Water Rockets - Fun Physics Project

Almost every year that I have taught Physics, I have used the Water Rocket activity. They are relatively cheap and easy to build and launch and it never fails to inspire awe. Here are the instructions I created from experience and various sources (link).

I have used various water rocket launchers and they each have their drawbacks. This time, I bought the launcher from this site. It worked perfectly and never had an issue in hundreds of launches.

There are multiple options, you can either buy the launcher, buy a kit at a discounted price, or build it yourself for free. His customer service was awesome and to be willing to give the plans away for free is much appreciated to teachers not afraid to DIY.

As long as the students play by the safety rules, they are free to be as creative as they like. It is a great introduction or review for trigonometric functions and solving linear equations. Also students loved seeing a little cloud being formed by the pressure release after launching. Lots of great questions asked before, during, and after launch. Just a fun project all around.

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What I am Thankful For

With all of the talk about reform and our passion for change, I wanted to take a moment during this time to stop and reflect on who I am thankful for. These are people who inspire, teach, and keep me going.

First and foremost, my wife. She is my muse, and my best friend. She keeps me honest and helps me refine my thinking. The fact that we have always been able to support each other no matter what, is something that I can always treasure. That leads me to my son. He is the most amazing part of my life. He gives me hope, and inspires me everyday to be a better person. 

My parents for always challenging me to work hard and love what you do, even after they became the best in their field, they continue to innovate and learn. I am so proud and filled with joy for my brother's success this year. He has defied all odds and become a touring musician with fans screaming his name.

I am grateful for good friends who make me laugh and keep me thinking. To Jon, Michel, Patrick, Greg, Lisa, Eileen, I am never bored or unhappy when I am around you. To my colleagues and my incredible teaching partner Britt, the hard work and passion that all of you bring to the teaching profession fills our school with energy.

With all of the horror stories out there, I am so lucky to have deeply reflective and wise administrators who's vision and leadership make coming to work a pleasure.

To my robotics team, you inspire me and prove that you can learn anything with motivation + resources. I cannot wait to see what you come up with next. Go Chaos Vortex!

For everyone who has ever read, commented, or retweeted posts from my blog, I really appreciate it. Without the feedback, resources, and intelligent conversations we have had on Twitter and via email, it would have been much more difficult to keep posting while teaching, mentoring, and parenting.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and enjoy your weekend. I am truly grateful for all of you! If you would like to give thanks to someone who makes your life better feel free to comment your thanks.

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Search with Yolink and Find What You Are Looking For

The jobs of the future will require one not to know everything, but where to find everything. -Seymour Papert

When you use a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing, the results determine whether or not the information can be found on the page. This does not mean that the page is relevant to you, nor does it help you find the information within the page.

Yolink is a service which allows you to search and quickly find the information you are looking for so you can avoid the frustration that comes with Internet research. Save time and find results that are more relevant to what you are looking for.

Using the example on their website, if your students were looking on the EPA website for information regarding Greenhouse Gasses, they would quickly become overwhelmed. Even the website's own search bar returns confusing and irrelevant results to what your students are looking for.

But by using Yolink you and your students can use your research time more effectively. Here's how:

After searching and finding this EPA page on Greenhouse Gases via Google, you can click on the Yolink browser extension or desktop application which you have installed.

From the Yolink menu, choose either to scan the links or text on page and type in "greenhouse gases". After clicking Find, the results show up ordered by relevancy. Students can click on the section that seems most relevant to them and be taken directly to that part of the page or site.

I have read articles and comments from teachers frustrated that students are not reading but skimming while researching. I would contend that this is a necessary skill with the current search engines. However, if your students are using Yolink, they can spend their time reading, understanding, and applying the information.

An added bonus is that all results state who holds the Copyright or if it is Creative Commons so your students can be sure to use and cite it appropriately.

Another bonus feature can be found by selecting the results you like and then clicking the "Google Docs" button. The results can be added to an existing or new Google Doc, saving even more time instead of cutting, pasting, and formatting back and forth.

The "share" button to the left of the Google Docs button allows for easy sharing via all the major social networking, blogging, and email services.

