Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good Teaching/Parenting: Stepping Back

MindShift raises the topic of mindfulness and teaching well this morning. Earlier in the week, John Chase @getwhatugive discusses the importance of soft skills. My own busy house of young adult sons and a high school son has put me more in the role of observer and supporter than leader or orchestrator.

I've been attuned to the world around me this holiday season--a world that marks change both personally and professionally. Professionally roles and processes I've longed for, in many cases, are in place. Behind me in years of service is a dynamic group of young leaders and educators who are creating positive change in ways that reflect new ideas and social skills. My students who have access to learning all day every day are bright and forward thinking.

The plans are set for the short weeks ahead until the holiday break. It's time to step back at home and at school, time to support my young learners, committed colleagues, and energized family members. Time to give myself a break from leading, coming up with the ideas, debate, and planning in exchange for listening, observing, encouraging, and supporting the efforts and actions in place.

All week I puzzled about this new role, one so different from the busy mom and teacher trying to set the stage for success and care. In so many ways, it's a right time to step back and take it in. I'm sure new opportunities for leadership and initiatives will arise in time, but for now I'll let those around me take the lead. Onward.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Synergy of Gifts and Talents

In any work place there is a synergy of gifts and talents.

Recognizing and acknowledging the strengths of colleagues is an important part of the good work we do.

We can't be all things, but together we can create environments where together we provide a full palette of service and care.

What takes away from this potential is any act that limits another's strengths or gifts. Is it possible that at times you may create limitations to promise and possibility? That's an important consideration as we hone our craft and plan for good work.

How we work alone and how we work together are equally important with respect to work well done and furthering our organizations, teams, and systems.

When You Find a Voice That Speaks to You

I seek inspiration and truth as I am finding my way in this world. Like so many, I am finding a way to do my work well and live a good life.

The path to good teaching is not often easy. There are many questions, choices, and directions to choose from. Yet, you do your best every day to do the job well, and sometimes you misstep, err, and make mistakes along the way.  You right yourself and continue the path.

There are many in your midst online and offline to lend a hand, direct, and share the journey with. Then once in a while a voice comes along that rightly challenges you, speaks to your heart, and has the words you've been longing to hear. That happened to me yesterday when John Chase @getwhatugive tweeted me with his post. His intersection of wonderful words and beautiful music and images captured my attention, challenged me, and led me forward. Thanks John!

If you're curious, I recommend you take a look at John's blog too. It's likely he'll capture your attention too.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Contributing to a Culture of Care

On this Thanksgiving morning, I'm thinking about a culture of care both at home and at school.

Last year a painful experience distanced me from care in the work place, and yesterday the sting of that painful event remembered felt as sharp as a knife creating the potential for a lost holiday.  I brought the pain home last night to my family's dismay.

Could the event have been prevented? Yes, and no. I didn't plan to raise my voice, but a collegial discussion led to passionate feelings and thus a raised voice. Prior to the passionate exchange, I had tried many other ways to forward my thoughts and research related to the discussion topic to little avail. I was reprimanded heavily for the loud voice and challenged about the words I used and the way I used them, words that expressed my teaching/learning opinions.

Lesson learned: don't raise your voice at work, and always be professional about what you share and the way you share.

Since that time, I have felt the sting of reputation lost and less connection in the workplace. There's fear when it comes to associating with the educator that made a mistake or did the wrong thing in the workplace. It's a bit like being blacklisted and is a very painful experience. I must admit that I carry this heavy weight each and every day, and have been working to lessen the painful load. I know I'm not alone as many struggle in their workplaces for a large number of reasons.

The good news is that I've used this experience as an opportunity to forward my work and research related to teaching well. I have taken the lessons I've learned and turned them into opportunities for student learning and strength related to learning to learn mindsets and behaviors. And I've continued my focus on high quality teaching and learning in the classroom, efforts based on research, learning design, and learning community share. I know there is no growth without error or mistake.

On this holiday morning, I am thinking about this pain and opportunity. I am also thinking about the way that we create caring cultures at school and at home.

At home, we err too, but fortunately, our family shares our strengths and challenges with ease, and when we err we work to help each other move forward with honest conversation and forward-moving action. We're there for one another and want to see each other succeed. We recognize that we each bring great strengths and challenges to our family community, and we work to help each other with caring, joyful tradition and actions.

In the classroom the same is true, I honor each and every one of my learners. They each bring tremendous gifts to our community, and they all bring their learning challenges too. We work day in day out to support each other.

This is more complicated in the larger teaching/learning community due to the complexity of structures, schedules, time, and other factors, but in many ways, there is great success in this environment too when it comes to building a culture of care.

I hesitate to share this challenge on a holiday morning, but as one who is committed to sharing the teaching/learning journey, I think it's important to share the challenges too.

So on this Thanksgiving morning as I get ready to celebrate with family and friends, I am mindful of the ways that we can create a culture of care in our homes and in our work places.  This culture of care profits from making the time to listen to each other, encourage one other another, celebrate together, and be compassionate and supportive with regard to each others' shortcomings and challenges.

I wish all in my PLN a joyful holiday today and in the weeks to come. Honest discourse, share, and care coupled with humility and good work will lead us forward in ways that support our families, colleagues, students, and selves. Happy Thanksgiving.

Godin's Post Inspires 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Vulnerability and Learning: The Movie Contest

Today students shared their movie creations. Each base-ten system animation was clever and different from the others. Each child or team focused on a different aspect of the base-ten system and chose a myriad of ways to portray the concepts. The audience of fourth graders and fifth grade classmates watched and reacted.

I listened to the audience and I watched each creator as they shared their work. I realized how vulnerable one may feel when his/her work is being shared. I was keenly aware of when the audience reacted with laughter or engagement and when the audience was less engaged. The young filmmakers were also aware of this.

The fact that this was a contest added to the vulnerability as students knew their creations were being judged against their classmates' work. I saw each of them noticing the clever ideas one another used to make meaning with SCRATCH, PowToon, iMovie, PhotoBooth, and Khan Academy Coding.

Next time we do this project, I'm going to make more time and ceremony when it comes to the share. I want to make sure that the audience understands the level of time, thought, creativity, and risk students invested to complete the task. I also want the creators to understand how much I value each person's creativity, voice, and presentation. Just because each film is not the same doesn't lessen the quality, in fact it made the whole show more interesting.

I have felt this same vulnerability often as I publish a blog post, craft a screencast, create a digital story, or code an animation. It's challenging to publish one's work, but it's also educational and growth producing to put yourself out there and let an audience critique your work.

When we return to school after the break, I'll honor each student filmmaker with a certificate and a few words about the film's strengths. There will be small prizes too. I'll make sure that the audience also understands the role of vulnerability and the time it takes to create a valued work. Then in the not too distant future, during the Hour of Code week, I'll give every child a chance to code a short math operations animation. Before we begin that project, I'll remind them of all the wonderful lessons they  learned from the first wave of brave and creative math animators, the ones who laid the path for others.

Related Posts
Place Value Film Contest
Place Value Movies Shared

Maybe You Have What I Need?

Looking at the Mayan Temple model inspired a young boy's
desire to create a similar structure with Minecraft. 
Sometimes the ideas for change and growth come all at once. A couple of great tweets, a wonderful blog post, and collegial efforts inspire ideas for pushing the work I do forward. As an educator that's often challenging since there are many systems we have to navigate to make change, and some of what we desire may not even exist yet. However, simply noting what I desire helps me to be on the lookout for posts, examples, and paths to response. Hence, here's a list of tools and processes I'm looking for, and maybe you have what I need?

The young boy looked at the magnificent Mayan model at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge. "I want to build that in Minecraft," he said as he examined the model. I felt a twang since I've wanted to embed Minecraft into the curriculum, but it is still not allowed at my school. I feel especially strong about this since the children who use Minecraft at home seem so much more adept at math than those who haven't experienced the tool. I want to give all students that chance to build and see in 3-D with a focus on the attributes of materials.  An expert described Minecraft to me as Legos X 1,000,000 and we all know how good our Legomaniacs are at math and science.  Another expert expressed the English language arts value of teams of students working together on Minecraft. Do you employ Minecraft in your curriculum, and if you do, how did you make it happen?

I'll be teaching Earth and space science soon. What I'd really like is a game to teach this. I was reminded of this when I read a recent Mindshift post. I'd like students to go on a virtual tour of the Powers of Ten movie with lots of positive decision making that teaches them the most up to date math and science related to this unit. Imagine how exciting it would be for teams to go on a virtual trip through space.  And imagine how engaged they would be and how much they would learn if the game was well designed? Does this exist?  If so, please let me know.

I also want one-to-one with Mac laptops (still the best for dynamic content creation in my teaching/learning context) and a good assortment of other tech tools too. I want students to have access to tech tools with all learning, and I want that access and use to be blended for best learning. For example, I'd like students to have iPad minis on a string around their necks as they go on nature walks so they can stop to take photos, make an audio recording, and research what they are seeing as we hike. Do you use iPad minis this way?

I'd like to use iPads in a facile and efficient way. I'd like to give students the chance to upload apps that meet their learning needs in guided, responsive ways. I'd like to be able to go home, find an app that fits my learners' needs and then apply that app the next day. Do you have this kind of access? If so, how did you get this?

I'd like purchasing to be a more open, responsive process rather than a mostly once-a-year task. That would prevent me from always having the decision of spending my own money or not. I understand we can't all have what we want, but I think there's room for growth in this regard. How do you readily access the funds you need to try out new tools and employ new ideas readily?

Do you have what I want?  What do you want?  Making the time to dream and think about what would make a positive difference in your learning/teaching is important as it leads to the kind of change that empowers, engages, and educates children.

Sheninger's recent post inspired this post in part.

Blended Science, ELA, and Math: Earth and Space Science Study

We'll use this learning path model to lead our study.
During December we'll study Earth and Space Sciences.

During this study, we'll integrate math operations and place value study to give students a relative understanding of size related to the planets and other Earth and science facts and concepts.

How will we do this?

I'll begin the unit by modeling the use of the learning path model and essential unit questions.

Then, we'll study how to write numbers in many ways as we consider the length of a year for the planets in our solar system.

After that, we'll consider those same numbers together as we practice the fifth grade place value and rounding standards.

Each focus will be matched with related informational videos.

During the "Hour of Code" Week students will have the opportunity to choose Tynker, SCRATCH,, Khan Academy and perhaps other coding sources to code a short math operations/solar system animation.

Also during that week, students will practice traditional operations using Earth and space science word problems.

Finally, we'll return to the unit essential questions and write informational essays that answer each question. We'll use the system-wide adopted SRSD approach and TIDE mnemonic.

As the unit unfolds, I'll continue to add to this post. Think of this as the framework for the December study.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Museum Study: What Does That Mean in Today's World

The docent not only taught students about
Mayan culture, but exemplified terrific
storytelling as well. 
What does it mean to visit a museum today?

How can we use a museum visit to educate and inspire children?

First, it's best if the visit is focused, in part, to a current learning/teaching topic.

Next, it's also great to give students time to explore what the museum has to offer.

Museums are also part of our culture, and it's important that students learn how to interact with a museum with appropriate behavior and a matching learning mindset. I will promote the following behaviors/mindsets.
  • Visiting a museum is like visiting another country, take the time to look, listen, and understand the culture and organization of the museum. 
  • Think about the objects, exhibits, and presentations that inspire you at the museum, and when you get back to school or home, research more information about exhibits. 
  • Listen to the docent; he/she has studied well to share information with you.
  • Read the information available and ask questions.
  • Discuss what you see and hear with your classmates. 
  • A museum is a public place so use your "public place" behavior:
    • Stay with your group.
    • Don't use public bathrooms alone.
    • Speak politely.
    • Resect other visitors' privacy.
    • Don't run, roughhouse, or yell.
    • Treat all museum objects and utilities with respect and care. 
    • The exhibits educated students
      and captured their imaginations.
    • Don't touch fragile objects.
A museum is a great place to learn. Enjoy your time there and bring back questions and topics to study more. If you really like the museum, you may want to encourage your family to bring you there for another visit. 

Mapping the Year: Mid Year Review

It was difficult to map a year this summer with a grade change and new curriculum.  Now that the year is well established, it's much easier to look ahead to the year's important learning/teaching events.

  • Place Value Exercises, Assessment
  • Hour of Code Operations Animations
  • Operations: Computation "boot camp" Teaching, Review: Students helping Students
  • Earth and Space Science: Facts and Figures
  • Prep Simple Machines, STEAM, and Science Visitor Events for Spring
  • Prep Fractions Unit 
  • Prep Ted Talk Science Effort
  • Fractions continued
  • Science Ted Talk Project: Students choose questions, create learning path, research, write speeches, prepare Google headline/image presentation, and practice, practice, practice. 
  • Fractions continued
  • Science Ted Talk Project continued
  • Geometry: couple days review 
  • PARCC Test #1 ELA
  • Science Ted Talk Project
  • Simple Machines Project
  • Visiting Scientists
  • PARCC Test #1 Math
  • STEAM 
  • Simple Machines: K'Nex Project
  • Marble Maze Building Project
  • Biography Project
  • Science MCAS Prep
  • STEAM 
  • Simple Machines
  • Biography Project
  • PARCC #2
  • MCAS Science
  • Portfolios
  • End-of-Year Special Events
In addition, we'll embed the STEAM stars picture book biographies as we can. 

Ferguson Reactions in School

It's possible that students will mention Ferguson in school today. It's also possible that they will see protestors on the street as they ride to and from school.

I am not an expert on the situation.

