Buckled Up & Ridin’ the Roller Coaster: My 3 Weeks as a GA TOTY Finalist

Thanks to the support of the outstanding Coweta County School System, I was fortunate to become a contender for the Georgia Teacher of the Year (TOTY). The first part of this post is a thank you to each of my colleagues who have helped me, and the second part is a memoir of the thrilling 3 week run I experienced as a TOTY Finalist.

On April 25, my assistant principal asked me to take a phone call during class. (For those of you who don’t work in a school, teachers don’t take phone calls during class). He had a big smile on his face, and I quickly figured out what this call would bring.

On the other end of the line was Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods, who explained that I had been chosen as one of ten finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year. He told me that the state was proud of my work, and I was immediately honored, knowing that I work alongside many wonderful teachers.

Five months earlier, I submitted the seven essays that comprised the Georgia Teacher of the Year (TOTY) application. I wrote narratives on the topics of professional learning activities, my biography, community involvement, my teaching philosophy, the teaching profession, education issues and trends, and a speech that I could deliver as teacher of the year.

Over the next few days, I was showered with sincere, warm wishes from administrators, teachers, students, and families from across Coweta County School System. The cashier at Publix and the Starbucks barista wished me well, having seen my picture on the Newnan Times-Herald’s Facebook page.

It was during that time that I knew this honor was a win for our county. Yes, I had written those essays as an individual, but every sentence I wrote was based on my experiences as a representative of Coweta County Schools.

–  Thank You to Everyone on the Team –

Since 2008, I have taught more than 6,330 hours at East Coweta High School (ECHS). Not a single one of my lessons is a product of my own individual planning, but they are a result of all the teaching strategies I have gathered from teachers on my chemistry team and in my ECHS family.

Assistant Principal Patrick Sullivan and Department Chair Stefanie Easterwood keep our science department running smoothly and efficiently. They set high standards for us, and our teachers always deliver. I admire each of the science teachers at ECHS for their unique style and expertise.

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Letitia Crosby, Stefanie Easterwood, Patrick Sullivan, Regina Ahmann, Cathrine Nolan, Missy Watson, me, Heather Conlin

One of my proudest achievements, our development of the East Coweta HS chapter of Science Olympiad, has been a group effort. While I am the designated head coach, there would be no team without the dedication of Candice Mohabir. Heather Conlin, Regina Ahmann  Karen Pompeo and Stefanie Easterwood also support the team and have spent several long Saturdays with our awesome STEM kids.

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Stefanie Easterwood, me, Regina Ahmann, Heather Conlin

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With Candice Mohabir at the TAG STEM Education Awards for Science Olympiad

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ECHS Science Olympiad at the University of Georgia for a Tournament

 

Our Science Curriculum Specialist, Dr. Donald White, has truly made STEM come alive in Coweta County. We do so much STEM that we have a Symposium every April to show off all the many STEM-tastic things going on in our schools. Our STEM success would not be possible without Dr. White’s enthusiasm.

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With Dr. Donald White on an iScience episode

Along with my technology-saavy friends Micki Byrnes and Matt East, I have had fun presenting at conferences as well as coaching our ECHS friends in all things Google. I appreciate my editor Kelly Jackson (who not only corrects me, but gives me confidence) and my buddy Brent Walburn, who knows when it’s time to take a much-needed break for ping-pong or hula hooping fun.

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Kelly Jackson, Chris, and me

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Playing ping-pong with Brent Walburn

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With Matt East and Micki Byrnes at a STEM/Technology Conference

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My wonderful friends at Northgate and Newnan High Schools have mentored me in AP Chemistry: Orla Thomas, Cathy Pugh, and Kelley Finger. I have called on each of them in times of urgent need, and they always respond quickly.

Superintendent Steve Barker, Dr. Karen Barker, Board Member Amy Dees, along with Dr. White and Mr. Sullivan graciously wrote recommendation letters for my application.

 

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Superintendent Steve Barker visits my classroom

My dear science team friends have been the greatest support system I can imagine. We are closer-knit than an ordinary group of colleagues; we are a family. When one of us is down, we lift each other up. When one of us is happy, we celebrate together. I don’t know how I got so lucky to be in this family, but I thank God for allowing me to be part of this special group.

– 3 weeks and 3 days –

Now…let me tell you about the biggest 3 week, 3 day roller coaster ride of my life. Yes, roller coasters are fun, and you stand in line for hours anticipating the ride, but, at certain points, you have the urge to toss your cookies. And when you’re flipped upside down, you always double check to make sure your seat belt is buckled up tight.

On Thursday, May 12, all of the ten GA TOTY finalists would go to the Department of Education in Atlanta to be evaluated by three judges. We would each deliver a 3-minute speech and have a 45-minute interview. We would also record a 30-second video titled “Why I Teach.”

Giving speeches creates a huge emotional dichotomy for me. The thought of public speaking makes my heart beat much too vigorously, but at the same time, I absolutely love a good motivational speech. I also have quite a lot to say about the field of education and STEM, so I am always ready with material.

When Superintendent Woods called, it was two days prior to our Coweta County Teacher of the Year Ceremony. I had been asked to give a speech to congratulate all thirty-one of the 2016 Teachers of the Year for our county. Still reeling from the news of Prince’s sudden death only a few days earlier, I wrote a message as all the songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack swirled through my head. I told the teachers that they will never live the glamorous celebrity life or reach worldwide fame, but that they are the real rock stars in our communities.

The three finalists for our county delivered wonderful, heartfelt messages, and we celebrated Shannon Ewing, our 2016 Coweta County Teacher of the Year (TOTY)!

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With ECHS Principal Steve Allen & Matt East,  TOTY ’16

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AP Chem Lab Time

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My student Terrance, who always inspires me

After this excitement subsided, a short 4 days remained before the AP Chemistry exam that my students would take. It was crunch time, and it required every bit of my energy to equip the kids by reviewing every piece of information we had learned since August. On Tuesday, May 3, the AP exam was over. It struck me like a bolt of lightning that I had 9 days remaining to prepare for the biggest event of my career. It was time to focus on May 12, the day that the TOTY finalists would meet at the Georgia Department of Education.

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’16 AP Chem Seniors-Rising Georgia Tech STEM Students

Over the next 9 days, about half of my energy was spent studying and doing research. The remaining half of my energy was spent on figuring out how NOT to worry about my May 12 performance. Part of my strategy was to talk to my family, my students, and my teacher friends about my anxiety. Talking about my concerns made it seem less overwhelming and prevented me from building up a collection of frazzled nerves. Former Georgia TOTY Lorraine Johnson, Principal at Madras Middle School, made me smile as she told me her own stories of successes and mishaps that happened as she went through the finalist process.

