Noisy Water Review

Co-op 190 Job Journal

Will Middlebrooks


I’m back to school now here at Whatcom Communtity College in part because I never really was good at school, or even a real student for that matter. Before earning the title and stigma of high-school dropout, I had a bright academic career, brimming with potential, but mostly disappointment. After being expelled from middle school, four high-schools, and two school districts, I earned my Good Enough Diploma, or GED, at the ripe and ready age of fifteen. Then what? Well, as my Dad put it at the time, “You either work or go to school, but you’re filling your day with something.” And so I found work. If I was going to fill my days with something, I might as well get a paycheck. Experience had already proven to me that I was one of those people who wouldn’t or couldn’t make school work. So from florist, to line cook, to landscaper, I worked and found myself moving through my life in a new way, building upon successes and skill-sets rather than reoccurring failures. What I found through this work, and never in school, was an environment that engaged not only my head, but my hands and heart as well. Through these jobs I learned what I loved—the outdoors, botany, food, nature—and used these as a dowsing rod for more work: first habitat restoration in urban Seattle, then moving a little further from home spending four years as a full-time farm worker. It was here that I first had a taste of what it felt like to be an educator. During summer, we would have a farm-camp, where high-school age kids would come four days a week to work and to learn. I was now able to share some of what I loved about my own life, a passion for the natural world, the balanced cycles around our food, ecosystems, healthy diets, ethical animal husbandry, and more generally, how we really interface with our world.

The kids I worked with over these summers really responded to not only the physicality of the work, but also began to really dig in to the fundamentals that lay behind it. They seemed to gobble up things like watershed management, forestry practices, principles of sustainable agriculture and the other lessons that made up half of their days, and did I mention most of these kids were “at risk youth” with most being “drop-outs”? Who knew they’d love to learn as much as most kids? Most of us shared not only similar backgrounds, but also learning styles: we needed knowledge that was supplemented with work, an environment that kept not just out minds active, but our hands as well. It was here that I learned I loved to teach, to share, but also that there are many kids, myself included, for whom the current educational path seems remote and alienating. And it was here I decided I wanted to help change that. I wanted to take my accumulated failures as a student and use them as fuel to help out those who were like me at their age. So there’s the long story of how I came about writing this journal. I’m back to school now at Whatcom, wanting to become a teacher of all things, and over this year have been working as a teacher’s assistant three hours each morning at Sehome High School. The following entries are from these mornings, my first time back in high-school a decade later.

January 3, 2011

Back to school today from the holiday break and was feeling a little unsure of myself in hitting the ground running. While I wasn’t feeling as prepared as I normally do, I think I was on par for how Craig and the students were also feeling. Everyone seemed a little out of shape in a sense, but after the first couple periods I think we all got back into the rhythm of where we were and what we were supposed to do. Spent most of the morning preparing a lab for the next two days, which wasn’t at all that easy to do as Craig didn’t have any time before class to hash directions out first. I had to imagine how I thought the lab would go, the flow of the activity, based on how I’d seen the students interact with each other before. I think it will work out well, but I find myself getting a little wound up when I feel I’m not on the same page as Craig from the get go. I think it’s good for me in the sense that it’s giving me the opportunity to become a little more fluid, a little more adaptable and able to fire from the hip, something I see in Craig. I think this will be a core quality I have to work on for the future because I tend to feel very secure when I’m prepared, organized, and find myself getting overwhelmed and scattered if things stray from my original plan. I’d like to find a fine balance between spontaneity and careful orchestration.

January 4, 2011

Today I got another chance to present a short lecture, something still very unfamiliar to me. It’s a little nerve-racking too, to be honest. I still have a little apprehension around speaking to a group of people, one-on-one is fine, but to the whole is not so easy. It’s surprising that I have the same sort of hesitation when speaking to the kids, as I do when speaking to adults, I tend to think it should be easier. The problem I think I have again comes back to preparation, but I don’t know if I can get fully prepared for a lecture. It was different than most public speaking I’ve done before in the sense that it’s more of a conversation between you and the class than just speaking AT them. I begin with a pretty clear idea of what I want to say, but then as they ask questions, or I ask questions to gauge if they’re confused or not, the track I intended to take originally starts to change course. This is where the nervousness steps in. I’m sure the more opportunities I get to practice the more comfortable I’ll get, and the better I’ll be able to help the students.

