Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Small Classes and Eye Rolling

There's a hot debate at my school about what connotes small classes. We have about 20 kids per class which I think is fairly small, but turns out not to be small enough to be really proud of "small class size." (I know lots of public school teachers are all rolling their eyes. But we definitely have some public schools around here that have classes of 20, so it doesn't really set us far apart.)

We do have lower teaching requirements than many other schools - I only teach about 85 students at a time.

The thing I love most about not having thousands of students is the opportunity to get to know each kid well. And of course, they have more of an opportunity to get to know me too. I approach my classroom the same way as I approach any presentation, which is with a heavy dose of humiliation and a sense of humor. This is why two moments from yesterday made me laugh.

I was teaching a class about gears, because we're doing robotics. I don't have enough motors for every group to have as many as they'd like, so for the first time I decided to have them learn explicitly about gears so they will be more prepared to build moving robots with fewer motors than wheels. (They're all girls. Most of them haven't spent a lot of time considering how automobiles and other wheeled vehicles work.) Here's the thing: I don't actually know anything about gears. I mean, I can figure it out, but I am not a physicist or an engineer. Why I didn't ask the engineering teacher for help before class is why I approach class with humility.

First class: I'm explaining about gear ratio. It is going pretty well. I'm pointing out the prior knowledge, like "ratios." I show a 16-tooth gear and a 24-tooth gear and explain the ratio and the torque/speed issues. I say, "you can simplify 16:24." Then I realize that while they probably can, I can't. At least not in the moment, in front of the class. Which shows on my face, and I acknowledge. In front of E. Who went to the math contest last week and by far topped everyone else at our school. Who rolls her eyes. Which, if it were any other kid, I would totally put the smackdown on for that kind of disrespect. Here's the thing: E never rolls her eyes. She never speaks out of turn. I am so proud of her! (Also, she's particularly close to me so I'm pretty sure she'd never do it with anyone else.) (Also, I told both her parents when I saw each of them later in the day. They've been concerned because she is very quiet and seems fairly compliant, so they were as pleased as I am. Just wait till she starts doing it more often!)

Second class: I've actually got it that you can simplify 16:24 to 2:3 and I've checked in with the engineering teacher to make sure that I do understand the torque/speed issues the effects of gearing up/down. I'm ready. Whereupon I develop aphasia (a word I never forget, even when it is happening) and can't think of what the things on the outside of the gear are called. So I start the lecture by explaining that gears have pointy out things on the outside. The class asks, "pointy out things?" I turn around to the loudest of them (who I also adore) and accuse, "what would you call them?" "Spikes." "Oh. FINE then." (Yes, that was me with the 'tude. There's a reason my students are not demure and completely respectful and it works for me.) Of course, as the class starts teasing her about "besting the teacher" I look down at the handout I've given them and realize that all the different gears are labeled, "8-tooth gear," "16-tooth gear," etc.

1 comment:

  1. Oooh, brain farts in class moments! Gotta love them.

    My favorite brain fart moment was when I was trying to figure out why my integer division example was not working out. Turns out that 12 divided by 8 is not 4, as I kept insisting.

    Unfortunately, I was being observed that day, too. Oooops.