Thursday, April 30, 2015

Prepare for Spring Teaching

Prepare for spring teaching:
  • Collect seed pods, pots, seeds, soil for mystery seed project.
  • Bring the picnic table, ramps, ride-on cars, balls, outdoor toys to school.
  • Have some picnic blankets on hand for playground picnics.
  • Make flags and a woods map for Capture the Flag Game
  • Make notices for TEAM Day.
  • Collect bottles, cans, old pipes, and any other scraps that make sound for science sound project.
  • Organize Rivers Day busses and in-house visit.
  • Continue to organize the STEAM area.
  • Play with K'Nex simple machine kits.
  • Make balloon boats, cars, and planes.
  • Help kindergartners explore what floats and what doesn't.
  • Dress up as famous people in history and share reports about those people.
  • Put on the play, The Emperor's New Clothes.
  • School picnics, Field Day, and the book fair.
  • Learn about history with a Freedom Trail tour.
  • Listen to a storyteller tell African folk tales.
  • Prep Outdoor Education activities. 
An eventful, exciting, and joyful time of the teaching/learning year. 

Choppy Learning?

The days are choppy mostly due to the next leg of testing.

While I remain a fan of streamlined standardized testing, the current testing schedule disrupts the typical teaching/learning schedule for the following reasons:
  • Testing takes time and students are tired after the tests. This leaves little good energy for learning in different ways. 
  • Testing disrupts the continuity of units, and it takes time and focus to get students back on track.
  • Testing has an emotional impact particularly for those who struggle.
  • Testing requires some prep, and prep is review, not deep learning.
  • Testing also pulls needed specialist services from students since many specialists are required to provide accommodations during testing. 
This week we've tried to make the prep fun with projects, teamwork, games, songs, and videos, but we simply ran out of time for the kind of review I would have liked to do.

What's the answer?

First, as I've stated before, we have to think carefully about timing of testing. It's best to streamline the number and timing of standardized tests by giving them once or twice a year at the end of lengthy periods of deep and meaningful teaching/learning.

This year our testing pattern was a staccato on-off pattern since the end of February when we had three system-wide tests, then again mid-late March when we had five PARCC tests, then in mid April we had a system-wide test, and now at the start of May we have two MCAS and three PARCC tests. That's almost three months of on-and-off testing which is not the best routine for quality teaching and learning. 

Another change, I believe we have to make is to think more deeply about educators' roles and content quotients. To teach well today we have to know a lot and be able to teach that information well with a blended pedagogy. That takes considerable prep, teaching, and response time. If an educator is responsible for too many subjects, then there's the possibility that the learning will be diluted. I recommend that this process starts with streamlining the objectives--what's most important. This consideration needs to include what's most important with regard to content/knowledge and learning-to-learn skills, routines, and mindsets.

For example a team of four teachers could each focus on one of the following topics with rich learning projects and endeavor: writing/social studies, reading/reading response, STEAM, and Math. Each teacher could develop depth with regard to the topics and breadth with regard to pedagogy--pedagogy that differentiates. Of course, it will be important for those educators to divvy up the learning-to-learn skills' emphases too. Who is going to build strong independent skills? Who will focus on teamwork, and where will students work on character and voice more? Also, by using PLC and RTI, these educators will have to work together to make sure that their units and projects are interdisciplinary, meaningful, and relevant to students. Specialists could also team with one or more educators to boost individual students' skills and confidence as well as the strength of teams. And, there could be both cross-grade subject PLCs/Teams and grade-level interdisciplinary PLCs to provide the necessary collaborative time for good planning and teaching. 

Our school has included lots of growth and change in the past many years with regard to teaching well. The new testing regimes are creating a new disruption, a disruption that can be met well if we consider carefully the structure, roles, and routines of good learning and how we're going to navigate the teaching days, weeks, and months ahead to support and teach students as best we can. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Response to Frustration

A while back, during an online chat, a member of my PLN reacted with frustration toward comments I made.

As I read the frustrated retort, I thought, I know that voice. Sometimes when you're advocating for something that means so much to you, you simply can't understand that anyone anywhere doesn't understand your point of view, passion, perspective, or direction.

Yet we all know so much and so little at the same time. Our paths and perspectives are dramatically diverse at times, and there's almost no way that we can understand one another without concerted effort, time, and energy.

I still don't fully understand what my PLN member was trying to say to me, but I'm gaining greater insight as I listen and observe more. Also, I trust that individual's heart and passion.

I'm recognizing that what I often defined as disrespect was unknowing instead, and that frustration, though natural, can close doors rather than invite conversation and collaboration.

When we're frustrated, there's a reason, and it pays to think deeply about the roots of that emotion and proceed with care and compassion toward those who may not understand what you are doing or what you have to say. Onward.

Responding to Science Open Response Questions

Today students will work in teams to practice responding to science open response questions. We'll do this to prep for next week's science MCAS tests and as part of our science review game.

Each team will receive a different open response question.

Teams will draft their responses using this template. If needed, they can use the computer or books to find information to support their answer.

Next, they'll edit their answer with the teacher. After that they'll make a poster and present their answer to the class.

I hope this will be a profitable and enjoyable way to practice the open response genre and review science concepts. Let's see.


Science Week: Prepping for MCAS

Bill Nye videos offers science
learning and entertainment. 
Next week students will take the science MCAS tests so this week we're doing a lot of review of science concepts learned throughout elementary school. Our review includes video, rap, song, online/offline games, and open response posters. We're using the standards and previous MCAS tests to lead our efforts.

The ability to devote an entire week to one subject is terrific. I find that this rich review has helped students and me to make good connections and strengthen understanding. The videos, raps, and games available online are terrific and lots of fun too.

Once the tests are done, we'll continue our science study as part of the overall teaching/learning menu.

Math Night: Lots of Fun!

Yahtzee was one of the many popular board
games at Math Night. 
Our math curriculum director and coaches hosted a Math Night for students and family members. The cafeteria was transformed into a math game room with estimation jars, giant graphs, and lots and lots of board games. Also, next to each game, there was a card that described the mathematical connection of the game to students' math learning. There were also booklets available with information about math card games and many decks of cards.

Students and family members came with big smiles ready to play games with each other, teachers, leaders, and friends. The room was a busy hive of happy mathematical thinking. Also, every fifteen minutes or so the curriculum director stopped the crowd and announced a vocabulary-rich math problem. If a student's name tag number matched the problem solution, he/she won a small prize. That added more mathematical thinking and some excitement to the event as well.

I spent most of the night playing a favorite childhood game, Yahtzee, with one of my students and his dad. We talked a lot about math strategy and had fun playing the game.

The event was well timed for young children and busy teachers since there was a 6pm start time and 7:30 end. At first I was a little reluctant to get involved given that it's a busy time in the school year, but in the end I found myself looking forward to next year's Math Night as it was a terrific opportunity to enjoy math with students and their families. Thanks to the team who sponsored this wonderful event!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

More Team Building: What Do You Need, Want, and Desire?

Yesterday we talked about the big issues and rationale for team. Today we'll move in and discuss the details with respect to our classroom team.

I'll lead the discussion with my typical question list: What do you need, want, and desire?

We'll list students' responses.

Then we'll make an action plan with dates and jobs to do.

I'll use that action plan as I plan for the days and weeks ahead for school.

Be A Good Follower

Sometimes you have to be a good follower.

You're not in charge, yet you value the leadership and mission of the event.

Hence, you arrive with a smile, ready hands and mind, and a willingness to serve.

Restructure Schools with Inclusive, Strategic Process

Many say that small steps are more valuable than big initiatives when it comes to change. Small steps are manageable and affordable. Also small steps reach fruition with greater frequency and serve to uplift a team more often.

Yet does deep and rich change require a strategic process that threads all those small acts together with vision and mission?

What if your school decided to sign on to a year-long strategic vision/mission process to restructure roles, routines, and structure to better serve students? How could you put a process like this in place to create positive change and model what true learning look likes?

What might an initiative like this look like?

First, the teaching community would need to define a specific learning/teaching need or focus. For example a year-long focus could be "How can we better teach our most challenging to teach students?"

Next, a time audit would need to occur in order to see what kinds of time are available for such an initiative. Time could come from faculty meetings, professional learning days/events, PTO meetings, and professional learning communities.

After that accessing the skill of a dedicated and skilled consultant is important. A skilled consultant will bring an outside viewpoint and an ability to hear all the voices in the teaching/learning community. That consultant will lead the effort and make sure a valuable end result occurs.

Then the initiative map needs to be created with a start-to-finish outline. The outline would include the following steps:
  • Defining the initiative--what is it we hope to achieve specifically.
  • Initial interviews and audit of current structures, routines, and roles.
  • Presentation of current strengths and challenges.
  • Brainstorming/sharing new ideas and actions.
  • Prioritizing and carrying-out initial efforts.
  • Analysis and revision.
  • Next Steps.
If you and your team are interested in this process, the time to start is now. It could be that end-of-year faculty meetings set the stage for this process. Then summer work teams could fulfill initial steps of acquiring a consultant and establishing times. The following year beginning-of-school meetings, in part, could include initial actions, and then other professional learning and collaborative times could be used to carry-out the process. Further, educators' individual and group school-year goals could possibly be tied into the initiative.

Strategic goal setting and restructure processes like this could truly work to lift up the leadership of all in the teaching/learning community by building a dynamic community dedicated to the children they serve.

Our school engaged in a similar process in that we came up with a common goal. Yet the after steps did not include our voices, but instead included observation and assessment of our work. 

If It's Tough, Why Do You Stay?

Recently a colleague and I discussed a challenge.

The colleague asked me why I remain with that challenge.

I responded that I stayed with the challenge because I know it's a necessary mountain to climb in order to reach a destination I desire.

The colleague looked at me quizzically thinking why do you bring that pain upon yourself. I left the conversation wanting to think more about the colleague's challenging looks and questioning.

I found myself looking up quotes about challenge.

Two, in particular, spoke to me:

"To be a champion, I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It's about embracing the pain that you'll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid. I think people think too hard and get afraid of a certain challenge." - Summer Sanderson

"Some days, 24 hours is too much to stay put in, so I take the day hour by hour, moment by moment. I break the task, the challenge, the fear into small, bite-size pieces. I can handle a piece o fear, depression, anger, pain, sadness, loneliness, illness. I actually put my hands up to my face, one next to each eye, like blinders on a horse." - Regina Brett

My friend and colleague's honest, questioning response made me realize that it's time to map the course forward with greater detail so I awoke early this morning to complete that task. Onward.

Imaginative, Compassionate, Intelligent Contributors and Leaders

Yesterday we started our back-to-school meeting with the goal of becoming imaginative, compassionate, intelligent community contributors and leaders.

The students and I discussed recent world events, and the fact that the world will need leaders and contributors who can imagine and create solutions to world needs.

We also discussed the need to be good global citizens who are compassionate and respectful to the many people we will meet, people that represent a wide variety of culture and lifestyle.

Further, we discussed the need to be intelligent--to know a lot in order to understand the sophisticated world we live in.

It was a big talk. Some were deeply engaged, and others were quietly listening. It gave us rich and meaningful reasons for the work we do in school to develop team, care for one another, and learn a lot.

Today we'll dig into that bigger call by working as teams to study and support one another. It will be a good day.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why Rumors and Conjecture Occur

When desired information is not forthcoming, rumors take its place.

When information that impacts individuals' lives is not available, conjecture occurs.

Conjecture and rumors have the potential to disperse valuable energy, time, and contribution in ways less positive and strong than the paths of information organized, known, and transparently shared.

Ready for a Complicated World

From Michael Fullan's 6 C's Report
The news this weekend was full of challenge. First, the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Then, the Baltimore protests in response to the death of Freddie Gray. Also, Bruce Jenner's interview and the 60 Minutes piece about satellite defense signaled change with regard to acceptance and technology.

Our world is changing rapidly. The ways we thought about the world in the past are mostly no longer relevant today. We are a global, interdependent world that is becoming more and more technologically advanced. With that advancement there seems to be both greater tolerance for human differences and less tolerance depending on the situation and place.

What does this mean for our students and our schools?

First of all we have to make sure that every child has a sense of belonging and purpose in our schools. We want our schools to lay the foundation for a future world of peace, compassion, collaboration, and care. As professionals we have to look for ways to support each other, listen to each other, and work together to model that kind of community too. When we take each other seriously and respond to each other's needs and interests with respect and care, we begin to build those communities.

Next, we have to teach well. Our students need to be savvy and smart to live in their world. They need to develop the six C's as explained by Michael Fullan: character, citizenship, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, and creativity and imagination. They also have to have a strong knowledge foundation since knowledge begets knowledge. As I watched the 60 Minutes piece I realized how sophisticated our world is now and that sophistication will continue to grow. Students will need a lot of knowledge and skill to navigate their world, develop community, and solve the world's problems.

Also, our students need to understand their roles as global citizens. As educators we have to model that with our work and efforts. We have to establish green environments at school and foster a culture that reduces, reuses, and recycles. We need to spend time learning about the environment and how to protect that environment with the way we live and work.

As global citizens, students need to understand the history of our world, the story of many cultures and lifestyles, and the ways to respect and get along with the world's people.

We live in a complex, sophisticated world in which we all rely on one another for survival and a good life. The good work, in this regard, begins in children's homes and schools. As educators we have an important responsibility to foster the future in ways that build a peaceful, collaborative world. This is a challenge that makes our work meaningful and valuable.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Everybody Needs Mentors

Everyone needs mentors. Every professional and every student needs mentors.

