31 October 2005

Brainless Halloween

I got to school today, all ready to dissect some sheep brains with my kids. We've been lurking in the nervous system chapter for a few days---even used some swim caps to draw brain anatomy on. But being Halloween, it seemed like the perfect time to poke around in the real deal.

I made the requisite copies, checked the web references to make sure they were still "live," and pulled the dissecting tools. And then I discovered that we were brainless. Nary a brain to be found in the entire department. If this had been a day to look at pig hearts, I would have been set---we have boxes of them.

So, we moved on to some other material and I've promised the kids that we'll get back to the dissection later...once the brains have been located. They did suggest a scavenger hunt, but the school was already wired on Halloween candy. Sending out my spooks would have been a major disruption.

Other than that, it was a pretty good Monday. I actually got some good work done and my "to do" list didn't incur any significant growth. Tonight I'll spend a little time with TCM and MNF. TCM is showing one of my most favourite movies: The Uninvited.

Happy Halloween!

30 October 2005


It's a bird! It's a plane! No...it's Superfreshman!

The title for this post might also be called "When is a sophomore not a sophomore?" More districts in Washington state are catching on to the idea that in order to receive class standing in high school, a student should have a particular number of credits. Seattle is the largest to jump on board. The impact of "reclassifying" students based on credits should have a very interesting impact on WASL scores because it means that those students least likely to pass won't take the test this year. (You can read more about this idea in a recent Seattle Times article.)

Like you, I've read lots of articles on whether or not kids should be promoted to the next grade level based on their performance (or lack thereof). Most of these seem to look at this practice at the elementary grade levels. (Mr. McNamar over at The Daily Grind was thinking about these ideas a little while ago. I recommend a look at his post.) Does having a structure around promotion at high school also increase the dropout rate?

We have this system at my school---and have for some time now. Originally, the idea was not to make WASL scores better. This was before NCLB and other expectations. We wanted to provide a motivation for students to focus on learning. If you think you're a junior, but your picture is in the "sophomore" section of the yearbook, perhaps you'll make more of an effort to get your credits up. If you want all the privileges of being a senior---picking up your schedule first, getting a locker, going to events, voting for Homecoming court, etc.---then you must have the requisite number of credits. It doesn't matter how many years you've been in school.

Has the program worked as intended? I don't know that we ever really collected any hard data on this. There have been plenty of anecdotal pieces over the years. I can think of several kids I've had who've gone to summer school so that they could do senior things or talked about how they are trying to make up credits before the yearbook goes to print so that they're in the "right" section. It might be a negative variety of motivation, but it did have an impact. One of which was to our vocabulary as any second year student automatically gets "Super" attached to the beginning of their title. :)

Mind you, all of this was in the days before the new graduation requirments---when credits were enough to get a diploma. Kids now have to pass the WASL, complete a senior project, and file a "Year Plus" plan for what they will do following high school. Reclassifying students will now also serve schools and likely boost their WASL scores. If you're Seattle and the lowest 25% of kids won't be taking the tests this spring, you stand a chance of looking pretty darned good.

Which kids are in that lowest 25%? Boys? Minorities? SPED? ELL? Probably---but I don't know that anyone has thought of looking at that. Will being superfreshmen make them more ready for the WASL next year? Unlikely, unless schools plan some targeted instruction for those kiddos. I know mine hasn't.

28 October 2005

Yet Another Good Reason to Learn to Knit

Photo (c) 2005 Arrmatie

As if the knitted DNA model wasn't intriguing enough, I was pointed toward this item: a model of the human digestive system.
A girl should have a hobby, right?

Sisyphus, Atlas, and I Are Taking a Break

I don't know about you, but I am done carrying around everyone's burdens for a few days. Inasmuch as possible, I plan to have some "me time" for the weekend.

This is not as exotic as it sounds. I have a nice box of grading to tend to and planning for my class to make happen. For a little while, I'm going to tend that garden and not worry if others need help with maintaining theirs.

The weird thing about doing this Curriculum job is how tiring it is. But it's a whole different kind of tired. One that comes from having to wrestle with several big ideas. Teaching is not more or less difficult---it's just different. There are lots of items vying for attention, but your world is so much smaller.

I had a meeting which took up most of the morning. Some of it was very intriguing and some was mind (and butt) numbing. But both sections had a common thread of looking at science as a series of concepts...something a teacher I mentioned yesterday is having a hard time managing. What will happen, I wonder, when I start moving this model of thinking into the elementary schools? Will it be a smoother transition?

But I'll think about that on Monday. Right now, Sisyphus, Atlas, and I are going to have a drink and kick off the weekend. Feel free to join us.

27 October 2005

Insanity at Work

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” On the other hand, you could go insane just from trying different things.

A group of biology teachers in the district has been working to organize the curriculum around the state standards. It would be simple enough to just find a few existing activities and call it good. Hey, photosynthesis is photosynthesis---who cares?

But the problem here is two-fold: one is that biology is the most failed class in the school; and two, the school has the lowest science WASL scores. Kids are struggling in science. To be fair, this is not just a biology teacher issue. There are other teachers in previous grade levels...but it is the biology teacher's name on the WASL report.

To prevent continuing insanity where grades and scores are concerned, the teachers are trying a different approach with a particular standard at the moment. I won't get into all the particulars of the set-up, but the overall plan is a very cool one. It is somewhat constructivist in the sense that there are investigations happening before vocabulary is attached---but the idea is really to make photosynthesis and cellular respiration more "real" to kids...to have them make some meaning around the idea of energy as it applies to living things.

Doing this is very different for teachers. I'm sure that it's unusual for many students, too. Anytime that you do something that's outside your regular comfort zone---which is read the textbook (in order), write definitions for vocabulary, answer section review questions, and do a few canned labs---you're going to be uneasy. And two weeks into this most recent unit, things are breaking down for a couple of teachers.

One is just reverting back to his usual thing...and then trying to add the new stuff in. As you might imagine, he's feeling overwhelmed and pressed for time. He hasn't made the shift from running a teacher-centered class to a student-centered class. Another teacher is relatively new to the profession and came from a place where every lesson was prescribed and provided for her. She hasn't had to do any significant planning and being without that scaffold is greatly upsetting to her at this point.

What are the options? One is just to go back and do what we always do. It feels good to us...but we know what it means to the kids. The other option is to keep moving forward, even if it's stressful---and recognize and ask for more support. There are some things that I can offer and do. We'll see what they choose to accept from me.

This is not going to be the last time this issue rears its head. This is only one group of teachers at a particular school...and they are farther ahead in their thinking than most of the science teachers in the district. What I have to do is think about anticipating some of these needs a bit better and how to help teachers transition what happens in their classrooms. It isn't easy. I have plenty of my own transitions to make and no roadmap to use.

But I can't go back. It's just too insane.

26 October 2005

I Might Have to Learn to Knit

Image (c) 2005 Kimberly Chapman

Isn't this too cool?! Directions can be found here, if you're interested.


Do head over to the Education Wonks and stroll down this week's midway for the Carnival of Education. My favourites this week include a post about college level remedial math from Ms. Cornelius and a foldable for compare/contrast work from HuffEnglish. There are many other excellent entries this week.

I sat through an all-day meeting today. I have to say that the presentation wasn't all that engaging, but it did give me some good opportunities to network. It's always welcome to hear about what is happening in other districts.

But since I lost the day to this meeting, I have a bit of homework to tend to now. I'll be back tomorrow with more tales from the science trenches.

25 October 2005

Signs of Fall

It's officially been "fall" for over a month now, and the signs are everywhere. This includes the board above, set out by a nearby hatchery to entice visitors to see the salmon returning to spawn. The subsequent odor is another sign, although not as pleasant of one.

The leaves have "turned" and are piling up along the roadsides. Did you know that the red ones are actually a form of chemical warfare among plants?

The days are shorter, grayer, and fog is starting to appear in the morning. It won't be long before there's a bit of frost here and there. It won't be long until kids (and teachers) are keeping their collective fingers crossed in hopes of a snow day or at least a late start to school.

Kids are starting to settle in a bit and so are those of us in new jobs. In another week, the school year will already be 25% behind us, football season over, and the holidays around the corner.

Signs of winter won't be far behind.

24 October 2005

Goddess on the Run

It was a rather full Monday. I set up a lab for my kiddos on Enzyme Catalysis. Things went well once they figured out how to handle the equipment and divvy up the job.

I left to meet with some of our chemistry teachers after my class. They were working on various ideas for their own curriculum and this really was about my favourite part of the day. It is good to sit with people, chew on some ideas for kids, and have a few laughs in the process.

At Curriculum, I worked through a lot of paperwork and details related to our upcoming materials adoption and answered a slew of e-mails. The big item on my agenda today was finishing up my preparations for a presentation to the secondary admins tomorrow morning. I am framing most of my comments around two areas that I know they are studying: Data Analysis and Focus on Instruction. Perhaps if I can help them have a bit more insight into how these things apply to science, they will be able to help guide teachers better.

The whole week is shaping up to be a very full one. Guess I'd better hang on for the ride.

23 October 2005

Happy Mole Day

Today is a day for celebration in chemistry, but it's a holiday you likely haven't heard of. You see, atoms are very tiny things. This makes them difficult to count, let alone do other calculations with. Less than 100 years ago, scientists were able to come up with a "constant" to use when determining the number of atoms or molecules in a substance: 6.02 x 10^23. This number was termed the "mole," which is Latin for "lump." Think of a mole indicating a fixed number of atoms---like dozen means 12 and gross means 144. This number is also referred to as Avogadro's number, after an Italian scientist (Amadeo Avagadro) who had done some preliminary reasoning about this idea in the 18th century. You can probably tell that a mole is a very big number, but since atoms are small, you don't necessarily have to have a big lump of something to have a mole of it.

