Where is My Mind?

People have said that my stream of consciousness at the beginning of my blogs was annoying. So that’s gonna stop.

In out Topics in Teaching seminar on Wednesday, we discussed the topic of mindfulness. It was an interesting one because all the previous ones were very tangible topics like “How to Write a good Resume” and “How to work with a co-teacher,” and mindfulness seemed a bit “woo-woo” as she put it. In what has been a stressful week, a seminar on mindfulness was not too welcome to be honest. There seemed to be no time on how to be mindful about ourselves when there is so much to do and not a lot of time to do it. The time might have been better spent revising a lesson and printing and organizing materials and all that jazz, but in we went.

The discussion on mindfulness also connected with self-preservation. If you are not mindful of your own self, then it is hard to be mindful of others. Similarly, if we cannot take care of ourselves, then it becomes harder to take care of others and a classroom. Again, this is an idea that runs so counterintuitive to what we are doing right not in this part of the program: sacrificing some of our needs to do as much as is expected of us. But mindfulness doesn’’t take too much out of a day to accomplish. While the activities we did were inherently stressful because we were bad at them, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness, some of which we already do but are not aware of.

Some of my mindfulness practices:

-Standing outside, doing nothing except breathing and listening to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones

-Taking a shower

-Cooking the perfect over-easy egg (or at least trying)

(Add yours in the comments if you so choose)

The biggest thing that I got out of that seminar was that mindfulness allows us to take our good and bad moments for what they truly are and make the most of them. Embrace the heck out of the good times because they are not going to last. At the same time, don’t wallow in the bad times because it’s not always going to stay this bad. Being mindful also helps us to learn more form these moments. Our pluses and arrows are weighted evenly and we don’t become complacent or utterly distraught. I am still working on it, but the seminar on mindfulness really helped me to see it again. I have to remember to be aware of my state and take the time to adjust because it really only takes a few minutes.

To wrap up this installment I provide a quote form one of the teachers in my building regarding that lingering doubt we all have: “Don’t kill the beast, but don’t feed it either.”

Enjoy the break everyone, I will be home and fed by my mother. It will be glorious!

Interview Season

So… For all of us here at GRS, it seems to be interview season because in the next few days, all of us are interviewing for full-time positions. Wow. In all the madness it does sometimes elude me that the next step is a job and that for the first time in 17 or so years, school is not in the immediate future. Well, I mean it is, but it won’t be me sitting in one of many desks. It will be me standing and delivering and being Mr. Han in Mr. Han’s classroom. Once again, wow.

As we are preparing for interviews and such, I figure it’s a good time to post some resources on the Haberman Protocol.  In short, it is the framework a lot of urban school districts use to select their teachers based on 10 dimensions. This is more or less stuff we already knew, but it is now distilled into distinct categories. We may not all be teaching in urban districts, but the framework still hold true for a good teacher, regardless of situation.

From the Haberman Educational Foundation’s Star Teacher

As I read these I see some of the ones I really haven’t thought about. One of them in particular is teacher burnout (covered by fallibility and “survives in a bureaucracy) , mainly because it is something that we don’t discuss too often, and why should we; there is little sense in discussing burning out of a profession we are not officially in and are currently working to attain. It would be like quitting a team before you even try out. With that said, we have seen first hand that teaching is a difficult profession. It tests our limits, gives us a lot to ponder and do at all times of the day and week, and despite our great accomplishments we  focus on our failure. Both “fallibility” and “survives in a bureaucracy” address the point that great teachers are able to balance their work and find support from the people and things around them. In reading this I am reminded how lucky I am to have the cohort with me on this journey. Hearing their stories and being able to share mine makes this a trial to share and therefore feels lighter.