The other part of my anxiety-reducing strategy was to fully prepare. I did extensive research on everything that would be important for May 12, “judgement day”. I watched YouTube videos of TOTY finalists from both Georgia and South Carolina. I watched Ellen DeGeneres interview the National TOTY. I read through the Facebook page of Ernie Lee, our well-chosen 2015 Georgia TOTY. I studied a variety of TED Talks videos, hoping to learn presentation strategies and gather material for my speech.

Watching NBC’s TODAY Show, I paid close attention to see which presentation styles I liked the best. I read books on what makes a good TED talk. I analyzed every word I spoke in order to improve my own style. There was more research I could do, but if I was going to remember to pick up the kids from soccer and cook dinner, I would have to take some breaks.

I finally got down to business and started on the 3-minute speech. Armed with the book titled Speeches That Changed the World, I began writing. I had picked up this book years ago, because I do love a good speech. I studied speeches delivered by Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John F. Kennedy, Jr.

For two days, I wrote my heart out, and the result was a perfect rendition of everything I needed to say to the teachers of Georgia. I read it out loud, and it sounded terrific. All 9 minutes of it. The speech needed to be 3 minutes, maximum. The majority of it, two-thirds, needed to be cut. So, I chopped, edited and trimmed.

On Mother’s Day, after the gifts and cards, while we still sat at the dining room table, my own mother and dad helped me revise the speech. That’s right….this was not a Mother’s Day for napping, gardening, or watching Hallmark movies.

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My Family at the 2015 Coweta County TOTY Event

On Monday, 3 days before the big day, I started memorizing and figuring out how to best structure the words. That evening, my husband asked me to give the speech. After a few times of hearing me say it out loud, he took the paper and marked it up with breaks and pauses so it would flow better.

My speaking voice needed to improve. I complained to him that I wanted to do it my way because I sounded just like Martin Luther King, Jr. He stopped me and gently explained to me that I didn’t actually sound like MLK. Hmmm….maybe I didn’t.

I went to bed, disappointed that my husband hadn’t told me how wonderful I was, but that he had given me constructive criticism. I guess I had to accept the feedback if I wanted to get this right. By 6 AM on Tuesday, I was wide awake. I walked outside in the yard with my dog Bentley and started practicing the speech with my new voice, my new syntax. It was starting to sound better, and by 8 AM, I had practiced the speech at least ten times.

Although I rehearsed it numerous times at home, it was now time to deliver it to students and teachers. I set up a podium in the classroom and practiced with a group of kids and teachers. I encouraged them to give me feedback, both positive and negative. No matter what they thought, they were all required to clap really big at the end.

What did my own children think about all this business? Well, they had heard that the Georgia TOTY was awarded a car to use for travel during a one year sabbatical. The thought of having a new car to take the place of our 2005 minivan was very exciting. Instead of a Toyota van, we could have a TOTY car, which would undoubtedly be extremely sporty.

I came home from school and gave the speech to the video camera. I did this several times – while wearing the dress and shoes that I would wear on May 12. Yes, I know it sounds goofy, but it was a tip I had found in all my research: practice in front of the camera wearing the same clothes you will have on for the real deal.

I took Wednesday, May 11, off from work. The plan for the day was to relax (ha!) and to read 2016 Top Ten Issues to Watch, a publication that had been mailed to me right after I became a finalist. There were quite a few educational initiatives and acronyms that I needed to learn to be ready for the interview. Throughout my day off, I reviewed my seven essays in order to have material ready for the interview. I rehearsed answers, and I typed out a list of reasons why I love being a teacher.

By Wednesday, I hadn’t consumed any caffeine for over a week. So much adrenaline was piping through my veins that I had cut back on all my coffee and tea consumption. My husband had given up on drinking the coffee I brewed in the mornings – it was all decaf now. I was living in a state of heightened awareness, and I definitely didn’t need anything preventing me from falling asleep at night.

At my gym class that morning, I did bigger high kicks, deeper knee squats, and longer lunges than I have ever done in my life. My body was filled with so much energy that someone could have bottled it into tiny packages and sold them at gas stations as five hour increments of wide-eyed awakeness.

The big day finally arrived. It was Thursday, May 12. My husband had gone to work, the kids were at school, and the dogs were wondering why I was at home. My parents had planned to drive me to Atlanta, and they picked me up at the scheduled time of 9:30 AM.

As we drove, I had the most unusual feeling….I wasn’t nervous. Why wasn’t I nervous? I wasn’t quite sure, but I just enjoyed the feeling. It had been a long time since I felt relaxed. The big day was here, and I was prepared. I was ready, and I had practiced well and I had practiced enough. I have never felt fully prepared for anything in my life. But on this day, I was ready, and it felt good.

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At the Georgia Department of Education

As we got off the interstate and approached our destination, I appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to make the drive myself. First of all, as we maneuvered all the hectic lane changes as I-75/85 approaches I-20, I wasn’t sweating like I normally would.

Secondly, as we drove past the Georgia State Capitol building, I looked up and saw the bright, shiny gold dome. The perfect blue sky behind it made it so stunning and so beautiful, and I realized I had never really looked at it up close and seen its magnificence. I was born and raised in Georgia, and all of my work has been dedicated to improving our state, so this moment struck me profoundly. I felt immensely proud at that moment to have been invited to this occasion. On this day, I would represent all the many superb teachers in Coweta County. I was also looking forward to meeting the nine other teachers who were wonderful representatives of our chosen career.

As I arrived at the building, I was confident and ready to meet the judges and finalists. One by one, I met each of the nine TOTY finalists. I sensed that we were all eager to meet each other because we were the only ones who knew what it felt like to live in these “finalist shoes” for almost three weeks.

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At the Georgia State Capitol Building

I had conversations with several of the teachers. I remember Heather Cocke agreeing with me when I mentioned that the last few weeks felt like a combination of preparing for either a wedding, a beauty pageant, or to run as a candidate for President of the United States. Finalist Sara Wilder had on a similar dress to mine, and I told her that, when planning what to wear, I had looked up the videos of previous finalists. She said she had done the same thing. Ha! I was starting to realize that my peers had prepared in much the same ways I did.

At lunch, I sat right between my high school science colleagues Debra Russell and Casey Bethel. We were thrilled to represent science and talked about our schools and the classes that we teach. I asked Debra to smile at me while I gave my speech, and she did just that. She even nodded her head at my important points and wrote me a little note telling me what a great job I did. No wonder she was a TOTY finalist!

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With Casey Bethel (Douglas County), Debra Russell (Rockdale County)

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With Kiera Patterson (ECHS ’11, GT ’15) and Candice Mohabir…All 3 of us are GT Graduates!

