Summer 2019 | STEM Teacher Institute | Robyn Riedstra


I’m Robin Riedstra. I just graduated
from my Masters of Education program at San Jose State last May. I decided to
do the STEM Teacher Institute – both for the math portion and the computer science – and the reason, there’s a couple of reasons, that it was really important to me. Math was always a really hard subject for me. You can watch my college transcripts, and I failed math
and would drop out of college and then fail math and drop out of college. This
happened repeatedly, but I had made a promise to myself that I would graduate
college no matter how long it took. It took a while. So math was always
really difficult. I was even scared to go into teaching because of math.
I took Pat Rogers’ class and she kept telling me ‘you’re gonna be a math
teacher’ and I kept saying ‘oh, no it’s not gonna happen.’ But she kept telling me ‘no, you’re going to be a math teacher – you’ve got this.” I believed that I
could learn math because she convinced me I could, but I still didn’t think I’d
be a math teacher. Then in my second full time, second semester of student
teaching, when I full-time was doing full time student teaching, there was a
student – I’m going to call her Sally, that’s not her name, but we’ll call her Sally – and the teacher that came in to teach math and her the regular teacher, my CT teacher, kept telling me ‘oh, don’t help
her, she just raises her hand because she has learned helplessness make her just kind of do it.’ But I recognized the blank look in her face of ‘I really don’t get
this.’ I could see easily how to them having had her first long as they had, because they looped together, that they could perceive that as learned helplessness. Being a student teacher, I had the time to spend more time with her than they
did. I would go over and help her and, over probably six weeks, I got her from
not even willing to try to willing to write down everything she could find in
the problem and read it three times before she raised her hand. I’d see
her hand pop up and then it would float down. So I would just keep
an eye on her as I was helping other students. She was really coming along
and you could physically see her brighten, like physically brighten, when
she would understand the math problem. That was just so incredible, and I
thought ‘that’s why I’m going into teaching – that right there.’ You don’t see that
in other subjects the same way you see it in math and in math it’s really
exciting to see that light bulb go on. They physically brighten. Then this
STEM Teachers Institute opportunity came up. I was lucky enough to get an
email from one of my professors that mentioned it. Not everybody in my cohort
noticed the email come through. I’m sure it went out, but I happened to see it. I thought ‘I’m going to do this’ for a couple of reasons. My husband was laid off in November and so he hadn’t been working this whole
time. I hadn’t been able to work because I was student teaching full-time.
So the fact that this was offered as a grant opportunity was really a blessing
because I couldn’t have afforded it on my own. We paid for my schooling in cash, so we needed build up those cash reserves
and not keep going down. So the fact that it was a grant, I jumped on it and I was just
praying everyday till I got that email saying I was in because I needed as much math support as possible. I took it with the intention of even if I don’t become
a math teacher, I need all the math support I can get and if they’re going to offer me math support, I’m going to jump on it. I felt the same
way about computer science class because I took the computer science crash course
over at KCI also, which was fantastic. Again, the thought was that if I’m gonna be a multiple subject teacher, I want to have as many tools in my toolbelt as I can
get and if you’re going to offer me education, for free, I’m going to take it
because that’s just going to give me that many more things that I can do and
dabble in. Both the math methods class and the CSET study class were awesome.
Julie was the math methods teacher and she was incredible. The textbook was
wonderful and she actually taught us using the style of teaching in the
textbook. So we did all the group activities – we did everything. We
got to feel what it’s like to do group work that way, which was wonderful. I had an experience with the manipulatives that was definitely that aha moment. I was the
kid that kept asking ‘why?’ So you’re going through algebra and the teacher says ‘oh,
in this problem, you’re completing the square.” “Where’s the square? What do you mean?’ That’s when they would shut me down
because they couldn’t explain where their square was and I wanted to know
‘where’s the square?’ I love the way they teach math now because now in the new style of teaching to tell you where the square is. Jeremiah in the CSET study class taught us how to use something called algebra tiles – they’re brilliant!
You make the algebra equation with these tiles and right there, in the tiles, you
can see where you’re completing the square. It was just brilliant. The very
first thing I ordered from my new math classroom was algebra tiles. There’s no
way I’m going into my classroom without algebra tiles for all those kids that
need to see where’s that square you’re completing. Brilliant. So yes, I don’t know if I’ve gone off track, but those are the reasons why I could see the students
brighten and I could recognize that look on their face. I knew I needed more
support. I couldn’t afford more support in my own math education. Then, the
things that I was taught and learned – Julie taught us about zero pairs. Who knew? What a fantastic concept! I can’t wait to share those things with my students.
Without this program, I would have never been able to do that. Thanks to the paper that we wrote for the at the end of the methods
class and my master’s thesis, I had three interviews and I got three job offers.
It was those two papers that really solidified for me what I believe about
teaching and who I am as a teacher, the theories that I work with, and what I
believe about children and teaching. I know for a fact that it was those two
assignments culminating everything together, just pulling it all together, that
when I went and did three interviews, I got three job offers. Two of them were in
math and one of them was in English language arts. I got to pick and
choose because they all came at the same time and I got to decide where I was
going to get to go, so thank you!

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