180: Day 17: Short period, a quiz, and Ahmed

screen shot of a Desmos plot

I’m getting so used to 80 minute blocks that I’m not sure how to handle a 40 minute period when it gets thrown at me. Today was a 40 minute period day (five classes in one day, how did I ever handle this?), and I threw a quiz at my students in which they had to use Desmos to plot some data and answer some questions. I love Desmos, but from the results it seems like many of my students still aren’t getting it (I suspected many are letting their partners do the work, thus I gave them this quiz).

After the quiz, some students were discussing Ahmed Mohamed and his clock. We talked about it a bit as a class; I encouraged them to not immediately throw in the ‘race card’ without knowing more about the school (it’s very diverse, as is the administration and faculty). I did not deny that racism may have been involved, but I suggested they not call someone names unless they know more of the details.

Here’s a petition I wrote asking the principal and police chief to apologize to Ahmed. It has about 6,000 signatures in the first 24 hours, and it was mentioned in Cosmo!

180: Day 16: Whiteboards are improving

photo of another example whiteboard

The first few whiteboards always take longer than I want. Often, student’s aren’t prepared (haven’t already analyzed the info with their group), don’t understand how to back up their conclusions with evidence, and don’t get how to translate words like “rate” or “speed” into simple English sentences that don’t use those words.

But today they are doing better (paradigm lab #2), and I’m spending the time with most group to ensure that their boards at least contain much of the necessary info.

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180: Day 15: Empathy for teachers slow to picking up technology

photo of corner of Empathy Place and Perservierance Ct

No photo or classroom activity today; instead a reflection from a training on our school’s LMS (Schoology):

One of our tech folks was leading a brief afternoon gathering for questions from teachers new to Schoology. Mr. Vito Ferrante, our Director of Educational Technology and an Instructor of Mathematics–whose job it is to help teachers learn to use our computers–made a comment I probably can’t do justice to, but I’ll try. He said something along the lines of ‘veteran teachers who are not jumping on the bandwagon of tech in the classroom may have been great teachers for years–but now they are being asked to become beginners all over again.’

As a 55-year-old who has been teaching for 20 years, I have tended to have little patience for veteran teachers who resist using technology in their classroom and in their grade book. ‘If I can learn it, why can’t they,’ has often been my attitude.

But Vito has given me cause to be more empathetic with these teachers. Not that I don’t want them to learn tech and implement tech in their classrooms, but just that I probably should give them more emotional space. In the past 20 years, my job assignment has been up to 40% FTE in tech support, and teachers usually have given me appreciation for my patience and gentleness in tech training, but it’s still important to remember how resistant we can be to making changes from a place of strength.

180: Day 14: Evaluating data from all classes

results sorted by color

I’m a big one on looking at large quantities of data. In each of my physics classes, I have seven to nine groups. In the Buggy Lab, that provides enough data that whiteboard sessions go fairly well, with:

  • at 3-4 groups going in each direction
  • two groups starting at extreme positive or negative locations
  • three to four starting at medium locations
  • two groups starting at zero
  • three to five slow cars and three to five fast cars.

But that’s not enough for me πŸ™‚

I have my students submit their calculated results to a Google spreadsheet, so we end up with around 30 different sets of results. When we have our whiteboard meetings, I’ll have the spreadsheet available if students want to look at more data (and, of course, I hint that this would be a good idea).

Here are some results from this year (homework is to complete it, so not everyone has posted yet). I use Format…Conditional formatting… rules to add color based on the values.

results sorted by y intercept
Buggy lab data export by y intercept
results sorted by slope
Buggy lab data export by slope
results sorted by color
Buggy lab data export by color

180: Day 13: How a fire drill should be run

photo of football field for evacuation

All schools need to run fire drills to comply with local laws, and to practice ‘just in case’ (when I as at Berkeley HS, we did have a ‘case’). Some do it well, others not so well. Today was a drill at my new school, Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, and I would give my school an A (OK, maybe a B+ if I’m not grade-inflating). Here’s what I liked:

  • Each classroom has a packet attached with Velcro to the wall near the exit door. This has everything a teacher might need in case of an emergency, including a pencil to take roll.
  • We walk out to the practice field (only 60 yards long, but that’s the largest space we have near school). This involves crossing busy San Francisco streets, on steep hills.
  • When we got there, teachers just pull out their class number from their packet, and wait for their students to gather.
  • Someone from the office walks by and brings us our class lists.
  • We take attendance, after which someone walks by and picks it up.
  • We hang out with the kids for a while, then are dismissed by groups and through different gates so as to minimize crowding on sidewalks and while crossing the streets.
  • When we get back to class, we hear an announcement that the drill took longer than expected, so our 55 minute lunch is being cut by ten minutes. I like this–while the period between break and lunch is a bit shorter, it’s not as short as if they had not taken this time out of lunch.

Thanks to everyone at my school for such a well-run fire drill πŸ™‚

photo of football field for evacuation
Here’s a panoramic shot of our practice field during today’s evacuation. Notice I’m in the shade πŸ™‚

180: Day 12: Mini whiteboards for sketching during group lab design; combining high- and low- tech

image of small whiteboard with diagram on it

This year I’m having my students use shared Google docs for their lab write ups (developing their procedures, recording their data, etc.). One student starts the document and shares it with the others, so everyone is working on the same document.The problem with Google Docs is most of us can’t draw on a computer (while touch screen devices may offer some help, it’s generally not as good as what we can do by hand, and/or takes more time).

My solution for creating better images: Mini-whiteboards and photos with their phones.

Students can work together on a their whiteboard, and everyone can see it, regardless of the angle. When they are happy with their drawing, they take a photo of it and add that to their document.

We’ll see how it goes, but I like the results so far. I didn’t get any images of complete images, but here’s one that some students started on (yes, I believe that’s a mushroom cloud where the cars collide):

image of small whiteboard with diagram on it


180: Day 11: Unit summaries online

screen shot of one unit summary

There has been debate in the Modeling Instruction community over how to handle “summaries” at the end of labs/units. We like summaries because they provide our students a place to go to see conclusions that are agreed to as a class–but we worry about them because students may not be as engaged in the labs/discussions if they know the “answers” will be posted at the end.

Such is the life of a teacher πŸ™‚

This year, I decided to try a summary after each unit. At the end of the unit, I will project one student’s screen and s/he will type in the words the class agrees on. I’m starting with more involvement, but hope to remove myself from the discussion as we progress through the year. I am using Schoology’s Discussion feature, students who aren’t clear on the summary can always post questions (and, hopefully, responses!) later.

We just finished our intro unit, the goal of which is to introduce students to plotting data and making predictions from those plots. Here is the conclusion from one period today:

screen shot of one unit summary

180: Day 9: Whiteboard walk

photo of whiteboard walk

I usually do whiteboards as “meetings,” but hear recently of “whiteboard walks.” These walks are designed to mimic scientific poster sessions, where one student stays with their board, and the others walk to other boards and have conversations with the “authors” of the other boards.

I tried this with my AP Physics C class today, and it seemed to go well. I like it because it takes less time than a full “board meeting,” and also allow students to engage in small groups with others who are not in their lab group. I told them that each member of their group should go to a different group.

We were whiteboarding a few problems they had for homework, so after the walk was finished, I did a quick review of the important items they should have noticed. I’m still a bit worried about me “summarizing”/”highlighting” at the end, fearing that students may not take the board sessions as seriously since they can “get the answers at the end,” but I guess that’s what high school teaching is all about–transforming mindsets slowly πŸ™‚

photo of whiteboard walk