Sunday, March 31, 2019

Organize your files and empower your career

Busy teachers are often left with lots and lots of lesson plans and teaching/learning references online and offline. To organize those files is one step towards streamlining your efforts to do a better job.

What's the best way to organize all these files?

I think it's best to make websites of the main topics related to your work, then nest the information within those websites.

As I think of this, I realize that I can cull my work down to the following websites and one blog:
  • Professional e-portfolio: This is a website that hosts an outline of my professional work, and a website I can use as a reference when I seek to obtain a grant, give a presentation, attend a course, or get involved in other initiatives.
  • Magnificent Math: This is my grade-level math website that hosts lots of information for teaching fifth grade math well.
  • Physical Science: Since I teach the physical science lessons at the grade-level, these are the links I use to teach that study.
  • Environmental Science/STEAM: Right now this is made up of about three websites that I want to combine.
  • Learning Mindset, Behaviors, and Habits: This is essential a social emotional learning website with lots of leads.
  • Teach Children Well: This is the story of my teaching career.
Basically these websites and this blog make up the infrastructure of my career efforts and plans--it's the schematics for what I do. These online documents are readily accessible and easy to update, and to make them as valuable as possible means that I set aside time regularly to weed and prune which means getting rid of lessons, ideas, and stories that no longer are valuable or hold true, and adding the latest and greatest items to the websites.

I'll likely do a lot of this weeding and pruning this summer in an effort to ready for the upcoming year with the best lessons, links, and resources. I call this "TV work" since it's easy to do while you watch a good movie or perhaps listen to good music.

I write this post because I believe it is very important for professionals at all levels of their work to create an online infrastructure for the work they do--a place to host the good resources, examples, connections, and links that are the building blocks of a meaningful and successful career. 

The older you get, the more you realize that every good effort matters, and what may seem like a small investment of time may actually turn out to be a substantial building block for future achievement, the kind of investment that you may actually not have time for at other points in your career and an investment that you'll look back on and use throughout your career. We can't discount any of our efforts and we have to take all of our good work seriously.

So, organize your files then regularly prune and weed them to support the good work you do today and into the future. Onward. 

The Ten Year Plan: Purpose

Purpose brings life meaning. To simply follow the rules or go along with others is typically meaningless, but to live with purpose brings meaning, grace, and satisfaction to life.

I'm thinking about this today as I move into yet another phase in the school/life year--what's the purpose and how will I meet that purpose?

At school the purpose is to help every child I teach develop a strong foundation for living. That means to help those students learn with confidence, engagement, and empowerment, to help them develop the skills, knowledge, and concept to take another step forward in their lives. This also means working with families and colleagues to build a rich, nurturing teaching/learning environment. To do this, we need to work together to help each other with the best of our abilities, insights, energy, and effort. This is purposeful work.

Yet, I know that my tenure for this work has only a few more years until I move onto to new pursuits, and I wonder how I will make that transition in meaningful and purposeful ways. As I move forward, I continue to move inward too. I'm moving closer and closer to my goal of creating a warm, welcoming, dynamic learning environment with my grade-level colleagues. I hope that upon my leaving in a few years, I'll be able to turn over a classroom with great materials, furniture, books, and good order to another educator who wants to work on a dynamic team to engage, empower, and educate children well.

As I move inward, I'm focused on the following goals:
  • Teaching math to ALL students as well as I can. The current goals in that arena are to build in more interdisciplinary project work, reach students who may not have at-home academic support, and to make math the engaging and empowering subject it can be for children.
  • Teaching science to all students by promoting a number of hands-on projects that translate into a strong foundation of science concept, knowledge, and skill.
  • Creating a warm, engaging, and empowering classroom community that seeks to help every child develop the habits of mind and attributes of character that give them strength moving forward.
  • Collaborating with and supporting my colleagues at the grade-level, school, and system to continually develop a strong, dynamic teaching/learning community.
When I leave, I want to take my abilities forward to another kind of organization that serves children. As I think about that, I imagine myself working with children who may need more and different than typical children, children who are left out or children who face big challenges. I will enjoy that intimate work, and I will look forward to working with these children in hopes that I can empower who they are and where they are headed in life.

I look forward to a less harried pace with more time to read, research, and explore. I will likely get a bit more involved in politics too since I know that our democracy demands that we all do our part in order to build a strong, vibrant country where all people have the potential to reach for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

At the center, there will always be that will to hone my skills, better my efforts, and work for greater reverence for the people and places around me. That is both the purpose and path that calls me. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Improving my work and practice

If I had to define my mission, I would say it is to improve my work and practice to serve students, families, and colleagues as well as I can.

There's limitless opportunity to do this, and with regard to my circumstances, most of that work and effort comes from me.

As I think about this today to right my teaching/learning ship once again, I am reminded of the following objectives.

We have to be reverent to all whom we work with. To be reverent takes deep time and effort. This is a goal for me.

To establish deep, positive relationships, you have to listen, observe, and respond with care and commitment to others.

Smart Work
You need to work smart with the support of intelligent assistants--assistants that include books, online programming, video, experts, colleagues, experiences, and more.

Learning Paths and Objectives
We have to create optimal objectives and learning paths to achieve those objectives. We have to reflect and revise along the way.

Seeking and engaging in opportunities for joy is essential to a good life.

This Year's Practice Goal Revisited

Last year when I assessed students' scores and achievement, I noticed that students who did not practice math regularly did not achieve at levels expected. What kept these students from practicing included teacher follow-up and lack of academic support at home. Families who could not provide academic support at home generally was typically not a situation of will, but instead a situation of circumstances. I understand this well because there were a few years when my children were young that we simply were unable to support at-home academic help due to a number of circumstances beyond our control. Fortunately teachers, neighbors, and others pitched in and helped which supported my own children well.

So this year I made my goal to provide more targeted practice, support, and response for students so that all students would make good progress in math. I began this goal with gusto in the fall only to find that I couldn't keep up with the extensive after hours of work required to make sure that all 65 students were completing their homework in a timely and accurate manner. However, the early efforts to do this created a good amount of allegiance to at-home practice by about 3/4 of the families and students. So there was some positive results from that effort. Further I offered two mornings a week for extra help in class, and many children have taken advantage of those times and complete homework at those times. Many students who take advantage of this time have found the times profitable.

Yet, I am not satisfied overall with the results of this practice goal, and want to better my efforts next year with the following efforts:
  1. I'd like to promote a fifth grade math homework club a couple of afternoons a week for students who do not have at-home academic support. Every year we have only a few students who fall into this category, and these students typically don't take advantage of the early morning extra help sessions. I will begin this club in October which will give me time to identify who these students might be, and how I might help them. The challenge here will be transportation since sometimes students who don't have at-home academic help, also don't have transportation to attend extra-help sessions.
  2. I'll continue my before school help sessions for students who choose to practice at school.
  3. I'll advocate for a morning "study" block at fifth grade so that we can give students time in school to practice their math in effective ways. 
  4. I might look into the idea of promoting a math team too.
For the most part, students who practiced made good progress. The very few children who did not practice effectively did not make as much practice. All of these students lacked at-home academic support, and all of these students would have profited from an opportunity to practice at school with dedicated time and knowledgeable teachers. 

