Learning Manifesto

How

Teaching Chemistry means challenging students’ academic capabilities.  Chemistry is a broad subject – at times it is a Science class, at times a Foreign Language Class, at times a History class, and the 2nd semester is very heavy on Math.  Furthermore, the course builds on itself to where if a student has not learned the first semester material then the second semester will be nearly impossible.  Students who fall behind must be helped to catch up and not feel as if they don’t really need to learn the material.

Chemistry’s variety poses a potential for chaos – of creating a fractured, jumbled learning experience for the student.  But it also provides an opportunity for learning to take different forms. I use labs, physical models, physical manipulatives, creative projects such as making their own version of a periodic table covering a topic of their choosing in addition to the charts, worksheets, lectures and problems that are integral to fully comprehending the subject. 

Furthermore, I try to grow each year as a teacher, knowing I need to find even more ways to reduce the number of lecture/worksheet days and differentiate instruction to best meet the needs of both high and low-performing students.

The fundamental of my teaching style, however, will remain in trying to carve out as much 1:1 or 1:2 time as possible.  I believe that ten minutes 1:1 is worth over an hour of teaching a class in terms of that student grasping the concept.

The Result

The goal of all the work is for the student to walk away knowing and feeling that their education is important and that the knowledge they gained will help them to pursue their own goals, even if it isn’t directly applicable.  Chemistry will challenge their brain, and at the end of it, their brain will be physically different than the start.  Students will further see the passion and persistence I take in teaching them and know that this means that they, and their education, are important.

The emerging issues I see with digital learning include a suspicion of it by teachers who think it will prove to be a passing fad by administration and by students who are subjected to it being improperly used.  The students I spoke with have a generally negative view of digital learning because they feel they learn better from traditional methods.  I think this, in part, is due to inconsistent use of digital learning, poor use at times when tried, and perhaps teachers who relax their efforts once the students are directed to another source of learning.  Not incorporating digital learning in a lower-income school risks reducing the education of these students relative to other schools, but implementing digital learning without providing all students complete capability to access and use it risks creating this divided educational opportunity within the school.

                Teachers probably need to be taught best practices for creating digital learning, and I really don’t see why there isn’t a national repository of lessons per subject per day that are accessible by all that teachers can incorporate as needed.

                Education gets a very bad rap.  Noneducators view teachers as static bureaucrats who resist change.  Having worked 20+ years in the corporate world and with five years of teaching now under my belt, I can attest that this is not only untrue, but education is far more change oriented than most corporations.  So, I think one of the things Education does wrong is to allow others to create the perception of it by all.  Too often it is individuals with their own motives and agendas who are on television painting the picture of education today.  Schools need to market their changes better, and let their community know just how much training each teacher takes each year.  Big projects should be announced and explained to the community, including the why’s and the research supporting the change.  Finally, even the things schools do today are unknown by many noneducators who judge schools today by their own experience perhaps decades ago.  (In contrast, the stark changes they do see, such as Common Core Math, are so unfamiliar to them that they revolt and reject it – which also comes from not getting prior community buy-in.)

                Schools need strategic plans to perhaps slow the rate of change but at the same time commit more fully towards the changes they do make.  The school district I worked at previously was building a High School architecturally designed around Project Based Learning – and PBL was then not required to be taught by any of the teachers when the new Superintendent was hired – and before the High School was even finished being built.  This builds cynicism of change. 

                As we look forward, digital learning is inevitable, but not monolithic.  It will be a tool but not The Way.  So long as students are required to take classes just because the state tells them to there will be a motivation gap.  Teachers are needed to fill that gap – to tie what they are learning to what they hope to do, and sometimes just to be the voice that tells the student that their education is important because they are important.

I will jump wholeheartedly into digital learning.  Our school district is moving to Blackboard this year and I will have a decent proportion of almost every unit on this for student work and review.  I hope that Blackboard will reduce the non-teaching time (i.e. grading) so that I have more time to spend with students or planning lessons, or planning differentiated learning opportunities for those above and below the mean.  Finally, by opening the door to digital learning I believe that I will open the door to being surprised by my students as they become free to present answers in ways outside of the traditional.