Posts filed under ‘Research Skills’

The Freedom to Fail…

is central to success. ?!

Leading the lesson with that caused looks of confusion in my somewhat stressed students as we near the end of a major project. It’s important for me to realized too. I have to allow students to choose to fail. If there is no possibility that anyone will fail, success has no real meaning. And I am making myself responsible for all student work and taking on the onus. Plus it would make me super-stressed and really (even more) annoying, nagging them to death and um, treating them like I didn’t trust them.

Of course I’m going to support students, check in with them, break down tasks and deadlines and most importantly, talk to each individual group in this last project-work lesson. “How are you?” “What’s your panic level?” “What is next on your check list?” “Want me to look over your written section for suggestions?” (note NOT to re-grade stuff, that entirely changes the vibe.) “What are your plans to get this done with each other at home?” I also go round and distribute the rubric for the finished project to keep them focussed on what is required. Having kids share documents for color printing is a good way for me to give a last look at their work too.

We had a bit of a laugh looking at Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” too.

I thought they would be tempted to spend way too much time decorating their poster board or to stick on random pictures just to make it look pretty. But in fact it was more like they didn’t want me to bug them – too busy getting it done.

It is SO hard to resist the urge to nag, require, boss and take over their decisions. I feel like a bad teacher if they are just standing about chatting when they could be working. Especially students who have been struggling. But when I think of how I learned not to procrastinate, I had to really feel the pain to make a change worthwhile.

I used to let grading pile up by the end of each quarter and then have a last-minute, late night frenzy, giving kids grades based on what was bad because I was too tired to notice what was good and give encouragement. Then they’d get their work back weeks after they did it, and would only look at the grade and not pay any attention to the other feedback. It was all long past. So it damaged relationships with my students which then resulted in tense parent exchanges too. It was ultimately enough pain to start to challenge the urge to procrastinate.

But the other piece was more positive: Barbara Nagle, a former chemistry teacher and mentor said that she was really curious to know how her students had done on an assignment right after they handed it in, and I noticed that’s when I was most motivated too. So I tried it after a particularly brutal end-of-term grading thrash. There’s also when I started to made more careful decisions for what to grade and not to grade. I write rubrics and/or a model answer for most pieces of work now. But I also just get on with it, (the mantra of – British psychotherapists ūüôā grading work often during seat work time in class, which allows me to give students one-on-one verbal feedback to save me the time of writing it down. Plus tone of voice can soften criticism to become coaching, and if I lead with curious questions, I often uncover what was going on with a child who’s done a horrible piece of work. Saves accidentally smacking a kid down when their dog has just died etc. ¬†I know. It was sometimes horrifying how close I’d come to doing that in the press of work and hurry and stress.

I do have one student who is driving me crazy right now – bright, friendly guy but does nothing. Nothing. Just hangs out and shoots the breeze with anyone who will listen. I keep talking to him – checking he gets the big picture and try to help him feel how great it would be to have a project to show his parents etc. Come to think of it, I have two more who will probably end up with nothing much. Worked with them all today trying to structure tasks with them, one piece at a time. One did quite a bit and gave me a hug at the end. The other drew a picture of an eagle instead… But would nagging them make any real difference other than window-dressing with a ‘project’ that was basically done by me/parents/special ed colleagues? And would it do actual harm – helping to form entitled, lazy and ultimately unhappy young adults?

I do feel that it’s a genuine gift – the freedom for my students to feel the pain, visualize and to choose to avoid it, or learn from it. It’s good for me to remind myself that I’m in it for the bigger goal of preparing them for their adult lives, and it’s good for me to grip the controls a little more lightly – like riding a mountain bike over rough ground. ¬†It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not chaos. My feet are definitely not up on the desk. And there are boundaries – no distracting other groups for example. And no chopping worms in half. But that’s another story.

 

 

March 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

The Hurry-cane Help Project

An engaging, upbeat (and manageable) way for students to respond to humanitarian crises!

Continue Reading October 4, 2017 at 9:21 AM 1 comment

Weighing in on Google and Chrome books

Using Google Classroom with Chrome Books for the first time and reacting to the NY Times article “How Google took over the classroom”.

Continue Reading May 21, 2017 at 7:47 AM Leave a comment

Ore to Store Mini-Project

What is the story of our favorite stuff? Student detectives follow the path to metals and ore all over the world.

Continue Reading April 21, 2017 at 2:16 PM Leave a comment

Sex Ed: Guess and Check

ARE there more teen pregnancies now than ever before? Are “kids these days…” more out of control, engaging in more risk behaviors and more likely to get pregnant in their teen years? Students start by guessing the answers to some key questions about sex – here’s the class sheet I used.

And then we discuss the way they will find out answers to their guesses using reliable, evidence-based, scientific sources that I provide for them. This is not a time to look stuff up on Google by themselves with these loaded questions. And searching for ‘teen sex’ is likely to come up with all kinds of inappropriate sites. Here is¬†the link to¬†today’s lesson plan which includes the links to reliable resources.

