Friday, February 28, 2014

Glad to Be a Connected Educator Today

This morning when I opened my email, I found an invitation to the live streaming of the White House Student Film Festival Awards. The film fest was the result of a student contest which originated at the Department of Education. The Film Fest was live streamed beginning at 2:30 p.m. which was an ideal time for the end of the day Friday teaching.

We hooked up the computer to the giant white board, and watched as one proud student after another spoke to Bill Nye about his/her award.  Students watched with inspiration.  Later we watched some of the films which were terrific depictions of how tech can be used in schools today to teach children well.

So, first, take a look at the White House Student Film Festival winners--I promise that you'll be inspired, and second sign up to be a connected educator as then you'll get the notices related to terrific events like this.

Schedule to Learning List: Day 2

Yesterday, I presented the learning list for the first time. I'm playing with that notion more today.  I can see that I'll need to come up with a template for this to make it a quicker process each day, but for now, here's today's version.

Quote of the Day: “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl

Thanks to the Granite School District for providing the best ever math vocabulary site--a site that's helping students everywhere learn to communicate their math ideas with greater depth.
8:30: Start of Day
9:30 Library

10:00 - 3:00 (Recess/Lunch 11-11:50)

The Move to Deeper Learning/Teaching

The move to deeper learning is a time consuming move. It's a move that includes change with regard to the details of teaching--the details related to lesson planning, daily teaching routines, student response and feedback, and collegial collaboration.

Specifically, and to date, that move includes these actions:
  • Daily attention to the "learning list" including vocabulary, learning objectives, learning dispositions/mindsets.
  • Explicit attention to the learning objectives.
  • Well choreographed lessons that include lots of vibrant, active, rich, collaborative learning experiences--the kind of learning experiences students want to continue on their own time in their own ways.
  • Attention to current research, process, tools, and strategies--keeping up to date on the changing landscape of teaching/learning.
I believe that this move has accelerated due to the fact that children are able to learn so much more with depth at this time due to the amazing access we have to information and learning tools/materials, access that is accelerating what children can learn and produce at young ages.

Yet, the acceleration also demands that we are more cognizant of developmentally appropriate tools, strategies, and process since children also have access to learning that is not a good fit for best learning. Hence, we have to curate with care, collaboration, and eye on the future with regard to how do we best prepare children for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a world we cannot even imagine.

The challenges we face as educators today are exciting because the potential for better learning for all students is great.  To meet these challenges well we need different kinds of supports from the greater learning community.

First, leadership needs to recognize and support this time consuming changing educational landscape by providing additional collegial and individual professional learning and design time. There's too much to know related to teaching well to do all that with a 45-minute prep each day and limited collaborative time.  There are creative ways to build in additional research, planning, design, and response time by re-looking at the way time is spent in a buildings, the way that educators are assigned, and the priorities for an optimal education today. We have to look more deeply at the role of collaboration, and the way schools are managed--Pink's theme of "autonomy, mastery, and purpose" in Drive is a better management philosophy than the top-down, factory models at play in some schools.  We also have to look at how decisions are made and the ways issues, ideas, and news are communicated--essential areas for revision in most schools, revision that will lead to better teaching/learning.

There's lots to think about with regard to the evolution of schools and learning today, and embracing these challenges with an open mind and sense of positivity will lead us forward in positive ways that benefit children.

From my own vantage point, it's all about the details today. The details related to the classroom routine, learning list, lessons, feedback, response, and care. Have I come full circle to return to the place where I started this journey?  No, I believe it's been a spiral; one that's pushed me ahead so that now I'm returning to the "nest" of the classroom with new knowledge, skill, and purpose--a greater ability and deeper challenge when it comes to teaching children well. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

RETELL #1: Teaching the English Language Learner, The Learning List

There's strength to the learning menu board in intermediate grades.
I will add a quote each day and times. I'll make this a prominent
and attractive part of the classroom.  I'm thinking about all the little
details with regard to room design--details that make foster
independence, team, and optimal learning.  
Similar to the study I did years ago related to inclusion, the RETELL study that focuses on the English Language Learner is study that will actually serve to improve my teaching for all children. As I sat and listened to the many introductory points related to this Massachusetts initiative, I was challenged by a host of new language and strategies to embed into the classroom's daily routines. Essentially, like the Common Core Standards, our work to improve learning/teaching for English Language Learners is focused on more explicit instruction and greater attention to detail for all steps of the learning/teaching process.

The first challenge presented by RETELL is the challenge to change the daily schedule to a daily learning list. This is one way to embed the requirement to explicitly share learning objectives with students each day during each lesson.

For example today's typical schedule or agenda would look like this.

1. Sign in.
2. Morning Work
3. Writing
The learning list evolves. . . now to add quote of the week. 
4. Lunch
5. Math Problem Solving
6. Music
7. Reading Workshop
8. Clean Up
9. Film

Turning that into a learning list looks like this.

Words of the Day

1. Sign In
2. Writing:
  • I will learn to identify and write words and phrases that describe a character's physical features in a story.
  • I will learn and apply the the steps of rereading and thinking like the "reader," adding  details and dialogue, and COPS (capitals, organization, punctuation, spelling) while revising and reading aloud my story.
  • I will practice and apply perseverance as I revise my mid-unit narrative 
3. Math Problem Solving:
  • I will read, review, and apply problem solving strategy and area/perimeter skill, concept, and knowledge as I solve a number of math word problems using pictures, numbers, and words to show my work, and a sentence to explain the answer.
4. Music
5. Reading Workshop
  • I will reread the Annie Smith Peck text I studied with the teacher on Monday, and learn and practice how to write a reading response that includes a topic sentence, four pieces of direct evidence from the text and four explanations, and a concluding sentence.
6. Clean Up
7. James and the Giant Peach Film
  • I will observe and learn how an author takes important details from a story and depicts those details with music, dialogue, drama, animation and setting in a multimedia composition. 
Writing the learning list took a lot longer than simply writing the agenda on the board.  I think I'll enlarge the objectives on the copy machine and hang them up on the agenda board.  I'll introduce each objective at the start and end of each lesson.  It will be interesting to see the children's reactions this morning as they view this new "schedule" for the first time. Let's see where this takes us. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Assessing Student Writing

Writing is a primary focus area for our fourth graders.

They write persuasive arguments, stories, informational text, film scripts, explanations, and more.

We start the year with the establishment of writer's workshop, and then we guide students through a number of focus lessons, writing workshops, and home study assignments/share.

Today, I'm about to assess students' mid-unit narratives.  After about five weeks of focused attention to narrative, students spent a day planning, drafting, revising, and writing a final story. Based on work with Leslie Laud (Literacy Consultant), past experience with MCAS tests, observation and formative assessments, and my own work/study with regard to writing, I created this two-part assessment sheet.

As I read each story, I'll complete an assessment sheet for each child online.  Later I'll print the sheets.  Before I share the assessments with students, I'll ask students to rate themselves with a similar template as they reread their stories.  At next week's parent conferences I'll share both the student/teacher assessments and stories with parents, and we'll discuss ways to encourage further writing growth at home and in the classroom.

I don't like connecting a child's writing to a numerical score as I prefer a narrative response. Yet, for some, the numerical score helps to focus work on the areas in need.  As I share the assessments and assessment activity with children, I'll downplay the numerical score, and emphasize the strength that comes with the ability to tell a story well.  I'll also acknowledge that there are many ways to tell a good story, and that overtime each student will strengthen their individual writing voice, style, and craft.

Also, as I assess students' work, I'll make a list of the lessons to come for the second half of the unit--the teaching/learning that still needs focus. I know already that those lessons will include topics such as "show don't tell," COPS: capitals, organization, punctuation, spelling, revising/editing strategies, and a specific focus on similes. I'm sure I'll uncover other focus lessons as I read their stories as well.

The coffee is ready, the work space set, and now it's time to dig in and read 23 wonderful fourth grade narratives.

Does this process look similar to the process you use for narrative review and response?  What else do you do to encourage students' writing craft, voice, and development?  Ideas, debate, and thoughts welcome.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Well Choreographed: Factor/Multiple Study

Have you taught a lesson or facilitated a learning experience recently that was well choreographed? What do you consider to be the attributes of a well choreographed lesson? As I think about it, I consider a well choreographed lesson to have the following attributes:
  • Embeds standards
  • Engages Students
  • "Less of us (teachers), More of them (students)"
  • Time to coach, mentor, and teach.
  • Lots of learning.
  • Multimodal
Today I had a lesson that really went well.  The lesson started with an early morning practice session using a system-wide chosen math program, Symphony Math.  That warmed everyone up for the math to come.

Next I reintroduced our factor game tournament. We started using this tool weeks ago with an introductory lesson. Students got right to work playing the game against their partners. I coached student groups.

Students played for an hour moving from contest to contest.  After the hour, we met and charted optimal strategies, then we sang the divisibility song.  Later we completed a teacher led review of area and perimeter, then partner problem solving.

Two-and-a-half hours later it was time for lunch. We had a well choreographed learning experience that included multimodal instruction, lots of student practice, problem solving, math talk, little "sage on the stage" teacher-led activity, more student activity, a standards-based lesson, and lots of student engagement.

As educators, it's our goal to choreograph our lessons well each and every day, yet we know learning experiences don't always go as planned.  I offer this learning experience to you as one that worked well.  What lesson have you taught recently that was a keeper?  Let me know.

Note: Good site for making brackets

Effective Education: Time?

I hear many asking why educators don't do this, and why they don't do that.

The truth is that time is an issue.

Educators don't have the time to do it all, and that's why team and collaboration are more important than ever.  How can we work together so that the most essential work, research, and conversations occur--the kind of work that truly empowers, engages, and educates children?

At this time of information abundance and potent potential, prioritization, vision, and goals are more important than ever. Streamlining systems so that the work we do is effective and enriching is also critical.

As I continue down the path of richer and deeper learning design, delivery, and response, I recognize just how much time it takes to craft, deliver, and respond to terrific, responsive, personalized learning experiences--time that results in deep student learning.

There's much to learn about teaching and learning today. How are you and the systems where you work rethinking your collective efforts to serve children well? That would be a great #edchat or #satchat conversation.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Teaching Well: The Details

After spending the week focused in part on learning design, today I'm focused on the details of teaching well.

Planning lessons well is only one part of the teaching equation while the other important parts include facilitating those learning experiences and responding to student work.

