Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Philosophy of Education

View my Philosophy Video Here.

This project was a wonderful way to tie together the values, truisms, and experiences I've had while teaching, as well as a way to project myself into the direction I want to go. Although the microphone was weak and the resolution is poor, I felt empowered by all that I've accomplished with my students. I feel like they could pass any state level biology exam on the material they have covered thus far.But great leaps and strides aside, I've also come to realize that I have many lofty goals for where I want my teaching abilities to be, such as using higher level computer programs and incorporating more community interaction. Perhaps this blog makes it sound as if my philosophy is the culmination of my ideas and abilities for teaching, but in effect, it is only the launchpad to greater scholastic and constructivist developments!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Energy Conservation Project Continued

What I Learned from a Crate of Plastic Bottles

Our planet is currently facing an environmental and ecological crisis. Authorities and scientists argue about the causes, extent, and need for urgency in remediating the damage. There are some absolutes, however, and one of those, American consumption of plastic bottles, is what I am concerning my project with.

I chose to study how much landfill space our classroom could save if we simply recycled plastic bottles. View my PowerPoint here. The project was a success in many regards; it taught me ways to extrapolate data, and how to present those findings in a graphic, non numerical manner. I also learned about the power of my assumptions. In this project, I used the assumption that the bottles would not be crushed down at the dump, which had huge implications for how much space they would occupy. I also assumed, in my extrapolations, that each classroom would produce as many bottles as ours, which I know is a poor assumption because we have more students in our five classes than any other teacher in the school. I also assumed that each large high school in the ASD would produce as many bottles as our school, which may also be inaccurate, because we only have around 840 students at ERHS, while many other schools have close to 2,000. View my first Excel Spreadsheet here. (Created 10.22)

View my fumbling video here.

Wow. Watching myself give a presentation is painful. I appear to have some type of spastic muscle disorder in which my hands constantly flail around and a speech disorder in which I tend to repeat the words "um" and "like" (the latter I am especially embarrassed about). I never had realized how much I tend to use "fillers" as well...repeating myself when I'm looking for words, for example. I made a mistake in which I read 100,000 as "10,000", which is silly. But the thing that I am most embarrassed about is how much my lack of enthusiasm for this subject came through. I love talking about environmental issues, and trying to convince others of the gravity of the situation. After watching myself, I'm not jazzed to recycle. This is sad...I hope this is not always how my lectures to the classes are....
But on the brighter side, I think my voice was clear and not too loud or soft. And heck, the powerpoint sure showed up well.

I do feel like my project has made a difference, however. Not especially in regards to my own consumption habits; I have always recycled plastics 1, 2, aluminum, paper, and tin, but for my students. I purposely gave my presentation to two of our classes three weeks before the project was due, in order to compare how many bottles were recycled before and after I talked to the students about the value of sustainability. View my second Excel Spreadsheet here. (11.13) There was a considerable increase in the average amount of bottles recycled in our classroom after I gave those talks.

This project taught me a lot of things, foremost among those, is patience. I had to have patience with the video camera, slow computers, and mostly, helping to alter and encourage my students to care enough to toss their plastic into the recycling crate. I have always been frustrated by people who throw recyclable materials away when a recycling bin is right next to the trashcan, so in someways, I need to control my frustration and learn to be patient and helpful.

On an inspiring note, I also realized the impact I can have to motivate a group of students to help conserve and think about their actions, and the possible long term affects of that little group of students if they could touch their entire school, and district, and state, and nation, and world......

Friday, October 17, 2008

Article Assement Three - Tools for the Mind


Mary Burns, a Senior Technology and Professional Development Specialist from Newton, MA wrote an article titled Tools for the Mind for Educational Leadership magazine. In it, Ms. Burns argues that technology has been put on the back burner in many schools across America, mostly due to a lack of infrastructural supports, teacher training, and inaccessibility.
Technology that is used in the classroom is often that of lower order thinking skills, such as creating visuals or cutting and pasting information. A decade and half ago schools and educators were excited about the prospects of technology integration to broaden students horizons, reach higher order thinking skills, and communicate and contribute to international discussions and forums. Today virtually none of these goals have been reached, and Ms. Burns offers suggestions of how to turn the tide.

Reference Points

1. In the 1990’s the potential for instructional technology was seen as a boundless horizon for increasing student learning and developmental cognitive processes.
2. Today however, we lack the funding for training, technology equipment, or research which links technology to student improvement, and hence it’s potential is lagging.
3. Districts focus on teaching teachers the skills to use technology and not how to apply that to higher order thinking.
4. There is an over reliance on visually stimulating or simple software, such as PowerPoint and Word.
5. Classrooms rarely use higher order applications such as spreadsheets, GIS, internet search tools, or databases.
6. Students approach the information they find on the internet in a passive manner, neither questing nor seeking to validate the information.
7. Students need to learn to use technology to create, analyze, and reconstruct what information they know and have to reach deeper levels of understanding.
8. Teachers need more time and funding for professional development to help their students with these tools and to create educational technology leadership.
9. We need to stop focusing on the tools we have, and instead focus on how those tools can help our students.
10. Technology should be approached with the product of what we want our students to learn in mind, and use the tools to build up that that goal.


Wow. Yes, I often feel exactly as Mary Burns does about technology. That the tools are phenomenal but our ability to use them is not. I recently showed some amazing time lapse GIS data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The images illustrated the melting of ice over Greenland since the 1960’s. I tried for a long time to explain what we were looking at, but the power of the images was lost on the students. They couldn’t comprehend how those data sets were tied together, and how much work it must have taken to do so. I’m tempted and inspired to have them build a similar scenario, but baffled by how to do so. Do we even have that type of software in the schools? Am I qualified to pull that off? If the students have questions, will I be able to help them?

But the potential is there. A colleague of mine raved about how useful using CBL’s to graph data were, because they showed in real time how graphs were formed using actual data, not just some abstract numbers from a book. But do all teachers have access to the technology? I recently tried to arrange the laptop cart for a lesson on cell organelles, but found they were booked for the next two weeks that period by an English teacher, using them to write essays on Word. Here’s my suggestion, make every other week each teacher in the school has a scheduled computer lab day, and teachers can trade or swap if need be.

Ah, and the dreaded PowerPoint. I remember seeing an article in the paper about 5 years ago, when a teacher used PP to show that
-I hate it.
-I hate it.
-I hate it.

It reduces our knowledge to fragments, and hones our artistic instead of cognitive skills.

But why do science teachers get the brunt of this workload? The examples Ms. Burn’s used were all from science (short of one linear algebra example). Teachers need more time for a lot of things, and one of them is collaboration. Schools have a lot of work ahead of them technologically; to integrate, develop, and promote technology are among the top priorities. It’s a tall order, but if we continue to keep our technology expansion with higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind, we can move mountains.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Energy Conservation Project Overview

There is a plastics scourge on our planet today.

Unlike glass or paper, it is not made of natural or renewable resources. Instead, plastics come from polymers of petrochemicals, or oil ( In modern times, plastics make up huge amounts of consumer products…from rugs to furniture. Even our most vital resource, water, now comes to much of the American population through small, individually packaged, plastic bottles.

In an average class at Eagle River High School, I can look out over the audience and see one or two aluminum cans and four or more plastic bottles. Everyday, those large amounts of drink containers fill up our plastic trashbags and are hauled to the landfill, where they take decades to break down and fill up space. How much trash could my classroom prevent from being taken to the landfill every week if we instead recycle our plastic bottles?

There is a lot of information on the topic of plastics recycling (wikipedia ‘plastic recycling’ and their long page further gives you nine outstanding links as well). It is also a politically charged issue that has links to both large businesses (including Exxon) and grass roots environmentalism. The topic can spur into plastic bags, aluminum recycling, relative costs of transporting materials and much more. My challenge will be to keep it succinct and simple, and to remain objective.

I will collect data by counting the number of milk crates (900 cm3) of plastic bottles I take to the recycle center each week from my classroom.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Anthropolgical View of ERHS's Technology Culture

Eagle River High School opened in 2005. As the smallest. “large Anchorage high school” we enjoy a variety of new digital technology items and a highly trained small (but busy) technology staff. There are three computer labs for career technology classes and class checkout, as well as several teacher “checkoutable” items including a laptop cart.

Most students at ERHS have access to digital tools such as computers, internet, laptops, or cell phones. A powerpoint or smartboard is not very exciting to these students, it’s just a way of life in school.

ERHS gains most of its policies and competencies from the ASD, including internet use guidelines and training sessions. Given the availability of technology and resources at ERHS, I’m excited to expand my knowledge of the subject and build upon my students effective use of technology.

To continue the entire report, click here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Article Assesment 2

The Educator's Guide to the Read/Write Web


In the Educational Leadership article The Educator's Guide to the Read/Write Web by Will Richardson, we discover many points which emphasize the need to get our students actively engaged in contributing to the wealth of information currently available at their digital fingerprints. The internet had become a public forum, where students can be authors, collaborators, and conversationalists. Several technologies, including blogs, wikis, Really Simple Syndications (RSS's), podcasts, and social bookmarking, are available for our students to be authors in.

The entire idea of literacy is changing. It now consists not only of reading and writing, but also editing and filtering information. This demands that we teach students to question and evaluate published information, to understand what is relevant and what are the original sources. Students can find study partners and professional mentors worldwide, expanding their professional scope to one larger than simply their teacher. There are both risks and benefits of learning to read and write in the digital web, but overall students need to encounter both facets of literacy.

Reference Points

1. The new Read/Write web is a forum through which students can publish and interact with information.

2. Several cool tools exist, including blogs, wikis and podcasts.

3. These new tools demand that we are able to filter and sort out truthful and relevant information.

4. Teachers may have to put away more traditional methods of information, such as textbooks and handouts, to make way for more current digital sources.

5. There are risks involved, however, including inappropriate web content and privacy implications.

6. Benefits to students include allowing students to learn and share information in a meaningful and purposeful way.


In our current day and age, I find it almost impossible to visualize a student research project that doesn't use published web information. However, many students will not have conceptualized posting academic information. I think it's only a small, yet significant, step to go from web literary consumers to personal social networkers to digital academic authors. if we approached each of these multimedia venues at least once (perhaps one per unit...for example in my science class, have each student submit one podcast on a cell organelle) we could cover a lot of media ground. I like Mr. Richardson's point that "the awareness of even a small audience can significantly change the way a student assignments." Accountability and responsibility, in an entirely new package. I love it.

Also, the point that students need to actively question and evaluate published information is similarly paramount. Although many may understand that we can't just take all .com sites as fact, they many need to further learn that that can be true with books, news, and statistics as well. A further bonus of using up-to-date digital read/write technology is that it forces teachers to be on their toes and up to date as well. Blog posts change, websites disappear. Teachers can no longer simply copy 30 sets of the same old handouts and tests year after year. Accountability and responsibility. Brilliant.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Article Assessment 1

Listen to the Natives


The Educational Leadership article Listen to the Natives by Marc Prensky highlighted the need for teachers, schools, and parents to listen to their children's technological knowledge and to use that at the primary mode of education. The article refers to children as the new 'digital natives', whereas people not born into the technological age as being 'digital immigrants'. If we are to keep digital technology and programming out of our students curriculum, we are not only boring them, but also doing them a considerable disservice for jobs in the future.

We should be teaching our students how to be responsible global, independent, and creative citizens. Instead of being babysitters who give busywork, teachers need to be emphatic stewards of students in their quests to improve, create, and develop knowledge.

Reference Points

1. Students today learn different than us. They cannot use our framework as a training guide to meet their educational needs.
2. Radical solutions, such as learning algebra via computer games, are needed.
3. Teachers need to value and learn from what their students know, and be able to put engagement over content.

4. Young people are already employing many of the key skills we are trying to teach them: via technology.
5. Students are fully engaged in the 21st century outside the classroom. We now need that in shcools as well.
6. We need to collaborate with students in all aspects of the curriculum, organization, discipline, and assignments.
7. To avoid herding our students, we need personalized, adaptable instruction and allowing students to self select their learning groups.
8. Digital tools (including cell phones, MP3 players, and computers) need to be integrated into the classroom and daily work.
9. What students learn in school today should be up to date information and above all, relevant.
10. If we do not listen to the digital natives we teach, we will leave our students behind, both physically and mentally.


While I see many, many valid points to the this article, I also have many issues with it. Having graduated from high school in 2003, I consider myself on the cusp of being a digital native. My parents had internet since I was 11, and the transition from cassettes to cd's to audio files and external storage devices seemed very seamless in my eyes. Students need to able to both live within the digital world, but also outside of it. Prensky details how students today are doing all the major life skills we have been trying to teach them...communicating (via IM'ing), sharing (via blogs), socializing (via chat rooms) and collecting (downloads). But what about in personal contact? Can they interact well with bosses and co-workers? Will they always carry a calculator with them to the grocery store? My point is, not every thing in life can be digital (at least not yet).

Prensky suggests students learning a subject like algebra by an on-line game...if they beat the game, they pass the class. He also suggests having cameras in every classroom so administrators and parents can see what has gone on in the classroom. What will they be looking at, students sitting on computers? Of course there is also the issue of access....some students, frankly, don't have high-tech cell phones, internet, or even computers. How will the school pay for all these items.....does it reduce money from P.E. or home economics?

Are we beginning to sacrifice students health (both physically and mentally) for the chance for them to be entertained by their studies? Children today are more allergy prone (because they get outside less and no longer 'eat dirt' as infants), they are more afraid and these knowledgeable about simple natural items (like spiders and oceans), and understand less and less about where our food and drinking water comes from, or where our wastes go. Also, we are encouraging students to have shorter and shorter attention spans. Why can't we get them involved in projects for the sheer joy of discovery, not simply because it's entertainment? Prensky, who according to his website, is a 'visionary' ( suggests 24 hour unsupervised computer labs for students. At Eagle River High, there used to be student computers in public spaces, but after two years these had to be removed, because of vandalism issues. I wonder, has Marc Prensky ever been in a large modern public school?

On the other hand, ignoring new media, technology, and digital programming in schools would be a considerable disservice to our students. According to the popular "Did You Know?" video (, we are currently trying to prepare our students for jobs that do not yet exist, to solve problems that we don't yet realize are there. We will always be striving for better schools, which integrate more and more curriculum and activities that meet students needs and prepare them for the future. By adding digital assignments, but not ignoring values, health, the environment, or core subjects, we would be propelling our students into a self-assured and prepared future.