In almost exact thirty minutes, our group of ten delivered our carefully prepared speeches. They were all wonderful, and many great stories were told. Superintendent Woods and the three judges listened carefully and intently to our messages. I knew that all of our hard work had been worthwhile.

While we ate lunch, Superintendent Woods congratulated us and spoke admirably about everything we had to say during the speeches. After lunch was the scheduled time for my interview. I walked into the room to sit at the assigned table. I faced a daunting row of three tables, side by side, at which the judges sat. It reminded me a bit of a police interrogation, but I quickly dismissed the thought from my mind. After an initial moment of trepidation, I felt quickly at ease because the judges were all genuinely kind and likable people.

They asked me questions about the culture of my classroom, my view on social media’s role in the classroom, and a few questions about those educational issues I had been reading about. There didn’t seem to be any right or wrong answers, but the judges simply wanted to get to know the finalists through these conversations.

In response to one of the questions they asked, I explained that a teacher has many responsibilities but that it’s virtually impossible to get it all done by the end of the workday. I then told a story that was meaningful to me. As the story goes, one day I was going on and on to my student assistant, Chandler, about how much more I needed to get done before class started. I complained that my “to do” list was too long and impossible to conquer.

After Chandler had left for the day, I discovered a note he had written and taped to my computer screen. It was one of those small yellow legal pad papers, and he had titled it “Mrs. Milam’s To Do List.” There was one single item on the list: “Teach Kids Chemistry”.

Chandler had actually been a student in my chemistry class the prior year. He was one of my top students, but he wouldn’t have noticed the little things that may have been left undone on my list. His simple message made it clear that, at the end of the day, if we have taught our kids well, then we have fulfilled our ultimate role as a teacher.

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Tobie, Candice Mohabir, Karen Pompeo, me, Chandler Workman, Stefanie Easterwood on MOLE Day

I never planned to use that story in my interview, but I was glad to have the opportunity to tell it. Throughout this conversation I included many of my experiences at ECHS. The interview session was a great experience, and I was honored that such great educators were interested in what I had to say.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to hang out with finalists Mario Miranda and Casey Bethel. It was fun chatting, and I was glad that the “judging” was over for me. That evening, I relished the fact that the big day was behind me….no more planning, no more fretting. I slept better than I had in quite awhile.

At work the next day, I had renewed energy because I would now be able to focus on my classes and on all the end-of-the-year details. I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and took my son to a soccer tournament on the north side of Atlanta, enjoying the sunshine and the time with my son and his friends.

Monday, May 16 arrived, and I knew that this week would bring the announcement of the new Georgia Teacher of the Year. I was ready all day, eagerly awaiting the news. By the end of the day, we heard nothing. On Tuesday morning, I was certain that this was the day we would hear the announcement. By the end of Tuesday there was no news. Wednesday, I thought, would be the perfect day for an announcement. Mid-week…I should have predicted this. Wednesday evening arrived, and we still heard nothing.

By Thursday morning, I gave up. I figured that they were waiting until Friday to publicize the new Georgia TOTY. In the back of my mind, I considered that maybe none of this had ever happened. Maybe this whole Teacher of the Year thing was just a weird dream I had imagined.

My friend Stefanie wanted me to text her as soon as I heard the news, but others were more cautious. My friend Candice asked “You don’t want us to talk about Teacher of the Year, do you?” A few people felt like they were walking on eggshells around me, but I was still eager to talk about it.

As the week progressed, I told my husband that I was starting to worry about how I would react when I heard the news, regardless of the outcome. As I considered how it might turn out, I quickly fluctuated between thinking I had a 10% chance of becoming the Georgia Teacher of the Year and being fully confident that I would be the chosen one.

About 4:30 on Thursday, I was working at my school computer when my phone rang. Candice had already left work, and on her drive home, she called to ask if I had heard any news yet. I said no. Why would she ask me this? She knows I would tell her right away.

She cautiously told me, “Well, I just heard on the radio that they announced teacher of the year today.” She paused, waiting for me to say something. I quickly searched Georgia Teacher of the Year on the computer. In a few nanoseconds, I found information on both Twitter and ajc.com.

The Georgia Department of Education had just announced Casey Bethel of Douglas County as the new Georgia Teacher of the Year. Well, here it was. The big moment I had been waiting for….it was really happening, and, as far as I could tell, I was doing okay. One thing that I had known the whole time is that I would know the person who would bear the title as Georgia Teacher of the Year. One of my nine new friends, one of these awesome finalists, would become the teacher representative for our state. No matter which teacher they chose, I would be happy. We would all be well-served by the selection.

On Twitter, I saw the photos of Casey being showered with balloons in his classroom. He was teaching class, just like it was an ordinary day. He looked surprised and thrilled to become the chosen teacher. I was happy for him, and I was proud to see him looking like a true science teacher in his feature photo. Wearing his lab coat and holding a molecular model, he beamed a big smile and looked just like a State Teacher of the Year.

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Casey Bethel, 2017 GA TOTY!

Was I disappointed that I didn’t win? Not too much, and only for an hour. Then I got over it and started thinking about the next school year.

Did I want to be the Georgia TOTY? Yes and no. Sure, it would have been fun, but it is a busy time traveling and meeting fellow educators. It is time spent outside of the classroom, away from students. As much as I love being with other teachers, it’s the kids who give me energy.

If you ask me how I feel about being a GA TOTY finalist, I will tell you that it was a wonderful experience and that I am genuinely happy about how it all worked out.

I am happy with the outcome because:

…I know Casey Bethel will be an awesome Georgia Teacher of the Year. He is energetic, filled with passion for teaching, and has a warm, friendly personality. He will do a tremendous job representing our field.

…I realize what a true privilege it has been to be part of the ten finalists. I am proud to be part of the Coweta County School System and proud of all that we have accomplished while fulfilling our mission to serve students.

…I can spend this upcoming year teaching AP Chemistry to our terrific STEM kids.

…I can be at ECHS everyday during my daughter’s senior year and be part of her leadership experience with Science Olympiad.

…I can spend this upcoming year teaching my sophomore son’s group of friends as they take first year chemistry. (Hopefully I can recruit some of them to take AP Chemistry!)

…I will be able to drive my 8th grade son to school every morning for his last year in middle school.

…I can give a speech every day to the people who truly ignite my passion for teaching: the students in my chemistry classroom.

…I can spend every day with all of my best friends.

…I can get home every night to eat dinner and hang out with my husband, our kids, and the dogs.

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Ken, Cooper, Josh, me, Mackenzie Milam

I have some new projects in store for next year, including writing for Chemistry Solutions, the periodical for the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. I also plan to finish writing my novel, a thriller about teenagers who use their STEM skills to solve a mystery that strikes their community.

