Casey Rutherford teaches Physics and CIS Physics at Shakopee High School, where he has worked for the past seven years. He has a B.A. in Physics and Math and teaching licensure in both subjects from St. Olaf College (‘04), as well as an M.A. in Science Education from the University of Minnesota. Currently, he is working on an M.S. in Educational Technology at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
What are your main areas of responsibility at work?
I would love to say my main responsibility is instruction. The reality of teaching, however, is that I am in charge of educating, tracking, grading, and (so it sometimes seems) being an additional parent to my students. What this means is that my job is about a lot more than just instruction. It requires organization, communication (with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators), and very good time management. Then there’s the whole teaching thing…
What do you like most about your job?
Seeing students learn. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of leading a student to understand something they didn’t previously understand. My current focus is inquiry learning through Physics Modeling curriculum, which aims to guide students towards understanding relationships through building conceptual and mathematical models. The idea is that the data that students collect drives the instruction, and models are created to explain the data. Conveniently, the models also obey physics. Turns out physics works! I love when students are able to discover physics through inquiry, and the light bulb effect that comes with this type of learning.
I also really enjoy big picture thinking. In my daily classroom teaching, I enjoy looking at the big picture to create unit plans, which involves stringing together cohesive lessons with the end goal in mind. In my building and district-wide, I work with colleagues and administration on leadership teams to work on increasing student engagement and achievement on a systemic level. I like the thought that I am positively impacting student learning on a large scale.
How do you integrate technology in your teaching? What results do you see?
Ok, wow, this seems like a blog post in and of itself! I’m going to focus on the technologies I integrate into student-led lessons for the purpose of highlighting student use of educational technology.
Logger Pro and video analysis: I have a number of flip cameras that students use to videotape objects in motion. Logger Pro can then take position and time data, which allows students to analyze the motion mathematically using a variety of models. The really cool thing is that once they get the hang of it, students can find the speed and acceleration of any object they choose, such as an airplane flying overhead or a car on a video game that has been screencast.
Labquests with a variety of sensors: These impressive devices take data from a wide variety of sensors and easily interface with Logger Pro to analyze the data. I have used motion detectors, force sensors, microphones, temperature sensors, photogates, current and voltage probes, and have plans to obtain some accelerometers.
PBworks wiki: My physics students create a wiki of articles relating to current physics research, on which they summarize and then comment. This allows for students to work on technical reading and increases scientific literacy without taking precious class time. All work is completed outside of class.
PowerPoint: One of my pet peeves is a bad PowerPoint presentation. I assign a number of lab and data presentations throughout the year where students are not allowed text – only pictures, graphs, and numbers. This is to encourage student presenters to focus on the presentation, not the tool, such that they don’t simply read a large amount of text on a slide. I hope to add some iMovie work for this as well, as we are now talking about adding some Mac labs in the district.
Phones: Currently our school policy is that students should not have their phones visible in class. However, with tools like Evernote and automatic picture uploads through G+, why would we not take advantage of them? Fortunately the acceptable use policy does allow phones for educational purposes, so my students often do work on their whiteboard desks and take a picture of it, or take a picture of a lab, or scan a QR code I created to access a video or website I wish them to see.
Google Apps: My school is just now jumping on the Google Apps for Education bandwagon, and I am leading the charge by piloting the program with my students. Students use Google docs for collaborative projects and create Google sites to share lab results for design-your-own-lab projects, which we do multiple times each year.
Overall, I try to use technology to give students the power to do work that is interesting to them and advantageous to learning physics through choice in lab topics, how to collect data, and how to represent and analyze the data.
How do you think education will be changed by technology in the next 10 years?
1) Mobility and access. One of the problems in education right now is that we educators can’t assume that every student has access to the Internet outside of class. This has to change. Districts must start to work with Internet providers to provide low-income students with an option for connectivity. Similarly, it will become more viable to use handhelds and tablets, particularly to bring learning outside the classroom. Online learning and hybrid courses will become more common, which when done well can improve the education experience for students.
2) Increase in constructivism. The days of ‘spray and pray’ are numbered. I can tell a student what changing the parameters ‘a’, ’b’, and ‘c’ in the standard form of a quadratic function does to a parabola, or they can investigate themselves through a java applet. I can tell them about the interactions of molecules in solutes, or they can view them through simulation. Time and again research shows that the majority of students learn best (and more importantly, retain knowledge best) when they learn by doing. Time to live the dream!
How did your St. Olaf education affect your career choice and other aspects of your life?
I would say that above all I learned to produce quality work in whatever I do. I remember one particular physics problem while in my junior or senior year that my homework group and I could not figure out. We got to a point where we thought we had a correct path to get to the answer, but it was going to be a long (multiple hour) session to finish it up. One other group member and I decided that, even though it was going to mean 6-7 hours of working on that assignment/problem in total – that we should finish it out. And we did. I see some people going through life producing work that is ‘good enough.’ We could have stopped and probably would have ‘been fine’ as far as the homework grade was concerned. Instead we produced a quality answer that solved the problem. I strive to answer the tough questions in my classroom and in education in general, and I hope that I will never be satisfied with ‘good enough.’
How have your experiences in graduate school influenced your career?
In my first program, an M.Ed from the University of Minnesota, I gained a lot of expertise and experience using inquiry in the science classroom, and it changed the way I run my classroom. My current program, an M.S. in Educational Technology at Mankato State University, has gone beyond that to give me practical ways to use educational theory to increase learning for my students. Technology makes differentiation and individual choice much easier to accommodate than without, and students tend to be more engaged when they are interacting with the lesson instead of listening to it. I have learned so much from others, and I hope that I will never stop seeking new and better ways to teach.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I love to spend time with wife, Alyssa, and my two children, Aden (1.75 yrs) and Melia (3.75 yrs). They keep me busy much of the time. I am an avid runner and Nordic skier, read a lot of fiction, play guitar, and spend too much time following educational trends on twitter.
What are your goals for the future?
Generally speaking I hope to keep learning. I can’t do the same exact thing over and over, which is why I change (improve?) my curriculum so often, and why I have started four new classes in my seven years at Shakopee High School. More specifically, in the next 5-10 years I hope to transition out of the high school setting and into teaching undergraduate pre-service education courses, with maybe a collegiate math or physics course on the side.