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.

The Cyber Lounge: A Whole New World

This week I had my first experience in a classroom-like setting without my CT and Jill, but instead with a TA with who I am not very familiar.  Our Regents Chemistry class has officially split into two groups of about six students.  On each day one group can be found in the classroom while the other half goes down to the cyber lounge to work online.  The ‘teams,’ as Jill and I have dubbed them, alternate between classroom and cyber lounge and each of us are assigned to a single team so that they students have some continuity with teachers.  Our CT will stay in the classroom everyday and give instruction or labs to supplement the online content.

Friday was  Jill and mine first day of participating in the split class scenario.  After Jill going down with the wrong team to the cyber lounge and us having to trade locations it was left to me and the cyber lounge TA to facilitate my students’ learning while also managing the other students in the cyber lounge’s noise.  By the time I got to the cyber lounge all my students were splayed across the floor on bean bags or on the video rocker chairs.  There was another group of about six or eight students who I recognized (because my placement is a small school) but who were not in my class.  These students were on their phones (phones are not allowed at school and the administration collects them in the morning and redistributes them after the final bell rings) and watching loud music videos on their ChromeBooks.  I felt like I should have done something about them having their phones because phones are prohibited at my placement; but, I also know that the students that leave early to go to MCC for classes are allowed to get their phones back early.  So, maybe these students were leaving soon for the bus soon? However, at the end of the period they were still there so I should have said something or had the TA say something.

Following about five phone conversations, all of which lasted about ten minutes and included passing the phone among students, these students (that weren’t mine) proceeded to watch music videos riddled with inappropriate language and phrases on full volume while I gave them looks to turn it down and the TA asked them to quiet down.  Other students, with bathroom passes or other passes, kept peaking their heads in to ask about job applications or what they were doing about that night’s football game or other unrelated things.  The last disruption, that lasted to remainder of the 72 minute period, was the students decided to watch Hercules on full volume together.

Of my five students only one was pulled into this chaos.  The student that was pulled in was clearly very close friends with the other students and is one of the lower performing students in the class.  My other four students were relatively far from the chaos, with headphones in, working on the Chemistry classwork or other classwork they had prioritized higher.  (On a side note; my CT is okay with the students working on other things in class, as long as they do their Chemistry work at home.  This is because all of our content is done online, and so they don’t have to be in school to learn.)  I walked around twice to check on the students’ progress and answer any questions they had.  I was making sure they knew what lesson they should be through by Monday and that they had a classroom simulation on Monday that pertained to the lesson they should be working on now.  This seemed to work really well with the four students who were away from the chaos.  However, my one student who sucked into the chaos acknowledged me asking how she was doing, and said she was just about to start, but then never logged on. (I can check their activity through my account for the site.) One my second lap around she I told her that she is three lessons behind and needs to get going she did the “smile-nod-ignore” tactic.

At the end of the periodI gave my CT and Jill the full report of the horrendous period in the cyber lounge experience.  We decided that no other students would be allowed in the cyber lounge during our class period, and that the student who refused to work despite my prompting would be banned from the cyber lounge for the next week so that she would be more motivated to catch up, and less distracted.

Being in the room without my CT but with a TA with whom I wasn’t very familiar with, was weird.  I really struggled to find what exactly my role was and just how much power I had.  The TA, after some reflection, seemed to really care less what was going on in the cyber lounge (as long as the students weren’t hurting each other).  This fact alone makes me feel like I should have acted as though I had more power than I did.  Next week when I’m back in there, it will obviously be different because the other students won’t be there, but clearly I need to take the reigns more.  I imagine this is something that I will get better with with time but I was surprised at how much I sat back when there was another adult present in the room; especially because I don’t consider myself an adult, and because I felt as though I was in her domain and she would have more control over it than she did.  Well, at least now I know.

More things to do with all my spare time

The past two weeks in STARS I’ve been doing titrations with my team and, although on the surface it’s been going well, I feel like I didn’t facilitate the “spark” the way it was for me … and I guess that’s making me feel guilty.

