Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Student Connections

Wow! I mean Wow!

Yesterday, listening to Amanda talk about how she has her students make connections with the topics of study I was thinking about the change that is starting. I am thinking about the scince classes that I teach and how I too hope the students learn something about education in general before they leave. I hope they learn that they do not need to be passive but can be active in their education. To see what other teachers are doing to get the students to be excited is very helpful to me. I start to wonder what I am doing that makes a change in the system and a different feel in the classroom.

I cannot wait to see what the people at AHS are doing next.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On line Astronomy

So, I tried something new. (This group is having an impact on me.)

In my astronomy class we did an activity, I think it was a scavenger hunt, that used a Word template as a guide. The activity was on the small bodies in the Solar System. The websites were on the worksheet and this guided the student's work. The students were on task the whole time and seemed to enjoy seeing what was out there. My current struggle is with the grading. I had the students turn the assignment into the class drop-box. I do not know if there is a way to give the student feedback. Any ideas?

Here is the assignment:

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Low Scores? Are they important?

The following article talks about states that fail on standardized science tests.

Are we failing these kids since we are not meeting their needs or are they failing since the instrument is not well written?

This article worries me when I start to think about it. The media drives a "craze" sometimes. This seems like one of those cases. When we do the CSAP science portion this year I am frightened to think what will happen in our classrooms if the scores are not good.

Maybe we need to look at what we do and see if it is meeting the needs of the students. But what about the test? If we are trying to meet the test then are we missing the point of getting studnets to construct their own learning (at least in some cases)? If the scores on a test drive what we do in the classroom then I think we need to rethink standardized tests and their use. How do we start that discussion with people that are interested in the test scores? Shouldn't we be worried about the idea of creating an interest in science that would lead students into future studies of science? (These are the things I have been occupied with and are taking away from my time reading.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Learning Styles

I wonder if the fact that we are trying to think of all students (actually all individuals) as one group we are missing some of them? What I mean is, if we are changing our thoughts on education are we going to still be "missing" some of the students?

If people cannot agree on how to raise a child, how can we agree on the best way to change the education system?

I think that we can change things. The only issue that I am trying to figure out is how to make the changes in my classroom reach all the different learning styles. Since people learn by doing, seeing and hearing (basically) I need to find ways to have the activities that I am doing reach these different people. I wonder if the changes to the classroom setting are not including some of these people?

My other question to myself and the others in the group is what to do about the learners who are apethetic? There are going to be people who just don't care about what is going on around them. Do we try to undo nine and sometimes more years of "education" where the person has only learned that they don't want to learn?

I guess these are the things we are trying to answer.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Karl asked about the math involved in the gas laws in chemistry. There are some simple conversions with gas laws and there are some substitution into equations and then the rearrangement of the equations to solve for the missing variable. Like P1V1=P2V2 this equation shows the inverse relationship between pressure of a gas and its volume. When the students have three variables they are asked for the fourth.

I do not like the way that this attempts to explain the situation. I think that the kids are learning how to plug in numbers and get an answer. I do not think that it explains the situation. What I would like the students to understand, for example, is that when volume goes down then pressure will go up. If they setup the math first and in the above example first multiply the smaller volume and then divide by the bigger volume. (This will give an answer where the final pressure is smaller than the new one.) The understanding of the material is more inportant than the answer to the math. However, it seems that the students want to knwo the equation and not the concept behind it. How do we get the students involved?

A lot of times the students can do the math with numbers but not with units. Lets say we need to get meters to concel out when we start with meters per second. The students do not seem to understand if meters is on top of the units we are starting with then they need to divide by meters to get it to cancel out. How do we help them see the math of words?

To answer Karl's other question all students need to be concurrently enrolled in advanced algebra.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Gas Laws

In the science office we were talking about the student's inability to work simple math problems. In my class we are discussing the gas laws and how the variables relate. The students were having a hard time with the math of these laws. One student even mentioned that they were working with these types of expressions in math. Some other students could not see the math relationships in the chemistry. I am wondering how one group of students can be asked to reach their own understanding of chemistry if they do not understand the math principles in class. How do we "adjust" the background information to make sure that they actually have it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I think that instead of assigning the labs that the students will write-up they should pick them. Next term, I will have the students pick three labs (one each six weeks) to do a formal write up on. The only question is how do I make sure that they are picking at least one lab that is qualitative (with numbers)?

