This week’s ‘science’ activity

I mentioned in my last post that I hadn’t figured out a good ‘science’ activity for this week, yet. Well, one sorta got sprung on me. See if you can figure out what ‘science’ is going on here:

a bit of sand....

a bit of sand….

carry it carefully...

carry it carefully…

put into water

put into water

observe effects on how the water pours

observe effects on how the water pours

see how the water falls on the sand in the water....

see how the water falls on the sand in the water….

Good thing sand is 'cheap'! (at least I'm not buying it, Mom-mom is.)

Good thing sand is ‘cheap’! (at least I’m not buying it, Mom-mom is.)

That evening, I told Hubby “Our science activity today just happened on a whim. We observed the effects of sediment on the flow of water.”

“You mean you made mud?”




You might say that summer snuck in and surprised us. We knew it was coming, but we didn’t reach 100′ at all in May. And now, several days into June, and no 100′ days yet. Yes, we are seeing mid-90s regularly…. but is that summer? We are in central Texas after all, where our non-growing-seasons are July and August (not Dec – March, like most areas of the country) and its for the heat and sun, not the cold and snow. But when the a/c kicks on at 11 am, you know it must be summer, even if the thermometer is still suggesting that its spring.

The last several months have been busy and good. We traveled, we garage saled, we saw friends, we said good-bye to friends (both permanent-for-this-life and moving-away goodbyes). We helped friends move/pack up a truck. We are looking ahead to say good-bye to more friends as they move off to new jobs (ah, joys of grad school). We continue to wait. We are in the ‘approved and waiting’ stage for adopting an infant domestically, which means we wait. We are trying to wait well: with intentionality and expectation, while still living in this moment not in some future possible moment. The March, April and May in my flylady calender have very little white space left on them. June still has a fair bit and I hope to keep it that way.
I do have a few goals/hopes for the summer. First to work faithfully through “The Well-trained Mind: the classical education you never had”. I found that I really miss academics, so I decided to bring academics to me. If there is anyone interested in working through this with me, please let me know! I’d love to have a friend to talk with about the material (I’m delving into the history/politics chapter right now).
Second, I want to be more intentional about doing *stuff* (some might call it ‘school’, but my plans are so loosy-goosy, I’m not willing to use that word. Maybe ‘activity’ is a good word?) with Little Man. He turned 3 (!) in May, and is asking so many questions about so many things. He is all kinds of interested in stars, dinosaurs, what things eat, and what/who is a person. Its so exciting to see him exploring these various ideas, and I want to give him the fodder for further explanation.
For our first activity, we read a book about digging up dinosaurs and putting them together again (from the library). I had seen this activity as a pre-schooler fun activity, and a week or so ago, I froze 5 plastic dinosaurs in a bucket of water. I set Little Man up in the back yard with the block of ice in our water/sand table (emptied of water and sand!) with some water and salt (table salt and rock salt). I showed him how the salt causes the ice to melt and how the liquid water helps the the salt do its thing, and set him free. It was nearly 2 hours later before we got the first dinosaur out, and the others came quickly after. At the end, Little Man asked “can we dig more dinosaurs out?” He enjoys the activity, gets some good sensory and thought provoking play and I get a bit of on-my-own time to read or do my own thing. I’m always looking for these win-win activities.

Getting started.


salt.. and more salt... and more salt. Mommy, can I have more salt?

salt.. and more salt… and more salt. Mommy, can I have more salt?


This little thing doesn't hold much water....

This little thing doesn’t hold much water….

Almost there

Almost there

Free at last!

Free at last!

Crazy Boy Not-Activities

Little Man has reached a point of activity and need for interaction that I’m having to get intentional to meet. He will be 2 in mid-May (really? already? no way!) and he is most certainly a crazy 2 year old.

So, what does the good mother do? She goes to look for activity ideas on the internet.

As I read about these activities, and there are some really creative people out there, I can’t help but think, “wow, they must have a kid who has already figured out how to be gentle” or “they must have a really calm child” or “their child must be really careful about staying clean”. Some activities got me thinking about the mess that Little Man would make, or the craziness that would ensue  Let me give you a run down.

Involving paint:

I found activities that were about painting with different items: bubble wrap, toy cars, toilet sponge, blocks. Fun ideas, for sure, and for the child who loves to paint, this gives them a chance to explore the effects of various textures. Little Man, on the other hand, would like fling the paint covered object creating what might be taken for a post-modern painting on our walls. And on him, and the table, and the floor, and the cats, and me. Perhaps, they just ought to be outside activities.

Involving food:

Painting with food? Sounds like fun! Use pudding, yogurt (#31 on this list), or any spreadable food item. See concerns about paint to understand my reluctance to try this.

Involving bags of stuff:

There are a variety of things that are fun to play with when they are in a bag and you get to manipulate the item through the bag. Activity #24 on this list, or a bag of ice cubes with dodads in them, or a ziplock bag full of goop (glue, pudding) and they child can draw in the goop through the bag (can’t figure where I saw this). These are all well and good, until a kiddo decides to open the bag. Or he squeezes the bag so it bursts, or he bites through the bag. (or a cat decides to chew on the bag). I love the i-spy variations (bag or bottle filled with rice/sand/etc and other small items to find in the filler material), and I think I could set up a bottle so that Little Man can’t get in it, but I would fear for the stitching on any bag.

Involving bins of stuff:

We did this. I set up a container filled with rice, lentils and beans and let Little Man have at it. He loved it! He played for 40 ish minutes. And I was sweeping up rice, lentils and beans for a month afterwards. Turns out the beans make good cat toys, too. Other ideas include pictures of loved ones or other pictures in oats, or spaghetti on a ‘town’. Perhaps its just that these are outside activities for us. Generally, anything able to be thrown will be thrown, but that applies to anything we do.

When I figure out good activities, and how I’m going about meeting Little Man’s need for interaction, without going crazy myself, I will post about it. That way if you have a crazy child, you can get some ideas.

I would love any other ideas you’ve got… ideally things I can set Little Man up with and just let him play. Ideas that I do with him are welcome also!

How to do "science" with children

(this is a rather long post, be warned!)

I am a teacher, both by training and by nature, and I’m always on the look out for good teaching materials and methods.  The past two years, I was a science teacher at a small private school; it was classical with Charlotte Mason influences. Mason was an educator in the early 1900s who offered some counter-cultural ideas about how to educate children. I don’t agree with all that she advocated, but a great deal of it is very good.  I was prompted to write a post after reading Auntie Leila’s post about teaching science at Like Mother, Like Daughter.  I’m not disagreeing, but adding to.

Science is about observation. That’s where science begins, as Auntie Leila stated. The ancients began by noticing what was around them: this shiny yellow stuff is soft, but beautiful and shiny and doesn’t rust like this other stuff here, lets call it gold. We can call the stuff that rusts iron.  But then, they are much alike in their feel and quite different from the cloth I wear.

Science begins with noticing what is the same and what is different, and continues with classifying the things you see. The ancients classified different things by what they were made of… earth, fire, water or air. Aristotle refined these ideas with simple bodies and the elements and created  a system of how they interacted. Other ancient philosophers had some different ideas. As time progressed and future scientists built from the bits that older scientists figured out, science progressed. Mistakes were made, wrong ideas decided on and then challenged and truth sought out (notice that this truth has a lower case “t”).

The vast majority of science is about classification and identification, whether physics** (what is this that causes everything to fall to the ground) or chemistry (what is this that makes the vinegar bubble) or biology (what animal is this). After classification and identification comes questions of “why” and “how”. These are questions you and a child can answer together. As you look at things, come up with a list of questions you can ask.

For example, you (generic you) know that everyone puts up Purple Martin houses in early spring and take them down in late fall. Why not leave them up all year? Why do they need a “house” and not just a single nesting box? What do Purple Martins eat? How big are their babies when they are born?

These questions will hopefully lead you in your quest to discover about Purple Martins, perhaps taking you to some place that raises birds, or cares for birds before releasing or some such.  But, by learning to create these questions, you have become a scientist. Answering the questions makes you a bona fide scientist.

You can embellish on this process as much or as little as you like. You can write a paragraph, draw a picture, create a bulletin board, build a paper mache bird, build a Martin house, build a website dedicated to Purple Martin information or any number of projects that reflect what you’ve learned (kids seem to love showing off what they know anyways).

This is only the beginning, but this beginning will take you, easily, through 6th grade science. The embellishment gets more complicated and involved as the child gets older, but its still the same basic thing.

I love books, and so have some to suggest to help you on this endeavor:

Noeo Science Curriculum — If you are feeling lost and want something concrete that tells you what to do, this site does it. I like the curriculum and made use of it teaching 4th grade (Physics II), 5th grade (Chemistry II) and 6th grade (Biology II) at the school I taught at the past two years. They have it nicely laid out, with curriculum guides, science kits and the books. You can get everything individually, too, which is nice.  The following books are all from this set of curriculum, and these are the books I’m familiar with and taught with.

