Thursday, January 30, 2014

Growing Students' Writing Skill

Like a mountain, students' many writing pieces were piled before me ready for review.  With report cards complete and transition to new units done, I created a new, quicker way to assess those writing pieces looking for the main teaching/learning points.  Then I ascended that paper peak.  Now with a better understanding of each child's strengths and challenges in that area, I'll turn the papers over to children and families for their own review and assessment.

As students look over their work, my comments, and the criteria for success (terrific written responses), they'll have a chance to reflect on their work, growth, and efforts to come.  Then I'll meet with each child, review their goals and reflections, and together, we'll set some collective goals too.  After that, they'll bring their work home for family review.  Parents have been asked to sign off and include comments if they wish on the reflection sheet.  In a sense, this effort will inspire the entire learning community to get behind this goal and lend their support as students move towards greater skill with regard to writing a reading response well.

In Massachusetts, it has been a long held goal that fourth graders read text across genre and answer a wide variety of open response questions. A good response requires a topic sentence that restates the question, four specific pieces of evidence/examples from the text, four explanations that include rich vocabulary/precise language, transition words, and an ending that recaps the response including the "big idea" answer.

Tonight, I will move from this analysis to the analysis of students' narrative writing, another worthy, but challenging goal as every fourth grader is also required to learn how to write a multi-page narrative that includes organization, craft, rich vocabulary, transition words, story elements, and voice--I'm sure that will be the topic of tomorrow's post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Silence: Good or Bad?

As our thoughts continue to be shaped and reshaped via social media threads, conferences, MOOCs, blogs, and more, there is silence on many education fronts.

This puzzles me.

Do teams benefit from little to no communication or share?

Is it best to only report information on a particular day each month even though change is happening daily with regard to the resources, materials, and tools available?

Can we continue to keep year-ahead ordering and budget processes when the world is moving at a different rate of change and research these days?

Yes, too much information can overwhelm, but I fear too little communication more.

Vital, invigorated learning communities depend on steady, scaffolded, streamlined share that cheers the team on with communication, debate, and integration of the important news related to teaching children well each day.

Do you agree?  Why or why not?

Modeling Research: A Study of Afghanistan

Our students will soon meet Elizabeth Suneby, author of Razia's Ray of Hope. To prepare for the visit, we have studied the book using many lenses including the lens of writer, reader, and literary analyst. Now we will study the book as historians and geographers as we develop a child's eye view of Afghanistan.

While we learn this information, I will also model the many tools, materials, and processes we can use to research. I will model these efforts often in the weeks to come as we prepare for the spring student research project.

Hence today, we'll begin with a discussion about how you may travel via the Internet.  We'll start with the child-friendly research site, National Geographic for Kids, and together we'll read and study a slide show about Afghanistan.

As we study, we'll write down the questions, surprises, and facts that we think are very interesting or important.

Later, we'll watch a video of a photographer from National Geographic who has spent many years studying, photographing, and visiting Afghanistan.  I will tell the students that this is a kind of job some of them may be interested in--the job of visiting places and recording the stories, people, and events of that place as a writer, photographer, photo-journalist, historian, archeologist, anthropologist, researcher, or many other professions.

After that we'll bring it back to the story, and the action of research in general with the following questions:

1. How did this Internet research change the way you think about the book, Razia's Ray of Hope?  Do you understand the book and/or characters better?  Were you left with more questions or less?

2. As a researcher, how might you use video or Internet information to develop your understanding of a topic?

In the days that follow we'll continue our study by creating circle graphs with Afghanistan's statistics demonstrating the ways that data and statistics can help to build one's contextual understanding of a topic or place.  We'll also read about the Afghanistan War, the background information for the story, and other current events with child-appropriate text.  Finally we'll read about the author and prepare questions for her visit.

Razia's Ray of Hope is a rich narrative that introduces children to important information related to reading, writing, and the world around them. It's a story often untold which piques students' interest and generates many questions thus broadening students' world view and study skills in a way that create a foundation for greater understanding, study, and share.

Authors' Meeting

Writing a well-organized, four-page narrative that demonstrates craft and voice is a fourth grade objective.  To make that story really good children have to introduce the character, setting, and problem, then tell the story event by event with lots of character interplay, "show don't tell" moments, suspense, dialogue, and an ending that leaves you with what happened and how the character(s) felt. I also don't want to forget that the story needs rich language and lots of transition words too.  That's essentially the expected story ingredients when it comes to standardized tests.

Underlying this test task though is the teaching goal of creating wonderful writers, storytellers, and multimedia composers--terrific communicators.

Today, as we approach mid-unit with respect to narrative, we'll have an authors' meeting.

During the meeting, I'll pose the following questions

1. Does anyone know what our narrative writing goal is? Do you remember what a "narrative" is?
2. What have we already done to reach that goal?
3. What do you or the entire class have to do to keep moving towards the goal?
4. How can I help you reach this goal?