If you want to see Yolink in action, it is now integrated into the BrokenAirplane.com website. Search for popular topics like science, free software, python, humanities, and more! You will be able to find the result that works for you as well as preview it before clicking on the link. The time saved through all of the features will certainly speed up your browsing experience.

Ways to Get Started with Yolink:
  • Install the free browser extension or desktop application and use it directly.
  • If you are unable to install the software, then use Sweetsearch.com. This website is powered by Yolink and will give you a similar time saving experience as if you were using Yolink.
  • There are great video tutorials on Yolink, lessons to help your students research more efficiently and effectively.

Enjoy, and I hope this free service frees up your students to do more creative and analytical tasks so they can use the new information they have found.

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How to Learn Anything - Lessons in Neuroscience from My Dad

In a previous post, I reflected on some life lessons I believe have made me what who I am today. The list is pretty popular and some have asked me to specifically elaborate on my Dad's advice to my Mom. You see, my Mom was told by everyone else that it was a waste of her time to seek to be something other than a secretary.

My Dad meanwhile had grown up in a small town in Missouri, far far away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. He was raised to follow his dreams no matter how difficult they might seem. One day he saw Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show On Earth”. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to make movies. How could a Midwestern boy hope to learn all of the skills and talent to be a Cinematographer? I'll let him tell you:

When I (my Dad) was in junior high school I started reading photography books. They were all technically over my head. I was very depressed. I had been told that I didn't have the aptitude for math and science. I feared that if I couldn't learn the essentials of Cinematography I would never have a chance. One night I decided to force read the text, hoping that by glossing over the terms and concepts I didn't understand someday I would recollect the information when I had a deeper ability to interpret. Even though I glossed over the ideas I was able to connect the dots and put it all together. I used that tool for everything I didn't understand.

Later on he left Missouri for Los Angeles and began his journey towards becoming a Director of Photography. While working as a projectionist he met my Mom and while dating, she talked about her interest in science and nursing which had been inspired by Isaac Asimov books like Fantastic Voyage. Quoting my Dad again:

When your mother was having trouble I just told her what I did. She was very frustrated in the beginning. I insisted she read her textbooks before she even went to class. That way she would have a recollection of complex phrases and ideas when the teacher introduced them. For her she had already read the material which helped her to overcome her initial fear.

This same advice was passed onto me and my brother. Whenever I would get my textbooks before school started, I would always flip through them and skim the information. My brother and I would always go to the bookstore or library to learn something new. He has taught himself to read and compose music via this method, and I have learned almost all that I know simply by reading books and materials that I didn't at first understand.

I later discovered that Richard Feynman followed a similar method which he humorously retells in "Surely You're Joking"

When Feynman was a graduate student at Princeton, he was allowed to sit in a biology course if he agreed to do the assignments. One involved giving a report on research that had been done on cats. He was unfamiliar with the names of the muscles mentioned, so he went down to the library to get “a map of the cat.” Then he gave his report, beginning with an explanation of the cat’s anatomy. The biology students immediately stopped him, saying they already knew all that. “Oh,” he replied, “you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.” As he wrote, “They had spent all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes.”

It is frustrating and confusing at first, but everything eventually clicks. The trick is to not stop until you find the answer. It is far easier to do that now with Google, Wikipedia, or YouTube and I love being able to take control of my learning and not have to pay or wait for others to teach me.

In case you think my family is unique somehow in being able to do this, it is simply not true. Motivation + Resources is all that is necessary.

Tech Support:
If you want to learn any new technology there are three pieces of advice I would give you.

1) Think like a computer (or at least a programmer): The way we use technology was developed a long time ago by a few individuals and organizations. I am talking about file folders, windows, mice, and all that we take for granted. It could have been developed many different ways but this is the system we have. Jaron Lanier does a great job of talking about this system in his book You Are Not a Gadget.

If you can train yourself to think like a computer programmer or a computer itself, then you can figure out anything. Can't find the command you want? Look around and ask yourself what possible places it could be. This takes practice but can be done and leads me to my next piece of advice.

2) Play with the technology: Explore it, try things out. If you are using working with software you can almost always hit the undo button. My Mom was always calling me for help over the phone, but one day her tech support calls stopped coming. I eventually called and asked her, are you having any technical issues? She said yes, but she had figured them out herself!

