January 7th, 2018

It was nonstop prep once the plane that carried me away from days of endless sunshine in San Diego, CA touched down in Fairbanks. With the conclusion of winter break, I had a measly 72 hours to pack and prepare for three weeks of fieldwork in Barrow Alaska, an experience that would be unlike any other. While it’s not uncommon for me to feel slightly apprehensive before embarking on an experience where everything from the people to the surroundings are unknown, it quickly transforms into excitement once the journey has finally kicked into gear. The thing that weighs most heavily on my mind the evening before takeoff is the thought of leaving an area with limited sunlight for one that had not seen the sun for months. Living in Fairbanks is challenging enough and after spending a week in California over the holidays it became apparent why I suddenly felt like myself once again. Yet here I am about to head further north and am less than excited to jump right back into conditions that can leave one sluggish overtime. But in the same instance, this slight apprehension is mixed with excitement for the adventure that lay ahead. I’ve heard great things about the mentor teacher I’ll be working with over the next three weeks and aside from that is all I really know about Hopson Middle School. While I come prepared with two lesson plans that I developed during fall semester along with the necessary materials to implement them, my approach is to come into the classroom ready and willing to adapt to whatever direction the mentor teacher wishes to take his class. It has been a little stressful having to think about how the quick transition from winter break to Barrow will pan out, coincidentally the decision to schedule the trip at the beginning of January was made right before winter break, however I know it was the right decision to come now rather than February (my original plan) when my mentor teacher would be transitioning from earth/space sciences into physical science. I’m excited to start.

 

Hopson Middle School: Tuesday, January 9th

Start time – 7:40 a.m.               End time – 4:00 p.m.       Total hours worked: 8 

I arrived in Barrow yesterday evening and was picked up from the airport by Kevin and his family. While our interaction was brief Kevin gave me a quick tour of the school before dropping me off at the District’s itinerant housing facility where I was scheduled to stay for the next 2.5 weeks. Kevin informed me that transportation options to the school the following morning included a 30 minute walk to the other side of town across the frozen lagoon or a cab ride, which required technology that I was not privy to including access to a phone or cell signal. Luckily, Kevin described the relative direction I needed to take if I chose to walk so by 6:30 a.m. the following morning I bundled myself to the brim and started off on the first adventure of the trip in complete darkness in hopes of arriving at Hopson Middle School by 7:15 a.m. While I located and found my way across the lagoon with relative ease I lost all sense of direction during the second leg of the trip and ended up doing loops before a fellow pedestrian pointed me in the correct direction.  Fortunately, I arrived at Kevin’s classroom around 7:25 a.m. which was still 15 minutes shy of the first bell that was scheduled to ring in the first period of the day.

Prior to my arrival, Kevin and I had discussed over email a tentative plan for my first week via email. For the first two days, I would observe all five periods (2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th periods) of his eighth grade science class in order to get acquainted with the students as well as a gain a better idea of Kevin’s teaching style and classroom management strategies before taking over a few periods later in the week. I was more than happy with this plan since I had spent last semester in a much smaller school setting that had only two periods of direct instruction a day and an average 15 students per class (versus 20+ students/class at Hopson). It became evident rather quickly that middle school students had an entirely different energy than what I was accustomed to at the higher grade levels, a revelation that developed and became more nuanced with each passing day. Hopson Middle was also my first encounter with a one-to-one school, where each student was assigned their own laptop to use throughout the school year.  With that said, Kevin’s classroom was the first I had observed that had transitioned a large percentage of the learning experience onto a digital platform through the use of Google Classroom and the EPSON Smart Projector, which had similar capabilities of the more advanced and pricey Smartboard but without the use of the actual board.  There was a lot to get used to but I decided it was best to jump right in and make myself useful as much as possible.

The front of Kevin’s room was dominated by the two whiteboards, one of which was used entirely for the projector while the smaller board was used to record the “I can” statement of the day as well as the “Pre-class expectations,” which was independent work that usually required students to answer and submit a response to a question posted on Google Classroom. The Pre-class expectation for today’s lesson required students to open a Google Spreadsheet in Google Classroom and create a data table like the model that was given. During second and third periods I noticed that two students didn’t have laptops with them, which Kevin later explained were taken away from these particular students for the rest of the year as a repercussion for misbehaving/mishandling school equipment. I decided to hand these students graph paper to construct the data tables out by hand (and later a line graph with data collected during an in-class activity) which they did without much prompting on my part. Kevin spent a couple minutes reviewing the data table with the class and then explained how the day’s activity would help answer the following question, what do animals need to live? After students volunteered their ideas to this question (food, water, shelter) Kevin went on to explain the lesson’s activity. The class was divided equally into either the animal and resource group and instructed to learn hand signals that represented each of the important resources the class listed earlier: food (eating motion), shelter (hands in formation of an A-frame), and water (wave motion). Outside in the hallway, the class was divided into the two groups (animals and resources) and instructed to stand about 20 feet apart with their backs turned towards the other group. At that point each student had to choose one of the and made the appropriate hand motion that signified that particular resource. On Kevin’s instruction the two groups turned to face one another and the “animals” had to go find a “resource” partner that was displaying the same hand motion and escort them to their side of the aisle. At the end of the round the student recorders had to note the number of students on each end of the aisle that resulted from this action and a new round began anew. I assisted with the data recording.

