Thursday, August 31, 2017

Advocating for Khan Academy

For many years, I've successfully used Khan Academy in my classroom.

Today, I learned that use is denied. Why?

The denial has to do with student information and safety.

In my opinion, this seems like a step in the wrong direction.

While Khan Academy is not perfect, it is awesome.

With words, numbers, audio, and models, Khan Academy clearly explains many, many concepts in math and other subjects.

Khan Academy provides training in coding, puzzle work, SAT prep, and more.

Many students find Khan Academy as a very useful tool for learning, and an apt "intelligent assistant" as Thomas L. Friedman refers to in his book, Thank You for Being Late--a book about future-ready skills and abilities.

I successfully used Khan Academy to bone up on my K-8 math skills. It was great preparation for teaching.

Many students have used it again and again to grow their skill at the grade level and beyond. One student who completed his Khan Academy grade level learning earned a perfect score on a grade-level test. I'm sure his success, in part, was his Khan Academy practice.

My friend who teaches at an urban school remarks year after year how her students' scores are among the best in the city thanks to Khan Academy practice and learning.

No one computer program is all things, but a well-supported, creative, and continually growing platform like Khan Academy should be embraced by every family and every school system. It's the way of the future.

If you disagree with me, let me know.

If you believe that programs like this should be eliminated, tell me why.

It just doesn't make sense to me.

Facing Challenge

How does one face challenge with grace, perseverance, and truth?

A number of challenges arose as the school year began.

As I think of those challenges, I'm wondering what the best course of action is.

First, a number of worthy teaching/learning efforts have been denied. Why? I see a somewhat superficial reason for denial, but I can't see any deep, meaningful reason for denial. In fact, I believe the denial limits students' opportunity for good learning and future-ready skills. I recognize I'm one voice, but I also know that it's important to speak up when there appears to be inequity and lost potential, so I penned a note about the situation.

Next, there are areas of school life that we can clearly change for the better. The research promoting and supporting change in these areas is clear--we can do better, if we make change in these areas. Yet there's a reluctance when it comes to change, and a bit of disregard when it comes to new research and think. Why?, I wonder. I will keep thinking about how I can promote promising change in ways that are effective. Often parents embrace this positive change much more quickly than some personnel in schools. I think this may be because parents are working in businesses and organizations outside of school, and they know the real-world impact of the positive changes I desire.

So those are the big challenges at present.

On the positive side of the profession, my team remains amazing. We met a few students today who beamed with enthusiasm and excitement for the year ahead. Our staff is seasoned and committed. We have many good tools, and the custodians did a great job getting our classrooms ready.


Change that Matters is Challenging Work

Years ago it occurred to me that orientations at public schools are often not nearly as good or inclusive as orientations college students attend. I wondered why we didn't put more time into orienting students and their families to the school year since a good orientation lays the foundation for strong relationships and a successful year.

Then last year our team wrote a grant to the local grant organization to fund a special event to help us build stronger relationships with students and families. We received funding and had a terrific day at the Boston Children's Museum. Later in the year, we had another special event with students that continued to strengthen relationships.

Building on that effort, we wrote a summer grant to support our efforts to develop a better orientation at our school to foster school readiness, enthusiasm, and relationships. We received the funding and planned a number of great orientation events, events based on research we've done in relation to elevating cultural proficiency and student achievement. The grade-level team and principal were very enthusiastic. We also received an enthusiastic response and support from some administrators. Today was the first event which was partly successful. The success-part was the plan we made--students enthusiastically attended the event and enjoyed being here. It was the ice-breaker, introduction, and relationship-builder we were hoping for. The unsuccessful part was the fact that there was a bus snafu, not enough lead time for some families, and missing information that prevented us from contacting one family.

We'll move forward with the next steps, and as we do, I'll continue to chart what works and what does not work so we can rightly build this effort. For years now, on my own and with others, I've been researching and trying out new ways to better schools for all students. The research is clear about relationship building, culturally proficient teaching, time, and attention. Yet to make these changes is ever so difficult. There's so much red tape, and so many unwilling to support change, think about the research, and commit to betterment. So many seem satisfied with doing things as they've always been done, yet observation, assessment, and response in school and beyond tells us that we have to make change.

What are the next steps in this effort?

First, I am grateful for my grade-level colleagues who are willing to support this effort. This means extra work for them, and they are willing to go the extra mile for the students.

I'm also excited about all the researchers, writers, and educators out there who are encouraging educators, administrators, school boards, and government leaders to advocate for positive change. Chris Emdin's book, For White Folks. . ., is rich with ideas for bettering the work we do with and for children, and so many of our ideas came from his work. Jose Vilson is another rich resource for this work. And there are countless articles, books, and other resources that point us in the direction of betterment.

It seems like many are not willing to reach deep and use good process to make change that matters. The "quick fix" or "frosting solutions" often seem to trump really good work. To adopt these kinds of processes over rich process means that there is no significant and meaningful change. This worries me. I will continue to think about how I  might better advocate for good process and meaningful change.

In the meantime, we'll continue down the list of orientation efforts assessing along the way to determine what makes a positive change and what does not. Onward.

Revised Orientation Efforts

Today the team begins our revised orientation efforts. We used Chris Emdin's book, For White Folks. . ." as one resource to uplift our efforts to orient students to the school year, and build strong, dynamic teaching/learning relationships.

Already as we begin today, I see possible changes for next year. I'll track our progress on this blog post so others may add ideas or follow our lead.

Fifth Grade Orientation

Our collaboration and study relied on several sources of study and research including the following:

Individually and together we have gained substantial knowledge and ideas for forwarding more inclusive, collaborative, and caring teaching environments. Our research points to the need to include the following elements in any successful teaching learning program:
  • Make time to build strong, caring relationships amongst all stakeholders including educators, students, and family members.
  • Make time to sensitively know and understand each student’s context with regard to identity, interests, needs, language, family, neighborhood, and more.
  • Be explicit when it comes to helping students understand what’s expected and how to meet those expectations.
  • Bridge the opportunity gap, by making sure that all children have what they need to succeed.

Orientation Morning for Boston-Resident Students and New Students
All Boston Resident students and new students will be invited by a personal phone call to parents to join us on the morning of August 31 to get to know one another and prepare for the school year to come. Boston Resident students will ride the busses provided for 6th and 9th grade students for their orientations that day. That morning will include the following activities:
  • brunch and time to talk as teachers and students
  • response to students’ questions
  • review supplies, set up desks
  • play knock-out on the playground with teachers
  • investigate math measuring tools and measure the perimeter of the playground.
  • start of first grade-level project: the selfie project

Next Year's Revision
  • Invite students to this day on the last day of the school year so that families can plan for it. Some students were unable to attend due to less lead time.
  • Work with office staff to readily receive information about new students so they can attend the event. This year we were unable to receive that information in a timely manner.
  • Invite other students who may profit from the extra attention at the start of the year.
  • Call bus company ourselves to confirm efforts.
  • Create an invitation in June so that families have lead time to attend the event, and so that the office staff can give an invitation to new families when they sign up for school.

Information Share
We have found that many families don't know about the supports available to them, supports that may help their children do better in school including:
  • scholarships/enrollment in extracurricular events, field studies and after school programs
  • available social/emotional services/help
  • the opportunity to borrow a computer for the year
  • the ability to speak up at any time to advocate for their child
We reached out to the school guidance counselor who provided us with several lists of related information. At this stage, we will keep a running list of these resources, and share the resources as needed with families and students in person, by phone/email, and via our newsletter.. A future summer work project may involve collating this information in a more user-friendly way to support educators and families.

Intake Survey
A colleague drafted a better intake survey for all families, and will do what we can to receive a completed survey from every family. It may be that some of these surveys are filled out at an early-year family meeting particularly if it's a family for whom English is a second language. This survey will help us to know families well and be able to reach families when needed.

Tech Connect
Our team does a lot to offer students tech access to all class materials and information via our TeamFive website. It's important that all families understand how to access that information, and that they have technology available to access the information. With that in mind, our orientation efforts may include the following:
  • Device-lending to students who do not have an adequate tech device at home
  • Information related to low-cost WIFI
  • Tech meetings with families who want to understand more about how to access the class tech sites and information.
  • Explicit tech connect teaching to all students so students are able to access all aspects of the class website and more.
  • Making sure that all students have an at-home tech device
  • We'll also suggest that families set up a family gmail that they can use to track school correspondence and allow their child to use for emails that parents can monitor and check.
  • Early-year lessons and regular monitoring of optimal digital use and safety.

Family-to-Family Connections
Many valuable connections that lead to student success are formed on the sidelines of student events. Our team. At  Curriculum Night and follow-up parent-teacher-student conferences we’ll query families about their interest in becoming involved in a family-to-family network to foster deeper connections and support for one another at the grade level.

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Co-Constructing the Classroom: Building Teamwork & Respect for One Another
We'll use the orientations to build teamwork and respect for one another through targeted discussions and lessons about learning differences, race/culture, mindsets, and social-emotional learning lessons. We'll also plan a number of enjoyable team building activities at the start of the year in order to give students a chance to get to know one another, make new friends and discover what they have in common. We will co-construct the classroom norms, protocols, rules, and routines with students, and, in part, use the Hosting Conversations research as we build this orientation effort.
co-construct classroom w%2Fss.jpg

Hello Campaign
TeamFive students will begin the year with a Hello Campaign Service Learning project.

What I Want You to Know About Me Letters
In the early days of school, teachers will ask students to write “What I want you to know about me” letters to homeroom teachers, and “How I Think You Should Teach _______” to subject area teachers as one more way to know students well and build relationships.

Start-of-Year Selfie Project
Through our research, we have learned about the importance of recognizing students' individual identities and names. With that in mind we'll foster the "Selfie Project."  and focus specifically on names. We will also forward a number of lessons about our individual and collective culture to foster a positive sense of belonging and community as well. We will show a video of all the student selfies at Curriculum Night.

Curriculum Night
Families who live close to the school, generally attend the start-of-the-year curriculum night. Families who are new or live far from the school sometimes don't attend this important meeting that introduces the curriculum program. There is a lot we can do to help families in this regard including the following ideas:
  • call each family to introduce ourselves, answer questions, and invite parents to curriculum night. Also tell them how important this night is with respect to meeting other families and learning about their child's school program.
  • provide transportation support (this can be discussed during the phone call)
  • add the curriculum night presentation to the grade-level website
  • if child care is an issue, invite parents to bring their children
Family-Student-Teacher/Administrator Social Event
In the early weeks of school, host a social event for new students and students distanced from the school neighborhood that includes food and fun. Reach out to local agencies for funding and support for this event. We had a similar social event last year which was very successful. We may want to host this event in conjunction with other school events. Note that we decided to coordinate this event with the district-wide family picnic which we'll advertise at Curriculum Night.

Family-Student-Teacher Conferences
We want to make sure that reach out to families to ensure that every family and student attends parent-student-teacher conferences in both the fall and spring. If families need more time to meet, we'll provide that.

Showcase Portfolios
Our team has been developing our use of showcase portfolios as one way to collect, share, and reflect on student learning. The initial showcase portfolio efforts begin with the Happiness Survey where students reflect on what makes them happy. This provides a very positive start. Other important start-of-the-year elements of this portfolio include the parent-student survey and the "What I wish you knew about me" student letters. The showcase portfolio in a sense becomes a storybook about the child's learning during the fifth grade year. It also serves as a point of discussion and reflection throughout the year as students, families, and teachers make decisions about learning.

A Heart Healthy Classroom

At a recent doctor's appointment, I was reminded of what it takes to be healthy. It's easy to lose sight of that with a busy school schedule, so how can you set the stage for a healthy year?

While we have water available in the staff room, time to walk down to the staff room is not always available. So it's good to have water available in the classroom with a water bottle of some sort.

Healthy Snacks
It's good to have healthy snacks on hand as teaching does increase your appetite.

Avoid the Staff Room Goodies
For the most part, it's great to avoid the staff room goodies which often include people's left over party sweets and treats. The year I made a commitment to this, I was much healthier.

Move on the Playground
You're able to watch the students while walking or playing with them.

Plenty of Rest
Again, easier to say, then do, but sleep is critical to teaching well.

Daily Movement
Many teachers make this a regular part of their routine, and it shows with their increased health, fitness, and energy.

Positive Routine
A good routine makes a big difference when it comes to teaching well and feeling good. This routine will look different for every family, and needs to be revisited at least each school year, and sometimes many times over the year to make sure that you have the time you need.

I write this to remind myself as well as others as the only person who truly looks after your health is you, and it's good to start these healthy routines at the start of the year.  Onward.

Classroom Set-Up: Everything in its Place, and a Place for Everything

Everything in its place, and a place for everything is a good phrase to think about as one preps the classroom for the teaching year.

Yesterday after moving furniture around, opening boxes, and taking care of big supplies, I realized that I need a good day or at least a good afternoon of sorting pens, paper, and all kinds of learning and creative supplies. A few students will help me out with that activity for a few minutes today too. I'm looking forward to that.

As I think of a classroom of supplies, I'm wondering just what that sort will look like this year. What materials are important, and how will I organize them so that students can easily access and well use the supplies.

Everyday Supplies
At the front of the room, I'll organize a collection of everyday supplies such as pencils, pens, colored pencils, rulers, scissors, and paper. Students are welcome to take and use these supplies as needed.

Math Manipulatives
To the right of the room, I have a number of cabinets where I'll keep all the math manipulatives for easy access and use.

Informational Books
Next to the math manipulatives, I have a nice collection of informational books that represent a large variety of student-friendly topics.

STEAM supplies
At the back of the room, I have a large assortment of STEAM supplies on metal shelves. I'll organize those supplies for ease-of-use and safety too.

Student Drawers
Since our students travel, only students who are in my homeroom have space in the desks for their supplies. The "travelers" or students who come to my room for math will each have a drawer for projects and other materials. Those, thanks to the suggestion of a colleague, are situated at the back left side of the room. There are big crates there too for student work, and portfolio collections.

Toys, Books and Building Supplies
There's an area in the far front of the room for toys, building supplies, and books. Those are located near our big rug and the comfy chairs. This is essentially a good place to play, build, read, and get together with teammates and friends throughout the day.

Presentation Space
The front of the room has a big white board and overhead projector to serve as a good presentation space, and the center of the room has student desks which will be grouped for good teamwork and projects.

Tech Cart
We have a great cart that hosts all the chromebooks for students. It's great to be a one-to-one classroom, and have the daily use of these devices for learning.

There's lots of leg work involved with setting up a classroom for young learners, fortunately the sorting doesn't require the physical energy that moving all the furniture did yesterday so today should be, in effect, a lighter day.

2017-2018 First Days of School Lessons

This is a fun buddy project our class we'll work on with their kindergarten buddies soon. 

The first few days of school are good days to organize, build team, and get ready for a terrific year ahead. I reviewed a number of early-year lessons I've used in the past, and created this guiding list. I'll likely continue to add to it as I'm reminded of many start-of-the-year lessons when setting up the classroom.

Name Tags
Students will make name badges upon arrival. We'll use those name badges for future field studies too.

Name Focus
We'll start with a focus on names. I'll use attendance as a time to learn each person's name. I also give students a chance to write each person's name as each make a wordfind of first names. The next day, they'll exchange the wordfinds with classmates and complete as another way to learn each others' name.

Selfie Project

Desk Set-Up
We'll review the supply list and set up desks.

Review and Revise Learning Expectations and Core Values

What is a positive learning disposition?

Success Criteria

Heart Healthy Classroom

Name Game
There's a great name game that we'll play as well to learn each others' names as well as learn about the many activities that people did this summer. This is a get-up-and-move-game, so that will be good after the initial sitting.

What I want you to know about me
I'll introduce students to the mini-writing center, an area with some stationary, paper, and pens, and ask each student to handwrite a letter to me telling me what they want me to know about them.

Chromebook/Website Introduction
Each child will have a chromebook to use. So students will collect the chromebooks, review the class website with me, and then have time to get started on individual Selfie projects--Google draw collages that introduce themselves to each other and the broader class community.

We'll discuss what makes a great team, and then complete some teamwork activities such as the marshmallow-spaghetti challenge and the notecard challenge.


Co-Constructing the Classroom: Building Teamwork & Respect for One Another
We'll use the orientations to build teamwork and respect for one another through targeted discussions and lessons about learning differences, race/culture, mindsets, and social-emotional learning lessons. We'll also plan a number of enjoyable team building activities at the start of the year in order to give students a chance to get to know one another, make new friends and discover what they have in common. We will co-construct the classroom norms, protocols, rules, and routines with students, and, in part, use the Hosting Conversations research as we build this orientation effort.
co-construct classroom w%2Fss.jpg

Three Truths and a Lie
This is a fun game that a colleague shared. Each person writes four sentences about himself/herself. One sentence is untrue. Students have to guess which sentence is untrue. It's a fun way to get to know one another as well as introduce protocols for listening to each other and taking your turn.

