Monthly Archives: November 2010

Student Surveys: Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Having had no real formal teacher training, I have either stolen or made up everything that I have done. One of the things I find hardest to do is to evaluate how these stolen or made up ideas come across and how effective they are. I give my students surveys every now and then, which is always a great combination of hilarious notes to me, strange undecipherable comments, helpful nuggets of advice, and then the inspiring kind of stuff that keeps me going with the long hours of teaching. I thought I’d share the results from my most recent survey about halfway through this past term:


  • I absolutely love class can you please come to college with us [I would love to. Please]
  • I think I should be a C not a C- [Don’t set your goals so high!!!]
  • friendly, more like an understanding peer than a tyrannical teacher [then I’m not doing my job right]
  • assigned seating cause I talk way too much with my friends [you’re right, sounds like a problem I need to deal with, not you]
  • more bow days not only Thursday [Done.]
  • you go really FAST! By the time I get to class you would be done with the question [Seems like there’s a simple solution to this problem that involves coming to class on time]
  • I like the class the way it is PS it’s one of my favorite classes [Is there a reason that couldn’t go in the script and had to be posted?]
  • the class is fun and not sleepy like others [I just loved the adjective use here].


  • focus more on explaining the material [okay, I’ll focus less on playing air guitar then… what do you think I’m doing all class?]
  • try to be more clear and never show your hesitance [I’ll try to figure out what you are talking about and then never do that]
  • you aren’t angry [damning by faint praise…. “I love that you don’t go around stabbing people in the throat!!!’]
  • make it more obvious what the answers to personal preference question “e.g. is avatar a good movie?” [sometimes as a joke I put little questions into tests like “Avatar was a _____ movie” to which they put their opinion and then I mark it wrong or right – the answer to the last question was good, not great. I guess someone didn’t get the memo that it’s still a joke and doesn’t count towards their grade even if I mark it right or wrong.]
  • no not really, to be honest, everything is fine, but the only thing that I would like to see is that we have a free day to eat, but no worries [As long as there are no worries, I don’t think I will heed your advice.]
  • I think there is more to a grade then just numbers. I am aware that numbers do precisely and accurately calculate a grade, but a performance is that of what the viewer makes of it, what it makes of itself, and the understanding that lies within. It is the reality of what cannot be seen on paper, but seen in the eyes of those who seek to truly see; those who watch the performance to simply appreciate. A mutuality and support that a number is not capable of expressing, but can exactly state and convey. The contradiction in which the power of a number holds; the derivative that lacks originality. 😉 haha [Nope, not going to work.]


  • always energetic and in a good mood, enthusiasm – genuine, fun, funny, positive, always happy, energetic self that keeps the class alive…. [This was the first thing that SO MANY students mentioned. I didn’t realize it was so important! This has absolutely nothing to do with the material of the class or how I prepare it, which is inevitably what my focus is always on.]
  • he talks kind of fast [I do!! Now I notice that.]
  • you don’t write on the board [I don’t! I hate it. But now I am more conscious of when I want something to stick so I say it and then write it on the board too.]
  • I feel your labs require a level of ultra-specificity sometimes which is simply busy work [True. I always hated that as a student, this was a reminder that there should be a purpose to everything we do and not just activities or work to fill up time.]


  • you are doing a wonderful job don’t worry [I find these very funny – as if giving a survey means I’m worried, or I’m about to get fired]
  • honestly there isn’t a lot to improve, your overall teaching style is amazing. Don’t underestimate yourself because you’re the youngest faculty member 🙂 [handing out survey = underestimating myself]
  • I really feel that you are doing a great job 🙂 honestly [These are very sweet and nice though, so I do appreciate it.]

AND THE MOST INSPIRING: [I underlined my favorite parts of each one]

  • I love that class is both fun and productive. It makes me look forward to class; which is a first and I am delighted and relieved to feel that way.
  • I like the fact that you enjoy what you teach, it makes your class lively and makes me enjoy physics
  • class is filled with positive energy because he keeps us interacted in the lessons
  • focuses on understanding not memorizing so we actually learn and can remember the material
  • even though we always ask him a zillion questions, he’s always willing to answer
  • makes me think and participate a lot
  • engaged and funny, gains our attention in ways other than calling for it, mainly cause we are interested
  • Awesomely creative and wickedly interesting and fun.
  • Somewhat relaxed and comfortable teaching style that creates a specific vibe or creates a safe environment.

I’m glad I did these before our Physics term 1 final tomorrow. I wrote the test that the whole junior class is taking and somehow they all found this out. My popularity might go down a notch after tomorrow morning…

Looking the Part

I often find myself playing the game “If you had told me five years ago that I would __________ I would have _________.” You fill in the first blank with details about your life and then the second blank with some sort of surprised action (I would have literally lit you on fire, I would have slapped you in the face and called you Susan, I would have puked all over myself then stopped dropped and rolled etc). I have had tons of statements to fill in the first blank since I moved here last August….

