The Love of Science

What if kids love Science when they are young because they get to play around with it. You know the hands-on stuff is fun and occasionally gross.

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Then as we get older we lose some of the hands-on stuff so we start to hate Science. The fix is easy right? Just add more hands-on stuff!

Photo by looking4poetry

What if the fix isn’t that easy. High school Science is more that just hands-on. It requires a bit of precision; quality measurements, repeatable experiments without impurities. This isn’t, throw some corn starch and water together and look it’s a magic substance.

Rigorous experiments in Science require creating experiments that remove all but one variable. They require students follow complicated directions and make precise measurements. Then they have to collect the data correctly and feed it into tables and graphs, perhaps even perform some magical mathematical functions. Then after all that hard work they get a conclusion that might, just might, resemble the correct conclusion in the book.

Image from Wessex Archaeology

Not quite real experimental Science of discovering the cure for cancer, but closer than those semi-magical demonstrations in Kindergarten.

So what would be the better way of teaching Science?

  1. Nose to the grindstone. Here is your worksheet and a virtual experiment don’t make any mistakes and pay attention to those details, especially in the math.
  2. Do the experiment, fail, do it again because you were sloppy. Then do it again because you were sloppy, then do it again because you were sloppy, oh forget about it here are the numbers you should have gotten to use now pay attention to those details.

Yeah, I don’t like the choices either, though honestly if I were forced to pick I would choose the second. The real trick in teaching, if you want a silver bullet, Science, is to Be Less Helpful (I think Dan Meyer can be credited with coining that phrase).

So really, the question is, “How do we keep the interest of our students, in this really cool experiment, while simultaneously requiring them to take excellent measurements, and controlling for variables in experimentation?

Maybe this is the way –

Image from Matthew and Tracie

This is, at least as I see it, a kind of middle ground. Students are still excited by Science, they are just getting bogged down in the details. Quite honestly I think those details will bore just about everyone except a Scientist. On the other hand understanding that there are details and this rigour is important are also takeaways we really need to have. However, if you want to collect excellent data and import it correctly into graphs and tables so you can examine the actual physics this seems like an excellent way to do just that.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is new for teachers as well as students. Most teachers don’t have a frame of reference because they have never experienced it in their own lives. Therefore it is easier to find examples of blended learning opportunities for teachers than it is for students. As teachers learn by doing. Some schools around here are creating a new position called a chief innovation officer or something similar. I would assume they do things like help implement blended learning and alternative professional development methods.

Like many other innovations online learning filled a niche, the cheap, easy way to get unimportant learning. (Think compliance training) Many online schools and classes continued that tradition.  Blended learning, I think has become popular as a way to add rigor to those online learning opportunities. It is just so much harder to cheat or slack off in real life.

Blended learning can be so much more:

There is a cultural shift that needs to happen for true blended learning. Many teachers I work with see a web site as a place to put up the newsletter and post homework. They don’t know what they don’t know and never imagine the interactivity they could have in the classrooms.

Blended learning happens when we shift thinking to something along the lines of – Here is how I teach math in the classroom, here are six other methods you can practice with your children (look ma no homework). Or here are the shared notes we took in class today, add some comments. Or any number of ways teachers extend the school day not just to the students, but also to bring in or increase parental involvement.

Some teachers do this shift on their own, and sometimes get in trouble for it. Some teachers wait for the OK before doing anything, some will not do it because they don’t see it as part of their job. (Certainly this would take up more than the 1/2 hour prep time most teachers get in Illinois, not to mention the fact that many teachers would end up checking work online late into the night, weekends etc…)

But what I can tell you from visits to blended classrooms and schools, in both traditional public and charter schools, is that students tend to find what exists thus far as fairly dull, lacking both the community and the accountability that comes with good face to face learning. A number of students told us at one highly celebrated blended school that they liked everything about the school except for the online learning!

Fifteen years ago I was studying education at Northwestern and the technology professor was talking to me of the advantages of online work. That students who didn’t like to speak up in class could, and often would, be active participants in teaching and learning online. But even then it was never about teaching online, it was about creating and environment for learning that was appropriate for the students. It wasn’t expected that every student would participate online, or even if the participation would be better, just that it was a way to extend the learning and reach more students. Blended learning works when you think like that.

If blended learning is extra work to be done online, or a substitute for traditional homework, it is just the same junk in fancy wrapping. When it adds something new, giving parents a method of being connected, extending the learning that happens in class, giving a voice to deep thinker, or shy student, then and only then does blended learning enhance education.

