Monday, November 30, 2015

Matching Team Goals to System-Wide Goals

Our grade-level team is embarking on a shared teaching model this year. It took some time to get administrative approval for this model, but now that we have the approval and are three months into the model, it's time to look forward to how we'll continue to develop the model's strength and impact in the days to come.

There are many ways to analyze a teaching/learning model. Early in the year we analyzed as we troubleshooted minor scheduling issues. Later we analyzed the model with regard to parent, teacher, student survey responses. Now I want to take a few minutes to analyze the model with respect to our system-wide goals. How can our model develop in line with the identified system-wide goals for 2015-2016? To complete this analysis, I'll focus on each system-wide goal with regard to our current model work as well as future development.

Our model sets aside time each week for open circle meetings focused on "stress management, self regulation, interpersonal relationships skills, and resiliency" as well as other issues. Every other week our school guidance counselor leads our open circle meetings. As I think about this effort, I realize that it's not too early to discuss interpersonal relationships since students are beginning to talk about "dating." 

To date we have not been sharing updates of our open circle meetings with parents in our weekly newsletter, but from the goals above, I can see how this is an easy-to-do and important addition to our team communication. We can decide as a team with the guidance counselor who will pen the weekly open circle update for parents. It's likely that we'll share the task. 

Our school completed the ALICE training in conjunction with the local police with great success. The principal spoke to every grade level in ways that were both comforting and informative to students. Students engaged in the training with confidence, positivity, and success. 

I'm looking forward to the system's athletic program survey results and follow-up actions. There's lots of news related to athletics and children today, and I believe that it's good to focus on this evolution with an eye on what's healthy and positive for children overall. As a young person I didn't have the opportunity to participate in athletics, so I was very interested in making sure that my own children had the chance to participate. With our model, we'll continue to foster healthy, active, positive recess and special event athletics and play. 

Although the specific goals here are not directly related to our learning/teaching model at fifth grade there is some overlap. Fifth grade students buddy with kindergarten and first graders. The buddy program supports multi-grade learning and teaching endeavor which often includes lots of play and exploration.

While we are not studying another language at fifth grade, we are working with the technology department to introduce the language of coding to students. As far as adopting a new student information system, we shared our ideas with our building representative on that committee, and we currently have information systems in place to inform our model's success and development.

This goal area is one that our model can focus on with strength. First we can look for ways to incorporate the voices of students more with regard to cultural proficiency and race. As a team we can look at how we incorporate this opportunity into the curriculum. A good first step in this regard may be to focus an upcoming PLC on this topic so that we explicitly commit time and focus to this work. We may want to invite students to a PLC to help us make good decisions in this regard. Also, our faculty is focused on this issue and we will participate in the work at staff meetings. I'd like to work with the team to think about how we can better incorporate the voices, interests, and needs of our Boston parents too. With regard to ELL, our ELL teacher has been an active participant in our RTI and PLC efforts. Her work and voice has helped us to better serve these students and incorporate their needs and interests into the overall program.

Our RTI efforts have served our new model well. We continue to meet once a week, analyze data, problem solve, and craft teaching/learning endeavor to meet students needs and interests. We can focus our efforts more specifically on study skills and learning strategies, and discuss the ways we embed that work into our daily teaching/learning efforts.

We began the year with an interdisciplinary, cross-classroom STEAM project, The Global Cardboard Challenge. Students utilized supplies from home and from our classroom STEAM Centers/Maker Stations to create a playground arcade for all students. The project also served as a service learning project. Later students visited STEAM centers again to create creatures for their ET project.

In Tech class, at school assembly, and during classroom open circles we discussed digital citizenship. Students also engaged in interactive digital citizenship study in the tech lab. Some students have started coding at home and in school, and all students will begin coding soon with the Tech Lab's "Hour of Code" effort. We hope to include coding more often in math too as one way for students to create animated math models. We need to gain greater understanding of the computer literacy curriculum map and 3-year technology plan so that we can match our shared model with that intent. We will also attend a STEAM inservice in a couple of weeks and will work to employ that information into our future STEAM interdisciplinary projects including the Rube Goldberg Marble Maze project.

An overview of the system-wide goals provides us with some new goals for our shared teaching model. Next I'll analyze our school-wide goals and match our efforts with those as well. A good way to develop our model for success is to match our model to the goals and initiatives of the leaders, organizations, and individuals that support and evaluate our work.

Note: A recent review of NEA Mission, Vision, and Values also serves as a focal point for evaluation of our shared teaching model.

Do You Exemplify the National Education Association's Union Values?

Do you exemplify your union's values? Do you even know what those values are? In an age when unions are often demeaned, it's important that union membership understand the union mission, vision, and values well.

As part of the NEA/MTA Teacher Leadership Initiative, I was asked to study the National Education Association's Vision, Mission, and Values. When I studied the values, I was proud to be part of an organization that has such a wonderful list of core values. I was also challenged by the vision, mission, and values as I evaluated my own practice against those values. I wondered, "Do I exemplify work that matches the NEA's core mission, vision, and values?" Below I use the NEA document to both analyze my work and set future goals.

NEA Vision
"Our vision is a great public school for every student."
The private school movement in our country is strongly rooted. Many choose private schools to get an edge for their children, belong to a particular community, and/or to provide their children with a more tailored approach to education in top-notch facilities. Are we able to reproduce that for every child in America in our public schools? I believe it is in our nation's best interests to build top-notch public schools for every child who chooses public education. Communities and states that invest in strong, innovative, and student-centered schools will find that they have less crime, greater success, and stronger communities. Public schools are a terrific investment. Yet we will lose this investment if citizens and leaders do not support public schools. I want to support leaders that support public education. 

NEA Mission
"Our mission is to advocate for education professionals and to unite our members and the nation to fulfill the promise of public education to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world."
Public education has a real edge over private education when it comes to helping students succeed in a diverse and interdependent world. A weakness of most private schools is their lack of diversity with respect to culture or economics. Public schools prepare students for the real world, and I have noted that students from high quality, diverse public schools are better ready to lead and work in our diverse society. I do think, however, that our public schools have to continue to work at the charge "to prepare every student to succeed in a diverse and interdependent world" since there is a lot more that we can do to meet this challenge. I know that our faculty will focus on this topic Tuesday. I also want to focus my work more deeply in this arena.

NEA Core Values
  • Equal Opportunity: "We believe public education is the gateway to opportunity. All students have the human and civil right to a quality public education that develops their potential, independence, and character." How often do we focus our faculty meetings on the goal of developing student "potential, independence, and character." These are valuable words and goals and should be objectives in the work we do together as educators in schools. 
  • A Just Society: "We believe public education is vital to building respect for the worth, dignity, and equality of every individual in our diverse society." This is what makes our country great, and we can't lose sight of this. How do we as educators develop respect for the worth, dignity, and equality of every individual in our schools?
  • Democracy: "We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed, and engaged in our representative democracy." How do we provide opportunities for every student to be involved, informed, and engaged in our schools? If we do this well our country will profit from many voices and significant personal contribution and investment. 
  • Professionalism: "We believe that the expertise and judgement of education professionals are critical to student success. We maintain the highest professional standards, and we expect the status, compensation, and respect due all professionals." How do we foster professional process, respect, behavior, and community in the schools where we teach and serve children?
  • Partnership: "We believe partnerships with parents, families, communities, and other stakeholders are essential to quality public education and student success." How do we build partnerships? How often do we survey and work with partners to develop stronger bonds and support for education? 
  • Collective Action: "We believe individuals are strengthened when they work together for the common good. As education professionals, we improve both our professional status and the quality of public education when we unite and advocate collectively." We cannot effect meaningful change by ourselves; we need to work together to make change that positively affects student learning and living. 
  • "Every student in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, deserves a quality education." How do we create conditions of excellence including quality teaching, safe schools, and better places to learn for every child in our country? 
I have no problem standing behind the challenging and affirming NEA values. I agree that public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy, and together we can serve our nation's children well by supporting our public schools and the mission, vision, and values above. Now the challenge is to embed the NEA's values into my work every day.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Correcting Tests on a Sunday Afternoon

I'm sure I'm not alone as I sit by a window in a very quiet and well positioned library correcting student tests. As teachers everywhere know, correcting tests is laborious. Not only is the actual task of looking at each question and responding to it painstaking, but the emotions that go with the correcting are heavy too. Why?

Most of all this is an arduous task because deep down you want every child to excel, yet many display a large range of learning needs on the test. There's a host of concepts to review and practice with some when we return to school. So it will be a bit of moving forward and backtracking at the same time when we return.

Why didn't everyone learn everything? When you look at the tests, it's easy to see that some simply needed more practice while others still have misconceptions related to the topic of the test. I'll continue on as my colleagues are doing all across the country. It would be nice if the library coffee shop was open. That would definitely help to keep me focused :)

Politics and Truth: What's Your Most Reliable Resource?

A group of adults discussed the presidential election.

There were a lot of questions and a lack of clarity about a number of issues.

This made me think about how we get our information, and how we determine if that information is true or not. Where is the best place to turn for simple, transparent, clear information about matters that matter.

Later that day I noticed a company in western Massachusetts whose aim is to make health care information accessible to the masses. I think this is a great idea since I rarely understand the numerous, information-laden forms that arrive at my home each month detailing our health plan actions.

Who does this for politics?

Who creates honest, simple to read, easily accessible updates about what's true and what's not?

Is there a forum that can serve as a baseline for a political discussion amongst family members or friends as we think about whom to vote for and what we believe in as individuals, a community, and country?

Information confusion is a big issue today since so much is available, but it's difficult to discern truth in all that chaos.

Who do you turn to for the facts? What's your best resource as you make decisions and contribute to your family, friends, community, state, and/or nation?

I want to know more about this.

Leading Learning with Good Design

Successful teaching depends on good learning design.

Good learning design profits from optimal process which includes essential questions.

At first, the questions should include the following:
  • Who are our students?
  • What is our context?
  • What do want students to learn and why do we want them to learn this?
  • How will we collaborate with and for students to reach the learning/teaching goals determined?
Next, it's critical that the teaching team have the time necessary to collaborate and complete an initial learning design. I suggest that the team use a website as an organization and share vehicle related to all design efforts. This is an example of a website frame for unit design. As you can see, the frame hosts these information categories critical to quality design and learning:

Once the team's initial plans are complete, then the roll-out can begin. As the roll-out occurs, the team should meet from time to time to revise and update the website according to what truly happens in the classroom with regard to student learning. The website should be seen as an active, transparent part of the overall endeavor, an organic site that grows and changes dependent on students' needs and interests as well as the needs and requirements related to the unit of study. The website also serves as a communication vehicle open to educators, leaders, family members, and students as the study unfolds. 

How do you and your colleagues design learning to meet the needs of your students and context? What elements do you include in your design work? Do your collaborative efforts result in deeper, engaging, and empowered student learning? 

I believe that quality learning design is a key to better developing our efforts and contribution to students and schools today. Do you agree? 

Union Work: More Challenging Than I Expected

Years ago I served on our local union. I listened and followed the directions of the union leaders with regard to my role as a building representative. Now I am serving in that role again, and finding it to be more difficult than I thought. There are stumbling blocks which I didn't expect.

The first stumbling block is learning the culture of the board. It's been many years since I've served and the leadership has changed quite a bit. Our school system has changed as well. In face of these changes, there's lots to learn about our leadership team and the system I work in with regard to the lens of union work.

The next stumbling block is time. We meet only once a month and already I've missed a few meetings due to unexpected events. For some reason, the day the board meets tends to be one of those days that is met with unexpected needs and events.

The third stumbling block is time again, but this time it's time to work with other teachers with regard to union related issues. The teachers are all working with tight, various schedules and this means that after school hours and before school hours are usually booked with a variety of personal and professional events. Hence, it's rare to have the time to meet with one another to discuss the issues or troubleshoot a problem.

