Saturday, November 26, 2011

Taken from my new tumblr

Hi, my name is Peter, and I'm really interested in the ways the internet is changing the world. After reading a lot about the ways DIY Education people are really utilizing social networks to learn and better themselves, I felt I should jump on that bandwagon.

A bit about myself, I'm a 26 year old graduate student in Tacoma, working as a mental health worker and tutor. I attend the University of Washington's Tacoma campus, and am finishing my Masters in Education with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction. I initially started the program seeking to be a science and math teacher, but after a really terrible experience student teaching, I realizing that perhaps teaching in conventional public schools wasn't for me. I then began reading about the DIY Education movement, Edupunk, and all that amazing stuff, and have since realizing that as the schools continue to consistently fail students by pursuing this testing paradigm, a lot of kids are taking their learning into their own hands. Occupy Wallstreet is a prime example of that- nobody is teaching those kids how to be revolutionaries, or teaching them anything about social justice. Their schools have been training them to be test taking drones so they won't get screwed over by NCLB. So, where is this coming from? The internet. The internet is teaching people how to be human beings, how to recognize oppression and injustice, how to network with others, and how to better yourself without any adult. Information literacy is probably the most important thing a kid can learn in schools, but right now the general mood is to cut as many electives as possible, while ramming test taking skills down their throats, all with the hopes of getting better funding, which is currently a pipe dream in most districts.

The world is changing, and education must change with it. Khan Academy is one example of how technology can really change the way students learn, at least in mathematics. If you take the Khan Academy math curriculum seriously, you can teach and test yourself on any number of mathematics curricula, and if paired with a tutor or teacher, the chance of you really getting a good understanding of this stuff is increased. Furthermore, the data culture of Khan Academy allows for amazing troubleshooting ability for teachers- where previously they were stuck with just knowing that Billy got questions 2, 5, and 6 wrong on the test, they can now see that he spent 2 minutes on 2, and 5 seconds on 5 and 6, and what those problems were, and so forth and so on. Furthermore, Billy won't be able to pass onto the next concept until he has shown mastery of the concept, which involves getting a streak of 10 questions correct. He might need to do 50 problems to get that down, but by the time he's got that, chances are he really understands that.

That's just one way the tools of the information age are changing schooling. I envision a student centered school, where the first few hours of the day are spent doing the basics, reading, writing, mathematics, and then the next few hours are spent with students working online to connect with experts in various fields, get internships, and take ownership of their own education, rather than letting the neighborhood they grow up in determine the quality of their educational experience. A student interested in automotive repair might connect with some auto technicians currently working on higher level certifications. A student who has a learning disorder might connect with other people on a newsgroup and exchange ways of coping with their disorder and successfully learning difficult concepts. A student interested in astrophysics would seek out doctoral students as mentors, and students interested in social justice might seek out activists and political bloggers. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but now we have the entire planet, and with the internet, experts everywhere are willing to mentor and connect with people across the globe. It is a crime that with this amazing tool, students are being forced to learn prescribed curricula that teaches to tests (that are not particularly valid or reliable) designed to determine the economic strength of a country.

I met a high school librarian recently. He worked in a poor district, but had been given a grant to recreate the school's library, turning it from some dusty place with untouched books and sleeping teenagers to a large information center, complete with rows of computers. Now, when I see teenagers on computers, I expect to see facebook and flash games, but these were nowhere to be seen- instead, students were looking at websites and blogs. I asked him what he had done to make this happen, and he told me that his job was to collaborate with teachers to make web-quests that teachers could incorporate into their curricula. Students would learn how to google, how to review information, and how to analyze the validity of websites. He was teaching them how to learn without a teacher, a skill that too many people do not have, and instead see the only way to improve their lives is funneling money into the educational system, which, while providing nice letters behind your name, is no longer necessary.

So, that's what I'm all about. I don't know what I want to do with this passion, although over the next few months I intend to do a lot of research on the information age's impact on education as a focus for my Master's project. Perhaps that will give me some direction. In the mean time, I'd also like to teach myself how to do tech support and networking. I worked in IT years ago, and really enjoyed it, and as a personal project, as a sort of proof of concept that DIY education actually works, I would like to get some sort of network certification on my own, using the internet as a primary resource.

Anyway, if you are into DIY education, information literacy, virtual academies, information technology, networking, education, science and math education, academia, or are just a really interesting person, I want to talk to you.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Student teaching is done. I know I sort of stopped posting here, but it's because I really had no time. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as I didn't pass.

I went into science teaching because I had this amazing passion for science, and wanted to share with the world how amazing this stuff was. I was placed in a middle school in a rural area, and found that for the most part, students really didn't care. They were not self motivated, and the main focus became classroom management.

I am terrible at classroom management. I knew I would be, which was why I chose to try middle school first, hoping that by throwing myself to the lions, I would somehow survive and be better off for it. That was a mistake.

I was inconsistent on discipline, I became overwhelmed and missed stuff, I froze up and forgot the details of everything I had planned, and tended to be hyperfocused, meaning I often was very bad at juggling 20 things at once. The kids realized they could throw me off, and lost respect for me completely, and I lost what little control I had over the classroom. It was just bad.

So, that's it. I'm a terrible teacher. My ability to teach is good, but my ability to manage middle schoolers isn't. It's really frustrating, as I feel that both the students and I lost some amazing opportunities to do science, but very early on I lost a lot of faith in them- I did a DNA extraction lab, which was fairly advanced for their grade level, but I thought it would be a good experience for them to do a bit of real science. Well, after informing the students that they were not to drink the chemicals as they were toxic, one of the students did, and threw up. I lost a lot of hope at that point, and just decided to stay with more safe activities, and basing everything around the standards.

Still, the problems kept on getting worse and worse, and I got observed on a Friday the 13th, with my worst class. The observer told me that it wasn't going to work out, and I was placed back into a supportive role in the classroom, and my student teaching career was ended. I will not be getting my teaching certificate this year.

So, that leaves me in a very frustrating position. I realize that I lack many of the skills a teacher needs, so I question whether or not I should pursue student teaching again next year. The possibility of sub teaching for a while has been brought up, but most of the districts now require all subs to have a teachers cert, due to the overpopulation of unemployed teachers. If I am able to get a job as a sub teacher, I would possibly consider doing student teaching again, assuming I was getting better at classroom management. However, if that isn't working out, I'm looking at some other options.

No matter what the case, I intend to finish my masters degree. I'm practically done with it, I need a handful of classes, and then I will have the degree. However, the real conundrum is what I do after that. If I can't teach, that severely limits the possibilities for employment. There are textbook publishers, corporate trainers, and various administrative positions, but the competition for such jobs is insane.

One possibility that has been coming up more often than not is pursuing another MEd, and possibly a PhD, in school psychology. I have my BA in Psych, and over four years of children's mental health experience. If I were to do the school psychologist route, it would mean more schooling, but one thing I have realized is that I love being a student. I'm very good at it, and I'm honestly happiest when I'm learning and working with complicated, theoretical things. And a possible implication there is that perhaps I need to find a niche, where I can simply be an expert on something complicated. Chances are the best way to go about that is pursuing even more education, and throwing myself even further into debt.

Still, I stand by something my mother, a neurospecialist, told me- She started out as a floor nurse in a hospital, and was miserable, mediocre, and just bad. It sounds a lot like my student teaching experience. Eventually, she got her masters, and is now a movement disorder specialist, and is incredibly happy with her work. She, knowing me fairly well, things I'm exactly the same way- I need to just have my little niche where I can get away with being a bit of an odd absent minded scientist type, because, in the end, I know my stuff.

In any case, my goal for the next few months is to get in touch with people involved in various areas I'm interested in, and possibly pursue some internships or job shadows. I also hope to find some work doing research, as most graduate programs like to see that.

So, it looks like I'm back on square 1 again. I've learned a lot about my weaknesses and strengths, which is good. Still, this has been a pretty major blow, and despite all attempts to stay positive about it, I can't help but feel a bit down about it all. That, and I just lost another grandparent. This year has been very bad for grandparents- I have lost three this year, at a rate of one per three months, almost like clockwork. The one that just went was a huge inspiration to me, a teacher turned college professor and war hero. I wanted to follow in his footsteps to some degree, although since he died I've realized that the reason he became a college professor wasn't because he was a teacher, it was because he was a genius at something. If I want to do that (which I do, I would love to teach at a college level, the idea of being able to get as abstract as I want and have consistently motivated and mentally capable students appeals to me greatly), I have to become great at something, so I suppose that is my next step, figure out what my passion is.

