44 Minutes


     Class periods at my school are either 44 minutes long on a regular day or 38 minutes on a short day – every Wednesday.    I feel so time crunched!   7th-grade students can barely settle down in 4-minutes to do a bellwork assignment.   I want the learning to be as hands-on as possible but to accomplish an activity involving equipment, they need to process it, set-up, explore, and clean-up in approximately 34 minutes with time allowed for closure.   In addition to the short time we spend together daily, we started the curriculum in one of my classes two months late and the other classes were a month behind their pacing chart.  

     Students pick up on a teacher’s mood, actions, habits, etc. almost immediately.   I need to find a way to be more relaxed about the time pressure so that I can better help them to relax and enjoy science.   

     Next semester, we will start new new units, new topics, and even new science concentration areas.   Have I mentioned that I will be happy to move on from Biology to the more familiar terrain of Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics?   In the words of one of my colleagues, “Biology is the coolest use of Chemistry on the planet.”   On the other hand, a few chemistry-heavy topics – such as protein synthesis, energy conversion,  and macromolecules such as the porphyrins in hemoglobin and chlorophyll – intrigue me;  the rest of it, not so much.   I am definitely squeamish about the blood and guts part of it – give me my fire and clean glassware anyday.




© Megan Bedford – flickr.com

     I am the Queen of Procrastination.   My friend Lisa – another first-year teacher who does not blog and is therefore not linked here – claimed this title on Facebook but I dispute her claim.   I have had two weeks off from school and have successfully avoided almost all contact with my job since before the Solstice.  I did go to work one day last week to grade notebooks, update my bulletin boards, and otherwise get ready for the return in this new year.   However, I have not accomplished any of the other projects on my list and have even skipped checking my calendar (this practice caused me to miss a reunion with old friends – big disappointment for me).  

     The break has been good.  I reacquainted myself with my good friend Sleep and have discovered and resolved to continue the benefits that come from being well rested.  I’ve been reading a book – gasp! – by Barbara Kingsolver;  this endeavour has been proceeding at a snail’s pace due to the number of other activities with which I have filled my vacation.   It started with Christmas preparation, included a trip to visit family in New England, and incorporated various other celebrations including Solstice and New Year – the former much preferred to the latter but sometimes you have to go with the flow.

      Anyway, my time of procrastination is over and today, I dove right back in – knowing full well that my wonderful, exciting responsibility to teach my students would again consume every waking moment.   Have I mentioned that I do my best thinking in the shower?    We will dive back in to reproduction/genetics/differentiation/selection/evolution/human body systems….    I love it!    My “To Do” lists however are stretching from here to way over there.  

     Bracing for blast off!


A Blur

© IllustratorSam - flickr.com (Creative Commons)

     The last month or so has been a blur.   When choosing between blogging and sleeping – sleep has won.     My new job is wonderful, exciting, and exhausting.   I barely notice the not sleeping or eating part because I am having so much fun but it has not been without challenges.   I’m teaching in an art room with no science supplies.   I had to bring my own computer because I was only given an overhead  – there isn’t even a functional blackboard or whiteboard.   On top of that, starting in mid-November meant another big adjustment for the students as I was their third teacher since the start of the year.   

     As if that isn’t enough, the curriculum at this point is mostly biology which is interesting but not my forte.     After midterm examinations at the end of next month, we will move onto Earth Science, Physics, and even a bit of Chemistry – all of which are more comfortable for me and areas where I have both practical experience and depth knowledge.   I am extremely good at scrounging and have not only brought a computer discarded by a relative but I also knew where to find a digital projector so I can show pictures and videos.  Friends have donated National Geographic magazines, medical posters, and hand-painted human body parts.    The last two items will be extremely useful when I return for the last big Biology unit on Human Body systems.

     Among my many New Year’s resolutions is more regular blogging.   Stay tuned.   

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

© Michael Frank – istockphoto.com

    Literally, that is what I’m thinking about as I try to figure out what to do with my classroom setup.    Right now, the room is a mess with books, papers, notebooks, scattered everywhere.   I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for chaos but I can’t work in this room.   I am sharing a room with an art teacher.   She teaches two periods at the beginning of the day while I teach one class in another science classroom.    It’s not too bad to teach one class in another classroom but the fact that my primary classroom is an art room and not conducive to science learning IS a problem.

     The tables are set up in a horseshoe pattern which means most of the kids have to turn their neck 90 degrees to see what is being presented – long narrow room.   Why would a 7th grader do that when there are other 7th grade students – far more interesting than the teacher – in the most direct line of sight?   I need to change this but it will probably mean a lot of furniture moving for me on a daily basis.   The art teacher is not interested in change.

