Sunday, April 27, 2014

Letter supporting Wisconsin Journal Article - Green Energy needs to be goal!

Last week I wrote here about an editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal which I support and expanded on.  I also wrote a letter to the Journal about it.  The optimist in me hopes this can be the start of something bigger for our schools and our students.

I would ask if you feel this is something Wisconsin should push for please contact your representatives, involving ourselves in the process is the only way to get action.


Wisconsin must be proactive about green energy. It's a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and a wise investment in our future. Wisconsin's goal should be to include our schools and students.
My school has used green energy to help students learn the skills the world requires. They have researched and completed multiple solar projects. Using solar energy means a long-term reduction in cost to operate our school. Once the panels are paid for, the energy keeps coming. It is proactive and creates a powerful learning experience for students.
The Wisconsin Legislature should help schools meet ambitious goals for producing their own power. Students can lead projects, find ways for their schools to do the work and reduce their costs. Students are an untapped resource -- their drive makes amazing things happen.
Our Legislature should help fund schools so all districts can generate 10 percent of their power. While green energy is great, students leading and creating it is too positive an outcome not to invest in.
-- Scott Anderson, math and physics instructor, Juda Public School

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wisonsin needs ambitous clean energy goal in our Schools!

The opinion section of the Wisconsin State Journal dated Sunday, April 20th was "Wisconsin needs ambitious clean energy goal."  I generally agree with the theme and believe that green energy is a way for us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and is a wise investment in our future.  I also believe Wisconsin's goal should be more than just a percentage of our energy use in the state. Our goal should include our schools and students - we need to make everyone good consumers and decision makers with respect to energy. (FYI -- I don't want to enter a comment nightmare about political views, I just want to discuss simple economics of green energy and the power of students with legislature assistance.)

The school where I teach has been using Green Energy to help my students learn the skills that the world and workplace require (project management, problem solving, analysis, justification, etc).  We have avoided entering the climate change debate because people tune out, we have simply studied whether green energy makes good financial sense.  They discovered that generating our own electricity at our school with securing some small grants and donations simply made sense.  Using solar and wind versus carbon based products in the long term simply means a long term reduced cost to operate the school in our district.  Once the panels are paid for, the energy just keeps coming, it is simply a method to pre-purchase power.  It is proactive and can create powerful learning experiences for students.

The Wisconsin legislature should be pushing ways to help schools met ambitious goals for producing their own power, using students to lead the projects and find ways their schools can do the work and reduce their long term costs.  Students are an untapped resource in every district - their drive can make amazing things happen (video about using Real Problems, Real Projects and Real Solutions).

Students can get the project going - can analyze if a 15 year payback, with an ROI over 5% is a "good" project - then tell the boss (the board).   Each school in the state should have students working on this and presenting to their school boards.   We know school buildings will not disappear over the next decade - the costs to operate a school is one of the few places where reducing the cost does not effect students!

Now I (and my class) agree that some grants are needed, the cost of solar straight up puts paybacks into the 20 plus year range.  But that is where the legislature can help, channeling grants through Focus On Energy for student led projects could be a boon for our education system from the stand point of learning and reducing our school distirct's operating costs.  Currently nearly all the money spent on electricity goes out of state - and yet the sun gives enough energy every hour to power the world for an entire year - so we can easily power 10% of our school's consumption! 

My class has found people who want to make green energy about climate change, about the Middle East, about amount of government, etc -- some people want to make this a political discussion and that leads to all kinds of arguments.   We stick to the idea that it is really just good sense to reduce your long term repeating costs.  And energy, like everything else, gets more expensive with time.  Pre-buying power can be a win for the schools, the state and its taxpayers and most importantly the students!  I urge the State Journal to bring this to fore front with their editorial board and I urge our legislature to find a way to help fund schools so that all districts can generate 10% of their power.  And while education funding is complicated and hard, this type of initiative is a one time funding thing and the state is in the right place to do it now.  Action can lead to results.

Cause every kilowatt, every dollar counts -- waiting is giving away power and savings -- but more importantly students building and leading is too positive an outcome not to invest in immediately.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Getting a little help to make change!

I am excited that the Morgridge Family Foundation awarded a matching grant to my school to purchase and use 10 chromebooks in my classroom.  My school backed the plan finding funds to match the grant.  It started with Khan Academy sending an email about this grant as a way to use Khan more (more devices);  really what this has done is get my mind running about how I would divide up the time in my math room.  How I could differentiate more, I could use technology in place of pencil and paper practice.

My plan is to split the classroom into time sections and groups using Khan as a practice device - using the mastery challenges and target practice sections to help with skills.  This will be a way to target instruction to groups more, it will allow to review a concept and then have the targeted practice where the student has to be correct.  (The problem with worksheets is that students can learn incorrectly.)

