Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Positive Intersection of PLC and RTI

Today's #satchat made me realize once again that the positive intersection of PLC and RTI  is moving our teaching/learning forward.

Yesterday's PLC was a good example.

We were scheduling an in-house grade-level assessment. The discussion led us to think about students with depth using the following questions:
  • What room set-up leads to success?
  • Who needs a separate setting?
  • Who has special accommodations?
  • What materials need to be available for learning?
  • What success strategy do we want to share before the assessment?
As we talked, deep conversation emerged about specific learners. We pushed each other to think differently and search for better ways to support the learners for this task.

Week after week we use student data, formal and informal, to discuss student learning and needs as a grade-level team of classroom/specialist educators, coaches, assistants, and leaders. We share materials and focus. We debate approaches and priorities. We plan for RTI learning experiences, experiences where all or almost all teachers are involved in direct instruction to students. 

We've developed PLC/RTI approaches over time starting several years ago with a magnificent presentation by Austin Buffum. (Additional notes) Since that time the approach has evolved getting better and better with each year, and truly leading our collective teaching and learning efforts forward. 

The system leadership smartly made time for these approaches. They also continue to revise for better effect. Teachers also gave some of their off-school time to support the effort.

I do believe the intersection of these two approaches will continue to help our schools to evolve into organizations that better teach students in meaningful, child-centered ways. 

So as we discussed math teaching and learning today during a vigorous #satchat, it was clear to me that we're on the right track with our PLC/RTI efforts, and what we need now is continued professional learning, teaching efforts, share, exploration, and analysis to deepen this positive movement.

This post from Sue Dunlop offers further information on growing the PLC/RTI model. 

Worksheets Have a Place in Education

Recently, there was a discussion on Twitter about the "homework packet." Many were dismissing its value.

I chimed in and said that sometimes the homework packet is a valuable tool because it provides practice opportunities for students.

As I teach, I notice the value of practice. Those that practice do better.

For example, I just looked at a host of reading scores, and those that read regularly scored better with regard to fluency.  Similarly, those students who complete math practice regularly score better on assessments that demonstrate fluency and skill with math thinking, calculation, and problem solving.

Worksheets are one viable avenue for practice if designed and assigned well.

Typically when I create a worksheet for student practice t it's a mind path on the page. The worksheet is designed with the following:
  • An introduction to the topic.
  • A review of important vocabulary.
  • An example.
  • A "walk-through" practice that is stretched out to give students a step-by-step way to access and learn the skill.
  • Follow-up practice opportunities.
Assignments typically include the following:
  • An opportunity to complete the page or pages within a few days time.
  • An opportunity to have the page modified or a different assignment upon parent request, specialist modification, or student need/request. 
  • The chance to email the teacher with questions seeking help, or to ask the teacher for help during the school day and if possible the teacher will provide that help or ask a helping teacher to provide the help.
Overall, I prefer online practice to worksheets as there is a quick feedback loop for online practice that responds to the child right away, but there is also merit in having to write down words and numbers and solve problems by hand as the hand-mind connection can support learning.  

In education, there's no one way to teach or learn. The key is to be aware of your learners and goals, and design learning opportunities with and for your students that make a difference.

At times, the worksheet or packet is part of that learning opportunity, and remains a learning path that works when done well. 

Do you agree? If so, why, and if not, why not? 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Algorithm for Positive Teaching/Learning?

If you had to design an algorithm for good teaching/learning, what would it look like?

Named Values:
  • positive attitude
  • well-planned learning experiences
  • Knowing Students Well
  • Goals/Vision
  • Experience, Research, and Design
  • Formal and Informal Assessment
  • Reflection and Revision
  • Collegial Collaboration
  • Learning Team Communication and Care: Students, Educators, Families, Leaders, Community.
Parameters: Named Input
  • Student needs
  • Standards
  • Learning to Learn Mindsets/Behaviors
  • Basic Needs: Health, Shelter, Nutrition, Safety
  • Materials
  • Technology
  • Learning Space
  • Time and Schedule
Conditionals: Handling Different Conditions
  • If a child has mastered all standards, then. . .
  • If a child is far from meeting standards, then. . .
  • If a child's basic needs are not met, then . . .
  • If space, supplies, or schedule are not sufficient, then. . .
  • If a teacher needs more coaching, professional learning. . .
  • If it's time to update a program, then. . .
  • Repeat successful teaching/learning techniques, pedagogy to effect greater learning.
  • Repeat successful professional learning activities, mindsets, behaviors.
  • Repeat successful systems for teaching/learning efficiency and effect.
  • Repeat classroom set-up, pedagogy, experiences, schedules that lead to success, happiness.
  • What "helper" routines support teaching/learning success.
Recursion: Helping Yourself (I'm not exactly sure of this piece)
  • Reflection, revision, review, correction 

Snow Disruption :)

The big, beautiful snowstorm has created disruption.

Young boys and girls who want to play in the snow don't want to settle down to study.

Thus a challenge.

Met first with frustration.

Then with a new plan.

And after that acknowledgement, conversation, lots of snow play, and then some study.

The snow excitement is settling down, and the children are feeling more comfortable with the new study unit: fractions.

We're getting back into the learning after this snow distraction. There will still be time for snow play too.

We'll continue to play, but the learning menu will also lead good coaching, learning, and share.

Note: It's also spirit day today. So wear orange or Patriots gear if you want to join in the fun.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thoughts about Building a Program Together

There is a need.

We can do better.

How can we build a good program together?

Start with the strengths--what's working?

Move to the needs--what do we imagine? What do we want?

Design the ideal. What do you wish for? What elements are essential? What priorities are most important?

How much of that ideal can we meet with the people, time, materials, and experience on hand?

Begin there. Craft a program. Try it out. Stop to assess, revise. Continue to grow.

*Example One:
Need: Student who could have greater academic success.

What's Working: Friendly, mostly happy, energetic, conversive, talkative, well loved.

What's Desired: Greater academic skill, investment.

Ideal Program: Greater targeted academic support/teaching with culturally relevant, meaningful, scaffolded learning opportunities in small group with consistent instructor, schedule, and space. Double up the attention to make greater learning gains.

*Example Two:

Need: Greater investment, positivity, collaboration.

What's Working: This need is evidenced in some programming, effort.

What's Desired: Teacher coaching with deeper level collaborative learning events similar to the types of events where learning has been successful.

Ideal Program: Educator meets with student and good peer group to effect a deep, rich, meaningful learning event--an event that inspires, motivates, and develops both cognitive and collaborative skill and knowledge.

This kind of diagnostic approach to teaching students well is a deep, meaningful approach that results in good work, work that matters to students.

*Note that these examples are composite examples including traits from multiple students.

Let it Snow!

Today's concert featured snow songs and soon after students were lolloping through three feet of fluffy, light snow on the playground. The sun was bursting with light in the sky. Joy reigned. I said to the children, "This is a day you'll always remember" as I lolloped too in my snow gear. What fun!

Stretch Right

It's good to stretch as it extends your capacity for teaching well.

Yet too much stretching in the wrong directions can cause more harm than good.

That's why the ever elusive and tough to reach balance is so very important in school life.

Reading the culture is imperative in this regard. What's important? What's happening? What's expected? In some areas that might be explicit, coached, and easy to understand, and in other areas that could be blurry, tricky, and difficult to discern. Either way or in between, an educator has many people, situations, and expectations to navigate each and every day.

Part of that navigation requires stretching right--extending yourself in ways that matter so that you learn well and your students learn well too. Part of that navigation requires holding back too. Taking a deep breath, scheduling your time so that you're not "all school" but the right amount of school and that right amount of other factors and efforts that make you who you are and want to be.

Balance stands out there like a blinking caution light for passionate people like me, people who like to wholeheartedly embrace the vision and dream to make it come true.

It's wise to regard the blinking yellow light of caution, and the beacon that's your dream and vision too.

The ebb and flow of a wise and wonderful journey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Post Snow Days

I erred the day before the snowstorm..

Students arrived with snowstorms in their bellies all a flutter at the impending storm and days off from school.

Children seem to mirror the weather in their spirit and activity, and Monday demonstrated that fact. They were like popcorn jumping from their seats, hiding in the coat rack, and playfully bantering with one another.

Why did I continue the plans as usual--a semi-structured math activity?

Instead I should have said, "Turn that snow energy into creativity--make something. Write poem, construct a snow house, script a play, or sculpt." But instead I persisted and they resisted.

Tomorrow I'll learn from my error. When they arrive after two days of snow play, I'll say make a choice--write about your snow day, draw a picture, play a game, or make another choice that fits your spirit. That will give them time to share the Blizzard of 2015 excitement.  I'll listen and respond kindly. I'll support their needs and respond to questions.

Later we'll listen to our wonderful chorus sing, and then we'll play for a long time on our large, snowy playground.

After that we'll resume our math study and creation with words of encouragement.

It will be a good day :)

Classroom Observation: The Tip of the Iceberg

When you visit a classroom you see only the tip of the iceberg with regard to teaching and learning. It is the conversation that precedes and follows the observation that creates meaning, understanding, and growth.

Streamlining Efforts and Contributing to an Interdisciplinary Program

How can we streamline our efforts and also contribute to a meaningful, interdisciplinary program.

It's essential today that we streamline our efforts. The information out there is too good to lose because we are trying to do too much. We need to streamline our targets, efforts, and work so that we are performing in deep, meaningful ways.

Yet, we don't want to provide students with a number of discrete threads of thought and action without the chance to synthesize or work in valuable, real-world, interdisciplinary ways.

How do we do both?

I suggest that we create teaching/learning teams that belong to two groups. First they belong to the streamlined group of similar content/pedagogy teachers and then they belong to an interdisciplinary group.

For example as a math/science teacher, I would belong to the math/science group, and as a fifth grade teacher I would belong to the fifth grade interdisciplinary team.

My work schedule would include collaborative meetings for both groups.

For math/science we would focus on the latest content, pedagogy, and ideas related to math/science. We would work together to maximize our resources, time, and effort to stay current and facilitate the best math/science learning experiences possible.

As a member of the grade-level team, or possibly better, the intermediate elementary team, we would work together to foster a number of signature interdisciplinary projects that call forth the best of our students' learning with synthesis of multiple subject area content, process, and presentation goals. In that team we would work together to design, implement, reflect, assess, and revise projects with and for students.

This might be one way to reach for deeper, richer learning experiences and success for all students.

This is definitely not a complete model, but one I want to pose as I think about the rich streams of information that are delivered to me daily via email, learning experiences, and social media.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas in this regard.

A Guiding Chart: Teaching Struggling Students

Who do you define as a struggling student?

How do you assess these students' needs and teach these students well?

Do you use a "strengths-based" model or a "deficit" model?

Do you have a chart or protocols to lead your work?

My team has been deliberating about this issue? We have been trying to solve problems in this realm? Our work has been marked by teacher care, worry, investment, discussion, and trying out new ideas.

As I thought more about this, I wondered about the guiding charts or protocols that lead other educators when faced with issues related to serving struggling students well.

In that regard, I created the list below. I will use this list as we think more deeply about our students that fall into this area of school life. In the meantime, if you have time, please take a look at the chart. What would you add? What would you take away? What would you revise?  I look forward to your consult. If you'd like to add to the chart, follow this link to the crowdshare copy.

You can access the original chart via this link. If your team wants to use the list, you can simply
click "file" and make a copy to personalize for your team's effort. David Garcia suggested that we all
add to a crowdshare copy of this document. If you'd like to do that, here is the link

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Learning Loop

  1. Know your students well.
  2. Identify goals and standards.
  3. Research and design learning experiences with and for students.
  4. Engage.
  5. Assess, repeat, and revise along the way.
  6. Repeat.

Ms. Devlin: Beta Tester

I've been beta testing for a while.

I love the excitement of new innovation. I especially like to beta test with students, yet I'm limited to a large degree due to protocols and policies in my current position.

I can, however, beta test with tools and materials that help me with regard to learning design, so that's where I'll place my beta testing efforts at this time.

What does that mean?

First, it means that I'm open to exploring new tools that I think will help me teach my students better. If the tool has merit in that regard, I'd love to try it out.

Once I try it out, if I like it, I'm happy to write about that tool in exchange for free use of the tool.

I've done this before with CodeCampKidz, UClass, Educanon, 30Hands,  and ListenCurrent. I really like all these tools and was happy to have the chance to try them out and participate in some early stage work.

I found CampCodeKidz to be an ideal way to learn to code. The program is intuitive and well designed. I look forward to using it more, and the product designer opened it up to my students' use at home. Many gravitated toward the platform with interest.

My work with UClass brought me deeply into standards-based learning design. Since that time they have moved their work to a focus on content curation and assessment for systems which was not a direct match for my teaching/learning interests.

Educanon, 30Hands, and ListenCurrent are terrific tools that I simply have run out of time with regard to incorporating into my work. Perhaps as time goes on and my charge becomes more streamlined, I'll have more time to incorporate those wonderful tools.

I hope to continue to work with my system with regard to beta testing good, new tools. In the meantime, I'm open to trying out tools that will make my learning design work more profitable to the students I teach.

Math/Science Strategy: Getting Ready for "Game Day"

I've been talking about upcoming standardized math tests as "Game Day." I've been trying to teach math in a meaningful way while helping students master all the standards too. I'm working closely with colleagues as we integrate specialist services and Response to Intervention (RTI) in this regard as well. Now it's time to tighten up the strategy and move forward.

I say to students, "I don't want the teaching/learning to be all about the tests, but I do want to give you the chance to do well on the tests and learn in meaningful ways too." They understand, and I know their parents understand too. In general, parents want their children to succeed on these tests as well as to have a meaningful, engaging school experience every day.

So, what's the game plan?

Teach All Standards

Prepping for the System-Wide Assessment
We've reviewed almost all the standards so far, so in the next few weeks prior to our February vacation we'll review every standard in a systematic way. During this time we'll start each math class with a quick practice of computation skill too since it takes practice to retain the skill of calculating large numbers with accuracy, good pacing, and attention to order of operations. Then during the two days before the test, we'll play a big math review game that reviews all concepts. After that we'll take the three-day in-house standardized test, a multiple choice test.

PARCC Performance Assessment
After that we'll prep for the first PARCC test, a performance assessment test. We have about 20 math days to prep for that test. During that time we'll focus heavily on problem solving and performance tasks that integrate all of the standards. We'll continue to practice calculation daily. We'll also review PARCC practice tests, tutorials, and tools during this time. Then at the start of April, we'll take the first PARCC,

Science MCAS Prep/PARCC Summative
During April, the lion's share of math/science time will be devoted to rich science activities and science writing as we prepare for the Massachusetts' science test. We'll also continue our regular review of the math standards so we're prepared for the PARCC Summative. I hope to integrate math concepts into the science study and investigation as much as possible.

Biography Project
Finally at the end of the year the focus will turn towards the fifth grade biography project, a signature grade level event and the fifth grade play. That time of year is filled with field trips and special events too.

To reach these goals, I'll have to focus on the following actions:
  • Enlist students' investment with lots of coaching, feedback, inclusive learning design and meaningful, engaging project work.
  • Focus on the goal with time and attention (don't let other activities get in the way).
  • Engaging home study practice.
  • The "just right push and coaching" as too much of a push turns students off.
While controversy about the tests continue, at this time I'll continue the goal of meeting test standards and teaching well. It's a mighty goal, but I'll stay the course for the next few months. Then reflect when the scores role in.

Note: Last year I had a similar goal. We made good gains overall as students mainly made good progress and they remained engaged in the learning. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Challenging Myself to Teach Well

After Educon 2.7, I continue to think about my short conversation with Zack Brisson, President of Reboot. The conversation further challenged me to teach children well by applying research, experience, and craft as well as charting the journey for later share and analysis.

Today was one of those challenging days when the learning didn't match the "It's going to be a snow day tomorrow" mood of the class. In hindsight, I know how I could have tweaked the day for greater engagement and result. The next day at school will be better; it always is after a day that's not the best.

So what does it mean for a classroom teacher to teach better.

First, it will take a lot of attention to detail and classroom effort, and less whole-school activity. It's attention to every child, lots of observation and response, and continued learning design with and for students.

This kind of teaching has a shared goal of meeting the standards while also teaching in ways that engage, empower, and educate every child.

It's not necessarily glamorous or a stand-out because when it comes to teaching, the best work is a quiet, caring endeavor that comes from the heart, mind, and diligence of the educator. Onward.

Post Educon: Back to Reality

After a weekend of BIG ideas, it's time to get back to real time teaching and learning.

What's the focus?

Mainly, we're really digging into the fraction unit with lots of model making, analysis, and problem solving. We're integrating multiple tools to make meaning of the many standards included in this study.

There's also a lot of creativity emerging right now so we'll likely spend some time organizing our STEAM supplies again to prepare for that creativity.

We're reviewing science concepts and vocabulary with crossword puzzles, and later we'll investigate these concepts with more hands-on activities.

Students will be bringing in their showcase portfolio binders. We'll prep those for the March parent(s)-student-teacher conferences. Students will lead those conferences.

And yes, we need to prep for SNOW. Students will have to gather all their snow gear and I suspect that after the storm we'll have some playtime outside.

Finally, team. Since I've been out, we need to connect as a learning team to answer questions, make sure we have the important activities on the agenda, and to list other needs, wants, and desires for the teaching/learning days to come. Onward.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Educon 2.7 Sunday Study

I'm on the train ride home to Boston gathering my thoughts and tweets from today's Educon panel and conversations. As I've mentioned before, the reason Educon draws me back year after year is the opportunity to learn about new perspectives and ideas in education.  I highlight the conversations I attended and information share below.

Teaching Students Well
This morning's panel emphasized that educators need to understand the culture and cultures of their schools well, and make school a place where everyone belongs. To understand well includes reading notable books, making time to listen to and learn about students' and families' stories and needs, sharing the positive news, and teaching a culturally relevant curriculum that focuses on students' interests and questions.

Otis Hackney, Principal of South Philadelphia High School, shared a powerful quote from a mentor, "The kids may not be able to read, but they read you." He told a number of stories that illustrated the ways he makes the time to respond to the needs of his student body, and reaches out to the community to form partnerships that further support students.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director of the National Writing Project, encouraged educators to give students time to "play" as one way to learn about each other's culture and build classroom/school culture. She further encouraged us to include the voices from the past and older generations as we teach students about culture, and noted that schools are often thought of solely with the lens of economics. In addition, she urged us to take care of educators' needs in school as well.

Melinda Anderson, activist and education writer, pointed out that there is a gap with regard to maximizing the community's role in schools. She also urged schools to hire teachers that mirror the school's population with regard to culture and race. She said that the equity gap is growing.  She encouraged all educators to read Tatum's Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, The Essential Conversation by Lightfoot, and Other People's Children by Delpit.

Vanessa Gennarelli posed questions and thoughts about listening in this digital age, and shared thoughts about the design and result of online communities.

Freedom, Autodidacticism, and Learning
The first conversation I attended essentially brought us through a number of exercises that focused on the ways we learn. Professional development was defined by the presenter, Joe Bires, as "any input that changes my output, my teaching." Bires posed a great question when he asked us how our teaching environment, scheduling, role, and content would change if all of our students were self regulated/motivated learners. That question really frees you up to think about how we might change schools to foster greater student-centered learning and design. Bires also suggested that participation with the maker culture opens the door for teachers to change classroom/school culture. Several thought provoking resources, ideas, and projects were shared including the following:
A Dynamic Math Classroom
During this session we grappled with how to create a math classroom/program where students are inspired to learn. Ihor Charischak began the session with an introduction via Google Hangout. Later David Wexsler led the discussion. Many points were raised and links shared including the following: 
Create Something Great
The third conversation was led by two educators, Linda Conway and Mary Murphy, from the Douglas County School District. They told the inspiring story of their school system's innovation journey led by the dynamic education vision of their superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Fagen. They generously shared the link to their presentation and website. As an already high achieving district, the impetus for reimagining their district was the belief: "To whom much is given, much is expected." They inspired educators to invest in the initiative by teaching them about innovation through innovation site visits, videos like the Ideo shopping cart video, meetings with local leaders, and the invitation to take part in a system-wide think tank. They flattened the hierarchy for the think tank. 

A couple of teachers from the district skyped into the conversation. One noted that change happened by empowering pockets of people, and that the students' success served as a beacon for others to join in. They fostered a sense of safe risk taking, and one way that they are continuing to build the program is by visiting other innovation schools throughout the country such as the Vista Innovation and Design Academy in San Diego and the Design39Campus. Additional resources shared by educators at this session included the book, #EdJourney and the Nueva Design Thinking Institute.

Further links and share can be found at the Educon 2.7 website and the twitter #educon. Next year's event is scheduled for January 29-31, 2016. 

Educon Prompts Focus

The sea of ideas is evident at Educon. Multiple educators sharing numerous ideas. This share storm like a summer rain nurtures our teaching/learning, and it also prompts one to think about focus, direction, need, and result.

We can't do it all.

We can't be it all.

And good teaching requires focus, dedication, investment, and attention to the day-to-day details that matter.

As I listened, participated, and observed educators yesterday, I found myself thinking about focus. I was a bit dismayed at the large number of engaged educators who are leaving the classroom and schools to start new businesses or organizations and consult. Yet, I believe individuals have to follow their calling and interest, and there's a need for good consultants and businesses that support and develop education. I was similarly dismayed by those outside of education that want a "quick fix" rather than a deep, respectful conversation about the work we do and the needs of the children we serve.

As for me, the focus is to deepen and improve the work I do with students and resulting collegial discussion, development, and share. Zack Brisson, one of Friday night's panelist, gave me a few minutes of his time yesterday and explained his company's process when it comes to doing good work and making change. It's actually a process I can use in the classroom and school to both improve the work I do, share more effectively with my teaching/learning team, and organize efforts for further share with my PLN.

Today at Educon, I'll further collect and connect ideas in this regard as I engage in the activities outlined in the agenda to the right.

Educon 2.7 Saturday 2015

Educators fill the room at Educon during
 the lunchtime lightning shares. 
Educon is an idea-hub with educators who represent a wide variety of schools, positions, cultures, ages, and geographic locations. And like most in attendance, I made the decision to attend the event because the ideas I learn and people I meet always impact the work I do with strength--it's an amazing learning and networking event.

On Saturday, there were many ideas shared that I can take back to my school district and apply to my daily work as an educator.

Design Thinking and Teaching
During the first conversation, I had the chance to listen to John Duval, Darius Mensah, Brandon Corley and John Clements describe their NYC Expanded Success Initiative. The title of their presentation was "Putting Young Men of Color at the Center of Design." We started by making a human "tension map" to determine where people were on the spectrum of teaching experience, and their knowledge of design thinking, competency based education, and culturally relevant education. The presenters use design thinking to partner with their users, the students, and instead of using a "deficit approach" they meet students where they are at with a culturally relevant, competency based program. They use a DEPTH approach to their education design which includes Dive in (leverage team), Experiment (field observations), Prototype, Test, and Huddle (share out). They noted that their design is constantly evolving and they continually revise and refine to better meet students' needs. It was wonderful to listen to their story which demonstrated tremendous study, investment, and commitment to students.

During this session I also learned about and piktochart to support relevant and meaningful math learning and project work.

Encienda Educon: 5-Minute Shares
At lunch, I had the chance to listen to a number of educators share outstanding ideas for learning and teaching including the following:

Jennifer Orr, @jenorr, shared the innovative ways that she invites families into the classroom. Students lead the effort. She used a triangle to represent the strength of the family-educator-student relationship, and the teaching/learning that arises from those special events lasts long after the parent share.

Mark Samberg @mjsamberg introduced to, a great source for professional learning that I want to explore more.

Jamie Gravell @dontworryteach got up and shared that the ideas of critical race theory, transformational resistance, and youth participatory action research transformed her ability and will to teach and learn well. This is a link to Jamie's presentation.

An introduction to New York City's Hudson High School's 1:1 program gave me a glimpse of how an educator might use Google site management tools to coach and support student learning and illustrated how one-to-one blended learning when done well enriches student-teacher relationships as well as student investment and learning.

Teacher Leadership was another share by Tim Boyle,   demonstrating that when teacher leaders work together they build community, share practice, elevate voices, write, gain funding, and more. He showed the value in their teacher leader network, a value that could be replicated in all schools or school systems.

Nancy Wilson, @NancyW, shared the need for students to curate their own learning materials and experiences. I want to revisit her presentation and website as I plan for my own students' learning and research.

David Wees, +David Wees, showed us ways that we can develop math classes and programs that focus on rich mathematical conversations and thinking. He described students as "sense makers" rather than "mistake makers" and showed ways that we can prompt student to discuss their mathematical thinking rather than focusing on correcting their "mistakes." This is a link to Wees' presentation.

The final share came from Bob Dillon @ideaguy42, an educator, who lives in Ferguson, Missouri who gave his first-hand account of the this year's events and Ferguson's history. It was a moving, thought provoking presentation.

After the lunchtime share, I attended RaghavaKK's conversation. He shared the idea that most mediums improve once they become less real and more imaginative and creative. He tells student to "teach him something" and "make him more excited about life." He emphasized that we live in a visual world and it's imperative that students learn visual literacy so that they are able to determine bias and fact. He described creativity as the process of curating, mixing, collecting, and synthesizing. He spoke of history as an imaging tool and helped us to think of ways that students can create to reflect multiple perspectives as well as to elicit response and understanding.

Race Discussion for Beginners
The final conversation I attended was "The Race Discussion for Beginners/Dummies: Crafting Transformative Classroom Conversations about Loaded Topics" by SLA teachers, Matt Kay and Pearl Jonas. Many of their SLA students participated in this discussion. I was so impressed with the students' confidence, speaking ability, knowledge, and sense of community. During this presentation we discussed the important ingredients for fostering courageous conversations in the classroom. The first ingredient was making sure that you develop a strong classroom community by showing children you care each and every day. Building community takes time and attention. Matt and Pearl emphasized behaviors such as "listen patiently," "police your voice," acknowledge students' personal interests and needs, and cite classmates in conversation. They emphasized that curriculum is about people and bringing humanity into what you are teaching about.

Next, they always start these conversations by giving students a chance to tell what they know about a topic or situation. Jose Vilson, +Jose Vilson was in attendance and he emphasized that we have to step back and give students the time to talk alone and to one another in these conversations. They also set the stage by posting conversation protocol and purpose.

Further Study
Later I also want to take a look at the many sessions, challenges, and links shared via Twitter during the day including the following:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Educon 2.7 Panel Takeaways

Friday night fare at Educon 2.7 was a panel discussion of groundbreaking leaders from fields outside of education followed by a reception at the inspiring Franklin Institute. The amazing Science Leadership Students managed most aspects of the panelists' presentation including the filming, visual displays, and the event introduction. The panelists shared ideas, perspectives, and questions that inspired new ways of thinking about the work we do in classrooms.

This year's panelists as well as the conversation introduction by The Franklin Institute's President and CEO, Larry Dubinksi, provided many ideas to ponder including the following thoughts which will impact my work in the days to come. In many ways, it was difficult to capture the rich, wonderful, and sometimes controversial points shared, but since I didn't want to lose the thoughts for later inquiry and application, I wrote down those ideas that impacted me the most.

Dubinksi highlighted Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute, scientists and scientific discovery. In particular he noted Dean Kayman's multiple patents including an invention to purify water. He also showed a picture of George Whiteside's amazing "lab on a chip" and an image of MIT lab's foldable cars. As he continued to introduce scientific invention, I wondered about the frequency with which we share new inventions and dynamic scientists with young students--information that would likely inspire their own creations and investigations. Is there a regular webcast about this? Perhaps Flocabulary can add this to their repertoire with a weekly "science discovery flocab."

The panelists discussed the role of connection. Deepti Sharma Kapur, Founder/CEO of FoodToEat told the story of her company's start, a start which began with recognizing a need and then investigating and fulfilling that need with a process that included multiple connections and conversations. I look forward to telling my students Deepti's story as I know her work and experience will inspire many.

Zack Brisson, Principal at Reboot, noted that "connections are critical," but not all connections are positive. He said that it's important to find common ground and look for mutual benefits. He discussed the role of technology with regard to change. For example, with regard to the Arab Spring, he said that social forces led to the change, but technology enabled the change. He compared societies to systems and supported the idea of analyzing our connections in school.

Tina Wells, Founder/CEO of Buzz Marketing, said her success began, in part, by the fact that every time she reviewed a product when she started her career at age 16, she sent a thank you not to the product team/company. That was one way that she created connections.  She went on to discuss marketing as the business of influence, and added that we make decisions and influence when we spend money and buy products

When a parent spoke to Ms. Wells about her young daughter's interest in reading Gossip Girl, Tina was inspired to create the age-appropriate Mackenzie Blue character and books  to provide a positive influence for girls.

Raghava KK, artist, speaker, and entrepreneur, talked about the purpose of education. He defined education as a system that does for you while learning is something you do for yourself.  He suggested teaching everything up/down rather than down/up and illustrated this with the idea of exposing students to a large number of varied examples of a concept such as circle or triangle and then letting children infer the meaning. He also noted that it's important to teach children how to read visual images and models. He expressed that there is not one right or wrong, but instead many rights all dependent upon context adding that creativity is the best tool for judgement and kindness.  He cautioned us about Google algorithms that determine what we see when we search. He thinks that those algorithms without a balance of other approaches have the potential to put us in a bubble and close our world with regard to others. He said that we ". . .are defined by what you are and what you're not. . .you have to find your own voice." He also quoted his uncle who said, "The one thing you never own with your children is their passion." He encouraged us to see the future, continually change, and constantly reimagine our future. I look forward to reading and thinking more about Raghava's ideas and creativity.

Further discussion about connections continued after each panelist had a chance to share their story and ideas. Raghava KK wondered why there are "so many ways to connect, but we still feel so lonely." All seemed to agree that connections require "tender loving" care and attention. Later the idea of systematizing connection came up. And there was some debate about how much control consumers truly have with regard to new products and services.

It was good to see four accomplished, confident, creative individuals who are following their passion and making a difference in their fields and other areas. It was also good to have the chance to speak to the many dynamic educators attending Educon 2.7. I enjoyed listening to their stories and perspectives related to education. Tomorrow during Educon's conversations, I'll be able to bring these ideas forward as I listen to educators talk about their work with connections and specific learning/teaching topics.

It's Easy to Judge if You Never Risk

One challenge risk takers face is the judgement of those who rarely to never risk.

Those who rarely risk, try something new, or create, don't fail or make mistakes often.

Their stream is a steady, predictable course one year after the next.

There's a peacefulness to the steady stream.

It's not like the ocean waves that rise and fall at unsteady pace, gentle one day, wavy the next.

Yet the drama of those waves bring us back to the ocean year after year as their drumbeat rhythm comforts and challenges us.

Is one course better than the other?

Can the two work in tandem?

Is there respect for either side or those that fall in between with right synthesis?

The harsh part is the judgement which overtakes understanding and unsteadies collaboration--the choice to banish one way or the other.

Symphony is the goal--the working together of the continuum from wavy to steady to create good, inspiring, nurturing, colorful result.

Meeting The Unexpected

"A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown."
- Denis Waitley, speaker, writer, author

The unexpected often occurs.

The plans are set. The strategy crafted. The anticipation grows. 

Then the unexpected happens leaving you with multiple choices of how to react.

That's when you pull from experience, confidants, quotes, stories, beliefs, and values to move into the unknown with your best energy, intent, and focus. 

The unknown can be a frightening place.

Why am I doing this? What pulls me in this direction? Did I make the right choice? 

The questions linger; yet suited with the best of what you know and can do, you move forward into the unexpected domain with an open heart, wide eyes, and a sense of trepidation and excitement.

Rarely does the decision to go forward leave one with regret, but instead these thoughtful choices at unexpected moments typically open new doors, bring new light, and move one forward in ways that matter. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Putting Closure on the Week to Make Room for Educon 2.7

A creative child is building a cardboard village in the back of the classroom. He's made houses, people, vehicles, and more. Not only is he crafting the village, but he's also creating a complex story that matches the community he's making. Amazing.

Another child is creating K'Nex inventions that have all kinds of capabilities. Each day he improves his inventions. At the end of the day, I couldn't get the two boys to leave as they were having too much fun sharing their inventions and creations in the quiet afterschool classroom. I was entertained by their play and happy that they have the space, materials, and time to create.

It was a busy classroom week of report card writing, computation practice, fraction bars creation, PARCC professional learning, and student coaching. There was current events discussions too as a classroom conversation including the Patriots' game and after events, local news, and the police officer singing a Taylor Swift song which brought laughter.

Next week we'll continue our fraction study, learn about energy from an NStar presentation, enjoy a chorus concert, and continue with English Language Arts study and multiple specials. The year is continuing to be a successful year, and the more I know my students and standards' expectations, the better I'm able to meet their needs.

The weekend will find me at Educon 2.7. Rather than thinking of the day-to-day, I'll be focused on the future including the areas I want to learn more about and share with colleagues. I look forward to this mind-stretch and the chance to learn with so many dedicated, thoughtful educators.

Prepping for PARCC and MCAS in Meaningful Ways

Prepare 44 fifth graders for success on upcoming standardized math tests in meaningful, life enriching ways.

I want my students to do their best on standardized tests, and I'm not alone in that desire. I also want my students to learn in ways that are meaningful and life enriching. So the challenge is to do both.

Timing: We have approximately six weeks until PARCC #1, and twelve weeks until PARCC #2 and MCAS science.


First Six Weeks: (about 20-30 hours of math teaching)*
  • 10-15 direct hours of math teaching reviewing all math standards. 
  • 10- 15 hours of combined science/math performance assessment-like practice.
  • 12 hours of at-home practice.
Second Six Weeks: (about 20-30 hours of math teaching)*
  • 10-15 direct hours of science investigation/exploration reviewing all science standards.
  • 10-15 hours of combined science/math performance assessment-like practice.
  • 12 hours of at-home practice.
*We have a large number of worthy special events and other standardized tests during this time that take time from direct teaching and practice. 

There's not a lot of time for a lot of standards, but we've studied a lot to date and we'll do our best to meet the schedule above. I'll look for as many ways as I can to make this learning enjoyable, meaningful, and interesting. Onward. 

Teaching Math: Should We Personify Numbers?

When Professor Keith Devlin discussed the "behavior" of numbers during the Stanford Mathematical Thinking MOOC, it changed the way I thought about math and numbers.

When I used the notion of numerical "behavior" in class, I noticed that students began to think about numbers differently. They grasped the deeper understanding of operations and number relationships.

So now, at the start of the fraction unit, I'm going to personify numbers to help students understand fractions with greater depth. We'll essentially create benchmark fraction profiles like the one below? I can imagine that later students could turn these profiles into animations, short movies, skits, or stories to extend the learning.

Do you personify numbers when you teach math? If you do, what value does that process have? If you don't think this is a good idea, tell me why?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sight Bites: Teaching Fractions

One reason I like fractions so much is that the study lends itself to lots of artistic creation as you problem solve and create models.

Currently students are creating fraction bars with Google table--it's a great way to start the study.

Later I'll have students make "sight bites" like the one I crafted below to demonstrate the "behavior" of the operations when it comes to fractions. They'll likely marry their "sight bites" to meaningful numbers, problems, and data.

There are so many avenues to travel when it comes to math learning today. I'm looking forward to this next chapter of the math study year with my students, a fraction action unit. Onward.

Post Report Card Teaching

I'm not a fan of the report card process since it's laborious and calls you to essentially rate students' behavior and accomplishment for a period of time. However, I do find that the process of writing report cards serves teaching well. Thankfully, rather than grades, our report cards include checks related to learning behaviors and academic standards' achievement.

Last night I pulled together countless assessment scores and work examples to write a short report about each child's accomplishments and progress during the past four months of school.

What did I find?

Overall, I must say that I was extremely proud of students' efforts. They understand what it means to learn well. I was also proud of the positive, student-friendly program my partner teacher and I present--we are there for the students, and that was evident in our combined report card comments and checks. In addition, we do have a team of learners that succeeds, in part, because of their family members' support and care--they are a well-loved group of children, and that is awesome!

Yet, there's still room for growth. For some students, it was clear that I need to better fashion the learning program to fit the child's need particularly when it comes to at-home practice, optimal seating, teaching assistant support, collaborative groups, and one-to-one attention. I can't expect students to meet challenge if I'm not going to re-look at the teaching/learning supports and structure for those children. Fortunately we focus on issues of student support and care each week at our grade-level PLC and make changes readily to add needed supports and coaching.

Clearly there were also some children ready for extra challenge too. Those that met the standards are ready to tackle the challenge projects with greater investment and completion. I'll coach those students with those goals in the weeks ahead.

In summary though, the program is working. Our daily attention to meaningful learning events and practice are helping children make important gains with standards, learning mindsets, and academic behavior.

Report cards, though tedious to complete, are a good exercise in reflection and preparation for the learning to come. Onward.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PARCC Precision and Speed?

For the most part, the MCAS test was a multiple choice test. This meant that if a child knew how to do a problem, he/she would choose the right answer. As I looked over the PARCC practice test last night I noticed that there were many short answer calculation questions. That means students will have to gain solid precision when calculating large numbers. It also means that they will need to compute with speed since the test is timed.  MCAS was not a timed test.

I'm concerned about the need to calculate with precision when it comes to large numbers and I'm worried about the speed factor. I hope this doesn't penalize slow, careful students or students who have trouble keeping lots of numbers in their mind at once as they calculate. Later in life these students will use calculators for large number calculation and they'll check their work with the calculator multiple times.

The advantage of multiple choice answers for large calculations is that you could give a child a chance to recheck their calculations to find which answer was best. The advantage of an un-timed test is that students would have time to proceed carefully and they would also have the time needed to check their calculations with inverse operations.

We won't really know much about PARCC until our students take the test, but these are two areas I'll be thinking about as I prepare students for the test and scrutinize the value of the tests alone and as compared to our former State tests, MCAS.

We want to make sure that these tests test what is important to know with regard to process and content. I agree that students should be able to accurately use algorithms to successfully compute, yet I don't think students should be penalized heavily if they make small calculation errors when they don't have enough time to check all their answers or when the type of problem is one that they'll use a calculator for later in life.

What do you know or think about these PARCC Math test attributes?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Teach Well: Work With a Good Coach

During the past few years I've been considering the pros and cons of the role of coaching in schools. In general I'm a fan of the teacher as coach role when it comes to teaching children well since when we take on the role of "coach" we pay careful attention to each learner and the strategies that help that learner move forward.

On the other hand, I continue to have mixed feelings about the role of coach in educational organizations. In many organizations the role of coach is one that is separate from that of serving children, and it seems that when educators move too far away from working with children they often lose sight of what it means to teach children well. So I think it's important to be mindful of the structure, schedule, and role of the academic coach in a school setting--does that role fulfill criteria that truly helps teachers and students succeed?

In society, in general, I think we will see the role of coach increase since it is such a powerful role. To hone a skill well takes the leadership of skilled experts, people who understand the skills, knowledge, and concepts you want to master with strength and experience.

For example, I've been hearing individuals praise a local athletic trainer. Her good reputation is touted by a large range of individuals. Today I had the chance to work with this trainer and in only a few minutes I knew that her reputation was real. If I continue to work with this coach, I know I'll learn a lot.

I've also been working with a couple of teachers who are not part of my current educational system. These teachers also offer me great value when it comes to developing my skill to teach well.

It seems to me that we cannot coach well if we don't have the experience to work with skilled coaches who are dedicated to our growth as these coaches model for us what we can do for the children we teach each day.

So in summary, I believe educators profit from finding and working with good coaches in their areas of interest. At this time I think the best coaching lies outside of one's educational organization, but I am open to learning about successful, in-house coaching models. I believe that these coaches not only offer educators support in areas they want to grow, but also offer a good example of how to coach others forward.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Parent-Child Conversation Guide: The Report Card Discussion

January 2015

Dear Students and Family Members,

Enclosed is your child's mid-year report card. Please view this report card as one snapshot of your child's current academic performance and behavior.

The report card lists target grade-level academic standards and behaviors. Each behavior and standard is marked with a checkmark that demonstrates your child's current level of mastery from beginning levels to exceeding expectations.

As you review the report card, please let the questions and language below guide your review. We want to continue to foster a positive learning and growth mindset in all students and we thank you in advance for having an important conversation similar to the one outlined below with your child as you review this report.

Your Child's Teachers

Report Card Review
Parent--Child Conversation Guide

Let's take a look at your report card. The report card is a snapshot of some of the behaviors and academic standards you display or have learned at this time in your school life. Let's take a look at each area beginning with academic behavior and effort.

Academic Effort and Behavior
Your academic behavior and efforts are key ingredients to academic success today and in the future. These learning characteristics are as important or more important than specific academic standards with regard to your happiness and overall success. With that in mind, let's take the time to look over and discuss each area listed. First, let's notice the areas where you met or exceeded expectations, and then let's notice the areas where you are still progressing. After that let's create or revise routines and think of ways to both maintain current success and develop greater proficiency in areas where you have not yet met grade-level performance.

We'll use the questions below to guide our work in this regard:
  • Are you getting enough sleep each night?
  • Do you have a nutritious diet?
  • Do we have a good home study routine in place?
  • Do you have the supplies and space you need to complete homework on time and with care?
  • Do you know what to say or how to act when you need more help or are confused or upset at school?
  • How can your parents and teachers help you to reach these goals with greater success?
Academic Standards
The academic standards for term one are the grade-level building blocks for future academic success. Notice the standards where you reached grade-level mastery or exceeded expectations, and then notice the areas where there's still room for growth. Also notice the areas marked with a T2 as those academic areas, unmarked at this time, will make up a large part of the learning focus for the second half of the year. When reviewing the academic standards, we'll use the following questions to guide our discussion.
  • What led to your success with regard to the areas you mastered?
  • What do you need to do in order to reach mastery with areas marked as progressing? 
  • Do you think you have learned that skill well? Do you think you need to practice more?
  • How can teachers and family members help you to reach mastery in the areas marked as progressing?
  • What roadblocks do we have to remove in order for you to meet the grade-level targets?
It would be impossible to list all the areas of strength and challenge students display on one report card. What academic, interest, behavior, or talent areas would you add to this report card if you could? For example, I know that you're terrific at (name a talent) and that's not on the report card. If I was giving a full picture of you, I would that to a report card. So tell me, what else are you really good at?  

Also, our challenges are not just school related. What other challenges or target areas would you add to a "snapshot" of you at this time. How can I help you to grow and progress in those areas too?

Overall as your parent, I'm here to be your guide and mentor, I'm very proud of all the learning you've done throughout your life, and I'm also excited about the goals and changes we've made for the next term. Let's work together and with your teachers to help you grow in ways that matter during the second term!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Teaching/Learning Plateau

In some ways it feels like I'm at the end of a multi-year journey. Many new efforts put into place over the past ten years are gaining ground and becoming familiar parts of the teaching/learning landscape. Have we reached a plateau of better service to children--a place to stay and nurture for a while before the next, big turn in the road? I hope so.

What does this plateau call forth with regard to mindset and action?

First, as always, service to students is the primary call. How can I continue to serve students well? There is always room for growth with regard to feedback, student recognition, time to talk, listening to children's stories, noticing their strengths, and responding to their challenges in positive and productive ways.

The next priority is worthy learning design, design that embeds essential skills and standards into enriching, engaging, and empowering learning experiences.

After that comes team. Looking for ways to contribute to and work with the educational team at grade level, school, system, and the broader professional learning network (PLN).

All of this work will be supported by steady, weekly professional learning including independent study, interacting with my PLN, attendance at workshops and conferences, application, reflection, assessment, and revision.

Increased communication, organization, and goal setting support this more peaceful, steady pace in the educational landscape, a place that continues to call forth the best of what educators can do with a sense of camaraderie and care.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Teaching Well: The Conversation Continues

We study.
Collect data.
Determine actions.
Celebrate success.
Navigate challenge.
Work together.
Struggle alone and together.
Make mistakes.
Try again.
Shift focus.
Create protocols.
Come up with new ideas.
Examine the structures, roles, and schedules that support those ideas.
Try on new roles and structures.
Talk about our progress and needs.
The conversation continues.
As we reach to teach well.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How To Achieve Computation Mastery


Strategy and Advocacy Matter: Taking Tests

Hard to believe I mixed up these two people. 
Students are taking a couple of tests today and I started the test-taking session with a discussion about strategy.

I noted that doing your best means choosing the best strategies for your success and advocating respectfully for yourself.

I then told them a story about when I was really dumb in high school, and yes, I wanted to use the word dumb. As a senior in high school I was really interested in learning more about Martin Luther King, Jr. so I asked my high school religion teacher (I went to Catholic school) if I could have an independent study instead of taking religion class. I said that I'd use the time to study about Martin Luther King, Jr. and write a paper. He said okay.

On the first day I went to my teeny tiny high school library and began looking for books about Martin Luther King, Jr. Note that this was 1977. I found three books about Martin Luther. I started reading the books and thought, I don't think this is Martin Luther King, Jr., but maybe I'm mistaken. I kept reading and taking notes. I didn't understand much of what I read because I had no background information related to Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr.

For four to five months I went to the library every day and continued to read about Martin Luther. I wrote a paper about him with the best of my ability. The teacher never checked in on me and I don't even remember if he ever corrected the paper. During college the error finally dawned on me.

So it's clear why I was dumb. First, I didn't advocate for myself by asking the teacher for help when I first thought there was a problem. Next I didn't visit the public library or ask family members or reach out to anyone else to figure out what was going on. This was well before the great Internet access of today and it was also a time when I was at school from 7:30am to 3:30pm and worked most afternoons until 6pm or later. But, I did have weekends and there were busses available to take me to the city library.

So, that's one example why it's important to advocate for yourself.

Once I told the story of advocacy, the lesson continued as I shared a number of positive test strategies including the following:
  • Use a sharpened pencil, dull pencils tire you out more quickly.
  • Use graph paper if you need it. Graph paper can help you stay organized particularly if you have messy handwriting.
  • Sit in a place that helps you do your best job. Make sure the lighting is right and there aren't too many distractions near you.
  • Wear comfy clothes--we all do our best with clothes that make us feel good and free to learn.
  • Do all calculations on paper so you can check them over. 
  • Check your calculations with the inverse operation for example check addition with subtraction, multiplication with division and so on. 
  • Write numbers carefully. Students often get calculations wrong because they write numbers that look like other numbers. Common errors are 6's that look like 0's and 4's that look like 7's.
  • When done, take a minute to rest, then look over your work. 
In the end, I emphasized that a test is a chance to show off your best work and knowledge. I also repeated that using good strategy and advocating for yourself by asking questions when you don't understand are very important test strategies, and strategy matters when it comes to test success.

I received a strong academic foundation overall from my high school. In fact, the first year of college was a piece of cake. The same teacher who never checked in on me during the Martin Luther independent study also gave me a solid foundation when it came to the study of "Peace, Love, and Justice" which was the title of another course he taught. Further, rather than breaking up the subjects into social studies and English, we had Humanities which helped us to synthesize many important ideas from specific time periods--that provided a great foundation for later study. No teachers or schools are perfect, and in the end this not-so-good learning event ended up as a valuable life lesson that I pass on to students each year.

Classroom Jobs: Lunch Meetings

Students identified important jobs for the classroom community and then children marked their choices from first to fifth choice. I reviewed the lists to find that it was easy to give every child their first choice.

Now, finally, it's time for me to meet with each job committee during lunch meetings to discuss the job goals, daily efforts, and ways that I can help.

So, next week, rather than the "all invited to class lunch" times we've had this week, we'll have job group lunches to discuss the many jobs that will help our class become the teaching/learning community we want it to be. Onward.

Learning: How Much Time Do You Need?

I was looking at my learning/teaching list this morning with only 45 minutes for study. As I looked over the list, I realized that the remaining tasks all require about four hours or more to really dig into and do good work. The 45-minute or less tasks have been completed.

That started me wondering about the time chunks we need for good learning. For BIG learning, it's almost more problematic to start with only 45 minutes rather than to wait for a nice chunk of energized time. Since starting and doing just a bit means you'll just have to redo that later to reach synthesis and good work.

With limited time, seemingly infinite information streams, and lots of questions, how do we make time for the important learning that moves us forward. Also, how do we give students the important chunks of time they need for worthy, meaningful, and deep learning?

Noticing this need for more four-hour chunks of study time, I'll begin to re-look at my daily and weekly routine. Ideally, for starters, I'd love to have four days on task and one day for study each week. That would lead to good growth and application, but for now I'll have to make time for that research and application after hours or during weekends as I'm enthusiastic about reaching the learning goals outline on the learning list.

With regard to students, I'll look for ways to extend their learning time for upcoming science investigations and explorations as well as writing.

What's the best chunk of time for you to achieve meaningful reading, research, and application? How do you make that time each week on top of your other personal and professional responsibilities? Can you somehow shift your schedule so those small pieces of time are combined to give you a workable, larger chunk?

Bo Adams considers the time factor in a recent Connected Principals post as well. I want to consider his thoughts more as I seek ways to make way for this valuable work and study. Your ideas are welcome too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Teaching Technique: Simple and Satisfying

I looked over the online home study report and noticed that a child's work resulted in a low score. I wrote to a family member and the child redid the assignment getting a low score again. I wondered what happened.

The next day, I met with the child. I suggested that he might have tried to do the work in his head rather than figure it out on paper. In the past I've mentioned to students that we can't check our work if it's done in our head, but we can check work that's done on paper.

The young child disagreed with me. "I don't need to do that," he said.

I said, "Let's take it step by step. Show me how you do it."

He showed me his way which resulted in a wrong answer.

I said, "Try using paper to figure it out." He tried and got the wrong answer again.

I then said, "Try using graph paper and make sure your numbers are written well so you don't think the numbers are different numbers. Take your time."

He used the graph paper and he got the right answer.

I said, "You know how to do it, but I think you were doing it too fast and your numbers were disorganized without the graph paper. Let's try another one."

The child continued to complete problem after problem with graph paper and a slower speed. His answers were right and his confidence started to rise.

I was happy to see him succeed. He was happy to succeed. It was the kind of teaching/learning experience I aspire to each day.

Questions: Meeting Students' Needs

I've been thinking about the best questions to consider as we try to meet students' needs with strength. Here are a few. What would you add?
  • Is the student happy at school? Or, when is the student happy, and when is the student not happy? What is true about the happy times, and what's happening during the unhappy times? What trends do you notice in this regard? 
  • Are the child's basic needs of clothing, shelter, health care, and good nutrition being met? If not, why not and what can be done to change that?
  • In what areas is the child meeting grade-level expectations, and in what areas is the child not meeting grade-level expectations? 
  • Does the child have at-home academic support? If not, should we compensate for that in some way in school?
  • Does the child have what she/he needs to complete home study assignments?
  • Does the child have the right amount of support at school? Does he/she have to navigate too few or too many teachers, assistants, or classes?
  • What does the teaching team feel are the child's greatest needs? How can we begin to better meet the student's needs by prioritizing efforts, supports, and time?
  • Does the child have voice? Do we ask the child what he/she needs to succeed and how he/she feels we can provide greater support?
  • Does the learning team work together to meet the child's needs in a timely, responsive manner?
  • Does the child have adequate time to practice the skills taught?
As we entertain the needs of many children during our upcoming Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting, I will be thinking about the questions above. I will also be listening to the other questions posed by educators on the team in order to develop a more comprehensive list to consider to as we work to teach every child well.

Math: Explaining Your Thinking in Writing

How would you compare and contrast the math operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in writing?

That's the challenge fifth graders are working on right now, and it's not easy.

I posed the challenge with a "sight bite" as noted in this past post. We chose a third grade audience as the group we are writing for. Together we planned the essay using a TIDE planner and identifying key vocabulary. Then students got started individually and in small groups.

As I watched students struggle to introduce the operations and demonstrate their similarities and differences, I was amazed at the variety of responses and their commitment to completing the task. That's when I sat down and drafted a sample which was challenging for me to do. Students edited my draft, and I made the corrections. I'm sure they'll be follow-up edits as well and I'm open to your suggestions.

This activity, though challenging, has prompted some great math talk and broadened everyone's ability to think about the math operations in new ways. Once we reach completion of the essays, I'll give students a chance to make the information come alive in the following ways:
  • adding illustrations made by Google draw, KidPix, by hand, or with other tools.
  • making a short video of the information.
  • animating the information by coding with SCRATCH or other tools.
  • making the information into a children's book or comic strip.
Teaching math concepts via essays is not the best way to relay a math concept. Animations, illustrations, and videos are actually more helpful. However, taking the time to analyze and communicate the concepts helps the learner understand the information with depth. Hence, this writing exercise has value. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Who Pushes You Forward?

There's a young member of our learning team that's pushing me.

He's pushing me to listen.

He's pushing me towards greater research in science.

He's pushing me to find better ways to engage all students and foster a happy learning team.

He's pushing me for more time for share, exploration, and investigation.

He's pushing change in the schedule to accommodate his and others' needs.

I know that this earnest young man is a good teacher. I know that his needs are worthy, and the push important.

So tonight I'll think about the ways that I can respond to the push.

Often it's our students that are our greatest teachers. 

Forward Movement: Response to Intervention (RTI) Efforts

Our RTI efforts continue to develop in positive ways.

Since our initial work one summer with the dynamic speaker and educator, Austin Buffum, we have come a long way.

There are many reasons why I'm a fan of the work done so far:
  • The work is focused on teaching all children well.
  • The work fosters excellent collegial process, discussion, and learning as we think deeply about how to teach each child well.
  • The work prompts greater creativity with regard to programming.
  • The work has targeted the roles of the  educators involved with greater detail and impact.
  • Children are happier because they are getting the kind of teaching they need in specific curriculum areas.
  • The work helps us to reach the CCSS standards with strength and personalization.
This week administrators will join our Professional Learning Community (PLC) discussion about our RTI efforts in math.

We've organized the data, determined the discussion process, and created an agenda.

We also created a couple of new assessments to provide up-to-date formative data to inform our work on Friday.

I have written many posts with regard to RTI. At some point, I'll cluster those posts together and reread the entire story, but for now consider this an effort that is moving in a positive direction when it comes to teaching all students well. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

I Gave In: Classroom Lunch

For months students have been begging for classroom lunch--a time to eat in the classroom with the added choices of playing games, talking to friends, and making things.

Reluctant to give up my own lunch, I've given in a few times, but for now, I'm allowing lunch in the classroom most of the time.


First, simply put, everyone is happier--happy to sit with friends, play games, chat, and play.

Next, it's a lot easier to transition them from this lunch than the cafe lunch--less noise, less crankiness, and less time.

After that, it's a nice bargaining chip--"If I let you eat in the classroom, then you have to do your part by staying focused during our learning times."

And it's a much less institutional lunch time. The room becomes more like the local Starbucks than the old fashion cafeteria.

When the weather gets better I'll bring my old picnic table in so some can eat outside too.

The Parents of Terrorists?

I wonder what the parents of terrorists say about their children's actions.

What could they point to as the reason why their children target innocents and create terror?

How would they teach us with regard to combatting the pain and suffering terror causes?

What would they tell us about how things might have been different for their children?

How has this terror affected their lives and the lives of those close to them?

How can we best parent and teach our young children so that they don't grow up to hurt and harm innocent people?

So much suffering is outside of our impact, but perhaps this is one area we can understand better in order to make positive change.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Serving Children Well: What Can I Do?

Returning to school after a controversial week prompts me to shore up that list of actions we can do to make schools great places to learn and teach.

Treat Colleagues and Students with Respect
Use sensitivity with all in your midst. At times in our rush to get things done or right wrongs, we may err in this regard, and that's not right. If someone treats you or your students with disrespect, speak up and address the issue with care. I like the quote in Getting to Yes which prompts us to go hard on issues and soft on people.

Make Time to Listen to Students
Students bring a large variety of issues and concerns to school. It is essential that we make time to listen to the many stories they want to tell.

Cozy Classrooms
Create a classroom environment that is welcoming and comfortable for all students.

Engaging, Profitable Learning Experiences
As much as possible create learning that is engaging and empowering. Embed standards and other worthy goals into the learning activities.

Give students time to move, play, eat healthy snacks, and drink water.

Let the learning team, students, family members, colleagues, and leaders, know what you've done, what you're doing, and what's to come. Invite questions and commentary. Think of the communication as the ongoing learning story.

Do Your Job Well
School roles vary and for success, it's important that everyone is focused on understanding and performing their role well.

We work better if we help each other so when possible share ideas and develop learning experiences together.

Challenge and Practice: Journey

You arrive at a new place ready to tackle a new challenge.

The challenge is posed, and you are both intrigued and frightened--can you meet this new quest?

With confidence from past quests met, you begin the journey knowing that it will take time, but you'll be the better for it once you embrace the journey's teaching.

Slowly, step by step, you embark.

Along the way you seek and find guides.

Aware of the geography and people you meet, you tread gently stopping now and then to rest.

One day, at the end of this path, you'll look back and be happy for the expedition. But for now, it is important to mind the maps and follow directions. You are on your way.