Thankfully, I have a head start on that- psychology. During my 4 years working in mental health, I got burned out. Rightfully so, the job was a mix of social worker and mental health worker, and was emotionally exhausting. Still, the problem was that it was a simple job- I was working in the trenches, and didn't really get to do any real counseling or psychoanalysis, the cool, interesting stuff. Having realized that, I want to get back to my dream of becoming a psychologist, one I had forgotten about after the burnout, and start my path towards fixing people's minds.

Anyway, that's where I am now. The world is open, and that's a very scary thought.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Well then.

So, I've been student teaching full time. It's like, week 4 or 5 in, and I'm really tired all the time. It's one of the most rewarding, purposeful, and fulfilling things I've done in my life, but at the same time I am also staying at the school till 4-6pm, arriving an hour early often, and waking up at around 5am. I make a ton of mistakes, but I learn from them, and am slowly becoming a decent teacher. Not a great teacher, that probably takes years at least, but I have an awesome cooperating teacher who has very high expectations of me. Which I like.

This is probably one of the best things that's ever happened to me. It is also by far the most stressful. I have next to zero free time, and I'm always somehow behind. At the same time, I'm also learning a lot of cool time saving tricks- google calendar with attachments is my latest one. It's great, I can LP from anywhere.

In any case, I've got things to do. I'll probably post a massive entry at the end of this ordeal.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Busy at teaching.

So, I'm in the midsts of week three of student teaching. Last week I got spring break, which was a much needed vacation, but frankly, I already need another, it feels like. I'm really getting into the full swing of student teaching, and the stress level is ridiculously high. I'm pretty much in survival mode all the time, it seems like, and then things just get more stressful. But at the same time, I do feel like I'm getting better, despite the cognitive load being massive.

I'm realizing I have a lot of problems as a teacher. But then again, that's what student teaching is for, to iron out those problems enough that you can become a real teacher. It's molding me into an entirely new species, and the process is exhausting and can seem almost traumatic at times. This is the hardest I have ever had to work, and despite me spending almost every waking moment either at the school or at my computer working on LPs, I still suck. Usually I'm able to master skills easily, and gain competency with ease, but this, this is genuinely challenging. I'm trying to think of it neurologically, like I'm just building the massive amount of connections needed to handle such a stimulating and mentally challenging job, and that helps a little, but at the end of the day, I still am faced with the reality that I didn't teach a certain topic as well as I should have.

But I must march on, and remember that I will improve. I'll post more when I have time.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The calm.

So, I have just completed my first full week of student teaching. The previous week I had a day off for a career fair, but this week I was there all 5 days, teaching 3-5 periods a day, usually around 4. I ran lessons, I disciplined kids, I learned a lot.

I'm now on spring break, which is very nice. I'm going to try to go on a little vacation to Portland at some point, but aside from that, I intend to lay low as much as possible and recouperate, maybe get some lesson planning done for the next two months. I've already planned two units out, and am working on the other two for science, whereas with math I'm a bit lost. I've planned a few lessons out, but due to my background and familiarity with science education, it's not nearly as easy.

My cooperating teacher has been giving me a lot of really good advice, and I've been doing my best to take it. The honeymoon phase has ended, and many of the kids seem rather neutral towards me, rather than the polite, pleasant youths I had gotten to know. I'm now witnessing all the different ways kids try to screw with teachers, which is... Exhausting. In fact, everything about teaching is exhausting at this stage. It's a very tiring job- I come home, and I just want to sleep. Some days I have a chance to, other days I go to meetings and make it home after 7. Still, there's a sense of purpose to it all, and a real want to make the educational experience as positive as possible for the kids- if it isn't, it'll be harder for everybody.

I have learned a lot of lessons, but I'll keep them off till another time. Right now, I'm just glad I survived my first week, and while I need this vacation, I really can't wait to get back into it. Also, I have recently found a goldmine of cool science videos and stuff, which, if I have time to filter through, I might post here. For those of you familiar with SA (somethingawful), they have a science thread on GBS. It's pretty cool.

Also, reading The World is Open and Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. Good stuff.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Student teachings.

So, I'm student teaching full time now. It's going well- today went amazingly well. Yesterday, I practically lost control of two periods, and just managed to finish everything. Every day I'm getting better, but there are still really awful periods to remind me that I've still got things to learn, which I am becoming more and more aware of on a daily basis.

A few things-
Let kids own their learning. Instead of doing regular notes for the immune system, one of the cooler body systems, I had them help me write a story about a gang of (they came up with the bad guys) who had a war with the police force. The students owned the story, and then I gave them the opportunity to just copy down the notes and summarize how the parts of the immune system work, or to make a story, comic, picture, etc, that got the gist of it down.

They owned it. It was amazing. They were motivated, and I saw some amazing work coming out of them that showed really strong understanding. Ironically, the students who tend to not get it as strongly did the generic notes, whereas many of the students who are either unmotivated or do the best academically did really amazing work. While I like foldable lecture notes, I'm thinking I should give them an option to design their own learning creatively more. It was my cooperating teacher who kind of spurred me in this direction, and she was wise to do so, as it is really helping me break free and find out my own teaching style, and how to make it effective.

Next thing is to eat well. I'm saying this on a grumbling stomach, but that's because I wasted a bunch of time catching up with family, which is a whole different type of self care. Still, I notice a major difference between me being well fed and me starving- although at the same time, I'm very worried about putting on weight as I don't have as much exercise time as I once did. That being said, I weigh 135 lbs last I checked, so I'm probably okay. Teaching really takes a lot of energy, and one of the things I'm noticing is I'm a pacer- I am constantly using proximity as a classroom management tool, and I really enjoy being dynamic and moving all around the classroom, it keeps the kids on their toes.

There are simple things, too- pause before picking on the first person that raised there hand. You always get the enthusiastic boy that loves to answer stuff, but after a few seconds, you might get someone else. Another thing, if a student asks a question, don't address them directly. Tell the entire class what they just said, so you don't lose them. It took me a while to realize that, but it's painfully obvious.

I wish I had a list of these painfully obvious things.

Anyway, I need to sleep.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Student teaching.

This marks the end of my first week of full time student teaching. It's been a blur, and it hasn't even been a full week, as Thursday I went to a job fair. Even so, it's been exhausting, and a massive learning experience, despite it being one of the hardest weeks of my life.

Wednesday, I had classes fall apart. They barely got their notes done, and in one class, they didn't even get to that. I was nervous, I couldn't get control, and it was just a mess. However, today, I managed to yell. I've been afraid to use my voice, as I am a very soft spoken person, but I managed to raise it enough to grab their attention, and continue the lesson. I hate doing that, as it feels like using a grenade when the problem is solvable by a few well aimed strikes, but it worked. The classes got where they needed to be, and while they were shocked to hear nice Mr. J yelling, they got the work done. I need to get better at this, though, as raising my voice really kills it. Hell, just talking at a moderate volume for too long does that, so I'll just have to be careful.

The job fair went very well. I went in with my online education viewpoint, and with a few districts that had online education, networked very well. In fact, one gentleman from Tacoma tracked me down and we had a chat- it's a good sign when they're trying to find you. My goal for this weekend is to update my resume on all the online stuff.

I'm frankly exhausted. I was so stressed out earlier this week I got a nosebleed, and there have been other physiological symptoms of stress popping up. I can't wait for spring break, as even though today went very well, I need some time to decompress not only from the first few weeks of student teaching, but both my grandparents dying and finals week. One more week, one more week.

In the mean time, here's a science flash simulation I showed a few students who came in during lunch. It shows the relative scale of everything. It's really amazing.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Student teaching, week one.

So, I'm student teaching full time now, and I have free reign of the class for 3 periods a day.

It's kicking my ass. I'm not very good at classroom management, time management, discipline, lesson planning, formative assessment, thinking on the fly, and flexibility. Which is kind of the point, apparently. My cooperating teacher and I had a talk about how I did today, and she told me that if there were any red flags, I wouldn't be there. That being said, we both agreed that I have a lot of areas to improve on, but that's to be expected from a student teacher in his first week.

That doesn't mean I don't feel awful about not being able to teach these kids as well as I'd like, but at least I know the main three issues- I need to manage time better, learn how to discipline kids, and watch the kids more. All of these will happen with time. And then I hope I can keep up the energy and passion I have now (or at least before this week began) for my students. Although to be honest, this is the end of the honeymoon period. They know me well enough to start testing my limits, and I think I've been failing by them by not disciplining them, and part of that has been my lack of knowledge on the school disciplinary policies. I have since got them, so now I have that tool. Hopefully it will help.

One of the high points in the day was that several students came in to eat lunch in my room, wanting to hang out with me. So, I taught them about time dilation. It's one of the things that got me really into physics, and I learned it around their age. I hope I can spark the same passion in them.

Anyway, I watched Salman Khan's TED talk last night. I think the bricks and mortar school using the Khan Academy for math is awesome, but I'm curious to see how they do the other subjects.