After our authors' meeting, I'll review the writer's workshop steps and protocols, and then children will get to work finalizing their last narrative, and beginning new stories.

While there's a temptation to run through the curriculum since there are so many standards, good teaching requires that we take the time to acknowledge our goals, strategies, process, and needs.  That's what we'll do this morning.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sharing Student Work: Meaningful Collaboration

Deeper Learning MOOC Week Two prompted us to think about the ways we use student work to forward student/teacher performance, meaning, and effect. 

Each week, I want to make sure that I create a responsive action to the deeper learning study so that I can bring the learning forward to my students, professional work, and collaboration.

Hence, this week I've proposed two actions. The first is focused on sharing students' open response math problem solving work with a collaborative educator group, and the second involves collaborative student critique and share in the classroom.


Action #1: Collaborative Critique of Student Open Response Math Problem Solving

Choosing a Problem
Prior to the share, the team will choose an open ended response problem to employ in the classroom. We'll have to determine whether we want the problem to be test-related, a more relevant, meaningful problem, or a combination of both.

Planning the Share

First, we'll need to determine our purpose for sharing and critiquing the work. We could choose from any of the following:

1. Evidence of Academic Mindsets
Does the work exemplify students' academic mindsets:
  • I feel like I belong here.
  • I think I can do this
  • This work has value for me.
  • I believe my intelligence can grow with effort.
2. To create a common vision of what we're looking for.
Using student work to create a short list or exemplars of what we consider quality student performance. Choosing characteristics of the work, or exemplars, that we can later use with students to guide their performance.

3. To assess efficacy.
Is the project/task designed well to create a valued effect? Is the work designed in a way that all children are empowered and enabled to create andcomplete beautiful, quality work? Is the work open-ended and able to foster concept development rather than adherence to rules alone.

4. To assess relevancy.
Is the project/task relevant, meaningful, responsive, and open ended?

5. To assess student process, thought, and performance.
How can we collectively look at student work to "see better" and determine the kinds of student effort, process, performance, and presentation involved, and in what ways can we use that information to forward student/teacher complex work and performance.

6. To assess learning design.
Student work reveals the strength and needs of learning design. Discussions related to student work to build a collaborative, design culture.

6. To determine the purpose of the task, education process.
In a small, rural MN town, the learning community studied and discussed student work as evidence of the Town's educational purpose/efforts. Essentially what story does the student work tell about the values, efforts, and direction of a school system.

How will we critique the work. Several models were shared:

1. Share Observations First, then Critique
To broaden the conversation, participants first share what they notice. (I never really understood until watching this MOOC why this was fostered, now that I understand I can see the value.) Answer the question, "What comes up for you?," as you look at the work.

2. Warm/Cool Statements (Also referred to as Stars and Wishes)
Start with positive, appreciative response, then add responses about what we could change, revise.

3. The Charrette Protocol
We discuss the work with a sense that we all are responsible for the work and growth using "we" and "our" statements.


1. Review Purpose, Protocol
2. Share
3. Determine Next Steps, Follow-Up Response/Actions


Action #2: Student-to-Student Critique

1. Use a deep learning, meaningful project. For our class that will be compose a story you want to share with the world.

2. Review Academic Mindsets, Research, and Rationale with Children.

  • I feel like I belong here.
  • I think I can do this
  • This work has value for me.
  • I believe my intelligence can grow with effort
  • Learning to give and take critique helps to foster better work, more effective learning and performance.
  • Helping each other helps everyone do better work.
  • Exemplars of quality, beautiful work gives us a direction to aim towards in our study and work.
  • Examining each other's work helps us to see schools as places for learning and growth, not places for evaluation of who is skilled and who is not.
  • Student work tells a story about the student, teaching, and the educational program's activities, beliefs, and priorities. 
  • Reviewing each other's work helps us to get to know one another as well as exposing us to multiple perspectives, processes, and possibilities.
  • Complex open tasks encourage creativity and develop concept.
  • Caring about each other's work, and taking the time to look at each other's work pushes our own work, creativity, and potential.
  • All good work starts out with struggle and problems.
  • "Fail to Prevail" Establish a culture that embraces and learns from mistakes.
3. Decide with children how we will critique each other's work with the question, "How can we help each other compose wonderful stories?" After listing their ideas, turn their ideas into an action plan.

4. Carry out the action plan as students write and craft stories.

5. Review and retell the effort in a shared story, video, or other creative project.

6. Grow the process with other projects and student endeavor.

Related Links

School Reform Initiative
Crafting Beautiful Work

Educon 2.6: Challenging, Inspiring, Thought Provoking

Below is a list of my Educon 2.6 Posts:

More Questions than Answers

Focus: Children

Home w/an illness, I'm thinking about the focus, the children, the path ahead.