One other group that I feel we can do a better job with is children who face significant learning challenges and unique profiles. I believe we can do a better job at the start of the year looking deeply at these students learning profiles, foundations, needs, and interests, and with careful planning with specialists and other teachers, we can identify clear goals, programming, and supports to help these students move ahead in math with confidence, engagement, empowerment, and success.

And, I believe that we may be able to develop the math study for all students by integrating specialist projects and team times with math. Now I realize this is often not possible due to other goals, but if you meet with a small group each week, you may be able to dedicate your activities to math as well as a goal of teamwork, social skill building, or other topics.

What is the role of practice in the math classroom?

On April 11th I'll lead a math conversation about the topic of practice at the spring ATMIM conference. I'm interested in this topic because I know that students don't deepen and master math skills, concepts, and knowledge without apt practice, but what is apt practice--what does that mean to those who teach math?

My experience demonstrates to me that children profit from a variety of practice types and times--for some, they need a fair amount of repetition and good time to learn a skill, concept, or knowledge point, and for others, they seem to grasp the information with only a few repetitions and little time. Why the differential?

There are many reasons for that. One reason is vocabulary--some children are familiar with the words related to a concept and some children are not. This could be a variable related to first language, reading habits/ability, experience with related concepts, and previous exposure to the concept.

Children who come from "math homes" - homes that emphasize math reading, talk, play, and games often grasp math concepts with greater ease, and generally children who come to school ready to learn more easily follow the learning pacing. Students who for any array of reasons have trouble learning from the early day of school, may have more challenge and need more time to master a concept, skill, or knowledge in math class.

With all of this in mind, I'm curious how math teachers think and act on the topic of practice--what do they do to promote apt practice as a way for their students to reach proficiency with math standards and expectations?

These are the questions we'll discuss?

  1. How much time does the average student engage in teacher-directed (classroom teacher or specialist teacher) math study each week?
  2. How much time is spent introducing a new topic?
  3. How much time is spent engaging in project work?
  4. How much time is spent with math conversation?
  5. How much time is spent practicing concepts introduced?
  6. What kinds of practice are most effective and why?
  7. What role do families play with regard to students and math practice?
  8. How do you provide extra support for students who do not have at-home academic support?
  9. Thinking big, how might we re-make the math classroom/program to provide better opportunities for practice?
I am looking forward to this conversation as I believe it will help me and others to establish better practice opportunities for all students which will lead to greater math engagement and success. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Friday Musings: March 30, 2019

We had a successful volume exploration today!
March is a long month of dedicated study, and I'm happy to say that we mainly stuck to that goal and achieved much of what was planned. Our last school day in March ended with some great volume exploration, buddy book time, and time to organize for the events ahead.

The week ahead will find students prepping for and taking another math assessment. Students will also take a practice MCAS ELA test. One focus of the test prep will be a review of fraction computation using models, stories, and numbers.

Later in the week students will review science concepts via reading, creating slide shows, and taking an online open book test of the concepts--the test is meant to test their knowledge, and then to encourage them to learn what they weren't able to answer correctly. It's a good review prior to the Science MCAS.

On the professional learning/work side there's a faculty meeting with a very full schedule, a field trip paperwork/finance meeting, a local union meeting, and work to prep for an April 11th math workshop focused on the value of practice.

Fortunately it will be a light weekend which is always a good prequel to a busy week ahead. Onward.

Side talk, disagreements, and criticism

Yesterday I arrived home frustrated. It was a busy day, and a day when I had not anticipated a few scheduling matters that confounded the teaching/learning plans. Then later in the day some side talk, disagreement, and criticism seemed to seep into my veins, and I came home frustrated.

As with all frustrating days, I dissect the events to try to figure out how to make it better next time.

First of all, it's clear we've been trying to fit lengthy math tests into too short periods without adequate student accommodations. This is no one's fault, but instead a factor of not taking seriously the amount of time these tests take students to complete, and scheduling for this. In the future, we need to make a schedule that gives us the two-hour blocks that allow students to take these tests with ease, comfort, and appropriate supports. This will lessen the stress as well as the side talk, disagreement, and criticism that comes with it.

Next we need to talk openly and honestly about disagreement rather than make it fodder for side talk and quiet critique. We won't always agree about the way we teach or support students, and it's important to discuss disagreements openly and with respect. That creates better team and better service to students.

I'm always struck with that "Why didn't I know this before" feeling when I learn something new especially something as simple as the need to schedule more time for tests that take that much time--that's the humble pie that's a staple for good teachers everywhere. We're always learning new ways to teach and learn better, and sometimes that learning is humbling. Yet if we embrace the new learning, we serve our students and work with our colleagues better. Onward.

Stealing and Vandalism at the Elementary School

Every year that I've been a teacher, there's been a bit of stealing and vandalism at the elementary school. This is a typical childhood behavior. Little children sometimes see something they want and they take it. They also may play with and destroy something without thinking or perhaps express an angry or frustrated emotion by breaking or harming property. Typically we use the following rules to deal with this:
  • Never accuse a child of stealing or vandalism unless you have proof that a child has taken something or destroyed something.
  • Treat the situation as a learning opportunity
  • Talk to all students about taking each others' things, respecting property, and what this means.
  • Telling the bigger story about the impact of stealing and vandalism--how it actually more than the person who is loosing his her item or the place/objects destroyed. 
During my first year of teaching I learned this lesson well. Many items went missing in my room. One child was thought to be the stealer. Then a large amount of money was missing from my desk--book club money. My first instinct was to blame the child thought to be the stealer. A wise teacher next door reminded me never to accuse anyone without proof. I didn't accuse and later I found the money stuck far behind a desk drawer. Lesson learned.

Another time I found a child who no one would ever think would take a thing from anybody with his hands in my desk drawer taking a shiny object that he wanted to have. That surprised me. We had a good talk. I think we both learned a lesson.

As for vandalism, I tell the students how much money destroying property costs the community and their parents, the taxpayers, and I tell them that we could be using that money for really fun times and playful objects rather than spending it to clean up or fix destruction. They seem to get that message. 

As I write about this today, I'm reminded that talking up front about vandalism and stealing at the start of the year may mitigate the matter in days ahead. These are important childhood lessons. 

Shifting and Sorting the Schedule: Using Energy Well

In the final months of the school year, one of the greatest challenges is to use energy well in order to maximize the teaching/learning for every child. That's why I find myself sifting and sorting the schedule to match right activity to right energy.

For example, today students will engage in a hands-on volume exploration--it's a good match for Friday energy levels, especially the energy after the big test they took on Thursday. I noticed on a recent assessment that students could not identify the number of cubes in volume pictures that they looked at. Clearly some did not have enough experience with building with cubes to know how to look at the pictures and count the cubes or determine the volume in another way. Also on last year's MCAS, students had difficulty with problems related to depth--they thought of volume as buildings but not pools or liquid containers. So today students will have the opportunity to build a number of buildings, decks, and pools that they see on a page--then they'll be tasked with figuring out the volume of those spaces. This is a good, playful learning match for a Friday, a day when students are a bit more tired than the days early in the week.

I typically have a running list of lessons ready and then match those lessons with student interest and energy. Some of the lessons on that list include balloon explorations, test practice, independent reading, climate change service learning projects, order of operation puzzles, line plot exercises, and more. There's never a shortage of learning experiences, but as I often remark time and energy are limited so finding the right match of experience and energy is a key ingredient to good teaching.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Ingredients to Successful Instruction

As I think about teaching and learning, I know there are some valuable ingredients to good teaching and instruction.

Programs that are infrequent are often not as powerful as programming that is consistent. Infrequent programming is not as predictable, reliable, and doesn't build one step on top of another as well. This is particularly critical to learners that struggle--they need consistency to do well and that consistency should be consistency of instruction and consistency of instructor.

Just Right Challenge
Sometimes we keep moving children up before they've mastered the critical foundation concepts and skills. This often results in years and years of frustrating confusion. I believe we need to carefully assess a learner's knowledge, concept, and skill level, and start there with instruction. That doesn't mean we "dumb down" the curriculum, but instead start at a just right pace and provide the quality, consistent instruction and teachers to support a child.

Commitment and Care
Just showing up and helping a child is okay, but truly dedicating your time, energy, and planning to helping a child achieve is much better than just showing up. To truly invest in a child is to understand fully what they knows, where their stumbling blocks are, and what translates into engaging, productive study.

Going the Extra Mile
It's impossible to give extra all the time, but a little extra support goes a long way to helping a child achieve.

Advocacy for Better Programming
Teachers know whose not getting as much or as good a s they can get at school--we notice deficits in our own teaching and the programming that supports our teaching. We have to advocate to fill those holes. We also have to advocate for voice, choice, and leadership too because too often teachers pleas for betterment are ignored by those who could really help to make things better.

It's never going to be perfect, but we can keep trying to make it better.

Apt Staffing: Time to Diagnose Student Learning Challenges, Strengths

As I sat with a couple of learners this morning during extra help sessions, I realized once again how valuable small group and one-to-one time is for effective learning. Classroom teachers with traditional schedules rarely have this kind of time, and that's a problem when it comes to effective teaching and learning.

What can schools do?

Program, Staffing, and Task Assessment
First of all schools need to assess what people are doing and how effective that work is. I believe that some events, while glitzy and great for public relations, don't translate into effective learning while other events that are much less showy are actually very powerful learning events. I think this may be true for staffing too--some job tasks may result in amazing learning while other tasks may result in little true learning growth and development. Analysis of this situation has to be accurate. Often analyses used to determine impact of programming is often not accurate--there are many reasons for this.

Re-Look at Scheduling
I provide a few targeted extra study sessions each week. Those sessions result in amazing help because I am able to deeply attend to each student's questioning and see exactly where they need help. I don't think we make enough time for this kind of deep diagnoses and help in school. This is one reason why students who fall at the higher economic income level often do better than students with less family income. Families with more money generally can support greater one-to-one support for their children's academics.

Assess Tech Supports
When it comes to tech supports, there are incredible programs out there, and when those programs are used well, students profit from using them as the "intelligent assistants" that they are.

Good Decision Making Relies on Direct Work with Students
There are too many people out there making decisions for educators that rarely to never work with students or come near classrooms. Often the advice and direction of these people is ineffective and out of touch. This has to change.

We can do better in schools, and attention to apt staffing, scheduling, and work with students will make a significant difference.

Test Season: Good or Bad?

This is test season in school--a season when students are working to solidify a number of knowledge, concept, and skill points to prepare for upcoming tests.

I continue to have mixed feelings about this. On the positive side, I see the smiles on students' faces when they've put the time in to do well on a test. I also like the way that test performance alerts me to who is catching on and who needs more or different in specific ways. And, the tests serve as goal posts--something to work for. Before the tests, learning was sometimes lost amidst the many varied learning experiences. It was more difficult to see who was doing well and who need more or different, and without test scores, it was more difficult to advocate for program change and individual student support--having a number to represent a child's performance has helped.

On the other hand, the tests can be problematic too. First if the tests are too far from a child's ability level, then they become a constant drag on a child's learning confidence and potential. For example a fifth grader who is at a second grade level with regard to the learning expectations will be discouraged taking a fifth grade test. That's why I think the tests should be more progressive--you take a test you're ready for and move up accordingly. And too much time spent on dull test prep reduces the good time you can use on more worthy learning experiences.

The tests are here, however, and we make the most of them during a four-five-week period. We prepare by giving students the opportunity to work with classmates on practice tests that review problem type and the content learned. We review optimal test strategies such as the following:
  • read carefully, mark up the text
  • take your time
  • check your work
  • double do computations
  • complete all problems on paper, not just in your head (you can't check the work you do in your head.)
  • complete the problems you know well first, and then go back to the problems you're not sure of--there are often hints later in the test that can help you with problems that stump you.
Other ways we prepare for the tests is to show videos and films that review main concepts and provide students with a science slideshow template that they can complete with videos, images, and words to review all the science they've learned in grades 3-5.

And finally, we remind students that once this test seasons is over, we will enter the project base learning phase of the year--a time when almost every day is spent on engaging project based learning efforts.  Onward.

Best Days Ever

Yesterday was one of those best days ever in the classroom. Each year is filled with a few days that can be considered the worst and best days of the year, and yesterday was one of those best days.

First of all, after lots of arduous study, students did a great job on the math test. That made me so happy. I admit that I was questioning the deep study efforts that we were engaging in since those efforts required great perseverance. Yet when I saw how happy students were yesterday as they tackled the test, I realized that our efforts were well directed. Even for a few who struggled with some of the more complex questions, the growth in their perseverance, can-do attitude, good questioning, and solid performance were inspiring. I hope today's classes achieve with similar success.

Also the high school students came over to work with fifth graders related to a screen time project that they are doing. They rotated around the room discussing all kinds of screen topics with the students. They provided the students with good leadership models, models that represented respect, investment, good demeanor, and a view of what learning can be when you get older. I am grateful to the high school teachers who make the time to bring their students to the elementary school to work with us and inspire us.

It was also a beautiful day, the kind of day when children can easily play all the games they love to play on the playground--that brings lots of happiness too.

Today many more students will take the math test. I'll meet with my small reading group and hopefully finish the book we've been reading and students will have a chance to begin their science study review slide shows while I'm at the weekly student service meeting. A good day to come.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Cheering Learners On

It's crunch time for many learners in my midst. My sons are studying for college and professional exams. My students are studying for systemwide and state exams. How do I rightly cheer these learners on?

Today I'll remind all these learners that it's about doing your best--showing what you know, and finding out what you still need to learn. Whether you are a test fan or not, a test is one more way that you can learn about yourself as a learner, and you can use that knowledge to help yourself move forward in the curriculum or professional arena you are focused on.

I may tell them about the first time I completed the portfolio and took the test to be a nationally certified teacher. I failed in one area, and it turned out that I had a completely different idea of what that area of teaching and learning was about. That knowledge led me to read a text about that area which helped me to pass the test and earn my national certification on a second try. Like any contest or challenge we engage in, we learn a lot about what we know well and what we still need to study and learn.

So how might I cheer my learners on in these days?

First, it's important to be available online and offline for these learners. I encourage my students to email me if they have questions. I also encourage them to come in for extra help and ask lots of questions during class time so I can help. I'll continue to encourage that.

I'll also provide some tips for challenge areas that everyone is facing. For my college student and young professional, the key is to use good daily study habits. For me, some of the best tips for effective studying include the following:
  • Keep a running list of what you have to do, and then match the items on the list with your energy at the moment so that you are tackling the list with lead time and good energy.
  • Read and write each day. Reading about the topics you want or need to learn and then writing about that learning each day helps to solidify that learning in your mind and actions.
  • Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, have some fun
  • Be prepared: Have the needed tools to do well on any assignment or task. 
For my young learners, I'll foster the following positive strategies:
  • Review the homework list each night and complete the assigned exercises.
  • Plan your week ahead of time--if you know you are going to be busy during the week, use some weekend time to catch up on practice exercises.
  • Use extra help times to help you study and learn.
  • Ask lots of questions
  • When needed, request and/or create modification or enrichment of the learning tasks
  • Keep a learning journal--write a few sentences each day about what you have learned and what questions you have about that learning.
  • Always do your best
  • Try to stay ahead of your assignments.
  • Steady daily attention to learning is the best way to learn and get better at any task.
  • Take care of yourself with good food, good sleep, and plenty of play.
  • Read every day.
Learning well is a lifelong event, and as educators we can well support and cheer our young learners on. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When Your Plate's Too Full

A small illness was the straw that broke the camel's back this week. Why did such a small matter create havoc?

It created havoc simply because I filled my plate too full and didn't leave space for needed quiet and unexpected events.

In limitless jobs like family and education work, there's always the chance that you'll take on too much and overfill your schedule. We all have to be mindful of this problem, and work against it. When your plate's too full you end up wasting time with fretting and stress over the problem rather than doing the good work possible. No one can do it all, and when that plate is overrun, you simply have to take somethings off.

How do you decide what stays and what goes?

For me, taking the long view helps to make decisions about what stays and what goes. I can ask the question, In ten years, what will I be happy that I stayed with, and what did I let go of that won't matter at all. This kind of questioning makes the "what stays and what goes" question a lot easier.

At school, what clearly stays is the following:
  • positive relationships with children
  • positive, engaging learning experiences
  • collegial collaboration and support
And what goes, or better put, what gets put on the "do this later list" includes:
  • greater curriculum depth and growth--there's time in the summer to grow the curriculum more
Though there's three months left to the school year, almost every day is already planned. There's little deep planning to do now and lots of all hands on deck student-centered work to carry out. Putting curriculum changes on hold at this time of year means you have the time to really dig in and work with students on all the programming planned--good curriculum programs that hold promise for students' learning/teaching days. 

As far as family life goes, it's much of the same. There are good events planned, and plenty of daily work for all of us in these spring months. Hence it's not a time for new, but instead, a time to carry out the plans made. 

The year for a teacher like me generally flows like this:
  • summer: a time for big ideas and developing the curriculum program
  • fall: putting the finishing touches on the plans while beginning to embed and finesse the plans made
  • winter: final planning, finessing, and continued teaching/learning
  • spring: lots of teaching and carrying out the plans and some logistical work for the following year. 
As the year moves forward, one's energy begins to wane too. It's the residual effect of a busy year of teaching and learning that tires teachers out by the late spring. Then summer brings renewed energy for new ideas, development, and the new year to come. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Plan Ahead

I had to leave school unexpectedly today. Happily,, the lessons were ready to roll and despite the fact that it's difficult to cover a teacher at the last minute, at least the teaching/learning could continue as expected.

It's best to plan ahead and be prepared for the unexpected--fortunately unexpected events don't happen that often, but if we keep that in mind, we can be prepared.

As I think about this, I am thinking about how we can help students to prepare for these unexpected events too by teaching them well to use online venues as guides to their study and work. With that in mind, I'll update our online menu tonight to lead students in the days ahead.

Monday, Monday

When the weekend is filled with events, it's a bit tougher to rev up that teaching/learning engine. Yet, a good focus, helps to increase energy. Today is a day focused closely on students' individual and small group learning--a day that includes a couple of parent conferences, lots of math coaching and support, reading with a small group, readying the classroom for a substitute teacher tomorrow, and attending a professional event. It will be a long day from about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The primary focus is to help every child gain greater confidence and proficiency with fraction skill, concept, and knowledge as they ready for the week's fraction assessment.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Thoughts about Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft has been accused of breaking the law. It appears that to please himself he got involved in illegal and troubling human trafficking efforts. This is particularly troubling to me, a woman from New England, because Kraft is the owner of the New England Patriots--a team that brings lots of pleasure and a sense of camaraderie to New Englanders. Most people in our part of the world look forward to the games and have a sense of pride related to the team.

Yet, we know that human trafficking is horrendous, inhumane, greedy, and wrong. People are used to please others--they are treated like slaves and do not have the chance to live good lives like the rest of us. Why would Kraft break the laws and support such inhumane activity? We have laws for a reason.

I believe that the trial should take place. I believe that if Kraft is found guilty, just punishment should be to contribute significant dollars towards the fight against human trafficking. I believe this incident sends a message to all of us--a message that says none of us are above the law, and if we don't like the laws, we need to work to change them.

The stronger message is that none of us have the right to abuse or misuse other people--to support human trafficking for your own pleasure is to abuse others. We all have to look at our lives and actions, and work against the discrimination, abuse, and harm against people. We all have to work for what is right and good, what is humane and just.

Kraft needs to turn his support away from Trump and his disastrous cronies. Kraft needs to redeem himself by working against human trafficking and inequity in our country with lots of dollars and support for what is right and good. He can do that.

Better USA. . Better Schools. . .I Support Elizabeth Warren's Candidacy for President of the United States

I am supporting Elizabeth Warren's candidacy for President of the United States. I am supporting Warren because I believe she's bright, energetic, and filled with great ideas and experiences for moving our country forward in more equitable, fair, and promising ways.

I realize that there are many good democrats in the race for the presidency, and I will follow their campaigns too. My hope is that in the end, all of these candidates will come together in ways that create a strong, dynamic leadership team beginning in January 2021--we will need a strong team to undo all the harm that Trump has created with the cronyism, nepotism, self-serving ways, and often seemingly unjust and illegal decisions and actions.

If I don't work towards betterment with donations, writing, reading, researching, and acting for a better America, I can't complain. I also can't complain if I don't do my own work to serve my family and others well. We can't sit back and expect a strong country to magically appear. Instead we all have to do what we can to make our country a strong, welcoming, equitable, and dynamic place to live. We can do that.

Concrete Results

Often what we do cannot be quantified.

Today I'm thinking about the concrete results that I can work towards--results that I can see, touch, show others.

For example, for years, I advocated for changing the furniture in the classroom. Finally my words were heard and I have wonderful butcher block tables in my room which have helped me to change the way I teach. This is a concrete result.

What other concrete results am I working for?

Material Accessibility, Use, and Care and a Welcoming Learning Environment
I'm working for a kid-friendly learning environment where students know where the material are, know how to access, care for, and use the materials freely to assist their learning in meaningful ways. I'm on the way with this goal, but there's more organization to do to make this a full reality.  I am also continually working to make the learning environment a "home away from home," and will enlist students help in that by asking them to guide our collect work towards this result.

Strong, Flexible, Confident Numeracy
I"m working to build strong, flexible number sense with children, and that will be visible when all students begin talking, working with, and problem solving with numbers fluidly and confidently. The better I design, present, and support learning experiences in this realm, the better students will achieve this goal. The visible results will be students' enthusiasm, fluidity, creativity, and problem solving with numbers with words, on paper, and via technology.

