Friday, February 20, 2009

Rules, Rules

Do you ever feel like your day is going the same direction as the market?

Many school teachers avoid hands-on learning activities because they are afraid of chaos. My experience yesterday proves them right and wrong.

About once a month I spend the afternoon in my son’s school helping science teachers. Yesterday I co-taught two classes and brought demonstrations into two others.

If I were grading myself, I’d get an A for the first session, a B for the second, C for the third and D for the last. A real bear market day.

What made the difference?

The first two groups were 5th graders. They’re learning about magnets and electricity. Last week, they got to test out magnets on all kinds of objects to find out what kinds of materials are attracted to a magnet and what kinds are not. This time, we showed them the cool trick of putting 2 donut magnets on a pen with opposite polarity so that the top one levitates. What makes that happen? There is an invisible force. You can’t see it, but if you push down on the top magnet, you can feel it. We then talked about the biggest magnet in the world – the earth itself. I asked them if they think the earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to attract an iron nail or a small magnet. They made their predictions, then we tested them out with nails and magnets suspended by thread. They made a compass!

There was some chaos, but the rules and the worksheet, and my discipline as a teacher, kept everything together and the kids walked out with a sense of accomplishment and learning.

In the next class, the teacher had asked me that morning to show a DVD I have from Harvard called “Life Inside the Cell”. If you want to see why teachers are clamoring for this awesome video, watch it here.

I raced from classroom #2 over to the AV room, wheeled this giant TV with built-in DVD player over to his classroom, and with great anticipation beaming from the faces of those 7th graders, the TV monitor said, “BAD DVD”. I felt like a kid being reprimanded.

Fortunately, I had my laptop with me, with a full charge on the battery, so did a Julia Childish switcheroo and without missing a beat pulled it out and popped in the disk. The problem was that a 12” laptop screen is slightly less than ideal for classroom use. Or more than slightly.

I give myself a C because I should have made absolutely sure the DVD would work before agreeing to the demo. In the end, we found someone more tech savvy than I who promised to make a new DVD that he can use next week.

In the last class, it was basically a total disaster. I probably deserve an F, but because I went to Stanford I got hooked on grade inflation.

I had told the teacher that I have a great activity with mini globes and a light bulb to help the sixth graders visualize how the seasons change.

My mistake was to come in at the end of the period rather than the beginning and not to have the two things that made the first two classes so successful: a detailed plan and a worksheet.

It was uncontrollable chaos. Half the boys were not following directions, they were talking instead of listening, all the things that boys do. My gut reaction was that they were not being respectful, but in truth I blame myself. And it was not a case of “better than nothing”. Better to wait and do it on a different day.

I personally like rules and structure when I feel that they are for my own good. Does any sane adult object to seatbelt laws? How about the rule that you have to stop at a red light? How about “don’t speak lashon hara”? How about “be truthful and honest all the time”?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - here's your weekly tangential music vid:

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