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Monthly Archives: January 2016

 

Time to change concept

Life is all about changes – going from a mild winter to a constant snow downpour, going from math intense physics to reading intense graduate school, going from a high school setting as an educator to a middle school setting as an educator. Above all, at the end of the day, I consider myself a physicist, one who is particularly good at conveying physics to an array of different students of different backgrounds. But a big change is imminent – today I went to my middle school placement for the first time.

Allow me to remind you that in my last year of undergrad, I was the teaching assistant for a second year physics course and a second year astrophysics course. To have gone from intertwining advanced mathematics like differential equations and multivariable calculus to the high school physics setting where calculus is absent was a major adjustment, especially with regard to standardized testing. I was continually cognizant of “teaching to a test” and tried not to do that as much as possible, but have realized the great difficulty in testing students on what won’t be on the Regents or the IB Test. Loosely, students ask “will we need to know this?” to which I would typically answer that for the test I will be writing, yes, but for the Regents or the IB Exam, perhaps not. Students, the first few times, revolted against such a notion – why teach what wouldn’t be on the standardized test at the end of the year? That’s a topic for another day, seeing as I could write a novel about everything wrong with standardized testing and how warped the perceptions of students have become as a result of so much emphasis placed on these nightmares. As I said, I digress.

As aforementioned, I went to my middle school placement for the first time today. It was snowing like crazy and took half an hour to get there. The dynamic of the courses was fascinating, but the day seemed to get, in terms of behavior, progressively more and more problematic.

Sitting in for this first day certainly was eye opening and I’ll have a lot to think about over the next few days before I return permanently until April. Behavioral issues were not something I was heavily exposed to at Wilson – there was something about me that students respected, or perhapsĀ it was that or the fact that I was more relatable than someone in their 40s. But those were high school seniors, and my ability to relate to them came a lot from being fresh out of undergrad, and they were all at the point that they are applying college. I could freshly remember what college was like, and my opinion may have been more valuable to them than someone who finished college 20 years ago. But middle schoolers aren’t typically thinking about college already – they are a whopping 10 years younger than me at least, and they aren’t as educated. I relate to people who are educated and intelligent – not to say that I cannot make connections with these kids, but it will certainly be more difficult. Another wrench in the plan is that I, as expected, am not teaching physics to eighth graders, but rather, I am teaching them biology. I consider having studied biology to be a “dark time” in my college career – there’s certainly nothing wrong with biology, but it just certainly was not what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. Luckily, topics that are being revisited by me in teaching these eighth graders are of interest (genetics, evolution).

Adjusting to this change will certainly take some time, but I’m confident in my ability to adjust to such change and make this a fantastic experience. Here’s to figuring out this different dynamics of kids as I go, and certainly taking a lot away from the experience.

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I can recall doing trust falls for whatever ridiculous reasons in my life, whether in gym class or to immaturely prove how good of a friend someone was at a younger age. They were supposed to allow you to put all your trust in someone to not let you fall to the ground and hurt yourself. At my high school placement, sometimes the opposite of what some would see as a desirable outcome to a trust fall would happen. But let me be clear: if I start to fall in what I’m doing, just let me.

A week before my last day at my high school placement, on a Friday, I decided to play astrophysics jeopardy, where we’d split into three teams and play jeopardy as a class, and the winners would get five extra bonus on their exam that would be the following Tuesday. My CT was encouraging in my ideas and would never tell me not to do something. He allowed me to take risks and try new things. But Jeopardy didn’t go so well – the entire game happened, and I was very explicit in that students needed to give units with their final answer. I would repeat back exactly what students had said. One group’s answer was entirely correct, with the exception of units. When I had announced that everyone got it wrong, the group was appalled, two of them storming out of the classroom. This hurt me to my core – one of the students I’d been helping all week with college applications. Later on, my CT and a teacher from down the hall were discussing review games with me and how they typically aren’t the best method of review for two reasons: one, students rarely retain the information and two, students get very, very competitive with them.

Initially, I was saddened by my CT not stopping me from doing this if he thought it was a bad idea – why would he let me do it if he thought it wouldn’t go well? But then I realized what a superb learning experience allowing me to fall was – how would I have learned otherwise? Allowing me to see what works and what doesn’t on my own accord rather than just being told what works and what doesn’t was so important in my learning process about how to be a better teacher. Allowing me to fall was better than telling me just one way or another.

Today was my last day at the placement, which was terribly saddening for me, but I look forward to visiting them. I have learned such an extensive amount from my CT and the 34 students I have made relationships with, some of which will last for a very long time.

Cheers to starting up blogging again.