Quality over Quantity

I have a brother who is 15 years my junior, and I often helped him with schoolwork when he was growing up. I was his language and science tutor at home while my sister, the middle child, helped him with math. I often helped him do book reviews when he reached high school, discussing and critiquing the book in question to help him draw his own conclusions for the review. As the youngest, I have listened to him rant about teachers who only go to the classroom to do their work but not teach. He said that some teachers just spout off concepts in class, determined to cover as much topic as they could, without even bothering if the students are catching up.

Working as a nurse back then, I understood what he meant: some nurses, through years of experience, automatically know what to do when a particular situation arises. The danger, as I have seen, is the loss of empathy to patients. The work becomes so routine that a patient’s complaint of pain is sometimes reduced to mere excuse for attention.

I think my background in nursing has helped me develop a reflective attitude on my work. I remember vowing to myself that I would never lose my empathy for my patients, for as long as I work as a nurse. When I decided to teach, I carried with me the same attitude. I remember telling myself that my students are just like my patients. They all have their stories. They all have their realities and these, for the most part, like pain, are subjective. Simply put, I brought with me a nurturing attitude when I came to teach my students. With my brother as inspiration, I promised myself to teach and not just parrot off concepts in the classroom. I would approach each topic as though I was teaching it to my brother. I would normally give analogies regarding situations that my students are familiar with in order to help them better understand lessons.

This has created a reflective attitude in me. I try to be as mindful as I can in my classroom encounters and I discuss with other teachers to find out new and better ways of motivating, say, a difficult class. I have noticed how my discussions become better as the day progresses because, as explained by Kolb (1984), I am able to see what does and does not work when teaching a particular concept or skill. In the few years that I have been teaching, I have come to see that knowing the interests of students help and so I am able to adjust the delivery of a lesson depending on the profile of a class.

Of course, some strategies do fail across classes in that there have been instances when students become more confused. I take these situations as a challenge and take the time to explain and look for ways to help them learn. I have always abided with the idea of quality over quantity: I would rather spend more time teaching them about computing for solution concentrations, making sure they demonstrate basic skills, than cover molarity and molality.

I think the main point of reflective thinking is ensuring that each classroom encounter is maximized in order for optimized learning to occur. Apart from open-mindedness, responsibility, and mindfulness (Grant and Zeichner, n.d.), I think that reflecting on how strategies and styles and being able to tailor-fit them with the needs of all students in the class requires mindfulness and genuine commitment to the education of learners.

References:

Grant, C. & Zeichner, K. (n.d.). On Becoming a Reflective Teacher. Available from http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/foundations/Grant_and_Zeichner.pdf

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall (0 13 295261 0).

The Need to Understand

“To teach is first to understand.” – L. Shulman (1987)

About a couple of months ago, I, together with other Science teachers in my department, were invited to a half-day training by PASCO Scientific (a company that offers software and hardware geared for the instruction of science). The school where I worked had just acquired additional software and hardware from PASCO and the technicians came over to help us familiarize ourselves with their use.

I remember how my coordinator told me that we will get to “play with our new toys” – she was so excited about how these new gadgets can help our students have a better appreciation of science.

During the training, I was surprised at the existing PASCO gadgets we had. I was unaware that we had those “toys”! For a while there, I thought about the times that I could have used them in my classes. However, I was just glad that I finally know that we have those probes and sensors to use in my future classes.

I was excited because we have a new digital microscope that will allow us to project specimens onto a screen. The software bundled with the microscope could even take pictures of the specimens! There were also sensors for gathering different data that will be useful when conducting investigatory projects.

During the demo, I realized that besides having new gadgets, it was also crucial for us to not only understand how to operate them, but also to know where they can best be used. It was a good thing that the software bundle also came with suggested activities that can be modified and adapted in the classroom.

The half-day training spent with PASCO also made me understand all the more how important it was for teachers to understand the content of the subjects they teach. This way, we can plan our lessons and activities better for the benefit of our students. This will also help us choose which tools we can use in the classroom that will help us impart knowledge effectively and that will fit the needs and skills of our students.

This experience brings to mind Mishra and Koehler’s (2006) idea of TPACK (technological pedagogical content knowledge) which basically states that “[q]uality teaching requires developing a nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between technology, content, and pedagogy”. Understanding content and knowing which strategies to employ is the first step towards teaching effectively. Understanding and using which technology works best will further enhance and enrich classroom experience.

 

For more information on PASCO products and services, you may visit http://www.pasco.com/

References:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x.

Shulman, L.S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57, 1-21.

 

Selling Short

Summer is almost here. I still have two weeks for lessons before I can properly think of summer. Personally, my brain cells seem to refuse to work anymore and my body is already on vacation mode. To top it off, I am teaching Physics for the remaining weeks. Correction, I am TEAM-teaching Physics. And my team mate is a seasoned Physics teacher.

Imagine what this is doing to my self-esteem.

Half the time I was teaching wave properties, I was thinking about how the other teacher was going about in his class. More than being compared, I dread not being able to equip my students with the much-needed skills they will use when they move up to Grade 9 more. I don’t want their experience in Physics to be like mine. I don’t want to bore them by droning on and on about frequencies, velocities and rarefactions. I wanted them to grasp the concepts and understand their applications in their daily activities.

The second-guessing has made it hard for me to think of creative ways to teach the subject. I felt like I was bumbling earlier when I had to start the topic on wave properties because he was using a ripple tank to illustrate how different waves looked like in his class while I only used a slinky in mine.

I needed help. So I talked with my co-teacher and he was kind enough to give me ideas and pointers on how I can better teach the topic. We decided to forego solving for variables and instead just help the students understand the wave relationships, how waves look like and how they behave. The kids will (properly) have more time to solve for wavelengths and amplitudes next year.

By putting things into perspective, he was able to help me relax and tap into my creative juices to think of other ways to demonstrate waves and ways for the students to relate them in real life. It also helped that he gave me a small pep talk. I now feel that I can teach the kids better.

Sometimes, it’s hard to look for ways to encourage critical thinking skills in students when you are being too critical about your strategies. Asking for help about the material I had to teach was a good thing. I know that doing so will benefit my students better.