Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's The Teacher - John Wooden

From John Woodens' book "My Personal Best"...

No written word nor spoken plea,
Can teach our youth what they should be.
Not all the books on all the shelves,
It's what the teachers are themselves.

No matter what comes about: curriculum, textbooks, technology, media, methodology, it will always come down to that relationship created by a teacher who cares enough to demand the most from the talents of each student. Both those talents they may be aware of and those that are discovered along the learning path.    

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Can We Do In Two Hours?

This, information was shared at a symposium I attended back in 2007.  I am sure some of the numbers have changed with the further growth of social networking, touch pads and smartphones.

We have about 150,000 hours of living to expend between the ages of 1 and 18.

We sleep about 50,000 hours of that time.  We dream about two hours of the eight that we sleep each night. Sleeping and dreaming appear to be positively related to development and maintenance of long term memories.

We spend about 65,000 hours of our 100,000 waking hours involved in solitary activities, and in direct relationships with family and friends, and these play a major role in the maintenance of personal memories.

We spend about 35,000 of our waking hours with our larger culture in formal and informal metaphoric/symbolic activities --- about 12,000 hours in school, and twice as much with various forms of mass media: computers, television, films, music, sports and non-school print media.  Mass media and school thus play major roles in the development of cultural memories.

Thus, in an average developmental day between the ages of 1 and 18, a young person sleeps 8 hours, spends 10 hours with family/friends/self, 4 (probably more) with mass media, leaving only 2 hours for school.

Our society has an incredible expectation for those two hours.  

The You Tube video "A Vision of Students Today" is an eye opener, when it comes to understanding the mindset of the students we teach each day. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why We Need to Know Chemistry - DHMO

When am I ever going to use this in real life?
The war cry of the uninformed.

In response to this I share with my students the organization

A group that explains the ever present danger of Dihydrogen Monoxide.

I also share with my students the hoax played on the City Council of Aliso Viejo when overzealous council members voted to ban this dangerous substance from the city based upon an overwhelming amount of literature touting the very real dangers of this substance. Fortunately, before any reals laws could go into effect, wiser heads prevailed.

The dangerous substance, Dihydrogen Monoxide is of course Water (H2O, Di  2 Hydrogens and Mono for 1 Oxygen). 

For my students the lesson is very clear. That a basic knowledge of as much as possible, is of great value.  You never know when this information will become necessary.

The website and the accompanying data, information and materials outlines the truth of this substance:  can cause burns, is a component in bombs, leads to swelling, excess inhalation can cause death, causes hurricanes, erosion and floods.  The information is accurate and only misleading in the way any information can be manipulated. 

Next time a student begins to whine about when they will ever need to know this, the answer may just be to ask a member of the Aliso Viejo City Council.


Monday, July 18, 2011

100 Posts - 7000 Hits

When I first began this blog, I had no idea of what it would become, what it would entail, or how involved I would become in this process.  In the beginning I had doubts about whether I would be able to produce blogs consistently throughout the year.  My plan was to post two or three times a week and make it through June.  I am now in my seventh month.  This is my 100th post and as of Sunday my blog has recieved my 7000 hits.  from more than 110 countries. 

I would like to thank those of you who have visited throughout the year.  It is my hope that something I have posted thus far has provided a W.P.A. (Worth the Price of Admission) moment for you. 

This blog as provided me with  a new sense of focus, some moments of frustration, some excitement and has become quite therapeutic.  I hope to continue posting three or four times a week up until the end of the fall semester. At that time I think I will cut back to a once a week blogging pattern.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

Alien Juice Bar - Acids and Bases

The Alien Juice Bar tutorial provides a simple and fun way to introduce the characteristics of Acids and Bases including the concepts of pH, pOH, neutralization.

Whether students are killing off aliens by serving them acidic or basic drinks that their constitutions cannot deal with, or they are sorting drinks by their characteristics, students can learn or review the main points of acids and bases.  This tutorial created through UC Berkeley is simplistic enough for middle school while intriguing enough to capture the attention of most high school students.

There are three parts of the tutorial. Part one allows students to learn about pH and pOH by identifying them using cabbage juice.  Phase two allows students to determine which drinks are safe to serve aliens based upon the acidic or basic composition of the monster.  Aliens die when their pH levels are altered. The third phase guides students through the neutralization of pH by mixing acids and bases.

This tutorial is best used on an interactive white board (SMART Board) to involve the entire class in the process of protecting or destroying aliens with basic acidic knowledge.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Writing Tips for Students

A few years ago the freshman teachers got together to discuss inconsistencies in student writing across the curriculum. Following a very energetic conversation we came up with a list of basic tips for Freshmen to use as they transition in to high school. 

Dear Freshman Student, 

Here are a few suggestions that we, your teachers, have for making technical improvements on your essays.  We see these mistakes often in your papers. 
We want you to be mindful of them. 
These tips, when followed, will help improve your essays.

1.  Avoid using I in analytical papers. 
Incorrect Usage: “I think Pip learns from his experiences.”, “I believe George regretted killing Lennie.”
Correct Usage: “Pip learns from his experiences.”  “George regretted killing Lennie.” 
Why: The pronoun I is redundant and reduces the power of your voice.  Clearly, the
 paper is full of your thoughts and ideas; Simply state them.
2.  Avoid starting your sentences with so or a lot.  Simply state your point.

3.  Avoid using objects as subjects.
Incorrect Usage: “Me and him are friends.” or “Myself and her are going to the store”.
These objects (me, him, myself, her etc.) should come after the verb in a sentence.  Correct Usage: He and I are friends. (The pronouns He, I, you are in the nominative case. They should go before the verb.)
Reference Chapter 16 in your English workshop book.

4.  Avoid using that when you mean who.
Incorrect Usage: She’s the girl that sits next to me.
Correct Usage: She’s the girl who sits next to me.
Who is always a pronoun.  The antecedent of who is always a person. 
That can be used as a pronoun, an adjective or an adverb.
Correct Usages  As a pronoun: “Look at the horse that he bought.” As an adjective: “That woman is her mother.”  As an adverb: “The fish was that big.”

5.  Every pronoun deserves an antecedent. 
Correct usage:  Megan loves to dance; she moves quite gracefully.
When writing analytical essays, avoid using the pronouns you, we and one.  These pronouns are unnecessary.
Incorrect Usage:  “When you analyze Of Mice and Men, you see that George was indeed a hero.”
Correct Usage: “George in Of Mice and Men was a hero.”

6.  Know when to use Its vs. It’s.
Correct Usage: “It’s a beautiful sunny day.” (It’s is a conjunction of it and is.) Avoid contractions unless they are in quotes from the text.
“The gum has lost its flavor, all the more reason for you to not eat it in class.” (Its is the  possessive form of it.)

7.  Know when to use There vs. Their vs. They’re.
Correct Usage: “There are many students who would benefit from these writing tips.” Or sit over there.  (there- usually used to point to a place, a place in time or a physical place.  It is also used to emphasize something or to start a sentence.)
“Students organize their materials in order to make learning easier.” (their-shows ownership, it is possessive)
They’re going to do well on the test because they studied. (They’re is a contraction composed of they and are.  This word allows a writer to communicate the subject and verb in a condensed form.)  Avoid contractions altogether unless they are in quotes from the text.
8.  Know when to use lose vs. loose.
Correct Usage: “My necktie is loose.” (loose-meaning detached, relaxed, free from restraint)  “Organize your assignment sheets or else you will lose them.” (lose-meaning to be without or fail to keep)
Reference chapter18 in your English Workshop book.

9.  Do not start a sentence with a conjunction (and, but etc.) or end it with a preposition (to, with  etc).

10.  Understand when to use then versus than. 
Incorrect usage: “Understanding is more important then memorization.”
Correct Usage:  “Understanding is more important than memorization.”
Than is a conjunction used for the purposes of comparison.  Then is an adverb usually communicating a sequence of events.
Correct Usage: First approach learning with confidence in your abilities, then you will be more likely to achieve success.

