Month: August 2016

Collaboration

Dear Teacher (on the first day of school)

School starts today for students in the Kearsarge Regional School District in New Hampshire.  For many around the country school has either begun or will begin soon.  The following is a letter that could have been written by millions across the country to their educators:

Dear Teacher,

My feelings are all mixed up inside.
I’m somewhat excited yet want to hide
From what might happen at school today –
How can you scare my fears away?

The clothes I paid for this summer are good
And the backpack I purchased does what it should.
I bought extra supplies if there is a need –
Hopefully these will help to succeed.

Friendships are forming and they may last.
Last year’s bumps are a thing of the past.
But can you assure me you will do your best
To turn mistakes into success?

When small or big triumphs come into view
Will you celebrate what I needed you to?
When struggles or victories come about
Will you withhold it from me or share it out?

So much is in the news these days –
Bullying, shootings, testing for grades…
I need you to keep the school safe from harm
And know what to do if there is alarm.

School used to be listening, sitting, and such
And memorization (but not speaking so much).
Discovery, creations, and sharing worldviews –
Can you make this a part of learning, too?

Dear teacher…my son starts school today.
I need you to treat him in a special way
Because he’s the world – everything to me –
And you are responsible for him, you see.

You are his mentor and he is my heart.
Your job is to help him understand he is smart.
Please help him to know how to grow and grow others –
We can help him the most if we help one another.

CollaborationSabbaticalStudent Teaching

The Cycle of Education: Students Becoming Teachers

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Education is cyclical.  Preschool students become elementary students.  Elementary students become middle school students.  Middle school students become high school students.  High school students become college students.  AND…college students become teachers of all of the above (some, anyway).

When examining how to improve the educational experiences of our public school students, we need to look at the collaborative efforts being made (or not made) by all of the parts of the education cycle.  To some degree, all of these institutions leveled by age communicate with one another.  This communication is vital as educators inform each other of what they are doing, so that they are ensuring smooth transitions from one school building to the next – or at least they should be.

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The one lug nut that may need to be adjusted and tightened the most in the education cycle is at the collegiate level.  I am NOT implying that education departments are not doing their jobs – far from it, actually.  What I am suggesting is that the communication and partnerships between collegiate education departments and public schools need to increase – starting with public schools seeking out opportunities to assist their local colleges and universities where there are needs.

A few weeks ago I met with Elisabeth Johnston of Plymouth State University (PSU).  The department of Early Childhood Studies at PSU is transforming the student teacher program into extremely valuable opportunities for aspiring educators.  Instead of the run-of-the-mill student teacher experience of 1) observing a classroom, 2) taking on some teaching responsibilities, then 3) teaching a classroom solo for a week or two, the program collaborated with schools around New Hampshire in order to produce better prepared teachers for our students by creating a yearlong internship.  During the fall semester the interns spend two and a half days a week and in the spring semester they will be working with the same mentor educator five days a week.

Student teachers from the Early Childhood Studies department at PSU will be able to work with public school educators from day one – actually in some instances before day one – in order to become the best first year teachers they can be.  They will work side-by-side educators to see the process of preparing for a new school year and be a part of the first several weeks of school with all of the challenges and adjustments that go with it.  Lastly, their student teaching experience of taking on the responsibilities of classroom teacher will not be a small, isolated event but another valuable collaborative opportunity in which they will work a significant amount of time in the classroom, co-teaching with an experienced mentor educator.

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This year I am excited to be working with Elisabeth Johnston and her students during my sabbatical to help better prepare them for what to expect in regards to teaching science in the primary grades.  We will also work together on the how-tos of effectively planning and implementing science instruction in the classroom.  Because the importance of assisting early childhood majors in the areas of teaching reading and math are so high, topics such as science and social studies inevitably receive less attention.

Yes, the first people responsible for guiding students teachers down the right path are their professors.  However, elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their districts should also start considering putting “help local student teachers where there is need” near the top of their list of responsibilities.  This will, without a doubt, ensure a healthier education cycle.

