Start the year by figuring out what the question is.

On Tue, Feb 21, 2012 at 5:01 PM, Kristin wrote:

Somehow over a month has past since I initially wanted to respond. Anyway, do you have electronic copies of the articles you use at the beginning of the year?

We used this activity, followed by a study of Matthew 25, followed by this activity with the linked articles below.

Big news about energy has been happening in Holland over the last year. You will be put into a group that will read an article about this issue. Discuss the article with your group and be prepared to share what your group says with others in the class. The person with the most white on their shoes today is the group scribe.

Expanding Holland's Coal Power Plant

Peter Garforth

The State of Michigan Sued!

What's the Plan?

Then we asked the students this: what big questions does a group of people in Holland need answered. This is the list the students came up with and the classes choose one as our question for the year.

We need to know what we do not know.

I continue to think about the conditions of the twenty-first century. I think conditions is the right word, because the skills we need are not different. The conditions under which we are called to use those skills are. Here is my list of conditions, to date.
  1. Everyone builds capacity (since I wrote that I thought may be everyone improves would have been better).
  2. Everyone leads.
  3. Everyone is in charge.
  4. You have to be open to what you do not know.
  5. Everyone needs to be reflective.
  6. Feedback is instantaneous.
  7. Everyone has to manage their connectedness.

So here goes an attempt to describe why we have to be open to what we do not know.

Today in chapel they showed two videos. Much has been made of the first including a column in the august New York Times. The column supposes the old way of learning and knowing: careful study, long hours of research, and grounded arguments. I am not sure this cuts it anymore. 

Facebook is famous for the phrase, "done is better than perfect." Jeff Bethke seems to have been unintentionally doing this same thing writ large. He had an idea. He was open to what he did not know about it. People have responded. He is growing, and so are many people with him.

In science we are taught, way too late I think, that journals filled with publications are a conversation. Researchers dancing slowly around the truth poking holes in each others research and ideas and advancing their own. This process can be seen on Twitter nearly every minute of the day. We have to know what we know and test it. And then be open to correction and advancement of our ideas. We need to hold strong where we are experts, in the face of trolls and naysayers, and keep the conversation moving. We need to know what we know and be able to listen to and be open to what other people know. We also need to be able to test those people and what they know as well.

And perhaps the most important part of all this is that we need to all know how to do this. Not just the scientist or the academic. Because the content is so easy to find and so easy to fake everyone needs to be able to dig.

Who is the leader around here?

I have continued to think about the conditions of the twenty-first century. If I were a better blogger and writer I would have split the last post into two posts and had the whole list, but that is not the way I role. I think conditions is the right word, because the skills we need are not different. The conditions under which we are called to use those skills are. Here is my list of conditions, to date.
  1. Everyone builds capacity (since I wrote that I thought may be everyone improves would have been better).
  2. Everyone leads.
  3. Everyone is in charge.
  4. You have to know what you do not know.
  5. Everyone needs to be reflective.
  6. Feedback is instantaneous.
  7. Everyone has to manage their connectedness.

So who is the leader around here?

Teachers need to lead students, not boss them around. This can only be done if you yourself are moving somewhere and going somewhere. It can only be done if you are exploring, feeling out how what the world is like in the context of your subject. Teachers need to be leaders among their peers. They need to take charge of a grade level or department goal and lead the group in the direction that the school mission statement directs. Teachers also need to build into the others on their teams the capacity to lead where they do not have the right resources to lead. Teacher need to graciously accept that there are times when they need to be led.

Who might they be led by? Other teachers. Administrators. School boards and parents. Most importantly they need to build the capacity of leadership into their students by following their students. I hate to say that we need to build leaders, because I have a mushy feeling that there is no such thing as leadership. There is just doing and not doing. That said we need to create people in schools that are doing and keep doing right from the start. Then they will lead, students, teachers, and administrators. One of the best ways a teacher can do this is to follow the lead of a student.

Everyone needs to lead, and everyone needs to be open to being led. This is the twenty-first century.

Let the students write the standards.

This year we throw students into an inquiry on day one of a unit. We go for a few days, even a week with a goal for the inquiry but almost no physics words surrounding the goal. Eventually we invite the textbook and a problem set into the classroom. The day after that we give the students a list of standards, some from lists I made with another teacher, some from the state and some from other physics teachers who have published their standards.

I cannot say enough good about what I learn when I let the students write the standards. This week we gave them these to filter through their experiences:
  • Predict how the electric force between charged objects varies when the distance between them and/or the magnitude of charges change.
  • Explain why acquiring a large excess static charge (e.g., pulling off a wool cap, touching a Van de Graaff generator, combing) affects your hair.
  • Charged objects can attract electrically neutral objects by induction.
  • Draw the redistribution of electric charges on a neutral object when a charged object is brought near.
  • Identify examples of induced static charges.
  • Explain why an attractive force results from bringing a charged object near a neutral object.
  • Determine the new electric force on charged objects after they touch and are then separated.
  • Propose a mechanism based on electric forces to explain current flow in an electric circuit.

