Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Positive endings and good starts

Term 1 was a hard one! Not only was it (seemingly) never-ending ;) but I also found that with a huge amount of new content to teach in Year 13 (my first year teaching year 13 - and some of the content I haven't seen since my own 7th form... a reflection perhaps more of what my degrees were in rather than the irrelevance of material!) - but it meant I had an awful lot to get my head around.

What I found was that I wasn't teaching in a way that made me feel pleased or proud, but more I was slogging through the (huge amount of) content, making sure I covered the nuances of how to answer the tricky NCEA questions. Did this make me feel good? No... but we did get through everything and I gave constructive feedback to all students (as a result of drowning in marking!) Will I continue down this path? The plan is a big fat NO, but we all know what can happen to good intentions...

So many blogs I read focus on the positives and perhaps even the highlights of teaching events and pedagogy, and so I find it hard to admit that I can't always teach the way I want to. (This isn't a dig at the wonderful blogs I read, just an observation that human nature being human nature, we tend to want to make our teaching seem rosy and shiny all the time). But, on the bright side, I've had a chance now to breathe, collect my thoughts, and think about how I can do things differently going forward.

While Year 13 Bio was challenging for me last term, I still had the chance to spread my wings a bit more in my other classes - a highlight was the last period on the last day of term, doing a revision quiz with my Year 11's (where each group sent a runner up to get the next question, then answered on mini whiteboards until I was satisfied the answer was thorough) - and every single student was actively engaged and helping look up, write or modify their answers, and more than that they were having fun!... a very positive way to end the term.

So, these holidays I have been thinking of ways to teach smarter not harder, and two of these outcomes are below:

1. Self-directed learning
For a year 10 unit at the end of the year (after exams), I have constructed a student self-directed learning unit for all year 10 students to undertake. It will start with a bit of teacher-lead stuff on organic chemistry, then get students to link ideas between:
  • How heat from the Sun, Earth and human activities (use of fuels) is distributed around the Earth by the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.
  • The interdependence of living things (including humans) in an ecosystem.
It's a work in progress, and needs to have a balance between proving some starter resources for students (especially given it will run across 8 classes), and giving them more freedom to explore the topic. I see it as being something that be altered as we go and in response to student feedback. Any feedback welcome also! 

2. Flipping my teaching
Looking at the units I have coming up this term, there are some content-heavy parts, and while I know I will still touch on them in class, I want to make my class time as student-lead as possible, and therefore I am making lecture-type videos on the content we need to cover for students to watch individually (either for prep/homework or in class when they are leading their own learning). My classes are reasonably varied in terms of what students want/need help with, and so I'm hoping this approach will allow me to differentiate even more. I have uploaded recorded teaching before, but not in this fashion, so I'm looking forward to see what the students think about it next term.

The video I've embedded below - yes, super exciting, I know! 12 whole minutes of me talking and drawing ;) (but I'm now thinking that it has freed up 12 minutes of class time when I can be helping students...) was made using the Explain Everything App for iPad. Now obviously there are already 50 million videos out there on balancing ionic compound formulae, but I really wanted my students to have continuity between how I explain things in class and the videos they see - it also means I can personalise the information to them. (I should point out too, I'm a biologist explaining a chemistry idea, so no doubt there are more precise/in-depth ways of doing it, but this is how I would teach it in class, and so wanted to be authentic to that idea).

Anyway, the term ended on a positive note, and I feel I'm regaining control of the way I really want to be teaching, so here's to a good start and in fact a good term 2 in its entirety.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Head down, proverbial up ;)

I have been very quiet on the blog front this term/year, mostly a result of taking on a Y13 class for the first time, and (just quietly) being overwhelmed with not only getting my head around the content, but getting the right 'angle' on the achievement standards, and finally drowning in marking so that I can give good personalised feedback.

I'm a huge fan of peer-marking, and this works wonders at Year 11 and at the end of the year for all year levels, but I'm finding there is such subtlety in the way questions are worded, and expected to be answered that peer-marking is more blind-leading-the-blind, and they aren't picking up on the nuances of what they 'need' for their answers.

I'm still aiming for a differentiated approach where possible - eg. giving students a mini-project/case study for examples relating to the processes involved, rather than telling them directly, and giving them choice as to what work they submit for feedback (within reason!), but I am finding it more challenging than my other classes in which I know the content inside out, and so can let the students wander away from it, investigating other ideas, while knowing the points we still have to hit (external standards).

I guess this year takes me back to when I was freshly out of TCol, and allows me to realise just how far I have come in a reasonably short time. When I left TCol, I had a very different take on what made effective pedagogy, and I'm so glad to have found a multitude of different ways of doing things, especially in feeling comfortable enough to let students take the wheel, while I give navigation directions. In time, I intend this to be true for Y13 too, but I am accepting that I can't always do everything perfectly, especially when balancing a home life too.