I recently had a wonderful opportunity to connect and present at the amazing worldwide online conference RSCON4!! It was basically my first presentation outside of my school, so I had some nerves to get over but eventually got a bit more comfortable. I want to thank the organizers for a wonderful weekend of learning and sharing. I have learned so much from others and I continue to grow in my career with the help of an amazingly connected PLN!! I am very proud to have the opportunity to also share some of my experiences and I hope at least bring up conversations and thought processes that help move education forward. My session is named Armed with Empathy: Creating a Classroom Climate for Collaboration. I believe strongly that I am far from some sort of expert, but just a dedicated educator with a passion to change lives for the better. If you are so inclined to give it a listen or watch I would be honored. It documents some of my experience in creating a classroom climate and my efforts in trying to stay empathic while making important curriculum decisions. Below is the link to the recording. I would love some feedback or even hope to start some dialogue on the topic. Thanks so much.
Firstly, sorry I have not been on the blog wagon in quite awhile, but during the school year I put so much into what I do I often don’t leave myself much room.(THIS MUST CHANGE) Summer, however is a good time not only to decompress a bit, but more importantly REFLECT! I can reflect on some of the things the past year I did ok on and some of the things I went royally wrong on! I must tweak, change, and adapt as the years go to do my best to meet the many student needs. REFLECTION time is key!
Sadly for me, when a year ends another crew I grew fond of graduates 8th grade and heads into what sometimes could be a HIGH SCHOOL ABYSS!! As “Dan, Dan the Scienceman” I can only hope that I helped send them into it with a few useful tools, along with CURIOSITY and RESPECT for what surrounds them. We say our “goodbyes/keep in touches” and off they go. I have only a slight trust that I have inspired at least a couple in the lot. Honestly, though as I reflect, I forget how essential it is to make sure they know how THEY have INSPIRED me!! 14 years ago when I stage-dove into special education I had grandiose ideas about changing the world and inspiring the multitude. What I never expected was the inverse and how much this career choice and students would impact and change ME!
I had always been concerned with the effect I had on others and it wasn’t until teaching that I recognized the effect others had on ME!! In turn this has helped my influence TREMENDOUSLY! I am blessed to work with individuals with learning challenges. I have learned way more from these folks than I believe I’d ever be able to teach! They have been some of the bravest, most amazing individuals to encounter at such young ages. Many must take an hour or more journey from their friends and neighborhoods to enter an entirely new environment to try and learn all over again. Many have been beat up a bunch, literally and academically, for a new start at learning. They must start over, build new relationships and make new attempts at succeeding. Just mustering a smile may be hard enough, but time in and time again I see PURE COURAGE! I see them show up. I see them work. I see them fight the best they can. I see them learn. You see it’s not always about overcoming these challenges because the challenges aren’t going away. It’s usually about working through the challenges, (keyword being WORKING). WARNING: OVERLY-USED CLICHE’D METAPHOR AHEAD We are all given a hand to play in this poker game of life. Many times it’s a bad deal, but we can play it through sometimes BLUFFING to win if need be. The only other option is folding and walking away.
Folding is the idea of giving up on what the world has to offer. Folding be done in many ways. Tragically, this can be done by immediate suicide or more often a long-term , slow death through some destructive escapism. Folding can be as simple as living an unrealized life filled with fear and loneliness.
Sadly, I have seen this too.
It has almost been me as I have had to play on with a not so great deal, being born with Muscular Dystrophy. My physical challenge has been and will always be there for and with me. Many an occasion, from my childhood to adulthood I have come dangerously close to a fold. With every labored step I take and fall I make, I am reminded of what I cannot do physically. Without getting too personal, most of my life giving in to self-pity became very easy and in my past (mostly prior to teaching) made some poor decisions. I’d like to think though what has actually kept me from giving up has been a little voice in the back of my mind. The whispering voice of any other individual I may encounter in life saying that the decision of me not throwing in my cards could one day be a positive influence and maybe inspire them.
