Category Archives: Teacher Experiences

Reflections on student ages

In class this week with Andrea we were asked to do a 3, 2, 1 where we identified our three favorite teaching moments, two biggest struggles, and one theory of learning science that we experienced this year. As a class, our theories were fairly similar and we all got to ooh and aah at each other’s favorite teaching moments but what really revealed our deepest thoughts in teaching, in my opinion, was when we discussed our struggles. We all had very diverse struggles and I imagine diverse struggles will continue to be a part of our careers … forever, probably. My struggle that I chose to identify was bringing content to students at the right level; more specifically, not going to far beyond what they need to know even if it’s super cool and I love talking about it.

I found this to be a smaller issue in my high school placement because chemistry is, by nature, intricate and full of nuances. However, where this struggle really took center stage was in my middle school placement. Because I was stretching myself, and teaching content that I hadn’t learned since I was 14 or 15 years old, I found myself spending a lot of time on Wikipedia and other Google search results to broaden my understanding of a topic so that I could talk about it in class. At first this sounded like a really good approach, so that I could answer any question and provide background if needed, but in reality it just ended up leading me to make my lessons and assignments more complicated than they needed to be. This ended up leading to a few very messy lessons and split-second lesson changes in the 4 minutes of passing time between my first and second classes. It was a good test of my flexibility and perseverance but definitely misrepresented my lesson planning abilities because I was stretching my students and myself too thin.

Switching from high school to middle school was hard; a lot harder than I thought it would be. Compounded into that transition is the fact that I went from co-planning everything to leading a room much more independently and the fact that some of my new students were as many as SIX years younger than my prior students. Turns out, this age difference creates an entirely different dynamic between teacher and student which I, once again, wasn’t expecting.

I don’t want to start going into sweeping generalizations of each age group because every kid is different from each other and there are probably middle schoolers with high schoolers’ personalities, and high schoolers with middle schoolers’ personalities. However, as groups of students, high schoolers and middle schoolers require very different things, which I’m sure change between years and between classes. This constant ebb and flow of student personalities and student needs are part of what make teaching fun, and definitely are a part of why I believe I will always enjoy teaching and adapting to new groups of students. However, some of the stark differences that I did notice between the two age groups did create a more stressful and intense experience than I was expecting. I think if I could do it over again I would do better, but I guess that’s really the whole point of student teaching, right?

One last thing before my Wall of Awesome

As many of your already know, today was our last day at our 8-week placements and so just like that, we’ve officially hit our “Wall of Awesome.” For my last day in middle school I knew I needed to gather some data on student comprehension of my most recent unit, evolution, but I also was reluctant to give a test on my final day. In order to work around this, I gave a mini- quiz/workshop that was open notes in order to assess student understanding of the major concepts in evolution. It was meant to be a quick assessment; five multiple choice with an “explain your choice” part attached and 10 short answer questions based upon a cladogram and a fossil diagram. Before I gave my students the workshop/exam, we did a set of practice questions that were similar to what the short answer were on the test to get them back in the mindset of evolution, since it had been three days since I last taught because of unrelated, uncontrollable conflicts.

The assessment itself, from a first glance, seemed to go well. It definitely took everyone longer than I had anticipated and so I found myself rushing to get my surveys done and thank-yous handed out. However, my students seem to be cladogram champs.

Overall, I am happy with my decision not to give a formal test but to give an assessment that looked very similar to their past workshops. The familiarity with the layout and expectations seemed to help everyone and the fact that I allowed them to use any and all notes (but no help from friends) seemed to lower the stakes so that it was a less stressful environment. That being said, there were some hurdles that I would need to think through more if I use this format in the future.; because this wasn’t formally labeled as a “test” I had a more challenging time keeping the room quiet so that everyone could work in the most beneficial environment. I believe this is because I encourage a lot of collaboration in workshop usually and so it was a tougher transition into a relatively short, silent workshop time. Additionally, I planned to give each class about half an hour to finish the workshop assessment and ended up giving very close to this amount of time. Because we started it halfway through the period instead of at the beginning there was no way for me to give students more time to totally finish it if they weren’t finished already. How would you go about remedying this without making in a more formal, higher stakes environment?

I found this to work well, but I definitely see the positive sides of traditional tests. How often is it reasonable to use more informal, low stakes assessments when they resemble workshops that are more collaborative? And if collaboration is encouraged how can individual understanding be assessed in a way that can inform me of specific needs rather than general misunderstandings? This experience did open up a lot of questions but it did show me a viable way to assess understandings in a lower stakes environment. Given the chance to try it again I think I would just need to make some tweaks to the layout and implementation so that it can stand up on its own as a true assessment without losing its “workshop-y” feel.

Reflections and Rochester

This week, as many of you are already aware of, is many of our first interviews for grown-up jobs. In preparing for this with the cohort I was prompted to reflect on all that we have done up until this point and find some shining moments for us to really highlight on Saturday. This reflection started for me at my first placement, since that’s where I really felt I got my teacher voice and persona down. However; after delving deeper into our journeys thus far it became more and more clear to me that all the hoops we jumped through for GRS are really rich experiences that, in retrospect, challenged me much more than my placements have. Now, that’s not to say that I haven’t felt overwhelmed and at the breaking point at either of my placements, but it does say, heck it screams, that science in all spaces (authentic, culturally relevant, scientifically relevant) plays a monumental role in a cultivating a student’s scientific identity.

At the placement I’m in right now I actually teach one of my campers from this past August. At camp this camper became my project for the week and I really wanted to get him invested like the rest of our team was at the time. However, at school these days that same camper, now my student, is a leader in the classroom and really identifies with science being a part of his life. Now, maybe at camp he didn’t want to be there, or he didn’t see the point, but something happened between camp and today where he gets it now. He’s already asking me what the investigation is going to be next year and was quite disappointed to hear that we wouldn’t be the team leaders again.

I have felt slightly out of place in middle school but have started to really get it as of late. Seeing as a good portion of my current students haven’t taken science formally yet in school many of them need many more scaffolds than at my other placement; where the students were older and more familiar with how to participate in science. These additional scaffolds that need to be included for my students have really started to push me back to camp and STARS where we had to make it relevant and fun for our learners to increase their buy in.

It seems like one of the ways to do this is to include the community, which is all over our evaluation rubrics and other Warner materials, but is a real challenge for some units. For my opening lesson in Evolution I taught about fossils and rock layers and based it all around the Rochester Gorge at Lower Falls, which is a familiar and relevant place to many of my students. My CT commented after the day was over that it all clicked together really well in that lesson, which was structured similarly to past lessons of mine, but it did have much more buy in from students of all abilities because they all have a story about the Gorge and all want to have some fun facts to take to impress their family members at home. Seeing how well this went for me I am publicly challenging myself to include more pieces of the community and surrounding areas of Rochester in my future lessons whenever it works. It really sparked some interest in my current students, including my past camper at camp, and I think it can promote the inclusion of science into a student’s identity, especially in students with less background in science who haven’t realized that it is really all around us all the time and so it is relevant to their lives.

Grappling with the Nature of Science

Jo Ann recently sent around the NSTA Position Statement on the Nature of Science and I wanted to talk about one of the pieces of it more specifically and the challenges that, I would imagine, come along with teaching students that portion of the statement. The statement is below:

 

A primary goal of science is the formation of theories and laws, which are terms with very specific meanings.

  1. Laws are generalizations or universal relationships related to the way that some aspect of the natural world behaves under certain conditions.
  2. Theories are inferred explanations of some aspect of the natural world. Theories do not become laws even with additional evidence; they explain laws. However, not all scientific laws have accompanying explanatory theories.
  3. Well-established laws and theories must be internally consistent and compatible with the best available evidence; be successfully tested against a wide range of applicable phenomena and evidence; possess appropriately broad and demonstrable effectiveness in further research.

