Friday, January 25, 2013

Second Semester Reflections

This year, I was presented with the challenge of teaching new classes.  Two of them, for a total of four different preps.  The joy in all this is that most of the four preps are elective courses that largely allow me to do my thing.

My biggest struggle this semester has actually been a course I've taught a few times before, Microeconomics.  It's the type of material that my brain doesn't do well; I can learn it but I'm literally refreshing myself from my notes before every single class.  And during.  It, for whatever reason, does not stick, and it occurs to me that it must have been by some miracle I passed it in college.  I try to put a creative spin on the course, but have trouble finding relevance to my students, particularly those who do not plan to major in finance or run a business in their futures.  So despite feeling pretty successful in my other courses, I leave on those days often feeling totally inadequate (and thankful it isn't my last class of the day).  The struggle comes from knowing I should be doing better than the traditional lecture, practice problems, test.  I even have a hard time finding resources so that I can do certain topics better.

My two new classes this year have been Communications Media, which is a full year course, and Humanities, which is a semester long one.  Comm Media has been a fun ride so far, largely thanks to a friend with whom I'm sharing a ton of ideas.  Unfortunately, I kind of kept pace with her, and she runs a semester long class.  Oops.  As a result, I could and should have spent more time on all the topics, and am trying to think about ways to make the other parts of the curriculum fun and interesting.  I ran the class mostly as a media literacy one; we analyzed television for stereotypes and gender roles being reinforced, discussed the ways all media is advertising of some kind or another, viewed an episode of Mad Men to see how they tried to spin cigarettes after the Surgeon General report that cigarettes are bad came out, and viewed Inception to analyze whether blockbusters can be smart.  On the agenda for next semester is analysis of the Super Bowl ads and we'll also be taking a look at the Academy Awards to determine how they reflect our society as well as make our culture. 

I'm really proud of the bigger projects they've done; they worked on a fairly large project of creating a 15 minute sitcom, which had to appeal to a particular target audience and reflect or challenge stereotype prevalent in today's media culture.  They are currently working on their midterms, which has them creating a trailer for a non existent blockbuster film based on a children's story AND creating an effective movie poster for the same film.  They'll need to demonstrate understanding of what makes a blockbuster film as well as advertising techniques.  The beginning work is looking really exciting!

The Humanities course has been exciting too.  The curriculum is pretty loose so we've done some really fun stuff...  the big project has been the 20% Project.  This is their final exam project, but they've been spending roughly 20% of our class time in support of their outside work on a project of their choice.  They're learning about things that are so varied, it's unbelievable.  I do worry about their process of reflection; it sometimes seems the project is being only worked on during our 20% of class-time and not at all outside of class and I'm not sure how to combat that with students who are overworked and prioritize based on what's due soonest.  A long term project is likely to be thing pushed off till another time.  Perhaps I need to be stricter about due dates for reflection journals.  I also feel I'm not communicating well what a reflection journal should be, even though I feel like a broken record (what's the 21st century version of a broken record?) telling the students it's a documentation of their learning and progress for the week, giving them examples of what to use and examples of other student reflections.  I'll have to present these points better the next time we do this (hopefully in the second semester....)

In addition to the 20% Project, the Humanities class has had some remarkable projects this semester.  Most notable was when they presented their ideas for improving our school to the building administration.  They even got dressed up, and spent more than an hour presenting their super well thought out ideas for how the school could serve students better.  Ideas included a separate space for guidance because they always feel everyone is staring at them when they come out of the counselor's office, re-design of classroom spaces to facilitate collaboration, and even a whole redesign of the sequence of courses for all five high schools in our district.  Some of their ideas went into the "can't happen" file box but most of them were well received.  Oh, and are still being talked about by the administration. 

These have been the biggest outside of the box activities they've done, but we've also viewed films and they've completed the Soundtrack to their Lives, we've viewed films to discuss philosophy and reality and utopia and free will, we've made and discussed art and discussed censorship and whether it's mostly positive or mostly negative as well as a more general discussion of artistic integrity--creating for creation's sake vs creating to get paid as well as artists who create music and then change lyrics so they don't get censored and do get radio play.

So, although I haven't been doing a whole lot of formal ongoing reflection, there has been some incredible stuff happening this year so far.  I hope to improve on all these things in the new semester--taking Comm Media to the next level as we discuss media and journalism, making Economics more interesting and relevant, and making Humanities have more focus and even better outcomes.

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Thanks for learning along with me!