21 August 2010

Motivating Low-Performers

As I was reading Chapter 4 of Mark Forget's "MAX Teaching with Reading and Writing," I found a quote that talks about the difference between students who are motivated by success versus those who are motivated to avoid failure.

"Students whose focus is on striving for success derive emotional rewards from eagerly taking on new and challenging tasks.

On the other hand, Students whose focus in on avoidance of failure are often behaving in response to a lifetime of failures in the task."

Forget goes on to talk about what the manifestation of the later might look like and how to deal with those manifestations. The rest is interesting, but I was really struck by the idea that there are students who are more focused on not failing, rather than being successful. I guess maybe I realized this somewhere inside my mind, but I never really physically had the thought (are thoughts physical?) Anyway, this may help me to see many of my students, especially those who have not developed a love for science (yet).

I am already thinking of several students, (yes, I'm profiling based on appearance and class choice) many whose names I don't even know yet, who fall into the category of "likely low-performers". I'm going to have to think differently now about students who may act out in class or feign fatigue when they are in my classroom. Maybe they aren't just trying to be lazy or obtuse. Maybe they are simply not being successful and really want to divert my attention away from that fact.

I was just talking with my English teacher wife about this group of students this morning. My view of learning is getting a taste of teaching adults (which I love, by the way) and its changing the way I think about my own classroom. I realize that adult and adolescent learners are quite different, but honestly, there's not that much difference between thought processes when it comes to the adult learners and my physics students, at least. That said, Michelle and I discussed the idea that maybe I should do a small social/educational experiment in my class.

I polled students in all of my classes as to whether or not they would like to be treated like an adult and got a resounding "yes" from 100% of those polled. I gladly agreed to treat them as adults, as long as they continue to act like adults. Michelle suggested that maybe I talk about how being in class is analogous to having a job and install myself in a "supervisory role", since "boss" can have such a negative connotation. I hope to make some connections between being successful in class and being successful at work. There may be several of these students who already have a job and can actually learn (if I make the connection) how to be a good employee.Additionally, there are many of these students who are going to go directly from high school right into the workplace, so a little vocational skill training is a great thing.

The take-away thought from this quote for me is to recognize that many student are at different levels of motivation and are motivated by different situations and factors. Its my job as their "learning facilitator" to help them be motivated to be successful in my class. My measure of their success? If a student is able to do their best in class and do that most of the time, I think they are successful.

Do you have students in your class who are simply motivated not to fail?

18 August 2010

day 365

Today marks the final day of my 3rd year teaching. Tomorrow begins the first day of the 4th year. Do you ever wonder whether or not you are making a difference with your students? Well, that's good, because I certainly wonder about it. I wonder if I am creating an environment in which students feel comfortable to take risks? I have been thinking about what students think about my class when they come into the classroom.

I was able to hear a great teacher speak tonight. He talked about the idea of "faithful presence". We were at a dinner, at the president's house, with everyone who attended Lead Retreat, a week-long time of bonding for the student leadership of SNU. Every year, the First Family has everyone over for dinner during this time and Dr. G speaks just a short inspirational word to us. Faithful Presence was his message tonight. Honestly, when I heard that initially, I had no idea what it meant. My take-away message from it was "just being". It doesn't really matter what your job is. It doesn't matter if you are in some kind of leadership position. You can make a difference just by doing the very best that you can in whatever position you find yourself.

The other idea he talked about was "spirit of place". Again, I'd never heard of this. Here's the idea: when you enter a place, you change it's spirit and the opposite is also true. When you enter a place it changes you, too. This leaves me wondering about the spirit of my classroom and thinking about how different it will be tomorrow when student enter. It also makes me think about how students will be changed as a result of being in my classroom. I hope students will be changed in a tangible, meaningful way. I work to purposely create experiences for students that will impact their learning. Often, I fail, but I simply reflect and change what I am doing the next time.

Probably the best part of the whole process is the fact that I am affected by my students, as well. My life is enriched in ways I have never imagined as a result of the interactions I have with students, both at PC High and at SNU. Speaking of SNU, I'm sure I've mentioned that Michelle and I are class sponsors there and our kids are going to be Seniors! Already, we are getting a little sad to see this wonderful group of students prepare to graduate and move on to another chapter in their lives. This is bittersweet. We are thrilled to see them complete their time at SNU, but we are sad to lose them as a regular fixture, sometimes at our house and always on campus. We were a bit reticent to take the job when we were first asked, but I am so thankful we decided to say yes! Getting to know students outside the classroom is a completely different dynamic.

So, to sum up, what are you doing that makes a difference? Hopefully, you are being solid and stable for your students. They need your "faithful presence". Additionally, I hope your classroom is a place that changes students in a positive way. If its, not, I hope you reconsider what you are doing.

15 August 2010

Quotes and Notes from Forget

No, that's not pronounced "four-git". It's pronounced "Four-Zhay". If you didn't know that, I doubt you'll ever "forget" it again! Ha. That's an educational joke. Mark Forget is a well-known educational researcher. He wrote a book called "MAX Teaching with Reading and Writing" which is a textbook for my class, Reading Comprehension. I'm required to do two entries of what are called "Quotes and Notes" for each chapter of my reading. In typical fashion, I've decided to do my stuff here. I have no idea where the "notes and quotes" format comes from but I intend to reproduce it here, if possible. So here's my first attempt:

Direct Quotes from the Text

My notes, thoughts, reflections, and questions for further study.

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them to become what they are capable of being."I love quotes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! I use his quotes in my classroom on my before class PowerPoint often. This perfectly fits my philosophy of teaching. Do not lower your expectations because of the level of the students. Set your expectations at the point you want your students to be. In fact, I had a personal example of this with one of my advisory students who was in my Physics class two years ago. I distinctly remember her saying, "This is too much! Why do you expect so much out of us! This isn't a college class. You expect too much and we just can't do all of this!" I explained (probably not in so rational of a voice as I had wished) that I set expectations high of all of my students. I said, "If I set the bar way down here, everyone achieves the goal. But, if I set the bar way up here, not as many reach the goal, but everyone achieves more!" I'm not sure she got it that day, but after she had time to process she did. I know that because she came and talked to me later and said "we sure had some rough times but I remember doing more because you expected so much." She went on to add, "I didn't really think I'd be successful in your class, but I did and I really think its because you set the expectation so high." Goethe's quote really hits home because of this specific situation.
"A second reason is that many who enter the teaching profession may take literacy skills for granted, not being aware of how they themselves acutally acquired the abilities to read, write, speak, listen, and think critically."I'm not really sure where I fall on this category. I mean I don't know if I take (took) this for granted or not. In theory, I should not have, due to the intimate relationship I have with an English Teacher. However, in reality, I don't think I ever really thought the process of "learning to be literate" before I started teaching and began having conversations with said English Teacher about specifically using reading in my classroom. I knew teaching reading and writing across the curriculum was the right thing to do, but putting that stuff into practice was another animal completely. I've learned (in no small part due to this class, already) some really good strategies for engaging students in text and writing. I think I do a reasonably good job of having students write, but I'm still learning a lot on how to implement good literacy strategies in my classroom. Critical thinking? Oh yeah, this is one of my pet projects. I love working on critical thinking skills. Most students think this means "thinking outside the box". They've got a lot to learn about thinking critically! Fortunately, my English Teacher wife has taught a class which was centered on critical thinking and she is more than happy to share activities which guide students through the critical thinking process.
"All effective teachers use some form of the three steps that comprise MAX. At the beginning of class, most teachers use some form of "anticipatory set" to get students thinkings about the subject matter."I really struggle with this. I'm not sure I always do this. I have worked towards doing this, but according to my peers, I've been identified as an effective teacher. Does this mean I can be effective without doing this? Or does this mean I'm doing anticipatory sets without realizing it? I'm not sure. I haven't specifically written this down anywhere in any plan book so honestly I'm not sure if I am doing this or not. That said, I am definitely going to be much more cognizant of using anticipatory sets so that hopefully I can be even more effective! Other than asking students what they know, I'm not sure exactly what other kinds of A.S. I can do. I'm certainly going to have to do some serious contemplation on what I can do to make this happen in class.
"Three essential steps must be incorporated for real cooperative learning to occur:

  • Individual writing on the part of each student before entering group discussion

  • Small group discussion in an effort to come to consenssus as to what the text means

  • Large group, whole class discussion, with the teacher acting as mediator/arbitrator"

While my thoughts may be completely off-base, all I can think about here is my second period class this year. I am going to have both AP students (who have had my Physics 1 class already) and Pre-AP students (who are just now taking Physics 1). I think about my AP students acting as coaches for my Pre-AP class. I think of them as teachers who are going to learn so much more because they are going to be teaching for me! I'll simply act as a mediator. Definitely not content delivery on my part! I'll be sitting back and making sure students teach correctly while doing continual formative assessment on all students to make sure they are grasping the concepts at the level at which they should. Physics 2 students should certainly be at a much deeper level than the Physics 1 students, but they should also be gaining some understanding of the basic concepts of Physics. Does anyone think this is a good idea? A bad idea? I'm thinking the 1st 9 weeks is a good time to give this a trial run. In fact, I might even let them look at the P.A.S.S. and see what their pacing should be. Problem-solving exercises with AP student leaders. I like it. What do you guys think?

14 August 2010

The reward is in the Finding Out

While grading this evening, I had Tweetdeck open and saw that one of my PLN posted to his blog. The post was about how science can inspire awe in people, specifically students. It discussed some differences between religion and science (which is a discussion that is near and dear to my heart). Within the post, there was a video of an interview with Richard Feynman from probably almost 30 years ago. If I remember right, he died in '86, so it would have been from the early '80's at least. He talks a lot about the nature of science, along with some fairly complex physics thrown in for good measure.

The "take-away" (at least for me) of what he had to say can be stated with these two quotes: "I don't need a Nobel Prize, the honor is in finding the thing out" and "there's a difference between knowing the NAME of something and knowing something".

I am thinking deeply about how to express these two ideas to my students. By the time they get to my class they are somewhere between 15-18 years old. Is it too late by this point to instill this kind of curiosity in them? Have they already moved past the point of enjoying solving a puzzle just for the pure joy of seeing something complex come to fruition? If so, how do I undo that?

The second quote is probably more complex for me. I can talk all day about inertia (Newton's First Law of Motion) and some students will get the concept. But do they really know Inertia? I mean, do I really even know Inertia? I guess what I am saying is, how can I teach beyond the concept and get to the root of the why if I'm not sure I understand it myself? Additionally, at my level of my teaching, is the mechanism (why) even important?

I tend to lean towards the idea that if I can get my students interested in science at a deeper level and teach some critical thinking/problem solving skills along the way, I have been successful. Am I wrong in thinking this? Maybe I am taking the easy way out by not learning physics at a deeper level. I don't know. These are the questions that keep me up at night and make me have nightmares of being naked in front of my class when I am able to sleep. I'm sure I'll have that dream at least once this week.

I'm going to go with Feynman and say that I'm okay with the not knowing. I'm okay when there are things that I don't understand because it forces me to think at a deeper level. Hopefully, I can instill the same level of comfort in my students, but also instill a desire to want to find out the mechanism of something and not just the how. In the words of one of my tweeps, "I don't know all the parts of drill, but I know how to use one!" You have to consider what the purpose of your teaching is. Do students need to know the name of something? Or do they need to really know something? Those two may not be mutually exclusive, but I think its a question worth asking when considering students.

As a result of this video, I had the best conversation on twitter to date. I even found two new tweeps as a result! People may think twitter is a big old waste of time but I'd have to disagree. It can be an enriching experience for your on-going education. On the other hand, it can be a big old waste of time!

13 August 2010

Life as I know it

Right now, life as I know it is about to get incredibly busy. Is this a problem? No, I don't think so. Life as I know it is getting busy because I have purposely chosen to do things that are important to me. They are activities about which I am passionate. No surprise that they all revolve around education.

I'm working on my syllabus for Physics for the upcoming year and thinking about my kids (yes, my own children) being my students for the upcoming year. One of those two will be a Senior here at Putnam City HS. (How many people have the opportunity to spend every single school day of their child's Senior year with them? Hooray!) I initially was thinking, "I've got to make this the best year ever", just for Jess' and JC's sake. But then I realized, why should this year be special for them? I want this year to be the best, but really I want it to be the best year for ALL of my students. I hope to build deeper relationships, get to know my content at a deeper level, and motivate students like never before. School starts on Thursday of next week. But, between now and then, it's going to be crazy.

I've already started teaching at SNU as an adjunct professor in their Bridge program. I'm driving to Tulsa once a week, on Monday nights, to teach Earth's Natural Disasters. I have another class, by the same name, here at the Bethany campus that starts a week from this Monday. Teaching adults is definitely a new experience for me and I am really enjoying it. I have been able to pass on my passion for Science through this experience and hopefully, it's just the beginning! (I'll be learning to be an Instructor in Astronomy and Geomorphology during the month of December).

I'm continuing in my Master's program in Curriculum and Instruction and that one night a week keeps me busy every weekend with lots of writing, reading, and thinking about my classes. This really is the reason I'm a bit stressed about the next school year. I have so many ideas and new things to try that I've been learning over the summer that it's going to be like starting from scratch. In some ways its exciting to think about a brand-new group of students with whom I can share my passion for Physics. In other ways, I feel a bit overwhelmed.

I'm going to try to take 6 hours as a "traditional graduate" student in some "by arrangement" classes to make up for my decision not to do National Board Certification. I need the hours to finish the Master's. That won't happen until the Spring, but I'm trying to get it all "lined out" so we are on track to walk at graduation in May and be done with degree #2.

I've been asked to teach several professional development classes between now and next Thursday. I'm doing an in-house webpage class, talking about assessing students through technology integration, and I'm trying to work on integrating our school calendar into all teacher webpages. It's really a lot of fun to be given a problem and asked to solve it using technology integration. I am learning that is something at which I can be successful. I have some really great colleagues that I am able to collaborate with on projects and that makes it a wonderful experience.

Science. Technology. Education. Those are three things I can get excited about! When someone asks me to share about any of those? How can I refuse? Even if it means I am (possibly) over-extending myself, I can't say no.

I have learned so much about myself over the last 5 years. My education at SNU and my experience teaching Physics at Putnam City has been the most rewarding vocational time of my life. Have I made mistakes? Sure! Will I still make mistakes this year? More than likely. Will I learn something new every single day? I sure hope so. If you see me in the halls and I seem a bit distracted, please don't take it personally. Just know that I am thinking about the next opportunity to share my passion.