I promise I’m still “working”

September 17, 2014

Check this out https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=818772261476625&set=vb.100000315767225&type=2&theater


Had the pleasure of working with 20 middle school science teachers from jefferson county schools, in Jefferson County, Alabama (funny, that). The challenge was to drop a barbie doll 17.25 feet and get her as close as possible to the ground without having her head hit. They estimated the length of the bungee cord comprised of rubber bands based on a formula they derived from an experiment with only 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 rubber bands. Most impressive.

I love it when a “plan” comes together

August 12, 2014

Day 3 at IBI’ve said it time, and time again; however, my experience during first block today make this saying relevant again, “You can only plan so much, and great teaching occurs in the moment…between students and between students and a teacher (or teachers). “

Down here in Jefferson County, Alabama, we started school early. I mean real early. i mean we started with students last week early. The upside to an 8-week summer break is I get a two week jump on where I was last year and I get a four week jump on my competition up North and out West.

I’m using these extra two weeks to develop my classroom culture in a very deliberate way, and developing my students lab skills. So far, so good. I have emphasized “Style Points” (an idea I stole from my buddy John at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Science and the Arts). To me “style points” means we will maintain a professional, productive, and purposeful demeanor in my classroom/laboratory. This starts with me, and I expect it (dare I say, demand it) from my students (so much that students must speak with correct grammar, they don’t slouch, they don’t talk with their chin on their hands…but I digress). Anyway, I’m developing a culture of professionalism, and I’m engaging my students in scientific endeavors from the very start. Check it out.

Yesterday I introduced scientific methodology, and today we had an opportunity to process the collected data, and on Thursday we will analyze the data. Doing science in small, thorough steps has captured my students’ interest and kept them engaged. I did not, however, plan — or expect — things to go as smoothly as they have. Yesterday we used PASCO probes to measure temperature at four places along the arm (I slid digiital data collection in already!), we aggregated the class data, and calculated the mean. Today (and this is all true) I taught students how to calculate standard deviation, what standard deviation meant, how to calculate variance, standard error, 95% Confidence Error, and I outlined what I expect from their graphs. On Thursday, they will bring in their graphs. I will help them write captions, and then we will construct scientific arguments using “my” model of Claims, Evidence, and Reasons. I could not have planned for things to work out so well. I can really only execute an idea and work with my students to bring it to fruition.

At the end of first period today, I sat down with my students  and outlined what we had done over the past two days, and where we were headed on Thursday. The outline on the board looks like this: ask a question, construct a hypothesis, collect data, process data, build graphs (visualize data), next…analyze data, construct argument (C. E. R).  What a beautiful start to the year.

I am telling my students we don’t do these things in a vacuum. These methods, this way of organizing our thinking will permeate everything we do this year. This is why I want to be in the classroom.

Check out these two quick videos

August 10, 2014

The 20 minutes you’ll see on the YouTube are necessary viewing. You can find them on the screen cast page: screen casts, or on the YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMO8klD8ZMI, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4hwnUhc0pkQ

Summer time blues

June 11, 2014

“ain’t no cure, y’all”

Back in 1995, when I started graduate school, I remember being really bummed out. It wasn’t just because I knew I would be living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (I learned a valuable life skill during my time in T-town: if you can be happy in Tuscaloosa, you can be happy anywhere). Sure Tuscaloosa is a horrible place, but that’s not the point. The point is, the UA department of Biology had just built a new building complete with state-of-the-art labs, mesocosm space, offices, and conference rooms. I was worried I would blow it. What if I wasted the opportunity. I know that kind of thinking is completely worthless, but that kind of thinking comes completely natural to me.

It’s now 2014. It’s summer. I’ve got 6.5 weeks remaining, and I’ve got several opportunities on the horizon. Here’s the short version: I’m leading two workshops for middle school science teachers, I’m working with AP biology teachers for PASCO scientific, I’m helping edit some e-books, and I’m coauthoring a teachers manual for new and experienced AP Biology teachers. On top of all that, I’m supposed to help hire a director for the Cahaba Environmental Center. I also need to find some time to do quality planning for my classes, work out like I’m in my thirties again, paddle, play with my kids, and enjoy my yard.

Yep, I’m freaking out. Time to go for a bike ride.

The lingering thought…

June 11, 2014

I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about the following idea or not (Lord knows, I’ve talked about it with anyone who will listen — including my department chair and principal). Here goes, “I try to develop a relationship with students through the content I teach.”

If you know me at all, you know I consider content the utmost priority, but the people matter just as much. The longer I teach, I see teaching as a human endeavor (I’ve blogged about this for sure). The baggage students bring with them (physically and mentally) matters, and my baggage matters too. A room containing anywhere from 11 to 27 people will have a different dynamic everyday. How do I deal with this hyper-variable environment? I deal with it by being a content expert. I deal with it by being accessible and available to my students. I’m available for their questions, I’m available to help them develop their strengths, and to shore up weaknesses. Is every class I teach the same? Absolutely not. Have I reached that pinnacle of pinnacle: simultaneous differentiated instruction for all students? Hell no. What I have done this year is set a professional tone, where biology matters, and where something interesting occurs every day. I don’t try and be my students’ friend. I do try and be a significant adult in their lives. I do give them a reason to show up everyday and get to work.

