31 December 2005

30 December 2005

Teaching Abroad

I guess America isn't the only country facing problems with managing an educational system. Scotland is also looking at a problem with their teaching force. One problem is that there will be more retirees than students by 2009. Demographics also suggest that the number of students will decline. Scotland, like other industrialized nations, is experiencing a negative population growth trend. People just don't have the large families that they used to have. However, there was a resolution passed in 2003 to have 53,000 teachers for Scotland. Lawmakers are now wondering if that was a fiscal mistake. Might more money be needed for the other end of the age curve?

And where will all these teachers come from? They're already been recruited from all over the world. Matthew MacIver, chief executive for the Greater Counci of Scotland, was quoted as saying "We are very pleased indeed. We have worked very hard to process these applications from other parts of the world and I am sure that they will add to the quality of teaching in Scotland. We have a good education system, we have a good reputation, a high standard of teaching in schools and the McCrone agreement has helped as well. We are also an attractive country for teachers because they recognise that we place great importance in education."

According to http://www.teachinginscotland.com/, starting salary is around $33,500 and goes up to $53,350 based on years of experience. If I were a newbie teacher, this might be a very intriguing proposition. Couple a substantially larger starting salary with getting it tax-free (from US taxes) and a few years in Scotland might be a good way to get started in this nutty career.

29 December 2005

Countdown to 2006

September 1 is my version of "January 1:" A time for resolutions and a strong sense of a fresh start. My guess is that many teachers have a similar mindset.

That being said, there is much to do before I see my students in the new calendar year. I have done very little work for school in the last two weeks. I need to reverse that trend in the next day or so. Sigh.

I plan my class a month at a time, handing the kids a calendar at the beginning of the month. This gives us a basic roadmap. We do get away from it for a day here or there. During the first few days back next week, I have two touchy meetings, one all day one to plan, three grade 5 classes to work with, and two schools which have requested a presentation at their staff meetings. This is in addition to prepping and teaching my class and other miscellaneous teacher requests for help. Oh, and I start my first class toward my EdD on Tuesday. If this sounds like I'm fussing---I'm not. I like all of the things that are coming up. But if I don't get my head wrapped around it now, it's going to hit me like a ton of bricks when we return to work on the 3rd.

I have managed to finish up my "to do" list of things at home. It has been good to focus on personal needs for a few days and replenish my stores of energy. I'll need it, because it's still a long way to summer vacation.

28 December 2005

Carnival Day Is Here Again!


Riding the Yo-Yo by wrenoud CC-BY-NC

Yep, it's that time of the week. Put on your party hat and head over to see the fine education carnival that the Wonks have put together this week. School may be out for "Winter Break" across the country, but that doesn't mean all of our thoughts have become dancing sugerplums. Seek and learn.

27 December 2005

Memory and Learning

Using "cognitive science" in the classroom is quite the rage right now. There are aspects of this that make sense to me---if we understand how the brain learns and processes information, could we not use this knowledge to help our students? The drawbacks at this point are centered around the lack of information. Brain research in this area---especially as it may apply to education---is pretty new.

LiveScience has a couple of articles about recent work in cognitive science as it applies to memory. One of the keys is the ability to predict whether or not new information will be needed later---along with a judgement of how well the material has been learned. Prediction as a skill is something that is being taught heavily at the elementary level. But most of this work is centered around fictional text---predicting what will happen in a story or what a character is feeling. In science, we ask students to make predictions about what they will see in a demonstration or experiment. But we rarely ask students to make predictions about what information will be important in the future. I'm not sure that this can be done with younger kids. Small frontal lobes limit mental projections in time. With high school kids, we usually tell them why information is important and/or how it can be used. What would happen if we instead asked them to tell us?

The other LiveScience article I was reading was about "false memories." These are surprisingly easy to create. I did this with my AP kids recently. I read them a list of ~15 terms all relating to sleep: slumber, nap, dream, etc. Then we chatted for a 10 - 20 seconds to let the list pass from their immediate memory. I next asked them to raise their hands if they heard me say the word "nap" when I read the list. Hands went up. What about "cow"? No hands. And "sleep"? Nearly every hand went up. But I never said the word "sleep," only a lot of things in that general category. The article describes research similar to this demonstration, except with images.

Helping students to manipulate their own memories will likely not have a large impact on those who have an innate ability to monitor their own learning. It seems, however, that this could be quite a powerful classroom tool for struggling learners.

26 December 2005

Christmas Unwanting

Christmas is done for another year. I got a couple of new science books from my bmom: The Ancestor's Tale and That's the Way the Cookie Crumbles. She also sent a holiday coin collection from the Royal Canadian Mint and some ornaments. From others there was cash, calendars, and earrings.

