Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Cyber Lounge: A Whole New World

This week I had my first experience in a classroom-like setting without my CT and Jill, but instead with a TA with who I am not very familiar.  Our Regents Chemistry class has officially split into two groups of about six students.  On each day one group can be found in the classroom while the other half goes down to the cyber lounge to work online.  The ‘teams,’ as Jill and I have dubbed them, alternate between classroom and cyber lounge and each of us are assigned to a single team so that they students have some continuity with teachers.  Our CT will stay in the classroom everyday and give instruction or labs to supplement the online content.

Friday was  Jill and mine first day of participating in the split class scenario.  After Jill going down with the wrong team to the cyber lounge and us having to trade locations it was left to me and the cyber lounge TA to facilitate my students’ learning while also managing the other students in the cyber lounge’s noise.  By the time I got to the cyber lounge all my students were splayed across the floor on bean bags or on the video rocker chairs.  There was another group of about six or eight students who I recognized (because my placement is a small school) but who were not in my class.  These students were on their phones (phones are not allowed at school and the administration collects them in the morning and redistributes them after the final bell rings) and watching loud music videos on their ChromeBooks.  I felt like I should have done something about them having their phones because phones are prohibited at my placement; but, I also know that the students that leave early to go to MCC for classes are allowed to get their phones back early.  So, maybe these students were leaving soon for the bus soon? However, at the end of the period they were still there so I should have said something or had the TA say something.

Following about five phone conversations, all of which lasted about ten minutes and included passing the phone among students, these students (that weren’t mine) proceeded to watch music videos riddled with inappropriate language and phrases on full volume while I gave them looks to turn it down and the TA asked them to quiet down.  Other students, with bathroom passes or other passes, kept peaking their heads in to ask about job applications or what they were doing about that night’s football game or other unrelated things.  The last disruption, that lasted to remainder of the 72 minute period, was the students decided to watch Hercules on full volume together.

Of my five students only one was pulled into this chaos.  The student that was pulled in was clearly very close friends with the other students and is one of the lower performing students in the class.  My other four students were relatively far from the chaos, with headphones in, working on the Chemistry classwork or other classwork they had prioritized higher.  (On a side note; my CT is okay with the students working on other things in class, as long as they do their Chemistry work at home.  This is because all of our content is done online, and so they don’t have to be in school to learn.)  I walked around twice to check on the students’ progress and answer any questions they had.  I was making sure they knew what lesson they should be through by Monday and that they had a classroom simulation on Monday that pertained to the lesson they should be working on now.  This seemed to work really well with the four students who were away from the chaos.  However, my one student who sucked into the chaos acknowledged me asking how she was doing, and said she was just about to start, but then never logged on. (I can check their activity through my account for the site.) One my second lap around she I told her that she is three lessons behind and needs to get going she did the “smile-nod-ignore” tactic.

At the end of the periodI gave my CT and Jill the full report of the horrendous period in the cyber lounge experience.  We decided that no other students would be allowed in the cyber lounge during our class period, and that the student who refused to work despite my prompting would be banned from the cyber lounge for the next week so that she would be more motivated to catch up, and less distracted.

Being in the room without my CT but with a TA with whom I wasn’t very familiar with, was weird.  I really struggled to find what exactly my role was and just how much power I had.  The TA, after some reflection, seemed to really care less what was going on in the cyber lounge (as long as the students weren’t hurting each other).  This fact alone makes me feel like I should have acted as though I had more power than I did.  Next week when I’m back in there, it will obviously be different because the other students won’t be there, but clearly I need to take the reigns more.  I imagine this is something that I will get better with with time but I was surprised at how much I sat back when there was another adult present in the room; especially because I don’t consider myself an adult, and because I felt as though I was in her domain and she would have more control over it than she did.  Well, at least now I know.

More things to do with all my spare time

The past two weeks in STARS I’ve been doing titrations with my team and, although on the surface it’s been going well, I feel like I didn’t facilitate the “spark” the way it was for me … and I guess that’s making me feel guilty.

Day one I wasn’t as concerned with results, I just wanted my team to enjoy the titrations and get excited about them the way I do.  When day one went super smooth and I realized I could push my STARS to titrate twice in one day, so on day two I regrouped my team and challenged them to titrate twice in the hour we had before cleanup.  This also went well and I thought that meant they enjoyed the titrations and therefore there wasn’t too much more for me to do beyond begin them thinking about their results and what they meant.

