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Teaching is not a profession that comes naturally to all who attempt it. It requires that an individual have certain skills and understanding to effectively communicate with students and engage them in learning. I feel that I have developed the skills necessary to be an effective elementary school teacher in the four core areas I teach.

Science
Teaching Based on Lesson Plans:
When teaching science, I generally create an entire unit of related lessons that create links to which students can naturally draw connections from day to day. One such unit of study involved magnets. As a culminating activity to the week-long study, I held a magnets science circus in the classroom that required students to move among four stations as they investigated different aspects of magnets, as pictured below. The planning of this lesson was a large under-taking because it required critically thinking out the appropriateness of each station for student abilities and maturity, materials available, classroom management, and time constraints. As is explained in the lesson, the students began by reviewing what they have learned about magnets and then were each given a job to do for which they wore a badge as a reminder to themselves and the rest of their classmates. At the end of the lesson, the students came together for a debriefing activity in which students I had observed making break-through discoveries and observations shared their learning with the rest of the class and helped me to demonstrate what the objective learning of each station was.
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Provide for Individual Differences in the Classroom:
When creating science lessons, I always try to consider the different forms of learning individuals students in my classroom display. Some are more visual learners while other take a more physical or tactile approach. One lesson in which I feel that I particularly met the learning needs of many individual students was this lesson in which my students began learning about the different parts of a plant: roots, stem, leaves, and sometimes flowers and the activities which followed and were related to the lesson. While learning the parts of plants, the students got to physically act out being a plant by pretending to be flowers, which helped kinesthetic learners. They thought of their feet as roots, their bodies as stems, their hands as leaves, and their heads as flowers. For more visual learners, the students began by making observations of a diagram of a plant on a chart displaying the parts previously mentioned. After seeing this, the students got to physically touch and examine with magnifying glasses an up-rooted marigold and an up-rooted English ivy as they passed the plants around in a circle. They observed that not all plants have flowers nor do they all look the same, but all plants have similar parts. Once this was completed, the students also got to color their own plant parts diagram which I drew that is labeled so that students who are better readers in the classroom can use their literary learning to help them understand as well. Additionally, I invited students to the front of the room to use a pointer while verbally saying the parts of the plant and saying what they part does. The final activity meant to reach individual learners about plant parts was creating their own art projects displaying the parts of a plant.
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In this project shown above, you can see how we created the delicate roots with yarn, the strong stem with pipe cleaners, the thin green leaves with construction paper, the flower petals with buttons, and the centers containing the seeds of the flower were created using actual seeds and beans. After creating their own flower, each student also labeled the different parts to once again practice their new knowledge in different ways to reach the individual needs of each student.

Use a Variety of Effective Instructional Strategies Appropriate for the Content Area:
Science is an area in which there are many different instructional strategies that can effectively help students to learn and understand knowledge, ideas, and concepts. Inquiry is an especially large part of science in my classroom. I do not feel that giving students all of the answers right away is the best way to help they gain a deeper understanding of what I am teaching. In this lesson, my students were given a partner and this sheet of paper showing different objects.


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On this sheet above, the students had to predict with their partner if a magnet would or would not attract the object pictured. Once they did this, the students were given a set of the objects that matched their sheets and then got to test their predictions. If they were correct they put a black X on the box and if they were incorrect, they put a red X, as this student prediction sheet shows. We then discussed as a class why they thought that certain objects were attracted to the magnet while others were not. During this lesson, the students were highly motivated and actively engaged in their learning. They were excited to see if their predictions were correct and the use of authentic materials kept them excited and engaged.

I also feel that hands-on activities are especially important in science instruction. The magnet lesson described above was a good example of students having hands-on experience with materials to increase their learning. Students in my classroom have also had hands-on learning in other ways. After teaching about what pants need to grow and live and the life cycle of plants, I took my students outside to each plant their own potted seeds. Please see this photograph to see how they grew! Each student collected their own soil, put the seed into the dirt, and then gave it water. We placed our seed cups in a bright window of the classroom to get plenty of light, and one student waters the class plants every day as the class gardner, as pictured below.
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This activity has been very motivating to students. They are thrilled to share their knowledge about their own plant with their fourth grade reading buddies on Fridays and enjoy getting to examine their tiny plants as well as the other classroom garden plants with magnifying glasses.

Another teaching technique I am using as part of this learning is observation. The students have been watching as their seeds have turned into sprouts and now seedlings on their way to becoming full plants. Observation has also been an important part of another lesson I created in this plant unit. In this lesson, the students learned what plants need to live by taking four plants and denying three of them an essential part of their existence; either water, air, or light. We have been checking on these plants every few days to see what has happened to them and reviewing the needs of plants at the same time. The photograph below shows the later stages of our plant observations.
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Promote Critical Thinking Skills:
I feel that science, as a subject, is meant to promote the growth of critical thinking, but this lesson was especially interesting for students and benefited their critical skills. During this lesson, students worked with partners to test the different parts of their tongues to see if they could taste sweet, sour, or salt on different areas of their tongues. As they investigated, some students were able to discover that not all parts of their tongues can taste all things. Through this activity, students were able to better consider their understanding of how they taste edible things. Since they could not taste each flavor on all parts of their tongues, students had to think critically to consider why this might happen.


Language Arts
Teaching Based on Lesson Plans:
The school at which I was placed for student teaching is currently piloting a basil language arts program called Story Town. Because of this, I was limited in some of the lesson planning I was able to do, especially for whole-group instruction. However, I was still able to create lesson plans based off of the learning objectives and materials required for use in this program. In this particular lesson, I created a lesson for whole group and then individualized small-group instruction. As I taught the lesson, I had to make sure that I allotted a sufficient amount of time to each activity without going over so that all students got to have their appropriate learning.


Provide for Individual Differences in the Classroom:
In language arts, individualizing instruction is especially important. One way in which I try to do this during group learning is to be highly aware of the ability levels of each student and to ask them ability-appropriate questions or have them help demonstrate skills which I know they have or are able to figure out. For instance, when doing a shared writing activity on the dry erase board to practice a new high-frequency word, I will ask a student who is at an emergent stage of learning to either create a sentence which uses the word or to share the pen and write another high-frequency word that I know they have in their background knowledge. At other times, I help the needs of students through varying my questioning approaches. With students who are more skilled, I try to make the words for word blending more difficult than those provided in the Story Town program, and for students who are more likely to struggle, I help them to come to answers through guiding questions.

But perhaps the area in which there is the greatest individualization is in small group work. In one activity, I had students write about what they could do to help the environment. This was a motivating activity because this was the topic of our week-long unit celebrating Earth Day, Arbor Day, and learning about recycling, reusing, and reducing. For students in the lowest ability group, I provided a written example of how to start their sentence with “I can recycle…” I then worked with the students to retrieve their knowledge about recyclable materials including paper, plastic, cardboard, and glass. As we said each item, I wrote a list under our sentence starter. The students then wrote their own sentence using one of the words to complete the statement “I can recycle”. For students who completed this work quickly, they were invited to write more sentences using our word list, and then all students illustrated their writing. The middle ability group did a similar opening activity and were once again provided with the sentence start prompt and list of words, but these students were asked to create sentences using at least two things they could recycle by using the high-frequency word “and.” Students in this group also had the option to write their own sentence about what they could do to help the earth. In the highest ability group, students were not given a list of words or a sentence prompt. They were provided with the word “recycle” but asked to create their own sentences based on their knowledge of what they can do to help the environment. Like the other two groups, these students also created pictures to illustrate their writing. The images below show some of the student work from each group level.
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Use a Variety of Effective Instructional Strategies Appropriate for the Content Area:
Language arts is a subject area in which the breadth of effective instructional strategies is so far-reaching that it is difficult to cover them all in a short synopsis. However, some of the most common instructional strategies found in my language arts lessons include shared pen activities, interactive read-alouds, word building, written responses, and guided reading groups.

I use shared pen activities during the Story Town program when it calls for the kindergarten students to learn new letters and/or new high-frequency words. I ask students to help me to recall and write words that begin with the new letter or to help create and then compose sentences that demonstrate the use of a new high-frequecy word. For example, we were working on the letters Jj and Vv in one week, and worked together to recall and write: vest, vet, van, jet, job, jam, and jump. Students were also learning the words “they” and “are” for which we made the sentences, “They are coming to my house,” and “Are you going to the party?” The students each came to the board to help write either letters, words, or phrases depending on their ability levels.

Interactive read-alouds are also very effective in my classroom. I do not limit this teaching strategy to only language arts as I have examples of trade books I have used in lessons for all four subject areas, but language arts is where I focus most on aspects of writing and concepts about literature. For instance, I have worked with my students to understand the concept or reality versus fantasy in books during questioning in interactive read-alouds. We have also done things like make predictions about events in a story, try to construct solutions that could be possible endings, and discuss how an author uses images and fonts to help give the reader more information.

Word building is a part of the Story Town program, but it is also a technique that I feel is useful for students. The students find these activities especially motivating because they enjoy using the manipulatives such as letter cards and word boards while they change a word such as “hot” into “pot” into “pan” and then into “can.” For students who are more skilled, they are especially excited to do these activities with their own individual dry erase boards and markers. By switching letters like this, students gain a better understanding of how words are made and how the letters which compose them sound.

