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Monthly Archives: February 2014

It Works on The Aura of The User

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When I was in high school, we had a new principal. One of the first things he did in office was to get the school a Quadro machine, to help identify and diminish our school’s drug problem (we weren’t aware there was a drug problem). At any rate, the thing looked something like a Star Trek phaser with a car antenna out the top. You’d hold the box-part in your hand, and the antenna would extend in front of you. When you plugged the appropriate “chip” (one for alcohol, one for marijuana, one for cocaine, etc.) in the back and walked down the school hallway, the antenna could somehow detect the chemical in the offending student locker, and when you triangulated the location by walking the hallway from the opposite direction, you could claim reasonable suspicion, which is enough to search a locker without student permission.

When the school body (not to mention the staff) got wind of this and performed a collective eye-roll, the principal brought in Quadro company people to demonstrate the device in front of everyone. While no students worked the machine properly (although the company people could), the principal wasn’t deterred. A few nerds from the Physics Club (*ahem*) asked to examine the device. We asked if we could open it up and look at the circuitry, so the company people opened the hollow box for us. And it was hollow. No electrodes (what did the chips plug into?), no wiring… just air. When asked how the machine worked, we were told, “It works on the aura of the user!” Our principal was still undeterred with this news (“Isn’t that fascinating?!”), but the school got its money back a few months later when the FBI investigated the company for fraud.

What makes dowsing rods so compelling?

There’s a new article today about Egypt’s hepatitis-C dowsing rod, and links to the patent. There’s a bunch of these things out there (thanks, Wikipedia!), of similar car-antenna design, and mostly debunked. I understand the desire to have a quick and easy way to find horrible things like explosives and disease, but sensing the molecules in the air is pretty preposterous.

That being said, there is evidence that trained animals may be able to detect seizures, cancers, or even death. You’re better off getting a pet to detect molecules than a fancy, expensive dowsing rod.

Silent Instruction

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I was sick over the weekend, and for some reason, I always get laryngitis after I’m better. Today is no exception. So, it’s time for another silent class.

I picked this up from my high school band conductor, a wonderful instructor (and apparently, now the district flipped-classroom guru and @fellbop on Twitter), who had actually studied mime in college (a long story, I’m sure). It also made him incredibly expressive while conducting, and the “Feller Lean” was something no one else could do without guide ropes (yes, we tried).

At any rate, one day, Mr. Feller had laryngitis, and couldn’t talk over 100 band kids. By miming and charades, we had an entire period of really intense rehearsal that made us listen to each other and respect his conducting at a high level. Between actual playing, when there was normally chatter, it was pin-drop-silent as everyone’s eyes watched Mr. Feller for the next instructions. It was so effective that we had other silent rehearsals through the year, even when he could use his voice. Clearly, it stuck in my head too.

When I taught public school, I did it. I ran a class without talking. Granted, I did have some instructions written on the board, but I didn’t talk the whole day (actually, two days). The kids had to respect me and my miming instructions, otherwise they didn’t know what was going on. They tried asking me questions, and I tried croaking out answers, but when they heard how little voice I actually had, they’d tell me, “oops! I’ll just ask my neighbor.” Like actual games of charades, usually one or two kids would shout out (and translate) what they thought I meant, and the others would catch on. Okay, I had some problems miming “stoichiometry” and “freezing point depression,” but the drama kids helped me out and since the kids had a worksheet or project in front of them, I could point to what they were working on, and they’d get the idea. The strangest part was that while they worked, it was near-pin-drop-silent, although they had no restrictions from me on their noise levels (and I couldn’t tell them to be quiet, even if I wanted to).

For them, it was kind of a game, figuring out what was happening (who doesn’t like watching someone else do charades and jump around the room?), and for me, it was awesome to have that kind of respect from my students. It also showed me what kind of respect they had for each other.

Graphing: Health and Height vs. Weight

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Kate Nowak (a.k.a., @k8nowak) asked for a lesson involving plotting and residuals. I’ve been thinking about my lack-of-classroom-curricula-posting lately, so here’s a little bit of something.

For 9th grade science, there’s usually a graphing unit/component. Besides ye-olde height-vs.-shoe size graph (which usually works a little too well and gets some freshmen embarrassed), I started height-vs.-weight of semi-public figures. I found (and periodically update) the heights and weights of local NFL, MLB, WNBA, Olympic gymnasts, jockeys, female weightlifters, sumo wrestlers, and supermodels (this last one is very difficult to find, especially weight at the time of active modeling).

Data here: HtWtGraphing2013

When it’s graphed, it looks something like this: [ARGH! can’t get it to paste a picture… will add this when I can figure it out.]

Anyway. I don’t have a whole lesson plan around it because my school is different and lessons are really flexible. However, my instructions are something like this:

  1. Pick 4 of those lists and graph them on the same plot. (Make sure you have enough room for all of the numbers. Do you need negatives? Got a title?)
  2. For each set of data, make a line of best fit. (note: the sumo wrestlers list is really weird.)
  3. According to WHO, (70″, 176lb.) and (76″, 205lb.) cuts a line between “normal” and “overweight” (not “obese”). Graph this line.
  4. Look where your data fall. How do your graphed people compare?
  5. Most of these people are professional athletes (other than supermodels). Are they overweight? What are some problems with defining “normal” and “overweight” and “obese”?
  6. Are all athletes of a particular body type?
  7. Is weight a good indicator of health?
  8. What other factors are good health indicators/measures?
  9. What other factors could influence health for a person of seemingly “normal” weight?

The Show Must Go On

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Science shows are cool, but not very interesting.

Remember that science show that you watched in your elementary school or at a museum? It was some guy who exploded some stuff and made things bubble and change color. Remember why he did any of it? Probably not, other than it looked super sweet.

…or kinda like this.

In college, I was part of a student-run chemistry show. Thanks to our intrepid advisor (hey, Karen, where are you now??), we created a fantastic (if I do say so) hour-long performance that actually engaged kids rather than merely burnt out a few retinas. We had skits, costumes, music and lights cues, and yes, explosions and things that changed color and bubbled. Because all of our demos had context, we know kids held onto the ideas longer. We got lots of thank you cards with crayon-drawn illustrations of various characters and certain key phrases. We even performed part of our show at the national ACS convention. In other words, we were awesome.

I do love me some Allie Brosh, even though she didn’t make this version of the picture.

So. I have started a science show with three kids at my high school. I’m not giving them total free-reign, but I will help them do whatever they want, within reason, for the elementary kids at our school.

Here’s where I need some help: I’m using the science show as part of my teaching license renewal (long story… just roll with it). BUT, I need to officially document some resource that tells me how to set up a science show. I can’t find something online beyond science fairs (and don’t have access to a couple of journals that might have something). If you have a person/journal article/book/anything else on how to set up a high school show, I’d really love to read/watch/hear about it!


Getting My License

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Actually, I already have my teaching license. In two states. And I have to renew it. In two states. At different times. And in different intervals of years. And the procedure is different for each state. And the fee is different for each state. And the process to get each in the first place is also different.

So that’s not a pain or anything.

It does no good to grumble about it: I don’t have control over the states’ requirements, I only have to follow them. And I thought about going through the National Boards program (NBCT), but I don’t have a class of 6+ kids needed to do the test/experiment thing. Plus, it’s apparently shutting down temporarily. (Side-note: I have to say, when I called the NBCT hotline, the woman on the other end was fantastic, and we ended up chatting for more than half an hour about teaching and stuff.)

The reason I’m keeping the first state’s license? It’s stronger; that is, if I move, it’s more likely to get me a new license in the new state. My current state’s license may or may not do that. It seems like each state thinks their license process is the best, so no licenses actually transfer across state lines very well.

Here’s what I do mind: I’ve got the top license for one state, and it doesn’t translate to the top license in another state. And if I move again, I’ll most likely have to work through even more licensing procedures in the next state. I don’t mind doing professional development: it’s something, as a professional, I should be doing anyway. I do mind jumping through more hoops to prove that I can jump through hoops in a different state.

Group Work Rubric

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Justin Aion (also @JustinAion) wanted a rubric for class conduct. Explaining it over Twitter was fairly ridiculous, so here it is, hopefully a little more clearly.

Ric Long was my Cooperating Teacher when I student-taught in his 6th grade math/science block class. I will admit that I had no desire to teach in a middle school, but he had every single 6th grader wrapped around his finger. He ran a tight ship, and they loved him. One of the things I really liked in his class (but don’t think it’s quite right in a high school setting) was his grading of group work.

The desks in his room were in groups of four, and kids were assigned to new groups every new unit (about every 6 weeks or so). The kids immediately next to each other were partners, and the tables were the groups for group work. Kids were expected to, when working together, only talk to the appropriate people. (Side note: I student-taught in January, and I actually wanted to go back to see how he set up all of these expectations at the beginning of the year.)

During group work, Ric copied a blank seating chart (except for names) and stuck it to a clipboard. While walking around the room and helping kids, he kept an ear out for the following positive and negative behaviors:

  • E = encouragement (kids saying, “good job!” or “hey, that’s a great idea!”)
  • PD = polite disagreement (“no, I don’t think so because…” rather than, “WRONG!”)
  • SOT = staying on task (sometimes great to point out to ADHD kids)
  • SR = good silent reading (lots of quiet kids got this one)
  • PTM = polite transfer of materials (i.e., using please and thank you)
  • SV = small voices (now that I think about it, I think this was actually a positive value of kids using appropriate decibel levels, but it could be declared in the negative value too.)
  • IW = invisible walls (I thought this was genius… if conversations started wandering, Ric helped them draw some invisible walls, force-field style, between parties. Kids could even draw their own invisible walls if neighbors were bothering them.)

This list was posted on the board, so all could see (and aim for it). On the clipboard, Rik made sure to give each kid at least two letter-evaluations (more chances for those having bad days), along with extra verbal praise for kids who have trouble behaving appropriately, had a rough time last time, or need to know that they’re doing well. Good behaviors could also be crossed out (along with verbal acknowledgement/wag-o-the-finger), and kids could choose to re-earn the good letters. When he graded the finished group work papers, he’d give them a grade for the work, as well as points for the behavior chart (5 for one-day work, 10 for a multi-day project). Kids could earn 0’s for poor behavior, but he really tried to work with kids to avoiding it.