Yesterday I had the privilege of observing a veteran physics teaching at a different school.  My school was on a “brain break” and I decided the best way to spend my time off was in a physics classroom.  The experience was very useful and there were several techniques and structures that I think I can implement for immediate changes, as well as some longer term ideas that will require more planning and organization to implement next year.  I was really great to see another teaching in action and follow all of his classes throughout the day.

In his class, the students have interactive notebooks, which contain everything they work on.  They also have grade sheets for the notebook checks, calendars, equation sheets, and other organizers to help keep everything together.  When I visited, they started with a notebook check, where students add up stamps that they get as they complete assignments in class/at home.  They then write their total and the teacher does a quick average for the class and that becomes what their notebook is out of.  Some students can get extra credit by being ahead of the average.  This stamp system takes a lot of time out of grading and makes it very clear to the students why they get the grades that they do.  Stamps are given in class as students work so they gain some motivation and don’t get surprised by grades in the end.  

One great thing about the stamping process is it gives the teacher a way to quickly interact with each student a few times during class.  Students usually have a task to do and his moves around, checks for understand, and gives encouragement while they work and he stamps.  It can be a great way to see if students are on task and the stamps can be a sort of carrot to get them back on task if their effort wanes.  Sometimes, a student may think he or she is finished and then receives less than the total amount of stamps and guidance towards what he or she is missing.  This process also serves as an approximate 2 minute timer for Think Pair Share activities.

I was happy to observe Cornell Notes in action since that is something I’ve been using in my class and would like to gain better level of proficiency with.  The teacher takes notes in his own notebook with a document camera and they copy down what he writes.  He used lots of color, and provides markers and colored pencils, along with guidance, to help the students take better notes.  The largest improvement I think I will take from watching his Cornell Notes is the use of a “Note to Self” (NTS) in the left column.  Instead of just doing questions, which I have had trouble getting students to do effectively, they can write a note to self that explains the more structured notes on the right side.  As I was taking notes on the class, I found this extremely useful because I always have little thoughts that I want recorded and this keeps it organized in a separate spot.  The teacher will break up the lecture by having students write a note to self and then go around and stamp their complete notes while they write.  He once again gets to check in with each student, while they summarize (an important skill and useful for understanding) and then can have them share their note to self’s with a partner (more structured Think Pair Share as part of the note taking process).  The notes that he and his students were producing were phenomenal and I’m sure this process really helps them understand material and provides a great reference.  

I also observed him begin giving lab instructions, where he once again used the document camera and the students copied down the lab instructions, with diagrams so that they didn’t need a handout.  I think I might start doing this to not only save copy paper, but also ensure that all students read the complete instructions and write them down.  I think it will help make sure the students know what they are doing.  He also did a lot of questions to the class as he did these instructions and I believe the act of students thinking about and saying what pictures represented as far as lab materials helped add a vital non-linguistic element that diagrams alone do not provide.

As far as teaching techniques, there was a lot of repetition and a lot of questioning the students.  When going over anything, he would say, “What was this again?”, or “Remind me what this stands for” many many times.  Not all students would respond, but at least they would hear it more.  He also asked a lot of very simple questions that students could easily answer as he guided them towards more difficult ones.  I think he did a great job to build momentum for student success.

For my own immediate success, I plan to introduce the “Note to Self” idea for Cornell Notes and work on adding color to notes, with a lot of guidance to help the students adopt coloring and highlighting.  I also plan to use his processing tasks, which I may go over in another blog post after I get some more experience with them.  I’m also going to try to emulate the frequency that he checks for understanding to not only inform myself, but also add a lot more repetition to help the students retain what I’m saying/writing.  I think I will adopt the interactive notebook next year, after much planning to make sure it is organized and successful.  At the end, he gave me lots of supplies to help allow more labs in my classroom with much more accurate data.  Some were simple toys that can lead to great labs, while others were precise measuring tools to help my students gain experience using technology in science and improve the quality of our data.  I hope to have the opportunity to observe this teacher again after I make these changes and have more experience and questions.


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