After 6-7 rounds, students were instructed to go back into the classroom in order to evaluate the data that had been collected. As soon as students were seated, Kevin reviewed the “I can” statement (Explain the relationship between population size and available resources) and asked the class to take a couple of minutes to input the data and make a line-graph in the Google Excel Sheet on their own. After students were given time to work through the process independently Kevin reviewed how to make graphs in Google Excel as I went around and helped any students that were still struggling. Only after this component of the activity was complete did Kevin ask students to analyze the trends in the data. What was the pattern they observed? What was their interpretation of this pattern? With a few minutes left until the end of the period, students were expected to write two sentences on their Excel sheets that summarized the trends that had been discussed as a class before submitting their work on Google Classroom. During second and third period I make an effort to work with the two students without laptops fill in the data table and construct line-graphs on the paper I handed them at the beginning of the lesson. Both students responded positively to this interaction and worked up until the bell rang. Kevin noted later that this was the most work he had seen one of these students do the entire year.

At the end of the day, Kevin and I had our first debriefing session. He began by asking me to provide feedback on the lesson’s activity which he had been implementing in the classroom over the last few years. This initially took me off guard since I had never been asked by a more experienced teacher to evaluate their work, however I found the exercise to be quite effective for both parties. It forced me to thoroughly process my own observations, thoughts and ideas into constructive feedback that could offer a new approach or improve the way in which Kevin implemented the activity in the future. This small action demonstrated the importance of adopting habits that help us improve and/or maintain our quality of work in the classroom such as regular self-reflection or asking feedback from peers and administrators. This not only helps maintain a high-level of education in the classroom but encourages educators to continue growing as professional no matter how long they’ve been teaching. After offering Kevin my feedback he said he wanted to see me arrive at the contracted time everyday (7:15 a.m.) and to stand in the hallway between periods to greet students as they entered the classroom. While this was school policy, Kevin felt it made students feel appreciated and was a good way of evaluating the overall mood of the student body before they entered the classroom.

 

Hopson Middle School: Wednesday, January 10th 

Start time – 7:40 a.m.               End time – 3:30 p.m.       Total hours worked: 7 

I made it to the school on-time today, and while it was a rather small accomplishment it was a great start to the day. Kevin informed me that every Wednesday is an early out for the entire school, and the usual 47 minute periods to approximately 30 minutes. First period is an enrichment class for 7th and 8th graders.  Students are currently working on writing stories that they will eventually organize into a storyboard, script and finally make into a movie. I’m still trying to figure out my role in this class because Kevin has structured it to be a more open and independently driven learning environment with the idea that students can explore and express their creativity. Students are allowed to sit where they want and talk with friends, which has taken some getting used to since there is a nagging voice in my head that insists on making sure they are being productive and staying on task. But that appears to be the approach Kevin is aiming for in this particular class and it’s something to keep in mind as an educator. Where is the balance in every classroom that provides enough control to keep the learning environment safe and productive yet allows enough flexibility for students to discover who they are and encourages the development independent learners? I think there is some relation between this idea and a discussion Kevin and I had before first period that day. Before introducing a new unit Kevin mentioned that he asks himself how and when students will apply the knowledge or skill in their lives. These are good questions to keep in mind whenever I’m in the process of developing a new unit or lesson plan.

The rest of the day went by in a flash and with only a thirty-minute timeframe to get something across to students, I really began to value each minute we have in class. I certainly have a tendency to go off topic especially when discussing something I’m passionate about so I made a mental note to be extremely prepared the following Wednesday when I would have full responsibility of the classroom. Today’s science lesson followed a similar format to yesterdays; students filed into the room and got right to work answering the pre-class expectation that was assigned on Google Classroom. A projection of Earth’s current human population was displayed on the board in front of the class and students were asked to submit responses to the following questions:

  1. What are your thoughts about the information displayed in front of the room?
  2. How does it make you feel?
  3. What questions do you have about this information?

(Kevin made a note that students’ responses would be viewable to others- a component of Google Classroom he is not fond of since it may inhibit participation )

The “I Can” statement was written on the board as the following: Research the impact of the human population. In the past, I have generally tried to write an essential question on the board as a means of directing students’ attention as well as the overall focus of the lesson towards a specific goal. Structuring lessons around an essential question has also been my way of integrating the practice of science in the classroom since it’s a discipline driven by curiosity, the formation of hypotheses to a proposed set of questions and the implementation of problem-solving skills. But I really like how Kevin breaks these questions down into statements (short-term goals) that are easily understood by students especially at the younger grades. I could implement this similar set-up in a secondary classroom by breaking down essential questions into discreet “I Can” statements that can be resolved or accomplished within a period until students get accustomed to breaking down the essential questions themselves. I have also noticed that Kevin muted the projector as students worked through the pre-class questions which he later explained was a technique he used to review students’ responses as they are being submitted. Since time is usually of the essence, Kevin prefers choosing a few responses ahead of time to focus on during class discussion. After discussing students’ responses the class was divided into groups and instructed to find information about the impact of the human population, which included citing resources. Each group was expected to submit a summary of the information they gathered off the internet, however due to time restrictions, additional research time was going to extend into the Thursday’s lesson. Summaries could include copying and pasting information from websites, but all information had to be cited. The goal was to get students actively searching for information utilizing different resources online without having the additional task of summarizing information in their own words (yet). Before students began the research process online, Kevin gave the class a timeframe in which to complete the activity even though it was inevitable that most groups would need more time next class period. Kevin later explained that it is beneficial to give a timeframe in order to keep students moving forward with their work while providing reminders how much time is left to complete the activity every few minutes.

During the research activity, I worked one-on-one with a student on an IEP whose aid was out for the day. While I had no background on this particular student it was apparent she needed assistance recalling and implementing the class activity. I asked her questions and directed her attention to the “I Can” statement on the board to help recall the topic for the day. She typed the topic into Google Search and we selected an article to read over together, although after observing her low reading comprehension I decided to read passages aloud and discuss vocabulary terms we came across.

After students left at 1:00 p.m. the teachers met with the administration to discuss school-wide events before breaking off into their PLC (professional learning communities) groups. The meeting took up most of the PLC time since the administration had to spend time discussing the recent suspension of a student.

 

Hopson Middle School: Wednesday, January 10th 

Start time – 7:40 a.m.               End time – 3:30 p.m.       Total hours worked: 7 

 

Hopson Middle School: Monday, January 22

On my walk over to the school the temperature read 20 below, but as my mind ran over the tasks that needed to get done before second period I barely took notice of the drop in temperature from the week before. Talk with gym teacher about using space for the lesson’s activity…find foam balls and a basket to store them in…make 5 copies of data sheet for each class period…make 80 copies of scavenger-hunt worksheet…write-out 25+ labels  for common atmospheric gases…organize student work by period to be graded on Tuesday. So much to do that  I couldn’t help but thank my lucky stars that I had time first period during Mr. Neyhard’s extension class to get everything organized and ready to roll. This lesson was so crucial for the unit that not a minute could be wasted.   My task this lesson was to succinctly tie together the ideas that had been covered the previous week while introducing new content that discussed the absorption and radiation properties of greenhouse gases. This would  be the last full day of instruction for the unit and after subjecting students to a week of seat-work, I felt it was time that a more interactive lesson be introduced into the mix. That being said, after selecting an activity that fit the objectives of this particular lesson, it was beginning to dawn on me that a lot of work was needed to ensure that absolute chaos didn’t ensue as soon as students were asked to get out of their chairs and make their way over to the gym.

 

Star of the North Charter School: Monday, January 29

Start Time- 8:00 a.m.                 End Time- 3:00 p.m.         Total Time: 

9th Grade Health Period (8-9:00 a.m.) – Offered assistance to students that had questions on the reading.

10t Grade Biology Period (9:00-10:00 a.m.) – Mentor teacher is currently finishing up a unit on genetics. I went around the classroom and assisted students with any questions they had on their packets. I tried to spend more time around students that have difficulty focusing and completing their work on time.

9th Grade Earth Science Period (10:00 -11:00 a.m.) – Mentor teacher is currently finishing up a unit on the Solar System, which he projects will be completed by next Tuesday. The class will then transition into a unit on the sun which I will be responsible for implementing. I went around the class and assisted students with questions they had on the reading. I engaged with a few students on the content specifically regarding the difference between planets and dwarf planets and size comparison between the various moons in the solar system and Pluto. I felt this may help students get more engaged in the reading.

11-12th Grade Independent Period/Lunch (11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.) – Assisted a student with questions on his zoology packet specifically regarding characteristics of Pacific Salmon. During lunch I sat with a 9th grade student who behind in her Health packet. I made her copies of the chapter to take home in case she didn’t get through the four sections she needed to catch up with the rest of the class. We also came up with a short term plan of how she could get her work done in time (complete two sections of the chapter in school and complete the other two sections at home).

Middle-School Prep Period (12:45 p.m. -1:45 p.m.) – My mentor teacher reviewed reading comprehension skills with the 7th-8th grade students. During this period I went around and helped keep students on task and clarified any questions they had on their worksheets.

Interview with family (2:10- 3:00 p.m.) – Two new students interested in attending Star of the North were interviewed by three of the school’s teachers. I observed the process and was slightly surprised by the teachers’ reactions towards the parent, who did most of the speaking on behalf of her daughters who had negative experiences at their previous school. I thought the parent was certainly protective of her daughters, a natural tendency, but she did well on holding back from getting too defensive. I understand it was important to reiterate accountability as one of the school’s fundamental pillars and while two of the teachers delivered the message eloquently it was, in my opinion, being overdone.

 

Star of the North Charter School: Tuesday, January 30

Start Time- 8:00 a.m.                 End Time- 3:00 p.m.         Total Time: