thuRsday

While I had never officially taught the Quadratic Formula, nor expect to anytime soon, the process of co-creating a lesson with MattB and JasonM proved a valuable experience in itself. Working with some great minds really offered a look into the mind of more experienced instructors who have experimented far more than I have within my first two years. I will take this opportunity to give what Joel likes to call a “shout out” to both of these guys. I would have been satisfied if I had just merely observed the brainstorming, discussion of objectives and the thinking process required to complete our finished product. I learned much from the creative process as I watched these two debate the merits of different techniques and styles. In the end, I played a fairly significant role, I think, getting the code up and running smoothly. We left feeling, I hope, with a nice, interactive Mathematica module for public consumption and a positive response toward the creative process. 

This level of collaboration, while not entirely feasible, opened my eyes to how much more thought I could invest in my lessons, how much more care I could take in planning. I think I already invest a fair amount of time, thought and care. Were we saddled merely with teaching responsibilities, time for such such adventures might be a possibility. The truth, as we know it – we are not. Still, this provided a robust discussion of how to make this happen more regularly. Is it possible with in a group of teachers responsible for teaching the same section? Is it possible within an individual department to share materials, ideas, strategies and results of our experimentation more regularly and more efficiently? Could it be possible to arrange meetings, similar to this venue, of an inter-departmental nature to do exactly what we have done this week? Judging by some of the reactions at dinner last night, it appears that other TLI groups benefitted from similar conversations and would also be interested in pursuing something like this.

Will made such a great point yesterday and I thank him for this reminder. There are many reasons teaching advanced classes is great – sharp, motivated students, engaging material, the extent you can push the pace and investigate in depth. Still, these courses can be stifled in red-tape. They are, at the same time, often content or curriculum driven, tethered to a common exam, and occasionally filled with students whose chief concern is “what do I need to know to get an A?” Will’s point was: teaching some of our regular courses offers an opportunity to experiment (not without consequence entirely) in ways we are not free to do in others. I don’t think that I will eschew AP courses, but if I do end up teaching another non-AP Calculus section this year, I will make even greater efforts to incorporate the PBL (problem based learning) approach that has worked so effectively in my Finance sections. Students are forced to work hard, but (most) take far more away from the experience. Public speaking, writing, group work (which I view as an absolutely essential skill to impart) become prized, and our students learn how to contribute to something greater than their own problem set.

People have raised the question: if students will encounter a lecture setting in college, isn’t it our responsibility to prepare them for what they will see? Thus, are we doing our students a disservice teaching them to learn in a different way than they will in college? To those I say, if we can effectively do what we purport: teach these minds to read, write, analyze and think, it won’t matter. In fact, students will be better equipped to supplement lectures or teach themselves in college or beyond. They will have some skills to help them navigate new problems they haven’t before seen. And really, isn’t this the entire point of an independent school education?    

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Wednesday Musings

I thank Will for suggesting that we begin our session this morning with a discussion. A smaller group populated by math and science instructors generated a great deal of debate about the current use of technology in our classrooms, its place within the curriculum and the potential future role it could play. Despite some commonality regarding the technology we employ, there did seem to be quite a diverse range in ideas and physical products our peer departments bring to the classroom. Once again, a return to the “value” of the answer versus the “interpretation” of the answer arose. Thanks to Joel for stoking the fire a fair bit. His insights, while from the Humanities perspective, made for excellent discussion and comparison. I don’t think there is a right answer – just a lot of interpretations. 

At this point, I’m a bit upset – mostly at myself. I had written a nice, long, articulate post that failed to post correctly. I copied using Apple + A to select, refreshed the page and pasted the content. The paragraph above only made it successfully through the transfer process. I have to now rethink what I had written. C’est le vie.
 
I really enjoyed watching the math/science teachers take off with the Mathematica product. Acting as a guide and a bit of a troubleshooter introduced me to some new ideas, re-formed some of my Mathematica chops and engaged me. I appreciate finding myself once again in a setting where others are excited by the powerful things one can accomplish with Mathematica. 
 
We had considerable discussion regarding LMS or CMS. Dropping blackboard entirely after last year, largely disgruntled with the patience required to navigate, I shunned a LMS entirely this year. Employing dropbox instead as a location to post and share content seemed really to work well. I handled communication via a class email list. I don’t think these two always functioned as a perfect unit with no room for improvement, but the solution proved effective in its simplicity. My dissatisfaction with most LMS is that they do far more than I would ever use them to do – and they don’t perform tasks as well as other programs could independently. In my mind, simpler is better. I think I’m pretty confident that I can find ways to include other things I want. And if I’m unsuccessful, I do know that these other LMS exist, and that knowledge is useful and comforting. For now, I’m not sold. 

I could have av…

Aside

I could have avoided some headaches earlier this year had I known about Dropittome. Instead, I asked students to share evaluations (in which they graded each member of his/her group) in dropbox. It only took one snooping student to disrupt the integrity of the system. Point 1 – secure sharing through dropbox.  

While the google suite of applications is expansive and straightforward, with some unique functionality, GoogleForms will not likely offer much value add in my current classroom. Forms with MC responses or very brief written responses work well – not so much for a more formal evaluation, where I’m looking for students to elaborate. In additional hurdle exists, as well, in that students can return multiple submissions – not ideal. Still, perhaps a more appropriate solution, discovered today, is http://www.polleverywhere.com/ Creating MC questions (or using past AP questions) and allowing students to text a code that corresponds with a given answer allows immediate feedback for instructor and students alike. This content could be shared among teachers between sections, a nice feature, I think. Here, it is simple to limit the number of responses an individual to generate, to one or any other specified number. The data is displayed and arranged in a useful manner, I found. Point 2: Polleverywhere > GoogleForms (for me, anyway).

We’ve spoken fairly extensively about the possibility of using video content as part of the learning process. While there are some definite merits to the ‘flipped’ approach, Will identified a point yesterday in his post that I identify with. Considering the amount of information we give our students, regardless the form, is important. A greater reliance on students responding to questions and forming their own take away lessons is required. How to make this happen? Especially for that hard to reach audience who lacks the drive and determination to reason through problems. Is it based on group activity? Do we need to shun a firm A-Z curriculum driven model to make this happen. I count myself among the guilty parties, here. There are classes where content needs covering, where I answer to a higher power. I wouldn’t even contend that I’m the final word on what is the most important. Just because something is important to me, and I think students will take something valuable away and help prepare them for life beyond Choate doesn’t mean that others agree. I can’t boil this down to a Point 3. Apologies.

Thanks to Matty Bardoe for listening today (and all year), offering advice, provoking conversation, philosophizing and pushing me to think about things I usually don’t and things I do, but in a different light. And for being an all-around boss.