Author: sarah

Current Philosophy on Productive Learning Environment

My current philosophy about a productive learning environment is one that establishes a space where students feel engaged in the material, have the drive to explore and think critically, feel comfortable to ask questions and have a mutual respect for each other as well as for me. It is an environment that is not static or controlled by an authority figure, but one where the notion of learning is a shared experience and driven by one’s desires to answer the “whys’ and the “hows’ and deciphering how it all fits into the grander picture. Learning should not only be about developing and growing for the benefit of oneself, but how newly gained knowledge and our decisions can benefit society (local and global level) and the sustainability of the natural world.

Strategies to do this would be:

  1. Challenging curriculum that includes applying concepts to local issues and allowing students to critically think/develop possible solutions to these problems.
  2. Develop a list of “Classroom Expectations,’ with input from the students. Lab procedures will also be discussed.
  3. Students will be responsible for completing a 5-10 minute activity at the beginning of each class period which recalls material from previous class.
  4. Get to know parents- Monthly updates (phone calls) of student’s progress.
  5. Behavioral Management will be explicitly discussed with students and upheld. Process would go as follows: 1. Student’s name stated with a look (warning), 2. I go to student’s desk and ask them refocus (2nd warning), 3. Call student to my desk and provide punishment (written assignment), 4. Behavior continues on daily basis (call home)
  6. Continuously put in energy to get to the know more about each student.
  7. Always be walking around the room- behind desk as little as possible. Include positive reinforcement (good behaviors).
  8. Classes are wrapped up with announcement of assignment.

We make the world we live in and shape our own environment.‘
Orison Swett Marden

Classroom observation

Observing the Class…

An effective way that my teacher opens her class is that she literally just jumps right into the lesson. There is no wait time, students know what is expected of them, they take their seats and work begins. During the lesson itself, I noticed that the teacher will assign an activity, tell the students what to do, and then they are off doing it. This teacher never, ever sits down (the “front” of the class is actually in the middle of the room instead of up at the front and this is where she teaches from) but instead is moving around the class at all times, clarifying things for students and checking on their work. Her attention is never diverted from them until the period ends and they all run out to their next class (even then she is engaging and talking with them as they walk out the door!). The last class I was in with her, the teacher used an announcement (an upcoming field trip) to wrap up the class. It was effective, all eyes were on her as she described was expected of the students.


The bell: During one class period Ms. Forbes had her students finish up TWO activities (which was neat because I learned a lot from both!). In order to change between them she did a little ding with her bell (not harshly, she gave just three taps), and the students quieted down and were listening. Amazing I tell ya!

The prep: During once class all thirty students, Ms. Forbes, and guest speakers went outside to look at some trees. We were outside for about 20 minutes, all of us shivering slightly, and when it was time to go back to the classroom, Ms. Forbes summed everyone’s attention and told them that they had to go back to the class in a controlled manner. Worked relatively well.

When the work is done: I was not in the classroom when the official rules and expectations were established but I did notice that when students finished work at their desks they picked up other work (from other classes as well) and worked on that until the next activity was announced. She had to remind those that decide to sit there and chat (and on Fridays she doesn’t seem to mind since it is the end of the week and the students have done well with activities) to pick up work and busy themselves.


Strategy that I like:

I never really put a lot of thought into it before (until taking this class) but I really like the structure of Ms. Forbes room. She has students working in teams of four, and she talks from the middle of the classroom. I like the fact that this grouping of students allows them to work as a group, in pairs or even individually (instead of the same old rows of desks which gets monotonous and is seemingly rather isolating) and then she just disperses throughout the room and continuously interacts with her students. I also noticed that she is always looking around and doesn’t miss a beat (which is seemingly really important with big classes). One time two students came in late and she stood there and talked with them (had to go to the office to get a late pass which was seemingly also expected because they didn’t put up a fuss), but kept looking around the room. Ms. Forbes has just got the cool exterior thing going on that I aspire to maintain as a teacher one day, and she just has the innate energy. It is all about the students, she works for them, and its evident in her classes.






This teacher is awesome. She is someone you would want to be teaching your kids. What I like about this video, that while it is short, it sends a lot of different messages. The teacher says that science is not about learning out of a text book but about students doing investigations and coming up with ideas and discoveries themselves. But as she is talking about inquiry based science lessons, you are watching how she is interacting with her students. She’s engaging, allowing them to come up with their own conclusions, and giving positive feedback.

Blog: What kind of teacher do YOU want?

This activity he does with his students is multifaceted and super creative. First, he engages his students in an activity- asking them to write on pieces of paper of what they want in a teacher- as a way to be more connected. (He actively tries it on for size, his students want a “funny” teacher…you can just see this kind of goofy math teacher trying to be funny for eighth grades!). It doesn’t stop there, he turns it into a math project where students are actively working together to make bar graphs of the data, which THEN gets posted outside the classroom for all to see (as an inspiration to other teachers). That is my kind of math teacher.

Article: Believing in Students: The Power to make a Differences

I re-read one of my responses from this weeks section paper- it had been a few days and the memory is pretty spotty- and I mentioned how I wanted to get better at communicating with in-crisis students. That is an intimidating thing for me at this point, I just wouldn’t know the best route go in telling a student that they do matter (especially when they have been through a lot of cruddy things in their lives). This article is short, sweet and to the point and I think I took a couple of things away from it.

The Future of Alaska Native Education?

I personally have only lived in Alaska for a year and a half, and the community that I will call home for the next three years is in the Southeast called, Yakutat. In regards to other small, rural communities throughout this huge State, I can’t say much about their realities since I haven’t visited them (yet), so the author has me beat with his 35 years of experience. So my view point i guided through a very narrow range of experience coupled with a minuscule amount of time spent in this
State, which doesn’t give a very holistic view about the future of Alaska Native Education. That being said, I did pick up on something that the author seemingly either forgot to mention or just didn’t quite figure into the entire equation: non-native/non-outsider people who have lived in some of these communities (at least in Yakutat) for not only their entire lives but for generations. They are just as connected to the land as the Natives, have children in the school systems, feel at home just like everyone else but do not share the same culture with the Natives. So, what about them? I guess that may be besides the point.

Yakutat, a small fishing community of about 600 people or so, is still very connected and striving to maintain its Tlingit roots. There are a multitude of examples but I’ll just stick to the education side of things. The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe (YTT) received a grant to implement Tlingit language classes into the school. The language instructors design the lessons, which must get approved by the elders, before the teachers can go in and teach. Cultural components are also addressed in these lessons and from what I have seen the kids (being kids) have already begun to pick up bits and pieces of the language. It is quite amazing actually, and the school has allowed these classes to be implemented. A summer culture camp (sleep away) has been organized in the community for years, which receives a high attendance of youth from all age levels. My friend from the community recalled this camp fondly when she was in high school; they do everything from teaching the kids how to weave baskets out of cedar bark to making drums from the hides of animals. Native and local kids a like attend this camp.

My point in addressing these examples is that I agree with the author in that I do see a resurgence in my community that strives to incorporate place-based lessons into the curriculum that address the local language and culture. The community is very proud of their culture and will maintain these roots because they have taken the initiative to educate the youth through classes as well as maintaining the presence of culture camp over the years. Now, did the school curriculum have to change in order to implement these Tlingit language lessons? Sure, but not drastically, and students are still being taught the age-old themes of mathematics, language arts and science. Did all of the non-Native teachers have to be booted from the school so that this type of integration could take place? Not in the least, in fact the school has a blend of Native, non-Native but local, and teachers from “the lower 48” that are there for one purpose: to teach and give their students the best education possible. I’m sure the incorporation of these lessons didn’t happen with a few bumps in the road (and what doesn’t?), and maybe not all of the non-Native students have a strong drive to learn the Tlingit language, but this was important for the community and the school worked with YTT to make it happen.

I agree with a comment from wmolson on Paul Berg’s article: “We need to respect the past. But at the same time, we have to educate, instruct and prepare the current younger generation for a whole different way of life that the world has never seen nor experienced before.” I do think we need to arm our students with the knowledge and skills that will allow them to get to wherever it is they want to get to in life. If they want to stay in the community and become a commercial fisherman, great…if they want to graduate from high school and become an investment banker in New York City, well that is just fine too, but the education system of Alaska should allow students to strive for whatever path is their calling. That is the job of an educator in my opinion, and it is the student’s right to have the world at their feet. I am also a strong opponent of place-based education, in fact I am going to work with the Tlingit language instructors to implement lessons that will present Tlingit legends and stories from the community that have conservation messages (which will be told by one of the language instructors or an elder) and than follow it up with short science lesson that pertains to the same message. To me: best of both worlds.


I really do not have much experience doing formal education at this point, so the thought of actually developing classroom rules and procedures had not actually crossed my mind interestingly enough. As I sat down to write the section one paper I took about half an hour (or so) to visualize what my first day would be like as a secondary biology teacher and what rules I would want to put in place for the kids. Honestly, this concept of establishing rules makes me a little uneasy because; A. I realize it is necessary to establish structure to the class especially when there are those little (lovingly said) misfits….B. Establishing the “right” rules seems like such an undertaking because I would want my class to be just on the line of what would be considered structured enough to function as that healthy classroom environment but not overly….(maybe this is where my never been a real teacher rears it’s head). So I came up with this scenario: teaching a high school science class I would tell my students that  I have four “invisible expectations (rules)” for them, invisible because I know that they should be able to follow them no problem at their age and maturity level. If over the course of the year I found that they could not follow these rules I would slowly begin to write them on the blackboard (or piece of large paper visible for all to see) so that they would actually become the established rules and procedures of the classroom (with consequences to boot if they continued to NOT follow them). They are:

1. Respect yourself

2. Respect those around you

3. Arrive to class on time

4. Do your readings and hand in your assignments on time



I’m trying to get involved with The Watershed School in Fairbanks this semester (i.e. get some of those classroom hours in!). Still waiting on a response, hopefully they will say, “yes Sarah, c’mon down!” It is a pretty unique school, that centers around place-based environmental education and more specifically on these four studies: culture, watershed, the public process and decision making. I could go on, but for now their website directed me to another website by the NEFC (Northeast Foundation for Children) where they derived the school’s philosophy of school management (say that five times fast) from the guide, Teaching Children to Care (2002). You can’t read it without actually buying but the rest of the site looks interesting so I wanted to share it with you:


I just want to start off and say, it feels good to be in Fairbanks and really good to be in this class. It was quite the journey to get here (in more ways then one). I got my undergraduate degree in Natural Resources Management at the University of Connecticut, the house I grew up in is only an hour away from campus, but most of my work experience has been in environmental education through different agencies over the years. For awhile I had it in the back of my mind that I was going to be a wildlife biologist, but it finally dawned on me over this past year how much I love working with kids and teaching them about the environment. This past February I taught a wildlife tracking lesson to grades 1-6 in Yakutat, AK, and then took my students out (in snowshoes  mind you) on a trail to look for some “wild” animal tracks that I may or may not have transplanted along the way. They weren’t going to have the wool pulled over their eyes on that one, but being outside with them while  talking about wildlife and trying to dodge flying snowballs at the same time, was too fun to call work. That lesson was a good blend of classroom instruction with a flair of scientific inquiry which was topped with some old fashion outdoor enjoyment . If I can do that for the rest of my professional life,  I think it will be a pretty good one.  Here is to a great semester!