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Best Best Class Ever—when I leave the room

October 9, 2014

My Honors Physics class continues to blow my mind. Today I had to leave class early to go to a meeting, so I told them I wanted them to work on this very challenging problem, and record themselves discussing the problem.

Screen Shot 2014 10 09 at 12 59 49 AM

Here’s the video—remember, this is the last 15 minutes of class at the end of the day):

It turned out my meeting ended early, so I was able to sneak back into the lab and overhear them for about 5 minutes of this conversation while the class couldn’t see me. All a colleague and I could do is just stare awe of how the students were working so thoughtfully through this problem. Really, this video is one of those situations where I think if I had been there in discussion, I could have only made things worse.

This video makes me think about so many things I don’t understand why this class is like this? Why I can’t get my other classes, both past and present to work together like this?

It also makes me worry—will this class still be like this in February, when we are all exhausted and ready for spring break?

There are voices in this video that you don’t hear much, or at all. How can I help those students to be able to express their questions and ideas? How can I help the more dominant voices, to learn to draw out and build on the ideas of their less vocal peers?

Finally, it seems like we should be doing more than our standard curriculum of doing labs an solving problems. These students are capable of learning completely on their own. They should be able to devise and conduct experiments to test their own questions. They should be able to read and explore physics topics of interest to them. How do I facilitate this? How do we find time? How do I get them to reach the same depth with that kind of work that they are in this video?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2014 9:33 am

    My rebellious mind immediately imagined what could be going on behind the camera 😉 In a way, you were there — they knew they were on camera, and they knew you’d see and hear….

  2. October 9, 2014 8:24 pm

    This is great, John – thanks for sharing. We’ve discussed before how ‘hovering’ too much when students are working affects the quality of their work as a group. You’ve made a perfect example of how your absence made them step up and actually interact with each other in a more authentic way.

    Among my official goals this year (submitted to my administrators) is making a consistent portion of each class dedicated to students working on their own. I always tend to butt in, and I don’t need to do so. I might take the video approach and conveniently make myself disappear for a while to see what happens.

  3. October 10, 2014 10:36 am

    Taught three PreCalc classes last week as a sub. Two classes struggled through the material, one worked together with incredible collaboration and focused intensity. The key difference came when a S disengaged with a “why should I have to teach myself, that’s the teachers job” and closed his book. Ownership of your educational experience is the difference. How to build that level of self respect and responsibility is the $1M dollar question!

  4. October 12, 2014 11:32 pm

    I love how they work so great together and they continue to do good in your class. I like watching the videos you post of them. I think by giving them a project to do and record each other in the process, made them realize they could not goof around. I think this could be good for as teacher that even would be teaching History to make them do it for a project.

    I know my EDM 310 teacher at South Alabama, would love to use this I am sure because he is all about technology and how it works I just wish we would have been brought up that way when we were in elementary and high school like kids are now.

  5. Boston Morgan permalink
    February 1, 2015 7:44 pm

    I noticed a difference from when you were in the classroom and from when you were not. I’m sure you’re a wonderful educator, but some students may feel pressure to be less vocal in your presence because of the fear of being wrong. Yet, when you were not in the room it seemed like more ideas were being vocalized. I feel like when students work with their peers to solve something it helps to reduce the stress of being wrong, leading more students to become apart of the disucssion. As a student myself, I can agree that working with my fellow students to solve a problem through the process of collaboration is not only less intimidating, I feel as if it also helps me to retain the material. The idea of having your students work together to solve this problem was a great idea. It may help to bring some out of their shell and have the more outspoken members learn things from those who would otherwise not speak.

  6. Johanna Logan permalink
    March 25, 2015 8:13 pm

    Hi John!

    I’m Johanna Logan. I’m currently studying Elementary Education at the University of South Alabama. I loved this post! I was in awe while watching the video. Seeing the kids collaborate when you left the room shows just how important it is for the students to be able to work alone for a portion of the class; we as teachers don’t always need to be in the lead.
    Thank you for sharing!
    If you ever have some free time you should go take a look at my blog.
    Johanna’s Blog

    – Johanna Logan

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