Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Freshness of Summer

I hear many people around school counting down until summer.  It's been hard to resist this urge myself, but I finally caved in this year.  I began the countdown around June 1st -- it helped (or hurt) that I had students coming in every day asking to write the number of days left on the board.  It's hard to argue with that level of energy!

At the same time, I get it.  I understand that there's a "freshness" to summer that is whetted by a desire for change.  We've done the "school" thing for nine months and it's time for something new and different.  For students, it's obvious -- sleeping in, video games, eating whatever's in the fridge (OK, maybe that was just me as a middle schooler).  For me -- and I suspect other teachers and staff -- it's truly a time to reflect on the year gone by and to look forward with hope to the next year.

I will be teaching three classes next year -- math, science, and technology.  I'm fired up about my schedule, and the most refreshing thing to me this summer (other than spending loads of time with my daughter) is that I get 10 weeks to dream.  To think about next year's students and who they'll become, to ponder how to make these subjects engaging, to evaluate my practice and change what's needed....  It's a time to connect with other professionals through blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, and to catch up on reading that's been stacking up.  It's a time to perfect some lessons from previous years, re-organize the chaos that is my classroom, and try to (again) prepare for the marathon that is next school year.

Now, I'm not about working the summer away, but with these things idly simmering on the burners of my brain, I'm free to look for ways to connect my daily life in the summer to new activities for the school year.  This is the magic of being a teacher -- everything we do can (and should!) become relevant to our classroom if we weave it in correctly.  What are your goals for the summer?  How do you envision spending your time during these 10 weeks preparing for the next set of students?

Oh, and by the way, there are 75 days left till school starts!
Photo credit: Stockbyte / Getty Images

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Strive For Greatness

A very good friend of mine encouraged me with a story of a man who's daily mission was summed up in the word, "Greatness."  Of course we can't always be great, but why not try?  Why not live like today's our last, and we want to make the absolute most of it?

I started to think about my roles as husband, father, teacher, friend -- how can striving for greatness impact those around me?  How can one man's goal for greatness make the world a better place?  I humbly hope that I can make a difference every day, but just what's possible?

As an educator, I'm always looking for ways to open up the world for students.  All of us face limitations of some sort, so I started brainstorming things that would make teaching more perfect.  In the coming weeks, I'll blog about these "knobs" and ponder how to make them a reality.  Do you have a daily mission that helps you through each day?  We are blessed with life and a chance to make a difference.  Won't you seize your opportunity to be great?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Differentiating Instruction

Here's an example of differentiating a science unit for learners of different styles and rates. The focus is on setting and reflecting on goals, pursuing essential questions, and building in organizational skills.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spotlight on Pedagogy

Walk the Line

Concept To Teach: Adding and Subtracting with Positive and Negative Integers

Standards Addressed: Numbers and Operations, Algebra
7.1.1 Develop, analyze, and apply models (including everyday contexts), strategies, and procedures to compute with integers, with an emphasis on negative integers.

General Goals: Build mathematical models, expand common arithmetic skills.

Specific Objectives: Students will learn to add and subtract using both positive and negative integers by building a physical model of each operation.

Required Materials: Masking tape and dark marker (for number lines), index cards for problems

Anticipatory Set (Lead-In): Show a small-scale model of an airplane, car, or rocket and ask students about the importance of building a model: "Why would the engineer designing a [plane, car, or rocket] spend so much time building a model first?" Students' answers can lead into a discussion of creating models in math as a way to develop a deeper understanding of the concept, and to develop quick procedures for computation.

Step-By-Step Procedures:

