Sunday, June 29, 2014

Turn the Tables: Praxis and The Testing Environment

I went about 2 weeks ago to take the Praxis II in Earth and Space Sciences, as one of the requirements for the NYS Master Teacher program, to which I am applying.

The testing environment was highly secured, and, although I did well, I found it extremely stressful. I really gave me new consideration for the testing environment in which our students operate and how it impacts them.

For me, this test was not really so high stakes.  I want to score well, but it is to gain admission to a program, not to retain or earn my certification, or to graduate.

When I arrived (30 min early, as instructed), I had to have my ID checked, and complete a waiver as to my honesty and test integrity.  Not only did I have to sign, but I was instructed to copy the paragraph, in cursive, not printing, and then sign.  Then I was brought back into the testing area.  I was given a key to a locker and told to empty my pockets.  Nothing can go into the testing room.  Not even kleenex (I had a cold).  I was told if I needed kleenex or something else during the test, I was to raise my hand.  You cannot bring your own pencil into the test.  Literally, nothing, enters the testing room. I had to remove my watch and jewelry and place it in the locker. Anything you have goes into a locker.  Then you are wanded with a security wand and patted down.  Then your photo is taken for identification.  You sign off that you are the person you claim to be, and then you understand you will be recorded while testing.  There are video cameras in the testing room.  You also initial the time that you enter the room.

You are given pencil and scrap paper, with instructions to write down nothing during the directions or sample questions, only to write during the test.  Then you begin. A 100 question multiple choice test apparently determines my content knowledge.

I have to admit, I am an adult, a strong test-taker, and this was not a particularly high stakes exam.  However, I was unnerved.  By the time I was sitting and ready to take the test I had to take a few minutes and calm down, take some deep breaths.

I did well, and I understand (to some extent) the need for security.  However, I also have to pause and reflect on what this means for our students.  Many of them NEED to pass these tests, are not strong readers and test takers, and do not have good coping skills under stress.  It seems to me that we owe it to them, and to ourselves as we develop a future society for students to be assessed in a way that is meaningful, and allows them to demonstrate their knowledge to the best of their ability.   Students should not be under undue pressure, but would ideally be asked to do something meaningful, that allowed them to be comfortable and use their knowledge.

Why Do I Teach Science: My Perspective

I am considering apply for the New York State Master Teacher Program.   I just took the Praxis on Friday and did well.  I am waiting for my letters of recommendation, and my complete evaluation (depends upon test scores).  I also need to write an essay.  The topic of the essay is "Why do you teach (your subject)?"

I have been tossing it around in my brain over the past couple of days.  Summer vacation just started so I have spent a lot of time with my kids, cleaning the garage, washing my car, doing all the things that I don't have enough time for during the school year. But in between that question has been bouncing around in my head.

In no more than 2 pages, double spaced....why do you teach your subject?

I have a lot to say, but am still refining and focusing my ideas.  I have to say, however, that it has really put a positive start to my summer vacation to think about the great parts of my job.  There are so many!

So far....I teach science because

  • It's fun!  What other job do you get to builds things, break things, look through a microscope and see life processes happening, and even go outside on a regular basis! 
  • It builds on students natural curiosity (yes, even high school students).  For many students, by the time they get to high school, this natural curiosity may have been partially weakened, waned, beaten out of them, or put aside for social reasons, but its still in there.  People are born scientists.  Toddlers ask questions, test things, and want to find out how the world around them works.  This passion can often be re-ignited, or is not completely gone.  Science is a way to get student's attention, and get them thinking and asking questions!
  • Students need to know how their own bodies and the world around them works!  As they go on to become adults, they need to understand how to make healthy choices, for themselves and their environment.
  • As they go on to become voters, citizens, and business people, whichever specific line of work that they enter, students need a basic level of scientific literacy.  They need to be able to intelligently understand news articles on science topics, and make informed decision.  They need to be able to read and follow a set of instructions and diagrams, as well as create their own.
Its pretty amazing to think that I'm a part of making these things happen!! 

Why do you teach science?  (Or your subject)? 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Simple But Important Vocabulary Strategies

No matter your subject area, vocabulary is critical for speaking the ‘language’ of the subject, and for building up confidence and comfort with test questions.  In other words, as we approach testing season, it is very important that students are familiar with the vocabulary.
In my classroom, I use several strategies for students to build up comfort with the vocabulary.
quizletAt the start of the unit, I give students a list of terms and definitions for the unit.  I usually make these up by using the website Once you enter the words, you can choose from a list of previously entered definitions for that term.  I try to keep the list to a manageable, not overwhelming amount.   For homework, they have a week to do to options from their vocabulary ‘menu.’  They can do three for extra credit.  This menu includes options such as drawing pictures, using in a sentence, writing definitions, writing a story, etc.
Then within class.....
To read the rest of this post, please read here on our collaborative blog, where it was first posted....
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