Now how can this come across as an interview question when it isn’t directly about teaching practices you ask? Well ponder the interview question of, “So what are some things you do outside of teaching?” A good answer shows that you have some positive outlets to offset the inevitable strains of the job. Simultaneously it shows that you are a balanced individual who can bring real life and a real viewpoint to the students. For example, my answer would be that I cook, bake and play rugby (to offset the cooking and baking). They have many parallels to teaching, such as an attention to detail, a passion for the craft, and an intrinsic desire to improve for yourself and others. Additionally, by openly sharing my passions, I go from being “Mr Han, the living environment teacher,” to “Mr. Han, the science teacher who plays that version of football with no pads.” In all professions, employers are looking for well-rounded individuals and in one that demands interaction that well-roundedness and that human element is key.

I’m off for now, doing my best to nurse a pounding headache which I hope is merely caffeine-based and not something more sinister.

Good luck to you all in your interviews. You will do great. You have so much to offer through your caring, your patience, your kindness, and your desire to look at your own practice and say “this went well, but let’s try this part of the lesson a different way.” I aspire to the teaching qualities that some of you already have. We will do great!

Dude, It’s Literally Questions… About Questions

So, my CT forwarded me a document from Dr. Chan (aka the head honcho of science for the RCSD) on effective questioning in both planning and instruction. He also added in his email that this was what he was looking for when he observes his teachers, so for those of you with the RCSD in your future the document is below. You’re welcome!

Lesson Planning Questions II

A few big takeaways that I got from reading the bullet points on his attachments:

If a student gives an incorrect or weak answer, point out what is incorrect or weak about the answer, but ask the student a follow-up question that will lead that student, and the class, to the correct or stronger answer. “

I always aim for being positively reinforcing of a student answer that is not totally correct, but I think i err on the side of being too positively reinforcing to the point where I feel sheepish about correcting them in front of the class. I don not want to harm their self-confidence, but I do have to clear up misconceptions so there has to be a way to do both. I suppose a good approach is always to ask for feedback from another student and ask, “So-and-so, do you want to elaborate on/add to/ So-and-so’s answer?” This would be done both for correct and incorrect responses. It allows correct answers to be fully developed and incites more thinking, and it allows misconceptions to be corrected because I ask the follow-up for all questions, right or wrong, so the student doesn’t feel singled out for trying.

“Do not interrupt students’ answers. You may find yourself wanting to interrupt because you think you know what the student is going to say, or simply because you are passionate about the material. Resist this temptation. Hearing the students’ full responses will allow you to give them credit for their ideas and to determine when they have not yet understood the material.”

I find myself in a habit of cutting off students’ answers, even though I know it is a poor habit to have. It may be a habit of novice teachers (it is for me) to ask a student a question and simply listen for a few key words. from there we (or at least I) will say “nice,” and will fill in the rest of what we think to be the students’ answers. For me at least, I think this comes from a certain insecurity in my ability. I should have more faith in my ability and my formative assessment, but the critical and reflective sides of me sometimes get in the way, leading to my cutting off of students answers because I am relieved to hear that they are using the right vocabulary in the discourse. What I miss from doing so is missing a chance to formatively pick up on my misconceptions or to celebrate student understanding because if I fill in the blanks, it cheapens the thought-out answer the student gives. So here’s to fear giving way to a bit of courage and being confident that I know what to do on the spot if I need to fill in a misconception.

“Determine what the question is trying to address i.e. what is the purpose of the question. What is the format of the question and what is the level of the question.”

To make more meaning of class discussions and instruction, the questions one asks have to be deliberate. Have them up one at a time on the board for kids to see, and have a few in your back pocket pre-planned with an anticipation of what students might say or where their troubles might be. The back pocket ones will get better with time, but for now, doesn’t hurt to plan them out.

“The questions you ask should help them practice these skills, as well as communicate to them the facts, ideas, and ways of thinking that are important to their learning in your course. “

The questions you ask prioritize for you and for your students which concepts, which skills, and which directions are going to be vital. By asking the right question, major concepts get sorted from details. Students often have trouble differentiating the essential from the non-essential and therefore will try to absorb everything with equal weight only to miss the core idea in favor of a vocab word that is useful but not necessary. If you choose to ask the big questions about the main idea, and more fact-checking questions on the smaller details, then it helps differentiate them.

Oh before I go, download clearprint. It’s a free chrome widget. What it does is… Say you wanted to print something from a website like a news story. What the widget will do is clear all of the clutter (the ads, the comments, the spam) out of the document and convert it into a pdf for you. You can then choose to delete portions of the article you find unnecessary or at the wrong level for your students. It is awesome. Trust me.

Bye for now!

Community: Past and Future

So… week 4 of 8 is just about finished. And wow has it been a wild ride. If I kept the rate of catharses I have now through my entire life, I probably would’ve stubbled upon the secret of life by the time I was 14. Unfortunately, with this many enlightening moments comes little time or mental energy to process all of them. The best I can do is process the ones I can, and keep the others for revelation at another time.

In preparing our portfolio and proving ourselves to be competent teachers with the potential for growth, one of the principles we strive to show growth in and continue developing is making science relevant to the community. For one thing, science cannot stand on its own. Throughout time, for good or for worse, science has been intertwined with people on the whole. Sometimes scientific growth was restricted, other times it was allowed to flourish. Science has always sought to discover and learn about the world not always just for the sake of discovery, but also for the benefit of mankind.

The NSTA has their ideas on what community-bases science should look and sound like, which can be found here.

With both those points presented, science has always sought to change and adapt our views of the world and creating a clearer picture. The issue is how we perceive science’s ability to create a clearer picture and how science actually works can be quite different. Students (and many other adults for that matter) sometimes view science as a set of a few great discoveries rather than a gradual understanding of the world around us. Science is also perceived as a few overarching experiments and discoveries rather than the discoveries that can be made by ordinary people in a wide range of scopes. as the old quote (misattributed to Newton) goes, “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” And that is true for all of us.

Picture this: A middle schooler who lives in a major city who is learning about the human body in science class. He learns about the heart, the brains, the lungs and on and on and on. He/She sort of gets what the teacher is saying, but doesn’t really see how it matters. That is until his/her teacher asks “does anyone in this class know someone with asthma?” He/she has heard that word before because his/her little brother has asthma. Much to his/her surprise, a good number of her classmates also raise their hand. Thus starts a project on how environmental factors affect our health. With the right scaffolds and the right amount of “messiness,” the student can explore asthma in his/her family, his/her block, and his/her neighborhood.

The student here is engaging in real science, while to him/her it may seem more like English or social studies. The interviews she does, the newspaper articles or internet sources reads are all collection of data to create an informed conclusion. By tying back the knowledge and understand she gains in class, he/she not only can see whether or not asthma can be a problem in her area, but how it is a problem and what to do about it. He/she reaches that second point and can see farther than just the correlation by “standing on the shoulders of giants,” that is, relying on the knowledge gained and shared by those before him/her.

In this way science is a communal endeavor. Not only in its use to help bring awareness or consider solutions to a community’s problems, but by relying on the knowledge that came before and to add to that wealth of knowledge for those in the future. The same goes for technology; we build upon what is pre-existing and strive to make it better for the present and future.

But a word of caution to this tale, much as scientific theories have been disproved and built upon, that cycle is not stuck in the past; it is potentially going on now. What we perceive as scientific truth may not be tomorrow, and we have to be ready for that and equip our students with the tools to be okay with that. Something we perceive as good today may not be tomorrow in light of new scientific evidence and separating personal biases form scientific fact is crucial. However it is our personal biases and the things we care about that drive scientific discovery no matter how big. I guess what I am trying to say is that while the process of science may seem and be devoid of the human element, science itself does not exist without that personal touch, whether it be learning from scientist of the past or wanting a better future.

With that morsel of enlightenment I lower the curtain on this one. The temperature is supposed to be improving. As for the weather… well it’s Rochester.