Finding the Courage to Teach

I can tell that the First Day of School is drawing very near when my Facebook newsfeed starts to fill with posts from teacher-friends about sleepless nights and reoccurring nightmares. I myself have been dreaming the same nightmare for the past two or three days… I keep dreaming that I lose my cool in the middle of a class after engaging with disruptive students. I scream and yell to make myself heard, but the class just laughs at me. The weight of the humiliation and embarrassment wakes me up, and I end up tossing and turning for the rest of the night.

During my summer break, I picked up and read “The Courage to Teach” by Parker J. Palmer. The first chapter strongly resonated with me, especially the part where he talked about how good teaching is not all about technique, but rather the identity and integrity of the teacher.  Many teachers pursue this career because they are passionate about making connections. However, somewhere along the line, they become disconnected as a way to protect themselves from their nightmares.

My teaching experience last year was a lot like that. I closed myself off from my students because there was too much for me to deal with at work. I was stressed and unable to joke around, or share funny anecdotes. I tried to be more authoritarian and it made for a miserable environment for everyone. This year, I look forward to another chance to turn things around. I want to create a happier learning environment by being the person I am, and not who I think I should be.

‘Be not afraid’ does not mean that we should not have fears. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears. – Parker J. Palmer

As a teacher, I have a million fears. I am afraid of not being prepared, of losing things, or a lesson plan that did not go as planned. I am afraid of forgetting my schedule, or being laughed at by students, just like in my nightmares. I understand now though that this is part of being a teacher. I have to put myself out there for my students. I have to accept that I can only do my best each and every day; accept that sometimes things will not happen as planned; and try not to berate myself for the things I was unable to do. So tonight, I am going to dream good things about the year ahead. Tomorrow, my students and I will have a great First Day of School.

 

WWIDD: What Would I Do Differently?

Several days ago, Larry Ferlazzo posted on his blog: “What Are You Going To Do Differently Next Year?” I still have about a week to go before I start packing up my classroom, but his question has been rattling around in my head since I came across his post. What exactly would I do differently?

Thinking... please wait

Hmm, WWIDD?

I think a particular sentence from the book, “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, best sums up the gist of my thoughts: Think less. Do more. Be authentic.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. I will focus more on being in the present with my students. Sometimes as a teacher, you get inundated with so much stuff that you forget to slow down, and really think about why you’re doing it in the first place. Will a meticulously written ten-page scripted lesson plan really matter in the long run? It won’t if it means missing out on making vital connections with my students, and being able to meet them where they are, instead of pushing them along to where they’re not yet ready to be.

2. I will encourage students to take on more responsibility in the classroom. Middle-schoolers are messy; learning is messy. I have to be willing to let go of some control, and let them take over with classroom jobs to clean up the classroom, and to take over classroom routines. I can’t do everything and be everywhere at once; I need to be able to trust that they can do things safely on their own once I model for them the appropriate procedures. I also need to be patient and willing enough to guide them through it multiple times, instead of wanting to take over and do it all by myself instead.

3. I will encourage hard work, effort, and perseverance through positive praise instead of physical incentives. Not everyone in the real world gets a gold medal. I think I do my students a disservice when I’m asked to provide classroom incentives and rewards for something they’re expected to do, and for mediocrity. These rewards should be reserved for work that shows improvement, or something exceptional. I believe that it means more to students when they are able to experience the effects of hard work.  However, I am aware that I’m dealing with middle-schoolers, and they do need that little extrinsic motivation once in awhile. I’m not quite sure how I’ll revamp this next year, but I definitely will think about how to get around those incentives.

4. I will speak up more often for myself. Once caught in a very stressful situation, I found myself in tears just seconds before the bell for homeroom rang. I thought I would find guidance and assurance from a mentor, but was instead told to “not get so emotional” and “man up”. It was at that moment that I realized that as much as I love my work and its adult culture, work is work. Work does not take care of me.

I was, and still am, an introvert; the thought of having to speak up in meetings, or seek out my principal for 1:1 conferences, gives me heart palpitations. Other coworkers interrupted and spoke over me. As a result, they were seen as more competent and were offered more lucrative positions. I learned this year that I have to take care of myself. I could do that next year by letting go of my fears and hesitations, and by giving myself a stronger and louder voice.

What would you do differently?

