Category: Student Teaching

CollaborationNew Hampshire Science EducationStudent Teaching

Franklin Pierce University Collaboration

img_5480This past week has been a flurry of activity that did not involve interacting with a computer for several hours a day.  Don’t get me wrong – I am THOROUGHLY enjoying creating a rocky shore curriculum, but it is also very exciting to get back into the classroom and work toward improving science instruction and performance at the elementary level.

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I recently had the privilege of collaborating with Franklin Pierce University’s professors and students.  Professor Doug Gilroy asked me to speak to his Scientific Inquiry and Teaching Methods class, and Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher requested that I talk with the university’s Education Club.  I also had the wonderful opportunity to discuss science and education with the Education Division Chair, Dr. Alana Mosley.

Last Thursday Professor Gilroy’s class focused on learning about what to expect when teaching science at the elementary level.  We covered science instruction, curriculum, professional development and inquiry-based learning.  We also looked at data from surveys like the one below that indicate an overwhelming lack of preparedness elementary teachers believe they possess in terms of teaching science at the elementary level.  This led to positive conversation on what we can do to change that educational shortcoming.

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Professor Douglas Gilroy & FPU Students

Yesterday Professor Gilroy’s class conversed about how to create and plan instruction that promotes engagement and inquiry.  We reviewed different strategies that invoke inquiry, and we also discussed the biggest challenges educators face when attempting to engage their students.  I shared with students my instructional planning method and classroom management fundamentals which can be found on the homepage of this website.

I also had the privilege of meeting with FPU’s Education Club last night.  This was a potential lecture that turned into a question and answer session, and I appreciated this time immensely.  Students were able to ask me any question they wanted regarding education and I attempted to answer them as comprehensively and honestly as possible, because, I believe, collaboration between school districts and postsecondary schools needs to increase and improve in order to comprehensively prepare new teachers to face the many challenges educators encounter today.

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Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher & FPU      Education Club Members

The Education Club asked very thoughtful, challenging and detailed questions on topics ranging from instructing students with diverse learning needs to IEP meetings to collaborating with parents to teacher evaluation processes and performance-based pay.  I am hoping I provided adequate answers that will assist their work now as student teachers and beyond into their teaching careers.

One last aspect that needs attention regarding this collaboration with Franklin Pierce University: yesterday morning I was writing back and forth with the Department of Education and a member of the Subcommittee of the Professional Standards Board, Casey Sylvain, sixth grade teacher at Grantham Village School.  We are working on creating new elementary education science certification standards for New Hampshire educators in efforts to better prepare new teachers and to help guide future science professional development for current elementary educators.

When I explained to the new Director of Science Education, Barbara Hopkins, that I was not going to be able to physically attend the meeting in Concord because I would be working with Franklin Pierce University I discovered an incredible connection:  Barbara Hopkins’ alma mater (Class of 1977) is Franklin Pierce University.  Also, Barbara Hopkins was the 1998 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient for her project on the development of a scientific instrument sharing system.

How cool is that?!

CollaborationPlanning InstructionStudent Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part Two: Creating Effective Lessons

Looking to hire a new early childhood educator?  Look no further than the student teachers that will be graduating in 2017 from Plymouth State University’s Early Childhood Studies department!

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I recently had the privilege of teaching these impressive students for a second time this semester.  Our focus was investigating how to create and plan an effective instructional unit.  We also delved into difficult questions like “Why focus on engaging your students when planning?” and “What is the biggest challenge to engaging students?”

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Well, why focus on engaging your students when planning?  Looking at definitions for the word engage you will find phrases similar to “get and keep someone’s attention” or “to hold the attention of” and “induce to participate.”  Are we as educators looking to get and keep out students’ attention?  Do we desire to hold our students’ attention and induce them to participate?  Absolutely!  Why?  Engaged students are invested learners.

Here is an analogy I presented to PSU’s students about the importance of focusing on engaging your students when planning:

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Olive Garden wants to create a new entrée.  They get their top chefs and administrators together to discuss various aspects of the entrée.  They consider very carefully the ingredients, the complementary appetizers and sides, the compatible beverages, the perfectly-sized portions, and also the appearance of the entrée.  But they forget one thing – how the entrée will taste! 

Creating a lesson without focusing on how to engage our students is like making an entrée without considering how it will taste to the customers.  Yeah, it’s that important!

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And what is the BIGGEST challenge to engaging students?  Is it making the subject matter appealing?  Is it exhibiting an attractive teaching style?  Is it planning instruction that produces quality lessons?  Is it classroom management that creates an effective learning atmosphere?

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When considering this question, Dr. Elisabeth Johnston’s students wisely came to the conclusion that the answer to this question is most likely dependent on the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.  They also pointed out that it is important for teachers to be aware of their own weaknesses so that they could work hard on improving in these areas.  I was in total agreement with their insight, and impressed with their self-awareness in such an early stage of their educational career.

When all is said and done, I did advise PSU’s Early Childhood student teachers that I believe that creating effective teaching experiences can boil down to the following:

  1. Instructional planning that focuses on engaging students by preparing, reflecting and refining our lessons
  2. Classroom management that is constructed with a foundation of trust between teacher and students

Okay, so I didn’t get to my second point (epic fail on the instructional planning of my own lesson) but I intend to!  I am excited and thankful to be preparing, reflecting and refining my future lessons for PSU and other colleges/universities around New Hampshire.

Click HERE for the instructional planning method I have created to support both new and seasoned educators

Click HERE for the classroom management fundamentals I have created to support both new and seasoned educators

Elementary ScienceSabbaticalStudent Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part One

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Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside.  The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course.  Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat.  However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.

The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.”  I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household).  This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences.  Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:

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Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science!  Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well.  Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.

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Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement.  The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution.  Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?

Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf).  I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:

  1. Seek out science professional development opportunities
  2. Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
  3. Refine science units and student experiences continuously
  4. Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
  5. Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
  6. Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
  7. Allow mistakes and messes
  8. Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
  9. Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
  1. Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your          students

I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:

*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)

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.