#hearthfire – A zombie story

What a day. A little zombie hunting with my oldest son seemed like a good idea. After all they are just slow pokes right. Shuffling around in their raggedy clothes. They couldn’t catch a fly. But no, my son trips up and forgets to use the correct hashtag and suddenly he is zombie meat.

I can’t bring myself to kill him though. He was my son after all. Instead I tried to lock him up in the cheese shed. (don’t ask me it’s a minecraft thing I think)

He broke out in the afternoon and tried to eat a giant bug

I had a stroke of genius and called Bill Nye the Science guy. We worked out a nice cure. And now we are safe at home sitting by the fire eating marshmellows.

Summer PD Roundtable

I was a participant in one of Ben Wilkhoff‘s roundtables this summer. (#summerpdroundtable)

When I started teaching summers meant motorcycle trips and tents. (Oh to be young and single and childless). I’ve meant to clean up that site for years now, I just never seem to get around to it.


Later my summers meant summer school and earning a few extra dollars.

Today my summers are spend designing and delivering professional development to teachers.

For most teachers it seems PD means “how do I use this”. Which is great when the school district comes in with a new learning management system of something along those lines. It isn’t so great when we are asking ourselves, “how do I get my students more engaged?”

 I know a million different interactive tools out there that leverage technology. These tools connect people, facilitate collaboration, add flash, or make us mobile, and a million other changes to the classroom. The questions we have to ask is why? What does this tool do for my classroom, besides add a cool tech element?

Does it enhance my teaching, does it allow the students to interact with the content in a more suitable way for him or her? Does it change the assessment in some vital way? Am I engaging learners or just exciting them?

So many questions that, as a teacher, I need to find time to ask. For me as a teacher summer is a time to slow down and reflect. And I think that is why the camping theme kind of came out n the video. I don’t need to sit sown and study books or technologies over the summer. At least I don’t need to do that right away.

During the summer I need to reflect a bit on how the last year went. then I need to imagine what I want to do next year. Finally, I need to start learning new skills.

Yesterday, I had a summer PD session in which I taught the use of Interactive Whiteboards. My student already knew she wanted a whiteboard. Not because they are cool, but because she wanted students to be able to interact with the same media at the same time as a group. She had already determined a new direction in her classroom based on what she wanted to do and then went and found the solution to her problem.

For me that is the essence of summer PD.


Yesterday, in the Vergara v. California post I mentioned how education is the glue that binds us. Going to public school is one of the few commonalities for almost every person in America. Even homeschooled and private school students are affected by what happens in public school.

I’ve noticed over the years that streets in buildings in less wealthy sections of town (any town) usually have streets and buildings in need of repair. I know big surprise. Maybe even someone has done a study.


The other thing I notice are the names of the streets. Where I grew up the streets names were people, places, or things. Where I worked for most of my career the street names were always numbers. I always wondered if this might have a small effect on the innate curiosity of the residents.


Finally, I look at the buildings. Is you school a boring brick building? (They are all brick or stone of course to prevent fires)


Walking around Washington DC last week I love how all the buildings are huge stone monuments, well at least in the mall area. Or course they are monuments, but that doesn’t make them any less impressive.

So does the outside of the building have an effect on the inside?

Vergara v. California

I think a lot of people have heard the buzz about the Vergara v. California case in california last week.

I was particularly interested in the response from our Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

I don’t think the last sentence could be emphasized enough …”we all need to continue to address other inequities in education–including school funding, access to quality early childhood programs and school discipline.”

Tenure is not the primary cause of problems in schools and those who attack tenure first are not looking to improve schools they are trying to destroy education. If you want to improve education in our worst schools, start with repairing or replacing the buildings, feed the children 3 times a day with healthy food (not the crap they feed them now), make the schools inviting, keep the schools open until 9PM and hold parenting classes, English classes for adults, dance, art, anything to increase the sense of pride and culture in a neighborhood.

Education is more than just skills and standards, it’s the glue that binds us. More on this tomorrow I hope.

Webmaker DeICE

I’m a bad webmaker because I didn’t put the event up, but in my defense it was just part of a small conference for educators. I like small conferences and DeICE (Dedicated Illinois Computing Educators) was a lot of fun, even for an introvert like me.

I led a session on Webmaking

My intention was to talk for 5 or 10 minutes and then let the audience create something together. I talked too long and, surprisingly enough, some of the educators didn’t have computers. What really happened is I spent most of the 45 minutes talking and answering questions.

As usual I tried to put too much information into my presentation; Webmaker tools, web literacies, badges, I did however focus myself long enough to spend the bulk of my time talking about thimble and explaining how to do an introductory lesson for elementary students.