Monday, September 24, 2012

Teaching Philosophy

As a classroom teacher, I believe that it is important to develop a working relationship with students. It is important to communicate in some way daily with each student, so that he/she feels comfortable to learn in my classroom. Students can all learn if the environment is correct. I am not saying that a teacher will get along with every student all the time, but there needs to be a mutual respect in the classroom in order for learning to take place. I want the students to feel success. Success breeds success. Without this feeling of success, goals will not be reached. One thing is for sure, a teacher better teach because he/she enjoys teaching or students will figure it out very quickly. I really enjoy watching students catch up and excel with their academic goals. It is a great joy to watch the eyes of student light up (and even become full of tears at times) from their successes in the classroom. Watching students work really hard on Spanish pronunciation only to see them succeed is a great reward to both the student and to me. I have come to realize my successes here through understanding and developing my listening skills. It does not do any good to provide lip service here without any action. Students can tell if a person is genuine or not. I love teaching and guiding my students to success. For these reasons, I believe we have the ability to change lives at SRS. Steve Nielson, Teacher SRS

Friday, September 21, 2012

Our Trip to the Utah Shakespearean Festival

I have asked two students to write about our trip to the Shakespearean Festival, and I wanted to preface their remarks by saying that we go to the festival for the students to learn many lessons. One of these lessons is how to be courteous at a formal play and how to have respect for other patrons and the actors. The Shakespearean Festival offers not only plays by Shakespeare but also many other famous playwrights. We want the students to come away learning something valuable. In this situation, the students learned about the author of “Scapin”, Moliere, and the style in which he wrote. We also talk about the deeper meanings of the plays we attend. It is important to have follow-up discussions so that the students learn the importance of Shakespeare and other authors to the literary canon. The Shakespearean Festival has been recognized with a Tony award. To be able to yearly attend such a magnificent production is truly a gift. Students’ viewpoints: On August 21, Donny and Tina Somers, Ron Cazier and Justin Barrie, took 10 boys and 10 girls, level 3 and higher to the World Renowned Utah Shakespearean Festival. After driving to Cedar City, Utah, we arrived at a local park where we enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch. After lunch, we drove directly to the Randall L. Jones Theatre to watch the play, “Scapin”, a French adaptation from Moliere. When we walked into the building, it was so beautiful and a man was playing piano and they were songs from “Phantom of the Opera.” We walked up to the balcony in the theatre and took our seats. The play began, and it was so funny. It was about the high-jinx of two servants and the families they worked for. The play kept us laughing the entire 2 hrs. We were there. And the end of the play turned out well for all the characters involved. After that, we went to Taco Bell for dinner and we got to have tons of food. It was delicious! Then, we walked across the street and got to experience a new ice cream adventure, Root Beer ice cream. It was so good too. We then loaded up an headed for home. We had a fun-filled day at the festival and we couldn’t quit talking about it all the way home. We are so thankful to Jill for allowing us to go each year. This was written by Students of Sorenson’s Ranch School

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why do we study mathematics?

On a daily basis, I get the question about why we study math. The truth of the matter is that most of us will never have to write the equation of a circle or use the quadratic formula once we get through high school. So why do we have to do it during high school? Mathematics is about problem solving methods. Every math problem that gets discussed and assigned forces us to use many, if not all, of the detailed methods of problem solving. Each individual problem becomes a small but important lesson for solving problems in general. Math is traditionally learned by first doing many simple problems. Then the simple problem solving methods are put together to solve complex problems. For instance, in order to solve algebraic equations, being knowledgeable about addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division is a must. Ordering the steps to be carried out, evaluating expressions, and learning how and when equations are used must be mastered as well. Knowing this, we then ask the question. What do all problems, mathematical or not, have in common? Successful problem solvers understand what is expected in the problems they face. In other words, they know all of the details surrounding the problem at hand, which is the most important step to solving problems. It requires attention to detail and therefore, patience. After examining the details, intelligent choices need to be made regarding the beginning steps of developing a strategy. The plan must be carried out in an order that makes sense. Careful planning, possibly using justifiable experimentation, must take place. Once an actual solution is obtained, it must be tested to determine whether or not it is reasonable. These components of problem solving are basic to everyday situations. In my math courses, the goal is to learn to be problem solvers and independent thinkers. I often allow students to arrive at an incorrect solution. This allows us to discuss their solution and the process the student used to arrive at the solution. We can discuss ways to improve the solution and many times students can see where they went wrong as they explain their reasoning. It is also a goal to help students understand the usefulness of their solution. I often relate math problems to buying a car. In the process of buying a car, we study what it is we want/need, what we can afford, and what cars are available. We narrow down our choices and make a final decision. After the final decision, it is a good idea to take a look at our choice and run through the process again to make sure the car makes sense and suits our needs. For most of us, mathematics is basic training in problem solving. For those who learn to enjoy math and it’s specific brand of mental stimulation, there are plenty of careers that make a lot of money involving mathematics. As a math teacher, I encourage students to work hard in mathematics and try to be positive about math. Who knows where they may go with it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sorenson's Ranch Activities

Last Fall, some staff from Sorenson’s Ranch took 16 kids to the Shakespearean Festival at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We went to see “A Midsummers Night Dream.” The Festival is world famous and even won a Tony Award a few years back.
We try to give our students opportunities to attend activities/performances such as this for two reasons: first, we want them to be exposed to culturally significant events that coordinate with the subjects we teach in the classroom; second, we want them to have opportunities to demonstrate their trustworthiness and practice new behaviors that they are striving to master in connection with their overall therapeutic goals.
When we arrived, we had the opportunity to go to a lecture, conducted by festival staff, that helped the kids understand what the play was going to be about, why the actors speak the way they do, and why they dress the way they do. The students were allowed to ask questions and tour the outdoor theatre.
We got to sit in the balcony of the indoor theatre. As the play started, we thought the kids might start acting up, but we were pleased to see their eyes glued to the stage. By the time the intermission arrived and we went down to look at the Shakespeare displays, we heard the kids trying to predict what was going to happen next and saying how they couldn’t wait to get back to the play.
All of the students acted like perfect ladies and gentlemen. After the play, we went to the library and viewed a display of Shakespeare’s writings and other materials associated with the plays. We saw an original folio from the 1600’s that contained the works of Shakespeare. It was in a special display, maintained at a certain temperature and guarded by a security officer. It was so interesting and the kids felt privileged to see it.
Finally we went to lunch a Taco Bell, which they all loved and then we took them to A&W for root beer ice cream. We discovered that 80% of them had never had root beer ice cream which was fun also.
Our day was wonderful, and we are always getting requests for a return visit to the festival in 2012.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sorenson's Ranch School Teacher Highlight

My name is Steve Nielson. I am the science and math teacher here at Sorensons Ranch School. I have been teaching at Sorenson’s for 20 years now and have a lot of much-needed experience with our type of student. Patience becomes a key word regarding reaching children at Sorensons. I believe in tolerance (to a point) and building rapport in order to help students reach their potential academically. We walk a fine line at Sorenson’s with regard to our patience as teachers. Most of our students have not been successful in public school environments because of discipline problems. We have to balance the need for patience and tolerance with the need for respect for other students’ learning opportunities and the necessity for hard work.
I believe that peer tutoring is a key in helping me reach students in the classroom. It has been working for me as of late, and I believe that many times the brighter students can be used as an asset with academically challenged students. Using this type of teaching technique allows me to spend more one-on-one teaching time with the middle of the class students and the accelerated students. I find that when I teach to the middle and higher performing students, the rest of the class will rise to the level of expectation. This simply has proven itself time and time again in my teaching experience.
I also believe that touching each students life in my classroom is very important. Just a simple statement such as, “Do you need my help?” or,”How is it going today?” can make a big difference in the teaching process. Students simply perform better in this type of environment. Success begets success, and true teachers make sure success is felt daily.

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Data-management Program Streamlines Record Keeping at Sorenson's Ranch School

The combination of therapeutic and academic goals common to facilities such as Sorenson’s Ranch School causes challenges not found in regular, September-to-May types of educational institutions. Our open-enrollment, individually-paced program necessitates a greater amount of flexibility and an accompanying amount of complexity. Along with this flexibility and complexity come correspondingly complex record keeping problems. To try to meet these needs, the management of SRS contracted with a computer firm in Salt Lake City to design a custom program for the school which would work in concert with the behavior management tracking software already in place.
The new program allows the school staff to have all academic records at their fingertips. Gone are the days of separate roll books, grade sheets, registration records, class change forms, and transcript files. All previous academic data is entered into the program when a new student enrolls, and this foundation information is then updated whenever a change is made at SRS. The new program automatically calculates days in class, grade point average, and credits earned. Our old system required us to type each transcript using word processing software. The new program will allow us to generate and print a transcript with a key stroke. With the old system, the monthly report card process was very labor intensive with each teacher having to manually enter the current number of days enrolled, assignments completed, grade, and comment code. Now, the only information items entered manually each time are the teacher comment codes.
The switch to the new program has not been without its problems, but such is the nature of the process when any new system is adopted. The teachers have spent many hours transferring the data from their old record keeping formats into the new program. Some of our faculty have been employees of other schools when new programs of this nature have been implemented, and they have reported that the number of glitches (or “bugs” as the computer professionals call them) with our new package has been less than what they have experienced before. Our requirements are much more complex than those schools which require only an academic data program, as ours must coordinate with our “tracker” program as well. The head programmer on our project has been very responsive to our “bug reports” and has made every effort to have us up and running in time to meet our deadline of February 1st for doing report cards for the first time on the new system.
Even though the changeover process has been very labor intensive and somewhat frustrating at times, the teachers are reporting satisfaction with the new one-place-for-everything approach. We will be adding some new features in the near future which should make it even simpler for us to meet all of our students’ needs.