Closing Old Doors and Opening New Ones for 2015

Close some doors, not because of pride, incapacity, or arrogance, but simply because they no longer lead somewhere. – Paulo Coelho

Happy New Year! I wish everyone a prosperous new year, filled with more joy and laughter, and with more opportunities to learn and grow. I realize that my last post was a bit of a downer, and I had an entirely different post—year end reflections and new teaching goals– ready for the beginning of 2015. However, today, I’m not posting any of that.

With time offline with the family for the holidays, I’ve had a chance to cool off, think things over, and just simply enjoy being present with loved ones. I realize now that I was angry, bitter, and resentful of being laid off because I thought I was owed something. Working at a public charter school is very demanding work, and I’ve said my fair share of farewells to many excellent teachers, both new and old to the profession, over the past four years. I don’t know why, but irrationally I thought, maybe, I deserved something for sticking around so long. It sounds silly, but I think most teachers, like me, just really want to be a word of praise–a gold star– once in awhile for all the hard work they do.

I realize now that the news doesn’t really have anything to do with me. No one owes me anything. As unfortunate as it is to hear that my school may close, I realize now that sometimes things out of my control just simply happen. It is not a reflection of me as a teacher. I have to let go of my resentment—close these doors–and continue to do my best at work, and believe that good things will happen for me in due time.

So, when I come back to class this year, I will find a way to renew my motivation to teach. I will continue being a strong advocate for my scholars, my team, and myself; to continue to lead my team with positive encouragement; and to continue teaching without fear. After all, what’s the best way to go than teaching with my all? Let’s finish this old school year with a bang.

If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. – Paulo Coelho

I Refuse To Be Labeled A Failure

I am writing this post after spending two hours grading tests so that my scholars don’t have to wait for their results over the holiday break. My laundry is waiting to be thrown in the washer and dryer, and I have yet to pack for my red-eye flight tomorrow  so I can spend Christmas with my family.

Right before those two hours of grading, I spent an hour shopping at the grocery store where I spent my own money for lab materials so that I can help reward those scholars who worked hard all month in class with a fun holiday lab tomorrow. Before shopping, I was baking cookies so that some of these scholars who live in shelters or who hate being home for an extended amount of time, have something nice for the holidays.

I should be in bed right now, getting ready for another day of school before break tomorrow, but instead I am awake. I am awake and angry. I am angry because four days ago, my coworkers and I were informed that there is a strong possibility that our school will be closing this year. I have put everything I have these last five years into these kids, this community, and this school… and I feel like I have failed them.

I am angry. So angry.

Who are these people who get to decide that we are failures? They spend minutes walking through our hallways, observing our classrooms, and analyzing our bulletin boards. I have spent countless hours–days, months, years!– in this building, often before the sun is up and long after the custodians are gone for the night. I am here on weekends, sometimes even braving snow storms so that I can get my printing done or make sure that the class pet is okay. They look at my room decor, but I have more realistic things to worry about than that. I worry about my students, and make sure they eat breakfast and that their clothes are clean. I make sure that they have someone to say hello to them every morning, because I may be the first friendly person they see after leaving home. I have to hang around after dismissal so that some kids can talk to me about their day.

Where were they when I was breaking up fist fights almost every day during my first year? Where were they when I was teaching all four core classes to over 20 students with high-incidence socio-emotional and learning needs in a self-contained classroom all by myself? Where were they when I was being verbally abused and emotionally beaten by disrespectful students? Where were they when I chose each time to come back the next day to teach?

Where were they when these students were presenting their month-long case studies in front of real life doctors and medical residents? Where were they when we launched our first all girl STEM after school program? Where were they when the first batch of eighth-graders made it to high school? Where were they when these students beat the district’s scores?

I refuse to be told that we are closing because we failed to help our students with their academic performance. I am not a failure. The students are not a failure. If anything, it is the people who lead this school—the people who have made this decision–who have failed us.

The NYS STEAM Kickoff Conference and Lessons I Learned From Girls in STEAM

Almost four years ago, I attended my first NSTA conference in San Antonio, Texas, as a NSTA-DOW Teacher Fellow. One of the last workshops I took was presented by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Their mission was to connect educators with organizations around the nation to help inform and encourage young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). As a science teacher at an all-girls middle school, I of course jumped at the opportunity to sit in at this workshop and network with its project leaders. I asked if they had a chapter or database in New York State, and was disappointed to learn that they did not.

