Sunday, October 30, 2011

Becoming Global Citizens

My school system's leadership clearly outlined the system's yearly goals this fall. As I plan, implement and evaluate curriculum work in my classroom, I will utilize the system goals as guiding principles. This is the goal related to developing global citizens: "To increasingly align the curricular and extra-curricular activities with activities that will help prepare students to become global citizens in a global economy." Fourth grade students are working on this goal in the following ways:

What's Your Culture?
Fourth grade students start the year with a mini unit about culture.  Students learn the broad definition of culture and create culture flags depicting their individual cultures.  Students also explore the history of skin shade. This is a valuable way to begin a discussion related to global citizenry as it develops students' awareness, understanding and respect for the cultural diversity and individuality represented in our school and community.

After that students study Native American culture of the past and present through a series of regional rotations.  Then, fourth graders research immigration and family history as they prepare for the Immigration and Family History Museum Project.  Understanding the cultural diversity in our own school and community sets the stage for respectful, open-minded exploration of regions throughout the globe.

Global Education Conference and Global PLNs (professional learning networks)
Teachers are presenting at and attending a virtual global education conference in November.  Teachers also enjoy and learn from PLNs that represent teachers from all over the globe thus creating opportunities to engage in projects that develop students' activity and awareness as global citizens. After reading about many successful global projects, I was prompted to create a global education plan earlier in the year to broaden students' reach beyond our school and community. Now I'm in the process of implementing the plan--revising and extending as needed.

Global Collaborative Projects
Through the use of ePals, students have gained ePals from London.  These letter exchanges, online and off,  broaden and deepen students' global perspectives.  Students are also working on collaborative, shared learning projects with students in other regions of the United States.  Fourth grade students in Wayland and fourth graders in Edina, Minnesota are creating collaborative Google slide shows to teach each other about the northeast and midwest regions.  Students are also planning to engage in a Mystery Skype project with a classroom in Atlanta.  These are a few of the current projects in place to develop students' global awareness.  Our school principal is also leading global education efforts related to student service projects.

Endangered Species Research
Fourth grade students research endangered species.  While studying about specific species, they learn about the culture and geography of the animals' habitats.  Last year students extended this knowledge by creating and publishing public service messages to educate and advocate for endangered animals. This year I hope to foster even greater global awareness and outreach related to this project.

I will continue to read, discuss and think about the best ways to engage students in learning that prepares them for global citizenship.  What have I missed? What aspects of curriculum are most important as we prepare young students for success in a global economy?  I look forward to learning about your perspective and ideas.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


There's many reasons why you should consider presenting at a local, statewide, regional or national conference.
  1. Presenting reminds you of what students go through as they prepare to present to the class.
  2. Presenting challenges you to solidify your thinking.
  3. Presenting prompts you to try new tools.
  4. Presenting makes you listen to and watch other presentations with new eyes.
  5. Presenting can be your ticket to attending a conference.
  6. Presenting focuses your professional development time and energy.
While thinking about your future presentation, I suggest the following:
  1. Think about an area of the curriculum you want to develop to better student learning.
  2. Find upcoming conferences related to the topic.
  3. Write and submit a proposal.
  4. Begin the unit development process--read, research, create, implement, analyze, revise, refine.
  5. Record the efforts through writing, video, screencasts, photos and other venues.
  6. Synthesize the content, process and learning outcomes with a prezi, Google presentation, film, blog post and/or other venues.
  7. If your proposal is accepted, get ready to present. If not, submit the proposal to another related conference.
Presenting puts educators in the learner's shoes which is a valuable experience.  It also offers a positive goal for developing optimal curriculum for student success. Finally, it gives educators a chance to present to and learn from other educators which improves learning for all involved (including students).

So don't hesitate to challenge yourself to present--you'll find it's worth the time and effort, and it will keep your professional work fresh and forward moving.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Classroom Housekeeping

That's what I've been doing tonight. A beloved colleague will fill in for me for the next two days while I attend a conference.  Hence, after school I took a few hours to put away books, sort through papers, recycle old charts, organize ten lessons, leave substitute plans, and email my students about what to expect.

Classroom housekeeping is similar to housekeeping at home, you notice a lot and think about the many jobs left to do as well as the tasks accomplished so far this year.  I write about this because it's one more aspect of classroom teaching that's integral to the process of teaching children well.

The Imperfect School Day

Teachers often look at the school year as a giant math problem:

(students needs + interests + learning preferences) X (required standards) X (effective educational practices) + (teacher prep + planning + professional development) / (energized hours in a day X (school days in a year + added days for professional work) = optimal school year.

It's a complex problem with many more details than listed above.  A school day is often looked at as a math problem too:

(students needs + interests + learning preferences) + (daily learning goals + standards + routines) + (daily unknown factors: skinned needs + social conflicts + school-wide additions + unexpected events) = typical school day.

So teachers choreograph a multi-modal, positive-momentum, varied-materials and activity, researched based, patterned day to best teach all, and sometimes the equation doesn't work exactly as planned.

That's when common sense, flexibility and effective leadership and facilitation come to play.  It's okay to choreograph the day, but it's also imperative to leave space for the unexpected and unknown.  Further, it's important to realize that the spontaneous and serendipitous elements in a school day are sometimes the most valuable.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

MassCUE 2011 Presentation Preview

Click to See Full Size Image

This week at the the MassCue Conference, I'll have the opportunity to share the many ways that technology invigorates, broadens and deepens education to better instruct, facilitate and respond to student learning with a 55-minute presentation from 2-2:55 on Thursday, October 27 at Gillette Stadium.

I'll begin my presentation with a focus on attitude--attitude matters when it comes to tech integration.

Then I'll  show educators and administrators ways to get involved in the tech-ed world-wide conversation by creating a PLN (professional learning network) through Twitter, Google+, blogs, edcamps, webcasts, conferences and more.  This is an essential first-step to optimal education technology integration.

After that, I'll suggest a number of vital elements that create a framework for a tech-savvy, 21st century classroom including the classroom website, the class social network (NING), a system-wide learning platform (It's Learning), email and blogs.  

With the concept of a classroom tech-ed framework in mind,  I'll present ways that essential skill content is taught utilizing technology tools such as Google sites, ePortfolios, blogs, free online software and the venues listed above.  Again you'll see how the learning goals and skills are imbedded into tech venues for greater student access, sharing and response.

Next, I'll advocate that educators travel the technology integration path project by project which makes the process meaningful and beneficial to educators and students alike.  It's integral to imbed tech tools into worthy 21st century teaching units that develop communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and community.  By creating or revising a teaching module using a 21stC process, teachers will be able to utilize technology in optimal, forward moving ways that motivate, differentiate and deepen student learning.  I will present a project planning template that makes this possible, and show examples of projects educators may want to try and/or revise to meet their own teaching goals.

Finally, there will be a chance for questions, comments and sharing. This presentation will provide a survey of tech integration possibilities that motivate, teach and benefit educators, administrators and students.  I welcome all to the presentation, and please don't hesitate to contact me with questions prior to the event.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Effective Instructional Practice

I enjoy the creative aspects of education--the thinking, analyzing and creativity involved in personalizing responsive, relevant learning events for students.

This is a fluid, continual activity because learning tools, techniques and emphases continue to evolve.

I know that there's a multitude of books, articles, blogs, videos, webcasts and research available to inform this effort and discussion.  I read a lot of it, and will read more.

I'm excited about this renewed inquiry as it's one that will continue to develop my professional repertoire with student learning as the central focus.

I look forward to reading your comments, blog posts and links related to this topic.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Math Program Design (revised 10/30/12)

What does your math program look like? Do you stick to one series or book, or do you use a myriad of materials?

I continue to think deeply about math education in my class.  Underlying my thought is the premise that math is a marvelous subject to learn and teach.  I want to make it meaningful, relevant and enticing to students.