January 5, 2011

Today was a block day, and as Craig likes to do it, we usually do a lab or some other sort of group activity. Today was a lab day and a pretty fun one at that. In my free time during lecture at the beginning of the week I was able to set up the materials and equipment for our class as well as Mr. Ruthford’s class. In this lab each pair of students had to construct a cell using dialysis tubing, and sugar, starch, and salt solutions. The process was similar to stuffing and tying sausages and the kids had a pretty easy time of it. The rest of the protocols for the lab were similarly simple and the students had no big hiccups. The lab also built off of some new skills the students had learned in a previous lab: how to test for sugar, starch and salt molecules present in a solution. I liked being able to build from one activity to the next, it does a great job at tying together concepts, keeps the curriculum cohesive, and I think it also gives the students a sense of progression with the class.

January 6, 2011

Lab again today and everything went smoothly the first day, which means I don’t have to worry about tweaking the prep today or later for Ruthford’s class. The one logistic that gets tricky is swapping the lab materials and tools at the end of the block period. Not only do Craig and I have to get the lab broken down from our classroom and setup in Ruthford’s, but Ruthford also has to break down his lab and set it up in our class, a switcheroo of sorts. This happens because of an arrangement set up between Craig and Ruthford at the beginning of the year. While both of them have Honors as well as General classes, Craig sets up the lesson plans for Honors and Ruthford takes care of the lesson plans for General. Beyond the logistics of swapping labs, this arrangement seems to work well and is a good division of labor. There are times however where it becomes obvious that it can be hard to work from a lesson plan you didn’t come up with yourself. Both of them are careful to tweak the plans too much though, as they want there to be some sort of consistency when students are taking the same class, but from different teachers.

January 10, 2011

Whoops! Turns out it was a late start today, but I headed to Sehome as usual. Turns out that when all the kids are sleeping in, most of the teachers are taking the opportunity to catch up and use the free time available. I was able to get handouts and most of the lab prepped for the week, and Craig and I were able to get synced up for the week, something that rarely happens. The downside is then all your class time gets chopped. I had two activities to review with the students, one of the times were I get to present to the whole class rather than small group work. I had prepared thinking I was going to have more time (regular periods) and ended up chewing up too much time for one of the periods and had to cut down my time to make it work. Challenging for me to be sure, I have a hard time thinking on my feet when up front and having to interact with all the kids at once. It’s funny how it works, but every time I get up front, and don’t do as well as I’d like too, I seem to have an easier go of it the next time I step up front. I’m grateful for the opportunity that Craig is affording me.

January 11, 2010

Today was a short lecture and then a ‘Cell Game’ activity. I thought the kids would have way more of a fun time with the game, but not that many people were really into it. It might be because there was a bit of a learning curve for the rules before the game-play built up momentum, maybe when we take it up again there will be a little more enthusiasm. There was however a bit of excitement towards the end. Students from Ruthfords’s class rushed in to grab Craig; a student had passed out in class and paramedics were eventually called. This left me with the class alone, only for a five minutes, but with everyone a little hyped up because we didn’t know at the time what was going on next door. I stepped up front and began the cell respiration lecture just to keep the momentum going. I thought with Craig gone and the kids a little worried it was best to just carry on rather than to allow the class to stop with a screeching halt. Again, it brought to my attention how I really need to prepare for presenting material. Having to jump up and start immediately is not my style, but I feel I did well enough for the circumstances. Though it did bring to my attention again how I’m really going to have to work hard at being able to be more adaptable to spontaneous situations with every day.

