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Saturday, March 31, 2018

MTA: Annual Meeting 2018

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

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

Building, Making, Growing, Creating

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

Improving the Curriculum Program: Math

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Parting


At times we part.

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

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

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

Onward.

Standards--Elements--Indicators: Teacher Evaluations

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday Musings: March 28, 2018

It was great to see the sunshine this morning and even better to see students running all over the playground without the need for boots, snow pants, and heavy jackets. It was if gloom were lifted and spring finally is on its way.

Students brought that same positivity to their classwork today, and many did very well on our most recent math assessment.

Later there was time to talk about a leadership opportunity for school assembly and to enjoy an extra recess. A good day overall.

Unfortunately I didn't have the foresight to forgo a detailed discussion without adequate time--an important rule of school life is not to entertain important or controversial topics without good time or place. This can be difficult because sometimes a topic may seem doable with during a minute or two transition, but then you learn the topic is far more complicated than that. School life is full of lessons for teachers as well as students.

The days ahead will find me preparing for an Easter celebration and catching up on a bit of school work related to our river/environmental study, the cumulative assessment, goal setting, and science study.

Next week will find the focus to be algebraic thinking during math, MCAS practice during RTI, a few more parent conferences, a faculty meeting, an ELA data meeting, and the typical planning and prep for the students' lessons and learning experiences. Now it's time for family and friends.

Guided Reflection Supports Optimal Learning and Student Success

Our team is working to elevate our efforts to build students' metacognition, ownership of learning, and ability to reflect. We have made many efforts in this regard, and I believe these efforts have resulted in greater ownership and success with regard to their learning.

Now the next step is to develop this practice in ways that matter. For example, today I had students complete the assessment pictured below. I was disappointed with the responses related to the "pleased or not pleased" question as I found that students weren't specific enough and got caught up with whether they got a top score or not rather than what they learned and how they could have taken the assessment better. I spoke to them a bit about the struggle that many students, particularly girls, demonstrate with regard to perfectionism and I noted that can be a problem, and I told them that it's best to meet each task twofold by thinking first about what they did well and second about what they might do better next time.

With this in mind, for the next test reflection, I plan to add a a sentence something like this:

"In this assessment/project/problem, I was pleased with my effort and ability to ___________________, and I also feel that next time, I would like to __________________ to improve my learning/presentation/performance/_______."

I want to guide students' ability to reflect as a very important way to begin to develop, understand, and relay their "story" of self and learning. I am also moved to do this as I heard recently a discussion that pointed out that its the child's "story" that matters when it comes to gaining opportunities, self confidence, and success.

I am open to your thoughts about this as I grow this effort with colleagues.


Goal Setting for 2018-2019

Essentially the goals for 2017-2018 are on autopilot - plans are made and the day-to-day focus is to follow those plans with good attention and care to students. So now my research time is focused on 2018-2019 goals.

I am delighted that the school system I work in is changing the timeline for goal setting. According to reports I've watched and read, it seems that the systemwide goals will be created in the spring which allows educators like me to use the summer time to aline my own teaching/learning goals and research with the systemwide goals. I think this is much better than the goal setting process in the past that sometimes lasted until December for goals to be set and this was long after the teaching/learning began and teachers' goals that were set in September. To me this new timeline is much better.

I reached out today to district leadership to hear the specifics of the goal setting process and to feel out what these goals might be as I begin to schedule summer study efforts and as I have more time to research and read at this time of year. I truly enjoy a goal setting process that's meaningful and measurable as I believe it helps me to improve what I can do for the children I teach and colleagues I collaborate with.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Triggers

Triggers--we all have them, they are the people, words, events, places, and objects that bring a visceral reaction to us. In the best case scenarios we learn to stay away from or deal with these triggers so we are not enflamed, but sometimes we may not even know a trigger exists for us until we've reacted a few times to it.

What do we do about these triggers?

Of course, I think it's best to understand the triggers and know why they occur, but sadly that's not always possible. Sometimes we are not privy to the information that demonstrates why a trigger is a trigger, and sometimes it just takes a lot of time to figure it out.

So what do we do then?

We can acknowledge the trigger with words such as, "Every time I visit this _____, I am alarmed and that happens because my experience with _______ over time has been ______________. I can't change it and I may not even understand it now, but the truth is, it happens and I have to deal with it."

Some triggers reveal much deeper pain, hurt, injustice, and events--those triggers may eventually spur a police report or law suit, but in general, our triggers are mostly dealt with by understanding that they will occur and either dealing with them or avoiding them. Onward.

Rejections and Acceptances

Over my tenure as an educator I've applied for a number of professional institutes and events. I have probably had about a 50-50 success rate with 50% rejection and 50% acceptance. I am happy that I've reached out to apply to these many events as attendance at those I've been admitted to have been rewarding, motivating, and positive, and as for those that didn't accept me, that has built a good amount of resilience which has made me unafraid to reach out to risk and try something new. Life is full of rejections and acceptances of all kinds, and it's these kinds of events that help to shape who you are and where you go. With this in mind, I recommend that you don't resist risk, but instead try for the events and activities that interest you and then let those acceptances and rejections shape who you are and where you go.

Doing Your Best

If we each do our part, organizations will succeed.

What is your part?

I'm thinking about that question this morning, and I identify my part as the following:
  • working with colleagues to foster an inviting, engaging, and empowering grade level program
  • advocate for program development to best meet individual and collective student needs
  • stay abreast of the research related to teaching well and developing the teaching/learning program to continually reflect what it means to teach well.
  • work with school, system, and other teams and professional organizations/groups to develop and better what we do with and for children and their families
  • striking a good home-school balance so that my energy is positive and good for both arenas
What would you add to this list? 

How Do Your Programs Grow?

I am a fan of developing teaching/learning programs with a holistic approach that includes all stakeholders. I am also a fan of developing programs in equitable ways beginning with areas and children that are underserved, and moving up and out from there. As I think of this with regard to the grade level program and what I can do, I recognize that there are the following areas for growth:

Social Emotional Learning/Emotional Intelligence
I hope to develop my work in many ways in this regard. First, I want to think about how I'll meld our character work with our social emotional learning/emotional intelligence assessments and goal setting. Both efforts have been successful and I imagine we'll focus on character attributes at the start of the school year in conjunction with the school rules and protocols list, and then focus on the social emotional learning/emotional intelligence goals mid year as we did this year as that fostered a good mid year discussion at a time when children were ready for it.

I also want to revisit the book I wrote with colleagues over the summer, and look for ways to embed the social emotional learning activities and emphases into specific parts of the curriculum program.

Deepening and Bettering the Math Program
The addition of online assessments and math packets helped to improve the math program this year. Next year I want to focus on adding more project/problem based learning as well as the math writing process with regard to problem solving, presentation, tech integration, and debate/argument. I would also like to discuss using RTI more to build a strong computational foundation beginning with a deep understanding of math facts at the start of the year. The greatest challenge in all of this is time since we simply run out of time to present all the concepts with the depth I think is best. I will relook at this during the summer with greater reading, research, and plans.

