Trying Something New
This week I tried something new. I've been looking for a way to make lessons on physics content more rigorous and more student-centered, so I developed a framework for an inquiry-based lesson with my mentor and launched it Tuesday.
To start, with groups of 4 and 5 sitting around tables with markers and whiteboards, I asked the class to "draw what it looks like when a fast moving skateboarder hits a curb." This was not as engaging as I had hoped. Mostly the groups would let one or two people draw and the others were passive. I called attention to and celebrated detailed work like labeling and diagrams.
Reflection on my Teaching Styles
** 1 Year Later Reflection, see end of post
Something that I do well in my classes is consistently asking my students to be reflective. I've learned and discovered that the most authentic learning happens in reflection, thinking back over a completed project and thinking into the future about what you will do differently. I wish that I could say that I put as much effort into asking the students to practice their critical creative thinking. I hope to be explicit about leading a class that can defend and justify decisions and choices in projects based on evidence, research and experience.
Don't Burn it All
This week I've been doing some reading about different ideas in how to teach math, including The Mathematicians Lament by Paul Lockhart and a piece by Jo Boaler, a Stanford Professor of Mathematics Education (called the "goddess of math education" by some). Both of these authors points out flaws they see in the current mainstream form of math education and encourage others to make changes to how they think about teaching math.
Behavior Is Communication
It's good to be reminded of this tenant of human communication as I was while reading this article. During my orientation at High Tech High we discussed how everyone wants to do well, and behavior that traditionally is understood as problematic or rebellious can be better interpreted as communication. After hearing thinking on that idea, I looked inward.
In my first few weeks of teaching I was sensitive to my behavior and choices surrounding my interactions with students. When was I visibly excited? Frustrated? What did I dedicate most of our class time doing? By examining these things I could determine what I was communicating to my class and what I was showing them to be important to me or unimportant.
In a similar way I can look at my students working habits and behaviors and derive some kind of communication. A large percentage of my class fails to submit an assignment on time. I must not be giving clear directions or displaying due dates effectively. Quality of project work is low. I must not be showing students how to take details seriously. The class is loud and inattentive. I must not be building a culture of respect for others or emphasizing the importance of listening when someone else has something to share.
I still believe that everyone, students included, wants to do well. Nobody wants to be the one rushing to finish everything at the last minute or the person who gets called out during class for something. There are other motivations behind these behaviors and reasons why people choose to do or not to do things. By examining the causes of these behaviors I can shape my practice to respond to them as forms of communication and see these actions as gifts of insight rather than fires to put out.
Inclusive Grouping Strategies Podcast
For my final project in this class I wanted to study strategies for making groups in school that are as fair as possible. In my class I've made groups using a variety of methods but successes and failures of each led me to wonder if there was a strategy that made groups that were balanced and fair to students of all styles of learning. In my research I found that by combining both a random approach and one which takes into account the input of students a fair system can be established.
Many of my friends who teach also listen to podcasts. Because teachers are the ones who most likely will benefit from this information I decided to document and share what I learned by making a podcast. I learned about the topic but also how to make and share a podcast. In the future I hope to document what I've learned and develop a guide for teachers who want to make podcasts.
The podcast can be found on my website at philipestrada.org/podcast
If You Only Had One More Day
My class has two more weeks to finish our project. It's a complex build between groups of 3 and 4 that requires lots of planning and revision and detailed work. Each of the students in the groups also have commitments to other projects that they are involved in and often the building portion of the project gets forgotten. It's common for me to find a student meandering and ask them how much they have left to do on their building project and they'll almost have forgotten all about that aspect of it.
Recently I've gotten interested in rock climbing. I go to an indoor gym pretty regularly and enjoy the challenge. As much fun as rock climbing indoor can be, it's nothing like getting outside and climbing some real rock. I recently went to Mission Gorge with a friend and got to climb a few serious walls. He's a very experienced climber who leads trips all the time so I should have felt safe but it was hard to tell myself that when I was preparing to rappel down a 100 foot face using some knots he had just whipped together for me.
In my class this week we were shown a presentation on Autism Spectrum Disorder and teaching strategies to help those in our classes who are affected by it. According to the presentation, major piece of what these students need is help developing relationships so it is suggested that teachers create buddy systems for their students who have ASD. Having somebody to model appropriate behaviours and habits is supposed to be really useful for students with ASD.
As I reflected on this suggestion I thought about climbing with my friend. I think we can all benefit from having partners and buddies in work or projects that we do. Because of this I thought maybe in future classes of mine I can set up study partners who help each other with make up work, submitting assignments and general check ins. I'm working to make my class as inclusive as it can be and so I hesitate to require something of a few of my students and not others
A Visit from a Monarch
This week our class hosted Rachelle Archer from the Monarch School in Barrio Logan which is a school for children and families who are experiencing homelessness. She is the director of their Therapeutic Arts program and spoke to us about her experiences there as well as strategies she uses to create an inclusive environment.
Empathy in the Classroom
To start the semester I wanted to do something that allowed my students to get to know each other but also to share their experiences in science classes previous to this one. I hoped that we could find commonalities between students experiences as a way to build empathy for the stories of others. I will explain the set up and instructions for the activity.
To start, everyone needs a 3x5 notecard and something to write with. I drew a large version of a notecard on the board filled it in as I explained to the class. First, everyone needs to put their name at the top of the card. Then they should draw a line along the middle of the notecard, dividing it into top and bottom halves.
Lead a short discussion about how many different schools and classes everyone in the room is from. Discuss how everybody is different and learns differently as well.
Ask the students to think of a time in a class of your subject (science for me) where they were frustrated or felt like they weren't good at something. I refrain from calling this a bad memory or a negative memory because I like to be able to redeem these experience later. I gave the example of having to study for my APBIO test and write it in my example notecard. Give them a minute to think of their memory before asking them to write it down in the top half of their notecard.
Next give an example of an exciting memory where they felt confident or happy or proud. Again, I don't call this a good or positive memory. I told them a story about how I really enjoy dissections in my high school biology class and write it out on the board. Give them a minute before having them jot down their memory.
Let everyone finish and call somebody up to demonstrate with you. Tell the kids that they will be pairing up and telling the partner their top and bottom stories before listening to the stories of their partner. Once they finish sharing they will "swap" by exchanging cards. After the swap cards they wander about until they find a new partner. With their new partner they share the story that they now have in their hands, the story of their previous partner. They should point out that person to their new partner so that he or she knows who is being talked about. They can cycle through for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
After everyone is done talking and seated lead a discussion where you talk about what they heard a lot in both types of memories. I like to have them turn to a partner and talk then share with the class what they talked about in their pairs but however you do this is fine.
In my class most of the 'upper' memories had to do with some kind of hands on work or a really cool project that they were able to do. Many of the 'lower' memories dealt with late work, homework and tests. Write each common topic on the board or some document that you can refer to. On the first day of class this can lead into norms or syllabus. For my class I was able to talk about our hands on work and outline details about our late policy and homework.
I was a fan of this activity at the beginning of the year because it's an authentic way to start getting everybody's names and stories. It's a very inclusive activity as well because it is easily adaptable and no one has a more important voice than anyone else. In my experience this activity is good at bringing everyone in and making sure that everyone is heard.
It's very important to document the responses from the end of this activity. Showing the students that this conversation has consequence throughout the semester goes a long way to being serious about making their voices heard. The activity can also be adapted as a dilemma protocol or in response to a national disaster or after a holiday break.
Jan 31st 2017 edit -
I have used this to start all my classes thus far and I like it. It's a great way to start to get to know everybody and also gives me a notecard with everybody's name on it and a few things they like in school, which I use in discussions later in the year.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.