Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Think I Must Be Dreaming

Don't wake me up!

Our seminar just ended. I had kids coming into my classroom. TO STUDY FOR THEIR QUIZ! These are kids who have never studied. Ever.


Monday, February 22, 2010

So Here It Goes

Wandering around the math blogosphere will really change up the way you are thinking about your teaching. Those people are doing AMAZING things in their classroom.

For awhile now, I have been trying to revamp he way I grade in my classes. I have been struggling with how to find out what those kids have actually learned. The truth is, deep in my soul, I do not believe tests are good measures of learning. Mind-boggling, isn't it?

I was actually already on this path when I came across the brilliant mind behind MeTA musings. From there, I webbed to f(t) and Always Formative and dy/dan and Point of Inflection.

THIS IS WHERE I WAS WANTING TO GO!!! What a relief to find someone already there! I am totally stealing their ideas!

So, here it goes. I am starting today. While my drywall mud dried yesterday, I sat down and wrote it all out. I am starting with my Astronomy class. I so want to add it into my Physics, too, but track starts next Monday and I don't want to be completely overwhelmed.

I (somewhat poorly) explained the system to the kids on Friday. When they understood the basic idea behind it, most of them seemed pretty excited.

So am I.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Does It Matter??

We start a new trimester on Tuesday. I am teaching a second section of Astronomy and have been playing with my outline.

This trimester, I taught the course in the order I normally do. I start close to home with the Moon and Sun and then move further and further away from Earth. We end the term discussing the galaxies, our Local Group and then get into the search for life.

For some inexplicable reason, I am toying with the idea of starting way out and moving in closer. I require my kids to complete an observation notebook as a part of the final, and I think this is where my indecision is starting. You have to have an idea of what to observe if you want to record it in a notebook.

So I think I will shake things up a bit (for me, not so much them). I am going to start with the big picture and bring home into focus at the end.

I think.

I need to stop doing things like this.

Monday, February 8, 2010

No Wonder I'm Behind

We switched to a trimester schedule this year. It is like a block schedule, but we meet everyday for 12 weeks.

I love it. We were on an 8 period day with 47 minute classes. Now we have a 6 period day with 68 minutes classes. Soooo much better. I don't feel like I am having to shift gears near as often and I (and my kids) can focus on getting something accomplished.

But as the end of our trimester looms up on us, I realize my Applied Chemistry class is no where near where they need to be.

We have had 4 snow days. The sophomores went the FHTC for a visit. And then our Mentoring hit my 4th hour 4 times.

Two weeks. Gone. That doesn't even count the days that the kids were absent for other reasons.

So what do I do? How do you handle missing 2 out of 12 weeks of school?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Fourth Experiment This Year

I am not afraid to try new things. Not a year passes in which I do not shake up my classroom in some way. One year it was Layered Curriculum. Last fall, I experimented with blogs.

This trimester, I have an hour with such a range of abilities as I have never seen. So in the interest of trying not to let anyone become seriously lost, I am experimenting with a couple strategies.

First off, I have done away with turning in papers to be graded. We start a unit with a notesheet (we do not have textbooks in my classes), usually coincided with a lab type activity and some sort of worksheet. They may work in groups if they want. Each paper is graded in front of the student. If #3 is wrong, it gets corrected. Right there. The assignment is not recorded until it is completely correct. I cannot tell you the number of time I have had a student ask me if he could "just miss that question" and move on.

That is not an option. There is a reason I asked that question. It is vital that you know the answer to that question. I want you to know the answer to that question, and if I just grade it and hand back the paper, you will never look at it and figure out on your own why you missed it.

That is what learning is all about, isn't it? Finding out stuff you didn't know before. If you just skip a question because you didn't already know the answer, aren't you wasting your time (and mine)?

Not surprisingly, the kids hated this. It took a good half of the grading period before they finally started taking me seriously. But persistence paid off. I love this method. It takes more time in class, but I have eliminated grading papers after school. The only thing I ever have to grade are tests. Although I have no scientific data to prove it, I believe test scores have improved, especially on the short answer/essay type questions. The answers are more complete and more coherent and more correct.

Our last trimester is coming up and I am going to start doing this in my Astronomy class as well. This class tends to bring in older kids, so we will see if we can't teach the old dogs some new tricks. Who knows, they might even learn something.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

But It's Not on the Mainland...

I'm sitting here watching a college basketball game. Kansas State and Nebraska (go Cats!). One of the K-State players is from Puerto Rico. You know, the island that is a United States territory and therefore, a part of the US. One of the announcers (I don't know his name) keeps talking about the "foreign" player. When it was finally pointed out that Puerto Rico is, in fact, part of the US and that would make this boy a US citizen, the announcer, instead of admitting he was wrong, tried to cover it up. "Well, Puerto Rico is not part of the mainland of the United States..."


What about Hawaii? Is Alaska considered part of the mainland US?? I am pretty sure there are small islands off the coast of Florida. And Texas. Are the people who live there considered Americans? And let's not even try to talk about Guam.

This point is one of the things that frustrates me the most as a teacher. A student makes a comment in error or does something against the rules. 98% of the time, that student will automatically deny it. I can sit and watch little Johnny texting on his phone and he will try with every cell in his being to tell me it wasn't him.

Why? What does arguing with me accomplish? What is wrong with admitting you were wrong?

How else will you learn?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Apparently I Have No Clue

So my district is focusing on differentiating instruction in my classroom. I am okay with that.

Or I thought I was.

I thought (before all of our long, tedious professional developments on the subject) that I knew what differentiation was. Apparently I don't.

I thought that differentiation meant to tailor your teaching to each individual student. Every one learns differently (although there seems to be evidence against this), so different methods of teaching should be made available. I tried Kathie Nunley's approach one year. I was excited. This was perfect. I had several activities ready to go and copied off. I had my room set up more or less in stations. I jumped right in.

The kids hated it. It surprised me, but what they hated the most was choosing their own assignments. "Just tell me what to do." Even if that meant telling them what to do so that they would NOT do it. Frustrating. So I abandoned that after a semester and went back to switching things up.

I teach mostly lower level students, so I have had many challenges in my classroom. I have adapted. I have modified. I don't have a problem with that. Fair does not always mean equal.

So when I first heard the term differentiation, I thought I was on the right track. Let each student show he understands the material in a way in which he can SHOW me he understands the material. Just because little Johnny gets 2 out of 50 on a test does not mean he can't explain to me what he has learned. Maybe I need to read the test to him. Maybe he can make a video of himself explaining a concept.

Then we had a professional development day where a speaker did not show. Heaven forbid we should have time to clean up the sand lab from three weeks ago, so we were given a box of videos to watch. One touted a teacher in her classroom showing an "excellent example of what differentiation should look like".

She had given her kids bright pink laminated strips of paper to use in place of a ruler.


That is differentiation? But everyone was doing the same thing! Those kids got right to work on a worksheet using a pink piece of paper.

I actually got up and stopped the film I was so confused. We had a nice discussion after that, but never really came to a conclusion as to what we were supposed to be changing in our classroom. Since then, I have asked administrators and other presenters that have come to our school, but no one seems to be able to articulate the process or outcomes I need to be using in my classroom.

So I guess I still don't know.

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