Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bike Hike to Aunt Betty's: A Teacher's Narrative

In a few days, I'll ask students to begin a lengthy unit on writing narrative. We'll dive into that genre with zest and spread the focus across our reading, social studies, and science study as well.  A week or so ago, I wrote a post titled, "Have You Written a Narrative Lately?"

Now, since I'm a believer in "practice what you preach," I'll take some time to start a narrative.  I typically like to model my writing for my students as my ten-year-old-self, hence I've chosen a memorable experience, the bike hike to Aunt Betty's. I'll get a first draft done today, then play with the words and sentences in the week ahead. If you'd like to join me for this writing journey, please do. Also, as always, I'm open to your questions, thoughts, suggestions, and writing.   Enjoy!

Bike Hike to Aunt Betty's 
by Maureen Devlin
December 2013

     I lie in bed under the soft, white cotton sheets wiggling my toes. I watch the dust specks dance in the wide slide of sunlight streaming through my bedroom window.  Stretching to catch a bit of the sun's warmth, I smile thinking about the day ahead.

     "Maureen, Paul, Chrissy, Peter, get up!" my excited dad yells from downstairs, "We're going on a bike hike!"  A bike hike, I wonder, but I thought we were going to Aunt Betty's.  Puzzled, I roll out of bed and walk down the thick, green, carpeted steps through the living room into our bright, yellow kitchen.  

     "Get dressed; we've got to get going or we won't make the cook-out on time?" my dancing dad commands as he fishes through the everything drawer for the bike oil, road map, chap stick, and sunscreen.  "Maureen," he chants to my mom who has the same name as me, "Get the kids up and ready, we've got to go!"  

     "Paul, they have to eat first," she cheerfully responds as she places a platter of warm, buttery pancakes on the kitchen table, then leaves the kitchen to get Chrissy, Peter, and Paul.  Baby Michael and little David are already seated at the table amused by the rambunctious ruckus Dad is causing. 

    "Dad, what are we doing?" I ask. 

    "I decided that we'll ride our bikes to Aunt Betty's," he replies, "so eat your breakfast and get ready. You'll love the ride." I know he's right, I love riding my bike, and I also love Dad's adventures so I eat my pancakes quickly, drink a glass of juice, and put on my stretchy new pink Danskin shorts and jersey for the ride. Within minutes energetic Peter, Paul, and Chrissy are ready too.  They excitedly jump about the kitchen asking all kinds of questions.  What route will we take? When will we get there? How long is the ride?  Should we wear our bathing suits?  

    Mom packs a bag of snacks and places them in a white, plastic grocery bag while dad lines up the bikes on our short, bumpy driveway in front of our cozy, green cape house.

    "Okay," he gleams, "Is everybody ready?"  

    "We're ready," we smile back.

    "This is what we'll do," Dad instructs.  "Paul, you take the lead; now stay focused and keep your eyes on the road. We'll start up Brattle Street, and stop at the intersection. Maureen, you're next, then Christine, Peter, and I'll take the last spot."

     Paul takes off like a jet hopping on his small red bike and darting up the steep Brattle Street incline. Christine quickly passes me catching up to Paul. I huff and puff up the big hill wishing I had a three-speed bike like Dad who quietly rides at the rear encouraging six-year-old Peter whose tiny legs seem to circle ten times for every one of Dad's rotations. 

    At the end of Brattle Street, we all stop to take a breath and learn about the next leg of the journey.

   "Next, we'll ride through Holden toward Pinecroft Dairy and into West Boylston.  Let's stop again at West Mountain Street," Dad announces. We ride along this easy downhill past the pretty little Holden houses. When we pass the dairy, my mouth waters as I think of creamy orange freezes, sweet strawberry sundaes, and yummy mocha chip ice cream cones. Then I wonder about the grandparents sitting on the slanted porch of an old, white farmhouse with the "Eggs for Sale" sign out front.  I sing a home-made song as I ride along, "A-riding we will go, A-riding we will go, Hi, Ho the Cherrio, A-riding we will go."  

   At the edge of busy West Mountain Street, Dad acts as the traffic cop. We hop off our bikes and run them across the busy street. Next, like a roller coaster, we quickly pedal up and down the bumpy entrance to West Boylston. Soon we're coasting along the woodsy edge of the Wachusett Reservoir where the view of the pristine water and surrounding evergreens is beautiful. 

   Dad and I sing loudly as Chrissy, Paul, and Peter try to beat each other's pace along the windy path that blows Chrissy's pig tails into the air and inflates Paul's shirt like a puffy, striped balloon on his back. Every now and then a car whizzes by reminding us that we're still not far from our city neighborhood and there's miles to go before we reach Betty's country home.

   A left at the reservoir finds us in the quaint town of Boylston. Drums beat in the distance. I pretend I'm a princess riding a giant elephant as we pedal to the beat. Then we spy a parade with a band, colorful floats, baton twirlers, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts marching through town. We slow down as we ride through the center of town by flag waving children and grownups lining the sidewalks with blankets, lawn chairs, and baby carriages. Before we realize it, we've passed the town and arrived at the other side of the reservoir and Betty's town of Berlin.

    Berlin is a real country town with lots of farmhouses, animals, meadows, and hills.  As we drive down the road, memories of the many fun times I enjoyed at Betty's come flooding through me. We drive by a giant empty hill that had once been a ski hill, and I remember laying there in the middle of the hill last winter just looking up at the gray sky while flurries floated down and covered my cold, pink cheeks. All around me sledders giggled and screamed with joy. 

   We also pass the old red barn where my cousins and I played follow the leader with the rope swing as we jumped into a scratchy pile of hay on Saturdays in the fall. Later, the meandering, rocky brook parallels our path, and I remember the many forts we made as we played pioneers, explorers, house, and campers in and around the water on hot summer days. 

   Three miles down the road at the crossroads we pass Harriman's Ice Cream Shop. My cousin Judy, Aunt Betty's daughter and I, had hiked to Harriman's for the very best onion rings and ice cream cones many times. At this point, I know we are close to Betty's, and I start to imagine jumping into her above ground pool in the middle of her vast country back yard. Tired at the end of this 15-mile ride, the thought of the pool, playing with my best cousin Judy, and visiting with all the relatives at Betty's creates the adrenaline I need for the last mile.  

    The final road meanders by fields, forests, and farmhouses. We ride with a bit less caution weaving in and out of our bike hike line racing each other to the finish.  
     "I'll be first," Paul yells as he rushes ahead.  
     "Oh no you won't," Chrissy screams as she stands up pedaling madly. 
     "I'm tired," Peter cries as he realizes he can't keep up with his older, faster siblings.  
     "Dad, are we almost there?" I ask.  
     "Yes, we're almost there," he affirms. 

    Then in the distance I see Betty's newly built white split level home, and her  300-year old farm house. I pedal faster pretending I'm fleeing the bullets of the Redcoats, the same bullets that pierced that old farmhouse that Betty used to live in. I awake from the battle and see my mother smiling and waving her hands. 

     "Mom's in the front yard," I yell out to the others.  "Hi Mom!" I yell. Mom has a big smile on her face. My little brothers David and Michael are running around her. 

    "You made it!" Mom applauds. 

     "Yes, we did," I laugh as I drop my shiny blue bike on the grassy front lawn and run to find Judy by the pool ready for the day's next adventure.  

Edit Day One.  Good writing takes patience.  As I reread the story today I found a number of errors, added descriptive detail and dialogue and played around with the tense.  I'm still not satisfied with the tenses so I'll consult a few colleagues.  In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts.  As I undergo this process I realize how much hard work, imagination, visualization, and patience my students will need as they engage in this process.

More edits, some questionable additions (I'll think about them), and still dealing with tense.  More to come.

Saving the tense corrections for another day--but I notice more.  Also as I read this week I want to think about narration (first person, second person, third person--need to remind myself) and its effect on the reader.  I want to draw pictures to match the story too--will I use digital images, digital drawing, photos, or hand drawn.  Perhaps a combination of all three.  I can see it's time to visit Mom and go through the old picture drawers again, culling those pictures from my favorite moments.  I need to assign this task to my students as well for our upcoming narrative work.

I need to shorten up some of those sentences and make a bit more of a poem out of all these words. I made a few quotation connections. It's amazing how difficult it can be to edit one of your own stories even when you have "fresh" eyes.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Caring Collaboration

At times the collaboration mantra moves to more negative than positive speak, action, and effort. Less than positive collaboration includes side talk, rumors, conjecture, secrets, unjust favors, ego, and lack of transparent effort or thought. All of this creates an environment where positivity is hindered and blocked.

I think that we can all think of times when we contributed to a less than positive work environment--a time when our decisions thwarted best action rather than contributed toward it.  For most of us those actions were not purposefully negative, but instead reflections of a lack of understanding, good habits, or apt mentoring--we may not have understood the err in our effort.

Moving forward, there is much we all can do to contribute to a positive collaborative environment.

First, ask rather than conjecture. If you don't understand a decision, motive, or effort, ask to gain understanding. In many environments of old, asking was often seen as negative, but the research clearly supports transparency and the power of knowing today, so rather than conjecture, ask.

Next, keep children center stage. Rather than blaming each other when things don't go as planned, assess and re-plan together with children's best interests center stage. Our one common denominator in schools is the welfare of children.

After that, if something bothers you, speak up with respect. Try to help others understand where you are coming from and why the issue, words, or actions bother you. None of us walk in each other's shoes, hence it's our obligation to help others understand where we're coming from.

Make amends, and move beyond the digressions of the past. We all err, and we all make poor decisions at one time or another. Apologize to those you may have hurt in the past, and move forward with best intention, action, and opinion.

Then, create common goals. Nothing bonds a team more than a common goal that serves a cause greater than the team itself. Make the time to create common goals, action plans, assessments, and next steps.

Contribute. Don't be the critic on the sideline. Instead, value your strengths and contribute your gifts to the organization and children you serve.

Similarly, don't expect to have all the answers or be able to solve all the problems yourself.  Take advantage of others' strengths, talents, and abilities as you work to meet the needs of your students.

Caring collaboration means moving beyond your personal goals, strengths, and vision. It also means forgiving yourself for past digressions, disagreements, and unsuccessful efforts.  In the new year, move forward with strength, care for one another, and apt collaborative work--that's the best gift you can give to the students you serve each day.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Preparing for the New Year: A Day of Study

Sandwiched between the festivities is a day of study.

The book and assignment are ready.

My questions are set.

I'm looking forward to one full day focused on lifting my professional work prior to the new year.

How is this day so much more enticing than the study days of old?

First, I've chosen to embark on this study for a variety of reasons.

This study will continue my membership in the NBPTS which is an association I continue to value.  I mainly value this association because it means NBPTS is an association of dedicated educators--educators whose ideas, investment, and share improve my craft and professional work.

This study will also focus me on my practice in a detailed way helping me to see specific areas where I can improve, and specific areas where my work is strong.

The study will also give me a chance to sit down and reflect on the latest research with regard to my professional work--a good reminder of what my daily work should look like in the new year.

Making the time now and then to invest an entire day to studying the research and information related to your field invigorates your practice and helps you to create the path of next steps related to your professional growth.

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year's Gifts

The gifts we give ourselves are precious.

Those are the gifts that propel us forward, strengthen our character, and allow us to give to others with care.

What gifts will you give to yourself in 2014?

I've comprised my own personal gift list.

The Gift of Writing and Reflection
As readers of my blog you know that I look forward to daily writing and reflection.  So rather than chastise myself for needing and taking this time, I will gift myself this daily ritual of spending an hour (or more on weekends) of reflection and writing.

The Gift of Time with My Best Friend
I cherish my best friend more than any other person in the world--he is my rock.  Hence, I'll gift myself time daily and weekly to enjoy this person's company.

The Gift of Family
I treasure family, both intimate and extended.  Hence in the new year, I'll make time to be with my family.

The Gift of Teaching and Learning
I chose to become a teacher because I felt it was a career path that held terrific potential for individuals, communities, and the world.  I still feel blessed to be a part of such a wonderful and challenging profession.  I will give myself the gift of honoring this professional path, and the time to pursue teaching and learning with strength, commitment, and collaboration.

The Gift of Nature
Nothing is more inspirational in my life than the beauty of nature--I love a quiet meadow, a meandering river, a mountain top, snowy field, giant tree, beautiful gardens, and sandy/rocky coasts.  The rhythm of waves, wind, rain, and night/day comfort me, and the tempest of wild storms awaken me.  In the new year, I'll make time to engage in nature regularly.

The Gift of Ideas
Challenging myself to interact with new ideas and people is a great gift--one that is much easier to obtain now that we have the flow of ideas via blogs, edcamps, Twitter, chats, and more.  Though often daunting to share your thoughts and consider others' ideas online and off, this gift is one that keeps you young, alive, and vibrant both in your personal and professional life.

The Gift of Adventure
There's nothing more exhilarating than exploring a new place, hence I'll make time to do that this year. I'll visit familiar places and find the unfamiliar there, and I'll visit places I haven't been to before and adventure while there.

The Gift of Health
To do all that I want to means that I'll need the gift of health--so I'll do what I can to strengthen that aspect of my life.

The Gift of a Warm Home
I'll continue my quest to create an as-simple-as-possible home, one that I can tidy, leave, or welcome others to at a moment's notice.  A place that has a few inviting pieces of furniture, lovely art, warm colors, and a place where my children and loved ones feel welcomed and cared for.

Rather than New Year's Resolutions, this year I'm giving myself New Year's Gifts--gifts that make life worth living, and gifts that bring the spunk, spark, and happy surprise to life.

What gifts will you bring to your life in 2014?  I look forward to reading your list.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Adjustment, Serendipity, and Surprise

The Internet has deepened and broadened my skills of visualizing, planning, and preparing. I typically use both online and offline resources to research, write, share, revise, implement, and review--a good process, and one that's masterful with the addition of the thoughts, ideas, and reactions of my PLN via Twitter, blogs, chats, and one-to-one "conversations" online or off.  The crowdshare planning and research that's possible now works to improve delivery as our ideas, materials, and process develop.

I find that I'm not only applying this process to my work, but I'm also adding it to my personal life as well. I make the time to visualize, organize, research, prep, and implement individual, friend, and family events with the help of my PLN.  Similar to my work life, that strategy is making a positive difference. Events are run with greater care, focus, and grace--there's less disappointment, and more time to truly enjoy the essence of time together and mutual adventures.

With all of this planning and prep there also comes that element of serendipity and surprise--nothing ever truly goes as planned. There's always the unexpected moment, result, or event. And, with that knowledge, I find that now as I plan events, both personal and professional, I anticipate the unexpected with both fear and excitement. I wonder about the new words/ideas I will hear, people I will meet, and turns in life's road I will encounter as the event unfolds?  I know that some of the unexpected events will not be happy, but instead challenges to face, mountains/hills to climb, and even sadness as some long held expectations/dreams are unmet.

With all this in mind, I started planning the holiday celebrations long ago--choreographing events to bring family members together with joy and care. Making sure that everything was in place to welcome my family with time, attention, love, and kindness. Shopping for just right gifts, coordinating schedules, and sharing meal preparations with relatives.

Then the celebrations occurred mostly as planned, but with surprises as well. The relative who planned to arrive on Christmas, arrived the next day instead. Another friend, who recently faced extraordinary challenges, seemed more at peace and ready to give back, a warm and unexpected surprise.  The spark in young lovers' eyes awakened my thoughts to how our family will soon change with marriages and babies. So far, this year's surprises have been minor for me, yet as I read the news, both happy and sad, I notice with  joy and sadness how the season brought major life changes to many.

Life rolls along, up and down, deep and shallow, wide and narrow. Meeting plans, events, friends, and family with our best attention to detail, planning, research, and care matters allowing us to create memorable, transformative, and loving exchanges--times that make life worth living. Yet, also with all that planning and prep, there always needs to be room for serendipity and surprise, moments, good, bad and indifferent, that we don't imagine, expect, or sometimes even understand--moments that propel our twisty life paths forward in ways often unimagined.  Adjustments.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Gift of Time

Today I have the gift of time.

An entire day without a lengthy to-do list.

It's been a long time since I've had so much time to do the extras that go with the holiday season--

What a treat!

How can we build a society where the gift of time is more readily available to those that need it?

Have You Written a Narrative Lately?

Common core and other standards require students at many levels to write a narrative.

When was the last time you applied all that you teach to write your own narrative, real or fiction?

In the coming weeks, I'll challenge myself once again to write a narrative.  I'll do this prior to students' start of the unit.

Perhaps I'll even go through all the steps to publish this short story. Once I immerse myself in all the steps, I'll better be able to guide students in a similar journey.

Last year, I conducted a like effort as I composed a digital story about a childhood event.

Let me know if you've challenged yourself with writing and publishing your own narrative?  If you've blogged about it, I'd love to read your thoughts.  Thanks.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Where is Jeremiah Oliver? A Country's Responsibility

Is Jeremiah Oliver a "throw away child?"

Did his family's neglect or aggression lead to his disappearance?

Where is he?  What happened to him?

This is a story that stains our humanity.

What can we do to protect children who live with families that are unable to care for them? What can we do about devastating problems such as drug addiction, mental illness, and alcoholism that often lead to child neglect and abuse?

When a culture and families let children down, there's a problem.  Children have a right to a safe home, good education, and health care.  Children deserve time to play and grow with care.

First, I wonder how school systems can teach students about the care and responsibility needed when raising children. This is particularly important for teens who have not had the gift of warm, caring homes, yet all children can profit with regard to learning about the privilege and responsibility of parenting.

Next, I wonder how social service and community agencies can transform to better address today's needs and responsibilities.  How can we support those who want to do a good job by their children, and perhaps fine or remove those who are not committed to caring for their children.

After that, I wonder about the responsibility of businesses and organizations that profit from individual's hard work and the community's support--how can they reach out with funds, time, and efforts to strengthen communities which in turn strengthen children's chances at a positive childhood.

Where is Jeremiah Oliver?  What is the story related to his disappearance?  What secrets do his siblings, relatives, neighbors, and parents hold--secrets related to his whereabouts?  How many other children are lost, neglected, and in pain--children in our midst?

When children in your midst suffer, it is difficult to find the necessary support.  Children who struggle with poverty, violence, and neglect are typically clustered presenting what seem like impossible problems to solve.  Families that struggle with alcoholism, drug abuse, and poverty may not know how to access help, and it's possible that there is little help to access.  Then there's the case of privacy, and attitudes of "mind your own business"--when is that appropriate, and when is that not appropriate.  As teachers, we're mandated reporters, so when we see signs of abuse or neglect, it is our responsibility to report.

I believe the welfare of children is the most important barometer of a country's health and success--I don't know all the facts and statistics at this point, but I do want to take the time to pay greater attention to the children in my midst, and do what I can to improve their care, opportunities, and chance to have a healthy childhood.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Finding Your Way: Your PD Path

When it comes to professional development, the choices are amazing.

The challenge as I repeat again and again is finding your path, and understanding your destination.

Of course, both path and destination will continually change, but it's important to understand the light that leads you forward, a light that will change as your life and the people/places in it change.

Since I like to learn, I'm apt to overcommit which can be problematic, hence I share and reshape the path continuously.

What remains a constant is the fact that I truly am committed to creating learning opportunities that respond to individual student's needs, interests, and passions. My overall emphasis lies in the area of direct service, and my role in the professional sphere is to share my journey as a direct service educator to those who are interested.

What does this mean for professional development?

First, it means that I have to continually immerse myself in communities with other like-minded educators. Educators who are willing to honestly push me forward with promising practice, knowledge, and challenge. I find those educators in multiple places including my workplace, edcamps, PLN, worthy conferences, and potentially the upcoming Deeper Learning MOOC.

Next, it means keeping the time that I need to prepare for and teach children well sacred.  That includes planning time and teaching time. Teaching well takes time.

After that, it means that I have to have the courage to advocate for children's needs including speaking up when services are not met, asking questions when information is not clear, and reaching out when I don't have the answers related to what a child needs.

Finally, it takes lead time and organization, planning ahead, scheduling the best learning events, and keeping abreast of current trends, research, tools, and strategies.

As I look around me, the professionals I work with are all committed to direct service to children, and they all demonstrate varying gifts and contributions. Some will become educational leaders, others will hone their skills at community building and advocacy, and still more will advance to curriculum experts, coaches, and designers. Where does your commitment to education lie?  How does your PD path feed that commitment?  Who and what do you reach out to in order to grow your craft, direction, and value?  These are all important questions as we move into a new of teaching and learning.

Next PD Step: Deeper Learning MOOC

I'm always on the lookout for new tools, strategies, and learning opportunities, and when I heard about the Deeper Learning MOOC, I knew I had to join.

I am committed to developing deeper learning for my students. One reason that I'm so invested in tech integration is that technology is a pathway to deeper learning as technology takes away a lot of old time learning drudgery, and replaces it with streamlined paths to wonderful learning synthesis and creation. I've used technology to develop a strong professional learning network (PLN) as well as to find multiple opportunities for learning, but lately I've been seeking something deeper. And fortunately, this MOOC came along.

I've tried a MOOC before, but I wasn't as committed to the topic, and I found that the organization of that MOOC (two years ago) was not easy to manage. It's two years later; MOOCs have grown in organization and popularity, and I heard the MIT team talk at a LearnLaunch event about their philosophy and organization related to MOOCs so that makes me confident that this MOOC will be different.

I've also been looking for a way to strengthen my ties and collaboration with like-minded educators, educators seeking to deepen, develop, and innovate education in order to invigorate, personalize, and optimize student learning. I think this MOOC will offer that opportunity.

Since this is still a relatively new learning structure and topic, the MOOC will bring with it the excitement and energy that new initiatives bring, and that's another good reason to join.

I've carved a path in the new year schedule for this MOOC, and if interested, I hope you'll join too. I'm excited about the learning to come

Note: If you're planning to go to Educon this year, it might be a good time to discuss this MOOC experience in person.  I imagine that many Educon attendees online or offline will be interested in this learning opportunity.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Terrific Culture Celebration

Tonight Team 15 families shared food, stories, and students' remarkable work as we celebrated many cultures representing students' history and curiosity.

Dumplings, peanut noodles, strudel, shortbread, samosas, crabmeat, cannolis, and so many more wonderful foods were shared by all.

Students proudly announced their culture projects with a hello in the culture's language and a few sentences about each project.

Parents, siblings, students, and teachers mingled.

It was a wonderful celebratory night thanks to the students' terrific study and the support of many teachers and students.  Thanks to all who contributed.

Class World Tour

This bulletin board represents all four classes in the grade. 
I've always thought it would be fun to be able to bring my class to places near and far, big and small in a moment's notice like Ms. Frizzle--what fun to learn by immersing yourself in a hands-on way with a topic. To date, we're unable to quickly morph our classrooms to a Ms. Frizzle atmosphere, so we settle for the second best solution, virtual tours.

Yesterday, we created a virtual, hands-on world tour as students moved from classroom to classroom to view each other's culture projects. It was interesting to see the large number of cultures students studied, both cultures of interest and cultures that represent students' histories.  I found children's personal stories fascinating as they relayed stories of family vacations, visiting relatives in other countries, speaking multiple languages, cultural interest, and favorite foods. I asked a child who studied a culture other than her own why she chose the culture, and she replied, "It's pretty," and continued to point a finger at all the beautiful jewelry, fabrics, clothing from that culture."
    I asked, "Have you always felt that way?"
    She replied, "Yes, I've always felt that way?"

A couple of times I became teary as students gave a fourth grade version of immigration or migration for which I understood the social/political roots--stories of war, aggression, or oppression. Our fourth grade students were introduced to cultures throughout the world in a child-friendly, personal way which I believe is the best way to begin global study. Not only were they interested in the variety of cultures, but it was equally interesting to see how a classmates depicted same cultures with different emphases depending on children's interests, family histories, or regions.

Soon children will share these stories with the adults in their lives. Like me, I'm sure that the family members visiting our class will find children's culture stories both interesting and educational--a rare chance to share with their neighbors, friends, and community members the stories of origin, culture, interest, and identity.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keep the Focus

Think carefully often about the priorities related to the work you do.

Then, keep the focus.

Ask clarifying questions when necessary.

Organize the schedule well so the focus is clear to the students you teach and colleagues you work with.

Make sure that most of your time everyday feeds the focus.

There's great temptations in schools to veer off the important course of serving children well, and in order to stay the course, we need to support one another in this regard.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Yesterday after receiving a disconcerting email I became somewhat grouchy in class.

Today, I apologized to the students and told them that my grouchy attitude was due to the fact that someone had made a choice for me without consulting me, someone on a team that I belong to.

I then went on to state that our class is a team, and I essentially serve the team.  Hence, I don't want to make decisions without their input.  Then, I asked, "What are your needs, wants, and desires related to our classroom learning team."

The children shared a number of needs, one want, and a couple of desires--they were heard, and I was able to respond to a few of the needs right away.

Team is a powerful construct in our culture, one that often maximizes our individual and collective promise and potential.

In your professional working and learning communities, what teams do you belong to?  On those teams how do you both nurture and contribute voice and collaboration?  How do others on your learning/working teams encourage voice, contribution, and collaboration?

Replacing classrooms and schools with learning teams and communities is a move that holds great promise for our children, profession, and our culture?  How are you making this happen in the environment where you learn and work?

Impatience and the Long Range Plan

Godin's post this morning prompts me to realize that the long range plan is the panacea for impatience.  Impatience wants response immediately whereas the long range plan is willing to wait.

What is your long range plan?

What do you want to achieve, and how do you plan to achieve that?

Nelson Mandela had a long range plan--a big idea.  He was forced to be patient as he endured 27 years in jail. As I understand his story, the patience enabled him to grow deeper with empathy and forgiveness for his oppressors, and probably stronger with his vision and quest to achieve his dream.

Long range plans take confidence, vision, and trust--a willingness and ability to understand that with care, steady effort, and learning your work will result in the light you see, the dream you hold, and the change you want.

Step-by-step with understanding, care, and revision the long range plan replaces impatience with confident direction. Thanks for the inspiration Seth Godin.

Star Teacher?

Some educators refer to a star teacher in our midst.

A teacher whose scores are tremendous.

In conversations about curriculum, effort, and intent, the star teacher is mentioned in ways that caution us to think too highly about our own work or effort--the "star teacher" does it better.

Like a star in the sky, this teacher is publicly praised and pointed to as an example of who we should be.

Of course, I'm curious and would like to know the whole story.  In fact, I asked for some details and got a recipe of actions to follow.

Yet, the idea of a "star teacher," for some reason doesn't sit well with me.  I've always felt that there is no one teacher in a school that "does it all or has it all," instead I've always felt that we all bring valuable gifts to the school building--gifts, when shared, make us all stronger. I still believe that good teachers are not a one-size-fits-all recipe, but a varied palette instead.

Although research shows that some teaching strategies are more effective than others, and perhaps this star truly utilizes those strategies regularly. I know that the individual is a bright, committed, and caring educator--one I have respected for years.

Also, new metrics shared by the State provide leadership with specific information about each teacher--information that teachers cannot see and do not know.  I'm guessing that it's this information that points out "star teachers" in each system. This information, I surmise, is mostly related to standardized test scores, and perhaps new evaluation system attributes.

Recently, Tony Wagner defined "star teachers" in another way. He defined those teachers as individuals that students have identified as having a significant impact.

Who are the star teachers in your midst?  How are their stories told?  Do teachers in your environment have the chance to confidently nurture and develop their own "star" qualities, or is there a specific formula that equals "star quality?"  Does this matter?

For me, whenever an educator excels in any sphere I like to learn from their strength. When I see children respect and care deeply for a teacher, I look closely at that teacher's ability to establish relationships with students.  When a teacher does great on standardized tests, I look forward to hearing about specific strategies.  If a teacher creates an inviting classroom atmosphere, exciting unit, or playground game, I also want to learn from that.

While some are deemed "stars" in our midst, I still hold that all educators who bring commitment, care, effort, and a willingness to learn bring valued skills to the job, and when individual educator's work and effort is celebrated and shared rather than compared, the entire school benefits.

Similar to our students, educators are on continuums of growth--twisty paths of learning and achievement as we work to do our best work for each and every child.  The "star teachers" among us, if noted with respect, can serve to motivate and enrich our work and growth when their stories are told with respect--respect for the "star" and respect for the daily work of every teacher.


Recently it was inferred that I wasn't following a policy--a policy I didn't even know about, and a policy I still don't understand.

I asked for the details and received no response.

This is disconcerting, and I'm trying to see it from other points of view.

I want to know.

What is the exact policy?  What is the expectation?  I want to follow.

What could be the reason for not sharing the information?  Did I miss an email, misread a regulation, or was I absent during an important meeting? Is the expectation so clear to some that they can't believe another would be confused?

Schools have multiple policies, many personnel, and much time-on-task with children leaving little time for the planning, prep, collaboration and communication related to the teaching day.

Hence, streamlined systems and effective, transparent communication are more important than ever.

Also the expectations are complex: multiple standards, competing theories, many leaders, and children with diverse interests and needs.

It could be that I'm expecting the details too soon after asking the question.

In the end, it is my goal to teach well, meet system-wide expectations, and work with colleagues with focus and care.

