Clinical Experience Reflection

Reflection on Clinical Experience                                                           

I had some very unique opportunities through my clinical experience.  The cooperative teacher whom I was paired with happened to be the head of the science department at her high school.  She allowed me to observe not only her sophomore level Chemistry course, but also the junior and senior level Human Anatomy and Physiology class and the freshmen level General Science class.  Over the course of the semester I got the opportunity to work closely with four different teachers and five different groups of students.  This experience was invaluable to me as I could observe different teaching styles, see what worked for different people in different classes, and continue to shape my own methods.  Though I observed all the above-mentioned classrooms, the lessons I taught were in the Chemistry and Human A&P classes.  The links below show six of the lessons that I taught over the course of the semester in these two classes.  

Lab Safety and Equipment

Each lesson had its own strengths and weaknesses.  In the first lesson, Lab Safety and Equipment, I got a real sense that the students understood the material.  By the end of the hour, each student seemed to understand the reasons behind the safety regulations and could name each piece of equipment without looking at the answers.  The activity itself, however, where the students named the equipment on their own was a bit of a failure.  The students did not understand the motivational strategy behind trying to get them to guess at names based on apparent function.  The answers that I got from the class on this section usually fluctuated between two extremes: those students who said “I don’t know what I would call that” and those students who already knew the real name and just said that.  Very few students attempted to use features or a possible function of the device to name it.  While the lesson did seem successful from the standpoint that the students got the material, in the future I may need to find a different way to present it to be more engaging.

Skeletal Race

The Skeletal Race had its ups and downs too.  I love using competition as a motivating factor (as I’ll discuss further) and really thought it would help the students get engaged in the material.  At the beginning of the work period, however, I found that some of the groups were simply guessing in an attempt to get done first.  I stopped the whole class and gave a quick “It is better to take your time and get it right than guess, get it wrong, and have to start over.”  After that the students seemed much more engaged in the material because they knew saying “I’m done” first didn’t necessarily guarantee them the win; they needed to be correct too.  

Classification of Matter

The Classification of Matter lesson went really well in my opinion.  By using the flow chart, I gave the students a clear idea of where we were at, where we had come from, and where we wear heading.  The students seemed very engaged in the material and were also on their best behavior because I left the materials for the activity (the M&Ms) out on the desk and when questioned about it I indicated that if we got through all the material we might get to use them.  They seemed to enjoy the activity but also be challenged by it, especially the homogeneous mixture.

Physical and Chemical Changes

The Physical and Chemical changes lesson went equally well in my opinion.  I enjoyed doing the demonstrations for the students.  They very much enjoyed the balloon blowing up and could make accurate predictions about what would happen.  They didn’t seem nearly as interested in the home made ice pack, but I think this may be because they had yet to learn about exothermic and endothermic reactions and didn’t know how cool it was that we performed a reaction that took in heat energy and felt cold to the touch.  During the power point activity, the students seemed engaged there was slight difficulty getting past the one or two people who wanted to answer every single question.  When I asked for other volunteers I got few, and when I called on people randomly they often shrunk back with an “I don’t know.”  I had the opportunity to teach this lesson to two classes in a row and in the second class I used note cards with all the students names on them to call on the students randomly.  Because they knew this system up front, they were much more engaged because they knew there was a good chance they would have to participate.  

Owl Pellet Lab

The owl pellet lab was interesting because there was very little teaching on my part.  I gave a brief introduction and let the students go to work.  They really seemed to appreciate the opportunity to work in a hands on, authentic environment with the subject matter they had been studying.  Each group seemed engaged in the material and I enjoyed watching and helping them decipher which bones were which and what animal was in each pellet.  Any time the student can experience real world applications of the subject matter, they are going to have a better understanding of what they are learning and I thought this lab really provided that opportunity for the kids. 

Dimensional Analysis

The final lesson I thought was going to be the most difficult.  I went in with no demonstration, no props, no hands on activity.  It was just the kids, the chalkboard, and me.  Dimensional analysis is also a tricky subject to teach to the students but I think they appreciated its value for the things they will be doing in lab.  As we worked through the examples, they seemed to gain an understanding of why we were doing things the way we were and what these methods meant for future work.  I could tell the students were getting the material because by the end of the lesson they were doing all the work for me and I was simply keeping them on the right track.  


