Archive for August, 2008

Random Summer Musing

I had another post ready to go but can’t post pictures due to a technical glitch that they are working on – veeerrrrrryyyyyy ssssslllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyyy.      In the meantime I’ll share some random musings and links to some interesting education blogs I’ve been reading.    I moved my RSS feeds to Google Reader and am much happier.

Various Blogs I found while I had some Spare Time:

– An interesting post by Wesley Fryer on his reaction as an educator to Back to School Night at his children’s school.

– A blog by Dr. Scott McLeod titled Dangerously Irrelevant about a variety of issues involving technology and education. This post is about technology implementation and the usual lack of planning for support.

– NYT Blog by Charles Blow titled By the Numbers on Statistics and Visual Representations – This entry is about corporal punishment in schools. I lived this, indirectly, in the 70s in Ohio but had no idea that it was still going on. When I mentioned it in a class this summer, people looked at me as if I was from another planet – I may be but this is real. [In the interest of complete attribution, I found this blog by following a link from Karl Fisch’s Blog “The Fischbowl” – he’s the “Shift Happens” guy.]

– A blog from a teacher in Pennsylvania titled Stratoz which mixes a variety of topics, including jazz and religion, with science teaching.   There are many interesting posts including this one about textbooks and relevance.

Other tidbits:

– There are four test dates for NYS teacher tests between now and next May. I have three tests to take. Why are they so expensive? Talk about barriers to teaching – $100 to get fingerprinted, $88 for each test… These are their requirements but I’m the one that has to pay.

– On a related note, I found three of my textbooks in very good condition but at the used price.   Woohoo!    Then found out at a meeting last night that the bookstore ordered the wrong books so I need to return them.

– There was an article in the Democrat & Chronicle about leaving industry to teach science.   I left industry a while ago but it’s still my story as a career changer.


Hopefully, they will fix the picture problem soon and I will be back to blogging as usual.  A blog post without a picture is not a blog post.


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A Deep Breath

     My new blog header image was taken today in Corbett’s Glen.   I loaded up the van with four boys and went OUTSIDE!!!!   It was a refreshing change from classrooms with no windows, sitting in my office or the library, and the general trapped-inside feeling which was starting to grind me down.    It was pretty much an all day break from work.     OK, I read a few journal articles while the boys fished but I was sitting in a meadow watching butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and a multitude of other creatures AND they were articles that I really wanted to read.   I’m doing my paper for my other course on portfolio assessment in secondary science education.   I can hardly make my self stop reading about it;   it’s like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

     I’m looking forward to seeing the kids tomorrow and getting them psyched for the presentation while doing one more run through.    I really grew fond of Team Thunder last week and see amazing potential in all of them – some issues too – but also many possibilities.     Today as I was rounding up my kids’ friends to go on an expedition, I was, once again, reminded that being with groups of kids is truly what I love and why I can’t wait to be a teacher.    

     Grad school is interesting beyond my imagination but also full of hoops and last minute schedule changes with which I am struggling.   The carefully constructed child care schedule which had been laid out for fall is completely blown away because Science STARS was changed to Tuesday.    I thought it was a solid plan but it was a house of cards susceptible to the slightest change.    I’ll work it out but it is stressful.

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This is my almost completely naive statement of my emerging and evolving philosophy concerning technology in the classroom. I am not currently teaching so these views are based on class readings, class discussions, other readings, and my thought experiments and plans for my future practice.

Technology and the new literacies discussed by Lankshear and Knobel (2007) are changing the way society interacts and new ideas are developed. In the classroom, the new ethos of increased participation, collaboration, and distributed knowledge will enable things not yet imagined but current applications include reflection within a larger community and more efficient means of collaboration in addition to the ability to access information more efficiently.

Science and technology are integrally linked. Flick and Bell (2000) proposed five guidelines for using technology in the preparation of science teachers but these could readily be applied to any classroom. The most important guideline is that technology should not be used for its own sake but rather implemented where it can further understanding and enable learning without overwhelming or making the instructional goals. This post describes the result when a specific technology was the focus rather than the instructional goal of effecctively supporting and communicating conclusions.

In the same article, Flickand Bell point out the benefits of simulations but point out the need to always make clear their representational nature. The abstract nature of Chemistry makes simulation a natural fit; during the research for my mini-Grant proposal described here, I discovered some great web resources including free simulation software from Northwestern University. Careful consideration must precede any technology implementation to ensure that it enhances rather than distracts from learning.

Technology, in particular Internet access, is a distraction in and of itself. There is so much information and so much social interaction that it is an almost irresistable draw for students especially at the secondary level where there is an intense focus on peer-to-peer interactions. Computers enable new modes of communication but often limit face-to-face encounters both inside and outside of the classroom; I posted a link to an interesting article here which describes one teacher’s experience with a laptop for every student. Thie pitfalls described generated these thoughts about some of the questions which must be considered before implementation of computers in the classroom:

  1. Should Internet access be partially restricted to ensure to help keep the focus on work related to the classroom? Our camp students traded notes about whose school allowed which websites.
  2. What is the best way to encourage multiple modes of communication including computer based communication such as blogging, chatting, and e-mail but also encouraging face-to-face group work? Andrea, Thomas, and I found chatting and wikis to be extremely important for long-distance planning. These technologies may also be helpful for encouraging group discussions that are often difficult in a face-to-face interaction but also need to be balanced.
  3. How do I keep the focus of my role as teacher on supporting and guiding rather than policing acceptable use of technology? I’m intrigued by the laboratory based setup used at Warner where the teacher computer at the front of the room controls and monitors access of the rest of the computers.

It will be interesting to see how much access to technology students have in the classroom and how much they are willing to bring their outside the classroom computer skills. The kids we worked with at camp all have e-mail addresses and seemed to use them but have not yet commented on our group blog despite encouragement both during camp week and follow up on Monday. The grant writing exercise showed various possibilities for procuring technology


  • Flick, L. & Bell, R. (2000) Preparing tomorrow’s science teachers to use technology: Guidelines for Science educators. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(1), 39-60.
  • Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2007). Sampling “the new” in new literacies. In Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (Eds.) A New Literacies Sampler (pp. 1-24). New York: Peter Lang.
  • McFarlane, S. (2008). The laptops are coming! The labtops are coming!. Rethinking Schools 22 (4).

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     It was great to see the kids again today as they prepared their poster and did a dry-run of the presentation.   We were the ill-fated group who kept chasing the elusive computers on Friday so they did not get to work on their presentation during the afternoon and hadn’t seen the whole presentation put together until today.    Once again, we practiced individual sections of the presentation but not the whole thing because we were concerned about time.    We probably would have had enough time but they did fairly well presenting to the group.   We need to do another rehearsal on Friday before the big show.

     We had an opportunity to do some individual assessment to check that the students had the concepts down.    One of the scholars who had not really seemed to engage much snapped the Xplorer and probes together and gave a great practice demonstration to another member of our team so he is set for the poster presentation.    We checked with them on the concept map, the conclusions, and other aspects of each of their presentations.   I wish there was a way, in a week, to instill the self-confidence they need to feel comfortable in large group discussions, let alone presenting to their peers.   I think it’s hard in general for middle school kids to stand up in front of people.   They think it’s all about them even when it isn’t; standing up in front of a group, when it really is about them, is difficult.

      We had hoped to have them do their presentation together on Friday and are struggling with adding a conclusion slide with a picture (or pictures) of them but hate the feeling that we would be doing their homework.   We’ll probably do it anyway – it isn’t their fault that they didn’t get to work on the presentation Friday afternoon.    They put the pictures on the poster today so it’s almost like they included it.   One conclusion slide with pictures of our scientists would be a good thing. 

     We gave them each a note about how much we liked working with them and pointing out some or their strengths and accomplishments over the past week.   We also included some pictures of them being scientists at the beach and other miscellaneous pictures from camp.   They seemed to really like them.     

     One way or another, I think we’ll do OK and possibly well on Friday.

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     This is an article called “The Laptops are Coming!  The Laptops are Coming!” from Rethinking Schools, a periodical used extensively in my other course this summer.    

