Monthly Archives: April 2011

This and That

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a lot about a growing revolution in education.  I think we are at a tipping point.  We are moving from a system that fed workers for the industrial age, to now creating workers for the technology age.  One thing that keeps coming back to me is, what is our role as teachers in this new age of teaching?

One example of what is means to be a teacher of the past system is from the movie “A Christmas Story.”  What makes this a classic example for me is the fact that the teacher is the “Gate Keeper” for the information.  Her job seems to be to pass on the information and make sure that the students have learned what she thinks is correct.  (Since she has all the information, Ralphie tries to butter her up with the biggest Christmas Gift.)

I just finished reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch.  One of his childhood dreams was to write an entry in an Encyclopedia, since this was the greatest collection of information to him as he was growing up.  Having easy access to encyclopedias may have been one of the early hints that the “current” model of education needed to change.  No longer was a teacher a source of all knowledge, rather, a student could find the information on his or her own.  So what does that truly imply for teachers?

(please forgive some of the crude language in following clip, I couldn’t find an edited clip)

Whether we’re in public education, or private like me, what do we truly bring to the table for our students?  Now that our student’s have unlimited access to more information that one person could possibly know, what is our role as teachers in this new age? Do we provide more than just a few dollars worth of late fees at the public library?

We are no longer the gatekeeper of knowledge, but rather the guide to experiences.  I know I’m not the first to suggest this.  Here’s what I mean, we need to accept the fact that the knowledge isn’t ours to pass on.  Our job isn’t to “cover” the curriculum, but rather to help our students discover or possible un-cover it.  So instead of looking for ways the throw information at them, let’s instead try to come up with experiences that make our students want to know more.  Let’s help them create a better understanding of how the world works.  I know there is a growing group of people looking into “flipped classes,” but let’s be honest.  If there is one thing that the past era has taught us is that if a employee can be replaced by automation, it will be replaced.  If we teachers are merely just lecturers, why not replace us with videos?  Do we need the school building at all if things like the Kahn Academy truly take hold?

One other possibly crazy thought that has been brewing in my head is, if we are changing the paradigm from giving knowledge to students, to helping them create knowledge, why not change how we conduct labs, or more specifically reporting labs? 

I was excited to learn that I was accepted into the FIU modeling workshop this summer, and I plan to pass on some of the important strategies I will learn along the way.  The little bit I know of this is that the students create their own labs to help them create their own models of how the world works.   They then write basic lab reports.

So instead of having them write a lab report for me the teacher to read/grade, why not have them create a textbook that compiles their results.  My thinking of this is based on the fact that at my school we currently have the students take 1 year of physics before they take the AP class.  Why not have the first year students create a textbook that they can use during their second year?  Possibly even have the AP students be the editors/reviewers or the book.  Instead of merely ending the traditional lab report with how the experiment could be improved, reviewing the results from the next years students implementing their suggestions.  The first year students both verify the results of previous years (an important aspect of actual research), but now implement some of the recommendations for how the model could be further tested.  They then submit their results to the AP kids to review.  Both levels of students can further refine their models where needed and they both get a better appreciation for how science actually works in academia (peer review).

Also, as noted by people such as Alan November,

the students may take greater ownership of their “lab reports” and put more effort into them?  I know I’m putting the cart well before the horse, but maybe some of the modelers out there can tell me if I’m even on to something here.

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Hello World

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”
                                                                                       ~English Proverb
As I begin to sit down to write my first ever blog post, I find that I am frustrated teacher.  I find that as I struggle to make my class the most meaningful experience I can make it, there are still many students that are not engaged.  They would rather play a game on their calculator or do homework for another class than be an active member of my class.  Although I think some of that behavior speaks about them, I feel it also speaks about my class. 
I have been using the CPO Curriculum for the last 5 years, and have come to the conclusion that I love the hands on style of teaching, but I need to find a better means to make that happen.  At this point, I find myself very interested in Modeling Instruction, and over the last few weeks find myself inspired by Frank Noschese, Dan Meyer,and Paul Lockhart.  I’m sure that list of people will continue to grow as I continue to dive into the Web 2.0 world.  One thing that stands out to me about these three is that they go to great efforts to create a “hook” that gets their students to want to know more.  By selecting the proper “hook,” they can have their students realize for themselves how nature works.  I think that may be part of what is missing in my class.  The CPO curriculum provides everything for the students.  They get so caught up in the procedure provided to them, that they miss the actual physics happening in front of them.  They do not need to think for themselves, so perhaps they, in the end, just see this as a different form of busywork.
As I begin to try to create my own footprint in the digital world, I don’t just want to parrot what I find interesting, but maybe, try to bring something new to the table.  That is, to synthesize what I find others have done with my own experiences in the classroom.  My hope is maybe there are some other teachers out there that are beginning to think the same way as me.  Perhaps you’re ahead of me, maybe you’re behind, but as I begin to tell of my journeys into a better classroom experience, I’d love to read your thoughts as well.  
With all of that in mind, I’m not sure a hook is truly what is necessary.  So if I may, I’d like to possibly change the description of that beginning of class prompt, for if all we are using is a “hook,” then all we as teachers can try to do is pull our students to the water.  I know I haven’t begun using Modeling in my classroom yet, but is that all our students need to be inspired to become active members of a physics class?  Maybe we shouldn’t be thinking of something that will pull our students along, but rather something that will make them want to be an active learner:
“You can’t force a horse to drink the water,
but you can salt the oats.”