Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chart Your Path: Navigating Massachusetts' Education Initiatives

It's time to re-look at the expectations as a teacher in Massachusetts. I've updated this post from last year.

You can prepare for professional excellence in the following ways:
  • Look for ways to combine professional expectations and  efforts so that you're completing more than one criteria at the same time. Leaders can support this by carving out time for teachers to work on these efforts in diversified, responsive ways.  
  • Look for ways to complete the efforts and also advance on the pay scale--meet the requirements, earn credits, get new degrees--advance professionally so that your paycheck will rise with your hard work. Be on the look out for cost-free options in this regard. 
  • Take the time to read all the information related to the initiatives; it could be that you've already met the standards in some of these areas.
  • Organize your professional files, if you haven't already done so. I'm so sorry that I didn't make more time to put all those little PDP and course slips in a file--slips I thought wouldn't matter, but now could have made a difference with respect to the RETELL initiative and a new pay grade in my school system.  Now, I keep an online portfolio to organize all professional work. An online portfolio is easier to update and share. 
  • Know your expectations. This year MA teachers are required to meet DDM measures. Note that schools taking PARCC tests will be judged on the best of their growth measures between last year's MCAS and this year's PARCC.
  • Ask questions, seek help, work with colleagues, and chart your professional path. You have the chance to turn this potent to-do list of MA expectations to your advantage if you make the time to carefully seek support and craft a plan. 

This is an example of a potential professional learning chart for MA educators.

Let me know if I've left off any initiatives.

Research and Understand
  • RETELL obligations
  • Special Education course obligations (coming up)
  • New Standards expectations, focus.
  • Teacher Evaluation System Expectations and Timelines
  • Typical Professional Expectations.
  • Recertification Information.
  • District Determined Measures (DDMs)
  • PARCC requirements, dates, and preparation.
  • System-wide initiatives, timelines, and expectations.

Chart Your Professional Path.
Professional Learning
and Advancement
Summer 2014
Assess your needs in this area.
Prepare for the next year’s evaluation cycle. Assess standards’ implementation and any new requirements such as PARCC (if adopted by your system) and your DDMsMake sure you’ve received a system reimbursement for license fee if that’s part of your contract. Check to make sure the process went as planned. Assess and revise professional plan as needed. Draft professional goals.
School year 2014-2015
Sign up if needed.
Complete goals draft, and plan for meeting with evaluator. Familiarize yourself with all standards and requirements for your grade level or assignment. Know where you stand on the evaluation cycle, and act accordingly. Sign up for and engage in professional learning activities that help you to reach your evaluation and professional goals. 

*Starting July 1, 2016, in order to renew a professional license, all educators will need to accrue 15 PDPs in Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) and 15 PDPs in Special Education during each 5-year recertification cycle. The total number of PDPs required for recertification remains the same (150); however, 30 of those PDPs need to be in these specific areas.

**In 2013-2014, districts are required to research and pilot DDMs for some grades and subjects. In 2013-2014, at a minimum, districts must pilot at least one DDM that is aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in each of the following areas:

    1. Early grade (K-3) literacy
    2. Early (K-3) grade math
    3. Middle grade (5-8) math
    4. High school writing to text
    5. Traditionally non-tested grades and subjects (e.g., fine arts, music, p.e.)

The New School Year: Website Revision and Prep

The new school year is right around the corner, and just before I take a few days here and there for summer fun, I'm prepping the last few "paperwork" items for the school year ahead, items including:
  • The website updates
  • Class Google Calendar
  • Student Data Sheets organized in a private Google Class Website
  • The Calendar Book (While online calendars are great, the calendar notebook remains integral.)
These are the kind of prep activities that set the stage for a good year.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Welcome to the Learning Design Lab

This lab is not a room or a business, but instead a collaborative effort represented by the Learning Design Lab website.

Considerable reading and research, new content and evaluation standards, a grant to synthesize my work, an upcoming presentation, and a new school year on the horizon led me place my learning design efforts and guides in one place.

As I read many quotes about design, I was not surprised that I'm drawn to this endeavor. The following quotes in particular illustrate my passion for this area of teaching.

Design is where science and art break even. - Robin Mathew

People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It's not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn't know it was missing. 
- Paola Antonelli

Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just to sum everything up. 
- Tate Linden

The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.  - Massimo Vignelli

4th Grade Unit Design: Place Value

After considerable research and reflection, I applied new learning to redesigning the place value unit. The new unit has many advantages including the following:
  • Blended learning.
  • Performance based.
  • Easily differentiated.
The unit responds to multiple standards including the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation standards, Grade 4 Common Core/MA math standards, and The Standards for Mathematical Practice. The unit also includes the 4C's and attributes of student-friendly learning design.

What the unit is missing is student response.  Hence, for now the plan stands as a framework for teaching--a plan that I'll follow when leading student learning.  As students engage with the activities, I'll likely refine, revise, and enrich the unit to meet students' interests and needs with regard to these curriculum standards. 

If you teach fourth grade and would like to use this unit, please do. Let me know what you would change, add, or enrich.  

ThingLink Math: Try It!

As I worked on growing my students' Khan project this morning, I finally played with ThingLink.

Click each part of the image below and it will lead you to explanations and other helpful information.  This will serve as a model for students' own creations or as a tool to help students with their project work.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Growing the "Khan" Project

Place Value Poster Exemplar
Just think it was only a couple of years ago that Kahn's math videos spread like wildfire throughout the Internet. In many ways, the number, variety, and depth of the films were a first. That was before flipping your class and the blended learning approach were commonplace.

Now Kahn's videos are a mainstay, a resource many turn to for a quick reminder, introduction, or review of a math concept.  Kahn Academy has an independent, grow-at-your-own pace system of math learning too--a place that students can turn to in an effort to develop their math repertoire with strength.

Two years ago, I had students create Kahn-like movies to demonstrate their knowledge of fractions. The project was a success because it fostered tremendous discussion, problem solving, and share of mathematical language, concept, and skill. Now with the advent of the common core and SMP's (Standards for Mathematical Practice), I am developing this approach with greater effort as one way to build students' ability to present and teach mathematical arguments, understanding, and questions with precision, use of models, and connections.

To do this, I am employing a four-step process:
  1. Identify Standards.
  2. Plan the Unit of Instruction (I adapted the standard unit template to include SMPs)
  3. Teach.
  4. Assess and revise as needed.
I tried out the Math Unit Design Template while updating my start-of-the-year place value unit. While a bit cumbersome to complete, I found that the template forced me to make the considerations that ensure the unit is standards-based, engaging, relevant, and responsive to students' needs. In the next few days I'll add a few more tech links and models of the unit projects. Then, I'm sure that once I begin to teach this unit, I will find myself refining and enriching each lesson and activity to best meet my students' needs. 

While the new standards for professional work and student learning are complex, they do serve to structure our work in ways that ensure quality, student-centered learning, and design.  

As always, please feel free to comment with suggestions, questions, or revisions. This is a work in progress--the first unit for which I've woven the Standards of Mathematical Practice and the new Massachusetts' Educator Evaluation standards into the design.

There are many ways that students can create short films or screencasts of their math thinking.  I will continue to add examples below.  For starters this example was made using Quicktime screencast, then uploaded to iMovie, edited and published via YouTube.

This is an example using VoiceThread

ThingLink is another option. Click each image and find a link to more information.

This video was made with Garageband.

Another option is to make a PowerPoint movie:

Note: One the students evaluate my examples, their work will be much better.

Learning Design 2013: Shortlist of Ideas and Links

Thanks to a Wayland Public Schools Foundation grant and the support of our system-wide leadership, I was given a stipend to organize posts I collected for summer study. At first I thought I would create a guiding chart, but found that the use of a unit design template, lesson plan template and this guiding post will serve colleague's learning and teaching design efforts better. The unit/lesson design templates give educators a structure with which to plan learning experiences that reflect current research, standards, and expectations. This guiding post leads educators through the many considerations related to dynamic learning design today. I've also offered examples that relate to each professional learning and design area.

I reviewed and organized the posts in order to guide colleagues and myself with respect to our ongoing efforts to teach children well. Rather than a comprehensive list or chart of all the great tools, strategies, and considerations one should access while designing learning for today’s student, this post serves as a road map of learning including a number of signature posts and links that represent many critical points, organizations, authors, tools, and strategies related to current change and evolution in education.

After sifting through numerous, diverse posts, I was once again struck by the universe of information available today, and the mighty task of knowing where to begin and what to do with all this information.

This question leads us back to the center of what it means to be human and to live a good life. Information should serve us, not the other way around. We need to find ways to encourage and invigorate learning so that children use information to pursue the good life--a life of happiness, fulfillment, and contribution

So I’ll begin with posts that inspired and challenged me.  Posts that told stories about the beauty, wonder, and struggles in our world. There are multiple stories like this online, but I offer this short list just to wet your appetite for the investigation and exploration available in our world today. Feel free to pass over these examples, but if interested, take a look.

Now to start this guide post, I begin by challenging you to identify the stories you will bring to life in your classrooms--the tales of human endeavor, struggle, quest, and triumph that will excite and inspire your students towards their own discoveries, invention, and investigation.

Once you, your colleagues, and students have determined areas of exploration, the next step is to design the learning together. This collaborative design has developmental implications and will therefore look different at the various grades and levels in a school organization.

I was struck by Grant Wiggins discussion of this topic in his article, “Everything You Know About Curriculum May Be Wrong. Really.” The following quotes challenged me as I read the article:
  • The point is to do new things with content, not simply know what others know – in any field.”
  • “. . .boredom is rampant in schools; perhaps it is the inevitable result of focusing on knowledge instead of performance (which is inherently more engaging). “
  • We might finally realize the absurdity of marching through textbooks.”
  • If curriculum is a tour through what is known, how is knowledge ever advanced?”
  • In other words, though we often lose sight of this basic fact, the point of learning is not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.”

With Wiggins’ idea that the transformative process of learning is what matters, how do we design learning so that we focus on performance and new knowledge?

Couros and Granger lead us with a call to develop inquiry base units, take risks, and develop a love of learning. Developing learning like this leads us to employ Design Thinking that includes multiple Learning Maps, The Four C’s, and a solid understanding of what it means to learn. The best lessons will depend on information that is well researched using essential questions, academic search engines, and effective 21st century learning leadership.  

As we design learning we need to integrate today’s tools with attention to Digital Pedagogy, PBL, and Student Research. We can set the stage for this learning by encouraging students' “learning to learn” mindsets and habits, and integrating brain-friendly learning experiences. Sites such as these support this learning:

Ongoing assessment of the learning environment by educators, leaders, families, and the community is integral to the process of building dynamic schools. The questions below serve to initiate school and classroom assessments:

Is your learning community effective? ( Stack )
  • Does your learning community work interdependently to advance student learning and academic performance for which we are collectively responsible and mutually accountable?
  • Are students engaged in learning tasks and performance assessments that accurately measure learning and mastery of competency?
  • Does the community fosters a positive school culture and climate for each of the stakeholders that promotes respect, responsibility, ambition, and pride?

Is your classroom a dynamic,student-centered,engaging learning environment?(Couros)
  • Do students have voice and choice?
  • Is there time for reflection?
  • Are there opportunities for innovation?
  • Do you encourage and support critical thinking?
  • Are students problem solvers and “finders?
  • Do students self-assess their learning?
  • Are you and your students connected learners?

Does  your school exemplify the Attributes of a successful school?

Are you an effective educator?

Is your classroom and/or school an effective learning environment?
  • Is the learner at the center of all that happens in the classroom?
  • Is learning a social practice in your classroom?
  • Do students understand the why of learning experiences in your classroom?
  • Do you make time for students’ emotions?
  • Do you engage each student “where he or she is”?
  • Do you offer a just right challenge for students so they are not “coasting” or “overloaded?”
  • Is assessment meaningful, substantial, and used to shape the environment?
  • Is learning interdisciplinary?

Also, are you ready for new learning--learning that has been identified nationally and locally in addition to learning that results from students’ passions and interests. Today’s learning requires familiarity and inclusion of the following areas:

Multiple new tools and strategies exist in core curriculum areas as well. Here is a sample of a few links related to specific subject areas.

Science/Social Studies

Our ability to teach children well will depend on the way we integrate the new digital culture with the traditional culture of school. The manner in which leadership and educators synthesize social media, digital tools, today’s big questions, students’ passions, community context, and essential skills will impact the kind of learning environments we create. In the  Forbes article, “5 Ways Social Learning Communities Transform Culture And Leadership,” Biro supports this point when she writes, “Online learners will change culture.” and“. . .empower your employees to learn, participate and grow” with social media. Therefore the way we structure, navigate, and share our professional learning including the books, articles, and blogs we read, the conferences and courses we attend, and the professional learning communities we work with will impact the cultures we create in our schools.

A Very Short List of Blogs, Articles, Conferences and Organizations
Created from my Posts' Collection
Additions are welcome.  Please add your favorites in the comments section.

In summary, this post offers you a map to guide your professional learning and design for the school year to come. The post also offers you learning and unit design templates which may serve to structure your efforts to promote engaging, student-centered learning design. Similar to the traveler's considerations as she studies the map to choose the best places to visit and explore, the educator today must study the educational landscape to determine the best paths to travel and promote to facilitate dynamic, engaging exploration, investigation, and development. Like the short tour of a new city or historic landmark, this post overs a drive-by view of learning, one which you may use to begin, review, or revise your own individual and collaborative learning design path--a path that leads you to best practice as an educator today.