Usborne Science Encyclopedia — I LOVE this book. Its full of colorful pictures and tons of information. Its overwhelming, so I hear, if you don’t ‘speak science’, but I believe that can be overcome by patiently reading each page with a tiny bit of interest.  Feeling lost? Learn along side your kids, and if you don’t know an answer, say so, and look it up together. This book has sections for biology, chemistry, and physics.
 (Its come to my attention that this book can be very expensive, depending on the version you are looking at. I’ve updated the link above to an older version that is far more reasonable in price. Yes, I love this book, but it’s not worth that much $$.)

Usborne Mysteries and Marvels of Science — This book is focused on the details and side quests of chemistry and physics. Again, colorful pictures (I love books with pictures) and tons of information. My 5th graders learning about quarks and gluons from this book (the bits inside the bits that make up an atom).

Adventures with Atoms and Molecules — A practical chemistry book this is. Its basic experiments and demonstrations to show chemical reactions and physical properties of the basic bits of chemistry, such as air, water, gases, liquids and solids.

Fizz, Bubble, Flash — The most cool book you could want, all about the periodic table. This book walks you through the periodic table, and presents tons of information (I love it when a book has solid info), and fun experiments that any kid in any house could do.

The Mystery of the Periodic Table — This books walks you through the history of chemistry (and science in general, to some extend). It presents the stories of key men (yes, only men) who had an impact in the progression of the discovery of how the periodic table is organized. Its accessible to even a casual reader, but presents questions and experiments that could be replicated (especially the early discoveries). As the book talks about water, you could do experiments with water (see the Adventures book above). When the book is talking about acids and bases, you can do acid and base experiments.

Geology Rocks — All chemicals are from some combination of elements, which all originate in nature some where. By and large, that some where is in the rocks and soil around us. Thus, we turn to geology. This book has very fun experiments (yes, the key to a good science book) and good info (the key to a good book).

Gizmos and Gadgets — Physics is phun! So many a physicists would say. I, on the other hand, never understood physics till I was teaching it to 4th graders. Between the Science Encyclopedia (see above), the Mysteries and Marvels book (see above) and this book, I actually understand the concepts of force, work, energy, friction, inertia and a slew of other basic physics ideas. If you give your child the chance to learn these ideas (with out any math, please!), you have given them a HUGE step into the physics of high school and beyond. Just learn the ideas, do the experiments in this book, and have fun. You might end up with a budding physicist!

I hope this helps some one figure out what to do for science, because science is the most awesome of possible subjects.

**A famous physicist (whose name I don’t know) said “There’s physics. All the rest is stamp collecting.” He points quite directly the overwhelming aspect of identification and classification in much of “science”.

Is it reasonable to ask a 11 year old to be quiet?

Silence and Education

A coworked shared this today via google reader. I feel like I’m always asking students to stop talking and that no one has bothered to teach these children how to STOP TALKING and moving and being disruptive. I suspect its not that anyone hasn’t tried teaching them, just that the lesson hasn’t fully been taken in.
I’m reminded of Proverbs (13:3) “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; The one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” The inability to stop talking is a grave downfalling and though I don’t expect an 11 or 12 year old to have aquired the ability the to fully guard their words, it seems they should have some ability to be quiet. Even more true for students 13 and up, yes? Are my expectations wrong? The kindergartners seem to have developed this skill of keeping one’s mouth closed… is this just lost as students get older?

You might be able to tell this is a major frustration of mine. Though I must be thankful this is one of the biggest issues I deal with. One the chance that one of my students reads this, I’m thankful for each of you and its only because I desire to see you grow into a mature and competent adult that I even care about such things.

the rough side of teaching

Even the roughest days dealing with unruly kids is nothing compared to cramming in trying to get grades done for the end of a quarter.  I’ve spent this week grading like crazy and all free time today entering grades, attendance, skills and subject summaries. Blah, paper work stinks. At least I got to watch X-men and X-2 while doing all this entering. 😛

Tomorrow is game day! Yea! I like role playing, its a ton of fun,
and occasionally, we build towers of minis. And its not even our time for snacks. 😀

On the positive side, today was a good day with the kids, and the baby-belly check went well. All is on track for a healthy baby and healthy mommy. Baby is moving like there is no tomorrow, and occasionally gets me in a painful spot. Its more than before, but still not too bad.

School has started, Life is busy

Well, as I expected posting is less now that school has started. I feel at a loss as to what to write about, even though there all sorts of little bits of news: I love my classes, school has started off quite well, I’m tired, my seedlings are HUGE, but its still too hot to plant them out in the garden, I did really good with the weekly home blessings this morning and we put together some fun stuff yesterday.

Part 1: School. 
This really is the bulk of my life these days. Luckily, I love teaching and I love figuring out how to educate my students in a way that is fun for all of us. I haven’t implemented full-blown SBG, its more a blend between a more traditional grading system and SBG. The school admin wants to better understand what the impact SBG would have on grades and parental understanding of what the grades mean. I understand that. I might not love the response to SBG, but it works for me. I’ll spend this year presented a good case for SBG.

In Logic 2 (8th grade-ish), we started reading Silent Spring. I think this might need its own blog post to describe the great time I’m having with it. We had a wonderful conversation in both classes as we read chapter 1 and part of 2. Carson paints a grim picture in chapter 1 and uses some major emotional language in chapter 2, so I tried to bring that out. We talked about what Carson is trying to convince us of, with the thought towards evaluating that claim after we’ve seen the book’s argument. I love the intelligent conversation we can have! Its amazing the change that just 2 years brings in a child’s development. The younger 2 grades, grammar 5 (5th) and grammar 6 (6th) both also went amazingly well. Last year had a rocky start, but with just one year of experience, I’m feel so much  more confident.

Part 2: Garden
The high today is 104′. ARGH!!!! When I figured out the timing for planting my seeds (so that they would be ready to plant out last week of Aug or first week of Sept), I took into account both seed packet times and how long it took in the spring. Nope — Rachael got that wrong. Sort of a “duh” moment. Early spring is chilly, chilly, even here in Central Texas, and tomatoes and peppers will take what seems like forever to sprout and grow. With this heat, they will grow wonderfully fast, which would be good, except they are outgrowing the seedling containers. The seeds all sprouted in less and a week, and now they are starting to produce little bunches of flowers (the tomatoes, at least). Well, I guess I’ll have to plant them out even in this heat and hope for the best. In the meantime, I’ve pinched off the flowers and I’ll transplant to bigger containers this afternoon. Maybe I can put off putting them out another week.

Cayenne Pepper — Still producing!

The crazy bit is that the cayenne pepper plant is still producing abundantly and I think its only getting water from the septic sprinklers — I’m not watering it. I picked 20 some odd peppers this morning, and there are more flowers. Plus, all the leaf-footed bugs are gone, I can’t find any stink bugs, and even the weeds are chilling out for now. I haven’t watered but once a week ago or so; my plan was to let stuff petter out and give the garden a rest for Aug. The neighbors down the street, who I’ve never gotten over to talk to, completely cleared out their garden at the end of July and haven’t planted it yet for the fall. (Maybe they won’t, I’ve never asked.).

On the more poopy side, I usually handle heat fairly well, but lately its been really taking it out of me. But I’m also back working more than ever before, so who knows why I’m so tired. Probably a combination? Just makes for less garden time.

Part 3: Housekeeping.
I talked about my chore schedule rearrangement a few weeks ago, here it is. For two weeks now, I’ve aimed to do the weekly home blessing on Saturday morning, along with the laundry and other sorts of chores. Its worked quite well; it gets my Saturday off to a decent start and the house is wonderfully clean for Sunday and the start of the week. I still haven’t figured out when to grocery shop (I think Thursday after school?) and menu planning is a hit and miss activity (aiming for Sunday afternoon), but things are going well for the most part.

Part 4: Fun Stuff

We know Hank likes high places, and we’ve put him on top of the TV cabinet a few times to see what he would do. We’ve discussed how to create a set of “stairs” for him to get up there on his own (and down), and went to the local hardware store to explore the creation of a PVC pipe contraption. I drew it out and we pondered what we needed and started looking at prices and figured out quick that would be $100 and up. So, nix that. Then Hubby had a wonderful idea! We got 2 simple plastic shelving units with 4 shelves each, got several pvc couplings, and put the shelves together so that the shelves alternate going up. We figure if Hank decides he’s not interested, we have plenty of places we can use a set of shelves.

Regrets and Plans, part 3: the new stuff

Sorry about the massive number of new posts today, I haven’t figured out how to delay posting so that they are evenly spaced even if I write them all at once. That is, how to delay posting without me coming back and going through the process to post it (I want it done automatically at a certain time). Yes, I’m lazy about it. I’ve only got so much time and energy, so I pick what to be lazy about and try not to stress it.

This post is about what I’m doing new this year. I’ve got tons of ideas and even more hopes that I see great improvement this year. I think I know what kind of feelings I want as the year progresses and what I want to see out of my students.  I’ve got 2 things really going for me. First, two of the three classes I’m teaching I taught last year, so only one class is new to me. Second, two of the three sets of students (by grade) I had last year. Basically, it means I’m familiar with 2/3 of the material and 2/3 of the students. The other 1/3 of the material, and 1/3 of the students, is not totally new to me in that I’ve interacted with the material before and interacted with the students some this last year, just never as MY class. I think these two things in and of themselves makes for a more confident year.

So, what’s gonna be different?

1. I have a plan and a system for grading. I think it will be easy for me to implement standards based grading (sbg) since I don’t already have a system in place. Nothing to replace, just a hole to fill. And SBG seems intuitive to me, I’m not sure why I didn’t come up with it on my own. As a linguist, I’m very familiar with language learning and the goals and progress involved with teaching and learning a new language, which almost completely standards based, just witness the language learning progression/levels. I will make sure I detail this out and how I’m going to do it in another post, but I think this is enough for now.

2. I’m gonna correspond more with parents.  I had some contact with parents, but I want more. I teach at a private school, so parents are quite involved already and some I got to know fairly well. Luckily, I’ll have some of those same kids, so I’ll see some of those parents again. But I want to be able to talk to parents more about how their child is doing (both good and bad) such that when something really does come up there is less shock value when I send an email or make a phone call.

3. That means I’ll have to keep up with grading and paper work! Drat! No more putting off grading that paragraph till the end of the quarter. I want to be able to give good feedback on how the student is doing in relation to this or that, but that means not putting off grading/marking till the last minute. (slap hand just for thinking about it)

4. Discovery learning at least once a week. Yep, hands on, experimental, let the student go kinds of learning times. I’m pretty good with a bit of chaos in the classroom, I think with a clear set of guidelines and structured and specific instructions and goals, the kids will take this to the nines.

5. (this is for home life, too) Do the routines. No skimping and no whatever-I’ll-do-it-later. Routines are good (say it often, repeat till it is ingrained!)

6. Have a water boiler in the office. Yep, hot tea on demand; no more walking to the teacher’s lounge where I get distracted by this, that, and the other. No more getting coffee from the office where I think to rummage in the cabinet to see if anything fun can be found and don’t get back to work for 45 minutes.

7. Provide healthy snacks for the last class of the day. I sort-of did this last year; I let the kids bring a snack to eat at the beginning of class since it was the last period of the day and they’d just come from P.E. and they were so very, very droopy. However, it was as often as not candy and/or soda which doesn’t help the learning atmosphere. So, I decided I’ll keep a supply of bananas, apples, oranges (and whatever else is cheap and in season) in a bowl in the room. If the I-just-grew-2-inches-in-the-last-hour boys find they are hungry, there is something to eat. Won’t cost me tons, might get me to eat more fruit and will provide food for the worms (we have a worm farm :P). [seriously, though, I was at least an inch or 2 taller than all the students in grammar 6 at the beginning of the year last year, and by the end two or three were an inch or 2 taller than me!]

8. Work ahead. I’ve already got skeleton skedules (:D) for 1 class done, with the topic plans for the first quarter written out. For the other two classes I have some of the skeleton skedules done, and I still have 5 business days till in-service starts and 2 weeks after that till the students start back. And then, logic 2 biology won’t start till the next week due to orientation and such for the students. I’m feeling so prepared right now! The key will be keeping up so that by quarter 2 I’m not significantly behind. It helps that I know the basic systems of the school, how things work, where things are, I know most of my students, I know my co-workers, I’m not moving into my house, nor learning a totally new city (as I was last year this time), so I don’t think it will be as hard to stay ahead.

This is what I can think of so far, and stuff I’ve started working on or planning for. Here’s to hoping this year is heads and shoulders better than last year.

Regrets and Plans, part 2

Last year wasn’t all bad, was it?

You might feel the desire to ask this question after reading Regrets and Plans, part 1. No, last year wasn’t all bad; there were somethings that went quite well and I hope to redo these things.

1. We had lots of fun demonstrations and hands on learning, especially in grammar 4 and 5. Grammar 4 is an introduction to physics. Yes, 9 and 10 year olds learning physics. We didn’t do any of the math (they learned about decimal points and such that year in math), but covered most of the basic topics. That meant lots and lots of building things and seeing things happen. We built a paddle boat out of paper milk cartons to see elastic potential energy at work (used rubber band to attach the paddle and make the paddle go). We let a toy car roll down an incline and smash a banana to see gravitational potential energy at work (we raised the incline to see how high it had to be to smash the banana). Grammar 5 was an introduction to chemistry. Yeppers, 10 and 11 year olds doing chemistry! We made gak, we burned various salts in solution to see their colors, we put together a density tube, and any number of other ‘experiments’. It was tons of fun.

