Into My Classroom

Fourth Year Biology Teacher Sharing My Musings With The World

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

Activity 6 – Embedding Media: The “Nerves” of the Blog

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As mentioned in my previous post, I was becoming increasingly irritated at the fact that I cannot embed videos into wordpress.  I received confirmation after reading Sue’s post for beginners on embedding media.  This is quite disappointing, but I find comfort in knowing that I can still embed YouTube videos.  Here is one from on YouTube.

This is one of my favorite YouTube channels and my students love the videos!  If you haven’t checked them out please do so.  The subject matter varies from biology to algebra to personal finance even!

All this talk about media also caused me to think about using technology in the classroom.  I use the KhanAcademy videos to supplement instruction and I recently discovered that I can use Gaggle to safely show YouTube videos in the classroom (I would load them from home at first and just not close the browser to show at work).

Using media gives students a different perspective about the material.  Sometimes I feel as though nothing can supplement a chalkboard and a nice fresh piece of white chalk.

In addition to videos, I had my students play around with Prezi’s this week.  Prezi’s are a type of presentation software that are more visually appealing than most PowerPoints.  My student’s had to complete a project that would normally be completed using a posterboard or PowerPoint.  Here is one of the presentations created by my students.

Written by Ashley Erin

February 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm

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Activity 5 – The “Eyes of the Blog”

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Since the title of this blog is “Into My Classroom”, I decided to visually take you inside of my classroom.  I created my video using animoto.  Animoto is an easy to use site where you can upload photos and create videos.  With the free account, you can create videos that are up to 30 seconds long.  There are also upgraded and pro accounts with more features.

So take a peek into my world…

Edit:  I am about to get very frustrated and need your help!!!  I have encountered the same problem with embedding my Voki.  When I insert the link, instead of the video appearing, a link appears – even though the actual video shows up while I am editing the post.

Until I figure all this out, you can see the video that I made by clicking this link.

Create your own video slideshow at

Here is another view, using the slideshow format in wordpress.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Written by Ashley Erin

January 30, 2011 at 11:28 pm

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Activity Four – Meet the Blog’s Brain!

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In activity four of the advanced challenge, we were to create avatars for our blog.  Avatars are simply pictorial representations of yourself.  This representation will follow you online, particularly when you decide to leave a comment on another blog.  Avatars could be cartoonish or an actual picture of yourself.  Below is the avatar I created using Voki. (Sorry the image won’t come up!  You can click on this link and the avatar will appear.)

If you click on the play button, you will actually hear my voice!  Can you hear the southern accent???

I chose the look of my avatar to resemble how I actually look.  In regards to actual pictures or cartoon avatars, I prefer actual pictures.   I feel that by adding a picture of yourself, you are opening yourself up to your readers or online community.  People will feel closer to you by actually seeing you.

On another note, I love how having a cartoon as an avatar allows your readers to see a different side of you and allows you to be creative in your online presence.

In regards to students, I would definitely prefer the cartoon avatar because of safety concerns.  I think it would be really nice to see what avatars my students would choose.  I haven’t used avatars with my students as of yet, but if I decide to really use my class blog next year, then I will definitely do so.

Written by Ashley Erin

January 30, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Making the Paperless Classroom a Reality

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I read a lot about technology that teachers are using in the classroom in order to have a “paperless classroom”, but truth be told, oftentimes when I read these posts I think that it cannot happen for me.  Earlier this week I read an effective post from the TeachPaperless blog “Example of a Paperless Final Exam“.  In this post, the author simply gives an example of what a paperless exam looks like in her classroom.  This is an effective post because the headline is interesting and makes the reader want to continue.  The post also motivates through example.  Anyone could say how to create a paperless exam, but to post one’s own adds a new level of dimension to the post.  I feel like I’m not at the stage yet for paperless exams, but this post did prompt me to begin thinking about paperless homework assignments.

Our school has adopted Gaggle as an email client for our students.  Gaggle is a safe platform where students can participate in forums, complete and turn in homework, store documents, and more.  Unfortunately I feel that many of the teachers in the district are not using it because there really has not been any training on it.

I would love to fully implement Gaggle into my classroom next year.  To help me plan and test it out, I will ask 10 of my students to volunteer to participate in completing homework online using Gaggle.  This will not add to their current homework, simply replace it.  At this point, I’m not quite sure of everything that Gaggle is capable of, but I should have fun trying to find out!

Written by Ashley Erin

January 22, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Technology

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