Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fall 2010 UTeach PBI Class 20- Thursday November 4-6: Summary of Field Experiences at Manor and Blanton/McKinney Falls

Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week (November 4-6), PBI students conducted their field experience lessons at Manor New Tech High school. PBI students taught in Algebra I, Geometry, Biology or Introduction to Engineering Design classes comprised primarily of 9th graders who have only been learning in the project-based environment since school began in August.

PBI students developed a 3-day unit that would address a central question or big idea. They had two days to instruct in the classroom, and then on Saturday they led a field trip for the students to McKinney Falls State Park and the Blanton Art Museum. PBI students received general topics from the Manor New Tech Teachers, but were free to design their own lesson and field experience for the students. Biology lessons were to focus on photosynthesis and cellular processes and use McKinney Falls as their field site, while math lessons addressed linear functions and incorporated the Blanton Art Museum. Engineering lessons centered on the Manor New Tech school garden and asked how tessellations and 3-D drawing could help to design an addition. PBI students received a great deal of feedback from MNTH teachers throughout the lesson planning process to ensure a high-quality lesson.

While the UTeach students were in the classroom and in the field, their lessons were observed by MNTH teachers, PBI professors, PBI TAs, and UTeach master teachers. Each group received at least one (but up to 3) feedback forms per class that gave them feedback on professionalism, preparation, lesson planning, interactions with students, logistics, and connection with the big picture. Students received this feedback soon after teaching in order to be able to reflect and revise before the next day. Overall, observations were positive and encouraging, but many observers noticed that the main point for improvement was connecting lesson activities back to the driving question and the big picture.

Manor New Tech teachers reported a high level of satisfaction with the lessons that were taught this semester, and noted that the PBI students were professional and eager to learn. They look forward to welcoming the spring semester students into their classes as well.

After the field experience, students were asked to reflect on three questions. Below are the questions and sample responses from PBI students to each one.

1. Reflect on the differences between what you planned to do, and what actually happened.

“We had also planned to state our objectives at the beginning of the class, but this did not happen either on day one or day two. We had the objective fairly clear in our mind but we did not make sure to transmit it to the students. We decided it would be better to introduce the objective late better than never so we presented it to the students at McKinney Falls.”

“Students were quick to plan, and discuss, and design, but once it got to actually doing things by hand, many of them slowed down and some even got stuck. I figured if students could use all this software that they’d be quick at “old school” methods but I was wrong.”

“the night before we decided to add an additional activity. I was glad that we did because if we had not, the class would have ended way early with very little left to discuss. The activity also fell into the big idea a lot more which made me very happy. Day three we planned to spend a lot more time at Old Baldy and really see if the students could discuss the big idea. All of them knew the big idea and answered our questions with ease. This sort of surprised me, but also made me proud.”

2. Reflect on your interactions with the students as you enacted your unit.

“…students drastically increased in their comfortability [sic] in talking to us and asking questions by day three. On day one it seemed slightly difficult at times to get anyone to answer a question unless you called them by name and put them on the spot, but by the field experience some of the same shy students were pointing things out and asking questions.”

“The interactions with the students was probably the best experience for me in this 3 day project. Of course there were some students that were kind of shy but most of the students were not. This made me real comfortable whenever I was around them. I was able to laugh and make jokes with the students, even the shy ones, while maintaining control of the classroom. On the field trip I felt that students were comfortable talking to me about anything but still have respect for me and answer questions whenever I asked them about photosynthesis.”

“Students were comfortable with each other, and worked well in groups. As I circulated amongst the groups I was surprised to see how most of the students stayed on track by themselves. This self discipline and responsibility was very comforting and made teaching a lesson at manor a very enjoyable experience.”

“At the CO2/BTB station the students were able to do something which held their interest a lot better than the other stations which were more demonstration based. On day two we opened up with a review of the day before. We kind of fell into the just let a few students answer. This makes me wish we would have just separated into four groups since we had four teachers. Then we could better assess their understanding. However, when we did our day two activity most of the students were really into the competition aspect. When we asked questions they didn't really want to answer at first because they were trying to win!”

3. Please reflect of at least 3 things that surprised you during any aspect of your experience (positively or negatively).

“One of the things that surprised me and was really happy when it happened was when a student picked up a huge log at McKinney falls and when asked to put it down he responded, "But it's full of carbon." We were ecstatic when these words came out of his mouth. This was a student who in day one and two had some behavior issues and was at times unresponsive to us, but when it came to getting out in the field, this student was into the lesson and ready to apply what he had learned in class.”

“…Another great thing that I saw in the classroom was the bond that students had with each other and with their teachers. If a student gave an incorrect answer or was confused by an idea, another student would try to explain it to them or work together to figure out a solution. The relationship that students had with each other resembled a family relationship. Everyone felt very comfortable speaking in front of others even if what they had to say was not right.”

“The Manor students would stop at each painting on their sheet and hold very mature and interesting conversations on both the subject matter and mathematical content of the piece. Afterwards the students sat in a group and held an in-depth discussion about the art they had seen and what they had enjoyed and why. None of the students seemed too shy or embarrassed to talk about art. Afterwards they enthusiastically wanted to see more paintings downstairs.”

Picture: Students working on a UTeach student created unit on photosynthesis at Manor New Tech (simulating how sunlight contributes to photosynthesis and the bonds in molecules).

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