Monday, February 23, 2015

Memorable Teachers and How They Made Me a Better Educator: Part Five

I am lucky to have had five teachers who made a powerful and positive impression in my life and, looking back, I realize they greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today. For this five part series, I will talk about why the teachers were important to me and how I use what I learned from them in my own classroom.

Part Five: The School of Life with My Brother Jeb

Hands down, the most influential person in my life was my older brother Jeb. One of my fondest memories is when he brought his yellow VW bug to school to share with my science class when I was in 8th grade. You see, he had tricked out his car so it had an impressive (and loud) car audio system and had won multiple competitions. He knew all about sound and shared some of what he knew with my classmates (while blaring Insane Clown Posse in the background).

When I was really little I used to sneak over to my brother’s room after our parents had given us lights out and we’d pretend like his bed was a tank and we were destroying bad guys.  Jeb used to take me to his friends’ houses, even though I was six years younger than him, to play Dungeons and Dragons. When I was in middle school and high school he’d bring me to his apartment to play video games, especially Halo. He made sure I knew I could talk to him about anything and he valued my opinion and thoughts. Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, he was diagnosed with cancer and nine months later he died. During his entire sickness he modeled strength and positivity.  His absence continued to shape me into who I am today.

Jeb’s life and death taught me how to be strong and how to empathize with others. As a teacher, he helped me relate to and support my most difficult students. I understand their pain and am therefore better equipped to relate to them and give them what they need. He made me want to be a role model for others, just like he was a role model to me. I want to make my students feel valued just as Jeb made me feel like I was important. And it’s pretty nice to see students’ jaws drop when I know more about Halo and ICP than they do.


Take a look at the other teachers who are a part of this series.
Part One: Elementary School
Part Two: Middle School
Part Three: High School
Part Four: Graduate School

Monday, February 16, 2015

Memorable Teachers and How They Made Me a Better Educator: Part Four

I am lucky to have had five teachers who made a powerful and positive impression in my life and, looking back, I realize they greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today. For this five part series, I will talk about why the teachers were important to me and how I use what I learned from them in my own classroom.

Part Four: Graduate School with Dr. Yost

In undergrad I met a woman named Dr. Yost. She was the director of a rigorous program called the Professional Development Center that allowed first year teachers to teach full time with the support of a mentor while also getting a Master’s degree in fifteen months. She came to one of my education classes to recruit students for the rather competitive program.  I met with her in her office afterward and discussed the PDC program with her and she encouraged me to apply. She followed up with me several times that semester to make sure I was going through with my application.

During my student teaching experience the next semester, in a small town in South Dakota, she came to see me in the classroom—bringing with her the superintendent of the district. After they watched my lesson they told me I was accepted to the program and they wanted me to continue to teach in that school. Of course I accepted their offer. I got to know Dr. Yost during that very demanding year and developed a huge respect for her and her no-nonsense approach to teaching and life. If I or any of the other first year teachers in the PDC program made a mistake we’d hear about it. She wouldn’t be mean, but she was honest and told us how it was and how we could improve. She never beat around the bush.

The entire PDC program, which was largely facilitated by Dr. Yost, taught me invaluable lessons about teaching that I use every single day in the classroom. She stressed the importance of self-reflection. All first year teachers wrote reflections about their teaching experiences several times a week. Dr. Yost read everything and provided feedback.  She emphasized how much it’s possible to learn from other teachers and required us to observe our mentors, other first year teachers, and teachers of different grades and subject areas. 

Dr. Yost ingrained in me the values of self-reflection and learning from others. Because of her, I have grown as a teacher much faster than I would have otherwise. I will always have a great respect for her, be grateful for her encouragement in applying to her program, and thankful for such an incredible first year teaching experience.

Take a look at the other teachers who are a part of this series.
Part One: Elementary School
Part Two: Middle School
Part Three: High School
Part Five: School of Life

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February Funnies: Fun with a Hovering Helicopter

Last year near the end of school a student got a really neat hovering helicopter toy for his birthday. He told me all about it and asked if he could show it in science class the next day. Since he was so excited about it and it sounded like a pretty awesome toy I told him to bring it in.

The next day he came to class and pulled the helicopter from his bag. Before the bell rang and class began he showed me how it worked. The helicopter had a little fan in it that helped it hover over a surface.  When he had his hand under it and moved his hand the helicopter would follow, floating just above his palm. It was a super cool toy and I was looking forward to trying it out myself, as were the dozen or so students around us. Unfortunately, the student moved his hand up a little high and a little too close to my head, causing the helicopter's fan to completely entangle itself in my hair instantly. The helicopter was snugly stuck on the top of my head. The students, of course, thought this was hilarious. The owner of the helicopter was displaying some very mixed emotions; he clearly felt bad about it but also was trying not to laugh too hard.

After unsuccessfully attempting to dislodge the helicopter from my head, I enlisted the help of several female students in my class. When they pulled out some scissors I decided I'd rather have the geography teacher across the hall give it a try.  The bells had rung by that point, signaling the beginning of class. I stood in front of my class of thirty-five seventh graders with the helicopter on my head and my hand firmly on the helicopter. I hastily gave directions to the students to begin their Do Now while I got some help in the hallway.

The geography teacher's students were lined up outside of her classroom listening to her instructions for the day. As soon as I walked out, there were a few chuckles from students which caused the teacher to glance my direction. She had some sympathy for my predicament and came over to determine just how tightly the helicopter was wound in my hair. Pretty darn tightly it turned out. She had a student bring over scissors. Before she could make any snips, the math teacher came out to the hallway to see what all the commotion was about. When he saw us he told us to hold on a second and quickly reentered his classroom. He returned with his camera, took a couple of pictures, and told us to continue.

A few cuts later I was free of the helicopter (and a few chunks of hair). Sadly, the helicopter didn't fair as well and never hovered again. And that's just one of my very public, very embarrassing funny teaching moments.

Thank you to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for including me in February's Blog Hop.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Memorable Teachers and How They Made Me a Better Educator: Part Three

I am lucky to have had five teachers who made a powerful and positive impression in my life and, looking back, I realize they greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today. For this five part series, I will talk about why the teachers were important to me and how I use what I learned from them in my own classroom.

Part Three: Junior Year American History with Mr. Leikam

I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who is as passionate about his job as Mr. Leikam.  Mr. Leikam was my junior year American History teacher, and he knew how to have high expectations for students and hold them to it. He would get seriously angry and disappointed, really take it to heart, when students wouldn’t do their homework or wouldn’t try as hard as they could. Since students had so much respect for him, they didn’t often let him down.

During my junior year my brother was diagnosed with and died of cancer. Mr. Leikam's class was a safe place for me that year. Even though my life outside of school was difficult, grim, and unstable, I always knew what to expect in his class. Every day I knew he would have the notes written on the chalkboard that formed the perimeter of the room and as soon as I sat down I was to copy those notes into my notebook in preparation for class. I knew it was expected of me to have my homework completed before class or to have studied for one of his difficult tests.  I knew I could expect a passionate lecture about American history and corny jokes or phrases interspersed throughout the lesson (see below for a sampling). That kind of routine and laughter helped me during one of the most difficult years of my life.

Corny Mr. Leikam Jokes:
  • Introducing new content by saying “So I looked deeply into her one eye and said ‘Baby, baby, baby, let me tell you about (insert daily topic here).’”
  • “Lettuce study today because there may be a test tomato.”
  • When someone was off task or not with it during the lesson he’d say “Stop dinkin’ around like Abraham Dinkin.”
  • He loved the Beatles but didn’t like rap music because “they refer to women as garden implements.”
  • For every single test students always knew the answer to question number ten because he constantly reminded us “Ten is C because Tennessee.”
  • He hated cheating and had two special phrases he’d use often before tests “No ocular gymnastics” and “If I wanted to see a cheetah I’d go to the zoo.”
  • And his near daily “son of a buck” was sort of a catch all.
Mr. Leikam taught me more than just American History. He showed me the value of a routine in making students feel safe. He demonstrated the effects of high expectations for students.  He was a model of being passionate about education. In my classroom I have my own routine of what students can anticipate every class period. I interject humor whenever I can. Having high expectations for all of my students is more difficult than he made it look but I will continue to work on it because Mr. Leikam showed me it’s possible to have all students meet those expectations.

