Thursday, February 24, 2011

Professional development day

Last Tuesday was a district professional development day, which I attended. It was really interesting, as it seemed to not only serve as professional development and teacher education, but also a chance for staff to bond and get to know each other.

The first part of the day was devoted to talking about the issue of gays being bullied, and we watched a video about a particular boy who, after being heavily abused at school, and the administration doing nothing, sued the school and won. This hit pretty close to home, as I went to a pretty rough high school, and had a very close friend there who was gay. The result was bullying directed towards both of us, as our friendship was perceived as a relationship, and some of the instances the boy in the movie experienced mirrored some things I had gone through. It's good that school districts are making sure staff know about this, and the repercussions of doing nothing when it is brought to their attention.

Following that, we split into groups and discussed a bunch of teaching methods, some of which I talked about in the previous post about learning tools- card sorts and flip books. The other two were on explicitly teaching how to take notes and summarize, which was good information. Following that, we had lunch and I got to get to know the staff better, which was great.

After that, we talked about effective ways to teach boys, which more or less boiled down to, "If you don't use that energy, it gets used on you." Good advice.

Then people from the district showed up and analyzed test scores. I was working on some of the lab work from the water purity test, so I didn't really get much of that, but that was fine. Give me a task, lab goggles, and plenty of cool chemicals, and I'm in my element.

By the end of that day, I was just exhausted. Maybe I didn't get enough sleep the night before, or maybe the 3 day weekend was just evil for my sleep schedule, but the overall effect was that of me being simply exhausted by the time I got home, leading to me getting a good amount of sleep before Wednesday, which was a big day.

Anyway, this type of thing is something I hope they do at whatever school I end up working at, as it's beneficial to occasionally take a step back and analyze teaching practices and issues.


I am an idiot.

So, yesterday was my first day of full teaching. As I said to a teacher during lunch, "I know I'm going to make mistakes, but I'm really worried about the ones I don't know I'm doing."

Before first period, my cooperating teacher had some chest pains, and had to be taken to the hospital. She's quite alright, but I was tasked with running the classroom. Awesome. Because I don't have my teaching license, they had to have roving substitutes in the classroom, or staff on their planning period. That's fine.

First period was pretty chaotic. I didn't have her lesson plan, and I didn't know how to use a lot of the tools to successfully run the class. Plus, that class is fairly rowdy, but it managed to go over well enough. There was a quiet sub, a graduate from the K-8 certification program at the same university I'm in. A lot of subs I've met are from that program, which makes me very glad I'm in the secondary science program, from my understanding we get snatched up very quickly, and those that aren't are usually pining to work at a specific school.

Second period was planning. I got a text from the teacher explaining where all the lesson plan stuff was, and I understood what I needed to do.

Third period, a staff teacher on planning came in to watch me. He had a huge pile of tests to grade, and asked if I was comfortable teaching the class. That moment was very empowering, and I said I was. Awesome. So, I ran the class, and we got everything we needed to done, although we ran VERY close to the bell. Still, a massive success in my eyes.

Fourth period came along, which is a math/science block. Another staff teacher came in, and I told her that I was comfortable teaching this class, and she could grade papers.

That was a mistake. She went in thinking that she was going to co-teach, and I told her, in earshot of students, to grade papers. I did not mean to be insulting in any way, it was a miscommunication. I was stating to her that, "Hey, I've got this, don't waste your planning period on account of me!" She heard, "I don't need your help. Grade papers." Students apparently heard the same thing, and told another teacher about the incident, and it got around and ended up in an email from my cooperating teacher, stating she needed to talk to me about the incident in 4th period and how I spoke to Michelle.

But back to the day! Not knowing what I had done wrong, I moved to 5th period, where a substitute teacher worked on her laptop while I had the students do a math test, which lasted all period. Mean ol' Mr J making them do an horrible test.

6th period was the engineering class, which was pretty hard to control, but went fine. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and had a crazy drive home through the snow, only to find that my afternoon grad school class had been canceled. I went home and read that email, and spent most of the evening worried.

So, I emailed my placement coordinator about the situation, she helped me put it in perspective and told me to email the offended teacher an apology, and CC it to my cooperating teacher. I just did that, and I just received a reply from the offended teacher, explaining her perspective.

So, the lesson learned here is this: If you have a teacher that is watching you, realize that they might actually want to co-teach. The thought had never even crossed my mind, and I was so caught up in my excitement to actually be running a day that I wasn't even thinking about anything aside from what was going to happen in class.

