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The Perpetual and Profound Question: Does cooking chocolate melt faster than ‘normal’ chocolate?

WHY is it that even some of the BEST Science students the school can acquire insist on investigating: 

“the melting points of different types of chocolate”

for their year 10 student investigation?

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All you people in the Science Lab: Can I have some originality PLEASE?? 

 

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Making M&M atoms with Year 10

Modelling The Subatomic Structure of an Atom (Year 10)

Prior Knowledge: atomic number=number of protons, atomic mass= number of protons + neutrons, number of electrons=number of protons, electrons exist in energy levels or shells with 2 occupying the first shell and 8 occupying the shells after that.

Materials: 

mnms skittles mnsmmini

pencil

periodic table

Method: 

1. Write on the board:

M&Ms= protons

skittles=neutrons

M&Ms minis=electrons.

2. Point out that the size difference between protons and neutrons is negligible (for year 10) and that electrons are much smaller than the other two subatomic particles. Hence, the mini M&Ms are the electrons.

3. Students use the information in their periodic table to construct an atom of hydrogen, an atom of lithium and an atom of beryllium.

4. Students draw the atom they have created out of consumables.

5. Students create a table showing similarities and differences between the structures of the three atoms. (help them to notice that they all have one electron in the outer shell and that each one has a different number of electron shells)

6. Students use the information in their periodic table to construct an atom of helium, neon and argon.

7. Students draw the atom they have created out of consumables.

8. Students create a table showing similarities and differences between the structures of the three atoms. (help them to notice that they all have full outer shells and that each one has a different number of electron shells)

9. Link the number of electrons in the outer shell to the group number (explain the helium anomaly) and the number of electron shells to the period number.

My class is pretty bright, so I managed to leap straight from this to ionic bonding by getting them to trade mini m&ms. They picked up on their own that the atoms become charged if you change the amount of electrons, and thus I could introduce the concept of ions.

I’m not going to lie, this lesson was a massive hit. They worked as fast as they could in order to eat their atoms, and the physical model also helped them to see that the nucleus doesn’t get ‘filled’ it is actually just MADE of protons and neutrons. Likewise with ‘shells’. If you remove an electron from a shell with only one in it, the one underneath becomes the outer shell.

This is actually a lesson I borrowed off of another teacher and then modified. It was originally shown to me as a lesson for teaching year 9 about the existence of protons, neutrons and electrons and their organisation within an atom. In this instance, you should provide the kids with a scaffold showing a distinct empty nucleus and some empty energy levels.

This is a very versatile lesson and I hope it works for you! Don’t forget to write the lollies off on tax….even the extras that YOU end up eating!

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Resources: Brain-food for you and your students, courtesy of YouTube and the Net

MAN-Steve Cutts 

MOST PEOPLE ENJOY THIS ONE

The above is my favourite piece of propaganda: a hyperbole of the damage we are doing to our environment. It is biased and confronting, so it is best used for an older/more mature class and should be followed up with some sustainable behaviours that the students can enact. Otherwise, it can be quite depressing. I have to admit that it’s something I often share with adults as well. 

Wild Sex-Sexy Dance Offs

MOST PEOPLE ENJOY THIS ONE

I used this for my senior Biology class when I wanted to teach them about mate choice and sexual selection. It is not necessarily part of the curriculum, but it helps kids to understand that “survival of the fittest” is about organisms surviving long enough to produce offspring rather than just surviving. You can also use it to explain the reasons why some characteristics become more prevalent than others in a population. 

Positive and negative feedback loops

MORE FOR TEACHERS OR BIOLOGY ENTHUSIASTS

Perfect because it’s simple, but still detailed and it uses subject specific terminology. Senior biologists love this one! 

The Science of Cats

MOST PEOPLE LOVE THIS ONE

This is a great video, answering interesting questions using simple, applied Science. It’s a great treat for the end of a lesson of hard thinking. 

Edmodo

This website is useful for communicating with students outside of school. It gives you administrative privileges so that you can control what they are posting to one another, but they can ask questions of you or each other. If I use a resource in class, I post it to the wall for future reference, either for them to study or for me to find again. They can share photos, videos and websites too. If I am absent from school and my class has laptops, I can leave them a copy of the work to refer to. Some classes respond to it better than others, but it’s still a useful resource, and the layout resembles Facebook, making it easy to use.

