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I’m just going to throw this out there: I’m tired as all get out.
I blame science fair. In our school district, every honors student is required to participate in science fair. I am a person who is determined to get my students to learn something useful from anything we do. Therefore, science fair has become something I have to put a lot of effort into. Like 2 times as much effort as normal. I’m starting to see the reward, but the cost was substantial.
The thing about teenagers in school, is that they have a lot of trouble getting started. Invariably, they would say “i have no idea what to do for science fair.” I ask what are their interests? “Nothing that has to do with science.” Umm, everything has to do with science or engineering. “Nope, photography can’t be a science experiment” WHAAAT?
So what I’ve been doing furiously over the past week is taking that tiny morsel of an idea for each student or pair of students, and devising a science experiment that is cool and also feasible with just 2 months for setup and data collection. It turns out I’m pretty good at this – based on the number of students that have become much more enthusiastic about science fair.
So if you’re out there and you are helping your kids through science fair, put in the effort at the beginning to help them find an experiment that doesn’t just come from a website. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
Two weeks in, and I have something I have deemed worth blogging about. In both my Honors and General Physics classes, I have been pushing hard on good experimental practice. For now, this breaks down into thinking about uncertainty and getting rid of sloppiness.
In both General and Honors, we have now completed the first Physics By Inquiry lab where students are given a ball bearing, track and told to create uniform motion. This year I tried to grease the skids a bit by asking for definitions of speed before we started. I didn’t validate any one, but I slowed down my handwriting when a definition included what should be measured (distance and time). That seems to have reduced the time to get metersticks and stopwatches into action.
In both classes, I used this lab to discuss the uncertainty in their time measurements. It was rough, but I had them starting and stopping the timers to get an estimate of their reaction time. That’s a huge logical leap and completely inaccurate, but it’s a good start on realizing that what the clock says is not an objective truth.
In the Honors class, we did a measurement lab to establish the reasoning behind significant figures. The students were given a piece of string, rulers were banned, and they had to measure their table. We discuss how they must estimate the last portion of the string length, usually giving us an uncertainty of +/- 0.1 strings. Then they calculate surface area three times (smallest possible, normal, and largest possible) to find the uncertainty in the surface area, which is usually 1 string. If you do some of the calculations yourself, you can probably figure out how that gets you the sig fig rules.
Finally, I also used these labs to push on being good experimenters. Almost like a perfect plant, one student said “it’s not like this lab actually matters.” Which allowed me to launch into a diatribe about how in this class we will be learning from the labs, rather than doing labs to confirm results. I don’t think that has sunk in yet.
The things that I pushed on for good experimentation were parallax (reading the meter stick straight on), not trying to push a ball and start a timer at the same time, allowing people who time to anticipate when the ball reaches their mark, and using paper for fine height adjustment of one end of the track.
I apologize for the low quality of writing in this post, but I had to get this down before I move on to bigger and better things. Depending on how this year goes, I may push more or less on good measurement at the beginning of next year.
So I mentioned that I’m now teaching physics at a very large high school in the mid-atlantic. It’s the second day of the second week, and there are a few things that I need to put down in writing in a public place.
First off, I gave my students a math pre-test and a few of my students (all are 11th or 12th grade) could not plot points on a graph. I’m not sure what the whole story is, but I know that all have passed algebra I and geometry. Unfortunately I haven’t seen too many math classes so I’m not sure what to think. My suspicion is a mix of grades not reflecting learning and math curriculum that doesn’t work with real data. I’ll have to see more math classes and find out what I can build upon.
Second, I’m amazed at how hard it is to figure out who is responsible for certain students. I’m already pining for the days when I couldn’t blame anyone for my physics students not being able to solve equations, because I was the only math teacher they have had! I’ll say that much for small schools, you can’t really pass the buck when you’re 1/3 of both the math and science department. Following up on three students involved 10 minutes of walking and visiting 4 different offices.
And yet, despite the size I have less freedom to try certain things. I’m required to use points and percentages in Honors Physics, because the other two Honors Physics teachers don’t want to try something they heard of just a week before school starts. Understood, but I fail to see how the grading system is any less of a variance than the vast differences in experience, labs and even homework. But I suppose it’s mostly about the appearance of similarity, rather than the fact.
Ugh, that’s all sounding rather jaded. No matter, these are just the things I have to take note of in the adjustment period. I’ll figure out how to get them kids a learnin’!
I’m now on the East Coast, hanging out in my mom’s basement while I get ready for the school year and figure out a place to live. I’m not doing the 30-something moving home bit.
