Adventures in Getting Inertia!

There is no education like adversity.

-Benjamin Disraeli

The only update you need on my shoulder, other than it’s much better but nowhere close to healed, is that I’ve mastered the one-handed-sock-putting-on maneuver. Let’s move on this adventure filled week of 3-D molecule building, portfolio preparation, density columns, and density simulations with 1:1 technology. Oh, and some major breakthroughs with some of the “worst” students I thought could exist. Boy, was I wrong.

Resources in order of this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Density. The physical property and relationship of the closeness of the molecules in a substance. Things sink or they float depending on what they are in, and that property creates layers in the ocean, earth, and atmosphere of our own planet and many others. But, how do we measure it? Can I get a poll from all of you on how your district does this? Not necessarily how, but what units you use? I’ve produced curriculum using a density column (it was so much fun doing this in class, highly recommend) using grams/cm3. This curriculum, however, uses kg/L. For one brief moment, I saw how the universe – the oceans, mountains, planets – were all connected by this concept of density and how important it was to expose students to this in sixth grade. That vision was shattered to smithereens when I saw the issues with measuring it in the eyes of a 12-year old. You’ll see more examples of my science meets education conflict in Media.

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All week long my heart has been breaking. Cramming all of this chemistry down their throats without even a glance out the window to the unseasonably warm weather that could be the most ideal outdoor classroom. I get that this stuff is foundational, but can’t the first month of school incorporate at least SOME outdoor component with an overarching theme of ecology to include later, when we’re cooped up inside because of the cold? Wouldn’t it give them some sort of common context for the later introduction of these vocabulary terms? Worse, I made the mistake of going to the cafeteria during lunch – never again, I have seen and heard things I absolutely cannot unsee or unhear- and my heart broke further by seeing these kids sewn into cafeteria rows without being to get up and move around. No WONDER my class after lunch is insane! When, WHEN, do these people every experience the light of day and burn off some steam??? I get it – money, resources, risks – today’s school is not a place where students run free. But what IS today’s school? I know there is a whole week dedicated to outdoor education in October, and that’s great. But if any of my students ever reads this, now or in the future, I want you to know I’m personally sorry for you not being able to run some of that energy, the kind I hated in you and loved in you at the same time, in order to be more well-rounded through the entire school year.

For my part, the only homework I assign is to look outside. Look up (full Harvest moon), look down (dirt or flowers), look all around (cloud observations, color change in the leaves), and bring me back evidence of the observations. It’s been fascinating seeing what I get back from students, here are some of the pictures. Also, I have a graffiti wall for group observations on the color change – I’ve never seen it in the northeast and thought this would be fun. Or at least a band-aid over my broken heart for these nature-deprived children…

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Here’s a cool thing I learned about the curriculum – students produce a quarter-long portfolio for each unit, in this case, matter and its interactions. They received a Request For Proposals (RFP) from the county that prepares students to be ‘special effects interns’ for a movie production company, using all of the cool labs they are using now. They are provided criteria and constraints, including the production of storyboards to tell their cinematic story. Along with this portfolio production, I hope to build in some more day to day engineering principles, just as soon as we get through some of this vocabulary.

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And now, a bit on what I thought were my worst students. Ever. To protect their identity, I may or may not have changed their genders in this story. I get that it takes a few weeks to get the routine going with students, and that’s what teaching is all about. Routine. Routine shapes us and them in some rhythm that I silently hate but understand is necessary for growth. You might need to know some of my philosophies first: Students need choice and voice. We are all in this together. We all rise above our differences over time (and in fact surprise ourselves and others as a result). Go out of your way for them if they show that they care. And – as of today – every day is a brand new day. It really is! You just never know. Judging by the fact that I had one student so disruptive that I sought intervention and guidance only to find [them] staying late to school me on how to make slime (and how that is “very different than oobleck, and this is why, you take one part cornstarch and…”) is just the tip of the iceberg. Truly, that will be one of the most cherished moments I carry. How about the other student that, sadly has been removed from my classroom more than once for extremely disruptive behavior, is in fact a fine young [person] if you can get [them] to calm down? The thing is, those two people didn’t have bad attitudes. They had absolutely no editing skills – because they are 12 (!) – but you can see deep down that they are good people. Unlike this other student… I was worried about this one. Little did [they] know, [they] became my favorite success story this week.


Francis helps students pour varying materials into a graduated cylinder = density column.

It’s hard to tell, if someone has a bad attitude, what they are all about. Are they using it as a weapon? Defense? Regardless, it’s a reminder that not everyone in life, certainly the typical classroom setup still dominating America’s education system today, is the same. We all come at life differently, and these kids have likely experienced more than I ever will… Anyhow, this particular student with the worse attitude almost had me convinced that they were the worst. I can’t fix (the worst ever) attitude! I can teach science! In a science lab! Where else can you mix things together! I can’t help that s/he would have nothing of this science classroom, filled with its unlimited wonders and peers, and certainly nothing to do with me until – just then – I saw it happen. We were making the density columns in my “worst” class where everyone was required to wear goggles to be the lab, or they were “kicked out.” This kid had a moral dilemma – to watch the cool stuff happen in the group (that s/he was reluctantly and randomly placed in) with goggles on, or not. The look on [his/her] face was priceless. Stuck in a world of awkward and loathing vs. curious and even congeal. The goggles are always an issue in the lab, people always putting them on their foreheads… One warning about the goggles, two warnings about the goggles, and just as I checked to see if I was going to see a third infraction and call BS – boom. From across the room, I saw something great. Participation. Awkward, but participation none the less. To prove it, I have the first and only completed journal sheet from [him/her]. As much as I would love to take a grain of credit, I can’t. I was far away in the shadows of their mind, and, as previously mentioned, I was on the other side of the room. It’s the science, and the learning of it, that carried them away. I really really hope s/he remains as curious in life as s/he did about whether rubbing alcohol would float on top of soap or not.

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Another philosophy I didn’t share earlier. A helpful tip from my mentoring teacher years ago. Never lose your allies. Always good to keep in mind through life, but most especially important for my 8th period class. Here’s the thing. My day starts rough and progressively gets smoother, and culminates in some strange education nirvana with 8th period. every single one of them is amazing. It wasn’t until two weeks in that I realized there were twice as many as my other classes, because they’ve always been so great. With greatness comes responsibility, and I must keep them engaged. Differentiate. Without their knowledge, I asked them to double up on two days’ worth of lab assignments. This allowed me to differentiate instruction with multiple activities around one topic (density cubes in water and a demo of the density column) gave me another advantage to “rehearse” the next day’s regular activity (group work using the density column). This approach is slightly modified from typical differentiation, but the point applies.

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Back to teaching science. Most of the week was completed through formative assessments including using density cubes and density columns to make predictions about objects in different solutions. We did some informal data collection on the back of their sheets based on a sink or float game – very interesting to see which students got into just the concept of data collection. I’ll share the results of their grading through this part of the unit.

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If there is anything I want to undo this week, it’s not carving enough time for me. Committed to balancing these transitions well and enjoy an autumn with my family in the northeast, I want to take part in as much as possible while staying on top of school. With every minute on campus being consumed, and usually every minute in the evenings as well, I need to find more spaces in my day for me time. Health provided – the shoulder put me in survival mode… But yeah, moving forward, there will be more football watching and swimming, for sure.

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We are using this phet simulation for density using 1:1 Chromebooks and a sheet to fill in their observations and identify an unknown set of objects. Here’s a super cool video I found from They Might Be Giants for quick engages.

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