Monday, November 02, 2009

On the Same Page

Today marked the start of the final week of classes at my school, and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On one hand, I’m thrilled to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Teaching is an exhausting profession, and I understand why we allow teachers a couple months of vacation each summer. On the other hand, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach that it was all for naught, and that I’ve failed to teach them everything they need to know or that everything I actually have tried to impart will have gone in one ear and out the other.

That feeling was especially strong this morning when, as we were nearing the 10.1 class, I gave them a lightning-round quiz. I asked what hardware was. The definition came back: the pieces of the computer we can touch and feel. I asked if we could touch and feel Microsoft Word. No. I asked if we could touch and feel the motherboard. Yes. I asked what the motherboard was.

Deafening silence.

At first I was annoyed. “C’mon, you guys. You gotta know this stuff.” But as 40 blank faces looked at me and then down at their notebooks and then back up at me, I realized it was probably my fault. I grabbed the notebook of a kid in the front row, and began to flip through it, urgently looking for lecture notes on hardware. To my horror, there were none.

Now, before I paint too nasty a picture of my abilities as a teacher, you should know a little about the national curriculum for computer studies in Samoa for years 9 through 11: there is none. School systems are allowed to dictate their own curriculum in order to adequately prepare students for year 12, which does have national standards.

So Phil, Koa, and I wrote the curricula at the beginning of the year. You know… before we’d ever stepped in front of a classroom. And really, they’re not so bad. We modeled them from curricula written by past Peace Corps, and for the most part, they’ve provided a solid backbone for each level. Things only get confusing when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details—like at what point students should be responsible for the definition of the motherboard.

These small issues are proving to be big problems as all students across the school system take the same standardized test at the end of the year. There’s no mention of the motherboard in the year 9 curriculum, but there’s a question about it on the test. Neither Phil nor Koa nor I wrote the year 9 exam, but I did get a chance to proofread it.

Part of the problem is there’s very little on the year 9 curriculum; it’s mostly learning to type. And you can’t fill a test with questions about Mavis Beacon. So inevitably material has shown up on tests that wasn’t included on the curriculum, which is awkward for me as a teacher and really lousy for students.

I wrote the year 11 test, which adheres nicely to the year 11 curriculum, if I do say so myself. There are no questions about motherboard on that one. Of this, I am sure.

In any case, now that Phil, Koa and I are seasoned teachers, we’re more aware of the ridiculous inconsistencies, and we’re setting aside a couple days in January to get things on the right track next year.

And I had my 10.1 class copy down the definition of the motherboard. Just in case.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

My year 13 class.  I gave them some compound formula problems this afternoon, and they were surprisingly into it.

Flowers in the ditch on the side of the road.


Pablo (yo) said...

Great blog!!
If you like, come back and visit mine:
Pablo from Argentina

Teu Pai said...

You're a very good at at organizing and presenting the material, so don't fault yourself or the program. Talk to the kids and ask why they didn't learn the material so you can change the 'tack and trim the sails' for the next class. You should also consider that you drive a car but you wouldn't be able to tell me the components under the hood. So the same for a computer - it's simply a tool, whether it's a supercharged V8 with a hemi and posi-traction, 128-bit bus 512Mhz air-cooled, blah blah blah. The kids will sop up what they can until they reach a point of saturation. That saturation point is based on what they understand to be relevant, and beyond that it really is 'in one ear and out the other.' But you know what I really liked about this posting - the picture of the flowers in the ditch. Love you, Kid!