7th March 2014
Today’s my last day of High School student teaching. The students have a quiz on chapter 4 related to ecology.
Here’s the final Whiteboard Picture. The next one will come from an 8th grade Physical Science classroom in the same district.
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6th March 2014
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Well, I have finished my last heap of grading, the students are preparing for a quiz tomorrow, and my master teacher is starting to take back her class.
Tomorrow is my last day. I will be glad to be in a different classroom at a new school and excited to continue my preparation, but leaving my students is a sad proposition. They have been very kind and patient with a new teacher.
Though the first assignment is over, there is much work ahead. In the next week I’ll pound out the final portion of a Unit Plan, meet with my adviser to review the last 10 weeks of student teaching, complete the third CalTPA Task
: Assessing Learning, meet with my new master teacher at a junior high in the district, prepare for teaching on the block schedule, and start looking for a job in the fall.
My honors bio students will continue their trek through ecology without me. It would be great to be able to continue teaching them. But, there is another group of 150 8th grade Physical Science students that are about to meet Mr. Davis. And that is exciting.
Very, very exciting.
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4th March 2014
After a week of working hard, the Biome Projects have been turned in and I am quite pleased with the results.
Here’s the rubric I created: BiomeProjectRubric.pdf
I didn’t want to scribble all over the students’ work so I’ll be printing off the rubrics to communicate back with the students.
Work In Class
In retrospect, we should have given the students more time to work on the project in class. We asked that they worked with their lab-table partners; they couldn’t choose their own groups. This mitigated a great deal of laziness but because the students didn’t know their groups well they weren’t ready to work outside of class together.
One student used glue and sand to write “Desert” on the top of his poster. Then, he donated the rest of the sand to the class. It was very generous.
I was very pleased with the final products. Many of the students went above and beyond the expectations on the rubric.
Not only is this a tri-fold poster, but the parrot is hand painted onto it. I was expecting good posters, but I was very glad to see the amount of effort put into the project.
So, now comes the fun part: grading! I hope as much work went into the research/writing part of the projects as went into making the projects look great.
Here’s a few things I’ll do differently next time around:
- Because I didn’t let them pick their own partners I’ll give the students more time in class. Not knowing your partner makes working during lunch more difficult. Plus, the project allowed a great deal of freedom; I found myself walking students through their own questions and helping them make decisions about their biomes.
- Emphasize communication when dealing with lazy partners. I had one situation with a student who didn’t do any of the project and relied on the effort of his partner. But, he didn’t say anything until after the project was turned in. Had I known about the problem earlier I may have been able to intervene.
- Emphasize communication when encountering problems. In the real world, stuff comes up and deadlines are somewhat flexible. If students told me that their printer doesn’t have ink or that their email wasn’t working we could have found a work-around.
Here’s what I’ll keep:
- The flexibility. The ability to make decisions within parameters is a key aspect to one’s education. The parameters of this project were nice and broad and the students exceeded my expectations. This is good.
- Encouraging students to use cell phones for research. Students know how to entertain themselves with cell phones but they don’t realize that they have access to most of the world’s knowledge through this device. Like other technology, students need to be taught how to use their cell phones as a tool.
- The rubric. Students seemed satisfied with the idea that they need to communicate knowledge to me. If they did so adequately, they would receive full credit. This eliminates the “how many sentences do I need” questions and reduces the tension between giving high marks for excellent responses with fewer sentences and giving lower marks for responses that meet the sentence requirement.
So, for my first big project of my career, I am very pleased. Grading the projects should be quite exciting.
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28th February 2014
Today brings the first major rain storm of the season and the first of my teaching career.
It’s about 200 yards from the parking lot to the classroom and it takes about 4 minutes to walk the distance. I made it in 3 but not without getting wet. Very, very wet.
I was curious to how the students would respond; my teacher friends agree that wind, rain, and full moons cause students to act strangely. I haven’t noticed too much odd behavior with full moons or wind, but the rain brought out student behavior out of the norm.
Here’s how they responded to the rain.
Lots of screaming and yelling went on during passing period. Also, students are excited to inform me that it’s raining.
Students were a lot more squirrely today; many of them talked right through the lecture. Even some of my quiet and studious students were chatty. And, good gravy, the normally chatty students were off the wall!
And some students stayed home.
Shorts and a T-Shirt. Yes, I saw a young man in shorts and a t-shirt casually walking from the parking lot to his class. I know we live in Southern California and all, but shorts and a t-shirt is not the most wise of clothing options.
It’s been a crazy day. I’ve dried out, the students have been pretty good, and the day’s observations have been quite valuable. Rain is rare and students respond differently to drastic change. Yes, here in Southern California, rain is a drastic change.
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28th February 2014
Summative Assessments are an essential part of education. Standardized testing is the wave of the future. Testing is not going away.
Cell phones are another thing not going away. Most students I teach have smartphones. In an unofficial survey of my class more than 68% of the students had a smart phone. Students are tied to their phones for social reasons and parents are adamant about maintaining constant contact with their students (not to mention protecting their students’ expensive cell phone).
There is a great deal of turbulence where testing and cell phone use overlap. In a recent staff meeting one of the APs showed us a screenshot of last year’s STAR Results. Under the heading, in bright red letters reads the following:
A security breach involving social media exposure of 2013 STAR test material has been confirmed at this school site. This school is not eligible for state or federal award recognition during the 2013–14 school year.
Apparently a student took a selfie
with the cover of the STAR booklet. It may seem petty, but under no circumstances is any part of the test allowed to be reproduced; the integrity of the test depends on it.
Now the school is trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening again. One of the big hurdles will be establishing and enforcing rules that run contrary to school culture. Teachers seldom have established procedures for preventing students from using cell phones during quizzes and exams. Most of the time it’s a verbal warning: “Don’t use your cell phone during the exam.” Students and parents push back when cell phone use is infringed.
The ideas for preventing a “security breach” ranged from a school-wide ban on cell phones to buying a cell phone pouch grid that can be mounted to the wall. I don’t know what the official position of the school will end up being, but the whole topic highlighted the benefit of matching my classroom cell phone policy with that of standardized testing.
Folks get riled up when expectations are tightened unexpectedly. Setting expectations from the beginning of the school year seems to be the best way to prevent a tornado of angry emails. Once the standard is established students and parents will feel more at-ease when it comes to standardized testing time.
In Mr. Davis’ Science Classroom, cell phones will be welcome tools for research and analysis, but unwelcome for classic quizzes and exams in accordance with standardized test rules.
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26th February 2014
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We’re taking a quiz on the Cycles of Matter. One of the cycles is the nitrogen cycle, hence this encouraging note.
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26th February 2014
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A picture, of course, is worth a thousand words. But, is a video worth a thousand words? With absolute certainty, everyone knows the answer to this question is “maybe.”
A Lengthy Video
I find it hard to justify watching a video for an entire class-period. Even if students are filling out a worksheet tied to the video, they are only being asked Knowledge
based questions. Unless a teacher is filling in a lesson plan for a substitute teacher dedicating an entire class period seems like a misuse of time.
If it’s necessary to watch an entire video there’s got to a significant assessment that goes along with it. In English or Drama class, watching and analyzing a particular interpretation of a Shakespeare play may be valuable. I can’t think of anything in science that would justify this type of time investment.
Fortunately, many of the new science videos are short but highly informative. Take a look at the Pocket Mouse
video on the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) website. It’s a minute long, well produced, and communicates information very well. HHMI produces DVDs with longer segments and each portion runs for 10-15 minutes.
But, we’re getting into short videos. Videos that run longer than 20 minutes are, in most cases, time-fillers rather than the engaging material we’d hoped for. And, the students know it.
