Sunday, November 02, 2003

Reflection Time

I'm coming to the end of the electricity unit, thank god! But that means, as I plan the final wrap-up lessons, that I am doing a lot of reflection on the unit. Frankly, I'm disappointed and a little frustrated.

First, I feel like the unit was disorganized. Although I started with a clear set of objectives that I wanted the students to learn, I feel like the students are not going to walk away from the last 6 weeks with an organized picture of electricity. I certainly don't have one based on the activities we did! Part of the reason for the disorganization is that electricity is not one of my favorite topics. In fact, I don't think I'm the ideal person to teach physical science; I'd much rather do earth science and life science and let someone else take care of the physical science. I know that I have relatively little background in the topics I have to teach this year. Unfortunately, the triple-reality of middle school, funding, and our small size resulted in me being the only science teacher at my school this year. It turns out that my enthusiasm and willingness to experiment was not enough this time around. I didn't have the "bird's eye view" necessary to organize a really coherent unit.

How can I improve? Well, I can see ways to organize the unit better the next time I teach it. I don't think I would start the year with electricity; it would help to do atoms & molecules first. I would put in more on static. I would probably start out with the magnetism bit, as it is less abstract (sort-of) and more familiar to the kids, and would help them understand the electricity stuff later. I will also use essential questions to focus the unit. I wanted to use them, but I got stuck in a quagmire of not knowing how best to organize the unit, and never quite decided on essential questions. I like Heidi Jacob's idea of essential questions as "mental velcro" to which every lesson in a unit sticks. I'm afraid my kids collected a lot of lint during this unit...

Second problem: TIME. Time, time, time. The electromagnet inquiry project was great in some ways. The kids designed, carried out, and presented on experiments. Fantastic! Unfortunately, it took way too long, and now it is November, and I wish the unit had been finished two weeks ago, and I still need to do a few more lessons to wrap things up (though I am sorely tempted to just walk in there and start something brand new on Monday). It wasn't just the electromagnet experiment that took too long, either; the lessons on circuits took too long, as well. Having a better idea of how to organize the unit would help me budget time, and I need to anticipate the amount of time spent on presentations so that it doesn't just annoy me.

On the bright side, I think the kids learned some important stuff about how to do an experiment, and they definitely learned a lot about electrical circuits. They learned some basics on magnets and static, and on renewable & nonrenewable sources of energy. That's not nothing!

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