The school where I’m going to teach is bigger. Much bigger. 5.5 times bigger, to be exact. Today I read through the staff handbook from last year, and I am reeling. There are so many things that are completely spelled out and set in stone that we simply didn’t have to deal with as a small school. Things like flowcharts for students in trouble and outlines of which administrators to talk to. At my last school, everything was just “ask Barb who to talk to” and she was always happy to help. I could comfortably confront any student in the hallway – by name. I feel like a country boy moving to the big city.
It’s making me wonder how much of my classroom discipline and effectiveness was tied to personal relationships. I REALLY knew my former students. Will I get to know these students as well? Or will I be just another cog in the machine to them?
Ack! New school year stress and I only just came back to the US!
Hedge: So @Hillby258 and I were throwing the idea back and forth about doing a blog in the same spirit of “Advice for Student Teachers”, but for mentor teachers instead. We both have basically the same ideas, but I’m overly wordy and dramatic (Hillby: expansive and passionate). Hillby’s advice points are short and precise (Hillby: aw shucks).
Hillby: Hedge @approx_normal did such a good job on writing up the list for student teachers, and I immediately thought how we also need a list for mentor teachers. So I asked her if she wanted to collaborate. You see, my student teaching was with two separate teachers, one in math and one in physics. Math was horrible and Physics was great. I think if that math teacher and I had been more truthful with her expectations, things would have gone better. In my 3rd year of teaching, I knew I was leaving at the end of the year so I took on a student teacher in the hope that I would find someone competent willing to replace me. With these experiences I have my opinions on what has made successful Mentor Teacher / Student Teacher experience.
H&H: If you’re a student teacher reading this, first read Mentor Teacher Advice: 34 (and counting) Things Every Student Teacher Should Know by Approximately Normal. (The overwhelming feeling you get from reading that will make the transition into teaching less of a shock)
Now WE want to speak to those who are choosing to Mentor a Student Teacher.
At the beginning, all was well…
1. Say this sentence out loud: “I will turn over MY classroom and MY students to this student teacher.” Did you choke in the middle of the sentence? Have trouble getting it out? Feel a little sick to you stomach? I (hillby) started tearing up when I said that to my student teacher the first time. Try this sentence instead: “I will help this student teacher become good enough to take over my classroom.” Feels a little more positive and hopeful.
*** If you have trouble thinking that anyone could be good enough to take over your classroom, stop right now. Tell them to find another Mentor Teacher. DO NOT CONTINUE. You will only make your and your future student teacher’s life miserable. Keep on doing the (hopefully) awesome work you’re doing, and allow other teachers to do the training.
2. Get them into your classroom early.
Hillby: Preferably before the previous school year ends. This may be impossible depending on when student teachers are assigned, but if possible this will help.
Hedge: Hopefully most colleges are better than mine in relationship to this. I usually find out I’m getting a student teacher about a semester in advance, but I don’t find out who it is until (usually) the day before they show up. The student teacher usually doesn’t know they’re placed with me until about a week before they show up. But ideally, student teachers and mentor teachers need the opportunity to meet and share with each other WELL in advance. It’s best when the student teacher knows their placement at the end of the semester prior to their student teaching. Why? Because they can call the mentor teacher, set up a meeting, get materials for the courses they will be teaching, talk about what they’ll be doing, and be BETTER PREPARED. So if your student teacher calls in December about meeting you, please don’t blow them off – invite them to your room during your planning period or go meet them for coffee. Give them copies of EVERYTHING you can think of to make their transition better. (See my list here). /=
3. Figure out what your expectations are for the student teacher. Be very explicit and truthful with yourself. If you expect them to show up 10 minutes early every day, understand that you are not a relaxed person. If you expect them to be able to teach using a certain method, you’re going to have to teach them that method. Figure out where your organization is important to you. I’m (hillby) not to good about physical clutter, but everything has its place on my computer.
4. You need to define professionalism for teachers.
Hillby: Define professionalism behaviorally. Write that down. Everyone has a different definition on professionalism, make yours explicit.
