Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Modeling: Year 2

To say that this year is going better is such an understatement that I have deleted and retyped it about ten times trying to find a better word.

For one, my room is MY ROOM this year. There is no ghost of chemistry past whispering to kids that this class was so much easier last year.

I am also much more comfortable with the material. Last year, I just seemed to be a day or so ahead of my kids and really did not feel prepared enough to keep them focused. Not only were they learning how to Model, but so was I. This year, I have been able to sit down and write out detailed lesson "plans" for each day, including a list of questions (and answers) to ask during the whiteboard sessions. Having a clear goal in mind sure helps me focus and get the kids where they need to be. Who knew?*

One aspect that really bothered me last year was the lack of engagement on the part of my kids. Whiteboard sessions were still treated as a presentation to me rather than a class discussion of their results. I just couldn't get them to let go of me as their safety net. This year there have been a couple things, one on purpose and one accidental, that have made a huge difference in our whiteboarding.

After a week or so of whiteboarding "practice", I got tired of asking the same questions of every group. Seriously, did they not hear me ask the last group? So I made out notecards. These are handed out randomly and have a general question written on them.** If the presentation does not include the answer to your question, then you are to ask it of the group. This forces the kids to actually listen to the presentation, evaluate whether or not the question has been asked, and if not, then get it out there.

This has made such an amazing difference that I can't even believe it. All of a sudden, kids are sitting up and paying attention. They are asking questions, and you can bet that if the question has already been answered, someone is going to let you know. The quality of the presentations have also improved. For some reason, having me ask those questions every single time didn't seem to register with them, but now it's their peers who are asking and that seems to be much more important.

The other turning point this year was a total accident. I was gone. There were two weeks in there that I was gone for four days. The first day was typical, not-get-much-done-pull-one-over-on-the-sub-pretend-we-don't-know-anything. I came back the next day and pretty much just lit into them about responsibility and maturity and all that. They rolled their eyes and I rolled mine.

And I told them the test was still on. They panicked and they whined. "But, you are going to be gone!" Yep. So you had better figure out pretty quickly what you need to do to be ready.

I was gone the next day for their review. They whiteboarded the study guide that day and when I came back the next day, you would have thought it was Christmas morning. Kids jumping up and down, grinning from ear to ear. One boy, I swear I heard him giggle.

They had done it. They didn't need me. They could have a group discussion and learn from each other. They even kicked out a student who wouldn't quit talking. They were even relatively excited about taking the test.

Since then, my room has transformed. I can honestly say that kids are (mostly) engaged. And I feel so much less stressed about whether or not I am doing it right. We whiteboarded a worksheet today and I sat in the back and didn't say a word. Kids were following along, asking for clarification and checking each other's work.

This is actually my ultimate goal. I don't want to be the center of attention. I don't want to be needed. I want those kids to figure it out on their own, and I think they are well on their way :)

*I know, you probably knew.

**I have eleven as of right now and am pretty sure I am going to add in some lab specific questions later.
1. What is your independent variable?
2. What is your dependent variable?
3. What is the relationship between _____ and _____ ?
4. Is your y-intercept negligible? How do you know?
5. What kind of relationship is this?
6. What about the particles themselves cause this relationship?
7. Do we know what "x" represents in our equation? "y"?
8. Is the relationship constant? Direct?
9. What does your y-intercept represent?
10. What does the value of your slope mean?

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