Dog Cloning

MAINLY FOR TEACHERS

This is a cute little interactive explaining the process of cloning. It uses a hypothetical scenario of cloning  imaginary dogs and I LOVE it because it removes some of those common misconceptions. For best effect, get each kid to do it individually on a computer. Takes about 10 mins at the most. 

Mantis Shrimp-The Oatmeal

MOST PEOPLE LOVE THIS ONE

Educational for all involved, fun facts with an accessible perspective on the Science. I use it when I’m teaching about light waves, and also in senior Biology when we’re learning about how eyes work. 

Nikola Tesla-The Oatmeal

MOST PEOPLE LOVE THIS ONE

Same as above, plus the excellent ‘human element’ that can be missing from Science sometimes. It is essential for teaching kids about how to actually BE a scientist and it also makes them think about where our acquired knowledge has come from. From memory, it has offensive language, so I save it for seniors or I tell students to look it up at home on their own. They can be enticed to do this with the promise of offensive language.

My biggest goal when teaching is making my students think. I like to give them information, perspectives and opinions so that they can come to their own conclusions and make carefully-weighed decisions. The best way for me to do that is to continually collect information, perspectives and conclusions for myself. I also spend a fair amount of time finding new representations of scientific issues and concepts. The resources above are great, so please check them out and make sure that you pass them on. Teacher or not, this knowledge is useful and accessible for people of all ages and educational backgrounds. 

Healthy faculty relationships can often be built around shared resources. We are good at passing on resources in our faculty when someone asks for them, but we are working towards building an electronic repository that everyone can access at their own leisure. This is a positive and progressive step forward for us, and I recommend it. 

Happy Learning! 

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Breaking Bad with Facebook

Friday was momentous. I had my first experience of dealing quietly with a situation to protect my students, and myself, from the principal. Don’t worry, they don’t see it that way, they are firmly convinced that I wage a continual war against all things fun. The story:

A boy in my year 10 class stumbled across my carefully disguised Facebook page by finding the page of a colleague I was friends with and seeing a comment I had written. From there, he found a photograph of me taken by another teacher at the year 12 formal and published publicly to my timeline. He took a copy of this picture and transferred it to photoshop where he painstakingly cut my head out of the picture. He took a photograph of himself and repeated the cutting process. He then pasted the two heads onto this background:

breaking-bad-logo

The completed artwork was published to his own timeline as his cover photo.

I am told this sequence of events took place approximately two months ago.

………………………………………………

Friday’s Lesson: 

The aim was to roll  plastic collision trolleys down  friction ramps at different heights (and therefore at different speeds) and investigate how far from the trolley plasticine people were propelled at the different speeds when they hit a 2kg weight. Simple, fun and relevant to people about to obtain Learner Driver Licences. Once the kids seemed to be working, I performed the prac up the front to make sure that some accurate numerical data existed for a graph at the end. My average-ability/below-average-interest-level class however, were much less amused than I was by the fun toys.

What they were supposed to concentrate on:

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What they DID concentrate on:

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When I saw what they were doing, I asked them if I could take photographs of their work to show the other teachers and I also expressly asked if I could put pictures of what they had built on the internet. I was thinking of this blog, but their minds jumped straight to Facebook. They all gave instant permission, and a group of my boys huddled in the corner looking something up on an iPad.

When I finished taking the pictures with my own iPad, the group of boys came over and showed me the Facebook account of the Aspiring Jesse Pinkman (AJP) with his Breaking Bad photoshop art. I was shocked, and they were apprehensive. I settled on the  routine of “who, what, when, where, why, how” and obtained the information I listed at the beginning.

It was an interesting artwork with a strange correlation with the show. For those of you not familiar with Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman was Walter White’s student and together they begin to cook Crystal Meth. When Jesse was a student, he was a lacklustre chemist and he did not appreciate his teacher in the least. In fact, there are hand-drawn artworks of Mr. White looking less than flattering……

What I was thinking: the photo is not in the least offensive and it’s clever. However, if the principal should see this, I could be in trouble because of the drug references. If evil students see this, it sets a precedent of creating photoshopped graphics of teachers and displaying them publicly on the internet, thereby destroying some of their credibility. If I do nothing, and someone else discovers this and does something, they will immediately say “Ms. Blue saw it and didn’t care”. 

