Into My Classroom

Fourth Year Biology Teacher Sharing My Musings With The World

Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Book Review: Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching (Part I)

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Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robin R. Jackson is the book that has been assigned to our faculty to read.  Normally, I would look at the books with disdain as there really does not seem to be enough hours in the day, but the title of this one has me hooked.

Last year, I felt as if I worked harder than ever before and my students performed at the lowest levels I’ve seen since my teaching career.  I feel like this book may possess the secret to solve all my problems!

One thing I like about this book is that it is interactive.  By that I mean that there was a quiz in the introduction to determine what type of teacher you are and the chapters have sections titled “Try This” where you stop and reflect on what you just read.

Chapter One – Start Where Your Students Are

This chapter is focused on getting to know your students.  Not only in the sense of favorites or family life, but getting to know what their values are and what particular traits they have.  Jackson writes about teaching your students how to take a trait that may be negative and teach them how to use it in a good way.  I’ve seen this first hand, as students that may be very disruptive do a complete 180 once they have a specific role in the class.

Another takeaway from this chapter is the “Activity Bag”.  Students bring in 5 items that represent themselves and place it in a bag.  Throughout the month, randomly select a bag, go through its contents and see if the students can guess who it is.  Then the student comes up and explains why they chose the 5 items.  I feel this is a good way to help instill community in the classroom.

Chapter Two – Know Where Your Students Are Going

This chapter emphasizes focusing on the standards, similar to unwrapping the standards as mentioned in the book by Larry Ainsworth.  Last year I was very overwhelmed by unpacking the first nine weeks and never finished the year.  Reading this chapter has encouraged me to unpack one unit at a time.  That way, the task won’t seem as daunting. One interesting mention in this chapter is to lower your standards for students.  This struck me as odd initially because we want our students to reach for high expectations.  By setting the performance standards lower, students actually have a chance to reach above and beyond what is expected.  Of course, in order for students to excel beyond the given standard, they must KNOW what the standard is.

Chapter Three – Expect to Get Your Students There

This chapter has very little to do with teacher expectations of students and instead focuses on teacher expectations of ourselves.  Do we really believe that we can teach students and move them to proficiency despite their shortcomings.  Are we honest enough to realize the difficulties and weaknesses of our students.  This chapter reminded me of how I felt when my AP Environmental Science Students did not do so well on their test.  I actually wrote about it here.  I mentioned that I felt they should have excelled and that their background should not have influenced their performance based on how they did in my class.  An excerpt from the chapter that really spoke out to me…

Many teachers suffer from the same misplaced optimism.  The same false hope that comes from believing that they and their students will be successful without also confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.  We cannot hold onto high expectations for students without also considering the reality of who they are and what they are able to do.

Another important part of this chapter is the mention of not accepting failure in the classroom.  This reminded me of the NMS (not meeting standards) grading policy of our district.  There were many teachers in an uproar regarding the policy, but I favored slightly because it prompted discussion among teachers, students, and parents.  Parents and students were now concerned and asking about grades where before they would receive an F and accept it as if it was the normal grade to receive.


Written by Ashley Erin

August 15, 2011 at 5:00 am

THEC Workshop Documentary

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I know I’m a little late with this, but I wanted to share the documentary I created at the THEC Non-Fiction Workshop.  I learned so much at that workshop and am excited because now my ThinkShow project is done – in my head anyways.


Written by Ashley Erin

August 3, 2011 at 5:00 am

Accessing You Tube in the Classroom (Memphis City Schools)

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If you teach in Memphis City Schools, I’m sure that you are all too familiar with You Tube being blocked in the classroom and seeing this web page.

Not all items on You Tube are bad, but the reality is that there are many items on the site that are not conducive to a positive school climate.  Few people are aware that there is a resource provided by the district where teachers and access and show You Tube videos without consequence, and that resource is Gaggle.

Yes…Gaggle…the email and student learning portal that you may have heard about, but never really took or had the time to see what it is.  To access this resource, all you really need is the website to login and the name of your You Tube video.  Let’s walk through this with a few screenshots.

To log into Gaggle, you will need to enter into the web address bar.  The following screen will appear.

Your login information is the same as your teacher workstation.  You do not have to register or create a new account.  

Once you login, you should see this screen. (Note: Before this screen, another one may appear asking you for an alternative email address in case you forget your password or you may have to approve the “Terms of Use” for the site.)

There are some really cool features listed and I highly encourage you play around to see what is available for you to use in the classroom.  For now, we’ll stick to You Tube.

Under “Applications” scroll down until you find Gaggletube (filtered You Tube) and click on the icon.

I like to type in the specific name of the video along with the You Tube author name for quick results.

All related videos appear and now all you have to do is click and play!  Quite simple isn’t it!  You can even add them to “My Videos” for quick future access.

I love using Gaggletube because it is safe and reliable.  You will never have to worry about it being blocked one day because it is provided  by the district and only teachers can access Gaggletube.

Give it a try and please let me know how it works for you!

Written by Ashley Erin

August 1, 2011 at 5:00 am

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

July PD.

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July was very eventful and full of learning opportunities!

Smithsonian Biodiversity Institute:  This institute was held in Washington, D.C. and I am really glad that I had the opportunity to attend.  Biodiversity is a weak area for me, being that I really love biochemistry.  I never get to teach biodiversity due to time restraints, but now I feel that I can incorporate it into earlier lessons.  Attending the institute will also help me in teaching AP Environmental Science.

During the institute, we spent time at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, along with many other places.  We learned about biodiversity of many different species ranging from tropical plants to echinoderms.  The institute was a mixture of presentations and hands-on activities.  We even went canoeing and I was so happy that I didn’t fall in the water!!!  We were so busy the entire week and it was very exhausting yet very fun.

AP Environmental Science Workshop:  This was very interesting because we took several field trips.  We went to a water treatment plant and coal plant.  I am excited about teaching this class because there are many different topics and all the lab supplies are already here so I can start labs early.

Written by Ashley Erin

August 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm

June PD review

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June has been a very busy month for me.  I’ve attended a PD session every week this month.  Here is my reflection of each.

Developing Science Vertical Teams (June 7-10)  This workshop was conducted by a College Board representative and it was definitely not what I expected it to be.  We only spent around an hour on the last day of the workshop on vertical teaming.  The rest of the workshop was looking at different labs that students could do and sharing of resources.  I liked the workshop because I was able to meet other teachers in my district and share resources with them, but I was very disappointed in the workshop for the missing component of vertical teaming.  It would have been much better if the workshop was conducted by region instead of district.  That way I could have met teachers of our feeder schools and the process of vertical teaming would have been more beneficial.

AP Biology Curriculum (June 11) This workshop was conducted by the same presenter of the previous workshop. It’s not worth mentioning what we learned because the whole session was a summary of what we did in the vertical teaming workshop.  I could have definitely skipped out on this one.

AP Biology Summer Institute (June 14-18)  Again, another huge networking opportunity.  I was under the impression from other teachers that during this workshop we would perform all 12 AP labs.  I was prepared for this to be a very intensive week, but it was actually the opposite.  We only did 3 labs and it was very laid back.  I was really looking for a challenge this week.  I also thought that we would work on our audit, but we didn’t.

Microscope Workshops (June 21)  I attended two workshops in one day regarding microscopes.  The morning session was based on how to clean and care for your microscope, which was very informative.  The second session was on digital microscopes and I wasn’t going to attend at first because I thought it was just for schools with digital labs.  I spoke with our science coordinator and she told me that I could attend.  By attending this workshop, I received a digital microscope to take back to my school.  Very cool!

Vernier Workshop (June 22 and 23)  This was the most boring workshop of the month.  I guess it is because I attended a similar Vernier workshop a while back and some of the activities were the same.  I did get to network though!

Overall, the main benefit I got from the sessions this month was networking because I saw a lot of the same people over and over again.  Even though they were not what I expected, I did gain valuable resources to implement into the classroom.

Written by Ashley Erin

June 30, 2010 at 5:00 am