Archive for March, 2011

End of Quarter Madness & Non-Traditional Physics Tips

The end of the quarter really isn’t the time to write brilliant posts. Therefore, NSTA posts will have to wait for a couple of weeks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a new series of posts. I find that the way I run a physics curriculum for non-traditional physics students* goes against the grain of the way things are “supposed” to be. I have found this “against the grain” approach very successful with my students.

At a session with Raymond Serway (the writer of the Holt Physics textbook), I was encouraged about my approach when Serway very seriously spoke about the mistake that most teachers make: trying to cover the material in a more collegiate way and ending up spending September through January on kinematics alone.

I figured that there must be other teachers in the same boat, so I’ll start writing about the teaching techniques, lessons, etc. that have been successful.

Please let me know if there are any particular areas that should be addressed.

 

*My non-traditional classes are made of 11th and 12th grade students who are mostly enrolled in Algebra 2, some have Trigonometry, and only one or two have any Calculus. About half of these students will attend college after graduation and few will take physics at the college level.

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NSTA 2011 Here and Gone Again

As promised, I will be writing up some of the sessions I attended this past weekend…since this was my first conference as a presenter, I spent less time in sessions as usual, but I did learn quite a few new tricks!

This weekend was also exciting since the conference was held in San Francisco – thousands of science teachers in a city with a tsunami warning; I can bet lots of lesson plans were changed (including my own) to focus on the current events in Japan.

So be on the lookout for:

  • Parent-teacher communication and involvement ideas
  • How to host a physics-themed haunted house
  • Ways to make the most of the Holt Introductory Physics textbook
  • Accessing understanding of ELL students
  • Skills to help ELL students understand science
  • Exhibit hall highlights

This week one year ago…

…I was finishing up my high school student teaching placement.

I only realized that this afternoon when I happened to read my student teaching reflection from that week. Funny how life changes!

Last year I was teaching in an upper/middle-class, college preparatory high school with students who didn’t expect much from me since I was a lowly “student” teacher. This year I am in an impoverished, Title I high school with students who do not understand the importance of earning a high school education.

Last year I was frustrated with the lack of time to develop relationships with students. This year I have earned the trust of my students and have had the opportunity to offer wisdom and advice for their life struggles.

Last year I was taking teacher certification exams. This year I am coaching students to pass exams required for graduation (and taking some more exams of my own).

Last year I was satisfying requirements of a graduate program. This year I feel like I am actually making an impact in the lives of young people.

So thankful for all the changes and growth that has happened in the last year and can’t wait to see what kind of teacher I have become in the next year!

Junk Drawer Science

Junk Drawer Science is a new science curriculum company started by teachers with great resources for teachers.

Welcome to Junk Drawer Science: a result of years of frustration with the out-of-touch, and often-out-of date resources that have been available to us as teachers. We believe that it is time for a revolution in science education. The textbook should be relegated to its proper place. It should be a resource and no longer the focal point of our science classes!

Our mission is to provide engaging materials that stimulate learning in your students. We believe that science should not be expensive, and that the simplest lessons are often the most profound.

At the moment, they have three products available for purchase: a book full of great activities for middle and high school life science classes, a guide to using interactive notebooks in science class, and the game they created called “The Game of Evolution”.

I happen to teach with the Junk Drawer Science owners and can guarantee that their products are worth every penny. They have worked hard to develop curriculum and lesson tools that are effective in the classroom as well as easy to implement on a low (to non-existent) budget.

I guess that makes this a shameless plug: all in the name of providing the world with great teaching resources!

Unfortunately, they will not be at the NSTA conference in San Francisco, so for now, you will have to check them out online.

Proficiency Exams

Today is one of those mornings when I came in early even when there was nothing to do. My department chair walked in with three scantrons from students who took a practice proficiency exam yesterday: 16%, 16%, and 20%.

The major reason for this was that in one hour, they only answered about 26 out of 50 questions. Granted, in the actual test next week they have unlimited time for 60 questions, but that is still only 31% completed questions answered correctly.

All of these three students are in 11th grade; they have already taken the exam twice and have 5 chances left to pass it and graduate on time.

The thing that leaves me wondering what to do is the fact that these three students get much higher test grades in my class. What can I do to encourage them to perform better on a “scarier” test?

The tricky part is that Nevada does not release old tests, so I can’t give them specific recommendations.

How do you help students prep for tests when all you can give them is general study tips?

Triumphs in 9th Grade Science:

The beginning of my career as a general science teacher of 9th grade was rough. There were lots of tears and angry moments!

Now that 3rd quarter is almost over, I have been thinking about what has been successful. Here’s what I found:

  1. Being “mean” – I have had to go way beyond normal human levels of mean and anger. In order to get 9th graders to put their ear buds away and stop tagging on each others’ notebooks long enough to even take attendance took so much stern talking that I could feel my blood pressure go up. My husband even remarked that I was more mean around the house. Obviously, I can’t teach this type of class much longer without burning out, but at least I have them trained to behave more like students.
  2. Bathroom ticket – I think these little beauties were the major success of the year. I have had significantly less classroom management issues since initiating this policy. Each 9th grader gets four bathroom tickets for the quarter that can be exchanged for passes to the bathroom or excused missing assignments. Since they feel they have more control over when they can and cannot “go”, I have had much less of a headache! It has also cut way back on students asking to go every day since they used up their tickets in the first week!

I have one more trick up my sleeve for the rest of the school year; I have challenged each of my classes to finish the year with a class average of at leave 7% higher than it is right now. I am planning on clearing off the bulletin board and putting up the goal for each period. I’ll update it every week so they can keep each other accountable. I promised them a big surprise at the end of the year if they achieve their class’s goal. I have yet to figure out what that surprise is, but the kids seems to be really excited, so I hope it is a good motivator for them!

I’m curious to hear what tricks you have found successful with your tricky classes!