Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I'm winning.

Ok. I started this post on Nov. 11th! Time to finish it up don't you think?

Changing schools is hard.  You have no reputation. You have no connection with students or staff. You have not developed the trust that comes from these things. So you can imagine the chaos that ensued when I arrived with all my new-fangled teaching ideas. Modeling and SBG at a school that has seen neither before. It has been an exciting few months.

My biggest hurdle to date has been my students view that I am some guardian to the knowledge. My new position is at an IB acadamy in my district. The kids are hard workers, but they are grade obsessed. Their visions of college are the best available and they will not entertain any ideas of any lesser program. They are experts in the game of school and my style of teaching is making many of them very uncomfortable.

I made myself a goal this year not to lecture in my Biology class. I have been weeding the practice out the last few years. In fact last year I used it mainly as a review before a test. But this year I decided to forego it completely. At this point I think it has been rather successful. In the words of Dan Meyer I am being less helpful. The kids are doing more than they ever have for me and are learning great things. I think the move to SBG made this all possible. Students are in control of their learning. I still have all my old powerpoints, and I have made them available to the students. I just don't waste classtime reading them. So what do I do instead? We whiteboard ideas. We have socratic dialogues about the labs we have completed. We analyze texts and problem solve and think. We research current issues and hold debates. My students are getting a conceptual grounding in what make Biology so important. And the tide is turning my way. 

At first my students were very frustrated. "How can we learn if you won't teach us?" "I really need a lecture to be able to understand the material!" "You need to give us more homework!" "How can I get an A if you don't collect our homework?" That lasted until students first started retesting on objectives they had missed. They soon discovered that I could very quickly spot a memorized response. They discovered that I was looking for deeper connections to a conceptual understanding. They discovered that I expect them to do homework because it is vital to their learning and not to jump through a hoop. They discovered that they can do way more than they had thought. How do I know this? Because these are the questions/statements I'm getting now. "Wow! I'm so happy I failed that first test. I am learning so much now!" "I'm having trouble understanding hydrogen bonding. Do you know of a resource I could use?" "Dude, you have to know it better than that if you expect Mr. B to give you a 3." "Can you give me some problems so I can practice calculating magnification?"

The climate is a-changing. I'm so enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What happened to summer?

I had truly planned on being a blogging fiend this summer. What happened? I bought a new house. 'Nuff said.

Lots of changes for me though and so I feel it is time for my blog to morph as well. I accepted a position at my districts IB school. I'm still teaching Physics but have also jumped from Intro Biology to teaching the AP/IB Bio course. Now that I have had so much success teaching physics using the modeling method it is infuriating to teach any other way.  I must figure out how to teach this way with biology. So I will still be exploring physics, pedagogy, and technology,  but I will also delve more into my attempts at "modeling up" my bio course.  More to come soon I hope!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I am excited today.

What a blast these last two days have been. I have had the opportunity to visit with this year's crop of modeling workshop participants.  It seems crazy to me that only 1 year ago I was in their shoes. It seems like such a long time ago. I have grown so much as an educator in the last year. This post is directed at these new "new modelers".

Today I gave the advice to join twitter. This was the best thing I have ever done for my teaching. (Well besides the modeling workshop of course.) So why Twitter?
1. Well it is a lot less of a time waster than facebook.
2. You don't need to "friend" someone to hear their ideas. If you get tired of watching someone's tweets you can unfollow them without the guilty feelings of "unfriending" them.
3. Hashtags make a great way to focus your twitter feed on a particular topic.
4. There is a huge community of educators already connected on twitter. There is a pool of like-minded professionals to answer your questions. Try the hashtags #scichat (meetings every Tuesday at 9), #edchat, #physics, #physicsed just to name a few. As you find people whose comments you like, follow them. Soon you will have a stream of interesting ideas flooding your way.

I mentioned Planbook. Great software that allows you to keep an electronic lesson plan book. You can post your lessons in an online calendar. It even allows you to attach documents and such so you can find them later. Very cool stuff.

Finally, I mentioned many great blogs. I have some of them listed in the table to the left. From there I'm sure you will find many others, but I recommend starting your own. I got a lot out of forcing myself to reflect on my journey into modeling. As an added bonus I began to get feedback that was invaluable on my journey. If you start one let me know. I guarantee you will have at least one follower!

Monday, June 6, 2011

What I learned this year.

Wow! Was it really February when I wrote my last post?  Time is flying by.  As my stress level has risen so has my lack of blogging.  This semester did not go as planned.  I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew this year with the SBG and the modeling at the same time.  I think next year I will focus exclusively on the modeling and put SBG on hold for a year.  I really like it and fully plan to implement it again in the fall.  I have horrible organizational skills and keeping track of all the SBG testing and retesting has made for a severely sleep deprived person. I have to take a step back and just enjoy what I've got going on in the classroom.

My seniors are gone. So my class sizes have dwindled. I have 8 days left with my juniors.  They took their final last week with the seniors.  I am trying to work in some stuff with light but they have pretty much checked out at this point. (To be honest so have I!) I thought it would be good to do a wrap up of the year before I wage into my summer re-purposing for next year.

So back to the question at hand... What did I learn?

1. I need to be more organized.  I spent hours grading papers and writing endless comments only to find them three weeks later buried in a pile on my desk never returned.  SBG gave me never-ending streams of paper that I just wasn't prepared to handle.  Before I tackle this again I have to become more efficient in these things.

2. I need to sell the method better. My buy-in for the modeling system was about 50:50.  Some kids never got it. Some kids did. The frustrating thing was the kids who did would do their homework and would understand what was going on.  The kids who didn't, didn't.  Then I felt compelled to slow down to try and catch them up, but they never did and then the my "with-it" kids felt like the class was dragging. I don't want to give up my no-points-for-homework stance, but I need to figure out how to get those kids to catch up without slowing the class. (Insert plea for help from the likes of Kelly O'Shea here!)

3. My socratic method questioning needs work. I have improved a lot over the course of the year, but I am not very effective at this yet.  Part of it may be the lack of buy-in, but I'm not really sure.  My discussions were really going well by the end of December- beginning of January, but then the semester changed and my classes got scrambled.  Even though the kids were the same the mix was different. The comfort level was gone and needed to be rebuilt.  I just assumed that they would eventually catch back on with enough time. We all know what happens when you assume....  I really need to emphasize trust again at the semester just like I do at the beginning of the year.  Anyone out there have any ideas for this?

4.  I have to spend way more time on vectors. I treated this as a simple thing.  Thought everyone was with me. I was very, very wrong. It plagued me all year. I re-taught and re-taught and thought they had it.  Then vectors would come back. Crash and burn all over again.

5. The whole modeling thing goes slow at first and then speeds up.... Not so much. I am lucky in that I teach all three sections of introductory physics at my school. There are three other high schools in my district and they are roughly the same situation.  Now technically I am supposed to keep pace with everyone else. I didn't.  Not even close. In fact the district end of the year final had exactly 0 questions that my students had seen. But I learned that I am O.K. with this. I am willing to take the heat should any come my way. I am tired of jumping through hoops for the politicians. There is no way a student can learn ALL of physics in one year and actually understand it.  I am willing to take the chance that my student may not know all the context for the standardized and state tests they have to take, but they will have a deep understanding of scientific and critical thinking.  I think that will do them much better in the long run. So I didn't get to electricity and magnetism. I barely scratched the surface of light.  But I did challenge my kids. I did get them to learn mechanics deeper than any students before them. I think I'm ok with that.

6. There is an amazing on-line community for physics education.  I had no idea you existed until I began this blog. I am truly grateful for the encouragement, assistance, patience, and feedback you have given me this year. Now if I could just get one going for biology teachers.....  Maybe I have to start a bio blog as well?

7. There are students out there that no matter what, do NOT think Physics is the best subject ever. I just don't get it! We play with toys on a daily basis.  How is that not AWESOME!

