What Did My Students Think Of This Year? (2016-17 Edition)

Cursor_and_Untitled.jpgAs many regular readers probably remember, each year I ask my students to complete a survey about the entire school year.  It’s the pinnacle of a
year spent building a culture of feedback, and the students know that it provides me with critical information about my teaching.  It’s public so that I am held accountable for what they say, and it’s anonymous so that my students can feel free to be honest.  I knew that our focus on continuous feedback was making an impact when I asked a class why they thought that I use this survey.  The response from one student said it all:

“So that you can be a better teacher next year than you were this year.”

The raw results from this year’s survey (filtered slightly for appropriateness and student privacy) can be found here, and the posts from previous year’s survey data can be found here and here.  Here are my three biggest takeaways:

  1. Some things don’t change.  Compared to last year, my students in 2016-2017 provided very similar feedback in a lot of ways.  They had some very similar responses, such as giving me a good grade for class (98% A or B), and similar comments (one of my favorites is “Mr. C has a way of making you actually WANT to learn. It’s a miracle.”).
  2. My work to build a culture of feedback in my classroom has met some success.  Students are beginning to see their grades as a measure of their learning.  They report that they value grades as a form of feedback.  That’s promising.
  3. Face-to-face beats online.  Based on their responses, students saw the most value in the activities that involved personal contact, like lab activities and discussions.  That surprised me because I assumed that my “digital native” students would prefer  using screens to interact.  I was wrong.survey_activities.png

Have you brought student surveys into your practice?  Tell me about the results.


Am I A Teaching ‘Novelty’?

e3911b6d00c81bd61c24def921f827c3I was curious to read this recent piece in EducationNC from the perspective of a male teacher.  I fully expected to align with the arguments of the author (Douglas Price, a NC charter school educator), but I was surprised to find that I didn’t.

Price makes a couple of main points in his article, including that male teachers are critical to the success of students and that we need more male teachers.  As a member of this relatively small group, I would love to see more male teachers.  But, I don’t necessarily agree that our role is as critical as Price suggests.

Sure, there are data to back up the critical role that male role models play.  We know that male students especially need to see men in important careers in order to feel a sense of possibility.  We also know that men can be an important voice when it comes to demonstrating appropriate behavior.  But that’s not enough.

As a middle-aged white dude, my impact on kids has much more to do with getting them excited about science than about promoting “male-ness”.  The privilege that I enjoy gives me the ability to speak from a position that few of my male students enjoy.  As such, I feel that it is much more important that we focus on improving minority representation at the front of the classroom, rather than wasting resources trying to put more white men in positions of power for students to observe.

Novelty alone will not solve the problems that plague our country and its educational system.  We need low-income students to see a way out of their situation and that comes from seeing the diversity of our world on display in their classrooms.  Male teachers are not enough, and I think our efforts can be better spent elsewhere.


Blocking Teens is Not the Answer

“Researchers looked at 74 Android mobile apps and found that 89 percent of the security features on the apps focus on parental control by blocking and monitoring teens’ online activities. Only 11 percent support teens’ ability to regulate their own behavior. In other words, most of the apps don’t encourage parents and teens to talk about their shared social media values. And that may be a missed opportunity.”

From a recent NPR piece about how apps allow parents to manage content by blocking it rather than teaching teens how to make smarter decisions.


This year’s theme: CURIOSITY

Thanks to the beautiful minds in my Professional Learning Network, I recently discovered Jon Gordon’s appropriately short book One Word.  The book explores the idea that focusing on a single word is a very powerful way to make change in one’s life.  As someone who constantly looks for ways to improve and seeks out feedback from the other people in my life, I try to find a theme for each year.  In the past, I have made attempts to focus on specific changes like writing more or student-centered learning.

This year, through all of my various forms of personal development, I will be focusing on the idea of curiosity.  I want to spend more time thinking about my own curiosity as well as the curiosity of my students.  I want to find opportunities to encourage my own questioning, modeling for my students how to be a scientist in life.  But, I also want to make time in my lessons to recognize, reward, and reinforce a sense of wonder among my students.  As Sir Ken Robinson has often remarked, the public school system has a knack for squeezing the divergent thinking right out of students (and teachers alike).

I like this goal because it’s more holistic than focusing on specific classroom techniques, but it’s also more sustainable.  For my students and myself, curiosity is a behavior that has long-lasting implications for all aspects of our lives.  Curiosity is the trait that makes people want to learn more about science and the world around them.  A world with more curiosity and wonder is a world ripe for science education to help students find answers to those questions in their imagination.

To follow my year-long journey of curiosity, check back here at the blog and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@mrscienceteach on both) where I will be posting the questions that occur to my throughout my day.  And keep the curiosity flowing by commenting here and everywhere online that you find ideas that make you think.