Meanwhile, I will be resuming my morning caffeine habit and sleeping well at night.

ChemEd2015: The ULTIMATE Collaborative for Chemistry Teachers Across the Nation

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Dr. Karen Pompeo and Me

During the final week of July 2015, I attended the National ChemEd conference. Because it was located in Kennesaw, Georgia, it was easy for me to participate, but I discovered why people traveled from far and away to attend. This conference was the epitome of professional learning for chemistry teachers, a gathering of like-minded people who assembled for what was likely their last week of summer vacation.

I met several people like myself: people who are somewhat introverted, but who persuade ourselves to be extroverted for the sake of our careers. And for the sake of energizing our students. We oohed and aahed over chemistry demonstrations. We contorted our eyebrows in puzzling confusion during lessons that stretched our minds. We laughed at corny jokes about atoms, moles, and chemical reactions. We talked about stoichiometry and voltaic cells as easily as we discussed what we might eat for lunch. We discovered new experiments, just when we thought we had seen them all. Most significantly, we learned that those of us who teach chemistry LOVE doing what we do.

Teaching chemistry is not easy. First of all, the material is difficult. Even chemistry teachers have to keep learning to understand it from every angle. Secondly, it’s challenging for students. Providing rigorous coursework is great, in theory, but many students resist challenges. SO – part of our job is motivating students to learn. And once we motivate the students, we need to make sure the kids understand the highly conceptual topics. Finally, we need to convince our students of how critical chemistry is, in our personal lives as well as in our society. We need to prepare a sufficient amount of students to take over the ambitious task of doing chemistry and of keeping our communities and our nation competitive, innovative, and strong.

After I attend a conference, I usually end up carrying around a mishmash of colorful handouts and business cards. I carry them for a couple weeks hoping to assimilate my new knowledge and then I end up stuffing them into a drawer. With this blog, I hope to compile the best of the information I gathered instead of keeping it all in the proverbial drawer. Of course, I have the electronic files that were shared by most of the presenters, an invaluable tool that is easy to find when I need it.

Below is a summary of my personal highlights of the ChemEd Conference. Thanks to ALL who contributed and worked hard to deliver original, useful resources for us.

  • Ramsey Musallam inspired us to reach students through curiosity, rigor, and a bit of fun. He challenged us to find a way to cross the bridge from teaching into learning. Because teaching can only be “great” if learning takes place, right? See Ramsey in his TED Talk on 3 Rules to Spark Learning.
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  • With real live Vernier chemists, I did spectroscopy and tested pH, temperature, conductivity, melting point. I learned straight from Jack Randall, writer of the Vernier Lab Manuals that I use. I also spoke with the specialists who answer our desperate phone calls when we stumble and need assistance with our treasured probeware.
  • I met a young lady who is passionate about her job. But, she is not a high school chemistry teacher. She is an aeromedical chemist who does technical writing and editing for the US Army. She attended ChemEd to learn activities for their STEM Outreach program in Enterprise, Alabama. She explained to me how helicopter seats are designed and how testing is done on medical equipment used in aircraft. With glee and enthusiasm, she delivered what might ordinarily be drab information. I was fascinated with the passion she must bring to the kids. The summer program that is so highly acclaimed and attended by kids Grades 4-12 is called the GEMS program (Gains in the Education of Mathematics & Science). Army Research Labs from the following states participate in the GEMS program: Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas. See pics of the cool stuff kid have done in the GEMS program.
  • #molympics! I met two educators, Kristin Gregory and Doug Ragan, who get as pumped up about Mole Day as we do at East Coweta High School. Their students compete with each other and with students they have met via the internet. Classes from Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, New Mexico, and Massachusetts competed in 2014.  Some of the brilliant events include Stopper Tower, Sponge Squeeze, and the Avogadro Fitness Challenge. I can’t wait to participate with them on October 23, 2015!

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    The Trophy Awarded to the Winners of Mole Day #molympics

  • I did not get to participate in the Mole Day Run on Thursday morning, but I’ve always been impressed that most chemists love to exercise. For those who were visiting from out of town, the run provided a reason to exercise outside of the hotel gym and with fellow teachers. I also met members of the National Mole Day Foundation. Pretty cool.
  • AP Labs…They are my nemesis. Fortunately, veteran AP Chem teachers Jeff Bracken, Paul Price, and Jesse Bernstein have written lab manuals abundant with user-friendly, manageable, inquiry labs. I can’t wait to start using their resources and providing my students with new experimental adventures.
  • Dr. Diana Mason: This spunky lady, no taller than five feet tall, packed a punch with some clever demonstrations that I will definitely be using:
    • 1) Distillation of a Soft Drink (https://goo.gl/9zPULy – link requires AACT membership)
    • 2) Salting out an Ethanol and Water Mixture
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      Distillation Setup: 50 ml soda, rubber stopper, 50 ml beaker, foil, ice

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      Distillation Setup: This apparatus will sit on a hot plate to start the separation process. Foil is in a pointy cone shape (upside down).

      Salting of Ethanol Solution

      Salting of Ethanol Solution is a great Warmup Activity – Group H has to find their “match”…the solution that looks just about the same as theirs.

      Salting Out EtOH InstructionsDistillation of a Soda Instructions

  • Tom Kuntzleman showed us why an orange peel pops a balloon. Lemons and limes apparently don’t have the same effect, so that provides for some good lab/inquiry activities. Apparently, the d-limonene in the orange peel dissolves the plastic of the balloon. Hexanes and motor oil will also dissolve the balloon. (l-limonene is found in lemon peel)
  • I had the opportunity to work alongside Adrian Dingle on an Acid-Base Half-Titration Lab. I have read Adrian’s work for several years now over the internet, I often use his well-constructed notes in my classroom, and I have participated in his online workshop. My students hear his name on a regular basis when I ask them to “Look at the Mr. Dingle notes.” They have even tweeted at him on occasion. I am fascinated by his ability to accomplish so much.  He has written an award-winning book, How To Make a Universe With 92 Ingredients. He is now working on a book project, for which he was awarded a fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA. You can follow his periodic table discovery progress: #dingleelements.
  • Learning how to incorporate engineering skills in the chemistry classroom has been one of my goals. Growing up, I heard people vaguely talking about engineers, but nobody ever told me what engineers actually did. My goal is for students to have some engineering experiences during high school so they are better prepared to choose a major in college. Three specific labs I learned about include copperplating, can crushing optimization, and designing a new cool polymer toy. Thanks to Dr. Sarah Boesdorfer for sharing these resources.
  • My friend and colleague, Dr. Karen Pompeo, and I presented a session on Modeling with Whiteboards. We explained the idea of visible thinking through particle diagrams, and we explored discussion strategies. Although our colleagues Candice Mohabir and Stefanie Easterwood weren’t with us at the conference, our recent year of teaching as a close-knit team provided us with plenty of experience.
  • One of the highlights for Karen was meeting two of her modeling mentors: Larry Dukerich and Erica Posthuma Adams. Embedded image permalink
  • Teachers Kyle Nackers and Micah Porter shared their expertise on “Promoting Scientific Writing in the Chemistry Classroom.” They showed us entertaining writing prompts that provide a basis for scientific reasoning and writing. Deflategate, movie clips, and You Tube snippets provide rich material for writing in the science classroom.
  • Dr. Mary Virginia Orna spoke to us about her book, The Chemical History of Color. We learned that, centuries ago, it required 10,000 Murex snails to produce 1 gram of royal purple dye. The 6,6′-dibromoindigo was so valuable that if anyone other than royalty wore the color purple, they risked a death sentence. Dr. Orna has also co-authored The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table’s Shadow Side. In 1999, the ACS awarded her the George C. Pimentel Award, the highest and most prestigious award in chemical education. The highlight of the day for me was when she told me that she had attended my session on whiteboarding and learned from Dr. Pompeo and me. Imagine that! It delighted me that I was able to impart a bit of information to an experienced author and chemist.
  • The next time these chemistry teachers will convene in one place is scheduled for the last week of July, 2016, in Greeley, Colorado.  If I hope to go, then I will surely be applying for an ACS Professional Development Grant. Dr. Richard Schwenz, of the University of Northern Colorado, will chair the event. Dr. Schwenz was the instructor for my first ever AP Chemistry workshop years ago, so his experience is sure to produce a successful conference. Until I see these wonderful folks again, I will be socializing and communicating through Twitter as @marthavmilam.
Waste Containers

KSU Chemical Waste Containers. Found in each Lab Room.

Half-Titration

Collection of Particle Diagrams for Acid-Base Half-Titration Lab. There may be some mistakes, but as always, these provide a basis for discussion.

Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part TWO: Staying the Course

When I wrote “Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part ONE: Starting the Conversation,” I was frustrated and disappointed. I had just sent home a letter to all of my students’ families. (See the letter in the Part ONE blog).

Since that time, I have been talking openly with my students about cheating. I have also moderated a Twitter Chat with my colleagues: @CowetaEducatorChat #CowetaEdChat. The chat is archived and can be found at: http://t.co/EHCTFYndXo (Thanks, Rainy Johnson!)

After digesting the information I have collected, I can share SIX POINTS that will reduce the cheating that takes place in our classrooms.

1) TALK ABOUT CHEATING. Once you meet your students, at the beginning of the semester or the school year, you need to start a conversation about cheating. It may seem negative, but it is necessary. It is like practicing fire alarms and code yellow drills. My instinct is NOT to talk about the negative issues, but GOOD teachers must address BAD things if it is something that will promote safety or ethical behavior. That is our job.

2) USE PRACTICAL PROCEDURES. Use different test versions. Separate kids during testing and have them use cover sheets/dividers. Have students write their names on the tests, even when it is a class set. (If they have a “B” test, you can verify that and they can’t claim to have had an “A” test, the same version as their neighbor.) For research papers, there are apps and programs available to check for plagiarism. Have students do their writing in class so you can monitor them. Take their phones away during testing. Talk to your teacher friends about what they do – we have come up with ways to stop the clever tactics.

3) USE PREVENTATIVE MEASURES. Offer some tests or assignments in which students are allowed to work together or use their notes and textbooks. Many times, we don’t consider how valuable it is for students to work with a partner on a test because they TALK about the material when it is a test grade. Some SERIOUS learning often takes place during a partner test. Many students, unfortunately, won’t crack open their notes unless it is an OPEN-NOTE test or quiz. Again, serious learning often takes place during an open-note quiz.

4) EVALUATE HOW YOU SET UP THE GRADEBOOK. Giving plenty of formative assessment before a big summative assessment takes the pressure off of the BIG test. Having plenty of grades in the gradebook allows students to have some low grades and remove the fear of one bad score tanking the grade. Also, allow students to correct bad grades. If they miss questions on a test, have them reevaluate those questions and explain what they did wrong OR explain how to find the right answers. This process is not only valuable in repairing bad grades but (more importantly) helps students achieve mastery of content.

5) STAY VIGILANT. Students will always need supervision. No matter how much we want to trust each one of our students, we need to watch them. THEY need to know that we are watching…because they need to know how important it is for them to stay honest. Eventually you will find someone who isn’t follow the honor code, and you will confront the issue. Not allowing dishonesty and confronting the situation sets the expectations for your students that cheating is not allowed in any manner.

6) KEEP TALKING. Keep having open and casual conversations about cheating. Have conversations about how they could do an assignment without cheating and still maintain their grades. Many times, cheating is a result of feeling overwhelmed or due to a lack of confidence. Often, students cheat because they assume their friends know more than they do, and they may copy someone’s wrong answers. Assuring students that they are capable of doing well is part of the conversation.

Listen carefully. Kids need to feel open enough to tell you about things they are doing in other classes; they will let down their guard and tell you WHY they are doing these things. Don’t be too judgmental or too harsh. They need to feel SAFE enough to talk, and they need to feel like you CARE as you explain to them how to be their most honest selves.

Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part ONE: Starting the Conversation

Collaborative Educators, including myself, like to focus energy on the positive, joyful aspects of teaching and learning. And there are so many exciting adventures in which we can immerse ourselves. Teachers do get discouraged, however, and instead of ignoring the negative, we must decide to fix what’s wrong. So, we need to address and analyze what’s wrong. That doesn’t sound fun, especially now as April moves quickly on toward May, and teachers, I mean students, get antsy for summer vacation.

I have confronted cheating incidents in my classroom, and it is never pleasant. I continuously monitor students for cheating, of course, so I have to think about it regularly. I don’t like thinking about negative things, but I must.  Cheating makes me angry, and when I am angry I am not as compassionate and optimistic as I would like to be. My anger affects my students’ attitudes as well as my own mindset. Instead of dwelling in this anger and frustration, I realize it is time to take action. Yes – Take Action.

The first step requires that we have a conversation about cheating. Cheating is ugly, and talking about cheating is even uglier. It is ugly because we have to speak to people about the fact that they, their friends, or even their children, have been dishonest and untruthful. We are not talking about making bad grades; that’s an easy conversation. We are claiming that our students are damaging their own character and reputation. We are implying that their morals and values are low or wrong. We have to look people in the eye and tell them something that hurts, and then we must watch their reaction as they process the ugly truth.

I have written a letter to send home to my students’ parents. I will discuss the issue thoroughly with my students, of course, but their families need to be aware of the impact of cheating, so the communication is vital to changing things.

BELOW is the LETTER for my students and their families. Let me know what you think. In my next post I will address simple ways to prevent cheating….

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Cheating: Its Growth & Impact on Education

Cheating has become a “normal” part of life for many students. Cheating can have serious consequences and can damage character, reputation, and self-worth. As evidenced in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal, cheating can become a group effort, it can become a way of doing things, and it can seem acceptable because “everyone” is doing it. The cheaters in the APS scandal are now facing up to 20 years of jail time for something they thought was “okay” at the time they were committing the crime.

Teachers know that cheating is common, and even though a student might not get “caught”, and the teacher may not have full proof of student actions, teachers are generally aware of intentions. Just because the teacher does not “accuse” you of cheating or speak to you about it does not mean it is acceptable. Cheating has become common enough that there is a way to notify parents of student cheating in Infinite Campus.

There are many forms of cheating. Some of the most common include:

  • Taking photos of your work and sending it to others electronically
  • Looking at photos of other students’ work
  • Taking photos of the teacher’s answer keys or teacher’s book
  • Finding the assignment online and using it to “check” your answers
  • Texting other people answers (or any form of electronic communication)
  • Using a paper cheat sheet (this is fairly outdated but still exists in some 21st Century classrooms)
  • Having helpful hints written on the desk or your hand
  • Whispering among your classmates to make sure you understand the question
  • Writing that you have a test version “A” when you really have a test version “B” (the version that your neighbor / classmate has)
  • Copying and pasting another student’s work
  • Copying and pasting any information from the internet or an electronic document
  • Allowing people to look at your quiz or test
  • Copying other students’ paper from the turn-in bin / basket
  • Copying other students’ paper before classmates turn it in.
    (Discussing an assignment or teaching someone before it is turned in may be acceptable if it is not a quiz or test. It depends on the instructions, and the teacher should make it clear if you are allowed to discuss it.)
  • Saving work from one semester to give or sell to students in the following semester.
  • Saving work from one block to give or sell to students in the following block.
  • Looking at another student’s paper and copying their work.
  • Allowing another student to look at your paper to copy your work.
  • Allowing another student to use your work in any of the situations listed above

If a teacher finds that you have participated in any of these actions, you will receive a zero for the assignment.

Cheating is actually devaluing your education. Because of cheating, teachers need to spend more time creating new projects & assignments, conferencing with parents, assigning zeros and then working with students who are upset they got zeros.

Teachers, therefore, spend less time creating new, exciting lessons and writing grants to purchase cool new equipment for the classroom. Their positive energy is diminished and replaced with negative attitudes toward the population of students who are cheating. Disappointed teachers may teach less effectively to the entire class based on the actions of the cheating students.

Government and private enterprise (business) employers are now seeing the result of student cheating. They have voiced complaints that young employees do not learn and comprehend well. Many students are less capable of retaining information because they simply are not developing their study skills.

What are your views on cheating? (don’t answer on paper….this is just something to think about)
a) Do you cheat occasionally?
b) Do you cheat only if you didn’t have time to study?

  1. Do you think cheating is okay?
  2. Do you not consider some of the points listed on the previous page to be cheating?
  3. Do you think that cheating is okay if someone is copying your work? (i.e., you are just sharing)
  4. Do you think cheating is okay if the teacher doesn’t catch you?
  5. Are you bored with this document because it is wasting valuable cheating time?
  6. Do you feel bad that you have cheated?
  7. Do you think cheating is okay because your family expects you to make good grades?

We need to STOP the cheating cycle. The purpose of your education is for you to LEARN, to analyze, to process information, and to create quality work. Students and teachers need to work together to increase the value of YOUR education.

If you see cheating, let your teacher know. Your name will not be revealed…it’s all confidential.

You need to choose not to cheat from this point forward. If you have never cheated, WAY TO GO!!!! You are the kind of student that makes it great to teach young people in America!

If you have participated in cheating, and you decide that you think it is the wrong thing to do, then simply make the decision NOT to cheat from this point forward. Teachers will really appreciate this commitment from you because it reflects strong character and a trustworthy reputation.

Honestly yours,

Mrs. Milam

Day Ten: Random Lists – 5,4,3,2,1

Learn this, Know this, and LIVE this. You know who you are. Start counting your own blessings instead of (making me feel guilty for) mine.

5 Random Facts about me:

1) My biological father and his family traveled to the U.S. from Cuba to escape Fidel Castro. My last name is no longer Villanueva, and my parents didn’t stay married for long, so it always surprises people that I am Hispanic. Plus, my stepdad is from Pittsburgh, and people always see a resemblance between the two of us.

2) I used to travel to Southwest Harbor, Maine in the summers to visit my aunt and uncle. The smell of evergreen and blueberry bushes bring back great memories for me.

3) I have lived in Greenville, South Carolina – Dothan, Alabama – and Houston, Texas. I am back home in Georgia now.

4) I learned to water ski when I was 40. Probably the biggest “fear” I have overcome.

5) My husband has completed 3 Ironman Triathlons: one in Panama City Beach, FL, another in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and the third in Madison, Wisconsin.

4 Bucket List Items. I would like to do the following:

1) hike part of the Appalachian trail

2) travel in Europe

3) take an Alaskan cruise

4) be a published author

3 Things I hope for this year:

1) to be more organized at school (which results in wasted time)

2) to balance my time more efficiently

3) to be kind to my students (even when I am frazzled)

2 Things that have made me laugh or cry as a teacher:

1) The last day that our seniors attend school in May is a bittersweet day for me and always leaves me in tears.

2) Last year an AP Chemistry student (who is dear to me) answered an FRQ (Free response question), and in her answer she made an analogy between chemical kinetics and teen pregnancy. She made the statement that the molecules in chemical reactions are like high schoolers with raging hormones. They just can’t wait, and just like the chemical reaction takes place, teen pregnancy results. I couldn’t figure out if she got the answer right or not, because the rubric failed me at that point. We all laughed really hard at this, and I am sure that I saved her paper.

1 thing I wish that more people knew about me….

I am working on writing a young adult novel about a group of teens who have unique challenges and secrets but work together to solve a series of crimes using their STEM skills. It is still awkward for me to discuss because it is such a new adventure. Kind of like when you get married and you find yourself talking about your “husband” when it is still such a new part of life. The best part of this work is that it’s so intertwined with everything I love to do: hang out with teenagers and talk about STEM. (Plus it’s on my bucket list!)

Day Nine: My Biggest Teaching Accomplishment – Finding My Most Powerful Tool

I may be a bit naive, but about once every few weeks I decide that I have just completed the best lesson of all time. I am so thrilled with myself that I run next door to any of my available colleagues and tell them that I have just taught the perfect lesson. They say, “That’s great, Martha. I can’t wait to hear more about it,” and go back to their work, knowing that I get a little overly excited sometimes. So, I have mini-teaching breakthroughs that happen regularly enough to keep me motivated and looking for new and fresh techniques.

BUT – there is something that I can say is my ONE best accomplishment – and it’s huge. It is classroom management. I must make this clear: things are certainly not perfect in my classroom, and I don’t have one hundred percent control at all times, but everything runs pretty smoothly these days.

Discipline is not my specialty. I would rather sharpen pencils all day long than discuss rules and procedures with eye-rolling teenagers. But, teaching an unruly classroom is just as effective as taking notes with a broken pencil tip. So, a well-managed classroom is a must for any of us who want to teach kids well.

After an evaluation one time I decided that I needed to be tougher on the kids – firmer, stricter, more demanding and less friendly…. I tried hard for a few days, but it just wasn’t my style, and I couldn’t keep up being Mrs. Mean.

I had two classroom management issues. First, I couldn’t get the class quiet in order to give instructions and teach a lesson. Second, I used to have students that didn’t like me and that wanted to argue with me. Those students, and their negative attitudes, occupied too much of my time, and it made me neglect the students who were eager to learn.

I have figured out that it’s not just “experience” that improved things, but it was a change in my relationship with the students.

At the beginning of each semester I started to figure out which students came in to the classroom with issues and would become my “problem” students. I learned to “stereotype” them – not by race, gender, or academic talent, but I could stereotype them according to their attitudes. I learned to treat the negative, sinister, teacher-defying scowls with “cool” compassion. I am not overly ooey gooey with them, but I become interested in their lives – their families, their jobs, their friends, their music, whatever I could find to discuss with them. I love doing this, and some of these kids have fascinating stories and are eager to have someone who is interested in them. People feel valued when we are asked for information that is specific to us. It doesn’t take much time to ask those questions; I am not having lengthy conversations while I am helping the students with their work. How many seconds does it take to ask “How is your Mom’s job going?” Just a couple, right? It’s worth the time.

I also avoid sarcasm. I used to think that it was fun to make sarcastic comments, and I know that some teachers are able to do this effectively, but it can yield a negative tone. We laugh and have fun with one another, but sarcasm isn’t part of the humor toolbag anymore.

Calling students by name, however, is my most powerful tool. Using someone’s name, and even better, giving them a nickname, makes students feel special. I have students who visit me after they have graduated or been out of my class for a while, and they come back and wait for me to call them “Al Pal”, “Kay Kay”, “Bobby C.”, or whatever name I had come up with for them. Often I use their first and last name together.

Think about what it feels like to hear the sound of YOUR first and last name together – not when you are in trouble, but as a greeting. It makes you feel important, even famous.

Some people will say that they are not good with names. Well, we are teachers. We need to be good with names. We are in the business of public relations, and the “inability” to know names is equivalent to wearing your pajamas to work. Knowing names comes fairly easy to me; I am lucky. However, I work pretty hard at it at the beginning of the year. I take notes and memorize names and people – just like students memorize the preamble to the Constitution. I practice until I get it right.

Because my students know that I value them, they listen to me when I ask them to be quiet while I am speaking (or while someone else is). I rarely have a”problem” student, and when I do, I end the negative relationship pretty quickly

Like I said, it’s not perfect – some days are better than others in terms of classroom management, but I finally feel like I am in control and have set a positive tone for the classroom.

So, dear Teacher Friend, best wishes to all of us as we work to manage our classrooms everyday.

Rita Pierson, a Lifelong Educator, gives a really powerful message on the importance of building relationships. It is a MUST-SEE!

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Day Eight: My Desk Drawer – my battle with purple pens & how I plan to win the war with the pen!

What’s in my desk drawer? Lots of pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers & whiteout. I use purple Bic pens for grading, and there is always an unbalanced distribution of those pens in my life. I keep the purple pens in one of these places: my car, my kitchen, my purse, my briefcase, behind my ear, and in my desk drawer at school.  Today I reached into my purse and found four purple pens. I don’t need four purple pens in my purse. I have to redistribute them tomorrow. Mondays are always busy, and the redistribution of pens isn’t important enough to make it to my “to do” list, but if I don’t do it, I will feel scattered. That is an example of why Mondays are “Mondays”. Reorganizing the little things requires time and distracts from the higher priority issues.

Tomorrow I am going to start using socrative.com and I am really looking forward to it. It is an online quizzing tool for my students that will require less usage of pens. Chalkup.co is another tool I plan to implement this week – designed for fewer pens and more online grading. I will report later on how those are working for me. Thanks to my colleague Matt East for introducing these to me. He works on the other side of campus, but we communicate often through Twitter, my favorite social media tool.

One quick note: I am slowing down on my blogging. I plan to continue my 30 day challenge, but it will take me longer than 30 days to write 30 posts. Yes – I am differentiating from many of you by going at a slower pace than I originally anticipated. I have gotten behind on grading, planning, and family time. I love the reflection, but I have to do some actual/real work so that I can find material to reflect on! Thanks to those of you who are reading, and Blog Day 9 will be coming one day soon….

Day Seven: Who Inspires Me the Most? Reminiscing my days at Lakeside High School in the ’80’s

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For those of us in my profession, I think that it is comical yet strange that WE ARE STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL. There is a transition from being a student to a teacher, and while there is a vast difference in those two periods, we think often about our own days as high school students. Probably with much more frequency than non-teachers do.

From my former life as a high school student, here is a list of my favorite teachers and WHY they made a difference:

Ms. Diane Loring (English) – Her sharp wit and sly (but loving) smile was so fun. I enjoyed trying to figure out if she was telling the truth or not. Her tall tales kept me wondering…. I loved English, and I still do.

Ms. Mary Shelfer (English) – She and Ms. Loring were best friends, and I learned the value of strong relationships in the workplace. I also read great literature. She introduced me to my favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and to the great acting of Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Ms. Charleanne Pugh (Biology) – She was the most bubbly, spunky teacher I had. I loved asking questions and kept my hand raised because I loved having conversation with her. She never tired of all my questions and filled me with knowledge.

Ms. Joann Williams (AP Chemistry) – She showed dedication to teaching such a challenging subject , and her attention to detail in working problems was impressive. I ran into her recently at church with my parents, and while I spoke to her I knew that she wouldn’t understand how often I think about her.

Mr. Ralph Voris (Trigonometry & AP Calculus) – He was one of the quietest, most stoical men I have met, and his interest in teaching nutty high school kids intrigued me. He was filled with wisdom, and his motivational quotes in the top corner of the board were a window to his non-calculus thoughts. Those quotes are written down in a faded notebook that smells of old paper. I also discovered that the reward of learning something intensely difficult would prove greater than the temporary pain of the 2nd period stress-induced headaches.

Mr. Robert Koff (Math) – He was lively, kooky, and nerdy, and he was passionate about teaching us math. He ran around the room answering our questions, and he was the opposite of Mr. Voris. Teaching high school seemed like the perfect fit for him. (Kooky and nerdy are all GOOD things in my book, btw). One time I inadvertently wrote my last name wrong – I wrote the last name of my rock star crush. He quietly asked me if I had changed my name – out of concern for any changes in my family status. I was embarrassed, needless to say, and told him that everything at home was the same.

Coach Phil Lindsey (Health, PE) – He taught me to understand the importance of nutrition and how I am ultimately responsible for my own health. He taught me the enjoyment of walking and running. Although I can’t estimate distances in feet or yards at all, I know EXACTLY what it feels like to walk (or even drive) 1/4, 1/2 or 1 mile because of all those laps around the track. He was head coach of the football team, but he made me, a small, soft-spoken fourteen year old girl, feel equally as important as as the touchdown-scoring, rowdy football players that were featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution every week.

Ms. Evelyn Brady (Spanish) – She told us funny stories of her crazy life. One story I remember was the time she bought a new Volkswagen bug, but before she drove off the dealership lot the salesman had to teach her to drive a stick shift. He probably regretted making the sale. She owned a big pet snake (a boa?) which always brought interesting stories as well. There was always a student who was getting on her last nerve, and with her exaggeration and big emotion, she could have been a standup comedian. Lucky for us, she was a Spanish teacher.

Ms. Diane McKinney (Chemistry) – She was famous for her molecule dance, and her high energy level kept everyone engaged. She laughed a lot and loved being outdoors. We used bunsen burners and created formal lab reports in composition books. I learned why scientists use pen, not pencil, for recording data, and I still  treasure my composition book from tenth grade.

Mr. Bill Driskell (World History) – Wow! There is so much to say here. Mr. Driskell created nicknames for us. He called me Miss Newhouse because of my last name, Villanueva (which means New House). I loved that. I was special enough to earn a nickname. Our class ate lunch together and had a longer period (due to the class being split with driver’s ed which was taught in Norcross). Because of our extended time he would sit and play games with us during lunch or participate in our teenage conversations. He talked about his family; he was silly, goofy, and way too much fun! He was so expressive and could have rivaled Mrs. Brady for being a standup comedian. Plaid pants and bow ties showed up frequently in his wardrobe.

The best part of the story is that Mr. Driskell’s son was Ken Milam’s roommate at the Sigma Nu fraternity house at Georgia Tech in 1991. Had it not been for Logan Driskell, I would have never met the man who is now my husband. I saw Mr. Driskell not too long ago and told him that I have been teaching high school in Coweta County. His face lit up, and a big smile, filled with years of memories, beamed across his face. “Isn’t it fun?!“, he asked.

Yes, it is fun. There is no other job that I could enjoy as much as this one.

Not only did our teachers contribute so much to all of us who graduated in the 80’s, but their passion for teaching kids lives on through those of us who have filled their shoes….

Thanking you is not enough, but Thank You.

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Day Five: How Can I Change My Classroom? Bring Out the Demolition Crew!

This is the only way problems will be solved. Just look at science. Theories are disproven in order to be proven. Not all scientists took the same practical means in order to discover their theories. They tested their experiments differently from the aforementioned scientists.


My classroom is a good size, and we have lab tables that work well for doing labs and for group work. Below you see an older photo, and the desks are lined up in traditional rows. Better for lecture days, but not as good for labs and cooperative learning. For the new year I arranged the tables lengthwise in pairs that seat a group of four students.

We are lucky that we are undergoing renovation right now, and I am only 6 weeks away from getting a bit of an update on my room. I mentioned on “Day One: Goals for the New Year” that I intend to apply for some grant money to get a whole new set of furniture that is up-to-date with technology and efficient learning methods. If I can obtain the needed money, I anticipate that it will still be over a year before any new furniture arrives.

My room is just too small for the way I have it arranged. I cannot easily walk between the desks, and the students are not very mobile either. What I need to do is get rid of the big, huge, enormous demonstration desk-table that is built into the floor. In fact, I am considering asking that the construction crew chop it down. Demo it. Axe it.

While the table space is great, its monstrous size completely BLOCKS me from my students when I am teaching them. I use a Ladibug, a document camera that I love, to work problems for them. You see a pic of me (in a purple shirt) behind the desk working problems, but where I like to be is in front of my desk, in close proximity to the students. In the photo of me in the lab coat – my position is ideal in that spot, but there is no work surface for me to use the Ladibug. SO – I rarely stand there b/c I can’t be productive and model problems.

Getting rid of the desk would allow me to bring the students closer to me and give us all enough space to walk around the tables. A smaller, mobile desk would be perfect for the Ladibug station and would have plenty of room to store my stuff. All the file folder drawers that were originally installed years ago are no longer necessary. I use Dropbox.

So, bring on the construction crews. Let’s do some demolition and give the kids the freedom and space they need to learn.

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Day Four: The TWO Things I Love Most About Teaching

I LOVE teaching. There are specifically 2 reasons that I enjoy my job.

1) STEM Career Coaching

My grandmother used to talk to her grown children frequently about their jobs. Of course she was concerned about family, kids, home, but career has always been important to my family. It’s genetic. You spend SO much time working. Not just the everyday, but across your entire life. It is important to have a fulfilling, enjoyable career because it is a huge part of life.

Many of our students don’t have someone who know much about the STEM in their careers, so I enjoy helping my students think about their options. Careers that require STEM include: doctor, electrician, cosmetologist, radiology assistant, auto mechanic, farmer, graphic designer, photographer, engineer, chef, builder, athletic trainer,…. You get the idea. Everyone uses STEM!

The students who take the hard core STEM jobs …I teach them in AP Chemistry, coach them in science Olympiad, or guide them to become a STEM intern with a local business. If they can narrow their focus in high school, they can get a head start on where to concentrate when they get to college.

2) I love high school kids. I can have regular conversations with them like I would with other adults, BUT high school kids like to have a bit more fun than adults do. And so do I. I like goofing off and being silly, and that works well in the classroom. I just read a great blog post by Heather Hollands and Amy Latinen, and Heather mentioned wanting to “engage all students” this year as one of her goals. Goofing off (in the right context) while teaching chemistry is my way of engaging students. They tend to stay focused a bit more because they don’t want to miss anything.

There is definitely more that I love about teaching, but this will be enough for now…..

@marthavmilam

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