For myself, I gave the gift of unwanting. I paid off all my debts and spent part of Christmas Day going through my closet and cupboards to pare down: clothes, books, and sundries. This past year, I have worked to unburden myself of people who are interested in feeding on the misery of others. It seems like doing these things is a constant effort, but worth it.

There is still another week until work cranks up again. I hope to continue to gift myself with some time to be lazy, to indulge in a few good books, and to visit more with friends and family. There is much to look forward to in 2006.

24 December 2005

Holidaze

The first week of "winter break" has been wonderful. I can't say that I've done all the school work that I needed to do, but this is my last chance to be lazy in that area for awhile. I've been reading like a fiend, working on various puzzles, and taking care of small projects at home.

Right now, the SD/KC game is on. My adad got me interested in football at a young age. Living in west Texas only served to solidify that interest. In high school, my adad and I would make our NFL picks each week---wagering a quarter on any matches where we differed. One Christmas, we attended a SD/KC game with my grandfather. Adad's family lives in the KC area. The three of us had a great time at the game. I don't remember the outcome. My memories of the event are mostly about the crowd's enthusiasm (and range of expletives) and just the gestalt of being there. Everytime I see this same matchup, I can't help but think of adad and his father---who are both long gone from this world.

I may make (another) batch of cookies later. There is a wonderful recipe for chocolate sandwich cookies with peppermint buttercream in this month's issue of Bon Appetit. These have to be about the best Christmas cookies ever. I've made two batches and given nearly all of them away. Perhaps I'll be a bit more selfish if I make another. :)

Merry Christmas!

22 December 2005

Portable, Sweet Portable

In previous years, I was fortunate enough to teach in a portable. A trailer. Or, if you like, a "modular classroom." For some, this might not sound like a great deal. Isn't a "real" classroom---one inside the building---much better?

There are some advantages to being inside the school building, but not many. Out in the portable, you're mistress (or master) of your own destiny. You control the climate. You can turn off the speaker if you don't want to be bothered with announcements. All that hallway noise and other distractions from outside your classroom? Not a problem.

Modular classrooms are not supposed to be permanent solutions, although that is usually what happens. The one I taught in is nearly 25 years old. Since it was not designed to be a permanent structure, there are issues with the stability of the floor and a rather frightening collection of mold growing in the walls. But if you're a quick growing school or district, you don't have a lot of choice in terms of using portable classrooms. Permanent structures require lots of capital. Trailers are ~$100,000 each. (I wrote about funding problems for school buildings a few months ago.)

I don't know about laws in every state, but in Washington, when a new school building is proposed, it has to be built around current enrollment---not future projections. It can be a few years in between the start of such a project and the first day of school there. What you end up with (as in a case in our district) is a brand new building...and 10 portables sitting outside because the school isn't large enough.

The Boston Globe published an article this week on these "Educational Building Blocks." (id: bugmenot@123.com; password: bugmenot) Apart from the teachers who actually use these spaces, those quoted in the article are unhappy with having to use modular classrooms for more than a few years. None of the naysayers seem to have a (financial) plan for getting rid of them.

Some schools do what they can in order to help these mobile structures blend in with the rest of the campus. Others, like one elementary in my district, embrace the "trailer" aspect and put plastic flamingos and other ephemera outside. Whatever the attitude, these temporary structures aren't going away from your area school anytime soon.

21 December 2005

What Better Time Than Now?

...to visit this week's edition of the Carnival of Education. Coturnix is hosting it this week over at "Circadiana." While you're there, check out Bora's other posts on the biology of time. Fascinating stuff!

20 December 2005

What's the Buzz?

I am continually surprised by the range of prescription meds my students have had access to throughout their young years. I tend to have "goody two-shoes" kinds of kids, so their talk of Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, and more is a little hair raising. It means that these pills were prescribed for them---they didn't steal them out of their parents medicine cabinet. (And if they did, they wouldn't be foolish enough to brag about it in class.)

Are the results of a recent government survey of teens about drug use any surprise? Rates of smoking (both tobacco and marijuana) are down. The use of inhalants and steroids has decreased. But Oxycontin and its kin? They're on the rise.

I have no doubt that many teens across the U.S. are raiding family medicine chests to find prescription painkillers. I have plenty of Percocet leftover from my post-surgery days last year. How many? I don't know. If one or two went missing, I wouldn't be any the wiser. My guess is that a lot of parents out there could be in the same boat.

