Student Teaching Placement 2: Teach Harder

Hello again! I am currently writing this blog with a bit of a sinus problem. There is nothing quite like the feeling of having your head being squeezed from the inside. Guess it just means I do have to take a little better care of myself. The usual stuff: get more sleep, cut out the processed carbs, put a hard stop on my work time so I can actually rest without dreaming of Warner Lesson Plans or materials management. This week is a bit more anecdotal, as a lot has happened and the stories are a huge part of the lessons learned.

So, this week was my first at my new placement. I now fully understand why we are to do two different placements at two different schools. Sometimes it feels like night and day. What used to be major concerns at my first placement are non-existent; the afterthoughts at my first placement have suddenly taken center stage. it is amazing how even in the same district drawing from the same group of students, that the school culture and expectations make that big of a change. To cut down on the hyperbole, they are still kids, and kids do kid things and that hasn’t changed. So the principles and lesson I have carried with me continue on.

Due to some unknown reason, there is another student teacher at my placement. When I got there, she was in week 2 of her first placement, a.k.a. where I was mid-September. Despite being a student teacher, I still weirdly end up being not the least experienced adult in the room. We do learn form each other and on the days she leads a lesson, I see a picture of where I was in learning how to lesson plan and take charge of a classroom. I remember how I made certain mistakes and learned from them and in those oddly reflective moments, I appreciate how far I’ve come and how far I’ve still got to go.

One story in particular really sticks out with me. In seventh period, there is a boy who is hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid, he is also a bit shy and is an easy target for his classmates. As the lesson went on, there was a bit of teasing from a specific group of boys and my CT intervened and spoke with them after class. In the chaos of it being my second day at the school, I did not pick up on it nearly as quickly nor acted upon the way I should have, but she did and apparently was the only teacher in the day to do anything about the situation. I believe this is a big reason as to why we write such comprehensive lesson plans and take the time to prepare. When you’re not worrying about the objectives and the timing and the scaffolding of a lesson while you teach, you can pick up on these moments faster and act upon them in the moment. Little actions that may really hurt a student are caught and dealt with on both sides. The bullies have to work through why its not okay, and the victim knows that you care. Inaction to a situation is basically saying that you are okay with what’s going on. While that may not always be the case, that is how it can be perceived. So, be confident and diligent in the planning and preparing so that not only are you teaching more effectively, but you are better suited to addressing and teaching life lessons.

It has been a wild first week. A snow day, senior capstone project launches, my first foray into expeditionary learning, an observation, lesson planning, the move to a new building. I feel like I’ve watched a movie sped up: my brain knows what happened, but  I haven’t had nearly the time to process it. The sinus pressure doesn’t really help either.

Here’s to a wild first week, and seven more wild ones to go. Bye for now!

Once More Into The Breach

So the blog is back after a rather long hiatus. It was a pretty wild ride. A lot of lessons learned and a lot of humbling moments as well. Then again, the best lessons learned come from our moments of failure. I don’t know what it is about having to learn a lesson by making a mistake, but it sure as heck sticks with you a lot longer and you learn a lot from it.

So, from the fall placement and a few bouts of sickness sprinkled in I emerge anew (ish) to start my new chapter at my spring placement.

A few big lessons I will take with me from the fall into “Student Teaching Placement 2: Teach Harder”

1. Take online resources with a MASSIVE grain of salt.

When hit with a round of “teacher’s block” (what I cal those moments one is stumped while writing a lesson plan), the internet might seem to be a good place to gain some inspiration and perhaps steal an idea or two. The trouble is that most of the lesson plans and activities available online are… well… not very good. They do not fit that reform-minded science teaching that we are trying to accomplish very well. In addition, they often require materials, reading skills, or time that we do not have nor do they make good use of the three llimiting factors.

This is not to say that they are without merit. While I will borrow very little from these plans, the search can sometimes yield good lessons plans, or at the very least a a few jumping off points to take when creating a lesson plan. You may have to borrow from a few online sources, but after the end you have a decent idea of where to start. At the very least, you can look at the stuff online and be fairly confident of what not to do.

2. It’s perfectly okay to be strict, just be fair.

As I was reading through the evaluations my students wrote for me, one of the biggest points they made was that I had improved on my ability to control the classroom and be a strict teacher.  Strict didn’t mean I was screaming and escalating situations, strict meant that I was addressing everything I could and always doing my best to make sure that everyone was making the classroom a safe place where learning could be done. Even the kids who were not the best behaved appreciated my being on their case all the time. Of course they didn’t say this out loud, but I could recognize their handwriting on the evaluation. It kind of kills the anonymity of the whole thing but oh well. The big part of that was being fair and consistent. If the fifth different kid starts chatting while you are trying to give instruction, you still have to stay calm and treat it like the first time because it is the first time for that particular student and however you handled that matter with the other students is how you have to handle it now. That patience is key. Small issues should be treated as such, that way when the big issues come up, the severity is not lost on the students because you’ve saved the more scary tone and those words for the big issues that arise.

3. Trust your instincts

As someone who had difficulty with this in the very beginning, I am proud of the steps I have taken in being able to trust my instincts, so I want to continue that trend. It’s that ability to remember your lesson plan, look at the classroom and say, “they are having trouble with this, let’s move on to the next thing,” even though your plan allotted more time for it. There are moments where those snap decisions have to be made, and the worst thing one can do is to not act at all.

Your instincts are not perfect and there will be moments where a decision that was made could be made better, but that is no reason to discredit it. The fear of a minor slip-up cannot get in the way of making every decision. At a new placement, it will take time to know my students and “feel out the room,” but trusting my instincts will lead to good things and the lesson will more organically fit the day-to-day needs of my students because quite frankly, the needs differ day to day.

And a few little lessons:

-Teaching with a suddenly full bladder is the worst.

-Knowing how to clear a paper jam goes a long way

-Nothing ever takes the amount of time you allot for it

-Candy is the great equalizer, even though it shouldn’t be

-Sometimes, you just have to ask a student to commit to a nickname, or at least give you fair warning.

-Everyone needs to use the bathroom in your class, so figure that out as best you can.

-No mater how you’ve given the instructions, you might have to explain them a few times.

-The mental difference between a single sheet of paper and two stapled together is immense. So try to avoid packets if you can manage it.

-The students who are disruptive are the ones seeking you out in the hallways.

-Avoid/closely monitor supplies that can be used as projectiles.

There will be more personal/professional musings to come next week after some time at my new placement. Stay warm and bye for now!

P.S.: I leave you with a quick webcomic. You know, because…

Science in a “double bubble”

And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

The title this week more or less represents my inner state as I start preparing for my series of lessons. I know compared to the full workload of a teacher it is laughable, but for me at this current juncture, it is a lot. It is not so much the amount of work that it is (which is a lot, I feel I can’t stress that enough), but it is the amount of thought. My lessons and my labs are never off my mind and even when I’m supposed to be taking some time for myself, the thoughts of “how can I make this better” or “what would streamline this lab” or “what am I really trying to get them to learn” never quite go away. Speaking to a veteran teacher at a workshop, she said “welcome to teaching, that’s how it’s always gonna be.”

On top of that, there is still the five days at my placement, the classes and the assignments and with all that together makes for a push in mental stamina I haven’t had in what seems like forever. Against logic and my previous capabilities, I am prevailing (knock on all the wood) and still holding together (knock on all the wood again, just in case). In part it is from my work ethic from wrestling and knowing what off-season and in-season feel like, and how going from the off-season to in-season is always a time filled with a few bumps in the road. Your body is not quite ready for the shock of being put through that much anguish and even what seem like the simplest things put you on your back and out of breath. But over time your stamina grows, your body is used to the hits and what you found unbearable six weeks ago is now your warm-up. If the stamina building of teaching is anything like that, it’s going to be brutal, but it is a brutality I have faced before just wearing a new mask. Bring it, I say!

So, coming off my soapbox, here are my noticings for the week. Both time spent at my placement and my lesson writing came into play.

1. Empty space is amazing or horrible deepening on how you use it. Empty space on an assignment sheet allows space for improvised questions when there is some lack of understanding during a lesson or you find that an assignment has taken much less time than you had planned for it to take. So leaving a bit of empty space on an assignment sheet for that purpose can be a game-changer and correct any unforeseen circumstance on even the best lesson plans. With that said, empty space for an answer has the potential to freeze a student. Empty space immediately following a question is meant to be filled, and while giving enough space is always a good idea, too much can be challenging because there is an inherent notion that all that space should be filled with something. So what is the solution to this issue? Put in a template so the students know explicitly what the expectation is. If you ask them to draw something they see in a microscope, put in an empty circle inside the space so it is less daunting, or perhaps put in one sample template of a test tube when you want them to observe a series of reactions. In both cases, empty space is only useful when you are truly mindful of your students’ abilities and what your expectations are and what you are doing to get them there. It’s the little things and in this case, it is the nothings that matter (did I just blow your mind there?).

2. Everyone says “try you labs before you do them.” While I’ve always heeded the advice, it is remarkable how I still occasionally get humbled by writing a lab procedure. Something should work in theory and people have said worked in practice may not work for you and if Murphy’s Law has anything to say, it will most definitely not work for you. Trying to get a bromothymol blue solution to hold carbon dioxide took three different attempts in three different vessel and three different approaches. Of course, all of them failed. The most logical solution eluded me. Something I have worked with for years for whatever reason did not cross my mind until someone said it: parafilm. I thought of plastic wrap and rubber bands before I thought of parafilm. Nothing really puts you in your place than finding an incredibly local and simple solution for what you consider a dilemma. On a brighter note, I did not panic, I kept trying to find new solutions within my means. And if my means are limited, I know what my end goal is and can work with what I have. My problem solving skills will most likely be continually put to the test as I design and modify labs throughout my career. It’ll be fun… I think.

That’s all for now. Once more into the breach, dear friends.

Five Days a Week

As October turns into November, so does STARS and three days a week at our placement become five days a week at our placement. I’ve learned a lot during STARS; being a place where I had chances to try out some aspects of teaching in a lower-stakes environment allowed me to take  the lessons I learned with me while lessening the impact of the mistake it took to get to those lessons. I’m going to miss the bustle of Wednesdays and Thursday afternoons, the energy that came with doing science and watching the STARS grow into experts and leaders. And I’m also going to miss explaining in vain the difficulties of what I am doing to non-GRS folk. Some of them just do not have a clue.

Five days a week means about 40 hours at my placement, no more sleeping in twice a week, and five days of navigating the unexpected ins and outs of being an observing student teacher. As I am given more responsibility in the classroom, I feel more in tune with my role as a teacher as the lessons (and the mistakes) come at a more frenetic pace. One thing I really do enjoy about the process compared to Camp and STARS is that because everything is happening so much faster, the debrief and reflection does not become dwelling on my mistakes. There is a lot less self-pity about not doing a better job because guess what? The bell just rang and you’ve got four minutes between this class leaving and the next one starting, so quickly make an inventory of what was good and what was bad, do what you can to fix the mistakes for next class and oh my gosh they’re walking in the door. It’s go time. We (my CT and I) still do proper debriefs, but even those are less about dwelling and simply what I can improve upon and what I’ve done well. Being able to do both is key; to be good, one must know what to fix as well as what one needs to keep doing.

So with that, I step off my soapbox and present a few more lessons that I’ve learned from this past week of student teaching.

1. Five days a week is an absolute drain on the body and the mind. I didn’t quite have the requisite stamina to go five days. By the time Thursday rolled around, sure I could succeed in the school day, but that took everything I had. I was getting back from class by 8, in bed by 8:30 doing work and such, and involuntarily passing out by 10. While that can work for a few days, I’m going to have to find the energy for the other parts of my life eventually. For one thing, I really have to take better care of myself. That means eating better and getting the occasional bit of exercise into my schedule. If I’m breaking down by December, then I am no good to anyone. So the plan as of now is to cut down on processed carbs as best I can, remember to take my multivitamin, and actually stick to a consistent workout regimen.  How much difference that makes remains to be seen, but for the first time, my diet and excursive habits are going to have to be a bit tighter in order to actually be productive during the day. Boy was I spoiled by undergrad.

2. As a teacher, your eyes have to be everywhere. This was apparent when I was playing a supportive role, as I felt like I was putting out one small fire to the next. In the lead role, that was even more apparent and if I didn’t deal with certain things they had the chance of getting out of hand. I would look down just to write something and when I looked back up, there was something to manage. This is still one of my areas of growth and my CT and I have worked out a few strategies. For example, when helping a student, make sure to stand at an angle where I could see the whole classroom. Secondly, do everything with my head at least partially up. That way I can still see what is going on while not derailing the lesson. I occasionally forget to do these two things, but now is the time to really be critical about my moment-to-moment actions and decisions, so I have to be more mindful of what I am doing and not go back into bad habits.

As a whole, I need to start picking at my bad habits, both in and out of the classroom, and take them down a notch. To be a focused and improving teacher, I need to be a focused and improving me. That doesn’t mean I’m not taking time for myself though, that’s all a part of taking care of myself. When it stops becoming care, then there is an issue.

Until next week! And a happy Veterans Day (and two days of sleeping in) to all.

The Flight Back From The Honeymoon

I’ve changed my blog’s background…


In other news, I am partially convinced that the initial feeling out process between me and my students is over, i.e. the honeymoon period (as I understand it) is over. Initially, both me and the students were hesitant in being overly expressive or fidgety. They were unsure at what the limits of their new teacher were and I was not that sure regarding who was the high-performing student, who was the quiet one that would need help, and who was out to just stir up a bit of trouble. Now I know exactly who that is, and the students know exactly where the line is and many of them will take their share of opportunities to give me the right amount of sass that they know will get a bit of a reaction but will not get them in trouble. This has led to what I have considered my unofficial motto thus far: Never A Dull Moment. This is what I say when people ask “how’s it going?” or “how’s Warner been.” I’ve replied to each of those questions with a few different phrases, but that has been the catch-all phrase I’ve been using to describe my time at Warner and my time here and there truly has never been a dull moment.

I know I normally provide specific examples and stuff, but this blog post is being written at a crossroads where I truly feel at one with all my work and all of my placement and STARS (knock on wood. Seriously). I am a creature of habit. I eat at certain time, I sleep at certain times, I also relax at specific times. The start of the fall semester was very difficult as a result because everything seemed to change week to week. Now I’ve got a routine, and I feel comfortable in my routine. And it’s great. It makes be better at what I do, more sane, and I’ve even found some pockets in my day to get a workout in.

You know what, I changed my mind, I will give you, the audience a list of things. This week: things I’ve gotten better at as a teacher.

1. Trusting my instincts. During camp I was fearful of making any decision because I was so wrapped up in what the potential backlash might be. I was worried that whatever snap decision I made would change the lesson or the day for the worse that fear ultimately prevented me from making those decision in a timely manner. When it came time to reflecting, I realized that I should have made a call and just stuck with it instead of standing there mentally paralyzed.

Now it’s a bit different. There is less time to process from class to class so I don’t have time to consistently ponder the negative side effects. All I see in my snap decisions is the fact that something that needed to be done got done. I trust myself as a teacher a whole lot more and I trust that while my style of teaching needs a bit more work here and there, overall I’m doing a good job.

2. I’ve found my teacher voice again as a result! In this current iteration, it is projective without being loud, although a bit more animation might be useful; when I’m instructing I tend to get a bit monotone so any sarcasm or excitement/disapproval is not as district as I like it to be. That’ll come with work and just being really deliberate about showing emotion through my voice; I am a physically animated person so the voice already has a good role model to go off of.

3. A symbol of authority is a funny thing. I thought my dress and demeanor were pretty good at distinguishing me as a teacher, but you would be surprised at the number of time I get asked if I am a student or not. It’s a fairly consistent occurrence… That is until I put on… THE KEYS!

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 10.14.57 AM

Yeah. Those keys. Two keys… and a pen… on a hook on a lanyard… That’s it.

No ID badge, no photo, nothing… Just keys.

And apparently that’’s all it takes.

Truth be told, I feel more legitimate with them as well. When I put them on in the morning, it signifies some shift in my mentality. I put them on and that means it’s go time. Everything else gets put on the back burner for a mite longer because I’ve got a role to play and a job to do. In a way, it feels like when Clark Kent goes to Superman. It comes with a whole different set of expectations and more eyes are focused on what you do than you would think. Yeah the keys come with responsibilities (with great power, am I right?), but I wouldn’t trade them for much right now.

Welp, that’s it for this week. Bye for now!

Almost Normal

Another week gone and I finally sort of almost feel like I got a routine going… for now. But I’ll take it. It’s nice to have the madness tempered out. Even though there’s routine, between my placement and STARS, there’s never a dull moment.

In this week’s blog, I want to focus on “laboratory science.” Basically, what makes for a lab that is both geared towards a learning objective and at the same time, is interesting and allows some freedom in expressing their own thoughts.

At my placement, the students did a two part lab with a mystery substance. By observing the mystery substance in different environments, the students had to determine if it was living or non-living by scientific standards (which we had discussed previously. In watching my CT prepare and facilitate the lab, I learned a checklist’s worth of things to hopefully integrate into my own future practice.

1. Mystery is a big motivator for students: The concept of a mystery substance was enough for students to exclaim all types of observations. We let the students make their exclamations, and said that everything they were shouting out made for excellent observations to write down. Not knowing what it was made the initial observation much more fun and productive. Knowing what it was beforehand would have kept the students from making observations that they might feel were ludicrous. Not knowing what they were observing made every observation legitimate.

2. You can never give too much instruction: The way the protocol was presented to the students was both in video form, and a checklist. The video is an excellent idea because one does not have to fumble with materials in real time. Also, it keeps the instruction consistent so you are ensured you don’t miss something from one period to another. Lastly, it also presents the instructions in a different medium, and the change of medium also helps students retain more. However, despite all that there were still some problems with directions. Students were still not as careful as they should have been and some had to stop and start all over because of an error in the protocol. It helps to have multiple mediums, but you still gotta facilitate well. That means organizing lab kits so no one hunts around for materials and prompting students to read the right portion of the directions carefully and slowly.

3. Give the students space in which to express themselves: Have observations be either in diagram or written form, leave things to the student’s discretion, and let them have fun with it. Labs are the cool part of science where genuine learning happens through an experience, so give the students space to do the learning in the way they see best. We had one student, who is normally quiet and indifferent, film the entire 25-minute process of the experiment happening, just so he could make a time-lapse video. And it came out great.

Throughout my coursework at Warner, lab and similar experiences have been hotly debated issue. They nee structure, but they cannot be too rigid and be a cookbook lab. A bit of scaffolding of the terms and ideas combined with a lab that gives students the space to synthesize their own meaning is the best way I can think of going about it… for now.

In other news, I just took my content exam today… There was more cheer in a graveyard than that testing site. *shudders*

Bye for now!

P.S. The mystery substance: Yeast.

Science Another Day

One more week, and another Bond Title Turned Into an Easy Pun. Bear with me here, but I think the two (teaching and MI6) have some common ground. When I describe a day at my placement and all of the things that go into a lesson going well and a good class period, it seems surreal and extraordinary. However, much like Bond, the things he does, while spectacular to everyone else, are the everyday to him. It doesn’t diminish the level of awesomeness, though.

A potential theme for a Cohort Photo? Maybe? Just me?

A potential theme for a Cohort Photo? Maybe? Just me?

Okay. I’m now off my soapbox. Back to the show.

This week I’m focusing on “student needs” as the focus for my blog. At my placement, there were a few distinct moments that I’d like to share. This is what I really wanted to get out of my placement: what does a good teacher do to shake things up to help his/her student’s learning? With that in mind, I asked my CT after specific periods to go through her rationale of certain decisions she made.

1. During an 8/9 double period class, my CT decided the capture sheet was t be done in two separate groups. She separated the guys and the girls and I took the guys. There are twice as many girls as guys, so the groups weren’t just split to thin our the numbers, it was deliberately guys and girls. When the guys and I went into the other room to work, the energy was a lot more focused. Of course, there was the usual side conversations that come with a freshman science class, but more was getting done, and I was able to help more of the students, in particular the quiet ones that still needed help, but that I could not spend enough time with because my attention was needed towards the more disruptive students. I asked my CT afterwards and she just said that she did it so that it could just be a nice change of pace. The next day, one of our more reluctant to work students actually asked if we could split up again. There was no objection, so we did and the same positive experiences happened again: everyone got more done, asked more questions, and I could reach more people to help them out. For the first time in the school year, I felt that I could be of help to the 9th period class as a whole and really got to know their dynamic.

2. On Friday, both the 4th period and 9th period classes were double periods. To elaborate, this means that those students have two back-to-back periods of living environment… on a Friday… After they had just finished a unit test and test corrections…


It was an uphill battle, but the way the lesson was planned and timed, everything got done with time to spare, which as it turns out, was the whole point. The lesson was on living vs. non-living in the scientific sense, so we had some cool videos, taxidermy, and still managed to fit in the scaffolding of VCEEE skills. The mood of the class was much more upbeat and for the most part, the students were self-motivated. This was the case in both classes, and once again, I was able to get to students I normally would not be able to reach. I asked my CT her rationale after the end of the day again about why did she keep the workload light for a 2-period class. Her response was very similar to my logic: the kids are tired, it’s a long day, and it’s Friday. And even though it was a lighter day, we still got through all the objectives and the students were more inclined to work because we kept the atmosphere light for this day. With the last 8 or so minutes that were left at the end of each class period, my CT and I just chatted with the students and got to know them better by talking about what they wanted to talk about.

Being cognizant of student needs is something that definitely takes time and thought. The two examples would not have been as effective the first week because we did not know the individual dynamics of each class. The above two successes are a result of a few other implementation that made little to no difference. My closing thought on adjusting the classroom to accommodate student needs is that while it may seem like we do it to accommodate the more rambunctious students. In reality, we do it to reach those students who are doing what they are asked to do, but need help. Normally we are so preoccupied on getting instruction and motivation done right, that we do not spend the time to help the students who do the first two right. Just keep that in mind.

I leave you all with a very poignant venn diagram. It’s something I need to always keep in mind, keep my head up, and Science Another Day.

As Jon Stewart says, “here it is, your moment of Zen.”


Science STARS: Live and Let Science

After a month in hiatus, the blog is now making its triumphant return as fall 2014 settles in. This week was the recruitment session for Science STARS as well as the expo, so brace yourself for some reflecting. One last note regarding the title, I was challenged to make the punderful blog post titles to all reference movies, but because I’m a bit weird, I took it a step further and from now until the end of STARS, they will all be references to James Bond movie titles.

On the whole, recruitment went fairly well. Our decision was to run our pilot study to show the potential Science STARS a small sample of what we would be doing. Our mini-study involved sorting cards by suit and number while listening to two different versions of the same song, the original version and a smoother cover version. The demo went well: the students were engaged, they were curious, and they were interested in a study that looked at their music at a deeper level. We had some hiccups in the first period. It turns out we needed to give the students more time in the activity, and our directions needed to be a lot clearer and much more visual. However, we were able to take our mistakes and make all of the adjustments we needed to make. By the 3rd time we ran our recruitment demo, it was polished and we got through everything that we needed to get through without taking up too much of a teacher’s time. We got people not only excited for our study, but for Science STARS as a whole, so our job was done.

During recruitment, I also got to see an 8th grade science teacher teach. It was amazing. She was encouraging and gentle when she needed to be, and when one student was consistently being a disruption, she never got angry with him. She asked what she could do for him. She let him go on a walking break (she asked him to “deliver a paper” to another teacher, but in essence it was a walking break without him knowing), she was accommodating in her warnings, and even when she had to move him, she did it respectfully and asked “would you like to move to another seat?”  That display of kindness and patience has the power to really change a student’s life. Whereas other teachers may simply kick that student out of the classroom, she was patient and even after the class was over, she chatted with him and they made a promise to help each other out. That is the power of relationships and I now know what a benchmark of that looks like.

