Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Assessing New Ideas

How do you assess new ideas and practice?

Human nature often negates new ideas rather than embrace them.

Yet, if we think of new ideas with relation to student learning, we can ask the following questions when assessing the idea.
  • Are students engaged, curious and motivated?
  • Does the idea lift the learning quality of individuals and the community?
  • Is the culture enhanced by the idea?
  • Does the new idea help students to become more capable, creative and accomplished?
  • Does the new idea contribute to the school vision and mission?
  • Will students' lives be enhanced by the idea?
New ideas have the potential to move our individual and collective practice forward, and it's important that we evaluate those ideas with students' interest first. 

Professional Practice Priorities

Again and again I prioritize.  Why?

I prioritize because there is unlimited potential in education today, but time and energy are limited.

Hence, at this fork in the road I prune and detail the landscape around me mindful of the essential questions I posed a while back.

Where am I headed:
  • Effective math teaching and test review.
  • Project base learning/endangered species unit.
  • Enhanced literacy studio.
    • fluency 
    • independent/small group reading/writing
    • interactive read aloud/comprehension strategies
  • Learning design study and research.
  • STEAM study and learning.
  • NBPTS Renewal.
My overall goal is that my study and work affects student learning in positive, engaging, and empowering ways. Once your goal list is simple and straightforward, you know you're ready for thoughtful action.  

Where are you headed at this turn in your professional path? 

Math MCAS Prep: Math Sing Along

We've been practicing our math vocabulary with song.  With a host of YouTube songs and others, we've been having a bit of fun with our test review with sing alongs.

Do you use song to practice math concept and vocabulary?  Better yet, do your students create their own songs to learn and practice what they've learned.

Ready access to lyrics, dance steps, music and video is one more way that the Internet enlivens the work we do with children each day?

If you have a favorite math song, please share.  My students are particularly excited about the "I'm a Quadrilateral" dance and tune.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Idea Roll Out

How do you roll out new ideas?  I've always thought that everyone rolled out ideas in similar ways to me, but I'm learning that's not true.

Here's how I typically roll out new ideas.

1. I keep a list of ideas. I ponder those ideas and add to them as time goes along.  Then when the time is ripe, I roll out the idea. I typically begin an idea roll out about one or more months ahead of the actual implementation stage.  That leaves room for error, conversation, review and revision.

2. First, I share the idea with all those who are related to the idea.  I ask for their initial thoughts, reactions and ideas. I check to always make sure that the idea's focus is where it should be, and that the idea has integrity.

3. Next, I make a start to finish plan for the idea roll out. I keep an online copy which I use for reflection, details and notes. I try to keep the work to schedule. I share the idea roll-out information with those involved.

4. I carry out the plan, stopping now and then to revise and reflect with those involved. Plan changes and revisions are noted.

5. When the plan and implementation are complete, I reflect and create next steps.

Often problems and plans are presented without a time line, schedule or organization.  Sometimes plans just land at your footstep without input, discussion, debate or reflection.  When plans and ideas get the attention they deserve and are communicated well, the results are most always much better than when the plan is a last minute surprise.

The book, Intentional Interruption, relayed the fact that one of the biggest issues with change and growth is that people don't spend enough time on problem analysis.  Spending the time up front for innovation and change is worth the effort.

Making Dull Learning Interesting

Yes, not every lesson can be exciting  Sometimes due to time and content, a lesson has to be direct and dry.

This morning I have a lesson like that.  The lesson involves a review of test material.  I tell students, "It's my obligation to introduce you to all the material on the test, to give you a chance to do your best."  We initially learned the material through engaging activity and events, but now I want, and need, the review to be explicit as we focus on content detail.

I'll start the lesson with the following statement, "It's important to me that you learn as much as possible this year as that's my job as your teacher.  Today we'll review the practice test so that I have a chance to answer your questions and remedy the small problems or questions that still occur with respect to the information.  Take out your pencils or thin-line markers, make notes and ask questions, lots of questions as we work together to gain mastery of the information."

Then step by step, problem by problem, we'll review the practice test.  Then I'll assign another practice test for this week's study, a test we'll review on Friday. Not every lesson includes bells and whistles, yet every lesson has a purpose, and when you share the activity purpose and rationale with students that creates investment, purpose, and response taking a dull lesson and making it meaningful.

The Move-Up Letter

In a couple of months we'll meet our new class. The students go to their next year's classroom and teacher for a short time to meet and converse. I typically ask students to share with me examples of learning events that they have really enjoyed and learned a lot from. Then I embed that knowledge into my summer planning and learning design.

Move-Up Day is a bittersweet day. Bitter because you're reminded that your students this year are about to move on, and sweet because you're meeting your new students.

As part of that exchange, the new students bring home a move-up letter. That move-up letter essentially begins the next year of learning with information, a supply list, and summer study suggestions.  Each year the move-up letter changes.

This year's move-up letter will include the following information:

  • Teacher introductions.
  • Classroom Program and Philosophy.
  • A Link to the Curriculum Outline.
  • Summer Study Opportunities:
    • Sum Dog English/Math
    • Blogging (KidBlog or a class Google site)
    • Photo collection on a designated online site to support student writing/share.
    • Reading
    • Xtra Math
    • Tynker
  • The teacher's email for questions/share.
  • Important dates: Curriculum Night, First Day of School. . .
  • Supply ist
The main objective of the move-up letter is to welcome the learning community to the new year to come with all the essential information as well as an invitation to converse via email over the summer months. 

Do you meet next year's students this year?  What is your Move-Up Day like?  Do you write and send home a letter?  If so, what do you include?  Thanks for sharing your ideas with regard to this important transition day. 

Who Do You Work For?

Yes, we all work for organizations, but who do you really work for?  Who is at the center of your creation, activity, and effort.

In the end, I work for my students.  They are at the center of my efforts and practice.  They are the muse that energize, motivate, and direct my work.  I enjoy serving their needs and helping them grow. That's why I became a teacher.

In schools, I believe that the students should have center stage--they should be the focus of our work, both independent and collaborative. If students are not the central consideration, then there's a problem to analyze and solve.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Edcamp Boston Enthusiasm

Edcamp Boston is right around the corner. I'm really looking forward to this event as it is a chance to connect with many dedicated educators I confer with online related to educational thought, exploration, and questions.  I'm also looking forward to meeting new invested educators and hearing about their ideas.

Dan Callahan, one of the edcamp founders and team members, wrote a post about edcamp philosophy and practice. The post was a great reminder of the people-centered, idea oriented nature of edcamps.  Edcamps serve as innovation incubators, connection centers, and support meetings. Educators gather with their questions, ideas, experience and effort to engage in dynamic conversation, grow their work and intersect ideas, strategies and processes.

I like to prep a bit before attending an edcamp because the experience is an event filled with multiple learning, sharing and discussion opportunities.

I want to start the day by just taking it all in. I want to look around and notice all the educators who are there, those I know and those who are new to me.  I want to listen carefully as the edcamp Boston team introduces the day.  Then I'll take a close look at all the offerings on the session board to see what sparks my interest and curiosity.  I'm fairly open minded at this point because we've got a lot of positive efforts in the works at my school right now. We've hurdled a number of obstacles and new learning endeavors in the past year, and although there are new challenges on the horizon, I'll be attending edcamp ready to listen, learn and share.

If the board's offerings don't spark me, I have a number of topics I'm curious about right now and may start a session on one of the following topics:
  • Tynker
  • The New Science Standards
  • Socrative, Evernote
  • Animation Projects and Tools
  • Multimedia Literacy Studios
  • The intersection of music with multimedia composition and STEAM
Last year I really wanted to learn more about blended learning so I started a session.  I learned a lot and tried to follow up with a weekly chat, but that didn't work out mostly due to scheduling issues.  I also had the chance to work with a great young teacher in a session about overcoming obstacles related to new practice, and I spent a considerable amount of time chatting, thinking and writing about ed ideas.

Will you be at edcamp Boston or another edcamp soon?  If so, what do you hope to learn and how will you approach the event?  I hope to attend a number of edcamps this summer and next fall to continue the learning.  Thanks once again to the innovative edcamp founders and teams who started this invigorating, dynamic professional exchange.  

Massachusetts New Teacher Evaluation System: Reflections

9/2/2013 Note: An updated collection of timely posts and information related to the MA evaluation system can be found on the TeachFocus website.

This year I've been part of a system-wide pilot with regard to the new Massachusetts' Teacher Evaluation system. As part of the pilot, I went through the many steps associated with this process. Also as part of the pilot, my pilot colleagues and I will support our colleagues as they go through the steps next year.

In the best light, the new evaluation process is a chance for teachers to develop a reflective, targeted, research-based professional practice. Teachers can stay one step ahead of this process by completing the following steps.

1. Read the Massachusetts Teachers' Association (MTA) New Evaluation Guide. This guide is succinct, and provides links to the Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) evaluation forms and process outlines.

2. Organize your professional work online and off. I recommend the following:
  • Begin a reflective blog, journal, chart, website or document where you keep track of signature events, challenges, questions and efforts in words and images. This document can be private or public depending on your goals. A document like this will help you to build and develop your professional work. This is an example of my blog.
  • Create an online (public or private) ePortfolio with your resume, recertification chart and professional work/evaluation document. Here is my example
  • Understand your system's vehicle for documentation. The system I work for is trying out TeachPoint and as I work with it, the software seems simple and manageable. Interact with the chosen system to learn it well. 
3. Take the time to do a thoughtful self-assessment using state or system rubrics.  It's worth the effort to understand where you stand with regard to standards for excellence in our profession.  When you look at the Massachusetts' standards you will note that they are numerous, but they are also worthy teaching goals.

4. Write SMART goals that benefit your students, professional work and system.  Well-written SMART goals will leave you with work that matters. I outline that process in this post. My SMART goals really served to improve my practice and effect this year. 

4. Ask questions throughout the process so you understand the process, systems and expectations well. Use the summer months to prep your organization, documentation and understanding.

At first sight this new evaluation process seemed overwhelming as there was so much paperwork and so many new systems, yet now that we're heading towards the last month of the pilot, I feel much more comfortable with the process. Our pilot included the following components which helped to create this comfort level:
  • The elementary school principals worked with us to create a system of goal setting, evidence collection, and documentation. The collegial aspect of the pilot made it safe to ask questions, share concerns and develop understanding. During next year's roll-out we'll want to create that same safe space for teachers embarking on the system for the first time. We'll also want to create a time line for teachers so they know what to expect and what's expected.
  • An expert consultant worked with us so that we could understand the system well.  I outlined that effort in a blog post
  • We were introduced to the online software as a group and were able to benefit from each other's exploration and questions. 
How have you learned about or interacted with the new Massachusetts' Teacher Evaluation system?  What systems, processes or efforts have helped you to understand and interact with this system successfully?  What tips would you offer to teachers who are embarking on this system for the first time?

I believe it's essential for teachers to stay one step ahead of state and system-wide efforts and actions as that gives the teacher a comfortable starting point for collegial effort with respect to teaching children well.  I look forward to any advice, links or suggestions you may have as we move forward to assist our colleagues with this process.

Related Posts
TeachFocus is a website that illustrates the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation expectations with depth. This website can be used to lead reflection and efforts to optimize your teaching practice.

MA Eval System

TeachFocus Website Introduction

The First Eval Meeting 

Chart Your Path: Navigating MA Teaching Initiatives

Teacher Evaluation: Lesson Planning

Teacher Evaluation Systems: Prepare

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Creating a Collective Infographic: Ideas?

I've been wanting to engage students with infographics. My students are fourth graders hence they're just beginning to use data and statistics to gain meaning, foster discussion, and prompt action.

In two weeks I'll begin our endangered species study introduction. To do this, I've decided to introduce the information through data and statistics activities as a way to both teach data and statistics standards as well as a way to show students how data provides meaningful information in multiple formats. Students will learn to both analyze data and statistics formats as well as create their own infographics. In the end, the class will have created a collective infographic bulletin board(s) of data and statistics related to endangered species study. We will use this infographic to inform our follow-up independent research, project work, and presentation.

Since this is my first attempt at creating a collective infographic, I am open to any information you can supply to help me utilize the best tools and formats. With my current knowledge, I have created the following learning path.

1. I will research the data myself to find the most current data and resources.  I will create a document that includes that data.

2. I will also research infographic design and collect the best information sites.

3. I will design a number of whole class, small group and independent activities that will help students learn about, research, interpret and create infographics.  I will use data related to endangered species study.

4. The class will create a presentation of their data in one or more large bulletin board infographics.  We'll photograph the infographics so that we can share the information digitally as well.

At the start of any new unit I like to integrate new learning and venues that bring students' knowledge and skill up to date in meaningful ways.  This infographic path will give us all a new path of investigation, exploration and learning.

Helpful Links to Explore
Infographic Tools

Friday, April 26, 2013

Today's Blended Math Program

The Math MCAS test is right around the corner in Massachusetts, hence we're in heavy math mode. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoy teaching math. It's amazing to relay concepts in pictures, numbers, words and problems, and then see students strive to understand and apply the concepts in meaningful ways. When students err, I point out that we've found an area for growth and understanding, and using a math workshop model I conference with students to tease out the errors to help students make meaning.

As I planned this year's review, I was once again amazed at the multiple resources available online and off.  It certainly is a "brave new world" of math education given the tremendous resources at our finger tips.

The key for the teacher is to blend those resources in ways that emphasize math practice, standards and mastery.  One book or text is insufficient today when it comes to math education as we now have the ability to craft a much more personalized approach to math learning for every child and family using the multiple resources available. Yet a streamlined online or offline text can offer teachers a solid guide.

This year I've been able to blend the following tools for math growth and strength. Typically I introduce a standard, assess, and then plan for the differentiated roll-out of the standard employing past concepts for review and new concepts for learning through the use of multiple tools.  I assess as I move along the standard path, adjusting instruction and materials as I go to best teach the students.

These are some of the wonderful math education tools and processes I used this year. I look forward to updating my class math website this summer to emphasize the best of tools and links as I move forward with math education and understanding.

Tools and Processes:

That Quiz: Free online program where students and teachers can easily make short (or long) concept/skill tests for student practice and assessment.  There is quick feedback and score reports for the teacher.

Symphony Math: An online math model approach to math education that places students at their current level and uses many personalized activities to move students up the ladder of math understanding.  What I like best about this tool is that it forces students to see numbers as models.

SumDog: An engaging online math game that meets students at their current skill level and provides many enjoyable, interactive games and contests for practice

YouTube: YouTube has countless math videos that explain concepts and provide wonderful ways to practice concept knowledge such as songs and dances.

The Internet: There are countless sites to find and print math worksheets such as mathdrill.com. There are also multiple creation sites that help one create tailored math practice materials such as crossword puzzles, comics and more for math practice and review.

Google apps: Google table provides a wonderful vehicle for quickly creating and sharing personalized, responsive math assignments, projects, sites and templates.

Paper/Pencil: Students continually draw, create and make math models to learn and explain concepts. Often they do this in their hard copy math journals.

