Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 30, Tuesday

I really don't want this to become a habit, I've got things to do during these prep periods

I got some grading done and handed back! Only an increasing number of labs to go!

I came up against a problem that may have something to do with some of the confusion I see sometimes when I work problems. The students don't have a grasp of the commutative property, so if I'm multiplying things together in one order it's clear as day, but if I multiply in another order then it might as well be Greek. I think I can be more disciplined about this in the future, but it's really hard to walk back something like that, especially because I have a math degree and commuting is my life's blood.

It was a pretty good day, though this was another one of those days where I could feel myself being boring. There were some good spots with metaphors that I used, especially one involving blocking doors and/or seats, but boiling point elevation and freezing point depression are only good if you put them to work, and in this case I was just introducing the concepts

Remember that problem I had with Shane et. al.? Didn't really crop up, not sure what the rules are for the good days as opposed to the bad days. I'm sure it will crop up again and I can give that talk when it happens. Instead, that section was really good with drawing out examples when I told them that solute particles aren't included in a crystal. The melted and refrozen popsicle example went over well on that front.

This is about after school, but I was really tired, so I had two cups of coffee with dinner. Apparently coffee is not my friend; I spent the next 4ish hours with a splitting headache, nausea and the jitters and it didn't even make me less tired. I'm not sure what I expected, tea usually has either no effect or a calming effect and previous experiments with coffee have been mixed. Also, the one time I tried Mountain Dew my lips started tingling so I hardly drank any of it. I am apparently not meant to be caffeinated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day 29 - Monday

I'll pretend it isn't cheating if I post this during the prep period at the school.

Today I was going to film my class for my Inclusion lesson. So I set up a camera at the back and worked on my stuff for a large part of the day.

Channel One really throws me off my game, I'm not sure how much respect to show it. It didn't start anywhere near on time today, and I really should have just gone on with my presentation in my first section. As it was, the presentation went well but I just didn't have the time necessary to get through. Not that I made it through in any of the other classes, but in the other two I got through to the last part of the last example problem. The actual process of the classes went pretty well, Mr. CT even came in and told me I did well from what he could hear from behind the door.

A problem has cropped up, though. There's a group of boys, Maurice, Rick, Herman and Shane, in the back of third period that will talk more than not. Usually they don't bother others too much so I have tried to control it by asking questions back there semi-frequently. However, today was worse than usual. I'm torn on whether to talk to the whole group or just Shane, since Shane puts the most effort into engaging in outside conversation and he does extraordinarily well in the class, leading me to believe he's acting out of boredom. I'm pretty sure the other kids around him are drawn in by what he does, so I think I can get the problem cut down significantly if he's on board. The question is how to go about it. Wish me luck

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Day 28 -Friday, March 4

The morning didn't go too well today. Mr. CT has been busy with Science Olympiad, so there really haven't been much meeting after school to coordinate for next week and apparently the stuff that I had was not to his liking. It wasn't terrible but he just wanted a lot of stuff changed around.

I've realized there's a cultural element going on with the two teachers I interact with the most that I don't particularly care for. I'm going into this experience with the assumption that I'm terrible at being a high school chemistry teacher, which I believe is fair, since this is the first time I'm really doing it anywhere close to the scale of a normal high school teacher. This means that, while I do spend a lot of time thinking about the material I create and try to get it right, I generally have very little attachment to it. I am very amenable to changes, even extensive changes, simply because I believe that to be the point of all this. I try something out, the experienced teacher weigh in, I learn something from their criticisms and remake it, then I learn how to present the better product. I will occasionally stand up for some part of what I've created, but only when I think changing one aspect will invalidate another aspect. It's rare, in any case. The thing is, they keep justifying their criticism after they've made it and I've agreed to change it. I'm ready to move on to the next thing and they're still trying to...not hurt my feelings, I guess? Maybe it comes from the clashes that Mr. CT and Ms. Bio have had with each other, as two experienced teachers on relatively equal footing hashing it out. Maybe they're trying to justify their own criticisms to themselves before moving on. Maybe they simply don't believe me when I agree with them as readily as I do. Whatever the reason, it means I have less time to go and enact the changes that I just agreed to make, because we still spend time talking about it. I got a little testy about this phenomenon this morning with some of the discussion over changes. I'm not sure how much of an impact it made on Mr. CT, but in any case I was able to enact all the changes he had suggested over our prep periods, in addition to bringing over the lab cart and prepping the lab.

