The Beginning of the End

I learned a few things about pressure last week. It started when I looked at my syllabus and realized that there are only two chapters between me and the final exam. Suddenly, visions of my first day as a bumbling novice loomed large with lots of sweaty details. Then my usually latent test anxiety kicked in. I agree with philosopher Peter Koestenbaum that anxiety “is not something to get over” and that understanding it is “the beginning of an authentic life”, but between the writer’s block and the sleeplessness I was not having fun.

Fortunately, we chemists know how to use pressure to our advantage. We compress gases every day so that you can fill up tires and basketballs, transport truckloads of hydrogen, and dispense just enough helium to make funny voices.  The Ideal Gas Law, PV=nRT, gives us a way to understand how pressure (P) varies with the volume of the container (V), the amount of gas molecules (n), and temperature (T). R is a constant that holds it all together. Solving for P= (nRT) / V we see that as volume goes up, pressure goes down. As the amount of gas or the temperature increases, the pressure also increases. This is probably the most intuitively obvious formula that exists.

Since there is no formula for self-inflicted pressure, I decided to change my isolating equation of study+quiz+blog+repeat by adding a reality constant. First step: I scheduled my final exam for February 27th. It felt good to take control of my fate, or at least my schedule. My home coach always encourages me to get classroom time during my training, so I contacted Appleton City Public Schools and Rockhurst High School for some classroom observation and substitute teaching. Finally, I talked to a retired teacher. Her repeated assurances that there is no amount of work that will adequately prepare me for the first year were not reassuring. However, I did appreciate her recommendation to attend Interface 2014, which is a three day conference sponsored by Missouri University and the Missouri Department of Education for high school Math and Science teachers.

Will I find other people that feel the same way I do about Chemistry? Will I find my “Community of Truth”, so beautifully drawn by Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach?¬† Stay tuned.

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One Week, Two Tests, and End Behavior

Stop the presses – I was out sick last week! But at least with on-line study I didn’t have to bring the teacher a note from the doctor and at my age I didn’t have to convince my parents that I was too sick to study. By Monday I was back at it, fueled by test anxiety and dreams of greatness.

I did much better this time on my chapter test, mostly due to over-preparation. I did not realize that the test materials included the Periodic Table, a List of Equations, and the Standard Reduction Potentials. On my next test I will have to strike a medium between the extremes of over-kill and under-prep but for now I’m enjoying the small victory.

Another test that I passed was a day of substitute teaching four levels of algebra at a local rural high school. In preparation, I observed the teacher for a day and met with him twice to create the lesson plans. I taught 6 classes, answered questions, gave 2 tests, fixed laptops, ate lunch in 20 minutes, calmed down some rowdies, and learned a lot about quadratic equations. Watching the students, I felt sympathetic when I recognized some of my own testing extremes. At the end of the day I had many more questions about teaching than I had in the morning.

My favorite concept of the day was End Behavior. This is the question: For any given function, what does ‘Y’ do when ‘X’ approaches positive and negative infinity? It’s difficult to imagine the ends without knowing the middle, especially when most functions, like life, are not linear. So next week I’ll stay in the middle, prepare for the next tests, and leave infinity to the mathematicians.

Next Up: The Ties That Bind

Back to School with Designed Distractors

I downloaded my study materials today. I even set up my course notebook, a time-honored tradition of hole-punching, printing labels, and sliding them into the little colored tabs. I indulge in some reminiscing and wonder – does anyone even make notebooks anymore? It’s been so long.

I have five sections so far:
1. ABCTE Course Checklist
2. Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) Study Plan
3. PTK Standards
4. Chemistry Study Plan
5. Chemistry Standards.

I watched the PTK Study Plan presentation, which is all about the test for PTK certification. It has 100 multiple choice questions (2.5 hours) and one essay question (1 hour). The test designers recommend deciding the answer for each question before looking at the choices, because half of them are “designed distractors.”

I decide to start with the Chemistry section instead of PTK because I want to have the content fresh in my mind while I learn to teach and, honestly, right now I’m a lot more comfortable with Chemistry.

Next Up: The Scientific Method