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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lessons to Come: End of April

The days seem busier than ever right now.

Today was a beautiful day, and the students played happily during each recess.

We engaged in a hands-on math exploration which was mostly successful, but also reminded me of the fact that I have to be very explicit about the expectations for hands-on explorations from introduction to clean up.

Tomorrow students will engage in more hands-on explorations in math and science. Later we'll watch a Bill Nye video about wetlands and spend some time with some math tech practice.

Thursday and Friday students will take MCAS in the morning, and in the afternoons they'll work on their biography projects, planting, play practices, reading and more.  Onward.

Self Regulation and Creative Learning

Sometimes I wonder if children have had substantial opportunity to learn in self-driven, creative ways. I wonder this when we embark on creative endeavor as some have a difficult time focusing, staying on task, and persevering when the task is tough.

As we enter the season of more problem/project based learning, I have to remember to well set the parameters and expectations as this will help those that face challenge with issues related to self regulation. Note to self.

Teaching Well: Training and Self Discipline

There is an element of training when it comes to teaching, and in my opinion, it's not the best part of the job. Yet it's an important part of the job.

We know the teachers that are good "trainers" as they have students who typically are very polite, clean up after themselves, use quiet voices in the hall, heed directions well, and follow needed classroom routines.

The same is true for parents--we notice parents who train their children well. Those children are typically very helpful, use polite language, complete their assignments, and follow appropriate routines.

Of course when it comes to training there's a difference between training as teaching and training as commanding. The teachers who do this well spend the time up front at the start of the year and throughout the year reviewing directions and helping students to follow the routines well.

I can't say I'm the best trainer as a parent or a teacher. I have always been a fan of creativity, letting children run the show, and playful environments. Early in my career, I didn't think that training and creativity could go together, but the more I teach, the more I recognize that good training leads to good discipline and good discipline leads to good behavior and good behavior leads to classroom and home settings where there's room for greater creativity, playfulness, and children-centered/focused environments.

When children don't know the routines or how to behave, there is more chaos and when there is more chaos, there's less opportunity for creative, child-centered, engaging lessons.

So where does this leave me as a parent and a teacher?

As a parent, I am fortunate to have a spouse who grew up with a good dose of discipline and training. That's rubbed off on me and my children. In school I'm surrounded by educators who are good at developing students' sense of good behavior, manners, and self discipline.

While I rarely am without creative ideas or playful endeavor, I always have to work on the part of teaching that includes establishing positive routines, encouraging self-discipline, and working on good manners. I know that self discipline and creativity/playfulness need to go hand-in-hand in successful classrooms, and I also know that when children are both creative and well mannered/disciplined, doors open up for them in all kinds of situations.

As I always say, we are never without lessons to learn as teachers or parents. That's both the glory and the challenge of the job. Onward.

Direct Your Practice

Most teachers have to lead their own practice. They have to dig down deep every day to forward their efforts in ways that matter. They also have to continually advocate for what they believe to be right and good for children.

Of course, I'd like to see education organizations morph to organizations with greater distributive leadership and teamwork as I think that would create more inspiring places to teach and learn. That happens, in part, now, but I think greater dedication to that will continue to improve what we can do and how we do it.

New Day

Yesterday began with a terrific school assembly. My students led the assembly and I really enjoyed seeing their terrific leadership and sense of pride. School Assembly provides every fifth grader with a terrific opportunity to lead and speak in front of our student group of about 400. Assembly also gives them a chance to have lunch with the principal and plan the assembly script and presentation--they look forward to that too, and I appreciate the effort the principal puts into this bi-weekly event, an event that also helps us meet the teaching standards in a real-world way.

Later in the day there was time for recess, biography research, and math study. The lessons, overall, went well,  However, it's clear that the stress that MCAS puts on the schedule, computers, and educators is beginning to show a bit--when many educators are pulled to support MCAS accommodations, the continuity of teaching drops off somewhat simply because the teachers and some resources aren't available for their typical day-to-day support.

At the end of the day, I attended a meeting that mostly focused on the "size of the problem" and some good discussion about helping student to clearly define a problem and choose matching reactions. This is good work that mainly began with our school counselors. Today will be more of the same. I want to focus in a bit more on the needs of a few students who seemed to be slow to warm up to the after-vacation learning routine today as we stay the course. Onward.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The April 2018 Week Ahead: Math, Science, ELA Study and Exploration

To return after a vacation week demands enthusiasm--there are approximately ten big weeks of teaching ahead, and we want those weeks to be worthwhile and memorable.

What will the first week back bring?

Students will begin by getting organized with sharpened color pencils and then leading our school assembly--that will help everyone get back on track.

Then they'll have some time for recess, and after that we'll dive into fraction problem solving and model making. Throughout the rest of the day, I'll teach that fraction lesson a couple times more, meet with both grade-level and school-wide colleagues and give students some time to work on their biography project reading and research.

The rest of the week will find me working with students to problem solve utilizing concepts including order of operations and volume.

Students will also spend time studying science via a Bill Nye wetlands video, observing conservation of mass, and physical vs chemical change.  For conservation of mass we'll find the mass of ice and then see how that mass does not change when it melts to water. We'll also notice that this is a physical change since there was only a phase change not a property change. Students will create a graphic model to show that change and record the mass. To demonstrate the chemical change students will blow up balloons with water and vinegar. They'll find the mass of all objects before and after to show the conservation of mass. They'll also mix a variety of matter to create a physical change as they make bouncy balls too. They'll notice the property changes that occur during this change.

At the end of the week, I'll administer the ELA MCAS tests to students.

Professional learning will find me working on the science/math exploration prep as well as the Junior River Ranger booklet. As always, it will be a busy week, and the overall focus will be to support children with as much positive care and attention as possible.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Overcoming the Tough Times

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I've been through some tough times in the past. Times that found me returning home day after day upset, crying, frustrated, and hurt. Times have improved significantly thanks to the respectful and dignified leadership and friendship of many whose examples have showed me what it means to be a good leader, friend, confident, and mentor.

Looking back at those trying chapters in my life, I am glad that I met the chapters by seeking counsel and support always with my eyes on finding the truth of the matter and understanding what was really going on. Never did I give in to the struggle by giving up on my values or beliefs, however I did recognize truths that fostered positive change and development in me. As in all struggles, rarely is one to blame, but instead it is the conflagration of multiple shortcomings, past experiences, challenges, ambition, poor choices, ignorance, and more.

What did I learn in those tough times? I learned a lot including the following:
  • Empathy is essential
  • Err on the side of assuming positive motives and intent
  • Don't be quick to judge and also don't be quick to trust--sometimes peoples' motives are not well intended or directed
  • Focus on the mission of your work and endeavor 
  • When in doubt, ask questions
  • Keep a written record of events
  • Be respectful and considerate
  • You always can wait to respond or act--time is the friend of conflict resolution
  • You may not understand the root cause or rationale for struggle, it may take years ahead to fully understand what really happened
Bad times happen and we weather them when we approach those times with our best selves, support, and direction. During those tough years, I found strength and inspiration through the words and actions of many. I hope I can be a support to those who struggle too. 

Becoming a Teacher Naturalist

In a sense, I became a child naturalist at a young age as my dad brought us on one outdoor exploration after another. We were always hiking, swimming, biking, and exploring in the woods, at the ocean, and along mountain trails as children. These explorations brought us great joy and a sense of adventure.

Then when I became a teacher, I was drawn to the community where I teach, in part, by the natural beauty of the land. The community members have taken conservation and environmentalism seriously and have protected lots of natural land and water throughout the community. As a young mother, my husband and I explored many of those paths, trails, and waterways with our own children. Later my children continued to explore the land and waterways with countless local adventures such as canoeing to school, hiking to the area's highest peak (small as it may be), running through the outdoor trails, swimming in the local lakes and ponds, and biking from one town and nature sanctuary to another.

Where I live is Thoreau land and there is a deep commitment to the natural lands and water--and this deep commitment is visible via the countless environmental organizations that exist. As a teacher I have wanted to forward this sense of appreciation, understanding, and stewardship to my students, and over time I have participated in a number of activities to do this, but I must say I am not satisfied with what I've done and feel that I can do more. Many families and teachers in our school system have committed substantial time to composting, gardening, creating nature trails, and studying the local landscape with students. This has been wonderful, and I believe we can still do more. My part in this is to work with my grade-level colleagues to develop our river/wetlands environmental education with the local Audubon Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Wild and Scenic River System/Program. We are fortunate to be the recipients of a grant to support our efforts.

What does this mean for me as an educator?

In the weeks, months, and years ahead this means that I'll do the following:
  • Embed the state science, technology, and engineering standards into our Junior River Ranger booklet and program.
  • Tour the lands and waterways myself to explore and learn about natural habitat and to plan for students' trips and explorations.
  • Read books and information about the local lands and waterways.
  • Attend related events.
  • Develop our program with system leadership, families, students and colleagues.
  • Assess our efforts and develop our collective work and study.
This is an exciting aspect of my work as an educator because it is timely, engaging, meaningful, and well supported. There is much to do, and I look forward to the work ahead. I am also open to your thoughts and suggestions. 

Embedding Science Standards into Wetlands and River Studies

Our students are embarking on an environmental exploration of rivers and wetlands habitat with the support of Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.

As I prepare for these explorations, I took a look at how we will integrate this work with the Massachusetts Science Technology and Engineering (STE) standards and practices, and this is what I came up with.

  • "Observe and potentially create a model that demonstrates the cycling of water through a watershed through evaporation, precipitation, absorption, surface runoff, and condensation." We will look carefully at this via video introductions, creation of hand-made models, and during our nature walks in the local habitat and elsewhere.
  • "Describe and graph the relative amounts of salt water in the ocean; fresh water in lakes, rivers, and groundwater, and fresh water frozen in glaciers and polar ice caps to provide evidence about the availability of fresh water in Earth's biosphere." We will make these graphs and look for information related to this topic that describes the habitat the students go to school in, a habitat that includes multiple wetlands areas, rivers, lakes and other waterways. 
  • "Obtain and combine information about ways communities reduce human impact on the Earth's resources and environment by changing an agricultural, industrial, or community practice or process. . .including treating sewage, reducing the amounts of materials used, capturing polluting emissions from factories or power plants, and preventing runoff from agricultural activities." We will likely seek out local environmental/landscape experts to discuss this topic with our students as a start.
  • "Test a simple system designed to filter particulates out of water and propose one change to the design to improve it." Students will notice that typical water bottles do not filter out particulates and result in clean water. They will use the engineering design process to create water bottles that also filter out particulates and cleanse water. Students will understand that "technology is any modification of the natural or designed world done to fulfill human needs or wants." Students will sketch design diagrams demonstrating how "each part of a product or device relates to other parts in the product or device."
  • "Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among producers, consumers, decomposers, and the air, water, and soil in the environment to (a) show that plants produce sugars and plant materials, (b) show that animals can eat plants and/or other animals for food, and (c) show that some organisms, including fungi and bacteria break down dead organisms and recycle some materials back to the air. . . emphasis is on how matter moves through the ecosystem." Students will look for evidence of this during our nature walks and collect evidence via photography, drawings, and notes in their Junior River Ranger booklets.
  • "Students will look at two designs for composting to determine which is most likely to encourage the decomposition of materials." Students will compare the classroom worm-composting to the school-wide container composting efforts and to natural composting that occurs. Students might create their own mini composting designs and compare those as well. 
  • Students will create maps of the nature habitats that we explore, and those maps will illustrate "simple landforms." Students will notice rock layers to notice change over time. 
  • Flow charts of food/energy cycles.
  • "Students will construct an argument with evidence that in a particular environment some organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive." Students will speculate about what plants and animals exist in the habitats we explore, and then during the exploration they will notice which species seem to survive well and why. Students will identify "variations. . . .that provide advantages. . . .survival and reproduction." Students will observe changes in the habitat and determine how those changes may have affected living species and the landforms.
  • Students will collect and interpret data.
  • Students will head start frogs, toads, and plant. They will detail the life cycle of these organisms in their Junior River Ranger books. Students will look for evidence of animal/plant life cycles during their naturalist expeditions. 
Science Practices
  • Design and build a simple design problem: create a mini composter, create a water filter. Determine success criteria, note constraints on material and time. 
  • Design a model to test cause and effect relationships.
  • Create graphical representations to demonstrate life cycles of plants and animals as well as wave features and particulate models of matter to describe phase changes.
  • Collect data and make predictions about what would happen if the variable changes - (physical science exploration of matter)
  • Measure and graph weights of substances before and after a chemical reaction (properties of matter- conservation of matter: physical science)
  • Use graphs and data to understand where water is and how much is available in the local habitat.
  • Use evidence to demonstrate how variation among individuals can provide advantages to survival and reproduction. 
  • Test and refine over time water filters, plant packets, solar ovens, composters.
  • Obtain and summarize information about the local habitat climate as well as renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. 

The Next Leg: MCAS Tests

The next leg of the school year is focused on MCAS tests. Fifth graders will take six tests--two in science, two in math, and two in English language arts. This test season will last for four weeks for the fifth graders, and we'll do all we can to support their best effort and test taking skill.

Whether you agree with the tests or not, it's our job to administer the state tests and prepare students for them. We've done the teaching, and now we'll focus on finesse, apt test strategy, and following the test directives during these weeks.

What does this entail?

Since I take the lead with the math teaching, I'll focus the last teaching days leading up to these tests on a number of problem solving activities that help students to revisit essential concepts with model making, calculations, and explanations. Students will also use old MCAS tests to practice and take an online practice test.

Test Taking Strategy
Since I've given these tests for years, I've noticed via score analysis a number of test taking strategies that work including the following:

  • Take your time, this isn't a timed test and those that rush typically don't do as well.
  • Do what you know first as that will warm up your brain, and then go back to the problems you are less sure about. 
  • If you don't know, make an educated guess--don't skip problems. 
  • Read carefully. Highlight key words and turn number words or complex words into digits, calculations, pictures or easy to understand synonyms.
  • To better understand word problems, change the name of the main person to your name--that will help you to step into the problem. 
  • Check over your work, sometimes students make careless errors
  • Be explicit with your answers--the people correcting the open response questions don't know you and they will be looking for right answers that are easy to read and clear.
  • Know multiple choice strategy: Before looking at the answer choices, figure out the answer yourself, then and only then look at the answer choices -- two answer choices will be far from right, one will be close, and one will be the right answer. If the answer choices include equations or expression--evaluate those and write the solutions on the paper before choosing the right answer(s).
  • Sometimes there will be more than one right answer to a question. 
  • Get plenty of rest during test weeks.
  • Bring nutritious snacks, when your brain does deep intellectual work, your body thinks you're running a marathon so you get very hungry. Bring good protein snacks and plenty of water to help you do your best.
  • Make time for play and fun after school and on the weekends as that frees up your brain for better learning and test taking.
  • Most of all use the test as a chance to show off all you know and do your best. If you don't know something and get something wrong it simply means that we have to teach it to you better and/or more--these tests also, in part, test our curriculum and programs.
Compliment Tests with Engaging Hands-On and Peaceful Activities
When students are not testing, we'll fill the time with engaging hands-on activities such as practicing for the play, completing science explorations, project work, and reading. This is a good compliment to the rigor that the tests demand.

On Monday, I'll tell students that the next four weeks are devoted to test prep and taking the tests. I'll tell them that it's best to do their best so that the tests do reflect what they can do and what they know related to the tests. I'll note that the more we know the truth about their learning, the better we can teach them and that it's always best in any endeavor to do your best because then you can look back and feel proud of who you are and what you did. 

Following test season as I've noted below the curriculum takes a plunge into lots of hands-on, collaborative, engaging learning endeavor such as the fifth grade play, the cardboard challenge, the global change makers project, environmental science explorations, Field Day, and end year celebrations which is a terrific way to bring a year of learning and teaching to a close. Onward. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Become a Local Habitat Expert

Should children become experts on their local habitat?

What advantages does his create?

Of course children should become experts on their local habitat as this expertise will allow them to safely navigate, enjoy, and protect that habitat.

How do we forward this activity?

It's best to clearly synthesize local habitat study with the expected standards and programs for each grade level. This makes learning real and meaningful.

Too often people are distanced from their local habitat. They don't fully understand what that habitat includes and how best to enjoy and navigate their surroundings. This lack of understanding leads to a lack of value and care which in turn leads to much less enjoyable and inviting habitats. It's possible to enrich learning opportunities for young children while also increasing their awareness, commitment, and pride in their local surroundings.

Beautiful, healthy, and inviting surroundings uplift people and the lives they live--this is a call that is ripe for our efforts near and far, effort that will better our communities and lives.

River Study: Junior River Rangers

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with Sarah Burskey, a ranger from the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Program and Robin Stuart, Education Coordinator from Mass Audubon's Drum Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. Both naturalists are helping our grade-level team coordinate a number of environmental education activities including the following:
  • Naturalist visit
  • Headstarting wood frogs and the spade foot toad
  • Vernal pool and river walks/exploration
  • River/wetlands study
As I collect and coordinate the information for this study, there's lots of good work to do which includes:
  • Personalizing the Junior River Ranger booklet and tasks
  • Coordinating a Junior River Ranger badge ceremony at the end of the school year
  • Planning the vernal pool/river hikes
  • Preparing the learning experiences which will teach children about the Sudbury River as well as the National Wild and Scenic River program and system
  • Contacting our high school environmental teacher to see if she wants to get involved
  • Synthesizing these efforts with our current science standards and life science efforts
When meeting with Sarah, I was excited when she noted that having a National Wild and Scenic River in your backyard is like having a National Park in your backyard. I'm looking forward to using her words to encourage students and their families to better understand, care for, and protect our school community's natural environment and resources. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Forward Movement: Energizing the Path Ahead

Writing helps to energize the paths we travel.

Thinking via writing gives our paths directions and strength.

So once again, I reflect via writing to energize that path--a path that is much like a river that is always flowing both changed by and changing the land that surrounds its edges.

The days, months, and years ahead will find me focused in this way:

Teaching Direction

Spring 2018
  • Math education
  • River study and stewardship
  • Science study
  • Community building, support, and celebrations
School Year 2018 on. . . 
  • Developing the math program
  • Developing the science and environmental education programs
  • Supporting students' literacy education
  • Continued social-emotional learning/teaching and community building/support
  • Reading, research, writing, community support and activity
  • Family care, attention, and culture
  • Travel and adventure
It's a good time to focus in on what's important and what I can do to better my own life and the lives of others in ways that matter. 

River Study; River Stewards

Rivers are dynamic, vital ecosystems.

As I drove through the streets of my hometown, I found myself moved with a mix of emotions. On one hand, I enjoyed the memories of so many good times in the city, and on the other hand, I found myself saddened by what seemed like a lack of care with regard to urban planning, upkeep, and design--it seemed like there had been little attention to the kinds of urban design and care that create warm and welcoming places. This isn't a problem in my hometown alone, but when you drive through many cities and small towns all over the world, you'll notice that many have not worked to design and modernize in ways that build a warm and welcoming culture. Place matters and without attention to place, we lose the opportunity to build a stronger, more cohesive culture.

As I think about that, I am also thinking about the children I teach and the place where I teach. How can we use schools and education to foster care, attention, and development of our cities, towns, and natural spaces--what can we do?

My care and interest in my hometown was fostered, in part, by my education there. During my grade school and junior high years, I learned a lot about the history of that city and the special events and places there. That education helped to build respect for the city's history, geography, and people. In schools today, we can do the same for our students--we can teach them about their city/town's history, the people, the natural spaces, and the potential--then those students can grow up to both protect and develop that which is special and important about the places where they live.

Where I teach, I'll forward this sentiment and education in multiple ways. We've written a grant to support the visit of a living history presenter who will present the history of the town through the perspective of one of the town's most famous women, Lydia Maria Child. We also wrote and received a grant from the SUASCO organization, an organization dedicated to protecting the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers and surrounding habitats. We'll use that grant to teach students about the Sudbury River's history and geography, and in doing this, we'll aim to develop students' sense of river stewardship, appreciation, and conservation.

Today I'll meet with a representative from the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to learn more about how I will utilize their resources to forward this learning event--the Sudbury River is part of this system, and I'll learn more about what this means and then relay that to students via a number of hands-on activities.

Further, I'll think about how I can continue to forward our national attention to the places where we live, work, and recreate since I know that beautiful, well designed, and well protected landscapes inspire the best of us, and when we let our surroundings, both human-made and natural, deteriorate, we hinder the promise and potential of the good life for all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Teach Children Well: The Re-Organization Begins

I have devoted my life's work to teaching and caring for children. As I consider the many perspectives I've embraced and entertained with that in mind, I recognize that I've amassed a fair number of posts (6,000+), processes, and learning experiences.  In the days ahead, I hope to organize these posts in a better way--a way that will be helpful and useful to educators, parents, and others who work with and care for children regularly. I have decided to put ads on my blog to support the time and effort it will take me to organize this body of work, a collection that I hope will serve to inform and inspire those who are engaged in childcare and teaching. As I work on this re-organization, I welcome your feedback, ideas, and questions. In the end, I hope that this will result in an online book that chronicles my journey while at the same time igniting and informing your work as well.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Problem and Challenge of Teaching Well

I must say that I LOVE the problem of teaching well. I truly enjoy the action of trying to fit all those pieces together into a successful student-friendly program where students both enjoy learning and are inspired to continue to learn throughout their lives.

I also enjoy working with children who are generally open minded, bright, honest, caring and compassionate.

Further it's a joy to work with a dedicated staff of individuals who are all committed to a positive endeavor--this synergy is uplifting.

Yes, there are tough days and the problem of teaching well is sometimes a reach--but nevertheless it's a problem that I've enjoyed engaging with for more than three decades, and a problem I'll continue to reach for in the years ahead.

As I have considered and toyed with many other aspects of the professional field of education, I have always been ricocheted right back into the classroom and teaching--that's where I am meant to be and that's where I'll put my energy and creativity now and into the future. Onward.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Children Who Challenge Us

Ultimately children who challenge us at home or at school are our greatest teachers--they teach us about situations in life that we don't know about. These challenging children can try our souls too because they demand our attention, time, flexibility, deep think, and change--they don't fit the status quo, they are change agents.

In my own family each of my children have been challenging from one time to another. I have struggled with their decisions, outlook, needs, and challenges, and I have been left with the question, "What do I do now?"

With my own children, I generally seek consult online or in real time by finding those who have dealt with similar issues and hearing what they have to say. It's the same at school. When children present new and challenging situations, I have to reach out to others and research to understand the situation to determine what I need to do. That doesn't mean I don't get frustrated in the meantime or try to ignore situations hoping that they'll go away, but in the long run, what I need to do is find out how to deal with the situation.

As a teacher one thing I've learned is that when a child begins to act out and demonstrate challenge early on, you have to pay attention. These kinds of actions almost never disappear, but instead become deeper and more troubling in time. Hence, it's best to pay attention right away and think about what the child needs and why the child is presenting the way he or she is presenting.

In general when children are getting the care, attention, and basic needs they need, they do well. It's typically when a child is missing something he/she needs that he/she acts out. That's when it is our job as educators to find out what that child needs to make things better and to meet that child's needs and challenges. This is challenging work whether you are a parent or a teacher, but it's a critical part of the teaching/learning role.

Strengthening Areas that Need Support

As students took the cumulative math assessment yesterday and the standardized system test earlier in the week, it was clear that there are areas were some or all need strengthening before they take the state's MCAS tests so after vacation we'll dig into the following areas with engaging standards-based exploration and performance assessments:
  1. Volume
  2. Geometry
  3. Measurement
  4. Making models that match fraction operations
  5. Line plots
  6. Fluency with fraction operations
  7. Algebraic thinking including order of operations and coordinate grids
Each exploration will have the following format:
  • similar ability small groups
  • scaffolded exploration from review through enrichment
  • hands-on work and problem solving
  • check-in points
When children arrive back from vacation, I'll explain the format, make the groups, and spend a few minutes each day explaining the exploration and then let students spend most of the time working together to complete the tasks. I'll use a number of resources to create the tasks and make them as meaningful and relevant to students' interests and day-to-day life and questions as possible.

We'll add a bit of test prep too. We've got eight days until MCAS  so we'll likely complete one exploration a day saving the last day, math RTI, and homework for some explicit MCAS practice. 

I think this will be an enjoyable way to review for the tests and solidify some concepts are that less strong at this point. Onward. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Considerations for Better Teaching

I'm too tired to dig into these topics right now, but in reference to a good lunchroom discussion and in analysis of recent assessments, I'm wondering if we would do a better job if we spent more time meeting with families for thoughtful academic discussions, strategizing, and goal setting throughout the year, and if we spent more time up front at the start of the year carefully mapping service delivery, setting goals, and creating teaching/learning strategy for every learner.

