Adventures in Jumping In!

Teacher (noun)
A person who helps you solve problems you’d never have without them.

– Random quote on the Internet

Even though my students have been in session for about a week, this is my first week working with 6th grade science students at a middle school in Maryland. They had four subs before me until I arrived this week. I’ve been involved on the curriculum side of things for the last five years, not directly in a classroom, so it’s been awhile. Combined with a global citizenship emphasis and a newly updated NGSS aligned curriculum, this campus and the science team really stands out to me. I’m only a visitor in this classroom, it might only be a few months that I’m here. But in that time I want to learn their systems and expand my own pool of resources through active practice with students. Proverbially put my money (and 12 years in science education) where my mouth is. Below you’ll find videos and resources I’ve either produced or compiled. Please leave your constructive comments below and share ideas!

Before & After Thoughts…

And now for some humor. I ambitiously began this week with huge aspirations in cooperative learning, differentiation, and various guided practices. Watch and see for yourself.

In reality, I was lucky to survive this week. Fortunately I don’t have large classes (I have lab tables enough for 36 students but my largest class is 24 students), and I sincerely needed the break. In my years out of the classroom, I’d forgotten some of the smaller things that can interfere with instruction if we let it. Like the interruptions, or complaining, or even sharpening pencils. Really? Kids still use those? After one day of this seemingly small but heavily overdone stunt, I was literally in an Applebee’s happy hour scanning hundreds of Pinterests looking for ideas on how to best manage this (results are below). It’s good to have lofty goals and I did do one quick Think-Pair-Share (yay me), but the fact that I and my students got through the week safely and without a single raised-voice is my proudest accomplishment this week. We’ll get to cooperative learning next week  🙂

Resources in order of this SPECTRUM Acronym

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.07.13 PMAmong the top on my list of content goals, other than learning scientific processes and principles, is to incorporate a Wall of Fame for scientists and engineers that includes a brief background and information about where they are from. I want to expand the global focus of scientists and their contemporaries. Here’s a great site to get started: Famous Scientists. There’s also a free Wall of Fame download, starting with my hero Albert Einstein, below.

As for what we are focusing on right now (mass, matter, atoms, elements and molecules), I have another goal to incorporate some global context of learning. I’m still getting a handle on the scope, sequence, curriculum, and lab schedule, and my students are still getting a handle on learning how to learn science from the stranger walking through their tables. They are still learning how to be sixth graders. To ease them in, I tell them brief stories about travel. Tuesday’s story was about when I went to China during the worst-ever recorded air quality, and why we are studying if air has mass and if so, what is said mass. Friday’s story was about when I saw the Parthenon in Greece and was fascinated by the thousands of years of history there, culminating into the beginnings of words like atomos and of our government (a subtle tribute to this weekend’s 9/11 memorial). By the way, I’d project live cam of the scenes using safe viewing technology (pandas in China and the actual Parthenon as the sun set in Greece) and play music from each country, respectfully, as students walked in. I’ll get into the philosophy of the use of stories in teaching science later on as I share my story with you. I think this will be a good measure of what they pick up over the next few weeks, too.

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Fortunately, I’m currently working on both teaching and observations of STEM classrooms. I’m finding more and more that our goal for all educators (not just science or STEM) is to create student-centered classrooms with inquiry. It’s not rocket science, and we all need to start somewhere. It’s the whole reason I’ve started this portfolio. Meanwhile, I bumped into some great Annenberg videos to get brushed up on some pedagogical approaches, and another great ASCD Educational Leadership article.

The biggest adventure I had this week was not having access to the information regarding accommodations for any of my special needs students. It’s just the result in timing of my start date and the need of the campus to hit the ground running. At one point in the insanity this week, I stumbled upon one student’s IEP and found a basic point in his plan; point to the vocabulary term on his sheet while saying it out loud and then take turns repeating it with him while providing some visual context if possible. He’s a really great kid and I didn’t even know he had an IEP, and when I quickly used that strategy with him, he came to life and read an entire paragraph on elements and molecules out loud to the class. It got me thinking. Since I don’t know the extent of his reading level and possible reading disability yet, only the recommendation suggestion, would he have spontaneously come to a place where he was competently reading aloud, without me intervening? Were him and I leading each other blindly to success? Such an easy solution for a challenge that I didn’t even know existed!

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Engineering is a big part of the nation’s goals in science education and I’m proud to say I’ve been involved with this notion as a curriculum developer for a few years. But this subject did not even come up once this week. I was lucky to teach science this week, let alone even mention the importance of engineers and engineering in this significant field of education. I’ll have more next week, promise.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMWhen I arrived this week, I noticed my desk drawer had a huge bin of small candies, apparently to reward students. Not only are there possible issues with using candy in a classroom, but I have philosophical concerns with Pavlovian rewards for behavior, especially using candy. Maybe it’s the high school teacher in me… but I want them to want to contribute, not be trained to. I would rather put my energy into setting up the classroom to have everything the student needs for success, like a student station for sanitizers, tissues and make up work and word walls. Or create a culture where people want to contribute without reward. These things I started, or tried to. Other than candy, what else can I use?

