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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Days Ahead: The Teaching/Learning Lab

From big ideas to specific practice, what lies ahead:
  • Math division unit - power through until 2/13 conclusion
  • Science: research projects, sound lab, assessment creation, presentation
  • Nature path, environmental science, and global changemakers in our midst grants
  • Fraction packet creation/teaching
  • TMP assessment
  • Regular response, communication, team meetings, learning/teaching efforts
  • Health and happiness

Role Definition and Impact

When roles are clearly defined, impact rises.

When roles are not defined clearly, confusion exists and time is wasted.

I am a fan of clear role definition. I am also a fan of role evolution and then definition revision/refinement.

For example, in your system, how is the generalist teaching role defined? What is expected? What is prioritized? How do you understand the expectations and priorities?

What is the role definition of specialists, coaches, special educators, therapists, directors, administrators, and more? How do you know what to expect from those you work with? Is it simply expected that you will understand each others roles or are roles clearly defined and relayed each year so that everyone understands the priorities and expectations of a role?

As I think of my own role in the school house, it seems to me that in my role, the expectations I am responsible for include the following:
  • Being there
  • Supporting student learning with expected standards and curriculum programs
  • Communicating with administration and families
  • Evaluating my efforts with formal and informal measures
  • Completing required administrative work
  • Collaborating and working with respect, kindness, and care
  • Continued professional learning, development, and contribution
What is your role? What are your expectations? What are the priorities? How does your role evolve over time, and how is the definition of your role refined?

Impact and Priorities

How do you measure impact?

How do you share impact measurements?

How do you use those measurements to establish priorities?

I truly look forward to thoughtful, transparent, and clear efforts to impact learning with strength. I enjoy analyzing the measurements we use to determine impact, and I believe in the strength of prioritizing our efforts in ways that are transparent and clear for all stakeholders.

As I think about this, I'm thinking about what is valued where I teach.

The MCAS scores are valued so that's a main focus of the teaching/learning.

Student engagement, happiness, and empowerment are valued too--so it's essential to teach in ways that inspire students and in ways that students enjoy.

Collaboration, collegiality, respect, and kindness are valued too--this is a clear priority in the teaching community with regard to evaluations and recognition.

I would say those are the three main, resounding priorities in the community as a whole.

At my team level, we also prioritize regular communication, servant leadership, lead time/planning, collaboration with families and students, and curriculum personalization, depth, and connection.

I'm sure I've missed some overall priorities as well as team priorities, but as I think about this, I am thinking about the way we use time and impact we make. I'm thinking also about how we might more clearly identify our priorities and impact individually and as a whole team, school, system, and town.




Evolving Curriculum: Learning Design

I truly enjoy learning design. I like to take curriculum and match it to my students' interests and needs as well as the standards and context where we teach. I find that this kind of curriculum personalization is effective when it comes to successful, enjoyable teaching/learning days.

Efforts like these take time, and efforts like these also benefit from collegiality and support. When we work together, our ideas are typically better.

As I think about this today, I'm focused on some recent efforts to update and personalize curriculum including the following:

Winter Olympics Board Game Creation
Many students will focus on computation with whole numbers and decimals as they create Winter Olympic Board Games. The question cards for the games focus students computing Olympic statistics and data to provide students with context with which to understand and enjoy the upcoming games. Since this is a new learning endeavor, I'm sure we'll refine as we go along.

Matter/Energy Presentations
Students are directing their hands-on matter/energy study and reading/research into projects that answer the units' main questions. Students have many choices as to their project work including slide shows, movies, songs, poems, stories, posters, and truly any idea they come up with that allows them to effectively share the knowledge they learned.

Environmental Education
In the past many years, students have worked with Drumlin Farm to headstart the endangered spadefoot toad in classrooms. Students have truly enjoyed this study, and we are reaching out to obtain funding to continue this study. In addition, we hope to receive funding to further bring the STE-standards to life with nature walks that focus on the environmental stewardship with particular attention to our local wetlands/river habitats.

Cultural Proficiency, Expert Visitors, and Global Changemaker Project
We are writing a grant to support the visits and presentation by multiple experts from across culture and discipline to model the kinds of thinking, questions, and efforts students engage in when they complete the Global Changemaker biography research/presentation project. There's some research to do to support this project, but we will do that since we know that when students see people that look and live like them in multiple professions, it helps students to focus and visualize their own dreams.

Math/Science Lab
I continue to think about how I can renovate my classroom into a wonderful math/science lab. I've reached out to colleagues and others for ideas and support.

Nature Path
I am also wondering how we can support students' exploration of our woodsy, wetlands habitat around the school. I am thinking that a small naturalist club can forward these efforts by working with an environmental consultant to build a nature trail. Efforts to do this began years ago, and we can build on what was done then.

There are many ways that we can creatively develop the learning and teaching in every context. We can still meet standards expectations and make the learning dynamic and engaging. I am thinking about this today and welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Updating Learning Environments: The Science/Math Lab

Over the years, I have tried to create a more hands-on science/math-friendly learning environment. Although the efforts have been successful in part, I continue to face challenges in this arena. Some challenges I face include the following:

  • Purchasing low cost containers that eventually fall apart
  • The evolving curriculum which continually requires different kinds of cabinets and containers
  • The need to constantly reconfigure the desks to support the kinds of learning that is happening in the classroom
  • The impact of heavy use on all items in the classroom--furniture, chairs, and more wear out, especially items that are inviting, cozy, and welcoming. (Stiff school chairs last forever, but don't invite comfort or ease of reconfiguration).
What's a teacher to do?

First, rather than investing in more low cost containers, I've reached out to administrators to see what kind of money and spaces might be available to develop a math/science lab. 

Next, I want to identify better furniture and see how I might acquire that furniture. For example, I'd rather have tables than desks, and I'd like to have some really sturdy student-friendly rolling carts for all the materials we use.

Ideally I'd like a sink since the study study would be easier with that, yet I don't want to lose the fact that my classroom sits right next to the playground or outdoor classroom which is ideal.

If I had my dream learning space, it would have the following:
  • Storage for all the creativity, science, math, and administrative supplies.
  • Ample space for students to move around, work together, and create. 
  • Easy flow of indoor-to-outdoor (we have that!)
  • Rolling tables, a variety of chairs/stools, a rug area, and book shelves.
New curriculum in the science area which includes lots of hands-on materials has fostered this think and need to renovate the room once again. I'll be thinking about this in the days ahead. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Effective Use of Time, Clear Process, and Good Communication

I came home a bit discouraged yesterday and at the bottom of that discouragement was a lack of clear process and good communication. Truly it wasn't anyone's fault, but instead, a wake-up call that we need to focus on process and communication upfront when it comes to any effort and decision that matters.

Too often in too many places we jump into conversations, efforts, and decision making without giving process and communication good effort upfront.

There are a large number of decision making meetings coming up. As I embark on those meetings, I want to think about the following questions:
  • What is the main focus of this meeting--what are we trying to make decisions about?
  • What are the facts of the situation--what do we know for sure?
  • How can we use our observation, research, experience, expectations, and goals to use the facts to make a good forward-moving decision.
  • What will success related to this decision look like?
  • How and when will we assess success? What will our follow-up efforts look like?
Good process matters when it comes to positive decision making. I want to think more deeply about this as I move forward with positive collaboration and decision making efforts. Onward. 

Get the Facts; Use Good Process

Conversations circled and it became clear that no one really knew the facts. It's best to focus in on facts first, and then build off of that. If we're all talking about conjecture, we're losing time, focus, and capacity.

I want to think about this kind of scenario more often as it is not a one-time event, but often educators can find themselves in the middle of conversations where there's a need for clarity, good process, and apt communication.

How can I contribute to fact-based conversations, and good communication? What can I do?

For example, our team will discuss reading progress soon. The reading specialist will clearly share a chart of facts--facts about reading fluency, comprehension, and growth. We'll study the facts, and then discuss additional observations and experiences. Then we'll set some goals and identify teaching strategy and efforts to come. This is an example of a good process that begins with facts.

We'll also discuss a school wide decision, and as we discuss the decision, I'll be listening for the facts, facts such as what is the legal expectation with regard to this problem and what are the legal options. What are the benefits of each option with regard to time, cost, and service to children given the time of year, educators' time/energy, family plans, and schedules/efforts already in place. Clear communication of the facts first will lead the conversation in a positive direction.

Good process, transparency, clear communication, and planning creates the opportunity for good decision making and collaboration to occur. I want to support this kind of effort in my own work in the days to come.

Focus on the Learners

There's many ways that we can improve schools, and that's something I've thought a lot about. Right now, however, I am focused on the learners in my midst, how might I support their learning more. What can I do?