I will take President Obama's lead with these quotes,

"We are a nation built on the rule of law, and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," Obama said late Monday night. "There are Americans who agree with it and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It's an understandable reaction. But I join Michael's parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully." - President Obama


"But what we want to do is to make sure that we're also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible -- that the vast majority of people Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri and around the country are looking for," he said. "I want to be partners with those folks and we need to lift up the kind of constructive dialogue that is taking place." - President Obama

I will refer to the Bill of Rights and Amendment One which includes the ". . .right of the people to peaceably assemble."

And, I highly regard our State governor, Governor Deval Patrick, and the Mayor of Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh, and I will share their words with the students. 

We are not a perfect country or a perfect people, there is room for growth and change to better care for, support, and protect all Americans. As a mother and teacher, I am very interested in anything we can do to promote our children's and young adult's safety and success.

For my part, as an educator, I'll do my part to give students voice with regard to America's history, both positive and negative, and their dreams for a better world. I'll encourage them to be part of the solution with positive effort, and emphasize that a good education will give them the tools they need to build a better democracy. I'll also do all I can to uplift every child that I work with.

Place Value Movies Shared

Students began sharing their place value movies yesterday. There was a lot of creativity. Creativity we'll share with the whole class tomorrow. You can view the examples below.

What is Valued?

When was the last time you simply took the time to stop, look, and listen to your surroundings and think about what is valued?

What is valued can be seen in the signage that adorns the wall.

The messages on email and in the newsletter.

When silence occurs.


Goals and vision.

Everyday choices about the actions we partake in, and the work we do.

Knowing what is valued then gives one choices--choices to contribute to the status quo if you share those values and choices to work towards change where you see room for a better path.

At times what is valued may evade us for a number of reasons, that's why it's important to make the time to see, hear, and experience the values that exist.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Reaching Out To Families Who Don't Respond

Sometimes when you reach out to a family, they don't respond.

They don't return a phone call or respond to an email.

Many rely on text, and I haven't made that part of my teaching repertoire yet. As I think today, I realize it's time to add that to the many ways we can communicate with families today.

When families don't respond, we typically ask other colleagues to help out by giving a call and reaching out as well.

Yet, sometimes that results in actions much like a game of "telephone" with information and messages becoming distorted and changed along the way.

Many advise that we shouldn't give up, and if families aren't responding that means we have to try other means of communication.

In place now are newsletters, emails, and phone calls.

What I'll add is text and paper notes--let's see if this helps with the small percentage of families that don't respond. I think it's also time for a family event--perhaps we'll plan that for the January-February timeline.

Fortunately where I teach, we have almost 100% response.

If you have other ideas of ways to engage reluctant families, let me know as the truth remains that children do best if we all work together.

Place Value Movie Making Finale

Today is students' last official day to work on their place value movies and animations.  The activity is an enrichment option.

So during our place value math workshop this afternoon, finishing your movie will be one of the study options. Other options will include studying place value via online games, videos, songs, and practice.

The biggest challenge with this project was students' inability to plan well for the time needed to complete the project. Some teams got together with big ideas, but weren't able to anticipate the time needs and therefore met with frustration. Other teams worked in class, during free periods, and at home to complete their films with skill.

Since the project was an enrichment option, I didn't spend a lot of time on planning and preparation for the task. I'll acknowledge this today as students make choices, and I'll assure them that it's okay not to take part as they'll have a chance in the weeks to come to plan well for similar projects, projects for which there will be more support.

On Wednesday morning, students will share their short films with classmates and grade 4 students. The students will judge the movies with the criteria in the chart at the top of the page. Winners will receive a token prize, and the entire activity will serve to develop students' place value understanding and skill.

I'm interested in the response of the filmmakers and audience at Wednesday's premiere. Each month my partner teacher and I try to offer one creative enrichment option. Last month's enrichment was a storytelling contest, this month's is the movie task, and in the future we'll include other projects that engage students' interests and match our overall curriculum goals.

Contest Rationale and Process

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Where Are You Going: Assessing Your Professional Direction

There are many layers related to a profession in education. There's your direct job title and responsibilities, contribution to your organization, professional learning, efforts with outside organizations and groups, and your professional direction. There is time in the days, months, and year to consider each area, and due to the current level of change and development in our field, it's essential to make these considerations on a regular schedule.

Job Expectations
The most important consideration includes the questions: Do you know what your job is, and are you meeting the expectations of your job title?  There are many roles in education, and it's important that you understand well your role and expectations. Then it's your responsibility to devote most of your professional time and energy to this effort.

Contribution to Your Organization
Outside of your role, how can you contribute to your larger organization? At my place of work, like many, there are multiple ways to get involved including committee work, mentoring, attending special events, tutoring, and sharing your knowledge at Institutes and other venues. It's important to balance your contributions and your job expectations so that your contributions don't take away from your first responsibility, your job in the organization.

Professional Learning
A steady diet of professional learning is paramount to teaching well. For example, it is going to be imperative that every educator is well versed with technology and blended learning. It is also imperative, at this time, that every educator understand new standards and processes well. A routine of reading regular updates from local, state, and national organizations that lead and contribute to your work is important as well.

As you think long term, it's great to match your professional learning efforts with salary increase systems and additional areas of competency as that leads to a better paycheck and greater value with regard to your current job expectations and future, possible job titles or roles.

Efforts Outside Your Organization
It's great to work with educators within and outside your organization as this is a way to grow your strength and versatility as an educator. There are many real-time and online groups you can connect with to grow your education repertoire. Joining well-regarded organizations such as NCTE, NCTM, IRA and others keep you up to date with well researched, valued methods of teaching in specific disciplines. Further, online share such as Twitter chats, blogging, webinars, and online conferences keep you current with what's happening in education in this country and around the world. Attending noteworthy conferences and professional learning events also develops your skill, concept, and knowledge with regard to your profession. There are multiple summer seminars that open their doors to educators often at no cost. The applications for these seminars are generally due sometime between January and March or April. I have a few of those events listed on a webpage for your reference. (note it's been a while since I updated that webpage)

Reflection and a Long Term Destination
All of the efforts above lead to reflection, and that reflection should help you to determine a long term destination in education, a destination that needs to be reviewed periodically as you develop, and the world of education changes.

As for me, my long term destination is to teach well in the organization where I work. Later I'd like to volunteer or get a part-time job in a system with greater needs and help students in that system in a one-to-one or small group way. As I reach for my long term destination, I'm cognizant of the areas above as I ask myself these questions:
  • Am I meeting the expectations of my role as a fifth grade math/science teacher?
  • Am I contributing to the greater organization in worthwhile ways?
  • Am I taking part in professional learning activities to develop my teaching/learning repertoire?
  • Do I connect to organizations outside of my school system in ways that positively impact my work?
Personal Health, Happiness, and Family
As I write again and again, "All work and no play, makes one a dull teacher." Therefore another very important part of this discussion is your life outside of school. Do you make the time to be healthy, happy, and nurture important relationships. This is critical to teaching well, and this is often a challenge for busy educators.

Young educators entering the field can make sure to lay solid patterns in these areas so that while they work well, they also nurture a life enriching personal life. Veteran teachers like me need to rework patterns so that this time is secured. 

System-wide protocols related to communication, job expectations, patterns of work and effort, and family-life supports such as fair pay, on-site day care, health club memberships, manageable workloads, and healthy work environments can also support individuals' health, happiness, and relationships.

Financial Security
It's also important to take the time to think about financial security. Are you making the most of the money you earn? Do you invest in 403B accounts ROTH IRA's and other accounts that can provide security in the future? Are you living within or outside of your means? Does the system you work for provide supports with regard to choosing the best health care and investment accounts, and do they make that support available at times you can attend?

Long ago, a wise colleague, helped me in this area, and I am grateful for this. There's more for me to learn and do in this regard, but the colleague led me to the first, important step.

Reach out to Colleagues
Don't be afraid to reach out to colleagues for support and advice. For example, when I was young, I couldn't afford to pay up front for professional learning so I had to seek out free courses and avenues to professional growth. Avenues such as hosting student teachers and attending free summer institutes can work in that regard.

Similarly, the same wise colleague who helped me with securing a small investment strategy also urged me to reach for higher levels on the pay scale by taking courses for credit rather spending the professional learning time in efforts that did not lead to a pay increase. The one change I would have made to my professional path is that I wish I had taken all those credits under one more certificate area so that I had a more versatile profile. For example rather than taking multiple credits in multiple areas, I could have taken all those credits and put them towards a degree in math, technology, ESL or another area of interest.

Your colleagues, new and veteran, have experiences to share with regard to professional direction and personal happiness so don't be afraid to reach out for ideas if needed. We are all stronger if we help each other grow with success and happiness.

I recommend that you take a few minutes before the new year to review this list and think about your professional efforts and direction. This will help you to teach well and live better. I'm going to make the time to do the same. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Teaching Week Focus: Peaceful Systems

A high-reaching #satchat brought me to all kinds of great big ideas, ideas I shared with colleagues and put on the calendar to plan for and work towards.

In the meantime, I'll keep my focus on the week-to-week targets. Two weeks ago I focused my attention on at-risk students with colleagues. This past week I looked at deep teaching which led me to this week's and next week's goal: Peaceful Systems.

We're rolling along with the curriculum and community. We know each other well by this time, and now it's time for a bit more finesse when it comes to systems.

For my part, I need to change the routines a bit less often. I typically welcome change, but not all students like change as much as I do so I'll add a bit more repetition to the schedule to provide a greater routine for those who desire that.

It's also time for another class meeting so we can shore up some of the holes in our classroom structure, holes such as efficient clean-up (getting everyone to pitch in), peaceful transitions, and respectful hall behavior. The students will have the answers as they always do since they've had lots of different teachers, and when I pose these areas for finesse, they'll share lots of strategies that were successful in other classrooms during their tenure at our school.

I'll also lead a discussion related to our typical weekly routine. I'll ask students to comment on what's working and what is not working. Again, I know they'll bring insight to the discussion and together we'll finesse the schedule as well to accommodate everyone in positive ways.

When the classroom is peaceful, everyone is happier, and when everyone is happier, everyone learns more. We've got a vibrant, dynamic learning community. We've done a lot of great projects and learned to work with each other well. Now it's time to lift the quality of what we do to an even higher level--we're ready for that.

Hour of Code: Start with SCRATCH

In speaking with a colleague from another school about the hour of code this morning, she asked me to give her 10 simple steps that she could share with her students at an open computer time next week.

Here are the steps:

1. Go to SCRATCH:
2. Click "create"
3. Click "costumes"
4. Create your avatar--play around with the features to edit or make a new avatar.
5. Click "scripts" - those are your "instructions"
6. Click "events"
7. Move this button to the right.

8. Then click "motion"
9. Choose a motion and move it to the right.
10. Choose more motions and move to the right.
11. Test it out by clicking the green flag.
12. Play some more--make an animation.

Note 1: You will learn this best by playing with it. You can't "break it" so try things out.

Note 2: To repeat, SCRATCH is best learned by playing.

Note 3: There's lots of YouTube videos and other resources available to teach you on the SCRATCH website when you're ready for more. Just Google it.

What's Important to Know?

The world of knowledge is at our fingertips, but the limitation of time and process create a need to prioritize, make choices, and plan your path. We can't know it all or travel every knowledge path. Therefore, where will you travel?

What implications does this reality have when it comes to teaching and living well?

For living well, it means defining what we need, want, and desire? For most, relationships will hold a high position in this prioritization--making time for those we love and want to spend time with. Basic needs are important too. We need to make time to support our families, shelter, food, clothing, health care, and education. Entertainment also ranks high for most people--what do you enjoy doing, and what are the events and activities that fill you up, energize you, and create a joyful life. Then if there's anything left over, you're probably contributing to a cause bigger than yourself--an initiative, group, or endeavor that lays a good foundation for the future of your community, favored organizations, or world at large.

As for our school communities, the choices are almost more difficult. We want to teach students well and we want to prepare them well for the world they'll live in, a world, as many say, that we can't truly imagine.

How do we do that?

At the elementary level, I think we have to change structure so that we are identifying the most important knowledge and skills, knowledge and skills that make students sharp, aware, and capable. What are those skills and knowledge and how can we teach them well?

Students need basic communication and mathematical thinking skills in one or more languages including coding, and a basic foundation of essential knowledge. They also need to know how to learn with a focus on Michael Fullen’s 6 C’s: character, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, and creativity and imagination.

Weaving together skills, knowledge, concept and Fullen's 6 C's is the way to teach well today, and that weave can be created through strategic, artful, contextual, and blended learning design.

SCRATCH: Teaching Math with Place Value Bear

First, press the green flag above to watch the animation. (Note that it takes a few seconds to load,)

Then consider these thoughts, and let me know if you have any further ideas or examples.

Teaching math with SCRATCH has proved profitable. Students watch the animation carefully. Together we discuss what they notice about the math concept. They give me suggestions as to how to improve the animation. They create their own animations as well. And, the animation is published on the class home study site so students can revisit and review as they study.

SCRATCH is available for free so they can code at home creating their own animations and games. Further, coding makes students think about the step-by-step details of a process or content. It prompts them to deliberately pay attention to each step. I'd like to try this with concept work too.

Perhaps students will SCRATCH their upcoming Ted Talks with a character animation as well as an in-person speech.

Like movie making, the creativity and enrichment possible with SCRATCH is endless. SCRATCH is also a playful and engaging way for students to learn.

If you and your students are SCRATCHing math animations, I'd love to hear about it. I'm excited to grow this process as to date, it has been a profitable way to teach and learn.

Place Value "Staircase" SCRATCH
Base Ten Place Value Chart SCRATCH

This post was recently shared, a post that focuses on other ways to make math animations.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Students Who Challenge You, Teach You

I've been trying to design learning experiences to meet the needs of all students. As any teacher knows, that's not an easy task.

The more I know this group of students, the more the design fits their needs and interests.

As I think about my outliers today, the students who aren't the easiest to serve, I recognize that these students are my greatest teachers. They're the ones pushing me to read more, think more, and try more new ideas.

So today, as I tried a strategy that mostly worked, I realized that it's important to reuse this strategy often in the days ahead so that those students begin to have a sense of routine and expectation about math class. There's comfort in knowing what to expect particularly if you're a student whose challenging to teach.

Therefore I'll follow today's template, a template that began with a video followed by a short lesson and then tiered activities including a short and targeted exercise and followed-up practice and enrichment activities. At the end we had a wrap-up that included an engaging video which tied the exercise to other disciplines and real-world events.

I hope this model will help some of my outliers relax a bit more and avail themselves to learning with greater confidence and comfort. Let's see.

Money, Money, Money: Fifth Grade Decimal Study

A student complained yesterday, "The lessons are too hard."

I thought about that as I designed a lesson for today. I wanted interesting numbers as well as an inviting introduction, 5-minute teacher instruction, and a tiered activity including a manageable, easy-to-access first tier, practice second tier, and enriching third tier.

All in all, the lesson went well.

I used the chart below from the U.S. Mint as a source of good decimal numbers to work with.
As children entered the room, I played Flocabulary's Money, Money, Money rap.

Next, I placed a number of coins under the document camera and we discussed the size of coins. Coin attributes were shared as students completed the first chart in the packet which asked them to match a coin with the weight of that coin.

As we discussed weight, we talked about the attributes of a coin's size such as length, diameter, radius, weight, and the material it's made with.

Then we reviewed that list. After that students worked with partners to order the weights in order from least to greatest on a chart. They also had to write the weight in number name form (word form) and expanded form. If they finished early, they could practice the same task with the measurements for the thickness of coins. Most students finished task one, and a few had started task two.

At the end, we gathered again to talk a bit about the task, and then I showed them this video about the process of making coins.

Overall the lesson went well. It was tiered better for the various groups of learners in the class with respect to their experience, skill, and pace with the activity. Making the numbers meaningful also worked for engagement.

We'll move forward to using more wonderful numbers to continue our efforts to read numbers correctly, write numbers in multiple ways, chart number proportionally on number lines, and round to various places in the the coming days. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Animated Models Inform Math

I'm traveling this unexpected path of using animated models to teach math.

Today, I shared a model I made using SCRATCH.

Students examined the model and shared what they noticed about the behavior. Then one girl shared an error. It was an area of the model I was struggling with when I created it.

We puzzled over the error. I opened up the script, and the students guided my corrections. It was a great learning moment for all.

Later in the day many students coded their own movies about place value.

I plan to use more of these animated models. I like the way the models draw the students' attention an use sound, movement, color, and text to teach a concept.

I hope to have students code more often to teach and learn math concepts too.

How do you and your students create animated models? I know that many teachers have students perform math functions, and that's powerful too.  Let's see where this learning path takes us, and let us know if you have any thing to add.

Slow Math: Examination

Yesterday during a writing lecture, the presenter emphasized the act of examination as students study text and respond in writing.

I like the idea of introducing students to the process of examination in a deliberate way, and I'll do that today.

First, we'll discuss the word: What does it mean to examine?

Examine: to inspect in detail, to investigate thoroughly.

Then, I'll ask, What tools will help us to examine math concepts? Once they offer their thoughts, I'll say, Today we're going to examine the "behavior" of place value again as we watch another  SCRATCH animated math model. Let's see what we notice today. Watch carefully. Jot down notes and questions that you have. Also write down ideas about how I could have made this animated model better, and if needed, use the calculator to check my work or try out an idea you have as you watch the animation.

Then we'll share ideas.

If time permits, we'll examine the concept more by writing the number in the film in base-ten numeral form (standard form), expanded form, word form, expanded notation, and scientific notation.

We'll also use the calculators and examine how the decimal point moves in this number when we multiply by 10, 100, 1000, 1/10, 1/100, 1/1000.

Later in the day students will have a chance to apply their learning as they create their own place value movies, complete metric number lines, and practice skill using Khan Academy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Math Workshop Day

The morning was energized by a visit from Illstyle and Peace Productions breaking performance which was well received by students. Then our math lesson started with a review of the criteria that leads to successful learning and many stories about "when you know where you want to go and you know how to get there, but the actual journey takes time." Students shared stories of their efforts related to rock climbing, coding, skating, hockey and more.

After that it was clear that they needed some space to choose their learning for the rest of the period. Therefore I posted a math menu of choices with the last choice being "do you have another idea," and students made choices.

The room turned into the kind of math workshop I always hope for. In a couple corners of the room students were crafting metric number lines. In other corners students were completing Khan Academy exercises, and many more were making place value movies with SCRATCH and iMovie. I helped a boy create a Math Rap website to host the wonderful raps he writes about math.

No one could believe it when lunch arrived because everyone was engaged. It was just the way I like it!

Deep Teaching Day Two

Today our professional learning inservice focuses on informational
writing. I'll use the question above as my focus related to this study.
Continuing the week's focus with deep teaching meant that I set up eight team spaces with a little more definition. Simply put, I labeled each station, placed a team list of positive actions on each table, and filled a basket of supplies that matched the day's project. Essentially I polished up the environment a bit to support good teamwork.

Then as students worked together to complete the metric number line task, I moved from group to group to support their work. This project doesn't have the same pull as other projects, and that's something I'll have to think about with future learning design. Yet, what I do like about this project is that it's not easy, and they have to struggle quite a bit to convert the measurements correctly and then to line them up with relative proportion. I was surprised at how difficult the proportional thinking was for most students. I was also surprised at how the mechanics of cutting, pasting, and creating the number line were difficult too.

One group really began to understand the task. They created a long number line and were very excited as they placed the pictures on the line with the correct relative distances between each picture. For other groups, I modified the number of measurements to display since the project task was a bit too long. Today we'll wrap up the project. I'll display the students' work so they can see how each team tackled the project.

I'll continue to observe carefully with regard to what's needed to build better learning teams with respect to academic growth.

The next activity will be simpler in nature, and I'm hoping that this will foster greater interaction amongst all members of the team. The challenging task seemed to weigh more heavily on the more experienced math student. In the next task, teams will work with the numbers of days it takes each planet to make a complete revolution of the sun. The teams will be named by their planet and have to write and say the number in a variety of ways. We'll make one giant display of the data and the solar system. As science study of the solar system continues, we'll continue to discuss proportion as we compare planets' sizes and other features.

After that we'll return to our discussion about the behavior of place value using another SCRATCH model as the catalyst. We'll make simple decimal number lines, practice with online activities, study rounding, write about the learning, and ready for a final place value assessment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Should Students Code Math Concepts to Gain Meaning?

Can we use coding to illustrate math concepts? Will students enjoy and learn from this challenge. I've been trying it out using SCRATCH.

The first time I used the SCRATCH animation below. Then students offered their thoughts about the "behavior" of the base-ten place value system. Their share was terrific. Then today, I noticed that students were having trouble understanding how the values compare from one place to the other, especially decimal places. I put together the simple animation above. I think this animation will help them to understand place value more.

 I've offered students the chance to use SCRATCH and other mediums to make place value movies as an enrichment. Soon, I'll ask everyone to try to code an animation to demonstrate a math concept. 

Have you tried this? If so, how did it go? What are the advantages of this process, and what are the disadvantages. Like making movies, when you code a concept, you feel your brain working--I know that can be good learning if the challenge is just right.

Does Your Work Line Up With System-Wide Goals?

I'm always looking for energy and inspiration to move the teaching and learning forward.

This morning, I turned to the language of our system-wide goals to see how the classroom efforts are matching up.

Health and Wellness: A focus on physical fitness and healthy relationships
The counselor offered her expertise to help us grow our team skills and collaboration. A small team of students will work with her first, and then we'll build that work out to the whole class.

A class reorganization to better support teamwork, and a continual focus on our "learning to learn" mindsets and behaviors also help in this regard.

Regular class meetings to develop our class culture, and frequent service learning efforts contribute to this goal too.

Students have lots of time to play, a healthy food culture, and a comfortable, relaxed dress code which supports lots of healthy play and activity.

As the teacher, I have to model these efforts too with time and attention.

Creation of smart goals, a professional portfolio, an action plan, and rational propel these efforts forward. Also, collection of student data, analysis, response, reflection, and share develops this work. The focus on "deep teaching" supports these efforts as well.

Our system-wide evaluation system has been streamlined which has made the evaluation structure more user-friendly. A time line for the system is in place as well which helps educators to prepare. The professional response we get related to walk-ins are informative and inspiring with respect to moving our work forward.

Response to Intervention (RTI)
The key components of this district wide initiative include teacher collaboration, sharing of best practices, differentiated instruction, and the use of data to inform instruction.

To date, our professional learning community has made significant progress in this regard. During PLC time we've used formal and informal student data to promote our learning efforts. We've also collaborated by sharing our questions, best practices, and differentiation strategies.

During RTI, we've pooled our resources to best teach all students with online and offline strategies.

I look forward to our continued efforts in this regard as we follow math protocols, continue to collect and assess data formally and informally, and integrate a large variety of strategies to best teach all students.

With specific attention to upcoming PARCC tests, we've lined up our teaching/learning efforts with the CCSS standards and we're giving students lots of practice with PARCC-like learning/teaching tools such as Khan Academy.

Our system has put aside time each week during school hours for every teaching/learning team to meet in this regard. This time is valuable with respect to our student-focused collaboration and efforts. The system has also formalized this process by providing timelines of formal data review and protocols for RTI. This effort has grown over the past few years.

Equipped with a large array of tech tools and software, our students generally use tech as a support for all learning.

Students use tech tools like Khan Academy, TenMarks, Symphony Math, and That Quiz to learn and practice skill. They also use tools such as iMovie, WeVideo, Google apps, and KidPix to create content to lead and share their learning.

Further they turn to the Internet often to research and inform their learning in guided ways.

Our websites, online home study links, and shared docs support students learning.

We are increasingly using technology to differentiate and respond to individual students' needs related to academic growth and development. We also have a great infrastructure which supports this effort. Further, educators' websites help to inform families and each other about the ongoing teaching/learning efforts and information.

Deeper Learning 
A focus on well-designed project-base learning in all content areas is deepening the learning students are able to do with a focus on content and process (learning to learn skills).

Professional Learning
Educators continue to support each other by sharing professional learning information related to conferences, research, books, social media, and more. Educators in our school are taking part in a large array of events, and the more those educators share their learning and experiences, the more we all learn.

Our upcoming "instructional rounds" event and the current choice of a question to focus on have fostered greater discussion and focus on student learning.

Future Steps
As I reflect on the system-wide goals and our team efforts, it's clear that we're on a path that lines up with the system-wide goals.

The key now is to stay the path and also look for ways to develop what we do.  With respect to my own work, I identify the following actions:

  • Clean the garage and bring in more play materials. I have a garage full of equipment that my own children have outgrown. 
  • Take advantage of the counselor's offer to share her expertise with students and me with regard to team building skills and competencies.
  • Continue to foster learning to learn skills and mindsets.
  • Create a teaching/learning environment that's welcoming and supports team.
  • Continue to work with team to find ways to collaborate so that everyone's voice and ideas are heard and shared.
  • Look for efficient, targeted ways to share so that we make progress at our meetings.
  • Continue to collect and analyze formal and informal data so that our efforts are targeted toward engaging academic growth for every child.
  • Respond to evaluator's comments, questions, and suggestions.
  • Regularly stop to reflect, review goals, and update records.
  • Keep a collection of student work to reflect upon and share with evaluator when needed.
  • Continue to research and try out new tools.
  • Become more familiar with the tools we have and continue to use with greater depth.
  • Become skilled at utilizing online reports to foster apt teaching, learning, and differentiation.
Deeper Learning and Professional Learning
  • Continue the focus on deeper teaching including reflection, analysis, trying new ideas, designing learning with colleagues and students, and promoting more project base learning in science and math. 

Does Your Teaching/Learning Team Have a Theme?

Does each team at your school have a mission?

For example, is each grade-level or subject area matched with a theme?

If so, how is that theme expressed? Is it a statement, word, or question?

How is that theme illustrated? Is there a mural, picture, or other signage?

Does each part of the team have a title related to the theme? For example, classrooms could be named rather than numbered. The names could represent natural objects, famous people, or inventions.

How is the theme woven into the curriculum, service learning, read alouds, field studies, and other activities for the team?

What impact does the theme have on students' learning?

Throughout a students' tenure at the school, do the themes contribute to a holistic, bright, open attitude to the child's world of today and the world of the future?

Our Middle School has themes for each grade level. The themes are the glue that tie the grade-level together. I'm wondering if it's time to bring that idea to the elementary schools as well?

Where Are the Supplies?

You'd think that after 29 years of teaching, I'd have the supply system ready to go, but instead, as the way we teach changes so do the supplies and the supply organization.

A theme in this year's transition from 4th grade whole-class teaching to fifth grade math and science has been the room set up. I'm changing the room daily to better accommodate these eager, social, energetic, and good-sized fifth graders.

Yesterday's deep teaching efforts and observation made me realize that the teamwork spaces are paramount for teaching fifth graders today. I need great stations with supply caddies and plenty of space for group work. Fortunately, I have the tables and supplies--I just need to reorganize to make better work spaces while maintaining an introduction/listening space, a cozy, comfy reading area, and STEAM Center.

Therefore this morning, before the teaching day begins, I'll go in and remake the team areas. I'll create 8-10 work spaces which will accommodate groups of 2-3 and put supplies in each space. I'll also number the areas so when I assign a group to an area, they'll know what I'm talking about.

Developing lots of teamwork in fifth grade is a great match for students' developmental level--they want to be social and its in their best interest to learn to work with and understand the many wonderful children in the class.

This is a positive focus for learning well, and I'm looking forward to develop the effort for optimal learning. Onward.

Letting the Learning Happen: Don't Rush

Yesterday, cognizant that I wasn't keeping pace with the system-wide scope and sequence, I began to rush the students along. Yet, the investigation they were engaged in was bringing up excellent questions, understanding, and depth. Also, past reviews of students' scores demonstrated to me that it's important to slow it down so that students have the time they need to make meaning at both a grade-level and enrichment level.

The urge to race ahead means that you're denying students needed talk time, team time, and repetition--all good attributes of a solid learning program. Also, if you don't establish a strong foundation of skill, concept, knowledge, and vocabulary, you'll be making up for lost time later as the tasks deepen and broaden.

Hence, I'll continue to use the scope and sequence as a map, but I won't rush the students. I'll give them the time they need to solidify place value concepts, move on to operation fluency, and then learn fractions.

To begin the place value unit, as you may have noticed on my blog, we examined a place value model with depth and discussed the behavior of place value. At home students are studying this by completing a number of place value tasks online using Khan Academy. During RTI we are also reviewing these concepts using TenMarks, Khan and other activities.

Now as we move ahead, we'll complete the following activities.
  • Creating a number line of objects that range in length from about 3,000 (3km) meters to .001 (1 mm) meters. Using proportional reasoning and metric conversions while making the number line.
  • Looking at place value and metric models, then making some of our own to solidify the proportional reasoning related to these models. 
  • Studying place value and writing numbers with standard notation, partition notation, word form, base-ten numeral form (standard form), and expanded form. We will use numbers related to the number of days it takes each planet to complete a revolution of the sun (a year). Those are numbers that fit nicely with the math and science standards.
  • We'll use those same solar system numbers to create number lines again.
  • We'll practice our number skills with That Quiz.
  • Then we'll use the solar system numbers again to look at how numbers change when we multiply by multiples of ten and the fractions 1/10 (.1), 1/100 (.01), and 1/1000 (.001). We'll use calculators to study this "behavior" of the base-10 system.
These activities will take about 10 days including the final assessment. After that we'll revisit the numbers as we solidify concept, skill, and knowledge related to the four operations. We'll also revisit order of operations at this time.

The new year will bring us to the start of the fraction unit, a unit they've already been introduced to and worked with as we learned measurement, studied factors and multiples, and learned about decimals.

As I focus on deep teaching, I know that rushing doesn't work--it takes time to teach and learn well. It also takes time to develop good teamwork, precision, and quality results.

I've read on the Internet that some are calling this "slow learning," and as I write today I know what they mean. Similar to the "slow food" movement, it's a movement toward deep, rich, "nutritious" learning rather than fast learning which often gives students a shaky start to learning math, a start that doesn't result in a love of or confidence with the disciplines. Don't you agree? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Teaching Deeper: Day One

I watched with care as students spread out around the room to solve a challenging problem.

I noticed lots of room for improvement including:
  • better access to materials
  • need for cleaning and organizing desks
  • more coaching with regard to teamwork (I started the lesson with some coaching that moved the effort forward a bit)
  • making a few more team work areas.
  • lots of positive, encouraging talk
Tomorrow we'll continue the task, I'll analyze the effort more and really listen to students' words and effort.

This task is a struggle for the students, a good struggle, one that lends itself to lots of learning and teaching. Onward. 

Take a Back Seat

Give up your front row seat.

Take a back seat for a while.

Spend that time in the bumpy rear of the bus noticing what's around you.

Jot a few notes, listen in on a conversation or two, notice the people, places, and events around you.

Take a back seat for a while and see where it leads you.

Building Team: Acknowledge Success

This morning our two-class team will meet to celebrate a service learning project well done, and to start a new double class learning service initiative.

Recently students donated items to support a cause. Today we'll share the response from the group we honored. Then we'll discuss the next layer of support--what we'll do now to support the same group. We'll send notes home to families to detail the initiative.

When we meet we'll also take a few minutes to congratulate our team for their great efforts and work in the first three months of the year--three months already!

It's important to stop now and then to acknowledge and thank the team and teammates you work with. We'll do that today.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Do You Assess Inspiration?

"Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire."
- William Butler Yeats

If you had the chance to pose a a question about your teaching and student learning that a large number of educators would assess, what would that question be?

That's a challenge the faculty at my school are grappling with since in a couple of months a large number of educators will come to our school and assess one question related to student learning. Every educator at my school has the chance to vote with a $1.00 worth of points for a question they hope the educators will assess.

The question I favor is, "Are students inspired?" 

I am in favor of that question because I know that inspiration holds high value when it comes to student learning. Yet, how do you assess inspiration?  What evidence demonstrates inspiration and what evidence doesn't when you "look down" and observe student learning.

I offer the following evidence that depicts inspiration:
  • Students are on task.
  • Student language demonstrates that they are inspired to learn with related questions, encouraging remarks to classmates, learning examples, organization steps, positive self talk, and progress remarks.
  • Students work demonstrates investment with regard to meeting and extending the task.
  • Students are excited and enthusiastic.
  • Students' actions support their learning.
The following evidence would suggest a lack of inspiration:
  • Inactivity, heads on the desk.
  • Little discussion, questions, or self talk.
  • Little effort or completion of tasks.
  • Less bright eyes, eagerness and enthusiasm.
  • Little to no enrichment or extension of the task.
How would you illustrate an inspired classroom? What evidence of inspiration would you look for? Do you think this is an important question to assess? If so, why? and if not, why not?  What question would you choose?

I know the educators I work with will contribute many wonderful questions, and I know we'll end up with an investigation of merit. However, in the meantime, I'll keep this question close at hand as I design, deliver, and facilitate learning experiences.

How Do You Embrace Change Strategically?

How do you embrace change strategically?

What systems and processes lead you and your organization forward.

I am mindful of this today as I read a large number of posts related to change and growth.

Both individuals and systems need strategic process for this.

I offer the following thoughts.
  • Rid your systems of inefficient process and systems. One-size-fits-all professional learning and meeting in most cases is inefficient. Information that everyone needs to know can mostly be shared via video or newsletter.
  • Embrace the practice of targeted, inclusive teams. For example, create dynamic teams to foster goal-oriented changes, and give those teams time, resources, support, and a communication vehicle with which to share and develop their efforts.
  • Create vibrant, growth-producing communication streams of share.
  • Set goals, assess goals regularly, and refine as needed.
  • Identify inefficient, ineffective and less engaging learning practices, and replace with dynamic, student-centered process, structure, and schedules.
  • Establish, nurture, and regularly review and refine school culture.
  • Reach out and in for support, new ideas, and collaboration. 
In real time this effort might look like this in a school.

1. What goals have we prioritized for this school?
2. How are we going to effectively and efficiently reach those goals?
3. How are we going to share our work and assess the work's effect?

Specifically, as I look at my own practice I can put this process in place in the following ways.

Goal One: Teaching All Math Standards Effectively
  • Study each standard using Khan Academy, CCSS, and other resources.
  • Design and synthesize blended learning experiences for each standard with collaborating educators online, at PLCs, during grade-level meetings. 
  • Review, assess, and refine learning experiences as we move along this learning path. 
Goal Two: Teach all Science Standards
  • Learn and study each standard with students using Flocabulary raps and song, related videos, diagram design, and hands-on exploration.
  • Allow each student one standards' base question to explore, research, write a speech about, perform a Ted Talk with accompanying headline/image Google presentation, and teach the class about.
  • Write effective science response answers to questions that match key standards areas in preparation for spring standardized test. 
  • Work with SuAsCo River Organization and colleagues to develop our outdoor education efforts in engaging, empowering ways. 
Goal Three: STEAM
  • Work with grade level team to develop STEAM teaching ideas and mindsets.
  • Facilitate one STEAM learning experience across the grade-level.
  • Continue to develop and utilize a Maker Space in the classroom (and/or school)
  • Continue to study STEAM teaching with school colleagues, at conferences, and with online PLN.
  • Continue to foster this through regular teaching, coaching, feedback, and research.
  • Continue to organize these materials for the learning community's use and reference.
  • Model this in all collegial and classroom efforts. 

Deeper Teaching Week

For the last two weeks, my colleagues and I focused on at-risk students. We came up with new ideas and tried some out. That will remain a focus.

This week, I'm thinking more about deeper teaching--how do I promote a deeper level of work and share.

Yesterday, I came up with a list of learning/teaching attributes, I'll think about as students engage in lessons.

What will I do to foster this deeper teaching?

First, I need to be mindful of the details:
  • Am I "present" when students enter the room in the morning? Am I attuned to their questions, affect, needs, and early morning efforts?
  • Do I have all the materials prepared for the day's learning? This week's materials include calculators, color copies of pictures for number lines, sharpened pencils, tech menu, and measurement tools. Is the schedule up? Are the materials visible and easy to access?
  • Do I wait until everyone is ready before I relay important learning information?
  • Do I put students' emotional needs first and make the time for positive conflict resolution, listening to a child's important story, or considering a request?
Then I need to think about the learning experiences and what I expect this week. What paths will we travel and how will I encourage students' deep learning efforts on those paths?  The important learning that will take place this week will require the following questions and actions.
  • How do we work well as teams?
  • Is the room organized well for good teamwork?
  • How can I best coach each team?
  • Making the time to model the use of an online program for best learning.
Throughout the week, I will take notes as I teach, notes that I'll refer to later as I think about deep teaching and learning.

How do you define deep teaching?  How do you effect deep learning with your students?  This is my theme this week and I look forward to your thoughts. 

What Happens When the Metrics are Wrong?

Last night, an online colleague notified me that Hattie's research has been challenged with the fact that his measurements are incorrect. I was struck as I've been using Hattie's research heavily as a teaching/learning guide in past few years and I had just created a new initiative to deepen my teaching with his words. What's a teacher to do?

I thought about it, and while his measurements, in some or many cases, are not correct, I still hold there is merit to his findings as many of the findings have been written about in other books too. For example when I read Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School?, where I found some similar recommendations about teaching well.

As a generalist, I don't have the time to dig deep enough so that I'm analyzing everyone's work to the specific details. Therefore, I use the following process with any research, advice, or ideas I read, view, or hear about.

First, I consider the information, and think, "Does this make sense?"  I've been teaching for 29 years. I've been a mom, daughter, and sibling during those years. I have lots and lots of cousins and heard many education stories. I've attended many conferences and taken multiple courses. I read the newspaper every day. In other words, I have a lot of experience, and can quickly determine if research makes sense or doesn't make sense in the broad view.

Next, I consider the source. If the source of the information is a person or event that has good merit, I will consider the information with care. For example, a couple of years ago, an expert came to our system. At first glance, her work didn't make sense to me, but many of my talented colleagues followed her lead. I listened more and watched closely, and I integrated the research too. I found that the research did indeed make sense and helped my students learn more with confidence. So even if it doesn't make sense to me at first, if well respected colleagues, mentors, or leaders support the information, I'll look deeply and try it out.

After that, I watch how my students react. Do they all resist the learning or do they gravitate towards the new initiative? How does the new information affect their classroom efforts, assessments, engagement and empowerment. This matters to me?

And, does the information match information and need in other disciplines?  For example, sometimes education research is slow to keep up with other areas of thought and work, and if information seems to match "where the world is going," I'll often look more deeply at that information and try it out.

As a teacher, I'm a synthesizer. I synthesize old and new, individual and collaborative, research-based and intuitive, multiple disciplines, and many ideas. I'm sorry to hear about Hattie's measurements' news, and I'll be more mindful about quoting his book and work. I'm not sorry, however, about the many ways his book and research have moved my teaching forward. My students are more engaged, empowered, and happy--their learning is good. There's always room for more growth however so I'll keep an eye out as to how others rethink his work and research, and I'll continue to look to experts in my school learning community (families, students, educators, citizens), professional learning network, and in the world of education to guide my growth. Let me know if you have thoughts about further thoughts about this as I'm sure that issues like this will arise often as the education landscape continues to develop and change.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Like most teachers I return home each day thinking about the success and challenge of the day's learning.

As a blogger, I typically turn my reflections into a blog post.

Lately, I've been sharing my lesson reflections and next steps with students. I read through the post demonstrating the lesson's strengths, challenges, and next steps. They offer thoughts and questions, and we continue the learning path.

There are many reasons why this is a successful strategy.

First, writing down my reflections, and writing for an audience, creates commitment and depth to both the ideas and the follow up actions.

Next, often the reflections are deep and include actions, thoughts, and more reflections. It's hard to keep that depth in my mind for ready retrieval the next day. Writing the thoughts down and then sharing the written post frees my mind for other activities and priorities such as family life, hobbies, and other professional work.

After that, if a student, colleague, or family member wants to understand the learning path better or create follow-up plans, the information is readily available.

Also, this process provides modeling for students and demonstrates the ways that reflection and writing can support successful learning and action.

Finally, the process is serving to heighten the depth and breadth of my lessons and develop a learning community with greater strength and promise.

Do you use a similar learning/teaching process with students? If so, what are the strengths and challenges that you notice? How could you develop this process with greater intent?

As I write, I'm thinking about how I will get students started with their own reflective online journals, and rather than just me sharing, opening up the classroom efforts so that children are sharing their lesson and follow-up learning reflections regularly. If you already do this, please lead me to your descriptions, posts, templates, and models. I can see how student learning journals will be a powerful piece in the overall learning/teaching program.