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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I brought a soapbox to school today.

Every once in a while students just need a swift kick to the pants. I have gotten very bogged down lately. I am hopelessly behind where I should be right now. Like WAAAAYYYY behind. I worry about the semester exam coming up. My students haven't covered half the material on the district mandated test. Whiteboard sessions have become completely unproductive and useless. I am close to throwing in the towel. I won't because I am hopelessly stubborn. But it is definitely a trying time for me now. Add to the mix two snow-days the week before vacation and what I have is a ticking time-bomb of apathy and slothiness. (yes I made it up but I think it perfectly describes my juniors right now!)

Anyway, I gave a father- son/daughter talk today. I explained the reason for modeling again. I have had many grumblings lately about how the method is not helping them learn. They need to put in the effort if they don't understand something. They cannot just sit like sponges hoping to absorb physics. They have to get involved. Get excited. Get discussing.

I realized I made some huge mistake in the month of November. Perhaps it was my overconfidence in the method. Perhaps it was Jupiter aligning with Mars. But for whatever reason I have slipped on using the method effectively. I have begun saying WAY too much during whiteboarding sessions. Tomorrow I will put myself in the penalty box on the other side of the room. I also have stopped using real world examples. I have let my class slide back to a place that is totally disconnected from their lives. But thanks to the wonderful contributors to Win. Fail. Physics! I have some new ideas to spice up the topics. I have decided I am going to be that jerk who assigns homework over the holiday. The kids have to watch some of their movies at home and find an example of motion that we are discussing. Then we will have a movie party when we get back where we will watch the clips and put them to the test of our models. Should be informative, fun, and maybe I will finally be able to put kinematics to bed. (Yes. Still on acceleration. )

Why I am jumping on the SBG train.

I can't take it anymore. I have always been annoyed with my grading system. This is the 14th year I have taught and my 20th iteration of a grading scheme. I can never get the grade to show what I really want to show. There is always someone who doesn't quite fit the mold. There is always someone who slips through the cracks of my system. That one kid who does nothing but still manages to get an 'A' in the class. Or that one kid who just works his butt off but barely manages to get a 'C'. I can't stand seeing my students bummed about how they did on the test when it was only 1 or 2 ideas that they struggled with. That breeds negativity about my class. It causes them to give up. I love the idea of giving students who make an honest effort as many chances as possible to succeed. I need to do this! Starting today. I will revamp this break and come out better for it. Now. How do I tell the kids?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What advice I have for new teachers.

My student teacher from last year was fortunate enough to find a job last year. At the beginning of the year she was super excited about starting out. She had a fantastic classroom with every imaginable piece of lab equipment. I joked with her that maybe we should trade places. I saw her this week-end and she has been pretty much beaten down by her students. Ah the joys of being a first-year teacher.

You always hear experienced teachers tell new incoming teachers "not to smile until Thanksgiving". I think that is a load of crap. I think that sets up a teacher vs. student mentality that does no one a bit of good. You can't be a push-over, but you must remain approachable. You must show your students that you care about them and what happens to them. You aren't their friend, but you are friendly.

My school's policy is that electronic communication devices are forbidden and should not be used. I disagree. I think that the new smartphones are amazing devices that allow students to have a real-world connection to what we are doing in class. Why buy new stopwatches? The kids have them in their pockets. Class set of calculators? Nope. Kids have them in your pocket. Need to google a fact or conversion factor? Why wait 5 minutes for the ancient laptops to fire up..? They have it instantaneously in their pockets! Does this mean that my students have carte blanche with phones in my room? No. Have I confiscated phones for misuse? Yes. Do my students hate me for it? Nope.

I think that is the main difference in a new teacher vs. a more experienced one. An experienced teacher can take a potential negative situation and turn it into a positive one. You can't learn that ability in a pre-service classroom. It is from experience in the field. It's why you can't stop teaching after 1 year. It's why you can't stop teaching after 2 years. Starting a class is so important to setting the stage for a successful year. The first year is a struggle because you suck at teaching, no matter how well you did in student teaching. I have been teaching for 14 years now. I still suck at it. But the key is I suck a lot less now than I did back then. If the day ever comes that I feel I don't suck anymore and have this teaching thing all figured out, I will know it is time to retire because at that point I will have lost touch with reality.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why I am bogged down.

I need to be more regular about reflecting here. I was doing better at first but as the stress of added things have happened I have become lax in my attentions here. My progress has slowed. I am WAY behind where I want and expected to be at this point. And the worst part is that I feel that my classes have started slipping backwards. I am getting frustrated. I still believe in the process, but I don't know what I need to do to become effective. It is time to step it up a notch. I just need to figure out how. I don't want to leave kids behind and yet I need to push them harder to get through these units!