Course Evaluations and my thoughts on this year

Jun 13, 2012 by     11 Comments    Posted under: Uncategorized

Summer is here!  Time for reflection and planning.  I’m not sure if this will be helpful to anyone else but me, but I wanted to get some ideas down to help me iron out this year.

Lets start with the evaluations of regular physics and glean what needs to changed and what went well.  I try to evaluate myself along with the students.  I would not grade myself highly in some areas, and in others, I would say I’m doing pretty good.  In my old way of teaching, I could have guessed almost exactly what the kids would say and how they were going to react, but not this year.  I have to admit, the evaluations really rocked me and a side comment to me from my former department head really had me questioning my choice of profession.  Yes, it got that bad…  But I was reminded how engrained teaching is in me.  I AM a teacher, and when that is put in question, it is like a fundamental core part of me is in question, and that is very difficult.  I had to do a lot of soul searching in the past week.  I had heard that I was going to get push back by changing my methods, but I did not expect anything like this.  I believe that I am stronger for it in the end.

So what have I learned?

Well I need to clearly communicate what we are trying to do better.  Although we were doing the right steps and going though the process, the kids were not getting the method.  They wanted me to tell them what they should have gotten out of each worksheet/lab etc.  They were not taking responsibility for their learning, or they did not quite know how to do this yet and I did not guide them properly in doing so.

So here is a summary of the feed back that I got.  This is a VERY long post, so feel free to skip to the end reflections.  Unless otherwise state, the emphasis on certain comments are mine, and not the students.

What did you like most about this class?

  • my table partners
  • nothing really to be honest
  • getting to sit with friends
  • the laid back feel
  • being able to reassess, being able to talk things out- if it is science or personal
  • whiteboard work and the sheets with the problems on them
  • The atmosphere, and I also did personally well with the teaching method.
  • Presentations that show the information clearly, good instruction.

What did you find most difficult?

  • The tests were very difficult, sometimes she doesn’t even go over the material.
    • To me, this says that this student wanted to memorize specific examples/problems and regurgitate them back to me.  This comment was spoken to me frequently throughout the semester, and I always used it as an opportunity to talk to the kids about what we are doing and the deeper learning that I want for them to do, and what we have to do to get there, and why it is so needed and important.  Clearly, it still did not sink in for some…(Note, this student said that I communicate well.  HA!)
  • When it comes to most problems, there are numerous steps you have to do to complete it.
  • Paying attention.  We have too much time whiteboarding and not doing anything that I forget the material.
  • Teaching method – I’ve totally given up hope because I did not learn majority of the material – my grade is half deserved because I gave up trying to retake things -but it is also because you don’t teach enough.
  • learning the material, the whiteboards weren’t very effective
  • the quizzes and tests
  • everything
  • quizzes and tests, often information was presented in ways not gone over in classwork.
  • focusing
  • I believe that I would have understood if I was shown clearly how to do every type of problem.  And the lack of assistance being expected to figure physics out on my own.
    • Note: there were a couple of comments like this one and some comments along the lines of me not giving clear directions, which confused me.  After probing, I found out by directions, the students meant that I did not lecture/show how to solve every problem for them.  By not giving clear directions they were referring to the Socratic Dialogue.
  • The quizzes!
  • I think that your style of teaching and my style of learning don’t work effectively, I am a kinetic learner, and you are more of an auditory teacher.
    • Um, WHAT?  You do know what you are saying is that I lecture to you, right?  humm..  I can’t quite figure this one out.
  • Staying on task,  It is usually loud, and you give us so much time to do a small amount of work that we end up not doing it at all or doing it poorly.
    • Oh good point!  We will absolutely fix that for next year!  Very constructive and good!

If you could change one thing about the way the class was run, what would it be?

(I know I was setting myself up with this question, but I wanted to give the kids a place to vent and I wanted to see what they said as well.)

