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New Opportunities…a new path in life!

As I begin writing this blog, I have just finished taking my last quiz for my Master’s Degree program in Curriculum and Instruction through the University of Scranton.  When I began looking into degree programs a couple of years ago, I did not know what I wanted to do with my degree.  I knew that I wanted a Master’s Degree, but I was unsure of the route that I was going to take with it.  However, an idea and a dream came to mind when I had the opportunity to attend the NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) International Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.   In other words, I had a reason to go to Pittsburgh besides going to see a Pirates game!

NARST is an organization composed of science education researchers who are dedicated to improving science teaching and learning through research.  While I was there at this conference, I had the opportunity to meet with leading science education researchers throughout the entire world.  The most exciting part was being a part of a community where everyone loves and is as passionate about science education as I am!   I had two experiences here that stuck out to me the most…..

The first was a discussion on the importance of a well-rounded science education for high school students and what constitutes a well-rounded high school science education.  (I don’t know that we will ever have a solid answer to this question.)  While many ideas were drafted as suggestions for high schools to adopt, many high schools have their traditional sequence of high school science classes.  For example, earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics.  While this sequence gives students an opportunity to explore all 4 of these, many students rarely have the opportunity to take all 4 of these classes.   A variety of reasons can be offered as to why many students do not pursue this route of science education, but I listed two of the most popular below.

 

1. Science is a “hard” subject.

2. Students do not have the mathematics background necessary to be successful in Physics and in other mathematical sciences.

When I was at this conference, I learned a stunning fact that only 1/3 of American high school students even have a class in earth science in our country.  Many students are skipping this class now as it is considered to be an easier class compared to biology, chemistry, or physics.  ( a statement made by people that have no background in earth science) That is not an entirely true statement and I can say this from experience.  I have juniors and seniors who initially skip earth science when they enter high school in 9th grade.  However, they may want to avoid AP science courses so then they go back to take earth science as a junior or science.  Some students are still not ready for the conceptual ideas that earth science presents compared to the more lab-based and hands-on ideas that chemistry and biology present.  Again, this is why science should be taught as a process and students should be shown why they are learning the course content and not simply the content of any course that they may be taking.  Furthermore, is there one exact route that all students should take and should we standardize education?  How about getting to know our students and their strengths/interests in order to “prescribe” what the proper courses might be for them?

The other thing that stood out to me was being surrounded by a community of people who were dedicated to improving science education.  While I know that there are many people dedicated to this in the world, it made me think that this could be a route that I could pursue.  I began looking into Science Education degrees and found three programs that I really liked.  However, my Master’s Degree was delayed by a semester so I cannot begin this route during this upcoming academic year.  That does not bother me though.

Bottom line:  We are in a time where focusing on education needs to be a critical subject.  We need people making decisions that are going to be best for the future of our nation.  Thank you for reading.

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I’m back…it has been a long time…

Whew!   First, it has been a busy past several weeks between teaching and break.  I know the students and I were both ready for spring break.  I’ll start off with the top positives then and discuss spring break.  

I did not have the opportunity to see my Binghamton Senators in a long time.  Although, I did choose the wrong game to go to because they lost and did not play so well for the first part of the game over my break.  I was not quite sure what was going on until the end of the game.   If they had played the way that they finished the game, then they would have done much better.  They are a level up from the Elmira Jackals so I did expect a performance that I was used to seeing and even more!   Nothing feels worse then your team losing in a shootout…

I did get the opportunity to also visit with some previous Professors and had the opportunity to see some old friends as well which was nice.  I enrolled in a Common Core workshop at MU for this summer.  I know that Virginia has not adopted the Common Core standards, but it may be coming down the road.   We still live and breathe our SOL’s.  

The Standards of Learning for the state of Virginia in Earth Science are very explicit and the students know what is expected of them in an SOL (Standards of Learning) class prior to taking it.   They are required to pass the SOL and the course in order to receive credit for it towards graduation.  My students are responsible for having a basic knowledge of:  Maps, Astronomy, Meteorology, Oceanography, and Geology.   So, how do we accomplish this?

Earth Science is a course where a lot of what students learn about is phenomena that they interact with every day and it affects their daily lives.   Although, I do have some students who tell me that earth science has nothing to do with the real world.  I enjoy utilizing a variety of instructional strategies to engage my students in learning.   Science is definitely a subject that an instructor can do that with.   

Also, how can you make the information that you are teaching relevant to your students’ lives?  How about allowing students to complete laboratory experiments dealing with the topic of instruction?   Ninth graders definitely are not able to handle lecture for 45 minutes every day.  Laboratory experiments allow you to seek higher levels of understanding of subject matter as well.   This would be the ability to answer questions that are of Synthesis, Evaluation, Analysis, and Application level.   Knowledge and Comprehension are important in Bloom’s Taxonomy, but it is often helpful to allow students to discover a new scientific idea and then ask more questions about it in order to develop a deeper understanding.

Consider the following question:

Which of the 4 terms listed below does not belong and why?

Cementation

streak

Silicates

ore

I did get some decent responses to this that had some thought put into them and some that did not.   Can you guess out of the 4 statements below which ones had very little thought?

“Ore because it is the shortest word.”

“Cementation because it is a process dealing with the formation of sedimentary rocks.”

“Cementation because it deals with rocks.”

“They all belong because they all deal with Earth Science.”

I always tell my students that there are multiple correct answers to a question like this.  Several of them do have learned helplessness though and they fear giving a “wrong” answer.   I will grade a question like this based upon how they support their answer.  Questions like these can increase student engagement because they encourage higher levels of thinking and it allows the students to inform and communicate their knowledge.  It also shows me their level of understanding on a particular concept.

After introducing these new concepts, we began looking at the Fossil Record and how rocks/fossils provide us with evidence to earth’s 4.6 billion year history.  Nothing is better than having students provide a comment in class that has nothing to do with instruction.  “I have a question for you, Mr. Collins…I really love hiking and listening to wildlife and seeing all of them their wildlife, but man I can’t stand listening to those birds singing outside the window.”   (I think  she contradicted herself a tad bit in that statement.)   Another one that I enjoy is students who are surprised at the fact that they will do math in science class.   I had informed them that we would be doing Absolute Dating tomorrow.  (The 2nd section in Historical Geology.)   

“So Mr. Collins, why are we going to do math in history class?”

I kindly informed the student that they were not in history class and that we would be looking at how geologists come up with approximate ages of earth and fossils.  

I suppose I’ll end this on a positive note.  (well 2)

1. One month until state testing!

2. Less than 2 months until summer vacation!

“My brain has great porosity because I can soak information up real well Mr. C.”  

I have great kids!

 

2012-2013 School Year Part 1 of 4

The first 1/3 of my 2nd year as an Educator is now over.   We just submitted grades for our 2nd six weeks and I fight the same battles that my fellow coworkers do.   I ponder several questions when grading:

 

Did I even teach this material?

Were my kids even in the room when I did teach the material?

 

I get my share of rather interesting answers on tests and quizzes as do my fellow educators.   I have students who think that the brightest star in the sky is the moon.   I also have students who think that our atmosphere is made up of 90% Helium.   (I guess this is why they think some of their peers talk funny.)   We then proceeded to discuss composition of the atmosphere in more detail when we discussed what gases  make up Earth’s atmosphere.   Anyone who taken an Earth Science class would have heard that our atmosphere is made up of approximately 78% Nitrogen and 20% Oxygen.   I always tell my students that these numbers should add up to approximately 100% as they will fluctuate some from measurement to measurement.   They are required to write the 3 most abundant gases and their percent by volumes into a chart.   (Memorize them.)   I don’t usually require students to memorize as I prefer them to learn and understand the material.  There is a difference in my opinion.  My students would fill in this chart and give me some of the following answers:

80% Carbon Dioxide, 1% Oxygen, 50% Nitrogen   

95% Carbon Dioxide   75% Oxygen 20% Water Vapor

I find a little trouble with the facts that several of my students feel our atmosphere is composed mainly of a greenhouse gas.   

Now that I have voiced a few frustrations that occur as result of grading papers……let’s examine some other aspects in the 9-12 Science classroom.  It can often be entertaining when you get to hear what some of your students think of you.   Here are some selected quotes:

 

“What a great guy….I learn so much….faveeee teacher!”

“Oh my god, Mr. Collins is the best!   I never get bored in his class.”

“Mr. Collins is so rude to us.  He tells us that we aren’t allowed to talk while he is.”

“Mr. Collins…he just loves his job oh so much…makes me kinda like going to science class for once in my life…..”

“Mr. Collins is so ridiculous….I don’t see what the big issue is with sleeping in homeroom and during notes.  It should be your choice whether or not you want to pay attention in class.   He can’t tell us to wake up.”

 

This year has been interesting so far.  The one thing that I enjoy this year is that I get to end my day with my most enthusiastic class.   This class is always engaged in what I am teaching and always listens.   They pose responses to my questions and they ask questions purely out of curiosity!    My dream class so to speak!   They are a great group.   Although, my morning class do not speak.   It is like pulling teeth to get them to talk and answer questions.    There is a cure to this problem.    I always use popsicle sticks.   I wrote all of their names on a popsicle stick and put them in a coffee can.   I just draw names and call on people randomly as I ask questions.   It seems to work.  =)

 

Stay tuned for Part 2….

4 days until Thanksgiving Break!

Final Exam Week

This week is our last week of school.   This also marks the ending of my first year of teaching!  I gave a End of Year Survey that asked the students for the opinions of my class this year and how they think this class could be improved to prepare next year’s students for their state test.  

Q:  What is one thing that you think could be improved about this class next year?

I’ll share some selected student responses.

“Don’t assign so much work…we are high school students not college studs.”   (a female student wrote this)

“You are very nice and hardcore in the classroom.   You love your Earth Science and you made me luv it too.”

“Way too much homework good lord don’t be shy to lighten up”

“You were mean this year…do you have any smiling muscles?”

“Don’t give us so much work…students will like you more.”

“You really kept our class in line this year.”

“I feel like a geologist because you made me live, eat, and breathe your class this year.”

“too many worksheets got tired of doing the work so i stopped”

I hope you enjoyed some of these responses as much as I did.   I am interested to see how the rest of this week goes.   Grades have been finalized for Periods 1-3.   I’ve got my 5th period exam tomorrow.  I just hope the students show up to take it….

Crunch time….SOL Review!

Virginia, like most other states, gives state exams for most core classes.   I teach two different classes this year which are Ecology and Earth Science.  Ecology studies the relationships of organisms with their environments.  These students do not have to take a End of Year Standardized Test.  While the other class is doing review, we began a two-week long project this week where the students will design a zoo.  I explained the requirements of this Zoo Project and they are excited to do it.   They are required to design a zoo where they must have at least 15 animals in their zoo.  I had them start brainstorming in class today and they had to start coming up with the list of animals that they were going to have in their zoos today.  I had to explain to them that they could not simply have a bear in their zoo.   They had to tell me exactly what kind of bear they were going to have in their zoo.  The ultimate goal with this project is to end this course with them and tie up all the loose ends.  I want them to connect ideas that we learned early this year with ideas that we have learned throughout the year.   They must group the animals in their zoos according to biomes.  They also have to come up with at least 5 ecological relationships between the animals in their zoos and describe them.  They were also informed that any terms that are used in their projects must be defined.   Those are minor details of the project.   If you are interested, I can send you more details.

Earth Science has been doing some other activities for the past week and a half.  They have been reviewing their End of Year SOL (Standards of Learning) Test.  We began with reviewing parts of an experiment and the difference between a theory and a law.  My students struggle with understanding the difference between a theory and a law.  They understood it once I compared it to baseball though!   I told them to imagine that they are stepping up and it is their turn to bat.  I told them to imagine that they hit the ball so far, but they could still see it land.  They know the whole story of what happened to that ball and I told them that this is much like a law.   We have gone so far with this idea and now we know the entire “story.”  For example, we know that for every force there is an equal and opposite reactive force.  This will NEVER change.   This has been proven 100%.  On the flip side of the coin, you can also hit the ball so far and you do NOT see where it lands.   In this example, we have gone very far with the idea, but we have not proven it 100%.  We have a good idea of what happend (the direction that the ball headed), but we do not know the whole story.   This is much like a theory.   We have an explanation for the phenomenon, but we are not there 100%. 

We then moved into reviewing Cartography and how to read Topographic Maps.  The students love looking at the topographic maps and seeing the aerial photographs that I have.   Astronomy was next and has so many misconceptions that are so difficult to conquer.  Students struggle with understanding the difference between rotation and revolution.   I always explain to them the difference with time.   The 24 hour process that Earth takes when it spins on its’ axis is known as rotation.  The 365.25 day process that is Earth’s yearly trip around the sun is revolution.  (when one body orbits another body)  They have heard this so much this year that they answer my next question before I even ask it.  Why do we have a leap year every 4 years?   Well, we have to account for that extra 1/4 of a day.  

My favorite was yesterday!   I love teaching Meteorology the most.   My students know how much I like looking at weather maps and my obsession with Coriolis.  (It’s an inside joke.)  We will finish all new material by tomorrow.  This is having a look at Geologic Time again and interpreting rock diagrams to determine relative and absolute age.  My students were doubly thrilled for their 40 minutes of Groundwater Review today!   I am still looking for ways and methods of teaching for my students that will help them with understanding material.   I can be 30 years into my career and this will never change.   Stay tuned for next week!

Spring Break and the week back!

This first year of teaching is moving right along.   I enjoy it most days and no day is ever the same.   I am going to catch up on a few things with this post today.   We got to spend ten days off from school this month on Spring Break.   It was a great relaxing break and I got to spend it with friends in Northern PA and also got to see some former College Professors.  It was great to also get to spend some time with family as well.

I began my week with wrapping up the Fossil Record with students after break.   We were studying the importance of index fossils in my Earth Science classes.   It was great to get them engaged in learning by looking at fossil samples and interpretation of diagrams among groups.  I had them learn to determine the approximate age of some rock layers by looking at the organisms that had fossils inside a particular layer of rock.  The students enjoyed looking at the samples and they were using Critical Thinking skills without even realizing it!    We continued the week with a few quick ideas of Virginia Geology.  I took a break from using Powerpoint to give notes on this unit.   I used a website (prezi.com) to do this instead.   This is a great website and resource to use if you are looking to jazz up your powerpoints some more!   Teachers and students can use this website for free.  This was the last bit of material that my students needed for their SOL (Standards of Learning) Test for Earth Science that they will take on May 8th.  We began reviewing today and we went back to Day 1 of my last class from last August.   We reviewed how to identify parts of an experiment, read graduated cylinders, steps of the Scientific Method, and how to perform density calculations.  I was surprised that some of my students still struggle with these topics.  These are topics that they have studied since 6th grade and every year that they have taken Science.  I gave 4 questions (Previously Released by the State) as an exit slip today.  Most of my students told me they guessed on them and that is why they did poorly.   They will not be happy when I remind them on Monday that I take Exit Slips as grades for accuracy. 

My Ecology classes began their study of Air Pollution this week.  We always begin units in this class with a Case Study.  This time we looked at a Case Study involving Donora, PA.  I showed my students pictures of the pollution and I asked them to make estimates of the time of day that they thought the pictures were taken.  They couldn’t believe how dark it was and the pollution at 12 PM.  We then looked at an online program for 2 days called Smog City.   This is definitely a website to check out because it shows how several variables can effect Air Pollution.  My students completed these as online labs and I could not believe some of the answers that they gave me.  

Q:  Name one variable that YOU can control that can reduce Air Pollution in your town.  

A:  the number of clouds in the sky

A;  I would make the wind stop blowing

My kids wanted to argue a case for these answers today in class when I asked them about it.  It was nice to wrap the week up with an Acid Rain activity.   I asked them to complete a graphing activity where they created graphs from data that I gave them in two charts.   My students were looking at the charts and created two line graphs based upon data of pH levels that were taken once a year for 10 years from two lakes.  I am interested in seeing these graphs come in on Monday.  I am hoping they remember and followed the directions that I have been giving them all year about proper presentation of data.  

My big positive is that it is Friday!  

Wow…it’s been awhile!

Mr. Collins has had quite an interesting past couple of weeks and even since the 2nd semester started after Christmas break!   I have decided to revamp my teaching for this new unit on Groundwater.   My past unit that I just completed with Earth Science was on Stream Development and Surface Water.   It was tough to find new resources and activities to do on this.   I did not teach that unit the way I had preferred because I love to do labs and incorporate hands-on learning.  There was just no labs to do in my school on this topic.  

I am very excited for my new unit on Groundwater that is going to continue tomorrow.  We began the unit today with doing a couple of activities.   We read a play today about Groundwater (called a Reader’s Theatre) if you are talking Differentiated Instruction.  It had students take on the roles of Sinkholes, Caves, Limestone, and Wells.   The students were most amused in every class by the students who got elected to play the role of Porosa.  If you are interested in seeing this, please let me know and I’ll post the link for you.  

We also did an activity to model an aquifer.   I had the students use sand, soil, and gravel to build a model of an aquifer.   In the first cup, I had students put a layer of sand on bottom, gravel in the middle, and soil on the top. Lets back up for a minute though… I had students who thought that the gravel was bird feed which I don’t quite understand why.  

In the second cup, I had students put soil in the middle, gravel on top, and sand on the bottom.   Students were supposed to fill this cup with water until there was an inch of gravel that had no water, but the sand soil was to be saturated.   It was such a teachable moment today when after introducing the vocabulary then the students started identifying the parts of an aquifer and labeling them on their cups without being asked too.   Students also engaged in discussion to discuss where the water table was and the Zone of Aeration.  It was also wonderful to know that students were so engaged in discussion that I tripped over my chair and none of my students even noticed.   I expected at least a giggle from one student in this class.

Now, for my Ecology classes.   We are taking on Environmental Science topics in specific for the rest of this year.   We are starting a brand new unit today–this is also the unit that the students are most excited for!!   We started Solid Waste Disposal today aka Garbage!  Our first job today was to watch a video on the Ogallala Aquifer which was to give the students some awareness on how this Aquifer is not being recharged at the same rate in which water is being withdrawn from it.   After we finished with my 12th graders having a fascination over the word “Ogallala”, we were then able to have a discussion of problems with Groundwater before getting into Garbage.  I am looking forward to their response to this Gooey Garbage activity after we do our notes on Solid Waste tomorrow.   

This first year becomes more interesting day after day!   Sometimes you really are left speechless….Stay tuned for Mr. Collins’ tales of Scientific Investigation next week!