Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I love the sound of breaking glass

A colleague mentioned today how difficult it was to teach Pascal's law in an era when children don't know what a piston is. (Who works on cars anymore?)

I threw out the ol' hit-the-bottle-with-a-rubber-mallet demo which is a lot of fun. I love the sound of breaking glass!

Not sure how well Pascal's law shines through the chaos (and I'm sure there are better ways to demo this), but it's a quick and dirty way to show it.

I wish I could--I don't have time. We need to get through the curriculum.

And he's right. He's teaching a college prep class, and must cover a lot of ground mandated by the state.

I have the luxury of teaching the low level students. No one expects a lot, and as a result, I can get a lot more done. Oh, I have a curriculum, and we have standards, but success at this level means getting through the year without bloodshed or conceptions in the classroom; it helps I'm an administrative write-up miser.

I joked that at least I get to teach science. I'm not sure he was amused, and I don't blame him. But it's true. Teaching science (in the sense of inquiry by the students) takes more time than the current curricula allow.

I can break as many bottles as I need to to rouse up love for Pascal. I can simultaneously drop a bowling ball and a penny a dozen times or more in one period to show that they do, indeed, hit the ground at the same time if released from the same height. And I can practice my craft in the literal sense. Practice this, try that--modify, assess, and modify again.

Evidence I can practice at the low level?

I am starting a wiki project in one of my classes. Not an honors class. Not even a college prep class.

Nope. Level 1 CP Physical Science. (Don't let the "CP" fool you--any class with a name longer than the District of Columbia betrays the subterranean level of the class.)

I can take chances with kids a good chunk of the education world wishes would just go away.

Problems? Oh, yeah!

Anyone who has worked in the basement knows that teaching kids at this level puts a whole new spin to the word "interesting." Sick parents. Nieces to care for. Dying grandparents. Food security issues. A perpetual lack of eyeglasses. Toothaches untended. Glassy eyes.

Tards. Morons. Idiots. Bad. Poor. Stupid. Illegals. Low class. Violent. No boundaries. Dumb.

You hear it often enough, you'd believe it to. And act it.

Do I have problems in my classroom? You bet...even had a, um, minor fire lit under a student's desk last year. (His defense? "It was a laser, I swear!") I had a pregnant true freshman. I've had kids with bruises they'll never explain.

I'm not going to sugarcoat and romanticize a whole class of kids that knows better than we do that they are not destined for Wall Street, for Harvard, for medicine, law, or even a decent union job at factories long closed.

Charms Candy Company, General Electric, Westinghouse, Scientific Glass--decent wages for hard work, now gone from our town.

I'm not going to get my kids interested in science by waving a blank parchment in front of them. Diplomas matter, as does science education. The mistake is believing that they matter for the same reason.

The Charms Candy photograph is from the Retro Sweet Candy Shop.


Elona Hartjes said...

"I can take chances with kids a good chunk of the education world wishes would just go away."

I can identify with that statement. I find I have more freedom to concentrate on the process and the people when I teach my "at-risk" kids. Content is not King.

Barry Bachenheimer said...

"I can take chances with kids a good chunk of the education world wishes would just go away."

Your quote resonated with me also. It is easy to teach the "honors" kids; they don't need teachers as they could probably teach themselves if they needed to.. In many cases they do.

I also equate this back to NCLB. I had posted a while ago that a district who meets AYP has what I call the "Freedom to Be". The government leaves them alone in terms of sanctions and they can experiment with programs and technology and other methods, while those under the AYP microscope have to implement CAPA standards or endure other punative measures.

In your eyes, working with the lower level kids gives you too, the "Freedom to Be".

Doug Noon said...

To me, taking chances means not doing things we already know are a waste of time. And after we stop doing those things, what's left?


doyle said...

If we eliminated the things we know do not work, and required that the empty time be replaced with something worthwhile, a lot of very comfortable educators (I keep "teachers" reserved for those who actually do) would have to do a lot more than they do now.

A lot more.