Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Fond Farewell Reflection on a Successful and Engaging Semester

It truly is saddening to know that this is my final blog post for the semester, and for this class. I have certainly enjoyed reflecting on my readings and class assignments and activities throughout the  semester. In fact, I think reflecting has become one of my new favorite hobbies! Reflecting on concepts and experiences seems to help me understand more. Also, reflecting on a nature observation each week was very enlightening, as it provided me with an opportunity to take a break from studying and de-stress and relax for a moment or two. I will continue to observe nature, as this helped me "breathe" during times of difficulty or immense stress. 

When I first began blogging, I admit, I was slightly nervous and skeptical. However, now I see the freedom and great tools blogging can offer to an individual. Blogging has become a very natural process for me, as I enjoy finding articles or interesting videos to share with others who may stop and read my blog, and it is fun and relaxing to write freely about my thoughts and opinions on topics or ideas. Blogging is also a great way to communicate with others via the Internet, and share or express various opinions and ideas with one another. 

What I enjoyed most during this class, were the collaborative and engaging science activities and projects. I am extremely grateful and appreciative that I was able to experience such a creative teacher, such as Dr. Smirnova, this semester. Dr. Smirnova provided us with activities to accomplish that we could someday utilize in our own classrooms. I believe having us get involved and actually doing the projects and activities, such as the science circus, allowed us to see the benefits of implementing theses teaching methods and interactive activities in our own classroom in the future. Although we had read about the process of inquiry learning and investigation, constructing a science circus in the classroom, and the benefits of a jigsaw activity, I believe our eyes were opened so much more to the true power and ideas behind these activities while actually designing and doing them ourselves. For example, simply using inquiry to investigate the popping of a balloon with a pin, or predicting and testing which object (the wood, the metal ) would float or sink, collecting the data, compiling it into a data chart, and then concluding and analyzing our findings made me realize how important inquiry is to science learning in the classroom. Using inquiry in these investigations allowed our group to investigate science concepts in an orderly and constructive manner that led us to carry out a successful investigation and experiment. The science circus activity helped us see the benefits the students would be provided with as they could travel from station to station, again using inquiry to explore more than one science concept. Through the science circus, students can be introduced to many science concepts during one set period of time, and they also can learn wonderful organization skills. Finally, the jigsaw activity provided me with the realization that the highest level of learning is teaching, and that there simply does not have to be just one teacher in the classroom, but many. Each student became an expert on his or her Kingdom to both discuss and collaborate with the other experts who had the same assigned Kingdom to share any additional ideas or facts found, and then returned to their home group to teach the other students what he or she learned and discovered about that particular kingdom. By doing this activity, I feel as though I truly did learn a lot about each of the five kingdoms, and that peers often learn the best from each other. This method of peer teaching helps keeps students more motivated and interested in the topic or task, and students often feel a great sense of responsibility and excitement to teach the other students both accurate and well-presented information about their topic.  
I will certainly utilize all of the various collaborative strategies discussed in my classroom in the future. Collaboration is a key skill that students need to develop over time in order to be successful overall in the future, and collaboration and a team effort can help students achieve a goal with great success. 

Until I actually sat down and reflected about what I had observed, done, and accomplished during my time at Bishop Dunn Memorial School, I was unaware of how much both myself and my fifth grade student learned during our time together. I can imagine that many of the fifth grade students may have been nervous or apprehensive about working with older, college-age students. However, they certainly appeared to open up immediately.
Perhaps, my favorite aspect about this fieldwork experience was that we were given the opportunity to teach and implement a lesson to the entire 5th grade class. Usually, we are allowed to work in small groups with students (about 3 or 4) and teach lessons and modified lessons within these small, intimate groups; however, I feel that only teaching small groups of students will not successfully prepare future teachers for teaching large groups of students. Therefore, I am extremely glad and grateful that I was provided with the opportunity to have the opportunity to teach an entire class of fifth grade students by implementing an inquiry-based science activity. I now feel more prepared to teach science in the future to students, as I now know the importance of incorporating hands-on, active learning experiences in which the student needs to solve or investigate a problem using the steps of inquiry.

In addition, reflecting on my experience and teaching abilities has provided me with my own constructive feedback to improve my skills and strategies during my next teaching and fieldwork experience. For example, I feel as though I need to shorten my anticipatory set time, and more clearly define the roles of each student during the investigation to help it move along more quickly. Also, I should rely on an attention-grabbing technique, such as clapping my hands or asking for all eyes on me, in order to refocus students when necessary and support more order and structure in the classroom. 

The E-Folio project was very different from what I am accustomed to, however, I was very pleased with its outcome. The e-folio included creativity, design, and freedom, and enabled me to present my assignments and accomplishments from throughout the semester in a very organized and professional manner. Instead of simply examining one aspect of what I have learned throughout the semester (such as what a test does), the e-folio takes into account all I have accomplished and demonstrates how far I have progressed on my journey. For example, while presenting our e-folios to the class, I immediately noticed how very different our e-folios are, but they were all still so excellent. Therefore, this is a perfect example of how important creation is to assessment. In particular, I truly enjoyed both Amy's and Nicole's e-folios. It is evident that they put a great deal of time and dedication into their organization and creation of their e-folios.I hope to be able to show future potential employees my e-folio, and hopefully they too will appreciate all of my hard work and effort. 

This course, overall, has allowed me to develop, most importantly, my own science teaching philosophy, and an idea of how I want to teach and what I will do when I am a teacher. Before taking this course, I unfortunately never gave much thought to inquiry; however, now I see it as an essential component to all classrooms. Science should not even be learned without inquiry and engaging experiences! Therefore, as a teacher, I hope to be engaging, caring, persevering, dedicated, understanding, engaging, actively involving students, challenging students, providing authentic and active experiences that involve inquiry in my classroom, and I will differentiate instruction. Knowing what kind of teacher I wish to become like in the future will help me stay on task and reach my goals. 

Reflecting Upon My Fieldwork Experience: A Sad Goodbye

   My fieldwork experience involved working with fifth grade students from Bishop Dunn Memorial School in Newburgh, NY. Fieldwork is a great experience for pre-service teachers who are studying and preparing to become a teacher in the near future. Fieldwork enables one to become actively involved in the classroom environment, by both observing students in their natural habitat and participating in various lessons and class activities with the students. For example, during my fieldwork experience this semester, I was assigned an individual 5th grade student to work with for a total of eight sessions, or eight hours. During this time, I both observed my student studying and working independently on science content related tasks, such as reading his textbook and answering assigned questions, and on another day I was able to assist him in building a tinfoil boat to test how many pennies it could carry in water. As a pre-service teacher, one is able to absorb helpful hints and tips to do or use in his or her classroom, and is provided with an opportunity to gain some experience in teaching, as fieldwork is an indication of what one’s classroom will function as or be like one day. Observing how the classroom is organized is even beneficial for an individual studying to become a teacher, as classroom organization is important for both the teacher and his or her students to function in the classroom. For example, would it be best to face the students’ desks away from the windows, or allow the students to look out beyond the windows? As I have seen and witnessed during past fieldwork experiences, seating students facing the windows has lead to increased levels of distraction and inattention. However, I may have never realized how important the seating arrangement in a classroom could be unless I observed a real, functional classroom through my fieldwork opportunities. Therefore, fieldwork provides future teachers with many opportunities and meaningful experiences to be prepared for both student teaching and having their own classrooms sometime in the future.

      I was very excited to be able to work with my fifth grader, Shivan. I previously knew Shivan, as his mother was my biology professor at Mount Saint Mary College. Shivan is a very bright young boy, and we worked extremely well together. His independence and capable abilities were evident throughout our time together, as Shivan could easily accomplish any assigned task, often without my assistance. However, when he needed help either clarifying what a question was asking, or desired to hear my opinion and advice, he was not afraid to ask for it. Therefore, I felt that we functioned as a successful, cooperative team during our eight sessions together.

   While working with Shivan, I had the opportunity to be both an observer and a participant in his learning experience. During the first few days of fieldwork, I was more of an observer, simply getting to know my student by watching how he worked, how hard he focused, a demonstration of his abilities, and how efficient he was while working. During the first day of fieldwork, the fifth grade class teacher, Mrs. Benfer, introduced the concepts of a mixture and a solution to her students by demonstration. Mrs. Benfer mixed a bowl full of pretzels and trail mix, and a water bottle containing a packet of Crystal Light. Therefore, she was demonstrating to the students that within a mixture the contents do not dissolve within each other, as the pretzels and the trail mix are still pretzels and trial mix after they have been mixed. In a solution, however, the solute dissolves into the solvent, as the Crystal Light dissolves into the water. Shivan raised his hands numerous times and appeared to easily grasp this science content. I also observed Shivan reading his science textbook very diligently, and then answering the assigned questions at the back of the chapter with great care and organization. It was evident that Shivan cared about his work by simply not rushing through the assignment. In addition, I had an opportunity to observe Shivan playing a Smart board interactive game with the rest of his class. The entire class was extremely excited and motivated to play a game on the Smart board that was related to the science content they were currently learning in class. Shivan and the other students all eagerly raised their hands to participate, and I now realize how important it is to motivate your students to want to participate and learn.

    Besides being an observer, I was also provided with the opportunity to be a participant aiding in Shivan’s learning. Whenever Shivan needed my assistance, I would certainly provide any additional help or guidance he needed along the way. However, I was able to participate in an even more active way besides being an additional support system. During one of the first few sessions of fieldwork, we were asked to help our fifth grader construct a boat either out of clay or tinfoil of dimensions we were able to choose in order to hold a certain amount of predicted pennies in a bowl of water. Therefore, this investigation and activity allowed Shivan and I to work together through collaboration. We shared ideas about what dimensions to make our boats and how many pennies we predicted each boat could hold. Perhaps, the most help I was during this investigation was actually constructing the boats out of tinfoil and clay- it was not easy! Then, I helped Sivan create an organized data chart to collect his data in, and I also assisted him in realizing what his results and the purpose of the experiment were demonstrating-density. I did not simply tell Shivan to calculate the density, but I guided him along the path to realizing what he already knew by demonstrating that he had the volume of the boat and the mass of the amount of pennies each boat could hold. Then, suddenly, Shivan realized he had all the necessary data to calculate the density of his materials (tinfoil and clay) by using the equation: D=M/V. 

     In addition to helping and participating in Shivan’s learning of science content, I was also provided with an opportunity to instruct the entire class on a lesson about chemical reactions. This was accomplished by working with my group, The Bill Nye Group, during fieldwork to design and implement a 5-E lesson plan on temperature’s affects on chemical reactions. I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to work with the entire class-something I had never done before- while working amongst the comfort of my peers. I now realize and understand how challenging it is to teach and assist an entire classroom of students. Not all of the students are always listening, and some of the students may be on different tasks compared to others. Therefore, it becomes slightly chaotic to control and mange all students during an inquiry-based, hands-on activity. However, with the support of my group members, I believe the experience and lesson was successful, as all of the students followed directions clearly and carefully and were able to support their conclusions with evidence and data from their experiments. In addition, the students appeared to have fun and remained curious and interested throughout the entire investigation. I feel that for the first time teaching in front of the classroom, my group did a great job instructing the fifth grade students by providing an inquiry-based science activity for them to explore. As dedicated learners and future teachers, we will all certainly learn and improve from this meaningful experience in the field.