Tuesday will be my district’s first day of school! Its been a good week of in-service, but I’m looking forward to being back with students, putting my conversations and learning from this week and beyond into practice.
This year, I’m planning to switch this blog from daily to weekly posts. Along with teaching high school, I’m going to grad school, working on research, and teaching a college course, so I need to take something off my plate. Plus, I think I’m into the double digits on posts that talk about the buggy lab, and I only have so much to say about it! I might try a daily tweet (á la Frank Noschese), but I don’t want to give up blogging because I get a lot out of the reflection it takes to write a post.
I’m also excited to be down to two preps for most of the year. During trimesters 1 and 2, I’m just teaching AP Physics 1 and Physics. Trimester 3, I’ll add in a section of the second half of Chemistry Essentials. I’m not thinking too much about Chemistry Essentials yet, but I do have some things I’m planning to focus on in my other courses.
The other Physics teacher and I have agree to build on the progress we made last year in developing a whole-class culture. There’s a lot of room for us to be more consistent and more intentional in how we apply the strategies we started using last year. We especially want to look at the ways we’re having students reflect on group work and individual engagement; we’re thinking that if we can get students talking to each other about their reflections, the reflections will be more meaningful, so we’re modifying some of the reflections to try to encourage discussion.
We’ve also decided our PLC goal is going to be related to social safety and growth mindset. A lot of students drop the course each year, with white girls and students of color dropping at a higher rate than white boys. When we talk to the students who drop, we hear Physics is “too hard”, even from students who are getting A’s and B’s. That tells us we need to take a critical look at what messages we’re sending students about how they should interpret the struggles, frustrations, and mistakes they encounter in Physics. We didn’t have time to figure out what concrete steps we’re going to take, but one of the things I’ve found in my research so far is early experiences have a lasting impact on what students believe about their physics ability, so I’m planning to get us talking about it now even though official goals aren’t due until October.
AP Physics 1
My AP students tend to come in pretty comfortable and skilled at working in groups and, unlike Physics, the students stay with me all year with minimal shuffling between hours, so I tend to take the classroom culture for granted and skipped over some of the strategies I was using in Physics last year. However, by the end of last year, Physics had much higher functioning groups and more cohesion as a whole class. This year, I’m going to make the time to work on teaching group work and developing that whole class culture.
The other big thing I’m planning to work on is pacing. I tend to let students drive the pace more than I should and last year that resulted in the class moving a fair bit slower than in previous years. Around January, I started making some shifts to make up time, but we lost a few weeks due to the Polar Vortex and some nasty blizzards. Along with less time, the disruptions and constant shifting made it tough to change classroom routines and habits.
One of the places I can take much more control of the pace is on preparing whiteboards. On problems, I typically give a full class period for students to work problems on paper, then, the next day, groups prepare whiteboards and we have some discussion. Last year, the whiteboard prep often took half the class period for some groups. This year, I’m going to have students prepare whiteboards the same day they are working problems on paper and emphasize the end of class as the deadline. For labs, I’m planning to give students a specific time when their whiteboards need to be ready, then stick to it, even if it means some groups don’t have a board.
I’m really excited to see how the things I’m interested in fit with this year’s schoolwide professional development. Our focus is on The Opportunity Myth, in particular looking at how do we provide meaningful rigor in our classrooms and how do we make our classrooms where all students have full access to the opportunities and challenges. The problems I want to address in my Physics and AP Physics 1 classrooms fit right in with these ideas, so I’m expecting the conversations and learning that will be a part of our schoolwide work to support the changes I’m trying to make.