Lab Stations

Today I had a lab that had 5 different stations for my students to work though in order to experiment with the ideas of force.  They explored the forces that are in ordinary interactions through using rubber bands with weights and bathroom scales.  I wanted to try out self paced work in class so that the students who want to work can do everything and not be slowed down by students who fool around. Each lab stations was simple enough that students didn’t need a group, but could use one.  I hoped that allowing students to do work at their own pace would allow for more differentiation.

In the actual class,  I found that there were a lot of people not working and messing up the set up of the labs.  This made it difficult for others to do their work and added to the chaos of the classroom.  A lot of students did some of their work and did learn during the class, but there could have been a lot more order.  Tomorrow I think I will try giving each group a station and then giving them a time limit and pushing them on so that everyone moves as a group and has a place to be working.  There was a lack of accountability and that made it difficult to keep everything under control. I think another issue was the size of each group.  In the future I think I will try to have multiple sets of materials at each station so that students can be in groups of two or three instead of five or six. 

My students all seem to be very good when it comes to writing something in a worksheet.  Even in my difficult classes, the end activity where we summarized what we did and how it connected to the concept of force got everyone in the seats, quietly writing.  I am amazed how well trained the students are in some areas, and how difficult they can be in other activities. 

I believe I made a mistake by not spending more time working on the instructions for each lab activity.  My instructions were all text and there was definitely some confusion with a few stations.  My goal is to give students the tools to be able to work as much as they can without my direct help, but that doesn’t work if the instructions are not clear enough.  As soon as things get confusing, many students lose focus and begin off task behavior.  I need to work on adding visuals to lab instructions so that the task at each station is very clear.

I am very happy with the day summary sheet that I made and I think it will help keep students focused better and help them reflect on the day and think about how what they do in class helps them learn.  I didn’t have time today, but I want to budget more time so that we can share out what students wrote and I can help guide them towards more in depth and meaningful responses.  It may be useful to take what they say and then write out a detailed description from everyone’s ideas and tell they class to add anything that isn’t already in their response.  This might help them early on and then I can just ease off until the only feedback they hear is from my reactions to what they say if I call on them.

While today was frustrating at times and I felt like they didn’t get as much out of it as they could, they still were successful at talking about forces and were able to reason through forces being applied when there is no motion.  In the next class there will be a mini lecture that will introduce free body diagrams and hopefully the concept will become more and more clear.

Relational Capacity

This week our PD spent a lot of time focusing on bonding with students and developing “relational capacity.”  The idea, which is something that has been said to me before, is that people will do different things for different people based on the nature of their relation.  People will do more for people they care about or respect, than people that they don’t.  We talked about a struggle between the relationship between the student and teacher vs the student and peers.  One main questions I had was how to build that relationship while also teaching.  Even in my student teacher I often struggled with balancing talking and getting to know students and keeping on task.
 
Today I had a small breakthrough in this area due to students finishing a quiz earlier than anticipated (hopefully because I taught them well and they could do it without difficulty).  We had about 15 minutes left in my first class and some students worked on the homework while I ended up talking with other students.  We had some fun joking around and then I noticed a few students with their hands clasped together and asked what they were doing.  They said they were arm wrestling themselves and then once student challenged me.  I paused for a moment, but when I realized that everything I wanted to do today was done, my only response was, “Let’s go.”  
 
Immediately the rest of the class circled around us and the energy level shot up.  As a 6’3 over 200 lb individual in a 9th grade class, I beat him in seconds.  Soon, all of the guys lined up and I went one at a time until they were all defeated.  It was fun, I definitely had a smile on my face, and I was able to assert a little bit of classroom dominance.  Some students when a second time, and we all had fun until the bell rang.
 
I was hoping to do the same thing in my next class, and I even told them about it in the beginning and offered it up as a reward for good behavior.  They were not well behaved and talked a lot once they turned in their test, even as other students were still working.  I made a list of parents to call and unfortunately we didn’t get that experience.
 
My last class, which is often my worst class as far as behavior is concerned, was a lot better than the class before them and took the quiz time seriously.  This class has a lot of personality and I was happy to give them this time at the end.  I used it as an incentive the whole time and they responded favorably.  When the last quiz was in, I went to the student who kept asking me to arm wrestle him while students were still working and challenged him.  Once again the class circled up and watched.  I continued to arm wrestle students for a while and then just hung out and talked with them until the bell rang.  
 
