Trying new old things.

Status Quo Ante

Several years ago (I almost wrote “a couple of years” but realized it has been 7 or so…) I was at the CA Science Teacher Association conference and sat in on a talk about inquiry learning.  As a new-ish teacher I was happy to hear about less rigid lab methods being used by others.  In my credential program we were encouraged to do inquiry labs in our classes.

I liked doing them because I had a chance to see the students explore and figure things out on their own.  The students rarely liked these inquiry labs.  Even the guided inquiry labs, where I gave them a rough outline of what to do, were met with sighs.  It seemed that the students didn’t like having to think.

At the CSTA conference I was introduced to Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (1971).  I bought the book and it blew my mind! Over twenty years before I started teaching, Postman and Weingartner were preaching that inquiry activities and question-asking were the keys to an education revolution.  They also lamented the static methodology of teachers: despite the rapid increase in available technologies, teachers still lectured and gave exams just as they did for the previous 50+ years.  They were griping about this before VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, and the Internet!  How bad did I feel that I had a bazillion times the technology at my fingertips as they did and I still lectured and gave exams?  I felt horrible.

So where did this lead me?  At first I was emboldened and made my students write out questions, that I would answer, and did ONLY inquiry labs (sighs be damned!).  And while I also tried to make my kids not get stressed about state testing, I still tried to get them as prepped as possible.  Unfortunately, over the course of the year, I reverted back to some cookie-cutter, follow the direction labs, and withdrew a bit on the inquiry front.  I capitulated to my students desire to amass information in order to regurgitate it on tests, and quickly forget it.

But now I am at a new school!  And I am doing the flipped classroom!  And implementing some mastery learning methods!  And I still see the same desire from the students: just give me the information so I can memorize it… when is the test?.   Not having lectures in class has really thrown some students for a loop: how was I supposed to know that? You never taught me! …even if the content was presented in several videos, online simulations, tutorial websites, and in-class work.  And students still, on a slightly lesser scale, bemoan labs.  But why?  I remember loving labs the most in HS and College.

The Big Question

This question has been bugging me for weeks: why does it seem that given freedom to learn at their own pace, unhindered by the tyranny of a strict exam schedule, are my students still, for the most part, behaving as if I were boring them with lectures?

My gut reaction answer is that a large number of students, even those in AP classes (and maybe more so in AP), have conditioned themselves to place a higher priority on the metrics of performance than the sense of understanding that should come with learning something new.

I ran across a video clip of a Taylor Mali poem the other day and it really hit home.  The opening line: In case you hadn’t realized, it has somehow become uncool to sound like you know what you’re talking about… or believe strongly in what you’re, like, saying.  While this is intended to be half humorous, it is also half dead-on.  At least in my experience in the last few years.  Being the “smart” kids has always had an uncool stigma attached to it in the general population (despite making people laugh the guys on Big Bang Theory still have to dress as uncool as humanly possible…).  But I’ve noticed even my college-bound, top-20-in-the-class kids brushing off misunderstanding of a subject because they (luckily) did well enough on the exam to appease their parents.  And students in my general physics course getting upset because I demand they explain how to solve a problem before I give them credit.

Shouldn’t students in high school physics be the sort that crave learning?  Isn’t that why they are taking physics, and not some other elective?

I’ll ruminate on this some more and make a second post about what I want to do, and why, to attempt to reduce this problem…



4 thoughts on “Trying new old things.

  1. mrtheriaultfvhs

    Mr. Zook.
    I loved this: ” It seemed that the students didn’t like having to think.”
    You are correct if you say that MOST high school students don’t like to think. We, as a society, have done this to them. Students loved to experiment in 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, but then 6th grade hits and if you don’t have the right grades, you won’t be in GATE or honors and you won’t get into the Honors classes in high school. And if you don’t get the right grades in high school you won’t get into a good college which “everyone” (sarcasm) knows is the key to happiness and fulfillment. This pressure comes from both parents and the universities themselves because how else can Harvard justify costing more than Long Beach State if it’s not WAY better for you now and in the future. And parents want what is best for their kids so they want them to go to the best school possible. And obviously grades are important to us as teachers because we give grades.

    You can’t compete with all that pressure. So you are going to have to do some or all of the following:
    1. Find inquiry based projects that are so fun that they just WANT to do them.
    2. Find out what about the projects you like and give them points for demonstrating those behaviors so change your rubrics.
    3. Do these types of projects towards the end of the year AFTER they are all prepared for their hoop jumping.
    4. Give everyone an A and see if getting rid of grades helps.
    5. ? Something else that I haven’t or you haven’t thought of yet.

  2. Chris Long

    This may have nothing to do with your post… but an idea just sparked. Force is always required to change an object’s state of motion. Force is an interaction. Each student will thrive with different amounts of interactions. I think once you get the students moving in the right direction they will keep doing it. Years of edu-nertia will take a good deal of Force to change.

    1. thomaszook Post author

      Edu-nertia! I love it. If mass is the measure of inertia, what would be the measure of edu-nertia? Whatever the quantity, I’m sure it is directly proportional to grade level… if not the square of the grade level.

  3. Sophie

    i believe flipped classroom only gives more room for students to procrastinate and then try to learn everything before the test. I’m not saying its a bad concept, but, you have to be a really good teacher to keep the whole class focused on what they should be learning. Also in regards to why some students take physics, i believe its more of a social norm. If their friends take it and people they know take it, then they probably will too. I personally took ap classes in high school because most of my friends took them. I didn’t want to feel different, or simply put: “stupid”. i also pushed myself to please my parents, which could be another reason your students take physics. Usually high school kids don’t really care about learning new things, they just want to memorize the content, take a test, and move on. The best way to promote learning would be to have more interactive time with each of your students. Student-teacher relationships usually work best when the teacher actually knows his/her students. If you know what each student struggles on, then its easier for you to help them. Maybe you could try short quizes that test each students on their strengths and weaknesses. What they know and what they still need help on. i realize you probably have over 100 students but one can only try. I wish you the best of luck on your new experience.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s