“I trust you”

I utterly failed my AP Chemistry class this past semester. It was my first time teaching it (feels like a lame excuse) and I failed to do basic things.

The test is the point
My eye was not on the prize. Everything in the class should be geared to the test – it’s AP Chemistry. The students are graded based on the AP material; based on their understanding of the identified concepts. The provided curriculum is the vision of the class. I did not cull the information from the book or limit the context of information surrounding various topics, rather, I presented everything as equally important. I did not focus my efforts, much less my student’s efforts, in order to prepare them for that day in May.

The schedule matters
Because of the audit, the entire course was mapped out, every topic and lab scheduled. The problem? It was merely a suggestion, I could make up the time later. See, I can wing it pretty successfully (let’s say I’m flexible). AP is not a class that can be winged. The schedule cannot be viewed as merely a suggestion; it must be adhered to. It is the assurance of a certain amount of preparation each student should expect upon entering the class.

Reviewing is not optional
This is critical. The test is a Big Deal. The students hadn’t seen some of the material since their first chemistry course. I didn’t take the time to help them put everything together, linking concepts and ideas, finding/showing the overlap. A commitment of time is critical to an effective review; critical to a best effort performance by each student.  Teaching and learning of new concepts cannot go to the Friday before.

Practice tests are a must
I did not adequately utilize whole practice tests, simulating the actual AP test. This is really a component of the review I realize.  I used stand-alone tests, comprised of multiple choice and free-response questions; even incorporating the timed nature into the last one.  It’s more a matter of letting the students see what it’s going to be like.

So, as a group of students were discussing their AP scores in various classes, I began speaking with a student enrolled in AP Chemistry this next year.  Lamenting about my failure by discussing what had to change, a shortened version of the above, she responded, “I trust you.”

…what do you add to that?


Becoming More

For all my angst with the Linchpin, Seth Godin makes a very valid point about ‘shipping.’ For those, like me before a few months ago, unfamiliar with ‘shipping:’ it is doing whatever it is we’re typically afraid to do, for whatever reason – fear, failure, fear of failure, etc.

This week I shipped. I shipped three different products. For the first time, I participated in a summer SC2 event, not just as an attendee, but as a presenter. And, for the first time, I wasn’t scared. I don’t mean I wasn’t nervous. Nor was this my first time presenting, I’ve done presentations before (one day conferences: SC2 and virtually with Teachmeet Nashville). This time was different, though. The difference is I didn’t let doubt consume and influence every decision I made about my presentations. I did not stress about each being perfect (they so are not) or needing to be perfect. I wrote down some notes to remind myself of what I had learned using the tools, resources that helped me along the way (primarily people), and shared my mistakes. Each evening, I made mental and timing adjustments to the next day’s presentation based on the previous day’s feedback. More importantly I had fun sharing ideas and techniques I know are valuable, even when my own use is flawed and not where I want it to be, and requiring myself to use a new ‘tool’ for each presentation.


Screencasting Prezi

View the Prezi

This was the first session — just web-based tools and iPad apps to be used to share class notes and/or create short how-to videos. I used Prezi and kept the info brief. As with the rest of the sessions, my goal was to have the attendees spend time doing. I focused time on three of the tools: showme, screencastomatic, and screenr; and had each make a video with two of the three. The discussion after was where I shared links to other people and sites and resources I thought might be beneficial to a first-time screencaster. Not the best presentation out there, but, I was okay with it as a start. As an aside, this session was up against the keynote speaker at the event, Brandon Lutz (60in60), and I was thrilled a few people showed (though I think it’s because his session was full).

Next time, I’d like to include more discussion about how and when to use this tool; the backwards planning behind implementation. It would also be nice, from a purely selfish perspective, to review something like Ramsey Mussallam’s “Explore, Flip, Apply” approach with others and get their take/ideas. Not to mention, rolling out these new videos to students — website? Dropbox? URL via text, email, etc? This needs to be known before beginning.

Tweeting & Blogging

Tweeting & Blogging in Sci


For two reasons, I used Haiku Deck in this session. First, this was not my first presentation on this topic. I gave a presentation over this a little over a year ago at a one-day SC2 event. The focus that time was on the why you should do it and there was no time to get the teachers tweeting and blogging. I didn’t want to get sucked into that again. Haiku Deck forced me to be to the point, get to the essential ideas. Secondly, the aesthetics — choosing a picture to reinforce the words (or vice versa) added to the overall impact.

I did put a few public notes to several of the slides, but did not spend time on those, except in passing, as we moved to setting up twitter accounts, discussing hashtags, and talking through work-arounds due to district limitations. To effectively utilize the power of twitter in class, requires routine. Again, this is one of the shortfalls I find in my own use. As I mentioned (both in the session and here), I use it as a back channel for guest speakers and for movies/videos in class; I also threw a plug in for #scistuchat (the archives of topics was a selling point here) and a quick look at hootsuite and tweetdeck. We did not get to blogging, except to briefly visit blogger, wordpress & kidblog. And, we took a brief amount of time to see Pearltrees (especially with Google Reader going away) for compiling student blog links; the alternate possibility is having them on a website so everyone can access each other’s. The obvious negative for Pearltrees, it’s not an RSS compiler/feed/aggregator thing (my ignorance here is apparent). This also meant we did not have the opportunity to work through the purpose of maintaining the blog. I was able to share some rubrics for tweeting and blogging as well as the contracts I use in my classes, so, parents and students are clear on the expectations associated with these tools.

Next time, these will have to be split into separate sessions. This would allow more time for depth as opposed to the cursory mention of hashtags and back channels. Plus, let people converse about the possibilities they see with Twitter in class. There are a couple of changes in my own use I’m contemplating. Currently, I have students create a new Twitter handle, a ‘professional’ existence online. Yet, since it’s not them exactly, they will lack the benefits of developing a professional digital footprint. The other revolves around my sporadic use, it’s not routine. I’m thinking of coupling it with my bell ringers or as a component of an exit ticket of sorts. As for blogging, actually have time for each teacher to decide what their purpose would be in their classroom, what outcome do they want to see? Should they be an evolving document? An e-portfolio (like Chris Ludwig uses)? Is this best demonstrated through assigned writing? According to Will Richardson, assignments aren’t real blogging, but if a student demonstrates a synthesis of information, an analysis of thought, isn’t that blogging, regardless of the prompt? What about commenting? Community? Audience? These questions could lead to better rubrics, regional partnerships between classes a la quadblogging, and effective use of this tool in each class.

Popcorn Maker

Springpad - Popcorn Webmaker

View the Popcorn Webmaker notebook on Springpad

Okay, so not an expert or even a novice on this. I actually put this down because I wanted to learn to use it. What better impetus than stepping up in front of strangers and colleagues with a tool you know nothing about to force the issue? This time I used Springpad. I wanted something more structured/scaffolded for the presentation, a guided walk. Loved this! It worked exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, one of the attendees wanted to use it as his organizer for his class units – links, videos, note sheets, etc. Plus, I have to admit, Springpad seems to do everything everyone talks about Evernote doing and it’s a lot less intimidating.

As can be seen in the notebook, I showed a before/after video of Beau Lotto’s TED Talk; let them see a finished interactive video; get an idea of what could be done. My goal was to have them leave with two products: a 6 word memoir & an interactive video to be used in class. A bit audacious for the time, however, if all that had gotten finished was the 6 word memoir, I believed each person would be far more likely to do the second one on their own; success breeds success; playing leads to less fear of failure. After this intro, I directed the participants to find a YouTube video they could modify. I had figured most folks would kinda know of a video they used and would tend towards the known, but I included a couple of channels just in case (see the list). This, actually, was a much slower process than I anticipated. The flaw here was placing it in the beginning; this should definitely have been a last step; the step after producing the 6 word memoir. The second hiccup was the google forms Screenr video I included and had them watch. Shouldn’t have done that; should’ve simply referenced it: here’s a quick rundown for creating a google form and you can review it later as needed. While it was only 5 minutes, it was 5 minutes not spent manipulating Popcorn Webmaker. I also needed to push it and the Polleverwhere info to the end to separate the tools for the two product goals I had in mind. This would have provided more time doing, more time making, which was the whole point of the presentation; and was also the most common theme of the feedback I received. Overall, most seemed to take to the possibilities and some needed more guidance, needed to be nudged to mess up and try again. Hopefully, many will play on their own during the summer and/or will introduce it as a project to their students. One of the possibilities for me is to use this to create a narrated claymation video of a playdoh brain. My anatomy class alredy builds the brain, but adding the claymation, narration and interactive video, the project becomes so much more (and I stole that idea from the gal I worked with in the claymation session).

In essence, going in the midst of colleagues, risking rejection, and finding others willing to go down a similar path of discovery was worth it. The best part, overhearing conversations here and there where people were discussing the tools and the possibilities in their classrooms; that people did find something useful. It also was nice to know I wasn’t being completely self-delusional, that helps, too.

[Link to my google.doc with notes and resources; I tend to leave out vowels but it can generally be figured out.]

Linchpin or Doormat?


Absolutely necessary or essential.

necessary – needful – essential – imperative – requisite


The thing we wipe our feet on coming & going

It’s obvious what I’m reading from my title; and yes, I’m a little behind the pop-culture curve.

You can also tell I’m a bit ambivalent. There is a fine line between being a, or the, doer (responsible, reliable, flexible, a linchpin) going the extra mile to do your job well and being used by those that, simply, don’t. Being used is not part of anyone’s job description, but it is the result when colleagues abdicate their duties/responsibilities and expect someone to pick up the slack, effectively purloining the efforts of others. The reason for this is irrelevant. Yet, to allow it more than once, is my fault (shame me once, shame me twice) and the extent I allow it is indicative of the value I place on the work. Getting used tends to cheapen any accomplishment.

While it is also the height of vanity to think any one person is irreplaceable, when I’m not present, I’d like there to be a gap. I’d like my absence to be noted, felt. I’d like to be a contributor, not a space-saver. I also agree with the importance of doing your best and being your best in all situations. The cliche about attitude is everything is paramount to anyone’s ability to overcome obstacles, to persevere through the challenges, to attain the goal or goals set. And, requisite to accomplishing anything: not being afraid to do the little extra required; work is not a dirty four letter word. Lastly, the importance of giving of your time, your self (not your mere presence), and, that giving is not giving if you give to get; gifts should not have strings

My ambivalence also stems from something I can’t quite put my finger on, something disingenuous. It’s an unsettled, skeptical feeling I have after reading the book. If you are giving to the world around you, a true gift without strings, you’re not focused upon yourself. The whole book, though, is about giving and knowing you’ll be rewarded; the whole book is focused upon ‘self.’ Frankly, focusing on yourself tends to leave little room for others. Plus, I don’t really see the insight in writing that craftsmanship will find a niche in the market; I don’t see the insight when ‘capitalism’ is ‘bad,’ but greed is not discussed; I don’t see the insight in disparaging day-to-day work.

I guess, I feel like the message is to create your linchpin status at any cost. You need to be liked, you need to give, you need to be focused on yourself, you need to…whatever. No, you don’t. There should be a line, a mental stop sign, because you do not have to like everyone you work with (or be liked by them…liking is irrelevant) to do a job well and maintain professionalism, because you don’t have to be stepped on and treated like a door mat to create a linchpin status, because several working together for a common goal can usually achieve more than most individuals. I absolutely agree, to do your job well, to do anything well, requires doing more than the minimum. It does require an internal commitment to being more than average and an understanding that doing this work will probably not result in applause. But, it also requires finding the right people to accomplish a task. It requires looking beyond your self to really find the purpose to make a difference.

Leading the Way


Photo by digital_freak

Just spent a weekend in Chicago at the LEAD conference put on through NASSP. It was our first time in Chicago and the students first time at a LEAD conference. As with all conferences, there’s good and bad;  things to aspire to, things to learn from, things to put into action.

Aspiration & Inspiration
Before you can accomplish anything, you have to see it, that ephemeral unreality of a dream, a possibility. To see the possible around you, you must see the possible in you. Quotes abound, but Ghandi’s best summarizes the point of the weekend:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

This was the inspirational backdrop behind the keynote address from Ed Gerety: focusing on being an individual, leading to the value of pursuing your dreams, ending with the importance of promoting this in others. It was a reminder that no one lives in a bubble. A reminder that actions have a ripple effect.

Teaching Action?
Inspiration & aspirations are great, but if these ideas do not become actions, what’s the point? Character isn’t a state of mind. Service isn’t in theory. Good intentions simply do not produce results.

This, from the perspective of the adult, was the biggest disappointment of the conference: the lack of substance. Our group attended sessions on ice breakers, fundraising, club organization and officer training.  And they were pumped and excited by the interaction with the other students from around the country and the speakers, but this exuberance wasn’t leveraged.  There was nothing on how to make a difference.  It’s not that a step-by-step guide needed to be provided, just something that could serve as scaffolding, something related to service learning, something tangible as the source of inspiration.  In essence, lessons learned from successful (& unsuccessful) service projects – what went right and, especially, what went wrong.  How did an individual, a group, make difference?  What groups did they partner with and why?  What did they do to get a whole school to buy-in to a project? How do they choose their projects? How will they build on previous success?

This, for me, represents the shortcomings, a blind spot, in the national organization. Honor society, at its heart, is a service organization. The motto, noblesse oblige, puts the focus wholly on the duty of the fortunate to help those less so. Yet, this aspect, not ignored exactly, is certainly not front & center; it’s an aside, a component certainly, but not the point.

Of course, I do realize I’m tilting at windmills to expect all teenagers in honor society to want to help others, to want to give back, to want to be involved. A few do; most try to do the least required. I do see the irony in having a required number of service hours (thus defining what’s good enough, i.e., the least required) and playing on the desire of most to have this as a line listed in the resume or college application. There is an exclusionary status associated with membership and that, ultimately, is the hook. The carrot to prod action in hopes that awareness is developed and inspiration found and both lead to doing something to change the world for the better.

After all, membership shouldn’t be in name only. Noblesse oblige shouldn’t be an empty motto. Inspiration, though required, isn’t the goal. Good intentions aren’t good enough. A step must be taken, impact must be sought. This, really, is what I’d like to see as the next conference’s focus. Inspire, absolutely; but also teach, discuss, and show how one person, one small group, can make a difference. Make the ideal tangible and more than words only.

Moonwalking with Einstein by Josh Foer

20130118-112342.jpgMemory. Proust wrote a book on it, psychologists & neuroscientists study it, but what is it?

    The Art and Science of Memory takes us on this journey of not discovery, rather one of enlightenment.

Removing a bit of the wizard’s curtain, Josh Foer explains, and has the reader practice, the very skills that enable the world’s best mnemonists to memorize 20+ decks of cards in an hour or poems by heart or 22,000 digits of pi. Feats all the more remarkable today when so many of us rely on our cell phones to know all those phone numbers instead of our own memories.

Yet, it is this “externalization of memory” that the book rails against. Though, not as a Luddite railing against the technopoly, instead as a story teller narrates a bit of our history telling us what we are capable of doing with deliberate practice, reminding us not to forget what makes us unique.

…memory training is not just for the sake of performing party tricks; it’s about nurturing something profoundly and essentially human.

Creativity, the ability to put old ideas together in a new way, requires knowing those old ideas; it requires memory. The very ability to define our place in the world, to know who we are, requires we remember. The heart of what we do and the decisions we make are determined by our experiences, what we know and remember.

Remembering can only happen if you take notice.

Living and learning are not by chance. Though we take pictures and movies to document everything we do, it’s still the memories within the synapses that define who we are, and that is worth remembering.


I started a new book the other day, Moonwalking with Einstein, & after only three chapters I had to put some thoughts to paper.  These are an ad hoc mixture of ideas, some half-formed:

  • Expertise requires memory, knowledge, experience
  • Experts literally remember more, break rule of 7
  • Memorizing used to be expected
  • This was how information was internalized, how it became part of you
  • How to memorize also taught
  • New experience, novel experiences always compared/filtered thru past experience, thru our memories


First, students are not experts as defined thus far, because:

  1. they do not have enough experience;
  2. they are not taught how to remember;
  3. they are no longer expected to remember.

We externalize our collective memory – google, flickr, instagram, phone contacts (when was the last time you remembered a phone number?!).  Does this mean just because I can ‘google’ it, it’s meaningless knowledge and not worth remembering?

I Enjoy My Job

In the midst of tremendous stress Wednesday, I had an epiphany…maybe not so much an epiphany as a mini-revelation: doing my job is stress free.

I had several drop-dead deadlines this day: finish compiling resources for our department LDC rollout, get them copied and delivered to each faculty member so they could start Friday; finalize a week and a half of lesson plans; coordinate & supervise a small group of students implementing a fundraiser (speak with janitors to get tables, rewrite & personalize a sponsorship letter, determine work schedules, create & print flyers, get contact information for different service organizations); coordinate with the other sponsor (Thank goodness for her!) to meet a registration/payment deadline next week for our conference in February and discuss officer & general meetings next week; arrange equipment and materials for two labs this week & three next in Chemistry; get copies of case studies & practice sheets for anatomy; and get the initial equipment/chemicals needing to be ordered for the beginning of the semester to the co-chair in the department. Plus, in spite of my list, I still didn’t get everything done. Aagh! On the upside, I really did get a lot accomplished Monday and Tuesday. Oh, and the final stressor, the reason for this mad three-day dash and the week of lesson plans, the outpatient surgery on Thursday (my first ever & yes, I am apparently a wuss).

All this was on my mind, taking up each spare moment I had, but it would completely disappear when I worked with my students explaining a concept, guiding them thru a problem, speaking to the class or individuals. Simply put, I was relaxed; I was in the flow; I would go as far as to say, it was the most relaxing thing I did during the day.

Not exactly mind-blowing I realize; and yet a reminder I really love what I am paid to do every day. Equally important to me, the real stress from my job is not from my job. As such I need to remember, the other stuff, the extraneous stuff, vying for my attention may need accomplished, but it should not consume my energy and take away what I have in my classroom with my students.