Monday, June 30, 2014

Vision, then Shell: Learning Starts

A website serves as a shell for learning.
Photo Credit
Learning typically starts with a need, then vision, and after that a shell--an umbrella, a place to grow the learning event.

In old times, that shell might have been a notebook, but today I prefer a website.

Therefore today I created the "shell" for the Learning to Learn unit, a website that I'll add to, enrich, assess, and revise in the days, weeks, and months to come. The greatest revision will come once I begin to use this website with students.

Take a look, what would you add?

How do you structure your initial learning? Do you create a "shell" of sorts using a website or other vehicles?  When do you release the learning for public comment or ideas?

I'm curious about your process. I'll carry this "learning to learn" shell with me in the weeks to come as I build upon the unit, a unit which will serve to launch students' learning year with strength.

Updated Summer Study 2014 List

As Summer 2014 takes shape so does the study routine. I enjoy this classroom-free time to dig deep into the research and tend to other matters in life as well.

The study list includes the following topics:
  • Complete Summer Reflection Work.
  • Create the "Learning to Learn" Unit.
  • Organize INSPIRE lessons, signage, and links, and placing the information on the Sensational Science website.
  • Update the Curriculum Night Presentation.
  • Design the new classroom layout, purchasing classroom supplies, unpacking existing supplies, and setting up the classroom.
  • Read Willingham's book, Why Students Don't Like School.
  • Read Vilson's book, This is Not a Test.
  • Order and Read Meenoo Rami's book, Thrive. 
  • Read Next Generation Science Standards document.
  • Organize start-of-the-year science and math lessons, and updating science and math websites.
  • Set up first day of school meetings with collaborating teachers.
  • Establish school year protocols, schedules, and routines. 
  • Attend #edcampblc and Learnlaunch teacher event. 
I've taken a few books and other actions off the list so that I have some more time for family, friends, and fun as I know it's important to be rested and ready for the school year to come. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ask the Experts

How often do you try to solve a problem on your own without asking the experts.

Today as I considered two dilemmas with regard to the year ahead, I decided to ask the experts.

From reading multiple blogs and tweets as well as attending many conferences, I've come to know many experts in many areas of education.  I have learned who may have the answers I seek.

So today thanks to the great ability we have to contact experts via Twitter and email, I sent those questions forward. I've had these questions for a long time and have tried to find the answers on my own and with colleagues, but the truth is that none of us have the experience or outlook that these experts have.  Further I know these questions are not unique and apply to multiple educators in a large number of settings.  Hence, the experts might find the questions to be inspiration for a new blog post, book chapter, or conference point.

If you don't ask, you'll never know, and hopefully by asking, I'll receive some dynamic answers that will help me to teach children well in the new year.  What questions do you have about teaching and learning, and what experts out there might have the answers you're looking for. Don't hesitate to ask if the answer has the potential to positively affect a child's life.

Teach Well: Summer Reflection 2014 Continues

We are asked to do a lot as educators, and as educators we naturally want to do a lot for the children we serve each and every day.

It is in our best interests to understand well our charge--the work we are called to do each and every day. In that regard, I suggest that every educator take part in a series of summer reflections related to the teacher's role and expectations.

Massachusetts' leaders thoughtfully outlined 33 elements related to excellence in education. Last summer I analyzed each element with regard to our new evaluation system. This summer I am once again revisiting each element with all teachers in mind, not just Massachusetts' teachers.

I invite you to join me in this reflection process by making an hour for each element. I am at element nine at this point and will continue to reflect on one element each day. You can take this guide to the beach, mountains, or your backyard. Reflect with ease and purpose. Then when the fall begins, you'll be ready to embark on a successful teaching year, a year that's rooted in the most important elements that define our work.

Please don't hesitate to contact me with ideas to further this study.  I look forward to your share.

Related Invitation Post
Summer Reflections
Summer 2014 Reflection Guide

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Embarking on a Learning Path: INSPIRE

Next fall, I'll lead students early in the year as they design learning paths, paths that answer their questions and respond to passion and interest.

This summer, I'll embark on the process myself with the topic of INSPIRE: Invent, Nurture, Survive, Pioneer, Investigate, Research, and Explore. This will be the year-long theme for my classroom.

I'll use the learning cycle below to guide my path design, a learning cycle culled from Hattie's book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning.
The Process Begins:

1. Desire/Need for Learning:
I want to engage students in a year-long theme that matches the standards in an interdisciplinary way and also gives them a concept to hold onto as they move forward in life. Therefore, I chose the INSPIRE theme. My desire and need for learning now is to dig deep and find out what it means to INSPIRE as I learn about the lives of inventors, nurturers, survivors, pioneers, investigators, researchers, and explorers.
Learning Path Template

2. Success Criteria
Successful navigation of this path will look like the following:
  1. Definitions of each term and quotes that exemplify each term. Classroom posters that display the definitions and quotes.
  2. A learning path template that students can use to chart their own learning design path.
  3. Classroom STEAM center that will provide students will the tools and materials for INSPIRE.
  4. First lessons for INSPIRE delivery and facilitation.
  5. Designing my own INSPIRE path. 
  6. Determining which biography picture books will inform this study. 
3. What is my Baseline?
I know that in the world today, one has to understand the INSPIRE mindset as one has to be able to navigate the boundless information and opportunity to invent learning paths as well as tools and objects to support the journey as it will be a world of unexpected twists and turns. One also has to be able to nurture, nurture relationships as we can't travel the path well if we only travel alone. One also has to be able to survive, and to survive we will need to adapt to the ecosystems we live in.  We will also need to be learners who investigate, research, and explore as we pioneer new paths and relationships in our lives. Therefore INSPIRE is a mindset, a knowledge base, and a guide for living in our world today--a world that demands us to be leaders of our lives rather than followers of others' lives. I know this from my reading about and observation of the world today, and I understand the strength the stories that INSPIRE leaders both today and from the past can bring to this journey for learners young and old. 

4. What strategies will I use to lead this goal.
I'll start with lots of research and reading. As I read and research, I'll create templates to guide student study. I'll reflect and revise along the way. In the end, I'll share the unit with students, and then reflect and revise once again. Throughout the students' journey, I'll attend to the details of the study. 

5. Act
I'll research, write, and create throughout the summer days. I'll share my outcome on this post. 

The remaining steps will come in time. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Where Do You Write?

I write almost everywhere I go as writing for me is a favored sport, pastime, and endeavor. My favorite writing space however is my red chair by the window. And, with the thought that we don't change all that much throughout our lives, I found an image of myself in a similar red chair long ago.

Where is your favorite place to write?  It would be great to see images of those special places?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Learning Paths: School Year 2014-2015

Note: As I look at the path below I see that some goals were met with ease while others have not been met for multiple reasons. I will carry over this structure to next year's path to lead goal setting and efforts. 

Multiple learning paths await school year 2014-2015 as the world of learning continues to evolve at an amazing pace. Recently I learned of our school-wide goals which prompted me to update this post to reflect both those goals and my classroom goals.

The year will be led by these overarching questions, questions I will incorporate into the learning design for each unit:
  • Rationale and Relevance: How do I make the learning relevant to students’ interests and needs, and how do I design, choose, and impart tasks with and for students that have a meaningful rationale? Typically embedding relevant student, community, national, and world events/information into standards-based units provides both rationale and relevance
    • Relevance has occurred in many places including our double-class service learning project related to a child's family, using numbers/facts related to science study for math work, and using students' interests in technology to motivate math learning i.e. the movie making contest. Also, the marble maze project and cardboard challenge relate well to students' need and desire to explore, build, and investigate. Students are looking forward to more outdoor exploration and learning too as better weather arrives.
  • Organization and Procedure: How can I work with students to create classroom systems that promote autonomy and independence leaving time for the valuable independent, student-to-student, and student-teacher learning efforts? Creating protocols, routines, and systems with students at the start of the year will create student investment, understanding, ownership, and effective effort with regard to all classroom organization and procedural work.
    • While we have multiple systems in place, I want to shore up this area in the weeks to come as noted in this post. Recent student-teacher meetings have instituted more processes to meet this goal.
  • Encouragement and Response: How will I use formal and informal feedback to motivate and encourage students' continued perseverance, engagement, empowerment, and effective effort related to practice, progress, and mastery of curriculum goals and students' individual inquiry and needs? A blend of student-teacher conversation, response to assessments, student-teacher goal setting, learning path creation, and reflection provides the kinds of encouragement and response that empower and encourage students.
    • The classroom has taken on a "conversation" format, lessons typically begin with an introduction that keeps the conversation going. The lessons also end with summary and the continued conversation. The conversation is about learning well and the specific topics we're learning about. It's a give-and-take. This conversation extends to the weekly newsletter, daily home study page updates, individual and small group feedback, test assessment, and more. Students know I care and they know I'm working for their best interests. Let the conversation continue. . .
  • Cognitive Support: How do I make space in the teaching/learning program to support a range of student-driven efforts related to their personal inquiry/needs and curriculum goals? Setting up the room, websites, and the schedule so that online/offline learning tools, materials, and supports are easily understood and readily accessible sets the stage for differentiated, personalized, beneficial cognitive support.
    • Like the focus on conversation above, this area is also part of the conversation. I'm continually asking, 'What do you need, want, and desire?" and I'm continually trying new strategies to find the best strategies for each learner. The learners are comfortable with me and lead me in this regard as well. This focus is an area of continued emphasis and development.
During the next year, our study will focus on the following main points:
  • Healthy Relationships This too is part of the ongoing conversation and daily events 
    • Employing the "Learning to Learn" Curriculum to establish a strong learning community.
    • Using Open Circle, the Biography Framework, and as needed social skills teaching and discussions to strengthen and promote classroom community and individuals' social skills.
    • Working with a teaching coach/mentor and colleagues to develop this program with strength and in response to students' needs. 
  • Evaluation This effort is strongly in place in all regards. 
    • Incorporating regular informal and formal assessment to assess students' needs and accomplishments.
    • Keeping an easy-to-access and share document of assessment data for all students.
    • Partaking in collegial discussions related to assessment results to develop individual and grade-level skill, concept, and knowledge. 
  • Achievement Gap We continue to work on this area trying multiple strategies and informal assessment. We are making progress, but there's room for greater progress. 
    • Leveling the learning/teaching playing field for all students by making sure that every student has the support needed to learn well at school and at home.  
    • Use the start-of-the-year learning community surveys to identify needs. 
    • Provide email, video, Skype, and/or Google Hangout home study support to those who will profit from it. 
    • Help students to access needed tech equipment, WIFI, and other resources to support home study needs. Work in conjunction with tech department on this effort.
    • Work closely with family members and others in the learning community to support individuals' learning needs and interests. 
  • RTI This area has profited greatly from collegial efforts and share. So far so good. 
    • Working with the grade-level team and designated leaders/coaches on system determined goals and activities. 
    • Employing the results of RTI work in classroom endeavor and evaluation. 
  • Technology Technology is fully embedded into all aspects of our teaching/learning work. 
    • Employing technology in apt ways to develop students' accessibility and success with the system-wide curriculum.
To reach these system-wide goals as well as students' learning confidence and success I will emphasize the following points: This too is part of the daily conversation, and working to inspire and develop learners with strength. 
  • We are all capable of learning.
  • To learn well means that we have to set goals, design paths, identify needs, access resources, strategize, act, assess, revise, and reflect.
  • Our learning, contribution to the community, and ability to navigate challenge and opportunity gain strength from the study of famous pioneers, inventors, explorers, and survivors today and in the past. 
  • A strong foundation of concept, knowledge, and skill in the areas of math and science will prepare us well for our future study, work, and living. 
The paths for 2014-2015 are beginning to take shape in the following ways.

