Archive for October, 2008

     It was hard to believe that it was still October as we stood outside this afternoon with an air temperature of 40 deg and wind gusting above 20 mph.   I was pouring water between two soda bottles and if they were more than 1/2 inch apart, the wind blew the water away before it reached the lower bottle.   The wind chill factor was below 30 deg – I’m glad that I didn’t know that before we headed outside.   The girls were in good spirits despite the weather and had fun launching rockets.    We split into two groups to look at different variables.   Our group was using a stopwatch for observations and the other group was using the force plate.  We did five trials at various conditions – I think we got some data that will make for a good conversation and new avenues to explore.   We seem to have gotten the scaffolding right with a generic data sheet that was just a grid with space for variables and observations;  they selected the variables but had a way to organize the data in their science notebooks.

     I led an activity to introduce the equipment we have for data recording.    We have Vernier Labquests that connect to a force plate, basically a digital scale with a fancy name and a digital output.   The Science Stars took to the electronics immediately and one of the girls quickly became an expert.   We started by having them look at a graph from a rocket launch I did over the weekend and talk about what they were seeing.  We started the exploration of that equipment by jumping on the force plate and examining the data.  Next, they made predictions as to what a large jump and small jump would look like.    Then we talked about elevators and they made predictions about the forces and what the force plot would like like on the elevator; after a few trials to get the timing down, we recorded data and checked our predictions.   I’m glad that I was able to lead the lesson – I am definitely less certain of my Physics knowledge than my Chemistry knowledge.   It will be interesting to teach consecutive lessons to the same class and watch the changes as I improve with each reiteration AND to see how long it takes me to get a good plan nailed down for the first time I teach a lesson.   I wonder if the lesson to lesson changes would qualify as an action research project.

     No blog post about Science Stars this week would be complete without a thank you to my sons.   They helped me run experiments this weekend to test the equipment.   They were glad to help me with my homework and I was glad to spend time with them.  My older son was enamored of the electronics and wouldn’t let me learn how to use it.  The younger one just likes launching and chasing rockets.   We found a 1-liter soda bottle that would work with the launcher and how to attach the launcher to the force plate.  The adhesive didn’t work as well in the frigid weather today as it did in the sunshine and warmth in the picture below.  The forecast for next Tuesday is 60 degrees and sunny – although I recognize that they really don’t have a clue at this point, I like the general trend.


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     My path to teaching was long and nontraditional but then, that is becoming more common so perhaps it’s not so different after all.    This is in response to a bit of a tweak by Wayne who told his story.  I have also been thinking about the shift to a new mindset required by career changes and new situations.

     Growing up, I was the girl who loved taking care of the littler ones.  When I was eleven, my best friend and I ran a nursery school where we walked around the neighborhood with our wagons and picked up six three- and four-year olds and spent the morning doing activities and crafts with them.  I think we charged fifty cents each and we though we were rich making $1.50 per day.  It’s a good thing we got all the toys and art supplies from our moms!   I planned to teach and coach gymnastics when I grew up and had examples in both of my parents for that dream.

     When I was considering colleges and majors, it was a period when there were not many teaching jobs.  Opportunities were opening for women in science so I decided on my favorite subject in high school, Chemistry.   Open, as a descriptor for those opportunities, might be a stretch because many doors still remained closed and those that opened were just a small opening ready to close at any moment.  My freshman advisor told me that women didn’t major in Chemistry and I should find something else to do.   When I started working, women were expected to fit into the corporate or university mold made by men.   There was little appreciation for multiple learning styles or problem-solving approaches – at least in the beginning.

     I worked as a Chemist and a Chemical Engineer for a large multinational corporation for more than a decade and enjoyed it – the challenging work, the travel (including Italy on an expense account), the science…  I became involved with engineering because of my interest in and ability with computers and ended up programming equipment to manufacture photographic emulsions until the plant closed and I decided to be home with my kids for a year or two.   It lasted a bit longer than that.

     Thanks to my own children, now 11 and 13, I got involved with large groups of kids again.  I found that – whether it was volunteering in their classrooms or school library, leading the Scouts, or working with kids at church – I was happiest when I was around kids, lots of them.   As I began to think about what to do next, I realized that I still was passionate about science – corporate life was not appealing so I went back to the original plan of teaching.   I’m no longer interested in coaching gymnastics but some sort of science club would be great fun!

     I have been thinking about the different mindsets required for engineering and for teaching.   Engineers are always looking for and finding problems with things – computer programmers might be worse.   This makes us seem negative but we are so confident in our ability to solve the problems that it is just what we do and it’s fun.    I think teachers have to be a lot more positive and need to be able to go with the flow in a way that engineers find difficult.   I need to get better at ignoring things that need fixing and just focus on that which is within my control.  The teaching and learning are what is important.  I need to let the rest of it go so I can be more positive.   Attitude seems to be almost everything when working with kids!

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     For me, Science Stars was difficult this week.   I really like spending time with the students.   However, I was upset that we didn’t stick with our lesson plan and missed some important objectives which will put us behind on the overall project.  I also feel that we fell far short of our goal of making this aftershool project fun, hands-on, and different from school.   One of the girls was so unengaged that she read a book the whole time, although I’m not sure we could have avoided this because she was reading while the girls were eating pizza before we even started .

     Theoretically, I was the one who was supposed to be the leader this week but I was unsuccessful at being in charge.    I am unsure how to handle confrontation in front of students – this was a problem at camp too.   If it was a regular classroom co-teaching situation, we would have time to work out strategies and coordinate the differences in objectives that are to be expected.   I think different levels of engagement and different objectives are what make group work hard in general.

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Secondary Science

It must have been my week for observations at the secondary level. I am feeling overwhelmed by middle school lately – my observation is middle school, the Science Stars program is middle school, and my own kids are in middle school. It was time to move up a level and learn more about older students.

I visited an urban high school, pictured above, on Friday and was fortunate to observe three different science teachers – two Chemistry teachers and a Physics teacher. The Chemistry teacher who hosted me was amazing and I took many notes about her classroom and her interactions with students. I even got a chance to practice “the look” on a student who challenged me while the teacher was out in the hall talking to another student. This class was pretty wild and I was actually a bit nervous when she stepped out; immediately, the other student involved in the disruption used the “N” word in a comment made directly to me, I raised my eyebrows and looked at him pointedly, he hastily rephrased the statement, I thanked him for making the correction, and went back to helping another student. That was a bit of a confidence boost.

At the school where I regularly observe, I visited an AP English class where the students were presenting their own version of hell after reading No Exit by Sartre. These fantastic students were enthusiastic, articulate, very creative, and welcoming.

I also observed a Physics laboratory there. It gave me hope that the eighth grade students in my regular observation classroom will grow into calm, mature upperclassmen. Eighth grade students can barely stop talking, let alone sit still – it’s like a watching a perpetual motion machine. The students in the Physics lab were organized; funny in an understated, more cerebral way; and executed a fairly open-ended lab investigation with skill and confidence.

I wonder where I will end up teaching. I’ll be certified for grades seven through twelve which is a huge range in both science concepts and student temperament.

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     This picture is slightly out of focus because I was not focusing.   I thought it was great that on Tuesday Mike wore the standard 7th grade uniform, khaki pants and a black shirt, for Stars!!

     This week we didn’t blast off rockets but reviewed the data and observations from last week, constructed a concept map, and.  It was a bit disheartening to find that the girls did not seem confident or even fluent about potential energy and kinetic energy despite several demos and discussions relating these concepts to rockets, cars, rubber bands, gravity, etc.   They did seem to like the wiki page that we made for them to get to a NASA demo on water bottle rockets; some of them even focused on the simulations – learning Newton’s Laws and using a simulated wind tunnel to investigate aerodynamic factors.  There wasn’t as much energy as last week but I think we did a good job keeping them moving through several different activities.

     Hopefully, we can talk them into making a cheer or something else that we can start our meeting with, use as an attention getter, or incorporate into our presentation.   I have no creativity at all in that vein but I think these girls might come up with something.  I really enjoy spending Tuesday afternoons with them – they are fun and energetic!   😉

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You know you have a problem when…

… you check Google Reader before you check e-mail because you must know what’s happening in the blogosphere.

… you actually consider delaying sleep to blog about Stars despite the fact that tomorrow is a full day of middle school and Warner.

… you can’t wait to get back to middle school because with the long weekend and Stars, it has been a while and you miss them.

… you haven’t checked your Reader in 12 hours and now there are 17 things to read.

… you tell your kid to get off the computer and go outside.   He points out how much time you spend on the computer.   You know he’s right so you capitulate!

… you are starting to think that maybe it was easier when news was one newspaper a week.

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Blasting Off

© dsgpro - istockphoto.com

      This week, our time with the Science Stars on Tuesday was a great success.   Science Stars is the group of seventh grade girls with whom I spend Tuesday afternoons.  The girls had fun.  The teachers had fun – see blog posts by my teammates, Dylan and Mike.   We generated a lot of excitement about investigating energy and physics through water bottle rocket launches.    The girls decided that our group would be named GWB for Girls With Brains – I think I’m going to work on incorporating the rocket above into a logo including our group name and making stickers, following the example of Anne, Chris, and Kristin‘s group The Bomb Stars.  

     There are many reasons that I was a reluctant Cub Scout parent.    My younger son and his best friend dragged me into the program against my better judgment.    Hanging out with kids is great though and the projects and trips made it fun.  One of my previous blogs was about the experience – as much for the reflection, as to provide a photojournal for parents who couldn’t be there all the time.    The organization with which my son was involved was gracious enough to lend us several water rocket launchers that send a 2L soda bottle, partially filled with water, at least 50-60 feet into the air.   

     The GWB physics group enjoyed shooting off the rockets and trying to predict what would happen with more water, less water, and no water.   The notebooks that the Science Stars program provided for them to record data and observations were enthusiastically received and utilized – it’s hard to go wrong with pink and purple polka dots.  Next week, we will work on a more focused and organized investigation.    We need to spend some time covering the science concepts with them but the predicted good weather means we will certainly be blasting off again!


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