Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 13 - Tuesday, Februrary 8

This day started with cleaning glassware! While we did that we talked about The Troubles in Town. Mr. CT spent his early years as a teacher working in Town High School during a time when the Black community in the area had brought a lawsuit against the school district over racial discrimination. The main complaints were disproportionate discipline numbers for Black students and passing over Black students when considering children for honors and other upper-level classes. I forget exactly whether the lawsuit was ruled for the plaintiffs or settled out of court, either way the school was undergoing changes under the terms of the lawsuit and the constant mantra under the rotating cast of new principals was to “keep discipline numbers down.” Not that I have any better solution, I know nothing about school administration and even less about reforming a culture that had up until recently been consistently discriminating against a group of people, but I am pretty well aware that radical restructuring tends to result in widespread chaos, regardless of situation or direction. What Mr. CT did tell me was that the functional result of this new possibility was that Black students learned that there were essentially no administrative consequences for anything they did; unless a crime occurred and the administration could call the police, resulting in an arrest that did not appear on the school’s discipline numbers, the student was free to do whatever they wanted. Not a good scene, and Mr. CT left fairly shortly afterwards.

We also talked about Midwest High, and how the school seems very focused on getting the teachers to create and clarify their goals, but there is a distinct lack of the same activity on the schoolwide level. The school has developed some weird personality quirks on its own, most astoundingly the 80 people, one-tenth of the entire school population, that enroll in AP Bio every year. This seems like something that the school could use to create an identity for itself, building a common culture out of a weird fluke. Yet nothing is done, the school tries to be everything for a tiny village that is equal parts rural farmkids and the children of professors and doctors from the nearby Town.

AP – Phases today, solids and liquids! Mr. CT laments the schedule dictated by the looming AP exam, his Masters was in Materials Science and he is limited to only one day for solids! Oh, how it burns!

Anyway, they did their stuff with crystal structures, I thought it was fun because I like geometry, but I think the kids struggled a little with some of the math involved. Also, the model for the Body Centered Cubic structure refused to stay together.

Chem 1 – Since today was a review day for the test tomorrow, I had to write out the answers to the homework problems that I would be going over today.

I took in the lab due this day with some time to answer questions beforehand. Then I presented the four numbers they needed to know: 22.4, 760, 0.0821 and 273. I approached it by having just the numbers on the board and having student fill in what their context should be. The rest of the time was given over to working on the study guide I handed out, with me coming around to answer questions.

I wrote here that it is amazing how much in improve from 4th to 6th hour. I now see this as a pretty bad thing, 4th hour gets the shaft when it comes to my performance. Not that going over the same material three times in rapid succession shouldn’t produce an improvement; it would be crazy if it didn’t. Just that I should prepare more beforehand so I have to figure out less on the fly in the first section I teach.

Chem 2 – They were talking ALGEBRA today, and also liquids and solids, strangely enough. Mr. CT gave out this metaphor to explain why melting is a sudden transition for a pure solid. The idea is that if you steal bits and pieces out of a building every day, all the other structure will keep the building together and solid. However, one day a critical piece is taken, and instead of slumping slightly the building collapses in a heap. Metaphor!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 12 - Monday, February 7

Since today was a lab day, I took the first period and dropped in on the other sections of Chem 1, who went earlier in the day, to see how the whole situation went. The lab has us reacting a coil of magnesium with hydrochloric acid in such a way so that all the hydrogen is collected and we can get a volume of gas produced, which is then used to calculate a molar volume and compared with the theoretical. Tips I picked up: acid means goggles, the magnesium ribbon has to be coiled fairly loosely so that it doesn’t break and it’s worthwhile to check to make sure that the ribbon is over 3 cm, otherwise it doesn’t produce enough gas to equalize, even in the largest cylinder we were using. Also, for a prelab demonstration, it doesn’t take too long to show the actual process of pouring, just have the magnesium coiled and tied beforehand since that wouldn’t be able to be seen from distance anyway.

AP – I took back the used setups from the last lab, except for one which I kept for the two makeups that were supposed to be coming in that day. The actual class was talking vapor pressure and boiling, which was just the subject that me and Mr. CT were supposed to be working on for the Team. I spent the time getting an ice-salt slush nice and mixed up for some make-up kids who were supposed to come in next period.

Advisory – Kids stood me up! No matter, I got things to do, like set up for the lab.

Chem 1 – The lab went really well, though I’m working on striking a balance on how much information to give the whole class at the front of the period. I am always tempted to front-load it like in a real chemistry lab, but I end up having to come around and tell groups some of the same information individually any way. Now that I think of it, that’s probably how the TA’s in college chemistry courses felt sometimes. The labs seemed to go well, some problems in the first section with getting them to measure the strips with any sort of accuracy, and in the last section a group completely failed to understand what the lab was trying to measure, so they took no relevant data and they had to get data from another group.

I really don’t remember what happened in Chem 2 this day, what I have more note on was a meeting I attended with Mr. CT after school. The school has a new push for some curriculum standardization and teacher collaboration across the departments. The teachers are organized into teams by subject, and once a month the team leaders have a meeting to discuss how things are going with the principal and the superintendent and a future principal(?). Of course, the rest of the teams are supposed to meet with the leaders gone, for some reason. Today it started with some discussion of the use of some analysis tool in judging how to set standards and figure out how to interpret the results. There was one guy running the meeting, and he chose for his examples some data that Mr. CT already had submitted, and he had messed with some of the qualifications that would qualify for “Exceeds Expectations.” Mr. CT was somewhat concerned with the standards that DudeGuy had set up, since Mr. CT regards his tests as diagnostic tools which, by definition, have to be set up to have a decent failure rate on any particular question in order to gain any useful information. DudeGuy’s standards were set up with the assumption that most people could get near perfect scores, and Mr. CT was wondering whether that was how he should be setting up his exams. This sparked a discussion with the administration side assuring that the teachers should, “continue to have rigor.” The way they used it made me want to ask them to specify what they meant by the word, “rigor,” in that it sounded meaningless and buzzword-ish on their lips. The foreign language contingent somewhat objects to the number-crunchiness of the specified system, understandably.

There’s a lot of Capitalization going on. The teachers have to make Power Standards and Learning Targets, and some long-term Smart Goals. There’s also something called MAPS, not really sure what that’s all about. The more I hear about this the more it sounds like a serious infection of Corporate-speak. Some of the reforms that they have been pushing are apparently a good thing, but the whole thing seems drenched in buzzwords that don’t mean anything, like someone got sold on a bunch of conferences along the way and we’re being dealt the end result.

Station Announcement

Ok, the last post was a little emo. Mr. CT has his actual performance review meeting with me on Friday and it wasn't nearly as bad as I was feeling about on Thursday. I also had a really awesome lesson during the Chem 1 classes, which my Prof was watching, so that had me feeling really nice. I still feel like I'm in a hole with the students, if I remember you need 5 positive interactions for each negative interaction to balance people's perception of you, so I've got 4 rocking lessons left to claw my way back to neutral.

Things aren't doing so well behind the scenes, but I'll get through and we'll see how things go.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Today, in the Present

Today was really bad. I don't know what it was, but everything I had thought about for the lesson just sort of fell apart in my head when I started, and I never really recovered. The best part of today was a silly little demo where I set fire to some stuff with super-heated steam. I am now no longer sure whether Mr. CT views me as a worthwhile apprentice. I'll probably cheer up tomorrow, I have some more demos planned and some stuff to patch the errors of today and get back on the right track, but I'm not feeling too good about myself right now.

Day 11 - Friday, February 4

3 Snow Days this week!

So here we are on Friday. Schedule change, lab is back in, today is still second part of the Gas Stoichiometry unit, but we also demonstrate the procedure for the lab.

Biggest thing: a window blew open in our classroom during one of the snow days, breaking one of the 2000 mL Erlenmeyer flasks and making the room SUPER cold. I spent prep time working on lab and class, working the homework problems and trying to keep feeling in my feet.

AP – They are doing heat and phase changes. Why does water cool you from evaporation?

Chem 1 – Today was a whole lot of sample problems! I knew that was kind of the point, showing some of the complications that can arise when there’s a reaction involving the gas phase, but the problems were still long ones and I had to go hard through the whole classes. The physical effort of writing that much on the chalkboard, even with as much as possible prepped beforehand, was a little surprising. At least I was warm at the end of all of it.

Chem 2 – We got out of the classroom to take an online quiz today. Our approximation to the Community College Testing Facility is a computer lab with us walking around, no big deal. They finished the quiz fairly quickly and went to work on online homework, which we helped them out with.

Day 10 - Monday, January 31

Panic! I came in this day with the intention of finishing the revisions on the lesson during prep periods to give after school, but the teachers got together and decided that since Snowtorious B.I.G. was coming, snow days were probably on their way and they figured that with a schedule change, they could ditch the lab and still quiz on Friday like usual. Thus, I was up. Luckily it was only surface polish and homework questions that needed to be frantically added.

Also, Mr. CT wanted to hand the quizzes out today but hadn’t set up an online gradebook to record the grades. Since I had been grading lab reports over the weekend, I had already made one out of a graph paper notebook I had lying around, so I copied the quiz grades into it over the next few periods (Prep, AP, Advisory) and also added some black slides to the shared PowerPoint so I could work on the board without glare. Copying over the grades took a while, but I finally got the names of some people whose handwriting had prevented me from pairing whatever name they went by with the last names on the class rosters.

One thing I have to say: Mr. CT runs his organization on the pile system. I have nothing against the pile system per se, and he seems very comfortable in finding whatever he wants in his piles. However, the pile system is not exactly user friendly for those who did not create the piles, me in this instance. I mention this now because Van came in during advisory to make up a lab, most of which we got through but I was unable to find any copies of the lab handout to give him and had to print some up over lunch.

The presentation had some problems with it, of course. I was a little too cute with the numbers on my sample problem, letting too many things magically cancel and confusing the issue in doing so. I also didn’t have a very good ending for the day’s presentation prepared. I figured out that it worked best as a view towards history, noting that we chose to start with the theory and proceed logically from there, which leaves Gay-Lussac’s Law of Combining Volumes look like just a neat little shortcut without any greater meaning. In reality, the Law came first and was a perplexing fact that demanded explanation from the new and growing class of scientists. In discussing it they got to see that when it comes to teaching chemistry, the teacher has some choices to make when it comes to emphasis, and we chose to emphasize logical progression over history.

This kind of ties into one of my personal ideas of teaching chemistry from a historical perspective, or a debate of ideas perspective, or some other unusual perspective that might get a different angle of science than is usually presented. What about a chemistry course that was all about color? The production of new dyes was one of the biggest factors pushing the development of chemistry during the Industrial Revolution. Instead of starting with measurement and density (which every. single. intro. chemistry. textbook starts with) start with light and wavelengths and then work towards conjugated electron systems and metal-ligand vibrational states. Is it crazy? Sure it is, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t necessarily work for some students.

After classes ended The Chem 1 team met up to decide on who would work on the next part of the curriculum, since it might be a long time before we saw each other again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Church and State?

This happened recently, but I don't quite remember when. Track and cross country are big sports at Midwest High since the coach there is really good and they win a lot. I saw a t-shirt the other day and I was astounded to see the words "cross country" arranged in a crucifix on the front of the shirt (the words shared an o). Not an X, like to make the XC abbreviation, or a crossword or something, the shape that they supposedly put Jesus on. Very very strange to me.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 9 - Friday, January 28

This day was a review day and quiz day in Chem 1, since there wasn’t too much for me to do with that, Mr. CT and I agreed that he would take the classes to give me time to write some presentations for us to use next week. I didn’t even really see the AP Chem class. Some students came in during Advisory to ask for help, and I gave it.

For the rest of the day, the only thing I can say is that writing new stuff is hard, I spent all day and I don’t think my sample problems are all that good.

There was a lot of confusion expressed in the review sessions, it makes me a little worried about our classes.

I held off on making the homework until after the presentation faced the slings and arrows of my fellow collaborators. The presentations were essentially about how gas law problems can get difficult, computationally, so I thought of the most complicated gas law problems I could, with the idea that the team could cut out the stuff that was too much to throw at the kids. This is what ended up happening at the collaboration, things got cut and simplified. Ms. Bio has a way of going on like she’s trying to convince you of something even after you’ve agreed with her. She was using this technique to try to keep from bruising my ego when making changes to the presentation, even though I was upfront with my desire for them to tear it apart so that I can learn what I can. All things considered, little of substance was changed, just some streamlining and focus on a few specific kinds of problems.