January 12, 2011

Another Block day today along with a longer than normal lecture, you can almost see the exact moment when the class collectively tunes outs and a blank look crosses their eyes (even the most stellar students). It really hits home the fact that these kids don’t seem to respond the best to ‘teacher up front’ scenario. Of course lectures are necessary and needed to be able to introduce and drill new things, but it just seems it isn’t always the most effective at engaging them into being excited about biology and some of the places they could explore with the subject. In addition, they seem to have a better retention of the things we do together in class, like labs, ‘card sorts’, and group/partner activities. Lectures seem to put the kids into the role of spectator, where it’s real easy for them to forget that they should be actively engaged in their own learning, rather than just being spoken to. When there is an interaction taking place I think it becomes apparent that they’re at the center of the learning process and they can take control.

January 13, 2011

I’ve been noticing throughout thethree periods that I’m at Sehome, that each class seems to have a distinct personality all in itself. Each class seems to behave as a whole in different ways, and accordingly seems to require different approaches. I haven’t been able to figure out if it’s the combination of the individual students that lends itself to this “personality”, or whether what time of day it is the determinant. First period always seems withdrawn and reclusive, it usually takes a little bit of probing to get them to pop out of their shells, but maybe it’s just because it’s the first period of the day and everyone is still waking up. Second period is a bit more attentive and usually chimes in to discussions easily, and it seems that everyone works really well together when it comes to labs and group activities. Third period is similarly attentive, but when it comes to cohesion, they tend to not work as well with their partners and/or groups as second period. Now I’m wondering if this is always the case, is each class separate than the others and need to be treating accordingly?

January 18, 2011

Block Day today where we put on what was thought to be a quick and easy lab, involving soaking cubed agar “cells” to look at diffusion rates and the relationship to surface area and volume of cells. It took what could be a confusing and microscopic idea and turned in into a large, bright almost cartoonish demonstration that was easy for the kids to pickup key concepts. Everything went well except for the math. Most of the lab time was spent one-on-one with just working them through the calculations. It really got me thinking into why having solid, identifiable standards for each grade level is very important from a teacher’s perspective. The calculations were basic enough, calculating volume, percentages and ratios, yet some of the students were really challenged. When planning for a lab, as Craig did today, he needs to be able to trust on the fact that the equations he gives aren’t above the heads of most of the kids at that grade level. Not being able to work these problems puts the some kids at a disadvantage because they are then unable to use the data to come up with their own conclusions. Not only are having basic math skills important for biology students, but basic composition and grammar as well. There are many students who have a difficult time writing their thoughts to paper, they may understand all areas of a lab or reading assignment, but if they can’t convey those thought to Craig and I, they’re not getting recognition or credit for that matter.

January 19, 2011

Today was all about the lab again, although this time Craig took the time to work through the calculations with the class in the beginning, rather than us having to triage one-on-one for the majority of lab. It took a ate up a bit more of the pre-lab gear-up, but in the long run netted far more time (and energy) than it took. Another shining example of adaptation, of being able to observe the hiccups and change gears. Craig seems to be able to do this effortlessly; I think at certain times he’s not even aware that he’s doing it. I can watch little fine-tune adjustments and tweeks throughout the morning from first period to third. I hope that I’m able to taking on this attribute in the future, I’m still having a hard time “thinking on my feet”, but I think this comes from a place of needing a little more confidence and a lot more experience. I think the first step in being able to adapt lesson plans and delivery to the class comes from keen observation, something I feel I have a strength in. The next couple steps in responding to these observations is what I think I’ll have to work on.

January 20, 2011

Today was another “card-sort” test, akin to what we did with the immune system a couple months back, but this time focusing on cell respiration. I really tend to like this method of testing. Firstly, it’s non-traditional in the sense that students get to work as a team, which alleviates a bit of pressure (unless they didn’t prepare at all), and it also provides the ability to set it up in their own way. There are around thirty words or terms that they need to arrange in a logical sequence, system or pattern, then from there they present the whole process of cell respiration to either Craig and I. The element of collaboration with their partners I think helps the students a bit, where they may not prepare as well for a written test where they can fail anonymously, they are now put into a situation where their comprehension is tied to their partners success. Although Craig and I have to do a good job of prompting both partners so there isn’t one student who is pulling most of the weight. I did have to fail a couple groups, and give another couple reduced grades due to the fact that they did so poorly. It brought to my attention that there is a fine line between Socratic questioning and leading them directly to an answer with no critical thought. It was hard to have to fail the students I did, I felt partly responsible for their success, but in the end it’s up to them to be on par, and they simply did not give it the effort needed.

January 24, 2011

Today was the first day, of the last week of the semester. Craig went over a quick review and then let the rest of the class period focus on any questions the students had or anything they needed clarified. You can really start to tell that the anxieties are raised about their finals, not just for this class, but all their others. I wish there was a way to have finals staggered over the week, it seems like an aweful lot to have five or six finals all falling within the same few days. I spent the class grading the last bit of their packets so they could have them back at the end of class to use as material to study for the final. Craig does a really good job of letting the students know what to expect on the final exams, both the practical and the written. All the students get a study-guide that let’s them know what is to be expected of them to have to answer to on the tests and this allows them time to focus on the areas where they feel less confident. We’ve had many students come in before school, on breaks and lunches in order to help fill in any gaps they might have. Without the study-guide I think a lot of students would be caught broad-sided with some of the units we’ve covered, especially some of the older material.

January 25, 2011

Another review day today, I spend most of the morning setting up the Lab Practical exam, which will make up half the point for the final. Most of the students seem like they’ve got a grasp on most of the material by now, but there are a few questions that seems to come up each period, especially with cell respiration. One trick Craig uses to help the students be prepared for the final, is to have them save all their work from thoughout the quarter. At the end of each unit he “pays them with points” by having them put together a unit packet of all the worksheets, notes and labs they’ve finished. This helps us keep all the grading in one spot, and gives them a few extra points. Anything that wasn’t previously graded (most assignments have been by now) can be looked over and graded, and in addition the students have one packet to turn to for studying when the final is approaching. Most students seem to prefer looking over their own work for answers, rather than looking in a textbook or online. I think that’s the value of having them do all their work in their own words, they tend to better understand a concept than by simply reading someone else’s words.

OUT SICK FOR 1.31-2.3 2011

February 7, 2011

Today seemed like about as straight-forward day as they come: we were going to have the students watch a video and a couple animations, then answer some questions on what they had addressed. The students have been learning about the cell cycle and cell divisions, and now we were introducing the concept of cancer. The materials we had to use were provided to Craig by the National Institutes of Health, a CD with various media. Then we had a complete technology failure, none of the videos we had to show could play all the way through, and because that’s what the “lecture” consisted of for the day it put us at a standstill. The concepts covered really are best when presented visually, so the videos were a great tool, but when they were gone, it threw away a solid five minutes where we were scrambling. Another situation where adaptability comes into play, and also you can see where technology has some shortcomings. We eventually found the same videos online at the NIH website and were able to use those. First period went off the tracks for a bit, but we were set for second and third.

February 8, 2011

Today was a block-day, which normally means lab day, but Craig needed to cover meiosis, which is a pretty hefty process to introduce, so there was a good-sized lecture to start. When Craig is lecturing that usually translates to me grading papers, making keys or proofing quizzes and exams. Work that’s definitely important for the class, but not at all that stimulating. The second half of the classes made it worth it though, the students got to use modeling clays to build and demonstrate meiosis. Turned out to be a lot of fun for most everyone, and was especially exciting to see some of the kids who weren’t normally that excited about biology come alive for the period. I’m starting to see that when the kids are engaged and stoked about class it’s contagious, it makes class fun for me as well. This is why I think labs and partner/group activities seem to work the best, there are many inputs for the kids to glean info, sometimes without realizing it’s happening. They not only learn from the activity itself, but also from their partner and through the one-to-one interactions with Craig and I.

