Friday, November 29, 2013

Real world consequences? Responsibility? Our job is skills.

If you teach you have heard this from some teacher, "XYZ student does not do his/her work, if they don't do anything what can I do?  And if I do something special, is that fair? Am I really preparing him/her for the real world?  What about responsibility?"

Responsibility? Real world consequences?  Interesting thought, interesting title; let me be clear that High School is not the real world, it is a student world.  And while performance in HS is important, the "direct relationship" between HS performance and job performance is not a guarantee.   I fired a lot of "smart" people who played school well in my previous career.  We shouldn't teach responsibility at the HS level as a pass/fail; we must make sure they have skills, responsibility is second.  (And ever time I hear an employer whine about responsibility - I simply think of supply and demand - pay little, get little.  Interview poorly, get poor hires.) 

We need to try to make sure that responsibility is there, that students understand the difference between HS and the world. But my number one job is make sure my students have enough math to move on outside my walls - I cannot let a student's irresponsibility be an excuse.  That includes the kids who won't play school and do not want to do their work.

I completely believe with students who don't care about their grade that they need more assistance, the world requires them to have a diploma.  When, we teachers, let them fail we are creating a problem and not doing our job.  (Now a disclaimer or point of order, even when we do our job they may fail because the other edge of this sword is not lowering standards.)  We need to make sure, work towards, all students getting the learning done.  Thus the C word, consequences; preferably like the real-world would give.  Cause an F does not motivate them, a zero doesn't, those are not consequences for someone not playing school.

And while HS is their job now, it is not real-world  job.  We can talk about expectations but we cannot treat students who won't play school that school is like a real job.  Cause it simply isn't. 

And why would we want HS to be real-world!  In the world decisions are made more often about money and productivity, not about people - the world will make relationships but only with employees who have made a commitment to the business (and in corporate America that really does not happen).  In school every day can be new with students, chances can be plentiful.  And that is great -- firing and laying people off is overrated and  NO FUN!

So when a student does not work, I work with them.  I don't make it about grades, I make about a skill - about their future.  I also tell them that my job is not to just let them fail - I am suppose to make failing harder than passing!  I make the skill so important that I will pull them from lunch, before school, after school -- from study hall, you name it - I will do it.  And not surprisingly if they get success once and know you care, they start at least doing the minimum.

And if you think that is easy, you are not a teacher.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Great Teachers Do Differently -- Thoughts on Whitaker's Book

So I just finished reading Todd Whitaker's book What Great Teachers Do Differently (here is a link to a  document with some of the book ideas).  It was a pleasant book to read, it was kind of a gathering of ideas that supported the basic idea that great teachers care about kids; they form a relationships, they do what is best for kids, etc.

But I took away a couple of things for me, that I did not find "common."  First, the idea that great teachers don't make rules based on one to two students or parents.  This meaning deal with trouble directly, not with the entire class but those who need the attention, which I already did.  But more importantly ask yourself what would my best students think - that is a great phrase because that is what the world does with employees too.  If my best students/parents find a note that comes home about a rule insulting - don't send it!   Deal with the 2 of 30 students who are causing an issue.

I already did not have a lot of rules and I preach "fair-ness over equal-ness," meaning each person is treated fairly - that does mean people are treated slightly differently depending on the situation and needs of the student. And that is okay, that is how the world works.  If one student needs attention for behavior, I deal with that one student.  If one student has an issue and cannot do homework for a couple of days, I excuse that student.  The teacher must make the decision and must do his or her best to be fair (NOT EQUAL).

The second thing I took from the book was the reminder that I only control me.  I am the variable in the classroom that I can control.  The teacher can really only change his or her performance!   It is my job to reach out, prod and push these students - to make sure they are doing math each day in my room at least.  And if we (the student and I) can get 45 minutes per day of effort on math - then we can almost always progress through the math requirements for a HS diploma.  Cause that diploma is the ticket to nearly everything in the workplace.  And we don't let 15 year olds make life alternating decisions without pushing them hard, at a minimum, in a positive direction.

Again it is nice read, short -- and makes you reflect on what you are doing in your classroom.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Can we teach students who refuse to learn? Are we really asking that question?

Recently read a post on loafers, where a math teacher let it be known that he felt it was sad that 382  people voted "yes" that we can teach students who do not want to be taught (out of 734 votes).  Yep, I am one of them. 

The question was "If a student does not want to be taught, can we teach him/her successfully?"  Now 352 said no, and I think we all agree that you simply can refuse and you don't have to do anything (student and teacher alike). But what myself and 381 other people believe is that our job is to reach out and help find a way - and there are ways.  Though those ways are tough and not part of the "normal" school but can be effective.  The question itself is flawed.

The post also stated indirectly that if we are helping these students we must be lowering our standards. I think it is self-centered on the part of the asker to believe that we (or me) are enabling, or just passing students  - which I don't do.   I find ways for students to learn, I assess and progress.

I feel the idea that I have to lower to standards to teach "loafers" allows the asker to feel okay about giving up on a loafer student.  I think the question that was asked turns into a question about responsibility, and it cuts both ways.  There is teacher responsibility and student responsibility -- but are they really equal?  Is it a 50/50 deal?  Are a teacher and a obstinate student equal?  Should we allow a 15 year old to make a life altering decision without a ton of pressure from teachers to push them down a course of graduation?

When I hear teachers take a line of questioning such as the above question, I immediately think they are looking for a way to say they cannot reach all.  But we should accept the challenge and try- especially in math where so many students decided whether they can or cannot before stepping into the room.  It is our job to find ways.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Focus on Energy - Solar Project

Enjoyed receiving the grant money from Focus on Energy, so we (me and the Physics class) decided to video the check opening!  Yup - I am that guy.

We also have completed the Power Plant page so anyone can what is happening with the panels!  So that is it - project = DONE!

So just like the video said - we are done with the 24 panel install.  But we have already started saving for Phase 2 - 12 more panels!  So to be part contact Juda Schools and tell them you want to help!  $$

Friday, November 15, 2013

Math Meet is for all.

I was already convinced that everyone can and should be part of math team.  But I had another student who "surprised" me this year at the big Tri-State Math Meet at UW-Platteville this November and gives the case for why that is true.

I took about 50% of the High School this year, 51 students (out of 95) and set them in their teams with our t-shirt.

We had pizza, talked math, did math and had fun.  And a young man - who I probably would not have selected if I brought only 1 team placed on the All-Academic team!  Again - it can be and should be for everyone

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Finalist! "Official" Press Release!

A big part of teaching is letting the community know what is happening - it is something I take very seriously. Whether I am writing up an article about curriculum, the math team or anything - but especially positive things.  So below is the article for the Samsung Contest:

Juda selected as State Finalist in Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest
JUDA – Juda School is pleased to announce that Scott Anderson and his Physics class have been selected as one of the five state finalists in Wisconsin in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.
Juda used their Physics STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) solar project as a basis for their contest entry, stating: At Juda we incorporate real world projects within the curriculum;  we research projects and create a variety of solutions.  This contest would allow us to chase our next big project which is always decided through student brainstorming about our school and our community.  Our last large project is just finishing, where we are researching ways to reduce Juda school's carbon footprint.  The students investigated many projects and now 2 years after the initial assignment we are installing a 24-panel array.   These are STEM projects with real-world results.
Since 2004, Samsung’s education programs have contributed more than $13 million in technology to more than 500 public schools in the U.S. In 2010, Samsung unveiled a new contest initiative called Solve for Tomorrow to foster more enthusiasm in STEM education. Together with industry and other partners, the Solve for Tomorrow contest uses technology as a motivator to raise awareness and interest in STEM learning among teachers and students.
Samsung stated that “We were amazed by the quality of entries that we received this year and applaud your dedication to inspiring your students, improving your local communities and fostering STEM education in your school.”   Juda was selected out of the more than 2,300 applications to be one of the five best in Wisconsin. Just for being a finalist Juda is receiving two Samsung Galaxy Tablets to aid in their classroom instruction! 
 Juda is now competing against four other schools to be the state winner.  Should Juda win, they would receive a video technology kit and a technology package valued at $20,000.

 Mr Anderson and his Physics class are now completing the next phase of the contest – creating a  “lesson plan” that will serve as the outline for their project and accompanying video.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Projects - Hard Work But Good Returns -- Solar Dedication!

Projects take work. But hard work leads to good days!  Today was a good day - we had our solar dedication today.  We spoke about the project, about student lead projects and how when given time students produce!

We had a small crowd but was visited by the Wisconsin State Journal - watch for an Article about the Juda Physics Class on some Tuesday (soon)!

Here are some pictures:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Excited today! PBL recogition

I am happy to annouce, brag, that Juda has become a finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Grant.  We are one of five finalists in the state of Wisconsin!  I wrote the initial grant requesting money for what we do in our Physics course.   Every Physics class picks and does a community or school STEM project -- the goal is to pick and complete a project that helps the Juda community.  We installed the solar panels with the last class and our currently in the process of selecting a project for this year's class now.

It is Project Based Learning at its best - students selecting and completing projects - how can't it be real world?  They are doing it. 

Not sure of our chances going forward but I am having the class complete the second phase of this grant with me, we need to put what we are going to do into a lesson plan.  And no matter what happens the students are doing.  (Also won 2 Samsung tablets for being a finalist so that is cool too!)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How we teach matters

So I am still on my thought that my job is teach them all, versus just the students who play school.  But I had a couple comments about how hard those students are -- and I agree.  It can be a frustrating bunch of students (and all we can do is be optimistic and make each day new).  But I will tell you they don't want to fail, they want to succeed if there were a way in their mind, so my job is to make a path for their acquisition of problem solving abilities so they can become part of our world. 

That last part is important - does a student going to tech school, the armed forces, or the workplace really need matrices and complex numbers -- no.  Does a student not studying STEM even need that?  Again I think - no.  They need  the ability to pass basic algebra and math - that is why in my district I still split Algebra 1 into two years (1A and 1B) - while many of my comrades have removed 1A and 1B and try to get all students thru Algebra 2 in High School.  I simply try and make sure they can handle the math of the world and can think about math.   Many schools not only require Algebra 2 but they load Algebra 2 with high level math, does a student at technical school need to graph hyperbolas or be able to multiple large matrices -- again my answer is no.

They need to be able to graph lines, understand how to solve linear relationships, how to understand interest (the exponential nature) and they need to have practiced persistence.  I was engineer and never did hyperbolas -- did I use idea of symmetry, the idea of input/output - you bet, but that would be pre-calculus (again pre meaning needed for calculus so for STEMs).

So I approach every student with the decision that they must get knowledge.  My job is to find a way -- if grades don't matter, find a relationship and let them know they need to work for me.  And that is the key make a relationship, commit to them and then get them to commit to you.