This World

Some of our students entered the Reflection in Action competition, and one of them won!  I loved the poem she wrote.

This World
By Tiffany Silva Sanchez
8th grade DLA
(Climate change related)

This world, though seemingly small, is ours.
And it turns in spite of the burns
as we devour energy and ignore it’s cries for help as it discreetly sours.

The disasters become stronger and the temperatures rise as does the sea,
But we refuse to see that this disease we bestow upon our planet is because of our inability to act, and change our ways for the better, almost as if we were writing the earth a meaningless letter in which we tell it, ‘ we truly appreciate what you’ve given us ‘ but our actions say otherwise.

We hurt the earth and in turn we suffer
Pointlessly punishing ourselves along with it.

Our offers to earth should be ones that secure it’s safety and thus our own,
for this is our home
and together we can protect it if we loan some time to see it be,
that we reduce greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere and keep it clean

For the better of our planet and our kind and every single living thing that deserves to live life, in a healthy, safe, place we can all reside.

To preserve our cities and monuments that could be long lost, and to keep communities safe at all costs.

This world, though seemingly small, is ours,
And it will keep turning and burning
If we don’t take the necessary steps to
change our ways to keep it from going

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April – Testing, testing, testing

The month of April was not a fun one in some ways.  We had MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) tests and practice tests and reviews and everyone was just a bit stressed out about it.  Because we are a charter school, we have to keep our test scores above a certain level or we lose our charter.  So, as much as I hate to “teach to a test”, we did have to make sure that we had covered all the essential areas that were going to be on the Science MCAS, and teach the students how to approach the type of questions that will be on the test.

One of the difficult things for me is figuring out how to get the students to care about these tests, because they don’t view their test scores as particularly important for their future.  I have wondered about bribing them with promises of rewards, or threatening them that if they don’t study for these tests, they won’t do well on the tests that do matter (in high school they start “counting”).

I did focus on how they can figure out the answer to a multiple choice question if they don’t know the answer, by eliminating some of all of the incorrect answers.  I’m not sure how much got through to them, and I’m thinking about making a sort of game out of it, where I create some questions that I know they don’t know the answer to, but know they can figure it out from things they do know.  Maybe if I offered prizes as an incentive that would get most of the students engaged and motivated.  🙂

I spent some time going around the classroom working with the students that tend to be less engaged, and talking them through some of their multiple choice questions.  They love to ask me for the answer, but usually if I walk them through it by asking some questions, without actually giving them any new information, they can get it on their own.  So I’ve been trying to teach the students that tend to not try if they don’t immediately know the answer how to eliminate some of the options and think about it.

The teacher I work with was out of the classroom during one day of testing, so I subbed for her.  I’m definitely not as good at classroom management/discipline as she is (although I’ve improved a lot since I started teaching!), so I get a little stressed when I know I’ll be flying solo in the classroom.  But it turned out fine (except one student that literally tried to jump out the window of the second story classroom and I had to threaten with detention to get him to sit on a chair on the floor (the first time I just said on a chair and he tried to put the chair on top the radiator)).  The students were in testing most of the day, and then we had really short classes after they finished.  We reviewed food webs, and then watched some NatGeo Wild “World’s Deadliest” videos of different predators eating prey.  I figured they were all pretty burned out from testing all day so it wouldn’t be effective to try to push them too hard, and they really enjoyed watching a python eat an antelope, an eagle catch a venomous sea snake, etc, and it was applicable to the lesson.

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March – Call to action

The month of March always feels exciting because of the day March Fourth (“March Forth”).  It feels like a call to action after semi-hibernating to make it through February.  (I am of the opinion that February is the worst month of the year, despite the fact that it has Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, AND the Super Bowl.  This year was especially bad due to the snow.)

In March we did a lot of fun things in 8th grade science.  We started out the month talking about life, the characteristics of life, and what makes things alive.  We had a fun debate about whether or not fire is alive, and whether viruses are alive.  Then we got into reproduction, genetics, natural selection, and evolution.  We finally got to go on our field trip to the aquarium and see an IMAX film about whales — we were supposed to do that in Feb but it was canceled because it fell on one of the many many snow days we had.

The kids did an activity on dominant and recessive traits and they each got to create a smily face baby with a partner.  They flipped a coin to determine which alleles their “baby” would inherit from each parent–things like curly or straight hair, skin color, eye shape, etc, and then at the end they drew a picture.  I was surprised at how excited some of them were.  When they flipped the coin to determine the sex most of the girls wanted girls and got upset if it ended up being a boy, and the reverse was mostly true for the boys.  However, there was one boy that ended up working by himself (he is one that I might call a “troublemaker” if I were the type to label kids… instead I just think of him as one of the more spirited members of the class) and he had a girl, and he was so proud of it.  It was cute.  He went around showing everyone the picture and announcing “this is my baby girl!”  Adorable.  Just when you think you know the kids they surprise you.

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February – So much snow!

The month of February was rough.  All I really remember is one long snowstorm.  School was canceled for 8 or 10 days in total, which stressed me out as a teacher because there are things we NEED to cover before the end of the year, but also excited me because who doesn’t love a SNOW DAY!?

All the snow was a good opportunity to talk to the students about climate change and “global warming”.   We talked about how every time there is unseasonably cold weather someone says “Global warming, eh?” all sarcastically, and about the difference between weather and climate.  We talked about how just because we had a cold snowy winter doesn’t mean we are now in an arctic climate, it just means we got some crazy weather.  Just like a really hot summer day doesn’t mean we now live in a tropical climate.  We discussed how climate change can actually cause colder winters in certain areas even though the average temperature of the earth is warming.  All in all, it was very educational.

We also has just finished up talking about sea level rise and coastal flooding, and storm surges, so I was excited to see on the news before the first blizzard a lot of talk about the concerns for possible storm surges.  Maybe “excited” isn’t the right word.  I was happy that the students would understand the concept better since we had just discussed it in class.  And I always love seeing an opportunity to apply something from class to the “real world”.

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December – Christmas vacation!

I’m not sure if Christmas vacation is exactly in the middle of the school year (actually I’m pretty sure it isn’t) but it seems like a nice “halfway” point to evaluate my progress.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned about teaching 8th grade science since September:

  1. Things will ALWAYS take longer than you think they will. A good rule of thumb, it seems, it to plan enough for a day, and then divide that in half, and that’s what you will actually get to if you’re lucky.
  2. Teaching four classes does not mean doing the same thing four times. Some of the classes will finish everything you plan for them (after dividing it in half–see above), some of them will only get three quarters of it done, and that one class (we all have it) will only get to the first bullet point in your lesson plan.  Sigh.  It keeps things exciting, though!
  3. Different students respond to different motivators. Some students literally don’t care if you threaten them with detentions, and some will jump the minute they hear the word.  Some students can actually be reasoned with.  Some will respond well to rewards (bribes), and others like competition.  It’s amazing what diving the class in half and making something into a race will do to motivate certain individuals.  Some students just need a cheerleader next to them to keep telling them they can do it.  They key is to get to know the students and know what they need.  Begging, threatening, bribing, coaching, reasoning, and holding out the figurative carrot are all tactics that can be employed in different circumstances.  There is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all solution.
  4. The hardest part of teaching is the emotional investment. I was surprised that the most difficult thing wasn’t getting up early, working on lesson plans, teaching the same thing over and over until the students finally seemed to get it, or coming home hoarse from raising my voice to talk above the roar of the classroom in an attempt to get the students to quiet down.  The hardest part was how much I cared about each individual student, and his/her future and success and development as a well-rounded individual and eventually into a responsible adult.  Sometimes I would go home at the end of the day so full of frustration and despair that no matter what I did those 2 days a week, I wasn’t making a difference.  I would spent countless prep periods discussing students with the teacher, or in meetings with the other 8th grade teachers, trying to figure out how best to help them.  These are the things they don’t teach you in pedagogy classes, and I was in completely uncharted territory when it came to figuring it out.
  5. The best part of teaching also comes from emotional investment. There is nothing that makes me happier than walking into class and hearing “Ms. Andersen!  I missed you!”, or having a student stop and tell me about his day, or seeing one of my students finally understand something that they’ve been struggling with.  My school started giving gold star pins to a few students every morning after breakfast that had exhibited exemplary behavior, and they could wear them on their uniforms.  Every time I would see one of “my kids” wearing a star, I was so proud of them.  Teaching can be so much more than just transferring knowledge, and it’s so much more rewarding than I imagined.



Happy New Year, and here’s to another great semester of teaching!


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September – New teacher!

September has always been an exciting month in my life because it is my birthday month, and it’s back to school time!  This year was especially great because I started working in my 8th grade science classroom two days a week.  There was a pretty steep learning curve initially.  Although I have a lot of experience teaching astronomy and physics, I have little experience working with 8th graders, especially in urban schools.  I had a lot to learn about teaching to this age/demographic, discipline, motivation, and connecting with the kids.  Although it’s tempting to want to be their “friend”, I know my primary responsibility is as an educator and I won’t be doing them any favors by letting them off easy, telling them the answers, getting them out of detentions, retrieving their cell phones that got confiscated, or giving them higher grades than they deserve (all of which I have been asked to do… good times).  Tough love.  Hopefully someday they will look back and appreciate it.

My school is a charter school in which 95% of the students are considered “High Needs.” This includes students who are low income, English language learners, and/or students with disabilities. The majority of our students are also minorities, so we try to focus on giving them some solid role models of various ethnicities.  There are posters all over the walls in the hallway of successful scientists and authors and professionals (and the President!) of color.  I didn’t realize how important this was until I stopped to think about how discouraging it could be for them to only see successful, “smart” people that are white (and mostly male).  Since one of our goals is to empower the students to do science and know that they can pursue a science career, it’s important for them to see people they identify with in scientific fields.

Each student is assigned to a “cohort” that is named after a Historically Black College or University.   Our homeroom cohort is Howard.  In the 8th grade we also have Langston, Xavier, and Alabama.  (I don’t know what the 6th and 7th grades cohorts are… I should find out.)  At the beginning of the year each student has to research their institution and do a short presentation on it.  One of the benefits of this is to get them thinking about college already.  In order to get accepted into college, it helps if they can get into one of the exam schools for high school, so the more motivated they are to go to college the harder they will work in 8th grade, since this is the year they will be applying to high schools.  I hope it works.

So far I’ve been very impressed with the organization of this school and the dedication of the teachers and admins.  They really know what they are doing, and it makes me want to study education theory and pedagogy a bit more.

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Welcome to my GK-12 GLACIER site.  This year I have the pleasure of working with a great teacher, teaching 8th grade science at a charter school in Dorchester.  Our mission as a teacher-fellow team is to collaborate productively and effectively to instill a love of science in our students that will foster lifelong inquisitiveness and build confidence.  Our goals are:

1. Empower students to see that anyone can do science–even them!

2. Ensure that “science” is perceived as an interactive process with the world, rather than a passive memorization of facts and figures.

3. Produce grade-level competent science students with a solid foundation of scientific knowledge, that want to continue science learning and have the confidence and ability to do so.

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