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Monthly Archives: November 2013

MTBoS Mission #8: Another Spoonful, Please

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MTBoS Mission 8 is about sharing the resources. There’s little collaboration at my school, other than a few videos or an occasional pet project. I’ve tried to (besides the cool videos) share some stuff that’s actually usable in the near future.

Wait, we were supposed to wait until now to share stuff?? Hmm.. let me go back through my sent mail to see what I’ve shared. Some links were directly from MTBoS participants, and some were from web-surfing-after-MTBoS-links-and-Twitter-feeds, so I’m not sure from whom I obtained them.

There’s Trig War and explicit instructures to check the links within, for a group of math teachers who want more games. And Infinite Series by paper. And just this morning, I sent that amazing Desmos picture to try to inspire a few digital graphing teachers.

Mr. Stadel’s POPS (and a bunch of other sites), that I’m going to use in our common room as a Puzzle O’ Week challenge for small prizes.

WA state standards to myself, as a reminder to check my alignment.

MTBoS Mission 3 (the one with links to resources), to a teacher I know would use them.

…and an invitation to the math teachers for the MTBoS challenge itself in hopes someone else would join me (but nobody did, and they’ve clearly missed out).

I have enjoyed my time in the MTBoS very much, and am kinda sad for it to be over. The best part of this whole collaboration was just that… the collaboration! I found it interesting to see how many people participated in MTBoS #7 (the DITL one), and how similarly crazy our schedules are. i think there’s a lot more common between teachers than we realize. I’ve really enjoyed digitally-meeting a bunch of passionate educators who truly care about their craft and their subject and their students and the difference they are trying to make. Although my blog’s been running for more than a year, and it’ll definitely continue, I wasn’t planning on continuing my Twitter account after the MTBoS, but helping people with homework across a couple of time zones somehow made my afternoon (maybe I need more interesting afternoons). I joined the MTBoS missions in large part to fulfill a collaboration stipulation as part of renewing my teaching license, and I’m so glad that it’s become something much deeper than just a thing to check off a box on the state’s form. I’ve started recognizing a few online-handles, and find myself poking through particular blogs sometimes. It’s wonderful to have colleagues who want to make a difference in themselves and their students, and I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity with all’y’all.

MTBoS Mission #7: A Day In The Life

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This is for MTBoS Mission #7, A Day In The Life

In the past, I’ve taught in a very large public high school and at a science museum. This is my 6th year teaching at a small private school, and our schtick is that we teach almost all kids on a one-to-one basis (usually 1/2 hour twice a week). This allows us to flex to the student’s needs, even on a day-to-day basis; thus, my schedule changes each day, but is approximately the same on a weekly-level. There are some “group classes” for between 3-8 kids, but even these are tailored to match kids’ personalities (and avoid some conflicts) and skill levels. A lot of our students need to be here for some reason, which may include: has severe ADHD and can only focus for 1/2 hour at most; is extremely bright and is bored by normal school and wants more challenge; has severe anxiety and/or depression and needs monitoring or flexible schedule; is involved in Olympic-level sports competitions or ballet or equestrian events or motorcross and is frequently out of town for training or performing; has been in rehab (drug, eating, or behavioral) and needs a safe house; is autistic and can handle academics but cannot function in a 35-student classroom; has cognitive-functioning issues and needs help in particular areas but not special ed (and may have been mistakenly placed in SpEd at some point); was previously home-schooled or un-schooled and wants to continue that feel, or wouldn’t fit well into current grade-level status at public school; or some combination of the above. Not all of our students fit in these categories, but a large percentage do.

So, with that, here’s my Tuesday:

6am Alarm goes off… ugh. Remembered that last time “snooze” was actually “off” and bad words happened. Tiptoe around sleeping husband.

6:45 Dressed and all. Time to get the toddler up.

7am Toddler isn’t happy about waking up (wonder who he got that from…) Insistence for “WANT EAT CAAAAAKE!” reminds me of Allie Brosh and makes me laugh instead.

7:15 Take Toddler downstairs for breakfast, while I pack my breakfast and lunch. He’s clearly happy and starts singing.

7:35 Stuff last bite of breakfast into Toddler’s mouth. Stuff Toddler into jacket. Holy lots-of-traffic-Batman! Drop him at daycare, drive to work with “Wheels on the Bus” as an earworm.


my cubicle (a.k.a., where most of the action happens

8:20 Arrive at school, way later than usual. Catch up on the Twitter feed and click all of the links into tabs while munching breakfast. Update the Natural Disasters board with new earthquakes, cyclones, and flooding (volcanic eruptions are only updated on Wednesdays, so I do this Thursdays).


updated board… Scotia Sea is rockin’

8:58 ACK! First student in 30 min, and I have to set up a lab and make copies for chemistry!

8:58:15 ACK! I haven’t had tea yet! Go to make copies and get hot water.

