Friday, April 20, 2007

Inspiration: New Blog Title

My blog used to be called "Mytko Miscellany in Education." Then, when I wrote a previous post, something about its title stuck with me over the next few days. I realized that those two words, "Post-its" and "ponderings," pretty much summed up my teaching experiences! (OK, OK, to be truly comprehensive, I should add the words "adolescent angst" and "chaos" too, but they just don't offer the same type of alliteration....)

One day, I decided to document my inspiration. On any given day (in this case, April 20th) my desktop computer looks like this:

This image represents one week's worth of post-its. Each post-it note is handcrafted by a student needing something from me or, more likely, having a question we were not able to answer in class. I treat student questions very seriously, as I believe curiosity is essential for science.

If I don't know the answer to a question, it ends up on a post-it note.

From there, we use a variety of resources to unearth the answer (our favorites being HowStuffWorks and Ask a Scientist). All of the answers end up taped to my classroom door, and some make it to my other blog. Not only do I enjoy seeing students learn more about a subject, but I also think it is powerful to show that their questions are valued and worth pursuing.

This week's door features an article on Chicago's proposed 150-story twisted tower, questions about the hand boilers on my desk, a description of banana slug's odd mating rituals (slug link is PG13 for mild language and invertebrate sexual content), and lots of answers to questions about cnidarians (my favorite: Can jellyfish sting each other?).

Now, I realize "ponderings" is not a word that you will find in the dictionary. But since improvisation is a middle school survival skill, an invented word like "ponderings" should raise few brows. The definition of ponder (verb) is "to reflect or consider with thoroughness and care." I'd like to think that my teaching is full of thoroughness and care. By adding -ing to the end of the verb, one forms the present participle of a verb, concerned with actually doing the action in the present. A second definition of pondering (adjective) is "deeply or seriously thoughtful." So, it would not be unreasonable to assume the pondering (noun) would refer to "an act of thorough, deep, and careful reflection." And I know adding an "s" makes nouns plural. So, there it is. Teaching is all about being thorough and careful, reflecting and being thoughtful on your feet. And a bit of improv.

It appears the term is catching on, as evidenced by the 4378 blog posts tagged "Ponderings" on Technorati.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Post-Its and Ponderings

Today, a student asked me if invertebrates sleep. This is the type of question that reminds me how much I enjoy teaching and learning. I have sat through many university lectures, read hundreds of pages of science texts, and taken volumes of notes, but every so often a child makes me look at things from a fresh perspective. I know a lot about invertebrates, but never once wondered if they sleep.

I have gone through hundreds of post-its in my career, many with questions scribbled in a childish hand and then stuck to my computer screen for later investigation. After almost ten years of teaching, I am always impressed by the fresh questions they think to ask. I've learned some interesting things through investigating those post-its.

As you imagine, sometimes we cannot find an answer. In such a case, my favorite resource is the UCSB ScienceLine where "research scientists from UC Santa Barbara answer science questions from teachers and students in K-12 schools."

Some of my favorites asked by my students and answered by UCSB scientists over the years:

1. If a person in a machine travelling faster than the speed of sound cannot hear the noise of a sonic boom, what might a person "see" or not see if they could (hypothetically) pass the "light speed" barrier? What would we, on the ground, see?

2. We've learned that all arthropods have a tough outer covering called an exoskeleton. However, we have also learned that some arthropods, such as "honey-pot" ants and ticks actually expand as they collect honey or blood in their body. Is the exoskeleton able to expand? Do these organisms have a different type of exoskeleton that other arthropods?

PS - In case you too are wondering, it is unclear if invertebrates sleep. (source: Neuroscience for Kids)