A reflection of my day

Let me tell you about my workday on Friday, in reverse chronological order. This may sound banal, but please bear with me, as there is method to my madness.

After school: Chatting with colleagues, sharing links, resources, and videos that we had collected recently. Spent some time watching math videos by Vi Hart

Last period: Grade eleven Physics. We are studying sound, and this was the last delivery lesson before students are cut loose to build a musical instrument of their own. We discussed room acoustics, using Raven to see the “ringdown” reverberation from a clap in the room. Also did a spectrum analysis of a trumpet and xylophone, saw how a woodpecker’s warble sounds like a honking goose when slowed down by a factor of 10, recorded students singing “Friday” (since they were singing it anyway) and saw that the spectrogram of the song sped up by a factor of 3 looks exactly like it at regular speed – the stretch in the frequency axis canceled by fitting it to the window.  Then for fun, we played it backwards.

Second last period: composed weekly letter to parents, hunted down internet resources for my classes, sent reminders to students about upcoming (and overdue) assignments, tracked down a student who needed extra help but hadn’t yet come to find me.

Lunch: Chatted with Grade 9 students who stuck around after class to ask questions and shoot the breeze for a while, then rushed down to the cafeteria to scarf back some mediocre food, before rushing back to meet my three AP Physics students. I meet with them at lunch to go over the AP content that is not part of our regular Physics curriculum, since the enrollment was too small for a separate class. These kids make my day. They are keen, inquisitive, and soak up the physics as fast as I can dish it out. And they catch my mistakes quickly – brilliant! Today, in about half an hour, we covered the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics, and used an LTD Stirling engine and PHET simulations to illustrate heat transfer and work done by a quasi-static system, and why such a system can never be 100% efficient.

Second period: after a slightly tedious round of taking up homework, we had a straightforward consolidation period, where students worked collaboratively on questions selected to reinforce their understanding of ecosystems, nutrient cycles, and community interactions. Prompted some great questions, and allowed the students and I to see just how much they really knew, vs how much they thought they knew.

Mentor period: Met with my group of mentees, went over announcements, discussed upcoming events for them and the school, and collected “civvies day” donations to help with disaster relief in Japan.

First period: Nothing.

Wait. What?

During my first period I teach a Grade 12 Physics class, and I had prepared an open-ended activity whereby the students would compare the storage capacities of CD’s and DVD’s by bouncing lasers off them and examining the resultant diffraction pattern.

Except almost no one was ready.

Of 18 students, only four had done the prep work, which involved 5 questions – my three AP kids, and one other. Of the remainder, a few were guiltily apologetic, and the rest were apathetically unrepentant. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (perhaps they were busy with sports or other course work), I set the prepared students up with the lasers and disks, and had the others work on the questions so I could assist them. Once the prep was done, they could do the lab in the second half of the class. Three of the students worked on the questions diligently, five worked on them halfheartedly, and rest did nothing.

Why? I have been asking myself that for a while now, along with “what do I do about it?”

As an educator, I feel it is my responsibility to try to engage my students as much as possible, while still meeting my obligations to deliver the ministry-mandated curriculum. And yet, frustratingly, there is a group of senior students in that class this year who (with apologies to John Cleese) I can’t seem to get to go voom if I put twelve million volts through them. Perhaps they have been together too long as a group and evolved a “culture of apathy”, perhaps they were overly “protected” from failure in the past and have become complacent, perhaps they really just don’t care, or perhaps my previous fifteen years of teaching high school and university just have not prepared me for this particular group. Perhaps a combination, or some additional factor(s) I have not considered. But whatever the reason, it is getting worse as university acceptances are rolling in – it’s the final term, they’re in, and it’s just a long slow exhale to the finish line. Except 40% of their mark (“grade” for those south of the 49th parallel) is between now and then, and complacency could be fatal.

Frankly, as a teacher with a handful of keen students who want to learn in the class, dragging the dead weight of the entrenched, reluctant third can only be described as exhausting and soul sucking. And it sets a negative tone for the day that is a struggle to overcome.

And, as rotten as it makes me feel, it only makes me want to try to reach them even more. Perhaps I have a hitherto suppressed masochistic streak, but I am taking this as a challenge. I have amassed a substantial set of resources and strategies through my PLN over the last few months, and I am open to any and all suggestions that continue to come my way, and I intend to throw everything I can at them to get those students to learn.

Wish me luck.

One thought on “A reflection of my day

  1. Kerry

    I can completely relate to what you are saying. I teach grade 11 physics in Quebec for a virtual school and I’m encountering the same class dynamic. These students are graduating this year as well and most have already applied / been accepted to Cegep. I’ve addressed this problem by giving my students a rather challenging, but engaging, project to do (building a model of a roller-coaster using marbles for the cars to investigate the conversion of energy from potential to kinetic). They are going to sink or swim on this one. It won’t be by lack of effort on my part!


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