Archive for October, 2009

Midterm Reflection

Introduction

Much to my initial dismay, Hunter and I took on the task of preparing a lesson covering principles of economics. I can’t say that I was initially thrilled with the idea; however, with endless meetings and hours of individual hard work between meetings we were able to successfully coordinate and implement an economics lesson.

For starters, Hunter and I have very different teaching styles and opinions about how things should be taught. If you placed us on a spectrum, we would each be on opposite extremes. Hunter prefers to teach more abstractly through analytical discussion, guiding students towards the content, while I prefer ‘super-structure,’ well-defined terms, and organizational tools. Or as Hunter would describe it: spoon-feeding.

I am currently placed in a 12th grade government class, and witness students’ lack of interest, participation, and laziness in addition to the incredible range of ability levels. Students in this class seem to need an incredible amount of scaffolding; in fact, I find it shocking. Being in a middle school, Hunter often challenged my opinions, claiming that these students were more intelligent than I was giving them credit for.

In the end, we managed to meet in the middle. Hunter is correct in that students need to engage in more abstract thought, and that I shouldn’t spoon-feed them too much. However, they do need a bit of structure or at least a well defined outline of what they are to get out of the lesson, especially when it comes to economics. We had quit a bit of trouble “simplifying” the concepts and formulating a ‘unit’ of sorts which we agreed upon. After much debate and discussion, we decided that we did not like the way the standards were grouped together and therefore re-organized the order in which we would teach them. In the end, our differences ended up being our strongest advantage.

Lesson Design

We opened the class with a “Hook,” or question designed to engage students and get them thinking in the correct frame of mind. After discussing responses, we conducted an activity which required students to engage in cost-benefit analysis. Students were given a packet in which to record their answers from the activity, as well as the notes presented in the lecture. Throughout the lecture we referenced examples from the activity, as well as periodically pausing to engage in class discussion.

background

so what

“The Hook”

The opening activity, or “hook,” was a success in the sense that it clearly got the students thinking. It was not designed for students to get perfect mathematical answers; in fact, it was designed so that the student’s would not be able to find a perfect solution. Some of the responses were quit humorous, setting a positive tone for the class.

In the future, I would provide the students with a hard copy of the activity question. In the video, I could clearly see a few students struggling to read the board and it was a lot of information to digest.

the hook

Activity

Hunter led the activity and did a fabulous job; he was very natural and did a great job of emphasizing the concepts to the students, explaining that the focus was not on the math itself. The organizational charts and overall design of the coinciding worksheet which we designed was streamlined, and decipherable. We both did a good job of circulating around the classroom and asking the students guiding questions.

Lecture

After surveying a number of 12th grade government textbooks, we found that overall; economics was poorly covered, if covered at all. If the student follows along and completes the packet in class, he or she can refer back to it at a later point in time. Having the activity, examples, and definitions in one place allows for cross-reference in case there is confusion. Overall, the guided notes packet was very effective (besides a minor goof in placing the last two questions out of order). I believe we did a good job in defining the terms and providing a variety of examples.

We did not limit ourselves to using only the activity as our source of examples. In one instance I referred to a real-life personal example (shower-cleaner), and in another instance we discussed the demographics of Virginia and why the defense industry makes up the majority of the economy rather than farming.

However, I failed to properly transition students from the activity to the notes; while it may have seemed to be self explanatory to myself, students may have failed to realize that they were to continue to the next page where they would record the lecture notes. Also, we would have preferred to record the answers to the activity directly on the PowerPoint itself, rather than shuffling back and forth between the Elmo and Smartboard. At the time we were unsure of how to use the Smartboard, and decided to stick with the basics, which was distracting.

The objectives should have been more clearly defined and referred to throughout the lesson. We included guiding questions, however, failed to clearly identify them at the correct point in time. It also would have been helpful to check off items on the agenda as we went along.

objectives

guiding questions

agenda

I felt as though Hunter and I especially did a great job of team-teaching during this portion of the lesson. We had practiced quit a bit who would explain what; but of course, we did not follow that to a tee. It was very natural, with each of us chiming in at appropriate times to emphasize a point, provide another example, clarify, etc. In my opinion, the flow worked. We also both did a great job of monitoring group discussion and asking students guiding questions.

Personal Improvements Needed

I noticed that I have a tendency to fiddle with the papers in my hand. It was a bit distracting.

I also have a bit of trouble articulating what I am trying to say at times. As an undergraduate, I was constantly being told to elaborate and expand on my thoughts, developing sophisticated evaluations and conclusions. Breaking things down and forming simplified explanations and constructions is now difficult for me.

Engaging the students is a personal area of concern; suggestions in this department would be much appreciated.

I definitely need more practice up in front of the class in order to develop my teaching style and the tricks of engagement which come with that. It may be easier with just one person; however, I believe that the slight cues and actions which I need to improve upon can not be taught in a textbook. Experience and practice is essential.

Final Thoughts

Besides a few tweaks such as the title, giving students’ more explicit instructions, and referring to the guiding questions, objectives, and agenda, I believe the lesson went pretty well. It was very organized, structured, and cohesive. We broke up the activities and lectures in order to maintain the student’s attention. The lesson would most likely be much easier to implement with a single instructor rather than two. Overall, I believe it went well (definitely better than the last one at least).

The Inclusive Model: Distributing the Teacher’s Time

The inclusive model of education requires teachers to provide individualized support and services to all students in order to ensure an equitable education for all; some students require more of the teacher’s attention and time than others. Inclusion refers to the commitment to educate each and every child, regardless of disabilities. IDEA 1997 was established in order to ensure that students with disabilities are educated in the least restrictive environment; students with disabilities were to be integrated into general education classroom settings to the greatest extent possible and emphasis is placed on the educator or provider making the necessary changes. Subsequent IDEA legislation ascertains that all students, including those with disabilities, master the general curriculum, not merely gain access to it.

Virtually every state has established a set of academic standards outlining what a student should be able to achieve and understand as a result of his or her education. With the passage of IDEA and the NCLB, such academic standards apply to all students, even those with disabilities. Necessary accommodations and adaptations must be made for those who require them in order to ensure effectual learning and the achievement of academic standards. They are designed to provide students with disabilities equitable opportunities and access to resources. Accommodations and adaptations often require increased attention and time on behalf of the teacher.

Teachers are under tremendous pressure to ensure the success of a large number of students with an even larger range of needs. As resources stretched thin, teachers are forced to prioritize and divide their time among students. Fairness becomes determined by the student’s level of need. Opponents of the inclusive model claim that students without disabilities are negatively impacted by inclusion. A significant amount of the teacher’s time and resources are focused on a handful of students with disabilities rather than those without. Some argue that in order to meet NLCB expectations and standards, the curriculum is watered-down in order to accommodate and students without disabilities are negatively impacted.

From a moral standpoint, the inclusive model is beneficial to both students with and without disabilities. Relationships, understanding, and compassion is fostered, positively impacting all students. The ultimate goal of educators is to engage students’ in meaningful learning, working within their proper zone of proximal development. All students learn differently and therefore need varying degrees and forms of scaffolding. There is often only one teacher expected to meet the diverse needs of a large number of students. Teachers are faced with the challenge of prioritizing their time and resources. Educators must have a thorough understanding and awareness of disabilities, with continued personal learning they can innovate new techniques and methods of instruction which address the multiplicity of student’s individual needs. A good teacher always takes into account how he or she can change teaching styles and methods to reflect progress on behalf of individual students. Disabilities are not deficiencies, only differences and as much autonomy and choice as possible should be given to all individuals.

In conclusion, teachers participate in a juggling act in attempts to keep all students afloat, meeting a multiplicity of individual needs and properly challenging each individual in an equitable manner. Some individual students require more attention, care, and resources than others, whether it be consistently or at a particular moment. Regardless of ability level, all students must be challenged and working within their proper zone of proxismal development to ensure they are successfully learning. Zones and ranges vary from student to student, yet each of them must work to their maximum potential and meet a uniform set of standards. On one hand, all students must be treated fairly with no stigmatization, favoritism, or stereotyping; however, on the other hand, each child’s education must be individualized to meet his or her specific needs.

It is nearly impossible for a single teacher to distribute his or her time and resources equally. The theory of the inclusive model of education contradicts itself. By the nature of the model, some students receive more attention, time and resources than others. It becomes a question of whether or not this has a negative impact on some students. “Life’s not fair,” and there is a positive to every situation. At the end of the day things will work themselves out if teachers continue to strive to allocate themselves to each individual learner in order to meet their needs. To do this, the modern day teacher, must be culturally aware and flexible regarding “scripts” and identities of individuals and groups. As my Mom says, “every life has value; no one more than another.”

Ridiculous…

RIDICULOUS

RIDICULOUS

The image above depicts exactly how I would like to react to the students right now. I am the larger dog about to unleash my wrath on the smaller dog…

Today the students are taking the Unit Test on State and Local Governments. It is the final grade of the ‘six weeks,’ and students who did not do as well as they had hoped will have the opportunity to re-take the EXACT SAME test on Friday, IN CLASS.

The students are either making A’s or C’s. There is no in between. Either they looked over the material prior to the exam, or you didn’t. Did I mention that the questions on the test come straight from the quizzes? And that the students were given each question a minimum of two times on review sheets (that does not include seeing the questions before on the quizzes)? The test is worth approximately 1/6 of their grade and it is a 6 point grading scale (worth a pretty significant portion, if you ask me).

I closely observed the students’ reactions as the teacher called them up to see their test score and final grade for the 6 weeks. In an entire class of 20+ students, only ONE girl inquired as to how many more points she would need to bump her grade up to the next letter. Once again, this test is worth approximately 1/6 of their grade; you would think someone would at least be curious to know what its value is in terms of points and relative to their final grade? I am in shock. This is utterly ridiculous.

I am starting to question why we even bother to write in the correct answers on quizzes when grading them; I guess if we left them blank the kids would probably do even worse…. How easy can we make it?! The retake exams and quizzes are composed of the same darn questions and the original grade is not even averaged with the new score. You simply take the higher of the two…Wouldn’t you think the students would at least look over what they missed and try again for the heck of it?

It’s a 6 point grading scale and this is 1/6 of their grade. That’s pretty significant…

Wow.

Spoon-Feeding Students?

My cooperating teacher has expressed his frustration towards students’ lack of motivation a number of times stating, “It seems like we do more and more for the students, and they do less and less.” For example, two students showed up to re-take a quiz which was exactly the same as the original quiz. The original quiz had been graded and given back to them with the correct answers filled in. Neither of them had bothered to look at the corrected answers, and at least memorize the letter choices. Not only did they both ask for a copy of the quiz to study, but writing utensils as well. I was floored.

To further heighten my exasperation, today I learned that my cooperating teacher is not allowed to average the original quiz grades with the re-takes. He has to give them the “new and improved” grade as it stands alone. This goes to show that the kids have less and less accountability, in part due to being spoon-fed. I personally believe that standardized testing and national standards and legislation are in part at fault. As long as the students are able to pass the tests, the road to get there doesn’t matter.

Podcast

Liz, Dave, Kyle and John's Podcast

We designed this podcast to be an introductory activity to a class. The students are asked to reflect on who they believe to be the “best” and “worst” person in history. After being given a moment to develop their own responses, they then listen to a random polling of Virginia Tech student’s responses. They are given the opportunity to discuss their answers, which are recorded in a KWL chart. Teachers have the option of using the podcast activity as a springboard for an essay, etc.

Technology in the Classroom

technology cartoon

Traditional approaches to education are changing as the information available to students and teachers expands. Social studies teachers must teach students the skills necessary to make informed and educated decisions for the public good, becoming effective and productive citizens. Technological advances and capabilities merely continue to expand with time; it is our duty as teachers to prepare students to be informed and engaged citizens. We have to embrace new technologies, software, and equipment available in order to emphasize its significance.

The Web and internet as essential resources for obtaining and researching the information required to establish informed opinions. Databases, texts, graphics, video, audio, and other multimedia are becoming more readily available as networks expand and improve. Such tools can be utilized to obtain up to date news and information regarding current events; it also provides a vast array of up-to-date journals and news links which are readily accessible for educators. With new applications of technologies and software mediums, the distribution of information has become swift and widespread; however, this can also result in a surplus of information for one’s particular need. The ability to filter through information and sources is a necessary skill for teachers which they should then pass along to students. Proper scaffolding may be required for some time. Learning and acquiring technological skills is an ongoing process.

In the school I am observing at, each department has two to four class sets of laptops which students can use. They discussed purchasing each student one individually as a neighboring county had done, but they found it to be too much of an expense and hassle based on the other school system’s experiences. We used the laptops in class yesterday, and I found them to be a bit of a disaster compared to the old school way of going to the ‘computer lab’ and completing the assignment. From where the instructor was standing, he could not see the students’ screens. I circulated through the class aiding students; however, movement between desks is a bit difficult due to their arrangement. About half of the students were playing solitaire or browsing another site. In comparison, in a computer lab, the classroom arrangement is usually such that the instructor can see all of the students’ whereabouts.

The school’s system of filters and wireless connection is dependable; so much so that the program “Power Teacher” is used as an interface to take attendance at the start of each class, record grades, post announcements, menus, etc. Teachers are required to take roll within the first five minutes of class, allowing the administration to easily locate “missing” students. This can be a bit of a pain for the teachers; however, in addition to minimizing truancy, for safety purposes it is far easier to account for everyone in case of an emergency.

One aspect of the “Power Teacher” program which I found particularly intriguing is the fact that parents can log into the system and view the number of times the child has been tardy or absent to date. Theoretically, the system can be enabled to allow them to view their child’s grades as well. This application is not currently in use. While in theory this is a great idea; in reality it could cause a lot of headaches for the teachers, who may in turn resort to not recording the grades as frequently as they should. It can also cause a number of unnecessary quarrels between parent and child. Regular communication is necessary, but hour-by-hour could be a little over the top.

In addition, the school is equipped with Smart-Boards and projectors in each classroom and the teachers each have a laptop. I hope that next semester will give me the opportunity to begin working with newer technologies, such as the Smart-Board and its potential applications. The teacher I am currently observing is not particularly technically innovative.

Blogging Cartoon

blog cartoon technology
Image from: http://www.sandiegohomeblog.com