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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Differences in Irish and American School Systems

I have really enjoyed the time I spent at Scoil Bhride in Galway, Ireland. My day seems to be particularly relaxed, making the time fly. It seems that the Irish school system is not run on pressing time-constraints and meeting state and national standards as much the American school system does. The teachers are given two breaks during the day. The morning break is a tea break, while the children get a short recess and the afternoon break is for lunch, while the children enjoy a longer recess. There are several leniencies in the curriculum. For example, the day after the Super Bowl my CT and I got into a discussion about American football vs. Gaelic football. Later that afternoon we discussed with the class the differences and similarities. It was particularly fun because I was able to show the students clips from the Super Bowl to explain American football and then the students showed clips and explained Gaelic football to me.  
Another contrast between Irish schools and American schools is “specials”, as they are called in America. This includes out of the general classroom instruction for art, music, computers, and physical education. In Ireland, or at least at Scoil Bhride, these subjects are taught by the general education teacher. I can see the use in having teacher trained specifically in the field to teach these subjects. However, my CT creatively incorporates these subjects among others into his class curriculum. One example is how the students are taught religion through music. They love singing the songs, which means they all want to learn the lyrics. The lyrics are an effective way of telling religious stories. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Lesson in Ireland

Today at Scoil Bhride in Galway, Ireland I taught a math lesson to my first class students. I really enjoyed how lenient my CT was about my lesson plan. He just gave me a general idea of where the children were in their math so far and told me I could do anything I wanted. I decided to play a number guessing game with a human number line. I made small signs with the numbers 1 through 20 on them. I had half the students holding the signs up in numerical order in the front of the class while the other half was responsible for guessing what number I was thinking of. The trick was that the students couldn't just call out any number. They had to use the terms "more than" and "less than" in order to make a guess. So a student who wanted to guess six asked, "Is it two more than four?". It worked out fairly well and the children were really into the game. However, upon reflecting it may have been better to use different terms besides "more than" and "less than". The children in Ireland are taught subtraction using the term "take away". This makes a lot of sense for children because they can picture having a certain number of objects then they can mentally take away any given number from the original set. There were several instances when a student would ask, "Is it four take away one?". Using terms that they are accustomed to may have made my lesson a little smoother. I also had to make a few adjustments as my lesson went on. At first if a child had guessed a number that was not the one I was thinking of, the student holding that number sign would sit down. However, this confused some of the students who needed to see that number in the line in order to calculate their next guesses. Consequently, I told everyone in the human number line to hold their numbers up high by their face if there number had not been guessed and down low near their stomach if the number had been guessed. This way all the numbers in the number line were present and the students could easily pick out which numbers had not been guessed. I really enjoyed teaching this lesson. It was so much different not to have a supervisor there observing me. It made me feel a little more relaxed, but I missed getting someone's feedback. My CT liked my idea for the lesson, but he was busy preparing for his next lesson so I didn't get a lot of critical feedback from him. Overall, I think it went well and I am eager to teach another lesson.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US vs UK

I stepped into the beautiful new building of WASPS primary school. It looks just like an ordinary US elementary school - everyone is diligently prepping for the day, having chats with colleagues. I am soaking it all in. One of the most striking differences I saw was the ratio of female to male teachers. In this school, there is about half male and half female teachers. They like to have a balance of both. In the US the majority of teachers, especially elementary school teachers, are female. I also noticed that the day was very chaotic. Throughout the day I was constantly confused as to where the kids were going, the people walking in and out of the classroom, and what I was supposed to be doing. Each subject felt very rushed to me. In the US, there seems to be more structure and a clear transitions from one subject and one activity to another. Also, I noticed that at WASPS, change was not handled particularly well. When kids moved slower than expected they ended up rushing and many of them did not finish their assignment in order to move on to what was next. When a student's notebook was lost, the assistant teacher spent the majority of the English time looking for the notebook rather than giving the student a piece of paper so she could focus on the lesson. The teacher's teaching style was similar to in the US. There was a warm up at the beginning of each subject and the material was presented in a visual, interactive way in order to get the students interested and keep their attention. For the most part, I felt like I was in a 5th grade class in the US, minus the accents, of course!