Teacher Prep: Charting the Course

Community We have started all these efforts, but there's still room for growth and is an important focus of our November/December work. 
  • As a learning team, the students and I will build our community protocols, rules, routines, and environment. 
  • We will think of our team as a system (a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole) and draw models of our team as a system noting the parts, whole, and how we rely on each other for our main function which is learning. We will also entertain other grade level unifying themes by discussing these questions:
    • How will we change throughout the year?
    • How is our team similar to other fifth grade teams in our school and elsewhere?
  • Early year assessments and surveys will be completed by students, families, and teachers. 
  • Students will learn about and contribute to the team resources including the class website. 
  • We'll focus on classroom character,  apt collaboration attributes, system-wide core values and school values
Learning to Learn Paths
Students will have the chance to design their own learning paths soon for our Science Ted Talk projects. 
  • Students will engage in multiple exercises that teach children the many ways they can successfully learn.
  • Design Your Own Learning Path: An effort to engage every child in designing a first learning path related to their individual passion and interest. A learning path similar to the creativity days we've done in the past. Identifying needed resources, time, and space will be part of the overall initial work in this regard. Students will use backward design as their approach to this path. Students will create websites to host their Learning Path Projects. 
  • Learning Dispositions: Students will study and practice the dispositions that lead to optimized learning. 
Math Paths
Math has been the mainstay of classroom efforts, and students are making great gains in all the areas below. Time is the compromising factor here--we simply run out of time to do it all. 

Science: STEAM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Art, and Math)
The cardboard challenge project was a great start to this. Again, time is a compromising factor with regard to all we can do, but we'll catch up as the year goes along in all of these areas. 
Service Learning:
Students are highly motivated in this regard and we have made a strong start with multiple service learning projects and connections. 

We will end the year with a student driven math/science/reading service learning project that embeds important learning from the year. This will provide students an opportunity to practice, apply, process, and reflect. 

As I look forward to working with so many bright science and math students next year, I'm eager to continue to fill in the missing pieces of this year-long learning design. I welcome any thoughts, ideas, or resources you may have in this regard. 

Note: I suspect this post will continue to evolve as the program plans take shape--stay tuned :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Do You Work Best?

As I participate in the math institute, I am reminded about the need for us to create spaces for optimal learning. A good question to lead this effort is to ask students, "How do you learn best? Is the environment one that is silent or one where talking is invited? Is it an environment where you have lots of space or is that not so important? Is it an environment where you work alone or work together? Is a work structure that has lots of time or less time? Then after children give this some thought, divide the room into quiet spaces and talking spaces, collaborative space and individual space, time-crunch and time-available. This is an important aspect of successful learning design.

Wayland Math Institute: Making Math Models

Math model making steps students and educators into the structure and function of math processes. As we work to create models that best replicate and demonstrate math structures and processes, we become attuned to the details and relationships involved in that mathematical event.

Also, math model making is active math learning. Rather than passive listening and response, math model making activates the students' mind and multiple senses as he/she problem solves around the best ways to create the model.

Further, when math model making is done in collaboration with others, the process promotes math conversation that includes important math vocabulary and concepts.

In addition, making math models builds students' systematic thinking by providing students with multiple ways to organize and process math information to problem solve.

Math model making involves visual literacy which, in many ways, leads to greater recall, share, and understanding.

Utilizing technology in making math models allows the learner to more easily organize and revise multiple elements as the model takes shape. Also technology creates the opportunity for animation and motion which can demonstrate the step-by-step action of a math process. Programs such as SCRATCH, Minecraft, Khan Academy's Coding Tutorial, Tynker, and others give students incredible ability to model math processes.

I look forward to watching and listening to educators create math models using technology today. I also look forward to the educators' ideas with regard to the way they promote, utilize and discuss model making in their classrooms to forward students' math skill, concept, and knowledge.

If you have information you would like to share in this regard, please do. The goal is to reach every math student in meaningful and engaging ways, ways that promote deep math understanding, a love of learning, and apt application in their learning, working, and problem solving efforts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teaching Math Well

I spent the today at the first day of the Wayland Math Institute. I thought a lot about the math program I teach as I listened to speakers, presenters, and participants

My takeaways included the following:
  1. It is essential that all children believe that they are capable of learning math.
  2. A "Learning to Learn" curriculum that strengthens students' mindsets and learning actions is critical at the start of the school year with review and reference throughout the year.
  3. Math class needs to be engaging and empowering.
  4. Relevant problems and projects are integral to learning success.
  5. There needs to be many paths available with regard to learning math well.
  6. A 24-7 platform of tools, links, and study information aids student achievement and participation.
  7. The more you know and understand about math, the better you will teach it.
  8. We need to foster students' apt mathematical processes and strategies.
  9. We need to look deeper, converse, and problem solve around the best structures with regard to schedules, personnel, space, and time to teach all of our math students well.  
  10. When possible math learning should be integrated into the learning of other subject matter, and visa versa.
  11. Students who struggle need alternative strategies and more time to boost their core skills and grade-level learning. 
  12. It is imperative that you explicitly teach the standards of mathematical practices throughout every math unit.
  13. We can't underestimate the strength technology holds for math thinking and learning development as it's amazing. 
There's a lot of prep with regard to pedagogy, content, and skill when it comes to teaching well, and attention to the areas above will turn that prep into a successful math program for the students you teach. 

Wayland Math Institute: Unpack the Standards

Today at the Wayland Math Institute, I'll lead a small group of educators in a series of lesson design steps to develop engaging standards-based math lessons.

We'll start with introductions and share. I'll ask each participant to share their grade level and school as well as an area of strength and area of challenge when it comes to learning design. Then I'll suggest that when we use a comprehensive process of lesson design, students benefit.

I'll bring participants on a communication "road trip" as we navigate to the school site, classroom website, math website, and presentation website.

John Hattie's book significantly
impacted my ability to teach well. 
Next, we'll watch a warm-up video, then review grade-level standards. Each teacher will identify one standard to focus on as we each design a blended, learning experience related to the standard.

After that, I'll introduce teachers to a lesson design template that we'll use to design the lesson. Teachers will copy and paste the standard into their online copy of the template.

Once educators have added the standard and title to their lesson design Google doc, we'll then unpack the standards and create lessons with a step-by-step collaborative process including sharing ideas and learning along the way.

Finally, we'll share and critique each other's lesson plan drafts.

I will be very interested to learn educators' thoughts and ideas with regard to learning design in general and specifically with regard to this learning design process.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Prepare to Teach Well: Work Ahead

As a teacher who taught for a long time while managing a home with young children, I learned to value preparation. There's no way that we can teach well during the school year without using some time during the summer months to prepare for the school year expectations, especially those expectations that fall outside of the daily planning, teaching, and response related to the students we teach.