Today (Oct 25, didn’t get internet access at the time) was a lot of fun and I think it really helped me get a little closer to my students and show them a more human side of me.  I want to work on finding more ways to get to know students and interact with them while still making some progress in physics.  I think it could be cool to do a project that involves student interests and creating posters and presenting how physics is involved in their interest.  That might allow me to get to know my students more, and be productive at the same time.

Reading Jigsaws

Today I tried out a reading jigsaw activity in my classes.  It worked well in two of my classes, but the third class would not stay quiet and listen long enough to explain the rules.  In the class, the students just took notes on their own for the class period.  I was happy how it turned out for the two classes that participated, because everyone was very focused and did good work.

The way the lesson worked was each table was assigned a section of ready (about two pages).  They read and took Cornell notes for their section individually.  During this time they came up with 2-4 questions about their section and then summarize the section.  Each group was given a few minutes to share their notes, including their summary and questions.  As a group, they decided what information was important to share and what questions assessed understanding of their sections.

Tables were then split up and the jigsaw presentation began.  Students shared their questions with the group while the group wrote those questions down.  Through the presentation, students answered these questions.  In the end, each student had a paper with questions from each section written and answered.  These questions and their notes for their section were collected to be graded.  At the end of the activity students were called on rapidly to share what they learned from the whole activity with the rest of the class.

During this activity, one student had some difficulty with taking notes so I worked with that student one on one while the rest of the class worked.  I was happy that students had work to do that kept them focused long enough for me to give more attention to students who needed it in my class.  In my last class, students all took notes silently because they could not be quiet long enough to hear the directions for the jigsaw.  While students worked, I sat down with three students who were having difficulty getting meaning out of the text book.  We worked well together, but didn’t get that far in the material.  Towards the end the rest of the class started to lose focus and did not work much.  I chose to let them be off task and not get work done while I worked with students who were focused and wanted to learn.

I wish I had more opportunity to try interesting practices with my more difficult class because it would help the class become more engaging and fun.  Unfortunately they don’t behave enough to participate and utilize the extra freedom.  Hopefully I can work on this more and let them see how being better behaved and listening to instructions can help them do less work and have more fun in class.

Group Roles

Today I gave each group 1 small problem to work on that explored acceleration in a few real life, driving scenarios.  Before I let everyone work, I explained the group roles that I will have students assume during any full table group work (5-6 students).  With my more difficult classes, it took some time to get the class quiet to explain the roles and answer their questions, but once they understood what they had to do, they were surprisingly on task and worked well together.  I think this will really help turn my classes around and improve their behavior and understanding.  At the end of class, some students who were normally not engaged were saying how much work they did and how on task their were.  I think the roles and instructions helped students feel like they could do something positive in class and gave them more confidence.

My group roles were as follows:

Leader – keeps group on track, grades group on participation by role, is graded by teacher.  Responsible for all members of group and their behavior
 
Materials Manager – responsible for all materials (whiteboards, markers, papers) and ensures that area is clean at the end of class
 
Questioner – This student identifies questions that the whole group has that prevents progress.  These questions are to be written down and asked when Teacher is available.  Questions will be collected.
 
Summarizer – This students is responsible for connecting each activity to a big picture understanding.  The student is responsible for writing a summary at the end of the activity to be turned in.
 
Reporter – This student is responsible for preparing the report/presentation to the class or other groups.  Any student may be called on to answer a question, the reporter must prepare the presentation and prepare the group for answering questions

 While I liked all of the roles that students assumed, I think the leader and questioner made the most difference in how the class atmosphere changed.  Having leaders gave students more accountability and gave me help in managing my classroom.  Leaders had incentive to make sure their table was focused and working hard, and then they graded the other students.  With more people taking an active role to control the class, I was better able to join groups and work with them.

The questioner changed the style of instruction dramatically.  Groups could no longer use “I’m confused” as an excuse to not do work.  Each table knew that if they didn’t produce results, they needed to have a list of specific questions to help them be able to solve the problem.  I did not accept “How do I do this?” or “Is this right?” as valid questions.  The process of creating questions was a learning experience and changed how information was transferred in the class.  It was hard, and students felt that, but it wasn’t hopeless.

Overall my students were engaged in the material.  They were leaning in as they argued over graphs and students who normally did not do work ended up participating.  There was still plenty of off task behavior at times, but every student also worked in the class.  The pressure to finish on time and present helped focus students, and the different roles prevented one student from doing all of the work.  I want to get a video camera in here and start video taping the students as they work so I can present back to them examples of good team work and bad team work.  These group roles will stay and hopefully as we get more practice and I give more feedback they will work even better.