I teach math in a multi-faceted way including the following components. The program is based on the Massachusetts State Standards.
  • Weekly Computation Practice in-school and at-home.  Children are encouraged to “climb the computation ladder” by practicing their fact/skill level and taking That Quiz tests (about 4 or more a week) and using other online venues such as FastMath, TutPup, SumDog, XtraMath and BigIQ.  I review student print-outs and emailed copies regularly and have mini conferences with individuals and small groups regarding their math computation development at that time.
  • Weekly Target Skill: Each week we’ll target one skill set.  Students will receive an introduction to that skill on Monday via a teacher lesson, videos and practice.  During the introductory lesson, our notes will be taken on a Google doc and/or anchor chart, then published on our class Math Website (new venue) for review, revision and addition. We will review the skill again on Wednesday and Thursday.  Then students will have a skill quiz (formative assessment) on Friday.  The page of practice links, notes and information will be posted on our class HomeStudy Google doc and NING, a closed social network, for student and teacher review.
  • Explicit Teaching: Each day I will spend time on explicit teaching related to grade level math standards (note class doc is a work-in-progress).
  • Practice Pages: I will assign a number of practice activities on Monday that will be due on Friday. The activities will come from many resources.
Link to Word Problem Strategy Video
  • Problem Solving Workshop (similar to writing workshop): Once a week we’ll spend an hour or more on math problem solving using multi-step math problems similar to those on the MCAS test and new common core multi-step problems. We'll review problem solving strategy, complete problems with small groups and partners, edit/revise and share.
  • Project Based Learning (PBL):  Students will engage in a number of collaborative math projects that integrate skill, concept, and knowledge to develop their math problem solving, communication and presentation skills. The Fraction Project is one example of this kind of project, and the "Khan" video project is another.
  • Differentiation: Friday formative assessments will dictate differentiation efforts. Differentiation will be based on individual student need and targeted through a number of practices including individual/small group efforts and multi-modal instruction. This year we will also employ RTI as a way of meeting all students' needs in math.
  • Math Writing and Communication: Students will practice explaining their thinking and questioning with Math Blogs, project work and problem solving workshops. The focus will be concise language/numbers and clear explanations that even a "first grader" can understand and learn from.
  • Math Talk: An opportunity to discuss and share our math thinking aloud.
The components above will be integrated as often as possible with other content areas. For example, this week I'm using relevant data to teach and practice place value skills. The components will also be integrated with each other as units evolve. Time and energy is always a challenge, so the pieces need to be well choreographed to sustain just right student response, motivation and optimal learning.
How is your math program different than mine? What critical points did I miss? What suggestions do you have for me? Thanks for listening.

Monday, October 17, 2011

ePortfolios: Weekly Reading Letters

Students used Google sites to create ePortfolios this year.  It's taken about six weeks to get the teacher/student pattern of response and posting to take shape.  I imagine that we'll continue to revise and enrich the process throughout the year.

One aspect of student ePortfolios is the weekly reading letter.  Each week students write a letter to me on their ePortfolio about their weekly reading.  I offer students templates to follow.  I've researched reading letter formats a bit, and will continue to do so with colleagues in my school system and those in my PLN.

These are many of the advantages to this practice:
  • Students engage in a written conversation about their reading each week (see example below) which prompts reflection, attention to detail and teacher response.
  • As the teacher, I get to understand a child's reading interests and patterns well.  I can use that information to help a child develop his/her skill and comprehension.
  • By understanding students' reading interests and needs, I'm able to better create partnerships and small groups.
  • The letters are available for peers, teachers, friends and family members far and near to read.
  • Students can easily add images of the story to the letters.
  • As the teacher, once a pattern is set up, weekly response is accessible and easy to do by commenting under a child's letter.  Parents are also able to access the comments and student letters at their convenience.
  • Student development and growth is easy to monitor and share with colleagues since all the letters are stored in one easy-to-access place: the ePortfolio.
  • The ePortfolio venue lends itself to optimal editing and reading since it's typed.
Do your students write a weekly reading letter?  If so, what do you include?  What is your primary focus of this assignment, and how do you use student letters to develop their reading plans and lessons?  I would like to continue to develop this venue to better teach reading comprehension, response writing and fluency skills.  I look forward to your responses and ideas.

Letter Example:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Google Docs/Sites: The New Anchor Chart

This is the front page of our Interactive Read Aloud "Anchor Chart" Google Site.
Anchor charts are popular in elementary school education. Together students and teachers create anchor charts of important information related to a topic or unit.  Then the anchor charts are posted, revisited, revised and enriched as the teaching and learning continues.

Now Google Docs/Sites anchor charts are replacing my paper charts.  I can easily create a chart on Google docs and type our collective notes, observations and procedures with the students. Then I'm able to publish the document, post it on the students' social network and/or website, and revisit it time and again for future teaching.