Hence, as I lift learning design, I'll also lift delivery and response with the following actions.
  • Clear introduction.
  • Chart introduction and follow-up activities for all to see.
  • Chart who has completed the tasks, and who has not.
  • Chart follow-up actions and response. 
  • Revise and personalize lessons to respond to students' needs. 
  • Create a positive order of lesson delivery--an order to follow in the year to come. In a sense, a more detailed scope and sequence with room for revision and thoughtful response.
Keeping track of the efforts and needs of multiple students is an important part of the job.  A part of the job that requires streamlined systems.  I will use the following systems:
  • Clipboard w/student list and related materials for each lesson to chart student work, needs, and response.
  • A place to keep those lesson clipboards visible and accessible to all educators and students. 
  • Online class excel sheet of performance scores, comments, and needs.
  • Class list which charts our ongoing efforts, goals, and needs--a list that helps the class coach, teach, and encourage each other.
  • A system of weekly review and response where students' weekly efforts, needs, and response are synthesized and parents are informed of extraordinary needs or efforts in order to enlist support and encouragement. 
Good teaching requires careful attention to both the broad dimensions of the job as well as the finer details--the subtle points that moves a learning experience from good to great.  This emphasis complements the learning design focus as we continue our efforts to teach children well. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Effect Changes in Education that Matter

This week I've had the chance to meet with multiple educators from different states and schools. I've thought a lot about changes in education that matter. Simply put, I feel that some of the work in education has moved too far away from the children's best interests, and I believe that it's a critical time for systems to re-look at educational roles, efforts, and dollars spent to make sure that most of the time, money, and effort are streamlined towards student teaching, support, and benefit. Below I've listed three critical areas that I believe need attention, and will result in better service to children.  Do you agree?
  • Class size.  No matter how many consultants, coaches, leaders, and outside interventionists you have, when class size exceeds 25, it's too many children. Even 25 is too big. The year I had 19 students was the year I had the greatest success, and I remember thinking, "Wow, I can get to everyone!" When I talk to teachers who have more than 25 students in their classes, their biggest concern is that they simply don't have the time to respond with care to those students--someone is always losing out.  Citizens and parents throughout the country need to be vocal about this--good learning requires thoughtful coaching, feedback, and response and that happens best with classes of 20 or less. Some schools are moving away from the classroom model, and in these cases a larger class could result in good teaching--but in these cases, roles have to be re-looked at since in these larger than 25 classes, it's still one teacher who has the greatest responsibility for all the student work while others come and go with little accountability, and that's not effective. 
  • Skilled Time on Task with Students is Critical.  The Common Core has brought a thick layer of professionals to education that rarely to never work with students.  All educators know that daily work with students awakens you to the critical needs, interests, and priorities in education--the further removed you are from this work, the greater the chance is that your work will not be inline with students' needs.  Yes, we need some who are removed from the every day time-on-task work, but the current movement towards a bottom layer of professionals with time-on-task with children, and a heavy mid-layer of decision makers who lead the bottom layer is not effective (in fact, it's oppressive). What is best is to make sure that the layer of educators who serve children is a layer with time, training, and respect--a layer that makes decisions and teaches children.  Audits of money spent and current roles, I believe, will result in the opportunity to put more experienced, well-educated professionals into classrooms with children on a daily basis rather than a stream of qualified professionals moving to positions outside of the realm of day-to-day work with children.
  • Rethink the Day. In days of old when worksheets and "sage-on-the-stage" teaching was acceptable, perhaps it was possible for a teacher to teach five hours a day with a daily 45-minute prep period to plan all lessons and respond to all student work and initiatives.  But today, with the depth and breadth of education and service to children possible, the school day schedule for typical teachers is ridiculous and uneven.  Some teachers have to prep five, differentiated, personalized learning experiences with specific attention to new standards a day (2-3 hours) for multiple children, and respond to multiple student requests, efforts, and needs at night (2-3 hours of work), and then get scored on their work with standardized tests. To do this job well adds an additional 5-6 hours a day which brings teachers well into the evening or well before dawn for prep and response.  Yet other professionals with similar pay have far less responsibility for at-home planning and response, and no connection to standardized test results--thus an uneven work world--a world that encourages professionals to move away from the needed academic work with children to areas where there is little homework and less accountability to standardized scores. If we begin to rethink the day and roles in schools, I think we can rearrange the time and responsibilities with little additional funding to make sure we are meeting the most important needs with the staffing and time available--making the most important jobs/tasks in schools doable and reasonable.  When job expectations are over the top, there's no way that educators can meet the requirements, and when educators can't meet the requirements, it's the students who lose out. 
Many changes in education are moving the important work, dollars, and time away from children and into the realm of positions that have little direct effect on student learning and care--this is a major issue in education today, and issue that local, State, National, and World decision making bodies have to think carefully about--this is not a private vs. public issue, but an issue of priority and effective systems.  

What do you think of these points?  How are you standing up to promote what's best for students in schools today?  How can you help to rearrange systems so that most of the time, effort, and dollars are supporting work that matters for children?  Streamlining all systems that support education, and putting more dollars, time, and effort into direct work with children will make the difference.  Don't you agree? 

Vacation's End: Rallying for the New Term

Vacation is quickly coming to a close. Like most, vacation is never long enough--I could happily have another two weeks, and then I'd probably be ready to go back.  Nevertheless the end is near, and now it's time to rally for the new term.

