Into My Classroom

Fourth Year Biology Teacher Sharing My Musings With The World

Archive for July 2011

Welcome to the wonderful world of teaching!

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So you have just received your teaching contract or have been offered a position…great…except for maybe you have not set foot in a classroom for many, many years.  Maybe you went to school for another discipline or you had a different career for 20 years before coming to the classroom.  Whatever the case may be, I’m sure there are many emotions running through you – whether it is fear, anxiety, or excitement.

As a new teacher, it can be very tempting to read every book, scour the web for strategies and advice (maybe that’s how you got here!), or ask veteran teachers for advice.  There is nothing wrong about doing these things and you should be commended for your enthusiasm, but before you do anything else I need you to STOP!

Take a minute to envision how YOU want to run your classroom.  How do you see your daily lessons?  What specific procedures do you want to take place in your class?  How do you want your papers headed?

Some may view those questions as a given, but the truth is that there are many teachers that fail to establish classroom routine and procedures.  This is your LIFELINE!!!  Your class will sink or swim based on what you procedures you choose to set up or not set up.

Once you have a clear picture of how you want your class to run, try it out during the school year.  I’m sure that you will discover that some methods are effective while others are not.  This time is an excellent learning opportunity and as the year progresses, you can modify your procedures as you see fit.  The key is that the procedures exist to begin with.

Again, reaching out to outside sources may not be a bad thing.  It’s just very easy to get overwhelmed by information.  Also, the person advising you may like to lead the classroom while you may like for the students to lead with guidance from you.  By setting the stage and determining your classroom routines and procedures, everything else will fall in line.


Written by Ashley Erin

July 18, 2011 at 5:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading strategies and Wikipedia good for the classroom?

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This week I am attending a workshop held by UT Chattanooga titled, “Developing Expert Teachers and Students of Nonfiction:  Print, Visual, and Digital”.  This workshop is funded by the THEC (Tennessee Higher Education Commission).  This post serves as a reflection of my learning as well as sharing what I have learned with anyone that may be reading my blog.  Enjoy!  Please feel free to comment and share.

Last night I was asked to read three articles in regards to reading strategies, difficulties and confusion in reading, and the ever so popular Wikipedia.  These articles were very informative and caused me to reflect on past teaching practices and modify some for next year.

I will begin with the first two articles by Leah Straschewski, “Valuing Confusion and Difficulty” and “Best Practices-Reading Strategies”.  From the first mentioned article, there were two main statements that really stuck with me.  The first is that students should be exposed with reading materials in the ‘expressive’ mode, such as “journals, diaries, and personal letters”.  This reinforces my wanting of students to read James Watson’s The Double Helix.  In this book, James Watson describes how him and Frances Crick came to discover the structure of DNA.  While reading, you begin to realize that they were actually pretty normal students, not overly studious, and just stumbled upon the structure.  I think this will be motivating to students as they see that you may have to make many mistakes before you get to the desired outcome.

Also in the article of “Valuing Confusion and Difficulty”, Straschewski mentions that sometimes we will give students a reading assignment for homework, and then WE (teachers) will summarize the material for them in class the next day.  As my facilitator stated today, you have just taught your students that reading is not important.  We must instead guide students to determine their own thoughts and conclusions.

Straskchewski mentions in “Best Practices-Reading Strategies” that it is important for us not only to give students strategies to use, but to also model and practice them in the classroom.  Students should then reflect on the strategy and how well it worked for them and modify if needed.

The strategy of “Glossing” reading is mentioned in the article as well.  In this strategy, students are to underline or highlight any part of the text they choose.  After doing so, they are to write why they feel their marked section is important by utilizing the margin space.  This may be difficult for us, as students have issued textbooks.  As a solution, you could make copies of the text or article and insert them into a sheet protector and have students mark them that way.  You could also cut the sheet protector in half and place it in the textbook.  Students could also use sticky notes to identify parts of text.

Wikipedia good for the instruction?  Whoa.

I never realized that wikipedia could be useful in the classroom until I read the article “Wikipedia Is Good for You?” by James P. Purdy.  In this article, Purdy mentions that wikis can be used as a source and an example of the writing process.

First let’s address wiki’s being used as a source.  When students are initially given a topic, they may be confused or not quite sure how to start.  Wikipedia entries give a good handle on general information on the topic and is usually in an easy to read format.  In some entries, there is an outline of sub-topics that students may use to guide their research.  Each wikipedia entry also has links to other sources and students can use those to begin their research.

Wikipedia serves as a representation of the writing process because the steps to post an entry are very similar: write, review, publish, peer review, edit, publish.  In the workshop, we mentioned how as teachers, we could find an incorrect entry or even create a false entry and challenge students to identify and correct it.  I am thinking of allowing my students to create a wiki page on a topic and have them edit each others pages (with each page being of a different topic).

I’m so excited to have learning so much from just one day!  I can’t wait to learn even more as the week progresses.  I love learning from other teachers as well.  It helps when you can exchange ideas and collaborate.


Written by Ashley Erin

July 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

AP Results – The First Year

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The scores came in this week and I have to admit that I am very disheartened.  You see, I don’t accept what people tell me as fact.  Things I heard prior to teaching AP is:

  • You can expect all 1’s in your first year.
  • Teaching AP Bio and APES together for the first time is insane.
  • “Our” children do not know how to read well, therefore making them not AP material.

…and many more.

When people told me such things I would register it, but would not believe it.  I continued to teach both classes and survived.  My APES class kept up with the reading better than I did.  And I did end up with one score of 2.

I’m a little upset because I KNEW my APES (AP Environmental Science) class would do much better than they did.  We had great class discussions, they kept up with the reading, they learned from one another, completed numerous PBLs, and much more.

I had both my AP Bio and APES classes come in on a Saturday to take a practice test similar testing conditions and the APES class had many students score 2 and 3 and one student was a point or so away from a 4!

My heart broke when I saw that out of that class only one student received a 2 (the same that almost made a 4 on her practice test).  They could have and should have performed much better.

After discussing my scores with colleagues, I have determined the following action plan for next year…

  • Start Friday FRQs earlier in the school year and have them count as tests from the start.
  • Separate class and lab to focus more on inquiry skills and content application.  This will require me breaking the labs into smaller components, but that’s okay with me.
  • More frequent quizzes during the week to ensure material is learned.
  • Building small successes by tiered quizzes.  I will start with level 1 quizzes and build over time for each unit.
  • Tests (besides FRQs and Quizzes) will be few and more dense in content.  I’m hoping this will help to build student stamina for a long test such as AP.  (I will turn into Dr. Shear, Microbiology professor from Southern Miss.  His exams were literally 3 hours long!  Mine won’t be so bad, but they will take up the entire class and lab period.)
  • More lab exams – with students demonstrating understanding of a lab procedure and concepts by walking me through an experiment.
  • More Saturday sessions and practice tests.

I really want the students to be successful but I don’t want to discourage them at the same time.  I was hard enough recruiting for my classes because science is “too hard”.  I want my students to have a true collegial experience, with extra help and guidance from me.  I hope I can reach this balance and that my students score high enough next year to gain college credit.

Written by Ashley Erin

July 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

2010-11 Reflections

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As I sit here anxiously awaiting my student AP scores, I cannot help but to reflect on the past year.  I felt that the 2010-11 school year was one of my best as far as instructional practices, but was the worst in regards to test scores (based on EOC results only, not AP).  I tried PBLs, Inquiry based lessons, technology incorporation, teacher collaboration, interdisciplinary lessons…and no results.

Now I’m sure that you can imagine how discouraging it was to see that all of my efforts did not produce the desired results.  Maybe some of you have been there yourselves even.  It is so easy to place blame on the students, parents or administration, but in the end it all boils down to the teacher.  I believe that I have made much progress since my first year teaching.  I also believe that I have plenty more to learn and by doing so, my students WILL perform where they need to in order to be successful.

First, I would like to review my accomplishments of the year and strategies that I felt worked really well:

  1. Problem-Based Learning.  I love PBLs because the students are working towards a common goal.  I would like to incorporate many more next year, possibly one for each topic.  There are many out there for use in addition to the ones I have created thus far.  The only issue with PBLs is time, but that should be easier this year with seeing my students daily.
  2. Chunking the text.  I did this a lot in my AP Environmental Science class.  Basically, the students would be divided into groups and be responsible for teaching their section to the class.  I can enhance this activity by giving my students a set of questions that they must address.  I lucked up last year because my students were really engaging and often hit every important point without me stepping in.  I hope that I have students that are just as engaged next year.
  3. Having a routine.  This is a goal that I have been working on for years and have yet to master.  I did notice that every time I followed a routine, my days went by much more smoothly.  One would think that if I had a great day with a routine I would keep it up…yeah I’m a little special sometimes.
  4. Discipline problems way down!!!  During my first year, I had a 1 inch binder packed with infraction forms.  This past year I had so few that I could have kept them in a small folder.  I credit this to adapting my instructional style and coming to terms that I am dealing with teenagers, not robots.
  5. Less PowerPoint usage.  I know technology is a very valuable asset to the classroom when used properly.  On a few occasions, I would write out the notes by hand and the students responded better and gave me positive feed back because they could now keep up and they said that I explained things better when I wrote them down.  I guess no matter how hard you may try not to read from the slide, it still comes through as reading from the slide.

I have already mentioned some things I will change in the list above.  Here are a few more:

  1. Keep it relative.  If the students do not care, they are lost.  I know that the PBLs will help with this.  I am also planning on incorporating more current events and class discussion to assist with this goal.
  2. Plan ahead.  This is really for the labs.  There were so many times last year where I planned to do a lab only to discover that I had to grow plants, bacteria, collect samples, or order living materials.  I don’t like planning too far in advance because I change my mind often, but before the year begins, my labs need to be set in stone and the class schedule needs to work around them – no matter what!
  3. Organization is key.  By being organized I will change my class culture by adding more structure.  I have seen this in action and need to remain consistent.
  4. Keep it simple.  Sometimes I would get overwhelmed by the workload I was placing on my students.  I did not do it intentionally, but there were just so many things to cover and I felt it was all important.  By focusing on QUALITY assignments instead of quantity, I will make gains in my classroom.

I’m very sure that this list can go on and on or that I will think of something else soon as I hit submit, but the key is, I have a lot of work to do.  To sum it all up, I feel that working on being more organized, streamlining my assignments, and focusing on QUALITY 100% of the time, I will see great gains.  I know that I am a great teacher and that I can make a difference in all of my students’ lives.  The year of 2011-12 will be a productive one and I envision great things happening.

Written by Ashley Erin

July 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Refiections