Leaner, Meaner, Greener

My POE class is studying energy sources and distribution these days, along with doing some circuit calculations.  The energy distribution lesson calls for a field trip to a local power utility facility, which sounds cool, and I’m told the NIPSCO tour is all kinds of awesome, but what if we did something slightly different? And maybe cooler?

Back on New Teacher World Tour Day our bus made a stop at the Porter County Career and Technical Center, where principal Jon Groth gifted us a stress ball and told us about the building’s Alternative Energy Program.

The success of the program, from its humble roots born out of state budget cuts due to the Great Recession, to its all-students, hands-on design and implementation, to the profit it generates for the PCCTC thru NIPSCO’s Feed-In Tariff program, has been pretty well documented.  But these guys in my class are better than just showing up, walking through, and hearing a story. I challenged them: Find out everything there is to know about this program. Before we go over there. I don’t want Mr. Groth to be able to tell you anything you don’t already know.

That way, I figured, they can use their limited field trip time asking good questions.

So I split the activity into three parts: 1) research (Doc here: pcctcvisitprep), 2) the trip itself, 3) documenting their learning (appended on to the shared research doc).

Oh, as part of my thank-you email, I also shared the doc with Mr. Groth, who took time out the day after the visit to make some comments and add to the students’ learning. That’s a teacher, right there.



For me (and maybe for my students), the biggest takeaway was something that Jon Groth told us early on during the visit: “We’re not experts.”

What kind of person admits that to visitors? The kind of person who is proud of the curiosity of his students and teachers. Who has seen them ask, over and over, “What if?” And who has seen them pursue those answers and put the solutions into practice.

GIF via https://giphy.com/gifs/flex-marlon-mack-mackattack-3o7abxcAaU5wrF4cdq

Once the ball started rolling, these guys want to keep pushing the process forward. If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find it out. If they don’t know the result of a slight change, they’ll test the change and document the results. If you notice in that photo of the solar array above (I don’t have to point this out to my OCD people), the panels in the last row are tilted at a steeper angle than those in the front. The students are testing different angles to determine which angle will result in the most power.

The most recent addition to the array is a vertically oriented cylindrical windmill. It is totally uncharted territory. The classes consulted with the students at the Alternative Energy program at Valparaiso University. The PCCTC students asked the VU guys if the design was good, if they had “done it right”. Know what the VU guys said? – “We don’t know. Try it and find out. Then let us know”

Don’t need to tell these guys twice. That’s practically the PCCTC motto. It’s the classroom culture I’ve been trying to build for a long time now.

And: It’s Project Lead The Way in a nutshell.




Linear Review: “Children Must Play” Edition

Image result for teacher at the board meme

So: Quiz Review.

I promise my students at the start of each year that I will never drop a quiz on them without scheduling a review day. Now, if they happen to be absent on that review day, that’s on them, not me, but still. I’m not here to play “gotcha”, right?

I also learned way early in my career that me standing at the board and working out problems while they watch me like I’m a trained seal is the worst kind of review.

Seriously, “Sit and Get” didn’t work the first time. Why should I think anything has changed because there’s a quiz tomorrow? So for a while now I’ve been on a quest for quality review activities. (Looking at you, Speed Dating.)

But the reality is, anything can get stale if you let it. Even really good, student centered activities. It helps to have a deep bench. Mix it up. Keep ’em on their toes.

Between the MTBoS and the Classroom Chef/Ditch That Textbook crew I stalk follow online, there are virtually limitless ideas out there. Beautiful thing is, creativity breeds creativity. Reading about my fellow teachers taking chances and putting themselves out there inspires me.

So come time to do linear review with my Algebra II classes, I planned a double-barreled approach: A Desmos Activty based on my Clark County School District enrollment trend project (trend line, writing equations, making predictions), and (inspired by Rafe Esquith, who wrote in his book “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” that as test prep he’d have his students predict the common mistakes that generated the distractors on the California state tests), a Make Your Own Kahoot.

I assigned the Desmos Activity as a do-at-home, which was probably a mistake. Other teachers I follow have had great success using AB this way, but the mistake I made was not priming the pump with an in-class Activity. Not too many of my students logged on to try it out after-hours.

Live and learn. I did do a little crowdsourcing for the slides, and got some good feedback.

That’s a good first step.

Still, I took some time the next day to debrief and walk through (OK, more of a 10k-pace run) through the activity screens, pointing out how the students that attempted the activity had the chance to apply what they had learned about slope to a (semi-) interesting problem.

Next up: a chance to dig in to the common mistakes that derail my students. Time for “Make your Own Kahoot!”

It was a two-day review of linear equations for an Algebra II class, which sounds excessive. But I think it was worth it. Day one, I challenged them in pairs to write their own Kahoot!-style multiple-choice question. With good distractors. No ridiculous, obviously wrong answers, but instead answers generated by common student mistakes, just like the testing companies do.

Photo credit: me. Brainpower credit: my kids.
How many ways can you mess up slope? Let’s see…

Then I collected the questions and answers and went home and made the Kahoot quiz.

Next day, we played their quiz.

Good folks have their issues with Kahoot.

Which is fine. I wouldn’t do it every day, or every week, for that matter. But damn, do the kids love it. You should have been in the class where one kid picked “harambae” as his screen name.  (Get it? Haram-BAE”). Rich.

Doc here: diy-kahoot-ch-2-review-directions.

Are my Track 3 kids learning Algebra? They’re trying, which is what I ask. Are we having fun?

Oh, hell yeah.



Out Of Time

Via  Amazon.com

I used to have the Nuke LaLoosh dream.

Feeling exposed. Like Crash says, “I know. I have that dream all the time. We’re almost home.” From what I can tell of my teacher people I follow online, I’m not alone.

But these days, the dream is different. Think Joel Goodson walking into his testing room for the SAT with two minutes left on the clock. Out of time. (Video NSFW, obvi).

The other day I was up at 3 am. Tossing and turning. Toss twice, turn three times. Mind weighed down with a to-do list unfinished. If you made a word cloud of the conversations with my fellow newbies at my new school, the most prominent word would be “overwhelmed”. Going from running on autopilot for 11 years to having to figure out where the bathrooms are and how to get copies made, we all feel like we’re going a million miles an hour. More than one person has said it feels like learning to teach all over again.

Which, as one of my colleagues pointed out, can be a good thing.

But it’s turning my hair grey.

I’ve always been serious about lesson planning. But now, I’m learning Canvas on the fly. Lessons get planned, and posted. On the daily. My IED class is already set up on Canvas, all I had to do was import, which was a gift. And I keep reminding myself, I’m building a course for the out years – every thing I do today will be there this time next year. I can tweak as needed, but I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And Canvas is an awesome e-locker, for my students and for me. “What did I miss yesterday, Mr. Dull?”


Yep kid, my class is in your phone 24/7.

Unless it needs reinventing.

But man, every day after work it feels like I’m keeping the wolves from the door for one more day.

Image via http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2015/03/stunning-photographs-showcase-beauty-of.html

Funny thing is, I get daily feedback from my students. As far as they know, I’m cooking with gas. The teaching part is not a problem. But I still feel like I’m buried 6 feet underground, breathing through a straw. I know everything is going to slow down for me eventually. Soon, I hope.

I’m still using Ike’s plan for prioritizing work. Still seems to be working too. “What’s next?”, as President Bartlett would say. But I’m also trying to take time to notice how much is too much, and to stay in my lane. I was reminded of these tactics earlier this week when I ran across Mother Teresa’s daily plan for her Missionaries of Charity (courtesy Jen Fulwiler).

And yes, I read Catholic Mommy Blogs. Don’t judge.

Anyway, you might have guessed that St. Teresa of Calcutta didn’t overschedule her sisters, built in time for personal care and prayer life, even a tea break. As Fulwiler points out, the Missionaries of Charity exist to serve the poor, and that was scheduled in two big blocks during the day. Only.

A million thoughts flooded to mind, but here are the big ones:

  • The primary work of the Order, serving the poor, only takes place between 8:00 – 12:30 and 4:30 – 7:30.
  • There’s buffer! Notice that time for meal cleanup and getting dressed is built in to the schedule.
  • They say that their lives are centered on God, and this schedule reflects it. There is time dedicated to prayer each day.
  • They have a set (and early) bedtime, making time for sleep even if they feel like more work could be done.
  • Look at how focused this schedule is! They only attempt to do two things: pray and work for the poor.

I don’t think my personal daily plan will ever look like that. But, big picture, I have a little bit of a groove going, with lesson posted in Canvas, notes recap recorded and posted, and handouts printed all at the end of the school day before I leave for home. I still don’t know where marathon training fits in tho. And that “early bedtime” thing is never gonna happen.

But I think I can get better at prioritizing and focusing. You might even say it’s on my To-Do list.