What's Your Number?
Students will decorate a paper t-shirt with their math "number," a number determined using the code a=1, b=2, c=3 and so on. They'll do some work to describe their number as well, and then take and print a picture of themselves to add to the t-shirt for a class "Math Team" display.

Sunflower Glyphs
We'll meet our kindergarten buddies and make sunflower glyphs with them.

We'll review what it means to have a positive Mindset, and work creatively to discuss and publicize that message.

Showcase Portfolio Prep
We'll complete initial portfolio pages and covers.

Birthday Math
We'll focus a bit on birthdays and the math that goes with this including a birthday graph display.

Number Wall
We'll make a 1-100 number wall that includes all kinds of useful number information.

Google Classroom
I'll introduce Google classroom, and a first assignment will be to write a letter to me telling me how to teach math.

Beginning Math Lessons

Seed Packets
I'll use the STEAM seed packet assignment as a living metaphor with regard to the year's goal which is to plant seeds of new information, skill development, knowledge building, and dynamic community.

Hello Campaign
We'll talk about greetings, and initiate a hello campaign for the school.

I'm sure I'll add to this list in the days ahead, but this gives me a good number of activities to prepare for as I continue the room set up today and greet some of our new students on the second day of teacher set-up.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Tomorrow our teaching team will leap.

We're trying something new. It's research based and founded in good ideals, vision.

Even so, it's still a bit scary to try something new. Will it work? Will we be prepared? Will the students respond?

The importance now is to follow the plan we've researched and set. Onward.

Wonderful First Day

Our wonderful strings teacher, Ms. Tandon,
led the orchestra today with skill and grace. 
My only regret on the first teacher day of school is that I didn't videotape the amazing student orchestra performance. As I watched the students perform, I realized once again the amazing teaching/learning that's possible with dedicated effort, practice, knowledge, inspiration, and skill.

I was also honored by our new superintendent's words about the unknowable future and toxic present. He referenced Walden giving context to Thoreau's life and work at the time, and inspired us to prepare students well for that unknowable future, and to counter the toxic present. I appreciated his humane, broad-minded, humble, and welcoming talk.

Later, the principal led educators in a share about what they're grateful for with regard to the school system we teach in, and the work we do. Teachers' share was deep, emotional, personal, and moving. It was great to be able to hear every educator's voice and perspective, and a good way to build a strong team.

After that there was time to meet with the grade-level colleagues, plan for tomorrow's orientation, and set up the classroom. Tomorrow we'll host a few students with a pancake breakfast, time to set-up desks and organize supplies, a game of knock-out, math prep, and a good start to the Selfie project. After that, there will be time to prep the first few lessons of the year and laminate/hang posters.

It was an excellent start, and now it's time to focus on the daily routine of good teaching and learning.

Math Pattern

As I write often, I change how I teach and learn. Good learning means continual change and hopefully, change that leads to betterment.

I will try to implement this math pattern this year.
  1. Review
  2. Introduction
  3. Practice/Project Work
  4. Review
  5. Home Study
  6. At-home evaluation/reflection of student work/lesson efforts
End-week assessment/share

Trust the Research

As a teacher of 30+ years, I've read a lot of research. I've taught a lot too. I'm always on the lookout for new research that will elevate what I can do to tech children well.

After a great conversation last night, I find myself working to synthesize much of the good research I've read to promote a top-notch math teaching/learning program this year.

I sometimes find myself second guessing the research, research that pushes me to change what I do in ways that matter. But then, I have to remind myself to trust the research, and not just do it as I've always done it.

Of course, we don't always trust new research without a deep review, but when you've been teaching as long as I have, you can fairly easily determine which research is right-on, and which seems ill directed. You've watched enough students learn effectively to know what's missing and what works.

Hence, I'll continue to read, reflect, and revise as I trust a lot of research and new ideas to push learning forward in this wonderful knowledge age we live in. Onward.

Brain-Friendly Learning Short List

We want the learning/teaching to be brain-friendly. I cam across this great slideshare related to topic, and have shortlisted the items so that I can remember them well as I promote learning experiences.

The most important question to learning experience planning is "How will students learn best?"

Elements to support that learning include the following:

Set the Stage for Learning

  • Class bulletin board with overview of unit, main vocabulary, and visual models.
  • Encourage good nutrition--lots of water, healthy snacks.
  • "You are there" Experience
  • Have students answer and discuss this question, "Why will learning this topic benefit you?"
  • Provide concrete learning experience related to concept, skills, knowledge.
  • Create a hook or surprise to engage learner's emotions.
  • Concrete, relative learning experience such as case study, field trip, interview. . .
  • Provide an engaging multi-modal learning activity, preferable a team project that includes building, finding, exploring, or designing
  • Put on a skit, create a newspaper, produce a commercial
  • Provide choice to allow learners to explore the subject using their preferred learning modalities - visual, auditory, kinesthetic. . .
  • Utilize a well-designed, engaging computer program (computer game)
For Every Learning Experience
  • Connect learning to students' own experiences and interests
  • Have learners set goals, discuss goals.
  • Brain wake-ups, cross laterals
  • De-brief last lesson
  • Look for synergy of topics in math and across discipline
  • Design evaluation rubric or procedure "How will you know when you know this?"
  • Online exploration of topic
  • Use debate
  • Teach others with small groups, pairs, whole class
  • lots of choice
  • differentiation
  • unguided reflection
  • write about what you learn
  • walk, talk, and review what you've learned
  • stretch, relax
  • provide a music study area
  • discuss learning with friends and family members
Review/Confirm Learning
  • Present learning to one another
  • Interview and evaluate each others' learning
  • write a news report, article, blog post about the learning
  • create/share a project that demonstrates the learning
  • Create and take a quiz that is verbal and/or written
  • fun, light, joyful
  • decorate the environment
  • invite parents or other classes to share in the learning
  • have a theme party
  • incorporate the learning in future learning

How To Teach Math?

There are apparently so many good ways to teach math. I'm still thinking about the great conversation I had with a colleague last night about math education. As we spoke, I wondered how I would meld all the good math teaching techniques I've experienced over the years. Then when I woke up this morning, the ideas had solidified somewhat into this laundry list of math teaching techniques, techniques from multiple sources.

Introduce the Unit
My colleague noted that American math books are too thick, and our Middle School teachers make small booklets for each topic. The booklets provide students and their families a handy resource of the standards, essential questions, vocabulary, and practice exercises. It's a good go-to book for referral, practice, and study, yet it's not too big and overwhelming. I will use this approach for each unit.

Provide Context
Research I've read and my own experiences point to the need to provide context and meaning for each unit. Hence, the start of each unit will provide context led by the question, Where does this math concept, knowledge, and skill fit into the real world?

Break Apart the Standards
Years ago at a great professional learning event, a California curriculum leader showed us how to break apart the standards. Hence I'll create lessons based on each section of each standard with a focus on the important verbs, words, skills, and concepts.

Visual Models
We know that learning and understanding profit from visual models. We learn much more quickly through a visual model than a host of words. Hence I'll match a simple visual model with each concept we're learning. 

Less Talk
One area which may be obstructing our most challenged grade-level math learners, learners who often face issues of special education, English as a Second Language (ELL), socioeconomic issues, and more, may be the fact that there's too much language involved in each lesson. By lessening the language (teacher time) and increases the collaborative, practice, and student time, we may help those students grasp the topics better and succeed more.

Sufficient, Scaffolded, Varied Practice
Students need to have the opportunity to practice concepts in a variety of ways. I'm imagining a practice sheet that begins with the main concept with a visual model, simple explanation, and main vocabulary words. Then practice that scaffolds from simple to more sophisticated to enrichment. 

Practice with Peers
We know that students learn more when they are able to work with others, use language, and help one another. 

Online and Offline Practice
Using our hands to write is associated with good learning, so we want to make sure we have paper/pencil practice. Also the quick feedback of online math practice sites and the ability to quickly look up confusing concepts with what Friedman calls, "intelligent assistants," is very helpful. Thus a blend of online and offline practice will help.

Regular Simple Assessments
Simple assessments on a regular basis ask students to "show what they know" in an independent fashion, and then these assessments provide teachers a chance to evaluate student mastery related to concepts.

Saul Khan encourages us to help students learn for mastery. So the goal for every unit and concept is to master each essential standard. We need to help students create and utilize positive learning paths to mastery, paths that include a good introduction, context, visual models, vocabulary, scaffolded online/offline practice, collaboration/share, assessments, reflection, revision, and enrichment.

Teaching All Students
Summer reading makes me question our efforts to separate students by ability. The reading about teaching all students and elevating students' progress suggests that we should make sure that we teach students about mindsets and behaviors that matter when it comes to teaching well. We should also present similar concepts to all students, and coach all students to mastery.

Positive Self Talk
SRSD, self regulation strategy development, or simply known as positive self talk works. Students need to understand this, teachers/parents need to model it, and then students have to utilize positive self talk to learn well.

Online Learning: Symphony Math, Khan Academy, Ten Marks, Flocabulary, and That Quiz
These sites are available to support student study, and we will immerse students into use of these sites to assist, develop, and forward their learning with grade-level standards, foundation skills, and enrichment.

Floor-to-Ceiling Explorations/Teach to Learn
Students will engage in floor-to-ceiling explorations, and then they'll teach the class what they learn from these standard-based explorations. We know that the best way to learn a concept is to teach it to others. 

Unit Assessment
There's a unit assessment for each unit, and we will teach students how to use the student packet to study for the unit. Unit tests will be evaluated by teachers, and those that don't achieve well will be coached more in an effort to reach mastery. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Day of School 2017-2018: Teach Smart

I had a great dinner with a colleague tonight, and essentially the conversation was about how to teach smart in 2017-2018.

To teach smart this year means the following:

  • Focus on the identified target goals of math, STEAM, and SEL 
  • Problem solve and collaborate with the team to serve all students well.
  • Establish and stick to a positive work/home routine.
Tomorrow I'll listen carefully to system- and school-wide goals, and integrate those goals into our grade-level efforts.

Then I'll follow the plan to set up the classroom. Hopefully my teenage son will stop by to do some of the heavy lifting. 

The next day we'll meet some of our new students, and I'll ready for the students' first day of school. Not unlike when I was a young student, I still get very excited about the first day of school and the surprises, positive challenges, and wonderful moments the year will bring. Onward. 

Difficult to Speak for Schools if You Don't Work in Them

Today when faced with a number of real-world school tasks, I was reminded of the fact that it's easy to plan and think for schools if you don't work in them. If you work in a school, you recognize that the task is a lot more complex and unpredictable than it looks. That's when that flexibility, collaboration, sense of humor, vision, and daily effort matters. Onward.

Good Work Depends on Good Process

Often good work is stymied by ineffective process. That's why reflection and revision are so important. It's important to look at work that doesn't meet the expected criteria, and redirect that work.

For example, today I wrote an email that was misconstrued. I didn't mean any disrespect, but in hindsight and with rereading the email, I could see how some may have read it that way. So, in the future I'll write in a more concise, direct way leaving little room for misunderstanding. We all err, and what's important is to look at the error, and make good change.

Good teachers are always reflecting about their efforts and practice. They teach, then reflect, revise, and teach again. Our good work is spiraling work towards better and better practice. Without that reflection, our work become stagnant and similar errors happen again and again with no resolve or betterment. Without reflection, it's difficult for us to get better or solve problems, and there's less enthusiasm for efforts that aren't directed towards betterment.