AP - I was working in the office for this one, but I came out to see the spectacle of the smart kids vying for limited resources in the chem lab. Five teams had to do three trials each, and there were only two spectrophotometers in the lab. I was a little surprised that they even had one, but apparently the cheap ones could fit into the annual budget, such as it is.

Chem 1 - I posted earlier about the spectacle of handing in the colloid lab, so I won't speak to that. There was some widespread confusion with the homework and a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt over the upcoming quiz. Even with the first section, which had given the impression of being on top of the material when I was presenting it but was incredibly confused when it came to actually doing it for homework. Luckily the quiz was terribly short, so I had plenty of time to mull over the method of solving those problems before we had to actually take the quiz. Still not sure whether I've put all the fears to rest, but I think the math day we have planned for Wednesday will help immensely.

Chem 2 - In this class we spent half the time listening to Mr. CT tell stories from his childhood justifying himself as a redneck. The students and I kept pointing out that almost all of those stories show that he either grew up rural, or one of his family was a redneck. Very few of them involved him doing anything that might be considered particularly redneck and instead featured his dad or his brothers. I spent this time cleaning out some of the lab sinks, since I was tired of them being filled near to the brim with water all the time.

After school Mr. CT had Science Olympiad stuff to do, so I took over his bus duty for that evening. Small town bus service is interesting, because there's a lot of buses which pull up and maybe three kids get in. There's a lot of area to cover and not a lot of people in it. I figure that these buses also carry middle school and maybe elementary kids, but I don't really know. I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to be doing on this bus duty, I figure as long as no fights or some other overly aggressive behavior breaks out the rest is pretty much golden. There was one conflict that looked like it had the capacity to develop into a brawl, but the kids de-escalated after a while, so it ended up fine. Afterward I stopped into the other class and saw about some feedback on the material they had seen, but they were pretty solid on everything.

Day 27 - Thursday, March 3

After Wednesday I had finished the presentation with the first section of Chem 1 and had a little ways to go with the other two sections, and Mr. CT and I pondered how to incorporated the lab with the rest of the presentation. The lab called for making a supersaturated solution, in the procedure it called for making it over the open flame of a burner and cooling it down. After playing around with it in Ms. Bio's class, we realized that it would work just as well with a hot water bath, which has the benefit of being mostly hands-free. Thus the procedure became setting up the dissolving in the hot water bath, letting it go and coming back to their seats for the rest of the lecture, then leaving back to the lab to finish the part they started and do the third part of the three-part lab, leaving the second part for the next day.

One complication that seemed like it might crop up was that there was some sort of chorus event going on that was going to be pulling a lot of students out of school. Apparently chorus is big in this school. My classes didn't end up being particularly hard-hit, but I heard Ms. Bio's classes were devastated.

The set-up seemed to work well even though there were 2 separate scene changes in the day (back from lab and out to lab). Mr. Ct worked behind the scenes getting chemicals out for the lab group while I answered questions about what was going on and directed what they were doing. Incidentally, I'm not sure about this culture where the teacher does all the set-up and clean-up and parcels out the chemicals for the lab groups. I seem to remember a conversation early in my time there that indicated that this might be a response to the shortened periods, but it's still pushing an awful lot of work onto the teacher that should, if the idea is to teach the students how to properly work in a laboratory, be the responsibility of the individual students. There's the idea that if they don't get the correct results then they won't be able to fill out the lab worksheets, but then this punts to the other idea I wrote about yesterday, where maybe that style of lab is too restrictive for its own good.

I thought the question-and-answer sections worked out well for the classes, confusions were addressed and the labs proceeded smoothly. Working with actual dangerous chemicals can produce a lot of interest. We were using solid sodium hydroxide pellets for part 3 of the lab, and I warned the students not to touch that particular chemical, telling that it damages you by turning your skin to soap. This produced a fair bit of excitement amongst the students. Maurice asked a question about using it to make soap out of the fat taken out of people from liposuction and-after I suspiciously asked him a question about it- he told me he hadn't seen Fight Club! He came up with one of the central activities/metaphors of the story independently. Then Rick, who was in the same lab group, had a light-bulb moment and asked if that was why there was a picture of soap on the cover.

I learned that Constance has, "a 504 plan or something like that. She has problems with something in learning." which would have been a lot more helpful to know earlier.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Well, that was quick

I said it would be easier to report every day if I was talking about that day, I didn't say I could be perfect. Especially when the desktop computer in our apartment has been reduced to the status of furniture until I do some tinkering with the guts of the system (not my favorite activity), so Furious J is limited to smartphone for computer-type activities until I come home and share the laptop. Makes it difficult to come home and do the work for planning the next lessons, plus do reflections, plus actually relax a little from the day.

Thursday and Friday kind of go as a pair for me, so I'll be on with those two later today. I suddenly thought of something this morning that I wanted to break down a little bit before I got into that though. Yesterday we collected the write-ups for the lab we did Tuesday, the one that was Mr. CT's pet project and gave results contrary to the point that it was trying to show. The lab was cookbook-style, with some blanks to answer questions in at the end. The problem was, if the lab groups followed the directions as given, most of them would have seen the colloid filtered out on the first filtration and the steps afterward would have no meaning at all (another danger of cookbook-style labs, they don't degrade gracefully - if something messes up then the whole thing falls apart). During the lab we spent all our time managing their results so that they could get the payoff of the shiny gold disk, which many of them did find legitimately cool, but that kind of patch is guaranteed to miss at least one group. They were handing in the labs and I noticed some confusion in the ranks about how to answer some of the questions. It was a group that had filtered all the stuff out of the first solution, something that shouldn't have been possible, then had nothing to modify in the second sections so they had no actual answers for questions addressing the second part. So the group was looking around to find the "right answer" and I just realized how sad that is. The one thing that labs at the college level get really right is that your data is your data. You don't drop any results because they 'seem off' or 'that wasn't supposed to happen' unless the lab is about the statistical analysis of data. Most of the value in the grade in the lab isn't in whether you made the 'right' stuff at the end, but how well you observe and explain whatever results you did obtain. The procedure may be in the cookbook style, but the work you do is still your own work based on whatever weird observations you might have had in the course of performing the lab.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day 26

Today I was back in front of the classroom, so there was a fair amount of preparation for that to start. The big thing up today, which I didn't notice until Mr. Phys came in wearing all black sport clothes with some black electrical tape "eyeblack," that Mr. CT was wearing all black in preparation for the big scholastic bowl showdown, teacher vs. student, today. I never really got into competitive nerdery back in high school, unless you want to count marching band (and for our school you shouldn't), so this was all a very new phenomenon for me.

Mr. CT wants us to get a week ahead to smooth out collaboration interactions with Ms. Bio. We're running about two days behind that goal currently, which is way better than we used to be but still behind the curve. So I've been working on tooling up some stuff so I can get next week's stuff all set away.

The craziness of today really happened during advisory period. A girl had come in to say she was going to make up the lab from yesterday. Apparently by, "I'm going to come in during advisory and make up the lab," she really meant that three people were going to come in during advisory and make up the lab as a group. So I set them on their merry way and Domingo came in to work on his part for Science Olympiad, another competitive nerdery thing with which I am relatively unfamiliar. I did a little thing my school put on two of the years I was there, but the only thing we really prepared was the egg catchers that we had to make. Domingo was working on the the Forensics portion, one of which was identifying compounds from a list. I had stayed after school a little to see Mr. CT and Domingo and another guy who had previously been involved with Science Olympiad while they worked out at least that section of the competition. So today he came in and just wanted to test how well his procedure worked, so I would go and get something from the back storeroom and his job was to tell me what it was. He did really well, correctly identifying four of the compounds in the period, with me going back into the storeroom after each one and picking out a new one for him. This makes the event, at least this part of it, a lot less intimidating than it appeared.

I did my thing for Chem 1, which was...ok. I guess. It may be an intrinsic fault of the "stand in front of a group of high schoolers and lecture for 46 minutes straight," form of teaching, but I could feel myself being boring. Student teaching is a strange experience, every day is a new opportunity to fail at some other part about being an effective teacher. Today I felt I had a good presentation and was well prepared for it, just the presentation of myself was only blah. There's a picture I've been drawing in my notes for it that I'll scan and show another time, but I can see the boredom in their faces. At least I got to supersaturation so I could show the reusable heat pack that we keep around, and that perked them up.

Also, there's a big problem around problem-solving in the class. If they are given a formula that they just have to plug in the numbers we give them, then they do alright. But today, all the math we were doing was about solubility, whether a solution is saturated or unsaturated. These are generally one-step problems. However, asking things like finding whether a solution is saturated or unsaturated just met with some serious confusion for some of my students. It's an interesting problem to try to tackle, because there are some problems that, if you know how to solve a problem and you have some number sense, you can give the answer just by looking at it. However, if you don't have number sense or don't have a problem-solving mindset it's just completely opaque, no matter how I break it down it might as well be Sanskrit. Maybe I'm just bad at it, which I will admit is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it seems that the method of instruction I'm using, in an attempt to learn Mr. CT's teaching style, seems especially poorly suited to this strong differential in ability. I have the choice of boring the top or blowing past the bottom, and I'm most likely doing both at the same time. We'll see if I can address this with the math day we have planned in the future.

I also broke a flask today. I feel like such a chump when I break glassware, and I swear I've broken more glassware in the few weeks I've been in this classroom than I ever have in my career up until this point.

The Chem 2 students had a quiz today on naming chemical compounds, and I think it broke them. There was a distinct air of dejection around a lot of the students after their quizzes. Not really sure how I can help out there, though.

Since Mr. CT had to get ready for Scholastic Bowl after school, he gave me his bus duty, so I loitered outside as an adult in case kids started doing something especially stupid. Nothing happened, so it ended up being a slightly boring time in the nice weather. The one thing I did get to see was one of my more bored/sleepy students acting animated and excited for a once, which was a nice change of pace.

I stopped in on the Scholastic Bowl, and the teachers were winning, but the students were in the process of staging a strong comeback. I realized I'd probably be pretty awesome at scholastic bowl, but whatever.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

School Today - Day 25

Well, a lot happened since the last time I put up a post and I'm a little tired and overwhelmed at trying to catch up to the present in the wayback machine, so I'm going to start writing about today when it happens. In addition, I didn't take many notes today, so I have to get it written before it evaporates from my mind. When I post a retrospective I'll make sure to still title it with when I'm talking about so I can set the stage, but a blog is supposed to be about now anyways and I never caught up even though I tried.

This morning was mostly spent on prep work, a quiz for Friday and some stuff for next week. The big conversation, one of which I have with Mr. CT nearly every morning, was about the AP test and whether it was getting easier. Mr. CT made it seem like the test is normed every year, but looking at the links from Wikipedia just made me more confused about what goes into grading the tests. His point was that the vast expansion of the test with a set percentage getting 5s led to making the tests easier. I argued that that there wasn't any intrinsic relationship in throwing more people into the test, with the vast expansion of the AP test in the schools, and making the test easier. I still think that, but it's looking like what we were talking about didn't even reflect the actual situation of the AP test. The College Board makes a big deal about how they want a certain score to consistently show a certain level of knowledge. One thing I did learn was that scores are computed first, then a cutoff is decided on for that year, rather than the other way around. Mr. CT did try to rifle through his collection of old AP tests to show a particular question that did get dumbed down, but couldn't find it. It wouldn't matter anyway, unless we could get access to the weighting and scoring from those particular years to compare the two.

Today was a lab day, the pet gold colloid lab that Mr. CT has. The idea is that you make a gold colloid, which appears red, and pass it through a special, 20 nm pore-sized filter and it comes right through, then you add salt and the colloid flocculates, resulting in a blue fluid that filters clear, and the filter is then cut open revealing the thin layer of gold on the filter, which is the standard gold color. The lab didn't even come close to working right, apparently it was the worst results Ms. Bio ever saw. All the groups were synthesizing particles that were catching on the first pass through the filter, which would incidentally turn black because of this. The whole thing was one big hectic mess.

Two things turned up out of it. It appears that some of the Chem 1 students have discovered Mark Wahlberg's first line of work, as the front man of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and they were all abuzz about it, for some reason. Second, rumors about me continue to swirl, with Adam asking me if I knew how to tap dance. I really don't know where this stuff comes from, I dance around a little bit just as kind of an idle motion, but tap? I did tell him I knew how to swing dance, and I told a different student in Chem 2 that I've been married a year and a half and I met my wife in a social club in college, so we'll see how those two facts swirl around and recombine with whatever else is out there to form the next thing the students ask me about.

Chem 2 was about finishing up the lab from yesterday, so it wasn't particularly exciting either. I remembered to bring my book of H. P. Lovecraft's stories for a student's English project, so that was pretty nice. This particular lab, which tests a simulated urine for different things, seems to inspire a lot of broken glassware. Three or four different groups smashed the tubes they were using to carry around their "urine." Also there were a lot of bad puns going around, mostly from Mr. CT.

After school Mr. CT headed out after he did his bus-watching duty, while I stayed and let Theresa make up her Exam and lab from last week. I was otherwise occupied last week, so it was my first time doing the lab, as well. It went alright but was BOOOOOORRRRRRIING. Watching water heat from frozen to boiling while she takes temperature every 30 seconds is not my idea of a good time. So I told stories of the most boring labs I ever did in college: The hour-long reflux from organic lab and the bomb calorimetry from Pchem 1 lab.

Eventually I really need to get caught up on grading and do some stuff for my class at Midwest U.