A Letter to Professor Webster

Last week was my final week student teaching at 58 School. I had planned to end it with two summative assessments and fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so. The first assessment was a performance task which asked students to apply everything that was learned so far in the unit to an authentic problem.

The context: Professor Hersh Webster, a geologist at the University of Rochester, heads a research program called Genesee Valley Exploration and they recently discovered a new kind of rock in the Genesee valley. While initial data collection proved fruitful, unfortunately much of the GVE’s staff needed to take off to study due to upcoming exams. Professor Webster, still wanting to continue research on the rock, has opened up an opportunity to analyze the data to any interested geologists. All they need to do is to sign a contract, which gives the University of Rochester full rights to their research. In exchange, the geologist whose analysis appears most plausible will be awarded the opportunity to name the rock.


"Professor Webster"
“Professor Webster”

Unfortunately, there really is not a Professor Webster or a GVE, but even in the illusion I attempted to create, I integrated elements of cultural worth such as the Genesee and the University of Rochester. I also created a blog which contains all the data that the GVE have compiled on the rock. Not only did all my students buy that this discovery was true, it helped drum up excitement that there was a possibility that they would be able to name the rock.  This motivated many of them over the course of the next 3 days. By having students sign the Genesee Valley Exploration Research Contract, I was hoping to get them to feel ownership for the project and take responsibility for completing it.

The task: The students needed to write an email claiming what type of rock the newly discovered rock (dubbed “mystery rock”) is, what it was made of, how did the sediment that make it up get to the Rochester area, how it formed, and how old it was. For each of these five claims, students were also required to present a piece of evidence from Professor Webster’s website with information about the rock.

The above was the main goal set for this summative assessment, students needed to have an email completed by the end of class on Thursday. Since they needed access to the internet to access the website and write the email, and our class wouldn’t have them until Wednesday, I planned out that the students would assess previous “student work” based on a rubric I supplied. I anticipated by doing this, students would be able to see two examples of what their end product should look like and get an idea of how they would be graded. I also had students provide feedback to the authors’ of both letters, as a small preparation for peer assessment of the emails, if time permitted.

On Wednesday, students were given access to the Chromebooks. Their Do Now was to sign in, get on the website and explore it for a little bit. Their Do Now had a graphic organizer attached, presented in a series of questions, and it asked each student for a claim answering each question and a piece of evidence they found that supports that claim. This graphic organizer (Day 7 Rocky-ologists at Work) was meant to order their thoughts and make the time they spend writing the email later more efficient. Not everyone was able to complete the graphic organizer on this day, so I made sure to allow them an opportunity to working on the next day.

On Thursday, I supplied them with a checklist (Day 9 Checklist) to get them through that day. Their first goal was to finish the graphic organizer (I decided that this would act as the summative assessment for those students who needed more time to work on their email). Following the organizer, students needed to work on  the email and turn it in through Google Classroom. Finally, students who finished all that were to pull out their study guide and correct their answers.

About half the students were able to finish their emails and  if I had more time at my placement, I would have given the class more time to complete them. I was really impressed with the reasoning that students were putting into the task and I was also able to see gaps in their content knowledge. While students were able to recognize that the mystery rock was sedimentary rock, some weren’t able to articulate how they knew. Over all I was impressed with the emails that I did receive and I will copy one of the best ones below. Enjoy!


Dear Professor Webster,

               My name is D and I am a student at World of Inquiry School 58. I am writing this to tell you about your mystery rock.