February 9, 2011

Another block day today with the same lecture/lab schedule as yesterday. You really start to get familiar with the material covered as well the flow of the labs, the little details you may not have noticed when preparing the activities. By this second day I really feel confident in where to put my energies, what problems the kids have been having with certain sections and how to help them make it through. I can really see how you can improve over time if you where allowed these little tweaks not just over a few periods, but of having year-to-year changes and additions as well. As the first years go by and I were able to work out different labs, as well as presentations, hand-outs, worksheets, I think I could become significantly more efficient as planning different sections. Although I can also see how relying on having these materials could also head in the other direction and lead to stagnation if I were to never make changes to my lesson plans. I think it’s especially important to stay current not just to have an element of freshness for my classes, but also to keep up on what is constantly being uncovered in the sciences.

February 10, 2011

Had the opportunity to present a lecture today, which again was a little nerve racking, but a definite confidence builder. I went over some common genetic trait, dominant/recessive genes, how these are passed on and expressed. I also went through how to construct a trait chart with them so they could figure out how different traits were expressed within their family. It was a lot of fun for the students because they were concepts they could relate to themselves, their families, their world. Since they were having a good time, I was having a good time: it took a lot of pressure off of having to “teach” them new concepts, it was the first time I felt there was a real easy back-and-forth type of interaction. I think it was partly due to me being more confident in my role at the front of the class, and also due to the fact that the kids were engaged and genuinely interested. I think it’s been real important to relate as many of the lessons to the kids on a personal level: how do these concepts affect you? Teenagers by their very nature are, and have to be self-centered, it’s a prime-time to discover themselves. If I can relate these topics in biology to revolve around them as individuals, I think they get excited about this exploration, of having new ways of looking at themselves.

February 14, 2011

Besides being Valentine’s today it’s been a pretty standard day. Not to say that nothing happened or it was easy, but today had all the elements that make it a typical Monday in Craig’s class. Craig goes over what lessons we’re going to take on during the week, we go over any problems with homework and the kids assemble and turn in their packets or journals of work from the preceding unit. Now when I say this Monday is pretty “typical” I think that comes as a good thing. It helps Craig give a solid scaffold and structure to which he can form his different lessons around, while also giving the students a sense of predictability and knowing what to expect from the class. It helps me with my work as well since I’m jumping into somebody else’s class, topics, delivery, and style while trying to find a way to best fit into the situation and be as helpful as possible. I think another advantage to a “typical” Monday is helping us ALL get back into the groove of a fresh week and readjusting from the weekend and getting our stride.

February 15, 2011

Today was the first of the two lab days where we were exploring the ideas of probability using dice and coin-flipping. Later we will relate it to genetics and the probability of certain genomes being passes down through generations, but for today all we need to do is flip coins and roll dice. It was another chance for me step forward and present the lead-up lecture to the lab. The current standard we’ve set-up for this is that Craig will do the first period so I can see what he’s covering and then I’ll take over the next two periods. The first couple I did were more impromptu, “Hey you want to do the next one?”, but for today he let me know of the opportunity the day before and I was able to spend a little time preparing. That being said I feel I totally bombed the first time. While the kids were able to move through the lab and understand what we were uncovering in terms of probability, I think my overall delivery was stilted and didn’t come easy. Though I have to keep in mind what you’ve said about experience, I can’t measure myself with Craig being the yardstick. Then next ext period I hit it out of the park, something clicked and I was able to get that “dialogue” going rather than just speaking at the class. Instead of a having a nervous-tunnel vision like first period, I felt not only more comfortable, but more lucid in what I was doing. I haven’t been able to put my finger on why I was able to pull such a 180 turn between the two classes, but I do know it felt great!

