Archive for December, 2011

Using Google Reader to keep up with blogs and current events

Using Google Reader to keep up with blogs

Blogs are a great way to include more current events in class discussions. They have provided me with a way to get the news I want, and leave out all the topics that can really waste my time!

It took me a while to learn how to incorporate reading blogs into my daily routine. I stopped thinking of blogs as websites, and started using Google Reader to make them seem like emails to my inbox to be read. This really helped me get into the habit.

Here’s how I started doing it so it makes sense to me:

  1. In the internet browser of choice, open a new tab and click-drag it to the tab next to your email
  2. Visit Google Reader and create an account, if you don’t already have one
  3. Find a blog that you want to read (I love Wired Science)
  4. Copy the url for that blog
  5. In Reader, click “Subscribe”, paste in the url of the blog, and click ‘Add’

Now that you are subscribed to a blog, Reader will indicate when you have new content waiting for you. Check out the picture to see what I see now (I use the Chrome browser):

  1. Tab 1 is my email box, showing how many unread emails I have
  2. Tab 2 is my Reader feed, showing any unread blog posts

I leave these tabs open all day long. If you haven’t yet tied blogs into your routines, I hope this gives you something to try!

Best wishes to everyone,



Why we aren’t doomed

My holiday conversations with family and friends often involve “the state of American education”. There’s some doom and gloom surrounding the performance of US students when compared with other nations in math and science. It’s understandable to be nervous about the future when so much is changing so quickly, and that we want to prepare as well as we can.

I am not nervous. I know that things will change for the worse in some ways. I also know that technology and the ‘global intelligence’ provides an accelerating capacity to make changes for the better. Predictions of these changes would not be accurate, even if we tried really hard.

Three things in which I believe:

1. People are resilient and resourceful, and this diminishes with age. Young people adapt better than old folks – like myself.

2. The principles that provide the foundation for success do not change with time. It has been, and always will be some combination of these traits:

  • the mental practice of searching for and evaluating information,
  • the maturity to create an appropriate response to that information, and
  • the motivation and drive to execute the chosen response

3. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Point #1 won’t change. Point #3 unfolds on its own – it’s hard to ‘force’ necessity. Point #2 are things that can be learned in school, out of school, out in “the wild” (playgrounds, streets, etc), or (most likely) some combination of the the three. They aren’t easy lessons, but they can be learned anywhere. With them, everything is possible, ESPECIALLY in the face of change. Without them, our communities don’t really flourish – it’s more survival. In both scenarios, the “safety value” is Point #3. If things get REALLY bad, people need to make amazing things happen, and they will do it.

Point #2 is a part of US culture to some degree, and part of human nature. In American educational systems, we focus on Point #2 to some degree. For this reason, other countries still look to US education to see what we do. Also, while there’s focus, fear, and mania on standards, we continue to create better educational methods. The efforts to create national standards (Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS), even if you disagree with them, seem like they are being developed with the intent to incorporate wisdom and democracy with these latest methods. I’ll elaborate on NGSS in another post.

For now, I’m satisfied knowing that educational methods are making good progress. Teachers may not adopt new skills overnight, but students are constantly learning new things outside of school too.¬†I know that a clever person will always be able to enter a job and begin to make a difference by learning the needed skills.

In summary, my forecast for my personal holiday vignettes about education is “mostly sunny”. Happy winter, everyone!


The future of textbooks

Using textbooks in the contemporary physics classroom

I follow¬†Frank Noschese’s blog Action-Reaction because he records thoughtful reflections on his inquiry and non-cookie cutter teaching efforts. In his post about visualizing average velocity, he alludes (offhand) how textbooks are utilized in his classroom. I love it.

Uses of Textbooks:

Textbooks make wonderful reference tools. They provide well-worded explanations to revisit after the lesson is over. Using the teacher edition carefully can give great insights on how to structure learning, and provide ideas on differentiation for more students.

They can also provide good, stable blocks to hold up a table.

Why is this OK

To a good teacher, a textbook is one of many tools we can use to create meaningful learning experiences. Used creatively, a textbook brings images and enrichment opportunities. Teachers who proudly do NOT use a textbook are missing the point and missing out on a great resource.

In 1912, the textbook was an invaluable tool for education, for the following reasons:

  • students leaving the 1912 classroom with out skills in memorization and execution would not go on to be contributing members of society
  • teachers did not have the opportunities for ongoing education. Paying a teacher to leave on a 5 day trip to a far away college to continue learning every few years would be impractical.

Why we must do more than only textbooks today

The spinning pumps water from the well

You really have to grind the good out of people – it doesn’t just vanish quietly. Kids are attracted to the idea of accomplishing important things, and they only stop trying if they think that it’s unlikely that the effort will pay off. Using stale textbooks can grind people down.

It’s unlikely that teachers can give a world-class education using just a textbook these days. Their pedagogy may be good, but students are inspired by bigger audiences. Current events are presented freely in a myriad of media formats. The product of a lesson on torque can be more than just 20 problems repeating the concept. It can be creating a better water well for people in a far-away land.

In conclusion – Frank has done a great thing. A teacher must do miracles with limited resources. We should all use books, the internet, a student’s cell phone, relationships with other schools, private and commercial funding in creative ways to keep our students thinking, learning, and loving the entire process.