Thursday, January 12, 2006

An hour in the life of 7th grade science...

Yesterday, I found myself with some extra (?!) time and decided to write up progress reports for my seventh graders. I want them to monitor their own work, to see the connection between what they produce and the grade they get. And I want them to have a chance to act on this knowledge and make up missed assignments well before the end of the marking period (we have about a month left).

I wrote a very simple letter stating the dates of the end of the marking period and the last day I would accept make-up work. I left blanks for the kids' names, their current grade in my class, and their grades on all major assignments. The bottom of the letter requires a parent's signature. I made a copy for each student and filled in their grades by hand. It took remarkably little time. I also made copies of all the major assignments each student had missed (I am not allowing them to make up everyday homework assignments). I made a packet for each student, with two copies of the letter (one to keep, one to return with a signature), and stapled their missed assignments to the back. I kept a third copy of the letter as evidence at conference time or in case a student loses the packet and requests a copy.

I started class today by asking them to clear their desks. I explained what the letters said and how I expected them to handle turning in make-up work. I made it very clear that I will not be harrassing them for missed assignments; this is the final notification and it is up to them to turn in work at appropriate times or to schedule a conference with me to discuss rewriting projects on which they received low grades.

The kids took the letters well. Not a single student tried to convince me that they'd already turned something in or that I'd made a mistake. My expectations were set out clearly, along with the method for meeting them, and they seemed grateful for that. In fact, by the end of the period, I'd already received three assignments which kids had simply forgotten to turn in. That alone made the whole thing worth it.

For the rest of the period, we went over last night's homework on Wegener's evidence for continental drift. They started asking a lot of great follow-up questions: How can the continents move? Does plates crashing into each other cause earthquakes? Is continental drift still happening today? Could there be a new Pangaea someday? In answering the last question, I explained that continental drift had indeed been happening since the earth formed, and would likely continue until sometime in the distant future when the earth ceases to exist.

The end of Earth. Even mentioning it in passing inevitably invites a hundred questions about the sun exploding and God and... Today it was Nostradamus.

Last year, Mr. Kelvin told us at the end of the year that this man named Nostradamus who lived a long time ago predicted that the world would end in 96 years!

Yeah, he said Nostradamus predicted the World Trade Center!!

More voices chime in, eagerly recounting Nostradamus's predictions which had all come true in the last few years.

Okay, I said, sort of wishing we could go back to my plan to take a few last notes about continental drift, I'm going to share a million dollar secret with you. Eager attention. If you want to be a prophet or a fortune teller and be really famous and make lots of money, this is the secret: you have to be as vague as possible! Skeptical, disappointed looks & sighs. Here, give me your hand. I take the hand of a girl sitting near me and peer down at her palm. Using my best mysterious voice. This line here shows that you have a lot of conflict with someone important to you. A few kids laugh. I look up at her, and she smiles, getting it. Is it true? Do you have a conflict with someone important to you? How many people in this room have some kind of conflict with someone important to them? Hands shoot up. See? Now every one of you is thinking, Wow, what a great prophet she is, she's right about my life! I grab another girl's palm. Something good will happen to you this week! More kids laugh, catching on. So, Nostradamus didn't say, There will be two towers in New York City that will get hit by airplanes and fall down.... He probably said something about fires or explosions. I don't know what he said exactly, but you see how people can always find a way to show that a vague prediction has come true.... You have to be skeptical about things like this!

And then there were only five minutes left, so I let them pack up a little early.


Thanks for your encouraging comments in response to yesterday's post. I was very upset, and it still makes me really uneasy to not know exactly what I did to give someone such a negative impression of me, but life goes on.


Anonymous Brandon said...

Thank you sooooo much for taking a moment to slam Nostradamus and prophets in general. Such examples of critical thinking are needed in the worst way. Kids will remember that, and hopefully apply it sometime in the future.

1:08 PM  
Blogger jonathan said...

What you do, or at least the slice you share here, is fantastic. I'm just trying to picture the palm-reading session!

Off topic, meandering, not covering curriculum.. and you managed to teach them something that they will long remember. Some may forget about mechanical advantage, but none will forget the Nostradamus lesson.

And, it has to be said, it took intelligence, self-confience, and some courage to pull it off. Others might read that combination as "snobbishness," but all your kids can see is a great teacher in the room with them.

Bravo, and thanks for a great story.


7:54 PM  
Blogger Chaz said...

Ms. Frizzle:

As a high school teacher, I must keep the students on task to pass the Regents. However, within the topic, a good teacher can always find time for enrichment. For example when I teach them about climate change, I tell them about the travel of the Vikings to the new world and Europe's Little Ice Age. This will enlist discussions on the Vikings and the Black Plague which translates into social studies and an understanding of the topic.

For every topic, I tell them stories and why they are historically important.

P.S. I get a 20% greater passing rate than the 4 other teachers teaching the subject.

3:29 PM  
Blogger rachel_ice said...

hi i go to dayton. my school is pretty cool what about yours.

3:20 PM  
Anonymous katleyn tompkins said...

hi i go to dayton 2

3:32 PM  

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