Yesterday, NGCP finally arrived in New York State! They held their first NGCP Steam Kickoff Conference at the Hudson Valley Community College TEC-SMART facility in Malta, New York. It was a beautiful autumn day; the colorful foliage and stark-white birches were a sight to behold through the tall glass windows of the LEED-certified building. However, what I enjoyed the most was the sight of many people–educators and CEOS of local business organizations– talking and collaborating about ways to create more STEAM programs in our schools. The highlights were the panels of local high school and college female students talking about their experiences with STEAM and their advice for adults and other young girls; and of local presidents, CEOS, and business representatives sharing their advice on how to get in contact with their organizations for funding, mentorship, and collaborative programs.

As I listened in on the discussions and conversations, there were several strands that stood out to me. Below I list some of the lessons I learned as a science teacher from each panel, along with some great STEAM resources.


Hudson Valley Community College TEC-Smart Facility

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of young independent females in STEM fields

1. Most of the young females did not like math and science during their formative elementary and middle-school years. It was not until their transition from middle school to high school that an adult turned them on to these subjects through challenging and hands-on creative work. These adults encouraged them to ask questions, taught them not how to ask for answers but how to figure things out on their own, and pushed them to keep trying when they failed.

2. When asked how educators can better encourage more young female students to go for STEM careers, the panelists emphasized the importance of student-driven inquiry. “Let them make something. Ask them what they want to do. Let them come up with the materials and project deadlines.” Students are more likely to be engaged and motivated throughout  if they are working on something that is meaningful to them.

3. Despite research on differences between genders, the panelists also stressed that educators should not single out young female students in the classroom. “We are people. Yes, we love math and science and we may be very good at them, but we also love to act, sing, dance, and play sports.” Help your students break down gender stereotypes by setting up mixed collaborative groups, occasional girls vs. boys competitions (to show boys that when the girls win they too are smart and have many strengths), and frequent team-building activities in the classroom.

4. Many of the panelists admitted that they struggled in school. Some talked about adults who stayed long hours after school to tutor them. Another panelist strongly urged educators not to give up on their struggling students. “Don’t underestimate the power of one conversation. In sixth grade, I almost gave up on science until my teacher pulled me aside and told me I could do it. I ended up in honors science.” Nowadays with the stressors of Common Core and standardized testing, I often forget why I went into teaching. This particular moment was a loud wake up call for me. Teaching is not about getting my lesson plans in on time. Teaching is not about the test scores in my grade book. Teaching is about listening to the students, especially the struggling ones.

2014-10-26 08.29.03

Panel of #STEMGirls at the #NYSTEAMkickoff

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of local businesses and organization representatives

1. Ask, ask, and ask. Often times, there is funding and resources available if you just ask for it. Many educators may be discouraged by politics and communication barriers with big companies, but there are others out there who are looking for educators and young audiences for their resources. Keep looking, and keep asking.

2. Look through the NGCP Program Directory, or contact your local chamber of commerce and other established non-profit organizations to find mentors and resources for your classroom.

3. Don’t forget the “A” in STEAM! While students need to know how to quantitatively measure and figure out problems, they also need to know how to read and write. They also need to know how to present themselves as well-rounded professionals. Science, math, and engineering are all creative processes and so educators should also encourage more creativity in their students.

Helpful STEAM and collaborative-project resources I picked up from the #NYSTEAMKickoff

Cornell Cooperative Extension puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.

We’re young women with the power to make a difference. We believe in the potential of computing to build a better world.

FabFems are women from a broad range of professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). They are passionate, collaborative, and work to make the world a better place. Many girls have similar interests but aren’t connected to adults who exemplify the STEM career pathway.

Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing more than 138,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the right tools and support to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment, peers who share their drive and aspirations, and research-based programming. At Girls Inc., girls learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields such as STEM.

Maker Faire and Make: Magazine have inspired makers for almost 10 years with the greatest show and tell on earth and quality editorial coverage. is our new online community that helps connect makers with each other, and give everyone simple new tools to organize and share projects, as well as find other interesting makers and projects to follow and collaborate with.

Million Women Mentors is an engagement campaign and national call to action that mobilizes corporations, government entities, non-profit and higher education groups, around the imperative of mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields.

NGCP offers many resources to strengthen Collaborative networks and advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls.

Pathways to Science is a project of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP). Pathways to Science supports pathways to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We place particular emphasis on connecting underrepresented groups with STEM programs, funding, mentoring and resources.

The RPI Engineering Ambassadors are a group of RPI engineers devoted to inspiring younger students with what they are doing in their chosen major, the newest technological breakthroughs in their field, and the obstacles yet to be overcome. We do this by visiting middle schools and high schools and giving presentations to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related classes.

SciGirls is a PBS Kids show, website and outreach program with a bold goal to change how millions of girls think about STEM. The SciGirls Connect is a resource website for teachers. Don’t forget to take a look at their book, “SciGirls Seven: How To Engage Girls in STEM”, which is also offered as a free download.

Five Things I Have Learned As A Teacher Leader

This fall, I began my fourth year of teaching. During our summer training workshops, I learned that I was promoted to the position of teacher leader, or team leader, for my grade. Truth be told, this promotion came as a big shock. Even though I was starting my fourth year, I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom. I worried that I was too much an introvert and ill-prepared to take on such a big role. In the end though, I had to accept the position with grace, put on my big girl panties, and try my best to do my job.

The past month has been a huge roller coaster ride for me as I juggled multiple roles as homeroom teacher, science teacher, and team leader. There were a lot of chocolate bars devoured as I worked through my frustrations and tight deadlines. I did learn a lot about how to be a good team leader, and I share those lessons with you below.

5 Things I Have Learned As A Team Leader (In The Past Month)

1. Model a positive and encouraging attitude. 

Changes, deadlines, and stress will always be a constant at work. With important visits coming up, there is a lot of pressure to perform well. This is increasingly tough to do with less staff, less resources, and less planning time available this year. Understandably, there is a lot of tension in the office. It is easy to come to work with a negative attitude, and to vent our frustrations with one another. However, at the end of the day, we still are responsible for making sure we do what we need to do. As a team leader, I learned that I help set the tone for the day when I come in with a smile on my face and share kind encouraging words with my team.

2. Delegate.

During the past month, I would wake up in the middle of the night, remembering something that I needed to do for the next day. When driving to work, I would stop in the middle of my daily prayers and realize I had stopped praying because I started thinking about tasks and people I have to talk to when I get in the office. My brain felt stuffed, and finally, I realized I had to start delegating tasks to my team mates. During team meetings, I learned how to focus on 1-3 major agenda items, come up with proposed action plans on those items, and assign my team mates specific tasks with deadlines. As team leader, I learned that it takes just as much courage to ask for help than to give help to someone else.

3. Treat others with respect.

As a team leader, I have to advocate for the needs of my team. It is hard to teach when you have missing supplies, broken technology tools, or not enough desks or space for your classes. My team shares their frustrations with me, and I have to communicate their needs with front office staff and administrators. As the old adage goes, you get a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. Front office staff, administrators, and janitorial custodians are people with feelings too; they don’t like it when they’re being bogged down with multiple requests and demands. I would feel angry and resentful too if people only want to talk to me to get something, especially when they are rude or abrupt about it. As team leader, I learned that making the time and effort to ask how someone is doing goes a long way.

4. Keep a paper trail.

Along the same lines of advocacy, sometimes things just don’t happen even when you go through the proper channels. As a team leader, I learned that it is important to keep a paper trail. The paper trail keeps all parties transparent and accountable for their responsibilities. When something happens (or does not happen), I know that I can honestly say I did my best effort and have proof to show for it.

5. Feed your team.

It is important to feed your team, figuratively and in the literal sense. As team leader, I have found myself also acting as counselor and cheerleader for my team mates. Sometimes we just get so discouraged after bad days at work. This is where my check-ins come in handy. I’m not the best at pep-talks, but my team knows they can talk to me any time about anything and that they can expect honest and straightforward answers from me. As a team leader, I have learned that it is important to tell people how much you appreciate them and their hard work. In addition, being the only female teacher on the team, I often bring in home-baked goods after a stressful day. Those frosted Bundt cakes sure does wonders to our team morale!

What lessons have you learned as a teacher leader, or team leader? Please share!

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.


She Tweeted You With Science! 08/28/2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Daily Favorites in Education 08/25/2014

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She Tweeted You With Science! 08/21/2014

  • How do social forces shape how science is conducted, funded, communicated and reviewed? Do the practices and processes employed in biomedical research—collaboration, communication, skepticism, and peer review—lead to a valuable and objective way of learning about the world?

    This curriculum introduces students to ways in which scientific research is conducted, how social forces influence scientific priorities, and how basic scientific research may, or may not, support medical applications for human health. Throughout the unit, students are asked to consider their roles and responsibilities in being scientifically literate citizens.

    tags: science science-literacy curriculum lesson-plans labs activities

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

She Tweeted You With Science! 08/16/2014

  • FREE Standards Based Lessons and Materials to Match

    Searching for a last minute lesson plan, or looking for new ways to cover popular topics in your classroom? Get inspired and save lesson prep-time in the classroom with these lesson plans exclusively written by teachers – and all aligned to National Science Standards.

    For fast and easy shopping, materials to match each lesson are linked to the lesson plan.

    Browse the lesson plans below by topic and then shop the related materials to make them happen in your classroom.

    tags: Science teacher-resources lesson-plans

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.