Thursday, March 31, 2011

Using Technology to Overcome "Print Disabilities"

Recently at the MassCUE conference, I heard Dr. David Rose, a developmental neuropsychologist and educator, discuss the notion of "print disabilities."  I was fascinated by his discussion, and prompted to think more carefully about this as I work with children.  Essentially "print disabilities" or "print challenges" relate to the way people use text to make meaning.  He suggests that technology provides us with many new avenues to remedy "print disabilities" for learners.

Anyone familiar with Ellin Keene and her book, Mosaic of Thought, knows that one way to remedy students' challenges with text is to teach the comprehension strategies, cognitive strategies which help children make meaning from text.  Another way is to use the computer effectively and strategically to help students.

I tried this out recently as I completed a short story analysis for a writing class I am taking.  There are a couple of factors that have always stood in my way when analyzing literature.  Those factors include the quick recall of facts, vocabulary and organization.  So this time I decided to conduct the entire analysis online using Google docs with the following strategy:

1. Download a copy of the story (free or purchased) onto a Google doc.
2. Color code as I read:
  • pink - words I'm unsure of.
  • red - descriptive phrases.
  • orange - main events that move the plot along.
3. Then using the Google "define" or image search tool on the menu bar, I looked up definitions and/or images for all the words I wasn't sure of.  I copy and pasted to make a vocab list to reference.

4. Next I read through the story again, listing questions and summary notes in blue along the way.

5. After that, I made a quick story time line.

6.  Then I completed the assignment, sometimes checking the Internet for clarification of concepts and ideas.  

In the days, months and years to come, people will be coming up with all kinds of strategies to make print more accessible to learners.  This Google doc strategy coupled with my knowledge of the comprehension strategies allowed me to turn a tough text into a provocative learning experience. On a smaller scale, I hope to try out this strategy with some of my students soon.  Let me know if you have anything to add.  It's a wonderful new world of learning.

Assignment Example

School System Idea-Management?

"Idea management is the practice of gathering and evaluating ideas in a structured fashion, with a goal of selecting the best ideas with the greatest bottom-line potential for implementation." (

Why are idea-management systems ideal for schools?  

Schools are problem solving centers.  Schools' overarching problem is how do we educate each and every child to their best potential?  Teachers are continually asking that question and employing idea after idea to provide the best possible education for their students.

Tenured teachers like me have seen positive ideas flourish in schools and make substantial change.  We've also been witness to ideas that take time, but have little to no value.  Idea management systems could potentially evaluate all ideas from the start, helping schools and teachers to choose ideas with the greatest merit.  Ideal idea management systems would also become a place where schools' good ideas are noted, discussed and exchanged.  When I attended an idea-management lecture a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that most of the good ideas come from those in the front line -- in schools, that would be the people working with students.  In some schools, those people's ideas get little to no attention, and in other schools vehicles exist for idea sharing and evaluation.

How would a school system create and employ an idea management system?

School systems need to create a welcoming atmosphere for ideas and a system for idea collection, evaluation and exchange.  Unlike businesses, schools' bottom-line is not making money, instead it's to best educate each child.

So for starters, school systems have to define "best educate" for their system/schools.  Currently, I would describe "best educate" as the combination of the following criteria:
  • simple, inspiring, productive, welcoming work spaces/environment/structure.
  • energetic, educated, inspired staff.
  • students who are ready to learn i.e. adequate nutrition, rest, health-care, commitment to learning.
  • family members who are both welcome and integrated into the school culture and efforts.
  • essential skill instruction/development: reading, writing, math, social competency.
  • project-base learning opportunities which integrate the arts to build content, knowledge and 21st C skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking/inquiry and creativity.
  • adequate tools and supplies for learning including up-to-date technology.
  • sports, health and recreation facilities, equipment and programs.
Next, schools need to promote a process of continual evaluation and response.  This action would promote an attitude of positive change -- embracing and strengthening what works, and eliminating, revising or replacing what doesn't work.  How can schools do this in a fluid, productive manner that includes all voices in a school community?

A simple solution for schools could be to start with a collaborative Google doc (see model below) where all are invited to share their ideas.  There could be a protocol in place about how to post, what's acceptable on the document and what is not, and the process of evaluation/implementation.  I use a similar "action" chart with my students.  We look at the chart once a week to determine student/teacher work and goals.  It's an effective process.  