The situation of a colleague dealing with something I failed to deal with was one I had to circumvent at all costs. There is nothing worse than having a colleague pull you up for being ‘unprofessional’.

I wanted to tell the boys that the art was clever. I could not. I wanted to ask them for a copy. I could not. Instead, I zipped up my supersuit, pulled down my mask and said: “hand me that iPad please”. With them all watching, I deleted the photo from Facebook and allowed the boy to choose a new cover photo. I signed out of AJP’s Facebook for him, and said “all the boys in this group will remain behind for five minutes at the end of the lesson.”

I used the rest of the lesson to devise a speech:

I explained that it was technically fine for them to create anything they wished to  and that they could share such material with their friends. I went on to explain that part of the photo they created belonged to me because it was an image of me and that I had not given them permission to publish it to the internet. I asked them how they might feel if I created something using a photo of them and published it to my Facebook, but they still didn’t empathise.

They left saying things such as “unfair” and “over-reaction” and they complained that only two of them were really involved, despite the fact that they had all been present and encouraging during the creation of the artwork.

………………………………….

The truth is, kids making fun of teachers has gone from:

teacher drawing

*passed around room behind your back*

to:

teacher drawing

+

facebook

= even kids and parents who are not from your school forming a negative image of your professionalism.

It’s a significant issue, one that the teaching profession has not really kept up with very well. There are times where student created artworks can give you some ‘street cred’ such as the one I was forced to delete from AJP’s Facebook. But there are definitely times where something slanderous could be created and circulated that is not conducive to a learning environment.

Facebook itself is a significant issue in the working lives of many professional people and I do not agree with those who say that professionals should not have Facebook. I demarcate my working and home lives very strongly and I should not have to curb my social interactions outside of school because teenagers do not understand basic respectful behaviours. I think it has come time for parents to step up and explicitly teach their children the meaning of internet courtesy and respectful conduct.

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Something for Me; Something for Them!

A little while ago, I found this video circulating Facebook and I watched it and LOVED it! You should watch it too:

If I Were A Teacher-Ask Kingsley

The title of the video gives an inkling that perhaps this youth in a funny hat will be bagging out teachers, so I found his opinions and his arguments refreshing. I wish very much that I could share this with my students, but due to the explicit language and unsavoury themes, (stabbing people and wishing for bus crashes) I cannot. 

After watching, I perused some other videos by this enigmatic person because he is viewed enough to suggest that his audience values his opinions. The premise of his YouTube channel is that you can log on to his tumblr page and submit questions of any nature to him, and he will answer the ones he chooses in an amusing fashion. He also performs dares. It made me wish that I had the time to set up a YouTube channel dedicated to helping kids with their Science homework. 

Trust a boring old teacher to take the fun out of YouTube!

Instead, I now use a question box during select lessons. The box is always depressingly devoid of conscious thought and overflowing with the litter that usually adorns the floor. 

Still, I continue to cogitate about the influence this brave young soul possesses and I wonder how I could attain the same level of trust from the young minds entrusted to me. I suppose it also makes me wonder about the ethics and mechanics of persuasion…..

The other excellent resource I found from a colleague of mine is a DVD entitled Bag It. It can be investigated and purchased below: 

Bag It

This DVD is a documentary evaluating the impact of modern plastic use on the environment. It is not a balanced view because it seems the producers had difficulty in obtaining statements from a pro-plastics representative. It is food for thought, I changed my lifestyle in small ways as a result of watching it, and top students will empathise with the viewpoints presented. However, I have found that lower ability students or students who have difficulty behaving in a polite fashion during Science have strong negative reactions to the documentary. They often describe plastic reducing behaviours as “extreme” “not likely to become widespread” and “for hippies and crazy people”. 

Interesting. 

Often, the argument about sustainability and environmentalism is that we are educating a disempowered sector of society. I.e. it is not children who make decisions about the products purchased for the household, and if they tried to advocate reduction of plastic use, perhaps their viewpoint would not be valued. I had not thought to find children’s minds closed to building a sustainable future. 

 

Overall, the YouTube clip will brighten your day, and hopefully one day we will have a Parents Popcorn Night at school where we force them to watch Bag It with their children. I remember an awkward night with my parents at the end of primary school where we all learned about reproduction together, so I think showing Bag It would be a viable option instead! 

 

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An Adventurous Journey

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The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has been running in NSW, Australia since 1962 and it first began in the UK in 1956. The Award has three levels: Bronze, Silver and Gold, open to participants between the ages of 14 and 24. Hopeful Dukies must commit themselves to volunteer work, learning a skill and maintaining a level of physical activity. They must also complete Adventurous Journeys of increasing length and difficulty. An Adventurous Journey is typically a hiking/camping trip, but it could be anything requiring teamwork and survival skills.

A child who wants to gain their Award can choose to hike with an external provider, or, if they’re lucky enough, a dedicated co-ordinator might exist at their school. Our school has two such co-ordinators. A male teacher with plenty of navigating and hiking experience who has no trouble getting absolute compliance from every student, and a female teacher who maps out the hikes, recruits supervising teachers, convinces the Principal to let us go, and motivates and helps the kids to complete all of their paperwork. At our school, year 9s complete Bronze, year 10s complete Silver and year 11/12s complete Gold. There is plenty of room for crossover if kids don’t fit the same timeframe as others, provided all paperwork is finished and submitted by the 25th birthday of the applicant.

I do not have the Award at any level.

However, this weekend, I got to facilitate fifty year 9 students with getting theirs, and it was pretty amazing!

I was nervous and excited when I was recruited to the Dukes team at the end of last year. I was concerned that I would not be fit enough to finish a Bronze overnight hike, let alone a weeklong Gold hike. It only took me one term as a teacher to gain weight, become unfit and to catch every disease the students got. My immune system is better equipped for the school environment now, but I have not gained back the fitness level I had prior to teaching. I was also concerned about the dynamics of student-teacher relationships outside of a school setting. After discussing my inexperience, we decided that I would begin this year with the Bronze students and follow them through to Gold so that I could progressively learn the whole process and become a co-ordinator as well as a walker.

This weekend was my third hike with the Bronze kids and they have really grown! The first was a day walk to prove that they could hike. One sprained ankle and four girls who vehemently refused to urinate in the bush were the only major events. However, it became apparent after this hike that six teachers alone could not control such a large group of students. So the existing female co-ordinator cut a deal with the Gold Dukies: as part of their own volunteering, they could come along on the Bronze hikes as mentors and helpers. Those students have proved invaluable in teaching me the do’s and dont’s of Dukes, the customary card games and how to read a map. For the second Bronze walk, each teacher took a group of ten year 9s, and the year 11s met us at night. This was where I made my first rookie error: I gave the Bronzies the maps and told them to lead on. We hiked for quite a while before they decided they were lost and turned to me for directions. I managed to locate us on the map with a small level of confidence, but had to admit that I did not have an easy answer for the way out. We would just have to keep moving until we found a way down the sheer cliff face in front of us. They turned on me at this suggestion, so I had to call a more experienced male teacher who had done the walk before. He scaled the cliff face with a few fit kids and took us back to the track we had missed. That night, the kids were cheering him and complaining that I had gotten them lost. They complained to the female co-ordinator that they did not want to be in my group anymore and the most cutting remark made to me was “you shouldn’t be allowed to come if you don’t know where you’re going”.

That event completely destroyed my confidence and my group were led out the next day by a Gold girl who I will call Lana. I still went with them and she made me feel better by telling stories of all the other teachers getting lost and making sure that we controlled one of the maps. She also told off any kids who were dissing me and she was the first to ask me to walk with them on their major Gold walk next year.

Yesterday, I got back from an overnight hike with the Bronzies, but this time, the Gold kids were with us from the beginning. Each team consisted of a teacher, a Gold kid and 10 Bronze kids. I was teamed with Lana again, and we had a wonderful time with our group. Nobody got lost, and we all made it, but I was right about being unfit! I think the only reason I made it was because we took a backup car, so I only had to carry a daypack. The first day, we began at Teralba and then took the Great North Walk to Glenrock. This meant marching 18kms on the first day to camp near the beach. The promise of swimming was the only temptation that kept some kids walking, which is unfortunate because when we got there, the beach was full of bluebottles and we had to ban swimming:

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There were still plenty of beautiful things to see though and we discovered that some packs had been filled with soccer balls, iPod docking stations and frisbees. The second day, we only had to hike 6kms to reach Newcastle, and there was time to swim at Bar Beach on the way. The best part was that we got to hike 3kms along the beach. Walking on sand is hard going, but it was fun to show the kids the sea stars, snails and dead bluebottles on the way. The other interesting part of this trip was the amount of kids who sought me out to ask Science questions. It was nice to see them actually interested in learning in an outdoor, social setting.

By the end of this hike, the Bronzies had regained confidence in me, I had more confidence in myself and I definitely want to be included on the Gold walk on Fraser Island next year, because Lana is an amazing young woman, and so are the other Golds.

I strongly encourage every person with the opportunity to undertake the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, to help their kids to undertake the Award or to sign up for the Dukes team at their school. It’s an amazing experience, and you get to see some awesome sights:

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The Essential Bits of Kit

At the end of your teaching degree, you step out into the world with a piece of paper that declares you qualified to inculcate young minds with Science learning:

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However, on your first day as a teacher in a school, you feel more like this:

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During prac, when you’re teamed up with another teacher, you collect a great deal of resources from them, learn to develop your own resources and build confidence standing in front of a class. But it’s not really teaching and it’s not really you managing their behaviour. You also never end up paying the same amount of attention to detail that you do when you’re on your own.

Here are the things you really need when the responsibility is all yours:

Inspiration from the 21st Century:

YOUTUBE CHANNELS: 
AsapScience

MinutePhysics

MinuteEarth

EarthTouch

Veritasium

WEBSITES
TED talks

HSC online

BBC bitesize

TALE

Zenpencils 

ABC Splash

FACEBOOK
I Fucking love Science

ScienceFriedArt

ScienceAlert

TheEarthStory

Creativity

Designing interesting lessons and experiments takes a lot of mental power. You have to ensure that they are scientifically rigorous, but engaging enough to keep teenagers entertained for 50 minutes. I use a lot of role plays, information search activities and electronic simulations. You also have to be able to dope an experiment and judge the level of detail you will require in the results.

Designing punishments also takes a lot of mental power, and this is where it helps to be a little evil. The last thing you want is to be a predictable teacher. You need routine and predictability in the environment, but your students should NOT be able to press exactly the right buttons to elicit an entertaining response. There is no point getting angry with a student or a class. Instead, you should ALWAYS find a way to get even. Here are my personal favourites: the bitch-stare; writing dashes in a corner of the board without explaining what they are; making a student sit alone or with someone who is not their close friend; sitting next to a student and silently completing the work you have just given the class; an apology letter to the student who has been maligned; copying from the dictionary the true meaning of the word ‘faggot’ and then explaining why it is unacceptable; generating adjectives to replace the use of ‘fucken’; a 1-page essay explaining how student behaviour contributes to learning; a lunchtime scab duty where a plastic bag must be filled with rubbish (environmentalism AND public humiliation); phone calls home. If none of this is successful, I write hidden insults into their report comments. This does not help the situation, but it is in line with my personal philosophy: nobody gets something for nothing. It also makes you feel better.

Flexibility

Always have a backup plan. Take textbooks or worksheets with you in case the kids are too feral to undertake a prac. Keep a group work activity up your sleeve to use if NOBODY will complete individual tasks that lesson.

NEVER be flexible with an instruction or punishment though. If you don’t stick to your word, the kids will soon learn how to manipulate you. That is a bad thing.

An Alter Ego

The easiest way to hold a position of authority is to act like you belong there. This requires gaining careful control of your facial expressions, your voice and your body language. You have to ensure that you avoid telling your students much about yourself and focus on telling them everything about Science. There will always be a class that you get close to who you break this rule for, but your average student should not know where you live, your marital status and what you do for fun. Let them think you go into power-saving mode at night in the staffroom. If they ask questions about  you, just ask them the same question. It’s an easy deflection that usually works.

Here are some examples of items that help you to maintain your Science persona:

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Here are some essential wardrobe items to help you maintain your ‘appropriate teacher’ persona:

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These are the ideas and things that have really saved my life!

Please feel free to contribute below anything else that you have to add 🙂