Mr. Caldwell Wins Student Pick for Teacher of the Year
By SHERRY CHEN and FANNY ZHAO
Mr. John Caldwell has won Midwood’s student award for Teacher of the Year for 2018.
Mr. Caldwell has taught at Midwood for 20 years and currently teaches AP Statistics as well as Accelerated Trigonometry/Pre-calculus. A large number of students voted for him to receive the award this year, for which he feels honored.
“I appreciate the students for this award,” said Mr. Caldwell. “I feel humble, and there are many teachers in the building who are also worthy of it.”
Over the years, his teaching has changed in various ways. A large impact on his teaching was the application of learning techniques used in classrooms such as active recall, practice tests, retrieval practice, and knowledge organizers with parts left blank.
According to Mr. Caldwell, he was inspired by students on YouTube like Ali Abdaal, John Fish, Jamie Lee, and Thomas Frank who have used such methods to help them learn and study effectively.
“Learning is more affected by behavior than by innate ability,” said Mr. Caldwell.
Simply staring at your notes is not always an effective way of studying because it’s an illusion of mastery, he said.
According to ASCD.org (the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), “the term mastery creates this illusion that we can master a concept or skill—when, in reality, mastery isn’t an end point but rather an elusive goal that remains forever out of reach.”
In order to help students better understand what they learn, Mr. Caldwell uses active recall in classrooms by getting students to work together as a group.
Amy Liang ’19 stated, “In class, we typically use the term ‘active recall,’ where we would recall what we learned the day before by stating it to the class or within our groups. This helps us grab onto the concepts through each others’ help.”
At times, Mr. Caldwell randomly selects a number from a bucket corresponding to a student’s name on the roster. This gives everyone an equal chance of being chosen to demonstrate how to solve a problem in front of the class using a camera and the Smartboard. With the students’ consent, their explanations on a problem are recorded and uploaded to a Google site where all students in the class have access to it.
In addition, Mr. Caldwell records his own videos explaining certain problems and uploads them to the site.
Fatima Wong ’20 said, “I do find it helpful because it allows me to rewind a portion of the video if I need clarification or extra help on a unit. He also makes sure to go over these problems in class and is willing to help those who don’t understand.”
Liang said, “The way the class works is very student driven. This not only solidifies our understanding of the concepts as a whole but also allows us to work together with some help from the teacher.”
Jia Ci Deng ’19 said, “He encourages his students and is always willing to assist them in any way possible.”
Another effective learning technique used in class that students found helpful was practice test review the day before an exam.
“Before test days, he would briefly go over topics that may be challenging to students,” said Sylvia Chen ’20. “Although his class was two periods, it felt like time flew by really fast because we were always working and never stopped.”
According to Mr. Caldwell, focusing on specific problems that students struggle with can improve their understanding.
“That’s when you know he can get you that five on the exam,” said Liang. “He’s a great teacher in many ways.”
His students have not only found Mr. Caldwell’s methods of teaching AP material beneficial, they have also learned from his class better ways to improve their general studies.
Nusrat Jahan ’19 said, “The skills I’ve learned in his classes could essentially be applied to any subject and aren’t restricted to just math.”
Mr. Caldwell enjoys teaching students because he finds happiness in watching them learn and connecting with them.
“Like today, we did different problems and they had fun; they’re joyful in what they do,” said Mr. Caldwell. “It’s really a joy to experience that. Whenever you do anything, it’s because of the students. You can’t teach the objective or goal you have without them. So I’m thankful for this.”