Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Reflections: Grade 5

It's Halloween which means that it's sure to be an spirited day in the classroom.

Fortunately, our Friday schedule is a good match for such cheer.

Family members are bringing in a healthy, special morning snack for the holiday, and children will practice coordinate grids and problem solving with a festive fall theme.

The week's deep focus on the measurement conversion standards taught me a lot about my learners as well as how to navigate the math road as we embark on all the standards related to place value

We'll continue to incorporate lots of measurement conversions and problem solving into the next unit. I still have to work on making the material accessible to my most challenged learners--the reach is still too steep which can be discouraging, so the goal for me as their teacher is to scaffold the material better so they don't get discouraged and so they can learn the material.  Just writing the challenge down makes it more manageable and approachable.

Next week will bring a continued strong focus on math learning with the addition of a special all day science event on Tuesday.  The students and I are really getting to know each other know which means the learning is getting better. I like that!

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Students Evaluate Teachers

Last night I received Massachusetts' Education Evaluation Newsletter (newsletter link). In the newsletter there was an article about the ways that students will evaluate teachers. I will read and evaluate the information soon so I know what to expect in coming months.

Then this morning MindShift, one of my favorite blogs, had a related article related to the inspiring Science Leadership Academy.

And, with students evaluations of teachers in mind, I'm thinking about the following areas of school life:
  • How do we talk about ourselves in front of students?
  • How do we serve students well?
  • How do we spread the good news about students?
  • How do we respond to students' questions and needs.
The fact that students will evaluate us, makes all of us think more deeply about our service to students--the way we talk, the work we do, and the professional student-teacher relationships we foster.  

Though cumbersome and at times overwhelming, Massachusetts' multi-faceted evaluation process which includes standardizes scores, evaluations, district determined measures (DDMs), student evaluations, and evidence (portfolios) is leading the way to more well-rounded, comprehensive standards for educator effectiveness and performance.

Note: I plan to read the newsletter with greater detail in the days to come, but I didn't want to lose the thought as I think and plan ahead. In other words, more to come. 

Common Core Conversation and Collaboration

Place Value Learning Path Page Illustrations

I continue to see the Common Core as a move to deeper learning and teaching.

The standards serve as a center piece of thought and understanding as we teach students well.

Yesterday emails were exchanged as teachers at the grade level team "discussed" a couple of ideas related to teaching the standards well.

The emails were rooted in the leadership's recent publication of a website resource related to teaching the standards. The resource is a central location for the standards and related resources.

I have used a website for a long time to relay teaching standards and resources, but now that the leadership has embraced this venue, the conversation and collaboration has grown and that's good. When we work together and share, everyone's teaching and learning benefits. And, as often stated, it takes a leader's efforts to affirm and promote new efforts. Mostly, educators look to leadership when they make decisions about their work and effort.

So today as I contemplated yesterday's email "conversation," I thought of ways that I could improve my unit learning path and applied those ideas to my place value page.

If you have more resources or ways to improve this 24-7 guide for student/teacher share and learning, let me know.

I really like the way that learning is starting to depict the research Hattie summarizes in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximizing Impact on Learning. A cycle that is depicted in the images below:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Base Ten Place Value Video Contest

Coming Soon!

To engage and empower, students will use a number of tools to create standards-base place value films for a fourth grade audience.

First, we'll review place value by looking at a number of staircase models. As we study the models, we'll think about the model structure in relation to the "behavior" of base ten place value.

Next students will watch the videos and practice place value using Khan Academy and other resources with whole class, small group, and independent work. I'll introduce each place value skill and concept using a different video tool so students understand what's available for the project.

Then together we'll come up with the criteria for the film contest. I imagine the criteria will include the following:
  • Show the "behavior" of the base ten place value system--what happens as we move up and down the place value chart, write different digits in each place, and move the decimal point?
  • What is the value of each place, and how do we show that value with words, numbers, exponents, and expanded form.
  • How can we teach this using film in a way that fourth graders will remember?
  • Use the unit vocabulary appropriately.
Once the final criteria is set, I'll offer the following steps:
  1. Work with your group to create a story board and script. I'll provide templates.
  2. Choose a tool for creation. Choices will include Show Me, Explain Everything, iMovie, WeVideo, SCRATCH, Khan Programming, KidPix, QuickTime, and a combination of those tools and others.
  3. Creating the film.
  4. Editing with the teacher, and making final changes.
  5. Making a playlist of the films.
  6. Showing the films to fourth graders, and having fourth graders vote on the winners for the following categories:
    1. Easiest to understand and learn from.
    2. Best combination of entertainment and learning.
    3. Most creative.
    4. The movie I most want to watch again and again.
  7. A Film Celebration

I played around with the idea tonight using SCRATCH. It's a start, but I'm sure that the students will easily out-create my attempt with skill, humor, and focus.  I look forward to their creativity.

Links to Consider as I Plan and Employ the Unit Video Literacy

Need for Greater Streamlining and Specialization?

I posed the "Jack of all trades, master of none" dilemma in a past post.

Since, then my role has switched from a generalist fourth grade teacher to a math/science fifth grade teacher, and I must say I LOVE the switch.

With the depth and detail of content, assessment, and pedagogy today, teaching all topics at the upper elementary grades is simply too much! When you teach all the topics, the intricate weave of all subjects means you spend a lot of time prioritizing and planning with lots of people and lots of content, when instead, like this year, you could use that time to dig in deep, learn a lot, and perfthe curriculum in only one or two areas of study.

I know that many schools have models like this in place, and in the old days, before CCSS and such great tech integration, I was actually a critic of such models because I enjoyed the ability to play the schedule as I wanted. Now that learning standards and the tools have changed, I've changed too--I like the day split with more streamlining and specialization and less "Jack of all trades, and master of none."

What do you think?

Number Play and Proficiency: Maximizing Resources

When I took the PARCC practice test this week, I noticed how important it is for children to have computation fluency and precision.

How will I gain that with this diverse class without taking too much time away from the knowledge/concept portion of the math curriculum.

I decided to have a computation boot camp or better named, a series of Number Play sessions. As the more we play with numbers, the better we become at mathematical thinking and computation.

Here are the initial plans:

Lesson One 12/5-12/8: A class review of addition, subtraction, and multiplication. Many children have mastered the operations, so we'll do a one-class period review to refresh everyone's memory.

Lesson Two 12/8: All students will take an assessments. I'll review and determine who has mastery over the operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

Lesson Three, Four 12/9-12/10: I'll give children a chance to learn with the following stations:
  • Video/Practice station: Watch videos, take notes, practice and learn.
  • Paper Practice Station: Offline practice sheets and programs.
  • Test Station: A place to show your competence and test out of that study.
  • Coaching Station: A chance to help others master the operations.
  • Problem Solving/Number Puzzles
  • Coding
Lesson Five 12/11: I'll review the traditional division algorithm using numbers, words, and models, Students will take the division test.

Lesson Six and Seven 12/12-12/15: I'll give children a chance to learn with the following stations:
  • Video/Practice station: Watch videos, take notes, practice and learn.
  • Paper Practice Station: Offline practice sheets and programs.
  • Test Station: A place to show your competence and test out of that study.
  • Coaching Station: A chance to help others master the operations.
  • Problem Solving/Number Puzzles
  • Coding
Lesson Eight 12/16: Problem Solving Review

Lesson Nine 12/17: Problem Solving and Operations Practice

Lesson Ten 12/18: Unit Assessment

Homework: Related Online Quick-Feedback Related Exercises using Khan Academy, That Quiz, and other resources. 

Once the unit is complete we'll continue to practice these skills during RTI, home study, and in-class skill times.

I want to set this up in a way that children are leading their own learning and helping one another towards this collective goal of everyone mastering the four operations with fluency and precision.  

Reconsidering Time and Transitions

One goal I have for teaching is to teach so that everyone is engaged and there are few to no behavioral issues. Typically engagement is equivalent to investment, respect, and good behavior.

So each time there's a behavioral issue, I think deeply about it. What created this upset in the day?

Today, after a tough day yesterday, I redesigned the learning menu to include lots of choice, clear expectations, and a good introduction.  For the most part, everyone was on task and I had time to work with several individuals with good coaching. It was just the way I like it.

However when the time for transition came, no one wanted to budge--everyone was engaged and were slow to put away the laptops, organize their materials, and line up for art.  I must say I waited too long for the transition since I was engaged in such good coaching that I didn't want to stop.

When I arrived at art, I let the teacher know about their resistance to transition due to their investment in the deep learning and activity.  She understood as she sees 400 students a week all transitioning within 45 or 30-minute periods.

This whole affair reminded me of the great exercise we did at Educon several years ago. Gary Stager led us in a great discussion of the typical school schedule. After the discussion it was clear that most people don't like to learn that way, a way that was modeled after old time factories.

So what's a teacher to do?

I think we need to begin thinking about longer, deeper modules of learning--modules with greater choice and voice.  This is not news to most educators, but today's events reminded me of the importance while yesterday's events (the tough day) reminded me how children will no longer stand for old learning--they know what's possible. Then last night I looked over this Atlantic article which shed even more light on the topic.

What's possible today is amazing, and the challenge is to teach so that we unleash that potential.

So if we analyze the behavior carefully, we'll find nuggets of gold when it comes to teaching well, and often those nuggets of gold are related to reconsidering time and transitions. Onward.

Content Curation for Students

 Drawing GallonBot is a great way
 to remember measurement facts. 
We're closing in on the first section of our measurement and data unit.

We started the unit a bit early in response to a parent request.

We've used many resources to teach the unit well:
  • worksheets tailored to students' needs.
  • Khan Academy related exercises, videos
  • Flocabulary and other related songs.
  • drawing models, taking notes
  • the Eames' Powers of Ten film.
  • problem solving
  • a learning path located on the class math website. 
On tomorrow's assessment, I'll pose the following questions to students, questions that start our collective attention to curation--choosing the best tools, resources, and strategies for learning.
  1. What tools, resources, and strategies helped you to learn the measurement and data information well?  
  2. Are there other resources or activities that you would have liked to use to learn these measurement data skills, concepts, and information? 
As I prep for the next unit, and think about these questions myself, I'd like to make the following changes.
  • Make the learning path more attractive and user friendly.
  • Continue to use a similar blend of online/offline materials
  • Add a project--students wanted to do this with measurement, but we just didn't have the time since we have to meet some deadlines for specific learning.
  • Use LearnZillion as I know those videos are very helpful to learning. 
It's important to include students in the content curation question early on as they will live, study, and work in a world of bountiful choice and information, and the continual need to choose best paths, content, and resources. The better they can navigate their own learning, the more successful they'll be.

In five minutes or less this morning I posed the question, What is content curation and why is it important?, to students. They loved the quick talk about something that they hadn't heard about before. They rose to the challenge too as they curated the choices available for math study and made choices such as trying out the test, using Khan Academy to practice, and writing a song with all the standards information.  I'll pose the questions noted above on tomorrow's test, the we'll continue the conversation in the days and weeks ahead.

Tough Teaching Days

As we learned about powers of ten, students watched the
Eames' Powers of Ten Film and then completed this page.
Yesterday was a tough teaching day.

It wasn't the smooth, harmonious, creative day I reach for.

There were many factors that led to this including the fact I was teaching new content which always invites the unexpected. Also, the room is ready for yet another make-over--we just haven't found that just right set-up for the program yet we're getting closer. We started a new program in the morning too--one that's a bit early and short for optimal transitions, and it's Halloween week--a week of anticipation related to trick-or-treating, costumes, and parties.

If you look deep though, the day had some high points too:
  • A child I've been trying to reach had his hand up a lot. 
  • Another child caught me making two small math errors, which actually served the teaching/learning well since I could see his eyes light up when he realized that we all make mistakes. I congratulated the students for having the courage to speak up when a teacher makes a mistake. 
  • We did power through the new material, and they liked completing the Powers of Ten worksheets after watching the classic movie and discussing the numbers. 
  • A terrific teaching assistant was able to help a few children in need during math.
  • Many students joined me in the room for lunch.
A tough day of teaching actually creates good learning. I've thought a lot about what led to our tough day, and today, I have a new plan for the rough spots. 


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Time, Focus, Apt Strategy, and Choice Lead to Success

Students' time investment related to homework
in the past two days. 
You are what you do?

Such a simple, but powerful notion.

Who do you want to be?

What do you want to succeed at?

Do you invest time into the areas where you want to grow and develop?

I'll start math class with this discussion today.  I'll show students the graph to the right which demonstrates the minutes students devoted to their Khan Academy math practice in the last two days.

I'll point out that while some students spent 0 minutes on practice, others spent more than 60 minutes. I'll discuss balance too and the fact that we all have many interests so you don't have to overdo it unless you're really passionate about math, but you need to give math study the expected thirty minutes a day. Time matters when it comes to learning.

When students understand the value of investing time into their dreams, hopes, passions, and needs, then they'll see learning as a goal within their grasp not a natural tendency or inherited trait, a myth so many still believe.

With this in mind, I'll continue to focus on the BIG 4: Time, Focus, Apt Strategy, and Choice as key factors that lead to success in any arena.

Coaching growth mindsets also takes time, and a few minutes devoted to this topic each day may serve to empower every learner in the class.

Pacing the Standards: PARCC Practice Test

This morning I took the PARCC practice test for 5th grade.

I recommend that any teacher whose students are taking the PARCC this year, put aside the time to take the test.

It was a challenging mental exercise that matched the CCSS standards in many ways.

Taking the test introduced me to some new language and question types that I'll incorporate into my classroom teaching and assessments.

