Big room change today! Students came in to find a circle of chairs around an empty room with two masking tape circuits on the floor. Instructions were to sit quietly and think about what the tape represents. Students were much quieter than normal when they came in and had much better overall behavior. I think the radical change in classroom environment affected how they acted as soon as they came in the door. Some students barely held in certain four letter words as they walked through the door.
Today was TPR for most of the period, which is something I haven’t done before. The activity was approached in stages, with a break to Think Pair Share before it got more complicated. For some reason the format and groups that formed made it easier to interact with each student. I think the open space made it easy to move around and students couldn’t hide behind each other.
The activity itself was a huge success, judged by the students noticing differences in the two circuits without even being prompted to think about them. It was physical and it was visual. Students saw what other groups did and identified how that was different. We then added in chanting to help students connect their movements to the academic vocabulary.
I noticed more students helping each other today than most days. The activity was a procedure and students naturally just helped guide each other when there was confusion. I only had to occasionally stop the class, give a hint or suggestion, and then allow them to get back to work. At the end students were writing about what they did and what they saw. I heard a lot of students recapping each thing that they did and helping each other remember each step. At the end a few students said they wanted to do this kind of activity every class period. I hope their enthusiasm from today can last through the next class they have with me, which is a little more notes and problem solving focused.
My second two classes had a bit more trouble getting into the activity. They had trouble staying focused and were slower to follow instructions. At one point I needed to clear up confusion and took each student slowly through the circuit, dictating each step. I was amazed how at this point, students were very responsive to instruction and followed without an resistance. I think this really highlights how having a routine and walking students through the routine leads them to success and good behavior. All of the classes had a good final product, but my second two periods seemed to get less out of watching other groups perform.
This past weekend I met with my Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowship to continue to work on our year 1 inquiry projects and engage in face to face collaboration. Every time we meet I feel so rejuvenated and excited to bring what I have learned back to my school.
During this meeting we had lots of time to discuss what is going on at our school and discuss data. I love that we use protocols and I feel like that is one thing I need to bring back and introduce for out meetings because they tend to wander off track. For the protocol we used, each person had a turn to be the subject of the protocol, giving everyone the same amount of time. During the protocol, our “critical friends” would examine out data, ask clarifying questions, and just have time to express what they notice or wonder without any comment from the presenter. There were occasional long pauses as we read and thought and no one was checking email or looking at lesson plans. I feel like this processes highlighted the difference between collaborating and just having a meeting. I would like higher levels of collaboration at my school site so that I don’t have to wait between the few fellowship meetings and Google hangouts.
We also had a great collaborative discussion about “Content Knowledge for Teaching” where we synthesized long online discussions into concept maps in groups. These discussions were based on an article and the concepts maps were then posted around the room for a “gallery walk.” We all walked around with post-its to add questions to these concepts maps. We then modified/recreated our concept maps to better reflect the current state of the conversation. This process was an interesting way to allow everyone to participate and synthesize a long discussion board conversation. It also gave us a chance to think about and discuss the many different aspects of our teaching practice, which is something we don’t seem to have much time for during the year. I would really enjoy being able to have these conversations with the other teachers at my school and express our combined knowledge in a way that is useful.
We also had time to talk in our content groups, and since I’m in the math department at my school it was really great to talk with other science teachers about science. We have been discussing electrostatic potential energy since October and trying to get a better idea of what we know, what our students know, and how we can better teach these concepts. We spent a couple hours talking about energy, looking at student work, and deciding where we want to go with our topic. Part way through we started to get frustrated and unhappy with our current direction and everyone’s energy just seemed to drop. At the end we finally started to get going again and decided to explore different charge particle/distribution models and how they can be used to explore different phenomena that are related to electrostatic potential. I think this new direction has huge potential (no pun intended) and may be able to lead to a much stronger conceptual understanding and link between many topics in physics and chemistry (and really just how the domains of physics and chemistry relate). I would love to be able to have these conversations with the other science teachers at my school so that we can better align our curriculum. We may not have time to have the 3ish hour meetings, but we can definitely try to meet more often to make sure something develops.
One of the things I really like about the work we are doing as a fellowship is that it is public to us and really allows us to see what other people are working on. Everyone has a personal site about their teaching practice and what they are exploring in their teaching practice and everyone is in a team to work on a content-based inquiry. On these sites we post information about what we are doing, what data we have collected, how our thoughts or questions may have changed, and anyone within the fellowship can look at these sites. I feel like I have no idea what is happening in most classrooms at my school, beyond the occasional share-outs we have had in our meetings. I’ve been trying a different style of grading system, but have not formally discussed it since the first time I presented it to the department heads (which means some people still don’t know what I’m doing). I feel like having a more public space could help us know what everyone is doing and then be able to find people to have a discussion or ask questions. It could also help if a new initiative isn’t working well by providing an opportunity to get feedback. I think email is a terrible tool for meaningful discussion, because it just gets buried after a few days and isn’t organized in a meaningful way. If we made Google sites (which can be made in a day) we could more easily group up and organize our teaching process and have an actual inquiry process.
Today’s activities did not go so well. I tried to adapt a cool lesson that looks at the basic ideas of refraction that is initially designed for a 1-1 iPad environment. The task is simple at first: you are on a beach and notice a taco cart down the road. Knowing that you walk faster on the road than on the beach, a less direct path is taken in order to minimize time in the slower medium. Students guess where to aim for the road so that their path takes the least amount of time. The full activity can be found here: http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=15186
This activity involves the use of the Pythagorean Theorem to calculate the distances traveled on both sand and road, plus the distance = rate x time formula to go from distance to time. Students could then compare times to see who picked the closer path.
There were several issues with attempting this on a paper format. First, students had to measure with rulers, instead of having the measurements pop up when they picked a path. This lead to a lot of rounding so that individual students did not have very different paths. It also made the initial set up portion of the activity take much longer because they had a lot more drawing and measuring to do. Another issue was that students then lost the need to calculate using the Pythagorean theorem because they could just measure with a ruler. This might be a welcomed adaptation for my next class because it makes the problem simpler, but it definitely through a wrench in today’s lessons. Finally, it is much less engaging to draw information out of paper than it is to touch a screen and watch information just pop up. Also, the ability to gather class data and project to everyone is taken away.
As far as this activity went, student’s problem solving skills were definitely below the level of going through this activity since many were unclear about what it means to take the square root of something. This activity would require some work with simpler tasks to practice the mathematical skills and could then be a challenge problem. For my next classes, I am going to just have them measure the distances so we can focus on the concepts while involving much simpler math (which was actually my original intent). Then, at a later time we could try a challenge type problem where the Pythagorean theorem becomes necessary, possibly in conjunction with their math class so they can work through the same problem with a focus on different parts in each class.
There was a definite behavioral change between this lesson and the previous TPR one, that I attribute partly to the lower level of engagement in the activity and partly to the difficulty. I think many students checked out because they were confused, and once that occurred, their lack of attention just led to more confusion. In the TPR lesson, each step occurred more slowly as students were instructed what to do and other students were able to watch examples. The overall intellectual load was less and there was a healthy balance of experience, social explanation time, and note taking time. This activity was more mentally demanding and since it took longer, it didn’t have the same repetition of one concept in multiple learning modes. Hopefully the simpler version with work better and with the savings in time we can talk more about the importance of what we are doing and make connections to our experiences.
I’ve been doing a few TPR activities in my physics classes and so far they have all gone very well. Some classes were slower to get started than others, but once students got out of their chairs and started to move they mostly seemed to like it. For this activity, we had a group of students be a guitar string and step in a transverse wave pattern (similar to “doing the wave” at a stadium but instead of rising up they stepped forward). A few groups of students also made perpendicular lines to this guitar string and when the string stepped forward, that wave was continued along the lines as a longitudinal wave to represent the movement of air molecules (sound). We worked at this experience in steps and then students wrote reflections afterwards. Some quotes are below:
“I wasn’t just sitting down”
“We were just laughing and doing waves”
“It makes us learn more because that way we can see what we are talking about”
“makes us learn about how waves move”
“easier to remember later”
“It was kind of fun”
“I liked that we could get up and play a little bit”
Following this activity and written reflection, we took some Cornell Notes to help organize our thoughts. These notes were a way to connect our motion to the day’s “Do Now.” At the end of the notes, students write a summary. One of them included this:
“These short Cornell Notes helped me answer and understand do now better. With this I could answer anything dealing with sound.”
I really like TPR activities because they are always engaging and help create an anchor experience that can be related back to in future activities and learning experiences. Students behave better when they have fun, and when we force them to be here for 7-8 hours each day, they deserve a chance to have some enjoyment. I was really happy to see this positive response about Cornell Notes, because the students started off very opposed to taking notes. Hopefully I did something to help them see how notes are useful.
I started reading QED by Richard Feynman today in AI and I was amazed at how well it improved my overall mood. QED (which here stands for Quantum Electrodynamics, not Quod Erat Demonstrandum) is a look at how light and electrons interact via the model of quantum mechanics. Feynman has the gift of explaining very complex ideas in simple terms and he has no problem admitting what he (and all of the physics community) do not understand. He talks very bluntly about the limitations our physical models have and admits that none of it makes sense. In this book he explains how physicists make predictions in this area without going into the complex math that is required to make the calculations efficient.
I think starting up this book made me feel good for two reasons. One, reading can be very relaxing and was a good way to slow down in the middle of the day. I think this helped me see AI as more of my own time to enjoy my interests, rather than managing the class while they read (of course there were breaks in my reading to do that). The same feeling occurred after school during detention. I was able to slow down and enjoy reading while they sat until they were able to give 15 minutes of uninterrupted silence. This gave me the strongest sense that I was “winning” that I have experienced yet, if that makes sense. Once I let the two students who modeled good behavior go, the others ended their whispers and giggles without needing a word from me. Slowly I let students go as they fulfilled their 15 minutes of quiet requirement. I got the sense that there was more power in this than in giving them a lecture.
The second reason reading really improved my mood is because it gave me a chance to look at complex physics again. I love the concepts at work in the topics that we study in class, but I have always had a special curiosity and interest in quantum mechanics. I love reducing to the behavior of the smallest particles and I am constantly amazed that the universe really behaves in this bizarre manner. With teaching I have had not shortage of intellectually demanding work, but there is a distinct difference between studying learning and studying physics and I believe I really need a balance of both. Few things excite me and energize me like thinking about a new way to teaching something, or new pedagogical technique, but contemplating the ridiculous nature of reality definitely matches up. I was reminded of this when I met with my fellowship in the fall and I think continuing to pursue this intellectual outlet will help balance out my mind. While it sounds crazy, studying quantum mechanics may be one of my stress relievers.