Posted in Education, STEM, Teaching

Did We Do Something Wrong?

For some strange reason I have a very guilty conscience.  It could be that in the past, I did lie to the school nurse when I said I had a doctor’s appointment but instead really had plans with my friends.  Or maybe it was the time I told the librarian that I had returned the book when in actuality my dog had eaten it.  Whatever the reason may be for the feeling of constant guilt I carry around, when something goes awry I feel like I am at fault.  What did I do wrong?  What could I have done differently?  While taking immediate responsibility for everything that goes wrong in the world is not the most effective way to live one’s life, it does allow me to live in a constant state of reflection.  I’m always analyzing my day, my choices, and my life to figure out how I can grow and develop as an individual and citizen of planet Earth.  Sometimes though, this self-finger pointing can get a little onerous as I take ownership for problems that I did not necessarily cause or that I had no part in.  While dying a martyr might get me sainthood, I’d rather live a happy and stress free life.  So, perhaps thinking that everyone that goes “wrong” in my life is my fault, may not be the most sensible way to live my life.

Today in STEM class, my co-teacher and I planned, what we thought was going to be a quick review activity regarding finding the circumference of a circle.  The students had already practiced this skill earlier in our unit.  We were merely reviewing it so that the students could be prepared for Monday’s geometry exam.  The worksheet had eight problems on it.  The first four problems had the students find the diameter or radius of a circle given the circumference.  This required some backwards thinking on the part of our students.  However, we did a unit on algebra earlier in the year and figured our students knew how to solve equations.  The other four problems had students find the circumference of a circle given the radius or diameter.  Those seemed quite straight forward.  At the start of the lesson, we reviewed the equation used to find the circumference of a circle.  We also discussed what the various parts of the equation represent.  Then, the students started working on the worksheet.  That’s when problems started to arise.  The students had great difficulty with the first four problems where they had to find a part of the equation instead of solving it.  Many of the students didn’t understand what to do.  They seemed confused.  So, we went through one problem together as a class.  For some that helped, but for others, they still seemed quite befuddled by how to solve this type of problem.

My co-teacher and I debriefed the lesson and outcome following class.  She seemed worried that the students couldn’t recall algebraic information when solving the problems.  She thinks that maybe we are not effectively preparing them for the seventh grade, math wise.  While part of me wanted to own the problem and agree with her, I also realized that those struggling students were of a fixed mindset.  They have trouble seeing beyond what is in front of them.  Plus, these problems required some higher order thinking skills that some of our boys just don’t have yet.  Developmentally, they are not there yet and that’s appropriate.  Part of what we try to do in our STEM class, is have the students solve their own problems.  We want them to work through the struggle and failure.  While we support and help them along this journey, we also don’t coddle or fix every issue for them.  We want them to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills to figure things out.  Sure, I am a bit worried that some of our students may not be placed into the highest level math class next year, but I am also aware of the fact that we were asking them to do something very different.  Trying something new for some students can seem formidable.  If we were to do this same worksheet again, I’m hopeful that those utterly confused students would be less puzzled.

At the end of the day, we will be giving the students a final placement exam at the end of the year.  This will help with math placements for next year and also provide us with data about the skills our sixth graders mastered this year in STEM class.  Did we help them grow and develop effectively?  Do they have the skills needed to be successful next year?  Let’s hope so, but, like any new program, we are aware that there will be kinks that need to be worked out.  Collecting this data will allow us to do so.  Of course, we can always improve as teachers, but, it is nice to know that sometimes, we didn’t cause things to go wrong because there was nothing that went wrong.  Perception is a big part of life and what seems to be right or wrong.  Occasionally, even though there appears to be a problem, it’s actually just a part of a solution we have yet to discover.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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