Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Point, and I DO Have One...

I have this bad habit of going to the Internet to search for something specific and ending up on a tangent that in no way answers my original question. Today, I can't even remember what I started out looking for, but I clicked on a link to an article on that gives a list of the Top Ways to Fail a Chemistry Class. Usually, these lists are fairly general in their advice and could easily substitute "Math" or "History" for "Chemistry" in the title. I didn't even get past the first number on the list, so I don't even know how specific this list is. Number one on this list is "Don't Show Up". This seems pretty obvious, but the short explanation really wasn't what I expected:
Possibly one of the easiest ways to ensure failure is to not attend class. It's possible to teach yourself chemistry without ever setting foot in a classroom, but learning a subject isn't the same as passing a class. If you don't put in the time, you probably won't know what is expected of you for exams. You won't know what problem sets are due. You can't do labs if you aren't there. Even if there isn't an attendance policy, it helps to put in face-time.
Did you catch that???? Learning a subject isn't the same as passing a class.

Whoa!!! I think one of the teachers down the hall may have just imploded.

Basically, the person who wrote this seems to believe that main the reason you go to class is so you can decode what the professor seems to think is important enough to put on the test or know when you are supposed to turn in your work. I can't really explain it, but this assumption has been bothering me all day. Oddly enough, I just read a post by Michael that helped me tie some things together. His daughter and mine are about the same age, so I can relate to a lot of what he writes about her. My girl just came home a few weeks ago with the same comment. She is extremely bright and loves learning about new things, but school? Meh, whatever. I have been worrying about this whole problem for awhile now, and not just because of her. I have kids that are bored to death in my class because they aren't challenged. I have kids who couldn't care less because they don't see the point. I have kids who are struggling to keep up and kids who are in the Goldilocks zone. I don't want my kids to pass my class if they do not understand what was taught. If they can Google the information they need, am I teaching it correctly? Is it too easy if can do their homework for them? Is that what learning should be about?

Maybe the planets are all aligned or something, but today at lunch, we were discussing a similar situation. We just finished our second trimester a few weeks ago and one of my colleagues was talking about a student who missed 21 out of 63 days of class. Now, we have an attendance policy that says that if a student misses more than 5 class days, he cannot receive credit for that class. For various, annoying reasons that I will not get into, this policy is rarely enforced. This teacher was complaining because the student missed a LOT of class time, but still earned a C in his class. He thought that the policy should be enforced and this student should not receive any credit, and every one at the table seemed to be in agreement.

I finally came out of my state of shock and asked him how in the world did that kid miss a third of his class and still pass? Obviously, students do not need to attend his class in order to "learn" what he wanted them to. What is it about his class time that is so incredibly pointless?

This is why people outside of education believe that teachers can be replaced with computer programs. This is what must change within my walls. I have 70 minutes a day, how am I going to use it?

Awhile back a group of students in my class were discussing ways in which to cheat on various tests.* Eventually, I asked them how they cheat on mine. Every single one of them shook their heads. One dear child finally said they hadn't figured out a good way to do it. I reminded them that they could use the calculator on their phone, and it would be so simple for most of them to search for an answer or text someone else. "We thought of that, but your tests are pretty much unGoogleable."

While I had never actually thought specifically about it, that is actually my goal. I don't want a bunch of parrots in my room regurgitating what I said. I want kids who can think and work through problems. What is the point of information if you can't use it? How can we create classes that are challenging, yet doable?

This is one of my weaknesses. I so want to create a classroom that is engaging for all kids. I have such a difficult time coming up with questions that can be answered by both gifted Garrett AND slow little Susie. I struggle with giving out enough information to complete the activity, but holding back enough so I don't give it away. I want to walk that line, but can't always see where it is.

I also, more than anything, want kids to feel like they really missed out when they miss my class.

*I love it when they forget I am in the room.


Knaus said...

I *think* I disagree. If your tests are unGoogleable, then you are doing it right.

However, on the other side, often times, I don't feel that I need to be in the room. The kids are engaged in activities that I have set up to spark the learning.

For instances, we are doing a fact finding unit where students are given a slide of pictures and words and they need to research the truthful who, what, where, when, why, how. I literally gave 1 minute of instruction after their warm-up. They all spent the next 45 minutes engaged in research and note taking. I spent that time in mini-conferences about what they are doing and answering questions. It was differentiated by the students. I met them where they were at. Some had extensive notes, some had just a few word, but all got the main idea.

So, no parrots. No spitting stuff back at me. I'm guessing that some of the students don't really need me. They need me only to make the tasks interesting, engaging and relevant. After that, they take charge and DO the learning.

Okay, I *think* I agree with you but for different reasons. Ah, well, it's late and I probably should go to bed.

Teach Science Right said...

I agree with your premise. I want to know that what I have to share with students is pretty valuable and will really help them out - in more classes than just the ones I teach. That when students do miss, they realize that they missed something important, and not just something they can read in the text. Our goal is to make content meaningful, while also engaging the students in developing a particular set of skills that they can apply to any facet of life.

Oh, and way to go on making tests that are "unGoogleable" haha

Chris Mitchell

Tracie Schroeder said...

Knaus - I think we agree! Obviously, you had an incredible question that was enough to get them going. I love days like that, and every once in awhile I come up with something that sparks with my kids. My huge difficulty is coming up with the questions. At that, I am horrible.

Tracie Schroeder said...

Teach - I have actually had kids come to school only to come to my class. While I don't really want them to have to make that effort necessarily, it tells me that they think it is important not to miss. I am still working on coming up with ways to make it easier to make up the work when they are gone.

I was so proud the moment the word unGoogleable was said :)

Anonymous said...

Good insight though. Reflection is an important key to being a good teacher in the science classroom.

Bryce McMinn

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