It does and does not feel like two weeks of classes: Monday the first week only freshmen were in the building, and this past week we were off for Labor Day and for Rosh Hashanah. Thus I have only been "teaching" for 7 days. But then, our classes are except on advisory days 90 minutes long, and on advisory days over 70. So in terms of class time it has been longer than what I would have spent with them in two weeks of ordinary length classes.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, my AP Government classes had to sit for the 60 multiple choice questions of a released AP Government test as a county pre-test - we will test them again in April on the same questions, and the difference in their performance will be used in part to determine my "effectiveness" as a teacher (ugh!). Before I turned them loose, I made them practice process of elimination, first doing two questions from another released test together, then having them do 8 questions in 6 minutes (the actual pace they need to maintain on the AP exam, 60 questions in 56 minutes), before giving them 45 minutes. All except 4 students finished, and for those four, with agout 1-2 minute left I told them to simply bubble in and/or guess, since there is no penalty for wrong answers.
One young lady finished very early. I know she reads quickly, but i wonder if she worked two quickly. I am very interested in seeing how she did..
While they were testing, I took the time to make sure I could call them by name - as long as they are in their seats, I can. I can perhaps name a quarter of them if I encounter them in the hall, or the lunchroom. Given how few times I have actually seen them in class, I am feeling pretty good about that. It is one way I show to them that I care about them.
But there is more. There always is.
For my STEM (Science, Technollogy, Engineering, Math) Policy class, I printed out a 29 page policy brief titled Problems with the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers (about which I wrote this piece at Daily Kos when it first came out). For many, it was the first time they had ever looked at a real policy brief. Given that their final deliverable in the class is supposed to be a policy brief, it was useful for them to see how such a brief is organized, how one need to have an audience, the parts (including the executive summary), etc. Since most of them took it home, it also served as an indirect way of informing their parents about why using their test scores to evaluate me or any other teacher is problematic - which given that there are no tests in that class is not as controversial as it might otherwise be.
I made similar real-world connections in my other two STEM classes. My Environmental Media class spent some time looking at websites both supporting and opposing fracking, to see how on this environmental issues the different sides used media to present their arguments. We were of course somewhat limited by the school system's filter, which blocks access to so many sites. We also looked at how media can shape your response: we looked at two modified film trailers. one which presented Mary Poppins as a scary movie, the other which took the shining and presented it as a light-hearted romantic comedy. In the later case we also looked at the original official trailer, to see how the same clip could be used to a very different purpose. The began to understand lighting, framing, and most of the use of music to set an emotional context.
We also looked at other ads. We looked at the famous 1984 Apple Super Bowl Ad, and "Daisy" from the 1964 Presidential campaign, each of which was officially played only once, but each of which got multiple free plays. We saw why these worked because of the use of material that could be assumed to be commonly grasped by the audience.
We also looked at Morning Again in America, from Reagan's '84 campaign, along with another ad developed and narrated by Russ Graney, the Bear in the Woods ("if there is a bear"). Finally, we had a good laugh with Carly Fiorina's very strange "Demon Sheep" attack ad against Tom Campbell in the California Senate Primary.
That class is seniors, I am giving them time to work on projects started in a class last year for which they one prizes to develop an idea, so that they do not lose the money. Along the way we will be using those projects to develop their understanding of using media to promote an environmental idea while we also do as we did yesterday, expanding their media literacy.
The seniors in my Research / Data Analysis, with few exceptions, do not yet have a glimmer on ideas for their final Capstone projects. Probably next week we will look at a few examples from last year. In the meantime, those who have ideas have talked about them and we have asked questions and offered feedback. We also Wednesday (a B Day) spent time in the computer lab next to my room which I control (it has 11 working computers) to research what information is out there about the topics they think they want to explore: since several are attempting develop products, it becomes important to ensure that they are not reinventing an extant wheel.
