Thursday, June 13, 2013

Peering Ahead

So in my last post I talked a lot about some failures from last year, which I think is pretty important.  I will probably mention one or tow more here, but I really want to get around to thinking about next year.  I have a level of excitement about next year that I haven't had in a decade, and that includes how excited I was to come to STEM.

  1. Ramped up expectations-  this applies to myself and the kids.  I won't say that I had low expectations last year, I never do, but it was the first time in a long, long time that my expectations were exceeded.  I had classes that I thought would do okay just knock it out of the park.  Since I was new to every kid having the technology I threw some crazy stuff at them and they for the most part ran with it and did well.  A highlight for me was when I had my APES class do biome projects.  A pretty standard Biology level assignment honestly.  So to make it a little higher level, they had to do it like a travel guide for the area.  One group actually camped out in the forest over a weekend and made a 15 minute long video that was simply amazing, great in its content, its humor and the quality of production.  That was one of the a-ha moments for me that said I could push these students to even higher heights.
  2. New classes- Last year I had new classes too, but ones that while I may have been qualified to teach, were a little out of my wheelhouse (though I'd love to teach APES again).  Next year I go back to teaching AP Chemistry, which is such a fun challenge, and to go along with #1, I'm really looking forward to see what can happen at STEM with a group of 10 kids who are taking it not because I'm a cool teacher as happened in the past, but because they are going to use it and are interested in chemistry.
  3. Really new class- I am excited and nervous to be teaching a new class called Intro to Organic and Biochemistry (IOB).  We are a STEM school, and so a lot of our kids are going into STEM professions.  Organic chemistry is often a sort of weed out class for those professions and I think a large part of that is because they get no exposure to it prior to getting in the class.  I'm not planning on teaching this at a college level (since I'm not at that level in any case), but am so excited for the labs and just the complete newness of it.  I think there will be some great crossover with the biology classes at our school as well.
  4. Teaching partner- One of the most exciting things this year is that we are not only doubling the size of the science department staff, but that one of those new teachers is a great friend of mine who is an even better teacher than myself.  He and I are already planning on some things to do together and are hoping that the vibe there spills over to others and really forms our department into a really cohesive place full of individually amazing teachers (which they are already).
  5. Getting more involved- I will freely confess that I've held back on doing any extracurricular stuff for the past 6 or so years of teaching.  A big part of that is that I have young children and feel very strongly about taking time away from them.  But next year I think we are going to do a competitve gaming club, which just fits so well in our student body that I can't even describe it.  I really think it will be something that helps to bond our kids together as a student body, which is something a bit lacking since we are an area magnet.  I can't wait!
  6. More- Since we are only in our 3rd year at STEM and started with just 9th and 10th graders, this is the year that we are really going to be big.  We'll have seniors for the first time ever and therefore graduation!  Our staff size is almost doubling as we go from the 180-something kids the first year to over 500 (I think) next year.  I don't know where we will fit them all, but I really think it is going to be amazing.  I'm looking forward to interacting with new staff members and being pushed forward as a teacher as well.
I could probably go on forever, but I'm logging off of here to go work on that IOB class for next year that I am so excited about that I haven't stopped thinking about and working on since February!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Looking back

Since one of my principals is doing such a great job of reflecting on his past year, I think I should take a few minutes and do the same.

If I look back 14 months ago, before I got hired at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville, I was in a bad state as a teacher.  I think I've noted before on the blog that while I know my calling is to be a teacher, it was not always my life goal and I feel free to leave if it is necessary for any reason.  So suffice it to say that while I have fond memories of my last school and know that being there made me grow immensely, it was time to go. (as an aside, teachers really need to recognize when it is time to leave their current circumstances and seek out a change, too many stay too long)

So when I got hired at my dream school, I was on cloud nine.  To be honest, I couldn't figure out why more science teachers weren't clamoring to get to STEM, teaching science at a school with a science focus, who would not want to be there?

What I didn't realize is that apparently people around the county thought our school was going to be a flash in the pan, gone in a few years.  I suppose that could still happen, but improbable in the extreme.  This is easily the most dynamic, innovative, unafraid to take risks, fail, iterate again place I've ever worked.  I have an amazing leader and work with a lot of teachers who are phenomenal and make me strive harder to excel every day.

Okay...all of that was about the school, not me, I should refocus...

I'll break this in a few pieces (and posts probably).  The year started with immense pressure. I had 4 preps, one of which I hadn't taught in 9 years and in far different setting, and another brand new and an AP class to boot. We are a 1:1 school and I personally committed to using that tech everyday and be as paperless as possible.  I swore I would be much more inquiry and lab focused and way less concerned with plug and chug problems.  I wanted to try out new stuff and have my students show off their knowledge in creative, non-test ways.

So how did I do in these areas: (in mastery grading!)

  1. With the two new classes, I struggled mightily.  I loved my APES class at the beginning of the year, but we had no texts, no equipment and a teacher who was behind the curve despite my APSI training. It took me way too long to get my feet under me in that class.  The other new class, Biology, I will confess I never focused on enough.  I had 9 kids and we could have and should have done amazing things, but I definitely failed those kids.  With 4 preps I just couldn't find enough time to do justice to all of them, and that was the one that fell by the wayside.  That sounds awful, and I feel awful about it.  The odd thing is that they actually did really well, scoring so well I don't want to brag about it on the state test.  I'm going to attribute that fully to them and not myself and use it in the future as an argument against using test scores to evaluate. (Developing)
  2. Technology wise I feel I did a pretty solid job.  We tried a lot of new things and I used very little paper in the course of the year, and most of what I did use is reusable still.  Students used Edmodo to grab all assignments, Notability to do all of their written work and lots of other things on a day to day basis.(Mastery)
  3. Inquiry and lab focus---very hit and miss.  We definitely did more activities of all kinds than I've ever done before.  Actual labs though, I feel like I missed the mark there (as I do every year).  I'd like to blame it on the equipment shortages (I didn't get basically anything until December), but really, it comes down to me having those old notions of....must get material covered....I'm past that now, and I really think next year will be much different. (Beginning)
  4. Kids showing off knowledge in different ways.  Had some of that no doubt. Outside of tests in AP style to prepare them, my APES kids pretty much had every assignment as a video or a short impromptu presentation.  We made stop motion videos in Biology, and my chem classes did videos ranging from explaining kinetic theory to creating hot air balloons.  (developing)

For those areas, I definitely have work to do, but I feel I have a strong foundation for to build off of.  In fact, that's what I've been doing for two weeks since school has let out, but more on that in the next post.