We Are Vermont Strong!

This next post is not on my normal topic of education and teachering; however, it is just as important and close to my heart.

In the wake of the receding flood water caused by Irene’s rain, Vermont is left with a lot of rebuilding. It makes me proud to be a Vermonter to see our communities coming together to support one another. From lend a helping hand, a warm meal, hot showers, and even a bed to sleep in, Vermonters are doing exactly what I would expect them to do having live in this state all my life.

I cannot express my gratitude enough to all of the electric and road crews who are working long hours on hot days to get power and access back to our homes! You are appreciated so much! Thank you so much!

I put together the short video above to show some of the damage around Bridgewater Corners VT, express my gratitude, as well as provide hope. We will rebuild!

We Are Vermont Strong!

 

Advertisements

Blast from the Past

As a high school teacher it didn’t take me long long to realize that high school students say some pretty fantastic things. Funny, goofy, awkward, and so purely honest it’s often hard to hold back a chuckle or even a full bellied laugh. These comments are nuggets of gold that can turn a rough day around for me.

Like anyone would do with such a nugget I collect them. These days I jot them down on a scrap of paper and stick them in a pile in a desk drawer to save for when the time is right. However, when I was student teaching 4 years ago, seems like only a blink, I didn’t have my own desk. So these slips ended up stuffed in a pocket and then onto my desk in my college dorm room, and eventually into a box as I hastily packed after graduation.

3 years later I am in the midst of a move going through old boxes. I stumbled upon a mash of old faded paper scraps holding scribbled notes ready to be set free on the world. So, I present you with a handful of treasures from the mouths of students of the class of 2011, freshman at the time, many who will be moving into their own college dorm rooms over the next few weeks.

“I did my homework… I just forgot to write it down.”

“Chicken’s are birds?”

“You know the Hurricane Tracker, I’m like the cell tracker.”

“Ms. [Smith], I’m done! I also just threw up in my mouth for some reason.”

“He’s like real gangsta though”

“Mr. Reid, are you more afraid of Zombies or Vampires?”

Some I remember the context, others I don’t, most of the time it really doesn’t matter. (clearly zombies…fyi)

Turning Point

As a teacher during the months of July and August it seems all conversations start with, or touch upon, the question: “How’s your summer vacation?” This goes for almost everyone you come in contact: friends, colleagues and even Uncle Elwood at the family reunion.

My response is usually similar and has some go to words just for this conversation:

“Great….”

“Relaxing…”

“Glad to have a break….”

“Chance to recharge my batteries…”

(I apologize to all those I’ve had this conversation with me and recognize my script)

However, having had many of these conversations over the summer and honestly feeling this way I realized the other day I had come to a turning point in my summer.

As I was carrying a box of textbooks (that I was far less productive with this summer than hoped, as usual) I realized as I placed the books in the back of my car that I had suddenly been overcome with a sense of excitement. Carrying those books, putting them in my car to bring to my classroom, thinking about starting a new year with my new groups of sophomores, juniors and seniors. I was excited for it.

It was a simple moment, but a refreshing revelation. I am ready. Ready with my new ideas and plans. Ready with my old materials organized and ready to go. Ready to start the school year.

I wonder; do other teachers experience this same feeling. A point when the batteries are ready for the next year and the excitement starts to builds. I hope so, or why do it.

Have you experienced  your summer turning point yet?

Be The Light

As some of my more consistent readers may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve last put my thoughts to paper, or keyboard as it may be.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the end of the school year as any teacher will tell you is crazy, a fury of trying to wrap up final units, review, give and grade exams, and clean up a classroom that has a years worth of materials piled up.

Second, with the plethora of initiatives presented by our administration to conclude our year and begin preparations for next, as well as reductions in force there has been a lot of turbulence within the faculty.

Factions of sorts have formed based on positive and negative reactions to these changes. Factions that do not necessarily agree, get along, or are always as nice as they could be to others with different perspectives.

I choose to live my life being nice to people (a ground breaking philosophy I know). I do my best everyday to be as consistently nice as I can. However, I discovered an unfortunate side effect of this philosophy.

I am nice to and spend time with people on both sides of the fence. Which means I often experienced, we will say, less than nice discussion, gossip even, of members in other divisions of the faculty, people who I also spend time with. The oppoiste would then occur when spending time with the other group of people.

Needless to say, I found myself consistently being surrounded by negativity, no matter where or with whom I spent time with at school. As anyone who has experienced such constant negativity could tell you, it’s draining, and makes it hard to find the positive. Even when it is there.

Thus, due to my cynical and frustrated mindset towards the end of the year I took a break from writing until I could adequately present the positive and successful stories of the conclusion of my third year teaching.

Summer vacation has come just in time, allowing me the opportunity to surround myself with the positive and good aspects of my life and in a way recharge my deflector shields for next year. I do have positive words, thoughts and insights from the end of the year and I will share them with you over the next weeks of summer.

Finally, to anyone out there experiencing a similar overwhelming and what seems at times to be all encompassing negativity; do your best to find positive outlets. Exercise, read, listen to music. Do something for you to help stay in the positive mind set you want to be in. Do not succumb to the darkness, be a light for positive thought.

Bonus!

On all of my quizzes and tests I like to add fun bonus questions worth a couple of extra points. These questions usually consist of topics we’ve gone on tangents about, fun facts about the world, or even me, and just random trivia.

They usually add 3 to 5 points to a quiz grade, but my students really get into answering them. The effort, concern and energy put into getting these questions right oftentimes seems like students think the bonus is the content I am assessing. Often times I get many more questions of clarification or looking for hints about my bonus questions than the actual quiz or test questions.

Perhaps I should make a test of trivia and then have Biology questions for the bonus? Interesting.

Frequently, these bonus questions are not answered correctly; however, the answers are consistenly creative, clever and amusing. This keeps grading interesting and allows me to have a good chuckle or even full out laugh as I read them. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

 Below I have provided some of my bonus questions and their best, yet incorrect responses, from my most recent exams.

Enjoy!

What is Mr. Reid’s Middle Name?

  • Andrew “Santa” Reid
  • Andrew “Biology” Reid
  • Andrew “Killer” Reid
  • Andrew “Alfonzo” Reid
  • Andrew “Danger” Reid
  • “Andrew (insert your middle name here) ____ Reid”
  • Its the period after Mr

What is Mr. Reid’s favorite color?

  • pink- cause he’s so manly he needs to like feminie things or he’d be too manly

What year did Columbus ‘sail the ocean blue’?

  • 1942
  • 1969
  • 1982
  • 1986*

*Yes, it’s possible I was born the year Columbus was out exploring. They must think I’m really old.

What is the only land mammal that can’t jump?                                

  • Snake
  • Alligator
  • Shark
  • Duck
  • Penguin
  • Platypus
  • Kangaroo
  • White people

What is the Orca Willy, from “Free Willy”, real name?

  • Balthazar-it should be
  • Steve
  • Steve
  • Steve the Whale
  • Rick James
  • William
  • William
  • Free
  • Killer Whale
  • I don’t know who cares I like Air Bud better.

Do you know the answers? Post any guesses you may have, or try to be just as creative as some of these students if you don’t.

Exam Week: The Quest for the Perfect Assessment

Today marks the start of the 2011 Mid-Term exam week. Even just in the midst of my third year on the other side of the desk I have come across some interesting differences between being in the exam versus now designing and grading the exam. When I was in high school we had quizzes, tests, exams, but now, having gone through professional development to become a teacher, I now know them as assessments.

Assessment, it’s a hot word in education, and I have spent many hours trying to find the best way to assess what students have learned. A high quality assessment, in my book, and hopefully anyone in education for that matter, is one that allows a student to successfully demonstrate what he or she knows or has learned about a specific topic. So, as I sat down to design my exams in preparation for this weeks series of exams my goal was to make a test that would provide my students with a variety of opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned in the first semester of their respective Biology classes.

From this process I made this realization: There is an inverse relationship between the quality of the assessment and the ease with which it can be graded.

For those of you who may be a little rusty with your math lingo what I am saying is that the better an assessment is at providing students with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, the harder or more time consuming it is to grade; on the other hand the easier it is to grade the more limited the assessment is at providing students with opportunities to show their stuff.

For instance take test 1. A test 30 pages long with say 10 multiple choice questions per page, giving a total of 300 questions. These 300 questions would be able to cover the variety of different topics covered  over the semester, with less point value per question topic. This could be beneficial for a student who just didn’t get one unit and so maybe gets the 15 questions about that one topic wrong, but does well on the the other sections. However, I wonder does this assess what the student has learned or if he or she simple memorized the right 300 facts, because thats what multiple choice questions tests factoid and how good a student can memorize and spew back those factoids. Is this a high quality assessment? For some students? For all students?

Ok, on to test 2. This test is broken into four parts 30-50 multiple choice questions, a vocabulary fill in the blank section, 20 or so short answer questions and finally an experimental design section. Section 1 allows students to show their ability to spew back facts, but now maybe just the key ideas or ones that that have been focused the most. Section 2 also mainly based on single pieces of information, giving back a memorized definition.

The final two sections, to me this is where the magic happens. Short answer allows students to look back at the facts they have memorized, or vocabulary they have learned and now apply that information to synthesize something new to answer a broader question. Here they can discussion what they have learned based on connections to their own lives, but this type of questioning also takes their thinking to a new level and allows them to demonstrate both that they have learned information, but also have learned how to think about it. Higher order thinking is possible here, explaining why something is a certain way not just that it is that way.

Finally, the last  section experimental design. A student is given a scientific question and has to create a hypothesis regarding the question and design an experiment to test that hypothesis, or is provided with data they must graph and analyze. Just look at the verbs here: “create”, “design”, and “analyze” these allow students to both access and demonstrate the abilities of different parts of their brains beyond simply supplying the fact of who, what, where, or when…. Is this a high quality assessment? for some students? For all students?

If you compare your answers to the questions I posed regarding test 1 and test 2 they may be similar. Maybe each test could be considered a quality assessment for the right student. I guarantee that neither test would work for all students, and I would not attempt to blindly either of these tests with all students. However, I’m sure you can guess based on my tone and descriptions, I believe test 2 is a much better assessment and will provide the students I designed it for with a much greater variety of opportunities  to show me what they have learned than test 1 ever could. Oh yeah, did I mention  its a description of an exam I made?

Could their be an option 3? Pure synthesis? Students using information they have learned to create something a project, a model, a video, a song? I’d say yes! But you’ll have to wait for more on that.

This brings me back to my  previous realization that test 1 would definitely be easier to grade, simply throw down an answer key and put an x if answers don’t match. Compared to going through and reading each student responses and determining what connections they have made, where they have earned partial credit for partial understanding and even trying to decode some of the most unique combinations of words that represent an answer.

So, yes it does take time to design a quality assessment and yes it does take time to grade an assessment that does its job to the best of its ability, but isn’t that what it’s about. Creating ways for students to show you just how much they know. As of yet, I have not made the perfect assessment, every test I make is an experiment. I try something new, test it on my students, and then go back and analyze the results to make changes. This is science after all.

Bang!

Bang!

This is the start of it all, my first blog post.

Not knowing what is to come from this first spark: greatness or a flame fizzled. The only option, lay out the facts as we know them today.

I am a high school Biology teacher. I know impressive. It seems like more and more people I talk to about my profession are utterly impressed by the fact that I am not only a teacher, but that I have chosen to teach science, a subject many people are quick to tell me they “hate” or “just don’t get.” I on the other hand have had a passion for science since my first memories of the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano, building an electromagnet in second or third grade, and studying weather in fourth grade. Btw, Thanks Ms. Siller (my science enrichment teacher). Because of my interest I have never been turned off to, or developed a distaste for science; instead, it has merely lead to my continued efforts to further my own scientific knowledge (yes, i know now volcanoes have nothing to do with vinegar or baking soda in mountains) and have led me to my current career path. So, to me science isn’t an insurmountable obstacle to be dealt with, but a warm blanket to contently surround ourselves with. Yes, that seems cozy to me.

This leads us into the title of my blog, Is This Science?, this is a question that often pops into my head when working daily with 15-18 year olds in my classroom. Most teachers would tell you teaching is more than just about spewing forth facts and information, its about interactions. These interactions are what make being a teacher exciting, exasperating, frustrating, and amazing. Interactions with students telling jokes, talking about current events, and asking questions about topics ranging from exotic animals like the goblin shark, to those things on every teenagers mind, “What if we all turn into zombies….” Everyday as I swim though a constant barrage of exclamations, questions, comments, excuses and laughs I often find myself stopping to ask myself: “Is this science?”

And, so this will serve as a jumping off point for us, as I use my blog to share my thoughts and anecdotes as a high school teacher, no a scientist, working with some of the most fascinating organisms in their equally fascinating and bizarre habitat, high school teenagers. Showing you that yes, even when I myself doubt it: This is science.