Monday, October 31, 2011

John Wooden's Expectations of Team Members

  • Always be a gentleman.
  • Always be a team player.
  • Always be on time whenever time is involved.
  • Always be learning.
  • Always be enthusiastic, dependable and cooperative.
  • Always be earning the right to be proud and confident.
  • Always keep your emotions under control without losing fight or aggressiveness. 
  • Be spirited, not temperamental.
  • Always work to improve, knowing you can never improve enough. 
Although Coach Wooden presented these to his basketball teams more than three decades ago, these basic rules are a perfect set of expectations for educators to share with their students of how to act in both in and out of the classroom.  Each of us could model these as the bas

We are all called to be polite as we deal with each other, face to face or in groups.
As the acronym goes, Together Each Achieves More.
Being on time is a sign of respect toward those we will work with or work for.
The quote states, "Live as if you will die tomorrow, learn as if you will live forever."
We will all work with someone else in our lifetime, cooperation is an absolute must.
Our actions earn us the right to be proud.
Balance in our emotions is the key to understanding and respect.
We must believe in ourselves.
Never be satisfied, always strive to improve.

If we as educators could get our students to live out these basic guidelines in our classrooms and schools, how much better off would our students be as they face a world that is in a constant state of change?  How much easier would their transition be, into our adult world?  And, how effective would they be in their role as an adult, with co-workers, friends and family?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes Failing is a Good Thing

"Success is never final, failure is never fatal,
it is courage that counts."
                                              - Winston Churchill -

What if these individuals allowed their failures to get in the way of their eventual success?

Lance Armstrong ended dead last in his first cycling race?

Lucille Ball was told to, "try another profession," when she first took up acting.

Robin Williams was voted "Least Likely to Succeed" in his senior class.

Walt Disney was fired from his job on a newspaper because, "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas."

R.H. Macy failed seven times before his store was finally successful in New York.

Elvis Presley was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry.

Babe Ruth also held the strike out record.

Michael Jordan missed over 9,000 free throws, lost almost 300 games and failed 26 times on game winning shots.

And of course there is the ultimate record in failure:

  • Failed in business in 1831
  • Defeated for a seat in the legislature in1832
  • Failed in business in 1833
  • Suffered a nervous breakdown in 1836
  • Lost for Speaker of the House in 1838
  • Defeated as an elector in 1840
  • Defeated for Congress in 1843
  • Defeated for Senate 1855
  • Lost Vice Presidential election in 1856
  • Lost in a Senate race in 1858

Abraham Lincoln who was elected the sixteenth President of the United States.

As educators it is vital that we teach our students to accept failure as a step on the road to success.  That, it is in understanding what caused the failure that they can gain insight into what might be the correct path to choose.  It is the fear of failure that paralyzes their initiative and they do not continue to progress torward their ultimate goal. An even greater injustice is, if the fear of failure keeps them from making any attempt what so ever.   It is the responsibility of the educator to create an environment based upon challenge that does not instill fear and failure that is celebrated as a stepping stone towoard personal success.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why Do Students Hate Word Problems?

If you surveyed your classroom, how many students would say they like word problems?
20%? 10%? 5%? 

I actually did this in my science classes the other day.  Out of eighty-nine students over three class periods, representing sophomores through seniors, I had six students who claimed to like word problems and another three who did the half arm extension of, they kind of like word problems.  Let us give those students the benefit of the doubt and go with all nine students who claim to like word problems. Nine out of eighty-nine is a whopping 10.1%.  This is just about right for classes in a typical high school, when it comes to their desire to do word problems.

Why is there such a disdain for word problems?  Why do many students even balk at attempting word problems?  Why do word problems provoke fear in the hearts of the adolescent scholar?

As a science teacher, it is an absolute necessity that students work through the process of solving word problems.  I do not have the luxury of simply giving worksheets of repetitious, rote equation based problems.
Whether it is stoichiometry and gas law problems in chemistry or projectile motion or density problems in physics, students must be able to read a word problem, extract the necessary values and determine a method for solving for the unknown?

