Reflections on Fall Semester ’14

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I am still reeling from fall semester of 2014. It was probably the most tumultuous semester of my teaching career. Our building is under construction, so the science department was relocated for about 2 months. We had to pack up every single bit of our stuff and move it into a room about 80% the size of our original rooms. Can you imagine moving all the science stuff from your class and storage rooms??? Science. It’s the study of how THINGS work. Therefore, we have lots of things…I teach chemistry – which can only be taught using lots and lots of glassware. And chemicals, some of which are stored in the glassware. The potential for disaster was great, and tensions rode high for more than a few days. The good news is that we decluttered and streamlined our inventory and that we are settled now in the updated, renovated classrooms.

Another hurdle that we completed was the implementation of a Modeling curriculum in chemistry. I didn’t anticipate how much work it would be every single day of the semester to figure out the lessons, the labs, and the philosophy behind each topic. We used AMTA (American Modeling Teachers Association), which was wonderful, but I questioned the effort after weeks of learning something new each day. I had finally come to a point where teaching chemistry was a breeze for me; I didn’t have to think much – my lessons just flowed. It is only now that I realize how much I learned about how kids think and how to approach chemistry from an entirely different angle. It wasn’t easy, but it was a great growth experience for me, and this semester will be much smoother. More importantly, our students will have a richer learning experience because we are teaching in a way that deepens understanding.

The philosophy behind modeling is that students visualize and draw diagrams of particles (atoms, molecules) in order to understand and predict how matter behaves. Because of the visual models, the math and computations make more sense to the kids. Creative videos and technology-driven labs are core to the modeling concept. One of my fascinations with science is that it changes constantly; just as the science and technology cannot stagnate, neither can the teaching techniques. I love change; it keeps me fresh.

Back to the highs and lows of the semester. I was unable to start and reach all of the goals I set for myself, but I am okay with that. I have some cool, new projects going on and have changed a few of my original plans. I will write more on those new goals later.

During all of the chaos of the semester my science department carried out what I consider our greatest accomplishment. We hosted a Science Olympiad tournament for fourteen schools and twenty-seven teams. Science Olympiad is the greatest science & engineering competition for K12 students across the nation. Students compete in 23 events, including life, physical, environmental sciences, technology and engineering competitions. Having over 350 students convene on our campus was a thrilling experience for our science faculty. Our department worked diligently to manage all the details of the day, and it was a big success. I can’t believe we did it, and it was certainly worth all the hard work.

One of those original goals that I was unable to accomplish was writing frequently for this blog. Te@chThought inspired me to blog as an opportunity for reflection, and I started strong, but I couldn’t keep up with the pace I set for myself. It’s alright; I was busy with moving, modeling and the Science Olympiad tournament. I achieved quite a bit with plenty of help from my team, and I am impressed that we are still going strong.

When my principal first spoke to us about his own reflections, I honestly didn’t think too much about it as something that I should be doing. After this crazy semester, though, I now understand and appreciate the power of reflection. So, thank you, Mr. Horton, for introducing me to this powerful concept.

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