I tend to miss class from time to time. I hate missing class. I love nothing more than being with my 9th grade Biology students and 10th grade Honors Chemistry students helping them to negotiate the complexities, and beautiful intricacies of science. Teaching is my hobby.
Unfortunately, missing class is a reality when trying to juggle being a parent of four young children (two being 3 year-old twin boys), managing a career as an educational consultant, and working online an adjunct profession of education, all while trying to maintain my role as a full-time high school teacher.
I am committed to this. I am sure many of you reading this can empathize. It's just what I'm dong. I'm blessed.
However, missing class means creating sub lesson plans.
I HATE creating sub plans.
I have experimented with many different models: guided reading notes, instructional videos, etc. etc., etc. I want the sub lesson to be meaningful, and not just a lesson that all to often becomes a "study hall".
Unfortunately, none of the above methods seemed to lead to anything other than the typical responses. : "Can we have a study hall?", or "Can we watch a movie?", or "I didn't know we were supposed to do it?".
Totally normal, and totally age appropriate. No matter how much I LOVED my teachers in high school, there was always something novel, something surprising, and something fun about having a sub. I get it.
That being said: How can I improve the process? Provide meaning while not being there?
These are simple questions that I'm sure many of you have answers to already, however for me, it has been a significant part of my journey as an educator.
A tangible, grass roots problem that full-time teachers often overlook. How can I be better?
Out of frustration, I sat down a few years ago and wrote down exactly what I wanted a sub lesson to accomplish:
Given that we are a one-to-one school, over the past year there is a method I KEEP COMING BACK to.
A method that ALWAYS seems to work, and checks off each of the boxes above:
Embedding short videos IN a google form with associated summary prompts.
Here's my workflow:
Here's my logic:
Click here for an example of my most recent Google Form sub lesson.
See screenshots of my most recent Google Form sub lesson below:
Yes. I am obsessed with the craft of teaching. I think about it constantly. Thus, in addition to the incredible time with family ands friends that the Thanksgiving holiday offers (mixed in with writing college letters of recommendation), I found myself using the time to revisit list of "potential ideas" I gather throughout the semester.
Things I see online, in conversation, at conferences, spying on other teachers, etc., etc., etc. Things that I want to integrate into my practice, daydream about leveraging, or need to improve upon. In an L-tryptophan haze, I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving digging through my lists, and curating 10 new ideas I want to integrate into my practice:
Recently I stumbled upon a series of videos called "5 Levels of Difficulty". In each video an expert explains a difficult concept in 5 levels of increasing complexity:
I was inspired by this video series for a few reasons. First, it reminded me how explaining a difficult concept to a novice and expert audience simultaneously requires deep conceptual knowledge and how listening to such an explanation helps to build simultaneous conceptual and mechanical knowledge of a concept. Second, it motivated me to reimagine how I assess my students.
Keeping the above in mind, for our unit on Cellular Respiration in my freshman Biology course, rather than assign a traditional topic exam, I decide to create a variation of the 5 Levels of of Difficulty videos shown above that will serve as the assessment for this topic. In short, students will create similar videos explaining Cellular Respiration at 3 rather than 5 levels of difficulty.
I have embedded a document below that explains the intricacies of the assignment. Click here to view the spreadsheet where student "3 Levels of Difficulty" scripts and videos will be collected.
When reading the research on Curiosity, Involuntary Curiosity is of particular interest to us teachers.
Defined by Loewenstein (1994) as curiosity that "...arises spontaneously as a result of a curiosity inducing stimuli", it isn't difficult see how honing the art of curating such moments is a powerful lesson planning tool.
Specifically, editing a video to reveal only a specific portion of a clip is a useful technique.
Often times a powerful video, if showed in its entirety, can simultaneously engage AND demotivate students by "inducing" curiosity, while also explaining the content that underlies the phenomena.
Rather than showing the entire video, the goal is to strategically curate the perfect portion of a video clip to tunnel students into asking the question you want them to ask.
To intentionally withhold the perfect amount of information.
Below are a few examples from the past two weeks in my chemistry class (note: videos are downloaded using savefrom.net and trimmed using Quicktime)
I began teaching in August of 2000. This year marks my 19th year in the classroom. When 24-year-old me stumbled into room 206 at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in downtown San Francisco, hired to teach chemistry and biology, with no credential, formal training, and only 3 flunked MCATs under my belt, I did not think I would be writing this blog today.
I would be, accordingly to my 24-year-old self, be a practicing physician as my time spent that year in the classroom was only meant to embody the space between my first fourth MCAT (the one I would finally do well on) and my journey to medical school. I didn't know, at the time, that I would absolutely fall in love with the craft of teaching. Head over hells in love.
Today I find myself, for some unknown reason, reflecting deeply on that journey. Why did I fall in love with teaching? Why did I want to be a doctor? Why did I give up on that dream, for another? Why do I still feel like an imposter after 19 years? What if I stuck with it? Did I give up to early? Could I have saved lives? Have I done my students over the years...especially the ones in the first few years, more harm that good? I dunno.
Around 2006, a subtle tipping point occurred. A transition was felt. I became, in my eyes, and the eyes of my colleagues, and my students, a teacher. A teacher! The vocation became who I was...not some strange space between dreams my parents had for me, and those which I struggled to have for myself. I went to graduate school, did research, obtained an EdD, because a teacher of teachers, traveling around the globe, sharing my passion. It just happened.
I didn't mean for it to happen. I didn't try to speak on TED, or deliver Keynotes about my teaching journey, or write books, or the myriad of other things I have been blessed to do. So, as I sit here, 19 years later, absolutely in love with the teaching profession, I find myself reflecting on this journey. How did I stumble on such opportunities, and why, to this day, do I adamantly resist, and reject, opportunities to leave the classroom.
I think I have it figured out. It's not the kids, as much as I love them. It's not the colleagues, as much as they inspire me. It's not the assessments, or scores, or summers off. It's not the feeling I get when I tell somebody "I'm a teacher..." and their face lights up with respect. It's one thing, and one thing only: URGENCY.
It's the feeling I get when I create a lesson, that must be delivered the next day. The urgency of pedagogy. The urgency that comes along with deadlines, and the art of crappy lessons, great lessons, and all things in between that emerge when the bell rings, my mind opens, and I create. Not for some day off in the future when I will deliver a keynote, or share a story about a lesson I plan to deliver.
The urgency associated with the next day. 12 hours later when they will walk in the room, and look at me with a stare that embodies the term "Go ahead dude...try and teach me.". I love that urgency...that creativity...that feeling. I think, for what its worth, this sense of urgency is why I have been blessed with the ability to share my story with others...Teacher can relate to this. We gravitate toward ideas. We feel the urgency. We are artists every freaking day. We empathize with one another.
What a blessing.