The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 14 2012

Persistence Saves the Day

Day 27: As it turns out, controls are really, really tricky to teach and learn. Controls are all of the things in an experiment that you keep the same so you know the manipulated (or independent) variable is affecting the responding (dependent) variable. My kids got variables, so I thought this next step would be a cakewalk.

Not so much. My kids struggled to identify which parts of the sample experiments I was giving them should stay the same. In hindsight, there were a ton of obstacles. First and foremost, the sample experiments were multi-sentence paragraphs, and many of my kids struggle with reading. Second, I could have taught better text-marking strategies. And three, I had explained the manipulated variable as the thing in an experiment that you control; now that control was also moonlighting as a noun, some of my ELLs were lost.

Anyhow, the point of all of this is not how I could have strengthened the lesson, or the fact that my kids struggled at first. The point is what happened next, and what my kids showed me when they struggled.

About halfway into the double period, I only had about six kids who really got it. Those six kids quickly became my tutors, helping other partners who were having trouble. This let me work directly with a smaller set of partners. As some of the initial strugglers had their “ohhhhh” moments of recognition, they became tutors themselves. I sped around my classroom, challenging students to be either leaders or show me persistence and stick with the tough material. By and large, my students did both. Maybe one student all day really just gave up; many more worked through frustration time and time again.

I wish I could say the result of all this was that my students nailed their weekly quizzes. They didn’t. I’ve only graded one class, and their average on the controls questions was a 72 percent. However, I’m not worried. When I show my class that data, I’ll say, “You impressed me so much with your persistence and hard work last week. We’re not there yet, but if you can keep up that persistence, I know we’ll get there soon.”

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Experimental Procedures of a Second-Year Teacher

Greater Boston
Middle School

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