When Larry asked “What are your reflections on this past school year?” several teachers in the TLN Forum discussion group offered up their thoughts. We’ll post several of these over the summer.
Marsha, a middle grades math and science teacher, wrote:
My idea that if I taught lots of open-ended problems that my kids would still OK on the math state assessment came true. I didn't count any of these kinds of open-ended activities for grades because they aren't officially a part of our curriculum. Kids still did the work and the practice, and they learned to concentrate on what they were learning instead of their grade. I will repeat this work again.
My idea that by incorporating lots more data collection devices in my science classes I would advance scientific curiosity was accurate. They loved the probeware. They inquired, tested and became much more capable of posing testable questions and answering them.
One story: I had been using different kinds of probeware in science class, and the kids were beginning to catch on to how you study things. We decided to tape our probes to the surface of globes and have all sorts of different suns (50 watt bulb, 100 watt bulb, etc.) and compare the temperature differences at the equator, the poles and in our midwestern state, using different powers of Sun. They didn't think there would be any data to answer our questions. But when they had all their graphs displaying on the board, they were truly excited. Excited about data! Hurray! Even more, they were convinced they could someday become scientists. The kids that aren't very good at science felt like they understood what was happening and could explain it. It was probably one of the most satisfying teaching experiences of the year because the results made the investment of time worth it. I had about 6 kids who went home and did extension investigations on their own and then brought in data for us to examine.
I didn’t do so well with my idea that I could help foster a love for reading non-fiction and that it would influence their science writing. I felt like my lessons were always just a tad off-target, which kept us from building any momentum or enthusiasm. I need to regroup, rethink and consider if I might not capable of doing this. Maybe just re-calibrating is necessary.
Our grade-level community service projects were successful, and we added a new project. We partnered with Room to Read using a Read-A-Thon and ended up raising $2500 to build a library room in Cambodia. Our kids were completely into it and much of the money (their money, not their folks) came in the form of pennies, nickels and crumpled-up dollar bills. We supported holiday gift bags for six children in foster and group homes. We were able to deliver over 15 large 33-gallon bags filled with many of the basics (new undergarments, bedding, coats and shoes) and we fulfilled all their wishes for presents. And in addition we collected over 13 barrels of food for the nearby food kitchen. I know our kids are lucky to have so much, and in these times, they needed to use their abundance to help others. They did so with enthusiasm, graciousness and big hearts. They learned to organize each other and feel like they can make a difference in the world.
My biggest failure (but one where I learned a ton) was implementing the Argumentation and Evaluation protocol. It was supposed to help me foster better discourse and teach my kids how to critically evaluate articles and lab data. While I do think it worked with lab data, my kids didn't read at a high enough level to be able to use the techniques effectively with scientific articles. It's my first NSF grant, and I'm glad I did this for many reasons even if the technique wasn't as viable as I’d hoped.
New questions I'm pondering: Can I really ever figure out how to improve their writing in science? How can I get our community service spirit to extend to other grade levels within our building? How can I get other teams to see that the whole child is just as important as test scores?
It was a great year. I grew so much as a collaborating partner with my math job-alike colleague. I felt like I did a good job of balancing test prep and whole-child education, we did fantastic community service projects, and my kids tore it up on the state assessments.