Saturday, April 19, 2014

Organize Your Videos Like a Coach

Organize Your Videos Like a Coach

Confucius said,

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

The Four Principles of Teaching - John Wooden





One of my mentors in education is the Late Great John Wooden.  I use his pyramid of success in my classroom as a model for Educational Excellence.  His approach to coaching and education are timeless and can be adapted for any subject matter. 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.

Videos need to be a clear and concise explanation, of what the information is, why it is important and how it can be used.

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.

Videos should provide enough examples to demonstrate the process of utilization of the information. 

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.

Videos should offer gaps for students to imitate the process with immediate feedback.

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.

Lastly, the video should provide opportunity for the students to continue the process on their own. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bring a Little CHAOS to your Classroom

Bring a Little CHAOS to your Classroom

"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 ( ) 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 four chaos towers in my classroom.  I divide students into three or four teams and give them two class periods to build the towers.  The towers can be built horizontally or 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.

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."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fluorescent Engagement on Lab Table Tops

Fluorescent Engagement on Lab Table Tops

I believe as long as there have been desktops there has been a constant battle to keep students from writing on the desk. 

But, what if there were a way to allow students to write on the desk in order to engage them in the learning process.

That is where fluorescent markers and black lab tables have found a happy marriage in my classroom.

In Environmental Science students use a practice called TABLE TOP GRAFFITI to Brainstorm key points and ideas from the semester. 

Using the Fluorescent markers students can write on their desktops to their hearts content, as long as they are working on chemistry. Students work in pairs to problem solve using the table top as their shared workspace.

Ideas For the Classroom 

  • Pre-written PODs as students come into the classroom.
  • Homework review.  Students share specific problems from their homework. 
  • Students teach each other. To both assist others and to reinforce their own learning. 
  • Students work through problem solving before transferring work into their notes.
  • Brainstorming.
  • Writing out lab procedures. 
  • Recording data, before transferring it to their lab notebook. 
  • Flow charts for work. 
  • Recording discussion notes for sharing with class. 
  • Museum walks of completed work. 
  • Thought questions or quotes to prompt discussion.
  • Whatever your mind can imagine.    

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poetry in Science - The Diamante

Poetry in Science - The Diamante 

Today's students chat with Facebook friends all over the world, play online games with  groups of people located in different states, transfer money from their savings to their checking while standing in line at a food truck, and enter movie theaters by scanning a barcode on a cyber ticket they purchased while traveling on the Metro across town.  All of these activities take place through technology that was not available less than a decade ago.

Their world shrinks with the same frequency as the technology they use. The entire world has become their neighborhood. There has never been a generation that is as interconnected as this generation. 

And yet, our educational system is based upon compartmentalization.  We spend fifty to one hundred minutes with twenty-five to thirty students in a twenty by twenty room isolating subject matter to a single topic.  We are now going to study Biology.  It is now time for Geometry.  This is History period. In a completely interconnected world, why do we spend so much time and effort disconnecting the subjects we teach? 

This system of pigeon-holing the curriculum makes it excessively more difficult for the students of today to understand the links and overlaps in the curriculum they are exposed to. As a science educator I have noticed an alarming trend in the last few years, of students being resistant to the idea that what they learn in every classroom is pertinent across the curriculum  They do not always see nor do they always understand that the math they do in algebra is the same math they will use in chemistry and physics.  The grammar rules and essay patterns in English are basically the same as those used in writing a paper in biology or environmental science.  The analysis and understanding of cause and effect in history is the same as the skills necessary to understand cause and effect concepts in any science subject.

How can we discontinue this disservice to our students and discover methods to incorporate the values and lessons of all subjects across our curriculum?

Simplicity is the key.  We must find ways to consistently integrate cross curriculular activities into our classrooms.  A very simple method I have incorporated, is the use of a poetry style called a Diamante.  Students in my science classes write diamante poetry to demonstrate the interconnections and cyclical patterns of the information we teach and learn. The diamante follows a simple 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 pattern

Adjective   Adjective
Participle   Participle   Participle
Noun           Noun             Noun           Noun
Participle   Participle   Participle
Adjective   Adjective

The diamante can be about any topic and can be written for any subject.  It provides an opportunity to integrate English poetry into science or math, history or physical education.  I ask students to take two nouns that are opposites or unrelated and create a diamante.  The middle four nouns are the link between the topics.  The completed diamante can be read from top to bottom or bottom to top and should still make sense. 

Students then write their poems on two sheets of different color construction paper with the four linking nouns written on the seam.  They then tap into their artistic side and decorate the poem and share them with their classmates.

Blue    Yankee
Marching  Shooting  Charging
Father    Brother     Brother     Son
Yelling    Fighting    Attacking 
Rebel     Gray

The idea is quite simple but offers an opportunity to create discussion points about the importance of understanding the integration of not only the different academic subjects but of all people, processes and  things. 

John Muir
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Colligative Properties - And Its So Tasty Too!!!

Colligative Properties - An Its So Tasty Too!!!

What if everyday your students came to the door of your chemistry classroom with ANTICIPATION and EXCITEMENT?