Having the students write is a very important part of language arts. If they do not practice their writing, the ideas and concepts they are learning about will not be as deeply learned and understood as they could be. My co-operating teacher and I have discussed that it is important that students pay attention to technical parts of writing such as using lowercase letters, spaces between words, and ending punctuations, but we have also felt that it is important that students try to become creative in their ideas for writing. The writing activity picutred below was done right before Spring Break when we were learning about the spring season and doing many bunny-themed activities. There are variations in student ability, but all of the students practiced writing.


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Guided reading is a critical instructional strategy for any language arts program. During guided reading, I individualize instruction and use readers that are appropriate to the ability levels of my students. Generally, I start a guided reading session with a book the students have already read with me. I listen to each student read a section of the book to assess how he or she is doing with his or her reading. Then I introduce a new book and work through the text with the students. This guided reading lesson was one which I taught during my practicum experience. Within this document you will find the lesson I used as well as a reflection I wrote about the experience.

Promote Critical Thinking Skills:
One language arts lesson in which I feel that critical thinking was an important part of the student work was one I wrote for a third grade class during my practicum placement. In this lesson I created a Read, Write, Think-Aloud based on the book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. During this lesson, students listened to the book, and then were asked to create their own fractured fairy tales from the perspective of the villain in one of three other common fairy tales. To create their own fractured tale, each student had to critically think about the other character’s perspective and what their thoughts might have been about the situation.


Social Studies
Teaching Based on Lesson Plans:
During my student teaching placement, my cooperating teacher had me focus the shared science/social studies time of the day on the science aspect almost entirely, so I did not teach a great deal of social studies during that time. However, in the fall of 2008, I was able to teach a lesson which focused on the 2008 presidential election. During this lesson, students listened to a story called Otto Runs for President and learned about vocabulary terms such as “election,” “voting,” “president,” and “ballot.” This book was very motivating for learning the terminology because the book gave very child-friendly and age-appropriate examples of the terms. I then told the students that we would hold an election of our own for a new school mascot. Although they knew that the election was just for fun and would not change the mascot, the students got enthusiastically involved in cheering for their chosen candidate. I feel that the election process went well with the students and the experience helped them to gain a fuller understanding of the voting process. Pictured belong is the before and after of our election process.
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Use a Variety of Effective Instructional Strategies Appropriate for the Content Area:
As I mentioned earlier, I did not have the opportunity to teach much social studies during my student teaching semester. However, I feel that there are many different approaches that can be used in social studies that can effectively meet the needs of students. As an example of this, I offer this culture kit. (Please be aware that this file is very large and may take a long time to load.) During the fall semester of 2008, I worked collaboratively with two of my class cohorts on creating a culture kit composed of four complete lessons, four artifact activities, and a background of information to build the background knowledge of a teacher using the kit about the ignored country of Sri Lanka. In one of these lessons, we had students work with maps of Sri Lanka to learn skills while also gaining knowledge about the country. In another lesson, students were given the opportunity to create an artwork to display their learning and understanding. In another lesson, students were able to examine a literary work written in both the Sri Lankan alphabet as well as a translation into English.


Promote Critical Thinking Skills:
I feel that many of the lessons within my culture kit promoted critical thinking in students, but one lesson in which I feel critical thinking was especially demonstrated was in the second lesson of the kit. In this lesson, students were considering the difference between a “want” and a “need.” However, this objective had to be met through the topic of the ignored country of Sri Lanka, so I chose to use Sanni masks that traditionally portray images of illness afflicting an individual. In the lesson, I described how to help students understand that while many masks we have may be a “want,” many Sri Lankans felt a “need” for these masks since being healthy is something all people need. To understand the conceptual difference between these two terms is certainly an act of critical thinking for a kindergartener through a combination of their previous experiences and their development. To help the students think in an analytical and critical way, I created a series of questions to help the students think in progressively deeper levels of thought. Some of these levels and their questions included: Objective: What do these masks look like? Do these masks look like masks you have ever seen? Reflective: How do these makes make you feel? What stands out the most to you about these masks? Interpretive: Why do these masks not look like normal people? Why would people in Sri Lanka have wanted to use these masks? Decisional: How do you think these masks were used? How might these masks have helped people feel healthy again?
Students are then invited to think of an illness that they would need to recover from and asked to create their own Sanni masks. The masks below show a few of Sri Lanka's many Sanni masks and an example Sanni mask I designed for this lesson using a paper plate.
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Mathematics
Teaching Based on Lesson Plans:
The planning which I did for my mathematics lessons was a mix of creating my own unique lessons and adapting textbook lessons from the district mathematics program entitled Math Expressions. Creating my own lessons were exciting and very rewarding for me. In this lesson, I created an activity in which students got to extend and solidify their understanding of a balance scale as a tool and how it works by working with a partner to find the weight of different objects using counting bears as the weight measurement.
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Each group was given the same set of objects and a response sheet in which to draw the object they weighed and write the number of counting bears its weight equaled. Students were then invited to share their results with their classmates and compare their result for which many were very similar, as this photograph photograph shows.

I have also created lessons that follow along with the instruction required by the mathematics program. This lesson is one in which students were learning about pairs of numbers that equal ten when adding together. To do this, I provided each student with their own set of manipulatives consisting of ten small rectangles on which one side was plain and the other had a dot. We pretended that each rectangle was a bug and if the dot on the bug was showing the bug was awake. If the dot did not show, the bug was asleep. As a group, we worked together waking and putting to sleep different numbers of bugs to discover the different pairs of numbers that equal ten when added together. I feel that I took this textbook lesson and really made it into something that was fun and interactive for the students.

Provide for Individual Differences in the Classroom:
Mathematics is a subject area in which students can different drastically in their understanding and their ways of understanding. As an introductory lesson to the balance scale lesson described above, I created this lesson about using balance scales to compare the weights of two different objects and to develop my students’ understanding of the relative terms “light” and “heavy.” In this lesson, I tried to address many individual forms of learning in the classroom. I began the lesson by doing an interactive read-aloud using an informational piece of literature about weight. This helped verbal learners by hearing concepts about weight and using a scale. Then I moved into having students examine pairs of objects to predict which one they felt was lighter and which was heavier. To display their predictions, I taught my students how to use their bodies like a balance scale, making the lighter side go up into the air and the heavier sink down to the floor. We even discussed what the balance scale would be like if it had nothing on it or if it was holding objects that had the same weight. Using their bodies in this way was especially useful for kinesthetic learners who can reference back to this experience to help them understand and make predictions. Additionally, I also had students have authentic experiences using the balance scales to compare the weights of the object pairs. This lesson was extremely motivating for students and actively engaged them in their learning because I made the activity into a competition. Each pair of students first found the heavier object in their object pair. Once those winners were found, the students had their objects compete against another group’s winning object. To keep track of all the winners and find the final heaviest object, I created the bracket pictured below. Students were excited to cheer for the different winners of each competition and to finally crown a winning object.
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Use a Variety of Effective Instructional Strategies Appropriate for the Content Area:
I think that hands-on activities are one of the best ways for young children to learn about mathematics, but there are many different strategies that can be effectively used to teach math concepts. While I was teaching an eight-day unit on pennies, nickels, and dimes, I used a variety of approaches to instruction. As described in this lesson, I initially introduced each of these coins to the students by having them examine each coin with a magnifying glass and then creating a Venn diagrams to compare the similarities and differences among the coins.

Literature is also a useful teaching tool even in mathematics. I created this lesson in which I used a story to help students develop further understanding of the value of pennies, nickels, and dimes. This book, entitled Jenny Found a Penny by Trudy Harris, was exciting and entertaining to students and helped to motivate them to create their own piggie bank art projects as pictured below.


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Worksheets are also a part of many teachers’ strategies, but I feel that these worksheets should be as interesting and motivating for students as possible. That is why I created worksheets using the characters of the cartoon show Spongebob. Each character I featured was labeled with a price tag and students had to circle the coins they would need to spend to buy the character. I also differentiated these worksheets by creating different versions of price tags making the work more difficult for students who were already grasping the more basic concepts. This worksheet was one of the two created for the lower group who was working toward meeting the SOL objective, and this worksheet was one of the two created for students who had met and were working beyond the SOL objective. This photograph shows some of the student responses to these worksheets.

I also believe that games are very effective for motivating students. I have created game for other subject areas, such as language arts, but Money BINGO was a particularly huge favorite among my students. In this game, each child was given a game card that featured nine squares containing different money amounts. I then held up over-sized flahscards featuring enlarged images of penny, nickel, and dime combinations equaling ten or fewer cents. The students needed to add up the total amount of money on each card and then look for that amount on their game card. Students especially loved this game because we had many different versions of the winning patterns, and they each got a sticker for completing their game cards accurately.

Promote Critical Thinking Skills:
Critical thinking skills are vital in mathematics. One area in which I tried to especially challenge my students was through problem solving activities. During my practicum placement, I administered three different kinds of problem solving activities to groups of my kindergarten students. One problem solving activity required the students to plan and problem solve before coloring in an abstract image. They were required to use three colors, but none of the shapes that were sharing a side could be the same color. Another problem solving activity challenged students to understand using two concepts at once. They needed to look for a number that was greater than a given number but also less than a different given number. The third problem solving activity required students to look at an image made entirely of shapes and count up how many shapes of a particular color were contained in the image. This made the students look for both the large and small components of the image and challenged their thinking. I also critically analyzed the responses of my students and created this document in which I examine examples of their work and consider their thought processes during the activities.