What are we doing to help kids achieve?
First and foremost, this is not a blog about how to teach in COVID-19 days. If you are reading this, congratulations, you have survived. You have figured it out and gotten this far. Maybe it was not the best teaching moment. Progress is at times better than perfection. Sometimes life is like ¨the dog that rode the bike¨. Our state fair growing up each year had a circus where a star attraction was a dog. This dog could literally ride a bike. A friend once explained that under certain circumstances, life is much like the dog riding the bike. Nobody cares how well the dog rides the bike or how good the dog looks. They are just impressed to see a dog riding the bike. That is pretty much how I see myself over the last few weeks. The question is, what now?
Depending on who you are and where you are reading this, there is one certainty for next year. Nobody is certain what next year is going to look like. There are positive steps we can take as teachers when the only certainty is uncertainty. These same steps have helped me immensely over the last few months.
When in doubt, rely on good educational research that says we should work together. I get it. If you have one more virtual meeting with anyone, you are probably going to throw your computer through a window. Most teachers never signed up to be one who stares at a screen. However, what if the screen time could be used to help others? John Hattie has spent the last 25 years asking a simple question (see the Pick here). The question is, ¨What factors help students learn the most?¨ The answer to the question is a list of factors. The list is presented from most significant to least. This list also involves meta analysis of countless studies. One of the top practices on the list is teachers working with teachers. This is precisely what ChemEdX is all about. So if you find yourself struggling and want to help kids, you are not alone. Hattie´s research shows that if a teacher ever works with just one other teacher, it will most likely help students and have a big impact on student learning. There are no guarantees when it comes to teaching under difficult circumstances. In that case, it does make sense to stack the odds in our favor by following good research about learning and teaching. This research is pretty solid. We are better together than alone.
Working with other teachers has helped me and my students. Tom Kuntzleman is one of those other teachers. In one of his blogs, he wrote about student interest in chemistry (see the blog here). His belief is that instead of trying to get students interested in chemistry, we should first talk to our students, see what they like and then tie chemistry into their interests. I decided to take Tom up on his idea. I surveyed my students. I wanted to know about their passions. I learned that they are interested in art, baking and building things just to name a few responses. We explored the science of bread baking, welding, hydro dipping and even rock candy. You will find links to the digital notebook for the first topic and videos I created for the latter three topics below). I even covered the science of hydroponic gardening (see the preview image). As an aside I had so much lettuce I was able to share with neighbors and still have leftovers.
Sometimes the results were messy and difficult, but the spirit of the experiments was to connect with students and to help them see chemistry in what they love. Did it work? It was difficult to take data on students' interest given the unique circumstances and events. I will say that based on anecdotal evidence from students and parents, I probably received more positive feedback than in years past.
Finally, I learned something important about courage. I really believe courage is not confined to an act by a single person. Courage is a virtue that can be demonstrated by communities. Groups of teachers, parents and students each day decided to keep going, keep trying and to keep choosing life. I have been touched and moved more than ever before by the works of communities to encourage, support, feed and help others without asking for anything in return during this crazy time. This has taught our kids a lesson far more important than anything that has to do with chemistry. It has taught them to be courageous. I am not sure what tomorrow might bring, but I do know that I can make a positive choice in any situation I am in to try to help others. I hope you will make that choice also.
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But what about the content?
Thank you so much for sharing these amazing ideas and videos. This year has been challenging to be sure. I stumbled upon your post from last year just today. I'm personally in a constant struggle - I want to do these kind of relatable, fun activities that will actually get students invested and doing chemistry, but often I feel the pressure to get through material and make sure they know stuff to go on to other advanced classes or need it to graduate. I teach a regular chemistry course in high school and personally do not feel they "need" to know everything. So here's my question, how do you balance it all? Do you walk through a chemistry curriculum or is your class more project based and you learn whatever topics are pertinet for that moment? I'm planning on taking the chemistry modeling course this summer and feel like that might help. Any feedback would be amazing! Thank you for all your blogs! :)
About the Content...
Jaime...Thank you for the wonderful question. How do I balance it all?.....Just barely. I have been teaching 28 years and have never had two years the same. I still wake up at night rethinking plans in my head. Balancing is a great question. Here are some ideas. First, have a mission statement. Part of my mission statement is "Progress. Not perfection." I did not become a teacher to "get through all of the content" but I also know I cannot just bury my head in the sand when it comes to the curriculum. Based on my mission statement, can I be an educational leader that when kids leave my class are a little better off than when they started? Another important part is context. When I wrote the above blog, I had just been told to turn my house into a lab, film everything, do chemistry over a computer and redo everything I have been doing over the last 20 years. And I had a week to figure it out. However, nomatter how difficult things were for me, I had students going through much worse. I decided to above all else, make sure the kids were O.K. Next, it's a pandemic. No one is going to get through the material. Why not teach science to help them with their passions? So far, after 28 years of trying my best and not always getting through everything, I have never had the curriculum police break down my door and demand a refund. Yes, I teach accelerated students and yes, they are going to take AP next year without all of the topics I would want them to know. Basically, I do the best that I can to help them become independent thinkers who have a passion for learning and who might be able to figure out how to solve a problem without asking Siri or Alexa....kind of like what to do when a pandemic hits.
I do think you are on the right track. I am jealous that you are taking the modeling workshop. I have seen amazing things happen with teachers who work with their students on modeling. Care about the kids. Help them to become great and curious thinkers....the rest will fall into place.
Thanks again for your question. Sometimes the simplest ones are the best and the hardest to answer. Hope I helped....
Stay tuned for my next blog. It almost took me a whole year to figure out how to teach during a pandemic but I may have an idea that might help.....thanks again for your wonderful and thought provoking question.
Re: But what about the content?
Hi Chad - That actually helps! I really appreciate the time to respond and your willingness to share your creations. I'm still fighting that urge to cover all and am learning as I go. I love being able to collaboate and glean from those of you who have been teaching chemistry for a while. Thanks again for the kind words of encouragement and hopefully I am able to contribute creative ideas to this space in the future.