2. I let the students ask all the questions they wanted. The grammar 4 students were the best at this, they were so good that I asked Hubby, a physics/astronomer nerd, to come and answer their questions. The kids loved it. They asked about black holes, why Pluto wasn’t planet, was their life on other planets, will our sun ever run out, and on and on. The first time I let them just ask questions was a day we were reading about… gosh, I forget… but the students just started asking good questions. It was hard shutting it down when our time was up, they had so many more questions. After that, when I felt particularly busy, I’d dedicate a class to just Q and A. The older students weren’t as into this, but that’s okay. We still took rabbit trails through various topics. One class we were reading about designer molecules, and synthetic DNA was one molecule we read a brief paragraph about. Someone asked about cloning, and then someone asked if we could clone humans. We talked about what questions we should ask about morality and ethics when it came to cloning, as well as the physical/scientific questions.

3. We had some fun field trips. We went to the Waco Wet Lands (grammar 5 and 6) and I took the grammar 4 students to the Mayborn Museum. Must… do… more….

These are big things that are very big-picture oriented. I want these things to continue.

Regrets and Plans, part 1

I have a ton of regrets from last year and boo-koos of plans for this year. I’m feeling the need to write about them, and I’ve been inspired reading so many others discuss these things. This post pushed me over the edge to go ahead and start writing. I decided to split this post into 3 parts; part 1 will be a rendition of the ways I screwed up last year and here’s to hoping I didn’t doom my students to perpetual science failure.  Part 2 will be a rendition of what went well and what activities students loved. Part 3 will be a, hopefully, organized presentation of my plans for this year to rectify my mistakes and make general improvements (and keep the good stuff).

What I regret about last year:
1. I had no plan or system for determining grades or giving grades. Students got credit for doing homework, there was the occasional quiz, and topical tests. Eventually, I added in a daily participation grade, especially because, for example, the grammar 4 science was more about doing the activities and talking about it than being able to answer questions on a piece of paper. I wanted them to be able to tell me why the rubber-band paddle boat worked, in their own words, not be able to write out the definition of elastic potential energy.

2. I wrote/figured out the test when I was ready to give a test. I should have created the test right after I established the objectives/standards for the topic, which the test could then drive my lesson plans and give me a tool for establishing exactly what I want the kids to know; instead I usually had to write the test around did-I-actually-talk-about-that?

3. I didn’t know what I wanted the students to know. I had a general idea of “I want them to know about chemistry”, but what should they be able to spout back about chemistry? It was all very nebulous.

4. I was too nice. I’m a push over, always have been; I started working hard last year to be mean, without being cruel, but when you start out too nice, its hard to go back.

5. I lacked confidence in myself to really be able to teach this stuff. I know this stuff, I love this stuff, I dream about this stuff (this stuff being science: chemistry and biology especially), but I doubted my ability to create lessons that students would learn from and truly enjoy, even students who don’t naturally LOVE this stuff.

6. I procrastinated about grading papers, inputing attendance and grades, and just keeping up. I was lazy about lesson plans plenty of times, when I got behind and needed something NOW.

7. I always felt behind. I never really felt caught up or on time.

As I reflected here, I don’t think I ruined any of my students. They still had fun, and as I’ve seen one or two over the summer, they seem happy to see me.

Lesson planning and formatting

I started teaching several years ago in Nov of 2006. True, I was teaching adult ESL then and now I’m teaching middle school science, but the aspect of lesson planning hasn’t really changed. Not at all really. In fact, planning swimming lessons is much the same process as planning ESL lessons which is much the same process for planning science lessons. I’ve never liked any of the formats presented in books, classes, or seminars for planning out lessons when its a general lesson and not for a specific class. They, the book, the teacher, the instructor, assume that you can define the parameters for the class even if you don’t know what class this lesson will be for. The lesson writer must make an assumption about how much class time there is, the level of the students, the pacing the students can handle. I never liked this, because when you finally had the class assigned with actual students, the characteristics of that class never lined up with the assumed characteristics of your fictional class. I have any number of examples of the issues with this general system, but I will refrain from detailing them all here.

I do see the general idea behind requiring the lesson writer to make assumptions about a class and then write a lesson plan. New teachers need the practice, ideally before they are under the crunch of time and a looming class period for which she must be prepared. I suspect that I learned more than I realized in those classes that required this lesson writing for a fictional class, and I owe more to those books and teachers than I give them credit for at this point. Nonetheless, those styles of lesson plans have helped me when I’m planning for a specific lesson and a specific class, but I yearned for a lesson plan style that allowed me to get the bulk the creative effort out of the way before the crunch time hit. Perhaps for others, this isn’t an issue, such that the creative ideas spring from their mind easily. Or perhaps I’m unique among teachers in trying to come up with these creative activities (I seriously doubt this and will be drop-down surprised if this is actually true). I love brainstorming all the fun things I can do to convey new knowledge to my students, but when I’m looking at a looming class time in the midst of also grading assessments, inputing grades, making sure I did attendance today, finding the supplies I need for this activity or that activity, those creative thoughts are dashed against the walls of must-be-dones.  With 2 weeks till teachers start back with in-service, meetings and collaborations, I could feel the crunch developing and decided I would come up with a way to plan lessons that got the creative effort/ideas done (or mostly done) before the crunch hit.

There are a few things I know about the classes I’ll be teaching this year: the classes will be 45 to 50 minutes long and either 3 times or 5 times a week (Grammar 5 meets 3 times, Grammar 6 and Logic 2 meet 5 times a week).

All of this starts with my writing up standards in my efforts to convert my haphazard grading non-method into a somewhat structured form of standards based grading (SBG). I’ve also been asked to start work on curriculum maps for 2 classes I teach, so I’ve already been thinking about the topics to be covered and reviewed in those classes.  Then, for teach topic, I wrote out the standards, basically what I think each students should know at the end of that topic. Then I divided those standards into smaller subtopics that could reasonably be covered in one class time. Then I let the creative juices flow… for each class time (based on the standards I partitioned into that time period) I wrote out all the possible activities I could do with the idea of having a slew of creative ways to communicate the new information. Finally, I finished with what is the most difficult part for me, I wrote assessment questions. I considered what I wanted the students to know, and how to make them demonstrate that knowledge. Here’s the first topic I put together. Its not crazy exciting or fancy, but I think it will work for what I want. I’m also considering setting up a wiki with all my topics/lessons as I’m sure there are other teachers of middle school chemistry who might be interested in my collection, especially if they are teaching at a school with a classical/Charlotte Mason bent.

I’m fairly certain that this is remedial for the vast majority of teachers. Or perhaps my assumptions of where I stand on the good-bad teacher continuum is are skewed? Anyhoo, I looked around for several years for a method of writing lessons that gave me the bank of ideas/questions/activities that I need to be a good teacher during crunch time. Perhaps its out there, but since I never found it, I came up with my own.

Purposes and decisions

Warning: Rambling, thinking-out-loud post

I’m in an interesting spot.  My poor blog is due for a post… its been over a week since the last one. Poor neglected blog.  I’m feeling very academic and wanting to write on the thoughts in my  head about school, SBG and my various downfallings and successes as a teacher. I started blogging again back in January with the intention of blogging about my garden and my home. But here I am not interested in posting about my garden, my knitting or my cooking at all. My reading of blogs is leading heavily towards the blogs of teachers and academics with education topic posts. I’ve been writing a fair bit, but its related to role-playing, school and educational philosophy (and none of it is getting posted at the moment).

I think I need to decide the purpose of my blog. If it is about news and events of life for friends and family, the blog will be inclined towards one particular style of post. But if I want to reflect my many ideas and thoughts on eduction (of which I have many), then the style changes. ARGH!!! Decisions to be made, and my general life inclination is to decide to not decide when its a difficult decision. Say that fast 10 times!

Too many thoughts, too many ideas. My brain is so full right now, its scary. More to come, I promise!

PS. The February Lady Sweater got put on hold while I knit some Christmas gifts for the ladies in my extended family. After the FLS, I hope to knit either Every Way Wrap or 5 Way Cable Wrap. Its another decision to make….

30 minutes later
Update: I’m going to get better at putting labels, make it easy for people to find what they want. If I find that I am posting regularly about teaching once school starts, I’ll branch off and start a new blog with some witty name that is dedicated to teaching. As it is, I suspect that my blogging interval will extend greatly once school starts, I’ve got a busy, busy schedule.

More teacher thoughts: the blame game

I’ve found a slew of teacher blogs to read regularly. One that struck me recently was this one:

Building a Bridge

I started a comment, and realized it was becoming an essay in and of itself. I made the comment shorter and thought I’d post the essay here.

I’m with you, you can’t blame previous teachers for a student’s lack of skill or knowledge. Nor can you blame the student, or the teacher. At least, you can’t blame any one person (or group) solely. I think the blame lies a little bit in each one. And, perhaps, the blame lies in each student’s natural tendencies. Hubby is one of those students who always knew his times tables (still does) even before being taught them at school. I think his mother presented the ideas once and he got them. I, on the other hand, was the child that worked her bum off to learn that 8 times 6 is…. let me think… I’ll go back to 6×6 = 36 (I know that), so 7×6 = 42, so 8×6=48, and I am not a particularly slow learner, its just that numbers will not stick in my mind, no matter how hard I work at it. Ask me to make salsa from scratch, and I can get the right number of tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic cloves and I can whip  up a yummy compliment to tortilla chips in an afternoon. That’s easy… Ask Hubby to do the same, and you will see a very lost Hubby.

Please don’t hear me saying that a student is bound by his natural tendencies. No, no, no. Any student can venture beyond those boundaries, but it will take extra work. And as humans, I think we are lazy in that way: we like to stick with what comes easily. It’s scary to try something that is difficult, its like committing yourself to the unknown. 

So, having said all that, I agree with Ms Caldwell that SBG is a solution to this problem. I’m all for SBG, I love the idea, I’m planning on implementing it in my class room this year, and I think it will provide the impetus needed to motivate students to excel at the subject at hand, beyond what comes easily. Perhaps it provides the motivation to work hard enough to venture beyond what you thought possible, in the realm beyond natural tendencies?

I’m very interested in considering the reasons SBG allows for this, especially in students who might no otherwise be willing to try that hard. Some students tend towards learning in general and learning comes easy (generally, I’m that kind of student). Most students are not inclined to just *learn* on their own and most people feel no need to continue to learn beyond the “normal” school years. And while in school, its like pulling teeth for them to learn. How is it that SBG summons that …intrinsic motivation (?)… that students need?

Anyhoo — conversations I sure love to have!

PS. I’m debating a blog issue. Should I divide off the teacher essays into its own blog? Or keep it all as one, knowing the blog will be as eclectic as its author?

Technology in the classroom

I love to learn, so I’ve been having a great time reading all sorts of stuff that I found from Soft Skills Convention and the various other education style blogs I read.

First up, I listened to a discussion about the 1:1 initiatives by some schools to get each student access to a laptop or computer. The main question was Is 1:1 enough ….

Is 1:1 enough…to change a teacher?

Is 1:1 enough…to change a classroom?

Is 1:1 enough…to change a school?

Is 1:1 enough…to engage/empower/enlighten students?

Is 1:1 enough…to get politicians off our backs?

Is 1:1 enough…to move education into the 21st century?

I’m thinking to really address this issue, and why technology will never be enough to change more than the medium of the instruction (on its own, at least), we need to understand the idea of pedagogy and what issues are foundational to all aspects of pedagogy.

Here is a quick and dirty version of what I’m thinking:

The idea is that your ‘educational philosophy’ will provide the foundation, the basis for everything else you do. Your assumptions of how students learn will affect how you chose to teach. In the same way, your assumptions about how to teach and the best way to go about instruction will directly influence how you structure a lesson, how you write objectives and what students should learn.  Your methodology, materials and media used in teaching will come from how you structured your lesson, what your objectives are, what you decided students should be learning. I’m not committed to this specific ordering, I spent about 2 minutes drawing this in paint and thinking about it. I would love to dialog about what is dependent on what. However, I am confident that technology, outside of programming and computer science and such topics, fits into that top box: methodology, materials and media. The question of  ‘are students learning what we want them to learn’ fits into those bottom two boxes. Giving students access to computers, the internet and technology might make the class more fun, might even make reaching specific objectives easier, but it won’t change ‘are students learning what we want them to learn’.  
Yet, when technology is talked about, its always about making it so that students will learn what we want them to learn. Its talking about using orange juice to make the oak tree grow the direction you want it to grow. Its like putting a bow tie, spectacles and a sport jacket on a dog and calling him a professor and hoping to learn math from him. Alas, I rant.
I think you’ve got the idea, reader, or at least I hope you do. Again, I’d love to dialog about these topics.
Other reflections on soft skills coming, but laundry calls to be folded at this moment. 😛
PS pls forgive grammatical errors. I’m in a hurry 😦