28 May 2009

An Edu-Tech Question:

I am developing a class about blogs/wikis/discussion boards for other teachers and would like to know what the blogosphere has to say about it. Why do you blog? Why do you use wikis? Why do you use discussion boards? You can email me at jbowie@putnamcityschools.org, comment here, or tweet to @pchsfysicstchr as to your reasoning. I would really appreciate your input!

27 May 2009

Summer? Yeah, right.

Here we are on the 3rd weekday of my summer vacation and I have only vacationed on one of them! What in the world is wrong with me? I was so excited to be without students and be at home and here I am working. I even woke up early this morning and came in before anyone else. (yes, there are other "severely dedicated" teachers who are still working hard to either finish up this year or prepare for next year. The latter is that thing to which I attribute my insanity...next year. Both years of teaching have left me wanting more for my students. I get bogged down in the middle of the semesters, but can't stop thinking about next year, even on the day after school is out.

I am teaching a technology class to some other teachers and it just hit me last night: we are scheduled for 6 hours of instruction time. How do I fill that up? Do I have enough information to keep other teachers engaged for that long? I am going to teach them what little bit I know about Wikis, Blogs, and Discussion Boards. My plan is for each one to have one of each of these educational tools set up and working. Maybe I should rethink my question: How am I going to fit all of that into six short hours?

21 May 2009

What should the goals of my class be?

Should I be preparing students for college physics? Or should I be preparing them just for a comprehensive final exam (an AP test)?  The following is a response I gave to a student who was "irritated at the lack of new material" covered in the class (this is a second semester high school physics class) and possibly disappointed in the lack of calculus teaching I did. Little does he know that Calculus IS a prerequisite. The test was much more calculus heavy this year than in previous years (according to the scuttlebutt on the physics teacher forums).  So without further adieu, here is my response to this student(s):

I appreciate the obvious thought you put into composing the comments which will count as your final exam for AP Physics II.  First, I would like for you to look at the title of the course. Should it be challenging? Should you have to put in hours and hours of practice and study to be successful in the course? Were you at a distinct disadvantage by missing 90% of the lecture due to the fact that you were not actually attending the class? Was that compounded by the fact that you sat through all of my lecture to Physics I again? Could that be what caused you to feel that "While the basic concepts are extremely effectively conveyed, they were somewhat lacking after the basic level"? Would it be possible that since you got a double helping of the basics, while being required to go beyond into more basics, you felt slighted by my lack of explanation "thoroughly in depth toward the end of the class"?

I am disheartened that you feel I didn't follow through on my end of the bargain to help you be successful in Physics II (if you measure success in your understanding of the concepts covered). It seems that you and I discussed what would be required for you to be successful before you ever enrolled in your sports class instead of attending Physics II. I believe we discussed EXTRA study time, coming in for EXTRA face time during tutoring, and me extending my Facebook policy to include those of you in my class for EXTRA help through Facebook chat or messaging. I ask, which of those did I not do? Which of those did you not do? How often did you ask for extra help OUTSIDE of class? I can only think of one time in which you came for tutoring. There may have also been one time you came in early or stayed late for EXTRA help.

I appreciate that you and "many a student within the Physics II C (mechanics) class were extremely irritated by the high amount of review, and low amount of new content, citing an extreme lack of in-depth, thorough explanations of the mathematics required to solve the problems past conceptual applications.  Many students have brainstormed ideas as solutions for the problems that surface in the class, ranging from simple solutions such as asking the teacher". Why then did no one ask? Could it be that many a student in the class cared more about what was going on outside of class and expected to "get it all" within the very short hour and a half we are able to spend together? If you all were irritated at the high amount of review, maybe I did my job too well last year? (please forgive that, I was a new teacher)  I believe we covered all of last year in the first nine weeks of this year (par for the course based on the syllabus schedule). So everyone was irritated at that? Maybe we should go back and review test scores over that first nine weeks. If everyone was irritated at the lack of new material then they should have made an "A" because they already knew it. I don't recall everyone being THAT successful, but maybe my memory fails me. I guess I should look back at the gradebook. *pulls up first nine weeks scores*  No. My memory does not fail me. The class average of all 6 tests we took during the first nine weeks was a 78.8% with a high of 86 and a low of 67 for the class averages. Hmmm that doesn't sound like our high school's best students reviewing what they did last year. It sounds like our high school's best students blowing off time meant to study by thinking they aren't learning anything new and then brainstorming about it! It might also indicate a teacher who expects students to think a bit more and dig a bit deeper within the "basics that are required to understand more advanced" concepts.

Just to be clear, other than String Theory and my brief mention of quantum mechanics and a brief mention of relativity, we have never done anything other than the basics in Physics I. You are correct in thinking that you must have an understanding of the basics to be able to grasp more advanced concepts. We haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the basics. There is a whole semester of basics yet to cover. It's called AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism.  What you got in my class was a true glimpse of college physics. Contrary to what the college coordinator will tell you, my class is NOT designed to take the place of College Physics. It is designed to prepare you for college physics.  Let's think back to Monday, when last year's Physics II students visited to talk about their experience this year..."you guys shouldn't worry about physics, this class has prepared you well" is one quote off the top of my head.  Let's look at the data...of last year's students who took college physics (7 total) 6 made an "A" in college physics and 1 made a "B".  I'd say just from looking at the data that this class is accomplishing its goal.

All of this to say, if "many a student" had frustrations and lack of understanding, why did no one speak up? Why brainstorm together instead of brainstorming with the one person who could change the direction of the class (the teacher)?  Learn a lesson now...if you have questions, don't ask another student! Ask the teacher/professor! They know more about the subject than anyone else in the class.  If there is a student who knows more about the subject than the teacher, drop the class. The teacher is not doing their job.  If you feel I didn't fulfill my part of our contract, I apologize deeply for that. It was not my intent. I did my best to adequately prepare you for a test which is designed to validate your knowledge (or lack of) of a particular subject. I worked toward a goal BASED ON MY PAST EXPERIENCE of the AP tests.  Many people felt that the test was calculus heavy when compared to previous years. I can only imagine since I have so little experience.  Another quote by a previous Physics II student "we didn't even use calculus this entire semester". So I ask you, should I prepare you for one test? Or should I prepare you for a semester of college physics?

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this post.

04 May 2009

Wow, things have been crazy around here!

I have been working towards this AP Physics test and the time is just flying!  I can't believe it has been two weeks since my last post. I have also been applying to graduate school and I had to do a writing sample. I felt the writing sample was blog worthy, so here it is in all of it's glory:

Writing Prompt: How can teachers collaborate with their peers to improve learning?

Collaboration is a key skill that teachers must have to be successful, thereby making their students successful. I have learned this in the 2 short years I have been teaching Physics. Collaboration with others can sometimes be difficult, especially when there are no other teachers in your subject area within your building. It does help to have another teacher with your same interests; they can be used as a sounding board for labs in science or for other classroom activities in other subject areas. However, do not discount collaboration outside of your subject area. I have done writing exercises in my physics classes and always check with a grade level English teacher so I know what to expect from my students. If I have no knowledge of their abilities or what they have already been taught, there is no way for me to justly assess them.

One of the ways we do collaboration in our district is through a required Peer Learning Community (PLC) meeting each Friday morning before school. The district has rearranged the schedule so we start 30 minutes late and teachers meet in groups for an hour. This required collaboration has been good for me personally. As a new teacher, I am hesitant to ask for help (frankly, its just not in my nature), but this forced collaboration has fostered a sense of community and sharing in which we help each other develop curriculum and in the case of science teachers, give labs to each other or help with ideas for new labs based on past experience. In my experience, this should be used in every building in the state. I have even used this time to meet with the other two physics teachers in the district, with the blessing of my principal and department chair, of course.

Another way teachers can collaborate is through web2.0 tools, such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Delicious (social networking bookmarks), and/or wikis. I have been developing a two night class to teach about these very tools (discussion boards/wikis/blogs) and have collaborated with two other teachers on the project. While I collaborated on the project, we shared bookmarks of different websites and online journal articles by using www.delicious.com. One of the teachers with whom I collaborated is from Australia; she and I met through my blog and we have talked about the development of this class by using Twitter. I have begun using these tools to widen my circle of peers. The group with which I have recently become acquainted gets further and further away from my physical location with each new contact. It also increases the number of targets I can hit when I have a question about a teaching method or particular concept that I need to explore for class.

Finally, the last way I think teachers can collaborate is through simple everyday interaction. Our science department here at Putnam City High School is a place in which teachers feel a sense of community to share with others and to freely ask for help when they need it. While I am not sure this was a conscious decision on the part of the department head, I do think each person has worked to foster this type of interaction between peers. We eat lunch together every day and there is more learning that goes on during these lunches than even happens during our scheduled Peer Learning Communities. What more could a relatively new teacher like me ask for? Built in interaction with veteran teachers; it doesn’t get any better than that. I doubt there are many districts with these types of interactions designed to help their new teachers gain valuable information from experienced ones, but they should get these programs in place.

I am fortunate, even blessed, to have good administration who believes in the importance of peer interaction. Teachers must communicate with other teachers to be successful. We encourage, even require, peer learning within our class; why should we as teachers be expected to do any less?

I would love to hear what you have to say about this.  Let me know by leaving a comment.