Being prepared, not overwhelmed, for my first year

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by reg, Jul 14, 2016.

  1. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jul 14, 2016

    Hello! I was recently hired for my first classroom teaching position. I'll be teaching AP Physics, environmental science, and possibly chem at a high school. School starts in a month and I'm getting very anxious about preparing everything, so I've come here for advice and reassurance please.

    First of all, let me give you some background on me before I jump in with specific questions/issues. I've been involved in education through science summer camps and being a university teaching assistant and tutor fairly consistently since 2008. I've taken several university seminars on effective science education and outreach and used this knowledge to write a week-long summer camp curriculum which I then taught myself twice (this was grades 2-6). This past year, I managed the computer labs at a high school and spent much of my free time reading up on pedagogy. I feel like I have a pretty decent theoretical understanding of what effective teaching looks like and how to design lessons. This past winter, I stepped in for a colleague who was on maternity leave and taught 4 sections of chemistry, while the actual substitute helped with administrative tasks (like physically recording grades and signing permission slips-I did pretty much everything else). Although I was certainly challenged and only had 2 days to prep, my month in the classroom went very well and I've received tremendous positive feedback both from colleagues and the students. All of this is to say that although I don't have an education degree and haven't yet begun my alt. cert., I'm not entirely inexperienced. Happily I was hired at the same school I've been working at, so I know how things work and my colleagues.

    I'm going to try to focus my questions to help you all out. I've been reviewing all of the College Board materials on AP Physics and I'm completely overwhelmed. At least 25% of classroom time needs to be labs-I don't think I ever took a class like that, and I certainly never did any labs in which the procedures weren't explicitly spelled out. Happily there are plenty of resources out there so I don't need to reinvent the wheel, but it's going to take a while to figure out what's going to work for me and my setup. Question 1: How far in advance do I need to be planning? I am going to use the College Board materials to write out a general sketch of the year, but how many weeks worth of detailed plans (or at least ideas) should I have before school starts?

    Issue 2: I'm worried about pushback from students in response to student-led and inquiry based methods. The reading I've done and education courses I've taken have convinced me that simply handing the students information is not how I want to approach things, and the AP guidelines reinforce this. I know that some students, especially the AP students, are just going to want me to stand there and tell them what to do so they can get on with their lives. (Honestly I would have been that kid because in my experience, even when teachers asked open-ended questions, there was still a right answer/way of doing things, and I hated being penalized for not being able to read their minds.) I guess I'm sharing this concern because if I make all these plans for a very student-led classroom and the students revolt, I'm stuck.

    Issue 3: I'm putting tremendous pressure on myself to be perfect, even though I know that's not possible, especially not in my first year. Both my B.S. and M.S. are in the sciences. I'm very into research and evidence-based methods. I've spent so much time researching everything from late work policies to motivation to whether learning styles really need to be accommodated. I feel so much pressure to find the "right" way to do everything that will maximize learning and engagement and it's too much! I feel like if I ever stand in front of the room and have the students take notes that I'm an ineffective, lazy teacher but the reality is that I'm probably going to do that sometimes and I'm trying to tell myself that that's OK but I'm not sure that I'm fully believing it. Please, please tell me that it's OK to be "good enough" sometimes and that over time I can keep improving. I am terrified of people being able to accuse me of just taking the easy way out but honestly I do need to maintain my sanity and on some days I probably am going to need to make decisions that make things easier on me, even if they aren't absolutely optimal for the students. And tell me that it's ok at some point to stop researching and just pick activities and policies and if they don't work out, I'll change them or do things differently next year.

    I think these are the main ones. Many thanks for any help or advice. Part of my issue is information overload-I've found SO many AP Physics ideas and requirements in the past few days that I feel like I'm in WAY over my head. I'm trying to convince myself that I can just focus on a chunk at a time rather than try to understand the whole curriculum before I begin.
     
