Posted by: wierc1 | November 7, 2010

Student Motivation and Learning

Over the last few weeks, I’ve started to pay attention to student motivation.  Motivation (or lack thereof) became an important question for our credit recovery biology classes.  During the first six weeks of school, students in those classes seemed to work well.  We had a deal with them- do the work here (in class), and you won’t have to do it there (at home).  In other words, if they did work in class, we wouldn’t assign homework.  And it seemed to work well.  But, as we get further into the school year, many of the students aren’t finishing work.  They have time in class to do lab write ups, but they choose to sit and talk with friends.  Other students in the same room whip through the work in a few minutes, and then read books they bring to class because they finish work early and are bored.  My CT says “they want to work in groups because they want to be social, not because they want to be collaborative.”

We see a difference in motivation in other classes as well, like AP biology, where some students turn in everything early and others wouldn’t have turned in any lab report all year if we hadn’t personally intervened.

What causes such drastic differences in student work?  I am puzzled.  In AP, I can get all students to finish things simply be being a little purposeful and asking them directly where their work is.  In credit recovery, it’s not so simple.  I ask for work, the student starts working, I turn my back, and then the student stops working.  Occasionally, it happens even before I turn my back.

The credit recovery students don’t seem connected to the work.  They don’t see how the population of deer on St. Paul Island could relate to their lives in Everett, Washington.  My CT has been conducting the class by spending about the first 10 minutes talking to them, trying to get to know them and understand them, while communicating to them that he cares about their lives.  But when we transition to the material, there’s less emphasis on connecting it to the students.  It’s almost as if the attitude is “you need to learn this because you’ve got to pass the class, and I’m sorry if it’s boring.”  Connecting content to lives seems difficult to do in a genuine way.  We have a unit coming up on biological molecules.  If a nucleotide is composed of a sugar, a phosphate, and a base, how do I connect that to the lives of a student?

Posted by: wierc1 | October 25, 2010

One Quarter!

I have fallen off of the blogging horse for the last few weeks.  School has definitely kept me busy.  Mariner is in full swing, with all classes deep into their content.  Dances have happened, the football season is almost over, and homecoming was just last week.  I’m starting to get a better feel for the students who are in our classes.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment I have to make is the pace and depth of instruction.  I get excited about all the cool science stuff that I can teach to the students, but I’m a nerd, and most of my students aren’t.  Even if they do have tendencies like mine, they probably aren’t ready to go fast and in detail just yet.  I need to slow down.  Even in “advanced” classes, I can go too far in depth too quickly.

The ideas from the professional practice seminar this week were timely- have one or two short learning objectives per lesson, and make sure that students master those before moving on.  As I revise my lesson plans for the classes I’m about to teach, I need to keep that in mind.

Posted by: wierc1 | September 24, 2010

Evidence of Learning

For the assignment that Jane sent out on 9/13, I observed two students, YS and COP.  They both are in our class for students who failed biology the first time they attempted it.  I chose the two because of observations I had made about them earlier: YS wants to succeed, but is easily distracted by friends in class, while COP is very quiet, works on task very well with other students, and takes detailed notes of everything that we do.

Observations of COP over the last two weeks have been difficult because of absences.

YS followed my CT with his head and eyes during almost all lecture, and multiple times asked questions or answered questions posed by my CT.  When the students are in their assigned seats, YS usually demonstrates that his attention is on the lesson as described above and by taking notes at appropriate times.  However, when allowed to do activities in groups, YS does not complete individual worksheets without prompting, talks with friends often, and often writes incorrect responses on his assignments.  He will ask an occasional question during group work, and shows understanding by nodding, says “yes,” and starting an answer while being helped, but stops work shortly after my CT leaves his side.

I learned that students who demonstrate attention and understanding during one type of instruction don’t always continue that in all instructional contexts, and that a teacher must make note of how each student responds in different situations in order to best adapt teaching methods to student needs.

Posted by: wierc1 | September 13, 2010

Seven Days In

We have been at school for two weeks now, but have only had seven days of class.  The students are beginning to behave as if they are more comfortable in the classroom, but sometimes still sit back as if they are still deciding whether they want to buy into what my cooperating teacher (CT) is doing.  After a few days of introductory material (syllabus, expectations, lab safety, etc), we have delved into content, and the differences between classes are becoming apparent.

Our biotech students are generally attentive and act like they want to learn, but have trouble with undefined tasks like “pick your own research topic.”  The AP students are good at listening, take complete notes in lectures, and are careful to try and follow what is being presented or the logic of the lab they are engaged in.  The two credit recovery biology sections that we have are a little different.  The students are attentive, and write notes when told to write notes.  However, they resist doing work on their own, and it’s a little difficult to tell why.

When credit recovery students are given a worksheet with a passage to read, and several questions about the passage, almost half the class seems to stall out.  Is it because they don’t read well?  That their English skills are not good enough?  That they truly don’t understand?  Or that they just don’t want to do the work?  Some act and question like they just want us to give them the right answer, and they don’t want to think.  Others seem genuinely confused.  For most, I can’t tell.  What are the signs of genuine curiosity and desire for help?  What are the signs of laziness?

The first attempt that students make on these worksheets is probably good evidence of student learning, but we often go through the whole sheet as a group before students turn it in.  Analyzing who erased and re-wrote answers is time consuming and difficult.  How can we get a good picture of what any individual student knows?  Do I have to take notes as I wander through the class?

Posted by: wierc1 | September 6, 2010

Three days

My cooperating teacher is dynamic and funny, and switches to a serious demeanor quickly and easily.  Over the first three days, he has worked to get to know the kids in his classroom while going over the details of syllabi and lab safety.  I observed him only for the first two days, then went to other science teacher’s classrooms to observe while they were still covering basic preparatory material.  No one has started covering content yet.

My temptation while watching my cooperating teacher is to model my own teaching after his style- it’s obviously effective and engaging for the students (at least before we start covering real biology)– but I often wonder if I could do it.  It’s not quite my style.  As I begin to watch other teachers, I realize that everyone covers the same material in different ways.  My mentor attempts to engage and connect with students.  Another designed activities to help him see what his students know.  Another moves students around to find out how developed their group skills are.  They all observe and try to find information about students, what they know, and how they work together, but each teacher has a different emphasis.  Each approaches instruction in a different way.  How do I find my own style, what will work for me?

Posted by: wierc1 | September 1, 2010


After three days of preparation with my cooperating teacher, it is time for the school year to begin.  I will be observing first in two classes of biotechnology, two classes of “credit recovery” biology, and one class of AP biology.  All three will be different from the general biology classes that we have talked about over the last few days.

Our preparation days were filled with activities and information that we will need for the school year, but we did not have much extra time to delve into planning for the lessons we will see.  The teachers who are supervising have a lot of experience, and don’t seem to need much planning for the first few days of school, though I feel I would need to think through things much more.  I haven’t really even had time to ask about how they approach the first day, about classroom management, and about a million other questions spinning through my head.  Observation will be a great learning tool.

The science department teachers work together really well, and seem to have a common purpose.   This year, all biology teachers are following a similar curriculum.  While the classroom specifics are left up to the individual teachers, they all have common assessments (both formative and cumulative), as they all wanted to be sure that they were teaching for the same learning objectives.  Designing those assessments has been fun and interesting, as it is helpful to see many different views and draw on the experience of many teachers when thinking of test questions.

I am excited to see the students tomorrow, and to find out how it all begins from the perspective of a teacher.

Posted by: wierc1 | August 26, 2010

A New School Year

This post signifies a transition for this bolg.  To date, all posts are responses to prompts for classes I have taken for my Masters in Education.  As I transition from being a student to being a teacher, I will also switch to writing about my observations and experiences in the classroom as a student teacher.  Though this is still an assignment, I hope it will aid in clarifying my thoughts about teaching and life.

Posted by: wierc1 | December 14, 2009

Very Last Class…

I am going to make a smart board for my house.  I will have to clear a wall to have room to project, but if all I need is a Wii remote and a few parts from the hardware store, it’s almost too easy to set up.  To justify it, I would have to do a little work and figure out what technologies I could use with the inexpensive “Smartboard,” and make sure that they would actually enhance the lessons.  But it would at least make me feel like I was doing something creative to expand the resources available to my students.  The idea is enough to make me want a classroom without a Smartboard, especially if I can’t use the a large portion of my board space with one.

How would school authorities react to such experimentation?  I would hope that principals and other administrators would be supportive of such efforts, but after reading Herbert Kohl in Adolescent Developement, I can see potential problems.  Do you ask permission, or beg forgiveness?  I suppose I incline towards the latter…

Posted by: wierc1 | December 6, 2009

Digital Story and Final Portfolio

As I began to work on the digital story project and my final portfolio last week, a couple of things stood out to me.

First, visual images seem much easier to manipulate on a Mac than a PC.

Second, I enjoy using Yola to create a website for my portfolio.  For years, I’ve used blog pages and software to write updates about my training and racing.  I knew I could access them anywhere, and that most computers would be fast enough to run the programs.  Since I don’t know HTML or other ways to design my own sites, it seemed a good idea.  Blog site have some limitations, however.  It’s a little difficult to navigate, and getting sponsor logos up exactly where they should be is tough.  After a couple of hours on Yola, it looks like this could be a great place to put my paddling blog and information.  It allows for more flexibility, and looks a little cleaner.  I want a page visit counter, which I haven’t seen yet, but I’ll have to look a little more.

Yola is very simple to use, and the design is easy to figure out.  There is no need for instruction, just a little time to look around and play.  For that reason, it could be used as a platform to have high school students present work, while encouraging them to enter into an investigative frame of mind.

Posted by: wierc1 | December 2, 2009

Voice Thread

I finally got around to looking at Voicethread this week.  I really like how people can comment on an image in a variety of ways, so that people with different levels of technology available can participate.

Student presentations could function very well on Voicethread.  Students could create a series of images with comments, then other students could give them feedback about their ideas and conclusions.  It could be used as an interactive method for encouraging the idea of peer review.  Also, it could be a great way to get student input about ideas or topics- if a teacher set up a Voicethread, students could comment, ask questions, and even highlight areas pf particular interest.

This might be a good tool for our digital story project, but I would like to see how the video features of voicethread work.  What type of technology is required?  How likely is it that we would have it at our disposal in the schools?

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