Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Wonder of It All

Have you ever examined the human skeleton and truly tried to understand the engineering behind this amazing piece of machinary that we each depend upon?

This is a constant theme in my classroom. 
Science does not kill the magic, it only enhances it.

The example I use in my anatomy class is the structure of our forearms. 
How amazing is the design mechanism between the ulna and the radius?
How perfectly the crown like head of the radius fits neatly into the radial notch on the ulna
at the crux of the elbow.
Likewise, the ulnar notch on the radius fits snugly on the curved head of the ulna at the wrist.

Due to this marvelous piece of engineering genius we can rotate our wrists, unlike every other non-primate on earth.  How many simple actions do we accomplish each day beacause we can rotate our wrists, brushing our teeh and hair (hopefully with different brushes), flipping pancakes, tying our shoes, etc... etc...
Not to mention the amazing feats we can accomplish on the athletic field,
in art and music studios or on stage. 
Imagine going through an entire day without being able to rotate your wrist. What would our lives look like? This all but taken for granted piece of the amazing design of our human machine is only a minute example of the wonder of all of the universe. 

It is through the magic of science that the wonder and awe only becomes that much more amazing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

And it all began with a teacher...

I have a calendar on my desk with a quote or saying about teaching and education for each day,

The following was the excerpt from November 21st.  This piece was given to me, my first year as an educator, by my mentor teacher. Unfortunately, in moving from school to school it somehow was misplaced.  When I read this again yesterday, it brought back a lot of the memories of those first few years of learning to become a teacher and the inspiration I recieved from so many educators, that I have worked with.

Teachers are the reason why airplanes fly,
computers program, ballets are danced,
novels are written, cancers are researched,
lawsuits won, skyscrapers built, and
“art” decorates refrigerator doors.
Life’s biggest, boldest, brightest ideas
--- life’s honors, achievements and
accomplishments --- occur because
somewhere, sometime, someone touched
our lives --- and it all began with a

Thank you to all who have touched my life as an educator.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Predation and Survival of the Fittest

Whether you teach Biology and Darwinian Evolution, or Environmental Science and you need to explain Predation, or even an Economics course where you need to explain Survival of the Fittest, you need to utilize "The Battle of Kruger" video available on You Tube.

This real life battle of survival between Water Buffalo and Lions is a tremendous piece of real life Biology.
And, don't be surprised when the Crocodile gets in to the act.  I'll let the video, speak for itself.

Letter to the Teacher at Semester's End

As the first semester comes to a close, I ask the students to write me a letter as a checkpoint for themselves and for me.  The questions allow both of us to look back at their journey in my class, from where they started to where they are now and to what they hope for the next semester.

Letter to Mr. Miller

To reflect on this semester,  you will write a letter to me addressing ALL of the topics given below. Feel free to write on any additional themes that you may have a need to express.

Must be typed and turned in as a Word Document.
Think before you write, Consider, both what you say (the meaningfulness of your thoughts) and how you say it (grammar and mechanics). It does not need to be formal, but it should be interesting and coherent (logical and understandable).
Be honest and have fun with this: don’t make it a chore.

Due: December ??,

*      Describe your thoughts and feelings about (course) at the beginning of the year compared with today.
*      What did you hope to accomplish at the beginning of the semester? Were you able to do this to your satisfaction?
*      What were your favorite aspects of the class?
*      Describe something that was very difficult for you, and how you were able to persevere?
*      What did you learn about yourself through this class?
*      What are some of the important things you learned from this class other than (subject)?
*      Describe your favorite memory from this class.
*      What would help you to succeed in this class next semester?
*      What advice would you give to a student taking this class next year?

I find that this less formal style of course evaluation provides more information for me as design the next semester or the following year. I am able to better evaluate what was effective for the students and those moments that were truly memorable for them in their learning process.  

But, if you can't handle the truth, don't ask for it, because students have no problem with sharing their likes and their dislikes. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Using SMART Notebook Software and the SMART Recorder

One of the most amazing aspects of my using the SMART Board and SMART Notebook software in my classroom, is how far my classroom now extends.  The SMART Board has extended the reach of my classroom both for my students and for me. 

Utilizing the SMART Notebook software I can take my students on field trips without leaving my classroom. We have travelled to Mono Lake using Google earth to measure shoreline changes of the lake.  We have followed the path of the LA River from the Arroyo Seco and San Gabriel River watersheds to the ocean.  I have visited Arlington National Cemetery on Veteran's Day and New Orleans to see the effect of Katrina. Through the use of SMART recordings and You Tube, I have taught my students in their home when they are sick or when they are travelling with their family.

My classroom  has travelled all over the world by posting SMART recordings and FLIP cams to post You Tube videos that have been used by students throughout the country and around the world. I have taught students Dalton's Law in Virginia and medical students in Saudi Arabia the skeletal structures of the Ulna and Radius.

