Saturday, June 29, 2013

Restructuring Schedules and Roles for Greater Student Response

How can we restructure school schedules and roles for greater student response.  As you know I'm in favor of "breaking down the walls" of traditional class structures to better meet the needs of more students. I think that we can do this by changing roles and schedules and without substantial additional cost.

Here are a few suggestions to lead this initiative.

1. Assign almost all teachers, coaches, and interventionists to a small advisory or homeroom groups.  The homeroom groups would vary in size from very small (for students who need substantial response/care) to medium size groups of 10-12 students. During these advisory groups teachers will be responsible for students' essential needs.  For young children that includes lunch, snacks, appropriate clothing, listening, homestudy response, notes, and permission slips.  The "advisory" would also be the time for read aloud and discussion to ensure that every child has that experience every day.  Essentially the "advisory teacher" would be the "mom or dad" of the school experience, the one who manages the child's report card, parent conferences, outreach, and response.

2. Start to think about learning goals in terms of numbers, environment, and ratios.  What learning goals demand a small teacher-student ratio such as writing conferences and students who have learning challenges in specific areas, and what learning goals work with larger numbers of students and more open, student-to-student collaboration.  Then begin to schedule teachers, rooms, and students accordingly. Make sure that students have the time and space for sensitive coaching where needed, as well as open time for exploration, investigation, collaboration, online learning, free thinking, creativity, and practice.

I know that we can serve students better in the school environment. That's not to say we're not already doing a great job, but I know that subject-area and classroom teachers struggle with meeting all the needs in a class setting with sensitivity, response, and care due to the large student-teacher ratios in those classes.  I also know that schools today are filled with specialists who work with small ratios of students, professionals who may have the time and interest in managing advisory groups that provide that personal touch every day to students.

Is this an idea that will work?  If you add up the collective professional hours in a building, could you divide those hours into more direct service for students, direct service and care that will make a difference?  Does this idea negate other duties that are imperative?  Does this idea demand that we streamline, simplify, and possible erase some tasks that exist now to make more room for direct, skilled student response?

As you can see this idea is at the beginning stages. . .I will grow this idea in the days to come.  Your suggestions and ideas are welcome. I believe this idea has merit and can impact students in substantial ways.  After all, students' optimal education is the reason we teach.

When Questions Outweigh Time

When I started this new age teaching/learning journey with Twitter, blogs, edcamps, and a growing international PLN (professional learning community) about four years ago at a MassCUE  conference, I was amazed at how many like-thinkers and passionate educators were right there, at the stroke of a key, to inspire, assist, and challenge me as an educator. At once, I found the world of educational thought and learning I desired since I entered the profession--a 24-7, accessible, efficient community of dynamic, diverse conversation and growth.

This summer I find myself at a new turning point, a place where my questions and needs outweigh the time in a day. To date, I've met this challenge with continual prioritizing, new work/collaborative structures, research, and tweaking the daily schedule to include daily reading, writing, and thought. But now, that's not enough. This turn in the road calls for a different approach and schedule.

The first step in this change is a change in focus. I will concentrate more on the questions, and not expect to have all the answers. Sharing the essential questions with the learning community means that I don't have to research or find all the answers as the learning community will choose the questions they want to answer, and work towards that end sharing the answers with me as they work.

For example. Yesterday I realized that great student opinion writing is supported by reading across genre about a particular topic. For example, if students were to write opinion essays about what makes a great friend, those essays will gain strength by reading multiple genre and authors about the topic of friendship, then synthesizing all that thought into worthy opinion pieces. I began to worry about the job of finding all that genre. Yet, now with this new approach, simply saying to the learning community (students, families, teachers, leaders, community members), "Let's collect text across genre about friendship," serves to inform the process with greater learning, strength, efficiency, and collective effort.  Further, I could back step and simply set the learning community on "go" by posing the question, "What's a topic you're really interested in discussing, debating, and understanding better? " Starting there could potentially create even greater enthusiasm and momentum as we push forward with an opinion writing unit. I can envision the path as moving from questions to genre search to reading to writing to sharing to debate to final conclusions and next steps.

When questions outweigh time, it's time to turn those questions over to the learning community with time for conversation, research, debate, share, assessment, and next steps.  No one knows it all, and we all have a job in this quickly evolving education landscape we inhabit.  Hence, my role as educator is broadening to "poser of questions" and "answer/solution coach."

The questions I'm posing for the year ahead include the following:
  • What are the ingredients of apt, brain-friendly, child-centered learning design?
  • What topics do students want to learn about, research, and debate?
  • How can we find text across genre about the topic students choose to study?
  • How will I find the time to build in meaningful small group and one-to-one coaching/conference times for all learners often?
  • How can I set up the classroom and teach routines so that children are able to work with comfort, care, independence, and success?
  • How can we change the spaces in school and roles to best meet the needs of all learners, projects, and necessary tasks?
  • How can we streamline efforts so that most of the time in school is spent on direct service to children that matters?
  • How can I balance my efforts so that I am both an effective educator, healthy person, good friend, and supportive, loving family member?
  • How can I work with families to best support students' learning at home?
These are beginning questions. I now know that I don't have to have all the answers, and there is strength in actually posing the questions--letting questions free in the edusphere of students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.  When questions outweigh time, don't worry. Pose the questions, and keep your eyes open for answers as many will come your way. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Wayland Literacy Institute: 2013

The Wayland Literacy Institute, Wayland, MA
I appreciate the efforts of so many leaders and educators who made this year's Wayland Literacy Institute a wonderful learning endeavor. The keynote, Ralph Fletcher, brought a sense of humor, care, and story to his multiple presentations throughout the Institute.  Teachers from Wayland and nearby districts shared their expertise with creativity, focus, and skill.  I now have many, many new ideas that I want to incorporate into school year 2013-2014 .

Rather than write plans now, I have chosen to share the links and main ideas of my experience through a storify for today's events, and a couple of blog posts related to yesterday's learning.  I welcome your thoughts and questions with regard to this wonderful experience.

Related Posts:
Ralph Fletcher Inspiration
Why Story? My Presentation

Storify Twitter Notes (Storify takes a few seconds to upload.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What is Your Role in the Edusphere?

What is your educational role?

Where is your professional passion taking you, and why?

In this age of multiple paths, this is an important consideration--one to frequently revisit.

My work and paths keep leading back to my original reason for teaching, the children.  Despite temptation to move outward and away from the classroom, in the end that's where I want to be.


Though the work is demanding and the respect and support often lacking, I enjoy the synergy of many fresh and facile minds working together for a common cause: positive learning.  I am also invested in the mission of public schools which is to give every child a chance at a good education and positive life choices. Further, I find teaching to be a tremendous challenge, and I love a good challenge. Finally I understand children, and enjoy helping children learn.

I don't like everything about teaching. For example, I wish we had more support. Most often it is one teacher and many children, hence a needed break or set of extra hands is often a wish unmet. The days are long and the adult connections are few. The environment can be tough with no air conditioning, outdated furniture, overused facilities, and little storage supplies. Also some of the tasks are difficult such as moving large pieces of furniture, cleaning a room up in a day to make room for summer camp, and recognizing that serving children well means that there is little job growth or change since most teaching jobs are structured the same on the first day of the job until your very last day (I think there's room for positive change in this area).

But no job is perfect, and as it stands now I will focus on teaching.

Yet, I like to write too, and I like to create.  Hence, as a second focus, I'll continue to write and create content and policy to best affect learning for my students as well as teachers and students throughout the world.  With the multiple tools available today, there is tremendous room for greater creativity and positive transformation in education. We don't have to just accept the parts of the job that are cumbersome and problematic, aspects of teaching that hinder the good work that is possible. We also don't have to accept old routines, tools, and strategies that are less effective or even harmful to children.  At this juncture in the road, the possibility and promise for education is great, and we must seize that opportunity with voice, creativity, and share.

Hence, as I continue down the road of teaching, I'll keep my focus centered on the children I teach first.  Then I'll focus on creativity and voice that move my individual work and our collective efforts forward to strengthen, transform, and promote positive learning communities for every child and teacher.

That's my role in the edusphere?  What is your role?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Story?

Student's Paper-Cut Design Created to Inspire Story Writing 
At the The Wayland Literacy Institute  I presented my thoughts, experiences, and "how to" with respect to digital storytelling. I synthesized many notes, experiences, and research related to the topic of story over many years.

I focused the presentation on the rationale, process, and considerations related to creating digital stories with young children.

I offer the presentation and rationale below as a guide for student/teacher digital story creation.


What is a story? defines story in the following ways:

Why Story?
Story is a thread that brings us together as people.  Through story we relate, connect, understand, question, and see.  We introduce ourselves to others through story, and we learn about life through story. Story is also an inviting, engaging, and brain-friendly way to begin a lesson or presentation.

What makes a good story?  
I'm sure that answer differs amongst individuals, but there are some essential elements that contribute to a story's value--elements such as a good beginning, wonderful words, beginning, middle and end, writer's craft, characters, plot, big moments, setting, and catchy content.

When do we tell stories?  
We tell stories when we meet people for the first time.  We share stories with family members and friends to deepen our relationships, remember the good times, and gain strength. We tell a story at the start of a lesson or presentation to capture the audience's attention and interest.  A story is also told to teach a lesson, learn new information, and develop understanding.

How is a story more powerful than a list, 
informational text, or document? 
A story enlists the senses. A good story awakens us with smells, sounds, tastes, sights, and touch.  When we read a good story we are taken into a new place, time, and experience. A good story is like a beautiful weave while a list is similar to a section or thread of the weave. Wonderful stories change us.

Why digital stories? 
The digital story is a powerful medium to create and partake.  When creating a digital story the author is crafting text, music, sound effects, and imagery to tell a story with care.  When listening to a digital story, the listener is immersed in a multi-modal experience of story, one he or she may listen to again and again. Further, today digital media is as accessible as books. Students are interfacing with this media regularly to gain information and learn. The experience of creating their own digital stories brings students understanding, respect, and the ability to manipulate this medium--an important skill in the tech age we live in.

