Friday, March 24, 2017

A Trip You Can’t Top - Service Learning in Belize

After spending two college Spring Breaks at home on the couch, I decided that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and use college as an opportunity to experience new things. Last Spring, I learned about an opportunity to complete a ten-day course called “Educational Leadership in Service- Learning: Belize” through the College of Education and Human Sciences at SDSU. This Spring, I completed that course over my Spring Break with eleven other SDSU students and twelve Brookings community members. I never expected this trip to have such an impact on my life that I would shed a tear when I had to part ways with these amazing people who became like family over the course of this trip. Not only the people that I served with impacted me so greatly, but also the children, adolescents, and adults whom I met and worked with while in Belize. It has been eleven days since we have returned and I am still trying to process this life changing experience.
I had two goals for this trip. The first was to learn about educational system and culture of Belize. The second was learn to be humble, optimistic, and appreciative. On just about every day of this trip, I became closer and closer to fulfilling these goals. We started our journey in Corozal, Belize and worked with children aged 2-14 that came from households with drug addict parents (see picture below). A retired principal in Belize puts on a vacation bible school program every Sunday for these children so that they are reminded that someone cares about them. I could see on their faces that these children were so appreciative for someone to give them attention and they jumped for joy when we handed each of them a new t-shirt. It was so fulfilling to spend time with these kids but so heartbreaking to watch them walk back to their dilapidated homes at the end of the day. We have so much and they have next to nothing.

Next, we traveled to Succotz, Belize which is a smaller town near the Guatemala border. The SDSU students spent their time at the Nazarene primary school and high school, while the community members helped repair a building owned by a local church. I thought most of my time would be spent working with the high school students in their classes, but we actually worked side-by-side with them while building a fence for the school’s sheep. I found the interaction I had with the students in this setting just as fulfilling as working with them in the classroom. They taught us how to use machetes and how to efficiently dig post holes by hand and we taught them how to communicate while working with a group to accomplish a task. I did get to spend some time in the classroom both teaching students how to sew and in a math class! Actually, myself and two other students got to teach a lesson on area and perimeter to a ninth grade math class. Students in Belize are only required to attend school until they are fourteen so these students chose to go to high school and were so eager to learn!

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There are no public schools in Belize; there are only Christian schools that have a small tuition fee per semester. Students can earn scholarships based on need as well. At the beginning of each week, the high school students gather around the flag pole and have a ceremony where they pray, sing the national anthem, recite a pledge (my favorite line from this was “I am the hope of Belize”), and sing Christian songs. At the primary school, the teachers have devotions at the beginning of the week to pray. We got to observe both of these traditions. My faith is important to me so it was really cool to see that their faith is present in every aspect of their lives. These teachers were so dedicated to making sure that their students were set on the best track possible to live a good life in Belize. The principal was so passionate about introducing new skills to her students such as sewing, agriculture, cooking, and more. These students and teachers were truly inspiring!

Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, outdoor, water and natureThis blog post only scratches the surface of the things I experienced while in Belize. I could easily write ten pages about it. I didn’t even get to the food, sight-seeing, laughs, interactions with locals, bus rides, and so much more! If you are an SDSU student or a Brookings community member and have the slightest interest in participating in something like this, go on this trip next year! It exceeded my expectations and I feel more humbled, optimistic, and appreciative as a result of this trip. I will forever cherish the memories and relationships I made while serving in Belize. Some of the Belizeans that I met have even added me on Facebook so it will be neat to stay in touch!

-Stephanie Schmidt-

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Equation for Becoming Teacher of the Year

     Recently in one of my courses we had the privilege of receiving a visit from the 2017 South Dakota, Teacher of the Year, Beth Kaltsulas. To our liking, Beth just so happened to be a fellow math educator at the middle school level. While visiting our campus, Beth was able to visit and present to many different content areas of the education department, and fortunately to our math class as well. Dr. Vestal gave a brief introduction and then Beth took the floor. Coming into our class she had up to three different presentations prepared to share with us young, future educators and you could feel the energy within her as she was realizing her reality at the moment.
     As Beth began speaking and sharing her experiences and stories, I found my mind wandering (sorry Beth) to the same questions over and over again:

  • What did she do differently that set her apart to become teacher of the year? 
  • As a young educator, did she set this as a goal of hers to claim this title one day? 
  • Were there steps to follow to become the SD Teacher of the Year? 
  • Is there an equation? (She is a math teacher!)

     As she shared her stories I began constructing what this equation could possibly be. It seems as if you might:
Take your four years of education, SUBTRACT at least two years of that education that didn’t apply to teaching, ADD a dozen lessons you learn within your first year of teaching MULTIPLIED by the number of students that prove your education courses wrong, DIVIDED BY the number of students that prove your education courses right, ADD the number of additional hours you need to spend outside of the classroom MULTIPLIED by the number of students who need your help outside of the classroom, ADD every single club and organization in the school MULTIPLIED by the hours spent chaperoning and participating in each of those, SUBTRACT your so called 8:00-5:00 job, ADD the expectation to teach all the standards MULTIPLIED by the number of classes you teach and those specific standards, while still SUBTRACTING the idea of teaching to the test while ADDING the use of technology any way you can while SUBTRACTING the fact that your school board has limited resources and walahhhhh! = Teacher of the Year. 
     Well as with anything else in life, I realize the answer to most of these questions was not what our math brains want. There is no one answer, no process and procedure to follow, no problem to derive and make logical sense of, and of course, no equation. Before I continue on, I want to make it clear that I am not writing with the mindset and intention to figure out how to become Teacher of the Year one day. Beth was awarded this honor for a number of reasons, and I am sure she would say there were also a number of teachers that could have also received this award. My ideas in this blog are not to minimize this award to a simple procedure to follow, knowing that would belittle the teachers that have dedicated themselves to being great educators, and great people, but rather to highlight some of the attributes all great educators have.  
     Beth shared much of her own personal philosophy and mantras for teaching, some of which I too hope to implement as a future educator. She had philosophies on homework, use of technology, testing, quizzes, just about everything and you could tell her years of experience have equipped her well for each of these pieces. As she continued sharing I found an overarching theme within her teaching style that I felt covered all that she had mentioned: Welcome Change. 
     Beth is not a stagnant educator. Just about every story she shared included the idea of her needing to change, adapt, or alter something. She was willing to change for her school, for her administration, for the technology uprise, and for her students. Beth constantly seemed to be striving towards always being able to answer the question, “Is this the best for…?” while never inserting her name at the end of that question or fearing the work, time, and effort that these changes may require. 
     Her principal needed her to teach a special education class, in which she had no experience or training. She welcomed the change. Technology has vastly changed and enhanced since she became an educator. She welcomed the change. The idea of a flipped classroom came prominent and popular within the education world. She welcomed the change. She found many students struggling with math and felt the need to start a Math Academy. She welcomed the change. And now, after receiving Teacher of the Year, she’s being asked to speak at a number of conferences, seminars, and to all types of classes. She’s welcoming the change. 
     I recognized this trait within her from only listening to her speak for about an hour. It is clear, that to be this type of educator, we as teachers need to always be searching for what’s best. Allowing ourselves to lay down our own personal mantras and philosophies when needed. Always willing to learn from others, and implement accordingly. Always searching for new and better, while keeping what is good. Always welcoming change. Thank you, Beth for teaching us future teachers. Thank you for sharing your experiences and time in order to better the education world around you. Thank you for welcoming change at whatever cost to make things better for others, and for allowing us to learn from your example.  

By Bailey Jorgensen

Friday, March 10, 2017

Why We Need to Rethink Our Approach to K-12 Education

     My 13 year-old son has been sick this week.  He has a soccer tournament this weekend and wanted to play tonight so last night he decided he would go to school for part of the day.  This is what he said to my husband, “Playing soccer is easier than going to school.  If I can go to school, I can play soccer.”
     While I found his comment amusing, it also made me sad. I think he was saying that sitting in school all day in classes is hard for him. Knowing how active he has been since he was little, it doesn’t surprise me.  Even now when he watches TV, he is either kicking a ball or throwing a ball—never sitting still unless he doesn’t feel well.
     Last week, he asked me if my classes were the same every day.  I said that it depended on my class, but one of them was never really the same any day.  He then said that he doesn’t like school and thinks it is boring because his classes have the same structure every day.
     This is why the concept of Personalized Learning is very intriguing to me.  Personalized learning allows students some freedom in how they demonstrate their learning of specific learning targets.  I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to Chaska, Minnesota to visit a district that has personalized learning. The middle school we visited was so interesting and you could see how much the kids loved school. 
     This week I watched a webinar on the Global Math Department called Pathways to Learning, which was presented by one of our alumni, Carla Diede.  Carla teaches at Harrisburg South Middle School in Harrisburg, SD and it was so interesting to hear how she uses personalized learning in her classroom. 
     After this recent exposure to personalized learning and listening to my child, I firmly believe that it should be the future of education.  Kids are different so why should they all have to demonstrate learning the same way.  Giving kids choices empowers them to take ownership of their learning.  When listening to the panel of 6th graders in Chaska, all I could think about was how mature they were and how much they understood about themselves as learners.
     So have I embraced this idea in my own classes?  Not entirely, but I am making baby steps. In my Math 371 course, each student is presenting a technology topic that interests them to the rest of the class.  I also give them choices when creating their 3D projects, their Desmos art projects, and their teaching lesson.  I guess maybe I am better about giving students choices than I thought.  Offering options to students is going to make them better decision makers and problem solvers—ultimately those are the skills needed for the workforce.

Friday, March 3, 2017

My Interest in Pinterest

            With over 150 million active users, Pinterest is full of ideas on everything from crafting to baking, to clothing. But it’s useful for more than picking out that perfect teaching outfit. Pinterest also has a solid community of educators using it to share ideas. There are activities, worksheets, and lesson plans ready to be found and saved, or ‘pinned’.
            What I love about Pinterest is I don’t have to go on with a specific mission, I can go and just browse. If I find something I like, or that intrigues me, I can save it to a specific ‘board’ for me to look at more closely at a later time. Boards are essentially named folders, with the bonus of you can include a short description of your board. It helps me keep ideas organized and all in one place so that I can easily find them again. For me it’s better than a sticky note with a web address scrawled on it. With a picture and a short description, plus accessibility, Pinterest allows me to ‘pin’ for later without adding clutter or stress. Having different ‘boards’, say one for Geometry and one for Algebra, or one for activities and another for worksheets, can also increase the organization and the ease with which you can find the pin at a later date.
            Along with this, Pinterest really helps with collaboration. I can have multiple contributors to a board, which allows multiple people to save pins to a specific board. What I tend to do more often is if I follow a board that consistently has great content. By following a board, or a specific user, pins saved to that board will appear in my home feed. This makes it easier to find what is pinned, and also helps show me more ideas similar to the ones I've liked. This means that once I've saved a pin about a specific kind of mathematics activity in the classroom, Pinterest will show me other pins on a similar subject- sometimes I even find something better than I had originally saved! I can also message other users on Pinterest, sending each other pins or discussing a specific pin. Pinterest also allows you to share through other mediums, such as text messaging, email, and Facebook Messenger.
            The downside is, all of this can be more than a little overwhelming, especially to a first time user. There are so many ideas and features to Pinterest that it can be too confusing or cause sensory overload. I would suggest just browsing, not for anything specific, until you begin to get a feel for Pinterest. Another downside is not everything on Pinterest is free. You can filter for buyable pins, but unfortunately I have yet to figure out a way to filter for only free pins. This can be discouraging or frustrating, especially if you are not wanting to pay for anything (I’m personally really cheap and have to know something is worth the money before investing in it.)
            Pinterest might not be for everyone, but for me the benefits of Pinterest are worth wading through all the different pins to find what I am looking for (or to find ideas for the future). It has allowed me to find blogs by more experience educators, and other resources that have already been beneficial to me. For me at least, Pinterest isn’t just wishful thinking, it is a helpful tool that I will continue to use in the future as I become a mathematics educator.   

-Kristina Luczak