Tutoring Online, Homeroom, Teaching AP Classes and Driver's Ed

I recently [and finally] got into tutoring online through Wyzant and am really enjoying it.  I would recommend any teacher looking for a little extra money check into the site.  My three students so far have been a 5th grade boy, a high school student and a college student.  Several adults also ask for tutoring and I look forward to hopefully helping some of them as well.  

I am confident that this tutoring experience will help me continue to grow as a teacher.  Working individually with students of all different ages and skill levels forces a teacher to be patient and truly tests their teaching ability.  I'm not saying I'm the ultimate teacher; rather, this opportunity has reinforced in me the value in having time to work one-on-one with students.  

I have a confession.  I haven't taken full advantage of the homeroom time we have at school to work with students individually.  I'm somewhat disappointed considering I teach juniors and seniors in AP Chemistry and AP Physics that very few have reached out to me for extra help during the homeroom time that we often have at the end of the day.  I've reiterated several times that I refuse to give homework just to fill up a gradebook and that being successful in college is so much about effort, time management and discipline.  With a week to go before the AP tests, some of my students have finally gotten a sense of urgency.  Of course, it could very well be too late.  AP exams in Physics and Chemistry are truly challenging.  I'm fairly confident that these tests are at least as hard as any of the tests that I took in my college science courses.  [I don't want to talk about my take-home Inorganic Chemistry test.  Yes, believe it or not, the take-home test was next to impossible.]   I've learned a ton in teaching AP classes for the first time.  One thing I've accepted is that some students are simply willing to put in the work to be successful and others are not.  Some are still in denial that even though they're highly accomplished at playing the game of school that they still need to put in work in an AP Chemistry or AP Physics course.  Nevertheless, I'm glad I've had the chance to teach AP courses and look forward to making changes to improve my classes next year.  

After the AP tests next week and the school year ends before Memorial Day, I'll be back to Driver's Ed this summer.  Driver's Ed is another great chance to work with students one-on-one and build relationships with students that I may have in class later.  Although I'd rather just spend time being with my daughter or working on my board game ideas, I'm grateful to have this summer gig.  

Thanks for reading and if you're a fellow educator I hope you have a great rest of the school year!

-- Jason 

 

OK Go, Wintergatan & Cymatics: Math, Science, & The Design Process

I love music and take pride in "finding" bands that people don't know about, often from all over the world.  OK Go isn't from somewhere interesting like Iceland or Brazil.  They're from Chicago.  And they're not exactly undiscovered or totally under the radar.   Nevertheless, they've brought back the magic of music videos something fierce since MTV lost its way several years ago.  When I decided I was going to write a blog post about their videos, I knew I would have some tough decisions when deciding which video or videos I wanted to include.  It's not easy to choose.  

We've all heard of Rube-Goldberg machines and probably seen some videos on them.  Ok Go went all out on their video for "This Too Shall Pass."  If nothing else, one has to recognize the amazing amount of creativity and time that had to go into just this one video, which has now understandably amassed over 59 million views.  Also, if you teach physical science at either the middle or high school level, it could lead to awesome discussion about changes in energy as well as different types of machines.  

This follow-up video that they made really gets into the core of trial and error and the design process:  

OK Go recently released a video for a song called The One Moment.  

This follow-up gets into the math and algebra that had to go into the design process for the video.  Math classes are bound to be engaged.  

If you haven't seen this amazing marble machine that makes music, check this out:

And one more...

How could you use these videos in the classroom?  Not only are they engaging, but they definitely could lead to some awesome discussion.  

Having a Blast Designing Science Board Games

pic3727516.jpg

If you know me or have read this blog before, you know that I recently got into board games something fierce [Here's my Februrary blog post: I need to go to Board Gamers Anonymous].  I started backing new ones on Kickstarter and ordered games on Amazon.  Too many games.  It's cool having a game like Twilight Imperium 4, but it takes on average at least 6 hours to play, so it's basically just sitting on my shelf.  But other games like Codenames and Dead of Winter have gotten more use.  And I've been inspired to design two new games, one with a fellow teacher and the other by myself.   

