Lessons Learned from Interning at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning

This semester I have had the privilege to assist in a preschool classroom at the A. Sophie Rogers School for Early Learning, the Ohio State lab school for children ages six-weeks through six years. For the last four months, I have spent 20 hours a week working alongside children and staff in room 124. You can read more about my daily experiences here and here. These are the top takeaways from my internship:

  1. Children’s development is complex. Children are very rarely totally “ahead,” “on track,” or “behind” in most or all developmental domains as I had previously thought. I guess I believed that since all parts of the child grow in the same environment then that environment nurtures all parts of the child equally well. However, this is not the case. A child can have extraordinary language skills and poor social skills. They can have strong print awareness, but poor phonological awareness. A child’s strengths and weaknesses are complex.
  2. No one likes to be told what to do, so avoid telling people what to do. I could go on and on about my growth and understanding in this regard, but I’ll cut to the chase: speak to children the way you want to be spoken to.
  3. The best teaching has nothing to do with lessons or planning. Teaching happens in every interaction a teacher shares with his or her students. It’s the conversations shared at the snack table, lining up for outdoor play, or while feuding in the building space where most of the teaching happens. Lessons make up a small fraction of the day; it’s the interactions that really count. 
  4. You have to be stubborn. There are times when it would be easier to just let things go, but seizing every opportunity to model and correct behavior is key to building independence and creating a happy, calm classroom for all.
  5. Guidance and discipline involve a tricky balance. You have to teach students the skills to succeed while providing consequences that deter destructive behavior.
  6. If it doesn’t matter, don’t control it. Climb up the slide! Spend 10 minutes washing your hands! Put the baby dolls in the water table! There is no use in getting into power struggles over things that don’t really matter, and normally if you let go, pretty impressive learning happens. Limits should never be arbitrary.
  7. The better the teacher you are the less stressful the job is. Before this experience, I was worried that teaching would be too stressful for me, but after seeing my master teacher lead I understand that a strong teacher can create calm within the class once he or she has the skills to do so.
  8. Affluence affects development and learning in different ways than I previously thought. Mo’ money, mo’ problems
  9. Working with the same children over an extended period is more rewarding and easier than subbing. Knowing students is half the joy of working with them.
  10. Teaching is not isolating work. Possibly a problem specific to me, I was wary of being a career teacher because I thought it would be lonely and emotionally laborious work. I thought working with people at such a drastically different stage in life as myself would be isolating. I thought I would have to pretend to feel positive emotions when I didn’t. I was wrong. Teaching preschool is the most human job I have ever had the privilege of working. My students show up as their whole selves and so do I. That’s what it takes to build connections. I know them, and they know me more intimately than any coworkers at an office job.

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Serving as ACES Service Co-Chair in the Covid-19 Pandemic

This year I have served on my scholar program’s leadership council as service chair alongside my peers including my co-chair, Anna Gardner. When originally applying for the position I was expecting the role to entail coordinating with community agencies to host group volunteer experiences as has been done in past years. I was eager to connect students with the people and places of my hometown. So much of the Ohio State experience is spent within the University District, and I was eager to encourage students to get out into other Columbus neighborhoods. However, when entering the role our world was still effectively shut down. In-person events have been suspended for most of the year and many organizations have had to shut their door to volunteers for the safety of their beneficiaries. Anna and I have had to adapt to bring service-learning opportunities to our fellow scholars. We utilized virtual tools to provide accessible educational experiences.

During my tenure on council, I planned and hosted 5 virtual service learning events including a 3-part lecture series centered on ethical and self-aware service and philanthropy, implemented a program-wide event planning procedure to improve event attendee experience and increase fidelity to program mission/pillars, and developed a marketing plan in response to reduced volunteer opportunities caused by the pandemic. 

My lecture series, Being a Better Servant: Understanding Your Impact as a Volunteer and Donor, aimed to strengthen scholars’ understanding of how to best serve their community through introspection of their own lived experiences and values. Presentation objectives were created based on program pillars of social change, community, service, and advocacy. Topics of the series included Paternalism in Service: Who Knows Best?, How Charity Can Hinder Social Justice, and Effective Altruism. Below is an event plan and presentation slide deck from the series. 

How Charity Can Hinder Social Justice Event Plan

Paternalism in Service

What We Can Learn from a Picture of a Dinosaur

During table choices students have the option to work with homemade dinosaur puzzles. Four sets have been made of the puzzles in the image above. Each is of a different species of dinosaur.

A prekindergarten student comes to sit down at the table where I am working with two other children. He grows quickly frustrated and requests for help. He is an older student and needs only verbal prompting and encouragement to complete the task. Once truly started he assembles the puzzle quickly. I offer him the puzzle that is in my spot. He declines and reaches for the simpler two piece puzzles in the middle of the table. Photos of six dinosaurs have been printed, laminated, and cut in half.

“I’m going to make silly ones!” he exclaims. (Objective 11e)

“Oh, you’re going to mix them up. That will be funny.” I say.

He places the tail end of one with the front end of another. I do the same. I describe that mine has a Triceratops tail and T-rex face. He remarks that his has a T-rex tail but is unsure of what the front half is. I suggest that we could look in the dinosaur book to find out. He grabs the dinosaur encyclopedia from the library and turns page by page looking for a match. He finds one. (Objective 13, 17)

“There! What’s that say?” he points to the heading text at the top left of the page. (Objective 17b)

“Stegosaurus!” I say.

He repeats me.

In the background of the page is another dinosaur that I recognize from the figurines in the block area. I tell him that I’ll be right back. I grab the toy and return back to the table. “It matches,” I say, placing it next to the page.

He looks from the book to the dinosaur to me and back again. He smiles.

“Maybe we can find the name of this dinosaur in the book too.” I remark.

He picks up the dinosaur and turns it on it’s belly. “What’s that say?” he shows it to me. (Objective 12a)

In teeny tiny letters below MADE IN CHINA reads PARASAUROLOPHUS.

“Parasaur-olo-phus!” In one of few times since my elementary years, decoding does not come easily to me. “You remembered that the names were on their backs! I didn’t know that.”

He gleams with pride.

We flip through the book again looking for the rest of the unknown dinosaurs, but he gets distracted after turning to the front.

“What’s this?” he asks.

“It’s the table of contents.” I point to the words at the top of the page. “It tells what is on each page of the book.”

He looks over the spread in wonder. (Objective 17a)

“What’s that say?” he points to “Herrerasaurus.”

I read the name then point to the 33 beside it. “There’s a photo and more information on page 33. This is page 4.” I point to the number in the corner of the page.

He turns carefully, reading each page number aloud as he goes until he gets to page 33. He stops and looks to the top of the page. He recognizes the word from the table of contents. He points and recites then looks up at me with excitement on his face. He flips back to the front of the book to try again. (Objective 20a, 20c, 18b, 11d)

After using the table of contents a few more times, he returns his attention back to the puzzles in front of him. He matches a few up, but the task is well within his zone of achieved development. He begins to grow bored. (objective 11a)

“I have an idea!” I exclaim. I flip over the 12 dinosaur halves. “We can play a matching game.”

He looks on confused.

I model flipping over two cards one at a time. On the second try I find a match. “That’s how you play.”

He grins, now fully on board. (Objective 11e)

We flip the cards all over again and he begins the game. With each turn of the card he says the dinosaur name that he has just learned. I follow suit. He waits his turn patiently, accepts defeat with grace, and wins without gloating. We play until it is time to transition to morning snack. (Objective 9a, 1a, 1b, 11a)

Learning Objectives (Aligned with Teaching Strategies GOLD)
  • 1. Regulates own emotions and behaviors
  • 2a. Forms relationships with adults
  • 7a. Uses fingers and hands
  • 8. Listens to and understands increasingly complex language
  • 9. Uses language to express thoughts and needs
  • 10. Uses appropriate conversational and other communication skills
  • 11. Demonstrates positive approaches to learning
  • 12. Remembers and connects experiences
  • 13. Uses classification skills
  • 17. Demonstrates knowledge of print and its uses
  • 18. Comprehends and responds to books and other texts
  • 20. Uses number concepts and operations
  • 25. Demonstrates knowledge of the characteristics of living things

Complete Teaching Strategies GOLD Objectives

Supporting Literacy in a Junior High Class for Students with ASD

In autumn of 2020 I was placed in a self contained junior high class at Haugland Learning Center (HLC) through Ohio State’s First Education Experience Program. The course culminated in the presentation of a semester long service learning project. For my service project I supported literacy instruction in my CP’s Reading and Language Arts classes through lesson planning.

View Project Here

Rediscovering Math

For the last two semesters I have spent my lunch hour learning to count, add, subtract, multiply, and measure with 30 of my fellow buckeyes. Math for Teachers has exposed me to the mathematical concepts from my childhood that I thought I already knew well. It has challenged me to become a more critical thinker and has taught me that you do not truly understand something unless you can help someone else to understand it. I have learned to look to my peers to deepen my understanding of content. Working together we can learn more about the patterns in our world and how we can use them.

