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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!)