Here is the twist. It has been my teaching that has been my therapy. We like to say that good teaching is good therapy for our students, but who knew it’d also be for the teacher!! It has been my experiences with students PLAYING/WORKING THROUGH a bad deal that continues to shape my teaching… and my life. I thought it was going to be my story that would “SAVE” others but in fact it is the direct influence of my students that have SAVED mine.
It is and always will be day by day… I still have some doubts and unfortunately have struggled with the idea of folding the cards and not playing through. Then once in a while something AMAZING happens! Like this letter I just received from a past student:
“Dan, Dan the Science Man!
It has been far too long since we have last talked and I am sorry for that, but I had some very important news that I needed to tell you. I wanted to let you know that as of Friday the 6/28, I am a college graduate! I graduated from DeVry University with a Bachelors of Science in Electronics Engineering Technology. This has been a long ride that all started at the *School and in your classroom and I very happy to report on how far I have made it. As of now, I don’t yet have a job lined up but its only a matter of time and I like the idea of having a little time off after going straight through for four years. ‘I do have to say this, YES, you have made a great positive impact on many of the things I have done and will do. I have always liked science and learning (for the most part) but your classes and after school program is really what helped to shape my way of thinking and I know I would not have done many of the things that made me the person I am today. This is why to this day I’m still talking about your classes with my friends and family.’ I hope all is well and that I will you hear from you soon. Have a great summer!”
I was blown away by this! It is so very nice to have some validation in what I do. More importantly, I had to immediately make sure he knew what this and he meant to me! This was my response to him:
“CONGRATS and THANK YOU!! I want to make sure though that you know that I am glad I had a positive influence on you. It is YOU and the many students that have inspired and continue to INSPIRE me!! You folks have been some of the bravest strongest individuals I have ever met and I thank you!! You inspire me to be a better teacher and know that in this world we all have effect on others so let us make it positive!!!… You are amazing my man! I must say I would love to hear more about your projects I would also love to have you come in once in awhile and talk with my students they’d be as intrigued as I am! I’m very proud of you and you have always been an inspiration in my teaching! You da man!!”
I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO INSPIRE OTHERS,
NOW I JUST HOPE OTHERS KNOW HOW MUCH THEY INSPIRE ME!!
I have been a special education science teacher for over 13 years and my program continually has been evolving along. I tweak, twist, change, adapt and modify…well you get the point, my job is NEVER done. It continues based on my own growth and student growth… I have the opportunity to see many students that have lost a fervor for learning new things. They have sometimes become academically beat up by the time they see me and many on verge of giving up. One of my focal points then becomes raising student motivation and developing a warm classroom climate. I don’t think true learning can occur until they become once again comfortable with the fact that they can INDEED learn and that it can actually be fun. Sometimes of course that takes some convincing, creativity, and maybe a little luck! Several years ago I started playing with the idea of turning all of my classes into teams that could earn points together all year long. I want the time we had together to be as fun as the game shows we watch on our days off. I also want to smash the fictional view that science is done by a crazy old man in a lab coat mixing potions. I want to drive home the fact that science is done by collaborative problem solving. There are also so many life lessons that can be pulled within a year long team competition. Getting along with others, helping others, winning and losing gracefully, trying your hardest or not trying at all, etc. Team play and game play can help set up an environment for these many teaching moments. It is built into our curriculum from naming our teams and mascots with either endangered animals, elements or space content depending on the year to ending with our Science Spectacle where all teams create an interactive science museum for school. They seek to immortalize their creative team name into the Science Cup! I guess I have been “gamifying” the class for several years now. I have created many ways for students to earn points and become collaborative teams participating in a game as a platform to learning. I keep adding new ventures and experiences each year that goes by. In other blogs I can talk more about these ways in detail, after all this post is called BUZZWORDS!!
