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Bad Day? Worst Day?… ugh

November 5, 2012

Today was very challenging day in inquiry. I could easily mark this one as the worst day of the year, but I think that’s just how I feel at the moment.

Here are some reasons why I think things culminated in such ickiness today:

  • It turns out that I have very little experience and knowledge concerning the difficulties and resources that students have to think in 3D dimensions and about rotations in three dimensions, but especially concerning how they might think about 2D representations of 3D things. This is an issue, because we are learning about the moon. For example, I am capable of noticing that students are really struggling “in-the-moment” of class and I can get some sense of what they might be struggling with, but I’m not good at anticipating any of it ahead of time. Thus, I’m improvising way too much in class, and my plans don’t go so well because they are not designed with knowledge of those difficulties or resources. In many cases (like today), I have chosen to abandon plans, but realize in hindsight that it would have been better to stick with plan. My improvising becomes too geared toward putting out fires, rather than pursuing meaningful activity in which fires arise and become resolved more graciously. Not being aware of what resources students are likely to benefit from, there are certain linge-pin ideas that I didn’t build up earlier when I should have, and then it can feel like (today) the whole bottom of our understanding falls apart. Like, on Wednesday, it felt like we all understood the moon, and today, everything we built about the moon was a house of cards. It wasn’t really, but it certainly felt like it.
  • Somewhere along this semester, I have cultivated a very a “needy” classroom. If they can’t figure something out immediately, many just disengage and/or wait for me to come around and give them hints. I’ll have to think hard about how this happened, because this is not the norm for my classes. This facet of my class is of course exacerbated by the fact that I’m not doing a good job anticipating their difficulties in this unit. So, of course, they have more problems than I expect and I also provide them with less scaffolds than they need. Therefore I’m running around more, putting out fires table by table, while actually just flaming the fires of neediness.
  • A few students I’ve let engage in a kind of classroom talk that is really unproductive–not talking about the science, but about the classroom itself. Those few feel like should let us know if we are doing something they don’t find personally meaningful or worthwhile. They have a strong voice that either pulls others in, or makes others roll their eyes. I’m generally OK with students have input and say, but it’s gotten unproductive. This is also exacerbated because of the two things list above.
  • This unit has become (unintentionally) very focused on the ways in which our prior ways of understanding of the moon have been impoverished, rather than focusing on ways in which our new understandings are becoming rich. We have been talking a lot of the idea that the phases are caused by Earth’s shadow, but I think in talking about it in certain ways, some students have walked away feeling stupid for having ever thought it, and that’s not my intention.

Things to remind myself before I go home and have a glass of wine:

  • I can learn from mistakes in my teaching. In fact, we learn much of the time by making mistakes.
  • I can have bad days teaching and I can recover from them, both emotionally and practically.
  • A class can have bad days and it can recover from them, both emotionally and practically.
  • Although not always true, sometimes sticking with a plan is a good idea, even if you know it’ll be bumpy. A bumpy road is better than driving off the road into a ditch. And boy some ditches are painful.

 

 

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2012 12:50 am

    I’m somewhat reassured by the fact that you have these issues too. Questions for the future:

    1 — What is the difference between useful and un-useful talk-about-the-classroom? The useful kind is where students start to inquire into my teaching and their learning while also inquiring about DC circuits. Or they start explicitly strategizing about how their participation in class affects others, or how they are affected by others. When these conversations seem productive, it’s usually students having them in small groups outside of class time, rather than as in class proclamations to the group. What causes one kind rather than the other?

    2 — What the heck do you do when students start to feel betrayed by their previous knowledge and education? The only useful moves I have are “why would a reasonable teacher have done that /said that/ taught that way,” “why would a reasonable student have thought that,” and “No one’s allowed to disrespect anyone in my class, including your past selves.” But it doesn’t always work, especially when they can’t think of any reason why someone would have thought that. Sometimes I supply reasons. It’s extra bad if I can’t think of any either.

    Oh yeah — I bribe them with Timbit points every time someone suggests why a reasonable person might have done (whatever). At the end of the semester, Timbit points turn into Timbits. This is either skillful classroom management or a completely hypocritical abandonment of everything I think about standards-based grading. Depending on the day.

  2. MCWittmann permalink
    November 6, 2012 1:03 am

    Hey, Brian. We all have days (and semesters) like this one. It’s okay. Actually hearing the things you told yourself at the end, that’s the important part which gets you to tomorrow, and next week, and next semester, when everything reboots and all the good things you learned meet up with all the things that can’t continue anymore. Good luck, and don’t drive into the ditch…

  3. November 6, 2012 1:46 am

    Thoughts I had while reading your four points:

    1: Exactly. I started in a new school teaching a brand new subject to the school. I’m making all sorts of mistakes when it comes to understanding what skills the students are bringing with them and where they’re still lacking. I feel like I’m more often than not missing that sweet spot for learning. The bit about improvising & putting out fires is exactly where I’ve been this past week.

    2. Oy. This is something that gets me frustrated (when students disengage as soon as they encounter difficulty), but then I get more frustrated with myself because I’m not doing much to move away from it. And yes- I totally agree that a big reason is that I’m not anticipating their difficulties.

    3. This happens now and again in my room too. I agree that it largely flows out of student frustrations due to #’s 1 and 2 above.

    4. The topics may be different, but similar issues have come up, mostly because I didn’t have a good grasp on their prior knowledge. Then I make assumptions, and Boom!, I’ve unintentional made someone feel like they’re making stupid mistakes.

    This isn’t meant to be a “misery loves company” type of comment- other than to say that I really appreciate you sharing this. It’s as if your voicing writing it helps me realize that this is just part of the beautiful struggle that is teaching. A big reason I love this profession is how amazingly intellectually stimulating it is, and of course some of the stimulation comes from the bad days as well as the good.

  4. Jayson N permalink
    December 13, 2012 12:10 pm

    Hey Brian,

    I was wondering if you found any useful information on how to help students with transitions between 3D and 2D representations/visualizations.

    • December 13, 2012 3:24 pm

      Nothing particularly good, but I pushed them more to always draw multiple perspectives, and make it clear in all diagrams where things like NESW, Zenith, and Nadar are, so that they had to be explicit. Whenever they seemed unsure or confused, I had them go grab a globe and coordinate between their 2D representation and the 3D representation. My plan next semester is to spend more time outside with explicit instruction on how to use a compass and communicating the location of objects in the sky. I think the combination of (1) hands-on experience, (2) explicit instruction on tool use, and (3) coordinating multiple representations can’t be worse.

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