26 December 2011

Chapter 1: The day my teacher lost his mind

I had some zany teachers and some who really knew how to make you laugh. I had some who were phenomenal instructors and some who really knew how to inspire. But I never had a teacher like me. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong decade and other times I am glad I am teaching now. It is absolutely the most exciting time to be both a student and a teacher as new ideas and methods of instruction are constantly being invented. With that said I would like to present my latest entry into the book of crazy.

My current principal has a lot of potential as an administrator:  he is young, energetic, open to new ideas, willing to admit he doesn't know everything, and wants to do more.  He has budgeted for 60 ipads (plus carts) in next year's budget.  When he told me this I was excited for him on the outside, but cringed on the inside.  My district has had some turmoil in the past and that has caused many of the teachers to close their doors and just do their own thing.  While there is a lot of good things happening in the district, there is little effort to share and even more resistance to change.  Often, when schools make large technology purchases such as this, there are 2 outcomes: 1) everyone is super excited and fighting over who gets to use it first or 2) and far too often this is the case, the technology sits in a storage room collecting dust because no one knows how to use it properly.  I cringed because I was thinking of the SMART board that has been moved to science storage room because no one wants to take the time to use it.

There has been a lot of talk about ipads in education on #edchat.  All of these people would not be sharing resources and ideas if they didn't have some merit so I have been trying to follow along.  I have noticed some very interesting apps (doceri, screenchomp, educreations) that would make my life as a teacher easier and also some that would allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the material (voicethread, prezi).  Looking at all of this made me realize that I can talk about the benefits of the ipad all day, but if I don't have proof of how it can be used in my classroom right now, I will never convince my colleagues to use them.

Which brings me to the latest chapter in my book.  I cannot afford an ipad so I borrowed one.  For the entire month of January my students will be allowed to "rent" my ipad during class with the intention that they are using to demonstrate why these are important learning tools that should be in every class.  I say "rent" because they will be paying me in experiences (ok that sounded less corny in my head).  Every time they use the ipad they will be adding to a Google Doc about what they used, how they used it and what they learned from the experience.  This is going to make professional development on the devices so much easier as I will have the students' words to back up what I am saying.

I have no idea if this is going to work, but I have to try.  I am just too afraid of the 90s happening again, where schools dumped money into things that ended up being thrown out or sold because no one was using them.  My students have said they want more of this type of technology in the school.

Why not give it to them?

21 December 2011

Another chapter in the book of crazy

I've decided that if I ever have the chance to (and motivation) to write a book, that's what I am going to call it.  Sometimes my ideas are just too crazy to be believable.  Let me tell you what I did this week.

I flipped my honors chemistry class for the previous unit and it went exceptionally well.  The students seemed very eager to try a new method and were so supportive of everything that we tried.  I went back to a more traditional method for the current unit, and since I really wanted them to see the difference, I went really traditional.  Lectured for the majority of class, went too fast without a lot of examples, and did labs that did not have a clear objective.  Problem was I HATED IT!!  It was torture using a method that I had just proven does not work.  I felt so so bad for my students having put them through a week and a half of hell.

I am sitting down to write the test on Monday night and I realized that since my teaching methods had been so low level, my test was going to be almost all recall.  We made very few connections between the material which would virtually eliminate all ability to write critical thinking questions.  So, completely on a whim and not really thinking it through, I sent the following email to my students:

"During this marking period I have flipped the classroom, let you make s'mores, and made you make apple pie out of saltines.  So, why not continue the crazy behavior.  I have decided that I have no interest in giving you a "test" on Atomic Theory.  I didn't want to give it on Thursday, but since I wanted to have some fun this week, that's the only day left.  To be honest, I have been struggling with the idea of major assessments all year, hence the reason I have been making things more objective based instead of assignment based.  This unit has had three objectives:

1.  Explain where radiation comes from and why it is important to the understanding of the atom.
2.  Compare and contrast the models of the atom and explain why the Quantum Mechanical Model is the theory we use today.
3.  Identify an element based on either its electron configuration or orbital diagram.

The problem is I have to have some sort of formal assessment to prove that you have met the objectives, but I don't want to give a test.  So, I am going to let YOU decide how YOU want to prove YOU understand the material.  I am going to put no restrictions on you other than whatever you decide on must demonstrate understanding of the above objectives.  I know that some of you are freaking out right now because you have no idea what the hell I am talking about or what you are going to do.  Random ideas that are going through my head are podcasts, models, drawings, make your own test, interpretive dance, make a review game, develop a class activity, act out a skit....um I'm out.  I don't care what it is as long as it is yours and it demonstrates the above objectives."

The reception has been mixed.  All are relieved that there is no "test" this week with all the other things going on in other classes (1 student said she had 4 tests scheduled for Thursday) and this allowed them to relax a little in such a stress filled week.  But, when faced with the idea that they have to come up with their own method for demonstrating understanding, most are very concerned.  Now the ones who are embracing this and starting early have had great ideas.  A group of 4 are making a music video, 2 girls are doing an interpretive dance (totally was joking about that in the email, but they love the idea) and 1 is going to make her own test.  

They have 2 weeks to figure this out and I am excited/nervous to see the results.  

So, was this crazy enough?

08 December 2011

What can we do?

One of my students is fond of retweeting from @SayingsForGirls.  Today, the following came up:
I sat and stared at my computer for awhile trying to figure out how to respond to this.  I responded back to her with
Unfortunately she gave me a funny response which didn't help.  But, the real problem still remains.  Teenage girls are sitting in class thinking about all of these other things, not what I am talking about.  We can put on the theatrics and fancy demos to try and draw their attention, but they are still spending more time thinking my room is too cold then how awesome it was to watch the death of a gummy bear.

So, amazing educators of the world, how do we get "I'm excited to be here" into the top 6 things teenagers are thinking about?  How do we get them to wake up in the morning and say "I am excited to go to school today!"

01 December 2011

Element Wordle

I have no windows and a lot of white walls in my classroom.  I was sitting in my room staring at this blank space and suddenly Wordle popped into my head.  What if I created a Wordle of the elements and painted it on the wall?  I don't know if the administration will allow it, but below is what I created on hall duty today.  What do you think?  Coolest Periodic Table ever!!