Monday, December 5, 2011

Concave Mirrors in Action

As a Physics teacher it can sometimes be difficult to picture ways to modify labs and make the content of the Grade 10 Applied Optics unit accessible to my students. I think that I have mentioned in a previous post that I really like the group of kids I am working with this year. A bunch of them are very curious and they ask good questions (even if they are off topic sometimes, you've just got to go with it!) and most of them are just trying to be successful enough to not only finish their Science credits, but to achieve a level 3.

One afternoon I was talking to a colleague about how teaching mirror and ray diagram rules are too complicated for these students and that I wish I could find a way to make them accessible through a lab and to find a way to create a meaningful summative evaluation. She inspired me to work on creating templates for the beginning steps of doing curved mirror ray diagrams to give them the chance to follow instructions for the actual rays while still giving them an understanding of the principle axis. I felt that a concave mirror would be the easiest way to do this.

The image shows the core diagram that was given to them for each rule (we did three of the rules). The instructions were put on the overhead (it is a good way to keep enough light in the room to not end up tripping over one another) for each one. The first set of instructions was detailed with specific areas to be labelled and fill-in-the-blank sentences at the bottom and was completed as a formative exercise (along with the second rule and set of instructions with slightly less detail). The following day we did the third rule, with even less detail and less support from the instructors, as a summative evaluation, and each student had to submit their own drawing (for the benefit of time each pair only had to create one diagram for the first two rules, unless they were speedy).

The students were engaged in the process and wanted to do well. Many of them asked to have the rubric so they could check over their work and double check that everything was included. The students averaged in a level 3 and were all very happy with their results when the rubrics were returned to them. I will definitely be seeking to involve more ideas like this when I teach this course again, and hope to be able to evolve it more and continue to use fewer "content-based" lessons throughout the unit. They seemed to have a decent grasp of the idea of a focal point, although they may have overextended this idea and lost sight of the fact that the third rule relates to the centre of curvature. A goal for increased understanding the next time I teach the course!

Hooray for collaborative teaching!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Simple Labs Don't Make for a Bored Class - Yay!

I tried this lab last year, mostly out of desperation with a difficult class teaching a course I had never taught before, but decided to try it again to see if the engagement it created the first time could be reproduced. Because labs require writing they are always going to be difficult with a class with a number of students with communication exceptionalities, etc. The students continually require attention from the instructor to get through the process and I was lucky to have a second body in the room to help out for Day 2 and 3 of this process.

When I showed the lab to the aspiring teacher who was helping me he was concerned that it would be too simple for them and would not engage them for three periods. The lab is simply investigating the combination of two ingredients to determine the best tasting mock champagne. It allows me to have them work on skills such as writing a procedure, hypothesis, identifying variables, creating an observation chart and drawing a conclusion. As well as have them practice an important skill - measuring liquid volume. And they love that they get to drink their lab!

The next one will be more complicated - measuring the pH of stomach acid and its changes as different antacids are added to it. We will probably have to practice a couple of the lab writing skills again before we get there. As this one will be a summative piece of their chemistry mark.

An aside: We changed our formal (but formative) lab in Grade 9 Academic this year to a simple, but fun, lab using Alka Seltzer tablets, water and film canisters and went "Smarter Science style". The kids loved it. Can't wait to evaluate the formal lab write-ups that went with it. I hope they learned something through all of the peer and self evaluation that we tried in my class with it this week. (Cross your fingers for me, next year I hope to do some action research with peer and self evaluation).

Friday, September 30, 2011

Inquiry Based Ionic Compounds Lesson

I am so excited about the lesson I conducted this morning! Engagement. Learning. Oh, so great.

I spent approximately 2 hours yesterday preparing this lesson. I created a word document with a variety of elements represented in Lewis Dot Diagram format, arrows, regular element symbols along with charges and numbers that could be used to create the ionic compound formulae. Then I printed out enough copies to have 5 groups going at a time so that they could work in smaller groups to manipulate the pieces and learn from each other. The elements that become positive ions were blue and the negatives were pink - this because I gave them a periodic table to keep in their binders that is blue and many of them coloured the non metals pink when looking at the periodic table in the back of their textbooks.

So this morning we went into a larger classroom that I had booked so that they would have the space to work. It seemed a bit harder to get them to settle down to give instructions, but the space was nice to have. I demoed the use of the manipulatives once for them and then asked them to get into groups of 3-4 (so that there were 5 groups). I gave them a set of the papers and then asked every group to create the same compound. I would give them time to work on it and go around and observe, scaffolding where necessary. It was great to see them so engaged and to see the ones that understood it well teaching their peers and helping them through the process. I wish I'd had my camera with me.

Anyway, at this point I am rambling and if you have read this far, I thank you for sharing in my joy. Hopefully the fun continues in the weeks to come! Next, polyatomic compounds!

Thank you Smarter Science (and a couple of my colleagues) for the inspirations behind this lesson!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Thousands

I had every intention of creating a blog entry about my first week of teaching in year three. The incredible week it has been, starting off courses using Smarter Science teaching strategies and watching my Grade 9 Academic and 10 Applied classes be engaged in the first week of Science - my gosh it has been amazing, and I am scared at the idea of keeping it up and making them better Scientists...keeping them interested or helping them find an interest they thought they had lost of never had. But today is September 11, 2011 - and that scares me more.

This weekend I have watched the Dateline special surrounding September 11, 2001 (where FDNY survivors and the families that passengers of UA flight 93 called that terrible day) and the made-for-TV-movie Flight 93. I will eventually watched the feature film United 93 (I taped it) as well. I often think to myself that time is a strange concept. We have this concrete idea of seconds, hours, days, and years...but when I really think about it, time is this subjective and relative concept that has a different meaning in every context. For instance, how 10 years have managed to pass since 4 planes were hijacked in the United States on the East coast. I was in my first week of Grade 11 that day. I was 16, and still didn't truly grasp what had happened.

This summer I had the opportunity to go to New York City for the first time in my life. I spent one afternoon taking a walk down to the World Financial Center (WFC) and Ground Zero with a friend. We went into the Winter Garden in the WFC where you can see over the fence that surrounds Ground Zero and took pictures. You can see where the World Trade Centers used to stand, where the reflecting ponds will be in working order, as of today, to commemorate all of the lives that were lost that day (over 3 000, including 343 FDNY personnel). From many angles we saw the Freedom Towers that are being built nearby - the new additions to the already gorgeous Manhattan skyline - incredible architecture in that city.

I am willing to bet that watching these specials and movies this weekend would have found me emotional regardless, but I believe that having been there made the connection that much stronger. At 16 I had nothing to relate to. I was not alive during WWII, none of my living family served in that war overseas (only in Canada) - yes I have heard first hand stories of survivors from the concentration camps in Europe, and yes I took Canadian History in Grade 10 and we learned a lot about WWI and WWII - I had no true concept as to what war was. I have seen footage of the WTCs falling, almost straight down, more times than I can count now. I have heard the story of a group of Ladder 6 firefighters who saved the life of an elderly woman, and only lived to tell the tale because somehow the staircase they were in was spared. I have heard the story of UA 93 through the eyes of the air traffic controllers and families and seen what was left of that plane after it crashed in a field because the passengers on the flight decided they were going to die anyway, and didn't want others to suffer with them. There was almost nothing left of that plane. It was traveling so quickly that it effectively disintegrated (along with the people on board) on impact.

So I think what I fear most about going to school on Monday, is trying to talk to my students about 9/11/01 and realizing that they were 4, 5 or 6 years old when it happened. And discovering that we already have another generation of kids who don't really get it, and maybe never will. But if I've learned anything in the years of my life, history tends to repeat itself. They will know despair, hatred, and intolerance one day. I only hope, that they have the role models now to show them how to grow, learn and make a difference. I only hope, that more of them become the heroes of tomorrow than become the bystanders of today.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A New Year Ahead

"Map out your future, but do it in pencil." - Jon Bon Jovi

I felt this was a very fitting statement as we head into a new school year. I actually bought a teacher planner this year, but I have to admit that it is with the intention of trying to keep track of what I did each day after the fact than it is to plan everything in advance. I have not managed to do this electronically in the past, so I am hoping that by having this book in front of me every day that I will do a better job of it.

My pet of the semester - the SNC 2P course. The first time I taught it was terrible. This time I would like to be able to say otherwise.

Good luck, to my fellow teachers!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Gifts of Leadership

The school year is pretty much over. Exams are finished, marked and report cards are written. It has been an eventful semester and we have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do this week (Hooray for renovations?). A week ago I began working through my Honours Specialist HS Mathematics course and this was one of the readings I have had to do and thought that it might be worth sharing. Some things worth thinking about, in any event.

Cile Chavez, EdD

Consider the gift of intelligence
And balance it with humour.

Consider the gift of truth
And balance it with compassion.

Consider the gift of routine
And balance it with creativity.

Consider the gift of confidence
And balance it with vulnerability.

Consider the gift of presence
And balance it with detachment.

Consider the gift of hard questions
And balance it with honest answers.

Consider the gift of managing crises
And balance it with predictability.

Consider the gift of challenging work
And balance it with recognition and celebrations.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Joys of 3U Physics, and Why I Will Miss This Class

This semester has been a much more enjoyable one, especially in terms of answering the question "So how are your classes?". I've been having a great semester when you look at things on a whole - and it is amazing what one great 3U Physics class can do for your outlook on things.

I have had the pleasure of working through this class of 20 students (that started out much larger, but that's a whole different story) since the start of February and now have to consider that it will be coming to an end. It has been pleasantly refreshing to work with these kids - kids who have a sincere desire to learn. A couple who are taking it just because they can even! What a novelty this is nowadays (and a sad reality). To see the joy of learning instilled in them and to see them love it even though they are not all doing amazingly (but they just like the class so they are OK with it and are still pleasant to be around).

I am going to miss these kids when they leave the classroom for the last time. Seeing them in the halls next year might not be enough - of course they will be invited to come join me at lunch whenever they would like. And again I will miss them when they graduate next year. It will be the first graduating class that has a substantial group of kids from various classes that is graduating and has been taught by me as well. It will probably be a bittersweet day. But I will be proud of them all. And hopefully, they have enjoyed putting up with me as much as I have enjoyed learning with them.

Here's to many more experiences that make the teaching experience a beautiful one!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Social Rants of a Second-Year Teacher

As many of you are probably aware, teachers recently took a bit of a media hit in Ontario because of an incident with a teacher and an accusation from a former student via social media. Or maybe you didn't know why it became something that the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) felt compelled to send out an email for to all of its members (which is actually what hit the media). It is my understanding that a male teacher, in the past, tried to help a female student who was shy (with the permission of her parents) and is now graduated and accusing the teacher of sexual solicitation. So really what the OCT is trying to say is "students do not have the social and emotional maturity to understand the intentions of a teacher or to step back and understand the true intentions of a situation - and oh, because of the nature of the internet, they can now hold potential proof of anything you say or do".

So here is the world I live in, one where social media surrounds me (both because I use it daily and because my students are attached at the hip to their phones - and yes, much more so than I am!) and a profession engulfs me in the need to be a "professional" 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A strangely stifling yet respectful place to have to be. Funny how teachers in the 80s could be invited to the house of their students (by the parents) as a post commencement celebration and thank you to those teachers (where alcohol would be served) and now we sit in a place where it cannot be perceived that a teacher is allowed to have an ADULT life and we constantly feel scrutinized by parents and the like instead of working with them. (Here's some context - I even had a student say to me this year "You are supposed to do everything in your power to help me be successful" [read, even if I don't do the same]).

