Peer Learning and Teaching Partnerships

After about 16 days of school, I have implemented the first phase of my collaborative peer partnership project. My second grade students have learned how to be peer learners, while our fourth grade partners learned how to be peer teachers.

Through lessons, resources, and repetitive coaching, both grade levels were effective in learning a role in a successful peer learning and teaching relationship. My second graders also learned a new math skill focused on adding multiples to 10 to multiples of 100, and single digit values to multiples of 10 based on place value.

Throughout my summer internship it became evident how collaborative teamwork, communication, and effective teaching methods were essential skills to achieve goals and meet the expectations in today’s workforce. Many people I met over the summer at Carowinds were trained and developed skill sets from other employees, making the “teacher-learner” relationship an important facet in the professional world. These communication skills need to be learned early on since they extend well beyond any classroom, which is why I decided to directly focus on this idea through repetitive lessons and guided student practice.

I enjoyed watching students progress throughout the seven days of instruction and practice. I noticed the second grade students being very open to working with an older peer and highly engaged in the learning process. As the younger students became more familiar with the importance of following the four steps outlined on their “Peer Learner Resource Card”, they in turn became more effective in learning the math skill.

The older students were amazing. As new fourth graders, with some being more confident in math than others, they had the opportunity to be a leader and mentor with proper coaching. They followed the steps on the “Peer Teacher Resource Card” over and over when teaching a math skill. They could see how they were impacting the learning of another student as the days progressed. By Day 4, they started to add some of their own strategies and extensions to the math lessons based on observations of how their younger partner was doing each session. Isn’t this what good teachers do? Adapt the teaching and content to the needs of the learner? I was pleasantly surprised by the insight and maturity of the 4th graders. I was also pleased with the fact that they all seemed to be having fun!

The fourth grade students now have the ability to be peer teachers with one another in their own classroom. Learning from one another will be influential as they expand their knowledge of 4th grade math content. The second graders will continue to learn from one another in class, and will soon practice the “Peer Teacher” role with a kindergarten class.

With only a few weeks of school completed, in addition to the three school days cancelled due to Hurricane Florence, I feel as though I have empowered over 40 students to improve their collaborative skills in the classroom. I am excited to see how their partnership skills evolve and unfold as they continue to impact the learning of others while strengthening their own knowledge.

My Thoughts on Future Career Opportunities

The teacher-internship experience this summer made me realize there a many career opportunities for students. Just at Carowinds alone, there were positions for chefs, computer programming and software professionals, engineers, mechanical technicians, sales people, marketing personnel, digital media experts, event planners, entertainment managers, food and dining specialists, accountants, aquatic supervisors, artists, actors, landscapers, and much more.

I think the biggest change in my mindset about career opportunities is that a 4-year college experience is not the only path to finding a fulfilling job. Specific skills sets are needed at companies and industries that can be learned at trade schools, community colleges, and even “on-the-job”. There are so many opportunities for young people, but I’m not sure students in high school are aware of these options.

In addition, it’s difficult to know when you are a teenager what you want to pursue as a career after high school. I met several people during my internship at Carowinds who worked during the summer months and “got a feel” for a job before realizing it was the right fit. Some employees also experienced different positions at the amusement park before determining the area they wanted to focus on long-term. They learned a great deal from managers and trainers, and are now in leadership roles themselves – just a few years after graduating high school.

My takeaway: If you are unsure about a career then choose a summer job while you are still in high school related to something you are interested in, or “test-drive” a few jobs to know if one is the right fit. There are plenty of careers out there and they are not going away! Before investing in a 4-year college, take advantage of the opportunity to experience some options!

Last, I realize there will be many careers – not even created yet – available when my second graders graduate from high school 11 years from now! While it may seem hard to start preparing them for the future, it really isn’t. People will always need to collaborate, teach one another, communicate, problem solve, and use critical and divergent thinking skills. No matter what the career, these are capabilities our students will need. I plan to incorporate many opportunities for students to learn and practice these skills for real world application!


Reflecting on my Internship: Interesting Experiences, Challenges, and Takeaways

My internship at the Carowinds Amusement Park this summer has been a fantastic learning experience! I gained knowledge from highly talented and enthusiastic people who make Carowinds such a fun place for families and friends. The experience will forever change the way I view education (and amusement parks). As I approach the new 2018-19 school year as a second grade teacher, I have a new perspective on what a classroom filled with 20+ students should look and sound like – similar to an amusement park actually… plenty of action and lots of collaboration!

