Sunday, April 20, 2008

misconception alert!

The other day I had the opportunity to discover a child's misconception about light and heat! It was so cool. Here's the back story. On Saturdays I volunteer with a children's spiritual education program that is sponsored by the Baha'i Faith. Recently I have been working with the older kids, around 11-14 yrs. old. The program for their age is called the Spiritual Empowerment of Jr. Youth, and it's about helping the kids to develop their capacities in different areas of interest and helping them to carry out service activities for their community. Last Saturday we got on the topic of exercise briefly, and I shared my recent experiences going to hot yoga in Nashville. I explained what yoga is and that for hot yoga the room is heated to 100 degrees, which is supposed to be good for your muscles and lungs, etc. One girl asked me if I get a tan from going! I thought it was so interesting that she would think that way, that heat = a tan rather than sunlight = a tan. I felt pretty lucky to see a misconception out in the open like seems that usually they lurk around in a kid's head, unseen by teachers.

Monday, April 14, 2008

virtual schools

The issue study presentation on virtual schools caused me to think about and reflect on my experience this year teaching Spanish II online, as well as my past experiences taking an online course as a student. I think there are some definite benefits to an online course. Students can access the course from anywhere with an internet connection. They can work at their own pace, at the time of day or time of week that works best with their schedules. They can take as much time as they need with assignments, instead of being confined to a 50 minute class period. The online environment also provides comfort for shy students to express themselves when they might remain silent otherwise and allows all students to participate in a more open and tolerant community than might exist in a face-to-face situation. Online courses also allow a lot of room for differentiated instruction in order to meet the needs of all students, without the stigma of ability grouping that can arise in a regular classroom.

As a teacher, I enjoy the flexible schedule as well. I also enjoy being able to communicate one-on-one with my students via email, phone, or instant messenger. In a regular classroom, it can be difficult to get one-on-one time with each student. However, there are some drawbacks to an online class, such as the technical difficulties that inevitably arise, as well as difficulties contacting students who aren't logging in regularly. Ultimately, though, the biggest drawback is simply the lack of face-to-face interaction. Although the online environment can be great for certain activities and discussions, the element of socialization is an important one that should not be forgotten. Students need to learn to work with each other in a variety of situations and communicate orally as well as through writing. In fact, students who are kinesthetic or auditory learners might be inhibited by the online environment and may need face-to-face interactions to learn best. Ideally, I think online activities should be a supplement to a regular class, not a replacement. I have loved classes that extensively used discussion boards, emails, etc, because it helps to extend the conversations and thinking outside of class and helped us to connect on a deeper level with one another, which we could then build upon in a face-to-face situation.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

coming to a consensus

Ever since reading the articles on curriculum mapping, I have been obsessed with consensus and alignment. I feel that I have a pretty good handle on my curriculum guide, which plots out the sequence of standards to be covered for the year. But when it comes down to addressing the "scope" part of the assignment, where I detail to what degree these standards need to be met, I realize that I have no idea. I know that I want my students' reading and writing skills to improve by the end of the year, but to what degree? Unless I know exactly where they should be by the end of 8th grade, my goals for 9th grade are just an educated guess. Thinking back to my teaching experience, I realize that I didn't take into the slightest account what students might have done in previous years or what they would be expected to do the following year. Whenever we looked at a new skill or topic, I tried to gauge how much the students knew already and then tried to take them to where I thought they should be. I can see now that this is a very haphazard way of doing things.

Teachers tend to focus on the small world of their classroom, where they have control and make the decisions they think are best. And while I firmly believe teachers need autonomy and control of their classroom, I can see how inefficient education becomes if each teacher works alone instead of collaborating across grades and subjects to create the best plan for student learning. Some of the examples mentioned in the readings were that students might experience the same topics and themes over and over again, might complete similar projects, or even read the same texts. Along with unnecessary repetition, students may also experience gaps in learning when year after year teachers skim over or skip the same areas. Schools NEED consensus maps and curriculum that is vertically and horizontally aligned if they are to provide the high quality education their students deserve. I really hope that the school where I taught, which to my knowledge did not have a consensus curriculum or any kind of curriculum guide, is the exception. To me, this type of alignment seems most vital to a student's success.

Obviously, aligning curriculum is a bigger task than one person can complete, but I still want to try and have some type of alignment with my curriculum guide. We shall see...