OK, so there is no sunshine to speak of in Berkeley, but today was a good day!
I’m glad for it, too, because yesterday was such a bad day. I was “putting out fires” for most of the period and ineffectively chastising students.
I started off yesterday’s period with a Do Now that asked students to identify reactants and products, to identify a reaction as a combustion reaction, and to predict whether the reaction requires heat or gives off heat. We then did a pre-lab as a class.
Students were bored, antsy, confused, and apathetic. As a result, they acted out. And as a result to that result, I reacted. Heck, I probably reacted because I was bored and confused.
At the end of the day, two tips that I’ve received previously from veteran teachers came to mind:
1. Science is hands-on – it’s fun! There’s no point in disciplining a class all day long if there is no science being learned or done. Once you bring out the activity materials, students will be so excited and consumed in the activity that they will not have any reason to act out.
2. Engage in the practice of “need-to-know”; that is, only give students science jargon when there is a need to know it. Meanings for new words do not stick unless appropriate context is associated with the word. For students to understand its meaning, the word needs to be meaningful to the learner. Do not “tell” students filament and stigma, rather, give them a flower to analyze and have them describe and identify its parts. Only when a student asks, “what’s this skinny part?” do you as the teacher give them the new word.
I failed in both of these arenas yesterday. I made my students sit in their desks with nothing but a pencil and paper in front of them for the entire period. Their only opportunity for engagement and interaction was when I asked students to interact with me in “teacher ask, student answer” fashion.
I knew that I needed to scrap almost everything about yesterday (except for the Do Now! I’m never getting rid of that!). I observed my colleague, Natalia, at her student teaching placement yesterday after leaving my placement and learned a lot of tricks of trade. I was very excited to implement these strategies today. Her strategies included:
- Make it so students have no excuse not to do their work. Need paper? Here ya go. Need a pencil? I’ve got plenty. Oh, you want to use pen? I’ve got that, too. Forgot your book at home? Take mine. Can’t see the board? Try on my glasses.
- If a student is off-task, rather than badgering the student with: “get to work”, “stop talking”, “turn around in your desk”, approach the students instead with: “how are you doing on your work? Do you know what you’re supposed to be doing now?” Try to identify the reason for the students' behavior rather than simply addressing the behavior.
- Congratulate students often; do not let small successes go overlooked. When a student who is habitually tardy finally arrives on time, thank the student… etc. etc.
Anyway, all that to preface why today went relatively well. For my students’ Do Now, I had them finish the procedure section of their lab report. I figure, a Do Now does not have to be a problem to solve – it can be a silent task, too. Students entered the classroom slightly confused at the change of procedure at first, but I restated and clarified the directions over and over again and wrote the directions on the board until finally, everyone knew what to do.
Two of my students, D and T, are a tricky duo. They used to act out when they were separated, so I sat them together. That worked for awhile… and then it stopped working. I tried reminding them about how I am trusting them to monitor themselves and each other, to no avail. Finally, today I pulled them outside at the beginning of class. I tried asking them if they really are mature enough to sit together, but neither boy would make eye contact with me or answer my questions. I said “fine, I’m going to step inside for a moment and leave you two to decide with each other if you need to be separated or if you can sit together without disrupting the class.” I entered the classroom and attended to the rest of the class. Before I could return outside to check on the boys, they entered the classroom calmly and returned to their seats together. They were fine for the rest of the day. I made sure to praise them both, on separate occasions, for staying on task.
Students worked with chemicals today, exploring endothermic and exothermic reactions in Ziploc bags. Since they were only working with bicarb, phenol red, and calcium chloride, I could more or less leave them to conjuring up every combination they could imagine in various amounts. They had a lot of fun and acted very orderly because we had just reviewed safety procedures when in lab (handle chemicals carefully, do not walk around the classroom holding chemicals, take turns, etc.). They got curious and asked permission to add other things in their reactions to see what would happen (i.e., a lock of hair). I made sure to have them predict outcomes before running reactions and made sure that they notices certain physical changes lest they get too distracted by other physical changes (for example, “touch the baggie! Don’t be afraid! Remember, we are experimenting with endothermic and exothermic reactions today, what should you be paying attention to?” when they became too afraid that the expanding baggie was going to explode in their hands as it filled with gas).
We were all so involved in the chemical reactions that I did not have time to hand out their exit tickets. Instead, their exit ticket was to clean up their lab stations. The classroom has never been so clean!
I even assigned homework today and was met by reactions of “oh, that’s it? We only have to do this section, that’s it?”.
I love my kids!