24 October 2011

I love it when they get it

I introduced the Mole today in my Honors Chemistry class.  For those of you who don't remember HS chemistry, the mole is a generic term that represents a specific amount of a substance, specifically 6.02x1023 of a substance.  To put the size of this number in perspective, if you were to collect 1 mole of pennies and distribute those pennies equally to every human on the planet, each person would receive approximately one TRILLION dollars.  It's a lot of stuff.

My honors class is unlike any class I have in that they try to distract me from teaching by asking me complex questions related to the topic.  So, after I shock them with the above example, one student starts asking if you laid the pennies end to end, would it stretch around the world.  I said it would probably stretch around the world a few thousand times.  This answer was not acceptable for her so I told her to get the netbook out and look it up; Google the dimensions of a penny and the size of the Earth and figure out how many pennies you would need.  Just to prove me wrong, she rushes over, grabs the computer and is off working for the next 15 minutes.  (FYI, I was way off.  1 mole of pennies would wrap around the Earth approximately 899 TRILLION times)

After a few minutes I am talking about how to calculate the mass of 1 mole of a compound and a different student wanted to know how many moles of water are in a human being.  Not knowing how much water is actually in the human body, I told her (surprise, surprise) to Google it.  She picks up her iPhone and starts her search.  Unfortunately she ran short of time and energy before she could figure out an answer.  Turns out they only have percentages of water content listed on sites and not grams.  We needed a bathroom scale to actually measure someone's weight.  Guess what I am bringing in tomorrow!

I don't really care if they can calculate the number of moles of sodium in a sample.  What I do want is for them to be inquisitive, to know that they are free to ask questions, to know they are free to ignore me and work on something that has more meaning for them.  I want more days like today.

Want ad

I want to redesign the want ads that I see for school principals that I see in the paper.  Normally, under qualifications, you see phrases like:

  • experience in NCLB, grant writing, and school management
  • a master's degree preferred
  • knowledge of current instructional practices and experience implementing on a whole school setting
  • Prior administrative and/or teaching experience at the elementary and/or secondary level preferred
  • Demonstrated leadership capability in the areas of curriculum and staff development.
  • Strong interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Curriculum and staff development
  • Communication with community
  • Innovative Staff Evaluation Strategies
  • Recruitment and staffing
  • Data Driven Decision Making
  • N.J. Core Curriculum Content Standards
  • Developing high performing teacher learning teams
While some of these are absolutely necessary, there are several really, really important ones that should be in every job description.  Why don't you ever see:
  • Is an innovative educator who uses varied teaching techniques to maximize the potential of his/her students.
  • Understands that technology is a necessary tool for instruction and should be incorporated into every aspect of the school.
  • Inspires those around him/her to reach their potential and push themselves beyond.
  • Is a creative problem solver.
  • Has an open mind.
  • Provides his/her staff with as many resources as possible to maximize the learning for the students.
  • Is student oriented.
  • Understands that sometimes learning is messy.
  • Is supportive of the staff and assists parents and students who working through their problems with the teacher before calling the principal's office.
  • Has a desire to foster a strong community relationship through the school's website, blog, facebook page and twitter account.
  • Is willing to dare to fail.
While I absolutely agree that many from the first list are necessary for someone who is going to manage a program, I know that I don't want to be managed.  I want a leader; I want to be inspired; I want to be given the chance to shine in my own way.  In reality, I want someone who is daring and makes me want to be daring too.

Am I asking too much?  Does this person really exist?

21 October 2011

Proud of them

Recently I gave my CP Chemistry class my Adopt an Element Project.  This year I decided to change it.  Normally there is a research component which is typed into a 3-5 page paper and then a presentation of the research.  Problem is I am tired of getting PowerPoints and even more tired of cut and paste material.  They don't even read half of what they are putting into the presentation so, in reality, what are they really getting out of the project?

I gave the students 1 objective:  create a 1 minute video convincing us that your element is the best element in the class.  I let them define what the word best was because I didn't want everyone to focus on only the positive aspects of their element.  When some students have Lead, Mercury and Arsenic, it is tough to find the positives as they are all poisonous.  I showed them how to use Animoto.com and let them run with it for 3 days.  Two students decided that Animoto limited them too much so they used iMovie to create theirs (why should I force them to do it my way if there is something better for them?).  We showed them on Wednesday and the class voted on which one they felt were the best elements.  Here are the winners:

19 October 2011

I like not having a map

I need to tell 2 stories to setup my thoughts for today.

US History
I never liked history in school.  I was always very good at it, but it was never a subject that appealed to me for a variety of reasons.  Junior year in NJ is USII.  We were given the assignment to make a presentation explaining an aspect of the first world war.  My group picked the events leading up to the war.  We couldn't figure out how to make a poster out of this (this was the mid-90s so PowerPoint was not an option.  Neither really was a computer) so we decided to make a news broadcast.  Borrowing my dad's video camera, my group filmed scenes that would be associated with a new program including sports, weather, and a breaking news section which cut to a field reporter on the streets just moments after Archduke Ferdinand's car exploded.  It was outside the box and completely different from all of the other presentations that were done.  Most just simply wrote information on a large piece of poster board or read off of scripts.  We received a C. We were told that we should have done it like everyone else and just put as much information is as we could. In fact, the teacher said the only reason we received a C was for the amount of effort we put into making the video.

My senior year in college I opt to take a Sociology class.  I figured if I am going to be a teacher I had better have a better understanding of how communities and people interact with each other.  Unfortunately, I was also completing my education degree at a different university at the same time and had to log at least 40 hours of observations at the school at which I would be doing my student teaching in the spring.  Since Sociology was at 10am, this meant I had to skip the class at least once per week.  Needless to say my professor was not happy with me; granted I didn't like her much either.  Our hostile feelings toward each other (yes, they were hostile) escalated to the point where she mocked me in front of the entire class saying that was it ironic that the future teacher couldn't even show up to class every day.  I responded with maybe if she made the class more meaningful for me I would have a reason to show up.  Not my finest moment, but she deserved it. Anyway, I digress.  I knew that she was going to give me a C in the class solely because I refused to agree with her opinions in class (she insisted that minority groups couldn't be racist because that is a term reserved only for the majority race), but I needed an A so I decided to play school.  I specifically wrote a paper agreeing with her just to boost her ego.  She actually called me in for a meeting to gloat and comment on how great it was that she could help me see the light.  I got the A.

What's my point?  While I like rules, I really need to be able to bend and break those rules at my will.  I like to use my imagination and when you force me to do it your way, you are stifling me.  I am listening to Seth Godin's book Linchpin and he said "I like not having a map."  Sometimes I feel the same way.  I like finding my own way through things and I want to inspire my students to do the same.  I gave a project recently in which my students were given a 1 sentence objective Create a 1 minute video that convinces the class that your element is the best element on the Periodic Table.  Many of the kids hated it because I didn't tell them how many pictures, how many slides, how much history, how many uses; if I give them all of these restrictions I will get 80 of the exact same video with different titles.  But, if I give them only loose guidelines and let their imaginations run wild, I hopefully will get much better products.

I understand what both my history teacher and Sociology professor were doing.  There's just no way I can ever be like that.  

18 October 2011

Too much in my head

I have been holding off making a post because I didn't want to interfere with my contest.  Now I have so much in my head one post cannot hold it all.  Let me give a brief overview of a few things and then focus on what happened today.

Went to Edscape on Saturday hosted Eric Sheninger at New Milford HS.  Absolutely amazing experience sitting with so many passionate, like-minded educators who are looking to find new tools to help their students grow.  While some of the sessions I could have run, I got so many good ideas from Adam Bellow and Lyn Hilt, both of whom I could listen to all day and not get bored.  It really inspired me to get my butt in gear in planning TeachMeet 2012.

TeachMeet 2012
Was able to connect with several people concerning the planning for TeachMeet.  Many things have stalled because we just can't find a venue.  Mostly this is because people don't respond to my emails.  Not sure why this is happening, but wish I could just find a place to get the rest of the planning started.  I have possible connections with Rutgers, Piscataway HS and Rutgers Prep so maybe one of them will actually get booked.

Meeting with the Principal
The principal who hired me left the school under mysterious circumstances and in a whirlwind of controversy. My guess is he said the wrong thing to the wrong person and they decided to find a new school leader.  We actually are still working under an interim principal who very well could end up back in his assistant role in a couple of weeks.  Anyway, I like to know the person who is leading me so on a whim I emailed him to see if he would meet with me to talk about his vision for the school.  Up until today, I haven't spoken to him for more than a few minutes so I wasn't sure how this was going to go.

My original plan was to mostly keep my mouth shut and let him talk, but that died out about 2 minutes into the meeting.  We started talking about getting everyone to create a class webpage using Google Sites (we will be going to Google Apps starting in the fall) and the conversation spiraled into more of the ideas of how to make the school great.  We started planning a Magnet program for the school, spun the professional development plans to work better with the union, and potentially started a new committee to integrate more technology into the classroom as well as to showcase the innovative ideas already in practice.  We use PLCs in the school.  Well, that's not completely accurate.  A few years ago they used PLCs, but with the constantly changing administrative staff, everything that was created has gone by the waste side.  Hopefully we will be able rebuild some of what was lost.

To be honest, my meeting was a little selfish.  I have a lot of ideas of how to change education bouncing in my head and, since I returned to the classroom, I haven't had the chance to test many of them out.  It was so fantastic to get the chance to talk out my ideas and have someone receptive to what I had to say.  The principal wants to do anything he can to move the school forward, but I don't think he really knows what the best way is.

Maybe I need to get him on Twitter.

17 October 2011

And the winner is....

As you know, I was running a contest to see who would win a full version of Camtasia Studio.  The amazing people at TechSmith were nice enough to sponsor me at the NJSTA conference so I figured I would spread the word about their equally amazing products.

I received 12 comments on the post.  I put the numbers into random.org and came up with the following:

I looked at the list of comments and the first number, luckily, corresponded with a comment of a Mac user.  So CONGRATULATIONS LOU C!!!  Here is the comment he left:
I was at the presentation (Mac user in front row) and I enjoyed and appreciated your enthusiasm for the flipped classroom. I teach Chem concepts, Chem 1 (essentially CP) and AP at Westfield (NJ) HS. I recently started using the flipped approach (albeit imperfectly) for my unit on sig figs, scientific notation & dimensional analysis, units for which I usually find a large percentage of students complaining that they didn't know where to start with the homework. I'm intrigued by your ability to manage/juggle the multiple activities occurring in your room. Some of it would work for me, and some wouldn't (our laptops are dinosaurs that won't connect to the internet, so viewing the videos in the classroom would be a problem). I still have to learn to wean myself off of "checking homework" and going over the material in the front of the room (even as a "review" of the videos) and simply head into working groups. I am the first teacher in the department to delve into this model, and a lot of people are looking to me for the results. I will introduce more flipping into units as I go, and I would like to make it the majority of the units next year, so the resources you provided will help tremendously.
Lou C

The second number I pulled from random.org was:

Which corresponded to the comment left by JOHN VENNER!!!
Flipping Algebra I class at the 7th grade level, have been at it almost since the beginning of the year. I'm not the source of the material right now though, using everything and anything on the web (videos, activities, interactive web sites) to get the material/concepts delivered....I have three forms: Video Note Taking Guide (notes, comments, summary), Video Reflection (more along the lines of summarizing the ideas) and Web Site Reflection (topic, delivery, what did you learn)...this is the basis for their notebook and checked at the beginning of class. We start with discussions, student presentations and reviews...address questions about the "lesson" and eventually move into practice....very rough around the edges but so far so good.

Congratulations again to John and Lou.  As I mentioned in my previous post, please either email me using the link in my profile or DM me on Twitter so I can get your mailing address.  Thank you to everyone for playing.  I am hoping to have more prizes again in the future.  

12 October 2011

The contest

Well, the presentation went very well.  I have some choice remarks for the NJSC committee, but that is for a different post.  Let's just say next time they shouldn't tell me my presentation was for an hour, but then give me an hour and a half.  Didn't really matter as the presentation went 2 hours.

I just wanted to thank everyone who attended for the fantastic questions.  I hope I was able to express how important it is to make the flipped class your own.  Simply adopting mine or Jon's or Aaron's methods will absolutely result in failure and frustration.  Make the method meaningful and centered around YOUR students and you will see how well they will adapt to it.

Since the presentation took so long, I totally forgot to raffle off the Camtasia Studio software (a $299 value!) TechSmith was nice enough to give me.  So, instead I am going to hold a contest on this blog.  Here are the rules:
1.  You must leave a comment related to your impressions of the flipped classroom.  Include your first name, last initial and what town and state you are teaching in.  Please also include whether you use a PC or a Mac.
2.  You must be a resident of the USA (sorry, international rates are too expensive).
3.  I will use a random number generator to select 2 viewers of the blog.  The winners will be posted on the blog on Monday, 10/17.
4.  The winners will be responsible for direct messaging me on Twitter with their email address so I can get the address to send the software to.

Good luck to everyone!  And winners need only be viewers of my blog; you did not have to be at the NJ Science Convention.

11 October 2011

My first presentation

Tomorrow I am presenting at the NJ Science Teacher Convention about the Flipped Classroom.  This will be my first conference presentation so I am both freaking out and really, really excited.  I really love what I do and I want to share that with as many people as possible.  The flipped classroom is really growing in popularity and the attention it is getting is fantastic!  In fact, tonight's #edchat topic was focused on it.  Some great discussions on both sides about what it looks like and what it could/should be.  I wish that Jon and Aaron could have seen it, but, alas, they are training teachers in Norway about it.

Below is the Prezi I made for my presentation.  When I learned that my proposal was accepted, I contacted TechSmith, the company that makes Camtasia Studio (the program I use for my podcasts), about possible door prizes.  Well, when the box arrived, I was blown away by their generosity.  I have 2 T-shirts, 30 pens, 30 evaluation software CDs and 2 full copies of Camtasia Studio to give away (FYI they are $299 each!!).  It is amazing how dedicated this company is to helping teachers improve their instruction.  If you haven't used their software, I HIGHLY recommend you do so soon.  Jing is great for creating short screencasts.  And, of course, Camtasia Studio is the tool for anyone doing lengthier, more involved podcasts.

I hope you enjoy the presentation.  If you are at the conference, please stop in and say hello.

02 October 2011

It's the little things

I am a huge fan of smoothies so it is with great fortune that there is a Smoothie King in the same parking lot as my sons' daycare.  The owners are a pair of brothers.  One is a trained chef, the other a market analyst.  When the economy started to tank, Bill (the market analyst) was afraid of losing his job due to downsizing so he called his brother, they pooled their money, and they bought a Smoothie King franchise.  Eighteen months after opening their first, they started work on their second.

Bill and I chat whenever I come in (he remembers me because of how I spell my first name).  We were talking about how he never considered himself an outgoing person, but there is some down time while the smoothies are mixing so he sometimes talks with the customers.  He told me this story:

An elderly man (84 years young), comes in 4-5 times per week.  One day, I asks the man how he likes the smoothies since he comes in so often.  The man says that he hasn't tried any of the smoothies he has purchased.  He said his wife has stomach cancer and he brings her a smoothie to give her some additional nutrition.  The man said that it is amazing to see his wife's face light up when she sees him walk in with the Smoothie King cup.

Sometimes we don't realize how the little things we do can have such a huge impact on those around us.