Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the power of peer teaching...

Sometimes we teachers just get in the way of learning. Unfortunately it is very easy to fall into the trap that we have to grade everything that we give our students to do and this really is not the best way for our kids to learn. If you allow the kids to try and work through the problems on their own and then let them peer tutor themselves, there is a better chance that they will actually learn the concept.

Case in point…

Earlier this week I gave my students a worksheet that consisted of sample word-math problems relating to various Physics formulas. This is information that we have been going over for the last couple of weeks and it was simply putting math to the concepts. My instructions were for them to do as many of the problems that they could on their own and if they get stuck, try their hardest to work through it. After 20-minutes I then told them that IF they absolutely could not do anything more on their own, they then could pull out their notes and the book to see if that helped. I gave them another 10-minutes to have them try and figured out the problem with additional resources and then I told them that IF they were still blocked on some problems then they could get help from ONE other person. I then had the answers taped to the back counter so they could check to make sure they got it right.

The key to this was that I emphasized over and over again:

“This is not for a grade! Simply copying an answer from somebody will not help you at all so LEARN from your friends, do not COPY from them.”

Two days later I gave an actual assessment on the material and the results were incredible! The comprehension was much higher than in the past where I was just doing “drill and kill” graded assignments. Once I took the pressure off the kids about not worrying about getting the right answer compared to learning the process, they learned the information much quicker.

Sometimes teachers just get in the way of learning…

Friday, October 03, 2008

non-verbal survival tactics of teenagers....

Now I know for a fact that there is a lot that goes on in my class that I have no clue about but at the same time I know so much more than my students think I know.

I love giving my classes book work to do and then pretend that I am engrossed in doing something else and then watch them from the corner of my eye. Then, without warning, I will look over to two students who are talking but only one of them can directly see me and they say to the other one:
"DANGER, DANGER, DANGER!!!! He is looking at us right now so you better try and cover your tracks the best way you can...sorry but you are on your own as I am going to pretend like I was working all along and just hope he is as dumb as we think he is and will not notice that I was indeed talking. And again, I am sorry but if he mentions anything about us not working I am going to quickly throw you under the bus and say that you were the one talking to me but I definitely was not talking to you - GOOD LUCK!"
All of this is said non-verbally by a simple glance, the darting of the eyes, a slight flinch, a twitch of an eye brow or any other very, very subtle form of communication. And the really cool thing is that the other student clearly understands what is said and they then scramble to look like they were not turned away talking but rather picking up a piece of paper or some other innocent activitity.

Teenagers are a riot!! If you cannot laugh doing this job, you just have no business being a teacher because this is funny stuff!!!

My fellow teachers, what are some of the non-verbals that you see in your classes?

September 23, 2008

master multitasker...

Definitely being a middle school science teacher is not for the faint of heart. I just finished up a density lab that would make mere mortal men (i.e. non-teachers) run away screaming and wish they had their mommy close by. In each class I had around 30 kids broken out into 8 groups going in all different directions, mixing liquids, measuring things, whipping around glass beakers like pros all while I am wondering around making sure nobody is stupid enough to actually take somebody's bet to try an drink the corn syrup.

I remember being in the corporate world and having so many people brag about their "multitasking skills" - and frankly I was one of those arrogant bastards. But you do not know multitasking until you are in charge of a room full of teenagers who are just waiting for you to be looking away so they can get away with doing something they know they should not be doing.

It is almost like an Olympic event with my opponent trying to get away with something and me trying to catch them....pitting skill against skill....will against will. And the fact that the odds are 30 against 1 tells you just who the professional is in this game even though our side does not always win.

People are always getting hurt at work like getting carpal-tunnel syndrome for typing too much or getting a thrown out back from lifting heavy objects. I am just surprised that teachers do not get "eye sprains" from having to look at sooooo many different things in the room all at once. Come to think of it, this is probably why I sleep so well at night because my eyes are just so happy not having to look at anything for 8 hours.

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