Category Archives: Education Today

Science and Helping Verbs

I love teaching Einsteinian theory, physics, and non-linear time in my basic writing classes.

non-linear time


Oh, it’s called Chapter 10: The Perfect Tenses, but that’s just a cover for what it really is: our language’s ability to describe complicated scientific theories with just a handful of helping verbs.

How wondrous is our language, that with the simple addition of “had” or “have,” “shall” or “will,” we can demonstrate that two things happened in the past, but one was before the other. Or that something began in the past and is still happening. Or that something will be done in the future after something else is done in the future.

I think it’s fascinating that what a scientist must explain with diagrams and long complicated essays and models, any one of us can demonstrate with a helping verb.

Matchbox carsI love the whole concept of ‘time,’ anyway, and for this chapter, I try to remember to take three little Matchbox cars to class with me. I almost always forget, though, and I end up using something else to represent the little cars. Today I used tiny boxes of raisins, and pretended the little maiden on the cover was the driver.

Three cars on the highway, all in different spots, yet close by each other. Each is in a different period of time relative to the other. To the one in the middle, the one in front is in the future because it is where the middle car is going but hasn’t reached yet, and the one in back is in the past because it is where the middle car once was but has passed through.

To the car in back, both the other cars are in the future.

To the car in front, both the other cars are in the past.

To Superman, flying above, all the cars are in the present.

To the hitchhiker standing by the side of the road, each of the cars is in the future as long as they are moving, until which time they whizz past, one at a time, briefly sharing the hitchhiker’s present for a split second before zooming into yet another perspective of the future.

Scientists are still trying to figure out the whole space/time thing.  They haven’t figured out, yet, how to travel to the past or the future.

Writers have known how for years.

Our language makes this complicated concept of time into a relatively simple thing.  A tiny little helping verb can illustrate the past, present, future, and any combination thereof.

Back in the middle school, the students fought for the little cars or whatever substituted for them, after this lesson.

Today, at the college level, I asked if anyone cared to have the tiny boxes of raisins and every hand went up. And because I am ever the cool, level-headed, serious professional, I placed all three little boxes on the floor in the middle of the room and walked out. I heard chaos behind me but it really wasn’t any of my business.

Time. It may not be as linear as you think. I am sometimes more inclined to believe that time is more like a tree, or a spiral, than a flowing river. Yes, a tree that grows upward and at the same time puts out intertwining branches that touch, or don’t touch, or a spiral that coils round and round. . . .

Then again, perhaps I’ve been reading too much Madeleine L’Engle. If there is such a thing as too much Madeleine L’Engle, which there isn’t.

Chapter 10: Non-Linear Time and Its Relation To Tiny Boxes of Einstein, raisinsRaisins Which I Understand Einstein Was Very Fond Of The Perfect Tenses.

It’s the same thing, you know.

Relatively speaking.


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

A Test Is Just A Piece of Paper

Many students tend to get stressed when it’s quiz or test time.  It’s almost as though they fear the questions will burn when they’re touched.

TestI want to tell students – all students - not to worry so much, so I think I will do just that:

Dear Students:

It’s just a piece of paper. It’s not THE STANDARDIZED TEST, but learning to relax when you take a regular test will help you relax when you take one of the BIG ONES.  It’s a piece of paper.  No piece of paper will ever be as important Torn Sheet of Paper From Spiral Notebookas YOU are.


Breathe deeply.

Stand up and stretch when you feel the need.

Are you in my class?  Go get a coke out of the machine, and maybe a Snickers bar, too. Chocolate won’t hurt your test; I’ll be grading it myself and unless it’s so soiled I can’t read it, who cares?  Your test will probably have at least one Diet Coke ring on it when you get it back.  I don’t know how those get on there. . . .

Sometimes a little sugar might be just the energy boost you need.

 Sometimes a little fresh air will do the trick.

Get up and walk up and down the hall for a few minutes.

Are you in my class?  Step outside 15/08/13 pic of man attacked by cow - walton, waltonand walk around the parking lot for a few minutes; clear your head. Look at the trees behind the school.. Watch the squirrels.

Remember when that cow was wandering around the school grounds?   The city never did find her.   Moo a few times.  Maybe you’ll get an answer.  (There’s a good essay topic for you!)   When you come back inside, take a few deep breaths, pick up your pencil and begin again.

If your school will not allow you to do these things, do them inside your head.  You can do anything you want inside your head.

