My grandfather was one of the most superstitious people I’ve ever known. Every New Years’ Eve, he would go out into the street and hold his money in his hand as the new year arrived. This was supposed to ensure that he would have plenty of money for the coming year. I think it was a superstition or tradition that his mother brought from the “old country” and was definitely rooted in the very real need to make ends meet. They always did manage to somehow make ends meet, so I guess it worked well enough from his perspective
In stark contrast to my grandfather, I think that the perfect place to be at midnight on New Year’s Eve is fast asleep in my bed. While my grandfather did pass his two different colored eyes on to me, I can’t say the same is true for his superstitions. I’m more inclined to adhere to Thomas Jefferson’s way of thinking . “I’m a great believer in good luck and I find that the harder I work, the more of it I have”. I’m convinced that my grandfather’s luck had a lot more to do with the hard work that he put in each and every day than it did with standing out in the cold with a pile of coins in his hand.
For me, the start of school feels much more like a “New Year” than January 1st ever has. Each year, I get the chance to begin again, to do a little bit better, to be a little bit better. As the new school year approaches, I’ve been thinking about the last year – the “I don’t want to make THAT mistake again” , the “that was the best thing I have ever done and it was a complete surprise”, and the “what is my end game for this year and how am I going to get there”.
For the record, my “never again” moment last year was having students slice butter to see the cross-sections of different 3D shapes. I had my student aides form sticks of butter into cubes, rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, rectangular pyramids, and triangular pyramids. There was one of each shape for each student. Students tried to slice them in as many different ways as possible to find all of the possible cross-sections. It was brilliant and a disaster simultaneously. Everyone was engaged and got to see how to achieve each possible cross-section. Unfortunately, it was also the worst mess that I have ever seen. I did not think to have them where gloves and everyone ended up with butter smeared all the way up to their elbows and all over their desks (even though we used paper plates). We spent the last 20 minutes of class just cleaning up the mess and I’m pretty sure that the bathroom sinks were still covered in grease.
Strangely enough, my “best thing ever” moment was related to the same concept. Shortly before the PARCC testing, I wanted to revisit the whole slicing solids thing and was talking to my class about how we should do it. One of them asked if we could have a party. They would each bring some kind of food to share that was one of the 3D shapes and then they would slice them to find cross-sections before eating up the goodies. I was a little hesitant, but decided to dive in. We listed all the solids we would need and kids signed up for the things they would bring: triangular prisms (sandwiches), rectangular prisms (brownies), cylinders (cupcakes with the top sliced off), spheres (donut holes), cones (crepes) rectangular pyramids (jello cups cut into the right shape), triangular pyramids (rice krispy treats). It was the best thing ever because it was their idea – they owned it and they loved it.
Which leaves me with the “what is my end game for this year” question. This has been a little harder to narrow down this year because I just finished spending several days at one of Eric Jensen’s professional development sessions. He challenged us to develop “gutsy goals”, to dream big in order to make big changes in students’ lives. A tweaking of something I already do seems too small. So, my goal is to open doors. I want every single student I teach to be able to see the possibility of a career in STEM. They may choose a different path, but I want them to see STEM as a path that they can choose.
- Every student will see learning as a journey and not a destination. They will each know that some things come readily and some things come more slowly but that the more they work at them, the better they will get at them
- Every student will know how to problem-solve.
- Every student will know the math, all of it, whatever it takes.
- Every student will get the chance to see what real people who work in STEM fields do.
- Every student will get to do actual engineering – coding, building, creating.
Growth mindset. Formative assessment. Project-based learning. Guest speakers. These have all been part of my class in the past but will take on even bigger roles this year. I think a grant application and a robotics club may be in my future as well.