First week teaching

For those of you who have just experienced their first week back after the vacation I am sure we are all feeling similar! It’s taking a little minute to get back into the swing of things at school and I am quite tired this Friday evening. Our students started classes on Wednesday with almost everyone in the building, very few hybrid lessons, and everyone wearing a mask at all times. Although I am wiped out, I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been to be with the students in the class again. I have missed it so much and you can feel how grateful everyone is to be back. I’m sure some of you will still be in the midst of virtual or hybrid teaching/learning and I know how hard this is – I’m sending a little extra energy and patience your way. 

Humans that learn

Before I share what my students and I have been working on this week, I want to first talk a little about learning in general. Earlier this week an amazing human, Ayo Magwood, founder of Uprooting Inequity, shared an article about the Scientific and Technological achievements of people from ancient Africa by Sydella Blatch, Ph.D. (now and again Ayo will forward articles and resources related to themes of equity and diversity in Science as I am building a bank of resources to help teachers find examples and materials for STEM subjects to both teach for the celebration and joy of diversity while also teaching about the realities of our past and present – check out this resource here). Blatch’s article blew my mind for a number of reasons. Firstly, the significance of understanding the true story of scientific development and the stories not told in favour of a Eurocentric narrative. But as I was reading I was also reminded just how awe inspiring these advancements are in terms of what it reveals about the human desire and capacity to learn – just one example is math problems we continue to teach in schools today being used 35,000 years ago to understand flooding patterns of the Nile in Egypt. Starting my year reading this article is highly motivating, and it is a reminder that the human brain needs to learn, so how we support that learning matters. Our minds are hardwired to spot patterns in the world and to organise what we experience into ‘mental file folders’ we call concepts. If we help students to see the deeper structural organisation of our world then the level of innovation our young people are capable of becomes limitless. 

Refreshing memories

Admittedly, I haven’t done much ‘teaching’ this week. There have been assemblies and biosecurity reminders and other events that meant I didn’t meet all of my students. I teach IB Diploma Chemistry and my students in their 2nd year of their studies are refreshing their memories of where we left off in June, this is how I set up the class…

Generating concepts and organisation

I asked the students to generate a list of concepts (each written on a separate Post-it note) from our unit on energetics from memory, once they felt they had exhausted their brain power they then checked their notes for any additional concepts they didn’t recall. 

Looking at their concepts, they organised them into three piles; one of concepts they felt confident about, one that they felt fine about but needed a bit of a review, and a third pile of concepts they were not confident about at all. They did this in pairs so they had the chance to think together. 

Sorting the concepts this way helps me to know where the students are after a long (and much needed) break, and it also gives the students an opportunity to see that they remember more than they thought. Identifying confidence levels with each concept then determines the next part of the learning experience. 

Concept attainment

For each of the concepts my students placed in the “felt fine but needed a bit of a review” pile, they created a concept sort/concept attainment – when introducing new concepts I will often use this strategy for my students to identify critical attributes of the concepts, but because this group were familiar with the concepts I asked them to create the strategy themselves. They needed to find images that represent the concepts, you can see an example for the concept of ‘heat capacity’ below. A template and more examples of the Acquire Phase strategy “Concept Sort”/concept attainment can be found here and on pages 230-232 of Learning That Transfers: Designing Curriculum for a Changing World.

Concept consolidation

Concepts in the “not confident at all” pile will inform my teaching next week as I now know where students are in their learning, but I also wanted to check if students definitely are confident with the concepts in their “concepts I feel confident about” pile. So for each of these concepts I asked my students to use the SEEI model to express their understanding of these concepts (find an explanation on pages 233-234 of Learning That Transfers and a template in the Chapter 8 Resources page of This strategy is great for consolidating knowledge of individual concepts and also supports a system of feedback about learning (see Chapter 7 of Learning That Transfers). 

In 50 minutes of class time my students were able to review an entire topic themselves, identify their strengths and next steps, and provide me with the feedback I need about their learning. Next week we will focus on the more challenging concepts before putting them together in relationship ready for learning transfer. I can’t wait to let you know how we get on! 

Try it together

Before closing blog #2, a quick reminder of the Try It Together strategy I hope you will join me with this month. Having all found the past year incredibly challenging, my focus is firmly on wellbeing and social and emotional learning. This week my classes learned about the relationship between circumstances and thoughts and why this is important for life (if you would like more details on this specific relationship why not take our our course Goodbye Overwhelm created by Julie and Kristen Dabney which is free and completely asynchronous) and we have been working on our Wellbeing Concept Wall – I am so excited to share this with you at the end of the month and invite you to share your experiences as well! Please have a look at the first blog for more details and how to get in touch. 

Take care and see you next time.