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!