15th April 2014

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Pause for Spring Break

I got a lot done during Spring Break.  I did homework, went bird watching, cooked for 250 people, did some work on refining my Classroom Management skills, read Divergent (meh), started Foundation (woo hoo!), planted peppers, bought two plants destined for bonsai trees, worked on lesson plans, and got a tortoise.



Though I enjoyed Spring Break, it’s good to be back in the classroom.

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2nd April 2014

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Homework: Two Tales

I had two interesting encounters with students and their homework yesterday.  In the first situation, an incredibly smart student made a conscious decision not to do their homework, and in the other situation I discovered that homework was causing a good amount of stress in an already stressful home.



Homework and the Intelligent 

In getting to know the students the past few weeks, I have paid attention to how students spend their time between classes.  Some students sit down and prepare for their next class, most are engrossed in conversation with friends, and there are a few who read.  Of those that read, most read the typical YA fanfare.  I noticed one student with an old, tattered, red book.  I asked him what it was and was surprised to hear him say, “Plato’s Republic.”  Turns out that this kid is familiar with the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and could speak intelligently about it.  In class he uses large words correctly, is interested in learning new things, and does very well on quizzes and exams.  

Knowing he’s a high-level student, I was taken-aback when he didn’t turn in a homework packet yesterday.  When I asked him about it, he replied that he already knew the information, the worksheet was too easy, and he didn’t want to waste his time. I couldn’t argue with that; there’s no doubt that he knows the information.  He knows the content and can articulately explain the standards we’re working on.

I suppose I could make it an issue, but he has reached the standards; everything else is just “doing school.”  

Homework can be used as an assessment piece.  I can see making a worksheet and escalating the questions from basic knowledge questions up to more complex analysis and evaluation questions, then allowing more advanced students to work on it backwards.  I can look at their answers and see where the students are excelling or having troubles.  Students that aren’t reading major philosophical works can work from the beginning and work up to the more difficult problems, also giving me information about their understanding.

Differentiating for high-performing students seems like an easy win.  Escalating the questions on a homework assignment can do this well.

Homework and the Family

The second situation was much more eye-opening.  

I was able to talk to the parents of one of my students.  It turns out that the family is going through some tough times and the grades of my student are starting to slip.  The biggest factor is missing work.  Between the various pressures at home, the student doesn’t have time to finish homework.

It was difficult to talk to parents about the student’s missing work when I knew that the assignments contain mostly lower-level independent practice and review.  The value of the homework didn’t justify the amount of stress it was causing in the family.  If homework is going to cause some disruption, it had better be worth it.

When I get my own classroom, homework will still be assigned but I’ll be making an effort to ensure there’s strategic value to the work by:
  1. Making homework more of an assessment or enrichment piece.  
  2. Moving a lot of the independent practice into the classroom where I can take a closer look at the work and check comprehension.
  3. Reduce the amount of homework all together.
Both situations can be helped by making a few small changes to instructional strategies and the assigned homework.  




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Tagged: BloggerWorksheetFamilyStudent TeachingHomeworkGATEEducationJunior High

28th March 2014

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Flying Solo: Density Lab

My master teacher is out today and I’m flying solo.  It will be the first time I get to run an entire period on the Block Schedule.  I invited an Assistant Principal and the Principal of my school to swing by and observe the class.  I’m very excited about this.  Every day of student teaching is a job interview.

We have quite a bit to do today.  I’ll hand back some homework while the students do a few warm-up exercises.  After that I’ll need to model the lab and prepare the students for some of the math on the analysis section of the lab.  Then I’ll turn them loose on the lab activity.

The students will be measuring density of sample cubes.  The cubes are metallic, plastic, and wooden.  Using electronic scales, the students will measure the mass of the cube and find the volume.  They can then then calculate the densities.


After the students find the density of the objects, the students will predict whether the blocks will sink or float then stick them in a tub of water to test it out.  I expect that this will be pretty fun; open tubs of water surrounded by hyped 8th graders is an invitation for a little mischief.  I have plenty of paper towels handy and plan to closely monitor the surrounding area.  I’m learning a great deal about how to channel junior high energy.

We have a substitute teacher; he should have a pretty easy day.  …I hope.


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26th March 2014

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Physics: Not as Funny as Biology

I had to think about this one.  Physics doesn’t quite lend itself to humor like biology does.  But, the students are taking a quiz today on Force and Newton’s Laws of Motion, so the drawing is fitting.  After this unit we’ll be heading into Astronomy, which promises to be funnier.  What’s not funny about quasars?

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24th March 2014

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Teacher First: Creating a Science GIF

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is a 5 second gif worth five thousand words?

We’re studying inertia in our 8th Grade Physical Science class and the teacher showed this demonstration.  I don’t need to explain it because it’s right here.   



This is pretty simple.  Afterwards, the students were asked to write out their observations and create a diagram showing the forces at work in this scenario.  The teacher performed the demonstration a few times; some of the students needed to see it again.  …and again.  Tying the concepts of inertia, friction, and force to a real example is tough for any student, let alone an 8th grader in the spring time.  This creates a a problem that a gif can help fix.

The gif format can be embedded into a PowerPoint or a class website and allows the students to observe the demonstration as many times as they want.  This can be valuable for those students who want to review it again or for those students who missed the demonstration.

I used my iPhone and an app called 5SecondsApp that creates gif files from video.  It’s free and moderately easy to use.  Plus it has the capability of syncing with DropBox.  Like Instagram, you can add filters and play with the video as much as you want; I don’t know how valuable that is, but it’s neat.  I didn’t use a filter for this video.

And, using the gif-maker you can see what we did in class today.  That, in itself, is worth five thousand words.

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21st March 2014

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Teaching First: March Madness

I enjoy a good athletic competition.  But to say I’m a casual observer of the sporting world is a great understatement.  Over the last year, I’ve probably watched three complete games, one being the Super Bowl.

My first week in Junior High is almost over.  I  have spent most of the time making observations about everything from classroom management to student penmanship.  My conclusion is that Junior High is a very, very different environment.
In observing student interests, I have noticed that quite a few of them are interested in March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball tournament.  And, by interested, I mean obsessed.
So, on Wednesday, with 15 hours before brackets had to be “locked” I set up my own.   …blindly and based on unwarranted hunches.  And I’ve been keeping track of my predictions every few hours and catching highlights of the games.  This madness may have bit me.  Though, midway through the first round, I am sad to report that I will not be receiving a billion dollars from Warren Buffet
I’m not even close.
image
But, I have had a few good conversations with students, which was the goal.  Ohio State’s loss has been the theme of most of the conversations.  In one instance I was able to talk to a student about their own college aspirations.  It’s a small step forward in establishing relationships with my students.  And, just like Dayton, a win is a win, even if the margin is small.



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19th March 2014

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Technology: Test Before Going Live

Google Docs is magnificent.  …when it works the way you anticipated.

I’m student teaching in a class that has a class-set of acer netbooks and all students have Google Accounts set up through the district.



Google Google Docs, is gaining traction with many of the teachers at this junior high.  I was a little surprised that this technology wasn’t used that much in my high school placement, but it’s very popular here.  Even some of the teachers that aren’t inclined to use technology are not only using Google Docs but are enthusiastically using Google Docs.

Though Docs is very easy to use, it requires a certain method and a bit of planning to make the student experience as pain-free as possible.  Today was my first exposure to seeing the students actually using the netbooks with Google Docs.  Initially, it was smooth.

The students were able to grab their netbook in an organized fashion, log into their Google accounts (mostly), and get to the document.  Then chaos.

The teacher didn’t have time to test it her document.  It broke.  Pandemonium ensued.

One thing I’ve learned about 8th graders, if they have a comment or a problem, they’ll tell you about it.  There are 35 of them in this class and each one of them felt it necessary to tell the teacher they were having problems.  Not only was the teacher trying to find out what went wrong, but there are now 35 hyped junior highers all making recommendations, laughing, and demanding attention to tell you that they can’t get their document open.  …again.

My Document

I’m preparing a lab where the students will be measuring the density of an object and my master teacher would like to use the netbooks to record and graph the data in Google Spreadsheet to make a comparison between the objects.

The easy part was creating the Graphing Data Spreadsheet.  I tested it out and it should work.

Here’s how I tested it:

  1. Create the spreadsheet and share it with anyone with the link. (Chrome)
  2. In another browser (I used Firefox) open the link.
  3. Sign in with a separate Google Account (I have one for teaching and a personal one)
    I also shared it with my master teacher who was able to view and save the document.
  4. Save a copy and rename it something nice to edit the document as your own.
  5. Share!

All’s Well

Fortunately, we were able to fix the document before the next period.  The students were able to type away on their saved documents the way the teacher wanted.


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18th March 2014

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New Home: Junior High

Here’s a shot of my new classroom.

I’ll be student teaching in a 8th Grade Physical Science classroom.  We’re finishing up a unit on Force before heading into Density and Astronomy.  The students are pretty excited about Astronomy.

The next week will be spent making observation and getting to know the students.  Then, I’ll ease my way into the teaching rotation.

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17th March 2014

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Rubrics: Trial and Error

After grading a stack of biome posters, I went over the grades and comments I made on them.  The grades were abnormally high.  At first I thought this was a good thing.  Then, when students continued to score high I began to doubt that my rubric was an accurate measure of student performance.

High grades are good only when they’re a reflection of the student’s comprehension.  Upon more reflection and discussion with other teachers I realized that rubrics are more sticky than I realized at first.


As I talked with seasoned teachers, they told me rubrics, regardless of how good they are or how much work went into producing them, are always too lenient the first time around.  Teachers aren’t familiar with them yet, and the vague wording needs to be tightened up.  This can only be fixed after they’re assigned the first time.

The rubrics were and excellent method of communicating with students.  For each project I was able to give comments and feedback on the assignment, regardless of the grade.  When I handed back the rubrics and the grades, the students received the comments really well.

One thing I would like to try is to have students grade the quality of their own work before I grade it.  One teacher does this with major assignments and she’s found that the students have a good estimation of the quality of their own work.  I like that students are reflecting on their own work; it’s a good step away from “doing school” and towards internalizing material.

The next time I give this assignment I’ll change the wording to be more specific, still give feedback on the quality of work, and try and have the students be reflective of the work they turn in.


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Tagged: BloggerHonors BiologyRubricStudent TeachingEducation

14th March 2014

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Pause for the CalTPA

In the week between assignments I have churned out over 60 pages of work and over 25,000 words for  three major assignments.  The CalTPA took about 20 hours of work over several days.  I’ll resume regular posts next week.

It’s kept me busy, for sure.

CalTPA is Done!



I did meet my new master teacher on Wednesday, and I’ll be teaching physical science!  The next few weeks will be concentrated on teaching density.

I’m really looking forward to teaching science to a younger audience.  The Honors Biology students were very bright and I could stretch their minds beyond what they were used to.  The 8th grade mind can be stretched too, but it will stretch in a different way and probably not as far.  I don’t have as much experience with Junior High students so I’ll be doing a great deal of observation, especially classroom management.

But, for now, I’m doing some reading, poking around physical science websites, and catching up on some podcasts I’ve missed over the past few months.

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