27 May 2010

Has this ever happened to you?

Tell me if this has ever happened to you: you realize that your pockets feel light and you think you have lost your keys (yes, like the keys to get into the school!). You think, well, I had them about 2 hours ago when I ran to the school, so they cannot be too far. You check your man purse, your books, your pockets like 59 times, the classroom in which you currently reside, only to realize that they are nowhere to be found! So, you hop on the motorcycle and drive about a half mile (retracing your route to SNU) and there, at the corner of 42nd and MacArthur, are your keys, lanyard and all. Has that ever happened to you? Because, yes, it JUST happened to me!

Closure Part 1

We just finished up a Module in MACI entitled "Evaluation of Curriculum and Instruction". Since the title of the program is MA in Curriculum and Instruction, I had mixed feelings about this class. I wasn't sure if it was going to be something like the capstone of the entire program or if they were going to try to cram the whole of the program content into six (very) short weeks. Additionally, if that was going to be the case, I wondered why this class wasn't at the end of the program or at the beginning? Interesting, I thought.

Professor comes in on the first night and we find out she is an administrator. Mixed feelings. I'm still developing my attitude towards administrators. (No offense to those of you reading this.) Of course, I'm learning you cannot pigeon-hole someone into a box, just because they chose to leave the classroom. We learned that she is an assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction (of all things!) in a large suburban district just to our north. Again, not sure how I was going to feel about this class! We learned the first week that she would only be teaching a few of the chapters... we were going to teach the rest! I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but then again, why not? I have done the same kind of thing in my own class, so why not in a master's level class? In fact, mishelleyb, one of the best teachers I know, does that for one of her undergraduate classes, so why not a graduate class?

I was given (out of pure chance/coincidence) the chapter on the knowledge base. What? Knowledge base? What is that? Yeah, those were my same thoughts when I found out I was going to present on that chapter. So, I read the chapter, and I thought, "What? Knowledge base? What is that?" Seriously, though. It was a very informative chapter. I learned about the knowledge base. Its where you learned to do what you do. I think it even goes beyond just education. My education will only carry me so far; I've also got to have some passion about my subject and I think that's part of the base. Its intrinsic and cannot be learned. Teachers either have it or they don't. I'm sure its something that can be lost and I've seen many teachers who seem to have either lost the flame of their subject matter or certainly its dimmed a little. I know, those teachers didn't do that on purpose, but nevertheless... At least now you know my train of thought while I was working on that chapter.

We went many different directions during this module. We covered nearly every chapter in the book entitled "Contemporary Issues in Curriculum". We talked about Kudzu, Rabbits, and school reform. We talked about grappling and budgets. But probably the most meaningful chapters in the book had to do with racial achievement gaps and equality in education. These impacted me greatly, as the population of my school has a high percentage of african-american students and a significant number of highly mobile Hispanic students. After 3 years of teaching, I am beginning to gain inroads into these populations and increase their enrollments in my classes. That means this knowledge is relevant. On the other hand, if its not already relevant, neither I nor my subject area will be relevant to these populations.

The essence of what I'm saying here is this class impacted me far more than I anticipated. I am beginning to see growth in my professional knowledge base. I see situations differently, I am able to handle problematic students differently (in a good way), I am able to structure or redesign my curriculum to meet the needs of my students, without wasting a lot of time on it.

Apparently, the one thing I'm unable to do better is communicate what I am able to do. I'll just keep trying.

13 May 2010

thinking about teaching adults

Currently, I am auditing a class (attending without paying for the class) an adult class in the Bridge program at SNU. I can see, already, that this is going to be a very new and different way of going about things. During the first class, the instructor gave the students time to talk to one person and introduce themselves and tell their favorite movie (the class is American Cinema); the interesting thing was that the students talked for 10 minutes! There was actually discussion! So, I take it that adults, even if they don't know each other, will talk to one another! Woo-hoo! I love it! This I can do. For some reason it seems that this year my students have been very hard to engage in discussion. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm slipping in the presentation of the material. If you don't know me, I tend to feed off of the energy of the students. I can be very animated in class. I start out with a pretty good amount of energy, but if the students just sit there like a bunch of statues, I tend to slow down considerably. All of that to say, I am so happy to find that the adults are going to be a more lively bunch!

The class I am slated to teach is Earth's Natural Disasters. It is exactly what it sounds like: Earthquakes, Fires, Floods, Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Plate Tectonics, and how these all affect the Human Population. Suhweet! I get to teach stuff about which I am interested! I'm telling you people, it doesn't get any better than this. However, it's really easy to sit here, hiding in the back of the classroom while someone else teaches the class. (BTW, this instructor is really good even though its the first time she has taught this class; her teaching prowess shows because even though she says she is anxious, it doesn't show).

Honestly, I am pretty nervous about teaching. I can't even imagine standing in front of a class for four hours and actually engaging students and causing learning to occur for that long. Yikes. Fortunately, I have several months to get ready (my class runs for 5 weeks in August and September) and someone else has already taught the class before. I'm hoping there is a Moodle course somewhere that I can work on adapting to fit my objectives. Hmmm. My objectives. Not the P.A.S.S., not the district curriculum map. I know, its not my objectives. Its the objectives set forth by the administration of Southern Nazarene University. But it is my interpretation of these objectives. I suspect they are open to a greater interpretation on my part than they are in public education. Although, I did learn last night that I am entitled, as a teaching professional, to academic freedom. I'd honestly never thought about that until last night. I've been exercising the right, I just hadn't thought of it.

So, I just wanted to share with you how grand my life is right now:

  1. I get paid to do something I love, which is teaching.

  2. I get to teach students with whom I can relate.

  3. I am privileged to mentor the best students at SNU through my role as a class sponsor.

  4. The school year is almost over and I get to spend even more time with my family.

  5. During the summer, I also get to think about my favorite stuff: teaching science!

I dare you to say your life is better than mine.

I'll leave you with this question (which if you know me, you will understand): how am I going to integrate technology into my adult classroom?

11 May 2010

why should students take ap classes anyway?

I have my own opinions on the matter and plan to share them here. In case I forget to ask, I'd love to hear what you have to say. I'll admit, my opinion won't be the popular one, but it is, after all, just an opinion and is not based in research or even very much experience (this is my 3rd year to teach).

I teach AP Physics. Wait, let me go back a little further. AP classes are supposed to be taught at a college level. The AP stands for Advanced Placement and is designed to prepare students for a test that can gain them college credit in the class taught, i.e. psychology, calculus, biology, spanish, etc. I'd love to hear input from some college freshmen that took AP classes their senior year and then took an equivalent class during their first year of college. Was it on the same level? Was it harder? Easier? Was the workload the same?

So, whether you are ready for my opinion or not, here it comes. Students taking AP classes should not be trying to take the class to get credit in college. Sure. College credit is a great benefit of taking the class, but should it be the primary objective? When I asked student in my AP physics class to tell me why they were taking the class, the overwhelming majority of them told me "so I can get college physics credit". However, most of these students will be entering college as a science or math major. My class is probably not (quite) up to the rigor of a college class, because of that fact, I am constantly trying to improve it and make it more like the post-secondary level it should be.

Bear in mind there are students in my class who have never made anything less than an "A" on their transcript. The parents of these students call and complain when they are making a "B" or (heaven forbid) even a "C". This is the argument I hear, "my student has NEVER made less than an "A", why are you not teaching them well enough so that they can be successful (meaning get an "A") in your class?" I hate to break it to you parents, there are a lot of students who go to college and don't make all "A's"! There is a serious problem called grade inflation and probably needs to be addressed in a separate post.

In my opinion, the purpose of my class is to prepare students for the appropriate class at the college level. If I am teaching physics, they should be able to continue their studies of physics in college and be successful (maybe even make an "A"!) Would I love to have all of my "precious ones" make 5's on the test? Of course! Since that won't ever happen, would I at least love to have them all pass with at least a 3? Yes! But honestly, I could care less about the test. Because the College Board says I have to teach to the test I do (which screwed us all this year since typically rotational motion is supposed to be about 20% of the test and my class is designed as such, but this year probably 50% of the test was rotational). But in reality, my underlying (sometimes not so subtle) goals are to increase student's problem solving abilities and prepare them for college.

That's it. If you are mad about that, too bad. However, I hope I have taught students something and given them a glimpse of what they will see in college. At least in their introductory classes. I think many students will be surprised at the amount of independent study will be required of them when they enter freshman-level classes. If memory serves (I only just graduated 3 short years ago and am currently working towards my master's) the professor doesn't spoon feed the information to students. They are supposed to be studying 2 hours for every hour they are in class each week. That means more than going over the notes the professor gave. In fact, most will give you their PowerPoint, so what's the use in taking notes, right? Maybe students should just read over the PowerPoint and then skip class? If I give the benefit of the doubt, and say students should only study an hour, not wait, a half hour for every hour they are in my class, then there should be about 8 hours per week of independent study going on. Oh and this does NOT include homework. Students are supposed to be studying that much in addition to the homework given by the instructor. I wonder how many of my students did that? Even on average? I dare say none.

I guess I didn't foster an environment that encouraged independent study. I think I started out doing pretty well at that, but then for some reason gave the idea that it would be okay just to get the notes in class, do the homework, and everything would be okay. The great thing about teaching is that there is always next year to change up what you are doing and try to make things better.

04 May 2010

why did I become a teacher?

Yeah! Why did I become a teacher?!? I did it because I wanted to have a relationship with students in the same way I saw Michelle (my wife) have with her students. It was what got me into teaching and its what keeps me here. I had a student who was pregnant last semester. She and I emailed about her "plight" and we talked back and forth about how this isn't the end of her life. Its simply the beginning of another chapter of her life. Well, yesterday was the first time I had heard from her since last semester. She emailed me a picture of her son! This totally blew me away. We talked small talk to catch up (all through email) and then there at the bottom of the page was the sweetest little boy you've ever seen! I think this kind of relationship, one that lasts beyond the walls of my classroom, is exactly what I was "searching for" when I decided to teach. Do you have reasons that keep you in teaching? What do you do to build relationships that are meaningful and last beyond the walls of your building?