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.