How a Fuse Works

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

  
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Childhood Regained

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

  
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The Ninety-Five Percent Solution

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

  
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Self-Esteem Starts With Esteem

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

  
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I’m Better Than My Progress Report

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!”

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Poverty and Cognitive Ability

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.

  
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Four Fallacies of Educational Policy

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.

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Can I Take This Class Again Next Year?

Yesterday was the last day of school.  As I said “Good bye.  Thanks for a great year and have an awesome possum summer!” several of my students said that they wanted to take the class again next year.  One student even asked if it was too late to fail the course for the  year.  (I told him that in his case, it was mathematically too late by the end of third quarter.)

The other nice thing was when I told one of my classes that I figured they’d want to socialize on the last day, but in case they wanted one more physics demo, I could show them why the sky is blue, why clouds are white, and why sunsets are red.  Not surprisingly, the majority asked for the demo and watched with interest as I taught them just a little more physics before sending them on their way.

  
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Endorsement

A couple of times each year I survey my students to find out what they liked and didn’t like about my classes.  Every once in a while, I see something in their comments that makes me feel really good.  This year, it was the following comment, in response to the question, “What advice would you give to future students who have Mr. Bigler?”: Continue reading

  
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It’s Not About the Teacher

Yesterday I had prepared one of my favorite physics lessons: a lecture/discussion with demos that explains various aspects of music.  My seniors (3/4 of my students) are heading into their final week of high school, and a class that’s about something many of them are interested in was the perfect way to wrap up the current topic and end the year on a high note (pun intended). Continue reading

  
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