Friday, October 26, 2012

Integrated Teaching

For the past six years, our middle school science and social studies departments have kinda been given the short end of the stick.  The minutes given to math and ELA doubled at the expense of these two departments.  I don't know what the teachers were worried about, though, because only the 8th graders are tested and the test only covered, I don't know, three years worth of standards.  (And besides, Jason says teaching science in CA is easy.)
This year we decided to give some relief by reducing the minutes to math and ELA and adding a semester of integrated math/science and a semester of integrated ELA/social studies to each student's schedule.
My assignment this year is to teach one section of 7th grade math and four sections of the integrated class.  It's been tough because we are really creating this class as we go.
So far, this is what I've learned:

  1. Students will do exactly what you tell them to do.  

  2. Students have trouble breaking large (essential) questions down into smaller (guiding questions) questions. 

  3. Students think "try harder" is a plan. 

  4. Polya and the guys who invented this were life coaches.   

  5. Establishing protocols is essential. 

  6. Scaffolding doesn't just refer to content. 

  7. Changing "Why?" into "Tell me more about that" is magic. 

  8. "Common knowledge" isn't so common.  

  9. We need to do a better job of helping students distinguish between opinion and argument. 

  10. After 16 years of teaching, I still get excited when students realize that thinking is better than memorizing. 

  11. Any list worth reading stops at 10.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Best Thing

I'm overwhelmed.  I'm tired.  I have pockets of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. My wife deserves more than I'm giving. My two-year-old is challenging every thing I ever thought I knew about parenting--we have put child locks on the freaking upper cupboards, for crying out loud. My other boys need more of me.  Four of my five periods are spent teaching a class we are inventing as we go.  I'm convinced that everything revolves around the scientific method or some variation of it.  Questions still are way more satisfying than statements.  My planning is always weaker than the adjustments I make in the middle of the period.  A good problem is more engaging than engagement strategies, but I don't know enough good problems.  Expo markers dry out way too fast.  Some of my students have bigger problems than I'll ever encounter and somehow I have to make what we do matter. 

And yet, my students keep showing up, my boys still greet me with "I love you, Daddy" and my wife still loves me.  

And tomorrow, I get to be better.