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Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Elevator… and Elevating

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I’m an introvert. I’m not much for small talk, and even though I want to talk to people, I’m very bad at it. When I meet people (or get my hair cut or meet people at a party or talk to teachers at the pre-school), conversations often go like this:

New Person: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a teacher.
New Person: What do you teach?
Me: Chemistry.
New Person: Oh. I loved my chemistry teacher! He was soooo weird and blew up stuff! OR Oh. I hated chemistry… no offense. You must be smart!

There are a few things wrong with this common-for-me conversation:

  1. I need to work on self-marketing and conversation skills in general.
  2. That the word “chemistry” automatically means smart (which is self-deprecating and harmful to the speaker).
  3. That being a teacher did not make me smart.
  4. The conversation ends quickly.

A few people have asked me what-could-I-possibly-like about teaching chemistry. Today, I (and my students) played with dry ice all day long, making it sublimate, change indicator colors, vibrate coins, and (of course) blow foggy bubbles. I do enjoy being the teacher that’s remembered for doing stuff with fire/explosives/danger. It’s pretty fantastic when you hear your group of 5-year-olds school somebody on non-Newtonian fluids. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a rise out of it, too. But these aren’t things to get a conversation going with strangers.

@Mythagon, besides having awesome link-mouseovers, says that instead of an elevator speech, teachers need an elevator question in order to draw people in and ignite conversations. Coincidentally, I saw this article posted on Twitter. And then this article on Brain Pickings, about Dan Pink and his ideas into becoming a better salesman. Put your own profession into mind before watching Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity in this (short but super interesting) animation.

It’s a bit of a different tact from Dr. Tyson’s art of a soundbite idea. Instead of just impressing someone (especially people who are probably not enamored with school, since most people aren’t), get them onto your side by getting them to talk first.

So what’s the question? I’ve tried, “Why didn’t you like chemistry?” but that sounds defensive, and the person is usually apologetic to me. There’s, “Well, science is just one kind of ‘smart.’ I can’t fix drains or perform concertos or even cut my own hair,” which just sounds patronizing. And “teaching is slightly less taxing than my past life of making explosives,” sounds like bragging. “Have you seen Cosmos?” doesn’t go far if they haven’t. But none of these elevate the profession of teaching, nor get really into why you like your job, nor get someone on your side.

And it’s hard to talk about science and math when most of the rest of the world doesn’t think they want to. Talking about teaching science seems like an insurmountable challenge.

But I do get paid to make silly putty and blow things up.

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What’s The Problem?: Fortune Fish

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Act 1: Observations and Hook
Have you seen these before?

The writing didn’t focus well. It reads:
Place Fish in palm of hand and its movements will indicate
Moving Head … Jealousy
Moving Tail … Indifference
Moving Head and Tail … In Love
Curling Sides … Fickle
Turns Over … False
Motionless … Dead One
Curls Up Entirely … Passionate


Act 2: Questions, Possibilities, Resources

  • What happened?
  • Why?
  • What’s the fish made of?
  • Does it have to be red?
  • What might make it curl versus merely move?
  • Here’s what happens when hands are rubbed together first:
  • Here’s what happens when the fish is placed on the forearm instead of the palm:
  • Here’s what happens when hand lotion is applied first:

Act 3: Resolution and Continuation

  • What might happen if a person iced their hand before holding the fish?
  • How would a person get a fortune of “dead one” or “passionate”?
  • Will it work if you dunk it in a fish tank?
  • Will it work if you put it on a heating pad?
  • Will it work on any part of your dog?
  • What other situations would the fish work?
  • If you stack two, will one or both or neither work?
  • So, what does the fish indicate?
  • Steve Spangler details how the fish works here.

Goals: New vs. Veteran

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When I finished my teacher prep program and was working through my first teaching job at a large public school, I suddenly remembered pulling all-nighters in college. And I hated grading. And planning was crazy. And learning all of the stuff at school, including what kinds of resources were there, and who to ask for what, and who to not ask for what, and how to order lab supplies, and what an evaluation really means, and how the union worked (and lots to think about with the narrowly-avoiding-a-strike negotiations), and salaries, and… oh yeah… the kids. Being in class was actually calmer and more fun than being outside of class, and I loved it.

I’d been told that the first year is mostly about survival. Just make it through. I’d had a good feeling because I’d taken copies of worksheets (and therefore, a rough curriculum guide) from two teachers while student teaching. But merely having a curriculum didn’t prepare me for all of the issues at hand.

This year has been rough for a number of reasons. Some are personal, but in addition to teaching my normal load of kids, I’m also working on renewing my teaching license and trying to combat the teaching sloth that I’ve felt recently, as well as a general degree of negativity. Oh yeah, and spend time with my family and take care of myself. It’s a hard balance, but this year feels a lot more productive than the last couple.

So here’s my question: when does it shift from merely surviving to thriving? What’s the thing that makes you (as a professional) get beyond the challenges of day-to-day junk, and transform into the teacher you want to be?