Apparently this was wrong.  Days three and four this week were much more of a challenge.  I had substantially lower attendance than I ever did earlier on in STARS; however, the STARS that I did have in attendance were my regulars, and understand what I expect of them.  Some of my older STARS have stopped coming, or only come sporadically because of other commitments, and I seem to have a few younger STARS that are deciding to come more frequently. Of my regulars, I have two girls who have almost entirely disengaged from the titrations, my beloved titrations. Granted, yes, the preparations for the food samples are tough and this past week they were asked to work with peaches and kiwis (two of the tougher samples to workup). However, these two girls seem to have no recollection of the process from the week before, or on day four the day before.  This is all on top of my three most committed STARS who love, love, love my titrations and whose eyes light up each time I tell them, yes, we’re doing more titrations today.

Now that there is only one day left of data collection I’m struggling with what I’m going to do about engaging my entire team.  I mean, if color changing titrations aren’t an activity that can take hold of everyone’s interests and keep their interests than what will? Certainly the tedious titration workups, which I already plan to pare down considerably, won’t hold their interests and get them excited about our results, especially my two girls who are already disengaged.  I have two experts lined up to come talk to our team, which is going to force me to lose some time for workups, but will that be worthwhile time for my incredibly quiet team? On the topic of how quiet they are, how can I prompt them to talk more, both for when our experts come in and for our Friends and Family dinner on Wednesday? I definitely don’t want to be taking the lead at either of those events so that my team can start to take ownership for the science they have created and engaged in in just four quick weeks.  That is the whole aim of this right? For our STARS to own what they’ve done and really show it off to a variety of audiences? I have a plan, that a week or two ago I was very comfortable with; however, I’m not so sure things are going to go as planned? My main concern is how quiet my team is for when our expert comes in and how I’m going to engage everyone (especially my two disengaged STARS) following the data collection phase of our experiment. I guess I need some more time to think about it all …. now if only I actually had that spare time to put towards perfecting my STARS plan….

A figurative stretch… of sorts

So far my placement has been incredible.  I really feel like I’m setting into my teacher shoes quite nicely and I’ve been surprising myself fairly often with how well I handle situations that I would have died inside because of just a few months ago.

That being said there are a few minor things that I’ve definitely taken my rose colored glasses off for.  One of which is the way our school is handling Regents Chemistry this year.  In the past the school had normal Regents Chemistry classes just like a majority of schools around New York; with direct instruction, group work, and laboratory experiences.  In contrast, this year the school decided to test Hybrid learning for its Regents Chemistry class.  At first, and this was partially due to my CT’s excitement, I was really looking forward to the hybrid class and diving head first into some real-life, real-practice new literacies.  This class seemed especially exciting to me because I would have so much cool “been-there-done-that” experience to share in my Literacy and Learning as a Social Practice class.

However, I can confidently say hybrid learning is not all I thought it would be cracked up to be.  I’d like to think it’s because of how it was rolled out or something along those lines but I have a fear that its a much more universal challenge than that.  Now that it’s been a full month since starting my placement I can see that the students in the General Chemistry classes probably have an equal level of understanding to those in the Regents class, despite covering a very similar amount of material and being noticeably different caliber students.

My placement is technically an international high school so we do have a larger number than usual of English Language Learners that, because of their lower English proficiency, also have a lower reading level compared to their peers.  Take into account that their peers are also at a lower than what is expected reading level and a majority of the Regents class aren’t at the reading level they should be in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.  This fact alone, I think, is the biggest contributor to why hybrid learning isn’t going as planned.  Because almost all of the content is taught online, it’s required that the students read all of the material to learn the new concepts.  There are, of course, videos and activities to supplement the reading but because most of the class are lower-than-grade-level readers and they are expected to read, not only high level English vocabulary but also brand new science vocabulary, in order to learn the content it’s becoming clear why they’re learning slower than their peers in General Chemistry who are receiving significantly more direct instruction.

What types of activities could we include to help boost student understanding without taking away from the current setup of content online and lab/group work in class? How do I go about implementing these small changes without potentially offending my CT, who treats this project as her baby? What positives of this experience am I overlooking because I’m so focused on the negative?  Is it possible that this is temporary and it’s really only a long learning curve and I’m over-reacting? Why do I have so many questions? Help.