Tuesday, September 30, 2014


My second science class watched Caine's Arcade and Caine's Arcade 2.

Everyone was fully engaged. Many had big smiles on their faces as they watched and listened to Caine and his supporters.

There was no other choice after watching the film but to let students explore the renewed STEAM center. They collaborated, crafted, and created--full engagement for 60 minutes.  Then science class one came in and they created for another 60 minutes. I watched, answered questions, guided when needed, and assessed our developing STEAM center.

More revision followed. Books were moved to another part of the room leaving shelf space for saved projects in progress. Some landscape models were moved to a showcase, and others were readied to bring home. The supplies were sorted again and more supplies added. It's clear that this initiative will be a year-long process as students use the center in multiple ways, and I use the center to promote the standards and unit objectives.

Students Fuel STEAM Center Effort and Design

Yes, the STEAM Center looks like a tornado came through the classroom.

It's my first year of truly putting a STEAM center together. The center has started with mostly arts and craft materials from Job Lot, recyclables, left over supplies from home and school, and a few things, such as popsicle sticks (which students love) that I was able to order from the school order.

I've invested a few dollars into the start-up, and I've just let it happen which has resulted in a number of really wonderful inventions such as "mini bowling," "mini basketball," "parachute jumpers," "desk catapults," "medieval costumes and tools," "Little bits cars," "Makey-Makey light up hands," "Expo Board Erasers and Rim," and more. And now that the students have watched Caine's Arcade more arcade games are springing up.

We've had a few times devoted to STEAM, but so far, most of the inventing has happened during recess and underneath desks while I've been teaching which has created a bit of creative tension that's pushed me forward with the initiative. We also used the STEAM Center to craft our "Favorite Place in Nature" models with lots of ingenuity as we made paint colors from old markers, mountains out of tinfoil, and landscapes with sand, glue, paper, and paint.

Late yesterday, I moved the center to a bigger space at the back of the room. This morning, I'll quickly sort materials and make more space for creation on the many tables that are there. My STEAM manager and others will work at recess to better sort, organize, and enrich the center. We'll also begin collecting more recyclables and other materials in earnest as we grow this initiative, and hopefully invite in some experts to model design think, invention, and more. We'll find other experts like Caine through video and the Internet.

I've written and thought a lot about STEAM on paper, but it's not until you start engaging these inventive and creative science, tech, engineering, art, and math concepts with children, that you really understand what it means. I've got a lot to learn, but at least we've started, and the children will certainly be the energy that fuels this growth.

Monday's Global Cardboard Challenge will give us a chance to test out our renewed STEAM center as well.

Systems that Foster Independence and Save Time

Generally educators are mavericks when it comes to classroom systems--they have systems for class jobs, line-up, attendance, and passing in homework.

I must say that's never been my forte. I typically wait to know the students before creating the systems.

For example, when it comes to class jobs, I wait until the right person emerges. The one who shows an interest and skill for the job. For example, our class manager emerged early. It was clear she wanted to run a few systems in the class, and I was delighted to transfer the reigns of those systems to her.

Similarly paper passes also emerge--they're also prepared and ready to go first therefore they have the extra time and organization to pass out the papers.  Buddy coordinators emerged also--two girls who had a bit of extra time during the week and who were highly organized and interested in our Buddy program. Today, I'll choose some STEAM managers. One has already come forth and asked if she could organize the center.

There will be many more assignments as students demonstrate interest and ideas.  I run the class with the notion that the physical structure and the community belong to all of us.

I also don't force homework systems at the start of the year. I like to know who my students are and what kind of support they have at home for home study. In fact, I typically wait until after the first family conference to manage those expectations as parents can give me the whole story about the home routines, needs, and access to tech and other tools.  So, until that happens, I'll mostly manage the home study on a person-to-person basis.

Good systems foster independence and allow the classroom to run without a lot of extra talk and time.  Yesterday I opened up the discussion with the students as to how we can manage our class better, and they had some great ideas.  Today I'll put some of those ideas into place, and possibly have a meeting to generate and create more ideas for classroom independence and efficiency.

It takes time to get the routines down, and that's more noticeable when you make a grade switch or room change. We're ready for some revision, and the students and I will revise in ways that strengthen our classroom efforts and pave the way for greater, dynamic learning. Onward.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Room Redesign

The room design did not work.

Crammed with fourth grade materials AND fifth grade materials as well as the fact that the room is considerably smaller than last year's room and the reality that I'm teaching 44 (22 each session) students a day with hands-on math and science activities, it was clear today that it's time for a room makeover.

So I'm trying another configuration.

I put all the STEAM materials and tables in the back of the room. When those items were close to the "amphitheater" (desk listening, share and audio-visual area), students just couldn't take their eyes of the materials.  Also the fact that the items were crammed in a corner wasn't good either. Now there's a lot more space for invention and exploration--just in time for the global cardboard challenge next Monday.

In a sense I'm employing lots of new, 3-D teaching in a traditional room. I think the new configuration will be a step towards a better tomorrow--let's see.  Onward

What is Your Success Criteria for This Year's Work?

John Hattie challenges us to identify the success criteria up front for any learning endeavor.

With that in mind, what do you identify as your success criteria for this year's teaching and learning?

Identifying the success criteria helps you to stay the path of important work and effort. This is especially important when the work becomes challenging or temptations arise to take another path.

It is similarly important that the learning team understand your success criteria--the goals you're all working for.

With this in mind, and with some temptation to veer off the path, I state my success criteria below.

Math Teaching and Learning
All students will learn and reach for mastery with all grade 5 math standards.
Action: About 300 minutes of blended, differentiated math teaching/learning each week.

Science Teaching and Learning
All students will learn and reach for mastery with all 5th grade science standards.
Action: About 90 or more minutes of blended, differentiated science learning/teaching each week.

Learning to Learn
All students will develop a growth mindset and apt behaviors with respect to learning to learn.
Action: Learning to Learn lessons will be embedded into all learning experiences.

Engagement and Relationship
Learning experiences will be engaging, and the learning team will grow and establish strong, positive learning and teaching relationships.
Action: Frequent share, open lines of communication, steady response, care and attention.

Read Aloud
A steady diet of wonderful books and conversation across genre.
Action: Approximately 120 minutes a week of read aloud.

Professional Learning
I will develop and apply my understanding, knowledge, and skill with regard to mathematical thinking, math/science standards, learning design, communication skills, and presentation.

Systems for Responsive Teaching and Learning

What systems support responsive teaching and learning well.

What is responsive teaching and learning?

Responsive teaching and learning is a regular process of teaching, learning, observing, listening, and responding.

For example, a teacher may study the standards and survey the students. Student surveys demonstrate specific interests, abilities, and needs. Then the teacher seeks "best fit" processes, tools, and learning experiences to meet the students' needs.

In today's tech age, that could mean a quick look to the apps available. A teacher may choose an app that fits the need, employ the app, and assess the result. If the app appears to have value beyond a day or two, the educator may employ the app to more students for more time, if not, the app may remain on the teacher's response list for similar, specific learning needs.

Responsive teaching and learning is at its best when the systems are ready to go, streamlined, and efficient as we know good learning happens when students are curious, ready, and open to the experience.

Best learning is responsive and takes on a life of its own with one connection leading to the next. Learning that is too scheduled, overly cumbersome, and one-size-fits-all often loses the strength, meaning, and potential possible.

Responsive teaching and learning challenges us to know our students well, differentiate the learning, provide menus, and coach students forward with the best of our ability.
Do you agree? If not, why not?  If so, how do you keep the steady streams of learning and teaching open, responsive, and meaningful?

What Are You Learning?

When was the last time you put yourself in the learner's seat?

Most educators find themselves there often as we learn the latest techniques, content, and tools for teaching well.

Today starts my work with the Mathematical Thinking MOOC led by Keith Devlin.

I want the information, but fear I won't have the patience to stick with it. We'll see.

My initial reaction as I listened to the introductory videos and previewed the site was the feeling that it is easy to dismiss a course like this. It's free, there's no personal relationship, and the learning is enrichment. Yet, as I listened to Devlin introduce the course I realized I'll learn a lot about teaching as well as the content--there's lots to gain here.

It would be great if some other educators were also taking this course as it would be wonderful to share how we're using the information to develop the ways we employ the SMPs (Standards of Mathematical Practice) and embed mathematical thinking into the work we do.

If you're interested, let me know.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Potential Innovation Protocol and Process

Do you have an innovation protocol and process in place in your organization?  If so, what does it look like and how does it work.

I believe that efficient, user-friendly, open innovation protocols and process are best. As long as the idea matches an organization's mission and vision, I believe it's a good idea to give the innovation time, funds, and support for review, trial, and even implementation if early stage efforts prove successful.

This is a possible model for a system-wide innovation protocol and process.

1. Identify innovation.
2. Research Innovation for the following attributes:
  • Meets system-wide mission and vision.
  • Engages users.
  • Efficient and targeted.
  • Offers metrics.
  • Grows with user.
3. Share innovation information via organization innovation share stream (vehicle?)
4. Request and obtain innovation funds and/or time if needed.
5. Try innovation out with identified trial group. Invite others who are interested to participate.
6. Note innovation impact by keeping a log, collecting numbers, and anlaysis.
7. Share data.
8. Develop innovation if numbers and impact demonstrate promise, potential, and success. 

Steady, efficient, support for innovation streams can serve to keep an organization dynamic and up-to-date. These streams invite the kind of creativity and community that help organizations thrive.

What do your innovation streams look like?  How frequent is the share and movement in these streams?  Who is included in this work?

These are important questions for education organizations today.

Visible, Transparent Innovation Protocols and Practice

Who makes up your organization's innovation team?

Is it a small group of individuals or does it extend to the entire organization?

How are the innovation ideas and practice shared?

What protocols lead that work?

I ask these questions today for a number of reasons.

First, my in-box is flooded with opportunities to try out and explore new learning tools. I'm only one person--I can't do it all, but I'm interested. I'm particularly interested when I see tools that I know to be good getting better, tools like Tynker, SimCityEDU, SumDog, Google Apps, UClass, Educanon, Flocabulary, LearnZillion, and more.

Some of these tools I bypassed after a quick look at stage one, and others were dismissed by colleagues and leaders. Some I embraced and use a bit, but want to explore more. We know that ed tools are continually undergoing evolution and many change dramatically and improve with time.

It's essential to stay on top of new tools, venues, and research, yet this takes time, commitment, and care.

As I think about my own innovation protocols and practice, I'm wondering about those protocols employed by other educators and educational teams.

How do you keep up with innovation streams so that you can teach all children well?

I'm curious.

Prepare for the Unit Assessment: 5th Grade Math

We started the math year with a review of number knowledge, facts, and measurement conversions as well as new study in the areas of coordinate grids and numerical expression.

We'll finish the related learning experiences this week and next week we'll review the material and assess.

I want to use this first assessment as a "learning to learn" lesson.

