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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Introducing the Spring 2011 International Student Teachers...

The International Program at BC is flourishing. We are about to embark on the Spring 2011 journey with 20 new student teachers studying in Australia, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Quito, Singapore, and Spain. Together they will create a global community on this blog. Good luck BCers!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thank you!

Hello for one last time!

Thank you for following my blog over the course of this semester. I am sorry that my posts came in spurts but I hope that you found them interesting and informative! I had a lot of fun writing and blogging and hopefully I can find a way to continue to blog as part of my full practicum experience this spring!

To anyone who will have the opportunity to student teach while studying abroad in Australia, all I have to say is that I am jealous! I had a great experience abroad and already miss Australia a lot! If anyone has any questions about student teaching abroad or about studying abroad in Melbourne in general, please feel free to email me at any time at mckennkk@bc.edu!

Thank you again and I wish you all the best wherever your own student teaching may take you! Try to get as involved as possible and don't be afraid to make mistakes-- in my experience you learn the most when things don't always go according to plan!


Kelley McKenna

15 days later... Not ready to say goodbye

Wow! I can’t believe that my 15 days of student teaching has just come to an end. I wish that I didn’t have exams and could stay for a little while longer—I was just starting to really feel like I belonged as a part of the Northcote Primary community!

My last day was also my day of official observation by my supervisor from Melbourne Uni. She was scheduled to arrive and stay from 10-11 so I would have a while to get the students settled into their reading groups and activities before she arrived. The plan was that I would be teaching my Guided Reading group when she arrived so she would be able to see me doing a small group lesson and then she would watch as I brought everyone back to the rug and wrapped up literacy before moving into a writing activity. As usual, things didn’t go 100% as I expected but then again, I can’t complain because overall, the day was FANTASTIC!

When I arrived at school, I had my lesson plans ready to go and was feeling very confident and ready to be observed. I had been working on my lesson plans for hours the night before and I had created a whole matching game for my guided reading group and I thought I had two (one for small group and one for whole group) solid lesson plans to turn over to my supervisor. As soon as I walked in Linda told me that she was going to change my large group part of my lesson because they students had already done the activity she told me to prepare for. 15 days ago, if I had heard this, I would have freaked out and started to panic. Today, it really didn’t phase me—I asked Linda what she wanted me to do instead and then spent the 15 minutes before school started typing up a lesson plan to hand over to my supervisor. It was a great feeling to have the confidence in myself to be able to turn out a complete lesson plan in such a short amount of time =D

My supervisor also used to be the principal of Northcote Primary School and she hadn’t been back to visit in a while, nor had she seen the new classroom we were in! When she arrived, I was already working with my small group and she chatted with my CT for a few minutes and then sat down at a desk a little ways away from us to observe. I thought that she was going to come and join our group and to be honest, it was much less of a distraction to my students having her keep her distance. My group was very antsy so after having to tell different students to pay attention I stopped the group and told them that I was being observed by my own teacher and that I would really appreciate it if they would show my teacher that they were very well-behaved students. After that they were absolutely golden and they had a lot of fun playing the game I created! Fortunately, I knew that we wouldn’t make it through the whole book and had pre-planned that this was going to be a two-part small group guided reading lesson.

Before my supervisor came, my CT told me that the number one thing that she would be looking for would be my ability to stick to my schedule. This was at the front of my mind throughout the lesson, so I made sure to get the students back to the rug with plenty of time to discuss what each group did before moving on to writing. As usual, each guided reading group shared what they did with the other groups and we transitioned into our writing activity right on time!

The writing activity was a continuation of something they had already started (because my original activity had already been completed) but my supervisor called me out of the room to talk almost as soon as I got the students on their way with the activity. The two of us went into the teacher’s office to go over the forms she had to fill in and the report she received from my CT and to just chat about my lessons. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect so I had prepared as though I was going to a close-out meeting after a BC practicum and had all of my lesson plans and everything ready to show to my supervisor if she needed to see them. The meeting was much more relaxed than I expected but it went really well! My supervisor and my CT had very positive things to say and both told me that if I needed a reference for the future, especially if I ever came back to Australia, I should look them up!

