Crowdsourcing a learning-to-teach framework

After a good conversation with a friend that is getting started with teaching, I was thinking a bit about the process of learning to teach. Things that I obsessed about as a first year teacher come much more naturally now, but if you asked me what I needed to learn in the beginning, I would have babbled on like an idiot. Knowing what to focus on when everything is so new, not to mention feeling you aren’t good at any of it, you understand why it is so easy for students to shut down when we ask them to ‘be responsible’ without helping them understand what we mean. Our job as teachers is to provide students with a framework that will help them be successful in learning what we teach them.

You would hope that guidance in this would be an essential component of teacher preparation programs, but it often doesn’t, particularly in cases where observation is a box to be checked, not a pathway to improvement. There are many frameworks for observation, but I haven’t seen one that specifically gives guidance (or even a curriculum?) for what new teachers should be looking for when in a mentor teacher’s classroom. Most of the observation forms I’ve seen are in evaluating teachers for teacher quality. When I go to watch a colleague, I’m thinking about how I’m going to use what I see to improve what I do, not how to make them a better teacher. I know what I am looking for because I’ve had the keys to my classroom for a little while.

C’mon internet, let’s work together to create this and help our newbies. We were all new to this once, and there’s a lot that we may not realize we are thinking about after pulling out our hair and having teaching nightmares for so long. (Do they ever stop?)

To be clear, the goal is to start conversations between new teachers and their mentors, not put new teachers in a position to evaluate those who are being observed. We want to make the most of this time that is probably the most valuable teacher preparation tool outside of standing in front of a class yourself.

I’ve put a document designed to compile these ideas here:

So you’re a new teacher. What should you focus on this week?

Please add to the list and snarky-up the title. There may even be a better way to organize this so that it isn’t a big list that again serves only to intimidate. Maybe along the lines of Emergency Compliments?

Modeling anyone? Fans on carts edition.

After reading a lot about the success that others have had with teaching physics using the modeling method, I’m giving it a shot as I start Newton’s laws with my physics class. When I taught this with my AP physics previously, I did a traditional development of Newton’s laws describing (I admit it – lecturing) about Newton’s understanding of what caused acceleration. We talked about acceleration being proportional to net force and inversely proportional to mass, and then went from there exploring what it meant for net force to be zero through a series of problems involving net forces, components, etc.

What I did seemed to work in so far as students were able to solve the problems I gave them. The undying assumption of course is that what I did was efficient and made me feel that I had got across the material to students, but along the way I wasted an opportunity for students to SEE the principles in action and try to figure things out on their own. Since my students this year are not taking the course at the AP level, I see no reason not to try this and see how it compares in the long run to student understanding and enjoyment of the exploration of physics concepts. It is the sort of thing that I can see doing even in the Physics B curriculum, as dense as it is, given the fact that students really need a chance to play to connect the mathematics of the equations to the fact that physics describes the real world, not just idealized situations.

Here’s where I’d love to get some input though – I am giving my students a test in the first half of the 85 minute period tomorrow, and then my plan is to let them spend the rest of the time watching some videos that I took this afternoon of toy fans attached to cars on an air track. The students will get to play with the actual air track, but I want to introduce to the way I want them to play by seeing these videos that I created.

I have posted the series of videos here at my wiki site. The general instructions for what I want them to do are there, but I might as well run through them here as well.

First, I want them just to watch all the videos. No physics, just observation. After they have done this, I’ve posted a number of questions I want them to use to classify, analyze, and predict based on constant velocity and non-uniform velocity cases. I plan to have them sketch what effect a single fan would have on the motion of the cart. My plan in the end is to have them construct a situation with the fans that results in a given scenario. For example: arrange the fans on the cart so that The cart has zero initial velocity and an acceleration to the left. Draw position, velocity, and acceleration graphs, and then use Tracker to confirm/refute what their models suggest will happen.

Let me know your thoughts either here or through Twitter (@emwdx) – I am excited to try this, and excited to give the students a chance to get some first hand experience testing their own ideas. I had a blast playing with it this afternoon, and while I do have a different standard for what is ‘fun’ at times, I don’t think this is one of those times.

Wiki site: