Monday, August 31, 2009

Week 2 Day 1- Spiral Student Notebooks

Today's best practice...Spiral bound Student notebooks.
Commandment: Thou shalt not use fabric bound notebooks, for they shall surly fall to pieces by the tenth or eleventh month"

A colleague of mine, an Academic Block teacher Karen Ward, showed me the Idea of Interactive Student Notebooks (ISN's) about 12 years ago. Thank you Mrs. Ward. 70 or 100 page notebooks are perfect for this, and in August you can often get them at the bulk price of 6 to 20 cents a piece. I sell them to the kids for either a dime, 15 cents or 25 cents* depending upon what I paid for them. Often a student has no money and I either give them credit or say, "sush..between you and me this is free for you this time).
*I make sure to pad the price a tad to cover my sales tax and the occasional notebook I give away or that is never paid for by the kid using credit. By the time I sell them my price is way cheaper than they can get them in the stores so I'm not profiteering.

Years of frustration ended with using this system of notes, academic openers, labs, homework and projects. Students rarely lose their spiral notebooks. I spend much of the 2nd or 3rd day of class setting up the notebooks.

Mrs. Ward would collect her students ISN's fairly often and grade them. Often shed have quizzes taken in them and score them in class. She only had 80 students, I have over 200. I don't collect them. I ensure students are using them my giving note book quizzes. A Physics teacher colleague, Paul Lake, has used them and his method of checking them would be to grade them while his students took their unit test. This year I will collect them and use a checklist and a simple rubric to monitor their upkeep of the ISN's.(My Academic Block Colleagues tell me my rubrics is not a true rubric...I tell them "Science Rubrics are different: they are simple and easy with no bullshyte". This usually ends with a tilted head, narrowed eyes, and a displeased noise)

Here is how I use them.
THE FRONT of the notebook is the Notes side. The inside cover had my PROPER PAPER FORMAT visual direction sheet taped or glued on. Next, on the first page, a table of contents that we update each time I add a new "set of notes".

Notes are a combination of Typical notes (often I copy notes and have students fill in the blanks), or homework instructions taped on to a page, project guidelines, and some small lab data tables.

Foldable notes are really easy to incorporate into these. We tape or glue stick a lot of papers into the note books, I like 1/2 or 3/8 inch width masking tape best. I also train students to be tape passer-outers.

THE BACK of the notebook is the Academic Openers ( I can them Starters) section. I have my students turn the notebook over to the back with the spiral on the left. The pages are upside down, but we can now open and use the notebook turning pages from right to left as normally done. My students take a while getting use to seeing the page upside down...they squeak and make other funny noises but get the hang of it soon (I LOVE THE NOISES 8TH GRADERS MAKE)
The first page of this section is another table of contents. Each day that we start with "starter questions" the table of contents is updated, questions written in, then answered.

This system has worked well and helps make the students more organized and less likely to lose material.

I make my own ISN as we go through the year. This way I always have a copy to model. My copy, or another student's ISN can be used to help student that was absent get caught up.

Well I hope this helps.

Love to Teach, and Teach with Passion

and remember...

It's not Magic, It's Science

Friday, August 28, 2009

Week 1 Day 5 "On Stage" and Clips

Cool sighting of the week:

Periodic table of Text abbreviations. OMG it's TC.

This has been a good week, nice new students, but we are all EXHAUSTED.
We have been in need of a 7th grade learning director at our school for a month. Now we just lost our 8th grade L.D. to a nearby school district. Two colleagues at our school have lost loved ones. We have a paper and money shortage too.

Thank goodness we had the staff social our house. Thanks to my wife for getting all the summer residues cleaned up and out of our house the last few days. We sat outside in 96 degree temperature for 2 1/2 hours. Margaritas were good, but the heat (not noticed at the time) added to the exhaustion.

We are blessed with work.

Without meaning to, I designed my lesson plan today in a way that put me "On Stage" 95% of the period. On Stage means I am in front of the class going over notes and walking the room to verify participation and to offer help. No break. No 5 minute chance to sit and catch up on e-mail, roll, sorting, straightening up my constant messes generated by me.
I am a high energy teacher. But you gotta give your self a little break or a lot of them. Breaks where the students are WORKING and I am not in front ON STAGE.
The first week can have a lot of ON STAGE time due to going over rules, routines, procedures, setting up notebooks, going over homework, etc.
I need to remember to not allow myself to me ON STAGE so much. As I age it is getting more difficult to maintain the OLD HIGH ENERGY BULLDOZER TEACHING STYLE METHODS. Now I have learned some ways to not push through as I have in the past.

Today's Best Practice... Clips: Paper and Magnetic.
I now have to special order the triple extra large paper clips from the Office Depot. I love these big clips. You can connect a stack of papers up to 3/4 of an inch or so. Students are also very impressed with them.
My motto is: It's not Magic, It's Science!
This is true of all things EXCEPT Magnets. They are magic. I mean come on, they even begin the same MAGic and MAGnet.
The photo above shows a very nice magnetic clip holding my very big paper clips at a convenient location near my assignment storage rack. Hey, a drill and screw and screw driver can do wonders for adding convenient hangers, racks, or hooks. Don't be shy about making your room custom fit to your needs. Just make sure they look good, not dingy.
I use all sorts of magnets to hold things to my board to posters on the metal surface of the flame hood . Doughnut shaped Ceramic magnets, super strong rare earth magnets (that I have to wrap in tape so as to remove them from the magnetic dry erase boards in our rooms). You can buy really cool looking ceramic "clattering magnets. When they lose their polish I put them to work as clips. The Harbour Freight Hardware stores, and for much more money at auto supply stores, you can buy metal bowls with a built in magnet base. Way cool and useful as long as you keep them away from electronics.

I hope you can use this.

Love to teach, and Teach With Passion.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Week 1 Day 4 Homework Full Credit Stamp

A good day. We are on an 88 minute block schedule at my school with alternating odd and even days. Today was our 4th day back but only the 2nd day with each of the even classes. Students loved the Burning Can Demo (last blog) done with the fresh new paint can. It is loud and the top bounces off the ceiling.

Our staff party will be at our house tomorrow. Hottest day of the week will be about the time we are gathering here. Good old Murphys Law.

Our district has to cut 16 million dollars. I was invited to a mid day luncheon with our new superentendent. I respectfully declined for 2 reasons:
First-I'd have to plan for a 1/2 day sub which would totally mess up my lab schedule.
Second-If we are in a financial crisis we should not be spending money on subs when and afterschool luncheon would do fine.

Today's Best Practice: The Full Credit stamp.
When I collect homework I collect it from every student. If they did not do the work at home, they do it while we are going over the correct answers and during the day's lab. They get pretty frustated missing the fun part of class while their peer are having fun. I allow 1/2 credit for this.

At the beginning of class, while they are writing in their planners, I have them take out their finished homework. I quickly stamp their paper if it is finished, or, depending upon the student and their skill level, if it appears to me they made the best effort they could to complete it.

Later when I grade the papers the stamp tells me it's on time and can get full credit. We have already gone over the correct answers to questions so I am pretty confident they have correct answers. I will spot check a few questions to verify accuaracy.

Often the homework paper will be the TICKET OUT THE DOOR (previous blog). I ususally allow the students with a full credit stamp to leave first. Then spend a few minutes discussing with each late-work student why their paper was late and what they need to do differently on later assignments to get it in on time.

Well I hope this helps, or gives you some better ideas. Please share.

Love to Teach and Teach with Passion.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Week 1 Day 3- Tickets and Exploding buckets and Observation vs. Hypothesis.

Today's Best Practice: "The Ticket out the door". For years I'd collect homework only to find 40% of the class did not turn it in. I'd play the "turn in your homework" chase game. Now their ticket out the door is the assignment handed to me as they walk out the door (I stand in the door). If they do not have it they cannot leave until it is given to me. This can be quite a fight at first. Make sure to make it clear what the "Ticket out" is for the day and it is best if they have to miss the FUN assignment as they finish their work. They will give all sorts of excuses why they cannot stay. Hold firm and tell them ,"then you should have completed it before the end of the period". Now you have to be smart about this. It's easier to do this if Break or Lunch is after class. Missing the bus can really anger parents. If a kid has to catch the bus hold them only a minute or so (to them is seems like an hour). It only takes a few kids to be stunck in class for them to get the idea that it's too much pain and not worth the trouble to miss assignment turn in. Now I am at about 93.4% homework collection.

It is day 3 of the year. I had to learn how you give emergency Glucogon injection for a student with diabedes. Ya, I know...Great! Well the student is a really nice kid so I do not mind. The first day freshness is gone, but all on good behavior. The "honeymoon" is still happening. I've some years that the "honeymoon phase" never ended all year.

The first day or two can have me being a talking head quite a bit. You need to break it up and hopefully give them a thrill in the middle of possible tedium.

EXPLODING CAN!!! I do a demo the first days of school. I fill a gallon paint can with propane (or natural gas, whatever PG&E provides) in the fume hood before class. I have a 3/8 inch hole drilled in the lid and on the lower side. I use duct tape to seal the can.
I tell the kids you can tell when you have a really good seal, it's when you hold it near your ear(I do this) and if you can hear "argh argh argh" its a good seal. 4 kids get it right away, 6 or 7 more in 5 more seconds...then you have to explain you just made a sound like a seal.
I show the can and taped over holes to the students. Then I place the can in safe location away from students and from any doors. I remove the top piece of duct tape and use a lighter to lite the gas. A tiny blue flame occures.

Then I remove the duct tape covering the hole on the side of the can. The flame immediatly grows to a tall 23 cm (10 inch) yellowish flickering flame with tinge of blue at the bottom. Over the next 3 1/2 minutes (time varies with the size of the holes) the flame burns smaller, bluer and steddier until it becomes a tiny half-marble sized blue flame...then...smaller...occasional flicker of orange as a dust mote burns...pea sized flame now...the kids are all wide eyed... and the class is silent...and dark... for I have turned the lights down...
...SCREAMS...SHRILL GIGGLES AND LAUGHTER...the blurbal blurbal blurbal of 30-40 students caught excidedly in mid thrill and all talking at once.


Make sure you know where the lid will go. With a new can, the lid has a tighter seal (never Seal jokes here) and will bounce off the ceiling, often denting the tiles up there. Older cans will only make a calm "PHLEMPH" sound.


Like you need a good excuse to do this demo! But you may have a stingy department head or administrater that says (imagine a real horsey high nasal shrill voice), "What standard does that demo address..hmmf."

Before I do the demo I explain that science is OBSERVING and then HYPOTHESIZING. I review that one is seeing-hearing-feeling and the other is inferring, guessing, drawing on past knowledge. I have them make a simple data table. OBSERVATION and HYPOTHESIS at the top seperated by a vertical line down the notebook page and then as the can burns I promt them to observe and to write down their guesses. We end the demo with discussion of their hypothoses. They end with writing a 1 sentence REFLECTION (what you thought about it and what you learned from it).

SPOILER ALERT: Why the flame does what it does?: Small blue flame to start until you open the side hole, now the gas can easily escape the top as AIR is allowed in. The flame shrinks and changes from yellow(cool) to blue (hot) as less fuel is present but with a better fuel/oxygen ratio. Finally when most gas is gone the flame dips into the can where a perfect ratio of gas/oxygen is present and..kaboom.

Well it's late and I gotta get going.

Love to Teach and Teach with Passion!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Day 2-was I even gone.

I walked about school today and it feels as if I never left. Almost as if summer vacation was just a two week break.

Summer reset.

We enter June needing a break. Often my students have mentally checked out after the state tests end in early May and that month is almost a waste, marking time. When June-teenth hits it is a celebration of freedom in more than one way.

June is a gift from heaven (unless you are doing summer school). It's like a month of Friday and Saturday nights. Playtime. August is a vague concept that you just don't want to think about yet.

July is borrowed time. It's so much free time that you may not know what to do with yourself. August has become a nagging feeling, not quite worry but surely something to avoid. You'd like to ignore the concept of August but it just gets larger in sync with the ongoing calendar dates.

Then it happens. What should have been 7-31 turns into...AUGUST!