So consider - in AP Government they got a glimpse at the kind of test they will have to take as a culmination of their studies with me, which are more oriented towards a somewhat traditional approach to learning - only somewhat because I am not all that conventional, even when I have to operate within the fraemwork of a curriculum laid out by someone else. My STEM classes are all effectively project-based learning, with opportunities for collaboration (which in this case is NOT cheating) and working with real-world situations, developing skills on practical projects that are far more important than being able to successfully handle multiple choice questions.
I said I am hardly conventional. I think people who have read a good deal of what I have previously written about my teaching understand that. In AP Government I did my one full-period "lecture" of the year - I covered from George Washington attacking a French fort sin Pennsylvania and beginning the French and Indian War through the basic compromises of the Constitutional Convention. THis is after they had been led through documents of British liberty - Magna Carta, Petition of Right, English Bill of Rights, and Virginia Declaration of Rifhts. Along the way I do mention the Boston Tea Party, telling them that it is connected to Washington DC.
At the end of the class I return to that - The Washington Redskins were originally the Boston Braves, and when the equivalent baseball team (which since has moved to Milwaukee and then Atlanta) challenged that name on trademark violation the owner changed the name to the Redskins. It had nothing to do with honoring Native Americans, but rather with local history - the idea that the colonists dressed up as Native Americans while dumping the tea into Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773 (which I find occasion to mention was Beethoven's 3rd birthday). I do two things with that piece of information
- I show how when a team moves its name often loses cogency: the are no lakes in Los Angeles as there were in Minnesota, and perhaps the words name is the New Orleans Jazz.
- I explain why Redskin is racist. For this I apologize and explain that to understand I am going to demonstrate similar racist names - how would a Jew feel about a team called the NY Kikes, or someone of Mexican heritage one called the San Diego Wetbacks, or an African-American about the Atlanta Niggers. I try to ease by saying that I wouldn't object to keeping the name if they picked a different symbol, one that seems more appropriate given their recent record before the arrival of RGIII - perhaps they could use a redskin potato for their logo!
The lead assistant principal stopped by my room yesterday afternoon. I had told him I was putting up some of my awards and things I had written or which were about me in various news publications to mildly intimidate my students - I wanted to subtly make it clear that I knew what I was doing and had been recognized and honored for it, in part to persuade a few of the students who are like what I was at their age from spending too much time trying to "outsmart" the teacher. He told me it was working, that students talked about me, including that they still wer not quite sure what to expect from me, but that they wanted to be in my class. I informed him of what I had done with "Redskins" and he did not seem concerned.
Yesterday our boys varsity soccer team played the team from the school at which I taught so long, and where I was a coach with the boys for 8 years (also did one year with girls). I sat with our boys JV coach and his team, on which there are 4 of my students plus one from my advisory (I think it is one ore two of my students on the varsity). Six of the players from my old school were my students two years ago, including 3 starters (the two captains and one other). This was one game I had to attend, even though it meant I was away from home for 15.5 hours. While my current school probably played with somewhat more skill and organization, they gave up a penalty kick, and then later in the process of pushing to try to score on their own gave up two goals to counterattacks, both scored by a player whose speed gave them difficulty. One of the captains among my former students was probably the dominant player in the game, playing sweeper, with a very good goalie behind him, so that blunted many otherwise effective attacks.
For my current students among the JV, they learned how much I know and care about soccer. I promised to come out and watch them soon, at least one game, as I did the young ladies who play volleyball. I teach the whole child, and whatever activities are important to my students I want them to know I recognize the effort and passion they devote to them.
I got paid this week. I joked to my principal that it seemed strange to see the increase in my bank account, because I am having so much fun.
Fun - yes, I work very hard. But the flexibility I have to be creative with my STEM students really makes me enthusiastic to go to school. With my AP Government students, it is a different kind of fun because of the structure of the curriculum but still I am finding ways to challenge them, to keep them interested (so far in two weeks I have only had one student doze off, and he shows up to my class half asleep).
Tuesday is Back to School. While I have made calls to all my parents, in some cases I have simply left phone messages. I will see how many show up, and how they react to me.
In the meantime I know several things
1. I am still being stretched
2. I am having fun
3. It is clear I was right in deciding to return to the classroom in this setting, even with a 45 mile commute each direction.
And how was your week?