Obviously the chart will have limitations, and that's why businesses and other organizations employ computer-model idea management systems.  But for now, this is a start, and in summary, ideas are important ingredients to healthy, forward-moving, student-centered schools and educational systems.  When ideas from all involved are welcome and reviewed, the system has its greatest chance for success and innovation.  I believe these thoughts were supported at the recent The IDEAS ECONOMY Conference sponsored by the Economist on the Berkeley campus as summarized by Randy Haykin in his Innovation Sparks Bulletin:

This post is a leap for me.  It's a post based on my belief in the potential ideas hold for positive change in schools -- ideas from all members of the school community from students to family members to staff to community members to administration.  As always, I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Model of a simple idea chart schools can use to collect, review, evaluate and implement ideas from all members of a community. Note that the ideas expressed in the chart are just examples, not ideas related to any one school.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Video Learning

I was struck by the recent Khan video I watched ( ).  I thought is was interesting that he was promoting video viewing for homework, and practice for class work.  I decided to explore that idea with greater depth.

I created an It's Learning Course, Fraction Action, for my fourth grade students.  It's Learning is our school system's new learning management system.  As part of the course, I added videos.  I started to think about how students would use those videos.  Then I posed the following video learning discussion questions to my students:  What are the advantages and disadvantages of video learning?  Also, what actions can we do to enhance our learning from videos?

Students agreed that videos offered a multi-modal venue for learning: words, images, and sound.  Also, everyone agreed that you could watch a video again and again, and you could watch it anywhere you had Internet access via a computer or mobile device.  They commented that they liked videos that were entertaining.  Disadvantages included videos that were boring and dull to watch. Actions that help one learn from videos including note taking, writing down questions and drawing.  We will continue this discussion as students try-out video watching for homework.

In the meantime, their comments remind me that if we're going to use videos, we have to choose the best ones -- videos that are entertaining, educational, accurate and developmentally "just right."  I'm also thinking about the right balance for 4th grade learning related to videos, hands-on, classroom discussion, project work, paper/pencil. . .  I will continue to ponder these questions as education evolves.  Let me know if you have any thoughts.   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Fraction Unit: Planning, Implementation, Review

I'm using this post as to plan my fraction unit.  I welcome feedback and thoughts.

I start with the following steps:
  • reviewing standards for 3rd, 4th, 5th (grade-level, remediation, and enrichment).
  • review of current materials i.e. EDM book, fraction file, videos, online games, projects.
  • reflection about my students' learning styles, classroom materials, and teaching support.
Then I plan the entire unit from start to finish. Regular homework, blog posts, and other classroom activities will support this unit roll-out.  Decisions about specific teaching methods will be made after each lesson/reflection to best meet the developing learning needs of students with the goal of mastery for all.
  1. Informal assessment.
  2. Introduction to many fraction models accompanied by related word problems.
  3. Introduction to the comparison of fractions, decimals, and percents using 100's chart.
  4. Simplifying fractions.
  5. Adding fractions with like denominators.
  6. Modeling student end-unit project.
  7. Giving students time to prepare their projects.
  8. Project presentations.  This is a snapshot of a student team's presentation.
  9. End unit assessment.
Now, I'll get my materials in order, online and offline.  I'll store most materials in It's Learning, our new school system learning management system.  Then I'll slowly and responsively implement the unit step-by-step.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elementary Curriculum Thoughts

As the crocuses begin to push their way up through the hard, winterworn earth, thoughts of next year's curriculum and efforts begin to fill my mind.  I won't make the decisions by myself.  Our team will discuss objectives, materials and efforts -- I'm fortunate to have a thoughtful, experienced, dedicated team of educators whose ideas and points of view always positively affect my work with children.

Today I created a chart of the efforts currently in place.  Our efforts, in general, are based on the Massachusetts State Standards -- a worthy list of concept, skill and knowledge goals.  We integrate these standards into a meaningful, student-centered program.  Soon, we will begin to weave the common core standards into our program too.

Now I want to think about the essential elements of an upper elementary school student's academic program.  I've listed the primary components below with some focus notes.

