I Need to Remember to Post Answer Keys

by Brian Bennett on 05/4/2016

Everything I do in class is geared toward building understanding. I want students to be able to both complete the task and understand why they're completing it. Learning is more than a collection of disconnected skills. Especially in chemistry, the more you see the interconnectedness, the easier it is to learn.

Today, I gave a quiz that went less then spectacularly. We've finished a chapter on periodic table organization and have moved into ionization and simple bonding. We've talked about valence electrons, how to find them, whether or not an atom is gaining or losing those electrons, and finally, how to find the ion charge. We also practiced it in a lab yesterday.

Today, we fell flat pretty quickly.

As we looked back over the last few days of work, I told them that before every quiz, I can usually accurately pick out who will do well and who won't based on work leading up. It seemed to surprise them that yes, I do know when work is simply copied and handed in. To illustrate that it isn't uncommon, I closed my eyes and asked everyone to silently raise their hand if they'd ever done that. (Of course, most hands were slapped back down on tables or knees...not so silently...)

I gave my students the GIGO example - if I don't have accurate information, I cannot teach effectively. When I walk by and offer help, it isn't random. But they have to choose to accept the offer.

I found, years ago, that posting answer keys around the room while they're working significantly reduces the desire to just copy it down and turn it in. First off, because I usually won't take the work up. Secondly, they know there's no pressure on being perfect. I can still assess their learning (and they can easily self assess, which is more important anyways) and adjust as we go.

Lately, I haven't posted keys. It could be laziness, forgetfulness, or a combination of any number of things.

The fact of the matter is I'm still fighting a resistant culture. We're nearly there in some classes - a culture of learning as process, not as destination - but in others, we probably won't make it this year.

I still have 17 school days until summer break, so we'll keep the gas pedal down and see what happens.

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Minimum Viable Input

by Brian Bennett on 05/2/2016

In software, there's a lot of discussion about the "minimum viable product" when you're designing something: what is the bare basic you can deliver to customers that will solve a problem? It helps define the focus and set development priorities for the first weeks.

I think there's a similar process in learning. I have to have a minimum viable input from students in order to teach effectively. I try to design lessons that are low barrier for entry, ones that allow students to engage with an idea without being bogged down in the details. It takes some amount of effort and the bar is just above what's comfortable.

I haven't been receiving that minimum input from students lately. And as a result, we're struggling. Hard.

There seems to be the expectation that if learning doesn't happen in class, I'll drop everything and teach it later. Some are learning the hard way that it doesn't work that way. When we're together, I want to engage together. I can be flexible, but it's a two way street.

I've had some discussions with students. The nice thing about standards based grading is that it's less of a numbers game (mathematically impossible to pass, etc.) It's harder - it's a learning game.

Learning must happen.

Learning an entire semester's worth of material in four weeks is hardly realistic, but I'll support the ones who give it a try.

I hope there's a larger takeaway, whatever the outcome.

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Assessing the Assessed

by Brian Bennett on 04/26/2016

State testing. There are no words.

Week two of six is halfway done. Meanwhile, I keep teaching and I keep assessing. Most of it is formative, informing the learning process and my instructional cycle. Looping back to rehash ideas that are still elusive; being transparent about why we're doing what.

Yes, there is still a need for demonstration of learning.

Yes, you have to take this test today. Show me what you know.

There comes a point where I feel like I'm just chasing shadows to justify my own work.

I know that's not true, but it sure feels like it some days.

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Question Mark Answers

by Brian Bennett on 04/25/2016

We played Jeopardy today in class (with some major upsets coming during final Jeopardy...quite exciting) to review atoms and the periodic table organization. It's a super-short chapter that sets up a foundation for bonding, naming, and chemical reactions. It's also nice because it's mostly review (or should be) of 8th grade physical science.

There's still new stuff I throw at them, like valence electron location and Bohr model electron shells.

During Jeopardy, I try to give thought-provoking questions to get students to see patterns and interconnections between ideas. A favorite line of mine is, "There are only so many ways I can ask these questions." This is painfully obvious as we go through more games and skill building activities.

I started to see a lot of:

neutrons?
valence?
2 shells and 3 valence?

on the whiteboards.

I love the question mark. Sure, I'd love it if they were confident and could just spout some of this stuff (because it makes the rest of the year much, much easier to digest). But, I'm more happy that we're finally approaching a point of being willing to venture logical responses rather than, "I don't know."

It was also super fun to see the excitement when a ventured answer was, believe it or not, correct.

And it only took until April 25th. Maybe next year, we can hit this on April 24th. I'll call that a win.

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Why Are Questions So Scary?

by Brian Bennett on 04/13/2016

I remind my students constantly that I can't help if they don't do one of two things: 1) Ask me a question when they're confused, or 2) get something wrong on an assignment. I need to see their thinking, and those two methods - along with my questioning - are the best indicators of strengths and weaknesses.

Lately, it's spiraled into something much more confounding. Students are stuck, but they refuse to ask anything. Even when I give a freebie, anything-goes offer. When I come by to prompt, they admit to being stuck, but then don't do the small task to get unstuck. So there they remain. And nothing gets done.

And so we spiral.

It's hyperbole, but I think they feel like kids in the car in Jurassic Park when I come by.

The fear of being wrong - searching for the right answer every time - is something I've tried to combat all year long, but it's still got hold of most of my students. So many are afraid to be wrong, that they're paralyzed and can't take the help, even when offered outright. It's a safety thing...I don't know if they don't feel safe because of my teaching style or because of peers...but it's something that needs to be worked out somehow.

How do you help students get over the initial hump of just asking a question? Even if it's something as simple as, "What's the charge of a proton?" A small door like that would allow me to build their confidence and point to small, accomplishable tasks which will help them progress on their own.

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