In this short Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge film, author David Pilkey compares typed texts with television and film.  He states, "When we read a book there aren't any special effects.. . . . we have to fill in all the details ourselves by using our imaginations.  The simple fact is that the more we read the more we have to use our imaginations, and the more we use our imaginations, the more powerful we become." Although digital stories fall in between a typed book and film, stage, and television, his words challenge this medium, and makes one wonder if the digital story leaves enough room for the powerful development of imagination and reading skill.  This is an important consideration. Students should be exposed to film, stage, television production, digital stories, and text--they should have the chance to create, understand, and experience all the mediums that will make up their future as readers, writers, and learners.  Hence it's not one or the other, but instead how much of one medium versus how much of another as we strive for a just right balance.

Where does digital story fit into today's curriculum?  
I believe that digital story should be built into the curriculum at all grade levels.  I suggest the following efforts:
  • Turn Literacy Studio or Reading Workshop into a multimedia effort making digital story and film creation options.
  • Balance students' use of digital and nondigital literacy throughout the day, units, and year.
  • Think carefully about how you want to fit digital literacy in--let the decision be a student/teacher decision, one that responds to the learners' needs, interests, and passions.
  • Embed standards into digital story units--meet the standards through digital story design.  Digital story is an exceptionally good medium for meeting standards in reading fluency, reading/writing voice, story organization, content share, and speaking.
  • Teach digital story with project/problem base learning workshops. Create a beginning to end timeline for the project with students then embark on the creative endeavor leaving room for students' creativity, personalization, and choice. 
  • Partner with younger students to create digital stories.  My first classroom digital story project was a fourth grade-second grade collaboration: "The Homework Excuse Book," a take-off of a book the second graders had been reading. 
How do I create a digital story? 
There are many tools for creating digital stories today. Tools such as storybird, Kid Pix, iMovie, Garageband, Google presentation, PowerPoint, VoiceThread and more.  Specifically my class used the following process:
  1. Learning Design: Review the standards and curriculum. Decide on the goals, overarching timeline, needed support, space, and project efforts.
  2. Choose audience and organize. Students and teachers create the specific project time line, objectives, efforts, and focus together with backwards design.  
  3. Story brainstorm and creation with multiple story starter tools such as drawing, paper-cut design, time lines, story sharing, story boards, story mountains, and modeling.
  4. Story draft online or offline, with images and without.  Draft the story words and images using the writing process. 
  5. Publish the story words and image. We used Google Presentation--students created online storybooks with Google.
  6. Move the published story to digital.  We downloaded our Google Presentations to Powerpoint and saved as individual pictures, then we moved each picture into iMovie.
  7. Create beginning, middle, and end slides for story titles and more. 
  8. Record voice. We record right on iMovie by lengthening the picture time, recording, listening, and rerecording when necessary until we were satisfied. 
  9. Design and add music that matches the mood and tone of the story.  Add sound effects too.
  10. Add finishing touches. Publish to YouTube.
  11. Share, Celebrate, Reflect, and Assess. 
Story is a classic medium, one that will never go away--it is the thread that connects us as people and learners.  I'm sure that my understanding of story will grow as I work with colleagues tomorrow.

In the meantime, what is important to you when it comes to the theme of story?  When you teach reading and writing story to young children, what do you emphasize?  How can we best effect this study as we teach and coach students today?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writing: Practice Makes Perfect

As I look ahead to next year, I want to build in more time for students to practice writing. This year students were introduced to many genre as well as specific skill, organization, and craft.  They did well.

Next year, I want to structure home study and the classroom routine to include more time for practice.  To do that, I'll start the year by helping each child create an online composition book.

Rather than an ePortfolio for fourth grade, children will add to their Google site composition book daily with the following routine:
  • Nightly Journal Writing
  • Regular Craft, Grammar and Organization Exercises.
  • Vocabulary Practice
  • Genre Writing
  • Reading Response Writing
Similar to all workshop structures, our regular writing workshops will include a short focus lesson, time to write, and time to share.  

Similar to mastery in any area, skillful writing depends on practice, and a steady daily diet of writing will move students towards success.

Note: After listening to Ralph Fletcher today, I decided to also have students keep paper/pencil writer's notebooks as a collection place for ideas, verse, words, and short stories. 

Teachers as Coaches: Organization?

To teach students well, it is important to know and understand each child well.  With large numbers of students and multiple teachers, that can be a challenge.  Supporting these efforts with optimal organization and communication patterns will set the stage for success. Hence, as teachers move to a more concerted effort to coach students well, organization matters.

What documents will structure your coaching efforts and collaboration with multiple students.

