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My first weeks teaching at a middle school

This term in my second year of graduate studies I decided to try something new. I enrolled in a program called GK-12 PFF Program, or the Graduate K-12 Preparing Future Faculty Program funded by the National Science Foundation. The program takes graduate students, and pairs them with a teacher in a K—12 classroom. Our school, Purdue University, has paired with the middle school 7th and 8th grades at Tecumseh Middle School, Lafayette, Indiana. The grad students bring their knowledge and research into the classroom, while the teacher is to teach us pedagogy. The program will last 10 weeks:  the grad students go to the school for the equivalent of one full day (7 hours), observing, helping, and eventually teaching a single lesson. I was assigned a 7th grade science classroom.

I decided to do this partly because I wanted to practice my science outreach skills, and partly because I needed an extra couple credit hours toward my master's degree in geology. It would also be a good opportunity to try to learn why kids this age may or may not like science, and whether the boys or girls are more likely to show an interest in science.

My first day was during the second week of February. I was nervous because I couldn't remember what it was like to be in 7th grade or 13 years old. On top of this, I went to a British school for most of my life and had no concept of what a U.S. public school was like. I got there with a rush of students who were on the same bus as me, slipped and slid on the ice with the rest of them, picked a few up who had fallen on the ground, and followed the line inside the school.

Every day is a whirlwind. There are five classes in a day for each teacher, one preparation hour, and a short 30 minute lunch period. On what the school calls black days, the teachers either have another 50 minute long break or they meet in their teaching teams. Often the teaching teams will meet to discuss problems they are having and how to best meet the challenges.

On red days, which alternate with black, the teacher's second hour is a study session. The kids are assigned a class to which bring work to and spend an hour. I find this interesting, useful, and quite tedious as the kids never actually want to work. They try to find every excuse they can get to leave, meander, and be unproductive. Our school could do with reinstating recess to help them expend some of that energy.

Regardless of black or red day, there is a lot of repetition because there are five classes in a day, and nearly every single one of them has the exact same content. The kids in this class are placed in rows facing this wonderful device called a SmartBoard. The SmartBoard is an interactive touch-screen whiteboard and a projector screen all in one. The teacher I am paired with uses it quite extensively as an interactive learning tool. Often she will have kids come up and write on the board, to do worksheets together.

While I had a hard time focusing on what was going on in class, time seemed to fly by. By the end of the day even got along with some of the kids. My goal for the next few weeks is to dig into the lesson planning and try to understand where the kids are losing interest in the topics at hand. In my first week, I didn't learn a whole lot about the kids, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in the surroundings and the tools they use for general teaching. To be continued . . .

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