Tale of the Rejected Laminator

So, there’s been this bulky, heavy laminator stored on a cart in our back room for years. It’s broken, I’m told. I gainfully plug it in and press “ON”, and sure enough, nothing happens. Clearly this machine needs professional help.

I call up my Electrical Engineer friend. He arrives in my classroom with his tool bag of esoteric pokers, prodders, capacitors, bulbs, who knows what all these things are. He unscrews, pulls, prods, replaces, examines, tests. “Hmmm, I can’t really find anything wrong… is there some kind of safety mechanism on this that prevents it from turning on if the alignment isn’t correct?”

“Oh, I have no idea… what do you mean?” It all looked pretty straight to me.

Input tray must click in for machine to turn on.

Input tray must click in for machine to turn on.

He slides the output tray one centimeter deeper into the machine over a little hump and Click! it settles into a new place.  Pokes “ON”, and the lights turn on, machine is humming happily. Brilliant!

What’s the moral of this story to me?  This machine had sat for years in our storeroom. It had come precipitously close to being scrapped as “junk” since, after all, “It doesn’t work and none of us have a budget to get it fixed.”  A tool is only as useful as the knowledge and skill of the craftsman who wields it. The mind, not the material, is key.

Warm Ups… a helpful tool

In my 8th grade classroom, warm ups are a helpful routine. I will often have a few questions on the board for students to work on in the first 5 minutes of class while I sort out attendance & other duties.

The only way I’ve found this works is if I collect the warmups at least once a month. I tell the students to write 3 warm ups per page of paper, use both sides so there are 6 per physical piece of paper. It *really* helps to have them draw 2 lines ahead of time on the paper to subdivide the sections, otherwise they end up getting really sloppy.

I tell the students to save their warmups in the front of their science section in their three-ring binder.

Kids often want to take the paper out of their binder to write. I try to discourage the less-organized students from this, since half the time when they are done writing, they just stuff the paper randomly back into the backpack abyss. I tell them just to open their binder and write on the paper as it stays securely inside the three rings.

Topics for warm ups…

  • review of previously learned concepts. Particularly helpful to reinforce main standards. A little review, frequently, is better than a big chunk all at once.
  • quantitative reasoning (math connections to the science curriculum)
  • preview of new ideas with a motivating ‘hook’
  • problems involving ambiguous answers or frequently misunderstood concepts that can inspire a quick “Think – Pair – Share” classroom discussion

The most important thing to remember about warm up problems is to keep them interesting, at least mildly. How? I try to use sports, movies, or references to common or interesting personal experiences in the topics (as in, “The mass of Harry Potter’s wand is 20 grams. If it is placed in a graduated cylinder filled with water to 55 mL, the water rises to 78 mL. What’s the density of the wand? Malfoy’s wand has a mass of 24 grams and displaces the same amount of water. If they both drop their wands in a lake, which wand will sink? Why?”)