I have to wonder about how prescriptions for painkillers are determined. "Pain" is such a relative thing. If a doctor is reasonably convinced that a patient is suffering (or will be following a surgery), then why wouldn't s/he do something to ease the pain? How do you know what "enough" painkiller looks like? Do doctors tend to overprescribe a few pills each time...just in case? And you can't return the leftovers...and flushing them isn't desirable. Perhaps we need more alternatives to leaving them in the medicine cabinet.

But hey, maybe you don't really need a prescription. All you need is a credit card. While most teens lack this sort of access, it still doesn't preclude them from googling for "no prescription oxycontin" and obtaining what they (or friends) want.

Beyond all this, alcohol is still the primary drug of choice for teens. This is not news. What I find interesting, though, is that teens are turning more and more to depressants. Is today's digital world so overstimulating that the only way to tune out is to tune in to something that numbs the neurons?

19 December 2005

Maybe It Isn't Just Us

A recent article in The Boston Globe posed the question "Are colleges failing?" (user id: bugmenot@123.com; password: bugmenot) The standards movement over the last several years was in part driven by colleges and universities claiming that entering students were woefully unprepared for the rigors of post-secondary education. And while this may in part be true, no one has asked (until now), just what colleges are doing to support student learning. The author of the Globe article believes that colleges are not doing much. He states that current eductional research shows that
  • Most college seniors do not think that they have made substantial progress in improving their competence in writing or quantitative methods, and some assessments have found that many students actually regress.
  • Students who start college with average critical thinking skills only tend to progress over the next four years from the 50th percentile of their class to approximately the 69th percentile. Most undergraduates leave college still inclined to approach unstructured ''real life" problems with a form of primitive relativism, believing that there are no firm grounds for preferring one conclusion over another.
  • Further studies indicate that problem-based discussion, group study, and other forms of active learning produce greater gains in critical thinking than lectures, yet the lecture format is still the standard in most college classes, especially in large universities. Other research has documented the widespread use of other practices that impede effective learning, such as the lack of prompt and adequate feedback on student work, the prevalence of tests that call for memory rather than critical thinking, and the reliance on teaching methods that allow students to do well in science courses by banking on memory rather than truly understanding the basic underlying concepts.

People pay a lot of money in order to get a degree. Wouldn't we think that there would be more for the money besides a piece of paper? Why isn't there?

Some of the answer may be related to the lack of teacher prep PhD candidates receive. They do get a lot of experience with conducting research, but little in pedagogy. Perhaps faculty is resistant to letting in "best practices" through the college doors. There would have to be a great deal of time devoted to restructuring classes away from 3 hours of lecture per week.

But what of the future? What if we (America) start to actually graduate a hefty percentage of students who can read critically, think mathematically, write fluently, and reason scientifically...yet a greater share of the global economy doesn't come our way because college doesn't further those skills? Will the public put more pressure on colleges and universities to produce a different sort of graduate? Will students and parents demand more for their money?

Maybe it isn't just us---the public school system---that is failing to turn out citizens ready to compete in today's world.

18 December 2005

Better Teaching Through Pharmaceuticals?

A colleague of mine recently attended a national conference on staff development. One of the sessions she chose was presented by Merck. Several years ago, they started the Merck Institute of Science Education (MISE) in partnership with a few school districts in the northeast U.S.

It looks like Merck put a lot of money into this project. Teachers who wished to participate were given extensive training over three summers (one summer for life science, one for physical, one for earth/space) and then support during the school years to plan and implement the following:
  • Inquiry-centered sequential science curriculum units that have gone through a research and review process.
  • Professional development programs to prepare teachers to guide students in inquiry-centered science.
  • Cost-effective support systems for supplying science materials and apparatus to classrooms.
  • Assessment methods that are consistent with the goals of an inquiry-centered K-8 science program.
  • Strategies for building administrative and community support.

My colleague brought back all sorts of glossy brochures and some questions about whether or not there were some elements here that we might like to think about for our own district science planning. There are some exciting things to think about...except that there is hardly any student data to go along with the Merck project. Lots of time and money was put into MISE, but did it make any sort of impact on student learning?

It did for students in grade 5---but not in grade 7. Merck attributes this to the lack of alignment between the assessment measures (SAT 9 and NJ state science tests) and the curriculum goals. This was due in part to the fact that the program was started before there the standards movement took hold. But I still have to wonder why they would undertake this whole project without some sort of measurement in mind. They did keep some data on teachers...just not on student learning.

Whatever we envision for the future of science education in our district, I can't imagine that we would make these plans without a goal of affecting what happens in the classroom...and using student learning as the primary gauge of our efforts.

17 December 2005

Winter Homework

After Thursday's presentation to a group of teachers, the 5th grade teacher I'd been working with brought something important to my attention. If I returned to her school to work with younger classes, could I please not do the "Bubbleology" with them? She wanted it to still be new in coming years. I assured her that I would honour that request. I've had plenty of classroom experiences where kids had whined "We already did that in --- grade." I understood her concern, but until that moment, I hadn't even thought about the impact of doing the same inquiry lab as an introduction at multiple grades.

I later realized the full impact of agreeing not to do Bubbleology with other grades. It means that I need at least four different lesson plans (one for each grade, 3 - 6). Ideally, I'd like to have two different lessons for all of these grade levels. Each one needs to be inquiry-based and attention grabbing. They all need to be able to be done in less than one hour, although it would be good to have them "expandable" to include some student writing and/or vocabulary work. For future reference by teachers, the lessons should be able to be used at any point during the school year. That means that the Grade 3 lesson can't include much in the way of measurement---because that skill isn't taught until third grade is underway. It would be nice if the lessons related in some way to one of the science kits the teachers would be using during the year. It's important that all of the lessons be "teacher friendly" in terms of time management, materials, and implementation.

This, my friends, is what I call "challenging." Can I find four (and hopefully eight) experiments that match all of these criteria? I'm a little uncertain that I will be able to do this; but, I brought home lots of resources to look at during the next two weeks and I'll keep picking away at it. This should keep me occupied in between naps and cookies. :)

16 December 2005

The Finish Line

Today was the last official day of work for 2005. (I brought home several items of unofficial work to keep me company the next couple of weeks.)

For the last two years, I have worn a red dress and Santa hat to work. Each time, I've stopped by Safeway on my way to school---and on both occasions it has been the only time complete strangers stop and want to talk with me. They seem to like "Mrs. Claus" and have things to say to her. At school, I handed out some goodies to my kids. I put together treats that have a small (1 x 2) post-it note pad with a Hershey's miniature taped on top with a pencil taped on that. I wrap the whole thing in some curling ribbon and the effect is really pretty cute. My kids did a lab with some rabbit muscle today. Perhaps not very "holiday inspired," but they enjoyed it and it gave them at least one class period without watching a movie or other nonsense. At Curriculum, I wrapped up (!) a few details, enjoyed an office luncheon, and scooted out an hour early.

It is wonderful to be out on Break, but it is a long time until Christmas. I'm the type who'd prefer to get out much closer to Christmas and go back later in January. But hey, no one's died and made me queen yet. If there's ever a "Science Goddess School District," then the school calendar will have a whole different look.

Best wishes to all of you who are also starting your holiday season.

15 December 2005

It's a Start

There are fourteen elementary schools in my district. This equates to about 7000 students in grades K - 6. That's a lot of kiddos in need of a quality education in science.

So far, five of these elementaries have invited me to work with their staff. It doesn't sound like lot, but it's still five more than last year. I made a presentation of the second one today. Teachers seem welcoming---even relieved---to have some simple ideas that can make a difference in their classrooms.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the "Curriculum Specialist" part of my job. The classroom has its own issues, but at least it's a small world that you are familiar with. How on earth do I support several hundred classrooms?

One school at a time, I guess.

14 December 2005

Sanity Prevails...For Now

I had the second meeting with my grades 7 - 9 materials' adoption group today. I was a little uncertain about things going into this meeting. This is a good group, but it's hard for any teacher (myself included) to get away from the "sexy" things the publishers send and focus on what we really need to look for.

Using some tools I found on our state education website and something that our district math god developed, I created a "deep alignment" tool. The alignment was specific to student tasks (worksheets, end of chapter questions, labs, activities, etc.). The "deep" part refers to...
  • Content--What knowledge, skills, processes, or concepts does the task address?
  • Context---How is this information presented, practiced, and then tied to other skills/learning?
  • Cognitive Demand---Does the task require ask students to demonstrate the same level of thinking as required by the standard?

The grade level groups of teachers picked two of their GLEs and then set out with the three curricula they'd selected for further review to do some deep alignment. The outcome was quite magical. It made it painfully obvious just which materials would support students to meet the standards. The conversations that teachers had were really interesting for me. And several of them actually thanked me for using this approach to things today and mentioned how meaningful it had been.

That's the good news. We have some wonderful materials to pilot later this winter and we feel confident about the quality of the curricula.

The bad news is that we will be seriously over budget if we get these. The student books alone will be $30,000 more than we have been allotted...never mind the support materials for teachers. And this doesn't take into account the needs for grade 6. Teachers were a bit depressed to discover this at the end of our day today, but we'll just see what happens.

For now, I'm just going to be happy that the work was productive and meaningful and that we're on track for making an enormous impact on what happens in science classrooms. I'll worry about getting the extra $100,000 tomorrow.

13 December 2005

Is there really a Santa Claus?: A Scientific Rationale

I picked up this piece many years ago. I didn't author it, but I wish I could credit the proper person.

  1. No known species of reindeer can fly, BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified. And while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
  2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. But since Santa doesn’t (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total: 378 million. At an average census rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes that there is at least one good child in each.
  3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming that he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park (on the roof, of course), hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh, and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth, we are now talking about 0.78 miles per household: a total trip of 75.5. million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding, etc. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, or 3000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth (the Ulysses space probe) moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second. Conversely, a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
  4. The payload on the sleigh add another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa...who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) can pull ten times the normal amount, Santa cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. He needs 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload---not even counting the weight of the sleigh---to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison, this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
  5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance. This will heat up the reindeer in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously---exposing the reindeer behind them---creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within .00426 seconds. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion, if Santa did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now. Merry Christmas, all!

12 December 2005

They Live (Me, Too)

Did you ever see They Live? It was a John Carpenter extravaganza starring Rowdy Roddy Piper. The movie was pretty forgettable, except for one scene. Piper walks into a bank with a sawed off shotgun and announces to everyone in the place that "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum."

Today, I was all out of bubblegum and it felt pretty good.

I am (finally) on top of my grading and planning for my class. Wednesday's upcoming meeting that I couldn't get planned out? It's all done, including the copying. Christmas cards? In the mail. Cookies? Baked, iced, and ready for the exchange tomorrow. Shopping? Nearly done...just a couple more stops to make tomorrow.

I might actually leave work on Friday with no work in tow for the holiday. How rad is that?

My kids asked me today if they were going to have homework over the break. I told them that they wouldn't---that it was a holiday. I want them to rest up so that I work their little fannies off between January and The Exam in May. After all, why should I be the only one without bubblegum?

11 December 2005

The Rest of the Story

A couple of days ago, I was moaning about the meeting I had on Wednesday. But that was only one part of what Wednesday delivered to my doorstep. Here's some of the rest (fallout is ongoing).

When I arrived at school, one of our assistant admins stopped me in the parking lot. Did I know that yesterday the vo-tech director for the district had floated a proposal to all of the secondary admins about moving Principles of Technology to grade nine? Perhaps this doesn't sound like a big thing, but after all of the work we did as a district last spring on our scope and sequence, this is not a welcome suggestion. The vo-tech guy wants this class offered as an alternative to the ninth grade science course we currently want to require. (It is offered at the high schools as an elective science option.) Why? My guess is that it's an attempt to do something about declining enrollment in those courses. More and more classes are becoming required, meaning there is less space for electives of any kinds. Also, one of the teachers of the class isn't very popular and so kids don't sign up for the class.

I make it in the building, pick up my mail, and as I start down the hall, our vo-tech teacher stops me to talk about the Principles of Tech issue. He doesn't want to teach at the junior high. What about all the equipment that would be needed for those classes at other schools? I told him that I'd keep him in the loop as things unfolded and continued to my room.

I had been away from my class Monday and Tuesday. There were no sub notes from Monday. The mystery was solved when my kids came in and told me that the sub made bookmarks with them all period long. She apparently didn't look in my mailbox for the plans---nor did she ask anyone in the department or main office for guidance. I've complained about subs here before. This is just another stellar example.

Then I went to the meeting. 'Nuff said on that. In the meantime, I was trying to track down an order gone bad with a science supply company. A principal at one of the elementaries asked if I could come out and present to her staff tomorrow (Thursday). And the Boss Lady and I needed to catch up on the course description nonsense, the vo-tech issue (which was news to her) and deal with our rogue junior high. You see, this particular school doesn't think it needs to follow the crowd in terms of course offerings. So, even though we've got a scope and sequence...and even though the admins of these schools want parity of offerings...this one keeps straying. Oh, and a group of teachers wants a meeting via e-mail but they don't actually want to take the time to write the e-mail. And one of the teachers who committed to being on the materials' adoption committee has decided that he can't miss his class for two more days this year.

Was that all for the day? I think so. I kept thinking that I really should have just stayed in bed because there was just one mess after another in the offing.