The turning point for her was, "realizing that I could experiment and try things without breaking the computer". Now her and I talk all the time about cool things she is discovering in technology. All because she decided to be adventurous.

Keep in mind you will make mistakes so save anything important.

3) GIYF: This acronym is not mine but I think of it when people send me a question, and then 10 seconds later I send them the exact answer back. They are amazed! How could I know the answer to so many questions? Quite simply...I don't. Google Is Your Friend is a Internet slogan stating, if you don't know the answer, see if someone online has already asked and received the answer.

Another famous Internet acronym is GIGO. Which stands for Garbage In Garbage Out. If you don't search correctly, you will not get the answer you want. It might be out there but called something else. I always liken this to how telephone books still use the term Apparel instead of Clothes. Here are Google's suggestions on how to effectively search, and if you get the hang of those try these powerful search tricks.

Have you tried these ideas or something similar to learn something new? Post a comment and share it with us. What do you do to solve your technology issues?

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A Defense of Wikipedia - Crowdsoucring the World's Knowledge

Wikipedia is one of the largest Crowdsourced projects on the planet. With 3 million plus articles in English and millions more in other languages, it is the work of many people working tirelessly to share information and knowledge. It is also one of the most visible crowdsourced projects out there as it is usually the top result in your searches.

Wikipedia has received criticism since its inception almost ten year ago. With the idea that anyone could write and edit articles, the trustworthiness (truthiness as Stephen Colbert would say) was called into question. Many teachers will not accept research sourced from Wikipedia because of their concern that it would be incorrect. I hope this articles encourages the wider adoption of the Wiki and convinces people of its usefulness while still being realistic about its shortcomings.

In Defense of Collaborative Editing
The amount of articles that are added every year to Wikipedia are astounding. To have a small team of encyclopedia writers start from scratch would be an impossible task, yet hundreds of thousands of articles are added each year to Wikipedia. How is this possible?

According to the Internet World Stats page almost 2 billion people are online and while only a fraction of those are writing and editing for Wikipedia it divides the labor enough to make it possible for anyone to contribute.

Wikipedia has received criticism from media sources, comedians, teachers, and almost everyone else because there is the perception that anyone can just log in and within 10 seconds make themselves the President of the USA or make 2+2=5.

The best way to convince you otherwise is to encourage you to go online and propose a new article or edit an existing one.

Are you back? Are your hopes of being cited as the inventor of the light bulb or married to a supermodel dashed? If like me, you have submitted an article or changes for review, you will soon either have your change rejected or be told to modify it to meet the Wiki's high standards for submission. There are people in the community who contribute primarily by reviewing changes submitted for approval and they do an excellent job of catching errors.

Reliability of Wikipedia Articles
While there have been scandals and pranks, they are eventually corrected. In fact, when Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica were compared side by side, the number of errors found in each were similar. In fact there are some errors n the EB that have been corrected by Wikipedia.

Rest assured, if you are going to Wikipedia to learn or research a topic that is pretty much set in stone you have nothing to worry about. If you are trying to learn a skill or concept then you should be good to go. However, if you are looking at something related to Pop Culture you are much more likely to stumble upon a point of contention. If there are errors it may be because there is dispute about certain historical events but even the controversy is often discussed in the article.

Out of concern that Wikipedia's articles were not trustworthy for student consumption, alternative movements like CK-12 textbooks and Free High School Science Texts emerged. These are peer reviewed textbooks free for anyone to teach and/or learn from. Additionally, CK-12 has the unique feature of being able to customize your textbooks for your class so some topics are there while others are not.

Diversity always drives evolution and Wikipedia and the learning community as a whole can only benefit from alternative sources of learning. I hope more teachers will compare their trusted textbook or resource with Wikipedia to see how accurate and high quality of a resource it is.

Freedom of Information
No one group or person should control information. This was the premise behind a free press because  history shows that dictators and rulers alike have known that to control information is to control the culture and society. In the incredible work by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire We Make The Road by Walking, Freire remarks that in Brazil, the revolutionaries would come but the oppressive education and bias textbooks/lessons would remain.

We cannot let movements like Wikipedia die out. They are our defense against tyranny and as Thomas Jefferson remarked, "freedom of the press is not meant to protect the right to publish, it is to protect the right of the citizen to know."

Appropriately Using Wikipedia in the Classroom
I know I have referenced Sugata Mitra's Ted talk before, but the results are just too powerful to ignore. Students will learn if they are given the tools and time to do so. Rather than directly instruct the students all the time (or ever), why not teach them how to use the information on the web and how to discern what is useful and reliable. Many teachers use the Internet to research for lessons, why not shift that responsibility of learning to the students?

Wikipedia is a resource, an incredibly valuable resource with flaws. Yet, it is the perfect place for students to get their feet wet. When they leave the classroom walls in a few years (or even that evening) they are going to plug back into the Web to learn and they will most likely click on Wikipedia. Knowing how to navigate the web wisely is one of the best skills we can pass on to our students.

Closing Thoughts
  1.  Support the movement. The project is always in need of contributions both financial and of time.
    • Wikipedia is Free to everyone (i.e. Free as in Speech and as in Pizza) which embodies the World Wide Web's founding principles of connecting people and sharing data and information.
  2. Wikipedia is useful as a jumping off point. Sometimes the articles are confusing or too technical but the link references at the bottom or something mentioned in the body of the article often are extremely useful to guide one in the next steps for research.
  3. The controversy is important as people need to be critical of their media. I am extremely grateful to sites like Snopes, that encourage critical thinking and independently scour the web for errors and myths. Don't believe everything that you read or only read one source no matter where it is coming from.
Favorite experiences with Wikipedia? Disagree? Leave a comment!

Great new Math Blog: Infinigons.com and the 2010 BrokenAirplane Edublog Nominations

It is time for the 2010 Edublog Awards Nominations:

It has been a great experience for me to blog. I really appreciate the many unique opportunities I have enjoyed and people I have met through doing it. In my opinion it is really important to get many voices in the conversation about education. To get various perspectives and new ideas.

Over the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of working with Allison. She is a hard working and committed to giving her students the most interesting math experience they can have. Her and I have also worked to create curriculum that integrates computer science and math through the Python Programming Language. She has begun a math blog www.infinigons.com (Infinity + Polygons) which I hope you will check out.


Here are my EduBlog award nominations:

  • Lifetime Achievement: Karl Fisch The Fischbowl - I was introduced to this blog over 3 years ago while I was working with the University of Utah on creating their Epigenetics Curriculum. Since then I have followed him on Twitter and his Math focused blog Transparent Algebra. Innovative and thoughtful posts.
  • Best Educational Wiki: Patrick Yurick 9th Grade Multimedia Wiki - It has been my pleasure to work and consider myself friends with him. A deeply thoughtful teacher, his ideas and pedagogy has influenced every educator at our school. The founder of the very popular and groundbreaking Graphic Novel Project and co-creator of the Interdisciplinary Spanish/Multimedia Talk Town Project. Start a conversation with this guy, you will not regret it.
  • Most Influential Blog Post: Anne Smith Alfie Kohn - I Need You. When the blog world saw how open she was about sharing her concerns and open to asking for help, it could not help but offer suggestions and support. Even Alfie Kohn found time to respond.
  • Best Group Blog: Graphic Novel Project. This group of students works extremely hard to produce professional quality comic books about compelling and important topics like Immigration and School Dropout. The work that they do will have far reaching effects as their influence in the community grows.

EduBlog Awards Nominate Your Favorite Ed Blogs for 2010

Every year Edublog celebrates the blogs that work to help improve Education.

Nominations are open until December 3rd. Once all of the nominations are in, you will be able to vote until December 14th (my son's birthday!). The Award Ceremony is December 15th.

Nominations are open for the following categories:
Best individual blog
Best individual tweeter
Best group blog
Best new blog
Best class blog
Best student blog
Best resource sharing blog
Most influential blog post
Most influential tweet / series of tweets / tweet based discussion
Best teacher blog
Best librarian / library blog
Best school administrator blog
Best educational tech support blog
Best elearning / corporate education blog
Best educational use of audio
Best educational use of video / visual
Best educational wiki
Best educational podcast
Best educational webinar series
Best educational use of a social network
Best educational use of a virtual world
Best use of a PLN
Lifetime achievement

If you would like to nomimate a blog(s):

Step 1: Link to the Edublog Awards Homepage, and provide links to the blogs you want to nominate.

The rules are:

You can nominate:
  1. For as many categories as you like,
  2. But only one nomination per category,
  3. A blog (or site) for more than one category
  4. Any blog or site you like but not your own blogs (sites).
Step 2: Send an email in the form on the bottom of the EduBlogAwards page.

Let the nominations begin!

Student Led Conferences Facilitates Communication and Student Empowerment

At least once a year all over the country, parents come into their child's school and sit down for a meeting with the teacher. Often this is focused around grades and behavior and students cringe at the thought of parents and teachers meeting and talking about them. Even those students who are doing well in everything, still hope that their parents will be pleased with what they have done.

Parent and teacher communication is really important and should occur when there is a need to tell a parent about concerns and successes within the class. However, I have always found it awkward to talk about the student in the 3rd person when they are sitting right there. The time provided usually does not allow me to go into any sort of depth. I am grateful that at my school we have implemented Student Led Conferences which I believe goes a long way in facilitating parent/student relationship while focusing on goals and success.

Twice a year for about a week or so we ask our parents to come in for about 20 minutes each. They come in and sit down with their student. The student gets out their work and shows the evidence for what they have done so far this year. They talk about what has worked well in the past and what they have/are struggling with. The student has goals on what they hope to achieve over the year and is well aware of what needs to be done to help them reach their goals. Because each student is having an one-on-one conversation, we can have as many going on at once as we have space for.

We the teachers, purposefully avoid being drawn into the conversations because this is supposed to be a chance for students to take control of their own learning. We provide a sign up sheet if the parents would like to have a follow up conversation. This is difficult for everyone involved especially their first time because we are so trained in the typical parent/teacher roles at a conference.

While there are occasionally meltdowns or frustrations, we coach our students beforehand to take charge of the conversation. Similar to a job interview, we encourage them to talk about what has not gone well in the past (emphasis past) and how they are going to work to overcome those challenges in the future. Parents love seeing what students have created and hearing them talk about the work they are doing.

There really is no reason why you shouldn't do student led conferences. They allow a more deep conversation, are more efficient, and encourage parent support within the classroom. Concerns you have can be overcome once you see how much more confident, self-motivated, and empowered your students are afterwards.

How to Get Things Done, The BrokenAirplane Way

Recently I was honored by a fellow teacher for helping to support her and other teachers. In her speech to our colleagues, she mentioned that I must have discovered time travel because of the number of things I am able to get done in a day. I have grading, lesson/project planning, writing a blog, side projects just like everyone else but I have discovered techniques and tips that help me use my time really efficiently.

I remember a financial planner telling me once, "it is not how much you make but how you make your money stretch", and this is true for time as well. For some people, giving them all the time in the world wouldn't help them get any more done. Here are some suggestions on how you can accomplish everything you hope to.

1) Set boundaries: This must be done first. Just like financial experts encourage "paying yourself first", similarly you need to decide when are your times to work and when are the times to play. Family, friends, and your happiness are far more important than anything else you are working on so make sure you decide when is your time for each.
  • For me, I primarily use my teacher prep period. Things come up so I wake up early. When I come home though except under extreme circumstances, I do not work.
2) Plan, Plan, Plan: I have lots of Google Documents and Spreadsheets where I have ideas started. Lots of lists and random thoughts that come to me about a project, lesson, or blog idea. I will write them down and then add them to the Google Docs. 
  • Once a project has reached a critical mass, I can start planning that project and create the fine details. This is much better than spending 6 hours planning a project from scratch in my opinion. If you are just starting out, there are many great ideas for projects at the Project Inspiration page.
  • It was really helpful for me to take our school calendar and block out my projects and plans. This allowed me to start thinking in terms of "2 week projects" or "projectile motion". This is also helpful as a safety net, that while you can refine and improve this schedule, it is always there in case you need something to fall back on.
  • Ask yourself if there are more efficient ways of doing what you are doing. If small changes can reduce the amount of work you have to do, then you have more time to do other tasks. 
3) Overcome Your Fears: When I first started projects, there was a lot more preparation than daily lessons, plus building guitars or robots has a lot more risk involved than a unit plan. I had some worries that would keep me from doing this project or that one. "What if it fails, this is a lot of work, maybe I should just do something simpler." You have to stop listening to that voice and just move along. If it doesn't go perfectly, you can always refine it for next year. Don't stress.

4) Breakdown your Tasks: Figure out what your maximum productivity time is and stop after that. If you go beyond that, and push yourself, your work and happiness will diminish quickly and will kill your creative spirit. Every semester we write a comment to each of our students and some prefer to do them all at once in a couple of days. For me, I divide the number of comments by the number of days and do that many each time. Sometimes, I will do more than needed and finish early which is always very satisfying.

5) You Need a ToDo List: Something simple that allows you to keep track of what needs to be done and what is most important. I keep it simple with Google Tasks. It is right there in my email and my mobile phone. 
  • Astrid and Remember the Milk are great Android apps. Evernote is really popular and available on every desktop and mobile device there is. Of course you can use good old fashioned pen and paper, I just don't want to be you if you forget it.
6) Do Not Feed the Social Butterfly: I have amazing colleagues, so amazing in fact that I could easily get engrossed in a conversation for hours with any one of them. So when I need to work, I lock the door. Additionally, turn off all notifications and pings from your social life. If you really want to be in the zone for that hour, turn off your phone ringer, close Facebook and Twitter, and hide yourself away. 

Work hard play hard. Get it done, be productive and creative and then go and do the other things you enjoy doing. For me I love being productive and getting things done. It is a wonderful feeling to go home without stress and be with my family because I have everything done. 

Do you have other suggestions for getting things done both at work or at home? Leave a comment to share with everyone else.

For Profit Education: Why Students and Teachers are Paying the Price

In your class do you provide tests that count for 100% of the grade? No of course not, what kind of teacher would do such a thing? Unfortunately, you and your school experience that very thing every year. Students are not learning everything there is to know with perfect retention (see how silly it sounds to read that), and the decision was made that more accountability was needed.

So tests emerged that were intended to gauge how well students learned and how qualified teachers are to teach. In an effort to save money and time on grading, the simplest method of assessment and grading was chosen (multiple choice tests with occasional written response). Students who were already doing well performed well on these tests and students who were struggling....well they struggled on the test.

A panic swept across the nation as cold hard data made it clear that there was definitely a disparity in funding, quality of facilities, community support, qualifications of faculty, etc. Something had to be done, this is the Nation of Equality! Yet the idea of equality, where all are treated equally, was conflated with the idea that all should perform equally. In case I am not making myself clear, we expect that all students should perform well in all aspects even though in our lives we specialize where our talents and gifts lie. 

The idea that all students should want, need, or be able to do Calculus is a lie. I love Calculus and while it describes many aspects of our lives, it is not necessary for all to learn it. In fact forcing all to learn a topic that I love would only make it torture for all of us. All students are expected to know almost ten years worth of math, science, literature, history, a foreign language, arts. It is not fair to graded for our ability to retain that much information.  Every year, as the amount of information increases exponentially, we have to spend more time reviewing. We talk about adding 21st century skills to our curriculum (which I support) while keeping all of the 20 previous centuries of content. This is simply too much!

More and more tests are appearing each year to test our student's retention, and similarly teachers are being asked more and more to demonstrate their ability to teach their content area, support subgroups of students, and review pedagogy that was already taught to them in their federally accredited University. I understand that there are teachers doing a poor job, but a standardized test that one can cram for is not going to prove that any more than a student's A on a test proves that they know the content.

Each year states spend hundreds of millions of dollars on standardized testing. Not to mention the costs of so called elective tests (e.g. SAT, ACT, APs, GRE which are not elective at all if you would like to go to College). There is a lot of money going to organizations to provide us these tests and they are aggressively seeking to spread their influence. I am concerned that we are shortchanging our students by putting so much value on these tests. The valuable lessons, discussions, and projects I have seen cannot be assessed on a standardized test.  What would a class look like that covered all of the information on the test?

The fact is that there is too much information to cover in one year with any hope that it will stick and be deeply understood. I know quite a few teachers who have opted for early retirement because they did not wish to pay hundreds of dollars to hassle with tests to prove that they know what they are talking about. Just this week, another company is seeking to profit from  Student Teachers.

If our money was spent in other ways (classroom supplies and experiences, educational technology, teacher pay) this would go far further towards authentic and meaningful learning. What we are currently keeping teachers/students accountable to is how well they memorize. Real authentic learning comes from application, discussion, long term experience and deep, messy, time consuming, lengthy but meaningful assessment.

Habits of the Heart and Mind and Why They Matter

Culture is an important part of education. If you say that your school does not have a culture, then you should look carefully at how people act when they are at your school. How do students and teachers interact? Do you notice a difference in how people act towards each other when you go from one school to another. You do have a culture, but is it the culture that you want?

I have mentioned before some simple things you can do to enhance the culture in your classroom. Yet all of these ideas flow from our school culture which we take very seriously.

Where does our culture come from? How was it formed? When our school was developed, there was a discussion about what was important for us to see in each other, in our students, and in our interactions. We were inspired by the Habits of Mind from Debbie Meier's Coalition of Essential Schools and how they were able to work with students in creating a positive and supportive place for them.

At our school the Habits of the Heart and Mind are:

or as one of our teachers puts it REMPPCC (pronounced REM P squared C squared)

These are what we ask everyone at our school to seek to cultivate within themselves and reach their full potential as a student but also as a human being.

Refinement - If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well (and over again if necessary). This is so contrary to a system that has so much information to cover and so little time to do it. Yet, the benefits of not accepting anything less than Beautiful Work makes all the difference.
Evidence - Can I back up what I am saying? Can I prove that I am learning and apply it?
Mindfulness - It is impossible to harm or do wrong when one is mindful. To be thinking about ones actions and the consequences or results of those actions is invaluable. Our society needs mindful leaders and citizens.
Perspective - Going beyond one's self and seeing a conflict, problem, or issue from multiple points of view. It is easier to compromise and reach agreement when we understand where others are coming from.
Perseverance - Randy Pausch in his last lecture said , "Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something." The best stuff is worth working hard for.
Cooperation - Best exemplified in Dr. Woodie Flowers' Gracious Professionalism Ethos. We can work together for mutual benefit even in that which we are competing.
Compassion - To share in one's struggles and help them out can be the most rewarding thing one ever does. If you have the ability to help, then please do so.

Each school or organization may need to come up with additional or other ones, these are not set in stone but they give all of us a framework for discussions about what kind of person we hope to be and help others become when they enter our school. Perhaps at your next professional development or staff meeting, you could consider discussing what is core to your culture or what you would like to be, and then see how you can weave that into everything you do in a meaningful authentic way.

Tinkering Towards Utopia is your History Textbook if you are interested in Education Reform,

The infamous quote by George Santayana that, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,"points out one of our most difficult tasks as a society to overcome. Without tribal elders and with our society being so large, it is near impossible for wisdom to be passed through the ages. Generation to generation we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. Yet each time we say that it will be different and is sure to work.

History provides us with a look into our past and education reform leaders and those concerned need a look into their past now more than ever. With the structure of education being carved about a century ago and remaining much the same since, we can look what was tried in the past to perhaps guide us and inform us of our next steps. As a nation we need to be more aware of how our system

Tinkering toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban provides us with that detailed and unique look into our educational system's past. There are chapters explaining why our system changed dramatically over 100 years ago, where the practice of tracking began, Carnegie Units (the credits determining the worth of our classes), how technology was used in the classroom, and more.

I was captivated by every example and amazed at how similar the frustrations of the past mirror those of today. Any of the quotes taken from 25 years ago (A Nation at Risk), 50 years ago (Sputnik), 80-100 years ago (WWI-WWII) could just as easily been taken from last week's newspaper. Clearly we as a nation are making the same mistakes as our predecessors.

In my opinion, the primary issue stems from our desire to want students to fit into an Industrial Model. While on the surface most of us would disagree with this statement but, when we grade all students according to a rubric or standard with expectations that all will or should perform then we are quality assurance managers seeking a standard quality product. The assumption is that all students should be able to know everything (and the amount of information that constitutes "everything" has grown exponentially while the time in class has stayed stagnant).

The curriculum is standardized which prevents the student from showing their natural talents unless they align with those expected for all to learn and if you subscribe the Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory many students are not reaching their full potential because they are not learning in a way conducive to them.

To hear me talk about this, it would sound like there is no hope and that our classrooms are cold uncaring assembly lines of learning. I know many of us seek to make the best of a situation, but perhaps if we are frustrated it may be the system and not our efforts that are at fault. We strive to determine the best practices for all but we know how different we each are. It is not easy to help all students individually reach their own potential but it would certainly be more enjoyable than trying to come up with ways to convince and motivate students to learn that which they feel is irrelevant to them.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what we have tried in the past, why we did it, and even perhaps why it did or did not succeed.

Android Apps You Will Love

My previous school used Google Apps for education and I was drawn to the idea of having my phone fully integrated with my email, calendar, docs, etc. I love my Android phone, even though it is a couple of years old, I still feel like I am holding a Tricorder. It is the first phone I have ever felt truly connected me to the world and did it well.

Since my Free and Open Source Software Suggestions is still one of the most looked at pages on BrokenAirplane, I figured a list of suggestions about my favorite Android apps for life, education, and otherwise might be helpful as well. These are certainly not exhaustive, just the ones I use frequently. 

Unless otherwise mentioned, these applications are all free. Now that the Google Play allows you to install directly to your phone, I have replaced the links so you can conveniently send them with one click.
  • Adobe Reader - Read PDFs on your phone.
  • AndroZip - Useful for opening attachments you download.
  • Astro - Browse the files on your phone, but it is best known for its ability to backup the applications on your phone.
  • Barcode Scanner - Scan barcodes and QR codes for quickly accessing information  (make your own QR business card here and here)
  • CardioGraph - Fantastic use of the camera to check your pulse.
  • Chrome - Sign in and keep all of your bookmarks and tabs available across alldevices.
  • Google Play Books - With Google's Play Bookstore, you can read on all of your devices.
  • Google Reader - This app seamlessly allows you to keep track of all of your blogs and RSS feeds. The interface is smooth and the sync works really well. Unlike some rss feed apps, you can do almost everything you can do on the computer Google Reader site (e.g. subscribe, search, follow from multiple accounts).
  • Google Sky Map - GPS and accelerometer equipped sky map. As you move your phone the map moves with you. If you use this every day or only a couple times a year it is still one of my favorite apps.
  • Google Translate - The power of this app was demonstrated to me when my students and I were able to communicate with other Robotics teams from around the World at Championships. Very powerful features like multiple languages and it will speak the translation as well.
  • GTasks - Google Tasks in Gmail is my todo list for getting things done. The app synchronizes so you don't have to go to a site.
  • HandyCalc - Powerful calculator with graphing and currency conversion.
  • NPR News - Useful for streaming the news and your favorite weekend shows.
  • Physics Gizmo - Now you and your students can do science without the cost of those expensive sensors. Blog post here.
  • PRemoteDroid - Allows you to remotely connect and control your computer. Use as a mouse, browse files. Really useful when you are teaching or away from your computer. Similar to Gmote but allows you to use Bluetooth as well. Download the software for your PC here.
  • Reddit Sync - Great interface and it's easy to open up the images/links/videos right from within the app. 
  • Seesmic - Love this Twitter app! I can quickly and easily post to Twitter and my Facebook page. I tried other apps and they were either slower or had less features. It has a lot of customizations for the look, frequency of updates, lists, and everything else you need in a Twitter app to connect to your PLN.
  • Shopper - Find out if you are really getting the best deal by scanning the object or barcode. The app will then tell you what Amazon, Ebay, Best Buy, etc are selling it for. I use this app for comparison shopping and I use the share function to remind my self of books I want to buy or take out from the library.
  • SL4A - This was the app I used to originally create Physics Gizmo. Great prototyping platform.
  • Smart Tools - (Free versions of each tool/Paid version puts them all in one app) uses your phones sensors to measure distance, height, angle, etc. Very handy.
  • WebMD - Simple interface, either click on where your symptoms are, check drug interactions, and more. Great for parents.
There are a ton more apps that I could have on my phone that I don't because I am trying to simplify my life and minimize distraction. What Android App can you not live without? Leave the link and description in the comments.