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When I first got to middle school placement, I told myself that I was going to countdown the days that I had to be there. My dream is to teach physics, not middle schoolers, and my first week at middle school only had enhanced this feeling. I felt they didn’t care about what we were doing with science, and that they were just there to be there. Their attendance was horrifying and a lot of them had nasty attitudes.

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 But I found a way to connect with them relatively early on – they like that I went to a city school like them. But just because we had this connection, it didn’t make them want to work – they saw me in a position that I got to UR because I worked really really hard, which was true. But they felt they could never work that hard to get to such a position. I had to convince them that they were scientists and that they could do a great deal of work.

In the last week and a half, we’ve been working on an endangered species project, an intensive research project involving the study of an endangered organism of their choice. Their research has to discuss the organism’s scientific name, habitat, ways of obtaining energy, both in terms of considering what an organism eats as well as creating an energy pyramid and food web, identifying threats to their organism, and explaining the ways that saving their organism will impact the ecosystem, or how the extinction of their organism will impact the ecosystem.

The turn around attitudes in this project have been phenomenal. Every student that has had at least moderately acceptable attendance has finished the research portion on time, and the students can answer any question about ecology that you throw at them. It was only recently that they understood they could do this without having to take notes or having to have information given to them rather than getting the information on their own, which they did. Along the way, they were corrected in their errors or lack of explanations and given immediate feedback, which students were very receptive to and fixed it correctly on the first try most of the time. Students are now seeing that they too are scientists without having the science fed to them through notes – they did their own research and they have the ownership of the science.

Students are now much more receptive to my being there. They like that I am letting them own the science rather than me forcing it to them. The authority that they have been able to take in this project has opened new doors for their views on science, which has altered my thinking about how I will approach the rest of my remaining time at IATHS. One thing’s for sure about the remaining time I have there: I’m not paying such close attention to counting down the days that I’m going to be there, as things are finally improving and looking up.

When we think about differentiating lessons, we probably take into account two major groups of people: ELLs and students with disabilities. But how do we differentiate lessons well enough such that students aren’t losing content and are still getting the same experience, just served in a different way? An overly simplistic example of this would be which comes first – the cereal or the milk – when you’re making your breakfast in the morning? Neither is wrong, but some people do it one of those two ways because that it what makes the most sense to them and what they are most comfortable with.

This blog post is to follow up from Monday’s class, and to get more ideas about how you’ve differentiated science lessons in particular. You’ve all seen my ideas in three different classes, those with varying degrees of ELL and disabled/special education, so I would love to hear more specifically about the ways you’ve differentiated your lessons in your respective placements.

Chandra data (above, graph) on J0806 show that its X-rays vary with a period of 321.5 seconds, or slightly more than five minutes. This implies that the X-ray source is a binary star system where two white dwarf stars are orbiting each other (above, illustration) only 50,000 miles apart, making it one of the smallest known binary orbits in the Galaxy. According to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, such a system should produce gravitational waves - ripples in space-time - that carry energy away from the system and cause the stars to move closer together. X-ray and optical observations indicate that the orbital period of this system is decreasing by 1.2 milliseconds every year, which means that the stars are moving closer at a rate of 2 feet per year.

NY Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/science/ligo-gravitational-waves-black-holes-einstein.html?_r=0

Just in case you missed it, this is a massive deal for astrophysics, physics, and the understanding of the origins of our universe alike. Skeptics of black holes, be gone (hopefully you’re not still a skeptic of general relativity, as your usage of a GPS would dictate you are a believer [or I suppose don’t know the science behind your GPS, and if that’s the case: http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html).

Perhaps astronomy will win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics (if this doesn’t get it, I’d be interested [read: peeved] to see what does).

 

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Before I talk more about the difficulty of being a white teacher like myself, with my background and my experiences, I wanted to discuss some of the rapport I’ve built with my students.

Today, I was asked by one of the LE students if I would be here after break. I explained that I would, and that I wouldn’t be leaving until after the break at the end of March. She immediately replied, “Do you have to go?” My heart melted, and I told her that I’d be able to come and visit. I then asked her if she liked that I was here, and she told me, “Yes, you help me a lot and you make me understand.”

