After introducing myself to one of the classes, a student asked a question. She had quite the inquisitive look on her face and yet she seemed almost disgusted. “Ms. Emily, you want to be a science teacher?” Oh goodness, we have work to do.
I am at Topeka French Middle school in a 6th grade science classroom. I was imagining a classroom similar to the 6th grade science I experienced long ago (~15 students per class). To my extreme surprise, my teacher has almost 200 students in only 6 classes, which equates to over 30 students per classroom. I will admit I was quite intimidated at first, so I mostly just observed the first few classes. I examined the students’ routine, I observed and listened to the lesson of the day, and I admired how my teacher could maintain control over the large classroom and yet the students seemed to really like her. This isn’t so bad. In fact, it is a lot like my sixth grade experience. There are students that are quiet, there are students that can’t keep quiet, there are those that are troublemakers, and there are those that try and help the teacher whenever they can. Although this class is larger, in many respects it is very much the same as mine was, except now I am an authority figure. I began to feel much more comfortable in the classroom and even though I was still really nervous, I tried to interact with the students.
Their main lesson for the day was to answer a question: Max tells his brother Alex that because ships sail off into the distance and begin to slowly sink, they must be falling off the earth. How can Alex explain to his brother Max that the earth is really round? Earlier that week, the students actually used handmade paper ships and both a flat and round earth model, to demonstrate how ships can help explain that the earth is round. For the current lesson, the students were expected to write something related to their previous lesson. Very few students did this. It almost seemed like perhaps they didn’t understand the previous lesson, so I questioned a student that looked like he was struggling with his answer.
Me: “What do you think you could tell Max?”
Student: “Well, if the earth was flat, there wouldn’t be any sky?”
This answer is very similar to other ones I’ve heard so far (e.g. “if the earth was flat, there would be more space in space,” “the earth is round because the globe is round”). Do the students really not understand their previous lesson? I decided to rephrase my question.
Me: “What did you learn yesterday in class?”
The student then gave me a very accurate description of what he did and how he could demonstrate how the earth was round and not flat.
Me: “Could you use what you just told me to help explain to Max why the earth is round?”
He knew the concept the entire time and I would be willing to bet many other students are in the same situation! But why couldn’t he see the connection between both lessons? The way we learn is incredibly weird!
Slowly, I’m gaining my confidence in working with these students and I’m looking forward to a very exciting year with them!