Monday, May 20, 2019

The Greater Plan: The Next Three Years

I was reviewing a number of long-range planning documents this morning, documents related to my position as a fifth grade teacher and documents related to my family members' pursuits as well. In many ways, it is yet another point of recallibration in my life and the life of many around me. Rather than that steady plateau time in life, it's a bit of a climb right now--a point of ascent and positive growth.

What does that mean for my career path and efforts. In many ways, it's more of the same, yet to solidify that focus, it takes continued reflection, discussion, and work. Otherwise it's easy to be distracted since the world of teaching and learning is filled with possibilities that move in all kinds of directions.

For me, however, the following efforts will take precedence:

A warm welcoming and organized learning environment
Creating and maintaining an organized, warm, and welcoming teaching/learning environment demands substantial focus, effort, and advocacy. This is a main objective of work right now. Though seemingly simple, this goal is very important to positive teaching and learning.

Science education
We've reached a lot in this area over the past two years, and there's more reaching to do this summer to build on what we've done as a teaching team so far. This reach will be aided by summer reading, study, planning, data analysis, and collaboration.

Math education
Similar to science, there's been substantial effort in this arena by multiple educators, and now it's time to re-organize the documents that lead this work while also developing the work via reading and study.

Relationships and community
Continued efforts to continually develop a strong, supportive, caring learning/teaching community with students, family members, colleagues, administrators, and community members continue. The better we can work together to support one another, the more we'll be able to do and give our students. This is a critical component of good teaching and learning.

Professional learning and respectful advocacy
Continued professional learning as noted above as well as continued respectful advocacy for what is right and good for educators is essential to forwarding the good teaching/learning possible.

Passing the torch
In every way possible, it's important to support the school and system's future leaders. Our schools are filled with bright, enthusiastic, and talented early-career and mid-career professionals. As a teacher in the later part of my career, it's essential to support these kind, creative, and bright teacher leaders.

Next steps
Exploring after-teaching arenas will also be part of my next three-years plan. I'll explore greater areas of writing, math expertise, family support/care, art/illustration, research, and political activity during these years as well. It will be interesting to see the kinds of posts this blog, or perhaps future blogs, will include four years from now. Onward.

The week ahead; last week in May 2019

As I look over the schedule for the week ahead, the theme of presence is clear. More important than anything else this week is to be there and to support the good work of the students and educators around me.

The Play
This will be the primary focus of the start of the week. There are lines to perfect, costumes to complete, and encouragement and praise to share.

Climate Change Projects
Once the play is past, we'll help students complete these projects. Then we'll make a film that illustrates their teamwork and accomplishments.

Solar Ovens
I'm hoping that we can cook our s'mores in solar ovens on Wednesday--let's see if the sun cooperates.

Nature Field Study
We'll spend a day in the field.

Biography research and writing
When there's time students will work on their Global Changemaker projects.

It's a busy week, and we'll take it one positive step to the next positive step. Onward.

Retirement Parties: Points of Reflection

It is that time of the school year when many teachers are attending retirement parties. These retirement parties are points of reflection, time when educators who represent varied years of experience, have a moment to think about their career to date and career to come.

At and around these retirement parties, the parting messages always include gratitude. Those leaving the profession after significant years, always note how grateful they are to have had a meaningful profession, one that placed them with good people and positive work. The day-to-day challenges disappear at the end while the good moments of camaraderie and care rise.

Teaching is such fast-paced work that there is rarely time to stop and see the big picture of what it means to teach, and the fact that the work is overall positive. When teaching, there are always opportunity to better what we do on our own and together, so it's difficult to just step back to see all that we have done day-to-day and year-to-year.

As I near the final years of my teaching career, I'm watching closely how colleagues end their tenure. I'm taking note of their gratitude and grace as they complete final tasks. I see how those of us at or near the end of our careers can support those beginning and mid-career educators. We can encourage them to lead their career in the following ways:
  • Rise high on the pay scale by knowing your contract and the ways you can increase your pay via professional learning and extracurricular stipends
  • Team with one another to strengthen what you all can do to teach children well and care for one another too.
  • Speak up against injustice, and work for the best possible work conditions and salaries. When educators receive fair salaries and enjoy optimal work conditions, they have the opportunity to teach and serve students and their families better.
  • Always be respectful, and when frustration hits, seek the support of your union, laws, colleagues, and supportive leadership. 
  • Don't suffer in silence, but seek positive paths towards betterment with others.
  • Keep the focus of educators' collective work which is to teach children well at the center of what you do each and every day.
A teaching career is challenging work, and work that each and every educator can be proud of. These retirement celebrations and reflections, provide an opportunity for every educator to think about their career including where they have been and where they are going. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Questions can be controversial

I posed an issue and asked a question today. In response, I received a somewhat negative response.

I had no ill intent with the questioning, but I finally got up the courage and time to ask a question about what I have thought of as an unfair practice for about ten years. When this unfair practice was started, there were many unfair practices occurring in my midst. I was frustrated at that time, and unsure about how to best deal with the large number of events that I deemed unfair, and not in keeping with good ethics or equity in my midst.

Since that time, there have been many promising changes. Good leaders on many levels have had the courage and smarts to work for a more ethical and fair organization. There have been many small wins that have resulted in better working conditions for all--this is good. As always there is more to do, but lots of good work has happened so far.

I have asked the question I asked today many times over the past many years. The general response I received was that I had to live with the injustice. Then when I learned more about the situation, I knew I had to speak up as I deemed the situation unfair. On the scale of things in life, this situation is small, but if we don't speak up when small injustices occur, then greater injustices will follow. Onward.

Be there

Presence is an essential feature to any loving relationship.

As you get older, to be present is as important or more important than active participation.

You need to be there when you're needed, but step back to let others take the helm of their own lives and decisions.

To be present means making the space and time so you're available when someone wants to stop by, share a story, or ask a question. It means a less-full routine and more spacious mind-space and life-space that welcomes others.

Being there matters, and to truly be there for others is a conscious choice.

Embrace the joy; the final weeks of the school year

One of the great gifts of teaching young children, is the fact that you are often surrounded by joy. That joy brings light and happiness to life.

Our team has planned a particularly joyful end of the school year, one where children will be singing, acting, playing, creating, exploring, sharing, and teaching each other. Every day is a new adventure, and every day has time for joyful learning and lots of warm, caring teacher support. This is positive.

We spent the late winter completing lots of the challenging, deep work that sets the stage for this joyful stage of the school year. With that in mind, the theme is to embrace the joy in these final weeks. May it continue!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bridging the opportunity gap: making change

Our system is probably going to add a recreational hour to the school program for a number of students who are geographically distanced from the school community. This extra hour is one that will ease parents' childcare needs while providing students with increased academic and social-emotional support and opportunity. This extra hour, if well organized and led, has the potential to bridge an opportunity gap, a gap that exists, in a large part, related to a geographical divide.

While many students in our school community can easily access the school from early morning to early evening, students who are live a long distance from our school do not have that opportunity. That may mean they have to miss out on teachers' extra help sessions, playdates, recreational teams, and more. Providing transportation and oversight for an extra hour a day opens up all kinds of positive opportunities in the academic and social-emotional realms, realms that have the potential of bolstering relationships which, in turn, will bolster opportunity and success.

I am excited about this change, and look forward to supporting it in ways that help my students achieve with happiness and success.

Better the future: How can we support working moms and dads?

I was on the forefront of working moms in the system where I work. There were some working moms before me who actually mostly kept their needs as working moms silent because of the lack of support. I was more outspoken and more supported than them, but there's still room for positive development in this area.

