Now that the semester is over…

I talked with so many students this week who are glad school is over. I agree! I also asked them for advice via padlet for future PreAP Chem students. Except for the goofy answers they all reflected a need to work consistently, watch all the podcasts, ask questions, and be responsible for their own learning. I also had a student make an 88 on the semester exam who was barely keeping a C all semester. The last 3 weeks have been spent with him working really hard, coming in and reviewing. His ability to play on the ball team was on the line. He admitted to being really lazy all semester. All of this just goes to reinforce the beauty of the flipped classroom. Give the students all the resources, support and encouragement to be successful and they CAN achieve. Not necessarily will, but CAN. The difference is profound. Another student spent the semester complaining they didn’t do well on tests, could never find homework, notes etc in his backpack because he “just cant find them.” His attitude was a definite “this is who I am and nothing will change.” The other student changed his attitude to a “I must change.”
My principal often says he wants the students to be the hardest working in the classroom. If the teacher is doing all the work then something is wrong. The teacher really needs to spend the time BEFORE class ever begins lining up the resources, appropriate practice, assessments and whatever else they may need to be successful. There will always be some who choose not to do the work necessary and some who may try as hard as possible and not be successful but that is reality. The idea of “No child left behind” was noble but not grounded in reality. Sometimes the best gift is getting the student to work to the best of their abilities and help them find areas in which they can be successful. When I ask students what they want to do later in life I also ask them what they do NOT want to do. Knowing what you are good AND bad at is very important. While I have spent time talking about the two students with different attitudes let me end with one more. This student spent the entire semester in a new school but worked very hard consistently, talked to me about how to do better early on, worked on test anxiety and yet still just barely managed a C for the semester. I know this student will be successful in life. Not because she made an A in all her classes or got accepted to Harvard or Stanford but because she is self motivated, finds value in hard work and does not need constant reminding to get going. I doubt she will find a career in science. In 20 years if I see her I’m confident she will be an awesome adult making the world a better place. My students asked me this week if I enjoy making podcasts. My answer is NO. I don’t look forward to a day of recording and editing spending a couple hours to create 10 minutes of valuable content but it is important that I spend the time before class ever starts so the students can be the hardest working person in the classroom.

Building students up one project at a time…

6 weeks ago I assigned a project based on science olympiad. They are given a task, they have to think, work, design, research and test a device. The students complain “this isn’t physic’s class” and I reply, this is problem solving class.
Today they brought in the devices to test before the big day next Monday. I offered words of encouragment, words of advice and some scorn to the different groups. A friend of mine has the mantra of “find a way to do it instead of finding reasons why you can’t do it”. The project is really about getting them to come up with an idea, try out the idea, find out it doesn’t work, and repeat until it does work. This is at the heart of the scientific method. Through failure, anger and frustration comes a feeling of true accomplishment.
If the students can read the set of detailed written directions, follow the requirements, and submit log updates showing consistent effort they can earn an A. Failing any one those areas will lose them a letter grade. The devices go head to head with the highest score winning the highest score.
I am always so proud of the intense effort and drive some of the students show. Not everyone is so awesome, there are several groups who have done almost nothing. But the students get to see that hard work, consistent effort and original thought are rewarded and praised. The naturally bright child who seems to never study will have to work as hard as everyone else. A very rewarding day.

Further Musings…

The beauty of the flipped classroom is it allows me so much interaction time with my students. Instead of spending lots of time telling them stuff, waiting for them to write it down, telling them again, wondering if I remembered everything and if everyone gets it, I can spend some time talking with them, checking for understanding and reteaching certain concepts. For instance, I had a class today who had watched 15 minutes of recorded podcast. It may have taken them 30 minutes to watch, pause, write and rewatch if necessary. Seems like a fairly reasonable expectation of a student carrying a load of 4 classes. They don’t have podcasts to watch every night. Many nights their only homework is to review their notes, identify any questions they have and come back in to class and clarify any hazy areas.
So yesterday we discussed several concepts they had independently read about. Last night they watched the podcasts and took down some notes. Today I gave them an open note quiz and some students make a 4 out of 15. A student was exasperated and said “I don’t know why we’re supposed to know that.” Before I blew a gasket a student muttered, “we talked about it in class yesterday and it was in the podcast, do some work for a change.” That student said everything I wanted to say but didn’t think was appropriate.
In the last 22 years I don’t think the students have changed that much. You still have the ones with family problems, financial problems, immaturity problems, low expectations at home problems, having to take care of siblings problems, excessive expectation problems, depression problems and the list goes on. I’ve always had students who were working hard vs the students hardly working. I’ve had the students who blamed all failures on others, the students who blamed too many things on themselves and the students who could care less. What I have seen is the attitude of parents and society change. What can I or my student do to help them learn has mutated into what are the 10 million things the schools can do for my student. It is common expectation that we feed students breakfast and lunch, often for free, allow students to makeup work regardless of how overdue the work is, and work around all their activities.
It used to be that education was an employment atmosphere for students. Students were given the chance, the support and the care to nurture good employees. Those unwilling to work or who didn’t take advantage of the offerings did not move up in the business.
Now education is a consumer business where I am a salesperson expected to make the customer happy. Not happy with the class you signed up for? No problem. Want to go on vacation for a week and miss class? No problem. My child isn’t making high enough grades and I want you to make up an individualized plan for him/her. No problem.
Some of this is the right thing to do and some of it is not making students, parents and society responsible. Doing everything for students sets them up for failure in college and life. I need to do my best every day and look for more ways to help students learn but the students must be willing to try and fail, to work harder and put forth the effort. The student who makes a C but has worked super hard and overcome the trials and tribulations of my class is well prepared for life. As long as we tolerate mediocre effort by teachers, admin, students and parents we will produce mediocre adults.

I’m hungry…Lets talk education.

Over the last 22 years I’ve seen a lot of students, a lot of trends, a lot of success and most importantly, a lot of failure and stress which have taught me so much. That first day I walked into a class and had to make a connection (or at least try) and convey knowledge I realized just how little college had prepared me for that day. No one asked a question about Dewey or Maslow. They didn’t all seemed fascinated that I was there to be awesome and lay down some righteous curriculum. I knew something had to change.
In the years that I followed I witnessed an onslaught of new education ideas and fads that promised to change education forever. Computer based instruction (the machine can do it all, who needs teachers?). Portfolios, group learning, word walls, pepe (Alabama’s professional assessment system), new textbook styles, POGIL, inquiry based learning. They come and go and at the end of the day all I can think of is food. Wait, aren’t you talking about education? Bear with me.
I love food. I also love teaching but teaching too much doesn’t make me fat. Too much food DOES have that effect. As I think about food (often) I thought about all the diet fads that have come and gone. They too promise a quick fix to solve all my problems. Drink some vinegar everyday, eat grapefruit, cabbage soup, diet suppressants, paleo, sugar busters, Atkins, raw food, granola. Try me and you’ll lose weight. Except after a while you go back to the old ways because it wasn’t getting to the root of the problem and you put on MORE weight than before.
So what worked for me losing weight? Get serious about making better choices, cut out sweet tea and soft drinks all the time, more veg, less processed carbs and move more. I had to realize my failure to live a healthier lifestyle would have lasting repercussions on my life, my family and those around me. It’s not a diet, it’s a change in lifestyle that will be maintained. Bacon is delicious. But bacon all the time is deadly.
I believe education needs to admit there is no fad that will solve all the problems. Students need to be challenged, engaged, loved and yet expected to do their part. Teachers need to be held to account for what they do in the classroom and not valued so much for the other things they do at the school. The idea of No Child Left Behind was noble but unrealistic. We have to be realistic, give teachers space to try and fail new ideas, make time in the classroom more important than anything else and let teachers know that doing things half way will no longer be tolerated. We have to realize that failing to live a healthy lifestyle educationally has lasting repercussions on student’s lives, their family and our entire society. It’s not a diet, its a change in lifestyle that MUST be maintained to bring about true change. An Ipad or standards based grading is not going to cure the underlying bad habits that have got us here. We can’t ignore the problem waiting for one more fad. Stayed tuned for more awesome thoughts. Go have a donut…..maybe a bite of donut. And some kale.