No Labs in Science

A bit of discussion has been bubbling up based on this article.  Give it a read and then read on here.  I tried very hard to see it from their perspective but can’t seem to be convinced of their logic in eliminating labs.  I guess that the FCAT doesn’t have a performance (lab) section of their assessment.  NYS has one at each level and I’m glad that it does since it requires teachers to teach lab skills and not skip them to try and raise test scores.  I think more and more people are realizing the effect (often unforeseen) that a high stakes standardized testing environment brings.  Couple this assessment crazy environment with a budget crisis and it’s no wonder teachers ditch labs.  I’ve given up on doing labs in my General Chemistry class for awhile, but only because they couldn’t handle themselves with maturity, not because I wanted to raise test scores.  Science without labs and experiments isn’t science at all.

Keep it Under 27

Like many teachers my class size ballooned over the last 3 years.  Our district had long been blessed with smaller class sizes;  I rarely had a class over 23.  Last year I had a class of over 30 and this year my largest is 28.  Adjustments had to be made.

A lab or activity that had been possible before becomes a safety and/or logistical nightmare with upwards of 27 students.  One of my favorite labs for students is a density column lab (a modified form of this one) which really has them mentally work out comparative densities with a bonus that it’s also colorful and fun.  The number of materials and student participation just aren’t there with over 27 students.

Labs are an obvious casualty of increased class size; however, participation techniques are also negatively affected.  Consider the popular Think, Pair, Share.  In a class of 24 you would have 12 kids whispering to each other throughout the room.  Even in a class of 24 its sometimes difficult to keep this just under a dull roar.  Having 15 students sharing with each other in a class of 30 creates an unreasonable amount of noise and distraction.  Not is the decibel level is higher, but there is a higher concentration of students.  Instead of maybe 5 ft between pairs there is only 3ft.  How is it possible that just a few more students create that much more noise?  I can’t tell you the exact physics other than to say there is a definite carrying capacity for students in a room (and I have a large room) in regards to these types of techniques.

Other techniques such as Take a Stand are possible with specific planning for the larger number of students.  A smaller classroom would be make this technique all but impossible.  There is barely enough room for the teacher to circulate and desks are crammed up to 3 of the 4 walls.  Card showing  techniques are a much better option I feel for a larger class size, but it is harder to guage individual responses and therefore assess what they know.  These card techniques involve having student hold up cards with something written on either side (T or F, Conclusion or Inference, Quant or Qual).  Surveying a room of 27 or more cards and making sure all students have participated can be challenging.

Now I’m not suggesting that all participation techniques can’t be done or even the ones mentioned can’t be done, just that planning for them in a room of 27 or more students requires special attention and accomodations.  The techniques need to be tweaked and training behaviors becomes even more essential.  After speaking with several colleagues we arrived at the number of 27 as the tipping point for class rooms.  Get below that and its not much different than 24.  Get above that and you really need to take a second look at the plans you have.

Remote Desktop

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My first tech project of the year was to access my school computer remotely with my Xoom tablet.  I worked with our District IT guy to help get this idea rolling.  I’d mentioned my plan last year and we decided to run it as a pilot.  There were a few things we needed:  a wireless router, a tablet, and the remote access software.

After switching to Verizon Fios  this summer I had an extra Linksys WTR56GL router which I brought into school.  We hooked that up in the first week of school and with the IT help it took only about 15 minutes.  I can get a signal from one end of my room to about half way down the hall (about2 additional rooms).  I can’t give any other details on the tech.  You need the network guy to turn on the port and set the router proxy for the network.

The toughest decision I had to make regarding the technology was whether to go with the Samsung Galaxy Tab or the Motorola Xoom.  I went with the Xoom because it came with 32GB of memory and a 5 instead of 3 megapixel camera.  I was concerned about the weight initially but decided it didn’t matter since any cover would negate any benefit of the Samsung being slightly lighter.  I’ve been happy with the Xoom since them with a couple critiques which I may write up in another post.  Why not an iPad?  I have an android phone and already have a multitude of apps from the Amazon App Store.  Cost was another factor.  I had a $100 off coupon from Staples on Android Tablet and went for it.

After some research (reading reviews and discussions) I decided to use Splashtop HD for remote access.  It has the ability to go through network proxies, the graphics are great, and works on a number of platforms.  I purchased it through the Amazon App Store and installed the steamer on my home computer to test it out.  It worked great.  The next test was to install the streamer on my school computer and allow my Xoom and school computer to communicate through the school network.  To adjust network settings for individual access points on the Xoom simply hold down the SSID in the network settings section (I have Android version 3.2.1 at the moment).

Even without the remote access, having the Xoom has been awesome.  Our attendance is web-based so  I can now be anywhere in class to take attendance and not tethered to the the desktop.  One key to going digital with no physical gradebook is having access to the internet at all times (I’m trying a paperless gradebook this year).  As you can see in the picture, I can interact with anything on the primary monitor be it the interactive whiteboard software or PowerPoint.  The system isn’t perfect.  I have to use the Splashtop “keep the monitor the same” setting that does not show the entire screen, but I can easily scroll up and down.  Splashtop also doesn’t allow for an extended desktop yet but I hear it is in the works.  Overall, I’m pleased with the results of this project so far and would encourage others to give it a go.

Reflections

This blog is an attempt to document my reflections on teaching.  I’ve been wanting to record my efforts and thoughts on teaching and learning for some time and new APPR requirements provided the perfect opportunity.  Writing for just an administrator is not very riveting though.  Just as with students in a classroom, having an authentic audience is more rewarding.  The blog is therefore a way to expand my PLN, meet APPR requirements, and get a greater deal of feedback.

 

My principal is encouraging us to reflect on the book Total Participation Techniques:  Making Every Student and Active Learner by Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele (1).  I’ll also be comparing it to and using techniques from Doug Lemov’s book Teach like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College (2).  I finished this book towards the middle of last school year and am now in the middle of the ASCD book.

 

Besides the above there will be reflections on various tech projects to improve my classroom, working with my student teacher, and more philosophical ramblings on social and political ed topics.  I also know that a side benefit will be a gradual improvement in my writing and hopefully teaching as well.

 

References

1         Himmele, Pérsida, and William Himmele. Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2011. Print.

 

2         Lemov, Doug. Teach like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.