So, the review will begin with Math Talk and the following questions:
  1. Let's stop and reflect about the math year so far, what have we learned, practiced, and reviewed? (I'll list student responses on a Google doc that is displayed on the white board and will be shared later with the learning team: students, families, colleagues, leaders).
  2. On Thursday I'll assess your knowledge related to this information. Why do you think an assessment is necessary?
  3. What do you think are the best ways to prepare for an assessment?
  4. I've created an an assessment review sheet for you (pass out sheet). Please review the sheet. Circle the information you're not sure about, and underline the information you know well. Write any questions you may have on the bottom of the page.  After five minutes, I'll ask, What questions do you have?
After our talk, I'll ask each student to write a study action plan on the back of their paper. We'll share our study action plan ideas and I'll post those ideas on the home study page. I'll expect students to spend about 20 minutes a night studying for the assessment. In class, we'll study as well for two days using the study list and a study menu that includes games, online practice, collaborative work, and skill sheets. Students will have a chance to choose their study path from the menu. I'll support accordingly.

Then on Thursday, I'll give the assessment which will include a reflection question at the end. The reflection will ask students to reflect upon their learning for the unit and the study choices they made related to the final assessment.  The assessment will inform the direction I'll take as we embark on the next unit of study: place value. 

Teaching for Mastery: 5th Grade Coordinate Grid Week

This is coordinate grid week. It's also the first week of the year when we're ready to tackle unit standards with a learning sequence, a sequence we'll apply to later units.

Since this is the first time I've taught the new CCSS fifth grade standards, working through each unit takes lots of time and attention. I will apply a similar sequence of events to each unit.

1. Whet Their Appetite, Make it Meaningful
We'll take a look at the aerial photo of the playground.

I'll say, can anyone locate the "back swing set." I'm sure hands will raise quickly, and I'll let students describe where it is. I imagine they'll say things like "in the back," "next to the trees," and "far from the building."  I'll write their words down, and underline the location words such as "next to," "far from," and "in the back."

After that I'll explain that mathematicians aren't satisfied with vague descriptors since they like their descriptions to be precise and exact. Math brings order and organization to our world, and that helps us to see patterns and determine relationships.

One way to order or organize a map is to overlay the map with a coordinate grid. Then I'll show the coordinate grid map overlay and explain how using the grid provides us with a set of steps with which to see the map and talk about it.

I'll pass out the grid map to all and we'll identify the vocabulary.
Link for Handout

We'll complete the worksheet, graph a few significant ordered pairs on the school map, then practice making a picture with ordered pairs.

Finally, at the end of the lesson, we'll review the vocabulary with this catchy Flocabulary rap.

2. Provide Opportunities for Review and Study for Homework
I will encourage students to sing the Flocabulary rap for homework. I'll also ask them to practice drawing a number of pictures using ordered pairs and practice the concepts using Khan Academy.

3. Roll out the unit with review, practice, and new learning. 
The next day we'll review the unit standards in student language (see below). Then I'll pass out the Flocabulary lyrics and we'll revisit the song. Together we'll solve some real-world problems by graphing points and interpreting values.

On Wednesday, students will review measurement conversions, study sequences, and generate terms related to measurement.

Thursday will find us using Khan Academy's great example of using coordinate grids to find the relationship between two sequences.

4. Master with Application, Content Creation, and Share. 
Finally, on Friday students will use their new knowledge to create their own real-world problems (using measurement information) that can be solved and/or interpreted on a coordinate grid. Application of the new information in a meaningful way is the best way to master the content. I will share that activity when we get there.

5. Unit Review, Study, and Assessment
Next week students will review all standards related to our first math unit of the year. I will teach students multiple ways to study for an assessment in order to learn the material well.

As I've stated before there's a temptation to rush the standards and the teaching/learning year, but if we do that, students won't establish important routines and dispositions that lay the foundation for engaged, successful math learning and thought. I'll make the time to reach all standards, but we'll do it in a thoughtful, student-centered way.

The standards in student language:

Coordinate Grid Learning Standards:
Monday and Tuesday:
  1. I will understand the math vocabulary related to coordinate grids.
  2. I will graph or plot ordered pairs (coordinates on the grid) with precision.
  3. I will represent real world problems by graphing points, and interpret coordinate values of the points in the context of the situation.
  1. I will generate terms in a sequence.
  1. I will graph sequences on a coordinate grid.
I will observe the relationship between the terms in one sequence and the terms in another.

CCSS Standards Language:
  • 5.G.A.1 Use a pair of perpendicular number lines, called axes, to define a coordinate system, with the intersection of the lines (the origin) arranged to coincide with the 0 on each line and a given point in the plane located by using an ordered pair of numbers, called its coordinates. Understand that the first number indicates how far to travel from the origin in the direction of one axis, and the second number indicates how far to travel in the direction of the second axis, with the convention that the names of the two axes and the coordinates correspond (e.g., x-axis and x-coordinate, y-axis and y-coordinate)
  • 5.G.A.2 Represent real world and mathematical problems by graphing points in the first quadrant of the coordinate plane, and interpret coordinate values of points in the context of the situation.
  • 5.OA.B.3 Generate two numerical patterns using two given rules. Identify apparent relationships between corresponding terms. Form ordered pairs consisting of corresponding terms from the two patterns, and graph the ordered pairs on a coordinate plane. For example, given the rule “Add 3” and the starting number 0, and given the rule “Add 6” and the starting number 0, generate terms in the resulting sequences, and observe that the terms in one sequence are twice the corresponding terms in the other sequence. Explain informally why this is so.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The 5th Grade Learning Continues. . .

Like a story, the school year unfolds.

At the end of the week, I like to focus on the week ahead with the primary objectives. On Monday morning, I'll revisit this list as I implement specific lessons and activities.

School Assembly
Three students will present the number quilt to all students in the school at our weekly assembly.

Landscape Model Project Completion
The room is filled with all kinds of models, supplies, and associated paperwork. The "Favorite Place in Nature Landscape Models" was a messy, but profitable project. Students are putting the finishing touches on their slide show presentation. I'm looking forward to our final share with families and others soon.

Collaboration, Ecosystem Teams, and Observation
We'll make the time to learn about collaboration this week as we assess our skills and discuss the behaviors that lead to positive collaboration. Later students will have a chance to apply those skills as we make our first trip to our 10-yard X 10-yard ecosystem plot of land, a place we'll return to again and again throughout the year as we learn life science standards.

Math: Explicit Instruction, Math Talk, and Practice
Math this week will include considerable explicit instruction, math conversation, debate, and practice as we study coordinate grids and use Khan Academy with greater detail. Students will analyze a number of grid models and list the advantages and disadvantages of each model. Math instruction will also include lots of opportunity to practice the skill, concept, and knowledge related to this standard.

Buddy Time
Students will lead buddies this Friday in an apple tree glyph project.

Good Work Habits and Feedback
On Sunday I'll review students' project slide show and note those who still have work to complete. Then, on Monday we'll make some time to collect homework assignments and review homework routines. While I hate to take students' recess time, I also know that if students' don't complete their homework assignments, they don't achieve as well as others. Therefore this week will also include some catch-up on homework time during recess for a few students. Next year at middle school, students will be expected to complete all assignments on time. Modification and help is always available prior to the due date, so there's no reason not to complete assignments.

Professional Learning
The online Mathematical Thinking course starts this week. That will take about six hours, and I've got some independent study to work on too. Our grade-level team will spend considerable time this week focused on students' ELA assessments, needs, and schedules as well. We'll also continue our routine of publishing a weekly update for students and families, and prep for upcoming conference share.

Students will listen to another story about George Washington Carver and complete their Carver reflections in their STEAM Inspiration books.

Over the past few years, our school community has embraced multiple changes with regard to structures, schedules, and routines. This is the first year that many of those changes are firmly planted, and the resulting positive growth is evident. We have more space, more predictable, student-centered schedules, and greater team.  Change takes time, but thoughtful change leads to a positive difference.

Now it's time to focus on the weekend.

Buddy Time: Apple Tree Glyphs

Our buddies are visiting the apple orchard, so on Friday during buddy time, we'll make apple tree glyphs.

Glyphys are symbolic figures or pictographs. Glyphs helps students to begin to understand that a symbol represents an idea, number, or statistic. This article provides more information about using glyphs to develop students' mathematical thinking.

The glyphs kindergartners make will tell a story about their life including the numbers and ages of people in their family, their age, gender, and favorite season.

Fifth graders will later refer to this glyph experience as we work with variables in inequalities, equations, and expressions.

Enlarge and copy the black and white outline pictures from this link.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Voices of Many: Collaboration

Today is a day of many meetings and many voices.

Bright, young student voices and professional voices will be in my midst.

I want to listen, and I want to hear.

New ideas.




Understanding and Knowledge.

As an idea person, a creator of teaching/learning materials, my mind is busy and I am often working and living two weeks, two months, and two years ahead of where I am stationed.

But today, I want to be in the present. I want to acknowledge the creators, inventors, responders, and analyzers around me.

I know I'll learn a lot about personalized learning, the grade level program, English language arts activities, geography and maps, scripts and presentation, students teaching students, and Wonder.

A day of learning is a gift, and that's one reason why I like to teach.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Buddy Time: Base Ten Place Value "Hands" Model

Kindergartners are learning to write their numbers and count to ten.

Fifth graders are learning that each place on the place value chart is 10 times greater than the place to its right.

Tomorrow we'll work on both goals by creating a "hands" base 10 model.

First, fifth graders will teach buddies to write the numbers 1-10.

Next, kindergartners will write the numbers 1-10 on hand pictures with the fifth graders' help.

After that, they'll use stickers to fill more hands with the numbers 1-10.

As they write or sticker, they'll practice counting.

When the numbers are completed, kindergartners and fifth graders  will color the hands with skin shades from our skin shade crayon collection.

Finally, we'll create a model of ones, tens, hundreds, and possibly 1,000's.  We'll use the model to exemplify one way to show what the base ten place value chart represents.

Buddy time gives fifth graders and kindergartners a chance to build skill, develop friendships, and create a learning community.

The activity was a success. I wish I spent a little more time on teaching fifth graders how to teach the K-buddies as the little bit of teaching I did went a long way.  Next week I'll schedule that in since they are very capable of helping the younger children learn.

Studying Communication

I'm about to embark on a study of words and their use.

I've never dug in and really read a lot about this.

I'm intrigued.

Let me know if you have any recommendations.

Three books currently await my review.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why I'm Voting for Charlie Baker for Governor

I've never voted for a Republican before for a major political office.

But this year, I'm voting for Charlie Baker.

I hesitate to publicly announce my vote since I'm a member of the MTA, the Massachusetts Teachers Association. I'm also a supporter of unions and the work they do to protect freedom of speech, a freedom that helps all educators serve their students well.  We need our unions to do our jobs well.

Yet, I saw first-hand what Charlie Baker did for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care as one of my family members worked there when he was in charge. He was a people-centered, smart, creative, and thoughtful leader. He built team, investment, and care. I want that kind of leadership for our State.

I also want a leader who will think carefully about how to streamline systems while still maximizing positive effect for all citizens in Massachusetts. I want a leader who will bring creativity and fresh eyes to the job.

I believe that Deval Patrick has been an exceptional leader. He has led our State with incredible care, intelligence, and humanity. I believe that Baker will do the same.

Our education system is in good shape, but we can certainly grow to serve all students better. I believe that creativity, streamlined management, and greater focus on what's happening in the field every day with every teacher and student will make a positive difference. I believe that Massachusetts has many positive efforts in place, and the key is to streamline and support those efforts well so that the efforts' strengths are broadened and maximized.

I'm putting my support behind Mr. Baker because I believe that's the right vote to make right now.

I hope that my public share will not bring forth disrespectful response, however, I do welcome respectful discourse and debate.

Maximize Student Learning

How can I maximize student learning?

Research shows that engagement matters. Students have to want to come to school and enjoy school. Mostly, I believe that my students feel this way. Soon, I'll ask them how we can make our class better. I'll listen to their ideas and employ the ideas that I can to help develop engagement.

In the meantime, I'll focus on the categories below--areas that I know build engagement and investment.

"More of them, less of me" is a great quote to lead good work. By creating routines that happen seamlessly means that I use my voice less, and students lead their actions more. For example, when students walk into the room in the morning, the schedule is set and they start the morning activity independently. This gives me time to respond to students' questions and concerns. I also have a student class manager who does a great job with the morning paperwork including attendance and lunch count.

I use learning menus a lot too. The menu guides student efforts and gives me more time to coach and support student learning. The menu is online and links to many of the materials and supporting videos/text that help student learn with independence. Further, students usually get to work where they want and with whom they want to work. I say that it's their choice as long as they are choosing well. If they're not on task and learning, I'll investigate and coach accordingly.

Meaningful Learning
As much as possible I like to tie the learning standards to world events as well as students' interests. We typically start learning units with big ideas, questions, and real world events and stories. When possibly we use the learning to impact others in positive ways. This creates investment and demonstrates rationale.

Student Choice
Building in choice--choice of tools, place to study, specific topics, and project type, builds investment.

I use assessments, both formal and informal, to see who needs and desires attention. Now that the year is rolling along, my next challenge is to build the needed attention for students who need or want that time as a regular part of the routine.

I coach a lot during the learning day. Typically students' learning menus have check-in points, and at those check-ins, students and I review student learning. As we review, I coach the student forward. When a project is collaborative, I'll offer the feedback in person to the whole class and via the newsletter. I also want to build in more written feedback in the weeks ahead--feedback via shared Google doc threads, notes on student work, and student-teacher conferences.

Students are social and they enjoy working as a team. Also collaboration is shown to be an effective learning structure. Hence we'll continue to build that into the schedule.

Celebration and Special Events
There needs to be time to celebrate our learning and enjoy special events. We'll build that into the schedule with culminating unit events, field studies, and more.

Service Learning, Teaching, and Leadership
The chance to engage in service learning projects, teaching, and leadership is both engaging and empowering for students. Our kindergarten-fifth grade program provides students with a chance to teach and lead each week.  Students look forward to this. Also, as I've mentioned numerous times, our school has a great service learning initiative in place and we'll contribute to that as individuals, teams, and the whole class.  Our first collective project will be to send a Halloween box of treats to the troops.

A Healthy, Comfortable Environment
As much as possible we're working towards a learning environment that is inviting and comfortable with multiple types of chairs, work areas, and choice.  Students are encouraged to bring healthy snacks and water. They are allowed to eat and drink when hungry.

Craft, Creativity, and STEAM
Students naturally love to create. Our developing STEAM center provides students with a ready supply of creative materials to use as we learn and during free time too.

In many ways, tech is the great equalizer. It seems like almost everyone can find a tech venue that they enjoy and learn from. We have ready access to multiple tech tools--tools that students use with interest and collaboration. There's lots of conversation, share, and creativity when it comes to technology.

A predictable communication routine is in place. A daily tweet tells students and families what is happening that day (#team1214hh). Tweets might also share highlight images or words about the day's learning. An online Google doc home study list provides a daily list of home study expectations and enrichment opportunities. All of the important class links are also listed on this page. My partner teacher and I write a weekly newsletter which is hosted on a class newsletter website and distributed online weekly. Also, multiple class websites support student learning and act as "reference books" for class study--these websites are available to the entire learning team: students, family members, colleagues, and leaders. Finally, students and family members are welcome to email the teachers anytime with questions and concerns. We respond readily.

Playground and Specials
Our school has a great playground where students love to play. Every elementary school deserves a great playground. Lots of specials such as art, music, tech, library, and physical education also give students the chance to learn in multiple ways with many expert teachers.

There's lots of reasons to want to come to school every day, and this is important because engagement matters a lot! During upcoming family conferences, my first question will be, "Is _____ happy at school?" That will open the door to a conversation about how we can build engagement, which in turn will build better learning.

Further, this would be a great discussion topic for a school staff. I wonder what others have to say about engagement and how they foster that in their classrooms and schools.

How Do You Spend Your Time?

You are what you do.

How you spend your time tells the story of who you are as a professional, parent, friend, and individual.

Taking the time to think about the issues you involve yourself in, the classes and courses you take, and your professional work can help you to identify what matters to you.

This time and activity audit may also lead you to exchange one activity for another or to delete time-consuming efforts that don't matter much to you.

A positive weekly routine not only positively reflects your work and efforts, but that routine also propels you forward in ways you hope to grow and develop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Learning Takes Shape: The Path Continues

It's easy to lose focus without reflection and attention to the path's natural curves and angles.

Students are gaining confidence with fifth grade routines, expectations, and topics.

Though it's still early in the year, so review is essential.

The next few weeks will bring us to the following places:

  • Check online home study list each night.
  • Read newsletter each week.
  • Organize materials, and pass in homework when due.
Ecosystems: Life Science Unit
  • vocabulary review: crossword puzzles
  • collaboration lesson
  • outdoor exploration
  • outdoor data collection w/chart and iPads for pics
  • life science information review w/website, student-made crossword puzzles
  • ecosystem cycle reviews: food web, water, metamorphosis, season
  • fossil study
  • Gizmos: interactive models
  • writing in science review
  • written assessments, Science 
  • ePortfolios
  • coordinate grids
  • numerical expression unit review and assessment
  • place value, operations review
  • embed Next Generation performance items into place value unit 
  • problem solving, SMPs
Read Aloud: Wonder
  • Many Voices
  • Auggie's Personal Story, Connections
  • Math, Science, ELA Models and Projects
  • Leadership and Teaching Study and Practice for Fifth Graders 
Service Learning
  • Halloween Box for the Troops
Professional Learning
  • Mathematical Thinking (starts 9/27)
  • MassCUE Attendance and Presentation
  • Educon 2.7 Attendance, Learning
  • NCTM?
  • ISTE 2015?
  • Wayland Institutes

Ecosystem: Outdoor Exploration

Next week, we'll take our first trip outdoors to our designated "ecosystem space." The space is about 10 yards by 10 yards in a wooded area.

