Friday, March 2, 2012

Teaching - The Sorpresas Continue

The newest development in my life as a teacher is the addition of one third year English class to my schedule. During training I used the word "sorpresa" a lot . . . and it seems to be the ongoing theme of my Peace Corps service. While I don’t think the class will be too difficult to teach (the students already have a pretty good grasp of the language and as a third year class there are only between 10 and 20 students), I’m a little freaked out by the addition of another lesson plan as chemistry planning already occupies a good portion of my time. It’ll be nice to have another small class where I might actually be able to learn the students’ names, but we’ll see how this whole second subject thing goes.

I am currently teaching my chemistry students about atoms and elements . . . and how to calculate the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in each atom given a certain set of information. Neither math or science are my strongest subjects, but these are the most basic of algebra problems – A=Z+n (usually you have to solve for n). It took me about half the class to explain how to solve this equation and took the whole forty-five minutes to get through five problems. I’m a bit nervous for what’s going to happen when we start balancing equations. But this ongoing difficulty with any form of math means that I almost start dancing (and definitely start singing alleluia in my head) every time a student finally gets how the problems work.

For their first assignment, my students did an experiment that used iodine to see which foods had starch. We don’t have any lab equipment, so the experiment was done in my Tupperware containers, but actually seemed to go fairly well. During the lesson before I had gone over the format of the lab report that the students needed to turn in for their first grade. I gave them all of the needed information, the only information they needed to provide was their name and class, their thoughts to complete the hypothesis, to fill in the table of data, and to write their own conclusion (all of which were pretty much spelled out for them). I also offered office hours where they could come down to the mission to talk to me about any questions they may have regarding the lab report. When only three students came to talk to me, I started to get a little nervous.

Sure enough, over half of my students failed their first assignment. It’s hard because I don’t know if they just didn’t understand my Portuguese, if this kind of assignment was just completely new to them, or if they just didn’t care. I’m guessing it’s some combination of all of these factors, but I am just rather frustrated with the results. I am offering students the chance to redo the exam, but thus far very few have taken me up on the offer. Some students did do very well on the lab report, so that’s encouraging.  

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