I have another blog that I am working on with technology stuff!
Check out my post on Kahoot!
I have another blog that I am working on with technology stuff!
Check out my post on Kahoot!
(The above picture is part of my Halloween costume as “The Animal Cell of Horror”)
My last post was my goodbye to my last job. This fall, I started a new job, we bought a new house, we moved, and we are finally settled. It’s time for reflection and writing. I am in awe that we set out to change some things in our lives, and it all came together so beautifully. I’m incredibly grateful, living in an amazing place and teaching in a fantastic school.
It took a little while for me to shake off some left over guardedness from teaching in a large, urban school. I have always felt very creative in teaching, but there is more room for growth in that area now. Also, I have noticed that my humor, also always a huge part of my style of creating joy in my classroom, has become more free. In a school with wonderful, positive culture and strong structure, there is more openness in the classroom for teachers and students to enjoy the process of learning.
I grew up watching Carol Burnett and wanting to be Carol Burnett. Watching some clips of her this morning as she is about to receive an award tonight, I realized that I am sort of Carol Burnett in the classroom. I read the attendance in various accents such as NYC deli orders. I will occasionally sing science concepts if no one is with me. I will dance whenever ATP (life’s energy molecule) is mentioned. Importantly, I am joyful and playful in the classroom. It does not make all students happy to be in school, but a lot of students tell me that they love my class. This past week, I heard about some hardships some of my students are dealing with and I feel lucky that I get to make them laugh and leave it behind for a few minutes.
I am teaching in a school with a lot of technology. It is thrilling, and I am loving it. Recently, we made movies to answer the question “What do cells do?” Since this was our first movie making experience together and the topic was difficult, I provided a possible script of actionable cell processes. Students were incredibly creative. A couple were humorous. When we watched them as a class, I saw the tenderness of my students. They waited with baited breath for me to be proud, to laugh, to be impressed and to see them in their work. I laughed so hard, I was so proud, and I was so impressed. I didn’t realize that this humorous, creative, thinking classroom had actually raised expectations. I was focused on creating positivity, and I received abundance of effort.
If you are silly and funny in the rest of your life, bring it into your classroom. Our students need that joy.
I did an alternative route to teacher licensure. It was designed for urban teachers in math and science. I loved it. One lesson was to write a letter to our students about our hopes and expectations. The lesson actually took place mid-year while I was teaching ninth grade biology which was a year long course. Still, I used it as an opportunity to discuss my intentions with them. It can be read here as a google doc.
I would like to take this post to write a different letter to my students from the past 5 years. Some of my former students read my blog but most do not. It is for me, the only way I can actually express the change from one school to the next.
To my former students,
First, thank you for teaching me how to be a teacher. You told me over and over again that what matters most is that I connect with you and I did, and that made all the difference. You told me that you deserved second chances to prove yourself, and I gave you second chances. Many of you showed me that you could become wonderful students. I learned to ask you regularly in warm-ups how things were going and you told me real things. I am so grateful for honest feedback. I’m glad you told me also that you wanted me to be stricter. I did not know. Thank you for telling me you loved my class. It meant the world to me.
Oh my AP students. Where to begin? I think the most laughter of my life happened in those two years of AP Biology. Thank you for being so smart and so ridiculous with me. Thank you for thinking my silly sense of humor was funny. Thank you for getting up and acting out things like the electron transport chain in Biology Theater without shame. I loved being included as ATP synthase with a sign that read “Meade money” that I keep and treasure for its ridiculousness. I loved that you understood that this material was so complex, that we were learning and exploring together, that we were journeying into the wonder of it all. You all made me so proud and my heart so full. And I treasure my digital photo frame that year 2 gave me which included so many great memories of our year together. I never felt more like a teacher than I did that day. For those that have moved on to college, thank you for continuing to share your amazing accomplishments. You are so cool.
I have watched some of you have fights and then grow up and graduate. I am so proud of you. I have seen you have a baby at 15, raise her, stay in school, and graduate. I don’t know how you did it. What strength and power you have! I watched you drop out and come back, drop out again, and come back for real. There you go.
Some of you have come to me and apologized for your behavior of years passed. How brave. One of you routinely would yell down the hall, “That’s the best teacher in this school!” That was awesome, every single time. Thank you for that.
I have all of your letters, notes, and cards. I even have pictures of notes you wrote me on the board at the end of the year. I will not forget any of you. You taught me everything it means to be a teacher, to be a better person in this world, to never assume you know why someone acts the way they do, and to be open and present in the moment in the classroom.
Moving forward, I realized I had a worry. Am I really a good teacher or do I just know how to relate to my students? And I remembered you. All of you. All you taught me about what matters. That what you want is to be seen and cared about. To be taught personally and with care. I’ve got that now, thanks to you. You know who you are.
A part of my heart will always be there, with you.
The name given to me by a student who taught me so much about bravery. And that name spread!
This past year, I used Schoology (www.schoology.com) for both my AP Biology class and my Integrated Science class. Schoology is an online learning management system. It also has apps for phones and ipads. My husband quickly became a very advanced user, but I am slower to integrate new systems and the school I was in had little technology.
For me, I started using it as a simple convenience of organizing materials and saving links into folders. At home, when I was planning, I would put powerpoints, articles, worksheets, and links to video into large topic folders. Then, at school, using my smart board, I would access all those materials without having dig around the internet or use a zip drive.
Immediately, I had the students all make accounts. At first, I wasn’t even sure which of the student features I would use. My AP students needed access to all the powerpoints and the links to my screencasts. Schoology made this very simple for them. The year before, I had to burn CDs for students without computers to watch the videos. With Schoology available as an app, it opened up availability, and I didn’t have any students without easy access this year.
When my Integrated Science class made their accounts, I underestimated how much fun it would be for them. Next time, I would leave more time for that. They enjoyed making a profile picture, and were anxious to be able to have a discussion. I quickly set up a picture of an unusual sea slug, and asked them all to talk about it. They loved it, and were surprisingly all appropriate. I had told them the discussion was moderated by me, and no one tested that limit. Schoology makes it very easy to moderate discussions. It has a facebook appearance which makes it easy for students.
I underutilized Schoology this year, mostly because of not having technology in the classroom. Next year, I will most likely be in a different system with technology and look forward to doing more with it. With AP Biology, I gave online quizzes as homework assignments to practice the material. I would like to do that in class and then we can reflect on where we are and what we need to work on. Similarly, I would like to use more of the discussion feature during class time so that students could discuss the outcomes of labs together or brainstorm about a project. My hope is that thinking out loud through the technology will open up some of the quieter students, help build verbal expression, and strengthen the depth of communication.
I also plan to build the way I use it as a lesson planning storehouse. I’d like to include my unit plans there so students can easily see what we are doing, what the goals are, and where we are headed. This summer I plan to build more into the new courses I am planning. I’d like to include an extra credit folder. Students often ask for extra credit and I don’t have anything prepared. I can have a few challenging things there ready to go for those looking for more. Also, I’d like a good stockpile of virtual labs for students who are absent. It is way to hard to repeat labs after school that were done in class, and the internet is getting better about them. I may video the labs we do and put them on you tube to create virtual labs of our own. Somehow, in the midst of lab chaos, it’s hard to manage that.
Lastly, my other huge goal for the year is to podcast. I’d like to make a weekly podcast from each class and put them in a folder in schoology as well as on a website for the class. I’d like to chronicle our discovery as an auditory adventure.
Here’s a little screencast to show you my two Schoology pages from this year.
The weeks leading up to the AP examination are so hectic. No matter how light I make the classwork, my students are stressed, procrastinating or over-studying the wrong stuff. For me, I am after school every day until 5 or 6 with them reviewing. The other AP teacher at my school left for a better job, and the replacement was not familiar with the curriculum. So her students joined mine for the reviews. To add to it, I sprained my ankle at work, and was getting around the ginormous building in a wheelchair for a few days. To sum it all up: exhausting.
It made me think about the fine art of studying and cramming. When did I learn it? I know we are in the land of don’t-teach-to-the-test and if-you-teach-to-the-test-don’t-say-you-do. But, yesterday, I took the Physics teachers test for MA. It was hard. If I was cramming with AP Biology students I would have crammed more for myself. I have the luxury of time and money – I can take it again in July.
I was a chiropractor before an stress fracture brought me to a less physically taxing profession. During undergraduate courses, I did not have to study very much. During high school, I did not have to study much at all. It was not until graduate school that I actually developed real study skills, study groups, and cramming, cramming, cramming. I was in classes over 40 hours a week. I was taking examinations almost every day, many of which were practical. I had high stakes tests from which failure would mean staying back a year and paying an extra year of tuition.
I am aware that I am fortunate that I could graduate college with honors without learning to really study and that I could be at the top of my high school class without tremendous effort. For me, it was graduate school that pulled the real effort out of me. It was then that I learned how to put HUGE amounts of information into my brain in short windows of time.
Intense medical and science programs still require lots of high stakes, intense testing. I think AP science courses are an important gateway for students to learn these study skills. But woo-wee, it’s tough – the whole course is tough. Until AP, in my school, most of our students have not really been challenged. They have never had a class they are even allowed to take the textbook home for the whole year. They are not accustomed to truly difficult tests or massive amounts of information. They become frustrated when information is not explicitly taught in great detail in class, and they are instructed to learn on their own in some fashion. It is not that our students have not had to solve meaningful puzzles or do complex labs in the past, it is that AP courses are a very large leap from other courses. The AP Biology texbook is 65 chapters, and we cover at least 40 of them in great depth. We peruse the others for information. It’s heavy. The book, I mean, it’s heavy. Seriously, though, the course has tremendous value in preparing students for science programs in great colleges. The only AP courses I took 25 years ago were AP Spanish, AP Calculus, and AP Physics. The physics was because it was the only advanced senior level science available. We had to pay for the AP tests, and my father would only pay for one. I took the AP Calculus exam. I got a 3. Rutgers did not accept it as credit, and I had to take some advanced Calculus I class anyway.
My point in explaining my history, is that I assumed my students knew nothing. Our district has almost 70% free and reduced lunch so our students do not pay for the AP exam. I am so glad they do not face the decision of which ones they can take. Although they were told to do so, none of my students went online and looked up anything about the test. I went over it in class and explained the format in a power point and video. The video should anyone need it is available here. I made the video available, because I know when I am nervous, I am not a great listener.
Now, teaching cramming. Of course, I have taught the big topics and understandings all year. Of course, we have tested and quizzed on each unit. We have done free response question after free response question. We have done the labs. But, they are kids. Kids, with other AP classes, sports, lives, college applications, and developing frontal cortexes – things have been forgotten. All year, I taught study skills and understandings. This week, I taught cramming and “stump the chump.”
Stump the Chump was a game begun between my best friend and me in graduate school. We would study in our own way alone. Then we would come together for a hearty round of Stump the Chump. We would prepare quiz questions for each other. In fact, we would schedule entire afternoons or days of studying that including hours of Stump the Chump. It’s not that it was an actual contest with any name calling – “You are the CHUMP!” It was simply that we learned that without questioning each other, we had no way of knowing what we did not know. And, if we did not practice explaining ourselves verbally that we could not really be sure we would be able to explain ourselves in the real testing situation.
All of this, I have shared with my students. I have encouraged them to form study groups. Alarmingly, in these days of texting, face to face time with friends is rare. I showed my students google hangouts. I have been using google hangouts for reviews this year as well. In fact, we will be having a Stump the Chump Power Round today at 4. They think the name Stump the Chump is totally cheesy, but they have, as yet, failed to come up with a better one. My class gave me a “gangsta name” that is “Meade Money” when we were acting out the electron transport chain and I was ATP synthase (sorry non-bio nerds). Their only proposal is that I make it a game show called Meade Money, which is fine in the classroom. But Stump the Chump is your game, with your name, at home, with your study friends, knowing your weaknesses, and strengths, getting you through to the next round.
Good luck to all AP Biology students on Monday. Thank you to all AP Bio teachers who work endlessly and tirelessly to figure out what works.
I hope all the other AP tests are going well for everyone. Wow, what accomplishments. We should all be proud as teachers and students of what we have done in 145 or so days. Rock on!
My district is urban, diverse, poor, labeled as a failing school by the state, and is on its third superintendant in five years. We are certainly not the only district in the US in this situation and everyone would like to find some stance that says, “It’s not my fault.”
Blame gets passed around to:
Um. Yeah. Obviously, I am making the point that the blaming words are the same at all of the levels. I see the ernest struggles of great people at all of these levels, working their hardest to succeed and to change. I also see the defeat in the eyes of those who hope and try and fail. And yes, I have seen blameworthiness acts at all levels as well, but for me, focusing there leads me to hopelessness.
I want to believe that as a teacher I am doing everything I can to be effective, to create positive change, to be reflective and to help my school be successful. Some days I am better than others. I am a career changer, five years into this teaching world. The politics of it all are confusing to me. Why don’t we just try everything we can think of to help children? And if we are, why isn’t it enough?
Perhaps, my classroom is a microcosm of the district at large. If it is, it has beauty, truth, desperation, success, conflict, hope, loss, frailty, crime, and on the best of days – laughter shared among all of us. There are days when my toughest class leaves, that I cry. I feel ineffective, frustrated, and defeated. Why am I here?
This “toughest” class has a lot to teach me. The lesson skills and techniques I have built over five years seem ridiculous here. There are technically 30 students in this class, but I have 28 chairs. I have not had a day when they are all there for this to be a problem. Roughly 20 of them come everyday, do most assignments, and are genuinely engaged. I had stopped doing any direct instruction, because I could not get sufficient quiet for the engaged students to hear me. I would spend the whole time reprimanding, moving seats, begging desperately for quiet. I have had other classes like this, so I switched into more independent, project based learning where I could teach in small groups and assign leaders.
Weirdly, the bulk of the class begged me to bring us back to whole class instruction. They begged me to show them more on the smart board. They begged for me to teach them directly. Weird. This is my Integrated Science class, and we just switched from Chemistry to Earth Science. We watched BBC’s “Power of the Planet: Atmosphere” which they loved. I followed it up with a powerpoint I made on the basics of Earth’s composition. I asked everyone who wanted to hear me to move in closer to the smart board. Almost everyone joined together in this tight group. Soon, BIG questions were flying around:
Somewhere in the midst of this, one student was looking things up on the computer while another wrote down the big questions and answers. They took over the whole lesson. Occasionally a distracting student acting out, outside of the group snuggled in to learn would try to pull attention. Students kept saying, “Miss, just ignore it. We really want to learn” or “Miss, just focus here” or “Doc, we are listening. Keep going. This is cool stuff.”
I remembered the teacher that I am. I am curious, silly, fascinated, and kind. When a class isn’t working well, I vacillate between blame inward and out. Frankly, I wish I could point at the obvious outward factors: large class, lacking a co-teacher for those with IEPs, students with major discipline issues, and so on. The inward blame is worse. I can’t handle my students. I’m ineffective. I am over/under disciplining them. The work is too hard or too easy. I’m not helping the successful students because all my time is on distracting discipline problems.
In this microcosm, my classroom world, the downside of blame is revealed. The inward blame holds my gifts back from being shared with my students. The outward blame creates futility. The circumstances seem insurmountable and the children unchangeable. Blame separates me from them with a wall of shame we share.
This wall of shame disappears when we share moments of joyful curiosity together, when we grab hold of moments of revelation about this amazing world, when we are a community of learners.
