Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

153859493.jpgIn my previous Wiley Exchanges article kicking off this series, I revealed the story of how I found my signature classroom sound. Ms. Connie Wells, AP Physics workshop facilitator, was the inspiration that motivated me to make a fundamental change in my teaching over three years ago. In this piece, I provide you with the first three of six simple steps to rock your classroom and create your signature classroom sound. Stage manager…cue the lights!


Playing in a rock and roll band and teaching in a classroom have more in common than one would think. Putting in late nights, planning for the next performance, and improvising are all just part of the story. I had the pleasure of watching a Dave Grohl interview a few weeks ago. Dave Grohl, frontman of the rock band the Foo Fighters, has successfully navigated the music business for over 25 years. Through trials and tribulations, he has always continued to develop and tweak the signature sound of his bands.


As the music industry has evolved, the Foo Fighters have continued to progress and tweak their iconic sound as a collective unit. Understanding that each contributing member of the band has an individual backstory, individual influences, and individual strengths, it’s no minor feat for these artists to collectively create something that is both organic and authentic.


As is the case for educators, part of a band’s success can be traced back to finding common ground among a vast collection of creative ideas and concepts. In academia, the curriculum for many courses is miles deep and many more miles wide. With so many contrasting concepts embedded in the curriculum, it is challenging for a teacher to find a shared thread that connects all the moving parts.


So how does an educator find cohesion given all these challenges? Here are the first three tips to help you craft your signature sound in the classroom.


  1. Something From Nothing - Identify the most important take away from your class. Pick an element that has the most practical real-world application. Avoid content-focused elements. Think big-picture; identify the skill set, communication technique, or problem-solving procedure that your students will use routinely ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. Great examples are communication skills (verbal or written), problem-solving strategies, negotiation approaches, etc.

    Often, in interviews, artists in a band are asked to discuss that special thing what makes the group unique. This is an informal dialog among band mates. How does a prospective fan get drawn into the musical works of an unknown group? Introspective songwriting? Heavy bass riff? Hypnotizing percussion?

    Identify the theme behind your signature sound. The theme behind my signature sound is reading and writing in the classroom.

  2. Resolve - Fit the curriculum-course objectives into that signature-sound theme from step one. Determine how you can use specific objectives to reinforce your chosen signature sound. Identify a product that students will create as the signature sound for your course. For example, if you determined written communication skills in step one, now decide how those written communication skills can become entwined into the written communication objectives of the course. Specify something that is done often in your course. Select something that when done often, will improve over time. Choose something that is integral to student understanding. Don’t shy away from considering a new way to implement the skill throughout the year.

    Once you identify how to connect the course objectives to your signature sound theme, it becomes easier to structure and connect the content around it. We aren’t replacing what you already do well. We aren’t creating an activity that is entirely new. We are simply connecting the isolated pieces together that you have mastered. We are using an overarching theme to fortify the structure of your course.

    At this stage, the band as a whole is determining how to parlay that “special something,” into a reoccurring musical tactic. This device isn’t one that cheapens the product, but one that keeps fans waiting for the next single to drop. This device is something that when done over a period of time, will continue to improve that signature sound.

    Connect your signature sound theme to tasks that are specific to your class. The process of creating formal written laboratory reports is my signature sound. The process is connected to my signature sound theme of reading and writing in physics class.

  3. A Matter of Time - Determine how you can make your signature sound the number one priority in your course by selecting an appropriate time for integration. Schedule how this addition will take place over the course of a chapter. Since your signature sound is a fundamental theme, structure your course to emphasize it. The pace and schedule of your course is directly tied to it.

    A signature classroom sound should be practiced and refined. It should be something that is seen as a point of emphasis once a chapter or every few weeks and something that is crafted through a process. This is fundamentally different that overdoing it- planning the same, brief, weekly activity throughout the year. Smart places to time this integration of the signature sound are at the start of a new chapter, either right before a lecture, or right after the initial introduction.

    Since this takeaway is a high priority, it would make sense to have this item placed instructionally at the start of a chapter or somewhere in the first third of the act. Select a time frame that reinforces the importance of your signature sound. Provide ample room for the ideas to develop, the skills to be strengthened, and the process to evolve.