With that in mind, I advise the following summer work.
  1. Create a digital portfolio that includes your main paperwork, goals, and organization.
  2. Reflect on the evaluation standards that pertain to your work.
  3. Complete any system-wide paperwork or online trainings if that work is published prior to the school year. 
  4. Review and organize school year scope and sequences, and catch up on learning that you need in order to teach your students well. 
Teaching well requires substantial effort on our own time. To deny or avoid that expectation is to put yourself in a challenging situation once the school year starts. On the other hand, you can't spend the whole summer working so you have to strike that right balance between family, fun, and professional work. Let me know if you have thoughts or ideas related to this post. As educators we need to support and encourage one another in order to do our work well. 


Learning: The Social Quotient?

Yesterday as I considered an author that doesn't speak to me, I wondered why. Then I realized that the author promotes mostly independent, isolated learning experiences--experiences embraced by many, and found to be successful in many ways.

The author doesn't speak to me however, because I am not looking for more individual, isolated learning events. I'm not looking for those events because I have enough already, and I find that for many students those learning experiences are not as engaging as social learning events.

Students like to work together, and as Hattie's research promotes, they learn a lot when they work together. When children work together they are talking, strategizing, creating, assessing, problem solving, and revising in an ongoing way. If the social learning event is well designed, there is little need for the teacher to continually prompt students to stay on task or complete the work as the children do that for each other.

As I consider this factor more, I realize that what's wrong with a lot of curriculum design is that it does not include the social quotient enough. Good learning choreography employs the right mix of social and independent learning work and chooses that mix with respect to the individual needs and interest of the students in the learning community.

As I think about the social quotient, I am reminded of the following learning events that positively promote successful learning and collaboration:
  • TEAM Research
  • Movie Making
  • Script Writing Using Google Docs and Tables
  • Rich Problem Solving
  • Scientific Exploration and Investigation
  • Service Learning
  • Guided Social Media
  • Google Doc Writing Threads
  • Learning Display Creation
What would you add to the list? How do you determine the just right social/independent learning mix for your class? What curriculums do you employ that include a positive social quotient? What is your own social quotient for optimal learning, and what is the social quotient for each of your students? I'm curious about this topic, and look forward to any ideas, links, or research you may have or know about in this regard--please share.

Related Posts
Social Quotient Post

What is the Role of Inaction in Schools?

There's a greater potential to be called out for action that errs than inaction errors.

Sometimes action intended for positive change errs, however inaction may have the potential for greater error.

For example, if a child struggles in school, and an educator tries to make change, there's a chance that change will work and make a significant difference. Yet if an educator turns away from a child's struggle or challenge, that inaction has a 100% chance of failure.  So which is better--action that might succeed or inaction that's sure to fail.

I recognize that the answer is not that simple as the best response is a thoughtful, researched action--an action that's based on strong rationale and experience. As I consider this issue, I am thinking about inaction that results in loss; inaction in response to the following questions:
  • What do we do when children do not have tech access at home? 
  • What happens when a child's service delivery is not met in timely, regular ways?
  • How do we change the program when a child continually acts out? 
  • What if a child is hungry in the morning; what do we do?
  • If a child's family cannot communicate with a school due to language barriers or other barriers, how do we respond?
  • If the standards outnumber the minutes in a day, do we make change?
  • If a classroom or learning space is not conducive to excellence, what do we do?
  • Do we respond to student or collegial questions in timely, thoughtful ways?
  • Do we research and employ new educational tools, strategies, and processes?
In teaching/learning environments that invite solution focused efforts and actions, inaction probably doesn't occur that often. However, in risk-adverse environments, it's my guess that inaction often occurs since there's a risk of punishment when it comes to trying out new ideas--ideas that might create positive change, change that successfully affects a child's experience of school.

As I think about learning and teaching, I want to focus on when and how I act, and when and how I engage in inaction. I want to make sure that when there is need I act with research-based, experience-focused action that aims to remedy a situation or prevent a challenge. I also want to be mindful of when I choose inaction, and why I choose that path--a path that sometimes can be the right path, but is often not a solution-focused path.

How do you meet inaction in your learning community?  When is inaction a right response, and when is inaction worse than action that might be imperfect? These are important considerations as we move schools forward. We must consider both action and inaction as we consider the many ways we can embrace to teach children well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

To Learn: Building a Culture of Learning

This morning's #satchat focused on building a culture of learning. There were many great ideas shared.

As a learner, my own words and ideas, and the words and ideas of the learning community, lead me.

It's not a simple path to forge new learning streams.  You move ahead with knowledge, then you back step to old ways.

At first, new learning needs to be purposeful. You need to surround yourself with visual and verbal reminders of new learning elements. You also may need the coaching of colleagues and leaders so you don't forget. It takes time for new learning to become second nature or an automatic response.

As humans, I've read, it's our inclination to resist new learning. In a sense, we have to push ourselves forward to do it a new way. Typically if the rationale is strong, our desire to learn will be stronger. When we see meaning and gain, we will persist.

It is the same for our students as so many educators on #satchat chimed today, to teach well, it is essential that educators are learners, and that the schools where we work embrace a culture of learning. A culture of learning is visible when students and educators alike work to coach each other toward new endeavor, knowledge, concept, skill, and capacity. It is also a culture that expects mistakes, and learns from error.

How will I continue to foster and strengthen a learning culture in my classroom, and contribute to a learning culture in the school where I work? In what ways can I strengthen my own learning routines so that vigorous learning is effective, meaningful, and worthwhile to me and my students?

New learning takes time, and that time is well spent when it comes to teaching children well.

School environments focused on learning will model the best of what both students and educators can be as learners, and that will certainly result in teaching children well.

Pioneer, Explorer, Adventurer, and Survivor: Science Unit Prep

A Study of the Ecosystem and Outer Space
When creating curriculum, I like to have a theme that ties the many elements of the year together. This is the start to the fifth grade year design. Please let me know if you have thoughts or ideas as this is a post that will continue to undergo revision, change, and enrichment as the summer continues. 

