Monday, June 01, 2020

STEAM Week One: What does a team do?

Teamwork is an essential ingredient for almost every successful decision, project, or problem solving endeavor. Teamwork brings a diversity of perspectives, experience, and knowledge as well as positive checks and balances when it comes to good work. Of course, teams differ with regard to their success for multiple reasons. Some teams are not diverse enough, lose their sense of mission, and engage with ineffective process which results in poor work, but in the best of situations, teams use good process, have a collective, meaningful mission, and include good diversity for successful work.

This week, at fifth grade, our math and science study will morph into STEAM: science, tech, engineering, art, and math. This STEAMwork will focus on teamwork initially. We'll discuss multiple essential elements of successful teams as outlined in this document and we will also discuss the kinds of roles that STEAMwork includes as illustrated at the top of the page. Later in the week, STEAM teams will have a chance to design an outdoor waterpark together--the kind of waterpark students may be able to replicate in their yards or a local park.

I'm excited about this learning because teamwork is an essential ingredient for the kinds of decision making, problem solving, and projects needed in today's world. Our students need to learn how to work as effective teams with good purpose. I'm happy to help my fifth graders get a good start with this important learning focus as well as the creativity and problem solving included in the project focus: The Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods Challenge.  Onward.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Respond to George Floyd Murder: Educate yourself; then act.

We will all respond differently to George Floyd's murder given our ages, locations, professions, and perspectives. What's important here is that we don't just stand passively by and do nothing in the face of this injustice, an injustice that represents a long history of injustice against Blacks and African Americans in our country (I use both terms as friends have told me they prefer one or the other).

As a white woman, I am always fearful when it comes to talking about or responding to racism in any way. Yet, my education has taught me the worse thing you can do is to sit idly by and do nothing--we must all work against our racist roots, racist culture, and racist injustice. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to do this. In my earliest days, good educators taught me about the Civil Rights Movement. My grandmother schooled me about racism too--she had many tough times in her life and was empathetic about the injustices in society including those due to racism. My parents were always human rights advocates too. At my Jesuit College, we learned a lot about injustice and then as an educator, my school system participated in terrific anti-racist education initiatives where I learned a lot. Individual teachers in my system have made anti-racism efforts a priority and they have shared their work and advocacy with all of us. Most recently librarians, reading specialists, and other educators have made it a priority to fill our online and real time book shelves with stories about people from underserved and oppressed groups too.

Last summer, I participated in a terrific online study group related to the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, which helped to improve my teaching in significant ways. To respond to Floyd's death in a way that can make a difference, I am starting an online book group related to the book, White Fragility. I am hoping that a book group related to this book will prompt greater growth and positive change with regard to my role as an anti-racist educator, parent, and community member. If you would like to join this book group, please fill out this survey. The group will begin the week of June 22. There are a variety of ways that you can participate in the group including a small, focused group that shares on a Google Doc, a larger group that shares via a Twitter chat, and a medium sized group that shares via a Google Meet.

I've learned in life that if we don't respond with action, our words are empty. This is the first step I'll take to work against the violence, racism, and murder George Floyd and so many others like him have experienced.

New Yorker Review of White Fragility

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication

Too often we rely on the same old, same old processes for collaboration and creativity. The pandemic has fostered a renewed look at both collaboration and creativity because we have to think differently to live in these times--what we've always been doing doesn't work at home or at school. We've received a giant push to make changes whether we are ready or not.

If you're like me, your initial reaction to some of these changes is dissatisfaction and passivity. "I don't like it and I'm not going to do that," may be words you've spoken when it comes to staying home, teaching online, wearing masks, celebrating a birthday party via ZOOM and so many changes. Yet, if you're also like me and so many others, you may recognize that it does no one any good to stay resistant to needed change, and instead this is an opportunity for creativity, learning, and looking at life anew.

This morning I worked on a team project for our school. Most staff members contributed to the project with their own creativity via words and images. I added some music and strung the creative pieces together in a short video. As I worked on the project, I was struck at how this share that virtually involved no conversation was so powerful. As I read each staff member's words and studied the images and composition they chose, I was moved in many different ways. In the end, I recognized that this mostly virtual collaboration increased my respect for those I work with every day and gave me a chance to see each team member in a different light.

One silver lining of the pandemic response is that we are coming up with new ways to be together and collaborate. We are also noticing that some of the old ways we collaborated may not be as effective in every situation. For example, earlier in the week, I was apart of a process that included mostly conversation. At the end of the meeting, I found myself craving a better process for the work, one that would result in greater satisfaction, creativity, and decision making.

A key need in our world today is better structures for collaboration, creativity, and communication. The problems are too big and there are too many of us at the table to rely on the old ways of making decisions, creating, and communicating. We have to think anew about these vital components of living and learning together.

Next week at school, students will focus on what it takes to make a good team, and then they'll work as teams of about 15 students to creatively design a backyard waterpark. Later they'll embed this learning in their own creativity, communication, and collaboration as they embark on the Global Cardboard and Recycled Goods Challenge--an opportunity to create something wonderful that matches the theme of "Summer Fun." I'm excited about this learning endeavor because I know that my students will be the leaders in the future and I want those leaders to be able to effectively create, collaborate, and communicate in an effort to build a more peaceful, positive world. Onward.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Learning at school or remotely share the same goal: engaging, meaningful education

Whether we're at school or teaching remotely, our mission should be the same which is to engage students in meaningful, empowering learning experiences. Yet, as we teach remotely, we have to think differently about what this means and how we make sure we are true to this mission.

What matters in this regard?

Similar to school as we have always known it, to learn well, you have to show up. Yes, there are always a few who surpass every expectation and don't show up, but for the most part, to learn well, you have to show up. The few assessments I've given during remote learning have demonstrated that children who don't show up, don't learn the material as well as those that do show up. Attending virtual classes, just like attendance at school buildings, needs to be a requirement.

While attendance must be a requirement, there has to be choice too. Unlike teaching children in a school building, when you are teaching remotely you are dealing with a much greater variety of student scenarios since students live in varied homes, landscapes, and family situations. That's why choice is more important than ever. For example, I taught many classes online. In some cases the time of the class was not a good fit for a family. Since I was teaching many similar classes, I could offer some choice about which class a child attends. This worked well. Yet, we won't be able to do that in all instances, but it should be a consideration as we create schedules and make plans.

Further, it's integral to have choices with regard to assignments too. Students have varying types and numbers of supplies at home, varying spaces to work with given the size of their families or homes, and as always, a large variety of interests when it comes to how, when, and what they do as they learn. Providing multiple choices with regard to student study, practice, and project learning opportunities is a good fit for remote learning and teaching.

Learning Standards and Goals
It is essential to direct the teaching we do in a direction that is meaningful for children and helpful to their overall academic growth and development. We need to keep our eyes and efforts focused in this direction and we need to work with each other to make sure that we are meeting the most essential goals. As I think of the most essential goals for our grade level, I note the following:
  • Every child is safe.
  • Every child is an enthusiastic, engaged, and confident learner. We foster positive learning mindsets, social-emotional intelligence, self advocacy, and positive academic, social, emotional, and healthy behaviors. 
  • Every child is included. We teach all children and we let all children know that they are a vital and valuable members of the team.
  • Children develop a strong foundation of mathematical concept, skill, and knowledge. They develop their strength as mathematical thinkers.
  • Children read every day and develop their ability to choose great books and read with skill, understanding, and enjoyment. 
  • Children write every day and develop their ability to write in multiple genres with skill, clarity, expression, and voice. 
  • Children gain knowledge via social studies and science concepts about the world around them in rich and engaging ways. Without a solid knowledge base, children's learning is stunted. It is essential to fill the curriculum program with intriguing, wonderful stories and information via multiple, varied learning experiences. 
  • Children have the opportunity to direct their learning, create, invent, lead, contribute, and make positive change. 
Well Crafted Learning Experiences
Learning experiences need to be engaging and thoughtful. We need to vary what we do and use the most effective tools. We have to work together as we develop our blended learning approach and maximize the strengths, perspectives, experiences, skills, and insights of the entire team to present to students learning experiences that truly make a difference and promote academic engagement, growth,  and success. It is essential that professional learning are driven by conversations and shared planning and creativity related to this.

Effective interactive and presentation tools and sites
There are many, many tools out there for teaching and learning remotely. As I look forward, I want to choose tools that work in a blended learning setting, tools that foster 24-7 learning access for students wherever they are. At present tools that work well at the grade level I teach have included the following:
  • Google Presentation: Presentation slideshows are perfect for presentations, interactive lessons, unit roll outs, and student share. 
  • Geogebra: This is a super math drawing tool. So far, I don't think that I can set up an interactive board and invite students to work on the same board with me, but I have to explore that more.
  • Google Classroom: I want to explore Google Classroom more. It has definitely been helpful in some instances, but too cumbersome in others. I will continue to explore and use this in part.
  • Google Websites: Our team is moving to virtual portfolios next year and we'll use Google websites for these portfolios. We explored this in the past and opted for the handheld books, but now with the quick transition to remote learning and all the hard copy portfolios stuck on shelves in the classroom, the switch was an easy decision.
  • Learning Menus and Class Website: These tools work especially well for blended online and offline classroom learning. We use Google apps for this work.
  • BrainPop: Our school subscribes to this and I want to use this more.
  • WeVideo: I really like this collaborative movie making platform and hope that our school system will invest in it as well.
  • Google Draw and Docs: I have been able to create a lot of good math lessons with these tools. The tools and docs are helpful for math model making. 
  • Google Meet: This is a good teaching platform, however I need to update my computer so it works better. 
  • Interactive Math Tools: There are many great tools online for math games, math models, and more.
  • State MCAS Site: This has been a great resource for math learning experience creation -- I can use the questions there as part of a lesson or to spur a class project.
  • Math websites such as Symphony Math, IXL, Track My Progress, Khan Academy, and That Quiz are all super websites for providing students with quick feedback and positive standards-based practice.
  • Google Forms are easy to use for decision trees, student surveys, student response and quizzes. The quick feedback and easy to manipulate student response data makes this a terrific tool. 
  • YouTube is a ready resource for almost any information you are looking for. 
  • EdPuzzle: This tool gives you the ability to direct students' focus throughout a video with stop times to reflect, answer questions, and think or respond to specific facts and information. 
Essentially you can see that Google plays a big role in the tools we use for blended learning and teaching. Those tools overall are great. 

Assignment Completion
During this period of remote teaching and learning, we've encouraged assignment completion, but there has been no consequence for those who don't complete assignments. Next year we'll have to share clear expectations with students and families and there will need to be some kind of incentive for students to complete the assigned work. Some students naturally complete all work. Some families support the completion of all or most work. Other students don't complete their work and other families don't support completion of schoolwork. This is a consideration the team will have to discuss.

We have to assess what we are doing to see what is working and what is not working. We need to work with colleagues and other stakeholders to dissect our efforts in multiple ways to notice what we are doing that's working and what we are doing that can be better. These assessments have to be varied and thoughtful. They must include all voices and be tied to our essential goals. We have to be careful about using conjecture rather than thoughtful assessment of the work we are doing in order to improve. 

We can't simply throw a group of people in a room and expect good work to derive from conversation alone. We need to use good processes to get at the significant outcomes and needs of optimal blended learning. Processes such as colleague circles or hosting conversations are ways to arrive at more meaningful information than to simply just expect a group of people with no thoughtful process to come up with an inclusive, substantial, and meaningful plan. No matter how big or small your group is, you need to think about the processes involved in decision making and the structures that underly the work you do. 

As we consider blended learning carefully, we'll notice that some structures have to change. Some roles will no longer be effective, others will have to be revised, and some will be overtaxed. Honestly, I do feel that the role of classroom teacher may be one that is overtaxed at this time since a lot of responsibility has fallen on our shoulders with short time and little support or needed time for essential planning and preparation. We need to think about the structures in place and how to re-think the framework that supports all that happens in schools so that the framework can well support a blended learning environment that includes online and offline education in school and out of schools. 

Every time I sit down to capsulate this grand move from teaching in a school building to remote teaching and learning, I feel like I am trying to catch 100 butterflies in a net. I can't capture all the ideas, perspectives, challenges, strengths, and needs--there's too much happening at once and it's impossible to see it from a distance since it's happening right here all around me. Yet each day, I continue to think about it and try to capture the butterflies that I can to examine what we are doing more closely in order to better the efforts to meet the goals we seek to meet. Onward. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

To teach well you have to coach yourself ahead with positivity

The energy to do my job well comes from within. Few to no people really care about what I do daily unless I make an error. Then people care, but as long as I am doing the job I'm expected to do, no one pays much attention.

Teachers don't become teachers because they want recognition, they teach because they believe a good education makes a difference in people's lives. Teachers teach because they want to spend their lives contributing to something greater than themselves; they want to empower lives.

I have always enjoyed learning. I always enjoyed school, and school made a significant difference in my life. I wanted to be apart of that difference for others' lives as well.

One of the most difficult parts of teaching is the fact that you have to continually draw from within yourself to get the energy to do the work that you know is important. You have to reach way down to energize yourself to keep working towards doing a better job for the children you teach. And you have to deal with a lot of outside people and agencies who work against your good energy and good work all the time--people more concerned with their own reputations, ambition, and success than the mission of the job. These agencies and people are similar to a barbed wire fence--they oppose the good work you hope to do all the time. Their efforts are defeating, yet they persist.

Teachers have to find ways to deal with this barbed wire because if they don't the oppressive and hurtful energy will take you down--you can't teach well when you are oppressed.

To simply recognize that there will be some in your midst who don't care much about the true mission of teaching which is to serve children well is one step forward, and then to coach yourself in ways that help you to avoid the oppressive energy and dictates of those people is another step forward. Further you have to find groups of educators who do care to help you sustain your energy in ways that matter--those people will help you to set your teaching/learning sails in a positive direction.

Teaching is good work. Teaching is positive work. Teaching makes a difference, and to do the job well, we have to coach ourselves ahead with people who support the work we do in positive ways. Onward.