An article made the rounds a while ago: Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science

A lot of smart twitter folks had the same reaction I had: "duh."

Now, to be fair, at no point in my career have my techniques met with strong critique. No one has accused me of doing harm or doing less than what's required. But there's a stigma. You can feel it in professional development sessions. You're showing some veterans about how great it is to have kids talking to each other and figuring stuff out and they kind of scowl or find a way to tune out. They play along to be polite but you know 0% of what you discussed will make it back to their classroom.

And in these instances it comes back to the eternal straw man: we've GOT to prepare them for college.

No one stops to consider that college teaching is sub-par. Or that the environment is completely foreign to high school. Other than desks and books it's not the same thing. Around the time I saw this article a teacher from another campus was remarking about some college professors who were blown away by Bloom's Taxonomy, something engrained in high school PD for like, ever.

Why do most people lecture eternally? Because they do it in college. Why do most people give mountains of homework? Because they do it in college.

You know what else happens in college? Class sizes of 150. Three hours of "face" time a week. Learning for the sake of learning disappears. GPA becomes the only thing that matters. You give a student two opportunities to perform in 18 weeks and they're going to get desperate. You make a student a number on a list and they won't care about deceiving you. You find the right kids on a college campus and you can earn a master's degree in cheating. No one likes talking about that either. Now, the students I knew who relied on that sort of thing didn't last long, but essay mills are a thing.

You all had the bad professor. Sixth semester fluid mechanics for me. Fellow walks in and says what are your questions. None? Ok. Ninety minutes of reading overheads. Scolding us for not asking questions. Threatening to go faster. Whipping overheads every 15 seconds. Getting more disgruntled each time. A week later he told us that merely sitting there complacently for an entire semester will earn us a C. I got a B in the class, and I know nothing about fluid mechanics (my exam grades were all less than 50%). Nothing he did inspired me to care one iota about his material. Said professor had several prestigious teaching awards to his name because, of course.

It was anomaly, and I had plenty of good instructors. But c'mon, THAT's allowed to happen? That's what everyone was trying to prepare me for?

Why in the world should I do anything like a college professor? I know all of my students by name. I see them five hours a week, every day of the week. I ask them to perform dozens of times and watch them grow from feedback. They produce something every day. There's no need to offload the instruction into a daily pile of homework. Final exams are meaningless to me, because I've watched a student every day for months, I don't need some high stakes 80 question test to tell me if they learned anything.

If a university lecture hall forms the basis for your high school classroom culture, go visit a lecture hall and update your memories.

AuthorJonathan Claydon