Fall Science Curriculum Design

Unit Prep
  • Favorite Place in Nature Models: Community Building/Vocabulary Development Activity
  • Studying a local ecosystem in multiple ways, and determining how one might survive.
  • Studying space and how one might survive there given the environments.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Score Analysis: A Short List of What Works

I've worked with scores for a variety of tests for years, and as I looked over some new reports on the final day of school, I am aware of the following actions that lead to positive test scores.
  • Know the content. Both teachers and students need to know and apply the content standards well.
  • Time on task with skilled teachers matters.
  • Online engaging programs that review skills, concepts, and knowledge in child-friendly, responsive ways make a positive difference.
  • Students who are tech savvy appear to do better. Students who are not tech savvy which results from a range of reasons need more explicit instruction and practice. 
  • Challenged learners require academic small group or individualized time-on-task time that is quiet, focused, and engaging with skilled professionals who know the content well.
  • Differentiation with responsive tools matter, and it is important to list a wide variety of positive tools, strategies, and processes in order to meet the variety of needs and interests children present.
  • Positivity and good student-teacher relationships make a difference.
  • Stamina matters, and it's important to give students opportunities to practice tasks that require stamina during the year. 
  • Test practice and trials matter too, and help to build test readiness.
  • Test content needs to be thought out and taught throughout the grades, not just at one grade level as learning takes time and focus.
  • Children may need a few years to gain the skill and understanding in order to achieve. Often students who struggle one year grasp and integrate the learning in the next year or two provided there is targeted support. Learning, especially during the young years, is a process that has a developmental curve, a curve that is different for every child. 
  • Class size matters. It is much easier to reach a class of 18 or 19 than a class of 28 or 29. Every good teacher knows that. 
  • Students profit from practice and completing class and appropriate, engaging home assignments regularly. 
  • Strategic scheduling that gives priority learning priority time in the schedule.
  • Attendance at school--children who don't attend regularly don't do as well. 
What we do as educators makes a difference. Skilled time on task with students makes a significant difference. It's advantageous to have most staff working with students in direct, purposeful, skilled ways to support and advance student learning.

I will think about this as I develop the teaching/learning program for next year.

Summer Reflection: Teaching Well

"We do not learn from experience. . . .
we learn from reflecting on experience."
                                                                                              - John Dewey

If you have a strong desire to teach well, and like me, want to understand the elements related to this with depth, please join me on a journey of summer reflection. Acknowledging the promise our work holds, the advantage of preparation, and the realization that good work requires time and study are reasons to participate in this endeavor.

Reflection One: Know Subject Matter
During this journey, I will revisit 33 elements related to teaching well--elements outlined in the Massachusetts' New Evaluation System for educators, and elements that have worth for all educators, not just educators in Massachusetts.

Last summer, I analyzed these elements with depth, and this summer I will revisit the elements with a broader, but more targeted, reflection process. Each day, I will revisit one element. I will outline the element, provide reflection questions, and share a brief reflection related to my work as a model.

Whether you are a teacher in training, new teacher, or veteran educator like me, if you'd like to join this journey, please visit the Summer Reflection: TeachFocus website, read, and reflect regularly. Last year's efforts resulted in increased skill, but as we all know to teach well is a limitless proposition so I return again to reflect during summer days to gain greater strength and better practice for the year ahead. 

Don't hesitate to comment if you have questions or ideas. I look forward to traveling this learning path with you. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Challenge to Teach Well

It is challenging to teach well.

Teachers navigate multiple systems in order to deliver students their best efforts, work, coaching, and care.

In the best possible scenario, communities support systems; systems support teachers, and teachers support families and students so they can do their work well and learn.

As you know from my posts, I support a servant leadership model where students hold center stage in the teaching/learning community.

It's time to take a break; to let the year's gratitude, lessons, and learning sink in, and to rest up for more growth and teaching well in the year to come. Onward.

The Last Day 2014

In many ways, this video reflects the way we started the year. It is a video of one of the first spirited moments the class spent together.

Now today, we have come full circle.

Today is students' last day of school.

The big events, special presentations, tests, and projects are past.

It's a day of clean-up and mostly quiet celebration and care.

The year was jam-packed with great learning and lots of family and collegial support. The learning community rallied to support each child, and that's awesome!

Now we're all ready for a change of pace--a time to let the year's learning sink in, and time to ready for another great year of learning to come.

Final Notes:
The last day went as planned.

We met as a school and celebrated the year's accomplishments as well as looked forward to next year's changes and promise.

We cleaned the class and met as a team to distributed end-of-year folders, reports, and more.

We celebrated with a picnic "birthday" party including a student-created Yankee swap.

Time for play, finishing The Lorax Movie (a great match for our environmental theme at fourth grade), and then of course music. A few children and a teacher played as part of our final celebration. After that, we clapped out the fifth graders.  A wonderful ending to a wonderful teaching/learning year.

These films show some of our final, signature moments. Moments that demonstrate a year that came full circle beginning and ending with music that reflects the spirit, energy, and promise Team 15 2013-2014 exemplifies. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Move Along Day 2014

Today is Move Along Day, a day when students meet next year's teacher(s). At first I will announce new teachers and assignments with my students. I'll make the announcement with positivity and cheer--the notion that this is the start of yet another wonderful adventure in learning and life. I know that children generally follow our lead so if we're positive and proactive, they will be too.

Then I'll move along too to the fifth grade assignment. First my new colleague and I will introduce the fifth grade structure of two teachers, one who mainly teaches English language arts and social studies, and the other who focused on science and math (that's me). My colleague will introduce her section of the program, and then I'll say a few words about my section. After that, my homeroom students and I will travel to our new classroom, one I will set up and organize at the end of August when summer cleaning and improvements are complete. There I'll tell students that I am there to take care of them and help them learn as much as possible in happy, successful ways next year. I'll also tell them about summer study choices and leave some time for questions.

There's likely to be a lot of emotion today as students meet this news with a range of feelings, hence I'll complement this event with peaceful, end-of-year classroom teaching and learning--the kind of work that leaves lots of time for talking, thinking, and responding with care and support.

I'm looking forward to meeting next year's students. I know their names. I've seen them in the hall, but this will be the first time I actually match name and face for many of them, and then, of course, there are those who will move along with me and spend a second year in my class. I owe those students an especially good year since I know them well and can plan for their needs and interests with care.

A positive, child-centered Move Along Day has the potential to teach children that change is often a positive event in life, one that leads to new adventure and learning especially when there is caring support and clear communication.  Onward.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teaching Well: Knowing

Weary from a busy year, it's a bit daunting to look at the new curriculum looming before me. I want to have a teaching year next year that was as good as this year. One factor that made this year a strong year was that I knew the curriculum well.

Therefore there's lots to do to prep for school year 2014-2015. I've written many lists, and each list becomes more and more specific as I understand the details.  So to know the curriculum well so I can teach well. I'll follow this order.

  1. Read the new Next Generation Standards Document
  2. Read the State and system-wide science standards documents.
  3. Synthesize the approaches and focus on six main units.
  4. Consult the blogs, websites, and resources including Mr. Musselman's blog for ideas.
  5. Plan the roll-out of each unit.
  1. Step-by-step review the grade level standards using Khan Academy.
  2. Organize the curriculum roll-out in relation to State and system-wide scope and sequences.
  3. Add related information to the class math website
  4. Participate in DESE math class this summer.
Learning Community
  1. Collect and organize all related posts and activities.
  2. Create a curriculum to implement and share in the fall.
  1. Create a biography template to guide the study.
  2. Include posts on character and related skills into the study template.
  3. Access biographies from the wonderful school library collection. 
In many ways I'd like to take a break this summer, but there's no way I can teach new curriculum with positive effect without substantial summer study. Onward.

Resource List
Water Filters
Next Generation Fifth Grade Science Standards
Solar Power

Teaching Well: Meeting Challenge

I am surrounded by dynamic educators. End-of-year presentations, reflections, and comments demonstrate that truth. The educators I work with are committed to student happiness, success, and strength.

The path to teaching well is a path of many choices, strategies, tools, and opportunities. There are many ways to travel the path with students' best interests in mind.

This year has been a year of change in Massachusetts' schools. We have navigated so many new initiatives including RETELL, the Common Core Standards, the new Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System, PARCC trial tests, DDM choices, and more. These changes have affected roles, time, and focus.

Next year changes will continue as more teachers take RETELL, start the new evaluation system, possibly test with PARCC, employ DDMs, and continue to tailor curriculum to match CCSS. What are the best ways to meet these new initiatives and keep students' best interests, growth, and success center stage?

I don't have the answer for all educators, but in reflecting about this year's strong steps forward as well as the missteps, I have the following thoughts.

Professional Attitude and Actions
Schools of old had a much more relaxed attitude, and schools today, in many cases, are more business like. Hence, it's critical to understand the professional expectations in your organization and match your goals to those expectations.

Take some time this summer to outline the expectations and work to come. Do you have to take RETELL? If so, when and where do you sign up? Do you have to be fingerprinted? If so, where and when can that happen? Is this your certification year? If so, do you have the credits and signatures you need? What efforts will you need to organize for the evaluation system? Are there new curriculum expectations? How will you meet those expectations in timely, comprehensive ways? Taking a day or two to organize the expectations, questions, and efforts will serve you well once the busy school year starts.

Role and Expectations
It's important to understand your role well.  What are the primary expectations of your role? How and when are those expectations assessed?  Then as you prepare for the school year ahead this summer, plan your program and efforts so that you meet those expectations with strength and care.

Understand your team both specific and broad. Who is on your team, and what is your role on that team?  How can you contribute to the team in positive, effective ways?

Voice and Questions
Where are your voice and questions welcome? Who represents a source of support and coaching for you as an educator?  What allies support you in your work?

Professional Learning
What areas of your professional work will profit from greater study, experience, and effort? What professional learning events will help you to develop as a professional?  Is there a source of support with regard to the cost and admission to those professional learning events, and if there is, how can you access that support?  What kind of lead time events are involved?

With regard to the new evaluation system, what work can you do and goals will you set to meet professional expectations and develop your professional repertoire? Can you get a head start on this in the summer months, months without evening lesson planning and student response?

Make the time to have a personal life and use that time to develop interests, relationships, and a healthy lifestyle. Have some fun--happy teachers lead to happy, successful students and positive student-teacher relationships.

Massachusetts' new initiatives are researched based initiatives with students' best interests and success in mind. The challenge is meeting these new initiatives with organization, focus, support, and time in ways that support educators' best attitude, effort, and work so that we have what we need to teach every child well.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Learning: What You See is Not Always What You Get

A colleague visited the class today and viewed the class presentations. As he watched, I watched through his eyes. I realized that in seeing the final project, he wasn't able to see the work that went into it. In many ways the final presentation was a playful childhood exchange that included facts related to recent research. A teacher last Friday saw the work in a similar way yet her young children were giggling and laughing throughout the performance inspired by the older children.

To see the presentations at the final point was not to witness the research, writing, slide show creation/timing, collaboration, rehearsal, and prop creation--the many, many steps that had gone into the final presentation, many steps created by the children.

It's the same with programming an animation. To see the animation makes the project seem simple, but then when you look at the lengthy, intricate program script you notice the time and effort that went into the work.

Yet, on the other hand, when students performed the fifth grade play recently, the performance was exceptional--flawless, a work of art. The work to master this performance was evident in the final performance, a performance that was inspiring, and a performance that lifted the spirits of an entire audience.

As we think about deep, rich learning for young children we need to be cognizant of our priorities and focus. For the project mentioned above, the priority was to give all children a chance to be active learners who engage in all aspects of TEAM research--elements that began with research and moved through several steps to performance. Children's reflections demonstrate a favorable response to this focus.

Having multiple elements in a big project might mean that the final project is not as polished as a project that centers more specifically on two or three elements alone. More time and focus on singular elements might elevate a final performance, but does that elevate the learning overall? I'm wondering about the equation of quality and quantity when it comes to teaching young children well. My guess is that the right answer is a range of answers.  Sometimes quantity and exposure are just right, and other times quality and a more specific focus is the answer.  My colleague and I spoke about this, and I suspect our dialogue will continue as we both travel down the path of teaching children well in the years ahead.

Professional Learning: Critical Mismatch?

It occurred to me this morning that the trouble with the Common Core is not the standards, but the way they are being dealt with.

As if children are washing machines or another mechanical apparatus, multiple agencies are trying to provide directions as to how to assemble, fix, or operate our young children (machines) rather than how to teach.

Wouldn't it be better to strengthen the teacher's depth of knowledge, skill, and concept in every standard? Teachers who have experience with the standards and their application are more likely to teach those standards well, and rather than providing teachers with countless sets of instructions, let's focus professional learning efforts on deepening teachers' ability to understand, apply, and adapt knowledge in multiple ways with a variety of tools and strategies.

This is not a new idea. Experts like Lucy Calkins have always noted that to teach writing well, a teacher needs to write, and mathematicians know that to facilitate math learning a teacher needs to understand the math at a deep level.

Our little children are not machines. Instead they are evolving people, people who are continually changing and adapting to their surroundings, biology, and inner needs.

So with this in mind, a phrase like "lead learner" takes on more strength, and a model like that of a craftsperson provides more leadership.

Have we been wrong to invest so much into the directions and the assessments and not enough into the craftspeople--the ones who are facilitating the learning each and every day.  I wonder. What do you think?

Working Together Well: Attributes and Student Exercises

Next year we'll continue to do a lot of teamwork. TEAM Research gave us a chance to specifically develop this skill, and now I'm wondering how can I help students to continue to develop their strength in this area next year.

Similarly as schools move from isolation to greater collaboration, I am interested in teamwork on a professional level too. How can we work together in multiple teams to do our best work for and with students, families, colleagues, and the community.

In a world that is increasingly interdependent and densely populated, our ability to work side-by-side for greatest effect is critical. This Forbes article provides a nice framework for developing important attributes for collaboration and teamwork success. Below I've listed the main attributes, and some possible activities for developing these skills in the year ahead.

Active Listening
We'll specifically discuss the criteria related to active listening, and employ that when we do the year's first interviews, and in learning and friendship activities after that. We'll use our get-to-know-each-other first science project to practice active listening and introduce each other's projects online or off.

Relating to One Another
To build students ability to relate to one another, I will have students interview each other with regard to specific math mindset questions. Students will report on each other's answers.

Genuine Interest in Others
Students will interview their buddies and write summaries. They'll also look for ways that their buddy work can meet the interests and needs of their kindergarten buddies. We will also practice behaviors that support "genuine interest in others" as a mainstay of our classroom culture.

With an initial math problem, we'll focus on optimal communication skills. What helped your team communicate about this problem? What kinds of communication were challenging? Let's create protocols for optimal communication related to problem solving and other classroom efforts.

How can we be patient with our kindergarten buddies? When is our patience challenged when working with younger children?  What strategies can we use to build patience?

This will be an early year focus of a class meeting. We'll discuss what trust is and how trust connects to friendships and good working relationships. We'll list criteria that connects to trust and friendship. We'll refer to that list throughout the year and revise and enrich as necessary.

We will develop this through our classroom conversations and our biography studies. We'll discuss how an individual felt in specific situations, and what helped and what did not.

Students in our school have been focused on flexibility with "flex brain" characters. We'll discuss what it means to be a flexible thinker. I'll look for some good literature to support this teaching.

Good Judgement
This is always a topic with young children as they are always learning about judgement. This is where teacher as coach is critical. Also as we discuss the biographies of many STEAM stars we'll look at the judgements they made in their life and consider the strength or weakness of those judgements at different points.

Since a lot of our curriculum will revolve around creating viable arguments, we'll look at those arguments from the perspective of persuasion.

Children are born negotiators. Teachers can boost negotiation skills giving students the chance to express their view point and try to convince you with regard to the many matters they care about. Teachers as coaches can point out strategies that work, and strategies that are less successful in this regard.

Interjecting humor on a regular basis will help to teach humor.

Discussing the role of honesty in the biography presentations, honest discourse and action in class (even when you agree to disagree), and noting that it's best to be honest even if you are wrong with students will build this habit.

Body Language
Pointing out body language that shows respect, engenders empathy and support, and invites others to participate will help to make all students aware of body language affect.

Proactive Problem Solving
Meeting problems with an "Let's Find a Solution" attitude and action will model that positive behavior for students.

Leadership Skills
Explicitly discussing the skills and abilities that make a good leader and listing those skills for all to see will lead this effort. Also a conscientious decision to give every child a chance to lead their group throughout the year will give students a chance to try out and develop this ability.

Good Manners
What are good manners?  What manners make a difference in school life and beyond? Explicit attention to manners at the start of the year will give all students a chance to know and understand the expectations, and then profit from developing strength in this area.

Supporting and Motivating Others
As we work in groups we'll look for ways to support and motivate each other. We'll make discussions about this explicit, and we'll also look for evidence of this as we read the stories of great scientists, technologists, engineers, artists, and mathematicians throughout the year.

As we grow our classrooms and student work to best reflect the culture outside of school and the future with regard to the skills and abilities students will need to succeed, it's important that we grow students teamwork and collaborative skill and effort. I look forward to embedding this language and actions into next year's curriculum work.

Summer Folders: Family Reflection and Learning Plans

Students will take home all supplies and materials before the last day. Then on their last day they'll take home their summer folders. The folders will include the following:
  • A Letter from the Teacher
  • A Quote Poster to Inspire Future Learning
  • Curriculum Links and Notes from the Teacher and Curriculum Leaders
  • The Progress Report
  • Students' Reflection Letter and TEAM Research Reflections
I'll encourage families to put the folder away until a quiet half hour when parent(s) and child can sit down and review the contents, then talk about summer study, the past year, and the year ahead. 

I recommend that parents make this a special reflection meeting between child and parent--a time to think and talk together about a child's current and future learning and effort. 

The choreography of the school year includes time for reflection, planning, learning, and sharing. When done well the year is orchestrated in a way that promotes confidence, academic growth, and community. A beginning to end momentum that impacts a child's life with significance. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Four Days More

Four Days More
To Learn Together
Writing Letters
Field Study
Move Along
Clean Up
"Birthday Party"
Oily Watermelon Race
Summer "Yankee Swap"
Good byes

Take it simply.
Make time to care for one another.
Feel good about all the great days of learning.
A fine farewell.

What's the Teaching Target and Why?

As I reviewed end of the year scores, I thought about how important it is to keep the overall teaching/learning targets alive from the start of the year to the end. I suggest that this be a short list--the kind of list teachers, family members, students, and leaders can refer to and remember easily.

At the start of the year, teachers need to understand well what the most important teaching targets are, and then those targets need to be the focus of time, discussion, problem solving, encouragement, share, revision, assessment, and celebration throughout the year.

Along with the targets need to come the meaningful rationale and action that matches those targets, and I suggest that these targets and rationale are created and shared with educators, family members, and students at the start of the year so everyone knows what the priorities are.