    Don’t let your signature sound seem like an afterthought. Allow a reasonable window of time for your signature sound to be an iterative process for your students. We are thinking in terms of days, not minutes. It should be a collaborative effort, ripe with real-time feedback that helps students grow and sharpen their skills at this task.

    At this stage the band has mindfully scheduled practice sessions to record demo songs. The band will use the sessions in order to get creative ideas for a new album. Envision band mates jamming and experimenting with sounds and patterns while creativity is fresh. Envision a musical producer providing support to help (not directly guide) the flow of innovative output. The producer is learning more about the band, than the band is learning about him. Think process-focused more and product-focused less for this step.

    Schedule your signature sound into an appropriate time and place relative to your class. I integrate my signature sound- the process of creating formal written laboratory reports- at the start of each new chapter in physics class. Even though data collection may take a scant twenty minutes total for a given lab, I schedule adequate time (both inside and outside class) for the creative process of constructing the report. My role as a teacher at this point is to provide general guidance as my students work on the task related to my signature sound. I’m collecting lots of anecdotal feedback from the students on their understanding of the content that I can use later in the chapter to support instruction.

What’s your signature classroom sound? Post a comment in the space below and share your vision with me.


This post is part two of a three part series designed to help you find your signature classroom sound. In the final installment I will provide the last three steps designed to help you find your signature classroom sound.


Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug will be regularly contributing to a series for educators on Wiley Exchanges offering practical advice and instructional strategies.


Image Credit: GrahamMoore999/iStockphoto


    Laura Goldsberry
Laura Goldsberry
Marketing Manager, Wiley

It comes as no surprise that issues of race are divisive and are dominating the news cycle of late. How is it best to address and discuss issues of race in the classroom, and what approaches should be avoided? The infographic below examines ineffective strategies, followed by a link to download a white paper covering the successful ways to bring this crucial topic into the classroom. Author Derald Wing Sue has been identified as "the most influential multicultural scholar in the United States." He has authored 17 books, including the classic Microaggressions in Everyday Life. Dr. Sue's research on microaggressions provided a major breakthrough in understanding how everyday slights, insults, and invalidations toward marginalized groups create psychological and social harm. He is Professor of Psychology and Education in the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University.



Get the white paper outlining the five successful strategies here.


  Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

shutterstock_184331438.jpg“What in the world does this have to do with the current chapter?” That was the question I asked Tim, Jackie, Ron, and Alison mid-morning on a beautiful fall day back in 1993. We were all in our first Physics class at our rural High School nestled in the fringes of South Western Pennsylvania. We collectively huddled around a lab table with a few pieces of miscellaneous lab equipment, measuring devices, and a well-worn photocopy of a lab guide. The current chapter reading and homework assignment was solely focused on Newton’s Laws, one of the foundational elements of Mechanics. There was a major disconnect between the assumed learning target of the lab activity and the current Physics chapter in which we were entrenched. The faded old sheet had some words and data scribbled in the margins from well before the fall of the Berlin Wall. No one could decipher how this lab activity related to the topic of Newton’s Laws. No one could answer that question. No one dared ask the teacher. And even after finishing the activity and accompanying report, we still didn’t have answers to the question of the day.


And that set the tone for the rest of the year in room 203…labs were assigned inconsistently with no discernable tie-in to the reading, homework, or tests. Labs became something we each disliked…feared…loathed. With no connection to the content in question, labs seemed more like a nuisance than a way to reinforce current learning or discover a new concept through the scientific method. In hindsight, I am sure the instructor deemed the lab activities we completed for the 1993-1994 academic year to be of high importance. However, without a direct connection to the academic pacing of the course, it was impossible to discern that importance or relevance from the student’s perspective.


Fast forward to 2003 and I am in charge of my own Physics classroom at my current school. It’s my first year teaching, and I’m eager to show the students “all I know.” Lecture, lecture, lecture, and more lecture.   Then throw in maybe one student work day every six to ten days for good measure. Yeah! That’s the ticket….yuck. Looking back, it would have been the perfect opportunity to right the wrong did unto Tim, Jackie, Ron, Allison, and I ten years earlier. This would be the perfect opportunity for me to demonstrate importance and relevance of labs in the context of my class. Yet, I still viewed labs as a…drumroll please…nuisance. I’m cringing as I write that word.


