Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

The Pedagogy of a Rural Educator

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30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 30: Dauntless!

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

Keep teaching.

Teaching is hard. Teaching is frustrating. Teaching is scary. I mean, really scary.

Teachers are responsible for helping students become productive members of society. Teachers are responsible for preparing the next generation of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and you can’t forget, TEACHERS!

If I don’t do my job well, I am putting the future of our nation and our world at risk.

Scary, right?

However, thousands of teachers face that fear every day. They do it because they want to make a difference in the nation and in the world.

They love knowing that their students will grow to be productive members of society. They will become the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Jane Goodall.

Teaching is rewarding. Teaching is amazing. Teaching is awesome. I mean, really awesome!

Keep teaching.


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30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 29: Becoming a Better Teacher

How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

A student wrote me a thank you note the other day. It said: “Thank you for becoming a better teacher than you were when I was a freshman.”


At first, I thought it was an insult. Then, I realized that it was a compliment (or I forced myself to see it as a compliment)! This student is now a senior, and has seen me grow as a teacher. One of the greatest things about teaching in a small school is that I have the same students for 4 years. I get to see them grow, and they get to see me grow! I know that I have changed in many ways since my first year of teaching five years ago. I decided to flex my creative muscles for this post and show this change in a fun way!

Management – My classroom management has improved greatly! Although I know I still have a ways to go, I have done a much better job of maintaining an environment of learning, even in the chaos of labs!

Reflective – Doing things like this blogging challenge has made me much more reflective about my teaching strategies. I think more about how I teach and change what I do if it isn’t effective.

Strong – A tough skin is sometimes necessary in this profession. My skin has gotten tougher in the last five years. I take less things personally, and work hard to understand where criticism comes from.

Knowledgeable – Not only have I learned more about educational pedagogy, I have increased my knowledge of my subject area in the last five years. I have spent many hours reading current science articles and working to apply them to classroom subjects. I have also gone to multiple professional development conferences and workshops in order to keep up-to-date on the latest information.

Organized – I can’t stress enough how important organization is! I am not a great organizer, and its a challenge every day. However, I feel much less frantic now that I used to! (And I can see my desk most days!)

Enthusiastic – Not much has changed here. I have always been a very enthusiastic person. I was a cheerleader in high school! But one thing that has changed in what I get enthusiastic about. I still love my content, but I now get more excited about new ways of teaching it, and seeing my students’ success in my classroom.

Happy – You would think that this would be a given, but I will fully admit that there were quite a few days my first year that I was NOT happy. It was terribly stressful, frustrating, and hard to be a first year teacher. I struggled daily. I’ll even admit that I cried weekly. Its really lucky I made it through! However, with the changes I’ve made through the years, I’ve lowered my stress (and added classes. . . how does that work?), relieved frustrations, and made my life much easier!

Local – After my first two years of teaching I became a “local”. For the first two years I commuted about 40 miles to and from school each day. Now that I live 3 miles from school, I have enjoyed becoming more connected with the community.

Expectations – As a new teacher, I didn’t really know what to expect. Now, I have very clear expectations as to what I will achieve personally, professionally, and academically each year, semester, and quarter. Although I’m still very flexible when I need to be, I have a better understanding of what my expectations should be.

Realistic – Teaching six classes and coaching a sport can be VERY time-consuming. I have become more realistic about what I can and can’t do due to time-constraints. When I started, I spend every weekend at school or working at home on school stuff. Now, I can usually cut it down to one weekend a month. Although I love doing new and exciting things in class, I have realized that sometimes you have to just do your best with what you have!

Well, that was definitely challenging! Now, I look forward to how I will change in the future!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge – Day 27: Weekends & Holidays

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

A cup of coffee, the Today Show, 2 dogs and 1 cat on (or next to) my lap. I LOVE holidays! Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my birthday (funny how that worked out)! Holidays and weekends are incredibly important in teaching.

First, they give me time to relax and rejuvenate, which is super important after working an average of 55-60 hours a week! Second, I typically use weekends and holidays to plan lessons, grade papers, set-up experiments, and do a little professional development. Without this time to plan and grade, I’d never get it done. In a typical day at school I don’t have time to grade papers or plan lessons. Finally, I spend time with my hubby and friends. In my first few years of teaching, I found it very easy to spend 8 hours on a Saturday just doing school stuff. I soon found out that I need to set aside time for myself, family, and friends. Without that time, its easy to get sucked into a world that only includes work.

So, here is my advice for new teachers: make time for yourself. You’ll be happier which will make you a better teacher in the long-run!!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 25 – Student Collaboration

The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?  

Not this!! I love having students collaborate on assignments, projects, and other classroom activities. I have had many questions like, “can we work together on this?”. My answer is always yes (unless its an assessment, then its sometimes yes)! However, its sometimes a challenge to define “work together”. There are three things I say equal good collaboration:

1. All students are involved. No-one is a by-stander, just allowing the others to complete the work and copying answers.

2. All ideas are valuable. Everyone in the group has the opportunity to share their ideas and have them heard.

3. Communication is essential and multi-faceted. There is not just one way that students communicate, so we should not limit them to just one.

Although these seem to be three things that should always be present in a classroom, everyone that has ever done a group project in a class knows that they are not always true!

As a teacher, we have to teach our students how to do this. It isn’t natural for them, and many have been conditioned to play their role and never strive to change that. It has to be a conscious effort to work to change the pre-set ideas of students about group work and collaboration.


30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 23 – Community

Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I definitely don’t do this enough! I have heard of so many educators using community members as experts in the classroom, and I need to do it more. For my first two years, I didn’t live in the community I taught in. This was a big challenge because I didn’t know anyone other than fellow teachers and a few parents of students. Now that I have lived in the community for 3 years, I know more people and need to use them!

One thing I would like to do is invite professionals that use different sciences on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for professions in my small, rural town that use science:

  • Medical personnel – This is obviously the first thing to come to mind. Doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals use biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and even some physics every day!
  • Farmers – These guys are using science all day, every day! They use biology, ecology, chemistry (mixing chemicals, pH of soil, etc.), and lots of technology.
  • Conservation Officer – We have the county conservation office in town. The conservation officer utilizes ecology, biology, meteorology, and chemistry.
  • Park Ranger/Game, Fish, and Parks Officer – The amount of ecology these men and women study and apply is phenomenal.
  • Engineer – Although we are a small town, there are a few industrial businesses located here. I’m not sure of it, but I’m guessing there is at least one engineer employed in our town of 1100! Engineers use a lot of physics, some chemistry, and obviously engineering skills!
  • Firefighter – The fire department here is fully volunteer, and they use science in their line of work. They must know about water pressure (physics), the best way to fight fires (related to chemistry), and things like CPR & first aid (biology)!

I think I could go on forever with ideas of people to invite to the classroom. I’m going to make a goal of inviting at least one person to speak in my room by the end of the year!


30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 13 – EdTech

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

  1. Vernier LabQuest & Probes – These have been one of my favorite tools throughout my career. I was introduced to them while in college, and have used them from day 1 in my classroom. I think the thing I love most about the Vernier equipment is that they help students put observations and qualitative data into quantitative data. They also help students utilize graphic analysis.
  2. PhET – Specifically for science teachers, these online simulations allow students to personally experience different phenomenon including chemical bonding, physics of motion, and even evolution by natural selection.
  3. Internet Videos – What student doesn’t want to watch movies in class? I have found a number of wonderful resources online that can be used as introduction, review, or even in a flipped setting. Here are my favorites:

Crash Course – These videos by brother John and Hank Green cover content from chemistry and biology to history and literature. They are entertaining as well as very thorough!

ASAPScience – While these videos are not quite as specific to content as the crash course videos, they ask some really interesting questions.

BrainPop – The videos on brainpop are more geared toward elementary to middle school aged students. However, they can act as a great review of material, or as a basic introduction to a new unit! A subscription is required to view all the videos, but there are some free ones.

TedEd (and Ted Talks) – Shorter videos that cover a variety of topics, the TedEd videos are animated, making them a little more appropriate for younger viewers. Older students may appreciate the Ted Talks more.

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 12 – Future

Day 12 asked: How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Wow, this is a challenging question. I am really unsure as to where I will be and what I will be doing in five years. I have goals of going to school for masters degree, which means I could still be in school, could be teaching at a high school, or maybe even doing some work or teaching some classes at a college. However, here are a few things I know I will be doing:

  • Searching for professional development. This has become one of my favorite parts of teaching – learning about teaching. I really enjoy reading the latest book on pedagogy, joining twitter chats, and attending PD events.
  • Changing my lessons. Some people call me crazy, but I hate doing the same thing all the time. So, I create a lot more work for myself by continually changing my lessons I know that my lessons aren’t perfect, so I constantly look for new ways to teach my content.
  • Making a difference for kids. This is something all teachers do, everyday. I sometimes forget why I put myself through so much work and heartache to do my job as best I can, but then I remember, its for the kids. When I started teaching, I was more focused on content. Now, I realize that no matter how much content my students remember (hopefully they remember some), they will always remember how I made them feel. I hope those are positive memories and that I make a difference in their lives.