#Mr.Prickles’Adventure : The Value of Field Trips

Think back to your best memories of elementary and middle school. The most cherished memories (or for some, the only memories) probably don’t contain sitting at desks, practicing equations, or finishing worksheets. Instead, I’ll bet you remember all the things in between the mundane. Time in the lunch room, presenting an art project, or best of all, field trips are probably better remembered.

Out of everything that happened in 12 years, I remember field trips best from my time in school. Whether it was taking the short ride to Ganondagan yearly where my best friend’s parents showed us through the long house, or the considerably longer ride to Genessee Valley Museum where we dressed as pioneers and churned butter or played ring toss games, field trips always held the most prevailing memories.

 

While I’ve experienced field trips as a student and as a ‘tour guide’, hosting students who spent time at camps away from their school, I’ve never participated as a teacher running the trip…until last week. We (myself, Madeleine, and Robin) took our STARS team to Verona Street Animal Shelter. While there’s a TON I could say about how wonderful this organization is and how much good they’re doing to keep animals (and their humans!) in the Rochester community happy and healthy, I’d instead like to focus on how beneficial the trip was for our STARS kids.

As a teacher, the trip was stressful. We corralled 10 kids on the RTS buses, walked through the city, and worked to sustain attention and energy through all the distractions an animal shelter provides (OMG a yorkie!!). There were a few tears, complaints about sandwiches, lots of ‘when will we get to play with the puppies?’, but so many more smiles.

The STARS came away from our visit being able to better articulate both the big question we aimed to address as well as the action that matters in our community that they would take. They came away with a true understanding that not only do animals need food, water, and shelter to be happy and healthy, but they also need socialization with animals and other humans and time inside and out. Without visiting the shelter, making carefully crafted observations, and talking with experts in the field, we would have only been skimming the surface of understanding.

More importantly though for our STARS team, we came away from that day as a team. After visiting the shelter, we ran around the park across the street, kids had a big group hug, and we saved Mr. Prickles one more time. The trip brought our STARS closer together through the formation of more real connections created by a shared experience.

While planning and executing field trips is difficult for teachers, they are ideal for developing deeper understanding, and they’re arguably better for developing deeper relationships and lifelong memories. That’s something I won’t soon forget and will most definitely practice as a full-fledged teacher.

To all the teachers I’ve known before

Last week I wrote about my observation experiences thus far as part of the GRS program. In continuing to think about observing other teachers and learning their unique styles, I’ve been reflecting on how lucky I’ve been to have seen some really incredible teachers in my experiences prior to coming to Warner. At the end of that last blog post, I included a video that describes one of the reasons I’d like to be a teacher. The video details the ‘Lollypop Moment’ and the importance of thanking someone for a formative experience they’ve given to you.

I’d like to circle back now and recognize some of the influential teachers I’ve known and thank them for their Lollypop Moments. Each has taught me such a valuable lesson, whether they know it or not. There are definitely lots of folks I haven’t included here, but please know that your teaching is valued and I’ve most certainly learned from you along the way!

So thank you…

To Payton, for showing us all that you can’t be anyone but you.

To Eric, for his multi-modality genius. Seriously, carrying a guitar on a three mile trail and singing so that we could hear him a mile away was amazing.

To David, for unknowingly introducing me to Anchoring Phenomena through his creative teaching (who else would show that the best teachers guide your learning by skinning rattle snakes and stacking rock towers 6 feet high?).

To Super Anne, whose confidence in herself and others helps EVERY kid see them self as a superhero, including me.

To Pat, who let me experience the power of project based learning and produsage as a careful guide, allowing for ownership and authenticity.

To Phylicia and Jason (affectionately, mom and dad), whose compassion for everyone and unwavering belief in what is right and good show the importance of relationships.

To Beans, whose ease in relating science to kids and engaging them in the seemingly mundane is enviable.

To Chelsea, for truly embodying inclusion and equity through careful guidance and formative relationships.

To Brian, whose ability to creatively collaborate is only rivaled by his unimpaired enthusiasm. And to those we learned from, Bo and Aaron, whose commitment to immersion in a story is a lesson I never want to forget.

To Miles, whose uninhibited energy, excitement, and passion for each day is a shining light that ignites those around him.

To Jean, who is a superhuman and whose accomplishments are carefully passed off to others although she is owed total credit.

And finally, to my GRS cohort, who have so much to offer that it is difficult to condense, but each has an incredible superpower: the excitement found in passion (Ellie), the power of detail (Robin), inclusion and ensuring everyone finds the same page… always (Madeleine), compassion and doing the right thing for others (Alyssa), the power of thoughtful words and active listening (Lisa), positivity and its contagious nature (Gavin), reflective growth a continuous desire to learn (Sam), and the realness of girl power in the face of adversity (Kristi).

 

To all the teachers I’ve known before, thank you for the impact you’ve made on kids and the lessons you’ve passed to me along the way. As we move further into this semester I know this list will continue to grow, and this is my reminder to recognize the lollypop moments and say thank you when you can.

Lollypop moments already… and it’s only been 3 weeks!

This fall, I’ve spent some time in a 6th grade room co-taught by an experienced teacher and a newer one who specializes in special ed, but this past week I’ve been able to visit a few more and see how diverse teaching can really be. From just these few weeks, I’ve learned a ton. So here’s a quick summary of some of the most important lessons thus far:

  1. It’s okay to ask for help! I spent time in a brand new teacher’s 7th grade science room and she asked for help after her first week…. and got it! Whether it be taking the time to talk through lessons, sit in on classes, or just be a listening ear when she had a rough day, it was incredible to see the WOIS team jump into action and help out. I can only hope that wherever I land, I find a team just as a strong.
  2. True respect takes time. Two of the teachers I saw this week had their students in previous years. Their norms are clear and the respect and culture they’ve earned and set take time- it doesn’t just happen in a week.
  3. Relationships first! Really successful teachers it seems, take the time to get to know their kids FIRST then worry about content.

Be flexible. All the teachers I saw had plans for the day and quickly made major or minor changes based on previous classes, kids’ demeanors, and what they wanted to accomplish. It’s great to plan, but better to adjust.

Finally, because I’m trying to refocus this weekend and keep the end in mind (it’s a marathon, not a sprint), I want to remember why I want to teach…

What’s your lollypop moment??

So fresh and so stinky?

After ten years of camp experience, you’d think I’d be used to the first day jitters, right? Not a chance. In the week leading up to GR!S camp with Sodus middle school students, we worked like wild to prepare. We met with both GR!S teammates as well as the incredible teachers from Sodus to create the best plans to learn about stink bugs alongside the students. We created extensive lesson plans, we met outside of class time, we stayed up late preparing and collecting materials…

…But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

And so it was. As per usual for opening day of most camps, the schedule went out the window and plans were left in the dust. We didn’t get the chance to run ice breakers with our wonderful group of students nor did we get to do the really fun tech-y scavenger hunt planned. But, the Stink Squad team did a phenomenal job adjusting and playing it cool (shout out to Alyssa and Sam!).

We did, however get to share with all the students (not just those who chose to join our group) our Blockumentary and they had the chance to share back their expertise with us on what they believe the ideal stink bug habitat looks like.

In addition, we played one of my favorite Outdoor Ed games: Camouflage! Which leads me to the biggest thing I realized on our first day of camp. I’ve led the game of Camouflage dozens of times. I’ve taught other camp staff how to lead the game. Heck, I could write a book about how to play. But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

As we rotated through three groups of students playing, I found my explanation of game play and rules deteriorating. Each round, I had to ask Sam and Alyssa for more and more help to be sure to include all the right information. I was so used to explaining the game and the rules were so ingrained my memory and experience that I began to have trouble sharing my knowledge… ugh.

In contrast though, while we were ‘hooking’ students through allowing them to create and share their perceived, perfect habitats, I found myself invigorated each time a new group came through– probing with new, more open ended questions, finding better ways to connect with individuals, and using props we’d brought more effectively.

Thursday was a great insight for me: I’ve got to keep it fresh. While routines and repetition are comfortable, they’re not always the most useful. It was better for me to be in a more uncomfortable position, leading activities that were new to me, so that I could better garner existing student knowledge and improve my questioning.

“If it don’t add to my life, then it don’t belong in it”

Well, that’s a wrap! Seven months on a roller coaster of emotion, learning, and growth… for me and my students! We said goodbye yesterday and my 7th graders found out I would not return for their 8th grade year. I was truly surprised by the amount of upset and outraged students there were, three girls even cried!

Several students wrote me thank you/goodbye notes too, albeit a few were in the form of graffiti on walls, desks, you name it. But here are some of my favorites written on actual cards.

We had our bad times but…

“Thank you for help me with my work because if Ms. ***** was her[e] I would’ve failed”

Even with all the kind words though, some students just haven’t gotten the hang of spelling my name.

“If it don’t add to my life then it don’t belong in it.”

 

I’m gonna miss these kids for sure, but I’m excited now to be able to devote my time fully to becoming the best teacher that I can. I worked hard to devote my time to relationship building this year (my first year teaching, with no idea how to teach classroom science) rather than to content-heavy, science teaching. I’m hoping in the next 15 months that I’ll be able to find the balance.

It started a bit last night at our Thinkers and Drinkers event talking science (and community) with complete strangers and I can’t wait for everything else this program is going to hold!

All’s fair in a science fair

First off, let me apologize to anyone who’s interacted with me this week, it’s been a s**t one (ship! I said ship, miss!) and I haven’t handled it very well. But there are only 4 more days of school (and one more day to pack up the whole school for a move), so we’re in the home stretch now and we’re gonna make it, gosh darnnit!

But let’s stop worrying about me, what I really want to highlight this week is the super impressive work my kiddos have been doing. The Science Fair (described in my last blog post) is upon us. On Monday, students, teachers, and administrators will be touring the school to check out each and every room that’s been transformed into a science topic.

Our 7th graders were given the topic of seasons, particularly summer. We decided (and by we, I mean I encouraged students to remember and decide) based on our Planetary Motion unit  to divide the room into the north and south hemispheres of earth.

Each small group came up with their own questions related to their own lived summer experiences and researched (for the most part) their topics. Here’s the results!

Why do beaches close? Complete with lots of trash and “Miss, that’s a floating turd!”

What is summer like in the Southern Hemisphere? Not quite done, but this group is kicking butt on fun facts!

How do roller coasters say on track? Lots of drama in this group drawing straight lines, but hey, teamwork is just as important a lesson as science, right?

Why do we put chlorine in the pool? Is it bad for us? This group opted to create a rap instead of drawing- all by their choice!

Why do we get an adrenaline rush on a roller coaster? A kid I’ve had trouble reaching all year came up with this design- so proud!

Why do we have seasons? Definitely my art-loving group, they made 2 posters (see below), but did a great job decorating the room while still accessing science knowledge!

Why do we get an adrenaline rush on roller coasters? Lots of time was devoted to sculpting the perfect, scariest roller coaster here… still waiting for their information…

What are the benefits of vacations? You’ll note they’ve called it ‘Baecation’.

What are the benefits of swimming? Drawing the pool here got one kid more engaged in class than I’ve ever seen him!

The Science Fair will be on Monday morning so I’m definitely curious what other rooms have cooked up. The competitive gal in me wants to finesse the presentations a little bit, but the proud teacher in me thinks our 7th graders have put in so much time and positive effort that they’ll win the prize at the end for sure!

  

Bad Science Teacher!

So I deserve a slap on the wrist.

