Saturday, September 25, 2010

Lab Skills

I have a separate grading section reserved just for my lab skills. In my perfect world, I would assess each one of these skills every time we went into the lab. I am not, however much I would like to be, Superwoman, and trying to keep 24 kids on track is a job in itself. So as it stands right now, I have graded the skills when they turn in lab notebooks and a couple have been assessed on a quiz. I am fully aware that there are some kids who are just copying a good portion of their notebook from whomever they deem smartest in their group. This bothers me a LOT, but at this point, I am not sure how to handle the sheer volume of assessment I want to do.

Target #9 is an exception. Any safety rule that is disregarded (goggles, anyone?) is an automatic zero for that day's grade. I also make sure they are using equipment properly during their lab. For example, are they using a beaker instead of a graduated cylinder to measure volume?

Target #10 is the other exception. This was put in strictly to make my life easier. I don't know about your students, but mine seem to think I am the maid. I know which group is using which lab station and if it or any equipment used is left in a mess, I record the appropriate grade.

Now that I have recorded a few grades, I am starting to realize that #6 and #7 are turning out to be pretty much the same thing since we tie our equations in to our graphs. For example, we graph mass and volume and when we find the slope, we discover the equation for density. So I'm not so sure I need to keep both of them.

Lab Skills

1. Identify the hypothesis to be tested, phenomenon to be investigated or the problem to be solved. (ΔHS.1.2.2a)*

2. Identify the tested variables and conditions to be kept constant during an investigation. (ΔHS.1.2.2b)

3. Communicate the details of an experimental procedure clearly and completely. (ΔHS.1.2.2c)

4. Record and represent data in a meaningful way. (ΔHS.1.2.2d)

5. Analyze laboratory data in order to clarify the questions, hypotheses or methods of an experiment.

6. Use common mathematical functions to analyze and describe data. (ΔHS.1.3.3b)

7. Use statistical and graphing data analysis techniques. (ΔHS.1.3.3c)

8. Recognize accuracy and precision of data depends on instruments used. (ΔHS.1.3.3d)

9. Use equipment properly and safely. (ΔHS.1.3.3f)

10. Follow all lab clean-up procedures.

So what do you think? Am I missing anything?

*The unbelievably unreadable jumble in parentheses is a reference to our state standards.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Oh The Irony*

Today I sat down with my mutineer's mother to lay out a plan to get her caught up and back on track. I had her son in class a couple years ago and she was a little confused about the changes that had taken place in my classroom. Once I explained the reasoning behind my teaching methods and grading practices, she really seemed to be okay with Lydia's opportunities to get her grade up.

I also talked about how I thought that once Lydia figured out the system, she would find it easier to pinpoint exactly what she needed to work on. I reminded Lydia that she could retake quizzes over those things she didn't know and not have to worry about the things she does well.

She asked me what had made me do such a complete overhaul of my teaching existence and I told her the story of Harley. The year I had him in class, we held meeting after meeting trying to figure out how in the world we could get him to conform to our rules. The story was the same from each teacher. "Harley does great on tests, but won't pass unless he does his work."

I can remember a little voice in the back in my head saying, "You know, there is something wrong here..." The problem was that it didn't cross my mind that the problem was with me. I know I shouldn't feel too badly since apparently no other teacher in the room did either.

I told her that it took me long enough, but I finally realized that I had not given that child what he needed. I told her how hard it was for me to admit and that I still lay awake at nights wondering why in the hell it took me so long to lose that ridiculous superiority complex and just help the kid.

I told her that it was my hope that this system would allow me identify each student's weak areas and really truly help them learn.

At this point I am getting pretty emotional and thinking I really don't want to cry in front of a parent, but I look up and this mother is in tears.

Because, even though Harley and Lydia are on opposite ends of every spectrum, Lydia is Harley's sister.

*I have never been too clear on the actual definition of irony, so I could in all probability be using the term incorrectly here. Just go with it and be glad I don't teach Language Arts.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Mutiny

It all started with one of my extended absence students returning. Her close cousin was killed in an accident and she is dealing with a lot right now. She is also a pretty good student (although with an attitude) who is now a week behind, not just in my class, but in all of them.

And she is mad.

At me.

And my "whacked out grading system." I love that. I just graded lab notebooks and each student received scores on five of the Lab Skills targets.*

Once she started ranting about her failing grade (I enter missing assignments as zeros strictly for my bookkeeping purposes), a good number of kids joined in.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this "discussion":

"I want to read a textbook and fill out a worksheet." (4.0 student)
"We shouldn't have to know what we've done in a lab." (another 4.0 student)
"I don't get anything out of the whiteboarding." (This is as the student is texting under the table)
"I can't get a good grade with these target things." (This student didn't even turn in a notebook.)

There were others, some directed at me personally, but the gist of it could be summarized into one complaint:

"I don't want to have to work for my grade."

This is pretty much exactly what our modeling instructor warned us about. The kids who are traditionally A and B students are the ones who really struggle with figuring stuff out on their own. They have learned to play the game and when the game changes, they can't adapt.

Somewhat surprising to me are the kids who are emerging as really good thinkers. A few of my really low readers are excelling in this class, probably for no other reason than the pressure of fill-in-the-blank is not there. Hands on thinking seems to bring out the best in them. This is also kind of a wake up call when one of the A/B students claims that "everyone in this class is failing." Oh, the priceless look when someone who has struggled so much in the past speaks up and says, "I have a B."

I also have a couple really brilliant kids who are really thriving on this as well. They seem to be enjoying the new rules and are being challenged in a system that more often than not ignores them to focus on the low achievers.

All in all, I am foreseeing a few parent phone calls in my near future. I have been doing much better about that this year and have already put in a few calls myself. This has always been a weakness of mine and I am determined to do better this year.

What is amazing to me right this second is that I have never once thought that maybe I should go back to teaching in a more traditional manner. I truly believe that this is a better way.

Even if my kids delete me from their Facebook friends.

*Hmmmm...was going to link to this, but apparently I haven't posted them. Coming soon: Lab Skills Targets!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dealing with Absences: Mine and Theirs

Whew. Do you realize it is half way through September already? I have hit the wall. You know, that one that appears after the excitement of beginning school fades and you are facing the rest of the year? Really? It's just me? Hmmm.

I am struggling a lot right now with my classes, chemistry especially. I have had four kids with extended absences (out an entire week) so far. That coupled with me taking our cross country team early every Thursday is really throwing me off.

One of the big ideas with the modeling is that kids are a part of the discussion and learn the material by listening and asking questions of their peers as they are presenting results. It's a little hard to participate if you aren't there.

I have toyed with the idea of recording every whiteboard session, but that doesn't really seem plausible. I feel terrible just telling them to "go discuss it with your group," mostly because they just end up copying the work and not really making any attempt to learn anything. So while I'm venturing into unknown territory here, I have come up with a few ideas.

First, I have started a blog for my chemistry class. At the end of the day, I put a summary up of what each hour did* along with any assignment given. I am toying with the idea of having the students take turns writing up a conclusion for the day, but I am not sure of the logistics involved with that.

Second, I have created an answer key notebook. I don't grade homework and I could foresee my bulletin board becoming extremely disorganized and messy if I posted the answer keys there. So I went to the office and got a bright orange notebook and am collecting answer keys in there. Now if I could just find a convenient, accessible place to put it.

Third, I have created a website. I have done this for my Earth Sciences and wasn't really going to bother with chemistry, but it just seemed necessary. I have two students who are in the hospital right now and I needed a way for them to keep up on the labs. So I took pictures of each step of the lab and posted them on the site. It is my hope that they will be able to take data from the pictures and get to a decent conclusion based on that. Ideally I would just wait and have them come into the lab to make it up, but I think they are under enough stress without chemistry piling up. Eventually, I would like to add in tutorials for each unit, but I'm thinking I don't need to add to my to-do list right now.

What do you think? Any ideas? How do you handle kids who have missed so much?

Of course, both hours are NOT in exactly the same place :(

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Now Where Do I Sit?"

Want to really mess a kid up?

Change the layout of your classroom on a Tuesday evening.

Seriously. They have no idea what to do when they walk into a newly arranged room. I have had several kids for two years in a row and they sit in the same seat every day for both of those years. Every student who has walked through my door has stopped dead in their tracks and said, "Whoa*."

When I moved into this room, I had three rows of desks with just enough room to walk around the ends. If someone on the other side of the room raised there hand, I just waved. I had no good way to get there. Now I have an outside "U" with two mini-rows (kids call them islands) in the middle. And I love it. I can get from point to point in the room without any major student rearrangement.

It could be that they are still stunned, but I have noticed a change in the kids as well. They seem more attentive and less likely to strike up a conversation with their neighbor. Maybe they feel less isolated.

Even better, we have renamed this room. My principal has always called it the "chemistry lecture room.**" One of my kids has christened it the "chemistry discussion room."

*This is a direct quote.
**I have given up trying to convince him that I rarely lecture.

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