Remembering back, a very kind and traditional leader in the system didn't think I should work as a new mom and inferred that about me on a written report at that time. His notion about that changed when his own daughter became a working mom. 

Similarly, there were a number of additional times when my needs as a working mom were not considered. Those were painful and difficult moments for me--moments when I had to make tough decisions about my work needs and my family needs.

In many work places, working moms continue to be treated in less than ideal ways. And rather than have an attitude of I suffered so you should suffer too, we need to embrace an attitude of betterment.  How can we better the work place for working moms and working dads too--what can we do?

This will not be a question answered by me, but instead, a question answered by the many working moms and dads today, people who need to speak out and advocate for what they need to do their work and take care of their families and selves too. How will they better advocate for support and needs such as space and time for breastfeeding, care for sick children, time to attend their children's special events, adequate health care coverage, and more? 

Long ago women had to leave teaching when they married. After that women had to leave teaching when they got pregnant, and then some had to leave when they had children. Then women with children had to be secretive about their childcare needs, and after that, many like me, had to endure troubling circumstances related to working and parenting at the same time. It's better now, but not as good as it can be. We need to use the energy and emotion we have related to our own suffering and inequitable treatment as working parents to forward better policy and supports for working moms and dads today. This will elevate the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for more people in our country which will, in turn, elevate living and life for all of us. #wecandobetter

To Alleviate Suffering

About ten years ago, I was suffering.

I placed my issue on an Internet search with specific words. I was directed to amazing people, posts, and information that put me on a path to alleviating that suffering. That path, while not easy, has been tremendously powerful in my life and has alleviated that point of suffering.

We all suffer from time to time, and it's in our best interest to discover how we can alleviate that suffering for ourselves, and later, for others who share similar challenges.

As I think of those in my midst who suffer, these are points worth considering:
  • No one is without suffering
  • The degree of suffering may differ
  • Like no other time, the Internet gives us ready access to people and information that may help to alleviate suffering
  • We must actively work to find meaning in our suffering and paths to either alleviate that suffering or to live gracefully with it if that is the only path available
  • Suffering, if dealt with well, can be a great teacher
  • Suffering sometimes acts as a cleanser, wiping clear traits or attitudes that are harmful to your live and impact on others
  • We need to be compassionate to ourselves with regard to our suffering
  • We need to reach out to others for help when we suffer with the knowledge that suffering is a human condition, everyone suffers.
  • To suffer is not a sign of weakness, it is simply something that happens to us, and something that makes us better if we let it.
  • If we have what others need at times of suffering, we must offer that solace or solution to them. If we do not have what they need, we can offer our love, compassion, and understanding. 

What's an American to do?

At this juncture in American politics, what is an average American to do to better their life, their community, their country, and their world?

Stay away from the distractions
Self serving politicians want to distract you with slick marketing techniques. These types of politicians and leaders do not see you as people, but as objects to manipulate to get what they want for their own personal gain and fame. Do not be distracted by their me-first techniques, but instead take the time to actually write down what it is you want and hope for for your life, your community, your country, and the world.

Personally, I believe in a country that elevates "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all." I believe that if we're all doing well, then everyone rises, but if the poorest and most challenged amongst us are forgotten, then we all suffer the consequences. I believe that as a people we are bright enough to figure out the algorithms of good living for our families, communities, states, nation, and world, and I do believe that there's enough to go around if we work at it. I believe to demean the poor and destitute is to demean all of us, but to work with each other to lift the lives of those who have little and suffer the most is to bring us all ahead. I believe that fair taxation can ensure a good standard of living that includes safe neighborhoods, nutritious food, good homes, quality education, accessible health care, and clean soil, water, and air for all of us. This is essential to good living.

The threats, lies, exaggerations, shaming, blaming, theatrics, and storytelling of #trump and his cronies are meant to distract us from our values, our laws, our beliefs, and our good living. Figure out what you believe in, and then work for it.

Understand, Speak up, act, and vote
The recent law in Alabama which treats abortion as a one-size-fits-all situation demeans human rights. Every women who has had a pregnancy knows that abortion is a complex situation and not a one-size-fits-all situation. To truly understand the complexity of what abortion is, Americans unfamiliar with it, have to study all aspects of it and work for what is right and good for a woman's physical and mental health. While I believe that we need to protect life as much as we can, I also know that it is not a simple matter:
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to pregnancy. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to health care related to illnesses. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to a clean environment that ensures safe soil, water, and air. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to peaceful international relations. 
  • It is not a simple matter when it comes to what happens on a battlefield. 
  • It is not a simple matter in neighborhoods riddled with violence. 
  • It is not even a simple matter sadly in our schools today.
One-size-fits-all laws that don't take the complexity life issues seriously are meant for their sensational, political power, not for truly helping people gain "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Americans need to make time to deeply understand the issues. They have to be willing to speak up and share their beliefs, understanding, and desires. They must find time to act and also vote.

Aline with good groups and leadership
In our complex world, we cannot advocate for what is right and good by ourselves, we must work with one another to do the best we can. That's why it is critical to aline with groups and people we believe in. We must look at our time and money, and budget some to support our beliefs and our vision for a good world for ourselves and our loved ones.

For me that means supporting organizations that promote human rights in the United States and abroad. I want a world that works for the rights of all, not just a few. I believe we have the capacity to promote good living for everyone, and I believe that good living depends on equitable, fair laws, taxation, and distribution of services and wealth. I don't believe that people have to all have the exact same amount of money, but I do believe all people can have a standard of living that affords them communities with opportunity and the essential ingredients of good living.

You Matter
I have heard so many Americans say, "I can't do anything about it." That's what the powerful, self-serving, me-first politicians and leaders want you to believe. I always remember when a leader like that told me that she did not want voter registration to happen in high schools because then more people would vote. I was astounded by her words, but then realized if all people voted, they would not vote for self-serving politicians like her.  Every vote matters. Every person's acts and words matter. No one can stay silent at this time in American politics and world events. To build and forward a strong country, takes all of us. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to make American great for all, not just a few as our self-serving leaders would like it to be. #wecandobetter

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Musings: Chunk it!

This was my sign for the Fair Funding Rally
The final weeks of school are here, and every day is booked with wonderful events. I told students that we were going to use the winning coach Bill Belichick's approach which is to chunk it--take it event by event until we reach the finish line.

The Fifth Grade Play
The focus of the next few days will be the fifth grade play. The students are giving it their best, and the musical will be welcome entertainment for the whole school and the students' parents and friends. I have to get my own costume prepared and practice my lines to be ready for the teacher cameo appearance too.

Biography Research
The projects are in the works, and there's lots of quiet reading, research, writing, and conferencing to do.

STEAM Series
The little seedlings are poking through the plant packets students made and stored in dark places. Next week, students will plant those seedlings, bring the plants home to a sunny windowsill for further growing and until they are ready to plant in a large pot or the ground. They'll also put together their solar ovens soon and then cook s'mores under the sun in those ovens.

Professional Events
Last night I had the chance to attend the Fair Funding Rally at the State House. It was a terrific show of solidarity with its objective as fair funding for all schools in Massachusetts. My sign encouraged those listening to invest in children because that truly is an investment in our future. I'd rather our state invest in the positivity and promise that children hold rather than having to pay the costs associated with a populous that has not had equitable opportunity and education.

I also had the chance to attend the
Teacher Collaborative Event in Boston. The Teacher Collaborative is a welcoming teacher education, professional learning, and collaboration group that forwards multiple events to bring teachers together and support their good work.

This morning I'll meet with a colleague(s) and the Superintendent of Schools to discuss a math data report I created. The report includes specific data and ideas to better and develop our math program in an effort to teach every child well.