Next year, I want to organize these efforts with greater care so that I meet the following goals:
  • Regular individual student coaching meetings.
  • Succinct notes to inform the process.
  • Regular goal setting.
  • Accurate and organized assessment lists that are easy to access and share.
Hence, I created a Team 15 2013-2014 coaching website.  I will use this website to collect notes, set goals, and communicate with the learning team: students, families, teachers, and administrators.

Specifically, I will use this site in the following ways:
  • To invite teacher collaborators to view and add to the site regularly when working with students.
  • To reference the site when meeting with individual students and families to share challenges and successes as we review and create goals.
  • To share with administrators and colleagues for evaluation purposes, analysis, and goal setting.
  • As a reference point for writing student report cards and other assessments.
I offer you this model to review and consider as you think about your coaching systems for the fall.  Once late August arrives and I begin inputting specific data related to students, I will change the privacy settings. 

Let me know what you think.  I'll revise and enrich this site during the summer months.

Extensive individual coaching sheets' effort outweighed their effect. Yet a simple individual coaching sheet and class chart served this purpose better in the end. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Road Map 2013-2014

Photo Credit
The plan continues to take shape.

What will the journey include?

I. Summer Study          
  • Learning Design Checklist
  • ELA Standards Review
  • Curriculum Map Outline Details/Research
II. School Year Plans:

A. Focus: Children First

B. First Six Weeks:
  • Establish patterns i.e. class meetings, reading/writing/math workshops, classroom supplies and materials, classroom routines and protocols.
  • Classroom set up for independent work.
  • Focus on the habits of mind and action for successful students.
  • Early family conferences and curriculum introduction. 

C. Year's Learning Design: Embedding standards into student-centered, engaging, multi-modal learning design that follow a "loose-tight" curriculum map.

D. Daily format with interdisciplinary approach including the following foci:
  • 1 hour reading/reading meetings
  • 1 hour writing/writing conferences
  • 1 hour math 
  • 1 hour PBL
  • 1 hour study i.e. skills review 
E. Regular student meetings, goal setting and review.

  • early review of student assessments and learning plans, goal setting and establishment of team process and communication. 
  • regular review, revision of goals to best meet student needs.
III. Professional Learning:
  • Focus One: Specific Grade-Level Curriculum
  • Focus Two: Learning Design and Approach
  • Focus Three: Positive Collaboration Focused on Student Engagement and Success.

The Last Day

Today's the last day of the school year for children. Teachers will return to school for one or more days to wrap up the year and begin the new year before children arrive in September.

Tech reports and emails demonstrate that both last year's class and next year's class have already started or continued playing online academic games as well as sending notes to ensure a good year ahead or a positive end to a wonderful year.

In today's world the school year is a spiral as one year's circle connects to the next moving a child forward.

Last Friday I ended the week with hopes for a peaceful day, but in the end I planned too much and we all were overloaded, students and me, which made for a less than harmonious day.  But today, there's little on the menu--although we didn't finish it all as we ran out of time for every last chapter of every curriculum and classroom initiative, today we'll concentrate on a final assembly, last art class, time for tech choice, read aloud, play and a farewell circle.

Meeting all needs with targeted, successful energy and balance is a delicate, thoughtful process--one that will profit from a summer of rest and study.  Good teachers just like good students are tired at the end of the year. The yearly cycle gives us permission to give it our all, push, and reach during the 10-month school year. The push, in part, is fueled by the notion that we'll have time to rest and recoup during summer months--time to take a step back, reflect, assess, and continue to develop our craft as we move forward in the profession, a profession that is imperfect, ever changing and with limitless potential.  You never know it all.

So here's to a peaceful day of friendship and care, essentially the bright bow on top of the year's gift of sharing, learning, and relationship.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Pacing is Paramount: Too Much of a Good Thing?

In teaching today, pacing is paramount.

There's a just right weave of tools, strategies, efforts, and endeavor to teach children well, and that weave will look different in every classroom and every school dependent on content, culture, and client.

Too much of a good thing can exhaust teachers and students, yet too little will dull the climate, content, and clients.

Hence, pacing is paramount.

Positive pacing is dependent on the following:
  • Lead time and planning with regard to "loose-tight" curriculum maps.
  • Initial assessment of students' needs, interests, and passions.
  • Daily, flexible responsive action that aims to teach the program as well as the students, thus the need for careful analysis and response.
  • Time: time for planning, time for reflection, and time for response--making sure that all involved play an integral part in the overall structure and performance of the learning community. 
  • Streamlined systems of communication, paper work, and service delivery--systems that are targeted, and systems that place most time and effort on the positive care and teaching of students.
What led me to this post was the fact that our end of the year plans and activity need review. We did a lot!  Classroom teachers spent the last week nurturing children without many of the typical services, services which did not occur due to early ending or special events that prohibited service delivery.  Classroom teachers also completed the following:
  • completed report cards
  • classroom clean-up and organization for upcoming summer programs
  • next year's orders
  • end-of-year letters and folders
  • move-up letters and folders
  • open houses and celebrations
  • regular lesson planning
  • field trips
All the activities listed above are positive events and endeavor, but perhaps too much for single teachers to complete in one week's time.

How can we pace the end of the year better?  First with regard to field studies--how can more teachers get involved?  For example, with inclusion classes, perhaps special educators and specialists also attend and help out--that would give teachers time for a break or to help individual children.  Perhaps with orders and other paperwork, the pacing includes greater lead time and professional time to do the work. Currently most of that work is done on a teacher's own time.  And as far as student's social/emotional needs at the end of the year, perhaps we think differently about when special services end, and how special services are delivered during the last week's of school.

In this age of multiple, positive tools and strategies, how have your efforts with pacing changed?  How have roles changed too with regard to end-of-year efforts and endeavor?  Have you looked at ways of putting more staff in direct contact with students at the end of the year to help out with the social/emotional issues that occur  For example one little girl in our school was repeating, "I hate summer." due to the fact that she loves her teacher and the school so much.  

This is a topic I'll be thinking more about as I embark on next year's learning/teaching journey.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions with regard to pacing because pacing is paramount in 21st century schools. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The End of the Year: Celebrate and Assess

The end of the year is a time to celebrate and assess.

We celebrate a wonderful year of friendship, learning, and growth.

We assess what worked, and what we want to work on with greater strength and effort next year.

This year was a great year for read aloud, synthesis, embedding standards into worthy project base learning, tech integration, and math.  Students' embraced the 4 C's: collaboration, communication, critical thinking skills, and creativity as they learned about culture, animal adaptation, endangered species and standard subject area content in reading, writing, and math. Students also used multiple online tools to develop skill in reading, writing, and math.  Overall it was a great year.

As I grow the program next year, I will spend more time looking deeply at classroom patterns--the patterns that provide the necessary practice and learning in all areas of the curriculum.  The better the patterns, the greater the independence, and the greater the independence, the more time there will be for individual and small group coaching on specific skills, concepts, and knowledge.

Hence, I'll once again take Ruth Charney's words from Teaching Children to Care to heart as I establish solid systems and routines during the first six weeks of school.  We will spend time learning and practicing the routines, routines that will support the class well as we develop numeracy and literacy across discipline using multiple, student-centered learning paths.  We'll carve out time each day to read, write, and study math in meaningful, child-friendly ways.

I'll continue to look for and promote new learning paths using technology, teams, and project work rather than multiple workbooks and skill sheets as the new paths of learning offer greater depth of relative and responsive learning.  Though there will still be times when a worksheet is used as no one way of learning and teaching is the best way.  Instead it is how we weave the pieces together to best meet each child's needs--that's both the challenge and joy of the job.

Celebrate and assess, that's the end of the year mantra as we say good bye to the students we cared for all year long, and hello to next year's students.  It is also the mantra of parents as they celebrate their children's milestones and look to the future.

The end of the teaching year is a bittersweet time, a time where we can't forget that as teachers and parents we're on the same learning path as our children--a path of learning and growing too as we nurture youth toward happy, positive, successful lives.

Teacher/Parent: Everyman/Everywoman?

The roles of teaching and parenting are limitless roles--there's limitless potential for what we can do, yet there's limited time and energy in a day.  So as parents and teachers we do our best always choosing one task, focus, activity over another to best coach, motivate, and support our children and students.

In this new age of recognizing that learning is an ongoing process rather than one score, one test, or one event, the challenge, in many ways, is even greater.  We feel the responsibility to check all the boxes, meet all the needs, and serve every child well--we want to see all of our students succeed in all areas.

But, the reality is that children develop in many different ways.  Some have a burst of success the year that they are in your class--they surge, grow, and meet all standards with strength.  Then others, meet some standards, but not others.  It is similar in the home, there are years when one child has tremendous success and achievement, while another struggles.  Usually though, it's not one end of the spectrum of success or another, but a series of hits and misses on the road to learning, developing, and growing, and as my own parents would often say, "That's life!."

The challenges, missed marks, and goals unmet are the seeds for growth and change. The successes are affirmation for processes in place, processes within your charge, and processes in place in the grades before you and the organizations that surround our children and students.

As a teacher and parent at times I feel like I'm called to be "everywoman," but the reality is that we work as part of a greater team to support our children and students well, and when we work we essentially support and encourage these children with our best effort, skill, and experience on the journey of life--a path of highs, lows, and steady growth.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Google Maps: Online Certificate Course Mid Way Assessment

I've been taking the Google Maps and Google Earth online certificate course.  As I'm taking the course, I find my focus to be three-fold:
  • First, I am focused on learning the tool.  
  • Next, I'm thinking about how I can use this tool with my students.  
  • Finally, I'm observing the way Google has created the course for apt online learning.  
The tool is amazing, and it's not a simple study. The course takes time, and I'm not sure it was the best decision signing on during the final two weeks of school, but I hope to persist and earn the certificate. I enjoy studying geography and maps so I'm finding the entire learning path to be a virtual field trip.

What has surprised me most about this course is the amount of creativity involved, and like any creative project the potential is limitless.  I could literally spend an entire day making each assignment map, but I'm limited by time. I am awestruck by the level and intelligence of each teaching module (video, links, activities) as the language and links are precise, targeted and concise; the attitudes of the presenters are engaging and encouraging; and the organization is stellar.  That's what all teachers aim to do with every lesson. Hence, this course is a model of wonderful teaching too.  Beth Liebert's course quotes exemplify this:
  • "You are a mapping pro, Think about how you can use categories to tell a richer story on your own map."
  • 'Don't be afraid to use your imagination. We can't wait to see what you'll come up with."
Google's new maps is a sophisticated tool, yet it's a tool that can be used simply with elementary schools students as well as with much more detail and depth with high school and college students.  As I think about my elementary school students, I'll begin using this tool next year as we get to know one another and explore our local community.  We'll create a collaborative class map that shows our favorite local places to play, hike, eat, and shop.  We'll also add the places we live. Then we'll chart landforms and other places of interest as well as information related to the standards at the grade level.  Later we'll start the collaborative cross country team tours using the maps where teams of students will chart their virtual adventures as they learn about United States' regions.

Finally, as I work to design a 24-7 classroom, a classroom program that can be accessed anywhere at any time independently and collaboratively, I am finding that this course is a terrific exemplar--a model to follow. I will write more about this later, but it is a strong focus as I work through each layer of study.

Are you currently engaged in this online course?  Have you taken similar certificate or educational programs?  If so, how does this compare for you?  What other online learning modules would you recommend for professional educators and/or students?  

I continue to marvel at the educational crossroads apparent today, and I continue to repeat:

It's a brave new wonderful world of learning!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

ES Project Review and Revision

The best time to review and revise a project is right after the project is complete.  What went well? What can be changed for the better.

As I assess our Endangered Species Research and Presentation Project I have a number of "keepers" and "changers."

  • Guide research using a website as a homebase. We'll revisit the website prior to the next year's project to update.
  • Use a Google presentation template to guide research (available on website.)
  • Start the unit with background knowledge and skill development related to biomes, research, using websites, writing informational text, and the topic of endangered species.
  • Make beautiful murals.
  • Animoto and iMovie public service messages.
  • Hosting parents at an open house.
  • Sharing students' learning through individual presentations, short public service messages, murals, dioramas and a class film.
  • Presenting to classmates in other grades. 
  • Next year I'd like to put more effort into biome teams and student collaboration. 
  • Instead of having each child present on the class film, I'd like biome teams to write short scripts and present a short film about their biome and the endangered animals in it--I think that would make an engaging film presentation.
  • Possibly invite family members to presentations in other classrooms. 
As evidenced by the student YouTube film, students really enjoy the endangered species project.  I really enjoy growing this project with my colleagues each year as educational strategies, tools, and resources change.  Overall, the project is a keeper!

Teaching: Whose Job is It?

When I first started teaching, and a child faced challenges, I sometimes blamed the family asking why? But now that I've been teaching and parenting for a long time, I look for solutions within the learning team (students, families, teachers, community, leaders) and ask how?

How can we teach this child better?

What can we do differently to inspire, strengthen, lift, and lead a young child from unknowing to knowing in matters large and small?

Asking why and blaming serves to elevate responsibility, while seeking the how is a challenging, collaborative process. Yet, it is the how that serves to strengthen the child.

Together the learning team, families, teachers, leaders, and community members, can use the why to inform the how, but how to do the job better and then doing that work should take center stage.

Looking back to see what didn't happen, what went wrong, or what could have been can inform next steps and a better solution, but looking back to simply blame has no merit.

The job of teaching belongs to the entire learning community: the student, the family, the teachers, the leaders, and the community.

The job of teaching is not just to award those for which learning comes easy, and disregard those for whom learning is a challenge.  Instead the job of teaching is to place every child on a sturdy, nurturing path of life long learning and positive development.

There's not one way to do this, and no child's path will be exactly the same, but the days of lauding those with certain skills over those with other skills are over--learning belongs to every child, and every member of that child's community has the responsibility to work together to teach that child well.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good Scores AND Good Teaching

There are many debates out there about standardized tests.  I continue to be on the fence with respect to that issue.  I've seen teaching conversations and focus change for the positive since the testing began, but I've also seen a movement away from creative, holistic teaching.

I still want to do both: get good scores and teach a holistic program.

Hence, I assess the scores, tweak the program, and aim for 100% success by embedding standards into worthy learning design.  And every year there are the scores that rise and the scores that decrease.  There are the students who shine on standardized tests and those that struggle.

I tend to shift the program to the needs, but then the areas of success tend to wane.  The truth is that the number of content areas to master seem to exceed the days and hours of energized time in the year.  Yet, I'll continue to look for ways to better the program, strategize for optimal learning, and teach children well.

I assessed the scores, made new goals, and now will seek to see if I can master this task of teaching every children well with success holistically and with regard to the tests--it's a mighty goal, let's seem how I do.

Should You Choose a Challenging Goal?

In the age of goal setting and teacher evaluations, should you choose a challenging goal?

If you choose a challenging goal, you may not reach it.

Yet, if you choose a challenging goal you're likely to learn a lot.

However, if you choose an easy goal, you might excel and exceed expectations possibly resulting in an exemplary rating.

Hence, do we choose challenging goals or not?

If we choose challenging goals, do we have the support behind us if we make mistakes and miss the mark?

What do you think?

I want to know before I choose my next evaluation goal.

Student Summer Study?

What are your recommending for your students' summer study? How are you organizing the information for easy access. The world of learning has changed dramatically now that technology offers unlimited learning potential. There's many wonderful ways to learn offline too. Hence, for summer study, I recommend that my students do the following:
  • Play a lot.
  • Enjoy considerable free time to imagine, create, explore, and investigate.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Travel to locations near and far including museums, zoos, parks, beaches, mountains, cities and more. Explore.
  • Read regularly.
  • Write often.
  • Practice math facts and computation too so you don't lose your fluency over the summer.
  • Explore wonderful STEAM sites and activities (science, tech, engineering, arts, and math).
How will you encourage summer study?

I decided to give my students a summer study packet including a page with individual passwords for selected sites, and a more general page of links:

Summer Online Study Menu

  • Photo Credit
    Practice Math Regularly with SumDog, Xtra Math, EDM Games, and more.
  • Practice Keyboarding (see links below)
  • Read regularly. Visit the Scholastic Summer Reading site for ideas.
  • Explore Science with Tynker, Scratch, and other sites (see back).
  • Write letters, emails, stories, poems. If you share with me, I’ll post your work on our class blog:

(Name)  Summer Study Passwords

Summer Study:
Links and Recommendations
Reading Daily
  • Visit the library weekly, read books, short and long, from many genres.
  • Read the newspaper regularly.
  • Read magazines.
  • Read the 2012-2013 Team 15 Blog:
  • Class website:
  • Lexia Practice
  • SumDog English, SumDog Writing
  • Great link for reading fluency: Summer Reads
  • Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge (note that students have their own passwords for this)

  • Try writing a story on Storybird (4th,5th)
  • Update your Google ePortfolio (5th graders)
  • Make a Google Presentation of your summer adventures. (5th grade)
  • Write stories on Google docs. (5th grade)
  • Keep a handwritten journal. (4th grade)
  • Write emails to Ms. Devlin about your summer adventures. (4th grade)
  • Write a story and send it to Ms. Devlin so she can publish it on the class blog:


Math Facts
  • Sketch-Up ~ 3D Building and Design
  • Energy 3D ~ 3D Building Environmentally Green Houses (These print in pieces so students can assemble them into 3D houses ~ The closest thing to a 3D printer ~ Click on the link below to learn more)
  • Minecraft ~ Building and Designing an endangered species interactive tour, including biomes and facts from presentations.

I'll also offer families a computation review packet and a link to our class math site which has practice videos, worksheets, problem solving, and links. 

The world of learning is more accessible and diversified than ever before. Families and teachers have multiple paths available as they encourage students to follow their interests and passions as well as strengthen essential skills.

What learning paths will you follow this summer as a student, teacher, parent, or coach?  What tools will you explore and encourage?  Are there any must-have sites or links that I've missed on the list above, if so, please let me know. In the meantime, I hope that this study guide helps you and your students too.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Endangered Species Open House

"Today is a time to celebrate the finale to an amazing project. The project was amazing because there was room for every child to shine by showing off their skill and interest in specific parts of the project.  While some enjoyed making the mural the most, others liked to research on the computer best.  Still more enjoyed working collaboratively while some preferred reading a book on the topic alone.  This project offers students multiple paths for learning, and that's what learning is like today.

So different from when I was young when information was scarce and books and today's modern learning tools were not readily available, these children are growing up with information everywhere and numerous, varied tools for learning--tools that make learning accessible to almost everyone almost everywhere!  It is an amazing time in education.

At this amazing time in education, the important message is that every child has what it takes to become successful, and every child has the ability to take a learning path that is energizing, engaging, and enriching.  Education no longer has to be "one size fits all" or "do it my way," but instead education offers a menu of many approaches for success.  

One factor integral to this success is the support, inspiration, and care of the learning community. We all know that the role of teacher belongs to everyone in the learning community including the students, the family members, the teachers, the leaders, and the community. We all play an important role in our own success and the success of those we care for.  In that regard, I want to thank everyone here from the students to the family members to the teachers and leaders for a wonderful year of learning!

Now, I'd like to specifically recognize the students of Team 15 who have learned with creativity, care, and dedication throughout the year. After I read each name, please applaud. Thank you!"

Ending: Beginning

Click image to get a larger view. 
The way we close the year is the way we'll open the next.  Hence what goals, structure, routines, and efforts do you hope to retire, continue, or embrace next year?

Student Service: 
How will you serve students next year?
I have found that a solid, "loose-tight" yearly, weekly, and daily routine and pattern ensures that all of the important teaching and learning happens. Hence, I'll make the time upfront to carefully plan those patterns with my grade-level colleagues and PLC team.  The patterns will embed the grade-level standards as well as brain-friendly, student-centered learning design and tools.

Learning Environment: 
How can you make the environment an inviting place to learn and grow?
The use of rugs, bean bag chairs, and portable desks, shelves, and tables allows the environment to morph and change to meet the needs of learners throughout the year. Our team ordered more baskets, bean bags, and shelving so that we can create "Maker Stations," cozy reading corners, tech centers, and independent learning stations. 

School Culture:
How will you work to contribute to school culture?
In this area I will again work with my grade-level team and administrators to look for the best places to contribute to school culture.  I will also make the time to show gratitude to colleagues who contribute to our school culture in so many important ways.  We all know that "it takes a village" to run a school well, and no one educator can be all things. 

Professional Learning: 
How will you develop your repertoire to serve children well?
In general, next year I'm going to work towards greater quality than quantity of innovation and change. Now that many, many new approaches, structures, and tools are in place, I will be thinking about how I can further match the innovation with research to make the learning as potent and positive as possible.  I will also continue to contribute to and learn from my PLN both online and offline through chats, blogs, and conferences.  

Collaborative Teams: 
How will you work with colleagues to best effect student learning and growth next year?
Our professional learning community (PLC) devoted countless hours to numerous initiatives this year. At the end of the year we realized that it was time to grow our collegiality, efforts, and goals with greater intention and understanding.  I look forward to developing our collaboration next year and I am wondering what our initial meetings will determine with regard to our PLC norms, roles, structure, and goals.  We have a talented, diverse team with tremendous potential when it comes to sharing and developing our collective professional learning and craft. 

Summer provides time to read, research, relax, and regroup before another busy and profitable year.  It is important to reflect on the past year, and set goals for the next while the year is fresh in our minds and hearts.

What goals do you have for the year ahead?  What areas of growth and service have I missed?  How will you continue to contribute to the learning community you serve? What support will you seek in this regard?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Last Week Reminders

It's the last week of school. The to do list is intense as we say good-bye to this year's students and hello to next year's class.  We're also saying good bye to some of our staff and welcoming new staff.  It is a celebratory time too with weddings, graduations, vacations, and Father's Day.  Then for those online, there's a group of educators starting their summer study with online book groups and summer courses. Hence, a busy, transition time.

As I begin the new week, I want to focus on the following:
  • Staying class focused, children first!
  • Attending to the finishing touches for our class presentation: final presentation edits, movie completion, ordering and paying for the food (if it's not too late), and sending parents a reminder.
  • Field trip confirmation, review and participation.
  • Paperwork: move-up letters/packets, Good-bye report cards/letters/certificates.
There will be many tugs to move in directions other than those listed above this week, but the week's success will depend on the time on task with children and care for their needs.  By writing this down, I'll be sure to follow through. As far as other matters that come my way, unless they're emergencies, I'll put them in the "parking lot" until next week.

Happy final week of school!

21st Century Learner Attributes

Who is the 21st Century Learner?  What attributes depict learners today?

I offer the following.  Please let me know what I've missed.

The 21st Century Learner:
  • Asks Questions and allows questions to drive his/her learning.
  • Perseveres and doesn't give up even when faced with a challenge.
  • Discusses and debates with an open mind and a focus on goals, growth, and learning.
  • Researches and composes using multiple resources such as video, music, text, and image.
  • Speaks clearly and concisely.
  • Reads critically and is able to target specific information.
  • Synthesizes information in order to solve problems and create.
  • Writes with clarity, expression, and voice.
  • Investigates, explores and experiments.
  • Engages with play to understand and learn.
  • Collaborates with empathy, focus, confidence, and the awareness that "one person cannot do or be all things."
  • Seeks out experts near and far, online and off, to assist with research, understanding, and assessment. 
  • Learns 24-7 in diverse locations and structures. 
  • Takes charge of his/her learning.
  • Has a growth mindset.
  • Makes mistakes and learns from those mistakes.
  • Uses the arts to convey a message in pleasing, memorable, and inspiring ways. 
  • Tells stories.
  • Engages, interacts with, and focuses on the audience
  • Develops metacognition, and allows passion and interest to lead learning
  • Shares his/her learning readily, online and off, with transparency and effect.
  • Is aware of the impact his/her work has on the larger context of class, community, and world.
  • Knows that multiple tools and paths to learning exist, and uses that knowledge to choose the best paths and tools. 
What would you add to this list?  How is this list different from the learning goals of the past? 

As I think about report card comments and end-of-the-year student recognition, I am keenly aware of the 21st century skills, knowledge, and attitudes my students have developed and used this year as they developed greater knowledge, concept, and skill. 

While essential skills and polite attitudes and actions are important to student learning, it is integral that we develop 21st century learning attitudes and actions in order to launch our students toward success.

Note: Link to Bookmark Template for Student Distribution: Copy, sign, fold, laminate, punch hole in upper left corner, add ribbon, distribute.