In Boston in the snow.... So some time to work on the website and some of my schemes of work. Once upon a time, back in my early days of teaching, I was told by my head of dept that once I had written a scheme of work, lesson plans and resources for a couple of shared units, then that was all the hard work done for a few years at least. Well, some 15+ years on, I can categorically say that this was a lie! It never works. For a number of different reasons:
a) your classes have different students in them, what works well for one class may not work for the next set of students.
b) fixed-in-stone lesson plans that are pooled in a dept (i.e. each teacher writes a set of lesson plans for a set of topics and you share them) rarely works as each teacher generally has a different teaching style. This is a fundamental problem with the UK approach to education.
c) you have new ideas of how to teach a topic, or try a different approach that a colleague has done.
d) new resources become available - e.g. equipment or simulations
After my eight year break in teaching, I returned to find that all the lessons seemed to be based around powerpoints, a format that can suck the life out of students, and tired worksheets. Powerpoints have their place but be short and sweet - preferably as a vehicle to show an (interactive?) animation. Worse still was the nausea-inducing concept of Prezi...
So, what are some of the changes has the past few years brought for my teaching?
a) a more organised approach to student's work - in the form of booklets with sections that have titles, objectives and space for class/own notes as well as worksheets. This got rid of the problems of a chaotic binder of scraps of paper and the 'what-do-we-need-to-know' complaints from the students. A downside, is that unless I edit them every year, it can be very much like teaching out of a text book - 'morning class, please turn to page 8 Q3....' Students still need teaching!
b) less homework, but more marking! How did that happen?!
c) more time to look at new ideas and resources as the bulk of all my lessons have been planned well ahead of time. Although, the typed up lesson plans have gone. I have reverted back to the old school approach of using a pencil. I now scribble my lesson plans in the notes pages of my copy of the teaching booklet - and they change from year to year.
d) a move to include more project-based learning. This is a tricky one. Students do a lot of subjects - some up to 10 - and hence have a lot of projects in, say, geography and history. Some students work better at them than others. Some prefer to work quietly on their own, others in groups. Some in the groups do the lion's share of the work and others do as little as possible. How should you assess them if they are different - presentations, displays or reports? The NC levels help in Middle School, but should you credit the effort or the scientific understanding? if so, how? For the first time, I have tried assessing S9 Physics by a 2 page project on simple machines and AP Gravitation and Orbits by an open-ended series of projects rather than a test. I am looking forward to seeing some creativity from some of the students. Personally I love taking on a project, be it fixing my boat, organising an ocean crossing, building a stage set or building ROVs.... Maybe I should have been an engineer!
e) big changes in the AP Physics course - which I consider to be a retrograde step, especially for the students applying to UK universities.
Things that I still need to improve on:
a) WALL DISPLAYS - I am still in awe of the displays produced by primary school teachers - how do they make them look so effortlessly easy?
b) keeping up with marking....
c) not upsetting the maths dept.... although, I would dearly love S10 students to arrive in September able to confidently do algebra, scientific notation, graph plotting and basic calculations, and my AP students to actually understand: trigonometry, simultaneous equations, ratios, relating graphs to equations and unit conversions.
d) keeping up with the admin...
Had a forwarded email from a former physics student yesterday, he is on his year's work placement (3rd year of engineering degree at Loughborough, UK) at Rolls Royce working with a team on a project to improve the efficiency of fuel cells. Very cool! Another from his class is finishing his physics degree at Sussex and looking to do a master's degree in something to do with crystals. I am very proud of both of them and this keeps me motivated during the times when the current batch are being all teenagery and annoying!