As I look ahead to my fifth grade charge, I imagine the short list will look something like this.
  1. Optimal mindsets, actions, dispositions, and routines for learning
  2. A school program that engages, empowers, and educates students well.
  3. Students will learn to fluently apply, explain, and problem solve with all all grade-level math standards using numbers, words, images, diagrams, and models. 
  4. Students will learn, apply, and explain the identified science standards with words, numbers, images, diagrams, and models. 
  5. Students will learn, review, practice, and apply reading comprehension strategies related to the class read alouds with discussion and STEAM Inspiration journal written responses. 
The scores the State will judge me on include the Math MCAS and Math GMADE growth scores. These are the DDMs (District Determined Measures) for my grade level.

What are the priority areas of your curriculum responsibilities?  How can you embed those priorities into meaningful, 21st century teaching that promotes character, citizenship, collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking skills? Will you only focus on short term goals, or will you also focus on more holistic goals that support long term learning success (are short term and long term goals often the same)?

How will you keep the grade-wide goals alive in positive ways--ways a whole team can embrace with strength and understanding?  How can we encourage one another towards these goals with positive collaboration rather than competition in this high stakes testing age?  In what ways can coaches, leaders, and colleagues empower teaching teams to meet the goals with strength, confidence, and care?

It's a good idea to know the scores and numbers you'll be judged on from the first days of the school year as that will help you to meet those goals in ways that benefit students in holistic ways as the year progresses. How do you determine your teaching goals at the start of the year? How do you keep the goals and process alive in positive, proactive ways?  How do you analyze those goals at the end of the year so that you are inspired to do better, learn more, and continue successful practices?

The transition to all this data can be daunting and defeating for educators and students alike, however if we embrace this process well with students' best interests in mind and optimal collaboration, there is a chance that this can be a positive movement.  What do you think?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

TEAM Research #21: Reflection

“We do not learn from experience... 
we learn from reflecting on experience.”
                                - John Dewey

Students reflected on their TEAM Research projects with these reflection questions and process.

Their responses were similar and positive overall. The project highlights were the service learning market place, presentations, and displays. Research and collaboration were more challenging, and those comments demonstrated the need for more projects and learning that foster apt collaboration as well as thoughtful guided research efforts.

I chose a number of comments from their reflections to share. I bet that most adults can related to these project reflections. 

Comments about Presentation
  • "I would change the way I said the words. I could have said the words better. I think we had good pace; we didn't stop and we didn't have dead silence."
  • "Yes!! I think the images help the the presentation to come alive."
  • "Writing the script I think because it was very fun to make up what you say."
  • " I also think the images helped the audience be more entertained because if there wasn’t images or a background, people would just be watching us talk."
  • "Next time when I write the script I hope our group can be more humorous because a lot of people were being funny. "
  • "I liked writing the script because it was fun and you got write what you wanted to say."
  • "There was the challenge of making the props for the script, and I learned about responsibility."
  • "If someone else had presented our report, I could close my eyes and be able to be taken to Australia with the tourist."
  • "Yes we used cute pictures to persuade the audience."
  • "I think it went well, and I would change that so we could have a dress rehearsal in the future."
  • "We used correct detail, craft, voice, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. We should have changed the script because it was not that interesting and it was too short."
  • "The highlights were I got to work with a nice group and we mostly always worked hard so it looked pretty good. I would do over our script a little like the props we could have planned/practiced with them and our presentation would have been a little bit more organized."
Comments about the Market Place
  • I really liked the sale, it was fun selling stuff to help save animals and if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.
  • "I loved selling stuff. iIt was really fun to sit there and sell things to different people."
  • "I liked that we made most of the objects, instead of buying them from the store. I would make more objects if I had time."
  • "I loved the sale and I want more shifts so we could earn even more money."
  • ""What I liked about  the sale was that we could buy stuff we liked for a cheap amount while saving endangered species. What I would change is we could have bought stuff for our sale and we probably would have made more money."
Comments about Displays
  • "I would maybe give everybody the same amount of clay for everyone."
  • "It was easy when we got to play with clay because i love crafts it was hard for me to do  the research  because i’m not very good with computers."
  • "My favorite part of this project was the display decorating because I got to be creative and explore different materials.
Comments abut Research and Google Slide Shows
  • "I liked writing about the individual animals. We could of had a specific time for making animations and games for the project."
  • "I liked how we used the computers and different websites to research."
  • "Research was boring at first, but then I realized it would help."
  • "My group collaborated by working on different slides which helped us finish faster. The challenges were finding the history because it didn’t really say any information on the La Tortuga Feliz site. The strengths of our group was getting the facts."
Comments about Collaboration
  • "I learned it is really hard to work with a team but you get through it and it turns out great."
  • "It was easy to focus when everyone was focused. But it was difficult when some of us were not paying attention or when somebody was always playing a game."
  • "One challenge was trying to work together, and from that, I learned to just relax and listen to what other people have to say.
  • "Our team was pretty good creativeness. We could of worked on better jobs for people."
  • "A good thing is that we got a lot done together but the challenge was working together."
  • "I had a good time together because there were different people with different strengths and weaknesses, so one person was always covering the other persons weakness. For example, _______'s weakness is that she is very… shy? She doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, but _____ does, so _____ had a minimum amount of lines, and ______ had some more lines. :D There was a challenge where we all disagreed on the script, but in the end we sorted it out and we came up with a pretty good script."
  • "A challenge was working together."
  • "Working in a group. To work in a group you HAVE TO agree on things."
  • "We communicated very well in the beginning and the end but we yelled when it came to decisions."
  • "I would rate my team performance on a scale from 1-10 it would probably be around a seven. What I liked the best was probably the script. I think it was really fun because I love acting. What I would change is the props I would have wanted to practice at least once with the props."
  • "Our Strengths were we knew how to work well with each other. A challenge was to keep everybody on focus including me."
Comments about Learning
  • "I learned A LOT more about sea turtles, and now I am so proud of myself."
  • "I had the challenge of staying on task, I learned that staying on task is good because in the future you need to keep track or you will get behind ."
  • "I learned how sad it is that people are destroying their homes and killing these amazing animals and that we have to save these animals for many different reasons and I also learned that it can be very difficult to work in a group(I kinda already knew it was hard to work in a group)."