Time to Write that Reflection…

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Last week I taught a particularly intense science lesson. The kids were all over the place. The noise level got a little out of control. By the end of the lesson I couldn’t tell if it had gone fabulously or terribly. As soon as the kids left for the day I immediately began to reflect on the lesson. I thought to myself “Well, the kids were really exploring and getting excited about the content. On the other hand, were they really learning or just messing around? Is there a way I could have kept the students on track more effectively? Hmmm, that could be good to add to my paper.” I was thinking about all the things that would be good to add to the paper until I realized “Oh my gosh, I don’t even need to write about this. This is just life!” I think this means I’ve officially taken the first step towards become a reflective teacher. I reflect at the end of each day. It feels so naturally, the teaching process wouldn’t feel complete without it!

Later than night I sat down to look at the students work. The lesson centered around making scientific observations (of our snails) and then making inferences using those observations. This is what I saw..

Observation 1

observation 2

observation 3

I highlighted some of the particularly thoughtful observations and inferences. Looking at the evidence of the students work it was clear to me that the students had a general idea that observations inform inferences. However, I noticed that the students certainly needed some clarification and more practice. This informed my practice for the next day. We talked more about them the next day and I wove observations and inferences into the next few lessons. I have been looking at the evidence from each lesson and using it to inform my next lessons. I find that the kids appreciate the clarification as much as I do!

This quarter I’ve been letting the work I do in the classroom inform my blog posts. I’ve also been asking open-ended questions and eliciting my cohorts suggestions and ideas!My favorite blog that demonstrates my process as a reflective teacher is called “Time to Take Charge.” I was happy to be able to participate in my cohort’s blogging discussion.

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The Realities of Teaching Science in the Classroom

This week my kids and I journeyed into the magical world of snails. My CT was generous enough to give me a week’s worth of science lessons to go crazy with! I wanted to work on having the kids design and execute experiments themselves. Thus, snails seemed like the perfect choice!

During our first science lesson the students made observations and inferences about the snails. My goal was to have the students really think about the difference between an observation and an inference. Many of them jumped to making statements about the snails without any evidence first. This lesson served as a way to get the students really interested in the snails and get them excited to learn more.

The next lesson I wanted to have the students design their own experiments. It ended up getting a little crazy pretty quickly. I settled on us designing an experiment together and having the students conduct the experiment with their partners. Over the course of the next few days the students conducted the experiments. They recorded the process and their findings as small groups. Then we all came together and shared!

All in all the experience was pretty amazing and educational. I learned that teaching science is really fun but is also a challenge. I struggle to let things go and turn the classroom over to the kids. But it was pretty great when I finally did!

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Disability Awareness in Classrooms

We’re beginning a unit on the human body center around disability awareness. Over the course of the next month students will have the opportunity to go through their daily tasks with a manufactured physical disability. Students will be able to experience the day in a wheel chair, blind folded, with their arm in a sling or with crutches. Each student will get the opportunity to experience each of the different disabilities if they so choose.

The unit was introduced today by looking at the word “disability.” The students worked together to think about the root word “able” and then decipher the meaning of “disabled.” By the end of the lesson the students were excited to share their own personal connections to disabilities. We begin the actual activity next week but I’m excited to see how the students feel after a full day with the manufactured physical disability. Updates to follow!

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Snails in the Classroom= Highly Suggested

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At this point I’m thinking snails might be absolutely necessary in my future classroom. They are super low maintenance, slimy, awesome, totally weird looking but in actuality harmless! Plus the fact that they can go dormant when kept in a cool place (AKA summer vacay) is an added bonus. I’m a full grown adult but I flipped out with excitement when I got to learn about snails by making observations, creating diagrams and asking scientific inquiry questions about the little guys. I can only imagine that these creatures would be the perfect vessel for teaching kids about the natural world as well as teaching them basic scientific practices! Now I need to see if my CT will let me incorporate them into this Springs curriculum!

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Time to Take Charge

Before I started the week at my placement I decided that it was time to make a change. Don’t get me wrong the kids are delightful, hilarious, inquisitive, button-pushers, essentially everything that a group of third graders should be. And I love them. And I’m excited to teach them! But I noticed there was a little bit of a difference between the way that the students treated their main teacher and the way that they treated me. When I conduct a lesson the children engage and are very respectful so things go well. But during the time I’m in the classroom there are some subtle differences.

When I teach a lesson the kids want to share everything possible. They know their main teacher does not accept comments that aren’t pertinent and thoughtful. So they’ve been trying out the “One time my dad went…” comments with me. And to be honest I don’t mind the comments as long as they don’t go on for an unreasonable amount of time. I know it’s important for kids to share. But I don’t want whole lessons getting bogged down by sharing time. Then there’s the issue of the little comments that the kids make to me during down time. They are never rude or inappropriate but they’re certainly more of something you would say to a friend than to a teacher. I love that the kids want to chat with me but I want them to see me as a teacher.

So back to this week… The change. I decided to be firm, not strict with the kids. When I was giving the kids information about the day or directions for what to do I would finish what I was saying completely before allowing the kids the ask questions. Before I allowed a student to ask a question I would make sure to check-in beforehand to make sure it was a pertinent statement. I made sure not to engage with students that made “curious” remarks. I also personally followed up on some behavior issues, taking charge of the management of these situations from beginning to end. So far I’ve seen a big difference in the way that students interact with me. And to my surprise and relief: The kids still seem to like me maybe even more than before!

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When Do We Go Overboard With Incentives?

I’ve been in many classrooms, some well managed and some managed poorly. I noticed that the classrooms with really well behaved children always seemed to be the ones with behavior plans. There was some sort of incentive system. Three gold stars gets you a visit to the treat bucket, a red dot means you stay in a recess, and the list goes on. I honestly thought that incentive systems were really the only way to go. Until recently…

A while back we started a conversation about whether or not incentives have a long term positive effect on the classroom. Do incentive based classrooms help children develop intrinsic motivation and a genuine thirst for knowledge? The more I thought about it, the more I thought that a rewards/ punishment system may not be great for kids long term.

I thought back to the classrooms I had been in and everything I had witnessed. I helped out in a classroom with a very elaborate incentive system. Time and time again the same students would not get the treats that their peers received. Sure they’d get something every now and again but I would notice the same students getting treats very regularly. I remember the look on the kids’ faces when they didn’t get treats. It was a combination of trying to act cool, like they didn’t care, with just a hint of jealousy and pain thrown in.

There has to be another way to get a classroom running smoothly. Something that doesn’t involve copious amounts of sugar with a helping of sadness. Now I just need to figure out what that is…

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Making Kids Care About the Environment!

A wonderful representative from Project Learning Tree came into speak with us about how we can teach environmental sciences in our own classrooms! The overarching theme of the seminar was that we need to help children become captivated by and enthralled by nature before they start protecting it. I’ve been guilty of barking “throw that in the recycle” to the students in my class. I’m ashamed to say that it never occurred to teach children to love nature before asking them to go out of their way to protect it. Now that I hear it, it seems so simple. And genius!

There are so many different ways that teaching environmental sciences can be incorporated into other disciplines!

Teachers are required to read and assign books from a slew of genres. There are fiction and non-fiction books that deal with the environment and its protection. Incorporating these books into read- alouds and the subsequent lessons would be fairly easy. Books that deal with the concept of using up a limited resource are a great gateway for having a discussion about sustainability and our earth’s finite resources!

The arts are also a wonderful place to tie in the environmental sciences. Drawings, paintings and sculpture based on our surroundings is a good start. It’s easy to walk outside the classroom and have students collect/ photograph something that they would like to replicate. Even something as simple as going outside and sketching a flower or tree is a nice way to get connected to nature.

Adding environmental sciences to math sounds REALLY fun! If the students need to learn how to make tables and graphs they can collect data from the environment! I can’t imagine students wouldn’t be excited to make their own data as opposed to using the contrived data provided by the math book publishers. The activity we did today would be a great activity for collecting data! The student’s learned about camouflage by finding different colored toothpicks in the grass. The students could create the initial table (like the one below) and then make a bar graph out of the data!

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Adding environmental sciences to other subject areas just takes a little planning and divergent thinking! 

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