There's a lot going on, and a lot that I'm wondering about both with respect to the broad education agenda, and the more specific classroom work.  On a broad scale, I'm wondering about the following topics:
  • I'm curious why more teachers did not fill out the Mass TELL survey.  I'm so curious about how others feel about the landscape of education today. By completing this survey educators will have the chance to compare their thoughts and efforts to those across the state--I think that analysis will help to move our collective teaching/learning work forward in good ways.  Perhaps, everyone will complete the survey closer to the deadline. Why do you think educators are resistant when it comes to completing this survey? I'm especially confused about this since so many educators argue that they want greater voice. 
  • I'm also wondering what we'll choose for DDM's. I noticed that some roles have been renamed with the word "accountability," and I think that word, in part goes with the greater emphasis across the State on evaluations, testing, and DDM's. I want to understand that connection more, and the specific actions that we're accountable for with regard to the DDM's and other new initiatives.
  • I will start RETELL which will be an added multi-hour endeavor for the next six weeks or so. I will embed that work into my current school work. I do think it's surprising that the State was able to add this activity to teacher's schedule without any extra compensation or time--how did that happen?
  • We also have a reconfiguration of schools underway in our system. The process that led to this event was thoughtful and inclusive, and I expect that the process with regard to teacher assignment changes and team building will be equally thoughtful, hence I'm headed forward with a positive attitude. I do think the extra space this reconfiguration will bring will positively impact student learning.
  • Further there's still work to do for the Deeper Learning MOOC, Evaluation System Requirements, NBPTS renewal, and my lesson design work for UClass--work that will positively affect my craft, but work I need to find time for outside of my typical classroom activities and responsibilities.
The broad lens of education takes a back seat to the classroom work, yet we all know what happens at the macro level affects the micro level of student teaching/learning every day.  As I think of my 23 energetic fourth graders, what priorities stand tall?
  • First, we have multiple standardized tests ahead--a full day of composition writing, two days of reading/writing tests, and two days of math testing.  My colleagues have an additional 4 days of PARCC trial testing--they won the coin toss for that additional testing. Hence, my efforts for the next eight weeks will be primarily focused on embedding the standards included on those tests into meaningful, child-friendly learning endeavor including lots of story writing, reading and response, and math projects, practice, and problem solving.  With the carrot of the end-of-the-year PBL, we'll move through these standards with as much depth and breadth as we can--it's an amazing list of learning objectives, take a look if you're interested.
  • Next, I'll continue my emphasis on deepening and strengthening my learning design by embedding current research, the common core standards/philosophy, and students' interests and passions.  I have really enjoyed the result with regard to student investment and learning this emphasis has brought to date, and expect to continue down this path with enthusiasm and greater growth.  RETELL will inform this journey as well.
  • I'll continue to learn with my colleagues online and off as I grow the Common Core curriculum for my class--online collaboration through chats, blogs, webinars, MOOCs and panel discussions as well as in-house collaborative efforts will inform this work.
  • Parent conferences are right around the corner, and in preparation for these conferences I'll review students' signature work, needs, and goals, and be ready to listen to parents' questions and thoughts related to their child's academic areas of emphasis, need, and interest. Similar to the last set of conferences, I'll create new goals, schedules, and learning events in response to parent-teacher conversations. 
Lots to do. The agenda is set. The focus is clear. Onward. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Circle of Friends: Professionally Speaking

Who's in your circle of friends when it comes to worthy professional development and good work on behalf of children?

Who are the people in your midst that critique your ideas with investment and care, urging you forward with mission and vision in mind?

Who spurs your professional craft with honest, caring ideas, questions, and share?

On the other hand, who brings you down, takes away your spirit, and hinders your efforts to grow and become a better educator?

As we move forward with our craft it's important that we "work" for those who bring out the best in us, beginning with the children we serve, and it's imperative that we spend most of our time and energy seeking out professionals who share a vision for top-notch learning communities--the kind that better our work and world. This is an important consideration as we move forward in the second half of the school year.

UClass: Unpacking the Standards

As I continue to work with UClass on writing quality lessons, lessons that I employ in my own classroom to meet the standards, I am positively challenged by the UClass "unpack" the standards adopted strategy--a strategy shared by Lauryn Wild (@laurynwild), a California Curriculum Program Specialist.

I am similarly challenged to write engaging learning experiences that embrace the breadth of Karin Hess' Cognitive Rigor Matrix.

These challenges shed a positive light on the Common Core Standards, as they are challenges that are stepping me towards deeper teaching/learning in significant ways.  The key is to weave student voice and choice, personalization/differentiation, brain-friendly practice/effort, context/relevance, and substantive coaching and care into the process.

It's a mighty task with the current schedule of a mere 45 minutes a day of planning time, and the fact that the standards and students are many in number--too many in some cases for the rich, deep learning necessary for content and skill mastery.

Yet, I will continue down this path with students' success as the centerpiece of the journey.  I'll start by applying the "unpack" strategy as noted in the film below to each standard.  Then I'll create tasks that weave multiple essential elements into the fabric of the learning experience.  I'll also make the time for assessment, feedback, and responsive action.  Finally, I'll continue to study and read about the Common Core in an effort to deepen and strengthen my teaching delivery and impact. Hopefully, education and policy leaders will come to educators' rescue by adding needed minutes for research, planning, and response in the meantime as that will serve to create greater understanding and application of the new standards with success for all students as the goal.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Join My UClass Team

Have you thought about publishing the lessons and learning experiences you craft?  Are you looking for a place to host your terrific standards-based innovation and design?  If so, I invite you to join my UClass grades three/four learning design team.