Hopefully, the clarification will be forthcoming, and I'll better understand this expectation prior to the new year so I can adjust the student schedule accordingly.  Yet one more unexpected turn on the teaching road.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Positivity, Support

Today I received emails that were demeaning and emails that were supportive. Hearing Godin's post prompts me to hold on to the messages of support, encouragement and light, and to ignore the punitive emails.

We can all get better, and we can all be more.  What really helps in this regard is encouragement, conversation, and support, and what doesn't help is a constant barrage of threats, insults, and put-downs.

How can we work together to do a better job?  In what ways can we collaborate to serve children well?  How do we use language to educate and encourage one another?

Positivity breeds success, while a constant barrage of negativity breeds frustration, lack of confidence, and more time spent on worry than productive work.

Hence, the message is to continually seek out those who support you with honest, encouraging feedback, not admonishment.

Every work place encompasses a range of response and care--find the streams of promise, and avoid those of despair.

Savor the Moment: Culture Celebration

The week started with a couple of unexpected admonishments--minor, but important when it comes to keeping spirits energized, understanding expectations, and doing good work.  I'm not quite clear about the specifics yet, and have requested the details, but I have to put those issues on hold as it's time to savor the moment.

The children have worked tirelessly for about three weeks to prepare for the culture project. They have crafted wonderful, informational posters, gathered artifacts, and prepared "headline announcements."  Now it's time to put all the other school matters aside, and celebrate the children's fine work and care.

Sometimes there's a temptation to get to the celebration and forget the hard work, care, and effort. That can't happen. Hence, tomorrow we'll devote ourselves to the children's triumphant work. We'll save the other matters, both positive and challenging, for another day.  It's time to celebrate!

What Are Your Expectations?

Students thrive when the expectations are clear?  The workplace is also more peaceful when the expectations are clear?  Unclear expectations create havoc.

Ultimately learning communities thrive when the expectations are created with collaboration, but in some cases that's impossible for many reasons.  So, as much as possible, no matter what role you play in the field of education make expectations clear, and then be ready to support learners as they tackle the challenge.

Cheering Myself On: The Week Before Vacation

It's the week before vacation.

The playground is covered with snow.

Children's minds will be on the upcoming holiday.

What does this mean for the week ahead.

First, it means that I have to keep things simple--today we'll put the finishing touches on a number of projects and share another chapter of a good film.

Tomorrow, we'll prep for our culture celebration by practicing our headline announcements, etiquette related to the event, and the celebration order.

The next day we'll reflect on the event with writing and share.  Then we'll continue to study geometry and work on tech narrative stories.

Thursday will find us studying more geometry, reading, and writing.

Then on Friday we'll have a snow shop with our second grade buddies, tech math and stories.

It will be a week of project completion/share, geometry, math tech, reading and writing--a fairly simple week which is a great complement to the exciting holiday/vacation spirit that surrounds school.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thanks! Recognizing a System's Strengths

As a critical thinker whose always looking to the future, I have to stop myself now and then to say thanks for the many terrific colleagues, materials, and strategies in place--elements that help me daily to teach well.

First, I'm thankful that our system has allowed educators to access terrific professional development outside and within the system. By giving each educator a laptop, all teachers have ready access to what seems like an infinite array of resources 24-7. Our system has also brought in many experts and made the time for teachers to teach teachers during tailored school-day workshops and end-of-school Institutes. These initiatives have kept our collective teaching fresh, up-to-date, and positively challenged creating a vibrant professional learning community.

Next, I'm thankful for the tech infrastructure and multiple tools we have readily available at our schools. Both students and teachers are able to access many learning venues in facile ways thanks to these tools.

After that, I'm thankful for my colleagues who are dedicated, well-educated, and committed to kind, caring, thoughtful programs for children. My colleagues are not narrow-minded, but instead holistic educators who look out for children each and every day.

I'm also thankful for the wonderful books that are everywhere in our school. The school librarian and curriculum directors have filled our classrooms and library with the best possible literature. Students enjoy reading and never complain that there are no books. The only problem here is that we run out of time to access all these terrific books.

The dedication, support, and advocacy of families make our schools strong too. The families and the community care about their children and respect education. That means children come to us each day valuing the promise and potential of education, and it also means that families are ready and willing to join with us as we educate their children.

Furthermore, I'm thankful that our system is not static--we keep moving forward even if that causes challenge. For example, we're planning for a potential school reconfiguration next fall.  It won't be easy as it will cost the tax payers a few more dollars, and it will disrupt the teams and organization we have now in some ways.  But in the end, we know it's a positive change as the reconfiguration will create more space, and more space will help us to serve each child better. The additional space may also help us move forward more with 21st century teaching strategies and efforts.

Another aspect of my school system I'm thankful for is the natural beauty that surrounds our schools. The Town has worked carefully to preserve the natural landscape therefore children have tree-lined playgrounds, gardens, and local hiking trails. Similarly my ride to and from school is a pretty, country-like ride.

In addition, teachers in our school system earn a fair teacher salary, have access to multiple useful tools, and enjoy time each week to collaborate and learn together.

As a critical thinker, I'm anxious to move schools forward with new research, systems, strategies, and materials to educate each child well. However, as I pause today I recognize that those of us who teach in my school system have so much to be thankful for. As we move forward in schools, we must take the time to recognize what's working, and not lose sight of that as we embrace new approaches. Thus creating a system that synthesizes the best of the old and best of the new to serve children well.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

January Menu: Fourth Grade

Applying WWW W2H2 mnemonic to the story mountain
graphic organizer. This is a sketch of a bulletin board to come.
I like to plan ahead.  I find that when I set the schedule ahead the ideas have time to simmer and grow prior to implementation.

So as I finish up the December menu and prep for the holidays, I'll set the January focus.

January will begin with a strong emphasis on narrative. Our school librarian has selected a number of wonderful intermediate picture books to savor and study as I prepare for this unit. I'll use PTO money to buy a class collection of one or two chosen narratives so that we can start the unit with a week-long "read like writers" effort.  As we "read like writers" we'll study the chosen text(s) intensely looking at character, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  We'll also analyze the ways the author has used rich language, transitional words, craft, and pacing to tell his/her story well.

While we "read like writers" in class, at home students will engage in a number of idea generating activities for homework--activities such as making a collection of wonderful, personal photos, listing their favorite all-time personal stories, drawing story boards, and more.  We'll start a shared Google thread as well to share our ideas for story and that share will help to generate lots and lots of story ideas. In class, we'll also discuss the idea of "seed stories" and what makes a good story. The bulletin board will include standards-based mini posters, the story mountain graphic organizer, and SRSD mnemonic.

Once the introduction and review of story is complete, we'll start our SRSD narrative pedagogy. That pedagogy will include a pre-assessment, analyzing our own stories, teacher/student modeling, learning a mnemonic, applying the mnemonic, growing our story writing skill in multiple ways, and charting/celebrating growth.

Our January math focus will begin with geometry and multiplication/division with large numbers. We'll add minutes to our math time as well as lots and lots of practice and problem solving.

Reading will find us focusing on close reading/reading response strategies and practice across genre. We'll also employ the SRSD approach in this area and regular, at-home independent practice weekly.

I want the January menu to take on a predictable routine of serious standards-based study. January is a perfect month for this serious approach as it is a post holiday month with lots of cold, winter weather outside. Hence a good month to focus with depth and effort.

As I clean up from the culture celebration later this week, I'll prepare the classroom set-up for this serious, studious approach. I'll place the indoor recess toys and craft corner out of sight, but easily accessible for free time/recess choice.  I'll clean up the book corners and place lots of narratives on the display case. Geometry posters will replace the measurement posters, and math vocabulary will take the place of the culture stories.

I'll leave the room at the end of the week ready for the new year and the January focus, a focus that's likely to take some unexpected twists and turns, changes that add life to the menu.

Creating a Learning Path: Geometry Standards

I'll help students create a geometry learning path in the new year. This process will provide children with a model for learning any content they choose as well as providing them with a way to learn specific geometry standards.

First, we'll discuss learning success with these questions: When were you successful with learning?  What did that look like?  What helped you?  After that students will "unpack" the standards. I'll have students turn the geometry standards into a list of action statements written in their own words.

Next, I'll have students choose and order five or six activities on the learning menu. The menu will include introduction, practice, and assessment activities. Introduction choices will include videos, books, and intro games. Practice activities will include a number of hands-on manipulative, paper/pencil, and online activities/games, and assessment choices will include both online and offline tests and projects. The menu will also give children a chance to work alone, with partners, or with a small group.

I'll create the menu so that it looks like a path in order to foster the idea that children can create their own learning paths from goal setting to mastery in any topic. I'll make the learning menu materials easily accessible as well.  Then as students learn, I'll coach both the content and the process. We'll stop now and then for focus lessons and shared coaching discussions. At the very end of the event, I'll give children a chance to reflect on the process.  That reflection will inform future work of this type.

If you've helped your students craft learning paths, please share your links, ideas, and models. Thanks in advance for any help you can provide as I try out this differentiated, personalized approach to learning.

Friday, December 13, 2013

TGIF Thoughts

Yes, thank goodness it's Friday. It's been a long and productive week, but I'm ready for the weekend as are my students. They added a lot of minutes to the "recess bank" as they worked through recess many days to complete their culture projects. Also the holiday twinkle is definitely taking hold as I watch children gaze out in a way that tells me that their thoughts are elsewhere thinking about the holiday cheer and celebrations to come.

I typically try to complete a project about two-three days before the deadline, a couple of bright students, sisters Lizzy and Samantha, taught me that many years ago.  Their mom had taught them that strategy.

Hence the projects are complete. We'll still do a bit of tweaking on Monday and Tuesday, and then we'll be ready for the celebration including the delicious treats from cultures from around the world.

At the end of next week, I'm sure we'll deduct the minutes from the recess bank for some added fun in the expected snow--hopefully it's sticky enough for snowmen and fort building.

Lastly, after the celebration and just before the winter break, we'll have a few quiet days for story, creativity, and peaceful, happy learning. In the meantime, I'll focus a bit on my own family and the holiday season.  Happy Weekend!

Teacher: Room Designer

The classroom design changes repeatedly throughout the year. Today I'll get my morning workout by rearranging desks, tables, cabinets, posters, and displays to prepare for the culture celebration. Just like a party at your house, the celebration offers the drive to clean up, organize, and set the stage for share and fun.

I like having a celebration at the end of a school semester as it puts the finishing touches on the first leg of learning, and sets the stage for the next chapter of the year.

Also to motivate the final stage of our project, I'll have the posters displayed when the children walk in.  That will give them a chance to look over their own poster as well as everyone else's. This review will inspire final edits and finesse.

Step-by-step we inch towards the finish line of the culture project.  Just like a mountain climb, the final stages are typically a steep climb of energy and perseverance--a climb worth the time as the summit is typically worth the work.  Onward.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Project's Final Stage: TEAM

The project's final stage creates a sense of team in the classroom.  Much like the charrette in a design firm, we all work together to complete the boards, finalize illustrations, and edit text--students, teachers, and parents helping one another.

Tomorrow we'll complete culture line plots, the analysis and illustration of Blanco's "One Today," posters, and culture cards.  The reward at the end of the day will be more minutes of code as students craft holiday cards, games, and other creations.

On Monday we'll rehearse the "headline" presentations and add the finishing touches.  Our Culture Celebration is right around the corner. . .stay tuned.

Student Posters: Culture Celebration Prep

Students' culture cards were combined to create a rainbow. 
Today students will create posters.

Many might think, "Posters?  That's so outdated?"  Yet, there's still a place for posters in today's classroom.  Our posters will serve as a way to present students' wonderful culture writing and research for our upcoming culture celebration.

Altogether the posters will present the collective image of our class culture--the stories, flags, foods, fashion, and fun. The posters will also remind children of the important role of text features such as titles, subtitles, images, diagrams, and informational paragraphs in a hands-on way.

Facilitating poster creation with 20+ fourth graders is a busy task.  The first challenge is slowing them down because they can't wait to glue all the images and titles on the board. To prevent this, I'll start the day by introducing the poster steps:
  • Organize and review all of your poster images, research, and writing.
  • Trim poster pieces and add background paper.
  • Make poster titles with the die-cut machine (and a parent helper).
  • Place the poster pieces on the board.
  • Check the board with a teacher who will make sure that all the required information is placed on the board.
  • Paste neatly with lots of glue and using a piece of plain paper to make sure the paste is even.
  • Store the poster behind the teacher's desk.
  • Students will create culture cards. We'll post the culture cards
    on a grade-wide "rainbow bulletin board" with the following quote:

    - Jesse Brown
  • Read quietly or help a classmate with his/her poster creation.
We'll start the activity first thing this morning while children are fresh and alert. In the afternoon, once the busy poster activity is complete, we'll spend time preparing the all-class displays including our culture "rainbow" cards, culture line plots, and written/illustrated depiction of Blanco's poem, "One Today."

The next few days will be very busy as we prepare for our celebration--the final stage before the celebration is always a bit daunting, but in the end it's worth the effort when it comes to creating a vibrant learning community.

Example of student posters. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


At yesterday's workshop a colleague thanked the presenter for using independent research during her investigation, prep, and delivery.  The colleague mentioned that too often marketing takes the place of research when a product is chosen.

It's been a long time since I took my research and stats courses in graduate school, but I'm aware that good research matters when it comes to choosing just-right programs, strategies, and efforts. I also know that intuition, experience, and "gut" play a role in choosing tools, programs, and strategies too. In this time of unstoppable creation, the research can't keep up with the production pace, yet we don't want to waste lots of time on methods and tools that don't help students learn with strength, engagement, and depth.

So, what are we to do?

First, if possible, I think it's a good idea to research big expenditures and programs you plan to purchase. And if there's something you want to try where there's not much research available, conduct a trial at your school--create a beginning to end time frame, goals, assessment vehicles, and implement the tool, program or process for a short time. Then get together, analyze the data both formal and informal, and come to some conclusions about future use.

Trust your "gut," but also be on the look out for the data that doesn't necessarily support your practice. For example at the workshop yesterday, the presenter cited the research related to modeling. The research shows that modeling is a terrific approach for student learning, an approach that's even better if you use student exemplars. I don't use student exemplars enough so I was delighted to hear that research and find a way to improve my practice.  I'll start to use student work daily as a way to teach, and as the presenter said, it's best to use student work that represents someone who struggled to achieve as that shows children that everyone can do it.

Also during the workshop I was tempted to veer off from what seemed like a clunky mnemonic, but again the presenter demonstrated the research that supports this mnemonic's use, hence I won't veer off, but instead find ways to make the mnemonic memorable and useful to children as they write.

As the number of cars in a parking lot often signify a good restaurant, children's engagement and excitement about a tool often points to the promise a teaching tool holds. Students are mostly good judges of what helps them learn, so that's another key to choosing good tools, processes, and programs.

What's your "choice strategy" when it comes to tools, program, and processes?  How has this strategy changed in the digital age?  How do you apply this strategy to the new common core? These are important questions as we teach children well today. I look forward to learning about resources related to these questions.

Getting Inside Their Minds: Motivation

I've been at a workshop for two days, and today I return to the classroom.  I'm thinking about how I'm going to invigorate the momentum, teach to their holiday-time energies (and distractions), and complete the big project we're in the midst of.

Every morning I create the choreography.  I consider weather (indoor or outdoor recess--makes a difference). I consider the time of year (it's the holidays--lots of emotion, late nights, twinkling eyes of anticipation). I consider the learning year (what have we learned so far, and what's next on the agenda).  And, I consider the week so far.

With all that in mind, I'll start the day with quiet reading, then a little recap of the last couple of days. I left assessments for the substitute and corrected the assessments after school so I'll talk about their collective work and results. Next I'll give another assessment, and while children are taking that I'll check in with a few individuals that demonstrated extra need in the assessments or their work online.

We'll bundle up for recess if it's outdoors, and if it's indoors we'll have our recess a bit later with some free-time tech choices (they love that!).  Then we'll work on a light, fun, and colorful tech project for our upcoming culture celebration.

The afternoon will find us in the tech lab participating in the hour of code, then we'll end the day with a drawing-geometry lesson and a story.  This is a good schedule and pacing for re-entry as there's plenty of room to catch-up with children's needs, questions, and project work.

Later in the day we have a team meeting planned to prep for the upcoming grade-wide celebration, to plan for our professional afternoon related to close reading/reading response, and to look forward to the teaching units in the new year.

Every morning I take the time to think through the day and tweak the plan to match the environment, moods, and needs of the class.  I have to arrive at school, however, with the awareness that there's likely to be some unexpected events along the way.  There's always unexpected events at the elementary school--hence, a need to be amoeba-like flexible.

Time to begin the day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Narrative Crowdshare

Crowdshare Document

Stepping into the Common Core Standards: Writing

This is one area of the writing standards that I had not paid much attention
to in the past.  The standard describes it as "character response."
Yesterday I had the chance to attend the first of a two-day writing workshop led by Leslie Laud. Leslie led us through a number of approaches to use as we move children from dependence to independence in writing. As I've written before, I believe the approach that Leslie and our curriculum director, Karyn Saxon, are promoting in this regard provides a terrific framework for the teaching of specific writing units. I mainly became hooked on this framework when I saw the wonder and pride in students' eyes as they recognized their writing growth during the last unit.

During yesterday's session, we spent the time walking through the specific common core standards related to writing during the elementary years. I paid particular attention to my grade level, fourth grade. Each standard, as I've found with my UClass work, is packed with important language and implications for the work we do--the standards for these essential skills are rich and deep, and the the question at hand is how to implement each standard in a meaningful way.

I put together a slide show of many of the writing standards in child-friendly language that I'll print out, laminate, and hang from the bulletin board near our classroom share center.  That will help me to use the precise language and include the standards during our upcoming narrative unit. Today as we continue to learn, I'll figure out just exactly how I'll facilitate this unit with my current fourth grade class.  Where will we start and how will we continue?  What discrete lessons will I fit into the teaching, and when will writing process be the mainstay?  What mentor text and authors will lead our work?  How will I build stamina, investment, craft, and creativity? All of these questions are the reasons I love to teach; I truly enjoy the process of personalizing the standards-base work so that it fits the current needs, interests, and learning styles of my students.

Stay tuned.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Playtime: The Hour of Code

An Hour of Code 2013 begins today.  Will you participate?

Though resistant to take on one more thing, I will participate--why not?

Here's an opportunity to learn something new with countless avenues for exploration, exploration that will benefit my students and me.

My students will engage in this effort at home, during tech class, and in our class this week.

I will engage with an attitude of play and investigation--I'll have some fun with it!

Let's see what happens?


Charting Coding Play This Week

Instead of recess on the icy, freezing cold playground, students had more time to play with code today.  Their creations are outstanding and their enthusiasm wonderful.  We'll have more time again tomorrow to work on projects too.  I'll take some pictures and add them to this post.


The students had a great hour of code in the tech lab with our tech integration specialist.  Students explored "The Hour of Code" website and made a number of different choices.  My favorite part of their "Hour of Code" was the troubleshooting they did with each other as they tried to figure out how to better their SCRATCH games and creations as well as efforts in other programming languages/tools.  Terrific excitement and a very positive learning hour.


12/9/13  6:00 a.m. Creation with Khan's Hour of Code

My Code
background(0, 21, 255);
ellipse(150, 100, 50, 50);
ellipse(150, 175, 100, 100);
ellipse (100, 100, 10, 10);
ellipse(100, 75, 10, 10);
ellipse(50, 89, 10, 10);
ellipse(60, 68, 10, 10);
ellipse(150, 40, 10, 10);
ellipse(175, 30, 10, 10);
ellipse(275, 200, 10, 10);
ellipse(250, 68, 10, 10);
ellipse(220, 98, 10, 10);
ellipse(270, 98, 10, 10);
ellipse(225, 75, 10, 10);
ellipse(60, 198, 10, 10);
ellipse(60, 138, 10, 10);
ellipse(260, 168, 10, 10);
ellipse(210, 128, 10, 10);
ellipse(30, 38, 10, 10);
ellipse(10, 18, 10, 10);
ellipse(26, 68, 10, 10);
ellipse(250, 250, 10, 10);
fill (1, 1, 1);
ellipse(155, 90, 5, 5);
ellipse(140, 90, 5, 5);
ellipse(150, 190, 10, 10);
ellipse(150, 170, 10, 10);
ellipse(150, 150, 10, 10);
ellipse(150, 110, 5, 5);
ellipse(145, 100, 5, 5);
ellipse(142, 109, 5, 5);
ellipse(135, 106, 5, 5);
ellipse(157, 109, 5, 5);
ellipse(162, 105, 5, 5);
fill(400, 9, 0);
text("Happy Hour of Code, Team 15!", 60, 300);
fill(72, 255, 0);
triangle(195, 250, 390, 250, 290, 45);
fill(77, 10, 10);
rect(270, 250, 40, 20);
fill(255, 0, 0);
text("Ms. Devlin's First Code with Khan Try It", 20, 350);


Project 2
I feel like a baby learning to walk--happy with myself, delighted, want to try some more. . .

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Google+: Idea Share System

It occurred to me today that Google+ serves as a great idea share system for a learning community such as a school system. You're probably nodding your head wondering why it took me so long to make this connection especially since I belong to a number of Google+ communities.  I know the connection took time because it has taken me some time to really embrace Google+.  In fact, I'm still learning as evidenced by an error I made yesterday--small error, but an error that increased my awareness of the platform.

So how would you use Google+ for your learning community share?

First, create and define your community and notify those whom you want to be involved. For example, my share with "Wayland Public Schools" includes students, families, community members, educators, and leaders.  I recognize that's my audience, and I avail myself to the community's ideas and response. Create a list of protocols. Here are the protocols I'll use as I begin to share with my colleagues with greater focus:
  • Share with the attitude of "Here's what I'm doing? What do you think? Do you have ideas, resources, or questions for revision or enrichment?"
  • When met with quandary, worry, or potential problems, ask questions, and if the information could be embarrassing, contact an individual in person to discuss the matter. As information, teaching, and learning change, it's impossible for any of us to be exact with all facts, concepts, and approach, hence we need to curate each other's work, collaborate, and even debate.  If we don't risk teaching and learning about sensitive subjects, deep content, and thought provoking questions, we will not prepare children well--hence we need to be open to learning, revising, and developing our practice.
  • Give credit when credit is due, and if someone shares without credit, let them know. In this age of idea share we have to move forward in this regard with best intentions--we won't be perfect due to the rapid speed and volume of ideas.
  • Think about the whole community: What will benefit the whole community? How will our collaboration and share impact our collective work and contribution to the learning community? 
  • Use names mostly with permission otherwise don't use names. The only time I use names without permission is if it is a clear, direct compliment that is publicly known and embraced.
  • Don't expect feedback or response unless a direct request is made to individuals. Have the attitude that the information is there for the taking, but "the taking" is not required.
  • Share information that's easily shared online and serves to start the curation process. This will save valuable time for teaching children a well-crafted curriculum program.
I've noticed that nearby systems are beginning to use Google+ and other social media platforms with greater intent and share. Groton-Dunstable and Burlington are two systems in Massachusetts that I notice sharing to the learning community with intent, focus, and breadth. There are probably others that I am unaware of.

Is your learning community branching out to social media with greater transparency, share, and collaboration?  If so, what are the positive results of this share, and what are the challenges? Is this a direction that you value? If so, why?  If not, why not? Have you written about this? 

The system-wide idea share systems I've been longing for are probably right here before my eyes via Twitter, Google+ and more.  I plan to think more on this in the days to come, and I welcome your thoughts and ideas. 

Narrative Writing Unit 2013-2014

Last year we turned our narratives into multimedia
compositions as outlined on in this post.
I have written a lot about the teaching of writing in the past few years. It is a primary focus for fourth graders in Massachusetts as well as children throughout the country as we implement the Common Core.

Last year we prepared students carefully for the typical personal narrative prompt that the State of Massachusetts had given to fourth graders for multiple years. Our preparation took a dramatic turn on the morning of the test because the young children, many who are still at a very literal stage of thinking and understanding, were stunned when they read the prompt. I knew that because they looked at me wide-eyed from their desks as I sat at the proctor table unable to help. I could hear quiet exclamations such as, "I haven't done that? Can I make it up?  How do I do this?" Later during the test, the few that really embraced the task, begged me, "Can't I read it to you? You'll love it?" wanting to share their imaginative stories, but I had to reply, "Sorry I'm not allowed to read any of your stories, but I'm sure you did a good job."

Now that the prompt has been published for all to see, we know why students were wide-eyed and speaking with worried whisper. The prompt was not asking for a personal narrative, but a fictional narrative instead. We didn't make the time to prepare students for that possibility though the possibility was clearly stated in the standards. I wonder why Massachusetts leaders decided to take that turn in the road without any direct heads-up to teachers who had worked for years on the personal narrative genre. I know there's many good reasons for fostering fictional narrative writing so I'm not opposed. I also noticed that there was an ongoing study about creativity with a local University so I wonder if that had something to do with it.

Whatever the reason, we heeded the message, and this year we're spending multiple hours nurturing students' writing skills in all of the mandated genre areas including reading response across genre, informational, persuasive, and narrative (both fictional and personal). I've told students that the goals for fourth graders are life-long learning goals, so we'll do our best this year to get a strong start, but that doesn't mean we'll end the year proficient in all of these areas since good writing is a life-long challenge, one that writers continually develop as they read and write regularly.

With this in mind, we started the year with a terrific collaborative approach to persuasive writing, and tomorrow we'll begin our revised approach to the narrative unit with a two-day workshop led by Leslie Laud. Leslie has been working with our system for a few years now, and over time I have come to regard her work with respect. She essentially makes the time to develop, organize, present, and promote research-based practice in teaching trainings to move students' learning forward with multiple approaches including the powerful SRSD approach.  I've grown to appreciate Leslie's work because she respects teachers' voice and our need to respond to individual students as John Hattie supports in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers. Leslie and our ELA Director, Karyn Saxon, craft wonderful collaborative learning endeavors for educators which in turn impact our students in engaging, productive ways. So I know I'll learn a lot tomorrow.

Tomorrow's workshop will lay the foundation for the six-week narrative unit. To prep, I gathered my narrative work and efforts into one document. Tonight, I'll also take another look at Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, to prepare myself to learn with a 21st century mindset, one that values story in important ways. Then tomorrow as I learn from Leslie and Karyn as well as the multiple educators from a variety of grades, schools, and districts, I'll begin to chart the unit activities with a beginning to end focus. I'll add to the chart as we go along, and then place all the chart information into a personal narrative website to use as a guide for parents, students, colleagues and myself. Then when the teaching starts in earnest in January, I'll follow the schedule we've created, revise according to students' needs, and work to help each child learn to write well crafted narratives with voice, organization, and engagement.

I truly enjoy the planning for such a terrific unit, and similar to travel, I look forward to the surprises, professional learning, and challenges ahead. I love to see the excitement in children's eyes as they learn with engagement, just right challenge, creativity, and growth. In the meantime, if you have ideas, links, or information to share, please do. The fact that we can collaborate online and off to grow our practice for the benefit of student learning is awesome. Hence I look forward to your wonderful ideas.

The Culture Project: 2013-2013 School Year

The 4th grade Culture Celebration continues to evolve as we embed new standards, develop collaborative practice, and work with new groups of children.

What remains is the fact that this project builds community, self awareness, knowledge, understanding, and respect.

Rather than hide our cultural roots or interests, the projects display children's curiosity, insights, background, and newly developed skill, concept, and knowledge.

This year's project will have many similar components to the past projects including the following:
  • A guiding project website which we revisit each year to review and refine. 
  • Study of immigration, migration, and culture.
  • Research, writing paragraphs, and presenting information on the five F's of culture: flag, family/faith, fashion, food, and fun.
  • Images, artifacts, and captions.
  • A food to share with the class.
  • A grade-wide bulletin board that celebrates our cultural diversity.
  • A family celebration.
  • Student "headline" introductions.
This year we may even have the chance to make a grade-wide film that displays each child and their statement about the culture they're studying and the reason why that's important to them.

As we grow the project more in year's to come we've been discussing the need to embed even more discrete lessons on research skills and informational text writing. I'd also like to involve students more in the area of essential questions and project focus.  Right now we have a similar focus for all which serves children well with regard to sharing information with each other and families, but more input from children at the start of the project will likely develop even more engagement. 

The next few days will be days of focused attention to editing, poster making, bulletin board design, headline writing, museum creation, and presentation practice.  All the while we need to keep the primary focus of this project center stage--the chance to celebrate our cultural similarities and differences with the message that our diverse cultures make us a more dynamic community of friends and learners. 

Related Posts:
Culture Flags: Introductory Activity

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Think Day

What would happen if educators had one day a week to think, study, and learn--a day that's not intended for response or planning, but a day to simply surf the web question after question leading to discovery, understanding, and new ideas.

Like a world tour, a think day brings you to places you didn't imagine at the start of the day.

Today was one of those days.  I started with a morning thought about creativity in response to a few classroom events. Then I began reading about creativity which spurred many more ideas related to our current curriculum, collaboration, and professional learning.  After that I learned and relearned of a number of new tools and inventions for exploration and study, tools that would benefit my students--tools similar to those we asked for earlier in the year, but tools too new for the greater learning community to support at this time.

I conferred with a colleague about the new learning online which prompted new questions and research threads. A think day in the Internet age serves to free your mind, invigorate new ideas, and prompt you to refocus once again.

When was your last think day?  What did you discover?  Where did it lead you, and how did you revise your priorities afterwards?