Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And students shall lead us . . .

I'm sitting in the library, amazed. I had a meeting this morning in Java City to do some onerous work for the department [is there any other kind???]. As I walked into the library, I remembered a conversation I had yesterday with Sarahann - one of my science students in READ 498. I guess being in the library surrounded by so many books brought the memory to the surface [if only I had a pensive like Dumbledore!].

Sarahann was crafting unit plans for genetics and came by to get my take on her ideas. We were trying to figure out how to address the information about Mendel - the history behind his discovery of the principles of genetics as a lowly monk, working in obscurity. I couldn't think of anything short of an interactive lecture on the history of this research, but thankfully Sarahann was much better at ideas than I -- she wondered if there might be a children's book about Mendel and his work. Sure enough, a search on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel turned up a great book about Mendel and his work with peas. But her lessons are due tomorrow - and there wasn't time to order the book and see if it was what we were hoping for. So . . . we found a copy in the CU young adult library section! She set out for Cooper and retrieved the book and is now set to do the lesson on the history of genetics.

Maybe I need to pay much more attention to my students than I have in the past. Maybe I could learn a whole lot from them instead of vice versa. I'm always so eager to share what I've discovered about teaching science [and other subjects] that I tend to forget that they, too, are teachers -- here is a perfect example of students' thinking being far and away better than mine!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The light at the end of the tunnel is --- the headlight of a train

I was thankful this morning that I had a Jigsaw scheduled for class today -- the work of a Jigsaw is done weeks [or months or years, as in this case] ahead of the actual Jigsaw. Because I was in Orangeburg all day yesterday and was exhausted from the trip, it was wonderful to know that class would "run itself." The Jigsaw today is one that all students can profit from on two levels. The information about working with struggling and English Language learners is crucial for beginning and experienced teachers alike, and the strategies [I-Chart, Cubing, Discussion Web, and IntraAct] embedded in the discussion of the articles, as well as Jigsaw itself, are adaptable across the curriculum. I am usually pleased with this Jigsaw, but today, particularly for the math majors, it seemed too -- something. [they would probably say too long] I don't know - or maybe I do.

In hindsight, I wish I had ended the Jigsaw with the Discussion Web and just omitted the IntraAct in the math section. Although the science majors saw immediately how they could use IntraAct, the math majors were struggling to visualize how they could use any of the strategies. Once again, I think I have thrown too much at a time at them. I'm wondering if experiencing any of these strategies in any context other than math will help the math majors. Because I am not a math teacher, the adaptations of the strategies are not always apparent to me right off the bat - and because the students in 498 have never been on the "other side of the desk" and most have never really thought about the underlying mathematics in the algorithms they are so good at, they have a hard time envisioning adaptations. But because I have worked with so many great math teachers and seen how they can think immediately of ways to adapt almost any of the strategies to mathematics, I know it is not only possible but probable that, once in the classroom, these pre-service math teachers will be able to adapt strategies for their students. I just hope they try them before they revert to the old "drill and kill" method of teaching math.

So, maybe I'll try skipping the "experience the strategy embedded in a lesson" thing and go straight to adaptation after reading the chapter. For writing to learn and writing to inquire, that's how I think I'll approach writing. My fear is that students will "get" the strategy but not associate the learning cycle or the basic theory underlying the strategy with the strategy itself. Strategies alone just won't get them as far as they need to go with students; they need to know how, why, and under what circumstances these strategies are used. But at this time I've got to do something - anything.