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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Untangle to Lead to Good Work

We often have to take the time to untangle all that we do to make sure that we're investing our energy, time, and effort into work that matters.

As I read and reflect about numerous articles related to education and politics, this need for untangling strikes me.

With regard to my own work, there are many paths that I'm invested in and each professional path affects the other.

Communication
I'm working to build optimal communication skills in order to advocate for and inquire about issues and efforts that positively affect what I'm able to do to teach children well. This has been a challenging process for me due to to the evolution of the teaching/learning role in schools today, vibrant share with my PLN, and my own research and reading related to teaching well

Curriculum Share and Development
I am a proponent of inclusive, shared teaching/learning design--a kind of design that's brain-friendly, student-centered, and well-researched to meet students' needs and interests. I believe that when this is a thoughtful, collaborative process, the results are generally very good leading to good work and care for children.

Good Process
As the book, Intentional Interruption, describes, good work depends on good process, and that good process depends on adequate inclusive and transparent problem analysis.

Restructure of Roles, Scheduling, and School Structure
I believe we need to continue to look at roles, scheduling, and school structure in order to maximize what we can do for and with each child to promote success.

Deep Teaching and Learning
My focal point is math teaching this year and this is the area where I'm investing most of my curriculum efforts.

Shared Teaching Model
I'm working closely with a large group of educators, families, and students to successfully teach all fifth graders at our school. This is a worthy challenge that has been met with significant support and affirmation.

There's lots to do to untangle our efforts and right our paths in directions that matter. Our paths intertwine with one another and in this regard good communication, discussion, and structure will help us to achieve our goal which is to teach children well.

Curriculum Analysis, Update, and Share

This week I had the opportunity to view and discuss curriculum with a large group of educators that represent K-12 education. I found the focus topic which related to higher order thinking skills and Bloom's Revised Taxonomy to be worthwhile. I also thought the process as a participant was growth-producing leading to good reflection, new ideas, and application with regard to my daily work as an educator.

The study led me to think about school structure, roles, schedules, and share. I wondered once again, how do we restructure and communicate to impact learning in meaningful ways?

As I thought more I thought about the importance of the way we communicate, the questions we pose, the patterns of communication, and regularity.

First, with respect to manner, I tend to fall on the side of being a tad too critical as I'm used to looking for better and developing deeper. As the moderator of the event presented, I was struck by her positivity, inclusion, and careful, inviting language. A good model to follow.

I also like the process which in a sense followed a sequence of introduction, focus, observation, reflection, share, pattern identification, share again in writing and in the form of follow up questions. This was a great sequence for group work.

In the end, in addition to using the share to improve my own practice, I thought about how this kind of work can be translated into curriculum development and share.

As far as share, perhaps newsletters that once simply shared information could foster greater research, reflection, and collaboration with the following sections:
  • Questions to Ponder: questions that leaders, staff, leaders in the field, and others are asking related to the discipline areas.
  • Development: Efforts currently in place to deepen and develop practice.
  • Opportunity: Professional learning opportunities.
Perhaps this share could be a regular, interactive share that includes a place for staff to add their thoughts as well as a place for leadership summary and share. 

Similar to our State Department of Education, it would be great if this share had a regularity to it such as every week or every other week. 

In the end, the communication intent would be to foster a vibrant, transparent, and supportive community of learners and teachers, a community that regularly shares best practice, questions,  research, and development. 

I'll think more about this, but in the meantime, if you've changed your patterns of communication to foster greater share and forward thinking with regard to teaching well, please tell me about it. 



Don't Foster a Culture of Silence

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk about meaningful teaching/learning issues. It was a good conversation, one that needed to happen.

Often in education and other realms, silence is advocated since talking about the difficult questions creates disruption. While I know it's difficult to find the time and to share the thinking that goes with big questions and difficult topics, I still hold that it's important that we are willing to make the time, create the process, and then to discuss what truly matters when it comes to teaching students well.

During these conversations we have to be gentle with one another because we know it's not a simple matter to teach large groups of diverse students well. In fact, like a complex math problem, there are many variables involved in this endeavor, and because of this, these discussions have to be sensitive and careful, but that's not a reason to quell time to talk.

We also have to look at the structures we use to talk and ask the questions:
  • Is there enough time?
  • Have we done the necessary preparation?
  • Are we using good process--a process that's inclusive, efficient, and forward moving?
  • Do we understand where each person is coming from?
  • What's the main goal?
  • What is the level of urgency and/or priority related to this topic?
Instead of a culture of silence, I support a culture of respect, open share, and collective goal setting. I'm a big fan of the shared leadership model in this respect. 

I want to think more about this topic and the many elements related to it as we work together to grow and develop schools. I want to also think about the diplomacy, respect, empathy, and care that goes along with this topic. There's lots to learn. 

The Interaction of Deep Teaching and the Broad View: What Matters?

As I have delved deeper into the teaching of math and fifth grade students, I find that my broad lens on teaching pedagogy, new tools, and multiple disciplines has waned a bit. I'm really enjoying this deep focus and the ability to teach each child well with regard to math, but I also want to make sure that I don't lose track of the good tools, pedagogy, and knowledge in other areas.

One structure that has been put in place to support knowledge building is the use of the PLC as a time to share and learn new tools. For example, this week we were introduced to Google Classroom and next week we're going to explore Google Fluency Tools.

Another possible structure that would help is a weekly interactive curriculum update that lists present questions, research, efforts, and resources that the system-wide teachers and learners are focused on. This kind of share would help to engage the whole community in the thinking and questions related to learning. This kind of share could foster greater depth with regard to multidisciplinary and multi-age teaching and learning.

As educators we need to go deep with our work and we also have to stay abreast of the broad arena of education thought and research. This will happen best when systems right their structures, roles, and schedules to this continual evolution towards up-to-date, student-centered, contextual, top-notch teaching and learning.

I'm just beginning to think about this, and if you have any thoughts on the matter, please share.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Musings: Last Friday in October 2015

The parent conferences are serving to solidify our team as we work together, parents and teachers, to coach each child forward.

There's a few conferences left in the week ahead, and then it will be time to embed the goals and efforts we discussed.

The week ahead will likely be a less busy and more targeted week than the past week including the following emphases:

Place Value Unit/Space Unit
We'll use lots of space numbers as we study and practice place value knowledge, concept, and skill.

The Lightning Thief
Our book group will dig in as we discuss our reading of this book.

Online Math
I'll spend some time organizing students' priorities with regard to their math needs and our many, targeted online math resources.

Math RTI
I'll introduce this practice to students and we'll all split up into groups to learn, practice, and enrich skill with regard to large number computation.

Faculty Meeting
Safety will be the focus of this week's meeting.

WTA/MTA
I imagine we'll discuss multiple topics as we work to support educators in our system.

TLI
It will be good to get back to this work.

FSU
I'll catch up on the university students' blogs and work with students to study the use of rubrics with regard to assessing problem solving, creating data charts, and using data to inform study. We'll also look at learning progressions related to specific math concepts and topics.

Homework/Organization Patterns
At fifth grade we'll focus on our organization patterns and homework routines too.

A busy week to come. Now it's time for family, friends, and the weekend :)

PLN Connections: Learning that Matters

My wise and bountiful PLN has helped me develop as a learning and teacher in the past many years. Some lessons I refer to often including the following:
  • Embrace mistakes and learn from them
  • Analyze problems and work towards solution
  • Collaborate with good process
  • Lifelong learning
  • Let your practice evolve as you learn
  • Communicate with compassion, empathy, understanding, transparency, honesty, and regularity
  • Keep your eyes on the focus in education which is teaching children well.
Thanks PLN! Though good learning, at times, can be very painful and challenging, your messages have strengthened me and helped me to grow. Onward!

Fond Memories

A handsome, young boy walked into my room today after school and announced, "You were my uncle _____'s teacher."

I looked at the boy and smiled, "Yes, I remember your uncle. It seems like yesterday when he was in my class." (It was actually 30 years ago during my first year of teaching.)

The young, bright boy was delighted that I remembered. I was similarly delighted as I looked into the boys eyes and remembered well his spirited, bright, and kind uncle.

This was a bright spot in the day.

Finding Common Ground

Last week at our PLC I cried. I cried when I perceived a colleague to be limiting what I could do to teach children well. This upset me because I like to teach in creative, multi-sensory, differentiated ways that stretch and bend to meet students where they are. If the parameters are too tight, I can't teach that way, and when I can't teach that way, I can't create the vigorous, enthusiastic learning/teaching community I aim to create.

Yet, a week later, I've been thinking about those tears and that disruption. For so long, in a sense, I've felt trapped by the mandates, processes, and structure of school. While I'm a fan of many new initiatives, research about good teaching, and student-centered, brain-friendly process, I'm not a fan of teacher-less dictates and orders that don't include our voice, ideas, or experiences. Hence, I guess I've grown quite a strong outer layer after all these years of what I think of as "oppression." Therefore when someone tries to limit the work I can do or have researched and worked on with depth and significant time, I react with emotion. This isn't the first time this has happened. It happened once when a school poster seemed to demean girls and people of color, and it happened another time when software choices also limited the students who could "see themselves in the program." Each time the challenge didn't fit recent reading and research or my experience as a teacher of 30 years.

But we all bring different perspectives to education. We bring our perspectives as learners ourselves (We all have had different learning experiences). We bring the perspectives of the homes we were raised in and live in now. We bring the perspective of gender and power. We bring the perspectives of our education, tenure, and professional work. We bring the perspectives of our vision, dreams, hopes, and plans for the future.

With that in mind, the goal has to be finding common ground, understanding each other, and working with respectful, forward-moving process. So when we meet today, I hope to learn more about the limitations, directives, and process that frustrated me so. I also want to understand why my tears and words were disconcerting to the colleague. I also hope that I can relay a bit about who I am and my perspective to the colleague too. In the end, I hope we can find common ground because I know that we both care a lot about children, education, and doing what's right in the community of learners we contribute to each day. Onward.


Addition
Finding common ground depends on good listening, quality process, and common goals too.

More Scores: Conditions for Excellence

More scores trickled in during the past few days which gave me a better chance to assess last year's teaching and learning. To a large degree our collective program and activities are working. This is good news.

My goal last year was to teach well and get good scores too, and that happened to a large degree. Also I need to mention that these scores weren't all about me because at our school we have the following awesome attributes:
  • terrific tech access and programs (yes, I always want more and better, but we do have very good resources)
  • committed and skilled parents, educators, and students
  • access to basic needs and multiple academic/enrichment resources, opportunities, and experiences
  • adequate facilities
  • some time to collaborate (yes, I'd still like more)
  • boost programs that occur after school and during the summer
  • response to intervention
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
In summary, we mostly have the conditions for excellence in our school system due to a large number of factors in and outside of school. These are the conditions that good teachers want for every student in every school everywhere.

The reason I am most happy about the good scores is because it will allow me the freedom to continue to deepen my teaching in ways that matter, ways that aren't all about scores, but instead about teaching to and with the whole child


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Developing the Classroom Program

There's so much to learn and so much to do with regard to developing the classroom program. As I meet with family members and hear stories of student success and need, I gain many new ideas for teaching well, ideas that are included in these categories:

Cozy Classroom
Our class community is off to a great start. Now it's time to add a few cozy chairs and a bit more organization so this "home away from home" is inviting to all.

Seating Arrangement
Students have desks that they work at when we have a teacher-directed lesson, and now it's time to re-look at the seating arrangements so that everyone is in a seat for optimal learning.

Homework
Family members have expressed an interest in more homework response so I'll try a new idea this week. Let's see how it goes. A couple also expressed some ideas for our homework list and we'll try something new for that too.

Theme Days
Students' portfolio reflections notes that they really enjoyed the Global Cardboard Challenge. With this in mind, it's probably time to talk about our next theme day.

Math Depth and Skill
It's time to dig into math skill, knowledge, and concept building. As I've noted every minute counts in this regard.

I have a great team of wonderful students, colleagues, and family members. It's in our collaboration that we can do good work. Onward.


Good Work and Challenge

I am most challenged when the work proposed or embedded does not meet current research and reading. This frustration grows when others are unwilling to discuss the mismatch or develop the activity or program.

What challenges you most with regard to collaboration?

It's difficult to keep all work up to date with regard to the tremendous research, ideas, and resources available with regard to teaching well today. It also takes time and skill to share, understand, and apply that knowledge. Yet if we're satisfied with accepting old notions, notions that may not have good merit today, we don't offer our students as much as we can.

How do you move your work forward?

When I'm in a situation where old think dominates and new think is not accepted, it feels like a tight cell rather than a fluid sea of ideas, effort, and growth. This restriction challenges the reading, research, and learning I do as well as the potential and promise I see for better schools.

Do you feel restricted or empowered with regard to the application of new research and ideas?

What processes do you and your colleagues use to share and discuss the need for new practice and new ideas? How much acceptance, encouragement, commitment, and support is there for new ideas, innovation, and updated application? What is the pace of this innovation? Is it too slow or too fast?

What processes foster innovation and change in your organization?

I like to keep my work with students moving forward. I enjoy trying new ideas as I seek to challenge and teach each student well. My teaching is always changing as I read, research, and reflect. Good work for me is work that continues to evolve with respect to students' needs and interests as well as the expectations and current research/innovation.

Is your teaching continuing to evolve or does it essential stay the same? 

The challenge for me is how to best communicate this need as well as the merits of this focus. I want to advocate for the types of processes that allow schools, educators, and students to develop programs, resources, and activities in regular, worthy, and promising ways. In a sense I want to reshape the structures of the schools we work in so that we can better meet the academic needs and interests of every child as I believe that many old structures stymie this potential.

How do you imagine the restructure of systems and structures to better meet the need for innovation and evolution in schools? 

Trust?

Trust is critical to optimal collaboration, yet trust is often compromised for many reasons. A lack of communication, transparency, honesty, commitment, good process, consistency, and time all challenge trust.

When trust does not exist, it's difficult for people to express who they are, share their truth, open up, and work with depth. A lack of trust leads to surface work, and surface work often does not reach the potential possible.

We all engender trust and I expect that we all contribute to a lack of trust at times too. When we assess our practice, we can ask these questions with regard to building a culture of trust.

  • Do you share important information regularly?
  • Are you consistent?
  • Do you communicate with transparency and honesty?
  • Do you understand the mission of your work, and do you commit to that mission?
  • Do you foster good process?
  • Are you a listener?
  • Do you support those you work with and for?
  • Do your words match your actions?
Teaching well calls forth the best of us, and when we're willing to reach in and out to meet that call, students benefit. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

More About Math

I'm delighted with my math students this year. They're eager, enthusiastic, and engaged. I enjoy digging into the number concepts, knowledge, and skill in ways that will empower my students. It's an arena that welcomes me, and one I'm learning more and more towards.

Try Try Again: #101

It's been a series of closed doors and challenges lately.

Honestly I'm at about idea #100 with regard to meeting a challenge I've been facing. No one can fault me for not trying, but I continue to hit obstacles.

I've been told, "You're too honest," but I don't want to support a culture of silence.

It's discouraging, but I'll try idea #101 tomorrow.


Passion?

I am a passionate person who feels deeply, yet some find that passion difficult. They do not understand the depth, emotion, and feelings that are a big part of who I am and what I do. In fact, when I express my point of view, they find fault with my beliefs, share, ideas, and excitement. I've worked to tone it down, keep silent, not share, yet when I work vigorously, honestly, creatively, and transparently with others, my work with children is much richer, deeper, and strong.

In some places, where "one size fits all" teachers, programs, delivery, and personality are supported and encouraged, it's very difficult to be who you are and reach the depths or share possible. In these arenas, silence and step-to-the-expected-beat work is expected. These are difficult arenas for creative, expressive people like me. There are other places, however, where passion is welcome, embraced, and seen as a positive attribute, an attribute that leads to good work and effort.

I've thought a lot about this as an elementary school teacher since it's a place where expressive passion and emotion like mine is unwelcome by some. I grew up in an expressive home; I am a creative person who spends a lot of devoted time on my craft; and I like to teach in ways that I know reach children well. I'll continue to think on the subject and the many challenges that come my way in this field. If I had to do it again, I'm wondering if I would choose teaching because too often what I deem innovative, creative, evolving, and dynamic are not welcome in this field. Something to think about, something to continue to use to develop who I am and what I do for and with the learning team: children, colleagues, families, leaders and community members.

Optimal Process Leads to Good Work

Yesterday I participated in a collaborative learning design effort. It was terrific. For six hours almost nonstop we discussed, researched, created, organized, and synthesized countless information points, materials, and strategies as we created a learning path related to a single, but deep, math standard for the grade level.

The meeting reminded me of the potential of good process. Too  often we take part in efforts without good process, and typically those kinds of efforts do not result in good work. Yet, when the process is well organized, the potential for good work and result soars. Time and again I'm reminded of the need for analysis, good planning, and process with regard to the good work possible.

Facts and Good Work

It's important to know the facts of a situation. That's why I'm a fan of transparent, regular communication. When communication is sparse there's potential that the facts that matter get lost and then all kinds of conjecture and possible untruths arise.

A long time ago there was a child in my class that I thought might be stealing money and trinkets from other children. I had no proof. Then about $80 in book money went missing from my desk. Immediately I wondered if it was this child. I consulted a colleague who gave me wise advice which was unless you see someone doing something wrong, never make an accusation. I followed her advice and let it go. Then at the end of the year when I was cleaning out my desk, I found the $80. behind a heavy bottom drawer. I was so happy that I never accused the child. I notified families and returned the money.

This is a good lesson and story that I often share with children as they want to accuse each other when things go wrong. It's a good lesson for adults too. Thankfully we have agencies and individuals in charge of finding the facts, promoting the law, and investigating the truth. It's important to reach out to these people if needed, and it's also important to ask questions and support one another as we use the facts to forward our good work and effort.

Further, I continue to notice that so many times when people err, others are there to help out, but they don't. So often in the news, the bad news could have been prevented if others stepped in, spoke up, got help, and stopped the perpetrator of the misdemeanor, crime, violence, or dangerous act. We need to be there for each other to help each other to do the right thing and promote positive activity and effort. This is important when it comes to the facts and efforts that move us forward with strength, good will, and positive activity.

Midweek Reflections: Last Week October 2015

Color Coding Place Value Charts
Today math students will study place value by color coding a place value model. I'm going to slow down this lesson so that we can think deeply about each place and its value. We'll also watch a few short videos that show how the place value system works. Students will store their charts in their red classroom folder--a folder we use to store all unit information.

Learning Routines
Since we worked on portfolios for quite some time last week, it's time to revisit our typical learning routines as well.

Parent Conferences
Parent conferences continue. The showcase portfolios are proving to be a terrific vehicle for discussing students' efforts, attitudes, needs, and goals. I like having all the conferences during one week, however this year a few unexpected events upset the schedule a bit so the conferences will stretch out to next week as well.

Families know their children well and invest tremendous time and care into their education. The conferences give us a time to discuss each child's unique profile and progress. I always learn a lot, and the conferences result in refining the curriculum program too.

PARCC Test Results
I'm waiting for the PARCC scores. I'm anxious to see how last students did since I did embed the standards into the math curriculum regularly and we focused on the deep problem solving that PARCC requires. Yet in looking at some similar problems yesterday I was reminded of the level of depth and precision required to do well on these tests so I know it's not easy to do well. Nevertheless review of the data will inform my teaching this year as I look at where the class in general did well on the test and where they struggled. I'm also interested to see if students scored as I expected they would.

More Math
The place value unit includes many, many activities, problems, and practice. We'll continue on that learning path which is outlined on our Magnificent Math website.

University Students
The university students will continue to explore the use of literature in the math classroom, discuss relevancy with regard to math learning and teaching, share lesson plans and learning experiences, and continue to build their blended learning math chart and knowledge.

Football
There's a big football game this Friday night. I'll be cheering for our team.

Instructional Rounds
Last year I wrote a lot about instructional rounds as colleagues and leaders from throughout the system embarked on our school to watch children learn with a focus on perseverance. Tomorrow I'll join system-wide staff at the high school to partake in a similar event focused on a single question, a question I'll review tonight as I prepare for the event. As an educator, I didn't gain a lot from the event last year since there wasn't a lot of specific focus with regard to teaching, but I imagine I'll gain more as an observer and participant since I'll be able to see what the high school teachers do with greater depth, and I'll also be able to hear what system-wide staff have to say about teaching and learning in general. It's good to gain a broader perspective with regard to the K-12 progressions and multiple viewpoints with regard to teaching and learning.


It's another busy week, a hybrid-week of teaching and learning. I actually really like the blend of professional and classroom events that make up this week. I think it's a good model for what teaching/learning can be like in order to teach children well and continue to develop professional learning.



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Collaborative Unit Design: Teaching Math

This morning I'm scheduled to meet with a number of colleagues to design a math unit of study. I really enjoy designing learning experiences and I look forward to working with this group of colleagues who have both similar and different educational backgrounds and experiences to me.

As I think about curriculum design, I'm thinking about all that we can do to engage, empower, and educate our students and what's important in this regard.

Standards
Since we run a standards-based curriculum program, the first step is to identify the standards and have clarity on what those standards mean. Do we agree when it comes to the interpretation of the standards.

Readiness
Next we need to discern if the students are ready for the standards teaching. Do they have the background knowledge, skill, and concept to learn these relatively new standards? If not, what pre-work and teaching do we need to do to ensure readiness for the teaching.

Curiosity and Interest
How can we make sure that students are invested in this learning. What rationale and questions will we share with students that will pique their interest? What stories and objectives will we post? What kind of exploration will we engage in together to create a curious team of learners?

Vocabulary
What is the signature vocabulary for this unit? How will we teach, display, and continue to use that vocabulary throughout the unit?

The Learning Path
What will the learning path look like? What comes first, second, and after that?  What blended learning materials and resources will we use to teach the unit well? Will we use video, online model making tools, paper/pencil exercises, group work, projects, or presentations?

Assessment
How will we formally and informally assess students at the start and throughout the unit? How will we use those assessments to inform the learning path.

Enrichment 
What will we add to the unit for those who understand the information well? How will we enrich the learning for those eager to learn more?

Communication
How do we best communicate the information with regard to the unit? What websites, newsletters, parent letters, and more will we use to allow the learning team including students, family members, colleagues, leaders, and community members to access the information as needed 24-7?

I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues to design a unit of merit for our students. I look forward to learning from their experiences, points of view, and resources. This is the kind of curriculum work and collaboration I support, and the challenge will be to contribute as well as to take with the student learning and engagement as the focal point.



Monday, October 26, 2015

The Naysayer

The naysayer finds fault before considering a new idea.

The naysayer is often close minded to new think and creates obstacles for new ideas.

The naysayer is cautious man or woman who knows that new ideas and thought can wreak havoc. His or her cautious nature makes us take note, stop to think, reconsider, and revise.

There's a sandpaper like rub between the naysayer and the promoter or forward mover. Together they can create good work if they are willing to consider each others point of view. Alone, both have the possibility of greater problems and less effectiveness.

We are all rooted to ideas, think, practice, and beliefs of old that have served us well, and when those constructs are challenged, we may all react as naysayers first standing our ground with strength. Yet, if wise, we will entertain new ideas with open minds and good process. On the other hand, we will all want to forward our work and effort particularly where we see room for growth, change, promise, and possibility, and we will cringe at the retorts of those who want to keep things the same, yet we will be wise to listen to their counsel.

None of us are either naysayer or promoter, but all of us play a version of one role or the other at times. The wisdom in both comes from strategy, empathy, listening, observation, and keen thought. What is best and why? Typically it's never one or the other, but some of this and some of that which results in good change.

Polarization stymies good work while collaboration and consideration of all ideas on the table bring us forward. This is difficult to learn particularly when we are championing ideas and process we are passionate about, but the truth is that none of us have all the answers and it's in our work together that we make a difference most of the time. Agree?

The Math Edit

Today I'll engage in a large number of math edits.

What is a math edit?

A math edit is a close look at students' mathematical thinking, model making, writing, or assignment completion preferably in a one-to-one conference.

Students will individually present their work. I'll take a close look. If there are areas for improvement or change, I'll discuss that with the child and give him or her an opportunity to make those changes. If the project is at the completion point, I'll highlight its strengths and perhaps a few ideas for the next time around.

These one-to-one edits will give me a good look at each child's mathematical thinking and understanding. By hanging up the projects for all to see, it will give students a good look at how other students interpreted and completed the assignment. That's positive share with lots of potential for growth.

While I edit with individuals, the other students will work to add finishing touches to their projects and/or complete multiple online assignments and catch-up work in their showcase portfolios or with other assignments.

Math edits take time, yet the result of that shared thinking, discussion, and coaching is terrific when it comes to depth and understanding. I'm sure I'll have more to say once the edits are complete, but in the meantime, I've got to get ready for the intensity ahead.

I Want to Understand: How Do You Teach Math Well?

I'm still mulling over the math debate at our PLC last week, a debate that frustrated me. It's not uncommon to have math debates in school since there are many ways to teach math well and there's limitless resources today when it comes to teaching math.

Our debate essentially arose from a discussion of when to teach decimals related to specific algorithms and problem solving. I tend to use the curriculum outline as a guide and embed the teaching of multiple concepts again and again while following the guide. I repeat concept, knowledge, and skill work often as I embed and connect new learning concepts and perspectives. Hence rather than teach decimals at one or two points throughout the year, I connect decimals to each unit regularly to a greater or lesser degree depending on student needs and interest as well as the content focus. I find that this repetition and multi-dimensional study of each concept helps students to gain understanding. Yet, as mentioned at the meeting, I recognize that you have to be cautious with regard to concept overload especially for those students who have difficulty integrating too many concepts at once. As I often say, teaching is a dance, and as a dance, you have to be conscious of each student's current understanding, readiness for learning, and academic need. It's not a one size fits all.

So as I continue to think, I reached out and posed a number of questions for my colleagues. I essentially asked the following:
  • Do we want too-tight programs that don't give us the ability to weave important concepts into the curriculum in multiple ways throughout the year as one way to make numerous connections?
  • How do we teach concepts? Do we embrace the notion of blended learning?
  • How are we embedding new tools while also using tried-and-true traditional tools to teach math well?
  • Where are we making time and space for the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMPs)?
  • When we discuss math are we focused on the deep questions that matter or are we focused on rules and parameters more?
  • Do we rush the curriculum too  much, and by doing this do we negate the strength of deep project and problem base learning?
As I read a number of university students' blog posts, I was prompted to write this post. The university students quickly grasped the need for vocabulary development and math games as important elements of the math program yet many could not understand where coding fits in. That sent me on a quest as I intuitively know that coding is wonderful for math learning. My students who code understand math with much greater speed, depth, and efficiency. In a sense, their work with coding creates the brain paths possible to learn math well, and their coding experience has led to lots of joy, creativity, problem solving, and engagement with mathematical thinking. Hence, I see the positive impact that coding has on math daily. Yet when it came to explaining that to my university students, I struggled as I didn't have the language to do that. I found a number of articles that will help me make the connection this week, articles that basically support the notion that to code is to do math, and by doing math we ready ourselves for math learning and comprehension. If I find the time to complete Google's computational thinking course, I'll be able to explain this even better. 

In the meantime, if you have thoughts or perspectives on this rambling post, please let me know. What and how we teach continues to evolve, and that evolution will profit from our discussion and debate about what work and why it works when it comes to teaching and learning math well.


Addition: Coding Links I Plan to Share with University Students

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Achievement?

How do we make sure that children are achieving in school? What do we do to impact achievement with strength and commitment?

As I listened to a number of thoughtful people discuss this issue today, I thought about my own practice and sense of urgency when it comes to the achievement for every child. How can I truly contribute to this effort and track my work in this regard. I offer the following suggestions.

Teamwork
Students will achieve more if they feel like part of the team. It's critical that we continue to develop a sense of team in every homeroom, each RTI group, and as a fifth grade class altogether.

Relationships
It's critical to develop strong relationships between and amongst all members of the learning team: students, family members, educators, leaders, and community members.

Good Teaching and Learning
Every instructional minute counts, and it's imperative to promote optimal teaching and learning at all times. Regular informal and formal assessment and analysis to inform teaching/learning efforts is essential in this regard.

High Expectations, Resources, and Feedback
Good coaching means that you hold students to high expectations and give them the means and support to reach those high expectation. Quality time on task with students and Feedback, both formal and informal, is necessary to reach these goals.

Learning to Learn Mindsets and Behavior
Students today need to know how to learn, and to learn well, they also have to have an "I can do this" attitude that leads the way with a growth mindset and confidence. Explicit teaching of learning-to-learn attributes, strategies, mindsets, and behaviors support this goal.

Clear Goals
It's important to have clear goals with regard to daily lessons, unit outcomes, and overall teaching and learning. Coaching students forward with these goals is one way to support greater achievement.

I like the goal of helping every child achieve with respect to positive learning attitudes, access to resources, good coaching/teaching, optimal learning-to-learning behaviors, and academic success. This is a good shortlist to use as I teach this year.


Push Forward with Positive Challeges

There are a lot of positive challenges in my personal/professional life this semester. I like the challenge, what I'm learning, and what I'm doing. The most difficult part of all of this is time--it's a bit too busy. But for now, I'll push forward as in a few weeks there will be a reprieve and an opportunity to remove a few tasks from the list. Onward.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Midnight's Children: Looking forward to the Read

I just watched the film. So many beautiful words and images:

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world ... do you wonder, then, that I was a heavy child?” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“We all owe death a life.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“What's real and what's true aren't necessarily the same.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“What you were is forever who you are.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“Things, even people have a way of leaking into each other like flavours when you cook.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

“...because silence, too, has an echo, hollower and longer-lasting than the reverberations of any sound.” 
― Salman RushdieMidnight's Children

Thanks to Goodreads for making such beautiful quotes quickly available. 

No Decimals Until December

a possible chapter for a future book

The Week Ahead: Last Week in October 2015

Wow! One small incident turned into about a dozen posts and new ideas. It takes time to unravel a challenge and seek new footing.

I'm really looking forward to the week ahead. In some ways, next week marks the end of our first chapter of school for multiple reasons:

Parent/Family Conferences
During the first conference our TeamFive team will meet with adult members of each child's family. One reason I prefer this for the first conference is that it gives us time to talk about any confidential information or sensitive issues with regard to a child's teaching/learning program. Students have put together showcase portfolios filled with their thoughts about school, interests, and goals. We'll review the information, discuss pertinent questions, and set some goals. The conferences will likely result in some curriculum/teaching fine tuning for the next chapter of the year. The teachers on our team consider ourselves, family members, students, colleagues, and leaders as one big learning/teaching team with the overarching goal to serve each child well.

Blog Post Responses
My team of 20plus university students have posted a large number of blog posts in response to multiple education articles, videos, and questions. I look forward to reading the students' thoughts as they truly teach me as much as I teach them.

Number Posters
I can't wait to see students' completed number posters. If anyone hasn't completed the task or completed it without a final edit, I'll make sure to edit and help those students reach mastery with the task. We'll use the posters as a reference point for math study to come.

Professional Learning
I'm involved in two professional tasks. For one task, I'll join a group of teachers from throughout the system and partake in the High School walkthrough where we'll focus our observations, follow-up discussion, and response on one question that high school teachers are interested in. In the other professional learning endeavor, I'll work with two grade-level colleagues and the math coach from a sister school to develop a learning path for specific CCSS standards.

The Lightning Thief
We'll continue to journey with Percy Jackson.

School Assembly
Another class group will anchor the event while others serve as ushers and tech crew.

Place Value Unit
We'll begin the unit with enthusiasm as we create place value charts and study populations.

Tech Committee
Tuesday will mark the first meeting. Since I'm a tech enthusiast I thought it important that I serve on this committee.

Hopefully I'll bring forward the learning from last week to the challenges this week. One thing for sure, when it comes to teaching, it's rarely dull or passive :) Onward.



MCAS 2.0?

My first reaction when I heard about the MCAS 2.0 idea was, "Another change!" Yet as I considered the thought more I was a bit more positive for the following reasons:
  • I agree that MCAS "has reached a point of diminishing returns" as stated in this week's DESE update.
  • I like the depth the PARCC test requires and I like the fact that PARCC is online.
  • I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized testing which means an efficient testing process that serves as one part of the overall education effort.
  • I'd like to find a less costly solution and use the money saved to provide a high quality tech device for every child in Massachusetts.
  • MCAS 2.0 might not represent the monopoly that PARCC and Pearson seem to be (this is not my area of expertise but it seems like this is a problem).
It's clear that the education landscape will continue to evolve. There will be change after change. Overall I've been a fan of much of what Massachusetts has done for schools and school children. I'm also an active Union member who believes that empowered educators who have what they need to teach well will serve Massachusetts' students well.

It seems like the idea of MCAS 2.0 will be an idea that will sit well with many since it's a compromise of sorts and evidence of moving ahead. So for now we'll just have to sit tight because if this change is made that will mean many steps of change ahead, steps similar to the adoption of MCAS so long ago. Time will tell. 

"I Like Math"

A young child confided in me with the words, "I like math!"
reference

I was happy to hear that because at the start of school the child told me that he hated school, and I responded with, "You've just given me a great challenge. I'm going to try to make this a good year for you."

A mom stopped me on the sidewalk to tell me that her daughter was having a great math year. She said that her daughter mentioned that she really likes math now.

I attribute these reactions, in part, to the book I read about math this summer. The book talked a lot about the beauty and wonder of numbers. I brought that information to class as we reviewed numbers, vocabulary, models, resources, past concepts, skills, and knowledge.

This review unit was added as a prequel to the CCSS scope and sequence. This unit and a few other lessons were added to create a community of math learners, common process, cultural proficient teaching, the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMPs), and a vibrant learning team. The comments at the top of the page provide affirmation for this effort. I will think more about this unit as the year progresses and over the summer when planning for the year to come occurs. In the meantime, I believe that introducing students to the beauty and wonder of math at the start of the year (and throughout the year) is one way to inspire long term mathematical thinking, learning engagement, and growth.

Why is Listening so Difficult?

I think that one reason listening is difficult in the school environment is the fact that we have so little time to do all our work and collaborate too.

We pack so much into short meetings and our little bits of time to collaborate that I always feel rushed since I know time is short, the decisions are important, and there's multiple other items to plan, prepare for, and create with regard to the teaching ahead.

Also because, as a planner, I can see the many tasks related to a project from beginning to end, I know how important those meetings are with regard to a project's success.

Yet, that's no excuse for not listening or not listening well as we know it's a critical skill when it comes to working well with and for others.


Responsibility to Teach Well

I have a responsibility to teach well. I have a responsibility to do my best by students. Sometimes that responsibility finds me at a point of disruption because what I know to be true is questioned and challenged. Those are the most frustrating points of teaching for me.

For example, once I wanted to use software that I deemed profitable to students and I was prohibited from using the software. I did not agree with the rationale, and the person(s) who made the decision was unwilling to discuss it with me. I became frustrated.

Another time I noticed a poster on the wall that I deemed inappropriate. I spoke up and nothing was done. Then the poster appeared again, and I spoke up again. Leaders even agreed with me, but the poster persists. Why? I've reached out to talk about it, but no one wants to have the discussion.

A third event found me teaching in a way that I thought best given the CCSS goal. I was told that my way did not fit the way of others. My actions were challenged. I've reached out to understand this better.

There are times, however, when the challenge is made and the good research, rationale, and new ideas that support the challenge are shared. For example several years ago I was introduced to the SRSD approach. I initially scoffed at what seemed like a too-laborious approach for the result. Yet when I embedded the work in my practice with depth, students writing and, even better, their confidence related to writing rose. I was convinced.

Also, I'm continually improving my craft as I watch my colleagues work their magic. Their work inspires me and lifts my work as well.

No one knows it all, and I'm the first one to change my practice when I see or hear of work that truly impacts children well. However, on the other hand, it's difficult for me to change with regard to directives that don't seem to match research, engagement, or good result. Yet perhaps in these cases I simply don't understand why these directives matter or make a difference.

Similar to my students, understanding the rationale of directives and initiatives matters with regard to my ability to successfully implement and support directives. Further, it's important that the rationale is one that pertains to student growth, engagement, and positive development too.

As educators we have a responsibility to teach well, and with that responsibility sometimes comes a need to speak up and ask questions. If we feel demeaned, overpowered, or under-respected, we may become frustrated or perhaps silent, but truly if we want to serve children well we have to reach out respectfully for common understanding and evolving, collaborative practice that impacts children with care and strength.

Philosophical Differences and Rigid Guidelines

Some that I work and live with differ substantially from me with regard to philosophy related to life and work. I think about their points of view, perspective, and activity and try to understand our differences. I often change my point of view after consideration or I may move towards their view while not necessarily changing mine, but instead enriching or modifying my beliefs.

There's not one way to parent, teach, or be a friend. In fact the richness of this work and these relationships lies in our unique personalities, strengths, passions, and styles. Think of all the people who have impacted your life. I imagine they filled many roles with many different ways of being and acting. It was the variety and differences, I believe that probably, in part, resulted in a positive impact.

I am the first to accept our differences, but I'm also probably the first to speak up when our differences are demeaned or disrespected. I shun "one size fits all think" and rigid guidelines/principals because like a noose, too-tight parameters suck the blood out of me. I need space, time, and freedom to create, teach well, parent, and be a good friend, and when I have that kind of space as well as respect and care I work so well. However, when tied to strict philosophical principals that often times have little real research or data to support their merit, I become very frustrated as I know the potential and time lost by such constraints.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Empower or Defeat?

Leaders choose many paths to follow as they lead those in their ranks.

Some choose to empower, and others choose to defeat.

I hope that I can develop into a leader that empowers rather than defeats. I hope that I can work to become a leader that looks for the strengths of the children I teach and people I work with to empower their actions and work in forward thinking, positive ways.

If you've ever worked with or for a person who defeats, you know what a dehumanizing, frustrating, and painful experience that is. Yet, I'm sure there are times that we've all led forward in ways that weren't as positive and proactive as we wished.

School life can be very difficult if you're someone who enjoys thinking, creating, and problem solving. So often schools seem to be places where following is much more valued than thinking or leading with your best skill, knowledge, talent, and ability. It's days like this that make me question whether I should promote the field to others.

Friday Musings: A Very Busy Week

It was an unusually busy week both personally and professionally.

The highlights of the professional week included students' showcase portfolio creations, a deep review of math assessments, math posters, and the continued success of our shared teaching model. Students continue to be happy and engaged, and I look forward to the chance to begin deepening our community by adding a few cozy chairs to the classroom, slowing down the pace a bit, differentiating instruction more, and letting students take the lead with regard to more choice and voice about team times and efforts.

The curriculum in math and STEAM have made a good start. There's so much that's available to teach, and the focus continues to target efforts to bolster students' learning to learn mindsets and behaviors as well as strengthening knowledge, concept, and skill related to the standards, other curriculum areas, current events, and students' interests.

I'm grateful for the great grade-level and specialist team I work with--a team that brings a myriad of skills, talents, and perspectives to our efforts to teach these 71 fifth graders with care and skill.

The greatest challenge is my desire to embed new learning, research, tools, and structures into the learning menu. I'm enthusiastic about developing schools and teaching in responsive, state-of-the-art ways including successful traditions and new ideas, yet it's often difficult to use new ideas in traditional structures of time, space, styles, and goals. I'll continue to think about this challenge, and if you have any ideas, let me know.

In the meantime, the weekend is here and it's time to catch up on other matters in life so I'm ready to return to the class with vigor next Monday. Onward.


Teaching Students or Teaching the Curriculum?

As I understand it learning takes on a rather chaotic progression, yet there is some linearity to it. As an educator, I am constantly assessing where students are with regard to energy, attitude, knowledge, skill, concept, and thought, and nudging them forward with explicit teaching, projects, collaboration, and more.

Like many teachers today, I'm in favor of teaching students first and curriculum next.

This morning I found myself in a quandary as a colleague urged me to follow a set of steps to teach well. The colleague cautioned against moving ahead of the prescribed steps of learning, yet some of my learners have already mastered those steps. The colleague's words challenged my study and beliefs in education about continually moving children forward from where they are rather than waiting until the designated month to teach the skill. I try to teach as much as I can when the student is ripe for the learning even if the child's learning progression is not a direct match for the curriculum steps.

For example I have a student who has mastered the computation curriculum as it is stated until December. I don't want to wait until December to move that child forward. Instead I want to intersect the current curriculum with a good growth menu for that child. I know he's ready and he'll be delighted with the forward movement. On the other hand, I have some students who are far below the projections for fifth grade. For them, I want to go back to where they are strong and teach from there rather than continuing to push them toward learning they are not ready for.

My most current reading with regard to learning in general and good math teaching promotes the use of learning progressions and teaching the child where he or she is rather than teaching the curriculum first and the child second. Yet, when challenged, I had a hard time explaining my thinking since the colleague reminded me that our system expects us to be on a similar curriculum page for all students as that's what all the teachers are doing. Yet is that best for students? Who does that serve best?

I'm thinking about this challenge. I'm curious about what you think? What ideas do you have in this realm. There's nothing better than teaching a child at his/her just ready point of learning and moving them forward with enthusiasm, individualization, and care. That kind of teaching results in a great learning community who really know what it means to learn. Yet how are system leaders going to keep teachers in line if they are more focused on individual students than the curriculum program set forth? Can they ensure that all teachers will do what they are told if some choose to deviate from the planned path of teaching and learning, a path that I've noticed differs somewhat from system to system depending on the adopted programs, leadership models, and teaching structures.

I'm thinking about this question and will think more. I look forward to your consult.

Try Try Again and Again and Again and Again . . . . .

I wish I could remember the incredible story of perseverance I read this weekend. I do remember thinking that it was amazing that an individual could pursue through so many defeats to ultimately arrive at the place he could see in the distance all the while.

I've been working at a goal with tenacity, and I've yet to reach the goal. I've tried many, many, many different paths to achieving the goal and it still eludes me. Why? I can't even figure out all the reasons why the goal alludes me. Many advise to give up the battle, ignore the challenge, and move outward to other pursuits, but I feel deeply that I want to succeed in this realm, acquire this attribute, and use it to benefit my work and life.

My goal is akin to Nelson Mandela's incredible ability to welcome and work with his naysayers; to listen carefully to their words, and collaborate with regard to meaningful work. I understand that not one of us has all the answers, and I know that with collaboration together we can do good work, but when I know something to be true deeply, it's very difficult for me to entertain those that challenge me with questions and information that take us away from the main idea of our work, teaching each child well.

The other day I was challenged by an individual who had really good questions, experience, and information. Her challenge helped me to think deeply and carefully about my work, but some challenge seems like it's for challenge's sake or to demean rather than to build, develop, and grow practice to best serve children.

Yet, we all come at this work with varied perspectives and it is with our respect for one another that we will move forward. If I were in charge of the world, I'd change school structure, roles, policy, and practice a lot, but I'm not in charge of the world, and frankly no one is, so I think a good way to deal with all of this is to continue to use Mandela's words as a beacon for my work, perseverance, and effort in the days ahead:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." - Nelson Mandela

I believe these words offer one of the greatest challenges life holds. Do you agree?


Box: Teaching and Tears

Sometimes teaching feels like a box, and if you cut a small window and look outside to the possibility and promise that teaching holds for every child that box can feel small, tight, frustrating, and even suffocating.

Too strong box edges are created by policy, rules, and systems that prevent fluidity, new think, and share, while the little cut window or more flexible walls extend the box to the outside world making education more responsive, fluid, evolving, creative, and bright.

How do we make our teaching box continue to have good structure while also allowing the flexibility needed to grow and develop? How can we teach and collaborate well in the teaching boxes where we work? Are the sometimes too-inflexible walls created by lack of time and those rushed meetings that don't allow us to think and share with depth and care?

In some ways, I love the challenge of the box. The constraints make me think deeply about what's best and where to go, but at other times the tight box stands like a wall that prevents me from doing the good work I know is possible in schools. When this happens I usually cry :), explain myself, and find a new way to move forward. Onward






Reading is a Magnet: The Lightning Thief Adventure Begins

Yesterday I had the privilege of choosing a book for a small group of readers that I work with a couple of times a week. I had met with the students a couple of times already and had a good idea of their reading interest and needs. I chose The Lightning Thief, and happily the students were very excited about the book and none of them had read it.

We started by talking about how important the first chapter in a book is because the first chapter introduces the main characters, problem, and setting. I mentioned that it's important to take that first chapter slowly so you don't miss any of that important information. Then I offered to read the first chapter. As I read, I noticed that all the independent readers around our group started listening. I could see their heads reach back and their ears perk up.

Then as I continued to read, those independent readers started pushing their chairs back towards the table and eventually turned and joined our group. By the end of the chapter rather than the small group of three, we had a larger group of about ten listeners who confided that they either had read the book and loved it or had always wanted to read the book. My small group was delighted to see the interest in "their book." I was also delighted because as the math teacher I had not read aloud in a while and it was such a pleasure to read such a wonderful book to children.

One or two of those listeners may join our group because I could tell they weren't sticking to their independent reading. As for the others, I imagine some will choose to reread or read the book for the first time on their own. And for my small targeted group, we're ready to dig into this wonderful Percy Jackson adventure with a mix of teacher read aloud, student read aloud, read on our own, writing, and discussion--it's an adventure I welcome.

Data Details: Teaching Math Well

Last night I spent a lot of time analyzing student data. I looked clearly at a couple of assessments students took recently and added that data to a host of other data points we've collected since the beginning of the year. As I thought about the data, I had the following questions:
  • Where do we put our available time and energy. Students fall all over the data map from those who are a few grades behind the curriculum program at the grade-level to those who exceed the program by a year or two, so how do we best meet this myriad of learning needs and interests?
  • As we think about the standards expectations and students who fall quite far from those expectations, how do we employ the learning progressions to build foundation strength rather than push students forward without a strong foundation?
  • How do we manage the teaching so we get good scores? I know people probably cringe when they read that, but as teachers we are pushed in many subtle and not so subtle ways to prove our teaching through scores. If we don't get good scores, our work environment becomes a very difficult arena so how do we teach well and get good scores too?
  • How do we best maximize our teaching strengths to meet the students' needs and interests?
  • What teaching strategies, projects, and activities will be the most engaging and potent when it comes to teaching students well?
The year is off to a good start. Students feel like a team of math learners. We have built common language and expectations. Now it's time to move towards greater differentiation to help every individual maximize his/her learning in ways that matter. Onward. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Strategic RTI

On Friday morning teachers, a coach, and leaders will gather to construct a number of targeted teaching/learning math groups. The groups will meet twice a week for 30 minutes each to develop math skill, concept, and knowledge. Each group will be created to target specific computation and perhaps problem solving skill.

At the meeting the teachers will look at recent math data. We'll discuss students' needs and challenges. We'll make groups, small and larger, and match those groups with a lead teacher.

The conversation will begin with a focus on our collective definition of RTI. What is it and what is the goal of this Response to Intervention Practice. From my point of view, it's an approach used to teach all children well with targeted, responsive ways. Others may add new information or perspectives to this definition.

Next we'll discuss the students' strengths and needs related to the first RTI protocol related to learning addition, subtraction, and multiplication with large numbers. We'll use the data to make good groups and assign teachers to each group.

After that we'll discuss the resources and target activities, locations for each group, and the computation skill, concept, and knowledge progression chart. It's a lot of information, discussion, and decision making for a one hour meeting with about ten professionals present, yet if we stick to the agenda and look out for every child's best interest we'll get the job done and then put these groups into place for the next six to eight weeks. After that time, we'll meet again to develop new groups.

I favor Response to Intervention (RTI) because it's an opportunity to talk seriously about students and teaching with a varied and invested teaching group. We all learn during these meetings and our collaboration grows stronger with regard to service towards children. This is one part of the profession I really like. Onward.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The People We Teach

How often do we step back and see the people we teach and the people we teach with?

How often do we really listen to the words our colleagues and students say?

When do we choose to make a decision to serve a person well even if it may not fit the schedule and expectations at hand?

These are important questions to ponder as we teach each day.

Teaching: Late Nights

I've been working on a teaching problem. Not a bad problem, but instead a problem with good potential for student learning and growth.

I was inspired to work on this problem today in school, then later at the University class, I was inspired more. So tonight I pulled together all the pieces and made a plan. When I published the plan for colleagues' view, a couple of colleagues took a look at this late hour too. Teachers work all hours of the night.

What we really like is doing well by students, and problems that have potential for good work are a welcome reason to stay up late.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose Lead to Positivity

Positivity matters when it comes to teaching and learning well.

Autonomy, mastery, and purpose as outlined in Pink's book, Drive, foster positivity.

This year my teaching and learning menu includes a great deal of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. A new model has created a reasonable, actionable, and doable schedule which results in good work possible. The teamwork inherent in the model is supportive and proactive. As we work to teach all children well together our efforts are purposeful. This is positive which leads to greater positivity.

Also, I'm engaged in a number of terrific and positive learning endeavors which also produce greater positivity. The Teacher Leadership Initiative is led by wonderful coaches and includes terrific information and good challenge, challenge that will result in better teaching and learning. The Teachers.do community continues to introduce me to terrific resources, ideas, and conversations for teaching. Weekly #edchat engages me in conversation with lots of thoughtful educators. Teaching at the local university provides me with a team of learners with which to investigate mathematical thinking, teaching, and learning.

Finally, a leader in my midst is demonstrating tremendous positivity and leadership in that regard. His positivity is creating a positive, proactive teaching/learning community that's unafraid to try new ideas, share good ideas old and new, and invest daily in supporting one another and teaching well.

In years past, I felt more trapped in the teaching/learning environment. There was less autonomy and voice which was frustrating. Now that new structures, tech integration, and greater team are finding strong roots in the teaching/learning community, there is greater positivity and this is a positive step forward.

Math Reflection Day: Showcase Portfolios

Teachers who promote reflective classrooms ensure that students are fully engaged in the process of making meaning. They organize instruction so that students are the producers, not just the consumers, of knowledge. To best guide children in the habits of reflection, these teachers approach their role as that of "facilitator of meaning making."
                                                                              From Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind by Costa and Kallick

Today students will choose examples of their best math work so far and reflect on their performance. They will use a reflection guide that leads them through reflecting on their efforts relative to the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMP), their work examples, and their online study reports.

Next week teachers will share students' showcase portfolios which include student reflections and work examples from all subjects with family members as we discuss each child's progress so far and needs. Many teachers include the child in this discussion, but for the first family meeting we are meeting with parents only. It's likely that we'll include the children in the second meeting that occurs at the midyear point.

I look forward to assisting children with today's reflection start. On Friday children will have most of the school day to complete their reflections for each subject, create covers/dividers, and write an overall start-of-the-year reflection. Last year these showcase portfolios really helped family members, students, and teachers set goals and support a strong teaching/learning program for each child.






Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Welcoming New Members to Our Committees, Classrooms, and Schools

As a new member of a committee, I have a lot of questions. I'm not really sure how the committee works and I don't understand all the laws and protocols of the committee either. The committee leaders look at me with a bit of contempt when I ask questions. I know they can't believe that I don't know what I'm asking about or perhaps they really don't want to think about the question topics I'm curious about. I'm not sure yet, but I want to understand this committee. I want to know how they work, what they do, and how I can help in meaningful ways.

Sometimes when structures are in place for a long time with same people and same process, the people involved forget about the need to carefully communicate their message and committee's efforts. They may even forget the original purpose for the committee or forget to acknowledge that committees, like any structure, need to continually evolve to do their work well as the world around them evolves.

I want to be respectful to the committee too. I want to acknowledge their good work, the time they've devoted to their mission, and their knowledge. I need to observe, listen to their remarks and answers, and figure out where my role starts and ends in this regard.

The same is true for our colleagues and students at school. As they join our teams, classrooms, schools, and organizations, it's imperative that we give them a good introduction, welcome them into the learning, allow them to contribute in ways that matter, and take their questions seriously.

Field Study Focus and Preparation

Our team is off to a field study today. Field studies build knowledge outside of the traditional school setting while also building team too.

While I'm not a big fan of the bus ride, I do enjoy the chance to see my students learn in a new venue. I get to step back a bit to watch. As I watch, I'll think about the ways that we'll bring this learning forward when we're back at school too.

What's important for the field study are the following actions:

  • Have a class list ready.
  • Phone powered up.
  • Make sure that everyone has a lunch and snack.
  • Make sure that everyone wears a warm jacket.
  • Dress comfortably for lots of movement inside and out.
  • Review the expectations with students.
  • Bring the health bag.
  • Make sure we don't forget the check.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Learning Without a Question

Tonight when I tried to teach the university students about animated math models, no one was that excited. Yet last year when I worked on teaching place value to students, it was the animated models that truly translated the meaning of place value system "behavior." Until I showed the animation, students didn't quite grasp the concept.

When I showed the Powers of Ten film, however, one student exclaimed, "Is that really how big those numbers are?" Yes, and that's why the Eames film is such a great model for the powers of ten.

What truly empowers learning is a quest, question, or childlike imagination and curiosity. For teacher candidates, it's difficult to learn about so many teaching/learning venues, processes, and information without the experience of truly trying to teach students challenging concepts. That's why practicums are important, but I wonder about the depth of practicum necessary to engender the curiosity and investment in learning about teaching and learning with depth.

These are just some beginning thoughts of a thread that I'll think more about in time.

Analysis of Data Analysis

There are many, many, many ways to look at data.

There are many ways to use data to empower, and there are many ways to use data to defeat.

In the best of circumstances a team will analyze data with depth and thoughtfulness. They will look at all the factors involved with regard to the data. They will identify the reason for the analysis and the goal for the analysis. It will be an inclusive, team approach that serves to empower the learners and teachers in ways that matter.

I am a big fan of data when used well. I like the way that good data can help us to teach the whole child with strength and good strategy. I'm not a big fan of data when used to sensationalize, punish, look for fault, or diminish the enthusiasm, investment, and care of the learners and teachers involved.


Teachers' Contract Thoughts

I've always thought of the contract as supports for educators, but now I see the contract with a broader lens. I see the contract as supports for teaching well.

When educators have what they need to teach well, students have the opportunity to learn with strength. This is a very good objective of the contract.

So as new negotiations begin, I'll begin thinking about the contract we have in place and how that can be revised to better support all educators so they can teach well. Specifically I'll analyze the following questions:
  • Which supports on the contract truly help us to live well and do a good job by students?
  • Which supports do we need that are not listed on the contract?
  • Which supports on the contract exist mostly in writing, but not so much in our working environment? Do those supports need to be revised or put into place in better ways?
  • How have the expectations for schools and educators changed since the last contract, and what can we do to update the contract to better support the change in expectations?
As a Union member who has taken a renewed interest in the Union, I'll think more about this in the days and weeks to come. If you have any thoughts or ideas in this regard, please share. 

Math Assessment: Show Me What You Know

We started the math year with a unit focused on review of foundation concepts, vocabulary, math tools, resources, and landmark numbers. That unit could have lasted a year, but it's time to dig into the new concepts of fifth grade now so I'm giving students an assessment to see what they learned during the first unit.

This assessment will give me a good idea of what concepts everyone grasped and what concepts only a few grasped. It will also give me an idea of how students use the structure and processes we reviewed. I'll get a good idea about their comfort level with the new vocabulary as well.

Before students take the assessment, I'll first thank them for their terrific attention and effort during the first weeks of school. I'll also remind them that an assessment is a chance to "show what you know" and that they should "show off" their knowledge with careful attention to precision, neat work, and stretching to demonstrate all that they know about the questions and topics posed.

Further, I will tell them that this assessment will help me to teach them well as I'll be able to see what they know well and what still needs more teaching. I'll also say that the tests will be added to their showcase portfolio and shared with family members during next week's parent conferences.

This is the first class program assessment which offers different information than the standardized tests as this test also tests me and lets me know what teaching they absorbed with strength and what teaching had less effect. I'll use this assessment to refine my teaching because I'll be able to see where the efforts were strong and effective and where the efforts need change.

Assessment is an important part of the overall math program, a part that calls students to "show what they know."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Positive Team Communication Matters

As I've mentioned many times, I like to be part of a team and I like to know where the team is headed.

As part of the State of Massachusetts teaching team, I'm delighted that the commissioner updates everyone every Friday about what's happening in our State with regard to education. I learn a lot from those well organized memos that have multiple links and leads with regard to information that impacts my work.

Similarly the principal in my school scribes a memo every Friday which really helps to keep everyone on the same page and makes us feel and act like a team.

Our Tech Specialist also reports on a regular basis about the tech upgrades, possibilities, and other information that help us keep up with tech integration.

Our grade-level team and PLC group publish notes weekly for the learning/teaching team too.

Timely share that includes information relation to the team really helps one feel like a member of the team and allows people to contribute to the team in meaningful ways.

I wish that all teams I belong to would publish relative, inclusive, transparent information in a timely fashion. This kind of share builds team and maximizes our effect.

When information is held hostage from the team, then the team members spend a lot of time trying to figure out what's happening, what's expected, what's important, and what to do. This is not a good use of time. Instead, I recommend that team captains, managers, supervisors, directors, and other leaders communicate often and share more than not so that everyone on the team knows what's going on and then is able to ask good questions, contribute with care, and help the organization move forward in ways that matter. Do you agree?

Teach Well: Balance

I think that finding the balance between teaching well, professional learning, and family life to be one of the main challenges as an educator. I write so often about this and prioritize frequently making time for what's most important and eliminating those aspects of work and life that no longer hold value or depth. I imagine that this is a challenge for most professionals today in this age of endless learning and possibility.

With this in mind and a whole day ahead of me, I'm thinking about the focus of the week ahead. There's lots of great opportunities and efforts, and I want to make sure I focus on the importance of each.

SCRATCH
Teacher candidates will explore and utilize SCRATCH this week to understand how students and teachers can use this medium to develop greater mathematical thinking, creativity, and problem solving.

Student Blogs
My university students are reflecting in blogs each week. I'm looking forward to reading and responding to their posts tonight. I enjoy the ongoing education "conversation" I am having with each student each week via their blogs.

Showcase Portfolios
Students will take their foundation unit final assessment, complete number posters, review their unit work, and complete unit reflections. All of their work will be placed in their showcase portfolios which will be shared with family members at upcoming conferences.

Online Games
The University students will also explore a number of great online games. As a class we'll look at the benefit of these games when it comes to deepening mathematical understanding with engagement.

Data Review and Math RTI
There's a number of math assessments that need review. The data will be added to our TeamFive data chart and used on Friday as we create optimal RTI groups related to computational skill and fluency for the first six weeks of our Math RTI (Response to Intervention Efforts).

Field Study
The students will engage in their first field study this week. The study will give students the opportunity to engage in a STEAM team activity in a wonderful Massachusetts signature location. This will be a great event for STEAM teaching/learning as well as team-building for our fifth grade student/teacher learning team.

TLI
The focus of TLI this week will be proving your point and supporting your capstone with evidence and persuasive discussion/talk. I look forward to learning about my cohort partner's project ideas and the reasons why they've chosen to develop their knowledge, skill, advocacy, and efforts related to those reasons.

Coach
I have a meeting with my education coach--love those meetings :)

3D Printer
Time to read up and make my math model design for printing.

Computational Thinking
I hope to steal some time away for Google's Computational Thinking course I signed up to. Similar to Devlin's Mathematical Thinking MOOC, I want to develop my understanding and language in this important and timely learning/teaching arena.

That's the week in review. Now it's time to ready the environment (all the at-home jobs and efforts that support this work) so that I can complete the work and effort above. Onward.