The Capstone

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While teaching a few years ago, I decided that I wanted to become a better writer. I started this blog so that I could practice writing on a regular basis. Looking back over these old posts, I think that my little project was fairly successful. Today I am a far more confident and fluent writer than I once was.

When I entered law school, writing became part of my daily work. As such, I no longer had any need for this blog and I ceased writing. This post is just confirmation that this blog is no longer in operation.


To those employers that might stumble on this blog:

First, this blog contains my informal, unrevised writing from a few years ago. My writing continues to evolve in law school, and my writing sample is a better indicator of my writing proficiency than this blog.

Second, this blog was not about my personal life. I am a private person. I like to keep personal experiences close to the chest where they belong. I do not plan to, and would never, write about my work as an attorney on this blog or anywhere else online.

Third, my experiment blogging is over. I created this blog to become a better writer while I was teaching. Now that my career consists of writing, I no longer need this forum.

If you have any questions or concerns about this blog, please contact me directly.

Proximate Cause Poetry

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I'm in law school now, and have no intent to blog. However, I had to share this poem from my book because I couldn't find it anywhere else online.


The Key to Proximate Cause
By Eleanor Fox

Lend me your ears. Hold the applause.
Here is the secret to proximate cause.

In Gorris v. Scott, where the sheep risked contagion,
no proximate cause, though a pen would have saved them.
The hazard that happened was pulls of the sea-
a hazard that prudent men wouldn't foresee.

In Wagon Mound I there was no risk of fire.
We know that was so; it was found by the trier
(and proof au contraire was no one's desire).
The harm did not rise from the slippery scare
that gave rise to precautions to exercise care
and therefore the negligence was "in the air."

But in Wagon Mound II one would fire foresee,
and therefore the negligence was in the sea.
The oil that spilled since the leak wasn't fixed
gave rise to the hazard improperly risked.

In Kinsman the hazard was free-flying vessel.
The prudent beforehand will see that a mess'll
result from release of the boat
when it breaks from its moorings and charges, afloat.
The injury - flooding - arose from the snare
of the hazard that dictated duty of care.
As soon as we know that this force was released
and thus that the wheels of misfortune were greased,
we've satisfied "risk" as a point in the game
and move to the length and strength of the chain.

And now we have yet a new point for the court:
Was the chain so direct; it was reasonably short?
Was no intervention of such independence
that it became the cause and freed the defendants?
If reasoning people can take different tacks,
It goes to the jury as a question of facts.

And this is the story of causation prox as told by Judge Friendly
with glosses
By Fox.

Found in:
Cases and Materials on Torts c2008
By Richard A Epstein
pgs 544-545

Math and English

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At Mastery math is almost everyone's favorite subject. Yet, the inverse is true in for kids in higher socio-economic groups.

My hypothesis:


In higher socio-economic class students are prepared in reading at home, and receive math and English instruction at school. A lack of reinforcement makes math feel alien, and thus less enjoyable.

For kids in Mastery and elsewhere, instruction at home is unlikely to happen in any subject. Yet while math is taught assuming zero content knowledge, reading and English are not taught like ESL classes.

Are we assuming too much content background even in the earliest grades in English?

What do you think?

Tomorrow's Do Now

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Kottke recently posted a new iPhone app, called iPhone Football.

In intro physics, are learning about sound, and I recently introduced the idea that sound is the transfer of energy through the air.

I love it when lesson ideas just present themselves.

Tomorrow we are going to view this video, and I will have the kids discuss: If this is a normal IPhone or IPod touch, how is it pushing the ball around?



I am excited.

Parent Teacher Conferences

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Tonight was parent conferences, and for five hours I informed parents about their child's development in my class throughout the year. I excited some and disappointed others. Yet, even though I spent the whole night talking about other people, I probably learned more about myself than the parents learned about their children.

One parent needed to know how their B child could become an A child. I explained that their child just needed to step up their game in the little moments. I explained that there were times in class where said B student would relax and lose their focus, and that eliminating these moments was the key to their success. Coaching the student-parent pair on how to focus, my brain kept playing little mental movies of times that I have lost focus in the last year.

Over and over again, as I expounded upon the improvements I would like to see in my students and I saw similar places where I could improve.

One conversation in particular is the reason why I am writing this post tonight. I was speaking with one of our more academically successful students, discussing the importance of writing. I talked about my own experience with writing, with emphasis on the struggles that I have had and the steps I am taking to improve my abilities.

It made me want to write again.

Self improvement is always a struggle, no matter who you are. The chasm between your current self and your goals seems deep and wide. But the incredible thing is that improvement can come one step at a time. Someone once said that a mountain looks like an impossible obstacle to climb, but if you take the first step and then another, you will find yourself at the top, astounded at how far you have come. No single step is that difficult. The most difficult part is deciding to start at all.

How do I make them love science?

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As I plan for classes, I keep one question in mind, “How do I make my kids love science?” All of my teaching pedagogy is wrapped up in this goal, and I strive to make my lessons live up to this standard. Most of the time I fail. But every once and a while I get lucky, and that is when magic happens.

I want my kids to love science like I do, as something you do rather than something you appreciate. Science isn’t like art. Art is meant to be hung on a wall and looked at. Science is meant to be done. Science is about getting your hands dirty in the process of figuring out the world. Science is about questioning and discovery, and the process of creating conceptual models that can help us understand the natural world.

In my world, if you love science, you are on your way to being a critical thinker. If you love science, you love asking questions. If you love science, you love learning more about the world.

This is the last non-content post for a while. I just wanted to get some larger philosophical points out of the way before I began digging into the nuts and bolts of content.

The Power of Labs

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How do I teach my students so that they do well on standardized tests? How do I teach so that my students enjoy class? How do I leave my students feeling like science is approachable? How do I teach so that my students can think critically about the subject? And how do I do all of this when my students are years behind in their education?

Usually, teachers feel like they can’t do all of these, so they choose one. If you walk down any given hallway, you will find some teachers that teach for critical thinking, others to get their students to enjoy class, and others still that teach to state exams. These teachers will all kindly inform you, “you can’t do it all.”

Luckily, as a science teacher, you can. In your arsenal are two powerful quivers: labs and inquiry based learning. In this post I will focus on labs.

Labs are hands on experiences that, if written well, help students engage with content in a way that it sticks to the brain. Want a surefire way to help students which colors different pH papers turn (a NC EOC Exam question)? Do a lab. They’ll remember. Need students to remember the two ways to increase the strength of an electromagnet? Do a lab. Paperclips don’t lie. They’ll remember.

Labs increase my students’ investment in class, particularly when the labs engage them. We have all sat through labs where we didn’t have to turn on our brains until the questions at the end. These are almost as bad as the lecture-question style of classic education. But great labs invest students in thinking.

Which leads into the fact that with good labs, students are approaching science like scientists. They are learning first hand that science is something you do. And because you are building opportunities for critical thinking into the labs, you are teaching students as well as scientists.

The final question is one I hit up against quite a bit in my communities of teachers. How in the world can I make up all that missed content and still have time to do labs? I believe that labs and hands on experiences with content is the only good way to bridge that content knowledge gap. As you will see from the labs that I place on this website, well structured labs can bring students all the way from the lowest levels of a concept to the highest in an extremely short period of time. They do this by setting up experiences that can teach a student what they need most in science: good intuition.

This post did a lot of assuming. It first assumes that we are on the same page on what a ‘lab’ actually means. We probably aren’t. It also assumes that you know what I mean by ‘a well structured lab.’ At this point, I haven’t laid that out, so you can’t. But over the next few weeks I will be providing examples of the great labs that I have accumulated from my years of teaching, and using these labs to explain how I believe labs can help us answer all of the questions at the beginning of this post.

The Challenge

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I want to teach students to become critical thinkers; I want to teach students the skills and abilities to be successful in college and in a global economy; I want to teach them how to perform real scientific analysis; I want to teach students to love learning.

I teach students from West Philadelphia, the majority of which are from economically disadvantaged families.

In acknowledging my student’s less than stellar academic skills and investment in classwork, I do not change my goals. In fact, this reality only convinces me further that big goals are the only way that I can help them be successful.

Therefore, I teach to bridge the gap between my students’ current reality and their future reality as critically thinking, capable students and workers in the global economy.


What this means for planning:

In planning for class, I always start with the basics. I build a foundation for the concepts. How do I know that they have played with a magnet before? I don’t. So we play with them. But then we must quickly move to the point where we are discussing the role of electrons in the permanent magnet they are holding. How do I do this without losing students? Also, how do I do this while fostering critical thinkers, and not just good parrots? These are the questions that define my planning every day, and these are two of the many questions that I will attempt to answer on this blog.

Bsirolly.blogspot.com is now an Edublog

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After a four month hiatus, the BSirolly blog is back, with a focus on education.  I am excited to start again, but I should begin with my reasons for restarting the blog.

My first reason is that I miss writing.  For about a year, I truly enjoyed jotting down my thoughts about topics ranging from politics to technology to internet miscellany.

 Also, I hope to continue to develop my writing style through practicing in a public forum.   My writing style evolved and improved by leaps and bounds in the year that I wrote on the blog, but I am by no means the efficient, interesting, and compelling writer that I hope to be.  But practice makes perfect, so it's about time I start practicing again. 

Finally, I am now in a place in life where I think that I can grow as a teacher by laying out my ideas on teaching in a public forum.  I am inspired by edublogs like dy/dan and dotphysics.  Both blogs consistently post ideas about pedagogy that are interesting, compelling, and challenging.  If I can be even a fraction as good as these blogs, I will have succeeded. 


I am excited to be writing again.

America, as seen by a Brit

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This article sent shivers down my spine multiple times. Justin Webb from the BBC wrote a beautiful, inspiring, yet cutting portrayal of America.

A short section, from the larger article:

The immensity of America, the energy and the zest for life remind me sometimes of India. And as with India, where I spent some time for the BBC many moons ago, America shines a light on the entire human condition

Few other nations really do. Italy reveals truths about Italians, Afghanistan about Afghans, Fiji about Fijians. But America speaks to the whole of humanity because the whole of humanity is represented here; our possibilities and our propensities.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/8176448.stm