The focus of this semester has been on geometry. In thinking back to my experience with geometry in my own K12 education I have little memory of geometry lessons in elementary and middle school. I do remember learning that the most efficient way to build a fence was in the shape of a square because it had the smallest area to perimeter ratio – a fact that I have kept with me since third grade in the corner of my brain where I keep my dream plans for a chicken coup.

It wasn’t until high school that I explored geometry in depth and really enjoyed my math coursework. My favorite topic in my sophomore geometry class were proofs, specifically those that worked with arbelos. On the last day of our unit my teacher, Mr. Wilcoxon, pulled up an animation of an arbelos with a circle on the SMART Board. He dragged point D from one side of the largest semi circle to the other. The more even the smaller semi circles were the larger the circle was and vice versa. He told this that we weren’t going to have to prove this one, but that he wanted to show it to us. No matter where the semi circles were positioned the area of the arbelo (green region) was equal to the area of the circle.

Up until this point in my math education everything that I had been taught felt man-made. There was something rigid and lifeless to it. It felt like a means to an often dull end. The arbelo and circle challenged that. It didn’t feel like the circle needed to be even the awkward shape, but it was so perfect that it was. Working with shapes off of a coordinate plane introduced me to the captivating patterns that existed in the universe long before people had even begun to count. Geometry taught me that, at least to me, math was an articulation of those patterns.

My Geometry Teacher, Mr. Wilcoxon, and I at my High School Graduation

Thinking from a Teacher’s Point of View

My favorite geometry topic this semester was constructing shapes by folding and using a straightedge and/or compass. In my K12 education I always drew shapes (other than circles) with just a ruler. Working without unit measurement forced me to think more creatively and gave me a deeper understanding of the properties of shapes. The relationships between opposite angles, diagonals, etc. became clearer when having to problem solve to build my shapes. 

Here are two examples of my work this semester constructing shapes:

Learning from Others’ Points of View

This semester we were asked to craft a lesson plan for teaching area to a group of second through fifth graders who had never been exposed to the concept before. We shared out lessons with each other through a virtual discussion board. At first I was a little dumbfounded as to what to write. We have spent a lot of time working on correcting students work and explaining specific problems, but rarely do we address how to introduce a topic. Much of what we learn is that elementary math is more complicated than it seems. The task of of introducing abstract concepts feels daunting when you know so many ways that it can be misunderstood. After much tinkering I felt content with plan. However, reading my fellow classmates lessons made me aware of the areas of weakness in my own and gave me ideas of different explorations into the topic. By seeing how we each approached the same task in unique ways showed my the diversity of thought we shared as a class and the diversity of thought I could expect form my own future students. Below is my revised lesson plan with notes of the changes I made.

Exploring Area through Fabric and Pattern Blocks – In revising my lesson plan I realized I needed to make my activity simpler so it would be easier for my students to understand the directions. I changed the amount of variety of materials and removed two steps of the process. I think my lesson plan is clearer and better targets my goals now.

A Policy Problem

Through the John Glenn College of Public Affairs High School Internship Program I was able to be placed in an internship with a local nonprofit and enroll in Intro to Public Affairs 2110 through the Ohio State Academy. Below you will find an essay written for the public affairs course. We were tasked with researching any policy problem that was of interest to us and developing and comparing three potential solutions to the problem. I chose to research access to affordable and quality child care in our state.

The importance of the early years, specifically birth through five, is a topic I am particularly passionate about. Advances in technology and a growing need for change sparked much inquiry and innovation in the field of early childhood over the last few decades. Research has consistently shown how crucial early experiences are in effecting success and health later in life. However, despite the demonstrated importance, there is still a significant gap between research and practice. It is this gap that fuels my desire to advocate for developmentally appropriate practice in the early years.

Focusing specifically on Ohio’s affordable quality child care shortage was motivated by my participation in the Columbus Women’s Commission benefits cliff discussions regarding publicly funded child care. As my internship supervisor, Dr. Gina Ginn, is a commissioner, I was privileged to attend the meetings with her and an interdisciplinary team of other community advocates including representatives from Columbus Legal Aide, the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, Future Ready Columbus, and the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio.

Addressing the Lack of Quality Child Care for Infants and Toddlers in Ohio

My Fall 2018 John Glenn College of Public Affairs HSIP Cohort + Our Wonderful PUBAFRS 2110 Instructor, Aiden Irish