Archive for November, 2008

Raking in the Starlight

My Neighborhood – Antique Streetlights by Starlight


     OK.  It’s not dancing in the moonlight but it’s close.   Earlier this evening, I was a little crabby.   The source of this foul mood was probably too many hours in the library over the past few days, but the result is progress on a mountain of work that needs to get done in the next two weeks, one way or another.   On top of that, the snow had finally melted, revealing a sodden mass of damp leaves that needed to be removed before the next snowfall, and there is potential for that tomorrow.    My most excellent leaf rakers are all on their way back from Connecticut so I was solo on this chore.   I kept thinking – I should be writing, or reading, or reflecting, or…  Where are those darn kids when you need them?

     Then, as I was raking – a meditative sort of activity – I finally took the advice of a friend and remembered to breathe.  I realized that I was feeling happier and more peaceful.    I was enjoying the physical activity.   The stars were showing clear through the breaks in the clouds.   It’s cold enough to snow.  It was beautiful!  I thought about the fact that before I started grad school; I was always outside.   I was gardening, hiking, swimming in summer, and always moving.   Now I am mostly inside and mostly sedentary – does anybody have any solid ideas for reading journals and writing papers while moving?


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Concept Connections

© Andrew Johnson – istockphoto.com

     We met with the Science Stars after school on the last day before Thanksgiving vacation;  this may have contributed to lower attendance than usual.   We used a concept map to review their model of the factors that influence rocket flight while worked on making connections to the data that they had graphed last week.   It was fun watching the lightbulbs go on as they made connections and checked that they could confirm their statements.   Supporting conclusions was a focus of this session.

     Our icebreaker was that each of us said our favorite store with a statement to support our claim.   The girls talked about several stores including one girl who said that any store at the mall would do.   Dylan, one of my teacher partners, stated that his favorite store was Goodwill.   This led to a spirited discussion of clothes and secondhand shopping.   All three pre-service teachers and one of the students said that they shopped at secondhand stores.   Two of the girls were adamant in their refusal to even consider shopping there.   It was a good place to start a discussion about backing up claims and debating positions.

     It’s Thanksgiving.   I’m thankful for so many things, including the existence of secondhand stores.    I wish a peaceful Thanksgiving to all of you!


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© Geoffrey Holman – istockphoto.com

     Scaffolding.   I spent the first three months of grad school having no clue what educators meant by this term.   Even when I asked, I either didn’t get an answer or didn’t get one I could understand.    Now that I understand how the word is used in education, as a metaphor for the amount of information or structure you provide to students for a given task or project, I’ve become aware that targeting this appropriately is extremely difficult.

     At Science Stars this week, we were doing graphing with 7th graders.   All the girls successfully created a graph using PowerPoint with beautiful colors and, for most of them, no useful information.   On the one hand, it’s a good thing that I am not underestimating their abilities.   On the other hand, my overestimation of their abilities leaves them floundering at what I think will be a simple task.   This is especially problematic given the tight time constraints for pulling together a final presentation.  

     I keep thinking that teaching is about giving students the freedom to determine how to do things on their own, to make mistakes and revise until they are satisfied, and to learn from that process.    The reality is that there isn’t enough time.   I am very afraid that we will spend the next two sessions spoon-feeding these wonderful girls a presentation.


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© Camille Wisbauer - istockphoto.com

     The title of this post is a shout out to Mike who uses great song lyric references – I’m not wild about the artist but the sentiment is appropriate.    This week, I focused on wait time and my use of it at various points in a lesson.   There is waiting for students to quiet down, waiting for students to formulate an answer, waiting until more students raise their hands, waiting for students to finish a quiz, waiting for the student who hasn’t volunteered yet today, waiting for…     Waiting is hard.

     In my planning, I identified specific points where I wanted to make sure that students had time to think about a question that pushed their understanding.   This is where I paid close attention to my use of wait time.  My patience and effectiveness definitely improved as I retaught the lessons to other sections.   Alicia posted a great trick – the song Happy Birthday is approximately 10 seconds long so you can use that to time yourself;  I did use it but it seemed like an eternity.   I also hurry the wait time if I feel time pressured or if part of the lesson doesn’t seem to hit the target.   Waiting is hard.    

     Monday, our science teaching class had a guest speaker on lab safety including liability issues.   My inquiry lesson included a lab involving bunsen burners, smoke, sparks, broken glass, and the strong smell of sulfur.    It was lots of fun and nobody got hurt.   Phew! 

     It was a good week though and things went reasonably well.  I learned a lot including the need to appropriately target instruction for middle school science students.   If you go too far outside their zone of proximal development, they shut down.   I’ve got a good plan for Monday and think that they will be ready for their Unit Test on Tuesday.

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     This is the character that my younger son is portraying in the upcoming play in German class.    Today, he is home from school and making a costume by making a hat and mask to go with a Halloween cape.   The only actual touching of the mask that I did was to help him create a prototype mask that he traced, cut, and painted.    Fortunately, I have learned to keep a variety of craft supplies on hand for creative school projects.     It really doesn’t help that I now understand that this teacher is encouraging multiple intelligences and creative learning styles – I had other things that I needed to get done today including last minute lesson plans.

     I was supposed to teach my first lesson this Friday but on Monday when I walked in, I was told that I needed to do it Wednesday and Thursday, which meant I had to distribute the pre-Lab immediately because there is no school today.   Yikes!   I was ready for my first lesson but the next one, which I was supposed to be next week, got moved up to Friday.    I guess this is the part where I learned to be fast on my feet and extremely flexible.   It might not be the lesson I hoped to put together but it will come together.

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Time to Start

© Paul Kline - istockphoto.com

     This week I will be teaching in a classroom situation for the first time – not counting guest-teaching about Iroquois seasonal celebrations at my children’s school.   I have help from my Cooperating Teacher and can bounce ideas off my awesome colleagues so I am not alone.   I am very excited – it seems like it taken a long time to get to this point

     We are required to teach an Inquiry, Nature of Science, and Community based lesson during our field observation.  I think I have a good overall plan for each of those and am currently working on the specifics.  Ideas did not come easily particularly for Inquiry given that we are doing elements, atoms, and the periodic table at this point in the curriculum.  It is hard to ask authentic questions about the Periodic Table and time on the equipment in Cern to do authentic research on atoms won’t be available until it restarts next Spring.   For the community-based lesson, I am going to use silver halide chemistry to introduce balanced equations and crystal structure; I’m not sure how I’ll tie parents into that but I’m thinking about it.   Any ideas?

     It’s the last month of the semester and the list of projects looks impossible from here.   I’m sure I’ll find a way to wrap it all up but it will be a challenge.   We are under a lot of pressure to start student teaching the day after our science course ends.  No matter that I have other courses that will still meet and several more projects to complete OR that taking a deep breath for maybe a day would be nice.   Oh yeah, and I’m trying to figure out if Christmas will even happen at my house; my university supervisor assured me that I could get ready for Christmas on the 22nd and 23rd of December and all would be good.   I think the answer lies in large quantities of coffee.

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     The weather cooperated magnificently for Science Stars this week.   It was sunny and 70 degrees with a light wind.   My partners, Mike and Dylan, already wrote about our astonishment that, even with the nice weather, the students did not want to go outside.    The girls pictured above collected data on eight launches and were adept at using the equipment.   Working with these amazing students – they named their group “Girls with Brains” – is the best thing about the program.

     One of the next best things is working with my colleagues in the science teaching cohort.   We meet as a large group before the time with the girls to talk about our plans and get input from each other.   At the end of the session we review the session and talk about what went well and what could use improvement.   I have learned a great deal from them including things that I will incorporate in my future practice:

– Many of the groups have done a great job using icebreakers – described here on Kristin’s blog and here on Sean’s blog – that I think have led to better group cohesion.   This doesn’t come naturally for me but I will need to work on using classroom cues, which we talked about last week in Seminar, to create a ritual framework and structure.

– All the groups have been using concept maps in one form or another to help the students understand modeling and the reiterative nature of science – one method is described here on Jim’s blog.   A variety of approaches have been tried but it seems like having “preprinted” factor blocks to move around has been the most successful for the groups and we will use that approach next time we meet.   I am thinking about ways to make concept maps a natural part of instruction and reflection in my own classroom.

– Time constraints have been an issue as we try to keep things open-ended but yet keep things moving to meet the objective of wrapping up a complete investigation in early December.   Discovering the quantity of scaffolding necessary to support the students without guiding them excessively is part of this balancing act.   My experiences with Get Real Science Camp this summer, Science Stars, and my field observation have made it clear that I need to get used to feeling time pressured.

      We met on Tuesday which was also election day.   I wore my “I Voted Today” sticker and the girls, who had voted in a mock election at school, all had stickers too.   We talked excitedly about who we hoped would win the presidential election.    I was pleased with that result;  however, the setbacks in California (Proposition 8), Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona make me realize that there is much more work to do to eliminate the -isms that divide us.

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