Hedge: This might have to be changed on a case-by-case basis, but a lot of the student teachers really don’t know how to behave like a professional in the classroom. They are overwhelmed and stressed and, for some, this is their first time teaching. I think part of the reason students lack respect is due to the lack of professionalism displayed by the student teachers. They are sometimes immature and don’t realize they have to act “like a boss” (not the Lonely Island version, a real boss). They don’t know how to have “presence” in the classroom. I’ve had to tell them things like, “Don’t run around the classroom.” “Don’t flirt with the students.” “Don’t tell students to shut up.” “Don’t tell students that you hate them.” “Don’t be alone with a student, EVER.” “Don’t bend over to talk to a student.” “Don’t wear revealing clothing.” And they most awkward conversation EVER: “Um, make sure you are, uh, careful when you tuck in your shirt… because, um… see, uh…” (Thankfully that student teacher understood where I was going with that. It wasn’t a rare occurrence – it was an epidemic. The kids were tired of seeing his tighty-whities every time he turned his back to them.)
5. Take those classroom expectations and definition of professionalism, and DISCUSS them with your student teacher.
Hillby: Talk with the student teacher about your expectations of them. Discuss. What are their expectations of you? Before you start, everyone has to agree on what’s going to happen. This will make it much less confrontational if things start to fall apart. It’s a lot easier to say “you didn’t do the thing we agreed upon” than “you didn’t do the thing I expected you to know to do.”
Hedge: This is KEY. Write it down. I have a sample “Welcome Letter” to the student teacher that you can use to help you get those ideas down. It might take you a while to really think about what you want, and I want you to spend a day or two on it. Leave it, reread it, add, edit, etc. And I know you (cuz I know ME), you’re thinking, “I’ll just tell them when we meet in person.” NO. It’s not a plea – I’m not asking you, I’m telling you NO. Why am I being so bossy? Because (a) you won’t remember to cover everything – even if you jot it down on a list, something will be left out and (b) they will be SO overwhelmed and intimidated by the situation, all they’ll hear is the “Wah wah wah” of Charlie Brown’s teacher. They MIGHT take away about 15% of what you say (yeah, I made that up based on experience – so what?). So give them something they can go back and read and reflect on later. Use the list to help you add to the letter. And, just because I’ve had, um, issues with student teachers, it might help if you had them sign something saying they read the letter and understand your expectations. Here’s a worksheet that I threw together (so keep your expectations LOW) to help you jot things down.
6. Decide who’s going to buy drinks. This needs to be talked about. I felt that buying coffees and/or beer were a way to pay it forward. Some people (justifiably) think the student teacher should be buying for the same reason. In addition to avoiding the awkwardness, this is a nice way to diffuse a bit of the incredibly weighted power dynamic in your relationship.
7. Make time for drinks. Coffee/Tea, Beer/Wine. Get out of the classroom, take the stress level down a notch. Be human.
8. Acknowledge the power dynamic that exists. You’re this weird pseudo-boss that can effectively make or break their career. That’s going to make some things weird. Admit that you’re not going to be friends on an equal setting because of this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly.
9. Take them on a tour to MEET other teachers. You can even make it easier on them by pointing out the 2 or 3 other teachers that you interact with the most and therefore get priority on name memorization. Make sure they end up back at your room with you at the end of the tour. True story (hillby): in one of my observations, within 10 minutes I got dropped off at another teacher’s room, abandoned to “chat” with the about-to-retire-worksheet-master and spent the next 40 minutes trying to extricate myself from that conversation. That observation didn’t end well.
10. Decide and discuss how much freedom the student teacher has to change your classroom as they take over. No matter how many times you say it, this is not “their classroom.” For a short time, it will be a shared classroom, but make no mistake that the students will not allow them to totally replace you. Can they change the organization? Homework policy? Grading policy? Classroom rituals? As I discussed these with my student teacher, I (hillby) realized there were some rituals and policies that had no justification. There were a few others that I couldn’t let them change b/c it would take too long to undo.
11. ”Student #352 is not my name”
Hedge: It would really help your student teacher if you would put students in a seating chart until he/she can learn student names.
Hillby: It would also help if you reminded them to write their name on the board. Entering grades tends to help in learning names for me. Not that I would ever push off such a thing to a student teacher for any other reason. Not me.
12. Tell your students ahead of time about the student teacher WITH the addendum that you expect MORE from them because you’ll have a visitor for an extended period of time. And BE POSITIVE about the student teacher coming into your classroom – make the students believe that you’re excited to have them. DO NOT give the impression to your students that having a student teacher is a pain (see #1) because they will use it to divide the two of you. Your kids are going to try and blame the student teacher for everything under the sun and take advantage of the situation as much as possible. And don’t think, “MY students would NEVER…” They’re KIDS!! OF COURSE they will! I (Hedge) promise you that some are going to run home and tell their parents they’re not doing well because of your student teacher. I would send home a note to the parents about the student teacher. Let them know that you are still available for the students at all times and that you expect the students to come talk to you if there are any issues. Also tell the parents to contact you if they have concerns. This will establish up front to the students that you will NOT tolerate excuses on their part because there’s NO REASON for them to do poorly.