My Favorite Highlights of the 2013-2014 School Year

Hello, dear readers! I apologize for being an awful blogger; obviously I have not yet mastered the balance of work, home and posts! I do hope you are well, and thanks for sticking around! Can you believe that it’s mid-June already? Most of my teacher-friends are already out of school! In fact, my own kid is out this week, but here I am, with still approximately seven (torturous–oops, did I type that out loud?) days left on our extended school year calendar.  What’s that sound? Ah, it’s me hissing in envy as I imagine my peers frolicking on the beach, while I sit in a hot second-story classroom, trying to teach.

To take my mind off those lovely beach scenes, I am posting my favorite highlights of the school year. If this post was a scrapbook, it would have glittery stickers with “super star” and  “awesome” all over it.  Don’t get me wrong; this year definitely posed a lot of challenges, but I believe I experienced more highs than lows. A lot of my professional growth this year centered on my decision to put my fears aside and just do something different. I did exactly that, and boy, was it a lot of fun!

My Top 7 Favorite Highlights of the Year:

1. Acquiring classroom pets through PetCo grants. (Watch out for Max’s stinky poops!)

Max

Here’s Max, our bearded dragon, who helped us learn about the major characteristics of organisms throughout the year. 

2. Setting up more (free) field trips throughout the year. (Thanks, Field Trip Factory!)

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Students performed a Pet Store scavenger hunt, where they learned about different animals, their habitats, and adaptations.

3. Helping my students make real-life connections with science instruction, application, and careers in science through multiple guest-speaker visits and field trips to local colleges. (Thanks to our service women at Stratton Air National Guard Base!)

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Female Air Force pilots shared their experiences transporting NSF scientists to Antarctica with our students during Career Fair Day.

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A doctorate student from The College of NanoScience and Engineering talks about her research on biomedical engineering, and debunks female scientist stereotypes. “Science is sexy!”

4. Setting up and supervising a year-long all-girls after school STEM mentoring program. (Go #STEMGirls!)

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One of the students got to experience how to put on appropriate work gear before entering a Clean Fab room in the research facilities at The College of Nano Science and Engineering.

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My rad #STEMgirls and I posed in our lab coats, and checked out each other’s DNA extractions.

5. Focusing more on hands-on activities and engineering design practices to help students learn science concepts. (It doesn’t hurt to indulge in our sweet tooth once in awhile!)

 

 

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Using candy manipulatives to build DNA structures and practice base pairing.

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Using timed challenges to build structures with limited materials to encourage problem-solving and collaboration between students.

6. Incorporating more long-term collaborative problem-based unit projects in my instruction (The following photos show students in various stages of research, design, and presentation during our month-long Code Blue Human Body Systems Unit. Many thanks to the pediatricians from The Children’s Hospital, Albany Medical Center, for listening to and assessing our Grand Rounds presentations!)

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Students worked in specialty groups to teach each other about their specific human body systems.

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Students worked in “home base” groups, where they designed their medical clinic signs and earned their licenses after taking board exams.

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One group’s 3D model of their chosen human body system.

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Doctors listened in as students presented their mystery patient’s diagnosis and treatments during Grand Rounds.

 

7. Attending the NSTA Boston Conference as a conference speaker, and getting to talk about  the uses of social media in the science classroom with some awesome kick-butt people!

 

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Hello, Boston!

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“The Social Science Teacher” presenters!

Creating A Teacher Brand So You Can Get Hired

Not too long ago, I met with one of my former graduate-school classmates for coffee. Donica* (name changed for privacy reasons) is a wonderful friend and an optimistic bubbly individual, so I was quite alarmed to note a slump in her shoulders as we exchanged greetings and bits of news. While sipping and sighing over her mug of coffee, Donica related her troubles trying to get into the teacher job market for the past three years.

Donica is a Full Bright scholar who speaks multiple languages; she is extremely smart, and very passionate about teaching languages, and equally passionate about sharing her love for instructional technology. Being the nerdy academic geeks we were back in grad-school, she and I actually competed with one another for the highest grades! We later found out we worked really well together on projects, became good friends, and now continue to attend various teacher conferences together in the Capitol Region. Needless to say, I was blown away by the fact that no one wanted to hire her. However, the teacher job market is what it is—full term positions are very hard to come by, and it’s increasingly becoming more of a networking game. It’s not only about what you have and what you can do, but also about who you know (and it’s even better if that person has the authority to pull a few strings!)

