As I ponder our next element this week, I think about its unique properties. What stands out the most to me, and is something you may have seen before, is that gallium, while a metal, melts at a mere 30 degrees C, meaning it will melt in your hand, given a bit of time. We sometimes say that metals are flexible, well this one is definitely pushing that definition to the limit!

In teaching, we must be flexible as well! As I have started this week at a new school in a new place, with new faces and new students, being flexible has certainly helped me make many successful adaptations (sorry, I had to, we are learning about evolution today!).

Zinc-Pills

Amazingly, we’ve reached the end of the first row of d-elements; it has been a long journey to reach this point.  Still, we press forward on to new and exciting things!

In case you didn’t hear the news from the end of this week, the private space company SpaceX has finally succeeded in landing the first stage of their rocket, Falcon 9, on an autonomously controlled drone ship in the Atlantic ocean.  What a time to be alive! Landing a used rocket, which they’d previously already done on land, now on sea, represents a huge step forward in humanities quest for access to the stars.  I have always been fascinated by rockets and space travel, whether that be the awe of watching the elegant Saturn V lift off into space or seeing the bravery of those first pioneers of space. So much has changed even in my lifetime, from the retirement of the space shuttle to the rise of private spaceflight, I often wonder if these events hold the same wonderment for my students, and what perhaps might the future hold?

Oh, and here’s the SpaceX landing, in case you were waiting! =)

Copper_Beans

 April 1st, 2016

Nashville, TN

Through wind and rain, and hundreds of miles, my fellow cohort members and I travelled through 5 states to arrive at the National Science Teachers Association national conference, an event spanning five days with speakers, exhibits, hands-on science, food and dance, and lots of materials to read and take home.  In just one day, we saw spectrometers, solid state chemistry, a laser saw and dancing mouse, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and many more inspirational and fun science ideas! The highlight of it all, though, was the 80-year-old retired teacher and his darling wife, who exuded an air of excitement and fun in his presentation of physics demos that was unmatched by any other presenter.  His passion was infectious, and I felt exactly like a student in one of his physics classes. The best part, though, was seeing how each demonstration had a purpose and story, and not just a flashy bang and wow from the crowd. We saw the science come alive, and were able to engage cognitively in the work with this science teacher, even when seated and (mostly) silent.  I came away with a million new and fresh ideas for my own classroom, whenever I happen to find it =).

 

They say that iron is the “most stable element” and thus the natural end product of stellar nucleosynthesis. As with many things, “they” are of course wrong. Nickel will always in my mind be the “most stable element,” including the isotope Ni-62, which has the highest binding energy per nucleon of any nuclide.  It all of course rests on your definition of “most stable,” and though iron is more commonly produced through an alpha particle capture chain in many stars, this relatively higher abundance of iron is merely a by-product of mathematically counting (by 4’s) and not evidence of some deeper mystery or meaning.  But, whether we say iron or nickel, either represents the end of energy-producing fusion reactions in stellar nucleosynthesis.

So to has my time student teaching come to an end, and though the time was meaningful I like a solar-furnace am also ready to put my energy towards the next tasks to come.  Just like more than half of the richness of the periodic table comes after iron or nickel, so to do I hope that my future endeavors will be as fruitful as those that have come.

Today’s blog is brought to you by the element Cobalt. Though there is no implied prefix “Co-“ in this element, in teaching these days it seems that every other word you here can be affixed with “co-.“ Co-teaching, co-planning, co-constructed, co-learning, co-parenting, co-everything! Collaboration has infected our teaching world, and from my recent experiences I believe we are better for it. I had a wonderful week of co-teaching and co-planning, of reflecting together and having a shared experience. I connected with multiple and diverse colleagues, ranging in age, experience, personality, and even content area. I hope to never find myself in a school where I feel in an echo chamber; where the opinions and views expressed are too similar and of little variation. It is from a melting pot of ideas that we approach the truth.

periodic-table-Iron_shutterstock_66451249_300

Iron is such a wonderfully complex and rich element, with beautiful chemistry accomplished in both harsh, inorganic arenas and the playing fields of life.

This ability to operate in diverse spaces reminds me of my experiences these past two weeks in my student teaching placement, where I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two wonderful out-of-school experiences with our seventh graders.The first journey we took was a major undertaking, heading out to over 100 corner stores in two days, splitting students up into 12 different groups each day.  The second journey involved a shorter jaunt to a local market, where the students were tasked with purchasing vegetables and other foodstuffs to make soup with. These are my observations and noticings:

  • Out-of-school experiences are soooo worth it! I saw students shine in spaces I never would have in the classroom.
  • I saw many students interact curiously, courageously, and with integrity towards the members of our community whom they met.
  • In a class I’d taken last spring, we’d talked about the many things that go through your mind as a teacher helping lead a field trip. All of these things and more went through my head! What happens when something goes wrong? Or well? So much to consider!

chromium-periodic-table

Chromium, a fairly typical transition metal, exhibits the brilliant colors that are characteristic of these metals.  These inorganic compounds have always fascinated me, and though there is a lot of depth to these concepts, often we are initially mesmerized by something as “trivial” as color. Yet the deeper we look, the more we realize that such trivial things as color add their own depth and magic to the study of chemistry and physics.

So to do the special characteristics of our students.  As this week has added extra challenges, opportunities, and excitements to my student teaching placement, I have appreciated more than I could ever know those unique and interesting qualities of my students. From the student who can catch food in his mouth from any height, the students who came to check in on me after a rough day, or the student who has been having a rough week and needs some extra help, I realize more and more the rich landscape under the surface of our students’ facade.  How much could we miss out on if we didn’t pierce this veil?

Take a look at the image above. What information does it contain? What words and symbols stand out to you? What can you understand? What can you infer? What are you completely confused about?

To a chemist, the above image is packed with information. To name a short few:

  • Vanadium has 23 protons, and as a neutral atom will have 23 electrons as well.
  • Vanadium atoms have a mass of 50.94 grams per mole of atoms.
  • The approximate density of Vanadium (presumably at room temperature in its standard state) is 6.11 g/cc, or g/mL.
  • The melting point of solid Vanadium (presumably at standard pressure) is 1887 degrees Celcius.
  • Because of its weighted-average mass, we can infer that the average Vanadium atom contains approximately 28 neutrons.

Unpacking this information is a literacy skill, and indeed a critical one for chemistry.  The above five bullet points hit a number of major areas and standards important for the Regents chemistry. Learning chemistry, science, or any other field is indeed much like learning a language.

Though this is something I’ve considered, and indeed found a useful perspective, for quite awhile, I’ve recently had a few great experiences that have reminded me how critical keeping this perspective in mind is. I had the opportunity this past week to work with an interesting segment of a school’s population: those students who were just failing their living environment course.  It was fascinating to see them all isolated in just one room; I learned a great deal about these students and how we might modify our lessons and our pedagogy to become more accessible to all. The biggest observation I had: these students had a quite noticeable difficulty with reading and writing tasks. Now, I knew that students who had difficulty with reading and writing would have difficulties succeeding in many lessons, but to see it concentrated into one classroom was eye-opening.  As we heard in one of our classes this week, “We are all language teachers, no matter our discipline.” My experiences in the past days remind us that we miss out on so much if we forget this, if we let this perspective slip from our minds and forget to integrate even more intently and explicitly a literacy lens into our planning, our implementation, and our assessment.