My school has just announced a Science Fair happening next Thursday whose theme is to transform your room. Every classroom K-8 will present their theme, unifying all subjects to show their scientific prowess. The 7th graders have drawn the theme of ‘Seasons’, particularly the season of summer.

Immediately I began brainstorming and collaborating with the other teachers who share my room (its not so much a science room as a science/art/health/home and careers room). Over the past few days, we were supposed to be getting the kids jazzed up about the project and having them share ideas. Silly me.

Instead of asking them open ended questions to get THEM to ask open ended science questions, I attempted to force my own ideas down their throat. Meanwhile across the hall in the social studies/tech/health room, the social studies teacher was leading an empowering ‘workshop’ where kids were coming up with their own ideas!

Students were asking questions like, “We use AC to stay cool in the summer, how do other animals do that?” or “We love going to Seabreeze, but how do roller coasters work? How do they stay on the tracks?” or “Is swimming in my pool at home actually good for me?” or even… “How do they know if we can swim in Lake Ontario?”.

Wow.

The social studies teacher, who has shared on several occasions that she’s “terrible at science”, had these kids thinking and questioning in the ways we’ve been discussing and reading about in class. And meanwhile, I, the science teacher, was telling kids how it was going to be. Again, slap me on the wrist please.

Bonus Moment!

Tbh y’all, it’s been a rough few weeks. With the start of the GRS program, 8th graders wrapping up testing, and the end of the school year at School #4, it’s been wildly busy (not even mentioning Ms. E’s personal life). But then today I had this moment that makes it all seem worthwhile. 

I’ve got this student, we’ll call him Devin, who has struggled academically and socially all year. He sometimes tries his best on assignments for a week and does fairly well, but he is inconsistent in effort and background knowledge. He’s a funny, happy kid, but Devin feels the need to make an inappropriate comment in class whenever someone else does, which naturally aggravates the other kids. He giggles at every little thing he finds funny, he rolls around on the ground (literally), and unfortunately becomes the butt of a lot of other kids’ jokes. But with as many conversations as I’ve had with Devin, tears he’s shed in the hallway, and phone calls home, he’s just not getting it. He can be really, really funny and adorable sometimes, but a real pain in the neck most others.

So needless to say when he came bounding in to my classroom this morning way before class was supposed to start, I had the terrible gut reaction of thinking “ugh, why is Devin here so early?” But I put a smile on my face and said good morning.

He came running over to my desk and said “Miss! I have something for you!” Okay, disclaimer: so knowing middle school students and especially knowing Devin, I thought it might be something gross like the old, rotten apple core he’d pulled out of a desk the week before and laughed insanely at.

But wow, was I surprised.

Devin pulled from inside his pocket a huge quartz mineral. He proudly said, “I found this in my backyard and thought of you and the rocks stuff we just finished!”

I was floored.

Not only did he find a rock and think of me (flattering, I know), but he brought it in and had connected it to the mineral testing and rock identification we’d just finished a unit on! I pulled out a magnifying glass so he could look more closely and explained that it was likely quartz and we could test it if he wanted. He had to get to another class, so we didn’t test it, but the simple idea that he was making science connections at home has me so inspired to keep teaching… even to the students who roll around on the floor and find rotten food hilarious.

The aforementioned quartz! About the size of a baseball.

Impact Moments

Well, we’re just finishing our second week as Get Real! Science students and I can’t believe how much thoughtful, intelligent, science-centric conversation our cohort has been able to have. We spent this week thinking about the culture of science and defining our own relationship with science. In addition, The Stink Squad (myself, Sam, and Alyssa) went to Sodus HS and attempted to collect stink bugs and other insects (and wow do I mean attempted- I think we got maybe 6 bugs total) with the hopes of studying the relationship between location on stink bug quantity.

Alyssa and Sam using aerial photography to survey the land.

