11 July 2013

Left us wanting more

The College Board decided to change the AP Chemistry curriculum and exam.  The entire course is shifting toward specific Learning Objectives and guided-inquiry lab activities.  The exam has fewer questions which require more application of knowledge than pure recall, and emphasizes students analyzing pictures and word expressions for chemical processes.  The whole shift is actually really exciting and will fit very much into the philosophy I have for my classes.

In order to get better prepared for this paradigm shift, I registered for an AP Summer Institute (APSI) at Rutgers University, which happens to be 4 miles from my home.  This will be my 9th year teaching AP Chemistry and my scores are primarily 3 or above so I was looking for three things: a better understanding of how the exam was structured, how to incorporate these 16 labs College Board wants us to use, and how to get my students' scores to the next level (3s turned to 4s, etc.).  What I got was something very, very different.

I was originally writing this post as a way to get my thoughts in order before I send a disgruntled email to Rutgers and the College Board about the lack of preparation this APSI provided.  Then I remembered my goal here: to flip the way I see the world.

Now, there is no way I can put a positive spin on this experience.  There was a tremendous amount of time where I was not engaged in the learning which meant I could better reflect on learning that occurs in the classroom.

  1. Lecture really doesn't cut it anymore.  It doesn't matter how amazing and entertaining you are, today's learners have far too many other things going on in their brain to listen to long lectures.  There are distractions on their phones, computers, lives that are keeping them from devoting the amount of energy toward focusing on learning your content.  There needs to be engagement of the learners.  This may mean small group discussion, organized large group discussion, hands-on activities, analysis of a reading passage.  Really anything that gets the brain actively involved is important.  While I was taught in a time where you could get away with lecturing for 45-60 minutes (and it happened often) today's brains are used to multiple stimuli.   They also have an unbelievable ability to multi-task and teachers need to remember that just because someone isn't paying attention, doesn't mean they aren't listening.
  2. Differentiation is extremely important.  It doesn't matter if it is the main lesson for the day or the lab activity that you are about to complete as a class, if you have students who are advanced and want to move forward without you, don't hold them back.  The teacher used to be the authority in the classroom and students were told to respect the teacher no matter what.  Now, you have to earn that respect on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, that's not the hard part.  The hard part is when the teacher has to re-earn that respect after it is lost by saying/doing something that offends the students.
  3. Remember that no matter what you are teaching every student, every day.  It doesn't matter if the student asked the question or not, if the person is on the right side or left, front or back, or if the person is even in the classroom.
  4. Students need to be respectful of each other as well as the teacher.  Students can't be disrespectful of the learning of others.  But, those who feel disrespected cannot be rude is return.  You need to speak up about what is happening and the teacher needs to regain control of the learning atmosphere.
School needs to change. I wish I had the exact recipe to make that happen, but things definitely need to be different.  But, I can only do so much.  I fell more importantly that I need my students to want the change, embrace the change, and help me make the change too.