STEM ?

STEM?

STEM?

I’ve been pretty amused by the mania to turn our science and math curricula into “STEM.”

My path to the science classroom was unconventional. I took my Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from The Ohio State University straight to a chemistry lab. I used atomic absorption spectroscopy, gas chromatography, and Kjeldahl digestions to analyze everything from the protein content in alfalfa to pesticide residues in soil. I had to be creative. I had to invent things. I had to mess things up, to do things that didn’t work, and then I had to make them work. Then, I ran the quality control department in a food production facility (human, this time.) If someone had gotten sick or died from consuming our product, I would have been responsible. I got pretty good at creative troubleshooting. I left that job when our first son was born. A bit bored, I joined up with 3 other scientists and a salesman to start a company. We collected soil and crop samples from dairy and hog farmers, analyzed the samples for nutrients, and then manufactured custom fertilizer for the soils and nutritional supplements for the animals based on the feeds they grew. I remained a partner until Baby Number Last was ready for preschool. I was at work until about 4 hours before his birth. I returned to work with baby in tow when he was 5 days old. But I digress. And, by the way, was any of this STEM?

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Instead of an instructional coach…

Here’s what I’d like to have instead of an instructional coach:

instead

Instead of a coach…. an assistant*.

Yup.  That’s right.

I want an assistant. Not actually an assistant for demos and teaching, although that could work. I want more of a, well,  lab manager.

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A Teacher’s Letter to Bill Gates

UPDATE February 27, 2014:

I’ve been funded to attend the conference.  Thank you, Oregon Education Association!

Background:

I worked every possible angle to attend the T&L conference, but it’s not in the cards this year. I was very disappointed that I could not attend,

Dear Mr. Gates

Dear Mr. Gates

and then I saw the email about Bill Gates as a speaker. I’ve been a long time supporter of NBPTS, having certified in AYA/Science in 1998 when the certificate was first available and renewing in the 2006-2007 cycle. I’ve supported initial cert candidates and renewal candidates, having written the renewal workshop materials for Washington State (WEA). I am working hard to promote certification to potential candidates in Oregon. I was watching the revisions as carefully as an outsider to the process can watch, and was very much hoping that the process would maintain the rigor and standards I’ve known since 1997 when I began the process. Associating Bill Gates with our profession, no matter how much money he might give, has alienated a good many potential candidates and has many of my NBCT colleagues across the nation questioning whether they will bother to renew. We do not want anyone who is not an educator in the position to offer financial incentives for following their decisions about what they believe is best for our profession and our students. I don’t remember a time I’ve been so disappointed in the direction my profession is taking, and it’s not my nature to watch in silence as it’s destroyed.

With that in mind, below is my letter to Bill Gates as he prepares to address my colleagues at the National Board Teaching and Learning Conference on March 14, 2014.

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Organization (in the Lab): 20 Day Blogging Challenge, Day 2 #bc20

For years, I struggled with organizing student lab cupboards.  Way back when, we had enough basic lab equipment for each student pair to have their own stocked, locked drawer.  At my most recent school, we do not. Two pairs of students are assigned to work at 1 table. Each pair has their own cupboard. Each cupboard is, however, shared with 5 other classes, both biology and AP Chemistry.

Lab Cupboards

Table 1 nailed it!

Putting things away is not my strength. It’s a challenge to get students to do so, particularly when they are not solely responsible for their equipment.  I’m not particularly disturbed by clutter from student work. It is frustrating for students to have to search the lab to find a needed beaker that someone forgot to put away.  The goal is for students to have what they need so their work goes smoothly.

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A book: 20 Day Blogging Challenge, Day 1

I can’t choose  just one favorite book.  I decided to share 2 books, one for each major content area I currently teach. while I don’t have a unique way of using either book in class, I can say that these books are clear student favorites.  Students tell me they’re interesting and informative and help with understanding of important topics.  We use each book differently.

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon

Chemistry students devour Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon, and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table.   So often, we forget that the “old dead guys” had lives, loves, families.  We forget the historical context of their work – the politics, social norms,   It  is assigned to incoming Advanced Placement Chemistry students as summer reading. Students report the book helps them make friends with elements; to use element names and properties in everyday thinking, and to build a framework for the descriptive chemistry we do throughout the course.  There is great appeal for kids who think of themselves more as historians than scientists. There are several study guides available for use with the book.

 

Blueprints

Blueprints for Evolution

 Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution presents the history of our understanding of biological evolution;  If you’re a biologist, you know Thomas Dobzhansky (“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”)  If you’re not a biologist and think you understand the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, you owe it to yourself and your inner educator self’s commitment to lifelong learning to read this book.  Helping students understand how natural selection drives biological evolution can be challenging.  I choose to let Maitland Edey and Donald Johanson help.  Donald Johanson was one of the paleoanthropologists who discovered Lucy.  Maitland Edey is a journalist who brings together all the lines of evidence explained by biological evolution in a way that a non-scientist can enjoy and understand. This book unpeels the layers of understanding needed to employ scientific thinking in the understanding of the natural world.  When working with students as young as 9th grade,  the opening chapters that describe pre-Darwin thoughts on change and fixity in geology and in living things. help us  We read later chapters together as we construct our model of the Modern Synthesis. Just read it.  

What are your favorite books?  Why are they your favorites?  How do you use them with students?

 

Using Teacher Leadership to Facilitate Change

Last week, our superintendent announced her decision to modify the model under which our high school has operated for the past several years. We run as 4 small schools, courtesy of a Gates grant and other funding. Each small school has a principal, counselor, and central office staff.  We will continue in 4 small schools as student/parent/staff surveys, dropout rates, and other sources support the model. We will lose our 4-principal structure. Instead, we will have one decision-making principal, and three assistant principals. The likely structure will show one head principal, two assistant principals in charge of 2 small schools each, and one assistant principal will be charge of learning and professional development. Who will do each job?

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Candy 2013: A First Adventure into PBL

For years, my chemistry classes have made candy right before winter break. In years past, we spent a day investigating solutions, then I handed out a recipe and we made the candy. This year, with the blessings of  grant from NBPTS to investigate project based learning, I began to learn how to integrate content into a project. I’m working on using more true PBL instead of simply asking students to do projects. In addition to the integration of academic content into making candy, students blogged about their learning and their work. Some students worked in Evernote and when they finished, posted their work using postach.io.  Postach.io is now a paid app, and the features available for free may change before we use it again. Commenting must be done through Disqus, yet another sign-up and sign-in, so most students opted not to use it. I’m not going to lie – getting kids set up on Blogger through their school Google apps accounts was a challenge, and I’m on the hunt for something better. Next year, I will consider WordPress unless I find something better in the meantime.

EDIT: I’d love to know that information posted on the Internet is eternal. All links to student blogs and pages have been removed as they expired when students graduated.

The Paper Mill Project 2013

This post might well be titled “Adventures in Project-Based Learning.”

Students Working with Sludge

Sludge

You have to start somewhere.

It was an experience in jumping in feet first, and fortunately, also an experience in collaborative problem-solving. Based on the student excitement level, the student-initiated collaboration, and the chemistry-rich discussions involved, it was also a very successful experience.

I’ve learned that students find a final project more relevant than just a final exam. I’ve used either or both together as a final assessment.  One favorite in the past has been the scavenger hunt. Most of my Chemistry kiddos had done the biology version last year, so I wanted to provide them with a different experience in Chemistry.

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Creativity and Science, Part 4

It’s been almost 2 years since we attended Learning and the Brain.

The first 3 posts are linked below.  I’ve had a while to implement some new ideas and process this topic. Anecdotal evidence from my own classroom began to show me that creativity in the secondary science classroom is different; in science, one must know something in order to create something new. I began to pay more attention to the push for creativity on social media. Here’s what I’m learning.

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National Board Certification and Renewal

For kicks today, I looked at my site stats.  I normally don’t bother checking, because I write here to document my thinking for myself, when I actually write anything. I looked at the search strings that brought people to my blog.  Here’s a sample of what I found:

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