Sara Islas Teaching poRtfolio

Table of Contents:

  1. Sample 9th Grade Project: "Survive to Thrive"
  2. Sample Service Learning Project: "Nightlight & Storytime"
  3. Sample 9th Grade Arts Integrated Project: "Political Cartoons"
  4. Sample 9th Grade Unit: "Romeo and Juliet"
  5. Sample Writing Lesson: "Sensory Detail"
  6. Sample Social Science Lesson: "Understanding the First Amendment"
  7. Presentations of Learning
  8. Team Building
  9. Professional Development Facilitation
  10. Ethnic Studies
  11. Model United Nations
  12. References and Recommendations
1. Sample Project: Survive to Thrive

Survive to Thrive is an integrated project with Humanities, Art and Physics and Engineering. In this project students write, direct, act in, and produce a dystopian film. They engage in a broad study of societies that have collapsed, government functioning, dystopian short stories and films, and sustainable energy sources and seek to answer the following essential questions:

  • What causes societies to collapse?
  • What role does government play in running a society?
  • What do societies need to thrive?

In the Humanities, students:

  • Read and analyze dystopian short stories such as "The Lottery" and "Harrison Bergeron" to learn what makes a dystopia and how to portray dystopian themes
  • Read and discuss excerpts of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" to learn what makes a society fall
  • Develop a theory for a pattern of collapse and research and present on a society that went through this pattern
  • Participate in a simulation where they build and run their own government and deal with different dilemmas regarding the bill of rights, the branches of government, and foreign relations in order to learn how government works
  • Learn how to write a screenplay using models
  • Learn how to act through hands-on practice
  • Learn how to advertise a film in order to sell tickets to our movie theatre screening
Students pitch film ideas around how the world should collapse in our dystopian film
Students discuss their ideas for the film and prepare to build consensus on what it will be about
Students speak about their dystopian film, "Survive to Thrive" on a Comic-Con style panel
Students premiere their film in our local movie theatre!
2. Sample Service Learning Project: "Nightlight & Storytime"

The Monarch School is a school that serves students affected by homelessness. Each of my students was paired with a third grade student at The Monarch School. After getting to know their partner, my students made custom storybooks and nightlights for the third grade buddies.

Students visit The Monarch School and get to know their third grade buddies by interviewing them, drawing with them, and reading to them. The third grade buddies critique their nightlight and storybook designs.
Students examine their own favorite storybooks as models to determine what makes an amazing children's book.
Students pose with finished storybooks!
3. Sample 9th Grade Arts Integrated Project: "Political Cartoons"

The Political Cartoon project is a chance for students' voices to be heard. Students read the Declaration of Independence and discussed what this country is meant to be. Then, they read Frederick Douglass' unforgettable indictment of America, that asked “what is fourth of July to a slave?” He questioned the status quo and mandated change. In this project, inspired by Douglass, we examined ways that the US is not living up to the promises it outlined in the Declaration of Independence. We picked political issues that the US faces and did research so we could form opinions on them. Then, we created political cartoons to represent our opinions on these issues. Students wrote in Claim-Evidence-Reasoning style and practiced gathering evidence from multiple viewpoints and unbiased sources. They debated their issues in class using evidence.

Students hold their political cartoons, based off an current issue they care deeply about and wanted to raise awareness around.
4. Sample 9th Grade Unit: "Romeo and Juliet"

Romeo and Juliet offers students a chance to connect with the power of love and the danger of hate! In this unit, students study:

  • The Rennaisance
  • Shakespearean language
  • Literary devices: metaphors, dramatic foils, foreshadowing, characterization, tone, motifs
  • Literary analysis

Students connect to the text by creating hats that represent each character. Daily, different students are chosen to read different characters' parts. Students engage in daily discussion and debate, exploring questions such as:

  • What is more powerful, love or hate?
  • Does Romeo truly love Juliet?
  • What causes a feud?
Students find evidence to prove their point during a debate about whether or not Romeo really loves Juliet

Students unpack the main themes in the play, using evidence to back their assertions. They pick a monologue that represents a meaningful theme to them and they rewrite it in modern day language, memorize it, and act it out on stage!

