By: Kenny Lam, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff
Over the duration of my internship I learned how to interact with elementary-aged children in the school environment, in addition to working with AALEAD staff to create age-appropriate lesson plans. My experience with AALEAD has taught me that youth development is not a one-way conversation in which we pour knowledge into children’s brains, but rather a two-way conversation that allows both the youth and the staff to learn together throughout the semester.
On February 6th I began my first day of internship at Bancroft Elementary School and took on my role as a teaching assistant. Originally, I was concerned that the age gap between me and the youth might become an obstacle in our interactions. Instead, the students gave me a warm welcome, even inviting me to play Jenga with them during recess time. This greeting allowed me to immediately begin observing their hobbies and understand what kind of activities they like to see in AALEAD lessons. Besides the welcoming youth, the staff in Bancroft also offered me guidance on handling conflict between students and maintaining the order in the classroom. At the same time, I learned how to be a good listener for the children, making suggestions without overshadowing their thoughts.
While my work with Bancroft Elementary School involved students from third to fifth grade, my experience at Thomson Elementary School focused on serving pre-kindergarten to second-grade youth. Compared to the Bancroft students who were eager to share their opinions, those at Thomson were more focused on listening to instruction from their teachers. As a result, I took a more active role in communicating with the Thomson youth and guiding them through classwork. By reading books with them and sharing my opinion of the lesson materials, I learned how to facilitate their thoughts and ultimately help them to understand the objective of our lessons. The AALEAD staff in Thomson showed me strategies for being patient with the younger children and helped me to better establish my role as a teacher.
Throughout my internship assignment, I greatly benefited from the help from my supervisor Charles during administrative hours in the AALEAD office. Before he assigned administrative work to me, Charles would initiate discussions to understand my academic workload, identify the tasks that I do best, and ensure that I continue learning while in the office. These discussions helped me to create weekly work plans to organize my schedule and allowed me to report my current work progress to my supervisor. Through my conversations with Charles and other AALEAD staff, I learned how to become a disciplined office worker.
During my work hours in the office, I oversaw youth attendance records and incident reports and entered them into the AALEAD database. Although these tasks seemed repetitive and dull at the first glance, they helped me to better understand my student population. When I read through the incident reports written by other AALEAD staff members, I could learn the methodologies that they use to handle conflicts among students during lesson time. Additionally, when collecting forms from the program sites, I could speak directly with staff about behavioral issues during program time and receive updates on students who had been experiencing family issues.
After a month of observation with the programs at Thomson and Bancroft, I started to create my own lesson plan about career exploration in early March. While other teachers formatted their lesson plan using a PowerPoint presentation and a mini-game, I decided to omit the PowerPoint slides and make three mini-games for my lesson instead. The activities in my lesson included a memory-based card-matching game, house-building with crafting sticks, and board game. After I created the basic structure of these games, I created special “occupation cards” that granted advantages for each activity. By creating three games as challenges and occupation cards as supportive tools, I aimed to let the youth experience challenges that they might experience in society observed how they would react to these challenges by having a specific occupation. During the game preparation stage, I learned how to balance educational and entertainment value and how to establish acceptable levels of difficulty for elementary school level audience.
After a month of development, I conducted the lesson plan at Bancroft Elementary School on April 2nd. On that first day of the activity, Bancroft students were divided into three groups to play the card-matching game and the house-building game. Although I was confident in the content of the activity, I underestimated the curiosity of the youth. During the first and second part of the game, the youth asked questions that I have never considered when I carried out my game testing in the AALEAD office. Overwhelmed by the unexpected challenges to the rules of the game, I did not finish my lesson on the first day. However, the youth did enjoy the card-matching game and gave constructive feedback to me about the house-building game, which allowed me to refine the content and rules of the activities overnight.
On April 3rd, we re-ran the second part of the game, and the students had a better understanding of the materials and rules for building their house. After they had successfully built their house, I tested its structural integrity by placing heavy books on it. Surprisingly, none of the students’ houses collapsed with four heavy books placed on top performing better than my own example model for the weight test. Next, I tested whether the houses were waterproof by spraying water on them, and the youth were tasked with protecting a set of cotton cylinders within the house. The only method I had suggested to prevent water from leaking into the house was the use of paper, and the strategies devised by the students exceeded my expectations. Some of them completely sealed the house with tape, and others used paper to create boxes within the house that protected the cotton cylinders. With their resourceful designs, all three houses have easily passed my challenges.
Finally, the youth completed the lesson by playing a board game that simulated a hazardous voyage from a desolated island to the civilized world. During this simulation game, students were allowed to use their occupation card to avoid danger in the ocean. By countering the challenge cards with their occupation cards, everyone successfully completed the game and gained additional knowledge on occupations related to sailing. After the lesson was finished, I gathered the youth to ask their opinions of the game, and most of them reported that it was entertaining and educational. These positive comments gave me a sense of satisfaction and recognition, and they make me proud to look back on my month-long preparation for this lesson. Throughout both the game development and implementation processes, I learned how to create an enjoyable lesson that could entertain the youth in addition to teaching important values.
Since undertaking my internship with AALEAD, my view on working with younger children had drastically changed. I had previously thought that it was impossible to reason with youth in elementary school and that it was my duty is to teach them appropriate societal norms. When I interacted with the Thomson and Bancroft students over the course of the program, I started to learn more about their unique personalities and values. Though it was my role teach students through direct instruction, the youth would sometimes ask thoughtful questions that I could not answer, and in that way, I learned from them too. With my students at the AALEAD program, I explored a variety of new concepts that ultimately shaped me into a more mature and reliable person.
For more information on our internship program, please contact Freidricka Camille, Community College and Internship Programs Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org