Thursday, January 31, 2013

Today's Big Idea: The Death of Textbook Companies

I am going to throw this out as something that I have been mulling over in our science office. This year we went to a 1:1 initiative as many schools in Iowa and across the nation are doing. When those above my pay grade sold our board and parents on the need for this initiative they told of all the money that they would save when not having to buy textbooks. The devices would almost pay for themselves was the message.

Here is the reality. Textbook companies are there to make money. They all offer reduced textbook rates for their ebooks, but there is a catch. The $15 book that you bought only lasts you one year. You have to spend another $15 the next year for the same book (albeit updated we hope) for another student. We were on a 5-7 year cycle for printed textbooks that cost us $60-$85. That is $85 over 7 years. Spending a small amount every year cost us almost the same money!

Here is the big idea. WRITE OUR OWN!

If I had my wish I would get about 15 of us science teachers (or math or whatever) together for a week in the summer. We would sit down with the new standards, our labs, ideas, and technology and develop a curriculum that was actually made by teachers with activities that work and are malleable and scale-able to different classes. We then meet periodically throughout the year to go over what is working or not and make changes.

Here are some of the specifics I was looking at.

  1. The text would include various technologies... text, video, animation, activities, and problems integrated into the materials.
  2. It needs to be usable on numerous devices (iPad, Chromebook, computer, etc)
  3. It needs to be free for all to use
  4. It needs to be based on some kind of sound fundamental teaching principles (inquiry, modeling, learning cycle, a mix??)
  5. It needs to cover the standards that students are being measured against. 

Now I realize that there are things out there that we can use. The Physics Classroom is GREAT and I use it for my text in physics. There are great videos already done on the Khan Academy and other such sites that can be integrated. What about chemistry? Astronomy? Math? Can we do this across the board? 

If anyone is interested in actually trying this, please comment. I can, and probably will create materials for my class that can be used on these devices. What I am looking for are other ideas and to share the wealth. There is no reason we need to pay for texts anymore when students have the internet in their hands.

Chris Like

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ring Around the Practice Problem

In physics we often have the daunting task of going over practice problems. As one esteemed colleague of mine is fond of saying for many of these kids, they think "Math was created to torture them." (Bruecken, 2012...;) There may be some truth to that.

I am going to toss this out to you as a way to take the tedium out of going over these problems and keep kids engaged.

  • I start by asking them to pair up with the person next to them. Then one of the partners raises their hand. I tell them that they are going to be given a problem to solve with their partner. After a given amount of time (1-3 minutes depending on the problem) I tell them to switch. 
  • The partner that raised his/her hand then moves around the room to the next group (like volleyball's 'rotate'). I try to time it so that they have discussed the problem and how they would solve it but may not be done. 
  • Thus they take their knowledge to the next partner and finish the problem. They compare what they did with the last person to this new partner. Once they come to a consensus on an answer, we go over it (or I have them whiteboard it). 
  • I then give them another problem and we rotate again halfway through it. 

This is just a quick way to take the tedium out of going over the problems. Most of the time they don't want to look like an idiot when the rotate happens so they pay attention. I like how they have to explain the problem to their new partner by showing their work.

Give it a try and let me know if it works. Any suggestions?

Welcome to the Teacher's Watercooler

I am not sure how to kick this thing off, except to give you the reasons why I believe this blog is important. I know a lot of teachers. I talk to a lot of teachers both in my building, district, state, and across the nation. I read a lot and listen to what is happening at the district, state, and national level. It is confusing as hell! We need to discuss these things, figure them out and make the changes that are necessary to achieve real gains in education.

More importantly I hear some very great things from people about what they are doing in their classrooms. Their passion and ingenuity for the teaching profession is contagious. I want to spread the wealth so to speak.

I tried twitter, but realized that I can't express my thoughts clearly in 144 characters no matter how much I abbreviate. This is my attempt at bringing some very smart people together to sift through all the education'ese that when  squeezed sometimes turns into diamonds.

I am not a blogger. I own one blog (you are reading it) and this is my first post. I do not plan on updating this every hour, tweeting out any changes on even a daily basis, or holding to any schedule for posting. I am a busy guy as all of you no doubt are. I do plan on listening to all of you, spreading your ideas and adding my slant on anything you want to talk about with regards to the teaching profession. As it is my blog, I plan on adding my own activities, thoughts, and ideas for you all to steal. Take them, use them, make improvements, but please let me know how they went.

I suppose I should put some rules up for both myself and anyone wanting to comment. 

  1. Please try to keep comments relevant to the conversation. If you want to go off topic, I am more that willing to discuss other things on a separate thread.
  2. Please try to keep negative comments general and not directed towards a specific person. (This may be VERY hard for me:)
  3. Please respect everyone's opinion. This is a public forum.
  4. Feel free to spread the word. Encourage those in your districts to subscribe.
  5. Post with your name or some indication of who you are so we can reply. 


Christopher Like
Science Teacher
Bettendorf High School
Bettendorf, Iowa

twitter: @christopherlike