Relieved that my formal observation was over, I was very giddy when I went back to the classroom! The students were getting ready for play recess and some of the girls had prepared a play for me—it was about Vampires (I’m wasn’t sure how to take that =P). Instead of going outside, we all gathered in the Hall area and the girls put on the play on the stage. Afterwards, the students presented me with a book they made for me—each one of them had written something and drawn a picture to go along with what they wrote! I almost started crying, it was one of the most touching presents I have ever received! I had made the class a card and had written my CT a letter, both of which I gave to them! I had put everyone’s names on the card and they had fun finding their own names and looking at what color I had drawn them.

During lunch my CT gave me some pictures of the class and of the ramps to bring home as souvenirs of the classroom! After lunch I walked around and said goodbye to the students, Dane and finally Linda. A few of the students started crying and I was given lots and lots of hugs! I had to leave early for a close-out student teacher meeting at Uni and I left Northcote with a very heavy heart!

The past 15 days have been the best practicum experience I have had thus far. I absolutely loved being at school for 15 days straight because it allowed me to really see what the students are like on a consistent basis. Going in one-day a week for 10-weeks just doesn’t give you that same sense of consistency.

My experience student teaching in Australia is definitely going to be something that stays with me for a lifetime. I have definitely been influenced by the Australian education system and I know that this experience will help shape me into the teacher I am going to become one day!



The past few days have been probably the closest to “real life” teaching as I have had yet in my practicum experience. As part of the integrated curriculum, the students have been learning about friction, force, motion, etc and so my CT wanted me to do a lesson involving ramps and what forces acted on things going down ramps. She, Kellie and I talked it over and decided that it could be fun to have the students make their own ramps and then we could discuss why some ramps worked better than others and while I introduced the activity, we could talk about the forces acting on the car while it was going down the ramp. When we were discussing this lesson, I thought I was only going to be doing it with the 1/2s but last minute it was decided that this would be an activity that all the 48 students were going to do!

Before I jump into a review of how I thought the lesson went, I think that I need to write a little bit about the preparation for the lesson because I almost learned more from that! When I was lesson planning, I found a few different lesson plans from online sources that looked like they would be great resources for this activity so I brought them in to show my CT. My CT liked them but I could tell she wasn’t overly enthusiastic about either of them so I decided to use a bit from both and create my own worksheet for the students. During prep time, I created the worksheet and then I went to print it off as the students were coming in from recess. When I got to the printer, I found out that it was out of ink so I grabbed one of the printed pages and ran to the copy machine (in a different building) to quickly copy the pages I needed for the students. When I got there, there was a sign on the copier saying that it was broken and could not be used for the day! I was absolutely freaking out in my head because part of the worksheet I had created included a space for the students to create their plans for the ramps they were going to build.

When I got back to the classroom, I told my CT what had happened and she just looked at me and said, “don’t worry about it, just do it without the worksheet”. As the class was getting settled on the rug, I got a stack of large paper and adapted my lesson plan on the fly. I learned 2 huge lessons here: prepare ahead of time and have all of your materials ready and using technology/handouts are not always necessarily the best route to go—let the students figure things out on their own!

Now, let’s get to the lesson itself! I was really excited about my introduction and the students ended up enjoying it as well! I made up an elaborate story about having a friend who was an engineer (they had just learned about engineers a few weeks before) who was trying to construct a ramp for a competition he was in (I asked who knew what a ramp was and used a few books to demonstrate). I told them that he needed to build this ramp so that when a car went down it, it would go the farthest. Together we brainstormed ways that we could make the car go farther (and in most of their minds, faster). With a little prompting from myself and the other teachers, we managed to discuss all of the concepts that they ahd been learning about and how they could tie in with our ramp building. With time quickly running out, we had the students break up in their expert groups (groups they worked in earlier in the year that was composed of at least one prep, one year 1 and one year 2 student) and in these groups they had to start brainstorming materials (things in the classroom—we gave them examples and limits) and start drawing how they wanted to build their ramp.

To be honest, I was very relieved when the lesson ended because I was so flustered by all that had happened I needed a moment to sit and collect myself. My CT and Dane both told me that they thought it went really well considering the hiccups at the beginning but that this lesson might take longer than we had planned (which they also said was ok—luckily!!). Dane told me that he was glad that the printer/copier didn’t work because this meant that the students had to organize their plan for themselves, not just fill in the blanks/spaces that I provided for them on the worksheet. After thinking about this, I believe that it is very valid—worksheets are great because it makes it really easy to make sure that the students are following all the steps but it does take away a lot of the thinking when it comes to an activity like this. By giving them the blank paper, they not only had to work out how to write so that they could fit everything they needed but they also had to figure out a way to layout their paper so everyone could understand their thinking. Giving them a large piece of paper also allowed them some freedom to write/draw bigger or smaller, depending on their preferences. So I guess, I too was happy that technology hated me!

Linda told me that we would have to think about where we want to set up all the materials for the students to use and to think about coming up with some guidelines for getting materials and making the ramps. To be honest, I didn’t think that so much thinking and planning was going to be necessary for this lesson but she was absolutely right, if we didn’t have guidelines it was going to be a zoo with 48 students trying to run around and get things. Before our next lesson, I came up with a few guidelines and organizational ideas so that things would run smoothly (or so I hoped).

The next day, we continued on with ramp building, unfortunately it was right after lunch though. The students were wired and antsy and more in the mood to play than to work. I learned that it is important to think about when you want to do certain activities because there are definitely times when students are more concentrated and productive than others… after lunch was not the best for this activity—however, we made it through!

Another minor hiccup was that Dane was not there and so I not only had to explain to a substitute what we were doing but I also had to remind the students what we did last time and get them going on what we were doing today. Linda helped a lot and once the sub got the hang of it, she was really helpful too! The game plan for today was to finish the plans, get the materials and if all that went well the students could start making their ramps.

Each group was given a large piece of cardboard to build their ramp on, along with their plan paper from the previous day. They were told that they needed to finish their plan, write down all the materials they thought they would need and then they could raise their hand to ask for permission to start gathering materials. A few groups asked if they could build more than one ramp because they had more than one idea—I had not thought of this but we decided that they could as long as they picked one as their “final” and they worked together to build all of their models.

Surprisingly, by the end of the lesson all but one group had their materials and were starting to build their ramps. It was exhausting with everyone at different stages though-- thank goodness we had 3 adults in the classroom! With so many students, it was challenging to make sure everyone was on task and that everyone was contributing. I know there were a few students who were talking or playing with materials and were not helping the rest of their groups but with all the other groups needing to be checked it was hard to get over to those students and remind them to stay on task. The check system worked very well though and it was a good way to make sure the students had done what they had been asked and had thought things through. It also gave us teachers and opportunity to ask the students questions about their design, which was a good way to see who was really helping and doing work. Overall, I was very excited and I couldn’t wait to see the final products—the students had some great ideas!!!

One more comment about the group work. I learned that it is very important to discuss with students how to work in groups and what it means to contribute. The expert groups had students with a range of abilities and maturity levels and unfortunately, I don’t think the students had enough experience working collaboratively in groups in the past to be ready for such an independent group project. A lot of time was spent going around and addressing conflict because someone didn’t think someone else was helping or someone didn’t want to try anything other than what they thought would work. Having the ability to work with others is very important and I know that in the future I want to make sure my class has a lot of opportunities to work with others, especially those with differing abilities.

Unfortunately due to exams I missed the next few days of ramp making but when I returned the students had finished all of their ramps and we spent a little bit of time reinforcing them with tape so they wouldn’t break when tested. I also had to miss the testing of the ramps but I did get a chance to get a few pictures and copies of the write-ups they did about the ramps!!

Here are the write-ups from Lucia, Ruby, Logan, and Rory, along with a few pictures!!

Sample of Nelson Benchmark Numeracy Test


As promised, here is a copy of the end-of-year numeracy test, the Nelson Benchmark, that I gave to my students and wrote about in my last post.

The test that I have copied is the one that is designed for the Year 3 (Grade 2/3) students but even some of our Year 1 students took it!! I am going to post the first page, the second page, the fifth page and the last page of the test (email me if you want the rest of it).

I am also attaching pages 1 and 2 of the guide that we were given to use while administering the test!

Enjoy =D

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Testing, Testing and more Testing!


Sorry that I have been MIA for so long-- I am back in the US and have finally had some time to sit down and organize the rest of my journals from my practicum experience! The next few posts were written during my student teaching days but they were not in blog-worthy form.... now they are! This post is from one of the very full testing days I had the chance to partake in at Northcote-- enjoy!

When my CT said that I would be spending a good portion of today administering individual End-of Year Numeracy Assessments, I didn’t think she meant ALL DAY! The other student intern, Kellie, and myself spent basically from 9am to 3:30pm testing students. Surprising, I really enjoyed the one-on-one testing situation but I am absolutely exhausted. Although administering tests is not necessarily “teaching”, it is a critical aspect of being a teacher so I personally think it was a very valuable experience. After giving a little background on the test, I thought that I would pass along a few pieces of insight I gained from my experience today.

The test that I administered is called the Nelson Benchmark and used in schools all around Australia. The students take the Numeracy Assessment at the beginning and end of the school year—these students took the Second Year and Third Year of School forms of the assessment. I will scan and post some of the test questions from both forms of the test so that you can get an idea what is expected of the students. Northcote Primary School chose to use the Nelson Benchmark because the standards match up with the VELS [Victorian Education Learning Standards].

Today and tomorrow are the days that my class is scheduled for testing. This means that other teachers and/or substitutes were/are brought in throughout the day to take over the class while Dane, Linda, Kellie and myself administered tests. Each of us would take one student at a time and work with that student for as long as the student needed.

I spent the majority of my day testing the Year 1 students [I only made it through 4 ½ students to be exact]. This experience made me realize how fortunate the school is to have the ability to give teachers the time to work one-on-one with students—I cannot imagine having to try to administer this test while also teaching and keeping the rest of my students on task. Both the other Kellie and myself learned a lot from our testing experience—here are a few of the major takeaways I had from the day!

- Read through instructions ahead of time and make sure that you have all of your materials ready so that you do not have to stop the student or leave the room during testing

- Make sure the space is big enough so that students have enough room to write and use manipulatives if necessary and as the tester you have enough room to record what you are observing

- Ensure that you have multiple choices of manipulatives [i.e. if teddy bears are going to distract one student have chips as well]

- Give students a break if they are getting really antsy [i.e. one student would read a question then her eyes would wander or she would lean back in her chair to “think” and then would forget the question—to give her a break I asked her to go wash her hands (dirty from lunch) and get a drink and then come back

- It is hard to determine how much to assist each student especially so you are consistent among testers—even though the technical prompts are given, it is hard not to want to add more, especially if you know the student knows the material but might not understand the question if it is worded a specific way

- Take a lot of notes--- I took a lot of notes [primarily because I wasn’t sure how to fill out standards form, especially in the case of a student answering one part of the question right and another wrong] and I think that this is a really good idea because just recording their answers doesn’t always give a full view of what they were doing

- Make sure that you are recording results in a way that they can be read and understood by someone else (i.e. the student’s future teachers)

- Don’t sit too close to another student/teacher doing the test—students start to talk

I know that I have already overloaded you with information but I just have a few comments to finish up with! As much work as the methods course “Teaching Mathematics” was, I am really glad that I took it—the interview that we had to do as one of our assignments really helped me to probe my students to find out more about what they were thinking and their full level of understanding. Since I had an idea of how to ask students questions that helped to reveal their thinking, I really enjoyed trying to get them to explain things they didn’t think they could explain. It also showed me how easily you can manipulate students to get them to answer a certain way or to get them to answer in a way—something to keep in mind and in check!