24 March 2013

Drawn to Science

Shhh… Let me share a secret with you—one I don’t announce loudly, often, or really at all in my regular work with certified science teachers.
When I started teaching in the fall of 1998, I spent one semester in a tiny private school as a 5th-8th grade English and science teacher.  Those kids were so young compared to the high school students I taught during student teaching, and I was inexperienced and worried about how I could possibly teach science, since I was only certified to teach English.  I learned alongside my students.  We hiked, collected leaves, and conducted rudimentary experiments without a lab.  At the end of the semester I was offered a high school English teaching position and promptly left the tiny school and my young students, but not before realizing what mattered to me most was teaching.  While I longed to read and discuss literature with high school students, I was even more interested in seeing students have aha! moments, no matter the topic. 
Since that semester I have been driven to learning more about science, and it’s been very nourishing. I read science blogs, articles, books, and I help my sons with various science projects.  A scientist would probably tell me reading about science doesn’t really compare to doing science, so that’s why I tend to keep my semester of teaching science a secret. 
At age 8, my oldest son begged us to buy him a solar panel kit. 
As it turned out, we had to solder tiny panels together,
so I learned more than I ever anticipated with this fun adventure--thanks to Ethan.
 Not to be kept a secret is this growing list of science blogs I read.
Oliver Sacks, M.D. I’ve been reading books by Oliver Sacks since 1994 when an English professor in college knew I was interested in the study of human behavior and the mind.  This professor handed me the book—The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and my long time reading interest in the works of Oliver Sacks began.  How cool is that?—an English professor didn’t try to convince me to only read what interested him—he handed me a book he knew might interest me.
Endless Forms Most Beautiful   Several of the blogs I read now have come to me via Twitter, including this one by Kimberly Moynahan.  Last fall I wrote a post about a moth we saw while at a professional development training.  Shortly thereafter, Kimberly was following me on Twitter, so I don’t know if she saw my blog or not, but I’ve been reading her blog since then.  Endless Forms Most Beautiful is captivating with beautiful and interesting photographs and great information for someone like me who keeps trying to learn about the world in which I live.  Another note--Kimberly started a list of all the bloggers in Canada, so check out this document for an ongoing list.
Scijourner The Kentucky Writing Project director told me about this blog when I saw her at the Kentucky Council for Teachers of English Annual Conference.  This blog is written by teens—a great example of science writing we might use in our classrooms.
Erin C. McKiernan  I have a hidden interest in neuroscience and found this blog through random google searches I was conducting because of stories I follow about individuals with long term brain damage.  This site has been up only a few months, but already I enjoy the postings on a regular basis.
Patrick Goff A blog about teaching middle school science.  I enjoy learning about science and the teaching of science from an National Board Certified Teacher who's inspiring and dedicated.

Tricia Shelton A blog by a high school science teacher who I met via Twitter. She's kept me motivated to dig deeper into instructional design for science as she leads work around the Next Generation Science Standards.
Feel free to share additional science resources and blogs you think will help me continue learning.

15 March 2013

Pi and Togas

The year before I left the classroom, I began making a conscious effort to connect literacy and mathematics because it only made sense.  I had already spent the first decade of my teaching career connecting my English classes to various social studies, arts, and science classes, so mathematics was my new subject to conquer.  Now, just like many other English teachers, this was not initially an easy task for me because I had a terrible fear of math.  Fortunately, our high school had a young and innovative teacher who taught me about mathematical literacies.  This was my foray into connecting my discipline to math.

The next year I left the classroom for a new challenge as a literacy consultant at a state education agency, and my work there led to more mathematics connections because I was asked to serve as the “outside content area” participant on a workgroup for developing Characteristics of HighlyEffective Teaching and Learning for mathematics.  It was during this time I met and worked closely with mathematics consultants who possessed a passion for mathematics the same way I possessed a passion for reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I found it truly inspiring, actually, to see educators committed to ensuring students in our state have the best mathematics experiences they need to be successful.  With one particular consultant, I traveled to numerous national convenings as the work toward developing assessments for the Common Core State Standards began.   We were each the subject matter experts for our state’s participation in the PARCC Consortium.  At the same time, our state was rolling out the standards, so our work was not in isolation; we each had numerous other colleagues for mathematics and English Language Arts.  My work with mathematics experts grew.  The more I surrounded myself with these dedicated educators, the more my fear of thinking about math dissipated.   

Last year I spent pi day with this group and experienced their fondness for the day.  One colleague shared a picture with me via twitter as I celebrated pi day for the first time ever in 2012.  This year on pi day, I facilitated a convening of English department chairs from middle and high schools, so I decided to share the pi day enthusiasm and included the image  on the top of our agenda.   Most told me they, too, had celebrated pi day at their respective schools.

When I awoke this morning and gave pause to consider the Ides of March, I tweeted a message to encourage my mathematics colleagues to celebrate the day.  Ah, they know their history and their literature!  One colleague cleverly replied—"Celebrate—aren’t we supposed to beware the Ides of March?”  She’s obviously read Julius Caesar.  Mathematics and literature aren’t so detached, are they?

11 March 2013

Blurring the Lines Between Teaching and Leading

Eleven years of teaching in high-needs schools proved to be a fulfilling calling.  The rewards of my days in the classroom keep appearing when I see or hear from former students.
Yesterday my son and I were in a local department store purchasing a gift for a friends’ birthday.  One of my former students waited on us.  This student was a teen mom who often considered dropping out of school.  Thankfully, she did not.  I haven’t seen her in five years, so you can imagine my delight when she proudly told me she’s about to finish her certificate to become a nursing assistant. 
Another former student from my days on the Cherokee Indian Reservation contacted me recently.  Her note to me—“I have always had it in the back of my mind to find you and let you know that my senior year English class with you solely, totally prepared me for all the papers I had to do at Western (Carolina University)! So for that--thank you!!”  This student is now a teacher and is happily married with two children.

Though I haven’t been a regular classroom teacher for four years now, my role as a teacher leader continues in the capacity in which I currently serve as a support for teachers and leaders.  I’m delighted when teachers I’ve mentored share with me their successes.  I enjoy hearing about the students and even working with them from time to time because I believe it’s important for us to remember —it’s about “our kids,” not “my kids.”  We have to work together to provide children and teens the learning experiences they deserve.
Working together was exactly my experience last week when I attended a conference in San Diego, California.  Designed to celebrate and elevate effective teachers and teaching (ECET2), this event, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, fulfilled its promise of uplifting the teaching profession and reminding us all why we became teachers.  Three teachers delivered the keynote address—“Cultivating a Calling.”  I dare say there was hardly a dry eye in the pavilion after these teacher leaders shared their stories.  And people tell me I take my profession too seriously?  How can I not?  I am an educator through and through.

I returned from the conference feeling invigorated, refreshed, and ready to continue this important work of working on the work, as a colleague is fond of saying.  Too often in our profession, we see a lack of respect for educators, or we see a divide between administrators and teachers.  Let’s blur the lines between leading and teaching and remember why we entered this profession in the first place.
An early morning trip to the Pacific Ocean with my colleague circle group at ECET2. 
We watched the sunrise and were back in time for a fabulous final day of the conference.  The power of collaboration!