What a good teacher does…

21 Sep

Went to my son’s 8th grade Open House for his school last night and met his teachers.  Good group of people, and very pleased all in all, but one teacher stood out more than others.  Ms. Dacy. Now, for those of you who have never been to an open house for a school – the basic format is, you go through all your kids classes as if you were attending them.  Each teacher does very quick a 5-10 minute bit in the class of what they’re going to cover and asks for questions afterward. The bell rings and you have five minutes to find your childs next class, teacher, etc., get signed in, seated and it starts all over again.  image

Idea here is you get to experience your childs day in a compressed format.  Kind of like a cross between a parent teacher 1 on 1 and Speed Dating – only in this case, only the teachers have to worry about Stalkers when it’s over. I’m guessing this is not how Socrates started his school years with students back in the day.  But,  hey a lot has changed since I was in the 8th grade, and when it Rome it’s usually not a good idea to insult the local authorities with silly questions like, "Where’s my luggage??"… but that’s another story.

Now, Ms. Dacy teaches what we used to call "Science" .  I know – I know –  they have a wonderfully PC name that I’m sure is more descriptive of it’s essence, and it’s 6 words in length — but the fact is – it’s Science class. (There – I did it in 1 word, do I get a cookie??  When – when – will we teach concise and clear brevity??) 

Anyway, after waiting for two of her previous years students who were visiting her class and joking around with her to leave … We got down to the business of things.  She’d put two sheets of paper on the tables for us, one said, "Take this Quiz for Fun!!", and the objective was to read the paragraph – which made no sense to 98% of the people in the room, and the answer questions about it.  The second sheet was the answers to the first sheet.  With both sheets there – most people of course got all the questions right. 

As Ms. Dacy pointed out – yes, we got all the questions right, but what was the Quiz over. Dead silence. Well the reason for this Ms. Dacy explained was that many students out there, most in fact, who are great students – kids with A’s can do just that.  They read, they study, they get all the answers right – and if you ask them what the tests were over … they sit there with blank stares.  They’ve learned to memorize, but not to actually know the material.

She explained a major portion of her goals in this class would be to remedy that, because at one time she was one of those students.  Got all the good grades – and the went out into the real world and had difficulties applying that knowledge.  She didn’t like the experience, and that’s in large part why she went into teaching.

She then went on to present the syllabus, which afterwards my wife had some questions about – after all wasn’t our son a bit old to learning the phases of the moon, and why it looks as it does?  And why start out the year with that  – then jump right into scientific method – then go back to astronomy later?  She was all over the field with the studies for children.  This of course underlines the differences between my wifes thinking and my own. 

The Importance of keeping your eye on the syllabus…
My wife – was like Ms. Dacy, a straight A student.  Taught by a system to see only what was on the surface.  I on the other hand was taught to question everything.  This has I suspect something to do with the fact that most of the people I hung out with in High School were trying to take your money.  And it was never a good idea to imageaccept what was being offered as a fact.  In fact, actually going into the last stall of the mens room to see the picture of the hot substitute teacher rumored to be there – often lead to having wet hair and missing your shoes and lunch money.  In the words of my high school mentor – Question Everything – and look for a Con!  

Ms. Dacy is running a con game – she isn’t teaching science.  She is teaching how to learn science and use it. 

Let’s look at what she’s up to – we start out with studies that involve personal observation and recording.  Ignore the fact that it’s the moon, the sun and the earth… basic science you pick up in 4th grade.  She’s not teaching the kids about that, they already (hopefully) know that.  But – in order to complete the assignment, you have to physically observe them the way she’s set things up.  Physically SEE them, Record what is seen, and compare the outcome wth the expectation.  So she’s using the kids natural desire to do things the easy way, as a way to hide the real purpose which is – to teach the skills for the next phase which is Scientific method. 

How did you observe this, what happened, what was the expected result?  That – is what she’s teaching them, over and over again.  And she’s doing it by not telling them what they’ve done until after they’ve done it.  In part I suspect as a confidence building effort.  Let’s face it – it’s a bit hard to say, "I can’t do this" or "I don’t understand"… when you just did it, and when kids say those things you can point this out and they have the empirical knowledge of doing it, as opposed to just simple words of encouragement.

Then, after they’ve gotten the hang of scientific method she moves back into the deeper aspects of what you just studied – so that this is not only reinforced, but it also gives them a chance to use those skills they now know they have – to go back and dig deeper into the subject and ask real questions.  Sneaky, now if she can just incorporate some tips on how to keep their rooms clean I’ll put her down as my new hero.

Over and over again – her seemingly scattered approach was an apophasis designed to get kids to learn not by study but by doing, and applying what had been done – to the study material.  Slower?  Yes it certainly is – it’s not going to win any awards with the speed learning people.  But effective?  It’s lethally effective as anyone who’s ever taken courses on how to use such techniques can tell you, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it used in an 8th grade science class.

Over all – I’m very pleased to see that science is in good hands.  Regardless of what my wife thinks.  She also didn’t like the math teacher that still used the old fashioned grade books to keep track of progress.  (YES!! ANOTHER BELIEVER IN THE ANCIENT ART OF WRITING IT DOWN IN PHYSICAL FORM BEFORE COMMITTING IT TO THE ETHER!!!)

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Posted by on September 21, 2007 in Uncategorized


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