There were many interesting moments throughout my summer experience! First, I had never been on a roller coaster in my life! This changed when I spent the afternoon with Shawn Hopkins, the manager of mechanical maintenance. Did you know his team spends a combined 64 total hours every morning before the park opens to test and inspect the rides to ensure safety for the customers? After hearing this, I felt better about attempting my first roller coaster ride!

While visiting with Shawn, I was able to observe one of many collaborative efforts between the departments at Carowinds. Shawn met with Scott Gerbereux, the Digital Marketing Manager in charge of driving brand engagement and sales across various digital platforms for Carowinds. Scott, along with two extremely knowledgeable interns in his department, met with Shawn to discuss the best place to attach a small camera on the car of the Fury 325 to get photos for a marketing project Oh! By the way, the Fury 325 is the 5th tallest roller coaster in the world and reaches a speed of up to 95 mph!

It was suggested we ride the Fury 325, and with a little encouragement I agreed to do so…in the front car of the roller coaster’s train no less! Although my eyes were closed as soon as we reached the top peak of the first 325 feet climb, it was an unbelievable experience! The force of gravity, combined with acceleration, was so strong against my head and body I felt as though I couldn’t move! It was something I never would have done in my lifetime if I had not been a teacher-intern this summer.

Besides my roller coaster adventure, a second interesting morning was spent with Executive Chef, Kris Siuta. I envisioned amusement park food to consist mostly of hotdogs, french fries, and snow cones. Oh… how my view has changed! The delicious smells coming from the kitchen at 10:00 a.m. produced cravings of pork barbecue. Chef Siuta makes his own barbecue sauce served at several food sites at the park. It’s his own recipe (only available at Carowinds by the way). The culinary team smokes and cooks their own meats, makes lasagna and mac & cheese in-house, bakes their own pizza dough, and much more! I had no idea so much cooking went on at an amusement park! Not only does Chef Siuta train and manage the folks on the culinary team, but he also oversees 25+ on-site food and beverage establishments, a picnic pavilion that can hold thousands of guests, he’s responsible for 500 employees, and takes photographs of his own food items for signs and marketing. He broadened the menu options from 15 items to 40 one-of-a-kind menu options since he began in 2014. No wonder season meal pass sales have dramatically increased over the last 4 years!

I was amazed at all the “different hats” Chef Siuta wears and asked him how he does it all. He explained he spends quality time training and communicating with his staff. He prepares his staff to handle not only the daily job requirements, but also unforeseen situations that can arise on a regular basis. He talked about how good training and communication leads to trusting the judgment of your staff when you can only be at one place at one time.

Now that my internship is coming to an end, I feel the biggest challenge is ahead of me! It will be taking all of the career and job skills information I’ve learned from being at Carowinds and translating it back into a classroom/school environment. Linking this new knowledge to teaching standards and expected student outcomes will take time. Helping students also learn and see what I’ve seen through photos, hands-on lessons, and relatable activities seems like an immense task at this current point. At the same time, I am excited to begin my venture on this new path when school begins in the fall.

The experience at Carowinds helped me realize all of the exciting jobs that await our young learners. These jobs are fun, creative, inspiring, and rewarding! We as educators need to expose students to these opportunities, as well as teach the skills they need early on to be successful.

Two major takeaways:

First, the people in leadership and management positions at Carowinds are continually learning and improving the skills they need to do their jobs. I spoke to several people who said they learned a great deal from a mentor or peer colleague on-site. They all have determination, a passion to learn and improve, and a collaborative mindset. The “teacher-learner” relationship extends beyond school and is extremely important to be successful in the real-world.

Second, teamwork and effective communication skills are important in any career at Carowinds. It doesn’t matter if you work in the technology, finance, or entertainment department – you need to be able to explain information clearly so it is understood and can be used correctly by others. Several employees at Carowinds said they need to use both verbal and written skills to work successfully with other departments for the park to operate at its fullest potential. They said it’s not just about a single job or their specific work, it’s about the success of the service or product they are providing to the end user.  We need to be sure we are providing opportunities for all students to teach and learn from each other, and to share their strengths to engage in collaborative working situations for the best outcomes.



Challenges and Successes as a Teacher Intern

My internship experience has been insightful and fun! I have pages of notes about the expertise and skills used by people working in different departments at Carowinds. I’ve been thinking about how to apply and relate the content standards taught in 2nd grade to some of the real-world job responsibilities I’ve observed onsite during my internship.

My biggest challenge so far has been trying to take all of the information I’ve learned and organize it into a project. The word “project” is so broad and open, so I’ve gone through multiple ideas. I think I initially misunderstood receiving lesson plan guidelines provided by Kenan as the scope in which I had to create my project. I kept asking myself, “Should my project be a curriculum unit? Should it be a set of lessons within a unit? I knew it needed to be more than something just impacting only my students.

A week later – more clarity! My thoughts became less of a whirlwind after meeting with our CMS group of Kenan Fellows onsite at Duke Energy on July 13th. Folks on the Kenan team also eased my mind by clarifying program expectations. The collaboration and feedback from everyone was terrific. I felt so supported! I left Duke Energy with a more focused mindset on what I wanted to accomplish with my project, and realized that part of my work will be at a micro level (the classroom) and part of it will be at a macro level (extended outside my classroom).

We all shared our individual experiences from our internships at the Duke Energy meeting. We have noticed a consistent theme across the board at our internships:  Collaborative planning, teamwork, communication, and effective teaching methods are essential skills to achieve goals and meet expectations in today’s workforce.

Based on this shared consensus, I have developed a working title which is helping me construct my work as I move forward. I know we don’t have to establish a title, but this is helping me stay on the right track.

It’s ironic that just by working together and getting feedback from others in a short period of time improved my own focus on what I needed to do! I also spoke to another Kenan fellow on the phone. She did her internship at Carowinds last year. It was great having her support. She listened to my plans and also gave me great feedback on how to move forward, what questions to ask, and ways to enhance some of my ideas. I am not alone in this venture – which became very apparent this week. I am feeling successful after talking and listening to other teachers and mentors.

Internship Reflection #1

I wasn’t sure what to expect during the first week at Carowinds for my Kenan internship. I had thought about the obvious academic related content such as how force and motion applies to roller coasters, the mathematics involved in ticket and merchandise sales, and the design layout of the park. However, after talking with the people who work onsite I started to see aspects of the park from a different perspective. My mind is churning with ideas and questions! I have pages of notes… One common thread: The employees at Carowinds all commented on the need to collaborate and work together as a team. They teach one another their individual skill strengths, learn and grow together, communicate effectively, and cohesively meet the expectations set forth to be a successful organization. RESPONSIBLE TEAMWORK is key! I think about how often we give our students the opportunity to work together in the classroom, is it enough?  Do we need to teach “effective collaboration” as if it were a content area like math or science? One manager at Carowinds said, “Learning is how you grow, and growing is how you move forward.” As educators we need to make sure our students are always moving forward.

Highlights of the Kenan Summer Professional Learning Institute

Awesome week in Cullowhee, NC!

The entire week was a wonderful experience for me as an educator. However, Tuesday and Thursday were my favorite days because I was able to learn about a variety of teaching approaches, professional best practices, and ways to offer more diversified student learning opportunities in the academic environment. The “concurrent sessions” available to us to attend on Tuesday, and The Diving Board and EdCamp sessions on Thursday, provided open and fluid learning opportunities where we could collaborate about topics we wanted to know more about to improve our teaching and consider in our Kenan project.

I enjoyed the session on digital portfolios and I plan to implement this computer-based tool using Google with my second grade students. I would like to use digital portfolios to showcase student work and academic growth throughout the school year.

I also plan to implement some ideas from the session, “Teacher as GPS”. I did something similar this past school year when reviewing for the EOG’s in third grade, but I would like to provide consistent feedback with “I can” statements, visual graphs of where individual students are with academic standards and the progression of these standards, and provide assignments to help students reach their goals.

The Kenan Summer Professional Learning Institute was more diversified and integrative than other professional development I have attended. There was a range of learning opportunities that focused on relevant and evolving topics in our K-12 educational environment. The topics were presented by previous Kenan fellows/current NC teachers, with each individual making his/her session a collaborative experience. I felt this PD was beneficial in that we had some voice in our learning and what we wanted to strengthen as educators, while at the same time being able to really talk and share ideas with fellow teachers across the state. It was not just a group of teachers listening and learning from one presenter, but more like a group of knowledgeable and passionate teachers working together to improve our craft and make a bigger difference in the lives of students and education across the state of North Carolina. That’s pretty powerful!

Kenan Fellowship Gains

I hope to learn from other educators in the state to improve my teaching practice. I would like to better understand how to integrate science and technology into other subject areas to improve student engagement and learning in my elementary school and surrounding community.