Lab Reports

Most of the labs that we do in chemistry are ones where the answer sheets are fill in the blank with the data tables already arranged. I am trying to figure out if I can develop the labs into ones where the students need to use a comp-book during the lab. I am really struggling with the logistics of this. How often to grade them? Right now labs are graded weekly.

The other issue that I have is the "team" approach to teaching this class. There are some people who think that we need to do stuff the same way as each other. The problem comes from the idea that other people do not want to conduct their classes in the same fashion that I do. In chemistry, we do not have the same students in lab as we do in lecture so that complicates things.

I am trying to figure out ways that the students can improve their writing in science and the comp-book seems like the easiest way to do this. I would really like to see "original" student work and not just the fill in the blank kind. I just do not know how all of this works here. (Needless to say that I am experiencing frustration.) I would just like to try but with it causing issues in other people's classes, I think I need to be sesitive to that.

Inquiry........and patience

We are currently doing a couple of experiments in chemisrty that are inquiry based. The students are asked to reach a conclusion about the relationship between different variables that affect a gas. The problem that I see is that the students are waiting to be told what to do and what to think. How do we get away from that? Will students ever be comfortable enough to make a mistake? Are the grades that the students earn the stmbling block to this whole process?

The students want to know if they are conducting the experiment "right". I thought that true science was not based on the repeating of ohter experiments but by designing your own to test a process or theory. Should the students be developing their own experiments? I know this does not always go good but science, and education, are not always about success stories.

Even Winston Churchill said "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." I am wondering where all of the student's enthusiam lies?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Reading in science.

Before the break, I had my chemistry classes complete some assigned reading. The next school day, I had them work in groups and decide if there was anything that they still wondered about and wanted clarification on. They then wrote their questions on the board and that drove the classroom discussion. (I saw how this worked in Anne's english class and you know what? It also worked in a science classroom.) The students were all involved in the discussion and the fact that we were only talking about what they wanted to knwo about keep them really engaged. I need to rememeber how this worked.


Why is it that I seem to fall back on my old ways of teaching? Is it because I don't want to put the time into redoing my lessons?

Having the students in the "driver's seat" works so well for a lot of what I do but there I times when I need to present the information. I know that this is okay but when I do it once then I want to do it again and again. I think I am having a hard time letting go of being the one in front.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Other Schools

I was talking over dinner to a family member who teaches in another school district in Colorado. After sharing the things that we are doing at AHS he shared some of the things they are doing. The most interesting part of the whole discussion was when he shared the fact that at the beginning of each semester, he gives the students a list of possible subjects to study. The students then are allowed to pick and that determines the course of study. All parts of the curriculm are designed around this topic for example, the topic right now is "birds". Oh, by the way, the students are in an elementary school. It seems that if the teacher has the drive and students still have the want to know, then the constructivist approach works the "best". The teacher shared the fact that he was worried about not getting through all of the curriculm but it seems to "take care of itself." I know that I have had the same worry but this conversation made me feel better.

I hope that I can just make myself sure that the reason I am trying all the new stuff is because I value the student's learning and I hope that school becomes a life altering activity not just a time that they dread.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Student Perceptions

I wonder if students know the difference between a teacher who is "hard" and one that is "unfair"? I had a student tell their parent that I was a "hard" teacher. I think that the parent thought the term "hard" was "unfair". I also was told that lately my classes have been a lot "harder" than before. I think that the student is thinking that school should be the way that it always was. The student is trying to compare my class with other teacher's. I have started to move away from me doing all of the teaching and I am asking my students to do some of the teaching/learning themselves. I know this will be difficult for the students but will they eventually see the worth in this style? I am trying to change the way that students view a class. What is going to be hard is changing the way that students and parents talk about classes.

I guess that I should be glad the student thinks of me as "hard" and not "unfair".(At least, that is what I think....I might need to ask my students.)

What to do about a course?

There is a class that I teach that I am now wondering about. The class is titled "Pre-AP chemistry" and I am wondering if this is a good offering. My understanding is that the class is intended to be student centered. (At least that is my understanding from www.apcentral.com) The class is anything but that right now. The planning of the class is not just me and I do not know what to do with the structure of the class. I am not at peace with the splitting of students into different ability levels. I currently think that the students should remain together until they can take an actual AP class. I know that my thinking changes from week to week but this is one of the weeks where I am questioning what I do.

I wonder not just to what extent grades and points drive a student's work ethic but what about course titles? When we label something honors, AP or skills does that predetermine a level of student that will be in the class? Are we putting those students in our box?

How do we start to change the preception about classes? What do we tell parents? How do we convey the idea that a class is just as difficult as it always has been even if all of the students are together?

Does CCHE change my thoughts? Maybe.......I am confused by all of this but I know I want to learn more...

Opinion Paper

I recently had my astronomy students do some research into the Moon landings. I was hoping that some of them would argue that the landings never occured. When I asked them why they thought the Moon landings did occur they responded with "we ahve been told that they happened". I wonder if we are trying to get students to formulate their own understanding of the world, how to we begin to get them to question what they "have always known to be true"?

I would like the students to form their own understanding and not answer with statements about being told about it. I think that students who form their own explantions can defend and actually learn the information better than students who are told the information.


After listening to the presentation on grading, I think that I am ready to make a small switch. My questions come from the communication with parents and the other members of a curricular "team." I am wondering how to send information home that tells the parents how to use the new information that is included in the report. Do you change the class information page? What would I do with assignments that need their own category? If the class is a "team" approach what do I tell the other team members who might be a little resistant to change?

If the constructivist approach is a philosophical idea how do you change people's minds when they agree with the behaviorist view?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Moon Trip?

This week I was out of the building and had a sub in. The astronomy students started a webquest about the NASA missions to the Moon in the 1960's. The goal of the assignment was the have the kids form an opinion about the Moon landings and if they actually happened or not. They are to form an arguement on the topic and then produce a document to that effect. Next week I think we are going to have a classroom discussion/debate. The interesting thing was the sub left me a note saying that the kids were all really involved in the research part of the assignment. I can only hope that they will be as interested in the document and discussion part. Any ideas on how to structure this discussion/debate?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Time Management?

I would really like to develop a webquest for astronomy but I am having difficultly setting aside time to do this. There are a lot of things going on right now and I cannot seem to find a comfortable middle ground on all of the stuff. (I just told Cara that I am venting about time management buy using up more time venting, irony here?) The class meetings for the technology stuff seem to be coming very fast and I do not feel like I have given justice to any of the topics that have been shared.

I guess I am just a little frusterated with the amount of stuff that I want to do and the amount of stuff I have to do and how all of that fits into a busy schedule.

Any answers?

Blogs in Class

I have had my students work on blogs in the astronomy class and it seems to be going okay. I would like any feedback or ideas on how these blogs to be used to foster further learning. I think right now I am using them as an end in themselves and I am not sure where to go from here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Today in astronomy

Today (11/1) I had my students setup blog accounts and then comment on their thoughts about the fieldtrip last week. While some students took the time to post thoughtful statements most just worked as quickly as they could. (A product of the educational system in which they find themselves perhaps?) Some of the students were wondering why they could not just "write a response." I was trying to find a good way to answer that question when Anne told them they would be wasting trees. What are some other ways to answer this question that the students have? I wonder if they will become more comfortabe with the blogs? Will I?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


I was working with the astronomy students on a project in the computer lab where we were looking at pictures of the Moon. The students were asked to evaluate each image and decide the identity of each geologic structure. I was trying to figure out if there was a way that the students could post their results on-line for others to see/comment on. One student said, "I wish we could ask an expert how to do this." I was hoping to find a way to connect students with professionals in the field so that they could have "conversations" with each other. Is there a way to do this?

Saturday, October 15, 2005


"The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done - men who are creative, inventive and discoverers"
Jean Piaget quotes

This quote really shows what the constructivist approach believes. I think that education, as a whole, would change if people started thinking this way.

How do we get students to see it this way?


My current concern is that the LCD projectors in the classrooms will become fancy replacements for the overheads that we currently have. I would like to take the technology to the next level past PowerPoint but I am currently having problems seeing how to do this with the number of students that I have.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


So, I am sitting here wondering how I can use blogs effectively in a chemistry classroom. I was wondering if there was a way to get students to use the blog to voice questions that they have and ways to get other students to offer help. Are there any sites where students are helping students make sense of difficult material? I know that I can have students respond to readings in the science area. I also know that students can work on their writing in the science area but are there other things that the students can do with blogs. I do not want them to "always do the same stuff" only electronically now.

Astronomy seems like a more natural course for the blogs but after trying to set them up, I have given up for the time being. I experienced a "set back" with the blog accounts that my students would be using. The Macs had some unexplained problems and the other computer labs are used by the same teachers when I need them. I do not know if there is an easy fix to this problem.

I think that there is so much going on that I am struggling with doing something else new.