8. True progress towards becoming a better teacher makes you realize how far you have to go. It makes me think of Man of La Mancha's The Impossible Dream. I used to think I was a pretty good teacher. Now I know I was a pretty good pseudoteacher. To truly inspire all kids to WANT to learn science is my impossible dream.

9. I am excited to try it all again next year. Yes, I have some battle scars from this year. But I see the value in the method. I saw true learning take place in my students.  I had students knock the FCI out of the ballpark at the end of the year. My kids learned alot despite my meddling. Just wait until I learn to get out of their way!

I am sure I will have more lessons from this year but I feel I've rambled enough for now. Stay tuned for lessons learned part 2. (I promise not 3 months from now!)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why I love going to conferences.

MSTA update edition.

I just returned from the Michigan Science Teachers Association convention in Grand Rapids. It was awesome for many reasons.
  1. I love being around teachers who want to improve their craft. This is why I truly appreciate all my tweeps and blog friends. They allow me to feel like I am at a conference on a daily basis. There were many great discussions held over many great fermented beverages. The ills of the education system were systematically dissected and solutions crafted.  The dueling pianos weren't bad either.
  2. I presented for my first time ever at the conference. Wish I had taken video. Thought of it later. (DOH!) I was worried that only 3 people would show.  My room was rather small which at first I thought was good.  But when about 30 teachers showed up for a room that comfortably held 12 I realized that my worries were for naught. The most amazing thing was only about 4-5 people had even heard about modeling.  I briefly (only had 45 mins) went through a description of modeling.  I started by asking them to share with each other the one thing that they would want a student from their class to learn in their class.  The only thing approaching a content standard was one teacher's desire for students to wear their seatbelts.  The rest were ability to evaluate data, appreciate science, understand that while physics can be challenging they CAN understand it.  I then launched into why those things then take the back burner to content?  We don't need to be the pushers of content. There is google and wikispaces in their pockets 24-7.  They need to be able to have science reasoning abilities to truly be good citizens. We need to push enough content to allow us to teach those skills. With good reasoning abilities and the ability to analyze data and graphs students could probably answer most content questions on standardized tests. At least make an educated guess. Anyway, I digress. The presentation went great. Whiteboards were used. I ended up giving them a ball rolling down a ramp problem to whiteboard where they had to create the PvT, VvT, and AvT graphs. I felt that was quick enough to have them whiteboard and discuss in the allotted time. I also figured we would get some different answers.  We did.  I intentionally picked a tougher problem.  The ball rolled down hill from right to left. It started at X=50cm and rolled back to X=0cm.  Some boards had v and a as positives; some were negative. Some were just wrong.  But the beauty is in that 10 minute activity we generated at least 3 important topics with motion.  They could see how the discussion immediately erupts as students try to resolve the differences.  Lots of great feedback came from the session. I'm already planning my presentation for next year. Perhaps the use of Twitter and the Blogosphere as professional development?
  3. The awesome new connections and networking. I met at least 3 teachers that I had not known before who will have a hand in shaping my class for years to come.  I plan to continue talking and collaborating with them for years to come. JT Miller's work with twitter was fascinating.  His students all have twitter accounts (except two - parent decision).  They regularly tweet about what is going on in his class (#tkcp).  He tweets out homework and class activities to his students. Through a poll of his students, 50% of them have his tweets sent to their phone. 40% rely on his tweets to track their homework! Another teacher is doing great inquiry in Biology (no web site yet, sorry!).  Her class is set-up on trimesters and each one is a case study where the required content objectives are incorporated as students try to solve the case.  Great stuff.  I'll most more once I get more info.
  4. Taco Boy burritos.
  5. Physics Educators meeting on Professional Development in Michigan.  Several Physics teachers, ISD science coordinators, NSF contacts, and college professors met for an informal meeting over lunch. Currently their is one modeling workshop that runs in the summer in the Detroit area.  We discussed how to get more training going on in more areas of the state.  Lack of modelers who can train IN the state is limiting our possibilities.  Lack of funding prohibits bringing in trainers from out of state.  We discussed the possibility of getting serious funding through NSF.  We also discussed modeling at the college level. Why is teacher prep for science still not constructivist? Why isn't all science at that level constructivist? Why are we spending all this money re-training teachers on true inquiry rather than doing it pre-service? Lots of great ideas were discussed.  Lots of balls started rolling. Hopefully a critical mass can be reached!
  6. Seriously? You are still reading this? I'm impressed at your perseverance.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why whiteboarding is going better.

So I made a shift in my class. The circle wasn't working out so well. Students were not discussing and lots of side conversations kept springing up. So I moved towards a presentation style format where one group gets up and presents to the rest of the class. Worked much better. The students were engaged. The students were debating. The students told me later how much fun class was. I love my job.

I think the shift is when only one group is up there is no confusion about who should be talking. When I had two groups go up today the silence happened again. No one took control. Once I had the other groups sit down conversation started again. Very curious to me!

I had a breakthrough with one of my students this week. On Tuesday we were in discussion and she asked me a question about force pairs. I told her I wasn't sure what the answer was. She replied in exasperation, "Yes you DO know the answer! You just want me to have to think!" Yes, Tiffany, yes I do.

Today she struck again. I gave out a quiz today. She glanced at it and said, "This is what we did yesterday."
"Yes," I replied."
"And this question is what we did earlier in the week!"
"And I know this one too!"
"Tiffany, are you complaining that you understand everything on the quiz?"
"*chuckles* I guess I am! It's just not a very usual occurrence for me!"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why I think "challenging" and "hard" are not the same.

I stumbled across this blog post today and it brought to mind some conversations I had with students in the last week. I dislike it when my students say 'physics is hard.' I always tell them, 'It's not hard, it's challenging'. I don't know why I care. It is basically the same thing. But I guess to me the word hard connotes that it is too difficult to learn. A challenge is something that by definition must be overcome. It is my opinion that anyone can learn physics. I do not have a single student who I feel is incapable of learning the main concepts. Unfortunately some of these students do not believe that yet. It is a constant struggle to try and boost their self-confidence enough for them to become successful.

I have had some successes though. One student who continuously told me she "doesn't get it" is now whipping off force diagrams and doing simple trig calculations better than just about anyone in class. Oh and she is a special ed student who usually gets C's or D's in science. She got a B+ last quarter!

I have found that the students attitude for modeling makes a great impact on their success. If they don't buy into the program it is very difficult for them to learn anything.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Why this blog has changed my career.

I cannot express how much better I am feeling about my career this year. I have enjoyed teaching before but this year has been fantastic. I owe a lot to my decision to take a workshop in modeling last summer, but by far the best part has been this blog. I originally started it with the thought that I would be able to reflect on the changes I am making this year sort of as a diary of change. I did not think that anyone would actually read it. At least not right away. I hoped that maybe someday another teacher starting modeling would find it helpful.

But the blogosphere doesn't really work that way. Somehow (and I'm still not sure how this happened) people started stumbling along this small place on some random server and started making comments. From this I have discovered other teachers doing amazing things. I have had more professional development in these last 4 months than I ever have in my entire 14 years of education. I have truly enjoyed the discussions. I am grateful on a daily basis for the challenges to my thinking that has stretched me as an educator. The best part is that I have found that the things that have bugged me about teaching have bugged others as well. And they have started to find solutions that I probably would never have had the guts to try on my own.

So here is is a list of shout-outs and thank-yous to the bloggers who have been the most influential to me at the end of 2010.

1- Steve Dickie at his blog FLOSS. This is actually a shared first. He represents all of my colleagues and instructors at my modeling workshop. They challenged me a ton and we learned together how awesome a classroom can be. We have been able to bounce ideas off each other and share in the transition to our new teaching lives. (I would include the rest of you guys if you'd start blogging. Jim did you get one up yet?)

2- Frank Noschese at his well-deserved Edublog winning site Action-Reaction. Frank was the first stranger to comment on my blog. His blog has led to many late nights for me. His was the doorway to all of the other amazing blogging educators. It was like taking the red pill and entering the true world of the matrix. His comment made a great journey even better.

3- John Burk at Quantum Progress. John's blog is amazing. His writing is excellent and well thought out. I am always excited when his newest entry is posted because I know that I will be learning something new. Like today's post. I watched a little of his Metic video. (Okay I watched the whole thing.) What did I learn? This little thing called the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. I have been on my soapbox with my students all year about this not really knowing how to describe it. How can I get my kids to want to grow as learners. Now that I know the term I have found tons of stuff on it that would be perfect for my kids to read.

4- Dan Meyer at dy/dan. It all started with his TED talk for me. His ideas about math reform are terrific. As is his WCYDWT idea. Only on Dan's blog will you see a question if the separate flusher button on a two/flush toilet is mathematically consistent or why a spreader bar is where it is on a ladder or even when will Vermont run out of license plates. Great stuff. I need to train my brain to see those questions too. But the biggest thing from Dan? Be less helpful. It's my new motto. My kids are finally starting to buy in now too. One student the other day came up to me and said, "I'm really confused and stuck. I know you won't tell me the answer, but could you ask me some questions?" Yes. I can do that.

5- Shawn Cornally writes Think Thank Thunk. His blog is where I first stumbled across the whole idea of Standards-based grading. If someone asked me what it was I would send them there first. Probably the best resource for this for the novice. Once you've read through that check out the SBG carnival that has been going on!

Those are my top five right now. There are several that are on the bubble right now and will assuredly need thank you's in another 4 months. Thanks again for all you have done for me and my students!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I am worried about Semester Exams.

My district is moving to district-wide assessments. This is a problem for me. I am the only teacher in the district using the modeling approach. My students have only taken modeling-style tests. The district exam is all-multiple choice. It is covering the first 7 chapters in the book. I am not using the book and I am jumping around in concepts according to the chapter order but I would guess I am through only about 5 chapters at this point.

Now the good thing is I am the only one at my school teaching introductory physics. So from a school level I can basically do what I want. All my students will still be in my classes next semester and I can see now that my students (and myself) are picking up the basic ideas of modeling that we are starting to move faster. I have no doubt I will be caught up at the end of the year. But I don't know what to do about this exam. It is a mandatory 20% of their grade by district policy and I am required to give the same test as the other schools. I think that my kids can handle the multiple choice questions it's just that they don't get to explain exactly what they are thinking. It concerns me.

Has anyone else experienced something like this?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why today I was an amazing teacher.

Picture this.

It is the first day back after a long holiday break. The students are not happy to be back at all. The teachers are not much more so. I am already hopelessly behind where I need to be right now. I need to find something to attract their attention and refocus them on what we learned.

Time for the slinky demo.

Standing on a tall table I held the uncoiled slinky from the ceiling. It was hanging stationary (relatively speaking) and then the magic happened. Before I said anything; not even one question was asked. A student made a comment that the slinky coils were further apart at the top than at the bottom. I said nothing. Another student made a comment that the forces must be different throughout the slinky. I said nothing. This led to a 10 minute debate about the properties of a slinky and where forces would be greater. Students got up and drew pictures on the board. They broke out into little groups truly working through the problems. I said nothing. Finally one of my students said "Wait a minute. Mr. B hasn't even asked us a question." As they all turned to me I had the largest grin I think I've ever worn in the classroom. I was so proud and excited for them. They were engaged. All of them. Without asking a question. Without prompting anything more than holding up a slinky.

I told them "You guys are amazing. That was a brilliant discussion. I have never been prouder of you!"

I then went on to wow them with the slinky discrepant event. They made force diagrams for everything. It was like we had not taken a single day off.

If I wasn't convinced that modeling works at this point there would be no way to deny it after today. It is amazing what students can accomplish when we teachers get out of their way.