Buzzwords are part of the game experience that has taken on a major life of their own in our climate. The idea was that top scoring students could take science words that I chose and make me have to say them in a VERY specific and unique way at ALL times. If and when I am caught accidentally just saying that word like the average Joe they scream on the top of their lungs and I grant the team an extra 5 points.(YES IT IS VERY PEEWEE’S PLAYHOUSE-ISH) The fun really occurs for them when I am in PUBLIC situations with them like field trips!! Trust me, the looks I get from people that aren’t in the know are enough pleasure for the students than just the points. It started with just one word, “Mars” winced slyly out of the side of the mouth to currently over 16 words with the craziest concoctions of sound. The students love trying to get me to say them. One deviously bright student even made up a detailed story about a sick grandmother just to get me to say “OXYGEN”. This has become fun and engaging and I think rather slick on my part. Many students have a lot of trouble with language expressive and receptive. I am not sure “studying” your “vocabulary” is the only therapy for them…This is a way they can practice and use these words I’d like to get across. There is some higher order thinking going on here, so once again the “game” is more than meets the eye! They seem to be having a ball with it and I am challenged to keep pushing my voice in wild ways! If you ever run into me and I seem to twitch a bit when I mention DNA, NUCLEUS, or CELLS, maybe you’ll cut me some slack!!
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” -Billy Shakespeare
So, here it goes my first ever blog post!
I have thought about doing this for a very long time. I have been following some amazing educators and have been inspired by their honesty in sharing their journeys. I hope to also reflect and use this blog as a shiny mirror to my thoughts. Mirrors are necessary to our daily life and from my experience in the classroom, students will let you know immediately if you’ve been ignoring a mirror. “Dan, you missed a spot shaving!” , “Yo, Dan let me style that hair of yours!” but also, “Dan, THIS IS BORING!”, “Uh, Here we go again!” “I didn’t do my HW, I dunno” (The I dunno is usually represented by just a weird sound accompanied by a semi-shoulder shrug)… Part of this journey I guess is to make sure I check the mirror before the students do, well at least prepare and share our mirror with others for some feedback. This is where a blog might help, especially with honest exchanges from others having similar experiences. I would love to have others in this field check out my mirror and help me clean it up a bit when it gets foggy, and who knows I may help someone else with theirs indirectly.
So, what may be the FIRST thing you notice in this “mirror”?? Well, I see a name… Dan, Dan the Science Man?? A somewhat humorous name that probably brings forth many assumptions. The guy likes all things science? He blows things up? He watches too much TV? He is egotistical? He’s a wannabe?? He’s an entertainer? a teacher?? With these questions and assumptions I must wonder how I’m perceived from the outside with this name and how much does it matter? I know for a fact that if people glance quickly at this blog they expect it to be about….Language Arts!, ok,ok, Science… It is certainly true that I have been teaching and coordinating that amazing subject for the past 13 years which has brought much success and experience with it. The thing is though, professionally I have been a student driven “special educator” primarily using the subject of science as my vehicle. I have had wonderful opportunities to foster student success and esteem within a subject that inspires curiosity and a yearn to learn! These 13 years have been in a placement for students with significant learning challenges. Learning occurs here but has to be done (cliche) “out of the box” or not “traditionally” which just so happens to be a great fit for my personality! I started my career understanding individuals with challenges FIRST and then growing into the subject/curriculum.(for a future blog, I’m sure) I began by trying to give my students a chance to grow into the learning and also take some ownership of it. They should have a lot of say in what happens there and through time, conversations and experiences together create something that they may actually like being around! I’ve tried to just put items on a menu and hopefully assist them in cooking and creating the plates.(like metaphors much?) So back to this name bit…Dan, Dan the Science Man. He was named and created by the wonderful students he sought to teach. I am many names and titles in this life (Daniel M. Curcio- passport, license,- Dan to some, Danny Boy to others, at times “DANIEL MICHAEL CURCIO” to an annoyed mother, King Supreme to no one…) well you get the point and I have been given all these names. I have taken ownership of these names, especially the one that students gave me to represent just one facilitator in their learning journeys. Actually, it may be one of the only facilitators they had a choice in creating during their educational journey, so for this I am proud. Here is why it represents this blog and this professional. As you may have gathered I will certainly explore science and education here, but believe it or not Dan, Dan the Science Man is so, so much more!!
What’s your name?