Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wall Street Journal Quote

On most Saturday mornings Toni fries eggs in bacon grease and I load the toast up with real butter until it soaks through the back side. We then sit at the oak kitchen table that I built in 1986 and read newspapers and magazines while we eat our fried eggs and drink cappuccinos. Today was different. Toni said she was hungry for oat meal and since I wasn't about to extend any extra energy I agreed.

I came across an article in my copy of The Wall Street Journal entitled "Oops! I'll Do It Again. And Again. And Again . . ." that reminded me of a teacher inservice I interrupted five years ago. The quote in the WSJ said:
Students have shown that, while American students perform poorly compared with many foreigners of the same age, they are top of the charts when it comes to how well they think they have performed.
The line "they think they have performed" is the part that sparked my memory. Five years ago at an inservice we had an guest presenter share with us the new middle school model. The presenter went on and on comparing this great new middle school model of the twenty-first century to the archaic, ineffective junior high model of the 1970's. The meeting drug on as the speaker humored us with ridiculous comparisons which painted the picture that we were all idiots back in the 1970's.

Realizing that the room was void of any critical thinking at that point, I raised my hand to purposely interrupt this onslaught of propaganda to ask for an explanation of one key element. I said:
It appears from multiple reports that the United States has fallen behind several nations in areas such as science and math. I believe we are in 10th place and 14th place world wide and sinking. Yet, back in the 1970's with this so called "junior high model" we were leading the world in all areas of education. Do you think it is wise to mock the schools in the past who were leading the world in education? Has any one asked what are they doing in Japan? In Korea? In Europe? As a basketball coach I scout and research the teams that are beating us. And, I don't make fun of my school's past championship teams. So, before we jump to this new middle school model I want to know first, what are the other countries doing. And, I don't want everyone in the room to say, "Well, they don't test the same way we do" or "They only educate the smart kids." Bottom line, they are kicking our butts and the best AEA can do is make fun of our schools from the 1970's when we were kicking butt. You present us with this new middle school model that includes no research concerning the 10-14 nations that are crushing us academically?
With that the inservice was pretty much derailed. The presenter never regained his footing. No one answered the question. No one could answer the question. We just took a break and ate some cookies. Today several of us teachers still laugh about it and respond to most every inservice subject by mumbling at our table the question: "Is China doing this?"

Click here to see the Des Moines Register's World Class Schools for Iowa page. Notice the rankings of the nations:
  • In Science: the United States is now 29th
  • In Math: the United States is now 35th
  • In Reading: the United States score is not recordable due to a "clerical error"? What!?
Since the AEA could not anwer any questions five years ago, we were left with assumption, hear-say, opinions and "how we felt we were doing." The Des Moines Register now provides you with an online T/F quiz called Education: Truth or Myth. Take this quiz! See the world map with rankings. (Notice the three comments on this Des Moines Register page all deflect the results of these numbers as unreliable or insignificant. Well, as long as that is the way you "feel". Who needs truth and facts when we already feel so good.)

Mr. Wiemers
PS - want more of the same? go here

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vocabulary Inservice

This week's best vocabulary laced sentence used in the shop was when I instructed the students, "Dispose of your saturated application material to avoid spontaneous combustion." They did not know what I said, but they showed a great desire to understand since combustion of one's saturated material does not sound like a condition where a full recovery was an option! So, I told them to make sure they threw the towels used to stain their tables in the trash outside so they did not start a fire. (I have a story concerning fire to blog later. I hope I do not forget.)

This week on Wednesday we had an 1:00 dismissal for the teachers to continue their research and development of vocabulary instruction that will be used through out the school environment. We reviewed and discussed our previous work concerning the theory of vocabulary, tier 1-3 words and strategies for vocabulary instruction. We entered the implementation phase that afternoon by reviewing lists of curriculum specific words. Some of the words where words the students would need to remember and use to achieve success in the next few years in high school or college. Others words were recognized as being necessary for the rest of the student's life.

We looked through huge collections of words that students should know. These soon began to look like labyrinths of lawless layers of letters, language and linguistic labels. This initial step of the implementation phase seems to be the most challenging. It has the potential of derailing the entire process in one of two ways. First, a disposition of discouragement could quickly settle in.

Second, teachers could disengage from the process, produce an artificial list, create a couple of activities and check "teach vocabulary" off their to do list with out ever having moved forward. (I've done that before. Often.) We are at a crucial point. Even the language used in the meeting to describe this implementation phase indicated an anticipation of this educational hazard when the following terminology was used describe it:
  • Flexible - dictionary definition: "to be bent repeatedly, to be changed, able to be persuaded".
  • Revisit - dictionary definition: "to reconsider something such as an issue of public policy or a course of action, especially when additional facts indicate that an earlier decision was inappropriate"
  • Process - dictionary definition: "to be in a state of procession or of going; not the arriving to a destination or the completion of a trip."
We are at an important place in our vocabulary "discussion" that will determine if we end up creating education altering activities or not.

Mr. Wiemers

Staining the Oak Tables

We are rapidly approaching the end of the quarter but we are still right on schedule to complete the last set of oak end tables for this school year. The tables in this video bring our total eight year 8th grade production to 1,000 tables. We have a completion rate of 99.5%. Or, simply put, 995 students of the 1,000 students who began the table have completed the table during the last eight years. I bet you would like to know the stories behind the five that didn't make it? Watch the video and remember the importance of knowing where your can of stain is at all the time!

Mr. Wiemers

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Professional Development Day

One week ago the Dallas Center-Grimes staff spent a full day in professional development sessions. As we have come to expect the trendy buzz words were easy to reengage with since they were in the session titles, the handouts, the skits, the presenter's verbiage, and, if we were willing, we volleyed them back in our questions and our offerings of answers and insights. So, our sessions included:
  • Iowa Core Curriculum
  • Relationships focused on Positive Interaction
  • Formative Assessment
  • Rigor and Relevance Framework
  • Understanding and Caring about the student
All in all it was a good day. The sessions included good presentations with a variety of ways to interact with the material and those around us. Like usual, I got out of it what I put into it. This is what I took with me:
  1. Concerning the latest trends or buzz words: Once you peel off the buzz word label (formative assessment, rigor and relevance, etc.), if you have been in the classroom for more than 3 years, are still conscience of your surroundings and have lines of communication open with your student, then you are probably already doing these things, but you probably call it "common sense." What I do like is that during days of professional development like this I can spend time thinking about how I could do these things more efficiently, with greater frequency and with an identifiable goal and purpose. If I let it, the desire to teach and make a difference begins to surface. Because, honestly, even though it is common sense, sometime around February I am no longer conscience of my surroundings and I have lost interest in communicating with my students. Point: No matter if it is a trendy buzz word or common sense, sometimes I still have to be refreshed and reminded what my job is.
  2. Iowa Core Curriculum: Because of our school districts desire to constantly be in pursuit of excellence and give attention to detail many of the things we have worked on in professional development over the past 7-8 years are dove-tailing together like a well built stairway that easily leads us into the ICC.
  3. Career Trends: The internet is 5,000 days old! By 2010 there will be more jobs in Iowa than we have qualified workers to fill. Iowa Core Curriculum will focus on: Literacy, Math, Science, Social Studies and Career Skills. Career Skills will develop the students: employment opportunities, financial literacy and technological skills.
  4. Relationships: Any relationship must have some level of mutual respect. This includes between teacher and student. Some see this as some kind of modern approach or cultural deterioration. These are factors affecting education today, but lets go back to common sense. I remember being asked almost twenty years ago why I interacted with students the way I did. Even back then my reply was, "I first have to have some kind of relationship with the kid before I can expect to have him listen to me because of who I am." Sure, you can go through your whole teaching career spouting, "Listen to me because I am the teacher. I am your superior. I have the social right to be respected." True. I teach my kids at home that very thing concerning teachers, police officers and, especially, their Dad! But, it sure is easier to teach and parent when the kid trusts you. Respect makes society function. Trust builds relationships. Obviously we prefer to have both. And, we can.
  5. Formative Assessment: Well, someone figured out that testing and scoring at the end of a chapter does not increase learning. It merely records what learning did or did not happen. If this is "new" information then it appears that for years we have an entire education institution with no common sense. Are we here to grade students or teach students. I remember speaking to a crowd many years ago saying, "Just because you taught it doesn't mean they learned it." I realized I had hit a nerve when I saw every one's head drop and they began to write in their notes the concept that teaching and learning are not a cause and effect duo. In fact, many times in my shop the students are learning, but I am clearly not teaching. So, to many teachers it is a great disappointment to learn that the "teacher" is not a prerequisite for the "learner". But, for an "educator" this information provides a sense of freedom and relief. We set the goal, aim the student and facilitate the natural process of learning. When they reach the goal, we move on. Evaluation or assessment should be taking place along the way to help determine what the student needs to know before they reach the goal. Assessment is more for the teacher than for the student. OK, this can become very idealistic very quickly so I am going to move on.
  6. Quadrants of Rigor and Relevance: This concept for me was academically challenging. It took me a while to even figure out what we were talking about. I still do not understand the vocabulary used to define the four quadrants of Rigor/Relevance. They are Acquisition, Application, Assimilation, Adaption. I really got set back when it was explained to me that my eighth grade end table project was relevant but not rigorous in its current curricular status. In order to make it rigorous the students would have to recognize a mistake, analyze it, correct it and then correctly evaluate it as a success. The actual terms and steps the students would need to undertake to achieve "rigorness" would be: Knowledge/Awareness, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation. Point: I really do not understand this and I am probably going to need either more training or need to increase my spin in presenting the middle school curriculum as simply just a basic introductory class designed to prepare students for the "rigorisms and releviances" they will be exposed to in high school. Pass the buck and grab the bail out!
  7. Understanding and Caring: The last session of the day drove home the painful point that we are not working on an assembly line but working with living, breathing, feeling souls of young people. We can never fully understand their situations, their fears, their abilities nor their potential. It was at this point I realize how unworthy I am to be called "teacher".
Mr. Wiemers

Mr. Wiemers' Slideshow

Ok, what you see below is my attempt to use PhotoBucket and embed a slide show. I must say that my inspiration was Mr. McClung famously known for his sixth grade blog site Mr. McClung's Sixth Grade World . I saw he had used PhotoBucket to make a slide show and tried it myself. I was really aiming to get this slide show in the right column with the other gadgets but it ended up here as a blog. So, please forgive me, this was not suppose to be a blog but here it is, at least, for now. We now have another tool to develop and work with:

Teacher Unions

I really do not know much about teacher unions. I really haven't been paying attention. But, my friend and fellow staff member Eric Voelker had an editorial published in the Des Moines Register today titled Unions Should Offer Levels of Membership. (The full text is below.)

My experience with the teacher's union began and ended my first year of teaching shop. Two representatives came down to my shop. It was strange to see these two teachers walk into the shop. They explained membership dues and benefits. As far as dues were concerned I was taking home $900 a month and any dues over $1 were too much. (Yes, my contract pay has gone up since that time and unions will take the credit. But, I also have a part time job or two.) The big benefit they would provide would be in the case where I was fired. The teachers union would be able to rally around me and fight for my job if the administration ever fired me. At that point, being an arrogant young teacher/coach (unlike today, now I am old), I laughed and said, "I do not understand why I would want to work for somebody who wanted to fire me? I figure I would quit before they had a chance to fire me." That ended that attempt to proselytize me and I really haven't been approached since.

On a more intelligent level here is what Eric Voelker wrote to the editor of the Des Moines Register concerning a movement for mandatory union membership in the state of Iowa:

The Iowa State Education Association is lobbying the Legislature to pass a fair-share law. If passed, this law would unfairly mandate employees to belong to a collective group in an effort to share the cost of collective bargaining/contract management.

Having been part of the Des Moines Professional Firefighters Association and the National Education Association/Iowa State Education Association, I can say that it was indeed an exercise of my American freedom to choose to belong to these groups. I belonged to the Des Moines Professional Firefighters Association the entire time I was employed.

However, as time progressed, I dropped my association with the NEA/ISEA. I always supported the local initiatives and contract negotiations the ISEA local provided. What grew to be a deal breaker was that a good deal of my dues went to support the NEA and its liberal political agenda. Before I dropped I inquired about alternative forms or levels of association. It offered no options. There was no choice.

Rather than lobby for a law that grows government's regulation of this issue, the ISEA should simply offer choices in levels of membership.

- Eric Voelker, Dallas Center

Mr. Wiemers

Where in the World is Mr. Wiemers?

Watch this brief but dynamic video and see if you can guess where in the world Mr. Wiemers is. If you think you know post your guess as a comment. There are a couple of languages being spoken in this video. One can be heard over the military communication system and in the casual conversation. If needed more clues will be made available.

Mr. Wiemers

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

CNC Mill

One of the eighteen modules used in seventh grade is the CNC mill. Each seventh grader designs and cuts a piece of acrylic plastic. The project can become a paper weight for their parent's desk, a personalized decorative item for a shelf or a gift for a friend. Last year Mr. Lewis, the PE teacher, made awards for first and second place in the all-school badminton tournament. In the video below two seventh grade students make a hall pass for one of our science teachers at DCG.

Mr. Wiemers

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Things Change

I was talking with my wife about things that have changed over the years. Often times a conversation like that focuses on the things that have changed for the worse. (I will spare you the examples.) In this conversation we focused on what now seem like ridiculous rules or standards that have been replaced with what now seem like obvious common sense practices and guidelines.

Forty years ago we remember playing on school playgrounds with metal monkey bars and falling into gravel if we slipped. Blue jeans with rivets on the pockets (basically, all jeans have rivets on the pockets) were not allowed in school because they scratched the chairs. Belts were required dress code or else you faced discipline. Whole milk was a standard option at lunch.

Toni and I also remember that women had to wear dresses unless the temperature fell below 15 degrees, then they could wear slacks. Even during my first years of teaching the head of the house (a man) would have a different contract and different pay than his wife (a woman). I remember athletes sitting on the bench because their hair was too long. I remember when skipping a water break during practice meant you were tough but lifting weights was bad because it would mess up your jump shot. So, because I wanted to be tough and have a good jump shot I didn't drink water or lift weights. Looking back I now realize I was weak and dehydrated.

In the next few years how will we view our current standards for the management of technology? Our next challenge is how do teachers of my generation teach technology to the students of this generation. I began teaching and coaching using carbon copies and a mimeograph machine. I remember the ease and amazement of using a Xerox copy machine for the first time and thinking of the incredible potential these machines had.

For sure, one class we will never need to teach students is "How to Send a Text Message with a Mobile Phone." In fact, it may not be a matter of teaching technology as much as it is helping make technology available.

My boys at home laugh at my inability to text. They talk about my early days of texting (a month ago) when I did not know how to use the space key and all my messages were some kind of encrypted code. My sons have the ability to text in class with one hand in their pocket while looking at the teacher. I know they do this because they will reply to my text messages any time of day. When will schools embrace cell phones? Should they? I do not know. I will never have to make that decision. But, I will say this: Wouldn't it be less disruptive to the class for the front office to text a student that they want to report to the office than to do an all-call over the intercom system? I don't know if that is a good idea, but I do know it was a good idea to remove the concrete and gravel from under the monkey bars.

Below is a photo of my six sons from five years ago. Today they are a Combat Correspondent in the United States Marines, a certified snow board coach in Colorado, training to be an engineer in the United States Air Force, a senior in high school heading into economics and jazz music, a sophomore in high school and a student in my middle school. The youngest one does not have a cell phone but he does have his own facebook and a large online fan following for movies he and his brother and some friends have made. I have not taught them anything about technology. They laugh at my lack of it and tell me constantly to get a facebook so people know I exist!

Mr. Wiemers

Monday, February 23, 2009

Spilled Stain

During the second quarter a few months ago a couple of students combined efforts to accidently dump a quart of dark walnut stain on the shop floor. Below is a blog I posted last December concerning this unforgetable event that left an unremovable stain:

Yesterday in my 8th grade shop classes the students were staining their oak end tables. We spent three days staining 100 of these tables. Finally on the third day the inevitable happened. As one student was repositioning his end table he knocked another student's one quart can of dark walnut wood stain on the floor. The stain splattered everywhere and on everything in a 10 foot radius.

If this ever happens to you the first response is to prevent the students from walking away from ground zero which would result in stain being tracked through out the shop. The student whose stain was spilled quickly escaped ground zero to get something to begin cleaning up the mess before the wrath of Mr. Wiemers was released. After having left walnut foot prints all the way to the sink and back, she returned to ground zero with two paper towels.

It was at this point I realized I was observing a future lecture illustration. This poor student was going to try to hold off my anger, disappointment and frustration by bringing two inadequate paper towels to clean up a quart of walnut stain pooled up on the floor and splattered in every direction. Not to mention, in her attempt to help, she had tracked the stain across the shop and back and others were preparing to follow her.

The usefulness of this illustration is enormous and its application will surely be used at some point.

It did remind me of the time a friend of mine cut his thumb off on the table saw in high school. With the student's thumb laying on the table saw the teacher that day said, "I'll go get a band-aid," and then left to locate a bandaid!? Both paper towels and band-aids are useful but not when we are dealing with a quart of walnut stain and a severed thumb.

Mr. Wiemers

New Mini Camcorder

A few weeks ago I bought an LCD projector and the company I bought it from threw in a mini 6 in one camcorder. The Tekxon V5300 is as small as a cell phone so I hope to carry it around during the day to take more photos and videos of class activities. Tomorrow in eighth grade we start to stain the oak end tables. We will spend three days on this and then apply coats of polyurethane the following four days. The last two days of the quarter we will spend waxing and buffing the tables and attaching the drawer pulls. I will try to get some film of the students staining their tables tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Knowing vs. Understanding

(Below is an excerpt from Galyn Wiemers' book Hope for America's Last Generation. Some minor portions and some references have been changed to make it appropriate for a wider audience:)

A Multiplication Analogy
THERE’S A COP out many people take that bothers me. Whenever someone poses a question about some issue, many people become uncomfortable and are quick to give the “right” answer.” But the difference between knowing the right answer and understanding why that answer is right is huge.

The answers to math problems can be easily memorized (e.g. 7 x 7 = 49). In elementary school, my teacher told me to memorize my “times tables” so I could regurgitate the right answers on speed drills and math tests. However, if I had simply memorized the answers without truly understanding the concept of multiplication, I would have failed. Why? Because if I memorize 7 x 7 = 49 but the teacher asks me for the answer to 7 x 8, I won’t be able to figure it out. I haven’t really learned multiplication; I just know how to spit out a few right answers here and there. Only someone who understands how he got the answer to 7 x 7 will be able to figure out 7 x 8 on his own.

So it is with life. We should never simply accept an answer we’re given without fully understanding it. Living life this way is not a skill for the faint of heart. In fact, many people don’t think it’s necessary at all. They ask, “Why can’t you be satisfied with 7 x 7 = 49? Why do you question it? Why can’t you just believe it? Can’t you just accept it?” Yet we must continue to question because, even though we may already know the right answer, we will never have a deep understanding if we stop questioning.

People who seek deeper understanding are often labeled “difficult” or "rebellious" by those who love to spout the “right” answers. Yet doubters and skeptics are usually the only people who have a true desire to achieve something most people never achieve—a real understanding of what it’s all about. It takes time and discipline to go from a basic knowledge to a deep comprehension of it. Growing into understanding is a much longer, more difficult, and often very frustrating process for those who take this longer route. But, in the end, it’s the only route that leads to freedom.

Saying, “I don’t understand” even in the midst of people who are perfectly content to “know the right answer” can be scary. You have to stop worrying about what others think of you. You have to remember that seeking understanding with humility is the only way to honor the truth.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Water Fountain

One of our seventh grade modules is the copper pipe station. Here the students are given a piece of copper pipe, a copper elbow and a copper "T". They are then to sweat the pipe by attaching the pieces with a torch and solder. It is a fun module. Most kids like it. They get to light a torch and use a flame which results in melting the solder. In this way the students are introduced to one of the areas of plumbing.

For the last two days Anna and Ashley have been at this station. They always get very involved in their modules. They soldered their fittings quickly during the first day and came back and asked if they could have a couple more. I had been watching them work while they diligently fit their pipes and pieces together, so I gave them a couple more pieces. Soon they emerged from their module shouting, "We made a fountain!" They wanted to hook it up to real water. I explained it was just a module and we don't really use water. They did not like my answer and told me again it was a fountain and it needed water. So, I thought for a brief moment, wondering if I dare give them my next best option: a bucket of water and an air hose. Watch the video and see the results.

Give a kid air and they will breathe in and out without thinking. But, give a kid compressed air in an air hose and they will not stop thinking of things to do with it.

Mr. Wiemers

Mini-golf Course Work Resumes

After a failed beginning as an Advisory project we have returned to the construction of a portable 9 hole mini-golf course. Sad to say the teacher (me) misjudged the students a few weeks ago by only giving them the concept of the project, a stack of supplies, equipment and a general assignment. I did not anticipate the inability of the students to visualize the mini-golf course while looking at a roll of carpet and some strips of particle board. Then to make matters worse, my instructions were too vague and I allowed the students too much independence.

We took about a two week break from the project. I had planned to stop using the assembly line concept and individualize the project, but after observing my students over the last two weeks I realized they performed well in organized, assembly line set ups. I have concluded that my earlier failure was that the assembly line set up was not tight enough (or, not structured enough). It did not have simple and specific directions. Adjustments have been made and the project was reintroduced.

Yesterday my normal class of 13 met in the hallway in front of the shop. We talked briefly about whatever they wanted to for a few minutes then I explained quickly what I had set up in the shop. I let them choose which job they wanted and then assigned a job to those who didn't want to do anything. You can watch the video below that shows a few minutes of yesterday's 25 minute Advisory class.

Today a couple of teachers were absent during Advisory, which meant that when I went out in the hall to meet my class I had an extra six students. I panicked (but, only on the inside where the students could not see). I now had a larger group to quickly sell the project too and find something for them to do. Fortunately my regular students returned to their assignments from the day before and I added another step in the assembly line. With the students gracious participation everyone engaged and we made more progress in our 25 minutes before we returned to regular classes.

Now with careful classroom management and the promise to play a few rounds of golf once the first 6 or 7 holes are done, I think we will be able to complete the portable mini-golf course in the next few weeks.

Mr. Wiemers

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Entrepreneur Class

There seems to be a tremendous amount of potential to create some kind of entrepreneur class by combining the shop, the internet and middle school students. The class would include production, web design, internet sales, shipping and everything that falls under the subject of business management.

I have thought about this for several years and almost started a couple of times. One of my concerns was to find something that could be produced by middle school students that would be worthy of selling to someone other than mom, dad, grandma and the next door neighbor. I have considered wooden toy cars and trucks. In this scenario there would be a new model design each year. This would create the need to add to the collection each year and have repeat business. My fear here is that the pieces are so small that they become dangerous for middle school students to cut. Also, I had hoped to design and produce a toy car or truck with some kind of detail which complicates the process.

We may have found a potential item that can be set up with jigs and safely produced by middle school students. This item would also be marketable. The wooden top could be very marketable and may be worthy of an online e-store. We would individually cut old fashion wooden tops on the wood lathe along with a handle. Each top would be unique or custom built. We could promote them as gourmet tops on the high end of the scale. The world would be our customer. Students could even photograph, film and blog about each individual top that was placed in our online store.

My advisory class has made them the last two years as a Christmas present for their parents. It worked very well and the students stayed involved in the process.

There are several hurdles to clear including scheduling, setting up a legal business, the school's technological ability and curriculum to name a few. Watch the demonstration video below:

Mr. Wiemers

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Vision for Small Districts

In kindergarten I attended a small school with a total of 20 students in the entire kindergartner class. (See photo of me entering the school on the first day of school.) Thirteen years later I graduated from a small school with a class size of 21 students. (Below is a photo of me speaking at graduation.) Both of these schools are consolidated now and one of the buildings has been converted into apartments. Times and opportunities change. Small schools must see the big picture, be proactive and take charge of their own destinies before someone else tells them what the big picture is, takes away their options and they lose not only their destiny but their identity.

Steve Deace of WHO has written:

So don't wait for McCoy to call the shots. Small districts should look to partner with the other like-minded districts around them right now. Create regional schools that combine economics of scale, the noblest intentions of the
homeschooler and the romance of settings akin to the one-room school house of old. Break the mold with a form of country collectivism that is defined by traditional values and common sense instead of political correctness and junk educational theories. And then maybe, just maybe, execute things so well that rural Iowa starts filling up once again because its schools provide an experience to children and families that simply has no equal. To paraphrase a famous movie that succeeded for many of the above reasons: If you build it, they will come.

School Consolidation in Iowa

Trace Frahm, a friend from Walnut, Iowa sent me the following in an email yesterday:
Please read this information and draw your own conclusions. I am still
trying to get off the floor and recover after reading this.
His comments were in regard to a purposed piece of legislation here in Iowa. State Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, said "that he would like to push legislation that would cut the number of school districts from 362 statewide to fewer than 150. Targeting districts with fewer than 750 students enrolled, the proposal also would establish that each of Iowa’s 99 counties would have one superintendent, business manager, curriculum director and transportation director, saving tens of millions of dollars in administrative expenses, according to the Register article. Districts would have three years to plan for the transition, according to the plan." (See whole article here)

Here is a list of schools that would be consolidated and their projected 2009-10 attendance. (Some schools like IKM and Manning have already combined their high schools and middle schools.): AGWSR 661.9, Adair-Casey 351.5, AHST 663.8, Akron-Westfield 535, Albert City-Truesdale 240, Alburnett 572.9, Alden 258, Allison-Bristow 304, Alta 512.8, Andrew 297.6, Anita 272.3, Anthon-Oto 271.5, Armstrong-Ringsted 338, Ar-We-Va 344.6, Audubon 627.7, Aurelia 285.2, Battle Creek-Ida Grove 654.6, Baxter 383.4, BCLUW 621.4, Bedford 536.3, Belle Plaine 617.5, Bellevue 620.7, Belmond-Klemme 738.5, Bennett 200.8, Boyden-Hull 623.2, Boyer Valley 435.9, Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom 540.5, C and M 200.6, CAL 292.3, Calamus-Wheatland 498.4, Cardinal 631.3, Central 530.2, Central City 465.3, Central Decatur 675, Central Lyon 691.2, Charter Oak-Ute 321.9, Clarksville 371.8, Clay Central-Everly 394.2, Clearfield 92, Collins-Maxwell 531.5, Colo-NESCO 474.4, Coon Rapids-Bayard 444.4, Corning 475.7, Corwith-Wesley 134, Danville 486.3, Deep River-Millersburg 167, Delwood 230.3, Denver 744.1, Diagonal 90, Dows 142.1, Dunkerton 466.8, Durant 575.9, Earlham 640.6, East Buchanan 558.9, East Central 395, East Greene 369, East Marshall 711.6, East Union 498.6, Eastern Allamakee 422, Eddyville-Blakesburg 731, Edgewood-Colesburg 487, Eldora-New Providence 643.8, Elk Horn-Kimballton 260.9, Emmetsburg 695.7, English Valleys 421.9, Essex 249, Exira 276.1, Farragut 263.4, Fredericksburg 264, Fremont 211.4, Fremont-Mills 469, Galva-Holstein 453.2, George-Little Rock 488.4, Gladbrook-Reinbeck 694.9, Glidden-Ralston 357.8, GMG 355.2, Graettinger 233, Greene 286, Griswold 639.2, Grundy Center 625.8, Guthrie Center 546.8, Clayton Ridge 669.2, HLV 375.2, Hamburg 295.2, Harmony 427.1, Harris-Lake Park 288, Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn 667.4, Highland 653.6, Hinton 563.7, Hubbard-Radcliffe 416, Hudson 678, IKM 415.7, Iowa Valley 659.2, Janesville 338.9, Keota 344.6, Kingsley-Pierson 457, Lake Mills 623.9, Lamoni 341.4, Laurens-Marathon 359.6, Lawton-Bronson 605.3, Lenox 362.3, Lineville-Clio 95.6, Lisbon 675.2, Logan-Magnolia 643.1, Lone Tree 385, Lu Verne 74, Lynnville-Sully 469.7, Madrid 627 ,Malvern 357.8, Manning 412, Manson-Northwest Webster 658.9, Maple Valley 521.6, Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn 459.1, Martensdale-St. Marys 533.7, Melcher-Dallas 347, Midland 586.2, Montezuma 487, Moravia 318, Mormon Trail 281.1, Morning Sun 217, Moulton-Udell 226.5, Mount Ayr 627.5, Murray 280, Nashua-Plainfield 711.1, New London 552.5, Newell-Fonda 426.9, Nishna Valley 209.2, Nodaway Valley 711, Nora Springs-Rock Falls 422, North Central 506.1, North Iowa 539.9, North Kossuth 331.3, North Mahaska 537.7, North Tama 531.3, North Winneshiek 302.9, Northeast 555, Northeast Hamilton 257, Northwood-Kensett 518.1, Odebolt-Arthur 354.5, Ogden 699.1, Olin 228.2, Orient-Macksburg 215, Paton-Churdan 195.3, Pekin 727.6, Pleasantville 681.5, Pocahontas 549.6, Pomeroy-Palmer 211.3, Postville 604.3, Preston 346, Remsen-Union 418.9, Riceville 293.8, River Valley 465.4, Riverside 668.9, Rock Valley 570, Rockwell City-Lytton 492.1, Rockwell-Swaledale 313.6, Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock 536, Ruthven-Ayrshire 250, Sac 432.3, Schaller-Crestland 392.4, Schleswig 311.8, Sentral 162.1, Seymour 245.1, SCMT 453.4, Sidney 354.8, Sigourney 584.7, Sioux Central 437, South Clay 154, South Hamilton 699.2, South O'Brien 646.9, South Page 226.3, South Winneshiek 616.3, Southeast Warren 569.2, Southeast Webster-Grand 564.2, Southern Cal 512.5, Springville 443.2, St. Ansgar 680.3, Stanton 208.1, Starmont 669.8, Stratford 212.8, Sumner 580.2, Terril 160.1, Titonka 175, Treynor 591.9, Tri-Center 725.6, Tri-County 317.6, Tripoli 495, Turkey Valley 465.1, Twin Cedars 423.7, Twin Rivers 176, United 353.4, Valley 477.5, Van Buren 736, Van Meter 584.7, Ventura 283.8, Villisca 383.8, WACO 524, Wall Lake View Auburn 506.8, Walnut 220.6, Wapsie Valley 699.8, Wayne 533.6, West Bend-Mallard 347.1, West Burlington 452.3, West Central 304.2, West Hancock 616.1, West Harrison 503.2, West Monona 662.4, West Sioux 715.7, Westwood 589.7, Whiting 195, Winfield-Mount Union 388.5, Woden-Crystal Lake 137, Woodbine 436.4, Woodbury Central 594.1

In response to an email from Trace Frahm of Walnut, Iowa (Walnut is on the above list) I told him this was unbelievable and probably simply "shock" legislation in an attempt to prepare us for something we would consider more tolerable.

Trace then replied:
In answering your question, yes, we think that this is shock legislation to prepare us for radical change in education at some point in time. But Iowan's voted this man into office so are we really that surprised? A county supervisor responded to the Feb 11 post saying that the state is not only trying to consolidate schools but also cities where they are wanting to create huge regional departments. He said that this looks good on paper in Des Moines but when you leave the capital and drive out into the state it becomes a huge mess very quickly. This is why I wanted friends and local leaders to see this so that our community can see this and I can say that they were warned. When Vilsack was governor I had heard that our public servants in the statehouse had divided Iowa into 5 large consolidated zones where you have one court house per zone and one school per county or less. I didn't know what to think of it then but now we know that they will keep pushing for this until they get it. Someone told me that public education is leaving the mainstream and is moving towards special education, alternative schools, and welfare based education. And mainstream America is moving the other way towards school choice options, homeschooling, private, as a response to radical stuff like this.
Read an article from the Des Moines Register in response to this failing legislation.

Mr. Wiemers

Monday, February 16, 2009

Suggested Blog Reading

Interesting blog by a former teacher of the year followed by insightful comments concerning creativity in classroom and the educational system in general HERE

Mr. Wiemers

Bending Metal

Two Dallas Center-Grimes seventh graders demonstrate the basics of the metal bending module on this video.

Mr. Wiemers

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Protesters and Cursive

During my first three years in school my dad spent the summers taking classes at universities. It was during these years I remember hearing, but not understanding, words like scholarship, four-point-o, doctorate and degree. Dad would also bring presents when he came home. One time I got a bike. It was a great, life-changing present. The summer before third grade my dad, age 32, received his first offer to serve as the superintendent of a school system.

Dad finished all his classes, went to an interview and came back with a job. This meant I would be attending third grade in the new school half way across the state of Iowa. Several things happened that first year in this new school system to test both my dad as a superintendent and me as a third grader. I remember my dad having to face students protesting the Vietnam War. They came to school wearing black armbands and got everyone all stirred up. My dad had a simple solution for these student/protesters: take off the black armbands. They did, and that ended that issue.

In the third grade classroom I also had an unexpected surprise. The very first day of school my new teacher began to write on the board by weaving her letters together without lifting up her chalk. Very confusing. I could not read what she was writing. My concern intensified when I noticed that all of the other students in third grade could decode this fluent, interlaced form of communication that continued through out the first day of school. In fact, the students began to write the same way. How do you raise your hand in a room full of people and say, "Excuse me, I can't read that." I didn't know what to say back then, and I still don't know what I should have said.

At my old school this advanced level of penmanship was reserved for third graders. I had seen this system of symbols on an older students discarded homework blowing across the playground at my old school. But, in my new school cursive was introduced and practiced at the end of second grade. I realized that the kids at this new school were all geniuses and that I was really not ready for third grade. I remember the teacher being frustrated and treating me like I was dumb. She wasn't sympathetic that I had no idea how to read or write cursive. In fact, she appeared to think I had not been paying attention. I came to hate cursive and had terrible penmanship. At first I did my assignments twice. First, I would turn in the neat, printed version that would be rejected, then I would turn in a barely legible cursive version. I consistently got D's in writing up through sixth grade.

All things considered, I liked my new school. During recess the cutest girl in class would chase me around the playground and try to kiss me. The class bully wanted to fight me. So we fought. I won and we became friends. We only had five days of school in January that year because of an incredible amount of snow. We ended up having to go to school on a Saturday which caused us to miss Saturday morning cartoons. My class was mad at me because my dad had made the decision to go to school on a Saturday. (At home I had expressed these same sentiments as I lobbied in vain for the cause of the students.) In my own terms and level of understanding I tried to explain to my classmates the state's mandated number of school days, but they would have none of my excuses. They knew my dad was superintendent and believed if he wanted to he could just cancel school all together.

This Week's Issue

Four comments on four articles from the Feb. 11 issue of Education Week:
  • When comparing U.S. teacher professional training to top-performing European and Asian countries the U.S. teacher training takes place in isolation and not in on-the-job training or in a school-based setting. Training that included less than 14 hours had little effect but programs that included 30-100 hours over six months positively influenced student achievement. ("Staff Development for Teachers Deemed Fragmented")
  • Interactive web galleries and video provide a great alternative for field trips. In seasons of budget reduction and the need to maximize our classroom time some of these sites provide resources for online field trips or EFT, Electronic Field Trips ("Virtual Field Trips Open Doors for Multimedia Lessons"):
    1) The Virtual Smithsonian,
    2) Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA,
    3) Nationial Geographic Expeditions Online,
    4) Ball State University Electronic Field Trips,
    5) Colonial Williamsburg
  • There is a need and a demand for students to graduate with career skills, but in the push to prepare all students for college career skills get neglected. Business and industry groups say that high-wage jobs not requiring a bachelor's degree often go unfilled. "Industry after industry is going after high-skilled laborers and cannot find them," says a former assistant U.S. secretary of labor. ("Career Skills Said to Get Short Shrift")
  • There is a push to use graphic novels (comic books) to capture students for reading. "There are multiple studies to suggest that students who read comics go on to read more, and to read more varied literature," said an English professor. This article also included an image from a comic book series produced by middle school students. ("Scholars See Comics as No Laughing Matter")

Mr. Wiemers

Saturday, February 14, 2009

State Championships and Valentines

A year ago I took my Advisory class on a field trip to the Iowa Hall of Pride. While I was there I counted thirteen state championships that were won by my wife Toni and me. Actually, Toni had won thirteen and I had won zero. So, here is a happy Valentine's day blog for my high school hero, Toni Mohr. I first heard about her state performance in 1975, saw her play on TV in the 1976 girls' state tournament and I still have a sports magazine with her on the cover from track season in the spring of 1976. From 1975-1978 Toni won 13 state championships. In 1979 I took my high school hero on our first date. By 1981 my hero had become my sweat heart and we were married. Toni went on to set records in college and was the District Track coach of the year in 1985. In 1993 Toni was inducted into the Iowa Girls' Track Hall of Fame. Now, on Valentine's Day in 2009, after 27 years of marriage, we are going to spend the day shopping and the evening at home grilling steaks on our deck in the snow and watching the movie "Hitch." Happy Valentine's Day, Champ!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Update on "Feed a Country"

Today in Advisory the students taped red yarn on a world map that connected their country to a card on the wall with their name and the name of the city and country that is represented by their clay pot. The clay pots are located in the window above. We should begin to see germination around Tuesday. So far the local weather in these countries has been rain, mist or snow.

We also had pink cupcakes for Valentine's Day and played a game simulating a snowball fight (wadded up paper) since we were getting the first of seven inches of snow.

1000 Eighth Grade End Tables

This quarter will mark the construction of the 1,000th end table by 8th graders in the last eight years at the Dallas Center-Grimes Middle School. Watch the video below to see how three students explain the process and show you their tables made in Mr. Wiemers' shop.

Mr. Wiemers

Electronic Circuit Board

Watch as two Dallas Center-Grimes Middle School students explain and demonstrate their work on an electronic circuit board in Mr. Wiemers' shop.

Mr. Wiemers

Thursday, February 12, 2009

My Friday Night Pizza Table

For several weeks now I have found myself frustrated while watching videos on Friday night. We order 2-3 large pizzas, get a couple bags of chips and then bring it all down in the front of the entertainment center along with several cans of pop but there is no place to set anything. I began to think it would be nice to have a table for the pizza that could also be used to kick my feet up on during videos. I had a general idea in mind for a round coffee table with a pedestal supported by three legs. I drew up a sketch to serve as plans and wrote down some general measurements.

Last Friday I glued together some two inch oak (8/4") and cut a 36" round top. I brought home just the top to try out during Friday night movies. The top held two large pizzas and all the pop. Plus, everyone seemed to be able to reach the table with their feet. The size was good!

Monday I brought the top back into school to sand and router. Then I glued up the pedestal. Tuesday I turned the pedestal, which was a quick process since the design was simple and did not need to be duplicated. On Tuesday I also made a simple pattern and cut out the three supporting legs from the same 8/4" oak. After filing, sanding and routering the legs I set up a diagonal auxiliary fence on Wednesday across the table saw blade to give me the same radius as the pedestal. I slid the legs across the table saw blade along the diagonal fence three times, raising the blade a little each time until I had the same radius on the legs as the pedestal.

Today I drilled and bolted the legs onto the pedestal and then attached a 20" diameter piece of Baltic birch plywood to the top of the pedestal which I then used to attach the top with glue and screws. Tomorrow I will plug the holes, do a little sanding and get the first coat of oil based polyurethane on the table. I will put three coats on the table itself but five coats on the top to protect it from the pizza, pop and shoes. It should be ready early next week and home by Friday night. We don't need it this weekend since Valentine's weekend demands a little more attention than pizza, pop and videos.

Mr. Klocke's Science Resources

One of the most active web pages at the DCG middle school is Mr. Klocke's website page called "Class Notes, Review and Practice, Powerpoints, and lesson plans, and gizmos." Any middle school science teacher in America, or around the world, will want to check this site out. The current technology revolution brings Mr. Klocke's insight into science and his gift of communicating with students right to your computer. Mr. Klocke is renown for his ability to make a vigorous science curriculum palatable for each and every student. His notes, reviews, powerpoints and more are now available for any teacher or middle school student who has access to the Internet.

At this week's inservice Mr. Klocke shared these two websites with the staff that most teachers will find useful:

Students Demonstrate Soldering with a Torch

Watch two students in Mr. Wiemers' Shop solder a copper T fitting to a copper pipe using a propane torch and solder. Click play below to hear their explanation and watch their demonstration.

Galyn Wiemers

Students Explain the Electrical Wall Project

In the video below two seventh graders from Mr. Wiemers' Shop explain the residential wall electrical wiring project. They have installed an outlet, a light and a three-way switch. It is all hooked up to a breaker box. Click on play below to watch their brief demonstration.

Mr. Wiemers

Vocabulary in the Shop

Since one of our building goals is focused on vocabulary we spent yesterday afternoon's staff inservice reviewing Marzano's six steps for effective teaching of vocabulary. They are:
  • Provide description, explanation, example
  • Ask students to restate in their own words
  • Ask students to construct a picture, symbol or graphic
  • Engage students in activities that help them add to their knowledge
  • Ask students to discuss terms with one another
  • Games that allow them to play with terms
What does this look like in the shop? Well, for example, the other day I was giving the eighth graders a demonstration on how to glue together boards to make their table tops. After I had squeezed the glue across the edge of the board I said to them, "redistribute the bead of adhesive equitably." As expected, a couple of students quickly replied, "What did you say." So I translated my words into middle school language, "smear the glue on the edge of the board so there are no dry spots left." Then we joked around with the original statement a couple of times and I explained the phrase "bead of glue" and "adhesive".

The other day I called the class over for a different demonstration and said, "What I am about to show you will be advantageous for you." Because of the teaching staff's focus on vocabulary this year the students are acutely aware, it seems, of words they do not use in their own daily vocabulary and they asked, "what is advantageous?" I gave them a quick multiple choice answer asking them to tell me which of my following statements correctly defined advantageous:
  1. advantageous is a disease a person gets from watching too many Super Bowl commercials. This meaning can be recognized by the "ad-" which refers to advertisement and the "-ageous" which distinguishes it as a disease.
  2. advantageous refers to something that is a benefit to you or brings you some advantage in some situation or process.
  3. advantageous is a corruption of an old, archaic English word for bandage.
After a few moments of discussion they unified on choice 2 but thought choice 1 was funny and had to consider choice 3 because they really didn't understand what that one meant.

I agree with Marzano, of course, even though he was not presented as the god of vocab in yesterday's inservice but simply as a voice of one who has carefully researched and made some intelligent conclusions. (And, made a lot of money selling his book and doing seminars.) But, I would add my own un-researched and less-intelligent opinion concerning teaching vocabulary:
  • Sometimes we created artificial learning situations expending 110% of our effort for about 5% results. I do not like artificial learning situations because we live in a real world and habitually ignore that it is constantly teaching us.
  • Most (or, 95% - an undocumented number) of my personal learning of vocab seems to have come from hearing conversations, reading, or listening to other people talk. I heard or hear words and begin to use them.
  • Concerning preparing students for standardized testing one of the greatest means of decoding a word is to understand etymology. To understand English a little bit of insight and experience with Latin and Greek provides a great basis for student empowerment in decoding words. Here 5% of knowledge is going to provide 100% improvement in vocab ability (again, these are undocumented, estimates from my own imagination, but the point is: a little knowledge of Greek and Latin will provide greater insight into vocab. This would be very beneficial on standardized testing.)
  • When I go to the men's room in an Italian restaurant (Macaroni Grill, for example) they are not playing music but instead of reading from an Italian-English dictionary . . . should we be playing the vocabulary words anticipated on the standardized tests over the intercom and over the speakers on the school buses?
I will be addressing the above points in my new book "A Shop Teacher's Guide to Improving Vocab". The book will be just a little longer than this blog because it will include an index. Don't miss my coming seminars where you can buy a signed copy of this book!

Mr. Wiemers

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Welcome to the Seventh Grade Shop

Mr. Wiemers

Reading a Class

Sometimes a group of students remind me of a caged pet that is let out of its cage. The poor animal has no idea it can run and be free. The pet is comfortable sitting in the cage and having someone give it food and water. Or, in this case the students are comfortable showing up for class and having the teacher talk to them in a confined setting with no options but to be entertained with typical classroom practices. Then there are other times when a class is ready to get out of the confines of the traditional class room and run with ideas and opportunities the teacher can present to them.

Today in Advisory we sat in the hallway and read newspapers and each student then reported the news they read in a brief 30 second presentation. This led to some discussion and some interaction. So, it was a good day but a simple day. Tomorrow we will do something else completely unrelated. The students had already forgot to check for rainfall and water the plants.

I think the teacher needs to read the class and then make the connection with the class in order to communicate. The chemistry of the class is as important as the teacher's presentation. One class laughs at the joke that the next class doesn't even understand. One class will stand around the teacher in a close circle to listen for instructions, but another class will stand at a distance in little social pockets or pairs. Their behavior and tendencies are not right or wrong. These tendencies are the chemistry the group brings to the class that the teacher absolutely must adjust to. Otherwise the teacher will spend the entire class period trying to change the chemistry of the class instead of connecting and communicating. Reading the class is as important as reading the curriculum.

Mr. Wiemers

Monday, February 9, 2009

Surprise! Students Like the "Feed a Country" Project

Today's advisory class liked the idea of planting seeds and watering them based on the rainfall in the city named on the clay pot. Everyone did a great job and made advisory the highlight of a day filled with highlights. Now we wait to see if it rains in Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. Here are some photos, there will be more on the website. See photos of how the project was set up and of the students engaged in the activity. (Earlier blog here.)

Teaching the Second Generation

I know many teachers experience teaching into a second generation but it is still a unique and nostalgic experience for each of us when it happens for the first time. I know that some of the junior and senior girls from my first head coaching position in 1980 are now grandmothers but it is different when you get to teach and coach the parents and then the children.

In 1985 Andy was a freshman. He was in my shop class and was a very good athlete on the basketball and track teams I coached. Besides being a great runner Andy also played guitar. I remember the two of us having a jam session with our guitars at my house on at least one occasion while he was in high school. After a couple of years as a high school teacher life called me to an odyssey that would take me through factory employment, private schools, non-profit corporations, entrepreneur projects, a speaking schedule, and also, newspaper delivery and McDonald's drive through work. For the first few years some of the guys from Andy's high school would call and update me. They said they won the conference running my full court press for the next couple of years and they said Andy graduated and headed to California. That was the last I heard back around 1988.

Mr. Wiemers (top left) and Andy (standing on the right side) in a track photo from 1985.

Sometime around 2003 the main office at the middle school I now teach in said there was a family enrolling their three children in our school that had commented on the name of our middle school shop teacher. The father had said his high school shop teacher was also a Mr. Wiemers. The office didn't remember who it was and I dismissed it as interesting but not worth pursuing. One thing led to another and eventually I realized there were three of Andy's children in our elementary schools and they were headed for our middle school. First came Skylar who I had in 6th, 7th and 8th grade shop. Skylar was also one of my track managers. Skylar is a senior in high school this year. Next came Hunter who, like his dad, was also a great runner for my track team. One night after practice Hunter commented on the difficulty of the workout, but, of course, his comment just set his dad up to recall stories of track practices 20 years early before Wiemers had mellowed out. Hunter was basically told that middle school practice with Wiemers in 2006 was nothing like high school practice with Wiemers back in 1985.

Today in class I have Andy and his wife's youngest girl, Wynter. (I remember when Andy and his wife started dating.) Wynter, like the rest of her family, is a great person and has a lot of friends. She glares at me when I call her Skylar by mistake. I just laugh and tell her that she should be glad I don't call her Andy. (See photo taken today of Wynter and myself during first period shop class.)

Andy and his wife are a testimony to what is good about families and values. I can not tell you how proud I am to be able to say that I know them and that I have been a small part of their lives.

Mr. Wiemers

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Middle School Web Highlights

Mr. Wiemers

'Feed a Country' Advisory Project

As I was driving down the interstate today I thought of an advisory class project that involves planting seeds (carrots, peas, tomatoes) and then watering each of them based on the current daily rain fall in the country represented by the different pots. I am sure a project like this has been done a hundred times in schools around the world, but it was a new idea for me. I swung by a store on my way home and bought a bag of soil, 15 clay pots and the seeds as you see in this picture. We will start preparing to feed the world tomorrow.

We are currently building a nine hole mini-golf course in advisory, but after about five days of working on it the students started murmuring about my advisory being "boring" and saying "we want to do something fun like the other advisories." So, we had a little impromptu advisory group discussion and I asked them for some ideas that would be fun. The only thing they, or at least their spokespeople, could come up with was playing hide and seek through out the school for twenty minutes. I entertained the idea for a few moments, made some comments, asked some questions and soon the class discussion burned up the 25 minute advisory period for that day. (This would count as a team building day, I guess.)

I believe that in order to get the students to finish the nine-hole mini golf course project I will have to divide the holes and the students. I will then assign one hole to each set of partners. We will try this approach instead of the group project concept where we all work together as one big happy class (which is not happening) in assembly line fashion. I am going to give them a simple one hole project that they can visualize, work on and see instant progress. Plus, the competition between groups and the individual responsibility will be helpful. The students could not see the course coming together so they lost interest and stopped engaging. I hope that they will be able to engage and visualize the single hole concept. They could surprise me and not like that either.

But, while I was thinking about this advisory class issue as I drove cross-country on the interstate today, I thought it would be interesting to give each student a clay pot, some seeds and the name of a country. They will plant their seeds and then check the daily rain fall for that country or region on the Internet or in a newspaper each day . (It would also be cool to link up to an online live webcam from that country with an outside view that shows the weather, etc.) We will then form some way of transferring the actual amount of rainfall into some equivalent measure of water in our shop. In theory some clay pots (countries) will flourish and produce the beginnings of tomato, peas or carrot plants and others may not.

I am not so foolish to think that the students are going to be excited about this project either since it is a long way from running up and down the hallways playing hide and seek. We have to finish the golf course, feed the world and then make marshmallow launchers out of PVC pipe. I do understand, though, that none of these are as much fun as running up and down the hallways screaming and hiding.

I will let you know if any of the countries get fed. If not, we may be looking at a case of world famine caused by my advisory class.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Paper Airplane

When I was in second grade throwing paper airplanes seemed to be an issue in the older classes. I remember hearing teachers discuss this behavioral problem and their concern for the lack of discipline in this new generation of kids emerging in the 1960's. Of course, my dad, being the building principal, was concerned about school discipline, but I think he also liked paper airplanes.

I say this because it was during this paper airplane frenzy that one night at home he showed me how to turn a simple sheet of paper into a paper airplane. Now, I am not talking about one of those paper airplanes that float like a leaf falling from a tree on a windless day in October. No, I am talking about a paper airplane design that is even yet to this day called "The Arrow" on the internet (see here for the name and the proper folding technique). I was amazed by so many aspects of the paper airplane concept. Not only did I now possess the knowledge and power to create a paper airplane, but I could throw this thing and it would fly far and straight. For the next several weeks everything that could be folded was turned into a paper, or cardboard, or plastic airplane. I still can feel the rush of excitement thinking about creating and throwing these planes as a second grader.

Well, soon the day came at school when the teacher left the room for a few minutes while we students were suppose to be reading something or working on an assignment. I had been waiting for this moment. I wanted to demonstrate to my fellow second graders this marvelous thing called flight. I quickly converted a piece of paper into "The Arrow", stood up and threw the thing across the room. Even I was captivated by the height of the flight and amazed by straight line trajectory of this paper airplane. It flew quick and straight and high until it stuck into blinds of one of the windows at the top of the wall where it met the fifteen foot high ceiling. There it stuck and there it stayed.

The student's gazes of amazement turned quickly from the plane, to a brief glance at me still standing with my arm in throwing position, then they looked straight back to their assignment to gain the appearance of having seen nothing. They were completely innocent, but I was still standing with my plane stuck fifteen feet up on the back wall with a class full of witnesses. The plane was high in the window blinds of the back wall; the back of the room where the teacher is constantly facing when she addresses the class. (These windows can be seen in the picture of this blog.) I had no idea what to do. I could think of no other option but to blend in with my classmates and return to the assignment.

I knew that when the teacher returned to the room she would see the plane stuck high in the blinds the instant she entered the room. As I waited for her to return, I looked a couple of times at the plane hoping it would fall and I could quickly go destroy the evidence. But, instead, it stayed firmly in the blinds, hanging out like a big arrow pointing at me and what I had done.

A few minutes later she entered the room, resumed class, switched subjects, took us to lunch, returned from recess, had more classes and sent us home. I never looked at the plane when she was in the room. When we went home at the end of the day I took one quick look at it before I left the room and then I worried about it all night. The next morning the plane was still there. So it went day after day for a couple of weeks. It got to the point that the plane was part of the class decor, it seemed to belong there now. I worried less and less about the plane hanging fifteen feet above the class until I forgot about it. No one looked at the plane, no one thought about the plane, no one even remembered the plane. And more, the teacher had never even seen the plane. But, it was still there . . .

Then one day, like an explosion in the midst of a quiet class, busy with their assignment, the teacher shouted, "Who did that!" We all jerked our heads up and snapped to attention with no idea what she was talking about. We all looked up to see the teacher pointing at the back of the room towards the ceiling . . . oh, yeah, I remember . . . the plane. Judgment day had come. My heart started racing. I started to feel very hot. I didn't know what to do but to sit quietly and appear to be consumed with getting my assignment done. None of the kids said anything. They appeared to have forgotten the whole thing. Maybe they had. I will never know. I never talked about it again . . . well, at least until right now.
Since my Dad's paper airplane instructions in the 1960's I have shared the folding technique of "The Arrow" with my own boys and many students from the 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's (or, whatever we call 2000-2009). The reaction is still the same. They all feel empowered and they fly everything that will fold.