We need to introduce our students to the idea of mentors early on. We have to show them how to look for mentors in their world online and offline. We need to tell students the stories of our own mentors if we were fortunate enough to have one or more mentors.

Some children are from homes that introduce them to multiple mentors, and other children are from homes where they rarely or never meet a person who can mentor them with regard to their dreams, interests, and needs.

As educators, it's our responsibility, to talk about mentorship in our classrooms with questions such as the following:
  • What and whom do you want to be?
  • Who supports you and your dreams?
  • How do you make decisions?
  • Who helps you make those decisions?
  • If you could choose any life for yourself, what would you choose? Who models that life for you?
Too many children only look up to the sports stars and movie stars they see on television. Many don't have the chance to learn about the many life and career paths available today. 

As educators we have the chance to introduce students to successful individuals from multiple cultures, countries, and career paths. We will broaden students' choices and chances for happiness and success if we make the time to introduce them to the many mentors available in their world.

These thoughts came to me today when I watched the wonderful interview below with Judy Marks, President and CEO of Siemens Gov't Tech.

End-of-Year Checklist 2015

Ending the year like starting the year profits from a check-list. This is what our end-of-year checklist looks like. What's on your list?

End of Year Checklist
Test Prep/Tests: MCAS and PARCC EOY April-mid-May
Fifth Grade Play Practice/Play April-May
Sound Project Base Learning mid-May-June
Evaluation Meetings May-June
Transition Documents: April
Biography Project: May-June
Classroom Clean-Up: Ongoing

Conference Forms Completion - May-June

Cumulative Cards: May-June

Report Cards: May-June

Field Day: June
Rivers Study/Rivers Day: June

Move-Up Day Letters: June
Update Websites: end-of-May-June
Ordering: June

Back to School: Vacation's End

The vacation was only a week but it seemed like a month, a good month of time to think and enjoy those I love.

Tomorrow it won't be long before the children's energy welcomes me back for the final leg of the school year.

It's been a positive teaching year, and a strong classroom community. Our grade-level team has done good work too, and the school has had many terrific whole school learning events.

There's lots to consider during the weeks and months ahead with regard to professional goals and forward movement. At this juncture in the road, I want to give myself the time to think about the busy professional years past and those to come. In the meantime, I'll attend to the work at hand.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

End of Year: A Classroom Teacher's Perspective

At times, administrators might wonder about educators' end-of-year questions and concerns. Administrators might wonder because they don't see it from a classroom teacher's viewpoint. This is a list of factors that affect the end-of-the-year for classroom teachers.

Worry and Anticipation
Students and their families may worry and anticipate with regard to the year to come. It is a teachers' job to listen to and respond thoughtfully to those feelings. The more information we have about the future, the better we can respond to students' and families' worries and anticipation.

Service Delivery
Service delivery typically changes during the final weeks of school. As specialists get ready for the year to come and finalize year-end reports, their service delivery to students sometimes diminishes. This means that the classroom teacher has to teach differently since the services they relied on throughout the year for their full-inclusion classrooms have changed.

When June rolls around, the classrooms are usually very hot and very sticky. This isn't the optimal environment for cleaning up the classroom. Hence to clean up as you move along is best. Yet it's important to know of summer work efforts and changes so your clean up can be targeted. It's a lot of work to clean up the typical elementary school classroom as there's furniture to move, supplies to sort and put away, and more. Custodians are very helpful, but the ratio of custodians to teachers makes it difficult for custodians to help everyone.

Summer Work, Study, and Plans
Typically teachers study, work, and take care of family during the summer. They strategically make those plans to fit nicely into the summer weeks. Therefore if in-school work goes beyond the closing days that can impact a teacher's summer work and study.

The end of the year typically means completing reports which takes time. If teachers know what's expected, they can carve out the time for those reports.

Special Events
The end of the year is filled with special events. Lead time with regard to knowing about and planning for those events means greater success.

Transition to the New Year
There are letters to write and work to do to transition students well to the new year. This also takes time and when well organized this work flows smoothly and positively affects the transition.

New Teams and Assignments
Teachers typically go in many directions once summer comes. Hence, it's great to establish new teams with some time for planning and meeting before the school year ends. This will right teachers' summer efforts and ensure that efforts to plan for the next year are not done in vain.

Current systems of ordering and supply acquisition can be cumbersome and time consuming. It's essential that educators have the time they need to access the best and most cost efficient supplies for the coming school year. The better the time for this kind of work, the more prepared educators will be for a great start to the new year.

Day Care Schedules and Family Needs
Typically educators have to let day care organizations know ahead of time about the following year's plans. That requires knowledge of their own schedules and expectations. Also, educators with families, have to make plans related to transportation, finances, housing, and more. All of these decisions are impacted by an educator's role and expectations too. Lead time matters in this regard.

There's lots to think about from a classroom teacher's perspective at the end of the year. Since we're mostly on task with students during the school day, we use our nights and weekends to complete paperwork and other planning endeavor to end the year well and prepare for the new year.

It's good for administrators to work with teachers in this regard and to meet their needs with transparent, regular communication that encourages good work and relays the important information for a positive ending to this year and invigorating start to the next.

How Does the "Race Metaphor" Affect Our Work?

Is life a race?

Most would argue that it's not a race since the many attributes and experiences that affect our lives are impossible to quantify or compare overall.

Yet, the race metaphor persists in society.

I wonder what this metaphor does to our lives, organizations, communities, and potential.

As we think of the students we teach and those that "win the race" in the traditional ways, what do we notice?

Recently I had to give a system-wide test. Those who scored best, started out way ahead, and those that scored the lowest, started out way behind. Was that a fair race? test? Yet those that scored best felt like they won while those who scored the lowest were demeaned and left feeling like they lost the race.

How can we change the way we do school, and life in general, so that rather than competing we are working with every individual to develop their skill, impact, and experience with depth and breadth? In what ways can we assess strengths, dreams, and challenges early on and then use those assessments to coach growth and development. How can we help to make that growth and development visible as a way to enlist a child's investment, demonstrate his/her growth, and inspire confidence.

I say to my own children, "When you play the compare game, no one wins." The same is true for the "life is a race" metaphor because when we race to the finish line, we miss the rich experience life has to offer.

At Google a few years ago, I had lunch with a man who was working to create better assessments--the kind of assessments that measure quality of life. He told me that he was invested in this work because what we measure tends to define where we put our resources and what we do. I wonder how his work has developed. I wish I had written down his name. I understand the potential his work holds for a better society and better schools.

Collaborative Work: Moving Forward

The end of the school year's success depends on collaborative work in so many areas. How can I contribute?