So, I'm currently okay with that teacher, which is good. My cooperating teacher understands my perspective, and now I need to find out what teachers were told about me 'telling off' another teacher. While this is something I will have to atone for in some way or another, it was just a learning experience in which I learned to communicate with teachers. I assumed she would want to sit and grade papers for her own classes, and I was completely wrong.

So, hooray miscommunication nearly giving me a panic attack.

In the mean time, I'm snowed in, so I probably won't be back to the school till Monday, where I'll have to bring some sort of apology gift to the teacher. A nice bag of French Roast is probably a good idea, although if she doesn't like coffee, that could be a problem.

Anyway, that is a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can focus on my classwork. And, aside from that one issue, the day went fantastically. I was so grateful to get a full day of teaching in, and according to all who saw me, I did a pretty good job. I did have the lesson laid out for me, so that was useful, and the kids are conditioned to respond to a signal, and there is a solid behavior plan and expectations in place, so I am walking on the shoulders of giants, but I still feel I really did well.

And it was good to have a real scare. I've been getting close to burn out for a while, as the exhaustion of a full time classload, part time job, and teacher observation take their toll on me. But this managed to energize me and make me realize that I'm too lucky with my placement to go moping about.

Anyway, all's well that ends well.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching tools.

So, here are a few teaching tools I've observed, things that I really like and want to use in my teaching.

QoDs: Question of the days are great. They get students to get out their notebooks and start writing right away, and it gives you time to take roll. If they are occupied from the moment they step in from the hall, that definitely helps in keeping you from losing control right away.

Science journals: I can't emphasize how important these have been to students. Each student has a class journal that they use to put all their work in. It gives them a central location for all their notes, worksheets, project information, and everything else they may collect.

Flip books: These go inside the science journal. I can't really describe them well without a picture, but they consist of construction paper folded... hamburger/taco style, with one side cut into small tags. Another way to do it is to cut it in two along the hamburger line, then fold one, then scaffold the other along it, and staple it. The end result is a flip book of sorts where you can write a name, then pull away and see a definition. This is AWESOME for people who need hands on learning, and really feeds into that multiple modalities thing. Plus, it's explicit, and good for quizzing yourself. Very cool method for science stuff that requires a lot of memorization, such as cell organelles.

An attention getter: My teacher uses 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... The kids are conditioned to be quiet when they hear that. Whenever I teach, I use it, and it works wonders. Once I start teaching, that's going to be one of the first things I do, get that early conditioning, as it makes running a class so much easier when you have the ability to make it quiet in 10 seconds.

Standards based grading: Just grade to the standard. My school does this, and enforces mandatory retakes for failing grades. While this causes a lot of problems, I definitely like that students can be explicitly tested on standards knowledge. It makes things just... A lot easier. It's a bit hard to implement initially, but once you get the hang of it, it saves time. An example of this is, if you only grade tests, have each section of 3-4 questions based on one standard, and explicitly state what standard that is. Then, when you are grading, break up the test into the standard parts, so you know what areas the student needs to improve on. It's not perfect, but it makes a lot of sense.

Now, for something that we discussed in class, and by and large, we disagree with. In my practicum class, the teacher pointed out that, if we don't know, offer to have the student figure it out on their own, and reward them if they found out.

We all disagreed, for the most part. Students don't really want to do the work to find out something they don't know- that's the teacher's job. While it is a good idea for students to try to figure things out on their own, they are most likely going to either A: Go straight to their parents, who might not know, and then B: Go straight to google, which will probably give them an incomplete or completely wrong answer. They then report an answer that is not quite correct to you, who might not have had the time to do the research yourself, and you say, 'okay, here's your candy bar.'

Instead, what I heard some teachers do, and I agree with this, is write the question on the board. That might inspire other students to ask tough questions. Then, that night, take a bit of time to try to find out the answer. As science teachers, we are quite capable of determining good information and making sense of complex concepts. If the concepts are things we don't actually know and beyond our comprehension, then that's okay too. But I feel that teachers should put in a good effort to figure out the answer, then, the next day, report it to the class. That way, you retain your position as the teacher, the expert, while students get some degree of ownership over their learning. I'm not saying that I am going to let students derail me every day with questions like, "What does the edge of the universe look like?" or something, but if a student asks, during an anatomy lesson, 'how do neurons talk to muscles?' that would definitely be something I'd take a little bit to learn.

Thoughts? Any other cool teaching tools?


Field trip!

So, yesterday I helped run a field trip that was one of the coolest super-relevant citizen science things I had ever seen. The teacher found out that one of the student's father runs a u-fish down the road. Since she had connections with the Nisqually Institute, an environmental science research group that encourages student participation in real science, she was able to get a bunch of water purity testing kits.

I really didn't know much going into the trip, as we had been focusing on other things, but there was another teacher there to help, which was very useful, as she left halfway through to go to a textbook adoption meeting, leaving me to handle her batch of kids. We wandered around the u-fish, collected water samples, and got out hands dirty. Jim, the proprietor of the u-fish, was kind enough to give me a pair of work boots, as I had stupidly come in dress shoes, so the entire experience was pleasant.

After the other teacher had done the hazardous duty of collecting water from ice cold streams, we all went back to a cabin where we did the tests. For the most part, these were student led- I would read off the instructions, but they had already done water testing before, so this was all familiar to them. They took down data, and I took photos.

After the data was collected, we cleaned up, ate some donuts, and headed back. The entire experience was exhilarating and exhausting, (There was a moment of panic when I realized that the DO kit had sulpheric acid, something that, on principle, 13 year olds shouldn't be touching) but ultimately very positive. It was local, relevant, real science, and used a cool bit of basic inquiry by asking students to identify if they thought the water was pure before testing it, then going back to that to lead conversations on water purity. Very cool stuff.

What was depressing was hearing how hard it was to make this type of thing happen. There is a lot of political resistance due to funding issues, safety issues, and standards relevance (this took place during a life science unit), but the experience is so meaningful for the kids that I think it is entirely worth it.

So, that was cool.

I also have been really working on building relationships with the kids. The more I talk to them and figure out where they are coming from, the more it seems like I will be able to motivate them to learn, either by finding ways to make it relevant to them, or simply by having a good rapport with them. I need to make sure I'm staying in the professional range and not being too nice, but at the same time, I think they're getting the idea that I really do care about them and want to help them learn. That's important.

One student said, "Mr J, you're a nerd." "Your point?" "It's not a bad thing, you just are..." I then proceeded to continue enthusiastically explaining a concept she had been asking about, and I think she really got it. She had been curious about it, and it felt good to help a student understand.

I really enjoy this teaching thing.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Day 2, TEACH!

So, I taught another full period. Actually, over a full period- I am slowly taking over the science portion of the 4/5th period science math block, and yesterday, I taught over an hour of science.

Last time, I was disorganized, nervous, and clumsy. This time, I planned smart, instead of creating an ordered list of things to do, I made a list of things that would contribute to student learning, and that made all the difference. That, and not freaking out. The overall result was 100% better, and the teacher commented that I did really well.

It feels great.

Yesterday, in my Culture of Secondary Schools class, a number of recent graduates of the program came in and talked about their experience. They all had jobs, so that was very promising, the only one who wasn't a full time teacher was doing subbing, and was in the Army, so he had no interest in doing long term teaching at this point. The rest of them were all employed relatively locally, and all seemed to be doing what they wanted. What was weird was seeing a few dopplegangers of people in our current cohort in last year's- there were around 4 people who really reminded me of people in my cohort, including a guy with a lot of my mannerisms and similar appearance. That was a little spooky, but at the same time, rewarding to see what I might be in a year.

On the more somber side, they all outlined what is to come- Student teaching will leave you exhausted. Your first year of teaching will leave you half dead. But they also gave us a lot of advice- Seek out help. Collaboration is key. Self care, self care, self care. Be humble with parents. You can get a lot of free stuff from the community if you are a teacher. Don't give up, and if you work hard, your hard work will pay off. Don't make mountains out of molehills. Drink beer. Make a support network. Use the internet to your advantage.

It was great to meet some graduates, and see that, hey, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Right now is a really hard time to be a teacher, especially with the financial crisis Washington is facing, but they all seemed to be swimming, not drowning, and the overall experience was one of hope, something that I think a lot of our cohort has needed lately. I see a lot of bags under eyes, a lot of exhaustion, and in a few people, trace signs of depression. It's hard to witness that happening to people who I've been together with extensively since last summer, people who have become like family to me, but at the same time, I hope that they have a good support network. I think I've been pretty lucky in that respect, I have a lot of friends who cheer me on, and they have been really understanding. I don't really get to thank them all that much, but their support has been one of the big things keeping me from going off on the deep end.

In any case, I'm going on a field trip this Thursday with my class to test water purity. This should be really cool, and I'll post about it later. I really should get a camera, so I can actually document some of this.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Youtube time.

So, like a lot of teachers, I see the value of using youtube every now and then in a classroom. Here's a few educational-ish science videos that I might end up using at some point in my classroom. If you know of any good ones, feel free to share.

MIT lectures:

MIT has put a number of lectures on youtube. They're amazing to watch. This one is on electromagnetism.

Feynman videos:

Feynman's way of describing physics is poetry.

Doodling in Math:

This girl, through simple doodling, points out mathematical patterns and concepts in a way that is approachable and fun.


This chemist does cool little chemistry demos.

The Sounds of Space:

The Voyager probes listened in on the radio signals coming from the various planets it passed. Weird, semi hypnotic noises are the result.

The Khan Academy:

This guy made thousands of ms-paint lectures from his closet, and now has Bill Gates throwing money at him. I've actually used a few of these videos to cram for the WEST-E, so while I don't think they are a suitable substitute for classroom teaching, they might be a useful resource for certain, select kids. This is his intro to motion video.


This animation company teamed up with Harvard Biologists to create what can only be described as porn for cell biologists. And eye candy for the rest of us. It's a beautiful inside view of the inner workings of a cell, and is incredibly useful for understanding certain functions.

Cordyceps Fungus:

One of the creepiest things I can think of, this fungus takes control of ant's brains, then uses them as a spore distributor. Straight up x-files. Probably good for a fun end on a lesson on fungus.

Now, for more humorous/not quite as relevant, but fun stuff:
World of Chemistry:

This humorous video from the UK features people as elements at what appears to be an office party, reacting accordingly to each other. It does slightly hint that Carbon and Hydrogen are gay for each other, so I don't know if it would be ultimately appropriate for certain classrooms. Still very funny.

Symphony of Science:

Auto-tuned Carl Sagan. 'Nuff said.

Filming Earth from Space:

A couple of grad students sent a video camera up on a balloon. It captured the curvature of the Earth. All for under 300 Euros. Very cool citizen science.

Look Around You:

Spoofs of British Educational videos from the 90s. Hilarious.

And a bit of a personally inspirational one, Taylor Mali on what Teachers Make.

Slam poet on teachers.

Anyway, if anyone reading this has any suggestions of cool or useful channels, I'd be glad to hear from you. Also, any online tools that are useful not only for science demos, but general classroom aides (flash card makers, etc.) are appreciated as well.


Relationship advice.

So, a few weeks back I interviewed a principal for a class project. I had promised the interview would be 5-10 minutes, but we ended up really hitting it off, and the talk lasted a good half hour. Plus, he made the mistake of giving me mountain dew, and as someone who avoids high fructose corn syrup, I was in a state of hyperawareness and hyper-everythingelseness.

One of the core values he said he sought out in teachers was the ability to build relationships with students, creating a framework for learning. That really jived with me. He told me that he could go into a German classroom, not knowing a word of German, and still be able to teach it if he was able to build a relationship with students and use that as a scaffolding for the learning process.

For the longest time, I had been hyperfocused on external factors in learning, such as high levels of content knowledge, interesting lesson plans, and incorporating technology into the classroom. Him flat out telling me that the bottom line is the students was a nice wake up call, and a reminder to me of why I'm doing this.

Following that, a parent came into our class to tell us about her experience with schools, and she pointed out the value of teachers that genuinely care about their students, and make an effort to change their lives for the better. She referenced several teachers she stayed in contact with over the years, and the impact they made on her throughout her life.

I think that is a really important part of teaching that gets shoved under the carpet, especially due to boundary issues. Still, I have had a few teachers that changed my life, and I have since stayed in touch with them, occasionally meeting up for lunch or exchanging emails. They were role models, mentors, and helped me grow as a person, not only in the classroom, but in my life. Sadly, I think a lot of teacher programs are discouraging that due to boundary issues, and I completely understand why. Still, it was good to finally hear one person state the importance of building those lasting relationships.

That's not to say I want to have a lasting relationship with every one of my students. I want to build good relationships with them in order to help them learn. But if I manage to really make a difference in a kid's life, it would be an honor if s/he let me know when s/he got into a college, made it into grad school, or did something amazing. Teachers put a lot of time and effort into kids, I think it's only right that they occasionally hear back on their investments. Hell, I think moments like that are what would keep me sane as a teacher, hearing back from students 5 years down the line to find out that they've been accepted into MIT, and I helped inspire them in that direction. That would feel amazing.

Still, I completely understand the reason for teaching programs not really encouraging, or even bringing this up. Due to all the sexual abuse, everybody is terrified of the idea of a female student emailing a male teacher about personal things, and rightfully so. Bad things do happen. But I think it is important to use prudence, and, when appropriate, be willing to keep in touch with students.

In closing, I am reminded of Jeff Howell. He was a teacher that changed my life forever, and has inspired me to become a science teacher. In some ways, it could be said that he had boundary issues- he always touched people when he was talking to them, something my profs have told me never to do. Still, it was never inappropriate, it was always a hand on the shoulder, and given that he was a wrestling coach, it somehow worked. I never, ever felt uncomfortable with it- rather the opposite. As someone who was bullied regularly, it was the only physical contact I got that wasn't painful. He encouraged me to follow my passion for astrophysics, and would listen to my weird theories about black holes and subspace during lunch and after school, where I was a regular in his classroom. He once told me that, in the teacher's lounge, I was brought up as a weird kid, and he told them that he thought I was brilliant.

That moment changed my life. I was vindicated. After studying astrophysics and astronomy for so long, and never being acknowledged, someone finally recognized me. I madly pursued theoretical physics from that point on, and developed a life long passion for science, thanks to that moment where an amazing teacher put his hand on my shoulder and told me he thought I was brilliant. He built a relationship with me, and thanks to that relationship, I learned more in that science class than any other class, and decided to further pursue science afterward.

I ran into his cousin a few weeks ago. He's also becoming a science teacher through the program. After seeing his last name, we both shared that Jeff Howell was our mutual inspiration for becoming a teacher. I told him how much he changed my life, and he later shared that with Jeff, who, upon hearing them, was fighting back tears. I later called him and we talked a bit, although due to poor reception the conversation was awkward, but we agreed to meet up during the summer, as teachers and friends, and share lunch and classroom management tips.

Mr. Howell was not my friend when he was my teacher. He was a teacher who, through building a relationship with me, got me into science and helped steer me in a really positive direction for my life. Now that I am an adult, I consider him a friend, and someone I owe an infinite debt to for helping me find the wonder in science. I can only hope to be that for my kids.

As a teacher, I want to not only teach kids the content matter, I want to teach them how to be better people. I want to be a role model, a mentor, and an ally. And through this, I hope they'll find a passion for science too, as I did. And honestly, I think most teachers want this. It's probably what they find the most rewarding part of their job- hearing back from an ex-student to find out how much their classes meant to them. One letter like that probably makes up for 200 angry parent calls.

It's been good to remember why I want to do all this.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

My first full period of teaching.

So, yesterday I taught my first full period of teaching. I have been coming in two days a week to my cooperating teacher's classroom, and have gradually been getting more and more comfortable with the students. I have also been spending the odd period shadowing another teacher, learning about the variety of teaching styles.

So, yesterday had two landmarks. While shadowing a teacher, she made me her co-teacher for the period, having me write my name on the whiteboard for the students. This is the first time I've ever done that. Then, for fourth period, I ran a microscope lab for the entire period. The teacher took roll, but aside from that, the entire period was mine.

I made mistakes. I was trembling so much the students asked if I was okay, to which I replied I was really nervous. I was awkward with the classroom management, and control. But overall, I did okay. "Good for your first time," my cooperating teacher told me, before giving me a critique.

It's going to be a while before I get used to handling classes, but I will do it. The biggest thing, I think, is I need to get better at lesson planning, and control for anxiety. But those things will happen. Frankly, I just feel amazing.

On the negative side, I'm sick. I would be going in for a third day this week, but I've been coughing so much my voice sounds like I have a dead possum stuck in there.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

My experience thus far...

So, my previous post outlined how I got into the program, this is where I am thus far, classwise.

The program started in the Summer of '10, and I remember having the following classes:

-Principles of Teaching:

The Secondary Science cohort doesn't really mingle much with the rest of the people in the Ed program, and Dr W., the head of the Secondary Science program is with us every quarter, teaching some class that is mostly geared towards the Secondary Sciences. He's a very good professor, and is incredibly passionate about science education. This was the first class with him, where we just talked about basic teaching stuff.

