Do I SpongeBob My Teaching??

A question to ask and think about. 

And what do I mean by Spongebobbing?

 

The downfall of western civilization. Thanks Nickolodeon for the picture and the trauma.
 
My sister and I had this thing about how Spongebob SquarePants was so crazy, so jam-packed with nonsense in twenty-two minutes (that never was tied to an actual plot), no wonder we had symptoms of ADHD if we binge-watched it as kids. It was like feeding a kid a bunch of pre-workout and then forcing them to sit still. 

We talk a lot in education about twenty minute increments. This seems to be the magic number in high school, the maximum time to focus on one thing. (I’m looking for the link right now, but didn’t find what I was looking for! Wikipedia has an article that links to a book. Also Time magazine says attention span is less now.) 

I try to stick to the twenty minute rule with notes. Next year I’m going to try incorporating notes with labs, but for now, they’re the easiest way to deliver concrete information. 

However, I don’t stick with the twenty minute rule with much else. I know! I’m terrible. But here’s why:

  1. A lab usually has multiple parts, so it’s not like twenty minutes is on one task or question like notes are. 
  2. Students often wouldn’t finish what I wanted them to do. (The only kids able to finish the three or so activities I had planned would be my fastest kids anyways.) 
  3. The day became so jam-packed that I felt harried and stressed, and I’m sure the kids felt it too. 
  4. I’m not sure that constantly moving the students through activities is the best for most of them. 

I understand the bell-to-bell idea (teaching and moving constantly from beginning of class to the end), but I actually prefer a “warm-up” and “cool-down” period. Maybe it’s the weightlifter background in me. I think students need time to process, to sit, to stare off for a bit, especially if I have them for 90 minutes every other day. I’ve been doing only one or two activities a day for this semester, and so far it’s gone much better. I feel less stressed, my students seem to act less stressed, and we’re able to fully process and complete meaningful activities. 

Obviously I have the advantage of being a science teacher, but I’d be curious to know what others think! 

Lessons a Teacher Learned From Finding Nemo

Today is the day before spring break, and our school has a track meet, various field trips, and students jetting off early. We already tested on evolution, and are going to begin Taxonomy and Viruses when we get back (something about that week in the sun means that any attempt at teaching the day before will only result in blank stares when the students get back!). Soooo I decided to let the students watch Finding Nemo for a few reasons:

  1. We learned that clownfish have unusual (to us) gender determination.
  2. I can reference the animals in the ocean later during taxonomy.
  3. It’s also great for seeing evolution and adaptations to different environments.
  4. Plus it’s just fun.
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If you haven’t seen it in a while, the movie is worth it alone for Mr Ray’s handling of mega-awkward situations. Image courtesy of Pixar.

One thing I love is Mr Ray at the beginning of the movie! He’s so easy-going and is a great example of teaching through hands-on experience. I think most of us teachers would love to teach like him. If you want examples of how to teach little kids like how he teachers the little fishies, I highly recommend Growing Up WILD from Project Wild. I’ve even sneaked in some of the lessons for my high schoolers (is sneaked the right word there?).

Not only that, but I’m surprised how much I’ve become terribly misty-eyed at parts of the movie. I mean, it’s really dusty today.

What Am I Throwing Away? (Wasteless Experiment)

Now that I have an idea of where I want to focus for “experimentation” in my classroom with my technology next year, I’ve decided to write out some stuff I’ve thought through.

1. What am I throwing away?
I bet a look through my trash would be similar to other teachers. Random papers I ordered too many copies of. A chocolate bar from when I got really hungry. A Coke from when I really needed caffeine. Some disinfecting wipes (it’s a classroom, and a science one at that, so you can imagine how gross it gets!). Random rooibos tea bags.

What’s the solution to this?

  1. Stop ordering so many copies. This is hard because we do want a cushion in case students lose work. However, do you really need to order a whole number just because it’s easier to type in or remember? In addition, I could do things like make sure the students tape their work in right away (we use interactive notebooks in science), or move the labs online. Moving the labs online ultimately results in less paper waste. (Also, pro tip to new teachers: when a student says they don’t have their paper, there’s a 90% chance that the paper is just stuffed in their backpack or notebook.)
  2. Actually bring snacks to work. Preferably something that isn’t in plastic wrap that I just throw away.
  3. Use a spray bottle of a vinegar cleaner, and cloth, to wipe down tables. Sure, I’d have to take the cloth home to wash it, but that’s not really a big deal, and it’d cut down on all the little Clorox wipes.
  4. I could probably compost the rooibos tea with the Environmental Studies teacher. At one point I was drinking coffee during the day (really not the best idea for someone with barely functioning adrenals), and I gave her all of the coffee grounds. I had a great system! I used this coffee filter (which is great because it’s a permanent filter and also crazy cheap) and bought coffee at HEB and just used my electric kettle. It’s not plastic free in the least, but sometimes I want indestructible plastic in a tiny room with 30 teenagers.

What are the students throwing away?
So much food. SO MUCH FOOD. One of my coworkers has a rule that students may only eat whole foods, and I may institute that or not allow food in my class at all. If I have to pick up one more Cheeto off the floor (for breakfast! Love teenagers!) I may actually go crazy. Random pieces of paper tend to be the second biggest thing.

Solutions

  1. Kids have to eat. This is what I’ve heard, anyways. Now, they really shouldn’t be eating in class, but sometimes they didn’t have time for breakfast, etc. The “whole foods” option seems like a good idea, and I know that the elementary schools are very strict about this.
  2. Make sure the students are using the recycling bin. Another way to reduce plastic is to only allow water in my classroom, which is again something I really should be doing already, since it’s carpeting and science. Side story: Once I accidentally left my water bottle in the lab in college — I think they basically lit it on fire (we were doing E. coli testing that day).
  3. Paper that goes in the trash can also be encouraged to be put in the recycling bin. Some of the paper was actually supposed to be taped into their journals which makes me sad/crazy. I had this dream at the beginning of the year that the last few minutes of class would be the “Cool down” where students would tape their work in their journals, blah blah blah…as you can see this goal clearly did not get accomplished.
  4. Finally, again back to the laptops. Next year I’m going to have a group of volunteers with online versions of the interactive notebook and I’m going to see how that goes. I imagine that online INBs will have to be voluntary for a few years, but with the reduction in homework outside of class, I can see more of my students able to do it. I also speculate that most classwork will be a fusion of an INB and online, especially because most students seem to do so well with handwriting notes compared to typing them, and I like to take “computer sabbaticals” every once in a while.

Lessons A Teacher Learned From Star Wars Episode I: A Phantom Menace 

I decided I needed to watch Star Wars again after reading Angry Staff Officer’s brilliant Center For Galactic Lessons Learned article. Since I only know the military from a “living on base” view and I’m only a Jedi in my heart, I decided to write what I knew.

How badly the Jedi screwed up teaching someone like Anakin Skywalker and led him straight to the dark side.

I’m literally the best pedagogist on the planet. Or Galaxy.

I realized a big issue early on: the only true dealings in Star Wars with education are found in a few movies. Episode I is predominant. The worst movie of them all! But I decided to watch the movie. For all of us. For science. For the children.

Let’s take each lesson from each person and their style of teaching, shall we?

Qui Gon Jinn

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That teacher who probably had a “The Dude” bobblehead in his room. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
I kinda hate starting with Qui Gon because he was really the best. Qui Gon took a direct approach with teaching. He did not sugar-coat anything. If he disagreed with Obi Wan, he told him. (BTW, are they from the same planet of naming?)

When we first meet Qui Gon and Obi Wan, Obi Wan immediately starts with the classic line “I have a bad feeling about this.” First of all: way to play your trump card early, Lucas. Second, Qui Gon zings Obi Wan pretty well:

“I sense something bad.”
“I don’t sense anything.”

I’m gonna call this the Doug Lemov style of teaching, where it’s okay for your student to be wrong, and you help them understand how they’re wrong and how to change their answer.
(Oh, Obi Wan was right, but I think they both knew that.)

Qui Gon also was the only one who had a normal reaction to Anakin. I don’t think he ever mentioned to Anakin himself that Anakin was “the chosen one”. Everyone else sure did mention it, like a billion times before the prequels were over. It’s the same as telling your students how smart they are. Evidence today shows that it’s best to emphasize hard work, and not smarts.

Furthermore, Qui Gon was always straight with Anakin, like Obi Wan, whenever he asked questions, whether it was those stupid midichlorians or whether his mom was freed from slavery. Qui Gon did not beat around the bush, and I  believe the Jedi wouldn’t have been killed off completely if more had been direct like him (especially with regards to the Original Trilogy). One might make the argument: “Wait! But Qui Gon died!” Yeah, he did. But I don’t think the Jedi would have been in as much danger of being completely wiped out or of random Jedi running into Sith Holocrons and falling to the dark side as much.

Obi Wan Kenobi

Masterobiwan
The teacher that barely survived his first year, did pretty well for a few years, and then just waited for retirement. Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Obi Wan in The Phantom Menace reminds me of my first year of teaching when I went to trainings in student management. We learned that the human brain does not finish development until the late twenties, and so as someone who may be in your early to mid-twenties, you were allowed a few moments where you’d slip up and go back to “lizard brain”.

Obi Wan is in the lizard brain a lot. He’s pretty brash, but that’s probably why Anakin trained well with him and worked well with him during the Clone Wars. He was a straight shooter and wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was, but also seemed to have more respect for the Jedi Council than Qui Gon did. (Qui Gon probably was that teacher who received the lesson plans everyone else was doing, and quietly threw them in the recycling bin before doing his own thing, and yet getting better grades than everyone else.)

Obi Wan would probably be that teacher that hates, HATES!, going to professional development. He does it anyway and dutifully takes notes — but never actually applies anything, preferring to go by intuition. This seemed to work better as a younger man. As Obi Wan became older and set in his ways, he because pretty annoying and ineffective. He never told Luke anything straight, preferring to go the Yoda way rather than the Qui Gon way. As others have pointed out, this meant that Luke made brash decisions that were the opposite of what Yoda and Obi Wan preferred. Obi Wan mentioned in Episode IV that Yoda was his master, not Qui Gon, and you can really see it in how he trained Luke over how Anakin was trained. The emphasis on feelings meant that facts were blindly ignored. The older Obi Wan would have been that teacher that never bothered to go to trainings because he was too old, darnit! If he did, he would have been that annoying teacher in the middle of a training on, say, CPR, arguing about student feelings that ends up taking 30 minutes of time (and everyone else is annoyed).

Yoda

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Everyone is really wondering what this guy is on, and also why he can’t control a class of twenty students. Image courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
I’m going to get in trouble for this — I don’t like Yoda’s style of teaching. Yoda would be a great college professor or someone training a person in a field they’re already familiar with. In other words, Yoda would be a great mentor, not teacher. He’d also be the gifted/talented program director.

Yoda will never, ever give you a direct answer. Yoda would be that teacher where you asked them about Pythagorean theorem, and they spend an hour talking about how math is inherently flawed because 2/3 = .6666666 but 3/3 = 1. That’s great if you’re taking a post-grad class on mathematics and reality, but not great if you’re 12 years old and already hate math.

(In case you’re wondering, I’ve been in that exact situation I just described above.)

Overall Critique

Gifted/Talented Programs

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This test was probably developed by the US Army in the 1950s and school districts keep using the test for reasons literally no one remembers. Image Courtesy Lucasfilm, Ltd.
As I watched the movie for the first time in years, I tried to remember how they tested Anakin to see his “giftedness”. There were two methods:

  1. The straight shot measure of how many midichlorians were in his system.
  2. The test where Anakin predicted what Mace Windu had on his tablet.

The straight measurement is akin to an IQ test, with higher numbers correlating to higher giftedness. We know now that it is possible for someone to be incredibly smart but not be “gifted” and we also know the opposite. There’s also a lot of evidence that what constitutes “giftedness” is defined differently from one culture to another. Giftedness seems to be just one of those things that people are able to point to but not describe. There’s also schools that refuse to allow older students to move into the gifted program — if you didn’t qualify as a child, or you weren’t tested in your old school district, forget it. Obviously you’re not gifted and we don’t want you in the program.

This is what Anakin faced. He went through very difficult life circumstances and overcame them — his mother gambled, they were enslaved, he engaged in risky behavior, he lived in a place that had a terrible school district… the list goes on. The Jedi Council simply refused to even consider that Anakin might be gifted in the force simply because he was older than the traditional Jedi student from a cushy planet (I am looking at you, Coruscant!).

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Meet your new principal and vice principal. The school has been on the failing list for over 60 years and still hasn’t been shut down! Image courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd. 
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Gifted/Talented data from New York City. Source: WSJ
The fact is that this is something many of our students face in America, on Earth. There’s even been entire feel-good movies created to show how people have underestimated someone but been proven wrong. Unfortunately, this was not the case for Anakin.

Anakin was basically forced into the program by Qui Gon’s dying wishes, and was trained by a very new teacher when he probably needed a teacher with more background and experience to deal with his unique challenges. Would Obi Wan truly be able to teach him all of the background skills that Anakin had never learned while stuck on a backwater, ahem, backdesert, planet in the Outer Rim? Doubtful. In a school such as this, where each student got their own Master, I’m confused as to why Anakin would be stuck with Obi Wan, apart from the fact that it was George Lucas controlling the strings.

Common Curriculum and Training

I am not sure what curriculum the Jedi have (I’m sure my next post will be a snarky look at what a Professional Development training looked like for the Masters).

However, Episode II showed that the younger children were often in classes with others their own age. We can assume that the Jedi follow the same style as American public schools: conveyor belt, age-based style of learning.
We also assume that there are many things that the Masters must teach, and there are many things that the Masters are not supposed to teach — much of what the Sith love, they lord over the Jedi (“It’s not something you’d learn from a Jedi,” is essentially what  Palpatine told Anakin rather smugly in Episode III).  Since the Jedi were working with some pretty woo-woo stuff, I’m sure this led students to be very, very curious about what they weren’t being taught. In the Legends, there’s these objects called “Sith Holocrons” that contain Sith knowledge, somewhat like those screaming books at Hogwarts in Harry Potter. Unlike Hogwarts, the Jedi tried to pretend like these didn’t exist — they didn’t try exposing the students to the knowledge with matter-of-fact “This is what your face looks like on Sith knowledge” but they presented it as something bad, taboo.

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This is your face on Sith knowledge. Wait, no! That’s supposed to be bad! Come back!!! Image courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.
The Jedi focus on good/evil meant that a good majority of Jedi probably felt stifled by the strict rules and hierarchies. Many seemed to completely trust the Republic to a fault, to where they were completely overtaken by Stormtroopers and acted completely surprised — despite supposedly having such keen senses that they could detect when something was wrong. The Jedi emphasis on not being the first to strike meant that few had diverse abilities or initiative, even with the fancy lightsaber tricks on display in the prequels (which actually only seemed to be those Jedi that worked as “field agents”). The only Jedi who were left were the ones who were able to easily hide and those who did not trust just anyone with a blaster and a clearance card. The failure to teach Jedi essential skills beyond the Academy meant that very few had the ability to live without the Republic or the Jedi Order, thus preserving knowledge for future times.

Summary

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If the Jedi had focused more on teaching students basic skills and being more inclusive (something most organisms in the Galaxy seemed to have an issue with throughout the movies), they wouldn’t have had their most promising pupil fall away to the Dark Side. If they were going to treat being a Jedi like the exclusive organization it was, they should have focused less on pedagogy and more on teaching each individual student at a pace for that student (like apprenticing back in the old days, but without the punishment for running away).

Instead, bureaucracy meant that there was a large organization of individuals expected to follow very strict rules that caused the entire organization to fall within one evening. By pairing each teacher better with each student, and making sure teachers followed protocol with each student, we could have avoided issues like Luke having zero knowledge of things that ended up being very important for him to know.

Interestingly, many of the issues facing the Jedi are also issues faced by teachers in modern day education, and most of us would do well to reflect on why that is.

Post script: a kind friend said that this sounds like I either hate my job or George Lucas. It’s definitely the latter! I’ve enjoyed poking fun at the nonsense of the plot holes in the Prequels, and also making fun of the classic teacher tropes we have all experienced. But no, I don’t hate my job. 

Experiment: Paper waste in the classroom

All I needed to order for my next unit (taxonomy and viruses) were the reviews and scantrons. This is a significant reduction in paper waste. I would love to get it to where the only things I am throwing away are food and the occasional recycling, with nothing else in the trash.

Scantron might be a reserved special name. Don’t sue me.

Most everything can be put online now. There’s this big thing called SAMR, with the idea that you don’t want to Substitute, but think higher level with technology. I am all for that but also all for saving trees. A lot of my activities are pretty high-quality already. SAMR model

I’m doing a really big, somewhat complicated idea for moving online next class, with Google Drawing and all of that. I don’t know if it’s redefinition, but I think it’s pretty in line with what I’d do as a scientist. If I were a scientist measuring pinto beans.

I won’t even be here tomorrow! I’ll be at a training on Animal and Plant Systems.

 

Steffanie’s (accidentally) Gluten Free Fried Okra

A week ago my friends and I went to Hoover’s Soular Food and we noticed that the fried okra was coated in flour before frying. One of my friends has gluten intolerance and the other Celiac’s, so both were kind of sad. That’s when I realized that the recipe my mom and I use to make fried okra uses no gluten at all. Here’s the recipe:

You need:

  • cast-iron skillet
  • mesh cover (at HEB)
  • peanut oil
  • cornmeal (I use Lamb’s brand)
  • salt
  • okra
  1. Fill the skillet with peanut oil and start to warm the oil. Put the skillet cover on to prevent any oil from popping up onto you. 
  2. Slice up the okra. Smaller okra is better. The bigger the okra, the more it loses its flavor, so you have to watch out when you grow it!
  3. Pour cornmeal and some salt (a few pinches) in a bowl and put the sliced okra in the cornmeal. Shake up the okra so that it is coated in the cornmeal.
  4. Once the peanut oil is hot, put okra in and cover again. When the okra is cooked (I like a little bit of brown for crunch), put the cooked okra on a paper towel-covered plate. 
  5. Repeat this until all the okra is fried. 
I recommend only putting a small layer of okra in the oil at a time for cooking. Too much okra can lead to some okra being overcooked, and some not being cooked enough. I like to use a spoon with slots in it to drain the oil when I scoop out the cooked okra.
I have to warn you, this okra recipe is delicious! It’s almost like eating French fries or something. The crispy corn with the crunchy okra makes it sooo addictive.