Bettering the Physical Science Program
We have substantial materials and lessons for great science teaching. The challenge similar to math is time. I'll review the efforts we put into place this year and continue to work on the approach to better the program for next year. We definitely made a good start this year, but we still have room for growth.

Developing Environmental Science
At the end of this year, I'll work with local environmental organizations to develop this area of the curriculum with a generous grant that we received. We will build on the good efforts we put into place this year.

Cultural Proficiency
Once again we'll look at ways that we can use orientation activities to welcome all students and their families to the learning community in ways that matter. We will also look at ways to improve the Curriculum Night approach in conjunction with the fourth grade team who will also present a shared model. Further, we'll try to identify an arts event that builds greater cultural proficiency and community amongst all learners and continue to develop our curriculum program to be welcoming and inspiring for all.

Teaching Every Child Well
Good start-of-year meetings, assessments, introductions, and community building helps to set the stage for teaching every child well. Regular home-school communication and personalized learning furthers what we can do to support every child. Clear expectations, policies, and protocols help too. Attention to the learning community as well as single children matter. Our showcase portfolio efforts are one way to keep abreast of how each child is doing and what each child is thinking as well as his/her needs and interests. We will continue to build this personalized approach.

Field Studies, Expert Visitors, Special Events
We'll build in these efforts to in order to make the program interesting, beneficial, and energizing.

Professional Learning
My focus of professional learning this summer as it stands now will be my reading list. I applied for an NEH Institute, but have yet to hear about that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Standards Based Programs Move Too Fast with Too Much for Some

If you're an average learner which means you come to school with a solid foundation, positive experiences, academic support at home, and readiness to learn, the one-size-fits-all standards-based grade-level program is probably within your grasp, but if you come to school with a weak foundation, struggles at home, little to no academic support outside of school, and less readiness to learn, this program will be a reach for you and you'll almost always feel like you are behind. Is this fair? Is this good teaching?

We need to seriously consider the students who are not ready for the grade-level programs of teaching and learning, and help those students in different ways. We know that it doesn't help to place those students all into one group and try to help them--research has been shown that demonstrates problems with this approach. We also know that's not fair to teach them at a rate of learning and number of topics that is too fast and too much to embrace, we have to strike that just right learning rate and amount. We know these students can learn, and that to not regard their needs well will result in greater struggle, less confidence, and potential behavioral and emotional troubles too. So what do we do?

I believe that when a child lands in an area of teaching and learning that is more than one grade level behind his/her age mates, he/she needs a different program. At this point, I believe the program needs to be more like a reading recovery approach--a one or two student consistent approach with one or more highly skilled teachers who work with positivity and a blended learning program to fill in the gaps of the child's learning so that he/she can make very good progress. To create programs like this for children at early ages will save money, time, and troubles later on in a child's life and help them to reach the learning levels and abilities of their peers in better time with greater confidence. I think this is a way to make positive change. What do you think?

Currently our programs for these students include the following:
  • Help outside of the school day that equals about 10-15 days
  • Small group help during the school week - about twice a week with skilled teacher
  • Differentiated, multi-modal core program - 5 hours a week
  • Homework Practice - about 2 1/2 hours a week
  • Tech programs that sometimes move at a child's progression
  • Extra help sessions - varies in time and place
  • Homework club for some
  • We provide technology for students who are unable to have that technology at home - this has been positive. 
Our students do make progress as noted on standardized test growth scores, however when the numbers of students who fall behind the grade-level expectations grows, our ability to serve those students with the typical number of staff members wanes. 

Some ideas that may work include the following:
  • Testing new students upon arrival and providing those who are significantly behind with an intensive one-to-one or small group program to bring them up to the grade-level standards before joining the grade-level program.
  • Providing a two-tier consistent five-day-a-week core program with 1/2 project/problem standards-based heterogenous approach and 1/2 foundation skills with one-to-one or small group with a skilled teacher.
  • Providing a homework club for all students who lack at-home academic support.
  • Fostering parent-student programs to build these skills - enlisting parent support for all learners is very positive, and some parents are reluctant when it comes to supporting math education for many reasons. 
I will continue to think about this problem of practice in the days and weeks ahead. It's an area where I think we can continue to improve our collective practice, approach, and impact. I am open to your ideas.

Addition: This article relates to the discussion.


What Issues Get Traction?

A long time ago when I read the book, Intentional Interruption, I learned how issues that impact us with great emotion and surprise often seem bigger than they are. Since then I've noted in multiple discussions how this remains true since sometimes issues that impact few get the most traction because of the alarm and worry those issues create. In truth, if we work against this and use a more fair minded and holistic approach to identifying issues that matter, we might likely avoid spending our time and money on issues that have less impact, and instead focus on the issues that truly do make a big difference and may mitigate those troubling, small-impact issues altogether.

How do we do this?

First we have to make time to look at the big picture with statistics, experiences, and observation. Before we enter any conversation or focus, we need to look at the numbers and depth of the issue with questions such as how many people does this impact, what is the depth of this issue's impact, and what is the interest in making change in this area?

For example as I think about the curriculum program, I wonder about the impact of inadequate staffing--if we don't have enough staff to meet the evident needs of students will that result in greater needs in other areas--needs that create more emergency situations? How do we measure this issue and look deeply at it?

Another example could include the impact of poverty or lack of social programs, and how underfunding and staffing related programs with fidelity and good effort may lessen issues in other areas--issues that eventually cost a lot of money and create sadness and troubles. Do we need more holistic community approaches to serving students and families well so that we are making deep and impactful change rather than embracing actions that have less positive impact?

As you can see, I'm thinking about the processes we use to identify issues of importance and the channels we support, staff, and utilize to make significant change so that we well direct our time and money.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Hooking Hard to Reach Students

As I zero in on students, I'm wondering how to hook the hard to reach students.

I know that the answer to this questions differs every year depending on the students you are trying to hook.

As I look at this year's children, I know that one issue is that we have a lot of expected standards to teach in short time which leaves us short when it comes to the kinds of deep, engaging, and exciting projects that hook almost all children. Once we pass the MCAS tests, we'll engage in many projects like that and I expect those children will be hooked, but what about right now especially for students who find some of this standards-based review and teaching tiresome.

Now I know some will advise me to not worry too much about the standards, but that's not a good choice right now for many reasons. Others may say to embed the standards into worthy teaching/learning project/problem based learning--I totally agree with this, and this is what I always attempt to do, however this year numbers and unexpected complexity have found us in a place where we are rushing a bit to study all the standards in short time.

As I write, I think the best solution is to slow it down and spend more individual time with these hard to reach students--simply being frank with them about the challenge of the current learning with the lure of the great projects ahead will really help. Also some small, enjoyable projects woven into the schedule will help too--time to draw, time to make a tech choice, a fun science experiment with buddies, and some other simple, but enjoyable projects will help too.

If you have other great ideas, let me know. Thanks!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Underserved Children

We can't do enough for our children. There is almost always something more we can do for children we teach and children we parent, but there are some children who are clearly underserved and those children demand our attention.

When it comes to underserved children, we must first determine if their basic needs are met. Do they have adequate clothing, food, shelter, and health care, and if not, how can we help out.

Next, we have to think about their social-emotional welfare. Are these children getting the love and attention they need or are they facing situations of grave social-emotional strife and need? What can we do to make sure children are getting the social emotional support they need so that they feel good about themselves and have what it takes to self-advocate, persevere, and access needed supports?

Then we have to think about opportunity and development. Do these children have the opportunity to develop in ways that make them happy and successful? Typically where I teach most students' basic needs and social-emotional needs are met by loving families and a good standard of living, but when it comes to opportunity that's an area that is more complex, and sometimes more difficult to meet due to budgets, transportation, schedules, staffing, understanding, and more. This is a case-by-case analysis of how we can do better by every child.

Sometimes the way we use staffing can be improved to better serve children? This demands a hard, statistical look at time and resources to determine if we are utilizing staffing in ways that mitigate opportunity gaps and provides every child with a good chance of academic success and opportunity. When we feel a child is not getting what he/she deserves by way of academic support, we need to speak up and re-look at what we're doing to find ways to do better. Ideally metrics are in place to determine staffing based on needs rather than numbers alone so that children do get the supports they need when they need it. Fidelity to schedules and expectations also matters in this realm. For example are staff members showing up when assigned, and if not, why not? How can that change?

Further, when we think of mitigating the opportunity gap to give every child what they need, we have to think about how we use time and resources. Are we over-giving to those who already have substantial services and support while under-providing to those who have great or different needs? We have to think about each and every action we do to determine if it is well directed or not. What are we doing and why are we doing it? Is our time well structured so that we are making a substantial difference and impact for all students not just some. These are essential questions we have to answer repeatedly as the school year rolls out.

Good time for good, holistic and inclusive assessment and analysis of our programs have to exist. When assessment and analysis is narrow and exclusive, same problems continue to exist, but when all stakeholders are invited into this process, good change happens.

Our nation depends on our efforts to better serve underserved children--that is an important aspect of our job as educators. What can we do to help each other live up to this important expectation? I am thinking about this.

Projection Versus Data Determined Improvement

Some project what's needed to improve schools, but as Charles Blow noted in a video this morning, good policy comes from good data.

To simply project what teachers need and then use that projection to foster professional learning endeavor is to waste time and to sacrifice commitment and capacity. When educators are presented with professional learning that is redundant, unnecessary, and not matched to need, their interest and investment wanes. On the other hand, when professional learning is matched with good data and analysis, commitment and investment grows.

For example, if you look at our data sets, you will note that there are groups of students we do not serve well, groups of students I believe that we can serve better. We could decide to focus our efforts on those students and then really dig in together to figure out how to teach those students with greater effort. We could create pathways to betterment and assess our work in an ongoing fashion that helps us to revise and enrich our efforts to continuously make our impact better. But many don't support this kind of data driven, research-based professional learning and improvement, many prefer projection which is essentially, My experience tells me they need this so that's what I'll promote. That's not effective.

I think that every school system needs to think about how they analyze information, communicate those results, and then collaborate to make better. I believe that every school system has to beware of projection that's based on single perspectives or experiences rather than collective, authentic data sets, observations, and experiences. Our systems can do better if we embrace processes that make a difference and not settle for ineffective analysis and effort.

Why Trump is a Lousy President

Trump is a lousy president.

He's Not a Role Model
First of all he is not a role model for our children, our civility, and our national values. He continually calls people names, blames others, doesn't take responsibility, and does not work with intelligence, good process, accurate data, or vision to solve important problems.

He Doesn't Care About the Environment
Next, he does not show care or concern for environmental issues, and all the world's people depend on a healthy environment for good living. He is not working to protect clean water, clean air, and clean soil, and we all depend on that for healthy living.

He Does Not Support Public Education
And, he does not care about or value education for the country's children. Instead he chose a Secretary of Education who has little to no experience with schools and demonstrates little investment in developing and supporting public schools, students, educators, or families. Instead she seems to support private gain from public monies and support for her own narrow religious views as forwarded by privatized schools.

He Steals From the Poor to Give to the Rich
He has supported big tax cuts for the wealthiest rather than fair taxation of all citizens to support needed public monies to elevate health care, education, infrastructure, environmental supports, the arts, recreation, and opportunity for all Americans. He appears to only lead for people that look and act like him--wealthy white men who lead for their own self/wealth.

His Words Don't Match His Actions - Untrustworthy
Trump alines himself with the Christian right yet his apparent relationships, business dealings, political supports, policy decisions, and recreation does not seem to support what we consider true Christian values. What bothers me here most is that Trump appears to talk-the-talk, but not walk-the-walk. His words do not appear to match his actions.

Incites Global Disharmony
Trump appears to incite global fraction and discord rather than work for harmony and global partnerships. His tweets and leadership provide little evidence that he supports peace over war. He seems to glorify acts of aggression and partnerships with destructive regimes and leaders around the world. He is a worrisome global leader.

Puts Self/Wealth Ahead of Country/People
Trump also appears to put his own self/wealth ahead of the needs and best interests of the country. He rewards family members and friends with little governmental or leadership experience with important decision making roles. He mixes his presidential duties and advantages with his private business efforts and profit.

Lack of Intelligence, Good Process, and Experts in Decision Making
Trump also appears to use little intelligence, experts or good process when it comes to big, important decisions. Instead of surrounding himself with a diverse group of skilled experts, he surrounds himself with people that think and act like him creating a dangerous echo chamber. His White House has had little stability and lots of questionable ethics and acts. He doesn't appear to consult past practice, data, evidence, experts, and good process when making decisions--he appears to act with old think, rash behavior, and self-serving decision making.

It is not an easy job to be President of the United States, but Trump, in my opinion, scores very low with regard to doing this job well. He appears to be short sighted with regard to what is most important to our country's future, and he appears to choose for self rather than the people of our country. I still have much to learn about Trump and the presidency, but I doubt I will change my mind that Trump is a lousy president--an eyesore in the American story.

Make Better


I enjoy working to make things better. I like the forward moving efforts to look deeply at a situation and think about how we can work together to make better. It's a positive and creative endeavor.