Manipulatives: We have a solid supply of manipulatives that help students identify and depict mathematical concepts.

Xtra Math: This is a great site for fact practice which can be used at home or in school for free.  The site tracks students' progress and need.

State MCAS Materials: Problems and tools available online through the Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

RTI: This year we started using the RTI approach in math.  This has given us more time and staff to target specific math learning needs for students.

Quick Time/iMovie: These two resources have been terrific for student and teacher content creation which emphasize "math talk" and explanation.

Math Workshop: A differentiated approach that includes a focus lesson, small group and independent math exploration and work, math conferences and share.

Math Project Base Learning: Engaging, meaningful math projects that provide multiple, relevant opportunities for students' math exploration, learning and share.

Math Tech Time: At this time a menu of differentiated, targeted math links are placed online.  Students work on computers and follow those links to strengthen their skill.  The teacher is able to conference one-to-one and monitor the class's work/efforts with a steady stream of online reports.

This short list demonstrates only a fraction of the wonderful math tools and processes available for student learning today. The key is to find the best tools; tools that are both streamlined and engaging hence leaving most of the time for mathematical thought, practice, share and presentation.

How do you create an engaging, standards-based, blended math program for your students?  How do you work collaboratively with your peers to create, develop and strengthen your program?  What tools, strategies and practice do you find most useful?  What challenges still exist?

I'm anxious to give Kahn coaching, Manga High and Tynker greater attention as I incorporate further tools. I'm also looking forward to building my students' ability and efforts with regard to brain-friendly lessons, math talk and problem solving. Math education today is one terrific area for learning investigation and growth--one that I look forward to developing more.  I look forward to your thoughts and ideas in this regard.

Related Information
Blended Learning Article

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Education Journey: Rerouting One's Path

Sometimes the answers you seek are not readily available.

You ask and ask, but the answers are not there.

That's the time to shift directions and find another path to meet goals and vision. In this info-laden age of quickly changing tools, processes, knowledge and strategies, growth potential is extraordinary.

Hence, it is more essential than ever to chart the course, plan the path, and reroute when necessary.

As a classroom teacher, my focus is on holistic student development and growth that meets standards and responds to students' needs, interests and passions.

Standards are broad and deep requiring thoughtful introduction, effective practice, meaningful discussion and timely response.

Students' needs require attention to traditional skills as well as critical introductions and practice with new tools and processes.  They desire relevant, meaningful, responsive, joyful learning opportunities with kind, caring and invested teacher coaches to guide and support their journey.  Families seek a teacher as an advocate and support as well--educators who work positively to bring children forward with skill, understanding, confidence and joy

Ideally systems work with teachers for optimal growth, innovation and effort, but that's not always possible in all ways since the education landscape today is complex and riddled with multiple challenges. Hence teachers must often chart their course alone or with close colleagues enlisting support from parents, willing leaders, and the community to serve children.

Teaching well is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.  There are many paths available, and it is essential that each teacher navigate his or her path towards effective practice.

What have you found to be a positive path towards best practice?  How do you navigate events that challenge your potential and work?  What are the components of a healthy, happy education journey?  These are all questions I consider as I reroute my path once again to teach children well.

The Synergy of Tackling Big Problems

I like to tackle big, meaningful problems with collaborative groups.

I like the energy, learning, debate, and outcomes this kind of problem analysis and solution work brings to an organization.

I enjoy gaining multiple new perspectives, ideas and actions when it comes to a situation. I like the challenging, disruptive and growth-producing energy and synergy that occurs when this work is done well.

When we tackle issues in our organizations, classrooms or systems, what problems stand forth as the biggest, most intrusive problems--the problems that really cause a divide between good work and great work?  How can teams rally around those issues to make effective change?

That's not to say the small issues are unimportant.  Little things can disrupt the good work that's possible, and those need attention too. Some argue that the strength of organizations lie in righting the small wrongs, but I think tackling the big, important problems or goals is the best way to build community, collaboration and a job well done.  Do you agree?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Truthfully I ask questions because I want to know the answer. Answers fuel my inquiry, direction, and journey in the education sphere.

Yet at times questions are met with unexpected response, complexity and challenge.

Perhaps that lies in the way the question is posed, or the context with which the question is positioned.

Yet, a question is a question--nothing more or nothing less, it is simply a quest for understanding, opening the door to greater meaning.  Sometimes a question is met with a complete response, and other times a question is met with a short response or even another question.

It seems that questions are more complex than I originally thought, but still if knowing will make a positive difference, it's important that you ask.

There's No Time for Grudges

While the temptation to hold a grudge is great, there's no time for grudges if you're thinking ahead towards positive action and endeavor.

Conflict happens. Injustice happens too. Division arises, and separation exists. None of this can stand in the way of forward movement. The challenge is to analyze the situation, cull the truth and move forward.

It's challenging to easily forgive or forget those who we perceive as our hindrances in life--the ones that distance us from our goals, pursuits and happiness. But the truth is that the longer we hold the grudge, the longer the grudge serves as an anchor to our positive direction.

Hence, there's no time for grudges. Get to the bottom of it, and move on. (Easier said than done, but a worthy goal nonetheless!)

That Quiz: Terrific Math Review

I've been using the wonderful website That Quiz for tailored math practice, review and assessment.

Today we had a wonderful math tech hour featuring That Quiz as we prepped for the upcoming math MCAS test.

Prior to the start of the year, I set my students up as a That Quiz class.  Then for today's math tech lab, I created a number of tests with 20 review questions on topics ranging from area and perimeter to geometry to measuring and more.

Once students completed their paper/pencil problem solving packets, they got a lap top, logged into our Math menu on our class website and began linking to the tests. As I helped individuals at my table, I had my lap top open with the test results in front of me. I told student that they had to get 80% or above on each test, and if they got less than 80% they had to retake the test.  I welcomed students to come up to me with their lap tops with questions.

As I watched the scores come in and helped students at my table, I could hear lots of chatter all around the room as students coached each other on the tests.  Their conversation included lots of math vocabulary and trouble shooting as they reviewed and practiced each skill.  When students came up with questions, I could clearly see what was causing them trouble with the concept.  Also many students were calling out to me, "Ms. Devlin, please reset my test so I can take it again."
    I responded, "Do you need my help?"
    And they typically answered, "No, ______ taught it to me," or they came up to me with questions.  I always tell the students, "I love questions; that's a true sign of intelligence."

Unlike days of old when students would labor over problems, pass in their papers and wait for the teacher to correct the set, the quick-feedback tests on That Quiz offer instant feedback as well as online measuring tools such as rulers and protractors and problem images and models.  That Quiz also offers the teacher a spreadsheet of scores to refer to and analyze as he/she plans follow-up lessons and practice.

What online tools do you use to give students practice and review with math concepts?  How do you organize the use of those tools for best effect and optimal student learning?

This is one way that technology is positively affecting the work we do each day as educators.

Developing Craft: Survey

A survey can provide educators with valuable information with regard to developing his/her craft.

The way the survey is created is important as surveys can be created simply to restate the known or surveys can be created to encourage greater growth, depth and effort.

Sharing a survey with the learning community can be daunting as we all know that there are areas for improvement--one cannot be all things. Yet giving voice to those you serve in an anonymous way has the potential to elicit development seeds for your craft and practice.

Hence, I'm about to craft a simple survey to let those in my learning community assess my work and practice. I will be looking for trends related to communication, response, direct service and care. I will also use the survey to express my intent with each area so that the community understands the intended direction and philosophical foundation of each question prior to answering the question.

There are many ways to assess one's practice in education including children's daily affect (are they happy?), project work, the quality of questions, parent conference interchanges, students' daily work and effort, test scores, professional evaluations and more.  The survey will lend one more lens as to how to lead my work forward in the days and weeks ahead.

Do you use a survey as part of your own evaluation process?  If so, what kinds of questions do you include, and how do you systematically respond to the results?  In days to come, I'll share the survey questions, response and follow-up actions.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Community, Culture, Relationship

No matter how wonderful new tools and strategies are, the success of schools depends on community, culture and relationship?

What kind of community do you foster?

What aspects of culture do you promote and support?

How do you build, develop and strengthen professional relationships?

Digital tools bring tremendous potential and promise to schools including the fact that those tools streamline work so that there's more time to develop community, culture and relationship.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Too Much Money?

Money is simply a currency of exchange. We assign monetary value to events, services and products, and we affirm those values with the way we spend and work for money.

When individuals complain that something costs too much money it makes me wonder about our patterns and systems with regard to money and exchange. After all, we are a people with unlimited potential for shift and change, and how we assign the values to the work we do and patterns of exchange comes from us.

So in this complex world, I'm wondering how we can redefine our current systems of exchange in order to build safe, healthy, happy communities. How can we work together so that our time and effort is utilized to optimize environmental protection, education, safety, the arts and individual freedoms and pursuit?  How can we collectively rework our system of government so that we truly use our current potential to support "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for all.

It's a quickly changing world; one that calls for new systems, strategies and patterns to promote positive growth and development. I sense that these innovative systems will mostly begin at the local levels and then grow if deemed worthy. If we're committed to positive change as a people, it is time that we make personal sacrifice and contribute time and effort to realize effective change.

I'm wondering what I can do in this regard. First, it's essential that I begin thinking carefully about who I support with my dollars. Next, in my work I need to look for areas where I can make money-free exchanges for growth and development. After that, I'll also look for positive ways to build capital to effect greater change. What will you do? How will you effect change in this regard so that we have the collective dollars to do what matters.?

A Simple, Imperfect Voice

I read an excerpt about pundits ridiculing a leader recently about his "voice."  They sought to minimize the leader's words and oration. I felt a pang as I read their critique because like that leader I am not always respected for my simple words, fourth grade teacher perspective, female lens, and at-times text with errors.

Yet, I continue to write.

Like that leader I'm on the front line each day. I don't have multiple support staff to edit my prose or review my speeches. I haven't had the luxury of lots of time to hone my skill. Yet, I have had substantial support along the way, enough to give me the tools, words and confidence to express my point of view, and I believe in the freedom of speech and the right for every American (and world citizen) to express his/her point of view with their best ability as well as the responsibility to be respectful and mindful of the potential powerful effect of words.

I encourage everyone to take the time to express their opinion. I especially encourage those who may be worried about their prose, grammar, and ideas to not stay silent, and instead try out voice to both broaden and deepen our collective lens as thinkers and decision makers.

When we ridicule others' speak, particularly those who are making a concerted, respectful effort to share thought, uplift a crowd, or create important debate, we serve to silence others around us.  Instead, I suggest that critical pundits focus more on intent with respect on local dialect, the speaker's history and his/her service. In the same regard, I believe that those who know more about oration should offer suggestions and direction rather than ridicule.

As an educator, this discussion reminds me that it is a new era for voice. With easy share, words are more numerous and powerful than ever. People are using words and oration in multiple new ways via the Internet and live presentations continuously. Pundits and critics abound. Multiple false words and hidden identities exist as well. Just last night a hacker took over the 60 Minutes Twitter Feed espousing all kinds of negative, angry speak, and throughout the Boston Marathon tragedy, both truth and falsehoods were shared readily.

How will we best teach our students about the importance of words, voice and speak?  In what ways will we allow our students to practice this skill? When will they have the chance to critically and respectively analyze text, prose, blogs, tweets and articles looking for truth, connection and impact? As we make this incredible turn in the education road, voice is a central theme to consider. I am wondering how you will consider and employ this theme in the work you do?  I am open to your thoughts and share.

Education Change?

As I get ready for the next leg of the school year, I am wondering why I am so married to the notion of change. Why not leave things as they are?

The simple answer to that question is that we need change because change has the potential to better our work and serve children with greater care, understanding, specificity and strength.

In any profession, there is always roms for growth and change, the potential to do a better job and contribute to a more beneficial effect, and that is why change is essential.

I looked for quotes to guide my thoughts today and came across this New York Times' post, "Falser Words Were Never Spoken," written by Brian Morton.  In his article he tells us the truth about the many quotes we use for inspiration as we move forward in life, and reminds us that ". . .thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price."

Hence as I move forward in the changing world of education, I remind myself of the following tenets:
  • Students First: All change in education should focus on the student and what is best for his/her life.
  • Collaboration: We cannot make substantial and effective change alone; we must collaborate and work together to effect positive change.
  • Change is Not a Race: While efficiency is integral to effective change, change is not a race for the best idea or quickest solution, instead it is an expected part of the ongoing process of education.  Change is a constant and a steady part of an effective educational system. 
  • New and Old: Change must synthesize the best of the new with the best of the old.
  • Meet Change with an Open, Analytical Mind: Do not hinder change with a close minded attitude, but also don't accept change just because it is new.  Debate, analyze, experience and finesse change for greatest effect.
In my sphere of education work, I am reminded of the many changes at play right now, and the great need to effectively promote positive change and work collaboratively to use change to do a better job by the children I teach. 

As noted before, the changes I'm focused on right now are the following:
  • An effective, multi-modal, blended math learning environment.
  • Learning design that emphasizes learning to learn, content and standards, and how learning can affect others' actions, thoughts, and quality of life. 
  • Community building.
  • Engaging and empowering students.
  • STEAM labs.
  • Learning Community Two-Way Coaching: parent/student--educator, colleague--colleague, leadership--colleague. . .
  • Collaboration 
Change brings promise to the work we do.  Change also brings a sense of joy and enthusiasm as we revise old practices and create new efforts to meet the challenges education poses.  Hence I'll return to work tomorrow with a renewed investment in moving education, both individual and collaborative efforts, towards change that will best support teaching children well. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Relentless Attention: Boston Marathon Reflection

Last Saturday I had no idea that a Boston Marathon criminal event would take center stage in my vacation week. First, I was sad and angry that criminals interrupted the lives of innocent people with such a violent act. Like everyone, I couldn't take my eyes off the bright smile and big eyes of innocent Martin Richard who was probably watching the runners with the dream of someday joining the event. I thought of my own bright-eyed children at home and in school as I read and listened to the stories of death and disablement the bombing caused.

Next, I was saddened that these same criminals took the time to disrupt a timeless, people-centered, joyful event that represents so much of what is good about life including hard work, fund raising, sport and community. The Boston Marathon is a signature event in New England culture as well as the culture throughout the United States and world.  Positive events like the Marathon serve to focus our attention, build community and give us something to celebrate and work for.

Then, I was frightened. Who did this? Where are they? Will other innocent people lose their lives this week? Why does this happen? I listened to the steps of the thoughtful investigators as they tried to figure out who committed this violent act. I read social media threads as "couch detectives" tried to solve the crime. I watched how the search narrowed in on two young men, and then how the manhunt served to find those men--killing one in an exchange of fire and arresting another. I gave a huge sigh of relief when both men were caught.

Now, many questions and trials are left to conquer as investigators and victims work to understand the entire situation, get their lives back on track, and move towards a brighter, safer future. I was also well aware of the many throughout the world that posted their own pain related to bombings, terrorism, crime and injury in their communities and countries--they wondered how America could spend so much attention and time on a crime that resulted in so few lost lives unlike the bombings that happen daily in their communities and world.

I'm left with a sense of pride and quest. I am very proud of the leadership, intelligence and effort demonstrated in this event by countless law officers, medical staff, families and community members. There was a tremendous outpouring of effort and humanity.

I'm also left with many questions. First, I wonder how we can help to dissuade young people from joining groups that foster hate and violence. This is a problem on an international level and on a local level.  In the news we read stories of young people who join international groups that foster violence and hatred; we read stories of young people who join local groups that also perpetrate crimes that injure innocent individuals and weaken communities, and we read stories of individuals who kill.  It isn't always young people, but it often is. What draws these people to such groups and activity?  What weakens their sense of humanity to a degree where they can consider, plot and carry out plans that harm innocent people? I believe there are actions we can take for our young in early life that will help to foster a greater sense of humanity and positive action. As a teacher, I know it's important that we foster an optimal education, community, care and advocacy in the early years so that young adults have the tools to live a good, positive life.  As a mom, I know it's important that I remain faithful to my young son's growth and development, supporting them with my best efforts and abilities. Also, as a culture we must make the time to do the work that matters and support communities in a way that creates the potential for quality lives for our young, lives that give them the impetus to move into adulthood with responsibility and care.

Next, this incident calls me to think more about our international work and connections. We were right to put so many resources in place to investigate this crime and help the victims. By doing this, our leaders demonstrated that we will not tolerate acts of this nature and that we do care about our citizenry. Yet, when others around the world cry out for our help, we can't turn away.  We have to look for ways to support their efforts toward peace in ways that are positive and life affirming.

The work and action of all involved in this terrible Boston Marathon tragedy served to diminish the bravado and power of hateful acts. As medical staff, investigators, leaders, families and communities worked together they served to model the best of what a community can be for all.  While this event began with an act of terror, it has resulted in showing the strength of positive collaboration and a focus on life demonstrating that every life matters and there is no room for violence and hatred. In the days that follow, it is my hope that our court system will also demonstrate tenacity and fairness as they further investigate this crime. I also hope that leadership, medical staff, families and communities will continue to pour forth their commitment and care to the many victims of this terrible event. Life will include painful trials, and it is the way in which we react to these trials that makes a difference and sets a more positive course for the future.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A New Learning Landscape: Perspective?

It's vacation week in Massachusetts. Essentially, for me, it has been a catch-up week of personal matters and school thought--a needed reprieve from daily practice.

Six days into the vacation has brought me clarity and energy.  I'm ready to embark on the end-year goals of math education, project base learning and literacy studio.  I know my students well and have many individual and collective goals at-hand for the students.

As I begin to think ahead I find myself desiring the broader view, the system-wide goals and vision.  In the old days I was content to hear this vision in the fall as learning didn't change a lot from year to year.  But today, an update in September seems too late as tools, processes and strategies are changing at a fast rate in this information age.  Children are coming to us with different skills, goals and questions due to their ready access to technology and learning at home. Plus, the potential to serve each child well in a personalized fashion is greater than ever before. We hold wonderful promise in our hands.

Yet, that promise demands that teachers hone their craft, research, and learn in order to catch-up with the quickly changing learning landscape around us. There's been a leap with regard to research, innovation and potential, and to sit by and just be satisfied seems to no longer be a plausible route to travel. Educators today need to take on the pace and direction that new learning offers because this new learning has the potential to empower and engage students in ways not possible before.

How has your vision and goal sharing changed since the onset of tech tools and innovation?  What is the best pace for the changing learning landscape?  What does this change look like? Am I impatient or am I rightly directed towards wanting to understand, create new paths, and revise our school environments, processes and efforts?  I welcome your thoughts and ideas?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

BAM Radio: Terrific Learning Menu Entree

BAM Radio, The Voice of the Educator Community is another wonderful entree on the educator's learning menu. In today's learning world, educators have numerous choices from which to choose when it comes to their learning engagement. Whether you choose social media, blogs, conferences, coaching, webinars, collaborative design, radio or all of the above, the one given is that you have the ready opportunity to develop your craft and deepen your knowledge with regard to teaching children well.

Since I'm an avid tweeter and Tuesday night #edchat fan, Tom Whitby and Nancy Blair, #edchat moderators, invited William Chamberlain and me to participate in last week's #edchat radio conversation about Content Creation. Similar to all new experiences, I was a bit frightened about participating in a medium I had not explored, but decided to jump right in and try it out.  And also similar to my past experiences with webinars, twitter chats, iMovie creation, Google hangouts and more, I found the experience to be exhilarating, profitable and enlightening.  I will revisit BAM regularly and probably couple my "radio" learning with exercise and daily chores as I catch up with missed #edchat topics, and both introduce myself to and review new educational concepts and learning leaders.

As an educator, this experience reminded me of our responsibility to introduce students to new mediums via their interaction with the platforms.  There's not a need for students to be fluent or perfectly prepared to engage with a new medium, and it is our obligation as educators today to both engage in new mediums ourselves and to bring those learning and sharing venues to our students.  In this regard, I'm wondering what new mediums you're currently exploring, and how you plan to engage both yourself and your students with that learning course.  Currently I am in the exploration phase of BAM as well as Tynker, Kahn Coaching and Code Academy--all platforms I hope to share with students soon.

Thanks once again to Tom and Nancy for inviting me to participate in their BAM #edchat radio show.  I hope to have the chance to participate again in the future.

Learning Conversation: Focus Effort

In this digital age there are numerous paths to follow.  Yet, to do your work well you must choose a few paths that really matter.  As you consider those paths you have to consider your ethics, values, time and energy.

I've been blogging for a number of years now.  The blog has mostly focused on the following topics:
  • School System Communication and Organization.
  • Teacher Voice and Balance.
  • Learning Design.
As I think about my career and work, I know that I want my primary focus to be work that positively engages and empowers children in ways that benefit individual lives and the world.  I want to give children the greatest chance of happiness, fulfillment and contribution.

I am fortunate to work in a school system that has wonderful tools, dedicated professionals and an eye on the future when it comes to systems, communication and organization.  That provides me with a terrific classroom laboratory for optimal learning design.  I enjoy weaving the best, new tools and processes with tried-and-true traditional practice to positively effect student learning.  I look forward to embedding the latest research into the work I do, and I benefit from collaboration with similarly focused educators near and far, online and off.  Hence, my primary focus at the moment is optimal learning design that embeds cognitive research, state-of-the-art tools and processes, and lifelong learning skills.  

By staying in the classroom and working with students on a daily basis, I am able to offer a front row seat to the learning process and design.  I believe that this hands-on, practical view can work to provide researchers, educational leaders and teacher colleagues the chance to see education through the lens of one classroom.  Similarly, I look forward to reading the posts of other classroom teachers who work in both similar systems and schools as I do and systems that differ greatly with respect to context, student population and focus.  

We all bring our unique perspectives and voice to the learning conversation that is ongoing via Twitter, blogs, books, research, conferences and other platforms.  And as we share our unique views and perspectives, it is essential that we are transparent about our aim and point of view. Hence at this turn in the road, I am recommitting to my work as a classroom teacher who is dedicated to designing learning events so that all children learn and grow with strength and promise. As educators know this is easier said than done, but a worthy direction nonetheless.

Why do you blog?  What is your goal?  Where is your direction?  With so many paths to travel, it is essential that we stop now and then to focus effort. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Aftermath: Building Communities of Peace and Love

Yesterday as my family drove back to our home in the Boston area from a weekend trip, we listened intently to the news related to the Boston Marathon tragedy. As Massachusetts' residents the Marathon has always been a signature event on the calendar.  Friends, family members and neighbors have run the Marathon over the years, and we've spent time along the sidelines cheering for them.

