Month: August 2012

A New Year

I almost titled this post A New Hope as that’s how I feel after the first week of classes – hopeful. Then I thought that nerdy joke wasn’t really that funny, but now I’ve told you anyways, so it definitely wasn’t funny…ah, forget it.

Today marks my first week back – both to the classroom and to blogging. Last year was really tough. It was full of rocky classroom dynamics, the loss of a student and an unwanted shift in my job responsibilities. I stayed away from more long form writing as I didn’t want this to turn into a blog full of frustrations and complaints. The point of blogging is to be reflective though, so I need to write about what went well and what didn’t last year. I’ll get to that eventually, but for now, I’m looking to reflect about this first week back and why I’m hopeful.

One of the things that has me most excited is the new class I’m teaching – astronomy! I’ve patiently waited for five years to teach this class as it “belonged” to another colleague who really did a great job with it. With his retirement, my time in the batter’s box has come to an end. This being my first time planning the course, I had a million ideas about what I wanted to do in the single semester allotted to me. Astronomy has been a passion of mine since I was a kid and I wanted to convey that sense of awe and wonder that comes with understanding the universe around us. The course is an elective though, so a portion of the students take the class just to fill a science elective. I knew that I had to hit them early and with something they weren’t expecting, so I decided to lead with the Space episode of Radiolab.

It was a hit. Ann Druyan talking about falling in love with Carl Sagan during the Voyager project, Neil deGrasse Tyson pointing out that we are “a speck on a speck on a speck” and feeling connected to the universe because of that, the story of an elementary classroom’s seeds and how they were touched by not one, but two, shuttle disasters – these are the stories of people who seek to understand the universe and their stories touched and inspired a number of my students. Many of them reflected on this during our discussion and I think, I hope, they are starting to see astronomy (and all of science) as just one more human endeavor that they can take part in.

This year has also brought some changes to my implementation of standards based grading (SBG, SBAR, LOBAR, just pick your favorite acronym). I’ve been at it for two years now and have learned a lot. First, it’s challenging to shift the focus of students away from grades and on to learning. It’s especially difficult to do it with juniors and seniors for whom grades are one of many keys that will unlock the door to their hopes, dreams and first-choice college. Secondly, I think I did a crappy job of implementing SBG during the first two years. My version was plagued by too much subjectivity, too much back pedaling and not managing the student-initiated assessment procedure well enough. So, two years are behind me, but I’m feeling good about this year. Up until this point, it’s only been myself and @mjbrogers riding the SBG train in our physics classes. However, in these past two weeks, I’ve had the chance to speak with four other teachers about how they might use SBG in their classrooms. Each is at a different stage and wants to try different things, but the possibility is there. It gives me hope that others not only see similar deficiencies in traditional grading, but that they are willing to act to change things. That hope makes my first steps into my third year of SBG a bit lighter and a bit easier to take.

There is a ton more I want to write about – the second year of physics teacher camp, my move to being department co-chair, the view of STEM in all-girls schools, piloting screencasts of homework in AP (Superfly style) and more. I’m pacing myself though. This post was a warmup and it felt good to write again. I’m promising myself that I’ll be back here once a week. Think of it as a #36blog, as I can’t seem to manage a #180blog. I think it’s going to be a great 36 weeks.