 

Now, I realize that this fact of science isn’t new news to any of us, having studied science for 10+ years (if you count from 7th grade on). But I would assume that this is a really difficult idea for most young science learners to wrap their heads around, especially the first few times they come across this.

Obviously my instincts want me to talk from a Chemistry perspective so some topics where this idea would come through include might be within atomic theory specifically with the evolution of the atomic model and within ideal gas laws. I think there would be more opportunities for this piece of the nature of science to be taught in other content areas like within evolution or many of the major physics units but my main struggle with teaching this concept centers around when learners grapple with the concept the first few times they encounter it. This mostly is because this idea that theories explain laws but not all laws have theories is contrary to most other areas of school, and really life.

What experiences have you all had that directly covered theories and laws in class and how did you find students did working through the struggles of theories not ever becoming laws despite evidence that proves them true and how not all laws have partnering theories to explain them? I’m mostly interested in how students responded to this unique part of science and what helped them think through all of these idiosyncrasies of science.

 

Reference

NSTA. (2015). NSTA Position Statement: Nature of science. http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/natureofscience.aspx

Goals and Updates

Updates from last week: the poop sock digestive system model was a huge hit! My students either loved it or were super grossed out by it but they all seemed to really absorb (haha, get it?) the material because the lesson as so unique. Also, I’ve hit a milestone and got my first student to legitimately throw up from one of my lessons, so I’m marking that as a huge point in the win column. My first week went well, I guess you could say, and each day I teach I get more comfortable with the discipline policies. I’m still not perfect but I’m improving. The first week also started off with my first teacher snow day; and, I have to say, the rumors are true, snow days as a teacher are way better than as a student.

 

And now, onto my new thoughts; I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I’m going to maintain my sanity through another couple years of madness as I settle into my teaching career and realize I probably need to start setting goals for now and for the future. And, yes I am taking Julian’s blog idea here. #HatersGonHate. So without further ado, here they are.

First short term,

  1. Stop watching Netflix in bed. This is a trap I get myself caught into on an almost nightly basis. I bring my computer to my room, get in bed, and watch some wild prison or drug lord documentary (weird choices, I know). This is not a terrible thing because I usually only do this when I’m going to bed early. However, this documentary usually runs about an hour to an hour and a half long and once it ends most normal people would shut their computer and go to sleep. That’s (obviously) not what I do; see, I have this pre-bed routine that I like to run through that includes Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Buzzfeed, CNN, and at least a dozen ThoughtCatalog articles. Each month this routine seems to get longer, and I’m going to attribute that for the most part to the number of ThoughtCatalog articles I read increasing each time I go on, by now my pre-bed ritual is about half an hour to 45 minutes long. That takes an hour-long documentary to a two-hour ordeal by the time I turn my lights off. That’s too much, and especially with how busy I am during the day it’s something that needs to stop, or (at the very least) be cut down.
  2. Start eating real dinners. I’m just going to come out and admit that last night I ate brownies and pretzels with a side of ginger ale for dinner. Gross. And, even worse is I did actually have the time to cook something and the food to cook something with actual nutrition in it. I currently feel like I’m getting sick and I’m going to go out on a limb and say its because I haven’t been eating great so I haven’t been getting enough of all the good stuff to keep me healthy… Or I guess it could be that my CT has the flu. Either, or.
  3. Work out when time allows. Jill and I did really well this past summer with going to the gym before class and I really started to notice a difference in my energy levels and my strength from doing it; I was actually really making progress towards getting back into good shape. However, as I’m sure we can all relate to, as soon as school, STARS, and class started we stopped (understandably). Now that I’m only in two classes (instead of five) and have kind of gotten the hang of writing lesson plans I have slightly more time on my hands. This extra time has been, for the most part, spent in a horizontal position on Jill’s couch or mine. Now, I’m not saying that hanging out and doing nothing is a bad thing, because it is probably one of my favorite things but between that and my brownie dinners I’m losing any fitness that I once had. This time last year I was working on Wall St. and commuting two hours each way to work; that meant my 9-hour workday was really a 13 to 13.5-hour day door-to-door. Now that really left me no time to work out so I bought a yoga mat and started doing some serious Pilates to make up for not going to the gym. I still have that mat in my apartment and I have a ton of index cards with body weight workouts written down that I used then and over the summer with Jill. My plan is, on the days that I don’t have class, to get one of those workouts done before I go to bed. Between that and eating real dinners I should make some progress back to the summer.

Now for longer-term goals,

  1. Start making classroom management and organization plans. I’ve gotten to see a few styles of running a classroom at this point and have several different options to use or build off of for next year. I need to start making some general plans that can translate to whatever and wherever my classroom may be next year. I know that things may be slightly different depending if I’m in middle school or high school, especially because chemistry students tend to be much older than middle schoolers, but there are some general things that will be very similar. As for organization, I’m not very organized by nature (Jill has helped with changing that recently) so I need to consciously start making moves towards having an organized classroom so that I can avoid having five units worth of papers on my desk.
  2. Start creating general unit outlines for my content areas. I realize this is a huge task to bite off, however, that being said I am only going to be in one class this summer (besides creating my portfolio) and should have the time to at least get the major topics for the year down and decide on an order that flows. Now, ideally I’ll know where I’m teaching before the day before school starts so that I only have to do this for one content area, but worst comes to worst it won’t necessarily be a bad thing for me to have a plan for chemistry and middle school.
  3. Start paring down my possessions and donate/sell what I don’t need. I have a pretty big apartment, in my opinion, and I have three closets, one of which is the size of a small office. All three of my closets are stuffed with clothes, things, and boxes. Now, the boxes were intentional because I know I will be moving soon but everything else is really starting to (literally) pile up. I currently have enough dinner and silverware to feed approximately 24 people with real (not plastic) stuff. I also have three vacuums and two air conditioners. So, needless to say, especially because I’ll be moving in with Jill at the end of the summer (baring any unforeseen catastrophe) and will have to combine my stuff with her stuff into an similarly sized, maybe even smaller, apartment. And that definitely sounds like something that would stress out a Jillian.

Thank you, and goodnight.

You say hello, I say #Goodbye …. #PoopSock …. and other #Winter thoughts

Over winter break I spent a lot of time, as most “out-of-towners” do, at their family Christmas party catching everyone up on what I’ve been up to in Rochester and how I’ve like or disliked it. I realized, after talking to my seventh or eighth relative, that I don’t remember a time in my past where I felt so many things at once but was perfectly ok with all of it. I’m nervous because we just started new placements, I’m sad at times because I do get homesick (although, mostly for my dog and bagels… sorry mom and dad), but mostly I’m happy because I finally feel like I’m where I belong, geographically, emotionally, and educationally.

My first placement really got to feel like home for me, and while I did have a few issues with it by the end, the school, the teachers, and the students really felt like my own. Jill and I unfortunately had to give a test on our last day but with the long, block scheduling that that placement had we were able to have a mini party afterwards where we handed out individual goodie bags and thank you’s to all our students. I really wasn’t expecting to feel so sad when we were leaving but after talking to our first class about it being our last day and that we appreciated that they were so welcoming and respectful towards us I almost did get a little teary eyed. Now, I am a huge crybaby for sentimental things like that so I guess I should have seen that coming. What really did almost throw me over the edge was when a particular student that we were close to had to go outside of the room because she started to cry a little and, when at the end of class students started to ask for goodbye hugs and when we were going to come back and visit them.

This whole experience, in addition to the anxiety of starting a new placement made me start thinking about how these feelings are something that I am going to experience every year for the rest of my career. Being that (ideally) I will be teaching chemistry next year and after that my students will be older and probably within a year or two of graduating so I won’t get to see them much after they leave my class. Now, I’d like to think that it’ll be easier because I’ll be seeing my students graduate and move onto bigger and better things than high school which is exciting, but I know it’s not going to be easy… I’m just hoping the universe will compromise with me and settle for easier.

 

 

Jumping into my second placement in the middle of the year was also harder than I expected it to be. I have gotten a better system down for learning names, which was good, but it has been much harder to get down the classes’ routines than it was at my first placement. I think it has a little bit to do with coming in in the middle of the year but I’m trying not to give myself excuses.

So far at this placement, discipline will be my biggest challenge. I got better at my teacher presence last semester; but this school, and the grade level team that I am a part of, is all about their discipline routines and managing behaviors before they get out of control. My CT and her co-teacher are very upfront about their expectations and with their willingness to support me as a transition into the lead role, which I’m so appreciative for already. My goal for the first half of this placement (which I plan on continuing) is to be serious about discipline so that I will be seen as an equal to my CT and her co-teacher. I know this will be a challenge for me, because I tend to want to go easy on kids. I like to think that I’m the Queen… eh, Princess of the Warning but I rarely go beyond that. Kids have already started to test me a little bit and I think I’ve done okay with not overstepping my bounds too soon; once I’m a lead teacher though I know I’ll have to be making decisions quickly and with more discipline than I’m used to. I guess I think a lot of my anxiety about this is coming, first, from my nature of being a generous and giving person, but also because the discipline and classroom management in my last placement was completely different from this school. That’s not to say that kids were running the room and going wild but my CT at the time had the approach that “if they’re not distracting and mostly on task, whatever they need to do is okay.” Now, I get that, and I really started to own that mantra but at my new placement, with a new grade level, and a MUCH smaller room I’m beginning to see that that management style isn’t going to work, because kids can’t just stand up to stretch their legs or get up to throw out a paper without disrupting 85% of the kids in the room (mostly because they’d have to climb over at least four people just to get to the trash can).

Change is a good thing, and I’m really loving this change a lot more than I expected to so I like to think that things will smooth out after my first day jitters finally leave. Also, I think once the kids see what I have in store for them on day one (#PoopSock) they won’t be so quick to test me, because they’ll be engaged with my material, and won’t have time to think of making distractions. However, the world isn’t perfect so I know it’s not going to go so smooth; so, tips and pep talks are appreciated, and I’ll probably need them to start…. In addition to some background knowledge on body systems (#ChemistryForLife). Go time is Monday so I’m already preparing nightly pep talks for myself already. Hopefully the Super bowl pumps me up as well!

Mints, Fire, and Crime

This coming week Jill and I are leading our series of lessons at our placement.  For this mini-unit we are teaching electron excitation and are trying really hard to ground our students’ learning in real world.  For this we have come up with the Wint-o-green triboluminescence experiment, a human model of electron excitation (See Jill’s blog), a flame test investigation, and an investigation into spectroscopic lines.  It seems, and is, a lot to accomplish in only three or four days (depending how much time the students need for each assignment) but we’ve been wrestling a lot recently about whether what we have planned would be enough, because (as we’ve all heard a billion times before in Summer B) “hands-on is not enough.”

We, or at least I am, completely, totally, a billion percent psyched for all of our activities to do in the two general chemistry classes.  For one, what student doesn’t want to see their teachers climbing on stools and throwing M&M’s to each other (See Jill’s post for more on this), or who doesn’t want to change the color of a bunsen burner flame into any color of the rainbow, and lastly (and the one I’m most excited for) who doesn’t want to do a lab investigation into spectroscopic lines that starts with a short video of Miss Weber and Miss Kramer committing mysterious crimes involving fluorescent light bulbs (that can be identified by spectroscopic lines)??? I’d like to think no one doesn’t want to partake in those activities but it’s inevitable that someone might have a bad day or just not care so much about making mints flash light in your mouth that day.  Also, because of timing issues in class we have to start one class off with notes that our CT has already given to the other class.  This is making re-syncing the two classes difficult.