What if your chemistry students spent more time smiling in your class than grimacing with angst over another lecture or worksheet?

What if you couldn't wait to get to your chemistry class because you wanted to see how your students would respond to the activities you have planned for that day?

What if you made ICE CREAM and ate it in the science lab and students grasped the concept of freezing point depression and were excited about how to calculate colligative properties because they have an answer to the age old question of "When am I ever going to use this in life?

Well, this is just a tiny part of what I get to experience since adding FLIPPED LEARNING to my education environment. And while the flipped model is not a silver bullet for education, it is a means of creating a more engaging, hands on, student centered classroom.

Let's face it, freezing point depression and boiling point elevation in a lecture-worksheet classroom experience is not one of the most engaging pathways to student learning. But throw in a couple of baggies, some whole milk, whipping cream, sugar and vanilla, a whole lot of ice and some salt and all of a sudden you have smiles, laughter, cold hands, warm hearts and a great learning experience for students that will be part of discussions with peers and parents  and will be most definitely be part of discussions at 10, 20 and 30 year class reunions.  And isn't that when the students own the learning?  When they can articulate the experience beyond your classroom walls. 

So after students completed their flipped lesson playlist for colligative properties on SOPHIA we took a Friday afternoon and the following recipe and solidified our understanding of freezing point depression by making ice cream and a whole lot of smiles. 

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream 
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or vanilla flavoring 
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup sodium chloride (NaCl) as table salt or rock salt
  • 2 cups ice
  • 1-quart freezer bag
  • 1-gallon freezer bag
  • themometer
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • cups and spoons for eating your treat!
Add the milk, whipping cream, sugar and vanilla to the 1-quart bag.  Squeeze out as much of the air as possible and seal the bag. Place the sealed bag into the 1-gallon bag and surround it with the ice. Pour in the salt and seal the 1 gallon bag. Massage the contents until the ice has melted completely. Students may want to wrap the bag in a towel as the bags get very cold. 
When the ice cream has a texture and viscosity, open the 1-gallon bag, remove the 1-quart bag, discard the melted ice and bag. Now grab a spoon and enjoy the fruits of your labor. 

The learning moments abound as students question, "Why does the ice get so cold?" and,  "How does the liquid thicken?"  But I think the best question is, when they ask, "Can I do this at home?" Because then, I know that I have got them!!!!  And I know they will be coming back for more!!!


Friday, April 11, 2014

Sometimes Failure is a Good Thing

Sometimes Failure 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 one where failure can be celebrated as a stepping stone towoard personal success.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PBL - Left Brain Teacher vs. Right Brain Student

Left Brain Teacher vs. Right Brain Student

Too often as educators we design assignments that meet 
our ease and comfort. 
We schedule due dates and create format details that meet "our" needs for "our"curriculum.  
But, do we look at the students needs? 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I am not a MATH and SCIENCE Person

I am not a MATH and SCIENCE Person

"Science is a way of thinking, much more
than it is a body of knowledge."
                                                                                    -Carl Sagan-

According to a recent recent test of 250,000 fifteen year olds from forty-one industrialized nations the United States ranks 27th in science skills.  The country responsible for light bulbs, television, putting a man on the moon, microwave ovens, the computer revolution and the clapper, is in a free fall from the top of the pedestal of scientific discovery.

My science colleagues and I have had a long running joke about providing badges of honor to the teachers we meet who proudly claim that they are not math and science people.  And yet, heaven forbid a science teacher who does not know what a sonnet is (a 14 line poem based upon a single thought or expression in one or more rhyming schemes), or when the War of the Roses was fought (the civil wars of England fought from 1455-1485).   
Introducing myself as a chemistry  educator, I invariably have to field the question, "Do you still have students memorize the periodic table?" as if the only thing you need to do in chemistry is first memorize and second know the atomic number, mass symbol and name of the first 20 elements in order to know chemistry. 

Too often in today's educational landscape science education suffers because the foundations are not set early in the elementary or junior high levels.  Typically, because the grammar school teachers are liberal arts majors who have little or no background in the field of science and therefore transmit their discomfort to their students.  Now don't get me wrong. There some amazing science teachers and science programs throughout the country.  But after music and art are diminished due to budget cuts, and PE is decreased so that more time can be spent preparing students for standardized tests, the next subject to suffer, is science.  Funding issues, lab materials, complexity of lab set up, and teacher discomfort lead to Science becoming a perfunctory exercise in reading the text and answering the questions at the end of the chapter. 

I have volunteered my time during the last several years to assist middle school and junior high teachers in developing a more hands on science curriculum.  These teachers have a desire to enhance their curriculum with more labs and activities.  Their classrooms are equipped with wonderful science kits paid for by the district to coordinate with their text.  However, they are paralyzed by the fear of the unfamiliar and doing something wrong. I do not blame these teachers. Teacher preparation and crriculum development programs are usually lacking in opportunities to experience the intricacies of teaching science. 

When these students leave their junior high schools they are fortunate if they have used a microscope or experienced a dissection. Science learning has been narrowed down to a series of handouts and rote memorization.  The process of science is not one of critical thinking about the possibilities of investigation but simply finding a correct answer.  They have not experienced the joy of putting something together and making it work successfully or the even greater moment of something not working and figuring out how to make it work.

Just as educators should allow students to experience failure as a means of growth and learning, teachers too, should be willing to fail and make mistakes.  In fact what better way for students to value the process of learning from mistakes than to experience that process alongside a teacher.

Have fun, tinker, experience, build-destroy-rebuild, do, plan, make, mix, join, break, fix, play, understand, work, learn, guess, error, guess again, adjust, adapt, see, discover.

"Science is built up of facts, as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house."
                                                                            -Henri Poincar-

Finding Value in Mistakes


There's a common story that circulates about 
"success and failure".

The story goes that "Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb".  When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, "I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

The idea is that -- even if you try and fail, it doesn't mean that you didn't learn something.

Education, like everything else since the industrial revolution is a product driven system. High stakes standardized testing has only served to perpetuate this, in valuing only correct responses as opposed to placing value in the process of determining that correct answer.  How can students, learn to appreciate
the skills of critical thinking if they are not encouraged to value porcess?

One method I have incorporated in my classroom, is to focus on the incorrect answers.  I will use scenarios and multiple choice questions to ask students not only to find the correct answer, but to explain why the other possibilities are not acceptable solutions or how other students may have determined the incorrect choices.  When students have to deconstruct the solutions they really begin to think about the process involved in finding the solution.  As students become better at evaluating the incorrect answers, they also become more effective at correcting their own work when they make a mistake.  Students also find it easier to assist other students when they make mistakes.   

An example in math might be:

What is the product of  34  x 12?

a)  46     b)  102       c)  308     d) 408       

   34      The correct answer is d) 408.    
x 12

a) 46  A student would have added instead of multiplied to get an answer of 46.    34 + 12 = 46

b) 102  A student would have calculated an answer of 102 if they did not place a zero in the ones column when they began multiplying by the tens value. 

x 12
_ 34

c) 308  The student did not carry the one after adding the 
6 and 4.  

x 12

A chemistry example might be:

From the following, choose the correct balanced chemical equation.  Explain why the other choices are not correct.

a)   H2    +    O    ----->     H2
b)   2H    +    O    ----->     H2
c)   2H2    +    O   ----->     2H2O  C is the correct equation.
d)   2H   +    2O    ----->     2H2

Each of the other equations are balanced.  They are incorrect because Hydrogen and Oxygen are diatomic molecules in their gas state and must to be H2 and O2. (H, O, N, Cl, Br, I, F)

When students are engaged in the critical thinking process of deconstructing incorrect answers, they gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the process of learning. Incorrect answers can sometimes have a far greater value for learning than simply being correct.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SOPHIA - Classroom Follow-Up


I adopted the use of the SOPHIA learning platform in my Honors Chemistry course in February, 2014.  It is a work in progress and both my students and I are learning the benefits and the nuances of this SOPHIA portal as a system for sharing knowledge.

I first must preface this with the fact, that my Honors Chemistry class is a fantastic group of students and they have fully bought in to the concepts of learning that are the cornerstones of my classroom:

1. Our learning environment is predicated on the concept of the 
6 C's: Think Critically, Communicate Clearly, Work Collaboratively, Develop Creativity, Embrace Culture and Utilize Connectivity

2. I teach learning on a path called chemistry.  If you learn how to learn the content will take care of itself.

3. We will remember 92% of what we teach someone else, 30 days afterward. We teach to learn.

4. Success is measured by the definition of success according to John Wooden, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

I use SOPHIA to create tutorials using my own videos and other online resources and gather them into playlists of the content aspects I want students to learn.  These SOPHIA playlists are posted on Monday and they are due on Sunday by 11:00 pm. The material is always presented online the week before we will be working on it in class.  

This model has allowed me to get students more involved in their own learning, conduct more lab work and develop more real life assignments, activities and discussions in class. We work in a block schedule with 95 minute classes and I see this class every other day.

On the Monday morning, I check the SOPHIA portal for the class content page to see who has completed the playlist and who may have struggled based upon the number of questions necessary to complete the three questions to move on in the playlist. After four playlists I am experiencing a 96% completion rate for my students.

One of the formative assessment practices I use in for a class activity to check for student understanding is to have students solve PODs in partners on the Monday or Tuesday following the due date.  I have six octagonal lab tables in my lab and put two questions, one on each side of the table for students to complete.  Students work together through the problem solving.  They are given 2to 2 and half minutes to complete the question before rotating.  This process has afforded me and my students tremendous insight into their understanding:

1. I can listen to student discussions of the problem solving process.

2. Students can ask me questions throughout the process for clarification.

3. Students who have not completed the playlist are brought up to speed by their peers.

4. Students solidify their own understanding by sharing with a partner.

This process allows me to take on the role of "guide on the side" rather than "sage on the stage", making students responsible for their learning and allowing them to take ownership of their knowledge. 

While, this is an a Honors Chem class and these students do tend to be more motivated, the effectiveness of using platforms like SOPHIA or incorporating the FLIPPED model is entirely dependent upon the environment of learning that becomes the culture of the classroom.