EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Experimental Teaching

As this year comes to a close, Friday is my last day before summer vacation, I find myself reflecting on the school year, things that went well and things that did not.  One of the things that has gone well is that for the past three years my grade partner and I have been a part of an experiment.  The experiment involved how classes were divided between us.  At my grade level in my district classes are tracked and I was given the opportunity to specialize and teach the lower levels.  These are students who tend not to read, write or do math at grade level due to a variety of reasons from lack of resources to learning disabilities to being English language learners.  I was able to devote my whole attention to meeting the needs of this population without the distraction of having to meet the needs of advanced and gifted students.  I was given the flexibility to focus my curriculum on the big ideas and not get lost in the trees.

Like most things in teaching I was not 100% successful, but I will say that by comparing my final exam grades to others my students on a whole did better than students with a teacher who had a divided focus.  Next year my grade partner and I switch.  He will teach the lower and I will teach the higher.  We have common planning time so we can share our insights and experiences and hopefully build off of the start we have made.

A fundamental concept in science is that experimentation leads us to knowledge, even a failed experiment.  Teaching has so many variables that we can never have a perfectly controlled experiment, but we can still collect data, reflect and draw conclusions.  Formal or informal research expands my knowledge keeps me interested in teaching.

So that leads me to today’s question.  If you had the power, no holds barred, what would you like to try?  Big or small what is your experiment in teaching that is waiting to happen?

Featured image Experiments by Peter Megyeri

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.


  1. June 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm —


    I have been doing pedagogical research for some time now and it’s fascinating! I would probably spend my efforts most on how to effectively teach skills to enable students to learn content on their own, but there’s so much more!

  2. June 19, 2014 at 2:36 pm —

    the overly ambitious: integrated calculus-based physics and calculus I, II, and III with a side of linear algebra, as a 2-year mega seminar/lab/lecture/learn-some-programming thing. Because even an introductory calculus-based physics has so many “here’s the equation trust me” moments and we really need to stop and investigate the mathematics. Conversely, if I could teach math and physics together then I wouldn’t have to keep saying to my math students “and there’s a really neat physics application for this process, which is why you should know it.” Throw in some computer stuff for visualization curves and surfaces in 3-space, and also because “we learn computer science to clarify our mathematics” as one professor of my sister’s said.

    the small thing I’m thinking about trying this fall: rather than grading homework on a points scale, grade each problem as satisfactory/unsatisfactory with as much commentary as I can take the time to write, and give students one redo on unsatisfactory problems. (I have the luxury of small classes.)

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