Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Teach?

Why did you want to become a teacher? This is a question that I've recently been faced with. It's something that I don't think we think about as teachers everyday - but we should. We need to keep our overall goal in mind - it needs to be in our minds and hearts every day.

Why teach? It's easy for teachers to say, "I want to make a difference." Great! But, a difference in what? What difference? And how will you be the one to cause that difference? For me, the answer is so much more complicated than just "making a difference".

I want to build students' knowledge banks. In every way possible. I want them to know WHY we teach them the things we do and to understand that sometimes in life, you have to go through things that you might not find particularly "fun", and that these experiences can ultimately lead them to what they were born to do with their lives (-or sometimes- what they were NOT born to do!). I want them to experience failure and truly understand what it means to learn from these failures. I do this by creating experiences for students on which they are free to test their own theories or ideas. Science is a perfect platform for failure! And I mean that in a good way. 

I want to take reluctant readers and turn them into can't-put-it-down-nose-in-a-book readers. I want them to understand that they "don't like to read" because they haven't found the book that speaks to them and more importantly, I want them to understand that YES, there IS a book out there that they will love. And it might not be a chapter book! And that is completely OK. I want my students to understand that reading is so much more than sitting on the couch snuggled up with a book - it's literally survival. From ordering food off of a menu to knowing what to put on your job application to being able to read the instructions on your prescription - reading is survival.

I want to develop scientists that have a sense of inquiry and curiosity. I want my students to question everything and accept nothing -- until they have their own proof. I want them to understand the difference between asking quality questions - questions that allow for TESTING a theory - versus asking questions that cannot be answered through completing a scientific test. I want students to use their observations and their inferencing skills to make plausible conclusions about the things they encounter. Students need to explore the world around them and they need to know that it's OK to ask why! We ask why A LOT in my room. And we try to develop these why questions into questions that we can test to get to the bottom of the problems that we come across, or new concepts that we don't understand.

I want to create mathematicians and squash the "math is misery" myth. Math is power and knowing that is so important. Math isn't just a subject in school and it isn't something we force upon our kids because we are mean - it's teaching them strategies to solve problems and get around in life! We need to reiterate this to them and demonstrate that math is used every day by providing students with authentic examples of times that we use math in our lives. I want to involve parents and help them to see how the different strategies that we teach students today aren't meant to confuse them; they are meant to help them conceptualize WHY we put a zero underneath the first set of numbers when computing 2-digit multiplication problems. I want to help parents get OFF of the "I'm Not Good at Math" train. When students hear their own parents say that, what in the world do you think that does to their attitudes about math??! We need to get it together and work on making sure we are ALL "good" at math! Math rocks and I want students to realize that. Challenge students to teach their parents all about the "new" strategies that are used in their classrooms! Host a community math night or send  home instructional sheets with steps on the different strategies (and their explanations) - whatever it takes to get rid of this math is misery mentality!!

I want students to LOVE writing. To use every experience that they go through as a jumping point for a great story. And I want them to understand how to take a trip to the grocery store and turn it into an epic event. I want students to use descriptive words to be able to articulate their experiences in a way that has readers smelling their food and feeling their emotions. I want to help students to become writers that can factually debate about a topic that they care about and to answer a question thoroughly and accurately. I want students to understand why it is so important to be able to write. To get into a good college, to land that dream job, and to express their thoughts in an intellectual way. Or to write the next great novel, comic book, short story, or children's book!

I want students to understand what it means to be accountable. Students should be taught from a young age all about accountability. It doesn't matter where you come from, it's all about where you want to go. And understanding that YOU and ONLY YOU have the power to be successful is in itself very powerful! Students need to hear this and they need to hear that there is at least one person in the world that believes they can become an accountant, or astronaut, or veterinarian. And even if that one person that believes in them is they themselves, it's enough. Being a consistent leader is a good way to develop accountability. Be consistent in disciplining students for the choices that they make. Consistency is key in the classroom, in my humble opinion.

I just want to help students reach their full potential - and even exceed it - no matter what their story is, no matter where they came from, and no matter who their parents are. I want them to become their own people, capable of making good decisions, and able to contribute to the good of society. I want them to believe in themselves and to be passionate about life. And to have tools and skills they need in order to succeed and live happy, healthy lives. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

We Have LOTS of Energy!

We have been working hard on our energy unit. I have been very diligent in providing students with lots of different activities - from hands-on experiments to reading nonfiction texts - in order to provide them with authentic experiences through science. We love, love, love Bill Bye, but I do not like the idea of showing a video and throwing my hands up. We have some really good class discussions based on what we see in Bill Nye's videos! I have the students use sticky notes (which they LOVE) to write down a good piece of information that they learned from the video, and a question about something they saw or a concept they learned about. Then we talk. We talk about what we learned and we try our best to answer questions - even if we don't really know the answers. We talk about our hypotheses about the questions that we have and then over time, throughout the unit, we hopefully clear up any misconceptions. 

Getting students to think critically and to ask "juicy" questions is NOT an easy feat, people. It's a learned skill that takes a TON, TON, TON of practice. I am nowhere near where I want to be in this aspect. But I push my students more and more every day - I push them to explain more, to go deeper with what they are trying to convey, and to question everything that they learn about. Sometimes, it's so difficult for me to articulate to them what I want them to articulate! Ha! It's a vicious cycle that I continue to challenge both myself as well as my students!

Roller coasters lend themselves so very perfectly to energy. After all, without potential and kinetic energy, they wouldn't work. So I LOVE letting the students build their own roller coasters using some plastic tubing and a BB as their car. Then we talk about what in the world this has to do with energy. They LOVE coming up with elaborate coaster ideas! 

After the first day of roller coaster design, we get a little more involved with it. We start to design virtual roller coasters. I found a really great website that we use to do this - click here to check it out. And {most}of the time, they fail the first time around. Their car either flies off the track or it doesn't complete a loop, or it gets a poor safety rating. Failure is such a beautiful thing in science. Love it. It helps them LEARN! Once a failure occurs, I make them talk about WHY it failed {and what it has to do with energy} and then re-design their coaster. They love it, I love it, and everyone is happy, happy, happy.

Though there is so much MORE to roller coasters than just kinetic and potential energy, we don't really go there. I mean, come on, we're in fifth grade! However, it never ceases to amaze me how much this activity sparks so much curiosity in these kiddos. I hear things like, "What is velocity?" and "What does this have to do with gravity?" For those students, I lead them down the path that they can take in order to find the answers to these questions. I don't want to push this complex material on fifth graders, but I certainly support those students that are able to generate this type of thinking. 

Having so much fun in fifth grade science this year!!! If you have any good suggestions for books on critical thinking, post away. I welcome all the help that I can get!