Keeping it short

Sharing is a Good Thing.

Reflecting on teaching & learning is a Good Thing.

Writing in this space is a great place to both share and reflect, yet as can easily be discovered by scrolling down this site's homepage, I haven't been writing much. I want to fix this, but I'm not too great at simply wishing that into fruition. So, here's my plan (publicly declared so your peer-pressure will force me to keep it):

  1. Keep it short. The latest trend sweeping the baseball blogosphere are short, quick ~200 word posts.  I've too often felt like I needed to write 1,000 word posts full of images and explainers (see GDrive Lab Report Workflow). I like those type of posts- but they take a long time. Seriously long. I need to reduce the barrier to entry, so I'm going to try to keep posts about 200 words long.
  2. Keep it regular. I need to get back in the habit. My goal is to write one post a month for the next year. Yeah, I know, that's a pretty wimpy number. But seriously, have you seen how many posts were published last year? [Hint: It's less than 2, more than 0]

Good luck, me.

[FYI: There's 198ish words up there]

I got a job. I need some help.

While it's not exactly news at this point, I'm happy to announce that I'll be teaching Physics at the Connecticut River Academy, a public magnet school located in East Hartford, CT. I've been subbing and helping out at the school quite a bit since I was hired, and I'm pretty dern excited to teach there next year. While I haven't been around the school community much as of yet, I think it's safe to say there are a lot of good things happening at this school and I'm excited to be a part of those things in the years to come.

Here's where you can help: The CT River Academy is about to wrap up only its second year as a school this month. As a result of the school's newness, there's no Physics curriculum yet put together. While this means it'll be a lot of work for me this summer, I'm excited to help build the class with my colleagues from the bottom up. Earlier via Twitter, I shared this Google Doc that lists some ideas and thoughts I have for designing the instruction and assessment for Physics classes. If possible, I'd greatly appreciate some additional help from any teachers using Modeling Instruction to teach Physics. Namely, I'm interested in (1) what units you go through and in what order, and (2) what textbook (if any) you use with Modeling Instruction. If you could complete this really short survey on these topics, I'd greatly appreciate it.

The "It's been awhile" update

So, yeah...it's been a while...

I'd better do an update, since a few things have happened since my last post in...um...May:

EdCamp CT

A few short months ago Dan Agins and I were attending EduCon in Philly when fellow Connecticutian Sarah Edson waltzed up nonchalantly and pitched,  "I think we should throw an EdCamp in Connecticut this year, you in?!!"  We were in, and it'll be happening in just under a week (as I write this). There are 125 people signed up (plus a wait list!), and we are all1 really excited to meet every one and learn all we can next week.

Wedding/Travel

My brother got married in July, which gave my wife and I an excuse to visit Chicago and traipse across the MidWest and take in ballgames at two new ballparks together2. We both grew up in in Michigan and Chicagoland,  so it was nice to spend the week eating at all the restaurants visiting places we missed.

Back to school

I taught Physics for 5 years (even though I wasn't "highly qualified" in Physics) several school years ago and really enjoyed the entire experience. Ever since I've talked about going back to get my Physics certification. Due to some new circumstances I'm planning on taking a year off from teaching so I can go back and get both my Physics and Chemistry certifications.

I'm not crazy about being out of the classroom for a year (not to mention the lack of a regular paycheck), however, I think this will open up new teaching opportunities that will be both rewarding and challenging. It's a risk3,  but one I hope will pay dividends in the end.

In addition, since I'll be taking Calculus-based Physics this fall I've also been working to brush up on my calculus skills. I did decent in calculus during my undergrad years,  but my last calculus class was held in the fall of 1997. I'm a bit rusty. To brush up, I've been using MIT's OpenCourseWare to "take" their Single-Variate Calculus class this summer. I've discovered so far that I can do the calculus, but my algebra and trigonometry need some work.

Blog plans

This year's been a bit rough on the ol' blog. My posting hasn't exactly been regular. However, I've repeatedly found that the simple act of writing out my ideas in this public format helps me to think more deeply about instruction and education. While the feedback I receive from readers is also greatly appreciated, simply forcing myself to turn ideas in my head to text on the page is valuable enough to continue writing4.

Since I've been slacking on the writing I need a plan. Here it is:

  1. Post 1-2 times a month with a project or lesson that I've either used successfully in the classroom but haven't shared yet or sharing a new lesson or project that I've just created. I'm (perhaps unnecessarily) worried that I'll lose my instructional design chops. I'll hopefully design these lessons around content I'm covering in my classes this year.
  2. A "What I'm Reading" series. I tend to read a lot of science-y or education-related books, and I'd like to share basic reviews of these books here. I'll be a bit selective here. If I get into teenage vampire literature, for example, I probably will not include those books in the series. However, you can follow everything I read using the handy LibraryThing widget located on the right sidebar of the blog. Or you can view my LibraryThing library directly. I also welcome your suggestions. Drop 'em in the comments or send them to me via twitter. These will be posted as I finish the books.
  3. Sharing websites, posts, images, videos, etc. that relate to the general science and education theme of this blog. While  I do have a posterous site where I share all the "Random awesomeness I encounter," I'll try to keep the posts to this site more focused. I'll plan on posting in this category approximately once a week.
  4. Some personal photos, reflections, stories, etc. I'd like this space to be a little more "me" as opposed to just the science and education "me." Postings will occur as the whim occurs.
I'm creating dedicated "writing time" a few days each week to keep up with my plan. Feel free to call me out if I start to slack. 🙂

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  1. Let me not neglect Marialice Curran, Stephanie Fuhs, and Tracy Mercier, who are also co-organizers and have done a ton of work getting EdCampCT ready to go.     (back)
  2. We're attempting to visit every major league ballpark, and picked Miller Park in Milwaukee & PNC Park in Pittsburgh on this trip, which I believe has us up to 15 ballparks total.     (back)
  3. The economy is not exactly stellar, but a teacher with Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics certifications should be able to find jobs no problem. Right? RIGHT?!     (back)
  4. I imagine the readership of this site isn't very large given my erratic posting as of late.     (back)

Re:naming (Re:thinking)

For the last 32-ish months, this blog has been titled "Sustainably Digital." It was something I didn't spend much time coming up with. Basically, I was playing on the idea that if we want technology to become a regular part of the school environment, it needs to be implemented in a way that can be maintained easily by even those who aren't exactly tech savvy to start.

I can't really say the content of this blog has related too well to that original idea. Thus, I'm rechristening this space:

BRAAAIINNNNSSS!!!!

Re:thinking

Rethinking:

  • science education
  • lessons, projects, and activities
  • school culture
  • education policy

Re: (my) thinking:

  • reflections, thoughts, and ideas

No promises the content of this place will improve with the (hopefully) more apt name.

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Image: Brain Model, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial (2.0) image from biologycorner's photostream

Summer thoughts

Summer...that magical time where I look forward to reading1, thinking, and relaxing...but in actuality it usually gets eaten up quickly by either Master's projects (last summer) or landscaping projects (this summer). Obviously my posting to this site has been drastically reduced the last couple months. There a few things floating around my head that I'll probably post on later this summer, but for now, here's a quick run down of what's going on:

Project Climate

I really don't fell that I've yet done the project justice in this space- either in explaining what it is or reflecting on how it all went the first time around. The more I think about it the more impressed I am with my students and how well it went down. There are lots of glaring issues to be fixed with the project- but despite all of those I'm extremely happy with the level of thinking, collaborating, and learning the students exhibited throughout the project.  The trick this summer will be to figure out exactly how to tighten it up as well as implement it in three classes simultaneously (instead of just implementing it in one class this past spring). If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out the project overview, student blogs, and past posts on the project.

Master's Project

With the conclusion of the inaugural Project Climate I've also reached the end of my Master's program. I was able to write up some reflection and analysis of how Project Climate went (a topic of future posts) and officially submit my project and apply for graduation. My adviser has encouraged me to publish the project- if you know of any journals that would be a good fit for Project Climate please drop that knowledge in the comments.

Twitter

I've really been inactive with Twitter this summer. With school over and my focus switched to projects around the home I just haven't felt like I've been in the edu-flow much lately. While I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing (it's good to occasionally take some time away from various aspects of our lives), I really do miss the camaraderie and knowledge sharing that goes on via Twitter. I have no thoughts of quitting Twitter for those of you who were worried (or hopeful) about that2. P.S. I'm @WillyB, if you're not following me and you'd like to. No pressure.

Standards Based Grading

My big education-related project for this summer is to take a good look at Standards Based Grading and try to figure out a way to use it in my classes. Since simply dropping the use of grades altogether isn't something that would be looked upon kindly, SBG seems to be a great way of really getting at what grades are supposed to measure: student learning.  I've been saving up Shawn Cornally's SBG posts over at Think Thank Thunk as well as a few other resources for just this occasion. I'm always open for SBG-related resources and implementation ideas- If you've got 'em, dropping them in the comments would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. There's a sidebar with the last several books I've read/am reading, just in case you're curious.     (back)
  2. I'm sure that was all of you, right? Right!?!?     (back)

Unpacking the new home

I've made the jump to self-hosting. Since I'm a totally newbie at this whole self-hosting bit, I imagine you'll be seeing some modifications and tweaking done to the theme and sidebar over the next few weeks.1

I'm looking forward to the flexibility and other benefits of self-hosting while remaining somewhat apprehensive about the technical aspects. However, I'm confident that all of you out there can help me resolve any issues that may arise.

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  1. Hat tip to Alec Couros whose blog theme I liked so much I spent hours searching for one close to it before I broke down and used the same one. Remember: imitation is the highest form of flattery.(back)

Maslow's hierarchy of sorts

The Setting

  • Where: Small classroom
  • When: 6 hours (with a one hour lunch break)
  • Environment: 15 other new hires
  • Format: professional development lecture supported by PowerPoint
    • PPT format: 87 slides. White background. Black text. Bullets. Bullets. Bullets. Text. Text. Text.

Maslow's (modified) Hierarchy of Needs

If I don't have access to my room, colleagues who I'm supposed to be teaching, or any knowledge about what material to start with when I'll have real students sitting in my class on Thursday (it's Monday today), it doesn't matter how well-planned or effective the professional development, it's not going to be my focus.

The Update

I did get keys to my room today, managed to talk to one colleague who is teaching the same class for 5 to 10 minutes, and have a rough idea of where they start. I'm pretty sure I have enough information to make it through the first couple of days. By then I should be okay. But seriously...are they thinking when they plan professional development all. dern. day. for new hires?

Don't worry (Just fake it)

New school, new district, new state, new region. I was hired at the end of May and moved to Connecticut the end of June. In mid to late July, I started my attempts to contact my new high school to get information about my new position. What is the curriculum? Who am I teaching it with? What are the school's expectations?

My first teaching job saw me getting hired only one week before students rears hit chairs in my classroom. As a rookie teacher lacking in experience, I found that extremely intimidating and overwhelming. I was excited that for my new position, not only would I be bringing six years of experience, but also that I would have most of the summer to prepare.

Brick wallMy calls to the high school rang without being answered. I stopped by the high school once to seek out someone who would help me. Upon entering the building, I felt I should've been wearing a hard hat. There was heavy construction throughout much of the building. The offices were gutted. Besides the gruff looking workers, I couldn't find any administrators or anyone else in the building to help.

This week I started the "Teacher Academy" for new hires. School starts next week Thursday, and I was excited to get in and finally get some information on my curriculum and who I'll be teaching with. As a fairly experienced¹ teacher this time around, I felt I still had plenty of time to effectively prepare for the school year. Arriving at the "academy" on Wednesday, I was dismayed to find no time set aside to find our rooms, go over our curriculum, or meet the colleagues we'll be teaching with. In fact, there was no official plan at all for getting the new teachers access to our rooms, curriculum, or colleagues.

Red tapeWe were all told all about the district improvement plans, the data teams that meet to help improve instruction, and on, and on. The district's plans for improvement sound really good. I'm excited that they've made a serious commitment to make their schools highly effective for the students. But...how could they possibly overlook the fact that we haven't even seen the curriculum yet? I've seen my room once. I have a textbook for the classes I'm teaching only because one happened to be laying around and I took the initiative to snag it. The only reason I've accomplished either of these things is because a few of the high school new hires got together and more or less "demanded" a meeting with someone at the high school to give us a clue what was going on.

My favorite quote of the entire teacher academy, in response to my (and others) inquiries into what scope and sequence the teachers teaching the same class as me use:

Don't worry, take some deep breaths. All you need to do is make it through the first two days of school, then you have the long weekend to figure out what to do next. Remember, whatever happens, you'll get paid every two weeks in American dollars.

O.K. I've ranted enough, and I'm sure you've gotten the point by now. I am excited to work in this district (really!). I'm excited that this time around in a new position I have skills to bring to the table. I sincerely hope the lack of foresight I've seen so far is localized in the central administration and isn't systemic. To look for the positive in the situation, I've already overcome my fear of questioning the status quo and have learned that I may need to make a more conscious effort to push for change in this district. All I want to do is be the best teacher I can be for my students, my colleagues, my school, and my district. I sincerely hope that desire doesn't fly in the face of the professional culture here.

I just want to be like Akeelah, an achiever.

- Common, "The Game"

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¹ If you consider six years as having much experience

Image sources:
Brickage by Asten
Challenge by amsterdamfan

Fatigued

I really didn't mean for this blog to take a summer vacation. It did, however. I guess I can't blame it. It moved from Michigan to Connecticut, unpacked way too many boxes, spent a lot of time sprucing up a new house, attempting to work on a Master's project, and trying to get back into running shape. It's in between jobs, and doesn't know too much about the new job it has, thus it has felt some disconnect to the education world: It's done with the last position, but doesn't know what the new position is.

The blog is back from break though, and hopefully it won't be slacking off during the school year (which officially starts in one week). Look for a real post tomorrow. 🙂

No longer a Michigan resident

At approximately 8:00 am EDT today I will have officially turned in my Michigan resident permit. At approximately 8:00am EDT, I will cross into Ohio with no foreseeable return to Michigan, the state where I've spent my last 29.2888... years of my life.

A new adventure awaits!

Receipt from Custom Receipt.com