As part of the team, you'll get to use the UClass platform to design, publish, and store your lessons for share and future use. You'll also receive a small fee from UClass for your lesson designs.

What continues to make me return to UClass is the chance to collaborate around lesson design, and the chance to be part of a small start-up that's taking the common core and learning design intersection seriously with a streamlined, teacher-friendly platform.

If you'd like to give this a try, let me know.  If you're not a third or fourth grade teacher and would still like to get involved, also let me know and I'll connect you to the appropriate leader.

Learning design affects student learning greatly--the care we take to unpack the standards, and carefully think about our learners' needs and interests at deep levels will help to move our learning/teaching forward in significant ways. The UClass platforms helps educators like me to craft lessons with a user-friendly, accessible platform. Also the chance to be part of something bigger when it comes to learning design and share is exciting and growth producing.

The past weekend at the UClass retreat was the kind of learning/teaching share I look forward to, and if you'd like to be part of this team, I welcome your time and craft.

Teacher Homework

I've got some teacher homework to do.  First I'll make the list. Then I'll schedule the events, and after that I'll get to work.

The List
  • UClass lessons and lesson videos: standards-based work that I'll employ in my classroom each day.
  • Deeper Learning MOOC: Catch up and application in lesson/unit design and teaching.
  • Fraction Unit: Information review, unit revision, design, and implementation.
  • Endangered Species/Biomes: collaborative project review, design, and implementation.
  • Spring PBL: Lots of research, design, and planning. 
  • RETELL: Learning and classroom integration.
  • NBPTS recertification completion.
Keeping our learning/teaching study focus readily available helps us to make good decisions with regard to our times and effort in education--managing our time well helps us to serve the children with strength.  What's on your learning/teaching list?  Share if you will as the more we share the work and plans we have, the more we can assist, support, and promote each others good work for children. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Text Books or Content Management Systems

Is a CMS essentially a garden of wonderful learning experiences?
I've recently been introduced to the idea of a Content Management System (CMS) via UClass, and I like this notion.

While I've been skeptical about the Learning Management Systems (LMS) due to their cumbersome qualities and sometimes lack of outreach, I like the idea of the CMS because it's one way for a system to guide and manage information in this world of information overload.

I am thinking more about this as my school system leans towards a new text book adoption. I worry about spending lots of time adopting and evaluating text books in this age of worthy, wonderful blended learning opportunities--opportunities that provide students with 24-7, multimodal, personalized learning menus with multiple tools, activities, and information resources.

Plus as I think about a CMS I am envisioning a more fluid, facile, flexible system of information curation, creation, and collaboration--almost like a garden of thought that is regularly pruned, enriched, and enjoyed.

Hence, I'm considering this with greater depth, and want my system and others to consider this too as they look ahead and make decisions about the dollars they spend.  What are your thoughts on this matter?  Where are you and your school system leaning in this regard?

UClass: Quality

A wonderful view from our teaching/learning hike in the
Marin Headlands, Sausalito, California. 
If I had to sum up the UClass retreat this weekend in one word, I would use the word "quality." The entire weekend has been devoted to deepening and enriching the UClass platform, lessons, and design.

I have truly enjoyed and profited from this focus in so many ways. First, I've had the chance to work with a dynamic team of invested educators from multiple states who have pushed my thinking and learning all weekend. Next, I was privileged to learn from, and interact with, a number of tech, teaching, and design experts who have brought me new insights with regard to learning design and teaching children well. Finally, the pace and scope of the weekend has been deep, fast, and comprehensive--exactly the way I like to learn.

The chance to learn and create like this is rarely available in the public school setting.  Time on task, multiple roles, outdated structures, and little reach to the bigger world prevent this, and that's why my work with this start-up has added a needed element when it comes to my desire to teach children well.

Enthusiastic, talented UClass chairs ready to board the
bus for a day of learning/teaching in Sausalito.
How can we move schools forward so that the cross-fertilization of ideas, outreach to experts in multiple fields, and ready, targeted share/effort is alive and well in the schools where we teach? My school system has made many efforts in this regard, and I will be thinking about how those efforts can grow with greater inclusion and voice in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, however, I will deepen my focus on quality when it comes to learning design--the kind of quality that embeds common core standards in deep learning experiences for children, experiences that engage, empower, and educate.

There's much to learn on this journey, and for now my "teachers" include UClass, The Deeper Learning MOOC, my school system collaboration and endeavor, and best of all, the bright, enthusiastic children who inspire me every school day.

Teachers for the local Creative Arts School in Marin County
shared the wonderful results of their teacher/student collaboration.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

UClass: Saturday Takeaways

It was great to learn, share, and create in San Francisco's HUB SOMA, a 8600-square-foot shared workspace for socially focused enterprises. I spent the day focused on learning design with the UClass team and chairs. 

There were many more takeaways than I can capture here after a full day of thought, however, there were some essential resources and points I want to share.

One big takeaway came from Lauryn Wild, California Commissioner and Board of Education advisor, who led us through a number of exercises to deconstruct the Common Core. Her advice was to unpack the standards by focusing on concept first, then skill (the verbs), and after that task. She demonstrated how this approach lends itself to greater depth with CCSS teaching and result.

