Monday, August 6, 2012

What ever happened to local Science Fairs?

Science inquiry is important to the development and maintenance of a sustainable society. When critical thinking and critical analysis are placed behind entertainment, the future of the society grows dim.

The skills involved in a long-term investigation project are foundational to building a strong society. Question generation, data collection, data analysis, and presentation of results are skills which translate to the development of people who are thinkers and problem solvers. 

In schools, our students should complete and present age appropriate, long-term investigation projects from 3rd grade onwards. Data collection should be rigorous. Data analysis thorough. The presentation concise and clear. As students get older (or competent in a foreign language) part of their presentation should be in their second language. The project should be interdisciplinary and include assessment from science, math, English and foreign language teachers.

The richness of this experience will equip people with skills who we could expect to become significant contributors to their society.

Reflection: Consider a generational collection of high school graduates each having nine years of authentic investigation experience. What is their potential impact on their society? Could we conjecture a bright future for their society? Why?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Second Day of School

I teach Geometry and according to the curriculum and textbook, I am supposed to begin the course by discussing undefined terms.

Let's look at this from the student perspective. They have been out of school for two months and at some point during that time they were bored. Most arrive for a new school year with excitement and hope. The excitement is to see old friends and meet new ones. The hope is they will learn and it will be fun.

So back to Geometry. Excited and hopeful student arrives for Geometry. The teacher begins the course by telling 'excited and hopeful' the basis for everything they will study during the year is undefined. The student is probably thinking, well at least I was excited and hopeful yesterday.

Stop the madness! Look at your curriculum, choose an activity to begin the course which will actively engage the students. Renew their hope!

Here's what I do. We begin the Geometry course with transformations (also found in the first chapter). We graph a picture on the coordinate plane then move or change the picture mathematically. We use translations, reflections, rotations and dilations. After transformations, we do Geometric constructions with a straight-edge and compass. So after two months of limited learning experiences, students come to Geometry and draw for three weeks (and develop skills we will use the rest of the year).

Let me hear what you do to make the start of your course exciting for the students.

The First Day of School

On the first day of school your priority should be to learn the name of each student. In order to have the time to do this you need to organize the agenda for the day so this can happen.

Here is my agenda for the first day. I provide students with a copy of the class policies and give them an "open notebook" quiz on the policies. Students work alone for 10 minutes, then are allowed to work with their neighbors. At this point, I find even the most reluctant learner is willing to discuss the class policies. The last question on the quiz is an essay question asking students to choose a policy and explain whether they agree or disagree with the policy. While all of this is happening I work on learning names by using a class list and the names at the top of the quizzes. Before the class ends I make eye contact with each student as I practice their name.

Let's review. At the end of the first day of school, I have learned all of my students' names, they have demonstrated an understanding of the class policies, they have earned an "A" in the class and I have a writing sample for each student. Not bad for 35 minutes. Note: At my school we use a rotating block schedule with four classes meeting each day. On the first day of school, we use a modified schedule so we see all of our classes.

What do you do to get the most of out of the first day of school?

What's in a name?

On the first day of school structure the agenda for the class to allow you time to memorize every student's name. Practice saying their names before they leave the class. Ask students to help you with pronunciation. Make eye contact with each student when you say their name.

Learning your students' names the first day of class is more important than any policy, routine, or assignment you have for them.

How do you handle learning student names?

The Night Before the First Day of School

Actually, well before the night before the first day of school consider how you want your classroom to run. What will it look like? What will it sound like? What will it feel like? What will it smell like? What will it 'taste' like? Feel, smell, and 'taste' are used here to focus on the experience of the students. After being in your classroom for 50 to 80 minutes, how will they remember the experience?

What happens when the students enter the room? How will you check attendance? What are your expectations for the day, the week, and the year? How will homework, quizzes, and tests be handled? What will be your routine for class discussions? How will you handle student needs (e.g. going to the bathroom)? How will you handle unexpected interruptions? How will the class end?

Develop policies and routines which will support how you want your classroom to run. Teach and reteach these policies and routines until the students know what to do. Ask for student feedback and be flexible enough to make changes. For example, recently my students asked me to change where I write the day's agenda and to spend more time discussing homework assignments. Done!

Describe the look, sound, feel, smell, and 'taste' of the perfect classroom. What will you teach your students in order to achieve what want your classroom to be like?