February 8, 2016
Every month in our UCCI newsletter, we feature one of the extraordinary educators we have worked with at the UCCI Institutes and in the UCCI Teacher Exchange. We started this feature so that we could have a way of publicly showcasing how creative, innovative, and smart California teachers are. We archive every issue of the Teacher Spotlight here, on the UCCI website, at our Teacher Spotlight page.
This month the spotlight is on Josh Reyman, Biology and Chemistry Teacher at ABLE Charter High School
Josh chatted with us about the importance of asking questions, and his love for water and plants...
In your own words: What do you do, and why?
The short answer to that question is that I teach Biology and Chemistry at a small charter school, where I also run a Leadership class and assist in coaching boy’s baseball. I do, or try to do, all the standard teacher things: make content accessible to my students, constantly encourage them to do their best, show them the real world applications of what we are learning in class, etc. I think there are a handful of things that I do, however, that really get to the root of why I love teaching. I work very hard to be a consistent, positive presence in my students’ lives. When my students walk through my door, they know what they are going to get every day, a person who cares about them and wants them to succeed. I was very fortunate growing up to have parents and a couple of teachers that I could always count on, and I want to make sure that my students have at least one teacher they can count on. One of my students recently affirmed for me the importance of another thing that I do. As an extra credit question on my semester final, as asked my students, “What is one thing that you learned in Biology this semester that was not covered on the test?” One student wrote, “I learned that it is OK to ask questions.” I feel, very strongly, that one of the most important things that I do is teach students not only that it is OK to ask questions, but that they should question everything. Asking questions, challenging convention, and seeking answers is the heart of the scientific method, it is what drives progress and innovation, and it is what will make my students aware of their surroundings and allow them to create something better for themselves. I love be a part of that process, and it motivates me to try to be a better teacher.
How long have you been teaching, and how did you decide to become a teacher?
I had a $100 bet with my middle school principal that I would never become a teacher. My grandfather taught for 30+ years in Sacramento, my mother taught 6th grade at a private school, and I had no desire to go into teaching. I went into college wanting to be a doctor, but I realized that not only was I squeamish around blood, I didn’t have a passion for medicine. Unsure of what my next move would be, I spent my last semester of college applying to all sorts of jobs, hoping that someone would take a chance on me, and that taking a job would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up working in implementation and project management for a medical software company, where the best part of my job was teaching doctors and nurses how to use our software for charting. In a moment of frustration with my job, I started looking into teacher credentialing programs, and I discovered the IMPACT Intern program through San Joaquin County Office of Education. It was an opportunity for me to change careers, continue to support myself, and get into a profession where I thought I would be more fulfilled, and feel like I was making more of a difference. I quit my job a few weeks later, enrolled in the IMPACT program, and the following August (one year out of my undergrad) I started teaching at ABLE Charter High School in Stockton, California. I am currently in my third year of teaching, and I could not be happier with my decision to work in public education.
Your school does not currently have any sort of CTE focus. How did you become interested in this type of curriculum?
I applied to, and attended, a UCCI Institute in the spring of 2014 at the suggestion of an educational mentor. I was in my first year of teaching, and she thought it would be a good opportunity for me to get some exposure to developing curriculum so that I would be better equipped to create rigorous units and assignments for my classes. I had heard of CTE before, but at the time I thought it was restricted to auto shop and cooking classes. At that first UCCI Institute I was completely blown away by the process we used to develop curriculum, and by how integrating CTE with core subjects was able to give a class focus and real world relevance. I left that institute energized, inspired, and wanting more.
You participated in the development of the Agriculture and Soil Chemistry and Chemistry and Environmental Engineering: Water we doing? courses. What was the learning curve for you in terms of collaborating to develop these courses?
The obvious challenge I had in developing these courses was the fact that I have no CTE background. Especially with the Agriculture and Soil Chemistry Course I felt like I was constantly taking shots in the dark when I was brainstorming key assignments for these classes. What I found, however, was that the CTE teachers had really great ideas for labs and assignments that just needed some tweaking or some context to make them work in the integrated class. As the process went on, I felt like I stopped trying to come up with as many assignments and focused more on working with the CTE experts to mold the assignments for the class.
One other area that I struggled with at first was the product focus of the key assignments in UCCI courses. I had previously heard teachers talk about giving students engaging “learning experiences.” To experience something does not require you to create anything, and although an experience might get students interested and excited about learning, they do not necessarily take anything away from an experience. In a lot of the early revisions we went through, the same question came up over and over again, “What are the students actually creating? What is the product?” In creating a product, students develop skills and are responsible for demonstrating their learning, and teachers cannot “do the learning” for their students. This product focus, in my opinion, really challenges UCCI participants to create assignments where the students have to do the learning for themselves.
Has your involvement in creating these kinds of courses shaped how you teach science in any way?
Definitely! When I started teaching I was pretty fresh out of college. My original outlook was that I was preparing students to take college level science classes, and to do this I needed to structure my classes like the college science classes I had taken. I was having trouble reconciling the lecture and lab format I was used to in college with the more hands on, group and project centered style my school was asking me to implement. I hadn’t yet realized that most of my students had no interest in taking college level science classes, and many of the ones who were interested did not yet have the skills necessary to succeed in these types of classes. My involvement with UCCI has shown me that it is possible to create assignments, units, and classes that engage students, and allow them to gain the skills and knowledge that they will need to succeed in college, in work and in life. Further, UCCI has empowered me to implement this type of learning in my classroom.
Do you have any favorite online resources for teaching Science?
One site I have used a lot this year is goformative.com. It is an awesome site for creating and giving formative assessments. It isn’t limited to just multiple choice or short answer questions, and it allows you to integrate media into the assessment. I especially like the fact that students do not need to create an account and remember another password to take the assessments that I create.
Another site I like is sciencedaily.com. The site contains short articles that summarize current research articles. It is a really good way to get students reading about scientific research, even if their reading skills are below grade level. I also like having students read Science Daily for warmups, and then launching into discussions on what they read.
We’d love to hear about any non-academic interests/experiences/hobbies you have, or perhaps related to academics but not necessarily to your current role.
Most of my hobbies revolve around water and plants. My dad starting teaching me to swim when I was a couple of months old, and I learned to doggy paddle around the same time I learned to crawl. I love to swim, snorkel, scuba, boogie board, and kayak. In college I became really interested in botany, native California plants, and plant identification. I love going on hikes, getting out into nature, finding plants that I am familiar with, and trying to guess what families new plants belong to. Recently, I have been spending a lot of time kayaking on the Mokelumne River, which lets me combine my love for water with my love of plants. I want to start fishing from my kayak this upcoming summer, and to explore more of the valley’s waterways.