Yesterday was my first day at Landon Middle School in Topeka, KS. It was also my first experience with a block schedule. For those college instructors who think it’s hard to keep their students’ attention during a 75 minute Tuesday/Thursday class, try keeping 13 and 14 year olds engaged for 90 minutes! Class got started with attendance, the goals for the day, and a brief review of the material from Tuesday. Then, the students worked in groups to complete three activities on the properties of lenses. They drew images projected on screens, figured out how to use a camera obscura, and explored how lens curvature changes image focus distance. Mr. Macha introduced each activity and gave the students some time to figure things out before having the students share their answers. After summarizing the lesson, they moved on to the next activity. I thought the format worked well. The students were able to explore the lesson in a hands-on manner and they were told how each activity fit into the material they were learning. While there are certainly several different ability levels in each class, most groups worked together fairly well and most students participated without too much prompting or hand holding. Because of the block scheduling I will be working with three of Mr. Macha’s six classes.
I will say there was more glittery eye makeup and there were more piercings and highlights than when I was in junior high, but other than that much of it was the same as my 8th grade experience. Overall I have two big thoughts on the day: 1) I’m not sure that block scheduling is really such a great idea. It seems like an awfully large chunk of time for the students to be in one subject. Additionally, it means that the students have much larger time gaps between classes because they have science three days a week instead of five. However, I think Mr. Macha makes the best of it and has developed some good strategies for helping the students remember the material. 2) My “I’m a Scientist” lesson is going to be a little challenging. I definitely need to have them explore the different types of things scientists do. When they heard I was a scientist at KU, most of the students mentioned test tubes and chemicals. While I do use those some times, that’s definitely not how I spend all of my time. I don’t think any of them imagine that you can do science while wearing waders instead of a lab coat. I‘ll be spending the next week pondering the best way to show them my research in a non-technical (no microscopes) way that won’t leave giant puddles all over the classroom. Like I said, I think the lesson will be a challenge, but I am looking forward to sharing my experiences and expertise with these students over the course of the year.