30 April 2013

Waiting to be picked

Schools seem to be waiting for a leader. A creative person is who going to step up and say 'I's your turn, I want you to be on my team, I want you to be successful.' Teachers are waiting for that magic bullet, the magical leader who is going to say "Today, we are now going to do something amazing." The problem is these leaders only exist in our heads. These perfect leaders aren't around, aren't where we want them to be. 

We put people on pedestals. We create an image that no leader can possibly live up to and so therefore we are sitting and waiting to be picked.

Steve Jobs made Apple computers amazing. He built a huge computer company around a single person's ideas and he hired people who could carry out his ideas. But where is Apple now that Steve Jobs has passed? And what has Apple really created since Steve Jobs? They've created smaller versions of a great product that they already had, but they're not crushing the market like they used to. Now compare that to Google. Google has brilliant CEOs.  These guys created the company around the central focus that they wanted everyone to have instant access to information and search information was the central focus of everything that they do. But the key to the success of Google is not the people who started it but it's all the thousands of people who are underneath them who just simply run with ideas not waiting for their leaders to tell them 'yes, today is the day to do something amazing.' They  are going to do something amazing on their own every day. If you look at products like Gmail or Google Earth, Google Apps for Education or the Android system any of those products were all created by people who are simply picking themselves to do something great that day.

I think that's what teachers need to start doing. Teachers need to start picking themselves and stop waiting to be picked.

Create your own team:  there's only so many great leaders and there are way more schools then we have great leaders to fill them.  If you don't have a good leader, create a great team within your school.  Go and seek out people to inspire you. Inspire others. Inspire your students. Teach your students how to pick themselves. Teach your students how to create teams of other great students. 

It doesn't take one person doing something great; it takes a whole team of great people to do something well to create a great school.  A group of caring, dedicated teachers can change a entire school on their own. You have to start small and let the greatness spread.  

The real key is don't wait for a leader to pick you.  Go out today and make today count!

06 April 2013

Going through the motions

This week I received my second observation of the year and on it was the phrase "teacher and students appear to be 'going through the motions.'"  Anyone who is doing the Flipped Classroom knows that it is very difficult to simply "go through the motions."  Being the scientist that I am, I decided to test a hypothesis and start doing what the observation said I was already doing.  I discovered some interesting things about myself and the class:

  1. I hate going through the motions.  When I reduced the amount of effort that I was putting in each class, I became frustrated.  I felt like I wasn't being myself and, in turn, wasn't giving my students the best version of me.  On a related note, it is really boring sitting at a desk and just watching people work, even if it was for only 5 minutes.  How do people do this on a regular basis?
  2. I was far more frantic getting things ready for class when I wasn't preparing properly beforehand.  I found I needed to print out material right in class that should have been copied, the advanced students were always waiting for me to get to them and therefore wasted valuable class time, and I ended up cleaning up the lab benches after my students were done because I wasn't making sure they were doing as they went along.  In the end, I felt more overworked while attempting to do less.  This led to feeling exhausted at the end of the end; drained of energy for the wrong reasons.
  3. My students are hate not going through the motions.  Whenever they encountered something that required real thought or directions that didn't clearly state every single thing they needed to do, they balked at it.  There are guided inquiry activities in each unit we do and those represented the biggest struggles for my students.  I had known this was the case already, but it was more obvious when I was spending more time behind my desk simply observing them at work.  This isn't true for all, but the majority (even many of the "A" students) kept asking for me to "just tell me what I need to do next."
This last part really disturbed me.

Why is it that students are frustrated when they have to think/problem solve in school?

So it comes down to expectations.  Is what we expect students to do during the school day too low level for them?  Do their brains really want more?  From their teachers? from the school? from the curricula?  From society?  

Somewhere along their path to my class, they learned the wrong message about what school should really be.  Now, how do we unlearn them?

02 April 2013

The Engaged Learner

One of the reasons I like guided inquiry labs is it inspires my students to ask more 'What if...' questions. I tried a new lab this year for Stoichiometry in which the students mixed different amounts of baking soda with vinegar. A balloon was placed on the top of each test tube and the students got a great visual for the amount of gas produced.

One group finished the lab and I noticed they started to fill another balloon with a very large amount of baking soda.  When I inquired about what they were doing, they said they wanted to figure out if they could pop a balloon only using baking soda and vinegar.  With wry smile, I told them they could do it, but only if they showed, using Stoichiometry calculations, how much vinegar they would need based on the amount of baking soda they had already weighed out (28g).  

After some Internet research and a bunch of calculations later, they figured out they needed nearly 400mL (for the non-chemistry folks, that's A LOT) which is more than would fit inside their 25 mL test tube.  I happen to have a giant test tube and the experiment was off.

Here is what the face of an engaged learner looks like:
The balloon didn't pop, but it got really close.  When doing these labs, sometimes you just need to let the students' run with their ideas.  It's amazing what they will come up with and what they will learn (about science and themselves) in the process.