The one I'm designing alone is The Master Chemist, a game that asks players to acquire compounds, prove they have the appropriate lab skills and use equipment to accomplish different tasks in order to move up the ranks and become The Master Chemist before anyone else.  At the same time, my Chemistry II class has been designing a board game too.  Their end goal is to present their idea via Google Hangout to John Coveyou, a former Chemistry teacher who now teaches game design at the university level and runs Genius Games, a company that exclusively publishes science board games.  John has been very gracious to donate his time to help my students understand the process of developing a game and to judge their designs at the end. The students are responsible for several components: rules, a website, a fake Kickstarter campaign, Twitter marketing, and a sell sheet.  We've had other students in Chemistry I playtest their game and give them constructive criticism.  While the students are not quite as pumped about board game design as I am (because I'm not sure that'd be possible), it's been a great learning experience for them.  My students have been using tools like Canva to develop their sell sheet.  One is already talking about going into graphic design.  You can see why below.  

senescence.jpg

Learning how to design my own game has been a blast.  There's so many questions a designer has to ask themselves: how long do I want the game to take?  What's my target audience?  What's the central theme?  Are there other games out there like this already?  How many players will play at a time?  What components (board, cards, tokens, etc.) will it have?  If I want to have cards, what's the easiest way to make them?  And on and on.  The good news is that there's tons of awesome resources out there.  Other than regularly bothering John at Genius Games, I've mainly relied on the website Board Game Geek, designer Jamey Stegmaier's videos, and two podcasts: the Board Game Design Lab and Board Game Business.  I eventually figured out that my best bet with the card design was to use Component Studio.  Although it costs $10 a month, this site allows me to design cards that I can send directly to The Game Crafter, and well-known and user-friendly site that you can pay to print off a prototype or multiple copies of your game.

In between developing The Master Chemist, I've also been working with my friend Tony on a space and physics-based game that involves real exoplanets.  I'm excited where that one is heading too and will be sharing more in the future.  

Are you designing a game too or just really into board games?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  

 

Stephen Hawking, My parents, and Perseverance

stephen-hawking.png

Just this past weekend, they found a mass in the small intestine of my 70 year old father.  We're not sure if he has full-blown cancer yet.  He also suffered a stroke.  Even though we haven't always been the closest, it's still of course very difficult to see him in that state.  He has double vision and can't see well, his speech is slurred, and he can't get out of bed.  We don't know what will be next for him.  Small intestinal cancer is very challenging to treat and there's possible evidence that it has spread.  

Late last night, world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passed away.  He of course lived several years after being diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.  Hawking was a living inspiration to the disabled as he continued to make contributions to science even though he had such a challenge when living.  He had the ability to think at an extremely high level.  Hawking took questions like "Are we alone in the universe?" and "How old is the universe?" and could explain them so the average person could understand them.  I really enjoy this TED video of him back in 2006:

Today in both my Chemistry and Physics classes we watched the above video and talked about overarching questions about the universe and humanity.  I think too often in school we stay in our own little bubble and don't acknowledge that all of the sciences are related let alone also related to other subjects.  Some of my students were truly captivated when we talked about the expansion of the universe and possibilities for life elsewhere.  Isn't this the true purpose of school, to engage students and tap into their curiosity?

I know about that the type of computer that Hawking used because my mother had one.  She was diagnosed about 10 years ago with ALS and passed away within a couple of years.  My mother was an amazing person before she got ALS.  She was completely full of life and had an amazing sense of humor.  She taught me the piano and I love having the ability to teach others now.  

With my father in bad shape, it's possible I won't have any parents by the time I'm 40.  Yet, as I've been able to previously with hardships in my life, I know I'll be able to persevere.  If Stephen Hawking can live such a full life while not being able to move, I know that I can make the most of the opportunities I have too.  It's all too easy to wake up with a negative outlook on the day because of our personal circumstances or because we've had a streak of bad things happen to us.  Don't be that kind of educator and don't be that kind of a person.  We can all make a difference every day.  

Why I'm a Pro-Life Democrat

[Note:  It was very difficult to type this entire post without talking about Trump.  But somehow I did it.]

Our views as a society continue to and should evolve.  I believe that civil rights in the near future will center around robots and artificial intelligence.  Before we get there, we continue to have drastic technological advancements that completely change the fabric of society.  We take for granted the ability to analyze DNA, genetically engineering food and communicate instantly with people all over the world.  With technological advancement comes negative consequences, such as phone addiction or more advanced weaponry.  The Bible was written two thousand years ago.  The Constitution was written over two hundred years ago.  That doesn't mean that they're both completely obsolete, but it would also be ignorant to take either of these completely out of the context of what society was like at the time.  The teenagers now were born after the year 2000 and don't know a world without cell phones and the internet.  

Think about the history of the United States when it comes to civil rights.  We've had battles over women's rights, black rights, and now gay rights.  Again, I believe that all life has equal value.  Male or female.  Born or unborn.  Straight or gay.  I don't believe that Jesus would've wanted less rights for any people, regardless of their sexual orientation.  It becomes very simple at that point.   

I get it.  You're a pro-life Christian with conservative values.  The Republican Party has historically branded itself as the party that supports these values.  And you're torn.  You don't think it's OK for you to be Christian and not vote Republican.  Republicans say things like "God wanted Trump to be President," etc.  

Democrats are completely wrong about abortion.  There was a time in my life where I thought being pro-choice made sense.  But if you value all life and you believe that one of our core purposes of existence is to help each other, how can we ignore the immorality of abortion?  There's no validity to arguing that a baby only becomes alive when it enters the world.  I don't believe that abortion is an acceptable answer when a woman doesn't want a child.  There's simply no justifying it.  

On the other hand, unfortunately the Republican stance is hypocritical, particularly when centered around valuing life and helping others.  How can a Christian have the following positions? 

Pro-Life + For the Death Penalty + Against Universal Healthcare + For Eliminating DACA + Pro-Corporation [i.e. tax cuts for wealthy + businesses]

Even if you vote Republican and don't agree with all of those stances, how can you agree with any of them beyond being Pro-Life?  And how can you argue that the Republicans in power are fighting for the common man?  

One of the key components of Christianity as I understand it is empathy.  Would a Christian have the attitude that universal health care is a privilege and not a basic human right?  If a Christian sees value in all life no matter how destructive or broken , how can they support the death penalty?  When a Christian sees innocent people killed in mass shootings, would they default to "The 2nd amendment gives me the right to own all these weapons?" or would they do whatever it took to reduce the chance that people will die unnecessarily?  Or at least be willing to sacrifice something for the greater good?

Another key characteristic of a Christian is telling the truth.  Now I'm not here to argue that one side on the political aisle has always told the truth and the other always lies.  Or to tell you that I've never lied.  But an objective truth and fact-based evidence have taken a back seat to fake news and seeing who can yell louder, whether what they're yelling is true or not.  Finally, when someone in politics gets caught in a lie, they often yell louder still instead of admitting their mistake.  People want to find something to believe in.  And once they do, they believe their source or their candidate can do no wrong, regardless of contrary evidence. 

In our two-party system, we are very restricted.  Republicans find themselves at a true crossroads in which they have to be willing to continue to lower their moral standard if they'll support the party indefinitely.  Democrats are the party that embraces scientific logic instead of denying it [please see global warming].  They fight for a higher living wage and opportunities that help the middle-class like free community college.  Nevertheless, they're hypocritical in that they take pride in going to bat for the oppressed [women / African-Americans / LGBTQ] but not a completely helpless unborn child.  The Democratic Party is less associated with Christianity, but that doesn't mean they're mutually exclusive.  

To the Christians out there, if you're still reading this, you might need to hear that it's OK not to agree with every part of the Republican platform.  It's even OK to not vote Republican at all.  The Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate and the House and they're still not able to truly move our country forward.  Rather, it feels like we're taking steps back on the world stage.  And it's embarrassing.  

If the Democrats take back control in 2018 and win the Presidency in 2020 the government isn't going to knock down your door and take all of your guns.  We also won't tell coal miners that they have the jobs of the future.  It's time for society to continue to evolve and to base policy on scientific research and evidence, not on the pressure of companies and lobbyists.  Let's make the world better and move forward.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You NEED to use Guest Speakers & Skype in the Classroom. Like...yesterday.

