I have two main goals for myself this year (both of which are way harder than I would have thought):

  1. Really listen to my kids.  Don’t correct them, but pay attention to what they’re saying and try to figure out where their misconceptions are.
  2. Be less helpful.  I have talked repeatedly about how it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.  It’s impossible to learn from mistakes if your teacher jumps in and fixes them before you can make any.
For the past couple of days in my 9th grade physics class, we have been discussing motion maps and position-time graphs (along with the buggy lab).  I introduced motion maps by talking about what you can tell about a person’s motion just by the footprints they leave behind.  For the most part, it made complete sense and posed no real problems for the students – until we started talking about what happens when that person stops.  How do you know they stopped?  Can you tell how long they were standing there?  I asked for some ideas on how we could represent (or model) someone standing still.  One student eagerly suggested that we “stretch it”. I have to admit made no sense to me.  My initial instinct was to give him the standard “oh, that’s an idea” response and keep asking until someone came up with what I wanted.  But I was intrigued by his comment and a little curious as to what the heck he was talking about.  So I asked a few questions, trying to get him to explain what he had meant.  After a little time (and probably a little frustration that we clearly were not understanding each other) he finally realized that he was confusing motion maps and position-time graphs and was under the impression that the axis represented time instead of position.  Aha!!!  “Stretching it” would make complete sense in that case!
Going into the Buggy Lab, I was planning on talking my students through how they might want to plot their graphs.  (In other words, I was planning on telling them what to do.)   At last minute, I decided to just let them plot what they wanted and see how it turned out.  Seeing how my students graph their data gives me a LOT of information about what they’re really thinking and I wanted to make sure that our first “board meeting” was more than just kids standing up an repeating what I had told them to do.  I really fought my impulses and let them create whiteboard with mistakes (gasp).  At one point I made myself sit in a chair at the front of the room and just watch so that I couldn’t jump in even if I had wanted to.  (This just happened to be the time that my principal decided to stop in to see what we were doing.  I had to fight the urge to jump up and start helping to prove to him that I really was doing my job and not just sitting there twiddling my thumbs.)  My hope is that tomorrow during our board meeting, we can explore why some graphs are more useful than others and why.