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  3. miss-m

    miss-m Devotee

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    Jul 14, 2016

    I can't give a ton of advice, as I'm entering my first year teaching and dealing with some of these questions myself...
    but I will say that I highly doubt students will revolt if you give them freedom to lead their own learning and teach from an inquiry standpoint. I think that's rare enough still that the students will LOVE the opportunity to get hands-on and actually DO stuff. They have teachers talking at them all day, every day - having a teacher who's willing to shut up and step back for students to be engaged will be a wonderful change of pace. You WILL have to teach and practice procedures and expectations if that kind of teaching isn't the norm for your school, but I really do think it'll be received well.

    And ABSOLUTELY it is ok to not be perfect! Especially because sometimes the most "perfect" plans are the ones that bomb the worst (sorry, but it's kinda true). Sometimes you'll forget to teach the key point. Sometimes you'll forget an intro statement that tells the students WHY they're learning this in the first place (I did this ALL THE TIME when I student taught). And sometimes no matter how engaging and fun an activity seems to you, it just won't mesh with your class and it's back to the drawing board. All of those are ok; they happen, and it doesn't make you less or worse as a teacher. Reflect on those experiences and use them to improve next time; but don't get caught in analysis paralysis!

    As far as how far out to plan... If your district/school has a pacing guide, that usually gives a good guideline for the year, and then you can do a rough outline of each unit and just start planning at the beginning. Don't worry about having the whole year planned right off, but figure out how much of a buffer you need to feel like you have enough time to prepare going forward, whether that's a couple weeks or a couple months.

    From reading your post it sounds like you do know your stuff, you're willing and ready to do research to learn best practices and more about your content area, and you're passionate about your students' learning. You'll do great! :)
     
  4. justwanttoteach

    justwanttoteach Cohort

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    Jul 14, 2016

    First things first, find someone on your campus who has been there for years who you trust and you can lean on and vent to when things go wrong. THEY WILL GO WRONG. There will be tears, there will be long late nights, there will be times when you question your sanity and think that sitting in an office working year round 9-5 sounds awesome! THATS OK! There will also be laughter, smiles, and a ton of fun.

    Find someone on your campus who is also new. If you can find someone in the science department that fits these criteria even better.

    Speaking from expirience, I just finished my first year. Let me just say I would not have survived had I not reached out and asked for help. I have an awesome group of colleagues who I know I can call at anytime and vent,cry, observe, or go out and laugh and have fun with. Be sure to set time aside to do something for you. You need to do everything in your power to make sure you are not burning yourself out. I made a point to make Sunday's sacred. I didn't grade, I didn't lesson plan, Sunday I spent relaxing and doing what I wanted.(usually watching Netflix)

    How far out should you plan?
    The simple answer is as far out as you can. When I first started I tried doing day to day lesson planning and it was horrible! Begin with the end in mind. What is it you want them to know and how will they show you that they know it.

    I found a teacher in my department who I trusted and could bounce ideas off of and could co-plan with. We made a point to meet twice a week and would not leave campus or Starbucks until we had at least the following weeks lessons mapped out. Doing this saved my life. I was able to leave Friday night and actually relax and have a weekend. Just be ready to be flexible, toss things out that you may not have time for or students may not be ready for. Flexibility is your friend....along with Starbucks, and a core group of colleagues that you can vent to. It's better to over plan and not use everything than to not plan enough and make things up on the fly. If lessons are not working don't hesitate to shut things down and try something else.

    Push-Back:
    You will get some, but bottom line it's your classroom. You're not there to be friends you're there to teach and deliver the content to students. If projects or inquiry based assignments are the best way to do that..so be it. There are times we have to do things we don't like. For some students they need to learn that not liking something doesn't mean they don't have to do it. But remember Rules without Relationships leads to rebellion. Make sure you spend time learning about students and what their needs/interests are...this will help. When students know you care and want what's best for you they typically are more willing to work for you.

    Perfection:
    Anyone who is an expert at anything had to be a beginner first. Relax and don't put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. We learn from mistakes. Any teacher that says they never made mistakes in the beginning or even years into the profession is a liar. Stay away from them, you don't need that negativity. Embrace the mistakes and reflect on what needs to be fixed for next time. Students love the energy of a new teacher but get frustrated with unorganization and inconsostency. Make a conscience effort to plan ahead and know what your discipline and classroom expectations and norms are. Make sure you practice them with your students and enforce them.

    The picture below is the beginning teacher cycle. As you teach you will go through different phases and as I look back on my first year teaching it was surprisingly accurate to when and how I was feeling.
    image.jpeg

    Good luck and remember reach out for help. Teaching is collaboration, the best teachers are those who are always learning.
     
  5. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jul 15, 2016

    Thank you very much for your reply! First off, I'm wishing you the very best as you enter your first year too. What will you be teaching?

    My concern for push-back regarding student-led learning largely comes from an experience I had when I was subbing in an honors chem class. I was trying to answer a student's question and she got frustrated with me because I was explaining how to arrive at the answer logically, and she wanted a yes/no answer as it pertained to a shortcut that they'd learned before I took over. (Honestly, no, I didn't know the trick and another student very rudely called me out on this, which really stung.) That sort of "I don't care if I understand what's going on or not, just tell me the right answer as quickly as possible" attitude really frustrates me, especially because I could very well test students in a way such that the tricks won't work.

    It's funny that you mention intro statements. One of the education seminars that I took was heavily based on backwards design and the way that they taught it, you aren't "supposed" to tell students what they're supposed to be learning or why-they're supposed to figure that out at the end. I still have a tough time wrapping my head around how this works...I understand backwards design as far as designing lessons goes, but teaching that way confuses me. There are some things where I do think the students could figure out the take home message themselves, but in other cases I'm not sure they'd ever get there.

    The district does have curriculum maps for environmental science and chem which will be updated within the next week, so I'll be able to follow those. However, they don't put out anything for AP physics-I'll need to rely on College Board materials and teachers' websites. I don't think I'll really be able to develop detailed plans more than a couple of weeks out. I'm really going to see how things work with my students before going too wild.

    Again, thanks!
     
  6. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jul 15, 2016

    Thank you very much! Since I've been on campus for a year already, I've been able to build professional relationships with a number of colleagues, both withing science and in other areas, and I'm very thankful for that. During the month that I was in the classroom, I leaned on them heavily, and it really helped a lot. Of course I'll respect other people's time, but I know better than to try to go it alone. I know that other departments have a few new hires but I'm the only one in science.

    I like your idea of having a lesson planning buddy. I have one friend on campus who might be amenable to that so I'll have to bring it up to her. Believe me, I know from designing and teaching the summer camps that it's always better to go in way over prepared! That being said, there's no way we'll get through several week's worth of material in a day.

    I think that many of the challenges that I faced in my month subbing stemmed from the fact that I really didn't get to build relationships with my students and take time to get to know them (and also that they knew that I was leaving in a month, so some of them simply weren't willing to invest in me). (that being said, overall they were very happy with me!) They were already behind and the administration needed me to hit the ground running. I'm already planning to spend a good deal of time at the beginning of the year getting to know what makes my students tick both academically and personally. I'm really glad that I had that month subbing because it made me realize that I need to write policies to address all kinds of situations so that I can apply them consistently. Figuring out what to do about absent students is going to be the main one. We have a LOT of students miss for personal reasons as well as field trips and figuring out when they were going to have to make up tests was difficult. I still don't know how I'm going to handle that, but I need to figure it out before we start.

    Again, thank you!
     
  7. beccmo

    beccmo Comrade

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    Jul 15, 2016

    I also teach AP Physics. Here is what I can tell you...
    About the 25% lab time...this is so possible, and you will probably do more than this. Basically anything that is not direct lecturing and student practice (problem solving or specific worksheets) can be considered lab time. This includes: demonstrations that lead to discussions and discovery, simulations, direct measurement video analysis (look into this!). My students actually loved open inquiry questions. Favorite methods for them to share their experimental design and results are large whiteboards and even powerpoints (which they prepared as lab reports). You will have to expect these students to do much more outside studying than your typical high school student, as there is not enough time to teach every detail of the course. I generally map out how much time I believe is necessary to study each unit and try to stick to this.

    Also: Find the nearest location for an AP seminar and attend it! Great place to get new ideas and insights.

    Inquiry is definitely the way to go. Sure there will be some resistance, but once students realize they are actually capable of learning content without you spoonfeeding the information this will lessen.

    One thing I want to stress....DON'T TRY TO BE PERFECT!! Those lessons I thought would be awesome often fell flat. You will have frustrations with classes and students, and things won't go as planned. Putting all that stress on yourself will only bring on exhaustion. 1st year teaching is hard enough.

    Congratulations!
     
  8. beccmo

    beccmo Comrade

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    Jul 17, 2016

    Here are 2 of my favorite sites set up by teachers. I have used the videos for assigned homework, as independent study material on my haikulearning website (for my AP Physics class) and sometimes for my regular physics class to begin or end a lesson--especially when I think they will benefit from different demonstrations, examples, and explanations.

    https://sites.google.com/site/twuphysicslessons/ This teacher has problem solving videos that are well explained.

    http://www.flippingphysics.com/ My all-time favorite resource for explanatory videos. The corny humor tends to be a hit with students.

    I have also used some old video clips from Julius Sumner Miller's "Demonstrations in Physics" (youtube)
     
  9. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jul 18, 2016

    Thank you very much! Those look like fabulous resources.
     
  10. reg

    reg Rookie

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    Jul 18, 2016

    Thank you so much. It's great to hear that you've been successful using these methods with your students. I am going to have to talk to the other AP teachers to figure out how to handle homework. At my school, non Honors/AP teachers assign little to no homework because in their experience, the students don't do it. I've done a bit of research into whether homework is valuable or not and it seems like it's a bit of a mixed bag. We're a lower SES school (over 50% on free and reduced lunch) and I'm told that many of our students have significant family obligations. I want to respect my students' time and not ask more of them than is possible. At the same time, like you said, there's a lot of material to cover, and it would really help for them to do some of it outside of class.

    With regard to inquiry, I'm feeling intimidated because having looked at ideas for lab activities, I don't think that I would be able to come up with good experimental methods myself! I last took physics in college (~6,7 years ago) and while I did very well, I had to work my rear off, and I certainly don't remember all of it. I'm fairly certain the material will come back to me quickly once I'm really prepping, but it's discouraging when I'm reading practice AP problems and lab ideas and I don't know how to do them.

    Again, thanks!
     
  11. beccmo

    beccmo Comrade

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    Jul 18, 2016

    If the only homework you assign is reading and note-taking (or writing questions to ask next day), or watching a lesson video and summarizing it, that is better than no homework at all.

    The course really stresses understanding of concepts and is much different than just a "problem solving" course. My students the first year had a very hard time letting go of numbers (as you see the practice problems rarely have a final numerical answer). I still assign problems to solve in class, but now really stress the importance of "Planning" a solution (deciding which equations to use for the situation and completing all the algebra BEFORE using any given values).

    Don't be intimidated by the inquiry and procedures. Students get pretty good at brainstorming ideas, and even wrong results teach us something! That is why we share and critique inquiry work in class.

    Some Inquiry activities I have used (some every year, some I interchange)
    1. setting up a cart at the top of an inclined track and having students design a method to determine it's acceleration (decide what data to collect and how to collect it). We have motion sensors so we also used that to graphically depict the motion and linearize the graph.
    2. determine when they should drop a water balloon to have it strike me on the head as I am walking under the football bleachers.
    3. using water balloon slingshots-determine the amount of elastic potential energy/launch speed/maximum height (so many different variables to choose from) when launched at an angle.
    4. With carts, masses and pulleys- student groups are ask to experimentally investigate and prepare a report to the class explaining how the acceleration of the cart is affected when either: 1: the total mass of the system is kept constant and the net force is varied. or 2: the total mass of the system is varied and the net force is kept constant. (This is a variation of a lab from a college board AP lab investigation). Groups had to run multiple trials, graph, linearize data and calculate acceleration.
    5. Determine the coefficient of friction between a piece of carpet (free samples from home depot attached to different shaped wood blocks) and a wood board. (You must have multiple collections of data to graph-so change the incline of the board!)

    Experiments can be simple-but the more that involves graphing and graph interpretation the better. (Graphic representations are on the AP exam)
    These will get you started.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2016

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