Monday, October 8, 2007

What I Learned In Professional Development

Session 1: Engaged Learning Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom - presented by teachers.

1. As we entered, we saw strips of paper lying on a table. Some people took them. Some people did not see them. I stole two of them for later.

One said: The variable that the scientist deliberately changes to observe its effect.

Another said: A set of statements or principals devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

There were six tables set about the room. The tables were labeled with the answers to the strips of paper. The labels were difficult to read (small), and it's been a while since I took science. So, without any instruction from the presenter we began to match ourselves up to people who had similar strips of paper, and sat down at tables. Turns out we were all wrong, because we hadn't matched ourselves to the answers. There was no agenda posted nor instruction given us that indicated we were supposed to do this. We thought that we should match ourselves up, and then we would be told the answer to our "clue."

That was demonstration #1, and it was then suggested as a useful strategy for teaching new vocabulary. Of course.

2. Next up, we were shown the colorfully designed paper pyramids on our tables. Students made the pyramids by folding typing paper. I don't know what they were for. On the front of ours, someone had meticulously separated one face of the pyramid into 3 parts. On the top was a well-rendered and carefully colored cartoon shark. In the middle were some octopus and turtles. On the bottom were some aquatic plants. Beautiful artwork. On a second side of the pyramid was "energy %" and some numbers. On the third side was "biomass (g)" and some numbers. I still have no idea what the activity was. When someone remarked how pretty the pyramids were, the presenter said, "All of these here were completely wrong. The prettiest ones mostly were wrong. I just chose them because they were the most attractive."

At this point I popped in a piece of gum, because I needed something to grind my teeth on.

3. Teaching symbiosis: we were given a baggy full of laminated pictures. They were lovely pictures of wildlife, such as trees and orchids, Egyptian Plover Birds and crocodiles, bees and flowers. We were told to arrange the pictures into 3 groups. It did not matter what the groups were.

At the end we were told that the objective was to arrange them by symbiotic relationships. So our group, which had arranged them according to predators, prey, and plants, (based on the dominant image in the picture) was completely wrong.

One brave teacher raised her hand and said, "Just what is symbiosis again?"

The presenter said, "I just TOLD you."

At which point I said, "Do you talk to your students that way when they have a question?" He ignored me.

Another person managed to make him understand that he had not given us a definition of symbiosis, but rather had briefly mentioned some types of symbiosis. The presenter then gave us the definition of symbiosis.

4. Teaching Scientific Method: the presenter showed us an old TV commercial for trash bags - Hefty. He then said he shows this to his students, and has them construct an experiment to test the commercial's claim that Hefty bags hold more. This experiment requires them to acquire the necessary resources (Hefty bags and a competitor's bag), fill them to the breaking point, and measure which one is stronger. I'm a little rusty on the science - wouldn't the outcome of this depend upon the competitor? And wouldn't using any other type of competitor, other than a "controlled" competitor give faulty results? More importantly, couldn't students have designed an experiment using Scientific Method to connect with something...scientific? Symbiosis, perhaps?

Then he told us that since TV shows are no longer than 11 minutes between commercials, he never gives more than 11 minutes for working on a task. Note: he did not say he designs his tasks to take 11 minutes or less, just that he doesn't allow more than 11 minutes to work on them.

5. The second presentation was much better. This was a peer-critique activity for a research paper, delivered by a history teacher. The only "engagement" strategy involved was to have students move from desk to desk as they completed certain activities. (Clocking.) The rest was straightforward specifics about having students look for certain elements, and decide whether that portion of the paper fit the description of elements. "Elements" included thesis, topic sentences, factual support, and conclusion.

There was no coloring involved. Whew.

Session 2: Gangs

We sat in a room and watched our campus officer give a PowerPoint about local gang insignia and influences, with lots of pictures. The slideshow took up all the time. It was the same one we saw last year. When some teachers tried to ask whether this new focus on gangs in our school meant we were initiating some goal or focus about dealing with the gangs, we'd run out of time and were hurried on to the next thing.

Session 3: Bullying

1. Part 1: we learned how to fill out a brainstorming web. We put the word "bullying" in the center. Then we filled out boxes to the side with things like "definition," "synonym," "what it's like," "what it looks like." They were using the opportunity to present yet another "engaged learning strategy," you see.

I was the only person who mentioned cyberbullying.

Then the principal read 14 PowerPoint slides to us (One. By. One.), with bulleted lists of what bullying looks like and what bullies are like, as if we teachers had no clue, no clue whatsoever.

The English department, who all sat together at two adjacent tables, engaged itself with creating new gangs, gang insignia, and writing gang graffiti challenges to one another on our brainstorming worksheets. Then we flashed our new gang handsigns to one another across the tables. Either there's going to be a huge fight behind the bus shed Friday night, or we're all going out for drinks. It's hard to tell.


ms-teacher said...

There are some professional developments that are such wasted time. How do they ever pay us back for that time?

PaulaV said...

The presenter said, "I just TOLD you."

At which point I said, "Do you talk to your students that way when they have a question?" He ignored me.

I am glad you spoke up. I've noticed on several occassions at my sons' elementary school where adminstrators have talked rudely to parents, teachers and students. Not a good learning evironment if you ask me.

Keep up the good work! I enjoy your blog immensely. My hope is that one day my sons have someone has dedicated as you are for their English teacher.