Take a look at the other teachers who are a part of this series.
Part One: Elementary School
Part Two: Middle School
Part Four: Graduate School
Part Five: School of Life

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Valentine's Day Blog Hop 2015

Fast Five for “Feeling the Love” Valentine’s Day Blog Hop

1.  Something I love about teaching: I love working with middle school students. They are just plain weird sometimes. There is rarely an uneventful moment with them around.  

2. A resource I love using in my classroom: One of my favorite activities I did every year in my science classes was “The Importance of Constants Activity.”  My students really struggled with the idea of constants (the things that stay the same throughout the experiment) until one day I decided make an experiment almost completely without constants.  I had the students predict if boys or girls could do more sit-ups and then got volunteers to put the experiment to the test. I gave the girls a ton of advantages like foot holders, counters, and people to help lift their shoulders. I gave the boys many disadvantages like counting out loud, holding books on their chests, and starting late.  The activity almost started a riot in my classroom (just kidding, but there were some strong emotions), but from that point on the students understood constants much better.

3. A special Valentine’s Day gift I love: Chocolate, candy, and flowers are always great with me, so I’m pretty happy every year with gorging on a huge box of chocolates while staring at a vase of pretty tulips.

4. Something I would love to do: Well, currently I live in Korea with my husband so there are plenty of things I’d love to do when we move back to the US.  One of the things I’d love to do the most is walk around neighborhoods with my husband and corgi and look at all the pretty houses, thinking about which one we’d choose.

5. A book I love: Last year I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I loved EVERYTHING about that book—the characters, the writing style, the plot, the cover, the details, the symbolism, the relatability.  

Thursday, February 5, 2015

FREE eBook for Secondary Science Teachers

This FREE eBook has 63 pages of information and resources for science teachers. I was lucky enough to be able to be able to contribute. Check out my two pages (20 and 21) for a free genetics worksheet. There are some fantastic resources in here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Memorable Teachers and How They Made Me a Better Educator: Part Two

I am lucky to have had five teachers who made a powerful and positive impression in my life and, looking back, I realize they greatly influenced the kind of teacher I am today. For this five part series, I will talk about why the teachers were important to me and how I use what I learned from them in my own classroom.

Part Two: Sixth Grade Language Arts and Eighth Grade Social Studies with Ms. Baum

The idea of starting middle school was a terrifying experience for me. Going to multiple classes a day? I thought I’d get so lost. Having huge seventh and eighth graders around? I thought they’d stuff me in lockers and give me swirlies in the toilets. The night before the first day of sixth grade I didn’t sleep at all because I was so afraid. Once I got to school and attended a few classes, I realized I was having so much fun. That day was the beginning of my favorite year in school. I really lucked out with my sixth grade teachers. All of them were great, especially my language arts teacher, Ms. Baum.

Ms. Baum’s classes were so much fun and filled with the laughter of both the students and the teacher. She had such a creative way of teaching and always had a positive energy. Even roll call was fun when Ms. Baum was your teacher. She always took roll with a weird voice or changed the students’ names around by adding an extra syllable or phrase. One time she cut the names in half and added “bow” to the end. For example, Marcus would be MarcBow. Since my name is Elly, mine was Elbow.  I didn’t mind being called that since my brother had been calling me Elbow for years. Elbow became my nickname for the rest of middle school. To this day she still calls me Elbow.

Every single day it was clear she loved what she was doing. I was fortunate to have her again as my eighth grade social studies teacher. I remember the lyrics to the songs she had us sing in her classes. Fifteen years later, I still know the Greek alphabet, the order of the presidents, and the Gettysburg Address because she put them to music.  Ms. Baum and her crazy teaching methods turned the often tough experience of middle school into something joyful for so many students.

Looking back now as a middle school teacher myself, Ms. Baum showed me learning can (and should) be fun, and those fun experiences are incredibly memorable. In my classes, I always try to make learning exciting and my classroom cheerful because I know the students will learn and retain so much more that way.  There is always a fun way to teach even the most boring of topics, you just have to be creative and enthusiastic.  Ultimately, I think Ms. Baum is the reason I love teaching middle school students.

Take a look at the other teachers who are a part of this series.
Part One: Elementary School
Part Three: High School
Part Four: Graduate School
Part Five: School of Life