Today was very challenging day in inquiry. I could easily mark this one as the worst day of the year, but I think that’s just how I feel at the moment.
Here are some reasons why I think things culminated in such ickiness today:
- It turns out that I have very little experience and knowledge concerning the difficulties and resources that students have to think in 3D dimensions and about rotations in three dimensions, but especially concerning how they might think about 2D representations of 3D things. This is an issue, because we are learning about the moon. For example, I am capable of noticing that students are really struggling “in-the-moment” of class and I can get some sense of what they might be struggling with, but I’m not good at anticipating any of it ahead of time. Thus, I’m improvising way too much in class, and my plans don’t go so well because they are not designed with knowledge of those difficulties or resources. In many cases (like today), I have chosen to abandon plans, but realize in hindsight that it would have been better to stick with plan. My improvising becomes too geared toward putting out fires, rather than pursuing meaningful activity in which fires arise and become resolved more graciously. Not being aware of what resources students are likely to benefit from, there are certain linge-pin ideas that I didn’t build up earlier when I should have, and then it can feel like (today) the whole bottom of our understanding falls apart. Like, on Wednesday, it felt like we all understood the moon, and today, everything we built about the moon was a house of cards. It wasn’t really, but it certainly felt like it.
- Somewhere along this semester, I have cultivated a very a “needy” classroom. If they can’t figure something out immediately, many just disengage and/or wait for me to come around and give them hints. I’ll have to think hard about how this happened, because this is not the norm for my classes. This facet of my class is of course exacerbated by the fact that I’m not doing a good job anticipating their difficulties in this unit. So, of course, they have more problems than I expect and I also provide them with less scaffolds than they need. Therefore I’m running around more, putting out fires table by table, while actually just flaming the fires of neediness.
- A few students I’ve let engage in a kind of classroom talk that is really unproductive–not talking about the science, but about the classroom itself. Those few feel like should let us know if we are doing something they don’t find personally meaningful or worthwhile. They have a strong voice that either pulls others in, or makes others roll their eyes. I’m generally OK with students have input and say, but it’s gotten unproductive. This is also exacerbated because of the two things list above.
- This unit has become (unintentionally) very focused on the ways in which our prior ways of understanding of the moon have been impoverished, rather than focusing on ways in which our new understandings are becoming rich. We have been talking a lot of the idea that the phases are caused by Earth’s shadow, but I think in talking about it in certain ways, some students have walked away feeling stupid for having ever thought it, and that’s not my intention.
Things to remind myself before I go home and have a glass of wine:
- I can learn from mistakes in my teaching. In fact, we learn much of the time by making mistakes.
- I can have bad days teaching and I can recover from them, both emotionally and practically.
- A class can have bad days and it can recover from them, both emotionally and practically.
- Although not always true, sometimes sticking with a plan is a good idea, even if you know it’ll be bumpy. A bumpy road is better than driving off the road into a ditch. And boy some ditches are painful.