As I think about my work today, I recognize that we are working to make better at school in many ways including the following:
  • Greater cultural proficient teaching to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and dynamic teaching/learning environment.
  • Better orientation practices to welcome all learners to our teaching/learning program, and to mitigate opportunity gaps that exist.
  • Better math teaching and learning by working to include more project/problem based learning, better tech integration, learning-to-learn behaviors/mindsets, and collaboration with all stakeholders.
  • More and better hands-on, collaborative science teaching and learning.
  • Integration of worthy special events, expert visitors, and field studies to bring greater meaning and experience to the student learning.
  • Improving the learning environment to make our classrooms and spaces more welcoming and vibrant places for creativity, study, and collaboration.
  • Regular reading, research, collaboration, and advocacy to improve the program--our teaching/learning programs are not perfect and there's a lot more we can do, but those efforts require a collaborative effort, research, advocacy, and support to move forward.
So happy that my boys made the time to march with me and so many
others yesterday to advocate for positive gun reforms at
A March For Our Lives.
In all, we're doing a good job with good support to teach students well and to continually work to improve our programs.

So as I think of making better today, my thoughts and ideas move to the political realm and how I can use my voice and energy to help build better communities, states, nation, and world. What can I do. First, I need to learn what I can about how to build this work for positive effect. I'll begin with learning more about how to help promote voting--I want all who can to vote. I believe the more voices represented, the better we'll do with the selection of leaders and the creation of laws and policies. Only about 1/3 of registered voters voted Trump into office--I don't think he would be President today if many more people voted as he only represents the desires and advantages of a few. He doesn't well represent the needs of many particularly many from diverse cultures, shades, and gender--Trump mostly supports those that look and act like him. 

So I'll continue to work with colleagues to do what we can to continually improve the school program so that we can meet as many students needs and interests as possible, and then I'll work towards learning more about governmental processes and people so that my advocacy for better can be well directed. We can do better, and that takes a united, collaborative front. That's what I'm thinking about today.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Moving In and Out: The Education Path Continues

The next few years of teaching will find me moving in and out. I will move in to better and better service for each and every child and better collaboration with each and every colleague. My final years will find me committed to the work I can do with and for the students in my midst. I will stay abreast of the research via the Internet and selected conferences, and use my blog as a way of sharing my research, efforts, questions, and advocacy.

There's a part of me that wonders, "Am I giving up?" as I watch new initiatives and efforts grow up and around me. But I recognize that the answer is no as my energy is called to serve specific children in this environment I've chosen to support. My greatest gifts and abilities aren't meant for conference presentations, speeches, and leading large groups of teachers, but instead centered on bettering what I can do in the microsphere of education--the day-in-day-out work with children. That's my call and my aim.

For years I've reached out and around in education by connecting to many in multiple realms. I've learned a lot and my teaching has improved. Now, however, I am surrounded by young, eager educators who are bringing their passions, interests, vision to the field, and I want to listen and support what they see and aim for. I also want to be there for them if I have the answers they seek or the help that they need.

In the years beyond education, I'll use my child-like curiosity and view to examine the world around me, research, read, write, and create--I'm not exactly sure where that will take me, but I'm excited about the journey. Onward.

Project Prep to Come

We have many projects coming up and there's a considerable amount of prep to do to prepare for these projects. We'll focus on project by project in the days to come.
  • Algebraic Thinking Unit
    • Xerox study packets
    • Teach, practice, test
  • Plant Packets
    • Organize seeds and other materials
    • Share lesson with colleagues
    • Prep planting session for recess after vacation
    • Outdoor container garden, individual student plants
  • Physical Science - Rotation 3
    • Review main teaching points
    • Have students weigh mixtures -- what's heaviest
    • Review mixtures/solutions. Have students filter mixtures, identify whether they can be separated or not.
    • Study conservation of matter
    • Review potential and kinetic energy with paper cup experiment
    • Have students take physical science assessment, complete project (optional)
  • Mystery Science Exploration with Kindergarten Buddies
  • Expert Visitors - contact, schedule
    • Biologist
    • Material Scientist
    • Teacher
    • Living History Presentation
    • Motivational Speaker
  • Wood Frogs and Spadefoot Toads 
    • Clean and prep tanks
    • Learn about the toads
  • Fraction II Unit - Complete
  • Volume and Measurement Exploration
  • MCAS Tests
  • Fifth Grade Play
  • Biography Project
  • Global Cardboard Challenge
  • Environmental Science Week
    • Water Bottle/Purifying STEAM project
    • Introduce field study activities
    • Engage in field study
    • Hike to study local vernal pool and to explore nature in playground area
  • Complete Showcase Portfolios
  • Fifth Grade Celebrations
  • Transition Day
    • New Website
    • Move Up Letters
    • Supply Letter
    • Folder with Team Label (optional)


Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Musings: March 23, 2018

It's the kind of year where it's essential that you stay focused day in day out--the student needs that and the team needs that too. We've got a good plan for the weeks ahead, and it's best to stay the course with as much loving care and attention to each and every student as we can give. Onward.

A Kids' World: Gaming, Programming, and Other Tech Uses

More than ever the children are involved in video gaming outside of school. Also many are using computers for all kinds of recreation, some good and some not so good.

I believe it is essential for educators to understand students' tech world and tech use so we can help to promote the best possible use of technology. When school tech is mostly workbook on a page, we don't give students the  chance to design, create, game, and collaborate in ways that are exciting to them. We don't give them a chance to elevate their use of this online world in ways that matter, and sadly we promote more outside-of-school use that may not be as worthy or positive.

What do I believe schools should do?

We should integrate gaming, coding, and creativity in ways that match these students' passions so that we elevate positivity rather than promote a status quo that in many cases could be more positive. What do you think?

Beware of Rumors

Generally there is some truth to rumors, but it's always best to find the facts to truly understand a situation. This is very important in schools, and an important focus for all stakeholders to pay attention to.

Adult Learning and Teaching

I have learned that adults learn differently than students. There are books and courses about adult learning theory. It's much more of a challenge for me to teach adults than to teach children. I tend to think a bit more like children. I bounce from one idea to another. I use a lot of story and imagery. I draw pictures. I typically can help children learn.

I find adults to be much more difficult to teach and lately I've been observing how people teach adults. I'm curious about this and will think about it more.

Know Your Learners

To teach well, you need to know your learners.

To simply project what students know or need to know without establishing relationships with those students first, is to lessen the potential for good teaching and learning.

So what do we do to at the start of the year to get to know students. I'm thinking about this today as I continue to think about our family-student-teacher conferences and our efforts to help every child succeed.

At the start of the year, I can imagine the following relationship-building portfolio-start activities:

  • Selfie Project - a project where students focus on who they are including their three words and pictures and images that tell about who they are.
  • The Happiness Survey - this survey provides a lot of information about who students are, how they think, and what they love.
  • Social Emotional Learning Assessment and goal setting.
  • Academic discipline introductions - making dividers for those topics including the sub-topics, their questions, and wishes for the study.
  • School rules and protocols review -- what you do well, and what you can still work on.
As the year moves on, I imagine that students will include examples of signature work, photos, links, and related reflections.

Later for the second conference, we will update and add the following:
  • Update social emotional learning assessment and goal setting sheet
  • Update academic goal setting sheets
  • Add passion assessment
  • Create script for conference two
We are working carefully to utilize the showcase portfolio process to give students awareness and leadership over their learning. I have found this to be a very positive learning/teaching approach, one I continue to develop. 

Teamwork Time

There were a number of conflicts at home and at school in the past couple of weeks. Was this the result of the affect of a selfish President who hogs the airways with stories of disrespectful, self-serving, hateful acts and behavior? Could it be the result of a lingering winter? Is it the result of a more challenged culture that is feeling the affects of a widening economic gap and less interest by many lawmakers related to schools, health care, and the general well being of individuals and communities? Whatever the reasons, the conflicts emerged and it's time to talk about that.

At home we discussed the angst and have a few nice events planned to add some happiness to the busy day-to-day work schedule, and in school we also have a lot of positive events to look forward to as well as an opportunity to talk about what's important for our team today.

It's natural that teams will struggle from time to time--that's a wake-up call to discuss the situation and make better. Onward.

March for Our Lives Tomorrow

This is the sign I'll march with tomorrow. 
I'm looking forward to marching in solidarity with the students of Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, and everywhere else people have lost their lives or been injured by gun violence. Simply put, we simply have too many guns in the United States and not enough regulations and that's why we have so many deaths by unnecessary gun violence--gun deaths related to relationships, suicide, school shootings, domestic assault, crime, and more. Enough is enough--are we a wild west of a society or are we a civilized, caring, and creative people who can solve problems and work with one another with intelligence and sensitivity?

This march for me is also a march against all the political leaders and citizens who promote a me-first society that pads their pocketbooks with money and gives them undue power--I want a country and world culture that respects one another more and works to well support schools, health care, communities, recreation, and our environment--I don't support the war mongering, selfish, macho white male culture that Trump trumps day in and day out, this is not good for our country. Trump, in my opinion, is the hate-leader, not a graceful and dedicated President, and, in part, this march is against him and his cronies too.

In America we can do better. I honor the leadership of these young people from Parkland and look forward to marching with fellow Americans for a better country with good laws that regulate, restrict, and reduce guns and gun use in this country for the greater safety and happiness of all.

Most importantly I will march in memory of all those beautiful, wonderful people who have lost their lives by this senseless gun violence.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Ebb

There was an ebb in the busy schedule today that found the students relaxed and time to organize supplies, clean desks, and work on ongoing study. I was supposed to be at a conference today and it was cancelled, and I must say that I was happy to have the day to catch up with the students, clean up the room, and think about the weeks ahead.

I think parent conferences and portfolio review have had a positive affect on students as they were very attentive today while they completed assignments, asked questions, and even had more time for play since they completed their work with little trouble.

Tomorrow we'll continue our fraction study and engage in a wonderful Mystery Science lesson related to energy. I know the students will enjoy creating toys that are powered by energy produced by twisting elastics and then letting them go as they learn about potential and kinetic energy.

Next week includes more parent conferences, fraction study, and lots of reading too. My colleagues will engage students in social studies, science, reading and writing study as well. We're on a roll and that's nice!

Today's Focus: March 22, 2018

Students are gaining good problem solving strategy and fraction knowledge these weeks. I've compared the strategy for problem solving to the strategies used for any sports contest or special event. We're taking a step-by-step approach to problem solving with an emphasis on visualizing the problem, writing problem equations, completing the calculations on paper and checking our work, and writing an answer statement that directly responds to the question asked.

What's most important right now is motivating students focus and willingness to ask questions when they don't understand. Their visualization, use of models and precise calculation, perseverance, collaboration, and questioning will lead them to success at this point with the math curriculum.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In Fifth Grade You Can Expect. . . . .

Since no teacher or grade level can be all things to all students, it's important to identify what parents and students can expect at your grade level. As I think about this, I'd like to create an expectations chart with colleagues, but for starters I have the following ideas:

In fifth grade you can expect

Efforts to build and maintain a strong and caring classroom community where:

  • we have established routines and protocols
  • opportunity for voice, choice, and discussion
  • mistakes are welcome and imperfection is expected
  • we work together to get better 
  • we care about the whole child with a focus on social emotional learning, academic skills, concept, and knowledge, collaboration and teamwork, and project/problem based learning
A standards-based academic program that:
  • embeds reading, writing, math, science, and social studies standards into differentiated, student-centered, multi-modal learning experiences which are personalized to meet the needs of students
  • teaches the standards, in part, through expert visitors, field experiences, and special events
  • asks students to reflect on and develop their learning
  • provides students with a chance to showcase their learning to others
A program that emphasizes learning-to-learn, student interests, and growth mindset:
  • Explicitly discussing how one learns and how each child can develop their learning-to-learn skills.
  • Acknowledges that everyone is capable of learning
  • Focuses on students' interests and passions
A program that wants students to be healthy and happy:
  • We take students' needs, interests, ideas, and questions seriously
  • We respond to students' regularly through discussion, conversation, and email
  • We give students time to play and have fun
  • We acknowledge that happy children learn better and are more successful
That we think of family members, students, and all educators as important members of the learning team:
  • We collaborate with students, family members, and colleagues
  • We communicate regularly to all stakeholders so that everyone knows what has happened, is happening, and will happen
  • We are positively open to the ideas, questions, critique, and support of all learning community members
  • We continually look for ways to deepen and develop the program to meet students' needs, interest, and challenges
  • We encourage family members to speak up sooner than later when they have questions or ideas related to the teaching/learning program.
This is a start. I want to work more on this in the days ahead. What would you add?

Conference Ideas: Keepers and Areas for Change and Improvement

Our team is hosting many parents for conferences at this time of year. We've done a lot to prepare, and I'm happy with so many of our efforts including the following:
  • Showcase portfolios that include academic stats, signature learning efforts, photos, passion pages, social/emotional reflections and goals, and more.
  • The opportunity for children to write a script and use that script to lead their own conference.
  • The chance to discuss what matters to parents and students, and troubleshoot when needed.
As I think of the conferences to date, I'm reminded of the following teaching/learning elements of success:
  • You can't be nice enough
  • It's best to do fewer things well than try to do too much
  • Make time for student reflection
  • Utilize the conference conversations to lead to bettering the curriculum program and teaching efforts.
  • A good routine and consistency matters
Some nice additions to these efforts may include the following:
  • Continued improvement of portfolio efforts.
  • Making sure that students place signature learning and reflections into the portfolios on an ongoing basis.
  • Including a program overview in the portfolios--this overview may be the curriculum night presentation. This will serve as a point of reference for program discussion and development. 
Teaching is a field where you can forever improve, and the conferences are a time to celebrate what is working well and to begin work on areas where improvement is possible. Onward. 

Family-Student-Educator Conferences

The conferences are going well. Students enjoy sharing their good efforts and signature learning events with family members. As I listen and observe, I continue to think that it's a great idea to have children attend their own conferences and take the lead in the presentation. Then they own their learning more.

In the situations where students had the time to complete a script the conference has been a bit more organized so next year I want to make sure that everyone has time to complete their scripts. We put a more time into the portfolios this year, and the notebooks are mostly well organized too which helps students to present their good work. My teaching colleagues wrote terrific notes to each child, and parents and children have appreciated those notes.

