Thursday, July 31, 2008

Problems with Feedburner

To all the people who subscribe to me using feedburner: I am having some problems with my feed, and I can't seem to troubleshoot it. New subscribers can't subscribe using the feedburner icon, so I am yanking it. I am not sure what this will do if you subscribe this way, but blogger has its own subscribe icon on my site. If you have difficulties, would you please re-subscribe by using the icon at the bottom of the page. I really apologize for the inconvenience. Soooo, here goes. If you lose your subscription, and you can't re-subscribe, email me at:

and let me know. Let's hope this works!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No Lukewarm Sentiments, or Watered Down Wishes

NASA had the best mission statement ever back in the days of lunar landings. To put a man onthe moon, and bring him back again, safely. This is something I can wrap my head around. It is something people remember. I bet if you walked into most schools, most of the teachers and perhaps even some administrators don't know their own mission statement. That's because everyone gets to put something into it, and make it something for everyone. I believe in democracy, but I also believe in a unifying vision, one where all the team members have to get behind in order to make it work.

So I made my own mission statement:

My goal is to equip students with the skills needed to be globally competitive.

Self-actualization is important. A sense of balance in your life is important. Being a good community memeber is important. Healthy living is important.

If I put it all in, the message gets watered down. So I am focussing on my mission.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Helping the Remedial Student

This post is more of a note-to-self than anything else. Here are some things that worked for me when teaching Science 9 Remediation:

1.) Many small assignments is a good idea - Students will blow off some assignments in a remedial course. Especially in the summer. Making them do many small assignments better ensures they will turn in more, providing them with a better chance to pass.

2.) Marking on effort - I am telling students that a few assignments will be given my highest grade, (Meeting Expectations) for having all questions complete (even if they are wrong) and also turning it in on time. Students in the remedial course often got there by not completing and turning in homework. This rewards them for correcting a bad habit. Plus, they never know which assignment will be accepted in this manner.

3.) Saving review sessions for the end of class - Some kids want to stop working in the last 10 minutes of class, and just "do it later." This "do it later" attitude is what hurt their grades in the first place. I want them to work to the ends of class, so that develop a good work ethic and do not feel overwhelmed with homework.

4.) Clockwatching - Some of my students start to take it easy with 10 minutes to go. I usually say to the class that if many of them have their books closed, we should review the section on ______ by doing problems on the board that will be turned in for marks on completion and effort. This takes little or no prep time, and little marking time on my part, and teaches them to work to the end of the period.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You Can Lead a Horse to Water

But you can't make them drink. Here's another rhyme: You can read a kid a book, but you can't make them think.

Yes, you can. Of course you can. I have been working now for nearly a month with some remedial students for Grade 9 science. This is a trait I have noticed among many of the students. When I ask this a student a question, they reflexively answer as quickly as they can. They also answer questions in this way in writing. Often they answer incorrectly, sometimes using information related to my question. When asked a question in a class discussion, many of them answer "I don't know," and even when I coach them on how to think about the question, or where to look in their books to answer the question, they hold the line at "I don't know" and look frustrated and angry that I would persist in getting them to find an answer.

I have been looking for reasons for students answering as fast as they can without thinking, or refusing to think about a question. Here are some of my thoughts:

Speed = Smart

We as a culture believe and promote the idea that a smart person is able to answer questions not just accurately, but faster than other people. Game shows are based on it, and it is taught in schools. We as teachers call on the students that raise their hands first. We as teachers answer questions when students don't answer or raise their hands after only a few seconds. I am guilty of this too! A First Nations teacher taught me that during meetings of important people of a clan or nation, people who spoke quickly to be the first to suggest an answer were not looked upon favourably as they obviously didn't put a lot of thought into it.


We as a culture reward right answers over effort. This makes some students afraid to try for fear of getting it wrong.

The Easy Way Out

Our education system is set up so that students can't fail until high school. Therefore, if a student doesn't know an answer, by not answering it and refusing to attempt to answer, they are rewarded by being told the answer, and we move on. Isn't that like continuing to pay someone for a job they aren't doing, but giving them stern looks that they better do their job next week or else we will continue to pay them?

Don't get me wrong. I don't want my students to fail. I want them all to know the answers to science and math problems. I don't want to make things impossibly hard for them. Sometimes students don't know the answer.

So how can I equip them with the skills an attitudes that will help them find the answers, or at least be more successful searchers?

How I plan to make kids think:

Not taking hands up in class - asking and expecting everyone to perform when I call on them.

Not accepting a reflexive "I don't know" - but instead ask them what kind of help they want to search for the question. Maybe like a gameshow we can offer "lifelines" such as 1 ask a friend, 1 peek at the book, and 1 change the question.

Wait time - making the kids wait and think before answering. Also as the teacher I could wait more. This year I had a student who when given 60 seconds, got the right answer 8 of 10 times (actual numbers). You try waiting 60 seconds; the class starts to feel uncomfortable too. Let's change that.

Making the kids talk about it - And let's reward those who do talk with their peers about the topic and stay on topic. Let's reward them with marks.

I don't have all the answers, but I want to try these ideas. If there is anyone out there who has tried these ideas, write me. If you have something else to contribute, write me. Let's start picturing what change in our practice actually looks like, so we don't forget it in the heat of the lesson.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Newer Web and Older Computers

I am getting a laptop! As part of my job, I am going to be helping manage a number of SharePoint websites. The public face of our school on the Internet, the secure staff-only sites, the virtual classrooms that teachers may need help starting - all of it is based on SharePoint sites.

When was told I was getting a laptop to use to help me do my job I was thrilled. I didn't know anything about this particular make and model, so I asked some of the people who work with computers and laptops for a living. They told me that the hardware while very good at the time was a little older, and I should invest my own money to get a recent model. I disagree.

1.) I don't want to spend the money

2.) Newer laptops have to be downgraded to XP from Windows Vista. My school and my district has not made the move to vista on any sort of a large scale.

3.)I think there is a possibility for the increase in web 2.0 use in schools to save schools money by enabling them to use older hardware longer.

By doing more of our work online, using web creating tools like SharePoint, there is less of a demand on our machines. I just have to keep my web browser up to date, and web browsers are free.

Some programs like those that work with graphics and video editing demand more memory. Why not use older programs, and save files at lower resolution? Many of the graphic editing tools that do basic graphic functions are found in older programs. Kids can learn the basics on software that is a little older, and that knowledge is still relevant when they use new versions of the same software.

I just think it's ironic that the evolution of web 2.0 may make it possible for some schools (or people like me) to use older hardware, longer. Time will tell.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Swimming in a bigger pond

Starting September, I will be teaching computers to middle school students full time! I will become a "Maverick", as in a Moody Middle School Mavericks, in Port Moody. This is a great opportunity for me, as I have been wanting to teach computers full time for more than a year now.

One of the challenges I now face is figuring out what to teach, how much of each thing to teach, how to get input from my classroom teachers, and how to turn that input into results. I began blogging on the 9 week middle school course in December, but now I have to try to create some kind of cohesive plan. Here are some mind maps I have constructed.

If anyone cares to comment, or wishes to give me advice or suggestions on lessons for middle school computer students, I would love to hear about them.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Apathy of Youth / The Economy of Youth

The currency of youth is time.

Currently I am teaching summer school. For the first time I am teaching remedial science 9. The students who are taking this course (two 1.5 hr classes full) are students who had finished the year in June with between 40 - 49%. My mandate - to teach a year's worth of Science 9 in 30 hours (1.5 hours per day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks) and to cover as much of the breath of the curriculum as possible. It took me about 16 hours of prepping and planning the course before it even began. I have to give special thanks to my dad, retired science teacher, for helping me navigate the new curriculum and textbook, breaking it into manageable chunks.

I have never taught a remediation course before. It has been an eye opener. When I polled the students, the majority of them responded that they failed because they either:

1.) Didn't attend classes

2.) Didn't do homework

What has been most surprising is the homework. I work at breakneck speed, and I hand out homework by the wheelbarrow. The kids have never been pushed to work so fast. But I strive to make the workload manageable, and offer support.

One of my pet peeves is when kids don't attempt to answer a question. I ask them why they didn't try to answer a question they say "because I didn't know the answer." I ask them did they try to phone/email/text a friend.


Did you think to come early, as you know I am in class an hour before class, and for two hours after?


Did you go back and re-read that part of the text?


Well, they're honest! One student handed in incomplete work, and then looked at me with this look on their face. This particular student may not pass summer school, with only 8 days left. This student has only recently begun to blow off their assignments. The look on this student's face said "This is about all I am willing to invest of my time in this, and you should get your head around to accepting that."

This student knows that they only need to put in 8 more days of work that will save them 5 months of Science 9. Again.

I think sometimes we work to hard to chase after these students with safety nets, and that they just expect this trend to continue. Students can and will only work so hard, which is also true of adults.

Perhaps they think of the work in and after class as being costly. Perhaps they value their outside-of-class time at a premium, and cannot think to spend this valuable commodity on something that doesn't provide them with a feeling of gratification - homework and study. And some of these students as a result will have to repeat grade 9 science. Perhaps only then will they understand the true value of their time; when it costs them something.

That is what I have had to get my head around. Still, I hope I get to do this again next year. Maybe by then I will have found a way to make homework more gratifying.