25 May 2012


Next year we are moving to block scheduling and this is very frightening for many teachers because we are losing a lot (88 minutes per week in science) from the instructional time.  Having spent the first 6 years of my career on almost an identical schedule as what will be adopted, I haven't really been as concerned with the changes as many of my colleagues.  The focus of too many of our conversations has been on how to get through all of the content in the curriculum.  But this has got me thinking:

if we focus on skills, will the content take care of itself?

I was tossing around the idea earlier in the year of revamping how the beginning of the year starts.  In the past, my year started with the typical song and dance on the first day and then we jump right into activities and content on day 2.  I don't want to do that anymore.  My students need to practice and become proficient in some specific skills before we can move forward with chemistry learning.  Here is what I am thinking:

  1. Google Docs--I am definitely moving toward a paperless environment.  I have already moved all of my labs to Google Docs so I think it is time to do it with more of the course.  The best part of the Gdocs is the collaboration and I want my students doing more of that.  Also, becoming a Google Ninja will definitely be a priority on my list of activities for my students.
  2. Search skills--Science is about research and inquiry, and few of my students have any ability to complete in depth searches.  When we start the material, it is going to start with specific web searches and then grow to more open-ended research.  From these searches we will develop the notes for the unit and I will simply supplement whatever is in the curriculum that the students didn't find on their own.  Through this I will also help develop the skills for learning outside of class for when I introduce the full flipped classroom.
  3. Web 2.0 Tools--My students know Animoto and that's pretty much it.  I have found so many great web tools that can enhance their learning and they need to start exploring these.  This will be on-going as we will also be working on incorporating presentation skills into most of these.
  4. Focus on Objectives--Students seem to get so wrapped up in what work they have to do, when it is due and how many points it is worth that they forget about the real purpose of school.  Every assignment that we complete, whether it is just exploration of a web tool or something chemistry related, will be related back to a clearly defined objective.  Part of the final assessment in every section will be a demonstration by the students that they have understand and mastered the objectives.  
I figure if instead of starting the year by jumping into content, and instead focus on skills that can be used all year and in every class, my students will be better prepared for learning.  From there I can integrate the content and let it take care of itself.

I would love to hear how about the changes you are making for the start of next year.  Any comments are always welcomed!

24 May 2012


Twice in the last year, administrators have told me I am "too passionate."  Out of curiosity, when did passion become a bad thing?  I have been pondering this question for the last few days and I think I have an answer.

Passion is a negative when the status quo is the objective.

Now when I say status quo I am not talking about being stagnate.  You can still be moving forward, but you are following the same 5 year goals that you had 5 years ago.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing, and a lot of good schools are doing this and having great results.  But I want need something more.

I thought of this analogy this morning:  You are standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Far below you is the canyon floor with the Colorado River running through it.  You have 3 choices: sit there with a pair of binoculars and watch the river from the top of the canyon wall, ride a donkey or walk down a twisting path to the bottom, or base jump off the top of the canyon and parachute down.

All three choices get you a view of the river.  None of them is necessarily a bad choice depending on what your intended outcome is.

But I am a base jumper.  I love the thrill of doing something that few others are and I love the rush of not knowing exactly how everything will turn out.  I never jump without a parachute (ok, almost never).  I want to help others to learn how to take that first leap and I want an administrator who is going to be standing there handing out parachutes.

So, who's with me?

16 May 2012

Shifting the focus

In NJ, many school districts use an online application process for hiring in which there is a question that reads: "From your point of view, how important is technology in education?"  When personal computers first hit education, they were productivity tools; devices that simply made publications, spreadsheets, and typing documents easier to create.  As they became more advanced, computers turned to devices for consumption of information through CD-Roms and eventually web site searches.  Unfortunately, too many teachers see integrating technology as one more thing they have to do rather than using them in ways to make their lives easier.  I think we need to shift the focus.

Chris Lehmann said in his presentation at ISTE11 in Philadelphia, “technology should be like oxygen; ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.”  We need to help teachers realize that technology is not something else we have to do, but rather that it can help make our jobs easier and replace some of the things we currently use.  I encourage students using cell phones in my class, especially during lab days.  What better way to document a chemical reaction than to take a picture of it and put it along side a data table on the lab sheet?  Why should students have to make a graph by hand, on graph paper, when spreadsheets will do it for them as well as do the calculations necessary for the graph?  If a student has a question about material from class, why shouldn't I encourage them to pull out their phone and simply Google the response?  Sure they can raise their hand, wait for me to call on them, and hope I have the answer.  But, isn't it better for them in the long run if I teach them to find the answer on their own.

One of the most common phrases in my house growing up was, "go look it up."  My parents weren't shirking their parental duties.  They were teaching me to take ownership of my learning.

We need to shift the focus of technology from "integration into learning" to "ubiquitous part of learning."  We need stop viewing mobile devices as distractions (yes, sometimes they represent that too) and start recognizing the power they have to create stronger students.

Now the question becomes, how to we make this happen?