Collaborative, Creative, Systematic, and Curious Scientists
I'm working to help students learn how to work together to explore and experiment with science concepts, knowledge, and skill. Young students are scientists first so there's little need to build enthusiasm for the subject, but there is need to organize the explorations well so everyone can participate with joy, curiosity, and positive learning.

Flattened Hierarchy, Distributive Leadership, and Teacher Voice and Choice
I'm working to help build school systems that flatten hierarchy, distribute leadership, and include teacher voice and choice in all important decisions that impact students. I am speaking up about the potential that this move from factory model schools to professional learning/teaching organizations means for all members of the teaching/learning community. I also want to continue to work in this regard with colleagues. This change will be visible when we change the tight hierarchical decision making structures in schools to be more authentic, inclusive, modern age structures that find educators working deeply and authentically together to move their collective work and support for one another and students forward.

Sometimes having a meaningful, concrete result in mind as we do our work helps to motivate the work we do to get better.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Professional Learning in the Modern Age

There was a time prior to the ready availability of the Internet when learning depended on quality professional learning events, film, and books. Today the opportunity to learn is everywhere, and that means we have to change our expectations of what optimal professional learning is. Quality professional learning today includes the following:

Know your goals, know your questions
Professional learning today is question/goal driven. Every learner should engage in ready analyses of the goals at hand, then work to revise the goals via questioning and related actions. For example, my overarching questions right now are the following:
  • How do you teach math well? Specifically how do I teach the expected math standards well?
  • How do you teach science well? Specifically how do I teach the expected science standards well?
  • How do I foster the best possible classroom community and individual academic/social emotional learning growth for every learner?
  • How can I work best with my colleagues to answer the questions above and increase our capacity to serve students and their families well.
Establish a nurturing, intelligent, and helpful professional learning network
Online and offline gather a group of individuals that you may learn from, share with, and debate in order to learn and grow. I have a dynamic online and real time professional learning network (PLN) that offers me terrific ideas, invitations, and challenges with regard to doing my work well on a daily basis. This is essential to professional learning in the modern age.

Attend noteworthy professional events
When you know your questions and needs, and you have a great professional learning network, it becomes easy to identify online and offline noteworthy professional events and organizations--the kinds of events and organizations that will help you to do your work better. The combination of your great PLN and knowledge of your questions/needs will also result in the creation of new, collaborative events to fulfill your needs in modern, beneficial ways.

Establish learning paths with back-end design
As John Hattie clearly demonstrated to all of us who have read his books, if we want to achieve, we need to clearly understand the success criteria first, and then create a learning path that moves towards that success criteria. As we move along the learning path, we have to stop, reflect, and revise often in order to positively move towards achieving the results we desire--sometimes this movement results in refining the success criteria as well. When you don't firmly establish a learning path and success criteria, you don't do the good work possible.

Communicate and share your questions, goals, and pursuits
The more open, honest, and transparent we are about our learning paths, success criteria, and goals, the more help and support we'll gain. When your PLN knows where you're headed, they will help you out with lots of connections, ideas, critique, and more. This accelerates your achievement and enriches your result. You also may successfully play that role for others in your PLN.

Effective collaboration
When people work together effectively to meet the goals they've set, generally everyone does better. Good collaboration profits from the following:
  • shared goals
  • honest, respectful, transparent share
  • acceptance of error and working together to use errors as stepping stones to better understanding and success
  • regular meetings 
  • shared documents that invite questions, ideas, connections, and links--using those documents as starting points for meetings
  • effective modern processes for information share, goal setting, reflection, and analyses
Analyze your results effectively, respectfully, and honestly
It's critical to carefully analyze efforts with respect and honesty. Identifying and utilizing timely, effective processes for good analysis leads people forward in ways that matter.

This is my shortlist for professional learning in the modern age. What would you add? What would you change? What haven't I thought of--I welcome your ideas.

My PLN Weighs In:

Fact or Fiction: Positive Program Development

Recently a professional learning event inferred that there was a deficit. Yet the deficit was never clearly revealed hence those at the event were left wondering: Why was this professional learning event promoted? What hole was it meant to fill? And, how was that hole determined?

If my analysis and research skills are good, I would agree that there is a hole in the area that the professional learning event seemed to be aimed at filling, however, I wonder if the professional learning event only made the hole bigger for the following reasons:
  • lack of transparency
  • lack of clear goals
  • lack of clear evidence to support the learning event
  • lack of the right environment to fill the hole well.
When there's a hole that needs to be filled in curriculum programs, I suggest the following activities:
  • inclusive establishment of goals and expectations: This is what we want to do and this is why we want to do it.
  • clear, transparent, respectful analyses of efforts, expectations, and results towards reaching goal: These data/observation points demonstrate that we've achieved ____, and that we still have a way to go to achieve ________.
  • invitation of the voices of all involved as to how to best fill the hole beginning with the questioning: What do you think we can do to make this better? Do we need to study on our own first, then discuss the matter? Can we all attend a similar learning event? Should we work together to rewrite and/or reteach the material and see if we can get better results.
  • working together to establish a path towards betterment
When conjecture replaces truthful observations, analyses, and share, the paths we follow often don't result in the expectations we hope for. Rather than conjecture, I support authentic conversation, goal setting, creation of a collaborative learning path, and collaborative work to openly and honestly move towards betterment.

When we work together as teams with mostly equal footing, I believe we do better to teach children well. 

What Works: Successful Teaching and Learning

As I reflect on the 2018-2019 teaching/learning year so far, I know that I want to continue the same practices this spring and next year:

Transition Meeting and Materials
We provide students with access to our grade-level website, supply list, welcome letter, and summer math study packet on transition day. We have a positive meeting of all upcoming fifth graders and then meet in the homerooms. Generally in the homeroom, I ask students to introduce themselves to me and tell me about one positive learning event in school or out of school they've experienced.

I've been advocating for a long time to improve our orientation process with some success. We've been hosting students who do not live in the community during our second teacher prep morning so those students have a chance to walk around the school, set up their desks/drawers, have an informal breakfast with the teachers, and talk about the year to come. This has been very positive, however we need the support of many to make sure that these students learn about the event, have permission to ride the bus, and feel comfortable attending.

On the first day of school the team engages in a number of welcoming, orientation events for all students as we begin the school year and begin to establish positive relationships with every student and every family.

I believe that orientation efforts matter a lot, and I think it's an area that we can continue to develop as a school community.

An Inviting, Welcoming Classroom
A perennial challenge for me is to set up the classroom so it is a welcoming space where everything has a place. This is probably challenging because I'm fitting lots of materials, furniture, and people into a relatively small space for many varied learning experiences. It's not your sit-at-your-desk teaching/learning environment. Over the years there have been many changes to the environment that I definitely want to keep including the following:
  • Easy to access supply drawers filled with all kinds of materials to teach in varied, engaging ways.
  • Large butcher block tables for learning
  • Student drawers for supplies
  • Metal paper holders for paper
  • Book baskets and shelves
  • Toy basket and building materials
  • Supply caddies and maps on tabletops
  • STEAM and supply cabinets
  • Science shelves
  • Science tables
  • Comfy chairs
  • Hoki stools
I want to better organize those supplies in the days ahead and get rid of materials we don't use anymore. I'd like to order the following materials to even better the environment next year:
  • magnetic book holders so students can store the books they're reading in visible, accessible ways. (Lakeshore)
  • better pencil sharpeners and staplers
  • glue guns for project work
  • more playground balls -- we're always running out of those
In general I have most of what I need and it's time to sort, shift, and reorganize to better the environment.

Morning Routine
We have established a positive morning routine that includes sign in, checking the schedule, and reading at your table space. The school wide routine including a minute of quiet meditation and the Pledge of Allegiance is a positive anchor to the day too especially when it happens at the same time every day. Having a good morning routine ensures that students are reading every day and gives you a chance to welcome each child, take a look at the class as a whole, deal with any issues upfront, and do some needed administrative tasks too, tasks such as attendance, collecting field study slips/money, and following up with students on a number of issues. Our team has proposed a better schedule for the the year ahead and if that's granted, that will also help us to establish, practice, and embed a positive grade-wide routine for starting each day. 

Student rotate from class to class for specific subjects, and all in all, I believe this has been a very positive aspect of our curriculum program since it means that students have more movement, the whole grade level works as a team, and the teachers divide up the weighty curriculum expectations into manageable teaching/learning sections.

Team Days
Team days are homeroom days and they are good days to focus in on activities that the profit from deep all-in study. We generally use these days for special events, STEAM study/projects, portfolio work, and sometimes even for catch-up/clean-up.

Field Studies, Expert Visitors, and Special Events
We plan and execute a good number of field studies, expert visitors, and special events. The challenge with these events is the administrative tasks and time it takes to plan, prepare for, and manage the trips. We generally do a lot of this over the summer. This year we met with some challenge with regard to collecting all the fees and managing the payments in accurate ways--we're meeting with district business leaders to organize this system better so that our efforts are streamlined and the payments better organized from request to collection to deposits to payments.  We've decided to create a grade-level notebook to keep track of all the trips, payments, and spreadsheets. That will be one way to help. We also have a number of other questions and ideas for the business manager that we think may lead to a more streamlined process too. All that said, we truly feel that these events enrich the teaching/learning program and build a more vibrant, bright, and collaborative learning team too. So we'll persist in this area.

Curriculum Programs
We are always building and deepening our curriculum programs. The state and system are always evolving the expectations for what we do too. Therefore part of our curriculum work involves regular study, research, and share to make sure we are embedding the best ideas, research, and information into the curriculum program we teach and foster. 

Specifically the team will look closely at how we use time this summer and create a schedule that ensures we teach the main program elements including science, math, social studies, writing, and reading. We'll also look at ways that we can integrate the expectations amongst and between these disciplines to foster deep, multidisciplinary units of teaching or signature projects as we sometimes refer to them. Further we'll work with others within the system and outside of it to deepen and broaden the curriculum areas each of us leads. Specifically, I'll revisit the math, SEL, STEAM, and physical science learning streams to look for ways to improve the way we synthesize materials, learning experiences, projects, time, and assessments to foster the best possible engaging, empowering education for the children.

Contribution Beyond the Grade-Level Team
Meeting expectations and evolving the grade-level program to teach all fifth graders well is the mainstay of my work as an educator. That said, I also want to contribute to the greater school community. Next year, with a new principal, I will look for ways that I can positively contribute to the general school efforts and goals. I'll also likely continue my work on the local union board as well.

Professional Learning
I'll continue my regular practice of reading, researching, and writing every day and I'll take advantage of good learning opportunities offered by the system, state, and other organizations to continue to develop my knowledge and abilities in the areas named above.

As an individual who believes that public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, I believe we need to elect government leaders that support all public schools and all children in the state and country. I'll continue to find ways to support that belief in reading, writing, and working for that end in ways that I can. 

Within the system where I work, I will continue to advocate for positive avenues of good communication as well as teacher voice, choice, and leadership. I know that distributive leadership models when done well improve schools and that many of the problems we face in schools are because educators are invisible--their voices are not respected, their choices are not supported, and there are few opportunities for authentic leadership. To level the playing field with a more flattened hierarchy where most people working in the educational system have daily responsibility for student learning, is to better schools.

I will also advocate for looking at bettering the way we plan for and execute family/educator conferences and professional learning events.

Over the years our team has put the time in to continually evolve the teaching/learning program in ways that matter. This has resulted in happy, successful students as well as our own positive growth as professionals. Creating a short list like this helps me to end the year by preparing well for the next year. Onward. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday Musings: March 22, 2019

It was a varied, busy week at our school. There wasn't a second of down time in the school and nearly a second of down time before and after school, yet all in all it was a positive week filled with math review and practice, science experiments, reading, and writing for our grade-level team, TeamFive.

The past few weeks have been extra busy due to the student-led family/educator conferences. While the conferences, I believe, are essential, they do require lots of time which means they tip the scale a bit in terms of not having enough time to do all the usual preparation, teaching, and response required on a weekly basis. I actually think that a better way to do conferences would be to dedicate two weeks a year as reflection weeks--during these weeks students and teachers would spend time reflecting in age-appropriate ways on the year so far. Then following the reflection period there would be two days set aside for student-led conferences that last 30 minutes each. With classes of 24 students that means 6 hours of conferences a day. I believe this is a more reasonable way to prepare for and include conferences which are a valuable component of the elementary school program.

With a busy weekend ahead, I want to think for a few minutes about the week ahead so I can then attend to the weekend's agenda:

Math Practice, Assessments, and Math Tech
Students will continue their fraction practice as they prepare for the unit test. Then at the end of the week, they'll return to some of the math tech expectations as they work to complete those tasks.

Science Assessment
Students will take an open-book science assessment that reviews all the physical science standards we've covered through numerous hands-on explorations. This will help them to solidify their grade-level physical science knowledge. They can take the online assessment with friends and as many times as they would like as a way to master the information.

Book Fair
Students will have a chance to visit the book fair and buy books if they would like. I'll send out a reminder to parents about this early in the week.

Reading Groups
My small reading group will likely finish the book we're reading this week. I have really enjoyed looking at the many ways that we can understand all the details in a story via visualization, asking questions, highlighting the main events, making connections, and discussing the story with this group.

Family/Teacher/Student Conferences
There's still a few more conferences on the agenda.

Professional Meetings
There's at least one and potentially two teacher meetings on the agenda.

Professional Efforts and Learning
I'll be organizing and assessing students' efforts on the fraction assessment and focusing in on two classroom questions:
  • What did we do this year that are definitely keepers for next year?
  • What classroom materials are a must and how are they best organized?
Answering these two questions will help me to organize the room, prepare order lists, and ready for the end-of-year clean up which I like to get started on prior to the hot, tired days of June.

Teachers' days are busy, varied days--to make a little time each week to collect your thoughts and focus on the what you've done and what's to come sets the stage for good teaching and learning. Onward. 

Science Teaching: How can I do better?

After today's science class, I asked students, how I could better lead our science explorations. They noted that I could clarify the directions and help out with sharing the materials a bit more--those were good suggestions. I continued the discussion in the lunch room, and our bright librarian suggested that I rename the chemistry explorations, Potions Class. I liked that and will make that literary connection as we continue our grade-school chemistry learning.

I find it both perplexing and exciting that at this point in my career, I'm learning a lot about teaching science. In year's past, science wasn't given as much attention at elementary school because it's so difficult to find the time and make the space for the prep and teaching. Plus many of us elementary school teachers were not science majors so there's a learning curve here. Thanks to the terrific resources available online, boning up on the science standards is not too difficult. Also thanks to the terrific state/system resources we have by way of materials, books, articles, and scheduling, we're able to teach a lot more science than in the past. Now the challenge is to teach the subject with depth, engagement, and empowerment.

