Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Real Education Is To Make People More Human

The excerpt below is taken from the website Praying Each Day, providing a daily reflection for use by educators in Lasallian schools.  Each day a story or historical reference is associated with the reflection or prayer for the day.  I cannot think of a better way to share this message than to simply include it, as is, on my blog. No matter if you are Lasallian or Jesuit, believe in Buddha or Jehovah, follow the Koran or Torah, the value of education is in making the world better for all people. 

May 31st

Let Us Remember, We Are in the Holy Presence of God.

In the 1980s, the Headteacher of a school in Boston in the United States wrote a letter to new teachers who joined the school each year. In her letter, she mentioned that she is a victim of a Nazi concentration camp. There she saw how some people had mis-used the good education they had received:
  • highly-qualified engineers had built gas chambers;
  • educated doctors experimented on children;
  • trained nurses killed babies;
  • some of those who did well at school and university then gassed men, women and children, and burned their bodies in huge ovens.
This headteacher said that she is suspicious of education because she has seen some highly-educated people behave in a most inhumane way. In her letter to new teachers she reminds them that real education is to make young people more human.

During the Second World War, Adolf Eichmann had been in charge of what was called “The Final Solution” of the Jews - the murder of all Jews throughout Europe. Eichmann escaped from Germany at the end of the War, and hid in Argentina until Israeli agents captured him in 1960 and took him to Israel. There he was placed on trial. Many people commented on how ordinary a person he looked - they had thought he would somehow look evil. He denied responsibility for what he had done, saying that he was only following orders. He was convicted of “Crimes against Humanity”, and was executed two days later on this day, 31st May, in 1962.

Let us pray:
God our Father,
I pray that I may live in such a way
that I choose wisely each day,
and take responsibility for the choices that I make. 
Inspire me to use for good my education
and all the challenges that I will face,
that I may grow more fully human,
and do good to those around me.  
Teach me to discern good from evil
that I may grow in integrity of character
and develop a true sense of values
through following Jesus, your Son and our Brother.

St. John Baptist de la Salle, Pray for Us.
Live Jesus in Our Hearts, Forever.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

100 Short Quotes by Saint John Baptist De La Salle

100 Short Quotes - Saint John  Baptist De La Salle, provides a categorize listing of  appropriate and functional quotations compiled by Nicholas Hutchinson FSC.

The quotes are well organized in the following categories: In the Presence of God, Calling, Praying, Example, Being Faithful, Relating and Touching Hearts.  These quotes can be useful in staff development materials, school documents, visual presentations, and liturgies.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Defining Success

John Wooden defines success in the following way, "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable."

In the most perfect situation for education this would also be the model for assessment of student success.
Students and teachers would measure learning based upon each student's growth from a baseline and monitor that growth throughout the year as the student meets individual benchmarks toward an goal agreed upon by both the student and the teacher.

Students may be poorly prepared for a variety of reasons, including transferring from a different school, inconsistent teachers, poor classroom environment, family situation, or learning differences.  These students start behind and are constantly measured against the standards of excellence as determined by the students at the top of the class.  These struggling students may spend an entire year working as diligently as possible, completing as many assignments as possible and actually learning measurably more content than other students in the class, and yet they may only achieve score of 75% and earn a C grade.

Would we ever start a 100 m race and one runner begin 20 meters behind the other runners?  Even though the runner who starts 20 m behind may run 100 m in less time than the other runners he would still be behind the other racers at the finish line.  Does this mean the runner does not deserve to be measured by the effort exerted and time accomplished?  If his time in 100 m is comprable or better than the winner of the race, should'nt  he be rewarded for that or still be penalized for starting 20 meters behind?  

Should the student who begins with a B+ average and maintains the B+ average be assessed in the same way that a D student who improves to a C+?  If both students are doing the same work, assignments, quizzes and tests, the D student who demonstrated a greater improvement has probably done more actual learning. Should'nt that be rewarded?

In order for assessment to be authentic for the student, it must be a measure of learning rather than a measure of completion of work. The dilemma remains how to create authentic assessment that is about learning and not grades.    

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quizlet - Great Online Tool

Although I am an advocate of project based learning and utilizing education that serves the multiple intelligences, there are some basic skills, ideas and concepts where learning comes down to rote memorization.

I use a very practical,useful and intutitive site online to provide flashcards to assist students with that material which must simply be learned through memory and rote skills.

Quizlet (http://quizlet.com/) is a wonderful site for educators and students to create and use flash cards to provide learning and study opportunites for vocabulary and definitions, formulas, terms, elements and symbols, etc... etc...