After an exhausting Friday, I asked my last period to put the chairs on top of the tables (a janitorial request I’d apparently missed in the lapse of my start date). Without asking, two students completed this for all of the vacant spots in the room. Frantic for a reward of any kind and pressed for time, I ran to my desk looking for something, anything. I grabbed two rubber bands and gave them each one, explaining that I knew it was corny but I wanted them to know that I saw what they did, and was giving them a rubber band to thank them for their unwarranted kindness. They got it and I was relieved. I’ll save the candy for test days.

On a more serious philosophical note, I observed two situations where students could or were extracted from the classroom for behavioral issues. Baring violent and highly disruptive behavior, I believe in sending all students the message that I want them in my classroom, not out. To date, I have no idea what that student is juggling in their lives to be that disruptive, and I personally believe that the threat of telling them they will be kicked out is doing just that. Kicking them out of my amazing life as a science teacher, getting to learn the coolest stuff ever, and most importantly the opportunity to improve their behavior. I realize this is tricky and there is no right way to handle every situation (especially for violent behavior, I get it), and I agree that all students need to be in a safe environment to learn, set up for that success. Anyway, I have not yet sent a student out of my class nor do I have any intention to (although I did relocate students often). I already organized seating charts for next week in an attempt to minimize issues that will arise, I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

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Originally, I thought I was going to write about the basic strategies to create the positive report with students, like eye-level conversations and learning their names as soon as possible. And I conducted these things, but again, I started the week with massive aspirations in moving toward a student-centered classroom. Perhaps too massive. I learned that I was skipping some steps and needed to lay more of a foundation with routines first. To me, my biggest teachable moment was exactly that. Modeling and scaffolding. My students were nowhere near ready to conduct an entire investigation in their own groups. So, as I modeled one with balloons and triple beam balances with them, I also modeled the language and routine needed to get them ready. I was also monitoring their written and oral contributions to formatively assess where they were at in their organizational and intellectual processes. I was literally building the scaffolding to build their knowledge. That’s why they call it scaffolding. Now, I remember the speed-of-light parallelism we teachers conduct as we teach and adjust, adjust and teach, like a race car driver.

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Back to the pencils debacle. Determined to find a way for students to be responsible for their needs but NEVER hear the sound of a pencil sharpener during instruction (or ever again if I have my way), I was a bit dismayed with what I found on Pinterest. Everything was about systems to check out pencils like library books, but those didn’t promote personal responsibility to the student. At all. This is what I did and this is what happened (you may have better suggestions and please share!). On my second day, I started the class with an announcement that they would have the first two minutes of every class to take care of their pencils and write the day’s agenda in their agenda books. I projected this countdown clock (there are other cool ones as well) and covered the sharpener with this when the timer went off:


Totally basic stuff, I’m not looking for a gold star here. But it did work, surprisingly well. Only twice did students rightfully ask to sharpen their broken pencil and I traded them with a fresh one. No distractions, no abuse, no grating noise threatening to send my soul through brutal layers of the inferno that is hell. By the third day, all classes were quiet and ready by the end of those two minutes, and I was reminded of the power of routine. Glad I did this right away. Next week, I’ll add some sort of independent pencil-trading routine so I don’t even have to worry about those little pesky things ever, ever, again. Pencils I mean.

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Undo is reserved for that one lesson I would do differently based on my own or someone else’s teaching. This is a safe observation. I remember an article I read when I was in preservice about how a teacher felt she failed every day with her students, and had some great tips for overcoming this. I’ll see if I can dig it or something like it up. The point is, I don’t have time to dwell on that feeling of failure and want to be there for others to grow in their practice, too. Maybe I share some of my ‘undos,’ then others can do the same. Either way, this is the whoops section.

Since this is my first week and I feel like the whole week was a bunch of whoops’, can I get a pass?

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Part of my inspiration behind science education is my passion in media. We all have different preferences and approaches to media, so I’ll share a different type of media each time. To be perfectly honest, I’m grateful that my first week was low tech so I could ease back into the basics. My students LOVED this phet simulation on building an atom, by the way. I’ll continue adding more tech to my instruction each week. But for now, here’s a great link for making your own science videos. Also, I love this music link for math and music for integration (go Herbie Hancock!).

Free Download & Thanks

To me, it all begins with Albert Einstein. Here is the first of the Wall of Famous Scientists PDF, hot off the press. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Adventures in Jumping In!

  1. Assuming that you are literally, not virtually in Maryland, I guess I will also assume that you won’t be using the ticket reserved for you for Red Rocks tomorrow evening? Oh, that’s too bad for you, and for me and my family, my friends, and Hall and Oates, Trombone Shorty, and Sharon Green and the Dap Kings, who would all be blessed with your energy, your love, your presence.

    But it’s very good for some really fortunate sixth graders who hopefully will realize at some point if they don’t already, what a really, really, really good teacher you clearly are. A good education can change anyone, but a good teacher can change everything.

    I am so grateful for the crazy happy sad awesome paths that I’ve taken to cross yours, Jess. You’re one of my favorite human beings. I am proud of you like one of my own.

    Liked by 1 person

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