We're making headway with good routines, leading signs/posters, websites, and multiple hands-on projects. We'll continue this positive teaching/learning evolution into next year--a positive path.

Fooling Around in Class

Every now and then children fool around in class. Silly and social issues take priority and they spend their time laughing, giggling, and talking rather than paying attention to their studies. This happened to me as a student and it still happens today.

As a teacher we are aware of what looks like lack of focus or attention on other matters, and generally when this happens we redirect. Sometimes students assure us that they're on task and they're not fooling around, and when that happens, I often choose to trust them as long as what looks like off-task behavior is not disrupting other learners.

Recently, however, a number of children who seemed to be off-task during class were very frustrated when they couldn't successfully complete a set of problems. With each child, I reminded them of the silliness I observed, talked to them about the days past, and noted that they lost time in the learning when they chose to be off task rather than seeking help or listening to lessons. The children weren't too happy about that--they realized that their choices to be off task disrupted their learning for the focus concept. Then, of course, I offered the help needed to catch up.

We're all off task now and then, and we know that behavior can get in the way of our good work and result. Young children love to be together, have fun, talk, and play, yet sometimes good learning does demand a more serious attitude, self discipline, attention, and care. Not every concept comes easy to every child--some concepts take real concentration and steady practice. One child who did particularly well with the focus concept is a dancer--I asked her if she thought the perseverance to learn the concept was similar to the perseverance she needs to learn a dance step--she agreed that both require similar perseverance.

I'll keep coaching the learners ahead with the knowledge that good attention and practice makes a positive difference. Knowing when it's okay to fool around and when you have to make the decision to focus is part of learning how to be a successful student too. Onward.

That Quiz: Teaching Surprise

Sometimes what we expect is different than what we get in school. Recently I asked students to complete a set of That Quiz exercises which included lots of addition and subtraction of fractions and mixed numbers.

We had reviewed how to do these problems in class and practiced, and these exercises were meant to provide a bit more exercise. I thought the students would fly through the exercises, however, most found the exercises very difficult and they needed a lot of help.

As I sat with many students helping them with the assignments, I noticed the following:

  • It was challenging for them to find the common denominator which made me realize once again just how important factor/multiple knowledge is. We reviewed that information throughout the year, but if time permits, it would be great to do some good, deep review before the fraction unit.
  • It was challenging for them to complete the many steps including finding common denominators, changing improper fractions to mixed numbers, and adding whole numbers with mixed numbers.
  • It was still challenging for most of them to visualize the amounts and think about the reasonableness of their answers.
One challenge with our fifth grade math program is the sheer quantity of concepts we have to cover--there never seems like there's enough time to go over each concept with enough depth. Every year I try to manage the curriculum a bit differently to fit it all in, and I always come up a little short with respect to the depth and success I'd like. Of course, I want every child to master every concept with depth and ease. 

I'm thankful to the many families, colleagues and teachers before fifth grade that support this study well. This is a consistent goal of the fifth grade math curriculum.

Science Day

It's science Friday. It's the day of the week when we teach more science than other days.

What does that mean?

It means making sure that the lab supplies are cleaned and ready to go.

It means that the experiment materials are set up and organized.

It means that the lab sheets are ready.

Then for the lesson, it means that you can temper the students' excitement long enough to go over the lab sheet.

It means letting students choose their roles.

It means letting children lead their learning by following directions, completing the experiment steps, observing, drawing conclusions, discussing and recording what's happened/, and if time permits, altering variables to better and/or differ the results.

As I write this down, I notice that the steps do get simpler, the more we teach the many science explorations we're expected to teach, and the students excitement for the study never wavers.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Who do you work for?

No matter what you do, you probably find yourself working for someone. It could be that you mostly work for yourself or perhaps you work for your family, an organization, or a particular cause, mission, or goal. Whomever or whatever you work for makes a difference in what you do and the rewards, benefits, and perhaps the struggles you reap.

As an educator, I first work for the students. For some, believe it or not, this might be alarming as they feel I should first work for them and no matter what or how children are feeling, their mandates come first. Yet for most in education, they agree that we all work for children first.

What does this mean for the work we do and how we do it? This is a particularly important question because teaching and learning are limitless propositions--there's no end to what we can do or how we can do it. Our greatest challenge here is how we prioritize and use the limited time and energy we have.

As someone who works for children, I have to be thoughtful about what's most important. As I think of this, I can point out the following shortlist of priorities:
  • health and safety
  • happiness
  • a solid foundation of academic and life skills
  • positive coaching in relation to life's challenges, issues, and opportunities
So what does that mean for my work. First it means that I have to make sure that the environment I teach is as healthy and safe as possible. And I have to be someone who is available to students who are feeling unhealthy or unsafe, and then reach out to authorities, if need be, to remedy the situation.

It also means that I have to be continually assessing children's happy--are they happy at school, and if not, why not? Happiness is a key ingredient to life's success. 

Next, I have to help students gain a solid foundation of academic and life skills. There are many ways to do that, and as an educator I work with families, students, colleagues, and school/district/state leadership to determine the best paths and optimal environment to move students ahead into their future in positive and promising ways. 

Currently we try to help students gain a strong foundation of academic and social-emotional learning skills and experience to gain that solid foundation. This work is always evolving as the world changes and new knowledge about best learning and living is discovered and shared.

Finally as children grow, whether it be our children at home or at school, it's our job to positively coach them ahead into their independence--to help them grow the optimal skills, concept, knowledge, and attitudes that will help them navigate their world with as much success as possible. 

I truly enjoy working for children. This work is most challenging when the advocacy I have to do creates havoc and discord amongst others. Since children don't have much of a voice in American society, it's sometimes hard work to advocate for what they need to prosper in happy, healthy, and positive ways. Our investments in children don't reap huge financial or material rewards, and often times the results of the good work we do for children are not visible to us or known to us since those children move on from us into their lives. We have to trust our good work and the investment we make.

Improving Curriculum Programs: Science and Math

As we get to the final months of the school year, there's always a sense that we can continue to improve the program. I believe that our efforts to improve the program this year resulted in a better program. Evidence of that includes the following:
  • Inclusion of a couple of project based learning units in math
  • Fidelity to schedule and a good quantity and variety of learning in every subject matter
  • Wonderful field studies, expert visitors, and special events
  • Good growth on systemwide tests and assessments
  • A happy community of learners
  • More environmental education with a focus on the timely topic of climate change via a naturalist coach supported by a SUASCO grant
  • Greater emphasis on the SEL theme of teamwork
As I think ahead to the next months and year, I am thinking of areas that we can continue to improve the teaching/learning program.

Spring 2019 STEAM Survival Science 
I'll begin to revisit our systemwide grade five STEAM projects and better incorporate the state's STE standards as well as computational thinking into these projects. I'll create a STEAM survival workbook that leads students through each STEAM exploration and creation with associated vocabulary, facts, and figures using a survival theme since all the projects relate to survival themes.  I'm looking forward to this work because I know that it will deepen students understanding of the science behind the projects as well as strengthen the STEAM design work. 