In year one (now I am in year fifteen), I viewed lab activities the same way I felt about them as a student in 1993. Labs were cumbersome, time-consuming exercises that couldn’t possibly have a tie-in to the current content. Labs didn’t need to have relevance to the current chapter or any association to the reading and assessment in question. These laboratory obstacles got in the way of real learning…my lectures?


Ugh! What a difference fifteen years makes. That’s a terrible way to think, especially as an educator in the sciences. I am ashamed that it took me such a long time to comprehend that labs can work with the course and not in contrast to the course. Labs can have real relevance to course objectives and can drive the pacing and format of the course if done with intention. Previously, I assumed labs should be a one-off, twenty minute exercise to kill time in between lectures. I erroneously viewed a lab report as a fill-in-the-blank packet with one word answers or a few key phrases to demonstrate learning. A quick turn-in report for students to complete during the lab operated as a checklist that was easy for me to grade and afforded me a clear way to distinguish right from wrong in their findings. But this is all operating under the assumption that I deemed interrupting the pace of my lectures. In my beginning years as an educator I subscribed to the model of a primarily teacher-centered environment, setting the pace of random topics with no overarching theme for the academic year.


About ten years after my first year teaching, fast-forward to October 2013, I had the opportunity to attend an AP Physics workshop. We’ve all been to training before, and I firmly believe that sitting in the room with the facilitator- Mrs. Connie Wells- was a pivotal moment in my attitude towards labs. This was truly an "ah-ha" moment for me an as educator. Ms. Wells was articulate, knowledgeable, dynamic…but also made lab demos the focus of her workshop. It was awesome, she would do a demo and then work with us in the room to show us how the lesson and the chapter, can be structured AROUND the lab! The lab could be the driving force in the course! There could be some connection to these hands-on activities and the current course topics!  I was gobsmacked to see Connie demonstrate relevance and connection in one fell swoop.


This was the origin of creating my signature classroom sound. We all know that delivery of content is critical to processing of content. Ms. Wells from Kansas’s performance at the workshop had inspired me to evolve beyond my preconceived notions of what a lab activity could be to a student.


When did you have a educational ah-ha moment that sparked a new direction in your teaching? I’d love to hear about it. Share your turning point in the comments section in the space below and I will be sure to reply.


This post is part one of a three part series designed to help you find your signature classroom sound. The next installment, part two of the series, will provide three of the six steps to help you find your signature sound. In the finale, you’ll learn the remaining three steps to begin your journey.


Image Credit: Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock


Women Who've Inspired Us

Posted Mar 10, 2017
    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

All week we've shared content addressing women's accomplishments and challenges in the varied roles they play. To close out this week commemorating International Women's Day and Women's History Month, we present to you a video featuring quotes from educators and Wiley colleagues on women who have inspired them and why.


Women who've inspired us.JPG

Who has inspired you? Feel free to share in the comments below.


    Diane Rubino
Diane Rubino
Adjunct Instructor, New York University and Course Associate, Columbia University

“I’m not a guy,” the instructor said.


She was answering a student presenter who called the class “you guys.”*woman listening.jpg


He paused and blinked. But “you guys” came tumbling out moments later.


“I. Am. Not. A. Guy.” she said again, unruffled.


For the next few moments he grew redder, repeating his mistake and hearing the same composed correction. Finally he finished, seemingly unable to absorb the idea that men + women guys.


The student was mimicking a familiar irritant: imagining that “male” words are gender neutral. This path is so worn that even feminists follow along.


But consider this: female words do not enjoy the same privilege. Calling a mixed-sex group “You gals” would be extraordinary. A She might be a “Hey man.” But a He is not “Hey woman.”


When the gate swings only one way, toward obfuscating or negating women, it’s worth another look.


Failing to acknowledge women by using a male catchall phrase evokes the sexism woven into every aspect of being. As we near International Women’s Day, let’s claim inclusive verbiage that recognizes feminine existence.


Swept Under The Rug. Again.

This isn’t the first time women have been defeated in the name game. For example, we lost the right to our so-called “maiden name” centuries ago when a woman’s “legal existence as an individual was suspended under ‘marital unity,’ a legal fiction in which the husband and wife were considered a single entity: the husband.” If you weren’t a separate being, as feudalism-based law dictated, why would you need your own surname?


Women have been verbally and legally nonexistent for ages. Once the practice of invisibility was codified, it’s logical that as words, slang, and linguistic customs emerged they conformed to existing norms.


For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says “guy” entered the English lexicon in the 1300s. It originally meant guide or conductor, derived from similar words across the Romance Language spectrum. Americans began using guy as a synonym for man or fellow around 1850. But the OED—the self-proclaimed “definitive record of the English language”—omits an explanation of how guy subsumed women. Nor do we learn why “dudette” and “executrix” were cast aside in favor of male versions.


Conversely, female terms are not re-purposed. Is it because some describe slight animals: “female dogs” birds, chicks, or fillies? Or are they jettisoned because they imply low status, like broad and dame? (Bryson, The Mother Tongue, 1990)


What’s The Big Deal, Man?

Is this verbal tick so common that it no longer matters? Is it the Xerox or cellophane of gender?


It certainly makes a difference to those reading “male” as neutral. Asserting my right to be linguistically female regularly garners a sigh, eye roll, or “Oh brother.” Why? Most are neutral about every other word-choice edits. It they don’t care about being corrected for confusing “affect” and “effect,” why do accurate female terms aggravate?


If this verbal tick no longer mattered, everyone would easily amend their words. Instead, resistors make light. Their objection is a piece of the sexism institutionalized in our way of being, symbolic of more profound gender inequality issues. Claiming a word of one’s own, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, is a matter of fairness.


Even with clear advances in rights for women and girls, there is ample evidence we can do better. These unsatisfactory statistics were culled from recent studies:


Is this political correctness?

Part of the queasiness of “political correctness” is assuming others have trumped up motives. In this equation the speaker is aggrieved and the petitioner is being difficult or picky. Instead those who resist change allow themselves to continue saying whatever they want, relying on their own mysterious patchwork of justifications.


What feels right about one’s name is an internal decision. So why not let women like me, who don’t want to be called guys, claim our preference? Ah, but there’s the rub: How do you know what women want? Make it simple. If you don’t know, you can’t go wrong by assuming women want to be recognized as women.


Reject faux neutrality, everyone

Guy, dude, and man are often believed to project gender neutrality—just as sexism is often accepted (as the study findings indicate). If sexism was intolerable, we’d be living in a gender equitable society.


Common, as in the use of catchall male verbiage and inequitable practices, does not translate common sense. I suggest a different path, being uncommon for the common good.


In theory the student presenter who struggled with the idea that men + women guys could have easily adapted his words. He could have switched to folks, people, everyone, all of you, or you all. But in his confusion, he resisted. In this vignette I see a reflection that women have not yet arrived.


Unlike the befuddled youngster, you can choose inclusive terms. You can acknowledge women. You can help others recognize women. When someone says, “Hey guys,” You can interject “Hey everyone.” It’s needn’t be The Inquisition.


We’re still fighting for our seat at the table. When we arrive, shouldn’t our place cards be right?


*Thanks to instructor Jackie Kellso for standing her ground.


Dedicated with love and respect to all my grrrls everywhere working towards gender equality.


Look out for content on women’s issues and gender all week in conjunction with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.


Image Credit:Voronin76/Shutterstock


    Christopher Ruel
Christopher Ruel
Community and Social Marketing, Wiley

interview.jpgA recent survey conducted by Robert E. Cipriano and Richard L. Riccardi, both affiliated with the University of Southern Connecticut, asked the faculty of the schools of arts and sciences, and health and human services, to reflect on what motivates students to attend college. Cipriano and Riccardi’s survey was designed to test the following hypothesis; do academic motivators differ between arts and sciences students and students in the school of heath and human services?


Twenty statements were presented to the faculty of the two schools and ranged from getting a detailed grasp of a specialized field to finding a spouse to increasing one’s earning potential. Cipriano and Riccardi found “both groups of faculty share common levels of agreement on the majority of questions, with differences of .3 or less not significant.” Faculty opinions diverged most on the first statement presented: “To get a detailed grasp of a specialized field.” Here, the difference was .77, with health and human services educators more in tune with current student educational goals.


It’s no secret that today’s college students desire to obtain a hire education, not a higher education. According to Money magazine, 85% of 141,000 incoming freshman polled at 200 universities said “getting a better job was a major reason for going to college, and six in 10 considered a college's ability to help its graduates get good jobs when deciding where to attend.” Since disciplines within the school of health and human services are employment oriented, Cipriano and Riccardi’s findings make sense.


While hire education may be the new reality, one is left to wonder if such a shift is a positive development for the intellectual health of the United States and the global community. Based on how  other reasons ranked in Cipriano and Riccardi’s survey, there may be cause for concern. As our world becomes increasingly saturated with information—not all of it accurate or even true—the value that students place on higher education may be short sighted at best and potentially dangerous at worst. Consider how the following Cipriano/Riccardi statements ranked. (rankings based on a Likert scale of 1-5, with 1 indicating strong agreement and 5 indicating strong disagreement.)

Capture (20).PNG

All of the reasons listed above heavily emphasize critical thinking skills. While critical thinking can be woven into the fabric of any course, the motivations that fall toward the bottom are essential to being an informed and engaged global citizen. Let’s explore just a few aspects regarding each of the five statements as they relate to critical thinking and intellectual growth.


A developed understanding of the fine arts challenges embedded sociocultural, political, and aesthetic assumptions and leads individuals away from simple formulations of beauty and taste. The construction of life values is a lifelong process of questioning systems of philosophy religion, and moral agency—but the process begins with a basic knowledge of classical thought.  A love for learning manifests itself in relentless curiosity and self-motivation to dive deeper into topics that may lie outside of a professional career while informing thought across a wide range of topics. Global citizenship requires the ability to see issues of universal importance from many angles—not just from a position of talking points. Finally, the speed of change in the 21st century is such that an individual needs to be flexible in both his or her professional and personal skill sets. Job-specific abilities in-demand today, will likely be superseded in short order, while broader critical thinking proficiencies can facilitate a more rapid grasp of new skills, should an individual need to switch careers.


Changing the reasons students attend college is a tall order, especially since their ROI-focused mindset surrounding education develops long before they arrive on campus. Are there ways to create employment-ready graduates and well-rounded global citizens at the same time?  That’s far from a simple question to answer and it’s easy to understand why higher education finds itself in a pickle—institutions can’t forcibly instill a love for learning or an appreciation of the arts if students don’t see value in such things. Core classes in the arts and sciences are still required, but as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. At the same time, these classes do expose students to ideas and concepts outside of their chosen fields of study—sometimes in ways powerful enough to create a thirst for more.


Higher education is responding to a cultural shift it did not create—blaming colleges for wanting to meet the needs of 21st century students is disingenuous. The economics on both sides of the higher education equation cannot be dismissed. The cost of obtaining a degree necessitates an expectation that the skills a student acquires should pay financial dividends. Universities need to attract and keep students in seats if their doors are to remain open. They do so by demonstrating the employability of their graduates. Viewing the issue from an economic vantage point, both parties are doing what is necessary to survive in a highly competitive world. Such an assessment can be widened to include employers; after all, it is the employersy who are asking for specialized skill sets. It is interesting to note that while employers want skilled workers, they can also feel the negative effects of hiring less well-rounded individuals.


The educators I interact with care a great deal about developing the whole student, not just creating worker bees (and this includes educators in very career-oriented fields.) The tide they fight flows from the socio-cultural waters in which students swim. With this in mind, the question becomes a larger societal issue about the fundamental value of education.


How do we move forward? How can educators at all levels impart practical skills that lead to employment while at the same time underscoring the value of broad-based knowledge and understanding? Does the solution reside in the classroom or somewhere outside of it?  Food for thought, indeed.


If this is question which you’ve been grappling with I welcome you to share your take on the path forward in the comments below.


Image credit: Peopleimages/Getty Images


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