Learning is a continuous cycle — and so is teaching

Two veteran FD teachers share their ways

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Johnathan Brandt, 18, a senior, left, works with Christian Lundberg, 17, a senior, in Hope Brown’s class at Fort Dodge Senior High Tuesday afternoon.

Learning is a continuous cycle — and so is teaching.

That’s according to two veteran teachers who work in the Fort Dodge Community School District.

Hope Brown, a biology and physics teacher at Fort Dodge Senior High, and Julia Hatcher, a reading and language arts teacher at Fort Dodge Middle School, are constantly adapting their strategies to fit the needs of their students.

Brown has been teaching at Fort Dodge Senior High since the fall of 2011. She began teaching in the fall of 1999.

Hatcher has been teaching in the FDCSD for 12 years.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Michelle Chen, 18, a senior at Fort Dodge Senior High, gets to work in Hope Brown’s class Tuesday afternoon.

Each of Brown’s lessons revolve around the 5E model: engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate.

“It’s how you put together a lesson,” Brown said. “It’s going to track a student’s understanding. Sometimes you have to go through the cycle again.”

Brown’s memories of her physics class differ from how students are taught today.

“I remember learning physics and just copying notes after notes,” Brown said.

While students still take notes in her class, Brown involves multiple other teaching strategies to ensure students understand.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Carter Nekvina, 12, a sixth-grader at Fort Dodge Middle School, left, gets some assistance from Julia Hatcher, a sixth-grade reading and Language Arts teacher, Tuesday afternoon at the school.

“Most days students will be collaborating,” she said. “Everything we do is hooked to an experience, and it’s not just one experience.”

On Tuesday afternoon, students in Brown’s physics class learned about refraction — the bending of lightways.

Students used acrylic blocks and laser pointers to understand the concept.

Brayden Bell, 18, a senior, said that, in general, he understands concepts better when an experience is tied to the lesson.

“I think hands-on does help because we find out why something works and we can test it,” Bell said. “I feel like it sticks better.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Hope Brown, a biology and physics teacher at Fort Dodge Senior High, instructs her students at the school Tuesday afternoon.

Hannah Gebers, 16, a junior, agreed.

“It helps me visualize something,” Gebers said. “It’s easier to understand if I can get my hands on it.”

There is a lot of collaboration taking place in Hatcher’s reading class at the middle school too.

“I rarely just give them a list of questions to answer, which was my experience as a kid,” Hatcher said. “We would read a story out of a big book and you would start with seven or eight vocabulary words you had to define. Then we would read the book and here’s 10 questions to answer. There was never really a discussion other than the teacher leading it. So this is very much where the kids are creating that discussion.”

Hatcher likes to give her students choice.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Johnathan Brandt, 18, a senior, left, and Christian Lundberg, 17, a senior, learn together about refraction using an acrylic block and a laser pointer in Hope Brown’s class at Fort Dodge Senior High Tuesday afternoon.

“I think there’s a lot more independent choice for kids in reading class,” Hatcher said. “They are motivated by what they enjoy to read.”

One activity Hatcher has offered in the past is reading with partners.

“I had probably 50 books out with varying levels on one side of the room all the way to the ones that were more challenging on the other,” Hatcher said. “I had them walk around and look at the backs and pick some ideas of what they wanted to read and also someone they could work with, and that was their book. They bought into it because it was their choice.”

Hatcher said there was some restriction from her, but overall students had options.

“They were working with someone that they agreed they could work with,” Hatcher said. “That was a win-win.”

Discussions were more interesting.

“I had a calendar set up for discussion days every three classroom days,” Hatcher said. “They knew how many pages they had to read before each discussion day. They had questions to make up or something to generate discussion. Sometimes I gave them ideas, sometimes they came up with them.”

Hatcher said she doesn’t limit herself to a certain number of activities or lessons throughout the year.

“Changing it up is really important,” Hatcher said. “Different things. Maybe partnership books for a while, then maybe we all read the same book, then after that some independent reading projects. Changing it up to keep it fresh and interesting.”

Hatcher added, “When I was a kid I do think a teacher probably had a file cabinet and they did this, this and this. From year to year I don’t even do the same thing.”

The number of times students are assessed has also increased in both Hatcher and Brown’s classes.

“A lot of little writing assessments at the end of class,” Hatcher said. “What surprised you today about what you read? If I talk about a vocabulary word, can you use that word in a sentence? How well do you feel like you understand that word on a scale of one to five? I try to show examples of work from other classes.”

Brown said assessments are almost constant.

“We are really assessing students all of the time, whether we are writing it down or not,” Brown said. “I will be up walking around and looking over their shoulders. Sometimes I am a quiet observer, but if I hear them talking and there is a question that comes up then I want to hear how they address it.”

According to Brown, students tend to learn better when they are directly involved in an activity.

“A lot of times they will come to an understanding on their own because of the experience they are having and that’s more meaningful to them,” she said. “They will keep that better than if I just tell them something. With refraction, the end result will be that they will understand that light changes speed when it goes from one medium to the next and how much that change happens is almost like a fingerprint for the material. They will show me that they got it.”