Monday, February 27, 2012

Inspiration has Returned!

I promised myself that I would head to bed at 10pm last night (I stayed up to watch the Oscars with my mother last night and still had to drive home and organize myself afterward) and then the inspiration bug hit.

I actually came home from work, completed some of the work that had to be done, had dinner, and found myself listening to a colleague's take on her tweetchats with her Grade 11 Biology class on an ed pod cast. I have been following her on twitter since meeting her at a Smarter Science conference last June and had taken an interest in the idea - so I was excited to find out she had done this podcast. I think it was the perfect time to get myself reconnected with the online ed world and engage in something new. I had been feeling particularly disengaged from the passionate teaching world recently and somehow tonight made a turn for the better.

In past posts I have vented about technology in schools and how discouraged I felt about being technical and using it to connect with my students. So often we are discouraged by our union and school board about taking these paths, but the fact of the matter is - it is here to stay, and there are ways to do it safely! @EurekaTeacher is active proof - and I want to be a part of it.

Step one - tomorrow I will speak with my admin and make sure they are behind my initiative - to get my 3U Physics class on twitter and discussing concepts, without the numbers, from home (or anywhere on their smart phones!).

Step two - find out if there is a way I can access twitter from school so that we can discuss the idea of internet safety, twitter itself, protected tweets, spam, etc

Step three - host the first class tweetchat on motion!

Wish me luck! And please let me know if you have ideas, comments, questions, or concerns. It will be a learning experience and I will appreciate what others have to say on the topic.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Revamping My Perspective on 3U

I am teaching SPH 3U0 for the third straight semester. The kids know when they walk into my room that I put down a hard academic fist. I have high expectations for them and push them to produce their own work. I want them to spend a semester with me and leave my class knowing they have changed something about the way they learn, study, and/or think. Physics requires a high level of problem solving with a secure understanding of the core concepts. This is not an easy thing to get "A" students to understand, at least not in my experience.

This past semester I took to using out school's WOW (workstation on wheels) cart, which houses a laptop, speakers, LCD projector, and document camera. Before each class I would post the outline for the days notes so that student could print them out if they wanted to. The idea was that they could have my class work toward whatever type of learner they were. if they were audio learners, they could listen and then find the completed notes online that night; if they were visual they could watch and "fill in the blanks"; if they were kinesthetic they could copy everything on their own....or a combination of the options. In the end, I heard more complaint than "thanks"...although I suppose the complaints are always louder. They saw it as me "not doing anything for them"...and some believed that when I used "open" problems and made them figure out what they needed to know in order to answer the question that I was simply "not showing them what to do". In the end, I found the Grade 11 university bound students to be closed-minded and unable to see the benefits of "different" ways of teaching.

So this semester I have come up with a new plan. Part of it is circumstance (I currently have 31 students and therefore have 16 2-man desks in my room so it is very difficult to bring technology into the room - I can't wait until we finally have projectors installed in our new ceiling plates) and part of it is me wanting to find a better way to serve my students (both through teaching then and helping them create better study habits and take ownership for their own learning NOW - let's face it, the downfall of most first year university dropouts is that they don't know how to do this). So here is what I am currently trying:

- Assign reading (and note taking) for homework for the next days class (the idea being that they come into class with an idea of what they are about to learn and will already have things they can ask questions about)
- Work through a brief lesson that leaves the kids with a short note and some examples of how they can use the concepts
- Assign practice problems and give at least 40 minutes of class time to work on them (so that they can have easy access to asking each other questions - let's be honest, if 31 of them have questions I am of no use)
- Continue to work in labs, demos, POEs and gizmos where possible

I guess the goal I have set for myself here is to create as much of a student-centred classroom as possible. I want them to work together toward their goals (goals that they set for themselves and shared with me on day one of the class) and strive to learn as much as they can about themselves (as learners) and about the subject (physics). I want to give students the chance to OWN their own successes. To feel like the results they earn are a result of their hard-work and dedication (instead of thinking of a mark as something a teacher gave them).

But here's the thing. There are always students who will be led to water and will not drink (that will be given time to work and will chatter instead). There will always be students who don't find passion in school or the subject (who settle for the 70 when they could get the 80).

I suppose there is the other side - the one I will have to wait to see. The side where a student comes back after a year in University and has realized the work, effort and care I put into their class. Who finally understands that what I did helped them be prepared for something ahead of them. That understands that I was hoping to make them better students, better people. That understands that it was all because I cared. I know I had teachers who did this for me, for my friends. And I know that I have gone back to make sure that they now knew it. It is funny, when I mention this kind of thing to friends, they realize that they never thanked the person that did something for them - they realize that their teachers are people too.

In any event, what I hope to accomplish this semester is a growth in myself as a teacher. I hope that I continue to learn new things about my course, my students, myself. I hope that I find new ways to reach the university bound student. I hope that I find ways to look outside of who I was as a student. I hope I find ways to look at who I was as a student and search for ways to help my students find those things. Everyone is capable of being intrinsically motivated by learning - it is just that not everyone knows it yet.