Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Starbucks Thoughts.

As I sit at my desk, reflecting on the sadness that comes with the bottom of a cup of coffee, I read something that really made me think about my day.
"Flying by myself in a tiny aircraft over lonely woods: I have no one to blame
if I make a bad judgement, and the laws of physics won't listen to my excuses.
What would my life be like if I always had to take full responsibility?"

- Mark Olson (Taken from my Starbucks cup The Way I See It #128)

What would this do to our days if people thought of this kind of thing every time they had a decision to make?

Grades, What Grades...?

The other day, I had a discussion with a student in my AP Chemistry class who is struggling with the grading process in this school. He was thinking that he should learn material because it was interesting to him. However, this year, which is his junior year, he is learning that school becomes looking at things that you might not find to be too interesting. He is a little discouraged because he is used to looking at course material in the context of wanting to learn it and not "to get ready for a test." I thought that this was what we wanted our students to do. (To seek the information because they wanted to know it not because they had to know it.) When I asked him why he thought school should be learning of information that is interesting to the learner, his response was that someone told him that college was this way. Wow, in college you get to study things that interest you? I thought that there were prerequisite courses that you had to "get out of the way". Wouldn't it be nice if all schooling was set up so that you were learning things that were intersting to you and not because someone else thought it was important? Do you think that students might pay more attention or be involved in constructing their learning if they were allowed to find something in a subject that was interesting to them? I find it interesting that I was having this conversation with a student when we, as a group of teachers, are having the same conversation.

The conversation progressed to a point where the student said he felt grades were detrimental to learning. When asked for explaination of his thoughts I found out that he felt grades were something that students were working towards. While this might be a good temporary goal for students he thought that the material would become secondary to the grade. I told him that, as a group of teachers, we are looking at how to overcome that. I think he felt excited to be a part of a school where we are asking these difficult questions. While we don't have the answers at least we are asking these and other difficult questions. (This might be why there are teachers who are struggling with what we are doing.) He also wanted to know why we were trying to take a college level class (AP Chem) and apply high school standards to it? I did not even know what to say to this.

The thing about these conversations is that they made me think about two big items.
1) How could we use grades to give feedback and show progress and not just as an end in themselves? (I am going to try using more of an AP scale, 0 to 5, in an elective that I teach.)
2) Where was I in high school? I think that I was trying to get through high school and was not asking why I needed to learn something. Are there other students who are asking these important questions about school and learning and grades? or is this young man a special case? Should we be asking them for help in designing material instead of jsut telling them?

That is a lot of thought conversation between a student and a teacher. (I will let you try to figure out who is who in this post. I mean the teacher and the student.)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Too Much, Too Fast

One of the issues with allowing the students to use new methodolgy and allowing them to construct their own understanding is the time that it takes. Now don't misunderstand me, I agree with most of the comments going on over on the fischbowl, but I am troubled by my first time through an AP class. There is a lot of information to get through in this class and the test score is the most important thing about this class (or is it?). If I do not get to the information, there are consequences to deal with. The students right now are doing a good job of not being too worried about their class grades because I think they are learning a lot. But how do we balance the large amount of information that I need to cover with the limited time (a lot of it taken by standardized testing that the school needs to do) and the use of allowing the students to find their own direction? I guess this will be a question that I (and we) will be looking for an answer to long after I leave teaching.

Update on the wiki

Thanks to the folks at for their help on the use of a wiki in the classroom. Also, Karl Fisch is an amazing resource for those of us trying new things in the classroom. After trying multiple ways to use this tool in a classroom, I was amazed at how fast the students adapted towards their use. The wiki allows the students to put together information in new ways and allows them to express themselves through the material that we are studying.

Check out their work in progess at

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wiki(ed) Headache


After a good start to the school year and with students getting used to using the computers in class I have tried to spend the past few days getting an idea of how to use a wiki for my class.

I am not even sure where this is going but I would like for my classes to write an on-line book for themselves.

I guess the trouble right now is figuring out what to do with a blank slate. I am trying pbwiki and I am not sure if I need to invite all of the students so that they can add to it. I am not sure if I need to create a few pages or if we can get by with just one page for now. Does anyone have any ideas?

I think that this could be a very powerful tool but I feel lost.