Unofficial Twin Day

Teaching is all about building relationships. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. So, when you realize you own the same shirt as one of your students and it’s suggested to have a twin day… why not go for it. It certainly was a fun day in class.

And the teacher becomes the student…

Even though this was posed, one of us didn’t know where to be looking.

In case you were wondering; this did not help my case as a teacher looking so young. It’s probably a good thing I’m the only one in a tie most other days. But today, can you guess who’s who?


Happy Birthday!

Today marks the 1st birthday of Is This Science?! What a great year it’s been. First and foremost I want to thank all of my faithful readers. Your responses and opinions truly mean a lot; providing inspiration to continue to write the next post.

It’s been a busy year with just under 5,500 views, due in part to being freshly pressed in April. I am pleased and amazed!  Knowing that my thoughts have been read by so many* far exceeds any expectations I had going into this endeavor a year ago.

*Don’t worry, I am a scientist, I realize those are not 5,500 individual people. I’m thankful for the repeat offenders.

To honor the 1 year anniversary of ITS? I’ve put together a collection of my personal favorite posts from 2011. Enjoy!

Bang!: The post that kicked off ITS? an introduction of me and my goals.

Man vs. Chicken: A Battle in the Name of Science: My reflection on a great activity I use in my Human Biology class, featured by WordPress, being freshly pressed.

We’re All People: A reminder to teachers to keep in mind our students are people too. And like all people, have lots of distractions, turmoil, chaos in their lives. So, let’s treat them accordingly.

What’s Wrong with NECAP Testing: The trouble with standardized testing, my take.

“Is that a clip on?” and Teaching: A Community Approach two examples of how I put a strong emphasis on building community in my classroom. Nothing says community like tie tying and grilled cheese.

Cheers to another great year! Stay tuned for what’s to come!

Importance of Open Dialogue: College

Friday the faculty and staff at my school had a special “School Pride Day.” Usually on Fridays we show our school spirit and pride by wearing our high school’s colors or apparel. This Friday was different, we were showing spirit and pride in the colleges or universities we have attended for undergraduate, graduate, and even a few doctoral degrees. So, without questions I was there in my favorite Saint Michael’s College hat and sweatshirt. The sweatshirt I purchased the day I visited campus and interviewed for acceptance, eight years ago this coming January (time flies).

The goal of this day was to help promote dialogue between students and teachers regarding higher education. To help increase awareness of more opportunities for continued education beyond the local colleges students are aware of. The target audience for these conversations was mostly juniors and seniors, those who are much closer to the process, but it was not limited to just those classes.

For me personally, and I’m sure many teachers out there,  one of the fears I had about opening up dialogue regarding college is that the conversation would instantly turn to topics like partying and drinking. Topics that juniors and seniors are curious about, but most likely have a skewed perspective on thanks to movies and the media. For me it came down to making sure the conversation happens in an appropriate manner, appropriate for school and between teacher and students, but also allows for a more accurate vision of what college means.

When my class of juniors and seniors arrived, toward the end of the day, the the first thing they said to me was that they hadn’t really talked with any other teachers about college. One student even said “I don’t think they got the point.” This motivated me to make sure I had a good, open, conversation with these 14 students, all but 1 being seniors. So, I opened the dialogue by asking for their questions about college. I chose a girl with her hand raised, who I knew would have an serious question to start us off:

“What was the hardest part of college?”

My brain instantly knew the answer, and as I formed my thoughts I knew this would be a perfect way to address what they were all dying to know, on my terms.

I responded that the hardest part of college was finding balance. Balancing academics, with the social aspects. In college it was a lot easier to find ways to distract yourself, procrastinate, or blow off work all together. It’s easy to do other things besides academics, with all of your friends living within a square half-mile or so, along with the fact that parents aren’t there to make sure you are doing your homework or studying, and that professors aren’t going to track you down at the end of class to let you know what late work you are missing.

As I elaborated on these ideas I was able to describe how I wasn’t a “nerd in the library every night” (their words), I made the best friends anyone could ask for and we made some great memories*, but I was also successful academically. We continued the conversation for close to 30 of the 42 minutes of the period. They continued to ask great questions about financial aid, where else I applied, how I chose Saint Mike’s. I didn’t end our discussion until I could tell it had transition into: now let’s just use up the rest of class.

After the class ended I felt good about our conversation. Students had questions answered, by someone still close to my own time in college, and it was a candid conversation. Most of all I feel like I was able to paint a portrait of college beyond that of Animal House and American Pie. I think by avoiding these conversations, just because they might be uncomfortable, it continues the problem. Instead, we should find ways to have these conversations in a manner that is honest and responsible.


*I dedicate this post to the gentlemen of 403 and Club Drome. Friends I’ll never forget.

Another Face of Ambition

I’ve been part of a few conversations lately regarding professional ambition. Most of  these conversations have been from the business perspective. In business someone puts in long hours, works hard to impress the ‘powers that be’ and hopefully you get a new, better job, a dream job. Better because it’s more interesting, engaging, exciting, or pays you more money. This person would probably be labeled as ambitious.  In the business would it’s a lot easier to see ambition, and see goals as they are achieved and new goals are made. You climb the corporate ladder, beating out the other man or woman, and you become more and more successful; the goal of the ambitious.

I believe that because this same ladder climbing doesn’t occur in education people have the misconception that teacher’s aren’t ambitious. Especially when they are portrayed in the media and then in peoples’ minds as simply wanting to find a good school to teach in and ride it out until retirement. This is false. Just because in education we as teachers are not pitted against each other (hopefully) to get ‘better’ jobs, or to compete for success in the same way as the business world, does not mean that we are not ambitious.

Some may say that part of climbing the ladder in education is getting seniority so that you can teach the ‘good’ classes, the honors or the AP. For some teachers this may be their ambition, but for me it isn’t. I currently teach students that have a huge variety of learning styles and academic skills, and that’s what I love about teaching: the variation. I love the challenge of finding ways to reach out to, connect with, and teach all students because all students deserve to have their lives enriched by science, by Biology.

Though it sounds corny and cliché this is my ambition: to make as many students lives better, as I can. To know that I played a role in providing them with knowledge and opportunities that would not have had otherwise. As I have thought about writing this post for the past few weeks, I’ve rolled my thoughts over and over in my head and realized it is not a ladder I wish to climb that marks my ambition, but a web I hope to build; a web of people. People, who I have taught, connected with and had an impact on their lives.

Being in my forth year this web has begun to form. In June, 2011, the sophomores I taught during my first year graduated, some moved on to college, other to careers. The seniors I taught in my first year of teaching are now juniors in college or into their third year of their job, volunteering or other post-high school options. In this short time my ambition has started to bear fruit, as I have several instances that I mark as achievements.

  1. December 2010: A ’09 graduate came back to visit me after completing her first semester at Maine Maritime Academy, where she is studying Marine Biology. She thanked me for everything she learned in my Marine Biology class, and told me it solidified her desire to be a Marine Biologist.
  2. October 2011: A ’11 graduate stopped by, just say ‘Hi’. He graduated last June and has been working at a heavy machinery repair shop. He was excited to tell me about all the different jobs and responsibilities he has in that job and reminisce about the class he took with me two years ago.
  3. October 2011: Two students, ’10 and ’11 graduates saw me from across the mall and came over to fill me in about the apartment hunt they were on, as well as the classes and nursing program they are enrolled in at UVM.
  4. November 2011: A ’10 grad, sophomore in college now, sent me a message wondering if I could send her a couple of the articles we had read in Marine Biology about the great Pacific Garbage Patch. She was studying it in one of her college courses and remember we had used to informative articles and websites.
  5. November 2011: I ran into a student who is now a freshman in college. She thanked me for making her work so hard in Human Biology because her Anatomy & Physiology class is a lot easier in college because she knows a lot of it already.

Each of these small occasions, plus many more, which occur day to day, mark times where I knew that I had impacted these people. My ambition to build a web of those who I have helped, taught, or made a difference to is progressing. At these times I am equally excited to hear specifically what the individual took from the class content, as I am to know that they have a connection with me that makes them want to share their life successes.

I invite educators to think about the web they are building and what qualities are you being remembered for. Is that the web you hope to leave behind? Finally, I urge non-educators to remember that just because our ambition has a different face, it is still there, and just as valuable.

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.

“Is that a clip on?”

“Mr. Reid is that a clip on?”

This was one of the first things a student said to me as I started my class with him. Apparently, I had done such a nice job tying my tie this morning that I could pass it off as a manufactured clip on. I’ll take that as a compliment, and I’m sure my Dad would be proud since he was my instructor.

This then evolved into a couple guys saying they didn’t know how to tie a tie, or had never worn one before. It isn’t often that I’m pulled so fully into such tangents, but they had me hook, line and sinker.

So, 20 minutes later, after instructing on my tie tying technique, and practicing it; we ended with this culminating fashion show shot. A couple of students even kept their ties until the end of the day.

Let’s just say we were the classiest Biology class in school today.

It just goes to show that most times, the best things learned in a science class, or any class, are the unplanned ones.

And as they left, I smiled and asked myself… well, you know.

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.