  1. Before the lesson, use masking tape and a dark marker to make a number line from -10 to +10 on the floor in a large open area of the classroom or hall. Spacing should be about a foot apart.
  2. Invite students to gather with you around the number line; they should bring their math journal and a pencil to record examples.
  3. Ask for a volunteer to "walk the line" to show how they would get the answer to 5 + 3. You might ask questions to draw out the student's thought process: "Where did you start?" "Where did you end up?" "How did you get from one number to the next?" Have students use terms such as "forward" and "backward" consistently in their discussions. Remind students to record each problem in their math journals.
  4. Ask another volunteer to "walk the line" to show 5 - 3. Ask the same "thinking" questions as in Step 3, but this time ask if the class observers can think of another way of getting the same answers. This is where you will begin to guide students to build the model: the student could walk forward for 5 steps then backward for 3, or they could walk forward for 5 steps then turn around and walk forward 3 steps; both should arrive at the same answer. Each of these, however, represents a different arithmetical expression -- the first is 5 + (-3) and the second is 5 - 3. Students should come up with methods to show walking off positive and negative numbers as well as the operations of addition and subtraction.
  5. The finished model could look like this:
    1. Walk off a positive number by walking forward.
    2. Walk off a negative number by "moonwalking" backward.
    3. Adding faces students in the positive direction.
    4. Subtraction faces students in the negative direction.
  6. Ask another volunteer to "walk the line" to show -5 + 3. Assess whether students understand the components of the model, as well as their execution. Discuss the "thinking" questions of Step 3 with this volunteer as well.
  7. At this point, the teacher should determine whether the class would benefit more from practicing in small groups or doing more whole-class demonstrations.
    1. Other examples to "walk the line:" -5 - 3, -5 - (-3)
    2. Invite students to come up with their own single-digit problems for classmates to practice.
    3. Subtracting negative numbers is a difficult concept for many students to visualize; the beauty of this model is that it provides a way for students to see how "subtracting a negative means adding a positive" really works. Be sure to point this out in a closure discussion.

Plan For Independent Practice: Tiered assignment consisting of problems that students must draw out their physical steps and movements on graph paper to reinforce concept, then several drill problems to increase proficiency and fluency.

Assessment Based On Objectives: Assess student movement and accuracy of answers.

Adaptations (For Students With Learning Disabilities): Use easier problems to start, then build up to tougher ones; use graph paper for those who cannot easily move on the physical number line.

Extensions (For Gifted Students): Use larger numbers; have students quickly estimate answers; ask students to create a different model for addition and subtraction of integers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

(Self-)Climate Change

"Reduce your carbon footprint." "Go green." These phrases, and myriad others, have been preached for the past few years as our world has begrudgingly embraced (embattled?) global climate change. In thinking about climate as a set of long-term patterns, I decided to assess my own self-climate. A bit of psychobabble, perhaps, but I think there's some science here.

I tend to be a very serious person. I take my family seriously. I take my job seriously -- in fact, it's hard for me to use the word "job" when it comes to teaching because I love it so much. I worship God seriously. I interact with others seriously. This is not to say that I'm not congenial or friendly: my friends would say that I'm a fairly outgoing person. However, in the classroom, I'm a driven, serious teacher. Being a serious person, for better or for worse, is part of my self-climate.

After nearly 30 years of life, I know, too, that I'm a person who gets very excited about something up front, but often can't sustain that excitement to any sort of tangible fruition. Case in point: I am one of three advisers of our school's Green Team, an environmental action and awareness group. I joined forces with two other wonderfully motivated teachers last year excited to make a difference and change how things were done. Sure, we did some cool things, but this year, I've lost all of my drive and motivation. Why? Do I care less about the environment or making a change? Gosh, I would hope not. It's part of my long-term trend, my self-climate.

Part of the cyclical bigger picture here is that I simply cannot sustain the levels of excitement and motivation that I have up front for long periods of time. It takes energy, and I don't have any alternative fuels at this point (wow, did I really just type that?). I am gravely concerned that I've approached teaching with this same abandon -- can I sustain my motivation, passion, and excitement the way I have for over a year now in the long-term? History would support pretty bad odds.

So what to do with this? If I look at my 5-month forecast, where do I see myself at the end of this school year? I cannot resign myself to this cycle of petering-out excitement. How does this make a difference in students' lives, or mine, for that matter? I also cannot accept that, well, gosh, maybe teaching's just not for me because it hasn't worked out. If I'm honest, I might be a great sprinter, but I'm a horrible marathon runner. I need to find a healthy balance between more areas of my life rather than pouring my all into one area, then moving on. Truth is, teaching doesn't work that way. Moving on is simply not an option. It's time for some self-climate change.

About Me

For the record, I'm a second year middle school science teacher in Oregon. I love what I do. So much so that my wife has to remind me that it's the weekend. Healthy or not, teaching and learning science has a dynamic place in my life. I came into teaching as a second career as an engineering expatriot. I much prefer working with people than with widgets. My focus now is on teaching young people to think like scientists; cultivating scientific thinking through inquiry and engagement; being real and sharing my own experiences as a scientist. Who knows, I might actually be making a difference!