Progress and Challenges in Teaching Lately

I wasn’t sure at the outset, but yesterday turned out to be a great day! I think part of it was remembering to take everything in stride. Shortly after I woke up, my husband informed me that he was taking off with his dad to run a bunch of errands. Sometimes when that happens, and especially on short notice, I feel a bit abandoned and lonely. I was able to keep things in perspective at that time and realize that Steve was just awake and ready to go right off. There were a lot of things on his list of things he wanted to go do and get done and I just accepted it at that.

While he was gone, I stayed busy feeding the dogs, checking out some of the products I received recently, and writing reviews. I bought some jerky type dog treats recently; they were on sale for only $1 (score!). I’ve been using them to work with Gizmo to try to hold her attention and get her to listen and not bark when someone comes home and into the house. It has been working a bit, and certainly better than nothing. Although sometimes she still runs off and up the stairs but before she is started up the steps, I am usually able to get her to turn around.

I have also started to work with Gizmo on learning to “shake”. I am using shaping to try to teach her, which means for any approximation of the desired behavior, she gets a treat. Luckily the treats that I got are easy to break up into smaller pieces. At first she seemed really puzzled as to why I was grabbing her paw but she allowed it. Now she seems to be understanding that I want to wiggle her paw after I pick it up so she is relaxing the muscles in her leg when I pick up her paw, although she still doesn’t seem to quite understand what I am doing. I don’t think she really cares much at this point because she trusts me and I am feeding her treats every time.

I started working on getting Gizmo to “shake” because for this semester’s final project in psychology, I asked my students to address behavior change by applying one of the strategies related to conditioning. I thought that this would be slightly challenging but also easy and maybe even exciting at the same time. I asked that they develop a brief proposal simply explaining what behavior (their own, a child’s, sibling’s, pet’s, etc) that they would like to try to change and why. Then they would try to move forward with their plan and simply write a few brief journal entries about what they did and the progress that they made.

There are only 2 weeks left of class. I think that many of the students haven’t started their project yet, some haven’t chosen a topic for their proposal despite it being a required assignment with a deadline that has already past, and others are scrapping their idea and going back to the drawing board. I find that many of my students are so afraid of making mistakes or performing less than perfectly that they have a hard time getting started. This week, I tried to reassure them that it was not about perfection or whether or not the behavior actually changed but that they made the attempt each time and documented their method and results. I hope that that will be enough to help them along.

I hope that my students at least attempt the project and that I don’t have to give a zero to anyone. If not, I guess this is one more thing that I will have to do my best to “take in stride”. It is not my choice on whether or not to complete the project and I have done what I can to support and encourage all of my students, the rest is really up to them

I think my biggest fear is that some won’t do it, and then will be unhappy when they receive an appropriate grade, and then take it out on me in a course survey or online review site. I hope that that sort of thing gets easier to accept. I aim to move forward and make each semester’s course better than the previous one. I am very aware that I am still learning so much about teaching and it is difficult for me to accept that I am so far less than perfect as an instructor. Everything that seems so easy in theory and on paper with it, I am finding is much more difficult to apply. Simply capturing students’ attention and maintaining their focus can be so challenging, especially with the distraction of cell phones.

I guess I could look at it as, although things are not perfect, there has been progress.

My Latest Adventures in Teaching

I have found that teaching is challenging, more challenging than I thought it would be. Each semester, and each class is very different. My class population varies. In my first semester teaching psychology, I had mostly juniors and seniors in high school, and only 2 community college students who were about my age. Since then, I have had a wider age gap in my classes with still the majority of my students being dual-enrollment high school students, but now I also have some older students in their 40’s and 50’s.

I have been thinking a lot about how to get my students more engaged in active learning in the classroom and how to get them to open up with each other. I think that if they are excited to come to class and to learn, I will also be more excited to come to class and teach. Towards that end, I recently purchased an ebook called 101 Classroom Games: Energize Learning in Any Subject.

I chose “Post-It Scramble” for the first activity with my psychology class. Basically, I gave each student a vocab list from 2 of the chapters, and wrote a bunch of vocab words on post-its and posted them all over the whiteboard. Then I split the class into thoughtfully chosen teams. One student from each team went head-to-head choosing the matching vocab word after I read a definition from the list. At first, some of the students expressed a little anxiety about the activity and that they might get it wrong, but they very quickly really got excited about and immersed in the game.

I offered bonus points on the next quiz to the winning team. It was so successful and enjoyable that after the 1st round was complete, they wanted to play again, so I added more vocab words and we played again. Some of the students got really competitive and I had to remind them to not box each other out (LoL). It worked out really well and the teams were pretty evenly matched; one team one the first round, and the other team took the second round.

I was pleased with my ebook purchase and my activity choice. I am looking forward to using more of the activities in class. I only hope that each activity goes as well!

jelly beans

After reviewing reading logs recently, I found that many of the students were a bit confused with the concept of Classical Conditioning. To help clarify, I used a demonstration involving jelly beans and a choo-choo noise from my iPhone 6s. I appreciated the students’ engagement and surprise when they found that it worked and at the end, they salivated to the “choo-choo” by itself. I also got a little chuckle when I got to say “okay, here comes the ‘choo-choo'” (definitely an “I love my job” kind of moment for me.)


A Successful First Day Icebreaker in My Classroom


A successful start of class icebreaker

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I spent a lot of time searching for icebreakers that I felt would be of value for my class. I was hoping to find some to help make my students and myself less nervous. After a lot of searching, I decided that my initial activity would be an icebreaker with a lesson that lasts.

I gathered a cloth pouch courtesy of a holiday Crown Royal purchase (luckily there’s only branding on one side, so no one could see it), as well as 14 semi-random objects that I could fit in the bag. I chose a small ball of yarn, post-its, a pen, bottlecap magnets, a snowman ornament, an orange paracord bracelet, a tiny music box, a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, and a handful of small plastic animals. When it came time to start class, I began taking the objects out of the bag. I gained the full attention of a number of the students in the front, but some of the students in the back were still chatting away with their neighbors or were otherwise oblivious to what was going on. I returned all of the items to the bag, and asked everyone to take out a piece of paper and list as many of the items as they could remember. Some began making their list, some asked others for paper, and others had a minor meltdown.

I told them that I would be repeating this exercise, and took the items out again. Something very cool happened. I looked up to see that not only had I captured the attention of the students in the back, but now, many of the students at the tables in the back of the room were standing up, and peeking around the group in the front. I put the items away again, and asked the students to make a new list. Of course, they all got more items, and one student in the front was able to list all of the items.

One student came to the conclusion on her own as she said “Alright, I think I need to rethink my seating choice” and moved to the front. I was so impressed with this little activity! Not only did it illustrate that it is important to pay attention, and to arrive punctually and prepared, but it caught everyone’s attention and I think really hit home for them.

Starting a Snowy Spring Semester

So today is the start of the new semester for me. Winter has finally arrived in Maine it seems just in time for the start of the spring semester. For now, I will just be teaching one section of Introduction to Psychology, and later on in the semester I may have more courses start.

Last semester was a bit challenging for me with a larger class size, new textbook, and new course. With a larger class, I also encountered a wider range of student skills, abilities, and maturity. I also had a range of student satisfaction levels. Some said they really enjoyed class, looked forward to it, and learned a lot, but a few students expressed that they really didn’t enjoy the course, and didn’t feel they learned enough. In their reviews, it also sounded like they were appreciative of me as an instructor, and also some really disliked me as an instructor.

This semester, I plan to move forward and improve upon myself and my courses. I hope to gain more confidence in myself as an educator. I know that there are some things that I can improve on, and I also know that I am knowledgeable and experienced in relevant areas. I have begun to get feedback that my background is impressive even, which is really kind of strange to me. I am going to go into today knowing that I could have planned other activities, I could have done things differently, but the best thing to do is move forward with my plan, remember to breathe, and put my best foot forward.

With that being said, I am a little nervous and anxious about today, but I am also excited. I have some things planned for class, that I hope will be interesting, exciting, and well-received. I plan to do a little demonstration to allow students to get to know my classroom expectations, as well as me as a person. As an icebreaker, I also plan to do a personality test sort of activity as well so that I can get to know the students, and they can also learn a little about each other. I will go over the syllabus and other first day sort of things of course, and I think I will also show them an episode of Brain Games. I love how Brain Games takes pieces of psychology and makes them relevant, approachable, and fun for everyone.