When people ask me how it’s going at JCIB, I tell them, “I’m having a blast”, or, “We have so much fun.” It’s true. I’m excited to go to work everyday during the school year because I get to teach what I love, and I get to help students develop a better understanding of the world around them.

It’s summer vacation…and I’m on the computer.

June 2, 2014

My goal for today is to finish a lab for PASCO scientific, but I’ve already been sidetracked by Science Magazine. Since opening the laptop today, I’ve seen video of a wasp using it’s Zinc-encrusted ovipositor to drill into an unripe fig, I’ve read about mega-boneyards of Mammoth’s (likely old hunting grounds of our ancestors), looked a CGI of a rat synapse, read about 40 million year old avian pollenators, and read about blind cave fish that can “count” (differentiate between 2 and 4 objects). How am I supposed to get any work done?

Wind ‘em on down…

May 16, 2014

ImageThe late great Eddie Taylor sang about how he would, “Ride ‘em on down”. As a teacher, it’s not quite the “lay by”, but we are definitely winding on down. Currently I’ve got exactly 1 student in my room, make that two (C.J. just walked in). One is studying for late AP Bio, and the other is turning in his book. I’ll be back down to 1 in a moment. This is a great opportunity to focus some of my ideas about this year.

The lead is this: I had an absolute blast working at JCIB for the second year in a row. I worked with a challenging group of students. My first block class was a peculiar group. They were incredibly smart, but quite skeptical about my content knowledge, about my approach to teaching science, and about my ability to prepare them for the IB Biology exam. This wasn’t something we worked out by Thanksgiving. On the contrary, they were fighting with me, or at least resisting my guidance well into March. That being said, they learned a ton, they consistently delivered in lab and on exams, and they were prepared for their end of course exams. Most students came out smiling, giving me thumbs up, and slapping me high fives.

The thing I liked most about this year, and these students in particular, was their constant questions, their ability to engage in the material, the way they made me better at articulating my understanding of biology, and they way they pushed me to continue to refine my thinking.

Looking back at this year, I’m on the right track, but no where near finished figuring out how to teach students born after Kurt Cobain died. My favorite anecdote comes from Jarred, in 4th block. Early in the year, during the root, stem, and leaf investigation of our Plant science unit, I took the students outside, and asked them to pull a few herbs and sapling trees out of the ground. We discussed a little ecology outside, then went back to the lab to use microscopes to look at root structure, draw what we saw, and describe it. Jarred exclaimed, “This is how we’re supposed to learn.” He’s right, and I’m constantly looking for ways to be more organic/more fluid in the classroom and lab.

We’ve all heard “mother is the necessity of invention,” and I think it’s true. 2014-02-05 15.18.35Two challenges this year forced me to change my practice. The first challenge was daunting: organize, read, grade, and provide feedback for 64 independent projects. I had my technician/student aide set up a workflow board similar to something you would see in an emergency room. I used the board to track the workflow for myself and all my students. I dubbed myself the “working class guru.” I have the knowledge and experience, and now I am developing methods (God forbid, procedures) so students can better access my knowledge and experience. It doesn’t do me any good to live in a cave (my head) waiting for someone to come and seek my guidance. I need to be in the world I occupy and work to help my students access what I know.

2014-01-28 12.45.37Snowpocalypse 2014, and weather days finally pushed me from, “I really need to make some videos,” to “go to You Tube and watch these videos.” Let me be the first to say Paul Anderson won’t be losing any sleep, but I have finally stepped up an entered the YouTube-o-sphere. I bought screen flow in December of 2013, but it wasn’t until February 2014 that I actually published something of value for my students. As of now, I’ve had xx hits on You Tube. I’ll be offloading more and more direct instruction (DE) to YouTube next year so I can do even more lab work and more data analysis in class.

As this school year winds down, a splinter is getting wedged in my mind. That splinter is actually a question, and the question is this: “What does a college-bound 17 or 18 year-old really need to know?” Granted, my students are headed to selective colleges. Further, I expect my students to be leaders in their college and university classrooms. Despite those qualifiers, what do these kids really need to know? This question has been stimulated by from my observations of my students as they approach all their high stakes exams, from my conversations with my colleagues in the break room, and from conversartions I’m having with my teaching buddies all over the country.

I sketched up some answers to this question on Mindnode, and I’ll flesh these ideas out over the summer. As I switch gears (turns out there may be no lay by again this year) I’ll think about the following: my students need to know how to explain and justify their answers, they need to articulate their ideas in writing, they need to be able to conduct an independent investigation (and write up the results), and…get ready for it…they need to care about something.

More to come…


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