28 September 2012

A better use of time

I thought I lucked out this year by being assigned lunch detention as my duty.  This would be a great opportunity to sit in a room by myself and grade papers.  Sure, once in a while some student would get detention, but that shouldn't happen that often.  

Well, except for the first 2 days of school, there has been someone in there every day with me.  Still, not so bad and can still get a lot done.  Then the rules came out.
No cell phones
No talking
No ipods
No sitting near each other
No sleeping
Students are to do school work or sit quietly
Students are expected to have the same behavior as found in your classroom

I had been struggling with some of these rules as I see the fact that the students are being pulled away from their friends and put into a room with no windows for 52 minutes as punishment enough.  But the last comment is what was really bugging me.  If you are a reader of my blog you know that I encourage collaboration, cell phone use, iPods every single day.  My students are encouraged to make the classroom as comfortable a learning environment as possible.

So Thursday comes and a student walks in absolutely radiating anger.  This was now his 7th day of detention out of 10 days of school.  He had no school work so he spent about 10 minutes muttering a stream of very unpleasant phrases while he colored on scrap paper.  He put on his iPod at some point when I wasn't looking and I only noticed it because the music was loud enough for me to hear.  I told him the rule on iPods, but since it calmed him down (music soothes the savage beast?) I let it slide.  But this angry teenager got me thinking:
  1. If detention is designed to be so miserable that no one wants to come back, why is this student back for the 7th time?
  2. This student is going to sit in a room for 52 minutes and fume over the fact that he is there.  Now he is going to be released to a classroom for 80 minutes where he is likely to lash out at another student, or worse the teacher, and get suspended for some new infraction.
On my drive home, I decided that I didn't want lunch detention anymore because it went against everything I believe in.  Isn't the point of being an educator to develop relationships with the students and to find innovative ways to educate them about the world around them?  So as I am discussing my day with my wife a thought popped into my head:

If a student was found to be on drugs during school, the school would find ways to help the student get over the addiction and rehabilitate his/her life.  Why don't we do the same thing with lunch detention?  If a student is being assigned to multiple detentions, shouldn't we be taking steps to stop the bad behavior in the first place?

Here's my idea:  develop a character building program within lunch detention.  We have different punishments for different offenses so we will develop a tiered system depending on what the students have done.  If a student is 1st time offender and is only given 1 day, they may get nothing.  A student who has received several days or is returning for a different offense might have to watch a TED talk and complete some critical thinking questions.  A student like I mentioned above might have to read a thought provoking book, again with guiding questions, and discuss what his thoughts were with the lunch detention proctor.  In all of these, the students would report back to the administrator who assigned the detention to build that relationship, measure growth and understanding, and have meaningful conversations about the behavior.

Doesn't this approach make a lot more sense?

If your school is using something like this, I would love to hear about it.  All thoughts/comments are welcomed.

25 September 2012


I have been coming home frustrated this school year and it wasn't until today that I figured out why. I have fantastic students. I am lucky enough to teach classes that I want and do not have to share a classroom. At first I thought it was the transition back to the block that was getting to me but lessons have been going pretty smooth. Then today as I was reflecting on the day on the drive home I kept coming back to the thoughts I had in my last post: why am I teaching this?  Not why am I teaching this topic, but why am I teaching this?

My goal this year was to flip the mindset of my students first (paperless labs using Google docs, focus on inquiry, non-traditional seating, using personal electronic devices every day). Really get them to see my classroom as a different learning environment. While many of the new things I have tried have gone very well, I am in a very boring section of the year without many activities and a lot of notes.


I am so disappointed in my teaching because I am not doing the innovative things I want to do because I am just trying to cover curriculum. I need to get back to the flipped classroom. The boring instructional stuff needs to move out of the classroom and our time together need to be more meaningful.

There needs to be a better use of our face to face time.

My favorite section of the year doesn't start for over a month.  Many students are still interested in the class, but I am losing those on the fringes.  I can't skip this information, but there needs to be a modification on how it is presented.  My computer is being fixed tomorrow so things are going to change.  We need to move forward.  The classroom needs to have more voices other than mine.  All of the desks are arranged in pods, but I am not doing anything to build collaboration on assignments.

