Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Not Working

Over the past couple of days in grade 9 science, as we condense the Chemistry unit to try and squeeze it in before the end of the school year, it has become clear that our current system of Learn It/Practice It/Know It is just not working. 

Students are just bashing and crashing through "what they have to do" - turning to the Internet or each other to just blatantly copy answers to tasks without even thinking about what they're doing. Only a few are making notes (or documenting their learning somehow); the majority are not even recalling the basics (difference between a proton and an electron) from one task to the next. 

Only a handful are even looking at (and considering/thinking about) the learning goals or using them to guide their learning. When students ask questions, and I respond with "what have you tried?" - the answer is becoming more and more a blank stare. While I don't mind when students work together to learn, there seems to be a LOT more occurrences of students GREATLY leaning on others to help them through.

This worries me. This unit builds through grade 10, and while all of this will be reviewed in the new school year, it would greatly beneficial to them to have a good understanding of atoms and elements, which many of them don't have.

(I should mention that some students are demonstrating an amazing mastery of the material - and it warms my heart to see it! - but they are definitely in the minority.)

Determining physical properties of unknown substances

Maybe it is because I haven't spent enough time emphasizing the learning process over the course of the semester. Or maybe it's because summer is just 3 more school days away, and they just want to get it over with. But when I get the chance to re-do this course again next year (and I will get that chance), I want to look at introducing new components to try and get away from what's currently happening... 

Determining physical properties of unknown substances

More big picture ideas? Fewer assignments? More one-on-one conversations to check learning? New self-assessments of the learning process? More self-guided choice of topics? I don't want to motivate with marks, but do I start assigning marks to "notes?" For most students right now, it's not working, and something is going to have to change.

9 comments:

  1. I wonder what would happen if students had another way to keep them accountable. Something like a younger audience (or visitors) that would benefit from learning from your students -- perhaps the information would then naturally find a home in their memories in order to share it with other learners? While explaining the concepts, they would be challenged to make connections, and they might appreciate the scaffolding that also needs to happen.
    Just throwin' ideas at you! :)

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    1. Thanks Colleen - I am DEFINITELY looking for ideas! I love the idea of being accountable to others (instead of just to me), and I haven't had as many of those "tasks" in this unit partially because of the time crunch. Those who find themselves explaining it to the others in the class are benefiting tremendously, precisely for that reason. I find it easy to engage the students in tasks like that for things like ecology, but harder for chemistry basics. I wonder what kind of target audience I can find for next year? Thanks for the suggestion! :)

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    2. I could volunteer myself to Skype with your classroom, if you like! I know *nothing* about chemistry basics, and their real test would involve helping me understand these ideas!

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    3. hahaha if we had more time, I would certainly take you up on that! I think that might be part of the problem - just running out of time, and trying to learn as much as we can in a couple of weeks. Makes me wonder if there really is just *too much* crammed into the curriculum to really do it all justice (and for the students to actually learn it well).

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  2. Hi there! What about taking your list of learning goals (which you already have) and conferencing with kids about them? Similar to an oral test. That way it preserves your "learn how you learn best" work with your students and might fit into the last few days? When they are ready, they can conference with you. You can then either have them brush up on a learning goal, or move on? I can't imagine going through the time crunch you have this year, but maybe something like this would let you ensure they are ready for the Grade 10 chemistry material and ensure your assessment can be turned into a learning/teaching moment as needed?

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    1. Hi Jaclyn! I like the idea of conferencing with them, and I am definitely trying to do more of that to get a sense of where they stand. I find it tricky trying to balance a "probing" conference vs. an oral test. I'm still learning how to test the knowledge waters without placing a lot of pressure on the student. In the little bit that I'm doing now, I'm finding that as a student gets stuck, and I encourage them to go back and check their notes, they have nothing to show for what they've learned to date, and they're just re-learning everything all over again. There's got to be a more efficient way! I have no doubt that they CAN learn, they just aren't seeing the value in it right now.

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  3. Yeah, I feel similar. One of the things I learned this year, was that having students reflect, and record those reflections somehow, was very valuable. It allowed them to reflect on the goals, and self-assess on how they were doing. It takes time. A lot of time sometimes... but it was worth the few times I managed to do it. I'm now trying to decide how to build that in as an ongoing thing into the next classes.

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    1. Hi Colin! Thank you so much for mentioning this - it's something I've often considered doing on a more formal basis (I've tried "exit card"-like reflections, but nothing more structured). This recent post from Dean Shareski really has me thinking, particularly about having students grade themselves ("grades," for better or for worse, still seem so tangible). I really like his ranking (5-10) for the students to self-assess. What have you tried? Like you, I'd like to build it in to our units next year.

      Dean's post: http://ideasandthoughts.org/2015/06/11/my-ongoing-struggle-with-diffusing-the-impact-of-grades/

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    2. Yup, Dean's struggles are similar to my own with this. This year I was part of a New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project. Focused on using Fullan's 6C's ideas to help kids learn. One of the things I did was get my students to reflect on the project. I used a rubric for self-assessment (but don't really like those either...) The interesting part was that I asked the kids to record reflections based on a series of questions that prompted them to think about what they learned about curriculum, and the skills that we explicitly targeted. I've posted some of the things over on my site as a project summary http://jagoe.ca/npdl/ The interesting parts are the Assessment and Reflection pages. I've got some audio of my students talking, and it was great for me to see what they learned and thought, and it gave me more ideas for next steps than anything else I did this year. If you watch the 15 mins of rambling that Jamie and I did we eventually hit up that as a key idea. I guess the take away is that we are all learning too...

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