The Biography Project
I am not in the lead with this project. Two talented colleagues are leading the project. They've motivated the team (students) and organized the project well. My role is that of a support teacher. I'll edit and help with research. The key here is to maximize my effort when it really matters after the PARCC/MCAS tests are complete.

Field Studies/Special Events
We have a large number of field studies and special events planned. The important work here lies in organization, collecting permission slips/money, student prep, and leading students with a sense of joy and adventure as we learn.

Field Day
Our physical education teacher will lead this day, and the key will be to learn about the events and support.

Fifth Grade Play
Our talented music teacher leads this effort, and like Field Day, my job will be to help out with a good attitude and flexibility.

School Assembly
My students are the emcees, ushers, and tech crew. I need to make sure they're ready to do their work well to support this school-wide endeavor.

Collaboration here means following the test steps and processes as we give the final five standardized tests of the year.

Student Needs
As we near the end-of-the-year transition, students will have many needs, and as always, I'll collaborate with colleagues and students to meet those needs.

Next Year's Teaching Assignment
Not knowing my assignment or team for next year has been challenging. It's a challenge because I haven't been able to take part in local grant sources or summer study applications because I don't know what my main charge will be next year, and due dates for those support vehicles are due soon or have already passed. That's frustrating. Also I see the collaboration window of time closing as I wait to hear. I know that there's the potential for innovative models, supply acquisition, and learning that will positively affect my work and the teamwork for next year, but without knowing your assignment, you can't take advantage of those opportunities. I can't even clean up effectively as I'm not sure which materials I'll use next year and which I won't use. However, I understand that there are many timelines in place in this regard, timeline processes I am not part of.

When I do hear, it will be a chance to positively work with my new or renewed team with care to plan for the year to come so that we maximize our efforts, time, and resources to teach well and meet system-wide goals.

Working as part of the team is an important aspect of teaching and learning today? What team responsibilities do you have as the year reaches its final weeks, and how will you carry out those responsibilities with a professional, positive attitude, care, and respect.

Effective Collaborative Work

There is no greater feeling than when a group accomplishes important work and together exclaim, "We did it!"

That sense of coming together to effect a meaningful, common goal is life enriching in so many ways.

Think of a time when you had the chance to work on a team that really made a difference.

Team is quite different than individual pursuit since team recognizes and maximizes the synergy of each others' perspectives and efforts rather than racing one another to the finish line.

As I think about this today, I'm wondering about the constructs that support team and those that support contest or race? As we teach children and work with colleagues, which constructs lead us to the We-Did-It sense of accomplishment vs. the I-Won! achievement?

I read a quote this morning that prompted my thinking is this regard:

"This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it."  - Christopher Alexander, architect

So as I move forward toward greater collaborative work, I want to think about how that work is rooted in the deeper context of where I live and work. How can my efforts woven with the efforts of those I work and live with architect learning and living that matters to the team, those we serve, and others ("the web of nature.").

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MTEL Math Test

As a veteran teacher, I don't have to take the MTEL tests. Recently, however, I've become very interested in math education and I was curious about the MTEL Elementary Math test. So yesterday I took the test.

First, I should have studied more. I was rusty with a number of math concepts that are taught at the Middle School level and should have given myself a few weeks to practice. I did take the online practice test, a number of online practice quizzes, and used Khan Academy to study some of the areas I found challenging, and that helped, but I wish I had made the time to complete Khan Academy's Middle School curriculum exercises. I still find Khan Academy to be an efficient, comprehensive math study/learning site.

Next, it was good to sit for four hours and take a test in that it let me know first-hand what my students feel like when they take a test. Surprisingly I didn't follow some of my own advice about open response problems simply because by the end of the test my confidence and stamina were compromised. I should have trusted my instincts and pushed forward instead of giving up. I'm sure that some of my students feel the same way. Therefore building stamina with intellectual tasks is important for students (and teachers). I did take my advice about difficult multiple choice questions with regard to flagging the items and going back--that's a good strategy as when you look at problems with fresh eyes, you sometimes are able to solve the problem.

As I took the test I realized that new teachers who pass these tests do demonstrate a great deal of knowledge and academic stamina which is good for the teaching profession and the students we teach. I could also see how important the new standards are with regard to developing a strong math foundation at elementary school.

Now I'll wait to hear the score results and then decide on next steps. I'm very excited about the promise for terrific math education at the elementary school level these days. The resources are amazing and potential to teach every child well terrific. By narrowing educators' content responsibility, supporting dynamic professional learning endeavor, building blended programs, and incorporating greater response to intervention (RTI), personalization, and collegial collaboration we'll serve students with strength.

Later note: I passed!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Content Quotient Matters

What is the content quotient for your students and educators?

The more I teach, the more I realize that if students or teachers are responsible for a quantity of content that far outpaces time for depth, the learning and teaching will be diluted.

For example, as I study math today, I recognize how many more ways I can teach this subject with depth. The more attention I give the subject and the multiple ways to teach, study, and apply the details, the better I'll be at coaching students towards mastery and a love of math. The same is true for writing, reading, and deep project base learning in science and social studies. To teach well, we need to narrow and deepen the content path.

We don't want to replicate old time one subject-one teacher models, but instead we want to teach an interdisciplinary curriculum that has deep roots in specific subject/content areas. Hence as I talk about specializing in math, I'm not referring to a math-only study, but instead an interdisciplinary approach to math that focuses on deep math knowledge and interdisciplinary application.

Children today are very bright. Their access to high level content online and in their world is significant. I think the days of one teacher and multiple content areas at elementary school are no longer effective given the potential we have to coach deep understanding and skill if we narrow and deepen the content we are responsible for.

Attention to Detail: Mathematical Thinking

A key component of apt mathematical thinking is precision.

The trial and error sites and tools online are great ways to develop that attention to detail.

While studying for a math test, I accessed a large number of online tools.

I especially like the way Khan Academy is organized for study and practice. There are many ways to use Khan well to develop your skill. As I use Khan Academy, however, I'm reminded that we have to make the time to teach students how they can access and use online tools to develop skill and knowledge.

That kind of teaching takes the following actions:
  • Identify the teaching/learning objective.
  • Share what we know and what we think we know.
  • Review the topic details and information.
  • Practice together, then make use of online tools to continue to practice.
  • Test skill and knowledge online and/or offline.
  • Learn more if needed.
Good mathematical thinking builds more than math knowledge. This kind of learning develops attention to detail, patience with learning, deductive reasoning, the ability to see patterns and connections, and process/system think.

The blended math program that utilizes a large variety of tools, resources, and learning processes has the potential to accelerate and deepen students' knowledge and mathematical thinking skills with strength if we make the time to collaboratively build the program with strength and care. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Clarity of Direction

When you entertain the numerous posts and tweets of social media, it calls you to continually right direction and clear the path for your individual teaching/learning direction.

Every educator both shares collective goals and mission and forges their own independent path too. We all travel this teaching/learning path in somewhat different ways--ways not necessarily better or worse than another's path, but ways different because of who we are, what we want to achieve, and our past experiences, talents/skills, and passions/interests.

As I move from global to local speak, I have to constantly rethink the direction and movement. I like the way that classroom work calls us to be our best and the way that global speak gives us a light to move towards as we work with children each day.

For me, a veteran teacher, the more I teach, the more I desire to go deeper with the day-to-day work by choosing and employing best resources, creating a dynamic student-friendly schedule, and working with colleagues to empower, engage, and educate the children well. That front-line duty gives me a first hand perspective of the challenges educators face each day as well as the triumphs and successes possible.

There's great challenge in trying to work with students and colleagues to effect the best schedules, routines, and efforts to teach every child well, and to make sure that every child feels confident and proud of their work and effort. Every teacher knows this is a difficult goal to reach day in and day out for multiple reasons. For me, this is the challenge I seek to reach through reflection, teamwork, respect/care, and good service each day.

Learn from Me: One Year Later

A year ago I met a professional challenge.

I raised my voice and shared opinion with a colleague during a conversation where we debated pedagogy, roles, resources, and systems of good teaching/learning.

Another colleague and his/her ally reported my strong voice and tone to an administrator which resulted in a series of painful events for which I had to hire a private lawyer and write a letter of apology.

The pain from that event continues to arise in dreams and moments of reflection. At the time of the incident, I was frustrated. I felt voiceless and reacted by raising my voice. The words I shared I still believe in today, but I do agree that we don't forward good work or thought when we use too-strong voices or tone. Hence, I apologized.

Sadly, there were other painful events that occurred. For example, why didn't the anonymous colleague come to me first to talk about it. I'm not perfect; I'm open to change. Also, a couple of other confidants surprisingly weren't there to support me either--confidants I had trusted and shared my most personal and deeply held beliefs about education with. Further, I wish I had the chance to sit at the table with those who complained to resolve the conflict and talk it out, but sadly, that never happened which only serves to silence and challenge team. Even later, I asked some of those involved to sit down and review the events with me so I could gain greater understanding, but they did not respond to my emails.

Yet, I have used the incident as a point of reflection.

First, why did I raise my voice, and how can I keep a tempered voice during debate from now on? I sought coaching in that regard, and have read a lot about it. I've realized that the times I raise my voice as a teacher are times when I perceive injustice or lack of a proactive, strategic approach which reaches straight for my heart and results in passionate voice. I'm working on couching my volume in debate and making progress.

Next, how can we effectively debate and share our point of view. The blog is a protected place. Like all Americans, I have freedom of speech and opinion so I can take the time to write my points of view with care on the blog. I also use email and face-to-face, when available, to share points of view and have worked at using my voice and listening in more thoughtful, positive, and organized ways. I continue to read and study about this.

Also, I'm reading a lot about love. The truth is that we're all on the learning/teaching path. No one knows it all, and no one is without a thoughtful perspective or experience. Hence we have to be respectful to each other's point of view and work together to effect growth and gain for our students. Good systems for idea share and respect for everyone's ideas and endeavor will forward this effort.

Why share stories of challenge some may ask. The more transparent I am about my strengths and challenges as an educator, the more free I am to move forward and work well with children and colleagues. In the end, it is my goal to do good work and that good work depends on transparent goals, actions, and opinions.

So, learn from me, don't raise your voice in the schoolhouse. Instead seek the consult of trusted companions. Also share with transparency and respect, and use good strategy and care with your voice.

If you've got other ideas with regard to this issue, please share. I'm always learning.

Justice in Schools

"Never forget justice is what love looks like in public." - Martin Luther King

I heard Cornell West quote MLK in a youtube speech last night. I thought about my work as a teacher, and wondered where is there justice and where isn't there justice. As I move ahead I will keep this quote close as I know there's work to do. 

Worlds of Knowing: Dyson/West

There are so many worlds of knowing, and there's no way we can know it all.

I realized this as I once again stepped into a path where my knowledge level is weak, yet the path intrigued me so I took a few more steps.

It started with my #oneword journey, love. I've been searching the Internet for inspiration related to this word. I've reflected on the word, and I've also brought up the word in discussions with friends and family members which has led me to further reading and research. Last night, on the recommendation of my brother, I listened to some of Cornell West's speeches about love. I was inspired by his rhetoric and words. I was also inspired by the challenges he put forth related to living a life of love. West, a scholar, also seemed an artist to me.

More research led me to a recent debate with regard to West's work in this article written by Michael Eric Dyson. The article served to introduce me to names, scholarship, and history I knew little about. The article intrigued me as I thought about one's journey with regard to the life of the mind as well as American culture. More simply, the article made me think about collegial relationships too--the trust we put in each other when we interact, debate, and essentially grow each other in concert or disharmony.

As I think about this journey, I'm first humbled by lack of knowing much about the information and experiences illustrated in the article. I'm also in awe of the great intellect demonstrated in West's speeches and Dyson's prose--how brilliant. I find myself wishing I had the confidence that these men had as young scholars--the confidence to pursue intellectual dreams with drive and energy. I also find myself wondering how we relay the stories and experiences of intellectual pursuit to our students letting them know that it's okay to develop their minds and seek to understand and be educated far beyond "college and career readiness" but instead to affect the world in ways that matter and make a difference.

Where will I take this experience?

I'll continue to read. I have a host of Randall Kennedy's books by my bedside and perhaps this summer I'll have the time and inclination to begin reading those. I've met Kennedy, and I'm inspired by his journey.

I'll also continue to work to deepen the work I do with students so they have the chance to meet true intellects, the kind of people who are committed to searching for the truth and bringing about debate. I can introduce my students to these people through great literature, TED Talks, analysis of articles, discussion about big ideas, and the recreation of significant experiments, artistic creations, and innovative paths.

There is so much to know in this world, and so many ways to grow our intelligence and effort. West's words inspired me, and Dyson's call to keep our work fresh and timely inspired me too. So much to know, so many paths to travel, and in the end, if I let my #oneword journey of love lead the way, I'll likely continue to travel a path worth the effort and result. Onward.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Ready for Edcamp Boston!

I originally wrote this post about a month ago. It's been a busy month and we're close to the end of the school year. I've revised the post tonight to match my current thoughts.

Tomorrow I will attend  edcamp Boston. I'm looking forward to the event as attending an edcamp, particularly edcamp Boston,  always serves to inspire my teaching/learning path.

It's a bit challenging to attend a school related event during a weekend in the final month of school since it's a time when you're getting weary and ready for summer time renewal, but I know that once I arrive and begin to listen to educator's enthusiasm, questions, and new ideas, I'll be glad I made the time to go. An edcamp day always translates to greater success and fulfillment at school.

Prior to going to any educational event, I like to think about my hopes and plans for the event.

First, I'd like to lead a conversation sometime during the day about education communication? I want to hear what colleagues have to say about the best ways to share ideas, collaborate, and communicate. I'll be interested in what other educators have to say about the following communication venues and topics:
  • email
  • text
  • websites
  • social media
  • blogging
  • books, articles
  • contribution
  • communication patterns
  • home-school communication
  • the role of communication
  • the words we use
  • communication and team building
  • teaching communication 
  • change in communication expectation, knowledge, use
  • teacher voice and choice
Next, I'm looking forward to studying the board and choosing other topics I want to discuss and learn about. I want to make the time to meet and listen to the educators from many different schools/organizations, assignments, and grade levels. I'm also curious about the types of topics that will emerge as that provides a glimpse of current/future education trends/focus. 

I always like the take-aways at the end-of-the-day smackdown, and getting an overall feel for where education thought and work are moving with regard to the year(s) ahead.

The edcamp experience gives you a great chance to connect with educators outside of your own organization. It's a chance to ally with one another to develop our individual and collective craft. 

Whether you're planning to attend edcamp Boston or not, this is also a good time to look over the edcamp schedule in order to choose a few summer edcamps to attend. I may attend and possibly participate in edcamp global too which looks like a wonderful learning experience, and I'll check the calendar  to see what New England edcamps match my summer schedule as well.

I'm sure I'll recap the day tomorrow night or Sunday. In the meantime, I'm ready for a terrific learning event!

Teaching/Learning Goals: 2015-2016

Who sets your goals as an educator?

When do you learn of those goals? How do you meet the goals, and what kinds of supports exist?

I am mindful of the work that goal setting and attainment takes. In the best sense, it's a strategic process that begins with the creation of vision/mission, goals, and the action plan. Then it's time for the roll-out, review, assessment, and revision.

Good goal setting and attainment depends on adequate lead time, apt collaboration, and time-on-task.

In my professional role, some goals are set for me and other goals are set by me. To date, I've set a number of goals* for myself with regard to improving my craft for the year ahead and I've created a chart to lead my efforts in that regard. The system will assign me to tasks that meet their goals and leadership will share the system-wide objectives. I'll meld my goals with the system-wide goals for best effort by revising the chart and then working with the team to refine the learning/teaching path and objectives and after that, doing the work.

I like the creative process of goal setting and working to meet those goals in student-centered, research-based ways. I look forward to learning more about the year ahead so I can begin the preparation.

*Goal Posts for the 2015-2016 School Year
The Stand Alone Classroom
Professional Growth
Assessing the School Year
Home Study Routines
Healthy Mind, Healthy Heart, Healthy Body

A New School Year: Questions to Consider

As you think about a new school year, what questions are important to consider.

I offer the following:

What environment will best support your teaching/learning goals?
What is the main focus of your classroom program, and what kinds of furniture will allow students to learn those objectives with strength? Is it best to have desks or tables? Do you need lots of storage shelves and containers? Is a tile floor better or will a rug be best? Once you've designed the optimal environment for your learning goals, the next step is to determine how you'll get what you need.

What resources will best support your students?
What's your main objective and what do you need to teach those topics well? If your main objective is composition, then it's advantageous for you to be in a one-to-one environment with one tech device for every student so they can compose and share daily with text, images, film, music, and more. Actually one-to-one will support any learning you do. For your objective, what books, online or offline, are necessary. Do students need notebooks, art supplies, manipulatives, and measuring tools? Identifying, then accessing the resources needed prior to the school year sets the stage for a good year.

What do you have to learn to teach the curriculum well?
How have the standards and objectives of the curriculum you teach changed? What new curriculum are you responsible for? How will you boost your knowledge and expertise in those areas over the summer months to prepare for learning? What free or low cost options exist with regard to this learning? Does your system offer learning paths to support your professional work in this regard?

What are the needs, objectives, and processes valued by your team and leadership?
Who will you be working with? What do they value? What is their vision for your collaboration, work, and the overall school effort? What are the favored venues of communication and collaboration? How can you best prepare to be a good team player?

What details are integral to the year ahead?
Details matter with respect to good work, and taking the time to delve into the details before the busy days of the school year make a positive difference in the year's start. First, access and examine school calendars to get a good idea of the year's agendas. Next read all required handbooks, policy statements, and other required lists to understand expectations well. Jot down questions you may have related to those policies, and if needed, set up a date to meet with your administrator over the summer (if he/she is working) to ask those questions so you're clear about expectations. Read State education websites, union websites, and curriculum area websites to gain knowledge of upcoming professional learning events and good resources for your students. Set up and/or revise class websites, data files, and lists to support learners, colleagues, and families. Take care of as many details as possible prior to the start of school, so when the year starts, you're ready to use most of your time in time-on-task teaching/learning endeavor with and for students.

It's best if system leadership thinks ahead of you by making available the resources and structures to support school readiness and planning for every educator. If all information, process, and opportunity are presented during the first week of school then there's little chance educators will be able to access that information or process with care since they'll be too busy with student-related work and effort.

A good rhythm of school system structure, information, resource share, and materials acquisition prepares educators well for most important aspects of the job: well prepared and energized time-on-task with students. Knowing the important questions upfront that relate to this good work is the first step.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Stand Alone Classroom Community

A substitute teacher lamented about being in my classroom recently.

When I heard the comments, I was sad.

I have a vibrant group. I give them lots of say with regard to the daily teaching and learning.

The substitute was ready for a traditional classroom, a place where children were seated in rows and raised their hands to answer questions. I think she expected worksheets and lots of rule following. My classroom wasn't the classroom she remembered or experienced in the past or even in the present in some places.

I thought a lot about this.

First, I want to continue to foster a classroom experience that values student voice and choice.

Next, I want a vibrant, active learning environment.

Yet, I also want to encourage a sense of community where if a substitute is there everyone is polite and caring--a classroom where everyone's voice is respected and there's time to listen as well as follow commonly held protocols of respect and care.

As I continue to move from traditional classroom structures, protocols, and events to a classroom that better matches the way children truly learn, I want to be cognizant of the community I am building.

I also want to think about ways that substitute teachers can be better prepared for today's learning and teaching. For example, another substitute teacher recently remarked quite differently about my class. She was impressed with their independence, voice, and creativity.

I remember years ago a couple of teachers in Brookline, Massachusetts wrote about their dedication to stand-alone classroom communities, communities that could run well without the teacher. That's a good aim in this regard, and a goal I'll think about as I work to develop the classroom teaching/learning community I lead.

Professional Growth

As professionals we are always developing our craft.

Sometimes the errors and missteps accelerate that growth if we're open to the call of mistakes and the lessons inherent in those experiences.

Today as I consider the professional path, I'm aware of changes in my practice and vision that lead me.

I'm also aware of efforts ready for recycling:

My Way or the Highway
That doesn't work when it comes to teaching and learning well. Our best work is work we do with and for each other. The ability to listen deeply, communicate clearly, and collaborate with care are essential to good professional work.

Children First
Yes, and no. Our focus in schools needs to be on the children, but our care needs to extend to all in the learning team: students, families, educators, leaders, and community members.

A Serious Attitude
Yes, we need to be serious and detail oriented about our work, but we also have to make time for light-hearted humor and joy. If it's always serious, we'll miss the happiness inherent in the job.

Yes, I agree that we have to have a sense of urgency about change and impact. And, I also believe we have to be impatient about change that connects to creating better conditions for student learning, happiness, engagement, and empowerment. Yet, I do think we have to be patient about some change. Change outlines, systems, and transparent communication will create roadmaps to change that in turn will help to support a good level of patience with regard to those changes.

Work Hard
Yes, we need to be dedicated and work diligently to better our craft and do a good job, but if you don't recreate, take care of your health, and nurture your relationships, you'll have nothing to bring to the job.

As you consider professional growth, what efforts contribute to your path, and what efforts are you ready to recycle?  I'm curious.

Email Protocols?

I sent an email to colleagues today because I didn't want to forget an idea I want to pose after vacation, yet I can imagine colleagues lamenting, "It's school vacation, please don't email."  I can understand that feeling. They work hard, and now it's time to rest.

Yet, you don't have to respond to an email or even read an email over vacation, and once we get back it will be so busy since we're typically on-task with students most of the time, that some do prefer to consider an idea during a leisurely breakfast or evening break rather than during the busy time-on-task days of school.

Yet, I'll curtail emails during vacation as it's only fair that people have a break. I'll keep a little file of catch-up notes to share if appropriate afterwards.

Today's thought, however, was well shared though since it's an idea that needs some time to consider.

As for email protocols, that may be a good topic of conversation sometime in the future.

Teacher Leadership: MTA Opportunity

The thought of teacher leadership after a career of 29 years in the classroom is both attractive and daunting. When you've taught for 29 years, and you're a vocal, risk taker like me, you've eaten a lot of humble pie. Yet, if the passion still burns strong in your soul, you may still feel the desire to grow your craft and voice as one way to contribute to the profession and support the promise and potential optimal education holds for every child.

That's why I applied to the MTA's Teacher Leadership Initiative. I'm sure that the initiative will draw a large number of well qualified applicants and that's promising for all teachers in Massachusetts. I'm glad that our Union is supporting this effort as it matches the U.S. Department of Education's teacher leadership initiative as well as the wonderful potential greater teacher leadership holds for our schools and students.

If you have the desire to remain a teacher and to lead too, you may be interested in this initiative. Take a look. Efforts like this are what make our Union strong, and when our Union is strong, teachers have what they need to serve students well.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learning Menu: Details

After vacation we'll embark on the new menu of learning. Here are the details:

Science Review
With teams we'll review a large number of science questions in a game show format. It will be a good chance to use our new microphone.

Science Open Response
We'll strategize around writing a good science open response and practice that skill with standards-based content.

Sound Exploration
We'll continue this exploration with research, share, investigation, exploration, building, and sharing.

Using unifix cubes, students will explore volume.

Students will use tangrams to explore and learn about the properties of polygons.

Survey Share and Creation
I'll share students' homework survey results. Students will have the opportunity to create their own surveys.  Then they'll survey, organize and analyze the data, and write a report.

Biography Project
Students will continue their research, writing, and presentation work.

Play Rehearsal
Students will study lines, practice, and prepare for the fifth grade play.

Fraction Computation and Problem Solving
Students will continue to study and practice this skill.

Mystery Seeds
Students will plant mystery seeds and chart the seeds growth.

Outdoor Education/Rivers Day
We'll get outside to explore the land, water, animals, and plants.

Now that the weather is better we'll play Capture the Flag and other team building games outdoors.

We'll make plenty of time for reading.

Special Events
There will be time for storytellers, musical performances, field studies, field day, and concerts.

We'll discuss time and focus with regard to Math RTI, consider inviting students to an upcoming PLC to assess the year, and perhaps continue our strategic efforts related to individual students.

Professional Assignments
We'll learn of assignments and get to work preparing for next year's classrooms with regard to writing move-up day letters, completing ordering efforts, updating websites, and studying curriculum objectives.

Professional Learning/Presentations
I'll prepare for the Wayland Institutes and the Summer MTA Conference.

There are always surprises too!

Prioritize, Then Teach

As I think of our school programs, I'm wondering if we would boost student achievement, confidence, and love of learning more if we prioritize better.

For example, what if we took a close look at our students and resources, then determined the three-four most important learning needs for every child and how to meet those needs in child-centered, creative, enjoyable and engaging ways?

The result might be something like this:

Paul's Week: First Quarter
  • Gym X 5 every morning in a small, athletically talented sports group led by the physical education teacher.
  • Art X 5: with a small group of students who demonstrate needs in visual literacy with respect to math. The children will work with the art teacher to learn to draw mathematical models that have meaning. 
  • Math X 5: Small group instruction of similar ability peers with special educator.
  • Reading X 5: Independent reading in library, reading books of choice in silent to quiet atmosphere led by librarian. 
  • Writing X 5: Writing assistant in second grade class. Helps with all writing tasks five days a week. Helps students' edit and publish their stories every day. 
Amy's First Quarter
  • Musical Theater X 5: Leader in multi-age musical theater group led by drama teacher.
  • Book Group X 5: Intensive book study group related to memoir. Reading and writing involved. Led by literacy coach.
  • Math X 5: Computer coding class that focuses on coding math models. Models will be published and shared with younger age students as one way to introduce those students to the chosen math concepts led by math teacher.
  • STEAM Lab X 5: Simple machines exploration and building led by science teacher.
  • History X 5: Local history research project led by social studies teacher. Large class of multiple teams. 
Tim's First Quarter
  • Instrumental X 3: Violin lessons and orchestra led by instrumental teacher.
  • Dance X 2: Hip Hop dance led by physical education teacher. 
  • Wellness X 5: Social competency and service learning project. Incorporates reading and writing instruction. Led by literacy specialist.
  • Magazine Club X 5: Small boys-only magazine club led by special educator.
  • Math X 10: Advanced math taught with blended format that incorporates gaming, explicit instruction, projects, and math team work. 
Taking the time to think deeply about each student and how we can best maximize our resources to teach the children well may result in a school that looks very different from the traditional structures we're used to. 

The Strength in Knowing: Assessing the Teaching Year

Deep understanding of the children you teach, the curriculum program, and good pedagogy makes a difference with the work you do each day.

Making the time to outline the learning path and sharing that path with students and their families also makes a difference. When students and families know the expectations, routines, supports, and when and how they can communicate with school staff, the chance for student success increases.

At this time of year when students are testing, completing big projects, engaging in special events, and getting ready for a transition to a new school and program, teachers like me find themselves thinking about the year--what's been successful and where can there be greater growth and progress.

As I assess, the following points emerge:
  • Streamlined targeted systems support good work. When the time, paperwork, or thought of a system outweighs it's benefit, then its time to make change. With regard to some new initiatives on State and national levels that impact schools, I think there's room for streamlining in order to free up more time-on-task with students for all educators and leaders. Also, by creating streamlined systems for your own work and the work of your school community, you will make time for more effective work. 
  • Good curriculum process matters. It's important that we assess and refine curriculum regularly and it's also important that the curriculum process includes all who teach or benefit from the curriculum. When curriculum is rich and inclusive, students learn more.
  • Develop a dynamic teaching/learning culture in every school. Make this an explicit goal of school time and effort. Determine what matters in your school and community. Find ways to build structure, routines, environments, and roles that make your learning/teaching culture explicit, visible, proactive, and empowering to all. 
  • Organize and prioritize the learning path. Make time upfront to organize events, initiatives, and efforts so that good work is prioritized. Don't try to do it all, but instead do what's most important for the students you teach.
  • Put Students First. That should be the mantra of every school community and educator. Yes, there will be days when that's a challenging notion due to available energy, other professional tasks, or personal demands, but the first job of schools is to empower, engage, and educate children. 
  • Learn. Choose a few areas of your professional work to boost each year via courses, online share, research, collegial endeavor, or project work. 
The year's assessment is almost complete. The path for next year is outlined. Evaluation materials have been completed. Lessons are prepared. Now it's time to focus on the children as they continue to grow, develop, and enjoy learning for the last chapter of the school year. 

A Professional Culture

What creates a dynamic, professional culture in schools?

What traditional patterns, routines, and efforts continue to benefit school culture, and what traditions no longer serve us well?

What new structures, actions, and efforts contribute to a caring, effective teaching/learning environment?

To change for the better individually or collectively requires intention, focus, and direction.

As I think ahead, I'm wondering about this.

Sleepless: Standardized Tests Dilemma

Yes, the tests are keeping me up.


The mix of old tests and new have resulted in too many tests, and too many tests mean not enough time to dig in, teach well, and meet children's needs with strength and consistency. Too many tests have increased the competition quotient too as it's clear that there are some that thrive under these conditions and others that feel diminished in this environment.

It also means that if you are challenged by the content, one test after another way above your current skill level serves to defeat you rather than build you up. How many times can you say to a ten-year-old, "Don't worry, you'll get there if you keep trying. We'll help," when finding the time or supports to help are compromised by too many tests and the time and support those tests take.

What's the solution?

First, we need to know what's ahead? What tests? How many? And when? We can't plan for a good routine of student-friendly learning if we don't know what to expect. Hopefully we'll know about mandated testing for next year sooner than later, and hopefully the ten mandated tests students take at my grade level will be streamlined to no more than four or at most, five.

Then we need to reconsider the testing path. We can't interrupt the learning schedule every two weeks to test. Instead, we need to test now and then, leaving plenty of time for good learning as well as some formative assessment to set the path. Too many long, one-size-fits-all tests disrupt the teaching we're able to do.

Part of the reason I'm conflicted and sleepless about all this is because I find myself on the fence in the testing debates. There's part of me that sees merit in the tests, and there's part of me that sees the deficits that testing brings. It does no good to test and test and test, if there's no time to teach in ways that build students' confidence, skill, and creativity. Yet, if we never measure, will we be able to build our programs with strength. I think the answer lies in the right balance, and the best indicator of that balance is when all your students, in particular your most challenged students, in the school are standing tall, making progress, and feeling good about learning.

For now, I'm ending test prep for the year, and moving into more meaningful teaching. Yes, we'll do some review, but we'll do it in enjoyable, game and project formats. Even though we have five more standardized tests in May, two science MCAS and three PARCC tests, we'll get back to the kind of teaching and learning that makes all students want to come to school. Onward.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Value of Homework?

Students are taking a test.

It's so clear that those who completed homework are doing better than those that didn't do their homework.

This makes me wonder about studies that question the value of homework.

Practice matters.

Following NCTM Online Via Twitter

My system is quite generous when it comes to local professional learning opportunities. If there's a conference nearby they'll likely support your attendance with a substitute teacher and admission fees. Also if there's a good conference far away they'll sometimes pay for transportation and a hotel and they will usually give you the day(s) and get a substitute teacher.

This open attitude to professional learning helps to make our teaching/learning community current with regard to new practice and knowledge related to good teaching. Often educators who attend the conferences will share what they learn. A few will use Twitter, some will blog, others will give a short presentation at a faculty meeting, and typically grade-level colleagues will share with the team when they come back.

This year I used up my share of the professional learning dollars at MassCUE, Educon 2.7, The 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference, and Mahesh Sharma's one-day fraction workshop--all terrific learning events. This week NCTM 2015 is in Boston. Many of my colleagues will be there and lots of my professional learning community (PLN) will be there too. I won't be there, but I started gathering some of the information via Twitter hashtags, #NCTM2015, #NCTM15, #NCTMBoston, last night.

I'll check in again today and throughout the weekend when I have a chance. Twitter will point me to central areas of conversation and research as well as the names of educators in the know when it comes to teaching math well. So if you're at the conference, I hope you'll tweet out the essential points and lead me to the best math blogs, books, and other resources. Also, if I'm missing a related hashtag, let me know. Finally, enjoy the conference.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Successful Routines, Activities, and Process for Math Study

Last week I wrote a post related to a young girl's suggestions for successful math study. As I posted earlier, I didn't give her the time her suggestions were worth. So today, I met with a large group of math students to discuss study habits and routines.  As I expected their favored methods for best study and practice differed a lot from one to another. As I listened, I knew that the best answer from the teacher's point of view was to use a menu approach to home study that included a variety of activities and levels for best result. I also realized that I had to shore up some of our routines for passing in homework, feedback, and coaching.

Student created homework pass-in area. 
As a result of that conversation, one helpful student created a homework pass-in area as depicted in the photo to the right. I also created a survey based on their responses. Students will take the survey today.

In the end, I'll synthesize the child's original comment, today's discussion, and the survey results into a revised math home study format which will begin after vacation. I'll also use the process, survey, and results to model an upcoming standards-based student survey project--a project that combines meaningful school data, fractions, line plots, and analysis.

To summarize, whenever a member of the learning team, whether it be a student, parent, colleague, leader, or community member, has something to say, it pays to listen and respond as it's the work we do together that truly makes a positive difference for the teaching/learning community.

Here's a snapshot of student responses: