Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Elephant's Toothpaste

One of the most exciting classes I conduct in my chemistry classroom is the Elephant's Toothpaste demonstration.  While, this is an old standard and some students have seen it on You Tube or in other science classes, it never fails to capture the student's attention and create opportunities for discussion.

I conduct the demo in a 5 L graduate cylinder. I place the cylinder in an equipment tray placed on a tarp to protect the floor from overflow.

Pour 250 mL of 30% Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) to the cylinder and add 1-2 tablespoons of dish soap to the peroxide.  Dawn is preferable, but any dish soap will work.  I drip food coloring down the sides of the cylinder to provide the toothpaste striping. I then add 4-6 grams of Potassium Iodide (KI)  to the solution. Step back and enjoy the reaction, both from the cylinder and the students. 

I do not ask students to complete a lab write-up for this demonstration.  I instead use the opportunity to  discuss rates of reaction. I will have students touch the surface of the cylinder with the back of their hand to feel the heat produced by the reaction and discuss endothermic and exothermic reactions.   There are a multitude of topics that can be discussed from this reaction.

However most important is the discussions that start with the students questioning, why does that happen? Will other types of salt do that? What if we used ....?  Why did we add the soap?  That is when the thinking begins and the learning takes over.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Characteristics for a Thinking Attitude

As a teacher do you instill in your students the characteristics necessary to have a Thinking Attitude.


In a microwave world, learning does not take place in a manner of  seconds. Learning is a process and does not happen in a 22 minute time frame, like an 80's sit-com.  Understanding takes time and therefore both students and teachers must demonstrate the patience necessary for the learning to take place.


Students must be able to ask the questions that develop a path to understanding. Too often, students become satisfied with the, Who? What? and When? Students must feel secure enough look deeper and be willing to search for the How? Why? and What if? of each situation.


Students need to have the ability to remain focused through the completion of the learning process.  Maintaining concentration through observation, questioning, data collection, argument, testing and conclusion.  Students need the stamina of mind to stay the course.

Respect for the Evidence        

Details, details, details.  Do students value every piece of evidence every bit of the data, each portion of the argument. Can students gather research with an eye for the validity and effectiveness of the information.


Students must embrace the idea that all that seems true, may not be true. The ability to question the evidence to validate the validity of the information.

Acceptance of Others Perspectives           

Respect for each person and an inclusive community help to create a classroom where students can safely share their opinions without fear of being judged.  It is through the sharing of different points of view that students gain insight into the ideas of their classmates and perspectives on the lesson at hand.

Monday, April 18, 2011

John Wooden's - Five Things to Share

In the book, The Essential Wooden, A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership, John Wooden shares a list of the important things to share.

Five Things To Share.

Share the Work
Share the Credit
Share the Enthusiasm
Share the Information
Share the Love, Care and Concern

Sharing the work is a natural part of the educational process.  That sharing takes place on many levels in the classroom, between teacher and student, student to student, as well as students in a collaborative group. Students must engage in sharing, whether it is the knowledge the work or ideas. It is the idea that the educational process is more efficient if we embody the concept of TEAM, Together, Each, Achieves, More.

Sharing the credit is often a very difficult idea to get across to students who have been brought up believing that you are measured by the grades you have or the honors you receive.  Students need to create value not for what they accomplish but for who they are.  Students who can measure their success through satisfaction of knowing who they are and understanding the value of their own individuality are typically not concerned about getting credit, but are more concerned with the overall success of those who surround them.

Sharing the enthusiasm extends from the value of passion for all we do. The Lasallian term for this is zeal.  The difference between good and great typically correlates directly to passion for the work.  That enthusiasm is a direct result of the passion demonstrated by the teacher for the subject being taught. That same passion can be contagious amongst the students and even in return to the teacher.

Sharing the information is the basis of the educational process. Sharing comes through clear communication between educator and student and student to student. Realizing, that students learn and communicate utilizing a varying range of modalities.

Sharing the Love, Care and Concern, is the basis by which an educator maximizes the educational process for each student by creating a classroom environment that is inclusive and based upon mutual respect and trust:  an environment where students can approach the unknown with little or no fear, an environment where students are allowed to make mistakes as a part of the learning process, an environment where students are encouraged to participate fully in the learning process.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Favorite Learning Quotes

A reminder of the simplicity of learning and the complexity of it's outcomes for both those who educate and those who are being educated.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Aluminum Boats, Pennies and Archimedes

A 10cm x 10cm piece of aluminum foil, 30cm x 1.9cm length of scotch tape and a handful of pennies, now figure out what makes a battleship float.

For five years now, I have utilized aluminum boat building as a means of having students discover he principles of buoyancy.  Students work collaboratively to create an aluminum foil boat that will float while supporting the greatest number of pennies without sinking.  Each students is given three 10cm x 10cm pieces of aluminum foil and three 30cm pieces of tape to design three boats.  Each boat will be placed in a tub of water.  Students will test the buoyancy of their design by adding pennies to the boat until the boat sinks.

Students collaborate to evaluate and critique each boat for the effectiveness as a penny cargo ship.  Typically students will work in lab groups of four or five members and will evaluate the buoyancy principles of as many as 15 different designs.  Students collect data on the mass of the boats, mass of the pennies, surface area of the boat and water displacement.  Utilizing this information they can work through what makes an object float and associate these concepts using Archimedes Principles.

Students experience research and design concepts in a very simple lab while applying the physics concepts for buoyancy that allow an air craft carrier or cruise ship to float.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Creativity is a Process

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.

Look Closely
Don't just look at something. Truly study it. Eliminate all preconceived ideas about it. Keep on studying it until it gives you more than you want to know about it.  This is the beginning of the creative way to process the world.

Be Open to the Flow
The flow of creativity is worthless to you, unless you are ready to ride the current.  Allow yourself to be caught up in the energy of the flow and ride it to it's end.

Explore Without Bias, but Fully Energized
Gather all, uncritically.  Do not try to try to create form. Save that for much later.  This is a time to experience, grow, change, adapt, error, make mistakes and gain understanding.


Demonstrate Patience
Take your time to allow ideas to blossom.  Incubation is part of the process of development. Allow for down time in the process.  Separate yourself from the work and return with a fresh eye.

Let the Creativity Commence
The inspiration is not the destination.  The inspiration is only the initiation of the process.
The fun, the work, the experience, the real creativity begins with inspiration.  That is the time to cinch it up and take off, fully energized to take on all possibilities.

Remain Open to New Ideas
As you work through the creative process, keep the creative spirit alive. Expect and accept new ideas as the process may unveil them.

The Path is Not Always Straight
Be prepared for detours ahead. Realize some detours are simply a necessary part of the process and provide opportunities for continued development of your ideas.

Fine Tuning is Important
The ultimate outcome of the creative process is most often found in the smallest details.  Make every aspect of the creative process sparkle as you bring all of the connections together.

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
                        - Norman Vincent Peale

Monday, April 11, 2011

Film Favorites - No Impact Man

"In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. 
And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."  
                                                                                           Eleanor Roosevelt  -

The documentary "No Impact Man" provides tremendous opportunity to explore with students, the choices they make and the impact that those choices have on an interconnected world.
"No Impact Man", follows the lives of the Manhattan-based Beavan family. Writer Colin Beavan decides to write about a year of abandoning their high consumption 5th Avenue lifestyle and try to live a year while making no net environmental impact.

