Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday's Lesson: Classroom Management

Today was my first block day. Two hours with the same kids. What a challenge. Unfortunately, they were  not as engaged as I hoped (actually, the best part was the microscope lab). Mr. B. started them out on their summaries, Cornell-note style. Then, I had them read an article, answer three questions on a piece of paper, and start a second worksheet. They were very ancy transitioning to the second worksheet. Plus, many students had questions about the article, or the worksheet. I was busy buzzing from student to student like a bee in a daisy patch. Meanwhile, the kids started conversing. Mr. B. and I had to use the timer a few times, adding up to 1:20 of time "owed" after class. That shut them up quick but was pretty severe negative reinforcement, in my opinion. When a couple of other kids talked after that, Mr. B. told me to send them outside. I sent the first one who I could identify. He had to go on a "time out", and he now gets a call home to his parents. Personally, that seems a little severe. If I were a parent, I don't think I would want a teacher to call me unless it was a bigger problem.

Anyway, after the worksheet, we had a great little discussion about the worksheet (my first one as a class--it was GREAT!!!). I picked 3 kids at "random" (the ones who don't participate much) to share their answers. I tried to implement examples. I'll have to think of humorous examples beforehand to be prepared. I can't think on the spot.

However, I learned A LOT. At the end of class, I gave out a survey so I could get to know my students more. They gave great feedback. I need to strike a balance between firmness and leniency. I need to work in more positive reinforcement systems and creating more interesting lessons to instantly engage them. Avoid boredom at all costs!

Despite the fidgetyness of the kids, I personally thought they tried very hard. Maybe they would prefer to have homework in exchange for doing more activities in class, and not lectures, independent reading, or individual work. I know they want more labs, hands-on projects, humor, and rewards with candy or snacks.

Hot Cheetohs and Takis


This video was produced by students in Minneapolis in an awesome class, "Beats and Rhymes". Check it out. Also, here's a link to a clip on the NPR website, which aired in August, 2012 on "All Things Considered". This is my version of "Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul".


Comedic Material for the Classroom

I've been learning so much from my students. If you're too strict, they will stop listening. If you don't engage them, they will learn nothing even if you're blue in the face. They have to want to learn. You have to sell it to them. The students are your customer and you're the salesman, convincing them to buy your content (the product). I want to have high expectations for them, but there is a balance between too strict and too lenient that must be achieved. Classroom management is a balancing act. You don't want to go too far to either side. Using well-timed humor to present content is one great idea to instantly engage the students and make it more interesting. As teachers, we are natural life-long learners, and I believe learning how to use comedy in the classroom is just another tool I can add to my toolkit. Since teaching is a performance art, it seems logical that comedy will come in handy.

lessons learned from dad
blood in urine
that hurts. dont do that

jokes from dad
constipated accountant

See the below websites to find out more:

That's Funny Comedy Across the Curriculum

Also, I'm creating a webmix in Symbaloo for "Comedy in the Classroom. Check it out!
(Or search "comedy" in Diigo for related articles).

What I've Learned continued--2nd Week

Always make your copies the day (or 2) before. You never know when all the copiers on campus are going to break.

Always have extra activities planned in case you finish early. It's always better to have more to do than have idle students with 15 minutes left.

Grading assignments is a great way to get to know your students better! Consider keeping a spreadsheet to make notes and track their progress. In addition, grading is a great way to know what your students understand and what needs review.

Use the student grading system, whenever possible. This is a great time saver and also gives students immediate feedback.

You learn more from your students than anyone else. 

Use raffle tickets to motivate students to participate or work harder on homework. Draw weekly for prizes. Or use a chart to track how much students participate and award based on who gets the most points for the week. Apparently, there's also an App to track this as well.

In-Service Days

Before I get too far into the school year, I just wanted to mention how much I enjoyed from the three in-service days I got to attend before school started. I'm sure once I'm an experienced teacher, I won't look forward to them quite as much, but as a student teacher, it was extremely beneficial. I got to meet all the staff, administration, and teachers before school started. This made me feel more comfortable and included in the school community.

