Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I Learned this Week 8/20-8/26

I ended last week's post with my struggle to tie a bow tie.  As the picture above shows, I was able to accomplish this task, but it took a great deal of struggle.  Struggle however is good.  That struggle lead to one of those incredible light bulb moments, the ones that I loved to see my students experience when I was in the classroom, and it came from such a minor change in my learning approach.

Initially I started my quest to tie a bow tie the way any tech savy 21st century educator would, I search Google "How to Tie a Bow Tie".  That lead me to the following video:

It was good, and seemed simple enough, but as I followed along, I never ended with a bow, I ended with, well a mess... I am not sure what the problem was, if it was the accent of the teacher, the angle at which the video was shot, or my own incompetence (most likely) in attempting to tie the tie.  One problem I had was that my only feedback came at the end, when the tie was in neither a bow, nor actually tied.

So, I did what any normal learner would do, I found another video:

This one was slightly better.  The angle seemed different, I liked the cheery disposition of the person tying the tie, but the biggest change came when you came to the step that requires you to create the second part of the bow by pushing it through a loop that you have created.  Fast forward to the :59 second mark of the video, and you can see the first step towards my light bulb moment.  At this point, the teacher folds the front part of the tie in half, and allows the learner to see the loop that has been created in the back to push the tie back through.  With this information, I now had a better idea of where my next step would go, but alas, this only resulted in me being able to create a knot, but not a bow.

My third attempt, was better still.  I moved away from video, to a visual only approach. My first attempt was with a step by step drawing of how to tie a bow tie:

Taken from:
This was better, because I could see each step as I went, but I still could not get the bow to appear.  I thought that maybe if I had words to go with the visual, then I would be able to figure out where I was going wrong.  So I turned to another image:
This was the best yet, as I could read along step by step.  With renewed gusto I attacked the problem at hand and proceeded to tie my bow tie...except I didn't.  I still could not quite get the movement in step 5 in the drawing right.  When I would fold the tie over and then up, I could not get the bow to correctly fold back through the loop, but at least I was on the right track.  Then looking very closely at the directions, and I saw in tiny print above the first step the following language:
Practice first by tying the bow tie on a leg. Once you get the idea, tie it around your neck
So I followed the directions more closely.  I sat down, stopped looking in the mirror, and tied it around my leg.  After the first attempt, the light bulb came on.  There were two things that I needed to do differently.  The first was to make sure that I was putting the folded end back through the loop (see step 6 above).  The second was to stop looking in the mirror when I got to that step, as the reverse image was causing me to put the end back through the front of the tie, and to not put the folded end in first.

As I prepared to again try to tie the bow tie around my neck, I wondered why the experts on the videos, did not give this simple tip to their viewers.  As I pondered this more, I realized that for them tying a bow tie was second nature, they had forgotten the early struggle and thought that by showing us how to tie the tie around their necks their viewers would simply get it.

I got up and in my first attempt, I was able to finally tie a bow tie, after only 1 hour.  I then realized that my brilliant plan to then slip it over my neck would not work, and I went to bed with trepidation that in the morning I would not be able to replicate my success and all my efforts would be for naught.

So what did I learn from my bow tie experience.  First and foremost I learned yet again that struggle is not bad and that figuring things our for yourself is a very rewarding experience.  That during the struggle the key was not only to not give up, but to analyze my mistakes and think reflect with each attempt what I could try differently, or what information I could find to add to my attempts.

At the same time, I also realized the importance of having someone that I could ask questions of and guide me.  My struggle would not have been nearly as long if I could have had a live expert beside me, giving me solid feedback so that I could more quickly learn from my mistakes and get to that moment of triumph.

It makes me wonder, as we attempt to educate our students on a daily basis in subjects that are new and foreign to them, how can we use our expert knowledge to give them a better picture of how they can succeed.  More importantly, when we give them assignments to work on by themselves, what little tips, like tying the bow tie on your leg first, might we forget because we know our subject too well?

Things I Learned in the Classroom:
  • Vernal=Spring.  I had always assumed this given the vernal equinox, but did not think about the fact that it does not mean spring, but rather of or connected to spring.
  • You can add up the energy within an ecosystems food pyramid (energy being derived from eating plants and animals below you in the pyramid ala Mufasa's explanation to Simba) to determine if the ecosystem can support those animals and plants.
  • Any 3D shape that is flattened (in geometry) is called a net.
Things I Learned Students are Learning:
  • I learned 2 step equations, for example 2G + 7G =15 would be solved by combining the like terms to get 9G=15 and then dividing both sides by 9 to solve for G.
  • You can use cold spoon to get rid of a hickie (not really sure if this worked based on the evidence on the students neck-ewwww)
  • I learned about scarcity (unlimited wants/needs but limited resources) from a county commissioner and that economics is the study of scarcity.
Things I Read that Impacted Me:

Lots of good reading items this week, some with direct application to the classroom, others just fun and quirky.  Let's start with helpful classroom tools.
  • As we head towards parent teacher conferences, I found this post by Richard Byrne on creating a choice eliminator for Google Forms to be helpful.  It shows you how to create a form that automatically eliminates a choice, for example a meeting time, when someone selects that choice.  I thought it would be a great help in setting up parent appointments via an email to those parents you most want to see, but can't seem to ever reach by phone.
  • Richard Byrne also provided a helpful list of 5 Tools Students Can Use to Keep Track of Assignments.  My personal favorite is Dayboard which I installed on my school computer.  Every time I open a new tab-think how many our students open daily-it shows me the top 5 tasks I need to accomplish that day.
  • The final Richard Byrne post was How to Quickly Create Vocabulary Lists from a Document.  I thought this would be useful for all teachers when they give students close reading assignments from the web as an added way to add some vocabulary work to the close reading work.
  • Of particular interest to me was this article from KQED's MindShift on whether it is better for students to take notes digitally or with pen and paper.  The results the article points to are certainly enlightening. 
  • Finally, two quirky articles.  The first from Fast Company on how the signage in cities are an architectural road map to past eras and history.  Be sure to watch the embedded video, it really adds to the article.  The second from the New York Times on Giga-Coasters.  These are roller coasters that have a drop between 300 and 399 feet.  The article is unique in the way it is formatted.  Make sure to watch the videos, as you can almost feel yourself going through the coaster.  Here is my favorite:

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