Right now time is short for upfront service delivery mapping, strategizing, and goal setting with colleagues, students, and family members, and I am wondering if a greater investment of time and attention to these areas would result in more successful teaching and learning. What do you think?

Systemwide Test Week Analysis

Students took a number of systemwide tests in the last couple of weeks, and tonight I analyzed the results to see how I might improve the program. I came up with the following list in order to meet systemwide and state expectations by the spring.
  1. Fidelity to the schedule matters
  2. Strategic timing of field studies matters too--we want field studies to inform curriculum, provide inspiration, create shared experiences, educate students, and act as a reprieve to the rigor. We don't want field studies to interrupt the flow of good learning.
  3. Fidelity to the curriculum program (I can imagine the curriculum directors nodding with a smile as I write this)
  4. Using the supports we currently use including online programs, unit packets, regular assessments as well as adding more project/problem based activities and math writing process.
  5. Mapping out service delivery at the start of the year with all educators
  6. Strategizing and goal setting with all educators and good formal and informal data at start of the year.
  7. Continued efforts to enlist family support to help every child learn

Daily Decision Making

As I read back past posts, I recognize that this blog illustrates the daily decision making and prep that is a big part of teaching--every day we have to think about the day's objective and how to meet that objective.

Today students will mostly work to finish the cumulative assessment math test. They started the test earlier in the week, and I hope all will finish that test tomorrow since I have to include that information in a district report at the start of May, a report that will take me some time to complete.

As students work, I'll remind them to "show what they know," take their time, and do their best. They'll work on this during their designated math time as well as during other periods if they are still not finished. It's a long test for fifth graders.

While they work, I'll attend to clarifying questions, recording the scores, reviewing results, and prepping the math exercises we'll work on after vacation--exercises that will take on more of a project/problem based approach. Onward.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Students' Test Assess the Teacher Too

I'm not a fan of teachers being assessed by students' standardized tests since I don't believe the assessment tell the important story of teaching and learning, however, I do believe that testing and assessments can be used to inform educators about program and teaching improvement and development.

Why Not Judge Educators by Test Scores?
First of all educators are often working without needed supports to teach well. Classes may have too many students. Students may not have the supports they need to learn well, and systems in general may have structures, roles, and programs that don't support good teaching or learning. Of course educators have to speak up for what they need, but often educators' voices are lost in politics, bureaucracies, and more. It's possible that one class can have lots of students who struggle with a number of factors simply because a teacher has a credential to serve those students or because a teacher is good with those students while a class next door could possibly have an "easier to teach" group for one reason or another. Test scores are the result of multiple, complex factors and many of those factors are out of a single teacher's reach so teachers should not be judged by their students' test scores.

Test Assessments Provide Helpful Information Related to Program Development and Improvement
From observing how students take a test to listening to their questions to assessing the results all provide a helpful lens with regard to student learning. As I watch students take a test, I can tell who is willing and able to show what they know, and who is reluctant or unable to figure it out. That helps me to assess who I need to continue to work with to build greater skill and capacity, and it also gives me ideas about where a child is struggling such as need for greater social emotional learning support, need for greater practice and repetition, or need for a different kind of learning and teaching.

Further, as I watch students take a test and listen to their questions, it helps me to understand where students gained good experience, teaching, and understanding, and where I have to revisit to think about how I might change the way I teach a particular concept, skill, or knowledge point. For example today students had many questions about a specific question, and as I assessed, my analysis pointed to the fact that students had not had enough independent practice with interpreting or making the kind of model asked for. I'll go back and teach that concept more in the days ahead.

As we look at the analysis of all the scores, we can determine who made adequate or even better progress and who could have made more progress. This kind of analysis helps us to look at our programs with greater specificity, and that look helps us to think ahead, do some research, and make good changes to better what we do.

So while I don't think scores should be used to rate individual teachers, I do think scores offer one important glimpse into the way we teach, the programs we use, and the development we need to further develop what we do for and with children.

Planning Science/Math Explorations/Performance Assessments

In the next ten weeks of the school year, students will engage in a large number of hands-on science and math explorations. As I prep the classroom for these explorations, I want to tease out the focus and materials prep that has to be done in the days ahead.

Plant Packets
Students will embark on this study with some explicit experiences with planting seeds in a number of ways, later they'll have the chance to design their own plant packets or health, productive plant environments.

Water Bottles
Students will re-engineer water bottles to meet the needs of needing a bottle that both holds and filters water for healthy hydration.

Heterogeneous Mixtures vs. Homogeneous Mixtures or Solutions
Students will have the opportunity to practice this in multiple fun ways. They'll also have the chance to take apart a mixture to see what it is made up of using a number of science tools.

Chemical vs Physical Reaction
Students have already been studying this in a variety of ways and we'll continue to review this concept.

Conservation of Mass and Energy
I'll mostly model this and then students will observe this through hands-on work.

Students will continue to build contraptions that demonstrate both kinetic and potential energy.

Life Cycles
Students will have the opportunity to watch tadpoles develop into frogs. They've studied and will continue to study life cycles of plants and other animals too.

River Habitats and Wetlands
Thanks to a SUASCO grant students will be able to study the animals, plants, and ecosystem of rivers and wetlands via hands-on explorations, field studies, visiting experts, and raising tadpoles.

Students will study volume through a number of hands-on math and science explorations.

Students will compare the mass of many objects and study mass in conjunction with learning about the conservation of mass too.

Fractions and Measurement
Students will apply the knowledge of fractions and measurement to real-life situations via scaffolded, collaborative project/problem based learning.

Students will review geometry via a number of hands-on exploration with tangrams, origami, and project/problem based learning.

Global Cardboard Challenge
We'll devote the large part of week at the end of the year to this amazing hands-on engineering project that will allow students to synthesize their learning throughout the year with a creative application.

Now that I've brainstormed the big ideas, it's time to add all the details project-by-project. . . to be continued.

Moving from 2D to 3D Learning

A lot of the expected curriculum is essentially 2D. This is a rather "flat" curriculum, but I can see value in a lot of it. At this point in the year, however, we're about to move from 2D to 3D as we embark on a large number of science, math, and arts explorations. I'm thinking about how to ready the room and materials for these explorations, and I'm excited because I know that children LOVE to learn this way. It's a good compliment and follow-up to test season too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Test Taking Strategies that Matter

Every contest, assessment, test and task profits from a good strategy. I've watched my sons for years employ good strategy to make money, win sports matches, and achieve in school. I've also watched them employ wrong strategies and not achieve do to that. Good strategy matters.

As I think of this during the spring term which has come to be known as testing season, I want to make sure that I teach students positive test taking strategy--strategy that has helped students do their best on assessments and tests.

The strategies I teach include the following:
  • If the test is untimed, take your time. Students who rush generally don't do as well as students who take their time.
  • Read carefully and break down complex text. You can often turn complex text into a visual model, picture, comic strip, or equation to help you solve a problem. You should also visualize as you read by reading slow enough to see a picture or movie in your mind. 
  • Sometimes it helps to change the name of a person in a word problem to your own name as that helps you to step into the problem and understand it better.
  • Complete all calculations on paper and check those calculation by using the inverse operation or doing the calculation twice. Students who take the time to calculate precisely do better.
  • When completing multiple choice questions, do the following:
    • Read the question carefully while covering up the answer choices.
    • Solve the problem on paper and write down your answer.
    • Then and only then look at the answer choices. You typically can eliminate two answers right away, and then have to figure out which is the right answer between one that is close to right and one that is the correct answer.
  • If there is a chance to listen to the questions, where head phones and listen as you read. This can often help you to comprehend the question better.
  • If there's the chance to go back and answer problems later, do the problems you understand well first to warm up your brain and start positively, then go back and answer the problems you found to be more difficult.
  • If you don't know an answer at all, it's typically best to make a guess. Use your good judgement when making a guess and choose what you think would be a reasonable answer. Often thinking about why a test maker would add that question helps you to identify a reasonable answer--usually test makers are testing you on specific content and standards so think about what they are testing you on and then determine what is most reasonable.
  • When you don't know what a word means, sometimes you have the ability to ask a teacher for clarification of definitions. If that's not possible, think about other words that sound like or look like that word--that often gives you a clue. Sometimes you can actually read a problem and leave out the difficult word and still get the problem right--sometimes those tricky words don't matter to the problem. 
I will probably add to this list in time, and if you have any other great strategies, let me know. 

