Today was day 2 of final exams, so its a good time for me to reflect on how the year is going so far.
One thing I’ve been thinking about the past few weeks for all of my classes is how to communicate learning targets to my students in a way they find meaningful. This year, for the first time, I’ve had students tell me they find it confusing to be told a test is about a specific learning target, rather than a chapter or unit, even when I include the text of the learning target. My district has a policy that teachers should post learning targets, and administrators check for compliance during observations, and I think its become a box to check in enough classrooms that students glaze over the text. I’m thinking about what I could do differently to help students find more meaning in the learning targets.
AP Physics 1
I’ve been struggling more with class culture this year than I have with the course in the past. I’ve got some great students, but each section has some things that are making it tough for me to build a good culture. One of my sections has 36 students, while all my previous sections of AP have been 25 or less. I’m really excited that more students signed up for the course in the past, but I’m not able to spend as much time with each group as I typically do. I’m also not seeing as much interaction across groups as I’ve seen in the past, and I think the class size is a factor in that. I usually let students pick their groups, but I’m thinking it may be worthwhile to do some random grouping to encourage more cross-group interactions during labs or problems. That may also help with the fact that I can’t spend as much time with students as I’d like; if a student I’ve spent some time coaching visits another group to help, that might magnify the impact of the time I spend coaching individuals or small groups.
Last year, we really struggled with getting students to interact effectively. As a result, the other physics teacher and I agreed to put significant focus on teaching students to collaborate effectively. We’ve been assigning random groups that change almost every day, we started the year assigning roles within each group, and we have been including some kind of reflection on scientific abilities, including collaboration, on every packet. As a result, students are getting much more out of their time in small groups than last year and there is a much better class culture.
One of the problems I ran into last year is I took for granted that students had already learned how to be an effective student in a physics class, even if they had the other physics teacher, since we are very in-sync. However, students who came to me from the other teacher did not automatically transfer skills from their other physics class and students had been shuffled enough between sections that there was not a good sense of community. This year, I will be keeping that in mind and plan to return to the structures and strategies I used to teach how to be a physics student back in September to try for a smoother transition.
This year, I am co-teaching the course with a special education teacher for the first time, and it has been a great experience. Not only does my co-teacher have some background in chemistry, but we have very similar beliefs about what a science class should look like and accomplish, which means we can focus on how to effectively teach our students, rather than on navigating conflicting perspectives. So far, I’ve lead the majority of the whole-class instruction, but we both move between groups supporting students during small-group work. Since next trimester will be a repeat of this one, but with different students, we are planning to split much more of the direct instruction.
Last year was my first time teaching the first trimester of the course, so this year I’ve been making more significant modifications to the curriculum. I brought in a lot more graph interpretation to develop new concepts, and found students really struggle with reading graphs and identifying important features. Going into tri 2, my co-teacher and I are thinking about ways to do a much better job of teaching those skills to scaffold students toward meaningful graph interpretation.