-Educational Measurement:

This seemed to be a stats class, geared towards educational applications. It seemed to serve the purpose of getting us to understand test scores and how they actually work. This class wasn't required during this quarter, but I took it, as it is a requirement to graduate. The professor is an active research scientist, which was very refreshing.

-Foundations of Education:

This class was a review of the social history of education, and some of the racism and discrimination that currently goes on today, along with some of the social stuff going on in education today. A lot of attention was given to Geoffrey Canada and similar educational advocates, although the focus was primarily not on Pacific Northwest schools, something I found a little frustrating. Still, we read a lot of good books about some of the really innovative things going on in Education today.

-Child Abuse:

This was a seminar where we learned two things: How to make a CPS call, and that we shouldn't sleep with our students. Having worked with CPS before, and knowing that sleeping with students is a bad idea, I didn't learn too much, but it was still a fun class.

-Secondary Students with Disability:

This class was a general review of the services that students with special needs can receive, and how that fits in with teachers. It was pretty informative, as there are more and more kids with special needs in classrooms these days.


After every quarter I have a Portfolio meeting with Dr W. He looks at my portfolio and tells me what I need to work on. This time around, I did fine.

In Fall '10, I had, as follows:

-Educational Research:

Taught by the Prof who taught the Measurement class, this class consisted of reviewing educational research and learning how to make sense of it, as well as some basic information on how to actually do research. Sadly, the prof had a family emergency, followed by a snowstorm, so class was canceled quite a bit, and I didn't learn nearly as much as I would have liked, but she made do, and the lectures we did have were crammed full of good information.

-Science Methods 1:

Dr. W had us actually hanging out in a High School science classroom for this class, and we learned how to demo various labs, what the gist of inquiry was, and how to put together solid inquiry based lesson plans. I'm much more of a citizen science/STS guy, so while I enjoyed the class, I wanted more real world connections.

-Multicultural Education:

This class seemed to be an attempt to give us an intro to the concept of multiculturalism, but the end result was mixed. Part of this has to do with the fact that most of our cohort is white middle class types, who don't take ideas such as white privilege very well. Still, I actually learned a lot, which was good.

-Literacy in Secondary Schools:

A class on the importance of teaching literacy in public schools, and the importance of direct instruction. This class seemed to conflict a lot with the Inquiry view we were learning in the Science methods class, which was rather entertaining.


This was my second portfolio meeting, where they evaluated what I had put in my portfolio from the previous quarter. I ended up having a panic attack, as my grandpa had just been hospitalized (and has since died), and I was still reeling from the shock. I bombed the meeting, but I will have a second chance next Portfolio meeting.

I'm currently in Winter quarter, taking the following courses:

-Practicum (Teacher Observation):

I've been placed in a rural middle school with an amazing teacher. I go there twice a week, and occasionally teach lessons, as well as get to know the kids. It's an amazing experience, and I have already logged the 50 hours needed, although I will continue to go. My main frustrations stem from the long drive and the lack of sleep, but caffeine has proved an able assistant.

-Practicum seminar:

This is just a basic reflective seminar where we talk about how our things are going in our placements.

-Science Methods 2

Another Dr. W class, this time talking about science and society, which is the other half of the Inquiry Science equation. Being someone who feels that science is only relevant through the lens of its effects on society, I REALLY like this class.

-Classroom Management

A class on how to deal with classes of disruptive kids. It really gets into the meat and potatoes of classroom management, which I appreciate.

-Culture of Secondary Schools

Dr. W teaches this class as well, and it is an anthropological view of schools. It's a lot of fun, playing anthropologist and doing various observations.

And that's where I am. The next quarter, I am student teaching full time, and then the quarter after that I will have a math teaching class and some educational theory class, followed by two 1 credit portfolio classes. After that, hello MEd.

A note on my cohort, we are about 19 students, ranging from age 21 to age 50something, with backgrounds from fresh graduate to seasoned geologist. After three quarters together, we're pretty tight knit, which is good, as my social life has taken a pretty massive hit from the all the schoolwork.

Anyway, hope this brief review of the classes I've had helps clarify what a secondary science education program looks like. I don't know if this setup is typical for programs like this, but thus far I think it's been doing a fairly good job at preparing me for the classroom. One area I haven't been touching on is the personal toll, as that has been great. This program has changed me for the better, but it has also taken a tremendous emotional toll on me during certain points. However, I think that is the nature of a crucible, and this program has been very intense, and for something so concentrated, I think it needs to be.