I wanted to hold off on introducing instructional videos until the mindset has been shifted.  I don't know if my students are fully where I want/need them to be, but the focus needs to be moved off me.

Do I stick with my original plan and wait until they are better prepared or do I jump in earlier now that the foundation mostly set?


21 September 2012

Moving toward creation

One of my unofficial goals this year is to move my students away from consumers to creators of content.  Every year I give the typical Adopt an Element Project.  It has morphed several times, but in the end it is simply a research paper in which students regurgitate on paper what they found online.  I have been experimenting with alternative assessments and this seems like the perfect opportunity to try something different.

So this year the project took on a different focus. I put the following up on the projector:

What would the world look like if [Your Element]...

  • was never discovered?
  • was solid/liquid/gas?
  • was flammable?
  • was used as currency?
  • was poisonous to humans?
  • was/wasn't a precious metal?
  • was non-reactive?
  • was the building blocks of life?
After picking one of the questions above, the students are basically assigned to create an alternate reality in which the question would be true.  For example, if the selected Aluminum, the question they chose might be "What if Aluminum was flammable?"  Now, they can't just say "Well, we wouldn't have Aluminum foil or Aluminum cans because they would explode in our houses."  The whole point of this is to think outside the box and determine what WOULD we have.  Find alternatives, create new worlds.  If we don't have aluminum foil, what metal would be substituted.

Some elements are hard (Oxygen, Nitrogen, Hydrogen) because they have such an important role in our world.  I am hoping that these students really step up and push their imaginations to make something amazing.

The final product will be presented to the class in about 5 weeks in a 2-3 minute presentation.  They can use Google presentations, Prezi, Animoto, interpretive dance, basically anything but a Microsoft product.  Many of the students stumbled a little today as they began their research but I will check in with them in 2 weeks.

I am really excited for the student who asked permission to make a children's book!

Why am I teaching this?

Just as a preface, this post will focus a lot on my chemistry curriculum, but it applies to most courses these days.

At the beginning of every year, I give my students a Student Info Sheet to fill out.  One of the questions on there is "What 1 question do you have about Mr. Seigel?" and the most popular question every year is "Why do you love Chemistry so much?"  It is a pretty simple answer:  cool stuff happens.  I mix 2 clear liquids together and get a yellow solid; I put this metal in water, bubbles appear and it catches on fire; 2 solids are shaken in a flask and frost forms on the outside of the glass.  How could you not love chemistry?!

My love of chemistry stems from chemical reactions.  If I could have my way, that is all I would do all year:  tons of labs involving chemical reactions.  In fact, I could totally run a problem-based lab chemistry class in which we develop solubility rules, activity series, types of reactions all by doing them first and studying the results.

But then the year starts and my first units are The Periodic Table, Atomic Theory, and Bonding and Molecular Geometry.  These are three units that have few labs and are mostly notes and theoretical learning that can't be demonstrated in a HS course.  Sure there are activities that I do, but it isn't the cool stuff that happens later.

Removing the Periodic Table from this discussion, I keep coming back to the question "Why am I teaching this?"  If I were to skip Atomic Theory and Bonding, would my students still be able to understand chemical reactions?  If you think about it, these are 2 concepts that are relatively new in the world of chemistry.  The modern theory of the atom is only about 70 years old and bonding slightly older than that.  My father gave me a chemistry textbook published in 1896 and the entire thing is chemical reactions.  No atomic theory, no bonding, no Periodic Table.  Somehow chemistry students were able to still study this subject for hundreds of years without any of this knowledge and were deemed competent in the material.  Hell, some of the greatest chemists never knew any of this.

Ignoring the fact that I have a district midterm and final that I have to prepare my students for, what would happen if I just skipped these sections?  What if my lab-based class was actually lab-based?  Am I really teaching the most important information or am I teaching it because someone else told me it was important?

So now I have asked more questions than I could possibly answer.  I would love to hear your thoughts and how you tackle these questions in your course.

15 September 2012

The annual goal setting post

This blog has been a fantastic way for me to formalize the random thoughts that run through my head (and dreams) and typically keep me up at night.  Last year I made the typical post in which I laid out my goals for the year.  At the time it felt very cliche because it came out when everyone was making theirs (duh, at the beginning of the year).  But looking back it was the best thing for me as it focused my brain at the start of the year and gave me specific items to work towards.  It also helped keep out the random musings that popped up that sometimes deter my better intentions.

So, this year, my goal setting post has arrived.  I hope they inspire you to formalize your goals and, if you haven't done so already, blog about them so others can gain inspiration.


  1. Be a Johnny Crayons.  School has stopped being fun because we have taken the inquiry, the excitement and passion, and tested the crap out of it.  My students came in the first day of school and expected to have notes and quizzes.  Really??  Is that what the real world is like?  I teach therefore not a good judge of the real world.  But, I have never seen one of my friends post on facebook "Started my new job today.  Damn was that pop quiz tough!"  So I am going to make learning more about the fun and less about the curriculum.  I am going to grab onto non-traditional ideas that I see on Twitter and blogs and try them.  What's the worst that could happen?  They fail.  Well, that's #4 on my Classroom Guidelines.  We now have 4 bungee chairs that I bought from Target (students LOVE them), we draw on lab benches with neon markers, and created a classroom PED policy together on gigantic whiteboards.
  2. Technology is more than just a tool.  A lot of people post on Twitter that technology is just a tool; that the content and learning is more important.  While I agree with that in principle, I think this generation is a little different.  I feel like they view technology as learning.  They learn something about themselves as they tackle tech problems and discover things they never knew existed, but was at their fingertips the entire time.  So, technology will be everywhere this year.  Phones and computers will be used whenever and wherever they can find a way to use them.  Labs are paperless, quizzes will typically be electronic (and the occasional test), on the fly research will be conducted.  Let's put those pocket computers to use and stop fearing them!
  3. Change the mindset.  School has become learn in the building, work at home.  Learning needs to happen 24/7 and more importantly, when the students are ready for it.  If that means in my classroom, great.  If it means on the bus ride to school, that's fine too.  This means that I need to make myself and my class available at all hours of the day.  I have given out my email, website, Twitter name, and even my phone number (that's right, my students can text me on my Google Voice number).  Homework can be done on the whiteboards and submitted via picture.  Quizzes can be completed on wireless devices.  Instructional videos are ready on YouTube to be watched whenever.  I need my students to stop viewing my class as something that only happens for 80 minutes a day.  We need to hunt down chemistry in the world around us and bring what we find to class for discussions.
What are you doing differently this year?  I look forward to hearing your goals for the school year.

09 September 2012

Flipping the Mindset

When I first tried the Flipped Classrom, I did it all wrong.  As Aaron calls it, I did Flipped Classroom 101.  I turned my lectures into podcasts which I asked the students to watch at home, and when they came to class they worked on HW assignments, reviews sheets and labs.  While it started out fine, both in the pilot unit and the third marking period, when the topics became really difficult the class became monotonous.  Every day the students seemed to be doing the same thing and every day I answered the same questions.  The mistake I made was not the assignments nor the videos, but the mindset of everyone involved.  The assignments (both completing them and grading them) were driving the pace of the class, not learning.

It had to change.  By the end of the year, class had become boring to everyone involved.  So, when I started again, I decided to throw so twists into the assignments.  Occasionally I let the students opt out of the unit test and submit anything they wanted that demonstrated their understanding of the objectives; inquiry labs began to appear; all of a sudden the days didn't blur into each other.

I realized the problem was still not my assignments (well, not entirely), but the mindset.  Six out of the 7 classes my students took each day were delivered in a traditional format.  Mine was the exception and it was difficult for them to flip on and off the innovative thinking switch.

So this year that's what I am tackling first, changing the mindset.  I am flipping my assessments and how the students behave in class.  Every single kid adapted very quickly to no teacher-led lessons, but not everyone can think critically about the work they are doing.  We will be using Personal Electronic Devices nearly every day, labs will be a mix between inquiry and traditional format, but all will be paperless using Google Docs and neon dry-erase markers, and students will have options as to how they want to submit work (on paper, using white-boards).

If you are thinking about flipping, here's my message to you:  flip your assessments first!  Don't worry about videos as they are pretty easy to do once you get the hang of it.  Change how your students view your class and the learning that needs to be done in it.  Once you get them thinking critically and daring to fail, then go for the full flip.

Oh, and no matter what you do, make sure EVERYONE (that means teacher and students) are having fun doing it!

07 September 2012

W. W. JC. D

Do you know this kid?
You have probably seen this photo with the caption "I freaking love coloring!!!!"  I want to be this kid.  I want my passion for whatever I am doing to absolutely explode out of me.  But, more importantly, my students should have this type of passion for whatever they are doing.

A good friend and fantastic teacher is an innovative teacher whose classroom is like mine, organized chaos.  His students are engaged in meaningful activities and the volume in the room tends to grow as the discussions grow more heated.  His colleagues call him Johnny Crayons because crazy, non-traditional ideas tend to be the norm for him.

I have 1 goal for this school year:  BE JOHNNY CRAYONS!  I am going to try every non-traditional, off the wall, crazy idea I find.  If it sound fun, engaging and my students are still going to learn the material, we are doing it.

Every day I am going to ask myself "What Would Johnny Crayons Do?" and then I am going to do that.  I am going to take lots of pictures of the creative work of my students and post it here and Twitter.

If you are doing something creative in your classroom, tell EVERYONE about it!  Open your doors and let everyone see the great things, too.  If you are on Twitter, post pictures and tag every off the wall activity with #JCrayons.

Let's #JCrayons the heck out of this year!

04 September 2012


Connected to my post from yesterday, I ran across another tweet that has really bothered me.  One of my students from last year, retweeted something from a student I will have this year.  I am paraphrasing

'I am one of those people who will go through HS and no one will notice I am there.'

This statement really disturbs me.  First, my former student is a wonderful person.  She is intelligent and hard working, and a pleasure to have in class every day.  I always noticed when she was working and when she was absent, but clearly I didn't make enough of an effort to demonstrate that to her.

But now I have an incredible opportunity because I know how this new student feels about high school and I can do something about it.  Every chance I can get I can try to show her that she is important and I know that she is there.  So, to this student and to all the other students I will have this year (because everyone is important to me)

03 September 2012

Life's too short for hate

Since I encourage my students to follow me on Twitter to see the interesting things I am saying, I follow them as well if they follow me first.  As the school year approaches I am seeing more comments that look like this:

I don't think I'll ever fully understand why anyone would want to go back to school. Am I the only one nauseated by the thought? #ItsHell

Thinking of going to school in a week actually makes me sick

Now I know that students have been doing this basically since public school was invented.  The problem I see is that social media intensifies the problem.  Before it was 1 person in his/her room or maybe with a small group of friends complaining.  Now they are making a general post on FB or Twitter and 400 other "friends" are seeing, then liking it or commenting on it, and suddenly it is a misery party.  Others are jumping on there to share sob stories.

The worst part is school hasn't even started!!  This is just what is going through their head; garbage that they are inventing with their imagination.  It could be the greatest year of their life coming and they think life is over.  Sure teenagers are melodramatic, but there is something else going on here.

I feel schools educators parents hell everyone needs to take advantage of opportunities like this.  Let's nip this in the bud and do crazy, memorable things to start the year off every day!  Somewhere, every day, every student needs to find joy in school.  Teachers need to throw the curriculum out for 10 minutes and do an activity, lab, video, ANYTHING that keeps kids wanting to come back tomorrow to see what curve ball we are going to throw at them.

I love the following videos, and they will definitely make an appearance the first weeks of school, but what things do you do with your students to make them love being in school?