It’s really fascinating to see the impact difference between middle school and high school – middle schoolers build relationships with people so much more quickly with others, and I’ve been able to already clearly have a positive impact on some of them. They are more forthright about this impact as well, which is super appreciated, because they don’t hold back the feedback they’re going to give you.

I’ve made an impact and someone already wants me to stay for the rest of the year, even though she’s known me for only three weeks. This has probably been the most rewarding part of middle school, that they are able to be upfront and relatable to you, rather than not give as much feedback like high schoolers do. It’s interesting, and their personalities are so much more variant. Middle school is teaching me that it’s not always about the science during classes, but rather, being a relatable, respectable teacher that will have an impact on these kids for them to succeed in the future.

 

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In Race, Class, Gender, and Disability in American Education class (classes used to be named so much more simply…) this week, we were tasked with developing a self portrait that explained the aforementioned topics in the title of the course as well as our sexual orientations. I took a hard, introspective look at the first two, both of which are probably the most toxic of the story I told about myself.

My educational experiences at the post-secondary level do not match my class in the slightest. I come from a very urban area, where in reality, I was a minority student. But in the educational settings I go into, I am introduced as a student at the UofR, one who has two science degrees and wants to teach science. But I’m also white. There is a large stereotype about UR students that are white – all came from high middle class or upper class backgrounds, and don’t have any idea how to treat students of minority. My story, however, is different. The only thing white about me is my skin, and therefore I haven’t had to go through the systemic racism of different settings. But I’m not upper middle class; I’ve worked insanely hard to be where I am right now. But let’s go back to my introduction to students – white and from the UofR. They don’t see the struggle I come from; they don’t see the success story. This is just another white kid that had things handed to them in life.

I’m struggling with this especially in middle school. In high school, I was able to explain to them my story and they were very receptive and came to appreciate my story not from the lens of a white kid, but through the lens of an inner city kid that escaped the drowning vortex that oppresses city students. The middle schoolers, however, are not as receptive to this. They see me as the young white teacher from the UofR. A genuine question that I’d love to get feedback on is how do I get it across to them that I’m not an enemy, and how much I want to see them escape the inner city system. Unfortunately, because of my being at the University of Rochester, I have yet to find someone with a similar experience to mine – a white kid from the deep city, and that makes it very difficult to find someone to relate to, in terms of both economic class AND race, rather than just one or the other.

I’ll have more to say about this next week; for now, while I think more about an approach to this problem, I’ll leave it here.

 

Time to change concept

Life is all about changes – going from a mild winter to a constant snow downpour, going from math intense physics to reading intense graduate school, going from a high school setting as an educator to a middle school setting as an educator. Above all, at the end of the day, I consider myself a physicist, one who is particularly good at conveying physics to an array of different students of different backgrounds. But a big change is imminent – today I went to my middle school placement for the first time.

Allow me to remind you that in my last year of undergrad, I was the teaching assistant for a second year physics course and a second year astrophysics course. To have gone from intertwining advanced mathematics like differential equations and multivariable calculus to the high school physics setting where calculus is absent was a major adjustment, especially with regard to standardized testing. I was continually cognizant of “teaching to a test” and tried not to do that as much as possible, but have realized the great difficulty in testing students on what won’t be on the Regents or the IB Test. Loosely, students ask “will we need to know this?” to which I would typically answer that for the test I will be writing, yes, but for the Regents or the IB Exam, perhaps not. Students, the first few times, revolted against such a notion – why teach what wouldn’t be on the standardized test at the end of the year? That’s a topic for another day, seeing as I could write a novel about everything wrong with standardized testing and how warped the perceptions of students have become as a result of so much emphasis placed on these nightmares. As I said, I digress.

As aforementioned, I went to my middle school placement for the first time today. It was snowing like crazy and took half an hour to get there. The dynamic of the courses was fascinating, but the day seemed to get, in terms of behavior, progressively more and more problematic.

Sitting in for this first day certainly was eye opening and I’ll have a lot to think about over the next few days before I return permanently until April. Behavioral issues were not something I was heavily exposed to at Wilson – there was something about me that students respected, or perhaps it was that or the fact that I was more relatable than someone in their 40s. But those were high school seniors, and my ability to relate to them came a lot from being fresh out of undergrad, and they were all at the point that they are applying college. I could freshly remember what college was like, and my opinion may have been more valuable to them than someone who finished college 20 years ago. But middle schoolers aren’t typically thinking about college already – they are a whopping 10 years younger than me at least, and they aren’t as educated. I relate to people who are educated and intelligent – not to say that I cannot make connections with these kids, but it will certainly be more difficult. Another wrench in the plan is that I, as expected, am not teaching physics to eighth graders, but rather, I am teaching them biology. I consider having studied biology to be a “dark time” in my college career – there’s certainly nothing wrong with biology, but it just certainly was not what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. Luckily, topics that are being revisited by me in teaching these eighth graders are of interest (genetics, evolution).

Adjusting to this change will certainly take some time, but I’m confident in my ability to adjust to such change and make this a fantastic experience. Here’s to figuring out this different dynamics of kids as I go, and certainly taking a lot away from the experience.

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I can recall doing trust falls for whatever ridiculous reasons in my life, whether in gym class or to immaturely prove how good of a friend someone was at a younger age. They were supposed to allow you to put all your trust in someone to not let you fall to the ground and hurt yourself. At my high school placement, sometimes the opposite of what some would see as a desirable outcome to a trust fall would happen. But let me be clear: if I start to fall in what I’m doing, just let me.

A week before my last day at my high school placement, on a Friday, I decided to play astrophysics jeopardy, where we’d split into three teams and play jeopardy as a class, and the winners would get five extra bonus on their exam that would be the following Tuesday. My CT was encouraging in my ideas and would never tell me not to do something. He allowed me to take risks and try new things. But Jeopardy didn’t go so well – the entire game happened, and I was very explicit in that students needed to give units with their final answer. I would repeat back exactly what students had said. One group’s answer was entirely correct, with the exception of units. When I had announced that everyone got it wrong, the group was appalled, two of them storming out of the classroom. This hurt me to my core – one of the students I’d been helping all week with college applications. Later on, my CT and a teacher from down the hall were discussing review games with me and how they typically aren’t the best method of review for two reasons: one, students rarely retain the information and two, students get very, very competitive with them.

Initially, I was saddened by my CT not stopping me from doing this if he thought it was a bad idea – why would he let me do it if he thought it wouldn’t go well? But then I realized what a superb learning experience allowing me to fall was – how would I have learned otherwise? Allowing me to see what works and what doesn’t on my own accord rather than just being told what works and what doesn’t was so important in my learning process about how to be a better teacher. Allowing me to fall was better than telling me just one way or another.

Today was my last day at the placement, which was terribly saddening for me, but I look forward to visiting them. I have learned such an extensive amount from my CT and the 34 students I have made relationships with, some of which will last for a very long time.

Cheers to starting up blogging again.

secretThe importance of the R word (relationship) can never be overemphasized – I have realized this is the case more and more as each day in my placement passes.

This past week, one of my IB 2 seniors was going to hear the results of her Early Decision application – a binding agreement to go to the school – to Duke. But few knew that – she’d convinced everyone around her that she was going to hear on December 15th, which is this coming Tuesday, as opposed to December 10th. She came to me during lunch before anyone else got there, on Friday, 12/4. Intrigued as to when she’d hear back, I asked her about it. She proceeded to ask if I could keep a secret, and I said of course. She told me that she would know on 12/10, but she’s been telling everyone 12/15 because she was sure she wasn’t going to get in and didn’t want to face the humiliation.

This girl, absolutely brilliant, who has known me for not even three months, trusted me with such a secret – not only that, she WANTED me to know before others knew – if that doesn’t speak volumes about the importance of the R word (this for her right now is the biggest news of her life, and few things will compare to the magnitude of this importance), I’m not sure what is.

In case you were curious, she will be starting school at Duke in Fall 2016.

In a more lighthearted post this week, here’s a way to learn about neutrinos in a lot of depth and in an exciting way.

Fermilab runs a “Physics Slam” every year featuring short (10 minute) presentations on emerging science for the public in an entertaining format.  It sells out their 850 seat auditorium every year. This year, University of Rochester physics graduate student Chris Marshall takes on the role of MC Truth to tell us all about neutrinos in the most interesting way possible.

What ways do you see students expressing their ideas about science in entertaining and engaging ways?

Enjoy!

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Can you point me in the direction of the research stating that a Y chromosome makes you better or perhaps more adequately suited to do physics? Nothing? Okay, how about the research that shows that an extra X chromosome instead of a Y chromosome makes you less competent in physics. Nothing there either? Great! Let’s start acting like that’s the case.

The word “feminist” is never a word I use to refer to myself – the cartoony caricatures have riddled society’s knowledge of the actual definition of the word. Feminism, by definition, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Wait, I thought that was just being a decent human being. Well, okay, if it’s not, then what’s the opposite of feminism? If you do a quick Google search of that exact question, the results will turn up the following:

“Chauvinism is the same as, rather than the opposite of feminism. If feminism was really about equal treatment of the genders, it would be called humanism or equalism. There is no opposite to feminism in existence. That’s part of the problem.”

That’s wildly fascinating, no? Anyway, I’m not here to rant about everything that is wrong with a lack of women’s equality. I am here, however, to rant about the way we need to start treating the students we teach that they can be in whatever field it is they choose.

 

I was raised on video games and watching football, typically not things associated with a female toddler. But I had my first Oakland Raiders cheerleader outfit when I was two (how I long for photographic proof of this) and my own Playstation when I was four. I did other things that were considered “girly” like ballet, which shouldn’t be exclusively considered girly, but “back in my day,” it was. I didn’t stick with ballet, though, but I still love the Oakland Raiders, and my Playstation game collection has reached an all-time high of over 120 games. These are things I choose to continue with, based on what was implanted within me and deemed to be acceptable. I chose Playstation over pageants, perhaps comparatively like I chose physics over nursing.

Nursing is a female dominated field, while physics is predominantly male. This of course doesn’t mean that I think males don’t belong in nursing (I have a long time male friend who’s an excellent nurse). Anyone who is stuck in this prehistoric mindset should reconsider their values that are so painfully anachronistic in the twenty-first century.

I have frequently run into the preconceived ideas regarding women in physics during my time at Warner thus far. For some, seeing women in physics seem to be, to quote Janis Ian from Mean Girls, like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. The question perhaps isn’t what makes physics such a male-dominated field, but rather, what can we do to change the portrayal that it is such? How do we convey to those that we are teaching that ANYONE can be a physicist?

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The chart above shows the domination of women in a particular field of science. It is clear that physics and engineering have smaller fractions of women, where physics has actually taken a recent dive over the past twelve or so years. What happened in this time? Particle physics was booming and the James Webb Telescope began its development, both significant advances for both of the highest order in terms of macroscopic and subatomic topics. Was the decrease due to deficit, prehistoric mindsets of those who portray physics to be a “boys only” club? Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) began shortly after the decline (2006), so maybe they realized something was up with regard to a relatively significant decline with respect to the rest of the 50 years graphed above.

So if we’re teaching science to both men and women, how will you portray any field of science? Surely students are inquisitive – just because you teach biology doesn’t mean you won’t get a question about physics. Do you tell the girl who thinks space is cool that most astronauts are male? Do you tell the girl that wants to work for CERN for the summer that she would be better off looking at doing something else, like nursing or dental hygiene? Do you tell the guys in the class that they have a better chance at being a superb physicist than any female ever could be?

If your answer to any of the last three questions is yes, you can take whatever chromosomes that you have and challenge your deficit thinking with a reality check.