How did I get into the program?

I think it would probably be good to describe the process I went through to get into my Secondary Science program, to give anyone who is interested a feel for what is involved with doing so.

The program itself is based out of University of Washington, Tacoma, which offers three tracks- a k-8 track, a dual track (Special Ed and k-8), and Secondary Science. I don't know much about the former two, but the Secondary Science one gets you a teaching certificate in about a year, and a Masters in Education shortly thereafter. It starts in the summer, then in Winter you begin the practicum, which consists of putting in 50+ hours in your assigned classroom, observing your cooperating teacher. Come spring quarter, you do student teaching for about three months, and are then awarded a teaching certificate, and a few classes more, and a passing portfolio review, and you get your Masters.

My background before getting into the program was primarily in mental health services. I have an interdisciplinary arts Bachelors with a focus on psychology, which, for all intents and purposes, is nearly identical to the course work required to get a psych degree. I also took a number of hard science courses, and have always had a strong passion for science, especially neurology and astrophysics. In college, I did mostly IT work, and after graduating I worked for a foster care/mental health agency working with foster kids and CPS referrals, and did about three years there. Near the end, I ended up heading a tutoring program that ended with most of the students passing their math classes, where before the program they were almost universally failing. Realizing I had a knack for math, I looked at possible teacher education programs, and found one at UWT.

The biggest admission requirements I remember off the top of my head were:

-Letters of rec.

I got two, one from a former professor and my boss at the mental health agency. I talked with them about what I felt was probably best to put in the letter, and they did as such, mostly highlighting my work in the tutoring program, my passion for science, and my skill working with difficult kids.

-Passing score on the WEST-B and WEST-E in a content area relevant to the program.

The WEST exams are teaching standards exams. There are three WEST-Bs, which are the basic knowledge exams. They were painfully easy, and consisted of a test on reading, writing, and basic math skills. I had three options for the WEST-E, which is the content area exam. I had the option to take the general science one, which allows me to teach any level science, from 6th grade basic general science, to 12th grade physics, the Earth and Space science one, which would allow me to teach high school Earth and Space science, and Biology, which would allow me to teach high school biology. I decided to take the general science one, as it encompassed the most content area. I studied hard for it, and ended up passing. I have since taken the mid level math one, which is the only other content area certification this program offers, so I am able to teach the full spectrum. Both WEST-Es I studied incredibly hard for, although I got top marks on both, so on some levels, I think they were not as intimidating as I perceived them to be.

-Personal Statement

I wrote one, wrote another draft, and another draft, and another draft, then had people tear drafts apart, and rewrote it, and rewrote it. Finally, I had something I was happy with, and sent it in.

-40+ Documented classroom hours

I teamed with an old high school teacher that I had recently reconnected with, and spent a few weeks shadowing him as well as a geometry teacher. After documenting 40 hours, he signed off on the paperwork.

-Various admission documents

There's always plenty of paperwork. There was also proof of vaccination, which was easy enough to obtain.

-A developmental Psych class

I already had one of these, so this wasn't a problem.

I got all my stuff in a bit earlier than the deadline, and then I waited. After a few months, I got a letter in the mail, and sure enough, I had been accepted. After me having what resembled a seizure from sheer joy, I sent in my acceptance of acceptance, and started preparing for classes, which would begin in Summer.

And that's what got me into the program. I completed a FAFSA and ended up getting a good amount of grant money, which has been a godsend, as due to the level of classwork, my ability to take on shifts at my job has been greatly diminished. My girlfriend moved in with me to help alleviate my rent woes a bit, and that has helped, although I am living from paycheck to paycheck, often times borrowing money from my parents, who have been very helpful in this regard.

My advice to anyone looking at getting into a program is to get as much experience working with kids as possible, as that seemed to be one of the big factors that helped me get in. Also, any background in science is a plus. Doing well on the state exams probably played a large part into it, as well.

In my next post, I will detail my experience in the program thus far.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Facebook is a problem.

So, I received a friend request and a message on facebook from a student in my cooperating teacher's class. He made a joking comment, and I realized that I should probably set my facebook to private.

But then I realized, as a teacher, I really would rather not. If I do, I want to have an alternate facebook account that is accessible to students, and create a fake name for my other one. Not that I ever have much to hide, but I'd still rather keep my work life and private life apart.