Being a West Coast transplant at the time, I definitely did not know the right people when I began my job search for a science teacher position in New York. That’s how I got into researching using social media to create a brand name for myself, so I could make myself more marketable for hiring managers. It worked; I was hired a month after graduating from grad-school! So, this post is inspired by Donica. I don’t claim to be a job or social media expert, but I’d like to share what worked for me, and hopefully, it can help her and others like her find a teaching job.

Haiku Slideshow

Create a brand name. Be clear about what makes you stand out. Take time to go over your mission statement. Who are you? What can you do? Why should they hire you? If you can come up with a one-statement headline, what would it be? Make your name into a brand!

Go digital. Get creative with your resume. Clean it up, and make sure you have a strong unified message. Then, take it to the Internet! Join LinkedIn. Upload photos and examples of your work and link them to a digital CV. Design an online portfolio– you can use any web tool such as wiki spaces, free website generators, and photo galleries. Create videos, or commercials, about who you are, what you can do, and where you plan to go. Add a friendly face to your name and brand.

Get online. Use social media to learn and share. Create a professional learning network with the help of social media. Avoid informal gravatars and post a well-lit photo of your face! Keep your profiles simple, personable, and professional. Link back to your digital resume. Use social media to connect with others through Twitter #edchats, online discussion forums, and email list serves. Sign up for free online webinars and video conferences. Subscribe to newsletters and blogs. Use Flipboard or Feedly to manage your reads. Pick and experiment with one tool at a time. Don’t forget to share what you know and what you have learned! Comment on others’ blogs. Retweet. Forward interesting and helpful articles to friends and comrades.

Manage your rep. Create a positive digital footprint. If a hiring manager were to Google your name right now, what would he or she find? (If you don’t know the answer to this, I suggest you try this yourself!) Build your brand by creating a positive digital footprint. Then, capitalize on it! Showcase your skills, interests, and experiences. Set automatic alerts to notify you if anything shows up on the Web with your name on it. Manage your privacy settings. Practice online ettiquette, post professional and work-related photos in public spaces, offer advice on LinkedIn’s Q&A section, and reply with positive feedback to teacher email queries on list serves. Start a blog. Offer to write short pieces for other bloggers. Get your work published on various online communities. Make an e-book. Share slide shows. Make sure that whatever you leave behind always reflects you in the best light!

Be personable. Share your interests and hobbies. Remember my second slide? Right now, there are tons of candidates out there with similar degrees, certifications, and work experiences. Stand out of the crowd by sharing more about who you are. Don’t be afraid to let your great personality show! Post those souffles or knitting projects on Instagram. Ask your Twitter friends about what to do with those pesky squash bugs! Volunteering with the local Boy Scouts to clean up trails? Just attended a great Edcamp on flipped classrooms? Be colorful, be personable, and be approachable. Be you!

Share it! If something works for you, share it. :)

(Late) End of Year Reflections

For most teachers and scholars, this post is about two or three months late. However, since I work at a charter school with an extended school year, I’m finally out of school for the next several weeks! At this point, I am just so very, very relieved to have some time off to recharge [physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally]; and to fully reconnect with family, friends, and my social networks.

No school today?
2012-2013 was, overall, a wonderful year for me.  I began my second year of teaching at the same school with a new superintendent, two sets of new administration, and a summer’s worth of training based on the book, “Teach Like A Champion“. The year definitely had its challenges, but it was not as difficult or as overwhelming like my first year of teaching. I have to credit my administration and colleagues for its success. Their constant feedback and support definitely made a large difference this year. The following paragraphs are a compilation of feedback from administration, scholars and my own reflections from the school year.

Major Challenges and Highlights of the Year

  • As shared staff (read: the only 7th grade science teacher), I had to divide my school year between two middle schools. Crammed a year’s worth of 7th Grade Life Science curricula into 5 months. Taught the 5-month curricula twice to 45+ 7th Grade female scholars from September to February, and then to 45+ 7th Grade male scholars from February to July.
  • Was accepted to the National Science Association New Science Teacher Academy in November (NSTA2). Juggled weekly forum discussions, web seminars, and two semester-long action research projects on analyzing student work and designing effective inquiry labs while teaching full-time.
  • Got engaged to my military man in December!
  • Attended the annual NSTA science conference at San Antonio, TX, in April. Saw many wonderful sessions, thanked our DOW sponsors in person for their generous contributions in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and befriended many fantastic science educators during my time there.

Mid-year and End-of-Year Evaluations

  • Received many 3.5’s and 4’s on my teacher evaluations! This meant a lot to me personally because I had a horrible first year, and I took every opportunity to practice this year to strengthen my classroom management. While we received training on many “Teach Like A Champion” (TLAC) techniques year-round, I really focused on 3 main techniques each day–100%, Break the Plane, and No Opt-Out. It is very critical, I found, to insist (and to do it consistently) on having 100% active attention from everyone before teaching or doling out instructions. It sets the tone for learning in class.
  • According to the class surveys, practicing these main techniques every day paid off ! 100% of survey respondents listed my ability to teach difficult concepts in multiple ways  and give instructions clearly as one of my greatest strengths as a teacher.

Positives (these are common phrases that popped up from student surveys)

  • “strong classroom management”
  • “not afraid to let us do stuff [open inquiry labs]”
  • “respectful”
  • “print-rich environment–always has our work posted”
  • “provides clear instructions”
  • “a nice teacher, but strict!”
  • “a loud talker, but rarely yelled”
  • “motivating”
  • “makes it easy to learn because [she] explains a concept in many different ways”
  • “treats us all with same expectations/treats us fairly”
  • “uses lots of examples [so I can understand]”
  • “gives us choices and second chances [if we screw up]”

Deltas (things I’d like to improve on for next year)

  • update the curriculum to more rigorous and challenging materials (thinking of layered curriculum, choice menus, and more true open-inquiry labs)
  • work on incorporating more hands-on labs, especially dissections (even if only virtual!)
  • tie topics of study in with more real-world connections (thinking of “Current Events Day” in the computer lab with articles on current topic)
  •  encourage a more collaborative and productive learning environment (thinking of redoing groupwork roles and using accountable talk)

Summer Reading (books and topics I’d like to read up on during vacation)

  • “First 20 Days” by Fisher and Frey (collaborative work)
  • Experiment design diagram
  • Accountable talk
  • Nunley’s layered curriculum
  • NGSS standards
  • science cafes
  • “STEM Student Research Handbook” by Harland
  • the Genius Hour
  • interactive science notebooks

#NSTA13 Academy: Day 2

Note: These posts were written in April 2013 as I attended the NSTA Annual Conference at San Antonio, Texas, as a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. Due to standardized testing and a hectic schedule back at home, I am now only able to upload these posts! Sorry for the long delay.

#NSTA2 Series: Day 1

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Hello from #NSTA13, San Antonio!

Receptions and Meet-and-Greets
Thursday was quite busy! As a National Science Teacher Academy (NSTA2) Teacher and DOW Fellow, there were several meet-and-greets and receptions I had to attend. I thoroughly enjoyed the networking opportunities and befriended many passionate and wonderful people. During a breakfast reception, we were introduced to several NSTA2 alumni. It was good to hear about their experiences with the Academy; they talked about how their experiences have helped them with their careers, and where those experiences have led them to where they are now. The importance of building a professional learning community (PLC) during your first years as a teacher was a common message I heard from their discussions. It was a message I definitely agreed with, and certainly passionately talk about with other new teachers.

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NSTA2 Breakfast Reception

Here are some excerpt tweets from those receptions, which I found inspirational and motivating.

Best quote of the night from the Academy Dinner: “You’re among your kind! This is your professional learning tribe!”

Great #PDisms from the NSTA2 Alumni Panel: “Perfect your craft, bring it back, and never stop learning.”

“We have to be model life-long learners. Be a reflective practitioner. Don’t wait for an invitation to do something.”

“Use your passions to find something new. Make it your own! Stay open, go learn!”

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With 3 amazing women: Tiffany, Damaries, and Mary Ann!

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Found my Pinterest social networking card


Sessions attended and Lessons learned

Despite the many mandated events, I was able to make it to 2 different sessions for the day. Based on my reflections from the previous session, I picked the NGSS strand on effectively measuring student learning and resolved to attend as many sessions offered in this genre. The first session was a follow-up from my all-day PD; it was on developing effective formative assessment and was again presented by Anne Tweed. From this session, I was quite surprised to learn that formative assessment was not only a feedback loop between the teacher and a student, but also between the student and his or her peers.

In order to promote feedback among students, it is imperative for the teacher to create a positive and supportive classroom culture. I was glad that the session touched upon this, and I was able to take away some strategies to work more on this component to ensure that I can make formative assessment really work in the classroom.

The second session was on the Common Core and writing in the science classroom. Our ELA and Writing teachers are phenomenal, and I have seen exemplary written work from the students. However, I noticed that when I ask the same students to write in science, the quality of their work is not level with their work from their ELA or writing classes. Many of them do not see science as a “writing” class, so they do not take their writing as seriously as they should. This session was very helpful; it provided me with great ideas on how to introduce and teach academic vocabulary, how to make the science textbook less intimidating and complex through “picture walks” or “text navigations”, and to come up with ways to make writing in science more structured and more motivating for students.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the whole duration because I had to man a booth in the Exhibit Hall. However, the presenter’s PowerPoint is available through Carolina Biology’s website so I am going to go back and view it when I get home.

The DOW Chemical Booth
In the early afternoon, I was one of the NSTA2 representatives who had to man the DOW Chemical Booth in the Exhibit Hall. This was a great opportunity, because I was able to meet one of the company’s associates and their marketing team and thank them in person for their support of the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. I honestly did not know a lot about DOW, but after my time spent at their booth, I know now how invested they are in supporting new teachers and STEM education. One of the biggest things I learned was that they are also seeking to connect their scientists and engineers with teachers to promote science literacy, STEM education, and careers in science. I will definitely be taking advantage of that in the future!

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With the DOW fuzzies demonstrating lab safety

Scientist Talk
One of the last receptions I attended on Thursday was the “Scientist Talk”. At this reception, all of the NSTA2 fellows listened and interacted with a panel of scientists and representatives from our respective company sponsors. It was eye-opening; I didn’t realize until then that there is also an entrepreneurial side to teaching. There are actually many science education outreach programs available, and many companies are seeking teachers who can use those programs to supplement their instruction or even provide their students with internships.

The panel members gave some great advice regarding how to reach out to companies and their scientists. “Be specific about your classroom needs. Do your research, and make contact with the companies and organizations. Share your own ideas on how you can use the programs in your classroom. Focus on the scientific processes, problem-solving skills, and applying knowledge and skills to new situations—these will help students be successful beyond school and in life.”

If you have a scientist guest speaker in the classroom, they also recommend asking the following questions: “How do you use the scientific processes in the real world? How do you apply science and technology in the real world? How do you really use science in the real world?”

One of my new PD goals is to spend some time in the summer researching these programs, and trying my hand at writing more grants to secure funding and more equipment for my classroom next year. We have GE and the new College of Nanotechnology here in Albany, and it would amazing to have their scientists come in to our classroom and possibly work with us on collaborative STEM projects…

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Found Alfons, a fellow mentee, at the DOW booth

Thank you, NSTA and DOW
As I was walking around and trying to absorb as much as I could from the conference, I couldn’t help but send out great waves of appreciation and gratitude to NSTA, the DOW Chemical Company, and the world for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even though I’m more than halfway through with the NSTA2 program, I still find it hard to believe that I am one of the lucky candidates, and that I am here at the conference. I have learned a lot this past year, and I can feel the change within me. I am more aware and more confident about my teaching. There are a lot of resources and materials I can use, but the most beneficial aspect of this experience is the community. I have definitely learned a lot not only from my mentor and colleagues, but also from the other teacher fellows, conference presenters, and other attendees. I met and befriended many science teachers during the conference, and that to me is the most valuable part of this experience. It lets me know that as a new science teacher I am not alone and that there is always help available when I reach out and ask for it.

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Clapp’s mentee group!

#NSTA13 Academy: Day 3

Note: These posts were written in April 2013 as I attended the NSTA Annual Conference at San Antonio, Texas, as a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. Due to standardized testing and a hectic schedule back at home, I am now only able to upload these posts! Sorry for the long delay.

#NSTA13 Series: Day 1, Day 2

Sessions attended and lessons learned

With only one event to attend on Friday, my schedule was less frantic and overwhelming this day. I was able to take my time and really enjoy the conference on my own. The morning began with a chemistry presentation sponsored by DOW Chemical Company. Several chemists shared hands-on inquiry labs that we teachers can use in the classroom. We rotated among 4 stations– creating goofy putty, cleaning pennies with lemon juice, searching for iron in our cereals, and making tie-dye patches through chromatography with Sharpies and rubbing alcohol. I had tons of fun, and was already brainstorming ways to incorporate some of these labs during the last few weeks of school or for our annual Field Day event in June.

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Playing with goofy putty

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Listening to a chemist explain procedures for the iron-fortified cereal lab

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Making tie-dye art with isopropyl alcohol and markers

 

One of the other sessions I enjoyed today was one on using 3D graphic organizers for formative assessment. This helped me continue my focus on measuring student learning, and it was also a fun break from the countless hours of sitting through PowerPoints and discussions. Originally I tried to get into one of Dinah Zike’s foldable sessions, but after seeing the very long lines, I quickly realized I was better off attending one of her off-shoot sessions. This was a fun session, and I was able to pick up the basic folds and several strategies on how to use foldables for formative assessment. This session taught me that sometimes you have to figure out how to work smarter, not harder!

Focus group survey
As part of their research, NSTA selected me as one of the candidates for a focus group survey regarding NSTA2 and the annual conference. I actually enjoyed this short time with the researchers and the other candidates because it allowed me to provide feedback about what worked and what didn’t work for me throughout the year as I worked as a teacher fellow. It felt good to have an outlet to voice myself, and to provide feedback and suggestions on how to improve the Academy for future candidates. I really hope that NSTA thinks about creating a website and forum for NSTA2 alumni. I would love to come back as a mentor one day, and give back to the professional learning community.

Sightseeing
After spending most of the morning and afternoon in sessions and in the Exhibit Hall, my brain told me I needed to take a break and get away from information overload. One of the best things about this trip was meeting and making new friends who love to eat and try new things like me. After a quick text, a friend and I took off and enjoyed the lovely Texas spring day at one of San Antonio’s botanical gardens. The beautiful flowers, peaceful setting, and a leisurely walk were exactly what we needed!

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View of the waterfalls at the Japanese Tea Gardens

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Strolling through the Japanese Tea Gardens

Making Friends

One of the best things about this conference was meeting other passionate science teachers. I was very lucky to meet this special group of ladies on my trip. Though we all came from different cities and taught different grades and subjects, I felt a great connection to these women. It’s not every day that you meet a stranger, and feel as if you have known them for years! I had a great time  sharing what I learned from the sessions, and exploring San Antonio with them! I wish them the best in all their endeavors, and know that they are out there making a positive change in many lives.

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Science teachers rule!

#NSTA13 Academy: Day 2

Receptions and Meet-and-Greets
Thursday was quite busy! As a National Science Teacher Academy (NSTA2) Teacher and DOW Fellow, there were several meet-and-greets and receptions I had to attend but I enjoyed the networking opportunities and befriended many passionate and wonderful people. During a breakfast reception, we were introduced to several NSTA2 alumni. It was good to hear about their experiences with the Academy; they talked about how their experiences have helped them with their careers, and where they are now. The importance of building a professional learning community (PLC) during your first years as a teacher was a common message I heard from their discussions, and from the general conversations around me.

[insert PD-isms and reception photos]

Sessions attended and Lessons learned

Despite the many mandated events, I was able to make it to 2 different sessions for the day. Based on my reflections from the previous session, I picked the NGSS strand on effectively measuring student learning and resolved to attend as many sessions offered in this genre. The first session was a follow-up from my all-day PD; it was on developing effective formative assessment and was again presented by Anne Tweed. From this session, I was quite surprised to learn that formative assessment was not only a feedback loop between the teacher and a student, but also between the student and his or her peers.

In order to promote feedback among students, it is imperative for the teacher to create a positive and supportive classroom culture. I was glad that the session touched upon this, and I was able to take away some strategies to work more on this component to ensure that I can make formative assessment really work in the classroom.

The second session was on the Common Core and writing in the science classroom. Our ELA and Writing teachers are phenomenal, and I have seen exemplary written work from the students. However, I noticed that when I ask them to write in science, the quality of their work is not level with their work from their ELA or writing classes. Many of them do not see science as a “writing” class, so they do not take their writing as seriously as they should. This session was very helpful; it provided me with great ideas on how to introduce and teach academic vocabulary, make the science textbook less intimidating and complex through “picture walks” or “text navigations”, and come up with ways to make writing in science more structured and more motivating for students.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the whole duration because I had to man a booth in the Exhibit Hall. However, the presenter’s PowerPoint is available through Carolina Biology’s website so I am going to go back and view it when I get home.