It's one that requires careful attention to detail, students' energy/needs, and making the most of the time available.

I need to make the time to focus on each and every learner with depth and care.

I honor the young learners in my class, and will follow through with this charge.

Time Well Spent?

I hear consultants and coaches worry about teachers' lack of response as they lead, and I think the issue comes down to time and voice.

A tier of consultants and coaches has emerged in American education.  These coaches and consultants existed before, but their numbers have seemed to grow.  Yet the time for teachers to do their work well has not changed much, and I believe this is a significant mismatch.

As the time for coaches and consultants grows, and the time for teachers to think, plan, and respond stays the same, the system begins to take on a tiered system of thinkers (consultants/coaches) and doers (teachers) and I don't think this system serves children well.

Yes, I'm a fan of professional learning and mentoring/coaching of teachers, but I truly believe that giving teachers the time they need to do the job well is the most important change when it comes to teaching children well.  The consultants/coaches rarely work with children, and they are removed from the daily, contextual situations that differ from classroom to classroom, and school to school.  That space between consultant/coach and children lessens the urgency, will, and drive to teach individual children well; the drive that every classroom teacher feels as they look into the eyes of their children each and every day.

What implications does this discussion have for school systems?  First, as I've mentioned before, take a close look at who is working with children and when, and who is spending most of the school time doing paperwork, reading, and decision making.  There needs to be a right balance of that--and I believe that balance should weigh on having most staff working directly with students and giving that staff adequate time for planning, design, and response.  I think that building a core of dedicated, educated direct-service educators is a step in the right direction, and should be a first priority of all school systems.

While I understand that so many coaches and consultants have good vision, ideas, and dedication, and that their work is needed in part, I also know that it isn't until you work with children regularly and directly that you truly understand the efforts needed and work required to do the job well.

Extreme Test Prep

The message is clear, "Increase test scores!"  Our collective test scores were not what some wanted, hence it's been one subtle message after another basically saying, what matters is test scores.

This is challenging in so many ways.  First it matters because the test mandates are steep and narrow.  For example fourth graders have to read text, plan a reading response that includes a rich topic sentence that responds to the question, include four pieces of direct evidence from the text that include rich vocabulary, write four explanations that show how the evidence supports the answer, and add a closing sentence that summarizes the "big idea" answer. A clear, concise answer like that requires careful reading, planning, and craft. Yesterday after one such session a little boy shook his hand and said, "My hand hurts."

Similarly, the students have to read complex math problems, figure out the multi-step questions, understand the math and language well, demonstrate their solution in pictures, numbers, and/or words, and write a clear answer.  They have to craft this answer on a one page sheet with lines and a very small grid in the corner. The questions represent a wide, deep array of math concepts, skills, and knowledge.

And, these young students also have to learn to craft a four-page narrative, persuasive essay, or possibly informational text that is clearly organized with evidence of rich language, voice, and writers' craft. Like the reading response answers, this effort requires that students handwrite a draft, edit the draft, then rewrite by hand a final copy--it's a full day of writing.  A few children have keyboarding privileges, but the keyboarding is limited since they cannot use spell check, grammar check, images, or other worthy online writing tools. It's too bad that all children can't craft these stories with a tech device and all the wonderful writing tools available on that device similar to the way almost every writer writes today.

Now when I was reviewing all these goals with students, I felt so challenged.  On one hand, yes, I want my students to all get great scores mostly because students, parents, and teachers won't have to worry about the ramifications of getting low scores.  I also want my students to learn to be wonderful readers, writers, and mathematicians, but all of this learning requires lots and lots of repetition to get those good scores, and the repetition of these direct skills requires lots of seat work, handwriting, and very dry, direct work--not the meaningful, child-centered project base learning that's possible.  We'll end the year with that worthy learning once these tests are past.

Before the testing started many years ago, some children were slipping through without good reading and writing skills, and that's one reason why I'm not totally against tests--when children became a test score, some children got more attention, and good attention that wasn't provided before.  And, an early start of solidifying essential skills is also good--children need a strong foundation for learning well. Also the common core standards are rich and deep, every time I pose a well crafted lesson based on the standards, the students are motivated to think and wonder deeply.

However, there seems to be a developmental mismatch since I find myself rushing through important learning in dry ways in order to cover the large number of possible questions, and that's not good teaching. I wish I could take the time needed to foster a really rich meaningful digital story with children instead of multiple repetitions of a handwritten narrative.  I wish we could spend the week building, creating, and making to learn area and perimeter with depth rather than multiple practice sets so I can fit in a number of other concepts.  Yet, I realize that to lessen the standards might mean that people will use the worksheets to teach the simpler standards, and the learning/teaching won't be richer over all.

So, what to do--I think every system needs to think deeply about their learners. What do your learners need?  What do our learners need?  When is a test score a low priority because we are choosing a student's needs over a test score, and when is the test score the right goal for some students?  How do we balance the day, and provide the appropriate supports to meet the needs of all children?

Further, with new evaluation systems for teachers and leaders that require evidence--when does the collection of evidence serve as a natural result of teaching/learning well, and when does evidence collection take the place of the time we need to do good work.

In summary, we need time to talk about the important issues.  Skirting around issues of importance, mandates, and subtlety serve to swerve us away from the important conversations we need to have today about teaching children well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Stepping Back

January has been an intense period of study, creation, and reflection.

It's time to step back, observe, and follow the paths created for a while.  I'll partake in the Deeper Learning MOOC (saving much of the learning for our spring project), follow through with test prep/basic skills lessons, respond to PLC efforts/needs, and coach my students with feedback, questions answered, and support.

Rarely is an career path a balanced walk, instead most work represents waves of energy, effort, and endeavor.  Hence I'll let my students and colleagues lead as I follow now--time to do the good work possible.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Educon 2.6 Sunday: Positive Change

Beginning with the terrific Sunday morning panelists and stretching through the formal conversations and side talk, a sense of optimism and promise for positive change pervaded Educon talk today. Similar to the last two days, once again it was challenging to capture the day's wisdom in a post.  I'm sure I'll continue to think about this experience in the days to come, but in the meantime, here's a snapshot of today's learning.

Ayla Gavins, Jose Vilson, Christina Cantrill, and Philip Schmidt presented a great panel discussion on the topic, "Openness: Creating More Transparent Schools."  The discussion left me with many points to ponder in days to come including the following:

  • Gavins shared strategies used in her school such as discussing the article, "Willing to be Disturbed,"and posed the thought that we need to develop a culture of share in schools and a willingness to be open with one another. She said there are two roles in her school, "teacher and supporters of teachers."
  • Vilson discussed the distinction between "inspect and respect" with regard to evaluation and share in schools, and supported a school culture where educators are able to say to leaders/teachers, "Come look, come talk to students," rather than a culture led by "blunt instruments" that don't tell the real story of student need, achievement, and growth.
  • Cantrill promoted transparency that's supported through practice, invitation, and permission--a purposeful openness. 
  • Schmidt thinks about openness as cultures where people are "invited in" and given a license to make change. He noted that the best way to promote change is to show the positive, engaging sides of new practice and innovation. It was noted that it's important for educators to model for families and colleagues the kinds of questions, thinking, and strategies promoted in the classroom.
  • Vilson challenged that many systems don't value expertise, and questioned the employment of those without classroom/teaching expertise as assessors, coaches, and guides for educators. 
  • Gavins promotes leadership with all staff through multiple, purposeful discussions, outreach, and care for children. At her school, they have collective ownership and support of the standards and take the time to discuss, analyze, and reach common understanding of teaching/learning goals with an eye on the present, and an eye on the future and what children need.  
  • Schmidt noted that students need to be part of the discussion; they need to have ownership in their school environments. 
  • All of the participants discussed the role of narrative with regard to successful schools, and they all promoted the notion of inclusive learning communities that engage students, families, educators, and leaders in the education story of vision, plans, events, and reflection. Gavins explained that we need to "take advantage of a captive audience." 
  • Cantrill discussed the Internet as a learning space, and challenged us to think about how we use that space to forward the education and collaboration of all.
  • The discussion of transparency and accountability emerged with the observation that cultures with greater share and transparency actually exemplify greater accountability and rigor since people tend to push each other, collaborate, and communicate regularly about the goals, vision, and efforts. It was also noted that working in public spaces such as the Internet builds accountability--when you're visible you open yourself up to growth, critique, and share. 
  • Gavins recommended that we create "public service messages" to tell the true story about what matters in the classroom, and noted that "misinformation rolls back the clock about what we do, and can do for students."
  • Vilson challenged us to tell the stories that matter even when those stories may be unpopular or controversial--telling the stories that matter empower students. 
  • Lehmann posed the final question, "How do we encourage and model the idea that we can take care of one another so vulnerability is not singular?" (The vulnerability of transparency, openness, share, and trying something new.) Vilson shared that there is a big difference between calling someone out and bringing someone in. Gavins spoke about the intersection of celebration and challenge--noting how good we feel when we work at a challenge.  She also relayed the story of a group of elders who said, "We hug before we talk," and described how that was the way they decreased the vulnerability inherent in tough conversations, problem solving, and share. 
Sunday Conversation: Preservice Teaching Programs
After the panel discussion, I participated in a great conversation related to preservice teaching programs. Many ideas were shared:
  • We discussed the potential of University-school partnerships where teachers serve as preservice instructors while hosting interns for a year or more.
  • We talked about how connectivity and technology can be shared with and taught to new teachers. 
  • We noted that it's imperative that educators have a PLN (personal learning network) today, and talked about our individual paths to creating and using our PLN's to benefit student learning.  
  • We discussed the fact that there's too much busy work in preservice programs, and that should be replaced by more meaningful, purposeful work. 
  • It was also expressed that there isn't enough time in preservice internships for meaningful teacher-to-teacher talk.  Further we wondered how "mentor" is defined today since the collaboration of student teacher to classroom teacher is an exchange. 
Educon 2.6 was an affirming, challenging, and thought provoking event, one that will serve to positively enrich my teaching repertoire.  

If you're interested in attending this wonderful event, save the date for next year's Educon 2.7:

January 23, 24, 25, 2015 --Great PD for all educators

Educon 2.6: Multiple Paths of Inquiry

Capturing Educon 2.6 is a daunting task as the day is not easily described in words.  Truly it is a conference that inspires terrific thought, connection, exchange, and mentoring.  The engaged Science Leadership Academy students, family members, and educators provide a portrait of what schools can be--vibrant, inclusive, collaborative learning environments.  The notes below reflect my experiences and take aways from Educon 2.6 Saturday. 

Kind, enthusiastic Science Leadership parents greeted me when I entered the Academy for Saturday's Educon 2.6. I found a seat in the main room, and readied for the morning's introduction by SLA's Principal, Chris Lehmann.  While waiting, I had the chance to meet a number of educators, some of whom I know well from Twitter chats and blogs and others who I look forward to getting to know.

Enthusiastic Introduction
Great to meet so many Twitter friends including
Tom Whitby, Katrina Stevens, and Nancy Blair
Lehmann began the day with gratitude for his vibrant learning community of dedicated family members, students, staff, and partners. He described the Educon 2.6 participants, online and off, as a tribe of purposeful educators and acknowledged the way that so many of us continually interact in a large variety of learning spaces. Throughout the day the SLA students and family members were fully integrated into all aspects of the event from leadership to conversation participation/presentation to guiding guests, serving lunch/dinner, and answering lots of questions.

Next,  Richard Culatta, Director, Office of Educational Technology, United States Department of Education, gave the keynote address. Culatta encouraged us to read the United States Department of Education's Strategic Plan Draft, and prompted us to focus on the learning first, and technology as a way to power up learning. He noted ConnectEd, the importance/outcomes of school speed tests, and that President Obama would include education in his upcoming State of the Union address.  Culatta posed the question, "How can we change professional development in education? and pointed to the mismatch of one-size-fits-all professional development and our efforts to personalize learning for every child.  He also encouraged meaningful PBL with the comment, "Let students solve real problems."

The Conversations

Conversation #1: Education News and Idea Exchange
After the keynote, I attended a session led by Culatta, and was inspired by the many questions, stories, and teaching strategies shared during that conversation. During the session we discussed the need for every child to have tech devices available to them where and when they want to learn, and that it's time to break down the notion that technology is a separate class or room in the building. This idea led to a debate about ideal learning spaces and strategies. Culatta noted that there are federal funds available for shifts in professional development, and that Connected Schools Guides will be coming out to help foster tech integration and learning exchange.

As educators shared, the following topics/questions were discussed:
  • Formal support for the informal student
  • Structures that balance foundation skills with innovation and new learning.
  • The disconnect that often happens between school departments. 
  • The need for technologists and students to be part of learning design/instructional teams. 
  • Instead of asking students, "What they want to be when they grow up?," ask "What problem do you want to solve?"
  • How do we encourage and foster innovative tech use and teaching strategy within all teaching teams, schools?
  • How will schools handle technology now that new government measures are making that technology more available and affordable? 
  • How can we effectively implement technology into preservice teaching programs?  
  • What do we do about the discord between personalization and standardized tests?
  • How can every school develop a culture of learning. (The book, The Courage to Teach, was referenced).
Conversation #2: Learning and Unlearning 
After lunch, I participated in a conversation led by Dr. Bill Brennan related to how organizations learn and unlearn as part of building dynamic learning communities.  Like Culatta's conversation, the room was full. We discussed a number of thought provoking questions including the following:
  • How do we create organizations where we can help individuals break out of their comfort zones?
  • What do we unlearn in order to move our learning/teaching communities forward?
  • Are we learning institutions or institutions of learning? 
  • How do we allow students to build their own contexts with respect to knowledge?
  • Do organizations value reflection, and if so, how do they make time for that activity?
  • What is the difference between knowledge and information?
  • Are our systems ready to navigate rapid change and growth?
  • How and where do systems encourage leadership growth, change, and interchange in dynamic ways?
Other important take aways from this conversation for me included the idea of the educator as one who leads students' inquiry with analysis, critical thinking, question creation, and content curation.  It was noted that in the old days, questions were looked at as a deficit, and now questions are the focus of learning. Lehmann contributed the idea that teachers need to tell a better story about what they are doing in classrooms today to educate students well--we have to help families and others understand the changing role of education and educator. 

Brennan highlighted the idea that through social media, collaboration, and other online/offline learning community endeavors, we are able to draft on each other's ideas which serves to accelerate our learning. One participant suggested the book, Gamestorming, as a guide to invigorating change and optimal collaboration in schools. 

Waiting for the day's final session to begin, I was introduced to a great blog related to drawing and visual literacy, a passion for me so I can't wait to take a close look. 

Conversation #3: Elementary PBL
The final session of the day, led by Diana Potts, focused on elementary school PBL.  Clearly, Diana had spent hours studying and implementing a number of great strategies to grow this work for student engagement and learning.  She prompts students to "figure it out," and "construct their own knowledge" in responsive ways which often means that students are engaged in a myriad of activities at the same time.  Diana makes lots of room for student voice and choice and creates norms and a physical environment that supports PBL. She keeps a collection of creative supplies, and finds that families are often ready to donate these to the class. During the conversation, I had the chance to design an ideal school with a a terrific group of educators including a curriculum leader, a couple of fourth grade teachers from Canada, a fifth grade teacher, a principal, and a PD consultant. Our design work led us into many conversation threads related to the design of school's physical structure, teaching roles, schedules, and program/lesson design.  Diana pointed to the following resources during her presentation: BIE, Maker Space, and Teach Plus, Mindset in the Classroom

I am sure that in the days to come the Educon 2.6 learning will begin to take greater shape.  In the meantime, my focus will continue to embrace learning design, responsive personalization, and invigorated project/problem base learning as I teach and learn with my fourth graders.

Final Notes and Connections
  • Bruce Wellman from Olathe NW HS had terrific ideas about collaborative share and innovative learning design at the high school level.
  • Geraldine Smythe introduced me to her program, cultureboost. It is a program aimed at teaching students how to create their own small businesses to raise funds.  I thought this work might be a nice addition to our school's successful service learning program. 
  • I enjoyed Jaime Casap's comments throughout the conference and look forward to watching his TedX Talk
  • A Teen Magazine created in Meeno Rami's Class. 
  • It was so great to meet so many Twitter friends, a list too long to write as I know I'd forget someone. 
  • SLA's signage keeps the school's mission and vision alive as evidenced in the photos below. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Educon 2.6 Panel: More Questions Than Answers

Last night I attended Educon 2.6's panel discussion at the inspiring Franklin Institute. I left the conversation with many more questions than answers. The topic, "Openness: Should We Create a More Transparent World," was met with a myriad of responses that I would summarize as a collective "yes, but be aware" since openness and transparency are advantageous, however, we have to be cognizant of what openness and transparency mean for our personal lives, work, and future.

I must say I felt like a small fish in a big pond as multiple ideas were shared, ideas that move way beyond the school house to areas such as global citizenry/connection, open courseware use for all learners, the plusses and minuses of MOOCs, tech invention, scalability, and ownership, and the vast data collection systems connected to our everyday use of technology.

The take aways for me were varied, leaving me with more questions than answers for the students, school, and system I work for.

First, the words of Jaime Casap, Global Education Evangelist at Google, and Kin Lane, API Evangelist, led me to a renewed focus related to educating and empowering students and families about the digital footprint or portfolio they are creating from a young age. That would begin with educating parents and children at the early years and moving outward to greater ownership and education for older children.  I liked the way that Casap explained that we all now live in a "big, giant, small town" as he referred to the fact that we are known, and known well, through our digital share similar to the way we were known in the tight knit neighborhoods we grew up in. I also liked Casap's use of the phrase "control our digital portfolio," as he emphasized a sense of empowerment related to student use of tech rather than the focus on following rules. Lane pointed to the many ways that data is collected through our typical online use of multiple platforms. This discussion made me want to read more about this complex, world changing topic--a topic that affects all of us.

Homa Sabat Tavangar, author of the Global Toolkit for Elementary Learners and Growing Up Global: Raising Children to be at Home in the World pointed to the opportunities for global partnership and exchange that transparency and openness related to technology bring.  She noted that there is a whole world of ideas outside of our borders. I am keenly aware of this, and believe that we have to build our students' global understanding from a young age. I liked her emphasis on global/digital citizenship which is to teach children to think of themselves as "friends to the world."  I would like to read Tavangar's books, and include some of her ideas in my students' upcoming Friendship Week, the week that includes Valentine's Day.

David Wiley, Co-Founder of Lumen Learning, discussed the potential that moving towards open courseware brings for learners and educators.  He expressed his concern that MOOCs are not creative or innovative enough with respect to providing a rich, interactive education. I spoke more to him about this later and agreed that while MOOCs can serve some well, they are not the vehicle for educating others. As a busy educator, with little time, but terrific access, I find that a MOOC serves my learning needs well, but as he suggested, MOOCs may not serve the needs of less experienced learners or those with less access well.  I was very interested in his ideas about open courseware, and want to explore that topic more.  As a grade school teacher I often find myself caught in a web of public-private partnership.  While I benefit from both in my work, I do at times, worry about a move to greater privatization as I wonder about who will advocate for and protect the rights of all children, particularly children from the most challenged situations.

Sunny Lee, Project Lead from Mozilla Open Badges, discussed Mozilla's work with regard to credential systems.  She posed the questions and comments related to the question, How do we tell our professional story today? She further noted that many of our credential systems are outdated.  As far as openness and transparency, Lee highlighted the need for lots of conversation related to the topic since the notion of "open" is abstract with many different perspectives. That idea continued as the panelists discussed the relationship between accountability and vulnerability with regard to openness and transparency.

After the panel, I spoke to Marci Hull, the tech director from SLA, who mentioned to me that the intent of the panel was to broaden our perspective as educators by bringing in varied professionals from fields outside of education. In thinking about that focus, it's clear that the panel impacted me. My eyes were open to multiple new perspectives and topics, and while I felt like a small fish in a big sea, I'll attend more to these topics as blog posts, tweets, conversations, and books are posted and published.

Before, during and after the panel discussion, I spoke to a number of educators. I was inspired by a group of educators who are working for the Department of Education to build two new high schools in New York.  I was honored to meet Jose Vilson, a New York educator who inspires me daily with his blog posts, work, and advocacy for children and educators.  Similarly, I was impressed by the enthusiasm by the Franklin Institute leaders I spoke to as I learned about the Institute's mission and outreach. I also met the Tech Director, Gerald Crisci,  from the Scarsdale Public Schools who told me the wonderful story of his system's research and development efforts. He shared his system's wonderful iBook story which I look forward to reading.

Going to a conference by yourself offers learning challenge, excitement, and discomfort with regard to new people, new ideas, and new challenges. What seems like challenging goals and work in your own system become magnified when you hear the stories, issues, and foci of so many other systems and disciplines. Though uncomfortable, the learning is good and pushes me to see education with greater depth and breadth, thus allowing me to bring new ideas back to my students, school, and system.  The panel was only the start of this transformative weekend. I wonder what today's learning and share will bring.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bringing My Short List to Educon 2.6

Educon 2.6 begins today. I've created a framework with my short list and my previous post. The journey will likely take me on some unexpected twists and turns of thought and action, but for starters here's the short list. 
  • Read, write, connect, and share w/best ideas, practice, and questions related to optimal learning structures, activities, efforts. What inspiration will I share with colleagues and collaborators in my PLN online and off. At Educon 2.6 I will collect wisdom, ideas, and research to empower my own work and the work of others. 
  • Teach to empower children with solid foundation skills, apt learning dispositions. confidence, and contribution. I will transform the ideas related to my fourth grade class into activities, lessons, posters, and other ready-to-implement strategies/efforts as a way of using the conference to strengthen the work I do. 
  • Collaborate to build a worthy, inspired, successful learning/teaching community. Listen, affirm, question, share, build together wonderful learning communities to benefit children. 
  • Contribute to the wonderful communities I live, work, and recreate with. Be present.
  • En-joy with the people, places, and actions that bring life happiness, meaning, and care. See the city, tour the Museum (if there's time), talk to the SLA students and teachers, visit nearby relatives. . . .
The Educon 2.6 adventure begins soon. . .what will the takeaways be? 

Deeper Learning MOOC: Random Thoughts, Week One

I feel like a garden is sprouting in my mind as I meander the Deeper Learning MOOC.  Many seeds are germinating with new ideas, plans, and thoughts.  Hence a post of random, yet related, thoughts.

"Follow the Yellow Brick Road"
As I read, listen, think, and employ the deeper learning notions, I keep returning to Dorothy and The Yellow Brick Road.  One of my son's talented teachers used to read The Wizard of Oz each year to her students.  I want to read that story to my students this year, and I want to listen carefully to the lines L. Frank Baum wrote and learn about his life too.

Learning Paths
As my colleagues and I work to revise a traditional learning unit we will create a chart to guide students' learnng path creation.  As I imagine it now the chart will have the following column headers:
  • problems, questions, ideas
  • research: books, websites, interviews, videos, museum visits, observation, exploration, play. . .
  • writing: Google doc, Google Presentation, movie script, play, letter, musical script, songs. . . 
  • creation: invention, sculpture, painting, play, musical, tour, interactive event, instrument. . .
  • share: presentation, movie, life performance, Google hangout, Skype, webinar, chat. . .
As students explore the chart and think about their learning path, we'll follow a process like this.
  • planting the seed: I have actually already planted this seed.  Students know that we will have this project time, and they are already thinking about what they will study/create and how they will navigate the path.  I am taking notes too about specific learners so I will be ready to guide them well. I typically plant the seeds of new ideas in myself and in my students well in advance of production--that's the garden of ideas I continually nurture. 
  • learning about learning: I will continue to introduce students to the research and current thought about "learning to learn." For example yesterday we had a powerful discussion about learning discomfort and when discomfort is okay with learning and when it's not.  That was a new notion to students and we had a terrific discussion that helped all of us understand our own learning and each other's learning well.  
  • collaboration: I will build more lessons and opportunities to learn about and practice this skill at a deeper level. 
  • project start: I will give plenty of time upfront for student idea generation with the following questions and more:
    • What do you want to do? 
    • Who do you want to work with?
    • What do you need to do your work?
    • What will your end product look like?
  • standards: I will embed multiple standards in the project requirements--standards that naturally fit into any project such as those related to writing, reading, research, speaking, and mathematical reasoning. 
  • backwards design: I will lead students through a "loose-tight" backwards design planning process for their project. 
  • scheduling: I will help students schedule spaces, dates, and times for presentation and supports. 
  • project work: I will coach, mentor, guide, and counsel as students embark on their learning journey. 
  • assess, reflect, and revise: We will regularly stop to assess, reflect, and revise along the way.
  • presentation/celebration: At the end we will make the time for the varied presentations and celebrate the wonderful learning.
  • reflection: I will leave time at the end of the year for significant reflection to inform future learning. 
The Classroom Belongs to the Students
Last night's Deeper Learning MOOC panel emphasized this through a number of important questions and examples.  For example, we need to ask students about the kinds of feedback and assessment that is most meaningful for them, and then we have to use those techniques to encourage, support, and forward learners. Also students need to have ownership and understanding about the classroom events and practice--it is their learning environment, and they are the most important people there.  Further we can't forget the importance of engagement, voice, collaboration, and meaning. These are critical notions and should be the first questions discussed whenever a child is facing issues at school.

Standards and Balance
The common core standards give us an opportunity to develop a common learning language and foundation with students--the standards are rich and deep, but if we don't take care to embed those standards in worthy student-teacher, interdisciplinary learning design, then they simply become a shopping list of dull learning events.  Further, the quantity, breadth, and depth of the standards are potentially an issue. While I'd rather the standards to stand tall like a majestic mountain that creates a wonderful challenge and vista from the top; I don't want the standards to overwhelm learners--hence educators need to choreograph the year or year's curriculum with care, creativity, and meaning.  Truly teaching with the standards well takes artistry which, in the best sense, could serve to create schools that are better than ever. 

Last night I was striving for some synthesis, and this morning I have found some.  I look forward to week two of the Deeper Learning adventure, but for now I'll take a bit of a break as I engage with Educon 2.6 thinkers/doers in Philadelphia beginning tonight.  

One last thought, the Deeper Learning MOOC facilitators posed the question, What has been an example of deeper learning in your life?  I have to say that while I had many rich learning experiences in my life, now is the deepest learning I've had.  The integration of technology, the global idea share via social media, the deep, rich common core standards, open minded students, terrific tools/materials/structures at my fingertips, and the latest learning research which supports the notion that we're all capable of learning have propelled my learning forward, and even more meaningful, have given me the tools, support, and knowledge to teach students with much greater capacity, success, and joy.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Lately, there seems to be a surge of new thought on Internet threads. This comes at a time when my own teaching/learning sphere is filled to the brim with activity.  Hence I'll begin a new thread of thoughts to consider.  Like a fine box of chocolates you hide away to relish now and then, I'll keep this list of great posts to relish and study when time permits. I'll refine the list as I go along.

Note, this is a messy list, but an important list.

Post List
The Coming Common Core Meltdown
Terrific Infographic Resource

Patrick Larkin from Burlington curates education links weekly, and many of these links are from his blog, Learning in Burlington:

Posted on 3/17 from Patrick Larkin
Posted: 09 Mar 2014 07:31 AM PDT
▶ A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC - YouTube  tags: learning rhizomaticlearning rhizomedavecormier
A Deceptively Simple Game that Teaches Students How to Ask the Right Questions | graphite Blog  tags:geography game geoguesser
Seymour Papert: Project-Based Learning Great stuff on Project Based Learning from Seymour Papert via Edutopia tags: pbl seymourpapert
A Good Google Earth Tour Builder Tutorial from Richard Byrne  Google Earth Tour Builder is a slick tool that Google introduced a couple of months ago. Tour Builder is a browser-based tool for creating Google Earth tours. Placemarks in your Tour Builder tours can include up to 25 images and videos, that's one of my favorite aspects of the tool tags: howto googleearth 
Launching the Workshop School: How technology can support radical redesign - Education - AEI tags:workshop technology redesign edreform

Integrating STEAM:

Neuroscience and learning:


Quality Work/Effort:

Speaking Up: