Looking back over the semester, one of the biggest learning experiences for me has been 7th Grade Band. This fall Mark Rupelt, a new teacher from Tennessee moved to Juneau and took over middle school band and high school orchestra and choir. The move was an epic moment in Mr. Rupelt’s life; it was a bucket list dream to come to Alaska, and through the first quarter of school he began to open up about his life, the ups and downs, aspirations, and struggles. Unfortunately, Mr. Rupelt passed away suddenly in September, and this created huge disturbances in classroom climate and the learning environment. Following Mr. Rupelt’s sudden absence, a string of substitutes taught for a month, and finally Ken Gaier, a retired band teacher and longtime Juneau resident, has taken over for the semester.
The ups and downs and sudden changes have shown me firsthand how important consistency is in a classroom; each teacher and substitute that has stepped into this role has had different expectations and teaching methods, which makes it a challenge for the students to take discipline and expectations seriously. The class spiraled out of control by the end of October; even high achieving, teacher pleasing students talked, and shouted over the teacher. Students rarely brought music, often forgot instruments, left the room in a disastrous state.
When Mr. Gaier took over in November, I got to see a master teacher at work- and he did have a lot of work to do. The first huge change was regular assessment; everyday every student played a B-flat major scale individually in front of the class. On day one, half the students could not make notes come from their instrument. A week later, as I entered class, I heard students asking each other if they had practiced the scale. This week, students are asking each other how much they practiced. Assessing students made the students accountable for their work, and being consistent about assessment has motivated students to improve. Next week, the students will have their first concert! This has added goal setting; students have three simple songs to focus on for several weeks- attainable, short term, yet challenging goals that are guided by the teacher.
Consistent assessment is so important in music. Learning an instrument can help students develop self-regulating skills that can transfer to other areas of life, but assessment and feedback must be utilized frequently for positive outcomes to come to fruition. I am so glad I get to watch this class grow and watch these students step up to the challenges presented to them. It has made the classroom reading really come to life in an authentic way, as I see methods and philosophies come to life with clear effectiveness.
One lesson I will be teaching this year will cover Lewis structures, ions, and covalent bonds. The overall goal for this unit is for students to demonstrate an understanding of the properties of atoms and how they interact. The guiding question for this unit is how do the properties of an atom relate to how it will interact, and at the end of this unit students should have the skills to determine whether a bond will be ionic or covalent, and provide a basic explanation as to why. The students will demonstrate these skills on a test and on worksheets. A typical class period for this involves a lecture followed by a worksheet and student work time which gives students a chance to ask questions. This work time also allows me to determine where students are struggling based on the questions they ask and the progress they make.
It has been a full few weeks of learning’s and adventures at MEHS. I am blown away each and every day by the stories and perspectives shared by my students, fellow staff and through my surroundings here in Sitka.
It is hard for me to think of how a teacher possibly wouldn’t use a place-based educational model here at MEHS. The school is literally situated right next to the water- with a view of the town of Sitka and the harbor across the way. Looking out my classroom window I see boats passing, float-planes landing, sea lions and otters floating by…. Not only is it a picturesque setting, but situated in a culturally, historically and industry rich area brimming with cool things to explore and learn! And students are, in general, coming in from other corners of the state. So why not use where we are- as a base to expand our learning and connect it to our selves and where we are from?!
So far I have witnessed, at the school, many moments of place-based learning. Everything from a science class snorkeling up a local river to learn about salmon spawning, to students collecting water and beach samples to test for contamination, to in one of my classes, covering local news and events around campus and town. In this specific news class, we even had the opportunity to take a boat ride to watch whales migrating south! Closer to campus, one of my classes had an assignment to as accurately as possible, in a group, draw the state of Alaska. Once they had accomplished this task, they had some specific southeast additions they needed to add (like where we are- MEHS in Sitka) and then were free to create the map-art that they wanted. It was a neat project that created some very educational but different results! I see room for additional place-based learning in my Alaska Studies classes for next semester and hopefully it will become more prevalent in the remainder of this fall semester as we move into other units of the class.
What are examples of place-based and culturally responsive curriculum/instruction at your school? Be prepared to discuss in class.
The North Slope School District has implemented some really awesome cultural and place-based units through what is called “Project Umiaq.” Each quarter we have certain units to teach that coincide with the times of the year in which each event historically took place. In addition, all the units are taught at the same time throughout the district and in each respective content area class so that collaboration and discussion is possible with teachers and students all over the slope. Some of the units are taught in both Social Studies and English so that teachers have the opportunity to take the units a step further 🙂 These units have been developed by our community’s elders and culture bearers and we have had several opportunities to listen to them speak to us and teach us about the units. The resources that we are provided with really give us the opportunity to learn about the culture, community, and the history of Inupiat people. Each unit has teacher books, student workbook and books, and some have video documentaries that were filmed by culture bearers. I’m hopeful to use these units as a jumping off point and continue to incorporate as much as I can each day in class so as not to fall into the heroes and holidays trap that we talked about this summer. We also have this really cool application called Rubicon that gives us a pacing guide and lets us search our content area for units that other teachers have drawn up which have been reviewed by the district. Each year, new teachers are required to develop a unit to submit for review. I am truly blessed to be working up here this year and hopefully for years to come. The students up here are such a good group of kids and they put a smile on my face every day. I can’t wait to be able to have a good grasp on this thing called teaching so that we can learn from each other and bring everyone’s culture and community into the classroom!
Blog #1: What are examples of place-based and culturally responsive curriculum/instruction at your school?
There are a number of place-based and culturally responsive curriculum/instruction happening at my school. In my own science and social studies classroom my host teachers have been mindful to include Tlingit language and place names in the landforms and mapping units. I was invited to develop and teach a lesson on Maps from around the World, which included different world views, and approaches to mapping by indigenous peoples.
Tlingit language is in the 6th grade exploratory rotation so that all incoming sixth graders have the opportunity take Tlingit language.
There are also several math classes which focus on place-based and culturally relevant math approaches. One of the 6th grade teachers is currently teaching the Math in a Cultural Context kayak unit with their extreme class.
The Stikine house also visited Sealaska Heritage Institute this week to listen to Elders David Katzeek and Paul Marks on the meaning and importance of Aa.toow as a part of their Archeology unit.