I really enjoy monitoring my students impressions of the Beavans from start to finish of the film.  Most of my students begin the movie with the notion that this guy has lost his mond and what the Beavan family is taking on is impossible.  However, student impressions change as they see how this no impact lifestyle not only impacts the family in an environmental sense but truly brings the family together as they eliminate many of the daily activities, such as television and computers, that detract from the relationship of family.
 At the end of the film Colin's message to bring about change is a simple one, VOLUNTEER!
It is through the act of volunteerism that the building of a community takes place.  This message parallels the Lasallian principle of service and our motto of "Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve." 
Too, often our students feel that they are powerless as individuals to make change and have an impact.  Plain and simple the message to our students needs to be make the choice to become involved. Because, it is in the development of community and the act of volunteering that an understanding of the power that individuals can have when their ideas have a positive impact on the world we share.

To learn more about Colin Beavan and the No Impact Project, go to the website at
For information packets for educators, go to the No Impact Project at
Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
                                                                   -  Edmund Burke  -

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Student Want Ad

At the beginning of each new course I assign my students the following writing assignment to gauge why they want to be a member of my classroom.  The prompt is a take off on the Want Ad the pupil responds to, in the book Ishmael
Want Ad
Must have an earnest desire
to make positive changes in
the world we share.
Apply in Person.

Write a paragraph explaining, why I should select you as a pupil for this class.

I get all sorts of responses from this assignment, but what is most important is to get students to understand that the choice for their learning is not only up to them but also up to me.   Since my message to my students is that I teach thinking and use a raodway called science to travel there, it is very important for students to realize that their learning is a process.  My class is part of their path that will eventually place them in a world where their abilities, to learn, to adapt, to make choices will not only impact them but also me and everyone else in this world.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sophomores - You Gotta Love Them

" Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress. When you're pissed off at someone and you're angry at them, you just haven't given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you."
Randy Pausch
The ideals of service to the poor and social justice are core to the principles of Lasallian education. This week, we celebrate our Founder by completing service thoughout the community.  Each day one of the classes takes a day away from the classroom and lives out the motto of "Enter to Learn. Leave to Serve." to provide service to the poor at various points around Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.
I chose to do my service today with the Sophomore class. This is a class that has built a little bit of a reputation as being very spirited and lacking focus.  I was hoping to gain a better insight into this group of students, and as the quote above from Randy Pausch states, "Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you."  I was truly amazed by the group of students with whom I spent the day. 
We spent the day at Project Angel Food in Hollywood.   Project Angel Food's mission is to nourish the body and spirit of men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers and staff cook and deliver free and nutritious meals prepared with love throughout Los Angeles,
acting out of a sense of urgency because hunger and illness do not wait. Project Angel Food volunteers and staff deliver more than 14,000 meals every week to people in need.
 The ten sophomores that I spent the day with, were a joy to watch as they worked through a day of chopping vegetables, cooking hamburger patties, preparing hamburger accompaniments, roasting potatoes, packaging meal trays, washing down service tables and all the while never complaining and maintaining wonderful smiles the entire day. 

As Randy Pausch suggests, sometimes you just need to give these adolescents the time that they need to demonstrate what they are capable of.  Sometimes as educators we need to step back and gain a perspective of these young adults outside of the realm of our classroom to truly appreciate them for who they are and what they can become.  
  An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Randy Pausch and the Last Lecture

"Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids' dreams too. Once in a while, that might even mean letting them stay up past their bedtimes."
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

Part of my role as a teacher mentor is providing inspiration and motivation for the students entrusted to my care.
Each year I show the sophomores in my Chemistry class "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch.

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.
Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.

This hour and sixteen minutes about the value of living life to the fullest from a guy who is dying does more for my students than I ever could. Randy Pausch's message to his children by way of "The Last Lecture" includes such a wide variety of speaking points for both students and teachers to find inspiration.
Following Your Childhood Dreams
The Importance of Education
Becoming Your Own Self Advocate
Overcoming the Brick Walls
Helping Others to Succeed
Raise the Bar by Not Setting One
These are just some of the most common discussion points my students tend to focus on.  Each time I view the video, I find something new to inspire both my students and myself.

"The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)

P.S.  I have recieved over a dozen copies of the book as gifts from students in the last three years.

"It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you. "
Randy Pausch (The Last Lecture)