Teacher's need to model what they teach.  This title is a pun on my effort to demonstrate (model) good practice and the imperative that all teacher's should intentionally model what they want students to do in practice.

Do the Work!

Interestingly I am reading some pretty penetrating stories recently; penetrating in the sense that they are goading me right where I do not want to be goaded:  "Stop sitting on your butt!" they're shouting to me.  First I read this is 37Signals' "ReWork" and lately in "Do The Work" by Pressfield.

Today I watched a TED:  Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong.  It was interesting; I appreciated one of her points particularly, that in school we learn early that "being right is GOOD and being wrong is BAD" so we strive to be right; we avoid being bad.  In other words, we shy away from being courageous (I will get back to this issue if I have time).  I want myself, my children and my students to be brave.

IDEA:  Here is an idea:  when I have a test in class, I am specifically testing a topic I have assigned to students and which we have learned about and studied together.  However, in doing this I am taking away a students ability to choose what they love and to pursue what they are interested in - ideas that the IB considers in their philosophy of "optional" topics.  In my tests, I can offer credit for students who learn "off-syllabus topics."  The challenge is going to be, where to draw the line about how much off topic the learning can be, but I think I will attack that organically, not make a policy but deal with it in a case by case basis.  For example, maybe in the plant test, a student studies conifers in depth and explores transport in conifers in cold weather (why are they still green in winter?) and pollination (how do they fertilize without flowers?) as well as unique structure compared to flowering, deciduous trees.  If a student learns a lot in that area and demonstrates "depth of understanding" then I should credit them.  How much? Hmm in reference to the descriptors I suppose!  This would be more innovative than a flipped classroom (which has some good points) or beginning with the end in mind (that is great organization, but not exactly how a person really learns anything; I did not learn to make a website by having a clear idea of what I had to learn, I simply began learning by curiosity.

I love it when ...

One of the most precious presents I have ever received was from my girls Christmas 2010.  Amy and Kylie made a book.  They took a blank notebook and Amy wrote lines for which Kylie made illustrations.  Here are a few excerpts:

"I love it when you say "research shows ..." whenever you want us to do something we don't want to do ..."

"I love it when you pat us on the back once, saying with your actions, "its ok if you don't want to do it, your feelings don't matter..."

"I love it when you make the same meal all week long..."

"I love it when you tell us disgusting facts about biology at the dinner table..."

"I love it when your computer goes into the tech office for service and you are in a bad mood until it returns..."

Finding my voice

 I am being - happily - encouraged by some colleagues to "apply for the 'Apple Distinguished Edcuator' training next semeter" and go get training in Singapore (which I love Singapore!)  But; I realize that, while I enjoy using computer tools, I do not think technology is the most important thing in learning; it can be a complement, but it is not central.  

To ME, the most important thing is DOING to learn (as far as school and class time is concerened) and for me personally, I want to do and learn more about writing (as you have heard from me). 

Realizing that pursuing another badge and jumping through a hoop is good for professional life, I also think it is not what I individually need.  I need to do something that is "Jay" so that when I apply for work I have something personal and unique to offer; I need, in a sense, to find my authentic "voice" both in a professional way and a writing way.  This will enable me to be more productive right now where I am too.

So ... I am letting the Apple thing go, others can apply and attend, and I am working on my writing.  :)

Time Travel With Chesterton

No one can say it quite like G K Chesterton, here in "If I Only had One Sermon to Preach."

"Scores of scribes and sages are busy writing about the importance of self-culture and self-realization; about how every child ought to be taught how to develop his personality (whatever that may be); about how every man must devote himself to success, and every successful man must devote himself to developing a magnetic and compelling personality; about how every man may become a superman (by taking Our Correspondance Course) or, in the more sophisticated and artistic fiction, how one specially superior superman can learn to look down on the mere mob of ordinary supermen, who form the population of that peculiar world."

Indeed.  He would be shocked at the discussion around progressive education today:

"Let's not give test to children!

"You can't compare this school in New Jersey to that school in Shanghai!

"Use computers or suffer extinction as an educator!

Resolutions for 2010

It is my own tradition to establish resolutions at the beginning of each year.  Lose 10 pounds, exercise 3 times per week, read 12 books etc.  But I am less married to the specifics and more intent on the abstraction: focus on growth; shed what is holding you back and move forward.

What is holding me back?  

• Procrastination, 

• fear, 

• unwillingness to take chances

• desire for security

• wanting to avoid failure

What do I want to do in way of personal growth this year:

Specific, measurable ...

1- write a complete draft of my first novel (now begun!)

2- take my wife on a date at least once per month

3- intentionally build a relationship with another man

vague & general ...

4- write a complete draft of my first novel (now begun!)

The Abacus and the Cross, by Brown

I welcome the exploration of the "science vs church" tension.  The cliche, widely accepted as dogmatism in out time (witness the previous comment...) that the church was hostile to science, historically, is usually superficially explored.  If this topic interests you to a degree beyond finding further evidence to support the cliche, read "Sleepwalkers."  

Tension is historically, as well as today, often present in the attitudes of significant individuals rather than wider groups.  Sadly, in the case of Galileo, his recalcitrance made an issue of his attitude and that has evolved into a popular picture of "the church hates and disbelieves science."  As a devout Christian myself I believe "all truth is God's truth" and occasionally faith may be misaligned and need to be "re-described" to accomodate science.  

On the other hand, "Science" is not a monolithic truth, but a tentative "truth" that is adjusted in light of new evidence.  In addition, see Jonah Lehrer's "How Truth Fades..." in a recent New Yorker, where he explores how subsequent investigations of published science frequently fails to find the same data as the initial work. Not to mention, those doing science always work out of a specfii worldview, and often are dedicated to proseletizing their materialism or atheism or other -ism (see Dawkins for expressions illustrating this.)

There is no end of books

This year I received books as gifts from authors, "Kingdom Living in the Classroom" by master teacher and friend, Joy McCullough, and Dave Collins' "Reflections."  In addition, one colleague, Laura Sanders is writing a book and a twitter-buddy "Intrepidteacher" is writing a book.  Perhaps it is the year for books.

Well, before Christmas I came across, kindness of Twitter, and so tried the exercise.  The suggestion is to take time each day to sit and pour out 750 words of original writing as an exercise to keep thinking and creativity flowing: or to start it flowing.  This morning mine flowed well!

I used it as an exercise of reflection, thinking, in writing, about what I like.  I am a personality whose interests mirrors my context as much as my internal direction and it is hard - even for me - to identify what I like.  But this concentrated effort of articulation gave me a framework.  It worked!  In 20 minutes I realized what I like; a number of disparate elements.  And in reflecting, I wondered how I could tie them together... One theme, books, seemed obvious, and, as I was writing, the idea of writing came up.

While they test I am being examined

Today my second crop of DP biology students to their first semester exam.  As I sit here grading their papers, I realize that I am being examined as much as they are:  

•  I see in their answers any omission I made in a lecture; 

•  I realize when formative feedback would have been a valuable to correct a misunderstanding;

•  I recognize when I should have required that student to come in and make up an assignment because they never did and on the test the understanding they would have gained was never realized;

•  I am reminded I need to constantly listen to the undertone of their discussion in class, to be mindful of what their individual learning needs are;

•  I appreciate that learning & teaching are imperfect events. more craft than event; more conversation than delivery.

Finally, I understand - again - that one of the wonderful aspects of teaching is its cyclical nature, permitting me to learn and grow alongside the students I nurture every day.

"I want to recommend..."

I am sitting at my desk in my cluttered office at school realizing: (1) why teacher's desks are always piled with papers and (2) how much I love my students.

I'm typing my 12th recommendation letter for another one of my wonderful students.  This is a girl who does good academic work, but also demonstrates holistic lifestyle that balances relationships with peers, sports, and school alongside a life of faith.  It is so easy to tell school why she is a gem.  The only challenge in the recommendation is basic writing skills of coherent organization, flow, linking paragraphs with common ideas, word choice and so on.

I look forward to September 2011 when all by fledgling students will have flown my coop, out into the bright blue spring sky of their adult lives.  

Students: fly; soar on eagles wings. And write to tell me how I can better encourage, support, nurture, teach, mentor students who are coming after you.  Thank you for being excellent models to the younger students in your school.  You have made GSIS a wonderful place by spending yourselves in our community.

Musical motivation

Today I had some rollicking fun on my website:  Students just completed and submitted their music videos for biology class.  

• a classic folk melody about heart function;

• a rolling Caribbean tune the long process of digestion;

• a swinging country song about lung function

- and others.

This was one of the first assignments I have given students in which they took off with the prompt and worked a lot to make something fun and good quality.  I was so proud of their work and their products!

Truly inspired!

I am on an inspiration binge!  Like a balloon under a faucet, I feel VERY full, an stretched, but I keep my "mouth" open to receive more!  This is the second half of a conference by Association of Christian School International (ASCI) called the International Children's Education Conference (ICEC).  

1.  A few minutes ago I was inspired by David Smith's example of using a real woman's life narrated and recorded experience of being a German speaker from the Ukraine during the tumult of the 20th century to teach German language to public school students.  His goal was to not only model Christian virtues, not only identify truth, but to present content in an a way that enables students to learn what it means to be a Christian: hospitality, empathy, generosity, and so on.  INSPIRING!

