Video Your Trials

Today in the student presentations I am learning that taking video of every trial in an experiment is both instinctive and essential for today inquiring minds.

In the attached example it was actually part of their planned data collection: they measure the height later in logger pro. But several of my students have used video of early trial to improve experimental process and or recover from errors. Great stuff and cellphones and iPods were out in force.

What Is Most Important For Learning

I attended the orientation session for a Massive Open Online Course yesterday. The is a course entitled Learning and Knowledge Analytics. It is only a short course. It is a topic I think I should be more well versed in. I have always wanted to know what my motivation to take a free course would be. It is based in Moodle, and I have always wanted to be a Moodle student, having taught so much within it. Most importantly I might meet some wonderful new people

This slide caught my eye. In a traditional classroom the big words are reversed. Students track (take notes), interact (do something with the notes) then create (if they ever get to do this). So in this course we create first. It is essential because there will be more content than we can consume, and by creating we will focus on the conversations and content that we need most.

I often get stuck at the start of a project. Then I remember, just put something down. Any part, any order. Then the rest start to flow and I know what other information I need. Classrooms need to create first.


I hear teachers talk about all the things that they have to cover. It is sometimes an excuse for not changing the way we teach. How could I possible cover everything if I allowed time for inquiry? How could I possibly have the time for a discussion? How can I cram more technology into my course?

As a technology integration person I have never sold technology as a time saver. I have always sold it as making the time we have better, more fun, relevant or engaging. Yet some of this urgency has spilled over into my own frustrations with how problem solving gets taught in my own class. I have forgotten that I am not in charge of when something is learned.

I was reminded of this in a great little book called Serving With Eyes Wide Open. It is a book specifically about short term mission trips. It is really so much more. It is about opening up your perspective on the world to see your own cultural viewpoint so that you can enjoy other cultural viewpoints. While some of the chapters are specific to Christian ministry, much of the content is about culture.

This quote convicted me, "Our drive to make everything happen 'now' rather than seeing what unfolds can lead us to be judgmental of people in more laid-back cultures." I wonder if we can apply this statement to schools, where teachers are asked to live increasingly in the adult results now world of business but teach kids who are by their nature are revealing slowly to themselves and the world around them what they know.

School is about seeing what unfolds. We do not know what each person in a classroom is going to bring to that classroom until June when we close the door on that class. It does not mesh with what is being demanded of us, which is frustrating for us. However we must let our students continue to reveal who they are as they discover who they are.

Learning and Ribs

Ribs in the smoker

I love ribs. I love them with BBQ and with rubs. I love them all year long. I can eat a lot of ribs. I love to look at them at the meat counter and pick out my ribs. I love to cook them. And I cook them like you have too... slow.

So here is what I observe about my heat and temperature inquiry. It was a process. And I think this is OK. Learning that takes time lasts. My objective was to have student run into a need to understand both specific heat and latent heat in their quest to show me a scenario that matched my conditions. Many groups did. I would get great questions and answer them with more questions. This was especially true as student prepared their presentations. One of the main components of the presentation is telling us what a physics professor would have said would happen. They dig into the book and the wikipedia and the physics classroom trying to figure out what someone more trained might say, and they come with more questions. Many times questions that I do not know the answer to.

It just feels like it take a long time. Mainly because, like tasting the ribs after hours of cooking, I know how good it is when you understand something new about the world. I find myself explaining things perhaps more often, and in orders that I would not have chosen, but students hang on the words. Instead of me wondering if they have ever cracked the text, they come with it open asking for help with a passage.

By the way, not every group gets there. Some get it during the presentations when I highlight stuff and ask questions. Others seem to need a problem set to get it. Some need the first quiz, but even that is fine because they can take it until they are happy (SBG!). Some probably escape from the topic somehow, just like they always have, it is just not as many as it used to be.

The Hardest Things Are Worth Doing Right

The title of the post comes from Camp Roger. Camp's have a lot of hard problems to solve. There probably is not a lot of math in the problems, but sometimes there is. I sent a link to the post entitled Pleasantly Frustrating by Joe Bower to my camp director. The post, and its title reminded me that the hardest things are worth taking the time to do right.

In view of my change to allowing WolframAlpha into my physics class has made problem solving just plain frustrating to many students. So where is the balance between solving real problems, complicated, multiple step problems  and just being frustrating students? What is a pleasantly frustrating physics problem?

In my change of the course to look at a real problem, energy in Nicaragua, I have tried to solve the pleasant part by making the problem really real, hoping that the focus on the small steps would come from a bigger purpose. I must not be holding that purpose in front of them correctly yet, because at least the mathematical problem solving is still mainly frustrating. This is something to continue to work on.

WolframAlpha in Physics

For about a year and a half now I have been using WolframAlpha (WA) in class. Students may use it for any assignment or assessment. This changes the problems that you assign. Drastically.

Many easy problems can be simply cut and past into WA and solved. So what becomes important is assigning problems that get at the real skills we would like students to have from problems. Problems that they have to break apart and digest and put together the simple things that WA can solver for them. This is not unlike what I do when I solve problems in my own work.

What I did not know until now was how little of that kind of problem solving I used to teach. I assign many fewer problems that are much harder and require a ton more thinking. Since this is not what I am used to many of my old methods of teaching problem solving are not working as well. Here is the punch line: WA is making me think that I need to have my students talk more about the problems they are solving. This technology is making me see a need for my students to be more social. I should have read Frank's post more closely.

There are so many complaints out there that technology makes us less social, but I think in the end it frees us to be more social. But it is hard work getting there.

Mathematical Standards

As a part od every inquiry unit there have been mathematical standards. This keeps the rigor in the course. I am convinced that you can teach using inquiry and also have rigor. I am struggling with how to do this better.

I had a student after that inquiry on heat, temperature and phase change send in this scribe post. Essentially she is asking why I teach it backwards, inquiry first then math. I actually brought this up in all my classes as both a new kind of scribe post (less words more thought) and just to ask the question, why do you think I would do this? Amber reflected on the original reflection. So did another student.

Physics teaching, may be more than any other subject, is fraught with balance problems. It seems so hard to leave behind the "rigor" in exchange for the true rigor that is learning. This journey to energy in Nicaragua is making it even harder because both are required. There  is no way of not having your math in order if you are going to make something. A number of students proven that just in making solutions to stay at one extreme temperature for a long time. On the other hand if all that is learned is memorized algorithms quickly forgot, what have I helped the student reveal about themselves to the world?

Any insight would be appreciated.

Gene Norris

I have been using Bluefire Reader to read ePub books from the library on the iPad. I have not checked this many books out from the library in years.

I love Pat Conroy's  storytelling and I have been reading My Reading Life. My favorite book by him is the must read teacher book, The Water Is Wide. I ran across this quote about his favorite English teacher, "'Mr. Norris acted like I was the most important girl in the world.' she said. 'You were. That was Gene's secret. All of us were.'"

I am starting a collection of quotes the exemplify what I am currently calling a posture of the image of God. This posture is a combination of two ideas that I have been toying with. In the Kalyanpur and Harry's book Culture in Special Education the propose that special education teachers need a, "posture of cultural reciprocity." Their idea is that you cannot understand the needs of a student and their family until you have some handle on what is cultural to both you and the student. Since you are the teacher you are the one who has to build into your life a posture of always looking to learn about those around you. The book is another must read.

I tied this idea to one I got from CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory [PDF], "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." This caught my attention because of another quote, this one unattributed brought to me by a professor this summer, "There is a part of who God is that only gets expressed through who you are."

Teaching means to have a posture of the image of God. Whoever you run into has some piece of the image of God that you will only see by looking closely at that person. As a teacher I need to work to bring this unique piece of God's image out in each student. This is the task of revealing the immortal, of helping students, "know fully, just as [they] have been fully known."

Gene Norris had a posture of the image of God, whether he knew it or not.