I have several passions.  Too many, if there is such a thing.  One of them is keeping my classroom fresh for students.  I refuse to have a classroom that is predictable and where students know what is going to happen every day.  I do my best to have an attitude that I am not the expert in everything, and it is more valuable for students to hear from professionals than to hear another lecture from yet another teacher.  

If you're an educator and you're reading this, you have a few minutes of time.  If you've never been, go to Skype in the Classroom.  Immediately.  You won't regret it.  The part I've taken advantage the most so far is connecting with guest speakers, but it also offers virtual field trips and Mystery Skypes, which are awesome if you're teaching Social Studies, particularly geography or World History.  

If you're a fellow science teacher, I have an amazing resource that you tap into if you haven't already. Skype a Scientist is a website where you can connect with scientific professionals who are excited to talk about what they do.  My first experience with this was having a Applied Physics Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan named Andrew McAllister connect with my classes.  He still talked to me even though I'm a huge Buckeyes fan.  We all have flaws.  Andrew's research is centered on the improvement of LED light bulbs.  You can check out a short video about it here: 

 

 

After the Skype session with my first period AP Physics class went so well, I asked Andrew to talk to the rest of my classes too even though two of them are Chemistry classes.  He wasn't at all reluctant to do this and I'm glad all of my students experienced this.  It was extremely valuable for my students to simply talk to a graduate student, let alone one who was studying science.  High school students often don't have a concrete grasp of what graduate school entails and how it's different from undergrad.  This exchange was awesome for some of my students that I can envision going beyond their undergrad and thinking about how a Ph.D. would open several doors for them, regardless of the field they want to pursue.  

In conclusion, no matter what field you teach, I'd highly recommend you take advantage of Skype in the Classroom and especially Skype a Scientist if you're a science instructor.  We have another session coming up in March with a different professional and I'm sure my students will learn a lot and enjoy the process again.  

 

I need to go to BGA (Board Gamers Anonymous)

So, I was at a friend's house a few weeks ago, and after we played the usual Texas Hold 'em, he busted out a copy of this game:

If you've never played Ultimate Werewolf, I know what you're thinking.  Really?  A game about werewolves?  I promise, it's amazing.  My friends and I played until 1:30 AM.   It's a simple card game that goes fast and includes some fun arguing and strategy.  

Ultimate Werewolf opened the floodgates.  So far, over the past few weeks I've bought these games on Amazon (in addition to the Werewolf game of course):

 

In addition, I've backed these seven games on Kickstarter [so far].  I've put them in order of how excited I am to receive these when they're released:

  1. U-Boot
  2. Nemesis
  3. Xia: Embers of a Forsaken Star
  4. Pandorum
  5. Tank Chess
  6. Deja-Vu: Fragments of Memory
  7. Warpgate

Several of the games I've bought  are space-related since a friend and I are working on our own game involving exoplanets and the future.   I started a board game club at school.  I bought an IKEA shelving unit to house all these games at school.  My Chemistry kids are designing a chemistry-themed board game.  [I'll talk more about this in a separate blog when it's completed.]  I'm listening to the Board Game Design Lab Podcast.  I'm constantly on the Board Game Geek website, known as the site for all serious board gamers.   I'm heading to the GenCon Gaming Conference in August.  I'm starting a board game night at my house.  You get the picture.  It's a bit out of hand.  

Are you into board games or maybe even designing a game too?  Do you have any games you love to play?  It'd be great to hear from you in the comments.  Thanks for reading! 

 

The Joy and Solace of the Piano

My mom started teaching me on the piano when I was five.  I had a few different teachers after that, eventually landing with a professional teacher who had me enter competitions.  Other than egging the house of a girl that dumped me [mom didn't know about that...sorry mom], the most rebellious thing I did as a teenager was refuse to practice extensively.  I know, I was a real rebel.  

After I stopped taking lessons and went off to college I barely played.  But then I finally got the bug again, practicing some Mozart and Chopin.  Chopin was one of my favorites, with his blazing Waltzes and powerful Polonaises.  It didn't hurt that he was Polish too.  I knew though that my passion for playing the piano wouldn't really stick unless I figured out how to play music by ear.  

At first, it was challenging to figure out songs.  But then, it all started to click, once I understood the common chord progressions of songs and how to figure out very quickly what key a song was in.  It's a very gratifying thing when you figure out that you can listen to a song and almost instantly play it.  Journalist and Science writer Malcolm Gladwell says that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice at anything to become "world-class" at it.  I imagine I crossed that barrier at some point, as I get frustrated when I can't figure out a song now.  Yes, that still happens.

I'm very excited to be giving my first piano lessons starting this Sunday.  When you find real joy and solace in playing an instrument, it's natural to want others to enjoy listening to you and to share your talent with others.  Although I listen to heavier music too, not long ago I discovered Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds.  Here's my favorite song of his to play on the piano: 

Ashley and I are going to see him in Chicago in June at the tail end of our trip to Poland and Germany and it's going to be a perfect end to our travels.  

I'm very excited to be giving my first piano lessons starting this Sunday.  When you find real joy and solace in playing an instrument, it's natural to want people to enjoy listening to you, to share your talent with others and to want to pass that on to others.  I wish my mom was still around to hear me play, but I'm very grateful that I have the opportunity to help others learn the piano and hopefully they'll share their gift too. 

Here's a live performance by Olafur.  I typically start watching at the 4:30 mark or so.  I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Check Out This Good Music Or: I Embrace My Music Snobbiness

I've been to a ridiculous number of concerts.  I love finding new music and sharing it with others, including my students.  I'm one of those people that rarely listens to the radio.  I'll say it out loud.  I'm a music snob.  

I recently inherited an old antique record player that was my grandfather's and started buying vinyl like it was going out of style.  I knew that once I started it would be difficult to stop, but unfortunately the record player is currently broken, and that at least will help my bank account some.    

Here are who I've been listening to a lot of lately if you're looking for good new music.  [I warned you and told you I was a music snob.]

TesseracT - Progressive Rock / England

Olafur Arnalds - Instrumental Classical / Iceland

Sigur Ros - Otherworldly Post-Rock / Iceland 

We Lost the Sea - Instrumental Rock / Australia

Oh Hiroshima - Post-Rock / Sweden

This Will Destroy You - Instrumental Rock / USA

If These Trees Could Talk - Instrumental Rock / USA

 

You can tell I love finding music from places all around the world.  I'm excited to see TesseracT again in May and Olafur Arnalds in June, both in Chicago.  One of the bands above that I'm not sure if I'll ever get to see is We Lost the Sea since they're from Australia and don't typically tour here.  They unfortunately lost their lead singer to suicide in 2013.  After this tragedy, they didn't know what the next step for their band would be.  They decided to march forward as an instrumental band, and their album Departure Songs is simply amazing.  You can check them out above if you never have.  There is a story behind each of the five songs on the album, as they're each dedicated to someone or a group of people who passed away, culminating with a two song dedication to the Challenger explosion that incorporates the speech that Reagan made the day of the explosion in 1986.  It's simply amazing.

If you've discovered any amazing music lately that's typically under the radar or you'd like to share with concerts you're going to, please feel free to share who it might be in the comments below.  You can see which concerts I'm going to under my Events on this website.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

creating a new class is a blast

My friend Andy and I are pumped.  We're working on a new class for the fall titled Advanced Topics in History and Modern Science: The Past, Present, and the Future. I know, it's a lengthy title.  But it's going to be epic.  Andy continues to challenge me with awesome ideas that are spinning in my head as I type this.  

I was inspired to start my own class a few years back before jumping into admin and can't wait to have something else brand new again.  It was also really inspiring to talk to Don Wettrick about his Innovations class on my podcast back in the day.  It's still one of my favorite episodes that I ever did.  You can listen here:

If somehow you're in education and you don't follow Don and how he's leading the movement for innovation in schools head to StartedUp Innovation.  

"OK so Don rocks.  That's all well and good.  What is your new class about?" 

I'm so glad you asked. 

Here's the course description:

      The goal of this course will be to develop an understanding of how societies have evolved through scientific discovery while diving deeper into the driving question “What will be the goal of future humans?”

      Themes may include but are not limited to the information age of 1970 through the present.  Utilizing a team-teaching approach, this course will focus on using current events and real world source material outside of traditional lesson plans and textbooks.  Students will engage in the material through readings, discussions, and projects that push their thinking further.   Advanced Topics of History and Modern Science: The Past, Present, and the Future aims to be a truly unique and thought-provoking course designed  to push students to think outside-the-box and make connections from the classroom to the real world.  

So although we have major topics that we're going to frame a good part of the class around topics like transportation, artificial intelligence, and medicine, students will help drive where we go. 

Here's a link to our brainstorming Google Doc for the course.  I'd love to hear your comments or suggestions below. 

We'll be using all sorts of materials to help support the course, like Michio Kaku's The Future of Humanity which came in the mail yesterday. 

Stay tuned for further updates on this project.  Hopefully I can convince Andy to be my co-host for a new podcast where we chronicle our journey.  Ya know, because I don't have enough projects already.  :)  

 

The #NeverAgain Movement

On Valentine's Day, a 19 year old went to his former school in Parkland, Florida and shot several students and adults, killing 17 and shattering hundreds of lives forever.  We've heard stories of heroes (both kids and adults) that took bullets for others.  

When I look at my current students, I desperately want them to be safe.  I would be devastated if any of them passed away, let alone several of them at once like what happened in Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.  The AP Test is completely meaningless next to the safety of kids who have a limitless future.  

People have argued that "back in the day" students had rifles in their truck and they never brought them into the school to shoot someone.  OK.  They continue by pushing that the second amendment guarantees our right to bear arms.  But the second amendment was written in 1791.  In 1791, cars weren't even invented yet, let alone assault rifles.  It is extremely difficult to imagine developing the laws of the land and doing your best to write them so that they could apply forever without any modification.  If change was never part of the process, the amendments themselves wouldn't exist.  Women [19th Amendment] and African-Americans [26th Amendment] could never vote.   We're simply in a different time.  We live in a time with cars instead of horses and semi-automatic weapons instead of bayonets.  The price of technological advancement is that when a major development occurs like the invention of cars, we have to change our laws to protect citizens by providing requirements like the Driver's License test in order to help others be safe.  Of course there are still accidents by good drivers who are going the speed limit, but less people are killed when law-abiding drivers are on the road.  Just like our schools need to be drastically updated and moved away from an industrial model with desks in rows and ringing bells where even adult teachers have to wait to go to the bathroom, it would be ridiculous to assume that all laws written over two hundred years ago don't need updated.  It would be as if major breakthroughs continued to happen in medicine but we never used new drugs or advancements in sanitation when conducting surgery.  

Please don't hear the wrong message.  I'm not saying that we need to repeal the Second Amendment and that all guns need to be banned and taken away.  But the framers would've never guaranteed the right of a citizen to own an AR-15, a weapon used by the military and designed to kill people, not deer.  It is powerful to have a conversation with people that own guns who understand that something needs to change and can admit that they don't need an AR-15 in their cabinet.  The gentleman above used the hashtag #OneLess to share his message that every gun matters.    

The fact that there was yet another mass shooting in America and in an American school sadly isn't surprising anymore.  What is news is that surviving students at Stoneman Douglas High School are changing the equation and they're basically saying, "We're tired of school shootings being a regular part of the American news cycle and fading away.  We're not gonna take it anymore."  People like Emma Gonzalez, Sarah Chadwick, Cameron Kasky, and David Hogg are leading the #NeverAgain Movement and using the positive power of social media to push for change.  These survivors are heroes too.  They are building the March for Our Lives event on March 24th in Washington, D.C. which is spreading across the country.   This is the first time I will take part in an event like this, and it's long overdue.  

Regardless of where you stand on gun control, it's hard to deny that the bravery, passion and eloquence of these students is inspiring.  I can only hope that someday my young daughter will stand up for what is right like these students are.  Also, I really hope meaningful change is enacted extremely quickly, so that something like Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland doesn't ever happen again.  #NeverAgain.