  • Mrs. Bauer should solve many problems on the whiteboard before telling her students to whiteboard it.
  • More time making sure we got the material, rather than worrying about trying to fit everything in.
  • Try new ways of teaching besides whiteboards experiment
  • LECTURES! have you actually teach us
  • Use less whiteboards, and more lecture and class work as a whole.
  • walk through more, 90% of the time whiteboarding, I’m not sure of what I’m supposed to be doing.
  • more individual work instead of group activity.
  • the teacher
    • me: Ouch!  now that is just cruel.
  • I would sit with better people.
  • the teaching method should be more straight forward.  I don’t come to [our school] to stumble through teaching myself a subject.
  • more clear instruction and concepts, quizzes on what we learned exactly  (Student’s emphasis, not mine.)
  • More lectures, so we know clearly what our “tools” for solving future problems are.
  • The idea that it is okay to fail, which is what she just stated is her philosophy.  It is not alright to fail and reassessments should not be used as a crutch.

Discuss at least one area that Mrs. Bauer is very good at, and should not change for next year.

  • Personally, I feel very calm, yet motivated when around her.
  • She communicates with her students well
  • helping after school and being approachable
  • patience
  • really cares about her students
  • she is loving and warm
  • half sheet papers with problems on them
  • You really tried to make it work for us, I feel in some cases it was our fault it didn’t work.
  • forgiving and helping you no matter what

Right now, here is what I’m thinking, and of coarse this may all change before August.

I clearly need more practice with teaching with the modeling method.  Now, I’m not taking all the blame for it not working perfectly this year, but I will accept some of it.  In the first few months, in an effort to not give away too much when they were working on their worksheets, I would simply not interact very much with the students.  This became a problem.  The students did not feel supported, and they lost trust in me and the new method, so this made it difficult for the rest of the year.  Also, I kept the same groups for months at a time.  This is going to change in a big way next year.


A need for more for individual practice:

I also did not give the kids anytime for individual practice in class, thinking that they would get this when they were doing their added practice at home.  They ended up not doing the needed practice at home, so they were only doing group work and then were required to do individual practice/work on quizzes and tests.  I can see how from their perspective that this would not seem fair.  In the past when I would introduce a new idea, I would show them an example as a class and show them how I would work through a particular problem, and then give them a problem to work on themselves.  I would say I wanted them to try it on their own and a few minutes later I would give them the go ahead to check their work with a neighbor.  During the entire time, I would walk around the room and spot kids that were having difficulty and help them a little.  This year, since all our work was group work, I know I missed helping many kids that needed extra help because they were very good at blending in the group, and I did not want to embarrass them in front of their peers in a group.  So next year I am going to do more of this individual practice to try to help out the these kids more.  I’m going to use the group generator on my smartboard and change groups daily, if not more frequently.  I have 7 lab tables, and so sometimes I will only generate 6 groups and pull out the 3 or 4 kids that need the most help and work with them on the 7th lab desk.  Only for one exercise, not for the entire class.  I think this would go a long way, but not embarrass the kids too much.  I think once they get the added one-on-one with me (immediately in class) they will gain the confidence they need to really contribute to their groups.

Need to get the kids to see that their what their peers are saying is valid and good.

Another problem that I had this year was running the whiteboard discussions.  I really tried to have the students take ownership of their learning, and not look to me as the source of all physics knowledge.  I found myself constantly reminding other groups to pay attention and listen to the group that was presenting.  I know that even if a group was quiet, many times they were not listening and paying attention, so the time spent to discuss problems and such as a class was wasted by these kids.  I tired to talk to them about what we were doing and how important it was.  I even tried to verbally quiz other groups on what was just discussed, and we played the mistake game a la Kelly.  But nothing seemed to work in during home this point with the kids.  In fact, my kids vehemently protested when we played this game.  They said that I was trying to make them learn how to do the problems incorrectly.  Mind you I did this as a review before a test.  Tough crowd this year…

So, where to go.  I’m not sure, I think it is a cultural shift that needs to happen.  The kids need to respect each other and their ideas and know that some are valid.  We have a pretty good school, and the kids are generally so sweet and nice and respectful, but this particular class was very lazy, and perhaps that is where the problem lies.  It would be temporally easier if I just gave them the information (which is what they wanted) but I know that they would not learn the material.  So, I need to get across how to learn the material vs just memorizing particular things.  I hope that the summer reading:  The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and our discussion of the book will help this.


What we are doing differently next year; and what we are keeping the same

Clearly there is a disconnect between what we do in class and the quizzes and tests.  I’m not sure where this is coming from exactly.  I’m going to have to process this one more.

