Thursday, May 26, 2011

Academic Damage

I have to thank the Crazy Teacher Lady for this term. It's something I have been trying to pin down and couldn't seem to put into words. Even though I recognize it for what it is, I'm still trying to put words to it.

Katie is a student in my chemistry class this trimester. She is what most would consider a "good" student, which means that she knows the Rules to the Game and plays it very well. She gets good grades because she can read and can figure out what it is that makes the teacher happy.

She got an A in Chemistry.

And I am simply sick about it.

Katie is a Grade Junkie, make no mistake about it. She struggled early on to find the rhythm of my class, but once she figured out which buttons to press, she flew with it.

The problem was that I had to hold her hand the entire way. I had her in my seminar (30 minute study period) and about three days a week, she would sit down with me to review chemistry. She retook more quizzes than all the others put together and in so doing raised her grade.

Now, I am certainly not going to tell a student that she can't come in and study for my class, and I don't want to sound like I don't want my kids to work hard, but at the same time, it has never been about the learning for Katie.

I think what really hit home for me in this situation was the last quiz she took. She raised her hand eleven time on a three question quiz. Seriously.

"Did I set this up right?"

"Um, do you think you did?"

"Well, I just want to make sure."

Katie has retaken quiz after quiz. I have no idea how many hours she has put into adding points to her total, but she second guesses every single thing she writes down. Her second guessing doesn't stem from wanting to learn, it stems from not wanting to lose points.

What really bothers me is that I don't even think it's that she's not confident in her answers.

I don't think she knows the answers.

This trimester has built on itself. We started with naming and formulas. We used those formulas to balance equations. Those equations showed us mole relationships, that we used to find limiting reactant and percent yield. If you didn't know your naming, you were without a paddle.

Katie didn't know how to name compounds. She would study, pass the quiz and apparently reformat overnight. The next day she couldn't recognize a polyatomic.

Katie has an A in Chemistry, but I would bet my periodic table that if you asked her any question, right now, today, about the subject she wouldn't be able to answer it.

So I have failed Katie. By posting an A for her grade, I am allowing her to leave and give the impression to everyone who cares to look that she understands Chemistry when she truly doesn't.

And I have allowed her to continue on believing that she is getting an education, when I haven't kept my end of the bargain.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Where's the Love?

I was unofficially reprimanded today.

I have a student who has had a rough year. I have come to know her well from several years of being in class, as well as during extracurriculars. She stopped by me in the hall and we had a little chat before lunch. As she walked away, she simply said, "love you, Mrs. Schroeder" to which I responded "love you, too, hon." The power-that-be who was standing nearby swung around and proceeded to tell me that we are never to say something like that to a student.

Probably the biggest issue I have is that I have seen this same person not bat an eye at the disrespectful, hateful comments made toward or about other students. Some of those comments have been by students while others have been by staff members. They never get in trouble.

Why is he so opposed to expressing caring toward a student, but not the other way around?

The problem seems to be the difference between love and sex. I do not for a second believe my kids are confused on this issue. They see me more of a mother figure (their words, although it does kind of make me feel old) that is a stable force in their life and they know they can come to me if they need anything.

This summer I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. (All of them!) What kept coming back to me was that, oddly, the creatures in the books have no problem telling others how much they love each other. There are no sexual overtones (unless I totally missed that part) to the love, it is simply an expression of caring for another individual.

Why can't we all be like that?

Am I wrong on this?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Need. More. Inquiry.

The talk of today is our baseball team. Last night was another sweep for them and we are now 16-0 on the season. GO BRAVES!!

My Applied Physics classes are in the middle of a project, but they came in talking about the games and ended up with a LOT of questions about pitching and how fast our pitchers can throw. What is a good speed for a high school thrower? What do the pros throw? Middle school? How fast do our pitchers throw? Can I throw faster?

Now, I am really not up on my baseball stats,* so I didn't have much in the way of answers. I do know that a good throw in the majors is in the upper 90s, but honestly, that mostly comes from watching Major League. I wasn't really satisfied with my answers and neither were my kids. They wanted to know if we could we test it out?

It's May.

State Assessments are over.

It IS a physics class.

It's May.

So we rounded up some baseballs and went outside.

The first question out the door was, "what about all this wind?" My first thought was to have them figure out the wind speed, but someone had an iphone and just looked it up for us. Maybe I'll have them figure out how to calculate that later.

So we took measurements throwing into the wind and throwing with the wind.

At first, everyone started throwing as far as they could. After some preliminary calculations, there were to big realizations. First off, those baseballs were not going very fast at all. But the big issue came about when the boys realized that the girls were actually throwing faster than they were.

Adjustments were made.

There was a great discussion about the number of steps each person should be allowed and whether or not there should be a minimum distance for it to count.

Aside from a narrow concussion miss by our cameraman, there were no real glitches.

We then tracked down our varsity pitchers and asked them to estimate how fast they can throw a ball. They weren't too sure, so our homework for Friday night is to find out. A couple of kids even realized that they were going to have to convert their meters/second measurements in to feet/second measurements to be able to do that comparison. The only thing I could think here was that if this was on a worksheet, a majority of those kids wouldn't even have noticed that difference in labels.

I really, REALLY want to do more things like this. Even the kids who didn't have the questions to begin with got into the project.

My big issue is what types of projects to do. I have no idea. I am not very good at coming up with open-ended questions, and a lot of the questions I have found seem to be too advanced for my kids. Although after the roller coasters and catapults, maybe I'm underestimating some of their math skills.

I also have a tough time just letting kids come up with their own questions. I don't mind the lab part and kind of thrive on the chaos, I just want to be sure there is some actual learning going on. So I need to find a way to set it up for everyone to be happy and know what the heck is going on.

Anyone have any resources or suggestions?

*I don't hate baseball, but I don't love it, either. My husband is, unfortunately, a Royals fan, so maybe that's why I don't pay much attention.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

NCLB: What It Really Looks Like

Today was one of the most stressful days I've had in quite awhile.

Today I gave my state physical science test to our juniors and some of our sophomores.

Just let me say upfront: I detest our state science assessment, and not just because it IS a state science assessment. The whole thing is messed up for several reasons.

First off, Kansas standards are set up to provide "a series of benchmarks, which describe what students should know and be able to do at the end of a certain point in their education (i.e. grades 4, 7 and 12)."

If you are on the ball today, you will notice that the high school standards are set up to measure what kids have learned THROUGH THE 12TH GRADE and you will also notice that we are giving the test to our JUNIORS.

It is required by our state that we test our kids before we get them through school.

And I thought we weren't supposed to leave any of them behind.

The second thing I abhor about the test is that is simply memorization. Even a couple kids today mentioned that there was very little thinking involved. You either know it or you don't. Officially, I do not know the questions on the test. However, if a kid asks me if we have ever talked about how to calculate the strength of charges, I'm going to pay attention. I am also going to go to my standards document and notice whether or not there is a little triangle next to that standard.*

If we simply must continue giving tests, I would really like our assessment to measure whether or not kids can think through a problem, not just remember the formula for gravitational acceleration. Yes, I realize these questions are harder to write and harder to grade. I don't care. I think it would be worth it.

Lastly, our test is just set up poorly. We have two science assessment portions: life science and physical science. You would think these are pretty self-explanatory, but it's not.

The life science portion has questions about biology and environmental science.  The physical science portion has chemistry and physics questions. Pretty straight forward, but where does earth science fit in?

The problem arose when someone decided to add in earth science questions, but apparently didn't want to create an additional test. Their solution was to include some earth science questions on the life science test and some earth science questions on the physical science test.

That would be fine if it matched up with how we (and I'm pretty sure most everyone else) has their class schedule set up. I have yet to find a chemistry class that directly addresses any earth science standards. I have yet to find a physics class that directly addresses any earth science standards. And, you guessed it, I have yet to find a biology class that directly addresses any earth science standards.

My kids need three credits to graduate. Most kids don't take more than that (before their junior year, anyway). So that leaves something out.

Biology is required. Got it.

If students take Chemistry then Physics, they have missed Earth. If they take Chemistry and Earth, they miss Physics. Some kids take Anatomy and have missed TWO sections!

The only solution we have really come up with is to add in a separate earth science unit in the middle of biology and chemistry. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Oh, and here's one more thing. Our state science test doesn't mean squat. The state requires that we give it to all juniors and we get to see the results. Beyond that, nothing is done with this data. Apparently, lawmakers didn't really foresee the problems and costs associated with districts that were not making AYP in English and Math and ran out of money somewhere along the line. As a result Science and Social Science got pushed back indefinitely. (Notices I am NOT complaining about this.)

Now that I think about it, I can't figure out why it was so stressful for me. I feel bad for my kids because you could see them struggling through the test. The really "good students" especially probably developed ulcers in that hour. I just told them to do the best they could and not panic over it.

I don't really know what the answer is. We are doing it wrong and can't seem to figure out how to fix it.

What does your state do? Is your assessment more efficient? Good lord, is it worse?

*Our document consists of a huge list of standards. If the standard has a little triangle next to it, it is considered a "tested indicator" and fair game on the state assessment.

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