Both Lauryn and UClass chair, Jessica Lura, introduced me to Karin Hess's research and Web's Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Later we spent a considerable amount of time discussing the intersection of Bloom's Taxonomy and DOK in connection to deeper learning.

Earlier in the day we had the chance to get to know one another as well as pose questions about UClass's mission and vision.  After that, we were introduced to UClass's platform's development ideas.  

As we focused on learning design throughout the day we revisited the UClass rubrics for effective design, studied the role and process related to images, and discussed the process of writing lessons and collaboration around those lessons with a focus on quality. 

My notes from the day are thick, and in the days to come I'll use the notes to revise, enrich, and create lessons for UClass's use and my students' benefit.  All in all, the UClass work and my efforts related to their focus are a win-win for the classroom and me since I'm honing my skill and knowledge when it comes to optimal lesson design and delivery--an important aspect of teaching children well, and an important focus that I look forward to sharing with others through UClass. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Virgin America: New Schools

Last night I flew Virgin America for the first time.

I'm taking home a lot of ideas from the experience.

Clients First
First, I was struck by the friendly, upbeat, clients-first speak from the minute I arrived at the boarding pass check to arrival at my destination.

The safety video exemplifies Virgin America's sense of fun which set a great, relaxed tone for the flight.

Personalized Approach: Voice and Choice
Imagine how nice it would be to have a container like this
available at schools for students and families when they needed
a new set of headphones. 

Next, I was impressed with the "do-it-yourself" nature of the trip from selecting the headphones from the plastic container and dropping the $3 in (we need those at school since students are always losing and breaking their headphones) to the personal iPad-like touch screens at every seat.  On the touch screen you can choose your refreshments (soft drinks on the house, all other snacks and drinks for a fee), movies, television shows, music videos, flight information and more.  I loved the fact that I could see the flight information and the plane location throughout the flight via the Google map app.

There was a simplicity to the whole experience that made the flight different than most I've experienced.

As a regular follower of Godin's post, I could see a lot of his philosophy at play with Virgin America's business approach.  I also thought about the way they took a traditional system, and made a few changes to empower, entertain, and engage their clientele--food for thought as we work to move schools forward.

Friday, February 14, 2014

UClass: Lesson Focus

I'll spend the weekend with UClass folks digging deep to think about lessons that matter.

I'm excited about this event as I've seen how greater attention and care to learning experiences has resulted in increased depth and breadth with regard to student learning.

The challenge for educators in this regard is time--if we truly want to personalize learning experiences for each child, we need the time to do it well.  The other challenge is numbers, as I'm reading and thinking about multiple articles, I recognize that we have to rethink the way we deploy staff and time in order to meet students' most essential needs with just right design including just right staffing and ratios.  For some broad learning team times, larger numbers will work, but for specific, targeted learning needs one-to-one or small group is better.

With lesson design in mind, what will I be thinking of this weekend?

Learning Experience Frameworks
First, I'll be thinking about "umbrella plans" or "framework experiences"--the kinds of lessons that can be applied to relevant content and experiences.  For example, when we study character, what kind of motivating fourth grade frameworks can be applied to this study.

Next, I will be thinking about precision--that's been a challenge for me as I'm creating many learning experiences a day.  The big ideas are there with strength, but sometimes there's a typo here and there.  Luckily I have my 4th grade "beta testers" who find those small punctuation or typos efficiently.  Hence the creation process might include beta testing to see where the minor changes occur prior to publishing.

Lesson Sets and Series
After that, I'll think about lesson sets--the lessons that go together as one series such as the recent lessons I crafted and implemented related to Razia's Ray of Hope.

Integration and Interdisciplinary
I'll also think about integration and interdisciplinary efforts.  For example, as students wrote math dialogues the other day, I was struck by the power of matching math thought with writing skill--students had to think carefully about the math words as they crafted dialogue, and the dialogue brought to life the meaning of the math vocabulary.

Online/Offline Materials
Materials will be another consideration--what is the best blend of online and offline tools.

Differentiation and Personalization
Differentiation and personalization will be important too as I like to have every lesson range from 1-review, to 2-grade-level/age connection, to 3-the stretch.  I also like the learning experience to leave room for student ideas, passions, and interests.

Deeper Learning
My work with the Deeper Learning MOOC will impact this work too.  I'll apply the terrific concepts such as critique, mastery, and creations that represent quality and meaning to our lesson work.

UClass represents the private face of education while I mostly work in the public sphere of education.  I've enjoyed the push, tools, and outreach UClass has provided to me--elements which have served to inform and improve my classroom work.  I look forward to this weekend of study. I wonder what the synergy and collaboration of the event will bring forward with regard to my classroom work to teach children well.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Blog Make Over

Soon my blog will soon have a makeover.

There's been a lot of growth since this blog began a couple of years ago.

The makeover will include the following:
  • Synthesis of similar blogs with up to date focus.
  • Sections for the specific curriculum, systems, and disposition posts.
The new blog will make it easier to find what you're looking for.  Since it's a busy time in school life, I imagine the makeover will take some time, but the plan is set and that means I'm halfway there.

Update 7/2015
This hasn't happened yet, but I've decided it won't be a makeover as I'll keep "Teach Children Well" as it is, but it will likely be a number of shorter, more targeted blogs, books, and/or websites that bring together posts and ideas about similar topics. In time, we'll see. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Long Road

A colleague asked why I blog with an unsupportive sigh.

At times, I too wonder about that particularly given the extreme push back I've received from many fronts for sharing ideas, new practice, and questions.

Why speak up?  Why not just put my head down and take what I get.

I've mainly spoken up because I see the promise of what can be--change that benefits many.

It's a long road when you see promise, promise often not imagined or supported by others.

Unanswered Questions

How often do you ask questions that remain unanswered?

I often pose questions which are left unread and unanswered.

I could push the point, but I recognize that most of these unanswered questions are purposefully left unread or unattended to.


Posing that question I fear would be seen as subordination, and I don't want to travel that path.

I'm guessing the questions are left unanswered because people feel it's not my role to ask such questions about vision, decisions, and forward action and thought.

Yet, I ask because I want to be inline with the forward movement of groups.  I want to use my research, reading, and thought time wisely.  Too often in schools of the past (and perhaps present), educators have worked carefully to craft units, learn new information, and study to find that the work is not embraced, welcomed, or allowed.  I hate wasting time like that.

So, for now I will let the many unanswered questions I've posed lie in emails or the hollow space between asking aloud and waiting for a response. I'll also make a list of these unanswered questions looking for a pattern, trend, or common feature. Further, I'll make sure that I'm readily answering the questions my students ask even if my answer is, "Gee, I need to think about that--what do you think?"

I'll think about this situation, wondering what to do about unanswered questions.  What do you do?

Learning With Students: Collaboration

In classrooms today, students resist many practices of old.  In part, that's because they know there are better, more facile, comprehensive ways to learn.

As I grow with my students, I continue to revise learning experiences to reflect latest research, learning processes, and intent.

Hence, for our upcoming endangered species study, we'll complete the projects with collaborative teams. Student work will depend on apt collaboration, and collaboration will be a key component of the project. The question, "How can we work together to achieve a meaningful project?" will lead student work.

The project which has taken many twists and turns over the years, will look like this.

1. After an exploration of the world's habitats, students will choose an animal preserve to study.

2. Students will be grouped according to their animal preserve choices.

3. Students will use backwards design to plan their project path and teaching/learning presentation.

4. Together the students will study the preserve and the animals that live there.

5. Students will present a collective project to a predetermined audience that includes required and chosen elements.

6. Students will assess and reflect.

7. Students will use their learning to inform their spring project base learning which will focus on research and study related to a project of their own choice.

Stay tuned for more information about this project in the weeks to come.

Related posts:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Spring PBL: Applying Richardson's "Why School?"

I finally read Will Richardson's book, Why School?  It was the first book I read on my iPhone which I think is appropriate since it's a book that inspires us to transform the way we teach and learn. Every educator should read this book.

I had the opportunity to meet Will Richardson briefly at Educon 2.4 as he and Gary Stager engaged in a lively education debate. Later, through a Tweet exchange, Richardson and Mary Ann O'Reilly opened my eyes to Google algortithms during a challenging chat a couple of years ago--one that led me forward.  Since then, I've had the chance to follow Richardson's work through the words of many via Twitter chats, blogs, YouTube, conferences and more--his impact has served to move education forward by challenging all educators and citizens to better serve students.

As I read, I admired Richardson's ease, precision, and directness--I literally breezed through the book noting multiple ideas that affirm, inspire, challenge, and inform my work.

Rather than restate Richardson's work, I opted to think about how I will embed his words into my practice with greater depth and conviction as I read.

Tony Wagner's words quoted in Why School? serve as an umbrella to how I'll utilize Richardson's ideas in our upcoming spring project. Wagner states, "The world doesn't care what you know.  What the world cares about is what you do with what you know."  I'll use those words with students as we begin our spring project/problem base learning event.

Next, I'll work with students as I encourage them to, as Richardson promotes, ask big questions, and plan their path." As Larry Rosenstock's quote states, "We have to stop delivering the curriculum to kids; we have to start discovering it with them."

As students and I entertain multiple questions at the start of the unit, I'll work with each child or collaborative group to help them identify one or two real world problems or questions they're interested in for critical analysis. Then I'll help the children plan a path of discovery. Students' paths will include technology, audience, guided social media outreach, maker stations, presentation/portfolio, critique, reflection, assessment, analysis, and more.  

I'll query the school system once again about BYOD for tools that matter with regard to students' investigations keeping in mind Richardson's point that schools are the only place where students' own tech equipment is not welcomed.

I will, as Richardson suggests, "transfer power" to the students in guided, developmentally appropriate ways and encourage children to reach out to local and global communities as needed to research and share. I'll learn a bit more about Mozilla Badges and replicate those badges for students' learning gains and mastery. I will also encourage collaboration, and require multimedia approaches for all stages of the project.

I'll steer clear from "delivering old curriculum through new tools" by focusing on students' questions, interests, and passion, and the multiple new tools, strategies, and processes available to us thus replicating real life learning situations. I'll also review and embed many of the strategies I've learned about in my recent work with the Deeper Learning MOOC.

Tomorrow, as a system-wide faculty, we'll watch Richardson's Ted Talk, and then Richardson will skype in to answer questions and share his thoughts.  I'm excited to share this learning with my colleagues, leaders, and community members.  I'm sure once I listen to Will Richardson, I'll add more thoughts, ideas, and actions to this spring PBL project outline.  I'm delighted that this event will bring the world of my PLN into the realm of my school community--an event I look forward to with excitement, and an event that I hope will spur new ideas, innovation, and enthusiasm for the work we do to teach children well.

Note: As I work with colleagues to grow our PBL effort related to this post, I'll add important posts and quotes below:

Holistic Education
"Efficient Knowledge Workers. Learners need to understand how to "locate, access, analyze, evaluate and create knowledge." As children learn, they need to be able to transfer the learning from the school environment to the real world, and this transfer requires the "use of technology at every level.""

2014-2015 School Year: Charting the Course

Analysis: 2014-2015 School Year
The post below was authored during the spring of 2014. Now a year Later, I've added a note to demonstrate which initiatives and efforts fared well, and those not met. Most goals set were met which demonstrates that this is a good planning process for teaching/learning.

Original Note
My primary focus of the year is to impact the science and math education of approximately 50 students from two classes. I'm looking forward to digging in deep and meeting this challenge with focus, care, and strength. I will put a great emphasis on optimal classroom choreography as I teach the year. This list will continue to be revised as the year ahead takes shape.

last updated 8/1/14
Summer 2014 Professional Learning:

Wayland Math Institute: Math Models, Unpacking the Standards 6/24-6/25, DESE Math Course
Update New Website. Complete Summer Reflections: Reflect for Success: Teach Well
Read Why Don’t Students Like School, This is Not a Test,  and Thrive
Read The Sting in the Tale to prep for ecosystem unit (did not complete this book)

Shop for supplies for ecosystem unit, landscape model materials, containers (keep and submit receipts!)
Khan 5th Grade Level Math Review - will continue into school year
Read and Organize Science Standards and Units, post on science website.
Summer Math Study: Proportional Thinking, Prep Unit 
(completed 3/5 of course, dropped out due to the fact that the course was not meeting my teaching needs after the third day)
Review Summer Study Links and Respond Periodically
Wayland Foundation Grants: K'Nex simple machine kits, Discovery Museum Grant (successfully obtained and integrating grant)
Room, Classroom Routines, Schedule, Class Culture Prep - Week of 8/27

Determine schedule, presentation organization with grade-level team. (successful)
Draft Scheduling and Weekly Pattern. Review and Revise Communication Protocols with grade level colleagues: weekly meeting times, IEP dates. . .Planning Field Studies w/Colleagues
(a good weekly share and communication was established)
Meet with special educator, partner teacher review student services and schedules. Complete Assessment Forms (assessment forms served us well with regard to parent-student-educator communication)
Ordering: Check orders, put away all supplies.(supply process resulted in many orders unfilled--complicated and something that needs revisiting in 2015)
Room Set Up: clean, organize child friendly learning space.  see plan below. Make space for seed project, special place models. If possible include painting walls with whiteboard and/or magnetic paint. STEAM Stars Bulletin Board, Learning Objectives Bulletin Board (not enough space for these boards hence the information is online)
(The room kept changing all year in order to teach well--need to reconsider room set up for 2015, a set-up that matches the assignment objectives well)
Review, revise, and set up Class Data Chart. Place progress report on website.
(Overall the class website and data document worked well, I want to set it up to match standards a bit better in 2015)
Incorporate system-wide and school goals into overall year’s plan and efforts.
(this goal was met)
First Weeks of School (School Year Plans)  Description of Plans

PLC Start
(terrific PLC work)
Curriculum Night: Establishing the Learning Community
(good curriculum night, but I wish I emphasized routines more and gave parents some options for working with me on tech-ed connection with regard to student learning)
Early Year Assessments/Goal Setting   Complete Assessment Forms
(Good process, but I'd like to complete assessments closer to the first days of school in 2015)
Review Parent Survey Results and Incorporate into Summer Planning (after parent night)
(I want to create a more user friendly parent survey and pass out early in year)
Early Year Family Meetings (optional)
(good option)
Math Problem Solving/SMPs, Focus on Math Content
Review with Evaluator
(good to establish early and set up data charts, support materials for goals)
Learning to Learn Curriculum: Teach one lesson daily.
(good start, needs revisiting and have to make more time to teach each piece of this curriculum for all classes)
(good start, but requires more work)
Math Workshop
(good work, but requires more development)
Biography Framework
  • Start with George Washington Carver
  • Begin STEAM Inspiration response books
(trouble finding the time to keep up with this, important but we ran out of time)
Professional Learning

Daily Reading, Writing, Reflection, Planning
(helpful and successful)
MassCUE October: Presentation and Attendance (complete administrative form for this)
(good learning)
Educon 2.7
(terrific learning)
NCTM Conference, Boston 4/15-18 (this conference was replaced with Mahesh Sharma's fraction presentation)

ISTE: June? (not this year)
(Attended the Teaching and Learning Conference instead.

Wayland Institutes STEAM: June--Yes! and Wayland Literacy Institute

  • Pully Station
  • Recyclables: plastic bottles, glass jars for ecotariums.
  • Hook base wooden or metal frame for hanging gardens.
  • Raised bed grant proposal, supplies for spring event.
  • Book sort, keep best books for class--store others.
  • IKEA visit for detailed items.
  • Home Depot visit for STEAM supplies.