A Short Video
Short videos, on the other hand, can help facilitate inquiry, curiosity, and discussion, all the things that we educators wake up in the morning eager to make happen.
Video segments can help students grasp difficult concepts or visualize instructions before going on to a lab. Not only do students take in the knowledge, but the surrounding time the video can be used for questioning and analysis.
Perhaps I am biased based on my own experience. I can not think of a time in my educational career where watching a lengthy video was an essential part of my understanding. I also don’t know of a single respectable teacher that does this as a regular part of their course.
So, until convinced otherwise, only short videos will make their way into my lesson plans.
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25th February 2014
We started a new unit and there hasn’t been much to grade. I am itching to know what the students know.
Grading papers helps me in two ways. First, it gives me an opportunity to see what the students are learning and, secondly, it’s another way to communicate with students. Grading 186 papers is difficult work, but thinking about these two things keeps the grading engaging.
What do You Know?
I have determined that informing students to the purpose of an assignment helps them produce work that is complete and thorough. Over the past two weeks I have stressed that assignments are a tool for me to know what you know; if you don’t write it down, I don’t know that you know the material.
Over the course of grading I can find weaknesses in the students’ understandings and address them the next day. I can also see where the students are excelling or what topics interest them the most. Knowing students’ strengths and weaknesses helps drive future instruction.
Grading is also a time to communicate back to students. It takes a bit longer, but I want to make comments that will help students. Even if I don’t mark points off, I want them to know how they can do better work. I may refine my ideas on grading, but it seems like the students deserve thoughtful comments on things they spent significant time on. Unless students are given time to research stuff they got wrong, checks and “-1” next to answers doesn’t communicate much to a student.
Today is a good day. Students are turning in their first assignments and I am looking forward to grading them.
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24th February 2014
Chapter 3 Quiz is on Wednesday. Here, Sir. Mr. Davis holds a sign pointing to the bright red note on the board.
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24th February 2014
For the past week we have been learning about Ecology. I have a number of old resources that I have been asked to use in the classroom. With the recent talk of NGSS and STEM I was looking for ways to integrate some sort of meaningful technology into the classroom.
As I was poking through several videos on the Bozeman Science website, Paul Anderson briefly mentioned NetLogo as resource he uses in his classroom. NetLogo is a piece of software that creates computer models of all sorts of scientific or statistical situations. The software helps model everything from basic traffic patterns to game theory. I found a model that helps visualize relationships between predator and prey and I was able to use it in class with great success.
- To quickly visualize the relationship between predator and prey over generations.
- To quickly visualize the results of messing with the balance of predator/prey relationships.
- To visualize and analyze the results of the corresponding data.
Gathering this type of data to has been a lengthy process in the past. It ends up usually being too general or too painstakingly lengthy to make the exercise meaningful. And, generating data where one of the variables changed is hypothetical and equally time-consuming. NetLogo provided a way to quickly generate data for the situations we were looking at.
The Old Way. *sigh*
Downloading and installing NetLogo was pretty simple. It’s a Java
based program so it can be installed almost anywhere and I was impressed that it ran so smoothly on my lightweight laptop.
Here’s a screenshot of the Wolf Sheep Predation model.
Now, here’s what I’m most excited about. The model produced data that really helped scaffold good questions. The students were interested in the modeling and were mostly impressed at how fast data could be generated. The data allowed me to assess the students’ understanding of the principles we’ve been talking about in the last 4 class periods.
In each class we ran a basic simulation and we talked about the ebb and flow of both predator and prey but we were also able to play with the variables. In one instance we had a situation where the number of sheep dipped too low and the wolves went extinct within our digital biome. I got a reaction from a lot of the students! I was surprised and very excited at the empathy!
After the demonstration we moved on to other classwork, but I continued to get questions about the predator/prey relationships, what-if questions, and questions about running the software themselves. For a small investment of classroom time and an hour of my personal time I got quite a satisfying result.
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