Day one I wasn’t as concerned with results, I just wanted my team to enjoy the titrations and get excited about them the way I do.  When day one went super smooth and I realized I could push my STARS to titrate twice in one day, so on day two I regrouped my team and challenged them to titrate twice in the hour we had before cleanup.  This also went well and I thought that meant they enjoyed the titrations and therefore there wasn’t too much more for me to do beyond begin them thinking about their results and what they meant.

Apparently this was wrong.  Days three and four this week were much more of a challenge.  I had substantially lower attendance than I ever did earlier on in STARS; however, the STARS that I did have in attendance were my regulars, and understand what I expect of them.  Some of my older STARS have stopped coming, or only come sporadically because of other commitments, and I seem to have a few younger STARS that are deciding to come more frequently. Of my regulars, I have two girls who have almost entirely disengaged from the titrations, my beloved titrations. Granted, yes, the preparations for the food samples are tough and this past week they were asked to work with peaches and kiwis (two of the tougher samples to workup). However, these two girls seem to have no recollection of the process from the week before, or on day four the day before.  This is all on top of my three most committed STARS who love, love, love my titrations and whose eyes light up each time I tell them, yes, we’re doing more titrations today.

Now that there is only one day left of data collection I’m struggling with what I’m going to do about engaging my entire team.  I mean, if color changing titrations aren’t an activity that can take hold of everyone’s interests and keep their interests than what will? Certainly the tedious titration workups, which I already plan to pare down considerably, won’t hold their interests and get them excited about our results, especially my two girls who are already disengaged.  I have two experts lined up to come talk to our team, which is going to force me to lose some time for workups, but will that be worthwhile time for my incredibly quiet team? On the topic of how quiet they are, how can I prompt them to talk more, both for when our experts come in and for our Friends and Family dinner on Wednesday? I definitely don’t want to be taking the lead at either of those events so that my team can start to take ownership for the science they have created and engaged in in just four quick weeks.  That is the whole aim of this right? For our STARS to own what they’ve done and really show it off to a variety of audiences? I have a plan, that a week or two ago I was very comfortable with; however, I’m not so sure things are going to go as planned? My main concern is how quiet my team is for when our expert comes in and how I’m going to engage everyone (especially my two disengaged STARS) following the data collection phase of our experiment. I guess I need some more time to think about it all …. now if only I actually had that spare time to put towards perfecting my STARS plan….

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.

These are my reflections…

Camp was an incredible learning experience for me. It pushed me to really break out of my shell and step out of my comfort zone like nothing before it has. It definitely pushed me to the brink of my sanity but in the end it was one thousand percent worth it. I feel I was able to really break through to several campers over the course of only five days. I felt as though I really got to know them, like I would have if I were their teacher for a month, or even more! This relationship building, that my team wasn’t particularly focused on while writing our goals and objectives, seemed to be the missing link for our team’s success. By knowing what got a particular camper excited to work or what activities they thrived in I felt more well prepared in lesson planning to include those situations in advance, while also having their biggest dislikes in mind to stay away from while working.

Our team didn’t utilize the technology on the iPad to its fullest extent. While in small groups there was some camera use we unfortunately didn’t get to use the iPad much beyond that. However, we did use SmartBoards with our computers on several days while at the University of Rochester to make maps, graphs, and list ideas. This really got some of our campers excited because it was a step above just writing on the whiteboards, which was also one of their favorite activities. I, personally, felt I got to use some unique technology, specifically on day five when i got to fully explore the technology in the GRS classroom by using the televisions and stereoscopes combined to project some images of a crushed, dead spider we had collected in one of our team’s collected water samples. I think this got some of the campers, in our group and others, excited about the water again and allowed me to make a good tie back to the fact that everything that we were examining came from a beach that many of us have spent time at. Changing settings did make it a little difficult to keep our investigation grounded in the “where” but the stereoscopes helped to strengthen that tie, especially given that the next day we all were involved in planning for our presentations.

All in all, I think I did a good job having my “teacher voice” develop into a friendly, yet leading voice. I also think I did well using all available spaces and technology in my lesson planning. I do think I could have worked on being more involved in the days that I was not leading, I struggled knowing the whole plan and agenda because of differences in work styles within my group. While this sounds like strictly a complaint I realize that this scenario is probably going to happen in the future and it was a great test of my patience and perseverance during such a stressful time; between classes, camp, lesson planning, eating, sleeping, and basic hygiene my schedule was definitely over-packed. Camp definitely shed light on some new aspects of my identity which has made me much more confident in a teaching setting.

This class had absolutely broadened my horizons with regards to technology. This is particularly surprising to me because I like to think of myself as relatively tech-savy. Between the variety of data collection tools, microscopes that hook up to TVs for easier viewing, how to use a SmartBoard to its full abilities, and a plethora of new iPad apps I feel like my head is going to explode with new information. While we did spend so much time learning new technologies and discussing them I still find myself relatively hesitant with some areas of the technology. For one thing, technology is moving SO fast these days and, while we did have a critical commentary discussion on this, I do fear the day where I can no longer keep up for one reason or another. Next, with technology comes many more opportunities for this going not according to plan. Although we did get in the habit of planning for plan a, b, c, and d if necessary it’s intimidating to have to always have so many backup plans and be able to trouble shoot something on the spot, during a lesson even. Anyone who has done any sort of adventure or party with me knows I’m a huge planner, but planning for x, y, AND z to go wrong is hard … and stressful. Ignorance really is bliss for some things. My last main concern with technology is where the line exists between “Let’s try to build this technology into a lesson to help with X” and “I’m using this technology just because it’s cool.” I find that while I try to be innovative in my lesson planning sometime I find myself going overboard with the technology which actually takes away from the main goals of a lesson.

I guess what I’m trying to say is with regards to technology is:

  • It’s hard work to stay on top
  • If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters. Just breathe.
  • Less isn’t necessarily more, but more also isn’t more

Until next time…. (and next Usher reference #classicthrowbackz)

Camp Age Bar Graph

Camp Day 6 – Presentations

Day Six? Check. First real teaching experience? Check. Best night of sleep I’ve had in a while? Check.  This week was absolutely the top three most stressful, exciting, rewarding, and challenging experiences of my life … all balled up into a single event.  Despite how little sleep and high stress I lived through I’m so glad I had the chance to experience it all.

Now for specifically Day 6, because I want to save some stuff for my final reflections.  Today was presentations.  Although we did set up for our campers and prepared most of our materials we really did leave so much of the actual presenting up to our campers’ decisions and preferences.  We had some attendance problems (again) today which threw an early wrench into the equation but the four campers we did have show up did exceptionally well given the circumstances.  Some roles were changed and some others were added to but the campers picked up the appropriate notecards and made each section of the presentation their own.    It was really exhilarating to see our campers, who (just a week ago) were soaked to the bone and asking if squirrels could swim, and who now were presenting the different types of bacteria and how the chemicals in runoff can change the health of Lake Ontario, The Genesee River, and the wildlife that lives in those bodies of water.

The presentations, despite our team’s minimal prep work, went as close to flawless as I could have hoped for.  All campers were engaged, presented their data in full, clear voices, and fielded questions from the Level 1 and 2’s with such ease and skill and it really made the past week’s struggles SO worth it.  Hearing the campers define turbidity and pH was mindblowingly gratifying, as was seeing one of our quiet campers thoroughly explain safety and its importance while handling bacteria.

Overall, I’d give today an 11 out of 10.  That being said, there were a few things that could have gone better.  The biggest, and most prominent of these was our under utilization and poor placement of our trifold board.  It eventually got shoved to one edge of the table to make room for the equipment (which turned out to be the more engaging of our presentation elements) and once our board presenter became a model for the equipment the trifold board became obsolete.  However, our campers seemed to pick up on this because they each added some information from the board into their own portions of the presentation which did end up making up for it.  Besides that, we had one camper that was less engaged and quiet than the others but I suspect that was because he was the only boy present in our group today.  Otherwise, everyone spoke loudly, clearly, answered questions well, and best of all we got through our entire presentation in each round of rotations with time for one or two questions.  I have trouble with that in my own presentations that I spend hours rehearsing, and there goes my campers nailing the presentation on their first formal attempt.  It was all just so rewarding; I can’t wait to feel this feeling again in school!