I think I've more or less recovered. I did do the presentation on Thursday. I hate to turn down any invitation at this point. It went very well and teachers were excited. A plan is in place to address the vo-tech issue. And I found a replacement for the spot on the adoption committee. I turned in the course descriptions, even though one teacher will be unhappy. I still have to think more about Wednesday's meeting and also the "e-mail meeting" that hasn't happened (due to the failure of the two teachers who suggested the format). But there are other battles I need to wage this week, so this other "stuff" will just have to wait its turn for later.

10 December 2005

Welcome to Year Two

This is the first blogoversary for "What It's Like on the Inside." Sort of. There was an earlier version of this blog that I started in 2003, but it was rarely updated and didn't have a particular direction. A year ago today, I deleted all of it and started fresh. And here we are: 317 posts and 20,000+ page loads later.

Thank you to the Functional Ambivalent, a favourite read and the first kind soul out there to send readers my way. Much appreciation follows to those of you who are the regs here. To see you on my counters many times a week does my heart good.

Twelve years ago, my principal said "So what?" about the internet. It was a valid question for the time. Why would anyone want to post information or look for it on a computer? Now I hear administrators ask, "So what?" about blogging.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. For me, it's about having a place to personally reflect on my professional life...to look at different impacts on my job...and hopefully have a little conversation about it in the comments. I like that this is something I (and others) can do at my/their convenience. We don't have to schedule a meeting to talk about issues. We can take our time and have lots of different perspectives join the discussion. I appreciate the community in what can be a very lonely career.

Here's to Year Two!

09 December 2005

Stand Back, I Don't Know How Big This Thing's Gonna Get


This is a snapshot from my day. I returned to an area elementary school to work with 5th graders on their inquiry skills.

The teacher would like very much for her kids to be more successful with planning and conducting scientific investigations...which is where I come in. I don't know much about teaching 5th grade, but I'm really okay with the science stuff.

I told the kids that I had a terrible problem. Someone had given me a recipe for making bubble solution so that I could make some for my nieces and nephews for Christmas---but all I had were the ingredients. Could they help me out and do some testing?


Needless to say, I had some very enthusiastic help. Their teacher and I led them through the design process and then took them to the school cafeteria for the testing. Science can be noisy (even if it's a good kind of buzz) and there is no wall between this teacher's classroom and the next room. I had also promised the cafeteria workers that their tables would be really clean when we were done.

Students had three soap solutions to test. There were to blow three bubbles with each solution. When each bubble popped, they used a meter stick to measure the soap ring that marked the diameter of the bubble.


Eventually, we got their straws away from them and headed back to the classroom to take a look at their results. Kids were very excited about the size of the bubbles they were able to create and anxious to share their information.

This really worked as a great introduction to the scientific process. But more importantly, the teacher started to see all the different places she could infuse this sort of thinking. What if they were playing four-square on the playground---and she had them predict what would happen if everybody could only stand on one leg? She had quite the spark of several ideas. Current and future students will really benefit from the expertise she's developing.

I'm going back to work with her class at the end of January. I need another attention-grabber. Oobleck, anyone?

08 December 2005

One Step Forward, Two Giant Leaps Backward

I had a meeting yesterday. Sort of. You see, I'd been asked to hold this meeting. I arranged for subs to cover the teachers and spent several hours planning for it. Other staff at central office stayed late to gather data for me, made accommodations in terms of timing, and provided other help.

And when I arrived on Tuesday morning, the entire thing had been hijacked.

The teachers were the biology crew from my school. This was not the first meeting this year and there have been a few growing pains in the meantime. It's not simple to automatically move to a standards-based curriculum, but at least we'd had a start.

My department chair had been asked to be there by the other teachers. I had some reservations about this as I know that our priorities are different. He wants teachers to be happy. This is not a bad goal---I like it. But I also want students to learn what they need to, not just teachers teach what they want to. So, he had the teachers for ~90 minutes before I got there after my class.

So much good work was undone. Now they were back to planning out of the textbook, going chapter by chapter. What do we want to teach here? I tried to get things back on track, but the five of them were unwilling to budge. Why should they? They had what they wanted: permission to just keep doing what they'd always been doing.

Another colleague arrived a little over an hour later. He is of a similar mind to me in terms of what our jobs are as teachers. He, too, tried to get the group out of the textbook and back to the standards. But it was no good.

The day was a complete waste: of sub time and my time. Not a single thing happened that will make an impact on what happens in the classroom.

I'm not sure what the future will hold for this group. I can't supply them with subs anymore if this is the direction they want to take. And I certainly want nothing to do with another meeting with the department chair present. I know that the teachers want more time to "plan," but until they're ready to focus on instruction and kids, there's no point in me being there.