Significant changes to our plans have happened since its conception, due mostly in part to input from our supervisors and other advisors, but also because of Jill’s ingenuity to preface our final summative lab assessment with a relevant, funny, and engaging video clip of us presenting a series of mysterious crimes to our students to solve.  We’ve also decided to change our flame test from an actual lab to a demonstration, but to improve student engagement and increase its “cool” factor (although for fire-based labs I don’t know how much that is necessary) by changing the procedure form burning wooden splints soaked in salt solutions to using spray bottles to mist the flame in salt solution.  After our tests on Friday last week this turns out to work really well (except for if you spray too closely to the flame and extinguish it) so our CT is looking forward to using the spray bottle technique in the future.  Our human model (again, see my PIC’s blog for more on that) also should provide much better basis for understanding than diagrams or regular notes.  By combining YouTube videos and outside suggestions we’ve come up with a way that has already worked very well in improving our Regents class’s understanding of the concept.

Overall, I’m excited but there seems to be so so so much more do to for this than for STARS.  Also, I’ve noticed I feel less comfortable when I’m not the only teacher figure in the room so I will need to do a lot of personal chances to make sure I come across the way I hope to … the first challenge of which will be learning not to always talk over Jill, which after being a single team leader for STARS will provide me with a huge challenge.

A figurative stretch… of sorts

So far my placement has been incredible.  I really feel like I’m setting into my teacher shoes quite nicely and I’ve been surprising myself fairly often with how well I handle situations that I would have died inside because of just a few months ago.

That being said there are a few minor things that I’ve definitely taken my rose colored glasses off for.  One of which is the way our school is handling Regents Chemistry this year.  In the past the school had normal Regents Chemistry classes just like a majority of schools around New York; with direct instruction, group work, and laboratory experiences.  In contrast, this year the school decided to test Hybrid learning for its Regents Chemistry class.  At first, and this was partially due to my CT’s excitement, I was really looking forward to the hybrid class and diving head first into some real-life, real-practice new literacies.  This class seemed especially exciting to me because I would have so much cool “been-there-done-that” experience to share in my Literacy and Learning as a Social Practice class.

However, I can confidently say hybrid learning is not all I thought it would be cracked up to be.  I’d like to think it’s because of how it was rolled out or something along those lines but I have a fear that its a much more universal challenge than that.  Now that it’s been a full month since starting my placement I can see that the students in the General Chemistry classes probably have an equal level of understanding to those in the Regents class, despite covering a very similar amount of material and being noticeably different caliber students.

My placement is technically an international high school so we do have a larger number than usual of English Language Learners that, because of their lower English proficiency, also have a lower reading level compared to their peers.  Take into account that their peers are also at a lower than what is expected reading level and a majority of the Regents class aren’t at the reading level they should be in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.  This fact alone, I think, is the biggest contributor to why hybrid learning isn’t going as planned.  Because almost all of the content is taught online, it’s required that the students read all of the material to learn the new concepts.  There are, of course, videos and activities to supplement the reading but because most of the class are lower-than-grade-level readers and they are expected to read, not only high level English vocabulary but also brand new science vocabulary, in order to learn the content it’s becoming clear why they’re learning slower than their peers in General Chemistry who are receiving significantly more direct instruction.

What types of activities could we include to help boost student understanding without taking away from the current setup of content online and lab/group work in class? How do I go about implementing these small changes without potentially offending my CT, who treats this project as her baby? What positives of this experience am I overlooking because I’m so focused on the negative?  Is it possible that this is temporary and it’s really only a long learning curve and I’m over-reacting? Why do I have so many questions? Help.

Off to a rocky STARt…

Well let me just start this post off with another “WOW.”  This week was absolutely insane, crazy, ridiculous, and jarring all wrapped up into two jam packed homework weekend days and five demanding weekdays.  But I have a feeling that this is going to become pretty normal for the next year.

Let’s start with the highs of the week,

  • Today I got to shadow a student at my placement who barely speaks in class and who often seems slightly off task, watching videos or listening to music from his Chromebook at inappropriate times.  However, after three periods of following him around, and him realizing that he actually was going to have to eat lunch with me we started talking about our schools and sports and my placement.  It felt really good to break through to a student who seems disengaged on the surface but actually turned out to be an incredible student and just quiet.  I’m hoping that today’s experience will spill over into future classes and he’ll be more open to contributing in class and helping his classmates when he can.
  • Earlier this week I got one of my first few chances to unleash my creativity while making my STARS notebooks which is something I have really been missing lately.  On a downside I definitely over extended myself as far as cut outs and tape ins go and was thus left in a photo finish situation for Wednesday.  Here’s to hoping I can get the best of both worlds from now on.
  • I started my online Spanish course this week and realized I remember a lot more than I thought, so for now at least it’s not an insane addition to my work load which is good.  Although this semester is going to be crazier because of it, it’ll be nice to get it dealt with so it’s not hanging over my head for the rest of the program.
  • Last night I had the most perfect 8-year-old’s dinner ever.  A box of Kraft Spongebob Squarepants shaped macaroni and cheese with two Hebrew National hot dogs cut up and mixed in with a side of Cherry seltzer water and Bravo TV.  This was good for two major reasons. One, I haven’t cooked a real dinner at home since my mom visited me two weeks ago and although it was a meal for someone less than half my age it was exactly what I needed.  Second, I could feel my beloved TV feeling lonely with how busy I’ve been, and its frustrations in becoming a glorified radio since all I use it for is my XM music in the morning. ….and yes, I did just personify my television.

Now for my low,

  • My biggest low of the week is how my STARS team has been going.  Day one, I thought at the time, was rough.  My team barely talked and essentially refused to use their lab notebooks (that I spent so much time and love making).  However, they did make an awesome human model of a titration which I got filmed twice, once on GoPro and second on an iPad.  I found the titration idea online and used some colored hats to demonstrate what is happening at a molecular level during a titration.  This was especially rewarding because my team is more than half seventh graders.  So this is the first year they’re experiencing science and yet they’re picking up chemistry concepts that most of them won’t get to until eleventh grade or so.  This is sounding a lot like a high so time for me to get real with all of you.  Day two in STARS was my actual nightmare, I think, for lack of a better analogy.  I lost my two leading STARS to other commitments and, in their place, gained SEVEN new people, two of which were boys which brought my count to the day to four boys and seven girls.  I thought this might prompt some more conversation … and boy, was I underestimating things.  Following crickets during my opening icebreakers that I really thought would bring us together and bring with that some laughs, some of my younger members took the reins to catch up our new members.  Then the group revisited the human model in different roles and did it just as well.  Then, just as I started my main demo for the day, showing the equipment for titrations and some basic, foundational concepts for my investigation the mass chaos ensued.  I had kids throwing pens at each other, cursing each other out, grabbing each other in inappropriate places, and chasing each other around my room.  Then, just when I thought I got them reined in and re-discussed our in’s and out’s for STARS, two boys and one girl got thisclose to a fistfight. Right in front of me.  With one of my younger members pacing the back of the room with his hands over his ears.  It was heartbreaking and terrifying and disturbing and eyeopening to see the conflict first hand and how severely it affected my other STARS.  My team never really came back together after that and it was fairly evident during whole group.  I did make a solid effort in employing some of my CT’s classroom management techniques to get my STARS back on task after the “scuffle” but they didn’t seem to have any affect on them. I’ve been wondering if this is because of the insanely different school atmospheres between the schools and if it’s reasonable for me to expect these classroom management tools to work in other, more typical schools. This is because of how exceptional my placement is in comparison to other schools and the students that attend those schools.

I’m looking forward to hitting the reset button this weekend after DASA, lunch with Jill’s family, dinner with some friends, and hopefully dinner with my relatives.  I think after yesterday I really need it, more than I thought I would following one especially trying STARS experience.  It can, hopefully, only go up from here.

It’s only just the beginning

Wow. Mostly just wow. I feel like the two weeks it has been since I got back from break, but mostly just this past week, have lasted for an entire year.  And I mean that from a variety of emotions; exhaustion, stress, happiness, excitement, sad, pride, accomplishment, and …. whatever the word is for laughter.

First of my placement so far has been incredible.  The kids are incredibly receptive to having both Jill and I constantly looking over their shoulders and offering our help when they need it.  It is going to take some time still to get used to saying “Hi, I’m Miss. Weber” but I think the generic “Miss” that Jill and I get called 90% of the time is a good transition for me.  One of the first few days I was there I, and my CT, was told a horrific story pertaining to the background of one of our students who, according to this other teacher, had severe behavior issues in class.  Despite this bone chilling story, she is upbeat and continually on-task.  I contribute this, for the most part, to be a product of my CT’s way of setting up her room and its management as well as how she has already connected with the students.  The students know what is expected of them and already have a good background of where my CT is coming from and what she has been through.  It is these relationships that, I think, have kept the classes managed so well.  And this isn’t just the norm at my school, some other classrooms are so loud you can hear them down the hallway and around the corner.

What has been my biggest source of stress so far, despite being only 9 days into school, has been STARS.  There is just so much to do in so little time, on top of my already overflowing schedule, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t release a few hundred stress tears as of late.

Recruitment was a whirlwind.  The day was really eye-opening beyond my demos.  Being in six different science classes, in a school on the other side of the urban spectrum from my placement, was like being in a different world.  I saw some great classrooms, similar to the one I’m in at my placement, but then I saw the placements that most people picture when the imagine urban education.  Classrooms where the teachers basically yelled for 45 minutes, where kids slept in the back, where entire lab groups just gossiped the whole period despite the teacher’s interventions, and where teachers talked down about their students to me prior to class.  It was a heartbreaking experience to be blunt.  People all around Rochester seem to look down on this school but the kids that attend it are just like any other kids, they need to be just as college and career ready as every other graduate, but a majority of them end up not graduating.  I think recruitment was the final straw for me, in my “I want to help urban youth achieve their dreams” vs. “I want a comfortable life in the suburbs” argument. Despite the urban focus in GRS, before recruitment day, I would get pangs of “the suburbs would be nice” but after getting to see a much bigger picture of what urban education really entails I realized how much more help I can do, and how much more positive influence I can have, in an urban setting.

The STARS Expo was another three hours of mayhem for me.  Despite getting there earlier than necessary my station required a lot more setup (and clean up between rotations) than I had thought and so I was (literally) running around like a headless chicken for a good portion of the expo.  I think my station went really well, although I was told to “do less” (which I did by cutting out an entire demo with dry ice and colors) I still was unable to “do even less” and ran out of time during every rotation.  Luckily one of the supporting teachers helped to clean out mortar and pestles while I immediately transitioned back to the beginning of my “script.” I put quotes around it because after the first paragraph in the first rotation it basically went out the window.  Even with how “freehand” this Expo felt for me as it was happening I got quite a good team.  A mix of 7th and 9th graders, I have 9 girls and 4 boys all of which are really excited to learn cool, colorful science and make new friends as Team Orange.  I’m a little concerned about how I’m going to teach the concept of titrations to the team, particularly the 7th graders. And I’m even more anxious about getting my team to understand the arithmetic involved in the titration workups, since they still take me some time to wrap my head around.  In all I think it’ll all be ok, despite they’re age and how quiet they were my team seems extremely excited about our investigation; and really, if the science doesn’t end up going the way I had planned its okay, because teaching is more about relationships and I have no concerns with that.