Your mystery rock is a sedimentary rock. I know this because most sedimentary rocks are found near rivers, layers of rocks, canyons or mountains that has been around for a long time such as Genesee Valley River. Also, Genesee Valley used to be glaciated during the ice age. That’s when erosion took place.That glacier probably carried a ton of new minerals like Obsidian that has been either been washed up , carried by the wind or has been glaciated as well. When it melted it probably combined together with the stone dolostone forming a new rock and setting in Genesee Valley after the Glaciated canyon had melted because dolostone is also a sedimentary stone. With that being said dolostone with the rest of the other rocks of the glaciated canyon came all together. However Obsidian is a igneous rock and the nearest place it could’ve came from would be Pennsylvania. The Obsidian must have been carried by bodies of water after coming out of a volcano and froze along with the sedimentary rock, dolostone during the ice age and joined together. When the canyon melted, a huge ice invasion caused the canyon to deepen and widen, making a U-Shape. When they canyon split, it probably cause the inside of the canyon to form into layers since so many minerals were carried along with it! Many other minerals may have been melted together as well forming layers and this new rock became apart of it. With that being said, I think that this rock would probably over 100 million years ago because scientifically the ice age began probably about 2.4 million years ago and it lasted until 11,500 years ago. I have also learned that, there were at least 17 cycles between the glacial and interglacial periods. The last glacial period was about 100,000 years ago and lasted until 25,000 years ago. This also proves that when glaciers move across the landscape, it moves other rocks and sediments along with it forming rock piles or moraines which also proves how this is a sedimentary rock.


If my theory ends up being selected, I would like to name the rock Kingdom Falls because it was found right by Genesee Valley! It’s homeland! The water falls tumble over 6 of them making it very attracting and beautiful! Just like this new stone!


Thanks for reading,



The Monroe County Children’s Center

On April 2, 2015 I took a trip down to Monroe County Children’s Center with my UTL crew.  For those that may not know, Monroe County’s Children Center is a facility that houses juvenile delinquents and offenders from Monroe County, mostly from the city of Rochester (and thus the RCSD). From the MCCC: “Our charge is to provide for the temporary care of children accused of committing delinquent or criminal acts. Our mission is to utilize the time that children spend here for their positive growth and development, toward preventing future involvement in the juvenile justice system. We believe that children should be accountable for their behavior, but understand that each of them will be returning to their community.” The importance of this experience was thinking about the consequences for children that are detained as well as the factors that contribute to sending them there in the first place. Any of the detainees could have been in any of the classrooms I taught during my time student teaching, but what I find more important to recognize is that they will eventually be returning back to the community, to the classroom.


Now before I go through a breakdown of my thoughts on this experience, I will give a few stats and definitions that were so graciously provided by the staff of the MCCC. A juvenile delinquent is defined as a child over 7 and under 16 who has committed (or been accused of) an act that would be a criminal offense if he/she was 16 or over. A juvenile offender is a child aged 12-15 who has committed (or been accused of) a very serious act and is being treated legally as an adult. I hadn’t realized the age that one could be tried as an adult in NYS was 16, and NYS is one of two states that maintain this while every other state has the age set at 18. Currently, there is a “raise the age” initiative occurring to even the playing field amongst the nation (as it is pretty messed up that a 16 year old who murders someone in New Jersey will have a clean record, while a 16 year old in NYS who does the same thing would have that following them for the rest of their life).


Here’s a little about the detention population at MCCC. Their juvenile delinquents range from ages 10 through 18. Juvenile offenders make up 30-50% of the population depending on various factors. Most of the children are gang affiliated and 70% qualify for diagnosis of mental health issues. About 50% of the children have IEP’s and many have significant learning disabilities along with developmental disabilities. On top of that there are medical issues among the population including diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth, dialysis, asthma, gunshots, lack of dental care, ect. The MCCC provides a range of services to meet the needs of their adolescent population including medical treatment, education, psychiatric/developmental services, recreation, sociality, and casework activities. It is important to the staff of the MCCC that children feel safe and cared for.


The culture inside of the facility is very interesting.  Everything is about power, which is also true for classroom management. Equity and consistency is important for all the staff that work with the kids to recognized. A child may offer another their food, but that transaction cannot be allowed to happen. It may look harmless enough, but it is a power play. There have been situations where children would threaten the family members of others for food. Besides that, planning to coordinate gang groups through the facility also need to be extensive.