     It is an interesting perspective from a teacher who works in a school where each student had a laptop about the pitfalls of technology in the classroom.   Some of what she describes was similar to the experience that we had with our group at camp during the last two days of the week.   Whenever the students were near a computer, they wanted to read their e-mail, go to My Space, go to You Tube, and do anything other than stay engaged with each other, with us, and with our project.

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Day 5 of Camp


     Wide awake at 4 AM.     Well it’s a little later than that now (as I start writing at 5 AM) because I spent some time deluding myself into thinking that I would go back to sleep.    This has been happening all too often since I started grad school and it definitely doesn’t help anything.   I didn’t even have much coffee yesterday and none after 10 AM.   Who knows?     I alluded to the weirdness in the short post I managed to put together last night.   I’ll attempt to address it here although it will be necessary to leave some of it out until it can be worked out on a personal level.    Yesterday was difficult.

Warning this is beyond long and although I needed to write it as a reflection and to help me understand it, readers are strongly cautioned that it contains material which may not be suitable for anybody hoping to hold on to their optimism.

    Harambe was awesome.   The energy was over the top – even the kids remarked about it saying that usually by Friday, everybody is tired and Harambe is less energetic but as they said “this morning was a rocking Harambe”.    There was a special guest from Ghana who spoke to the Level 3 kids about the twin city program and his life in Ghana.    He told them his theory of the interwoven relationship between skills, knowledge, and attitude then focused on attitude saying that self-control and self-discipline were the most important parts.   I wish he would have emphasized that he was a scientist more than he did but it was very interesting nonetheless.

     I thought we had a pretty good plan for today.   The focus was to finish up the presentations for next week and spend some time on the reviewing and framing the week so that they really understood that they had been scientists this week and to also spend some time on reflection about the experience situated in the nature of science.

     Within the first twenty minutes in our classroom, it was clear that my team and I were not on the same page regarding discipline.   (Group level weirdness)  I’m not sure what happened at the morning meeting but all of a sudden there was a need for more control and threats rather than encouragement and high expectations.     You can rearrange a lesson plan in front of the kids.   You can discuss a new strategy in front of the kids.    BUT, you can’t have a discussion about discipline strategy in front of the kids.  I feel – my perception – is that the threats undermined and fractured a pretty good working relationship with these kids.   I could be completely wrong and that could be the necessary approach but we weren’t on the same page.  In the perfect vision of hindsight, I wish we could have called for backup and stepped outside to discuss it as a group but we didn’t and it continued.  I guess this is a bit of fallout from having a good week so far – we had not needed to have this discussion.   It is also my issue and my style to do things differently and I could be wrong but it did point out to me that if I’m ever in a co-teaching situation, we will have to agree on how we handle classroom discipline.

     The kids worked on and reviewed their presentations in small groups and then presented to each other.   This worked really well and they seemed to gain confidence in talking about their work and supporting their conclusions.   One group had initially thought that the results didn’t match their prediction but had an “aha” moment during their presentation and realized that their thinking about current and the numbers had been backwards so it did match their prediction that the stronger current areas had clearer water.

     At the end of the morning, two of the girls got in a prolonged argument with each other including calling each other out for a fight outside this school and outside their school because they knew it wasn’t allowed in either school.  (Middle School weirdness)   It went on and on.   Separating them didn’t work.   Talking to them together in the hallway didn’t work.    Individual conversations in the hallway didn’t work.     We had to call in one of their leaders and that felt like a failure BUT I was glad we had tried to work on the situation without starting at threats.