Community Building:
We do this with morning meetings, social competency, and curriculum efforts that build in social awareness such as our Just Like Me Program and Culture Studies.  I believe our classroom social network (NING) also fosters community and communication.

We develop reading skills in so many ways including interactive read aloud, comprehension strategy instruction, reading workshop, reading focus lessons, reading intervention groups and nightly reading homework. I want to think deeply about how we can minimize "print disabilities" for students with the use of technology such as iPods, ebooks, interactive stories and more.

We use the Lucy Calkins' program as a guide for our writing program.  Fourth graders' main focus is the personal narrative.  Other writing includes paragraphs, poetry, fiction stories, and a research report/slide show.  Currently, we utilize Google docs for most of our writing work.  Blogging on our social network and ePal letters also encourage and develop writing skill.  We use Inspiration, KidPix, Google Presentation, and other venues too.  What tools, routines, and methods do we deem best for student writing development and growth?

Currently, we use the Everyday Math Series as our curriculum program.  We deliver lessons in a variety of ways utilizing a large variety of materials and tools including That Quiz, online games and activities, and classroom projects and investigations.  I continue to wonder about the best approach to math education.  I teach with two threads -- one is a computation/problem solving thread, and the other is a concept, knowledge, skill thread.  Of course, the two connect and overlap.  EDM moves quickly from concept to concept, rather than spending a significant amount of time on one math concept; that makes it difficult to differentiate and foster deep questioning and understanding of math concepts.  I will continue to think about and research math instruction with respect to these considerations.

Social Studies/Science:
We integrate math and ELA into many of our social studies and science content units.  This might be an area where we can think more creatively about employing more technology and 21stC skills for student success.

Field Studies/Special Programs: 
We choose a myriad of field studies and special programs to enrich our content/skill teaching.  We revisit those choices each year.

Reflection/Habits of a Good Student:
Students utilize reflective pieces such as portfolios to collect, share and think about their efforts and goals.  Is it time to move our portfolios online.  We now have a new tech vehicle for this.

This list is just a start as I begin to think about the rest of this year and the year ahead. What's missing?  What should we include as part of our lesson/project delivery menu?  What are the priorities?  What is admin. thinking with respect to our program and priorities?

Let me know what your thoughts are related to optimal curriculum for young 9-11-year-old students.  In the meantime, I will continue to reflect, revise and review what we do, possible revisions/additions, and information related to our students' developmental profile.  Execution of an optimal program fosters happiness, pride and success for all members of a learning community.  Optimal programs also continually evolve.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Administering a Standardized Test

Today, I administered a standardized test to my students.  I carefully followed the directions posted in the guidelines, then monitored students' work as they labored over the task.  Students asked many questions that I could not answer.  I must say that I felt bad -- I'm their teacher; I'm supposed to answer their questions and guide their work.  Some of my students didn't like the fact that I couldn't answer their questions either.

Also, at times their questions were disheartening.  As they asked, I thought, I can't answer that, but why don't they know it -- we've practiced and reviewed that concept a zillion times.  They're young children though and they are developing their skills at many tasks -- some learning sticks and other learning doesn't.  As I think of myself at that young age, I remember what came easy and what was challenging.  You can't know it all right away, some things do come easy and others are a challenge.

As I watched, I was reminded of the power of a child's mindset.  Those who had an "I can do it" attitude and a "this is important" attitude seemed to work more diligently than those who were unsure of their abilities or the importance of the task.  I really need to let family members know the power of a child's attitude at the start of the year and their role as coach when it comes to that attitude.  I was also reminded that a day can make a difference -- a child who might perform great on one day, might falter on another due to many reasons such as their health, school start, a conflict with a friend, or if they are especially hungry that day (a growth spurt perhaps).

I wish the tests weren't a one-day ordeal.  I wish they were more of a process -- when you're ready, you take the test.  You take the test on a Saturday morning (like SAT) and you take the test you're ready for.  A proctor administers the test, not the teacher you have a working relationship with, and your results are communicated to all who are invested in your growth and development including your family members and teachers.

I administered the test.  I observed, handed out sharpened pencils, and answered the questions that I could. I thought about my teaching -- where I noticed it seemed to be working, and where I'd like to tweak for better effect.  Of course, I want all of my students to be tops on all tests, but that's not a reality as there's always going to be a spectrum of results for any test of competency whether it be a field day race, a standardized test, the school talent show, or a robotics task.  Children come to us with a myriad of skills, talents and passions, and it's our job as teachers to hone the essential skills, recognize the talents, and fuel the passions.

More standardized tests to come.  We've prepped the children, and gave it our best teaching.  Now it's their turn to "show off" all they know, and it's our turn to use the data to better meet students' needs collectively and individually.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tech Connect

It's true!  I adore technology.  Why?  It's my questions answered.  It's my mind on a page?  It's my trip overseas, and my chance to converse with educators near and far.

There's a big world out there, and tech isn't everything (but it might connect to almost everything).  I appreciate and profit from the various passions of so many -- passions for art, music, design, environment, math. . .

If you read my blogs, you know I like to share the "good news."  I've been sharing the "good news" and "great links" of tech with colleagues for a while now, but I don't want to overwhelm them.  So today, I started the "Tech Connect."  I'm welcoming any colleagues who want to receive tech connects that relate well to the work we do to let me know.  I won't continue to "tech connect" with others who are busy developing and exploring other passions as they're busy with their admirable pursuits.

I'm wondering if any will be interested.  If so, how many?  Will it grow or will it lay dormant.  Time will tell, but why not try it.  I continue to be convinced that it's a good idea to "spread the good news" about tech and any other area of knowledge that improves life.

Classroom Renovation

A few days ago I wrote about restructuring schools, now I want to focus on the area that I have the most control over -- the classroom. How can I restructure my classroom for greater service and learning for all students within my charge. I am going to use the six structures that I put in place for my restructuring schools blog post.

1. Mentoring. Through NING and classroom discussions I will mentor my students. I will continue to think of their overall learning goals and then prioritize to help each child continue to grow socially, emotionally, physically and academically. We will have regular classroom meetings and I will encourage regular correspondence and questioning via our classroom social network. I will also foster students' reflection and goal setting through portfolio work. I'll re-look at my schedule to make sure I make time for this on a regular basis.

2. Essential Skills Development. We will continue to use the computation ladder to practice and assess our math skill development* We will also continue to meet in differentiated groups when support teachers are in to develop computation skill and ease. We will use an online phonics/reading program, Lexia, to develop reading skills. During reading workshop I will help students access just right books, and conference with students to develop reading skills. ebooks, iPods, hard copy books and Internet will be available as resources. During interactive read aloud students will focus on the comprehension strategies (Mosaic of Thought by Keene). Students will continue to practice writing skills via our classroom social network (NING), ePal letters, and project work.

3. Project Based Learning. Students will learn the grade-level content through project learning. I am beginning to store all the information on our school system's learning management system, It's Learning. It's Learning allows me to choose optimal materials and post those materials in one place for colleagues, students and family members to access. I am going to move more and more to the menu approach of project learning which includes unit expectations and choices. Essentially children will have a list of mandatory and elective learning activities including videos, research, field trips (virtual or actual), projects, online activities and others to help them solidify their concept, skill, and knowledge development in a particular area. Essential skill practice will be embedded in these projects.

4. The Arts. I will embed the arts into all of our project work, and some of our skill development work. Currently the arts is a separate strand in our school, but I'm open to as much collaboration as possible. Students will often demonstrate their learning through the arts via illustration, video, music, theater and more. We will use the work of notable artists and arts events to inform our work as well.

5. Physical Education/Health. We have healthy eating policies in place at our school which has definitely increased student health in my opinion - less junk food, lots of healthy food both at lunch and for snacks. We have a healthy amount of play time outdoors each day for students to run, play and interact with nature. We also have a wonderful physical education program that develops students' knowledge and understanding of physical fitness, sports, and team building.

6. Clubs. Students in my school system belong to many clubs and extracurricular activities. I will continue to think about how I can build this into my schedule and student's schedules. For now, I will just try to encourage all of my students' families to get their children involved in some kind of extracurricular activity that feeds the child's passion and interests.