Transition to Teaching…
13. Make them prepare in advance.
Hedge: Unless the university requires a longer period of time, the student teacher needs to be prepared to give you everything he/she will use for a lesson A WEEK IN ADVANCE. Not the lesson plan, not a nice outline… EVERYTHING. That includes bell activity, every example shown to the students, activities, detailed explanation of how it will be taught, etc. You’ve got to be firm on this, do NOT let them slide. This is where I fall sometimes, because I WANT to be helpful and I know how stressed they are with the additional paperwork they have to complete. So I’ve always been nice and given an extension and it’s come back to haunt me a few times. But ultimately this is YOUR classroom and YOU are responsible for these students. So sit down with them and go through what they expect to do. Sometimes what they think will last 90 minutes may only last 30. They may have 10 examples of something when they really only need 2. Give them constructive criticism, citing what you LIKE along with what they might want to change. Ask questions, notify them of topics that will probably be easy/hard to explain. Offer suggestions. Then tell them you want to see the revised version ASAP. Then repeat the process. If you set this expectation up front, hopefully they will begin to refine their skills so that you don’t have to many many (if any at all) adjustments.
Hillby: We should all be honest here, if you really want to enforce them meeting your deadlines on lesson prep there should be a proper consequence. A week gives you time to make your own lesson, so unless they are prepared they don’t get to teach. I can’t say I’ve ever tried this, but I know if that was genuinely a threat over my head I’d get my butt in gear proper quick. If you are headed down this route, make sure that there is an escape route for the student teacher. The focus should be on making sure they are prepared, not the punishment. I envision this meaning you might need to sit down and make the lesson together to help them meet that deadline.
14. Get them out of your classroom. That planning time you have during the day should be used to get into other classrooms and watch other teachers. Start out with a few suggested teachers, because you know who the student teacher will learn the most by observing. Make the first few observations with the student teacher. Use some observation tools, simply so you’re not overwhelming them with information. My opinion is that you should also push this when they take over. For me, knowing I can’t use planning time for last minute plans makes me prepare better. (Hillby: in my last school, we were comfortable enough that I could use my planning period to drop in and observe other teachers without notice)
15. IF you’re going to let them totally bomb a lesson, be ready to help clean up the mess. Take notes. Make suggestions, and be forthright with those suggestions. After their first failed lesson is not the time to “test” them. Ask them “what ideas for changes have you come up with so far” rather than “what changes will you make.” Tell them what you think would have worked better, and be clear why you think that works better OR admit if you’re not sure why.
16. Don’t be afraid to help with discipline, especially when they first take over. Of course you need to talk about this before and after any lessons. They’re still new at sorting the vast amount of information travelling through a teacher’s brains. Some things may go unnoticed until they know what to look for. Provide that backup for the student that’s trying to push the limit. If you think it’s time for them to deal with all situations, make that clear.
17. Some of your students don’t like you (shocker) and will be happy to have the student teacher and try to make you feel bad. Hopefully you’ve got thick enough skin that you expect this and won’t be bothered by it, but I’m surprised when some of my coworkers are hurt by it. But please don’t make the student teacher feel bad – it’s not their fault, it’s just YOUR student being a little immature (which we all expect, right?). Let it go.
18. If the student teacher goofs up while teaching (or you see a problem is about to go bad), try not to correct them in a manner that the students see it. Work out a signal ahead of time. Mine (Hedge) was to scratch my nose if we made eye contact and then I would write the issue on a post it or piece of paper that the student teacher would pick up as he/she made a random walk around the room. But you need to show them in advance how to deal with a mistake, because it WILL fluster them and shake their confidence.
19. If you expect the student teacher to use technology, make sure they KNOW HOW TO USE IT. I use flipcharts, but many students feel comfortable with PowerPoint or Keynote, and that’s fine with me. I expect student teachers to make use of the interactive response systems, so we talk about how to do that. I expect student teachers to use the emulator software for our graphing calculator. Just make sure they know how to use it comfortably BEFORE they get in front of students.
20. You have to tell student teachers not to discuss student issues outside the classroom. They sometimes interpret that as “don’t talk about it outside of school”, and will try to talk about some pretty intense things while walking down the hall. No, no, no. You need to remind the student teacher that the students are always listening and so are the other teachers. KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT for legal reasons.