Over the years I have discussed this dilemma of word problems with the students who have made their way through my classroom. After years of gathering this anecdotal evidence, I have come up with three basic reasons that students avoid, dislike, or fear word problems: The Battle of the Left and Right Brain, The Language Barrier and The Lack of a Plan.
  • The Battle of the Left and Right Brain
    • Most students are dominant on one side of the brain.  They are either linear, numeric and organized on the leftt side of the brain or they are, artistic, verbal and feeling on the right side of the brain.  Word problems demand that students use both sides of the brain. Heaven forbid, that students use the left side for numbers and the right side for words simultaneously. They might blow a fuse. 
    • For a word problem determining how far a person traveling on a plane for a certian period of time would travel at a given rate, students dominant on the left want to know the numbers, the formula and how to find an answer.  Students dominant on the right side of the brain want to know where they are going, what are they wearing and what movie is on the plane.
    • Students on the left side of the brain can draw out the numbers but may confuse their significanance because the wording does not make sense.  Students on the right side, can decipher the words but do not necessarily have a purpose for the numbers.  
    • A bridge needs to be created to bring the two sides together.  Left sided individuals need to create charts to transfer the numeric values into an organized meaningful process.  Right sided individuals can use diagrams to transfer the words into a meaningful mathematical purpose
  • The Language Barrier
    • How many word problems have just too much information. Most students get overwhelmed by the sheer wordiness of the word problems.  If their is general discomfort with the math that is only increased by superfluous wording and unfamiliar vocabulary. 
    • For example: Johnny walks his shih tzu around his neighborhood every afternoon.  The evening constitutional usually takes about forty five minutes for the two of them to cover the five block trek through the neighborhood.  If the walk consists of one and a half miles, what is the average speed that they walk?
    • There are forty nine words in this word problem.  The majority of them are not necessary to solve the problem. Many students would have difficulty with several of the words, shih tzu, constitutional and trek. While it is important to increase vocabulary and integrate science and language, students who have difficulty with word problems will simply avoid this type of  word problem due the seemingly imposing amount of words. 
    • Students  must be given the opportunity to develop a sense of success with solving word problems gradually.  With time and greater success, students learn to identify the necessary information and filter out the wording that is unecessary to their problem solving. 
  •  The Lack of a Plan
    • Students need a problem solving plan.  Not a recipe, but an actual problem solving plan that is generic to all types of problems. 
    • I believe the best example of a plan for Problem Solving comes from Rafe Esquith in his book, Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire:
 I have always appreciated the simplicity of this approach, wheter it is for Esquith's grammar school students or AP Calculus students the plan holds true.  I also love the "Put Down Your Pencil" reminder for the brainstorming portion.  Too many students never get started because they don't know where they are going.  This plan forces students to truly develop a means for determining where to start, where to end and the path to choose.  

By providing the proper approach, diffusing their fear and providing a concise plan to solve word problems, most teachers can give students the opportunity to develop success in solving word problems.  They may not ever like them, but they most definitely won't avoid them.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Formula Cards

I create formula cards for each of my students to assist them in maniuplating formulas to isolate various variables and help them to solve for each part of a given equation.

Apple - Earth - Water Analogy

All the water that will ever be is, right now.
                                            - National Geographic, October 1993 -

Water Apple Analogy

Pretend that an apple is planet Earth, round, beautiful, and full of good things. Notice it's skin, hugging and protecting the surface. Water covers approximately 70% of its surface.  Cut the apple into quarters. Toss one quarter (25%) away. This one quarter you just removed represents dry land. What is left (75%) represents how much of the earth is covered with water – oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams.
Remove the peel from one of the three remaining quarters. This represents 3% of water on earth that is freshwater. The remaining pieces represent the saltwater of the oceans. Cut the peel into three equal pieces. Set two pieces aside. The remaining piece represents 1% of the freshwater not frozen in the polar ice caps (2%). Of this remaining 1%, not all of it is potable – some is contaminated by pollution.

Should the Human Bill of Rights include an ammendment to provide
potable water to every person?
Who owns the water? 
Should corporations be able to manipulate and control the water?
Who are the watchdogs for this very valuable, precious, non-renewable resource?

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.
                                                    - LORAN EISELY -

Monday, October 17, 2011

Science Quotes and Images

This is a simple video clip of Science Quotes and Images that I show periodically in my classroom. The images certainly capture the student's imagination and will quite often lead to them actually reading the quotes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Favorites - FLOW

Who owns the Water?

The documentary FLOW by Irena Salina is an excellent introduction to the manipulation of nature's resources. The movie focuses on the damage and social injustice caused through the ongoing privitization of water. Flow provides an opportunity to get students to link about the limited availability of drinkable water and how control of this "natural resource" may soon become possibly the most valuable substance on Earth.

The FLOW website offers an abundance of information about water and a series of links to help students take action.  

Click here for the  Movie Sheets link for a accompanying handout for the movie

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Born to Learn Blog

The Born to Learn blog contains a series of short vimeo clips concerning the nature of learning.
These videos touch on many important aspects of why students find difficulty in today's classroom.

Our brains are hardwired to seek out learning from the understanding of the big picture to then put together an understanding of how all of the details fit.  However, in an attempt to meet expectations of high stakes testing and demand for grades and control of classroom management, many classrooms today are based upon rote learning, scripted lessons and formulaic teaching.  Value is not placed upon the process of learning but instead is focused on finding correct answers, to take a test and get a grade.  To little time is spent in problem solving and participation in the learning, while most time is spent in repetitious and methodical rote learning.

Like anything learning is about being in the moment.  The best time to learn is when our brains are open, willing and able to comprehend the material in a means acceptable to our past knowledge and current abilities. We actually learn best when we are challenged to stretch our minds without fear of failure nor artificial constraints.

We learn best when we are allowed to model the processes in style similar to the moments of play we enjoyed as a child, no matter what our age.  We desire the interactive nature of play to understand how things fit. It is important for us in the learning process to see others engaged in the process and model what we see.

For more from Born to Learn 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thank-you and Goodbye, Brother Donald Mansir FSC

Brother Donald Mansir FSC, passed away this weekend.

He was my mentor, teacher and friend and the main reason I became an educator. 

Brother Donald, you lived the 12 Virtues of a Good Teacher
and in doing so touched my life in so many ways.

Gravity (Seriousness)
You allowed me to enjoy my years in high school but made sure I understood my responsibilities and how to meet expectations.  You provided a balance of the importance of appreciating all of my talents, even the ones I had not yet discovered.

You had a special way of drawing out my thoughts and allowing me to express myself by simply waiting silently with that look of “wanting more”.

You enjoyed the finer things in life but lived in simplicity.  You enjoyed each and every person for who we were.  

You provided me ample opportunity to explore myself and my world with a sense of safety and security without impinging my freedom to be me.

You lived a life of education, your passion for learning and the value of knowledge was a gift that I was fortunate to witness and learn from.

You very seldom showed anger or frustration even though I may not have always been the most cooperative of individuals.  You were always a model of restraint and calm.

Reserve (Self-control)
You knew your limits and you knew my limits and you always found a way to work within those parameters to find success for each of us.

You were one of the most gentle men I ever knew.  Your quiet voice spoke volumes to me loud and clear.  

You brought an energy to all you did through your passion for excellence. I look back on ‘Man of La Mancha” and realize that is the life an educator leads, but only with a zeal for the value of an education.  

You brought an air of safety and security to a very awkward time in my life. I knew always that when I was in your presence that all would be well.

You are the main reason I am an Educator today. Your example goes far beyond anything I could have learned from a book or in a classroom.  

You were the model of generosity, in giving of yourself in time, energy and knowledge that I may be the person I am today.    

Thank-you and Goodbye
Brother Donald
I Will Miss You


Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Love When Students Get It.

I really enjoy getting an email from a former student containing a lesson, a link or video from their college course work that reminded them of my classroom. 

For me it is validation that they got it!!!

I recently recieved this You Tube connection from one of my former
Environmental Science students.
It is a wonderful message about the life cycle of STUFF and
our ongoing pursuit of STUFF.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Procrastinate! Who me? I'll do it tomorrow.

Getting started is half -done.
And yet, half the battle is sometimes simple recognition of the problem.
Most of us at one time or another have come across an activity, task, assignment or challenge that we are just not ready, willing or able to attack.
In those cases we find every possible means possible to delay the inevitable. 
What kind of procrastinator are you? 