Digging Into the Scores: Thinking Strategically About Teaching Well

As I dig into a set of scores, I am thinking about how we can think strategically with regard to teaching math well. What do I notice?

Students who practice have a significant advantage.
On Twitter and other social networks the idea that students have to do math to learn math has been trending. This seems obvious, but what happens at times is that some children get only the whole class introduction and do not have substantial opportunity for practice. This may happen for lots of reasons, but it's an important strategic element to think about as we think of programming for children.

Willing to Risk; Learning to Learn
Some students are very unwilling to risk and/or don't know how to learn. In many cases, these students are fearful of putting themselves out there as dynamic learners simply because they don't trust themselves and don't think that they are capable of learning. In many cases these students may come from homes that fear education or situations where they haven't had positive opportunities to learn, to fail, to discuss learning. These students need lots of coaching around self efficacy, confidence building, growth mindset, how to be resourceful and ask questions--these students also generally need a lot of loving care and guidance. This is a situation where a positive strategy is to add one-to-one and small group academic/social-emotional/learning-to-learn integrated coaching with skilled staff on a consistent basis.

Teaching All Standards
Students need to be taught all the standards they will be tested on; and they need to be taught these standards in good time well. That means that educators have to understand the standards well and think strategically and holistically about how to teach those standards for mastery. At the start of every school year there should be a strategic plan about how to teach the curriculum well, and that strategic plan should evolve as good analysis of scores and efforts are put into place with collaboration by all stakeholders.

Teaching with All the Right Components
There are many elements that help us to teach math well and those elements include the following:
  • project/problem based learning
  • tech integration with worthy tech programs and platforms
  • skills practice
  • hands-on learning opportunities with related manipulatives
  • real world applications through problem/project based learning, videos, field studies and more
  • explicit teaching and practice
  • vocabulary and language development including math reading and writing
  • creation and manipulation of models via drawing, online work, and making
  • discussion, debate, and conversation about the topic
  • asking great questions
  • managing your own learning and self advocacy
  • explicit practice with test taking venues, problem types, and resources as well as letting student understand the best strategies to use when taking various tests  -- every test has its own list of optimal strategies. 
Collaboration of all Stakeholders
It takes a village to teach math well and that village includes family members, students, administrators, and community members. As we work together we have to coach each other along and support each others' efforts, In general this kind of work profits from patterns such as regular newsletters, meetings, assessment, conversation, improvement and more. It takes the dedication and commitment of all to help students forward their math learning and achievement.

I'm sure that I could add a lot more to this list.

As students take multiple tests this spring, it's a good time to think about how you will strategically plan for and carry out the math teaching/learning for the year ahead. It's also important to remember that you will have to revise the plan as you go though in order to respond to the learners in front of you.

I welcome your suggestions as I think ahead. Thank you!

Analyzing Scores: Spring 2018

Students are taking a number of tests this week, tests that will, in part, determine their math level for Middle School. As with all things scores and tests, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, overall, students in our system do extraordinarily well in math by the time they reach 12th grade--their standardized scores are stellar and their performances very good. The courses and supports put in place over time help students to succeed. Yet on the other hand, it's a lot of tests, and tests remain a rather narrow way to look deeply at student learning and forward engagement in any discipline.

I find the data of these tests to be informative. For example, these tests demonstrate to me who knows the standards well and who can easily retain information taught. These tests also demonstrate to me that there are areas of our teaching and learning where we can do better. For example, one issue we have to think about is the needed support for these tests with regard to students' identified needs and supports--do we have the staffing to support those supports for all tests, and if not, how might we change the test taking schedule and numbers to make sure they match the supports available or how can we increase supports to match the tests.

The tests also demonstrate what most teachers and learners know including the following:
  • attendance matters. Students who are regularly absent or even absent for a week here and there for a special event, typically do miss out on important learning.
  • repetition and practice are very important when it comes to mastering skills.
  • knowing your facts matter--students who don't have fact fluency typically don't do as well on these tests.
  • understanding the nature of a test and using the best strategy for that test matters too--every test is a bit different with regard to the strategies that work best for that test.
As I look at these tests, I am thinking about how I might improve the teaching/learning program next year. Some areas I want to think about are the following:
  • Streamlining the standards' focus for students who are one to two grade levels behind the grade-level expectations. These students need a different program so that they can gain mastery and confidence in their math learning, yet they also need a dedicated program that has high expectations and quality teaching/learning endeavor with students of multiple learning abilities--this is an area of math learning we continue to think about as a team. I know that teachers all over the country are thinking about this and there is some good research out there to support betterment in this area.
  • Advocating for more special support for students who need more support and will profit from greater tutoring or skilled small group instruction.
  • Encouraging all family members and students to know how important attendance and practice are with regard to math learning and mastery at the start of the year.
  • The inclusion of more problem/project based math learning endeavor as well as math performance assessments that include the math writing/presentation process.
  • Looking carefully at the scope and sequence to see how I can carve out more time to teach certain units--it's difficult to fit it all in, and I'd like to look at how we might do a better job with this. 
Test seasons is a good time to analyze your teaching/learning program--it's a time to think deeply about the assessments you give, the way you analyze, and the program structure and focus. As the world continues to evolve so must our teaching and learning in order to do a good job. Onward. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

That Question in the Back of Your Mind

For months a question has been lingering in the back of my mind without a clear answer. Again and again I've played with the question. Then in the last few days the answer took on a much better form. It became so clear that I was able to set a course with specific dates and endeavor. It's good to be at this place of resolve. It's important not to rush those questions that linger--there will always be a question or two at the back of your mind, and in time, those questions find the answers they were looking for.

Surrounded by Good People

Last night I had the chance to attend the Massachusetts' swim coaches' award night. I was awestruck by the dedication, intelligence, and skill evident throughout the evening. Clearly these coaches care about the work they do, the students they serve, and each other. This clearly demonstrated that the good cultures we create with the people we work with and serve are critical.

Throughout the evening there was comment after comment related to commitment and interest in the sport of swimming and swimmers. These coaches were evidently interested in improving their coaching and supporting one another in that end. They were happy for the successes of all their swimmers and swim teams, and again and again pointed to the support of each other as one reason for their success showing that their teamwork matters.

This event made me wonder how teachers might work with greater collaboration to support one another with regard to their successful practice and impact on students, families, and the community. What can we continue to do with and for one another to build a sense of collective strength and effect--impact that we are proud of and dedicated to? How can our communities instill practices that elevate what we can do and how we do it? In what ways can we continue to develop, revise, and create to better our culture and collegiality?

To be surrounded by good people dedicated to a positive common cause is inspiring. That's what last night's event was for me. It's in our best interest to position ourselves in these positive communities of inspiration and good work often to feed our spirits, positive energy, and good work for the days ahead.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Don't Lift Some Up By Putting Others Down

I was reminded of the importance of how we talk about people today as I discussed this topic with a friend. Essentially we do no one any good if we put someone else down to lift someone up. For example if you ridicule a co-worker's efforts to demonstrate that another co-worker should not feel bad about what he/she does or doesn't do, you don't create a situation that leads to betterment, but instead create a situation that leads to resentment or harmful competition.

In the specific situation, the friend and I were discussing, one not related to either of our work places, but to a broader context, individuals who were doing well and trying to do the right thing were ridiculed in order to make others who were at a disadvantage feel better. For example an individual who was making a substantial contribution to an organization was ridiculed rather than used as an example or point of reference in a positive way.

When a person who is doing the right thing is ridiculed, everyone loses out. In this situation, what could have happened is that person could have been held up as an example of someone who was using drive, passion, time, capacity, and effort to get ahead, and instead of used as an example to be ridiculed, that person could have been used as an example of the kinds of actions that propel us ahead in our lives towards greater happiness and personal success, actions such as:
  • Knowing who you are
  • Following your passions and dreams
  • Schooling yourself with reading, research, and other types of learning
  • Working collaboratively
  • Identifying opportunities to get ahead
  • Following tried-and-true paths to achievement such as gaining degrees, attending professional programs, and completing necessary work
When using an individual to ridicule, the disadvantaged don't learn about how to better their circumstances, but instead can become insolent, self-pitying, discouraged, and hopeless. When they see those who are moving ahead as who not to be, they lose the opportunity to see those individuals as mentors for whom they can be or how they can move forward.

As I think of this, I am thinking of my own children. For example, rather than citing someone's success as luck, result of greed, or due to other unfortunate elements or attributes, I can say, let's look at how he/she managed his/her advantages, opportunities, challenges, time, and effort to achieve that success--is that something you could emulate in some ways in your life? How can you identify and follow the lead of those in your midst that live the life you aspire to?

In my own life, there are a few individuals that I look to as mentors--they have what I want when I get to their age and place in life. Essentially they've used their time, talents, and opportunities well to live a good life--the kind of life I want for the next chapter, a life that finds them doting on grandchildren, enjoying good friends, volunteering in the community, attending arts events, spending time in beautiful natural places, and all-in-all living simply so they have the health, happiness, and time to do what matters to them. I've watched how these mentors have managed their money, relationships, health care, challenges, and dreams, and I like what I see and want to emulate that. 

Similarly I often use others as lessons for my own sons as I point out how the people around us have used their talents, interests, and time to live well. On the other hand, I often use stories from the news to point out where people have made selfish decisions to harm or hurt their lives and the lives of others--decisions that are not the object of my ridicule, but instead a point of teaching how things could have been better if he/she had not driven under the influence, unleashed his/her anger in a violent way, cheated with financial choices, or misrepresented himself or herself.

It's best to help one another with our stories and the stories of others. It's not good to ridicule another's success or happiness, but instead use that positivity as an example of what people can do to move forward and better themselves. That's better. 

You Can't Do It All

I've written about this so many times during my tenure as a teacher and as a blogger. But it's a concept that hits teachers over the head daily as we see what seems like limitless needs and potential--there's so much we can do for every student, classroom, and school. Yet, we can't do it all. This is why we have to continually stay mindful of our arenas of priority, purpose, and focus--what is it we will do, and how will we do it?

For me there are some rough edges to work out in the months ahead--areas I'm ready to work on and areas for which I've set time aside to meet, and there's new learning and revision needed too for my priority areas of teaching and learning: science, math, and SEL. Onward.

Preparing for Summer Study

Study of any kind takes forethought and preparation -- what will study? how will I study it? are questions that lead this work.

As I think ahead to summer study, I want to set the stage now. I've already identified a good reading list and reading will be my main avenue of summer study this year. To read well this summer, I will need to seek out cozy spots at home and in local, air conditioned libraries and museums--good places to read matters if you want to get the most out of it.

Also, good questions matter so that you can manage your reading well. These are initial questions that will lead my reading:
  • Are we doing all that we can to promote a culturally proficient program? What else can we do to reach this goal?
  • Are we teaching students about social emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and learning to learn attitudes and behaviors in explicit ways? Does the signage in our classrooms reflect the language and ideas related to this? How can we better embed these areas of knowing and being more into the academic curriculum?
  • How can I embed meaningful project/problem based learning more into the math curriculum to make that learning more engaging, effective, and empowering for all learners?
  • What questions and problems will be the best focus for math writing process related to specific units? 
  • How can I best contribute to the culture of the school and the development of the school system? What big ideas matter? What contribution. behavior, and demeanor matters most?
These are the pressing questions that will lead me as I read the books and articles I've identified.

Further, summer study will include study and activity that makes me better able to teach in the year ahead, activity that includes an optimal room set-up with the materials available, good energy, and the collaboration with my dynamic grade-level team and school team.

To further set the stage for summer study means that I'll get rid of a lot of books and materials that exist in the classroom that the students and I no longer use, and I'll make better, more accessible spaces for the many new science materials we've acquired--materials I need to teach STEAM and physical science. 

In the testing days ahead, there's less prep needed since the tests are scripted and students do the work on their own, so that gives me time to begin the preparation for new study and growth during those wonderful summer months. Onward. 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Challenges Change: What Challenges Are You Focused on Now?

Over time in any profession the challenges change.

In the past, I was advocating for greater transparency, process, and clarity, and in many ways that challenge has been met with new processes and responsiveness to ideas in the past year. This ready response and greater transparency has put me more in the know of what is going on, and allowed me to focus into the classroom efforts with greater alinement to systemwide goals and focus.

This level of greater transparency and organization has also helped me to understand the roles and positions that exist with greater clarity, and this, in turn, has helped me to identify the parts of the teaching/learning job that excite me the most, and the parts that I am expected to carry out. I can better use my time thanks to this clarity. And as I've written before, the main thrust of my work now is the following:
  • collaborating with colleagues, families, administrators, and students to develop a dynamic classroom/grade-level community with a focus on developing students' social-emotional learning, emotional intelligence, and learning-to-learn behaviors and attitudes.
  • effectively teaching physical science standards and STEAM with meaningful, engaging, empowering, hands-on, standards-based learning experiences.
  • effectively teaching mathematics with a focus on the standards, assessment and analysis, hands-on learning experiences, project/problem based learning, the math writing process, worthy tech-integration, and continued professional learning so that the teaching and learning relates to both tried-and-true techniques as well as new research and understanding of how students learn and apply mathematics. 
  • Supporting reading/writing instruction as led by my colleagues and with efforts related to RTI and signature projects such as the Global Changemakers project. 
It continues to be true, that I need to coach myself ahead in view of the multiple potential paths that exist in education, paths that sometimes compete with one another and paths that can hinder the view of what really matters with regard to the work you do. 

So at this juncture, the goals are more of the same, but important goals nevertheless, goals that forward the teaching/learning path with clarity. Onward. 

Friday, April 06, 2018

Guided Math: Fraction Models

Years ago I read that it is brain-friendly to present two opposite or differing, but related concepts at the same time. That helps the brain learn. So today with colored pencils and pencils, I will guide students through an exercise of creating multiple fraction models to demonstrate the similarities and differences amongst fraction operations. Hopefully the model creation and coloring will help students to master their understanding of these operations and how they work with fractions. Guided learning like this is part of the overall math menu, a menu that includes hands-on exploration, guided learning/practice, assessments, writing, project/problem based work and more.

Math Notes: Teaching Better

As students take a math assessment today, I find myself a bit frustrated--why?

First, the curriculum is so dense that if  you miss a day, it's hard to keep up. We missed several days due to illness and weather, so we're a bit behind, but the MCAS date does not change so if I want to review all standards prior to MCAS that means rushing the curriculum program which is not ideal.

Further, as I've noted multiple times, for students who come in a grade level or more behind it's very difficult and almost impossible to catch up to the grade level standards without substantial, consistent skilled help and time. In a typical classroom situation there isn't the time or available help to significantly support students who are far behind the expectations unless there is a dramatic change in the way schools are run and the expectations for classroom educators (I'm actually a fan of looking at this change).

So what's a teacher to do?

First, I plan to look carefully at the scope and sequence over the summer to review how time is used to meet the standards.

Next, I am going to look at ways to scaffold the unit expectations and reorganize assessment questions so that those who are struggling to meet the expectations of tests will have a chance to do well with a manageable amount of material. I am thinking of reorganizing the tests into a 1-2-3 organization where 1 is meeting essential standards, 2 meeting most standards, and 3 enrichment level. I'll think about this on my own and with colleagues. What I like about the 1-2-3 approach is that #1 warms everyone up, #2 is the grade-level standard, and #3 is that reach, and by organizing tests, units, and learning experiences this way everyone gets a chance to first focus on, learn and/or review the essential material and everyone is also welcome to reach too if that's what they are ready for.

I'm sure that I'l come up with a few more ways to build the program on my own and with colleagues in the months ahead, but this is a starting point.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Busy Day Ahead: Stay the Course

Today is one of those days that begins quite early and ends quite late--it will be a long day. The objective is to stay the course with good listening, steady support for children, and completing the tasks expected. Onward.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

We Had Some Fun!

Today, we had some fun.

Students studied a lot for a good amount of time, and then they had a nice recess.

Later we filtered mixtures and solutions to find out what they were made of.

And, we had another recess.

We discussed an upcoming, engaging project which created a flood of creative ideas, and then did the chicken dance.

There was library and a few minutes to play outside at the end of the day.

It was a good day and a day with a good amount of fun.

Tomorrow students will take an assessment, go to gym, and attend reading, writing, lunch, and recess.

As we get closer to the big tests, we're meeting the learning standards and looking forward to the fun projects ahead: the play, the biography project, the global cardboard challenge, and environmental science exploration. Onward.

Program Development: How We Use Time?

One challenge of teaching well is how we use time. In many schools, the expectations far exceed the time available which leaves educators always making choices about what they'll teach and how they will teach it. Personally I deal with this situation by making sure that I introduce all standards and provide students with the opportunity to practice those standards. I don't have the time to help every student reach mastery with every standard simply because students come to us with great variation with regard to readiness to learn the standards and time and ability to master those standards with the time and support they have available.

For example if you're a bright student who is involved in a heavy after school schedule related to a special talent or skill, you may not have the time or energy to master every academic standard presented. Or if you are a new student entering our school from a program that differs greatly with regard to standards and expectations, you may not have the readiness skills to learn and master the grade-level standards--it may take you more time to meet our expectations since the expectations of your former program were so different.

As I think ahead, I'm wondering about how I spend time with regard to teaching the curriculum, and how I might use time better. This summer I'll revise the current curriculum map with close attention to this matter. This is particularly relevant since we changed the curriculum program this year with the addition of a new science program and next year we'll be making changes related to revised social studies standards and expectations. Truly programs are always evolving so every summer most teachers take a close look at how they use time in order to teach with as much capacity and impact as possible.

Do You Lead for Yourself or Others?

Whether you lead a family, classroom, school, system, organization, community, state, or nation, you have to continually ask yourself this question, "Do I lead for self or others?" Of course the answer is both--you have to both lead for yourself and for others, and striking that right balance is good challenge every leader, great or small, faces.

If you don't lead for self, you might not have what it takes to lead for others. For example if give too much, you won't have the time to take care of yourself and be able to give to others with good energy, creativity, and attention. On the other hand, if you let your ego take over, it's likely you'll make decisions that only support your own gain, and not the gain of others. This kind of egotistical leadership, I believe, eventually fails because you'll lose the trust and support of those you lead.

As I bring this big idea back to the classroom, what's most important is that we listen to those we lead--what do children think, want, desire? What does the leadership team of teachers, administrators, and community members deem to be most important? Further, how do other organizations affect our classroom leadership, and then how do we harmonize the needs, interests, and expectations of all of these groups to continually lead well and teach well. Teachers continually choreograph with this in mind to lead well.

Of course, good process is essential to good leadership. When we use good, inclusive process to make decisions and forward our efforts, we lead well. With this in mind, I'm thinking of the processes in place to lead our team's collective teaching/learning work, processes that include the following:
  • regular collegial meetings
  • notes and discusses led by systemwide leadership
  • student/family member meetings
  • state/union announcements, policies, and expectations
  • professional responsibilities and expectations related to teaching well
  • research, reading, professional study, and collegial efforts
And of course to lead others well, we must lead ourselves with the kind of good balance that creates good energy, demeanor, and will to do what is right and good by our students, colleagues, the community, and systemwide leadership. Onward. 

Energize and Organize

As we move closer to the spring vacation, I find myself looking forward to a few days to rest up, relax, and have some fun. It's been a busy stretch since the February break with leading lots of dedicated science, math, and reading study. I'll push ahead by completing the following activities with and without students:

  • Completing physical science study - there's lots of science materials spread out all over the classroom waiting the completing of several explorations. We'll complete that study and then I'll be able to clean up that area.
  • Readying for the MCAS tests. Not only will students take a number of practice tests, but I'll also reshape the classroom to give students the space they need to take these tests with comfort and focus.
  • Reading time: soon I'll sort the many reading books available in the class too. Some are ready to be tossed since they are torn and ripped, and others simply need sorting and a better display.
When I leave for the break, I want to leave the room cleaned up and ready for MCAS test/study and the upcoming biography research we'll be doing after that. Onward. 

The Tools Scientists Use

Students will continue their exploration of matter today by deciding whether mixtures are heterogeneous mixtures or homogeneous solutions--can they see the separate parts of mixtures and can they separate those parts using filters, screens, or evaporation?

I'll model the exploration, then let students work to notice the properties of mixtures, and then try to separate those mixtures using the tools that scientists use.

As students explore, I'll support their efforts to work together, discover, and inquire. I know they'll enjoy this exploration.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

SEL: Building Efforts Ahead

In the days ahead, I plan to build the social emotional learning, character development, and emotional intelligence efforts that lead a classroom community that's respectful, warm, and helpful.

What will I do?

Embed SEL into Academic Lessons
I'll reread the book I wrote with colleagues and include many of the lessons included and others in the daily teaching to promote emotional intelligence and social emotional learning.

Explicitly Teach the Attributes of Good Character
I hope to find ways to explicitly teach, discuss, and work on the specific elements of good character.

Explicit Review of the School Handbook
Teachers at my school spent a lot of time creating the school handbook which includes the policies and protocols for good community behavior. I will find ways with my team to do that at the start of the year.

Listen to and Follow the Lead of a Whole School and Team Initiatives Related to this Effort
Our whole school is involved in ongoing discussion and efforts in this regard, and I will continue to listen to and follow the lead of my committed and dedicated colleagues in this regard. Efforts such as matching SEL with good literature, using more specific language, discussing the "size of the problem," and making this work visible are some of the topics the staff as a whole is forwarding.

Improving the Science Program

This year our school system started using the FOSS kits once again to teach science. We used these kits years ago.

As I think of the way we used the kits and taught science this year, there were a lot of positive efforts including the following:

  • Each teacher took leadership over specific science teaching/learning goals
  • We established rotations to teach all science standards
  • We scheduled some team days to complete grade-level STEAM projects
  • We acquired many supplies to support the program
  • We instituted a lot of fun projects
  • We created related websites and online review exercises to support student learning
  • We utilized related online programs
I also believe there's room for growth in the year ahead including the following efforts:
  • Now that we understand the kinds of time, space, and preparation the teaching takes, we will probably re-look at the schedule to make sure we have the right time of day and day of the week to teach this material.
  • I want to organize the lessons I taught in a good order so that the lessons fit into the time available.
  • I would also like to integrate some of the lessons with the math teaching/learning efforts I lead. 
  • I want to reorganize my classroom to better support science teaching and learning. I want to make it more lab-like where materials are easily accessible to students to support the study.
As I review this year's efforts in the months ahead, I'm sure I'll make this list more specific and tailored. I look forward to the efforts ahead. 

Coaching Myself: What's Important?

School life is very complex, and there are many, many ideas that circulate to improve school from many arenas. No teacher can consider all of these ideas or get involved in every initiative. So one challenge for educators is to prioritize and work towards the areas that matter most in their practice.

I will think about this again and again in the next few months as I focus in to do good work and make thoughtful impact. I want to veer away from efforts for which I have little voice, choice, or impact, and move towards the areas where I can make a difference.

So where am I headed:

  • Continuing improvement of the math program to teach all students well
  • Continuing improvement of the science program to teach all standards and students well
  • Continuing improvement to the portfolio efforts
  • Continuing improvement to our efforts to embed and forward social emotional learning/emotional intelligence/character development efforts
  • Continuing efforts to create a welcoming, warm, and dynamic learning environment and collaborative team of students, family members, educators, and administrators
These, I believe are the mainstay of my practice and the areas where I am expected to do well. I am looking forward to what the goals for the system and school will be. I am wondering how they will be similar to my priorities or different, and I will update my priorities to reflect those goals in the months to come. 

Ideal Math Unit

As I work to grow the math unit, I'm wondering about my idea. I believe that at this time, the ideal includes the following:

Meaningful, Engaging Introduction
Connecting the main concepts and themes of the unit to the real world in meaningful, engaging ways.

Inquiry Board
Bulletin board for questions, investigations, and debate related to unit concept.

Bulletin board and other strategies to develop unit vocabulary.

Explicit Instruction
Teaching the skill, concept, and knowledge in explicit ways.

Opportunities to practice specific skills online and off.

Project/Problem Based Learning
The chance to apply the learning to a problem/project situation with multiple opportunities for enrichment, review, interdisciplinary connections, creativity, collaboration, communication, presentation, reflection, and assessment.

Assessment with Unit Standards
Online/offline unit standards' assessment

Math Writing Process
The opportunity to engage with math writing process as students clearly present a concept via pictures (models), numbers, and words. Using self-editing, peer-editing, and teacher-edits to develop this skill and complete a final copy.

Home Practice
Practice packets and online practice for students to deepen and strengthen their learning. There will be flexibility with home study as I work with families and students.

The challenge is to fit all this in with engagement, empowerment, meaning, and positive result. I'll be thinking about this in the days ahead.

Leading My Practice: Goal Focused

As I lead my practice ahead, there's lots to think about and many children to teach and support.

The biggest challenge right now is to stay the course with as much student care, attention, and positive support as possible. There are many to teach, and of all those students there's a range of investment, interest, support, skill, and follow-through. I want every child to continually develop with a positive attitude and deep learning, but as with any program, there are many challenges in meeting this goal.

For now, I'll follow through with the program set that includes the following:
  • Realistic, explicit introductions and practice to support student learning
  • Lots of one-to-one and small group coaching
  • Multiple opportunities for students to help one another and test their own skill as they learn
  • Opportunities to show what you know and learn what you still need to practice
Our program is a standards-based program that focuses on the identified state standards with a variety of exercises. In the future I hope to include more engaging project/problem based learning and math writing process--but time, numbers, support, and expectations have challenged that hope so far, but I'm not giving up.

The children are capable of good learning and growth, and I'll remind them of that as we work to master algebraic thinking skills this week. Onward. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

MTA: Annual Meeting 2018

At the MTA Meeting in May, I will be listening carefully to candidates running for MTA President and Vice President. What will I be listening for?

I will be listening for candidates who express the following credentials and beliefs:
  • A willingness to listen to and respond to educators' needs
  • Knowledge of the political landscape, and a willingness to work towards and advocate for strong public schools and equity of opportunity for all students and families in the state.
  • A willingness to work with the Massachusetts Departments of Education to foster optimal collaboration with the best interests of students, families, and educators in mind.
  • Support of apt professional learning and development efforts that provide updated and needed professional learning for Massachusetts educators, the kind of learning that earns educators needed credentials while also developing the positive capacity of teaching/learning organizations
  • Honesty, transparency, experience, and passion to do what is right and good by students, families, and educators
I encourage all MTA members to look for an opportunity to attend Annual Meeting to hear the candidates speak and then to vote for the candidates they feel will forward the vision they hold for continued strong and successful public schools in Massachusetts. 

Building, Making, Growing, Creating

I love to create, build, make, and grow--there's nothing I like better than to work on my own or with others to develop something of worth. So today as I think of our latest family dream/goal of educating our third son with a good college education (the other two have completed college), living a good life, and teaching well. I am noticing how those three pursuits interact in a menu of efforts in the days to come, efforts that include more of the same: a welcoming home, curriculum development reading, research, writing, and implementation, and family/friend fun that includes shared meals, outdoor adventures, museum visits, local travel and community events. Onward.

Improving the Curriculum Program: Math

In the next few weeks, I'll make sure that all children have exposure to all standards included on upcoming MCAS tests. I wish I could say that I would make sure that all children have mastered all standards, but simply put, we ran out of time particularly for those who came to the grade-level a year or more behind with regard to the expected standards mastery. You simply can't stuff mastery of two or more years of standards-based concepts, knowledge, and skills into most people's brains in short time--good learning takes time and positive approach. Hopefully, like last year, al of our students, however, will demonstrate substantial growth with regard to their math knowledge and ability, and hopefully they will think of math in a positive way--I know that changes to the curriculum will help us to meet this goal more.

To stuff learning into anyone's brain is not how learning happens anyways--we know that learning comes from rich learning experiences that engage, empower, and entice students to wonder, ask questions, problem solve, and debate--optimal learning is an energetic, participatory activity--one where we're fully engaged.

I'm happy that our math program includes all the expected standards. I'm delighted that we spend good time studying math, and I know we have an approach that helps many master the standards and almost all demonstrate good growth with math concept, skill, and knowledge. I want to advocate for, and seek more, time for rich interdisciplinary math learning events, and I want to continue to work with colleagues to find ways to help our students who need more and different get what they need--I think the first move we need to make is to add more skilled math teachers to the mix so that we have more people who are able to work with students who face challenges with the typical curriculum in creative and innovative ways. I also want to include more rich project/problem based learning activities which will pull in all learners in meaningful ways. The challenge with this goal has been time since we're already short on time to meet the expectations of the mostly-traditional curriculum we're expected to teach.

So how will I meet this goal and intent in the days ahead:

  • Read Boaler's grade five math book (see right)
  • Continue to advocate for improving our programs and staffing with respect to students who struggle with the math program--these students struggle for many reasons including the program design, readiness for math learning, time-on-task, time working with skilled educators, health issues, and more. Program improvements could include the addition of math specialists whose expertise is how to teach math well and foster optimal math programs for all students and in particular those who struggle for many reasons. 
  • Analyzing the results of this year's program with depth. Comparing those results with analyses of past years' programs. Making decisions about changes for the future.
  • Advocating for program changes that allow us to reach greater depth, engagement, and interdisciplinary efforts. 
  • Perhaps planning a summer recreation 2019 math program that will find me teaching math in engaging ways to help students who struggle. 
  • Integrating community building and cultural proficiency with early year math lessons that match the curriculum standards so we don't lose time with those standards. 
  • Creating a fun summer challenge related to facts study and learning -- perhaps having students complete the factor/multiple quilt project--that would really set them up well for fifth grade learning.
  • Continuing to update the grade-level math website, Magnificent Math.
  • Exploring and noticing how I might use this more for math learning and enrichment.
  • Potentially getting involved in the state's computational thinking effort. 

Friday, March 30, 2018


At times we part.

We part with friends, family members, jobs, activities, homes, hobbies, interests, and more.

Parting is bittersweet. There's often the sadness at saying good-bye to what we have known and loved, and then there is the excitement of taking a new path in life.

If we listen to our hearts we know the right direction for our lives--we understand where we are called and what it is that is best for us to do.


Standards--Elements--Indicators: Teacher Evaluations

Massachusetts' Current Rubric for Successful Teaching and Learning and proposed rubric with changes.

Educators were asked to add standards, elements, and indicators to their evaluation evidence. Although I know we are supposed to meet the criteria for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Evaluation Rubric, it's the first year, I believe that we've been asked to match our evidence to the specific standards, elements, and indicators, although colleagues tell me that they have always done it this way. Last night as I worked to match up the evidence I provided, evidence that matches the main standard areas, my professional practice goal, and student learning goal, I found the task both interesting and bothersome.

It was interesting because it focused my attention on the criteria of optimal teaching--I like the Massachusetts' standards for good teaching. I've evaluated them with depth in two online websites: TeachFocus and Summer Reflections. When the criteria was first shared, I spent a lot of time digging deeply into what each standard means mostly to see if the standards match what I believe in and what I've read. I found the criteria to be an excellent resource for good teaching. Yet to match my work specifically with each standard was also bothersome since in many ways I've embedded those standards into my work in multiple ways and most of my work represents multiple standards. Further some of the standards are simply obvious such as arriving at work on time--that's something I wouldn't be prone to prove with evidence since that's charted elsewhere in school records and it's not an issue.

As I completed the task, I realized that I wanted to turn around the way I do this next year. Rather than setting goals, doing the work, assessing the results, and then matching the standards, elements, and indicators in preparation of submitting evidence, this time I added the standards, elements, and indicators below my intended goals for 2018-2019--I'll start with a focus on the criteria and then as I build out next year's goals to better my craft, I'll use those standards, elements, and indicators as a ladder to successful effort.

For example, my intended student learning goal for next year is to deepen the math teaching with more project/problem based learning experiences and math writing process efforts. Rather than focusing on single knowledge points, I want to build a more integrated, engaging, and empowering math program, the kind of program Boaler supports in her book, Mathematical Mindsets. So as I thought of the goal, I added the standards, elements, and indicators that will support this goal--elements I will attend to as I read, research, create, and implement efforts to meet the goal. This provides a helpful scaffolding to successful goal attainment.

Of course, I want to match my goals to the system-wide and school-wide goal setting process and efforts. I am looking forward to learning about the goals that will take the main stage of system, school, and discipline efforts in the year ahead, and I will refine the goals I've created so far for next year.

I submitted my evidence for 2017-2018, a summative year for me. The plans are set for the rest of the year, and now it's all about finesse, collegiality, and student coaching, care, and attention. What is your goal setting process like? How does your system set goals and how does that process inform and affect your goals, effort, and practice. Spring is a great time to think about goals for the year ahead, and summer is a great time to read, research, and create to build the capacity to meet those goals in the new year of teaching and learning.