“What are we doing to help kids achieve?”
This has been a better year...sort of. It has been a year of teaching students face to face. It has been a year of fewer virtual classes and more labs. It has also been a year of helping students who have not been in a school environment for a year and a half. It has been a year that has seen across the country a double digit rise in mental health issues with teens….and I would probably guess the rise of educator mental health issues are not far behind. For me, it has been a year of constant construction and a struggle to maintain balance. It has been a year so far that has been a bit strange. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I am the adult in the classroom who is responsible for trying to progress forward with student’s learning no matter what the conditions. Thank goodness, I may have stumbled onto something that might show promise.
I would offer to describe this as a “happy accident” or a strange “alignment of the planets”. Let me provide some context in an attempt to explain. I have currently been engaged in standards based grading. It has been one of the few changes I have made in my teaching that, when attempted, provides the outcome that the research suggests. Bottom line, it has really helped my students in a positive way.
Next, there is microscale chemistry. This has been addressed multiple times in this forum. One of the most exciting places to learn about microscale chemistry is at “MicrochemUK”. Bob Worley provides incredible advice and resources in all things microscale. I have used and adapted many of these resources in my own classroom.
Finally, there is my own situation. This year we have students who have never touched lab equipment, class periods that are shorter than ever before and students who are not used to school. So here is how it is playing out…
First, we have worked on the idea of standards based grading which for most of my students is a completely different way to view grading. One of the most exciting aspects of this process is the “redo”. Students were surprised to figure out that if they missed or did not reach a standard, they could do it over. I know what you are thinking...there is no way with 100 plus students this is possible. However, inexpensive technology and some boundaries can make it very possible for students and me as a teacher. Each student must fill out a Google form to have an option for a “redo”. They have to tell me the standard and assignment they are “redoing”. They must state how they are going to learn the material and provide evidence of learning. They have a week to come in from when the grade was posted. On my end, I examine the google sheet of responses and then use a miracle add on called “autocrat”. It takes the responses and places each one in a premade google document template. I just have to click on the link, pull up the google document with the student’s name and standard, paste in a different assignment and hit “print”. The Google sheet tells me exactly when students are coming in and the Google documents has their assignments all set.
I know what you are thinking...isn’t that crazy with lab redos? Here is the beautiful part... microscale chemistry. Microscale can be quick, effective, challenging for students, easy to store and easy to prepare. In other words, with little time and students who are making many mistakes because of never having touched lab equipment, it is the perfect way to allow them to efficiently and effectively try again.
In the end, it is starting to change the culture of the classroom. First, students are starting to figure out several new ideas in their education. As a teacher, I am not out to “get” them. I really just want them to learn the material. It is O.K. if things do not go well the first time. It will not destroy their grade for the quarter. This in turn helps to reduce their anxiety. It is not the end of the world if they make mistakes on a particular assignment. Students can actually learn from their failures instead of judging themselves by them. Second, if they identify what they should know, demonstrate some type of work on that topic, show up and do an assignment related to that topic, their grade will probably go up. I know this sounds crazy to me and you but I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that some students did not get that message during the last year and a half. Students are starting to figure out they really can be the captain of their own ship if they trust the process.
As a teacher, this is the busiest I have ever been. I have to say that it is the BEST busiest I have ever been. Instead of students arguing about trying to get an 89% to a 90% or asking if they can bring in a box of tissues for extra credit, students are constantly coming in asking about gas laws, significant figures and polyatomic ions. I probably will be crazy by May, but if at least I can say I am in touch with my insanity then it is a pretty good kind of crazy.