May 2, 2007

Under a Microscope

We had visitors touring our school today from the Magnet Schools of America Conference. Perhaps a little unnerving, yes, but in the end it turned out rather well.

A large number of my top students were tour guides, and therefore excused from their classes today. At one point today I was a momentarily stressed out when I did a status of the class, as I was out of my classroom yesterday while I attended the conference myself, and found that the majority of the students felt like they didn't really understand the project.

In many ways I was not surprised, as I have gone through this project before, and it is not uncommon for students to take several days to understand the requirements and to formulate their project proposals. I was absolutely prepared to work one-on-one with students to get them on track today, but I was anticipating that number to be no more than five students in each class--not the fifteen in the class where we were expecting visitors!

In the big picture, I really don't have a problem with observers in my classroom seeing this whole process, but today we were suppose to be showing our use of technology. My students were suppose to be demonstrating their skills in researching, yet only a small portion of the class was at that point. The students who would have been on top of the game, as I said before, were excused from class to be tour guides.

Of course it worked out in the end. I gave a little background and invited the guests to talk with the students about their projects or any other information. I observed many students interacting confidently with our guests, which I was pleased about because if you're in 8th grade and you have a room full of teachers wanting to know what you're doing, you know that has to be a little weird.

There was one gentleman who went straight over to one of my flakiest kids (plus one that would not be comfortable talking to adults) and started quizzing him about the website he was looking at. Did he think it was a valid source? How did he know? I could tell with a glance that it perhaps wasn't the strongest source he could find. We've been through evaluating sources this year, and I reminded students to closely analyze their sources when I was explaining this component of the project. I think the man was also giving the student a refresher on the unit about research that we already covered about types of sources and ways to find them. Now, this is the kid who would not have been paying attention when we did that unit, but I'm sure vague memories started to come back to him and wished he would have paid better attention!

After about ten minutes I stopped by to check on the student, and the gentleman started to lecture me about how there were better web resources available. I smiled at him and said, "Oh yes! We've covered that concept this year. I'm sure Benito will get there." Then the man moved on to quiz a few more of my more inarticulate students. The man must have had some sort of radar! And the truth is, many of the students in my classroom at that time were not even magnet students; technically they were students who were enrolled in accelerated classes, yet not in the program. They are the students who are barely making it in accelerated classes, but if they were in the regular classes, they wouldn't be challenged enough.

After the group left, I checked in again with Benito, teasing him about how the gentleman had put him through the wringer.

"Miss! What was with that?"

"I don't know," I laughed. "He just wanted to help you, I suppose. You should have been able to discuss your topic and choices with him."

"I know. Miss, it was the first web site I looked at!"

I wonder, was he just about to click out of the page? Was he trying to decide if the page was worth his time, and he was hung up by having to articulate what he was processing in his head? Or, was he seriously considering the poor source he was looking about?

I suppose I'll never know. I do know that the gentleman, although he did rub me the wrong way, too, did a beautiful job in reinforcing one the the broken-record messages I've been sending all year.

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