December 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 4

Getting Ready for a New School Year

Posted: Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

by Nikki Bailey

Renewal, self-reflection, collaboration and willingness to change are some of the keys to my professional growth. Each year, I have a process to get myself ready for the first days of school. My current strategies are outlined below. I say current, as they seem to evolve each year as my content and coworkers change.

The first step to getting ready for the school year is to renew. Taking personal time, enjoying time with family and friends, doing the things in my house that have been ignored during the busy school year, and relaxing are some ways to renew. Without this renewal, when starting to gear up for the new year, it is possible that stress and fatigue set in earlier.

Second, I go through my first unit and plan out what it is I want to accomplish in my classroom during the first month of school, reflecting on what worked last year, and what didn’t.

  • Did the lessons hit enough learning styles?
  • Was there enough variety in my teaching, or was the delivery repetitive?
  • Did the students get enough initial feedback so they could learn how my class is structured?
  • How was my classroom management?
  • Where there enough routines established so that the students knew what to expect?
  • How was my time management?

Honest reflection is the key to this process. Being able to honestly critique yourself is a skill that takes time to develop, and can be difficult, but this was the starting point for my growth as an educator.

Although I use a file cabinet for keeping the extra handouts, it is not a user-friendly way to evaluate a unit of work as a whole. For that reason, I have created a binder for each unit that shows the daily calendar, the student handouts, activities, and tests. Each time a lesson is completed, I reflect on what worked and what didn’t and make a list of things to change and things to keep the same. These binders are my starting place for reflection. My advice is to create a portable system where you can look at your lessons and reflect easily.

As the school year starts and the whirlwind continues, I try to remember to take time for reflection at least once per unit. Remembering which activities were good and which were not as good is easy, but I don’t remember what specifics needed changing unless they get written down. This reflection gets written on a Post-it® and stuck directly on the student handout in the binder. In all honesty, this is the most important step in my preparation and when I don’t follow through, it makes it that much harder to improve the lesson.

Third, I set up at least one summer meeting with the people I work closely with. We discuss our individual plans for changes and come together to agree on a new way to proceed for the new year. We also take time to discuss what we did over the summer and to renew our bonds. Though not often talked about, this is just as important as discussing teaching strategies. We need to feel connected to and comfortable with our colleagues in order to feel comfortable discussing our successes and failures, of which there may be many! This year, we are working on making chemistry more conceptual and open-ended, with the hope of teaching our students to be able to problem solve more independently. We have included several lessons that we feel will help the students, but we won’t know until our students give us feedback.

Once the new school year gets underway, we each implement the new strategies we talked about over the summer and then discuss the outcomes, both positive and negative. There have been times when the activities fail miserably in my classroom, but worked like a charm in my neighbor’s room. We talk to each other constantly to make sure that growth is happening, and we are honest in our assessments. This year, we will discuss the students’ growth in their thinking, and adapt lessons as needed to help in this process.

Finally, I am always willing to change, as change is growth. There are times that I bore myself, so it follows that my students are bored. This is when it is important to take time and find new ways to integrate technology, games, hands-on activities, and group work. I talk to co-workers in different grade levels or subjects to see what strategies they use, look online for different ideas, and, when possible, go to conferences. Talking to a teacher from any grade level and any subject is helpful, as any activity can be adapted for any grade level or content.

Classroom success is directly related to the time taken for renewal, reflection, and collaboration with peers. Renewal allows you to remember there is life outside of your classroom, reflection is the step that allows your lessons to improve, and collaboration gives you the support to try new ideas. If I miss one of these steps, inevitably the school year is harder than it needs to be.

Nikki Bailey teaches chemistry at Poly High School in Long Beach and is a member of CSTA.

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

2 Responses

  1. Great advice Nikki! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks :)

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Who Else Wants to Share Their Great Idea?

Posted: Friday, December 12th, 2014

by Lisa Hegdahl

Colleagues Helping Colleagues

I have been to so many California Science Education Conferences over the years that I cannot be certain which ideas I obtained in which year, but I do know that most of what my lesson plans contain came from ideas I acquired at those conferences.  Destroying Water, Domino Derby, Student Periodic Squares, Buggy Car Physics, Valence Shell Ping Pong Balls, Vinegar/Baking Soda Conservation of Matter, Stellar Distances, just to name a few, were all given to me by colleagues that were willing to take the time to share a piece of their classrooms.

Your Great Idea

You know you have it.  That lesson that never fails to engage students at a high level of learning; that teaching strategy that works every time; or that technology application that brought your classroom into the 21st century.  Why keep it to yourself?  Share it with your colleagues at the California Science Education Conference, October 2-4, 2015 in Sacramento.  CSTA is now accepting workshop and short course proposals from classroom teachers, informal educators, university professors, education professionals, and other members of the education community.  Sharing our best practices with each other helps to make high quality Science education a reality for all students in California. Learn More…

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is president-elect of CSTA.

The E Word

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jill Grace

There’s so much excitement lately in the world of NGSS. There is an energy I haven’t felt since I was a new teacher. It’s palpable. Teachers are once again the learners, outside our comfort zones trekking along a new path, making new discoveries, trying new things. Some of these new experiences are fantastic and fill us with a new sense of purpose and inspiration. Some end up being things we profusely apologize to our students for, “Sorry guys, that pretty much didn’t work out at all, let’s try this instead”. No doubt this is an exhaustive process, mentally and even sometimes physically, and on some days we might wish we could crawl up on our couches under that super fluffy blanket (insert comforting beverage of your choice) and forget that change is upon us. But it’s also exhilarating. It makes you feel alive again.

Given all of the changes, I have been feeling pretty comfortable. I thrive in “big idea land” and love weaving multiple layers into my instruction, so the whole 3D aspect to NGSS is gratifying to me (3D = the blending of Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Cross Cutting Concepts). I love the challenge of getting my students to the point where they have their “ah ha!” moment and see it all come together. With my background in marine biology, a very “integrated” field, I’ve had an easier time wrapping my head around the middle school progressions and seeing the connections in a way that I can tell is harder for many of my colleagues. I’ve been feeling pretty great about it all. Except for one tiny little thing.

Engineering. Learn More…

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace teaches 7th grade science at Palos Verdes Intermediate School and is the Middle School/Jr. High Director for CSTA.

Season’s Greetings

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Laura Henriques

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Written by Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques

Laura Henriques is a professor of science education at CSU Long Beach and president of CSTA.

CSTA Night at the Aquarium – A Good Time Was Had by All!

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jill Grace and Laura Henriques

Close to 700 science educators enjoyed an evening of Science, Engineering and STEM at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific on Thursday, December 4th. This great CSTA event was co-hosted by Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and CSTA and sponsored by Chevron.

In addition to having the entire aquarium to ourselves, there were five scientists who gave talks, two dozen table-top STEM/Engineering showcase presentations and the LBAOP’s Science on a Sphere. After eating dinner, glowstick-clad attendees visited the penguins, jellies, and other exhibits representing marine life of the pacific. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Support CSTA and Take the Deduction on Your 2014 Taxes

Posted: Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

by Jessica Sawko

CSTA is so fortunate to have so many hard-working and dedicated members. CSTA membership dues support the production and distribution of this newsletter, CSTA’s state-level policy activities, including NGSS implementation activities, the CSTA website, and a small portion of dues go to support our state-level legislative activities. 2014 is a special year for CSTA, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the filing to CSTA’s Articles of Incorporation. Many volunteer leaders were involved in that process 50 years ago and to this day it is volunteers that do much of the work of CSTA.

CSTA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and accepts donations to support our leadership programs, such as our leadership event held at the annual conference and designed to help nurture, inspire, and support California’s emerging leaders in science education.

As the end of the year approaches and you consider making contributions to charities and non-profits that support you and your values as a science educator, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund. This fund was established at the beginning of 2014 and the monies donated to this fund support CSTA’s leadership development program. Donors who donate $50 or more will receive a commemorative 50th anniversary pin. Donations to this fund are tax deductible (please check with your tax-preparation specialist). Click here to donate online today.

If a donation to CSTA’s 50th anniversary fund is not a match for you this year, I hope you will consider supporting CSTA as you shop for holiday gifts (and year-round). Learn More…

Written by Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko

Jessica Sawko is CSTA’s Executive Director.