Joey Hajda holds a doctorate in veterinary science and a master’s degree in secondary and higher education curriculum and instruction. He has taught science courses at the middle and high school levels for more than 20 years as well as at the community college level. He and his wife, Lisa Hajda, MEd, are homeschooling parents and coauthors of the innovative and popular Friendly Chemistry curriculum. In this refreshingly honest guest post, Joey shares his bumpy journey to becoming a creative, highly effective educator.
GIVEAWAY: Joey and Lisa have kindly offered a complete set of Friendly Chemistry (a $120 value) to one lucky reader in honor of Alt Ed Austin’s 2nd anniversary. Read on to find out all the ways you can enter to win!
My first teaching job was in a rural public school in Northeast Texas. I was assigned the whole science department (grades 7–12), which was great for developing continuity between subject areas but rather exhausting when it came to lesson preparation. But I managed, and I grew to enjoy it.
Teaching the life sciences came easily due to my veterinary training, but for chemistry I had to rely more heavily upon the text. My chemistry course was good, though—or so I thought. After about two years, I began to receive feedback that the students to whom I had taught chemistry were failing their freshman chemistry course at the nearby junior college. Yikes! Could that be true? What was going on?
I went to the junior college to find out what was being expected of freshman chemistry students and to determine what was wrong with what I was doing. Something needed to change because not only were these kids failing this course, but they were also getting the idea that pursuing a college degree was now unattainable. Things were going sour for these kids, and I needed to do some serious thinking about what we were doing in my classroom.
After looking closely at the college’s freshman chemistry course syllabus, I readily saw that the course was really just a repeat of the concepts I had been presenting to students in my course, but it all came at a much faster pace in a single semester rather than a year-long course. I dissected the syllabus in greater detail to determine exactly what concepts my students needed to fully understand in order to be successful in this course. I made the decision to focus only upon these basic chemistry concepts and forget about the rest. While we had been “covering” most of the text, my students had really not had the time to fully understand these basic concepts. In my class, they were scoring well on tests and final grades were stellar, but in reality they were only excelling at memorizing a multitude of tiny facts and not understanding the “big picture” of chemistry whatsoever. Things had to change.
I went to my chemistry text, all 15 pounds of it, and set about locating those basic concepts that I felt matched those required in the college course. When I compared them to what the district (and state) required, we were well within the prescribed scope of the course. Next, I thought long and hard about the sequence in which these concepts were being presented within my text. The sequence that the text followed wasn’t making the best sense, so I experimented with rearranging them and came up with a plan that I hoped would be a more logical approach for my students.
This was all good, but then the thought came to me: if I pared away 70 percent of the text material, would I have enough for a year of teaching? And then a second thought came to me: maybe part of my earlier problem, in addition to covering way too many concepts, was the fact that maybe I wasn’t giving my students enough practice at the concepts I was presenting to them. Maybe we were moving along too fast. And again, maybe it was just good memorization on the part of the kids that was allowing them to keep afloat. Maybe, we just needed to slow down and spend more time with each concept and then practice more of what we learned.
But more practice only meant more worksheets. Or did it? As a church youth group leader and middle school camp counselor, I’d always loved group games. I enjoyed the combination of physical play with intense application of some sort of concept. I began developing classroom games—both running-around-the-room-type games and board games—that could allow for practice of the chemistry concepts we were learning. We were now enjoying ourselves with the fun and challenge and “physicalness” of the game.
Together, my students and I modified the games, which gave them ownership of the process and resulted in greater effectiveness. They always wanted to make the rules more challenging. What was once drudgery turned into my having to limit “practice” time in order to move on to new concepts. I think one of the best things to come from this experience was the fact that the students could see that I, too, really enjoyed play. We had fun—lots of good fun.
And the learning came. My students were no longer experiencing failure as they entered their freshman chemistry courses, whether at the local junior college or at universities others were attending. Things were better, they really were. In this case, some of my classroom teaching had not been as effective as I had hoped. It took some time to evaluate the whole situation and more time to remedy it, as well as taking risks to get things fixed. But, in the end, those efforts paid off.
And here’s your payoff: Enter here for your chance (or several chances) to get a complete set of Friendly Chemistry. This includes:
1 Student Textbook
1 Volume 1 Teacher’s Edition
1 Volume 2 Teacher’s Edition
1 Manipulative Set
1 Annotated Solutions Manual
Total Retail Value: $120.00. Bonus: Everyone who enters the giveaway will receive a discount coupon on one purchase at friendlychemistry.com.
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Thanks to Joey and Lisa for helping mark Alt Ed Austin’s two-year milestone. Stay tuned all week for more great giveaways!