30 May 2011

This rock will turn into a tree

My son is about to turn 4 so needless to say I watch A LOT of Disney and Pixar movies. Now kids movies of today are so radically different than the movies of my youth. For one, there are almost always clearly defined learning objectives for the movie (Cars: treat everyone with respect; Monsters, Inc.: cheaters never prosper) instead of just the fluff that was produced in the 80s (Oliver and Company?). Second, they are made for adults as much as kids because the creators clearly want the parents to pass along the underlying message.

My point. We are watching A Bug's Life and there are two very important messages said right in the beginning of the movie. The in your face obvious one is delivered by the main character, Flick. He is speaking to Dot, a child ant, who is mocked by other ants because she is so small. Flick hands her a rock, tells her it's a seed, and explains how everything that makes their giant tree is already contained in this tiny, little seed. Dot looks at him and says "this rock will become a tree?" While some of the message was lost on Dot, clearly we must remember to reinforce in our kids that just because they feel small and insignificant now it doesn't mean that they won't be a huge, powerful force in the future.

But that was not the moral that inspired this post.  Flick is an inventor, a tinkerer.  Someone who looks at a problem and develops a innovative solution for it.  He is not smarter than any of his other bugs, but he doesn't let the status quo stop him from being.  At the beginning of the movie, all of the ants are picking seeds and fruits and walking in their typical ant line to a gigantic pile of food they are collecting for a group of grasshoppers.  Suddenly, a stalk comes flying out of the air and lands right on the princess.  Flick was using a device that cut down a stalk, plucked all of the seeds on it at once, then flung the stalk away.  Clearly, a must more efficient method than picking 1 seed at a time and walking that 1 seed to the pile.  When Flick runs over to help, one of the older supervisor ants yells at him and exclaims "Why can't you do it like everyone else?!"

Ants are known for their conformity and here is someone who is bucking the system.  Yes, he makes mistakes along the way and almost wipes out the colony, but in the end he is a hero.  His ideas help scare away the grasshoppers and saves the colony.  The best part is all of the harvesters are using his devices, doing less work and producing more food in the end.

I have had a lot of people tell me "Why can't you do it like everyone else?"  The answer is I am not built that way and neither are most of my students.  The problem is we continue to try and put kids into the pre-designed holes that we have created for them.  It's ok if they don't fit because we will either chip away at them until they do or we will cast them aside and let someone else try to make them work.  Let your kids be a Flick.  Let them have great ideas and do whatever you can to make them a reality.

23 May 2011

Awesome #2

I thought since my first Awesome post was about things non-education related, that I should jump back and talk about a couple of things my students do that feel awesome.

#3  When former students come to visit
I love it when graduates come back to visit, even if it is students I was not particularly close to.  It is amazing the transformation they go through in the 1st year of college.  Last week some of my former students showed up randomly and one ended up spending nearly 2 hours just chatting with me during my classes.  He is not really that different than when he left, but his confidence level is so much higher.  He just went on and on about the different things he was doing, the people he was meeting and even the places he was traveling to.  I was only his teacher for 1 year, but I am proud of the man he is becoming.

#4  When a plan comes together
One of the philosophies of the Flipped Classroom is to increase peer teaching to allow the teacher more interaction with all members of the class.  In my classes, there is much more collaboration than there is peer teaching.  But, in one class I have three guys who just fight with each other over who has the right answer.  And when I say fight, I mean disrupt the entire class as they argue back and forth as to who has the best method for solving the problem.  Normally, you need to squash this kind of behavior, but after the argument they sit down and explain the solution to each other.  It is so amazing to watch this sudden shift from combatants to teacher to combatants again.  I love it when a plan comes together.


So I have been having trouble with blogger and even though I wrote this several weeks ago, it was never published.  There was a section at the bottom explaining what a student thinks a great teacher should be, but it must have been erased in a network glitch.

