Inquiry In Action

In the past 15 months or so I have had a great opportunity to ruminate on my own motivations and beliefs surrounding reform based science education. Much of this has oriented around my own experiences as an educator in an independent school and in the science teacher education program at the Warner School. Both of these experiences have been invaluable to my development as an educator and the growth of my own practice. Today I want to highlight some the exceptional instruction I have witnessed since I began substituting in March. The instruction may not have been intentionally reform minded, but it certainly would qualify.

Most recently I was in an 8th grade technology class. The appearance of the class took the appearance of a “shop” type class with wooden workbenches, various wood and electronics tools, and stations set up for the student to work at independently and as they (the students) deemed necessary. Across the entire length of the classroom a mag-lev track had been set up. This alone shows an understanding that students need access to the “tools of the trade” that make up engineering practices. They had been trained in the appropriate use and could access them without permission and as they needed. In addition to the stations and tools, a number of other material items could be made available as they developed their projects and as new component ideas came to them.

The students were designing vehicles with the goal of having the vehicle travel the farthest distance on the track, and should their vehicle be able to, off the track as well once it ran out. The vehicles were propelled by a small electrical engine that was supplied power through the track and which spun a propeller. Their designs for these vehicles were largely up to them, and based on the varied design it was clear that the student were using their functional understanding of magnets and propulsion in order to create solutions to this challenge. Which is another component of inquiry based science instruction. The students were not following a cookie cutter, step-by-step creation of these vehicles; a task that certainly would have demonstrated the concept just as easily, but would have left so much out. These students were actively involved in the engineering design process and some students quickly became “experts” as their vehicle travelled off the track (and some even off the entire workbench). These experts then assisted other students but given the varied designs all the experts could proved were general themes or concepts they had uncovered, not quick fixes. None of this, as exceptional as it is, was my favorite part.

Students embraced the challenge, and even with me sitting right beside them recording distances, took on the design and solutions themselves. The level of ownership they demonstrated in this activity and their designs was my favorite part. The students were able to design, construct, test, identify problems, and redesign on the fly. They didn’t ask me or even the experts to fix their vehicle for them and seeing a student take their design from flipping over right at the beginning of the track at the beginning of the class to becoming experts themselves was awesome.

I share this all with you because my experience and history with inquiry based and reform minded science instruction in many was “easy”. I designed my own curricula, I was not beholden to state testing, and I had resources available. Here is an example of the same (and in many ways better) inquiry based science instruction that I was conducted, but in a Monroe County public school. One that is beholden to state testing, one that might have limited resources, and one were the instructor may be working from a curriculum they received. Kudos to this instructor, and more importantly kudos to these students.

The Importance of Scientific Literacy: Reflecting on Our Conference

This post is a bit more academic than I have written in the past, but I wanted to be able to include some of the influences that I have had during my coursework on innovative science education, and in particular the importance of including literacy in science education. First a little background about the conference that the cohort put on. This conference oriented around a transition in how scientific literacy is defined by educators through a professional learning conference focused on this shift within the context of the new New York state science standards. We provided professional educators with to opportunity to experience this new definition of science literacy through direct instruction and learning experiences supportive of our new definition. The primary mode through which this occurred was the professional learning conference conducted on April 24th. This was a two hour professional development for pre- and in-service science educators. The event began with a keynote presentation of our new definition for science literacy, given by 4 members of the GRS 2017 Cohort. The presenters made the argument that this new definition was needed within the context of social justice and the shifting role that science is playing in our society. Check out the website we made for the conference here.

As we attempted to shift the definition of what qualifies as a scientifically literate person towards our more expansive, inclusive, and student-as-agent definition I was able to reflect on a number of the influences that critical literacy has had on my own thoughts and values related to science education. Coiro (2008) reminds us that what we are preparing students for now, in our technologically advanced society, is not longer dependent on fluency within a single static media format. What students need to develop is the, “ Larger mindset and the ability to continuously adapt to the new literacies required by the new technologies that rapidly and continuously spread…” (Coiro, 2008). In a disciplinary specific literacy, science for instance, this means we are no longer providing students with information, but rather providing them with the skill set and opportunity to acquire and synthesize new information (experiment, collect data). Students construct understandings using these skills (argue claims, apply conceptual models of phenomena to new phenomena). How then do we create these opportunities for students that our new definition of scientific literacy calls for?

Gee (2015) and Moje (2008) had a great influence on my own thoughts regarding how to extend effective critical literacy education to students. I was surprised at Gee’s assertion that the best forms of education, that are immersive, sandboxed, exciting, and constructivist are found in games (2015). After some consideration, I totally agree. When we look at the types of learning experiences that we want our students to engage in; to become a part of the scientific workbench community; to con-construction language and knowledge being used; to act as scientists using scientific practices -what we are doing is creating a “game like” simulation for the students to take part in. Moje (2008) emphasizes then that we can effectively create these simulated environments for students through the use of multiple forms of representation of content and ideas to create a more “real to life” experience for the student. When we consider the types of work and career paths that current students will be experiencing in the future what our concern becomes or should be is the appropriate preparation of our students for those paths. Reminded by Coiro (2008) of how quickly technology is changing our world, it becomes irrelevant to have students be able to memorize fact and be able to take tests. What we need to prepare them for is a world that changes drastically and rapidly day to day. Moje (2008) and Gee (2015) demonstrate some ways we can mimic these experiences.

So what might one of these experiences look like? What I came to realize throughout the course was how much of what is called for by researchers like Moje, Gee, and Coiro is provided for and created within classrooms and experiences truly influenced and motivated by social constructivism. What I am immediately reminded of is my experience with Project-Based Learning.  PBL can be most simply defined as  a model of education that orients student learning around a project or complex problem (Thomas, 2000). Foundational features for a PBL are: projects are complex tasks, based on challenging questions or problems; students are involved in the design, problem-solving, decision making, and investigative activities; students are given the opportunity to work autonomously over extended periods; project culminate in realistic products and presentations (Thomas, 2000). Upon this base a number of other experiences and learning opportunities can also be incorporated. In effective PBL students gain knowledge and skills through a wide variety of activities and within varying domains of knowledge (Tamim, 2013). In such a learner focused environment, students display a great deal of agency in the direction of their education. By taking part in the planning of, design of, and implementation of solutions to the various project they work on student engagement is an inherent part of the PBL process. Consider the Buck Institute’s “Essential Design Elements for Gold Standard PBL”(What is PBL, 2016). Three of these elements speak directly to increasing levels of student engagement, namely: Sustained Inquiry, Authenticity, and Student Voice and Choice (What is PBL, 2016).

PBL creates the immersion, authenticity, and sandboxed atmosphere called for by Gee (2015). Integrates the multimodality emphasized by Moje (2008), and relies on authenticity and the interaction between adaptation and larger mindset that Coiro (2014) describes. When students are working on “real” problems, especially with a local context or product (Comber & Nixon, 2014), or with “real” tools and processes this authenticity creates a motivating environment in which students have a role within the actual world outside of the classroom. When students wonder why they are learning something or investigating a certain technique it has a direct relationship to the world around them. Moving forward in my own practice I will continue to integrate PBL further into my own pedagogical practice as  mode through which to engage students in critical literacy and disciplinary specific literacy.

References

Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D.J. (2008). Central issues in new literacies and  new literacies research. In J. Coiro, M. Knobel, C. Lankshear, & D.J. Leu (Eds.)  Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 1-21). New York, NY: Routledg.

Comber, B. & Nixon, H. (2014). Critical literacy across the curriculum: Learning to read,question, and rewrite designs. Chapter 7 in J. Z. Pandya & J. Avila (Eds.), Moving critical literacies forward: A new look at praxis across contexts. (pp. 83-97). New York:Routledge.

Gee, J. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling, pp. 21-54.  New York: Routledge. Chapters 3 &4.

Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A call for change. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96-107.

Tamim, S. R., & Grant, M. M. (2013). Definitions and Uses: Case Study of Teachers Implementing Project-based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based  Learning, 7(2). doi:10.7771/1541-5015.1323.

Thomas, J. W. (n.d.). A Review of Research on Project Based Learning (Rep.).

What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from http://bie.org/about/what_pbl.

E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth

I would like to someday say I have read most of Edward O. Wilson’s works, I have only read a handful so far. He is not only incredibly prolific as a scientist and author, but also a truly inspiring component of my belief system and what I consider to be the necessary characteristics of a successful scientist. His synthesis of social science and biology, and integration of island biogeography into many of his works aligns directly with my own practice as a student of Physical Geography with a heavy emphasis on Human Geography during my undergraduate work. Wilson’s ideas on secular humanism and the idea of a provisional deist have generated a pathway that allows me to integrate a spiritual practice into my somewhat uneven reliance on humanist scientific worldview. I think it goes without saying, but I am a big fan of E.O.’s.

In Half-Earth, Edward O. Wilson discusses the need for humanity to set aside half of the earth’s terrestrial and marine territory as as a natural preserve. He integrates to major concepts into this thesis: Island Biogeography and Patch Dynamics, and an understanding of Biodiversity through Natural History. The book begins through a discussion of biodiversity through a natural history perspective. The richness of species, and how little we have actually categorized and documented as well as the current and future impacts of the extinction event scientists are documenting currently, are discussed. E.O. calls our current epoch not the Anthropocene, but rather the Eremozoic, or Age of Loneliness.  He provides evidence for these claims, and provides examples of the tenuous existence that many species, genera, and even whole families have for existence.

Wilson moves on from this explanation of biodiversity and the role humans are playing in its planet wide collapse to his suggested solution. The idea of a half-earth preserve arises from our understanding of insular biogeography and patch dynamics in ecology. Scientists can predict the biodiversity of habitat “islands” (whether actual islands or islands of natural habitat in a constructed environment) based on the size of the habitat space and its distance from other regions of habitat. Based on this understanding Wilson states that in order to maintain the current state of biodiversity on our planet, we must set half the planet aside for nature.

As a classroom tool, these concepts integrate directly into the Living Environment curriculum as well as any study into Environmental Science. Especially important is Wilson’s succinct and clear explanation of the impact humanity is having on biodiversity and how scientists actually determine species richness hypothesis for an unknown number of species. Wilson’s compelling argument for not only the setting aside of habitat, but large tracts of contiguous and connected habitat, will also be beneficial. I can imagine students reading segments of the work, or the entire book being used as a “textbook” for an environmental science class. I would definitely recommend this piece for anyone interested in natural history or environmental science. It reads often like other natural histories, so a preference for these types of works would benefit the reader.

What a science classroom can look like

I have been asked before to share some of my experiences from working at Barrie Prep in Silver Spring, Maryland. As I have mentioned before I taught for four years there, prior to returning to Rochester to attend Warner. My time at Barrie exposed me to many of the more progressive and reform based science practices that I have been learning the theory behind; in particular constructivist education practices. My first year at Barrie we began to integrate Project Based Learning using the Buck Institute for Education model for PBL, which was really perfect timing for me as a first time teacher. I was exposed fundamentally to practices that integrate the co-construction of knowledge and meaning, interdisciplinary student and faculty work, backwards design, and the idea that school extends beyond the walls of the classroom, and even beyond the boundaries of our campus. I wanted to share with you what this can look like in a science classroom.

This is some of the 6th grade student work that was presented at our first annual Barrie STEAM Fair. These poster were the result of an integrated Humanities (ELA/Social Studies combined) and Science unit which incorporated the Industrialization unit and focuses on the process of design, how inventions increase efficiency of processes, and the societal and environmental impacts of historic inventions. The major science integration was through the engineering and design process. After learning about historical inventions as models, students embarked on their own design process. With group and individual components, students brainstormed every-day problems/needs and inventive solutions. The class voted on a few to pursue to develop and 3D print. Students learned to use Tinkercad 3D drawing software, the copyright and patent processes, and how to effectively describe and pitch their ideas orally and in writing. Finally they evaluated what the real-life contemporary impacts of their inventions could be. Below are some examples to the work that students submitted to the STEAM Fair. Click on the image to see a larger version.

This unit was a lot of fun for everyone, students and faculty included but it also took a great deal of time. Students were able to work through the engineering cycle and the design process, while utilizing new and cutting edge technology. It was time well spent, but we did not have the pressure of standardized testing approaching or curriculum standards that had to be met. These students became scientists and engineers, which I think was far more valuable.

What I Hope For…

As the new New York State science standards begin to be rolled out this summer and into the next school year there are a few things that I hope for as it happens. Before I begin though, I should let you know a little more about how I see effective science instruction happening.

It is my belief that knowledge is active and is transmitted best through the continuity and interaction of direct experience. This is a belief that influences daily my mission and philosophy surrounding my role as science teacher; a role that has allowed me to fulfill a fundamental responsibility that all teachers share: to encourage the mastery of critical inquiry and a lifelong inquiry into the nature of our world and the culture around us. 

Direct experience and active participation are the most effective modes through which knowledge can be shared and are inherent in gaining mastery in science. I am a proponent of experiential education, learning through experimentation and allowing students the time to find evidence which supports the lessons they are being given. Extra time spent in the field, around a lab table or hovering over a microscope can never be considered time wasted. It is these experiences that engage and encourage students to pursue the sciences. Students rarely recall the results of an exam or memorizing the locations of muscles but how many remember looking down on the open abdomen of a fetal pig, regardless of feeling squeamish or excited. These are the experiences that grow the number of scientists counted in the world, and encourage students to develop their factual understanding of a scientific field.

