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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Day 36: Fake Out

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Day 36/180: Lab not really due, workday

I’d been told to project the due date for the formal lab report a day early so that kids would actually do it. I don’t like deceptive tactics like this because it really stressed out a bunch of kids; on the other hand, many only had a few sentences written, so it didn’t work anyway. It was also pretty easy to predict which kids were in those two camps. Perhaps the ones who only had a few lines will actually get something done, and hopefully the usually-on-task-anyway kids can cope with the stress and now-minimal work for the weekend.

I did get to help some of the really struggling kids. It’s nice that they want to get help during class, but a few who swear up and down that they’ll come in outside of class, just haven’t.

There’s always these few kids in every class, it seems, and I’m doing my best to keep them on top of things. At what point is it out of my hands and now in theirs?

Day 35: The No-Good, Very Bad Lab Day

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Day 35/180: Lots goes wrong, including fires

It’s probably not the best thing for a science teacher to incinerate students’ lab materials, however accidentally.

This morning started off with 1st Period working diligently, and putting wet filter papers in the drying oven. I took out the first few products, and went to show some formatting things to other students, when there was suddenly white, billowy smoke coming out of the oven. Open windows and the ventilation system didn’t get the smoke out fast enough. Fortunately, it wasn’t raining while everyone trooped outside for the fire alarm.

Second period I had to take to another room while mine aired out. Mostly, it smelled of burned paper, which made me want toasted marshmallows. Their filter papers are drying on the counter.

I stewed during my 3rd period prep (and obtained more lab supplies).

4th, 5th, and 6th periods were pretty flexible on the lab (6th period gave me a gregarious cheer for the fire alarm). I also realized that although I’ve been quizzing kids on what this lab is really doing all week, only a handful seem to know what’s going on. This will probably make for some strange lab reports.

I have a lot of good kids in my classes. So far, there’s been no major freak-outs (we’ll see how tomorrow goes), and most kids are making good, honest efforts in class.

As I’m typing this, I realize that most of the bad things were really only bad for me personally (my car engine light is on, a sense of dread for the reports, a bunch of grading to do, the worm in my lunch apple, etc.). I hope, besides my admission to the fire alarm, my irritation at myself didn’t show too much for my students today. Something to work on.

Day 34: Starting the Big Lab

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Day 34/180: Start of the required lab, checking homework, and some running thoughts

Time to assuage some panic for this big lab. Hopefully it worked, or at minimum, they realize that I’m not gonna back down. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s a realistic timeline, especially with a lot of kids in and out for Friday’s homecoming festivities. We’ll see how this goes. What they don’t realize: how to write a rough draft (I heard several say out loud that they never write rough drafts), editing (since they don’t do rough drafts, they clearly don’t know how to edit), how to plan ahead in the writing (lab reports are awfully formulaic). They can sketch out exactly the formatting and calculations even if they don’t know the final masses yet, and this doesn’t seem to gel with many of them. I wonder if it’s a by-product of their non-editing-habits. We’ll see how much they have ready tomorrow.

Day 33: More Mole Calculations

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Day 33/180: More empirical and molecular formulas, and some slight panic

It’s been on the calendar for a few weeks, so kids (who check the online calendar) should have known it was coming: the required formal lab report dun dun duuuuun!. It’s actually a state requirement, so every kid has to get a “proficient” stamp on one report sometime during their high school tenure. Some have already passed, and many have not. And, added benefit, it’s due this week, when there’s also Homecoming and Halloween (yes, Homecoming on Halloween, so the kids won’t be super distracted on Friday or anything).

Kids were really distressed that the lab would be due this week, and they don’t get two weeks to work on it as in previous years. I have no idea why it would take two weeks to produce a paper that’s nearly copied from work in a paper lab notebook. Yes, they have other homework (of course), but they get to work on this report in class for three days. And, it’s peer-edited, so it’s vetted by other students for completion before it’s turned in to me. They should be pretty good. And generally, their labs are pretty good quality. This one doesn’t have terribly weird calculations or complicated nomenclature; it’s just one reaction.

Holding ground is hard.

Day 32: Procedures

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Day 32/180: Notes for finding empirical and molecular formulas, and some local events

Kids corrected their homework, then diligently took notes on calculating empirical and molecular formulas. They need a class on how to take notes, rather than copying all of the stuff on slides. I’m still glad I split this topic into two days, even though it means that next week is one less day on the big formal lab report, which is required for graduation (some kids have already passed it). I don’t think they need another day, to be honest. I’ll find out how wrong I am, when the lab is due on Halloween, which also happens to be Homecoming. Maybe I need to do some serious planning this weekend….

One week ago, our school had that active-shooter drill. About an hour after that article was posted, this happened. Marysville is only about an hour from us, and a lot of teachers were twitchy today. None of my students mentioned anything, and I only found out around lunchtime via an email from the principal. It’s hard to think of what those kids and parents are going through, and I hope they are able to have a safe and healing weekend.

Day 31: Taking Charge

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Day 31/180: Changing the schedule (gasp!)

Something I should have done before that nomenclature test. They didn’t get it, they needed more time. The good news: most of the nomenclature test re-takes are getting that required 90% score.