    On Thursday, in one of my classes, some of my students were throwing small bits of crayons that they found on the floor at each other;  thus, the reference to hand grenades in the title.  They thought they were being sly but I knew they were doing it, the problem was that it was about eight boys.   If I cast my eyes down slightly to write on the overhead, somebody threw something.   A 12-year old boy is quick and deft but still looks guilty as sin.    This class got to sit quietly the next day and work in review books so that I could watch them carefully.   If I had it to do over again, I would have stopped the lesson immediately and gone to review books.  The problem is that if I turned my back to get the review books, World War III would have broken out.    The art teacher says that neither she nor the students should have to clean up crayon pieces on the floor because that’s what happens in an art room.    On Friday, I swept the floor after the art class left to get rid of the ammunition.

     None of the behavioral issues are a surprise.  We will get there.   The school was closed when I went over today to organize my classroom.   On Monday, I will turn the tables to row seating.   The goal is learning pods where active, engaged students do group projects.    I am having trouble seeing that from here.


     Too many meetings and too much administrative paperwork but this will pass and it will get better.  

  • Day 1 – met with another teacher for an hour then headed downtown to fill out paperwork and sign a contract (Yay!).   It wasn’t ready but even so process took over an hour.     Mandatory parent meeting for Techboy’s swim team, then required attendance for another group with which Sportsboy is involved.
  • Day 2 – got to spend a little time organizing classroom, then back downtown to finish paperwork, get ID, etc.    That evening included two hour-long parent meeting about math;  not mandatory but given the struggles my kids are having with math, essential.
  • Day 3 – department meeting from 1:30-2:30, meeting with another teacher 2:30-3:30, mandatory meeting  including terrific presentation about classroom management from 4-6  then back to my classroom to organize, think about tomorrow, and pack up the work to bring home.  Home by 7 PM – need to plan for tomorrow.

     It is going well.  We are at the early stages and we are still building connections, structure, and community.     They say that the four stages of group development are Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing;  we are definitely still in the Storming phase.     However, it is going well – as well as it could given that I was dropped in with basically no notice, curriculum, resources or anything on Monday morning.   I like the kids.   They have  been through a lot – teacher leaving after a little over two months, sub for a week and a half, then a restart with a new teacher.

     7th-grade Science in this district is a spiral curriculum.   This year will be about half Biology, then some Earth Science followed by Physics.   I might get to do a bit of Chemistry with the Honors class but that’s it.    I’m still very happy and excited, but I’m hoping to get to bed before midnight and wondering if there is any coffee left in the coffee maker.


Fireworks - iStock_000000155954XSmall

© Christian Weber Photography (Zong-istockphoto.com)

     Late this afternoon, I received a phone call and was offered a job teaching middle school science at the urban high school where I did my student teaching last spring.    I really loved being at the school and am very excited about this position.   Finally, the goal that I have been pursuing for years is within my grasp.    I can’t wait to get started and that will happen Monday!

     Stay tuned.

Knowing when to Stop


     So much about teaching is knowing just how far to go.  How far can students be pushed before they start to get discouraged?  How can learning be paced so that there is time to both wonder and meet goals – right, wrong, or indifferent?   So much of teaching is involved in knowing these limits that it often feels like an elaborate dance in which a teacher pushes (?) until the students are pushing back – but just enough.    I struggled with the proper verb for this action and decided that push was better than lead, and enable or encourage don’t imply pacing – I was left with push.

     This week, I have taught 7th grade Chemistry for 3.5 days in the same classroom.   It has been wonderful to be subbing in my content area and on consecutive days.   I’ve spent more time subbing for biology or math with occasional forays into art, business, and health/phys ed.    When you teach science to Middle School students especially in an area where you have a great deal of knowledge and experience, you also have to know when to stop.   Often I’ll get a question that could be answered at an advanced college level, however I know that doing so might cause heads to explode and a student to get the wrong answer on exams for years.   

     On Thursday, we were discussing matter and its properties which led to a discussion of matter being everything.   This led to questions about space, dark matter, and anti-matter but what stopped me cold was a student that asked about light.   Was light matter?    My brain leaped way ahead to wave-particle duality and then I stopped, thankfully before engaging my mouth, and said, “Light is a wave – it is not matter.  For now, we are going to leave it at that.”     Part of me feels a bit guilty but most of me knows that a discussion at that level might have bogged us down for the rest of the week, possibly longer, and probably would have ended with me telling them to “trust me”;   on the other hand, would it have engaged their curiosity?