Educators and students alike can create their own databank of flashcards for any content area. Sets of flashcards can be assigned to specific classes or students or they can be made public for anyone registered with Quizlet's use.  For most content and subject areas there are vast amounts of pre-made flashcard sets produced by both students and teachers available for public use.

Quizlet provides opportunities for students to learn, review and practice at their own pace, through a variety of options built in to the Quizlet program.   Students can work through the flashcards one side at a time or both sides simultaneously.  Once students feel comfortable with the material they can check their understanding through a learning tool where they must complete the information from the opposite side of the card that they are being shown.  Students can also test themselves with a Quizlet generated test based upon the information in the flashcard set.

Students can also learn and practice through two games, scatter and space race.  Scatter provides both sides of the flash cards randomly placed on the computer screen.  Students must move the partners together to make them disappear. My students enjoy scatter on the SMART Board where they can compete with each other for the best time to remove all the terms.  The space race game is completed by typing in the correct answers before the clue slides off the screen.

Quizlet, provides great options for both students and teachers to tap into those concepts that must simply  be processed through repetition and rote memory.

Monday, May 23, 2011

John Wooden's Four Steps For Effective Teaching.

Confucius said,

“I hear I forget,
I see I remember,
I do I understand”





Whether you are teaching addition and subtraction, or the quadratic formula, the bones of the skeleton or the eight steps of digestion, a lay-up or the intricacies of the half court trap, to be an effective educator the steps do not change.  The educator must be able to provide the student each of these four levels of the teaching process in order to impart knowledge.

Explanation must include both the basic how, what, when and where, but most importantly the why.  If the learner cannot understand he value of the information or skill, the knowledge will not be passed on to long term memory.  In order to become a useful part of the student's knowledge base, there must be a need to associate it to previous knowledge as well as future need.

Demonstration must be done without a preconceived idea of what the learner knows.  The demonstration should address all aspects of the skill from the most rudimentary step to the ultimate conclusion. Demonstration must include the basic steps from beginning to end. Even the most experienced student should find value in reviewing the  basic components of a process or skill.

Imitation must provide the opportunity to succeed without a fear of failure but an incorporation of failure with correction as a means of understanding.  Students should be provided the opportunity to mirror the instructor throughout the process or skill.  It is through imitation that the student gains an understanding of the concept and a confidence in their own ability to succeed.

Repetition must be enough to develop a comfort level while keeping the information fresh.  Avoid at all costs the drill and kill that is detrimental to the ultimate goal of learning. Repetition should provide insight for both the instructor and the student as to the level of mastery and the need for further instruction and/or practice.  Repetition should serve as the measuring stick as to the next steps in the learning process.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Movie Sheet Data Base

Using video and Hollywood movies to introduce a topic, provide a visual refernece for a concept or intiate a discussion can be an effective part of any teacher's methodologies.  There are a myriad of great films and documentaries that can be incorporated into any classroom and all subjects.  The difference between this type of multimedia being viewed as an actual teaching tool as opposed to a simple time filler is how the educator incorporates the material into the lesson and provides opportunity for students to truly think critically about the subject matter.

To often students do not see value in viewing movies because they see them as simply time filler or something that is used when a substitute teacher is in the classroom.  Drawing students into the movie or documentary is the key to being able to utilize this tool effectively in the classroom as a learning tool.  One means of keeping students attention is to provide a viewing sheet to pinpoint students focus on the concepts and ideas that the hopes they will understand.  Movie viewing sheets provide an opportunity for both the student and the teacher to focus on the useful material in the film and provide value beyond simply seeing the film. 

There is a tremendous website available that provides viewing sheets for many of the videos, documentaries and Hollywood movies that are being used in classrooms all over the world.  MoviesSheets.com provides a data base of  these teacher developed viewing sheets, organized by subject matter, film name and grade level.  The sheets are available in multiple formats and easy to download and print.

I find anything that saves me time and makes it so I don't have to reinvent the wheel for everything I do, is of tremendous value.  Afterall, most good teachers are lesson thieves, they take ideas from other teachers, tweak it to fit their classroom and style, and make them their own.    

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lesson Planning for Multiple Intelligences

“I believe that the brain has evolved over millions of years to be responsive to different kinds of content in the world. Language content, musical content, spatial content, numerical content etc…”
                                                         -- Howard Gardner --

When developing a lesson I will periodically utilize a multiple intelligences planner to focus on presenting materials to all seven of the intelligences; Logical, Spatial, Musical, Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal.

