Friday, November 30, 2012

Now, and Later

Now, I'm entrenched in the day-to-day.  Students are busy reading, writing narratives, exploring a number of math concepts, building skill with computation, delving into animal adaptation and preparing for our poetry celebration and creativity days. The only problem at the moment is how to fit it all in.

Later, there's much to consider including the following:
  • A strategic plan for utilizing technology to empower students' literacy skills and information access.
  • Considering and creating STEM labs at our elementary schools. 
  • Developing RTI more so that we personalize student programs for best effect.
  • Writing grants and obtaining the funding for sound-proof recording/videotaping rooms.
  • Making the work we do meaningful as much as possible by embedding service learning and community based projects into our learning.
  • Growing our global interactions, awareness and study.
  • Developing brain coaching and strengthening through carefully chosen tools and exercises.
  • Retiring old practices that are no longer effective; identifying traditional practices that remain essential and developing new and innovative approaches to engaging, empowering learning activities.
  • Continuing to creatively look at time-on-task and scheduling to optimize educator and student energy, investment and outcomes.
  • Revisiting traditions that build camaraderies and care. Updating where necessary. 
The challenge lies in giving today the time and energy it deserves while leaving space for later's needs and interests. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Math RTI: A Start

Our PLC team (special educators, teaching assistants, classroom teachers and specialists) reviewed students' math assessments and started Math RTI (response to intervention).

We began by targeting an essential skill, and breaking students up into smaller intervention groups and larger core groups. Educators were assigned to each group. We made a decision to assess regularly (formally and informally) and flexibly change the groups when needed. We also decided on spaces to accommodate each group.

The first day was terrific.

I had a small group at the front of my classroom.  A teaching assistant worked one-to-one with one child on a specific skill in the back of the class.  A parent led a group of students with a problem solving activity; a special educator held a session in her teaching room, and another teaching assistant led a group in the computer lab with an online menu of activities tailored to the students' specific skill, concept and knowledge needs.

The session lasted for 30 minutes.  It was a super start that both responded to students' academic needs and informed our work for the next session.

Have you employed RTI for math?  Do you use the broad definition of RTI like we do--"Response to Intervention for students at all levels of need and interest, not just students at risk?"  What strategies inform and optimize your math RTI efforts?

We will use our PLC time to revise and modify our efforts to best meet students needs.  We'll determine  a common way to assess our efforts, and in the future we'll employ Hattie's research by establishing the success criteria and assessment at the start of each six-week effort rather than during the session.  Since it was our first attempt, we weren't able to do that up front.

I'm a fan of RTI because I believe it is a step in the right direction of school transformation.  With RTI, when well staffed, we are better able to respond to specific students' learning needs, interests and potential.

Related Post
Specific Example of a Math RTI Lesson

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


"You are what you do, not what you'll say you do."  - C.J. Jung

“Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.” - Malcolm Gladwell

Last night on the sidelines of a playoff football game, I had the chance to talk with a wrestling coach. I asked him how he takes a novice wrestler and makes him a successful wrestler.  His answer was, "practice, 1'000's of repetitions."  

I often make the same remark when it comes to students progress in math algorithms--for most, it takes about 1,000 repetitions to master the skill.  It's the same with reading, the more you read, the better you get. 

I know there's science out there that points to ways to speed up the learning process for skills.  There are also more and more tech tools coming our way to lead the path to mastery.  Later, I'm sure we'll see chips implanted that help individuals acquire algorithmic skills such as math facts, keyboarding skill and a certain level of  knowledge (this is both a frightening and exciting proposition).

For now though, how much of the time in classrooms should be spent on practice, and what should that practice look like.  As much as possible, the practice activities should be embedded in more complex, meaningful tasks, but that's not always possible due to time constraints, standards' goals, student numbers and other factors.

Hence, at this point in the education road, teachers have to strive for a balanced classroom approach that leaves time for practice with simple tasks as well as complex projects.  

The team I was rooting for last night won the game, and the reason they won, in a large part, was passion and practice.  The players devoted the past year and more to developing their game through regular workouts in the weight room, team practice during the season and conditioning off season.  They were strong and ready for the game.  We want to ensure that our students are similarly ready for the "game of learning" with plenty of practice aimed at developing fluid, flexible, facile learners.  Exactly how to do that is a continually evolving process.

Psychology Today Article: Why Practice Makes Perfect

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Math Education?

I've been teaching young children math for 27 years.  I've taken numerous math courses and utilized a large array of curriculum programs, lessons and projects.

The more I teach math, the more I believe in the following:
  • Most students need lots of practice and repetition to grasp fundamental math concepts.
  • There is a large array of successful ways to teach math including explicit instruction, games, projects, paper/pencil practice, online learn-at-your-own-rate programs and more.
  • Students require a strong foundation of basic math skills to grasp higher level math skills with ease and fluency.
  • Students need time to talk about, problem solve, question and explore math concepts.
  • A positive, "you-can-learn-math" environment in school and at home is essential to math success.
Programs that move quickly from concept to concept without regard for students' need for space on the page, time to create, think and explore, and time for repetition and practice confound me.  How can those quick-moving programs respond to the diverse group of children in the room? It almost seems like those programs target children who are more like robots, than the creative, problem solving young mathematicians that they are.

I prefer meaningful project-based mathematics programs that embed new and previously taught concepts into real-world, interdisciplinary exploration with plenty of time for explicit teaching, discussion and practice.  

The Common Core standards have narrowed the number of standards teachers are responsible for providing us with a window for meaningful math activities and mastery.  This is one step in the right direction. 

I also believe that math, particularly the number sense arena, moves in a mostly logical pattern from one-to-one correspondence, to simple counting, addition and subtraction to more complex number patterns and algorithms.  I worry when we push students up this "number sense ladder" too quickly without time to master concepts and understanding with depth?  How do we create math programs that take into account students' diversity of speed when it comes to mathematical concept and skill acquisition?  Are grade-level classrooms the best way to teach math, or would we better off teaching math with a number of small-group, targeted strands--some that respond to the logical development of number sense, and others that move in nonlinear ways inviting the application, development and exploration of concepts utilizing building, geometry, robotics and other hands-on/tech explorations.

We know that blended learning and teaching environments have the potential for creating a rich, nurturing and targeted math education.  What models of teaching and learning out there are excelling when it comes to the math education of young children?  Who has successfully moved from the factory model of math learning to a blended, responsive and successful model for math acquisition and skill? What practices lead your math teaching success, and how do you successfully diversity your program to meet the needs and speeds of all learners?

I'm beginning to explore my math teaching with greater depth and breadth, and I look forward to your responses as I journey this teaching path.  

Personal Narrative Journey

Today we'll start our month-long effort to learn about and write wonderful personal narratives.

As I watched Erin's self portrait poetry movie last month, I was reminded of the power of the story board.  Erin used thoughtful illustration after illustration to depict the story told in a poem that spoke to her.

Today, I'll ask students to do the same.

First, I'll model my thinking, listing and choosing a "small moment story" that I want to share with the world--a story so important to my life that I don't want to forget it, and a story that I want to tell others about.  It's got to be a topic I want to spend many hours recreating with words and images.

After I choose my topic, I'll model the story board process.  First, I'll show the story mountain model and tell students how most stories follow that pattern.  Then, I'll recreate my topic using a storyboard planner that provides space for pictures and words.

After that, I'll let students start their lists and story boards.  I circulate asking questions, answering questions and guiding student work.  This is the start of a new learning journey; one that will end with 25 wonderful personal narratives that tell stories with organization, craft and voice.  The mystery of this journey lies in what stories will unfold?  What stories will children choose to tell?  When will we laugh, and will some stories make us cry?  Will the class tales follow a similar theme, or will there be a great diversity of topic and time?

We've laid the path, and now we'll start the journey, the excitement and challenge lies in the mystery and surprise these young authors will reveal.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Meeting All Needs?

I think one of the greatest challenges classroom teachers face is meeting all the needs in the classroom.  Let's just start with the math: (approximately 300 minutes a day/25 students) X 180)/60=36 hours per child, per year.

Then let's consider the diversity from children that learn at a rapid speed to those who struggle with the required content and all the children in between.

After that, add in family diversity from families that are involved in every aspect of their child's life to those who are unable to support a child's positive growth and development.

Yet, we know that children are flexible--able to stretch and collaborate for tremendous learning in a group.  We know that teachers are capable of facilitating differentiated lessons that meet many needs at once.  We also know that schools employ the expertise of many specialists and events to service children's needs in targeted, specific ways.  And parents work tirelessly to care for their children, develop their passions and strengthen their academic foundations.

What we can do for children is limitless--there is always more we can do to help a child learn, find his/her passion and thrive.  But we are limited by time and resources, and therefore called to prioritize with the best of what we know and understand to be essential and integral.

And with that prioritization we have to ensure the following:
  • The learning environment is a safe and caring place.
  • There is room for everyone's voice.
  • Essential skills will be developed for all so that children are able to communicate and work successfully in our world.
  • Passions will be celebrated and honored, and whenever possible there will be a chance to showcase, develop and enrich those passions.
  • The learning community will matter and all will play an important role--parents, students, educators, administrators and community members. 
As each parent, teacher, student and others reach for their piece of the educational pie, it's important to recognize both the limitations and potential.  It's also important for family members to realize that after the child, they, not the school, are the first teachers to a child--the ones with the greatest influence, time and resources to support and nurture a child towards his/her success and happiness in life.

So many needs, so little time, but with care, our every moment matters. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Learning Design: Summer Study 2013

It's that time of year when teachers like me are really, really busy with the day-to-day life events at home and at school.  Hence, I'm starting a list of posts which I'll consider when I get a lengthy period of time for thought and reflections.  As the schedule stands now, that will probably occur next summer.  I'll return to this post each time I find a new post that I want to consider with depth at a later point.

Then this summer, I'll set aside a number of days alone or preferably with colleagues where we consider these posts with depth and with our current curriculum and school program.  I'll begin by rereading the posts and creating a list of essential questions.  Then I'll fill in the blanks to the essential questions determining where I can improve the curriculum program for students' benefit.  I will also create a side list of thoughts and suggestions related to change and growth for my school and school system.  This growing list of amazing posts by wonderful educators will serve to inspire and inform my inquiry. Please feel free to use these posts as well as you evaluate, revise and innovate the programs you facilitate and activate with student learning as the focus.

People, Posts and Blogs to Consider by Shira Leibowitz
A Space for Learning by Pam Moran
Forbes: Role of Social Learning
Science Standards and PD
New Tests
One Size Fits All? (Inquiry Based School)
George Couros: Leadership and Innovation
Four Critical Questions for Lesson Design
Three Professional Reads Worth Your Time
Learning Theories
Wiggins: Curriculum
School Program Design
Teaching Math
Rainbow Igloo
Inspiration for Innovation
Digital Literacy
GROW Coaching
Components of a "Learner-Centered" Learning Environment
Tech Sharing 
Math Manipulatives
Tech Integration Strategies
What Every Classroom Needs
Mind Maps
Next Generation Schools
The Achievement Gap
Tech for Best Effect
Essential Ingredients
Brain Work
Academic Research
Educon: A PD Model
Multiple Search Engines
Leadership Report
Brain Study
Learning Maps
iPad Integration
Common Core/Student-Centered Learning
Inspiring Godin Post
TED Reimagine Schools
Digital Literacy
Godin: Thoughts to apply to learning design.
Digital Pedagogy
Guided Inquiry
Guided Social Media
Teaching with the Common Core
Teaching Remix
Don't Forget the 4 C's
21st C Literacy
Green Screen
TED for Kids 
Explore Live Binders
Math Problems 
Writing Fiction
content that matters
Lynn Cherry - environmental awareness
Power My Learning
Brain Tips
Composing Digital Poetry
21st Century Learning Design Infographic
Gaming Can Save the World
New Tools
Online Research
Essential Questions
Unstoppable Learning
Professional Learning
Tacit Knowledge
Design Thinking
Make Things
What Will Become Obsolete
How Big is the Ocean (Ted Talks that Matter to Learning Design--specific and general)
Social Media
PBL Rubrics
Skills Students Need
Pedagogy Wheel

Tools to Investigate:

Schedule/Structural Change Ideas

Addition of a Recording Room or Studio in School.

Program Change Ideas
  • Creating a schedule of skill-based, small group pods and project base whole class teams and endeavor.
  • Greater hands-on invention and creation including the tools and space to foster this growth.
  • Change of grade-level rotations created with the collaboration of the grade-level team.
  • Balance of passive, skill-based online learning and more invigorating game and/or project based online learning.
  • Determining essential skills, best lessons for teaching those essential skills.
  • Revisiting broad unit topics, refining topics and revising, refining guiding websites and resources. 
Summer Study Outline
  • Put aside a few days to read and take notes.
  • Create a form w/essential points for curriculum plan, revision and share.
  • Share the points with PLN and school colleagues.
  • Apply the form to 2013-2014 school year planning and design
Chart to Lead Reading and Research

Don't Knock It Before You Try It!

How many times have you criticized an act, event or idea before due consideration or experience?  When have you put down a venue, style or strategy before trying it out yourself? For many, it is a natural reaction to judge before thinking or actually experiencing a new idea, event or method, and what do those quick judgements, critiques and conclusions do for our own mindset and the mindsets and experiences of those we teach?

As Aristotle notes in the quote above, we learn by doing?  And when we fully experience an event, idea or invention, we are better able to understand that novelty with depth and understanding.  Hence, unlike my attitude in years past, my mindset now prompts me to try it out (or read a lot about it) before passing judgement.  

This mindset applies to my teaching and professional development as well.  For example, in years past I looked at the Edublog Awards with some disdain as I'm generally not a fan of contests that put one in front of another. Yet, when I tried out the Award nomination process this year, I realized that while I still hate choosing some over others, the process actually provides one with a chance to honor some of the many who have contributed significantly to my professional growth over the past year.

The same is true for new tech tools and teaching methods.  I remember in the past when I joked and ridiculed the use of new inventions such as the answering machine, cell phones and email before trying those venues out.  Now each of those inventions are mainstays in households everywhere.  My new mindset leads me to try out new venues first, before judging.  I've had to defend my work a bit more with this mindset, but the rewards are substantial.

For example, in two weeks my students will present their YouTube Poetry Playlist, a series of short films that depict poems that speak to them. Students have worked tirelessly to learn and manage the synthesis of poetry, images, voice and music with tools and actions such as iMovie, PhotoBooth, Garageband, KidPix, Google Draw, Google Docs, Google Sites, analysis, reflective writing, illustration and more to produce these short films.  Students use of these venues has taught them to both utilize movies to present knowledge, opinion and understanding, and to navigate this venue for their own learning since movies will play an important role in their own research and storytelling this year and in the years to come.  Hence, rather than knocking the role of movies in the classroom, we embraced that venue, learned about it and now understand where it fits in and when it's best to choose another presentation vehicle.

So, to learn today, "don't knock it before you try it." Experience the many new processes, tools and ideas that continually arrive. Then utilize that invention to more fully live life and prepare your students for the world they'll encounter.  Agree?

Note: I tried to find the author of the quote, "Don't knock it before you try it," without success.  Let me know if you know the author's name. 

2012 Edublog Awards: A Great Way to Say Thank You!

I encourage all who profit from the great idea sharing on the web to take the time to nominate some of your favorite blogs, individuals, groups and educational events for the 2012 Edublog Awards.

Not only will the process give you a chance to say thank you to many who inform your practice and work, but the nomination process in itself is a chance to evaluate your own use of the Internet as a professional development vehicle.  As I nominated several, I was reminded of the many, many educators who support my work each and every day--so many more than I was able to nominate.

Like so many other educators, my students and I profit from the honest, thoughtful words of many educators and others who blog about their educational questions, ideas and practice.  And while I don't like to choose one blog over another, I do like the idea of taking the time to note wonderful blogs and give credit to some of the many educators who make the time to blog regularly to share information and develop our collective professional knowledge and work.

Hence, here are my nominations for 2012:
Mary Ann Reilly's blog, Between the By-Road and Main Road prompts me to think deeply about the work I do and why I do it.  Thanks Mary Ann!
Connected Principals  provides me with daily access to wonderful thought leaders in education.  
@DCulberhouse always challenges my thinking and leads me to new books, Ted talks, posts and other information that has made a dramatic difference in my work.  Thanks David. 
I'm nominating Pine Glenn School in Burlington, Massachusetts for their thought provoking, cutting edge blogs and website.  Pine Glenn is a leading ed-tech elementary school that's constantly innovating.  Take a look if you're interested in growing your school's digital presence and work. Thanks Dan, Laura and Pine Glenn!
  • Best student blogWSPN
I'm nominating my school systems' student website that includes many blogs: WSPN Thanks WSPN!
  • Best ed tech / resource sharing blogCybraryman
Hands down, Cybraryman gets my vote for this category. I always refer to his resources when I'm looking for that just right chat or blog.  Thanks Jerry!
This was a tough one for me because I follow a lot of teacher's blogs.  This year I'm nominating Matt Ray's blog, From the Desk of Mr. Foteah becauseI like and grow from reading Matt's honest, caring posts depicting life in a New York City elementary school. Thanks Matt!
Sharing or Blessings by Shira Leibowitz is the blog I'm nominating this year.  Shira continually pushes my thinking and practice with her intelligent, research posts about all aspects of education. Thanks Shira!
Talker's Block by Seth Godin has influenced by teaching and work related to all areas of the curriculum.  Terrific example of a post that says a lot in a few words. Thanks Seth!
Tom Whitford's tweets both encourage and challenge.  He keeps the conversation going at a quick, focused clip.  Thanks Tom!
  • Best twitter hashtag#edchat
I continue to find #edchat to be the place to go for educational thought, wisdom and links.  Thanks to all who started #edchat and continue to support its weekly chat and sharing.  Thanks #edchat!
Google sites provides an awesome tool for creating websites that can serve students and teachers in so many positive ways. Thanks Google!
I nominate the Steve Hargadon's Thursday night interviews are a great use of audio/visual to learn about the big ideas in education.  I hope to partake of this venue more often in the year to come.  Thanks Steve!
  • Best educational wiki
No nomination at this time. 
Kathy Perret , Shira Leibowitz and Jessica Johnson of #educoach led a great summer book study related to the book, Making Learning Visible, Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie. This book chat fostered improved practice in countless classrooms at the start of the school year. Thanks #educoach!
  • Best educational use of a social networkKidVote
Krissy Venosdale @ktvee did a great job mobilizing many elementary school students for KidsVote. Krissy's blogs is also one of the most graphically pleasing blogs on the web.  Thanks Krissy!
  • Best mobile app
No nomination at this time. 
George Couros always inspires me with his versatile, challenging posts and tweets.  He has committed himself to developing education so that we serve children well.  He gets my vote for a lifetime achievement award.  Thanks George!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Collaborative Learning Design

Curriculum revision has been a main topic of discussion across disciplines this fall. Soon our PLC group which includes interventionists, coaches, special educators, classroom teachers, teaching assistants and administrators will meet to discuss a signature unit we facilitate at fourth grade, The Immigration/Family History Museum Project.

The project grew over the past few years in response to our multicultural student population, students' events related to holidays and other matters, and the social studies curriculum. This will be our first opportunity as a new team to discuss and possibly develop a curriculum unit together that embeds new standards and tools.

I'm wondering what shape the discussion will take, and I'm looking forward to the the collaboration.

As I think ahead, I believe some of the important considerations will include the following:
  • Do we want to continue teaching this unit?
  • What are the overarching objectives of the unit--why do we teach it?
  • What learning outcomes do we hope to achieve with this unit?
  • What tools and resources will we employ as we embark on the unit?
  • Where will there be room to embed essential skill development and differentiated learning?
  • What tech tools and projects are a good match for this unit.
  • What will the time line look like, and will the unit culminate with a final grade-level celebration?
As I think about the upcoming discussion, I think it might be best if we begin with some or all of these questions.  It will be interesting to hear what many with differing perspectives have to say, but if we keep the conversation and design centered on student learning, it's likely that we'll end up with effective, engaging learning design. This is one situation where the PLC model can be very effective.

Available Resources
Learning Design Template
Digital Kits for Student Projects
Project Details
Devlin Project Details
Coming to America Text for Reading Response Practice
(book/video available in the library)
Goodbye 382 Shin Dang Dong text for open response
(book available in library--takes place in Brighton, MA)
The Gold Threaded Dress background slide show


I read the look on her face--she was revealing an unspoken challenge.

I knew what she was thinking, Last year his bag was filled with corrected worksheets with stars on the top. The teachers always said he was tops in the class--an obedient, responsible boy who completed all his work.  Now this year, everything has changed.  There are few to no worksheets, the practice work is online and he's making movies, digital portfolios and Google charts.  This is not a real education.

I never just do something because it looks good or it's easy, every project, activity and endeavor my class engages in is embedded with standards, cognitive theory and learning research.  I spend a lot of time prepping each activity and revising units to meet students' needs and goals with engaging 21st century projects that mirror the venues they'll be using in their lives to both to learn and to communicate.

As I watched the woman, a loving and caring mom, my reaction at first was to be defensive.  Doesn't she know how many books I've read, chats I've been involved in and courses I've taken?  Has she ever tried any of these projects, and does she realize the creativity, critical thinking skills, communication and collaboration involved--all vital skills for life long learning and success? Yet, I'm the first to say, no one knows it all, but how do I tell her that it's important that her son is more than obedient and learns to independently advocate, create and communicate in addition to filling in the blanks of a worksheet. 

Moving forward in education relies on conversation and discussion with the whole learning team: educators, parents, family members, community members, students and administrators.  Instead of defense, we have to learn to openly communicate, debate and educate making the best decisions for the students we serve.  We need to help parents envision the kinds of skills and knowledge that will help their children to succeed in the future, and we have to listen to parents too and honor traditional approaches to learning that are still essential.

It's not all of one or the other, but instead the strength lies in our collaboration--working together to build engaging, empowering learning communities for all. How does your team foster this collaboration?

21st Century School Snapshot: Making Movies

We're in the midst of making movies.

Actually we've been making movies for quite some time now, and we've almost completed our second set.

Movie making with young children is intense, especially when you're working towards a finished copy--one you want to "share with the world."

We've brought the expectations up a notch from the last movie project.  This time everyone's voice has to include strong volume, understandable pacing and inviting expression that matches the mood and tone of the poetry students are depicting.

Words, music and images need to be synthesized in an accurate and perhaps, thought provoking, rendition of the chosen poetry, poems that "speak to us."

The skills honed and practiced during this creative endeavor include speaking, reading fluency, comprehension, story telling, collaboration and synthesis.  It's a rich project, one that will sit proudly in children's digital portfolios for revisiting and sharing this year and in the future.

We're in the midst of making movies, and it's both an exciting and challenging place to be.

21st Century School Snapshot: Childhood Chats

Sani, one of my fourth graders arrived at school yesterday with news to share.
     "I talked to Amy," Sani exclaimed.
     "Amy! Really?"
     "Yes, we all did," she replied, "John, Kim and Andrea." Note that Amy is a student in our class that is currently traveling abroad.
     "How is she?" I asked.
     "She's great.  We all got on the same Google doc and talked," Sanie proudly reported with a smile on her face and her hands on her hips.
      Just think about how one amazing tool has minimized the distance of 1,000's of miles and connected a group of students during a weekend afternoon. It's truly a brave new world of learning, and I'm happy to be part of it.

(names have been changed)

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Season of Giving:Classroom Focus

The holidays begin today for me.  I'll be hosting many family members and friends on Thursday for a Thanksgiving celebration.  Then the month ahead will be filled with festive events and more celebration as we approach Christmas and the New Year.

My students will experience the same flurry of festivity in the next month so at school I'll focus on the "giving" aspect of the season.  Rather than ramping up the excitement and flare in the classroom, I'll focus more on daily nurturing and consistency.  Instead of a specific focus on any one holiday, we'll celebrate by sharing our poetry unit with friends and family members, and spending the final days before the December holiday invested in our "Creativity Days" project. If students or families want to share the stories of their specific holidays, I'll invite them to do so, but as a class we won't focus on any one holiday or celebration.  Later in the year we have an immigration/family history focus that allows every child to share his/her family story and celebrations.

Individual project and writing edits, shared stories, targeted math and writing lessons, and weekly assessments will bring a calm pattern to the classroom while life outside of the classroom is filled with celebration and cheer.

My teaching focus will be one of giving--giving time, care and attention to individual students and the class as a whole.  I'll put the big projects, new ideas and research aside for a few weeks as we all take time to enjoy the friendship and learning the classroom environment invites.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Using Technology to Empower

Last week I participated in a webinar led by Karen Cator, Director of Educational Technology for the United States Department of Education as part of the Global Education Conference. Cator made a distinction between the use of technology for entertainment and the use of technology to empower one's life.

I've been thinking about that distinction, and wondering about the ways we can use technology in schools today to empower students' ability to learn, solve problems, create and communicate.  In what ways can technology give students the tools to brighten their lives and strengthen their skill and direction.

I've also been thinking about the ways that I can better use technology to empower my own life?  In what ways do you use this amazing tool to make your life better?

For starters, I currently utilize technology in the following ways.
  • To gain inspiration.
  • To learn of new ideas and old.
  • To try out and experiment with new ways of learning.
  • To expose myself to the arts: music, dance, visual arts and others that I have not had the chance to explore in my life.
  • To listen to wonderful life stories and lessons through Ted Talks and other venues.
  • To share ideas and information.
Then there's the unintended benefits of technology including the following:
  • I can read and think so much faster now due to my use of Twitter and Twitter chats.
  • I am able to avail myself to experts in many fields due to the connections I've made online.
  • I've reduced the time I spend on paperwork since I can do most of it online.
In the morning, almost everyone in my family picks up their computer, checks in with family and friends near and far, reads the news that interests them and plans their day.  

As I write, I listen to Vivaldi's beautiful music which awakens my mind and ideas.  

How do you enlist technology to empower your own life and the life of your students? And where do the arenas of empowerment and entertainment intersect, and what is the importance of that intersection?  These are important questions as we move towards a learning world that is much different than the education world we knew as young children. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

So Small, But Not Insignificant

Sometimes I feel so small as I interact on social media.  I feel small because I read the big ideas and intellectual thought of so many, and my world view magnifies and "microphies" rapidly (I recently re-watched the Powers of 10 movie that underlines the image of thought and action I see as I write today.)  I wonder, Why didn't I know that before, and how much more is there that I don't know that will significantly alter my perspective, action and vision in the days, weeks and months to come.

Like all of us, I am on a journey.  My journey is an essential path that's moving me closer to truthful, meaningful action and endeavor, the kind of work that enriches my relationships and optimizes my work. The journey is one of regular change, revision and prioritization.

I am learning too that a significant catalyst for my journey is the many thought leaders that I follow on Twitter and blogs--people who help me to see differently and work with greater intent and focus as I journey my path.  For example Pam Moran tweeted out this wonderful Ted Talk this morning, an amazing talk that both affirms and challenges the next steps in my path (and the world's path) as I think deeply about learning design and educating young children.

There are so many feeders to our paths today--so many ideas, opinions, actions and bits of information to inform our every decision.  Hence, the focus needs to be on the path including who we travel with, how we travel and our journey's focus.  To me, this is a wonderful step in the right direction for our collective work as educators and global citizens.  I feel fortunate to be alive at this turn in the road of humanity.

The Learning Team: Specific Actions?

Who do you consider to be a part of the learning team?  I consider educators, family members, community members, administrators and students to be part of the learning team.  Yes, I subscribe to the notion that "it takes a village" to educate each other, and that we're all engaged in the process of learning, not just students.

As I move towards new models of education and learning, I recognize that one essential move is to employ the efforts of all when it comes to teaching children well. This action is most notably evident in our project base learning efforts.  As one teacher, I cannot physically disperse myself to all who need help at every juncture in the learning process, but I can employ the help and energy of the 25 students and many teachers in my midst to move all towards the learning goal.

Specifically, what does this look like? At this point in the curriculum, all students are nearing completion of their self portrait poetry anthologies--a final project that includes 5 poems, 5 reflections, images and one movie per child that depicts a poem that speaks to the child with matching music, images and words. This is the messy curriculum point--some are done, some are almost done and a few are still at the beginning stages.  So at the start of this week's effort to finalize all projects, I will match student coaches with students who are almost done.  I'll match teachers and myself with those at the beginning stages, and I'll also edit and publish each final project.  I'll have to look the projects over with a keen eye again at home to catch any last minute errors.

Hattie's research synthesis in Making Learning Visible demonstrates that the decision to employ students in helping each other with learning endeavors has a significant positive effect on learning for both the student coach and the student learner.  This action also makes it possible to integrate meaningful, multi-modal project base learning into classrooms with one-three teachers and 20-plus students--the kind of learning that has been integral in private schools with small class sizes.

How do you foster an invigorated, enthusiastic and productive learning team in your classroom or school?  What other suggestions do you have for me? Do you agree that this is one stepping stone when it comes to moving our classrooms forward from factory model schools to engaging learning communities?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Dilute: Choose Your Goals Wisely

There's a temptation to try to teach it all, and the result is usually a diluted outcome.  Hurried children and too much curriculum most often result in stress, incomplete projects and missed important steps such as effective feedback, reflection, conversation, coaching and editing.

With this in mind, I'm going to move forward after Thanksgiving with three main academic goals in mind:
  • Reading and writing personal narratives.
  • Computation and Problem Solving.
  • Factors and Multiples.
If you noticed all three goals really included two goals, but I couldn't cull down the long list anymore.

At the center of these units will be a focus on effective coaching that puts student learning center stage.

The success criteria for these elements will include students' completion of the following:
  • a hand-crafted personal narrative that demonstrates craft, voice and organization.
  • demonstrated skill on facts and computation tests. 
  • completion of weekly open response problems. 
  • individual and class factors/multiple projects
Now I'll get busy crafting a schedule that meets these goals.  

p.s. We also have time reserved at the end of the month for "Creativity Days."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Parenting and Teaching: The Dance

I love the analogy of a dance to parenting and teaching.  As we work with children, our own and those we teach, it's a give-and-take relationship--a situation when you want to prompt someone forward with just right encouragement, not too much and not too little.

As a parent and working with parents, I know that nurturing children well, both in our homes and in our classrooms, is a challenging job.  We truly love the children we care for, and want the best for each one. However challenges always exist as we move towards this goal--challenges related to a child's own vision, mindset, interests and skills, environmental challenges such as time, money and commitments, and also the challenges related to our own shortcomings and needs.

So how do we dance this delicate balance of child care and support.  We move with intent and flexibility.  We listen carefully to a child's words, and watch his/her reactions and respond accordingly.  We support their passions and challenge their efforts so they grow strong with stamina, skill, concept and knowledge.  We gradually release them from our close control and guidance to that of independent work and choice. And, we're honest about our own struggles and challenges.  Children are compassionate, and don't expect us to be perfect, but they rely on us to be honest, kind and supportive.

Our care matters, and children know when we care.  It is a big responsibility to nurture and support children, and it's not one that a parent or teacher can cast aside or minimize.  The hard work today results in strong relationships and confident children later, but that success does not come without  challenge and struggle as that's part of the road of life, the way we grow stronger and wiser.

Our collective intent and action towards caring for children well strengthens all of us--parents, teachers and children.  It's a dance, a wonderful dance.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Take the Test!

If you're preparing students for a test, take it first.  Sounds so simple, but how many of us neglect to sit down and take the test.

I just took a combination elementary-middle school-high school standardized math test.  I've completed problems before, but I never sat down and took the whole test.  I can't even believe that this is true.

As I took the test, I realized the following.
  • The necessary neatness and organization requires stamina.  I found myself doing exactly what the students do: messy cross-outs, hasty answers and an unwillingness to clearly explain my thinking.  That's not easy.
  • I was happy that I could use the computer to look up forgotten theorems, vocabulary and examples.  It would be nice if students could use their computers in that way.
  • Repetition helps as once I figured out and mastered a problem type, I could easily replicate that process.
As far as I know Common Core versions of standardized tests are not ready for our review and practice yet, but a worthy collaborative exercise for any team of teachers is to take the test first, prior to teaching.   If you've got a Common Core version available, please send me the link.  Past Massachusetts' MCAS tests can offer tests that will probably be somewhat similar to the new tests, but not exactly the same as our tests are changing too. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kids to Kids: Ideas for a Better World: Reflections

Post Update 11/15
On Thursday, November 15 at 10am EST Team 15 fourth graders presented Kids Talking to Kids: Ideas for a Better World.

Thanks to the multi-day, free online Global Education Conference organized by Steve Hargadon and Lucy Gray, my fourth grade students had the opportunity to plan and present an online presentation to people near and far using Blackboard, an online classroom platform.

After several days of conferring, writing and creating, the presentation was ready to go. The night before the presentation we tested our slide show (which had to be reduced) and learned Blackboard features. The next day we uploaded the slide show, prepped our links, adjusted the microphones and set up the classroom for an optimal presentation.

After that most students in the classroom logged into the Blackboard room, and with the help of our kind and caring moderator, Kim Wilkens, the students started their presentation. It was amazing to see a group of fourth graders navigate the platform, collaborate and present.  It was just as amazing to see the rest of the students participating by commenting on the chat and adding ideas later in the presentation.

Listening and responding to questions from students in Virginia was lots of fun, and made me want to participate in more educational exchanges with students throughout the country and world.  I've read about those exchanges, and last year's students completed a collaborative presentation with a school in Minnesota. Now I'm ready to embark on this type of exchange with greater intent.

I'll definitely make a proposal to present again at the Global Education Conference, and I would highly recommend that other school groups, particularly students in middle school and high school target this conference for a thoughtful exchange and/or focused presentation to a potential world-wide audience. I am grateful to all those who made this learning event possible.

We invite you to continue our presentation conversation by contributing to our "Crowd Share" Ideas for a Better World Presentation. Thanks for your support in this eye-opening, exciting learning experience.

Presentation Trailer

Sue A. Straw gave us permission to use her beautiful song to begin our presentation. 

Apple Inspiration for our Audience

Link to "Crowd Share" Ideas for a Better World Presentation: Please add your ideas:

Presentation Recording

Notes for Next Year

  • During the summer, think about a topic that will interest you and or your class, a topic you want to share with the "world."
  • Research and prep the background information, submit your proposal.
  • If your proposal is accepted, start the conversation with students and colleagues early the school year, and make the conference the objective of professional study and/or student work.
  • Let student and/or professional teams prepare the presentation.
  • Learn all you can about the Global Education Conference and begin to connect with others through the Conference NING, Twitter and other social media platforms.
  • Prep the presentation and read all of the presenters' information carefully.  Try out the presentation.  Make sure you have head sets, good computer access and help.  One teacher in the room is not enough.  I was lucky to have the student teacher available.
  • Don't fret--try it out, be prepared for mistakes, and learn. (I whispered too much in the background, and we could have practiced a bit more. I also didn't teach the other students about the platform and they would have been able to participate better with a little more training)
  • Advertise your presentation via tweets, blogs, word of mouth and more venues.  Making a short movie trailer about your presentation can be helpful.
  • Teach your audience how to take part in the presentation (see notes below).
  • Present.
  • Thank all those that helped you.  The tech specialist in my building, Beth Crozier, was terrific as she supplied us with the equipment we needed, lots of support and interest--that helped.
  • Review the presentation, reflect and make notes for next year.
  • Celebrate with the students. I plan to have every child write a short reflection about the event and add the Global Education Conference badge to their digital portfolios under the multimedia composition category.

Participation Notes for the Audience
  • Join the Blackboard room about five-ten minutes prior to the start as you may need to adjust your computer a bit. 
  • If you plan to participate by speaking, have headsets ready.  You may be able to speak without headsets, but the quality of voice might not be as good.  You can always participate by typing on the chat.  Students should only share first names when sharing. 
  • Sign on to Blackboard in a way that you want to be represented.  For example, you may want to sign on with your class name.  Our class hopes to sign on as Team 15 HappyHollow.
  • Hook your computer up to a big screen in your classroom.
  • At the start of the presentation, ask all participants to show us where they live by placing a star on the giant map.  
  • Then our presentation leaders will introduce themselves and our school community.
  • After that  introduce the protocol for idea sharing. This was our protocol. 
    • Polite Language
    • First Names Only
    • Stick to the Topic (Mostly)
    • Respect all Points of View
    • No Put Downs

    Global Education Conference: Try it Out!

    It's a simple as clicking this link, reading the welcome message and looking over the list of speakers and workshops, then choosing one that fits your schedule.  You won't be sorry.

    Attending the Global Education Conference is like a step into the future, as there you'll be conferring with educators and others throughout the Globe discussing issues of importance to you and your students.

    Home, a bit tired with a cold, I was searching Twitter for a bit of inspiration when I came upon the invitation to link to Karen Cator's Global Education discussion. Cator is the the Director of the Department of Educational Technology at the United States Department of Education. A couple of years ago I had the chance to meet Karen at the NBPTS conference in Washington, DC.

    During the webinar, Cator discussed her department's main focus while participants chatted on the sideline with written questions and comments.  After her talk, Steve Hargadon, Global Classroom organizer, relayed my question about an issue our school is thinking about with regard to social media.  Cator had a great answer for me, one that I'll take back to my school system's vision discussion. Hence, one advantage of the Global Education Conference is that you're able to "talk" to the experts in the field as well as colleagues throughout the world, and take back their wisdom and perspectives to your classrooms, schools and communities.

    I'll add a link to Cator's discussion as soon as it is posted, but in the meantime, I hope you set aside one hour sometime this week to try out this amazing online event--you won't be sorry.

    If you'd like to participate with your young students, my fourth graders will be leading the conference session, Kids to Kids: Ideas for a Better World on Thursday at 10am EST.

    This video is demonstrates Karen Cator's specific comments related to my question about guided social media.  This link brings you to the entire session led by Cator as part of the Global Education Conference.

    Reasonable and Effective?

    In the past few weeks, my school life has spilled over into my personal life.  It's true that the role of educator is a role where work and personal become an intricate weave, but when school life spills over into your personal life like a can of hot pink paint, then it's time to reassess.

    As I reassess, the words reasonable and effective come to mind.  What is reasonable with regard to an educator's task and work, and what is effective?

    As schools move from factory models to learning communities, our roles and responsibilities must shift too. We can't hold on to all of our past duties, and add the new responsibilities too.  Instead, with reasonable and effective in mind, we have to shift the way we do things.

    Hence, I looked carefully at my tasks and schedule today and made the following changes.
    • Rather than edit a zillion papers at home to pass back to children, I planned for in-class, one-to-one conference and editing time.  That's both a reasonable and effective decision.  As all teachers know, the one-to-one conversation that goes along with coaching is an effective teaching strategy.
    • I lengthened my blocks of time devoted to essential units of study, and minimized the number of areas I focus on each day. That will provide teachers and students in my class with more time to focus on one topic with a less rushed, more focused pace.  That will also reduce my weekly planning with regard to individual lessons and skills.
    Hopefully those two changes will make a difference so that the hot pink paint spill of school life will become a golden thread of professional work woven into my personal life instead.

    I'm also wondering if we've reached the time in elementary school life where teachers do have to choose a couple of content areas to focus on rather than trying to teach it all. I'm wondering if my team should begin to move towards a couple of teachers focused on STEM, and the others focused on humanities and writing while leaving reading and social competency to small groups of students matched with mentoring classroom teachers, special educators, intervention teachers and therapists.  That's a topic for another post, but one worth considering at this time of deep understanding and knowledge related to every topic we teach.

    Sunday, November 11, 2012


    To work each day with the knowledge that I have the following:
    • Adequate tools and environment to foster optimal student learning.
    • A strong knowledge of my students' needs, abilities, passions, interests and goals.
    • A varied palette of learning endeavor to expose children to the myriad of methods, tools and activities that promote learning.
    • Time for targeted student feedback, conferences and coaching.
    • A manageable list of reasonable, attainable responsibilities.
    • Streamlined systems of support.
    • Effective instruction that results in student learning and engagement.
    • Timely, transparent communication about the issues that affect the work I do.
    • Regular research, study and professional growth.
    • Collaborative skill, engagement and respect.
    • Time for recreation, family and friends. 
    That's the destination I'm moving towards. What about you?

    Tech Vision for Elementary School Students

    Updated 6/26/2015

    My system is creating a vision for elementary school tech-ed integration. System leaders have invited all educators to take part in this process. I've been thinking a lot about this, and this is my first attempt to create a vision for all elementary school students.  Essentially my vision represents a synthesis of the study, research, experiences, and conversations I've had related to the topic over the past several years.

    I recognize that I am only one voice with one perspective so I look forward to the conversations to follow online and off regarding the creation of a collective vision to best effect student learning.

    Before embarking on the vision, I have defined technology's potential for elementary school students' learning.

    Technology has the potential to facilitate the following:
    • Make learning accessible.
    • Teach children the skills and mindset that will invigorate life long learning.
    • Engage and empower students. 
    • Track, modify, and enrich learning in streamlined, targeted ways.
    • Enhance our ability to differentiate learning.
    • Provide students with a greater, more diverse audience for their work which is important because audience builds investment, authenticity, care, and response.
    • Invite experts into our classrooms via social media.
    • Create a 24-7 platform for communication and learning.
    • Provide limitless content and information.
    • Minimize drudgery.
    As we can see, tech has the potential to enrich and enhance student learning for elementary school students. With that in mind, what is important with regard to our tech-ed vision and work?  These are the vision statements that I currently believe are integral to optimal tech use at the elementary level. 
    • Digital Citizenship: Students learn about and practice their skills at digital citizenry in meaningful, real world ways. 
    • Essential Skills: Technology is identified and utilized in meaningful and engaging ways that make standards-based and project/problem base learning successful for all students. Specifically, we utilize venues that enrich and develop English language arts comprehension and fluency, math understanding and facility, and science and social studies knowledge, process and skill. It's best if this essential skill development is done with a menu of choices that include a variety of types of technology and student choice. 
    • Technology Standards: Students learn and master identified local, state and national technology standards. 
    • Learning Design: Technology is integrated in thoughtful, research-based, student-centered learning design that reflects cognitive research, students' passions and interests, and developmental studies by embedding integral tools to make learning engaging, empowering and successful for every student. Universal design elements should be considered in this process. 
    • Communication: Technology is utilized to relay the learning community's news, experiences, tools and activities 24-7 in efficient, transparent and responsive ways. Communication platforms include school websites, classroom websites, collegial blogs and more. 
    • Global Competence:  Integration of technology tools and activities broaden students' world view, interaction, understanding, and impact. 
    • Guided Social Media: Technology tools are utilized to guide students' appropriate use of social media to impact student learning in positive ways. Students utilize social media regularly in developmentally appropriate ways to both practice using the mediums in a safe space and to learn how to use the mediums effectively. 
    • Special Needs: Specific technology tools are identified and utilized to make learning accessible to all, particularly those with identified special needs. When possibly Universal Design for Learning is implemented in this regard. 
    • Professional Development: Through the use of multiple venues including webinars, Twitter, blogs, edcamps,  conferences, courses, system-wide training, teacher share and one-to-one coaching, the professional staff will develop and strengthen their technology facility and use. 
    • Review, Revision and Refinement: A regular inclusive review, revision, and refinement process will be instituted to analyze the tools we use; eliminate tools that are no longer useful and acquire new technology tools that better meet student learning goals.
    • STEM: Technology will be utilized more often in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to foster students' exposure to, and experience with, multiple models, invention, process, and design.  SCRATCH, ebots and Lego robotics will be further used, and gaming sites such as Minecraft and others will be reviewed and possibly used in this endeavor since we know these platforms are becoming a mainstay in science and engineering endeavor. These platforms also allow students to learn in vigorous, engaging 3D ways, ways that they will learn and work in the future. 
    • Expert Visitors: We will utilize technology to employ the expertise and knowledge of experts related to our curriculum focus and work.
    • Digital Literacy: Students will become literate in understanding and utilizing digital tools.
    • Presentation: We will utilize technology in creative and responsive ways to showcase student learning and effort as a way of celebrating learning, fostering reflection, and motivating future endeavor.
    • Life Long Learning: In this age of ready information, the importance of teaching has shifted from information input to teaching students how to learn effectively.  The apt use of technology provides students with the skills, tools and mindset for life long, active learning. 
    • Gaming: Gaming is proving to be an awesome tool for learning, and should be researched, piloted, and embedded into learning endeavor regularly to maximize student engagement and learning. 
    • Learning Assessment: Technology will be utilized to assess student learning in efficient and informative ways. 
    What have I missed?  What would you add, revise or take away?  How would you prioritize this list? As mentioned before, I'm one voice, and I look forward to how the voices of many will shape and revise these ideas. Debate, ideas and comments welcome. Thanks for your consideration.

    It is important to note that technology is a powerful learning tool and venue, but it is certainly not the only important tool and activity when it comes to a rich learning experience for young children. Employing a multitude of responsive, developmentally appropriate tools and activities including events in nature, hands-on craft and creation, read aloud, math games, collaborative music making and more is critical to a holistic approach to optimal student learning particularly at the elementary school level.

    Related Posts
    The Whole New Educator

    This is the link to Karen Cator's presentation as part of the Global Education Conference. As the leader, Cator discusses the focus of the Department of Educational Technology including her thoughts on guided social media.

    George Couros Post on Innovation

    Fran's Example of a T-Chart for the Vision Document (see comments)
    Leverage Tech to Optimize Learning

    Writing SMART Goals: MA Educator Evaluation

    I wrote a number of goals for the school year and posted them a while ago.  Then I went to a training about writing SMART goals this Friday. I further discussed the idea with my sister, also a Massachusetts' teacher, the next day.  After that I refined my goals from big and broad to tight and specific, and looked for and created ways to document evidence to show that I am moving towards my teaching goals.

    The process seemed so difficult at first, and I thought,  How can I cull all that I have to do into two simple, specific goals. But after great coaching from my sister, and the all day training, I was able to write the goals.

    After writing the goals and creating an evidence document, I realized that my thinking about the goals,  and actions related to those goals, had changed.  I am much more specific now about what I need to do to move these students along with respect to their metacognition, strategies and effort so that they meet the spring goal.

    I can also see how writing SMART goals has the potential to move entire schools forward with specific, action-oriented efforts to teach with best effect.  Let's see what happens.