Mathematics
Yesterday we had a great talk about learning-to-learn behaviors and goal setting. They got it. Today we'll stay focused on our unit course and the behaviors we discussed yesterday, behaviors such as staying focused, asking questions, taking notes, completing practice, and completing the study packets.

RTI
I am looking forward to working with my new math RTI group. We'll focus on computation during our two thirty-minute periods a week. I am also looking forward to our upcoming reading meeting where we'll discuss the progress we're making with students and form new instructional groups.

Early Morning Help
I am going to continue this support whenever possible in the days ahead.

The Learning Environment
The addition of lots of science materials has created a need to update the learning environment once again. It's totally squished and now it's time to think about how I can make more space for good learning endeavor and all those supplies. This will take some time, research, and advocacy.

Streamline
With regard to system/structure betterment, I'm focused on streamlining efforts with greater accuracy, better communication, and clear vision. I believe that our greater efforts as educational systems can be streamlined in ways that makes more time for student service and teaching.

Term Two: Meet the Expectations

Term two teaching and events are scheduled and introduced and now it's time to stay the course, a busy course.

What will we do?

Mathematics
  • Division Unit
  • Volume Introduction
  • Fraction Unit
  • Algebra Introduction
  • Assessment
  • Measurement Review
  • Complete Symphony, Work on TenMarks
Science
  • Sound Lab
  • Research Report
  • Next Rotations
  • Lab Organization
  • Science Review Weeks
ELA/Social Studies
  • Biography Reports
  • Reading
  • Author Visit
Special Events/Assessments
  • Fifth Grade Play
  • MCAS Tests (seven!)
  • Fifth Grade Math Test
  • Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Global Changemakers Presentation
  • Boston Field Trips
  • Ben Franklin Living History Presentation
  • Field Day
  • Fifth Grade Celebration Day
Professional Learning/Efforts
  • Nature Grant
  • Expert Visitor Grant?
  • Signage Grant?
  • Summer special education study

Monday, January 29, 2018

Focus: Goal Setting

When I arrive in school this morning, I'll quickly rearrange the desks. The desks in my room rarely stay in the same place which can be disconcerting for students, yet I know the kinds of arrangements that support specific learning goals.

For example, when the desks organized in small table groups support science labs well, but old fashion rows facing the front of the room help when it comes to the introduction of new material.

Today I'll introduce a new unit and as I introduce the unit, we'll focus on the idea and action of goal setting. We'll spend some time discussing how we can use goal setting and resulting action to power through the new learning. I know students are ready for this, and I believe the discussion will help all children to learn the material well.

As we discuss goal setting I'll focus on the following:
  • Identifying success criteria: learning to divide in many ways and solve problems that involve division.
  • Identifying the many ways students will meet this goal:
    • Completing the study packet
    • Coming in for extra help
    • Completing practice exercises in school and at home
    • Listening and asking questions when you don't understand
    • Reading and listening with your pen by writing notes, highlighting key information, making models, and writing down questions as you learn
    • And more ideas that students will add during the discussion.
As educators everywhere know learning to learn is as important as what you learn, and today we'll begin the lesson with the important learning-to-learn concept of goal setting and acquisition. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Teaching Well: Long Term Vision

I am thinking about my long term vision for the classroom--what can I do to improve the teaching/learning for fifth grade students?

As I think ahead, I want to build on the following aspects of a positive teaching/learning classroom culture.

Welcome 
I want to work with my colleagues to keep the message alive that "Everybody Belongs Here." To do that we'll continue to build our efforts to support a welcoming, culturally proficient, inclusive community that works to uplift all learners in ways that matter. Specifically we'll focus on the ways we welcome students and build community at the start of the year. Also, we'll continue to focus on how we work with students to solve conflicts and develop positive friendships and learning relationships. And, we'll reach out to families with regular communication and invitations to collaborate and work together.

Engaging Academic Program
We will continue to develop the academic program so that it is both engaging and empowering. With the understanding that knowledge begets knowledge, we'll continue to look for ways to build students' knowledge in engaging ways. We'll also look for ways to build students' skill and concept as well as learning to learn attitudes and behaviors. Further we'll reach out beyond the school to include experts and field studies in the academic program.

Meaningful Extra Support
To bridge the opportunity gap, we will see how we can use our time well to teach all students including extra support when possible.

Dynamic Learning Environment
As the curriculum program deepens and changes, so does the need to update the learning environment. I will look for ways to update the environment to better support our hands-on science learning, math study, and project/problem based learning in all subject areas.

As I reach in to deepen the teaching/learning, these are the main areas of focus for the years ahead.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thinking deeply about the math program

At this juncture in the road, it's time to deepen and forward the math program for the fifth graders I teach. It's been a good start to the year, and now it's time to reach for a bit more with regard to learning engagement, depth, and result.

What will we do?

Learning Behaviors and Attitudes
I introduced a new unit design this year. It is a design similar to one our middle school uses that includes a proficiency packet. The packet is essentially a short booklet that includes the main standards-based models, concepts, computation, and problems. The booklet guides the essential learning. If students used this booklet well to guide their learning, they generally learn the material well. In term two, I want to focus on how to use these packets with greater success.

Early Morning Help
Extra help is offered many mornings for students this year. This extra help has given students a chance to complete their homework in a relaxed atmosphere. It has also given me some time to zero in on specific learning needs with individuals and small groups. I want to give this time greater fidelity and focus so that I'm able to support the eager learners that utilize this support.

Problem Solving
Beginning with this leg of the RTI year, I want to focus the activities more on the important language and process of problem solving. We'll begin with an activity related to the Winter Olympics to do this.

Computation Skill and Practice
Like the lanes that swimmers swim day after day to perfect their stroke and skill at the sport, I will continue to give students multiple computation skill practice sets. Although the research points to the need for greater depth with math project/problem based learning, I continue to see that those students who are facile with facts and computation learn math with greater ease. What's important here is to make sure that the skill sets are not too difficult, but instead a good level and number to build greater proficiency in this area.

Tech Integration
Now that we've covered a good amount of the curriculum, the students are ready to use our tech learning programs with greater depth, programs like Symphony Math, TenMarks, and Code.Org will be used to deepen students' learning.

Students-Helping-Students
With big classes, it's important that we allow students to help one another. To teach is to learn, so for our students who are good teachers, we deepen their learning by asking them to teach, and for students who struggle to learn some math concepts, they often learn better when helped by a peer. I will include this kind of teaching and learning more in term two.

Standard-by-Standard with Multimodal Teaching/Learning
We'll move through the remaining standards with multiple lesson types including games, hands-on explorations, projects, direct teaching, group work and more. What's important in this regard is to stick to the schedule and miss as few classes and teaching opportunities as possible.

Supports
There are some good time-on-task supports for the program including talented, dedicated teaching assistants, special educators, and a student teacher. The time-on-task help with students that these educators provide is invaluable when it comes to a successful program. Fortunately we have a couple of planning times a week to organize how we'll work together to support the students so we can do a good job.

There's a lot to teach and learn in the days ahead, and fidelity to the program and the program elements above will help all of us to achieve what we desire. Onward.

Supports that matter

Educators are pulled in many directions. This complexity requires that educators choose carefully how they use their time and what they do.

Systems include paths of great support and paths of less support. Educators naturally lean in the direction of more support than less, and for every educator those directions will differ depending on their professional needs and expectations.

Paths that I reach for at this time include the following:
  • I reach out towards educators online and off who do the research and have updated knowledge. I want to learn from them, and apply what I learn to better my work. 
  • I reach out towards programs and pedagogy that clearly have a positive affect on student learning and engagement.
  • I reach out towards learning environments that children speak highly of and demonstrate happy engagement in.
  • I reach out to programs and support that parents speak highly of with regard to student happiness and success. 
  • I reach out to educators who will help me to teach the children well with skilled time-on-task efforts.
  • I reach out to support that listens carefully and demonstrates a deep desire to support programs, pedagogy, and professional learning that lead to better teaching/learning programs. 
I tend to push away from programs, ideas, and support that is complex to access and results in little gain with regard to student support, service, and growth. 

Our time is precious as educators. There is always more that we can do so we have to be thoughtful about how, where, and with whom we collaborate with in order to practice teaching and learning well. Onward. 

Interpreting life's events through numbers

Yesterday the greater math team sat down to discuss Response to Intervention (RTI). We ended up with a large number of intervention groups, and then discussed the kinds of projects we'll use with the groups. We'll use a scaffolded project for several groups, the kind of project that is relevant, meaningful, standards-based, and engaging for students.

I've thought a lot about what that project might be and have come up with the following elements:
  • Focus on the upcoming Winter Olympics (Thanks to our student teacher for that idea).
  • Focus on using numbers to compare the Olympics to children's experiences and knowledge--this will build understanding.
  • Using number to complete Olympic trivia cards.
  • Creating a board game based on the trivia cards and the Winter Olympics
  • Playing the board game with family members and friends to build math knowledge as well as knowledge of the Olympics.
We'll have students work with partners and small groups on the project, and the scaffolding will lead students through a number of steps including the following:
  • Trivia cards related to addition of whole numbers and decimals
  • Trivia cards related to multiplication of whole numbers and decimals
  • Trivia cards related to division of whole numbers and deccimals
  • Creation of the game board, pieces, and rules.
  • Playing the game with the team and refining the game
  • Playing the game with another team
  • Bringing the game home to play with family members and others. 
This will build math skill and give students good context with which to enjoy the Olympics in the weeks to come. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Too many typos

My thoughts move like water through a rocky brook. And in that movement from mind to paper, there are times when I skip a word, misspell, or miss an incorrect autocorrect. I apologize as I do value accuracy, and there will come a day in the future when I have greater time for accuracy. But for now, I'm satisfied with doing my best since I have a busy schedule and it's important to get these thoughts down.

In years there will come a time when these ideas age, deepen, and better, and that will be a time when there is more time, time to not rush and to edit with ease. I can see that time emerging and have a sense of what it will be like. I'm not exactly sure what words will take priority at that time. Recently a child remarked, "I like your stories," which made me think that perhaps all those childhood and life stories will find their way to a book or magazine someday. We'll see.

So I'll continue my process of writing, quickly editing, reviewing later and perhaps editing some more, and giving myself some freedom to err now and then during this formulation time. I'm not sure why there's such an urgency to get all these thoughts down, but I'm choosing to trust my instincts in this regard, my reading, research, and thought leads me to this conclusion. Onward.

Are all teachers nice?

A couple of students approached me yesterday with the question, "Are all teachers nice?"

That made me think, and my answer was that "All teachers have good days and not so good days like all people."

"No, but really," they continued, "do you think every teacher is nice?"

I thought some more, and asked them to explain why they were asking the question. They told me a related story. I said that I would figure out a way to follow up and explained that as educators we all try to be as nice as we can as we teach. I noted a recent class issue that caused alarm, and said that when serious issues arise, a teacher has to make some tough decisions, but the bottom line is that we always have to try to be a nice and kind as possible. They could see the issue from a broader viewpoint.

Due to a number of issues yesterday, I relaxed our typical schedule which opened the door for this important conversation and other important discussion points.

We have to make time to build trusting, positive relationships with our students. That takes time and intention, and sometimes means we have to push the boundaries of the tight curriculum-focused schedules we work with.

We need family support and help to teach well

To teach well today, we need family support and help. We can do a much better job when we team with families. There needs to be a two-way, ongoing conversation in order to support students well. Similar to the dance we do with students as we encourage them forward, but try not to overwhelm them, we work with families to encourage their support, answer their questions, and hear and respond to their needs.

We don't want to overwhelm families, yet we do want them to know what's possible with regard to support and how they can help. Yesterday I worked with a young child who has been struggling with math. His family has really pitched in to help him achieve greater mastery in basic math skills including facts and computation. When I worked with him yesterday, I was amazed at his progress and he was so proud. His grin spread from ear to ear. To me, this reaction affirmed my regular outreach to families.

Also, when reviewing a recent assessment, I noticed that another student who was experiencing challenge demonstrated a substantial increase in his skills. In fact, he got one of the top scores in the class. He too was delighted.

As a parent myself, I know that time, energy, and support are a limited commodity. There have been times in my own parenting when I knew exactly what my children needed, but due to scheduling and personal obstacles and limitations at the time, I could not provide that support. I didn't beat myself up over that. I assessed the situation, prioritized, and did the best I could. I was thankful that educators did not judge my lack of support negatively at that time, but instead did what they could to support my child. I also realized that they had lots of other students to teach so I accepted the support possible and didn't push for more. Over time my child was able to meet the expectations and my schedule opened up as did my ability to help my child more.

Neither family members or educators can be all things, but when we can reach forward to help our children and students in ways that matter, we support their forward movement well. Our love, support, and good communication matters as imperfect and compromised as we might be from time to time. Onward.

Realistic Goal Setting

I work up early this morning thinking about goal setting--what are realistic goals for the months ahead given the complexity and potential of the curriculum program. How will we assess our progress with regard to these goals?

Math Standards
We are moving along teaching standard by standard. This is taking time, and we have to stay the course with as little interruption as possible. We will assess these standards in a large number of ways leading up to the spring MCAS tests. Today we have a meeting to discuss how we will support student learning in this area more.

Science Standards
We made a considerable good start with these standards, and now will stay the course to teaching the standards with continued hands-on and research-related learning experiences.

ELA
While I don't take the lead in this teaching, I support my colleagues' terrific efforts to manage this standards-based area of the curriculum. In a couple of weeks we'll sit down to discuss the progress to date and how we might shift the schedule to better meet the needs that exist.

Special Events
We have had a large number of special events to spark and strengthen the teaching/learning program, and we have a good number to come too. This adds spice to the daily to the routine and inspires students' curiosity and study.

Class Community
We will continue to work as a team to build the best possible teaching/learning community.

Showcase Portfolios
We will print a number of reports and encourage reflections and portfolio completion for the mid-March parent-student-teacher conference period.



Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Week Ahead: January 29

The menu for the week ahead includes:
  • lots of meetings for various focus areas
  • math computation, problem solving, models, powers of 10
  • science research and study
  • special family event
Materials are prepped, and the focus will be on encouraging students to take ownership of this learning, and to help them in every way that I can. 

Cognitive Shifting and a Good Routine

Children thrive with a good routine, but a same routine can become dull at times. However, to shift the routine and ask for students to navigate differing expectations can create challenge with regard to cognitive shifting.

I found that today. After a couple days of fairly open ended science exploration, it was time to focus in on some serious work. Many had a difficult time settling down and getting back on track with a somewhat laborious, but important task. There needed to be a lot of reminders. In general I like to teach in ways that focus almost all the time on the teaching rather than lots of rules and protocols, but when you shift the expectations too often, you need to revisit the expectations with time and care.

It's all part of the learning puzzle, a puzzle that demands good choreography to reach the goals you've set.

Progress Reports, Safety, and the "I Care About You" Talk

One thing led to another and then we arrived at the yearly safety talk--safety in all kinds of venues that students should be aware of. Some do not talk safety because they worry that they'll frighten children, yet I believe children at fifth grade are ready to learn how to keep themselves safe in lots of situations. It's a time in their lives before lots of the distractions that adolescence brings, distractions that can challenge a child's good decision making. Therefore when the opportunity arises to focus on some issues of safety, I take that opportunity seriously.

Also completing report cards last night made me think a lot about how I can help each child. There are some who are more of a puzzle than others, so I made a little time to talk to those puzzling students today. One question I asked was, If you were your own teacher how would you handle yourself as a student? Putting themselves in the teacher's position caused a pause and a new way to think about their behavior and needs in the classroom. It gave me a chance to think about them with the lens of their ability to metacognate and think about themselves from a distance. For some that's easier than others.

I thought too about the rat race that school sometimes becomes as we move quickly to complete one task after another, and that fact that in that fast motion we might let some important conversations and corrections go. Sometimes that might be just right, but it's not right all the time--we have to slow down particularly when students demonstrate a greater need for connection, community, and care. In the long run that matters as much if not more than each academic skill. Though we know the academics matter too.

Today's conversation made me wonder about how often parents and children discuss the big ideas of life. Clearly some children discuss current events and life choices often, but others appeared to not have much experience with those discussions. It's important to use stories from the news and one's life to help children think about their world and the future--those stories provide context for children, context that they can use later when making important decisions. It would be interesting to have this conversation with parents today as to how they handle the big questions of life with their children.

I'm rambling as I think about today's classroom, a bit different after a night of progress report writing and review. Though no teacher likes the rating that happens with progress reports, the activity does give us a fresh lens with which to see our students. Onward.


Naughty?

Sometimes children are naughty.

Naughty is a somewhat old fashioned word with the definition: disobedient; badly behaved. "Naughty" can be contextual too--what one teacher or parent considers good behavior or bad behavior may differ depending on context.

It's natural for children to be naughty sometimes, and it's important to think about the roots of that behavior--why is a child naughty, and what can you do about it?

Sometimes students are naughty simply because they get too silly. They're having fun with friends and cannot see past the fun as they laugh, pretend, exaggerate, and play. That kind of behavior is typically fairly easy to reign in, or counteract with a bit of needed, extra play time.

In other cases, students can be "naughty" because they don't clearly understand the directions or expectations. They might simply not know how to act in a particular situation. Perhaps the expectations are not explicit, or the child didn't infer the expected behavior. In cases like this, we have to be more explicit with the expectations. A good conversation is a positive way to deal with this kind of situation.

Then there are children who continually don't do the right thing. Again and again they are off task with little interest or concern for the expectations set. These children's behavior screams with "Notice Me," "Look at Me," and "Can't You Tell I Need More." This is the most challenging kind of "naughty" as this behavior is a sign that something deeper is going on. Perhaps a child is holding a worrisome secret, experiencing trying times, is mistreated, or suffering from an unshared or unknown physical ailment, emotional trauma, or struggle with self esteem. When this occurs, educators have to work together, with family members, and perhaps others to try to unpack the issue and figure out how to help children who do this. What's going on to make a child act so differently than others? Is the cause physical, emotional, and/or environmental?

In general what most children need is quite simple to name, but not always simple to provide. Children need good nutrition, a mostly predictable schedule, plenty of rest, time to play, learning by reading, writing, practicing math, and engaging in positive learning experiences, attention and lots and lots of love. Children who are tired, overworked, undernourished, and unloved, suffer and generally act out with disobedience and bad behavior due to this.

When children are naughty, it can be frustrating as the misbehavior can stand in the way of a positive learning experience for all, deeper learning, class happiness, and safety, yet we have to find ways to deal with that behavior with compassion, kindness, and care as when children are naughty, they are mostly sending us a message that they have unmet needs of some kind, needs that we have to meet.

In the best of circumstances, we are building teaching/learning environments where the will or need to be naughty beyond a natural level doesn't exist, environments where there is considerable space, time for play, nutritious foods, engaging learning experiences, and plenty of just-right support for the needs that exist. I want to think more about this.


Math Proficiency: Details

Today students will focus in on the many details of math proficiency. I will begin the lesson by reviewing observations from a recent computation assessment. Essentially I'll let them know how they can complete their work with more precision and accuracy including the following details:

  • Don't squish your numbers as squished numbers often result in incorrect answers because you can't read or organize squished numbers well.
  • Use all the space you need, we have plenty of scrap paper, graph paper, lined paper. Often when you write a bit bigger and use more paper, you do a better job lining up numbers and calculating correctly. 
  • Check your work. Students who checked their work, had greater accuracy. You can check by estimating to see if the solution you came up with is reasonable. You can check by using the opposite operation for example you can check subtraction with addition and division with multiplication. 
  • Don't rush, take your time. In most situations where precision matters, you will not be timed. If you practice a lot, however, in a timed situation you will be able to be quick and accurate too. 
  • Stay focused. If you let your mind wander or talk/fool with a friend, you'll likely not do as well as if you focused. 
In the world of math, accuracy matters. Just think if bridge designers, building architects, or bicycle engineers were inaccurate--that could be very dangerous and simply not as good as when accuracy and precision are used. 

Each teaching/learning week is a journey of its own

As I dig into the classroom work, I recognize that each teaching/learning week is a journey of its own. What you expect at the start of the week is often not exactly what you get by the end of the week. Multiple unexpected events occur, events that impact the week's teaching/learning. Some typical unexpected events include illness, student learning reactions/response, new ideas, lesson results, and energy differentiation. This change is not necessarily good or bad, but simply part of the life of teaching and learning which offers an ever changing landscape.

Full of energy on Monday I looked forward to a very busy week, but now on Thursday with a bit less energy, I find that I have to really focus in on the learning tasks that are essential and yet to be completed, tasks such as students' review and corrections for a recent math test, Symphony math work, and some prep for my small reading group. I also had to miss a meeting due to a minor transportation issue and family needs. As educators we're constantly assessing the teaching/learning landscape to determine what's most important, and what we can do with the energy, time, and expectations we have.

I typically choose with a family-first, student-first lens. If family and students need me, I'll sometimes postpone other events to fulfill those needs. I like to stay faithful to my commitments, but there are times when I can't do that and still maintain the family-first/student-first commitment. This leads me to another thought which is that the more I dig into the classroom efforts, the more I realize that teaching is a professional, full time-plus job--truly to teach well demands your full attention, it's not just a hobby or add-on. To teach well takes the best of us, and when we do it well in good circumstances it is a very rewarding job too.




Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Self Regulation and Deep Study

Today the students had the opportunity to explore and experiment with science concepts in deep and meaningful ways. In fact, one child at the end of the day commented that he liked the independence of the science lab.

Most children at fifth grade have the self regulation to study in deep, independent, and meaningful ways, but some do not have that kind self regulation. Because of this, sometimes teachers choose an easier path to learning--one that doesn't require as much self regulation and one that is more prescribed. If you choose that route, you have a better chance of keeping everyone on track. But sometimes, we have to push forward and let those who are ready for the deeper study explore in ways that result in truly exciting, memorable learning--the kind that makes you want to go home and continue exploring. Those kinds of deep explorations are messy and often challenge students in ways that bring about strong emotions or challenge as well as good learning too.

I am going to think more about how I can coach those who struggle with these deep learning events and the self regulation required. It's a steep curve for some, but a curve worth working towards.

No Time for Pictures: Science Study Continues

Today's lab was mostly well organized. Students had the chance to think about mixtures vs. solution, chemical vs. physical change, and density as they mixed a number of solutions.

There were lots of unexpected events throughout the exploration including the following:
  • A few students lost their chance to participate since after many reminders of how to care for materials, stay with your lab group, and take the science seriously, they simply proved that it was too dangerous to have them continue based on their fooling around. Hopefully that won't happen again.
  • Some students showed tremendous leadership and teamwork skills.
  • Others struggled with collaboration in ways I haven't noticed before.
  • There were some too who simply could not follow directions--they refused to take the time to read through the lab sheet. Once they saw others making slime however, they focused more and got through the lab.
  • Scaffolding the lab from the dull and more pointed exercises to the more exciting labs was a good idea as that kept almost all the young chemists involved in the activity.
We put the mixtures and solutions we made away, and will revisit them in a couple of weeks to see what happened during that time. We'll discuss changes, revisit conservation of mass which we didn't review today, and move on to some study of the vocabulary and concepts. Following that we'll engage in a sound lab. 

There was no time for pictures as I was straight out helping the young chemists with their study. Thankfully during one block I had an amazingly helpful teaching assistant. I also had a number of really helpful students pitch in to clean up, wash the equipment, and organize.

I think I may be learning more than the children during the initiation of this new curriculum, and learning isn't always easy, but I'm not giving up. 

Outlook and Today's Efforts

I typically like to be thinking about the future while I'm completing the day's tasks. I've read the reports about multitasking and I don't agree. I think that we can often work with parallel efforts for today and tomorrow at the same time. It depends what kind of work you are doing. So today while I'm xeroxing lab reports, passing out plastic cups, and prepping the science modeling station, I'll be thinking about the next steps in the school year and the efforts to come, efforts that include the following:

Sound Lab
Since I'm responsible for the physical science standards, that means I have to review standards that are not part of the fifth grade standards and standards that students will be responsible for on the MCAS. One area included in that is sound, so I'll be prepping a fun lab related to sound.

Science Research and Test
Students are responsible for taking a science test related to each area of the science curriculum. I'll create a practice test and final test using Google forms. The tests will include all the standards and be designed to work as a teaching test which means that as students take the tests, they learn. The practice test will carefully lead them through the language and choices, while the final test will include similar questions, but those questions will be more direct. Students will be able to take the tests as many times as they want to end up with a score they are proud of--the goal here is learning, not to get a grade.

Students have a long term science project and I want to create a simple rubric to match the project expectations. Next week they'll have some time to work on that project which does not have to be that sophisticated, but instead had been created to help students focus in on the essential questions of the unit.

Math Unit Four
We've had a very slow start to math unit four for lots of reasons. I'm looking forward to a good start to this unit, and don't want to rush it as the information students will learn is integral to the units that come after that.

Math RTI
On Friday we have a math RTI meeting planned. I plan to do a lot of listening at the meeting so that I understand systemwide efforts in this regard.

Thank You Notes and Student Surprise
I've been holding on to student thank you notes and a student surprise for a time when we can have a good class meeting. I'm hoping we'll find time for that soon.

TPL Meeting
I'm looking forward to this meeting mostly to show gratitude for the greater work the leaders of this group have been doing--the MTA professional learning division is really reaching out to support educators in countless positive ways. This is a tremendous resource for the state's teachers.

Paperwork
There's a bit of paperwork to complete related to the flu shot and tripship forms. Putting the field trip payment online saved a lot of time recently. Of course progress reports are due by midnight tonight. I suspect there will be a lot of tired teachers tomorrow.

Math Presentation for ATMIM
I'll work on this as time permits in the next month.

Writing Grant Proposals
I'll do some research this weekend and draft the reports to share, edit, and enrich with colleagues next week.

Friendship Week
I'll work with colleagues to forward this week the week before vacation and the week of Valentine's Day.

Portfolio Week
We'll prep those portfolios during the first two weeks after vacation. Colleagues and I will work on this and lead the students through multiple reflective activities as they prepare to present their learning highlights at the spring parent-student-teacher conference.

Local Union Bylaws
We're working to redraft these. I want to get all my notes together over the February break so that a colleague and I can begin some earnest work to get the final draft ready for the Board's edit, and eventually the membership vote probably next fall.

Professional Learning
The online special ed course I signed on to take didn't work again (I've tried three times), so now I'm on the lookout for a in-person course. I'll likely take a summer course via the MTA or a summer math institute that has been highly recommended to me. I've got a number of professional books to read too and I'll likely read those over the summer since the schedule of work to do now is already looking quite long. Further I applied once again for a couple of NEH Institutes that really interest me. I hope I get into one of those as they are terrific learning opportunities. Further over the summer, I'll review and build on this year's science and math teaching efforts, and probably learn to teach a new social studies unit related to the new standards as well.

Next Year
Overall I believe this has been a powerful year of teaching with our shared teaching model. We will likely build the model and teaching even more in the months ahead. Some ideas we will discuss will include the new social studies standards, this year's efforts to teach the new science standards, special education-regular education coordination, class make-up, field studies, special events, and more.

The list is long, but very positive. There's a lot of good learning and teaching ahead. Now it's time to get the final stages of the lab ready for today's learning.







Science Wednesday: Mixture and Solution Lab

Our team has set aside Wednesdays as the day for our science rotations. Each teacher has agreed to lead one area of science. I'm in charge of the physical sciences while my colleagues are managing Earth and life sciences. As I've noted before, we have plenty of materials, and now we're trying to fit all the expected learning into the time we have which is a challenge, a challenge we're motivated to meet, in part,  because the students LOVE science.

Today students will engage in the mixtures and solution lab. I will begin the lab by modeling solution, mixture, solute, solvent, conservation of mass, physical reaction, and chemical reaction with a water and gravel mixture, a water and salt solution, and a water and baking soda solution.

Next I'll review students' lab sheets, review materials' care and cleanup, and then help students get organized at their lab stations. Hopefully, similar to our last lab, the students will be so engaged and on task so that I'll have the chance to take a few photos and listen in on their efforts throughout the exploration and experimentation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Science Squish

The room is squished while all the science materials are set up and there were a few bumps and breaks today because of it. I'd say we are at max for students and space right now, but we'll figure it out.

As I've been saying again and again, new curriculum is complex as you simply can't anticipate how any lesson is going to go. It brings me back to my first year of teaching when I was religiously following the worm observation lesson. The lesson required students to watch worms under a light bulb for about 10-15 minutes. You can only imagine what started happening with a light bulb and worms in only a few minutes. That's when I realized that some curricula is written with much smaller classrooms in mind and perhaps not tested on real life, big classes in small rooms.

Anyways, today I modeled the raw egg in vinegar chemical reaction and the supersaturated hot water and sugar solution that hopefully will result in rock candy. I popped popcorn to show another chemical reaction, and then the students made catapults and used the popcorn to see the difference between potential and kinetic energy as they catapulted the popcorn all over the room (the custodian wasn't too happy, but hopefully the vacuum will clean it up without too much trouble.)

Tomorrow we'll have the mixtures and solutions lab. Students will mix a lot of ingredients and decide if those mixtures result in a solution or not, then they'll test the solutions/mixtures for density to see what happens when they place a fake jewel into the blend. After that they'll have the chance to mix chemicals to make bouncy balls and slime. Later, if there's still time, they can work on their long term matter/energy project, a project guided by a website, informational texts, and other resources.

Next week students will have a study lab, and the week after that we'll focus on sound. Finally students will take a unit assessment, and then after vacation they'll start their next science rotation.

Coverage? Meeting?

I got a note in my email which basically said can you make the meeting?

I wondered what meeting? during the day? I worried.

I asked for clarification.

I have a few emails out there that have not been responded to. Could that be the focus of the meeting?

I have other guesses too.

It's unnerving to get an invitation to a school meeting during the school day without any heads up as to what the meeting is.

Perhaps it's nothing. Perhaps it is a meeting I forgot about? I don't know, but this is the kind of communication that adds worry to a teacher's day. Onward.


Note: No worries, it was simply a coverage change. . . .a teacher's life.

The Day Ahead: Ever Changing Teaching/Learning Landscape

Teaching and learning changes daily. What happens one day affects the next. For example, last  night I reviewed a large number of computation assessments. I noticed several trends in learning that I want to discuss with students today, and then I want to give students a chance to review and redo their work with greater organization, attention to detail, space, and checking. While learning and knowing math is not all about precision and organization, we know that precision and organization matter when it comes to math success and development. Therefor that will be a focus of today's class, a focus I didn't expect until I looked over the students' efforts from yesterday.

I'll also spend considerable time prepping for tomorrow's science lab--the lab is mostly organized on paper, and now it's time for the legwork to organize the materials so students can enjoy learning about mixtures and solutions with a number of hands-on explorations.

I'm ready to input almost all the progress report data, and I'll likely do that tomorrow since we have an early release day which gives me time to start that work, work I'll finish in the evening tomorrow.

Finally I'll review students' long term science project and allow students to work on that during their study time today. I'll be available to help too.

Every day of teaching is a busy, varied day. While the writing is highly detailed, it serves to energize and forward my efforts.

Also, I think it's important for those outside of education to recognize how much effort and time goes into good teaching, and in knowing that, how we might support education landscapes that better support good teaching and learning too.

Investing in the Classroom Program

One of my charities of choice is my own classroom. I find that I am spending more and more money each year on classroom learning and teaching mostly because it is almost impossible to order supplies that I need to teach well. Why is this true?

First the main ordering time of the year is the last month of school which is the busiest, most tired month of the year for teachers and students. Amongst all the other end-of-year tasks, we have to hunt through catalogues and lists to order what we need. Those lists and catalogues are not nearly as good as the online sites like Amazon for ordering so it takes a long time and often you end up with materials that don't match your expectations. For example I ordered a number of notebooks that looked really good, but I didn't notice the fine print which essentially said that what you see is not what you'll get, hence the notebooks were not valuable. I didn't return them as that would take hours more, hours I didn't have when the notebooks arrived at the busy start of school.

Ordering materials takes a lot of time. First there are the hours of advocacy to prove you need the materials. Then there's the purchase order process and the wait for the materials. I can use Amazon or other online sites to order materials that meet classroom needs and get those materials in a day or two. Yes, it costs me my personal money, but it saves me tremendous time and grief with regard to the ordering process. So sometimes, as a professional educator, it's worth it to me to spend my own money to support a higher quality teaching program with the materials I need, then to spend hours debating and waiting for materials.

Fortunately our PTO offers us a few dollars for materials with some process, but not the onerous process that the system requires. I am grateful for this. We have a local grant source, but that requires substantial approval from administration and a lengthy process too. I typically use that for something new and innovative and put in the extra time with my colleagues to make it happen. We generally choose a project we're excited about and one that needs less approval than more. The ideas that require substantial approval are often too time-consuming and troublesome to pursue.

Of course, I wish that purchasing systems were more streamlined and easy to use. I always use the example of the architecture firm I worked at who had a purchasing agent that was at-your-service. When you needed something, he would make sure you had it sooner than later. It was awesome. He as the firm's "Amazon."

So teachers have tough decisions to make. If it's a year when you don't have the extra money, you make do with what you have. If it's a year where you can spare a few extra dollars, you may be able to purchase some items that will uplift your classroom and learning experiences.

I am a big fan of structure, role, and schedule renovation in schools to make schools more modern. As part of this, I'm a fan of updating purchasing systems so that so systems better support educators and enable us to get the materials we need in timely ways that are supported by school system budgets rather than our own bank accounts. I'm sure I'm not the only educator who feels this way. Onward.

Teaching Math with Technology: Oversight and Direction

On March 22, I'll present the ways that I use technology in the math class at the ATMIM Spring Conference. With that in mind, I find that I've become a bit more reflective about the tech I use and how I use it as I want to be able to relay that well to the people who attend my session.

Yesterday it struck me that I use technology a lot to oversee and direct student learning. I also use technology to give me "more hands" so that I can better prioritize and help every student learn.

For example, yesterday while many students were completing a straightforward computation assessment, others were working on a variety of online sites, sites that included Symphony Math, That Quiz, and TenMarks. As students worked all around the room, I could see their data on the computer as I worked with a number of individuals on specific math skill/knowledge needs and coaching.

I checked in now and then to see who was on task and how they were doing, and if someone's data showed that they were off task or meeting struggle, I would call them to the table for a bit of coaching. For example while many children had 20 minutes on task with one tech site, another only had six minutes (clearly he was off on another site), so I called him up to discuss his choices with him and got him back on track. I noted that other children had not completed some assigned tech tasks, and also spoke to them about why they didn't complete the work and what they needed to complete the exercises. Further I use the tech results to help coach students forward. I show them their results in a number of areas and give them suggestions about how they can improve their progress and learning. And, I encourage students to come up and ask questions when they need help or use videos and hints if they are stuck. These tech venues are not only helping students to learn math, but the good use of tech venues is also teaching students how to manage and lead their own learning with questioning, watching videos, using hints, trial and error, coaching, and collaboration.

Use of math tech has me constantly prioritizing and analyzing data to figure out who needs what and determine how I might help all 25 or 26 students in each math class. Of course I wish I had fewer students and more time for the deep, collaborative work I yearn to embed, but I'm doing the best I can to include that kind of learning when and how I can along with the multiple teaching/learning direct lessons, practice, games, and more.

Ultimately I would like to be able to use more tech sites for teaching math, but at this time I am limited in the system where I work due to strict technology guidelines so I work with what I am able to use which includes some good variety including TenMarks, Symphony Math, Code.Org, That Quiz, Illuminations, Splash Math, Google apps, and some other online games. I'd like to see the addition of Minecraft and Khan Academy as well as some of the fact gaming sites that exist. I want to explore Code.org more too as I believe I can implement that better. Currently the tech lab teacher is incorporating Code.org and many students are gravitating to it as an enrichment choice.

But for now, Tech is serving as a good source of math practice and exercise. It's also helping me to oversee and direct my learners while giving me time to work with individuals and small groups with good coaching and teaching.

How is tech empowering what you can do in the math classroom? What programs do you use to help student learn in meaningful and engaging ways? How do you blend learning so that you are blending the use of technology with other worthy teaching/learning efforts? These are questions I'll continue to think about as I prepare for the 3/22 presentation, a presentation I welcome you to attend if interested.


Teaching Science: Materials Management

Science is sometimes not taught at the elementary level simply because the materials management takes so much time. It takes a long time to acquire, organize, distribute, clean, and care for materials. As schools and systems work to deepen and improve science teaching, it's important to consider this needed prep time.

Fortunately I work in a shared model so I don't have to teach every subject with depth. This gives me a little more time than a teacher who is teaching all subjects, yet it's not enough time.

Similar to time, to teach science well requires space. That's why you find science labs in middle schools and high schools. Those rooms supply the needed space to complete experiments and science activities with needed equipment such as sinks and storage cabinets. Most elementary schools don't have that kind of equipment which further complicates the desire to teach science well.

What's a teacher to do?

Mystery Science is a very well designed program for elementary schools and elementary school educators. The instructional designer(s) who created this program clearly understood elementary schools since the learning experiences are well designed to fit into the elementary school teacher's day. Further the lessons appeal to educators who have little science teaching/learning space or materials.

Our school has purchased FOSS kits which are quite complex, but do include great science materials, related texts, and good activities. The challenge with FOSS is the work you have to do to fit those lessons into an average elementary school schedule and teaching environment--an environment that often doesn't have the space, sinks or schedule for the many lessons and materials you use. Nevertheless, I do like the depth that FOSS has, and am working to include that depth over time.

In the end, and as with all curricula, there is not a one-size-fits-all perfect curriculum for any teaching/learning environment. It's up to educators to study the materials and then make the lessons match their standards, students, teaching schedule and environment. This takes time, and I advise schools and systems to make the time for educators to be able to do this well.


Monday, January 22, 2018

Making time to complete the work required

As I reflect on the week ahead, I recognize the need to prioritize and make time for all the tasks ahead. Whenever we do this as educators or professionals in any field, some efforts take priority over others. How will I fit it all in this week.

Upon arrival today, I'll continue the science prep. Then as children arrive, I'll help out with math questions and needs. Throughout the day, I'll focus on student needs, specific lessons, and collegial work. Then after school I'll meet with a parent, shop for a couple more rolling carts plus a few more science supplies that I need. Then I'll focus on reviewing student efforts as part of my final preparation for report cards/progress reports.

Tomorrow I'll continue the report card/progress report efforts before and after school. During the school day, I'll use my prep periods to prepare the science labs. On Wednesday before school I'll do last minute science prep, and after school I'll follow up with any report card/progress report work and begin science prep for next week. Thursday and Friday will find me prepping for the next week of school as well as some research related to grant proposal the team will draft soon.

I write this post with such specificity to demonstrate how educators need to carefully plan moments in school and outside of school with detail in order to meet the multiple expectations set for our teaching. I do think it's a mismatch to expect educators to teach all day and to do most of the prep on weekends, before school, and after school. Ideally educators would teach for half a day and prep for half a day--that's the way it is done in some school systems in the world. However, that ideal does not exist, so we have to do the best we can with the time we have.

Prioritizing and setting the schedule makes it easier to not get caught up in efforts for which you don't have sufficient time and do not hold priority with regard to the work you do.


Note: Only about an hour into the day, the schedule changed a bit.

Rolling Science Labs: New Science Standards Exploration

Rolling carts can be a big help when it comes to
to organizing and implementing the new science standards
 in traditional elementary school classrooms. 
I am using a rolling science cart model to teach the new science standards.

I have four rolling carts now and plan to acquire two more. The rolling carts make it easy for me to prepare materials and then roll the carts to each science team's work station. At the work station, students will review the materials in the cart, and then follow the lab process as they complete the assigned task, engage in science skills, and study science knowledge.

I will prepare the carts each week before our science lab day--a day where we give science more time for deep student investigation, experimentation, and study.

I am scaffolding the science experiments for each day beginning with a first activity that the teacher models, a review of the main teaching points, and then a do-it-yourself (DIY) list of team activities that are scaffolded from simple to complete to much more complex. As students complete the lab, they need to also complete the lab report which for fifth grade is quite simple so most of the attention is on the hands-on activity, collaboration, and learning the main knowledge points of the lab.

For example, for the mixtures and solutions lab, I'll first review definitions and information related to mixtures, solutions, chemical reaction, and physical reaction. Then I'll model the hot water and sugar solution as a way to eventually make rock candy. As I model, I'll use one of the rolling carts and note how I carefully remove the needed materials, set up the lab station, complete the lab by following the directions, observing, and noting the results, and then carefully wiping down the materials and returning them to the cart before I start the next activity.

Then I'll ask students to go to their classroom lab stations (groups of desks or tables in this multi-subject traditional classroom), and then I'll roll their carts with lab sheets and supplies to each group. After that I'll let students get started and I'll rotate around the room helping out when needed.

I've made sure that the activities are engaging resulting mainly with a tangible item that students are curious about such as slime, bouncy balls, balloons blown up, and more.

At the end, we'll clean up, roll the carts back to the science corner, and spend a few minutes with a review of what we did via discussion and a short video.





Focus: The Week Ahead, January 2018

The theme this week is to be more intentional with words, action, and attitude.

What does that mean this week?

First, it means that I'll have a lot of one-to-one conversations with students who need to catch  up on homework, assessments, and more. It's progress report time, and I want to take a look at students' results as I input the progress reports checks.

This also means that I'll be intentional with the way I introduce the weekly science lab. I want to be clear and I want to prepare all the needed materials.

And, I'll be intentional as I introduce the new math unit. Students and I will discuss what we can do to make this a successful unit of teaching and learning, then we'll begin working on the study together.

Further during team meetings I'll focus on listening to the perspectives of the many colleagues I work with--colleagues who contribute significant time, expertise, and care into the work they do each day.

At the MTA TPL meeting, I'll also do a lot of listening since the MTA team that leads this work has been very, very busy with countless quality professional learning events. I am interested in what they have to say, and how I can help out in the months ahead.

There's a special family event too where the focus will be to celebrate accomplishment and teamwork.

If challenges occur, I want to listen and respond after good thought as I don't want challenges to get in the way of the good work and events planned. Onward.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life's Quest: Be More Intentional

I like to approach the day's chores with a deep thought, something I'll think about as I prepare the Sunday dinner and ready the home for guests, and today I want to think about being more intentional about time, place, and effort.

Schedules are changing in my life and there's suddenly time to be more intentional about the way I spend time, use words, and interact with others. For the past fifty plus years I've had a very busy, busy life. As a mother of three, the oldest of six children, and one of 56 first cousins, there was always lots to do and lots of people to care for and be with. From my earliest years I was caring for babies and little children which I loved. Later I started working at 15 and have had a busy schedule since that time. I was fortunate to have a reprieve from work during college semesters when I mostly didn't work, and now I do enjoy several work-free weeks during the summer. I typically enjoy spending this time reading, writing, and visiting beautiful places with family members and friends.

In a sense, even though I was happy with my busy, busy people/event filled life, I always hungered for the time I have now--time to dream, write, read, create, wonder, converse, and explore. Even as a young child, I would push bedtime forward so I could draw my dreams on a pad of paper that I kept under my bed. Those nighttime creativity sessions were only interrupted by my energetic little sister's cries for me to turn off the lights to let her get some sleep. Always in life I found places to escape to dream, places like the backyard swings, my bedroom, the den downstairs, the music room in college, a library nook, or a coffee shop. Today my own home has evolved to include a number of cozy nooks for reading, writing, thinking, learning, and dreaming.

Yesterday was the first official day that I recognized that I have to make my dream time official--now that I can, I have to build in at least one day a week to dream, write, create, and imagine as that's what I yearn for and now that's what I can do.

What will I do with that time? Where will it take place? How will I sanctify these periods of exploration? What people before me have done this and what was it like for them? I imagine that many who grew up in quiet homes with fewer people are used to this kind of time, and have devoted spaces and activity toward the life of the mind. I want to know more about this.

I will start by reworking our family schedule to acknowledge my need for this time and to carve out places and spaces for this practice. I know that some of my own children also crave this kind of time in their lives, and by acknowledging my need, I will affirm and give power to their need for this too.

During this time, I will allow myself to be pulled in the direction of heart and vision--I can feel the pull, and I want to understand this more. It may sound silly, but when I watched the movie, August Rush, the other night, I saw the kinds of pulls I feel made visible. There's hints that exist about where the energy will take me, hints such as my longing to understand midwest culture and place more, my interest in Thomas Jefferson and the Appalachian landscape, my quest to visit Washington, DC often, my love of fine point sharpie pens, the lure of local museums, and the desire to write near a window that looks out into nature.

Further I am ever so curious about the human story. I marvel at the differences we all bring to life and how our early lives, the people in our lives, geography, and history affect who we are today. There's almost nothing more that I like better than to sit and watch people, and then to hear their stories about what they love to do and why they love to do it. Typically when I meet people for the first time and they talk about their children, I ask, "What do your children love to do?" This gives me a wonderful inroad to who people are and what they desire.

I know that each of us is so small in the sea of humanity, and that each of our paths will be both different and the same in comparison to one another. I also know that each of us has significant impact over our lives and the lives of others. We make choices every minute that impact our life's path as well as the experiences of others, and for me I want to be more intentional with those small decisions, the use of language, and way I treat the people I meet.

In a busy life like the one I've had, you sometimes barrel ahead just to make space for yourself. There isn't always the time for quiet, gracious movement, but instead a sense of this is where life is pulling me and I'm heading in that direction one way or another. It's our impulse for survival that sometimes can make us impetuous, headstrong, loud, rough, and impatient particularly when our drive may be different than the landscape and drama of the places we live.

So to be more intentional is my aim, and the first step is to intentionally carve out time equal to a day each week to read, write, create, imagine, and dream--a gift to myself and hopefully to others too.

Pulled

Sometimes we all feel pulled in multiple directions. The angst of being in the center of multiple needs, dreams, hopes, and directions can create angst. I am thinking about this today as I think of the many people in my life, people that range in age and vary with regard to need and interest. How do we reckon with this pull that sometimes can feel too tight in too many directions?

As much as possible I try to stay centered amongst the many pulls of life. I try to stick to a usual routine that makes time for the most important needs and desires of all of us. Sometimes though those pulls result in a snag where everyone is challenged, and then it's time to rework the routine and schedule, the connections and interactions.

I'd rather have that periodic confusion and still have the great people I have in my life, and it's good to make the time to iron out the snags and figure out the next steps and a better routine.

The Lifestyle Buffet

Years ago I began to think of life as a buffet, an opportunity with many choices to choose from. Last night as I conversed with friends, I thought more about this--what do you choose for your life as part of this "lifestyle buffet"?

Where you live is an important consideration. My husband and I chose to live in close proximity to my job to save time and to be close to our children when needed. This has been a good choice for me as the short distance has saved money and time in the car. We also, at our realtor's urging, chose a home that sits away from a busy road. This too was a good choice since the children could run around a lot without fear of busy streets. The house is easy to move around in, and has some cozy spaces and this is good too. Truly the only aspects about my home that don't fit me or my lifestyle choices include the home's inside-outside connection. Our house sits somewhat awkwardly on the land, and I would prefer a home where the inside-outside movement provides a much greater flow. Also the shape of our house is not interesting to me--it's, in my opinion, an awkward design, one that does not appeal to my sense of balance or art. Further our home is in the suburbs and I prefer a small town where your home is located close to a library, coffee shop, and a park--a place that's closer to a community center.

I am thinking about this lifestyle buffet this morning as I watch my young adult sons begin to make choices about jobs, homes, partners, and lifestyle. I see them navigating the choices ahead of them, and want to encourage them to reach for their dreams of finding a good place to live, job, friends, and interests. Also as my husband and I begin to have greater freedom now that our children are almost all grown, we too are thinking about the lifestyle buffet in terms of where we live, what we do, and the how we spend our money. We all have limitations with regard to these choices so to find a good balance that fits your spirit and needs does take time.

I try to think of my longing, what calls me. I do like to be surrounded by nature as that feeds my spirit and brings me peace. I like space too so a sparse home with some land appeals to me. Further I also like a community so I doubt I'll ever live far out in the country away from others. I like variety too so I wonder if I'll end up living in a very small and simple place so I can get up and leave often to explore other parts of the country and world for weeks at a time. I'm not quite sure how I'll choose in the years ahead, but I'm thinking about it.

How do you approach the lifestyle buffet? What are your priorities with regard to where you live and whom you live with? What material things do you have to have, and what can you live without? What time of structure, land, community, and natural lands are a must have for you to live well? Sometimes we don't think we have choices, but if you lay out a plan and work towards it, it's likely that you'll achieve at least some of what you aspire to gain in time.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

There's Always More That You Can Do

There's always more that you can do in any area of life, and deciding how you're going to move forward is an important consideration in light of this, a consideration I perseverate about daily in my blog.

So as I think of it today, I am pushing myself forward to focus in on the following efforts:

Analysis and Completion of Recent Math Assessments
I have found that a deep understanding of my learners leads to better teaching, hence this weekend I'll do a deep dive into student assessment data to note where children are at now and who and where I can lead forward in the days ahead. A few children did not have a chance to complete these assessments, and they'll do that on Monday.

Mixtures and Solutions Lab
Students will engage in a wonderful mixtures and solutions lab on Wednesday, and I have a lot to do to prep the materials and ready the classroom for this inviting task.

Progress Report Completion
There's a bit of work to do to complete the Progress Reports that will go home on Thursday.

Professional Learning
I hit a few snags with the online learning related to special ed again, so once again I decided to not get the PDPs in that way. I hope to take an upcoming MTA professional learning class or a summer math study in this area to complete this needed task. I will also present at the 3/22 ATMIM conference so I have so prep to do in that regard. I've got some grants to write and research with colleagues too.

Back on the teaching/learning track after a great big idea share with my Professional Learning Community (PLN) on #satchat this morning.


Social Emotional Learning #SATCHAT


As I reviewed the questions, links, images, and other materials for this morning's social emotional learning (SEL) #satchat, I found myself reviewing the efforts I'm engaged in on my own and with colleagues to boost SEL in ways that matter.

We know that SEL improves lives and success. It's a critical component of teaching/learning programs. And, it's also a limitless arena for development and growth. As we teach programs related to SEL, we develop our own social/emotional intelligence as well.

Question two today will focus in on the elements that make-up social emotional learning, and this is the first area I want to think about--where do we embed these elements into our curriculum program, and where might we boost this learning more.

Self Awareness
I know myself well, and I understand what I need to be happy, comfortable, and successful.

Students' showcase portfolios help students to think about who they are and what they are doing. These showcase portfolios include many reflective pieces. It takes students time to reflect, and I think we can continue to think about where we embed time for good reflection and share to build greater self awareness.

Social Awareness
I know how to read the people and places around me, and then act in ways that allow me to be successful in social situations. 

I believe our efforts to build good conflict resolution helps here. We use a "first step, second step" process where we encourage students to solve problems first on their own with words, and then if that doesn't work, seek the help of a teacher. Further, regular class meetings focused on the classroom community and social competency help to build this awareness. To continually focus in on the classroom community in meaningful ways builds this awareness.

Relationship Skills
I am aware of what it takes to be a good friend, classmate, sibling, neighbor, and utilize those skills in my relationships.

At the elementary level this is mainly focused on friendship. In our Open Circle meetings, the guidance counselor focuses in on specific skills that help in this regard. Project/Problem Based Learning (PBL) also opens the door for lots of collaborative work which often results in discussions about positive working relationships too. Our end-year biography project allows students to get inside the life of a global changemaker from today or the past, and in this study students focus on the individuals' relationships and other aspects of social emotional learning.

Responsible Decision Making
I understand what it means to make a responsible decision. I focus on personal/collective goals and what it takes to meet those goals and make good decisions.

We are always moving students towards greater independence by providing opportunities to practice and develop responsible decision making. Online learning menus, workshop lists, class protocols, and meetings provide students with the parameters within which they have considerable decision making skill. We talk about those decisions often, and help to coach students more specifically who meet challenges in this area.

Self Management
I take care of myself in ways that keep me happy, healthy, and successful with respect to my relationships, goals, and interests.

We continually coach students forward in this area with suggestions, modeling, and encouragement to manage their time, materials, emotions, relationships, and more. As I think about this, I think I can add more specific conversation about this at the start of the school year.

To make the case for each of these social emotional learning categories with specific language that brings the categories to life is a positive way to start the school year. I would also like to add mini posters to my classroom to help all of us use this language regularly to help students build these skills.

The mini poster from CASEL below also lends a positive rationale for SEL education in schools.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Workers' Rights and Democratic Process

Most workers are very busy doing their jobs, caring for their family and friends, and taking care of themselves. There's little time left after work to take part in the research and advocacy to protect their rights. That is why good democratic process and workers' unions are positive--the democratic process includes the voices of all and the union gives voice to workers who are often too busy to have voice on their own.

Many decry unions and at times unions get a bad rap, but as I think about our society, I believe we need unions now more than ever before. Workers in almost every industry need to get together and seek the support and voice they need to get the pay, respect, and benefits they deserve. The more pay is diminished and jobs disrespected, the greater the need for unionization and collective benefits.

Today as the Massachusetts Teachers Union alerted members about an upcoming potential change in their health care, I was reminded of our need for a union. Without that note most of us would be unaware of the change. Many educators return home day after day with little energy to do more than care for their families--they're exhausted after a full day of work. Many would have missed this news without the union.

Further, last year, without the union support, the cap on charters would have been lifted which would have resulted in greater inequity in the state with regard to financial support and equitable education opportunities for the states' children. While the press for charters is often complimentary, the realities don't live up to that press. Mostly I'm not a fan of charter schools because they are not products of public process and don't serve all children. I'd rather see the money go towards uplifting public schools for all students in ways that matter. Public schools can be innovative too. We don't need to support for-profit or private charter schools with public money.

Our country will be stronger if unions gain strength across all areas of work--unions bring people together and lobby for fair rights and benefits. Like a good democracy, however, unions don't survive on their own. Instead they require the efforts of all members to stay strong and dynamic. Everyone has to do their part to maintain strong worker's rights and benefits, and when workers get what they need, they are able to do the good work that supports a community, state, and nation. Onward.

Why Does Health Care Have To Be So Complicated?

This message relayed by the teachers' union is worrisome. I want to learn more, yet many of the meetings planned are planned with short notice, at a far distance from my home , and/or at a time when I am working. This makes it difficult to get involved. 


Today I received notice that many educators in Massachusetts may be facing changes in their health care. I know that many educators recently faced changes in health care and this means one more change. I also know that many of us are completely confused about health care.

I receive countless notices about my health care, most that I don't even understand. I know that many don't take advantage of health care benefits because those benefits are so confusing. I'm noticing greater reluctance amongst people with regard to going to a doctor due to the cost and confusion. This is all problematic.

We hear the government discussing health care all the time. We notice politicians like our president supporting increased wealth for the rich rather than good health care for all. I believe he believes in the survival of the fittest, and to him "fittest" is measured by wealth.

Life is challenging enough without having to worry all the time about health care confusion and change. It seemed so much simpler just a few years ago when you paid your monthly fee and got most of the health care you needed. Now it's all kinds of complex plans that only those with advisors can understand well similar to the need for advisors for investment funds.

Confusing, complicated, and reduced health care plans put most people at a disadvantage, and set people up for less health benefits and less overall personal health. This is a big problem that needs to be solved, and should be solved with fair process and the inclusion of the voices of those involved.

I'm disheartened by the news I heard today, and will listen to the voices of many as I decide the next course of action related to this.

The Weight of an Idea or Initiative

Ideas generally sit in my brain for some time before I work on them. There's been one big idea in my brain for some time now, and it just hasn't taken enough shape for clear direction yet. The idea now is somewhat like a brain cloud, and at sometime it will turn to rain and nurture the birth of a good idea. I love the brain action that happens with idea development. I find it very interesting and want to learn more about it.

Latest Reactions to the President

The president continues to worry me. He is bringing about so much worry and angst in the American people. His disparaging remarks and seemingly little concern about people in general as well as his impetuous spirit that seemingly puts us in danger again and again is horrible. Further those that idly stand by supporting his speak, greed, and what appears to be unethical behavior are just as bad.

How will I react?

First I am no longer going to use his name.

Next I've blocked him on Twitter--I don't need his rants in my daily Twitter feed, a feed I've come to regard as a terrific idea exchange.

Third, I will look to see what I can do at a local level to promote positive ideas and efforts, and then learn and listen to national leaders that I regard well as to what to do about that level.

Fourth, I will try to right my ways and use the president as the overcorrection that he is--one who represents how not to be in the public eye, what not to do.

Even if the president has an idea or two that are not so bad, it's difficult to hear or see those ideas amidst the greed, possible lawlessness, and unethical behavior. For those who support him simply because their investments are on the rise, they need to realize that is shortsighted. No matter how much money you have, it won't matter if our water and air are polluted, and the world is filled with uneducated, impoverished people who don't get the basic needs they deserve. It's about more than dollars when it comes to building a strong nation and world, one that cares well for the people in it.

The president's daily tantrums, outbursts, disrespect, and lack of honest, good work is bringing the whole country down--it's time for a change.

Teaching Challenges

There are always challenges when you teach. Some of the greatest challenges I'm thinking about right now include the following:

Students Who Need More
When we look out at our students, we always notice more needs than we are able to fill. This, I believe, is a natural feeling for teachers and one that tears at us. There is not one child in my charge that cannot learn, but there are some who would profit from greater one-to-one help, afters school programs, more consistency in routines, and less students in the classroom.

As I listen to the school committee meetings and budget reports, I also think about these needs. I wonder if it's better to have smaller class sizes than new programs that only support a few students. Yet innovation is important. I wonder if we are stretching our special education staff too think by giving them caseloads that are too great--is this the best solution long term. And as I say again and again, I worry that we're supporting too many positions that don't have direct time-on-task with students. Also, do we have a long range plan for our agin buildings and furniture--is it time to begin imagining and then working towards more modern learning environments for elementary students--environments that match the research for a modern-day education.

I am fortunate to work in a system that has many resources so our needs in comparison to other schools are far less. In talking to a group of teachers who serve on the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recently, it was so clear to me that citizens have to stand up and speak up for the children of the state. Too many children are facing dire consequences at home and at school due to grave social and economic issues as well as not enough good support to deal with those issues. These children will be future adults, and what we do now for them will translate into a stronger and better state late on. We have to help systems who face great poverty and tremendous social issues to get what they need to serve their students well.

Respect
We do have to build greater respect for educators, students, and families at school. We can't continue to treat teachers in ways that belittle and demean them, but instead educators should be treated with respect as well as high expectations. Good communication, inclusive decision making, respect for educators' professional experience and expertise, and supports that are meaningful and beneficial are ways to make that respect visible. Of course, greater distributive leadership which results in teacher voice, choice, and leadership is the way to build that respect. As I've noted before models of distributive leadership seem to occur in high schools and middle schools much more often than elementary schools. It seems to me that many elementary schools still have structures that don't promote respect and teacher leadership as much. This is a challenge ready for change.

Doing My Part
You can't speak up if you are not willing to work at your own development and improvement too. There's so much that I can continue to do to improve my practice to serve students well. Right now that translates into meaningful math lessons, positive science lessons, building and supporting a strong classroom and grade-level community, supporting my colleagues in ways that I can, and contributing to new programming.

Earlier this week I questioned whether I wanted to do the work with regard to the program creation and innovation possible as the support seemed lacking, but even without good support, I believe that this is one area I can contribute to and will make the time to do that in the days to come. Our team has many good ideas about how to deepen the learning program for students, and without the extra efforts those ideas won't come to fruition.

As always, too, educators can't spread themselves out too thin either. When we try to do too much, we often end up doing less. I want to be cognizant of this as I complete a number of important tasks in the weeks ahead, tasks including completion of progress reports, student portfolio work, parent-teacher-student conferences, continued efforts related to the classroom science/STEAM lab, and our will to build a more culturally proficient program.

Onward.