11.  Text talk and colloquialisms have no place in formal papers.  They often prevent students from communicating what is specifically happening in a text.
Incorrect usage: “Romeo hung out with Benvolio.”
Correct Usage:  “Romeo engaged in conversation and joked with Benvolio.”
Incorrect Usage: “Lennie learns 2 obey George b4 trouble begins.”
Correct Usage:  “Lennie learns to obey George before trouble begins.”

12.  Always use the present tense when discussing literature.
Incorrect Usage: “Romeo and Juliet died.”
Correct Usage: “Romeo and Juliet die.”
After all, literature is alive and well, no matter what internet savvy consumers say!

We are sharing these tips simply to help improve the technical aspects of your writing. 
Remember: you are smarter than your spell-check. 
Above all, when making a point, support it with examples.

We are all responsible for teaching students to use the skill of writing to communicate effectively. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Movie Favorites - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

~ Dad always used to say the only causes worth fighting for were the lost causes.~


The story of Jefferson Smith, an idealistic young man from an unnamed state who is a local hero for having organized various boys’ camps while helping run the “Boy Rangers.” The Rangers are an educational,
outdoors and sports organization that is similar to the Boy Scouts of today.
After one of his state’s two Senators dies, Jeff is appointed to be the temporary replacement Senator by the state’s Governor. Soon, Jeff takes off for Washington in the company of the states other Senator, Joe Paine, who is a hero of Jeff’s and was a friend of his father. Jeff has high hopes, and is just grateful to be able to serve in the city he associates with the democratic ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Yet soon after arriving, Jeff quickly realizes that Washington is a mean-spirited and often corrupt town, and that in fact, Senator Paine is one of the most corrupt people there.

After trying to write a law that would set aside some land at Wilet Creek for a national boy’s camp, Jeff accidentally discovers that this land has been secretly bought by Taylor and his political machine. He does this so that he can make a huge amount of money when he sells the land to the state after convincing it to
build a dam there. Yet rather than stay quiet , Jeff decides to fight both Senator Paine and Taylor in order to save the land for his camp and to expose the horrible corruption of his state’s politicians. Soon, the entire Taylor machine sets out to destroy Jeff and his reputation, but with the help of Clarissa Saunders, Jeff
fights back against long odds. He does so in order to save both his own reputation and to live up to the original ideals of American democracy.  (

Although this movie is best suited to a US History or Civics class, I will show excerpts from this film in my science classes especially environmental science courses.  The movie provides great insight into the difficulties faced by individuals and groups who desire to create positive change against a political machine that serves special interests and individual greed.  However, the idea of the power of one man speaking out against such corruption is also a valuable lesson for students to understand.  That an idea married to passion can promote great response. That an idea concieved and believed in can be achieved.  

Civics and History teachers will find that the film provides tremendous insight into the inner working of the US Senate, The process of passing a bill, special interest groups, committees, the election process, succession and many others. 

The film also provides a look at Washington DC through the innocent eyes of an individual who still holds the basic ideals of this country as the most important principles upon which to base one'e life, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

~ I wouldn't give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn't have a little bit of plain,
ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out
for the other fella, too.~

Monday, July 11, 2011

Video Clip - "The Founder - Saint John Baptist de La Salle

A simple video of the basic background of Saint John Baptist de La Salle as Founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Our Iceberg is Melting - Collaboration

Our Iceberg Is Melting 
by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Our Iceberg Is Melting is a simple fable about doing well in an ever-changing world. Based on the award-winning work of Harvard's John Kotter, it is a story that has been used to help thousands of people and organizations.

The fable is about a penguin colony in Antarctica. A group of beautiful emperor penguins live as they have for many years. Then, one curious bird discovers a potentially devastating problem threatening their home, and pretty much no one listens to him.

The characters in the story, Fred, Alice, Louis, Buddy, the Professor, and NoNo, are like people we recognize — even ourselves. Their tale is one of resistance to change and heroic action, seemingly intractable obstacles and the most clever tactics for dealing with those obstacles. It's a story that is occurring in different forms all around us today — but the penguins handle the very real challenges a great deal better than most of us.

Our Iceberg Is Melting is based on pioneering work that shows how the 8 Steps produce needed change in any sort of group. It's a story that can be enjoyed by anyone while at the same time providing invaluable guidance for a world that just keeps moving faster and faster.

Although written as a children's tale, the story provides great insight into the difficulties with collaboration as a means of attianing group success.  The group of penguins come to symbolize the universal members of most work groups.  The take charge member, the do all the work member, the organizer, the naysayer, the do gooder, the newbie and the volunteer who does nothing.  

The Penguins   

Fred – younger, open to all new ideas, overly curious, very observant, anxious to please, level headed, thinker, creative, still wide eyed, willing to volunteer for anything 
Alice –  practical, tough, need to prove she belongs, reputation for being tough, gets things done, focused on the goal at hand, knows the colony, doesn't back down, smart but not arrogant
Louis - Head Penguin in Charge – very patient, wise from experience, overly conservative, calm, respected by most, experiential intelligent;
NoNo – negative, closed to new ideas, favorite comment "we have never done that"
The Professor – scholarly intelligence, data based, fascinated by the problem not the solution, question, not really social
Buddy - everybody loves him, no ambition, trusted and liked, not an intellectual, always present but unproductive

Kotter does an excellent job of understandning the value and importance of change, while also outlining the difficulties that change brings about.  As the penguins seek a solution to their problem and inevitible change that must take place Kotter provides a road map of Eight Steps for Leading Change:
Create Urgency 
Form Powerful Coalitions
Create a Vision for Change
Communicate the Vision
Remove Obstacles to Empower Broad-based Actions
Generate Short-Term Wins
Build on Changes and Gain Momentum
Weave the Changes into the Culture 

Our Iceberg is a Melting is amust read for anyone in education who wishes to bring about positive changes within the curriculum, culture and community of the school.  Kotter provides great insight into the role of change in the healthy environment of any community based upon collaboration.     

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sharing Roles with Parents

12 Steps to Raisng a
Juvenile Delinquent
  1. Begin with infancy to give the child everything he wants. In this way he will grow up to believe the world owes him a living.
  2. When he picks up bad words, laugh at him. This will make him think he’s cute.
  3. Never give him any spiritual training. Wait until he is twenty-one and then let “him decide for himself”.
  4. Avoid the use of “wrong”. He may develop a guilt complex. This will condition him to believe later, when he is arrested, that society is against him and he is being persecuted.
  5. Pick up everything he leaves lying around. Do everything for him so that he will be experienced in throwing all responsibility on others.
  6. Take his part against neighbors, teachers, and policemen. They are all prejudiced against your child.
  7. Quarrel frequently in the presence of your children. In this way they won’t be so shocked when the home is broken up later.
  8. Give the child all the spending money he wants. Never let him earn his own.
  9. Satisfy his every craving for food, drink, and comfort. See that his every sensual desire is gratified.
  10. Let him read any printed material, and listen to any music he can get his hands on. Be careful that the silverware and drinking glasses are sterilized, but let his mind feast on garbage.
  11. When he gets into real trouble, apologize to yourself by saying, “I could never do anything with him.”
  12. Prepare for a life of grief. You will likely have it.
Taken from the pamphlet entitled Twelve Rules for Raising Delinquent Children
Distributed by the Houston Police Department.

I recieved a copy of this from a colleague about three years ago.
I share this with parents on Back to School nights.
More and more parents are more concerned with remining buddies with their adolescent children rather than defining clear expectations in the development of character and integrity.
This places an ever increasing burden on the roles of teachers as educator, mentor, role model, disciplinarian and guide through this very trying time in a teenagers life.
The role of teacher becomes more powerful as most students entrusted to our care, will spend more waking hours in our classrooms than with their parents throughout their high school years.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Rubrics Can Kill Creativity

Teaching to the Multiple Intelligences is difficult enough.
Today's educational system is so guided by rubrics for every assignment that we are taking away the opportunitiy for students to explore their talents, use their imaginations and utilize their strengths. Students are no longer asked to think, they are simply told to follow the directions, complete what is in the rubric and you will get your 'A'.

One of my favorite projects for Biology is a cells processes project where students are asked to create anything that proves their knowledge of cells, cells structure and function or cell processes.  I provide as little guidance as possible except for the outlawing of a term paper as the product. I want students use their talents and think outside the box.

Of course I deal with the questions of How much? How long? How many? What do I want? What is the answer? What do I need to do for an A? etc...etc...

This type of assignment tends to make students nervous due to the lack of guidelines and parameters, but once they allow themselves to process the possibilities, some amazing things happen. 

I have recieved songs about the organelles of cells, beautiful painting of cell mitosis, games about protein synthesis, I have heard poems about meiosis and puppet shows about osmosis, diffusion and filtration.
Overcoming the fear of meeting expectations and possibly being wrong, allows students to let their talents really shine.

I provide the students with the following basic description of the assignment and allow them to figure it out.

Cell Processes Project

Use your talents to demonstrate your understanding of one of the following topics:

    1.  Cell Structures and Functions

   2.   Comparison of Plant and Animal Cells

   3.    Photosynthesis

   4.    DNA and RNA

   4.    Protein Synthesis

   5.    Mitosis

   6.     Cellular Respiration
You may create anything that clearly demonstrates your knowledge of the subject matter.  You may accomplish this by:
creating a work of art,
composing a song,
writing a skit or play,
creating a model,
making visual aid posters,
developing a game,
or anything that you can do to creatively demonstrate your comprehension of the topic material, vocabulary and processes. 

You must have clear instructions, as you will not be presenting these projects.  You may work independently or you may work with a partner.  This partner must be from the same period biology class. 
Be creative.
Do not just copy work from your text or notes.  Repeating the information given or making some applications (e.g. cell models, reports) usually ensures an average grade. 

One of my favorite outcomes of this project  was
The Mitosis Blues, written and performed by a pair of students more than 10 years ago. In their honor, I still use my best Elvis Presley when I sing it to my Biology classes. 

 Mitosis Blues

Interphase, o oh yeah
Prophase, o oh yeah
Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase and all of those daughter cells, o oh yeah
That’s the way mitosis reproduces all our new cells, o oh yeah

In interphase the cell grows and organelles duplicate.
The cell continues functioning, holding metabolic rate.
The chromosomes replicate and centrioles migrate, o oh yeah.

In prophase the nuclear membrane disappears.
The centrioles reach the poles of the biosphere.
The spindle fibers shoot out and grab those centromeres, o oh yeah.

Interphase, o oh yeah
Prophase, o oh yeah
Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase and all of those daughter cells, o oh yeah
That’s the way mitosis reproduces all our new cells, o oh yeah

You see the cells of the human body have forty-six chromosomes.
Made up of coils of Dan called chromatin and held together by centromeres.
Mitosis guarantees that when the cells divide that each new cell
will have the exact same genetic information as the parent cells.

Interphase, o oh yeah
Prophase, o oh yeah
Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase and all of those daughter cells, o oh yeah
That’s the way mitosis reproduces all our new cells, o oh yeah

I metaphase the fibers push and pull those chromosomes.
Trying to create an equator of autosomes.
Cause, when the centromeres snap we’ll get double chromosomes, o oh yeah.

In  anaphase the membrane begins to make two spheres.
The centrioles duplicate and start to reappear.
The chromosomes are pulled in to separate hemispheres, o oh yeah.

Interphase, o oh yeah
Prophase, o oh yeah
Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase and all of those daughter cells, o oh yeah
That’s the way mitosis reproduces all our new cells, o oh yeah

Daughter cells are the outcome of these steps of mitosis.
These daughter cells must return to interphase to regain the size and organelle number that will guarantee the continuance of those specific cells.
These specialized somatic cells will continue to reproduce within your body.

Interphase, o oh yeah
Prophase, o oh yeah
Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase and all of those daughter cells, o oh yeah
That’s the way mitosis reproduces all our new cells, o oh yeah

Sing this a couple of times to a class and you'd be surprised how many of them remember the phases of the cell cycle, without a hitch.

The point is to utilize rubrics that are clear enough to provide direction, without eliminating the opportunity for students explore the learning process by utilizing their imaginations and creativity.  Anyone can follow a recipie, but the food seems to always taste better when love is one of the ingredients. Don't allow rubrics to take the passio out of the learning process.