I know…I haven’t been on in a while! That’s no matter though, as this post will sum up my whole 8 weeks at my last placement. To be consistent with the Warner Way, I thought the best way to do this would be to go through a series of plusses and arrows…let us begin with the arrows!
As I finally took over from my CT a couple weeks ago, blogging has slipped my mind. But what a wild two weeks it has been! Before I began, my supervisor and i had a brainstorming session to figure out how I wanted to tackle this placement. My CT has a very old-fashioned approach, with a standard lecture/notes/exam style that drove the kids nuts as well as myself. I once asked her what types of formative assessment she likes to use. She gave me a puzzled look, and I assumed that this was some sort of newfangled terminology that she didn’t know. I rephrased the question, “how do you know what the kids know on a daily basis?” She thought about this one for a second, and then replied, “I really don’t do that at all.” Shocking.
Anyway, as my supervisor and I were brainstorming, we concluded that cooperative groupwork would probably be the best way to get the kids to learn. This was based first on the fact that the kids generally detested the current means of learning and second on the success that my supervisor has had with this approach in the past. I agreed as well, because it makes my role more of a facilitator, which I feel very comfortable with. We planned out my “opening speech” where I emphasized that I was going to be doing things very differently and to bear with me while I attempted some techniques from my classes. I also changed the way the desks were organized; now they were in groups of 4 instead of rows. This was to allow for more groupwork. When the day rolled around to begin, I was all ready to go with a plan for the week! I was unsure how it was going to turn out, but I felt that since many of the students didn’t seem to care for my CT, they might give me a better reception.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start! The groupwork went fantastic, and my supervisor was dead-on that they love the chance to get up and move around the room. The activities that we planned really hooked the kids, and what surprised me the most was how well the classroom ended up managing itself. The cooperative groupwork approach neutralized most of the behavior that was generally thought to be “bad.” There was still the issue of keeping kids on task, but by floating around the room to the different groups this turned out OK. My only blip the first week came on the last day, where I got the stomach bug during school. I can remember when I was in HS going to school while I wasn’t feeling well, and it was the worst thing ever. Teaching while not feeling well is the ACTUAL worst thing ever. I had to leave the room after every class because I thought that I was going to puke. My management suffered as a result, and I was glad to have the day over with. I think that it also hurt me that it was a “notes” day. Although the notes were meant to be interactive, I did have to do more speaking that I had done previously, and even though it was only about 7-8 minutes, the kids did not respond well. The less talking I do, it seems, the better that they are.
Week 2 started strong and remained solid throughout the week exept for Friday. As in the previous week, the kids responded very well to the groupwork. I found that my greatest successes here were when I was able to give everyone a role in the group. They really took ownership when I did this, and it kept them engaged for a little longer than normal. This is certainly something I’m going to remember! We did a lab examining mitosis in onion cells, and ended the week with a stations activity as a wrap up. On Friday, I had to do “notes” again. It might have been because it was a beautiful Friday, or something else, but for some reason the kids were off the wall all day! I had to throw a girl out during 4th period for first hitting a kid in the face and then spewing out the most vulgar, insulting string of comments I’ve ever heard. Really. If you read this and want to know what she said, ask me in class. I don’t think it should be posted on this blog. I totally lost control of the kids during 5th period. This is, in part, due to the sheer size of the class (27 kids) and whatever other factors were going on. I ended up Friday going home shaking my head. Still trying to figure out what went wrong.
Overall, it’s been a positive experience so far. The kids have responded warmly to me, and I have to admit that they are a trip. There’s one kid in my 8th period class who makes me laugh out loud every day. Even the student who I’ve had to talk to after class twice, and throw out once has become more cordial with me. Students like him I don’t totally know what to do with…I can’t seem to find anything that will motivate him, and he is confrontational with many. The girl that I mentioned before is in that class too…so it’s quite a challenge. I had to throw her out twice last week! I will be calling her mother tomorrow, I think. Oh well, such is life in the city!
And to think…I’m two weeks in and my CT has only been there for two days. Not sure when she’s coming back, but it might not be until next week. I think I’m going to suggest that she just retire early and I’ll take over as a long-term sub. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Until next time…
So this week my CT decided that in order for me to start student teaching for real next week, this week I should just teach a couple classes using her lesson. Unfortunately, that was much easier said than done. For one, it was constant notes. We covered the entire endocrine and reproductive system in three 50-minute class periods. Secondly, my first few days in front of the classes were to be spent talking about sex. I had to laugh at this one…what a time to take over!
Because I just went through the notes with the kids, I tried to liven things up in the two classes that I taught. Since it was the reproduction unit, I knew that the kids would have an outrageous number of questions, most of which I probably wouldn’t get a chance to answer. So, to run with this one, I passed out some note cards at the beginning of each class and explained that if they had any questions at all that they didn’t get a chance to ask or were too shy to ask, to please write them down and I’d do my best to go over them the next day. While they absolutely loathed taking so many notes, they did really get into the questions. They had some good ones, but based on what I saw and heard over the last couple days, I now totally understand why I see so many pregnancies here. Here are some sample questions:
“Can you get AIDS from swallowing sperm?”
“When a girl has sex and her cherry doesn’t pop, is she still a virgin?”
“What is a uterus?”
Sadly, the last one came from a girl who has a 2 1/2 year old child already, and has another one in the oven. She’s 17. This is a heaping portion of reality.
Overall, the week finished up pretty solidly. I’m going to be taking over next week for real, but unfortunately for me, this also coincides with my CT’s week-long vacation. So it looks like it’s going to be another trial by fire situation. Outrageous.
Although I don’t think there would be a repeat of the fireworks from week 1, week 2 did provide some first class entertainment. As I was still observing, this week was more of a “get to know the kids” sort of week. This was helped by the fact that we did a reflex lab that I got to work with them on. Although the lab was very cookie-cutterish, it gave the kids a chance to get up, move around, and try some new things out. Needless to say, they were enthralled. I think that they got just as used to me as I did to them, and I think that by the end of the week, they felt pretty comfortable with me. At least the ones who showed up.
I know that we’ve discussed attendance in our classes, but I never really understood what people were talking about until now. We average about 50 percent attendance, and there are still a number of people that I haven’t even seen yet. I asked my CT about this, and her best advice was to cover your butt by sending letters home. Other than that, she said, there was not much else that she could do besides calling home.
Shifting gears, we had a test on Thursday as well. Wednesday, my CT put the exact test up on the overhead and we went through it question by question. I was shocked at this, and even more shocked by the number of kids who didn’t care at all. Most of the students slept, and only some bothered to pay attention. Nobody wrote anything down. I got to go through it with the 8th period class, and they stayed with it pretty well. I think that this was just because it was someone other than my CT teaching, and so they came to life a little bit. I graded the test the same day…and remarkably, despite going over the EXACT test, over half of every class failed it. Miserably. I’m talking 20’s and 30’s. So much for authentic assessment, right?
Friday, to keep the streak alive, there was a monster brawl during 4th period. Unfortunately, one of the girls involved happened to be the guest singer for the Black History Month assembly during 7th period. Because she was immediately arrested, they had to scramble to get another singer to sing the Black National Anthem. They tapped my CT for this position, because she’s a choir singer at her church. She was great! I don’t know how to sing, but it sounded wonderful to me. She was diasppointed that it was in the wrong key. I could live with that!
I forgot to mention that I saw the aftermath of the brawl. Since I was in class, I didn’t get to see the whole thing, but I did get a chance to see the hallway after it had happened when I went to go get my lunch. It looked like a scene out of The Shining. There was blood on the walls and human hair (maybe just extensions, who knows) on the floor. It was terrifying! I wish I was making this up. We’ll see what kind of fun and excitement happens this week. I’ll have my popcorn ready (a TO reference, Go Bills).
Week one is in the books at my new placement…and what a week it was! Quite a different atmosphere from my last placement. My new CT, as I mentioned in my previous post, is an extremely nice person and very easy to work with. The other faculty that I’ve met have been wonderful as well, always helping out where they can and they really seem to love what they do. The room is also nice and lare with a window (which I didn’t have at my last placement) and a plethora of science things all over the place. My CT usually apologizes for the mess because she’s retiring in June and is beginning to pack up (already). The end of the year has been a frequent topic of discussion.