Read each question carefully; you KNOW these things. I know you do. I’ve heard you talk about these topics for a month now and you KNOW them. Don’t let your fear of the test itself overcome the knowledge in your head. Don’t let a piece of paper take you down. USE the piece of paper to prove your knowledge of these things. Let the piece of paper encourage you to express what you know. You are the boss of this piece of paper. This piece of paper cannot defeat you.  This piece of paper WANTS you to master it.  You can.

Inside your head, where dwells your actual self, is a universe of wonder.  You’ve got what it takes to succeed in life.  You can do it.  The piece of paper is just you showing me that you understand little increments of cool stuff, one sheet at a time.

Is this registering with you, students?  Don’t let the dread of a quiz or test get between you and that piece of paper.  And remember this, because it’s very important:  a test itself is never as awful as the dread of it beforehand.  (Ditto your dental appointment, remember?)

I’ve heard many of you saying this already:  “That quiz wasn’t hard at all!”  Well, guess what:  it was supposed to be hard.  The reason why you didn’t think so is that you KNOW THIS STUFF.

Yes, you do.


Oh, Those Middle School Students!

Let me ask you something: what do you remember about middle school?  I’ve been asking a lot of people this question, and I was frankly pretty surprised that most of these people either remembered very little about it or remembered it as a traumatizing experience.  Most of them, however, remember one or two teachers at that level who are beloved even today.

thinking cap, middle school

Not every teacher is cut out for middle school – it takes a certain knack.  I’ve seen many good teachers fail in the middle school because they simply did not have this knack.  These teachers might have been excellent instructors of small children or almost-adult students, but it takes that knack to succeed in the middle school.

We must remember that middle school students do not consider themselves to be children.  Oh, we know they still are, but don’t make the mistake of treating them like children.  A teacher can lose an entire group of 7th-graders simply by referring to them as “boys and girls.”  I’ve seen entire classes turn against a well-meaning teacher because he/she used a tone of voice that connoted “elementary.”  I’ve seen principals wonder all year why the students disliked him/her so much, and it was all because of a condescending remark made on the first day of school that the adult doesn’t even remember but every student knows by heart.

Put simply, talk to middle school students as THEY THINK you talk to other adults. And put simply, that’s not simple.  Two teachers can say the exact same thing and one of them will succeed while the other antagonizes and infuriates the students.

There is some kind of internal attitude inside each teacher, and the least astute kid in the entire school can pick up on it.  Being a good middle school teacher is hard work; it’s exhausting and nerve-wracking.  Loving kids isn’t enough.  Being organized isn’t enough.  Being passionate about the subject isn’t enough.  Combinations of these things aren’t enough.

Oh, those are excellent and necessary parts of a good teacher, yes.  Definitely.  But alone or in any combination, they are not enough.

It’s the internal attitude that counts the most.  To be able to deal with middle school students, to be able to genuinely communicate and earn their respect, a middle school teacher has to have the right kind of internal attitude.

Pre-teens have the instinct to detect sincerity and trustworthiness.  It’s sharp and clear and laced with brand-new hormones, a fear of the unknown, and an intense desire to be accepted.

Every time the bell rings, a good teacher has to shake off one personality and put on another.  No two classes are alike, and a good teacher will not try to teach them in the same way.  Middle school teachers are doing stand-up, and the audience differs with every gig.

Good middle school teachers know how to talk to the students as the students think one adult talks to another adult.  Read that sentence carefully, for it does not say that a good teacher talks to the students as one adult to another.

Good teachers try to keep up.  I don’t mean friend all your 13-year-olds on Facebook, but monitor things when you can so you’ll know what your kids are talking about when they try to tell you that so-and-so is twerking in front of the boys behind the bleachers before first period.  Don’t try to be one of them, but be the adult in their lives who understands.  These things have to be done carefully.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to ingratiate yourself with students by using their generation’s groovy, out-of-sight, beat-me-daddy-eight-to-the-bar, gnarly vernacular.  Some words were never meant to come out of the mouths of actual adults.  Am I right, peeps?

Sometimes, other teachers sense something different about a teacher with that awesome internal attitude, and there can be clashes.  Age has nothing to do with it; some of the very best teachers are 110 years old if they’re a day, and some of the least savvy ones are 24.

It really bothers me when teachers say that the middle grades are a nightmare.  Such statements are unkind, and untrue.  Middle school students are young enough to still be eager, enthusiastic learners, and old enough to be able to actually do and understand a lot of things they weren’t ready for down in elementary.  Middle school students are bright and kind and interested in so many things and quite capable of learning and doing these interesting and sometimes not-so-easy things.

Challenging?  Oh yes.  Quite.  But they’re supposed to be, aren’t they?  I think so.



Education for Every Child Based on Their Individual Interests and Learning Needs

Let’s stop arguing and let teachers teach. 

As our public education system slips and slides down the international scale of standards and knowledge, our students and teachers are paying the price in a system run by fear and teaching to the test.

Let's Let Teachers Teach Every Student Based on Needs and Interests

What has happened to education in America?

A simple answer is politics. Instead of working together to improve a once solid system, we are becoming polarized in our political views of how education should be run.

Some believe education should run as a business. Money in, equals profit out. The profit in education is test scores and numbers, not how well our children are prepared for the workforce and their communities.

Every student is looked at as potential profit with potential return. Students who do not perform well on tests get left behind. Teachers no longer have time to work with struggling students. They must continue pumping out material so every student has an opportunity to succeed on the assessment. Those who fall behind must catch up on their own.

How we will find every child’s strengths and give them equal access to resources when we are too focused on measuring their success on paper?

Walter McKenzie, on The Whole Child Blog, says the current education system does not reference a choice or children -

  • Education is a public enterprise funded by taxpayers.
  • Government reports to taxpayers on its performance.
  • Elected officials craft policy and practice in the name of accountability.

McKenzie says our education system is being run as a “business that needs to produce numbers to justify the value.”

Some believe the way to “fix” education is to privatize it. This will allow the haves to continue to succeed and receive a strong education, while the have nots will continue to struggle to gain access to opportunities.

Others believe holding teachers and schools accountable is the right way to go. Put numbers to paper on how well each student is doing and that will rate the job of every teacher and in turn rate schools.

But what does this really do?

It takes away the individual strengths of each child, and lumps everyone into one pile – you get it or you don’t. Individual interests, ability and learning needs go out the window along with discovery and well rounded learning in an environment of fear. Educators teach in fear, students take assessments in fear.

Let’s stop the arguing and the fights over how to politically reform public education and refocus on our kids.

Focus on every single one of them and what makes them special and unique.

Let’s trust teachers make the decisions for each of their students in the classroom instead of making uneducated decisions in a courtroom. Teachers are the experts in education, not politicians.

We leave you with Silhouette Man and his opinions of American education…

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today

Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today Silhouette Man - What is Wrong with Education Today


Reading, Observation, & Funky Times


books, reading, girl

When we read, we are doing far more than interpreting symbols on a page.  We are privileged.  We are invited guests.  We are peeking through windows, listening through keyholes, using context clues to figure out what’s going on in both familiar and unfamiliar environments.  Our ability to put things in order, in our minds, as we read and observe a writer’s thoughts about math, history, Victorian England, Hogwarts, Narnia, cooking, movies, music, parenting, government, politics, religion, nursery rhymes, nonsense, facts, fiction. . . . anything, really, corresponds with our ability to put things in order when things are standing before us in real life.  In many ways, books ARE real life, and any time we are privileged to share another person’s thoughts and opinions, we should also be analyzing environment, facts, opinions, books, reading, boyand actions, for all of these things, and many more, are what make up life.  And life, of course, can be lived in many different ways, according to the context of the moment.

Readers are observers, of lives other than their own.  Readers are observers, and will often see what non-readers overlook.

Did I mention that readers are observers?  Let’s have a little fun with that philosophy.

Well, that was pretty cool.  Let’s think about it.  Okay, now let’s do it, too!

Something happened in class a few minutes ago.  What was it all about?  Your powers of observation are connected to your ability to understand context, and to make connections.

  1. What liquid did the professor pour into that cup?
  2. Are you sure that’s what it was? Are you SURE?
  3. What is the name of the student on whose head the cup was overturned?
  4. What is the first thing the professor said, after turning the cup upside-down on the student’s head?
  5. Did the overturned cup contain water?
  6. What else was in the overturned cup?
  7. If the overturned cup contained plain water, what should have happened when the pencil pierced it and was then removed?
  8. What does the substance in the overturned cup have to do with anything else you have learned in this class?
  9. Will the substance in the cup remain like that forever?  How do you know?
  10. What did this science experiment have to do with an exercise in reading?

Now, take your sample home and see how observant your family might be.  Those who are readers will usually do better than those who don’t read as much.

Science and reading and connections, oh my. . . . .