The really depressing thing is that this was one group that was at least open to looking at the curriculum from a kid's perspective---but they've given up because it's more comfy to do what they want. There are six other secondary science staffs that I will have to "move" to standards-based...hopefully with better results.

06 December 2005

Education Carnival #44

Another week, another faculty meeting. Teachers filed in, looking a bit rundown, even though "Winter Break" would soon be starting.

"Why so glum, Tim?" asked Ms. Cornelius.

"Didn’t you hear? The supe is once again reorganizing the departments and staff at central office. As if that’s really going to have an impact on what happens in my classroom."

Janet said, "I feel your pain. The district keeps making changes to the grading system. Now we’re all confused."

"Yeah, well, try dealing with interruptions. I recently had a military recruiter in my classroom asking for information on one of my students," Ms. Cornelius replied. "It seems as if I am asking more questions about this sort of thing than most people."

"It’s the same old story," the Education Wonks observed, "more expectations and not more pay to meet them."

Jerry Moore leaned over the chair. "Don’t be so sure, Wonks. Have you seen what the NEA isn’t telling you about teacher pay?"

"I saw that," said Ms. Cornelius. "But maybe we should also consider what is happening to the salaries of administrators. They seem to be moving in a more positive direction."

"Speaking of money issues and schools, I don’t think that California is looking at the full picture regarding public funding for pre-school," Neal said.

"Money is always such an issue where public schools are concerned. Maybe you should consider what’s happening with a facilities’ project in our nation’s capitol."

The Wonks indicated that they hadn’t heard about these money issues. They were more worried about something else. "Did you hear about recent issues related to student blogging? What are the physical boundaries regarding a student’s Right to Free Speech? I think they include the home, but others of you may disagree with us."

Adam decided to comment. "But technology is such a valuable tool for the classroom. I really think that Wikis will be the wave of the future."

"Sometimes, though," Ed said, "We have to be careful of copyright issues when we use technology.

"True, Adam," said Josh. "I still have some of the same concerns as the Wonks. I was just talking about what happened in New Jersey when a student used her blog to imply that another student was gay."

"Speaking of gay students," said Darren, "did you know that a lesbian student in California is suing her school because the school disclosed to the student’s mother that she was gay?"

"Would you guys lighten up?!" Mamacita asked. Our jobs are serious, but that doesn’t mean that we have to take things that way. There are lots of different ways to look at things. Why not stop by my room after the meeting and have a look at all the euphemisms I’ve found for describing student behavior?"

Josh looked like he could use a laugh. "I’ll be right over."

Batya happened to overhear Mamacita’s addition to the conversation. "Language can be tricky. Sometimes euphemisms don’t translate well. I’ll send you the information I’ve collected on teaching English to Hebrew speaking students."

Badaunt nodded in agreement. "I’m trying to teach English to Japanese speaking students. If I don’t make sure we have some fun, I can’t get anywhere with them. Stop in and shout ‘Diarrhea!’ someday and see what happens."

"What about teaching reading to English speaking students?" asked Jarndyce. "Seems like many schools are ignoring good program advice in this area."

"Sometimes I wonder why we educate our children at all—what the motives are for why people choose to use public education or homeschool their children," said Goldie. "I read one of Kim’s posts."

Kim asked her, "Did you see my recent one on the socialization of children?"

"I agree that there can be some good reasons for parents to homeschool their children," added Henry. "Especially since teachers seem to have so little power in enforcing the rules."

"Parents and schools seem to more at odds these days," said Scott. "I’m wondering how we get past playing the ‘blame game’ so much."

"Schooling in America really has changed over the years," said Patricia. "This week, I’ve been thinking about the period between 1920 and 1954. I call it ‘Adjustment.’"

Mr. Lawrence added, "That’s not the only kind of ‘adjustment’ out there. In my local district, teachers aren’t adjusting so well to the idea of students from New York."

"I wonder," said The Science Goddess, "if this is part of why teacher retention is such a problem. There’s a recent study out about the factors influencing why teachers enter and stay in this profession."

Carol arrived for the meeting and caught the end of the conversation. "I'm wondering how all of these studies and government interventions are going to help kids like Ryan. I don't think they'll make a difference to him."

"Maybe we could all benefit from better data," said Matt. "And ways to manage it."

Mamacita sighed. "Come on, people, get happy. It’s the end of the semester! And time to enjoy some of the final moments that it brings."

Next week's Carnival will ably hosted by the Education Wonks. The deadline for entries is 9 p.m. PT, Tuesday, December 13. E-mail the wonks: owlshome[at]earthlink[dot]net. Thanks to all of you who promote and support the Carnival. This carnival is also registered at The Truth Laid Bear. Best wishes this holiday season to everyone!

Carnival Submissions Due!

This week's edition of the Carnival of Education will be hosted in this space tomorrow. If you have an entry for consideration, please send it to me by 6 p.m. (PT) today.
  • E-mail your information to the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com
  • Please send along the title of your blog and the permalink for the post

Blogger willing, the Carnival will be up for your edutainment by early Wednesday morning!

05 December 2005

Ain't No Mystery

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article entitled "The mystery of teaching science...solved!", although I'm not sure that they really had any groundbeaking news to share. Teach science in a way that gets kids involved and helps them relate science to their own lives. Isn't that the secret to teaching any subject well?

Here is what is disturbing:
  • 93 percent of public school students in Grades 5 through 8 learn physical science from teachers who do not have a college major or certification in the subject (based on data from the year 2000).
  • Most K through 6 classrooms have science education for about 16 minutes a day.

Sadly enough, I'd be thrilled if elementary kids in my district were assured of 16 minutes of science everyday. I realize that's not aiming very high. But, jeez, we need to start somewhere.

02 December 2005

Calling All Dogs and Ponies

Halfway through my class on Wednesday, there was a knock at my door. A colleague from Curriculum had a group of teachers with her and they were supposed to observe a teacher in another department. Only that teacher happened to be absent. Could they come into my room instead.

"Sure," I said, "But there's no dog and pony show today."

My friend scurried away to get her group. In the meantime, one of my kids asked me, "Did you just call us 'dogs'?"

Poor things. I had to explain that I was the "dog and pony show."

With our regular shortened period yesterday, and snow shortened period today, I have been force-feeding information to them. It reminds me of that Saturday Night Live skit where the people are at the "all you can eat" buffet. One guy tries to leave and the waiter explains that "It's not all you want to eat. It's all you can eat." In the background, waiters are shoving food in customers' faces. Well, the last few days in my class have been similar to that.

I will be out of the building on Monday and Tuesday, leaving them plenty of time for reflection and application...and then we'll get back in sync on Wednesday. I hope. I gotta get my dogs and ponies back in the ring with me again.

Education Carnival #44 Entry Instructions

Don't forget to send your entries for the 44th edition of the Education Carnival to me: the_science_goddess[at]yahoo[dot]com. Please provide the following information:
  • Title of Your Post
  • Permalink
  • Name of Your Blog

Entries are due by Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 6 p.m. (Pacific Time).

Eight Questions

The Education Commission of the States recently released a report entitled Eight Questions on Teacher Recruitment and Retention: What Does the Research Say? Here's a summary:
  • What are the characteristics of those who enter teaching? (white women who aren't the smartest ones out there)
  • How do those individuals who remain in teaching compare to those who leave? (they aren't pregnant/have small children)
  • What are the characteristics of schools and districts most likely to be successful in recruiting and retaining teachers? (large, white, middle class to affluent)
  • What impact do working conditions have on their ability to recruit and retain teachers? (not much evidence here)
  • What impact does compensation have on the recruitment and retention teachers? (a key role, but is influenced by other factors such as working conditions)
  • What impact do various strategies related to teacher preparation have on teacher recruitment and retention? (limited evidence that alternative routes to a certificate can be just as good as traditional programs)
  • What impact do induction and mentoring have on teacher retention? (little evidence here, too, that it makes a difference)
  • What is the efficacy of particular recruitment strategies and policies in bringing new teachers to the profession, including specifically targeted populations? (no information available)

If you have some time, I recommend a look at the whole report (twelve pages). Secondary questions, policy implications, and other information are contained with the paper. These are all good questions. Too bad there aren't more answers.

01 December 2005

Better Never than Late?

It's snowing---and has been for a few hours (unlike Tuesday when "they" said it would do this). I worked through lunch so that I could leave early today. I still left more than 30 minutes early and am very grateful that I did. The roads here are deceptively slick and people are not adjusting the way that they drive.

While coming home, I watched as a small car came down a hill, lost control, and slid several feet down an embankment into the trees. The driver was all right, just frightened. I was the only witness who had a cell phone. The driver needed help with phone calls because he spoke very little English. But we managed to get things set up for him. A policeman who happened to be driving by stopped for a moment, but was already on his way to another call. A nurse who was driving by also stopped. There are lots of good samaritans out there.

I'm not a fan of "snow days," which is different from when I was a kid. It's too early to call for tomorrow, but this white stuff doesn't look like it will be changing over to rain anytime soon. And if it freezes overnight, driving conditions will be even nastier in the morning. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for rain, above freezing temps, and a delayed start tomorrow.