This week, we began the second trimester, which means I have four new classes. Three of the four classes are the second half of honors pre-calculus, and most of the students in there I had during the fall term (though not all). However, the kids that were in class together last trimester are not necessarily together this trimester. So, in many ways, we started over yesterday, beginning to build the "community" that leads to productive discussions and solid understanding of the material. On the positive side, regardless of who they had for the first half of the course, all of the students have had twelve weeks of Harkness, so we hit the ground running yesterday, and so far the discussions are going well. Two of the three bells have had great discussions during these first two days, and I'm really looking forward to working with them this trimester. The other class has a few students who still want to be spoon-fed. I understand that it's difficult to make the change from passive to active learning, to go from having things handed to you to having to work for it. But I also know that having to really struggle with the material makes the learning more permanent. I'm under no illusion that they could go back to passively learning the material, getting their daily lecture from the other students. But I hope they will come to understand they are cheating themselves out of a true understanding of the material by not actively doing the work. I also hope they will come to understand that if they want to help run the business or engineering firm or whatever, then simply imitating someone else is not the way to make it happen. Rather, they need to be the active problem solvers in the organization, and that is precisely what I'm trying to prepare them to be.
My other class this trimester is one section of the first half of the course. These students should be going through the culture shock of not being lectured to every day. However, they have been phenomenal so far. I'm not sure if it's the particular students I have in the class, if it's the fact that this is my second round using Harkness with this material, or what, but the discussions today, on day two, were great. The vast majority of the students in the class were ready to go, had done the appropriate prep work, and went deep into the material. Yes, there were some logistical questions about how to take notes and what was really expected of them, but for the most part the answers to their concerns were, "You've got the right idea...that's what I'm looking for." It probably also helps that several of the students in the class are on the speech and debate team, so they understand the meaning of prepare for a discussion, be prepared to defend your answers, and so on. Whatever it is, I hope it continues for the entire trimester, because these first two days have been amazing.
One final comment for this week: the Spanish teacher across the hallway from me implemented some of the ideas of Harkness in her classroom last trimester. As we were talking today with a couple other teachers, she said that the problem solving and discussion of Harkness seemed to her to be a perfect fit for a math classroom, but that it would be difficult to implement it in other disciplines. I found this interesting since the usual way the conversation goes on the web is that Harkness is a perfect fit for English and History, but not for math. It sort of put things into perspective: Harkness can be a perfect fit for any of the disciplines with the right commitment to it from both the teacher and the students, and I took it as a compliment that the commitment was evident enough to her for her to make the observation of this perfect fit happening in my classroom. Now if I could only get others to see that Harkness is a good fit for their classroom as well.