Blogging, Reseaching or Reflecting?

Dan Meyer is fond of proclaiming that his blog has been one of the best sources of professional development for him. I have to agree that Google Reader is awesome and has contributed greatly to my willingness to go down the path to lighting rural Nicaraguan schools.

Here is the question that I have going into this. I have read a lot about teachers being reflective as a starting point for changing their teaching. I know that my friends who are the beat teachers are always asking questions about what they can do to get better. So here is the point. Is it blogging that make you a better teacher or is it just the reflection?

I have not been sleeping because I have been worried about physics. What path will the kids take? Will they even want to call Nicaragua and do an experiment with the students there? Will they engage the project like I envisioned or will it be something even greater? As I have finally been writing about some of my feelings I have been feeling better about it all. It is not that it is coming together better, I just feel better about it.

But I do not just feel better about it. New ideas are coming at a better pace. New things to tackle in class are coming to me quicker. It is all still messy, but it is messy in a clearer, sort of researched way.

So am I joining the teachers for whom blogging has helped them? More likely I am joining the teachers who are reflective researchers of what works in classrooms, and that is making order out of the chaos.

Physics Is Streetlights

So we bounced balls and we modeled the real world with some math. I even had students with graphing calculators out with no prompting. We figured out that we can do the basics of this physics thing. But why would we do this physics thing?

I had the students look at this picture for a few minutes. Actually 3.5 minutes exactly. I do this thing where when I give them time to complete a task I open up my iTunes and play a song the length that I give them to work. I even have music sets for longer periods of time. And just in case that is not enough the last song in a set is always orchestral in nature so they know that work time is coming to an end.

I asked them to write about the picture. Start with just noticing details and then ask questions about the picture. What do you want to know about what is going on?

"In this picture, the first thing that i saw right away was the race of all 7 men. They are of course sitting in the streets and they have notebooks and books with them. As people would get stereotyped into the group as "People who live in the projects, have no future". But looking at this picture made me feel like they wanted to better themselves and better their lives and get an education. That was my first assumption. Also, it looks dark outside, and they are outside reading. I'm not sure if it was night or early morning. If it's the morning, it made me feel like they were maybe waiting for a bus or about to go to school. If it's at night, maybe some of them don't have homes with electricity. So they need light to see what they are reading. Their cloths look rugged and worn. They aren't the newest, yet they aren't the oldest. But as I looked into every each and one of their faces, you can just see the determination and dedication they have to better their lives, and actually have and hold a future, instead of risk themselves surviving without an education for the rest of their life."

What teacher needs to say anything when the students bring that kind of heat? What if we brought that to our studies? What if we had a reason to bring that kind of dedication to our studies? The students do not know the question ahead of them yet. The big question will hopefully make their studies this important. And physics is what brings us light today.

tech blog

On Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 11:24 AM, Jessica wrote:
Got any good ed tech blogs you can direct me to?

Yes. Obviously I do. 

The essentials.

The less frequent posters who lay golden eggs.

The one the is always great but posts so often I wonder if he is human.

First Day: Physics Is Hula-Hoops

The first day of school is important. Teachers know this. Dress sharp. Do not show your fear. Smile. Shake hands. move around the room. For years I have lead a physics tour. Student file into the room and the second the bell rings I say follow me, and we go on a tour. I loved this because they do so little on a typical first day in any other class. It screamed we are going to do things in this class. It did not require laptops (which get handed out in English class the first day), pens, papers or anything else.

So this year I did not know what to show them. The goal is simply stated, bringing light to rural schools in Nicaragua, but the path is unknown in many ways. What I wanted is to set them up with the reason that this goal is physics. So what is physics? I am not sure. But I do know a few things about it.

The week before school I got an email from the NSTA physics list serve. One of the heroes of the list serve is Frank Noschese. He sent this gem to the list as an opening day lab.

I've also done a ball bounce challenge.
Each group get a different bouncy ball (tennis, lacrosse, golf,
handball, pinky, superball, etc.)
The challenge: Drop the ball though a horizontal hula-hoop elevated
off the ground so that the ball rises back up to the level of the
hula-hoop. The catch -- they only get one chance. (Similar to your
hit the target).

Kids do not know the height of the hoop in advance. However, they can
"play" with their ball and take whatever data they need first. Then
all the balls are collected and the hula-hoop is placed. Students can
measure the height of the hoop and make a prediction for their drop
height. When they are ready to drop, they get their ball back to drop

If you cannot get a set of different balls, but can get identical
balls, then each group gets a different hula-hoop height to prevent
sharing of answers between groups.

I hope this makes sense. The data is very linear and is easily collected.

I ran with it. Physics is intuitive. Physics uses math without ever really knowing you need to. Physics is real. Physics is experimental. Physics is active on the first day.

Who knew that hula-hoops are a seasonal item not available in August? I did not. On my way home the first day (I split the lab across two days) I stopped at 3 stores and called two more. A red piece of tape on the wall had to suffice.

A good couple of days.

How can we bring energy to rural Nicaragua?

I am three weeks into an experiment. It is big. I am not sure how public to be about it. Since it is here, I guess I want it to be public and I want help.

A little background. I have been teaching physics for 15 of my 17 years. I was at first working closely with another physics teacher, who is in most ways my teaching mentor. He left close to the start of a school year two years later and I was called up to the big leagues, all the sections of physics. I love it. I love teaching physics because it is the most like being a camp counselor that you can be and still be teaching an academic subject. There is not one experiment (hardly) that kids cannot do.

I have also been blessed to teach physics in an environment rich in technology. I assigned online individualized homework for the first time in 1999. I have always had a large stock of probes and other data gathering devices. It has been wonderful. I started student blogs in 2005, which I think is before it was cool, although not right on the cutting edge.

Two years ago I got an idea from my mentor to organize my second semester course work around the idea of energy. This was not really anything new. I had always studied heat, electricity, and nuclear during the second semester. These are all energy topics but he thought I could tie them into the bigger energy topics of our day, especially the proposed new coal plant for our town. I took the challenge and added in ties to the bigger picture of energy and a required public presentation on an energy topic.

This summer I took a class in curriculum development. In that class was a teacher from Nicaragua. Her job: find power for rural schools that are off the grid. The professor assigned us to work on a project together and the wheels in my brain started turning. What if my physics course was an learning conversation about how we the physics students in Michigan could learn the physics needed to bring energy to schools that do not have it? She thought it was a great idea. A partnership was formed, I am living the answer to that question every day right now. Keep reading and you can come along for the ride too. Better yet chime in and help us out. We have never done this before. The people there need your help too.

There are a lot of posts about the last three weeks built up inside my head. Hopefully they will start coming out at more regular intervals.

Content Has Been Free For A Long Time

A recent post brings up a nagging question that I have had while reading a lot of edubloggers and even more mainstream media in the last six months. I agree that the Mechanical Universe is excellent. If you watched and understood them you would know a lot of physics. The same of course can be said of reading or listening to all of Feyman's Lectures or even watching Kahn Academy. Then I think to myself, I would learn a lot of physics if I just read Giancoli's Physics (the text for my course). Content being essentially free (say approximately $100, or bus fare to the nearest library) is nothing new. It has been true for my entire life. Why then does free content seem so new to so many people?

Physics teachers make all the physics that is revealed in all the resources above fun, relevant and engaging for students. Teachers make physics matter. Teachers include student stories with their own story and weave in the story that is physics. Teachers nurture a openness to the mysteries of physics that lets us all imagine a new world. Careful, loving, thoughtful, inventive story weaving makes every participant, the teacher, the student and physics itself a new creation.

A Posture Of Listening

Listening is important. I have only been married four years, but I know that closing the laptop and listening makes or breaks a conversation with my wife. The same is true at school, especially in my job as a technology coordinator, where I regularly listen to teachers talk about their classes and the lessons they would like to add technology into. 

I think listening is most important because it honors the image of God in the person you are talking to. There is something of God that is revealed in each of us, and truly listening to another person can uncover that nugget of God you would have otherwise missed. 

As I thought about this during a class this summer I reinvented my workspace to reflect the importance of listening. The pictures are before and after pictures of my desk. Screens no longer get in the way of my view of the other technology coordinator, with whom I plan all sorts of different events, lessons and technology implementations. I also removed the screen that was in the way of me actually using the conference end of our desks, I will be able to stay at my desk and join a conversation on the semicircle without distraction. I am using both inputs on the monitor still on my desk to use my desktop and add to my laptop if needed. 

I also adressed some issues of equity related to those I am listening to. There is now gigabit ethernet for them to connect their laptops to. There are more comfortable chairs on wheels for guests. There is a power adapter for a teacher or student to charge their laptop while at a meeting. 

I am hoping that these changes make listening physically easier, and thereby will increase my effectiveness in helping teachers and students be creative technology users. By allowing them greater creativity I will be allowing them to reflect the image of God better in themselves. 

Blog, forum or journal?

Today I got this email...

For this class, I have to create a website for an assignment, and am struggling with how to do this and not just be reinventing the wheel since we already do Moodle, Quia, Posterous...   I want it to be useful, and I've been wanting to do on-line journals for some time now. 

Can I pick your brains for ideas?  I'd like to do something interactive and get them writing a lot more in Spanish.   It would be my dream to have students keep on-line journals where they'd have to write 1x or 2x/week in Spanish responding to in-class topics and discussions.   It would be great if the students could decide if each entry would be private or public (but obviously I'd like to read them all).  I'm not sure if a blogger site would be the best option for this.  Do you know of any site where I could, as a teacher, manage their journals? It would be sort of a mix between a forum and a blog. I'd like for them to be able to log in and have all their journals on one page so they could see their progress, like a blog.  It would be great for me as a teacher to be able to see each student's entry to a particular discussion all on one page as well so I don't have to click on 70 different blogs to give them a grade. 

Here is my response, what would you have said?

Thanks for asking. First of all what a great idea to have a space where kids can share widely but also share with just you. I think that will allow kids who are not as confident in their voice to get started and make mistakes and eventually come out of their shell as Spanish writers and share with a wider audience. You can also share blog links with parents so they can keep up as well.

I have a couple of ideas. There is no perfect solution to your problem, just thinking off the top of my head. Posterous allows kids to have posts be private. If they would then invite you to be a contributor I think you can see the private posts as well. You can the either subscribe in Posterous and get an email whenever there is a new post, or add them to Google Reader and read them there (that is what I do with student blogs).

Everyone at school has a google apps account now. You could have them keep a journal in a google doc that they share with you. That would be completely private to the two of you. Then they could keep a separate blog (any blog software they like: we have had kids use our internal blog server, Posterous, Blogger, Shutterfly, and every student has a blog in moodle as well) where they would post pieces of the journal that they desire getting public comment on.

I would think about using our internal blog server as well. Everyone has a blog there by default, but for this we would create new ones with you and the student as a blogging group. Then posts could be marked private to the group only or public.

I have to admit the private/public nature of your request is a little different. Most teachers want either one or the other. From reading about the process of blogging by some of the people who have opened up about their work flow I think that the Google Docs option mimics most closely what bloggers do. They write many things for themselves and a few of them show up as public pieces that they actually post. To me this model make that option very attractive, but it would require following two different places that they post.

If you get any other ideas please tell me. Thanks for asking.