Post-its and Ponderings
A middle school teacher's thoughts on science, technology and learning

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ten Essential Qualities for a Happy, Healthy Life

The Chicago Tribune ran a blurb on a new book, Great Kids: Helping Your Baby and Child Develop the Ten Essential Qualities for a Happy, Healthy Life.

I haven't read the book yet, but check out this list of "Ten Essential Qualities":

1. Engagement (relating to others)
2. Empathy
3. Curiosity
4. Communication
5. Emotional Range
6. Genuine Self-Esteem
7. Internal Discipline
8. Creativity and Vision
9. Logical Thinking
10. Moral Integrity

Wouldn't the world be a better place if every person had these ten qualities? I can use this list to focus on what traits I am encouraging and rewarding in my middle school students.

I'm glad he wrote the book, but wouldn't it be great if we didn't need it? It seems childrearing used to be intuitive, but now requires explicit instructions to avoid raising a menace to society.

Two of the most powerful ideas I ran across in this article were:
1. Learning to empathize begins in infancy. Suggest helping him/her tunes into others' feelings by making your feelings clear, in facial expression and voice.
2. Your child will learn ethics from how you treat him/her, not by what you say.

Ain't THAT the truth?!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Students Recognize Global Warming - Team Project

Our school has run a successful paper recycling program for years, however that environmental spirit never quite made it to aluminum cans. Sure, we had a separate can recycling container in the cafeteria, but you know how it is with middle school kids.... Aluminum ended up in the trash, and trash ended up in the recycling containers. Ultimately and simply, the cans ended up in the dumpster along with the rest of the trash. In an effort to authenticate our environmental science unit, our team took on the challenge of recycling the school's aluminum.

STEP 1: Research & pitch - We researched about the ecological benefits of recycling. I think the kids' favorite statistic was that "when you recycle an aluminum can, you save enough energy to power your television or computer for three hours." (Our sources included, the Utah State University recycling site , and Novelis.)

The kids developed their pitch and met with the school principal and head custodian. I was proud of my group. They took this meeting very seriously. Our "committee" asked great questions, and gave thoughtful responses to the administrations' concerns. Finally, we were approved for a one month trial.

STEP 2 - Promotion - The students then made posters (made from paper we took from the paper recycling bin, of course) and hung them around the school. Small groups of kids from our team rotated through the lunch periods for a week, acting as "recycling cheerleaders" - encouraging and applauding for their peers who chose to recycle their cans in the appropriate canister, rather than in the trash. The students recognized that, in order for this to work, the other 700 kids in the school would have to develop habits that helped our cause.

STEP 3: Recycle! - This was the "fun part." (Well, unless you asked the kids in January when we were crushing cans in boots and gloves in sub-zero Chicagoland weather!) Twice a week, I unleashed the crew. In 15 minutes, we were usually able to process 200-300 cans, going from stinky cafeteria bags of aluminum mixed with various foodstuffs to bags of somewhat clean, crushed cans ready for the scrap metal facility. (We also pulled tabs to donate to the Ronald McDonald House.)

STEP 4: Manage profits - While the kids knew the environmental benefits of energy and resource conservation, there was an added bonus of generated funds from turning in the aluminum. In fact, we made over $200 during the year. In one of our many brainstorming sessions, after voting down reclining chairs and a team vending machine (sigh), one student piped up, "wouldn't it be cool if we planted a tree to help fight global warming?" Now, I recognize there is some debate as to the carbon sequestering benefits of planting trees, but I thought it was a great idea. We had learned about carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. We had learned about photosynthesis. And, we had learned about our soon-to- emerge periodical cicadas and their effect on newly planted trees. Great, let's plant a tree! We opted to plant a ginkgo tree.

STEP 4A: The "plaque" - The kids weren't done yet. They wanted to install a plaque, to commemorate our ordeal. Since we had discussed Chicago's "Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet" program this summer, a student suggested we make our own globe. Now, I can seldom resist an artistic challenge, however, we were out of funds. (The PTO had already graciously kicked in funds to pay for the planting of the tree.)

But, we were determined and a bit lucky. A generous eBay seller (with a little encouragement) donated an antique finial. (And I drove 6.5 hours to pick it up... unfortunately, in my CO2 emitting vehicle.) A moment of serendipity introduced us to a local artist who suggested pique assiette, rather than paint, for our final project. Plus, she was willing to work with the kids to teach them the technique.

This began a flurry of plate gathering - which the kids thoroughly enjoyed breaking into pieces.... The entire project was completed by the students themselves, from design submissions, to voting on the final design, to sketching, breaking and reassembling the pieces, and finally the grouting and polishing. My favorite part is the cicada the kids included at the base, near the "2007," to commemorate our 17-year visitors.

When it was all finished, we had a stupendous final product. I hope the kids are proud, keep recycling, and come back to visit our tree for many years to come.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Banana Inspiration

The other day, a student approached me waving a piece of notebook paper.

"Wanna read my poem?"

The subject was bananas.

Curious, I took the paper, read it, and smiled. It was an assignment done for her language arts class, but she wanted to share it with me.

When asked the inspiration for her art, the student replied that she wrote it "because in health class, we had to pick a fruit or vegetable to do a poem on, and I picked a banana" and she showed me because she knew I was "amused by bananas." (She must have been tipped off by my post celebrating bananas, as well as the banana sock tacked to my bulletin board....) She agreed I could publish the poem to my next banana post.

Ode To Bananas

It must be hard to be picked off trees
every time you turn green.
Banana, how it would hurt to be blended
mashed and creamed.

Your taste so soft and creamy
your texture so soft and smooth
I am sorry kids mistake you for a moon.

Banana you must get an extra special feeling
when you save lives with your potassium.

Banana you are a celebrity
appearing on socks, commercials, and pyramids (food pyramid).

It must be awesome to make everything taste good,
banana may I ask,
how would we survive without you!


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Are News Sites "Dumbing Down"?

A few months ago, I noticed a disturbing trend. When I clicked to read an article on CNN, an unfamiliar box appeared at the top of my article.

We live in a world of Cliff Notes & bullet points. Do we really need them in our news sources too? Textbooks are constantly becoming more clear and organized, to facilitate student's content reading skills. But what is going to happen when they encounter information that is not separated into color-coded headings? What will they do when the sentences do not all end at the bottom of the page?

In my experience, most (middle school) kids will do the bare minimum to complete their work. They are well trained to look for the bold words and fill in the blanks. I strive to give them assignments that force them to consider the gestalt before composing their answers. I think the "Story Highlights" are a step in the wrong direction.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Inspiration: New Blog Title

My blog used to be called "Mytko Miscellany in Education." Then, when I wrote a previous post, something about its title stuck with me over the next few days. I realized that those two words, "Post-its" and "ponderings," pretty much summed up my teaching experiences! (OK, OK, to be truly comprehensive, I should add the words "adolescent angst" and "chaos" too, but they just don't offer the same type of alliteration....)

One day, I decided to document my inspiration. On any given day (in this case, April 20th) my desktop computer looks like this:

This image represents one week's worth of post-its. Each post-it note is handcrafted by a student needing something from me or, more likely, having a question we were not able to answer in class. I treat student questions very seriously, as I believe curiosity is essential for science.

If I don't know the answer to a question, it ends up on a post-it note.

From there, we use a variety of resources to unearth the answer (our favorites being HowStuffWorks and Ask a Scientist). All of the answers end up taped to my classroom door, and some make it to my other blog. Not only do I enjoy seeing students learn more about a subject, but I also think it is powerful to show that their questions are valued and worth pursuing.

This week's door features an article on Chicago's proposed 150-story twisted tower, questions about the hand boilers on my desk, a description of banana slug's odd mating rituals (slug link is PG13 for mild language and invertebrate sexual content), and lots of answers to questions about cnidarians (my favorite: Can jellyfish sting each other?).

Now, I realize "ponderings" is not a word that you will find in the dictionary. But since improvisation is a middle school survival skill, an invented word like "ponderings" should raise few brows. The definition of ponder (verb) is "to reflect or consider with thoroughness and care." I'd like to think that my teaching is full of thoroughness and care. By adding -ing to the end of the verb, one forms the present participle of a verb, concerned with actually doing the action in the present. A second definition of pondering (adjective) is "deeply or seriously thoughtful." So, it would not be unreasonable to assume the pondering (noun) would refer to "an act of thorough, deep, and careful reflection." And I know adding an "s" makes nouns plural. So, there it is. Teaching is all about being thorough and careful, reflecting and being thoughtful on your feet. And a bit of improv.

It appears the term is catching on, as evidenced by the 4378 blog posts tagged "Ponderings" on Technorati.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy Feet are not as lighthearted as you might think

I saw Happy Feet this weekend. I was expecting to be entertained by some cute animated flightless birds, but the movie is much more than that. If you've seen the trailer, the movie appears quite innocuous, however, I found the movie to be rather dark at times.

There are strong messages about tolerance, diversity, foreigners, ecological destruction, capativity, and even religion. All wrapped up with singing penguins.
However, it's an entirely separate issue to have a film essentially mock religion as an opiate for the masses and take the environmental issue to the point of actually showing debates in the U.N. It would have been very simple to have Mumble inspire the world in harmony to protect the environment. -

What happened to carefree family animated movies? When did they get so satirical? I was even a little surprised by the previews (Happily N'Ever After, whose buxom animated star proclaims, "Happy endings are SO yesterday," and Fred Claus). Entertainment has changed since I was a kid.

I liked the movie. In fact, I would show it in my 7th grade life science classes. The subtext could inspire some interesting social-emotional and ecological discussions.

What people are saying about Happy Feet:
The movie has strengths & weaknesses
The last half hour is inappropriate for a kids' movie
The movie mocks christians
The plot has too much "message"
The movie is charming and entertaining
I wouldn't take a child under 7 or 8 to see "Happy Feet."

The Baltimore Sun's Chris Kaltenbach calls Happy Feet a
"...tedious affair that spends half its time on some heavy-handed moralizing, the other half in the mistaken belief that people can never get enough of singing penguins.... this is a perfect film for penguin lovers who also are devoted members of the Green party."


Monday, November 06, 2006

You know you teach middle school science when...

... you find this on your desk when you return from the copy room.

(Our school mascot is the lion. I'm glad to see the students can use them creatively.)