At first, we felt an anxious sadness as we listened to the news reports.  We worried about friends and family members wondering if we would know any of those hurt by this event.  Today, the sadness turned to anger. Why do people spend time planning, working and carrying out plans to hurt others? How could anyone focus their efforts on killing people and wrecking a positive, happy event?  Now many are contributing substantial time, effort, money and tears to clean up the mess, investigate the crime and heal the physical and emotional wounds--time, effort and money that could be spent on bettering lives, neighborhoods and schools.

My heart breaks for the Dorchester family and so many more who have experienced the loss of a loved one, pain and suffering.  I am also sad for those whose dreams were dashed after months of planning and preparing for the Marathon run. How does one react to senseless acts of hate and violence like this one?

For the time being, those like me who are removed from the situation can contribute by working to build more peaceful and loving communities. We can do this by looking for ways to lift our practice, effort and direction to that which serves to better what we do each day.  We can also work to support positive agencies of change, safety and healing--organizations that work to react to and rid our world of these kinds of criminal acts. Yesterday's Boston Marathon tragedy will stay with us for decades to come, and hopefully we can use this sad memory to energize our collective efforts towards greater good and care. This is one way that we can honor the lives of those who died and those who still suffer.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Last Leg of the School Year

Spring vacation begins today and then we embark on the final leg of the school year.  We'll spend the first couple of weeks back prepping for the math test, and then we'll embark on our project base learning chapter of the year.

The advantage to the last leg of the year is that you know your students well.  You've accomplished a lot together, and now is the time to solidify the essential skills introduced and synthesize the year's learning in worthy project base endeavor including guided research and question driven research/presentation.

Hence it's time to rest up a bit, enjoy family and friends, and then finalize the year with strength.

Spread the Good News and Share the Challenge!

Teachers want to know what's working. We want to hear the success stories--the ways our colleagues are positively impacting individual students and whole classes. We want to know what makes a difference.

At times leadership and teachers are reluctant to share the good news. Perhaps they fear competition or discouragement if they share best practice and resulting student engagement, happiness, or success. If done well however, sharing the good news can serve to lift the entire learning community.

The good news cannot be culled from a walk-through or observation as those are more staged.  Yes, you can pick up some ideas that way, but you really can't understand whole story in that way.  The best way to learn the story is to hear the beginning-to-end tale of how a teacher or team took a teaching/learning problem, strategized, implemented, and revised repeatedly until that teacher or team reached success with a student or class.

As you think about this teaching year what would you regard as a significant success, and what would you regard as an area where there's still room for growth.  For me, the significant success lies in teaching the students "learning to learn mindsets and habits" as that effort served to empower and lift the quality of student investment, effort, and outcomes.  The area where there's still room for growth is differentiation in math instruction.  Due to the varied rate of math concept, knowledge, and skill attainment as well as time constraints we are still challenged by this issue. I would like to work with others to utilize RTI and other efforts to more strategically and consistently meet the needs of all students with regard to math.

I hope that educators in my school and educators in my PLN will share their good news often as I'm eager to grow from their successful research, investment, and efforts.

New Ideas That Matter

Yesterday there was a sense of excitement as our PLC worked together to finesse our RTI English language arts program.  As I sat there I realized how far we had come as a community and team in the past few years with regard to the program including the use of data, the collaboration of curriculum director, reading specialist/coach, special educators and classroom teachers, and our student-centered strategies and efforts.

I was also excited because everyone in the group was supporting the use of technology and other great tools and strategies to build students' skill. Together the group discussed and problem solved around the goals of using a tech tool for differentiated homework and attaining a new tech tool to build students' fluency skills in an engaging way. In many ways this was the first time that the entire group was embracing tech with a sense of excitement and promise rather than caution and fear.

This aspect of our PLC and RTI is working very well for the following reasons:
  • Data collection is streamlined, targeted and scheduled.
  • Data reports are clearly reviewed, shared and discussed by all in the group.
  • There is a sense of routine and pattern to this effort, yet there is also room for student-centered innovation and creativity.
  • Our reading specialist/coach is an expert in the subject matter who both works with students and shares important research and knowledge on a regular basis.
  • We keep students center stage.
  • The Director is open and willing to help us attain helpful materials and entertain new ideas.
There have been a number of bold new ideas, growing pains, and tremendous work and effort by many that have made our ELA PLC efforts successful.  Overall this is an idea and effort that matters. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Support The Teacher of the Future

I have a futurist in my midst.  That teacher is spending hours researching and employing new strategies, tools and intent to engage and motivate her students.

I am watching. I am happily challenged.  I see promise. Research supports her efforts.

Some worry--they check the scores, compare old teaching and new, and fear we won't make the standards.

I say give the futurist a small budget and time each day to weave her modern magic and teach others about the learning to come.  We're lucky to have this teacher in our school. Let's not kill the spirit or suffocate the possibility--instead let's feed this wonderful path of innovation, engagement and change.

Then, when it comes to the scores, let's do that too.  Perhaps I exchange teaching times so the innovator can share her craft with my students while I share some tried and true standards-base lessons with her students--I'm an "old" teacher; I've been around for a while and can do that.  And, even though I'm a great advocate of all that is new and wonderful, I'm not as passionate as this vibrant teacher next door.

Schools today can be win-win as we weave new and old, traditional and modern, tried-and-true and innovative together to create a positive, multidimensional, vibrant path towards the schools of the future.

Lesson Revision

Yesterday I presented a well-crafted lesson only to find that there were many unexpected holes in the flow and organization.

Earlier I rushed through a supporting concept assuming most had grasped what seemed like a simple concept: coloring clock/circle models to show benchmark fraction amounts. Then I moved on to an activity where students compare fractions with models and numbers.  Many were stuck and frustrated.

Usually that's when I get frustrated too, but I had to realize that it was a lesson undone--a strategy that jumped too fast for the majority of the class.  So as soon as the assistant arrived to take the students out to recess, I revised the activity on the computer adding the missing pieces and structuring the flow more explicitly while the lesson's challenges were clear.

Today, I'll present the lesson again.  I'll explain to students that I had not anticipated the problems they faced yesterday and hopefully today the learning strategies and goals will be easier to grasp and learn.

Teaching is a "give and take," responsive, organic process that begins with a learning goal, proceeds with strategy choice, revision and personalization, and ends with successful learning. Today's lesson will still be quite challenging, but hopefully I've organized the presentation, practice and coaching in a way that will give students access and learning success.  We'll see. This is the aspect of teaching that both delights and challenges me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Accepting that perfection is what we reach for, but will never attain is an important step in living and learning.

The world constantly evolves. New ideas sprout continuously. Change happens.

The key is to walk the road with intent, vision and respect.

On the path there will be times when we're impatient and frustrated; times when we want to blame others for the slow movement, hindered change or challenge.  Yet, the hurdles are part of the path; they serve to strengthen our resolve, detail rationale and finesse our direction.

Find your pace, identify your destination(s) and walk gently down this road of life.

Speaking Up!

I'd rather not speak up.  I'd rather be quiet, smiling and unaware, but as a teacher if I don't speak up when I see promise and possibility then a child loses out.

As teachers we're working with people that matter--children, and if we speak up we can make a positive difference.

This doesn't mean I'm always right.  As an educator I am constantly faced with new situations, problems and events, and I respond with my experience, research and the best interests of the child in mind.  Often I agree to disagree with a parent or colleague in that regard, but even when this happens I keep thinking about the situation and wondering about the best course of action to serve the child well.

I've made a decision to respectively speak up when I see room for positive change and development.  I'm also willing to sit down and debate the best course of action.  I've decided to speak up because I want to look back at my career someday and be able to say that I did what I could to teach children well with action, voice and the best of my understanding and knowledge. I welcome your response in this regard.


There are many consultants available to me at an arm's reach to help me plan, assess my work and give me advice as to how to teach my 25 fourth graders well.

I read a lot; I try new ideas, and I creatively think plan the curriculum in targeted and personalized ways that are informed by assessments, observations and student/family discussion.

What I really need is more hands on deck--I need some professional, experienced support to further lift the work I'm doing with students.  For example, one consultant wants to help me better differentiate so I can meet the needs of all ability levels well.  I keep my classroom humming--everyone is busy with tailored work, but there are some students who need that one-to-one and small group help to meet the targets.  They are students who present in such a way that I know from my twenty-seven years of teaching that no matter how you restructure the class activity with 25 students, these students still need that teacher next to them coaching and helping, and often these students need that teacher in a separate setting--not a setting surrounded by 24 others. These students require skilled professionals too as their learning needs are complex. I know how to teach these students well, but I simply don't have enough time in the day to pull these students aside in this kind of caring, targeted setting.

Hence, I'd love to have the consultants come in, take a group and work their magic on the students. Then I could learn from seeing their work in action and the smiles on children's faces as they reach results in areas where they struggle. These consultants could email me about their approach, send me articles and tell me about their plan. Also while they work with one group,  I could work with others.

I'm the first one who will seek out professional advice and coaching via the Internet or in person when I have a teaching problem to solve. For example right now I'm trying to lift fluency scores for a select group of students.  I have the time; the students are willing, and I've tried a number of approaches. The students made good gains in the fall and now they've plateaued. I consulted with a specialist that works with children. She gave me great advice via email and will soon meet with our entire PLC to discuss that issue. After that I'll redesign the intervention and effort. I have time and space to do that since that specialist/consultant meets with our students regularly giving us the chance to serve fewer numbers and target our efforts with greater effect.

Hence, getting back to my original idea, consultants can be very helpful, but what some teachers need most is extra hands, people willing to come in, roll up their sleeves and work with students along the side of teachers. That approach creates a teaching team or community rather than the boss-worker relationship where a consultant comes in, watches, advises, but never really gets in there and makes a difference.

Thanks for listening, and know that I'm open to listening to other points of view as well.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Left out of the Loop?

Sometimes when information is not forthcoming or when cumbersome steps are put into place educators feel like they're left out of the loop of system-wide decisions and efforts.

It could be that as a classroom teacher it's not my position to be in the loop of decisions, thoughts and efforts in the early stage, and it could be that I'm too demanding when it comes to wanting to know what's going on or desiring streamlined, student-centered efficient systems of support. After all it's not a perfect world, and decisions and systems are not easy to implement.

Yet, when I'm in the loop, my work and research are more fruitful, and I'm not wasting time with back steps and work that will soon be deleted due to the fact that it's not in line with upcoming changes and decisions--the sooner I know of system-wide efforts, questions and change, the more my work can be in line with those changes, and that's positive and worthwhile.

A lot of the education conversation today is focused on teacher skills and effect.  With this in mind, I think it's in the best interests of educational organizations to keep teachers in the loops when it comes to discussions about curriculum focus, action and implementation.

Developing Literacy Studio

I'm taking a few minutes to observe literacy studio in action.  Students are relaxed and sitting around the room engaged in a number of literacy-related activities.  Most are listening and/or reading books of choice.  A few have chosen non-literacy activities which in some cases are okay, and in other cases signals an issue that I need to remedy.

Most of my students like to read, but a few still haven't developed the stamina and interest to sustain a lengthy period of independent reading. Most also read with fluency, but still a few need to develop that skill. As far as comprehension goes, there's still a range--a range I want to lift and address through book groups and interactive read aloud.

As I observe today, I am thinking about how I will grow literacy studio for the final leg of the year.

First, I'll start with a class meeting.  I'll list the goals of literacy studio which are to develop interest, fluency and understanding when it comes to reading.  Then I'll ask students for suggestions about how we can improve literacy studio so that we reach those goals.  I'll specifically ask about their feelings with regard book groups, partner reading, use of iPods and book selection.

Next, I'll take a close look at reading data and listen carefully to our upcoming progress monitoring PLC. I want to develop literacy studio so that all children have the chance to develop their literacy skills in advantageous ways.

Finally, after vacation, I'll introduce the new routine and explain that I've lifted the expectations and length of time to help students get ready for the fifth grade literacy expectations.  The classroom is filled with wonderful books and we're also right next door to the library.  We have RTI during a couple of literacy times during the week so there's some good support.

It's essential to stop now and then in the classroom to observe, think and make plans for change and improvement.

Prove It!: Viable Arguments

This is the "TREE" mnemonic we used for reading response.  
Last month students worked on writing convincing arguments using the TREE mnemonic: Topic, Reason, Evidence, Explanation.  Using this mnemonic students wrote to convince their families and others about whether or not students they should clean their rooms or have cell phones.

Now that it's math month, and it is a time to transfer this knowledge to math by writing in a way that can prove a mathematical concept. How can we transfer the "TREE" writing concept to math.

First, We'll revisit TREE with respect to writing. We'll talk about the fact that this gave us a way to remember how to write a convincing argument.  Then together, we'll use TREE to craft a convincing argument as to why 1/2 is greater than 1/3.  As we do this we'll discuss the topic and reason.  Then we'll decide on what kinds of evidence (pictures, numbers and words) we can use to prove our point.  Then we'll end the argument with a summary statement.

Different from our written arguments, we'll include more diagrams in our math discussion. Then I'll give each team of students a a couple of fractions to compare.  I'll differentiate the assignment based on students demonstrated ability and understanding of fractions.  After that I'll show students a few examples of last year's Khan project and let them transfer their written arguments to a digital argument.  Finally students will share their "Prove It" arguments and as a class we'll assess what made each argument viable, and ways that the arguments could have been improved.

This will provide a nice inroad to the Mathematical Practice 3: "Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Let me know if you have ideas as to how to strengthen this activity.  Thanks for your consideration.

Employing Mathematical Practice: Part One

Today I'm thinking about the standards for mathematical practice with greater scrutiny.  I find that the employment of these practices challenge my teaching repertoire and provide me with room for growth. I'm looking forward to this teaching practice, and planning to focus specifically on each item with depth. I found these great child-friendly posters to use when teaching the mathematical practices. I also found this wonderful website to extend my understanding and teaching in this regard.

There is a lot to learn in this area as I work to deepen my math instruction approach with greater problem solving and use of mathematical vocabulary.  I've started to chart this course below, and will be adding notes in the days to come.  I welcome helpful links and tools in this regard.

Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them:
  1. Choose relevant, meaningful problems with "just right" levels of challenge.
  2. Tell students to expect "cognitive discomfort" as that's the path to learning.
  3. Team students with similar-ability grouping so that they have to think about, talk together, and persevere to solve the problem.
  4. Be available to coach, trouble shoot, and examine.
  5. When the problem is complete have students reflect on the following questions:
    • Was this problem too easy, just right or too difficult and why?
    • What strategy(s) did you use to solve the problem?
    • What worked well with regard to your team's collaboration?
    • What did you learn?
Reason abstractly and quantitatively. 
This area led me on a search related to abstract reasoning.  I came up with a few helpful links:
I want to search for more apt problems and exercises in this area, but I'll start with these. 

Construct Viable Arguments and Critique the Reasoning of Others
  • I'll share the video on this page which shows fifth graders critiquing each others' work, and we'll talk about what they noticed with regard to the discussion. 
  • I will look for a couple of really good, real-life math problems to incite this type of discussion. I want to find problems that relate to my current math concept goals, and problems that offer a range of discussion topics from very basic to enriching so we can have a great classroom discussion.  
  • Prove It: Viable Arguments Project
  • Nice example of a proof
Use Appropriate Tools Strategically
  • I'll focus on this learning with the units we're now covering including fractions, decimals and geometry.  We'll study and use fraction bars, pattern blocks, protractors and clock/circle models in this regard. 
  • It's important to neatly and strategically arrange the tools in the classroom (I still have to work on this).
  • At the start of each unit, give students time to play and explore the tools and what the tools can do.  Ask questions such as:
    • Have you seen this tool before?  If so, where, when and what was it used for?
    • What do you notice about the tool's shape, material, structure?  Does it remind you of other tools?
    • What can you do with this tool?  Why is it useful?
    • Why did mathematicians or others create this tool?
    • Bonus: What is the history of the tool?
Look and Make Use of Structure
  • Google table is one of my favorite structure tools
  • Other structure tools that are helpful are lists and venn diagrams. 
  • Use the questions: How can we give structure to this problem or question?   How did you organize your work?
Look for and Express Regularity in Repeated Reasoning.
  • What patterns do you see here?
  • How does your work here remind you of other problems you've solved in the past?
  • What are symbols, numbers, relationships that help you make meaning?
The talk and work of math is the talk and work of any job well done.  It is work that involves observation, stamina, multiple perspectives, trial and error, connections, response, analysis and presentation/communication.

To foster the standards of mathematical practice is to foster the essential mindset of apt thinking and learning, and that's worth the effort. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Thanks for Sharing

When I got up this morning and opened up my computer for my coffee-read time, I was delighted to find a post from a specialist in my school.  She recently attended a conference and made the time to share the learning with all of us through an email.

Her nuggets of information from many literacy experts served to wake me up with enthusiasm for teaching this morning. The notes served to both affirm and challenge aspects of my teaching practice.

Surprisingly, many in schools are still reluctant to share new learning on a regular basis, hence it takes a bit of courage for those that do share.  I believe that it should be a professional responsibility to share after attending a conference on school time as that sharing helps to build a knowledgeable, student-focused community that serves children well.

Further, we have created a professional share blog at our school and titled the blog, Collaborate. If everyone shares and posts on that blog, at the end of the year we'll have a wonderful collection of new learning for our educator community--notes that we can refer back to as we design responsive, standards-based, engaging learning for students.

Do educators readily share new learning in your teaching/learning community? If so, how is that share done, and what kind of response do you get?  Do leaders join in and share too?  I continue to believe that information sharing fuels a top-notch learning community and will continue to look for ways to support this activity for best effect.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Endangered Species Unit Revision 2013--Part Two

I continue to think about and plan for our upcoming endangered species unit.  I'm very excited about growing the unit to include new learning for our entire learning community.  I started playing with the revision with greater intent today by conducting an endangered species search on Twitter and tweeting out a few endangered species' requests.  The posts and links I culled from the Twitter search were amazing.

Specifically, this is where we're headed with the unit.

First, I'll wet the students' appetite with an overview of the topic that introduces the current problem, thinking, and questions surrounding the study of endangered species including:
  • Why are species endangered?
  • Why are we worried about endangered species?
  • How can we save endangered species? What can we do in our every day life to help this cause, and what can we do as a larger society?
Next, I'll ask each child to come up with a question that they're concerned about related to endangered species.  Their questions will likely focus on a specific animal, problem, or solution. I'll also have the children start thinking about how they plan to share their information and what actions, advocacy, or change of mind they hope their information share will inspire.  I will provide an information share list of possible choices including slide show, song, skit, puppet show, poster, digital composition and more. 

Information Collection
After that I'll teach students how to create vehicles for information collection online or off.  Then I'll introduce students to the many online and offline resources available.  I'll provide a guided list for online resources to begin with. I'll emphasize the need to become an expert on the topic as expertise results in trust from those you share your information with and the chance for real solutions. 

Project Work
I'll provide tools online and off for student project work.  Students will receive coaching related to creating project plans, timelines, drafts, edits and completion.  

Project Rehearsal
Once projects are complete, students will begin rehearsing their project presentations.

We'll invite family members and perhaps others to our presentation.  Prior to the presentation we'll decide on a way in which we can assess our audience's learning and change of mind or habits.  

As a group and individually we'll assess our work.  As part of our assessment we'll note what we learned, challenge points, and success.

Fractions Continued: Lesson Details

KidPix Creation
I continue to develop and explore fractions with my students.

Starting with the 360 packet has been terrific since 360 gave us a great chance to review multiples and factors.  Also the number 360 provides a great avenue to all the benchmark fractions included in the standards.

Next students will complete the following activities.

1. Making fraction bars with Google docs.

2. Learning to simplify fractions.

3. Learning to compare fractions with unlike denominators with pictures, numbers and words.

4. Making fraction number lines.

5. Adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators.

6. Fraction-Decimal Connections and Comparisons.

7. Fraction/Decimal Problem Solving and Projects.

I will continue to add to this shopping list of fraction activities and learning.  Please feel free to send me any revisions or additions.  This is a vital ingredient in the overall math program.

Related Posts
360 Facts
Fraction/Decimal Time Unit Overview
Fraction Art

Saturday, April 06, 2013

When Do You Take Notice?

There are many times that I take notice and I am inspired:
  • I take notice when I see positive student affect.
  • I take notice when I see students engaged, happy, curious and wanting more.  
  • I take notice when I see terrific gains in progress of essential skills. 
  • I take notice when I hear parents' compliments.  
  • I take notice when I'm challenged to do a better job. 
  • I take notice when it is new learning.
  • I take notice when I see strong relationships and commitment.
  • I take notice when I see creativity, learning and craft that inspires me. 
There are also times when I take notice and I am not inspired:
  • I take notice when it's cumbersome and distances one from student learning and engagement.
  • I take notice when it is not supported by research?  
  • I take notice when it demeans or diminishes students or teachers.  
  • I take notice when it's repeated with no effect. 
  • I take notice when time, communication and support are lacking, inequitable or inadequate.
It's not a perfect world, but it is interesting to take the time to think about what you notice, and what serves to inspire or discourage. Further, if you take it the next step you will work so that your craft and effort serve to inspire rather than discourage too--a challenge worth reaching for. 

Work That Matters: My List

I just wrote a post, Work that Matters.  As I think about my personal "Work that Matters" list, here's what I include:
  • Regular research and reading in order to bring the best ideas and latest information to my classroom work.
  • Collaboration with colleagues near and far to build my repertoire for best effect.
  • Learning design that considers specific students, context, research, goals, tools, standards and engagement.
  • Regular formative assessment in order to assess, revise and enrich teaching efforts when needed.
  • Student voice and choice, time and effort to involve students in their own learning by giving them the chance to voice their ideas, needs and questions as well as choice over specific learning paths and tools.
  • Learning to Learn Mindsets and Habits: Taking the time to teach students about effective effort, mindsets and research related to learning. 
  • Essential Skills: Building students' foundation of essential skills in literacy and numeracy so that they have a strong foundation for learning.
  • Inspiration: Sharing stories, content and activity that nurtures students' curiosity and inspires inquiry.
  • Community: Taking the time to build community through conversation, problem solving, compassion and celebration.
  • Student Response and Coaching: Regularly responding to students' specific learning endeavor through personalized learning, feedback, coaching meetings and timely response online and off. 
When you think of your "Work that Matters" list, what would you include?  What have I missed?