It’s been 4 whole months since I wrote about my classroom, and I had fallen far behind long before that.  The short story is this: in September, I fell sideways into inquiry-based teaching. Since then,

  • I got a lot more honest with myself about how well my teaching actually works (ex: I do more pseudoteaching than I thought I did)
  • I fostered a classroom culture that was way more honest than in the past (by attributing authorship, letting student questions direct our activities, sharing results of regular class feedback, direct-teaching them how to respectfully disagree with the teacher, etc.  The increased honesty is where the hard lessons came from)
  • I learned that teaching 5 preps in five months, using an educational approach that I hadn’t anticipated, makes me so sleep-deprived that I am incapable of synthesizing my thoughts into readable blog posts
  • I changed my mind about a bunch of things (ex: I used to think that any student who attends class, works hard, and uses the resources available to them will complete the program.  Hold the tomatoes.)
  • I noticed a bunch of things that I hadn’t realized I didn’t know (ex: I’m not sure exactly what I want my students to capture in their class notes; there are some shop activities where I’m not completely sure what question I intend for them to answer).

It was uncomfortable and sometimes I couldn’t tell if I was “doing it right.”  In other words, I practiced what I preached.  I spent a lot of sleepless Sunday nights, worrying that I wasn’t good enough to pull this off and that I’d mess up my students’ minds, or at least their careers. (I eventually figured out how to judge that my skills, though imperfect, are up to the task.  That’s a post for another day.) Last week, my second-year students came back from work-terms with glowing reviews.  The employers wrote specifically about students’ discernment in asking significant question without needing continual reassurance, their competence in tackling unfamiliar tasks, their ability to make sense of technical text. The 2nd-year students reported feeling confident and well-prepared.  I got a visit in my office from a student who had been a vocal critic of my increasingly “weird” teaching.  He shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and told me that he appreciated how well the tasks he performed in class reflected the industry.  He has just aced the employer’s entrance test on the first try. The 1st-year students did well on their final project (an FM transmitter), becoming increasingly self-directed in developing test procedures, troubleshooting systematically, and recording their results (including migrating their lab notes from paper to Excel and Visio).  Their feedback is positive and constructive.  Here are their thoughts on what’s working well:

  • “The teaching aspects that are new to me.”
  • “Very dedicated teachings from an involved and thorough instructor.”
  • “Learning new concepts”
  • “Everything.”
  • “The skill sheets”

The only suggestion about what to change (other than “nothing”) was the balance between theory and shop time.  I agree.  In the last 5 weeks, I collapsed back into lecture mode, mostly because I was tired and couldn’t figure out what to do instead.  I have ideas for next year. So this post is my way of saying hello, and keeping track of some things I plan to write about next.  In response to some long-ago requests, I’m working on posts about

  • an example of a measurement cycle, including how I chose the questions, why they arose in the first place, and how students investigated them
  • an example of a research cycle, including topics students presented and topics I presented
  • an example of how I assessed students’ critical thinking skills, including drafts of students’ writing and the kinds of feedback I gave

There are lots of other things in the hopper but I probably need to do these first for other topics to make sense.  If you notice something that I’ve left out or skipped over, your suggestions would be very welcome, as I try to organize this into a coherent story.