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Monthly Archives: October 2013

In Progress… frustrations

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I’m trying to find the time to do MTBoS mission #4, but these next two weeks are crazy. Quarter grades and comments are due, and next week, our school is moving to a new building. Packing an office is tricky and time-consuming, but it pales in comparison to packing the labs. The pseudo-words “time-sink,” “ewwwwgross,” “whatwasthisfor,” and “holycowwhatisthatthing” come to mind.

And now being on Twitter (@wwndtd), I see so many comments and quips, it’s really easy to feel like I’m doing nothing for students at this time. And I want to. And I want to do all the cool things that the other MTBoS people are doing.

I’ve also realized that I started following a lot of math teachers partially because they were enthusiastic and positive and actively wanted to improve their teaching and fed off of the positive energy of other math teachers… and partially because I couldn’t find many (any?) science teachers who kept a long-running blog. Those I did find either petered out after a while (or when the school year gets busy, I’m sure), or they seldom post about actually teaching science. Lessons aren’t shared very often (although lots of worksheets and other paper-based stuff are), and the camaraderie isn’t nearly as strong. And I am also absolutely guilty of this.

At any rate… I’ll be listening to podcasts this weekend between family-schedule-things to keep up with the MTBoS. It’s just gonna be nuts for the next two weeks.

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MTBoS Mission 3: Collaborative Websites

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I’m not a math teacher (okay, this year, I do have one pre-algebra student), but it’s not my focus or my training. That being said, I’m having a lot of fun running through the MTBoS with a crazy number of math teachers. I’m looking forward to Sundays for the new missions. For the third MTBoS mission, some of the suggested websites didn’t exactly pertain to me (as I’m not a math teacher). But there were two I really liked (I know we were supposed to choose one, but I got hooked on two). I chose to look through ideas I do believe in: possibility and positivity.



Here’s Dan Meyer‘s 101qs. Kind of a source for potential Three-Act Tasks or lots of other math questions. After poking through, and responding to, the first few tens of pictures (they’re kinda addicting), I thought that I might be messing with the math-y-ness of the project: I mostly asked how things worked rather than math questions. Then I realized, hey, that’s just fine. Those are the questions that pop in my head first, and why would they of any less use to math teachers? Perhaps I’m even helping to continue conversations, since my take on videos is probably pretty different from math teachers’ takes. (At least, this is what I’ll tell myself.) Now, I’m thinking of it as a source for science questions. Because science is really math (or is it the other way around?)

I already use a very large number of videos for chemistry and physics (especially physics) to have kids tease out the science in everyday stuff. I keep this list in delicious, where you can sort all the bookmarks by tags. My “weird” tag is used with surprising frequency. My delicious page here.



There’s a lot of new research that says positivity increases productivity, makes your marriage happier, and generally makes you a more pleasant human to be around. It’s not about forgetting the past or brushing over poor results and bad days, but rather focusing attention on the good things in life, even the almost-too-easy random acts of kindness. Not quite an attitude thing or a glass-half-full thing, but just a change in personal emphasis.

One of the things I took from teacher training was to create a file marked “Things for a bad day” or “Keepers” or something like that. In there, you put all of the notes from students and parents that you get, so that on bad days, you can go to the file drawer and remind yourself that things will improve.

So with that… here’s One Good Thing. I needed this site this week. For a bunch of personal and professional reasons, this week largely stunk. This is the digital file drawer of good experiences, as well as a good reminder that there must be something, something that happened during the day that registers on the good-o-meter. My One Good Thing for the day is planning for the liquid nitrogen demonstrations on Friday… big, fat, juicy lab planning makes me happy.

MTBoS Mission 2: Twittering

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I’m not sure why I’ve been avoiding a Twitter account. Wait, yes I do. I felt that having a blog was enough time to spend on not-teaching-related-stuff. At any rate, now I’ve got a Twitter account too (@wwndtd, and now linked on the sidebar!). We’ll see how it goes. I’ve already followed a crazy number of people (like most of the Lunch Date heroes nerds of desire people), so maybe this will actually stream-line my nearly-daily searching of various webpages.

As per this week’s MTBoS mission rules, I’m now starting to Tweet and hashtag and all.


The MTBoS mini-missions this week were actually very difficult. Not because the tasks were hard, but because the interaction for me was really uncomfortable. It’s hard for me, a born-and-raised Midwesterner and introvert, to randomly Tweet to three strangers. Somehow, the MTBoS thing (i.e., knowing that these three people were in the same boat) made it slightly easier. But posting to celebrities/gurus was nearly impossible for me. And there’s the pressure that all of this could be read by someone, so just how significant should the content be? For my part, I’m going to try to continue these challenges for a while as a personal goal.

So far, I can definitely see how the nearly-immediate response (especially if you have a lot of mutual-followers) would be awesome for teaching feedback. Heck, I posted a semi-question response and was answered about 9 minutes later by someone across the country, whom I’ve never met. I mean, I knew this is how Twitter is designed to work, but I guess the fact that it actually, ya know, works is astonishing.

I’m actually having problems keeping up with all of the new people. It’s almost too fast. I’m possibly one of the worst multi-taskers in the history of ever, but I thought I’d be able to keep people/issues/links separate in my head; instead, I’m mixing them up a lot, especially all of the math teachers I’m now following, most of whom I’m only recently (and virtually) acquainted with.

MTBoS Mission 1: The Anti-Small Talk

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This is, as the title details, the post for the first MTBoS mission. Dudes, I’m excited. Here’s something I do that no one else in the building does:



I teach sciences and a little math at a small, private school, and our schtick is one-on-one instruction. I get to know all of my students pretty well over the year (or two or three years), but I’m an introvert: small-talk isn’t my thing, especially on the first day. Small-talk isn’t the thing for a lot of my students either, and the first day of class is filled with new teachers asking how their summers went, what classes they’ve had before, what do they like or not like in each subject… it can be draining.

Instead, I shake his/her hand and say, “Nice to meet you! I’m bad at small talk; let’s do a lab, okay? What do you know about diapers?” and I fling a cartoon-printed disposable diaper at the student. I’ve adapted my diaper lab from my public school curriculum to be a diagnostic tool. And I use this on all of my students, science and math.

I take the student to our small science area, where he/she cuts open the diaper and pours out a bunch of the absorbent chemical into a cup. As they add blops of water (“a very scientific amount”) and food coloring and more water, I ask them to describe what they observe. Most are willing to touch the stuff, but some wash their hands more quickly than others. Some want to test the limits of adsorption, but few expect the results from adding salt. Most can come up with uses for an absorbent chemical, but only a couple will try it again at home.

I’m really taking mental notes about their vocabulary, their interaction (and action) levels, whether I have to instruct them on particular steps or if they take some initiative, the kinds of words they’re pulling from previous science classes (“solid” and “osmosis” often come up) and whether they can define those words and put them to work, and just how much oogie-ness they’re willing to put up with. I talk about chemicals and polymers in broad terms, as well as states of matter. I change my comments and questions based on what the student gives back to me. Along the way, I do ask what classes they’ve had before and all of that, but it’s somehow easier to answer when your hands are full of goop and the air is full of cotton particles. All of this helps me plan for future modifications for labs and in-class work.

Especially on the first day, most students are looking for some amount of direction from the teacher. This isn’t really an open-ended lab, as I’m guiding students through it. But there’s no way of messing it up (and if it’s not going the way I expected, I ask them why and test some troubleshooting thinking). I don’t pull out text books and throw equations at them on Day 1, and they learn very quickly that I’m not like most teachers at my school. I also hope that at some level, I’m getting the idea that science can be found in simple things that they take for granted, and that hopefully, they’re more willing to ask about dumb things like diapers.

Lunch Dates: Emily Graslie

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Is your job what some would consider gross or icky or ewwwwwwwwwwwwdonttouchmewiththosehands? Do you love your job? No, I mean reaaaaally love your job? Emily Graslie does.

It still has brains on it…

This is The Brain Scoop. How can you not love her enthusiasm and genuine awe for nature and all of its creations? And the way she can rattle off the names of bones and tissue, not to mention Latin genus-species combos, is awesome.

Discovered by Hank Green (yes, that and that and that Hank Green) when he visited the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum in Montana, Ms. Graslie took him on a tour of the building and its inhabitants (mostly stuffed and/or preserved animals), and Mr. Green encouraged her to put up a YouTube channel.

Ms. Graslie has a Tumblr as well, where she posts random findings at her new museum-home, Chicago’s Field Museum. Her role as “Chief Curiosity Correspondant” is now letting her serve as an ambassador to the public, showing visitors what the museum has to offer, and even some of what hides in the collections.

What makes her relevant to WWNdTD? It’s the joy and pride she takes in her craft. It’s totally okay for her to be fascinated in things that other people aren’t. And even better, even if you can’t stomach the dissection videos, she is clearly captivated by everything there despite her own “ewww!”s and “oh wow!”s, enthralled in the beauty of how nature works, and makes no judgement on you. It’s how you want students to be absolutely engrossed by what they do, no matter what anyone else says.

Questions for during lunch:

  • Since you have a BFA, I assume you still do some kind of art/craft stuff. Do you still paint in your free time?
  • You started in preserving museum specimens and are now working on a Museum Studies degree (awesome!) Why museum studies and not conservation/restoration?
  • As a fellow art/science nerd, I really appreciate your fascination with the minutia. Did you consider something like scientific illustration as a career?
  • Would you like to do other aspects of museum work eventually?
  • Are you mostly on the floor of the museum or behind the scenes? What is your typical day now like?
  • Would you like to do more museum outreach stuff instead of museum work?
  • Your background isn’t particularly science-y, but would you take science courses now?
  • You’ve got an awesome video on what makes a museum. Would you like to work at other science museums? history museums? art museums? children’s museums? Smithsonians?
  • I also worked at a museum (see how similar we are? we should be friends!) and the upstairs storage loft of randomly-donated things was fascinating. But, funnier to me were the phone calls from news outlets when something weird appeared on beaches, and they wanted us to identify it. Got any good phone calls?
  • What’s your favorite key on your museum key ring?
  • What kinds of classes or skills should today’s students learn in school?
  • Who was your favorite teacher? your most respected teacher?
  • Ever considered teaching as a career?