The idea of creating a facebook for students and school matters does appeal to me, though. If I want to forge a relationship with my students, I might as well do so on their terms. That doesn't mean I will necessarily spend any real amount of time on facebook with students, as that sounds like legal suicide. On the other hand, it seems like a possible content distribution platform- imagine, students checking their friend feed to see, "Hey 3rd period Bio, remember that the paper is due this Friday!" or "Hey 4th period math, remember how I mentioned that video on linear equations? Here's the youtube link."

I like that.

I've been thinking about content delivery systems and how to integrate that into education. I've seen a number of schools use class websites with student profiles and whatnot, but I really think they're doing it all wrong. If students aren't forced to use the online content, they won't. They won't willingly go to a school website on their own time when they've got facebook and youtube to compete. That's why I think instead of creating class websites with all the homework and assignments, integrating class content with facebook, or even google is the future. They already have a great way to connect people, and most of the students are already all over facebook, you already have that massive active audience.

Of course, many kids won't add "4th grade bio" as a friend, but a lot more would than would check the school based class website.

I clicked on the kid who messaged me, and looked through his friends list. I recognized quite a few of the kids there as students in the class, and began to realize what a great way to get content to students would be. It's also a good way to find out stuff about the students' lives and interests, and possibly even connect with parents. It's definitely something I want to look into when I become a teacher.

And not to say that it is flawless. There are a lot of potential problems. But right now, I think the potential benefits outweigh the potential problems. Although as it stands, my cooperating teacher doesn't do facebook, so I'm hesitant to start adding kids. But still, the fact that a student added me is... It's a compliment.




I'm currently a student teacher, and in an attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity, I've decided to start blogging about my experience, thoughts, and whatever else I need to put down on text.

A bit about me, I'm 26, I live in Washington, and am highly qualified in mid-level math and science. I'm currently in a masters program to get my MEd and teaching certificate, and am currently doing my practicum (teacher observation) at a middle school. I live in a house with my artist girlfriend, a roommate, and two cats, and have a (very) part time job as a case worker for catholic community services.

One of my real big interests is educational technology, and the various ways technology can enhance education. Right now I think that is one of the major areas where education is really failing to serve students, by providing excellent online options for their schools. That being said, I've also seen a lot of schools with online stuff that gets ignored by the students as well as the teachers, so I think that the online option might be something that is either a bit too ahead of its time, or not fully implemented in a useful way. Too often, students don't need to check the online stuff, it doesn't enhance their education in any major way, so it gets left alone. But for the students who are naturally internet inclined and might happen to miss a few days, I think that there are a lot of options.

Still, I think from a teacher's perspective, if you use the online stuff effectively enough, it could probably offer a lot of cool opportunities for web quests and what not. I don't know, it's something I'm going to have to do some research on eventually, as it might be something I'll use in the future, or even want to get involved with.

The program I'm currently in is a secondary science focused program, and thus far I've been really enjoying it. The head professor is a slashdotter, which I have been since high school, so we speak a similar dialect. The classes have been very intense, but I've been somehow managing to stay afloat with only a handful of mental breakdowns.

My student observation has been going pretty well. I'll spare a lot of the details in this post, but it consists of two science preps, a math-science block, and a sort of engineering class. The teacher has her national board certification, and really has a good handle on the stuff. That being said, it's incredibly intimidating to follow that act. Still, for all my weaknesses and novice skill level, I bring a passion, a genuine enthusiasm for kids and science, and a wealth of science knowledge. It'll be interesting to see how well I do going through the shredder that is a middle school classroom. They've already figured out I'm a huge nerd, but I don't deny it. Science really is my thing. And after a while, I think they somehow think it's acceptable, and seem to want to spend time talking to me about stuff. It's probably just the novelty of having someone else in the classroom, but I usually try to bring up some cool science news that they might not know.

And hell, that's what keeps me going on science. They just found a bunch of exoplanets, and something like 40 of them are candidates for life. Holy hell, that's cool. They're making more breakthroughs in AIDS research. Also awesome. Bacteria are now able to synthesize gasoline from CO2. We're living in the future, and I think kids deserve to know what this abstract stuff is going towards.

I guess I should close this on a personal note, and just say that this path towards teaching is really taking a toll on me, but it's a good sort of toll. Before I started, I was a sort of aimless IT geek philosopher who wanted to share science with the world. I've found a path towards it, and while it is burning away a lot of my weaknesses and neurosis, I think I'm liking who I'm becoming, I'm finding my way out of the labyrinth that is the mid 20s.