Tis the season for planning
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.
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