 

Rocky Shore CurriculumSabbatical

Time to Create and Illustrate

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If you’re going to make a book, you need a talented illustrator to make great pictures to go with it.  The PERFECT illustrator for the free rocky shore ecosystem curriculum I am creating for educators is on the job – Adam Kelley.

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The sea stars really aligned when I found out about Adam.  I contacted a publishing company in New Hampshire a couple of years ago to see if they would be willing to help me make the curriculum.  They quickly recommended Adam as an illustrator who would be a good fit for the project, and is he ever!  Despite my choice to go with a different publisher (Hobblebush Design), Adam readily agreed to continue to collaborate on this project.

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Adam describes his three passions on his website as being “science, art and education.”  He has taken his passions and talent and worked with SEVERAL incredible institutions – the Georgia Aquarium, the Connecticut Science Center, the Smithsonian, the Perot Museum, the Franklin Institute, McGraw-Hill and more!

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The best thing about Adam, however, is his character.  I’ll be honest with you – I was quite nervous meeting him for the first time.  I figured an accomplished illustrator like Adam might have an air about him which suggested my project and I were beneath him.  Was I ever wrong!  Adam is not only enthusiastic about this project, he is one incredibly kind and down-to-earth guy who loves his family, his work, and nature.

As you may have guessed, I am extremely thankful for Adam, his abilities, and his willingness to work on this project.  He is going to be creating an amazing cover page and spot illustrations for the rocky shore curriculum.  Stay tuned as I will be providing more updates on our collaboration in the near future.

Adam’s Website: http://adamjamescp.com/

 

all illustrations above by Adam Kelley

Elementary Science

My Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical Project: Advocating for Improved Elementary Science Education

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There are Band-Aid wrappers EVERYWHERE.  Why?  I have seven children, and most obtain minor scrapes on a regular basis and do not have the patience to wait for their parents to assist their needs.  So when a scraped knee or rug-burned elbow occurs most of my children get their own adhesive bandages, but unfortunately leave those pairs of silky white wrappers behind.  So what’s the problem besides a little mess?  Being independent and resolving problems on your own is a good thing, right?

The reason I applied for the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is because I am concerned that as educators trying to improve science instruction, we are leaving behind Band-Aid wrappers all over the place.  You see, a Band-Aid alone does not heal a wound – or solve a problem.  If my wife and I want to ensure that our child’s boo-boo is completely taken care of, the cut needs to be washed, treated with antibacterial ointment, and then covered with a bandage.

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Do not get me wrong – public education in New Hampshire is often rated as one of the top ten in our country.  Still, when looking closely at our New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) data, our students’ performance in fourth, eighth and eleventh grade in the last eight years has been stagnant.  And if you look even closer, the area of science our students are performing the lowest in is inquiry.  So, in a profession that uses data to make the appropriate adjustments to ensure academic success, we must act on these frozen stats, particularly at the elementary level.

Just as there are three steps I need to take to help my children’s cuts heal, I believe there are also three crucial steps that need to occur for New Hampshire’s stagnant science performance to be remedied:

  • Increased science training at the collegiate level
  • Increased professional development opportunities for current teachers
  • Increased science curriculum made available to teachers

More training at the collegiate level is needed so our student teachers are better prepared to teach science when they begin their career.  Educators and school administrators need to find more ways to weave science into their professional development opportunities for the sake of improving science instruction for their students.  Educators and administrators need to be creative in finding quality yet affordable curriculum for their classrooms, or diligent and productive in creating their own.

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My goal with this incredible opportunity of receiving the Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical is to help colleges and public schools focus even more on the connection they have with each other in providing quality science education to New Hampshire students.  By providing seminars and mentoring for college students, various collaborative opportunities for elementary schools, and creating a free, quality ecosystem curriculum, my hope is that this project will be a small yet effective step toward increasing our elementary students’ experiences and successes with science.