Next came the expo, which posed very similar issues as our recruitment demo. The first trial had a lot of kinks that had to be addressed on the spot as once again, we underestimated the time an activity would take and we underestimated the amount of stuff we had to get through and that 10 minutes is actually not a lot of time. On top of that, there was less time than we though there would be between rotations. By the end of it all, I had felt like I had marched through a hurricane, but just like the recruitment demos, the major issues were cleared up by the second session and adjustments were made and made quickly.

No lie, I am a bit nervous about planning for Science STARS. Music and its effect on our activities is a fascination of mine and I want to share it with others. However I have to remember that this is for the students and making their music work for them. I can do my best to introduce new genres, but I may have to work in a scope that is more familiar to them. Also I am sure I will have to scaffold in some concepts in experimental design. If that ends up being the majority of the science content, so be it. If I do my job then the STARS team will have set up some dynamite experiments of their own creation, and that is a big accomplishment in six weeks and something to be proud of.

Signing off for now, so until the next post, bye-bye.

P.S.: I leave you with two songs I enjoy for studying/ doing work. One is the epitome of relaxation

And the other is a bit more upbeat.


And So It Goes (again)…

Summer B is near the end and once again I have the time (sort of) and the space to reflect on my coursework. Summer A’s reflection post was about literacy in the scientific classroom, and for EDU 486, it is about technology’s role, which works out because I am writing this on a blog.

One thing worth noting as I think about my learning trajectory was that we re-read some of the articles from 487. In particular the Chinn and Malhotra (2001) article was interesting to re-read because I caught some new things I missed the first time around. In both courses, I quoted from them, “simple inquiry task may not only fail to help students… they may also foster a nonscientific epistemology in which scientific reason is viewed as simple… (Chinn and Malhotra, 2001).” In light of camp this quote took on a whole new meaning. After seeing the campers present their studies, I saw scholars become experts in five days due to the fact that they were allowed to engage in real science where everything from the question to what variable to study to who they were going to present their findings were all their own choices. As one of the campers interview by the press said, “the science we do at school isn’t as helpful.” The science is as helpful because we do not give students the choice to explore what they find relevant. Sure we did not cover every aspect of bacteria, ecosystems, and waterways but in five days the campers learned lab skills, science thinking skills, and useful vocabulary all generated from what the students wanted to learn. While they may not know what the word “coliform” exactly means a few years from now, they are more likely to remember the work they did with the identity of scientist and how that can make them informed members of the community.

To see where my learning trajectory goes from here I will take one step back to Summer A. In Summer A I learned what authentic scientific inquiry was and what it looked like. In Summer B I learned what doing authentic inquiry was like with students, but in an informal setting. I feel the next step is when STARS rolls around, it will be how to do authentic inquiry in a classroom setting. In addition, we have a bit less support to lean on and much more accountability on our part.

Slowly moving down that line

Slowly moving down that line

Having said that, I think I am prepared to take that step. I’ve thought about authentic scientific inquiry, I’ve taught with that mindset, so I’m ready for the challenge of STARS. Full geekdom, here I come!

As far as the technology aspect goes, I feel most comfortable presenting it in a fashion that we have been using for a long time: pluses and arrows. (C’mon, we all saw that coming…)

My big plus from this semester is my understanding in technology’s role in the classroom. Technology “should be a introduced as a means, not an end” (Flick and Bell, 2000). It also “…can be employed to do in new ways the same kinds of things we’ve previously known” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006). At one point in time, the whiteboard and marker were new technologies, and they were employed as a means to teach in brand new ways. This mindset is a huge advantage when thinking about integrating technology into learning. It is a tool, just like paper and pencil, that enhances student learning and understanding. This is a huge cognitive step because one day, I will be the old teacher and technology will have advanced in ways I cannot even fathom. When that moment comes, I have to take a step back and remember what I am writing right now. Technology is a tool, and I now have that knowledge and the desire to not shy away form the new technology. This is vital; while it is useful to learn about the technologies of today, it is even more useful to gain the understanding of technology as a whole that will transcend time.

My big arrow is still using technology as a means to reflect and communicate (read: blogging). I am getting better, I am developing my voice to be more of a professional while still retaining my own voice, but I am still struggling with incorporating everything that blogging can do. Part of it is my creative writing background. I am a journal-keeper and I am a storyteller through words. I am getting better with hyperlinks and images, but it is not consistently in the forefront of my mind enough when I am writing these blog spots. I think the main issue is that I treat this more like a public journal more than anything else. This will come with experience and when the fall rolls around, a more deliberate look at my blog posts and setting individual blogging goals for myself, which I did not do this summer.

This summer has been one wild, busy and never-ending ride, and sometimes it feels that there more daunting days than not. But Michael recognized my inner geek, and I remember why I’m doing all of this. Here’s a comic courtesy of that reminds me why I want to teach, and more specifically teach science.

We all have to have our passions, and if passion makes you a geek, then so be it. If I can spread that message as a teacher, then I’m in the right place.

Sources Cited

 Chinn, C. & Malhotra B. (2002). Epistemologically Authentic Inquiry in Schools: A Theoretical Framework for Evaluating Inquiry Tasks. Science Education  86:175 – 218.

 Flick, L., & Bell, R. (2000). Preparing tomorrow’s science teachers to use technology: Guidelines for science educators. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education , 1(1), 39-60.

 Windschitl, M. (2008). What is inquiry? A framework for thinking about scientific practice in the classroom. National Science Foundation.

GRS Summer Camp Day 6: Presentations Accounted For

Today was presentation day where our hard-working Level 3 campers presented their project and their work throughout the past week to the level1 and level 2 freedom scholars. At this juncture, I’d normally have something mildly funny to say, but now hardly seems the time or place or state of mind. I am so proud of Team Orange. They endured biblical rain, brand-new scientific terms, and one of their first experiences in authentic scientific inquiry and perhaps one of their first times being asked “what question do you want to create and study?”

While the dry run of the presentation was a bit clunky, you wouldn’t know it when you saw the campers presenting to the level 1’s and 2’s. They were sharp, authoritative, used the vocabulary and really took on the role of scientific experts and teachers. We had attendance issues (only four of our members were in attendance), a change in timing (six minutes instead of the anticipated 10 per group), and a loud environment but they did it.  Team Orange took the adjustments in stride and produced an excellent presentation. What I was most impressed with was the campers’ ability to answer questions from the young audience. Their answers showed their expertise because not only could they explain the scientific content , but they internalized it enough to explain to the level 1’s and 2’s at a level that even they could understand the answers to their questions.


For my last set of pluses and arrows, I will try to take what I have learned about my teaching skills and style from camp and place them in the context of the classroom and therefore a more formal learning environment:

One of my pluses was my ability to find common interests with the campers. In a short period of time, I was able to learn more about the campers as people. I learned not only about their interests, but also their learning styles. The knowledge regarding their interests helped me make a better personal connection with the campers and create a better relationship which led to a smoother and more productive learning environment. In addition, learning about in what situation/environment each student shines the most in gives me insight regarding both their strengths and weaknesses. In a classroom, this means I know which students to lean on when discussion or activity hits a lull and which students need more support in certain situations.

Another one of my pluses was my newfound knowledge in discussion facilitation. I am much better with wait time and giving the campers the time and space to do some good thinking. I am much more comfortable with silence in a classroom and giving enough wait time before asking the facilitating questions. These skills translate directly into a classroom and I will build off these new skills.

One of my consistent arrows was my decisiveness. While I could make quick decisions before the campers arrived, I found them difficult in the heat of the moment. I was better, but not enough to prevent my overthinking of the possible repercussions of my decisions from getting in the way of actually making a decision. This often led to dead time and an inefficient use of the time. In the context of the classroom, I need to think less about those repercussions; no mistake will ever be irreversible and quite frankly, every decision will have some fallout. Therefore, I need to trust my instinct, and I mean really trust it, and know that I have the capability to undo any cons of my decision the following class period.

Camp has been a truly eye-opening, humbling, and sometimes discouraging experience. However, I have learned so much about my ability as a teacher and how some of my positive teaching instincts manifest themselves in my lessons. Not only that, but I actually made it through! Yay me!

Life never gives us anything we cannot handle, and despite the immense amount of work that went into camp, it was done and executed well. Thanks to everyone in the cohort for their support and company! One big final push until some well-earned R&R.