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TCI’s Educator Spotlight series is back! And this month we are excited to feature Kelly Funk. Kelly is an elementary social studies teacher at Anne Sullivan Elementary School, Prospect Heights, Illinois. She has been teaching for the last 14 years and is currently using our Social Studies Alive! America’s Past program in her classroom.
Read on to see how she brings social studies alive in her classroom.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself?
I love teaching and working with my class. However, when I am not teaching, or I am outside of school, I love to travel and visit my sister, my brother-in-law, and my amazing niece in Maryland. I also try to visit new places every year! I love to read or listen to audiobooks.
My goals for teaching include trying new things, supporting all students, and looking for ways to make learning meaningful and fun. I did not love school when I was younger, and I know what it is like to struggle or not want to be there. I try to create an environment where my students feel like we are a second family and we are there to support each other.
What was your favorite subject when you were a student, and why?
When I was in elementary school, my favorite subject was gym class. I loved getting outside and playing games with my friends. I also liked the movement break from sitting in class.
How do you integrate the TCI curriculum and tools into your classroom?
My 5th-grade team and I work to incorporate the TCI curriculum into our literacy and social studies times. I utilize Spanish translation to support my bilingual students in my class, and I also look for opportunities to share the text in new ways.
Currently, we are reading sections of the “Comparing Colonies.” Students are grouped as colonists. They evaluate the text and collect information about each area. At the end of the reading sections, students will evaluate the thoughts and information they collected to decide where they would like to move as colonists. They will need to use evidence from their reading to support their decision. We will also discuss as a class why some areas were chosen over others and why some areas are more popular to their groups. It is a fun way to create groups and use the text for a meaningful purpose.
What’s your favorite TCI lesson?
This is only my second year in 5th grade. Last year, I had my first year in fifth grade during distance and hybrid learning. I previously taught fourth grade for many years. My favorite lesson for 5th grade is “Manifest Destiny & Settling West” because it is interactive and has in-depth discussions about land and ownership.
I also like the conversations about pieces of artwork and the meaning behind them. The interactive activities highlight the key points in the lesson and engage students with the content.
What changes have you seen in your classroom since implementing TCI’s curriculum? Are there any specific skills you’ve seen improve due to using TCI’s materials?
The discussions through TCI support my students who are learning English. They practice the language with sentence starters, access to the text in Spanish, and visuals for vocabulary. This supports their language learning and social skills. It does improve their test scores for our ACCESS tests, where they are expected to speak about content area information. Students also benefit from the TCI curriculum because of the interactive style, which helps them connect with history in new ways. They can remember content because of those experiences.
Can you walk us through an impactful student experience involving TCI?
In the “How and Why Europeans Came to the New World” chapter for fifth graders, students learned about artifacts that explorers used to travel to the New World and the items brought back to Europe to share about the newly explored areas. Students pretend to search a sunken ship and retrieve artifacts. We had fun “diving” into the ship and swimming around. Divers would return with artifacts to their exploration teams and discuss the pictures. It was so much fun! After this lesson, one of our parents reached out to share about her profession as an archeologist. She shared even more about how artifacts help us understand the past.
How have you used TCI in a distance or blended learning environment?
During our distance and blended learning, our fifth-grade team used the TCI curriculum similarly to a regular year, but we used more of the online features to support students. The class was able to sign in online to read the information. We did use more breakout rooms for small groups or partner work; then we’d come back together in the main meeting for whole group reflection time. Some of the interactive activities had to be adapted and changed so that they were able to get the full experience with the content.
What was it like to be a teacher in the COVID era?
Teaching during COVID was a learning experience for me too. I love learning new things and growing as a teacher. I also love technology. The challenge was creating a positive classroom community and a fun learning environment while incorporating technology for the day. As a team, we took time to plan and look at what was most important for our students to learn. We found resources that supported those standards and worked together to create a plan. Each of us added our options and changed things based on classroom needs or our teaching styles. Teaching during COVID wasn’t easy, and it was stressful, but with the support of my team and my awesome class of fifth graders, we had a wonderful year!
What went well, and what were some of the challenges?
Some of the challenges during COVID were keeping students engaged, excited, and motivated through our online teaching. This was a challenge because it is hard for students to get up and not see their friends in person. My class had weekly lunches where I would open a Google Meet to support their connection. This helped build community and was a fun way for them to get to know each other. They would eat, talk, and laugh a lot. I also liked to preview something fun for the next day to incentivize students to be excited to show up. When planning, I added opportunities for students to work in pairs or groups in breakout rooms. They were able to work on assignments together, but also they were able to get to know each other too.
During this time students improved dramatically with online communication with chat usage and etiquette online, and we spent a lot of time on digital citizenship because of the increased technology use. We also streamlined our LMS as a district, and now our district has technology (iPads) available to all kindergarten through eighth-grade students. We increased our internet speed and looked for ways to improve with these new technology demands being added to our daily teaching. Our teams have also taken this as an opportunity to collaborate and work together to accomplish goals and create units of study based on our curriculum.
Lastly, would you like to share one teaching tip with other teachers?
Teachers aren’t the same; be you! Embrace your teaching style and strengths. Look for ways to share a part of your personality and passion for teaching with your class.