The expansion of my of my classroom is only limited to the breadth of my imagination and my willingness to share the lessons I wish to provide.  While there is a greater workload in the beginning, once the materials have been created they can be used again and again in the future.  Once posted on You Tube or my online classroom (Moodle)  they become available for my own students or anyone else around the world who can put them to use.

The technology is only limited to my willingness to embrace it.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Collaborative Learning Teams


"The strength of the team is each individual member.
The strength of each member is the team."
                                                                 - Phil Jackson

The development of a network of collaborative learning teams within you classroom can create an educational environment where the responsibility for learning lies upon both the students and teacher who comprise that leaning community.

Learners learn by teaching one another. When students teach one another they take ownership of the material by passing it along they actually make it part of themselves. 

The process of teaching one another is by its very nature acive learning.  Student engagement increases the opportunities to learn. 

The saying goes that "Two heads are better than one."  Sharing knowledge creates opportunities for more ideas, alternate approaches, increased possibilites and new perspectives.

Students who have difficulty in the larger classroom may find comfort in smaller groups. This provides avenues for increased communication and the unleashing of ideas that may never be shared in a larger group setting. 

Collaboration brings about an ease and comfort that encourages further attendance in the class as interdependence breeds both responsibility and commraderie. 

Although the goal is increased learning for all, the idea of positive competition among smaller groups may lead to greater problem solving success.

Collaboration encourages the development of leadership skills.

Students who work in groups learn to delegate tasks to maximize group success.

Collaboration increases the development of time mangement skills.    

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."
                                                             - Henry Ford

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Chaos Towers Revisited

The Conceptual Physics class worked on chaos towers to demonstrate concepts of Physics, Mechanics, Falling Objects, Newton's Law, Potential and Kinetic Energy.


Teaching Physics Toy - Construction Toy Equipment - Child Construction Toy - Educational Learning Toy

Students work in three groups to construct the chaos towers. They then draw vector diagrams representing velocity of the marble through the track.  Students then identify five concepts from first semester physics and explain how they are represented on the chaos tower.  Lastly, they evaluate each member of their group against the Three C's: collaboration, communication and critical thinking. 

This year one of my students put together a quick video of the chaos towers in action. 


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Who Killed the Electric Car

Chris Paine's documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car" is an excellent film to get students to understand the problems faced when trying to initiate ecological change vs. cultural, economic and political pressures.
The analysis of who is to blame for stopping the electrical vehicles in the 1990's forces students to understand that all parties must be involved in bringing about environmental change.

From consumers to oil companies, from the technology to the government, students must understand that the process of change begins with their own choices. That their power lies in the choices they make as a consumer. 

I look forward to Chris Paine's follow-up "Revenge of the Electric Car."

Monday, November 07, 2011

Revisiting Confucius

More than 2500 years ago Confucius has been credited for stating the following words concerning how we learn:

I hear and I forget...
I see and I remember...
I do and I understand.

Not that I would even compare myself as an intellectual equal to Confucius, but I would like to make an addition to his words.

I hear and I forget...
I see and I remember...
I do and I understand...
I teach others and make it my own.

It is in the ability of one person to share knowledge with another that the knowledge truly becomes their own to share.  When the information reaches that point of synthesis that it truly becomes clear enough in one's own mind that there is comfort in passing it on to another.  It is in that act that true ownership of the concept is understood and confirmed.

How can we as educators provide the opportunities for our students to gain ownership of the knowledge?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Study Card Rings

There are a tremendous amount of great sites online for creating online study aids
(see - quizlet.com), but nothing beats creating and working through your own set of study cards.   Whether it is a full stack of 3 x 5 cards wrapped in a rubber band, or one inch strips cut from 3 x 5 cards and hole punched on a snap key ring.  The actual pocess of creating hand written study cards is a study staple for most students.

I demonstrate this process to my chemistry students when they need to learn the cations and anions that will be used in naming and creating inonic formulas.  To assist students in learning the ions, I create three sets of twenty ions that students are responsible for knowing.  On one side of card stock I have the names of the ions neatly organized in a four card by five card grid created on an excel spreadsheet.  On the opposite side I have the ion formulas with their ionic charge.  On this side I do not put grid lines.  When students cut them out, they only use the name grid lines and that way the lines do not need to match up (for some students this is a distraction if there are random lines on their cards).

I take part of a class period for the students to cut out and punch the cards and place them on a snap ring that I provide for them. It is worth the class time to have students complete the task.  This garauntees every student has the complete set and leaves the student with the idea that they are of some importance since you gave up class time to make the ring card sets.

I have divided the ion sets on three separate color cards and quiz the students on each set separately.  I find that ionic naming, writng balanced chemical equations and stoichiometry all go more quickly and smoother when the students know these ions from memory.

I then suggest that students can create their own study sets in any of their classes by cutting the
3 x 5 cards into one inch strips or they can by the pre-made blank sets at most bookstores or teacher supply stores.

Half the job, is having the correct tools.