Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teacher in wonderland

Barring last-minute changes (why not add death and taxes to the list?), I get my own room this year. I wandered around the room earlier today, checking out different vantage points.Yes, I have an Ingmar Bergman complex...

It's a lab room with lots of windows and lots of space--multiple white boards, an interactive Smartboard, 2 bulletin boards, 6 lab tables, a fume hood & shower, and multiple eye wash stations. (I'd call it a biology teacher's wet dream, but I'm having enough issues with my PSA as it is.)

So here's my fantasy list of things I want to do with the room--I'm trusting more experience teachers reading this to steer me clear of potential disasters:


The head starts falling ever so slowly--a jerk, a nod, another jerk. His head ends up on the desk, a string of drool from his lip to the growing pond on his notebook.

In high school you rarely have time to ask what the problem is--maybe your class sucks, maybe his grandmother is ill, maybe the child was up playing WoW--but if it's only one or two kids in a week, it might not be you.

We have a lot of "discussions," usually a bit one-sided, and we have a lot of labs. The kids are trained to look for what is supposed to happen--they've been trained to do this since they first trucked off to school lugging their SpongeBob lunch boxes.

What we don't have is a whole lot of science going on day to day.

I plan to have a rotating display at one of the lab tables, something to stimulate thinking. It might be a Jacob's ladder one week, a prism the next, maybe then a Newton's cradle. I could share my Drinky Bird and the "boiling" pen. I could put out a stereoscope and a beetle, or maybe a hand-cranked generator, or just a bowl of water. A stethoscope, a fossilized orthoceras, a karimba, marbles, a jar of slugs, a bag of shells.There are literally hundreds of simple demos used since Socrates showed Plato how to start a fire with a magnifying glass, things a lot of my kids have never seen.

I'd have to make it informal enough to be attractive, yet formal enough to keep it focused--maybe I'll just leave a notebook there for students to write down observations and thoughts.

Here's the kicker: they can go up one at a time, whenever, and play for as long as 10 minutes. (I may need a small hourglass, which itself can be interesting.)

Sun dial

I have windows. I have a sundial. In September I'll have tenure. What's the risk in drilling a small platform on the 3rd floor ledge?

Maybe I'll keep a composition book by the window and appoint a Minister of Time.

An analog clock

Yep, I got a big, old-fashioned school clock that was almost tossed last year. I kept it in my big box of junk, wrestled out the old battery, scraped off years of battery crud, and now hope to use it in class.

It has a second hand--you can watch your seconds spin away.The minute hand perceptibly moves. "Quarter of" makes sense looking at a handsome clock like this one.

I may hang an abacus next to it.

The Declaration of Independence

I'm betting at least one kid complains--"Hey, that doesn't belong in here, this is science class."

Look at the opening line:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Declaration of Independece, the italics, obviously mine

See, children? You can't be diving into the Declaration without knowing a little something about the laws of nature.

A garden

I've done this every year in just about every class, and owe a huge thanks for all the teachers who put up with it in their classrooms. If you teach in an urban district you owe it to your children to have them plant something, anything.

For me, the raw Goya beans work best--the kids are convinced they won't grow because they come from the grocery store. They grow like weeds. Peas work well, too, and have lovely flowers.

One of my best moments ever in a class was eating a bean from a bean plant grown in class. I explained that the stuff that made up the plant came from the carbon dioxide from our breath. (A collective yech!)

Wheat grows well, too, and can be used to make some flour come harvest time.

The (un)usual menagerie

This is, after all, biology class.

I have been charged with setting up a saltwater tank--if successful, I hope to capture a critter or two from our Jersey shores--the Newark Bay is only a few miles away.

The Drinking Bird photo is from "Best cubicle toys for programmers"here.
The Goya beans from their website.
I figure the Declaration and Alice are public domain.


Unknown said...

I would have liked science so much more if you had been my teacher.

Kathryn J said...

Congratulations on getting your own room! Were you teaching from a cart last year? I like all your ideas but then I'm not an experienced science teacher so I'll just watch and read how it all turns out.

Ben Wildeboer said...

I really like the PlayStation idea. I quickly found that a few simple science-y toys are great at grabbing and engaging some students. You're taking it to the next level, which is nice.

I'm not sure I mentioned it before, but I was inspired to plant some basil seeds with my class last spring while we were talking about the carbon cycle as a result of reading your posts on eating your students' atoms. They loved it. I think I'll try the beans this year too.

As for drilling, go ahead- just don't ask first. :-)

doyle said...

Dear John,

Maybe so, maybe not--the state requires us to cover a lot of ground, and while I get why we need to do this in AP courses, I fear we lose too many underclassmen when we race to cover technology at the expense of deeper understanding.

I bet you were a pip of a student in high school.

Dear Kathryn,

I taught on 3 different floors last year, so the Doyle Mobile spent most of its time parked in the prep room.

I was blessed, though, with an incredible supervisor and a very supportive administration--I got everything I asked for. We're a tad short on lab classrooms because of architectural changes made to satisfy the local historical society when we built the new science wing, and I simply had to wait my turn.

Dear Ben,

Ah, yes, easier to be forgiven than get permission.

I think I'll try basil this year--I like beans because the seeds are big and the kids can see the embryos before they start to grow, but I like the idea of a room smelling like basil.

I'll keep everyone posted on the PlayStation.

Leslie said...

Can I run a lab leading them in making pesto?

Unknown said...

Actually, I was a really bad student. Don't get me wrong, I loved learning and I got along well with teachers. But I earned B's and C's in science and math and A's in English and History, thus leading me to something like a 3.0. So, from the system's perspective, I was an awful student. And, from the perspective of extrinsically motivated teachers I was an anomoly. But to the teachers who seemed to value curiosity and critical thinking, I was someone who mattered.

doyle said...

Dear Leslie,

Sure, but we're not allowed to eat in the lab, and that would be too much of a tease.

Dear John,

Actually, I was a really bad student....But to the teachers who seemed to value curiosity and critical thinking, I was someone who mattered.

Yep, a pip--it's a shame we've come to identify kids who do not fare well in grades as "bad students" when a few have been my best "learners."

(I have to be careful here. It makes me crazy when people assume that all children have innate abilities to "succeed" in school without defining the word. I also want to make it clear that a huge chunk of the kids who get good grades are also curious and bright and excellent "learners"--I just think that the correlation between grades and learning is more tenuous than most think.)

momomom said...

Dill might be good. They know the smell, it is super easy to grow and it smells and tastes like pickles from the get-go. Bonus, dill seed in the spice section of the store probably germinates but super sekrit... I could mail you a ton of seeds. Also bonus, it goes to seed really quickly so you could possibly do a full life cycle. Triple bonus ... swallowtail butterflies can eat in your classroom. Grins.

doyle said...

Dear momomom,

I could've had a V-8! What a great idea--they'll connect it to pickles immediately.

If you send them, I'll use them. Thanks!!!

Barry Bachenheimer said...

All great ideas. Inquiry at its best.

How about adding a suggestion box for students?

doyle said...

Dear Barry,

I like that idea!

In previous years I'd occasionally survey the class during the Do Now--the students anonymously wrote what they liked, what they didn't like, and what they thought worked for them. (Interestingly, the students generally grasped the difference between what they liked and what worked for them.)

Since I'm not floating this year (knock on wood), a suggestion box would be very easy to implement. It's now on the list!

seawiz said...

I use a lot of science toys in my classroom and usually leave it to the students to figure out how the work. Two that are popular with my students are pumice/iron wood (rock that floats and wood that sinks) and a toy called a Tippee Top that is cheap enough you can buy one for each student.

doyle said...

Dear seawiz,

Great ideas!

I've since been thinking about it, and I think I'll add rattlebacks (celt stones) to your ideas.

Keep them coming1