2.  Earlier the same day I learned (in a "felt need" way) the importance of media literacy in society and I began to question my own understanding and lay plans for using this in my homeroom: 15 minutes of underutilized time in my classroom to equip kids to constructively deal with media and protect themselves from deceptions that hyper-sexuality is society's norm, that violence is desired by everyone, that there is no consistent truth.

Ideally ...

Tonight my daughter, who is taking my DP HL biology class in year 1, listened patiently as I told her about this cool article that I just read in HHMI bulletin, in which parasites have multiple surface proteins which they can change at will; often in response to a mounted immune response.  Wow!  This is something exactly on the topic of "cell membranes" which we took a test on this week Monday.  Tomorrow I plan to use the reading in class.

However, the point of this post is to say that Kylie explained, "When we are in your class it feels like we are just poking along, not really moving very fast, then suddenly a test. Voila - we all get A's!  We wonder when we learned all that stuff?  It's not like other classes."  Wow - what could be sweeter to a teacher than hearing that?

And it is my goal: providing a context in which students are exposed to the amazing-ness of life, we read about it, we study it, we experiment with it and as we go along students learn - without having to grind it out.  What a wonderful job I have!  :)

Great Questions

          One of the most exciting things in teaching is to hear students begin to ask great question.  Great questions come when a student grasps what is being taught and sees a further application of the principle.  Or a student understand the concept but sees a situation in which it does not seem to apply.  Great questions, contrary to what we think intuitively, demonstrate understanding and knowledge.  

          I am collecting great questions on this web page to demonstrate to students in the future.  Some of their "greatness" depends upon the timing and the context, like a good joke.  Nonetheless, they are here for you to enjoy and - maybe - learn from.

          For asking a great question, students can use it toward 5% credit on a test (summative or formative) or they even use their questions, if they have the most in their class, to SKIP a test with no penalty (grade is excused in the gradebook.)  That demonstrates how much great questions are worth!

Phase changes

Student:  Justin Lee, grade 9, 2008

Topic:  Heat and energy

Class:  Chemistry 1

Question:  [after discussing states of matter] "If you heat your skin, which is a solid, how come it does not turn into a liquid like other solids do?"

States of matter

Student:  Peter Kim, grade 9, 2008

Topic:  Heat and energy

Class:  Chemsitry 1

Question:  [after discussing states of matter] "Is there anything that has more energy in it than a gas?"

What Heat Teaches Us About God

Sometimes good ideas come out of the blue.  I guess that is why the word "epiphany" was invented, eh?

I was teaching ninth grade students about "heat" as a form of energy that can be transferred and becomes increasingly less useful because energy is lost at each heat transfer.  There is a law of thermodynamics, which states that "entropy in a closed system increases over time."  Entropy basically means disorganization.

It can be paraphrased to say, "Energy becomes less useful over time" or "Matter becomes less structured and increasingly disorganized as time continues."

So...looking backwad in time, where did all this energy come from early in the history of the universe?  Did it just "appear" (viz. magic or hocus pocus)?  I choose to believe that God, the only explanation for making something out of nothing, since he is by definition "other than" the material world we live in, put the energy in at the beginning.  I dislike seeing hisotry as a runnning down of the clock, but in terms of energy, that is a good analogy.



  I did not like vocabulary in math as a kid.  It seemed senseless except for testing fodder, and maybe it was.  However, at GSIS students need to learn two vocabularies in math class:

(1) terms used in mathematics like "product" and "sum" and "Cartesian graph" and "conic section."

(2) students also need to be explicity taught American units used frequently in math like pounds and feet and nickels and gallons and zip code, area code, etc.  This is best taught in context, but should be taught explicitly.  Some of the ESL testing includes this material so students should become familiar with it (regardless how arcane it may be...)

Science (general)


Many students lack significant life experience in terms of manual skills.  How to make a graph by hand; how to use a meter stick; measuring with instruments.  

Example 1:  in teaching math students can calculate any unknown in similar triangles.  Sent outside with a 50 meter tape to measure the height of the school, they stand around awkwardly wondering how to make real measurements to determine and unknown (and unmeasurable) height. :(

Example 2:  in a test on measuring, an 8th grade student had a ruler with centimeter tick marks and numbers as well as millimeter tick marks and numbers.  However, there were no words on the ruler (like "centimeter.")  As a result of having no words, the student was unable to recognize which numbers were centimeters and which numbers were millimeters and therefore unsure how to use the ruler to measure.  They were unable to complete any question requiring measurement with a ruler.  :(

So they need a lot of lab activity and a lot of varied experiences.

Copyright 2011 Jay Reimer    (You can email me at