The past always has lots of good to pull from and weave into the future, but to work only as we have in the past is not to grow and develop--that growth and development is integral to good teaching and good schools.

So today's mistake is tomorrow's betterment--I'll make the change noted, and think about the processes that support good work and effort going forward.

Work Ahead Sometimes Backfires

In some places lead time and working ahead is valued, and in other places it is seen as a hindrance. In general good work depends on lead time, preparation, and planning. I like the kinds of good results that happens when that's in place, but that's not always possible and not always valued. It's important to understand who values that kind of work and supports it, and who does not. Then lean your teaching/learning ship in ways that matter and make a positive difference.

Planning and Prep Valued and Prioritized

The seesaw of school life. Image credit
This morning I reviewed a list of students sent to me. I noted a number of changes. That meant a lot of change to my prep work for the year ahead as I had already created a number of lists to lead our efforts to teach well.

Change is a constant in school life, and flexibility is a needed criteria for any good teacher.

Yet, sometimes I wonder if the time for preparation and planning is valued enough in the school environment? Do the systems account for the time and effort each change takes.

For example, our team got together to plan a really great orientation for new students. If I had known about these new students with lead time, I could have invited them to the event with lead time. Yet, perhaps these new students signed up for school yesterday, or perhaps the administrative staff in charge of changes was on vacation during the sign-up, and was unable to share the information. I don't know, and again, flexibility and an openness to change matters.

As one who likes to plan and be prepared, I have to constantly revisit and strengthen my flexibility muscles. I have to say to myself, does this make a significant difference with regard to the big picture, and how much time and advocacy does every small unexpected change deserve. Most teachers flow with the changes that occur, they bounce from one unexpected event to another. Good parents do that too--we all know that young children are often quite unpredictable as is the world around us, and it's how you navigate the path that's more important than sticking to a strict script or plan.

Once again, I think what matters is a good balance between planning/prep and flexibility. As much as possible we should plan and prepare well, and communicate those efforts to all stakeholders with lead time so we can do a good job. Yet, we have to be prepared for the constant flexibility that schools demand since we work with students, families, and lots of other people, and people-work requires good flexibility.

This is the seesaw of school life--one that good teachers embrace.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Brain Bursts: What's Your Understanding?

The idea enters the mind via a conversation, observation, experience.

And the idea sifts and sorts throughout time.

Then the burst arrives when the idea gains enough steam and foundation to forward--it's a brain burst.

Has that happened to you? If so, tell me more.

Teach Well: We lose capacity when we don't collaborate

When I woke up thinking about the incredible possibility and promise holds today for education, I recognized that we lose capacity when we don't collaborate.

Further, we lose capacity when we don't develop distributive models of leadership that forward the research, development, and intersection of significant fields of study.

For example if everyone is working on doing all teaching or lots of teaching in silos, there's little time to go deep with research, exploration, innovation, and adaptation. Yet, if we intersect deep study in significant areas by some, then the intersection of that deep research amongst teams who specialize in different areas, we will spiral the teaching/learning forward in deep, meaningful ways. This matters.

I wrote a post that explains one way that elementary schools can distribute leadership, democratize innovation and development, and move schools ahead. As I thought about moving our coding efforts forward this morning in ways that matter, I realized that we need distributed models like this to move coding and any other area of significance ahead in meaningful ways. Right now many systems are losing capacity by continuing to work with old models of leadership and innovation--this is a problem.

Fortunately I work in a shared model that maximizes the targeted efforts of many individuals when it comes to teaching children well. Everyday I see the significance of this model, and why it makes a difference. The model is outlined in the presentation below:

As I look forward, I want to continue to advocate for greater distribution of leadership in ways that foster deep research and study as well as significant intersection of ideas in modern, forward moving ways. This is an exciting problem to solve in education, one that holds great strength for better schools.

A Teacher's Letter to Coding Experts

Dear Friend and Coding Expert,

As I think about the world around me, my research, and a recent discussion with a cybersecurity expert and mom in a beautiful little park in Alexandria, Virginia, I have the following thoughts and questions. I look forward to your response.

First, it seems to me that coding is today's universal language of creativity, innovation, problem solving, and analysis. Do you agree?

Next, as with any language, it seems like coding immersion should occur from PreK-12 and beyond? Do you agree?

After that, it seems that immersion should take place in a consistent way that's engaging, real-world, meaningful, and progressive--right?

And, what would that developmental program look like? What languages would students learn in preK (Scratch, Jr.), later, and after that? Do you have a developmental plan I could look at?

Further, know that I realize coding is one of many streams of learning necessary for good learning and living. I also believe there needs to be strong threads of reading, writing, languages, the arts, health/wellness, history, geography, and of course interdisciplinary science and other technologies.

Thanks for your consult in the days ahead. - Maureen

Professional Learning: A Little for Today and A Little for Tomorrow

My dad repeated the adage, "A little for today, and a little for tomorrow" throughout my life and I continue to use that adage to lead my professional learning.

What am I doing for today?

Basically those efforts are summed up in this illustration:

What will I do for tomorrow:
  • increase efforts to live in healthy, earth-friendly ways
  • study and learn computer coding, then use coding in the work I do as a teacher
  • read, research, study, and apply new learning, research and more to better parent, teach, live

Why Teach Coding to Young Children

Coding is the universal language of creativity, invention, analysis, and problem solving.

Those who can code will have a great advantage over those that cannot.

Any language introduced at a young age is grasped with greater ease and enthusiasm.

Therefore coding education should be a mainstay in every child's early schooling.

How should a school system adopt and generate coding education?

First, it's important to identify the coding path a school system will use. This will take a bit of research, and it's possibly best to reach out to experts like Gary Stager and those in the field to find out.

Recently on a trip to Alexandria, Virginia, I had a great discussion about coding with a women who is successful in the cybersecurity field. She told me she's hoping to start teaching her preschooler coding soon since it is so important. She also noted that coders well-versed in cybersecurity from cybersecurity programs, not necessarily college degrees with technology, are starting at $150,000--that's a GOOD starting salary and far more than almost any educator makes. (Though now that I believe in education mostly as a way to boost community and living, not mostly as a way to earn a lot of money).

So what's a teacher to do in the face of all this.

First, advocate for a shift of scheduling at K-12 to include a regular diet of coding.

Next, create incentives for educators K-12 to learn to code, and to embed coding into the disciplines they teach.

Further celebrate the coding that students do, and stay on top of coding efforts, education, and innovation.

So often today, I wish I had good coding skills. For example, the other day, I was analyzing a big amount of data. With a simple code, I could have reduced the time the analysis took and targeted it greatly. That would have made my work more efficient and deep.

Coding lifts us up from the drudgery of at lot of work to the illumination that work can provide--coding does the leg work leaving a lot of the deep analysis and next step thinking/doing to us.

Let's teach all students to code from the earliest ages with Scratch, Jr. and then move forward after that. Do you agree?

Letter to Coding Experts and Enthusiasts

Dear Friend and Coding Expert/Enthusiast,

As I think about the world around me, my research, and a recent discussion with a cybersecurity expert and mom in a beautiful little park in Alexandria, Virginia, I have the following thoughts and questions. I look forward to your response.

First, it seems to me that coding is today's universal language of creativity, innovation, problem solving, and analysis. Do you agree?

Next, as with any language, it seems like coding immersion should occur from PreK-12 and beyond? Do you agree?

After that, it seems that immersion should take place in a consistent way that's engaging, real-world, meaningful, and progressive--right?

And, what would that developmental program look like? What languages would students learn in preK (Scratch, Jr.), later, and after that? Do you have a developmental plan I could look at?

Further, know that I realize coding is one of many streams of learning necessary for good learning and living. I also believe there needs to be strong threads of reading, writing, languages, the arts, health/wellness, history, geography, and of course interdisciplinary science and other technologies.

Thanks for your consult in the days ahead. - Maureen

Note: I'll add relevant articles to the bottom of this post
Why Teach Coding

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Straight Talk

A colleague and friend from another school told me a story, a story that created all kinds of conjecture and hearsay in her school. I wondered why there wasn't straight talk, and I wondered why all the facts related to this story weren't openly shared. In schools, there generally doesn't have to be secrets. For the most part, people are there every day to do their best with and for students. And when problems occur, there's typically no reason not to openly share the issue with facts so that hearsay and conjecture doesn't take over.

Now I do believe that we have to keep issues related to people's private lives very private. For example if a student or teacher is suffering from a troubling personal situation, illness, or financial difficulty, that's no one's business, but when it comes to the teaching/learning community, it's best to use straight talk.

Straight talk profits from regular communication, sharing earlier than later, and an openness to feedback.

So as we begin this school year, I advocate for straight talk with the following protocols:

  • When in doubt, ask
  • Seek the facts in the situation rather than sharing hearsay and conjection
  • If something seems wrong, investigate. Too often, bad things happen because people don't act when they see something that's not right. 
  • Be honest and be empathetic too. None of us always do the right thing. We all have moments of bad judgement, misunderstanding, and ill effort. That's when we need our colleagues' empathy, honest, and support the most.
  • Be solutions-oriented, rather than judgemental
Straight talk limits the need for time and energy related to confusion, rumors, and hearsay. Straight talk provides more time for the good work we are dedicating to doing to support dynamic teaching/learning organizations. 

Is Trump a Teacher?

Trump often takes popular notions from others and makes them his own (both positively and negatively). This is a marketing strategy. I believe Democrats can take Trump's backwards #MAGA and re-imagine it to a positive #MAGA with Make America Great for All, Not One, Not Some, but ALL. This is the democratic ideal, an ideal I think the American people can positively and proactively rally around, civilly debate, and embrace.
I remember the day clearly when my students began to realize that most people aren't all good or all bad. They were telling stories about the famous people they were studying. It seemed like every time someone mentioned a positive fact about a famous person from today or the past, another person would mention a not-so-positive fact about the same person. As the conversation continued, it became clear that most people have strengths and challenges, and that these people we admire have both good sides and not-so-good sides. Students' hero-worship for these famous people was dented that day as evidence from the looks on their faces, but it was an important life lesson. In truth, we're all on that continuum between good and bad, and we stand at different places dependent on the particular topic or context.

So today as I read the newspaper and noticed that a favorite candidate of mine will be challenged by someone with a lot of money, I worried about her success. What can she do to get the message across that she's really bright, totally dedicated, and respectful towards people from all walks of life. I've watched this candidate closely in the last few months, and I've noticed that she works around the clock on issues one may refer to as unpopular, unsexy, and really, really deep and complex to protect the rights of Americans. She's unafraid to speak up, reach out, collaborate, and do the hard work necessary to get the job done. But, similar to many really dedicated professionals, her depth may not have the pizazz that a reality television star has. She may not mirror what popular culture loves--the power, the money, the intrigue, the bold and brazen confidence.

As I thought more about this, I thought that while I typically don't agree with almost anything Donald Trump does or stands for, I will say he was a very successful marketeer in the presidential election. What did he do that supported his win?

As I thought about this, I realized that he did a lot of what good teachers do including the following:
  • He uses few words
  • He speaks to people's emotions
  • He repeats his message with catchy, simple phrases continuously
He also uses some techniques, good teachers don't use in the classroom:
  • He surrounds himself with beautiful, powerful people (mostly)
  • He acts like he knows everything
  • He has good name recognition, plus his name means "to win"
Now, unlike good teachers, Trump is untrustworthy, has questionable relationships, does not represent good ethics, and appears to not do his homework or work with good discipline or collaboration. But, I'll save that for another post.

As I think of the politician I'm watching, I'm wondering if she can learn from Trump, and do the following:
  • simplify her great depth and commitment to simple phrases
  • find really awesome, popular people to stand by her side and her commitment
  • appeal to people's emotions (especially those that vote) --what are people in her district, state, or nation thinking about, what do they want. 
  • stand with confidence (which this candidate already does)
  • repeat the message -- use the call and response so popular to so many with those catchy, simple, powerful statements
  • get her name out there as much as possible (I believe that's one reason Trump tweets so much--he doesn't want anyone to forget him for a minute, and he knows if he's sensationalizes, people will talk about him more.)
  • perhaps disregard the criticism and don't speak to it--I'm not sure about this, but we can see that Trump ignores all criticism, and doesn't speak to it with the exception of denying it. (Yet that's something that really turns me away from Trump and probably turns a lot of people away from him. For example, Why won't he share his taxes? That's so frustrating especially in light of the fact that most of us pay our fair share.)
I don't want my candidate to sell out with regard to her ethics, relationships, depth, intelligence, or good work--she's got that, and that's awesome. But now it's time to learn a lesson from Trump, and that doesn't mean to copy what he does, but to use elements of his marketeer savvy to appeal to the people so then she can do the good, deep, forward-moving work that she's capable of doing.

Do you agree with this? If not, why not? I want to know. 

Starting the Teaching/Learning Year: Relationship Building and Explicit Teaching

What you do at the start of the year, you tend to live with throughout the teaching/learning year, and that's why how you start is so important.

Fortunately, our team approach of teaching fifth grade helps all of us to remind each other of the many important lessons and activities that make a difference at the start of the year.

There will be a number of team building events such as the spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, note-card challenge, and creating classroom protocols. There will also be a good number of explicit lessons that teach students how to access the many supports and materials available to them, and then how to use those materials. For example, students will learn how to navigate and use the class website, chromebooks, and math materials.

Further, the start of the year will focus on get-to-know-each-other activities such as the selfie project, birthday pictograph, What's Your Number math activity, culture flags, and other types of identity projects. We want every child to feel good about who they are and what they desire, and we want students to know about each other too.

Many would like to fast-forward the school year while the energy is high and enthusiasm great, yet when you do that you miss out on the important building blocks of the year, the foundation of relationship, teamwork, and explicit understanding of the expectations, materials, processes, and supports available for an optimal year of learning and teaching.

Testing and Data Informed Instruction

In our school system, we collect both informal and formal data throughout the year to inform our learning/teaching program. I find the data analysis to be very useful and helpful when it comes to planning and teaching a good program.

slice of a student data chart
This morning I reviewed a host of scores for last year's students and upcoming students too. I was able to easily transfer the scores to a spread sheet and manipulate in a number of ways. In the early days of school, I'll add initial assessment scores to the list, and I have a page for observations, parent comments, and notes from last year's teachers.

Initially, what do I look for with the data?

First, I look to see who has faced significant challenges with academic expectations and/or social/emotional areas of school life. I want to make sure that we have a good program in place with plenty of supports for these students.

Next I look at discrepancies. For example, perhaps the child is excelling with all academic expectations, but facing great social/emotional issues, or a child may have very high math/science scores, but challenged English language arts performance. That discrepancy sends up a signal for more sensitive teaching. I also look at how many students fall into each category. For example if one homeroom has more than 50% who struggle with expectations that may mean that I ask for extra support for that homeroom, or on the other hand if a homeroom demonstrates significant success with the standards, that may mean that I need to pay close attention to enrichment opportunities.

Some who don't like standardized tests at all, decry this data. Yet, I continue to be a fan of streamlined standardized tests that give  us a ball park idea about where a child's performance is in relation to his/her peers and academic expectations. For example, I may think that I can see all with regard to a child's overall program, but the truth is that I do cull new and interesting information from assessment of standardized tests as well as collection of more informal data. The standardized tests help me pinpoint where specific challenges may occur.

On the other hand, though, the standardized tests don't provide data that surprises us too often. Typically students with greater socioeconomic advantage do better on these tests, and that's something that we have to think deeply about with the question of how can we make sure that every child gets what they need so they are progressing well no matter who they are or where they come from. We know a flaw of the tests is that it only looks at success through a narrow lens rather than a broad, contextual, real-life, holistic lens.

I've been reading quite a bit about bringing up our most challenged students, and what I'm positively challenged by is the research that says students do better when they are given high expectations and working with those who are achieving at high levels. This research suggests that our inclination to group challenged students together may not be a good idea. The research also suggests that we work explicitly with family members to let them know that every child is capable of tremendous success, but that it takes a collaborative commitment of consistent time and effort from the entire teaching/learning team including students, family members, educators, administrators, and community members.

Last year, I made a greater effort to uplift challenged students, and I made some good progress. The students were happy, engaged, and learning. There were some significant accomplishments, but I'm still not satisfied. This year I want to keep working on this goal with the following efforts:
  • early year conferences with family members and students who are most challenged to see how we can work together to boost that child's overall learning achievement and success.
  • a targeted program that mostly puts these children in with high achievers, but also provides them with the necessary tools and supports to give them what they need to succeed.
  • more feedback and explicit response
  • lots of teaching/learning about how to learn and access the strategies, tools, and supports that make you a successful learner.
  • meaningful, real-world study 
  • plenty of time for relationship building
I'll be interested in what my colleagues have to say about the many scores I analyzed and the will to bring up our most challenged learners with even more success. This is a challenge I'm committed to, and I welcome your ideas.