How do we take this concept to the whole community at all levels? I don’t know. Last week, we had some bad news that our high school’s recent learning walks by admin and state representatives showed a trend of decreasing effective teaching and learning. My direct supervisor asked us openly, “What do we do?” I could only think of EdCamp where teachers teach each other. A couple of us brought up that we could teach each other. Within a few days, my supervisor put together a voluntary event (with popcorn!) with one excellent, veteren teacher sharing her expertise at dipping for understanding. I was only able to attend about half of it, but I saw there a community of learners rising above shame and blame into reflection and growth.
I have no idea what is required to make our district successful. All I can offer here is an idea that may help to open the idea that blame and shame could be a bridge to discovery. Taking some risk to grow, trying something new, redefining professional purpose, and opening the alternatives to defeatism could make this burden we share just a little lighter.
Recently I became aware of Google Glass, glasses with a powerful interface that responds to verbal cues. You can ask questions, take pictures and video, and share your thoughts. I couldn’t stop thinking of how powerful this tool would be for our students. I could send the glasses to local universities to connect our students with scientists and students. Students could record their thoughts and pictures. They could collaboratively create videos of their experiences.
February 27th is the deadline for becoming a tester for these glasses. The application has to be 50 words or less. Here is my application:
My husband and I had an interesting conversation last night about professional detachment. A former student who I had in one of my classes very briefly committed a violent crime in the city this week. The talk in the teacher’s room was along the lines of “well, that’s no surprise.” I agreed. In the short time I knew the student, he was unable to sustain any classroom norms, skipped classes, and was arrested in school for reasons I am not aware of. Regardless of the student’s history, I was left feeling the familiar feeling of troubled. Who am I teaching now who may face this fate? What can I do? How am I part of the cycle of students who slip through, drop out, disappear?
My husband’s wise recommendations come from 16 years teaching in the system I am in, though he is no longer teaching here. His advice to me when I started teaching as a second career here: Care, connect, structure, teach. He taught me to follow my natural inclinations to let relationship building be the key to success in my classrooms. Last night, though, he added, “You have to have some detachment.”
I quipped back something along the lines that all women are probably told this in their professions – Care, but not too much. Connect, but don’t get attached. Feel, but not so that it gets in the way. It was Friday night. Not an easy night for philosophy and gender discussions on our way for dinner. We let it rest there.
Interestingly, while at dinner, I overheard a man telling his wife about the crime of my former student. “How crazy,” he said, “these kids don’t think.”
Immediately, I thought of the long list of issues that this one case illustrates – our high drop out rate, our gangs, our attendance problems, our behavior issues, and so on. Intellectually, I can see it, from that place of healthy or unhealthy detachment. One act of violence is the fault of one person and his own mental health struggles. On the other hand, he was in my classroom 3 years ago, still a child. It is not that I blame myself or the school or the city. I just feel. We are losing them. These students of deep troubles, drowning in the services thrown at them in our city and schools and still, we are losing them. To themselves, to the gangs, to the streets, to the legal system. I have absolutely no solutions or a clue what to do, but I feel the tragedy, deeply.
For me personally, detachment is not really an option. I feel deeply. I am a poet, a thinker, a writer, a singer, a meditator, a teacher. My feelings are like a compass for me. It’s how I know where to go next. In the classroom, it makes me different to my students. I am not reactive. I am calm and thoughtful. My students trust me to be calm with them. When something goes wrong, they ask, “are you mad?” because they cannot tell with me. Sometimes I am and say, “Yes, I am upset by what just happened, but I will move past it in a few minutes. Let’s just get back to science.”
My hope is that my honest discussion of feelings is a different model of strength for them, but I do not know if it has that effect. I am well-liked by most students, but my hunch is that is because of my general kindness and ludicrous sense of humor (when students ask me for an assignment from 6 weeks ago, I go down a pretend escalator behind my desk to look for it).
