Thursday, March 30, 2017

When You're Eating, Are You Really Eating?

Most of the lunches I have eaten during my tenure in the classroom are portrayed perfectly by the statement above. Lunch was just one more item on a checklist that I would plow through so I could move on to some another urgent task or appease the notifications on my phone. 

The problem is, however, that last night's leftovers or your ham sandwich will be used to maintain the 37.2 trillion cells in your body. You are, in fact, what you eat. More importantly, if you slam through your meals, you are missing out on one of the only times during the day you may get to stop, gather your thoughts, and be in the present without the burden of curriculum or crowd control. I wonder if that is why it is so tempting to go for a late night ice cream binge: it's the only time in our day when most of us allow ourselves to stop and enjoy what we are putting in our mouths.

In the hectic rush of getting ready for AP exams, I found myself slipping into the old habit (i.e. eating lunch in five minutes) recently. If you look at the data below, I am not alone.

So, I decided to give myself a restart on eating more mindfully. This was a practice I picked up as I began to take responsibility for my health last summer. One of the biggest changes I had made that helped me manage my anxiety and my weight was actually eating during meals- ceasing wondering thoughts, being thankful for my food, noticing the flavors and textures, and slowing down.

Because of the tremendous difference my altered eating habits had made in the past, I invited eight friends to complete an "eating experiment" over the course of 7 days. It was partly inspired by the book E-Squared, which challenges readers to consider how thoughts sculpt our reality. The directions to my friends were as follows:

1. Before you eat, give thoughtful, deliberate thanks. This could be for the people that grew it, prepared it, and/or to your higher power (whatever resonates with you at the core of what you believe).

2. Smell and look at your food. Eat at a table, if possible. Chew each bite 30 times while paying attention to what is in your mouth. If you must eat while you drive or on the go, focus on your meal as much as possible. 

3. Before you start the process, take a few minutes and think about something you would like to improve about your health (sleep, athleticism, weight, etc.) and visualize that. Each time you eat, ruminate over this desire, and tell yourself that what you are consuming is going to nourish you and help you achieve it.

4. Don't change your food choices or portions. If you are hungry, eat. If you're not, stop. Respect your personal cues. But do think positively about what you eat. If you want to have some cake to celebrate a friend's birthday, think about the cake as an extension of your friend's special day, not as a guilt-laden burden of extra calories you will have to punish yourself for via exercise or self-loathing.

5. Weigh yourself in the morning of the first day you start, and then again after the last day. 

As stated in the video below, all eight of my friends reported they ate less, took more time at meals, made healthier food choices, and on average, lost 2 pounds each. The best part was no pills, gimmicks, or diet changes were needed, and they had more time during their day where they were actually in the present moment.

When asked what part of the experiment was useful or helpful, the participants said:

"The awareness of how rushed my days are, even when having a meal."- Aime T.

"Feeling more satisfied for longer periods after eating."- Wendy M.

"Planting in my head the idea that a meal was more than just getting the food down as quickly as possible." Amy W.

"I thought it would be so easy, but [I learned] my life is on auto-pilot." - Patricia M.

"Chewing every bite with intention. Enjoying the flavors." - Leslie W. 

"Thinking of who I am, what I was actually doing, and why I was doing it." - Catherine J. 

"I ate less and lost 2 pounds." - Katherine B.

"No technology and visualization kept me focused so I never ended a meal without remembering that I had actually eaten." - Kris N.

Daily, my Facebook and Twitter news feed is filled with articles on teacher burnout, depression and poor health. I invite you to make this one change for not only your health, but the health of our profession.



P.S. If you would like to try this "eating experiment" for yourself, you can message me through my page after you are finished, and I will send you a link to the survey so you can reflect on your experience. The most consistent feedback for improvement was that it would be helpful to set reminders on your phone and to have a quick visual checklist to use at mealtimes, so you may want to take a screenshot of the steps above and keep them handy. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Low Stress Chemistry with "Hands-On" Stoichiometry

Here is an accurate visual for representing how the word "stoichiometry" makes most people feel. 

The purpose of this blog is to help other teachers reduce the stress in their lives and to allow me to reflect and continue my own personal growth. In that vein, any chemistry teacher can tell you that stoichiometry is easily one of the most frustrating topics to instruct, so I wanted to share a strategy I created that has been well-received by both my students and fellow educators. 

In addition to making our jobs easier, I also think it is critical to reduce rote learning via the use of algorithmic flowcharts that do not foster conceptual understanding and may lead to confusion if not used properly.  

After seeing my lowest students internalize molar conversions kinesthetically, even after the marker ink on their hands has washed away, I will never go back. As I mentioned in the condensed video below, the parts of our brains that process numerical representation also control our finger movement. So, a literal hands-on approach is a great way to help students that struggle in math be successful in stoichiometry. I invite you to try it yourself; the ten minutes you are about to invest will be returned with fewer paper corrections and tutoring sessions. I promise!

Here are some quick tips for pulling this off from my experience and other teachers' feedback:

1. Students with sensory processing issues may find the marker on their skin unbearable. In this situation, you can give them the handout I used in the video. If a students' parents would prefer they not write on their hands, disposable gloves can also be used (and reused for the duration of the unit).

2. It is best not to have students fold their fingers down while converting lest birds be shot in your classroom. Kids will be kids, and we have enough behavior issues to handle already.

3. Each lesson, add a new type of conversion instead of starting with all three fingers labeled at the beginning. The first day, for example, students may only have particles (formula units, atoms, and molecules) and moles on their hand. The next day, grams can be written and utilized. 

4. Fine-tipped washable markers work well for this activity because they are the least permanent and the kids enjoy the colors available. Plus, they are less likely to vanish from your room than Sharpies. 

If you are looking for the worksheet link to the practice problems I used, look no more.

I wish you the best of luck and a mole of A's on your next stoich test. Cheers,