Marshmallow Challenge

For the opening day of my STEM course I used this activity, inspired by the following TED talk:

I found it to be a great experience for my students. It was a fun way to start the year and the first step towards encouraging my students to take risks within my classroom. Since this was the first time I met my students, it turned out to be a great way to introduce myself and learn a little about them as they worked through the activity.

There was a lot of success and a lot of failure throughout the activity for my students.  In hindsight, I think this activity would have been a perfect activity to document with their smart phones, which is something I will definitely try in the future.   The activity also was a good lead in to our first topic, scale and units.  For homework I had them research large buildings from around the world and look for similarities in their structures.  We opened the next class with a discussion about those similarities and whether or not they noticed them in their own marshmallow tower designs.   After this discussion, I had them consider what they might do differently if they were given this task again in the future.  I am hoping I can find a random day to do this again and see if we’ve learned from the past or if they’ve improved with working in groups.

World’s Tallest Buildings

Infographic by Maxwell Systems

You can read more about the Marshmallow Challenge at

Cover image from the Marshmallow Challenge website.

Attempting to Blog for a Month

Back on February 3rd, I decided that I was going to make a commitment to blog everyday for a month.   At that point, I had already blogged for a couple of days in a row.  This was a tremendous increase in my blogging and reflecting, having only blogged a handful of times since my ECMP courses.

I didn’t pull through on my blogging for a month straight, but I did manage to post 13 more blog posts over the next twenty days.   More importantly though, I found myself reflecting and thinking about things I could blog about.  Things I could share.  But, it slowly died off and sharing got pushed to the bottom of my to-do lists.

I think there are a number of reasons I didn’t pull through on this.  The first reason being that I teach and as a first year teacher I’m still struggling to balance my time between grading, planning, and keeping myself alive.  There were also times where I felt that I had nothing to share, and just as many times where I felt that I had  a million things to share.  It was (and still is) tough to balance out.  Sometimes I felt that some sensitive things I wanted to share, but didn’t feel my blog was an appropriate place.  My students know that I use online spaces and if they were to check up they could probably easily figure out exactly who I was talking about, even without using names or specifics.  A number of times I found myself 3/4 through a post and just couldn’t finish it up in a way that I was happy with, resulting in at least 10 unfinished posts in my drafts.

I understand that these aren’t great excuses, but I hope that by addressing them, I can find ways to work around them and continue to share, reflect, and learn in this space (my blog).   Instead of blogging daily, I think I need to ease myself in and share as much as a I reasonably can.  The entire reason I got into blogging was to reflect on my own practices and, even though my monthlong commitment was a failure, I have found myself reflecting more and being critical of the things I do as a teacher.  This can only be a good thing  for my and my students.  Whenever I  have something to share, it’ll be up here.

Science Blogging, Tweaked

A few weeks ago I posted about how I had my science students blog last trimester.  Since I am starting a new trimester, I have tweaked the assignment a little.

If you didn’t see the earlier post, my students were blogging about current events in science.  They were asked to summarize an article they found and then share how they feel it impacts them, their community, their country, and then the world.  It was very successful with my students, evident in their conversations about what they had blogged about that was happening in the world of science.

This trimester, I have a new set of students, with about five that carry over from before.  I am challenging my students to include a creative commons licensed image to bring more meaning to their posts.   Luckily, the English department at my school does blogging also and requires students to include images licensed this way, so it’s not new to them.

I am also working on setting up a blogging collaboration with another teacher back in Canada.  If all goes to plan, her students will do a blogging assignment very similar to mine.  And then our students will read and comment on each others blogs.  If this works out, I think it will be really neat to see if the perspectives differ from country to country.

The biggest change that I’ve made is that both Mac (the MIT grad student who is collaborating with my class) and myself will be blogging alongside my students.  I’m not entirely sure how they will respond to this, but I’m pretty excited to get in there and blog about current events in science with them.  I think it will be healthy for my students to see us learning alongside with them.

Photo Credit: Wiertz Sébastien via Compfight cc

Watch: To This Day

I came across this video this morning and felt compelled to share it here.  It’s a poem by Shane Koyczan (@koyczan) and was animated by a number of different animators through a collaborative effort.  Please watch it.

There is also a website that has been created for further action:

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

To This Day
When I was a kid
I used to think that pork chops and karate chops
were the same thing
I thought they were both pork chops
and because my grandmother thought it was cute
and because they were my favourite
she let me keep doing it

not really a big deal

one day
before I realized fat kids are not designed to climb trees
I fell out of a tree
and bruised the right side of my body

I didn’t want to tell my grandmother about it
because I was afraid I’d get in trouble
for playing somewhere that I shouldn’t have been

a few days later the gym teacher noticed the bruise
and I got sent to the principal’s office
from there I was sent to another small room
with a really nice lady
who asked me all kinds of questions
about my life at home

I saw no reason to lie
as far as I was concerned
life was pretty good
I told her “whenever I’m sad
my grandmother gives me karate chops”

this led to a full scale investigation
and I was removed from the house for three days
until they finally decided to ask how I got the bruises

news of this silly little story quickly spread through the school
and I earned my first nickname

pork chop

to this day
I hate pork chops

I’m not the only kid
who grew up this way
surrounded by people who used to say
that rhyme about sticks and stones
as if broken bones
hurt more than the names we got called
and we got called them all
so we grew up believing no one
would ever fall in love with us
that we’d be lonely forever
that we’d never meet someone
to make us feel like the sun
was something they built for us
in their tool shed
so broken heart strings bled the blues
as we tried to empty ourselves
so we would feel nothing
don’t tell me that hurts less than a broken bone
that an ingrown life
is something surgeons can cut away
that there’s no way for it to metastasize

it does

she was eight years old
our first day of grade three
when she got called ugly
we both got moved to the back of the class
so we would stop get bombarded by spit balls
but the school halls were a battleground
where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day
we used to stay inside for recess
because outside was worse
outside we’d have to rehearse running away
or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there
in grade five they taped a sign to her desk
that read beware of dog

to this day
despite a loving husband
she doesn’t think she’s beautiful
because of a birthmark
that takes up a little less than half of her face
kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer
that someone tried to erase
but couldn’t quite get the job done
and they’ll never understand
that she’s raising two kids
whose definition of beauty
begins with the word mom
because they see her heart
before they see her skin
that she’s only ever always been amazing

was a broken branch
grafted onto a different family tree
but not because his parents opted for a different destiny
he was three when he became a mixed drink
of one part left alone
and two parts tragedy
started therapy in 8th grade
had a personality made up of tests and pills
lived like the uphills were mountains
and the downhills were cliffs
four fifths suicidal
a tidal wave of anti depressants
and an adolescence of being called popper
one part because of the pills
and ninety nine parts because of the cruelty
he tried to kill himself in grade ten
when a kid who still had his mom and dad
had the audacity to tell him “get over it” as if depression
is something that can be remedied
by any of the contents found in a first aid kit

to this day
he is a stick on TNT lit from both ends
could describe to you in detail the way the sky bends
in the moments before it’s about to fall
and despite an army of friends
who all call him an inspiration
he remains a conversation piece between people
who can’t understand
sometimes becoming drug free
has less to do with addiction
and more to do with sanity

we weren’t the only kids who grew up this way
to this day
kids are still being called names
the classics were
hey stupid
hey spaz
seems like each school has an arsenal of names
getting updated every year
and if a kid breaks in a school
and no one around chooses to hear
do they make a sound?
are they just the background noise
of a soundtrack stuck on repeat
when people say things like
kids can be cruel?
every school was a big top circus tent
and the pecking order went
from acrobats to lion tamers
from clowns to carnies
all of these were miles ahead of who we were
we were freaks
lobster claw boys and bearded ladies
juggling depression and loneliness playing solitaire spin the bottle
trying to kiss the wounded parts of ourselves and heal
but at night
while the others slept
we kept walking the tightrope
it was practice
and yeah
some of us fell

but I want to tell them
that all of this shit
is just debris
leftover when we finally decide to smash all the things we thought
we used to be
and if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
get a better mirror
look a little closer
stare a little longer
because there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit
you built a cast around your broken heart
and signed it yourself
you signed it
“they were wrong”
because maybe you didn’t belong to a group or a click
maybe they decided to pick you last for basketball or everything
maybe you used to bring bruises and broken teeth
to show and tell but never told
because how can you hold your ground
if everyone around you wants to bury you beneath it
you have to believe that they were wrong

they have to be wrong

why else would we still be here?
we grew up learning to cheer on the underdog
because we see ourselves in them
we stem from a root planted in the belief
that we are not what we were called we are not abandoned cars stalled out and sitting empty on a highway
and if in some way we are
don’t worry
we only got out to walk and get gas
we are graduating members from the class of
fuck off we made it
not the faded echoes of voices crying out
names will never hurt me

of course
they did

but our lives will only ever always
continue to be
a balancing act
that has less to do with pain
and more to do with beauty.

Image credit: Screen clipping from the video.

What Makes a Good Science Student?

Full credit for this post  goes to Mac Hird (@ImMacHird), who is blogging and collaborating with my chemistry students this trimester.  The first blog assignment was to share thoughts on “What makes a good science student?”. Mac’s response is one that I feel all science students should see.

Close you eyes and imagine a science student, as portrayed by popular culture. Almost certainly you have imagined someone who has memorized the entire textbook and never asks questions in class, only answers them. My definition of a good science student is exactly opposite to this.

Good science students are okay with saying “I don’t know,” aren’t afraid of asking questions in front of their peers, and certainly don’t spend the time to memorize the textbook. What has struck this idea home for me the most though, was a passage in Richard Feynman’s book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman.” Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning Physicist, and a personal hero of mine growing up. In this book he details his experience in a graduate level biology course (that he, as a Physicist, was surprised to be keeping up with the other students in the class despite the advanced material that was from outside his field) where he was asked to present a research paper on the nerve impulses in a cat. He began his preparation by going to the library and asking for a “map of a cat” as he put it; a diagram of a cat’s anatomy so that he could make sense out of all of the references in the paper. He then began his presentation outlining the various muscles and nerves. He was interrupted by a biology student, asking him to move on because they had all memorized all of the muscles and nerves in a cat.

His response, which I will never forget, was:

” ‘Oh, you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.’ They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes” (Page 72, if you are interested)

Here is one of the most decorated physicists of all time clearly demonstrating that it is much more important to grasp the nature of scientific phenomenon and asking questions to improve that understanding than it is to memorize equations that can be looked up in minutes back in the 1940s, and can be looked up in a few seconds today. I try not to make this same mistake in my own studies, and I hope you don’t make the same one!

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Wilburn via Compfight cc

“What if you Won the Lottery?”

This is the question that lead me to becoming a teacher.

I was a second year university student, further away from knowing what I wanted to do with my life than ever before.  I had considered engineering, nursing, business and everything in between at one point or another while trying to decide.  But then one day, a friend of mine asked me “What if you won the lottery?  What would you do then?”   Almost instantly, I said I’d want to teach.  I surprised myself with this answer, since teaching was probably one of the few things I had not seriously considered pursuing yet.  I had always tutored peers and often found myself thinking about how school could be more interesting and fun as I didn’t pay attention in high school.

To be honest, my vision for being a teacher quickly changed once I started my teacher education.  But, this was the one question I can thank for leading me into a career I can honestly say I love.

This Youtube video with Alan Watts narrating reminded me of this earlier today:

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc