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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!)


  1. Thanks for this. Reassuring to know I'm not the only one who found that pace and organization got easier... not so much. (I also loved #7). You've probably already seen this post about withholding vector components <a href=">until they beg</a> but here it is just in case. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Yep. Totally stealing John's idea next year. Just got a case of graph paper ordered! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Bryan,
    These are great reflections, and that's exciting that you're teaching bio next year. As a physicist, I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Scott Freeman's Biology Text, it's a truly awesome text that focuses on explaining the chains of reasoning that support the experiments. It's a great reference, but I wouldn't use it for your class unless you're teaching a class full future Francis Collinses and Craig Ventners.

    You probably already know that Shawn is teaching bio next year, so the bio blogging world is about to take a huge quantum leap. But there are already some awesome bloggers out there, including Anna Moore, Barbara Gadja, and Terie Engelbrecht

  4. Thank you for posting this. I completely fell off my teaching blog very early in the year this year. I hope to try SBG next year, but I agree that it needs to be very organized. I'm a little daunted. I'm good at falling behind AND losing things on my desk.

    Also, I am the physics teacher in my district who is always behind all the others. Thank heavens we abandoned the district-wide final in favor of teacher-made "quarterly assessments." Still, I am surrounded by colleagues who are adamant that it is important for students to taste ALL of the wonderful topics that are encompassed in physics. Sigh.

    Anyway, thanks.

  5. Whoa! This is the blog post I sat down to write. I implemented SBG and Modeling into my Chemistry this year and went through a lot of the same ups and downs that you did. I struggled a lot with the pace. It just seemed like we were going sooooo slooowww. I think it was worth it though because I really believe they understood the material better. Good luck - it can only get better!

  6. Thanks for the heads-up. I'm going to a modeling workshop in a few weeks and was contemplating switching to the style plus switching to SBG. Maybe I'll think about just one.

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Glad I struck a chord with a few of you. We are not alone in this constant struggle of improvement! Scott in retrospect of my retrospect I think I want to tackle SBG again next year. I just need to get WAY more organized about it this summer. I'd like to try it in my bio classes. Plus develop some modeling-esque activities for biology as well. To top that off I am teaching summer-school (or the test lab as I sometimes like to call it. If it works there it will work anywhere!) and also helping with the local modeling workshop. Throw in a robotics camp and a couple of competitions for my FIRST team, and it seems to be quite the busy summer. Oh and I just sold my house and have no where to live yet! Luckily I have a really big tent and the keys to the football field. Should be an interesting summer!

  8. Hey, so this is how far behind I am in my reader. Oops. Anyway, re: homework... I stopped giving it after January this year, and I'm planning on going that way again in the fall. You totally hit on part of the reason; kids who are just a little behind get further and further behind through the homework process. I'd rather just use the time we have to do the work. I will occasionally ask them to do something like... finish the rest of worksheet 3 so we can whiteboard it tomorrow right away. I'm not sure what kind of homework you were assigning, but if it is something that is going to be whiteboarded rather than collected, and if it should only take them about 10 to 15 minutes to do it, that seems to go better for me (although if you do that every day you still get that effect of kids falling further behind).

  9. Thanks Kelly. So do you assign it for points at the beginning and then once they see the value of it you stop? Or since you do SBG is it a standard for you? Most of the time the "homework" is just what you said. I give them time to work and then they just need to finish it up. Most of the time there is no finishing that happens!