28 March 2013

Yes, Man!

Ok, inspiration comes from the oddest places sometimes.  I randomly heard Jumper by Third Eye Blind on Pandora which made me think of this scene from the movie Yes Man with Jim Carrey.  The basis of the movie is that Jim Carrey gets convinced that in order to really change his life he has to say yes to EVERYTHING.  This means that he ends up going bungee jumping, taking flying lessons, learning Mandarin, and meeting the woman of his dreams.  
We talk in education about there being too many "Yes, men"; people who are only hired to agree with the boss and never contribute any meaningful ideas that are going to help move the program from Good to Great.

But maybe we actually do need more people to say "Yes, Man!"  People who are willing to try new things, to be the first to volunteer to pilot a new program, to say YES instead of maybe or that won't work here.  There are so many changes going on in education now that if we are not willing to say YES to change we are in real danger of becoming irrelevant.  

[Spoiler Alert] As Jim Carrey learns in the movie, you need to weigh your options before outright saying yes.  But when he lived his life in fear of change, he was miserable and alone.  When he took that leap of faith and put himself out there, he found a far superior version of himself.

What is happening in your school that you are going to say YES to?

12 March 2013

Content vs Skills: refocusing our attention

When I started teaching, my philosophy was to cover, at least in some part, all of the topics taught at the college level of a freshmen chemistry class.  If I am truly teaching a college-prep course, this idea makes sense.  But, this year between the loss of time moving to block scheduling, time lost due to Hurricane Sandy, and refocusing my attention on teaching to a final exam I didn't create, I have really had to cut out what I feel is important content that is taught in college in order to get my students better prepared for the end of the year examination.  When doing all of this, I keep saying "when will my students ever need this?"  It is kind of bizarre hearing that phrase said in your own head instead of coming out of a teenager.

I have been trying to make class more focused on the activities and less on the videos.  This has occurred partially through guided inquiry and guided PBL activities.  But, as is the case with most science classes, the activities still just reinforced the content that they had to learn through the videos instead of the activities driving the learning.

I decided to make a change.  Starting in the unit on Solutions, I gave a starter activity that walked them through the process of making a solution and then walked them through calculations that are required for calculating the concentration.  Once they have the foundation, then they watch the video related to the topic. After watching the videos, the students would then come back to the lab to complete an extension to the original activity.  Here is a link to the document.

It is very much a work in progress, but I am hoping it will shift the students away from relying on the videos and myself to give them the content they need.  It also makes the class time more about DOING chemistry and the videos more about preparing for the tests and exams.

Now that I think about it, maybe part of the shift needs to be more like the structure of chemistry labs in college:  a "recitation" that is just strictly content based and a lab that actually has the students using the content.

I have to think more on this.  Your thoughts?

06 March 2013

Be that guy

There's at least one in every school.  The one who, when he speaks, people just stare at him dumbfounded.  Wait, no not THAT guy! This guy...
What does this guy do that others don't?

  • Take risks?
  • Stand up and be himself when others prefer to blend in with the crowd?
  • Inspire others who are just as crazy as himself, but might be afraid to show it?
  • Not fear failure or ridicule?
  • Show others that yes, it can be done?
Maybe.  But, more importantly, he is just being himself.  He is passionate and enthusiastic for what he does, even if what he is doing seems ludicrous to others.

Schools need more people willing to be that guy.