Archive for September, 2008

Photo credit:  Diane Diederich – istockphoto.com

     My cooperating teacher spends an inordinate amount of time teaching basic math skills in science class to eighth-grade students.  These students seem to have a brain freeze when they encounter division.  He does not allow the students to use calculators but the numbers are actually fairly simple and, other than needing to know how to set up the problem and where to put the decimal, the actual arithmetic is fairly straightforward. I’m not sure how I feel about the calculator issue – on the one hand, every cell phone has one; on the other hand, you have to know if you are in the ballpark to know if you pushed the correct buttons. It is terrible to watch the impact of poor math skills on a student’s understanding of density, which is a relatively simple concept if the student is comfortable with division.

      I think Middle School age students are lots of fun and really enjoy their enthusiasm and energy.   This is not all that common a reaction as I have seen teachers and parents recoil when I mention teaching at that level.    I observed a High School Chemistry class this week and the contrast was startling.   The material being presented that day was fairly dry but I think they were mostly being “too cool for school”.    My question is to determine whether my enjoyment of being with Middle School students could compensate for the simplicity of the Science that I would be teaching at that level.    Of course, it might be presumptuous to assume that I will get to choose where or to whom I teach Chemistry.  

Completely Random:   It was school spirit day on Friday and everyone wore school colors.  The shirt that I ranted about shopping for here came in handy.    Ya just never know.


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     Tuesday was our first meeting with the middle school girls who will be partipating in our afterschool program, Science Stars.   Our group will study energy within the realm of physics.   Thankfully, I’m working with two physicists, Mike and Dylan, who majored in physics AND graduated recently, who will be able to help me dust off and get that part of my brain functioning again.   When we did introductions, two of the girls mentioned that they liked pouring chemicals together so maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a way to work some chemistry in – batteries? explosions? (see what Anne & Kristin did here, for more on explosive teaching).

     We did hands-on APK work with the kids using “Newton’s Cradle”, pictured above  [Thanks Orlando!]; hot wheels cars on a track, powered by rubber bands,  crashing into blocks; and electrical circuits including light bulbs.  The students even mustered up some enthusiasm for a picture about energy sources which we used as a discussion starter.    They were great at making connections, without necessarily using the terminology, about stored energy, inertia, and simple circuits.  We were able to see how they did with group work and experimenting to put the car and the block in the target zone after the crash.     The global connections about energy sources and they use was a bit of a weakness, e.g. no indication that they understood where the electricity in the outlets came from although we had talked about wind, solar, etc. but we may not focus on that anyway.

      I’m still trying to wrap my mind around inquiry in Physics as it pertains to electricity or other forms of energy.    We’ll have to come up with a good plan for next week to help them understand their knowledge, extend it, and then figure out what they want to do for an investigation/project.

      I loved meeting and spending time with the kids today.  One of the highlights was getting a hug from one of the kids from summer camp in the hallway on the way to Science Stars.   I had some clashes with this student during summer camp so I was pleased that her reaction to me was so enthusiastic.   After spending a solid week with the kids at camp, I got quite attached and frequently wonder how they are doing.   Did the camp make a difference in how they are approaching their science classes this year?



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Come si chiama? – Wie heißen Sie? – Comment vous appelez-vous ? – ¿Cómo se llama usted? 

      Names have been my big challenge this week.   There are three classes of Science 8 at my field observation.   I’m at a small school, 70 students or so per grade – my CT knew all of their names before they walked in the door.   I have a seating chart with pictures but they are tiny pictures that are a year old AND these are eighth graders so the physical changes are ginormous!   I’m grateful to Joanne and Ashley for providing some other ideas of how to learn names.   I definitely plan to take pictures and use them as flashcards when I have my own classroom.

     I really like the school where I am doing my field observation.   It is a suburban/rural school in that it is still within a metropolitan county but is about 15 miles from the city and the area borders on rural.   I dug into the school report cards on the State Education Department website and was surprised to learned that a quarter of the students get free lunch and a third fall into the category of free or reduced lunch.   This is a picture from the foyer overlooking the courtyard where seniors with honor pass privileges can visit.  That’s the school mascot in the corner.


     I enjoy working with middle school students, because although they are sometimes off the wall, they are funny, still interested in everything, and there is never a dull moment as they change attitude and demeanor frequently.    They like goofy humor and the kids in the classes that I observe all seem to have a great relationship with my CT despite the fact that part of his job is being the “discipline guy”.    I think I would prefer to teach the more challenging science studied in high school but am not sure where I’m headed yet.    I’m glad that one of my student teaching blocks is middle school and one is high school – it will help with this discernment.

     Happy almost weekend everybody!   My youngest son is home sick from school today which probably means our weekend trip to Canada is canceled.   He is very disappointed – me less so, I really have too much to do anyway. 

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Blogging Community?

     I’m stumped as to how to get people talking here.   I’ve blogged and participated in other blogging communities but never have I seen as little discourse as I do among my colleagues – see links in my blogroll.   I blogged about this in the past.    Dr. Scott McLeod did a blog entry on how and why to get started which includes a video about the value of community for teachers and in classrooms.   I highly recommend reading the post, watching the video, and adding that blog to your RSS feed – you do have one, don’t you?

     I’m not sure why there are so few comments.   Perhaps people are too busy.   Perhaps nobody is reading.   Perhaps people don’t have anything to say.   Even when someone asks a specific question, as Suzanne did here, people don’t comment.    It’s possible that I’ve had more comments from outside our cohort than from within and I am grateful for the input but curious about the lack of conversation.

     Blogging at camp was a bit of a disappointment but then if we haven’t built a community in almost three months, we could hardly expect kids to do it in five days.     There is another blog by Dean Groom titled Effective Digital classrooms with quite a few posts on classroom blogging which are linked here:

Check them out and think about what makes or what would make blogging a valuable experience.   

** Clarification added after initial post:   I’m hoping for people to comment more in general and not just on my blog – on whatever blogs you’re reading.   It’s nice if an author responds to a comment but it’s really more about people making an initial comment if something catches their interest, makes them wonder, or they have input.     The first post in the series above talks about the conversation as an essential component rather than it being just a public journal.

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Misconceptions – PD #1

Photo © Diane Diederich - istockphoto.com

     This week has been about misconceptions.  The readings for Science Methods were about misconceptions of the Nature of Science, the vocabulary of science, and the best way to teach science.    

     In the class I am observing, I was surprised by what confused the students.    They needed a bit of help, but not much, on using the balance and reading a measurement scale but the thing that seemed to confuse them most was units of volume and converting from cubic centimeters to liters.   My CT knew from experience that many would mistakenly divide by 100 due to the use of centimeters in the units even though part of the learning was that cubic centimeters was another word for milliliters – quite a few did not make the connection to divide by 1,000 when converting to liters.

     I feel that one of the major challenges of teaching science is learning the common misconceptions and the areas with which students have the most trouble, then discovering the way, probably multiple best ways, to teach those concepts.

Note personal part of blog starting here:  Another related to my friend who is going through a rough time.    Her blog post this week spoke of the people’s misconceptions of how to help.   

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… all three wonderful weeks of it.   It was short but fun.

[Note:  I wrote this post a few weeks ago but it need pics and that was broken for a while]

Highlight #1 – Fossil hunting with the kids at the Penn-Dixie site near Buffalo. I found several species of brachiopods, crinoids, a possible cephalopod, plus some pyritized fossils – these have gold flecks from iron.  I was aided by an amazing article I found in the University Library about this site – I met the author of the article while I was there. My kids love digging and breaking rocks but start reciting the facts to avoid the questions as soon as we get in the car – “Mom, we know it was tropical because it used to be below the equator and yes, we know that they are about 400 million years old, and …”


Highlight #2 – Taking my mother-in-law to dinner overlooking a marina on Long Island Sound – fresh seafood, yum!


Highlight #3 – Camping at a beach in Southern MA with bike trails along the dunes, campfires under the stars, and the sound of surf to lull me to sleep. It was so dark and clear that I learned a few new constellations, saw shooting stars, and showed the kids the Milky Way – rarely seen in their light polluted lives.


Other highlights included a retirement party for someone retiring after 37 years of teaching, time to read fiction, teaching 7 water exercise classes, visiting family, filling the freezer with meals for the upcoming semester, and relaxing.

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A Rough Week

     On Thursday morning, on my way to my first day with the students at my field observation, I received devastating news.     A very dear friend had received word that one of her beloved sons was dead.    There are no words to describe the world’s loss of this bright, talented young man.   It was terrible news yet I had to pull myself together in the parking lot and head into school.   Thankfully, I was observing that day and not teaching;  I’m not sure that I could have done it as I felt completely numb.    It taught me something though about what is coming. 

     A teacher is always “on”.    A teacher has to be there now, for that class, as if nothing has happened in his or her world.    In the middle of the second class of the first day, my Cooperating Teacher (CT) received some bad news about a problem with his new house – also very disturbing.    He went on without missing a beat as far as the kids could tell and was totally engaged with getting them excited about 8th grade physical science plus he did this for two more classes.  

     The news I received left me stunned, sorrowful, and helpless – I am still grieving and almost headed out of town this weekend but for the knowledge of a deep and wonderful circle of friends who would help my friend in ways that I couldn’t.   I mentioned in a previous post that teaching can be more of a performance art than something remotely related to being a scientist.   On this day, the show had to go on but thankfully I was more of an audience than a performer.

     The nature of this blog precludes going further.   Maybe I really need to start that nonprofessional blog that isn’t public homework.  I’ve just never successfully managed one blog at a time, nevermind two.

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