From March 16 – April 2, 2015 I had the privilege of working alongside Mr. Chris Mieske at Dr. L.M. Hanna Elementary School with his grade 7/8 students. I waited until now, quite a few days after the experience, to post my thoughts because it was hard to believe it was over. I also wanted to take as much time as possible to relive the humbling experience over and over in my mind, the good times, and the bad times, to truly reflect upon what it means to teach. For some this may be a life changing experience, and some may have discovered their calling. For me, however, this experience was life affirming. This whirlwind journey into a grade 7/8 classroom taught me that there is nothing else in the world I would rather do. Let me take you through each week and relive this experience together.
Week 1 – Getting Back in the Saddle:
As I entered the classroom once again I felt calm, cool, and collected. Well that was short lived… The grade 8 students of Hanna Elementary were provided the opportunity to go to Campus Regina each morning for the next two weeks to experience some of their programs. They would learn some new skills that hopefully may help them with some direction going into high school next year. Now, at first I was disappointed that my teaching time was going to be all over the map because of this. With no grade 8’s to teach how was I supposed to put in the time necessary to have a successful pre-internship? Simple really. Over the next two weeks I would not only work with grade 7/8 students, but also with grade 2 students and another grade 6/7 class. This was more than I bargained for, but I was confident and up for the challenge!
With the grade 8’s off learning new and exciting things my cooperating teacher and I decided that we needed to give the remaining grade 7’s an opportunity to learn new and exciting things. Enter #hourofcode! I achieved one of my personal goals in the delivering Hour of Code, a program that allows students to experience programming in a fun in creative manner over a one hour period. I was almost in tears at how amazing this experience was. The positive feedback from the students, the excitement, the joy of learning, was all there during our hour of code adventure.
Even with this amazing success I came away from the experience learning so much about social media in the classroom, how to engage students in technology, and having to contain your own excitement and passion in order to ensure students are learning with purpose.
Another high point of my first week was when I was able to deliver a unique experience to the grade 7 math students. I provided them with a treaty education experience during a math lesson! When I first was learning about treaty education I could easily see the ties to social studies, health, and even into science, but I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could work it into mathematics. My lesson consisted of using real numbers from the era of treaty and providing students with multiple scenarios of how those numbers impacted First Nations people. I am proud to say my students accepted the challenge head on and came away from the experience with more respect and understanding of Treaty.
Week one was the most humbling for me. I learned the most important lesson of my time during this week. I fulfilled one of my professional goals in understanding and accepting criticisms and feedback. I achieved this goal by understanding why it is so important for our mentors to provide this critique even when we are doing an amazing job. Teaching is a career in learning. We have to be the best learners in order to be great teachers. Each and every lesson and teaching moment should have a learning moment in it as well. I greatly respect this and look forward to lifelong learning as an educator.
Week 2 – Is Passion Enough to See it Through?
One of the big missions of my three week experience was to live and discover more about Project Base Learning. This learning method is part of my teaching philosophy, and I wanted to dig into it as much as I possibly could during my tenure at Hanna Elementary. I will say this now, three weeks is a really tight time frame for a project! We kicked off a project on sustainability as part of our unit in week one, but the ball really got rolling in week two… or at least it was supposed to. One of the things about project based learning that you do not really know about until you actually experience it is how much time things take to complete. Other questions that sprung up were: How much can students handle, especially if they have never worked on a large scale project before? Are they capable of taking charge of their own learning? Will the project meet the outcomes chosen for the unit? I found out the answer to all of these questions during week two.
What do you do when the answer to a lot of the above questions are negative responses? How do you spot these red flags on a project? Well first off, you soak it all in, learn from it, and start to restructure the project in a manner that will turn those negatives into positives. For our project I adjusted the scope to ensure that it was more manageable. I established a control front in a web site to communicate with students so they could see what their roles and responsibilities were, they had content to view to get a better understanding of certain concepts, and they had a place to communicate with me through comments. No one took the opportunity to communicate, but the web site did have limited success and I would definitely like to use it again in the future, but I would ensure that it was up and running on day one. On the website is also an example of a lesson I decided utilize the strategy of a flipped classroom.
As to red flags, these can sometimes be difficult to spot and understanding your students and your school are key in figuring out what may be going off the rails and assist in bringing things back on track. The fallout from changing pieces of a project that has already kicked off are, in reality, very disappointing. Students get upset, some had great ideas, others didn’t really want to get involved, but another lesson I learned during my experience was that unfortunately that is the role of the teacher. Teachers are the ones that have to make the tough decisions, sometimes we have to hurt feelings, because the greater goal is learning. Our ultimate goal as an educator is to educate. We also must adhere to curriculum and ensure learning experiences match the outcomes provided. So yes, I played the bad guy, but the week three results tell me that my gamble paid off and even if their was disappointment, there was definitely learning, and definitely still excitement and joy. The question now became is project based learning sustainable as a teacher? Is it possible to pour so much of yourself into one experience and still have enough energy for the rest of the school? how about life outside of the classroom?
Here is one of the products that came out of our project during week two:
Week 3 – Knowing is Half the Battle:
With everything returning to normal back at Hanna, week three would turn out to be the deepest, most incredible week I could ever imagine. With so much left to do on our project, and so much left to teach and experience, I was so nervous that at the end of the week I would be dropping out of the profession. However, the opposite occurred. I became more alive than ever, I felt the love of a job that I have craved for over 12 years. Now on to week three!
Projects are hard. They are time consuming. Projects truly show just how much students have learned, what they have not learned, and just how eager they are to continue learning. It is incredibly hard when you are coming down the final stretch to realize that somewhere along the way students may not have acquired skills needed to complete a project. What do you do as an educator when students do not have the skills they should have picked up along the way? My solution, and I’ll admit it was not the best but it worked at the time, was to play to the strengths of my teams. I had a student who was not originally on our construction team assist with building our class garden box. I had those that were ahead on their project products assist those that were behind. It became a true team effort and it worked. I do know that there were some hard feelings that some had to pick up the slack of others. I will make this right by providing those students with the feedback and kudos they deserve, but it will have to wait until after the Easter break.
My greatest learning experience during week three revolved around classroom management. I learned that each teacher has their own style to bringing the group to attention, each teacher utilizes different tactics to punish students for inappropriate behaviour, and each teacher has their own way of dealing with individual problems. I took away from this experience a vivid image of how I will handle things. The largest take away is that classroom management is difficult. It is even more difficult when you are using a collaborative and energetic learning method such as project based education. Do I adjust my teaching philosophy in order to have better management? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t trade the amazing conversations I took part in with my class, or the incredible products created by students just to make my life a little easier. It is hard, but no one ever said it would be easy. I accept the challenge of creationist learning and look forward to learning more about how to work and manage students using this learning style.
To Sum it All Up
This experience provided me with so much that it’s hard to fit it all on this page. I recalled the highlights and some lowlights of this journey, however this page is only a small snippet of what was an incredible opportunity. I learned how to adapt, how to pick myself up when things were going off track, how to answer tough questions and make tough decisions, how to teach. I cannot thank Chris and his students at Hanna Elementary School for all of their support and love during my time there. It is because of them I move forward in my journey with confidence and passion.
Here are some snapshots of the other products we created during our project:
Head over to http://hanna78inquiry.wordpress.com to see our class webpage created by the students.
Check out the twitter feed: @hanna78inquiry to see how our social media correspondent covered our project as it happened!
Now onto my next experience! And hopefully I can achieve my next goal of running a MinecraftEDU class!