Students rehearse their monologues
5. Sample Writing Lesson: "Sensory Detail"

Objectives: Students will be able to define, spot, and use sensory detail

Warm-Up: Students recall a distant, but vivid memory. They describe what they were seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling during this memory. They think, journal, share with a partner, and then share as a large group. Students discuss:

  • Why are senses linked to memory?
  • What do our senses have to do with the way we experience things?
  • How does descriptive writing that uses the senses add to the reader's experience?

Engagement: Students close their eyes. I place a unique, edible object in front of each student. They can taste, feel, smell, and listen to the object. Their goal is to write about the object by describing how their senses experienced it. They are not allowed to say the name of the object. They must be able to describe it so well using sensory detail that a partner can guess what they were talking about. Students share their sensory descriptions of their object with a partner and their partner guesses what their object was. Students rejoin the whole class group and discuss:

  • Was your partner able to guess what your object was? Why or why not?
  • What made it easy to guess?
  • What effect does sensory detail have on the reader's experience?

Explore: Students look for examples of sensory detail in our current book. Students share their favorite examples and as a class we discuss how sensory detail allows the reader to engage more deeply in the book.

Explain: Students are given sentences that do not use sensory detail and are asked to turn them into sensory detail. Studens work in pairs and share out their work.

Elaborate: As a class we make a sensory detail chart. The chart lists the senses, gives examples of sensory detail for each, and tips about how to write using each sense.

Evaluate: Each student must pick a sentence in their stories that is bland and could be enhanced using sensory detail. Then, they refine that sentence using sensory detail. They share it with a partner and then share it with me.

6. Sample Social Science Lesson "Understanding the First Amendment"


  • Students will be able to explain the first amendment and why it can be controversial
  • Students will be able to defend a claim using evidence

Warm-Up: Students are asked, "Have you ever been restricted from saying something? Why and how did it feel?" Students think, journal, pair, and share.

Engage: Students are told they are lawyers and must make a decision on some very controversial court cases. Students receive a short lecture on Tinker V. De Moines, the famous court case where students wearing Vietnam protest arm bands were sent home and later sued their school saying that the school violated their first amendment rights. Students are asked: was sending these students home because of their protest arm bands a violation of their first amendment rights? Students receive a copy of the first amendment, discuss their thoughts, and engage in a debate. The real decision is revealed (yes, this did violate these students first amendment rights; the school can only prohibit freedom of speech if that speech causes a material and substantial disturbance at the school). Students discuss their thoughts, especially around what constitutes a disturbance.

Explore: Students are given another court case in which a group of students brought the confederate flag to school. Students are asked to make a decision on whether or not asking the flag-bearers to go home was a violation of their first amendment rights. Students have time to research the history of the confederate flag, debate, and discuss their positions. The real decision is revealed (it was not a violation of these students' rights because this flag was seen as a disturbance in safety) and students discuss their thoughts.

Explain: Students compile a list of examples of when freedom of speech is important and when freedom of speech can be harmful.

Elaborate: Groups of students research a controversial court case surrounding the first amendment and share it out with the class.

Evaluate: Students are evaluated on their ability to write a claim that is supported with evidence and reasoning that responds to: Do the benefits of having the freedom of speech outweigh the cons?

7. Presentations of Learning

The Presentation of Learning (POL) is a summative assessment for teachers to learn more about students and their learning and for students to learn more about themselves and their learning. Based on the guiding Habits of Heart and Mind, during the POL students are asked to find evidence that supports their growth in each habit (mindfulness, evidence, refinement, cooperation, compassion, perspective, and perseverance). It is deeply reflective and asks students to analyze their growth in an authentic and robust way. Students are asked to build a portfolio of work that demonstrates their growth in the Habits of Heart and Mind throughout the semester so that they have ample material to show during their presentation. Students are also asked to pick two habits that they would like to improve on and make a specific improvement plan that charts how they will achieve this improvement. Their presentation is given in front of a panel of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.

8. Team Building

Team building is vital to creating a strong culture in any classroom. I take time to engage in team building activities as much as possible. These include: the maze game, acting and improv games, team building challenges, "Very Important Person" days where students celebrate one another, "critical friends forever" structures in which students are paired with a critical friend and engage in weekly check-ins with them, and restorative and group circles.

Team building challenges
Students do dance challenges to bond and feel at ease with one another
9. Professional Development Facilitation

As a teacher, I value collaboration with my peers as a core practice to enhance my skills in the classroom. I have helped design and facilitate many professional development and adult learning experiences including:

  • Equity Deep Dive: teachers connected to equity through personal stories, explored data around how equitably our school is serving the different demographics represented at our school, and excavated our own practices in order to make them more equitable.
  • Teacher Action Groups: teachers looked at school data and developed action groups to improve areas that they were passionate about and that data showed needed improvement. Using improvement research, teachers made a plan to take measurable action around that issues.
  • Dialogical Interviews: teachers engage in extended interviews with one another to empathize and learn from their respective stories.
  • School Improvement Coaching: new teachers form network improvement community groups around different core practices. I led a group of teachers that planned, implemented, and tested different change ideas about how to improve their writing instruction.
  • Equity Tuning Protocol: I facilitated a protocol in which teachers looked deeply at an assignment or activity they were asking students to engage in and excavate how equitable it was.
  • Equity, Diversity, and Design Principles Course Instructor: I Co-instructed a graduate level course at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education that asked students to examine equity and diversity in the educational setting and engage in a project to improve equity at their school site.
  • Master's Advisor: I advised masters student on their improvement research projects in their School Leadership graduate project.
10. Ethnic Studies

Ethnic Studies is a student-led elective course which I am the advisor for. I teach lessons and co-plan, but mostly work to empower my three student teachers to lead. The course seeks to celebrate and study diversity through multiple modalities. In the course, we practice cultural relevancy by connecting to our students and the world around us.

Students engage in the privilege walk. Statements of privileges and lack of privileges are read and students step backward or forward based on if they have experienced those privileges- or not. Later, they engage in a dialogue about the meaning of privilege and the importance of discussing it.
11. Model United Nations

For four years, I have been the advisor for High Tech High Chula Vista's Model United Nations club. We have held an annual conference for our 10th grade (150 students) which is completely student led and designed.

Students debating during one of our conferences.
Our club's website
12. References and Recommendations

"First and foremost, Sara has a gift for connecting with students and building community within her classroom. Her consistently patient, calm demeanor instills trust in her students, and her sense of humor and infectious enthusiasm make students excited to be in her classroom every day. As a ninth grade teacher, Sara had the yearly challenge of initiating a new group of students into our school’s unique collaborative culture, teaching them the skills and habits it takes to be effective group members. Sara took on this challenge beautifully, designing scaffolded experiences that helped her freshmen learn how to take turns sharing their opinions, delegate responsibilities, and reflect on their successes and failures. As a result of her thoughtful team building, Sara’s team of ninth graders always ended the year with one of the strongest community bonds in the entire school, and in subsequent years, these students frequently returned to her classroom for support and counsel, knowing that it would always be a home base."

-Lillian Hsu, former director of High Tech High Chula Vista

Dressing up at homer and reading the Illiad (each student plays a character)

"Sara is a natural educator. She is also one of a kind. When observing her in the classroom, Sara is always student-centered. She can deliver the content with ease and make the lesson relevant to all. These are products of her intense lesson planning and creative energy—it seems she never sleeps! It is so refreshing to see the balance of hands-on projects and authentic learning coming together to create magic for the past five years in her classroom. However, it is her strong desire to help youth who are often overlooked and neglected that I find to be her greatest asset. Sara has the “T.L.C.” factor that makes her so special. This ability to Teach, Lead, and Connect with our most at-risk youth has proven to be invaluable to the community and culture of our campus. Many of the families of these students have shared with me that they are indebted to Sara for her intervention as a caring adult."

-Ray Trinidad, Dean of Students at High Tech High Chula Vista

Volunteering at Father Joe's with my students

"She has designed and facilitated an engaging and rigorous student-centered, project-based curriculum for her students, working carefully to provide access and challenge to all learners. In her class, students engage in challenging reading, writing, discussion, and critical thinking tasks, while also designing, refining, and perfecting products of value to the students themselves as well as the community. Recent projects have had students creating political cartoons, soapbox speeches, short films, and children’s books. Sara’s relentless dedication to student learning and growth, as well as her insistence on high quality work, are just two of the qualities that make her an outstanding teacher. In addition, Sara has been a teacher leader for the past several years. She has facilitated staff meetings, planned professional development, and developed a reputation as a trusted and experienced colleague."

-Tim McNamara, Director of High Tech High Chula Vista

Contact me:

(619) 849-9668

Created By
Sara Islas

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