I LOVE the modeling method, but fear that I really suck at it currently, and may be missing a big/important part of it.  So I think I may do the following.  I really like doing the development labs.  They are so very powerful, and I know that the kids get a lot out of them.  This is a keeper.  After whiteboarding the results and discussion of the labs, then I may do a very interactive class discussion on things.  This will involve some example problems and individual practice, think pair/share, and chose the right answer via the colored ABCD cards (via Ed Prather.)  (I’ll blog about this later when we I have them made and laminated. )  then go into groups with a little bit more background, and hopefully confidence, to do some worksheet practice.  I hope that this will give them the confidence to know that they can do it well, and perhaps put more stake and listen to what their peers are doing as well.

So over all, I’m super excited about getting ready for next year, and I’m SO, SO VERY happy about having all summer to prepare as well.  :)

I hope you all are enjoying your summers, relaxing and spending time with your loved ones too.

11 Comments + Add Comment

  • Many of the comments that you received from students sound familiar, yet one frequent theme stood out to me: “LECTURES! have you actually teach us.” This is the classic response from students who are used to teachers doing most of the work, but who are now in a student-centered classroom. Moving to a student-centered teaching strategy is a huge paradigm shift not only for the teacher, but also for the students, and a lot of them don’t like it at first. For one thing, it’s new and uncomfortable. Secondly, and probably more importantly, this shift requires students to take more responsibility and to do more of the work. However, students all over the country are going to have to get used to this shift as Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards, and best practices in general move classrooms in this direction. In a few years, I think that most students will be accustomed to this, but the next few years will be a painful transition for many, as they find that they can’t slide through school on inertia alone.

    • I completely agree with you Eric. I know there is going to be a lot of push back from many students and parents. The trick is to glean out what is really working and what is not and fix it. It is nice that there is the great community we have via twitter and blogs where we can support each other. It has made a huge difference for me.

  • Seriously, these are practically word-for-word the same comments I had a few years ago. So for the first thing, it’s definitely possible to go from that to what I’m getting now (which isn’t 100% positive, but the corner has definitely been turned), and in a relatively short amount of time.

    Here are a few thoughts after reading the post:

    (1) Facilitating a class this way is very different from lecturing. As you practice more, you’ll get more confident and comfortable, and that will translate in subtle ways to the students, making them feel more confident and calm about it. That will just happen without having to worry about it so much, so you get to look forward to that! :)

    (2) There is a huge difference between “I’m trying something new with you guys this year” and the idea of “This is the best way we’ve found to teach this class, so that’s how we teach it here, now” that you get to have the second time through and beyond. For a few kids, the fact that it’s not new anymore will make a difference next year, even if you aren’t totally explicit about that.

    (3) You have some good ideas about what to do after the initial building the model through the experiment. I almost always do a little bit of talking pulling everything together and introducing new diagrams after we finish with the paradigm experiment for a model (you can see a lot of that in my blog posts on model building). Another thing that especially helps the regular level classes is to let them get started on the problems, then after you know they’ve all had a chance to really dig into the first problem or so, pause them and work through the problem they just struggled with in front of them. That way you’re not chucking a problem by doing it for them (they’ve already gotten a lot of value out of struggling with it), they feel more relaxed because they love when you talk, and you’re teaching them how to set up their work and structure it. For a lot of students, they just don’t understand what marks they are supposed to be making on the paper, so seeing you structure something they just tried to do can be huge. They might think you are teaching them “how to do the problem”, but you’re really just showing them how to show work for a problem, not a procedure. When I do this, I usually talk about that with them a lot every time (“You’re not going to learn any physics by watching me do physics. You might learn about how to organize your work. You only learn when you do work.”). You can relate it to something like soccer. If you want to get better at soccer, your main activity is not going to be watching a lot of World Cup games. Still, you might watch a lot of World Cup games because it is fun to do, and also because you might get some insights about the larger mechanics of the game. You’re not going to be able to put any of that into your next game without a lot of your own practice outside actually trying the skills, though. You can make the same kind of analogy with playing an instrument. Before an orchestra concert, it might be an excellent idea to listen to professional recordings of the music you’re going to play. It might really help you hear how the different instruments work together, hear the rhythms you are supposed to be playing, understand the tempos and dynamics, etc. It absolutely won’t make you play any better in the concert, though, because you will only be able to do what you actually practiced and figured out with your fingers on the keys or strings, no matter how much you thought you figured out by listening to the recording. And to take it even further, neither watching World Cup games, nor listening to orchestra recordings is going to do anything at all for you if you weren’t already engaged in trying to do the work of playing soccer or an instrument. Without having tried it yourself first, you won’t even really know what to listen for, what to watch for, etc. You’ll miss all of the subtlety, and you won’t know what the most important parts are (though of course you will think that you do understand—that’s the nature of watching/listening to something great—you can relate this to watching home improvement shows, etc). Anyway, I’ve had a lot of success with conversations like those.