Most students are fine. They do work. They pass classes. They graduate. They go on to live their lives. I enjoy them. They enjoy me and science and projects. I do not mean to paint of picture of all that is wrong. The puzzle is, though, when things are wrong – really, really wrong with a student – what is the role of the teacher? What is the role of our feelings?
In this case, my residual feelings of troubled, sad, and regret point me toward reminding my current students that it matters to me who they are, what they do, and how they feel. My compass points to significance. To my students – You matter. All of you matter. All of you have a purpose on this Earth. And I care and feel and worry for the decisions you make. I’m not saying I can change a darn thing about the situations of your existence, but I do feel and will feel for you.
I am super excited to have approval to develop a new class for next year. This is my fifth year teaching. So far I have taught 3 years of ninth grade biology, AP Biology, and Integrated Science. I am ready for something new.
I’ve taken the Massachusetts Biology Frameworks and expanded them to fit the course. It will not be an honors level. Instead, it will be our standard level called College Prep. There are advantages and disadvantages to this for me. With all College Prep courses in our school, there are behavior issues and issues of completing work. I’m worried that it will warp how I plan the class. On the other hand, developing more project based learning approaches that allow for individual expression and development may save me from creating work that I think they will do. Instead, I will stick to creating work that can be done at any level and assess accordingly.
I don’t yet know if this means I will no longer be teaching AP Biology. I am hoping for both, but if there is low enrollment, my colleague will probably get the class next year. Time will tell.
I have no experience developing curriculum, but I am excited to learn this skill and craft. I will be hunting down all other Ecology classes in the area and hopefully taking a college class in the field this summer. After teaching some of this material this year in Integrated Science and taking my students on a field trip to the woods – watching them discover nature for the first time for many of them – I know my heart is ready to open this area of teaching.
In AP Biology, there are these moments when the students realize that life is incredible. It is an amazing moment as a teacher to see students discover the intricacies of being alive. I am hoping, with this new class, to bring this moment of discovery to other students who otherwise may never have found it in high school.
Let the crafting begin. I will share my curriculum work as a google document as I go and would greatly appreciate any and all feedback.
I started this project a few years ago and have been tweaking it each semester. My class, at present, requires every amount of differentiation as possible. Mostly, they are lacking basic search engine skills, microsoft word skills, online skills, and other 21st century skills.
Last year, I had students make travel blogs which worked perfectly for that group. This year, I noticed that having a paper guide for research would make things simpler and modeled it slightly after an Animal Research Project I purchased at Teachers Pay Teachers.
This booklet can easily be modified for any type of travel project in any discipline. My objective here is to open the world up to my students. Find volcanoes! Find canyons! Buy a plane! Go see every great waterfall in the world! I spend the day before going over a world map to show them where major countries and continents are and to point out sites of interest that they may have never heard of.
The parameters: You have 2 weeks, unlimited finances and must see at least 3 geologically significant sites. Feel free to take some cool side trips. It will take my class 3 days in the computer lab and 1 to 2 days in the classroom to put it all together.
The challenges for them are in internet skills so I guide them to tourism sites to get ideas. Since I have done this project a few times, I have become much more aware of what to see in exotic places and can help. I warn students that if they pick a place unfamiliar to me that they will have more of a burden to find the geologically significant areas. What they quickly discover is that it doesn’t matter where they go; there are geologically significant things to see everywhere. It’s cool.
In other disciplines, I can see this working really well for history classes (reveal: I am married to a history teacher so I probably see this cross curricular connection in all things). For English, I can see doing this travel trip as a time travel trip back to the time of the setting of the author. For mathematics, I think it would be awesome to go back to speak with ground breaking physicists and mathematicians and visit their laboratories.
The real essence of this, for my students, is to dream a little past the boundaries of our cities. Many students have not travelled much or have only travelled from the birth country to here.
Make the world a bigger place, and let your students find an exciting path to navigate.
Here’s the google link. I currently have it set to view not edit – should I change that?
Feedback is greatly appreciated!