I will fill in the following chart to make sure I am providing opportunities for each type of learner in my classroom to find success by utilizing their strengths to process the concepts and application of the information of the given topic, theme or lesson.

I ask a series of questions to gaurantee that I am looking for opportunities to address each of the seven multiple intelligences.

How can I bring numbers and calculations into this lesson?
Are there methods of classification and organization that can be utilized?
Will students incorporate logic and critical thinking as part of the learning process?

Can I utilize visualizations, color, and visual aids to this presentation?
Will students draw or create images to coincide with the lesson?

How can I bring music and sound to this lesson?
Can I utilize rhythm or meoldy to present this lesson?
Can key points be linked to sounds?

How can involve whole body experiences?
Are there hands on activities that can be utilized?
Can students move to reference key points and ideas?

How am I utilizing the spoken, written and read word in this lesson?
Can students utilize vocabulary?
Are stories, metaphors and analogies useful to this lesson?

Are students asked to relate their own experience to this lesson?
Can students evoke emotion, feelings or memories?
Are students given an opportunity to make personal choices?

Are students engaged in peer sharing?
Can group activities be used to simulate this information?
Is cooperative learning possible for this lesson?

Monday, May 16, 2011


As an educator do you design your lessons to incorporate the development of lifeskills that students will utilize beyond the walls of your classroom?  Can students see the connections between what is learned in your classroom and the world that they curretly or will live in? Do students find value in what you teach, or do they ask, "When will I use this in real life? 

The list below is a reminder of the LIFESKILLS that students must leave our classrooms with in order to function in the world we share.  

To act according to a sense of right and wrong
To do something when it needs to be done
To be willing to alter plans when necessary
To keep at it
To plan, arrange and implement in an orderly way; to keep things orderly and ready to use
Sense of Humor
To laugh and be playful without harming others
To do the very best in all cases
Common Sense
To use good judgment
To create solutions in difficult situations as well as everyday problems
To respond when appropriate, to be accountable for ones actions
To wait calmly for someone or something
To make and keep friends through mutual trust and care
A desire to investigate and seek understanding of one's world
To work together toward a common goal or purpose
To feel and show concern for others

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goldfish Tails and Circulation

To witness blood flow in arterioles, venules and capillaries, my students view the transparent tails of living goldfish under the microscope.

We use medium size feeder fish for this lab.  Students create a bed of wet gause on half of a petri dish.  Situating the goldfish with the tail off of the gause, students weigh down the goldfish with a wet blanket of gause. The goldfish tail is then flattened using a half piece of a microscope slide. The students will then view the tail of the goldfish under the microscope to view the blood flow through the circulatory system of the goldfish.

Students can distinguish between blood flow in arteries and veins.  With a little patience and effective microscopy skills they can determine the heart rate of the fish by counting the pauses in the blood flow through the venules.  Most importantly students can witness cell movement through the capillaries as single cells line up and flow through the capillaries for diffusion between the tissues.

 Students took this video utilizing a Flip cam through the ocular of the microscope.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Scientific Method in the Movies

Every Science course I can remember as a student as and as a teacher has begun with a discussion of the scientific method, the steps and the organization. 

State the Problem
Research the Problem
Form an Hypothesis
Test the Hypothesis through Experimentation
Gather Data
Analyze the Data
Form a Conclusion 

Students sometimes think that scientific discovery takes place in a nice orderly manner and that at the end of these steps an answer will clearly unfold. Unfortunately, in real life, our labs and true science this is not always the case.  Yes, science is a process and there are definite steps but, these steps seldom follow a linear path and more often than not end in further questions rather than simple answers.

To allow students to explore this process outside of the classroom I have students analyze the scientific method throuhg film.  There are a great number of movies that students can view to accomplish this task, however I have narrowed it down to a handful that provide discussion points in my classroom and allow me to maintain a sense of sanity in grading this assignment.

Students must watch one of the following five films:

Medicine Man
And the Band Played On
Lorenzo's Oil
Never Cry Wolf

Each can be rented from iTunes, Amazon, video store or library.  While the overriding themes of each of these movies are based upon scientific topics, students must focus on how each movie depicts the use of the Scientific Method or Inquiry based approach to solving scientific problems.

Students then write an essay to explain explain their understanding of how the scientific method was demonstarated within the scenes of the film.

In an essay:
1.      Find 5 scenes from the movie that demonstrate a step in the scientific method. (The steps include:  observing a problem, stating a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis with variables and controls, recording and analyzing data, forming a conclusion, and replicating the work.)
2.      Summarize each scene.  (Do not summarize the movie.)
3.      Describe how the scene is an example of that step of the Scientific Method.
4.      Explain how this step aids in the solution of the problem.

