…and why changing districts is the best thing to have ever happened to me.
I have touched on this in my previous reflections, but honestly, I don’t think I’ve given myself as much credit as I should’ve for the evolution of my teaching practice.
If you looked at my classroom January of 2015 and observed a month of time you would have seen day-long lectures. You would have seen very procedural labs. And you would have seen a lot of worksheets, some of which were pretty awesome, but there was not enough choice or collaboration. If you looked at my department, you would have seen many of the same things. Some teachers gave more engaging lectures, some required notes to be taken different ways. Some with more inquiry, some with less. But, the core was the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect these teachers and learned a lot from them and with the change to NGSS they are working to change their practice to incorporate those skills. But, it can be hard teaching high school science when you feel overwhelmed by the amount of material the standards require you to cover coupled with the concepts the students should have learned in middle school, but don’t remember.
Even back at my old school I was evolving as a teacher. At the start of the school year I began observing a experienced physics teacher at my school whose lessons were full of student inquiry labs, demos, videos, and other ways to make learning more exciting and interactive. There was a reason he was also the subject matter strategies teacher in my credential program.
With the start of January I began getting to the actual teaching strategies content of my Masters program. I began to try out different teaching methods and strategies. I incorporated more hooks into my lessons, demos, videos, questions, and likewise.
I was becoming convinced that the key to knowing Earth Science was not memorizing the names of the ocean currents, but understanding what caused these currents and the impact they had on climate and environment. Honestly, I can thank the NGSS standards for really helping with this shift away from memorizing facts to understanding concepts.
I ended the year with my culminating capstone lesson of my Masters program where I truly incorporated assessments throughout to guide instruction, looked for mastery at different points, pulled in engagement activities like videos and demos whenever I could, moved to more of a conceptual understanding rather than memorization, and gave my students more chances to express their understanding and connect with the material. It was my last lesson of the year and it was arguably the best.
But it still wasn’t flawless. Looking back this lesson was still lecture heavy, it didn’t have as much student led inquiry as it could have, and I learned that just because you think a video is awesome that doesn’t mean the student will be engaged with it.
Last year my former district bought Chromebooks for the 10th grade students. Yes only them. I sat there with my 9th grade students and wondered what I could get my students to do with more technology in the class. Across the hall from me there was a teacher on maternity leave who had a long term sub. That long term sub had previously been at a neighboring district that had 1:1 technology for their students and I knew I wanted to go there.
Moving districts is stressful. It is one thing to change schools because all you have to learn are the dynamics of that school. Things like grading software and requesting a sub and everything else still work the same. But, when you change districts everything is new, sometimes this can be a good thing.
This school year I’ve tried to embrace the opportunities the technology at my new district has given us, I have worked to incorporate more modern teaching techniques, and I am thankful for our teaching coaches who encouraged us to join twitter and see all that is going on there.
My classes this year are much less teacher lecture led, and when I do lecture it always has a core built around demos, assessment, and higher level thinking. I have more time for student labs and activities and am working on increasing the level of student led inquiry. I am having my students work collaboratively and truly valuing that as a skill that needs to be fostered in our students.
I look at 2015 as the year a lot of things clicked into place with my teaching and am truly beginning to feel as if I am becoming a modern teacher. I still have a lot of progress I want to make and I hope I never lose my passion to learn. But, I need to respect the progress I have made so far.