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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Two Guys Walk Into a Bar…

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…and you already know the rest.

And even though you know the rest, you still probably smirked. Stories are powerful things.

I can’t remember names or dates to save my life. I’m terrible at memorization of lists. I studied for hours for high school history tests, only to remember that there was this great, heroic guy, who was really smart and pretty political, so he negotiated a treaty with the foreign governments of France and Prussia in order to avoid a huge conflict that was about to rage. (Okay, not really, and not really those events, but the point is, I remembered the story and not the people or the dates.) This dubious skill was only magnified when I took art history during college. Exams consisted of three parts: identification (piece, artist, medium, location, approx. date) of prominent art works; identification and elaboration of a work’s significance; and an identification and compare/contrast of two works. I could write pages on why the work was significant, how it was used or created, and how it demonstrated contemporary characteristics, but I didn’t know who made it or when. (Strangely, I could figure out the “where” from the artistic characteristics in the piece, like French Gothic arches or Dutch colorings, but still not the “when”.)

In short, I remembered the stories and why events or places or things mattered and how they were connected to other things, but not the little memorization details. Basically, this is storytelling at its core. Can we take storytelling and put it into the classroom lectures, make them more stories than lectures?

I mean, you could just say that black holes are supremely, amazingly, deadly. Or you can say this:

My favorite teacher, a Jr. High geography teacher, was the best storyteller I have ever heard. I still remember the story-lists of cities and capitals (“I was running through the Middle East, and I tripped and I-wracked my knee! So I went to the doctor and said, ‘What’s your Bag-dad?’…”

Dan Meyer says that for online math (a.k.a., the Kahn Academy approach) to be more effective, you first need an in-class hook. The lecture will be that much more palatable if you know you’re going to get something out of it later.

So… for chemistry. What kinds of stories do you make for stoichiometry? What’s the hook? And not just the token stories for problem sets, but a real way to remember how the calculations work and why? How about for moles? Organic functional groups?

Perhaps this will help clear your head for some stories:

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This makes me mad, and should make you mad too.

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I think standards are a good idea, although not currently implemented properly in the U.S. education system. Then, I see articles like this that let me know that my values in education are not the same as some other people.

In Virginia, they’ve passed new standards, in accordance with their new Race To The Top funding. But these new standards are based on the race of the student (i.e., Asian students have to get higher numbers to pass than white, black, or Latino students). Florida took a different tack, and only requires certain percentages of each race to pass to give the school its passing grade (again, non-Asian minority students aren’t expected to do very well, but this time as a group).

I understand why these states are changing their standards (to meet goals they now realize they can’t achieve without some significant changes), but the way they’re doing the changes and the fact that these changes are accepted by anyone flabbergasts me.

I’m finding it difficult to put my exasperation into words.

When is it ever acceptable to have different educational standards for students based on their appearance and heritage? Can mixed-race students pick which standard to adhere to? In Florida’s case, why would only a fraction of students in a particular group be expected to pass? Does this mean that teachers will encourage certain students to work harder and leave even more kids behind?

And for the bigger questions, in what way will these new standards help schools teach their students? What kinds of values and self-worth does this show our students? Why are particular groups doing better or worse in the first place, and what can we do to help those particular problems (and please know that each of these issues will be different for each child, not for each mostly-arbitrary socio-economic-and-ethnic division).

Lunch Dates: Arvind Gupta

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This is a new section of the site on people who fascinate me almost as much as Dr. Tyson. And actually, I don’t want to have lunch with them… that would be too short a time to absorb their energy, ideas, and brilliance.

Today’s fascinating person is Arvind Gupta. I somehow stumbled onto his book for 700 experiments, and couldn’t stop scrolling through the simple (yet so important for training observation and note-taking and training) things to try.

Even better, he presented at a TED off-shoot. Just watch this video and tell me you’re not more energized:
Arvind Gupta: Turning Trash Into Toys
I especially like the braille drawing tool.