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Friday, April 29, 2016

New York Times article about Achievement Gaps: Mentions Evanston

At ETHS, our top district challenge is to chip away and eventually eliminate the historic '2 schools in one' reality, meaning that our white students achieve at some of the highest possible levels, and our students of color are, on average, performing significantly lower. Achievement gaps are not unique to Evansotn by any means, but are instead a national problem. I have been lucky to help start and work with Project Excite over the past 15 years, where we work with 3rd grade students and then support them with enrichment classes, family support, and peer role models up through middle school. Data on the old ISAT and EXPLORE tests show that the achievement gap is eliminated in math and reading over that period of time. So there are things that can be done that work on preparation.

A new study on the gap issue has been summarized in the New York Times, which has some interesting interactive graphics that allow the reader to see the gaps for hundreds of districts nationwide for 6th grade students. Evanston DIst. 65 is in this sample. Evanston was noted in the article as a district with high median income (one of the wealthier areas with a diverse population), but with a large gap. While over 40% of Evanston's students are on free or reduced lunch (i.e. low income), the median income is over $90,000, so we have wealthy students standing side by side with students from poor households. Most of the low income students are minority. It has been no secret for some time that socioeconomic status is the one consistent indicator of academic performance in school.

One thing we know from Excite is that there is no quick fix to achievement gaps. It is a multi-year solution. Another piece of this is common sense, if you start working on the problems at earlier ages, you are more likely to make a difference. We know it is an incredibly complex issue, part cultural, part economic, part environment, part mindset, part peer pressure, part role model, part family support, part curriculum, and so on. Issues are different for each individual student and family.

Let's keep trying, before another generation of students finds itself locked into the same achievement and performance gaps as years' past.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Induction stoves - some examples

EM Induction has many uses and applications out in the world, and an induction stove is another good example that is not as well known as others. Check out this short video with some good examples of what one can do with such a stove. Remember, it is an AC current underneath the surface, and for NON-conductors this is no big deal...for conductors, such as a metal pot, currents are induced that produce heat due to the electrical resistance. This is an example of emf = A dB/dt (note that this also means circulating electric fields are being generated/induced in the pot, creating the electric currents).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

For Thursday: Intro to SHM, and Inductor Circuits

Periods 1-2, 6-7, and 8-9:

Classes can start off in small groups and go through solutions to any of the problems the past couple days. Decide which of the old AP problems you would like to pull up from the online folder of solutions. After this, we will be starting simple harmonic motion, our last topic. There are some connections with rotations, which we will begin identifying Friday, but for today we will focus on collecting some data with oscillating springs. Get the lab sheet from the substitute teacher, get into lab groups of no more than 4, and you can use the equipment that is set up. If your group has time to spare, you can begin the analysis (focus on graphs), or work on problem sets if there are parts that do not make sense.

Periods 3-4:

Please feel free to bring up any solutions to the old AP problems we've had the past couple days, and in small groups see if things are making any sense. Keep track of questions we can address on Friday. Then, check out two videos on our last circuit component, the inductor. This is basically a small solenoid you put in circuits. These will also be very similar to RC circuits as far as the math is concerned. Get the new packet from the substitute teacher, which we will be using.
The first video is when a resistor and inductor are in series with the battery.
The second is when a resistor and inductor are in parallel with each other.

After the videos, try AP Probs 2005, 2008 on pages 2 and 4 of the inductor packet.

Monday, April 11, 2016

For Wednesday: Angular Momentum and Faraday's law

Periods 1-2, 6-7, 8-9:

Share labs with

The last type of collision involving angular momentum is the type where BOTH linear and angular momentum are conserved. This would be something like hitting a stick that lies on a tabletop. If there was no friction, then there would be no net force adn no net torque on the stick once it is moving, and therefore BOTH types of momentum would be conserved. The stick would rotate about the center of mass, and the center of mass is the one point of the stick that would move linearly. Check out the video on this type of collision and motion.

If anyone needs to review other examples of collisions and angular momentum: There are a number of instances where collisions occur with objects that rotate. Putting a golf ball is basically a rotating stick colliding with the ball. A person stepping off a playground merry go round disk, or running and then jumping on a disk, is like an 'explosion' or inelastic collision, respectively.
Or throwing gum or a dart at a ball or tire will cause rotations after they stick together. And many more (often goofy!) examples can be dreamed up.

These tend to look like (mv_i)rsin(beta 1) + (I_i)(w_i)  =  (mv_f)rsin(beta 2) + (I_i)(w_i). Note that if things stick together, we will need to add moments of inertia together.
Video similar to putting a golf ball
Video examples of collisions with angular momentum

HW due Friday: AP Probs (1981, 1998) on pages 4 and 9. *Work together and use SP solutions if necessary to check yourselves. Also talk through any other HW problems in your groups that you have questions on. 

Periods 3-4:
We are working our way through EM induction and Faraday's law, and presently the focus is on the type where induced voltage = emf = -A dB/dt. The main concept we want to understand here is that the physical reason why a current turns on is not because of magnetic forces, but instead because when a B-field changes, an electric field turns on...and this E-field circulates! This is very different from a radial E-field that we are used to in electrostatics. The circulating E-field circulates in our loops of wire, and it is the electric force, F = qE, that pushes charges in the wire loops! Weird!

So EM induction basically says:
If there is a dE/dt, a circulating B-field turns on, AND if there is a dB/dt, a circulating E-field turns on.

Check out and take notes on two videos for this type of process, with circulating E-fields. We know how to handle this because we have done Ampere's law for circulating B-fields already - it is a path integral. The first video is a stranger example of flux and how to find it, along with dB/dt, and the second video is about finding the circulating E-field that turns on in these cases.

There will be a new post for Thursday, since Doc V and a couple seniors will be in Champaign for WYSE state finals.

HW due Friday: AP Probs (2010, 1978) on pages 4 and 5. *There are worked examples in the packet, as well. Feel free to work together and check solutions online for any of this.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Dubai experience and the Global Teacher Prize

A couple years ago, Mr. Sunny Varkey, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, learned of a truly disturbing statistic. According to a survey and study by UNESCO, which is the education branch of the United Nations, there are presently some 500,000,000 (yes, half a billion) children who attend underperforming and failing schools. And yes, some of these are in the U.S.; just look at some Chicago high schools where there are still dropout rates of 50% and graduates read at elementary and middle school levels.

The Varkey family wanted to do something about this, and has been using a good portion of the family fortune to create the Varkey Foundation, which has its headquarters in the United Kingdom. The Varkey GEMS group has created and runs some 250 schools worldwide. But Mr. Varkey also knows that to make the biggest difference in alleviating poor schools and improve the education and learning opportunities for all children worldwide, we need to improve the status and level of expertise of the single most important part of the education equation, and that is teachers.

No progress will be made in education if we do not have great teachers. But to do this on a massive, global scale, how the public and how policymakers look at teachers and the profession, which is not always stellar, must improve. It is well known that teaching is often not respected as a profession the way doctors and lawyers and engineers are. Pay is among the lowest of all professions. Top students typically do not aspire to be teachers (likely because of the lack of status and income). This is true not only in the U.S., but in nearly all countries around the world. Our motto is simply, "Teachers Matter!!!"

In 2014, the Foundation sponsored a first of its kind program to begin raising the status level for the teaching profession, the Global Teacher Prize. Mr. Varkey announced he wanted to create the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for teaching and education - for the past two years, the top  50 teacher finalists were announced, and from those two groups there has been a $1 million winner of the Global Teaching Prize, and nominations have come in for thousands of teachers from over 160 countries.

I was unbelievably fortunate to have been in the inaugural class of finalists in 2015, from which Nancie Atwell of Maine was the first winner of the prize (she was awarded the prize by the Crown Prince of the UAE and President Bill Clinton). We represent 26 nations. The 50 of us have been named the first group of Varkey Teacher Ambassadors (VTA), and in March of 2016, the first VTA Leadership Summit was held in Dubai. We had two days to meet face to face, and begin a discussion of what we want this group and network to do. Those of us who could make it were joined by many of the teachers from the second cohort of VTAs from 2016 (collectively representing 36 nations). The culminating event at the conference was naming this year's winner of the Prize, Hanan al Hroub of Palestine. Her name was announced via video by the Pope.

I encourage anyone who reads this to nominate a great teacher or colleague (nominations open in May). While there are countless great teachers in classrooms around the world, especially think of those teachers who also excel outside the classroom, taking part in training other teachers, publishing articles or videos to broad audiences, run their own schools, create programs or projects that have effects on a broader scale, have their students involved with sister schools (especially internationally) and do service projects, develop new teaching techniques/methods, are politically active and making change in education policy, and so on. Honestly, it helps if the teachers have already received recognition in other capacities and have 'a reputation,' as well, where others in the field believe they have done great work.

My two days with my new colleagues and friends were the best two days of my professional life, without question!! This is an incredible group with which to be associated, and part of our time together was just getting to know each other and the similarities and differences between our education systems, cultures and environments. In the end it became clear that kids are kids, and we all have the same needs and wishes for our students. It is fascinating to learn of the teachers in the Middle East who are working with refugee children who are on the run from war and terror groups. It is heartbreaking to hear from a teacher in India how families living in the slums have their daughters get married in arranged marriages at the age of 12 or 13, only to see them be forced to go into the sex trade for income - these are the girls she works with. Or an amazing man from Ghana who has needed to develop methods for deradicalizing kids who come out of certain madrasses or are being recruited by radical groups. Or the teacher from Haiti, who still is coping with widespread destruction left over from the earthquake six years ago.

Our mission is big and long-term: to use any influence we might have or gain in the future to help improve the status of our profession, and to help as many kids globally as we can. For example, we have already been proactive by writing to Ban Ke-moon, the Secretary General of the U.N., to see if there are any ways to help the millions of refugee children fleeing Syria, many of whom have not been in a school for several years since the civil war began (and many of whom are now running from ISIS). We have working groups thinking about what resources we can provide the world's teachers to help them in training and in their classrooms. We are thinking of how to influence policy makers and improve education at the systemic level, with less demand for standardized testing and more emphasis on skills students need in modern times. Note there were dozens of ministers of education at the conference, including Arne Duncan, and several former heads of state (such as Tony Blair), so these are people in our network with whom we now have contact. We are discussing and forming collaborations between our schools so students can learn from each other about culture, issues, commonalities, and the creation of joint projects, using technologies for the common good. We are thinking about what a science classroom should be doing if we are serious about "21st century skills." We are thinking about how to get students active in all subject areas, and how we can transform schools to some level of multidisciplinary work in order to allow students to develop creative and innovation skills, which are a must in the modern workplace.

To a person, all of us involved with this group are committed to working on these issues for the rest of our lives. It is exciting, but also daunting given the political environments in many countries. But our kids are worth the effort!! Each year we will have 50 more ambassadors, as we continuously branch out our network across the globe, gaining influence and making impacts, both small and large, as we try to change the world over time!!

A special THANK YOU goes to the ETHS Alumni Association!! Without their very generous grant, I likely would not have been able to go to the conference in Dubai!! To my ETHS colleagues, this is a wonderful group that offers mini-grants to faculty with ideas they want to try in their classrooms, so please inquire if you have cool ideas that will help your students!!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It is OK to fail - that is what it takes to be creative and to learn!!

In our way of doing school, a theme has arisen from many people who think about education and what the modern school and education system should look like (and it is NOT what reality is!). In study after study, and anecdote after anecdote, the theme is we all need to be ready, willing and able to FAIL at things we try!!

However, as Sir Ken Robinson and many others have said (myself included), our present test-crazed way of doing school makes failure the worst thing a student can do. In order to be creative or to make a great discovery, one needs to try things over and over! Picasso did not whip out masterpiece after masterpiece - he had countless mediocre paintings and pieces of art in between - that is, countless 'failures.' The same for Mozart. The same for any notable and famous author, who was rejected dozens of times by publishers before finally getting a break, and then having to do numerous edits. And for the scientist or engineer, who have endless failed experiments or prototypes that need to be reworked and troubleshot. It is a rule of thumb that to become an expert at something, one needs 10,000 hours or experience and practice.

Check out this TED talk by Adam Grant, who has noted three key traits of creative people: i) their willingness to procrastinate, at least a bit, in order to refine an idea or to give themselves time to think about other ways of doing something; ii) fear and doubt...the most creative people are still humans, and we all have self-doubt and a fear of failure...however, the creative, successful person is more afraid of NOT TRYING, rather than just being afraid of being wrong; and iii) every creative person has countless failures before getting it right (you must accept the fact that everyone's first draft or attempt at something will almost certainly not be the best way of doing it!).