Friday, February 27, 2015

Maybe I am learning

They have a test on Tuesday. It's on stoichiometry. The balrog of high school chemistry.

Yet they came in today as talkative and excited about life as ever, seeming oblivious to their impending doom. And this was possibly their last chance to review, since yet another snow storm may rob them of their chance on Monday.

My first thought: They are being irresponsible. They need to take this seriously. So I warned them, "If you don't  finish this problem set by the end of class... be afraid. Be very afraid."

Still, very little response. No fear. They worked, but not like their lives were on the line.

(Lesson #1: As you can see, I still haven't totally weaned myself of the carrot and stick approach to motivation.)

And their peril was worse than I thought. As I walked around checking their latest problem set, which I had handed out last time, most were blank.

I continued my rounds as they worked, asked to see one students notes. And my growing suspicions were confirmed: I hadn't covered it adequately. They'd watched a homework video (this is a flipped classroom), but I'd never reviewed it with them.

What to do...

First thought: Their problem. They need to step up their game.

Next thought (much more humane): My problem. My oversight. My job.

"Hey class, I just realized I never really went over problems like this. Let me go over one of these on the screen..."

Lesson #2: So maybe I am learning something--learning to be a bit more responsive, listen, and pay more attention to where they're at and what they need.

And as for their apparent nonchalance, who knows? Was it the paralyzed shock of the gazelle cornered by the lion, exhaustion induced by our first full week in months, blissful ignorance, or just youthful optimism?

I'm guess maybe a combo of all of the above, but two things are clear:

1) Trying to frighten them will do no good.
2) This is not about using tests as motivators or punishments. It's about learning.

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