February 16, 2011

On one hand the activity is a success (as most of the labs are) for the simple reason that the kids get something to do, they’re active and get to work with their partners, instead of the “eyes-up-front”. On the other hand it proved to be a challenge when some of the students were faced with the math portion. At this point I’ve gotten to know the class well enough to have a good idea of who usually needs a little extra help and who works relatively trouble-free with their partners. This was totally thrown off by the fact that now we were working more results based on math equations, rather than concepts and processes. Some students who were normally on point with the topics in biology were now more challenged then ever when having to incorporate math. Likewise, some others who have struggled with biology were now whizzing through the lab due to their solid math skills. Days like this really bring to light the need for labs and activities that touch on a little bit of everyone’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses. It seems like a good ideal to strive for classes that will allow some to be challenged, and others to excel (and vice versa) so that students can have an overall experience that balances struggling with success.

February 17, 2011

Today we further explored genetics by introducing Punnett Squares, a way of determining the probability of certain traits being passed down. Craig went through a quick lecture on how to work a two-factor cross, a little more complex than the one-factors we had looked at before. We had two things to accomplish with the time: make sure they could actually use the Squares correctly and also to try and bridge what they had learned in the days before about probability to the study of genetics. I’m realizing that it is these connections that are the most important. There are students who are very good at listening, following directions and completing the tasks we put before them. They can be very goal-oriented around simply finishing the lab or worksheet, but then have a more difficult time connecting the dots between all the lessons to get a bigger picture on the subject and see all the different interactions taking place. This seems to be where Craig and I need to step in, especially with some of the brighter kids who are great at finishing ahead of the pack. When some finish early I think they can get a false sense of “owning” the subject, and it becomes a focus of mine to challenge them a little further when I see this happening. Instead of just looking over their work to see whether or not it’s correct, I probe them a little on how they arrived at their answers: “Tell me how you got up to this point” or “What made you think this?”

February 22, 2011

So we jump right into this week with a block day and it proved to be a little challenging to get everyone focused and working right away. There hasn’t been school for the past four days and it’s just enough time to where they have forgotten how it works! It’s also a little challenging for them too because it a full two-hour class, and they’re still on the attention spans of the mini-vacation. Once everyone was settled the lab went smoothly for all, except it was a little boring. It involved literally counting out all the different types of kernels on a cob (think Indian Corn), then using that data to plug into the various equations we had been learning. On one hand the activity was great in the sense that it put something real and tangible into their hands to demonstrate some genetic factors we had been exploring, but on the other hand the activity was a real chore. To be perfectly honest, when they’re not having fun, it makes it harder for me to enjoy the work.

February 23, 2011

Another lab day where corn-kernel-counting is king. It is real easy for me to play Monday-morning quarterback, but if it were up to me I might start the lab day off with something brief, but stimulating, before taking on the corn-counting. I think there is a lot in genetics to pique their interest, such as showing images of the crazy colorations of different, but related, tropical bird species, or why some animals can end with two heads or an extra appendage. I could show pictures of an albino Redwood I came across and relate it to probability, how unlikely it is to occur, but that these mutations can, and do, occur. I think because the corn-counting activity was so dull, that some students saw the lab as a “task” and not a place to ponder or wonder. For what the activity was trying to accomplish I think it did well, but like I said, there should have been something more that queued up their interest in genetics and how fascinating it can be. It’s a relatively new area (in terms of science) to examine and there’s so much more to be learned that I’d love to be able to engage some of the kids in the topic.

February 24, 2011

Today was another opportunity for me to present a lecture. It was covering a Chi-Square, a tool used to determine how much variations in data from an experiment was due to chance, or how much you could attribute these variations to something else, possibly for reasons that may cause you to research further. I felt prepared, but I was a little nervous to see how it was going to be received as it was all equations and chart-reading and the class had a challenging time with the math portions of last week. Like last week my first lecture felt as if I fumbled through it, and the second was right on point. Both classes got the equations down, so I didn’t feel the students who got the first lecture was at a disadvantage for it, but I can tell by their expressions they had to work a little harder to follow, and most importantly, they didn’t seem that thrilled about it. The second time around I was warmed up and felt I could have a little more fun with it. I think when I’m comfortable they are too, and we could have a little more fun with the interaction.

February 28, 2011

Not much to report today, we’ve been handing out periodic quizzes as we move through the genetics unit and today I spent most of the morning sorting and grading. Craig has added a little more quizzes than usual, six for this unit, and I think the idea is that with an extra person he can have them graded, recorded and handed back within the same period. I really like that approach, because I think it gives the students a clearer picture on how they are doing with the lessons. Some students will follow along in labs and lecture thinking they have a solid understanding, but it’s not until they have to put the information to practice that they then realize they might not have the whole picture intact. It also gives Craig and I some immediate feedback on how we’re doing, what areas are sticking and which we might need to spend some time revisiting. As much as I like it though, I’m not sure I would want to implement this solo as a teacher, seeing as how much time it would eat up to grade all of them at the end of the day.

March 1, 2011

Block day today, and instead of a lab as we usually have we had a crazy busy day of tying up loose ends. Turned out to a little hectic, but we accomplished everything we’d set out to. As a class the students had to go over a worksheet on blood types and heredity, which we’d anticipated to go pretty quickly, but there were a lot of questions and it ate up a considerable amount of time. We also had tried something new this unit, which was to sign off all their work and lab sheets as they finished them each day; it gave us the chance to have them rework problems they had missed, then bring it back for a signature once it was fixed. The thinking was that once it came time for the students to grade the “unit-end packets”, all the work would have been checked off and there wouldn’t be a pile of papers the students then had to score. Turns out there were so many kids who forgot or put off getting there signatures that we spent half the block going over work and signing off corrected work. Not sure this worked out as well as we had hoped. Part of the problem was due to how many sick students we had lately, but at some point we just had to have the students turn in what they had, with a stern reminder that they shouldn’t wait until the last minute.

March 2, 2011

Another day of scrambling to check and sign off on work the students had fixed and needed credit for. It’s a little trying to figure out who didn’t complete their work on time and were looking for a way to catch up as opposed to those who had done their work on time, but only had a couple mistakes to correct. On one hand I think it was a good idea to allow the students to rework some of the problems, especially the ones that were math heavy, instead of just grading them down and moving on. It afforded them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, increasing their comprehension, while also boosting their grade to reflect the amount of work they had put in. On the other hand it also makes a grand opportunity for some of the slackers and procrastinators to get a little leg up. A few of the students, (I’m seeing now who to look out for) will take advantage of this opportunity to try and rework some of their errors, at the very last minute, at which point I don’t think they’re learning, as much as just trying to simply earn points.

March 3, 2011

Today was a review day for the upcoming test and it seems students are a little more interested on exactly what will be on the test, what type of questions to look for and “what they should know.” They did have a review test they’re working through today to give them one last shot at whether or snot they know their stuff. Craig and I spend the quarter working with students one-on-one or in small groups if they all have the same questions, and many of the students seem to be working with their partners to get refreshed. I made a note in the grading rubric of which students had worked on the pre-test before coming to class and we’re going to compare the grades of those who did and didn’t work the pre-test to see if this review technique helped or not. This is one thing that I admire about Craig: after decades of teaching biology you might think he could have fallen into a sort of groove, doing the same thing as years past, but it doesn’t seem like he has. While some of the labs and activities he’s done for years, he seems to scrutinize his techniques and is willing to switch up the way he does things if they’re not working. I think this is one of the keys to his success, the ability after all this time to continually examine and fine-tune his classes.

March 7, 2011

“Teacher Development Day” - DAY OFF

March 8, 2011

Today was everyone’s least favorite day, exam day. You can just feel the stress and anxiety filling the room as students are piling in. The least prepared students are scrambling to ask last minute questions of Craig , myself or other students. The most prepared students are the ones who don’t even pull out any review materials before hand: they’ve studied, they’re ready and carry a certain amount of confidence. For the “red-hots”, the students who just fly through the test, we have a DNA building activity to start working on. It didn’t require a lot of movement or talking so as not to interfere with the others still taking the test, but it did allow for the students who finished to keep working on something. This task of building their own DNA strands also gives them something to lighten the mood a little, it’s not a dense reading or complicated worksheet and I think it helps to clear the mental (and emotional) palette of test-taking.

March 9, 2011

Exam day part two. Still a lot of worry in the air, but I’m not sure what we can do about it. At some point you have to stop and assess your students to see how they’re assimilating and comprehending the subject and I haven’t seen a way for teachers to do this without bringing out anxiety in the students. It warrants some new ideas though, because if students weren’t as anxious they could calm their little amygdalas a bit and actually THINK more clearly. Stress plays an important part in our brain functioning properly, and if the students are overly stressed their test performance will definitely be affected. So how do you test a classroom full of students without a little pressure? I think it will always be there, but maybe there’s a way to harness it to help them do better. I’m not sure where I’m trying to go with this, but I think it’s good to give this some thought to try to come up with ideas on how to frame the test so it’s not so intimidating. I think the trick lies somewhere between taking a little pressure off the students while also keeping the test serious for them in terms of it’s assessment on their learning.

March 10, 2011

Well the test is over with and for the most part the kids seem back to normal. It seems like there’s a sense in relief of starting over, whether they did great at the test or not so good, today marks the day where there’s somewhat of a blank slate and a fresh start. Craig went into a lecture on the structural makeup of DNA while I stuck to my desk and graded tests for the morning. Spent all of three periods grading and still wasn’t finished by the end of it. For this test in particular there was no real way to give a multiple choice ScanTron, so it took quite a bit longer. While multiple choice ScanTrons would have been the best choice for saving time on grading, they certainly aren’t the best choice for getting a real gauge on the students understanding. Most of what we’ve gone over in this unit involve processes that take making calculations, graphing and building tables that require a little more “working out” than just selecting the right answer and filling in the bubble. Not only can you better identify the sections each student was missing you could follow their train of thought through their work and see where they went astray. So while it took longer to grade, (something to consider if you’re going to be grading in your “off-hours), it did give us a better picture of where each student was at with specific points with the topic. It also gave me the opportunity to show with my red pen how they could have fixed one or two things to get to the correct answers, making the test not only a tool of assessment for us, but also a tool for continuing to teach them.


So what all have I learned from this time? I wish I had a profound way to encapsulate the whole student/teacher relationship to end this off with, but I’m finding it’s not that easy. I find myself in a strange grey-area now, having helped teach, having been at the front of the class speaking to thirty faces staring back, but also as a student, as someone who is one of those faces staring up to the front. The line between teacher and student has been blurred a bit, but I think this is a good thing, to sit in the grey for a bit and see what comes out of it. Not only have I learned to be a better teacher, to be able to look at the same subject matter and explain it in many different ways according to how the student might absorb it best, but it’s taught me to be a better student myself for these same reasons. As I come across new material at Whatcom I now ask myself, “So you think you understand? Now could you explain this to another in a way that would make sense to them?” It’s upped the ante in how I learn, not just to shoot for that A grade, but to make sure that I can carry that knowledge forward, that I can pass it on and share, to make it my own, make it interesting and make it connect. It’s put a new flame under my motivation for academics, and daily I’m reminded by all those faces at the high-school why I’m back here at Whatcom.

It was through my work and through mentorship that I found something to belong to when I was younger, though direct experience, hands on connections and knowledge supplemented by activity. I’m now hoping I can take that into my future classrooms, that I can be the teacher I never had, to give attention and guidance where it’s needed. To connect knowledge to field work and lab experiments so the hands can be engaged just as much as the mind. While this experience working with the high school kids in the mornings has left me feeling in the grey, I hope to hold on to that feeling. Being a good teacher means constantly learning and adapting, but firstly being a student eternal. I hope that in my future self as a teacher and educator I can hold this flip-flop: teacher-student-teacher-student. Just liked I learned with the kids at Sehome, my years on the farm, and my time as a worker and a student: there’s never an end-point to growth, just a continuation of new growth from what once was. My hope is for the seed of a drop-out to blossom into a bridge for those who struggle in school, I simply hope to help.

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