The fourth stumbling block is knowledge. I still have a lot to learn about union rules and process. Our MTA offers summer study related to this, and I think it's a good idea for new and existing membership to take advantage of that summer study.

As a union representative, it's my goal to help our union work with our school system to maintain a fair salary and working conditions for educators. When educators are paid fairly and treated with respect on the job, they then have the time and energy to do well by the students they teach. Working condition needs and salary requirements continue to evolve as the world changes around us, hence the union has to continually work to seek the best of both for the teachers in our system. I'd also like to recruit more teachers to become involved in our union because together we are stronger and can better support each other when it comes to teaching well and working with fair, equitable conditions.

Union work is more challenging than I expected, and my first goal in light of this is to best understand our union goals and work so that I can contribute accordingly. Onward.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Changing Landscape of Math Education

It seems like there's a burst of math education articles, books, and new ideas these days. Perhaps I'm just more aware of this topic as I focus primarily on math education both at the grade school where I teach and at the university level as I teach math education methods to undergraduate students. Yet, the truth remains, there's a lot to read and consider with regard to teaching math today. In fact, there are so many ideas out there, that it's possible to feel overwhelmed. Therefore how does one navigate this sea of information.

Standards Focus
I believe that the standards are a good starting point. Where do your students fall with regard to their knowledge and application of the grade-level standards?

The Standards of Mathematical Practice
How do your students practice the standards? Are they able to apply the standards with ease and understanding or is their knowledge of the standards area more superficial? How can you help your students develop a strong, flexible application of The Standards of Mathematical Practice?

Differentiation and Personalization
Once the classroom program is centered on deep practice and application of the standards, then it's time to think about the individual students. Who is not meeting the expectations of the program well? What do these students need to develop mathematical skill, concept, and knowledge with confidence, engagement, and success? How can you better differentiate and personalize the curriculum to foster enthusiasm for mathematics as well as proficiency? It's good to pay attention to the learning progressions in this regard, and think about the foundation or enrichment skills and practice these students may need to progress.

Regular, targeted formal and informal assessments will help you to identify and meet students' math education needs and interests.

It's advantageous to maximize any existing supports well. Keeping the teaching team including family members, interns, and colleagues abreast of the curriculum goals and needs will help to foster success for all learners.

Professional Learning
Establishing a pattern of regular professional learning with regard to math education will help you to provide students with the best learning resources and processes available. Membership at NCTM, following, attending quality math courses and conferences, and reading math blogs and books will help you to achieve the expertise needed to teach math well today. Also, it would be great to create or join a math study group too to build and share this knowledge.

As in any curriculum area, the way to teach best is a moving target that continues to profit from study and a keen understanding of the students you teach. Teaching well is not a static effort, instead it's an effort that continually changes and profits from continued learning and professional collaboration.

How do you keep up with new ideas and research with respect to the changing landscape of math education? Who and what are your "go-to" experts and resources in this regard? What tried and true math practice and suggestions do you have for math educators? I'm curious.

Applying New Ideas to an Existing Situation

I started reading Building School 2.0 without a clear focus so I'll start again with a clear focus, one associated with my Teacher Leadership Initiative (TLI) capstone project, Shared Teaching Model, in mind. As I read Lehmann and Chase's synopsis of the terrific decisions, practice, and plans related to Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy's success and Lehmann and Chase's research and experience, I'll keep a list of ideas we currently employ with our shared teaching model, and practice that we can work to employ in the future as we continue to build the model. Ideally it would be great to do this work prior to our December 21st meeting when we meet to discuss the model's strengths and future needs. Let's see if I can find the time before that date.

Further I want to do a literature search related to shared teaching models to identify research done related to models similar to ours and perhaps models that differ from what we are doing in order to gain greater understanding of the potential shared teaching holds for dynamic, positive student learning and teaching.

I'll continue to share these efforts with my grade-level colleagues who are similarly invested in the growth and promise our current model holds. Reading and research profit from having a good plan in mind.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rationale for One-to-One Technology Reposted

Many  think of the one-to-one classroom as a place where students are glued to the computers. Instead I see the one-to-one classroom as a learning environment where the computers are used to serve the overall blended learning program in ready, fluid ways. I've listed a number of reasons why I believe it's time for one-to-one below, yet I realize that funding and programming for one-to-one takes strategic planning and financial support.
  • Access: If students are able to bring a computer back and forth to school, the access to technology for all students increases. This gives everyone a chance to use technology as one way to maximize their learning. Right now, even though many students have technology at home, their access varies and this variation affects learning success. One-to-one is also one step towards bridging the achievement gap.
  • Research, Documentation, and Reflection: We use technology all the time as part of the learning. For example, when students recently built simple machine marble mazes, they used technology to inform and document the project. Teachers and students will use that documentation to inform reflection and later study. When access is limited, our ability to use technology in fluid ways as part of a project decreases.
  • Deeper Learning: New standards are calling for deeper work as well as the ability to utilize multimedia to inform and present that work. To build those deeper skills, students profit from having a tech device for research, writing, collaboration, share, reflection, assessment, and revision. With technology, this process becomes much more fluid, and this fluidity leads, in part, to depth.
  • Differentiation: Technology is a terrific tool for differentiation. Having ready access to technology allows the teacher to differentiate with greater success. Technology has multiple tools to assist student learning, and this is most evident with our students who struggle and our students who have advanced skill. In a differentiated classroom you might see a group working together using a collaborative online document to write a story or research report. You might also see individual students practicing a skill or reading about a topic of interest. Another group might be videotaping a play or presentation. In all cases, technology serves to both motivate and contribute to the targeted learning event.
  • Collaboration Near and Far: Technology is a great collaborative tool. Students can easily work together using collaborative platforms such as Google apps and WeVideo to write stories, make movies, research, and create slide shows. This collaboration can be done when students are together at school or when they are at their own homes. In this way, technology is able to bridge the geographic divide and lend itself to learning both in school and outside of school.
  • Blended Learning: Text books today are outdated due to the fact that information is constantly changing and a hard copy text book can’t keep up with those changes. Technology is today's textbooks. Online textbooks are updated readily and allow multiple ways to learn including virtual models and simulations, videos, games, drawing tools, research, coding, and more. Students learn and create with these tools. The blended curriculum depends on technology. Students are moving up into a world that blends technology with other mediums readily for all learning activities. Students need to practice learning in a blended environment in order be able to successfully function well in our blended learning/living culture.
  • Coaching: Technology allows teachers to readily coach students in school and at home daily. My tech savvy students/families email educators for help daily. In turn, teachers are able to quickly send links, information, and updates to support students’ learning. Similarly, during class, a teacher can access running records of student efforts as they study, research, and create. Those records help educators to coach effectively. Educators can also utilize technology to coach student multimedia composition with helpful editing and support tools.
  • Teaching: Trial and error, gaming, simulations, coding, and multiple apps teach students new skill. When there's ready access to technology, the teacher can first focus on teaching learning-to-learn skills that students can then apply with technology to learn more. The Place Value Movies Project is an example of this.
  • Problem Solving: Students are eager to solve problems. Access to technology helps students learn more since the technology is a window to the world of knowledge. Learning to use technology well takes away the dull drudgery of repetitive skill work and leads students to problem solving that helps them solve real-world problems. That work builds knowledge and skill, a thirst for contribution, and confidence with regard to what they're able to do for their world. Team Research WeVideo Example
  • STEAM: Technology informs and empowers STEAM work. This film demonstrates how one student used technology at home to create and manage a robot: This same student works via skype with a classmate and Minecraft to create games during the weekend as recreation. Students’ easy access to complex STEAM platforms is serving to develop their skill and ability in this area with strength.
  • Outdoor Education: Lightweight technology can be brought outside into the natural world to photograph, film, take notes, and inform outdoor education. For example, we're part of a river study. Last year students used technology to document and analyze data related to water quality. We could also use technology to analyze and report on our school ecosystem. I imagine young students with iPad minis on strings around their necks as they wander the woods taking pictures, researching plants and animals, and writing down reflections and observations. River Days Example
  • Voice: It is critical to develop good communication skills in today's world. The skills are also part of the Common Core Standards. Technology allows students to develop voice with regard to writing, speaking, and composition in ways that are easy to access, edit, present, and revise. Developing these skills with strength during the early years, prior to the self-consciousness of the teen years is advantageous. Example:
  • Space and Materials: Good tech means we need less room for books and paper which leaves more room for collaborative work and creative materials. The technology serves as the dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, calculator, math resource book, and more. This one tool serves as the “guide/assistant on the side” to support greater three-dimensional learning rather than the old fashioned sit-at-your-desk-and-listen learning. (Yet, there's still room for listening and learning)
  • Global Education: There are many platforms and activities that can be done with tech including pen pals and mystery skype that are easily managed and accessed via technology. This is a movie we made for a Chinese class when one of our students was going to China for a month:
  • Digital Citizenship: The best way to learn to be a good digital citizen is to have ready, guided access to technology. When you learn to use tools at a young age in a safe place to make mistakes and try out new tools, you are better prepared to navigate technology on your own later on. Guided, consistent tech use early on leads to more responsible technology use later.
  • Share: Technology serves to bring all the school learning experiences home to share with families. Here's an example of the share of the students' winter concert:
  • Efficiency and Computer Longevity: Sharing computers takes coordination and time. It also means that the computers are used a lot by multiple people.  Having one-to-one will alleviate the time for coordination and reduce use beyond one person.
  • Less Testing Stress: Sharing computers during testing time means that testing takes many, many days and interrupts the typical teaching/learning schedule. This disruption also means that specialist services are interrupted which challenges good teaching for students who need those services. If every child had a computer we won't have to stretch out the tests over such a long period of time since every child could take the tests during the same week.

One promising aspect of new tests is that the tests will hopefully inspire schools throughout the country to move to one-to-one tech access for every student as well as vigorous school infrastructures that support this initiative. That’s not to say the learning will only include tech, but instead that this technology infusion will invigorate engaging, blended learning design and implementation to elevate student learning and experience of school.

As we consider the role of one-to-one it is important to consider what deep learning looks like. These notes from Willingham's book provide good points for consideration:

Saying Good-bye

Sometimes we say good-bye to that which we once loved because it's the right thing to do. At times we leave beloved people, objects, activities, and routines in the past so we can move to the future. We awake and realize that what we once thought was ours forever is no longer needed at this juncture in the road and there's a call to say good-bye and move forward.

We all have to take stock now and then, and it may be that the things we say good-be to are small matters and seemingly inconsequential items, but to us we know that sometimes small restraints can hold back powerful potential.

It's time to say good-bye to some personal possessions, ones that only I understand well. I'm looking forward to a future without those items, items I once thought that I'd never leave.

Shared Teaching: "Your Class is Better Than Mine"

Sometimes classrooms are compared to one another by students, families, educators, and leaders. It's natural to compare similar situations to identify the similarities and differences. Yet, at times, comparisons like this may not serve the teaching/learning community well.

This year, as we embark on a shared teaching model for fifth grade, one advantage of the model is that all teachers are teaching all students thus there's little need or desire for comparison. We're working together to present a collective program that aims to serve all children well.

As each homeroom comes to my math class, I am well aware of each homeroom's individual personality. There's differences with regard to energy level, attention span, sense of humor, interests, and more. This doesn't make one homeroom better than the other, but clearly it demonstrates that different classes require a bit of difference when it comes to just right pedagogy and focus.

We teach all students the same material, but we also meet the students where they are thus differing our approaches to foster engagement and empowerment.

I really like the shared model of teaching at a grade-level. I think this model supports deeper collaboration which results in better delivery of services. As with any educational idea, what's good in one place or at one grade-level or subject area may not be good at another. That depends on context, focus, goals, and development, but if you're considering change, you may want to think about ways that you can share the teaching/learning responsibilities to benefit all students in ways that foster greater collaboration than comparison.

The Advantage of Assessments

As I watch students take an assessment this morning, I'm reminded of the advantage of taking assessments. One big advantage of the assessment is that students get to show off what they know by on their own. Another advantage is that I get to see how each individual student takes the test, and I am able to listen to the questions they ask. This helps me to better plan instruction and support for the following unit. Later, when I evaluate each assessment, I'll have even more information to use to better plan and deliver the math program to students.

Further, an assessment makes you take note of each of your students. Sometimes you find that the student who always has his/her hand up and appears to understand all the concepts introduced is actually struggling. At other times you may find that the quiet student who sits in the corner and rarely speaks actually has a really deep grasp of the material and is perhaps ready for greater enrichment.

It's important to give assessments regularly to students to assess how the program is going and how individual students are doing with regard to the content introduced. It's also important that assessments vary in style and format to give our many diverse students a chance to show what they know with their own talents and skills. Often an assessment menu approach serves this purpose well.

I want to rethink my assessment schedule and format as I review student work from this assessment. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts to share in this regard, please let me know..

When Kids Get Angry at You

One unfortunate reality of teaching and parenting is that sometimes children will get angry with you.

I remember way back when one of my sons was in the classroom next door to me. I could hear him getting redirected once in a while and I would open the door a jar and give him the look that said, "Do what the teacher says!" I knew that my son could be a handful, and despite his many wonderful qualities, he often pushed the boundaries especially as a young child.

The same thing happens as a teacher. Recently I had to make a tough call on the playground. A child was not following a safe expectation and he had to be redirected. He was not happy, and frankly, neither was I. I really don't like the "redirecting" part of the job, but I know it's an important part of guiding young people both in school and at home.

It's important that we always treat students with respect, and it's important to talk to them with kindness when you have to redirect, or after the fact, in order to make expectations clear and explicit. In most cases, I try to avoid redirection by creating lessons and a learning environment that invites positive action, engagement, motivation, and care. But it's inevitable that sometimes you're going to have to make a tough call, and that's when a child, at home or at school, will not be happy with you.

Typically once the dissatisfaction has relaxed, the child is back to his/her usual activity and the relationship is back on track. No one likes it when children get angry with you, but sometimes it happens, and what's important is that we take the time to talk to the child with respect to explain why the difficult decision was made.

Monday, November 23, 2015

PLC Focus: Teaching Variability and Value

If a teacher only teaches in one way, that teacher will only notice the talents and traits of the students who respond to that one-way path of teaching and learning.

When teachers teach in a large variety of ways, they will notice the varied talents, skills, and abilities of their students. This brings value to the teaching/learning community and to each student.

When we think of the variety of learning/teaching modalities, what do we include?

It would be a great PLC session to focus on creating a list of multiple modalities for teaching and learning. At the PLC teachers could share their preferred modalities as a way to better understand each others teaching and learning profile. As teachers share, the modalities could be listed. Then, once all have shared, the PLC members could review the list and then add other modalities that students enjoy or prefer.

Once a list is completed, teachers could return to their classrooms and share the list with students as one more way to elicit ideas for the list. At the next PLC, teachers could share the additions students made. Then they could create a list to hang in each classroom as a resource to use when planning lessons with and for students. When teachers come up with new ideas, they could share those ideas in an ongoing way so that everyone's list continues to grow.

The list could be used during collaborative learning design sessions at PLC. It could become a source of shared conversation and effort with regard to teaching children well.

Too often we get stuck in one modality of teaching and learning. When this happens we leave out those students who don't respond well to that modality. I was reminded of this today when I read the university students' blog posts. Some students who have less to contribute in class shine when it comes to the analysis, writing, and reflection in their blog posts. Hence, we have to think of the whole child as we teach and offer children multiple ways to teach and learn.

Student Blogs: An Important Teaching/Learning Tool

As I read through university students' blog posts this morning, I was struck with the fact that their semester-long blog of analysis and reflection related to multiple math education articles, methods, and information creates a body of work and thought. When one looks at the work as a whole, the student or future teacher emerges. Teacher candidates will be able to return to their blogs to inform future teaching/learning efforts as well as to reflect upon their career path from their days as undergraduates to multiple roles in education.

As I read their posts, I was also cognizant of the fact that their blogs and my responses allow me to have a "personal conversation" with each student via reading and writing. These posts give me an inroad to each students' needs and the needs of the class in general with regard to the course topic: Methods of Math Instruction.

Hopefully writing these blog posts will also help each teacher candidate to continue or begin a professional path of regular reflection, a path that will impact the work to teach well.

The blog is an important teaching tool today. One that can help every learner gain greater depth and understanding of the content and, most importantly, of themselves as they continue their learning journey.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Community Leaders and Communiciation

Daily my son's college sends out updates via Facebook. It's a quick reminder that we're part of this larger community, a community that contributes to many.

That's one important way to communicate as a community leader--one way to keep the community informed about important events and perspectives. It's one good way to translate community culture.

Communication is a key ingredient to any community. When communication is lacking, a community can lack the depth, connection, and culture necessary to meet its mission and do good work. It's the synergy and share in and about a community that makes any community strong.

Think about the communities you belong to. How do you learn about that community's actions, focus, contribution, and success? Who leads those communities, and what do they do to lead the community with strength and good work? Does the communication serve the community well by sharing the good news, conflict analysis and resolution,  and setting direction for efforts and events to follow? Does the communication invite the voices of many so that the community does a good job with inclusive participation and work?

As teachers we are community leaders of our classroom or subject-area communities. It's important that we continually communicate with all members of the community in ways that matter. it's also important that we invite the voices and participation of all community members, and that our goal setting is shared amongst the wide team of students, families, colleagues, leaders, and community members too.

My son's college is a good role model to follow when it comes to positive, inclusive, and proactive communication. Their messaging leads the community in ways that matter to the college and most importantly to the success of each student. Their blend of image, video, words, and links gives everyone in the community something to share and something to be proud of. I hope to do the same for my classroom community too.

Collaborative Unit Design Revisited

University students and teacher candidates will use this website template to collaborative design a geometry unit of study.
In today's era of bountiful resources and information, good learning design profits from collaboration. Getting together with a professional group of invested educators in your learning/teaching context to design, or redesign, a unit of study is a beneficial activity for both student and teacher learning. Soon I will engage the teacher candidates I teach at a local university in a learning unit design endeavor.

Where do you start with such an endeavor?

I suggest that you begin with the following components:
  1. Topic
  2. Standards
  3. Essential Questions
  4. Success Criteria and Goals
  5. Elements of Learning Design
  6. Learning Attributes and Skill Focus
  7. Vocabulary
  8. Blended Resources and Activities: hands-on activities, online/offline games, video, books, paper/pencil practice, coding, project/problem base learning, presentation, and more. 
  9. Assessments
  10. Expert Visitors
  11. Field Studies
  12. Specific learning experiences and lesson plans
  13. Professional Learning
Together the team can look over this list and create a website template to guide their work. Then they can discuss how they are going to complete the endeavor including where they will work on their own and where they will work together. 

As the team rolls out the unit, they can troubleshoot, revise, and enrich. As they do this, they can update their unit plan so that it's accurate and available for future use.

How often do you and your colleagues collaborate with regard to unit design that benefits student learning with dynamic study and experiences? What else would you add to this unit design shortlist?

When we have the chance to design learning together in our learning contexts, the learning for all becomes rich, memorable, and impactful. Every learning organization should make time for this important work.

This is an example of a unit design that colleagues and I worked on: Endangered Species Study

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Math Smart?

How do we help students forge math smart brain paths so that they can think and problem solve with mathematical process and problem solving?

I suggest the following activities.

Positive Attitude Towards Math
Eliminate all negative math talk and replace it with math interest, talk, and activity.

Early Learning in Math
Read math children's books, play math games, and include math in early learning talk and play.

Computation Ease
While modern day math education leaders are prompting us to use technology to do most of the calculations, it's still important for young children to count, establish one-to-one correspondence, understand the basic operations, and know how to calculate and estimate simple computation mentally and on paper.

Rationale and Real World
As much as possible tie every math activity to a real world context or problem.

Progressive Programs
Teach math by building one skill on top of another. Look for ways to boost progressive math programs rather than grade-level approaches to math learning. Like reading, math takes on a step-by-step process for most concepts, knowledge, and skill.

Collaboration and Engagement
Allow students to regularly work together with engaging math activities.

Technology Integration
Identify and use the best online math tech tools regularly to develop students' math ability. Teach students how to learn with online tools and activities.

Professional Learning
Create teams of math professionals who study, learn, and develop programs together. This professional collaboration will help to develop all math programming.

Vital Math Learning Environments
Make sure that math is visible in thought provoking, engaging ways in the hallways, classrooms, and meeting spaces throughout your school.

History of Math
Tell the story of math.

Make sure that students understand that math is a language that has its own vocabulary. Be explicit about teaching that vocabulary.

Math Play and Playgrounds
Create play spaces that allow students to experience math as they play.

These are a few starters as I think about how to increase math learning and engagement for my many students. What would you add to the list?

Professional Practice: Focus Your Efforts

As teacher friends and I talked last night, we concluded that it's best to focus your attention and efforts in order to contribute well to the learning/teaching community.

Currently I'm invested in the new model we've embedded at fifth grade. The TLI effort is prompting me to look deeply at this model with research and study. The fifth grade team is committed to this work and the principal is championing the effort. Specifically, the efforts to continue to strengthen this model include the following:
  • Continued collaboration with the teaching/learning team.
  • Research and reading.
  • Specific, strong work related to my part of the model which includes RTI Math, RTI ELA, The STEAM Center, and the math teaching/learning core program.
This is a strong focus for the new year. As I think of this focus, I'll engage in the following efforts:
  • Continued week-to-week efforts to present a strong multimodal, blended math program to all fifth grade students.
  • Read Lehmann and Chase's Building School 2.0 and apply the learning to our new model prior to the meeting in December.
  • Continued effort to meet the expectations of the TLI work.
  • Meeting with colleagues and the principal to review and build the model in December.
  • Focus the Educon 2.8 learning and presentation on how to empower, engage, and educate students well across discipline and specifically with regard to mathematics. 

Professional Direction

I had a great conversation with teachers from systems other than my own last night. I was delighted to hear about their schools' focus on student-teacher positivity, BYOD, and PBL. These schools are moving forward with regard to teaching well.

We talked a lot about school structure and ideas that would empower and support educators in the classroom more. We debated the coaching role with regard to when it's a powerful role in a school and when it's a role that defeats.

We talked about home-school balance which is always an issue, and we discussed what it's like to be the older teachers in a school, and what that means for our professional development and growth. Interesting enough, I've had that same conversation with teachers at the past two conferences I attended too. it seems that there is a fair group of 50-somethings who are teaching and looking for the best ways to use their experience and time to develop their professional repertoire and contribute well in schools.

Of course, some older teachers face ageism in the work place, and we discussed why that might happen. We also talked about the positive challenge that younger teachers bring to us since many of the new teachers joining schools are bringing a professional attitude, good skills and knowledge, and high expectations for themselves, colleagues, and students.

In the end, we felt that teachers in our age group often have the time to develop expertise and do significant work if the right supports are there. Again, if schools looked closer at their structures for teaching and learning, we all felt there was room for greater empowerment, professional learning, and service to students with greater shared leadership and revised structures.

It's great to have the opportunity to talk with teachers with depth from school systems other than your own. it's a great way to share ideas, troubleshoot, and move forward with regard to teaching students well. Edcamps, professional associations, and attendance at quality professional conferences are other ways to foster this kind of dialogue.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Advocacy for Learning

Sometimes one has to advocate for learning.

It seems strange that this would be the case in school, but some don't realize the importance of quality time on task with regard to learning.

This works best if everyone in a school or learning organization has time to make sure they're on track with the learning and teaching focus as well as priorities.

It will never be perfect, but we can continue to try to reach as much learning possible, together.

What is the Best Way to Teach Math Today?

As a teacher of teacher candidates, I've been amazed at the range of math study going on in the student's practicum schools throughout multiple districts. This leads me to the question, How do we teach math today? While researching the topic, I found this thought provoking video that will definitely impact the work I do in the days to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holidays and Teaching

The holidays are upon us, and that does affect the work we do in schools.

I told students a holiday story today. A story about a time when my family was very, very excited about a holiday and then someone's foot went through the window as he did a handstand on the coach. All that holiday excitement is sure to make children move around a lot and that's what we were doing on that exciting night. I then went on to tell how that window smashing event caused havoc in our house, and what was supposed to be a happy time turned into frustration for many. Then after everyone settled down, my dad wisely talked to us about the holiday excitement and that sometimes people will get upset at the holidays. He also went on to then say, " . . but it's the holidays so let's forget about that minor problem and celebrate the fact that we have a nice family to spend the holidays with." And that's exactly what we did that evening so very long ago.

When I tell the story, students understand. They know that the holidays bring joy and some havoc as well. It's a busy time. In school, year after year, I try to complement the season with a bit more simplicity and traditional teaching. While homes are filled with festivity, at school we work to learn and develop our community with care.  This approach has always worked well.

Messy Schedules and Tight Transitions

I got into a snag the other day during a five-minute transition time for my fifth graders. They have five minutes with which to transition from one end of the building to the other and back again. With regard to time, the transition could be easily completed in one minute. Hence we have four minutes of lag time which actually is a messy amount of time for ten and eleven year olds because they typically don't just hang out and talk. What's a teacher to do?

My first idea was not to transition up and down the school hallways and to stay put until the next event started, but teachers needed their space so the space to wait is unavailable. So what's a teacher to do?

We have several of these messy five-minute transition times in the schedule. I've tried to use the time to give students mental math problems which many like, but not all. I've tried walking outside and then inside again but the lure of the playground is too great for a good transition. I've got to think of something engaging and inviting that takes three minutes long and is not too noisy since everywhere we move to and from during that time is noise sensitive space.

I'm also going to work to try to eliminate these messy five minute transitions in the schedule next year as they are transitions that make the day much more difficult than it has to be.

Let me know if you have suggestions. Sounds crazy that this is an issue, but I'm not alone. The colleagues find this time difficult too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Does the Decimal "Move?"

A main focus of fifth grade math standards is to understand how numbers change when you multiply and divide by powers of 10 or multiply by decimal unit fractions (1/10, 1/100, 1/1000. . . .).  I had created this short SCRATCH animation to teach this concept and was reminded of it today as I taught the students. I think it work wells, and please use it if you'd like with your fifth graders. Of course it's better learning if students SCRATCH their own animation to show the concept.

Study Strategies: Do The Hard Part First

Today students discussed who and what it takes to study well for a test. Then we broke up into collaborative study groups. They demonstrated amazing tenacity as each group worked for 45 to 60 minutes with a study packet. There was a great buzz of activity in the room.

Tomorrow we'll continue this study session with a focus on "Do the Hard Part First."  I'll recommend that groups look through the packet and choose that most challenging pages to do first. By working on the most challenging part together they have a better chance of learning it with each others' help. "Doing the hard part first" is a often a good study strategy.

Collegial TenMarks Exploration

Our fifth graders across the system are using TenMarks this year.

This afternoon a teacher who has used the platform for some time will provide a workshop for all fifth grade teachers.

After using the platform in earnest for a couple of months, I am looking forward to the workshop. I have a number of questions, I'm curious about including the following:
  • How does this teacher use the platform to forward student learning?
  • How does she use the reports to inform families and inspire students?
  • How does she personalize the assignments for students who struggle and students who are advanced?
  • Does she regularly use the "jam sessions" and "assessments?"
  • What are her favorite data reports and how does she use those reports to inform instruction?
  • How does she integrate this learning venue with other venues that we typically use?
This is a good time for the team to meet with regard to TenMarks since we've all had the chance to use it with our students. This is an example of professional learning that matters. 

Teaching Math: Study Groups

At fifth grade students are just beginning to think about studying for tests. Today we'll focus on that as students prepare for their first unit test.

There's a study packet, and we'll create groups of students whose job it will be to help each other complete the packet as they study for the upcoming test. I'll make myself available to help as much as possible with regard to questions they can't answer or problems they struggle with.

Before we start, I'll ask students, How can you help each other practice and study for the upcoming test using this packet of problems and questions?

After students share ideas, I'll send small groups of like-styled learners to small spaces around the room to study. I'll move around the room to support the learners. I hope this will be an empowering moment for the students as they help each other learn. Let's see.

MCAS 2.0: The Possibilities

Now that Massachusetts has decided to move forward with MCAS 2.0 what will that mean for the State's learners?

MCAS 2.0 has the potential to lead the State forward with a positive education for all in the following ways.
  • The test could break down the walls of grade level schools and move towards learning competencies and progressions so that children learn in ways that are more natural to their developmental growth.
  • The test will take advantage of technology and hopefully promote, sooner than later, inclusion of a high quality tech tool(s) for every child in the state. I imagine that this will result in a test that asks students to navigate multiple online platforms as one way to access and synthesize information. 
  • The test may promote greater hands on exploration and STEAM study.
  • Perhaps the test will promote greater "learning to learn" behaviors and attitudes.
  • Will the test acknowledge the need to risk and make mistakes as a learner?
  • The test, I suspect, will continue to promote the fact that students need a strong knowledge, concept, and skill foundation in order to learn more. 
  • Will the test acknowledge the growing need for coding, computational thinking, and systems think and work? 
  • How will the test support the need to build strong, empathetic, and culturally proficient communities too?
  • In what ways will the test promote learning-to-learn growth mindsets and behaviors?
We tend to teach what is tested, and in this regard, a test can serve as a goal post of quality teaching and learning if it supports good learning and teaching which I believe is a holistic approach to student success. 

Empowering Students and Families in this New Age of Learning

I told students the other day, "There's no reason why anyone in this class can't become a math expert with all the tools and resources available today. The key, however, is to learn to use the tools and resources well to learn successfully."

Then we moved on to learning about how to use Khan Academy as one tool for positive learning.

Students and many family members don't naturally understand how to utilize today's tools to learn well. I see the worth in all of these new tools since I use the tools regularly to forward my own learning, but when it comes to translating my experience into advocacy and explanation, that can be challenging.

For example, I know that good learning profits from revisiting former concepts with greater understanding and depth. When I read Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School?, he supports this activity with cognitive research. When students revisit a concept they've learned before with more a sophisticated and experienced lens, they are able to make deeper connections and learn the concept and vocabulary with new understanding. This kind of review supports deeper learning with regard to the new level, knowledge, and concept with which they are learning in the general concept area. That's why I ask students to complete assignments in Khan Academy at earlier levels. Not only does completing these assignments give them easy access to learning the Khan Academy platform, but it also solidifies skill with models, number, vocabulary, and explanations in content areas. This is important.

Another way to deepen formerly learned skills, concepts, and information is to have older students plan learning experiences and then teach these concepts to younger students.

Although no one exercise or activity will serve all children well. In some cases, this kind of review may not be appropriate or necessary given a child's outside of school learning experiences and opportunities.

Learning to learn means that we understand how our brains work and what we need to learn a new concept well. When we enter the learning arena with that understanding, our ability to learn expands significantly.

Old fashion "sit in your seats and listen" can still work in part, but there are far more ways to learn today, ways that offer, perhaps, deeper and more successful learning. Identifying the many learning paths possible and teaching students how to navigate those paths will support best learning.

Where do we start in this regard?

First, let students know that there are many, many ways to learn--paths such as online platforms, gaming, building/making, experiments, reading, writing, listening, watching, experiencing, and more. And with each lesson, ask the question, Is this a good way for you to learn? Why or Why not?

Then apply these multiple paths to each learning unit. Make sure to give each path the repetition it needs to strengthen learning and make the time to talk about the finer details of each learning path with questions such as the following:
  • How do you navigate this learning path?
  • What makes it successful for you?
  • What makes it difficult for you?
  • When do you use this path and why?
Engage family members and colleagues in this discussion to with questions like this:
  • What are your main modalities of teaching and learning?
  • What are the main modalities in your classroom or home?
  • How does your child (the children) learn best? Why does this work for him/her?
  • What resources do we need to support best learning? 
  • How can we work together to learn about, try out, and share new learning paths? 
There's lots to think about in this regard. I'll lead a conversation at Educon 2.8 about this topic. I'm sure that together on that day we'll all learn a lot and come up with some great suggestions for others as well. 

A Teacher Who Cares Is A Gift to All of Us

I've been struck by the deep care a teacher in my midst is bringing to her students. I've been watching this teacher closely and I'm learning a lot.

What have I noticed?

This teacher always has a smile on her face. She eagerly greets children and gently invites them into the learning.

This teacher takes the learning and adapts it to her learners readily and sensitively. She's not quick to criticize, but instead she's ready to positively make change to support her learners.

This teacher reaches out to me and other colleagues to keep the positive conversation going about how we can best teach students.

This teacher continually reaches out to families in a proactive way making suggestions and providing support to help students learn.

This teacher quietly works with the entire learning team continually helping all of us work together to best support each child.

The questions she asks, the work that she does, and outreach she initiates continually sends the message that she cares about all of us, her students, her colleagues, and the families she works with.

What a gift to work with a teacher like this.

Student Behavior Expectations?

I was challenged with regard to behavior expectations recently. This made me think about my expectations with regard to student behavior. What matters?

What Matters?
When I see a child, I see their future. I don't spend a lot of time on small behavioral issues and save my energy for bigger issues with regard to behavior. For example, I may not spend a lot of time if students aren't listening well during a random transition, but I will make the time to make sure that everyone is listening if I'm relaying an important point with regard to a lesson, a safety issue, or detail that impacts the day.

Let Children Move
Also, if a child is one who likes to move a lot and has trouble sitting still, I'll give that child extra opportunity to get up and move. I find that a few minutes of extra movement here and there settles a child down rather than constant reminders about "not moving." My wise son inspired this a long time ago when he said, "No one jumps around like that at the high school." Now I know that some still jump around in high school, but in general children settle down as they get older, and young children love to move a lot. We have to make sure we're giving them adequate time and space to move.

Ask Why?
I also always ask myself, why are children behaving the way they are behaving? If a lesson isn't going well and students start to act up, I'll say, "This lesson is not going as I planned so I can understand why you're getting anxious; try to stick with me, and I'll cut the lesson short so you have some extra time to play and move." Similarly, if another issue has found it's way into the classroom, I won't try to force the original lesson or issue. Instead I'll stop and address the issue that's taking priority, and then we'll get back on track.

Another factor that affects my behavioral expectations is focus. For example if one child is really reaching a wonderful point of learning or expression and another is acting out. I may choose to ignore the "acting out" if not dangerous in order to give the child who is excelling a chance to excel. Then I'll redirect the child who is off task.

Solve Problems with Children
One more strategy that works well is simply asking questions. For example if a child continually disrupts a lesson, I might say, "I notice that every time we _____, you make it difficult for us to proceed. Why do you think that's happening?" Then we'll converse about the issue as I explain why I need his/her support, and he/she explains what makes that difficult. Generally discussions like this make positive change for all.

Optimal Seating
Further, optimal seating helps. I tell children, "Everyone is sitting next to (or working with) someone who will help them learn in many ways." It's great to see them look at their study mates and start thinking about what gifts those students are bringing to them.

Servant Leadership
Over the years I've changed a lot when it comes to leading a classroom community. I've adopted the servant leadership model and I consider myself a "servant" to the students and families I work with. With this model, I am always thinking about how I can serve children better. What can I do to help them today and impact their future with positivity. I consider the children, family members, colleagues, and myself as a teaching/learning team. This model has empowered what I can do for and with children. It has made a dramatic, positive difference to the work I do each day. While there's always room for growth, I consider this to be a positive path to teaching and learning well.

I'll revisit the conflict that inspired this post. I can see positive ways to respond to the challenge, ways that will support children and our collegiality will strength. Onward.