August is not so bad once it happens. A good attitude since you can do nothing to change it. School will start in a few weeks, free time is soon to be gone. Now you really have use your days to the fullest. It takes half of June and all of July for you to really appreciate your time off.

Bordom is not the right word. Restlessness is a better word. Something is missing from your lazy summer days. You decide to go look at your class room.
Take a few posters out, delete a couple of months of SPAM from your computer. Bumping into a colleague is a nice chance to compare summer break.

Suddenly you have done the summer re-set. Then after a blur of meetings you are out on morning duty waving at last years students as they grimmace with worry about their first day of High School.

Back at your room are a bunch new faces. It's like you never left...and state tests are 8 months away.

Enjoy your students.

Monday, August 24, 2009

48th Summer, 23rd School year, 1st day.

Today's Best Practices: Timer. Use a Pampered Chef timer to keep your mini lessons or talks to the proper length. It's amazing how we can talk for what seems like 3 minutes but it is actually 20 or 30. Use a timer. I often set it for 5 minute intervals during my prep period so I don't get so focused on something that I blow my prep on it. I highly recommend this brand because it has a magnet and toothed clip for convenient placement on metallic surfaces and clothing as well as a long and loud beeper and it can be a clock, and stop watch or timer. I own 3 of them and give them as gifts to my student teachers and new colleagues.

Yes! It happened to me during school... in class...ALL DAY LONG.

The easiest and smoothest and least anxiety(as in none) start of the school year since
New Kids on the Block were on the top of their game.

I've done this 22 other times so I should be getting good at it. It helps to have a spouse that will come out and help you set up your room (thank you sweetie).
Room set is also easier if you
STOP being anal-retentive about getting every poster or border (whoops...I didn't use borders this year..woo-hoo) perfectly aligned. C'mon it's just a bunch of posters with funny and thoughtful and inspiring and creepy images and interesting factoids spread about in a way that says...THIS IS WHO I AM AND WHAT WE WILL DO AND WHAT I THINK ABOUT YOU AND HOW I APPROACH LIFE AND DO I LOVE MY JOB AND AM I PASSIONATE ABOUT IT!!! Also you should have a periodic table on at least 2 walls and a poster of Einstein on more than every wall (Albert because there are lots of pictures of him and he's kinda fun to look and wonder at). I don't care what you teach put some posters up. I can't find a decent Isacc Newton poster and...oops, I digress...Posters can be a different blog.

Back to setting up your clas
s. Try to take your class down (for those of us that have to every June) and store things by where they go. Then a few months later you take out a box for the back wall and set your son or spouse or eager students that are willing to come in and sweat away for a pizza or Taco Bell Burrito.

It helps if you come back a week or two before school and spend an hour here or there getting it up in little pieces. The grumpy NAY SAYERS in your area may say "NO, I'm only paid for 163.54321 days with maximum in class time of Blah flipping blah".

NOTE TO NAY SAYERS: Shut up, go away, retire or quit already, bother someone else across town, go become an accountant or lawyer or an sell insurance...just get the frack away from us. Don't drag us down, don't suck the enthusiasm out of us, don't shake your head at us as if we're stupid. Time spent preparing is adding ease and joy in front of kids and the time is added on to the end of our lives.

Look, I want to enjoy my job. I want to reduce stress and love teaching and enjoy my kids. A big part of that is BEING PREPARED. If you can do that is smaller increments of time then you have more time for family, friends, gaming, or hiking or HELPING A COLLEAGUE.

A colleague of mine lost their spouse to cancer recently. One day life was normal, the next day exploratory surgery found cancer and 2 weeks later we were slicing fruit in the cafeteria for the post funeral meal.

So my point is make sure you spend time GETTING A LIFE with your friends and family. Don't stress over your room set up. Don't stress for lack of pre-planning your lessons...pre-plan. Get efficient with your time...ah, use a timer help you pace yourself.

Time's about up, I hope you enjoy this, it's for you. As educators we tend to re-invent the wheel. That's good and bad. Good because if you make something you understand it. Bad because a colleague may have just what you need in folder or on a wall or in their hard-drive.

Share...that's what I do. My school website has all my materials on it. Share at a conference...yes you...just share.

Love to Teach and Teach with Passion!