This grant seems timely because I had made some leaps in my desire to use technology more efficiently - but had not done much differently in the past couple of months.   This grant will allow me to try some things as the year winds down, try somethings and see if we can make how I am reaching students more effective.  (Also - I push curriculum hard Sep - April, because my phrase is what I teach in May goes away.)

So thanks to Morgridge Family!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Homework amount? The real question is its value.

I have read many articles lately on the amount of homework students are getting today, is it more or less, etc.  Are students over-worked, under-worked?  I don't know the answer to the questions of amount - whether it is more or less, or if it is too much, but the question of the value of homework keeps popping up in my head.

A lot of what I am reading is connecting rigor and homework amount together, more homework is more rigor.  And the question I have is this: does homework make better learners, better students who are more prepared for college and career?  This is the question that I try and remember to ask with each assignment I give.

Is the homework creating a student more prepared for the future, not for the next big power test, but does it support my vision of a person who can problem solve, learn and understand/deal with situations.

I feel like when I started teaching my first instinct was to assign homework because that is what you did, how else can students learn.  But the longer I teach the less homework I assign and it is simply because now I ask myself - how does work make the student stronger, better.

Assigning the homework to be "forward-moving" for the student, making him/her more ready for the next step beyond high school is my only goal.  For me that means a blend of practice, problem solving and justifying - perhaps not every assign gets all three of those things, but when I think about what I assign over the course of month or quarter I think I am getting a decent blend of the three.

In the end - I do my best not to assign busy work, I try real hard to assign work of value.  And my plan is not to stop asking "Is this of value?" when making homework assignments.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wanting to become a teacher - Planning Time (Part 2 of ?)

So I knew I wanted to be a teacher.  I knew that there were two things to get done, one, find a route to becoming a licensed teacher,  my Mechanical Engineering degree was not going to do it.  And two, plan our family's finances so we could survive the first few years of teaching which were going to be extremely lean pay.  (This comes back to the question of who do we, John Q. Public, really want to teach, the low pay keeps great people away - period.)

I knew that my Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering would not allow me to teach, but I hoped to be just a few courses short - like 36 credits short.  But the first couple of places I check wanted me to finish a Bachelors in Education, well over 75 credits plus a math major degree (another 24).  Darn hard to work and go to school for....  -- well forever.

Then I found St. Mary's second career education program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, it gave credit for my BSME and was a masters program - I simply had to take 36 credits and complete my math minor (5 courses).  It gave some credit for my real life experiences as a manager and had the simple goal to put good people, who would do the work, into the classroom.  The best part is it had night and weekend courses, so I could work and do school.

But to do this the family and I had to live in the Twin Cities.  So I begin to unwind my emotional attachment to the company I was working for, because while I could not see anyway out of their impending bankruptcy, my heart pushed me to hang on.  (The question about I would have ever become a teacher is fair at this point, I think yes - but my kids would not have been toddlers.)  But I started searching for employment in the Minneapolis area with the thought that it had to be perfect,  it had to be win for the employer and myself, that was spring of 2003.

As things became worst at my job, my desire to teach increased and in the summer of 2003 I found a company searching for job shop manager where my engineering background had value.  The plan was to take about 7 years for me to complete the course work and save upto 40% of our salary, we (my wife and I) figured that would make a nest egg so we would be okay the first 5 years of teaching. 

My wife and I then downsized everything.  Any cost was cut, every dollar we saved. We knew we would need for her to be back to work (at this point my 3 children were 5,3, and 2 years old).  We knew we had to not "keep up with the Jones," we bought a cheap house, removed car payments, made vacations no thrills (little kids don't need thrills anyway), etc.  We just made ourselves live on 40% of my salary, period.

 And I signed up for one night course - a Foundations of Education course, the first course of what I thought would be long process.  I attended the first night and was so excited about the passion of the instructors that I immediately marched down and signed up for enough classes to cut my college time from about 7 years to about 3 years.

So instead of two days per week, I went to four -- that is where we will pick up in the next post, working and taking 9 credits per semester.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Math Mob Monday is here! April 7th

So the idea I was considering is becoming a reality!  Math Mob Monday will happen in a few days, Monday, April 7th!  We are filling the desks and showing our parents and our community what we are doing in our room.

So my class has invited (or coerced) adults to fill our room, we are starting with Algebra 1 (an afternoon course).  The plan is to do a lot of review (mainly first order equations, PEMDAS), introduce a new lesson, have my students be helpers, etc. and get the parents/community members right into the thick of it!

I am excited - if you want to come contact the office and get on the list!  Only 14 spots total and 4 are taken already!

We are gonna have some fun, it is also important for everyone to see how and what we are doing!  I will try and post how it goes.