Setbacks as Learning Opportunities

I can’t say enough how profound the “learning from setbacks” paradigm has been during my time teaching in Harlem so far… But I’ll try to describe it with a brief snapshot of the last two days of school.

I’ve tried flipping my classroom this year – to give kids a fair shot at using and discussing the models we’re building I give them some background in the form of notes in our “Consensus Notebook”. (Not so much by consensus anymore, but we’re getting there…) Problem is, many students just weren’t watching the videos, and in their haste to get something done they’d generally just copy the notes from a friend without actually watching the video and making sense of what they’re writing.

So yesterday I tried a new system. Assigned seats for the day would be based on who did their homework – homework earns you the right to start with the rest of the class. If you didn’t do the homework, you’d spend the first 15 minutes of class getting caught up on that work, but inter rest of the class would go on without you. “No homework” students got the sheet on the left below, and others got the sheet in the right.

In general, this led to some very chaotic classrooms. Students who were supposed to watch the videos were loud and distracted, and had to be redirected or asked to leave the room, sometimes multiple times. Many students who had the chance to make real progress had trouble getting more than one stinkin energy bar chart completed. I got a chance to share my super-fun and amazing “kinetic energy ball” (BEST physics toy for studying energy…) and students loved it, but we barely got a chance to discuss two problems in most classes. Worst of all, I got frustrated and in some classes angry, and felt totally miserable by the end of the day.

Magically, today was the reverse. Students who didn’t do their homework were (mostly) silent, and most everyone got the notes done in 15 minutes. On the other side of the room, we whiteboarded 3 or 4 different examples, and checked many by comparing our work to the PhET Energy Skatepark simulation online ( Some classes had the best discussions we’ve had all year long.

Maybe it’s about the routine we established, maybe it’s because we have a test tomorrow, maybe it’s just that I was so determined to stay nice and easy chill no matter what happened. But things just clicked. ##Setbacks as learning opportunities, I guess…



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