JULY 27, 2015
During the month of July iCivics hosted Baylor University Teaching Fellow Alyssa Messier, a recent MA Ed graduate who will be teaching 5th grade english language arts in Katy, Texas this fall. Aside from working on curriculum and other office tasks, Alyssa got an indepth look at the iCivics impact by helping at our Close Up teacher presentation and participating at our “#JSADIHAR15”, Do I Have a Right? Gaming Competition co-hosted by JSA and ESA Foundation. We took a moment to reflect with Alyssa on her experience on our team.
iCivics: What is your motto?
Alyssa: My motto would probably be, “Attitude towards life determines life’s attitude toward us”.
iCivics: What degree are you pursuing?
iCivics: Where will you be teaching this fall?
Alyssa: I’m excited to begin teaching 5th grade English/Language Arts in Katy, TX at Golbow Elementary School.
iCivics: What is the most rewarding part about teaching?
Alyssa: I’d say that the most rewarding part about teaching is helping students develop their own understanding. It’s great to witness a student have an ah-ha moment and realize they can succeed at some skill or subject. Knowing that I’ve helped them go beyond what they thought they could do is very rewarding. Helping them reach their fullest potential makes me feel good because it shows I also succeeded at my goal as a teacher.
iCivics: What are the challenges you face as a teacher?
Alyssa: I see two major challenges in teaching. I’m teaching in a Title I school this fall. The first challenge is making sure each student’s needs are being met beyond transferral of knowledge and facts, but rather their fundamental needs. These needs often come first in Title I schools which sometimes makes teaching and instruction difficult or even secondary.
The second challenge would come when actually teaching. Being able to differentiate and meet each student’s individual needs within the context of the group is a necessary teaching skill. You want to ensure that you’re teaching in a way that makes sense for each person as they meet their potential, without impeding the progress of the entire class.
iCivics: Why did you choose to teach?
Alyssa: I’ve wanted to teach for as long as I could remember. Growing up, I always loved school but was not always good at it. I once had a really good 5th grade teacher who helped me and I wanted to be able to do that for someone some day. This teacher inspired me to help guide other students who might be in the same position I was once in.
iCivics: You’ve attended a lot of schools growing up; can you give some examples of really great classroom experiences and not so great ones? What stuck out?
Alyssa: I switched schools a lot because my dad was in the Navy, so we moved roughly every 2 years. Many of the good school experiences were in Virginia. I remember I had a really good 8th grade social studies teacher who incorporated a lot of simulations in her class. She taught a lesson but then the class acted it out. This much better than direct instruction. Another memorable experience was in Washington state. I had a teacher whose teaching focused on class community and building life skills through curricular content. It felt like the students were the priority and he focused on us, not JUST the content.
Negative experiences usually came when the teacher solely focused on direct instruction and didn’t differentiate. There was a lot of emphasis on pass/fail one type of learning, rather than focusing on the many different kinds of learners that make up a classroom.
iCivics: What influences your teaching style most as you begin your career? Where do you go for inspiration?
Alyssa: I had a senior english teacher who really created a classroom community. That influences the way I teach because I experienced first hand how well it worked. We respected him. We learned so much content but most importantly, we wanted to learn. That influences my teaching style.
To stay current on trends in education, I read different blogs online and have begun getting involved through social media. I also talk with professors and other teaching professionals about new ideas that may help students or create more effective learning experiences.
iCivics: (Other than community) What messages do you want to convey through your teaching?
Alyssa: I want my students to know that there’s always a purpose. This comes from creating authentic experiences where they understand that they’re learning for a reason not just memorization. I want my students to realize that learning never stops. We are all lifelong learners. Instilling that passion for curiosity and discovery is important to me.
iCivics: What are your thoughts about our (iCivics) mission?
Alyssa: Being an engaged citizen is extremely important and something that many of us unfortunately forget about. It’s great that icivics is bringing awareness to this lack through educating future citizens. It’s commendable that iCivics can meet the needs of classrooms of students from 5th grade up through high school and even some colleges. It is a well rounded program that is engaging and informative.
iCivics: What did you know about iCivics before your fellowship?How did you come to this opportunity at iCivics? What interested you most?
Alyssa: Coming into the experience, I knew iCivics was a free online education technology that taught civic education through gaming, founded by Sandra Day O’Connor. I heard about iCivics during my time as a grad assistant to Dr. LeCompte (Baylor University) this past year. While completing my assistantship I had the opportunity to work at the Baylor U iEngage summer camp where I was introduced to iCivics more thoroughly. Following those experiences Dr. LeCompte and Dr. Blevins mentioned this opportunity. It was appealing because I was interested in learning about the development of curriculum like iCivics and how I might incorporate it into my classroom.
iCivics: What has it changed about what you know about iCivics?
Alyssa: Since coming here, I’ve learned about how much thought goes into each decision at iCivics. Teachers come first. The iCivics curricular program provides resources that attempt to meet all teachers’ and students’ needs, differentiated as much as possible through state aligned standards. There’s more to iCivics than games. The curriculum team created a very effective program through tools that provide teachers with engaging content but most importantly, ease of classroom adaptation and implementation.
iCivics: What are your tasks during this experience at iCivics?
Alyssa: I have 2 main projects while at iCivics. My first project includes social media where Amber, iCivics Digital Media Manager, taught me about Twitter parties, Storify and how to integrate social media and blogging into my professional development arsenal. I created Twitter party recaps to learn about what teachers were discussing in anticipation for the school year in the social studies and edtech spheres.
My second task involved me assisting the curriculum team in developing literacy connections between iCivics games and ELA standards. I learned first hand how diverse this country’s education system really is, and yet, there are many connections. Interestingly enough, iCivics curriculum attempts to meet the needs of every teacher, in every state with their standards alignment.
iCivics: What fun things have you done while you were here?
Alyssa: I had a great time experiencing DC as a tourist. I made sure I visited all of the monuments. I really enjoyed the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial most because I discovered them for the first time. I explored many of Smithsonian museums- the Holocaust Museum, Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museum to name a few. I also visited Georgetown and had a lot of fun finding different restaurants.
What stuck out about my exploring most was the different neighborhoods in Washington, DC. They are all very different. You can be on one street and be in one place and then go around the corner to another neighborhood which had a totally different feel. DC is definitely different than any city I’ve ever been to.
iCivics: Anything you want to say to the people?
Alyssa: I really encourage teachers, parents and students to explore the iCivics website. Through this fellowship I’ve learned about all of the resources within it that are just really cool and helpful. I’m not just saying this as a plug; before this fellowship I didn’t know too much about iCivics, but this experience encouraged me to explore more which led me to ultimately plan to use it in my class. I will definitely share the site’s resources with my colleagues this fall.