Before visiting the location, we'll split up into the following groups:
  • Vegetation 
  • Animals (bigger than insects)
  • Insects
  • Water (there's a small brook)
  • Rocks, Fossils, and other Nonliving Objects
  • Climate, Weather, and Sky
The job on this first visit includes the following:
  1. Quietly explore.
  2. Take notes about the items you see--list types, numbers, and other observations.
  3. List questions.
That night each team will be asked to list their observations, questions, and other notes on a shared ecosystem Google doc chart. 

STEAM: Stage Two

The year started with a STEAM Center and all kinds of creative supplies. Students eagerly engaged with the supplies to make landscape models, invent, and create. There were few to no rules and lots of innovation as students creatively used the supplies. That was STEAM Stage One.

Now, it's time for STEAM Stage Two which started with today's big clean-up. I threw away the scraps, organized the remaining materials, and moved a few tables to make more space. In the coming days, I'll reorganize the supplies and fix up the center to better meet students' need for exploration, invention, and investigation. I need to make time to play with Little Bits and Makey Makey, and I'll look for ways to exemplify exploration that matches our science standards-based units. Onward.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Make Math Models Meaningful

Today's tech tools makes it so easy to make math models meaningful.

For example, as students learn about coordinate grids, we'll take a look at the school map, and I'll ask, "What do you notice? and Do you have any questions about this aerial view map?"

A school map is easily accessed via Google Maps.

After that we'll talk about the way a coordinate grid can help us to specifically identify places on a map or other graph.  Then I'll show them the school map with a grid layered on top. We'll then identify the ordered pairs for known school locations

Google draw makes it easy to overlay a grid (table) on a map or picture, then publish for student use. I can see a bit of room for revision in order to make it more precise, but I can use this to ask students, "How could I have done a better job with my grid overlay?" I'm sure they'll notice that some of the labeling is a bit off, and that I forgot to label the y axis.

Making math models that are meaningful and relevant to students fosters investment and interest, and that builds engagement and availability for learning. Further, this exemplifies our ability today to personalize and choreograph our teaching/learning programs to the students in front of us and the context in which we work. It's no longer a "one size fits all" world of learning. Instead it's a world of learning where we can choose from multiple tools and venues to best fit learning to the students we teach.

Finally, in the end, it's best if students replicate our models, then make their own using the tools we know and introduce as well as the tools they understand and enjoy using.

Learning Design for Multi-Age Partners

We will use the successful cycle of learning that
 Hattie's research demonstrates as a guide.
As I noted last week, we're fostering kindergarten-fifth grade buddies this year.

After two weeks of an explore, free-range buddy share, and play, we're ready to dig in and use a design template to lead our work.

The design begins with our objectives which include the following:
  • Fostering school community with cross-age friendships.
  • Developing fifth graders ability to teach and coach younger children.
  • Providing fifth graders with an opportunity to review essential skills by teaching.
  • Providing kindergarten students with an introduction and practice with regard to their essential skill goals.
  • Developing Michael Fullen’s 6 C’s:
    • Character
    • Citizenship
    • Communication
    • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
    • Collaboration and Teamwork
    • Creativity and Imagination
The learning design will include the following steps:

Our first big project will be a "hands" base ten place value chart.
Identify Essential Skill
The kindergarten teacher will identify an essential skill she wants the buddies to focus on.

Design and Plan:
The kindergarten teacher and I will design a multi-step collaborative project that includes the following components:
    • Learning Objectives
    • Vocabulary.
    • Success Criteria.
    • Fifth grader introduction and teaching--we will teach fifth graders how to coach and teach the essential skill.
    • Group introduction.
    • Fifth grader introduction to buddy.
    • Fifth grader modeling.
    • Fifth grader coaching as the first grader does the task.
    • Fifth grader and first grader completing their section of the learning task.
    • Choice and Extension: After the initial essential skill work is complete, then the fifth grader and first grader will have a chance to extend the learning through a number of multi-modal choices--choices that are mostly hands-on, creative, problem solving tasks.
Depending on the type of project, we will give students a chance to share their learning with each other, via an online or offline display, and/or a presentation to students outside of our group.

We will use a combination of informal and formal assessments to determine the strength of the learning. We will share the assessments with students in age appropriate ways.

Buddies offers educators and students valuable one-to-one teaching time. Using a thoughtful design template to lead that work helps us to make the collaboration and learning deep and valuable. 

Math Grids Introduction

When would you use a grid in math?

Study the grids below. How do you read those grids? When would you use those grids?

Too often we jump into math without the introduction, the warm-up, the informal assessment.

Starting a lesson with a visual and a few pointed questions can provide meaning for a math unit, and that meaning results in connection making throughout the unit.

As we study grids, we'll make our own, we'll overlay grids on maps of familiar places, and we'll make a collaborative grid model. We'll notice how some grids help us to create pictures to scale and read maps. And we'll notice how other grids can help us to find exact locations and analyze patterns and trends.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Grade Five: Exploring Place Value

“There are only three colors, ten digits, and seven notes, it’s what we do with them that’s important."

― Jim Rohn

Amazing that only 10 digits can make all numbers to "infinity and beyond."

First, post and review the standards.
  • 5.NBT.A.1 Recognize that in a multi-digit number, a digit in one place represents 10 times as much as it represents in the place to its right and 1/10 of what it represents in the place to its left.
  • 5.NBT.A.2 Explain patterns in the number of zeros of the product when multiplying a number by powers of 10, and explain patterns in the placement of the decimal point when a decimal is multiplied or divided by a power of 10. Use whole-number exponents to denote powers of 10.
  • 5.NBT.A.3 Read, write, and compare decimals to thousandths.
  • 5.NBT.A.4 Use place value understanding to round decimals to any place
Facilitate a review and conversation with students. It's difficult to begin a unit of study without a discussion that helps the educator understand students' knowledge, questions, and even misperceptions related to the topic. 
  1. What do you know about place value?
  2. How did place value come about?
  3. Why is place value important?
  4. Look at the models of Base 10 place value below, which do you feel is most accurate or useful and why?
  5. If you were to make an ideal Base 10 place value model, what would you include and why?

4. What happens to the values of numbers as we move from left to right of the place value chart?  What does this model show us?

7. Watch these films and think about our past conversation, what would you change or add, and what questions do you have?

8. Let's work with familiar numbers, numbers that matter to us.  For each number we'll write standard, number name, expanded, and exponential form. We'll also write equations, expressions, and inequalities that show the value of these numbers. Finally, we'll make models of these numbers, models that show each number's value and the relationship between and within each number.

9. After this project, we'll solve problems that use our knowledge of place value as it relates to the standards. 

What's On Your Learning List?

I keep a learning list. A number of topics I want to learn about so when the time and mood matches, I learn.

The learning list comes from the places where I want to grow professionally and personally.

Currently, the list includes the following topics.

Getting to Yes
Getting Past No 

Educational Thought and Practice
Role Reversal 
Brain Rules

Unpacking 5th grade standards and embedding learning experiences that lead deep thinking, understanding, model making, explanation, and debate.

Similar to math, unpacking the standards and teaching each standard with hands-on exploration and investigation, STEAM Star connections, interdisciplinary STEAM reading and videos, writing, and presenting.

There's much to learn to teach and live well. As I state often, we're fortunate to live at a time where the learning we need and desire is close at hand.

Assessment and Completion Week Ahead

This week students will use four math periods to complete math assessments. We'll use the rest of the time to complete our ongoing ecosystem model and number quilt projects--projects that took much longer than I expected, but projects that I also deem worthwhile.

I'll focus on feedback, plans for upcoming weeks, and preparing for start-of-the-year family conferences.

I'll frame the assessments as a chance to "test yourself" and "show off what you know."  I'll also mention that teachers will use the test results to plan the program well so every student is getting the teaching and learning they need with respect to the long list of standards every child is supposed to master.

On these assessments students can use graph paper, scrap paper, and all the time they want.

I'll also observe how students tackle the tasks to gather more information about their individual learning needs and attributes.

Parents look forward to the data reports, and as educators, we profit from this information when it comes to planning student-centered learning experiences.  The key point, however, is that the learning program is not all assessment or two-dimension, paper/pencil tasks. The program for young children is best if it is differentiated, multi-modal, and focused on students' interests and needs as well as the learning standards.  Onward.

#mathchat5 Update

I started #mathchat5 by jumping in. Not unlike the farmers in the dust bowl, I didn't study the ecosystem of chats and chose a time that was filled with many, many other great chats. I also chose a very narrow audience (narrow for the Internet), fifth grade math teachers.

Since there wasn't much interest for that topic at that time, I'm going to stop the effort. If there are third-sixth grade math teachers out there that are interested in a weekly chat to review the standards, SMPs, and other topics related to fifth grade math, let me know, and perhaps we can start again with a better time.

In the meantime, #mathchat exists, and can offer us a great place to "talk and learn math." Thanks to those who jumped in with me and participated. As a lover of new ideas, I can't forget about the needed steps in the planning stage which includes surveying and studying the learning landscape, and collaborating to make the learning happen with strength.

A failed attempt at something new leads to new learning--another stair on the learning staircase.

Embed Enrichment into the Learning Program

In today's world of teaching and learning, enrichment is only a key stroke away.

There's no reason for an eager student not to have the challenge they yearn for or benefit from.

You may weave enrichment into your program in the following ways.
  • Start lessons with big ideas through short videos, quotes, problems, or conflicts: That approach sets the stage for the learning experience. This alone is enriching because at its simplest level, this kind of introduction "wakes up the mind for learning," but at the enrichment level these are the kinds of introductions that one can revisit to analyze with greater and greater depth and thought. For example, I often start the Place Value unit with Eames' "Power of Ten" video. 
  • Scaffold the lesson: Always think 1-2-3 when you're planning the learning experience. 1: review, 2: grade-level content, and 3: the enrichment level. I like to have all levels there for the taking for all students, but typically I expect students to complete level 2 and reach for level 3 if desired. 
  • Embed learn-at-your-own-rate programs and games into your curriculum: Today the Internet offers multiple learn-at-your-own-rate sites that students can access.  Two of my favorites include Khan Academy and SCRATCH. Students also profit from Minecraft and Sumdog, but those are not allowed at our school. I plan to identify more of these programs this year, and if you have favorites, please share. These programs allow students to level up as they are ready.  A bright young student could begin learning high school math in fourth grade on sites like Khan Academy and make sophisticated learning models using SCRATCH, Khan coding, and Minecraft. Sumdog offers playful review in a way that students K-8 can play against each other and students from all over the world. Multiplayer platforms are engaging, motivating, and help students to solidify skills they've learned.
  • Let students teach: Advanced students can typically solve a problem or complete a task, but are challenged by application and explanation. It is always enriching to offer students the opportunity to create a presentation on a topic, and then to teach the topic to younger students using that presentation. Teaching to younger students prompts one to think deeply about the content and present it in the simplest terms using multi-modal methods. For example, students could create a short blended lesson that teaches third graders the vocabulary and meaning of multiplication. Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, points out the richness and strength of revisiting concepts repeatedly, and each time gaining new insights and information from the analysis and study. 
  • Spread the learning: Similar to letting students teach, also prompt students to spread the learning by making videos and posters to share with classmates, the school, and possibly others. Integrating your learning in a way that helps others is a very challenging and worthwhile learning task. Last year my students worked with high school buddies to create math films--it was deep work related to math vocabulary, work that served both high school students and fourth graders well on many levels.
  • Challenge the teacher: Give students the opportunity to use the current concept focus to write a problem that will challenge the teacher. Make sure that the student writes the problem neatly, solves the problem herself, and then reviews the teacher's work. Students' first instinct is to write a really challenging problem, one that they can't solve so it's important that students' solve the problem before offering the challenge as this is where the best learning happens. In some cases the student may need to help the teacher if the teacher needs more learning. Young students LOVE to challenge and teach the teacher.
  • Online home study list: Using a Google doc or other venue to host home assignments and enrichment helps students and families at all levels. Students can quickly use links, read the assignments, and know how to get help via other documents and sites or emailing the teacher. The enrichment list can include videos that deepen students' understanding of content. For example, our class is about to start the place value unit, and watching one of the History of Math videos on the Internet serves to enrich and deepen this unit. 
  • Email the teacher: If you're a student who is not challenged today, you can email the teacher asking for greater challenge. I have a student who does that, and the more he emails, the more I know how to challenge him well. Again, I typically give him a task that will support the whole class's learning, and he eagerly problem solves and completes the task. The challenge for me is finding good time to review his work after completion, and I'm working on that challenge. 
  • Class contests using brackets: Last year we played Illuminations' Factor Captor game online with a class tournament. Like a wrestling match, we used brackets so students more capable with the concept kept leveling up and playing other strong students, while more challenged students played students at their levels. This is a good process as when you get the chance to play with someone stronger than you at first, you witness and learn new strategies, but as the tournament continues you are playing with students that are at your level which fosters greater thinking, a good pace of playing, and well-matched challenges. 
  • Debate: Creating multi-level debate teams and making the strongest student the captain is another way to enrich students. The captain has to demonstrate leadership as she and her teammates gather information, prepare for the debate, and work to prove their point. This is an excellent enrichment opportunity. 
Enrichment routines and efforts can be embedded into the typical program in the ways above. If you have other ideas, please share as the teaching program is stronger when every child is working at a just-right level of struggle, challenge, and learning.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning is a Discipline

Learning is a discipline, and as educators, it is our job to engage in that discipline regularly.

What does the discipline of learning include?

I offer the following points?

Daily Reading
Whether it's a book, article, Twitter stream, or blog, some time for daily reading develops our understanding and knowledge as well as our learning habits.

Goals and Objectives
Determining needs and interests is imperative. What do I need to learn? What do I want to learn?

Action Plan
How do I plan to learn? Who will help me? What resources will I use? What time will I commit to this learning?  What is my end goal or success criteria?

Time to think and write about the direction. How am I doing with my goals? What else do I need? Where can I gain support, encouragement, critical friends, debate, and review?

Our learning suffers if it is never shared or reviewed, so how do I build important collaboration and share into my learning.

How do I embed new learning into the work I do and life I live? How do I transfer learning from understanding to action?

Repetition helps us to strengthen our efforts in any discipline. How do I schedule time for learning so that I strengthen my own learning, and the result of that learning?

As educators, it is our obligation to be lead learners. By embracing learning as a discipline, we will become more knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced as learners, and in turn, this will help us to lead and teach students better.

Teaching in a Responsive Way is Less Predictable

I shared the Friday plans with a specialist teacher on Monday. Then I changed the plans for Friday on Wednesday, and now on Friday morning I have to change the plans again.

The reason the plans change so often is that learning is not a predictable path. The intent and focus of the plans are the same, but the pacing, depth, and connections made during a learning experience are unpredictable.

To rush students just to keep up with the schedule is not good learning. Also it's a lost learning opportunity if you don't respond to opportunities to deepen the learning or enrich the teacher-student coaching relationship during the learning experience.

Therefore day-to-day, and week-to-week the learning will travel the standards/students' interests and needs path, but the specific plans will change often if it means serving students better and teaching well.

Buddies: Leadership and Learning

Friday is Buddy Day.

The fifth graders work with their kindergarten buddies in the afternoon.

Last week was our first meeting; partners or small groups of kindergartners and fifth graders learned in many ways together.

Children created with paper/pencil, Little Bits, Makey Makey, blocks, and art supplies. They also read books, wrote books, and played games.

During the school days following buddy day, the fifth graders play with and help the kindergartners on the playground.

In days of old, when families were bigger and neighborhoods were filled with children young and old after school, this multi-age share and play happened all the time. Now, with busier schedules and sparser neighborhoods in some cases, this play happens less often. Hence, buddy time gives the older children a chance to be a "big brother or sister," and provides the younger children with the chance to work and play with older children.

Buddy time also gives the younger children a one-to-one teacher for important learning goals. As buddies develop their friendships, we'll build the program so that the fifth graders work as student teachers too helping the buddies with important learning goals.

Further, this responsibility helps the fifth graders build their leadership and contribution skills.

When I was a sixth grader, I was a kindergarten helper--I always looked forward to helping Mrs. Leary and her students at Indian Hill School. I know that my fifth graders are getting that same sense of satisfaction.

Buddies is a long-held tradition at our school. Upper grade students match with younger grade classrooms to learn, create, and build community. It's a very positive endeavor, one I recommend if you haven't tried it yet.