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Glitter in my Hair: How My Experience As An Afterschool Teacher Shaped My Teaching Style

Written by Kelly Linn, a Tierney PD team member since 2017. Kelly spent years as an after school program teacher/coordinator and a middle school social studies teacher before joining Tierney.

Thank God for afterschool teachers. That needs to be said, and said often. Afterschool teachers are often the first non-family member to see your students in the morning. These teachers help kids finish their homework before school, clean the syrup off their dress shirt on picture day, bandage them up, and host a game of dodgeball game until 6 pm. During the summer, these teachers are tracking down field-trip shirts, spraying sunscreen, hauling coolers across parks, and counting kids over and over and over again. It’s a totally different style of education when you are responsible for missing math and reading skills in addition to helping kids jump rope or pass the swim test. I worked in afterschool programming for seven wonderful years, and I went to every swimming pool, playground, Dairy Queen, and museum in the Twin Cities metro.

When I became a licensed teacher, I struggled with the idea that my time with students would follow a strict bell schedule and students would be expected to sit and listen to me before they move on to the next class. That wasn’t the style of teaching I was used to, and I wasn’t going to start changing my ways to fit these norms. I had my students working the assembly lines on their computers, reenacting the Medal of Honor virtues outside on sunny days, and designing battle strategies for their D-Day dodgeball game in the gym. We did art projects, used the computers almost daily, and twice a year I was organizing a community service project.

My background in afterschool programming helped shape my classroom to be a student-driven, experiential, and kinesthetic learning atmosphere where I became more like a coach than a lecturer. My students could have called me “Coach K” instead of “Mrs. K”. I took my students on virtual field trips and lead us on tours of their own researched countries. I started to showcase my students’ interest by allowing them to present on topics they were passionate about in technology with “Tech Tip Tuesday”, where they would present to their peers a new tip or trick to be more efficient on their Chromebooks.

Nowadays, there are even more tools to make it easier to increase participation in your classroom and create an experience students will remember. Students can solve real-world issues with Sam Labs by designing and engineering a solution with flow-based coding. Students can visualize important lessons with a zSpace’s augmented reality environment or code your robot to play basketball with the help of Wonder Workshop. Even better, practice their basic math facts while also raising their heart rate with the Lu. All of these new tools make it so much easier to challenge students to troubleshoot and problem solve, and it makes me miss my old position as afterschool teacher.

More about the tech

Lu is a new technology out of Canada that will revolutionize your physical education. Lu’s programs allow students to get up and move, compete with each other, and make connections to the curriculum while throwing balls at an interactive wall. Kids can identify places on a map, practice math facts, work through parts of speech, or simply stop an alien invasion. I only wish I could set this up in my backyard!

Wonder workshop emerged as a big hit on Amazon and an even bigger hit in the classroom. Dot, Dast, and Cue (for older students) are their fleet of robots you can program to record your voice, do a multi-step dance, or navigate through an obstacle course. I love the idea of setting up a predicament of everyday items needing to be moved from one corner of the room to the other, and it’s up to the students to create the fastest, most creative solution to the problem by coding their robots to save the day. On top of it all, these friendly little robots have fun personalities that may leave your classroom pet feeling a bit neglected.

zSpace is the machine that allows you to watch muscles in motion, design your own mini-golf course, and dissect a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Let your students learn with their hands while exploring subjects like physical science, medical, welding, automatic, and sculpting applications using augmented reality. With their large collection of models and safe space to try experiments that would potentially start the school on fire in real life, zSpace allows students to push their fear aside, jump right in to try something new, and learn to look at things from a different angle.

SAM Labs can really be a DIY project that ties into just about any STEM project you could imagine. The cool thing about SAM labs is that it plays nice with other products due to their connection to Work Bench. Work Bench allows SAM Labs to connect with Lego, Makey Makey, Sphero so you could tie in a collection of your STEM lab technologies all in one project. I love the fact that SAM Labs can use cardboard to legos and the possibilities are endless with what the students can create. SAM Labs also has a lot of great resources online so help get you started brainstorming what types of projects your students can accomplish.

And lastly, here’s a shoutout to all of my afterschool teachers: you are amazing and inspire me to continuously search for exciting ways to engage students with learning and fun, and your students appreciate all of your blood, sweat, and glitter.