52 Reflections Project

A weekly journal of my thoughts and experiences in education

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  • 14 – Placement Tests

    Posted by selfwalker on June 21, 2007

    Pre-tests are commonly used in math education and in other disciplines as a placement test. Usually when a student takes one of these placement tests they just completed a section of courses. Then the institution, such as a public school or a college, uses a rubric to determine how to appropriately match up their skills with a new course. My first experience with a placement test was in the seventh grade. The test was to see which students would be placed on the advanced math track. My score was high enough to placed into the high track but I denied it. The excuse I gave was that I was not ready, but the truth was that I did not want to be challenged, or in others words I was afraid of taking a risk of possible failure. My other experience was during my orientation for college. I tested into Calculus I and I clearly remember that class. There were plenty of students who already took Pre-Calculus or Calculus in high school and these students always seemed to be one step ahead of the material. As a result, I frequently became intimidated of these students’ knowledge and overwhelmed of a feeling that I do not belong in the class. The reason why I am reflecting on these past experiences is because I now teach at a community college where students take a placement test and the majority qualify into developmental math. This is new for me because when I taught 8th grade, my students where those that passed seventh grade. But now my student population is much more diverse. It ranges from a factory worker who has not been in school for 20 years to a 20 year old who is attending community college because of their parents. The math understanding that these students have is just as diverse too. It ranges from not knowing multiplication facts to “I think I know it but I definitely need a refresher”. So I question if these students are experiencing the same emotions I was as an seventh grader and as a college freshmen. Furthermore is this normal, is this healthy, and is this the way it should be?

    Let’s first examine my seventh grade fear of not wanting to be challenged. As a student enters a math class how challenged should they be? One aspect about this is that certain students can handle being pressured or being challenged much easier than others. While some students rise to the challenge, others will completely shut down. This then makes it difficult to formulate a blanket statement about how students should be academically challenged. However, educators can counter attack this issue by making a conscious effort to challenge all student in their classroom. I have yet to have a class where all students had the same level of understanding. The class’s understanding has always fit under a bell curve. Perhaps, all that an educator can do is properly communicate with a student why or why not they are not accepting a challenge, such as being in a higher level class or not performing at their best. Of course, finding the time to have these conversations is challenge within it self.

    The other emotion I had related to a placement test was the intimidation I experienced after being placed into my college calculus class. I believe that this one is very common in the developmental math classes. The math taught in these courses range from fourth grade to ninth grade material. So when a student who does not take the placement test serious and gets put into a class that is lower than they believe they should be, often these student make comments that can be intimidating for other students. For example, they might say, “I know this, it so easy!” or “Can I just do the short cut?” or “Come on who really does not know this stuff?” This perspective of people being better than me or me being better than others is common in the classroom. This might be shedding light to the confidence level of a student, which in math class can be large barrier. Again, the main issue here is how the developmental level of the learner side can have a tremendous impact on a student. For me, I would say that I did not truly develop into a college student until late sophomore year. It took me a year and half to mature out of my high school habits. Academically I was prepared but as learner I was not. As a result, I did not know how to handle others being ahead of me and how to manage challenges. Hopefully, I share my experience with students who are in the same boat. Then they might become aware of how the math is not intimidating them, rather it is the discomfort of not knowing how to handle a challenge or a difficulty.

    I never had to take a placement test for my master’s of math program. The GRE is a some what of a placement test but it is not specifically designed to place students in a certain class. It used to measure the requirments of a college. Yet, suppose I was required to take a math placement test. Would I be able to test into graduate level math classes? After teaching 8th grade math for five years, I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for me. For instance, a graduate level math course is Analysis. It is an intense version of calculus and the last time I took a calculus course was about eight years. As the saying goes, if you don’t use it then you will loose it; and it was pretty much gone from my brain. So does this mean that if I am going to take graduate level courses that I need to be efficient with my calculus skills? Re-taking those classes could set me back a year, which translates to more money for a masters. Again, my current students who are taking developmental math could be thinking the same thing. “I have to take all of these low level courses, that don’t count for any credit, even before I take my required math class?” I cannot fairly comment on the pros and cons pertaining to these developmental courses due to my small experience teaching them. The most important thing I can do is to share my own experiences and to continue reflecting on the level impact it has on my students.

    Posted in classroom dynamics, developmental classes, education, self evaluation, student needs, student perspective, student-teacher communication, testing | 2 Comments »

    13 – Course Evaluations

    Posted by selfwalker on June 7, 2007

    Recently, I was given the results from my student evaluations. These came from the spring semester of 2007 and both classes were College Algebra. The evaluation consists of 19 questions and students are given 5 choices to respond on each question. The possible responses are strongly disagree, disagree, undecided, agree, and strongly agree. Since this was my fourth semester teaching, I have gone through this evaluations process four times. Now, I want to think critically about the questions on this evaluation because I question how these evaluations can provide insights about my teaching. But maybe the purpose of the evaluation is only to allow students an opportunity to express their thoughts about the class? Therefore I should examine the questions and see what possible thoughts I could receive from the evaluations.

    Question #1: Overall, I would rate this instructor as excellent.

    For those students that responded with disagree does this meant that they feel that I am not quite excellent, such as good or great? Or do they feel that I am terrible? If the students agreed, then what does excellent mean? The issue with question is that it is set up to be all or nothing. I am either excellent or not. Perhaps a student could first define an “excellent instructor”. Then I could easily see how I am or not meeting their definition.

    Question #2: Overall, I would rate this course as excellent.

    Again, the question is very vague and it does not allow a proper critique of my classroom. I doubt that if McDonald’s was taking a survey they would ask, “Overall, I would rate McDonald’s as excellent.” Their questions would be clear and to the point. Therefore, a definition of excellent classroom is certainly needed. Maybe another series of questions could be this. What type of learning style do you believe you are? How do you think this class is reaching your learning style? How do you think this class is not reaching your learning style? Questions like these could possibly expose the strengths and weaknesses of my classroom, thus giving me specific areas to improve.

    Question #3: I learned a great deal in this course.

    This College Algebra course consists mostly of material that students have already seen in high school. So if a student does strongly disagree with this question, then they could be responding from the fact that they already knew the information being taught. Or their disagreement could be rooted in a lack of growth in understanding. I suggest that there be a question that asks the student how much of the material they were already familiar with. Plus, the phrase a “great deal” is different for many.

    Question #4: The instructor had a valuable influence on me while in college.

    Is this possible during just one semester? For those students that agreed, I would have to question them how. If I was truly to be an influence while their in college, I would still be impacting them even after completing my class. I say this because if someone is to have an influence on another, then the greatest influence is when that individual is on not there to motivate or pressure them. I think the question should take out “in college” and replace it with “attending the course”. Also, I am curious of what valuable influences I making on my students. Having them make a list of valuable influences would allow me to gain a deeper understanding of what I am doing in the classroom has the greatest impact.

    Question #5: The instructor made class stimulating and challenging.

    I like this question because one of my goals is to create a class that is stimulating and challenging for students and myself. However, I wonder how many students view challenging as impossible or too hard? Again, I am running into how subjective these questions are. Is it possible to write a fill in the blank evaluation that is not subjective? YES! But, that could involve re-writing the entire evaluation, which I am thinking may not be too bad of an idea.

    Question #6: The instructor met class as scheduled.

    Finally, a question clear and to the point. I had to laugh though when I saw that one student marked strongly disagree, another marked disagree, and also one for undecided. I did miss one class due to the birth of my son and I showed up to class a minute or so late a couple of times. Yet does my attendance warrant a strongly agree or agree? Well, 58\% (25/43) of my students marked agree. This percentage makes me question just how different is the response “agree” from “strongly agree”. Maybe I should lump these responses into three categories: no, I don’t know, and yes. Let us go back to the student that marked strongly disagree. A response like this, one that make no sense, reveals a possible instance of a student not reading the questions and simply filling in circles randomly. How often does this happen? Should these evaluations be voluntary? Not requiring students might take care of those who do not want to offer any input. Or if the evaluations had open response questions, it would deter students from just filling in circles randomly. Another possibility is that students feel that their opinions will not be heard or that they will not be respected.

    I have only examined 6 of the 19 questions but looking at the other 13, I feel that the points stated above would be repeated. The thing is that I have already gathered input, concerning the class, from students all through semester. At the half way point, students wrote a one page, single spaced reflection about the class. This assignment had a huge impact on how I taught the rest of the semester and I feel that students felt like they were being heard. However, these evaluations offer little guidance on how I could improve my class or what I should keep doing. Maybe I am taking these evaluations too serious and I am trying to use in way that they were not intended. I guess they could be part of a procedure that is required by the university. This is fine. But why not optimize the evaluations, or in other words, kill two birds with one stone? I believe that we should use the evaluations to their greatest potential with our students so that we as educators can be at or beyond our greatest potential.

    Posted in class development, education, evaluations, self evaluation, student perspective, student-teacher communication | 2 Comments »

    12 – Creativity, Dependence, Technology

    Posted by selfwalker on May 29, 2007

    Click here and listen to the podcast

    I read more and more about the opportunities of how computers can be integrated in the classroom and how the internet can connect students around the world. Almost daily I discover teacher blogs and witnessed first hand students making podcasts, creating dynamic presentations, and sharing their creativity on the internet. I have written in other reflections how I desire to take advantage of these technologies in my classroom. However, I must accept that I am hesitant of taking that technology leap.

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    Posted in class development, classroom dynamics, creativity, education, mathematics, resources, teacher movement, technology | Leave a Comment »

    11 – Professional Development

    Posted by selfwalker on May 18, 2007

    Click here and listen to the podcast

    Next week I will be expanding my teaching experience by teaching at a Community College.  This comes after being in graduate school for two years and being away from participating in professional development activities.  When I taught at a middle school, teachers were required to fulfill a specific amount of credits for professional development.  This included attending workshops that could be away from or at school, along with a few other activities.  True these were mostly beneficial; however I developed more professionally from attending conferences, such as NCTM, because I could receive a first hand experience of what effective educators were doing in their classrooms.  But now I can easily accomplish this daily via internet by reading blogs, listening to podcasts, or watching online videos. The accessibility to enhance teaching practices makes me wonder what type of impact this will have on the professional development market. Hopefully, the impact will not be negative; rather it should expand the market. Just as technology should not be a substitute for a teacher, neither should it be for professional development. With this said, I still question how much of my professional development will be recognized. Should a blog such as this be credited towards earning professional development credits? I believe so. A blog is a written record of development plus it has the opportunity to reach an extensive audience. Compare this with speaking at a conference where the information is shared with a few and then it is over. This does not mean that one is better than the other. Yet, the comparison reveals how each way can effectively communicate important practices being implemented in the classroom.

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    Posted in class development, community, education, resources, teacher communication, teacher movement | 1 Comment »

    10 – Grades

    Posted by selfwalker on May 8, 2007

    Click here for the podcast version.  Last one with poor audio quality 😉

    The end of the semester is here and as a result so are the grades for my students. Grades are just one aspect of education that can hold a wide range of emotions. On one side is a student that gives them self a stomach ulcer because of stressing over their grade and on the other is a student who appears to purposely try to earn the lowest grade possible. The parents, who commonly reflect their children, are on the exact same spectrum. There are those parents that will strategically battle over a few points and then there are those who take no responsibility in their child’s grade. I must admit that I am out of touch with the parent side since I now teach college students. However, constantly I witness similar attitudes towards grades from eighth graders as with college students, suggesting a trend or habit that student’s carry through their education experience. In the same light, my perspective towards grades is the same as when I taught eighth grade. Is this fair? Should my attitude towards grades be dependent on the level of the students that I am teaching? What I do notice is how my attitude towards grades when I was student easily transferred over to when I first began teaching. How common is this? Do teacher’s perspectives about grades stem from their perception as a student? Well, I guess to truly understand how I feel about grades is to accept that currently I have only viewed them as student and now is the moment for me to define my perspective as a teacher.

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    Posted in class development, community, education, end of year, grades, self evaluation, teacher communication | Leave a Comment »

    9 – End of the Year

    Posted by selfwalker on May 1, 2007

    Click here to listen to the podcast version that includes the recorded colaboration.

    This reflection was different from my others. I did a collaboration with Angela Quiram, who runs the blog Teaching in the Twenty-First Century, and she proposed the reflection topic, “What do you do to encourage your kids to continue learning through the end of the year?”. Next, I emailed her a list of questions as a possible outline for our reflection. Finally, we connected via Skype, which I recorded, and then reflected for about thirty minutes.

    The reflection outcome was extremely enriching for myself since I was given the opportunity to have some one else offer input and challenge personal beliefs. True, I try to do this with all of my reflections but the fact remains that it is still my perspective. What I appreciated most was how the reflection felt very honest and true and that none of the answers appeared to be candid. Perhaps this is an advantage of reflecting with a “stranger”. Since I will not see her tomorrow at work or possibly ever, I can spill my educational heart, allowing me to reveal the true identity of my educational beliefs, as if I was talking to the school guidance counselor. Now there is an empowering idea; a school counselor that reflects with teachers. Overall, I want to thank Angela for making this reflection a priority by offering her time and thoughts. After talking to Angela in person, I discovered that she was just as insightful and genuine as she appears on her blog.

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    Posted in class development, education, end of year, evaluations, self evaluation, student-teacher communication, teacher collaboration, teacher communication | 3 Comments »

    8 – Internet & Teacher Movement

    Posted by selfwalker on April 23, 2007

    The teacher movement will not be televised but will it be broadcasted via internet to other classrooms? The internet appears to be the new swing (push) in education, and I wonder how long will it last. Just who will be in this education movement and could my classroom be a place to witness this? An interesting survey would be to measure the percentage of teachers who are willing to make a commitment to integrating internet technologies into their classroom. Then out of ‘those willing’, I would further inquire into how many are currently doing so. My guess would be that be that 1 out of every 5 (20%) would be willing and 1 out of every 10 (10%) are doing so. (I think that these are high estimates) This scenario reminds me of how TI calculators can be used in a math class room, and I am sure there are examples for other disciplines. Plenty of money is put towards buying the technology, a few teachers here and there use the class set of calculators here and there, and then three years have passed with the technology never coming close to reaching its potential as it sits in the closet with other manipulatives. However, the internet is becoming a way of life more and more everyday, creating a sense of lifestyle with it. I mainly say this because that is how the internet is for me. But then I talk to friends, who are teachers, and they mention how they use the internet once a week or use it just to check email or only use it at work. Overall, I still feel that by becoming involved and aware of the internet capabilities out there the exposure will help me keep at least one foot in this possible current teacher movement.

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    Posted in class development, community, education, mathematics, resources, teacher communication, teacher movement, technology | 4 Comments »

    7 – Student’s Needs

    Posted by selfwalker on April 15, 2007

    There are many catch phrases that I toss around in my education jargon and student’s needs is certainly one of those. I have written in growth reports, which are handed into the principal, that I desire to more effectively reach my student’s needs and I have surely talked about it in my education classes at college. But did I truly know what I was talking about or did I simply understand how to form a catchy phrase with it? This is sort of like one of those words that everyone hears, yet once they are asked to define it; the struggle begins as the word sits on the tip of their tongue. Well, I guess that means that I should stop for a second try to formulate a definition for student needs. (Five minutes later.)

    Student needs: Tactile tools and cognitive processes that are service in a student’s learning.

    Okay, that definition is wordy, technical, and purposely vague. Not to mention that a student would be instantly confused if I told them this is what I am providing for them. Therefore, should I be able to explain what student’s needs are in order effectively reach them in my classroom? Being able to define a math term is when I have a deep understanding of the meaning. Also I properly apply the word towards concepts and correctly use it when articulating thoughts. By this comparison, it is possible that by not being able to define student’s needs, then I have a weak grasp of understanding. Exposing a misconception such as this is scary yet now that it is in my awareness I can grow from it. This is the whole idea of reflection; growing from strong and weak attributes.

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    Posted in class development, education, resources, self evaluation, student needs, student perspective, student-teacher communication | 1 Comment »

    6 – Educators & Community

    Posted by selfwalker on April 9, 2007

    Time to reflect on if I have I ever been a member of a true education community. Is a community a place where teachers actively participate as a group to construct the growth of the community or is a community a place where educators work? I question my membership because I really do not know the characteristics in a community of educators. There has to be a difference between teachers who just work together and occasionally gather for a staff meeting and those who participate as a living community of educators. When I say community, I specifically mean an educational community where the community supports each other through educational means. Just thinking about being in a community makes me feel nervous and vulnerable. I also feel overwhelmed that my participation would have to be that of leader, which makes me uncomfortable because it feels like it would expose the teacher I am. Moreover, this fear allows me to avoid the risk of people judging my teaching negatively or positively. Perhaps I am revealing an errouneous belief that being a leader of a community means that I am the one with all of the great ideas and that people should teach exactly like me. However, an education community empowers individuals to be leaders with out followers. Each member is confident in their teaching, is an effective listener, and is able to self-assess objectively. Most importantly a commnunity of educators is not about me telling teachers what to do; the communication is more about telling teachers what I do.

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    Posted in class development, classroom dynamics, community, education, mathematics, mentoring, self evaluation, teacher communication | 5 Comments »

    5 – Difficulty Level

    Posted by selfwalker on April 3, 2007

    When I was a college student I told my friends, “Oh you don’t want to have that teacher, they are way too hard. Take the class with this person, they’re a lot easier.” Now as a college teacher, I wonder what students are saying about my class. Should I pay attention to these comments or should I just brush them off as “student issues”? I think a balance between the two works best. Listening to a student speak about why a class is difficult provides wonderful insight, while at the same time their input can simply be a form of venting. Plus, I want my class to be challenging but not impossible. When I write challenging, I mean that my class offers countless opportunities for a student to challenge themselves towards the growth of their understanding. But how challenging does my class have to be before it is impossible? The boundary between challenge and impossible is cloudy and different for all. For some students, the first hint of difficulty means impossible and for others impossible is not in their dictionary because they keep trying and trying again until they understand it. With the difficulty level of a class being so complex I will only focus on assessment and personal intentions in this reflection.
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    Posted in class development, cognitive, education, self evaluation, student perspective | Leave a Comment »