Although we all just wanted to jump into our classrooms and start prepping for the first day of school, we were "forced" to participate in team-building activities with administration. Despite lots of groans and grumbles, everyone was a good sport. On the second day, we all joined in for relays and team "sports" and games. I volunteered for our team in the "spin around the bat" relay. The goal was to spin around the bat 10 times, grab a ball in a cup, and run down to the cone at the end of the field and back. I was only able to make it to grabbing the ball in a cup step before I promptly fell backwards on my ass. The sky spun above me. In a haze, I somehow stumbled down the field and back. The only thing that eased my embarrassment was the teacher after me, who fell three times before making it down the field. That made me feel much better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lesson Learned: Never Be Unprepared

Today was frantic. I don't know if it's because I was 5 minutes late to my first staff meeting, or because I was in class all day yesterday and missed Monday's classes at high school. Or maybe it was because I didn't finish grading all 85 papers over the weekend and was left frantically marking in red ink Tuesday morning. Whatever the reason, today did not go smoothly for me. The classes I co-taught all went great; it was how I felt on the inside. My stomach was churning, I had a headache, no appetite, and I kept having the distinct feeling like I'd forgotten to put my pants on that morning. Lesson learned! Never leave things to the last minute in teaching. Because when you do, everyone notices. Everyone. You can't fake preparedness. There's hundreds of students counting on me! I'm going to have to pick up the pace over the weekends.

The other lesson I learned: always read through any worksheet (better yet, do it first!) you want to administer to your classes. I used a "Simpsons" worksheet to teach the Scientific Method before I noticed that a few answers had been mistakenly filled in. Then, I realized I wanted to add more questions, missing from the worksheet. Instead of correcting the mistakes on the worksheet, I was stuck with what I had since I'd already made copies. I had to instruct the students to add the questions, which became messy and confusing. Some tried to squeeze it illegibly into the margins, others wrote it on a separate sheet of paper and then lost it, and the rest of them simply "forgot" to do the additional work. Always check your worksheets before use!

On a side note, make sure you check over everything for mistakes before making copies. Otherwise, you just wasted 150 sheets of paper, ink, and probably broke the old, crotchety copier being slave driven in the copy room. I made this mistake today. I was copying worksheets for tomorrow. I had finished copying all 150 of them before I realized I had copied the answer key. Doh!

First Day of School Rant

Yesterday, I started my classes at Cal State San Marcos. I had three classes, yet I was in class from 10 am to 7 pm. What did I get out of it? Unfortunately, not much. Just a lot of fluff with about 10% content. I gleaned a few ideas for lesson plans and activities, learned some new acronyms, and became more aware of the struggles EL (English Language) learners go through at school. I don't think I needed to be there all day for that. Oh, well. Veteran teachers have all echoed my same sentiments. Too bad they haven't changed the system in eons. There's definitely some hypocrisy about the program. For instance, teachers tell us never to lecture for more than 10 minutes before engaging the students in discussion (the 10:2 rule). After telling us not to do that, the teacher then lectured for about 40 minutes. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but you get the point. The thing that bothers me the most is probably the utopian attitude you are expected to adopt. I'm not going to be able to save the world. I think being aware of the disconnect between teaching and the pedagogy of teaching will help me face reality when it comes time for me to run my own classroom. My master teacher advised me, "Aim to reach most of the students, most of the time."    

Friday, August 24, 2012

What I've Learned My First Week of Student Teaching

I can't believe how much I've learned in my first week. I love being so immersed in a school, right from the beginning. All the other teachers have been giving me tons of advice, and I've been able to do lots of observations, let alone what I've been learning from my hands-on experience. Here's what I've discovered so far:

1. Keep your nose clean.
There's a lot of gossip. A lot. I like to just nod and smile. If possible, I try not to listen. It makes me uncomfortable when I know this teacher doesn't like that teacher, and so on, and then I have to work with both. Best to befriend everyone and keep your mouth shut.

2. Befriend everyone.
I nod and smile at everyone--the secretaries, the IT person, the janitors, everyone. I need their help! Plus, I've heard if you get on their bad side, they can make your life a living hell.

3. "Teaching is 90% classroom management and 10% content."
I've heard this from several teachers. You can't teach if your class is out of control. Plus, that's what you're evaluated on most. You're not going to get re-hired if you can't run a classroom.
(The other quote I've heard to death (which I don't like quite as much): "Don't let 'em see you smile 'til Christmas".)

4. Start out strict. Loosen up only if they are angels and the year is over halfway done. You can always loosen up but it's almost impossible to become more strict.

5. Use positive reinforcement, whenever possible.
Give students chances for success. To encourage students to participate, hand out raffle tickets to those who do. They get to put them in a jar, which I can draw from weekly to give out prizes. Plus, I can count up the raffle tickets and assign extra credit, or determine who needs to participate more by seeing how many times their name appears in the jar.

6. Use assigned seats.
Students pay better attention when they're not next to their friends. Plus, it's MUCH easier to learn their names. In addition, it's good for students to learn to work with a variety of people, especially those they don't know.

7. Learn their names and pronounce them right.
Students hate when you get their names wrong, even if it's the first day. Hate it!

8. Leaving class to go to the bathroom is a privlege. Use only for emergencies.
Only let students go one at a time. Use a bathroom pass. Or, hand each student 4 passes for the semester and instruct them to use them wisely. Once they're gone, they're gone. Otherwise, students will leave in great masses to escape class and congregate in the bathroom.

9. Don't be afraid to say, "No."
It's hard for me to flat-out say, "No, you can't go to the bathroom right now." It's not my nature. But as a teacher, kids will test their boundaries. They are accustomed to a teacher saying no without providing an explanation. They know better. Tell them no.

10. Break them up into groups for activities as much as possible.
Students learn best by doing and are the most engaged and productive when they get to use their hands. Plus, they get to learn from each other. It's easier for a teacher to work with students in small groups or one-on-one when they're in groups, allowing me to get to know my students better. Not to mention that it's easier on me. Less work! (Work smarter, not harder).

Crazy Thursday

Yesterday was only the 4th day of school. What a weird day. 6th period, a kid fell asleep, and we couldn't wake him up. He came in, put his head down, and passed out before the bell rang. My cooperating teacher tried to wake him up by poking him, shaking him, yelling at response. The class was giggling at him and everything. I went over and poked him really hard. I could tell he was breathing. He was twitching slightly, but I couldn't tell if it was a muscle spasm or if he was perhaps laughing. Was he faking? I leaned down and told him quietly that I was going to give him detention if he didn't wake up. Nothing. I got the feeling after that he wasn't faking.

The cooperating teacher went to call security. I kept the class calm, confiscating a bottle of water from a kid, who wanted to pour it over his sleeping peer. The medics were there within 30 seconds. We evacuated the class, and I tried to keep everyone calm. For a bunch of freshmen (crowded at that with 45), they were very good. They were concerned about his well-being.

The medics were able to rouse the kid, who finally lifted his head to reveal a huge puddle of drool beneath his elbows and horribly bloodshot eyes. His first question, "Are you going to call my parents?" Then, he was taken into the back room with the assistant principal, where he started crying. I guess he'd taken a bunch of painkillers. At least he was remorseful.

I hope he pulls out of it. He's only in 9th grade. I really believe in giving kids a second chance. I'm glad he didn't get kicked out. I hope he listens to his guilt and learns from this experience. He could have so easily been kicked out of school, OD'ed, or worse.

Meanwhile, on my end, I've been learning so much. I'm glad I got this experience because now I know what to do in case of emergency. Never hesitate to call for help if you think a kid is in trouble.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Week of School

This week  has been very exciting for me! It's the first week of school and my first week as a student teacher as well. I'm teaching 2 periods of biology with my cooperating teacher and 1 period of ELD with an English teacher. So far, this week has been awesome! The teachers and students have all been very courteous so far, and I've been really enjoying myself. My days are flying by very quickly, and I'm always exhausted at the end of the day. However, I absolutely love it so far.

Monday: My first day as a student teacher. My bio classes have 40-45 students each! I hope they open up a new bio section soon. I'm tripping over myself trying to circulate the room, and remembering everyone's name is a real challenge! Everyone was very well-behaved, but I've been warned that might change after week 3. Today was pretty simple. We went over the syllabus (briefly), broke the students into their lab groups, and had them work on a cool problem-solving activity (about polar bears, fish, and dice).

Tuesday: We went over lab safety today. I told the students they could not use the fire extinguisher...except if I was on fire. They have permission to save my life! Using humor in the classroom is key to get everyone to pay attention. Students took a quiz on lab safety and had to pass by getting 20/25 questions correct. Students who didn't pass the first time simply re-took the quiz after we went over the answers. Only 2-4 students per period had to re-take the quiz. Everyone passed the 2nd time.

Wednesday: We finally started getting into material today. It takes awhile to reach this point, simply because students need to be instructed very clearly with simple, broken-down instructions. We spent time going over our expectations, how to set up their spiral notebooks, how to take notes, and how to study. Especially since these students are freshmen, they need to be taught these important tools. In addition, they will use them for the rest of their lives. Never assume your students know how to do something! Anyway, we started going over their vocabulary for unit 1 on the scientific method. I showed them how to make their modified flash cards, how to be resourceful in finding definitions, and how to come up with a definition in their own words. They also were instructed to include an example, a picture, or a sentence with their definition. After modeling the first two, relying heavily on class participation, they broke up into groups to collaborate on the rest of the definitions. Anything they couldn't finish in class was assigned for homework. I love teaching them in groups! Much more productive and a great way to get to know each student personally.


I am a student teacher at Cal State San Marcos, trying to earn my Single Subject Credential in biology (and chemistry and math). I created this blog to share my personal thoughts and reflections of what I learn as I go through this program.