This year my oldest daughter is taking AP Chemistry. I was so excited for her to finally learn the content I teach, but stressed about the current educational climate. I am so impressed with her chemistry teacher, teaching two groups of hybrid students with a mask and webcam attending to the students on the screen and those that are face-to-face in the room. Her teaching is integrating multiple technologies and pedagogies to engage students.
Creating labs in the virtual setting is time-consuming. Early on in the year, my daughter was doing a PhET lab on Beer’s Law. I got all excited and told her this is classic! I love this lab. She did the lab, going through the motions. In the end, I asked her a question and realized she didn’t really understand the lab. Her friend, working with her on Facetime, chimed in that they always have a hard time connecting the lab to what they are learning. The lab is just something to get done or get through and has no meaning.
I remember some labs in college where I was clueless and felt I struggled to make sense of what was going on. Sometimes I feel we have come so far in pedagogical practice with the various activities students engage in and then other times feel like there is still so much work to do. I myself am guilty of sometimes wanting to check off a lab because I feel it checks off the box of practice on the the skill we are working on and it’s the best I can do at the moment. Some colleagues have shifted more toward having students create videos or Flipgrid explanations of labs. I think hearing the students talk through the lab or an alternative scenario might be a better assessment than answering questions in a lab.
One reflection so far that I really never thought about prior to my daughter taking AP chem is that so much of our students’ lives and time are surrounded by choices and decisions made by other people. For instance, my daughter works and plays a sport, which in my opinion isn’t as much as the extracurricular resumes of many typical high performing AP students. The late bus drops her off at 6:30pm. On nights she has sports, she eats dinner and is not home until 9:00pm after practice. On nights she is scheduled to work, she is out of the house for most of the available time she would have to study. On the weekends, I want her to be social yet the rigor of school consumes at least one full day of her time to avoid falling behind. Friends and social events have to be planned in advance and yet remain flexible should a teacher drop last-minute notice of an exam. I just thought students had more time to get school work done than they actually do. Now I am more appreciative of the time and effort put in because it’s truly carved out with intentionality.
Last week my daughter’s school was closed for a day due to the weather. As a family, we took advantage of this and were sitting down watching a movie when my daughter got a notification on her cell phone from Google Classroom that she had a quiz Friday. Immediately, she got upset. It was late Wednesday night and she knew she had work Thursday and wouldn’t be home until 10pm so she stopped watching the movie and went to study. Her whole attitude shifted. She says it's hard to always be “on.” There is no break because a teacher can post something to Google Classroom and the expectation is that students are responsible for checking in. I think the take-away for me is that usually, I try to at the very least post an assessment date by the beginning of the week. The more time we can give students to process the information and plan how and when they will study the better. This virtual world is not just stressful for teachers. While I am the first to admit that I need to take my work email off my phone or disconnect, students didn’t sign up for this and are now required to meet our expectations as teachers.
Lastly, I want to be clear that I love my daughter’s teacher, this is in no way a reflection of any inadequacy on her part but more something for teachers to reflect on. I know I have often been very hard on students and couldn’t understand why things weren’t getting done or thinking they weren’t putting in the effort I wanted them to. I think the pressures and demands of getting into college are much greater than when I was in high school. We often try to think about what we would have done in these situations but the reality is we didn’t live through the same times and many teachers will often admit 'I don’t know if I could do what I am asking my students to do'.