As she is leaving at the end, her eagerness to get out is very apparent. Unfortunately I think it is just as apparent to the kids as it is to me. Although the classroom has signs up with her expectations, none of these are enforced with the exception being no hats or jackets on in class. The language is atrocious, and on the rare occasion it gets corrected, there is no consequence and it continues on as though nothing has even happened. Students genereally don’t pay any attention at all while she goes through her notes and the only time that they are quiet is when they’re writing them down. They then take a quiz that consists of 5 fill-in-the-blank questions taken directly from the notes. They get to use their notes on the quiz too, so basically it consists of them finding the right sentence from the notes and seeing what word is missing. A trained dog could probably complete the quiz as well.
Anyway, this is all well-and-good for my CT, because she knows she’ll be done soon and doesn’t care too much about the way things end up. I, unfortunately, am coming into a classroom that hasn’t been managed all year and somehow I need to structure it. I was wondering how this might happen until I was unexpectedly thrust into the role of teacher on Thursday.
My CT was absent because of a retirement conference, so we had a sub. I showed up at my regular time, and there was no sub to be found. I got a sentry to unlock the room for me and then I went to the teacher’s lounge to drop off my lunch. When I returned, the sub was there. After some small talk about how long I’d been at the school (it was my 4th day) and where she was from, etc, she informed me that we were going to be watching the movie Akeelah and the Bee, since she found it on my CT’s desk. I explained that my CT actually had some other plans, and that there were some directions for her up on the front desk. She apparently had made no effort to look for any such directions, as she was prepared to show a movie that wasn’t even related to anything we were doing. I showed her my CT’s directions, and she asked me what we’d be doing. Since I had read the note already, and because my CT told me the previous day, I explained that we were going to be taking some notes, which could be found on the computer and then they would be taking a quiz. When the kids started coming in, the special ed. teacher who accompanies them in and generally co-teaches with my CT came in as well and we talked for a few minutes. She already knew all the kids so she agreed to run the class. While this occurred, I walked around and helped out as best I could, and the sub got on the room phone and talked in the corner for the period. This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the day. The first class is generally very good and there were no major issues; the kids took the notes and were quiet for the most part, and everyone took the quiz. The period ended and we had one off before the next one came in. I bid the special ed teacher goodbye and the sub told me that she’d be back for the next period. I don’t know where she was going, but I started to get the room ready for the next class we had.
Well, like I said, I don’t know where she was going, but she sure didn’t make it back. By the time the next period was starting, I found myself all alone in the room. So, I welcomed the kids at the door and did my best to explain what we were going to be doing that day. The kids clearly did not care that I was present at all, as they talked, threw paper, swore loudly, ran around the room, and occasionally took notes as I had them up on the board. I tried my best to engage them with some questioning, but they mostly talked to their neighbors or anyone else in the room the whole time. Throughout the period, in an effort to keep it to a dull roar, I tried speaking quiety, speaking loudly, asking for their attention and respect, moving seats, taking cell phones, and any other thing that I could think to do short of tossing them to get them to stop loudly talking. I even stood in between kids trying to have a conversation. Usually this is a pretty good hint, but they just put their heads around me and kept on going.
They finally got through the notes, at least those that were taking them, and they got to the quiz. About half of them did the quiz, and the other half didn’t care. With about 20 minutes to go in the class, the sub returned and told me that she hadn’t heard a bell. I wrapped up the class, and got the things ready for the class coming in directly after them.
This class acted the same way, except there was probably double the number (28 I counted). At least for this one the sub made an attempt to maintain some order, and she actually took attendance (I had done it for the previous periods). It got to the point where I didn’t even try to explain the notes, I just let them copy them down and then they took the quiz. I felt like this was giving up but at the time I didn’t see any other way to get through them. The sub talked on the phone for the majority of the period, and in between calls she read a magazine. Outrageous.