21. Encourage your student teacher to get involved and support the students. Invite them to a game or a band concert. Once the students see the student teacher at events they’re not required to attend, they will see the student teacher isn’t just about “the job”. Or at least MY students always appreciated seeing student teachers show up. Or if they didn’t see them, hear the student teacher say, “”Killer pass last night when you guys split the post!” or “Great job on that solo!” (Ok, if your student teacher doesn’t follow sports or band or drama or whatever, you might have to coach them on what to say.)
22. Find out what they’re required to do for their program. Ask. Write it down, or go over it together. At the minimum you won’t be surprised by new requirements as their time draws to a close. They’re probably overwhelmed with the scale of what’s being asked of them. For my student teaching, I (hillby) had to produce a report that ended up being 110 pages long. My student teacher had to submit video documentation along with the written report. His was like a baby National Board Certification.
23. Grade them with the university teacher rubric a few times before their formal evaluations. It will help them get used to the things expected by their university supervisor. Or you could use this observation form.
24. Be constructive with your criticism. You were a student teacher once. Remember that they know what the books and philosophers think the classroom is like, but that’s not always reality. They haven’t put it into practice yet. It would be like me reading a book on the history, practice and theory of hockey and expecting to go out and make the NHL (or even SKATE for crying out loud). They’re gonna mess up. They’re gonna fall. HELP them along the way.
25. Give them a “mid-term” grade. Using either the university final evaluation form (I’ve got a sample if you want it, just e-mail) or one you create yourself, or using the expectations you agreed upon at the beginning of the semester, let them know how they’re doing. This will help you address things that may be “building” up that you’re afraid to be confrontational about. Be HONEST. Be prepared to give examples.
26. DOCUMENT everything. Please, if nothing else, trust us on that. If that means you buy a notebook and journal it or you keep an online file, just document. You may have to provide specific examples if your grading of the student teacher is called into question.
27. Keep in mind that the student teacher is trying to gather as much experience and information as possible for their future career as a teacher. One day, have a conversation about what you’ve done in the past (good and bad, worked and didn’t work, etc.).
All good things must end…
28. Discuss the transition back to you before they begin teaching. Make it gradual. If everything went well, towards the end you’ll have gotten bored and filled up your newly free time with other responsibilities. This glorious period will come to an end. Don’t jump back into the race without a proper warm-up. You’ll pull a pedagogical muscle.
29. Letters of Recommendation. If you’re writing one at the end, ask for a deadline and stick to it. Now that you’re back in groove of lesson planning, it’s always going to feel less immediate than tomorrow’s lesson. A letter of Recommendation is pointless if it comes from an unreliable source (so send it in on time!). If… IF you’re uncomfortable writing a letter of recommendation, or you can’t write a positive letter, don’t write one. If they ask, refuse. If they want to know, explain why. Sometimes people ask simply out of respect.
30. Try to make it a great experience for them. We WANT good teachers on our team. You’re helping make them who they will become and they will ALWAYS remember you for it (good or bad).
I’m sure we’ll be adding to this list, so check back often.
I have this idea, a largely raw and unpolished idea.
We as teachers should have 3-year stints in high poverty and low poverty schools.
There are tons and tons of issues with this idea – hence the unpolished part. But consider that teaching in a high poverty school leads to higher rates of teachers leaving the profession. Our schools with the highest needs tend to get new teachers to replace those that leave, while other schools pick up the now-experienced teachers.
In every way that the system seems to work right now, the higher poverty your community has, the less quality education you receive.
Think about it.
So shouldn’t there be some movement going on? Shouldn’t we be a little more careful about how many students have classes taught by someone who is totally new to the game?
I’m going back to teaching this year, and everything will be different. I’ll going from West Coast to East Coast (where I was born). I’ll be spending most of the year apart from my wife (while she finishes research abroad). And most relevant to this blog – I’ll only be teaching Physics and no Math.
You would think that I would be ecstatic to be rid of studying shovels. Teaching AP Physics, we’ll be using and abusing math to do something wonderful. I get to replace the pressure of state standardized tests of dubious validity with an AP exam. I understand the AP exams. I took them, I’ve studied them, and I feel that the breadth of topics in AP Physics is reasonable for a year of instruction.
And yet, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate math, and especially math instruction. I’m still not the kind of person that has a blast dividing polynomials or finding eigenvalues. But I have learned SO MUCH about math instruction. Between all of the stuff from math blogs, math people on twitter and most importantly getting direct coaching in the classroom, there is a lot of depth to good math instruction.
So will I find the same thing in Physics now that I’m looking for it? I dunno. I’m already well familiar with Physics by Inquiry (Lillian McDermot) and I need a little more exposure to Modeling Physics. But right now my google reader has only 4 physics teachers, compared to 35 math blogs. As I move both feet into the physics world, I can’t help but feel the lack.
UPDATE: Turns out I’m not teaching AP Physics after all, just general and honors physics. It’s still amazing to not be split between subjects, but I won’t have the solid goals of the AP exams.
Note: I know there are only like 10 people that read this blog. However, of all of the posts I’ve made, this is the one I think should be sent far and wide.
I was a teacher for 3 years. Now I’m a student, in a foreign country, being a student yet again. This isn’t about being a “lifetime learner,” because I’m stuck in a classroom with other students and a teacher.
I’m learning the native language in this class. Wait, scratch that. I’m learning how to write the native language in this class, but I’m definitely not learning how to speak the language. You see, although there are ample opportunities to provide answers and discuss in this class, I don’t get a chance. There are two guys who have clearly been studying long before entering the class who constantly call out answers. So I don’t get a chance to think for myself, except for when I’m writing down things for myself.
Go back and re-read that last sentence, I mean exactly what I said. When I start a sentence, and they finish it, despite my best efforts I CAN NOT switch back on my brain. The moment someone suggests a word, trying to be helpful, now I just use that word. I am an experienced learner and student. I always try to figure out the why and how of things even after I know the “answer.” But when it comes to speaking my mind, I CAN NOT think for myself if someone else provides the next word.
This is the reason why classroom culture is so important. In order for every student to have the chance to learn, every student must have the chance to THINK and FIGURE OUT the “answers” for themselves. No matter the subject, if you have students that call out answers, you’ve just removed the ability of the other students to think for themselves. I’m not talking about motivation here, this is not about desires or just needing the answer.
So PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, in the interest of every single student in your classroom (including that chump calling out answers), require quiet private think time whenever you ask a question. At a minimum 5 seconds. Usually you’ll need 15s to 1 minute depending on the question. Every single student in your class will benefit.
I left this blog hanging with a bad taste from that last post.
This deserves an explanation. I’ve moved to Tübingen, Germany to stay with my wife while she completes a two year post-doctoral research position.
As I didn’t know German before leaving the US and I didn’t have any connections with the education system here, I’m not currently teaching. I’m taking an intensive class in the mornings, cooking, cleaning, baking and riding my bike. As I’m sure most teachers can understand, at first the absence of constant stress was welcome, but I’m starting to feel the lack. Keeping a house clean for just one other person doesn’t have the same feel of purpose as teaching 100 kids to like math again.
I have to say that I am growing a tremendous amount in terms of understanding the cultural shift that all of our immigrant students face in moving to the USA. The part of the experience that I’m missing is the demonization of my culture (I just had the demonization of my profession) and the barriers to communication are much lower.
If you’re really interested in my adventures, you can check out the blog my wife and I started specifically for this 2 year period.
Today I gave a cumulative final in my PreCalculus with Trigonometry class. A week ago I gave them a list of standards for what would be on the test, and I allowed them to make a 3×5 notecard with formulas and the kinds of things that we would have on public records (posters) in the classroom.
So far, it’s FAIL.
The test took me 25 minutes to take, fixing mistakes and changing a few problems along the way. Not a single student has finished in 100 minutes.
For many of the students, they can’t recall how to find the equation of a line from two points.
Systems of equations by elimination or substitution is just asking too much.
And expecting them to remember how to find sine, cosine and tangent without a calculator using special triangles is not going so well either.
I can take two lessons from watching my students struggle through this exam. I didn’t teach them how to study effectively and I didn’t think like a student when I was making this test.
On the first lesson, I’ve seen before that my students don’t know how to study effectively, but for some reason I assumed that this year was different. They seemed to do really well on all of the unit tests. My theory now is that all of the short quizzes I gave before each unit test were acting as their studying, and they didn’t need to retain information for more than a week or two. I need to write out how to effectively study for a math final, and begin modeling this at the beginning of the year.
Regarding not thinking like a student, when I made the final I made problems that require a relatively thorough understanding of the topic. I didn’t take the easiest questions from unit tests and put together a final. And I think I made it too long, in the hopes of refreshing some 1st semester skills. I should have started the test with the most recent topics and worked my way backwards through the year.
Well, next time it’ll be better. Constant, incremental improvement.