Getting To Know Your Students

Just the other day I read an article from Corkboard Connections, “What Makes A Parent Love A Teacher.”  You can read it here, and I highly recommend you do! The gist is that, over the years, the teachers that stand out and make a lasting impression are the teachers that took the time to develop meaningful relationships with their students — they got to know them as more than just another kid in the class.

In general, I feel like I do a pretty good job of this.  My students and I talk about what they did over the weekend, how the play is going, or whether they won their game or not.  I generally go to at least one game for each sport, and for the sports I like, I often go to more. (I have to admit, two soccer games a year is enough for me…) I attend the school plays and other special events — (Monster Bingo? Uh yah!).  All in all, I think I do a decent job.

But after reading this article, I decided I wanted to do better. For most students, I know which parents are together and which ones are divorced, I know they have a brother in 2A or a sister in 8B.  But do they have siblings outside of our school? What days do they spend with mom, which days do they spend with dad? Does mom work? Do they have step-parents or step-siblings? What do they want to be when they grow up? What is their hands-down, favorite science topic? What do they want to be when they grow up? What do they want to accomplish this year? I realized that for many students, I don’t know these things, and I figured out that these are the things I want to know about them.  I realized that the “beginning-of-year survey” I gave to…

1) get contact information for parents, and

2) get to know the kids

… didn’t have the kind of information I now felt was important.

So yesterday, I had the kids fill out a new form.

Actually, it wasn’t a form at all. It was a piece of loose-leaf, and they answered seven questions that I had written on the board.

1. Name

2. Best Way To Learn

3. Favorite Subject

4. Favorite Science Topic

5. Clubs, Hobbies, Sports & Activities

6. Family (Who lives with you? Brothers? Sisters? Ages/Grades? Pets?)

7. Goals (For this year? What do you want to be when you grow up?)

While at some point or another, students have told me some of these things, or some of the elements were on the beginning-of-year survey, I never thought about organizing the data I collected.  In the article, the author linked to a resource from Cult of Pedagogy, called the “Deep Data At A Glance chart.”  I checked hers out, but I ultimately decided to make my own.  First, I didn’t like it being a Word document, because I find that charts get all funky on Word sometimes.  Second, I wasn’t happy with those categories, so I had to type new ones up anyway.  Third, I like things to have pretty font, so I used some I had downloaded to my own computer.  I put all of this into an Excel chart and then typed up my student responses.

Side Note: My students were really excited to answer these questions, and I was surprised at the time and consideration they put into it.  Some were confused why we were doing this in the middle of the year — I simply told them I wanted to know these things.  They seemed happy.  I’m hoping to be able to incorporate some of what I have learned into future conversations and what not.  I’m also glad I came across this before parent-teacher conferences next week!!

So while I created my own chart, I was SO PLEASED with the idea, and I totally give credit to that article and Cult of Pedagogy. It’s not like it was a complicated idea, but for some reason, it never occurred to me — which is a little surprising because I really like data. Collecting it, organizing it, using it, tracking how it changes, etc. Anyway, it was a great idea, and I am glad it was shared with me!

I created both an Excel and editable PDF of my data sheet. You can access it for FREE at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  Simply click EXCEL if you’d like the Excel version or PDF if you’d like the PDF version. The Excel won’t have the pretty font, but the PDF will.

All in all, I hope you take the time to read that article — it’s a good reminder.  Yes, these are things we all try to do, but in the craziness of the day, the month, the year, it’s all too easy for these things to get shuffled to the side.  I’m glad I was reminded to continue to take the time to really know these awesome kids:

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NSTA14 Boston Conference Summary

At the time I applied for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award in November, my goals for this conference were three-fold: improve my understanding and application of inquiry based learning; learn how to utilize technology into my daily instruction; and discover how to incorporate literacy-based activities into my curriculum and develop literacy skills. In the few months since my initial application, as I matured as a science teacher, I found that my goals had slightly changed. Inquiry-based learning and project-based learning still ranked first on my list of conference goals. Similarly, I still wanted to know how to incorporate scientific literacy into my instruction and how to develop my students into science writers through the use of scientific argumentation. Finally, I decided to use this conference as a way to build my content knowledge in topics that I could connect to my curriculum – such as citizen science, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and climate change. Additionally, I shifted away from the focus on technology and instead directed my efforts to understanding the Next Generation Science Standards.

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In case you were wondering what to wear at your next #NSTA14 NGSS PDI session… PS: Don’t judge my mirror selfie.

I spent my first day of the conference attending PDI-8 NGSS 101. Through this all-day session, I gained a greater grasp on the NGSS standards and how to use them. Prior to the conference, I found the standards overwhelming—particularly how the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and performance standards tied together. I came away from this session with, I believe, a much clearer understanding of the standards. The Disciplinary Core Ideas is the actual science content students should know. The performance standards reveal student understanding—they prove that students understand the DCI. The Science and Engineering Practices are the practices, or approaches, that scientists use as they study the natural world. These are skills that students, as scientists, need in order to find success in the sciences. Finally, the crosscutting concepts are themes or ideas that apply to the many disciplinary areas of science and engineering and unify each of these fields as a natural science. While I’m still not an expert, I feel much more comfortable using these standards and understanding how to truly know if my students have mastered them. I am very excited to take a look at my current curriculum and determine ways I can shift my units to address these NGSS standards!

On a slightly more silly note – I had a great time with these two ladies from Texas! Meet Lara and Kelsey:

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I also added another goal to my conference “to-do list.”

On Thursday and the first half of Friday, I traveled to research institutions at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, and Northeastern University’s Marine Lab to learn about ocean ecosystems.  This area is very much of personal interest to me – I studied coastal ecology during a short study-abroad session the summer after my freshman year of college, and I am still very drawn to that field.  Even though my students and I don’t live by the ocean, its role in the health of our planet is especially important today as threats of overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten our stability and perhaps even the survival of our way of life. As a student in a landlocked state, I was never really exposed to the disciplines of coastal ecology and ocean sciences, and I truly wish I had been. I would have loved to study it in more depth during college and perhaps even pursue a career in the field.  It is my hope that by incorporating some ocean science into my curriculum through our examination of climate and climate change, I can expose my students to this interesting field, even though we are geographically removed from the ocean.

Through my field trip experiences, I gained an understanding of the work marine scientists do, their areas of research, and actual fieldwork techniques.  I enjoyed a presentation by a doctoral candidate from Northeastern University who is currently looking at the genetic diversity of algae in intertidal zones, as well as heard how researchers are using synthetic muscle to create robots that respond to “neural impulses” (or something like that. I don’t remember the specific vocabulary, as it was a pretty complex presentation).  It was also very interesting to hear of the work being done at the salt marshes in Cape Cod, particularly the efforts to quantify the “carbon sink” and “methane sink” abilities of saltwater marshes to open the possibility of using marshes as “carbon offsets” or “carbon trading.” I was also able to learn about the history of the region and its contributions to the field of science, such as the fossils that were discovered by Agassiz that filled in some gaps in the fossil record. Finally, I was able to participate in “fieldwork” as we examined the intertidal zone, identifying species and counting number or estimating percent cover in randomly selected plots in the lower, middle and upper intertidal zones.

At Northeastern University’s Marine Science Lab in Nahant, MA.

Friday night I was able to participate in the Teacher Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel.  Not only was it wonderful to be a part of the celebration and delicious food, but it was also inspiring to see the achievements of other science teachers.  I am motivated to continue to grow professionally and do what I can to earn another opportunity to attend NSTA’s awards gala. While the PDI on Wednesday allowed me to “check off” the NGSS content on my conference goals list, and through my fieldtrips build my content knowledge, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday were devoted to improving my instruction in the areas of inquiry-based learning and scientific literacy development.  I attended conference sessions on the use of interactive notebooks in science classes (“Writing to Learn Through Science Notebooks/Journals in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms”), the progression from hands-on to mind-based models in science (“Moving from Hands-On Models to Minds-On Models”),  and the utilization of NOAA’s resources for instruction on coral reef and ocean acidification (“Engage Your Students With NOAA’s Coral Reef and Ocean Acidification Resources”).  Additionally, I attended a presentation by Loree Griffin Burns on citizen science designed to engage, inspire and empower students to participate in the science community from a young age, and I learned about the Boston Schools Environmental Initiative’s partnership with Dennis Haley Elementary Pilot School, where an integrated thematic curriculum and a dedication to outdoor learning is engaging students in scientific practices and increasing the relevancy of classroom content.  While I plan to stay in my present position for a few more years, it is wonderful to hear about the success of school and community collaborations like this in the hopes that I may have the opportunity to work in a similar environment someday.

Comic Interlude: Penguins

Finally, although it is not the last session I participated in, I attended the presentation, “To Lead from the Classroom, Get Out of the Classroom!”  My goal in attending this presentation was to identify additional strategies to engage with others and take advantage of opportunities to develop as a scientist, instructor, community member and ultimately, a leader in the field of science education.

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, and I can only hope to be lucky enough to attend next year.  Not only was I able to connect with other professionals in this field and learn from their experiences, but I was also able to explore the New England coast and Boston’s city life.  I definitely have expanded my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards and inquiry-based learning, and I am so excited and motivated to bring that learning to my classroom! Thank you, NSTA for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award!

Ready, Set, Go!

While I am by no means any sort of skilled photographer, I got to see and photo a few pretty cool fish at the aquarium in Woods Hole.

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The last photo is my favorite and totally begs to be captioned… I’d love to hear your ideas!!

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Hermit Crabs Are Cool.

This is way better than those painted shells with Spiderman webs and soccer balls…

 

National Conference on Science Education

As a first year science teacher, I am always looking for advice and ideas to use in the classroom.  I have long been a believer in professional organizations – like the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and most recently, the National Science Teacher’s Association.  As a member, I receive a monthly journal with lots of amazing lesson ideas, science content, and resource reviews, and I can access additional material on the web – including old journal issues, email lists, and mini science content courses.

Browsing the site earlier this year, I came across an opportunity for new teachers to apply for an award to help defray the cost of attending the National Conference on Science Education, to be held this year in Boston.  To be honest, I was not expecting the award.  On the application, it directly states that preference will be given to teachers who had been members of the NSTA Student Chapter of their college or university, and to make matters worse, I realized I forgot to send the main information form with my entire application packet and had to send it in a separate envelope.  I figured it was a long shot, but why not try.

I was incredibly surprised and honored, then, to receive an email from NSTA, announcing that I had been one of 25 teachers selected for this award. WOW! I can’t begin to share with you my excitement — it only grew after I began browsing the sessions to be held at the conference as well.

Being selected for this award has not only filled me with excitement to travel to Boston and to attend these amazing conference sessions and (yay!) FIELD TRIPS, but it has given renewed life to my drive to continually improve — to gain new experiences, to make connections, and to become a leader in my field.

I have definitely had my ups and downs with education — when I left Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools last year, I thought I would give up on it entirely.  I felt like a failure of a teacher, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the career I had spent the last seven years working toward. Teaching at OLCS this year has entirely turned that around, though.  I work with an amazing team of teachers, with awesome students, and with administrators that are there for me.  I have the freedom and support to meet curriculum standards creatively and to incorporate the authentic learning experiences so important at the middle level.  My students have video-conferenced with professors from Penn State Behrend, collected water quality data from Cascade Creek, and conducted an energy audit of our school.  They are engaged in independent research projects, investigating original questions and sharing their results through journal-like reports.    Some of my students will even share their research at Allegheny College’s Creek Connections Symposium in April.  I am lucky to work at a school like OLCS, and the culture that our teachers, students, and administrators have created has been a huge factor in my success.

I look forward to what’s to come, and I can’t wait to share it all with you!

 

Regrets: But I Can’t Go Back, and I Don’t Want To

I’ve never bothered much with regret.  Perhaps it’s a pride thing (after all, to say you regret something means you’re admitting you did something wrong…), but I think regret is a waste of time.  You can’t change it anyway, so why bother regretting it?

I moved to North Carolina to teach at a public school in Charlotte in August, and I moved back to Erie a mere six months later.  I spent a lot of money moving down there, and I spent another good chunk moving back up north.  I’m sure to some people that looks like regret — I regretted moving south so I moved back north.  Well, it’s not.  I don’t regret moving to North Carolina.  It was something I had to do.

When you make a decision, you obviously have reasons to do so.  You may change your mind about those reasons later, but at the time, you had your reasons.  So why should you regret it? I had to go to North Carolina.  I was working in a private school, and at the time I believed it “didn’t count” as real teaching.  “Real” teachers were public school teachers, and you weren’t a real teacher ’till you taught at a public school.  In Pennsylvania it is very difficult to get a public school job — there is a ton of competition, first of all.  Then there are some districts that only hire people who went to the school, whose parents teach at the school, etc.  And there are other districts who only hire people who are in no way connected to the school (such as the district I was raised in and worked in for five years).  On top of that, I was just itching to get out of Erie.  I had lived in Erie my whole life, had gone to college and grad school within fifty miles of the city, and was worried I would never get out.  At that point in my life, I had to leave, and teaching in North Carolina was the first opportunity I found to do that.

While I ended up hating my job down there and moved back north just six months later, while I’ve lost money in the moves and have had to go back to substitute teaching up here, North Carolina was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in terms of my own personal and professional growth.

Personally, for the first time since I really entered the “dating world,” I didn’t care about having a boyfriend — moving gave me distance from the stupid non-relationship thing I was doing with a moron up here, and it also gave me time to get over the real three year relationship I had ended the year before.    When we broke up at the end of 2011, I jumped right in to seeing someone else to help me forget about the one I really loved, and even when I knew that new person wasn’t right, I didn’t want to be alone.  Erie held too many memories of the guy I thought I was going to marry — from grocery shopping together at Wegmans to gardening/landscaping together in the front yard.  However, in moving to North Carolina, I rid myself of the moron, I separated myself from all my memories of the love, and I was just plain old too busy to even think about dating anyone else.  I discovered I’d rather hang out with my friends on Saturday nights than go meet up with some guy and have to make awkward conversation for an hour.  I got back into crafting in my free time and started my Etsy shop, Eva M Designs.  And this new independence followed me back to Erie when I moved.  Moving to North Carolina was something I had to do.

Professionally, I learned more about the “art” of teaching and classroom management than I would have learned in years up here (mostly because you had to learn to survive!), and I know I am a much better teacher now than I ever was before (and considering I had always had good observations before, I think I’m going to be pretty excellent now!).  I also realized what I had had up here at that private school I didn’t think was good enough.  I realized how important it is to have supportive administrators, and I learned what questions to ask and what things to look for as I seek out a new position and interview potential bosses. (Haha, flipped that one around!)  I realized that public school teaching is NOT for me,  considering the directions public schooling is moving towards. Frightening.  Finally, I realized I’d rather be poor than miserable, and I can’t wait to get back into a private school and share all I learned from my brief venture into public school.  I don’t care what they pay me – I’d rather get to teach and enjoy it.

So instead of regretting my adventure in North Carolina, I prefer to look at all I’ve learned from it and know that it was something I had to do.  I had my reasons for it at the time, and I never would have been satisfied until those reasons were addressed.  There are plenty of other situations in my life, actions I’ve taken, roads I’ve gone down, that sometimes I wonder if I should regret.  But I always remind myself that I had my reasons, and I would not be the person I am today if I had not made those decisions.

But I can’t go back
And I don’t want to
‘Cause all my mistakes
They brought me to you.

Great Professional Development — and No, I Don’t Even Mean The Drinking Kind

Today I had a very exciting day of Professional Development.  — I’m not even being sarcastic.  I really had a great day in a PD workshop.  I’ll admit, part of that goodness is the fact that I had a “kid-free” day.  Now, I don’t mean to sound like I don’t like being with my kids.  That’s not the case at all.  But being with my kids every single day, good and bad, can be wearisome.  When I am running around like a crazy person, finishing plans, writing PEPs, entering grades, attending PLC meetings, grade level meetings, parent-teacher meetings, intervention meetings, IB meetings, and PD workshops – it is easy to get run down.  When I am getting up at the crack of freakin dawn to work over-12-hour days with literally no breaks (nope, not even lunch breaks), and then you throw in thirty adolescent girls and boys with language and ability challenges, motivational issues, family and home life crises, social dramas and mood swings, it is easy to forget what I like about teaching.  And that is a whole lot of effort to put in to something I’m not really caring for.  At that point, we’ve reached a real problem.

So, the point is, it is nice to have a day away–to recharge, to remember what I like about teaching, and to see someone else doing it.  Aside from the “recharge” value of the day off, it was really nice to hear from other teachers who are facing the same challenges I am.  It was a relief to know that it’s not just me, that I don’t just suck at teaching (seriously, that was a real concern).  It was also great to spend some time in someone else’s classroom, to see what other teachers are doing and how they are doing it.  The “Master Teacher” we observed to day was so impressive. The way she interacted with students and the way students behaved in her classroom–it was so quiet and calm and orderly.  I dream of having a class like that!!! But like she said, they didn’t come to her that way.  She had to teach that behavior and it took time and practice.  Thus–there is hope for us all!

 

Something I found quite interesting: Several of the teachers at this workshop were from my own school.  They teach a different grade level, but their rooms are just down the hall from me.  I was shocked as I listened to them recount their experiences so far this year.  They said they felt “alone,” “abandoned,” were “drowning.”  They felt like the administration was not providing them support, was overly critical, was even disrespectful in the way they addressed the teachers.  Seriously, I was shocked as I listened.  I had been telling my family, my friends, etc. how lucky I felt to be in a school that was providing me so much support. Between my Assistant Principal, the Literacy Facilitator, and the few veteran teachers on my content PLCs, I always had someone to turn to–and someone who really knew what they were doing.  While I had once felt like those teachers at the workshop (just a few weeks ago), my experience has really turned around.  I mean, I’m not going to argue–my classes definitely need fine-tuning. A lot of it. That said, I am able to teach now, and I don’t leave work frustrated and tired with a headache and sore throat.  Having come so far as a result of the support I have received, it is crazy to me that someone just a few doors down is having such a different experience.  It definitely has made me appreciate what I have, and I’ll be sending several thank-you notes tomorrow!

Additionally, listening to these concerns many teachers are having with their administrators has been a big reminder that “honey attracts more flies than vinegar.” (Is that the correct saying? You know what I mean.)  Encouragement and praise are much better motivators than criticism–not just for kids but also for adults.  I know when I receive praise, I find myself working harder just to make sure I am deserving of it.  Criticism, on the other hand, can just break you down.  Considering the nightmare of my first student teaching experience, I of all people should remember that (by the time I finished student teaching, I had decided I never wanted to teach again–and this was not at all the result of the students I taught but rather the teacher I worked with).  Anyhoo, it was a good reminder, and all in all, a very worthwhile PD Day!