The real motivation behind this social rant is an idea I had for an entry last week - the state of social media in North America and how it relates to education. Here are these amazingly accessible resources that many students make use of daily, and I am not even allowed to have email contact with their parents (never mind the students)! On what level does this make sense? We live in a world where there is a reality that many of these parents live on their emails and blackberrys, similarly to the way their kids do. Where trying to get in touch with them via email (at least initially) would actually save us time and create more efficient relationships. Why can't we have an email that students are allowed to use to ask us questions or a twitter account that is used to respond to common questions that students are having? Oh right, because they are not capable of interpreting a connection as professional over the net? I don't believe it. There has got to be a way to improve assessment and improve communication with our students using the media that they understand and use daily without crossing the professional line. Maybe we don't have the answer right now, but I strongly believe that running away from social media is NOT the answer.

I think that the comment that really got me thinking (and frankly, annoyed) back in the fall was the notion that not only shouldn't we "friend" or "follow" our students on social media while they are students, but we shouldn't friend them even after they graduate. Apparently we would get no professional support if any of this every blew up in our faces. But really, I take this to be an implication that the fact that I am friendly with (both in person and on social media) with my former teachers should not be allowed. Who is some minister or board employee or union rep to say that I cannot (as a post secondary or person in the workplace) become friends with my former teachers? People that I identify with as colleagues, friends, mentors and down-to-earth, good people? I guess what I am trying to say is, the idea of shutting out social media from our teaching lives to be completely ridiculous. Maybe there will always have to be a separation between personal and profession accounts for Facebook or Twitter or what-have-you, but to say that these two lives should not or cannot be combined only denies where our world has (and will continue to) ended up.

But I bet that those resisting change would just call me naive.

Let them. Some day, I will be the one calling a second year teacher naive. We all end up jaded and resisting change eventually, right?...

P.S. I would never friend a current or recent student on Twitter or Facebook on a personal account. I have not and do not plan to start. I just believe that even at my age, I am already losing communication with today's students - and we need to do something about it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Teacher in Drowning

Wow...I have clearly been overwhelmed and under water. For starters, I have not posted an update in two months. But that is really only a symptom of a long list of things that have been going on. I am behind enough in my marking that I currently have two assignments from the same class in my bag (gross, worst feeling). We are working through the Biology unit in the Grade 10 course (and despite this being my second time through it, we are actually making a real effort to develop a good unit so I am learning way too much and spending time creating new things and working with my colleague who is the lead for the course this time around). And it is my first time teaching the 3U Physics course and I have decided to add a research presentation to the Energy and Society unit (but I have never developed this type of assignment before, never mind developing it alone).

The above is the current icing on the cake. The joys of being a second year (read first year, since I am in a different department) teacher. Despite the stress (and the addition of being in a wedding party for a wedding that is fast approaching) I am still happy with my career choice and love the learning and excitement that comes with it.

Speaking of learning, I have had the privilege of getting to attend two great P.D. sessions (3 if you include the sharing session we had with nearby schools). The first was a session for Smarter Science (they are also on twitter, if you would like to follow them). It was a great look at inquiry-based learning for the science classroom, a model that started near London that now has ministry funding and has been spread across more than 3-quarters of Ontario since! The session fascinated me and overwhelmed me. All of these great ideas and new things you want to try...but once a semester has started it is difficult to implement a new model of learning. I have had a chance to use parts of it three times so far in my 1P class, which has been a good start.

More recently I attended a session on Graphic Intelligence (read, making use of graphic organizers in class). Something that is a bit easier to start using right away but still something new to get used to using and a lot of prep work to get it going (new lesson plans to think about, rubrics to write, etc). We got a chance to do some planning inf the afternoon so I walked out with an idea for the Electricity unit for the 1Ps and will look forward to using it when we get there. I have also found myself thinking about other places it could be used and hope to get a chance to do those - but they may have to wait for another semester. Oh, and did I mention that I have finally gotten myself on so that I can use Gizmos with my class (think online demos for science concepts)? I am using it in my 3U Physics tomorrow...wish me luck.

I think the cherry on top of all of this is even feeling overwhelmed about the summer (as it is fast approaching). I will be working an afternoon shift as a secretary for 6 weeks, the same 6 weeks I will be doing my Honours Specialist course in Mathematics online, and will hopefully be spending time looking at condos. These are the three basic things I see myself doing, and those in themselves are not really all that overwhelming - it is actually the thought of all of the things I can't wait to try as an educator and feeling like I am never going to have the time to wrap my head around them and actually prepare to use any of them. All of these ideas to look into, literature to read, assignments and ideas to prepare, assessments to come up with, rubrics to write, checklists to develop....well, I think you get the idea.

Here's to surviving these next couple of weeks. Hopefully the marking works itself out before report cards are due in just over a week. Hopefully.

Happy marking!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Proud to Support

I will do an actual update soon (and have been meaning to for awhile). But in the meantime, here is a Facebook status that is going around that I wanted to share - both as a person and as an educator of today's youth.

Let me get this straight...Charlie Sheen can make a "porn family", Kelsey Grammer can end a 15 year marriage over the phone, Larry King can be on divorce #9, Britney Spears had a 55 hour marriage, Jesse James and Tiger Woods, while married, were having sex with EVERYONE. Yet, the idea of same-sex marriage is going to destroy the institution of marriage? Really? Re-post if you are proud to support equal rights.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Refreshing Start

The new semester is under way! A long and difficult one behind me, I went into February with a renewed sense of self and a fresh perspective. It helped that I had a lot of support. My fellow teachers were and still are there to encourage me and to share a word of advice or lend an ear and my admin were there to recognize another trying class and take them out of my schedule.

So here I am, with a Grade 9 Applied and 10 Academic Science along with a Grade 11 University Physics. My stress level has already decreased significantly. Having three preps is a lot to handle but at least only 2 of them are new (it was supposed to be three). I have had such a refreshing perspective on my students with only a week under my belt - the Grade 11s have reminded me that there are students out there who want to learn, who like being in your class, who look forward to learning something a little difficult. I am still dealing with the remnants of my stress, realizing that my headaches are a result of tension, but hopefully they too, will pass.

And now we will see what my new approach will bring. A new late policy in my classes (complete with a sign in sheet), a focus on routines and rules in the first couple of weeks of class (largely with the applieds, ensuring they (and I) use their hands when they have a question or want to answer one), remembering to follow through on consequences, and always remembering to smile and enjoy the moments of my students' day.

So here is to the next 5 months.
May they be productive, educating and entertaining!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflecting on Science...and so Much More

So here we are, another semester has come and gone. My first full semester of Science was definitely an eventful one, as the couple of posts I was able to make eluded to. A couple of challenging classes leading to many challenging moments. A few sick days with some terrible symptoms. And some great results from some of those challenging students in the end.

We worked on our approach to the final 30% evaluation for our applied level classes this semester. Changing the weighting of our performance task and the exam and changing our preparations for the performance task to try to improve results. Using a base of identified kids I was able to track an improvement of 9% (from a 58 to a 67). we used a checklist to help them identify the skills they were working on and practiced the same type of task multiple times. While it seems to have worked it is still so concerning to have a group of students pass through a course and not really learn anything - most of them cannot pass a test or lab without a cheat sheet or asking a multitude of questions. It was definitely an interesting experience as well as one that taught me a lot. There are many things that I will do differently when I am given the chance to go through that course again (both to do with classroom management and the curriculum/teaching itself).

The next semester will be a fun one - I will get to see if I can apply some of the things I learned with a Grade 9 Applied class; to reteach Grade 10 Academic for the second time this year (a small breather); and to teach my first Physics course (Grade 11 Academic). I am looking forward to the Physics course, it will provide me with a chance to teach some topics that I am more comfortable with again and to be challenged a bit more academically. I have missed both of those aspects of education in the past few months not getting to teach Mathematics or Physics.

So here it is, my written goal for this upcoming semester
1) Set firm, transparent boundaries and stick to them right from Week 1.
2) Adjust to having an afternoon prep and try to stay a day ahead on planning.
3) Incorporate as many demos, POEs and practical classes as possible into all of my courses.

A tall order, I suppose...but here's to trying! And to maybe staying on top of my health and fitness in the meantime.