The DOW Chemical Booth
In the early afternoon, I was one of the NSTA2 representatives who had to man the DOW Chemical Booth in the Exhibit Hall. This was a great opportunity, because I was able to meet one of the company’s associates and their marketing team and thank them in person for their support of the NSTA. I honestly did not know a lot about DOW, but after my time spent at their booth, I know now how invested they are in supporting new teachers and STEM education. One of the biggest things I learned was that they are also seeking to connect their scientists and engineers with teachers to promote science literacy, STEM education, and careers in science. I will definitely be taking advantage of that in the future!

[insert DOW photos]

Scientist Talk
One of the last receptions I attended on Thursday was the “Scientist Talk”. At this reception, all of the NSTA2 fellows listened and interacted with a panel of scientists and representatives from our respective company sponsors. It was eye-opening; I didn’t realize until then that there is also an entrepreneurial side to teaching. There are actually many science education outreach programs available, and many companies are seeking teachers who can use those programs to supplement their instruction or even provide their students with internships.

The panel members gave some great advice regarding how to reach out to them. “Be specific about your classroom needs. Do your research, and make contact with the companies and organizations. Share your own ideas on how you can use the programs in your classroom. Focus on the scientific processes, problem-solving skills, and applying knowledge and skills to new situations—these will help students be successful beyond school and in life.

If you have a scientist guest speaker in the classroom, they also recommend asking the following questions: “How do you use the scientific processes in the real world? How do you apply science and technology in the real world? How do you really use science in the real world?”

One of my new PD goals is to spend some time in the summer researching these programs, and trying my hand at writing more grants to secure funding and more equipment for my classroom next year.

Thank you, NSTA and DOW
As I was walking around and trying to absorb as much as I could from the conference, I couldn’t help but send out great waves of appreciation and gratitude to NSTA, the DOW Chemical Company, and the world for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even though I’m more than halfway through with the NSTA2 program, I still find it hard to believe that I am one of the lucky candidates and that I am here at the conference. I have learned a lot this past year, and I can feel the change within me. I am more aware and more confident about my teaching. There are a lot of resources and materials I can use, but the most beneficial aspect of this experience is the community. I have definitely learned a lot not only from my mentor and colleagues, but also from the other teacher fellows, conference presenters, and other attendees. I met and befriended many science teachers during the conference, and that to me is the most valuable part of this experience. It lets me know that as a new science teacher I am not alone and that there is always help available when I reach out and ask for it.

Post NSTA Conference: Putting Lessons to Use

#NSTA13 Series: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Sense Making and Wrap Up

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since attending the NSTA conference in San Antonio! I did learn a lot from my sessions and networking, and definitely did not waste time tweaking my instruction and teaching strategies. One of my PD goals were to spend more class time for sense making and wrap up. I have been using a lot of sticky bar graphs, and poster charts lately to get students thinking about what they know and what they’re learning.

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Vocabulary

Another thing I’ve been working on from my sessions is being more deliberate with academic vocabulary. I used to have visual vocabulary word walls, but now I have gone back to tiered vocabulary and picking  key vocabulary words at a time explained in kid friendly language. I have noted that students seem less overwhelmed this way, and are showing more understanding of core ideas in class.

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We have seven or eight weeks left of the school year, and I still have one more action research project for NSTA. I’m focusing on how to make labs more inquiry based. It is quite difficult trying to explicitly modeling sections of an inquiry lab during the last few weeks of school, but I have noticed that students are more motivated and engaged when they are designing their own experiment than they were when I was using direct-inquiry cookbook labs.

One of the online mentors shared her “design diagram”, which I think will come in very handy next year. I aim to spend the first weeks of school really talking about the scientific process, and introducing them to more student-generated inquiry labs. That will help increase the academic rigor in my instruction, and provide students with more practice on inquiry skills.

Bringing In Speakers

Another thing that I have been working on these past few weeks is inviting more people into the classroom to share how they use science in their careers. Last week, we wrapped up our unit on the Digestive/Excretory systems. In one of our morning conversations, I learned that the cafeteria manager loved talking about nutrition and was looking for ways to introduce students to new foods that will be brought in for next year. I quickly invited her to speak to the students about her work as a nutritionist, and we both came up with the idea of tasting stations. Students were able to try dark leafy vegetables such as kale and Swiss chard, whole grain pasta, exotic fruits such as dragonfruit and lychees, and veggie burgers.

It was a great experience for everyone! The students were able to see her in a different setting and experience new foods; she was able to spend time out of the cafeteria and share her passion for nutrition; and I was able to help students make real-life connections with what we were learning in the classroom.

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New foods spread

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Exploring the nutritional values of kale and Swiss chard

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Trying (and liking!) the lentil salad

Another person who enjoyed her visit to our classroom was our school nurse. On our quest to design our own experiments to find out how physical activities affect heart rate, students needed to learn how to find their pulse and measure heart rate. The school nurse was able to stop by, talk about how to find pulse points, and even demonstrated with a few students on how blood pressure is measured. She loved interacting with the students, and it was a good experience for them to learn from someone else other than me. By bringing in other people to the classroom, I noticed that students are asking a lot more questions these days about what we are learning. They are more curious, and ask more in depth questions about why and how things work. I definitely will have to spend some time over the summer and find more people to come in throughout the year.

 

 

 

#NSTA13 Academy: Day 1

Note: These posts were written in April 2013 as I attended the NSTA Annual Conference at San Antonio, Texas, as a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. Due to standardized testing and a hectic schedule back at home, I am now only able to upload these posts! Sorry for the long delay.

Arrival at NSTA Conference

Greetings from San Antonio, Texas! I can’t believe that I’m here for the annual NSTA science conference! The past months have been filled with web seminars, weekly check-ins with my mentor, and working with students on mini explorations and projects. It’s quite surprising to see how time has quickly flown by, and that we’re now here for the conference!

Thank you, NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and our sponsor, DOW Chemical Company, for this exciting opportunity. San Antonio is a beautiful place. I was fortunate to arrive early yesterday afternoon. Once I checked in, I headed back out to explore the lovely sights of San Antonio’s Riverwalk.

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Partial view of the RiverWalk

Wednesday’s PD Session
Today, I attended an all-day session by Anne Tweed and Cynthia Long on effective science instruction, and how to align them with the newly released Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The bulk of the morning was spent on looking at science research and discussing elements of quality NGSS instruction with other teachers, administrators, and policy-makers. Through our discussion, we realized that many of the elements we were sharing were quite similar to four factors or indicators already listed in said research: quality of lesson design, implementation, science content and classroom culture.

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All day PD session on effective science instruction

According to research, lessons that were rated as low-quality had one or more of the following components: activities were done for solely for activities’ sake, scholars were passive learners, and the teachers did all the work. It became clear to a lot of us that for effective science instruction to take place in our classrooms, we needed to place more emphasis on increasing academic rigor, coming up with ways to help students make sense of the content, and improve our questioning strategies.

Lessons learned and PD goals
As I discussed these elements and factors with other teachers, I realized that there were definitely a few things I need to work more on when I return to the classroom. Looking at these indicators of quality instruction, I can see both my strengths and area of improvement as a science teacher. I am strong in lesson design and content, but implementation and classroom culture can use more work.

With a compressed program back at school (read: I’m teaching a year’s worth of curriculum in half a year), I also see now that I haven’t been too strong on sense-making and wrap-ups. There is much pressure to get things done on time, and sometimes I forget the main priority— student learning! With that said, my goal is to make more time and provide more structure in my instruction to help students make sense of our lessons, labs, and activities.

One of the ways I thought about achieving this is to go back and make sure I am teaching key core ideas in a broad way rather than focusing on minute details. Another way is to end class 10-15 minutes early, chuck out those 3-2-1 exit ticket half-slips, and have students go back and free-write their thoughts about the day’s essential questions. What did they understand? What did they struggle with? How can they make connections with today’s lesson to other lessons, or with real-life events?

I think that I can also be more deliberate in my use of labs. There’s a big push to do 2-3 labs a week. Students love the labs, but what are they really taking away from them? Reflecting over the past couple labs we have completed, I realize that they weren’t truly making those vital connections between the text, their lab experiences, and the core ideas. As a new science teacher, I have been relying a lot on cookbook labs this year. I liked the idea of using 10-min or 15 -min “warm-up” or “demo” labs to introduce core ideas, and make abstract concepts more tangible for students. However, now I think deliberately pairing down the labs, and choosing longer and more inquiry-based labs would make better use of our time, and create more of an impact on student learning.