Thursday, November 6, 2008

High school and "real life"

Our school just had a development day for teachers. We were exposed to some good stuff by a nationally renowned speaker. We were provided with notes. We had Smart boards and videos and Powerpoint slides and all the trappings of a snazzy modern lesson.

We could even wander to the loo without a pass.

The biggest things I (re)learned?:
How uncomfortable it is to be sitting for more than 5 or 10 minutes in the same seat viewing "required" material.

How few professionals could resist quietly talking to their neighbors about what they were learning as they learned it.

How teachers' faces glow like spectres as their thumbs worked their cell phones pretty much the same way our students' faces do. (No one told them to "put it away NOW!")

At one of the workshops given after the keynote address (by Mr. Wiggins himself), a teacher pontificated:
Every one in this room, if called to the Board of Ed, could immediately explain how everything they teach can be related to the students' life in a useful way.
A science teacher, paraphrased

Um, not everyone. Not me, anyway.

I'm a science teacher. I think our kids take away valuable tools from seeing how humans develop ways to make sense of the world. I think done right I can make the world larger for my students. High falutin' goals, true, but hey, why do we teach?

Still, to "know that an atom's electron arrangement, particularly the outermost electrons, determines how the atom can interact with other atoms" as required by our state standards does not relate to their lives, unless you mean they have to learn it to pass the state test, in which case I'll concede it does.

(The concept of "outermost electrons" gets silly anyway once we slide past the Bohr model into atomic orbitals--we can visualize a region where an electron is most likely to be found given its energy level, but even then, we cannot be 100% sure the electron will be in that particular region. It could be anywhere. Literally anywhere, so long as you define "anywhere" to mean somewhere in our known universe.

Once you start playing with molecules, the orbitals now take on all kinds of bizarre sha
pes--what was play for Linus Pauling may be beyond the grasp of most of us.)

I think we can trim a lot of our content--not much controversy there.

In science class, though, I think it really does not matter what content we trim. The value is in process, not content. And that's where people get a little buzzy.

Well, we can't drop this because....
We can't drop that because....
By the way, the state just mandated we add this...

Give me a marking period to explain the history, the observations, the controversies, the development of a particular idea, and I can change a child's view of the world. If I didn't believe this, I should stop teaching science.

What else did I learn?

If we expect a child to learn specific concepts for the mere sake of satisfying the goals of the presenter (be it a teacher, the Board of Ed, or even Grant Wiggins himself) we are going to have to provide external incentives. Off with his head! He's a heretic!

I got paid to sit through a workshop. I bet not more than 5 or 6 teachers out of the hundreds who saw Mr. Wiggins speak would give up a summer afternoon to do the same. Draw and quarter him!

Not because Mr. Wiggins does not present a valuable program. He does.
Without any immediate obvious gain, though, many teachers shut down before the first hour was done.

And we expect kids to be motivated by some strained tenuous strand with "real life."

Think about that the next time union negotiations come up--we need to take away your health benefits, but we'll give you an "A+" on your next observation if you do your job well.

If nothing else, I relearned how hard it is to be a student of the mandatory instead of a student of the universe.

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