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Learning new things

August 18, 2012

I started teaching professionally* in January, 1993. I was 22 years old. I had a BA in Physics and a PA teaching certificate, and a lot of good ideas from my undergraduate education courses. I also knew all about using probeware and workshop-style classes from working for Priscilla Laws for two summers. I was full of ideas and willingness to share, but I didn’t know who to talk to. I was known online on the Phys-L mailing list, but my local physics teaching contacts were non-existent.

Slowly, as I continued teaching in Philadelphia public schools, I became known in the district. I field-tested Active Physics and gave a presentation on it that was attended by Ambra Hook. I became known in my school’s “cluster” as a science teacher leader and was sometimes called on to lead meetings. I learned Modeling Instruction and started talking that up. And when I left Philadelphia, I was 27 years old.

I’ve been teaching nearly 20 years, now. I’ve led and co-led plenty of workshops, I’m involved in my local AAPT section, I know lots of people who teach physics locally and around the country. I feel like I am really good at my job, but I also feel like there is a lot more I should be learning! Every time I turn the corner (or turn on Twitter) I find out about something new I should be aware of. That is one of the reasons I am so pleased to have been invited to Physics Teacher Camp for the past two summers.

At physics teacher camp, I spent an hour one beautiful (and hot) morning sitting on a dock, discussing mindset. I learned that I have been doing some of the right things in my classes, in terms of encouraging kids to develop a “growth” mindset as opposed to a “fixed” mindset. I already talk to confused students about the developing neural pathways in their brains, and how they will continue to be confused sometimes until those pathways are fully developed. I also celebrate student success with reminders that they struggled with the same material in the past, look how their brain has changed! I can do more, however, and thanks to Kelly O’Shea, I will do more this year!

I spent a bunch of hours in a windowless lab room taking and editing video. I learned some tricks with iMovie that I did not previously know, through playing with it in an environment that allowed me to focus on that, and through e-mail communication with a video-making expert, Peter Bohacek. I was also reminded how much easier it is to make videos when more than one person is involved. If I make any videos at school this year, I will be recruiting helpers, preferably students. I may have to teach them a little, but that is all for the better.

Last year at Physics Teacher Camp I learned a lot about Standards Based Grading, and then I implemented it in my classroom. It was a bit rocky, and hard to keep up with, and I learned a lot again. I will be changing how I do things this coming year, and hoping to do a much better job. I still need to figure out how to keep the kids’ grades updated in real time for the parents to see, but my brain is already coming up with options for me to think about.

I want to be the best teacher I can be, and that means using my summers as an opportunity to improve my practice, as well as taking time to relax. I know plenty of teachers who draw the line at summer, who won’t think of attending summer workshops or conferences. I dont understand that, and I am glad I know plenty of teachers who are more like me! So thanks you again, John, for inviting me to Physics Teacher Camp. I’m looking forward to next summer!


*as opposed to practice teaching, tutoring, etc. that I had done in college

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