That's all for now.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh hey, look. I'm on /.

Awesome. I love how the first comment descends into a microcosm of what's going on in the media with people saying that either teachers are valuable people and should be appreciated more, or that teachers are overpaid babysitters. There is some good advice there, though, and some of the comments I clicked on were highly insightful. I'll have to sift through them this weekend. Plus, a few people have emailed me personally, which is very thoughtful of them.

First day of student teaching. I'm already planning for math. Graphing systems of inequalities, then functions. This should be fun. Then I have a full week of planning more with functions and whatnot, and then spring break.


Friday, March 18, 2011

An apology for Salman Khan

So, my head professor just sent me this youtube video critiquing KhanAcademy's science portion. I proceeded to watch it, then send my professor a lengthy email back, but it has since got me thinking about online education. As stated before, I am a huge supporter of online education, but with science, there is a unique problem- how to address misconceptions. Khan Academy does not really address misconceptions in what science videos of his I've watched, and while they are a great refresher for me as an adult with a good science background, I do feel that they might not be ideal for students as a sole source of science education.

But then again, I've never felt that KhanAcademy alone should teach students. There will always be a place for that one on one, human interaction. It is always amazing to see a student who has been struggling with material for a while finally come to you for help, and after a minute of pointing out misconceptions, they immediately understand it. KhanAcademy can't do that, but there are still strengths. It is good for review, or an alternate representation of material for students who are having difficulties. Once the initial misconceptions have been dealt with, I think they are great for providing information. Also, the fact that they are freely available on youtube is an added bonus. Their math videos are very intuitive, and he is a phenomenal lecturer.

But most students need a bit more. And that's why it's important to have someone who can help them through it, and troubleshoot their difficulties directly. I think a lot of schools, both online, and bricks and mortar, fail. Often times, in a class of 32 students, a teacher doesn't have time to address individual misconceptions, and students, sensing this, simply don't ask. However, if there was a way to cut down lecture time and simply focus on misconceptions and specific learning barriers, I think students would be better off.

That's my dream of online education, a plethora of amazing information for students to access that appeal to all sorts of learners, while there are staff available to guide students through their difficulties. KhanAcademy is a great single resource, but there are so many others out there.

I recently submitted an article to /. about online science resources for kids. Hopefully it'll get published, and I'll gain some cool stuff to use with my students. My cooperating teacher has sent me a few worksheets and labs, some of which are from university science departments and are amazingly well written and freely available, but it seems that these resources are rarely in a central location, which seems incredibly illogical- Wait, I decided to google it, and found the Open Directory Project Science Ed section. Cool. I'm sure there's more stuff, but from what I saw, that was cool. However, what I *really* want to find are citizen science things, not just worksheets and whatnot. I want stuff like galaxyzoo, where kids are helping astronomers classify galaxies, or, where students are learning how to fold proteins, and their results are actually used in science. Anything like that is right up my ally as far as things I would love to get students involved in.

But then again, anything and everything helps. As a beginning teacher, I'm realizing I'm not the best activity designer, and while practice makes perfect, I see no need to reinvent the wheel. If some people at the University of Ohio's genetics program have made an amazing genetics lab aimed at 8th graders, I think it'd be a crime to substitute my haphazard attempt when a superior one is available. Teaching is an open source medium, the only goal is to provide the best learning experience for your kids, and it's wonderful how willing people are to freely share their stuff.

Of course, this could segue easily into a rant about educational materials publishers, but I'd rather not get into that right now.

Also, I found out from a friend that he's reading this blog. I'm mostly writing this for myself, but if there's anyone out there who is reading this, I'd love to know so I can start answering questions, or addressing issues they're interested in. Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear from you.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Also, youtube time.

It's been a while since I've posted any youtube stuff, but here's a few cool things that I want to show the sci-math-tech class, if there's ever time. They usually watch mythbusters, but I think this stuff is actually cooler.

Jamie, a super-villain in the making, who is building a giant robot in his mountain bunker, that he made himself. I love me some mythbusters, but this guy is just crazy awesome. Plus, he's building a giant robot. In a forest bunker. With mostly stuff he engineers himself. What part of completely awesome does that not encompass? None.

Also, some PhD students sent a smartphone to space on the (semi) cheap. I always love seeing the curvature of Earth from space.


I am a science-Peter.

So, my sister drew me something for my blog, and I really like it. I have a few other sketches people have done, and eventually I want to set up a rotating banner, when I have a bit of free time to scan them and resize everything.

Commission, "Science Peter" by ~TheJung on deviantART

Things have been really busy lately. I am student teaching 3 days this week, which is also finals week. If I am not asleep, I am busy. I have very little time to myself, but hopefully once student teaching starts I will be able to cordon off a little bit more me-time. Student teaching starts next week, although I will miss a day due to a mandatory job fair. The following week, I finally student teach for an entire week, and then I have spring break to recuperate from everything. It will be hard going away from grad school, which has been my life for the past 9 months, my cohort, a small group of 17 that have become like family to me, and a lead professor who has been both a hard taskmaster and an insightful mentor, but student teaching will keep me busy.

I went to a job fair Monday, which was a lot of fun. I went to employers with the very directed question- "Do you have an online academy?" Against my expectations, about 50% of them said yes. I even met the principal of one, and he wrote "ischool" on my academy, and I will be emailing him soon.

Oh, wait, I haven't talked about online academies in depth yet, have I?

So, online academies. For one of my projects, I had to do a wiki article about a subject of my choice. I chose online academies, as having done IT work in the past and being a huge computer nerd, online anything generally equates to better anything in my book. So, in my research, I actually visited an online academy and got to geek out with the staff, who really reminded me of an amalgamation of IT people and teachers. The building itself was half classroom, half server room, and while a lot of things were still in development, I was very impressed with what I saw. I don't believe online learning is for all kids, but I do feel that a lot of kids benefit from that type of learning over general school learning, and that this online academy did a very good job at keeping the kids motivated by requiring usually one day at the bricks and mortar location per week, and using a vast array of software to help meet students learning needs.

So, going there was sort of like going to Disneyland. Then, I hooked up with the information literacy people, and realized that information literacy and online academies could work amazingly together. That grew to be my general spiel for talking with districts that had online academies. Other districts I just learned about, and there were some that were really interesting.

However, just today, I attended a site counsel meeting where they talked about the state budget. Even with my math and science endorsements, I really can't be certain if I'm going to get a job, much less find work at an online academy. I would go into a political rant about how they need to fund schools better, tax the wealthy, and give teachers free awesome cybernetic implants that allow them to see students brainwaves in real time, but that can come later.

In any case, I'll keep on trucking. I know my niche, and if I don't get there immediately, it's something I will continue to aspire towards, keeping up on the latest news and developments with.

In the mean time, I've been taking over more and more classes. Today, I taught 3 periods, and co-taught the final period, which I will be co-teaching for all of my student teaching, due to the heavy machinery in the classroom that I am not certified to oversee the operation of.

Things I've learned recently, negative first:
-Let students figure things out. Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. Even in math. If it's an important concept, let it take a while longer to sink in. I had planned an inquiry activity to help students understand why you flip the inequality sign when you multiply or divide by a negative, but I ended up just giving them an example and showing exactly why the numbers didn't fit anymore, rather than letting them figure it out. I think I was so worried about time that I just lost out on a really good teaching opportunity.

-Be willing to discipline. If a student is disrupting learning by being a twerp, send him out.

-Learn how to deal with when students come up to do math equations. They might be confident in their work, but when they mess up, it's very embarrassing. A girl did that, so I had her identify what she did wrong, then had another girl come up and try it, but the girl who came up is very sensitive. I talked with her a bit after class, and she seemed fine, but I want to make sure she is still willing to come up in the future.

-Be careful with the caffeine. I've been drinking a LOT of it lately, and it's not doing good things to me. I'll just leave it at that. Part of it is having finals week along with 5am wake ups, but once I start student teaching, I will really have to work on figuring out a sleep schedule that keeps me going without having to drink a 5 hour energy (intense shot), a caffeine drink, a large cup of tea, and a cup of coffee in a day.

-Do not use the word 'lecture' with middle schoolers. I informed them that I would be giving them a quick lecture on something, and they flipped out. I explained that it was just a discussion, and that calmed them, but now I know that using the 'l word' is not okay with that grade.

The good!

-Note student's skills and interests. A few cheerleaders were in the back of class, practicing a cheer. We had just studied blood, so I asked if this was 'the blood dance.' They proceeded to put together a quick 'b-l-o-o-d!' hand motion cheer. When I saw them again in 6th period, I asked them to do more, so I let them get their science notebooks and start using the vocab words to put together a cheer which they will get to perform before the exam. They are not getting any grades for this, but they are so psyched.

-Let kids know that you care about their learning, and that you want them in your class. That means a lot to them.

-Talk about stuff you're passionate about. Today was a more relaxed worksheet day, so a few kids finished early. They wanted to throw a ball around class, and I told them to mention areas of science they were interested in. Minutes later, I was explaining the Large Hadron Collider with them. I later overheard my cooperating teacher saying, "Wow... I could learn stuff from him." The few students I had were completely engaged, and wanted to learn more. I told them to start reading Scientific American online. It was a really great moment, and I want to make more moments like it. With 8th grade, the standards don't cover a lot of really amazing stuff unfortunately, but if you can find time to bring it up, it's totally worth it. In fact, that cool technology-modern applications bit is something I want to incorporate as much as possible, even if it does occasionally require more standing and delivering, which is not in vogue right now.

-Let students into your life a bit. Don't be afraid to tell them little tidbits of your life, so long as they are appropriate. They want to know you, so let them know you, so long as it doesn't interfere with learning.


-Keep student learning as your bottom line. If something is helping learning, great. If not, it has to go.

So, that's where I am. On the horizon, I have lesson planning to learn, classroom management to master, and assessment to acquire. And always, I could be better. That's what's fun about it. I told my cooperating teacher, that is one of the things I like the most about teaching, is that it's challenging. I tend to learn things very quickly, and gain some degree of competency at them with ease. Academic work is rarely challenging, and if I take it at my own pace, it is usually very quickly digested. Teaching is a completely different realm, one that is molding me slowly as I try to master it. I love it.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Social justice, information literacy, and online education.

So, I recently started networking with some people in my area involved in social justice education, as well as some people working at online academies. I have a very strong passion for information literacy- that is the ability to find, evaluate, and utilize internet sources for educational purposes, believing that by creating an info-literate society, we can have a better educated populace. The standards focus that exists in so many schools often robs teachers of the ability to make the subject matter relevant due to a need to simply cover the gross amount of material stated in the standards so students will pass their tests, but often times that coverage lacks meaning and relevance to their lives.

That's where information literacy comes in. By finding ways to incorporate webquests that have students doing research online and utilizing the various resources the internet provides to construct their own learning, I feel they are better prepared for our wired world.

Anyway, I hooked up with some social justice people, who introduced me to a media specialist at a high school. His job is to incorporate webquests into curricula that teachers bring him. We talked for a while, and he said that with my passion, I should be getting a degree in library sciences, so I can do a job similar to his. It was amazing what he had done to the school library- it went from being a typical school library, empty most of the time, to a place that was full of students, with his office at the center of it- he described himself as the hub of information, and he was. He was often being interrupted by students asking for help with flash drives or trying to access websites that were being blocked by the school firewall. Most of the computers students were on were being used to research papers. It was amazing to see, and we both geeked out at how cool the setup was.

I want to do that, perhaps not on the same scale as him, (not yet) but with my own classes. I've got this crazy passion for teaching students how to become autodidacts using the internet, and while I realize that most students aren't going to become information addicts, I want them to at least understand how to do research online, and take their education into their own hands. I really feel that many schools fail kids- they do not teach them the skills they really need to succeed in any specialized field, or even the prerequisites, and so the responsibility falls on them. Many rich kids do well simply because their parents can afford to make sure they obtain the skills they need, but for the rest of the kids, they have to make their own opportunities, and the internet is probably the best resource they have for that.

I'm not saying kids need to stop going to school and start using the internet to learn everything*, quite the opposite. School is still important, and the role of the teacher is a very major one in terms of being a mentor, educator, and guide, but one of the skills I feel kids need the most these days is the ability to use the internet as a resource, and many teachers do not know how to make this happen, which is why media specialists like the one I met today are so handy.

One area where I feel this information literacy can fit in perfectly is online education. Another group of people I've been networking with are teachers at an online school in the district I'm student teaching in. We talked a bit about information literacy, and they were in agreement that it is something that needs to happen more, and a possible area that they could really enhance their curriculum. I'm beginning to think that, if I learn to really get good at teaching online literacy, I could make a portfolio based around online education and hopefully land a job, as ever since I started talking with the online school people, I've felt that's the direction I want to go. The idea of being able to work one on one with students, without being distracted by the entire class and the other problems that occur in a crowded building, you can get down to the nitty gritty concepts and address misconceptions more directly. That's not to say there aren't a ton of problems with online academies as well, I just have this huge passion for educational technology that makes me feel like this might be a really good place for me in the future.

On an unrelated note, I love how open source teaching is. Teachers, very often, love to share their stuff. Whenever I go up to a teacher and inform them of my status as a newbie teacher, they ask me if I have a flash drive, then proceed to fill it with every lesson plan they have. It's a great boon for fresh teachers, especially when they have great worksheets and activities. Saves a ton of time, as I don't see why I should reinvent the wheel if something great is already out there for free. I wish there were some central internet hub for teachers where they could exchange standardized lesson plans, as the teacher websites I've seen that feature lesson plans tend to have them in no formal order, and the plans are either minimal and incoherent, or overly complicated and detailed. That's why I like getting them on flash drives, the teacher can usually explain their methods, and it becomes a lot easier to understand what's going on.

Anyway, I think that's about it. I'm sorry if this post seems a bit disjointed, my computer crashed halfway through, but thankfully blogger autosaves drafts, so nothing much was lost.

*See next paragraph, where I endorse online academies, where kids stop going to school and use the internet to learn everything.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lessons learned

So, I have bombed a few times, but every time I bomb, I learn something new. Here is a quick list of things I've found myself doing that other student teachers should try to avoid.

-Be aware of what students know. If you're only coming in a few days a week, and the teacher entrusts you with a lesson, don't assume to know what the students know and don't know. I tried to run an activity where students had to answer some questions. Turns out, they hadn't covered any of the material previously, so they were floundering, and I was so busy doing one on one help I didn't notice the entire class falling apart. So, figure out what they know. Formative assessment and unit context.
-Don't get distracted when you have the class's attention. I did that a few times today, where I used the attention-getting signal, then completely blew it by seeing a student raise their hand asking for help, and forgetting that, hey, I need to remind them to finish in 5 minutes.
-In math, if the students need to write out all their work, so do you. I was trying to do systems of equations in my head, and while I can do that to some extent, I still make mistakes. Better to write it out instead of making a fool of yourself.
-This is more geared towards middle schoolers, but applies to everyone: Don't assume they know what to do, because they don't. You need to be painfully explicit with directions. The really amazing thing is, they listen and obey most of the time.
-Learn when to ask for help, or when to separate students. Don't be afraid to ask students if they need to move. Often, they will say they do. If they aren't doing the work, move them. If they're making some noise, but the work is getting done, it's your call.

Also, after class, I visited a local online academy within my district. I've become acquainted with two of the staff there, and we enjoy talking. The bricks and mortar location is a strange mix between a server room and a classroom, and one of the teachers reminds me of an amalgamation of an IT guy and a teacher. The more I learn about these types of schools, the more I want to get hired in one. The idea of using web based education to create that hard focus on content matter is amazing, plus the idea of cutting out the classroom management and simply focus on curriculum design and personal motivation, that really appeals to me. With that in mind, I've decided to make that one of my ideal jobs, and steer towards district placements as much as possible. On the bright side, the connections I made at the online academy seemed very happy to help, as they really like to see someone who is there because they are passionate about that type of learning, not just because they got RIF'd. They also gave me some really good suggestions on how to enhance my resume, which I will probably pursue over student teaching if there's time, and if not, over summer.

Also, I'm meeting with some social justice educators about internet literacy tomorrow. I've been holding off my social justice post for a while, but once I've had that conversation, I'll probably have a cool post ready.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For lack of free time.

I know my last two posts have been fairly insubstantial, I'll try to get enough time to write something meaningful later. Still, this last week has been brutal. There was a comic book convention over the weekend, and I decided that, despite it being nearly finals week and the dark shadow of final projects looming over my head, I should go. So, in addition to doing 3 days of student teaching and 4 days of class, I took the challenge and plowed through several of my final projects, rendering them to rough draft form. I earned my comic con.

The con was great, it felt wonderful to reconnect with some old friends and be reminded of my life before grad school. Then, at the end of the con, I got news that my grandmother had died. I had known it was coming, but it still came as a shock- my grandpa on the same side had died a few months prior, and these things usually happen in pairs.

I took yesterday off, and went into class today. I crashed and burned for one period, which is bound to happen sooner or later, but improved by the next prep. I learned that I need to understand the context of student learning, and teach within those parameters- I went into the class not knowing what the students had covered, and expected them to be able to do work based on material they hadn't touched. The result was... Well, bad, and I didn't correct it in time. I learned. I feel awful, but I learned and applied it next period, which went much better.

I'm honestly getting to a point where I'm very tired, but grad school slows for nobody. I just want to get to student teaching, get through it in a positive fashion, and enjoy my summer.

On the bright side, I have started accepting 'Science Peters,' which are little doodles of me doing science. At the comic convention, I asked a number of artists to draw headers for this blog, portraying me doing science. I got a number of submissions, and will upload them eventually. If anyone reading this has any ideas, I'd be glad for them.

I have a lot of stuff to talk about, including open source teaching, social justice and the internet, and worksheet websites, but right now, I'm too tired to continue writing.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Still busy.

Got a working draft of 2 out of 3 final projects done today. About 20something pages of typing, and I'm dead exhausted. One was a report to put into a teacher wiki on Online Academies, while another is a genetics unit plan. One tidbit of the genetics plan I'm proud of I'll share here, although I should specify the situation: Unit on genetics, I've just defined the biological species concept, i/e a species is defined by organism's ability to produce viable offspring. Previously, in my cooperating teacher's class, we had done an activity where we used the story of an accident prone transhumanist boy named Sammy to get students thinking about the definition of life. Well, I decided to do one about his brother, Tommy.


Is Tommy Human?

Last Unit, we studied a boy named Sammy who throughout the course of his unlucky life, became a robot. We used the definitions of life to determine at which point he was no longer alive. Poor Sammy had a little brother, Tommy. Tommy was not quite as accident prone as Sammy, although he had weak bones due to a genetic disorder he was born with. In this activity, we will be studying Tommy to determine at which point he is no longer part of the human species. Use the definition of species to determine whether or not Tommy is human, and explain your answer.

At age 16, his doctor told him that there was an experimental genetic treatment that had just come out for his disorder. Tommy, excited at the prospect of being able to play sports without risking a broken bone, signed up, took the treatment, and his bones started growing stronger. Is Tommy human?

At age 18, Tommy got sick. The treatment to fix his bones had given him cancer, and the doctors, fearing a lawsuit, decided to cover any medical treatment he might need. One brilliant researcher determined that with enough resources, he could alter Tommy's genome so that his body would be able to fight off any cancer easily. Tommy received the treatment, and got better quickly. Is Tommy human?

By age 24, Tommy had gone to college for biology, and was working in a genetics lab, researching new treatments to alter human genetics. He created one that would allow his eyes to see much better than a normal human eye, and used it on himself. In the process, his Iris turned a pale white color, making him look strange, but he could now see an ant crawling across the floor, 40 feet away. Is Tommy human?

By age 36, Tommy was quite the sensation. He owned a genetic treatment company that he started with the money from his eyesight invention. He had developed a new treatment that would allow humans to breath underwater. Instead of being patient and testing it properly, he administered it to himself. It worked, although after properly testing the treatment, Tommy found out that any children he had with his wife had a 50% chance of not being able to breed, although Tommy was still able to have children. Is Tommy human?

By age 68, Tommy had tried all sorts of new genetic treatments on himself. His skin was a dark shade of green, as he could photosynthesize, and got his food from the sun. He was able to breath underwater, and hold his breath for over an hour. His mind was smarter than any person who had ever lived before him, and he could see in total darkness. He designed one last genetic treatment, one that would stop him from getting any older. The treatment worked, although he found out that as a side effect, he realized that any children he had would have a 100% chance of being unable to breed. Is Tommy human?

By age 153, Tommy left Earth with his brother Sammy, whose computer program had been uploaded into a spaceship. Tommy had received so many genetic treatments that he looked more like a giant spider than a person. He was so biologically different that he could no longer breed with humans, although he could produce fertile offspring with genetically enhanced creatures like him. Is Tommy human?


Thoughts? If there are any teachers reading, feel free to use it. Teaching is open source. Also, since I made progress, I get to see Shatner this weekend. I don't think I can afford his autograph, but I at least want to see the guy at some point in my life.


PS- Biopunk lesson plans has to be my favorite tag ever.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Sorry for not posting much. I went in Monday-Wednesday this week, and taught for at least 50% of that time. I've been making a lot of mistakes, but finding that when I teach the same lesson again the next period, the mistakes diminish greatly. I'm also getting a hang on classroom management, but seeing my cooperating teacher take the reins to teach something... It's humbling. Good teaching seems so effortless, but it really isn't.

Also, my final projects are all coming to a head, so that's eating up my free time. And there's a comic convention this weekend, and William Shatner is going to be there. I really would like to see William Shatner at some point in my life, so I've got to make it. If I can make good progress on one of my final projects by that point, I will allow myself to go. And frankly, I need a good distraction, these last few days have been some of the most stressful in recent memory. Thankfully, the head prof has acknowledged our stress, and is being understanding, bumping back due dates a few days here and there for sanity's sake.

Anyhow, I've got a lot to talk about, but right now, I'm far to exhausted. Thanks for reading.

Also, a little treat: Asteroid discoveries between 1980 and now. It's very pretty, and pretty awesome.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Professional development day

Last Tuesday was a district professional development day, which I attended. It was really interesting, as it seemed to not only serve as professional development and teacher education, but also a chance for staff to bond and get to know each other.

The first part of the day was devoted to talking about the issue of gays being bullied, and we watched a video about a particular boy who, after being heavily abused at school, and the administration doing nothing, sued the school and won. This hit pretty close to home, as I went to a pretty rough high school, and had a very close friend there who was gay. The result was bullying directed towards both of us, as our friendship was perceived as a relationship, and some of the instances the boy in the movie experienced mirrored some things I had gone through. It's good that school districts are making sure staff know about this, and the repercussions of doing nothing when it is brought to their attention.

Following that, we split into groups and discussed a bunch of teaching methods, some of which I talked about in the previous post about learning tools- card sorts and flip books. The other two were on explicitly teaching how to take notes and summarize, which was good information. Following that, we had lunch and I got to get to know the staff better, which was great.

After that, we talked about effective ways to teach boys, which more or less boiled down to, "If you don't use that energy, it gets used on you." Good advice.

Then people from the district showed up and analyzed test scores. I was working on some of the lab work from the water purity test, so I didn't really get much of that, but that was fine. Give me a task, lab goggles, and plenty of cool chemicals, and I'm in my element.

By the end of that day, I was just exhausted. Maybe I didn't get enough sleep the night before, or maybe the 3 day weekend was just evil for my sleep schedule, but the overall effect was that of me being simply exhausted by the time I got home, leading to me getting a good amount of sleep before Wednesday, which was a big day.

Anyway, this type of thing is something I hope they do at whatever school I end up working at, as it's beneficial to occasionally take a step back and analyze teaching practices and issues.


I am an idiot.

So, yesterday was my first day of full teaching. As I said to a teacher during lunch, "I know I'm going to make mistakes, but I'm really worried about the ones I don't know I'm doing."

Before first period, my cooperating teacher had some chest pains, and had to be taken to the hospital. She's quite alright, but I was tasked with running the classroom. Awesome. Because I don't have my teaching license, they had to have roving substitutes in the classroom, or staff on their planning period. That's fine.

First period was pretty chaotic. I didn't have her lesson plan, and I didn't know how to use a lot of the tools to successfully run the class. Plus, that class is fairly rowdy, but it managed to go over well enough. There was a quiet sub, a graduate from the K-8 certification program at the same university I'm in. A lot of subs I've met are from that program, which makes me very glad I'm in the secondary science program, from my understanding we get snatched up very quickly, and those that aren't are usually pining to work at a specific school.

Second period was planning. I got a text from the teacher explaining where all the lesson plan stuff was, and I understood what I needed to do.

Third period, a staff teacher on planning came in to watch me. He had a huge pile of tests to grade, and asked if I was comfortable teaching the class. That moment was very empowering, and I said I was. Awesome. So, I ran the class, and we got everything we needed to done, although we ran VERY close to the bell. Still, a massive success in my eyes.

Fourth period came along, which is a math/science block. Another staff teacher came in, and I told her that I was comfortable teaching this class, and she could grade papers.

That was a mistake. She went in thinking that she was going to co-teach, and I told her, in earshot of students, to grade papers. I did not mean to be insulting in any way, it was a miscommunication. I was stating to her that, "Hey, I've got this, don't waste your planning period on account of me!" She heard, "I don't need your help. Grade papers." Students apparently heard the same thing, and told another teacher about the incident, and it got around and ended up in an email from my cooperating teacher, stating she needed to talk to me about the incident in 4th period and how I spoke to Michelle.

But back to the day! Not knowing what I had done wrong, I moved to 5th period, where a substitute teacher worked on her laptop while I had the students do a math test, which lasted all period. Mean ol' Mr J making them do an horrible test.

6th period was the engineering class, which was pretty hard to control, but went fine. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and had a crazy drive home through the snow, only to find that my afternoon grad school class had been canceled. I went home and read that email, and spent most of the evening worried.

So, I emailed my placement coordinator about the situation, she helped me put it in perspective and told me to email the offended teacher an apology, and CC it to my cooperating teacher. I just did that, and I just received a reply from the offended teacher, explaining her perspective.

So, the lesson learned here is this: If you have a teacher that is watching you, realize that they might actually want to co-teach. The thought had never even crossed my mind, and I was so caught up in my excitement to actually be running a day that I wasn't even thinking about anything aside from what was going to happen in class.

So, I'm currently okay with that teacher, which is good. My cooperating teacher understands my perspective, and now I need to find out what teachers were told about me 'telling off' another teacher. While this is something I will have to atone for in some way or another, it was just a learning experience in which I learned to communicate with teachers. I assumed she would want to sit and grade papers for her own classes, and I was completely wrong.

So, hooray miscommunication nearly giving me a panic attack.

In the mean time, I'm snowed in, so I probably won't be back to the school till Monday, where I'll have to bring some sort of apology gift to the teacher. A nice bag of French Roast is probably a good idea, although if she doesn't like coffee, that could be a problem.

Anyway, that is a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can focus on my classwork. And, aside from that one issue, the day went fantastically. I was so grateful to get a full day of teaching in, and according to all who saw me, I did a pretty good job. I did have the lesson laid out for me, so that was useful, and the kids are conditioned to respond to a signal, and there is a solid behavior plan and expectations in place, so I am walking on the shoulders of giants, but I still feel I really did well.

And it was good to have a real scare. I've been getting close to burn out for a while, as the exhaustion of a full time classload, part time job, and teacher observation take their toll on me. But this managed to energize me and make me realize that I'm too lucky with my placement to go moping about.

Anyway, all's well that ends well.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching tools.

So, here are a few teaching tools I've observed, things that I really like and want to use in my teaching.

QoDs: Question of the days are great. They get students to get out their notebooks and start writing right away, and it gives you time to take roll. If they are occupied from the moment they step in from the hall, that definitely helps in keeping you from losing control right away.

Science journals: I can't emphasize how important these have been to students. Each student has a class journal that they use to put all their work in. It gives them a central location for all their notes, worksheets, project information, and everything else they may collect.

Flip books: These go inside the science journal. I can't really describe them well without a picture, but they consist of construction paper folded... hamburger/taco style, with one side cut into small tags. Another way to do it is to cut it in two along the hamburger line, then fold one, then scaffold the other along it, and staple it. The end result is a flip book of sorts where you can write a name, then pull away and see a definition. This is AWESOME for people who need hands on learning, and really feeds into that multiple modalities thing. Plus, it's explicit, and good for quizzing yourself. Very cool method for science stuff that requires a lot of memorization, such as cell organelles.

An attention getter: My teacher uses 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... The kids are conditioned to be quiet when they hear that. Whenever I teach, I use it, and it works wonders. Once I start teaching, that's going to be one of the first things I do, get that early conditioning, as it makes running a class so much easier when you have the ability to make it quiet in 10 seconds.

Standards based grading: Just grade to the standard. My school does this, and enforces mandatory retakes for failing grades. While this causes a lot of problems, I definitely like that students can be explicitly tested on standards knowledge. It makes things just... A lot easier. It's a bit hard to implement initially, but once you get the hang of it, it saves time. An example of this is, if you only grade tests, have each section of 3-4 questions based on one standard, and explicitly state what standard that is. Then, when you are grading, break up the test into the standard parts, so you know what areas the student needs to improve on. It's not perfect, but it makes a lot of sense.

Now, for something that we discussed in class, and by and large, we disagree with. In my practicum class, the teacher pointed out that, if we don't know, offer to have the student figure it out on their own, and reward them if they found out.

We all disagreed, for the most part. Students don't really want to do the work to find out something they don't know- that's the teacher's job. While it is a good idea for students to try to figure things out on their own, they are most likely going to either A: Go straight to their parents, who might not know, and then B: Go straight to google, which will probably give them an incomplete or completely wrong answer. They then report an answer that is not quite correct to you, who might not have had the time to do the research yourself, and you say, 'okay, here's your candy bar.'

Instead, what I heard some teachers do, and I agree with this, is write the question on the board. That might inspire other students to ask tough questions. Then, that night, take a bit of time to try to find out the answer. As science teachers, we are quite capable of determining good information and making sense of complex concepts. If the concepts are things we don't actually know and beyond our comprehension, then that's okay too. But I feel that teachers should put in a good effort to figure out the answer, then, the next day, report it to the class. That way, you retain your position as the teacher, the expert, while students get some degree of ownership over their learning. I'm not saying that I am going to let students derail me every day with questions like, "What does the edge of the universe look like?" or something, but if a student asks, during an anatomy lesson, 'how do neurons talk to muscles?' that would definitely be something I'd take a little bit to learn.

Thoughts? Any other cool teaching tools?


Field trip!

So, yesterday I helped run a field trip that was one of the coolest super-relevant citizen science things I had ever seen. The teacher found out that one of the student's father runs a u-fish down the road. Since she had connections with the Nisqually Institute, an environmental science research group that encourages student participation in real science, she was able to get a bunch of water purity testing kits.

I really didn't know much going into the trip, as we had been focusing on other things, but there was another teacher there to help, which was very useful, as she left halfway through to go to a textbook adoption meeting, leaving me to handle her batch of kids. We wandered around the u-fish, collected water samples, and got out hands dirty. Jim, the proprietor of the u-fish, was kind enough to give me a pair of work boots, as I had stupidly come in dress shoes, so the entire experience was pleasant.

After the other teacher had done the hazardous duty of collecting water from ice cold streams, we all went back to a cabin where we did the tests. For the most part, these were student led- I would read off the instructions, but they had already done water testing before, so this was all familiar to them. They took down data, and I took photos.

After the data was collected, we cleaned up, ate some donuts, and headed back. The entire experience was exhilarating and exhausting, (There was a moment of panic when I realized that the DO kit had sulpheric acid, something that, on principle, 13 year olds shouldn't be touching) but ultimately very positive. It was local, relevant, real science, and used a cool bit of basic inquiry by asking students to identify if they thought the water was pure before testing it, then going back to that to lead conversations on water purity. Very cool stuff.

What was depressing was hearing how hard it was to make this type of thing happen. There is a lot of political resistance due to funding issues, safety issues, and standards relevance (this took place during a life science unit), but the experience is so meaningful for the kids that I think it is entirely worth it.

So, that was cool.

I also have been really working on building relationships with the kids. The more I talk to them and figure out where they are coming from, the more it seems like I will be able to motivate them to learn, either by finding ways to make it relevant to them, or simply by having a good rapport with them. I need to make sure I'm staying in the professional range and not being too nice, but at the same time, I think they're getting the idea that I really do care about them and want to help them learn. That's important.

One student said, "Mr J, you're a nerd." "Your point?" "It's not a bad thing, you just are..." I then proceeded to continue enthusiastically explaining a concept she had been asking about, and I think she really got it. She had been curious about it, and it felt good to help a student understand.

I really enjoy this teaching thing.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 2, TEACH!

So, I taught another full period. Actually, over a full period- I am slowly taking over the science portion of the 4/5th period science math block, and yesterday, I taught over an hour of science.

Last time, I was disorganized, nervous, and clumsy. This time, I planned smart, instead of creating an ordered list of things to do, I made a list of things that would contribute to student learning, and that made all the difference. That, and not freaking out. The overall result was 100% better, and the teacher commented that I did really well.

It feels great.

Yesterday, in my Culture of Secondary Schools class, a number of recent graduates of the program came in and talked about their experience. They all had jobs, so that was very promising, the only one who wasn't a full time teacher was doing subbing, and was in the Army, so he had no interest in doing long term teaching at this point. The rest of them were all employed relatively locally, and all seemed to be doing what they wanted. What was weird was seeing a few dopplegangers of people in our current cohort in last year's- there were around 4 people who really reminded me of people in my cohort, including a guy with a lot of my mannerisms and similar appearance. That was a little spooky, but at the same time, rewarding to see what I might be in a year.

On the more somber side, they all outlined what is to come- Student teaching will leave you exhausted. Your first year of teaching will leave you half dead. But they also gave us a lot of advice- Seek out help. Collaboration is key. Self care, self care, self care. Be humble with parents. You can get a lot of free stuff from the community if you are a teacher. Don't give up, and if you work hard, your hard work will pay off. Don't make mountains out of molehills. Drink beer. Make a support network. Use the internet to your advantage.

It was great to meet some graduates, and see that, hey, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Right now is a really hard time to be a teacher, especially with the financial crisis Washington is facing, but they all seemed to be swimming, not drowning, and the overall experience was one of hope, something that I think a lot of our cohort has needed lately. I see a lot of bags under eyes, a lot of exhaustion, and in a few people, trace signs of depression. It's hard to witness that happening to people who I've been together with extensively since last summer, people who have become like family to me, but at the same time, I hope that they have a good support network. I think I've been pretty lucky in that respect, I have a lot of friends who cheer me on, and they have been really understanding. I don't really get to thank them all that much, but their support has been one of the big things keeping me from going off on the deep end.

In any case, I'm going on a field trip this Thursday with my class to test water purity. This should be really cool, and I'll post about it later. I really should get a camera, so I can actually document some of this.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Youtube time.

So, like a lot of teachers, I see the value of using youtube every now and then in a classroom. Here's a few educational-ish science videos that I might end up using at some point in my classroom. If you know of any good ones, feel free to share.

MIT lectures:

MIT has put a number of lectures on youtube. They're amazing to watch. This one is on electromagnetism.

Feynman videos:

Feynman's way of describing physics is poetry.

Doodling in Math:

This girl, through simple doodling, points out mathematical patterns and concepts in a way that is approachable and fun.


This chemist does cool little chemistry demos.

The Sounds of Space:

The Voyager probes listened in on the radio signals coming from the various planets it passed. Weird, semi hypnotic noises are the result.

The Khan Academy:

This guy made thousands of ms-paint lectures from his closet, and now has Bill Gates throwing money at him. I've actually used a few of these videos to cram for the WEST-E, so while I don't think they are a suitable substitute for classroom teaching, they might be a useful resource for certain, select kids. This is his intro to motion video.


This animation company teamed up with Harvard Biologists to create what can only be described as porn for cell biologists. And eye candy for the rest of us. It's a beautiful inside view of the inner workings of a cell, and is incredibly useful for understanding certain functions.

Cordyceps Fungus:

One of the creepiest things I can think of, this fungus takes control of ant's brains, then uses them as a spore distributor. Straight up x-files. Probably good for a fun end on a lesson on fungus.

Now, for more humorous/not quite as relevant, but fun stuff:
World of Chemistry:

This humorous video from the UK features people as elements at what appears to be an office party, reacting accordingly to each other. It does slightly hint that Carbon and Hydrogen are gay for each other, so I don't know if it would be ultimately appropriate for certain classrooms. Still very funny.

Symphony of Science:

Auto-tuned Carl Sagan. 'Nuff said.

Filming Earth from Space:

A couple of grad students sent a video camera up on a balloon. It captured the curvature of the Earth. All for under 300 Euros. Very cool citizen science.

Look Around You:

Spoofs of British Educational videos from the 90s. Hilarious.

And a bit of a personally inspirational one, Taylor Mali on what Teachers Make.

Slam poet on teachers.

Anyway, if anyone reading this has any suggestions of cool or useful channels, I'd be glad to hear from you. Also, any online tools that are useful not only for science demos, but general classroom aides (flash card makers, etc.) are appreciated as well.


Relationship advice.

So, a few weeks back I interviewed a principal for a class project. I had promised the interview would be 5-10 minutes, but we ended up really hitting it off, and the talk lasted a good half hour. Plus, he made the mistake of giving me mountain dew, and as someone who avoids high fructose corn syrup, I was in a state of hyperawareness and hyper-everythingelseness.

One of the core values he said he sought out in teachers was the ability to build relationships with students, creating a framework for learning. That really jived with me. He told me that he could go into a German classroom, not knowing a word of German, and still be able to teach it if he was able to build a relationship with students and use that as a scaffolding for the learning process.

For the longest time, I had been hyperfocused on external factors in learning, such as high levels of content knowledge, interesting lesson plans, and incorporating technology into the classroom. Him flat out telling me that the bottom line is the students was a nice wake up call, and a reminder to me of why I'm doing this.

Following that, a parent came into our class to tell us about her experience with schools, and she pointed out the value of teachers that genuinely care about their students, and make an effort to change their lives for the better. She referenced several teachers she stayed in contact with over the years, and the impact they made on her throughout her life.

I think that is a really important part of teaching that gets shoved under the carpet, especially due to boundary issues. Still, I have had a few teachers that changed my life, and I have since stayed in touch with them, occasionally meeting up for lunch or exchanging emails. They were role models, mentors, and helped me grow as a person, not only in the classroom, but in my life. Sadly, I think a lot of teacher programs are discouraging that due to boundary issues, and I completely understand why. Still, it was good to finally hear one person state the importance of building those lasting relationships.

That's not to say I want to have a lasting relationship with every one of my students. I want to build good relationships with them in order to help them learn. But if I manage to really make a difference in a kid's life, it would be an honor if s/he let me know when s/he got into a college, made it into grad school, or did something amazing. Teachers put a lot of time and effort into kids, I think it's only right that they occasionally hear back on their investments. Hell, I think moments like that are what would keep me sane as a teacher, hearing back from students 5 years down the line to find out that they've been accepted into MIT, and I helped inspire them in that direction. That would feel amazing.

Still, I completely understand the reason for teaching programs not really encouraging, or even bringing this up. Due to all the sexual abuse, everybody is terrified of the idea of a female student emailing a male teacher about personal things, and rightfully so. Bad things do happen. But I think it is important to use prudence, and, when appropriate, be willing to keep in touch with students.

In closing, I am reminded of Jeff Howell. He was a teacher that changed my life forever, and has inspired me to become a science teacher. In some ways, it could be said that he had boundary issues- he always touched people when he was talking to them, something my profs have told me never to do. Still, it was never inappropriate, it was always a hand on the shoulder, and given that he was a wrestling coach, it somehow worked. I never, ever felt uncomfortable with it- rather the opposite. As someone who was bullied regularly, it was the only physical contact I got that wasn't painful. He encouraged me to follow my passion for astrophysics, and would listen to my weird theories about black holes and subspace during lunch and after school, where I was a regular in his classroom. He once told me that, in the teacher's lounge, I was brought up as a weird kid, and he told them that he thought I was brilliant.

That moment changed my life. I was vindicated. After studying astrophysics and astronomy for so long, and never being acknowledged, someone finally recognized me. I madly pursued theoretical physics from that point on, and developed a life long passion for science, thanks to that moment where an amazing teacher put his hand on my shoulder and told me he thought I was brilliant. He built a relationship with me, and thanks to that relationship, I learned more in that science class than any other class, and decided to further pursue science afterward.

I ran into his cousin a few weeks ago. He's also becoming a science teacher through the program. After seeing his last name, we both shared that Jeff Howell was our mutual inspiration for becoming a teacher. I told him how much he changed my life, and he later shared that with Jeff, who, upon hearing them, was fighting back tears. I later called him and we talked a bit, although due to poor reception the conversation was awkward, but we agreed to meet up during the summer, as teachers and friends, and share lunch and classroom management tips.

Mr. Howell was not my friend when he was my teacher. He was a teacher who, through building a relationship with me, got me into science and helped steer me in a really positive direction for my life. Now that I am an adult, I consider him a friend, and someone I owe an infinite debt to for helping me find the wonder in science. I can only hope to be that for my kids.

As a teacher, I want to not only teach kids the content matter, I want to teach them how to be better people. I want to be a role model, a mentor, and an ally. And through this, I hope they'll find a passion for science too, as I did. And honestly, I think most teachers want this. It's probably what they find the most rewarding part of their job- hearing back from an ex-student to find out how much their classes meant to them. One letter like that probably makes up for 200 angry parent calls.

It's been good to remember why I want to do all this.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

My first full period of teaching.

So, yesterday I taught my first full period of teaching. I have been coming in two days a week to my cooperating teacher's classroom, and have gradually been getting more and more comfortable with the students. I have also been spending the odd period shadowing another teacher, learning about the variety of teaching styles.

So, yesterday had two landmarks. While shadowing a teacher, she made me her co-teacher for the period, having me write my name on the whiteboard for the students. This is the first time I've ever done that. Then, for fourth period, I ran a microscope lab for the entire period. The teacher took roll, but aside from that, the entire period was mine.

I made mistakes. I was trembling so much the students asked if I was okay, to which I replied I was really nervous. I was awkward with the classroom management, and control. But overall, I did okay. "Good for your first time," my cooperating teacher told me, before giving me a critique.

It's going to be a while before I get used to handling classes, but I will do it. The biggest thing, I think, is I need to get better at lesson planning, and control for anxiety. But those things will happen. Frankly, I just feel amazing.

On the negative side, I'm sick. I would be going in for a third day this week, but I've been coughing so much my voice sounds like I have a dead possum stuck in there.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

My experience thus far...

