Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Contributing to a Learning Community

How do you contribute to your learning community?  In what ways do you foster contribution from colleagues and students?

Today a host of educators from my school system shared their learning from a recent conference.  I must say I enjoyed reviewing all the notes.  As an avid blogger, it was great to read thoughts from others in my system.  I found myself scanning their notes for answers to my questions related to teaching children well. The notes about the big ideas and productive classroom conversation drew my attention. I was left with new ideas to try out to strengthen my teaching repertoire and student learning.

The flurry of posts made me think about who contributes to the learning community and what those contributions might look like?

Here are a few ways that learners can contribute to the community they collaborate with:
  • Share your learning through emails, blogs, tweets, presentations and conversations.
  • Collaborate with colleagues to develop curriculum, student learning endeavors and school-wide learning events.
  • Ask questions, share ideas and innovate preferably with others. 
  • Share your expertise.
  • Seek out answers to your inquiry, problems and pursuits as there are sure to be colleagues, students and community members ready to help out.
  • Support a student or collegial share with encouragement and effort. 
  • Coach a learner. 
What other actions help to build and promote a strong, creative learning community?  The posts today demonstrated a sense of enthusiasm and passion for learning and sharing--that kind of spirit is contagious and serves to lift everyone up from typical routines to responsive, adaptive student-centered thought and practice.

How does your learning community work?  Does your learning community resemble factory models of the past or today's innovative organizations?  I'd like to grow my thinking and practice in this area, and I'm interested in your ideas and experience--please share if you're able.  Thanks!

New Math Standards: Transparency

I'm finally diving into the new math standards with zest as I create a student/family/educator-user friendly presentation of the fourth grade Massachusetts' standards which include common core standards.

As I draft the presentation, I am mindful of the following
  • I want the document to serve as a go-to place for students, family members, educators and others who want to understand the fourth grade standards.
  • I want the document to act as a teaching and learning resource. 
  • I want the document's language to be accurate and understandable.  I'll bold focus vocabulary and add definitions and links for better understanding.
  • I want the document to be a work-in-progress that I continually refine, update and enrich as I learn more about the new standards and the best ways to teach each standard.
  • I want the document to encourage blended learning with numerous links to varied activities and information such as videos, games, paper/pencil activities, virtual models and more.
  • I want the document to be streamlined and simple to use, thus leaving more time for rich learning activities and endeavor. 
Unlike days of old when there was one text book or a discreet set of materials to learn, today we have a vast collection of resources to access.  Hence, the focus today needs to be on a learning process that includes continual revision and reflection.  

This standards site will work in tandem with my class math website, Tenacious Team 15, and classroom program.  I am always open to developing my math work to teach children well so please don't hesitate to offer ideas and suggestions.  Thank you. 


Sandy has pounded the East Coast and schools have been canceled due to power outages, unsafe travel and flooding. Families and teachers in my class community are able to stay in touch with one another through the closed social network, NING.

I am able to guide children who have homework questions and thoughts.  I am also able to list learning updates and changes. There are many advantages to closed social networks and virtual classrooms when it comes to communicating with the learning team: families, students, teachers and administrators, and one of those advantages is staying in contact during canceled days of school (as long as tech is powered up).

Other advantages include:
  • Posting student projects for all to see.
  • Having online discussions about topics that matter to the learning team.
  • Posting links to learning enrichment.
  • Answering questions.
  • Reading and writing stories you want to share.
  • Sharing images and videos.
  • Sending the weekly newsletter and home study list to all in the learning community.
  • Creating a year-long log of learning events and information.
  • Making learning more accessible to families who are traveling or children who are ill.
The virtual classroom, NING, supports the daily in-class school efforts providing a 24-7 platform for optimal learning. It's a positive academic tool that takes children into the digital learning world with guidance, oversight and care. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

EveryMan/EveryWoman? Prioritizing

Most elementary school teachers must feel like they are called to be "everyman or everywoman" as our tasks are broad and deep, hence the need for continual prioritizing of our goals and efforts so that we are making the most of our time with students and our prep/pd time after hours.

What are your current priorities and goals as we reach or near the first quarter of the school year?  Here are the goals and priorities that will consume students' and my  days from now until the holiday break in December.

Reading/Writing Fluency and Comprehension
  • Poetry reflections, poetry reading both silently and aloud, Halloween poetry contest and our poetry project/celebration.
  • Personal narrative reading and writing. Picture book study and Fig Pudding Interactive read aloud.
  • Asking Questions: Comprehension Strategy
  • Non-fiction mini research projects, reading and discussion.
  • Blogging, Google sites' Writing Books, reflective writing.
Math Concept, Skill, Knowledge and Fluency
  • Individualized math fact paths.
  • Place value and rounding.
  • Large number addition, subtraction and estimation.
  • Factors, multiples and large number multiplication.
  • Related problem solving and projects.
Social Studies and Science
  • Native American Culture Studies
  • Animal Adaptation
  • The Presidential Election
  • Just Like Me Program
  • "Creativity Days"
  • Global Education Presentation
Professional Development
  • Research and presentation related to the new Common Core Math Standards for fourth grade.
  • Reading books and blogs related to The Intersection Event in preparation for my participation in that event. 
Woven into all of these goals and priorities is the number one focus which is engaging students in "learn to learn" mindsets and activity.

