River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 12 2012

Overcoming Inertia (“Teachality”)

Fig Newtons?

Inertia: (n.) the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion.

Today was one of those days in which I feel so very fortunate to be teaching in my placement school. Those of us who have taught know that you have some rough days, but you also have that day where everything simply clicks and you think: “wow, I could do this forever!” When TFA talks about “transformational leadership,” it’s really speaking about the capacity for giving our students the boost they need to overcome their inertia by putting them on a college (or career)-bound trajectory.

With our state tests quickly approaching, my school has implemented a rotation schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays that enables teachers to focus heavily on an objective students struggled with by providing differentiated, intense coaching and instruction. I’ve really seized this remediation opportunity this year, since I am still able to teach science instead of math to my students. Granted, I really enjoyed teaching math last year (it was far easier to plan and execute). However, the 30-minute rotation schedule has given me a chance to capitalize upon my 8th graders short attention spans and get them to work hard through otherwise boring test prep.

Today was awesome because I was able to connect with a friend of a friend who teaches in California. She provided me with physical science ideas and resources that I was able to tailor to give my students yet another means to grasp the material regarding Newton’s Laws of Motion. One of the cool things was a demo simulating the classic “tablecloth trick” using a mug, a note card, and a penny. Given my students’ tendency of breaking things, I turned this activity into a competition where students competed to see who could knock a quarter into the mug quickest. The kids were able to devise their own solutions first, then they were amazed when they saw the “flick method” and quickly scrambled to try it themselves.

They loved it! My lowest class was the most engaged and even their collective enthusiasm even carried into the actual test prep (multiple-choice monotony) after the main activity. Students normally known for fighting or misbehavior were able to shine and demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in a completely different way. It was heart-warming to see some students smile again.  One boy, who’s been involved in more fights than any other student on my hall, ended up being the best at flicking the card with multiple objects, even besting me. (I modified the experiment, so in place of a quarter we used things like blocks or miniature candy bars and stacked multiple objects on top of each other). We did other demonstrations such as simulating what inertia does to you if don’t wear a seat belt (see crash dummies) and running into a wall when you aren’t the Juggernaut… b*tch.

While this activity and subsequent practice was highly engaging and did my teacher-soul good, it’s disheartening to consider why I cannot do things like this every day (I did more activities in the fall before I bought my iPhone and had to fix my car…$$$). For one, if a random observer came in at certain points, they would have initially thought the kids were off-task compared to pure paper-and-pencil test prep. Secondly, while this activity was relatively cheap (only costing a couple dollars since I gave away coins and candy as prizes), I don’t get paid nearly enough to fund this every day. (I provide mechanical pencils [or "pencil pens"] to my students for 25 cents, so I used the quarters from the pencil fund to do the activity. Thirdly, with so many objectives to cover, there isn’t always “time” to “waste” through games like this. Moreover, I feel immense pressure because all students are going to be tested the same and given the reading levels of my students, there’s no guarantee they will pass despite my and their efforts throughout the year. My colleague and I lamented that despite our best efforts, some students are unable to overcome their own inertia and will not pass the state test.

Regardless, perhaps the best thing that happened today was my interaction with a student who struggles to read and write but is highly inquisitive and an excellent artist. I let him get on the computer after he finished his work and he immediately started looking at Mortal Kombat trailers. I thought about reprimanding him, but then I had a fleeting moment of inspiration and instead said: “Dee, I know how much you love those video games, so I want you to give me one example for each of Newton’s Laws explaining how they apply to Mortal Kombat.” When I say that his face lit up- the boy squealed with glee!! Although he walked me through his answers verbally, he volunteered to go back and write out his answers, so I could have record of his unique work:

1st Law (law of inertia): “Sub-Zero sits there (at rest) until Scorpion attacks him with his spear, which makes Sub-Zero fall.”

2nd Law (law of force): “It is easy for Scorpion to throw his chain because it weighs less. If Shao Kong throws his hammer, it takes more effort and strength (force) because of more mass.”

3rd Law (law of action/reaction): “If Scorpion and Sub-Zero both hit each other, they will both fly back because they have the same mass. If Shao Kong and Raiden hit each other, Raiden will fly back because Raiden weighs less and Shao Kong is bigger and heavier (more mass).”

More to come, but for now that is it. #fatality

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    Remove Barriers, Raise the Bar

    Region
    Mississippi Delta
    Grade
    Middle School
    Subject
    Science

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