I’ll admit, for the first time in my teaching career I have struggled with classroom management. It has come as a complete shock to me. Granted my experience isn't happening in every classroom every day.
Here are a few of the issues I have dealt (or didn’t) with:
- Students breaking out in outbursts of strange guttural noises, sounding like wild animals. Seriously, I thought one of the boys had Turrets syndrome.
- In the middle of a discussion a student gets up to borrow the hole puncher, a stapler, or get some hand sanitizer, completely oblivious to the fact that I am talking or the timing is just inappropriate
- Laughter, background talking, and side conversations
- Cross-communication, literally, in the middle of the class between students on opposite sides of the room (“Hey, are you trying out for basketball?”)
- Students not showing up for class or, in particular, tests.
- Cheating and plagiarism.
- Students doing no work. I mean no work. Seriously, how can you earn 8% in a class?
It’s like the very last item on the agenda was about learning. And actually I don’t even think learning was on the agenda. Have you seen the movie “Dangerous Minds”? A few of those classroom scenes remind me of some of the experiences I have had with some of the students here. However, these students are pampered and spoiled as compared to those economically depraved individuals depicted in the film.
My instinct has been to turn to the literature and to reflect on inspiring movies like “Stand and Deliver.” But I’m no Jaime Escalante.
So, my inspiration was to challenge my students beyond what any of my colleagues thought the students “were ready for.” It was time for my apathetic, singing, distracted students to attempt a legitimate scientific experiment: “What is the effect on the temperature of lauric acid as it is immersed in warm and cold water baths?” (in other words, the heating and cooling curvesfor lauric acid) in the context of studying changes of state.
I’ve loaded my portable lab station with all the necessary supplies. My planning has to be meticulous, trouble-shooting all the pitfalls and challenges the students will face and setting up the experiment in such a way that students can focus on what is happening without being burdened by too much manipulation of equipment. Because these students have, unfortunately, not had much time in the lab. Thus, their skills are not developed.
The students are questioned as to what they think will happen to the temperature of the solid lauric acid when it is heated. With white boards and markers in front of them, they make predictions. None of them are even close.
“You all have an idea of what might happen. Now you get to do the experiment and discover the truth.” Their eyes widen. The silence is broken with, “Is this the right answer?” as a student points to his white board.
“You will determine that for yourselves. Your challenge is to keep your mind open as you do your experiment. Be careful so that you obtain accurate data. If you do it correctly, I predict that all of you will be surprised with the results.”
With their enlarged eyes they smile and look around the room at the prepared experimental set-up they will be using. Anticipation settles in and it is clear they are eager to get started. They actually want discover the truth!
After reading through the purpose and procedure, it’s time to begin. The students approach the lab bench with hushed respect like small children who have just been handed a “grown-up” task. Pride exudes from their teenage frames. Serious business is underway as the students operate the temperature probes, record data and make observations.
“The temperature isn’t lowering!”
“Why isn’t the temperature falling?”
And thus the discovery begins. “Is it the equipment?” “How is my prediction wrong?” “What is going on?” “Does this have to do with energy?”
And thus they begin their discovery of the role of energy in changes of states of matter. Graphing their data is energizing and clearly they enjoy seeing the visual of their own work. The curves are perfect. Their results demonstrate they are making the connections.
And, I realize that they are learning and that we have had several classes without management problems. Others thought these students couldn’t do it. But I thought otherwise.
My thought for today? Take students to higher levels: they will rise to the challenge and classroom management issues will diminish.