Since this number has a great deal of significance for chemistry, it's worth celebrating every October 23 (10^23) from 6:02 (6.02) in the morning to 6:02 in the evening. There's even a Mole Day Foundation to help with themes and ideas.

At my school, we start the day off right. We meet at "Moledonald's" at 6:02 in the morning. Believe it or not we usually get about 125 kids show up. This is more than half of the students taking chemistry. McDonald's now takes initiative and calls us each year to see if we're coming to celebrate---instead of us warning them of the prospective onslaught. We did this on Friday, since Mole Day was going to be on a Sunday this year. It's a great deal of fun.

Students can earn "Mole Bucks" for coming to the kickoff. They can also earn Mole Bucks for their decorated t-shirts, cards, games, and more. Mole Bucks can be used for extra credit throughout the year. At school, there are games such as making the shape of a mole (animal) using a mole of aluminum foil. Last year, the men in my department all wore "mole-lets" (mullets) and jammed out to "Mole Thing" ("Wild Thing") at the school pep assembly.

Perhaps some of this doesn't sound too educational. Maybe it isn't. But it does make everyone enthusiastic about chemistry, which isn't such a bad goal.

So get out there and enjoy Mole Day today!

UPDATE: For those of you who got here by Googling for "mole bucks," I put a sample on my 2006 post.

22 October 2005

Earth Moving, Courtesy NCLB

You might love, hate, or tolerate NLCB. In my case, it doesn't really matter. I just need to know how to deal with the various impacts it has on the district.

NCLB requires a "highly qualified teacher" in every classroom, although the definition of what that means can vary a bit from state to state.

I'm minding other business on Tuesday when I get a call from our Human Resources department. School X is offering an "Environmental Earth Science" course, but the teacher only has a Biology endorsement. In order to teach anything with the word "earth" in it, a teacher would need an Earth Science endorsement on their certificate. (Interestingly enough, an Earth Science endorsement is enough to make you "highly qualified" to teach an Environmental Science class.) Did HR need to put this teacher on a plan of some sort since there was a question about the "highly qualified" status?

So, I'm sent off on quite the hunt to find out the answer. It turns out that each of the three high schools is offering a slightly different take on things. Theoretically, School X has a full-year "Environmental Science" class ("Earth" shouldn't be in the course title...hmm...). School Y has a one semester "Ecology" class and School Z has a one semester "Environmental Earth Science" course. It looked like the course title from one school ended up at another. Why all these classes are different and what is taught in them is something I'll eventually have to figure out.

In the meantime, principals, HR, science staff, and registrars at all three schools are awaiting an answer to a question that really wouldn't matter...except NCLB asked us to pay attention. To the word "Earth."

I think things are straightened out now. Each school knows what it's correct course title and number should be. Hopefully the computer system will keep things straight. HR is happy.

I didn't have the heart to tell the HR people the next day that the registrar of School X e-mailed me the next day to say that she hadn't seen the word "Earth" anywhere.

21 October 2005

Pop Quiz: What's Wrong with This Picture?

Image Credit Lost to the Sands of Time. I'm sorry.

As if yesterday's meeting wasn't enough, I had a teacher from one of the junior highs call me at work today. Could he come down and talk some more about one of the ideas? Uh, sure. This was not really a conversation that I could get particularly enthusiastic about, but I felt like I should at least hear him out.

This guy was so excited about the idea of developing pre- and post-assessments and then tying them to data tracking and remediation that he had already frothed at the mouth with his principal. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm not against the idea of these sorts of benchmark assessments---I just think it's too danged early to mess with them.

We have three major things to roll out next fall: aligned scope and sequence, standards-based instructional materials, renovated science facilities. Shouldn't we let the horse even move out of the barn before we think about tying a loaded cart to it?

I tried to gently explain this to the teacher. I'm sure he thought that I would be caught up in his enthusiasm and run with it. What I wanted to do was ask him to chill out. Fear of bad scores is making him (and a few others) appear to be grasping at any straw like it's a lifesaver. When he finally unwound his spiel, he left.

I wanted to say, "It's about the instruction, Stupid." If you as a teacher are planning standards-based lessons with various assessments throughout a unit to gauge student progress, why on Earth would you need beginning and end of year assessments? Wouldn't you already have a good idea of what kids do and don't know?


I met with the Boss Lady later in the day. I told her about the meeting---and she was not happy with things. This is reaffirming for me. Maybe I'm not the only one that thinks it's a little nuts to go trotting off with the cart and leave the horse in the barn. And really, without her support for this sort of thing, it isn't going to happen.

Where do I go from here? I have to somehow be better at communicating the vision and plan for science in the district. This is hard when people don't read their e-mail (as I whined about yesterday) and we only have one district-wide science meeting each year. I'll have to go "door to door" with things, I guess and spend more individual time with teachers.

