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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Professional Development I Need

Secret message to School District Administrators responsible for Staff Development:

I have many good ideas, and shamelessly adopt other people's good ideas, but I'm not great at executing them. Some people seem to be born with a gift for it, but I'm not. I need practice, feedback from people who know what they are talking about, and chances to observe people who know what they are doing.

The scene: 8th period. My miraculously small, at 11 students, Algebra 1 class. I decide that I would rather stab myself in the eye than do the notes-practice-repeat routine about the slope formula.

I close the smartboard file and have them arrange their desks in a horseshoe. I lie and say that last period, before they were even aware, they were in pitched competition with 7th period. A competition to see which class can do "the wave" fastest. We talk about how we can compare which class is fastest, since we have about half the students they do.

And when I say "talk", I mean it's me and about 3 kids, the rest look listless, like they are waiting for me to just tell them what they need to know. We "decide" we need to measure how many kids can cycle through doing the wave at various timed intervals.

They have fun with this. There is open but good-natured rebellion when I won't let them do the wave for a full 5 minutes.

I decide how to record and organize everything on the board. I don't even know how I'd get them to do that part. I sketch a hasty graph.

There is lively debate about whether it would be better to add up all the people and all the seconds from all our trials and divide, or rather divide people by seconds for each trial and average the rates. These calculations come out differently, but they don't see why. I do a crappy job of explaining why the first option is better.

Then I fumble through a discussion of how "somethings per one something" is called "slope". They remembered the word, they remembered "rise over run". Briefly talk about extrapolation and interpolation, and an equation for the graph. A good teacher would have had just the right sequence of questioning prepared.

5 minutes before the bell, I panic and have them write m = (y2 - y1)/x2 - x1) in their notes and copy a few examples.

It's not easy for me to write that I'm not better at this by now. I hate sucking at stuff. I've seen how they need concrete models to hang their learning on. I don't know how to give it to them.

On Friday, all the high school teachers will come to school for a Staff Development Day. I am leading a "Smartboard Work/Share" session in my room. Not that I won't get some good work done, but honestly I am already excellent at using a computer. I need some one or ones to help me improve the execution of this lesson.