Monday, January 17, 2011

Online Education Resources / Conversations

Even though my contribution was used to show a counterexample of what I was trying to show, it was still neat to be acknowledged online.

One thing I learned early on in my year at Chinquapin is that teaching is too difficult an endeavor to take on in isolation. For all teachers, but especially first year teachers, relying on colleagues in your school and  outside of your school is imperative. Often, the latter is easier because of the vast amount of information available online and the impersonal nature of the internet. Until I started looking for science and math videos, blogs, and projects on the internet, my lesson planning was incredibly difficult. Plus, keeping updated on the education conversations happening online gives me an idea of what types of topics are being discussed in progressive education circles and reminds me that I am not alone in struggling to find effective classroom practices. Reading and researching current discussions in education is the best way for me to challenge and broaden my own teaching practices, and if you are not constantly trying to become the best teacher you can be, then why bother doing it at all?

The other great thing about the internet, that makes it superior to print resources, is that you can participate in the discussions rather than just observe them. Even though I've been teaching math for less than a year, my online presence is just as legitimate as 99% of math teachers in the world. For example, I have been posting and commenting and e-mailing Dan Meyer, a leader in the math education field, for the past few months and I have been amazed at how accessible his blog has been. I was particularly excited to see some of my comments on his posts elicit responses from other readers, and one of my e-mails to him was even posted on his blog (which was a secret goal of mine this year...).

So if you are a new teacher (or a new anything, for that matter) don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and jump into the online conversation with the 'experts,' it's definitely one of the best things that has happened in my brief teaching career so far.
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Follow Up to "Discipline"

Extra Credit Problem #7 (click on it for a larger version)
Earlier this year I gave my students an extra credit sheet of math problems that they could do in class or on their own time to help their grade. My motive was to give the students something to do when they finished classwork to prevent chit-chat, and also give the students who were doing poorly on homework an opportunity to improve their grade. In the words of one of my 8th graders, this turned out to be an "Epic Fail".

Transparency is important in teaching, and for me that means talking about my failures in addition to my successes. None of the 14 students in my class handed in the extra credit, not even after I told them to hand in what you have and I'll give credit for any correct answers. In other words, more of my friends that read this blog got credit for doing the '9 dots problem' than any of my students...

So to all the future teachers / first year teachers out there, don't be afraid to try something and fail. In fact, many of the things you try probably will fail. It will all be worth it, though, when something you try succeeds. I'm doing a project with the 6th grade science class next week that challenges them to make their own anemometer (wind speed measuring device). We'll see how it goes, cross your fingers...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Second Semester Goals

After a restful holiday vacation, I have come back to Chinquapin reinvigorated for the upcoming semester. While the first semester was great, and I am happy with how my classes went and my growth as an educator, I know I have a long way to go. The most important quality in a good teacher, is being a good learner, and anyone who wants to be successful in education is going to have to be an excellent student of the profession. To that end, here are my goals for this upcoming semester:

1. Be more prepared. This goal is self explanatory, but there is no better feeling than leaving a classroom and knowing that you actually taught something and hopefully left them with more questions than answers. I can count on one hand the number of great lessons I taught, and maximizing those great lessons is the best way to get better. Being prepared is the best way to maximize great lessons. While the new year is only two days old, so far, so good...

2. Do more labs in science class. Labs are what the students enjoy the most, and science is meant to be a hands-on exploration of the world around us. Last semester I often got caught up in the details of teaching facts, and while facts have a time and place, I think 6th grade science should emphasize building curiosity and a joy of learning. Having an experiment-based science class is the best way to accomplish this.

3. Take on more. I'm not sure what form this goal will take, but I don't want to leave Chinquapin thinking I did an 'okay' job. I'm only here for a year, so there is really no point in 'leaving anything in the tank', so to speak. Perhaps after taking on too many responsibilities I'll reach my breaking point, but how will I know what that point is if I don't push myself to do everything I can to help this community. This goal definitely encompasses the other two, but is more of a general reminder to work my butt off.

The Fellows

This post is literally just a picture of the other Fellows I work with. More exciting thoughts to come when I am less tired...