Monday, September 22, 2008


In a recent 5280 magazine article, University of Colorado head coach, Dan Hawkins discussed the idea of not being average. He talks about how easy it is to be average. How easy it is not to push the edge of things. How easy it is to find a "comfort zone". Well, today was one of those days when i wanted to find average and just go with it.

In a time when scores and student achievement is very important, I will not even discuss NCLB here, I wonder if what I am trying to do in the classroom is worth it? I was very excited to create a PowerPoint this weekend that included a discussion and video clips that dealt with Quantum Mechanics (and Star Trek). I thought that the students would be "into it". One hour was, the other was not. First we had a great discussion and that led to questions above the material covered. Things that just made everyone think. Things that were not average.

Then came the other class. This is when I realized that the students are actually high school students enjoying Homecoming week. The second group was not interested. (I should say here that there were probably some people who were interested but I could not hear them over the others.) So, I started thinking about ways to convince the class that their own conversations were not as important as the conversation that the group was having. Daily quizzes? (Who am I trying to teach a life lesson to me? or them?) A new seating chart? (The tried and true approach of teachers everywhere.) Just waiting for them to stop talking? (Wow...lost time.) Having a heart-to-heart discussion (Will it make a difference?) I just don't know what the correct approach is.

So, I guess if I do not want to be average, I should bring this up to the class and have a discussion with them. For now, I know that I am trying to do all that I can to guide them in the learning of chemistry, using abnormal approaches. This might be causing some of the issues. This is after all, "Not education as usual" (appears in AHS classrooms) and they are responsible for learning. So, I will try to help them through this also.

As for the average...Coach Hawkins says it best, in a video, if you don't want to work, stick to intermural sports. This is the Big 12.

That is afterall what we are trying to do, get the students to think bigger than they are and bigger than they have before. Learning is messy and it is not easy. If education was easy everyone and anyone could and would be doing it...they aren't. We do need to "go big" and that means we need to keep on working.


Kathryn J said...

Your feeling of frustration is almost palpable in this post. I hear you even if as a pre-service teacher I'm not so experienced with the concept.

One class was into it so that says that you aren't too far off-base. In my observation, I've learned that the same class can behave very differently before lunch than after lunch so with HS kids, you really can't tell.

I hope some time soon, you will blog about your experience with homework as podcasts of lectures. The other students in my cohort are very intrigued with this concept and how it is going.

Hatak said...

Thanks for the comment. I will talk about the homework and podcasts. I am putting together a short bit of information for an ISTE publication.

I do think that the issue is that this is the last class of a full day that I am dealing with.

Karl Fisch said...

Brian - consider having this post up on the projector when students walk in to class and have them grab a laptop and respond in the first 5-10 minutes of class.

Cara S. said...

Thanks for sharing this. It's good to be reminded that I'm not the only one struggling with some complacency in the classroom. I can see tons of cross-over into my volleyball team as well. I'll be interested to see if you do as Karl suggested, and to see how the kids react!

Kristen F. said...

For lack of a better word, I think it simply is a result of the chemistry in the classroom. So many students (including myself) have so many close friends in that class to the point where discussion is inevitable. However, there is certainly not a lack of enthusiasm, nor effort among us.
The best suggestion I can come with is to see if you can find some way for the class to focus its enthusiasm into a more productive, chemistry oriented activity. This might mean adjusting the lesson plan between 5th and 6th hour due to the blatant discrepancy of behaviors or we will have to resort to some other method.
Seeing as we aren't very far into the school year, I'm not sure that the pressure of AP classes has sunk in quite yet. When it finally does, I can guarantee the class will turn into a bunch of stress cases as opposed to chatter-boxes. Unfortunately, it will likely be too late to reteach all the material we missed at the beginning of the year and mayhem will break loose.
I know all the students have a ton of respect for you (Mr. Hatak) as a teacher and I honestly think there is a good chance they will listen if you sit down and have a little heart to heart talk about the situation.

Best of luck

krump said...

Well said Kristen. I agree that there certainly is not a lack of enthusiasm; in fact to an extent, I think at times having a 6th hour will all our friends creates too much enthusiasm...and not necessarily chemistry driven. That's where the problem originates.

Having a brother and a couple of friends struggle with the difficulty of AP classes (especially the rigorous Chemistry), I know that once we move out of review and into new material, the stress level and realization that class time is valuable will increase. The social enthusiasm will be toned down as our advanced class will become grade-driven, and understand the importance of using your (Mr. Hatak) limited time wisely.

As for right now, I'm disappointed we didn't get to the talk about quantum mechanics and apologize for being one of the causes of distraction. I think that our class is unified as a team in that we all share the same goal: pass the class and score well on the AP exam. Maybe instead of working individual homework questions in class, we can work on the big concepts as a whole, leaving the smaller details to the end. This doesn’t mean our questions should be overlooked, as I know most of us may share the same thoughts, but maybe time can be saved for those at the end of class.

Mr. Hatak, I appreciate you being open with us and I can see where your frustration is coming from. Thank you for your patience and availability this year, and I hope the situation improves.

P.S. The new seating chart seemed to work well today :)

BenH said...

I have more insight to share when there is time, but the fact that you take the time to think about these things is worthy of acclaim. It is an all too rare example of someone taking their job seriously and trying to do it as well as they can.

Too many teachers rest in the "comfort zone" you talked about, and can't be bothered to examine their teaching habits and make constructive changes that benefit not only students but themselves.

Quinlan said...

I personally believe that everybody knew what they were signing up for when they chose AP chem, it is a college level course and you have the right to expect us to act the way college students would act. I don't think there is any lack of respect for you as a teacher though, the way that a class acts isn't necessarily a reflection upon the teacher. Your willingness to create new material and not simply regurgitate the same powerpoints you showed last year is evidence of your commitment. I don't think there is any one foolproof answer that would allow you to silence the class in a manner that fits your personality. On the other hand, I think you may have partially solved the problem by leaving this blog on your homework page because I don't think that the students truly realised your frustration. Your class is one of the more energetic classes (in my opinion) due to your presence, but until now the fine line between work and play had probably not been drawn.

P.S. Video was hilarious, "Some guys might decide that it's a little too tough, or it's a little too hard, it's a little too demanding."

Tom said...

If you stick a bunch of adolescents in a room together, particularly a group who are mostly familiar with each other, rampant socialization is inevitable, no matter how many students are seated in the corner, on the ceiling, or in Iceland. Perhaps there is a way to effectively channel this boundless energy, like (optionally) collaborative work? Admittedly, a problem with such a proposal is the MILD nature of modern teenagers to be inattentive to the subject at hand. And yes, the fact that the tantalizing draw of freedom is so near is definitely a contributing factor. I think you're an engaging teacher so that's not the concern. I'm no expert on the subject, but I figured that throwing the idea of group work out there might be a way to mitigate the effects of Homecoming Mode. Then again, it might not. But it never hurts to try.

Kathryn J said...

Thanks for the response. I can be patient on the update!