Later in the day, after I attend to a family need, I'll attend a family member's art show--this will provide professional learning too since it will be an example of the intersection of art and a social story--the kind of interdisciplinary work we aim to do with our own students. I will be interested in how the event is organized and the timeline of effort that went into this work. I'll also be interested in how the final project is displayed and shared.

Over the weekend, there will be good time to attend to all the prep and planning for the busy and exciting weeks of teaching and learning ahead. The students have been incredible, and this is certainly a joyous, yet very busy, time in the school year. Onward.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Tomorrow's Focus: Teach Well

Tomorrow will be an incredibly busy day. We'll begin with a pep talk about play practice, and then all 65 students will practice for the play for a good two hours. After that students will have time to play, and then time to work on their biography portraits, more research, and more play.

We'll take a few minutes to talk about playing in the woods. The students love to play in the forest, but there isn't always enough supervision for that, so I'll outline when that's possible and when it isn't. We'll also review a few playground rules and acknowledge some playground successes too.

After school I'll attend the Fair Funding Rally in Boston, and then attend a professional learning event with a colleague. I am deeply committed to the need for our state to fairly fund all the schools in the state so that every child has a top-notch education and wonderful opportunity. To well support our state's children and their education, is to create a strong future for our state--a future where the citizens will be able to reach for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with confidence, knowledge, positive perspective, and ability.

What's most important about tomorrow is staying positive as everyone around me is working hard to promote good work, positive advocacy, and a strong future for themselves and others. Good energy, good outlook, and good support are all vital to that goal.

Lead with the perspective of what's best for children

I've often thought that the best way to end world conflicts is to begin with a conversation about what is best for children. If two powers are at odds, and they begin with this discussion, their answers would likely be the same including:
  • good nutrition
  • welcoming, comfortable homes
  • safe neighborhoods
  • quality education
  • healthy recreation
  • positive health care
  • time to play and be a child
  • adequate funds
And then if those powers were to truly believe in this, the next step would be figuring out how to make this happen for children in both arenas. 

If we lead with what's best for children, we would spend money much differently. There would be a lot less money, if any, spent on weapons, and a lot more money spent on good gardens, playgrounds, natural spaces, education, and building good homes. 

Instead, because children lack power, they are often overlooked and sometimes the victims of errant policy and decision making. 

Today has been a discouraging day in the news. First the Governor of Alabama signed a very strict abortion law--a law that has the potential to harm lives rather than protect lives. I am a staunch supporter of the sanctity of life. Ideally I would like life protected on all fronts and in all ways, however, I know the world we're living in, and it's not that simple. 

For the Governor and lawmakers in Alabama to think that they can step into the very personal and complex decision that abortion is for a woman who is considering that and the physician that is working with her, is crazy and oppressive. When big complex medical decisions are made, decisions that affect the most personal sides of ourselves, there is no one-size-fits-all decision. Rather than strict laws, there should be tremendous support for making positive choices about life--choices that are life enriching rather than decisions that get too personal about individual rights and freedoms. 

Also Trump's continual war-mongering, self-serving, speak and ridicule related to the values we hold as a free nation are discouraging, dangerous, and worrisome. He and his cronies are tearing our good country apart piece by piece. Rather than leading with positive ideas, good collaboration, intelligence, experience, and a will to serve the people, Trump, his cronies, and their me-first, self-serving policies, decisions, and speak continually serve to burden the American people rather than serve them. Day after day his outbursts of lies, exaggeration, greed, and harmful quick-fix ideas bring our country down and display infidelity to the oath of office. I believe that impeachment should start sooner than later and it should bring to light the many ways that Trump has been unfaithful to his oath of office. 

We all have to push ourselves forward to do what is right and good--we have to dig deeply and learn broadly about what to do with the best of our ability. As we do that, if we work with the perspective of what is best for children, we will certainly direct our decisions in the right way. 

News Repetition; Brain Frames to Understand News

The news repeats same stories again and again, and typically the stories repeated are stories that are salacious and sensational. This repetition can confuse people with regard to how often events like that happen--people can become confused about the statistical truth of events when stories are repeated again and again. That's why we all have a responsibility to look behind the story at the stats to understand the severity of the story and how this story fits into the context of our times past, present, and future.

How can we make good change related to this?

We can begin to demand that stats become part of the story. For example with the horrible beheading story that's in the Massachusetts news this week, the stats could be included as to how often something this horrible happens and where that happens. The historical perspective could be added too. For example, stories could add how often events like that happened in the past and now, with speculation about why the change in stats over time.

The news needs to grow up, get better, and include a more holistic view of stories that include geography, stats, trends past and present, and more. Also people have to become better consumers of the news. As educators we have to teach students the brain frames they need to read, hear, and understand the news with accuracy and depth. Students need to address news stories with questions like these:

  • Where did it happen?
  • What is the frequency of the event past, present, and into the future?
  • Is the story accurate? How can I research that?
  • Does this story matter with respect to my life, my community, my world? Why or why not?
I know there are multiple resources out there to help educators do this. This is a critical need in our culture today.

Room Clean-Up; Room Set-Up

A big job for elementary school teachers is the room clean-up. Teachers have to put away all materials and clean up their classrooms. Also, if their rooms are undergoing extensive updates or are used for summer camp, teachers have to box their materials. That's a BIG job that requires extensive time and energy. Further with changes on the horizon with regard to classroom use by after school programs next year, the need to organize materials in ways that are safe and secure are very important.

With this in mind and with the knowledge that to do this work before the really hot weather strikes our rooms without air conditioning, it is good to have a plan and work at it step-by-step. What will I do?

Get rid of outdated, unused materials and books
When I have a few minutes here and there I'll get rid of materials that I no longer use.

Wash and store science materials
I'll work with students to lug the science materials to a nearby sink or hose and wash the materials, then put them away.

Organize materials by discipline. 
I want to organize the discipline materials in specific corners of the classroom for ready access by students and teachers.

As my room has morphed from a more traditional classroom to a more welcoming, creative, and community learning space, the organization has become better and better. This is an ongoing process, once that's important to attend to now before it gets hot and we get very weary at the very end of the year.

The last test and more

Today, with the exception of a few students, children will take their last big test of the year. I am so happy that today marks the end of a test season that included nine tests that each took about 3 hours. That's a lot of testing. I still find myself on the fence about these tests since there are both positives and negatives related to this practice. When the data is released, I study the results carefully and use that study to improve next year's practice.

Once the tests are done, we'll travel forward to our engaging project-based month of teaching and learning with the following projects.

The Fifth Grade Play
Everyone of the 65 fifth graders has a role. The music teacher has carefully crafted the play to include students' desired roles and talents. It is the quintessential community building event--one that the fifth grade teachers and many family members support. The presentation is a joyful event for the whole school and parent group. This project is definitely worth the time involved--it's a wonderful learning event for all.

Climate Change Projects
We are at the end stage of this year-long learning event. Students need to complete and present their projects. We learned a lot this year as we engaged in this study, and once the play is complete we'll spend a couple of days putting the final touches on the project and celebrating with a day-long field study in a beautiful, local conservation location.

Global Changemakers Project
Students have been reading and taking notes about famous global changemakers throughout time. Once we complete the Climate Change projects, students will immerse themselves into using their notes to write fictional interviews with these changemakers past and present. Later they'll prepare costumes, finish portraits and digital posters, and practice acting in character.

Boston Walking Tour
Students will take a guided tour through Revolutionary War era Boston--our guide is a wonderful storyteller, and this is always a popular trip.

Middle School Introduction
Students will be introduced to the Middle School with a visit to the school and a visit from the sixth grade team.

