31 March 2007

Establishing Formative Assessment in the Early Classroom

The question of how to assess student work and the role that assessment should play in the classroom is both a prevalent and important one. Often students are given an assignment with some criteria and a deadline and they receive either a numerical or letter grade in return. These types of assessments allow students to compare their quality of work to that of their fellow students but lacks vital information about what criteria were not met and how student could have done better. The assessment process has so much more potential to benefit the educational process and CAPITAL, through working with teachers, has found several ways that this can be done.

Through implementing formative assessment teacher can “guide students in developing scientific habits of mind and also gauge students’ conceptions – or misconceptions – about scientific ideas [along the way].” These types of practices not only assess the students work, but also help student further develop their understanding and help the teacher adjust the lesson plan appropriately. While changing ones methods of teaching can be difficult and “scary”, the benefits can be great.

Formative assessment can be implemented by allowing the students to conduct self- and peer assessment. Such practices have the benefit of providing the students with a great deal of information about what the instructor expects and what a good product looks like. Many teachers give criteria for what needs to be accomplished, but often leave out the other aspects that they may be evaluating, such as clarity of writing, understanding of material, ability to work with other. By allowing this information to be open and accessible, the student will think about these aspects of their work - while before they may have just thought about getting it finished. The type of expectations of good work will also be abundantly available to them resulting in the life practice of considering quality of ones work in addition to completion of it.

Further, by conducting formative assessments students will better be able to track their work and improve it before the completion of the project. Often students will begin a project and do not receive feedback until the project is handed in and nothing can be changed. Using formative assessments teachers can better guide the students to do good work. Teachers can also show their students exceptional examples of work from previous years. This allows the students to work around the image of what is quality and develop it further with their own style.

After giving feedback at different stages in a process, students should be given the opportunity to improve their work. Some teachers go so far as to require their students to revise their work again and again until it is of an acceptable quality. This seems like an extremely valuable practice, especially at a young age because it develops in the students a practice of working until their quality is good, and not just working. If the students develop this work ethic at an early age, as they grow they will contribute to a culture of where quality is expected, no matter what. It is most important to develop this practice at an early age. If at the high school and college level, instructor start to require more deadline (as will be necessary in many working world situations), the students will benefit greatly. Not only will they have the experience of producing quality work, but they will have the understanding that all work should be revised until it is satisfactory. Students will hopefully have these concepts so deeply ingrained in who they are that doing low-quality work simply is not an option and they will require themselves to begin their work early, allowing time for revision. Such a simple practice developed at an early age could raise the next generation of world citizen in a culture of quality of work, improve quality of life for all.

21 February 2007

Thoughts on Criticism of the Climate Movement

I think it is important to have discussions about what is going on...but I also think it is important to take action. It is counter productive to criticize one persons/groups effort without suggesting more beneficial uses of our or your energy. There is nothing to lose in what we are doing and everything to gain! As far as facts about climate change- You are correct that GHG's account for a very small amount of the total volume of the atmosphere, but very small amounts have a VERY large effect. It is not only the GHG that are heating...it is the blanketing effect that the small amount of GHG's have on the entire atmospheric system. "The Earth's atmosphere is made up of 78 per cent nitrogen and 21 per cent oxygen. Only about 1 per cent is made up of natural greenhouse gases, but this comparatively small amount of gas makes a big difference." from http://www.science.org.au/
.As far as hurricanes- the climate system is very complicated. It is difficult to make direct connections in the causal chain. We cannot make a conclusive statement that “this (GHG) caused that (Hurricane Katrina)” but hurricane Katrina does serve as a tangible and powerful example of the effects we know will be magnified and more frequent if aggressive mitigation does not occur. It is not worth playing Russian Rolette with the planet…So we are taking action NOW. ...

The human body is a great analogy for the earth-THE EARTH WILL ADAPT TO THIS! The catch is that one way the earth might adapt is to get rid of these pesky humans. Yet, as we go down, we are taking all other living organisms with us- Not Good. When people argue that the planet has gone through hot and cold ages in the past, they forget (I can't imagine how!) that humans where not there to see it. The reason that we are working to limit our effect on the planet is because we are pouring jet-fuel on the fire of global change. Eventually the planet will be uninhabitable, but if the change happens naturally, then that will not be for millions of year- a time period that makes the apes seem like not-so-distant cousins. That is why this is not just an environmental issue, it is a humanity and every-other-living-organism issue! The rest will adapt, but we should try to get a little more shelf-life out of the comfy state of the planet we have now.

20 February 2007

Bates Energy Action Movement

We have started a Student Climate Movement at Bates call Bates Energy Action Movement. We are working to make Bates College Carbon Neutral and a leader in the clmiate movement. Also we are joing the national student climate movement. It is all very exciting. This issue is our generations Vietnam. We need to Step It Up! NOW and I encourage everyone to get involved. There is lots of information at the BEAM blog or you can email me at jmurphy3@bates.edu

"The Bates Energy Action Movement is a movement at Bates College dedicated to
taking direct action to fight anthropogenic global climate change by promoting Carbon Neutrality at Bates and direct political participation."

I have been devoting most of my time to the Bates Energy Action Movement (BEAM). Please check out the BEAM blog.

23 January 2007

A Life-Changing Weekend at Middlebury

This weekend we had 16 people make the trip from Lewiston, Me to Middlebury,Vt for the Global Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality student conference hosted by Middshift and Sierra Student Coalition. We learned a ton about emissions reduction and neutrality and how to organize a movement on our campus and join the national student movement to address anthropogenic global climate change. The weekend was inspiring and the students we were blessed to be surrounded by were extremely intelligent and motivated. They also have accomplished some amazing and important tasks. Every member of the Bates group was inspired and came back filled with information and motivation to get the movement going at Bates. I am so impressed by my fellow students and excited to work together with them to take action.

17 January 2007

Global Climate Change: Our Generation's Movement

A series of events has just lit a fire under me. These last few days as we celebrated the legacy of Dr. King and all others who struggled during the Civil Rights movement, I could not help but feel passion. I also could not help but think of my lack of political work since my high school years. I have justified this with the understanding that I have the privilege to be educated in a wonderful institution and it is my moral obligation to use that privilege of education to promote change in the world; that I should focus on my studies now and work toward change later. But I unrelentingly feel the hot coals in my heart ready to burst into flames.

While these thoughts lingered in my mind, I was invited by a friend to join him at a global climate workshop held at Middlebury College this weekend. At dinner, the same friend made a simple statement- "I can't think about other environmental issues while global warming is a threat!" which struck me. After talking with him about it, it became clear that he has been working on other environmental campaigns around campus but he can't stop thinking that global warming is of the highest priority. We began to discuss this at the table which developed into an intensive drive to start a movement. While getting dessert, another friend asked why I would not be playing in the snow at the Winter Carnival this weekend. I told him I couldn't because I had to make sure that I can play with my children in the snow on weekends to come.

Global climate change can and must be my generation’s movement! This past year’s release of "An Inconvenient Truth" helped to solidify the consciousness that global climate change IS an issue. In addition, the last few winters have provided us with our first direct and immediate impact of global warming; the lack of snow! Here at our small liberal arts college in the northern New England, skiing and winter sports are very important; we miss our snow. I couldn't count the number of times in the last month or two that it has been a sunny warm day (in Dec. and Jan.) and I would hear my friends say, "It’s global warming." We know why it is warm, now we need to do something.

The first step in a movement is to show people that there is a problem. I think that this year we have reached a point where the majority agrees that global climate change needs to be dealt with. But now that we are scared and aware, its time for a Turning Point! It is time to get excited, get aggressive, get behind the movement, and GET CONFIDENT!

We are starting to get scared because we are starting to recognize the severity of the situation. This is big, REAL BIG. But we MUST NOT GET DISCOURAGED! Now that it is on our minds, we must start to THINK POSITIVE and DEVELOP CONFIDENCE. We can change, and we will change. Not changing is simply not an option (neither is giving up on earth and going elsewhere).

Yesterday, I was honored to sit in a room with Rev. Ruby Sales as she told us about nonviolent change. Her clear message, the message of the weekend, and of the Civil Rights movement was that change must be driven by love and positive thinking. Further, Sales made it very clear that we must not shy away from conflict. We must embrace conflict and from it gain passion and promote change. These ideas relate directly to the movement that needs to drive our work to combat global climate change.

We must shift our consciousness about Global Climate Change from fear and thoughts of impending doom to thoughts of love for our planet and confidence that we can find the appropriate course of action to take in response to what we have learned. There is NO reason not to take action and every reason to. WE CAN DO THIS! This is our generation’s issue, though not by our choice, but it is real and ours. This must be what we rally behind and we must do it together. EVERYONE must make changes. WE CANNOT CONTINUE BUISNESS AS USUAL! WE CAN MAKE CHANGE! WE MUST MAKE CHANGE!


Please let the fire in yourself burn. Combine your fire with others, I know you feel it. Others around the country have already started to join their fires together; let's do it too!

Only a massive fire will turn down the heat.

Campus Climate Challenge Climate Neutrality SummitJanuary 19-21, 2007; Middlebury College, VT This summit, hosted by the Sierra Student Coalition and Middlebury’s student climate neutrality campaign, will be an opportunity for students to share strategies, plans and ideas, unify efforts, and discuss how climate neutrality victories on campuses can create demand for climate protection policies in broader society. The summit will be in a retreat-type format and will be primarily "open source." The summit will be free and lodging and food will be provided.

Sierra Student Coalition
Campus Climate Challenge

12 January 2007

What Makes A Good Math or Science Teacher?

A good math or science teacher first and foremost must inspire. They need to start by helping the students be open and interested in learning what is to be taught. There is no way to force students to learn if they are not open to it. But this task is not easy.

Our society seems to have an inherent fear of math and science. We tend to think it is inhibitivly difficult and that only a few specialists have a handle on the subjects. There is a sever disconnect between science and culture; a consciousness that science does not relate to the everyday experience. But this could not be farther from the truth.

Science and math deals with the world around us that we cannot escape; it deals with us! A good math or science teacher must get this point across to the students. She must point out everyday common experiences that can be better understood through science.

Further, a good math or science teacher must quench the student’s fears. Many people think that science is too hard or that they just don’t have the mind for it. But I think that anyone can understand scientific concepts and do the work if they have an open mind. A good science teacher must welcome the students and provide a comforting environment in which to learn.

Pedagogically, I think a good math or science teacher will present the material in clear steps and interweaving interesting tangents. The material is in fact often hard, but with a little mental work and organization the reward of the “Eureka!” moment is well worth it. The teacher must focus on providing each student with at least one “Eureka!” moment. That is the hook.

She must also be willing to stop and address the questions of the students. Math and science cannot just be presented and expected to be taken in without any dialogue, as so often it is. Math and science learning must be dynamic. The teacher must keep in mind that they are working with the students as guides and must help the students make connections to what they already know. If the student is unable to connect a concept or principle to something they already know, they will feel lost and defeated. But, on the other hand, if they are able to connect the new concept into there large picture of the world and even relate it to their own experiences, it can be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences! The teacher should be there to help the student achieve this.

11 January 2007

What's So Funny About Quantum Mechanics?

I am planning on applying for funding to do an interdisciplinary (physics and philosophy)
project in which I will examine and try to clearly determine why and in what way(s)
quantum mechanics is so at odds with our intuitive understanding of nature. I plan to
examine Bell's inequalities, multiple interpretations of QM, the Einstein Podolsky Rosen
(EPR) paradox, and other relevant topics. My goal is not to solve the problem, but rather
to clearly and precisely define the problems as well as arguments for different
interpretations and the implications that follow. I would like to figure out how I would
best interpret QM and what principle I think we might have to disregard or adhere to, but
my own opinions will only develop upon intensive investigation.

I would hope that this would develop into a thesis and to continue on to do graduate work
in philosophy of physics (and of course become rich and famous).