Tuesday, March 29, 2011
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
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
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
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
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 fold.it, 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
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.
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.
-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
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
-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
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
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
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.