As my previous post suggests, slowing down the classroom program will result in better portfolios too since we'll have the time to reflect on each big learning event and then add those reflections to the portfolio with photos, study pieces, or projects related to the event. It might be a good idea to take a photo of each family-child group at the conferences too so that we can include evidence of this signature learning/communication event in the portfolios as well.

In the end, the portfolio serves to tell the story of a child's fifth grade year, and remains an important, reflective and storytelling part of the teaching/learning program.

Slow it Down; Warm it Up

A sense of pressure always hits the classroom at this time of year. Teachers like me worry about MCAS scores since some leaders and parents put a lot of focus on these scores. There's lots of content to cover and lots of students to teach. Children sense the pressure too, and some exhibit less than ideal behavior due, in part, to the pressure and also as a result of a long winter with less vigorous outdoor play.

Some may ask why didn't you plan better so that you have already taught all the expected standards? That's easy to say, but the reality is that if you want to teach a program that builds community, exemplifies cultural proficiency, includes social-emotional learning, integrates field studies and expert visitors, responds to students' current knowledge/performance, and faces snow days, illnesses, and other unexpected events you can't predict the rate that you'll be able to teach each standard--it takes time.

To rev up the teaching motor however can challenge the warmth and comfort of classroom life and above all it is the relationship you have with children and the warmth with which you run the classroom that matters. If the teacher gets cranky, frustrated, or tired, it does no one any good. So this post is a reminder to self to warm up at this time of year and slow it down too. We can all do our best to teach all that is expected, but sometimes the expectations are not realistic for a number of reasons, and it's best to focus on the strength and care of the students first. Onward.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Not Enough Hands: The Needs Quotient

This is one of those years where there are times when I simply don't have enough hands--there isn't enough of me to go around related to what the children need and desire. As you can imagine this is frustrating.

I know what's needed and I know how to meet those needs, but I simply can't make it happen due to numbers and needs. I have not experienced this intensity in a while and I don't want it to happen again soon. What can we do about this?

I think that schools have to adopt the practice of figuring out needs quotients to make staffing decisions rather than rely purely on numbers--we need to look closely at the needs of young children and consider the investment in adequate staffing early on rather than problems later on.


Student Stats

Now that we give so many assessments online and off, students have quite a detailed stats profile of their reading, writing, and arithmetic.

As I share these stats list with families, I'm thinking about how we might organize our data even better to give an accurate, positive, and productive report.

This is an area that I'm sure our team will continue to develop in the days ahead.

Standards Squeeze

It's a bit of a squeeze as we work to review all standards prior to MCAS tests. These tests present a challenge to teachers particularly when students need greater repetition and review of both past standards and new standards to reach mastery. What's a teacher to do?

The best that I can do is to expose all students to all standards and give them lots of chances to reach mastery with classroom practice, educator support, online practice, and at-home study. Students come to us with varied needs, learning dispositions, and interests, and educators like me do what we can to inspire students' best attention, commitment, and learning routines and habits. We know every child is capable of learning and do what we can to lead each child ahead with expected standards, mindsets, and abilities.

I continue to find myself on the fence with regard to how I feel about these standards and assessments. In some ways the standards and assessments provide a roadmap for learning and teaching, but on the other hand, the rate we're expected to cover the standards with simply does not allow for the depth or repetition needed to master standards. There's a balance to be had here, and perhaps that balance will result in greater use of progressive tests that test students where they are to determine growth and knowledge rather than one-size-fits-all tests for students of particular ages. We know that many factors affect the rate with which children learn, and with one-size-fits-all tests we cannot be as sensitive to those factors which ultimately affects students' confidence and future commitment and progress.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Big Picture

Generally I move from big picture to detail, but today I'm moving from details to big picture. I spent the morning prepping for this week's conferences, and I found the work to be positive since our team has put so much collaborative time into this effort, and our time has been well spent because we are experiencing what strong parent-teacher-student collaboration can do for the teaching/learning program and student success.

The effort may me think deeply about the elements that make our collaborative grade-level teaching program strong, efforts I know that we'll continue to develop including the following:

  • Worthy, meaningful, productive, and enjoyable field studies
  • Terrific expert visitors and presentations
  • Standards-based, multi-modal, student-centered, differentiated learning experiences
  • Project/problem based learning
  • Family member-student-educator(s) conferences
  • Progress reports
  • Showcase portfolios
  • Celebrations and special events
  • Cultural proficient programs and meaningful orientation events
  • Time for teamwork and collaboration



Family-Student-Educator Conferences: March 2018

These are teaching/learning approaches we utilize regularly.
Every year our team tries to develop our efforts related to family-student-educator conferences. We do a lot to prepare for these events as we believe it is very important to collaborate with students and family members to build a strong learning/teaching team and community. We know that when we work together, children do better and that's very important to us.

There are a number of philosophical underpinnings that I hold as we move into the conference week including the following:
  • Servant leadership: For the most part I utilize this management philosophy as I teach and work with families--I consider myself both a team member and "servant" to those I work with and for, and hope to meet their needs as I teach.
  • It Takes a Village: No one person or group can meet a child's every need--it takes the team of family members, educators, coaches, friends, and other important people in a child's life to spell success and support for that child.
  • Children are the masters of their learning journey--while family members, educators, and others support a child's optimal learning journey ultimately it is the child who leads and empowers that journey.
  • Knowing thyself leads to success--the more children understand who they are, how they learn, and what they are interested in and passionate about, the better they will learn and the happier and more successful they will be. 
  • Learning is not a straight diagonal, but instead learning is a bumpy road that is full of ups and downs as well as plateaus. 
  • Social Emotional Learning and Intelligence matters.
  • Good learning depends on holistic programs that emphasize goal setting, reflection, analysis, discussion/debate, quality learning experiences, positivity, growth mindset,
    adequate supports, cultural proficiency, confidence in one's self, the ability to advocate and ask questions, and commitment, dedication, and creativity by all stakeholders. 
  • Success today depends on students' ability to be lifelong learners who exhibit flexibility, metacognitive skills, and collaboration. 
Preparation is essential to quality conferences, and our team has chosen to have most of the conferences during the same week so that we are all talking about the same goals, efforts, and endeavor.  To prepare for the conferences, our team does the following:
  • Help students to complete showcase portfolios that include examples of signature learning efforts, learning data sheets, student reflections, goals, photographs, and passion pages.
  • Organize and print student data sheets that provides the data related to students' progress with foundation skills and grade-level standards (See example below).
  • Help students write a conference script to use as they lead the conference with family members. (In some cases students and families choose not to have the student attend, and in some cases students attend and lead the conference.)
  • Schedule the conferences well in advance by creating Google tables and allowing families to sign up for the time that fits their schedules best. 
  • Prepare the week's learning materials in advance to make time during the week for focus on the conferences. 
During the conferences it is important to be present and to be a good listener. More than ever, this is a chance to listen to students' and family members' questions and thoughts. We don't have to have all the answers at these conferences, and at times a family member or student question may be met with the response, "I have to think about that or I have to consult colleagues about that matter, and then I'll get back to you." What's most important as you listen is to recognize that children just like our teaching/learning programs and ourselves are always a work in progress--none of us have the monopoly on knowing all and we have to be open to discussion and debate when it comes to what works best for a child's progress. In general, I believe the following information is important to relay during a conference:
  • Every child is capable of learning and every child's learning path will be different.
  • When nurturing your children related to learning, I think a good ratio of emphases is 50% academic skills and foundation and 50% passion and interests.  Generally when children have a solid academic foundation as well as areas of deep interest, those children are more confident and happy. It is not one without the other, but both that are very important.
  • Making the time to talk to your children regularly and work with them to meet their needs is essential. A conversation about needs, wants, and desires is a good way to forward this kind of collaboration. 
  • Teaching/learning environments are not perfect, and sometimes what a family desires or a child needs is not part of the program. At times, during a conference, you may need to ask a family to help you advocate for more, better, or different to better serve a child or children. 
In general our teaching/learning program is strong--we have positive learning experiences, lots of special events, a students-first attitude, and great collaboration amongst the grade-level teaching /learning team so we expect that the conferences will be positive and helpful with regard to our continued efforts to further coach each student forward in the months to come. 

What do you include in your family-student-educator conference efforts? What other ideas do you have for us as we enter this busy week when each homeroom teacher will meet with about 25 families? The more we build this effort, the better we will serve every child and that matters to us.

Example of student stat sheets. Note that students also receive a progress report that
identifies student success with specific standards twice a year. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Edcamp Boston Thoughts and Reflections

I attended #edcamp Boston at the beautiful Microsoft space in Burlington today. I was surrounded by dedicated educators who were brought together by the dedicated volunteer effort of a number of educators noted to the right. They don't have to spend their free time putting an event like this together, but they do and that makes a positive difference for many. I am grateful to their time and talent.

As typical of edcamps I have a large number of takeaways that I want to explore, but as atypical, I left a bit discouraged today because good education can't just be a volunteer effort--there has to be the support of the greater community to uplift our schools to be dynamic places where students come together to learn and apply their learning in meaningful ways every day. The educators at today's event are doing an awesome job to uplift education for each and every student--it was amazing to hear about the efforts in place, but it's clear we need more support from taxes and governmental agencies to create an education system that is top-notch, the kind of education system where children learn in environments like the terrific Microsoft space, and the kind of education system where there is enough funding and enough people to put into place what we now know about optimal teaching and learning, the kind of teaching and learning that changes lives and builds great nations.

Schools today need good spaces, adequate staffing, time for professional learning, and better organizational/leadership systems so that educators have the autonomy, collaboration, and support that gives them the needed voice and choice to work with all stakeholders to serve children well. At this point in history, what is holding schools back is a lack of adequate funding and support. Educators are ready to apply all that they know and learn, but lack of good supports is slowing down the potential development.

So as I heard about so many terrific ways to support students, I wondered about how I would get the time and support to implement those ideas. Ideas that include the following:
  • A shift in science teaching from understanding scientific knowledge, facts, and ideas as intentional to probabilistic. 
  • Teaching that demonstrates greater understanding of and connection to cognitive research.
  • Deep understanding of cognitive dissonance, and application of that knowledge in order to build stronger teams and embed optimal change.
  • Greater use of assistive technology and one-to-one supports to help students gain essential skills in meaningful and useful ways.
  • Reading and applying the information of so many great books such as A More Beautiful Question and The Human Side of School Change.
  • Use of studio habits of mind to build better learning and application
  • Learning more about computational thinking via the use of SCRATCH with interdisciplinary application and as a storytelling tool.
I want schools to continue to develop in dynamic ways. There has been significant positive change where I teach, but there is definitely room for continued growth and development, and I believe that will come from greater teacher leadership, collaboration, and autonomy--it is essential that organizations continue to rethink roles, structure, and efforts so that we can best serve students as the world changes around us. There's a great deal of positive change happening in education and there is room for more. I believe most teachers are working around the clock to serve students well. Many like the organizers of this edcamp are devoting significant time to positive development. Now we need the greater community and governmental leaders to stand up to fund schools adequately so that we can serve every child well--this funding should be aimed at adding more skilled staff to all schools, improving school environments including both buildings and the land around the buildings, and providing adequate time and support for professional learning as well as the use of updated tools and teaching strategies.

As always I can see far more than I can do, but I recognize that getting better and doing more is a step-by-step endeavor. Onward. 

Building Program Strength and Delivery

Today as I attend Edcamp, I'll be thinking about the ways in which I can build program strength in the days to come. I will place my attention on the following efforts:

Creating the Classroom STEAM Lab
All the program updates and changes in the last many years have created yet another need to update the classroom. I recently wrote a grant to access the kinds of furniture and materials that will make a better collaborative learning space. That furniture and storage equipment would help a lot. There's also a need to re-sort and organize the materials in ways that are easily accessible to students and teachers. That will require more storage units--units I'll invest in as having good organization will make the program more student friendly. I also need containers to collect cardboard tubes, plastic bottles, lids, and good glasses jars to support our study to. Students LOVE science study and that is a good motivator for this effort.

Get Rid of Outdated Books and Materials
Program change also means that many materials in the room are now outdated, and its time to get rid of that.

Problem/Project Based Learning
I want to move towards more meaningful and beneficial project/problem based learning (PBL), learning that I can evaluate and learning that leads to the development of confidence, concept, skill, and knowledge. We have a number of project/problem based efforts in the program, but I think I can work to strengthen and deepen many of those PBL efforts.

Program Enrichment
This week we hosted a terrific Young Audiences Benjamin Franklin presentation--it was terrific and served as a reference for future learning in all areas of the curriculum.  We also attended In the Heights, a natural history tour with a Mayan culture focus, a Museum of Science exploration, and a space adventure at the McAuliffe Challenger Center. The Discovery Museum matter expert visited our school to present a hands-on states of matter presentation and our PTO has presented many cultural enrichment programs. Later in the year we will explore a local nature preserve, raise spade foot toads, and host visiting experts and mentors to lead our global change makers project. I want to work with colleagues to continue to develop the program so that it is memorable, inspiring, and enriching.

To do this work in the next few years requires that I continue to push my efforts in rather than out--I'm looking at the details as to how to improve what I can do as part of a dynamic grade level team to teach children well. At edcamp today I'll do a lot of listening as I hear colleagues from near and far discuss their extraordinary teaching/learning efforts as well their wonderful questions and interests in developing teaching/learning to well support children, their families, our communities and country.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Musings: March 16, 2018

Students completed their portfolio work, corrected math assessments, and began math homework assignments. We also used the terrific Mystery Science program as we learned about the science behind rainbows and made "rainbow makers" otherwise known as spectroscopes with old shiny discs, paper tubes, and stickers. The Mystery Science program is a perfect kindergarten-fifth grade program as there's great learning for all.

Next week we'll fully invest in family-student-educator conferences, fraction study, lots of reading, and more Mystery Science with buddies. I'll also attend and present at the ATMIM conference.

Tomorrow it's off to the wonderful Edcamp Boston that always proves to inspire.

After a bit of a hiatus due to my brother's death and weather events, it's good to be back to the day-to-day teaching and learning. As much as I explore other avenues of the education world, it's the work I do with children that I enjoy the most. Onward.

Today's Focus: March 16, 2018

Today students will focus on the finishing touches of their portfolios and correcting errors on a recent computation test. Most of the errors were small in nature and as children make corrections they'll realize where they made mistakes and how to avoid those errors in future computation and problem solving work.

We'll end the day with a science lesson with our kindergarten buddies. It will be a good day.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Program Strengths

There are attributes of our current programming that helps us to teach well. The following elements spell success:

Common Planning Periods
Our grade-level team has common planning periods which allows us to regularly collaborate.

Proximity
Our classrooms are close so we are always exchanging ideas, questions, supports, and materials.

Student Service Meetings
We meet twice a week to discuss students needs with the greater grade level team members.

Professional Learning Community
We meet once a week with the broader team to focus on learning/teaching efforts and development.

Professional Learning 
We have the time we need to attend professional learning events. We have a goal setting and educator evaluation process in place. I believe this process can be streamlined and targeted more for greater effect.

Resources
We have many of the resources we need to teach well, and we have some say as to acquiring other materials we deem valuable. I think we can improve teacher voice by embedding more distributive leadership.

Experienced, Professional, and Qualified Staff
The standards to teach are high in Massachusetts and this results in a high-quality staff. I think we can work to make sure we have better student-time-on-task teacher ratios though to improve what staff can do with and for students.

Adequate Facilities
Our facilities are adequate, although I think it would be a good idea to move towards more modern teaching/learning environments.




How do you evaluate your teaching/learning program?

Providing students with an opportunity to assess their SEL skills and abilities introduces the language of emotional intelligence and gives students and the class goals to reach for. 
For many, standardized scores are the single most important indicator of an education program's success. While I do think there is some merit in this scores, it's important to recognize that they only tell a small fraction of a child's educational experience and success. So in addition to scores what else helps you to evaluate a program's success and needs?

Knowledge Begets Knowledge
The scores, in part, help us to determine the foundation knowledge students have gained to date. We can quickly look at score reports and know who has a strong foundation of knowledge in the determined standards, and who is still working to gain that knowledge. Concerted effort that includes knowing the standards, teaching the standards in meaning way ways, evaluating our success as we move along, and providing needed supports help us to get good scores with regard to tests and growth.

Less standardized measures such as project work, discussions, observation, and reflections also help us to understand children's knowledge attainment and need.

Happiness
Scores alone don't tell the whole story of student success and potential. Happiness is another critical factor. Do students want to come to school? Are they happy and engaged when they are there? We can observe this by the smiles on children's faces and the way they talk about and engage in school. We can also survey students about their happiness levels at school, and work to uplift areas where students are not as happy. Parents often help us to evaluate happiness as they are typically quick to let us know if a child is unhappy, and then we work together to make change.

Application, Adaptation, and Creativity
How do we know that students are using their knowledge in ways that matter? How can we assess their application of that knowledge into their everyday life and future dreams? This can be done through project/problem based learning and performances. Providing opportunities for students to adapt and create related to the information they've learned gives students terrific practice in the kinds of thinking and efforts that will matter most in their future, a future in a rapidly changing world.

Learning Experiences
Positive learning experiences bring students together and help them learn in memorable ways. It's important to embed a fair number of these experiences into the year to broaden students' scope and provide them with shared learning events that they can talk about and replicate later on. When schools work to provide a good variety of wonderful learning experiences, these experiences serve to inspire students.

Social-Emotional Learning/Emotional Intelligence/Community Building
We know that knowledge, experiences, happiness, and application are important, but probably most important is students ability to related to one another, collaborate, and get along. To identify the main criteria for healthy social-emotional learning and living is a first step, and then to embed multiple opportunities for students to deepen and strengthen these skills gives students essential skills and knowledge for success.

Reflection
Providing time for students to think on their own and together with classmates, family members, and educators gives students a chance to strengthen and direct their learning.

Professional Learning, Assessment, Collaboration, and Goal Setting
When educators continually learn and collaborate, the program grows in positive ways. This leads to good assessments, goal setting, and further growth.

As we move into Portfolio Day 2018, I will be thinking about the overall success of our fifth grade program. As I assess that now, I have the following responses and questions:

Knowledge
Students have been introduced to numerous standards in a variety of ways. A choppy year due to illness and weather has lessened our time on task by about 10 days which is significant in a 180-day school year. Further the numbers of students have complicated our efforts to reach out in significant ways to every student--we're doing our best, but it's more ideal to have lower student-teacher ratios in elementary classrooms in order to serve every child well. Plus there have been some staffing challenges with respect to time-of-hires, turnover, and other factors which has compromised some of our efforts. We have good resources, experienced educators, adequate facilities, and a positive overall program, so our greatest challenge at this time is a positive student-teacher ratio and access to optimal staffing schedules, patterns, and appointments.

Happiness
In general almost every child comes to school every day and almost every child is happy--when bouts of unhappiness appear, we're on it sooner than later making positive change.

Application, Adaptation, and Creativity
We have a large number of project/problem and performance learning events that give students an opportunity to apply, adapt, and create related to their learning. Further, most of our learning activities involve choice, and this choice invites students to apply, adapt, and create.

Learning Experiences
Via field experiences, expert visitors, cultural enrichment events, student share, service learning, PTO sponsored events, community activities, and enrichment opportunities, there are countless wonderful learning experiences available to students, experiences which enrich their learning and inspire their future dreams and activity.

Social Emotional Learning/Emotional Intelligence/Community Building
We have put a lot of emphasis on these areas of learning including class meetings, reflection, discussion, conflict resolution, celebration, and specific attention to these topics during teaching/learning events.

Reflection
Our showcase portfolio and family-student-teacher conference efforts provide lots of opportunity for reflection to lead learning and teaching efforts.

Professional Learning, Assessment, Collaboration, and Goal Setting
Our team regularly learns, assesses what we do, collaborate, set goals, and adjust those goals as needed. Typically during the summer, we take a thoughtful look at the entire year's program and develop that program in ways that matter.

All in all as I evaluate the program, I would say that we're doing a good job. There's always room for improvement and it seems that that improvement will come from re-looking at staffing in terms of roles, time, and numbers, reviewing optimal student-teacher ratios to make sure we have the kind of ratio that provides every student with needed support, and tweaking the details related to the efforts above to continually improve what we can do.