Sexual Abuse Awareness
Our guidance counselor will lead this wonderful prevention program to help students be aware of what sexual abuse is, and how to both prevent it or act if it happens to them.

Book Swap and Sale
A high school student will lead a book swap and sale to support Room to Read .

Global Cardboard Challenge
Students will review the design process and use what they've learned to create wonderful cardboard creations for our school wide Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade on the playground.

Field Day
Students will participate in a school-wide day of collaborative and individual sports, and they will also help out with the field day for the younger children.

Fun Day
Fun Day is a peaceful day at a beautiful natural place where children can play, play, and play more.

Slideshow,  Clap-out, and Memory Books
To celebrate students' final days of elementary school there will be a slide show, memory books and autographs, and a clap-out.

The goal for fifth grade educators, family members, and students is to stay the course, and do their best and enjoy each wonderful event as it occurs. Onward.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Student Producer

Our team is tasked with making a movie about students' climate change projects and the grade-level's climate change work. I created an outline of the movie and tasked a bright young fifth grader with producing the film.

What will she need to do?

First, she'll have to review the project slideshow, website, and film outline to decide how she wants to approach this task.

Next, she'll have to come up with a more detailed outlined.

Then, she'll choose a small leadership team for the film of two or three hardworking classmates who will help her produce the film.

And, she'll have each team complete a small script and ready to be filmed concerning their small group climate change projects.

There will be a conclusion, then editing with her team, with the teacher, and then the movie's premier.

This is a BIG task for a young student, but I know this young student will be able to do this. Onward.

Show what you know; more tests

Most students will take the final two big tests of the school year this week. A few have a few make-up tests left in the weeks ahead.

Yesterday students took the practice science MCAS to ready for these tests. I like the way that the test questions have become more interactive now that the tests are online. Those kinds of questions engage students more, use more visual images, and include less reading and writing with a focus on the big ideas. That's a positive change.

As students and I took the tests online together, I was happy to see that we taught the material included--that's good. Of course there are always ways to deepen and enrich that teaching and learning, and over the summer, I'll study students' test results and analyze the program to see what more we can do as a team to deepen the science program.

So today, I'll follow the directions, proctor the tests, and stay positive as students take the first of the two last tests. We'll all be happy to move on from test season even though the data will give us one important glimpse into student learning and teaching. Onward.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Right Energy: The Week Ahead

This learning/teaching week calls me to be mostly a student coach--there's MCAS review, play practice, proctoring MCAS, STEAM science exploration completion, and biography reading, research, note taking, and writing. To coach takes good energy and a focused class of students. There's a bit of paperwork to complete as well as I organize transition packets and materials for students moving onto sixth grade and those coming to fifth grade too. We'll likely have a short class meeting each day to help with this need for good energy too.

On the home front, a healthy weekly routine will support this need as well. Onward.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Friday Musings: May 10, 2019

Teachers and students at the State House
with their awards. 
Sometimes your colleagues impress you greatly with their outstanding work. I was privileged to watch a few colleagues today teach and treat children with amazing grace, skill, investment, and care--what a gift these educators are to the children they teach and lead. To watch this work in action was truly humbling, beautiful, and meaningful. Wow!

Overall the week was as busy and positive as weeks get. It began with our grade level being honored at the Massachusetts State House for our work related to energy and the environment. That lifted everyone up. Students also demonstrated amazing perseverance as they did their best when completing state and systemwide tests. They also did a terrific job exploring in the field, creating water filters, making plant packets, studying science, working on their biography projects, and practicing for the fifth grade play. There were a lot of wins during this week of show what you know tests and meaningful project work. The fact that I work closely with grade level colleagues and we were able to divide up all the tasks that went along with this work definitely improved what we were able to do.

Next week will be another busy week with Science Monday (and some play practice too). Science MCAS, lots of biography research, note taking, and writing, more STEAMwork and possibly some time for climate change projects too. Onward.

Student and Teacher Empaths

Some of us pick up on others' emotions the minute they walk into a room. We feel where they are and what they are experiencing. We may be empaths. As educators, we have students who are empaths too--they take on all the emotions in a room. If you're a teacher that's an empath, you know the weight those students carry around each and every day.

In general, empaths have to make sure they get plenty of alone time, time away from people because when you are picking up all of those emotions, it can be consuming so you need time to reenergize.

I was thinking about this topic today because the end of the school year is a particularly challenging time for empaths since transitions like this create less routine and lots of varied emotion which can be challenging.

Of course, like any trait or personality definition, there's a continuum here from the highly sensitive person or empath who is extremely aware of others' emotions to those who may not pick up on emotions at all, and as in any category, there's a continuum of how much or how little you or your students may be like this. That is why it's critical that we acknowledge this aspect of people the end of the year, and deal with it with as much sensitivity and care as we can.

Saying Good-bye
It is emotional to say good-bye to people you've worked and learned with for a year or more. There's a sense of loss and all the emotions that go with that. That's why it's important to make decisions about the rituals you will support and partake in to make those good-byes meaningful.

Less Structure
The same rituals that help us to say good-bye in meaningful ways also challenge the routines in place, routines that provide a sense of safety, comfort, and ease with the school year. As these routines change, children can feel less in control or at peace. That's why it's important to meet a routine challenges with new and simpler routines, routines that provide more time for play, talk, rest, reflection, and care.

Challenging Emotions
For some, the end of the school year brings about great emotions, and it can be challenging to deal with those emotions. When these strong emotions hit, you have to think deeply about the individual and how you will support that person. What can you do to both ease and support their strong emotional response--how can you acknowledge their feelings in ways that are positive and helpful?

The end of the school year is an emotional time, and to acknowledge that is the first step to dealing with that in ways that benefit the good culture you've nurtured all year.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Advocate for betterment

Educators have to speak up about what they need to do the job well.

This occurred to me once again the other day when teachers learned of a decision that will compromise their program efforts next year. I listened carefully to the discussion. The decision doesn't impact me so I am not going to get involved with the exception of encouraging those involved to speak up.

Long ago when I was met with teaching/learning situations that compromised the work I was able to do with students, I began speaking up in any way that I could. I received a lot of push back and not very much help with regard to my advocacy. Eventually, however, I did gain support both online and in real time and some very important changes occurred with regard to the resources I needed to be able to teach well. Right now, in many ways, I'm in an optimal teaching situation--a place where most days I can do a great job alongside my colleagues with and for students. This is awesome, yet the path to get here was not easy--it took courage, resilience, and a willingness to risk.

What advice do I have for educators who, similar to what I faced, are in a position where good resources and support are taken from them or not given to them thus obstructing the job that they can do for children?

I would tell them the following:
  • Join your teachers' union and get active.
  • Join online teacher sites to gain support, ideas, resources and opportunities from invested educators.
  • Speak up in your work place. Begin by trying to work with your immediate coaches and administrators, and if that doesn't work, go up the chain of command. As you advocate always keep your language focused on the mission of your job which is to teach children well. Also be ready to provide evidence and rationale that substantiates your advocacy, need, and interest.
  • Keep abreast of what is happening in the greater community and world both related and unrelated to education. I often read threads from Harvard Business School, politicians, leading educators from all kinds of institutions, and teachers and leaders from other countries as well. This reading helps me to aline my ideas and work with what's happening and what will happen in our world, and how that affects the work we do and want to do in schools. 
  • Stay informed and up-to-date about all aspects of your job expectations--become an expert at what it is your charged to teach and do. Greater expertise makes the job more interesting, enjoyable, and successful. 
  • Speak up and out about injustice. Know the laws. Know your contract. Don't be shy about asking questions related to efforts that seem unjust, unlawful, or just plain wrong. 
To make schools better teachers have to advocate--they have to speak up with respect, good research, and ideas that help to make positive changes for our students and ourselves. That will result in better schools and better schools will result in a stronger country where people will rightly have the opportunity for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." 

Bettering the math program: summer study details

My colleague noted that we use the design process as we continually evaluate, test, and develop the fifth grade program to best meet state/system-wide standards, students interests/needs, and our overarching goal of promoting a dynamic, collaborative, creative, and kind teaching/learning team.

As I think of that and my many posts about math education, I recognize that the more I write about this and define what it is I need to do to better the program, the better able I am to put these efforts into place and foster betterment.

So right now I'm laying out my summer math professional learning path:

Deep Dive into the Data
I'm an educator who looks deeply at informal and formal data points to assess the teaching/learning program. Because I know what I did to teach all the students and I know how they reacted to the teaching from their varied perspectives, experiences, and efforts, I can use that data well to point me in the direction of betterment. Specifically I will use the data in the following ways:
  • Identifying types of students we reached versus types of students we did not reach, then doing a deep dive into the reasons why we may not have reached particular types of students and later sharing that data with colleagues to foster good discussion and program changes related to betterment.
  • Identifying content areas, concepts, and skills that we didn't teach as well as we could have and re-looking at how we taught those areas and what we might do better.
Use of Performance Assessments
Since students are responsible for showing their thinking, explanations, model making, and reasonable solutions, it's important to coach students in efforts like these. Using a process similar to the writing process with brainstorming (exploring), drafting, peer/teacher conferencing, and final results/presentation. I will work this summer to create and identify performance assessments to use next year. This is a good reference for relevant data. 

Updating Math Resources
Ready access to apt math resources helps the entire learning team to do their best. This summer I'll update the math website to serve as a wonderful resource for students, family members, and colleagues. 

Engaging, Interdisciplinary Math Instruction
I'll work with colleagues to look for ways to make math more engaging and interdisciplinary.

Extra Help Sessions
I'll work with colleagues to plan for ways that we can offer extra help to students and their families. Providing sessions like this this year was very helpful. 

Material Organization
I'll continue to find ways to best organize the materials so that the math learning materials are readily available and accessible to all students, educators, and family members should they need them.

Professional Learning
I'll study with the following resources:
  • the books pictured on this post
  • my reading list--a list that I use to post timely articles and references.
  • ongoing articles, comments, references from the YouCubed, Khan Academy, Twitter, and other math/education social media threads and blogs
  • summer collegial efforts that involve math
Now that I've updated and better defined my math professional learning path, the next step is to actually schedule these steps so that I do them. This is a good way to ensure that you do the work needed to continually use the design process to better the teaching/learning you do. 

Inspiring your teaching/learning efforts

I need to be inspired to educate well. I also need to be well informed and positively challenged to teach well.

I like to start the new school year with positive challenges that have been well identified via new reading, study, analysis, collaboration, and review. That's why I signed up for a week-long science workshop with middle school and high school teachers. I know that by immersing myself in science learning for a week in the field will develop both my enthusiasm and knowledge for science teaching in the year ahead. The more you learn and know, the better you teach.

As for math, I'll grow that knowledge by reading a few books and reorganizing the math website. I'll also watch some good TED talks like this one, other videos, and continue to share via the YouCubed Facebook thread and other math related social media threads. I will also collaborate with colleagues on math-related summer work.

In the meantime though, it's time to put deep learning on hold while I attend to the day-to-day care and nurturing of the wonderful children in my midst. There's lots to do to help these children do their best, enjoy the study, and learn a lot. Onward.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Where's Your Focus?

Daily I revisit my focus at school. That's a necessary step since there are so many tugs at our time, resources, energy, and effort.

Tomorrow is a busy, positive day, and my focus will be directed towards supporting the students in every way I can. We've done the planning, prep, and challenging work for a large number of initiatives, and now it's a matter of carrying out that work with a students-first focus.

The students have persevered greatly. They've taken many tests, read many books, written many stories, and investigated a large array of topics with depth and care. There's more to do, but now we're at a point that's nearing a sensitive transition from grade school to middle school. They're excited for the change, but also somewhat sensitive about such a big change. They are also simply growing up which brings with it all kinds of joy and some growing pains too.

I really enjoy working with and for the children, and that's where my focus will be tomorrow and the days ahead. Onward.

Day by Day: Doing the Good Work Possible

At the end of the school year, teaching takes on a day by day focus since every day is filled with something special. It's good to stay goal focused at this time of year. These goals are moving me forward.

MCAS Positivity
Simply standing at the front of the room and being present helps students to be calm and do their best on these tests. We've got three more to go, and I'll be there to lend my support as I follow the rules and proctor as directed. Our MCAS coordinator has done an exceptional job this year making the test administration less stressful and more supportive.

STEAM Support
We've mostly completed two STEAM projects and will work on the third in the next few days. This year we placed all three projects under the outdoor survival theme which I believe has worked well to synthesize the projects. I'd like to extend that theme more next year by connecting it more to a writing component and reading component. I also want to use the directed project work we've been using and add more design/engineering efforts too. I'll ask the students to reflect on these projects when we complete them and use their ideas to help build the project for next year. Over the summer when I meet with colleagues, we'll also work together to think about how to grow this effort.

Global Cardboard Challenge
We're ending the year with this big and engaging project. The goal here will be to inspire students' creativity using the design process.

Global Changemakers Project
There's lots of reading, research, and writing to do in order to get every child to completion of a terrific project. This project calls forth the best of us as teachers and students.

Symphony Math Benchmark and other tech venues
We'll continue to develop students' traditional math foundations by helping them to access and complete identified online math programs.

Field Studies
We've got a couple of great field studies coming up that we need to review and finalize. These studies will build students' science and social studies knowledge and experiences.

Science Recess
If time permits, I'll engage students in some fun outdoor science activities at recess.

Students' stamina overall has been great during this challenging test period. I keep telling them that they like to do best, and when they give these tests their best, they'll feel a lot better when they see their scores. Onward.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

School Committee Meeting: Goals Ahead

I listened to the school committee meeting tonight and there was lots of information related to the work that I do as an elementary school teacher, information that will inform my goals for the year ahead. Specifically the following information was most pertinent:
  • Engage every student everyday is a theme
  • Synthesize social emotional learning with academic rigor and high expectations with successful strategies.
  • Integrate more writing into the science program
  • Foster deep learning and students' ability to truly invest in a topic that interests them, a topic for which they can present an evidence-based written and/or oral argument/presentation
  • Work for quality, interdisciplinary study
  • Teach all students
These are all good rich themes and practices. I will be interested in the way this evolves in the months ahead. In the meantime, I'll embed the themes above by doing the following:
  • Looking for more ways to teach math in meaningful, interdisciplinary ways
  • Melding math and science exploration and projects as much as possible
  • Reviewing, updating, and integrating the social emotional efforts and materials into the curriculum.
  • Focus on rich relationship building because that's the foundation you need to build a deeper, richer, and more meaningful program. 
  • Continuing to develop our science teaching/learning efforts, rich math teaching, and effective STEAM teaching/learning.

Tracking the STEAM Projects

We continued our STEAM Survival series with planting bulbs and making plant packets today. It was better than last year, but there's still room for betterment. STEAM similar to the physical science unit I teach requires a lot of material set up and teamwork. I want to think about this over the summer as I know that the projects benefit from good organization. That said, however, every student made three plant packets and started a iris bulb. We'll watch the bulbs grow and in two weeks we'll open the plant packets to see what sprouts appear, then students will plant the seedlings in soil cups and bring the home to continue to care fo their pumpkin, watermelon, and sunflower plants.

Besides the continued effort to better teamwork and materials management, I'd like to add a scavenger hunt at the start of the STEAM series next year. During the hike students can collect most of the materials they'll need for the projects. I also want to think about fostering even better routines for listening, following directions, exploring, and creating more.

Tomorrow it's back to math, reading, and writing as well as play practice. On Thursday students will start their third STEAM project, solar ovens. In the meantime, I'll work on that materials management a bit more. Onward.

Engaging Education: The Inviting Outdoor Classroom

The local environment lends itself to dynamic teaching/learning events, and the research related to the benefits of children getting outdoors to play and interact with the environment demonstrate that we can't neglect this amazing resource for dynamic learning and teaching.

Of course, the question is how do we best use the local environment for the kind of teaching and learning that engages students and helps them build a strong foundation of knowledge, concept, and skill while also inspiring them to be good stewards of natural lands, air, and water now and into the future.

Educators everywhere are thinking about this question and acting on it in multiple ways. Our team is focused on the question with these actions:
  • Teaching about the local watershed and climate change.
  • Engaging students in student-led climate change service learning and community advocacy.
  • Teaching the identified Massachusetts science, tech, and engineering standards, and melding those standards with the local environment as much as possible. 
  • Promoting the engineering/design process through a number of survival-related, outdoor STEAM projects.
  • Enjoying and learning from a number of related expert visitors, field studies, hikes, and explorations.
The slideshow at the top of the page gives a full view of what we've done and what we plan to do this year and for the rest of the year. This summer we'll review our work, and make plans for the year ahead. Part of our summer work may include professional learning such as these great workshops offered by the The Wade Institute.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Filter Water: STEAM Survival Series

Students are engaging in a number of STEAM explorations related to survival. Friday and today students walked through the woods and collected sand, charcoal, rocks, and murky brook water. Later they tested the water, then created water filters to filter the water. Many were amazed with how clean their water became after filtered through sand, rocks, charcoal, coffee filters, and fabric. Students viewed a number of videos that supported their water filter design, and worked as teams to create the filters and use them to clean the water.

Tomorrow we'll continue this STEAM series by making plant packets as one way to jumpstart planting and growing our own food. Onward.

We hiked along the brook that borders our school's playground.

Students collected murky water, stones, sand, and charcoal.

They created filters and filtered the muddy, murky water into clean water. 

The To Do List

Most people have a to do list, and if you take the time to make the list long and inclusive, you'll never be at a loss of something to do.

The best part about a long list that extends into the future is that you can match your energy and emotion to a task that matches.

For example, this morning I woke up early as I was a bit worried about a teaching event that required a lot of planning. After I attended to that, I had an hour left. I simply looked at the list and was able to knock off a few tasks that would be arduous later in the month. This morning I had the perfect energy and time to complete those tasks.

A running to do list serves educators well since our jobs are filled with so many tasks. Trying to stay ahead of the list also helps. Onward.

Organization Matters: Science Education

I woke up in the wee hours thinking about this week's attention to the STEAM Survival Series of events we have planned, events that demand a lot of preparation.

I had hoped to prepare some of the items over the weekend, but there were family tasks that took priority. The tasks are not great or overly time consuming, but remain tasks that have to be completed.

As I thought about this work today, I realized that the better we can prepare for and order materials ahead of time in the year, the easier it will be to ready for these explorations. Also it's important to use the materials sparingly so that the materials last longer--that's important too.

So today when I head in early, I'll print, organize, and ready the materials on our science table so students can easily access what they need to create today's STEAM project which is making water filters. After the morning math assessment, the students and I will adventure outside to collect murky water, sand, rocks, and any charcoal (burnt wood) we can find. Later students will watch a couple of videos about ways to make water filters with natural materials and then students will make the filters. Throughout the adventure students will record their activities with iPads and notes. Later they'll organize their notes and images into a slideshow presentation.

When adventuring with large groups of students, organization and prep is essential, and a bit daunting too which can serve to wake you in the early hours of the morning. Onward.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

How can we help every child succeed?

Do educators advocate for the powerless in schools? Who are those powerless, and how might they get lost in a school system, school, or classroom?

In successful schools, those without power and progress are typically few, but they do exist. In schools like this, students who don't make progress may not be seen as important because they are so few in number and can be unimportant from a statistical perspective, a perspective that finds most students scoring high and doing well. These students do exist, however, and successful schools are the kinds of places that can really make a difference for students like this because we have the resources, we have the time, and we have the staffing to do the best possible job.

How do we take the objective to teach all students well seriously and work towards that aim? First, we have to acknowledge the problems we have--the small spaces where some students are not succeeding in ways that we hope for and plan for. Then we have to dissect the issue carefully, sensitively, and respectfully to figure out what's going on--why does this problem exist? Problem solving does not benefit from exclusive process, shaming, and blaming, but instead profits from inclusive process that sensitively takes into account the experiences, ideas, and efforts of all involved. 

After that we have to make changes and try out new and different ways to remedy the issues that exist and help those children who are not making expected progress, make that progress. We might begin a process like this:
  • Taking a look at the program and where our deficits may be.
  • Identifying our at-risk students early on.
  • Making good time to think deeply about who these students are and the specific success criteria we want to achieve with these students.
  • Carefully crafting multi-faceted programs, with an eye on remedying past deficits, to meet these students' needs including time-on-task with experienced, dedicated educators, consistency, optimal learning tools, supports, & pedagogy, positive home-school communication & partnerships, significant time-on-task with the learning goals, regular assessments to determine if students are learning, and regular problem solving efforts.
We have a responsibility to do this, and we can do this. I look forward to this challenging work ahead. Onward.

Pulled in numerous directions

Educators are pulled in multiple directions, and it's essential that we continually review the work we do and the efforts we engage in to do the best possible work.

Political Activity
To be a positive educator, we have to stay abreast of politics since what's decided at local, state, and national levels impacts our work greatly. When children come to school well fed, well loved, and from safe, nurturing neighborhoods and communities, their ability to learn is much greater. When children are neglected by our government, our jobs to teach become almost impossible. As educators, we have to read the newspapers, watch the news, stay abreast of political activity and decision making, and continuously advocate for the best supports for children and education in our country.

Teacher Leadership
We have to lead our schools with the best of what we know and what we can do. We can't sit back and allow decisions to be made that don't include the voices and expertise of educators. When educators are left out of the decision making at school, those decisions are less positive and impactful at best. Teachers have to speak up, act, and lead to support the good work possible in schools.

Professional Learning
We have to continually learn in order to update and better what we do with and for children, families, and colleagues. Every educator has to create a just right professional learning path that matches availability and needs as dedicated educators.

Doing the Good Work Possible
We have to make sure that we have good energy and focus each and every day that we teach. That good energy comes from optimal home-school balance and self care as well as dedicated good demeanor, planning, and teaching all students each and every day.

Teaching well is a multi-faceted job, one that requires commitment, apt planning, investment in positive development, and doing the good work each and every day. Onward.

Details makes the difference; water studies

Students will explore the woodsy area close to school. They'll collect a water sample, charcoal, sand, and small rocks. They'll test the water to see how it rates for drinkability. Later they'll watch a couple of videos about creating water filters, and then then they'll make a water filter with the natural materials they collected. They'll test their water filters with the water they collected and other water samples available. Then they'll get a chance to re-design or re-engineer their water filter to see if they can make it better.

At the end of the project we'll return the natural materials to the woods, and collect the plastic bottles and fabric pieces we used to collect water and make the filters. After that we'll make some time to record what happened, add photos to online slideshow presentations, and discuss the STEAMwork together.

I'll hopefully get some good photos of all this exploration. Onward.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Environmental Studies Going Forward

I took some time today to review our environmental education efforts today. As I reflected, I once again recognized that these efforts for me have roots that go all the way back to my childhood and the childhoods and livelihoods of my own children. This magnified the point that our whole world and lives affect the teaching we do day in and day out. Teaching and our personal lives are deeply woven together and that weave becomes more intricate as the years move on.

Our team's efforts are being recognized by the State this Monday, and that's a welcome sign of acknowledgement and a source of renewed energy and effort too. Where are we now and where will we take this work.

Climate Change Project Completion
In the coming weeks students will complete their climate change advocacy projects.

Continued Efforts to Synthesize State Standards and Environmental Education Efforts
This summer we'll look deeply at our efforts to teach and review the state standards as well as to make those standards as meaningful and relevant as possible. Further we'll investigate how we might use our local environment, community organizations, town leaders, and grant sources more to deepen and better our efforts in this regard. 

Practice What You Preach
I need to spend some time upgrading my personal environmental protection practices as well. It takes time to change old routines, and the more I learn and the more I practice, the better I get. 

Updating the Classroom Environment in Earth Friendly Ways
I want to think about how we can update the classroom efforts more so that it's easy for students and teachers to practice Earth-friendly ways throughout the day. 

Better MCAS

In talking with a friend about teaching all children well, I loved her suggestion for a better MCAS. She believes that there should be a 3-5 and 6-8 test prior to high school. Every year all students take the 3-5 test until they pass it, and then they move on to the 6-8 test. The test could include math, ELA and a social studies/science section and last over three days total, no more. Teachers would use the results to inform teaching the following year. I think this is an efficient, targeted, less costly, and much better way to utilize MCAS in Massachusetts. Do you agree?

We Need Good Leaders

The world needs good leaders--we need bright, invested, honest, collaborative leaders in every pocket of society. All of us need to hone our leadership skills and lead well in our roles great and small. As educators, we have to help our students develop their leadership skills as well by fostering their ability to think independently, work together, and lead each other ahead.

With this need in mind, we have to watch our talk about leadership. Rather than saying, who would want that job or I would never do that when it comes to leadership, we need to encourage and promote those leadership roles as roles critical to the well being of families, communities, states, and nations.

We need good leaders, and we have to support what it takes to promote that leadership in every pocket of the world we live in.

Don't let problems persist; act on it

Sometimes problems persist because we do not act on these problems readily. Instead we ignore the problems or put them aside. I believe that we do better to meet a problem head on.

For example, when students mostly had trouble with one problem on the math test the other day, I realized that I have to rethink the way I teach that standard. Although I taught the standard multiple times, the way I taught and reviewed that standard was not effective enough for the majority of students to grasp the concept. So right away, I wrote down a few new ways to teach that standard, ways that I'll put into place next year prior to the testing.

I know that by tackling the problem with analysis and a plan right away, I'm more likely to make better. I use the same process as I evaluate the school year overall using multiple formal and informal assessment points and inquiries to inform that analysis. Then when meeting with the teaching team, we talk about our collective analyses and revise the teaching/learning program accordingly. This is a good process for betterment.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Friday Musings: May 3, 2019

The day didn't go exactly as planned. We never did get to our hike, but we did get to review all the information related to the hike so we'll hike on Monday. Thanks to my savvy colleagues, I took their lead and previewed the hike with them. That was a good idea and helped me to feel more prepared. They also had a number of organizational ideas that will help as I continue the STEAM Survival first project which includes the hike and creating water filters.

On Monday we'll review what it means to be a good team member, hike, collect the materials, test the water, and then each team will make one or two iterations of the water filters, and test the water again. To students' and teachers' surprise, those that collected water today found the water to be quite clean, so I may need to find some murkier water to bring in in order to make the water filter activity more impactful.

Students took another Benchmark test which revealed that most students made terrific progress, while a few did not. The teaching team will have to look deeply at what stood in the way of those that did not make as much success--this is something we need to look at and use as a source of program improvement.

We started the movie, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which is a good film, but also a tough film. At one point, one child remarked, "Why can't we watch Cinderella?" In other words, his remark showed how the trying circumstances in the film are painful to watch. We'll continue to watch the film as there's lots to learn, even if it is difficult to watch at times.

Next week students will take three math tests, engage in lots of play practice, create water filters, plant packets, and solar ovens, and continue to research the global change maker they are studying for the biography project. There will be ample time for recess to complement the testing too.

In the meantime, I've got some homework to do about water quality and making water filters, plant packets, and solar ovens. Onward.

STEAM Survival Series Starts

Inspired by those two brave girls who recently survived being lost in the Northern California woods, our fifth graders will begin their STEAM Survival which includes a number of STEAM activities that relate to survival including solar ovens, water filters, and plant packets.

Outdoor Exploration
Today students will review the lengthy start of the series with lots of important information related to survival, maps, compasses, safe outdoor behavior, and more. Then we'll specifically review the design engineering steps related to creating water filters. After that students will engage in outdoor exploration with the following activities:hiking
  • collecting materials for water filters
  • collecting a water sample
  • making maps of the area where we hike
  • cleaning up the woods
  • taking photos. 
Record Keeping, Reflection, and Presentation
Upon returning to school students will complete their study with these activities:
  • organizing their materials in a gray bucket
  • testing the water with a test strip
  • recording their findings in their STEAM lab reports
  • beginning their STEAM Survival slide show with the images they collected, map they made, and other information they noticed.
Creating Water Filters
Monday will conclude the first STEAM activity as students create water filters. First students will test their water again to see if there's been a change from sitting in the sun all weekend. Then they'll follow the directions they learn via a video and test the water that comes out of the filters. They'll compare the water sample from the unfiltered water samples to the sample of filtered water. Then, if there's time, they'll have the chance to make another filter to see if they can clean up the water even more.  Finally they'll have time to update their lab reports and STEAM slide show with their findings.

Next Steps
The week will continue after that with plant packets and solar ovens.

Test Season Quandaries

With test season upon us, there are many quandaries about exactly when to give tests and how to give them.

Yesterday was our grade-level systemwide assessment. It took many students up to three straight hours to complete the assessment. That's a lot of time to concentrate and work on a test.

Students are able to see their scores right after they take the test which was met with a myriad of emotions from teachers and students. Some students were delighted to see that they did so well and other students were disappointed to see that they didn't get the score they hoped they would get. What I like about students receiving their scores right after the test is that they can easily see and understand their errors particularly those errors that are small calculation errors, misreading, or input errors. This helps students to know to steer clear of those errors later on. What some teachers don't like about the ready scores is that for children who struggle, it is more of the same. They see their math struggle in a score yet again. I find myself on the fence in this situation as while I know some students would feel better if the test had greater modification, I also know that it's difficult to know who will rise in this situation and who will not. For example, one child who many may have assigned a modified test to did very well on the lengthy test--it's difficult to predict, and when we think of high expectations, perhaps it is better to give every one the same test, but maybe the best idea is to say that after children work for a certain amount of time, we will consider the test done. This is a topic that we'll have to discuss as a team and think about more.

Another topic that comes to mind is when to give the tests. To give the tests too late in the spring means that students simply won't give it their best, but to give too many tests at once tires students out. We're giving the tests closer together since the systemwide tests are actually good practice for the statewide tests. To take the systemwide tests, helps students to review and remember the many, many math standards they've learned throughout the year which may help them to do better on the statewide tests.

And, of course, these tests, in part, test our teaching too. As students reviewed the systemwide test with me yesterday, I was taking note of questions that many missed. As I looked at students' response to those questions, I could see where I can tweak the teaching to help students gain greater understanding and accuracy in those areas. The areas that I noticed could benefit from some tweaking included the following:
  • regular review of computation strategies with whole numbers and decimals. While students generally used accurate algorithms, some demonstrated difficulty remembering where to put the decimal points or having the stamina to check their calculations.
  • using performance assessment when it comes to drawing fraction models. Students have had to use fraction models a lot. They've created them online and interpreted them in multiple ways, but still several had trouble accurately drawing those models. Using a performance assessment approach when teaching this areas of the math curriculum will give students worthy opportunity to create these models, conference with the teacher, better the model making until they are proficient. 
I'm sure that more questions to ponder will arise as students take a couple more systemwide tests and four state tests in the next two weeks. My greatest job during this time is to be a good cheerleader helping students to stay confident, energized, and focused on doing their best. 

As for improving the teaching, test program, and tests themselves. I'll focus on that advocacy after we complete this test season efforts. Onward. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Who are you; read all about it

When a loved one was labeled as an introvert. I read all about it. That made it much easier to support, care for, and coach this loved one.

When I recognized a few labels that fit who I am and what I do, I read all about it and that really helped me to create situations for success.

Recently I've coached a few students about labels that fit them. I've recommended that they read about their profile and find out when those characterizations can be very positive and helpful and when those attributes serve to hinder or frustrate an individual's efforts to live a good life.

To know and understand yourself well helps you to live a good life, and to do that it's helpful to read all about it.

Creating cultures that can openly disagree, debate, and make the best decisions

Some cultures do not welcome open disagreement, debate, and decision making. When this happens conjecture, hearsay, and isolated decision making and efforts arise and expand. On the other hand when cultures have an open attitude and good process for disagreement, debate, and decision making, it's likely that conjecture and hearsay diminish while the best of what we can do together rises to the top.

I thought about this today as I reflected on decision making related to areas of best practice. I know that in some groups I work with, people are afraid to share their ideas, disagreement, and decisions for fear of repercussions or due to a spirit of overriding competition rather than collaboration. The sorry part of that is that everyone loses out on those people's great ideas and efforts. If everyone had the chance to hear those individuals' amazing ideas, rationale, efforts, and results, everyone's practice profits.

Some, however, don't share because they recognize that too much share can be defeating and overwhelming. They may feel that everyone already knows what they know or that, if they share, people will think of them as know-it-alls. These are all valid conclusions, and when organizations make decisions about share, they have to consider these factors.

So what is good share? What should cultures do to encourage respectful disagreement, debate, and decision making in ways that support best practice?

First, it's essential that any culture think deeply about their overall mission and goals. Cultures that prioritize and make explicit their overarching mission foster better collaboration. Of course, there needs to be some play with this mission--too tight mission statements or objectives work against cultural cohesion rather than for it.

Next, I believe that cultures do better if they break down into teams. When there's a too tight hierarchy and too many people working in isolation rather than collaboration, there's less room for positive disagreement, debate, and decision making. In cultures that work with a team structure, then a lot of the rich discussion and decision making happens at the team level where due to numbers, time, and proximity there's a greater opportunity for relationship building, shared creativity, and good collaborative work.

Then, I think that a simple list of share protocols serves organizations well. Those protocols should be scaffolded in ways so that the most important information is not missed, but information of interest to some, detailed information, and less urgent information is moved to channels available to those interested and impacted, but not all. In a sense, a less urgent information is relegated to "read-if-you-want" channels. Protocols should also list advantageous share suggestions such as the following:

  • no profanity
  • respectful language
  • generalize rather than individualize or personalize
  • use names only with permission of those named
I'm sure there's more that could be added to that list.

I will continue to think on this subject, however, I know it's imperative for organizations that aim to do good work to welcome open and respectful disagreement, debate, and decision making. This matters when it comes to doing the best work possible. What would you add to this discussion? 

Math Test One: May 2, 2019

Students will take the first of many math tests today--a systemwide test.

We'll start the test by reviewing best strategy.

I'll encourage students to do their best reminding them that when they "show what they know" teachers then know what still needs to be taught. I'll also encourage them to take their time and check their work, and I often share with them the ways that I use my imagination to get through big tests such as imagining I'm in a challenging situation and that doing my best on the test will free me from that trap or win me a big prize (I share stories of castles, dragons, million dollar prizes, and all kinds of other imagination situations that match the kinds of games my young students' play).

Then I'll be there to answer the questions that I can answer, and answer those that I can't answer with "trust yourself, do your best." At the end of the systemwide tests, students will immediately get their score--that's satisfying for most students, and for those who are disappointed with their score, we'll talk a bit about what that means for future learning, supports, and efforts. In general, all of our students try their best, and when their scores are low, it means that they need different kinds of support or practice to help them ahead.

When done with the tests, students will have the opportunity to read books of choice or work on their biography research. Later in the day when everyone is done there will be time for recess, then the first big play rehearsal. It's busy days in fifth grade, days that require that we continually coach ourselves and our students with sensitivity and positivity. Onward.

Rigorous math program evolution

Our school system has a rigorous elementary school math program. I find myself thinking deeply about how to deal with this in positive ways.

I know that the rigorous program sets students up well for learning beyond elementary school. In general, our students move from elementary school with a strong foundation of math skill, knowledge, and concept. This is good. They also move along with a good foundation of math practice skills too--they persevere, use good problem solving strategy, and collaborate well. There are many checks and balances that help us to keep the program going with strength, and we have lots of wonderful resources with which to teach math.

The program, in general, is the result of lots of dedicated effort from educators, students, families, and administrators. Program growth has included lots of professional learning, debate, and decision making. And like any program work in schools, it's not perfect and needs to continually evolve, but all in all, the program is solid and positive. Teachers at the elementary level can be proud of the achievement students demonstrate by the time they reach the end of elementary school at fifth grade.

As I think of this program strength at the end of the traditional math teaching year and just before a great number of math assessments, I am thinking about how I will forward this program evolution next year-what I will do to improve what we do.

The strengths of this year's program have been that we taught all standards with multiple positive learning experiences. We also demonstrated solid fidelity to the math teaching/learning schedule and we offered substantial extra support to students.

The weakness of this year's program included one small scheduling complication, the need to re-think how we do RTI so that we offer greater consistency, and the need to finesse differentiation so that children at all levels of learning are getting a good dose of challenge, support, and apt learning.

What will I do to meet those challenges:
  • Re-organize and re-look at each unit to finesse the roll out with greater attention to apt differentiation and the best, possible learning experiences.
  • Work with colleagues to make a best possible schedule that includes expected daily/weekly time for math at best possible times of the day.
  • Organizing and updating math resources.
  • Adding a performance assessment to three or more units to offer a positive, scaffolded learning challenge for every student that involves personal conferences and editing with the teacher--this significant learning effort will provide every child with good attention, a positive opportunity to reach and show what they know, and good examples of apt learning to include in their showcase portfolios for later discussion with family members at student-teacher-parent conferences. One way to identify performance assessment topics is to look at the areas were many students did not perform as well on system and state-wide assessments, and build performance assessments around those areas. 
  • Professional learning by reading books by leading math educators and attending workshops so that I can incorporate latest research into the math program. 
Teaching is an evolutionary profession--to teach well we have to continually review, analyze, reflect, and revise. I look forward to seeing how students do on the assessments they'll take in the next couple of weeks. I'll use that information along with other less formal data to assess the program more, and then I'll get started on planning and prepping for the math year ahead.