• Focus on what’s realistic rather than what’s ideal; work toward excellence rather than perfection.
• Seek support from others before you’re under too much pressure.
• Deliberately make one mistake each day.
• Make daily to-do lists with small, broken-down tasks that you can complete on a given day.
• Commit to rewarding yourself for setting and achieving realistic goals.
• Admit that you choose what you do with your time; work on self-acceptance skills

• Learn to make realistic judgments about the time and effort required to complete a task. Ask a friend for help, if needed.
• Remind yourself that choosing not to make a decision about a task or action is itself a decision.
• Don’t allow "what if" thinking to take you out of action.
• Break down tasks into manageable parts to reduce anxiety.
• Every day, do at least part of one thing you’ve been putting off because you’re uncomfortable about it.
• Consider the aspects of a project that are exciting to you, rather than just the challenges.

• Strive for moderation: avoid speaking and thinking in dramatic, emotional language.
• Remind yourself: you may not be interested in a task until you start.
• Identify motivators for a task and use them rather than using stress as a motivator.
• Keep a record of your "crises": what triggered them, how you reacted.
• Create deadlines for yourself as a way to use your natural adrenaline rush to complete tasks earlier.
• Regularly engage in activities that will give you an adrenaline rush-- play competitive sports, go out with friends, or take up a new hobby.

• Recognize and respect your personal limitations. 
• Rank your priorities in life and post this list somewhere. Make choices about your time in accordance with this list.
• Incorporate time to relax into your schedule—and learn to enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
• Focus your thoughts on how to gain personal control, rather than how tasks control you.
• Learn to say "no" to tasks when appropriate. Try saying a pleasant "no" each day.
• Envision life as an adventure in making choices, not a struggle to do everything.
• Make daily to-do lists based on true priorities

• Rank your priorities in life, and devote your energies accordingly. Post this list somewhere.
• Reflect on the ways you could potentially respond to a task before acting.• Be aware when you’re choosing defiance. Ask yourself whether long-term regrets are worth short-term pleasure.
• Strive to act, rather than react.
• Learn self-calming strategies.
• Own up to your actions—especially if you did not complete a task you agreed to.
• Choose one task every week that you will complete in your own way in order to satisfy your need for individuality.

• Try to differentiate between dreams that are vague and goals that are specific and measurable.
• Make your dream into a goal: define what, when, where, who, why, and how you will complete it.
• Keep a to-do list and assign yourself a few tasks each day.
• Use an alarm or timer as a way to remind you when to get to work.
• Schedule time for creative daydreaming.
• Plan out projects and tasks in writing.
• To counteract mind-wandering, get active—explain things aloud, teach the material to someone, or tackle a small part of your project.

 This information was given to me during a presentation on building student study skills
at an AP Workshop a few years ago. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Arcadia Water Fest 2011 - October 15

The Arcadia Water Fest returns Saturday, October 15, 2011 to Arcadia County Park from 9:00am to 2:00pm.
This free program provided by the City of Arcadia, the Upper San Gabriel Municipal Water District is a wonderful  opportunity for teachers to expose students to the importance of water, to our community. 

Monday, October 03, 2011

Partners and Groups

When students pair up for activities, discussions, peer editing or labs, it is very difficult to keep students on track when they only work with their friends or those they are most comfortable.  Creating variety in grouping students is vital to a classroom but can be time consuming.

One method I use is a partner sheet. I create a sheet with 6, 8, 10 items that are relevant to the subject or even the specific topic we are studying.  I have images and words for each item on the sheet along with a space for a name.  I try to put these on cardstock so that they can be kept and used for the entire year.
An example of a simple machine sheet I use in physics is below....

I have students choose a partner for each of the items on the card.  Each student signs their partners card and their partner signs their card.  When I need students to partner up, I will tell them to get together with their pulley partner. Students check their cards and move to the students they signed up with as pulley partners.  I can change partners in an instant by simply asking students to switch to their wheel partner, and so on...

By creating three or four of these cards throughout the year, I can have a variety of groupings at any time.  English teachers can create cards with the characters from a novel, ie. "Move to your Holden Caufield partner."  In Spanish it could be vocabulary words. In Math it could be math symbols.  The options are unlimited. 

To increase variety in grouping, I have guidelines like, you can only ask one person from your current table to sign your card, or you must get a partner from each row of the classroom. I remind students to keep these cards in their notebook so that we can use throughout the year.  They can also be useful to trigger a quick review of material throughout the year.