Day 166: Year-End Reflections

Tomorrow is our last day of school, but, with our finals schedule, I don’t have any students today, so its a good time for me to look back on the school year.

AP Physics

Overall, I’m very happy with how this year went. I felt more confident my second time through the AP curriculum and my students came into the course eager for lots of collaboration, discourse, and reasoning.

One of the big changes I made this year was starting with momentum. In terms of conceptual development, I liked how that worked out and enough of my students took calculus last year that students were able to implicitly make sense of constant velocity. However, the first labs I did were a tough starting point. The bowling balls and mallets were a fun way to start the course, but coming up with a rule or pattern at the end was a bigger intellectual risk that most students were ready for on day 1 before I’d done much culture setting. The first quantitative lab was on impulse and had lots of little details going on that made it very challenging when students were also getting one of their first experiences designing physics experiments. Next year, I think I’m going to start with a brief constant velocity unit where I can set the class culture and start working on science practices when the content is relatively easy.

This summer, I want to spend some time rethinking how I approach lab write-ups. Write-ups were officially due a few days after the board meeting for a lab, but I have some philosophical objections to deducting points for late work, so I ended up getting almost all of the lab write-ups the last week of the trimester, which has not been an issue in my classes in the past. I think in the past, doing the write-up helped students finish the sense-making process, but this year, students took to board meetings very quickly, so there was less intellectual work left for them to do on the write-up. On a survey I gave this spring, one student put it well when they said the lab write-ups “feel more like an assignment than a learning tool.” Abandoning lab write-ups isn’t a great option; my school mandates at formative category in the gradebook that the labs work well in and a few colleges in the area request lab portfolios before granting AP credit. I don’t have any bright ideas yet, but I want to think about ways to make lab portfolio more of a learning tool.

Physics

The other physics teacher and I got a lot of feedback that students felt like they had a good experience in the course, but we both struggled to get our students to move away from dependent learning patterns. We’re talking about how to better scaffold skills and habits next year, including working on a template we can give to students for model-building labs. I also started to get better whole-class discussions this year when I was very conscious about the time I gave students to pre-talk with their groups. I found I needed to have students move to their lab tables and write ideas down to get the best results; it took me a good chunk of the year to figure that out, so next year I want to start that form of pre-talk with the very first board meeting.

This year I had more students switch teachers at trimester than in the past with this course, which drove home how much I rely on long-term results, ranging from big things like class culture and quality discourse, down to the smaller nuts and bolts, like submitting a meaningful retake request. For some pieces, like requesting a retake, there are relatively easy fixes; the other physics teacher and I have agreed on a procedure for next year that’s a hybrid of what we’ve each been doing. For the bigger issues, like building a strong class culture and teaching students how to talk and write about physics, its going to be a lot tougher. The other physics teacher and I are going to start PLC-ing together again next year to give ourselves some space to dig into these issues.

Chemistry Essentials

This year was the first time I taught the first half of the course, so it was rough. The existing curriculum is heavily influenced by our textbook and approaches a lot of topics as very discrete ideas. This summer, I want to spend some time working on weaving a more meaningful storyline for the course. I also want to do a better job of embedding Modeling Instruction into the course, which I think will help with the storyline in addition to the other benefits of the Modeling approach.

My other big source of frustration was grading. This was the only course where I was not using standards-based grading, and I consistently felt like my students did not have as clear an idea of where they are at or what they need to work on as I’d like them to. I also found many students improved on skills that appear throughout the course, like balancing reactions or finding molar mass, but was frustrated the grading system did not have an avenue for me to acknowledge their growth. The other Chemistry Essentials teacher is excited about the idea, so its time to take the plunge.

Looking ahead to next year, most of my sections will be co-taught with a special education teacher. There’s some question about who I will be co-teaching with, but it will most likely be someone with a limited science background. I’m starting to think about how to introduce whoever my partner is to my vision and goals for the course. I am excited to collaborate with someone much more knowledgeable than I am about special education; typically, about half of the students in the course qualify for special education and many other students have other significant needs, so the skills many special education teachers have with adapting and scaffolding curriculum could add a lot to the course.

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