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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.