Today, kids frantically tried finishing their first mole calculation worksheets (true, they had already seen these types of calculations on previous (unseen-by-me) homework, but this one made them twitch. Instead of allowing them to look over the answers on the document camera (really? really?), I gave them an additional 15 minutes to work together and ask me questions. Definitely the right call. Decent scores on that worksheet, plus going through the (previously) scheduled stuff was pretty heavy to me. Got to split today’s homework over two days, which makes more sense in my head.

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to do a drastic change. I’ll still keep the test days the same, but I need to listen to my teacher-gut a bit more.

Day 30: More Mole Calculations

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Day 30/180: A short Wednesday, with continuations for mole calculations

They’re getting it, but I’m wondering just how much is due to my teaching. I want to teach very differently, and I find myself needing to take stock of what I am doing and what I have done, just to make sure that I covered what I think I have. I’m afraid my 6th period (last period) might not have everything they need. I was also told that the kids are grouped by math abilities, so some of what that last period is “missing” is something I can’t control.

Only 1/3 of my students passed that last test with the required 90%. I want to know how much of that was/is my fault, and how much is that they didn’t study, didn’t think it was a big deal, worked hard but didn’t get it, etc. But do I need to know this? How would that information help me in the future?

I’m feeling pretty ineffectual right now (partially augmented with the current Seattle weather — which is to say, normal for October).

Day 29: More Moles and Reaffirmation

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Day 29/180: Mole notes and The Why

In which students took notes off of a PowerPoint slide deck and tried practice problems… Again.

I’m tired of slides and practice problems. A lot of my students are also tired of this procedure. Two students, in separate classes, called me out in the why-am-I-doing-this way. One was mad that he couldn’t re-take other tests. Yup, I agree. I want to do SBG of some flavor, do that re-takes are acceptable and even encouraged. One student said, “I can do the math, but I don’t understand what’s the big deal of changing units.” Yup, I agree. I really want to do modeling instruction in my next classroom.

It’s frustrating to, on one hand, feel like a new teacher again now that I’m back in the classroom after 7 years doing other things. That frustration is being compounded by re-discovering the frustrations I had when I left the classroom seven years ago. Same frustrations. I don’t like the way “traditional” chemistry classes are taught. Not if my students are going to really understand what they’re doing and why. I don’t just want them to find answers to the problems in the book. I want to be able to throw random ideas at them (or have them create their own projects) and figure out what they need to solve them.

I’m getting really ready for January/February, when I can really concentrate on creating my own curricula.

Day 28: Pre-Moles

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Day 28/180: Returning the required nomenclature tests and starting moles

It’s National Chemistry Week, and I’d love to be doing some activities related to moles. Instead, I had a Monday.

I graded that test over the weekend. About 1/3 of my students got that required 90% for this test. While I’m pretty disappointed that the test grades mostly looked like the normal distribution of scores (I.e., a lot more spread than I thought from a you-know-it-or-don’t test), I’m also disappointed in my teaching that only 1/3 got the required grade the first time. It means a heckuva lot of make-up tests in my future (and theirs) while trying to learn the next thing.

I also have students starting to sink. There’s usually a few, but I’m super uncomfortable with dealing with students who aren’t exactly “mine”, especially when I don’t even know what resources are available for them.

Day 27: Live-Shooter Drill

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Day 27/180: The live-shooter drill

Today was a non-school day for kids, while we had professional development. The morning was spent with some technology overviews and departmental stuff. The afternoon was definitely different (I mentioned it last week).

After signing waivers for the local police (local fire and first responders also took part at our school), we all picked a room in one wing of the building. Teachers for those rooms were playing parts of teachers, and the rest of us were “students”, along with some actual student volunteers (mostly in the police or responder cadet programs). Some students were in the rooms with us. A police officer was the “perpetrator”, complete with air-soft guns (the practicing-police also had air-soft guns). After we heard gunshots, our teacher went to the hallway to lock the door, and saw two kids (in Halloween makeup with “gunshot wounds”) whom she dragged into our room. We supplied “first aid” to what we could diagnose (one was “dead” and one “died” in our room while we hid). We’re not supposed to say much about what happened (so that a real perpetrator couldn’t capitalize on faults). Our room was eventually evacuated outside.

It was creepy. I have been in an actual lockdown before, but nothing happened that time. This time, there were only 7 of us in the room (then 9), 6 of whom were adults. My heart was beating really hard in my chest in before the initial gunshots (so, mostly an anticipatory response). The kid who “died”, for whatever reason made it really hit home for me. I’m responsible for 30 kids five times a day. Responsible for their education and their lives. My room doesn’t have the same construction and hiding places that that room did. We didn’t have 30 crying, sobbing, hysterical teens frantically texting their parents and each other.

During the debriefing with the police (who ran the drill again after we all left), we talked about what went well and what did not. The school (before I started my subbing) had had ALICE training, so we talked through what we could have done to non-police-actors. The “perpetrator” actually evaded police and got away. We found out that the entire neighborhood (almost a square mile) was actually cordoned off so that the police could simulate the entirety of the incident response, including locking down nearby elementary schools. Local (and national!) news crews were reporting on this thing too.

I’m still having problems accepting that our professional development day was spent in a drill of this nature. There’s multi-week preparation courses, written and practical, for driving cars; other than age, there’s no requirements for buying guns. A wise friend once told me, “if you have a gun, you must be prepared for using it for an ultimate purpose: killing someone,” which is why he didn’t own a gun.