Unlike paper anchor charts, it's much easier to revise and add information to these online charts.  Furthermore it's easy to add related images, maps, charts, videos and other information that extends the learning.  Finally, students and teachers are able to revisit the charts as often as they'd like and wherever they have access to a computer.  If students don't have a computer at home, the notes can be easily printed and copied for student review or further work.  It's good modeling too because students are learning a process for learning, presentation and teaching that can be replicated when they work on small group or whole class projects.

Hence, anchor charts from now on will mainly be Google docs, presentations or sites in our class--an amazing venue for collective learning and response.

Edscape Reflections

Yesterday I drove to New Milford, New Jersey to attend Edscape, a tech professional development day organized by New Milford High School Principal and tech-ed thought leader, Eric Sheninger.  I decided to attend the conference because I knew it was time that I started meeting all the wonderful educators that I follow on blogs, Twitter, Google+ and other Internet education idea threads. Mr. Sheninger has shared many, many wonderful ideas about innovation related to schools, schedules, pedagogy and philosophy with educators and others throughout the world, and I wanted to show my respect and gratitude as well as learn more at Edscape.

It was a bit daunting to attend an event with people that you tweet with, but have never met.  I found myself scanning the crowd for "familiar" faces.  Interesting enough, it wasn't the faces that drew me to people in my PLN, instead it was the conversation.  When I heard people remark in certain ways, I recognized their voice and commitment from the blog posts and tweets I have read over the past year.  That's when I'd ask, "Do you Tweet?" and "What's your Twitter name?" I met many more educators that I later added to my PLN for future connections and learning.

I was fortunate to meet and hear Tom Whitby, co-founder of  #edchat and creator of the  Educators PLN, both venues that allow teachers all over the world to exchange innovative ideas, practices and questions to best serve students' educational interests and needs.  As Tom described current professional development practices, I found myself in awe of what he's done to eliminate educators' sense of isolation as well as to speed up idea-exchange and innovation.

Other workshops introduced me further to Google aps, iPad learning and the role of tacit knowledge in education.  The keynote speaker, Diana Laufenberg, an educator at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, discussed inquiry driven education. She noted five categories related to inquiry based education: inquiry, research, presentation, reflection, and collaboration. Laufenberg demonstrated that inquiry based education naturally encompasses the 4 c’s of 21st century education: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills and communication. Further, she noted that "More standardization does not lead to more innovation," and "Inquiry driven education is student-driven." She explained that teachers at the Science Leadership Academy have advisory groups, and each faculty member mentors a capstone (senior) project.  Advisors do not police or control, instead they guide and help.  Their capstone project is similar to the Google 20% during senior year, but it’s guided. Finally Ms. Laufenberg noted that inquiry driven education is community based, collaborative and relevant, and it's done best in student-centered, caring academic communities.

Edscape offered me an opportunity to learn in a new environment. Similar to most education conferences I attend, I was struck by the level of investment educators demonstrated with student success as the focus on a beautiful, fall Saturday. I encourage all educators to extend the PLN experience by attending an edcamp, conference, unconference or workshop sometime this year--it will give you the chance to meet educators you follow and learn from on the Internet which in turn will continue to deepen your professional repertoire, efforts and result.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Student Response

What is optimal student response?  What response actions and methods best motivate, support and promote student learning, voice and inquiry?

I've been thinking about this topic lately.  I'm sure there's lots of research out there related to this, and I have yet to start digging for facts and details.

I'm starting this inquiry by thinking about the ways I currently respond to students.  I'm wondering if your response types are similar or different. These are the main ways I respond to students at this time.

Email/Social Network
Students are able to email me via my school email or our closed classroom social network.  I encourage students to email me for clarity about assignments and ideas related to school topics, discussions and projects. I find that students use this system well, and I also find that it eliminates time for these questions during the school day.  Further, I find that students are more relaxed since they have easy access to my response if they're confused, anxious or excited about a learning topic or effort.

ePortfolio Response
It's easy to read students' writing and respond on their ePortolios.  I try to read their reading letters once a week and leave a response that includes direct answers and comments related to the content of the letter as well as a few writing tips for future letters. I keep a response check-list to note points related to future teaching and reading work.

Project Response
Last year, I responded to projects with a letter to the child written on a Google doc.  In the letter I highlighted exemplary aspects of the project, questions and targets to think about related to future project work.  I plan to do the same this year.  I generally do not accept projects that don't meet all the criteria and work with students until the completion point.

Assessment Response
Generally I respond to assessments with a fraction of how many questions were answered correctly vs. the total number of points available.  I note points for future teaching and avenues to relearn or review material that was challenging. I'll also note efforts related to a child's success or challenge on the test in an effort to tie learning behavior to performance.  If everyone does poorly, I'm quick to point out that I have to revisit the teaching related to that topic because if everyone is challenged, it's really the instructor that's failed.

Generally my class is run in a workshop style.  We start with a topic introduction and exemplars, then move to a menu of activities for interactive learning.  During the workshop students have check-in points for a teacher conference (short or long). During conferences I converse with the student about what they're doing that really works for the problem or project, and what efforts they still need to work on.  I'll do some reteaching or new teaching at these conferences too.

I use our social network blog to check in on students' learning related to specific, targeted content and learning actions. I respond to students on the blog by pointing out examples and stories that match our learning well as well as providing links and questions to prompt greater inquiry and learning.

Overall, I think of learning as an ongoing conversation between students and teachers--a back-and-forth related to learning specific actions, concepts, content and skills.  How do you respond to your students? What types of responses do you think are most effective with regard to promoting academic growth and development?  What's your frequency of response like? What kinds of responses did you profit most from as a child? Thanks for letting me know as I continue to think about and research this topic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Classroom Systems have been established and now it's time for finesse--looking closely at the finer details of each approach and making sure they're working for students.

What does that mean in a fourth grade classroom?

Finesse means:

Reading Workshop
Making sure that everyone has just right text to read each day at home and at school.  Just right text can be ebooks, books on tape, hand-held books, articles, picture books, magazines and other reading materials.  What's important is that it's "just right" text students enjoy and comprehend; they're motivated to read; they're writing about their reading, and they're reading regularly at home and in school.

Writing Workshop
Similar to reading workshop, frequency matters.  Systems have been set up for regular blogging, letter writing, ePortfolio work and other writing tasks, now it's up to me to make sure that the tasks are motivating and everyone's following through.  It's also integral that I make lots of time for one-to-one and group edits to help students further their writing development.

Math Practice and Computation
Learning those facts and reviewing basic math skills requires regular practice for fourth graders. We have a system in place--it's time to ensure that students understand how to use the system well to gain speed and accuracy with respect to this thread of math learning.

Classroom Management
The learning action table and students' responsibility lists are really helping in this regard. These fluid lists give us a point of discussion each week as we review the learning objectives and student responsibilities.  As much as possible, I'm giving students responsibility for running the classroom--it's amazing how good they are at lining students up, managing the line, completing attendance and lunch count, leading our buddy efforts and more.  It's also great to have many minds when it comes to tackling our learning objectives, goals and procedures--it's a team effort.

Now that individual systems have been created for independent learning and regular progress; it's time to shore up my systems of response and review--making sure that I give everyone a fair share of teacher time and conferencing.

After that, we'll begin working more thoughtfully towards greater collaboration and teamwork related to learning tasks and project work.

What does finesse mean to you when it comes to the classroom program?  What systems do you have in place to optimize student learning?  Where are you headed in this regard. Thanks for taking a moment to think about this with me.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Education: Effective Systems Matter

By now, you've probably surmised that I'm an idealist--no idea too big to tackle, no vision too broad to journey.  Yet, that certainly gets in the way of balance, and without balance one simply becomes exhausted and no good for anyone or anything.

Thank goodness for a long weekend to recoup, and tomorrow I'll be back on the teacher treadmill with thoughts of balance on my mind.

If one wants to help teachers achieve this, I suggest the following changes to educational systems:
  • Create regular opportunities for teacher voice when it comes to decisions that impact the work they do.
  • Establish idea systems and communication systems so teachers aren't doubling up on efforts that have already been established or are currently in the planning/creation stage.
  • Ensure that every teacher has planning/response time each day as well as a break after a two-three hours of teaching large numbers of children.
  • Lessen or eliminate cafeteria, playground and other duties so teachers have time to reflect and transition between lessons and classes.
  • Carefully review roles and decisions to make sure that some professionals are not doing the lion's share of direct service, while others have most of the decision making, planning time.
  • Give teachers time to attend professional workshops and conferences.
  • Help teachers out with the logistics such as field trip planning, money collection, payment forms and supply acquisition--efforts that usually take lengthy amounts of waiting and procedural time that could be spent on student work and efforts.
It's not a perfect world in education or any other field, but shoring up systems that support teachers who in turn support students will help to create better balance and enhanced effect.

What would you add to this list?  How do the systems work in your organization?  What can we do to make the work of educators manageable, inspired, balanced and innovative to best support students?

Effective systems eliminate drudgery, repetition and wasteful spending while effecting greater time for reflection, tasks and work that matter.

Friday, October 07, 2011

What's Your Teaching Perspective?

What is your teaching perspective?  What are the central questions, beliefs and understanding that underly your practice each year?  What do you think is most important? How do you prioritize?

As I think deeply about school culture and my own beliefs, I realize that questions and discussions about our individual and shared perspectives are critical to shifting culture and creating vision.

Before you are able to share your perspective, you have to understand how you approach the job and the central questions, beliefs and ideas that energize and guide your work.  Then you'll be ready to engage in discussions with colleagues--discussions that compare, develop and combine perspectives.

Student Perspective
When I look into my students' eyes, I see the potential for a better world.  They come to school with terrific energy, optimism and open minds.  Each child enters the room with a unique story, set of skills, interests, preferred learning style, challenges and perspective.  I don't expect my students to be the same or learn in the same ways.  Instead, I think of myself as a coach, mentor and guide whose job is to develop each child's self-concept and foundation of concept, knowledge and skill so he or she can move forward in life with confidence, purpose, self-understanding and a strong academic foundation.

What is your student perspective?

Curriculum Perspective
Our grade-level curriculum is mainly guided by the Massachusetts State Frameworks which are currently evolving to the Common Core.  At fourth grade, these guiding standards are essential basic skills, concepts and knowledge points that provide a strong foundation for future learning and growth. The way we teach the standards is left up to school systems, schools and individual educators.

My general teaching perspective is that you determine what's essential and you teach it in targeted, motivating, meaningful ways.  In my classroom, you will see many different teaching strategies and methods in place including single skill practice games and activities to project base learning.  I try to offer students a varied menu that exposes children to a myriad of learning strategies and methods while providing students with the chance to choose methods that best meet their personal styles, interests and abilities.

What is your curriculum perspective?

Scheduling Perspective
I craft my schedule each week to maximize teaching opportunities. If I know that teaching assistants or specialists are joining us, I'll target that time for one-to-one or small group instruction in areas that are most challenging where students can profit from that small group, individualized attention.  I plan the most challenging lessons and activities for optimal energy times of the day, and quieter, more procedural events for times with less energy.  We use a Learning Action Table to guide our classroom focus and goals thus allowing student/parent voice and perspective when it comes to the classroom program.

Scheduling for the whole school should prioritize direct service to students and optimal planning time for every professional to provide that direct service.  At times, it can be the case that some professionals in the building have extensive direct service responsibilities while others have very little--children profit from direct service, but it's necessary to give professionals adequate planning time to ensure optimal teaching. That's a tricky area of school scheduling, but an essential area to review.

What is your scheduling perspective?

Collaborative Perspective
Our grade level team meets regularly.  We share the perspective that we want to create an engaging, targeted learning program that is varied and responsive.  We bring many view points, skills and styles to
our discussions which broadens our ability to teach children well.  While our overall curriculum program and targets remain the same, we may teach our classes a bit differently dependent on the needs and styles our students.

What is your perspective related to collaboration?

Professional Development and Growth Perspective
I believe that academic programs should match and model the learning and activity in society because that allows students to easily transfer and extend school learning and activities to their broader world.  I also have my eye on the future since creating a better world is one reason I became a teacher. I want my students to be aware, in developmentally appropriate ways, of the world at large and the skill set they will need to navigate that world with confidence and voice.  Hence, my curriculum program is always evolving.  Each year, I reteach skills, activities and concepts that remain meaningful and beneficial to students, but I let go of practices that are out of date.

That can present problems because sometimes I'm able to move more quickly in my classroom than State or Federal school programs.  For example, my class is mainly writing with computers.  We're doing this because I know that computers allow students to better express themselves with greater clarity and ease, and that their expressions can be shared with many near and far thus creating an audience and a greater sense of purpose.  State standardized tests still require students to handwrite a lengthy draft and final story in one day--few adults would engage in that task today given the ease of computers with ready thesauri, dictionaries, spelling and grammar checks, image inserts, font choices and more.  This present-future tension will always exist as education evolves.

What is your perspective about professional development and growth?

Role Perspective
As education changes, roles will change to?  What is your perspective about your current role?  I see myself as a child advocate first. As a child advocate, it's my job to best teach each child in affirming, responsive ways.  Also advocating often means speaking up when a child is not receiving optimal services, or a school system is not embracing new systems, techniques and technologies that could better serve children.  Secondly, I see myself as a collaborative member of the school community with a collective mission of serving children well--in that role, I feel it's important to ask critical questions and share important knowledge that impacts learning for all members of the community.  In return, I look forward to engaging in colleagues' questions and knowledge to better our collective approach.  I believe in respectful, thoughtful dialogue, but recognize that this can be hampered without shared protocols, time and optimal communication systems.

What is your perspective regarding your role in the school community?

Schools have changed a lot and will continue to evolve. Perspectives will change too. Understanding each others' perspectives will better develop collaborative school communities which in turn, will better serve children.

Does your perspective differ from mine?  If so, how?  What areas of school life did I miss where perspectives may differ greatly?  What is the best way to foster a discussion about perspectives?  Do you think this is a necessary and important point to consider?  I welcome your comments and thoughts.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Creating a Student Response Pattern

MCAS scores are in. As a teacher, I meet the scores with mixed emotions.  I know the scores only reflect one dimension of a child's overall profile and performance, but nevertheless I want all my students to score well demonstrating wonderful growth scores.  Every teacher wants the best for each student.

I make it a goal to teach the standards with as much depth and breadth as time allows, and I try to teach those standards within meaningful contexts, activities and project based learning.  I'm always looking for new and better ways to teach curriculum concepts and skills to best promote students' success.

My grade level team meets twice a week to collaborate and plan for an optimal grade level program.  As a school, we have numerous opportunities for professional development and tech integration.  It's an optimal environment for learning and teaching.

But even in the best of situations, educators are challenged by the limitless possibilities and potential education presents.  You could work all day long and still have more work to do.  Parenting is similar.

Now that the year's routines have been set, it's time to set a reasonable weekly pattern of student response and teaching.  Here's a menu I'll try to follow.

ePortfolio Edits:  I'll make an effort to personally meet with each child once every two weeks to review ePortfolios with care.  Together each student and I will discuss exemplar points as well as strategies and techniques for further writing growth.  On the off week, I'll evaluate and comment on students' ePortfolios online.  ePortfolios include students' weekly reading letters, stories, project work and free writes.

Blog Review:  We'll review the content blogs together, noting optimal comments and examples to further our shared learning of the blog topic/questions.  I'll continue to comment on the NING blog on a regular basis.

Math Problem Solving: We'll problem solve in workshop mode.  We'll start with a focus lesson, then students will break out for independent, partner and small group work.  As students complete their work or face questions, they'll have the chance to check in for edits and help.  In the end, we'll share our experiences, strategies and learning.

Math Skill Work:  Often, we'll use quick-feedback online skill practice sites as the immediate feedback aids in skill acquisition.  Other times, we'll review and check the work together.

Project Based Learning: Similar to math workshop, students will have the chance to check in as needed for edits, assistance and review during project workshops.

Unit Assessments:  We're fortunate not to have grades, so I have the freedom to respond to assessments with notes highlighting information mastered and areas that still need attention.

Student Share and Stories:  Elementary school students look forward to sharing.  Students will have the chance to share their work and stories during our daily tech share and our weekly NING share.  This builds oral language skills too.

Hands-On Learning: Crafts and hands-on activities are embedded into our social studies and science units--students look forward to these activities.

Reading with Students:  During reading workshop, I'll meet with individual students on a regular basis.  As time goes on, I'll begin meeting with small book groups too.  I'll also keep up on students' reading through their weekly reading letter, and target instruction with individuals and small groups as part of our RTI efforts.

Lexia: Lexia offers students online reading skill practice.  When needed, Lexia online reports can be accessed for data to better inform instruction.

Computation Ladders: Students "climb the computation ladder" by practicing and learning basic fourth grade math skills, then testing out of those skills with online tests.  Once every two weeks, students will take the tests in class and I'll look over their work.  Students are also encouraged to practice and take tests on their own at home. They bring in the results for me to see.

It's essential to respond to students' learning efforts and endeavors on a regular basis.  I'll keep an online data file to track student conferences and work reviews. Future lessons and efforts will be based on the results of the collected data.  The chart will also ensure that everyone gets their fair share of teacher response and coaching.

A plan for student response transforms limitless potential into a responsive pattern focused on student engagement and success.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Embedding Technology into Academic Programs

Effectively embedding technology into education boosts student access, motivation and learning.

There are many ways an educator can employ technology to develop student success.  It's best to journey down this tech-ed path project by project with student learning as the central focus.

There are many projects to choose from--all worthy endeavors when it comes to embedding technology into your daily practice and professional development.

I recommend you choose a project type from the list below, then begin that leg of the journey.

Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN)
Develop a PLN to foster efficient, targeted professional development engagement via Twitter, Google+, Facebook, blogs and targeted social networks.

Classroom Website: Resource Center
A classroom website provides students, parents and colleagues ready access to links, newsletters, calendars, schedules and information related to your academic program.

Content Blogs
A blog devoted to a specific content area is an easy way to share content information via student comments and teacher modeling.  Unlike classroom anchor charts and hand-outs, students are able to access the blogs repeatedly to acquire content knowledge and understanding.

Class Social Network
There's never enough time in a classroom situation for every child to share his or her point of view--the classroom social network, also known as the "cloud classroom," extends the classroom learning and discussions beyond the walls of the school into homes and other student spaces.  On the network educators, parents and students are able to post timely comments, images, videos with one another thus building a sense of community and shared learning.

In place of paper/pencil notebooks, students can begin to create portfolios for writing and other work online. The ePortfolios provide students with ready access to spell check, choose font styles and colors, insert images, and access dictionaries and thesauri.  Student ePortfolios are easy to share, comment on, revise and utilize for future projects.

Multimedia Compositions
Multimedia compositions are a great way to present students' or educator learning, research and creativity. Through a mix of video, text, images and other presentation tools, students and teachers are able to craft and publish engaging, informative and interactive presentations to boost learning for all in the academic community.

21st Century Learning Units
Revise a current unit or create a new unit that focuses on 21st Century Learning: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills and communication.  Utilize a myriad of tech tools in the unit development and implementation.

Learning Links and Tools
The web is filled with useful learning links, tools and apps to support student learning.  Building an organized, easy-to-access reference list to support student learning will enhance learning for all of your students.

What project types have I missed?  Which project listed above are you currently developing with greater depth, purpose and effect?  What are your favorite ways to learn about and employ a new technology venue in your classroom?  How do you assess the venue's impact on student learning?

I look forward to your comments and responses.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Developing Math Vocabulary

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. 
-Albert Einstein

Math is a language, and this week I'm exploring ways to help students learn the language of math.  How does anyone learn a language best--immersion: see it, say it, hear it, write it.

This week, the class will focus on vocabulary related to number sense.  Essentially the words we use to describe numbers and operations.

So far, here are the ways we have already worked with this and the ways I plan to extend this emphasis in the week ahead.
  • Math Talk: Discussing together that math is a language and just like we use language to describe characters in a story or people we know, we can use language to describe numbers.  Documenting the discussion on a Google doc for later review, share and conversation extension.
  • Comic Strip Creation: Collaborative groups create comics that define one term.
  • Crossword Puzzle Practice: Working on a crossword puzzle to learn words.
  • Problem Solving: Using math language when explaining a math problem solution. MCAS is one resource for great practice problems.
  • Assessment: Quick assessment to see who has grasped the focus vocabulary.
  • Math Dictionary: Utilizing optimal online and off-line math dictionaries.
  • Learning Tools Center: I am creating a tool center where all math tools and other tools for learning are clearly marked with names.  There will also be charts that list math tools that we use for equations and other mathematical processes. 
How do you foster math vocabulary understanding and growth in your classroom?  I am interested in learning about the many ways this can be successfully facilitated in classrooms.

Addition 6/1/14
Google Table Shared Math Dialogue Writing