Something to think about: not all juvenile delinquents or offenders are sent to the MCCC and are actually allowed to stay in their communities. Recent reforms have made it more difficult to have children sent to the detention facility and it only occurs when the child presents a danger to their community, themselves, if it is probable that they will commit another offense before they go to trial, or if there is a danger to them from outside forces. Even for those who do end up detained, the amount of time that they stay has decreased drastically over the last few years.  A decade ago, problem children would get arrested and detained and wouldn’t be seen in class for months (and even the whole year). The shift in policy has made it so that children that would have been placed in the detention center wouldn’t be an issue any longer in the classroom. This would even include students who accumulated numerous absences from school (“I heard you liked absences…”). That is no longer the case and results in harder to manage students being left in the classroom which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. I personally feel that teachers have opportunities to create great changes in their students, but that can only happen when the student is in the classroom. Detaining them in a facility such as the MCCC is counter-productive to this idea.

Cohort Biographies: A Collaboration of Talent

Collaboration was a word we may not have fully understood, or misconceived, as we walked into our first methods class together as a cohort.  Beginning this program, we met three professors who were able to fully embody and provide a wonderful model of collaboration.  Slightly nervous, yet excited about what we got ourselves into, we all began to create our own form of collaboration that has helped all of us take the most from our experiences as Warner grad students.  Embracing the spirit of collaboration we experienced in our first methods course (which was then witnessed throughout the others) was probably one of the best tools provided to us as first year teachers.  Through collaboration we will be able to improve our practice and grow as educators.

In the spirit of collaboration, reminiscing about our time in GRS, and  because we are all working on our biographies for graduation, Tiarra and I worked together to make funny biographies for each of the cohort members.  We hope you enjoy them.  Be sure to check out both blogs because I did a biography for Tiarra and she did one for me.

Alanna: Born on a hiking trail, Alanna always had a love of nature and science and the nature of science….but it wasn’t until the ripe age of 34 did the teaching of science call to her.  Realizing she was so old, she quickly applied to the U of R’s center for the elderly. Her poor sight caused confusion and she accidently applied to the Warner School of Education. In the program Alanna flourished as a science educator, bringing her back to that feeling of youth once again.  After the program, Alanna intends hug trees during the summer and get to bed before 10 pm.

Ryan: Prior to attending Warner, Ryan sought to write his own laws around quantum physics but unfortunately nature would not obey them. Due to the frustration caused by the experience of working as a physicist, Ryan decided to get into teaching instead. Following his time at Warner, Ryan intends to spend 5 years training his students to build their own spaceflight craft that will allow them to constructively build upon knowledge from outside the classroom environment and visit those aesthetically pleasing green people from the Star Trek.

Jill: Following the footsteps of her idol and soul sister, Taylor Swift, Jill has always wanted to positively impact the lives of the youths. It was at Warner she met another soul sister, sharing a  love of T-Swizzle and chemistry.  Jill knew she couldn’t just shake her off, it was the collaborative partnership of a lifetime. Following the program, Jill intends to work with urban youth by teaching them the joys of chemistry and subjecting them to the musical stylings of Ms. Swift.   

Jessica: Once lost in the dark depths of a chemistry lab, Jessica found her expertise was needed elsewhere. She traded her lab coat for a bag of Cheetos and a copy of Understanding by Design, and got to work.  During her time at Warner, Jessica not only expanded the horizons of the students she worked with, but she also encouraged her soul sister Jill to break through her own barriers and become one with nature.  With the goal to never return to the dusty dungeons of the lab, through her teaching, Jessica looks forward to continually challenging those around her in trying out new experiences.   

Eric: Enduring years of physical punishment through playing rugby and wrestling, Eric thought he might try his hand at mental punishment and decided to get into teaching. Since starting the program, Eric has had over 4,000 conversations with his fellow cohort members. On his off time, Eric enjoys watching dry British comedy which he tirelessly tries to integrate into his teaching practice. After Warner, Eric will be returning to NYC while bringing a little bit of Rochester with him.

Tiarra: Having a name resembling the Spanish word for Earth (La Tierra), it is no coincidence that Tiarra had an interest in Earth Science. Her obsession of rocks on the other hand, is a little strange. During her time in the Get Real! Science program, her sleep deprivation provided plenty of funny, but mostly awkward, moments. Following Warner, she will go on to spend more time with her lovely children and Tom Selleck’s Blue Bloods.