Some of you may have heard me mention that I was going to be a portfolio reviewer for School Without Walls (SWW) located in the Rochester City School District. My fellow cohort members may also already now some of the background that follows, but I wanted to paint the picture of what it was like to be a portfolio reviewer for those less familiar. SWW differs dramatically from other urban schools in its nontraditional approach to learning and subsequent novel curriculum design. Students learn from and contribute to the community. While at SWW, all students are required to complete projects that use community resources, contribute 2 hours of community service per week and complete a major senior project for graduation on a topic of their choosing. The projects and senior portfolio, all of which are presented to a committee consisting of teachers, professionals, and community members, replace exams as final assessments. SWW has been around for over 30 years, has sent over ~85% of its graduates to college, and has the highest attendance rate in the district. Based on this, I give two enthusiastic thumbs up to the community-based learning approach and use of authentic forms of assessment.
So maybe I’m still running on adrenaline from today’s presentations and interviews with the SWW students, but I was genuinely impressed with the thought, effort, and time dedicated to the year-end projects. I sat in as the ‘community expert’ (who would have thought…an expert who still says ‘dude’) on a panel with a SWW science teacher and an adult member of the neighborhood. All three committee members were given a rubric and remark sheet. The students I spoke with were 10th and 11th graders presenting experimental findings ranging from bacterial level comparisons between organic and conventional produce to the effect of light on Hydra. In addition to a formal report write-up and presentation, students endured rounds of questioning from the committee members. I was impressed with the students’ poise and thoughtful responses. Some students had mathematical errors and /or misrepresentations of their data; however, by the end of our 45 minute time together, they understood what changes needed to be made in order to validate their findings.
At SWW, students are graded as pass / fail using feedback from each of the committee members. Regardless of the rating, students were required to make project modifications based on committee suggestions and re-submit their work. For those students who didn’t pass, in addition to re-submitting, they also had the opportunity to present again. Now this kind of assessment practice truly reflects professional practices! As scientists, we do collaborate, communicate our findings, get feedback, make modifications, and if need be, start over. These students are truly graduating with real-world experiences and tangible community contributions.
I could go on and on about this experience, but I have to get back to completing my last university research project due tomorrow. Did I mention it’s the last one?!!!
After a few tumultuous weeks, my mind feels more at peace despite the inevitable business that envelopes each of our daily lives. Finishing up my last class, slowly but surely working on my comprehensive portfolio, applying for teaching positions, undergoing interviews, looking forward to summer professional development activities and family festivities have all kept me focused and excited about where I’m at and what’s to come. With less time spent in graduate classes, I’ve been able to sit outside at my favorite city spots, take in the people and weather, and dive into work while not depriving myself of all the summer happiness. I’ve even been able to allocate more time to explore new forums, try out new databases, and participate in community events. Here are a couple examples of these that have me all pumped up at the moment:
A powerful prezi:
Prezi is an interactive, publically accessible database that is limitness in applications for creating storylines, lessons, brainstorming, and innovative presentations . I first heard of this site from a fellow KSTF biology cohort member, but didn’t have a chance to try it out until now. All prezis are showcased and can help spark ideas and inspire regardless of one’s background. I’m currently working on my own prezi, so please stay tuned
In addition to technological endeavors, I’m particularly excited to be a portfolio reviewer for graduating seniors at the SWW at the end of the month. Seeing the work, talent and aspirations of our city students, in addition to being part of educational reform that is making worthwhile, meaningful advances on actual practices is what it’s all about. I’m grateful to be a part of this and have tangible evidence that we are making momentous strides toward building student confidence, pride, and contributions as integral members of the community. I’ll keep you posted on these experiences!
As I’m sitting here with my Buffalo Sabre’s gear on anticipating our first playoff game tonight against the Boston Bruins, I can’t help but come up with analogies comparing teaching to playing hockey. Whether it is because of the mini-power surges derived from uncovering new connections or because of the mini-power surges I get from watching hockey, it seems inevitable that my mind was going to wander here. First off, perspectives on teaching opportunities in Western New York are much like the media coverage pre-game. There are so many different opinions as to what’s available, what you should be doing, how you should be doing it, and what your chances are. In the end, you can’t let varying messages interfere with your mindset to kiss that Stanley Cup, or in my case, be at the door, greeting my students as they enter their science classroom in September.
Then there is the comparison of a teacher in the classroom to a hockey player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One can’t succeed simply by knowing the drills and rules. Being great requires an intense dedication of time, effort and brain power. While you do have to know the game plan (content knowledge), you have to understand how to effectively implement each strategy and tactic. You need to plan and prepare each play of the game, each transition in the lesson. While it is impossible to predict exact scenarios and all the contributing factors, it is possible to anticipate ways in which you’re going to be flexible and be able to implement impromptu modifications for the better of the team’s objective to win (collaborative construction and ownership of knowledge and understanding). You have to be open to change, challenge yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally and have foresight into the impact of every set-up, interaction, and assumption that can affect your team (how will this contribute to establishing a community of learners in which all insights are respected). Of course, as with rookie hockey players, beginning teachers have an immense amount of enthusiasm and vigor to contribute. However, neither can lose sight of how critical time and experience are to greatness. Until we have a few years behind us, the feedback and advice from established colleagues can help to positively channel our energy to enhance our practice and effectively generate enduring understandings.
It is my hopes tonight that the Sabres are confident in their talent, have the mindset that they will hold that Stanley Cup and are thoughtful about their tactics and actions. As my list lengthens each day for how my classroom will look, starting from the first day of school, I too continue on my journey.
How could a profession that takes your complete self, energy, mind, and heart also be a profession that you have to take a step back and distance yourself from in order to preserve your self-worth? A year ago this question would have put me in a thinking coma, but over the last couple months, this reality has become so clear and relevant. In regards to your students, 99% of the time their behavior has nothing to do with something you did or said. Being an overly sensitive person, I thought that if a student was acting out, withdrawn, or defiant it was a direct reflection on my inept teaching and management skills. However, as I began to know each student and develop relationships, I understood that their behavior mirrored the struggles, dilemmas, and pressures they faced inside and outside of the school. Reading students and recognizing when they need to talk or take a moment to compose themselves are essential skills that let the students know you genuinely care about their well-being. Before, I took every word, every action stemming from my teaching and every resistance as something I prompted. It’s crazy when I reflect back and realize how “me-centered” I was when I analyzed my experiences in the classroom. It took me until recently to take my emotions, pride and assumptions out of the picture and instead look at my experiences and past issues from as many perspectives and angles as I can gather.
In addition, I understand now that to be a great teacher takes time and experience. I will always be learning, growing, and tripping over a few stumbling blocks along the way, but I continue to make forward progress. Many times I took my lesson arrows as punches to my capability and confidence as a teacher. However, when I take a step back from the personal connection to my ego, I use the plusses as building blocks to build up my framework and the arrows as the nails I need to connect my strengths and support my growth. For those seldom times when I’ve encountered negativity and doubt, I’ve learned not to internalize every single comment or opinion that comes my way. I can process them, reflect on positive ways for them to inform my teaching, and respect that there are many perspectives and opinions that I will encounter my entire life.
To sum it up, I have to put life into as many perspectives as I can possibly find. This requires me to remove myself from the personal attachment to a situation and look at it from as many angles as possible. The value in this extends beyond the classroom and into every aspect of my daily life. For instance, just today I was talking with my mom and feeling slightly frustrated about the heavy tone of our recent conversations due to my grandma’s health. After I got off the phone, thought about it and put my personal emotions of the situation aside, I was left to consider my mom’s stance. That’s when the idea struck to give her a weekend to look forward to next month where she can relax with my brother and baby nephew in Atlanta while I hold down the home front. Yet another piece of evidence that creative, fitting ideas and solutions that benefit everyone truly originate when I think outside of myself!
On one hand, it seems like just yesterday that we were sporting some trendy hip waders and walking through the goopy layers and unidentified objects that stretched over parts of Lake Ontario. On the other hand, a lifetime of experiences, and the accompanying growing pains, has been intensely packed in over the stretch of the last year. Another milestone along my teaching journey was reached on Thursday: the final day of student teaching. In reflection, the amount of growth both professionally and personally extends beyond my comprehension. I’ve learned that I can juggle more than I thought and that I can only be as good to others as I am to myself. When I was overly tired, worn out or visibly stressed, it was a struggle to ignite the students’ enthusiasm and squash minor frustrations with myself and lesson implementation. Even though I was present in body, I wasn’t always as mentally aware and engaged with students, peers and colleagues as I wanted to be. Personal health and needs have to take priority in order for one to give fully and completely of themselves.
I’ve also taken in and utilized some extremely helpful advice and feedback from mentors during this year. In particular, I have a list that lengthens everyday with strategies that I’ve successfully implemented, those that have been a flop, and those that I’ve observed and coincide with my personal vision of teaching. It’s actually more than a list to me, but a reminder that I’m always going to be learning, growing, and motivated to incorporate innovative strategies in my classroom. It has been said that I have well-designed, engaging lessons which is a great start on the path to become a successful teacher. However, planning and content knowledge alone cannot suffice for student learning. I will always be striving for new ways to connect to students, to spark their curiosities, and to guide them in their learning. I will be ready to meet my students come September and establish the routines, guidelines, and expectations essential to creating a classroom environment built on stability, respect, and genuine care for each and every student’s best interests. Even though my future teaching position is not set at this time, I have to admit that I’m already feeling the excitement and coupled anxiousness for that most important first day of school!
So I’m in the thick of one of the 3 mandatory KSTF fellowship meetings that I attend each year. I thought I’d fill you guys in on the happenings so far today since it relates to all of us.
Reflection 1st Day
Reconnecting with the 2009 KSTF fellows again has been amazingly fulfilling already, and we are only in the first few hours! Catching up where everyone is at in their lives and careers , exchanging insights and strategies, and analyzing practices and student learning is not only beneficial, but an energy boost that couldn’t have come at a better time.
Our biology cohort is unique in that we all come from different points and places, have very creative ways of processing, and contribute an array of advice , feedback, and suggestions to each other. It is refreshing to leave the majority of stressors and negativities at the hotel entrance and immerse yourself in enthusiasm and unconditional support for a couple days.
The highlighting activity of the morning for me was when we used a Socrates seminar to discuss the Gilbert and Coomes article. While reading this piece, I was prompted to think about the difference between teaching and knowing, and how, as teachers, we need to embrace and learn from the students’ different ways of thinking and processing. This interest combined with a Socrates seminar format for discussion (novel to me), made the activity burst with dynamic conversation. I’m always searching for new ways to make my toolbox grow, so learning new techniques that can be adapted for classroom use are enthusiastically welcomed.
It’s pretty cool when you can still have fun and enjoy yourself in the midst of being completely tired and drained. That’s exactly what happened this afternoon during our discussion of essential questions. These are my top three favorites we came up after over 3 hours of work and contemplation:
1) Do humans have a carrying capacity?
2) Why haven’t cockroaches taken over the world?
3) How are deer populations like the Gold Rush?
My passion, enjoyment, and zest for science is more than refreshed! While this weekend away can be stressful in regards to responsibilities that brew at home, I’m once again convinced that my time could never be spent in a better way.
Over the last week, I’ve fast forwarded my thinking to a couple years ahead when students are so pumped up about my lessons that they actually ask to come in on Saturdays. Ok, perhaps that’s just some daydreaming, but I have been considering thinking about how much I’d like to coach after my first year teaching. I’ve actually only considered the positives and benefits, which in the case of coaching would be acting as a mentor, extending support and guidance outside of the classroom, and investing your time and energy to enhance the lives of teenagers. Coaching establishes connections and bonds between individuals and lends insight into who you are as an actual human being and who teenagers are as developing adults. These worthy causes are more than motivating for me to dedicate some of my efforts to coaching a cross country team.
After thinking more, I speculated about the associated stressors that can stem from coaching. Being a teacher, a lack of time is inherently going to be a major struggle. Between lesson planning, grading, after school help, staff meetings, professional development, and squeezing in some sleep, there isn’t much time left over for any social interaction. Even relaxing with the family has to be penciled in the planner to ensure that time is explicitly set aside. When coaching is thrown in the mix, your responsibilities grow immensely. The scheduling of practices, games and correspondences alone require a great deal of attention. Then there are the dilemmas and pressures associated with coaching. In cases where there is a team member limit, the decision to cut students from teams is overwhelmingly difficult. What words can be of any consolation to a teenager when they are told that they do not qualify to be on the team? Not only is it a blow to a student’s confidence, but it also limits their participation in the school community. In addition, coaching is comparable to being a teacher in that one always has to maintain integrity and be a consistent role model regardless of the circumstances. One has to restrain feelings, emotions, and opinions if they could potentially have any associated negative consequences.
Above all, the positive implications of coaching far exceed the stressors and inconveniences. Students need an outlet from school. A routine meeting time after class hours gives students an opportunity to vent, discuss, and release tensions that build up over the course of a teenager’s day. They need activities to take their minds off of daily pressures and stresses. Being part of a group with a common cause makes one feel purposeful, productive and more confident. For these reasons, I will pursue coaching during my teaching career and be a continuous advocate for their deserving support and funding from the community.
This has been a tumultuous week filled with more ups and downs then a roller coaster ride on a ship. Becci and I started our innovative unit on Monday and commenced a journey down the digestive tract with our students. Students first investigated where digestion begins. They observed that a cracker exposed to saliva, as compared to water, actually breaks down into glucose as determined from a change in color from blue to orange using the glucose indicator Benedict’s solution. They explained that chemical digestion must take place in the mouth and therefore saliva must have enzymes in it. From there, they simulated peristalsis, confirmed the structure:function relationship of villi in the small intestine which provide for efficient nutrient absorption, and saw a Discovery video showing an intact digestive tract extracted from a human body. Then there was the climax of the week: rotation around four stations in which students acted as engineers, research scientists, medical professionals, and graphic designers. The excitement brewed all week long for me and Becci! With that excitement was also the reality that the task of designing stations and motivating students to engage in challenging activities unfamiliar to them was a lot to take on. After intense time, effort, and yes… some girly tears, we pulled it together, and the students had an amazingly interactive experience exploring the digestion system.
As with any lesson, you always think of ways to improve upon it. We learned that handing students a packet is extremely overwhelming for them. It would have been better to have separate packets located at each station and a container for them to place their final product before rotating to the next. Also, the students would have benefitted from more scaffolding prior to the stations. The station tasks intimated the students at first glance, but by the end, they really got into the modeling and interpreting various case studies. In lines with this, having four stations was a bit much to undertake for the first implementation. Starting out with two would have not only provided more time for luxuries like sleep, but would have eased the students into station work.
We learned a lot during this week. It has really been an amazing growing experience. Rock on pre-service teachers!!! I’m out for birthday celebrations now
In this posting, I’m going to venture away from my classroom experiences this week and discuss some insights that have been prompted during the polishing of my resume using the support and advice of Career Services at UR. The first revelation was that four pages is slightly too lengthy to suffice as a brief synopsis of who I am. Okay, so it’s a bit wordy. It would be no problem to make it more concise and reader friendly. Next step was for me to comprehend that I’m applying for teaching positions, not scientific research anymore. I had to come to terms with the fact that more likely than not, those reviewing my resume would not be as passionately interested in X-ray diffraction and the molecular structure of proyl 4-hydroxylase as I was. Shocking! I couldn’t imagine how someone wouldn’t be ecstatic to learn about my trials and tribulations associated with cloning, expressing and purifying SARS virus proteins. With slight hesitation, I deleted the bullet point that displayed the title of my Master’s thesis. Next to go were the overabundant details pertaining to those state-of-the-art techniques and instruments I incorporated during my bench work in the lab. What do you mean that the general public really doesn’t want to know the intricate workings of a piece of equipment that can aliquot less than 1ul into over 1500 wells in under a minute?!
These initial modifications to my resume were really enlightening for me. The point of my resume was not to list everything that I’ve done, but to highlight my zest for science, and how I will provide opportunities to the students so they too can embrace and experience the excitement of unlocking understandings. Explicit details and unfamiliar terms blurted out prior to an experience or out of context to their application can be overwhelming and intimidating. Therefore, while it is important to allude to the amazingly interesting science experiences I’ve had, it is not so crucial to outline the specific terms or in-depth procedures uncommon to many. My new view on resume writing is to make my learning experiences accessible, relevant and meaningful to all individuals. Who would have guessed that this formal document would parallel with our focus to promote science literacy in each and every student. We provide opportunities for students to experience, learn and understand concepts instead of initially overloading them with intimidating vocabulary and isolated facts. Just as interviewers can inquire about the details of my scientific background, so can a student unlock the details and meaning with each learning experience.
I’ve finally tracked down the rubric maker site that I mentioned to Laura and Brittany on Monday. It is free to register for and has been helpful to the practicing teachers in my KSTF cohort. I’m diving into this site today, so I’ll keep you posted on how user friendly and effective it is to a novice such as myself. Let me know what you think about it.