Lost in Translation (with a Fellow English Native Speaker)

9 Apr

I had a recent problem occur along the lines of “lost in translation”, even when speaking to a fellow native English speaker.  I am a science teacher and I recently proposed expanding the science club at my school to be a club that combined science and technology, including, for example, robotics.  When I proposed calling the club something along the lines of “Sci Team”, my colleague who works in the technology department objected because he felt it would communicate that the club was focused on science.  Upon further conversation, we resolved that when I think about science, I think of sciences in general, ranging from social sciences to natural sciences (and really an iterative process that resembles the scientific method or design-centered thinking).  So when I used the term “Sci”, I meant to be broad and inclusive, whereas my colleague thought of the term “science” in a sense that was restricted to how it is used in our school to describe the academic department including Biology, Chemistry and Physics courses.  In some way, I think this reflected not just a way of using different language, but also thinking differently, possibly even because of culture.  Perhaps in this case the cultural difference that was reflected in our language was not because of regional differences, but because of the culture of our respective academic disciplines.   I think that this example shows that cultural differences in language can be an important part of our everyday lives.  Even within a small, close-knit school community we are often fighting each other over the language that we use when we really could be agreeing if we could just settle our language differences.

What are some other types of conflict that we fall into that are really language differences and not differences in are actual thoughts and ideas?

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In Which I Post a Post on a New Blog that I Have Started (Version 6.1?)

26 Mar

Maybe after I have finished this post, I will come back through and link to all the blogs I have started but failed to keep up with or generally lost interest in maintaining.  I don’t know that I couldn’t have written more in those blogs, but for the time being I had just lost interest.

This morning, I did not plan to start a new blog.  It was the farthest thing from it.  I woke up, started to grade some quizzes I gave before vacation, made a to-do list, logged on to my online class on the Solar System.  And that’s where I really started to lose momentum on that list.

I thought it would be a great idea to share some Astronomy-related links I came across since starting the class last week.  Paul Salomon had a really great post on using Scale of the Universe 2 to get his students interested in scientific notation and also the UNIVERSE!  Then Chris Emdin (who is presenting at TEDxTeachersCollege and I hope TEDxNYED too!) tweeted a link to the amazing Solar System Scale Model.  I am teaching Earth Science this year and really enjoy it, but all my students have asked is “When are we going to learn about astronomy?”  They have been 100% invested in the idea of learning astronomy and every other topic we have learned about this year has felt like a bait-and-switch where I dangle the carrot of how they will be able to use what they’ve learned about the atmosphere, geology, layers of the Earth, etc. to our unit on Astronomy.  I am really looking forward to teaching that unit now; maybe even as much as they are excited to learn about it.

And that is part of what is so great about teaching.  Sometimes you get to teach students about something that they are already fascinated with and would love to learn about and even research on their own.  I have witnessed this phenomenon many more times this year while teaching Earth Science than I ever have in teaching Algebra.  Sometimes, just going over a basic procedure again, like moving a variable from one side of an equation to another, I feel like I have lost interest so I can’t imagine how dull or even painfully dull it must be for a student who has to listen to me explain it.  But the challenge of everyday, the part that really motivates me to keep getting better at this job is to find ways to make these things interesting.  Or as Dan Meyer‘s teacher put it, “perplex them“.

Today, when I started brainstorming about making this blog it occurred to me that a lot of the blogs that I read quasi-religiously have a core message that may not have been as strongly stated in the terms that I would choose.  Whether it is the now-semi-retired Steve Miranda describing an experimental school in Seattle that allow students to learn the things they are most passionate about, or Shawn Cornally raging about the need to open up the schoolday and allow time for kids to do projects that they love, or Paul Salomon talking about diverting a lesson plan to go where the Internet takes him (and his students!), it seems like the ideas that really inspire me all come back to this idea: We have to maximize student interest.

It sounds so basic, but then everyday perfectly nice teachers who I like as people make my teeth grind because of things like this:

  • Students still all have to read the same book in English class together.  Did the teacher pick out the book for his or her own interest in the test?  Maybe.  But sometimes it is even a departmental decision.  Book choice by committee!  I’ve had a book clubs before, people hardly ever read the book since it wasn’t their pick. [teeth grind]
  • Students get assigned to a science course (say, Chemistry) because that is what everyone in their grade takes, while any given kid may be completely fascinated with animals or solar energy or astronomy.  “I love your enthusiasm.  You’re going to love bio/physics/earthscience next year.” [more grinding]
  • Students move to the US from another country and study US history for 3 years out of 4.  Yes, it’s important to learn about your new country, but could we achieve some balance or open up social science a little.  It’s the humanities!  People are the same everywhere.  Look at differences.  [grindgrindgrind]
  • A student in my class says he is bored of the rocks and minerals unit, while everyone else is still loving the chance to do some hands-on investigation with the rock samples.  Meanwhile, this same student is a Minecraft obsessive!  That stuff is all about mining, finding and using rock and mineral resources. [stomachpunch]

That last example was really frustrating.  I realized only too late that there was a great opportunity for my student to learn what I was asking him to learn using a means that had inherent value for him.  Can’t win ’em all, I know.  So I don’t linger on it, but I do try to learn from that mistake.

So it’s not just that I blame the system.  Though I do, and we should.  I fail too.  But I want to use this blog as a place to document my progress on capturing students’ interests and making my classrooms into environments where students get to pursue something they really want to learn.  I don’t think I can fight off the boredom of teaching any other way for much longer.