It is key to explain to the students not to summarize the movie or become movie critics.  Remind them to focus on the aspects of the scientific method and how it played a role in the outcomes of the story.

I find that students begin to see the scientific method as being a life skill and not just something to be used in the science classroom.  Students also start to see the ongoing process involved in this method and how the steps are almost never linear and quite often backtracking and pushing forward is part of that process.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Lasallian Daily Prayer Reflections

Saint John Baptist de La Salle challenged the early brothers to continually reflect on their practice and their work. Through this constant reflection on their practice, the brothers elevated the role of teacher to one of the most respected positions
in the Church. 

The five excerpts, from the works of de La Salle, provide an opportunity to reflect daily upon the role of our vocation as an educator.  

Monday's Reflection:

"God has called you to your ministry in order to procure his glory and to give students the spirit of wisdom, the insight to know him, and to enlighten the eyes of their hearts."

Tuesday's Reflection:

"You must also lead them to practice well all the good of which they are capable. Example makes a much greater impression on the mind and hearts than words."

Wednesday's Reflection:

"Do not forget to help them acquire gentleness, patience, love and respect...and all the conduct that is proper to a Christian child, in a word, all that our religion demands of them."

Thursday's Reflection:

"You must then look upon your work as one of the most important and most necessary services in the Church, one which has been entrusted to you by pastors, by fathers and mothers."

Friday's Reflection:

"Do you have a faith that is such that it is able to touch the hearts of your students and inspire them with the Christian spirit? This is the greatest miracle you could perform and the one that God asks of you, for this is the purpose of your work."

Thursday, May 05, 2011

You Are A Teacher

The following comes from a quote from
President John Quincy Adams. 
The last line has been changed from
"Leader" to "Teacher." 
However, the sentiment still remains.

If your actions inspire others to
DREAM more,
LEARN more,
DO more and
BECOME more,
you are a TEACHER.                 
                    Adapted from a quote by John Quincy Adams

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why Do We Think?

 "I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework."
                                                     -- Edith Ann, [Lily Tomlin]

How do you get students to think? They are great at rote processes, but heaven forbid they are forced to actually think.  Most students today are driven by getting answers but far less interested in understanding what those answers mean.  I am often frustrated by the number of times, I ask students who turn in illogical answers, "Does this answer make sense?"  or, "Is that a logical possibility?" Students need to understand that it is not the answer that is important but, the ability to think that is the ultimate goal.

I use a series of statements I found in a book called Writers INC, to get students to look at the importance of THINKING.

I ask the students to complete the following statements, based upon the question,
Why Do We Think?

We can't help thinking ....

We want to think ....

We have to think ....

We enjoy thinking ....

We need to think ....

I have students complete these statements independently at first.  I then group them in groups of 4 or 5. I ask them to share and write down statements they hear from the group that they agree with.  I usually regroup and share a couple times in order for them to hear several points of view.  I then conclude with a class debriefing, asking the students to share common thoughts, unique perspectives and summarizing the importance of the thinking process.

Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think.
                                Ambrose Bierce

CHAOS is an Opportunity to LEARN

"Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth."
 - Tom Barrett -

Do you remember Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, Blocks and the Original Legos?
How much did we learn about the basic components of logic, building and physics from the trial and error of playing with these toys both correctly and in some cases incorrectly.  I know I learned about catapults by launching the single notch lincoln logs using the green roof plank as a lever.  I learned about control over the center of gravity by building towers of blocks and unbalanced lego creations. I learned gear and wheel ratios from tinker toys and erector sets.  While I didn't realize I was learning physics, I came to understand physical phenomena through tinkering and experimentation.

In my Physics class I use Chaos Towers ( http://www.chaostoy.com/ ) to allow students to experience the hands on nature of discovering the physics of Newton's Laws, Poential (gravitational) and Kinetic Energy and the basic ideas behind vetors as a means of mapping motion, displacement, velocity and acceleration. 

  I have three chaos towers in my classroom.  I divide students into three teams and give them two class periods to build the towers.  The towers can be built horizontally and vertically.  I make sure at least one of the towers is built horizontally.  The students prefer the vertical version.

The lessons students learn, even before the concepts of physics are the importance of reading and following directions and the job of delegating the work.  I have students grade each other on their contribution to the building of the tower and collaboration and communication within the group. 
Once the towers are built, students analyze directional changes and displacement values of the path of the marbles.  Students determine the gravitational potential energy at various points along the path and compare velocities based upon the PE = KE formula and measured velocities. The trampoline offers students the understanding of action and reaction forces as well as the parabolic arc of a projectile. 

On the Chaos Toy website there a several lessons utilizing smaller component portions of the towers. http://www.chaostoy.com/cd/html/defau_e.htm

The hands on nature of the tower and the collaborative aspects of the group work, provide a tremendous learning environment for my students.

"I have great belief in the fact that whenever there is chaos, it creates wonderful thinking. I consider chaos a gift."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Collaborative Group Techniques

'A teacher cannot build a community of learners unless the voices and lives of the students are an integral part of the curriculum.'              
                                                    --  Peterson  --

Using collaborative groups can be very challenging.  The students must value the process of learning and understand that within the classroom environment they are responsible to each other and for each other as members of that learning community.  With that in mind, students must be accountable to the group, to be prepared and to share equally in the learning process.  Students should understand that collaborative groups are not an opportunity to socialize and most definitely not an opportunity to let others do all the work.  Each member of the group must pull their own weight in order for the success of everyone. 

Playing Teacher
Divide students into even groups of five or less. Give each student in a group a unique concept to learn. Then bring the group back together and let students teach each other what they have learned. Make sure that the entire group is learning about the same subject, just a different aspect of the subject. Test each group when the teaching session is completed within each group.

The Interview.
Divide students into groups with an even number of students in each group. Each member of a group chooses a partner. Have individuals interview their partner by asking them clarifying questions. Now let the partners switch roles. Lastly, let members of the entire group share their responses as a team.

Catch a Brainstorm.
Divide students into teams of 4 to 6, and appoint one student on each team to be the "secretary." Give each team a different question that can have many answers. Now give each team a chance to brainstorm answers to the question, with the "secretary" writing down the team's responses. Have the students work in a circle, each taking turns to give a response, instead of having all of the students shout out answers to the "secretary" at once.

Number Frenzy.
Divide students in groups of four. Label each student in a group as number 1, 2, 3, or 4. Ask the groups a common question. The group then works together to come up with the correct answer. Now you call out a number (between 1 and 4), and the person in a group that is assigned that number is to give you the answer to the question.

Group Grading.
After taking a test, divide your students into groups with an even number of people in each group. Let students trade their test papers, so they will be grading each other. Now give each group a few minutes to determine which answers are correct and to see which group members may have made mistakes. Allow the groups time to explain so that those members can see why their answer was wrong and what the correct answer should have been. Wrap up the groups and answer any dangling questions not addressed in the individual groups.

The Great Debate.
Cooperative learning can be used in any situation where you want students to debate the points of view of a concept being taught. For instance, when learning about the elections process, you can divide students into groups and have them hold a debate over what they would change about the elections process, what is working and not working with the current process, etc.

Listing Activity.
Divide students into groups of five or less. Ask each group to list words and/or phrases that describe what they are being taught, i.e., Energy, heat, potential, light, kinetic… Be sure that every response is written down that each individual gives. Have each group discuss their list and then come up with the words and/or phrases the entire group agrees on. Later each group can get up before the class and discuss why they chose the responses they did.

The One Minute Game.
Divide the class into teams of five or less. Have each group contemplate answers to these questions, giving them one minute to answer them:
What was the main thing you learned today?
Tell me two questions that you have remaining about this lesson.
What else would you like to know about this topic?
This is a great cooperative learning activity that helps students give you feedback about the lessons they learned.

Assigning Group Roles
Consider assigning each member of a group a role, so each member feels they are contributing to the group in a positive way. Roles could consist of:
Leader - The individual that makes sure everyone in the group has mastered the concepts being learned through the exercises.
Secretary - The person who records responses for the entire group.
Reporter - The person that speaks for the group when standing in front of the class.
Monitor - The person who keeps time for the group with timed assignments.
Manager - The person who fills in for any member of the group who is absent, and assists the leader of the group.
Roles can be switched within a group from time-to-time. Allow students to critique the performance of each member of the group.  This will hold them accountable to each other.  Read the critiques and provide feedback to let students know how their team members view there contributions.  

Ranking order.
Determine whom you will put into groups by using the following exercise.

1. Present your students with an issue that is pertinent to a lesson. Have the students rank this issue by how they feel about it with 1 being in strong agreement and 10 being in strong disagreement.
2. Place a rank-order line on your whiteboard and record the students' responses on the line.
3. Now form your groups by pulling out one person from each end of the ranking order, and then two people from the center of the line.