Looking at course objectives
This edition’s article is taking a bit of a jump from the previous articles, so big thank you to you readers for humoring me on this.
There have been several changes to my school’s administrative team that have resulted in a change of perspective for me. Earlier this year our principal was promoted to district athletic director and our assistant principal was promoted to principal of another building, resulting in gaps to our instructional team and requiring me to take up a few additional administrative duties.
One of the duties I had temporarily added to my workload was scheduling of courses. It was very interesting seeing all the electives that students could select. When I started looking at the numbers of interested students for each class and comparing them to previous years, I could see trends in a class’s popularity.
Three classes were far enough in decline that they could only field 18 students (if the course hits 12 or fewer, it is pulled from the catalog and marked inactive). When I looked at what the courses had in common, it was apparent that the issue wasn’t in the instruction or general topic, but that the courses hadn’t evolved: html-based web design, poetry and composition, and lifetime fitness.
These courses were still locked by content objectives that had not been reviewed since 2002. The teachers for those classes and I formed a small committee to review and update the objectives to better fit the times and current content standards.
This group also looked at three inactive courses to see about restoring them and adding them back to the catalog: sculptural art, weather analysis and forecasting, and creative city planning.
Sculptural art was made inactive because its prerequisites made it very difficult to get in. After examining what was needed to succeed, we rewrote the objectives with the new more reasonable prerequisites.
Creative city planning had only a couple of course objectives that were written very generally. This made it so the class would be very different from year to year and even section by section. We had to decide if we were going to focus on social sciences, engineering, or a hybrid of the two. One of the committee members brought up “National Engineers Week–Future City” (futurecity.org) as a structure we could build around.
The last course, weather analysis and forecasting, was made inactive when the content standards were removed as a result of earth and space sciences being combined with chemistry, biology, and physics. In 2013 earth science and physical sciences were restored as separate groups of standards. The course was renamed meteorology, to make it more approachable to students and make more sense as an introductory course.
In the 2015-16 school year I will be teaching meteorology in addition to my astronomy classes. I had some assistance looking for new objectives for this course by looking at the old course, the next younger content standards (in this case, fourth grade science), and the next older course (college freshman meteorology). I knew that as a course that bridges that wide time span it would be better to focus on fundamentals and hands-on experiences.
Adding design, data collection
Students won’t just be predicting the weather, but during each quarter of the school year they will be designing an experiment to send up in a high altitude balloon launch. We previously sent small samples up for testing of pH of the water in the upper atmosphere.
When did you last check your courses objectives? Do they make sense? Here are some of the thoughts we used to ensure we were making the best objectives for each course.
We took the ideas behind SMART goals outlined by Robert Bogue in his article “Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to launch management by objectives plan” (www.techrepublic.com/article/use-smart-goals-to-launch-management-by-objectives-plan) from TechRepublic.com. (Retrieved 20 November 2013) and changed them to fit our needs of rewriting objectives.
- Student-centered context
- Measurable objectives
- Achievable objectives
- Relevant to developmental level
- Timely paced objectives
Keeping it relevant to the students’ developmental levels is important. Asking a student who has yet to leave concrete sequential to do something abstract random is not fair to the student. Many of the standards are written for strands or bands of grades, so you have to take that into account when writing objectives.
Moon Phase Glitch
This year during a post-presentation survey I had an interesting comment submitted. “Is midnight the noon’s noon?” it asked. It dawned on me that while I covered the phases of the moon, I had missed the portion that connects the moon’s orbital position to the clock.
What I discovered was the students were not aware of the time of the night (or day) when the moon crossed the meridian, so I made a few changes to the lesson to show the time for each phase’s meridian crossing. This little change is too recent for me to see if it improves understanding, but it has generated a couple of good conversations about how you can see only a few days worth of the moon phase cycle during the day.
I made this quick table to put in the bulletin board kit for school groups that come to the planetarium and added it to the bulletin board in the planetarium. It is just a little bit of information but I think it can be a powerful tool for showing the relationship between position in orbit and time.
||Meridian Crossing (estimated)