I had two periods off after that so I ate lunch and got ready for the last period. The sub disappeared again and so when 8th started and she was nowhere to be found, I got things going again. This class turned out to be awesome! They were really engaged (somehow, the notes were dry as a bone) and I had some real-life examples that they hung onto pretty well. I had a ton of fun with the last class. We got through all the notes and they took the quiz, and then we called it a day. The sub came in about 10 minutes into the class and then talked on the phone. I took attendance and did everything else.
But my day was not over yet! The sub bounced out right as the last bell ended and I cleaned up the room. When I got ready to head out for the day, I got to witness my first arrest! A couple kids were fighting out by the bus and when the sentries broke it up, one of the kids turned on them. He tried fighting 4 sentries, followed by 5 police officers. They eventually got him down, but he continued to struggle for the better part of an hour. They had to cuff him, shackle him, and put the mesh bag on his head because he kept trying to bite them. All this while I got to watch because 3 of the 5 cop cars were blocking my car in. I wish I had some popcorn.
Today, as I sit here with the sub AGAIN (my CT took today off), I am wondering how my student teaching is going to go here. I’m not so worried about the first and last periods, because I think that they’re generally good classes that are probably just bored with contant notes. The middle two periods…I shudder to think. I tried literally every tactic I knew to get them to at least be reasonably quiet with NO effect whatsoever. There hasn’t been any rules all year, so how am I going to get them to start? It seems like most of the classrooms here put up with some chatter during class and that’s ok, but what I have to deal with is totally out of control. I would say that the kids were like that because they really don’t know me, there was a sub, I couldn’t take advantage of the school system yet because I don’t totally know it, and I was probably equivalent to a sub in their minds. I had to laugh at the day’s end. What else could I do?
As I will begin my new student teaching placement tomorrow, I am both nervous and excited. I went in the Friday before Feb. break for a couple hours and had the chance to meet some people (including my new CT) as well as sit in on a class. My first impression was that the room was vibrant! There were jigsaw puzzles all over the walls and student work all over the place. There was clearly a lot going on here. My CT mentioned that normally it doesn’t look like that but since she’s retiring in June, she’s begun packing up the room. She seems like the nicest lady. I think that since she’s retiring, she will probably let me do pretty much whatever I want with the kids, which will be nice. She mentioned that I was the third student teacher she’s had THIS YEAR. I was impressed. Looks like she’s going out with a bang.
The kids were a trip. Although my CT noted that I was getting them at a good time of the year because they were already used to her system and were well behaved, I found it to be almost opposite. This might have been because it was the day before break, but the kids were off the wall! Apparently there is no rule about language, or if there is it isn’t enforced. Lots of F-words, S-words, and N-words were said throughout most of the class. One student just paced most of the time with no real reprimand. On this subject I’m not totally sure how I want to broach the subject. On one hand, I don’t want to change the classroom culture. On the other hand, I can’t put up with that kind of stuff, particularly when I get observed! I’ll have some questions for my CT tomorrow for sure.
The class was working on the NYS Making Connections lab, which I had done in my last placement back in September. The set-up was quite a bit different than in my last placement. In my new one, the students worked solo and followed the lead of my CT, who stood in front of the room the whole time. It was a much more traditional-style classroom, for sure. It really makes me wonder how the kids are going to react to a less-traditional change. I have the potential to be the golden boy of science or the total goat. We’ll see what the kids think when I eventually take over.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. It’ll be tough to get back into the school week after my break though! Oh well, I’m sure it’ll come back in a rush.
After a restful (extended) break, my time to blog has come again. After some initial confusion about when I should be blogging, I will begin with a discussion we had a couple weeks ago about understanding.
I guess the idea of “knowledge” vs. “understanding” was something that I thought I knew. After all, they are two different words that can take a number of different meanings. In my mind, they were separate so doesn’t everyone think the same?
Not only was there shared confusion about the difference between the terms, but when I tried to verbalize the difference myself, I found that I could not do so (at least not eloquently). I guess I’d never really had to describe the concept of “understanding” so I had difficulty doing so.
I’d sat in on several department meetings while at my first placement that dealt with measuring understanding of the students. The buzzword “transfer” got thrown out quite a bit so I had been exposed to it, but didn’t give it too much else thought. The educators in the district all lamented that they had the hardest time getting the students to transfer information (that is, take their knowledge on a particular subject and apply it to other situations). I found that to be very true as well. The kids were great at remembering specific facts, but when asked questions that were not one-answer q’s, they really struggled to put together any thought process. It was because of these meetings and my own experience that I really thought about the reading for that week’s class, “Understanding Understanding” (a Wiggins/McTighe specialty).
Because of my difficulty explaining understanding, I had to go back and look at what I had done in my last placement. Sure enough, quite a bit of the things I taught relied too heavily on black-and-white thought processes. Because my CT was very focused on getting the kids ready for both the midterm and the Regents in the spring, we used a lot of Regents-styled questions. While the kids were decent at answering these, non-Regents questions were a pretty big struggle for them. One question I had them answer explained that a lady’s body wasn’t producing the wrong types of proteins and that she had become increasingly sick because of this. How, based on their knowledge of protein synthesis, could this have happened? Although most of them could tell me the stepwise process of protein synthesis, only a handful could use this knowledge to construct a plausible answer. Because of this, I looked back at the question and ran it by my CT. Sure enough, we got back to the talk of transfer. Looks like I have something to work on at the next placement! Hopefully I’ll be able to do better on this front in the future, now that I’ve had the chance to read a little bit about understanding understanding.
I’m finally returning to the blogosphere after a lengthy hiatus. As I’m now teaching regularly in class, this has slipped my mind the last couple weeks. I’ll start out with STARS from two weeks ago:
As a continuation of STARS from the previous week, STARS for Nov. 4th was almost identical. We just continued our experiment from the previous week – using daphnia as model organisms. We placed them in dilutions of caffeine and this week, ginseng. No real deviation from the previous week, except that all the girls remembered how to use the mounts and microscopes, and were much more independent. We did also have another STAR show up who hadn’t been there previously. She was quiet at first since everyone else knew what was going on, but after we had another girl explain to her what we were doing, she warmed up to the experiment. They all maintained the same enthusiasm that they had the previous week, which was great. We didn’t get as much done for the ginseng as we wanted, but that was OK, as we had planned for it to take longer than we anticipated. Overall, it was another solid week of data collection where the girls really seemed to get into the experiment and take some ownership over it, as they worked so independently.
STARS for the week of Nov. 11 was cancelled, due to Veteran’s Day, so we’re going to fast-forward to today, Nov. 18. Since the sponsors of the program were present, and because there were pictures to be taken, we had the girls finish up collecting data for the gingseng. From there, we moved them over to the chart paper and had them discuss what they wanted to come up with for our presentation. One girl had the great idea of making a movie or acting something out, and the rest agreed and thought that they should show people how to make a slide of the Daphnia. They also decided to use a bar graph and a data table to organize their data, but were worried that this might bore the 5th graders that were going to be looking at it. For that reason, they decided that they wanted it to be very colorful. We then tried to get them to figure out the averages for the different dilutions of caffeine and ginseng. This posed a larger problem than we had initially thought. They really didn’t know how to calculate averages! We got into a discussion about the best way to do it, before finally the group leaders had to really press them into doing it the right way. We wished that we had planned for this better, since we ended up pretty much just telling them what to do. Looks like we know what we need to work on for next time! Anyway, they came around and calculated the averages. Miraculously, our data showed a significant trend! I didn’t think that it was going to do this after the first few readings, but somehow it turned out OK. This was nice, since the girls really felt like they did something that worked out. After that, we had pizza and called it quits for the day. Overall, the girls were kind of bored today. Data analysis isn’t the most exciting thing in the world (in the words of my dad, it even “sounds boring”) and we didn’t have a good way to spice it up for them. They were also a little bored with the Daphnia, as this was their third week using them. I felt bad since I wasn’t much help getting them fired up, as my cold kept me in a very “blah” state. We were excited and encouraged by their great ideas for the presentation and by the fact that there was a trend in the data. Next week we’ll be doing some more analysis and making the graphs. Let’s hope attendance is OK, since it’s the day before Thanksgiving break. Guess we’ll see…
As the title may indicate, there was some fine motor skills use this week for Team Xtreme Energy. In fact, this week we began data collection! SInce our question was how do energy drink ingredients affect heart rate, we chose to use a model organism (Daphnia magma) this week as a test subject. Heather made up serial dilutions of caffeine, and we also provided pipettes, microscopes, stopwatches, cotton, depression slides, a data sheet, and (of course) cell counters. We did a brief skills review session with them, so they learned how to make a wet mount of the Daphnia (caught in the cotton) with water so that they could count its heart rate using the stopwatch and the cell counter. We used this data for a baseline. Next, they began doing the same procedure for the different concentrations of caffeine, and we recorded the data on a big sheet of chart paper. The girls really got into the experiment, as the Daphnia were very interesting to look at under the microscope. There was an initial yuck factor, but this was quickly overcome by curiosity. We hypothesized that the girls will tend to do this anyway, because of cultural pressures, but they ended up being very engaged for the entire lesson. Since we had a small group again this week (only 3), we got to work pretty closely with them, and I think that this helped their curiosity. They even got to see one of the Daphnia poop, which got them very excited. They were laughing and smiling the whole time, so we knew that they were engaged. One girl even asked at the end of the session, “Why can’t we do this twice a week?” Not only did that give our group brownie points for the week, but it let us know that they were really enjoying the process. We didn’t get through the caffeine but this was OK since we planned for it. Next week we’ll be able to finish this up and get through another ingredient of their choice. Now, back to the title. The girls were clicking so hard on the counters that their arms were getting tired. One girl even resorted to hitting it on the desk because her hand hurt so much. This might sound like a problem, but she was so into it that she wanted to time for full minutes instead of half-minutes every time because she liked doing it so much. Let’s hope next week goes just as well!
Sorry, just thew in a little SportsCenterism in there for the title. That’s the way I’m feeling after this week anyway! Great week all around, really. I got to see a plethora of teachers this week, and I also got a chance to really start to take over the class. This turned out to be a great success for me. Some highlights from the week that contributed to my professional development:
- Based on a questionnaire from my CT, she divided the notes portion of one class on Monday. For those that thought they preferred to take notes off of the computer program, they were allowed to do that. For those who preferred the traditional notes-taking style, they got to do that. My CT led the traditional method and I helped those on the computers. I thought that it was great that the kids had such an imput on how they got to learn, and that my CT not just recognized this but also catered it to their needs.
- I also got to sit in on an observation deconstruction session. My CT was observed last Thursday, and her supervisor came in to chat about the lesson. Overall, it went great and the supervisor loved it. As a Warner man himself, he brougth up the “why’s” of the lesson as well as coming up with a “transfer task” – which my CT did very well. She got to explain her rationale for the lesson and they discussed ways to make it better. It was very professional and a great experience for me to be a part of.
- I also got to observe the said supervisor in action himself. True to form, he went over an outline with them about what they’d learned in the Dynamic Earth unit so far. Then, their task was to create a visual that shows their understanding of the unit. While this was going on, he met with the kids individually to go over what they owed. The kids initially resisted the open-endedness of the question, but soon got really involved. They used the outline as a reference for things to cover in their visual. They really seemed to like how creative they could be with this.
- I saw one class where the teacher had no control over the class whatsoever. He continuously talked over the students while they carried on their own conversations uninterrupted. They also back-talked him frequently and he didn’t do anything about it! I was appalled at the level of disrespect for him, yet he took no action against it. Nobody in the class finished their task, and had to tell them 11 different times to get started. They even made faces behind his back! I was shocked at this. The power of good classroom management has never seemed more important after leaving the class.
- I also saw one AP US History class. The teacher was fantastic. Although she lectured the entire time (about the election of 1800), the class was engaged throughout. She was an excellent speaker and held everyone on the edge of their seats. Her teaching style was contrary to what we’re accustomed to in the science cohort at Warner, but for her it worked very well. Some parents were in that day too, and they seemed impressed as well. It looks like mixing humor in with the lesson is a great way to keep kids focused in when you have to do some speaking.
Anyway, I was pleased with the way the week turned out. I got to lead some classes (although it was all my CT’s work), but the kids were great with me. Looking forward to taking over for real! In conclusion, I’ll end with another SportsCenterism: “dare I say en fuego,” courtesy of Dan Patrick.