Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


I Suck at Teaching Biology, but I’m Getting Better

So, it’s been no surprise that I’ve been fairly blog and twitter quiet this semester. I’m teaching Biology for the first time.

It’s not going well. I mean, they’re learning about cells and respiration and evolution and blah blah blah, but it doesn’t pop the way physics does. It doesn’t shine the way calculus does.

You may chalk that up to being a “required” course, but I’ve never really bought into that. My favorite students are usually the kids who make “required” courses so difficult on people.

For a while I was convinced that I’m just a boring person. It turns out that you need fellowship with other teachers.

I just had one of the most inspiring beer-ups with a teacher from across the county. You can’t really put a value on meeting with someone who has only students in mind. I can’t help but realize how all this BlueHarvest and book writing has impacted my ability to teach.

What a wretch I am for letting that happen.

Anyways, if you’re not following this guy (@physicsramble, Matt Harding), you really should be. Total dedication to kids and none of the fluff.

Epiphanies are Epiphanific

I’m just going to do what I know is right. No more planning every student action. No more guarded learning targets and goals. I want them coming up with projects and ideas, and I want to be a coach instead of a babysitter.

I’m using BlueHarvest1 to keep track of standards:

Second, I’ll be delivering TED-style content on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday. The goal here–and this was SUPER hard for some students to get–is that I inspire them to work on a project for a standard they don’t already have marked proficient (no/yes in the image). They’re so used the scheduled lecture and assessment pattern, I have to wonder if that is complicit in their inability to retain anything.

Students thought that we’d be on a timeline again, but I’m really trying to avoid that. I want them to do the work of connecting their ideas to my delivered content and whatever other source they use.

The rest of my job can be summed up as mentor and coach. Here’s a sample interaction from today:

Student: I want to build a wasp and a human in shop and color code all of the parts so people can see how they’re alike and different.

Me: Ok, but are you going to be ok when I say that some installed part isn’t quite right, and that you’ll have to change it in order to be marked competent?

Student: Yea, I guess that’ll be annoying at first, but it’ll probly end up better at the end. How many standards will that be?

Me: I don’t know, how many are you targeting?

Student: Well, like all the systems ones.

Me: Ok, that better be one BA model.

Student: It will be.

That happened today.

Screw points.

That kid has a severe learning disability.

Screw my trite little content schedule.

A Week in the Life:

Monday: 30 minutes: TED-style content, recorded and indexed on our server for later study. 60 Minutes: project design, content development, and execution.

Tuesday: 90 Minutes: Project design and execution

Wednesday: Same as Monday. Students may indicate that they elect to take a quiz over material they’ve been working on.

Thursday: Assessment Day! BlueHarvest is updated for each project kids are working on. Students take quizzes who have chosen to do so.

Friday: Same as Monday.

The quiz thing threw me for a loop. Some of them really wanted to keep taking quizzes. I decided that some kids really do get assessed well that way, so I had to work them in. Most kids are looking to avoid them like the plague.

Oh, this isn’t like how college will be?

I just can’t care.

My kids will know stuff, and they’ll know how to figure it out. If your system doesn’t reward that, then go suck an egg.

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Shawn Cornally • March 26, 2012

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