Sunday, December 23, 2012

Doing what you love - with trash

In a recent post I wrote about a PBL Proposal I'd written for a class, where the product would be home-made musical instruments. At the very end, I included a short article about a group of people who sorted through trash as a living, who had created instruments from trash. This video shows the results. It's a teaser for a longer movie, which you can read about here: Landfill Harmonic Watching the video, I couldn't help thinking about my recent post, "Doing What You Love." These children and adults have found music that transforms their daily lives.
This also connects up with several posts about trash I've written on my other blog, Sustainable Rays, about the environment.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fall down seven times, get up eight

I just happened on a fascinating blog post, On Error, which ends with the Japanese proverb I've used as the title. I've become a substitute teacher for foreign students learning - or improving - their English on a nearby college campus, so I've been reading about teaching English to adults as "another" language (since for many students English is not just their second language!) One article I read was about how students have to learn through errors, which is exactly what that blog post is about. The article was about how to work with student's errors. Obviously, making the student look foolish or lose face would be a catastrophe, because the student would lose his desire to risk something. But if we don't correct errors, the error become "fossilized" in the student's thinking or speaking, so we are letting the student down, when he has risked making an error.

When I taught English and German in Denmark, I had a hard time convincing my students that copying someone else's translation would do them absolutely no good, because they wouldn't learn anything by doing it. A student's errors are an indication of where we have to set in do do some corrections. If you never make a mistake, it could be by chance, or because you never risk anything,
and you don't expand your experience or your knowledge.

I was using a wonderful paper-correcting system in Denmark that some smart teacher had worked out. When students made an error, I wrote a number next to it, which could be looked up in a special grammar work-book with numbered typical errors. Then the student handed back the paper with the errors listed, corrections made, and the reason explained. They learned that their errors were very effective ways to learn. But I had to grade on the returned paper, not the first one, which wouldn't be fair.

Sometimes I would also use a system of little arrows, where meant that the student had improved, and meant that she could do better (something I used more with the best students, to get them to go beyond "correct.") All of that is difficult to do with electronic grade books, unfortunately.

Oral corrections are something else again. Students want to know the right answer, and sometimes ask for correction with their tone of voice, but they don't want to look stupid (I know, that's a forbidden word in the classroom!) We can help by asking them further questions for clarification, or start the sentence for them, or ask them - or the whole class - to repeat the answer correctly (depending on the subject, of course.) Students can also work together in pairs or small groups to help each other polish off a presentation before it goes public to the whole class. That way they can "fall down seven times" gently, and stand up proudly that eighth time.

This goes for my many careers, too (which you can read about elsewhere in this blog.) I have risked much in my life, and not every attempt was successful, but I've enjoyed each time I got up again, well knowing there might be another fall - and another triumph!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Doing what you love

I saw this video on Facebook and had to share it. This child is completely taken up in his music. I love his expression at the end.

Compare that video with this one of some children in North Korea, who, according to the comments, are playing to provide food for their family.
Two very different kinds of motivation. I think I want my students to love what they're doing - and learning, not memorizing to get good grades for some purpose like $5 per A, or even getting into the right college.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Project Based Learning to Support Math Standards

Since the one job that I've ever been dismissed from - as an Intern for my credentialing through Claremont Graduate University - questioning my ability to teach math using Project Based Learning, I just took a Teacher's Toolkit course about PBL from the UCLA Extension, Education Department. I applied for the job, and was delighted to get it, because I want math to be authentic so that students can see that they really can and will use it in their daily life. I was even promised PD on PBL, but that fizzled out soon after I started around Nov 1. After discovering that the students were drastically behind in learning what they needed of standards, I figured the best to do would be to get them up-to-date before grades were to be submitted 3 weeks later, and then use the project I'd planned, and even presented to the students orally, after the winter break.

For the Toolkit course, we read lots of articles and watched videos on sites like Edutopia and BIE, which are great sources on how to organize a project, with links to ideas for projects. Since most projects seem to use math to do its calculations, often in statistics, rather than supporting math standards,  I was looking for ideas that were specifically for math. Here are a few of the links I discovered with good ideas for projects that really support math standards.
 As I read on, I decided that I'd like my final project to have something to do with the music of math, which interests me as I am also a musician, and also a physics teacher, where we touch on the production of musical tones while studying waves. I thought it would be a great way to combine various math standards in Algebra II and PreCalc with standards for waves in Physics and performance, composition and historical and ethnic instruments in Music. And there could also be some music-based readings, and the writing of song texts in ELA, and why not something about music in History as well?
Project: Building and Using Musical Instruments
Driving Question: How are musical instruments made so they can be played together harmoniously?
Concept: Students
  • Use engineering skills to create musical instruments that can be played together harmoniously
  • Use acquired knowledge of the math and physics of music.
  • Play the instruments together in a simple composition composed by class members studying music.
  • In ELA: read texts and poetry where music plays an important role, including Shakespeare, as well as song texts. Write poems that could be set to music (consider rhythm.)
  • In History: discover how music influences history or history influences music
  • Brainstorm what they know about music, math and science to find what they need to know.
  • Are grouped according to interests, particularly which other participating subjects they are studying (math, physics, music, ELA)
  • In groups will learn and use engineering principles to create a musical instrument of different types - string, wind, tuned percussion, etc. based on the knowledge of the physics and math they learn
  • Learn the necessary math and physics concepts, with activities and mini-lessons using problems specific for music.
  • Teach each other - through presentations, jigsawing or other means - the math, science and music they are not actually studying
Here are 2 major sources I found for this project:
Interestingly, I discovered this short article about creating instruments in the magazine, The Week, a few days after I submitted my proposal. It could be and interesting addition to this project for the students to find out more about the Paraguayan project in Spanish class.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Back again!

It's been ages since I wrote here. No wonder I only have 2 followers. I will try to be more consistent for a while.

I was a bit depressed about all this teaching thing I've gotten myself into. The school where I was teaching last year had to close because there weren't enough students - but those 100 students we had really needed our school, because they just couldn't manage the impersonal environment of 40 kids in a classroom and thousands of kids in the school yard during break. My facilities were terrible, but I loved finding materials to be able to do science in a combined music room/girl's gym (shared with another teacher.) The occasional fingers finding keys on the piano was the worst disturbance. Not being able to lock doors and keep my materials there was an inconvenience. Watching kids enjoying science made it all worth while.

Then another summer went by where I was reading up on all my subjects, and picking up a new one, Earth Science, but no jobs. Finally a charter that had turned me down this summer, because I didn't have Earth Science, called me and needed me, because the young man they'd hired skipped out after 3 weeks. But they expected me to teach all 4 of my sciences with 5 preps for 7 classes, 4 of which were 8th and 9th graders, which I found more than I'd bargained for. I bought 5 cardtables and 20 chairs for the classroom, so they would be able to work in groups on a flat surface. When I arrived the classroom was equipped with desk-chairs all in rows. How can you learn science that way? I managed for 3 weeks - until we were to leave on an already planned trip to India and I knew they had a good sub ready for them - and quit.

I went into teaching because I know a lot and have lots of ideas and love it when students love it, too. I can put up with kids who can't sit still, or are a little disruptive, because I've figured out that putting them in small groups with good learning and discovery activities keeps them busy and learning. At the last school the kids destroyed things. (One threw an egg we were using for osmosis experiment at the periodic table and enjoyed watching it drip down. I was outside dosing out vinegar I didn't want to smell up the classroom, because there was no ventilation.) The school's response was detention or expulsion, so I was always missing 2-3 expelled kids in my classes, who then couldn't make up the activity learning we were doing in class, and got more disruptive. I can't help but believe that kids respond to the confrontational punishment with more disruption. They came to accept it, and didn't realize that I don't want confrontations, I want learning.

I've been taking more courses, and reading more books. I will try to write more about them here in the future. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Teaching the Environment in All Our Classes

In my previous blog I mentioned the California Environmental Education Initiative, which I just completed a short course about at UCLA Extension. The final for the course was to make a PowerPoint to tell colleagues about the curriculum. I thought I'd present parts of the PowerPoint here to tell the wider story.

The curriculum is based on the CA Environmental Principles and Concepts. It correlates with the CA Content K-12 Content Standards, replacing, rather than supplementing, what you already teach for the content standards for subjects like ELA, History, Economics, Science and Social Science. A  sample of units for 3rd grade is shown below, and a student workbook for Kindergarten to the right. As you can see, they replace textbook materials for units in Biology, Geography, California History and Economy. You can access the curriculum for the subjects you teach on the Curriculum page. (There is a special password for the TE documents, which you access by signing in.)

 We are leaving a damaged earth to our students. We need to prepare them for the new environmental conditions through our teaching. But it should be fun, challenging and colorful. The EEI has done a fantastic job preparing this curriculum. Be sure to find the materials for the classes you teach to see for yourself!
I will delve into some of the materials in my next post.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The graduate

So now you can see that I really did graduate! A lot has happened since then, even though it was just a month ago. Our school finished the school year and then closed, so my students are looking for somewhere else to complete their high school education, and I am looking (again) for a new position as high school math or science teacher in an incredibly bad job market. (Just got 2 rejections. Off to a good start!) However, I have also now completed 2 quarters out of 3 of the UCLA Ext University Induction Program, to clear my credential, and also completed a couple of courses about schools and the environment, and students with autism and ADHD. And my husband is just getting active again after a total knee replacement the day after our last day of school, so I've been busy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Where I need to be

The image on the right was one I found on FaceBook. I think it tells a good bit about my life. Problem is, each time I find "where I needed to be" something happens and I have to move on.

To catch up a little since my last blog post back in October, I was actually glad that I didn't have a job all fall, because there were a lot of family things going on (my husband was very sick, so we moved to a new house without stairs in a neighboring town, and there was a birth and a death that moved us all.)

But in January, I was asked to return to the tiny charter school in Hesperia, where I completed my credential. It was like coming home. I knew all the colleagues except the new Dean of Students, who has been invaluable, and I knew about half my students and they knew me, so we didn't have to start at square one.

I am also teaching the same subjects, Biology and Integrated Science, although different parts of them, since the teacher they had in the fall had taken a different part of the curriculum than last year's teachers. But the most important aspect was that I have learned a lot about Guided Inquiry and Reasoning and Sense Making since then, which turned out to be the right way to address the needs of pretty much all of my students.

Most of our students have come to us because they just couldn't make it in the regular public high school. Some had tried a variety of other charters, home schooling, etc. Many have a great difficulty concentrating, and get easily distracted. If I had been trying to do whole-class teaching, I think I would have lost most of them. But I put them in 6 groups of about 3 students, and provided lots of hand-on labs to introduce topics. I also made many worksheets, often finding illustrations and text on line, and then guiding them with questions to the illustrations and concepts. It took a while for the kids to understand that they were to work TOGETHER in their groups, and that I wasn't going to be standing up front with a PowerPoint, but coming around to each individual group to ask them questions, and guide them on their way (I like the word, facilitate!)

I am more than half-way through the "University Induction Program" at UCLA Ext, to clear my credential, with interesting courses and "Inquiries" into my teaching about what sort of strategies will help my ESL students, and now my students with IEPs. I've also just completed a fun course at CGU in ways to teach Physics hands-on, which gave me a lot of tools and ideas for the Physics part of Integrated Science, and an online course in working with students with ADHD, which is much needed to learn to reach our many "wanderers" and "blurters." And I've also earned a certificate as "Green School Professional." (I've been taking more classes than my students, to learn to teach them better!)

But the tragedy I alluded to in the beginning is that our little school is too little. We need about 20 more students to release some important funds and make us viable. So the charter has been pulled, prospective students are being turned away, and our students are trying to figure out where to look again to continue their education. Some of the students are looking forward to going to a "real" high school, with all the amenities we can't offer, although we do offer gym, a couple of sports, classes in art, music, sign language and astronomy. But many are going to try the individual learning of home schooling or computer-based learning, away from any social aspects of school. Some of my students are sure to get lost, students I was just getting through to. How sad! My younger colleagues (one just got married) need jobs to support their families, older ones aren't ready to retire yet. Our special ed teacher, who isn't much younger than I am) is working on her EdJoin application for the first time ever. She was the life-blood of the school for most of its existence, but is left in the cold like the rest of us.

So far the only jobs I can see for me are even further away than my trip through the Cajon pass to Hesperia. I can manage without a job, but I hate inactivity, and I have discovered that I have much to give my students. So I'll just have to see where life will take me next, and know that that's where I'm supposed to be for a while again.

On Saturday, I will be walking in the graduation ceremony at Claremont Graduate School, with cap and hood and all. I'll post a picture to prove it after it's happened!