Friday, May 28, 2010

Officially a Graduate!

I have officially graduated from college!! With my new B.S. in tow, I'm ready to become a PG Fellow :) and hopefully will stop neglecting my blog.

So as an update:

I'm currently enrolled in a crash course for taking the math (0061) Praxis on June 12th. So far we had had two in-person sessions and two webinar sessions. The in-person sessions are soo much more helpful than their online counterparts. As for passing the Praxis, we'll see how that goes. On the one hand, I do want to teach subjects where I'm most needed. On the other, I would feel more comfortable teaching science because I am so much more familiar with it.

Also, I came across some education stories that I bookmarked to talk about and now I can finally do that, with school behind me. Although I should be reading up on the Praxis. And I would, but I lost a contact and blogging is doable with only one eye...

Anyway, the first thing is "unschooling". In short, I think unschooling is BS. Basically, it's where parents allow their children to become masters of their own education. "If they want to learn something, they will." But what if they NEED to learn something and they have no want for it?

It is virtually impossible to expect a child to be able to navigate modern society solely on their own knowledge. That's what parents and teachers are for. Even animals don't leave their young to fend for their own. If these children were not expected to thrive in our society, then I could see unschooling as a way to go. People will always learn to survive somehow. But you can't expect for these kids to become productive members of society when they have such little interaction/experience with it. And while I've learned about a lot of different things on my own research, school has presented me with so much information that I probably would have never come across, but am glad to know. All I'm saying is, school is a good thing. So kids, stay in school.

Another is an article from the Post that talks about resegregation. Resegregation is nothing new to me. When I was growing up, I was one of less than ten Oriental students in my grade. Most of my friends were white and that was normal. When I moved to middle school, I was flabbergasted by the growth in the Asian population. And unlike myself, these kids were grouped together since elementary school. As I grew up, my schools became more and more diverse and there was more mixing between the races. However, while diversity increased, something else followed - resegregation. My neighborhood went through a burst of diversity and then, to state it informally, all the white and or rich people left. My elementary school today is mostly hispanic or black.

When I grew up I knew about a lot of different ethnicities, growing up in a predominantly white school didn't effect that. In fact, my schools promoted learning about different cultures. In elementary school, we learned about Japan and Mexico. In middle school, each homeroom was assigned a country to represent in an Olympics of sorts. My class was Ethiopia. We spent that semester learning about Ethiopia. However, it is to my knowledge that many students growing up in predominantly black or hispanic schools today are led to believe that their school is the norm.

I understand why resegregation occurs, but I think it is important that our school demographics represent our society more clearly. So what's the solution? Bussing in students from other neighborhoods? Some parents would not have their kids going to "worse" schools. I benefited from going to a "well-balanced" school and I think students today would benefit as well.

And lastly, I just really like this article from The Atlantic.

Hopefully I will be reading my TfSA after the Praxis studying is done... hopefully.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Waiting for Superman

On Tuesday I went to PGCTF's Principal Panel. First of all, the school looks ridiculous. Few high schools in my county, one of the richest counties in the US, looked like it. Granted, it is a new school stowed away in farmland turned suburbia. It is a beautiful school (I have a soft spot for modern, glass windowed buildings), but it just doesn't seem right to me that while some schools in Prince George's County need some dire physical improvements, some schools look like this. As the 18th largest school district in the US, PG has a lot of money flowing into it. I think this school is great (and it's doing great things), but share the wealth a little bit! Anyway, back to the Panel. Two principals, one from a high school and one from an elementary school, came to speak to us about the trials and tribulations they face as principals, the best teachers they work with and how we can become the best teachers that they will hire. The HS principal had all of us laughing repeatedly. I definitely find that is an attractive trait for a principal I would consider working under. As time goes on, I get more and more anxious about starting school. I feel so inspired by the difference teachers can make. The most important advice that the principals gave to us was to be consistent.

In other news, today was my last day of interning!!! I am really going to miss it (minus the waking up at 7 groggy everyday). It has been one of my most important experiences with education, especially because it was long-term. I got to teach a couple of lessons and observed a lot. The students were not harsh, and to be honest, most of them really seemed like they want to learn despite what so many teachers may say. This week in particular, the biology students were working on HSA (Maryland's High School Assessment, NCLB mandated) review. The biology teachers had created "review stations" for the students to circulate throughout - pedigree analysis, organelle function matching, punnett squares, etc. I thought it was a really good method for review. However, this is when I learned how far behind these students are in their biology knowledge and I'm worried that they will not pass their HSA. It seemed like many of them were learning the material for the first time. Several students did not know what terms like "correlation" meant. And almost every student had trouble at some of the stations. I wish I could have taught more and done more, but I know the kind of change these students need can't be fully taught in the few months I was there.

I feel like everyday, potential is draining out of them because they are not being taught year after year.

Please check out Waiting for Superman, this link was sent to me by a fellow (non-Fellow) soon-to-be-teacher and I think the documentary looks amazing. It honestly had me tearing up because education IS our most pressing social issue. Shout out to Michelle Rhee for her comments in the trailer.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Block Scheduling vs. All Classes Everyday

I hate block scheduling. As an intern, it's hard for me to remember if it's "A" day or "B" day, though it is not usually imperative that I know before I show up to school that day. I guess because I am not fully immersed in the school, block scheduling confuses me. I feel like I don't get to see the same kids all the time. And EVERY school in PG County does block scheduling.

As a middle student, I loved block scheduling. In my middle school, we had 7 classes and 4 periods. Days fluctuated between 1234, 5671, 2345, 6712, 3456, 7123, 4567... you get the idea. One grade would eat lunch after the first period, another after the second, and the last lunch after the third. Classes were 90 minutes long and school started at 7:55 am. We had TAP class (homeroom) at the beginning of everyday so first lunch was around 10 am. It's early, but personally I would have been hungry by then. Well, me now, probably not middle school, fast digestion rate of the youth me. I liked it because homework was never due for two days, with the exception of the first period of that day would be the last period of the next day (but then you had all school day to do homework, if necessary (but middle school me would NEVER wait last minute to do my work!! (college me, would)). But even then, with snow days and other miscellaneous school closures, I would have to call my friends and check what day it was going to be. Sometimes I would get mixed up and prepare for a certain day it was not.

In high school, we did not have block scheduling. We had all 7 classes (8 periods) everyday for 46 minutes each. Lunches were scheduled as periods 4-7. Classes were shorter, but I enjoyed that aspect.

As a soon-to-be-teacher (STBT), I don't enjoy that aspect so much, but the challenge of making good use of the time intrigues me. As a STBT, I grapple with the idea of going back to block scheduling. Since I will be teaching math, let's think about this mathematically.

In the US, students go to school for 180 days a year. 180 x 46 minutes a period = 8280 minutes of instruction time. Granted 10-20 minutes of each day would be dedicated to winding up and down the class, but I think smart teachers would know how to tie those minutes directly into reviewing past class material and teaching new class material. But for argument's sake, let's say (8280) - (180 x 20 minutes) = 4680 if those 20 minutes are just getting the class settled down. For block scheduling: (90 x 90 minutes a period) = 8100 - (90 x 20 minutes) = 6300. In a perfect world. With block scheduling, I've seen teachers have to remind students more of what was last learned and in my experience, since there is more time, teachers work slower and waste more time.

Of course that was in my school district. In Prince George's County, blocks are 68 minutes long. (90 x 68 minutes) = 6120 - (90 x 20 minutes) = 4320 minutes. So someone explain to me why this is the way schools choose to do this? It just seems like less instruction is actually occurring. What I really dislike about the county block scheduling is that one of the blocks is a "split" period, where students come to class, some time goes by, they go to lunch, and then they come back. It must be horrible to have that period. Interruptions galore and you get "different" students back from lunch.

I do have to admit though, block scheduling does wonders for science classes. Labs and larger projects can be tackled in one or two periods, rather than over the time of a week or more. And for other classes, more than one topic can be taught.

Since I am a PGCTF, I'm going to have to get used to block scheduling and the fact that while it doesn't make mathematical sense, it's the way the system works.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Harry Potter: Such a Good Read

I love love love reading other teachers' blogs! Especially those of the District because DCPS is just that entertaining. One of my favorite bloggers is Harry Potter and the Urban School Nightmare (see under Semester Reads. And Harry, please come back to blogging!). I always find myself laughing when I read his blogs. It just shows how witty students can be and I really look forward to that. Also, I love Harry Potter. I fear that I would be sorted into Hufflepuff though.

Although I have been going to school and working with students in Prince George's County for several years now, by no stretch of the imagination do I fully understand these kids and where they're coming from. I am making the effort though and I feel like I learn something new everyday. One of Harry Potter's posts, really got me thinking about the "bubble" that some urban students live in. While they are not in living in the usual sense of a "bubble" (protected and secluded away from dangerous society), they are definitely isolated from what other students get to experience. Take for example, Harry Potter's students who thought that the majority of the U.S. population is black (the actual percentage being around 12). Reading this post made me giggle, but it is certainly a somewhat serious topic. It reminded me of when I went to a DCTF diversity panel and one of the current Fellows discussed that many of her students had never seen more than their block, much less the monuments or museums of DC.

While I hope to help my students become successful in their current environment, I want them to be able to see everything that the world, their world, has to offer. I think everyone grows by seeing more.

Another blog of Harry's that I wanted to comment on was about Harlem Children's Zone. I had never heard of a Harlem Children's Zone until I was planning my school's Alternative Spring Break trip to West Virginia. President Obama had said that he wanted to replicate Harlem Children's Zones. I only understand the concept partially, but I wanted to comment on the quote from the post:

"These results are powerful evidence in a long-running debate. Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results. The Harlem Children’s Zone results suggest the reformers are right."

I don't know if I'm a "reformer", but I do believe that schools (not alone) can produce big changes. As a student myself, I have spent over 17 years of my life in school. Despite the moments when I tried to resist its power, I learned from being in school. Whether students like it or not, school is a huge part of our life (though we may have a lot of other things going on) and teachers can take advantage of that. While I do agree that problems in society need to be addressed in order to make "full circle" progress, the naive first year teacher in me believes that students who are influenced positively by school will aid in making that full circle progress when they put their skills to improving society. That is my basic hope for education - that it gets the next generation ready to make the necessary changes to society. (Oh, to be fresh and full of foolish optimism? No, I just believe in people and the good that they can do.)

Finally, Harry also blogged about Parent-Teacher Conferences. I can only remember going to one PTC in my life and I have an amazing memory for things that do not really matter. It was in the fourth grade, with my mom. We had been called in because I was too talkative in class. There was a boy I liked that sat next to me, Micah, and we talked about EVERYTHING. My mother was not too pleased. Anyway, besides that "incident", I was the "perfectly behaved student" that every teacher hopes for and thus this was the first and last PTC I'd ever be called into.

Like most effective educators, I believe that communication among parents, students, teachers, and even administrators is vital to improving the quality of education that is offered. However, I don't believe that such communication should only occur when a teacher has something negative (or not positive) about the student. The only positive communication my teachers ever gave my parents was a phrase or two on my quarterly report card. Of course this ended all together after middle school.

I know it must be cumbersome keeping communication up with all these people - parents of possibly over a hundred students as well as administrators or other teachers who work with your students. I probably won't be able to keep up with it as much as I would like to, but that doesn't mean that I don't think that it's important.

On PTC's, I completely agree with Harry Potter in that PTC's should be different for high school and elementary school students. By the time students reach high school, they should be more responsible for their education and therefore able to discuss their progress and needs with their parents and teachers. Additionally, there are times when PTC's are necessary though an official PTC day isn't scheduled. Which brings me to this: I imagine some teachers need to discuss many of their students at PTC's. How can a teacher, all parents and students effectively discuss these important details in a half day?

So much to learn!

On a less serious note, I thought this blog was funny and hope that my students respect my nerdiness as his do. Also, I'm holding off on reading my TfSA or completing my ISG until I actually graduate from college. :) One step at a time...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There is a Sub Today...

in the class that I'm interning (I use that term very loosely) in and that indefinitely means that despite how little work gets accomplished in this class, even less will get done today. So far he has decided to take attendance, sit and talk about his life with the students, and that's as much as I think will get checked off the list. I managed to get the class to do their warm-up and some of them are doing book work (which is surprising, but great).

Seniors have their finals this week and many of them need this class to graduate. I might hold a review today, but I really don't know that much about environmental science.

On another note, I hope I have a whiteboard in my future class cause chalk is messy. Also, I hope that I will never need a sub.