out a plan for that yet.

So, here's what I got...

Unit 1 Water Movement
1.       I can describe the relationship between global wind patterns and the horizontal and vertical circulation of the oceans.
2.       I can explain the causes of El Nino and La Nina and their effect on world climatic patterns.
3.       I can describe the effects of upwelling and downwelling on various populations.
4.       I can distinguish between deep-water, shallow-water and transitional waves.
5.       I can describe the process of refraction as it relates to coastlines.
6.       I can describe the effects of storm surges and tsunamis.
7.       I can use the equilibrium theory of tides and the dynamical theory of tides to describe diurnal, semi-diurnal and mixed tides at various locations on Earth.
8.       I can explain how the Moon-Sun-Earth alignment affects tidal patterns.
9.       I can describe why tidal bores, ebb and flood currents and maelstroms may occur.

Unit 2 Water Properties
1.       I can recognize the factors that affect the density of seawater.
2.       I can describe the factors that affect the salinity of ocean water.
3.       I can predict and explain the changes in salinity, density and temperature of the ocean at different depths and latitudes.
4.       I can describe the significance of dissolved nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide.
5.       I can describe the molecular structure of water and relate it to the properties of water.

Unit 3 Productivity
1.       I can list and describe the marine classifications by light in terms of wavelength penetration, photosynthesis and bioproductivity.
2.       I can contrast the bioproductivity of the tropical, mid-latitude and polar oceans in terms of temperature, density, accessibility, upwelling and nutrient availability.
3.       I can describe the pelagic and benthic zones in terms of depth, proximity to shore, photosynthesis, key physical factors and limiting factors.
4.       I can describe the coral reef environment in terms of key organisms, bioproductivity, physical factors and key limiting factors.

If anyone out there does something similar, or if you know of someone who does, I would love to hear from you.

*I had a plan to take my kids to the ocean as part of their final. My principal laughed until he realized I was serious.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chemistry Standards 2012

Alright. Here they are. These are my newly updated chemistry targets. 

One thing I changed from before is the wording. Each one is now written as an "I can" statement. I started this last spring and simply changing the words "the student will..." was an amazing psychological shift for my kids. 

Right now, my total stands at 31. This seems like a LOT of standards. However, ten of these are lab skills that are assessed nearly every time we do a lab. Since these are assessed in a different way, I'm not sure if they fully count toward the total or not. 

The standards preceded by * are my gold standards. No zeros allowed on these if you want to get credit for learning chemistry. As of now, I have ten. 

Lab Skills
1. I can identify the hypothesis to be tested, phenomenon to be investigated or the problem to be solved. (ΔHS.1.2.2a)
2.  I can identify the tested variables and conditions to be kept constant during an investigation. (ΔHS.1.2.2b)
3.  I can communicate the details of an experimental procedure clearly and completely. (ΔHS.1.2.2c)
4.  I can record and represent data in a meaningful way. (ΔHS.1.2.2d)
*5.  I can analyze laboratory data in order to clarify the questions, hypotheses or methods of an experiment.
6.  I can use common mathematical functions to analyze and describe data. (ΔHS.1.3.3b)
7.  I can use statistical data analysis techniques. (ΔHS.1.3.3c)
*8.  I can report data and calculations in a precise and accurate manner.
*9.  I can use equipment properly and safely. (ΔHS.1.3.3f)
10.  I can follow all lab clean-up procedures.

Physical Properties of Matter
1.  I can define mass, volume and density in terms of a substance's particles.
*2.  I can apply the Law of Conservation of mass.
3.  I can apply density as a conversion factor between mass and volume.

Energy and States of Matter
*1.  I can represent at the particle level, the characteristics (motion, spacing and arrangement) of particles in different phases of matter. (ΔHS.2A.2.a)
2.  I can relate the temperature of a substance to the average kinetic energy of its particles. (ΔHS.2A.2.1)
3.  I can predict the effect on a gas of changing pressure, volume or temperature on any of the other variables.
*4.  I can recognize energy as a conserved, substance-like quantity that is always involved when a system undergoes change.
5.  I can describe the energy transfer between a system and it's surroundings during a phase change. (ΔHS.2A.2.1b)

Describing Substances
1. I can distinguish between mixtures, pure substances, elements and compounds.
2. I can separate a mixture into its component substances.
3. I can use Avagadro’s Hypothesis along with combining volumes of gases to deduce the composition of some compounds.
4. I can describe the Law of Definite Proportion and the Law of Multiple Proportions.

Atomic Structure
1.  I can determine the number of protons, neutrons and/or electrons in an atom or ion.
2.  I can calculate the average atomic mass of an element
3.  I can write the orbital diagram or electron configuration for an atom or ion.

1.  I can distinguish between ionic, molecular and atomic solids. (2A.2.2c)
*2.  I can name and write formulas for ionic compounds. (2A.2.3b)
*3.  I can name and write formulas for molecular compounds. (2A.2.3c)

Counting Particles
1.  I can determine the molar mass of an atom or compound.
2.  I can convert between the number of particles and the moles of an atom or compound. (2A.3.2)
*3.  I can convert between the mass and the moles of an atom or compound. (2A.3.2)
4.  I can determine the empirical formula and/or the molecular formula of a compound.

Chemical Reactions
1.  I can describe chemical reactions in terms of the microscopic behavior of atoms. (2A.3.1)
2.  I can write balanced chemical equations. (2A.3.1a)
3.  I can describe endothermic and exothermic reactions in terms of storage or release of chemical potential energy. (2A.2.3d)

*1.  I can calculate the masses (or number of moles) of reactants and products in a chemical reaction from the mass (or moles) of one of the reactants or products. (2A.3.2)
2.  I can determine the limiting reactant of a chemical reaction.
3.  I can determine theoretical and percent yield of the products of a chemical reaction. (2A.3.2)
4.  I can determine the partial pressure of a particular gas in a mixture.
5.  I can predict the moles of another reactant or product when given the temperature, volume and pressure of a gaseous reactant or product. (2A.3.2)
6.  I can relate the molar concentration (molarity) of a solution to the number of moles and volume of the solution. (2A.3.3)

Okay. Hit me. 

What am I missing? Does everything (anything) make sense? I tend to get stuck on wording and edit things to death, so if you have any wording that would be better, please let me know. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

I Really Should Pay More Attention

So I am sitting here trying to figure out the best way to incorporate Capstones into my chemistry class. I am mostly doing this by studying what John and the Minions are doing in their classroom. I am definitely requiring these this year, I just hope that I can help guide my kids enough so they are able to do the assignment, but little enough that it is still their project.

What I had not noticed in John's post was a link to Kelly (a year ago today) where she describes how she grades her physics classes. If I had noticed this when it was posted, I could have saved myself quite a bit of work. As it happens, a lot of what she does is what I ended up with. Only better. Seriously, how did I miss this??

I like that she has a No Data option as well. I have had kids who could use an entire piece of paper to not answer a question.

I adore her checkoff list. This is something I have struggled with when a skill appears multiple times on the same assessment. I have always sort of made a judgement call on which number to actually assign. I had never thought about just assigning the lowest score, but that makes a lot of sense, especially when you allow reassessments.

I think I understand how she figures her scores into a final grade, but I am pretty sure I need something more cut and dried. I am trying to convince my admin to let me do this, and if he has to stop to figure it out, I'm not sure it will fly.

All in all, I am loving this set up. I think my big roadblock right now is how my standards are written, but hey, I have a whole week to get that figured out :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Revising My Grading One (?) More Time

I am in my classroom for the first time since May.

I switched over to standards based grading a few years ago, and while I love the way it sets up my classroom, I have yet to find that perfect balance. I have been grading on a 4 point scale and I don't like it. This seems to be the most popular set up, but for me, it has just turned into a nightmare.

Assigning a 1 means you don't get it. Did you totally get it? Good, you get a 4. What if you just made a minor error? Okay, 3.5. But what if you started out like you knew what was going on and then wandered off somewhere? Is it a 2? Did you explain it well the other day during whiteboarding? Maybe it should be a 3.

This is where I really start to have issues. I found myself so often making a judgement call as to whether or not I thought the student really got it.

I am totally intrigued with the binary set up that some are moving towards. This makes it more black and white. You either get it (1) or you don't (0), right? The problem is that I do like a little bit of gray, kind of a light at the end of the tunnel. Some kids just aren't quite there yet and I am a bit nervous about a 0 being taken the wrong way.

So here's what I got:

2 = You got it. No errors, you have mastered this idea.

1 = You are on the right track. There may have been some errors, be it in the arithmetic, set-up, units*, but you at least seem to have an idea about what is going on.

0 = Yeah, you don't get it.

Is this still binary or do we call it tertiary? I'm not sure, but I am pretty excited about getting rid of that middle ground.

Part two of my overhaul involves how I mold this into a letter grade. In my 4 point system, I counted two grades for each standard. The highest mark received was added to the most recent mark. This worked out to being a percentage out of 8 total points for each standard. This worked okay. Some kids never seemed to really understand how their grade was figured, even when I had the keep track on their own.**

With this system, I am going to drop the highest and go with only the most recent. There are few things more frustrating than kids thinking they can forget everything after the test. And so much of what we do in chemistry builds on itself that I can't really allow that to happen.

Now comes the translation. I am still playing with this for a couple of reasons.

First, this is where the only resistance I have ever had from my principal comes in. I am having an incredibly difficult time getting him to let me move away from percentages. I'm not sure why. Well, okay, I'm sure he believes he will have to field more calls from parents. I'm going to hit him up again tomorrow after I finalize my system.

Which brings me to the hard part. Here's my thinking.
*Three or more 0 can't get you through the class.
*0 on any objective and the majority of the other scores are 1 = D.

Now here's where I get stuck. There are some ideas in chemistry that simply must be understood. Conservation of matter, lab skills, nomenclature. (There are more, I am working on my list.) These are the "gold" standards. You must have a 2 on all of these to get an A or B.

*2 on all gold standards, 0 on any objective and the majority of the other scores are 2 = C.
*2 on all gold standards and no more than two 1 on the others = B.
*2 on all standards and and at least two capstone projects = A.

This could change. I am rewriting my objectives today so that they fit more into this grading scheme and also so they are easier to understand. I am thinking I will have 10 gold standards and probably another 12-20 others. (Going to have to call them "blue" I suppose, school colors and all.)

What do you think? Does this even make sense? Is it too hard to follow?

*Not labeling numbers are killing my kids. From here on out, you can't convince me that you have mastered the idea until you label everything. I am pretty sure someone wrote about this at some point this summer, but I can't seem to locate that post. Whoever you are, thank you for putting that out there!

**Of course, an alarmingly large portion of that group didn't know where any of their percentages came from.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wading into ePorfolios

I hate giving tests. I'm not good at writing them, so they don't measure what my kids know. Said kids try to cheat as much as they can in order to show me what their neighbor knows. I never know what to do while giving a test, so I kind of wander around in my squeaky shoes. Even if I use the same test I did last time, I can never find my key. Did I mention that I don't think it's a good way to measure what they know?

A couple years ago, in the interest of finding a way to alternately assess, we started blogging in a couple of my classes. At first it was mostly just a place to answer questions instead of writing on paper. That was okay, but I wanted it to expand into something more more. We did a lot, but not as much as I would have liked. I have mentioned my inability to write driving questions, but my main issue is the availability of computers at any given time. We are not a 1:1 school, but we have three computer labs available to schedule. The problem comes when I have them scheduled for Tuesday, and we end up needing them on Monday. That lag time has kind of done me in, so our blogging experience has been shaky at best.

This year, we kind of accidentally moved away from blogging by setting up websites. My plan was to have kids summarize each learning target on their sites and then link back to their blogs and other pieces of amazingness that they may have created. The kids I had this year struggled so much with the technology* that we dropped the blogs and focused on the sites. Each kid created a site and I had them create a page for each unit.

I loved the way this got set up. There was a place for everything and I didn't have to keep track of paper. I can't tell you how refreshing that is, although I will admit I did miss the practice of actually writing out comments. A little weird, I know. I ended up using pearltrees to keep all my sites in one place because I did a lot of my grading at home on my own computer. The only problem I had was where to put the comments so my kids could access them easily. We use PowerSchool and it has a comment section, but I'm not sure how much I like that. I am definitely trying out BlueHarvest this fall.

Of course, I had grand visions of kids creating their own spaces, but up until the very last week of school I had kids convinced that I wanted them to create a dictionary. A copied and pasted dictionary. It was so frustrating. I couldn't get them out of that comfort zone of regurgitating everything they could find on wikipedia. I finally got a touch of the amazingness I was looking for on their final projects when they had to correlate local rock formations and tie it all in to every unit. There was some true critical thinking going on. Again, driving questions anyone???

If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed how Terie and Chris have their classes set up and applied it to mine. There are some parallels, but I have a sneaking suspicion that their sites will come in very handy this summer when I sit down to polish up my own.

I really like this idea, especially with my earth science classes. Chemistry, I'm not so sure about, simply because I feel like they need to have that lab notebook experience. I can't decide if it would be worth the time to recreate it on the web. I think this next year, I will focus on my other classes and become more comfortable with the process before I have all my classes switch over**.

*Yes, I have kids who struggle with Google. Some days I have a hard time comprehending this.

**You have no idea how hard it was for me to write that sentence! I have never been one to ease into anything.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Oh Yeah, I Have a Job

I have not had a school thought since May 25.

Haven't even missed it.

My plan this summer was to spend a little bit of time every day and get ready for school in the fall*. I have so many things I want to do differently that I simply can't wait until August to start fixing them unless I want to ed up in a straight-jacket somewhere.

So it's been a little bit of a struggle getting back into chemistry mode today. I am back at a short Modeling Workshop this week looking at the new chemistry units 4, 5 and 6 that were revamped last year. The old sequence just kind of skimmed over quite a bit of crucial information but still expected kids to figure it all out. The new units go back and add in a little bit of filler to help bridge the gap from macroscopic observations to more microscopic.

Unit Four discusses the difference between mixtures and compounds. The Modeling still skims over those in a series of demonstrations/notes that didn't do it for my kids. I added in a mixture identification/separation lab last year to help kids visualize and practice those techniques. Plus they needed the practice. My kids come to me with horrible lab skills and this is an easy one for them to practice with. There was also a general consensus about kids not being able to recognize a mixture, pure substance, element or compound in a particle diagram. I had a hard time trying to figure out how in the world I messed up this section so badly that they couldn't do that, but apparently it wasn't just me, so I am not sure where this confusion comes from or how to clarify it. To me, it seems so simple, but apparently to teenagers, I might as well be teaching string theory.

Then we get into the law of definite proportions and the law of multiple proportions. The transition from relative mass to the mole is much smoother and I think it flows a little better for kids. They still have a hard time with using the relative masses to show the laws, but that is something I can help them through fairly easily. I have an idea for a lab, but it is not fleshing out as completely as I'd hoped. I'll come back to that.

We still have a few issues to hammer out tomorrow, namely the idea of how the molar masses of the elements came about. We spent a good amount of time today trying to figure out how to do the calculations on Worksheet 1 in Unit 5 and we still did not come away with a clear understanding of how to explain it. Basically, it compares several elements' mass ratios in their oxides to each other and in turn compares those masses to the mass of hydrogen in water. The problem is that hydrogen does not combine in a 1:1 ratio so it throws all of our calculations off. We can't seem to find a way to explain how the ratio is accounted for in the calculations in a way that doesn't seem to say "just believe me". If I can't get a grasp on it, how am I supposed to expect kids to?

So question for you....how do you explain relative mass? Does anyone out there have an amazing activity that lets the kids manipulate stuff? If you do, please share.

Have any of you done a test run with the new materials? How did it go? Did you do anything amazing to help kids get it? ASU (and I) would really like some feedback about any problems or successes you may have had!

*Looking back, this seems that this is my plan every summer. How is it that I never seem to get this done???

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