  • be a Calculus and Physics teacher
  • live in Jordan
  • speak decent Arabic
  • have a receding hair line
  • spend $50 on a grade book program because I know enough to prefer one grade book to another
  • have a bank account in a foreign currency
  • go camping with…

Well, I have a new one to add. If you had told me five years ago that I would own a lab coat with my name embroidered on it I would have said, well butter my butt and call me biscuit. My department head in the science department is a phenomenal guy, and loves doing things to bring us together as a department. The latest has been to order lab coats for the entire department embroidered with our names – two for each person. So I own two of these.

Even though I typed this before you read it, I can practically taste your jealousy as you read this, even from 9,000 miles away.

Physics Memories

We do many things during a 45 minute class, but I am always surprised at how little things seem to stick unless you go through a calculated process. When I’m teaching skills and we’re not doing inquiry, I often go by a mantra that one of my friends working at Teach For America shared me when I was beginning teaching and had absolutely no clue how to start: I do, we do, you do. I say/share/discuss/talk about something, then we do guided practice/an activity/a lab together as a class, and then I release them to do the same thing individually. They see it three times gradually getting a more active role in the process and still it doesn’t always stick.

[I swear I’m done rambling about teaching pedagogy]… But sometimes things that they see once magically stick. You know that you are having one of those moments when the students whip out their Blackberries and take a picture of what’s going on. The times this year and last when I have had that happen:

  • My entire class was rubbing my sweater at the same time with balloons to make static electricity
  • We had a physics dance party to talk about the transfer of heat (while I hosted visitors to the school who didn’t speak English…)
  • When I used my college ID to do a demonstration, someone picked it up and took a picture of it because I guess I look really young in it
  • Dressed up as a pumpkin for Halloween, I made my Calculus class of 17 year old almost legal to marry each other seniors sing a version of Old MacDonald with words written to help them learn the rule for taking the derivative of a quotient, and little did I know, while I was directing them in this, someone was taking a video
  • I defined mass as “how much junk is in your trunk” and as a girl was leaving the room at the end she took out her phone and took a picture of the board. Later in that class, without thinking, I defined weight as “how attractive your junk is” (and wrote it on the board) before realizing what I had said (and had written).

While all of those aren’t necessarily gems of rigorous academic thought, they are certainly some of my most memorable moments teaching. The last one I think did help them learn the material actually.  A few weeks later, after a week long break, I was correcting the question on our test “What is the difference between mass and weight” and – I’m not sure why I was surprised by this – at least a third of the students wrote “Mass is how much junk is in your trunk.” I couldn’t possibly take points off for that; they remembered exactly what we talked about…

[PS Apologies for the long gap in writing! We just had a week long break. Also, you might be wondering where the post before this one went… I had to get rid of it for reasons that might seem obvious given that contact, but I would still love to share individually if you missed it because it was an experience of a lifetime]

Putting My Arabic to the Test

Parents’ Weekend, just like last year, was quite an experience. It has a pretty stressful lead up, with the nerves that come with having parents in your classroom and conferences with D-student families, but always ends up being a very affirming experience. I left feeling very much appreciated by the parents and their students alike. I also left with a bit more confidence in my Arabic after two great experiences.

First, we had our first swim meet last Friday, which was quite an experience in and of itself – I showed up and learned that I was not only the coach but was going to run the meet (register all the swimmers for the events, find and organize the timers, be the starter for all the events etc). The only kink was that the coach for the other school did not really speak much English. Without hesitation, we switched into Arabic, and did the whole deal in Arabic. I learned lots of great new words (like relay! tatabi3 تتابع) while registering the other students and negotiating various items with the other coach (who insisted on changing lane assignments for his swimmers for no reason at all). The other school brought their high school girls and middle school boys to race our high school boys, but thatdidn’t stop our guys from grunting and cheering when we  beat them in relay.

Then, the next day, we had a day full of parent teacher conferences. Most were fairly uneventful, but one student came in with his parents and cheerily said “Mr. Bowman, you can do it in Arabic, right? Or would you like me to translate?” Again, no hesitation, I just went for it. I stumbled over my words, had trouble expressing myself, solicited words I didn’t know from my student, but I expressed my main ideas in Arabic. I mean, the student is one of the easiest to talk about (it would have been much harder had I not been saying “he’s wonderful” in many different ways), but I still felt so proud that I could do something real with my Arabic skills instead of just read Arabic Harry Potter and understand high schoolers swearing.

I don’t get many experiences like this on our compound in the middle of nowhere, so I value every one so much. I’d love to bring on the real world more often than our infrequent parents weekends.