9:16 Have copies of worksheets, lab handouts, and daily quizzes ready. No tea. What is wrong with me? Earl Grey Blue, don’t fail me now! Quick slurps, then off to wash beakers really well.

9:30 First student for the day. Just got her three weeks ago after long illness kicked her out of public school (for attendance). I meet with her Mon/Tues so her weekend’s free for competitive horse jumping. Physics HW’s pretty good, has good questions about accuracy. It will take a while to get this one to realize that it’s okay to ask about things outside the book.


the Individual Lab. whoa… need to put away dishes

10am Next student is tired, as usual (both Tuesday and Thursday mornings). She’s trying to graduate a year early, so is trying to cram in as much chemistry as possible before her heading to her successful career in hair. I reiterate the idea from her pre-calc teacher that she could be an engineer (we know she doesn’t want to, but we’ll keep feeding her the idea). We tromp downstairs to the individual science lab to burn things, to show that atoms have layers of electrons (at least, I hope that’s what sticks). My job involves getting paid for burning things.


the Group Lab

10:30am My Tues/Thurs chemistry group class of four kids, down to three because one is gone this week for competition. Group classes are 75 min instead of 30, so we get a lot more material covered. Daily quiz on previous material. Recap Lewis structures, trying to restrain the kid taking organic chem in tandem with this class and already knows everything. Introduce electronegativity and polarity, have kids help me with lava lamp demo (thanks, @andrewteacher!) They take phone-videos with promises of screen savers. Not enough time for the emulsifier lab!

11:40 Back to my cubicle to fill in the digital record book for the morning’s students. This is to record attendance and approximately course content.

12:15 Running late to the staff lunch. 2nd steeping of tea. Ideally, we’re all chatting about kids while eating, but conversations usually revolve around recipes and things heard on NPR. Today it’s some weird administrator issues, Microsoft Surface interfaces, and where to go hiking this weekend.

1pm High-anxiety student for low-level chemistry. I see her Tues/Fri. She’s also interested in hair, but is too nervous to concentrate on stoichiometry or things like that, even though she’s quite capable math-wise. She tells me about her rescue animals (down to only 4 dogs, and 5 cats, plus the lizards and fish now), and how she finally got more than 1.5 hours of sleep last night. Her Loop Loop planes worked pretty well, and she did a nice job of finding sources of error. I know this lab isn’t chemistry, but because our school moved to a new building 10 days ago, I still haven’t found all of my materials yet.

1:30 A half-hour break! I am researching Smarter Every Day, The Brain Scoop, Veritasium, and CGP Grey for my students’ benefit. 3rd steeping of tea (really just mildly flavored water now).

2pm Super smart 8th grader with ADHD and dysgraphia, here for general science lab. He finishes the Loop loop plane too, and thinks of interesting fixes to errors. I try to have him focus on the idea of not-always-one-answer-is-correct. We try to ignore the teacher two-cubes-down doing a Skype session with a student. His homework is to brainstorm new topics he’s interested in (he’s already requested nuclear stuff and batteries).

2:30 Disillusioned 9th grade with anxiety and ADHD for general science. Her Loop loop planes are of decent construction, but I’m working on measuring skills and metric system with her. 2.34m = 234cm whaaat?

3pm One more general science lab, but this student doesn’t show up. She’s in the process of withdrawing from our school, so I do my teacherly-duty of running around the building to look for her. I email her Consulting Teacher (the designated teacher for contact with this student’s family) with the word that she’s isn’t here.

3:15 Fill in the remaining student logs and attendance.

3:30 Register for Flinn Scientific’s website and watch updated “Right to Understand” training video to get OSHA compliant. Notice the periodic table behind the narrator is out of date. Also irritated with the certificate multiple choice questions (is it really important to know that the new SDSs will have 16 sections, or how to find info within those sections?)

4:05 10 minutes until the weekly staff meeting. Clean up my desk (hey, that’s what I call clean). Bathroom break. Find my meeting notebook and refill the tea water mug. Quick discussion with the photography teacher about the how to photograph snowflakes link he sent me earlier.

4:15 Staff meeting for the high school and other campus (K-7) staff. Discussion about how we assign grades as a school, and how to explain it to other people. Quick talk with the Tech guys about moving my computer within my cubicle.

4:45 Pack up stuff to go to daycare and home before traffic gets crazy. I’m a single-parent tonight while my husband is a guest lecturer at the university. This is my second (and last!) 15-20 min period that I’m allowed to curse during the day: some days, it’s necessary.

5:10 At daycare. Get Toddler, who doesn’t want to leave (awww… the teacher’s kid likes “school”!)

