Day 170: End of Year Reflections

We let our seniors go a week early, so I have no students today, making it a good time to reflect on the school year.

AP Physics

The more I look back on this year, the more excited I am about my plan to start next year with momentum. The big reason I’m making the switch is there are a lot of problems on the AP exam (and in physics in general!) that can be solved very elegantly with momentum and energy, but my students tend to default to kinematics and dynamics since those are the lenses they developed first. I’m hoping to make momentum their default approach, instead.

I’m also hoping starting with momentum will help with some of the divide between students during kinematics. Our calculus teacher emphasizes motion graphs, especially velocity vs. time, which is fantastic! The trick is about half of my students took her class last year, so they breezed through kinematics and kept asking when physics would get hard. The other half of my students often got frustrated that they needed time to master what their peers already knew. Starting with momentum will give the calculus kids something new to chew on from the start, while giving the rest of the students time to build a strong physics foundation that will put them on more even footing when we get to kinematics.

The other big thing I’m thinking about is reassessments and grading. I had a lot more students frustrated with standards-based grading this year than last, and I had very few students complete reassessments. Next year, I need to make sure I spend more time talking about the grading system with my students, especially how it translates into a letter grade. I also need to do a much better job of building in in-class reassessment opportunities. I give quizzes about once a week, so it shouldn’t be a huge leap to cover 2-3 weeks of standards on each quiz.

9th Grade Science (Earth Science & Physical Science)

While AP Physics felt much higher stakes, this was a more challenging prep. The last time I taught earth science as in 2008-2009, during my first year of teaching when I worked at a different school, so I was rusty on a lot of the content and relied heavily on the existing curriculum. The person I followed is very good at planning for what kinds of experiences will work well on a given day; for example, doing something simple during the first week so students can experience immediate success in the course or saving a particularly exciting lab for the day before a long weekend to help harness students’ energy. I had trouble, however, finding the storyline in this sequencing and a lot of the feedback I got from students was that the class felt very disjointed. The next time I teach earth science, I need to shore up my content knowledge so that I clearly see the connections between various learning targets and topics, in addition to rethinking the sequence within each unit.

My other big takeaway is I underestimated the need for classroom culture-setting at the start of a new trimester. The last few years, I’ve only had 9th graders 1st trimester. Since they expect high school to be a change, I didn’t have to work very hard to get them on board with what I was doing. This year, I taught 9th grade all year and each trimester, about 2/3 of my students were new to me. 2nd tri, I didn’t make explicit why I take the approaches I do, and I struggled to get students to see the value in some of what I asked of them. 3rd tri, I was more intentional about how I introduced the early discovery labs, talking not only about what I wanted to see from students, but why I wanted to see it, and the transition was much smoother as a result. It was a good reminder that I need to keep in mind the classrooms my students are coming from and be prepared to help them adjust to mine.

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