They gave us this list to choose from after running these through the filter of their inquiry, readings, and listening in class.

  • Be able to create enough static electricity to make a balloon stay in the air for more than 30 seconds.
  • Be able to use Coulombs law for real life situations.
  • Calculate the force when you're given the two charges and the distance between the charges.
  • Predict how the electric force between charged objects varies when the distance between them and/or the magnitude of charges change.
  • Be able to use Coulomb's Law to determine force when given a graph.
  • Know how to use Coulomb's Law in context.
  • Know what causes static electricity.
  • Be able to identify/recognize induction and conduction in real-life events.
  • Be able to calculate force, charge, and distance using Coulomb's law.
  • how to eat bacon w/o getting shocked by it's magical awesomeness
  • Understand the relationship between force and charge and how it relates to electronic fields
  • Being able to present this relationship to the class through an experiment
  • Coulomb's Law: be able to apply it in situations that you could encounter daily.
  • Be able to explain what makes something negatively charged, positively charged, and where the energy goes once touched against something.
  • Be able to shock someone.
  • Each individual should be able to conduct their own electrostatic experiment and be able to measure the force.
  • Be able to understand your static electricity knowledge by giving a demonstration of static electricity.
  • Know how to use Coulomb's Law in real life situations.

We loved all the highlighted ones, laughed at the bold one and picked the blue ones. We have crafted more lessons based on these student chosen standards so that they can make progress towards these goals. There are things we never would have thought of in here that motivate students to really dig into the topics. 

How many hits on YouTube should a student video get?

For the last unit of physics this semester we worked with the local utility to produce a list of businesses that had used municipal dollars to reduce their energy use. The students then went out in groups to interview the business owners and had to make a short video promoting the energy saving changes the businesses made.

I am a physics teacher. My goal was not making videos, my goal was awareness of the program and the rather active community of energy savers our small town has. I wanted awareness for my students in the context of their study of energy and awareness for the community at large. The project also dovetails with a local video contest going on. So instead of all kinds of rubrics about the quality of the video my co-teacher and decided that one of the standards for the unit would be, "Students video will get X hits on YouTube." We negotiated X with the students. We opened with 200, and they talked us down to 90.

I found this to be a remarkable tool. In many of the conferences I had with groups making videos I would say things like:
  • Do you think people will want to watch it to the end?
  • Do you think your title is good enough to make someone watch?
  • Would you want to watch this 90 times to achieve the standard?
  • Would you watch a YouTube over 3 minutes?

All of the crazy detail questions that you get are answered by the students when you put it in practical terms. I loved how this turned the conversation immediately to things that great video makers do and away from my standards as a teacher. Plus now I have had people in the community talk to me about their energy use and how it can change.

Some notes: I know they could do the 90 views themselves. In this case go back to one of my goals, that the student be aware. If they watch their video 90 times, they will be aware. Even if they take the effort of putting it into an automatically rotating play list. Most achieved 90 by posting to their Facebook with they please watch this my teacher made me get 90 YouTube views. Meets my goals and theirs.

What makes you groan during lab presentations?

One of my other hats has me thinking about the professional development of all of our teachers 7-12. This is a really fascinating job that is challenging in so many ways I cannot begin to describe it. As a part of that I am part of a group exploring how to better teach writing at the secondary level in a technology rich environment. Once a month this year I am learning about Writers Workshop with a group of volunteers from our faculty.

In the workshop model students are expressing themselves within a context that the teacher provides but in their own words and their own context as well. To translate to the physics audience they create their own data from their own questions and then apply general techniques to analyze that data. It is really cool.

So one of the coolest parts is all the research that teachers of writing have done on giving feedback and actually getting kids to learn from that feedback. Some highlights:
  • limit the negative (Seriously, many recommend stopping after finding two problems. If you find more and even point them out the students wont bother to even fix two. So if you go on and highlight more they will not learn anything, but if you do less and stop highlighting they will at least learn the two things you point out. I cannot tell you how powerful this insight is.)
  • be specific with the positive (good verb, not good job)
  • talk to students rather than write
  • give as much feedback as possible before the final product
  • spend very little time on the final product (once you grade it the process is done therefore the learning is done)

So here is how all this work with writing has changed my physics class. Every inquiry unit ends with a presentation of the research the students have done. I have put very limited requirements on these presentations, but I do provide an increasing long list of guidelines. I thought to myself,  these presentations have not been changing much over the years in spite of me providing this list. So this past unit instead of just spending time going through the list again and giving some time in class to work together on their presentations I picked the two that annoyed me most. Bad procedures and bad graphs. I made a mini lesson about procedure (no more than 7 minutes) and then set them to applying what they learned to their data. Next day same thing with graphs.

Results: actual improvement in the quality of presentations. Students even pointed out the improvements in other students work. So here is my question to you: what makes you groan during lab presentations and how can we work together to make a list and improve them, one skill at a time?

Moodle User Groups

On Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 9:36 PM, Nate wrote:
Hi Jim,

I am a member of the Yahoo PowerSchool User Group and learn a ton from it each day.  Have you joined any Moodle User groups that you would suggest? 

I mainly do two things. First, I subscribe via RSS to the forums that interest me. Second, I also subscribe to this moodle RSS feed bundle. That bundle might seem like too much, so the two blogs I always read in the bundle are MoodleNews and Around the Corner

Twenty-first Century: Now is the time to increase capacity, everyone's capacity.

The last two days I spent a lot of time listening to a consultant from ISM. I really know very little about ISM, it was a gift opportunity. I also know little about consultants, I am rather new to the administrator gig and in fact still teach physics for one period a day. So what this all leads me to say is I am not sure what grains of salt to put on what parts of what I learned. I will say this, consultants can say whatever they want and that in and of itself is fun.

He started with a presentation on twenty-first century skills. I think about this a lot because my school and my classroom are places where people think these skills are developed. He had a lot of lists of the skills, the most intriguing one was from a presentation that I had delivered a while back that was buried on our website. He did his homework. He went on to say that he thought that twenty-first century skills were something different. They were less skills, because as he pointed out, everyone in the room full of administrators had most of the twenty-first century skills without having been educated then. He thought that the expectations were different in the twenty-first century.

I have some thoughts on some of his list, but first he said that the rule for the twenty-first century academic administrator is to build capacity in their faculty. As is so often the case I had never heard it put so succinctly before, but I think this is true. As a Technology Coordinator before and an Instructional Specialist now I have been building capacity in teachers for a long time. However, I wondered in my reflection on the point if it was not broad enough. I wonder if we must all be capacity builders in school, and really in all of our life.

All of us need to increase our capacity and the capacity of those around us. Somehow somewhere even those of us who went to college have lost or not maintained the ability to increase our capacity. We want to be told what we need to do to get the job done. I spent probably ten years as a good teacher not changing too much, reflecting for sure on what went right and wrong but not really doing much more than tweaking around the edges. The last few years my curriculum has been new each year and probably not repeatable. This year I am spending time developing units that I know will not be compelling to students next year. I am confident that the experience of making lessons that are reactive, local and relevant will be and awesome tool and open the doors I need open for future classes to succeed. I am building my capacity to respond to the people around me and support them where they are at. Never done. All can improve. No finish line.

Schools needs to be a place filled with capacity builders. Administrators need to imagine what their teachers and students could be and support them to be that. Teachers in turn tended to ask their administrators for help building capacity. They need to spur their colleagues on to better capacity and they need to build it in their students. Teachers need to build capacity in their administrators by supporting their work, and helping where needed. Students should be expected to build capacity in all the people around them as well; other students, their teachers and administrators. We will know we are building capacity into our students when they start to build capacity into us. School should be a place where everyone improves.

How do we make the world new?

I collect quotes about imagination. I think imagination is one of the most powerful parts of being human. I encourage it in my children, my students and my teachers. I am not sure of this but as I ponder what makes a master teacher I think imagination appears somewhere in my list.

Today the chapel speaker used this Emerson quote:
A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.
I wanted so to replace the word worship in this quote with imagination. The words are not mine to do that with. And I am sure that Emerson was much more careful in word choice than I am. So here are the questions this quote generated for me.

  1. So what do imagination and worship have to do with each other?
  2. How do they both contribute to the new creation that the future is?
  3. How might we add worship into the curriculum, because certainly I would like my students to imagine and create a beautiful world.
  4. Since, as Emerson points out, they will create a new world no matter what how do I get them to use the tools in my class to imagine better, create better and worship better?
  5. What other actions create the world new?

Do you have any more questions. What new worlds will your students create?

Science vs. Engineering

I have read a couple of article lately exploring the difference between science and engineering and how to walk that line as we design inquiry labs. I loved this line from The Science Teacher in an article called Science and Engineering.

Explore and apply: Instructional design should involve labs in which students first explore a concept by studying the relationships between causes and effects (Marek, Maier, and McCann 2008). Once students have developed an understanding of how important variables affect an experimental situation, they can be challenged to use the engineering model and apply their newly formed conceptual understanding to generate a product or maximize an output. In this manner, the science model is employed early on in the exploration phase of the lesson, and the engineering model is used in a subsequent phase of the lesson as an application of student understanding.

I am going to try to add this distinction into my inquiry design. I find that is tend towards engineering experiments in physics class because the have definite easy to describe goals. Even if I design the inquiry around a big engineering question I should always ask myself: where in this unit is the science inquiry?

The whole article is worth a read, sorry it is not free on the internet.

Have you found any other useful distinctions between science and engineering? Do you have a checklist of that you go through when designing an inquiry?