Saturday, December 31, 2011

"Why Not Be Great?"

Godin challenges us on this New Year's Eve with the question, "Why not be great?"

Which challenges me to identify "great."  What is great?  What does it mean to my life as a wife, friend, family member, mother and educator?

This is a question I will be thinking about in the days to come, but to start with great for me means the following:

Great is unencumbered. In 2012 I want to reach towards as much simplicity as possible.  Less things, more time.  More time, greater opportunity to do what really matters.

Great is belief-driven action.  I want my actions in 2012 to exemplify my beliefs.

Great is continued growth.  I am one of many, a tiny dot in the universe of life, and with that recognition comes the knowledge that I know only a small fraction of what there is to know. Hence I will continue to develop and integrate my awareness, knowledge, understanding and insight into my life's work and activity.

Great is love.  Love is challenging.  It takes getting to know one another in deep and meaningful ways.  Love means serving each other for best result, experience and endeavor.  Love sometimes means sacrificing your own gain to effect another's accomplishment. With love, comes the most satisfactory human experience, the best of what life has to offer.

Great is joy.  Finding positive experiences in life that bring joy makes life worth living.  Whether it is a beautiful garden, a hike in the mountains, dancing, dinner parties, travel, writing, reading and so much more, it's essential to find what brings you joy and make it a regular part of your life.

To start, great is joy, love, growth, belief-driven action in an unencumbered schedule and environment.  In the days and weeks to come, I will think about the implications of great with respect to my many roles in life.

In the meantime, I'm curious, What does great mean to you?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Professional Inquiry: Learning Design

I heard Alan November speak at the 2011 Global Conference.  I was intrigued by his notion of learning design.  I realized that this is the area of teaching and learning I am most passionate about--the lesson/unit choreography.

I have always tackled teaching as a creative process with the goal of integrating goals/standards with  research and students' passions/interests to effect optimal outcome.  I am fascinated by this process and delighted to engage in this quest as an educator.

In 2012, I want to delve deeper into the "learning design" arena.  I will begin by reading as much as I can about learning design.  I will research the following questions:

What is learning design?
What are the optimal components of learning design?
How can classrooms and educators support effective learning design?

As I learn, I will revise outdated components and employ new strategies in the classroom program. I will also continue to develop my current template for effective lesson/unit planning.

Integrating science and art, I will keep the central focus on what's best for students as I embark on this journey.  I welcome your wisdom, links, titles, ideas and debate during this discovery.  At the heart of the endeavor is the goal of making schools an invigorating, responsive, motivating, positive and profitable experience for all students.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Creativity Days Conclusion

"I told you I could do it, Ms. Devlin!"

"I thought of that idea because Chinese New Year is coming."

"I really wanted to do this project because I like to research."

Creativity Days concluded today.  Twenty-one students presented their projects.  They also completed a Creativity Days assessment.  The assessment comments were very positive.  Students noted that they liked Creativity Days because it was fun, they got to make things, and they could choose what they wanted to study.  I listed a few of their amazing responses below:

"I think it is important to imagine in this world because I believe to succeed you must do two things, believe and imagine." - Gabriella

"I wanted to do a project like this for two years." - Marcos

"I think it is important to be creative whether it's based on facts or not. If nobody ever imagined and created, nobody would have electricity and we would still be like we were millions of years ago." - Yana

"Making a book is hard, but fun." - Aarushi

"I was motivated because I love doing what I want to do." - Aidan

Creativity Days was a success!  It was a wonderful way to build student skill and knowledge during a festive time of the year.  

Next time, I'll slow down a bit more and communicate the project parameters better to teachers that work in my classroom in order to enlist their ideas and support.  I'll review this year's blog posts and make revisions that are responsive to next year's class.  I will also keep my eyes open for future posts about Fedex Days, Innovation Days, Identity Days and other such student-centered creativity endeavors, and share those articles with teachers who showed interest in the project this year as it would be great to do this with a team of colleagues in the future.

Thanks for your online support for the project, and as always don't hesitate to comment or tweet further ideas and considerations.  

More Project Examples
Dylan's Dance Music-a Garageband composition
Hockey Rink: an original Garageband composition

Related Posts
Eric Sheninger's Blog Post: Creativity Fuels Innovation

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Creativity Days: Day Two

We finalized our Creativity Days projects today at two.  Tomorrow students will have the chance to reflect on their projects and process as well as share their projects with the class.  Students worked consistently from 9:30-10:30, 10:50-12:00, and again from 1-2:00.  Some even skipped recess to keep working.

As the teacher it's been interesting to watch students complete their projects.  Some worked at an even keel completing their projects by the end of the day.  Others are bringing home work tonight as they want to continue their study, and yes, there are some that finished ahead of time.

A few students were disappointed with their projects.  Even though we used planning sheets and had meetings, their vision for what they hoped to achieve didn't match their final project.  I empathized and told students that projects don't always work out the first time, that's part of the creative process.

I'll create an assessment tonight and give students the chance to reflect tomorrow.  That will help me to assess my work and the project parameters.  Their reflections will help me plan and implement future projects for inspired learning.

If you've been keeping track of the project, please don't hesitate to lend your thoughts and ideas.  I know it's a project aimed in the right direction, and I also know it's one that I'll revise and revisit in the future.

Seeing the Individual

Classroom teachers are in charge of large groups of students.  Often the focus is on the group--what's working best for the group.

Today, I want to see beyond the group.  I want to look into the eyes of each individual.  I want to converse with each child about his or her creativity project.

I want to encourage, notice and guide.  My goal today is 22 personal conversations related to students' innovation.  I'll share that goal with students during our project meeting so they can help me make the space for each conversation.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Creativity Days: Day One

Creativity Days Dragon Creation
We embarked on Creativity Days today.  Students were very excited, so excited that it was difficult getting everyone to sit still for the project introduction.

We started with a discussion about "Learning to Learn Skills."  I asked students to list the skills they needed to learn.  Immediately they listed essential skills such as reading, writing, math, keyboarding and subject knowledge.  Then I prompted them to think more deeply about other types of skills and ways of thinking they would need to learn well.  One student started that thought thread when she answered that it was important for students to be interested in the topic.  I added "passions and interest" to the list.  Then that list grew with the addition of imagination, stamina, pacing, a "don't give up" attitude, confidence, dreams, patience, listening, believing in yourself and understanding what you're trying to learn.

That discussion set the stage well.  I passed out the planning lists and students started the process.  Several students bypassed the planning stage only to find themselves stuck with too-big projects or projects they didn't like.  We met again and I emphasized the planning process and project behaviors: stay on task, be polite, follow directions, listen, do your best, be patient and work quietly so that everyone else can work.  Children got to work after that as I held meetings and responded to students' questions and obstacles.

The class project choices represent a wide range of topics including animal life spans, fabric art, sled design, protection of marine animals, clarinet music, paper airplanes, football rules, music videos and more.

As the teacher in charge I find myself vacillating between awe and angst as I guide these young innovators.  At the end of the day, I asked students if the project was worth it--the overwhelming majority voted yes.  The few that voted no expressed specific project concerns that I will be able to remedy tomorrow.

Hence, Creativity Days continues.  Stay tuned for more reflection and news.  Also, don't hesitate to lend your ideas and wisdom.

Creativity Days Begin Today!

Creativity Days begin today. The way these days are introduced to the class will impact the success of the endeavor.  It's a new project with far fewer parameters than our typical lessons.  So, how will I delicately and pointedly introduce the project?

I'll start with background information.  I will remind students that they are the leaders of their education.  Essentially, they are in the driver's seat when it comes to the decisions, work and outcome of their overall learning endeavors.  With that in mind, I'll also remind them that it's just as important to develop your "learning to learn" skills as it is to develop the essential skills of reading, writing and math.

I'll ask, What do you think "learning to learn" skills include?  I imagine students will offer answers such as asking questions, observation, taking notes, discussing ideas, writing reports, research, presentation, knowing thyself as a learner, reflection, effort and tenacity--all topics we've discussed this year.  Then, I will tell them that Creativity Days is their chance to practice their "learning to learn" skills and to learn about and share a topic that they are really interested in or passionate about.  I'll discuss the fact that our passions and interests fuel our learning, direction and choices, and that we all have different passions and interests. That's what makes the world move forward with innovation, new ideas and happiness.

After that I'll introduce the Creativity Days planning sheet.  We'll quickly review it.  Then, I'll give students the time to think and explore the many books and topics available in our library.  I will let children start their individual research, discovery and creativity once they have completed the planning document and reviewed it with me.  When reviewing students' planning documents, I'll be looking for areas where I can help students with the process and scope of their projects.  I imagine some will want to complete projects that are much too big for the time allotted (about five hours), and I'll help those students break their projects down into steps with a first step as a reasonable project for this time period and later steps for later learning.

As children embark on this journey, I'll give them plenty of room for redirection, revision and rethinking.  I'll be available to help breakdown obstacles and roadblocks.  Today's starting discussion will impact the project's success greatly, and since this is a new project for me too, I'll leave room for Creativity Days revision and redirection too.

The launch begins today at 9:45 a.m.  If you have any wisdom or suggestions to share, please do. I'll document this process in my blog as a means of reflection and direction for later class projects and learning.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best Laid Plans. . .

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
And lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promised joy!
- Robert Burns, To a Mouse, 1786

I remember my mom paraphrasing this poem when plans failed. She'd say, "The best laid plans often go awry."  Teachers know that experience well.  We meticulously plan our days to best meet the needs of students.  We plan to meet goals in the social, intellectual and motivational realms of learning daily.  But, as the poem suggests, sometimes our plans go awry.

What is the best response when this happens?

First, it is important to stop, even if it's midstream.  Stop and question aloud with students, "Let's take a look at what is happening now.  Our goal is _____, and what's happening is ________.  What can we do about it?  Enlisting students' awareness, voice and ideas brings the class together and moves the lesson forward.

Next, make a decision. Sometimes, the best decision is to discontinue the event and move to something peaceful giving all a chance to reflect.  Sometimes, it's better to move forward with renewed pace, focus, process and/or attitude.

At the end of the day, it's essential for an educator to reflect and determine what the plans gone awry have to say about the class, plans and goals.  Usually plans gone awry offer insight and renewed direction for the days to come.

It's part of life that the "best laid plans go awry" and it's part of education that students recognize that.  It's also part of education, that student's and teachers know what to do when that happens so that classrooms continue to be vital, responsive, student-centered learning arenas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Year's Classroom Focus

There's only a few days left until the holiday break.  I'm looking forward to a family focused vacation so before I start the festivities, I want to lay the groundwork for the next leg of the school year.  With goals and standards outnumbering hours in a day, it takes careful planning to meet the requirements in a student-friendly, motivating way.  Here's the plan:

Assessments: Despite one's feelings about assessments, they're a reality for public school teachers.  Hence, I'll set aside days for assessment prep and test taking.

Reading Response: A priority goal for fourth graders in Massachusetts is the ability to respond to text questions with well written, lengthy paragraphs using specific evidence from the text as well as the student's own synthesis.  We'll work a lot on this skill using a variety of genres, short text and books.

Reading Comprehension, Fluency and Enjoyment:  We'll begin the year with a class book, Letters From Rifka, related to our immigration unit.  Each day we'll read a few pages in school and a few pages at home.  Students will respond to the book mostly on our class NING social network.

Personal Narratives: Students will edit and write a final copy of their first personal narrative, then they'll embark on their second personal narrative: a family history/immigration "small moment" story. We'll continue to focus on writer's craft as we write.

Math: Students will continue to practice and develop computation skill using That Quiz for typical practice and enrichment.  Videos will be posted to support enrichment.  Our class project will focus on immigration data and statistics.  Students will learn to survey, graph, organize and analyze data.  Students will also learn and practice the partial quotient division algorithm and apply that learning to word problems.

Immigration/Family History Museum Project: Students will create their museum project exhibits.  Reading response, geography skills and personal narrative work will be integrated into this project.

Science Rotations: Students will rotate from class to class to participate in science rotations topics: animal adaptation, weather/water cycle, magnetism, and land forms.

Just Like Me: Students will continue participating in our third/fourth grade Just Like Me program that introduces students to many challenges individuals face including mental limitations and physical and learning challenges.

Routines: We'll also continue our helpful and familiar routines of epal correspondence, NING posts, Friday catch-up, music, art, physical education, library, tech lab, and instrumental lessons.

Wow!  It's going to be a busy six-week period from the start of January to our next break in mid February.  All the more reason to take a few weeks off at the holidays to enjoy family, friends and nonschool activities.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Change Agent?

I like moving forward.  I hate wasting time.

Hence, when an activity is redundant and stagnant, I advocate for change.

I seek vitality, vigor and dynamic 21st century environments of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.

I am eager to hear the latest research and evidence related to enhanced student learning.

I know relationship matters and seek to create an environment where my students are comfortable, confident leaders of their own learning.

The roadblocks frustrate me.  I don't know why there is reluctance related to communication, collaboration, critical analysis and creativity.  I wonder why, like a game of Wipeout (a TV show), the obstacles continue to be thrown into the mix, obstacles like last minute schedule changes, old fashion practices, emails unanswered, repetition of skills and knowledge understood, rather than the creation of fluid systems of innovation, reflection and change.

Yes, I'm impatient for better professional development and instructional systems in schools--the potential for learning today is incredible given the outstanding tools we have at our fingertips.  The knowledge, talents and vision of the educators that surround me are equally outstanding, and I am eager to learn from them in problem based, creative, educator-driven professional development activities.

What's the best ways for systems to work today?  How do we move from one-size-fits-all or one-size-fits-some mindsets and actions to responsive, needs-driven, individualized professional development and instruction? What about our impatient learners--do we tell them to sit still and be patient or do we inspire them with challenging, forward-thinking, growth producing tasks and activities?  And etiquette?  What's polite today?  Do the rules of the past still apply?

I don't have the answers to all of these questions, yet I'm eager for honest discussion, protocols and goal setting related to these topics.  What do you think?

Since I wrote this post in 2011, there's been considerable change in my teaching/learning circles including increased communication and critical analysis. There's been greater streamlining and increased time for collaboration. Professional learning events are improving too. It is good to witness and be apart of this positive change.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 Gratitude

I'm a critical thinker who is always looking for ways to improve my teaching with students as the central focus.  Sometimes that momentum causes others to ask, "Why change when we already have so much in place?"

I believe that it's important to look towards the future with an attitude of positive change, yet it's equally important to recognize what's currently working.

Hence, this is my 2011 gratitude list for all the programs, people, tools and initiatives that have benefitted so many students in 2011.
  1. Terrific Tech: Our school system continues to support a flexible, fast and reliable tech infrastructure. We also have incredible tech tools at our finger tips.  Students in my fourth grade have one-to-one accessibility at a minimum of 50% a day.  We have tremendous tech support as well.
  2. Enhanced PLC (professional learning community): This year our system embarked on an enhanced model of PLC that began with a wonderful summer professional development program, and continues with more time for PLC meetings and focused leadership and goals. This has resulted in enhanced student-centered learning.
  3. Innovation and Exploration of Professional Development Models: Our system continues to explore innovative professional development models such as summer institutes, teacher book groups and one-to-one tech days. This year we hosted three inspirational educators, Ellin Oliver Keene, Greg Tang and Austin Buffum, whose presentations served to inspire and improve our work with children.  The addition of of talented curriculum leaders and dedicated coaches is also serving to deepen and broaden our work for best effect. Also, our system regularly supports teachers' attendance at professional development conferences and workshops.
  4. Differentiation: An attitude pervades our system that neither students or teachers fit a "one-size-fits-all" agenda thus promoting recognition and acceptance of many styles, gifts, strengths and challenges.  While we promote common research-based goals for students and teachers, it is recognized that there is not one path to attaining those goals.
  5. Kindness Matters: The leadership in my school puts "kindness matters" first and students know it.  This has been an integral step to creating a kind and caring school community.
  6. Community Support: I work in a community that supports education with volunteer time, extra funding, fair teacher salaries and a positive attitude towards innovation and change.
  7. Wonderful Playgrounds: Our students have the chance to play in beautiful, grassy playgrounds each and every day.
  8. Dedicated Teachers: There is little teacher turnover in our district due to the fair working conditions, salaries and support.  Hence our system attracts teachers who are dedicated and committed to life long learning and growth.
  9. Innovative Community and After School Programs: The leadership has made a concerted effort to support innovative, enriching before and after school programming.
  10. The Arts: Our school system continues to celebrate and support the arts.  Students have the chance to participate in the visual arts, chorus, instrumental programs and theater.  The PTO supports regular cultural enrichment events that further students' understanding and enjoyment of the arts.  Students at all levels share their artistic talents with the community regularly through many public events.
  11. Facilities: Our system will open a new high school this year.  This is the result of countless hours of volunteer and professional time.  This is an exciting moment for our school system.  
I'm sure that I'll return to this list in the days to come to add more categories. I'm fortunate to work in an optimal school system, one in which I am free to use my voice to advocate for growth, question decisions and share ideas. I'm grateful that I have the tools at my fingertips to carry out an optimal student-centered, responsive 21st century program for learning and growth. It has taken the thoughtful leadership of students, teachers, administrators and community members now and in the past to make our school system what it is, and after 26 years in the same system, I remain grateful and proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Google Docs Improve Reading Workshop

Illustrated by Haeun
A difficult part of running several book groups simultaneously is keeping track of all the books.  The use of Google docs has come to my rescue and enhanced classroom book groups.

I position myself with the computer on my lap in front of the white board.  I'm essentially the notetaker.  When students gather with me in a circle, we typically begin by reviewing the main events of the story and adding new events that have taken place in the pages students read since the last meeting.

Then we move to the focus of that book group meeting.  The focus changes from week to week.  At the start we usually talk a lot about the characters, setting and problem.  We question, make predictions and research vocabulary with online image and dictionary searches.  Comprehension strategies are targeted throughout our meetings.  All of our discussion notes are posted on the Google doc--a doc that is shared with all students in the book group. The format of the Google doc is a collection of ideas I've gathered over the years from colleagues and professional development resources.

It's a great tool and process that I hope to grow to best effect book group discussions, fluency and comprehension.  Take a look at our recent Stone Fox Book Notes.  What would you add?  What would you take away?  How would you manage the process?  I look forward to your feedback.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Giving Ideas Flight

What do you do when you have an idea? Do you give it flight?  Do you wait and nurture the idea, then implement it yourself?  Do you dismiss the idea?  If an idea is persistent and won't go away, I believe it's meant to be nurtured and/or shared.  What do you do with your ideas?

Weight Challenged: Targeted Intervention

I was a weight challenged child and still struggle with similar issues as an adult.  The patterns established in childhood are difficult to change in adulthood.  As an educator, I am sensitive to the prejudice and other obstacles weight challenged students face.  It's very difficult to be weight challenged from a physical standpoint, and it's even more difficult from a psychological perspective.

Healthy children are able to learn more.  They have the physical and psychological energy for learning, while weight challenged students are burdened by the prejudice and health issues related to their size.

What can we do for these students?

I suggest that daily physical education programs become a standard for all children, starting with those who are most affected by weight.  Typically children from homes that have adequate financial and care resources are involved in regular, healthy activity such as sports teams, dance, theater and nature clubs. Some children lack the the finances and/or care to support healthy after school activities, and that's where schools should focus their intervention first.

One idea is to implement a morning health class for students who struggle the most with this issue.  Students at the extreme end of the weight scale could participate in a daily healthy activity and nutrition course.  During that time these students could share their thoughts and feelings with counselors, exercise and eat a healthy breakfast.  The course could take place at a local gym or health facility.  Students would be dismissed from a class or two in order to attend this morning activity.

Children who feel good about themselves and enjoy optimal health will learn more.  A program to meet students' needs in this regard could possibly be a program that's integrated with other resources such as local physical fitness centers and health organizations.  As schools move towards responsive, targeted interventions for student success, student health should be included in the discussion.

Does your system currently employ a course like this?  If so, please share your descriptive links and articles.

Are You Part of the Team?

Teaching children takes a team: a team of teachers, family members, students and even community members.  For best effect, the team works together to challenge, nurture and inspire young children towards optimal growth and development.  When the team is working well there's communication, shared goals and effective, responsive effort.
  • How do you foster a team approach for your children and students?
  • What do you do to contribute to the team?
  • How often do you share your thoughts, questions and ideas?
  • Do you read related newsletters, correspondence and research?
  • Do you reply to emails and letters?
  • Do you plan targeted interventions with the team?
I want to increase my awareness, activity and contribution as a team member to better my teaching of young children.  The first step is recognizing that it takes a team; the next is gathering as much information as I can to inform this work.  Hence, I invite your links, suggestions and questions.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Creativity Days: Initial Plan

Many educators are exploring the use of Fedex Days in their classrooms and schools.  It's a wonderful idea that inspires the 21st Century and lifelong learning skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.  It's also a great way to celebrate and synthesize a period of learning while also inspiring new learning and academic independence.

Holidays often spark a spirit of innovation--there's joy in the air, and people are thinking about ways to creatively celebrate with friends and family members.  Hence, I decided to couple our classroom creativity days with days prior to the holiday break.

Here's the initial plan.
  1. Discuss the research and concept of Fedex Days with students (brief discussion).
  2. Outline the process.
  3. Visit the library and reintroduce students to all the topics and concepts possible. Students will have time to browse through books in the many sections of the library (this is a better first step for fourth graders as it's so tactile, later on technology will be available for research, exploration and creation.)
  4. Brainstorm questions and share ideas.
  5. Share and revise a project planning template with students (Young students see grand possibilities, but have difficulty breaking it down into steps so a broad planning template is essential).
  6. Students receive a colorful poster board which they can use for their project if they'd like.
  7. Students complete planning sheets, embark on their investigation and complete projects within two days time in class and at home.
  8. Creativity Days Celebration: Each child shares their learning and receives specific compliments about their creativity and learning from both teachers and classmates.
  9. Project images, videos and written explanations are posted on our classroom NING so that all Team 15 teachers, family members and friends are able to view and comment.
I imagine that our creativity days will result in projects ranging from the arts to service projects to informational posters to creative holiday gift creation.  My only expectation is that every student complete a project individually or in collaboration with other students.

The fall has been a full schedule of meeting standards in multiple ways.  It will be nice to end this semester by giving students the freedom to use all the tools they've learned, concepts shared and creativity inspired to lead their own learning.  

Please add links, suggestions and ideas related to this in the comment section.  I know that many educators in my PLN have already embarked on creative days like this, and I welcome your inspiration and advice.  Thanks.

Related Links:

Creativity Days Planning Sheet

Passion Based Learning


Dinosaur Dig

Quotes to Support Initiative:
If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

I'm not one to be moved by "rock stars" in any field, but I did receive a response from Daniel Pink and I'm so honored:   Daniel Pink 

 -- Thanks for the letting me know. Creativity days are inspired and inspiring.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Why I Continue to Blog?

I've written about this before, and will probably write about it again.  Blogging is a journey that takes many twists and turns along the way.  As I blog, I stop to reflect time and again as to the focus and intent of this activity.

I blog to question.
I blog to reflect.
I blog to reason.
I blog to solve problems.
I blog to share information.
I blog to elicit feedback and debate.
I blog to better my work with the primary focus on student engagement and learning.
I blog to publicly commit myself to challenging, professional tasks and endeavors.

Blogging leads me forward.  Blogging deepens and broadens my understanding and work.  It's a positive endeavor, and an optimal way to share information.  It's there for the taking or leaving.

That's why I blog at this juncture in the road.  What's your blogging rationale?

Classroom Microsphere: Targeted Time on Task with Children

If you read my blog, you know I'm reflecting on the microsphere of my teaching--the day-to-day nuts and bolts of what I do.  The big pieces are in place, the vision is there, the tools are working, and now it's time for finesse.

The most challenging work in schools is delivering responsive lessons in child-friendly, effective ways to guide student engagement, empowerment and growth.  It's work that requires thought, attention and reflection. The kind of work that should make up a large fraction of most educators' days.

Where does that take me?

It's leading me in three directions at this moment: Creativity Days (our Fedex Days endeavor), Math Enrichment Program, and the 100 Pennies Project.

My class is ready for a project-based, student-driven creativity days project, and we will participate in that during the three days prior to the holiday vacation.  I'm excited for that project because my students have learned to use countless tools. They've also encountered numerous learning questions and substantial material, and this will give them a chance to synthesize all the fall learning into one meaningful project.

Next, on our last Friday formative assessment, I asked students to write me a letter about the math program.  A number of children asked for greater challenge.  Hence, I'm putting in place another challenge thread in my math program for these students.  I will work with them to make this blended learning thread responsive, challenging and growth producing.

Finally, I am embarking on the 100 Pennies project with one student.  I have been reading about developmental math and thinking about those students who come to fourth grade without a strong foundation of math concept knowledge and skill.  I've also been thinking about one delightful, conscientious student in my class who wants to understand math better.  That student and I will develop math concepts using 100 Pennies.  We will write a book together.

Hence, three new projects for the microsphere in an attempt to target the curriculum for greater student learning.  If you've got any links or ideas for me related to these projects or the microsphere of teaching in general, please share.  I appreciate your support as I journey in this direction.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Do You Prioritize?

The standards outnumber the hours in a day and the stamina and energy of many students. The standards serve as guiding principles while good education demands a balanced approach that both engages and empowers students.

The standards continue to be a daunting algorithm for educators, not unlike the life algorithm in today's world - a world infused with seemingly infinite knowledge, choices and possibilities. How do educators navigate this complex arena?

The answer lies in patterns, prioritizing and focus.  It's the way we "walk the road" of schools and life that make the difference.  What are the essential ingredients?  How do you tackle each day?  What processes do you use to create vision, goals and priorities?

I suggest that the you identify the main ingredients of a successful endeavor, classroom, family, life.  Then create a pattern that includes essential ingredients. Be prepared to reflect, revise and revisit the vision, goals, priorities and pattern often.  Have a flexible attitude towards change which is the one aspect of life you can count on.  Seek out others online or in person to guide, support and challenge you on the way.  Make time for play and recreation which spark creativity and joy.

None of us can do it all, or be it all--there's too many things to do and people to be, but we can journey towards our best work and vision in kind and caring ways that bring light and make a positive difference.

Priorities become your pattern, and your pattern leads to your vision.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Classroom Teaching: A Balancing Act

Classroom teaching is a balancing act that requires continual reflection, prioritizing and revision.  It's great when the collaboration and balance work, and it's challenging when it doesn't.

Pacing is paramount--a too fast pace frustrates and hinders progress, while a too-slow pace dulls the process.

Focus is key--kindness, respect and care take center stage.  When that's forgotten, irreparable damage is done.

Coaching is essential--motivation, strategies, honesty and encouragement will move children along.

Teachers work tirelessly each and every day to create a balance that supports all children while meeting school, district, State and Federal guidelines.  It's a mighty task, and we need each other to do it well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Learning: Embrace!

New learning can be frightening especially when it's in your challenge area.  It's easy to point a finger at colleagues when they fear an area of new learning, but it's not so easy to recognize your own area of frightening new learning.  For me, it's the microsphere of instruction--the details related to good pedagogy. I can easily grasp the big picture, the new tech and multi-modal learning, but when it comes to the finer points, that's when I cower.

Hence, when our school system adopted the coaching model, I must say it fueled a waterfall of angst:  What will coaches have to say when they watch me teach and notice all the little details that I miss when it comes to instruction?  I can't be it all?  I know where my weaknesses are?  Do I have the time to finesse every single aspect of my teaching?  

Now, as the coach and I move down the coaching relationship road, I am embracing it step-by-step.  I know it's best for students if we work collaboratively, and I know there's always something to learn.  Hence, I'm slowly learning to navigate this new instructional path.

Today was yet another turning point in the journey.  The coach taught the lesson.  I asked him to teach after watching his last lesson and noticing many, many details of instruction that he implemented to better
students' access and learning.  Again today I noticed more details. Details that I want to better implement to develop my instructional repertoire.

The details of today's instruction included the following:
  • Making Learning Safe: Friendly language and simple examples welcome students into the lesson.
  • Explicit Instruction: Prior knowledge is not assumed.
  • Wait Time:  Students are given the time to think and ponder.
  • Specific Compliments: Model accurate language, strategy, behavior by pointing it out.
  • Humor: Makes the lesson enjoyable.
  • Setting Goals: Students are aware of where the lesson is going and what's expected.
  • Storytelling: Makes the lesson "sticky" by adding an emotional, experiential connection.
  • Blind Vote: Close your eyes, thumbs up if you understand, to the side if you kind-of understand and down if you don't understand.
  • Mapping the Path:  Creating a strategy path with students to complete the task.
I have said it before and I'll say it many times again, teaching is an endless path of discovery and understanding.  No teacher ever reaches the point of all-knowing in education--it's an endless evolution of growth and development to best serve students.  The best reaction is to embrace a path of discovery and evolution that's part of your overall professional work.  As my father always says, "A little for today and a little for tomorrow."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lesson Choreography

Most refer to it as a lesson plan, but it's much more complex than that.  It's not static, passive or unchanging, instead it's dynamic, ever changing and full of momentum.  Lesson intent does not equal lesson employed.  Why?  Because it involves people--thoughtful, active people with voice and response.

Particularly with respect to project base learning and a responsive approach, lesson plans become lesson choreography, and there's much to consider.

The first consideration is flow: the movement from introduction to activity to closure.  John Medina's presentation, Brain Rules for Presenters, suggests a ten-minute introduction as attention begins to drop dramatically after ten-minutes.  That's ten minutes to whet the learners' appetite, deliver instructions and answer questions.

The instruction list must be clearly written. If there's confusion with the "to do" list, the teacher will encounter unnecessary interruptions.  Rushing through that stage hinders the rest of the learning event.

Then there's placement in the classroom (the stage).  Young children do best when they have a good work space that includes distance from other groups, places to sit and work, and materials such as computers, easels, chart paper and more.  It's efficient to assign places, but choice lends itself to investment so that's an area for teachers to determine.

Routines and protocols for checking in are important too.  When and how should you question and check-in?  It might be good protocol to have students "ask three before me" which means ask their classmates before asking a teacher.  That builds collaboration and independence.

The edit process is similarly important.  Who should students edit with and when?  Also, where will the work be stored or showcased?  How will the work today inform future lessons and activities?  Students' closure routines will impact that.

When the lesson is well choreographed, dynamic learning occurs.  When the choreography is sloppy, frustration and missteps hinder potential.

I want to think more about lesson choreography.  After all, like parenting, teaching is a dance--a series of approximations as children reach deeper understanding and skill.

Do you have a better word for this process?  What are the essential steps you employ when designing a learning event?  As I think and analyze lessons more deeply, I look forward to your response.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Visual Literacy: Implications for Math Education

“Research has shown that visual learning theory is especially appropriate to the attainment of mathematics skills.” - Stuart Murphy

Lately I've been excited to learn more about the connections between visual literacy and learning particularly with respect to mathematics.

Again and again this year, I've read, heard and viewed discussions about the power of visual models when learning mathematics:
Then, this week while working on the Know Your Numbers Poster Project with my students, we came to a quandary when discussing factor pairs.  Often factor pairs are presented to elementary school students with a rainbow model:

Yet the rainbow model misrepresents the relative distance between the factors. Is this important? What would a model look like that represents the relative distance.

As we discussed this with greater depth, we realized that the relative distance between factors for all composite numbers takes a similar shape?  Is this important?  

Over the weekend, I considered the models with greater depth, and wondered about the following questions.
  1. Does a number line that only demonstrates factor pairs misrepresent the notion of what a factor pair represents: a number shown as the sum of equal groups?  Or is relative distance an important concept to convey?
  2. Should I give more time and attention in the Number Posters project to exploring visual models by allowing students to play around with the many, many ways a number can be visually represented?
  3. How will math instruction change and evolve given our current knowledge about the power of visual imagery?
  4. Will teachers at every level begin to employ more and more visual models to efficiently and comprehensively relay the meaning of math concepts?
I decided to add more time to the project for visual model making. I played around with it myself so that I could model this activity for students.  This is what I came up with for 12.

I noted while making these models that this activity will strengthen students ability to grasp fractions, area and perimeter when we focus on those concepts.

Where will this exploration take us?  What are your thoughts with respect to integrating visual models into your math lessons?  How much time do you take to allow students to draw and explore math concepts with models?  In what ways will we bolster this aspect of mathematical understanding?

As an elementary school teacher, I am continually evolving my approach to instruction based on the latest research.  I look forward to your links, thoughts and ideas with respect to this investigation.  Thanks for your consideration.

Additional Visual Resources for Math:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Every Day Should Be Like This!

Yesterday was an amazing day!  So many things happened that exemplified the best of what schools have to offer.  It wasn't perfect, but it was close.

The day started early with Edna Sackson's 2011 Global Education Conference presentation from Australia which described a number of motivating, student-centered, engaging global projects.

After that, our responsive math curriculum director stopped by to follow up on a math question.  I asked the question the night before via email, and she was there the next day to discuss it--amazing.

A short time later, a very competent and kind student teacher from the local university arrived to help out as part of her practicum.  The university-school partnership is an invaluable resource.

Then students embarked on the next stage of the Minnesota-Massachusetts collaborative regional exchange project. The children eagerly worked with partners for an hour preparing a collective Northeast Google presentation for our Edina friends.

Later, while the students played instruments in music class, the tech integration specialist taught me how to use skype as part of the one-to-one technology days professional development effort.  The one-to-one days give teachers a chance to learn for an hour with a tech integration specialist.

Following that, students met in the computer lab to complete number poster projects.  A math coach and special needs teacher were there to assist us.

After lunch it was reading workshop.  Thanks to the efforts of our enhanced PLC model and RTI, a regular special needs teacher is also in the room during most of the reading workshop time. She and I lead book groups while other students read independently, work on reading-related computer programs, and write/create a variety reading responses.

Finally, at the end of the day, we had a little time for math drawing and immigration stories.  During that time, a reading specialist arrived to give extra reading support to some.

The day was great thanks to the amazing efforts and careful coordination of so many skilled and dedicated teachers in addition to thoughtful, student-centered programs.

Targeted, collaborative efforts worked in harmony today to benefit both teachers and students.

Every day should be like this!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Differentiated Professional Development Model

I'm a fan of differentiated professional development, but what does that look like? This is a potential process.
  1. Identify goals and vision--essentially the professional development "umbrella."
  2. Survey professional staff regarding their professional development needs related to goals and vision.
  3. Communicate most or all rote information electronically in order to save precious collaborative time for in-depth professional development.
  4. Create a menu of professional development opportunities for educators related to the survey.  The list might include the following:                      
  5. Develop a communication system where educators share their professional development learning, questions, creations and more.  Make the system such that other educators easily access and respond to the information.  The system might include a website, social network,  professional development conference(s) and a regular newsletter.
  6. Chart impact via observation, anecdotal records and others.
  7. Assess the impact of the model and move forward.
Daniel Pink's book, Drive, provides a strong rationale for educator-centered professional development.  I believe the results of this type of professional growth would greatly exceed the often used one-size-fits-all approach in depth, breadth and effect.  Do you agree?

Note: 12/3 Just read this great pd article that relates well to this post.

Macroscope to Microscope: Classroom Teaching Focus

I love the big ideas, the macrodebates in education.  Those debates are actually easier to contemplate and discuss because you're only one small piece in the equation.  It's not hard to point your finger at others in a macrodebate or step aside when the debate gets personal or heated.  It's a different story in the microsphere.

The truth is that your voice in the big picture is worth very little if you're not doing your job in the microsphere where you work--your classroom, school, district or community.  It's much more difficult to take a close look at your own professional actions and endeavors--to give yourself a report card related to your day-to-day efforts, particularly in a field like education where the potential and possibility of what you learn and do are limitless.

I've been engaged in the big picture debates lately, but now I want to step back and take out the microscope to examine my instructional work, relationships, collegiality and contribution in the classroom, school and district with greater care. What small changes will I make in the days and weeks to come to better effect my work?  Where will I look to gain deeper perspective and understanding to fuel that change?  Which process will I employ to enhance my work?  What will be my first goal--brain research, perhaps?

This is the next journey?  I welcome direction, guides and focus.  Thanks for listening.

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 Global Education Conference Slide Show and Presentation Recording

slide show:

presentation recording:

When Ambition Trumps Mission

Ambition is not a bad thing--there's nothing wrong with the desire to get ahead and do the best you can, but when ambition trumps mission in service work such as education, politics, medicine and social work, problems arise.

All those who work with the public have to continually check and recheck their efforts to make sure that they are pointed in the right direction--optimal service to those they serve.

Ambition and mission can work in tandem.  For example, a medical researcher may work passionately to solve a problem related to disease to best effect a cure, or a teacher might work rigorously to understand cognitive strategies that better students' ability to access knowledge, concept and skill.  Both teacher and researcher are ambitious in their pursuit, but mission lies at the center of their efforts.  They both may gain expertise, recognition and possibly monetary gain for their passionate work, but that recognition derives from embracing and achieving the mission.

Sadly, there are some in all service fields that seem to travel only the ambition path--making choices based on getting ahead rather than doing what's right for those they serve--their work is marked by questionable decisions, lack of transparency and surface effect rather than substance.

There are probably few on the far ends of the ambition/mission scale with the rest of us scattered on points throughout the continuum, hopefully points closer to the mission end of our work than the ambition end. Letting ambition trump mission hinders organizational success, stunts potential, and in the end, delays and/or denies optimal service.  On the other hand, when mission drives an organization and individuals' ambition fuels purposeful action then it's a win-win for those that serve and those that are served.

Where do you stand on the ambition/mission scale?  What's important when it comes to keeping a focus on mission while also maximizing the energy and drive that ambition brings?  What is the role of transparency in this discussion?  How is communication and information perceived? And, what role does this discussion play with regard to collaboration?  I welcome your thoughts, ideas and discussion.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011 Global Education Challenge?

How do you face a challenge?  I tend to jump right in. After a summer of reflection, research and rest, I read about the 2011 Global Education Conference.  I knew it was time that I engaged my students with projects that foster greater global awareness.  I wanted to learn more so I created and submitted a presentation proposal.  

I could have simply attended the conference, but I knew that engaging with the event in a deeper way would propel my learning with greater attention and motivation.  Creating and submitting the proposal was the first learning event.  For years, I have been improving the unit, What's My Culture?, to build students' respect and awareness of their own cultures and other's cultures.  I honed the unit, wrote the proposal and moved into the teaching year with an eye on my email waiting for response.

From time to time, I visited the conference website to read the latest submissions and news updates.  I continued to develop and teach the unit while reflecting on its merits.  Then I heard the good (and scary) news: my proposal was accepted.  That led me to the next layer of learning--presenting online to a global audience.  I have never done that before.  I did have the chance to engage in a great online discussion led by Jo Hart once, and that gave me some exposure to Blackboard Collaborate and global learning, but essentially this is a brand new learning endeavor for me.  It's both exciting and daunting at the same time.

Luckily the 2011 Global Education team led by Steve Hargadon and Lucy Gray offer tremendous support. The frequent detailed emails, links and online training have supported my launch well.  The one-hour online training led by Steve Hargadon was specific and tailored to presenters' and moderators' needs.  The tech specialists at my school helped me as well. They responded with needed equipment (headset), technical advice and the offer to help when needed. Furthermore, my PLN quickly responded to numerous question-tweets regarding presentation content, voice, and organization.  Anne Mirtschin from Australia wrote and shared a post outlining the steps to a successful presentation.  Sham Sensei from Singapore tweeted important presentation tips. Rita Oates from ePals offered to lend her support and collaboration for the project, and many other faithful educators tweeted encouraging messages and links.  

I also shared this endeavor with my students.  We watched the conference trailer and discussed what global connectivity is.  They lent me their support and thoughts last Friday with poster creation and blogging:

  • "Yes I think its good to learn about other people's cultures because then you know what not to say that might be offensive to their culture."
  • "I think it is important to learn about your culture and others because if you don't learn about culture, you won't understand your culture or other's culture. I think we should learn about culture by sharing about different cultures. I like having ePals because I think it's cool to work with people online."
  • "I think it is important to learn about our culture and other cultures because when you grow up, you will have to work with people all over the world. I think kids should learn about other cultures by making culture flags and reading about it. I like having Minnesota and London partners so we can work with them and see different cultures."
On Monday morning, I plan to watch one of the the keynote speakers, Alan November.  I've invited colleagues to share this event with me.  I'm offering coffee and bagels as an added incentive.  I'm hoping a few will take me up on this rare chance to learn with educators throughout the world.

It's not too late to get involved in the 2011 Global Education Conference and further your global education efforts: volunteer (training provided) and/or attend one or more of the sessions.  I also welcome your attendance and insights during my presentation, What's Your Culture?, Monday, November 14th, 10 pm EST.  You can follow the conference highlights on Twitter via #globaled11.

Stay tuned for my conference afterthoughts next week, and as always, I welcome your comments, questions and debate.  The 2011 Global Education Conference is one reason why it's an exciting time to be an educator today.