Author Archive for

07
Jul
09

How Did Jamie Do On the Praxis?

So I posted yesterday about my terrible praxis related anxiety.  How did I do?

Well, I arrived to the test center an hour early.  I have a habit of getting terribly lost while driving (regardless of my lovable Tom-Tom) so I left insanely early.  For the first time in my life, I managed to get to my destination perfectly on time.  Wow!  Luckily, there were stores in the complex and I spent half an hour at five below, a lovely little store with tons of cheap things.  I bought a wastebasket (with a picture of Oscar the grouch on it that says ‘I love trash!’ ahah) and a new cord for my ipod. 

I went into the testing center.  They gave me the whole privacy speech and then took me to the computer room.  They sat me down at a ratty uncomfortable chair (my home for 4 hours) and handed me some skanky looking headphones for noise blocking.  I opted not to use the headphones. 

I suppose that they assume that in the real world, everything is silent, no one goes to the bathroom more than once every 4 hours, you only have 30 seconds to answer any question someone asks you, there are no word processors, there are no internet searches, there is no spell check, all math must be done immediately in your head, all Math formulas must be memorized, there are no calculators, you do not own a dictionary, and if you answer questions wrong – that’s okay, you can just spend 180 dollars and you get a re-do.  Also, at any point, you may be asked to write a well organized and well written essay on any random topic with no background information, outside sources, or pre-writing time within a 25 minute time frame and your entire career will rely on your ability.  Is this really what Kaplan thinks of the real world or have they purposely found a way to produce a state required test which is extremely expensive and difficult in order to steal money from poor students who must buy study books and repeat tests?  That’s what I think.  My real world is nothing like theirs.

So I spent 30 minutes working on the computer learning exercises and I’m glad that I did because certain features are different on their computers than regular computers.  I would say that if you are taking the Praxis, show up half an hour early in order to do the practice exercises – doing so will save you time and effort during the test.

First, the reading section.  This section was identical in form to the Kaplan preparation book.  I was hoping that it would not be similiar because while doing the practice test in the book, I answered nearly half the questions wrong and went terribly over my time.  The real test, however, I rushed through, marking every question that I could not answer immediately.  I hid the time countdown so that I would not be distracted or more rushed than I already was.  As the end of the test, I had only used half the amount of time alotted.  That means that I had 40 minutes left to go over the questions I’d marked.  I had about 10 out of the 46ish questions marked.. so I took my time and answered those questions, thinking about every answer.  I finished the test with 30 minutes remaining.

Second, the math section.  I was surprised with the math section.  Math is my strong suit so I didn’t prepare for this section of the test.  That was a mistake.  3/4 of the problems were graphs with insane questions to go along with them that took a lot of thought, especially due to the confusing wording of the questions.  I was surprised at the amount of and difficulty of algebra questions –  but happy.  I am very good at algebra but if you are not, I would say to practice because there are there.. questions with 3 variables.  X, Y, and N all in the same problem and it wasn’t just plug these numbers in, it was solve for the answers.  Also, if you’re not good at coordinate planes and all that junk, study that too.  What I was most surprised with was the limited amount of time given to solve 3-4 step problems.  There were 2 questions that I simply guessed the answer because I didn’t even know where to begin to try to solve them.  Considering Math is my best area and I had so much difficulty solving the problems, I would say that if you are not good at Math, spend 20 dollars on the book and study a lot.

Next was the first and only break.  10 minutes to go to the bathroom and be back in my seat before time is subtracted from your test.  I was back in my seat after 5 minutes because I was terribly worried about using up my time for the writing section.  During those 5 minutes, I worried terribly about my scores.  I did not feel confident that I’d answered the questions correctly and I was wondering what my options were if I should not pass.  I decided that I would have to drop out of my current program and enroll in another program which allowed for more time.  Rutgers offers a certain degree to which students are allowed to fail the Praxis and still become certified so that was my main option.  Back to work.

The third section of the test was the writing section.  The writing section was exactly what I expected it to be and although I had some difficulty finding errors in some of the sentences, most of it came down to common sense – do you know the English language well or not?  Still, I was worried about this section because that’s what I do.  I would say that the book did help me to know what to expect with this section.  Money well spent.

Fourth – the real writing section.  A completely unexpected essay prompt revealed itself.  Although I’m confident in my ability to write, I am not confident about my ability to write an essay on such an ‘out there’ topic in 25 minutes with no word processor, dictionary, pre-writing, or research.  I would reveal the topic but I signed a ‘promise of confidentiality’ note which gives them the right to keep my money and cancel my scores if they find out that I shared information about the test.  Not happening.  I will tell you that I was not expecting anything like what it was.  I was expecting something related to the education field or who is your hero type of things.. not even close.  Completely out in left field.  Anyway, so I did my best and I guess we’ll see.

At the end, you are given the option to immediately cancel your scores (they still get to keep your money) or see your scores.  I showed them because even if I failed, I have no idea why I wouldn’t. 

I was nervous.
Tension was running high.

My fingers were shaking – earthquake.
My breath was heavy – hurricane.
My eyes blinked repeatedly – lightning.
My stomach rumbled – thunder.
My chest tightened and then.. – tsunami.

 
I put my finger on the mouse.
I clicked “show scores”
I clicked “yes, show scores”
I closed my eyes.
I took a deep breath.
I said a silent prayer.
I opened my eyes.

I saw my scores.

Comment if you’d like to know how I did.

06
Jul
09

What Day is Today?

Today is the day.  Praxis day.  I can’t explain how nervous I am.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the book but I still don’t feel prepared.  It seems as though it’s more ‘test taking skills than anything.  Sadly, I have everything but test taking skills.  I have severe test anxiety.  This anxiety is only magnified by the fact that I get one chance to take the test or I’m out of my program at school.

I’m going to go get sick and maybe I’ll feel more prepared.

Wish me luck.

02
Jul
09

What Does it Mean? Shift Happens

I wanted to share this video called Shift Happens.  This video explains how technology and how the world we live in affects every one of us as Americans, as teachers, as students.  I really think that this explains why teaching is such a difficult job.  It brings up a great point, we are preparing our students for jobs that don’t even exist with technologies that have not been invented to fix problems that we have not yet seen.  Wow, have you thought about that?  That is why we need to provide our students with  a well-rounded and all-inclusive education.  This is just another reason why teaching to the test is so bad.

Until next time

Shift happens

01
Jul
09

Do Computers and the Web Belong in the Classroom?

A question asked by many educators as our society moves toward a more technology based experiences: do computers belong in the classroom and what role should technology play in the learning experience?

When I was in grade school, all of our lessons were lecture based.  The highest form of technology was an overhead projector on which my teacher would handwrite problems so we could see more easily.  Starting in 4th grade, we would have computer class once a week where we would learn how to navigate educational games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego with a mouse; there was no keyboarding involved.  In 7th grade, we were required to take a keyboarding class before school for one month.  Those were the olden days.

Now:

  • Students have computer class in Kindergarten.
  • By 3rd grade, most students are fully capable when using a computer. 
  • Smartboards are being used rather than projectors.
  • Elementary school teachers make powerpoint presentations to show their class as they lecture. 
  • Many students now have never even seen an overhead projector.
  • Rather than worksheets, students are given webquests.
  • Teachers use classroom computers to take students on ‘virtual fieldtrips’ for a fraction of the price of going on a real fieldtrip.

The list goes on.  College life is even more amazing, technologically speaking.

  • Teachers give their cell phone numbers to students saying to text them if they need anything.
  • I am taking a completely online class – lectures are powerpoint videos with voiceover, group projects are assigned and must be completed via a ‘group message board’.  Online time is recorded and graded for class attendance (4 hours per week online time is required).  Tests are given and returned with markings by using Microsoft Word.  It is just amazing.
  • I am taking an Introduction to Writing Arts class and the professor has a twitter (I didn’t even know what Twitter was until 2 months ago), created his own website for our class, all of our readings are scanned (password protected) and able to be read and printed via the webpage (costs a lot in paper/ink but no books needed to be purchased), one of our assignments was to create this blog, we watched youtube videos and visited a blog about an orange cat for homework, and I was asked to show my facebook in class last night.
  • I register and pay for all of my classes online.
  • I have not yet spoken to my advisor or anyone in my department face-to-face or on the telephone, I have only spoken to them via my Rowan email account.

