Sunday, May 17, 2009

Looking at Small Changes

What to do Different Next Year

My seniors are officially gone. Tuesday will be their graduation ceremony, but as of Friday, they left the building and began that long journey to further education, careers, and hopefully, great lives. Before they left, I did ask them what they liked and disliked about my class. I also asked them what seemed to be the most effective teaching strategies in so far as preparing them for the Exam. Notice I didn't ask what they liked to do the most...but what was the most effective in preparing for the test.

Based on this very informal survey, I will make some small changes next year. Not huge earth shattering changes to my style of teaching or assignment structure, but changes should be made none the less. Here are some of the things that I will probably do next year to save time, make teaching more efficient, and try to adjust to the ever changing learning styles of students.

1. First, I am going to cut back a bit on the historical aspect of political science. College Board seems to be less interested in the historic aspect of political science these days, and much more interested in the juxtaposing of the branches of government, the institutions of policy making, and the linking institutions that bring people and government together.

What exactly does this mean as far as change? I believe I will spend much less time on the Federalist Papers and the Constitution Convention itself. I will also spend much less time on colonial development of democratic institutions. I will also cut out some of the time spent on the documents of the colonial and early republic periods. While I believe these are very important, I have spent a great deal of time in the past with these items (mainly due to my love of teaching them) but have seen almost no questions for several years on the Exam over this content.

For those of you thinking that I am walking on thin ice here please notice I said I will spend much less time...not cut out completely. I think a quick look at the Federalist Papers is still in order and a review of the Constitution Convention is mandatory, but I will severely slash the minutes spent on these topics.

While I don't believe in ''dumbing down" a course, the kids struggle with the Federalist Papers to the extent that I am not sure how much of the actual texts need to be read and how much can be summarized. I know for some of you I have just uttered a profanity, but folks, I teach in a low income school with not always the best readers and if anything I am a realist. I want to challenge and prepare my kids to reach their highest potential. I just don't believe in beating a dead horse to make it move. I do use the Woll Reader which has vital excerpts from the important Federalist Papers which I think is the adequate amount to prepare them for the Exam. For my top kids who look for more challenge I can give extra readings and still not loose the bulk of my class.

2. Interestingly enough, the kids told me that lecture was the number one way that they felt they learned the most. Yet I am planning on much less lecture. I have a series of over 30 power points (if you would like a copy of these let me know and I would be glad to get them to you) but I will probably never use them again. Instead, I am relying almost entirely on the Hippocampus presentations outside of the classroom as the "lecture" for the kids. In class, I am going to make the time more of a dialogue/discussion.

Why? A couple of reasons prevail. First, I hate being the recipient of the Power Point lecture. They are boring! About 90% of our district's in-services are done as Power Points and I tend to sleep through most of them. Am I that boring to my kids????? Lets hope not, but I don't want to take any chances. Power Points have their place, but I have cured my last insomniac; there has to be a better way!

Second, as the demographics of my students have changed over the years, I find that while my current students are as bright as those I had 10 years ago, they tend to be poorer readers, in need of a more stimulating and entertaining delivery of information, and a bit less motivated to hit the books for hours after class. More of them work jobs, participate in extra-curricular activities, and have less structured homes. I need to reach these kids slightly different than those I had a decade ago. It isn't that I didn't reach them this year, but I can improve! I have only been at this job 25 years and every year I can learn something new. If I expect my kids to be life learners and be willing to adapt, then I better show the way!

Thus, out with the Power Point and in with the dialogue/discussion. I am intending on making these multimedia using Internet sites, video clips, and short reading handouts. I am still in the planning stages on this, so I will discuss it much more next fall when we resume the Teaching Government Blog. I also did an in-service on pod casting this year (it was done with Power Point and yes, I did snooze some) which peaked my interest...what if I pod cast my lectures and place the PP notes on my class blog??? HMMMMM!

3. I want to incorporate a great deal of cooperative learning using G-Docs. While I don't want to use power points any longer, I do want my kids to make more of them. G-Docs will allow me to put the kids in teams, have them create projects on important topics, and then monitor who is doing what using the review features of G-Doc.

I was turned on to this over Christmas this year when my son's girlfriend told me that G-Docs were used in her business (she is an automotive mechanical engineer for one of the Detroit automakers). She asked if I utilized G-Docs in my classes. When I pleaded ignorance, she showed me examples and gave me a quick orientation on the "software" found within Google.

Again, I am going to explore this much more this summer and next fall I will report back to you what I am doing with the G-Docs, but it will become a part of my curriculum and will add to the project based nature of my classes.

In short, this summer I am seriously going to review how much of what topics I am spending time on, I am scrapping 15 years of developed power point lectures for a more interactive, dynamic classroom, and I am looking into using Google tools for cooperative project development. I still intend on fishing some too!

I will keep you posted on my progress. Until then...

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