    (4) Maybe we can do some virtual observation of each others’ whiteboarding sessions next year. Maybe they need to be tighter and faster in order for them to feel more productive with the kids.

    (5) Re: Mistake game—one important thing is that you get them totally on board with the idea that you will always let them go up with wrong answers (heck, you might be requiring them to do so!), but you will never let them sit back down with wrong answers on their board. They get nervous about this at the start of the year, but it usually doesn’t take long to get them to understand/believe that (if you consistently and calmly remind them about it at the start of the year). I tell them that I don’t want to talk that much during whiteboarding presentations because I know they can almost always do it without me. But I will most certainly talk if they conclude with the wrong answer. And I also tell them that I rarely have to intervene (especially once the year gets going) because students tend to do such a good job of having these conversations. I expect to have to talk more at the start, but keep reminding them that I want to be talking less and less as the year goes on. Knowing that everyone included at least one intentional mistake usually gets the rest of the class actually asking questions from the start instead of nervously sitting there with different answers on their paper and assuming that the board is correct and they are wrong. It’s also good to try to get them invested in putting up mistakes that they actually made while solving the problem (or that they’ve made in the past with the same skills). It makes it feel a lot less goofy to the nervous kids because it is more “realistic” to them. And make sure to come down hard on “Where’s Waldo?” mistakes from the beginning. “Oops, I wrote 12.45 N instead of 12.47 N” is not a worthwhile mistake. Nor is spelling something incorrectly, etc. Meh.

    (6) Finally, you’re doing something that is totally disruptive and jarring for these kids in the best kind of way. They need to be disrupted and shaken out of the groggy complacency they’ve been conditioned to think is what learning and life should be. It’s going to make them really uncomfortable at some point during the year (mostly probably at the start). You can totally acknowledge that and talk about that with them. The more meta talk that you do in little pockets throughout the year, the more they understand how they are part of something intentional and cool.

    • Hi Kelly!

      I’m glad to hear that we may be turning the corner, that is a relief. I would really like to get more teachers on board with at least SBG, and more inquiry based learning as well, but baby steps I suppose.

      Thank you for your points to #3, I always thought that I was cheating a little by doing this, but the organizing the work is key. I think that sometimes it is half the battle, and an easy thing to show. Again, practice is always needed, but this is the easier part to grasp, I think.

      You are completely right with the whiteboarding. I long for the day where the class is fully engaged, and active in their learning. I did get one or two (up to 5 kids) per class, but not enough. What you describe happening in the mistake game about not knowing if what is up on the whiteboard and what is on their paper is right, and how frustrating this can be. I also have to get better about making them correct their whiteboard so when they are finished presenting, their whiteboard does not have any mistakes on it. I think I’m going to create a class blog and post pictures of the whiteboards from every class on it. I know the kids are taking notes, but sometimes seeing the exact same board could jog memories of what was said and discussed, and help their learning, if they choose to use it. I got this idea from our section meeting of AAPT, and they said it worked really well for them. (It was a college-level modeling-type class.) Wouldn’t it be so cool if the students got involved and started commenting on the blog and having discussions that way too? They would go home and ponder things, and maybe have a question later and be able to ask it.

      Thank you for reminding me of #6, it was hard to remember that last week.

      • There is a lot out there to read about whiteboard facilitation (including from people who have done research on it, not just anecdotal stuff). Also, I should write a post about how I frame the first day of whiteboarding so that I can really put all of my thoughts together about that.

        My kids LOOOOOVE having photos taken of their boards. Many love to be in the photos, too (some just love the idea that I’m saving their work). What I usually do near the start of the year is tell them to wait at the end of a presentation because I really want a photo of their work to share with people online. Then it becomes sort of a thing—when they feel really proud of a particular board, they want me to take a photo of it. You have to be careful about the photos, though, because it can eat up a lot of class time (especially in the regular classes where they just want shots of their group, really, and will wait around and pose for you).

        But anyway, yes, when doing the mistake game, it is crucial that the mistakes are corrected on the boards when they are corrected during the presentation through questions. I know your classroom setup might make that a little challenging since the boards are easiest to see when they are hung up, but probably not as easy to write on when they are up there. I’m sure there’s some sort of compromise that can happen, though.

        • Last summer I downloaded and read all the literature on whiteboarding, but have not gone back to it since. I want to read those papers again and see it through my new lens. It is on my summer to do list. :)

    • Oh I forgot to say, the sports analogy is great! I used that one a lot. It helped for some I think.

  • Awesome post. I must admit that for the last two years I have meant to get ‘data’ like this about how my kids feel about the class, but have failed to pull together an actual survey. That said, I do a lot of anecdotal checking in. In doing so I have found that they seem to generally buy what I am selling them. I think part of this is that I (as a tangential thinker as well as someone who is very transparent in everything I do) give them a couple minute speech at least once a week about the geeky research I get into and how I base everything I do off of that research. I remind them over and over about the experience of learning and the research behind constructivism (I don’t use that word), and because I know a lot of them (most?) take Psychology, I throw in the research they study in that class about how only 20% of what is heard is remembered vs 60% of what is DONE (I just made those numbers up, which I do in class but I get those who have taken Psyc nodding their heads as the numbers are close enough to accurate). I think it helps when they know that I am (very geekily; a little bit of self-deprecation helps here) using research in shaping the class.

    Of course, I haven’t done a full-on implementation of SBG and Modeling, that’s next year 😉 I’ll let you know how that goes!

    • Hi Casey!

      I really liked your link to their psychology class! What a great reminder. :)
      I really tried to make a concerted effort this year for more feedback, I got 2 evaluation in first semester, and only one in the second. Although I could sense the frustration in the middle of the semester and so I had the kids pull their lab chairs in a very tight circle and I sat in the circle with them and I let them vent. I tried to address their concerns and explain things again. We watched a couple of TED talks on why we are doing what we are doing and tired to get them on board again. Sadly, it was too late for about half the class at that point, but I did think that it helped some. Personally, I’ve found the more they think they have a say, the better. And some of their concerns are valid and we did make changes to help correct things along the way, and I think that went a long way too.

      Most of all, I would say say in tough via twitter and blogging (which you are way better at doing than me. :) ) Our community has truly been the best support this year! I’ve gotten ideas on how to make things better, and comments like Kelly’s below and yours just reminding me that what we are trying to do here is good and best for the students, which in the end is our goal.

      I’d be happy to share my evaluation file with you if you like. Most of the questions are via Frank Nochese and his evaluations. I did try to use google docs and have the kids fill out the form online, but I got about 50% participation, so for now the paper works better for me. I was also luck enough to have my coworker who is a new teacher very willing to try the modeling method out with me. It helped that we could bounce ideas off each other and that we could support each other as well. Do you have some one at your school who is trying a similar shift in their teaching methods next year?

      I look forward to reading your blog more and hearing about all the great things you are doing. :)

  • Hey Chija! Wow, you weren’t kidding about the evals being rough this year. Great to see you’re staying positive and using this to help make next year better! I think it’d be cool to get more peer observations, maybe like what Kelly mentioned with virtual observations. I did view the video you uploaded for the global physics teacher meeting but I couldn’t get much of an idea of what was going on since I couldn’t hear any individual conversation, just a broad idea of what was going on in the classroom. It would be helpful to hear the actual dialogues going on between students and between you and the students.
    On a related note, being that I did observe your class in real life, perhaps some of the things I observed may be relevant to how students feel about your class. Nothing alarming, as the overall tone I got was things were fine, but maybe there were subtler things that I thought nothing of that could be more meaningful. I’m not real good at reading students. I’m mostly oblivious.
    Anyway, I look forward to meeting up again before the new school year!

    • Thanks Frank! I should really talk with you to see what you observed, so I can improve. I’m looking forward to seeing you (virtually) this afternoon for our meeting.

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