So, my previous post outlined how I got into the program, this is where I am thus far, classwise.

The program started in the Summer of '10, and I remember having the following classes:

-Principles of Teaching:

The Secondary Science cohort doesn't really mingle much with the rest of the people in the Ed program, and Dr W., the head of the Secondary Science program is with us every quarter, teaching some class that is mostly geared towards the Secondary Sciences. He's a very good professor, and is incredibly passionate about science education. This was the first class with him, where we just talked about basic teaching stuff.

-Educational Measurement:

This seemed to be a stats class, geared towards educational applications. It seemed to serve the purpose of getting us to understand test scores and how they actually work. This class wasn't required during this quarter, but I took it, as it is a requirement to graduate. The professor is an active research scientist, which was very refreshing.

-Foundations of Education:

This class was a review of the social history of education, and some of the racism and discrimination that currently goes on today, along with some of the social stuff going on in education today. A lot of attention was given to Geoffrey Canada and similar educational advocates, although the focus was primarily not on Pacific Northwest schools, something I found a little frustrating. Still, we read a lot of good books about some of the really innovative things going on in Education today.

-Child Abuse:

This was a seminar where we learned two things: How to make a CPS call, and that we shouldn't sleep with our students. Having worked with CPS before, and knowing that sleeping with students is a bad idea, I didn't learn too much, but it was still a fun class.

-Secondary Students with Disability:

This class was a general review of the services that students with special needs can receive, and how that fits in with teachers. It was pretty informative, as there are more and more kids with special needs in classrooms these days.


After every quarter I have a Portfolio meeting with Dr W. He looks at my portfolio and tells me what I need to work on. This time around, I did fine.

In Fall '10, I had, as follows:

-Educational Research:

Taught by the Prof who taught the Measurement class, this class consisted of reviewing educational research and learning how to make sense of it, as well as some basic information on how to actually do research. Sadly, the prof had a family emergency, followed by a snowstorm, so class was canceled quite a bit, and I didn't learn nearly as much as I would have liked, but she made do, and the lectures we did have were crammed full of good information.

-Science Methods 1:

Dr. W had us actually hanging out in a High School science classroom for this class, and we learned how to demo various labs, what the gist of inquiry was, and how to put together solid inquiry based lesson plans. I'm much more of a citizen science/STS guy, so while I enjoyed the class, I wanted more real world connections.

-Multicultural Education:

This class seemed to be an attempt to give us an intro to the concept of multiculturalism, but the end result was mixed. Part of this has to do with the fact that most of our cohort is white middle class types, who don't take ideas such as white privilege very well. Still, I actually learned a lot, which was good.

-Literacy in Secondary Schools:

A class on the importance of teaching literacy in public schools, and the importance of direct instruction. This class seemed to conflict a lot with the Inquiry view we were learning in the Science methods class, which was rather entertaining.


This was my second portfolio meeting, where they evaluated what I had put in my portfolio from the previous quarter. I ended up having a panic attack, as my grandpa had just been hospitalized (and has since died), and I was still reeling from the shock. I bombed the meeting, but I will have a second chance next Portfolio meeting.

I'm currently in Winter quarter, taking the following courses:

-Practicum (Teacher Observation):

I've been placed in a rural middle school with an amazing teacher. I go there twice a week, and occasionally teach lessons, as well as get to know the kids. It's an amazing experience, and I have already logged the 50 hours needed, although I will continue to go. My main frustrations stem from the long drive and the lack of sleep, but caffeine has proved an able assistant.

-Practicum seminar:

This is just a basic reflective seminar where we talk about how our things are going in our placements.

-Science Methods 2

Another Dr. W class, this time talking about science and society, which is the other half of the Inquiry Science equation. Being someone who feels that science is only relevant through the lens of its effects on society, I REALLY like this class.

-Classroom Management

A class on how to deal with classes of disruptive kids. It really gets into the meat and potatoes of classroom management, which I appreciate.

-Culture of Secondary Schools

Dr. W teaches this class as well, and it is an anthropological view of schools. It's a lot of fun, playing anthropologist and doing various observations.

And that's where I am. The next quarter, I am student teaching full time, and then the quarter after that I will have a math teaching class and some educational theory class, followed by two 1 credit portfolio classes. After that, hello MEd.

A note on my cohort, we are about 19 students, ranging from age 21 to age 50something, with backgrounds from fresh graduate to seasoned geologist. After three quarters together, we're pretty tight knit, which is good, as my social life has taken a pretty massive hit from the all the schoolwork.

Anyway, hope this brief review of the classes I've had helps clarify what a secondary science education program looks like. I don't know if this setup is typical for programs like this, but thus far I think it's been doing a fairly good job at preparing me for the classroom. One area I haven't been touching on is the personal toll, as that has been great. This program has changed me for the better, but it has also taken a tremendous emotional toll on me during certain points. However, I think that is the nature of a crucible, and this program has been very intense, and for something so concentrated, I think it needs to be.


How did I get into the program?

I think it would probably be good to describe the process I went through to get into my Secondary Science program, to give anyone who is interested a feel for what is involved with doing so.

The program itself is based out of University of Washington, Tacoma, which offers three tracks- a k-8 track, a dual track (Special Ed and k-8), and Secondary Science. I don't know much about the former two, but the Secondary Science one gets you a teaching certificate in about a year, and a Masters in Education shortly thereafter. It starts in the summer, then in Winter you begin the practicum, which consists of putting in 50+ hours in your assigned classroom, observing your cooperating teacher. Come spring quarter, you do student teaching for about three months, and are then awarded a teaching certificate, and a few classes more, and a passing portfolio review, and you get your Masters.

My background before getting into the program was primarily in mental health services. I have an interdisciplinary arts Bachelors with a focus on psychology, which, for all intents and purposes, is nearly identical to the course work required to get a psych degree. I also took a number of hard science courses, and have always had a strong passion for science, especially neurology and astrophysics. In college, I did mostly IT work, and after graduating I worked for a foster care/mental health agency working with foster kids and CPS referrals, and did about three years there. Near the end, I ended up heading a tutoring program that ended with most of the students passing their math classes, where before the program they were almost universally failing. Realizing I had a knack for math, I looked at possible teacher education programs, and found one at UWT.

The biggest admission requirements I remember off the top of my head were:

-Letters of rec.

I got two, one from a former professor and my boss at the mental health agency. I talked with them about what I felt was probably best to put in the letter, and they did as such, mostly highlighting my work in the tutoring program, my passion for science, and my skill working with difficult kids.

-Passing score on the WEST-B and WEST-E in a content area relevant to the program.

The WEST exams are teaching standards exams. There are three WEST-Bs, which are the basic knowledge exams. They were painfully easy, and consisted of a test on reading, writing, and basic math skills. I had three options for the WEST-E, which is the content area exam. I had the option to take the general science one, which allows me to teach any level science, from 6th grade basic general science, to 12th grade physics, the Earth and Space science one, which would allow me to teach high school Earth and Space science, and Biology, which would allow me to teach high school biology. I decided to take the general science one, as it encompassed the most content area. I studied hard for it, and ended up passing. I have since taken the mid level math one, which is the only other content area certification this program offers, so I am able to teach the full spectrum. Both WEST-Es I studied incredibly hard for, although I got top marks on both, so on some levels, I think they were not as intimidating as I perceived them to be.

-Personal Statement

I wrote one, wrote another draft, and another draft, and another draft, then had people tear drafts apart, and rewrote it, and rewrote it. Finally, I had something I was happy with, and sent it in.

-40+ Documented classroom hours

I teamed with an old high school teacher that I had recently reconnected with, and spent a few weeks shadowing him as well as a geometry teacher. After documenting 40 hours, he signed off on the paperwork.

-Various admission documents

There's always plenty of paperwork. There was also proof of vaccination, which was easy enough to obtain.

-A developmental Psych class

I already had one of these, so this wasn't a problem.

I got all my stuff in a bit earlier than the deadline, and then I waited. After a few months, I got a letter in the mail, and sure enough, I had been accepted. After me having what resembled a seizure from sheer joy, I sent in my acceptance of acceptance, and started preparing for classes, which would begin in Summer.

And that's what got me into the program. I completed a FAFSA and ended up getting a good amount of grant money, which has been a godsend, as due to the level of classwork, my ability to take on shifts at my job has been greatly diminished. My girlfriend moved in with me to help alleviate my rent woes a bit, and that has helped, although I am living from paycheck to paycheck, often times borrowing money from my parents, who have been very helpful in this regard.

My advice to anyone looking at getting into a program is to get as much experience working with kids as possible, as that seemed to be one of the big factors that helped me get in. Also, any background in science is a plus. Doing well on the state exams probably played a large part into it, as well.

In my next post, I will detail my experience in the program thus far.