I want to be clear that all scientific fields have basic principles which must be understood in order to achieve what can be considered a basic scientific literacy. Remaining standards focused within the context of an experiential education allows for the balance necessary for students to find success.  It is in the learning and understanding of these basic principles and standards of scientific literacy that critical thinking and experiential learning can be emphasized.

Understanding where I come from and what I believe, one might expect that I find little room for content curricular standards in my foundational beliefs. Which is of course patently false. However, I do believe that when we lose time for inquiry to rote memorization of “facts” that standards can be harmful. What I argue for is a sense of depth in content standards rather than a sense of breadth. It is true that there are key components of science that I believe individuals should understand in order to be fully realized members of our society. I just do not think there are really that many.

Consider for a moment, The Science Students Need To Know, an article written by James Trefil and Wanda O’Brien-Trefil, in the September 2009 issue of Educational Leadership. Within the article the authors highlight the framework they have developed, what they call, “A superstructure for the edifice of science.” They go on to proclaim that, “If students have this framework in place, they will be scientifically literate.” Imagine for a moment the number of standards and facts that would go into creating such a framework, the amount that students must need to know. It must be in the hundreds. It is quite the contrary however, as it consists of only 18 key ideas, for ALL OF SCIENCE, that would create a scientifically literate member of society. These are my kind of authors.
The great ideas of science 1 The great ideas of science 2

What is key to me is the process students go through in order to develop their understanding of these key 18 ideas. It should be a process that focuses on the nature of science and science practices. It should focus on allowing students to develop their own understanding through the gathering of empirical evidence and support of claims. Students should argue, critique, and communicate. In short, they should behave like scientists. Which brings me to THE POINT. It is my hope that the new New York State standards begin to reflect this. I am optimistic as these new standards are based on the NGSS which incorporate some of these ideas explicitly. As I begin to investigate these new New York State standards I will be sure to let you know what I find.

What Can You Teach a Teacher

I documented in the last post the path that lead me to becoming a teacher. It was a bit of a winding road, but ultimately has allowed me to find a career that is very fulfilling and exciting as everyday brings new challenges and changes. If you have been following along with this blog, you will know already that I had some teaching experience at an independent school from the time I spent in Maryland. When I let people know this and that I am also in a teaching certification program, many folks respond wondering what it is the program could be teaching me (especially the student teaching portion). Well to be quite honest, I have learned quite a bit already and anticipate that trend continuing into my third semester in the program.

Something that I was able to develop while teaching in the independent school was instinct and ideas regarding how I saw science education and how learners learn science best. These, however, were just that, instincts and ideas. I had colleagues I could bounce these off of, but I was often the senior most member of my department and lacked direct critique of these ideas and instincts. I lacked a framework that could guide these instincts; a measure against which I could place new pedagogy and practices. The program I am in has thus far provided me the theory that I lacked to create this framework. I have learned a great deal regarding how learners best experience education, what learning is, and how science can be taught most effectively. I have developed now the necessary frame that can guide the instincts and beliefs I developed while teaching in Maryland.

My student teaching placement has also been one of the best experiences I have had within my limited teaching career. I am receiving daily feedback, and have the opportunity to discuss every lesson I give. This has all been invaluable. Beyond this, I have also been able to witness truly effective and innovative science education in an urban setting. My setting in Maryland was quite different from the one I am in currently (one could imagine the differences between a independent school outside D.C. and a public school in Rochester). However, what I have seen so far is that students are often just that, students. We all bring with us different abilities and experiences that will certainly inform how we interact with content, but when provided with great models and excited teachers all students are in schools for the same reason. My current student teaching placement has really opened my eyes to what a public school science education can look like, and I am excited to begin attempting to integrate more of the progressive practices that my cooperating teachers are using into my own practice.

So tell me, why do you want to teach?

I was recently at a program sponsored by Nazareth College that connected pre-service teachers with administrators from around the region. We practiced interviewing and networking, and all in all it was a great experience. During the round robin interviews, similar in style to speed dating, often the first question was, “Tell me, what made you want to become a teacher?” So, I thought I would share that story with you all.

The path that has brought me to this current belief is quite different from the path most teachers take. In fact, the path I have taken to become a teacher is unlike that of  most of my colleagues. At most points in my life it is unlikely that I would have ever said that my end goal was to become a classroom based teacher. However, when I look back on my academic and professional experiences, it is quite clear how the choices I have made and passions I have followed ultimately led me to the profession I  believe to be the most fulfilling, and exceptionally satisfying. The path I have taken to reach this point in my career mimics how I believe knowledge to be best transmitted. It is my belief that knowledge is active and is transmitted best through the interaction of direct experience. A belief that influences  my mission and philosophy surrounding my role as science teacher.

I graduated in 2008 from SUNY-Geneseo with a degree in geography, focused on biological geography, climatology, and physical geography. I came to the degree as a junior, late in my undergraduate experience after switching between studio art and biology as majors. I found my passion in the field of geography, and continue to see it as the base of all the natural and social sciences. At the time of graduation if you asked me if  I wanted to be a teacher I would have said, “Not at all.” I always believed  the argument that I made,  that I wanted to work directly in geography  as a GIS technician or environmental manager, to be true. However, looking at the choices I made in terms of employment opportunities and what I chose to pursue  it is quite clear that I truly desired another profession altogether. I really wanted to teach.

My first job after graduation was as Naturalist Intern with the N.Y.D.E.C., I lived and worked onsite at the Reinstein Woods Environmental Education Center in Depew, NY. It is here that I first encountered experiential education as a practice and first began developing my education capabilities. I lead guided hikes and snowshoe walks of the preserve, contributed to a quarterly newsletter, and helped set up and present at various Western NY Outdoor events. I also designed and constructed a new exhibit for the education center. This job allowed me direct experience educating others about the environment and natural history. During this time I also worked as a GIS intern with Monroe County, and it was with that internship in mind that I began to pursue my graduate work at Towson State University. I hoped that the geography program there would expose me to further career opportunities, which it certainly did but not in the field I was anticipating.

I found my time at Towson to be the most compelling of my educational and professional career. The program allowed me to dive deeper into my understanding of science and build on the foundation I developed in my undergraduate program. While I found the academic setting and experience invigorating, it was three employment opportunities that I  had while at Towson that led me to where I am today.

The first was as a graduate fellow with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a NSF graduate research fellowship in which I assisted in science education research with the Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.  While working as a fellow I taught a curriculum for classroom science experiments developed by the researchers at Cary and BES. I developed and led teacher professional development based on the curriculum I helped create and then pre- and post-tested students on the curriculum and experiments that the students and teachers used in the classroom. This was my first exposure to scientific analysis used in developing science education curriculum and best practices, and began to solidify my desire to pursue teaching further. It was also my first time directly being responsible for and leading in the development of products and presentations for the use of others.

The second was working with the Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, as the Environmental Education Coordinator. I worked at Parks & People for a year as a member of the Chesapeake Conservation Corp, and it was this experience that has given me the most direct development of my educational preferences and capabilities. While at Parks & People, I developed a brand new kindergarten environmental education curriculum and put it into practice with a group of students at Patterson Park Public Charter School, I also managed and trained staff for our other environmental education outreach programs, and managed and trained youth staff for our summer camp programs. My experience at Parks & People exposed me to experiential education within a classroom environment and gave me the most direct development of my ability to lead and manage others. It was this experience that led me to pursue classroom teaching as a profession, and that directly led to my current post as a science teacher, department chair, and naturalist at Barrie.

The third employment opportunity is my time spent at Barrie, first as a teaching fellow and currently as a science teacher, science department chair, and naturalist. I taught sixth grade science, eleventh grade biology, and ap environmental science. In addition to my teaching responsibilities I was also the science department chair, and the schools naturalist, assisting in developing environmental experiences for many of the communities age groups, including our elementary students, and campers from Barrie Camp. As the most senior member of a department with many new members, I was able to lean into a space that allowed me to pursue my interest in science education best practices  and entrepreneurial capacities. I have was able to lead in the generation of a parent advisory group to assist in the development of the STEAM program at Barrie, I also coordinated the first annual STEAM Fair which was held June 2014, and I have further developed my teaching and curriculum capabilities as I began to integrate NGSS into my department. 

These experience have led me to where I am now, in the master’s program at the University of Rochester to earn my teaching certifications. I have found this program to be very fulfilling so far and that it is developing in me aspects of my teaching that were missing. I am going to go into more detail regarding this in the next post so stay tuned!

