Sunday, April 23, 2017

Moments into Memories; A Most Precious Resource: Week #15

When I was younger, I remember thinking that the school year lasted so long. I loved being in school so it was never a problem. The older I got, however, the faster time seemed to go. It was like a few days were taken out of each year and every year seemed shorter and shorter. I'm not sure if other people have had this same experience, but time has only seemed to go quicker. Time was the one thing that I could never control; it just kept on going. 

In a blur, I graduated high school, even took off a year of school for state office, and then went to college. I somehow breezed through 3 1/2 years of college made it all the way to student teaching. It was the semester I thought would take the longest and yet, I am standing here no longer titled "the student teacher" and facing two weeks until I graduate. These precious fifteen weeks have passed by too quickly. But when I look back, I realize that I've done so much and seen amazing growth in myself. 

In this final blog, I want to reflect on some moments that stood out in my educational development this week, and then reflect on student teaching as a whole. Even though time is constantly running, I hope through these blogs, I have preserved my learning and captured my growth. 

My last FFA event: students helping out at the chicken bbq

Guest Speakers

This week, I got to facilitate 2 different guest speakers. On Monday, David Swartz from Perry County Extension came in to talk about the Avian Influenza issue. In an advisory committee meeting, David mentioned the importance of educating others about the hit this country is still taking on the avian flu and how it is impacting farmers. It was neat to see how a comment at a meeting turned into a valuable learning experience for students later on. The students' eyes opened when they learned about the issue (many for the first time) and when they started connecting just how impactful it is to everyone, not just poultry farmers. 

David Swartz talking about the Avian Influenza

On Wednesday, I tried out the Skype in the Classroom. We took a virtual field trip to Kenya to visit the Mitahato Education Fund to talk about crops and agriculture in Africa. The students and I had touched on some global agriculture in my agronomic crops unit and were creating and presenting their own lessons on crops grown in the United States. So it was neat to connect what they've learned to what others were doing across the globe. I only wish we could have had more time for questions!

A farmer from the Mitahato Education Fund speaks about agriculture in Kenya

Students teaching each other about ornamental crops

Speaking from the Heart

In my Leadership class, I was having students perform their This I Believe speeches. Students had been developing and expanding their personal beliefs and engaging in meaningful discussions about their life philosophies. I loved posing questions to them to get them thinking. They weren't afraid of sharing their thoughts and being open to new ideas. We had some good stories and discussions come from it!

Through their final personal This I Believe speeches, students were tasked with explaining their own beliefs and sharing a personal experience to shape that belief. The students did a great job sharing their beliefs and some were truly touching. It really connected the students in the class and allowed me to learn more about them. In this I realized how much I can connect with them through my own experiences. I only wish I did this unit earlier rather than the last week of school! Despite this, I think it was a great way to end this class as I ended student teaching.

A reflection of student teaching

Fifteen weeks has come and gone. Student teaching was a true test of my willingness to work hard, be flexible, to embrace and empower the unknown and uncertainties, and to realize the value of progress, not perfection. If you have been following my string of blogs, you may have seen each of these themes from time to time. I value each of these lessons I have learned from my mentor teachers and students. Each moment I was at Greenwood was a chance for me to practice those characteristics. 

Animal Bioscience!
I have uncovered a part of me that I didn't know existed through this internship. Having been a student all of my life, I only saw education through this lens. But when I flipped perspectives, I almost had to relearn who I was and how my current skills and characteristics blended into who I was as a teacher. I now feel a sense of maturity and understanding as I balance the person I always was and will continue to be, with the type of teacher I am aspiring to be. I have not changed; rather, I have made myself better and refined the skills I had all along. 

Food Science!
I look forward to my future in agricultural education and hope that I will continue to grow. I can't wait to see what the future holds for me. Even though it hurts to leave and I feel like there is so much more I wish I could have done at Greenwood, I know that my time is done and I have put my best foot forward. We were taught at Penn State that time is an ag teacher's most valuable resource. Time is the one thing that we cannot control so therefore we must live out our lives in such a way that time does not pass by wasted and gone. I hope that I have used my time in the most effective way possible. I believe that each moment spent was a moment worth spending. Now those moments are memories that I will cherish forever.

A jar full of notes from my students!

A time for gratitude

I wanted to take a moment to say a big thank you to everyone at Greenwood for their amazing support. I wanted to share a special thanks to Krista Pontius and Mike Clark for their wonderful mentorship and guidance throughout these fifteen weeks while serving as my cooperating teachers. I couldn't have done it without them!

Leaving Thoughts

"1 Year = 365 Opportunities" -- Unknown
"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings" -- Lao Tzu
"Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created" -- Esther 4:14
"There's only one thing more precious than our time and that's who we spend it on" --  Leo Christopher

New and Beginning Teacher Dinner: Professionally Developed

When it comes to professional development, I still have quite a long way to go. So in the meantime, I am happy to take advantage of the opportunities to engage with other professionals and learn more about how to perfect my trade (a.k.a. teaching).

I participated in the New and Beginning Teacher Dinner held at the Capitol Diner in Harrisburg. I joined other teachers from the South Central/Eastern region who are only a few years into their teaching. 

Everyone rocking the PSU sunglasses we got!

Even though I felt I didn't have much to offer based on my more limited experience teaching, it was still neat to share ideas and hear what the other teachers had to say. I loved hearing how they implemented things in their programs. What's great about these type of professional development events is that people share information that you didn't even know you wanted to know about until they showed you. It's like getting a deal at the store; you just wanted to purchase the item because you liked it, so it's a bonus to get the discount!

New teachers and mentors

Something unique that I also took away was that a few of the teachers shared things that they found or got from someone else. This is not a bad thing at all! It comforts me that we are a community of agricultural teachers who can share the wealth. We've been told throughout our AEE courses that we don't have to reinvent the wheel; we can beg, borrow, and steal. It's about sharing the knowledge and resources. Not keeping it secret. We don't withhold knowledge from our students so why would we do it with our colleagues? 

I enjoyed my time at this dinner event and hope to engage in more activities like this to better connect with those who are learning and growing in their career like myself. It's events like these that drew me into this profession to begin with. I love that ag teachers are eager to connect, share, and support others across the state, country, and world!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring into Action: Week #14

When spring time is in the air, it completely changes the learning environment. Students are more lively, everyone's smiling, and I feel energized to teach! I can only imagine what learning and teaching would look like if we had this weather all the time!!

Except for the change in environment, this week was a normal week, but still many good things came out of it. There are a lot of wonderful moments at Greenwood and I am enjoying every bit of it.

In the world of FFA

Students got to participate in an Area Fun Night with the schools in the area. We had some pizza and students got to play volleyball and soccer. It was a lot of fun and students just got to let loose a little! I also got to talk with the local ag teacher and got some good advice for future jobs and programs. Thank you to both Mr. Hines and Mrs. Miller for your advice then and before!

We also got our flowers in for the flower sale so students got to help organize the orders. Boy did the room smell good!!

Students take the lead

Students leading their peers in a round of Kahoot!
In many of the units that I am wrapping up, I am having students do a group project or presentation. One assignment that my cooperating teacher has done which I wanted to try was giving students a topic and allowing them to teach the class about it for the day. They can use any tool that they want to use or do any activity they want. How would they want to learn? It was really neat giving them a little of my own advice now that I've taught for a couple of weeks. I was able to pose questions to them of how long will that really take their classmates complete or what will they do if they finish early? Many of them chose to incorporate Kahoot! (they like their technology!). I think they were able to pull some fun facts about each topic away from it.

Another super exciting way students have been doing presentations is with parliamentary procedure. We are essentially having mini class debates using the motions they learned. We switch out the chair person so they will each get a chance to be a chair. They LOVE debating and I think even if they don't want to speak, they still enjoy following along with the debate and making sure the other students are following the rules. 

What is even more enjoyable to me are the students who didn't particularly like the public speaking unit but who now seem to enjoy parlia pro. I think this has to do with the fact that parlia pro is like a puzzle or a math problem. If x happens, you must add y and z to solve your problem. I think this is more of their style. Knowing their personalities it certainly surprises me who likes it more than others but it still makes me incredibly happy that the students are enjoying the unit. 

Plans for next week

Next week is the final week of student teaching. It all seriously breezed by way too quickly and I wish I could have more time to spend with my students and cooperating teachers. Unfortunately, it must come to an end so that I can move on to the next big thing!

At this point, I am still teaching plant science where they will finish up their lessons on their topics. I also really want to try using Skype in the Classroom so we are trying that next week! (fingers crossed that it all works!!)

I will finish up the parlia pro debates in my agriscience course, and will continue to have students work on their welding projects. I hope to see their finished products before I leave but due to a number of factors and only seeing them every other day, I don't know if that will happen. Can't rush perfection! 

I will also work on finishing out my food science class which basically involves a review of the unit and their final assessment. In leadership they have a speech type of presentation to give next week. 

And that's about it! Stay tuned for my reflection on my final week of student teaching next week!

Leaving Thought

"Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different..." -- C.S. Lewis

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Action Research: Literacy Strategies for Reading Comprehension

My action research project was on reading comprehension in the classroom. I enjoy having students read and understand the information that I thought was really neat! I try to find articles or readings that best emulate what I want to teach in class and keep in mind things such as length, interest levels, reading levels, and relevance to the topic I am teaching about. However, I still notice that many students appear to skim the readings. When we do popcorn reading as a class, some tend to read the information really quickly as if they want to finish reading as soon as possible. So I have to ask myself: how much are they really retaining?

In addition, I've noticed many students whose spelling, grammar, and sentence structure during writing contains many errors. This trend has spanned several of my classes in each grade level. Even when students are given a word bank or when they've seen the word on multiple occasions (say, our unit topic??) they still spell the word wrong. Even with a word bank

While I am not equipped to know exactly what students should and should not be able to perform at the high school level, I am led to believe based on my own experiences and that which I have gathered through observations, that these students are not writing, spelling, and reading at the level appropriate to their grade. They are very motivated students and they do well generally on assessments, but an area of improvement would certainly be on those literacy skills. 

Spelling and grammar take time and practice, so for my action research, I focused on the reading comprehension. Check out my infographic for more information on my research!

I'd love to hear your comments and questions. Don't be afraid to share below in the comments section!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Conducting SAE Visits... Transplanting Plants!

This week, my cooperating teacher and I conducted an SAE visit. We visited Wyatt who works at a greenhouse and nursery operation. Wyatt works there just about every day and helps with various tasks. 

His main job is to transplant the plants to different locations and help load them or arrange them. He is often driving around on the gator taking plants where they need to go. He doesn't work much with the sales of the plants, just the maintenance work. 

Besides asking Wyatt when would be the best time to visit, we didn't need to prepare anything beforehand. During the visit, we asked him a few questions about what his responsibilities are and what tasks he completes. Throughout the year the plants change and there are certainly busy seasons (especially around the summer and early fall) so he expects to see it get busier in the near future. We also asked if there was anything we could help him with or provide advice on. Wyatt has a fairly simple employment SAE and he has a good handle on his work responsibilities, so he didn't need much assistance. He just keeps track of his hours and income and the tasks he completed in his records for the SAE project. 

It was a nice visit and a good opportunity to see a project that is different from our first round of visits which were focused on production. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect: My Mock Interview Experience

One of our assignments we have to complete consists of going through a mock job interview with the administration at our cooperating center. After the practice we had at Penn State, this mock interview was much easier and I felt more prepared. I only hope this continues as I go through real interviews!

The administrator, our principal, asked me several questions touching on several aspects of the agricultural program and FFA. Some questions surprised me and others I was certainly more ready for. I was asked: 

  • How much time do I expect to spend on lesson development when teaching a new course?
  • How do I select student leaders for a position as an FFA officer?
  • How would I prove to a parent that I care about the academic and personal success of their child?
  • How do I implement classroom management?
  • How do I handle discipline issues in the school?
  • What skills do I have to offer the school?

I was also given a situation where I received a parent e-mail regarding an issue in the classroom and I was asked how I would handle the issue. 

I felt mostly prepared thanks to some of the assignments we have had with Penn State in the past. I think there will always be that small uncertainty as to what the administrators could ask. The administrator provided me with some great feedback on the questions which I could share that would enhance my responses to the questions based on what I have already done with student teaching. One of the questions I asked the administrator during the interview was what is the perception of agriculture in the community? (What areas of agriculture were most desired or most needed in this school?).

I don't know if I would say I was impressed or unimpressed either way. I think the exposure we had to the interview process has made the experience a fairly comfortable one for me. I think the one part that stood out to me was the location of the interview. The administrator reflected with me that she would prefer interviews at a round table in her office rather than in a board room or a conference room. She preferred this because it made the interview seem more personal and less awkward for both parties. She mentioned that this might not always be the case, but that this was her preferred method. 

I think the only areas I could improve on would be to have a list of stories to refer back on and to remember the S.T.A.R. method during interviews.

Now it's off to do the real thing!

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Trek to Bald Eagle Area High School

I had the opportunity to visit Michael Cahill who is currently student teaching at Bald Eagle Area High School. Being away from your cohort members when you spent every day with them the following semester is a huge change, so it is nice to have those moments where you can meet back and see how your peers are doing. 

(Photo Credit: BEAHS)

There are a few differences in his program and mine that I thought would be interesting to see. One is that the agricultural classes are primarily led by one teacher. There is another teacher who mainly does shop, but the program is mostly run by one main agricultural teacher (at least that's the way I understand it to be). 

Another thing that I found different from our programs was that Bald Eagle has several sections of their intro to ag course. At Greenwood, we are a smaller school, so we really only have one section of each course available. There is an 8th grade Exploratory Ag class that has two sections at Greenwood, but I don't teach either of those classes. Because of this, it was interesting to see how these classes were handled and the benefit of having to plan 1 lesson plan for 4 classes, and yet the challenge of remembering and gauging where each student was at in each class and trying to keep pace with it all. Michael has done a good job with keeping each class right in line with one another and each class seems to be at the same pace. 

Finally, an interesting difference is the location and facilities. Their ag program is a part of their tech department. At Greenwood, ours are more part of the science. Because of this, their shop and facilities are all in the same area whereas at Greenwood, our shop is clear across the other side of the school. 

Before student teaching, I might not have thought much about the difference having the shop next to your classroom versus in a separate part of the school could make, but it certainly does make a difference in the way I plan lessons and what I do in my classroom. For example, I really have to plan out demonstrations. Obviously that is not a bad thing, but if I just wanted to show a five minute demonstration on something, it would involve taking the students all the way down to the shop just for that short demo or remembering to let them know ahead of time that they were meeting in the shop the next day. There is another shop class in there sometimes too, so that creates another challenge of having two classes trying to work at the same time. These little things can make all the difference in how I plan my lessons so seeing the facilities at Bald Eagle made me think about how I might have taught my engines class differently. 

They also had animals in their program which is something we don't have at Greenwood. Michael was having students work on their Compensatory Rat Growth labs which would have been such a neat experiment for students to do at Greenwood--especially since we have a veterinary science and an animal bioscience class. They had rabbits that they took care of as well.

I really enjoyed visiting Michael's program at Bald Eagle and seeing a different perspective on teaching from my own and my cooperating teachers. It goes to show that there are many different ways to skin a cat! I think the biggest realization from my experience related to teaching styles is that the way we teach is so reflective of our personalities. And when we recognize and embrace our personalities, we can better create lessons that are comfortable to us and for the students as well. There is simply no need to be someone we're not. 

Thank you Michael for letting me visit your program and seeing a sliver of your student teaching experience!