Every year, on the first day of school, I subject my classes to a ruse in which I eat a “candle”. I get out a candle holder and put a candle inside it. I lead a class discussion in which we talk about the “observations of a candle” activity (which most of them have already done at least once), and I ask them what the flame is, what it needs, and why various means of extinguishing it work. Then I lit the candle and asked them how I should extinguish it. The most popular requests are “cover it” or “pinch it”. But this year in one of my classes, a student jokingly said “Eat it!” So I did, flame and all. Continue reading
Posted in Anecdotes
My father, the wonderful and caring person whom my students can blame for much of my sense of humor, is in the hospital. (He’s doing well and should be released in a few days.) While my fourteen-year-old daughter Margaret didn’t technically save his life, she did figure out a key piece of information that enabled doctors to make sense of a key data point that was baffling them, enabling them to come up with a diagnosis that makes sense and fits all of the data. Continue reading
This morning, Lynn English’s Class of 2014 pulled their senior prank, which was a brief, raucous party in the third-floor corridor of the school. Students had various types of party noisemakers. They filled the hallways with confetti as they sang, banged on lockers, and cheered for about ten minutes before dispersing and heading off to class. Continue reading
Posted in Anecdotes
My physics classes are studying electricity. One of the demos I do for electricity is to show how a fuse works by exploding a strand of wire. Continue reading
Posted in Science
Three years ago, I taught a one-year stint in a “no excuses” charter school. (It was the least satisfying year of my teaching career.) The biology teacher and I started a science team. Problem solving and building things with power tools attracted a slew of excited kids, who had been missing that kind of open-ended creativity in their daily routine. (The experience motivated me to start a science team in my current school.)
Fast forward to last Thursday, when I found out that one of the psyched freshmen from the charter school had just enrolled in the public high school where I’m now teaching. Continue reading
One of my father-in-law’s astute observations of human behavior is that most people do not correctly perceive ratios or probabilities less than 5% or greater than 95%. A greater-than-95% chance of something occurring becomes irrationally either “It definitely will happen,” or “I’ll be the exception.” Similarly, a less-than-5% chance becomes either “It definitely won’t happen,” or “I’ll be the exception.” (If you want to see this phenomenon for yourself, ask anyone about buying a lottery ticket or about the chances of experiencing side-effects from a medication or treatment.)
I fear that the 95% principle guides educational policy much more than I would like to believe. Continue reading
A couple of days ago, I received a voice mail inviting me (personally) to audition for America’s Got Talent. This amused me, and prompted me to post it to Facebook, asking the rhetorical question “I wonder what they think I can do?” (I’m guessing they might have found an old video of me performing the Bampton Fiddler’s Jig.) Quite a few friends and former students posted their thoughts, some of which were amusing, and a number of which were quite complimentary. It’s amazing how reading nice things about yourself from your friends can do so much for your self-esteem.
This got me thinking about my students. Continue reading
Mid-quarter progress reports were handed out at the end of the day today. When I mentioned them at the end of one of my classes, one of my students looked a little sad. I asked if her progress report was going to be a little disappointing, and she nodded. I said, “You know what? You’re better than your progress report. In fact, I want you to look at me and say that back to me.” So she looked at me and said, “Mr. Bigler, I’m better than my progress report.” Then she thought about it for a second and her face brightened into a big smile. “Yeah! I am better than my progress report!”
Posted in Anecdotes
I just read an article with an interesting finding in Science News: “Poverty may tax thinking abilities.” The research, originally published in Science, claims that financial concerns that arise from living in poverty “damages reasoning abilities about as much as going a night without sleep or losing 13 IQ points.”
To put the numbers in perspective, 15 points on an IQ test is one standard deviation. Assuming a normal distribution, a 13-point drop in IQ would move an average student from the 50th percentile to approximately the 20th percentile. In other words, if the numbers in this article are correct, a high-poverty school with students of average cognitive ability could expect their students to score in the bottom 20 percent solely because of the effects of the students’ current state of poverty on their test-taking ability.
One of the easiest ways to make a parent angry is for people who do not have children of their own to give parenting advice. Now suppose that those childless people were given the power to make rules that parents had to follow. This is the situation in education—educational policies are forged and enacted by people who have an agenda and zero classroom experience.