Obviously, this list goes on and on as well.  We are moving into a day and age that most things are technology based.

As a future teacher, I see the endless possiblities available to the teacher who incorporates technology into their lessons.  Children should learn to navigate a computer because it’s now a necessary skill.  My main theme across all areas of my life is this: moderation.  Don’t eat too much, don’t drink too much, don’t let your kids watch too much tv, and don’t require too much technology use with your students.  If you’d like to assign webquests, you should send a survey home asking about availability of computers and computer literacy.  If 6/20 students do not have computers in their homes then maybe a webquest is not the best idea; a paper quest is a good alternative.  I always worry about the child in my classroom who will not have the same access or ability as the other students.  

When I was 10, my family bought our first computer.  This was before many other families even thought to buy a computer.  For background information, it was one of those really big and clunky computers that only ran off of MSDos and floppy disks; it took 10 minutes just to type in the code to open one program.  Prior to buying our first computer, I don’t even know where the closest computer would have been; there weren’t any in our library and our family only had one car (and it went to work with my dad every day).  I wonder now, if computers were as used then as they are now, what would my family have done if I were assigned a webquest?  I can picture my mother’s heartbreak.    Although most families do have a family computer, there are going to be students who do not and are like I was: completely unsure of what to do. 

I do find powerpoints and smartboards and many other technologies useful because they provide a well-rounded lesson that is easier to create than writing notes on the board for students to copy.  I do suggest to be careful assigning work that uses technology outside of the classroom.  If many students don’t have access to a computer/printer/internet connection, try assigning paper based work and try to provide students with as much access to computers as you can; ask for extra time in the computer room, ask for approval to walk your class to the  town library to use computers, do whatever it takes to give your students a great education – just don’t leave anyone behind.

I’ll leave you with a video and ask the question: is this this the future for all our children? 

30
Jun
09

Using Television to Teach Children: Can You do the Alphabet Rap?

By profession, I’m a full time nanny.  I spend 50-60 hours per week with children all under the age of 4.  I am also a full time elementary education major.  It’s easy to see that I take a great interest in the development and education of young children.  I find myself discussing television usage with parents quite often.

Research has found that watching too much television can slow down a child’s cognitive development; there are surely lines that should not be crossed.  I always stress to use caution but some parents use caution enough.  I wonder, should kids watch television?

Honestly, I am a firm believer that children should watch a limited amount of television.  I’ve watched many children grow up over there years and I’ve never seen a limited amount of television negatively affect the child in the long run.  Actually, I’ve seen quite the opposite.  The children that I’ve spent my time with have watched television and still been active, intellegent, and well-rounded kids.   On the other end, I take care of a 19 month old child who has never been exposed to television due to his mother’s preference.  He has a vocabulary that consists of two regular words ‘up’ and ‘yeah’.  Children his age typically speak between 15-20 words regularly, are able to imitate words, and can sometimes speak in simple sentences like, “Daddy go.”  Although I’m not terribly worried about his development because some children just don’t develop a vocabulary as quickly or as easily as others, I do wonder if being exposed to a limited amount of television might help expand his vocabulary more quickly.

That’s another question, what is a limited amount of television and what qualifies as educational?  My answers to these questions are purely opinion.

When I am with a child full time and the child’s parents do not have preference about television, radio, and internet use (because it is my job to follow a parent’s rules and if they say no tv, no tv is what they get), I follow my own idea of what I feel works best.

0-3 months old – Children at this age are almost oblivious to the world.  If I watch T.V. it’s for my personal enjoyment and to have voices speaking when the baby is around.  As long as the child is not facing the T.V. or fixing their eyes on it, I see no harm in having it on, just to expose the child to as much human sound as possible.  I don’t put cartoons or any shows where human voices are altered to sound ‘cutesy’ because the idea is to expose children to human sound, no alien voices.  My television usage will not exceed an hour a day, mostly due to the fact that sitting still with a tiny baby is almost impossible.
3-6 months old– When a child becomes alert, I immediately stop television use and switch to radio use.  I make playlists of children’s songs and play them for 1/3 of the day.  Another 1/3 is spent listening to music with no words like Bach, Mozart, etc.  I love exposing children to music of all types and I really feel like they enjoy the music as well.  I continue music use indefinately. 
6-12 months old – This is where the time frame expands.  A child’s development is completely unique.  I follow the children and their needs during this time.  Somewhere within this time frame, usually around 8 months, I will put on educational television shows in the background while we play.  Children at this age have a very limited attention span and I’ve found that if half an hour of Sesame Street plays on the television, they will glance at the screen every now and again and quickly avert their eyes.  Their total time of watching added up is probably under a minute.  I do find that children enjoy the songs that are sung and the wide range of voices used.  I do not exceed more than 30 minutes of television use in a day.  Typically, I prefer two 15 minute sessions of Sesame Street.
12-24 months old– Another trickly age.  Children of this age are developing speech rapidly.  There are also possibly many other milestones happening: beginning potty training, bottle weaning, first playdates, first haircuts, exposure to new adult foods, learning ABC’s, learning to count, etc.  I find that exposing children of this age to 30-60 minutes of television can be extremely helpful.  Personally, I never exceed more than 45 minutes in a day and typically stay down around 30 minutes.  15 minutes of the time spent watching T.V. is dedicated to fun things like singing and dancing and the other 15 minutes is spent on something purely educational.  For a child learning the ABC’s, I like to show them 1-3 minute long videos about the ABC’s every day.  If I find a video the child responds well to, I will show that repeatedly.  For instance, Elmo’s Alphabet Rap is a fan favorite.  Find this video at the end of this post. All credit goes to Sesame Street.  Children truly look forward to this 2 minute long video because it’s fun, I look forward to it because it teaches the ABC’s.  Win-win!  Sesame Street also covers many other  important topics.  After I got a haircut,  the 22 month old that I take care of pointed to my head and said, “Jamie haircut!” because she’s been exposed to Elmo teaching all about hair (washing, cutting, brushing, etc).  I’m seeing other great improvements in her vocabulary, she has almost 100 words for sure and speaks in 5 word sentences.  I know that this is not due to television use, but I can’t help thinking that it has helped!
2-3 years old – Children at this age are like sponges that absorb almost everything they hear.  I no longer limit children of this age to only watching Sesame Street, I’ll also show movies in 30-60 minute frames.  I still do not exceed 60 minutes of television per day, but typically this time is spent continuously (60 minutes straight).  With children of this age, anything can be educational with good adult involvement.  A 3 year old I take care of learned an amazing amount of words between 2 and 3 because she watched Spongebob Squarepantswith her dad before bed.  Imagine my surprise when we were playing with her kitchen set one day and at 2.5 years old she said, “this is a spatula!”  I was amazed and said, “What do you do with it?” and she said, “Cook! on a grill!”  That information came direct from Spongebob.  She also learned many other kitchen related words.  The 22 month old I take care of has learned the names of all different kinds of sea life from watching Finding Nemo with her mother.  Ever heard a 22 month old say “clown fish live in anemone”? I have and it was one of the most exciting moments of my day.  What I’m saying is, with parental involvement, anything can be an extremely educational experience.
3-5 years old – At this time, I shorten exposure to T.V. again to about 30 minutes a day with the exception of watching a movie every so often.  Maybe once every week or so, we’ll sit together and watch half a movie or even an entire movie depending on attention span.  Typically though, our usage is shortened a great amount and is replaced with book usage.  Although one of the most important toys I expose children to from birth-infinity are books, at this age, I really work on attention span, letter recognition, word recognition, early reading, etc to help prepare them to attend school.  When we do watch T.V. I try to watch word-related shows.  Between the Lions is a great example of a word related show.

After this point, I don’t have experience to speak about television usage.  What I can say is that with limits and parental (or nanny!) involvement, I really feel that television can be a great tool to aide in early learning.  Please, share your ideas or experiences with this topic in comment form!

Until next time, I leave you with Elmo’s Alphabet Rap!  Again, all credit goes to Sesame Street!

29
Jun
09

Teaching to the Test: How Young is Too Young?

One of the hottest topics within the elementary education field is standardized testing (NJASK, etc). 

Although it seems as though many teachers are opposed to purely teaching to the test, it seems as though it’s almost impossible to teach any other way.  When I was in grade school, we were taught lessons to help us in life but might eventually help us on the standardized test.  Now, skills for the test are being taught in hopes that students will also learn a hint of something useful for their lives.  I do understand that testing is important to have in order to make sure that our country has a standard education but that education comes with a cost.

The age at which standardized testing begins is rapidly becoming younger.  This worries me because I understand the pressure caused by these tests in young children.  So much pressure is put on these young students that they are truly suffering.  A 7 year old should not have nosebleeds and anxiety attacks from school!  School is supposed to be an enjoyable, safe, and learning environment not scary! 

What happens when a child is not good at performing well on tests?  I know, for one, that I have severe test anxiety.  These students, like me, are punished or even thought of as stupid because they are unable to perform on these tests. 

Also, what happens to the subjects that are not found on the test?  Well, slowly but surely, funding and time for these activities is decreasing.  Music classes and recess are being taken away from elementary school children and those time slots are filled with English and Math.  Although academic subjects are important, a well rounded education is much more important.  Students should be given time to experiment with all different subjects and also be give time to be active during the school day.

Recently, I spent time observing in a Kindergarten classroom.  These children were given free time for 3 minutes and this only happened one time during my 8 weeks in their classroom.  Although test scores will surely rise due to taking away play time, what kind of human beings will these children become if they’re never given the opportunity to create art or play with puzzles?

When I was young, I loved to sing.  My school did have music class available to students from 5th grade through 12th grade but it was only available at 7am (before school started) one day a week.  Interest in the fine arts suffered because many students (and their parents) had more interest in sleeping in.  This meant that I had to walk a mile and a half to school at 6:30 in the morning. 

Will this taking away of extracurricular activities continue until all children learn in school is how to take a test well?  I hope not.

Also, what happens to the teacher who has students that are bright, wonderful students that just don’t test well?  Teachers have stressful jobs to begin with, the last thing they need is to waste time worrying about the 6 students in her class that just do not perform well on tests.  This creates a circle of shame where the teacher worries about the test and therefore teaches to the test, the students who do not perform well on tests stress, and then complete the circle by creating more stress for the teacher.  How can one test possibly showcase all of a student’s abilities as well as a teacher’s abilities?

How do you feel about standardized testing? 

I’ll leave with you a video about this topic that you might find intersting.

Until next time.

25
Jun
09

Do Praxis Scores Indicate Teaching Ability?

As a junior in an elementary education program, I’m currently preparing for the Praxis. Essentially, this test is the key to my future. If I do not pass it, I will not be able to be an elementary school teacher. If I do pass, I’m allowed to continue in my program and hopefully achieve my goals.
I consider myself an intelligent person but as I stare at explanations for why A is a better answer than B, I can’t help but wonder: If I fail this test, does that mean I won’t be a good teacher? Does passing this test mean that I have the ability to be a good teacher?
The simple answer to both questions is NO.

Many smart people do not have the skills necessary to be a good teacher. Teaching is more than having a surplus of ‘fun facts’ memorized; teaching is about classroom management, being emotionally strong, having care for students and going above and beyond to help them succeed, and being able to handle being underpaid and overworked. That’s just a taste of what being a teacher means, the full list goes on for ages and pages.

When asked, a friend said, “Sometimes I have potential teachers come in to my classroom and they are brilliant people who passed all their classes and all their tests with ease but when they come to do their student teaching, they don’t have what it takes to be a teacher. Being a teacher is so much more than being smart and being able to pass a test!”

I also have a friend who has spent many hours in a classroom. She is smart, fun, and emotionally has what it takes to be a teacher. After her 4th time failing the Math section of the Praxis, she has decided she won’t be able to be a teacher. Her main problem is that she is unable to memorize the formulas for algebra and geometry. Will being unable to memorize the Pythagorean formula really hinder her from being a wonderful 1st grade teacher? My answer: no!

An example of a Praxis related study video.  Credit goes to: http://www.yourteacher.com


I know many people that did not pass their Praxis on the first try. After failing and paying to take another test and a study book, they passed the test. Did their teaching ability suddenly change? Were they previously unprepared to be teachers? No! They were just unprepared for a simple test!

After finishing this blog, I will go back to my Praxis preparation book, hoping that somewhere within those pages, I will not only find the way to pass an expensive test, I will find what it really takes to become a good teacher.

Until next time.