We're reaching that point in the year where it's not quite time to go back but it wouldn't hurt to start thinking about some things necessary for the new year. I've found that there's only so much fiddling you can do because it'll either be so long before it's time to integrate your great idea that you've forgotten it or things won't go as planned and you'll have to scrap everything. Some teachers like having their pile of copies ready to go that will get them through October. To me that feels limiting on the off chance some stroke of brilliance arrives and changes the game. For example, my posters I like to brag about were a mid-season audible.
Some issues of concern and projects for the late July no man's land:
- finalizing my iPad use scheme (I'm so so close)
- scanning through boot camp to see if any changes might be necessary
- deploying a new classroom layout, a focus on minimizing the space I take up so that the students don't feel so cramped
- find somewhere in my room for my student teacher to set up shop
- figure out what having a student teacher will be like, and be willing to give him the reigns of a couple classes, much as it pains me
- taking lots of deep breaths as my staff development over Standards Based Grading will be a full house, 21 attendees at last count, including influential curriculum development people
- despite what I said about six weeks worth of copies, some investment will be made planning the first several weeks of Algebra II as we're deploying a new curriculum
- Passed along to me by someone else was this fascinating list of activities related to seating charts.
Lastly, two bigger things that deserve more than a list item. Researching teaching on the internet is a fascinating experience. There are so many great teachers out there who have decided to share their good stuff with the world. It's had two effects on me.
First, it pushes me to do better. Find things that I thought were good about my practices and tweak them. My classroom groups and testing methods were the direct result of things I read about through the teacher-verse. Trying to impress the teacher-verse or live up to the kind of work these people do helped reshape the way I think about lessons and assessment questions. Such as integrating far more paragraph writing into Algebra II than I was ever required to do as a student, requiring oral assessment of my Pre-Cal students, and learning how to stop talking and give the kids room to discuss.
Second, it makes me a little upset when I deliver a flat lesson or can't think of ways to integrate a cool idea I read about. Great example: whiteboarding. It looks fantastic, promotes great discussion, and is a stellar learning tool for the kids. But I have no idea how to integrate it into my daily practices. I struggle with the class time it would take, finding the right scenarios to deploy it, and the challenges of doing it with a room full of 30 kids. When the primary examples of its use are in an AP Physics/Calculus class of 15, I have trouble seeing how it would scale to a grade level Algebra II class of 30.
There are other examples, but my inability to wrap my head around whiteboarding is one of them. On the flat lesson front, my next project is to flesh out my topic inventory. For each topic of a given semester, I want to determine what I have good practice sets for, what I have activities for, whether I like the activity still or have ways to enhance it, and most importantly, what hooks do I have to open the lesson on that topic. At the end of the year I found myself presenting lessons will little more flair than "we're on this kind of problem now."
With last year's theme being the full blown integration of Standards Based Grading, I think this year's theme is higher quality lessons. I think something teachers struggle with is increasing the demands of their students. I still have this fear, that they just won't comply. And yet I think about how simplistic my tests were the first year and how much I got out of my Algebra II seniors (an arguably tough crowd) this year and realize that kids are willing to do whatever you say if it's important to you.