We talk briefly about scanning through charts and graphs looking for surprises – stuff that contradicts their guesses and anything else that startles them. That’s exactly what investigative journalists do – comb through boring-looking reports looking for the headline. In this case, it turns out that the headline “Today’s teens more responsible than you were!” would work. The trends with teen sexuality are by and large¬†good news, well except when compared with other developed countries. That surprise leads to a short discussion of discrimination experienced even by the very privileged teens in my classes, just for being teens.¬†FullSizeRender 19

For controversial topics like sex education, it’s extra important to use reliable sources and avoid fake news. This dull, dull topic is also re-vitalized when considered in the context of using science to figure out why the birth rate among teens has dropped, and why it is higher in some parts of the country compared to others. If we could figure out what is making the difference, effective policy could save lives and help teens launch into their adult lives without unwanted pregnancies.

This is just one piece of our sex education curriculum that we’ve developed. If you want the lesson plans with links, go to my school loop website. Sex ed started on March 9th, 2017.

After teaching this for about 33 years, I thought you might like a little list of tips that have helped me:

  • Talk over your sex ed curriculum with your administration ahead of time. You’ll need their support and backing. Sex ed stuff is the most likely part of the curriculum to get you into trouble with parents so front loading is extra important.
  • Try to teach similar stuff as your grade level colleague.
  • Share what will be taught at your grade level with parents in a neutral way – we have a folder of resources we use on Google Drive and shared the link with an e mail to parents from the principal. Parents can opt out.
  • Don’t try to persuade parents who want to opt their child out. Provide work from a text book so you don’t have to design an alternative curriculum.
  • Be clear that you are teaching information and not values. That’s up to families.
  • Frequently encourage students to talk to their parents about sex etc.- parent/child open talk about sex is the single most important factor in reducing risk behavior in teens.
  • Circulate a lot during activities, table discussions and while students are watching clips on their iPads etc. That’s when they might actually ask you a private, needed question. Many fewer parents that we think talk to their children openly about sex and yet we are in a culture saturated with it. They need a trusted, friendly and informed adult to talk to.
  • We teach our own sex ed and don’t outsource it to experts who will not have the depth of relationships that we do with our students.
  • Never, ever say “in my experience…”. Duh ūüôā And don’t share anything about your own private life.
  • Have a question box but don’t answer crazy stuff about unicorns (“If a man gets an erection on his head, is he a unicorn.” Yes. Really.), and unserious questions that are designed to disgust or embarrass you. Also questions that are inherently racist, misogynistic etc. You are the teacher. Don’t be bullied by naughty boys (mostly) intent on a laugh.
  • Re-phrase questions about your own sex life if the question seems serious. Re-phrase badly written questions that may have a serious point underlying them.
  • Model being matter of fact.
  • Talk about sex as an important part of life and a natural drive within the context of passing genes on to the next generation.
  • Scare tactics backfire. Being embarrassed is hard to avoid at first but the more relaxed you can be, the better you convey that sex is a normal part of life.
  • Give students time to practice talking about sex in mixed gender groups. It’s an important skill.
  • Embarrassment about ‘privates’¬†kills – my poor grandfather did not talk about changes in his bowel movements until his colon cancer was very advanced and it nearly did kill him. You might have similar stories in your family.
  • Re-phrase questions and answers in the third person. This avoids “You will find that…. ” which could seriously embarrass a student you might be glancing at accidentally. Generalizing “Many people find that…. ” is a safer¬†way to phrase answers.
  • Some of the questions in the question box suggest that my 7th graders are viewing porn – how do we address this? This is a serious question that I don’t yet have a good answer for. It’s so easy for students to see it – if not at a parents house, then at a friends house or on a friend’s phone. Porn consumption is having a real effect on adult relationships. What is it doing to our children? ¬†Our school community will need to engage with this question and soon.

 

March 16, 2017 at 1:41 PM Leave a comment

Truth, Science and Fake News

Here’s what we did today in the¬†wake of this:

screenshot-2016-12-02-11-56-35

And also, let’s be honest, because trying to get across the importance of using reliable sources and evidence is one of the hardest concepts and skills to teach. Something that might help keep democracy working.

Here’s what worked so well today that we were stunned when the bell went. So interesting to hear their thoughts about all this.

1. What is ‘truth’?¬†Are there different kinds of truth? Why does truth matter? How is¬†science related to truth? Similies? Opposites? Is it good or bad? When? Examples of useful truths and destructive lies.¬†Write on your whiteboard. Share out in a ‘Socrates Seminar’

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2. Write about truth for 5 minutes in your journal.

3. Look up ‘truth’ on Wikipedia. Translate to¬†simple English. How does it compare to what you wrote?

4. Read about fake news. Pick any of these:

5. Answer at least a couple of these questions in your journal:

  • What is¬†‘fake news’? Why is it created?
  • What was the most surprising ‘fake news’ you found? What was so surprising?
  • Why do people write, believe and spread fake news?
  • How can you tell if news or information is fake or reliable?
  • Why is fake news¬†such an important issue in society right now?¬†¬†What are hallmarks of reliable, evidence-based information?
  • What can you and your friends do to improve the amount of real news shared on social media?

6. Discuss what you learned about the importance of evidence-based information in science and in society.¬†(And therefore why it’s important to use and cite reliable sources!)

December 2, 2016 at 12:47 PM Leave a comment

Plant 2 Trees Project Overview and Resources NSTA Oct.2015

The down and dirty, step-by-step guide for teachers who want to do this project with their students. Goes with the workshop given at National Science Teachers’ Association conference in Reno, October 2015.

Continue Reading October 20, 2015 at 12:21 PM Leave a comment

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