By doing this, we’ve learned a ton about how to practice science in a way that will relate to us and to the community of Sodus. We’ve been developing our scientific curiosity by actually doing science! …and maybe more importantly, I’ve been noticing in my middle school classroom that actually doing science is how kids learn science!

This Monday, 8th grade students will be taking the grueling 80 question New York State exam. They’ll sit in a hot gym for several hours answering multiple choice and short answer questions as a culmination of two years of science education. Needless to say, I’m not hot on tests… especially tests in a hot gym filled with 40 middle schoolers. But they’ve got to do it to show that they have in fact learned a little something about the world around them.

So, this week, we’ve been reviewing for the exam. I really tried to make it fun- candy, jeopardy, and class competition were involved! But my kids just weren’t having it. Maybe 5 out of 18 students were following along and answering questions one day when we came upon the following questions in the 2015 exam:

June 2015 NYS Intermediate Level Science Exam

Now, as you can imagine, sitting and interpreting data you had no part in finding and answering questions based on that data is not how a 14 year old wants to spend their Wednesday afternoon. So I said, **** it, let’s try this.

I asked the group if they knew how to measure their heart rate. One girl said “you feel your chest!”, and another boy said “you count it!”, but none could actually figure out how to find their pulse. So even though all the students were seated and relatively quiet (a blessing in any middle school class), I said put your pencils down, we’re doing an experiment.

And we did! The kids were shown how to take their pulse and helped each other find a resting heart rate. Then, we went outside and the really energetic ones ran around the school yard. They then took their pulse and were amazed at the difference in themselves and between students. The ones who refused at first to jog around saw other students’ amazement at the change and even decided to jog (albeit slowly) as well!

We then came back inside and recorded our own data and the kids were able to easily answer the state’s questions. And this got me thinking, imagine if we treated every question on a test this way. Instead of just reading and deciphering what the correct answer might be, what if we actually did the question?

 

 

A new adventure awaits!

As I began this journey as a preservice (kind of) science teacher, I also had the chance to return to where my passion began: the creek at my grandmother’s lake house. As a child and preteen, I would spend hours exploring, lifting stones, and catching crayfish, all without goal or ambition.

This weekend, as I had the chance to rediscover this special place, I realized just how much influence such a small corner of the world has had on me. Watching tadpoles turn to frogs, watching water snakes gobble up those same frogs, and seeing flooding water wash away frogs, snakes, and rocks alike after a big storm were experiences that have driven my passion for science and a love for all the nature.

This past weekend, I saw the same incredible nature and more! Check it out…

Having a fun weekend and exploring nature myself is not where this story stops though. I have been incredibly lucky. The opportunity I received to have those exploratory experiences from a young age is not one that is afforded to most. The kids I work with in the Rochester City School District certainly do not get this same chance. Even walking the few blocks to school poses a threat to the kids in this community, so why would their parents let them wander down to a more local stream or park? Sure part of the lack of desire to explore is probably cultural (shout out to Medin and Bang, 2010- one of our interesting class readings), but a lot of it I believe is access based on race and socioeconomic standing.

Which leads me to my big goal as I embark on this beast… er, sorry, I mean journey of a program. I want to make science and these exploratory experiences seeped in experiential learning available to the middle school kids I work with. I believe strongly in equity for all students and I want to be a driving force of change for these kids. They deserve to make observations about the natural world to influence their decisions. They deserve to discover the effects of water on erosion. They deserve to hold frogs, gosh darn it… even if it is part of a dissection.

The first step is to be open to having the conversation with diverse groups of people, and that’s what I’m hoping this blog will help do. Even if you only skim (like a water bug skims across the creek), I hope the stories told here will inspire reflection and conversation elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to slither and slide your way into the comments below!

Oh and if that’s not enough content from the wise Ms. E, here’s a great article encouraging you to get out and explore for your own sanity!

Bang, M., & Medin, D. (2010). Cultural processes in science education: Supporting the navigation of multiple epistemologies. Science Education, 94(6), 1008–1026. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20392