I'm sure that I'll continue to revise and refine this list as I move forward to 21st century and life-long learning objectives and as technology continues to change and develop. I'm sure I haven't included it all. Please let me know if you see missing links or have considerations for this classroom model. In the meantime, I'm going to refine the mentoring and skill parts of the day, and work on creating my fraction unit to meet the criteria above. Thanks for listening.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Idea Responsibility

Recently I had an idea. Actually, it was an idea that I had for a long time that kept coming back to me. The idea was based on a need I noticed. The idea held potential for positive change. I didn't have the time or resources to make the idea happen.

Then one day after a conversation with an individual, I realized that the idea that kept reoccurring was a potential match for that person. I didn't want to interfere, but I knew that the idea might find its way to fruition with that person, so I shared the idea.

That person took it on. I watched it happen. The idea was much more work than I realized, and there were far more roadblocks than I imagined, but the person pursued it, and didn't give up. I felt anxious as I watched the individual labor with the idea to make it work. What seemed like an incredible idea turned out to be a lot of work. Was it successful? Time will tell.

This event has led me to wonder about the responsibility one has for an idea. If you have an idea, do you have the responsibility to think it through, step-by-step, minute-by-minute or once you give away the idea does it belong to the receiver? How responsible are you for your ideas?

I feel like if I have a good idea, I must share it as it holds potential. I must share it, even if I can't pursue it. What do you do with your ideas? Do you share only those you can personally pursue or do you hand them out like lottery tickets, chances for gain or loss.

I'm going to keep thinking about ideas and my responsibility for my own ideas. In the meantime, I'll keep tweeting and reading Twitter as my favorite part of this incredible network is the idea stream all day long from near and far.

Identifying the Problem Leads to Solution

We've been trouble shooting a few issues in our classroom. Once I recognized a scheduling issue, I realized that was a large part of the issue. Just recognizing what the problem is in a complex or difficult situation is a large part of the solution no matter what the problem context is.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Restructuring Schools for Student Success

When inclusion started to gain popularity many years ago, I embraced it whole-heartedly. I was so happy to see every student have access to all the services a school had to offer. I remembered well the days before inclusion when children with substantial needs were separated and made to feel different from others. I also remembered the sadness children with unmet special needs experienced in schools. Inclusion has been a positive step forward in education.

I'm still a proponent of inclusion, but I recognize that the world of education has changed. We know a lot more about the ways that specific students learn. There are many more services available to children. We realize that no two children learn exactly alike or have exactly the same interests and passions. Families also bring to school a myriad of parenting styles, philosophies, and abilities to support children. There are many avenues to success and it's possible that restructuring schools can better lead all students down those avenues.

Currently, most students belong to a grade-level, classroom community. The classroom teacher manages the schedule for the students in his or her classroom. With inclusion, the classroom teacher needs to coordinate his/her schedule with many professionals and others including nurses, grade-level colleagues, parent volunteers, lunch room staff, social workers, guidance counselors, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, assistant teachers, special educators, ELL teachers, hearing specialists, brain injury experts, and/or after-school teachers (and more). This coordination is integral to a child's success, but it is also a time consuming task which becomes exponential when a classroom has many children with extensive services. Also, the classroom teacher's day is primarily spent with large numbers of children, leaving little professional time for planning, preparation and collaboration. Therefore, most communication, collaboration, preparation, and professional development efforts happen during a teacher's afterwork hours.

I don't think the classroom teacher has to be at the helm of all this communication and coordination. I believe that teachers' roles, whether they are in the classroom or have a specialist role, should be re-looked at with respect to time on task, responsibility, goals, and most of all their impact on children. Restructuring roles, responsibilities, and the school day could lead schools to more effective delivery of services for all children.

One idea I'm interested in exploring is breaking the day into six main sections for each child. Those sections would include Community, Essential Skills, Project Based Learning, Physical Education, The Arts, and Clubs. Of course, there will be overlap between sections, but each section would have a few main objectives as noted below.

1. Community: Age-level teams which build social competency and community skills led by a mentor. Every professional in the building would be a mentor. They would follow their students from through multiple years, perhaps grades K-2 and then 3-5. Mentors would lead social competency groups, portfolio creation, student advocacy and communication. (similar to private school advisory groups) As I estimate it, that would mean about 13 students per mentor. Mentors would also lead read aloud, independent reading, and independent daily writing--skills that profit from small group and individual, daily attention, coaching and mentoring.

2. Essential Skills: A time of day that includes skill-centered, special services in multi-age, needs-related groups to develop students' ability to access communication, reading, writing, and math skills -- the core skills of learning.

3. Project Based/Service Learning: Collaborative groups of similar age students that take on meaningful project work that integrates essential skills, students' needs, interests, and content learning. It could be that students move through a number of project types throughout their tenure in a school in order to reach content/knowledge goals. Some project based groups would be considered project-skills groups. In those groups students would get more skill learning within the project goal and process. When possible, project base learning and service learning would be combined in order to give the learning a meaningful purpose, a way to build citizenship, empathy, care-for-others, and community contribution.

4. Physical Education/Team Building and Healthy Foods and Habits: A time of day when children are involved in physical education activities that boost health, physical fitness and team skills. Groups would be based on choice and needs. Services such as PT and Adaptive PT would fit into this time of the day. Also, this team would work with lunchroom staff and others to make sure that students have healthy food and clean water available for snacks and school meals. This team would also take care of school gardens, composting, and other natural sites that contribute to healthy activity and choices.

5. Arts: This is the time of day that students are integrated in passion-building arts activities such as music, visual arts, dance, theater, public speaking, movie making and more. Groups would be based on choice and need. It could be that OT services, and possibly some speech services (theater) occur during this time of day.

6. Clubs: Students choose their club of choice. They "grow" their passion with other like minded students.

The Media Center and Library would serve as a resource and intellectual hub in the school--a place that students and teachers could go to to access information, research, create, and meet to learn. All integral school resources would be housed in this area.

STEAM Labs: Labs would exist to support project base learning and clubs. The labs would be open spaces with lots of room and needed supplies for creation, invention, and experimentation.

Cafe: The lunchroom would be a friendly, open space with happy signage, an open kitchen, healthy food, and a friendly, positive atmosphere.

Special services would be integrated into the time of day that best match the service goals. Grouping would mainly be created based on student needs. One teacher would not be responsible for a child's overall day, instead children would be matched with mentors, or leaders that coordinate their personalized learning plan.

Streamlining the school day so that most of the time is spent in thoughtful, planned, responsive learning for each student is essential. In what direction do you think schools should move? What's essential? What's working now and what's not working?

I believe that schools need to continue to grow and change, keeping students' optimal social, emotional, physical and academic growth at the center. We need to move away from "one size fits all" to a "size" for everyone. Inclusion has been a step in the right direction; now what's the next step?

I proposed this idea at an informal round table discussion about restructuring schools at the MassCUE conference. That's where I heard the idea of advisory groups. I also heard the idea about every school having a social service component -- a part of the school devoted to students' physical and emotional health. At times, a child's or family's physical or emotional health impacts a child's ability to access learning greatly. When that happens, there is often the need for social services, medical services, or psychological services. Children who cannot access those services have a difficult time learning, and sometimes hinder the learning of others too.

Can we expect schools to be all things to all children? How do we prioritize the efforts of schools? Am I trading in a good, traditional system for one that is untested. I hope not, but I can't get the idea out of my head that schools can be structured differently for greater academic, social and emotional gains for each student. What do you think? What component would you start with? Thanks for listening.

Related Post: Results-Oriented Education: Teaching the Whole Child

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Child Lens

We hit a few bumps in the road this week due to changing schedules and changing student needs. Teaching is like life, a meandering path of high points, challenges, and smooth steady paths. We strive for that smooth, steady path of development all the time, but sometimes events cause us to stop and debate direction. When these stopping points happen, it's time to take stock of what's working well, and what needs to be tweaked. It's time to step back and gain new perspective. It's also time to refocus the teaching lens on what students need for optimal academic, social, emotional and physical growth. Now, I'll start with the child-lens, then work backward to strengthen direction and service.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

There's Nothing Wrong With Being a Teacher

I remember the day I decided to become a teacher. I was in kindergarten. I had the most incredible teacher, Miss Ball. I remember her as tall, lanky, and serious with gray hair. She wore straight belted dresses that fell below her knees. Her shoes were practical. Our classroom had high ceilings, giant windows, and beautiful woodwork. It was an old city school.

I remember the first day of kindergarten. I wore a plaid dress, plaid kerchief, and shiny brown leather shoes. With my kindergarten classmates, I walked up a magnificent, shiny, wide, wooden staircase with ornate bannisters. The teachers stood at the top of the stairs next to the railing looking at us. When I noticed their smiling faces, I stood taller and prouder. I remember feeling like there was never a better day than this one.

Day after day, Ms. Ball introduced me to worlds I never knew about. She played the piano and we danced. She read stories to us while we rested on our blankets. I remember when she read Make Way for Ducklings, and I realized that a story setting could be a place that I actually knew. We planted seeds and watched plants grow, and we created the best ever paper-cut bulletin boards.

The best revelation of all that year was the day Miss Ball told us about her trip to Holland. She showed us a wooden shoe and shared her slide show of the tulips, canals, people and landscapes. It was the first time in my life I realized that there was a world different than the one I lived in. I remember feeling the thrill of revelation skip through my body like a spring rain.

Ms. Ball changed my life. She filled me with the desire to teach. She opened my eyes and introduced the world to me. So today, when the news is sometimes filled with stories that ridicule and challenge teachers, memories of Ms. Ball comfort me. There's nothing wrong with being a teacher. In fact, it's a life choice one can be proud of.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Managing our Learning w/Google Doc Table

After yesterday's #edchat, I decided to create a Google doc table with students to manage our collective and individual learning tasks.

I created a table with three headings: Tasks/Projects, Actions, Notes.  Then together we filled in the chart activity by activity.  Once the chart was completed, the follow-up actions for teachers and students were clear.  I'm going to share the document with all classroom students and teachers, our Team 15 Learning Community.  I'm not going to give students editing privileges as I'm afraid the document will be deleted (that just happened to my Doodle parent conference sign-up).  Instead, I'll invite students to talk with me, email or write a note about changes and additions for the table.  We'll review the table at our weekly Wednesday planning meeting (which started today!).

I think this is a good plan for the following reasons:

  1. It will help all of us to stay organized.
  2. Students will have a steady voice about their needs and desires related to classroom learning.
  3. It's a good organization model for projects and tasks.
Let me know if you have further ideas or thoughts about this activity.  Thanks once again for the #edchat inspiration.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Two years ago, at the MassCUE Conference, I learned about ePals:
  I signed up, and waited for an optimal opportunity to engage my class in a global experience.  The right opportunity didn't emerge immediately, and other projects took priority.  Then last month, a teacher from Ireland contacted me through ePals.  His class is about the same size as mine.  His communication was concise and to the point.  Also, we had an opening in our schedule for something creative, new and fun.  Thus our ePal exchange began.

We recently received several email letters from Ireland.  It was exciting for all to read the new names and stories, some similar to our experiences and others different.  Students needed no prompting when it came to crafting replies.  It was also entertaining to watch the children "Photo Booth*" themselves so they looked just right in the image they were adding to their letters.  The ePal exchange has caused us to learn geography too.  We've looked at the Irish map, found their home town, and discussed the location.  When they have the chance, I'm sure they'll use Google Earth to discover more about the location.  I also invited the Irish teacher to join our closed NING social network so he can upload pictures, videos and blogs from his class, and so he can share our videos, blogs, and images with his students.

Our global experience has begun.  I'll keep you updated.  Let me know about your creative, collaborative global exchanges too.  There's so much out there, only a click away, to make learning authentic, interesting and engaging.

 (We use Photo Booth all the time -- it's so easy for fourth graders and has many applications.)

Amazing Talent Show: 21st C Learning

Last night our school community came together to showcase students' talents.  Parents organized the event with flair, style and sensitivity to children's attention span, interest, and confidence.  The parents organized rehearsals, set-up the stage, created a thoughtful order of events, set a time frame for each event, and enlisted the help of volunteers.

As I watched the show, I was amazed.  It was 21st century learning in action. The stage crew, parents and students collaborated to manage sound, lights and props under the direction of a talented eighth grade alumnus who came back to help out.  The principal and parent-manager introduced the event  setting the stage for the celebration.  Then confident and prepared students presented act after act: playing instruments, acting, singing, dancing, unicycle riding, gymnastics and hula hooping.

I marveled at the talent.  I was even more impressed by students' confidence, and the parents' ability to organize such a developmentally-appropriate, positive event.  I was reminded that positive school experiences extend well beyond the school day hours and building.  It does take a village to run a wonderful school experience for children. As we look forward to restructuring schools for students, we must not forget to think about the entire community including parents, students, alumni, community members, teachers, assistant teachers and more.  The potential of what's possible is amazing just like last night's talent show.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Lessons from the Architectural Firm

I had the great luxury of a liberal arts education. My father, who did not have the chance to go to college, advised me, "Study whatever you're interested in." That's what I did. I studied religion, English, science, art, psychology and more. I learned a lot and enjoyed it.

Then when I graduated, I needed a job. I didn't know where to begin. After some time, I landed in an employment agency in Boston with my art portfolio. The consultant met me, looked through my portfolio, and announced, "I have a job for you!"

She sent me to Sasaki Associates, Inc. in Watertown, Massachusetts.  It was a large-studio like building situated along the Charles River. When I walked in, I noticed the open spaces and white walls. I admired the renderings, photos, and art. I was excited. I got a job in the marketing department. The firm was vibrant. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, environmental scientists, graphic designers and planners were scattered throughout the firm creating.  I learned a lot while I worked there, and carry those lessons forward into my classroom today.

The Creative Process
I learned about the creative process. I watched projects evolve from the idea stage to completion.  I listened to the designers talk about their work, and I became more aware of the architectural world around me.  I bring that creative process to my classroom as we embark on our signature learning projects each year.

I experienced the charrette - the exciting, collaborative session when a group of designers draft a solution to a design or complete a design project often late into the night.  Our class "charrettes" when we get to the end of a project. We get to feel that excitement, and collaborate to complete our projects and learn.

Spread the Good News
While I was at the firm, they hired a consultant. One of the consultant's main pieces of advice was to "spread the good news."  He told us that every time we observed or heard something good about the firm, tell two more people.  I've continued that practice.  Bad news spreads fast, but often good news doesn't. Educators are shy to share their good work, and others often don't take the time to recognize the good work of students and staff.

Celebrate/Have Fun
On Fridays, the firm often rolled in snacks and drinks. Employees at every position gathered, relaxed, and socialized. Sometimes leaders and others offered a few uplifting words or stories. It was a time I looked forward to, and a time when I got to know the people I worked with.  The firm also had a softball team, service projects, and athletic events that the the staff got involved in.  These events fostered collegiality.

Brown-bag lunch meetings happened often. Usually people met to discuss an article or idea.  That fostered professional development in a casual, optional way.

Love What You Do
I really enjoyed working with so many passionate designers. They loved what they did.  It made me want to pick a profession that I could really invest myself in. While I appreciated architecture, my passion was related to learning and children, so I left Sasaki and entered graduate school.  Later my Sasaki director was the person that led me to my current teaching position. He raved about the Town, and I followed his lead.

While college and graduate school offered me a great education, I learned a lot at Sasaki Associates too. What I learned applies so well today as we move students and schools forward to 21st century skills and teaching.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Just Like Me Program - An Anti-Bullying Program

Before I started teaching (24 years ago), parents in my school system started the "Just Like Me" program to teach children about physical challenges such as hearing impairment, blindness, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities and now autism and aspergers.   Parents rallied together to impart information to students in developmentally appropriate ways to raise awareness and knowledge.

Year after year, volunteers have come to fourth grade classes to share this knowledge.  Speakers who have each challenge also come to share their experiences and wisdom with students.  Students gain invaluable insight into each challenge area.  They have the opportunity to learn about the challenge by watching videos, listening to expert presentations, engaging in hands-on activities, and hearing a speaker who lives with the specific challenge.

Our school system supports the program by providing a stipend for a Just Like Me coordinator.  The coordinator arranges speakers, volunteers, and necessary equipment/spaces.  The coordinator also works with the school system to create a schedule.

Now with the focus on anti-bullying, the program seems more important than ever.  Often bullying is caused by ignorance.  Our students have the opportunity to be informed about the challenges many people face.  I believe that opportunity minimizes bullying, creates understanding, and develops empathy.  This program is a keeper, and I'm grateful to those who make it happen.