Monday, May 17, 2010

End of the Year Blues

We have four more days of school.

We have been counting down for a couple weeks now. By "we", I mean me and my kids. Since all our teachers started going down, there has been a cloud hanging over everyone here. That and there have literally been clouds hanging over us, we haven't really seen the sun for several days. Not your typical May weather.

So we are more or less just trying to get through to the end without blowing up my lab.

We have one more inservice for teachers next Monday, and we just got the schedule today. To say that I am shocked is a mild understatement. Basically, they are turning us loose to work on incorporating any and all of the previous inservice strategies into our curriculum.

This is such a huge deal, I can't even begin to describe it! Our district does not allow us to work on our own. Because you KNOW all teachers will immediately congregate in the workroom with their coffee and never get any work done.

Maybe I can even get some of those things on my list organized or (gasp) even put together!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Want to ramp up interest in any class?

Watch a live launch of the space shuttle on NASA TV. We watched this today during my Applied Physics. Atlantis made her final launch about 30 minutes into the class period and although not my Astronomy class, we made it a point to see. We put away all our work away and listened to Mission Control talk to the astronauts. We turned off the lights and saw the engines start to fire.

And when they reached zero time, goosebumps spread through the entire classroom.

The NASA Launch Commentator is awesome. I want to meet him. Every couple minutes, he updated us on the speed and altitude of the shuttle. These little tid-bits floored my kids. It took just 7 minutes for the shuttle to leave our atmosphere.

AND, the camera on the fuel tank gave us an incredible view of home.

Even if you don't teach astronomy. Even if you don't teach science. If you teach children, they need to see something like this in their lifetime. Kids (and grownups) can't help but be amazed by this.

Most common question? "Is this happening now?"

Second most common question? "What are they going to do in space?"

This sparked an incredible interest in the space program that I really didn't see coming. So we went to the library and looked up the specifics of Atlantis' last mission.

Not in the curriculum. Not in the state standards. Not on the state assessment.

Worth a "lost" teaching day.

SBG: Personal Reason #2

I'm used to low motivation in my students. I'm also okay with it. When I walk through my door in August, I am ready. It is my personal challenge to find out what motivates each student and turn that into a way to teach. Sometimes, it actually works.

Harley is not my typical student. He is smart, popular, athletic. And lazy when it comes to his classes. Mostly because he is really smart. Harley's big complaint is homework. He doesn't see the need to do any of it. Mostly because he is really smart and doesn't NEED to do any of it to understand what he is being taught.

We have had meeting after meeting with Harley and his parents about his grades. Every teacher says the same thing: "If Harley would just do his homework, he would be passing my class."

Last year, I was one of them.

I have failed Harley. Not in class (he did just enough to pass), but as a teacher. Ask him anything about my class; he can probably still tell you. He learned everything I asked him to learn.

For some reason, that was not good enough for me. Why did I punish this kid for not needing to work hard to learn?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Looking Toward Next Year

I have several scraps of paper in a pile on my desk that contain short notes about what I want to change in my classroom next year. At this point, I don't know yet which classes I will be teaching, so the notes are pretty non-specific. In a desperate attempt to clean off my desk, I am recording those ideas here.

Standards Based Grading
1. Love it. Need to tweak some things. Need to do away with others. I jumped in here at the beginning of the trimester with two classes (Astronomy and Applied Physics). In hindsight, I should have started with one class and done it properly. With nine class days left, I am simply overwhelmed.

2. I need to edit my Learning Targets. My kids have been terrific about the experiment and have rolled along with me as I changed things up*. When I wrote the targets, I was basically copying the state standards. Ugh. Some targets were too broad, some targets were too narrow, and some just didn't make sense. My targets need to be more clear as to what is actually going to be assessed. I want the kids to be able to read the target and know what they need to do. I am finding this is not an easy thing to do with Astronomy targets.

3. I want to have something of a rubric for each learning target. If you want a '4', this is what you need to do. If you only have 'this and this' then that earns you a '3'. Most of the kids I have need that kind of direction.

4. I want a tutorial for each learning target. In my "spare time" this summer, I might start on that. Some of my classes overlap in concepts, but that will still be a huge undertaking. Probably a several year undertaking.

5. I am pretty sure I can create online quizzes with Examview (yes, I know, I am soooo behind the times). I want those put up on my website so the kids can practice the concepts.

6. Each target needs a remediation strategy/practice/plan. When a student wants to come in and relearn Getting Your Bearings Learning Target 3, I don't want to have to scramble around getting something ready to go.

Teaching Methods
1. My delivery is terrible. Part of the problem here is that I have taught a new class nearly every year since I have been at my current school. With few, if any resources. A big part of my years have been spent just being barely a day ahead.

2. Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. Shawn, can I come live with you?

3. Differentiation is the word of the day. While I am told I do a pretty good job at this, I am still a little fuzzy on what it all is.

Wow. Summer vacation, here I come.

*It's entirely possible that they simply have no idea what's going on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Think I Might Be A Bad Teacher

This scares me.

SBG: Personal Reason #1

A few years ago, I was asked to teach Anatomy and Physiology. We are a pretty small school, so this has been a class that is taught when the interest is there and we can fill a classroom.

This remains one of the rare upper level classes I have ever taught, so maybe my perspective is somewhat skewed, but I saw a different type of motivation at work here.

Victoria was a hard worker. She was a straight A student. She was valedictorian.

She was a Grade Junkie.

It didn't matter what kind of work I threw at her, she got it done. Six page tests? No problem. The great by-product of having Victoria in class was that (almost) all the other students followed right along with her. I was thrilled. Finally, I could assign homework, and the kids would actually do it. I could give a test and not have to go buy a new pen to grade it.

Then one day, we had some down time. I can't even remember what the conversation was about, but the words that came out of Victoria's mouth stopped me in my tracks.

"I don't care if I learn anything, I just want the A."

I am still trying to reconcile that statement with what I am doing in my classroom. I started on my winding journey into SBG (although I didn't know where I was going) because of that one little comment made by my student. I didn't know where I was headed until this year. I now have a destination. Now all I need is a plan.

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