5:30, and beyond Get home, dinner (made by my husband before he left for the lecture), dishes, and Toddler time (playing, bath, reading, and bed). Quick time for planning for tomorrow (must find materials for potato clocks, a few descriptions on how ions move/work, review status of grading rubric for formal research papers). I won’t have much time tomorrow morning (it’s the busy day, with 10 individual students and a make-up appointment with another… lunch will be my only break). Catch up on my own interests, type up this mess. Bed.

Why Blog At All?

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Picking up on Kate Nowak‘s call for reasons teachers blog.

1. What hooked you on reading the blogs? Was it a particular post or person?
I started blogging more than a year ago, mostly to stop annoying my husband with grumblings. I was frustrated with my job, with what felt like lack of professional respect, with the need to renew my teaching license, and with some more philosophical ideas (like grading and grades), and needed an outlet. Strangely, I’ve had a lot less reflection on a day-to-day basis since starting at this one-to-one teaching gig (since teaching is personalized by default, reflection has to be nearly-immediate and quickly finished). There is little professional development at my school, so I was reading particular blogs (starting with Dan Meyer) to help myself get some intellectual stimulation. My husband asked whom I’d actually like to emulate, and that’s where the title of my blog (What Would Neil deGrasse Tyson Do?) came from.

2. What keeps you coming back?
My blog has (at least in my head) turned from a gripe-fest to trying to be more positive and celebrate science-y/math-y people I think are cool in a section called “Lunch Dates“. I got a little rush when I responded to Ben Orlin and he wrote back. Holy crap! someone knows I exist! There’s (truly) some (tiny) hope that I’ll actually get to meet Dr. Tyson someday, but that likelihood is awfully small (don’t tell my animal-hopeful-brain).

3. If you write, why do you write? What’s the biggest thing you get out of it?
Like I said, it’s in some part a way to get frustrations out before I go home to family. Now, I’m trying to use it more as a way of reflecting on the larger ideas in my professional life, rather than the day-to-day things that irritate me. The MTBoS community has been amazing, even (especially??) for a science teacher, and I hope to keep some of these virtual colleagues after the challenges stop.

4. If you chose to enter a room where I was going to talk about blogging for an hour (or however long you could stand it), what would you hope to be hearing from me?I mean, it’s sort of the old thing your English teacher said: who’s your audience and what do you want them to take away? I (as an analytical person) would want to know what’s in it for me. What did you gain from it, but also, so what? and how’s it help teaching? How do you get connected with other people? What can you do with a blog besides… blog?

MTBoS #6: Not The Circular File

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AHA! I finally have something already in the bag for MTBoS #6, the file system.

Since it’s sorta attached to this blog, I just use the WordPress Reader to follow all of these neat new people I’m meeting via #MTBoS. It works. I pop out links into new tabs (I really like Chrome, too). Sometimes, these tabs sit for a few days until I get around to them, but eventually, all of the links that I like go to my online bookmarks page. I’m a huge fan of Delicious. My page is here. I tried using a tag (see below) for “read_later”, but I never got around to actually doing that. I use this page as more of a repository for approved stuff rather than a way of later searching stuff I haven’t read. Note: this page is actually intended for school and my students, so most of the teacher-related links are marked private and are invisible.

What do I like about Delicious? verging on advertisement here!

  1. It’s free.

  2. It’s so easy to find stuff that I’ve listed. I mean, I’ve collected over 700 links, and I can find what I want really quickly. Delicious uses “tags” that you make up (think Twitter hashtags), along with your own little blurb. I think more tags makes for a more accessible list. For example, I’ve tagged OK Go’s music video for “This Too Shall Pass” with physics, mechanics, rube_goldberg, songs, movies, and weird, along with my short description and note about its duration. I use it for physics, when I’m discussing transfer of motion or momentum or Newton’s Laws, or just need a time filler. Click on, say, chemistry for just the list of my chemistry tags. Now click on weird for all of the links that I thought were both chemistry and weird. Click on chemistry again to get rid of it, and only see the weird things.
  3. It’s easy to add new links. Just click and add your description and tags. They have a button you can install on your browser(s). You can just copy and paste into Delicious. They have phone apps (but I haven’t tried them). Hmm… I may be a link-packrat…
  4. You choose to make each link public or private. Private links are only visible if you’re logged in, so when I go to the computer lab, my students still don’t see my private links.
  5. It’s simple to edit your links. If you’re logged in, you just click on “edit” and add tags or change your description. If you want to delete it… boom… done. Easy peasy.
  6. You can access the links from any computer, and so can others. Makes it easy to go to any classroom at school and pull up the videos I want, or to have all of my students click to a particular webpage instead of typing URLs.
  7. Once you’ve saved a particular link, you can see who else has saved it. Chances are, if it’s a specialty thing (like a math activity or chemistry drill page), the other people who saved it are probably also teachers. You can then look at their saved links to steal peruse their hard work. You can also follow them, in a similar way that Twitter does, and check their recent links through the Network.

Things I don’t like about Delicious:

  1. When a URL moves to a new address, it used to be possible to edit in the new URL. They changed something a few months ago, and now you can’t do it. You have to delete the old (now dead) page and add a whole new entry. Weak.

  2. Once you click on a tag, up pops the “related tags” section. These are ordered just by their recently-added-status. Would be more useful if they were either alphabetized or listed by frequency. Hard to predict what else already appears in the category.

This system works for me. Results may vary. It’s sorta like study skills: Using three-ring binders works for me now, but I had to have spiral notebooks and folders back in high school. Find a thing that works for you, and just know that there’ll be some maintenance every now and then.

MTBoS Mission #5: Twitterpated

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Yeah, I just like that twitterpated is a real word. And it, sadly, doesn’t reflect my experience in the Twitter chat.

MTBoS Mission #5 was to attend and participate in a Twitter chat. I was super pumped to see #chemchat listed, but nobody showed up.

Instead, I went to #precalcchat. Definitely out of my normal range, but they asked about non-pre-calc-specific things:

  1. planning content vs concepts and official math practices
  2. emphasis of calc or manual manipulation
  3. unit flow, structure or elements

For the five other people involved in the chat, I hope it was helpful. I guess I was all geared up for some crazy-fast-paced-Twitter-awesomeness, but it went pretty slowly, and the people involved were mostly just sharing their responses to questions, rather than asking for advice or troubleshooting. They also seemed fairly traditional (besides the technology bent), and not interested in changing. While I’m all in favor of finding new information from veterans (especially stuff that is tried and true), this particular chat wasn’t terribly enlightening or helpful for me.

I’m not super excited to go back, but I want to have a better experience.

MTBoS Mission #4: Lab Notebooks For Math

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Finally had some time this week, and listened to the Global Math Department’s podcast on Interactive Notebooks, IN (oooh, lingo!) Megan Hayes-Golding, Nik Doran, James Cleveland, and Jonathan Claydon were on the panel in this podcast, and Jonathan later posted a link to his IN system here.

Some thoughts while listening:

  • Gets the kids to take notes of their own accord, sort of (but does model a way to keep a class organized)
  • Can be very structured (e.g., write this type of notes on this page, diff notes on other pages…) or not
  • Can be used as a store-all for assignments and quizzes etc. (or not)
  • Don’t have to check reams of homework pages (use spot checks or completion checks)
  • Grading for the course, at least for these folks, tends to be more based on participation (i.e., kids have to ask questions if stumped). Work doesn’t often need to go home. Tests count for a lot. Most check for completion (kids can complete stuff later, but must have initiative to show finished work)
  • Kids can refer back to old lessons because it’s in the notebook!
  • Taping in assignment prompts (or matching cards or…) works well
  • Can leave classroom messy with lots of tape, scissors, scraps
  • Will have to keep extra sheets available for kids (vertical files, etc.)
  • No more “I don’t have my notebook, paper, whatever”!
  • Kids can see all the stuff they’ve done over the year
  • Might be more effective with a short reflection on day’s lessons
  • SBG can be kept on same page as table of contents
  • Digital notebooks don’t work well for math (equations)


I chose this podcast (really, more of a recorded lecture/discussion) because I didn’t really know what the “interactive” part of the IN was about. I really like that the notebooks are a source for a whole year’s worth of work. It really is impressive to have that at their fingertips, especially with some reflection later on. It also made me think of a good lab notebook. This is kinda how I have my students run their lab notebooks. I even have a format for students who only need a lab credit but don’t want to actually work in the lab (some have some anxiety issues or sensory processing issues). Here’s my format:

For non-lab lab credit:

  1. Watch a video, read an article, otherwise consume some sort of science-related media that interested you.
  2. On a new page, write a proper citation for your source (MLA or APA or whatever format you want).
  3. Write a brief (1-2 paragraphs) summary of the story.
  4. Write your reaction to the story and at least 5 questions you have about it.
  5. Write an additional 5 questions or thoughts that would take the research/problem/discovery further or in another direction entirely.

Okay, my students don’t always reflect on the thing they’ve just read. But I have found this format pretty successful in at least getting them to try to extend a little bit. It’s also flexible for any topic or series, and in a pinch, I’ve even used it as a sub plan.

I’m not sure I’d use a single notebook for a chemistry course (and in the podcast, someone mentioned that a chemistry teacher at their school also used folders to keep other printed materials). It just sounds like too much micromanaging.

Someone in the podcast also mentioned that higher-level kids hate this format, so I wonder what you do with them to keep them not-irritated and busy in a good way. And how do lower-level kids do, or those with dyslexia or other impairments? How would you do inquiry-based stuff this way, if you’re supposed to create the structure for everything? For SBG, what do kids do to improve their scores (or maybe those scores are mostly test-based and not HW-based)? And how do you study for tests if the notebooks stay at school?