Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sci guy aims high

Expanded science program pays off with higher test scores

By Sondra Murphy

Ojai Unified School District is small and shrinking by the year, but state test scores in science in the elementary schools has risen 25 percent in the past two years.
Administrators are quick to attribute that counterintuitive trend to the dedication of teachers like Matilija Junior High’s Jim Bailey.
Bailey grew up in Southern California and his mother was a school secretary for 20 years. “I don’t think she could be any prouder of my choice of profession even if I were a doctor or lawyer,” said Bailey.
“My dad taught me to surf when I was 10. We still take surf trips to this day. We’ve been to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Hawaii. I teach surf lessons in the summer through Ventura Surf Shop. I have been a contest judge for the C Street Longboard Classic for the last three years. I’ve surfed all around the coast of California.”
He has two daughters, age 13 and 11, who live in Minnesota. “They always come out and spend a month with me in the summer. They like Ojai, especially the water holes and Ojai Pizza.” Besides surfing, Bailey likes cooking, astronomy and playing the ukulele. Before teaching, he was a retail clerk and manager, cattle hand and Sun Valley, Idaho ski lift operator one season. “I house-sit quite a bit in the valley and am great with pets and plants.”
Bailey joined OUSD in 2001 and was welcomed by his colleagues into Matilija’s science department. Through the support of the Ojai Education Foundation, Bailey has also been teaching science to elementary students for three years.
“I’ve always been interested in science and used to read about astronomy as a junior high student myself,” said Bailey. “Matilija has a respected history of providing excellent science education to its students. As the new kid, I really looked up to mentor science teachers like Dan Harding, Rick Metheny — whose retirement allowed me to come to Ojai — and Brenda Farrant. There was already a thriving culture for science education on campus I just had to step into the stream and add my particular experience to the whole.”
Bailey got his teaching credential from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he said the environment was perfect for learning to teach science. “One of the best parts of teaching science is that we get ‘do’ and ‘make.’ Cal Poly really puts an emphasis on a learn-by-doing approach, and nurturing that philosophy has served me well in the classroom,” said Bailey. “Some of my favorite lessons include learning about Newton’s laws of motion on skateboards, studying pressure in fluids and Pascal’s Principle by making Cartesian divers, and learning about simple chemical reactions by decomposing the sucrose molecule — that’s sugar for you non-science types — over a candle flame.” Last year, chef Claude Mann assisted Bailey in making ice cream using liquid nitrogen. “The extremely low temperature of the liquid nitrogen doesn’t allow time for the ice crystals to grow, leading to the creamiest ice cream you’ll ever have,” said Bailey.
Other favorite lessons Bailey gives are making mousetrap-powered vehicles, performing science poetry in a beat poet tradition and making paint stick boomerangs, which he thanked Harding for helping with. He has also found success in having students write science songs to the tunes of pop hits to aid in memorization of key science standards.
“Of course, teaching in this community is far more than I could have ever imagined. The students are curious and well prepared, the families really care about education, and the support in the community is always there. OEF, Rotary, Food For Thought, and even individual families have supported our science programs very generously over the years. It is making a profound difference in our ability to deliver exciting and relevant lessons, as well as helping with student interest and motivation towards the sciences.”
OUSD has seen a recent boost to its science scores in standardized test performance by students since fostering collaboration between elementary teachers, Bailey, OEF and the Rotary Club of Ojai.
“Each day after teaching three classes in the morning at Matilija, I travel to a different elementary school,” Bailey said. “At each site I teach a hands-on lesson or lab directly related to the fifth-grade science standards. The teachers cover the reading of the material in the text and, in some cases, expand on my lesson with activities of their own.” This collaboration has proved beneficial in many ways.
“Science labs can take more time than other lessons both for setup and cleanup. Often they require equipment the teacher may not have easy access to. I have access to equipment from all the elementary schools and can provide the experience and expertise to deliver an effective lab for students,” said Bailey. “I gather the equipment and materials I need on Friday, and carry it with me in my car from school to school the following week. Between surfboards and science equipment there is usually not much room for passengers in my car.” Besides increasing test scores and interest in the sciences, Bailey said fifth-graders have responded enthusiastically to his graduated cylinders, microscopes, propane torches and ukulele. “I love working with the elementary students. They just give their attention and interest away for free. Junior high students make you work for it a little more, but the elementary students are jumping to learn the minute you walk in the door.”
Bailey said his favorite achievements are improved student attitudes about the enjoyment of learning science. “Parents seem fond of telling me that science has become their child’s favorite subject. That’s always nice. A rise in state test scores has been nice as well,” he said. “The elementary program has seen a 25 percent rise in state science test scores in two years: 10 percent the first year and 15 percent last year. Many of my eighth-graders have reported near-perfect scores on the science section of their standards test.”
Students aren’t the only ones enjoying science and Bailey has found that teaching has helped continue his love for the subject in ways he can also share with his peers. “Last year, at the National Science Teachers Association conference in Boston, I facilitated a workshop on creating and using science songs in the classroom. That was a huge moment for me. Playing a ukulele and singing funny science songs in a classroom of 10- or 13-year-olds is a lot easier than in a roomful of 30 adults. But it went swimmingly, and everybody left having created and shared part of a song of their own.”
The science teacher enjoys the challenge of finding better lessons, increasing efficiency in the classroom and inspiring more students to love their interactions with science. “I hope that I can achieve lasting supportive relationships with students who need a mentor or role model to look to. I view my real job as going far beyond the science standards and into the realm of helping to produce happy and healthy young adults,” said Bailey. “I play a small part in my students’ lives, but it had better be nurturing, and affirming, as well as ‘sciencetastic.’ If not, I am missing out on a powerful opportunity.”
As complex as teaching science is, Bailey boils down much of his success to basic elements. “Students will always respond well to good lessons and teachers who care. I am blessed to have some really good relationships with students and families around the valley. It is a sacred responsibility to be entrusted with the education of the next generation. A responsibility that extends beyond just my subject and beyond the classroom walls,” Bailey said. “I believe that, in a community like Ojai, the value of a teacher can be more fully realized because there are so many positive points of contact for adults and youth.”
Bailey’s commitment to the local community is fueled by his enthusiasm for teaching and he recently presented science labs at the Rotary Club of Ojai’s Youth Fest 2008, as well as at Ojai Day. “I am a mentor and facilitator of a youth leadership program run by the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. In all of these activities there is the opportunity to affirm our youth, reiterate concepts from class, and just generally pass on the components of civilization that will continue our American values and work ethic,” said Bailey. “Ojai just presents a ton of opportunities to support youth and families. Teaching is sure a lot more fun when you care about kids.”
Like everyone else in Ojai connected with public education, Bailey has concerns about the budget. “We as taxpayers provide just around $6,000 per student per year to the school districts and something like $29,000 per prisoner per year to the prison system. There is something fundamentally wrong with our values as a nation when this disparity is so great,” Bailey said. “When good teachers are having to be let go because of the budget, that is a loss for our community. As for me, if all I had was a stick and a dirt floor, I’d still be teaching science.”


Anonymous said...

Mr. Bailey = Hero.

Dr. Sanford Aranoff said...

Of course, we must care about kids. We must understand how students think. See "Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better" on amazon.

Caryn Bosson said...

We in Ojai are so fortunate to have dedicated and talented teachers like Jim Bailey. Look at the rise in test scores because of his efforts! Kudos to the Ojai Unified School District, to the Ojai Education Foundation, and to Jim Bailey himself, for putting together such a positive equation for our kids.
I know from personal experience how much Jim cares about youth - for the past several years, after being in the classroom all day, he still finds time to mentor kids once a week through the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. So often when children grow up, they look back to that one teacher, that one adult, who really made a difference for them. For hundreds of Ojai Valley children, that one person will be Jim Bailey.

Beki said...

Way to go Jim, I am so proud of you!! Your students are very lucky to have a teacher like you!
I love ya!
-Your little sis

Sharlene said...

I can only hope my children have a science teacher as dedicated and talented as Jim Bailey