Monthly Archives: August 2010

>My First First Day

>The first day of school was…what it was, I guess.  I told myself going in not to expect anything near perfection and actually steeled myself for some rather more nightmarish scenarios than actually happened.  I think that no matter how long you teach, the FDOS is always going to have an element of uncertainty because you never know quite who’s going to be in your class (both individuals and combinations).  I’m also figuring my own teaching style too, so that is another layer of unknown.  I think I ran the whole gamut today, letting my first group walk on top of me to being mildly Godzilla with my group after lunch.  I honestly expected a lot worse from my OGT science class, but they were my quietest group.  But with them I almost would rather they be noisy because I’m afraid they’re too used to checking out in class.  It’ll be hard having that at the end of the day and trying to summon the most energy when I really have the least available.  I have one student in both biology and OGT science, so he was there for the last three hours of the day!

I’m proud of the way I recognized the fact that mistakes will be made and that today is only a start.  While I was on hall duty, one of the other small schools had a class change and I got mobbed by scads of tiny freshman (I’m sorry, but they are!) asking me where this and that room was.  I did fine with the academic rooms but was at a complete loss for the art and career tech classes, and it was kind of funny telling them, “I’m actually new here myself!”  Whether I feel like it or not, I’m a real teacher now!


>New Year’s Eve

>I keep swinging back and forth between feeling utterly bewildered and terrified and feeling very competent, capable, and prepared.  I suppose the reality is somewhere in the middle.  I do have my lessons planned (and planned well, at least in my completely biased opinion) and I am a bit more familiar with some of the logistical things like e-mail and the building itself than some of the later hires.  (On the other hand, I don’t even have my own keys yet!)  

But I haven’t met any students, which is the most critical thing to me, and it’s challenging to strike a balance between preparing myself mentally and overwhelming myself with expectations that may or may not be realized.  I got a bit emotional during our district “pep rally” (for lack of a better word) this morning when the superintendent started talking about impacting kids’ lives, and also when some of the cheerleaders, band members, and football players came up.  (When the quartet sang, “You Raise Me Up,” I just about died.)  In the last few months when I’ve been out of the classroom, I kind of forgot what it was like having real live students at the center of my life, and to get a taste of that again was a little overwhelming, but in a good way.

I’m proud of myself for stopping at 4:00 and saying, “I have everything I need for tomorrow, so I’m choosing to be done now.  I’ll take a break, work a little more at home, and then take the rest of the night off.”  While it would be nice to finish everything at school and not have to worry about it later, I’m finding that my attention span and energy level is just not enough to power me through for that long.  So I’ll do what I need to do to unwind and refocus and hopefully be more productive that way.

Well, this concludes my pre-service life…next time I write, I’ll be…a REAL teacher???

>The Best Laid Plans

>Sunday afternoon: I trundle off merrily to the staff retreat, where I check in, meet other teachers and walk around the grounds.
Sunday night: After dinner in a positively refrigerated restaurant and a 2-hour staff meeting in a mildly less refrigerated conference room, I start having uncontrollable tremors.  Stumble into bed and pray for relief in the morning, but sort of intuit that this will not be the case.
Monday morning: Wake up wondering if I can get out of bed.  Stagger to breakfast thinking that eating something might help.  Principal suggests that I go back to bed or return home; glutton for punishment shrugs it off and wants to try participating anyway.  (Plus I’m fairly sure I can’t drive the two hours.)  Quickly find that sitting up is exhausting, give up, and go back to bed.
Monday: Sleep on and off through most of the day.
Monday evening: Begin losing bodily fluids and everything I’ve eaten for the past 24-36 hours.
Tuesday morning: Stitch together my guts with 2 Pepto-Bismol for the drive home.  The subsequent drive is sparsely irrigated to avoid having to stop and heed nature’s call.  Headache when I reach home will not be described here.
Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday, Thursday: Recovering fluids and sanity.

The moral of the story?  Expect the unexpected.  My original plan was to pack and prepare lessons when I got back from the retreat, but now I’ll have to go down to my campus apartment tomorrow, throw everything in boxes and deal with it when I unpack next week.  I’m mentally preparing myself for all sorts of things to break down or just be difficult when I move so I can lean with it a little better and not freak out.  I have a fairly solid plan for the first week of school already, so I need to focus on getting adjusted and feeling comfortable with myself so I can project confidence that first day.  It’s kind of funny to picture myself a year ago, wide-eyed and terrified as I heard 180 fourteen-year-olds thundering up the stairs of my middle school placement, but I know this year will bring its own challenges.  The thought of being the only one front and center is exciting and terrifying at the same time, though it hasn’t really sunk in yet (probably a good thing).

This is probably my last post for a little while…not sure when I’ll next have Internet.  Until then, keep learning!

>PBL (Camp) Debrief

>I never did the whole summer camp thing as a kid, but I’ve been to enough retreats and meetings to be somewhat familiar with the drill.  For the past few weeks I participated in Edutopia’s PBL Camp online, and it was quite a rewarding experience on several levels.  Four weeks was a rather short time to take a project from conception to completion, but I think we made a great start.  In the works now are The Pandora Project, which I’ll be using with my biology students, and a project focusing on the Gulf oil spill that I’ll be doing with my OGT Boost students.  (I’ll try to blog or post links for these separately at some point.)  Both fall under a larger project model I developed with the STEME (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and English) team that I joined. 

The STEME model connects students from different classrooms who serve as experts in a particular field collaborating to address an important, real-world issue.  In a sense, the process of developing the STEME project has been a meta-project itself.  We have two members who teach at the university level and three high school teachers of math, science, and an alternative program that covers everything under the sun.  We also have very different levels of experience and comfort with PBL and the technology that makes our collaboration possible, and in my view that’s been one of the biggest benefits of this camp.  It’s always great to bounce ideas off other people, and as much as I love interdisciplinary curricula in theory, I simply don’t have enough familiarity with other content standards to feel comfortable claiming that title on my own.  With multiple perspectives contributing, we can truly integrate the project rather than just “reading about science” or “writing in math class.”  In order to participate as fully as possible, I had to step out of my comfortable, Google-based universe and use things like Skype, Diigo, and Wallwisher.  After jumping in with my new friends and colleagues, however, I felt a lot better about using the technology and even creating content on my own.  This is exactly the type of collaboration I want my students to experience, so I’m thinking about how best to foster this in the classroom.

I don’t have time or room to explain everything about project-based learning (PBL), but it’s an educational framework in which I have keen interest.  During my winter field experience and student teaching placement, I crash-tested PBL at the high school and middle school levels in biology and physical science, respectively, and ultimately wrote my master’s capstone about it.  During my first go-around at a suburban high school, I learned a lot about project management from a teacher perspective as well as the importance of securing support from other teachers and administration.  When I went back to the project model in the spring with my middle-schoolers, I was much better at managing the different aspects of PBL and my mentor teacher was also very supportive.  I did not, however, anticipate the issues I would have with student motivation and ability to participate, so I had to hack through those as well. 

I hope I’m not making PBL sound like this terrible thing.  The essence of PBL is student-driven learning and the production of relevant, tangible artifacts and knowledge, and that is always going to appeal to me.  It is certainly more difficult to manage than more traditional instructional methods, and sometimes you run into administrators or colleagues who don’t see it as “real teaching.”  To address both of these issues, here is the process I have adopted, which is modeled after backward design, if you are familiar with that.

  1. Formulate a driving question, the answer (or answering process) of which is your ultimate desired result.
  2. Identify relevant content standards and skills.  This is not only to appease the higher-ups (as I once thought, unfortunately) but to ensure that I am actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing!
  3. Determine acceptable evidence of learning.  These are the culminating products and artifacts of the project, as well as more traditional methods of formative and summative assessment.
  4. Plan learning experiences and instruction to bring students to where they need to be to complete project tasks.

In my first PBL experience, I neglected step 4 and assumed that students would already know what to do.  (Their response: “YOU THREW US UNDER THE BUS, MISS D!!!”)  I also had a difficult time with step 3, which resulted in somewhat haphazard instruction and assessment.  If at all possible, steps 1-3 should be done before instruction begins to lend coherence to day-to-day lesson plans and grading schemes.  In my second PBL experience, I muddled through steps 1 and 2, which resulted in students having quite a bit of fun building hot air balloons but not really learning a whole lot about heat, density, or scientific inquiry.  So now I see the importance of doing all 4 steps well, though of course it’s not entirely linear or set in stone.  And because I am an INFJ, I make color-coded charts to go with everything:


I had planned my first week with fairly transposable setting-the-classroom-culture lessons, but was running into a mental block when it came time to start content.  Since I have no real curriculum to go off of for either of my preps, having a big picture of what I’m going to do throughout the semester makes me feel a lot better about planning.

Yesterday we had our culminating webinar and different teams got to share their projects.  I realized that seeing some sort of final product (even if it’s a work in progress) is a very important part of any collaborative work.  I can’t tell you how cool it was to see what other people have been working on, get lots of encouragement for my own work, and look forward to the next step.  On Sunday I’m going to a staff retreat for my new school and I can’t wait to start building professional and personal relationships with my colleagues there.  (And maybe persuade others to jump onboard my PBL crazy train!)