Attending The STANYS Conference

This post will be a story from STANYS that lends itself to what I believe to be the most important part of a conference. The “C” session I originally registered for I was unable to get into, so when I arrived to the conference I had to choose a new session. I hemmed and hawed for a bit, unable to choose and decided to go with a Forest Ecology session, for two reasons. I had done a year long forest ecology project with my Biology students two years ago and I was curious about what this procedure would be and it was a program developed by the Carey Institute, an organization I was a research fellow for when I first moved to Maryland. I was curious if any of my old colleagues would be there. So I arrived at the session, and a man says, “Patrick Bond?”

Two years ago during the beginning of my second year as a full faculty member at Barrie I found an amazing professional development opportunity. It was a competitive fellowship program that would pay for me to participate in a marine invertebrate survey in the Sea of Cortez, Baja, with Ecology Project International (a remarkable organization by its own right). Long story short, I won the fellowship, Barrie paid for the majority of my plane ticket (convinced in part by the support of my Middle/Upper School Head), and found myself camping on a beach of Isla Espiritu Santo, just north of La Paz, Mexico.

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The view from my tent.

During this P.D. I learned about: marine communities in the Sea of Cortez, the endemic populations, unique terrestrial communities, and all about marine field research and how E.P.I. brings students into the field. It was amazing. I spent a week there with about a dozen other people that included teachers from all over the U.S., and E.P.I. staff. Flash back to the conference.

“Patrick Bond?” The man in front of me had a Carey Institute t-shirt on, was one of the session leaders, and his face was immediately one I recognized. I can remember faces pretty well, but names and how I know the person I forget. He quickly reminded me though, it was Sam the gentleman I shared a tent with during my week on Isla Espiritu Santo. Crazy.

This though, is what I find so enjoyable and important about conferences. Yes we can learn a lot from the different sessions, get inspired by workshops, and get some cool ideas from exhibitors, but developing and maintaining relationships is the most important part. These are colleagues and friends that will help us the most by being sounding boards, sources of inspiration and critique, and the folks that help us get our feet into doors when we need too. It was great to spend even a short time catching up with Sam, and sharing in the strange coincidences that led to us meeting again. It was also great to see him in a different role, since when we were in Mexico together we were both very much the students. So the big take away from STANYS for me, make new friends and keep the old.

A few photos from the p.d. with Ecology Project International

Student for a Day

I had the fortunate opportunity to follow one of my students around for an entire day and relive the high school experience. I have heard it said that the more things chance the more they seem to stay the same. I think this is for the most part the truth regarding my most recent high school experience. While the demographics have changed and certainly the pressures the students I work with now are different than those I experienced, for the most part kids are just kids. They have favorite classes, and classes they don’t like. Teachers they gripe about, and those that can do no wrong; and the one class that they love beyond everything else.

For the student I shadowed this was music, for which they drummed in the schools ensemble. I got to see this student more expressive and excited than I have all year. I also saw how their classmates celebrated the success of the group and motivated each other to take chances playing pieces they were unfamiliar with. Overall, a great experience.

Community

Generating a sense of community amongst students and faculty is an important goal as the first few days of school turn into the first few weeks. When we feel apart of something, integrated into the experience, we are forced to become active participants. A sense of community is an integral part of generating this integration. If you have read this Blog you may be realizing that I speak often and highly of the school I left in order to return to Rochester. So I want to apologize for starting to sound a bit like Phoebe but I would like to talk about my old school again.

Barrie did an incredible job of creating this sense of community immediately and significantly at the beginning of the school year. The first three days of school included overnight grade based student retreats, adventure in the form of hiking, rafting, and biking, and grade based community projects. In the past these projects have included building raised beds, building a greenhouse, developing an orienteering course, or building low-ropes elements. What made these events so great was students and faculty working together to identify community challenges and create solutions.

So why am I telling you about this? Well, to make you all jealous of those Barrie students of course. I kid, I kid. I want to use Barrie as a comparison to the great job I have seen my placement school and cooperating teacher do at generating this same sense of community under a drastically different context. Get to know you games and introductions by faculty in the classroom assist in students getting to know each other as well as getting to know their teachers. Since these can be situations that are uncomfortable for some students to be a part of it is entirely up to them the level of sharing that they want to be a part of. School wide assemblies regarding school success and progress also help students understand that they and their actions are apart of a greater community and that that community has goals that they are a part of. Barrie had resources in terms of time, space, and student number, as well as some stellar partner organizations to work with (shout out to Calleva). My placement school, without these resources, has generated just as effectively a sense of community amongst the school.

Let me know what you think. Do you think it is important to have sense of community or school wide identity in education? How has a school you have been a part of done this? Share in the comments!