This year, I have a student who made the Olympiad training group. He sat the next round of selection exams last week. I have to say I am really proud of him, he has worked hard and independently, and has enjoyed the challenge.
But it has reminded my just how much I have forgotten. The Chemistry is essentially first year, and I just have had no idea. My Maths was as rusty as anything…. ratios and percentages should have been easy but I really struggled. I have tried to catch up, but time, time, TIME. Essentially, I thrust old text books at him, frantically googled tutorials when he wasn’t sure, sat and puzzled over problems through lunch times, and then admitted I needed more help and reached out to the amazing Dave Warren at Otago Uni. So this student now heads into the uni once a week to get the help and extension I couldn’t give him (I have to say, this is an AMAZING arrangement for him, and the uni seems really happy as well, so win win. And I got away with a minimum amount of paper work too…. Extra win).
This experience has made me think on a few things.
- If you don’t need the learning then, it so easily forgotten. I used to be able to do that Chem with ease – but my chem papers where the best part of 15 years ago (sob). And it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to learn the second time round – perhaps I really did leave it too long. So I really need to make sure I make more of a point when I am trying to get students to commit details for NCEA exams to memory that I bring them up again and again through out the year – not just finish a topic and move on.
- Learning stuff in isolation is hard. Often sitting with this student, we will talk through and stumble onto the correct strategy or answer, when we have both failed to do so. So having a partner is crime is so valuable.
- Even for a moderately driven teacher like me, it is easy to get lazy. I did a 100 calculus paper 6 years ago to strengthen up my maths as part of PD from my last school. But then at my new school I haven’t taught maths, and all that knowledge is gone. Maybe not completely gone, but very deeply buried. So I need to get out of my comfort zone somehow to keep that skill set going.
- The content from the Olympiad is presented is a very old school dry way. I know it must be difficult to cater to such a diverse group, and cost is probably a factor too, but a thick printed off black and white ‘text’ is pretty hard going.
So how can I keep that knowledge I worked so hard to get? The old saying is ‘you use it or you lose it’ so do I really need that knowledge? In my ‘day to day’ teaching, obviously I hadn’t, but this is enormously frustrating when I find myself unable to push a student on to what they are capable of. Has my inadvertent ‘laziness’ limited my students and what they can achieve.
From these internal musings, I have come to the conclusion (with the help of the fabulous Paula) that more needs to be done to help isolated students and teachers who might not always have access to that next level of learning. The sole ‘nerdy’ kid in a school where the teacher is struggling to get the other 28 kids in the class to their A, M and E’s, and so just quietly ignores the one who is getting it without causing trouble, or maybe suggesting they do Hands on at Otago, or the Rotary Science camp in Auckland, or a competition or Science fair. And I am exploring some ways to do this….. Time or no time, there is a definite need.
And I am (again) re-evaluating what I need to do to make sure I can be the best teacher I can be. In this case, I need to brush up on my chemistry, to make sure the information I have forgotten is not negatively impacting my students. That my knowledge isn’t limiting theirs.
So I have been schooled by this experience. I need to make sure I am not just doing what I ‘need to’ and I keep pushing along above what I need to know.