After the December holiday, efforts will shift to many new concept, skill and knowledge units including family history and immigration, persuasive text, written response to short text across genre, division, line plots and geometry.  The pd for that leg of the journey will be NBPTS recertification (Have you done it--any tips? I'm interested).

Recently an educator challenged my laundry list of goals and activities. I thought about that challenge, and decided to move forward with it for the following reasons:
  • It's an easy way to share with the many colleagues I work with.
  • This list keeps me on track.
  • My blog lets the world get an inside view of a classroom teacher's life at the elementary school--a view that is often distorted and minimized in the media.
  • This is a fine way to elicit response, ideas, debate and help, if needed.
Hence, thanks for listening, and as always debate, ideas and questions are welcome. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Learning Design Nuts and Bolts

There's a lot of learning projects in the works right now including individualized fact smart paths, poetry project completion/personal narrative start, place value, rounding and large number addition/subtraction concept units, Native American culture study and animal adaptation exploration.  Many skills are embedded into these units including writing fluency and craft, reading fluency and comprehension, math facility and skill, tech integration, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills, communication and specific knowledge goals.

It's that time in the learning journey to take a few steps back and assess our efforts through reflection and content/skill assessment.  It's also time to meet with students to discuss the journey so far and the learning to come.  In this age of ready information the temptation to move too fast and ignore the need for reflection and adaptation to teach children well exists.  Hence the next couple of weeks will be weeks of finesse, review and thought before we embark on our next big learning events.

Edcamp Seacoast Notes

Teachers at #edcampseacoast discussing collaboration.
On Saturday I drove up to the Portsmouth Middle School to attend #edcampseacoast.  Edcamps are vibrant, educator-driven professional development events where teachers, administrators, school committee members and community members share ideas, strategies and knowledge to better teach and run schools.

The day started with a wonderful continental breakfast donated by local businesses and an introduction to the #edcamp.  After that I shared Animoto, a simple and effective movie making tool with a group of educators.  Then I attended a session led by Tracy Sockalosky, a Natick Middle School teacher about prepping students for tech world they live and learn in.  We had a great lunch donated from the Upper Crust Pizza in  Portsmouth, and after that it was learning focused on media literacy led by a New Hampshire Public Television Professional and sharing ideas and practice led by Dan Callahan from Burlington, MA.

If you’re looking for inexpensive, differentiated pd, I suggest you try an edcamp—here’s a list of edcamps coming up: http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/

Other great links for the day included the following:

One highlight of the day was that two friends from my childhood, Maureen Caramello and Nancy Scally, teachers in Worcester, MA, joined me for their first #edcamp experience.  I know it won't be their last as they both mentioned how wonderful it was to share a day of learning with thoughtful, invested educators. 

Thanks to all the Portsmouth area educators and volunteers who made this wonderful day of learning happen.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Forward Focus

I am about to embark on my third day of intense, invigorating learning related to teaching children well. The first two days occurred at MassCUE's annual conference and today I'll join New England educators in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for #edcampseacoast.

My focus today is to mainly listen.  I want to hear what's happening in the classrooms of the many dedicated educators who will be there. I will be listening with the lens of student learning--what are these educators doing to make learning engaging, empowering and successful for every child?

I am grateful to the many, many educators who make these events happen as I know it takes a lot of work to organize and plan these events.

Then on Monday, I'll return to my classroom to learn side-by-side with students. A chance to weave the new ideas and old together to guide and coach each child towards learning success and inspiration.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Challenges Continue

It has been a challenging few days.  I worked diligently to create a couple of presentations only to meet debate about my words at the final hours of presentation.  I gave up on one presentation so I that I didn't have to wage a debate and ruin my energy and effort for the longer presentation, the one that was less worrisome for some.

It was just one more conflict related to my desire to implement technology in a vibrant, meaningful way in the classroom--one of many conflicts I've faced in the past few years.  While my students rarely need to be reminded to stay on task, do their work, collaborate or give it their best since they are motivated to use wonderful tech tools to write, read, create, discuss and share, others continually debate, ridicule and create barriers to this work.

I spent the past couple of days at a tech conference. The speakers affirmed my vision and work--their stats and stories demonstrated students' engagement and interest in using tech tools to learn and grow.  Their stats also demonstrated what we know, tech is everywhere; utilized by all professions and a tool that all workers will need to understand and utilize well in their future careers and lives.  Their stats also demonstrated the digital divide between life in school and life outside of school.

I believe the main conflict I face is that I'm a classroom teacher at the elementary level.  Many think of elementary school teachers as kind worker bees that carry out the curriculum programs dictated from leadership, rather than thinking, adapting, responding and creative professionals who choreograph learning each week to best meet the needs, interests and passions of the students they teach.  It's the factory model where the teachers are on the assembly line while others dictate the process and work.

I find the actual job of teaching to be wonderfully challenging.  I love to think deeply about the children in my midst and look for the best ways to teach in responsive, engaging, empowering ways that mirror the best of what exists and what they'll need in the world they live in now and in the future.  Every child brings a diverse set of skills, interests and experiences which makes the job lively and challenging at the same time.

I work with many dedicated professionals and I work in a community that has provided the schools with optimal tools and support, however mindsets continue to exist that prevent systematic growth and change--the kind of movement that can really make a difference for children.  I know this is true in school communities throughout the country--change is hard, and I'm impatient because I see what's possible.

I believe that the structure that stands in the way the most with regard to change  is the fact that teachers' voices are rarely heard due to the fact that they are spending almost every minute of the day on task with children.  It's difficult to bring teachers' voices to the table because they are simply not available--sadly, the joke is true that a teacher often doesn't even have the chance to use a bathroom or make a call because they are responsible for large groups of children throughout the day with few to no breaks.

I hope schools will embrace systematic movement towards optimal change.  I hope they will really look at the roles and responsibilities of all in a school system, ensuring that most time from most individuals is spent on thoughtful, reasonable, responsive time on task with children and time to collaborate and learn to best meet students' needs, interests and passions.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

MassCUE Day Two

Great learning day at MassCUE.

Highlights today included the following:

Concord Consortium: Great organization of scientists utilizing new science standards, big ideas in science and student-friendly science activities online and off.  Definitely something I'm going to explore.

iTunes U: I want to learn using this resource first before I consider trying it out with my students--I'm not sure it's the best platform for elementary, but the high school is going to start using it so we can keep our eyes open for what they are doing.

That Quiz: Mike O'Connor did a great job with this presentation.  I'll definitely begin using this tool to a fuller extent.  Thanks Mike.

Scratch: Scratch is definitely one answer to students' desire to program.  This tool builds problem solving, creativity, math and engineering skills.  Also, there is a great Scratch teacher workshop in the summer that looks like lots of fun.

Terrific Day. Lots of learning.

I tweeted my notes and made a storify story - you can access all the links and main impressions of the day there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

MassCUE Day #1

Technology/Library Integration
Laura D’Elia and Dan Callahan from Pine Glen School in Burlington, MA presented their inspiring integrated tech/library model of teaching. They focus on four main areas of the curriculum including digital citizenship, technology, information and media literacy, and love of reading. They are currently implementing a one-to-one ipad initiative in the fourth and fifth grades.  A few interesting points from their presentation include:

  • Burlington caps elementary school classes at 18.
  • They highlighted Shannon Miller as a wonderful resource: http://vanmeterlibraryvoice.blogspot.com/  
  • Laura uses volunteers to cover some of her “fixed” periods so she can work with Dan on tech/library projects in classrooms. Dan has a flexible schedule.
  • They work together on project design and implementation with teachers focusing on standards and optimal learning design.
  • You can visit their website at http://pineglen.info/
  • They encouraged others to use http://www.symbaloo.com/ because it is such an easy platform for student website access, particularly for young children.
  • They also recommended this site for student learning http://www.socrative.com/

Copyright Laws
K. Vigil gave a great presentation that can be accessed via her blog: http://kvigil.weebly.com/education-blog.html

Although there is little issue with elementary school use of images, it’s best to teach children to follow copyright laws, and model this ourselves. Copyright laws are protected under the constitution and are meant to promote creativity. She recommended this creative commons video and the cc website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=io3BrAQl3so and http://creativecommons.org/

Vigil also introduced a number of tools and sites to help with legal use of images and music.

Sites for altering images:

Free to Use Image Sites
flkr (look at license - bottom of page): http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/
wikimedia commons  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page  great for diagrams, sicence
public domain anything before 1923 - but make sure it hasn’t been redone later
works by the u.s. government - public domain:
www.nana.gov - gorgeous photos
national archives http://www.archives.gov/
library of congress - great pics http://www.loc.gov/pictures/
http://www.pics4learning.com/- free for education, careful when using for broadcast
morguefile http://www.morguefile.com/
Advanced Google search (you can choose images that are free to use)

free music for teachers
http://www.royaltyfreemusic.com/free-music-program/ (have to sign up)

creating your own images:
take pictures w/cameras, mobile devices, computer
wordle - wordle.net  http://www.wordle.net
bitstrips - cartoon makerhttp://www.bitstrips.com/
create images with Google draw, kidpix, other create programs.

Create your own sound and cartoons:
digital/computer voice recorder
audacity http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
mobile device voice memos: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/audio-memos-voice-recorder/id338550388?mt=8
garage band
voki  http://www.voki.com/  free avatar tool with animation
GoAnimate http://goanimate4schools.com/public_index
abcya. com  great creation tool http://www.abcya.com/

Google Sites
I presented a workshop on how to create your own Google site for your own eportfollio, student ePortfolios and content websites. This is the link the site that explains the process step by step:

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want any additional information about these presentations.  

What's Important about Learning Design?

One great aspect of challenge is that it leads to deeper thought and research.  Recently, and yes, yet again, my tech work has been challenged.  Hence that challenge has led me to think about what's important related to learning design.

I think of educators as curriculum choreographers--we design the day to effect optimal student learning. To design learning we have to be cognizant of our students' interests, passions and needs as well as curriculum standards, cognitive science and student development.

With that in mind, I offer the following list of important tenets with regard to learning design:

  1. Design learning events with student learning as the focus.
  2. Design learning that responds to students' interest and passions.
  3. Embed curriculum standards in learning design.
  4. Reflect with students and colleagues as the learning event takes place; adapt as necessary.
  5. Assess along the way to make sure the learning goals are being met, and revise learning as needed to effect optimal result.
  6. Make learning events authentic and meaningful.
  7. Utilize resources that can be readily revisited and replicated.
  8. Showcase learning for an audience when possible as that provides greater purpose and intent for the work. 
  9. Integrate the best old and new tools into learning events, tools that will broaden students' ability to learn independently, efficiently and thoughtfully.

As curriculum choreographers, educators have to be discerning consumers of educational tools, content and resources. It is best if we design learning collaboratively as we will profit from diverse points of view, debate and collective energy and effort. To design learning well requires a systematic process with lead time, protocols and communication with the learning community.

What do you think is most important when it comes to learning design?  How do you and your colleagues continually revise, adapt, create and update curriculum to best meet students' academic needs, cognitive research and current standards?

Today when I attend the inspiring MassCUE conference, I'll have my eye on learning design--that will be the lens I use as I present, attend workshops and visit booths.  Apt curriculum choreography and learning design matters to best effect students' academic success.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thoughtful Change

Change happens and will continue to happen--ideas, processes and materials will often change.  That's to be expected.

Thoughtful change involves collaboration, discussion and conversation.  Thoughtful change looks at an event in a broad sense including value, connections, future and affect, and considers that change with the lens of many, not just one.

Change will happen and can occur with positive, thoughtful action.

Technology: Learning Design

We've moved beyond the time when tech tools were new to many and we're now in a time when tech tools are everywhere.  Children are using tech tools from early ages, and encounter tech platforms in most of their daily routines and events.

Tech is not the novelty it once was, and that means it's a time for change in how tech is deployed in schools. Tech is an integral tool for learning and should be regarded as an important part of learning design.

Today all teachers should know about and utilize technology to make learning more engaging, accesible and successful for students, and the questions and actions regarding technology should focus on learning design.

How do we design learning events that engage, empower and teach students both content skills and "learning to learn" skills?  What is the ideal developmental curve when it comes to tech integration and use? When and how does technology strengthen student learning, and when are tech tools merely a playful device, but not necessarily a vital learning tool?

These are the questions we should be discussing, and the discussion should extend to all members of the learning community including students, family members, educators, administrators and community members.

This turn in the road of technology integration likely means that roles, responsibilities and departmental structures will need revision.  What worked before is likely outdated now.  It's probably a time to rethink tech departments and educators' roles/responsibilities with regard to technology and vision.

How is your system responding to the need for learning design that embeds technology in engaging, meaningful and productive ways?  What structures have you put in place to support this change?

As I write, I realize this discussion will seem silly in just a few years when tech is fully embedded in learning communities everywhere.

Why Work Hard?

There are times when you wonder why you devote extra time, energy and attention to your work? You wonder why you take risks, try something new and reach forward when most of the support is for the status quo, expected schedule and traditional approach.  You become defeated by the constant debate, lack of support and disrespect you earn from pushing the boundaries.

Then you realize that you go the extra mile because you know schools can be better.  You know that if you engage students and show them the excitement and wonder of learning, you'll start their journey down an incredible path.  You remember the days in elementary school when you sat dutifully, waiting your turn while the teacher repeated a concept endless times, a concept you grasped the first time.  You understand the latest cognitive research that supports invigorated, vital  learning environments where teachers act as coaches supporting each child's individual learning goals and needs, and you're aware of the incredible, life changing tools and strategies available to learners today.

Working hard for children matters, and systems thrive when that work is rewarded with respectful routines, schedules and collaboration that focus on student learning first.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Tonight's #engchat affected my thoughts about books and the direction we're headed in that regard.  I was sold on the vision of each child having a tech platform to access his/her personal cloud library. For young children the platform would have to be easily mobile, big enough so that the images are vibrant, and connected to the Internet for access to other tools such as videos,  dictionaries, informational sites, image searches, and more to deepen understanding.

While I have trouble imagining a world without the hand-held book, I was convinced tonight that for the most part paper books will be replaced by digital books since what's important is the content, not the paper, and just think how much space that will save, and dust we won't have to worry about. These digital books will likely become multimedia, virtual tools crafted with cognitive understanding to make information and literature available in ways that best enliven our senses, awaken our imaginations and teach us well.

With this in mind, what's the best way for schools to embrace these new medias.  How can schools combine their purchasing efforts so that they move in this direction in ways that are cost effective, utilize public library and other resources, and collaborate home-school tech products?  Also, systems must keep in mind that the knowledge of information and literature that librarians bring to apt selection of text and other resources is integral to this process.

The change won't happen overnight, but moving in this direction with care and eye on what will best support student learning is essential.

Building a Learning Community

What is a learning community, and how is a learning community the same as a class, collegial group or school community?  Current research in books such as Making Learning Visible for Teachers by John Hattie point to the power of collegial collaboration, life-long learning, and adaptability when it comes to teaching children well.

At times, teaching and learning has been managed more through directives than collegial collaboration. In most schools, time for collaboration did not exist in the past, and one or two individuals were responsible for the curriculum efforts of many. Now with greater movement towards professional learning communities (PLCs) and response to intervention (RTI), the movement from managed curriculum to learning communities has gained momentum.

While I believe that collegial groups profit from strong leadership, I also believe that collegial groups do a better job when they see themselves as a vital part of the learning community with a responsibility to work together to learn, create, teach and assess with best practices aimed at student learning. I also believe that educators who work within a learning community model are better able to foster that model in their own classrooms.

How does a collegial learning community act; what do they do?  Collegial learning communities do the following:
  • Establish learning goals.
  • Define, integrate and adapt optimal strategies for learning.
  • Troubleshoot together to help all students learn.
  • Combine efforts to reach goals.
  • Assess, reflect and determine next steps.
  • Meet regularly.
  • Engage in collegial and independent learning regularly. 
How can leaders support and invigorate learning communities, and why is this important? Curriculum leaders set the path for educators' work and endeavor. How a leader spends his/her time; what they notice and support, and the tone and content of communication lead a collegial group in specific directions. If leaders embrace the notion that strong learning communities lead to optimal student learning and success, then there are many actions they can put into place to foster vibrant learning communities including the follow:
  • Establish and interact with two-way communication systems such as in-house social media platforms like NING, Google docs "discussions" or Twitter-like talks.
  • Support professional learning communities (PLCs) with time and attendance.
  • Share one's own reflection and learning.
  • Welcome and share the learning of colleagues.
  • Set goals with the learning community.
  • Frankly discuss the problems, barriers, and challenges facing the learning community.
  • Survey the learning community often to learn of and understand their needs with regard to teaching children well.
  • Provide and support frequent learning opportunities.
Moving schools forward to the establishment of dynamic learning communities that welcome the involvement, voice, and action of parents, students, educators, administrators and community members will strengthen student learning.  This post is an initial look at the way collegial groups and leaders can work together to move towards a learning community model rather than the manager-worker factory model that still exists in many schools. 

Students look to us for leadership, and if we model vibrant, collaborative collegial learning groups, they'll do the same. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

MassCUE: Five Minutes of Fame

I was honored to be invited by Jean Tower to join her Five Minutes of Fame Presentation at MassCUE this Wednesday, October 24.  I'll share a quick presentation related to the power technology holds for strengthening and deepening the learning community.  I can't wait to learn from all the other presenters as well at this forum that resembles an edcamp smackdown. Hope to see you there and learn from you as well.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Defending Tech Literacy/Use for Elementary School Children

While tech is everywhere, the debate about how and when to use technology with young children continues. I wish that all the time I spend defending tech integration and practice could be replaced by time spent on worthy learning design that integrates today's tools with knowledge and information. When teachers see colleagues facing debate and ridicule for tech use, most choose not to engage with tech.  On the other hand, when teachers see colleagues embraced and supported for use of technology, optimal tech integration grows.  Leadership matters when it comes to apt technology integration in schools.

National rules and guidelines that prohibit tech use with many mediums for children under 13 fuel this discussion to a degree.

We live in a tech world, and tech is not going away.  Tech is an amazing resource that can make learning far more engaging and accessible to children of all income levels, academic profiles and interests.  It is essential that we integrate technology into the education of young children with enthusiasm, knowledge and care.

While I believe that tech integration at early elementary has a place, I believe that tech integration should take on greater energy and focus in the intermediate elementary school grades. Fourth graders are aware of the world around them.  They come to fourth grade with a large range of technology experiences. Yes, there are some who have rarely touched a computer, but there are far more that use technology daily to play games, Skype and "hangout" with friends and family members, email, program, research, watch movies and tv, and more.  When tech issues arise in the classroom, the solutions are always collaborative since the children bring a wealth of tech experience, savvy and understanding to the process. Hence, I approach tech at the intermediate grades with the assumption that most children come to us with a wealth of experience and interest.

I believe that technology at the intermediate elementary grades should be used in the following ways.

1. Essential Skills:  There are many, many technology resources that help us teach essential skill in engaging, profitable ways.  Online dictionaries, thesauri, story writing platforms and more strengthen the work we do when it comes to building facile, engaged readers and writers.  The Internet also supplies us with a large potential audience for our young writers making the experience of writing and publishing much more meaningful.  Quick response games and activities that grow at a child's rate also help us to differentiate our teaching meeting students' at their individual skill level and learning point.  Virtual models and present/future/past time travel makes the world of science and social studies far more understandable and exciting. These tools make learning more engaging and productive.  Hence, technology helps us to teach essential skills with greater personalization, understanding and engagement.

2. Preparation for the Real World:  If students have the opportunity to engage with the mediums they hear about on television and interact with at hospitals, doctor's offices, local libraries, museums and more, they will better be able to understand those mediums and manipulate them for their own learning and use.  That's why I believe children should be introduced to these mediums as soon as they begin to show curiosity and interest.  Guided social media with family membership to closed social networks like NING give students a safe place to try out venues like Twitter, blogging, links, posting videos and sharing photos.  It gives children the chance to learn how to comment and discuss online appropriately, and provides a wonderful venue for digital citizenship discussions and practice.

3. Student Voice:  Busy, populated classrooms often don't allow for everyone's voice.  Social media tools enable transparency and voice.  These tools allow all members of a learning community the opportunity to share the learning objectives, discussions and products with care and meaning.  Children have 24-7 access to the learning community's materials, and the opportunity to ask questions, comment and respond.  This is a wonderful advantage of social media.

4. 21st Century Skills:  Our children will be accessing information that is mostly presented in multimedia platforms, and early tech use gives students the opportunity to create and present multimedia compositions.  The action of creating and presenting multimedia compositions such as Ted Talks w/back ground slides/media, films, podcasts and more demands the 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.  Multimedia composition is an engaging, enlightening and exciting learning venue that can be easily integrated into all content/subject standards. Students with apt 21st century skills will become life long learners who have a greater potential for success in our technology-centered culture.

5. Developing Learners: Technology has taken the emphasis off information and placed it on teaching students how to learn. With ready access to information and information abundance, it is essential that students understand how to learn which means they understand a learning mindset, learning tools and learning process.  The use of technology in grade school classrooms allows teachers to put their emphasis on developing learners.

6. Efficiency, Organization and Communication: We live in a global society where family members are often spread out all over the globe. Moms and dads often travel for work too.  Busy family lives make it difficult to stay up with paper work, school assignments and classroom demands. Hence online access to homework assignments, school projects, newsletters and announcements is essential.  Last year a child in my class spent a month in China, and thanks to the use of NING and other online tools that child was able to stay current with classroom assignments and focus. Similarly family members and parents who travel or live outside of our school community are able to take part in our learning endeavors through the use of technology.  Busy family lives are aided by technology too since assignments, newsletters and other learning tools are always accessible, just a click away.

While most children understand well where the world is going, many adults still struggle to see the future and continue to put up barriers to optimal tech instruction and implementation rather than productive, positive integration of the tools into every aspect of school life.
  • Children know that surgeons and scientists will practice complex surgeries and scientific processes through gaming because that is a better way to learn procedures than reading about them.  
  • Children understand that bridge building, house design and invention will be tested out through virtual models and processes rather than real life because that is more cost efficient, safe and useful than creating erroneous designs and products.
  • Children also know that an answer, discussion or conversation is only a tweet, blog, hang-out, or Skype away.  They interact with friends all over the Globe through epals, family Facebook pages, blogs, Google Earth and more.  
  • Children are comforted by the fact that if something is difficult to learn there are often ways they can use technology to bridge the gap between unknowing and knowing.
What children don't naturally know is how to use all of these tools effectively, and that while tech is awesome, it can also be destructive if not used in the right way.

As I worry about those who waste countless hours throwing barriers into the path of optimal tech teaching and use, I am comforted by thinking about the history of ideas. Recently I watched a video about the concept of zero and was surprised to find out that the notion of 0, a digit that represents nothing, was disconcerting and worrisome for many, and it took many, many years for Europeans to replace Roman Numerals with the digits (including 0).  Only when merchants began to realize that they could make more money with the digits did the masses begin to embrace the Indian invention.  This story, similar to so many others of new ideas and invention, demonstrates that new often signals controversy, debate and barriers.

I believe 50% tech integration at elementary school is perfect because it creates lots of time for guided social media, guided research using the Internet, multimedia composition and advantageous games and tools to differentiate and foster essential skill development.  50% tech integration also leaves 50% of the time to learn in other ways such as dramatic play, collaborative games, model making, reading books, classroom discussions, scientific experiments, nature exploration and more.  

I didn't expect to have to write this post this morning, but a recent debate over tech use put me in a position, yet again, to defend the apt, broad use of technology with fourth graders.  Please don't hesitate to add your thoughts, questions and debate.  In the meantime, I'll return to my central teaching focus: optimal learning design that embeds technology and other tools to engage, empower and educate my students with regard to their academic needs, interests and passions.

Update 5/2015
I now believe that all elementary school classrooms should have 100% tech access as this allows a good flow and integration of the tech tools. This does not mean that students are glued to a computer, but instead the computer is used as a "guide on the side" resource as students create, collaborate, and communicate knowledge in meaningful and useful ways--ways that contribute to a holistic education

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Coffee News Inspiration

It's become a habit, a positive routine.

Every morning I sit down with a cup of coffee, my computer and the television news.

I read the online news, listen to the television news and scan Twitter and Google+ for nuggets of wisdom and inspiration to give my day a bright start.

This has made all the difference in the work I do with students thanks to the research, reflection and work of the many vibrant members of my PLN (professional learning network).

Do you engage in a similar daily routine?  How has this practice made a difference in the work you do?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fluency Fun: RTI

I'm working to build fluency with my students.  I'm building in fluency activities to match specific genre and units.  Currently, we're working on fluency when it comes to reading poetry.  We're focusing on expression, responding to punctuation, and pacing.  I found that PhotoBooth provides a great level of motivation for this activity as you can see from the movie below.  What do you do to build fluency in your students?  What activities do you find to be most engaging and successful when it comes to developing fluent, engaged readers.  Thanks for sharing.

RTI Gets the Ball Rolling

Once you implement RTI (Response to Intervention), you will never look at the school schedule in the same way.

The knowledge and tech tools available today point us in the direction of greater targeted work when it comes to individual, small group and large group learning.

No longer will you be satisfied with learning endeavors that are not targeted towards achievement in specific and thoughtful ways--instead, you'll begin carefully choreographing a schedule that builds in all the important components to an optimal learning schedule. You will embrace the mindset that every child is capable of learning, and you'll seek out ways to build success for every learner--ways that include changing the environment, research, infusion of technology and more.

What are the components that create an optimal learning schedule?

Simply, the components include current standards, students' individual academic needs, 21st century skills: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication, and students' interests and passions.

These changes will squeeze out old one-size-fits-all systems and call for new ways to schedule and plan for the year, arrange the learning environment and target students' needs and interests. Efficient collaboration will be necessary, and time for that collaboration critical.  Families will become an essential part of the equation as will social media networks and tools.

RTI gets the ball rolling towards greater individualized, responsive and engaging learning--now we have to figure out how to change old systems to make this happen with strength and success.  What do you suggest?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Put Students at the Decision Table

Recently I was notified that a particular program might be adopted. I tried that program with students, and they did not like it. I wondered if the program adoption included students' opinions and reflections. Today, with so many wonderful, engaging tools available, we must remember to engage student opinion before selecting and implementing tools and strategies.  We should choose tools that are engaging and challenging rather than those that are dull and boring. Let's put children at the decision making table too.

Stick to the Important Work?

Sometimes when I lament the lack of time to do my work well, some leaders will insinuate that I should stick to the important work and let them make the decisions.  That means stick to work of following curriculum programs, correcting papers, cleaning the classroom, answering emails and responding to mandates--all aspects of my job that I do, but not the aspects of my job that keep the fire of creativity, passion, and student care burning.

It's true that I would probably have enough time to do all the pieces of my job if I went through the motions like a robot. Many programs, routines, and events are written like recipes for teachers as if both teachers and students are robotic without emotion, passion, vision, and humanity.  These programs apply some learning research, but the creators forget about the wonderful synergy possible when educational endeavors are executed with humanity, heart, and care.

Hence, even if it means that I have to squeeze professional development endeavors and creative, responsive learning design into weekends, wee hours of the morning, and late evening time, I'll do it because teaching like a robot is dull, dry, and ineffective whereas teaching with passion, care, humanity, intelligence, and heart is what I love about the job.  Don't you agree?

The Sunday Morning Blues: Correcting Papers

Correcting (assessing, reviewing and responding) is similar to cleaning your house, it's not fun unless you have lots of extra, energized time.  When you're squeezing it in on your day off along with the housework, it's simply not fun. Yet, the results of this action are critical as assessing student work helps one to tailor the program to specific student needs, interests and passions.

Every year I make a commitment to do this every night--to roll out the responsibility with a daily response so that the papers don't pile up, but also like every year, meetings, parent conferences, curriculum design and collegial work pushed individual response aside, and now there lies a pile of about 200 papers ready for my review (25 students X 8 papers each).

I'm also noticing that the simple addition of 3 students to my class has added a lot more time to response endeavors including editing during class time, correcting papers and parent conferences.  In these cases, class size makes a difference.

I realize that this pressure comes with the job, and I've heard more than one curriculum leader exclaim, 'That's why I left classroom teaching." to my dismay.  I also spend lots of extra time learning, creating and doing "extras," but I hope some day the laborious, but necessary, work of carefully reading, responding and coaching via student work will be moved to the on-the-job responsibilities rather than weekends, evenings or early mornings before school.

I have started using some wonderful online tools like That Quiz which grade students' math work, but when it comes to many subjects or learning endeavors, a number on a page doesn't give me the information I need including students' reflections, analysis, use of language and learned concepts/knowledge--for that, my own careful reading, response and decision making about next steps are needed.

     So when I woke up this morning, I remarked on the phone to my sister, "It's a beautiful day."
     She replied, "Not here, it's gray and raining."
     I said, "Well, it's gray and rainy here too, but I guess I think that's beautiful since I have hours of correcting to do."

I grew up in a house where complaining wasn't allowed and usually met with a response such as, "You're lucky to have such a good job, so just do it," and that's what I'll do today, correct while singing The Sunday Morning Blues.

Note: The post above was written with the best of intentions, yet after careful consideration I believe it's time that classroom teachers take their weekends back.  We'll teach better if we have time off to care for ourselves and our families.  It's imperative that administrations look carefully at roles and responsibilities in school systems, and carve out time during the school day for professionals to do the work that's most important to children--optimal feedback and response preferably in the way of small group or one-to-one conferences is the best way to provide this.  I hope I'll see this change as the education evolution moves on.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving Learning Out

I know that one of the next big steps in education is greater outward movement of learning.  It has already started, and I've read many posts by educators who outline their community-based learning endeavors. One post by Lyn Hilt stands in my mind where she outlines her school's collaboration with a local nature preserve.

What does it mean to move learning out?  It means that a generous percentage of student learning is done in the field whether that be the school's grounds, local community centers, area businesses, museums, parks, historic societies and other places.  Moving education out also includes bringing education in by the use of traveling museum programs, theater presentations and cultural enrichment events.

Traditionally this was known as the field trip or special event, but when you consider the typical field trip or event, the greatest learning is probably the exposure.  Yet, there is often little depth.  By truly moving education out, we will be activating project/problem base learning with technology and other tools to learn onsite, or we will be hosting experts from the field in our school houses real time or via Google hangouts, Skype and other venues.

Yesterday, we hosted a wonderful animal adaptation program from the Boston Museum of Science Traveling Scientist Program.  The expert visitor shared deep scientific evidence, models, animal examples and presentation sophistication.  As a teacher, I found the Museum's presenter to be a teacher to me. I watched carefully the way she used technology to keep the presentation fluid and targeted to students' needs. I was impressed with her use of scientific language, story telling, animation, animals and inquiry.  For one hour, she captivated an audience of 50 elementary school students.

To plan this somewhat simple in-house event was a multi-hour endeavor--much longer than it needs to be, but currently school structure is not set up well to promote active on-site inquiry or the use of experts.  Funding channels are often not set up for this kind of endeavor requiring countless hours of collecting money from families, writing grants or finding other creative ways to finance an event.  Often, this kind of learning is not on the forefront of leaders' agendas, hence it's left up to a collaborative groups' inspiration and after hours work.

A couple years ago I wrote a Zoo-School grant to support this kind of learning. The grant was not funded and I didn't have the time to seek out support for all the components.  This year I rewrote the grant to support only one aspect of the original plan as I knew I didn't have the time to plan or lead the original endeavor, and I hope to move forward in a step-by-step direction towards greater on-site learning.

Like any good learning strategy, the start is usually rocky and time consuming, however, at this juncture in the education road, I want to encourage schools and educational organizations to work towards more efficient funding channels, time for planning and preparation for these events, and greater use and analysis of on-site learning. This is one way to break down the "factory walls" of the education system we know, and build a vibrant learning community and environment for all.

The PBL/Skills Tension

At the elementary school there is a tension between our work to build and solidify skill and discrete knowledge, and our efforts to build engaging projects that embed skill, knowledge and concept.

The tension causes reflection and thought as we know a balance of the two approaches is necessary. Explicit, skill focus, similar to stroke coaching in swimming, is essential to build discrete skills for young children, and the synthesis, application, engagement and authenticity of project base learning endeavor is necessary too in order to build investment, student voice and 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.

The tension builds in the elementary school house because there is a host of professionals from those who mainly focus on discrete skills to those that focus mainly on project base learning endeavor. The landscape becomes complex as the many professionals collaborate to coordinate their work to best meet the interests and needs of all students.

I continue to lean towards structure changes at the elementary school.  These changes would simplify some of our coordination while targeting the learning for greater effect.  I outlined this vision in a past post.

From where I sit now, I plan the week with a number of discrete, skill based lessons that involve the work of many teachers including special educators, reading specialists, therapists,assistant teachers, interns and volunteers.  These discrete learning sessions include the following: math problem solving, math tech for fact practice and skill, reading groups targeted on fluency and comprehension, and our grade-level rotations where we present specific science and social studies activities through hands-on learning activities and investigation.

Our project base learning takes on a more fluid motion. New projects are introduced about once a week and students work on a continuous list of project endeavors.  During our open-ended "project/tech workshops" students work fluidly as they complete projects on their own and with the help of teachers and students.  There is a lot of room for student creativity and voice in these projects as well as the embedded activity of skill, concept and knowledge practice and use.

How are you managing the learning routine so that there's room for discrete skill development and project/problem base learning?  How has your classroom/school schedule changed to accommodate both areas of learning?  The challenge is to move towards positive change while maintaining reasonable expectations and schedules for students and teachers.  I would say that at this juncture in the change, "reasonable" is an important consideration because we tend to take on more without letting go--a process that can lead to stress and diluted effect.  Weeding and culling the learning schedule is essential so that this overload does not occur. Where does the skill/pbl tension exist in your work environment?  What ways have you moved towards advantageous coordination of both?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Blog is to Literature as a Website is to Informational Text

"My Little Brother" is a poem by Ralph Fletcher
I planned to create websites with my students for their poetry projects.  That's what I did last year, but then as I recreated my blog this weekend, I realized that a blog is a better vehicle for poetry, prose, stories and other literary genre, while the website lends itself to informational text and research.

A website seems to be more functional than a blog, while a blog seems to be more artistic than a website.  There's a sense of creativity that goes into blog creation that calls one to declare their voice with image, text and format.  The website, on the other hand, acts more like a file cabinet where efficiency trumps artistry--although both are important.

So tomorrow each child will create their own blog.  They'll begin by setting tight privacy settings and establish a uniform layout (for now).  Next they'll design their blog.  That will take lots of time as I'm going to tell them that it's important that their blog reflect who they are as students and writers. Then they'll add their authors' pictures, a few words to describe themselves and their first post: "All About the Author."

The process will be a bit laborious at first.  All students will sit at their desks; each with a laptop.  I'll guide them step by step from the front of the room using my document camera and one student's file. I'll choose a child who wants the close guidance to model the effort.  The students will be excited so keeping voices low will be a challenge.  As soon as some finish the first steps, I'll let them spread out as that will lessen the noise factor and give me a chance to focus on those having difficulty with the initial steps.

Have you created blogs with your students?  If so, what advice do you have for me and for them?  Later in the year, we'll create websites to host our endangered species research keeping with the theme that "a blog is to literature as a website is to informational text."