Sunday, May 20, 2012
Sunday, May 6, 2012
While working with the software for the digital reflection, I began to really appreciate the ease at which "live" lessons could be recorded by teachers to enhance student understandings. Although I haven't done it yet, I plan to record future graphic presentations (fancy term for PowerPoint), and have them available for my students who might miss the actual presentation because of illness or other legitimate reason for an absence. I also have to thank Jeff for explaining how easy it is to resize embedded information in our blogs on that first day of class, because I had to recall that information to neatly fit my digital presentation in the space available. Thanks again to all who helped me increase my techknowledge (pun intended) throughout the semester. -Carl
Another seemingly obvious epiphany that I had recently is how important something as simple as how the seating in a room can affect student participation and lesson comprehension. Most science classrooms are designed around desks, and they invariably force students to sit at odd angles in relation to where most of the instruction takes place. I understand the need to have student-centered learning, however, having students facing away from the focus of instruction does very little for a 14 year-old’s comprehension. The standard single seats from the 70’s and 80’s seem to be traded out at an increasing rate for more social desk groupings. This is even taking place in non-science classrooms. I have recently discussed this issue with one of my cooperating teachers, and he stated that he can understand my point of view, especially considering the few number of labs we do that require desk usage. With the fundamental purpose of teaching being the transfer of understandings to our students, I feel that anything that promotes this idea should be embraced. The classes I am teaching this semester are all taking place in portable rooms that have no distinct designation between Social Science, English, or Earth Science. However, the classrooms where science isn’t being taught all have conventional single seating, and those teaching science all have table group seating.
I see the benefit of having tables available for students while conducting lab work, but during the other 80% of their time in the classroom, the table group seating works against their ability to remain focused. Having experimented with multiple table arrangements over the past school year, I have seen how quickly students drift away from the central focus of the lesson when they are staring directly at another student. Some of my best students have been distracted by students around them when seating assignments and arrangements change. Unfortunately, I don’t see any one correct answer to this problem. Limited space and larger numbers of students in every class will likely just exacerbate the problem. Facing a student in any direction away from the focus of learning is simply telling them that what is going on isn’t really important. Students know that the direction they are facing is where the information is, whether that information is content or socially based.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
Over the past six months of teaching I have frequently reminded my students and occasionally myself what the reason is for them being in my class. It isn’t to get good grades, nor is it to please their parents. The reason that seems to get muddled by all of its byproducts is the attainment of knowledge and understanding. I know this sounds obvious and simple, but it is amazing how often we lose sight of this while interacting with students. I completely understand that students want to get good grades. I strive for this as well in any class I am enrolled in. But when I remind students that learning is the true reason why they are in the seats, they look at me like I am inconveniencing them with some silly fact.
The reason I need to occasionally remind myself about this, is that sometimes a student might ask me a question that isn’t directly connected to the lesson being taught, but is nonetheless a valid inquiry based on a real desire to know more about a particular subject. With time always being a commodity I am short of, I will try to give a brief answer that I think satisfies the student’s question and quickly move back to the subject at hand. This particular scenario came up just the other day when I was discussing the distances between stars and the speed of light. I had a student ask me about my feelings on UFOs and whether I thought we might ever visit other solar systems. I answered the question which was asked, but looking back, I feel I may have missed a tremendous opportunity to provide additional information, not just to this student, but to the entire class. My simple answer of the distances being so vast could have been better executed if I were to go through the math of question. I could have had the class, as a group provide the information about how far light travels in a single year (approximately 5.9 trillion miles), and let them decide whether they felt we would ever make such a journey. Instead, I was focused on cramming the last few hours of review in prior to their CST exams and potentially lost a teaching/learning moment that might have lasted them the rest of their lives.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
With the science CST sections coming up in about a week, we are currently looking at different ways to solidify the students’ understandings of the information covered over this school year. Although I believe that there is a definite need for some sort of standardized way of evaluating the effectiveness of teaching, I am not sure this is the best method. Whenever told about an upcoming state mandated test, it seems that the first question asked by the students is whether it will count toward their grades. Each teacher understands what the students are really asking, “Do I really have to try on this test?” This is a dilemma that is faced every year as teachers try to impart upon their students the importance of a test that has no immediate affect on their lives. To try and get students to “do their best” without a reward for doing well, or a negative impact for doing poorly is simply not effective.In an effort to help students demonstrate their abilities and reinforce content understandings attained throughout the year, we are looking to have an extra credit review session. This will benefit both the students and the school, as they should be better prepared for the CSTs and allow them to gain extra credit to positively affect their own grades. Even with such an incentive, many students still will not take part in the session. That being said, I am looking for additional ways to better solidify understandings late in the school year. I want to reinforce key concepts not just for the sake of higher achievement on the CSTs, but for the true reason for their learning, to help them commit key concepts to their long-term memory. I predict that I will be wrestling with this dilemma each year around this time throughout my future teaching career.