Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Greek Letter Posters

My Physics students are fascinated with the greek letters.  The idea that we can borrow letters from another alphabet seems fascinating to them.  They take time to practice how to draw these letters, as if they were young, learning to write the letter "R" for the first time.  Or the letter "Q".  Or my favourite - low case "q."

We've talked about the vastness of Physics and the need for my variables and the history of Physics as a study done by scholars in Latin and Greek, and the early connection of education of this nature with the church.  Seems talking about Greek letters has led to all sorts of interesting conversations.

And so for the sake of intrigue - I've decided to put the greek alphabet up on my classroom wall.  At bare minimum, it will be fun.  And my hope is that it will spark many more interesting conversations!

Because I couldn't find anything I liked, I decided to make my own using InDesign.  So if you, too, are looking for a matching set to post on your classroom wall - look no further!  They all look like the one in the image above.  Just download the zip file here to get all 24 glorious greek letter posters.  My gift to you!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Dose of Vitamin N

After a few years of seeing advertisements and being curious, I decided to spend my most recent professional development day at an event hosted by Grouse Mountain.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I did know was that there was a possible field trip opportunity and I thought I would explore it in depth.  What I ended up was a much greater lesson.

The event, free to registered teachers, started off with a Skyride to the top of the mountain, and the best views I could imagine.  Despite being a local, I had never been up to the top of Grouse Mountain, and now I feel like I've been missing out my whole life.  Starting off in the cold, foggy, damp base, we quickly rose through the clouds and above them, to a world were the trees are green an the sun is shining.  British Columbia truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I was then greeted by the crisp, fresh, mountain air, a muffin, and some information on the field trip opportunities.

We entered the theatre and listened to three different guest speakers, one from Grouse Mountain about the educational opportunities, one from the Veterinarian, talking about the wildlife in the area, and of course, the grizzly bears, and one from a lady from Metro Vancouver.  Her message was clear - kids need more vitamin "N" - NATURE!  She went on to talk about the benefits of getting outside - how kids who play outside are healthier, happier, more intelligent, have better self-esteem, are more creative and the list goes on.  There is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by spending more time in the outdoors.  She was able to give a list of tools to how this could be done on your school property and in your neighbourhood.  Learning, observing, hearing, watching, smelling - engaging your senses and you walk, sit, stand or lie on the earth is so important for our students.  Somehow I think I forgot this.  How many of us spend the entire day inside?  Every day?  All Year?  As a high school science teacher there is so much to explore outside my classroom walls, and yet I rarely leave the room.  I think I forgot how amazing it is to be in nature.  I never thought that maybe I had a responsibility to help my students discover how much nature has to offer.  Teaching science, we have every opportunity to make connections to nature - but seeing it and experiencing it are two totally different things, and I was reminded of this very important point.  I left excited to find ways to get my students outside in the weeks and year to come.  Not just through a field trip to Grouse Mountain (though I do hope to bring students up in the spring), but just by getting outside in general. More vitamin "N"!

The keynote was followed by a guided tour of the different aspects of nature and culture that could be explored by students on a field trip.  We had a carte-blanche day pass - getting us anywhere we wanted to go on the mountain - which was really nice (thank you Grouse!)  We (that is me, along with two of my colleagues) followed along with the tour until I was mesmerized by the grizzly bears!  I have to believe at some point in my life I must have seen a live one before, but if I have, I couldn't recall.  I literally gasped when I saw how large they were.  And then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes circling their 5 acre living space, observing their movements and taking their photos.  They are so beautiful!  And fascinating.  The way they move, the size of their claws, the sounds they make - each piece was equally mesmerizing.  Towards the end, the bears curled up under a tree, and looked just like little puppy dogs.  Except for their razor sharp claws and ability to kill you in an instant that is.  I got home and was already thinking about what I could go back and watch them some more.  Just me, a cup of tea, my camera, and a handful of memory cards.

Of course while watching the bears I got distracted by the owl.  Owls are fascinating!  They so incredibly beautiful (I know - I said that of the bears too - but it's true!) and I couldn't stop watching her look around and stretch her wings.  Owls may be one of my favourite animals to observe.  The stillness, the grace, the beauty....sigh....this world really is full of so many amazing creatures!

Once I was able to tear myself away from the bears, we took that 14 minute chairlift to the top, so that we could take the 21 story elevator to the top of the Eye of the Wind - the Wind turbine that generates energy used directly by the mountain.  First off, the view from the top is outstanding, as long as you can handle the fact that you are standing right next to the 200 foot blades spinning around and shaking the tower.  Completely surrounded by glass, this is a chance not only to look at the pretty surroundings but to learn about sustainable energy sources.  The TV inside shows the temperature, wind speed, and daily/monthly/yearly/lifetime energy creation statistics, showing how energy can be produced sustainably.  All the programs at Grouse mountain are focused on respecting and protecting the beautiful place in which we live - and this is such a relevant lesson for us as adults, and our students going forward, who will feel the impacts of our poor choices and disregard for the environment even more so in their futures, and the futures of their children.  Watching energy be produced and learning about what role they have to play in caring for the earth is so important - and even more impacting to hear while standing among the trees, opposed to in a classroom.

On the ride back down, we literally watched the fog roll in, as the sunny day disappeared, and temperatures dropped to 4 degrees.  I was glad to have settled on a scarf and toque when heading up, and it is evident that winter is just around the bend.  Bears will be in hibernation shortly, and not seen again until spring, and soon the skiers and snowboarders will take to the mountains, and the hikers will put away their boots for the season.  The reindeer will come out to play, and Grouse will transform into a winter wonderland.  And the magic of nature will continue.

I am looking forward to getting my kids outside to explore all seasons!  Snowfall will be ice and lessons in friction, spring will bring rising water levels and watersheds, and at the edge of summer, Grouse will be green again, the bears will be out, and hopefully my students will be there to see it.

So I am grateful for a wonderful day out with my amazing colleagues, to share the experience, to dialogue and learn together, and to be along side me when I fell in love with nature all over again.

**note: Video links are not showing up when viewing this using feedly.  Visit website for the full experience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fear Abounds. Relationships Needed.

Last night was our fall edition of parent-teacher (and student) conferences.  I really enjoy an evening of sitting down and talking with parents and students together, discussing their goals for the course and how we can work together to bring them to reality.  The thing that struck me while reflecting back on 4 hours and 30 conversations was how much FEAR students have.

Students are afraid to fail.  For many students in Physics 11, they are use to being "A" students.  They are use to things being easy.  But even for the best, Physics is rarely easy.  It's something completely new and seldom experienced.  It is a combination of totally theoretical and mathematically complex and while learning something new can be exhilarating, it can also be scary.  But for many students, they aren't use to struggling.  They aren't use to not understanding an idea.  Or getting many questions wrong.  Or getting 3/5 on a quiz.  They are SO AFRAID of failure.  I talked this week with a student, who for the past six weeks, despite intense struggles in my course, would not have a conversation with me about it.  She would just nod and say she understood.  Finally, in talking with her, I came to realize that she had become paralyzed with fear.  She didn't know what she was suppose to do, when she didn't know what to do.  This fear isn't about their learning anymore - it is about their self-esteem and self-worth.  Little do their realize that their confidence and sense of self will only benefit from working through the problems, not avoiding them.  I continue to work on building a course focused on patient and persistent problem-solving.  One were students are expected to get things wrong, and work through it.  I believe this to be essential in both Physics, and life.  But it is hard to help students develop this when they have become so afraid to be wrong that they are unable to hear or access the tools that I am giving them.  They get stuck in a cycle of fear that limits their ability to grow.  This is a significant problem.

Students are afraid of looking stupid.  There seems to be a growing trend of students unwilling to ask for help because they are afraid that the teacher (or their peers) might think that they are "stupid."  They believe that asking questions or seeking help somehow makes them weaker, or less capable.  This is a huge barrier to success.  This fear of what others think of them prevents them from owning their own learning.  I had to remind students (and parents) that I am here to help them succeed.  And in fact, I expect that they don't know everything.  And that in no way am I judging them for their struggles.  The course is built in a way that they should need help from time to time, and shouldn't be afraid to access it.    This is part of the scaffolding.  They are meant to be challenged!  Helping overturn the culture where students are fearful of being wrong is crucial. This goes hand-in-hand with building a culture of relationship.  Getting to know students, helping them understand and feel safe in the classroom, and knowing that I am in there corner is necessary.  Yesterday I looked into my students eyes, and into their parents eyes and said "I am here to help you succeed."  I will say it again and again.  I spend my days asking about soccer games and bake sales and club activities.  I try to engage as many conversations as I can.  I want students to know that I am here for them, that I know them, that I genuinely want to help them.  I want them to feel safe to be vulnerable, and to struggle, and not to fear that I am in any way judging them.  I don't know where the turning point is that students stop believing this about their teachers, but my number one priority is providing them a safe learning environment - and that happens through relationship.  This was reinforced to me last night.

Students are afraid of the unknown.  They are afraid of their future.  They are afraid of things they do not know or do not yet understand.  And they don't always have the tools to know how to face this fear.  This is normal for a teenager.  The future can be overwhelming.  They need beacons of light to help guide them as they face this fear and navigate the course.  Parents.  Teachers.  Mentors.  Friends.  We have a role to play.  To help illuminate their paths when needed, as they take brave steps forward.  Students need to know (or be reminded) that they are not going it alone.

What I was reminded of through my evening of conversations with parents and students is that the most important roll I have as a teacher has nothing to do with Physics.  Or Science.  Or PE, Socials, French or whatever topics you engage in.  These are but a door to helping students grow up.  Helping them develop confidence.  To develop problem-solving skills.  To help them as they learn to persevere through problems they once could not even dream up.  To encourage them when they try.  To help them get up when they fall.  To ask a question that makes them think, and encourage them to think harder when they otherwise would get up.  To help them become stronger, more confident, individuals.  

So as I sit here at my desk this morning, looking at the empty room and enjoying my hour of solitude before the students start flooding through my doors I am not thinking of equilibrium, or DNA, or the net force of a person on a scale in an elevator (as important as those ideas are) - I'm thinking about how I am going to engage with my students in a way that will help them leave their fear behind and fully - FULLY - engage in the learning.  And this can only be done by putting fear aside.  So I ask - how do you help your students let go of their fear?