Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Starship Teacher

This is a week of no stories. Instead, I feel like I'm travelling at very high speed as a series of incidents and events whiz past.

On Tuesday, another teacher found my conflict resolution book in a pile of stuff in his desk. I have a little more planning to do, but I finally feel as though I have a grasp on the health curriculum, especially for the sixth grade.

Also on Tuesday, I observed Mr. Richter. His classroom management had improved noticeably since my last observation - which took place only about 3 school days earlier! And the students did me proud by recalling many things that they learned from me last year, like examples of elements and the definition of solid, liquid, gas, and compound.

Mr. Kelvin is struggling a lot more. He teaches 8th grade Spanish in addition to sixth grade Science, and the 8th graders are - in his words - "trampling" him (and "leaving footprints"). He has a fairly full schedule that does not allow time for planned observations each week, so we decided that once a week I will teach a model lesson to his students. The first model lesson is tomorrow - I need to pull together some data sets for the students to graph. Last year, when I was mired in teaching the students graphing skills, Mrs. Chew suggested giving each group a data set and chart paper, asking them to make a graph displaying the data, and then using their graphs as a jumping off point for discussing what makes a graph more or less effective in communicating information. I think I'm going to give that a try. (See - even if I don't take suggestions immediately, I do keep them filed away for future use!).

I hear from other teachers - er, department chairs - that a couple of the other new teachers are really struggling, as well. We are all trying to balance being honest with them about things that they need to improve, while not overwhelming them or making our feedback seem harsh. New teachers out there - what would help YOU? I welcome your ideas so that I can better help my new teachers!

The eighth graders are obsessed with the sexual meanings of words like "stiff" - which makes talking about the function of a cell wall a little tricky. On the other hand, in response to a student's question, I said "sperm" and "egg" with nary a giggle. And I had to tell a student that I'm not an expert on the finer points of chicken reproduction, but that we could look up the answer to his question. That drew a lot of laughter, needless to say!

Yesterday, a student said, "I didn't know onions were made of cells!"

"Well, onions come from a plant, and plants are living things - and all living things are made of cells."

"Onions are plants?"

So today, when I started talking about cells and their organelles, I realized I'd have to allow time for the students to clarify exactly what types of things are living and made of cells. They were a bit confused about things that had been alive, but died - are dead things still made of cells? What about food? Chicken? Bread? We talked about what bread is made from, and where flour comes from, and yeast...

Students come to your classroom knowing lots of things. Do not assume they know nothing; they are certainly not blank slates. At the same time, never assume they know any specific thing. I try to ask questions that draw out what they already know and allow us to build on that. And I try to allow - particularly at the beginning of a new unit - time for them to ask questions that I might not see coming.

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Anonymous westcoast chem student said...

I had a really great Biology teacher my freshmen year named Mr. Mogk. He used to say: “I will answer any one of your questions as long as they pertain to biology.”
A boy, who sat in front of me, tested that by asking several question such as: “How big is a whale’s penis? How do ducks have sex? How do fish have sex?…” Eventually the kid gave up, because Mr. Mogk kept his word by answering all of his questions. He was really comfortable with our class, making sure that you could ask any question you wanted without being embarrassed (as long as it pertained to biology).

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