Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Solitude, Community, and Ministry

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I just read an article by Henri Nouwen entitled Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.  Essentially, Nouwen describes three spiritual disciplines that are important to have in the correct order.  He has several definitions that caught me off guard and made me think. He defined discipline not as "self-control" as I might, but as "the effort of creating some space in which God can act."

The first discipline he described was solitude. While I spend many hours a week alone -- I wouldn't call it solitude. I drive everyday for at least an hour, most of which is alone. I usually can't stand this time -- trying to flood it with radio, lately talk radio because it makes me feel like I'm a part of a community.  If not radio, I'll flood it with music, and even sing along because I feel like I'm part of the band -- that I'm important, skillful, and not alone. Lately, I have been trying to introduce more solitude -- by turning the radio off.  That has been nice, but I am still bombarded by outside things -- typically thoughts about the day to come on my morning drive, or the day that happened on my drive home, and all the things I need to do. I'm beginning to wonder if I really can experience solitude on my drive home, despite being alone.

Nouwen suggested that solitude ought to lead you to the belief and understanding that you are God's beloved. Admittedly, that sounds a little sappy to me -- and I've never fully bought it that God is madly in love with me and cares about me. I'll admit that I try too often to seek my approval from others - and from community, that cannot really provide the love I seek. My wife, bless her heart, has provided so much love, but it still doesn't satisfy. It's not that she could do more -- it's just impossible for her to provide the unconditional love that God provides. Though I know all this in my head -- I still cannot feel it in my heart. Am I too busy? Would more time with God help my heart? Nouwen seems to suggest it. But how?

I've been thinking about my role as a deacon at church a lot. It's very frustrating, because I don't feel like I have anything to offer. I feel disorganized. I have not been able to pray for those in my care group like I should. I am not good at looking for other people's needs and though I am designated as the treasurer of the church, all the financial dealings are handled by others. I'm wondering if I should have declined the nomination after all. Now I'm off to a meeting where I don't have any opinions to offer, and I know I'm going to be more worried about the classwork I should be doing, the grading that is piling up, or the band practice that I should be leading in the room next door. I didn't decline the nomination becuase I figured if God wanted me to be a deacon, then He would cause me to be selected, and if he didn't, he would cause my nomination to fall. I'm wondering if it was wise for me to put this ministry opportunity in God's control, or if I should have removed my name from the list instead. After all, I don't trust God to help me cross the road or make a left turn, but use my own judgement which God has enabled me with.

Monday, November 21, 2011

This poster is incredibly detailed -- and shows the differences between relative sizes of numbers -- something trillions of people are epidemically bad at.  
There, I showed you it.
Click the image to see in full size, and read the details. Wow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

y=mx+b Fight Song

Today we learned how the things we've been studying in Algebra -- lately working with slope, and finding intercepts, and drawing graphs of lines, are all brought together in one tidy little equation shape: slope intercept form! For those of you less familiar with math jargon, that was the y=mx+b form you remember graphing with.

To celebrate the occasion -- and to show my students that I'm not always just a boring math teacher -- I wrote the Y=MX+B fight song, and we celebrated by singing it at the tops of our lungs.  I wrote it to the tune of a college fight song -- not my alma mater's of Michigan State, and not (God forbid!) the other university's, but chose a neutral college, Notre Dame.  The lyrics are posted below:

Y equals m x, + b 
That's the way to graph naturally 
m is how lines move - that's slope 
 b stands for the y intercept! 
Start with the slope: that's rise over run 
Write as a fraction - man this is fun! -- 
Tack on where the line begun 
 you're Graphing to victory!

If you've forgotten the tune, you may listen to it here:
 Note that the video plays through the song twice, so you can imagine me singing it to you the first time, and then stand up and join in the second time around.  

If anyone besides my wife comments, I might consider recording my own voice singing it, but I'm pretty sure no one reads this thing anyway.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crash Test Data

We've been spending the last couple days in physics analyzing the following video:

We used Tracker Video Analysis to analyze the force the dummy felt without a seatbelt, and compare that to the force the dummy felt with a seatbelt and airbag combination. Since we have been studying momentum, I was hoping that we could find that though the dummy experiences roughly the same impulse (change in momentum) either with or without a seatbelt, the dummy experiences greater force without a seatbelt due to the impulse occuring in a shorter interval of time.  The formula for impulse is after all Δp = FΔt which yields F = Δp/Δt which is bigger when Δt is smaller.  Initial findings from the class have not been conclusive whether Δt is indeed smaller, but since the students are still writing their labs on the subject, I won't elaborate here.

I will however post the graphs I found.
First the boring data -- the car - a position versus time graph (inches and seconds are units)
 and a velocity versus time graph (in/s and seconds are units).

Now for the dummy without a seatbelt - a position versus time graph (inches and seconds)
 and a velocity versus time graph:

Finally the dummy with the seatbelt -- looking at just the initial collision (inches and seconds)
 And velocity versus time (in/sec and sec)

Since the close up view of the dummy did not show the whole picture, I did another track of the whole dummy with the seatbelt on, this shows the initial impact with the airbag, but then the subsequent hitting against the chair and finally coming to a stop. Again, units are inches and seconds
 and for the velocity graph: in/sec and seconds.

If the Δt does not prove conclusively that Force is diminished, then I may need to give a quick primer on pressure -- as I'm sure the pressure on the dummies forehead in the crash without a seatbelt (notice the glass shattering!!) is much higher than the pressure the dummy felt smothering his whole face (notice the paint left behind) on the airbag.  Otherwise my students might wrongly conclude that wearing their safety belt is worse than riding without.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sobering thoughts on physics

Read two blogs back-to-back today which hit hard about my teaching of physics. The first article called "No credit for ridiculous answers" was one teachers experience with fostering an attitude of always checking the reasonableness of an answer. While I do this naturally in my head -- I do not do a good job of developing this in my students. I'd like them to think as I do -- with estimations, and a sense of what answers are reasonable and unreasonable, and the post showed some ways the teacher graded to develop that.

The second article describes how our physics classrooms so often become areas of plug-and-chug formula application, rather than conceptual thinking. The author describes "How we create a context of Formula worship" listing many of the dry dead questions that require no more thought than deciding which formula contains the correct letters in it - letters which I know all but one of. I saw in my past few weeks of teaching several of those questions being asked on my worksheets and my PowerPoint presentations. How come in algebra I am always teaching how many different ways there are of looking at a problem, but in physics I am always simplifying things to plug-and-chug?

On a more encouraging note -- I think my students are this week doing a valuable experience of using video analysis to determine how effective seatbelts and airbags are in reducing injury in a crash.  I had to use some interesting thinking to determine the framerate of the video -- which I may write about later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Article Reviews

Just read two interesting articles on grading, from the magazine Educational Leadership which is published monthly by ASCD. Their November 2011 issue focuses on standard based grading, which is something I'm considering doing my final Master's project or thesis on. 

   The first article was The Case of Illogical Grades by Lissa Pijanowski. In the article, Lissa describes her school districts efforts to reform their grading system. She described that teachers in the district had all sorts of different philosophies, which amounted to meaningless numbers that were inconsistent from teacher to teacher and year to year. She described the process the schools took to revamp their policies and become more consistent.  
   One of the things the teachers did was separate out of the grades behavioral concerns, so the grade was based entirely on what the students know from the required learning standards. This meant students grades were no longer lowered for missing assignments, participation, or late work -- but neither were students grades inflated for simply turning in work on time.  These sorts of things, specifically the four categories: Assignment Completion, Participation, Responsibility, and Interpersonal Skills were listed separately and graded on a 1-4 scale.  I like this idea, as my grades this year are based directly on knowledge of standards, and so I had been looking for way to communicate these other social skills.  

   The second article I read was Finding Your Grading Compass by grading guru Carol Ann Tomlinson.  This short article describes several revelations Tomlinson encountered during her teaching with regards to grading, several of which I have been learning in my seven years so far.  Some of these revelations are paraphrased below:
  • No matter how hard I try to remove my personal judgement with foolproof criteria for grades, there will always be an element of subjectivity. This means I will always need to use my professional judgement, and that I should not be threatened by that.
  • Consistent and specific feedback is more helpful and powerful than a letter or number grade will ever be
  • I need to grade fewer assignments, as these are places where students can and should be free to make errors and mistakes.  Coaches don't grade the first time you're learning a new move or play in basketball, but how well you use the move in a game when the time comes. Teachers should do similarly   
  • If I have a student who consistently have low grades, there's something I'm not doing well in reaching or connecting with that student. Also, if I have a student who consistently reaches high grades, with no struggle or needs, I'm underestimating their capability, and wasting their time. I need to find a way to challenge them to learn too.
Each of these has been something I have struggled with in my own grading philosophy. Though I know and believe the statements above to be true, in past years my actions have proven otherwise. Likewise, I still often feel differently. These things I am working to change this year, beginning with my actions in implementing a standards-based grading system and moving away from a points based system as I have had in the past.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

EdcampGR 2011

Just a few links for some possible presentations I'll be giving at Edcamp:
  Conversation on Standards Based Grading
     Public Notes

  Introduction to Flipped Classroom
      Powerpoint and Handout
      Notes on Google Docs
      Examples on my class website
      Vodcasting Ning
  Building a Class Website
      Collaborative Notes on Google Docs
      Example of my class website
      Dropbox Sign Up
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