There were multiple methods that I found effective in creating positive learning environments.  As already mentioned, I very much enjoy using competition to engage the students.  I found that once on the right track, a little competition motivates the students to have the right answers and to be proud of their accomplishments because they have something to show for their understanding, a prize or other treat.  Competition cannot be the only teaching method used, however, as often it can lead to the higher achieving students excelling and the lower achieving students gaining further motivational and self esteem problems.  Other methods that I employed and found effective included using demonstrations.  Science as a subject is unique in the fact that almost every subject we teach the kids can be modeled or shown in some form in class.  I really think the kids responded well to the physical and chemical changes lesson that incorporated some demonstrations of the things we were talking about.  By letting them see the material in action, they can be engaged that much further and see the application of the lesson to every day life.  Even more effective than demonstrating the material for the students is allowing them to get hands on experience with in.  The owl pellet lab was especially beneficial to the students because they could experience the anatomy and physiology in an authentic way.  Teaching methods that get the students up out of their seats and actually doing something are very effective.  While there is much to be learned from lecture, many students learn better by doing and hands on activities like labs are a great method to reach these students.

Lessons I Learned                                                                                     

Because I had the opportunity to work with multiple teachers, I had many chances to learn different methods of teaching and also the intangibles that made them great educators.  Within the lesson, and working with students of a different experience than my own, I learned to always have multiple ways of representing the material.  This is a direct link to my critical task that entailed different methods of portraying the same material.  In this classroom, most of the students are African American and a good majority of those come from lower SES homes.  My experience is drastically different from this so it is unlikely that my students and me will share the same thinking processes.  What I think is an adequate explanation of a topic may not suffice for my students and as such I should always be prepared to explain things in a different way or present the material in different manners that takes into account the different learning styles of a diverse classroom.  The teachers I worked with in my field placement were very good at this and stressed its importance when working with their students. 

I learned that I have to be willing to look for ways to get all the students involved.  As was apparent in a few of my lessons, the students were not always willing to be engaged in the material.  Radom calling on people does not always work, and often instills fear rather than preparation.  My cooperating teachers had worked out methods by which they engaged the class in questions.  These methods ranged from using note cards to following a pattern around the room.  The teachers stressed the importance of the students knowing that they will be asked questions and will need to be paying attention and making an effort at understanding.  Because they will need to be engaged, I need to have a specific plan to engage them.

My cooperating teachers always expressed the importance of thinking beyond the specific lesson.  How will this lesson play into future lesson? Into future tests?  What will you do for students who miss a demonstration during a lesson due to absence?  These are all things that need to be considered when planning a lesson.  To often as a pre-service teacher, I can become too focused on just that days lesson.  If I get through it and the kids appear to understand the material I have been successful.  As a teacher, my success will not be determined by individual lessons but by how all the lessons work together to ensure the students are grasping the material.  This means one lesson cannot make or break my abilities as a teacher and as such I will need to consider the interplay between lessons and what must be done if certain lessons are missed.

Innovative Teaching Strategies                                                             

The teachers at this high school used many different innovative teaching strategies to reach the students.  As I have already discussed, I was a big fan of the competitive nature of the cooperative learning strategies used in the Anatomy classroom.  By grouping the students together, the teacher let them feed off each other’s skills and input towards the common goal.  By making that goal often of a competitive nature, she ensured that all the students were motivated to succeed and didn’t just sit back, letting the more adept group members do all the work.  During these types of activities, (like the one I employed) the students were engaged and motivated to work together towards a common good and had their work rewarded by success in the competition.

Another method that all the teachers seemed to employ was the constant use of models, displays, examples, and other science props.  In the anatomy classroom there was not a day that went by that the teacher did not use an actual bone in her discussion.  The chemistry classroom saw countless examples and use of the lab section in the back.  The teachers seemed focused on taking the abstract concepts of the material and making them concrete for the students.  By having tangible objects within the lesson, the teachers give authenticity to their teaching.  They show the students that the science subjects they are learning are not abstract facts but have real world applications in their lives. 

Building on this idea, the teachers all work to make connections between the material and the every day lives of the students.  All of the science classrooms employ a strategy called bell-work whereby student come into the classroom and there is a question written on the board that they must answer immediately and will be asked about in the first few minutes of class.  A great majority of the time, these questions are things like “How do you see what we talked about yesterday in your home life” and the like.  The teachers are constantly trying to get the students to see the connections to their own lives.  This was even more apparent in the chemistry class where the students did an identification lab where the premise was a white substance was found in their locker and they had to run tests to prove what it was and write their results up for the school principal.  These are issues that the students actually have to deal with and rather than shy away from them, the teachers tackle them with science in hand. 

Lastly, a great strategy that the General Science teacher employed was the use of a driving question in the form of a unit project.  When introducing physics to the students, she explained that the students would be doing an egg-drop project.  They would be dropping an egg off the roof of the building after building a device to house it.  Their goal would be to have the egg survive the fall unbroken and hit a target.  By using a fun project like this, the teacher first engages the students in the subject matter.  This is no small project though: the students will make connections to the project as they work through the entire physics unit with acceleration, velocity, momentum, energy, air resistance, and many other things.  In organizing the unit in this way, the teacher keeps the students focused on the bigger goal as they would through the details.  They learn the details of physics without getting bogged down by them because they are constantly focusing on the practical applications.

Timeline of Content Covered                                                                  

A timeline of the progress that the class made can be seen on the following word document. Timeline This timeline traces the topics that the Chemistry class I observed and taught in progressed through.  The majority concept that the students worked with during my time with them was exploring matter.  They looked at what matter is; they looked at how to classify different types of matter; they looked at both physical and chemical properties and physical and chemical changes.  As they learned all these attributes, they were learning the language and methodology of chemistry.  Some examples of the work the students were doing are shown in these pictures.  The first set is a worksheet on classification of matter.

 Classification1Classification2 The second set is a lab that involved properties of matter and physical and chemical changes.  

Lab1Lab2Lab3Lab4Much of the learning was supplemented by lab work.  The teacher used various teaching strategies to reach students at different learning levels.  As mentioned, the material was easily backed up by lab work.  Whenever possible, the students were back in the lab working with the material in an authentic manner.  This engages students who need action, visual models, and authentic experiences to find better learning.  The teacher also used technology in the classroom when it supplemented the students learning.  She and I engaged the students with visual presentations on power point presentations.  Beyond this, the students also had a lot of exposure to scientific technology.  When discussing the properties of matter, the teacher would often encourage the students to get up and weigh an object, find the volume, look at it under a microscope in an attempt to answer their own questions.  The teacher also used a variety of teaching strategies to help the students learn better.  With the traditional classroom in front of the lab section, the room was easily used for direct instruction introductions that lead into cooperative learning laboratory sessions.  This gave the students who needed structure the chance to gain the necessary information while still allowing the other students to have the opportunity to excel in group work.  The teacher was very adept at keeping students on track and focusing classroom discussions so there was very few times that I witnessed where the syllabus needed to change from the scheduled progress.  (On multiple occasions the teacher had commented to me that she follows the same general outline from year to year and has kept to last years plan to the exact day).  The only time when progress along the path is slowed is on the occasion that lab works takes longer than expected.  When this does happen, the teacher offers students time outside of class at lunch, before and after school, and during free periods to get caught up to where they should be.  

Connections to Critical Task                                                                 

As I understand it, the goal of the critical task was to learn to represent material in different ways so that I can reach students with a variety of learning styles.  This being the case, I saw great connections between my field placement and my critical task.  When working in the school I was at, it was apparent that my students have a drastically different life experience than I do.  While these differences exist, they do not diminish my effectiveness as a teacher or their aptness as students.  I simply must work harder at times to ensure that I do not fall into the trap of assuming that just because I learn in a certain way and understand a certain explanation of the material, it does not mean these students will.  Through working through the critical task, I learned the utility of using different teaching strategies such as direct instruction, inquiry learning, and cooperative group work.  As such, during the lessons I taught I used these strategies.  During most of my lessons I began with a direct instruction section where I gave the students the information they needed to be successful in this lesson.  I would then either engage the students in discussion (inquiry) or assign them some form of group work (cooperative learning).  Within these lesson types, I also had to be diligent to engage the different learning styles of the students.  I tried to engage the hands on learners with group work that required them to do something such as labeling the skeleton models or creating mixtures and pure substances out of M&Ms.  I tried to engage the visual learners by presenting information in the form of power point presentations as well as authentic demonstrations.  In each lesson, I had to be cognizant of how I understood the material, but also how I could present my understanding differently. 

While I have been more than complimentary of my cooperating teacher, and the overall school atmosphere, one point of contention I have is with the general curricula of some of the classes.  While I agree with what the students are learning, I think that much of the material they do in lower levels (freshmen-sophomore) seems “dumbed down”, for lack of a better down.  The teachers don’t seem to be adequately challenging the students in my mind.  This is not to say all the students are getting As and are bored but I definitely see cases where the teacher spends an inordinate amount of time on sections that should be breezed through.  An example I have of this is the week and a half section the freshmen science student did on taking measurements.  In discussing these matters with my various cooperating teachers, they have said that many students come into their high school without the ability to use or read a ruler.  While this shocks me, I cannot blame them for addressing a problem caused by deficiencies in earlier schooling, but I do think they could treat the students like the high school students they are and spend an appropriate amount of time on this subject.  The students do not need a week and a half to learn to use a ruler and I frankly think it is an insult to them to assume they do.  If there are DPI standards that are being missed or addressed inadequately, it is most likely do to the inordinate amount of time spent on some subjects.  It becomes difficult to address all the standards when so much of the class is focused on basic fundamentals.  The students must be treated like they can learn at an acceptable pace.  The students may complain about extra work or an accelerated pace that leaves them uncomfortable but I believe they would prefer to be treated like they can learn rather than coddled to as if they were incapable of picking up these subjects quicker.  

Connections to ARSC 011 Labs                                                            

There were multiple teaching connections between my clinical experience and the ARSC labs that I observed.  First and foremost there is the general philosophy: that students learn better by actively engaging the material in a hands on fashion.  The ARSC classes function under the assumption that students need to have an understanding of the basic science concepts at play in the world around them.  The lab section gets students to work authentically with the material and therefore retain and understand it better.  This process is seen in my cooperating classroom as well.  The students learn by a constant mix of instruction and lab work.  Both classes recognize that science cannot be learned by passive inaction.  Science is a verb.  Science must be done, acted upon, used, and interacted with.  Both ARSC and the classes I observed recognize this fact and act accordingly.

Another teaching method that I recognized was the ability of the teachers (both cooperative and TAs) to use effective inquiry to engage the students.  In both settings, I observed the teachers asking questions to get the students questioning their own misconceptions.  By trying to work their way through these questions, the students were engaging the material in ways they may not have thought of and as such were gaining new perspective.  While the ages of the students and the specific curricula may be different (and only very slightly in some cases) science classes in general should be comparable.  The teachers must find ways to engage the students in material that may not be obviously understandable to them.  This is sometimes a tricky task, but was done very well by all my cooperating teachers and the TAs I observed.

To be a TA in a lab section of ARSC, I would first and foremost need to have a knowledge of the content.  The teachers with the best interpersonal skills and classroom management techniques can still be hugely ineffective if they don’t know what they are talking about.  At the same time, an ARSC TA still needs to be able to relate to their students.  This is a general science class for non-majors.  They cannot be treated the same way as a lab section for an advanced physics class.  An advanced physics class TA would probably disinterest and disengage these students.  They want someone who understands where they are coming from and relates the material in a way they can understand and recognize in their own lives.  This ability requires good communication skills and the ability to befriend the students while still maintaining the teacher-student respect dynamic.  Relating to the students should not result in them walking all over you.  As a TA, I would also need the ability to effectively organize the students in cooperative groups to accomplish a task as most of the lab activities require group work.  I would have to be able to work efficiently to make sure that I can disperse myself among all groups equally and still have time to focus on those groups that might be struggling.

Going along with the skills that I would need are the specific skills that I learned while involved in the ARSC 011 labs.  First and foremost, I learned to engage the students with specific questions when they have problems rather than simply giving them the answers.  The students in these labs are not used to working so indepthly with science and as such they have a lot of questions.  It is easy to simply tell them the answer and send them on their way but it is much better for their learning if I try to help them through the problem with some probing questions of my own.  I also learned to be prepared for things to not go exactly according to plan.  For example, during the magnetism lab, one of the power sources failed and we were left with one more group than we had lab stations.  Technology is a great addition to any classroom or lab, but it has limitations like this and I must be prepared for failures.  In this case, the students had seen the specific section in the introductory demonstration so they had the basic information and the TA and I helped them with specific questions about what was supposed to happen in the demonstration.  I also learned important lessons about dividing my time as a teacher.  During the heat transfer lab that I taught, I found myself working with one group for an extended period of time, helping them through some concepts they we’re having difficulty with.  While this is indeed necessary, I learned I must be more efficient so that I do not spend 20 minutes working with one group and then only have a small amount of time for the other four groups.  There is a point in the process where they must be responsible and given some time to work through the experiment on their own.  

Published on December 4, 2008 at 4:52 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: