Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review Games & Flying Buttresses (Dear Katie #2 V2)

Dear Katie,

Every so often I will be in contact with a student from my World History class of the late 1990's and they will remark that they will NEVER forget what a FLYING BUTTRESS was.  Early on in my teaching career I discovered I needed to make memorizing the facts of history palatable for my students.

During college basketball season one year, I split my world history classes into 16 teams and we had our own version of March Madness.  I would ask 6 questions and a "defensive" question.

Questions 1-6 each had a different point value.  The goal was to make the average score of each team to be within the realm of the actual score of a college basketball game (50-80 points). Everyone started with 30 points, I made sure if someone had all the questions correct, they would finish somewhere around 100 points. (Which would be on the high side for a college basketball game).

The last question was a "defensive question".  It was the only one where you would lose points if you answered it wrong.

After the students corrected each other's papers, I would take the scores.  Your team's average would be compared to your opponents.  Higher average would win the game and advance in the tournament.

It was so successful, I did the same thing in the fall, creating a college football season that culminated in each team playing in a "bowl" game (we had the Candy Bowl, Salad Bowl, and of course, the two worst teams faced off in the Toilet Bowl).  The March Madness season had both a regular season added.

Kids like competition, and the game quizzes motivated them to learn the material.  For me as the teacher, I could see the questions where students were struggling.

That brings us to the flying buttress.  One year, on almost every game quiz, I would ask them "What was the wing structure in gothic architecture that allowed buildings to be created higher with thinner walls?"  Hearing it so often, they didn't forget.

I did have some students ask me what was the point of knowing what a flying buttress was.  I told them that for the boys, they could impress a date by taking her to New Haven, point up to the gothic architecture around Yale, and say, "Look, a flying buttress."

More on games in the classroom later,

Uncle Kevin

(And despite what people tell you, yes we HAVE TO MEMORIZE facts.  Yes, history classes should be about recognizing trends, analyzing causes and effects, and drawing conclusions, but in order to develop arguments in your speech and/or writing or to understand the context of what you are reading, you need a foundation of facts in your head).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Student Teaching Experience (Dear Katie v.2 #1)

Dear Katie,

Congrats as you make your turn into the second half of your college career and began your pursuit of your education credentials with practicum and eventually student teaching.

Learn from my mistake, DO NOT put college life in front of the work that needs to be completed for your practicum and student teaching assignment.  I was often writing lesson plans in the twenty minutes I had from the time I came to school and when the students arrived.  However, I didn't miss a second hanging out with my friends back on campus.  While the other student teachers were holed up in library cubicles plotting and planning a week's worth of plans, your uncle was walking up and down the library aisles seeing who he could pry into a conversation and eventually convince them head out to get a bite to eat at the diner.  

I was not prepared at all for what awaited when lesson planning became part of my full time job.  Thankfully you inherited your mom's diligence and work ethic.  That will not only allow you to be a successful student, but a successful teacher.  

Do not just absorb what your cooperating teachers are saying, but put it into practice.  Nothing upsets me more than a student teacher who acts like they are listening to my suggestions and advice and then proves they were not listening by trying at least one thing I suggested.  If your cooperating teacher suggests something DO IT.  Remember, in the end they will be your primary recommendation for a position and if your are fortunate maybe that position will be in the district where you had your experience.  A principal is going to take a lot of stock in the words of an employee's recommendation, and in fact, will probably already have heard if you are somebody worth pursuing or forgetting.

Be creative.  Think of one way to grab the attention of your students in a way that you can package and promote as a "highly successful unit".  In this age of digital photos, take pictures, video, etc. of the work your students are doing in the classroom.  Show it off when you go on interviews.  Involve your cooperating teacher in the process.

Emerse yourself.  See if you enjoy it.  Get yourself on sub lists NOW.  (You have enough credits and if you have the days in your schedule, it will get you some spending cash) Many teachers leave the profession b/c they get burnt out within the first 5 years.  If you don't like the work load, you have two years left of college refocus your efforts.  

I am confident that you will love it.  

Uncle Kevin

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Baseball is Life

At times in my life, I hated baseball.  For some who know me, that may come as a shock since I played through college and have coached it at the high school and middle school level for the past 20 years.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I began to get burned out from playing so much, that when I broke my ankle the week before the first week of college workouts, I was relieved.

My only regret now is that I ever hated it at all.

Baseball has taught me so much about life...such as

Baseball is a thinking man's game.  So many people think baseball is boring because there is no action. Much of baseball is taking place in each players' head in between pitches.  The pitcher, catcher, and batter are thinking about the next pitch, what pitch, and what location.  The runners on base are thinking about what to do on the pitch, after the pitch, if the ball is hit and where, etc.  The fielders are thinking about what to do with the ball based on where it is hit and how hard, where they should play, should they shift left or right, up or back.

If these thoughts aren't happening in a baseball player's head in between pitches, they aren't playing baseball.

A  teammate asked me at the end of my baseball career how many errors I made playing outfield in my college tenure.  I replied, "Three".  He then asked me how many I made because I was daydreaming between pitches.  I said, "Three".

Life is like that.  If all we did was action and reaction without thought, where would we be.  Life is about considering rewards and consequences for actions, assessing risks, preparing for variables, etc.  If we aren't ready, or just seeking to react rather than prepare, we are more likely to make errors.

Baseball is like a poker game.  What card should you play?  Should you take the extra base, what are the odds you'll be safe?  Should you keep the runner from taking second on a hit or try to gun the guy out at home.

We do that all the time.  High risks often come with high rewards, but we can't be foolish either and always take the high risk.  Sometimes it is worth it to play conservatively.

There are times to take the risk and try to nail the guy at the plate and there are times you need to let him score and keep the guy off of second to prevent a big inning from happening for the opposing team.  Life is about assessing the situation and taking the appropriate action.

I love baseball.  Coaching and playing, but I'd rather be playing.

I love life.  Teaching about it and living it, but I rather be living it.