    While we were walking to lunch, the students were asking me if I was a student at the U of R and how it was to be on campus – they don’t like the walking and when I told them where I was allowed to park, several said they were never going to college.    We then discussed the fact that I was studying to be a science teacher but wasn’t one yet.   Several students said they didn’t know why anybody would want to be a teacher because it’s the worst job on earth.    I told them how much I liked science and how much I liked being around kids.    The discussion moved elsewhere but then one of the boys took me aside – I really like him and think the feeling is mutual –  and said “Miss Kathryn, you can’t come teach at my school.   Please don’t come teach at my school.   The students at my school are bad.   They beat up the teachers.”    He then proceeded to outline several incidents at his school.     I know this happens.   I read the newspapers.     Lumped together at the end of an exhausting week, it was almost more than I could take but I retained my composure and fortunately, we arrived at the picnic table where we were having lunch and the conversation went elsewhere.   (Teaching as a profession weirdness)

     After lunch, we headed to the Mac classroom that we had reserved for our afternoon activity of finishing our presentation and doing a dry run.   We were in pretty good shape because we had completed the slides and done the initial run through this morning.   We just needed to put them together in one presentation and do a dress rehearsal AND we had about an hour and a half to do it in.    The classroom did not open with an ID swipe and we milled about while we waited for somebody from ITS to show up.   When the person got there, he said that the computers were all down because they were being upgraded – same was true in Rush Rhees our first choice but we had been told this classroom would be available.    (University level weirdness)   So we moved into a conference room and tried to engage the kids about the presentation while the ITS guy checked on another classroom.    They gave us a classroom full of PCs so we revised our plan to have them blog and explore Google Earth while Thomas ran over to Warner to get a Mac laptop that we would use with the projector.

     The kids blogged and more or less staying off My Space although that required constant supervision.   We did a scavenger hunt for a picture of bacteria or something from the beach and a few kids used Google Earth.     Thomas arrived with the Mac laptop, gets it working with the projector – Yay Thomas!, and we discover that it has the older version of Keynote which will not accept the new Keynote files the kids had prepared that morning.    By this point, it is 1:15 and we are tired of trying to keep them off My Space, You Tube, etc. so we headed outside to eat cookies and wait for the buses.    It felt like the entire afternoon was wasted.     (Operating System weirdness)     With apologies to the evangelical Mac users, I wish that I had listened less to the objectives about using Keynote, which was even presented as a social justice issue, and gone with my instinct to use Powerpoint or even Google Docs for the presentation.    I kept trying to get over myself, recognize and deal with my discomfort with Macs, and adapt to new things;  however, the fact that the software was only available on about 10 PCs AND we had over 40 kids at camp AND the lovely ITS people took every Mac on campus down for an upgrade on Friday made this a disaster beyond our control.    A computer is a tool.    I know some people prefer a green pencil but I like my blue pencil and although they are different, we can get the job done with either of them and sometimes you need to go with what you know.

Pluses (struggling to come up with these) and Arrows:

+  The kids did get to present their data to each other and support their conclusions.

+  Everybody liked the lunch and the cookies.

+  Harambe was amazing.

->   Discipline strategies and theories need to be part of planning for all co-teaching situations.

->   Overall, we should have done more scaffolding – hindsight is always 20/20.   I can use that word in a sentence now but feel that we didn’t do it well.   I think we should have had a lot more planning and structured activities this week.   I learned much from watching my classmates.   I have learned from the mistakes of this week and will incorporate more explicit teaching (not lecturing) of skills including carefully structured activities.

->   I need to do more reflection on my feelings about group work.  Overall, we worked very well together and I really like my teammates but I have a different style that is sometimes perceived as perfectionism.   I am a planner and a list maker and more comfortable if I’ve worked out a detailed plan but I will try to incorporate the feedback about my perfectionist tendencies into my future group work.


And now – I get to go pick up my kids at camp.   They might actually have missed me but I will be disappearing to the library for the next 10 days.   I wish I could have afforded another week of camp for them.   The next ten days are going to be rough to get through.    I have five major assignment due for two courses.   Have I mentioned that I haven’t had enough sleep?

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I just can’t do it

     I was going to blog but I am just too completely wiped out to do it.   Today was one of those days that shakes you to your shoes and makes you question everything about yourself, your goals, and your faith in people.     I think I need more perspective before I can write anything of value – hopefully tomorrow.    There was soooo much weirdness at so many levels.   It is a sad way to end a day that started with so much optimism and joy;   I went to Harambe this morning and left full of energy and enthusiasm – it didn’t last long.

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