Tis the season for planning

Dec 23, 2011 by     4 Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

This is one of my favorite parts of teaching.  I get a fresh start, and get to fix past mistakes.  Everything seems shiny and new.  I love it!  I get so excited about what we are covering in class and what the kids get to learn.  I imagine their reactions.  It is wonderful.  Then I read my evaluation of me and the class that I had them fill out for me on Google Docs.  Here is a link if you are interested.  It was heavily adopted/borrowed from Frank Noschese.

First of all, it is obvious that they HATE the modeling method.  This is pretty universal, except the honors are more vocal about their general dislike about this style of teaching.  From my perspective I know that there are a lot of things that I need to improve on.  First, there are several students, at least one per group, but often more, who really struggle with the material, and never come in for help and rely too heavily on others in their group to get them trough the class.  This is okay in our regular classes, but they fall flat on a quiz or test.

I got comments from students that said:

“I think it would be a lot easier if Mrs. Bauer went through more things herself on the smart of white board. It would help me comprehend a lot faster if I was taught what to do with explicated examples by the teacher.”

“Teaching first before letting us do it on our own. Giving solid reviews in class of what we did the class before to make sure everyone understands it. Whiteboards didn’t help because a few students actually understood what to do, while the majority didn’t understand what was going on. Mastering physics was also challenging because the things we do in class seems to be a lot easier than mastering physics.”

“Teaching. She needs to actually present the material and teach it before we fend for ourselves in group work. This semester, we were barely taught anything and then shoved into whiteboards, which left many of us lost and confused. Physics concepts build upon each other, and since we were not well informed about the first concepts, we seemed doomed for everything afterwards. It would make a world’s difference if we were taught about the equations, theories, and problems first. Then we could go into groups to study and work with the material more in depth.”


Second, I am not grading homework, and have no intention of grading homework.  But my kids are generally not doing their homework.  They say it is too hard, or does not relate to what we did in class…  Most of the time it is a continuation of what we did in class, and we always cover and go over the assigned worksheet the next class meeting.  This particular class of juniors are notorious for not doing their homework, so it might be more pronounced with this particular set of students, but it still worries me.


So what am I going to do differently next semester?  Well, I need to listen to my kids… I LOVE the modeling method, but both the kids and I need to improve for this to be a viable method.  I know that one thing hindering the success of this method in my class is the class size and layout.  I have a very small science classroom with room for only 12 desks.  There are between 23 to 30 kids in my class, which means that their desk is the lab desks which is wonderful for group work, but these lab desks don’t move so it is difficult to have board discussions.  It is also very easy, much too easy, for a kid to fade into the background and hide if they do not understand the material.  One solution I have for the board meeting is to use the hooks we have on the ceiling.  I’m going to make whiteboards with hooks on them that the kids can hang them from the hooks on the ceiling of the classroom.  That way they can all see each other’s boards.  I’m hoping this will help.

More than anything, I believe that there needs to be a cultural shift that needs to happen.  The kids are very accustomed to have questions on quizzes and tests very similar to homework or class problems.  So the kids have learned to memorize and dump.  They hate being presented with a new situation where they have to use the concepts that they learned and apply them.  This is where the kid’s anger comes out the most.  It is tempered with the fact that they can retake all their quizzes and tests, so they all very much appreciate their safety net, but they resent that they got such a low score in the first place that they would have to take the time to retake a quiz or test.  Few come around to see that these reassessments are part of the learning process.

So, a cultural shift needs to happen.  The kids need to experience learning and not memorizing.

So, this  next semester, I am going to meet them in the middle and help them into this process  of learning.  I am going back, partially, to the old way just for an introduction.  I never straight lectured, so it is not as bad as it sounds.  There are a lot of think-pair-share.  And I think that each “lecture” will last only 10 min or so.  That is the goal anyway.  Then the rest of the class will be very much in the modeling vein.  I have to have less down time in class and force the class to move along more quickly, which I think I can do.  The hope is that this will make the kids feel more supported.   We will see if this works.

4 Comments + Add Comment

  • Chris,
    It sounds like you’ve got a great read on your students and a good idea of where you’re going. The only thing I would add is that I don’t think you can do too much talking about why you teach the way you do. I find almost every student these days comes to class wanting me to simply tell them what things to memorize, work a few examples, give them a pile of problems to do, then change them slightly on the test, make them feel like they’ve accomplished something and then give them an A. But when we break these things down and talk about how you really learn something—usually by trying and failing on your own, often by being forced to adapt to new situations, and how the rewards are usually far more intrinsic, satisfying and meaningful than a single letter grade, I think enough of them begin to come around to see the value in what we are doing. Some of the specific things I’ve done with them to address the misconception that “me telling = them learning” is to have them watch and discuss the Veritasium video on the effectiveness of science educaiton, and the don’t lecture me podcast/article from American RaidoWorks. I know many other modeling teachers do similar things. Kelly O’Shea has all her students read The Talent Code for summer reading.

    I used to think that I could be much further along I skipped this metacognition stuff and simply had them do 100% physics all the time, but I’ve recently begun to think that these discussions are essential to the progress we’ve made, and if I were to skip them, my students lack of understanding of our collective purpose could easily turn in to resentment and derail us completely.

    Good luck!

    • Thank you so much John!! These links are really helpful. We did spend time watching and discussing Dan Meyer’s and Dan Pink’s TED talk. That seemed to help some kids more than others. I’m going to spend the first day back talking about learning and these resources will be great! I know that I wasn’t as present as I needed to be during the whiteboarding sessions, and I was mainly the one leading the discussions, as hard as I tried not to lead them. So, we are going to work on these things a lot. I think that it will go a long way to have a psuedo lecture with them once in a while. They need to be heard, and perhaps if I give a little, they will give a little too. Or, rather, give this method another chance.

  • Hey Chija! It actually sounds like a pretty tough semester so far! It’s wonderful that you’re still so inspired and motivated :o) When does your school start back up? I’d love to stop by and observe if you don’t mind :oD It’s always interesting seeing other classrooms. I’m not sure what kind of hooks you have in your room, but maybe you can just drill holes in the boards (if you’ve seen Frank Noschese’s boards, it’s like that). Fewer hooks to catch on to things and flesh. I’m sure modeling is very different from what the students are used to. Either I never really surveyed my students properly or they just didn’t care so much, or I didn’t stick as true to modeling as you did… but wow, those students who left those comments seem very resistant to their experience of modeling so far. As for the assessments, I don’t remember the quizzes in the modeling materials to be so different from the worksheets. We definitely want our students to be able to transfer their learning to new situations (in these cases, apply a model to new situations), but it’s not clear where to draw the line between “fair” transfer and “unfair” transfer. What we might see as two problems having the same concept but different contexts can be very unclear to most students (and there’s research to back that… interesting book on cognitive psychology titled Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T Willingham). Depending on the problems given to them, it really might just be unfair. Either way, it’s “normal” for students to have a hard time with transfer, so don’t be hard on yourself (and they shouldn’t be hard on themselves either). Also, given the signs that modeling and thinking on their own is such a foreign concept to some students, consider yourself doing them a huge favor that you’re exposing them to these skills and experiences they have been robbed of thus far. :oP :o) You should be proud of yourself. :o)

    • Frank, you are more than welcome any time!! I am part-time, so it would be good to check to see that I’m actually there. I’m excited about making the boards when I return home. (I’m visiting my parents for the holidays.) About the comments, those were some of the worst ones. To be fair, there were some very sweet and wonderful comments. Mainly about me, and how much they like me and how I deal with them. This is great, and I often refer back to them when I’m down. There were some valid criticism that were voiced by the kids.
      YOu are so right about the fair and unfair transfer when it comes to quizzes. I made up my own quizzes, and sometimes, I know I may have gone a little far. But the idea that they could retake any and all quizzes was also a safety net for me as well. I know I have to be more conscious of this as well.

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