This week was Teacher Appreciation Week and I think that sparked a lot of posts and comments related to the question "What Makes a Great Teacher?"  I have had a number of great teachers (or what I felt were great teachers) through my formative years and have had the pleasure of working alongside great teachers during my 11 years as a teacher.  So many politicians are looking for ways to get "bad" teachers out of the classroom and reward good teaching, but so much of what they want to do is based on statistical data like test scores and student improvement.  The problem is real teaching isn't necessarily tangible.  When I think about all of the teachers that I truly respect, they all have the following characteristics:
  • Let the students be themselves and tap into those natural abilities.  I loved projects because they let me go above and beyond and test out ideas that were bouncing around in my head.  I remember dressing as Clarence Darrow to give a speech, creating a video for History back when there was no video editing software, creating sparklers in Chemistry.
  • Treat students with respect and as the adults you want them to become.  I hate when I hear a teacher say "you kids need to quiet down!"  If you want respect, you have to give respect.  If you call a teenager a "kid" they will act like it.
  • Be willing to admit that you are wrong.  We are all human so we all make mistakes.  Admit that your way is not the only/best way or admit that you don't know the answer and will look it up and the students will respect you so much more for it.
  • Enthusiasm and passion are more important than instructional ability.  One of my favorite teachers in HS was so boring--every day we took notes from the overhead except lab days in which we did lab.  Every day, same routine.  But he loved his job and that shined through in everything he did.  It no longer mattered how boring the topic was or how tired I was, I was more attentive because of the passion he brought to the job.
  • Embrace technology.  I was the first person on my street with a personal computer.  I spent many hours on the computer playing games, learning DOS and learning to type.  It pained me through school when I was required to hand-write a report because I felt there was a better way.  When I did my student teaching, we had brand-new CBLs with probes that the teachers never took out of the shrink wrap because they said they were just too complicated to use.  Technology and the changes to education it is causing are not going away so we need to embrace it and make it work better for us.

    12 May 2011

    An unexpected benefit

    I have been using the Flipped Classroom for several months now and I have found tons of positive aspects to it.
    • my students feel more relaxed in class as they are learning the material
    • the pace of learning is completely student driven.  If they want to work on chemistry they do; if they need to study for something else, they do that instead. (has been great for the students are are also taking AP Exams this week)
    • everything is done collaboratively.  None of my students are islands and they all seek out each other when they are struggling rather than always turning to me.
    • labs are more spread out so I can focus my attention on the few students performing the lab rather than managing an entire class at once.
    • more interaction with all of my students because I am not lecturing anymore.
    These are things that most people who have done the flip have said.  But something happened recently that I didn't fully expect and it shows one of the other benefits of this design.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia on Monday and the doctor prescribed 2 days of rest, along with a host of antibiotics.  Unfortunately, my appointment was at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I had no sub plans for the next two days because I was fully planning on being in school when I left on Monday.  Now, most teachers panic in a situation like this because how are they going to continue instruction, give the students meaningful material AND keep pace with the curriculum so close to the end of the year?

    The Flipped Classroom to the rescue!!  I came back after two days absence and not a minute has been lost in my class.  Students had been watching podcasts and completing work just as if I was in class.  The only exception was they were not able to ask questions while I was gone so I got bombarded at the beginning of class (why don't they ever use their email?!).  Learning takes place on the students' schedules not the teachers in the Flipped Classroom.  The fact that learning still took place when I wasn't there demonstrates on the focus has shifted in the room.

    02 May 2011

    The first A in Awesome

    Today my students took the AP Exam in Chemistry.  Every year since I started teaching AP, I provide breakfast for my students:  bagels, OJ, apple juice, granola bars, water, pop tarts, oranges.  The Chemistry exam is always in the morning and some of my students have lunch at the time when the exam is occurring.  I feel it is important to take a snack break in the middle of the exam to revitalize you and give a little boost for the next section.  I do this because I love the look on their faces when they walk in the classroom and see that I really did bring in food (why do they always think I am lying to them) and I love to hear how more upbeat their voices are as they talk over the simple meal.  Normally there are a number of thank you's, but this year I got something different.  One of the students from the other AP class, that I don't teach, asking one of my students "what's with all the food?"  The reply stopped me:  "'Cause Mr. Seigel's Awesome!!"

    So, I was thinking about this all day and I decided I needed to show my students Neil Pasricha's TED Talk.  As I am watching it for the 3rd time, I realized that I need to start my own list of Awesome Things to turn to when I am having a rough day.  This will be an ongoing post and by the end of the year, I hope to have 100 things on this list. (In no particular order)

    #1  Fresh Baked New York-Style Bagel
    Now I will eat almost any bagel, but there is something about a New York-style bagel.  It's crisp outside crunches perfectly as you bite into it and then the inside is warm and soft.  There is a place near my house which conveniently opens right before I pass it on my way into work and the bagels are coming out of the oven as I am ordering them.  Granted, the cream cheese gets liquified because it is so warm, but it is so worth it when you are licking it off your fingers later.

    #2  The smell of my son's head after a bath
    I want to be clear that this is not the smell of the baby shampoo because we use something that absolutely has no odor to it when it is in the bottle.  There is just something about little babies and little children; they give off some sort of magical aroma that makes you want to love them more.  If someone could bottle that and sell it as perfume they would make a fortune.