Once again, like the CCSS, the test demonstrated to me that students will be asked to think deeply as they perform multi-step tasks to solve problems. They'll also need proficiency with facts, vocabulary, and computation.

I've got a lot to do to prepare my fifth graders for this test. I don't want to "teach to the test," but I do want to facilitate an engaging, blended math program that leads to success with the test as well as engagement and interest in math.

What strategies will I employ?

Unpacking the Standard
I'll continue to use the process of unpacking the standard I learned last year at a UClass professional learning event.

Khan Academy
I'll continue to employ Khan Academy for my own learning and student learning.  I like Khan Academy for the following reasons:
  • It's a quick-feedback platform that includes CCSS vocabulary and standards with problem-based questions.
  • It's a grow-at-your-own-pace program so I can easily differentiate with this tool.
  • Khan Academy includes models, words, and numbers with each standard.
Explicit Teaching
Though a bit dull for some, I'll employ explicit teaching, whole class discussion, and debates at some times during each unit to develop our collective knowledge of each standard. 

I'll use the multiple data points I have to coach each child forward. In fact, that's going to be the main focus of my teaching for the next two weeks. I want to make sure that every child understands our blended math program well so they can access all the great tools out there for math learning and use those tools well to learn. 

Project Work and Collaboration
Students will break up into small groups often to complete math projects, projects they'll later share with each other and students outside our classroom. 

Learning Menus
I will continually update the "learning menu" that exists on the class website. This menu provides lots of differentiated options for study and learning. 

Math Website
I'll continue to update the math website to best support student learning. 

Fortunately due to the teaching model that leads my work this year, I have lots of time to devote to math. Learning and employing the new standards in student-worthy ways is a full time job--a job that can bring lots of satisfaction if done well.  There's lots to learn, but I continue to think that the new standards are worth the time and effort with regard to teaching well so I'm ready for the learning. Onward.

We were on a good roll with this learning and prep, yet once the testing, both system and State, started in February, our time for deep, rich learning has been compromised. It would be best to think about the timing and number of these tests a bit differently in order to protect the time we need to dive in and teach each content area with depth, strength, and continuity. When the learning is choppy students quickly forget and don't have the time to embed concepts in their long term memory. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tackling a Learning Challenge

As we think about the learning challenges that stand before us as teachers and students, I wonder about the real time efforts that can help us tackle those challenges with strength and success.

I have started talking to students about this and in that discussion, I outlined four main areas:

How much time do you give to the challenge?

When you are working towards this learning challenge, are you focused?

What are the best strategies for meeting this challenge? How do you identify and discover those strategies? How do you practice and effectively use those strategies?

Is the learning important to you? Are you making a choice to meet this challenge?

This week, we'll go a bit deeper with this as we focus more on strategy and choice. What strategies help you to learn as well as you can?  How can you make sure that you're employing the best strategies in a timely fashion--a way that helps you to move towards your goal with strength?  What can you explicitly do to develop your ability to identify, choose, and use best strategies for learning?

I'll apply this learning to challenging, meaningful learning that I'm in the midst of as well with the following actions:
  1. Outline the learning goals.
  2. List the strategies.
  3. Create a practice schedule.
Next week, I'll have students do the same. 

How do you coach students towards meeting their learning challenges?  What strategies do you find most beneficial?  How do you meet your own learning challenges as an educator?  These are important questions as we navigate teaching and learning today in this amazing age of countless tools and avenues for meeting challenge and leading to success. 

When Learning is a Challenge: MOOC Week 4 Reflections

Example of MOOC question.
The Stanford Mathematical Thinking MOOC continues to challenge me in multiple ways, ways that are helping me become a better teacher.

First of all, I know the information is within my grasp, but the time and investment factors are the critical links separating me from proficiency with the course. I'm simply not giving the course the time it deserves. Then why participate, one may ask?

I continue to participate, because as I navigate this course and make multiple decisions about learning at every juncture, I am reminded of the student in my class who may not be fully invested and may need more time to learn the content well. For the MOOC, I'm that student, and if I were the teacher, what would I do?

First, scaffolding is imperative. Truly to do well on this MOOC, I would need to master a course at the step below--a course that helps me to remember all the symbols and number relationships at a grade 12 math level. I can do that easily with Khan Academy, but I don't want to put that time in now since I have other more important learning to do in order to teach my students at fifth grade well. But for my fifth graders who are having difficulty with concepts, I need to back up and help them to fill in the gaps with their math foundation in ways that draw their investment, interest, and readiness for deeper learning.

Next, I don't have the same level of investment for learning the material for the MOOC as I do for learning the material related to teaching grade five well. I want to learn all I can about the fifth grade standards and pedagogy because I'm invested in my learners. I want to learn about the MOOC mostly to give me a chance to step into the shoes of a learner in a challenging situation, and to gain the modeling and language for good mathematical thinking. Though I'm struggling with the specific content of the course, I'm gaining a lot of understanding about mathematical thinking, the use of precise language, and pedagogy related to teaching well--this is all beneficial which means that my ultimate score won't reflect the gains I'm making by taking the course.

One more gain I have received from the course is that it has whet my appetite for more math learning--learning which I'm accessing through a large number of online venues including videos, math blogs, online exercises, and more.

Therefore I won't give up, but I'll continue to be cognizant of how I use my time to best effect my current goals as well as to inform and lay a path for future goals related to math teaching.

I'll also think about this as I teach and coach my students. How do I use classroom time to effectively teach all students well? How do I coach my students with respect to investment and time? When and how do I scaffold in order to help every child achieve new learning, strengthen skill, and develop concept?  These are questions I'll continue to think about, and questions that I'll pose to colleagues too as we work together to effect a top-notch, student-friendly math program.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teach Well: How Do You Hurdle the Time Crunch?

Students made characters to learn their measurement facts. 
In this age of seemingly endless resources, how do we best navigate the teaching/learning path?

As I continue to embrace the new math standards and fifth grade program, this question stands formidably before me.

I know many answers related to this including the following:
  • The more I know the curriculum with depth and breadth, the better I am able to teach it.
  • The more I understand the tools and resources available, the better I'm able to choose the best resources for learning.
  • The more I know and understand my students' needs, interests, skills, concepts, and knowledge, the better able I am to teach each child well.
Knowing takes time, and knowing is an ever changing construct in this time of education evolution.

To know well in some areas means that other areas have to stand still for some time--you can't know it all, and you can't focus on all teaching/learning areas at once.

I am most focused on math at this time. I am committed to finishing the Stanford Mathematical MOOC for the single reason that the course is truly impacting my math teaching in many positive ways. Although I'm not giving the course the time it deserves, I am giving it enough time for substantial impact and that's good.

I am also focused on the area of learning design and creating math learning paths. The resources out there for dynamic math learning, teaching, and share are awesome, but it takes time to study each resource with depth as well as to present the resources and concepts to students.  My goal here is to choose the resources that have the greatest depth and breadth, and to provide learning choices that inspire students to learn math well beyond the school day.  For example last Friday, I showed students some examples of "sight bites"--wonderful images that display a math concept.  One little girl started making the images with joy. Then she said, I'm going to make a whole group of characters that match the measurement information.  She found a way to learn that she liked, and now she'll do it on her own time which means more learning and knowledge.

Finally, I want to inspire students' optimal mindsets and behavior for learning--I don't want to waste class time, instead I want to maximize engagement and time on task so that everyone is learning with depth. This means matching the curriculum standards to topics, processes, and questions the students are interested in and want to explore. 

In a perfect world, I'd have two full days a week for planning, research, and design, then I'd teach for the three remaining days. That would be a start towards giving me the time I need to really plan for and respond to optimal teaching. But for now, like all teachers, the time for good learning design and study comes from early mornings, evenings, and weekends. For example, today as I drive to an event with family members, I'll listen to the MOOC on the computer. It's not ideal, but it's better than missing out on that powerful learning opportunity.

How do you find the time to design engaging, empowering learning experiences for your students? When do you study and learn about new tools and resources?  How does your school system support that needed research and development that brings students and a system forward?  Do teachers have the time to do their work well?  These are critical questions as we hurdle the time crunch factor in schools, and rearrange our resources, schedules, and structures to better meet the needs of today's learners. 

Questions that could lead the efforts of schedule and structure audits in your system may include the following:
  1. What are the systems' main goals for teaching and learning?
  2. Who is responsible for those goals?
  3. Do the people responsible for the goals have the time they need to carry out the tasks?
  4. Do the support structures truly support good teaching and learning?
  5. What are the time-on-task/time-for-planning ratios for each educator--do those ratios match the expectations?
  6. Who is responsible for research and development, and how is that information communicated assessed, and revised to best teach children?
The way time is spent in schools is a vital factor. I believe the way we look at time and the impact of the time spent can bring about positive changes in schools, changes that don't necessarily mean more dollars. For example time audits may show that in some areas, there's a lot of time spent, but little impact, and in other areas there's little time, but lots of impact towards system-wide, classroom, and student goals.

Teachers are always aware of this time crunch because of the fact that most of our work is done on our own after school time, and this is a factor that often challenges our families, health, and other personal matters so we take the discussion seriously. 

I look forward to your thoughts and ideas related to this perennial teaching/learning issue--an issue that can gain from everyone's honest discourse and share. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Navigating Fifth Grade: The Path Continues

The year ahead is taking shape which allows me to plan my time better with regard to teaching children well.

There have been mishaps with planning and lots of revision as I settle into my new role, yet overall thanks to a talented and supportive team, the program has moved along as planned.

With keen attention on the fact that no teacher can be all things, and prioritization is the way to teaching well, yet again, I prioritize the steps I'll take to do this job in a way that's both meaningful and successful.

Starting the year with the Cardboard Challenge was messy, but served to build a great sense of team and community. This project also opened minds, developed creative confidence, and showed us that we can push through a big challenge with success.

So where does that leave me with regard to time and attention?

Professional Learning
I will direct this time and attention mainly towards the math curriculum including finishing the Stanford MOOC, completing grade 5 Khan Academy exercises, studying for and taking the State 5-8 math test, and attending the NCTM conference in Boston. A secondary focus will include reading and learning more about communication, planning and engaging in a number of science learning/teaching exercises with students, and continued attention to developing our classroom STEAM lab and activities.

Teaching Well
I will continue to apply learning design knowledge and information to designing blended, differentiated learning opportunities in science and math. I will assess often to determine success and needs. I'll engage students in the process.

I'll help out where and when I can with a focus on paying attention to the wonderful, new leaders who are emerging all around me. The educators in my midst are very talented and dedicated. I look forward to following their lead in many areas. I also plan to help out where and when I can through committee work, share, research, and collaboration.

Family and Health
The year, as usual, started with a burst of energy and activity. It's time to settle into a healthier, more realistic routine. This is always a challenge for educators, but it's a challenge I want to meet.

The Learning Environment
The unexpected need to move multiple materials caused a purge which resulted in a much roomier, more inviting classroom. I'll do another materials cut soon, and some rearrangement to continue this move towards a learning environment that's an inviting fit for the fifth grade science/math curriculum I'm in charge of.

I look forward to these moments of clarity, moments that spur my work forward in ways that matter.

Prepping Unit Two: 5th Grade Math Operations and Powers of Ten

We spent the first couple of months at school reviewing mathematical thinking and problem solving related to algebraic thinking. Students created the number quilt, used order of operations to evaluate and interpret expressions, inequalities, and equations, graphed ordered pairs on coordinate grids, analyzed results, studied measurement conversions, and took a large number of assessments.

Now we're ready for unit two which focuses on mathematical operations and powers of ten. How will I tackle this unit using what I know about the students, the multiple tools and materials available, and the time for math teaching and learning.

First, I'll complete the Khan Academy exercises related to the standards included in this unit. I really like the way that those exercises help you to experience the standards in a deep way including models, vocabulary, and problem solving.

As I complete the Khan exercises, I'll think about my students and how I might bring this knowledge to them in dynamic, blended ways including video, model making, problem solving, writing, and creation. I'd like to engage the students in movie making since I know that's a rich way to learn the curriculum. Last year, I made the movie above. I'll share that as an example, but I'm sure their content films will be much more interesting, entertaining, and child-friendly.

After that step-by-step we'll move through the unit applying the algebraic thinking, number knowledge, and measurement conversions we learned in the past unit as well as new strategies and knowledge

There's lots of work to do in order to prep this unit with strength, and the first job is to shore up my own understanding of the material.

Friday, October 24, 2014

NBPTS Renewed: A Turning Point

About 12 years ago upon moving to a new school and new grade, I decided to couple the change with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards candidacy requirements. I figured it was a good chance to challenge myself to meet national standards as I embarked on a new grade level and school.

It took the 400 hours they predict to complete all the tasks, and at first, I didn't pass. There was one area that I missed completely. I bought a well regarded book on the topic and read the book, then took the test again and became a National Board Professional Teacher (NBPT).  I was very proud of the accomplishment, and saw it as affirmation of my work and effort.

The ten years after receiving certification passed quickly with a lot of new learning for me and lots and lots of change in education--change which I embraced for the most part. Then the time came to renew. I debated whether I should renew or not as the certification is not regarded with much consideration in my teaching/learning circles, yet I did like being apart of this national group of teachers who care a lot about education so I put in the time to make a video with my student teacher's help (Thanks Lauren) and complete all the written assessments related to the renewal process last November and December.  My system leadership also generously agreed to support my effort by paying the recertification fees if I passed.

Then today I heard the good news--my certification was renewed and I'll be an NBPT for another ten years.

What does that mean?

First, it means that I have to live up to this title, and for me that means embracing the challenges that lie in front of me as an elementary school teacher. The first challenge is communication--how do I relay my ideas for change, teaching excellence, and a students-first environment with care, compassion, trust, and inclusion.  This is the first area of teaching and learning I'll devote myself to with the help of a tremendous coach, the consult of a number of well regarded books, and lots of positive practice.

Next, I'll continue to stay abreast of the evolving landscape of education with keen attention towards apt learning design.  Just this week I presented my research and action related to this topic (see below), and I will continue to build my ability to design learning well to empower, engage, and educate all children within my charge.

If you haven't attempted the NBPTS process or if you're considering whether to renew or not, I suggest you give it a try. The process really makes you think a lot about who you are as an educator and where you want to grow and develop to meet your professional expectations with strength.  The best case scenario would be to embark on this endeavor with interested colleagues.  If you have any questions about it, please don't hesitate to contact me.  I wish you well.

MassCUE 2014 Learning Design Presentation

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MassCUE 2014: Day Two

Day Two at MassCUE filled me with inspiration and new ideas including the following:

The morning Ted Talks inspired.

Later, I listened to Fable Vision staff and learned more about their products--products I want to try with greater detail as students create animated math models.

After that I learned about Arlington's incredible Techsperts program, a program that develops students' service to other students, leadership, tech skills, and self esteem.

Later I saw incredible student products including Framingham's Dunning School's fifth grade Zooburst digital pop up books project, Pentucket's STEM project, and Mashpee's increadible 2-D printer projects and STEAM program.

Finally, I learned about hands-on science with copper conductive tape and the creation of electronic pop-up books.

It will take a while for all the conversations, stories, and new ideas to take root, ideas that will positively impact my classroom this year and into the future.  Thanks MassCUE!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Amazing Learning at MassCUE 2014: Day One

MassCUE 2014 Inspired Creativity
Yes, my head is spinning with new ideas from the first day of MassCUE #2014.

The first takeaway came from meeting Plymouth educator, Linda Lonergan. Linda is helping her staff prep for PARCC. All the teachers at her school took the test, then Linda graciously shared with me her vocabulary lists of PARCC words--an important share since teachers in her system felt that a lot of the vocabulary was new.

The end of the day brought me back to PARCC prep too as I attended Carol Trulli and Brenda Lomanno's presentation on Flubaroo Script and Google Forms. As noted by one of the attendees at the workshop, this is one more way to prep students for PARCC and also efficiently assess students' learning.  They provided great notes and a website to follow. I look forward to using this soon.

The keynote, Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker Life is Good, was wonderfully insightful and inspirational. At the bottom of the page, I added a Storify of my tweets during that talk.  Words I will want to look back on in the days ahead.

Gross discussed "in the box" and "out of box" ideas. 
I was so inspired by Gross that I attended his follow-up session which included the following points to ponder:
  • Perhaps we need more assessments, broader assessments as what gets measured, gets done.
  • Gross and his team have created play assessments. A colleague has offered to look those up and share.
  • Successful teachers have a sense of play. 
  • He recommended the book, The Advantage, as a source of good information for organizational health. 
  • We discussed "in the box" change, "out of the box" change, and "way out of the box" change--nice distinctions with regard to perception and action. He noted that "out of the box" and "way out of the box" change requires team, collaboration, and working together. 
  • He also identified the distinction between "snake brain" which is all about survival, "mammalian brain" which is concerned with connection, and the human brain or prefrontal cortex which is where school as we know it and knowledge attainment occurs. He noted that if we don't care for snake brain and mammalian brain, we can't learn. There are lots of implications here for how we build positive structures, schedules, climate, and culture at school.
  • He shared the quote, "Pay attention to the little things because one day you may realize those are the big things."
  • Gross prompted us to think and act with greater creativity, and shared a number of good ideas such as "news ball," his dad's "calculus of every day living," "the high five tension breaker," and dance to offset stress and bring people together. 
  • He reminded us of the fact that some of the work we are most committed to and passionate about will not be finished, but will contribute to progress. Even progress that's not visible can lead to positive progress. 
  • He relayed research about burnout that showed when human service workers see themselves as helpers who give it the best they have and are members of team ("one is none") burnout is less likely to occur. Burnout occurs when people feel they have to rescue and save which is often an unreasonable expectation. 
Lunchtime found us talking shop as teachers from our district discussed ideas for better practice and share. It was interesting to hear stories and ideas from teachers I admire, but that I rarely get to see or talk to due to the distance between our buildings, schedules, and other commitments. 

After lunch I shared my presentation. I hope it was helpful to the audience as I always find it more difficult to share when I don't have a personal connection and I'm meeting people for the first time. It's that personal connection and student coaching that makes the teaching inviting at school.  This is a link to my presentation if you'd like to take a look. 

It was wonderful to see people from my Twitter PLN in real time including Dori Kondradki and Joe Scozzaro @joesco77 One great draw to this conference is the many amazing and committed educators you meet. I started the day with a great interchange with a vendor from my hometown and ended the day with a nice conversation with a couple of teachers from North Attleboro. 

This Storify captures points from Gross's keynote that captured my attention as well as a few other nuggets of gold from today's MassCUE conference. There was probably a glow outside of Gillette Stadium today due to all the great learning and share happening--learning that we'll be able to bring back to our schools to positively impact students. I'll post again tomorrow with highlights from another day of learning.

More Notes: MassCUE Day Two 2014

Conference Mindset: MassCUE 2014

I love MassCUE 2014's imaginative graphic by Peter Reynolds.
Prior to attending any conference, I prep.

I find that posing my questions prior to the learning event helps me to focus and learn a lot.

Every time I attend to learning with focus, I learn a lot about teaching my young students

What am I hoping to learn today at MassCUE?

First, As I assess my teaching and learning today, I'll think about the following questions:
  • Am I on the right path with regard to cognitive science, the best tools, and learning design? While I've read a lot about this, I will be looking for areas I need to tweak, rethink, or learn more about?
  • What inspiration and learning knowledge can I bring back to my students? I will listen carefully to the stories of presenters, and share those stories with my students when I return to school to broaden their horizon and give them new paths to consider as they continue to learn.
  • Who should I follow? I follow a lot of dynamic educators on Twitter and through blogs. I will be on the lookout for new follows to broaden my teaching/learning canvas.
  • What tools do I want to add to the teaching/learning platform? Almost every tool I use in school, I learned about at MassCUE so I expect to learn about many new tech tools today?
  • What is effective teaching? I will watch presenters and think about how they present information with regard to effective teaching. What do they do to relay a message with meaning and impact?
  • How can I better organize and teach specific knowledge, concept, and skill? Specifically, I look forward to learning more about specific content areas including Google scripts, math animation, genius hour, iPad movie making, and more.
I'm grateful to the MassCUE staff that creates and presents this dynamic conference each year. I'm looking forward to the learning ahead. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Caines Arcade" Alive at Our School

Students have been working for a few weeks on their Global Cardboard Challenge projects.

Then today, on the playground, they had a chance to share their imaginative cardboard arcade games with the whole school during recess.

Children from K-5 lined up to play all kinds of wonderful games made by the fifth graders.

Students ran the entire event from ticket sales, to booth management, and more. Earlier, they decided to donate the proceeds from the event to a service learning project. They even cleaned up at the end of the day.

I must say that the Cardboard Challenge was a bigger project than I expected. As my colleague who also participated in the Challenge said, "I thought it would take an afternoon." But no, negotiating a project with friends and then figuring out how to make it and what to make it with takes time, lots of time. It also takes collaboration, planning, project design, trial and error, and more.

There's no way I could have managed this project by myself. I have many to thank including the following:
  • Of course the children who carried the project from start to finish.
  • Then my partner teacher who was always open minded and supportive of the project--amazing!
  • Gentle Giant Moving Company who donated 10 big boxes for the project. 
  • Families who sent in all kinds of supplies. 
  • School colleagues, the principal, and students who supported the project.
  • Caine and the Imagination Foundation who inspired us with their wonderful creativity, awesome films, and website.
  • My Twitter PLN where I heard about the idea in the first place.
We all learned a lot from this project--learning we'll apply to future project work and creative endeavors.  The project served to build community too--we're a tighter team after this, and that's terrific.

Related Posts
The Global Cardboard Challenge Continues
Innovation: Error and Insight
Prepare for the Global Cardboard Challenge

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good Learning: The Investment of Time, Attention, Apt Strategy, and Choice

Time, attention, and apt strategy matter when it comes to successful learning.

If you choose to give a topic time, attention, and apt strategy, you're likely to learn.

With this in mind, how do we coach young students?

Learning is Within Your Grasp
First, we have to let our students know that learning is within their grasp. Learning is not something we do to students, instead learning is an action they choose to activate with time, attention, and apt strategy. For some learning, the choice is a natural, inviting decision. A child may love to draw, and choose to work on that skill for hours each day. That's the passion-based learning we see and tap into as we teach children. Yet that same child may find math computation a challenge which will require greater discipline, encouragement, support, and strategy.

What does that mean?

First, think about the aspects of life that you give the most time to. It's likely that those are your areas of competence, happiness, and success.  It's the same with learning, if you give a topic time, you're likely to succeed.

Last week a child asked me, "Why can he do it?" I replied, " ____ can do it because he spends hours of time on the topic--learning takes time. You do well in the areas that you give time to."

Next, there's a difference between passive time and active time. If you're actively focused on a topic, then you're likely to learn. If you're a passive bystander, there might be some learning, but not the kind of vigorous learning that leads to learning success.

Apt Strategy
Finally, apt strategy. I remember way back when a professor was trying to teach my colleagues and I about science through exploration. The lab was so open ended and my foundation so weak that I gained little from the experience. A better strategy would have been "limited exploration," the kind of exploration that begins with a question/connections and limited exploration--exploration that leads to known conclusions while also opening one's mind to new questions and connections.

With every learning area there will be strategies that are more effective and strategies that are less effective. This is the most important part of teaching today--teaching students how to discover, utilize, and develop apt strategies for learning.

Another example of this is a friend's goal of learning science processes. This friend was trying to learn the processes by reading about the processes in a book. While this can be successful for some, what's more successful is watching the processes in action via an effective video that includes audio, written, and visual information. The multimodal approach to learning really helps students gain understanding of processes. After watching and re-watching a video like this, a student may want to read about it to gain even more information or greater ability to use language to describe the process, but starting with a video that's well done is a good first step to learning material like this.

Today's world offers countless topics, strategies, information, and tools for learning, but time and attention remain limited.  How much time and attention you focus on a particular learning goal depends on multiple factors including your required daily tasks and commitments, interest in the topic, health, energy, and more. And this is where choice comes in.

We choose the kind of time, attention, and strategies we use to learn. As teachers of young children, it is our responsibility to teach children how and why to choose with questions such as:
  • What are you choosing to learn about? 
  • How are you planning to learn this?  
  • How much time will you give to this learning?  
  • How will you focus?  
  • How can I help?
Also as teachers of young children, it's our responsibility to work together to determine areas that children must learn to be successful, and as we teach these areas to children we can foster good choice with respect to time, attention, and apt strategy in the following ways:
  • Positive, inclusive daily and weekly learning routines.
  • Introduction and practice of multiple strategies.
  • Time to develop students' metacognition related to choice with regard to time, attention, and strategy choice/use.
  • Sharing the rationale for learning topics that are chosen for children.
  • Giving children time to choose and share their learning.
  • Coaching and encouragement for all student learning.
We are all capable of learning. For the most part, multiple strategies, tools, and content are available for this learning. What's limited are time and attention, hence our choices related to learning hold the key to learning success or lack of success. We can coach students so that they understand multiple learning strategies with strength, strategies that they can later use with time and attention to learn well. 

I will share these important points with my students today, and I will remind them that I am there to serve them and help them learn with as much success as possible. 

We also

Making students cognizant of the role time, attention, apt strategy, and choice gives students the reigns to learning

Mathematical Thinking Reflections: Week Three

As I continue down the path of Coursera's Mathematical Thinking Course, I am cognizant of my role as a learner.

The course is both exhilarating and challenging for me.

The course is exhilarating because it is is introducing me to mathematical language and thought that I can easily transfer to my 5th grade classroom to better our math talk and learning. I like the rich infusion of modeling and thought that I'm exposed to and struggle with in the course.

What is frustrating is the fact that I need more time to do a really good job on this course.  I would have to devote a good 10 hours a week to really dig in and relearn a lot of foundation math that would help me to better grasp the deeper details of the course. I can feel my brain coming close to grasping all the concepts, but the fact that my foundation needs strengthening is making it difficult for me to grasp the course with the detail I'd like.

This course had helped me to identify many important questions with regard to math teaching and learning:
  • Do professional learning efforts for elementary school math teachers include too much time on pedagogy versus developing a deep foundation of mathematical knowledge, concept, and skill?
  • Do we give math teachers enough time to strengthen their foundation skills, assess their teaching, and develop craft? 
  • Do expectations for teachers include too many tasks that take the focus away from learning? 
  • Do we ask the right questions and focus on the best topics when we work together to develop our math teaching and learning?
The Mathematical Thinking course is opening my mind. I am learning about new ways to discuss, teach, and learn math as well as developing a thirst for more math education. In fact, I don't really want to go back to a general elementary classroom role again as I do think we've moved past the strength of that model for the upper elementary school students, students who are ready for more dynamic programs related to specific interdisciplinary topics. For example, the synthesis of math/science learning integrated with application of reading/writing skills is a terrific model for grade 5, a model that profits from the fact that my partner teacher is devoted to teaching English language arts skills, concept, and knowledge and social studies. This model allows us to continue to integrate subjects without calling us to be all things to the students--the specialization seems just right for our overall objectives for fifth graders.

I will continue to participate in the Mathematical Thinking course. I'll listen to the lectures, attempt the problem sets, and apply the new language and thinking to my fifth grade program in ways that help students think about and discuss the 5th grade math standards with greater detail and depth.  I'll also look for more opportunities to think deeply and learn about math--a subject that I'm delighted to learn more about. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Making Movies to Learn and Share

An image from the boys' service learning film. 
I spent a couple of hours this morning editing students' service learning video presentation.

The students, filled with great ideas, simply ran out of time to create a video that matched their vision and expectation with regard to time, humor, message, and more.

Yet, their initial two-three hours of invested time resulted in many wonderful clips, a great message, and a worthy presentation.  I just had to splice a bit and add some music to jazz it up--all things they could have done if given more time.

This event made me realize once again just how powerful movie making is for the learning process. Movie making has the following ingredients which develop solid learning:
  • Clarity: Students need to think a lot about what they want to say, and craft a clear message.
  • Visual Literacy: The set, models, facial expression, and movement all have to relay the message.
  • Mood: Music, body posture, tone, pacing present mood which in turn highlights what's important, and draws the audience in both intellectually and emotionally.
  • Rehearsal and Practice: To get it right students have to practice again and again which solidifies the message in their minds.
  • Share: The share spreads the learning and invites feedback and conversation which extends the learning.
  • Synthesis: When making a movie you are synthesizing voice, image, music, and message. This synthesis creates deep learning.
Soon, I'll engage the whole class in math movie making. I'll do this related to a deep math concept--one to be chosen soon.  The activity will take on the following steps:
  1. Create like ability groups.
  2. Choose a question to explain from the differentiated topic menu.
  3. Craft a script using a collaborative Google docs table. Remember that you want your script to be both entertaining and informative. Engage your audience 
  4. Create models that illustrate your explanation.  Models can be 2-d or 3-d.
  5. Practice your script a lot.
  6. Film yourselves acting out the script.
  7. When you've created a film you really like, show and edit with a teacher. 
  8. The teacher will collect all the films and produce one collaborative class film on the topic.
  9. The film will be shared with family members and others. 
We'll likely use a range of tools including the following:
  • WeVideo
  • iMovie
  • PhotoBooth
  • KidPix
  • Google Apps including Draw, Table. . .
  • Explain Everything
  • Screencasting Tools
  • ShowMe
  • and more. . .
We may also follow up this project by completing a similar project with our kindergarten buddies as they teach us about a concept they are learning.

If you haven't made movies with your students, I suggest you do.  It's a wonderful way to share the learning!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Is Inspiration the Foundation of Successful Learning and Strong Schools?

I'm thinking about a leadership's perspective when it comes to school. I'm thinking about the words that would inspire me as an educator, and the words that would inspire the kind of school I want to contribute to.

Here are the words I'm imagining:
  • You matter to our school. We need you--we need your perspective, your voice, your example, your experience. Our school is made up of many talented individuals who care, and we need each one of those educators to be who they are, share what they know and believe in, and work together to best support each and every child. 
  • What do you care about?  Your passions matter?  How do you use your passions each day to inspire your students and develop your craft?  How can we find ways for you to share your passions, strengths, and unique approach with your colleagues to help grow our whole school with diversity and strength?
  • What's your story? What led you to education?  Why does being a teacher matter to you?  Are you reaching your personal goals as an educator? How is your education story progressing?
  • What challenges do you face in your work?  How can I help you overcome those challenges?  Is there anyone in the school that is particularly helpful to you in this regard?
  • How can our school be better? Where do you see room for growth?  What conflict do we need to address, discuss, and grow from?  How can we change the school environment to better support each learner including students, educators, family members, and leaders?
  • Looking ahead where should we set our sights? What do we need to be thinking about, planning for, and learning about?  How can we better meet our collective vision, and what's our vision time line?
  • Are we meeting our students' goals? Which students are left out and why? How can we better support those students? When are time and resources not well used, and when are we maximizing our use of time and resources to best effect?  What models are most effective, and why?  Where are the successes, and how did they come about?
Schools thrive when inspiration, meaningful conversation, vision, and share abound.
The words above are words I think of when I think of strong schools. What words, questions, and ideas do you associate with strong schools?  How are those thoughts and ideas conveyed?

To do good work at school whether you are an educator, leader, or student requires inspiration because learning is hard work, work that requires focus, support, apt tools and materials, and vision. How does your learning organization inspire, and why is that important to you, your students, and colleagues?

I believe inspiration is the foundation of strong schools and successful learning. Do you agree?

Fifth Grade Program Review: Week of 10/20

Caine continued to inspire us this week. 
This week, like every week, was eventful.

One upside of teaching is that it's rarely boring. There's always lot of learning for the entire learning team: students, family members, educators, leaders, and community members.

Next week brings similar excitement and challenge.

On Monday, two of my students will present a short film they made about their service learning project. They filmed and re-filmed multiple times until they ran out of time. I told them that I'd edit their takes and put them together into one short film over the weekend, and I promised I would not cut the humor out.  They identified the music they liked on WeVideo, so I'll use that platform for the film.

Buddies made pattern photo frames
this week. 
Later that day we'll finish Algebraic Thinking Assessment Two, and review measurement conversions, the conversions learning path, and ways to study new information. We'll also take a look at "little to big staircase models" and discuss how we can apply those models with precise proportion to place value, measurement units, and other number values.

Tuesday is the finale to our Global Cardboard Challenge project. Students are excited about sharing their creative arcade games and other creations with the whole school on the playground. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine that day. Tuesday also marks the start of our 5th grade cluster's RTI efforts.

Students put finishing touches on their cardboard creations.
I'll learn and present on Wednesday and Thursday at the MassCUE conference.  My students will be in good hands with a beloved substitute who is a former teacher at our school. They'll study the water system and practice problem solving with measurement conversions. Friday will take on its usual routine with STEAM Star study, library/tech, math tech, ensemble/special projects, and buddy time.

The week's plans are set, and now it's time to catch up on professional learning with week 3 of the Mathematical Thinking MOOC, #satchat, and then time for family and fun!  Happy Weekend.

Response to Intervention (RTI) Math Efforts

I believe this is our third year using RTI for math. Like any approach, the more we do it, the more we are able to navigate this relatively new approach with strength.

We met Friday to look at students' assessment results and needs. Also district leadership created a protocol for RTI--the protocol divided the year into six-week periods and assigns a topic to each period. Our first topic is multiplication, addition, and subtraction computation.  We plan to teach this with word problems.

Students with greater needs in this area are in small groups of two, three, and four with skilled teachers. I will manage the larger group of approximately 35 students using my classroom and the outside tech lab spaces. A teaching assistant will assist me.

We'll start the first six week period with an initial assessment of multiplication, addition, and subtraction. Then we'll offer students a learning path of activities to learn, practice and enrich their knowledge of these content areas and skills.

As the teacher of the core/enrichment group, I plan to use lots of online computer menus to meet the needs of so many. I'll design an online menu that includes choice of independent and collaborative problem solving and computation games, videos, and exercises.  I'll add a bit of healthy competition with some kind of points system too so that students can assess their learning knowledge. I'll tie all of this to the fifth grade standards. I also plan to take small skill groups to helps students firm up their weaker areas related to this this protocol.

Our RTI at fifth grade lasts for two half hours at prime teaching time (the morning) each week. Special educators, classroom teachers, and teaching assistants support the program.  I'm excited about applying "learning to learn" activities with this approach so that students recognize and practice the many dispositions and actions that let them lead their learning with success.

Are your RTI efforts similar to ours?  What successes have you experienced with RTI? RTI is a strategy that helps us to use our resources with focus and success. I'm excited about starting this effort in the week ahead.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Creating a Warm, Intellectual, Playful Learning Environment

Who would think that room design would take such a predominant role in my school life in the past 48 hours. But it has.

Very early this morning, I met the directive to move all materials from the window area of my classroom so a maintenance activity could be performed. Sadly this came right smack in the middle of my first attempt at the Global Cardboard Challenge--a project that created far more disruptive innovation than I expected, but a project that students have met with wonderful creativity, collaboration, and problem solving.

Anyways, the directive catapulted me into a cleaning, sorting, purging frenzy as I renovated my new classroom by removing several pieces of furniture, lots of books, and other materials. It was a big job, and one that I'm happy is behind me.

Now, however, the next challenge calls me, the challenge to lift the classroom environment to a warm, intellectual, playful learning environment.

What will that take?

Yet another book sort. I'm going to get rid of all, but the most special books. I hope to keep about 200-300 books tops.

Then the STEAM center redo--resorting and organizing the plastic cabinets I have in the room to support students' creative, problem solving/project work.

Then the math center--making sure the math materials are easy to access when students need them.

My coaching corner and the students' organization area need a boost too.

The room is ready for the students and I to work at this next level of room design. I have many students who are very excited to help.  I'll enlist their support.

Changing grades is a big job--one that requires lots of revision and change to meet students' needs as well as the curriculum program. Onward.

A Planner's Dilemma

Life in school is always changing for so many reasons.

This can be troublesome to a planner like me. I like to stay ahead of the game lining up my lessons and teaching strategies. There's no problem when it comes to shifting and changing to meet students' needs as I have that factored in, but I often find challenge when the outside world encroaches on the lessons and learning hindering the continuity.

Yet, life happens, and planners have to have another plan for the unexpected, the add-on, the last minute change, because it does happen.

Perhaps a good plan is knowing that there's few challenges or changes that one can't meet, and if there's a real reason for not being able to meet the challenge, well so be it--a challenge unmet.

One reality of school life is that students are not the only learners. Planners like me are continually learning too. Onward.

Where Do You Want to Grow?

Bruce Van Horn posed this quote on Twitter, "Feed the areas of your life you want to grow. Starve the parts that need to go." A quote that reminds me of this powerful Native American story.

It was a good quote for me last night as it has made think about the areas of life I want to feed, areas including family, home, adventure, and teaching well.

The schoolhouse is filled with detours when it comes to teaching well as it's a busy place with many, many possible paths to travel in a day's time--conversation paths, action paths, teaching paths, planning paths. There's a lot to navigate.

Hence as one thinks of teaching well, it's important to develop those paths towards teaching success and avoid or "starve" those paths that work in the other direction, paths that take you away from the good work possible.

The center of my work is the child--how can I truly support and serve each child well. Working outward, my next aim is to support that child's family because when I can be of help to the family, I am also helping the child. Then, I want to be a positive contributor to my teaching/learning team and organization.

To focus on the child means avoiding the bigger issues at bay in a schoolhouse, issues that I have little voice or control over. For example, last night I got upset about a last minute directive to prepare my room for a weekend housekeeping project--a project that had to be done, and a project which meant I had to change my schedule. Truly, I have no control or knowledge of the construction and maintenance projects that are ongoing in my school. In fact I know almost nothing about building maintenance beyond what I understand in terms of my own home. Hence, why even bother getting involved in issues like that--just let it be and spend that time focused on family, the children, my home, and adventure.

Knowing what matters and "feeding" those areas of life are integral to reaching for your vision and dreams. Too many detours get in the way, and when possible are best to avoid. The bumpy road of learning continues. Onward.

Student Learning: The Power of Limited Choice

A young child lamented, "Why can't I do what the others do? I want to do what they do?"

Challenge. How do I respond?

I thought about it, and used a story from my childhood. I said, "When I was young, my sister was the fastest runner in the school and I was the slowest. I felt bad that I wasn't as fast, but I knew I had other strengths, and running for me would take lots of practice."

He heard me.

(Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, affirms the fact that for some people, some tasks are more difficult and do take more practice. That's a cognitive fact based on multiple factors, but a fact that's important for students young and old to recognize. )

Then I said, "Tomorrow, you have a choice. You can choose to keep working on the assignment you were working on today, or you can start with a version that's a bit more reasonable. In fact, I'll offer that version to others too as you weren't the only one facing a challenge with the assessment. It's like me starting to run a quarter mile rather than starting with 10 miles. Remember, I'm just getting to know you as a learner, and I won't always be right. Let me know tomorrow what you'll choose."  He seemed calmer.

So today, he'll have choice. He can choose to keep working on the more difficult set with teacher coaching or he and his peers can choose the more reasonable set also with teacher coaching. He can also choose where he wants to sit, and how he wants to tackle the packet guided by the following suggestions posed for the whole class:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Do what you know first.
  • Ask questions when you don't understand. Don't stay stuck!
  • Write clearly.
  • Do your best.
Limited choice disarms students when they're frustrated or feeling unheard--it gives them some power over their learning in ways that are manageable and honorable.  I'll see what my student chooses today, and I'll support his choice. I'll also add that if he has an idea about a third choice that's better, he should let me know because after all he's the one in charge when it comes to his overall learning, and I'm there to do all I can to help him. 

Classroom Design: What Matters

For every grade and every program, an ideal classroom design will look different.

What matters to one group of children and one program differs from another group of children and another program.

Since elementary school teachers change grades at times, it's difficult to part with objects and books that fit one grade's curriculum, when you move to another grade. Yet, there's often not the space to store multiple grades' materials in one classroom.

So today, I'll purge keeping only the most essential items including some beloved books, craft and building supplies, paper, pens, and pencils, the wooden bookcase, one supply cabinet and some plastic bins. The rest of the materials will be rolled away to be shared with anyone who wants them.

What my group needs most of all this year is space, attention, technology, optimal learning experiences, time to collaborate, wonderful stories, problem solving, and creative pursuits.

What I need most are a few learning/teaching supplies, a few beloved books, my easels, document camera (such an amazing invention), and computer.

As mentioned earlier, it will be great to have the additional space.