I do have 30 minutes of time allotted on Tuesday morning in order to talk to admins. I hope to lay out things a bit for them. Maybe they can help me knock a few heads.

20 October 2005

Shaking My Head

I went to the meeting today---the one that I was worried about on Tuesday. The good news is that there was little to no pooping on the junior highs. The bad news? Oh, where to begin.

First of all, what is so difficult about reading e-mail? I understand that some messages/senders have a higher priority than others. I know that not everything is fun to read. After all the communications about Scope and Sequence last year, how could no one at the other high school admit to having seen them? (Although I know that one read some information in May...that was sent in March.) How could it be that after sending several pieces of e-mail this year which referred to the information on the staff intranet that this same staff was ignorant? And gee, getting Curriculum Subs for some release time? I pointed out that I sent their (the high school's) department chair a list of dates just yesterday. Oh, and at least twice in the last month, I asked him if he would like to coordinate Common Planning Time schedules with other schools. All the other schools responded with a "yes" and sent their information. This school? No answer...but the feeder schools wonder why. All of these issues could have been resolved via e-mail weeks and months ago.

There is an interest in a post-test at 9th grade. I'm not completely against this idea, I just think it's putting the cart before the horse. We haven't implemented the plans we've made yet. Why not see what a difference that makes---along with making passing the state test mandatory for graduation---before we lump in yet another assessment? Meanwhile, there wasn't a clear picture about how this information would be used.

Remediation came up. This is a good topic worth exploring. But again, we haven't put the plans in place to address the problems in general. Why talk about remediating when kids haven't even had an opportunity to work with the curriculum once?

I provided some data that I hope at least some people will look at and think about. When there are no African-American students in any advanced science classes---and almost none of them are passing the science WASL---there's a major issue. And that's just one example. Maybe we need to focus on which kids aren't getting an opportunity, rather than those we assume "can't."

Anyway, I am still a bit aggravated over the whole deal...from start to finish. But I will have to let it all go for now and focus my energies elsewhere. I can't make people read their e-mail. I can't make them consider the handouts. I can't make them look at data critically. Instead, I have to concentrate on what I can guide and provide input.

19 October 2005

Time for the Carnival!

The Wonks have put together another great Carnival of Education this week. Like Jenny D., they have chosen to organize the postings into general areas of interest, like "Teaching and Learning" and "Education Policy." It's a nice way to get a snapshot of what's being currently written about a topic.

Meanwhile, some kids get to spend years being educated at the carnival. Or at least the circus. Vindy.com has a fun article on the Eternal Field Trip being taken by children who are performers in Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Even the teacher is no stranger to life with a circus. For these students, all the world's a classroom.

18 October 2005

Physics Defying Poop

Perhaps you've heard that "S--t rolls downhill"? Not on my watch, it doesn't.

I received an interesting call this morning. It appears that a high school in my district has invited the science departments of its "feeder" schools over on Thursday afternoon for a little meeting. Along with the invitation, an enormous packet was provided. The idea was to have the schools inventory their topic coverage (using a rubric) and bring it to the meeting.

On the surface, all of this seems rather benign. But there are several things that bother me here. I wasn't asked about any of this until today---even though the meeting has been planned for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the school that is initiating the meeting is the one school that thinks that they have all their poop in a pile (and that it doesn't stink). This meeting can quite easily turn into a "bash the junior high" sort of event. In addition to this, the whole packet is pretty much moot. We did this work as a district last spring. If teachers at this other school read their e-mail, they would know all of this (as well as the "fixes" to problems that are on the horizon).

It is possible that the staff at the high school wants to know where the gaps in coverage have been so that they can do some "backfill." The problem with this thinking is that content (physics, chemistry, biology) is only 40% of the assessment. Most of it is process. Just talking content with kids isn't going to cut it.

So, I made copies of the test map...again...to show teachers on Thursday where the emphasis of the assessment (and therefore our instruction) is. I also pulled huge amounts of data. Because the more important question is which kids aren't succeeding...not what is or isn't being taught in terms of content. I plan to go armed with several items in order to diffuse any poo-flinging on Thursday. I am not letting anyone pick on those junior high teachers.

I know that scores aren't as pretty as we all would like. I know that we would all like to make that change. But the "blame game" isn't going to help get us there.

Ah, the joys of Goddess-dom. And just wait until I tell you how the word "Earth" caused me to lose several hours of valuable time.

Update: See the results of the meeting here. And you can read about the meeting after the meeting here.

17 October 2005

A Day of Fives

As expected, I learned a few things about dealing with the younger crowd today. I ended up presenting most of the lesson. This was okay, even if it wasn't entirely expected. The other teacher and I hadn't had any time to plan together.

I had assumed too much on the part of the kids. But the most basic concepts about what makes a "good" experiment (such as only changing one thing) were not part of their minds. Next time I present things with kids, I need to scaffold more. However, I only had 45 minutes today and did the best I could. The kids were more or less into things. They were good sports.

Their teacher told me later that only three of her students last year passed the science WASL last year. She wants very much to do better by her kiddos this year. So, we planned a bit for the future---how she will build on what we talked about today. I'm hopeful for her. She's motivated and cares about what happens in the classroom. She can make a difference.

Other items from my Monday also went well. I'm really learning how to just sit back and listen to teachers talk...and to ask them questions to move their thinking a bit farther...all without judging or being authoritative. One thing that I learned from my conversations today is that teachers want some meaningful recognition. I mean, I know this---but they were specifically talking about their lesson design. After pouring over the information and carefully crafting something---no one sees it but the kids, who may or may not appreciate it. How do I help give them the recognition they deserve?

I wish everyone a pleasant Monday evening. My Sweetie and I are celebrating five years together. Makes me smile, no matter how tired I am.

16 October 2005

Grade Five Awaits

Monday will be a full of different items for me. There is a teacher from another school coming to observe my class and talk to me about instructional strategies first thing in the morning. From there, I head to a junior high to work with three teachers on their curriculum alignment for Grade 7 Science. I have a brief respite at Central Orifice, er, Office, before heading into completely uncharted (for me) territory: Fifth Grade.

Ten years ago, I did teach sixth grade science for a year. I enjoyed it very much, but I am certainly no expert when it comes to young minds.

A teacher I spoke with last week has invited me to come and co-teach a lesson with her tomorrow. She has thirty fifth-graders, awaiting a lesson on Inquiry. When I met with her last week, she was very excited about some materials I have for using the inquiry process with elementary students. I have presented this information to teachers, but I haven't used it with young 'uns yet. I do know that many districts in the state are successfully using this particular tool---so I'm not worried about the lesson bombing.

But this will be an entirely new experience for me---both as a teacher and as a Science Goddess. The regular classroom teacher will be there. Together, we will be a SuperTeacher: me with the content knowledge and she with the pedagogy appropriate for elementary kiddos. Tomorrow is all about emphasizing process with students. There is no content we're pushing. There will be no "right" and "wrong" answers. This removes some of the pressure for all of us.

Things aren't planned quite as nicely as I would like. I met with the teacher on Wednesday afternoon and she has been out of town ever since. We will just kinda have to fly by the seats of our pants. This will be the last lesson of the day for her class and I will spend time after school with her talking about how to extend this lesson and infuse different components with her other science work throughout the year.

It is likely that this will be the first of many lessons that I will co-teach or model for elementary teachers. I find that both daunting and energizing. We'll see how I feel at the end of the day tomorrow.

15 October 2005

Walking (and Towing) the Line

Someone in our office likes to describe our positions as having "all of the responsibility with none of the authority" to make change happen. That's a pretty accurate summation. I am not an administrator. I am not an evaluator. I am "just a teacher" like all of those in the district whose work I am supporting. And yet, I am charged with encouraging teachers across the district to examine (and perhaps alter) their practices regarding the teaching of science. I am to help select instructional materials and arrange training on them. I am to guide the use of standards-based lessons in the classroom. But when the rubber meets the road in the classroom, I haven't a lick of authority to "enforce" the implementation of any of this.

This means that building positive relationships with teachers is my main hope of effecting change in their classrooms. If teachers see me as a supportive guide, they are more apt to buy what I'm selling.

My office is fortunate enough to have the resources to staff a number of full-time substitute teachers. These are then used by learning specialists to guarantee teachers for some release time for professional development. It's an awesome arrangement. And while I don't have a regular schedule for the 4 I am allotted, I have so far been able to accommodate every group request I've had from science teachers in the district.

I haven't attached any strings to using these subs---but I haven't felt like I've had to. The projects teachers are working on are, in my mind, worthwhile and about improving what happens in the classroom. What better use for "curriculum subs" could there be?

The math coach for the secondary schools isn't quite of the same school of thought on this. He's new to his position and I know he is trying to figure out what it means to do this job. But he has provided a list to math teachers in the district about what sorts of projects are acceptable. I do understand why he's done this. Curriculum is footing the bill for the release time---the department should be assured that they are paying for the kind of work that fits department goals. The problem is simply that teachers already have an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to central office. And telling a group of Geometry teachers (for example) that their desire to work on some common lessons doesn't fit the criteria only reinforces that mentality.

Am I walking a line with this? Yep. If geometry teachers aren't supposed to work on their projects, then perhaps I shouldn't have scheduled the bio and chem teachers to do so. However, not only do I need to foster those positive relationships with them, I truly believe the work they want to do is valuable. I do have some agenda items that I would like to push, but I know that there has to be some give and take. I trust them to put kids first in their thinking and planning. Maybe they'll trust me to provide them with some additional guidance in that regard.

It's possible that there may be some requests this year that I will need to turn down. But I hope that I will be able to gently explain to teachers why it's not an appropriate use of resources and then help them find funding and support elsewhere. I don't want to lay out a set of rules at the beginning that turns them off. I hope they see me as an ally so that we can all tow the (party) line together.

14 October 2005

How Do They Know If They Know, Part II

I was wondering last month if there was a way for students to "know if they know" the material. I've been wrestling with this problem ever since. I've been doing some reading, which has helped a bit. (I highly recommend a gander at this book, if you're interested in this kind of thing.)

Today, I actually stumbled on a way to help kids figure out what they did and didn't know. Maybe some of you can use it, too.

My class has been looking at DNA replication for most of the week. I did a "Read Aloud" for part of the chapter to model using our textbook. We looked at the graphics in the text. We modeled the process. But this is an AP class and time is limited. We have to move on---in fact we had already started a new chapter yesterday.

When the period started today, I asked my kids to partner up. I told them that their task was to take a walk together. And for 10 minutes, they were to explain the process of DNA replication to one another. I also provided an index card. If there were things they were unsure about, they were to make a note on the card. When everyone had returned to the classroom, we'd talk about what was on their cards. And with that, they left.

There were all kinds of comments upon return. "I don't think I know very much." "I think I get the process, but I don't know all the right words for it." "Can we make a master list of the important vocabulary?"

They knew what they didn't know. I couldn't have been more excited. How powerful is that for kids?

So, even though it took some extra time to do the activity and debrief it, I really feel like it was well worth it. I know that I haven't tested them on the information (that will happen next week). I just have this hunch that a real breakthrough was made today.

I plan to keep using this kind of activity---in fact, I hope that students will be proactive about it...maybe even asking for it now and then throughout the year when the material is particularly tough.

If I'm lucky, maybe I'll even find a few more strategies like this.

I Heard a Rumor That It's Friday

...and I'm really hoping it's true. Been a long week here.

Yesterday was busy, but I had lots of nice compliments on my school board presentation---including ones from the superintendent and one of the board members. There are also some other comments starting to bubble up: If kids take more science, what classes will they not be taking? We knew these would come. Jobs are at stake.

I went to represent the school district (along with a few others) at an event for parents last night. The event was specifically targeting parents of minority children---giving them an opportunity to find out how to connect with the schools and get more involved with their childrens' education. There were lots of tables in the "fair": local banks, girl scouts, school districts, support agencies, etc. A free dinner was prepared.

Four families showed up.

I had been warned that when events like this had been planned, that parents were scarce. That was certainly no lie. I felt rather embarrassed for the organizers of the event.

There was some good coversation with others in my district about what "good" parent involvement looks like. This is someting I've blogged about before. Last night, the Boss Lady mentioned that to her, good parent involvement means getting your kids off to school in the morning---cleaned, dressed, and fed---and checking in with them about assignments and school events in the evenings. Maybe it's not about having parents come to the school to volunteer. Maybe it's not about Open House or other events that try to lure parents to the buildings. Maybe it's just a matter of providing a good environment so that kids can come to school, ready to learn. And we'll take things from there.

After two sixteen-hour days in a row, I'm ready for a break. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's glad to see Friday on the calendar. Welcome back, old friend.

12 October 2005


The School Board presentation went very well. A few science staff members showed up in support, including my department chair. He said that I had a great "hook" for getting the Board involved with my presentation---something that then fed right in to what the Recommendations are regarding the revised scope and sequence.

I showed that we have our ducks lining up quite nicely: curriculum materials, facilities' upgrades, course descriptions, etc. Everything would be ready to implement next fall. All comments were positive and no concerns were expressed. The Boss Lady beamed.

I knocked one out of the park, if I do say so, myself. :)

It feels good to not just have this hurdle behind me---but to know the lasting impact this will have on science education in our district. It's a huge victory for our students, even if they don't know it yet.

Thursday evening, I'm off with the Boss Lady and Supe to participate in a forum for parents of minority students. Blogging may again be sparse in the next 24 hours...but I have lots more to share when I return.


Early Blogging

An early post today, as I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to check in later...

First of all, this week's Carnival is hosted over at Jenny D's place. Go over and give her some love.

Tonight is the big night Yours Truly will present the Secondary Science Recommendations to the school board. I'm glad to have finally reached this point and am all ready for the big show tonight. At least I think I am. I'm certainly ready to complete this phase so that we can move forward with other plans. Onward and upward!

11 October 2005

I forgot!

Yesterday was "Metric Day." (10/10...get it?) Anyway, a little levity in order to give the day some recognition:

Why the metric system failed to take America...
  • A miss is as good as 1.1 kilometers.
  • Put your best 0.3 of a meter forward.
  • Spare the 5.03 meters and spoil the child.
  • Twenty-eight grams of prevention is worth 453 grams of cure.
  • Give a man 2.5 centimeters and he'll take 1.06 kilometers.
  • Peter Piper picked 8.8 liters of pickled peppers.

State Smarts

According to a survey by Morgan Quitno Press (rankers extraordinaire), states are able to be ranked by their smartness. "States were graded on a variety of factors based on how they compare to the national average. These included such positive attributes as per-pupil expenditures, public high school graduation rates, average class size, student reading and math proficiency, and pupil-teacher ratios. States received negative points for high drop-out rates and physical violence."

Massachusetts came out on top. New Mexico was at the bottom (for the third year in a row). My state is in the lower half: ranked 30th.

Want to see where your state lands? Have a look.

I'm not really convinced that any of this is meaningful. Besides, it isn't as if states are competing with one another---what good does it do to rank everyone? And if you're living in a "dumb" state, what are you going to do about it---pick up and move to Boston? Why is it that the "smart" states are doing so well? Might be fun to poke around in the data sets used by the Morgan Quitno Press.

10 October 2005

Guilty Pleasures

I hope that most of you have today off like I do. It's nice to have a three-day weekend once in awhile. It's a perfect time to get a little extra work done (ugh) and perhaps indulge in some guilty pleasures.

Two Fisted Engine of Justice by J. Ferguseon CC-BY-SA-NC
The guy at the left is The Tick. And recently I discovered reruns being shown each evening. This is a perfect guilty pleasure for me: giant blue naive superhero. I am enjoying an end to my work days by watching him duke it out with the likes of "El Seed." Or perhaps try to give Dinosaur Neil a giant aspirin. Or hang out with Die Fledermaus and American Maid. I've been a Tick fan since it showed up on Saturday mornings when I was a young teacher. But I haven't seen these in a long time. I'm glad that they're back and just as much fun as I remember.
Pike Place Flowers by Stoctoc CC-BY-NC-ND

Having a weekday off is another time to indulge---in having breakfast out. What better opportunity to be naughty by having some French Toast and bacon? My Sweetie teases me because I always scope out the place and find a little old (as in "80's") man---and buy him breakfast. When was the last time someone added a little spring to their step?

Other guilty pleasures? Some "hair metal" on the way into work in the mornings. Doughnuts on Fridays. Spending a day (and night) reading a good book. Browsing at Office Depot. Lazing on a Sunday, alternately watching NFL games and napping in a sunbeam. Buying flowers at the market. The anticipation of an upcoming adventure with my Sweetie. Driving away on the last day of school. And lots more.

Get out and indulge yourself today, if you can.

09 October 2005

The Joys of E-mail

I check my school e-mail from home during the weekend. It is not uncommon for kids or parents to have an inquiry. Other teachers check in, too, with things that they are thinking about. I had a bit of surprise yesterday.

A teacher in my district had sent a teacher in another district an e-mail about curriculum materials. The e-mail also had some other specific district information that is not yet considered "public." None of this would be a big deal, except the receiving teacher chose to post it to a state-wide listserv. Eek!

One thing my Boss Lady does not like---and can get me in the most trouble---is for district information to come to her from sources other than me. It may be very unlikely that this could happen with this recent e-mail, but it is still possible.

I sent an e-mail to the receiving teacher asking her nicely not to publicly post any more information about the district until she had checked with me. The teacher who had sent the message did not ask her to forward it---I'm sure he thought he was asking for some information, person-to-person. I know the receiving teacher meant well...that she thought she was helping by putting his question out to a wider audience. And if we're lucky, no damage will be done.

We are constantly reminded in my district that e-mail is not a private communication. If it is generated with district software on a district server, it can be asked to be viewed by community members (public dollars fund the schools) or subpoenaed in court. I can think of several occasions where I've had someone tell me that they would only talk about an issue in person so that there was no "paper trail." Oh, I wish that had happened this time.

08 October 2005

My Aching Head

I started geting some nasty headaches earlier this year. This seems to be one of those weekends where I'm under siege again. Between the pain and meds, I'm both nauseated and sleepy. I'm never sure where these things come from. I had wonderful day yesterday.

The teachers from my school who teach biology got together to talk about a variety of things. Everyone has some differences in how they approach the content, but teaching is not a "one size fits all" sort of proposition. I liked sitting back and watching the energy ebb and flow between people...how someone could start an idea and another take off and run with it. There were some things that we didn't get to that I felt were rather important. I would have liked to talk more about how we know whether or not a student can meet the standard. In my mind, that seems the most logical place to begin. If we don't know what the end point will be when we see it, how can we plan to get kids there? Just planning activities/lessons that we think are more standards-based isn't really any different from what we've done before. The conversation never led that way.

Was it my role to make sure that it did? I don't know. This group is motivated and I feel like my presence is pretty superfluous. That's a wonderful thing. I can think about spending more time with groups of teachers who aren't to that point yet. And I'm not interested in putting my foot down in this case---as if I have all the magical answers to getting kids to meet the standards. The teachers yesterday are all intelligent people who care about kids. I think it's good for me to trust that they can find the path that's best (and that they're comfortable with).

I have another group of teachers that I'm working with in another week or so. My impression is that they aren't quite as far along in their thinking as yesterday's bunch---but that they would like to be. It may be that they will need more from me.

My hope is that I can help most---if not all---secondary schools get started on this process of aligning standards with instruction. Once they're off and running, there are 13 elementary schools to help, some of which are calling for me now. But I feel like getting the Recommendations approval by the School Board (the meeting will be Wednesday), necessary materials to teachers, and instructional methods will allow me to fade away from secondary. They can take the ball and run with it. That's kind of a nice thought to keep me company as I duke it out with my headache today.

06 October 2005

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Many years ago, I had an administrator point out that October is the "battleground month." You see, the honeymoon that happens at the beginning of the year is over. It is now time to determine who is going to be in charge of the school: the adults or the students.

I realize how harsh that sounds. And shouldn't schools be partnerships---aren't we supposed to put kids first as we guide them along? An "us vs. them" mentality doesn't sound very friendly. But somewhere along the way, authority must be determined. I think that we as adults need to establish and maintain the boundaries that we set on that first rosy day of school.

I am hearing about more bad days that teachers are having as kids start to test those boundaries with more frequency. I don't like it, especially when I also hear stories that entail a lack of adminstrative support. It means that the kids have already won.

05 October 2005


Today was my opportunity to chat with some people who have a similar role to mine. I taught my class and then headed across the water for the meeting, luncheon, and tour of a salmon hatchery.

It's nice to know that we are all in similar situations. No one is kicking tail on the science WASL. Nearly everyone is working on scope and sequence...looking at materials...talking to teachers. There are frustrations to be had---little guidance from the state and just the general struggles of getting a quality program up and running. Regardless, it was nice to do a bit of networking and strengthen some relationships.

And now, I'm off to enjoy the midway this week over at the Education Wonks. Come on over and see what else is happening in the great wide world of education.

04 October 2005

We Never Talk Anymore

I attended a meeting this morning. It was the weekly district meeting for all of the admins. I am not an admin, but I was invited by their boss to join in for part of the meeting. They will be doing a lit circle around Mike Schmoker's book: The Results Fieldbook. The idea is that the book will provide guidance toward using data more effectively within the school setting. And since I'm in a support role for all of the schools' improvement plans, it might be a good idea for me to know the basis for change this year. Mind you, my Boss Lady wasn't entirely clear about whether or not I was supposed to attend. I thought it couldn't hurt to spend 30 minutes checking things out.

I didn't have a lot to add to the conversation today. What struck me the most is just how little admins seemed to know about what was happening in other buildings. I had assumed (and I should know better than that) that there was some sort of regular communication about things. After all, they met every week. I posted a bit ago about noticing the same thing with teachers---but then we don't provide any opportunities for cross-district meetings.

So, what does it take to make communications happen in the 21st century? With all of the expectations placed on schools these days, we need to share more than ever. How come we can't figure out a (good) way to do that? It seems like such a shame that everyone has to make their own wheel.

I do wonder if technology is a help or a hindrance in all of this. E-mail and telephones in every room mean less "face time," even though more information can be shared. Would admins blog, perhaps? Or maybe we just need some good, old-fashioned bulletin boards for posting news. Are we too shy these days---afraid that the messages we give will offend or be taken as bad news? Is there just a lack of leadership---no one willing to make things happen?

If you're a regular here, then you know I don't have any good answers. But you can bet that I'll be thinking about this and trying to find some answers.

P.S. The "best" example of lack of communication today? Finding out I'm being sent to Denver for a training next month. Gee, didn't we tell you?

03 October 2005

Back to Work

It is always a bit of whiplash to head off to a conference for a couple of days...and then come back to the daily version of reality. But I'm back in the saddle again.

This week is going to be a bear. I had about 300 e-mails to deal with, teachers to coach, a class to teach, and more today. One of the most interesting tasks was to revise a Powerpoint presentation that I am to give to the school board next week. The Boss Lady had asked to see it once I had drafted things. She very much likes to know exactly what is coming down the pipeline. I obliged. She changed one word that I had written---and then provided a completely different template for me to use. Frankly, I like the one I chose better. It was "science-y" without being overwhelming. The one she wants me to use is too busy for my tastes, but I will play the game.

I have worked with very few women-as-bosses over the years. Three, to be exact. I find that experience very different from working for men. This is likely due to growing up in a "Good Ole Boy" atmosphere---so I know the rules for those situations very well. I struggle to figure out how the governing rules of a woman-in-charge. I know, I know, I should look at them as individuals (both men and women), but I can't help but notice some very distinct gender differences. Women are much less friendly and are sparing with their praise. It's more difficult to determine whether or not they think you're doing a good job. Even when I had a male admin tell me that I was "all right...for a girl" it was at least some sort of indication.

Anyway, I have a bit more catching up to do this evening, but I'm back to blog on a regular basis again. :)