education

Expect the Unexpected

Carl Sagan“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
― Carl Sagan (via Goodreads)


In sixth grade science students are still learning the basics of the scientific process, which in our curriculum involves six steps: problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure, data, conclusion. We really try to hammer home all these parts in sixth grade, so that in seventh and eighth they can begin designing their own experiments with control and experimental sets and carefully measured data.

When we start any lab we alway start with the problem, which is a question that the students hope be able to answer by the end of the lab. Then comes the hypothesis, which is the prediction (educated guess) to the question they’ve asked. We ask them to write down what they think is going to happen and why.

Later on during the conclusion portion students are usually asked to reflect back on their hypothesis and decide if they were right or not. Often times they feel that if they have gotten the hypothesis wrong then they have somehow failed the experiment, but this is totally backward. It is through the observation of the unexpected that scientific knowledge is advanced. If the experiment goes exactly according to plan and the hypothesis is totally correct, then we have learned nothing. It is only by observing what we don’t expect that we learn anything at all.

Of course the sad part is most people only see what they want to see, which is what they expect to see. When you expect the unexpected you may actually learn something new, so search for the unexpected, not only in the science lab, but in all aspects of life. Expect the unexpected.

Science experiments can be truly amazing! (by George Thomas on Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Flowers in the School Garden

In case you didn’t know, I teach middle school. I also started and continue to run a school garden at my school. We have a summer watering schedule,  and students and parents have volunteered to come and water the unirrigated portions of the garden over the summer months. But I still like to stop by every couple weeks and check on how things are going, to make sure the equipment is still there, and make sure nothing is broken or destroyed. Unfortunately, vandalism is a big problem when you leave an area of a school open to the public. Sometimes it seems that teenager’s favorite way to enjoy something is to destroy it. This summer though, so far so good.

In my own garden that I see everyday, the growth and changes are subtle and hard to appreciate. But not seeing the school garden for weeks at a time, the growth and changes are much more dramatic. These are some photos from my last visit.

Now if we could just keep all the other garden pests out.

One step at a time…

Screen shot 2014-05-03 at 10.42.28 AMI sometimes like to draw a box on the whiteboard in my classroom and write Everything written in this box is false, just to give the kiddos something to think about. Some of them get it and say I see what you did there, while others wear that blank, confused expression so common in middle school. Honestly some might never get it. But such Catch-22s and logical fallacies can exercise kids brains and train them in critical thinking.

Screen shot 2014-05-03 at 10.58.05 AMAnother thing I like to share is the Socratic paradox–the only thing I know is that I know nothing. Most kids are silenced by the logical loopty-loops their brains immediately undergo. I think it’s hilarious that when they understand what it means they are even more confused than when they don’t understand.

But recently when I said this a student flung a logical fallacy back in my face by responding, knowing that you know nothing is knowing something. It amazed me how quickly he was able to get to the point. When he said it the kid sitting next to him nodded his head piped in Yea. I felt speechless and a little humiliated. At least that’s a start, I told him finally. One step at a time.

So let’s all just remember to take things one step at a time, and not forget what we know. Or in the words of Mark Twain:

Mark Twain “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” ― Mark Twain (via Goodreads)


Read more teacherly posts HERE

DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Student, Teacher

Classroom Graffiti

It should be a recipe for disaster. The classroom left wide open during 7th grade lunch by a naive substitute. Seventh graders are notorious for shenanigans and poor decision making. Their favorite activities seem to be deliberately destroying things on accident and inventing new ways to bully each other. Low and behold a gaggle of 7th graders had snuck in to my classroom at some point and left graffiti splayed all across the whiteboard for me to find upon my return at the end of the day. It gave me strong feelings so I snapped a couple photos with my phone and then forgot all about it. I rediscovered the photos recently as I was going through and organizing older and older photos, trying to piece together the forgotten days of my past.

This was my white board on the day before the last day of school 4 years ago, which was coincidentally the last year I taught 7th grade science.

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This is the type of thing that makes me really love being a teacher. If only every day could end like this.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

 

The Test

The lecture diverged to the subject of taking personal responsibility for your actions and making decisions that considered others. The art of thoughtful action.

A hand rose in the back of the classroom. “Mr. Peabody, will we be tested on  this?”

“Every single day for the rest of your lives.”

Question (by Clarkston SCAMP)

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

For this week’s challenge, you must write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words.

How Did I Get Here?

(aka My Illustrious Writing Habit)

When I tell people that I started writing stories in second grade many find this hard to believe. In truth I may have started earlier, but since the first physical artifact of my early writing still in my possession dates from the second grade, I’ll go with it. The second grade was also when I published my first collection of short stories under the tutelage of Mrs. Olson, my 2nd Grade teacher. Most of my memories of Mrs. Olson revolve around my surprise at how freaking old she was, by far the oldest looking teacher I have ever had. I remember her librarian glasses and how the skin hung off her arms when she was writing on the chalk board, swinging back and forth like a wrinkled hammock in the breeze. It is quite possible that she wasn’t really that old, but the mere act of teaching snot-nosed little brats everyday had caused her physical body to age at an accelerated pace, something I know about all to well having somehow becoming a teacher myself. But I digress.

Chapter 1 – Simple Pleasures

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nogmania

I actually found my book of stories while cleaning out a closet at my mom’s house when we were getting ready to sell it. Its somber title was January Stories by Jeff Hager. One thing I had when I was younger was imagination, though not necessarily reflected in this title. I practically lived in an imaginary world, but  since I was such a lone wolf I had no imaginary friends in there with me. It was me and my words and my pictures. Here’s a transcript of one story, Nogmania.

My nogs live in people’s hair. If you don’t comb it they will eat you up. If you take one out they will give you a disease.They are like little savage monsters. They are smaller than a termite. One day everybody was combing his hair and all the nogs died, except one was lucky and didn’t die. He moved into Bottle City!

Despite the fact that the POV changes and there is a character named everybody, it is better than a lot of my first drafts. As you can see I also illustrated each of the stories, and I was quite the young artist if I do say so myself. I was using similes at age 8, and unlike a lot of the stories I wrote in high school, something actually happens in this one. But I also see why my teachers and mother were so concerned. I rarely ever spoke, in class or at home, but when I sat down to write somehow words and ideas poured onto the page. Soon after the triumph of January Stories I completed another illustrated book called Lost Land. It involved a young boy going back in time and meeting a bunch of dinosaurs. Some were nice and some tried to eat him. I think it was loosely based on the original Land of the Lost television show, which was a favorite of mine. This book proved very predictable in its storyline, but the illustrations were pretty kick ass, mainly because my father had given me a book on how to draw dinosaurs. I probably drew a dinosaur on at least 75% of my papers in elementary school, usually when I was supposed to be working on math problems or something else that didn’t interest me. Dinosaurs were cool. That was all that mattered. These early writing successes planted the writing seed somewhere deep in my brain, but unfortunately the successes were short lived. My youthful enthusiasm would soon be placed ruthlessly into a chokehold by the iron grip of editing, criticism, and rejection.

Chapter 2 – The Doubt Creeps In

3rd grade was difficult. ADD wasn’t widely understood. I wasn’t hyper, but definitely had difficulty concentrating and staying seated in class. My third grade teacher had called for a conference with my Mom about my distractibility in class, and her suggestion was I may have ringworm that was causing my restlessness. She swore she had seen it before, so my mother took me to the doctor to have me tested for parasites. I wish I was making this up, but unfortunately my imagination is not that macabre. Needless to say there were no parasites. I continued to struggle in school, except when I was writing.

By fourth grade my teacher noticed my writing immediately. She thought it was good, so good that she accused my parents of writing my homework assignments. Of course they didn’t. They proofread maybe, but I was very incensed that someone didn’t believe I had written the words that I wrote. My parents were contacted and of course denied the accusation. Being a teacher myself I know that parents always do, whether they wrote it or not.

My fifth grade teacher went even further and accused me of plagiarizing my state report. There were four grades and I got an A+ on three. On the writing grade I got a D because my teacher assumed I could not have written such descriptive and interesting passages. This was about twenty years BG (before google) and the internet was still a glimmer in some nerdy engineer’s glasses. I had written every word myself, and put a lot of work into it. I’m still not sure what is more disheartening for a writer, being told your writing is not good enough, or being told your writing was so good you couldn’t possibly have written it.

Chapter 3 – Accusations and Lies

It wasn’t until middle school that I finally found the recognition I thought I deserved. But it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It was middle school after all.

During these middle school years my writing actually started gaining a little momentum, and garnered some praise and recognition from my teachers. In seventh grade I got first place in our school limerick contest, though I have no idea how, as poetry has never been my strong suit. The teacher that judged the contest had a peculiar disdain for me, and assumed I must have plagiarized the content from somewhere. I was called down to the principal’s office to answer to these accusations. She didn’t know where I had plagiarized it from and had absolutely no proof, but was nonetheless positive I could not have written the poem myself. But lacking any concrete evidence, I denied the charges and was eventually allowed the first place prize, and awarded a tacky little certificate most likely run off the school ditto machine. I have no further proof of any of this happening beyond my faulty and questionable memories of these incidents.

It was finally in the eighth grade that a teacher directly praised my writing abilities and presumably my intelligence. In English we often had to answer in class essay questions in response to the literature we read, and my English teacher would always start reading my paper the moment I handed it to her. I remember one time that she gasped out loud after I had turned in an essay response, while most of the class was reading silently. “Jeff, your response is perfect,” she said, “just perfect.” I felt suddenly embarrassed by this, and I’m sure that my classmates were looking at me like I was some kind of do-goody brown-noser, though I can’t be certain due to my prominent position in the front row (did I mention my ADD?). This one teacher had praised my writing privately many times, reassuring me that I had a certain lucky proficiency with words that was above the average.  Since she actually witnessed me sit down and compose the words in front of her, she must have realized that I had in fact written it myself. She was the first person I remember telling me to keep writing, which later became a theme among teachers that recognized some kernel of talent in me, and even as I write this now I try to keep telling myself this. Just keep writing.

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections

Stay tuned for more chapters…(upcoming episodes)

Chapter 4 – Acceptance

Chapter 5 – College (what I can remember of it)

Chapter 6 – Life Experience

Chapter 7 – Self Actualization

 

Inside the Cal Academy of Science

I took my 6th grade scientists to the California Academy of Science last year. So much to see inside that magical building. So many layers inside other insides. Who would suspect that one could learn so much about the world outside by traveling inside.

For the DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside