At the core of the teaching profession, is the desire the teacher has for students to learn. Learning is a fascinating process, one that is fundamentally Adam-ic. It is in man’s nature to learn and we are constantly learning, even when we may not recognize that we are. When I began teaching my students, I quickly realized that they are interested in learning, maybe not about Chemistry at that moment in time, but they were interested in learning about something (essentially whatever they were focused on). I also realized that many students were interested in the material, but they preferred or inclined towards a different mode of learning, i.e. they may need concepts to be laid out graphically for them to make connections between abstract ideas. Ultimately I realized my classroom was a melting pot of different learning styles, motivations and levels of intellectual maturity. Trying to meet the learning needs of all of my students was, and still is, very challenging.
At the beginning of the year, I administered a survey to students to learn a bit more about their interests and motivations (Student Survey, 1e, h; 2c, k, n). I then followed up with a survey three weeks into the class to check-in with student to see how they perceived class thus far (Follow-up Survey, 1e, h; 2c, k, n; 3c, I, r). As I started realizing how important it was for students to feel invested, I decided to implement Class Meetings, as outlined by the authors of “Positive Discipline in the Classroom“. For 20 minutes at the end of class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, student would gather in a circle at the back of the classroom and we would discuss topics such as how the class was progressing, if there were any problems students were having with other students, or we would use the opportunity to learn about each other more (3c, h, j, n, o, q). The idea was a great one, and there were a few times I saw those meetings as a valuable tool. It served to help students learn how to manage conflict, make group decisions, and learn more about themselves. However, I ultimately think my lack of experience in holding the meetings, and my lack of planning them properly, made them ineffective on multiple occasions. I became jaded with the process. In the future, I would like to attend the Positive Discipline training and re-implement these meetings in the classroom.
Chemistry material can be hard for students to grasp, as much of it deals with concepts that aim to explain phenomena that are unseen to the human eye. I spent the summer of 2012 racking my brain about how to convey these topics to students. I realized that much of the topics covered in chemistry are addressed in popular science fiction like the comic book genre. The genre has taken time to anthropomorphize and discuss many of the concepts I teach in my chemistry class. As a result I developed a unit called the “Chemistry of Superheroes.” Almost every high school students knows about Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and these other superhero characters. The topics drew student attention and it made explanation of some of the traditional topics I cover in class much easier (Chemistry of Superheroes Unit, 2a, c, m).
Some of my students require special attention, as they are identified as students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Students with IEPs have a variety of needs and need accommodations in order for them to access the material the general class population is accessing. As I would indicate on my lesson plan in the section for students with IEPs, I might show students a video of a concept that they could listen to. I might also give students an organizer of some kind, for example a foldable when discussing the Atomic Model (Atomic Model Foldable, 2a, g, h, l). I would also help students with their language development needs. Science has a lot of jargon which seems foreign to students. One strategy I implemented asked students to draw word anchors for a given vocabulary word. This helped them expand their vocabulary and see its use in context (1g; 2e, i). I also did an activity in which students came to the whiteboard and attempted to write out every texting acronym they may employ in a given day (i.e. LOL, OMG, etc.). I then asked students to draw comparison between their usage of these acronyms and the usage of such acronyms in science. This exercise allowed students to realize they have the potential to learn different acronyms and their proper usage, once they take the time to know what they mean. This exercise allowed students to bring their knowledge and use of language to the classroom and gave them a sense of value (2k, n, o). One final method I would like to highlight concerns students who do not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts out loud. I employed an online program called “TodaysMeet” which allows for participants to microblog about a topic being discussed in class. I would pose questions to students and they would respond on this program. Essentially, students had a conversation about the topic without even speaking. They responded in real-time to one another and the conversation that unfolded was interesting. Of course, some of my students used this an opportunity to step outside the bounds of speech in my class. I decided to allow them to do so, and make the experience a teachable moment. I questioned them about the appropriateness of that behavior, and ultimately students determined that such speech is not beneficial to the discussion (1i; 3g, h, m).
This artifact highlighted the importance of the student in the learning process. In order for the teacher to effectively teach students, students must be met where they are and given the necessary tools to achieve. This artifact was by far, the hardest for me to execute effectively. As time has passed, I believe I have become a better relationship-builder, but I still have much work to do. Student dynamics change as classes change, and that requires that I adapt to the new dynamic. When student interests are tapped into, and their learning is supported with guidance and sensitivity, then students will benefit immensely. This does not apply merely to academic achievement, but also to metacognitive and interpersonal growth.