Man vs. Chicken 2.0

Last year about this time I wrote: Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science describing a laboratory investigation into the different types of fractures using chicken bones. As most teachers, from year-to-year I create new activities, get rid of the flops and tweak those that have been successful in the past. That’s just what I did with this investigation.

There were two major adjustments this year:

1.Instead of simply using cleaned, dried bones students used a combination of cleaned bones and wings with muscles (that’s the meat) and cartilage still intact. This allowed them to compare the differences between imitating fractures in both situations, and analyze which represents more true-to-life fracture events.

2. This is where the 2.0 comes in. In past years I have had student make sketches and observations based on the fractures they had created, and then answer discussion questions related bone structure and fractures. However, this year we went paperless. Most students carry with them a small computer in their pocket; smart phones complete with a video camera. So the assignment became filming their fracture events while narrating the process. There were 5 main idea they were to include in their video:

  • Describe how they will be fracturing the bone.
  • Predict what type of fracture they will produce.
  • Explain how this fracture may occur in real life.
  • Observe the fracture, describe and determine if their prediction was accurate.
  • Determine which bones best modeled accurate fractures, why?

These videos were then emailed to me, which I then compiled into a class video that was viewed as a class. Overall, the new tech version of the chicken bone lab was quite successful. Students seemed much more engaged and provided great narration and dialogue regarding the fractures that would not necessarily have occurred in the same fashion if they had been simply writing about what they had observed. Also, filming provided a role of cinematographer to students who were not interested in getting hands-on with the chicken bones. Finally, students love an opportunity they get to use their phones in class without having to sneak a text message from under the desk of a sweatshirt pocket.

Already looking to next year, I plan to delegate the video editing to students who are interested in creating videos. Here is the final video, enjoy.

I Brake For Respect

Recently, I’ve had a class with an overall classroom environment trending towards disrespect and unkind behavior. Behavior directed both peer to peer and towards me. This class has always been a bit energetic and a bit wild. However, progressively over the last few weeks I have seen a downward spiral leaving me exasperated, stressed and frustrated at the end of each class, which happens to be the last block of the day, making everything seem magnified after an already long day.

One of the hardest parts, and most emotionally draining aspects of teaching for me is trying to get students to stop being mean to each other. Even through my best efforts to redirect this student energy, model, and explain why language is hurtful, I have found myself unsuccessful. Not to mention the damage is already done once I am correcting a student on a comment.

This spiral downward ended with a crash, burn and explosion during a 80 minute lab block last Thursday, which ended 2 students having to leave to meet with the assistant principal for unsafe lab behavior.

So, in response to this I knew I had to go back to basics if there was going to be an improvement.

On Friday as students walked in I handed them a piece of paper with three questions on it.

1. How do I want to be treated in Biology class?

2. How should I treat my peers in Biology class?

3. How should I treat Mr. Reid in Biology class?

For almost 15 minutes I had them answer these questions. As I walked around I noticed each student said they wanted to be treated with respect in one form or another. I then prompted them to think about and write: “What does respect mean to you?”. Two students tried to turn the activity into a joke, so I asked them to leave, and having told the assistant principal I was doing this, sent them to have the conversation with him, and work on their own without an audience.

After the independent write, we brainstormed ideas on the board. To do this, one at a time I called on students to share a thought they had for each of the questions. I then emphasized that each person wrote that they wanted to be treated with respect, and went over the list of things we came up with to describe what respect meant (listening, indoor voices, appropriate language, speaking one person at a time, to name a few). Then through continued conversation we came to the conclusion that the best way to get respect is give to respect, and tied this into the “golden rule” treat others how you want to be treated.

Finally, I had one student write down all the ideas from the board, which I then typed up and handed out on Monday during class. At which point we reviewed our class expectations. After reviewing on Monday we moved into the class activity and I saw a huge change in behavior. Even one of the students who left Fridays activity came in with more appropriate responses typed to give to me. During class students were accepting of the new class norm to raise hands (quietly) if you have something to add, the popcorn style had not been working, and there was  a clear decrease in picking at each other, trying to instigate controversy. This pattern continued into Tuesday and I have my fingers crossed for tomorrow’s long lab block.

I hope that this 40 minute break from Biology will be the stimulus for the much needed long term changes in classroom environment. I plan on returning to, and reviewing our new class expectations from time to time. It is certainly a lesson learned to have such an intervention much sooner at the signs of similar downward trend.

Sometimes we all need a reminder of what it means to Respect others.


5 Important Lessons for New Coaches

Last Tuesday I was asked to coach the Track & Field team at my high school, the catch: There was no Track & Field Team until last Tuesday.

I have plenty of experience when it comes to track, after 3 seasons of indoor and 3 seasons of outdoor I have participated in my fair share of practices, and  meets. However, this experience is quite limited. When running the 3000 meter run it is not necessary to use technical items liek starting starting blocks. Though I always thought it could help, no one else seemed to agree that after 7.5 laps around the track it really matters. The same goes for relays, fractions of a second saved during a good hand off are a bit less important in a 4×800 meter run than say a 4×100 meter dash. In the distance relays we were happy if we didn’t drop the baton, we set the bar high.

When it comes to distance, I’ve got that down. To quote a fellow team mate: “You put one foot in front of the other, keep doing that and then do it faster.” I remember my workouts, I can coach that.

As for the rest of it, those events that require “technique,”  “measuring steps,” or advanced “coordination” I’m clueless.

Luckily, I’ve got a several local coaches excited about our new track program and willing to share their knowledge and experience as well as their track with us (did I mention my school doesn’t actually have a track). I am also excited to meet with my former coach to absorb as much of his knowledge that I can. I feeling confident and ready to take on the season.

After 4 practices, almost a week through the track season, I have compiled a list my top 5 lessons for a new running coach:

5. Get used to no sleep.

I find myself rolling around in bed, fighting the pillows and my brain as it works ferociously designing workouts and thinking about the next day’s practice. Funny, it seems to have taken up some of the space in my melon that used to be devoted to thinking about classes and academics at night. On top of this, late afternoon practices push back your evening routine atleast 1.5 hours.

4. If you run with your team, prepare to lose.

I’m pretty proud that since this fall I’ve gotten back into similar shape as when I was a high school, even back in the same pant size. But, even being in decent shape its hard to keep up with runners like a 17 year old girl that was a district champion and placed second in the state in cross country, and as I approach the big 25 I’m not getting any younger. Luckily, I’m the coach so if I need to rest I can go check on the sprinters.

3. People still try to find short cuts.

While I was running there were always those people on the team trying cut corners and do as little of the planned workout as they could. Luckily, I have a bit more patience these days, and hope to find ways to motivate these runners to strive to to their best everyday. A bit different than my opinions of those runners while I was busting my a**.

2. Don’t wear clothes that match your water bottle.

I happen to have yellow shorts and a yellow water bottle with a blue cap. So, earlier in the week when I happened to be wearing my yellow shorts with my yellow water bottle I definitely got called out for planning my “outfit”. Don’t even get me started when I wore a blue t-shirt with the yellow shorts today.

1. The smell check is no longer going to slide for selecting running gear.

In high school I would use a t-shirt a couple days during the season before it got too ripe to wear. So, Tuesday morning I gave Monday’s t-shirt a sniff, it was good! So, I threw it in my gym bag and was good to go. False. I joined my team in the afternoon to a choir of “Eww, Coach didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday.” I was shocked for two reasons. First that they remembered what I was wearing the day before, and second my trusty method of selecting running clothes is now obsolete.

So, to all those teams starting their seasons good luck and run hard. I’ll see you on the track. (I’ll be the guy with the clipboard and stopwatch)

We’re All People

I think one of the biggest misunderstandings that occurs between a student and a teacher is that one forgets the other is a person too. Students want instant gratification and feedback. Expecting all assignments to be graded over night, the weekend, or even sometimes the same day. While teacher’s on the other hand, myself included of course, oftentimes forget that our course is only 1 of any range from 4 to 8 classes that they are taking, and place demands on them sometimes forgetting that they have demands coming from other courses as well.

These academic demands don’t even come close to the demands of surviving in high school’s society. Balancing the choices you want for your life with how you will look, will you be cool, will you have friends. Add this to sports teams, musics, theater and art groups and the endless list of other extracurriculars. And finally, top that off with all the demands the come from home and family; because lets face it, less and less kids are growing up in the Cleaver household these days.

As I’ve mentioned before, building healthy, trusting and respectful relationships with my students is my prime goal throughout the year. Building these relationships allows me to connect with and in the end guide my students though the educational process.

My strongest recommendation to facilitate the formation of these relationships is to remember where students are coming from. Remember all the demands that are pushing and pulling them in every direction and give them the benefit of the doubt. Remember we can never truly know 100% what else is going on in their lives.

The two weeks leading up to the exam I had a section of my whiteboard dedicated to telling the days and times that each class would have its exam. Almost everyday as I would go over assignments I would remind students of the date of their exam. The last Friday before the exams I had a student ask “so what day is our exam?” In my head I am thinking “are you serious?” (There may have been an expletive in there, I don’t quite remember).

Now, it helps that I am a patient guy, like brake pads it takes long sustained wear, over a period of time for my patience to wear out and reach the end of my fuse.  Just to set the stage with this student there have been chronic missed assignments because he was unclear on what it was, when it was due, or consistently asks “so what are we doing?” after probably 10 minutes or more of going over directions multiple times for a task.

So, let me tell you there has been gradual and sustained wear on my patience, yet I  was still able to muster it. I waited a second, took  a deep breath and drew his attention to the board and reminded him that his exam would be on Wednesday of the following week. I even instructed him it might be a good idea to write it down.

Wednesday rolls around and he’s a no show. As I’m proctoring the exam I’m on the edge of fuming. Thinking about how he’s probably going to come in the next day, put on his confused “oh I didn’t know” act that he has used so many times in the past, not this time I decided.

I went to bed  still kind of mad about the situation. I woke up Thursday, and as I sat in my classroom waiting for students to come in for their exam, still thinking about this student, I realized getting mad at this guy isn’t going to help him get organized. Its definitely not going to put him in a good place in his head to take my exam. I know I wouldn’t put too much effort into an exam for teacher who I’m pissed at for getting mad at me.

So, sure enough he walked in Thursday, and had been confused about the day of the exam. I smiled, said “good morning, don’t worry about it” and gave him his exam to take. As he was leaving he thanked me for letting him take his exam.

“Thank you” simple words melted my frustration. It was a much better outcome than even the best results of me getting mad at this student. Even though maybe getting upset would have made me feel better when he first didn’t show, it certainly wouldn’t have helped him, and it wouldn’t have been the same as receiving his gratitude for cutting him some slack.

I found out last week that his mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer, it has metastasized throughout her entire body and into her brain.

We never know where our students are coming from, never have all the variables. Sometimes Biology, English, history, and math just can’t compete with what life throws at our students, and it would be a mistake to force them  to. Try to remember that so you don’t make one the biggest mistakes of your teaching career.

I know I will never regret smiling that morning.