27 April 2011


What words would you use to describe the perfect student?  I was thinking about this last night (while sitting in absolutely terrible traffic) and this is the list I came up with (in no particular order):
  • intrinsically motivated
  • intelligent
  • hard-working
  • receives enjoyment from accomplishing a difficult task
  • courteous
  • passionate
Obviously not a complete list and I would love for others to add to this.  Let me explain why I am talking about this.  I have the unbelievable good fortune of tutoring a student who has every one of these traits.  She is 15 years old and has already received a 5 on the AP Spanish, AP English Language, and AP Literature exams, is currently being tutored in AP Calculus and AP Chinese, and is receiving extra Chemistry instruction (originally I was tutoring her for the AP Chemistry exam, but her schedule got in the way and we decided to just supplement what she is doing in her honors class).  She has attended seminars at Harvard (even though they are for college freshmen) and is planning on doing a 2 month internship in China in the fall.  Her parents are incredibly supportive and have always given her every opportunity she could want to allow her to completely develop her abilities.

I am sure you are thinking "why does she need extra Chemistry help if she is so gifted?"  It is a long story, but let's say that her teacher is not the most transparent about what is going to be on assessments.  My job is to attempt to predict what the teacher might ask and how she might ask it, and then find problems to match that.  So we are working on some pretty high-level topics for an Honors Chemistry class (for my science people: Kinetics, Thermodynamics, Redox, Nuclear) and I always try to give her AP Exam problems because that seems to be the difficulty level of the teacher's test.

Anyway, we work through a problem and when we get to the end, my tutoree says "Wow, that was so awesome.  Can we do another?"  I smile, and find another one that has a twist in how you need to answer the question.  After I explain this trick, she says, "That is so neat.  It is so cool how they want you to make those connections."  I stare at her.  No one, not even Chemistry teachers, call AP Exam problems 'neat.'  I have been tutoring this girl since September and I still cannot wrap my brain around the idea that she actually gets excited by solving challenging problems, wanting me to find more, even harder questions.

I hope every teacher has the good fortune to have a student like this one at least once in their career.

25 April 2011

Attack of the Fred

A couple of months ago I read The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn.  For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the basic concept is that we all need to go above and beyond in our jobs, our lives and our relationships.  Don't just do your job well, take strides to do it exceptionally well and others around you will begin to do the same.  So far I have put into people's mailboxes...
  • colored markers with a note that said "The weather outside may be frightful, but this marker will hopefully make your day delightful."
  • a Hershey's hug and kiss with a note that said "Everyone deserves a hug and a kiss on Valentine's Day"
  • a Dum-Dumb lollipop
the markers were only given to those in my department and a few others.  I expanded to giving candy to the secretaries (who LOVE to receive gifts).  But, the lollipops I decided to start giving to everyone.  Now I have to say that these were not met with the enthusiasm that I expected.  In fact, two people left the markers behind in front of the mailboxes and others left their lollipops behind.  But I will not let this deter me.  So I asked my wife to purchase 14 dozen plastic eggs and lots of candies, and my son and I spent about 30 minutes filling the eggs.

Hopefully tomorrow these Easter eggs will bring a smile to everyone's face.

24 April 2011

Decisions, decisions

I teach sophomore level chemistry and my students are working on Slam Poetry in their Honors English class.  This assignment has been all they really had been talking about all week.  Thank goodness I run a blended learning model with my Flipped Classroom otherwise I would have been wasting my time trying to teach last week.  Now, I have no idea what Slam Poetry really is.  My students tried to explain it and my wife says Rap music is slam poetry, but that really means nothing to me.  All I got out of the explanations was that it is poetry that is usually negative, but with an uplifting idea at the end, and it doesn't have to rhyme.

Well, one of my students decides to write hers about how her teachers are stifling her creativity.  She goes on and on about how she wishes her teachers would let her learn about things she is passionate about, about how school is nothing but grades and society believes that high marks equals intelligence when really students can just cheat or extra credit their way to the top.  I read her poem, stepped back and wanted to applaud her.  I told her that, besides the fact that she is going to anger her teacher because the poem basically says the teacher is boring her and forcing to do assignments she hates, that she has found the exact topic that major educational reforms are trying to make.  School needs to be focused more on learning than on completing assignments.  I continued to talk with her and her friend about how teachers disguise creativity in projects by letting the students pick their partners or the method of presentation, but they said the real creativity comes from picking the assignment itself. 

So, I posed them a question.  Justin Tarte likes to make very philosophical educational comments on Twitter and his blog and a few weeks ago he made a comment about whether we, as teachers, believe that if given the choice of whether to come to school or just learn at home that students would voluntarily come to our class to learn.  Well, I presented this idea to these two girls:  if given the choice would you come to school or just learn whatever you want at home?  One girl said flat out that she loves to learn and would come to school because she is required to attend.  But when I reminded her that she is no longer required to actually enter the building and can still learn, she didn't know which one she would choose.

The student who wrote the poem (and I have asked her for a copy to post here so keep checking back) said immediately there were only 2 classes she would actually come to school for, mine being one of them.  (I find this funny as the beauty of the Flipped Classroom is you don't have to be in the classroom to still learn the material.  The classroom is for the 1 on 1 interaction with the teacher)  Both students agreed that they wanted to be inspired; they wanted a teacher who was going to motivate them to take their learning to the next level. 

This last comment threw me.  Do I inspire students to take their learning to the next level?  I know I have strong instructional technique and I try to be innovative to keep the material interesting, but are my students just going through the motions in my class or are they motivated to do more?

I would love to hear how you are inspiring your students and how they inspire you.

22 April 2011

Teacher Tech Tip

A couple of weeks ago I made a post about starting a Teacher Tech Tip of the week.  I have started to put out feelers to find out 1) if anyone has seen them and 2) if they are being used.  Wordle seems to be fairly popular around the humanities and I was glad to hear that several teachers have already been using it in the foreign languages and English classes.  The science teachers I talked to had read the tip, but never actually used it.  They did think it was an interesting idea.

As I was preparing for this week's tip (more on that in a moment) I realized that I have never tried Wordle.  It never even occurred to me to try the very tip I was trying to encourage others to use.  Once I saw that
Wordle had the ability pull information from this blog, I knew I had to try it.  So, here is what was created:
Wordle: Pretty Good

Unbelievably easy to use.  I just kept clicking the randomize button until I got something I was happy with.  For some reason it is coming in blurry, but if you click the picture it will send you to Wordle's site where it is clear.
This week's tech tip was Animoto.  I am putting together something about Twitter this week and will post my final product next week.  Here is the Starter Sheet I used: