Monday, November 15, 2010

Last Minute Change of Plans

I had decided last week that I wasn't going to use modeling to teach my Applied Chemistry. This is a lower level class that is mostly taken by kids who have an IEP or are considered at risk. Essentially, we go through the first half of chemistry. I have taught it for several years and more or less have it set up where I am happy with what I do and how the kids handle the material.

So, today we started our new trimester. Can you guess what I did? My first class starts at 8:25. At 8:15 I decided to abandon everything I was comfortable with, everything I had worked so hard to build for the last five years.

I think they can do it. I think I can do it. The clencher for me was my class sizes. Both sections have less than 13 kids, so I am pretty sure I can give each kid the attention and help they need to get it.

I briefly thought about modeling one section and not other, but that seemed really insane.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Modeling Reflection


Okay. So, I've made it through my first trimester of modeling chemistry.

I like it. I like it a lot.

I'm just not very good at it. Yet.

We have a monthly PD session with everyone that was in the workshop this summer that has been my saving grace. It is wonderful to know that other people are having the same struggles as I am and to be able to get some ideas about how to deal with them. Our leader keeps telling us to be patient and that it could take about 5 years before we are truly comfortable with it.

Wait! FIVE YEARS??? I want to be good at it NOW!

I know, I know, patience is a virtue.

There are several things I need to work on. On the surface, they seem pretty straight forward, but they are key points and in practice, aren't so simple to correct.

-Kids do a lab and present their results to the class. This forces them to pay attention to the lab and try to work through what the results actually mean. This also has greatly improved our lab skills and measurement precision.*

-The explanations of the ideas is refined through questioning by me and ideally the other kids. At this point, I haven't been able to truly get my kids to ask questions of the presenters. They still turn to me to ask the question. One of my focus areas this trimester is to get more of a class participation during whiteboarding. They also expect me to summarize the lab and basically give them the analysis. I want them to feel comfortable writing their own analysis, but I'm not exactly sure how to take away that safety blanket. I think maybe I need to change the way I grade them. Maybe not so much whether they came to the correct conclusion, but whether the conclusion they have makes sense with their data. But, then, I want them to see the correct relationships, so I'm not sure how to find that balance.

-Modeling takes a LOT of time. We are half way through the course and we will start talking about bonding on Monday. If I had been following along in my textbook, I would have finished that up weeks ago and already been through chemical reactions. I would be lying if I said I wasn't starting to panic a little bit about that. According to our district curriculum** (and state standards), we should be way past that. I'm feeling pretty secure, however, with the knowledge that I truly believe my kids are coming away with a better understanding than they would in a more teacher-centered classroom. I wasn't so sure of this until we took our final on Friday. I set it up so that there was one question for each target that we covered this semester (SBG reflection to come). Basically, it was a giant retake and an opportunity to raise their grade on any targets they wanted. They panicked about which targets to test. They whined about how their grade could go down. They didn't study at all. They did wonderful on their tests. For all the "discussion" we had about how to teach and learn, in the end, they overwhelmingly DID get it.

-Our leader keeps talking about how modeling uses inquiry to learn chemistry. It doesn't. Guided inquiry, maybe, but true inquiry, no. Students do not come up with their own investigations, let alone their own questions. Those are all given. Maybe with time, it could evolve into that, but right now, my classroom is more of discovery driven than inquiry driven. And I'm okay with that.

I at least have a starting place. I'm thinking the discussion issue is the one I really need to focus on. That is too huge a component for it to not be moving along as smoothly as it should. This trimester I only have one section of chemistry, so this will serve as a trial run of sorts and I will get to turn around and fix some things immediately for the third trimester. I'm also not coaching this winter, so I will be able to prepare, reflect and adjust a lot more than I was able to this fall. So, all in all, I am excited about the upcoming trimester.

Isn't it nice to be excited about your job?!

*One thing I have not focused too much on this year has been significant figures. A lot of kids are still giving me answers with 8 decimal places. I have decided to leave that for now. My kids are feeling so overwhelmed with the changes that I don't want to push them over the edge.

**I might point out here that I hate our district curriculum. The person who wrote it just kind of copied our state standards and added in some other random stuff she liked to do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

That's More Like It

So I plunged into Standards Based Grading this year, along with my Modeling. I have to tell you, it's been a pretty rough year. I am exhausted, but my kids are finally starting to get over their shell-shock.

A couple weeks ago, some of my kids started panicking about their grade.* And then it dawned on them that they could come in and retake some quizzes to help raise said grade.** For the last four weeks, I have had no less than 9 kids in my room before school, after school and during seminar. And then some at lunch and plan period.

Today, one of my girls finished a quiz and let out a nice long sigh. She really struggles with this whole thinking thing and has worked her tail off to even be passing. Then she turns to me and says, "you know, I really wish I could come in and make sure I understand some of this stuff before I take a test over it."

"Um, why do you think you can't come in and study for a test?"

An interesting conversation went on with the kids in the room. We as a staff seem to have given the impression that tests are used to not measure what the kids know, but what they DON'T know.

The universal feeling amongst the kids is that we as teachers WANT them to do poorly. Apparently, we LOVE it when kids fail our classes.

"Well, except you, Mrs. Schroeder. You let us come in and retake some things."

I really didn't know what to say to that. I can honestly say that I don't know a single teacher in our building that enjoys failing kids. Yet, somehow, these kids truly seem to believe that we spend all our spare time devising ways to keep them from passing.

So we dropped everything and had a study session. Not a catch up session. Not a retake session. We sat down and discussed everything that was going to be on the quiz tomorrow. The kids asked questions and did practice problems. I helped them and they helped each other.

It was a great time and I think we all came away from it feeling better about tomorrow. Several kids expressed interest in making this a regular session. I assured them that I would like nothing more than to help them learn the skills BEFORE they tested on them and it would be a much less stressful trimester if they didn't have to spend it trying to catch up.

Now if I could just figure out how to get this done during class time with all 25 of them.

*I know, it should be about the learning, not about the grade. We'll work on that next year. I can apparently only work two miracles at a time.

**The fact that I have repeated this option every day since the beginning of school had no bearing on this, of course, they figured it out on their own.

Wanna Mess With Your Kids?

1. Write out a multiple choice test.

2. Type in your rough draft and make all the answers "A" before you go back and edit.

3. Forget to go back and move the correct answers around.

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