Spring 2019 Climate Change Projects
Knowing that these projects are a direct match for the state's STE standards has been helpful with regard to finding time for the projects. Having a naturalist coach and the support of a grant has helped too. The biggest obstacles have been finding the time to well coach the student teams as they work on these projects. We're dedicating a number of days to this work soon which should help a lot. Prior to doing this work, I'll focus in on summarizing all the learning that students have done so far related to this project to provide them with a good review and then use that information next year as we embed this work into our overall science program.

Spring 2019 Science Slideshows
Last year colleagues had students create slideshows as a review of all the science they learned throughout the year. Students loved the project, so we'll continue this effort this year.

2019-2020 Science Program
As a team, I believe there's still a lot that we can do to improve the science program. It's limitless what we can do as we have great resources available. The challenge is time, priorities, and background knowledge. To meet this challenge, we'll attend a workshop in June to jumpstart the 2019-202 science/math teaching year. We'll likely review all that we've done and all that we want to do during the summer and make some decisions about how to deepen, extend, and better the science teaching in the year ahead. I imagine that I'll finesse the series of physical science lessons and the STEAM survival series. As a team we'll revisit the environmental education component of our program and analyze students' acquisition of knowledge, in part, from MCAS results. 

2019-2020 Math Program
I'll spend some time this summer reviewing analyzing the math program efforts and think about the roll out of math lessons and efforts in the year ahead. I will look at the ways I teach math and embed new learning to improve or add the following efforts:
  • Using a computational thinking approach and spread sheets to review addition and multiplication facts as well as number knowledge with an engaging game at the start of the year.
  • Creating an engaging summer math practice packet that gives students a good opportunity to deepen their knowledge of math facts and number knowledge. Distributing that practice packet during the spring transition day.
  • Looking at the curriculum map for the year's math program and making some adjustments.
  • Looking for ways to blend some concepts together for richer and deeper study.
  • Looking at the areas that the students struggled with via an analysis of systemwide/statewide tests and other factors, and looking for new ways to teach those concepts. 
  • Attending to the articles/videos  I've collected on my summer reading list
2019-2020 SEL Program
I want to update the SEL website that I use to foster knowledge and skills in this area with particular attention to the area of teamwork. I also want to organize this website to coincide with the many units and focus areas we teach throughout the year. 

All Stop and Read
We'll continue to foster lots of wonderful reading throughout the year and especially at the early days of 2019-2020, we'll focus in on the schedule and make time for this worthy learning.

Classroom Setup: A Welcoming Learning Community
Taking stock of what made the learning environment this year welcoming and what didn't will help us to create a welcoming learning environment for next year. Positives this year included the great team tables, supply caddies, storage drawers, science shelves, and supply shelves. 

The goal is to continue to develop a rich curriculum program that supports student learning in meaningful, engaging, empowering ways. Building on the wonderful program we've created so far will only prove to make the teaching and learning better. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tomorrow's Agenda: March 21

Tomorrow students will continue to study fractions, read on their own or with small groups, engage in a science review project, and play outdoors for recess. A good day to come.

Wise Investments

How often do you consider your returns on investments of time, money, energy, and relationships? How does one complete an accurate assessment of each category--what matters?

I thought about this topic today as I stood by the copier waiting for 75 tests to copy--I thought about where I invest my personal and professional dollars and time, and about what matters.

As we think about this, we think about the returns--what returns in time, energy, dollars, and relationships coincide with each investment.

Looking back, I can easily see the strength of some investments I've made. The investment of attending the college I attended has paid back big time in terms of good friends, good connections, and a good education--that college experience keeps on giving. That was definitely a great investment.

I have had some relationships that have resulted in a a big return too which is illustrated in so many good times and so much positive support. I am certainly grateful for these investments.

Also I'd say that the investment I made in my home has overall resulted in a positive return of good times, a welcoming, comfortable place for those I love, and a fair financial investment too. Could we have done better with this choice--perhaps a bit, but that's not absolutely clear and the results are good enough that it's not worth looking back.

Yet there are other areas of life where the investment's returns are not as clear--areas where I may feel that I've given more than received, and areas that took, but didn't give back. These areas leave me wondering about what I could have done differently to make a better investment. In many cases, this is difficult to evaluate since some of the reasons why these investments didn't pay off in ways that I would have liked have a lot more to do with the way the world has evolved and my commitments to other meaningful areas of life.

Going forward with an even greater regard for the value of time and good investments, I'll likely think a bit deeper about where I invest my time, energy, money, and relationships--I don't think I'll be as patient with bad investments as I've been in the past. I realize, however, that we can't always see the future even when we invest our best efforts, and the best of efforts and thought investment may sour. That's the unpredictability of life. That unknown doesn't leave me shy about investing, however, since I know that the more we invest with good thought and effort, the better our chances are of reaping positive, beneficial results. Onward.

Humility: The chiseled rock

I often feel like a rock that is continually being chiseled in life. With every error, lesson, and experience, I am changed, and often those changes are humbling. I think, Why didn't I know that before? 

When we're open to learning and change, we also have to be open to the humility that comes with it. That humility also brings with it empathy too because as you learn, you understand about others' learning, challenges, and potential too.

Sometimes I wonder if parents and teachers have a monopoly on learning and humility since we face countless problems and growth opportunities daily. Our children at school and at home are constantly teaching us and broadening our perspectives. They continually hone our sense of justice, equity, respect, and contribution. We are much better because of them, but that doesn't mean the learning is always easy. We eat a lot of humble pie.

To do our best means to face each day with a fresh perspective and the new knowledge from the days before. As Jose Vilson inspires, "We can do this!"

Problem Solving Leadership

In everyone's life, organization, community, and country there are problems, and amongst those groups there are typically good problem solving leaders--people who are unafraid to take the helm when problems arise, and people who utilize best possible problem solving skill, respect, and focus.

Who are those people in your community?

What do they do?

As I think about this, I am thinking about the times when snow storms or other weather events happen in our state. Generally state leaders do a great job when these events occur--they have a process in place to foster good communication and directives to keep people informed and safe. This has saved many lives--our state leaders are typically very good problem solvers.

Over time as a mom and family member, I've learned that it's best to deal with problems while they are small, and it's best not to bury problems, but instead talk about them. For example, there was a problem in my family recently--we all talked about it. Our conversations were respectful and forward thinking. We discussed how to handle the problem now and how to prevent such a problem in the future. It was much easier to talk about this problem while it was small rather than wait until it exploded into unexpected, hurtful results--while the problem was small, our family was able to mitigate potential future trauma related to this problem.

In some circumstances, people ignore problems. They skirt the issue and don't face the situation or instead treat problems with shame, blame, and disrespect which only serves to grow the problem more. We all have to be mindful of how we face problems. Do we shame and blame? Do we look for excuses? Or do we respect the problem and treat it with as much courage, honesty, respect, and good collaborative problem solving process as possible.

Fortunately there are not a lot of problems right at this moment in my life, and most of the problems I'm facing at this time are positive problems of how to improve aspects of life and learning at home and at school. For example positive problems I'm dealing with at school are how to deepen and better the physical science program and how to create a more hands-on project-based math program. These are positive problems that profit from collegial study and share, research, reading, and other study opportunities.  Another school problem I'm dealing with that's positive is how to better serve the students so that every child is getting what they need to flourish now and into the future--this is a limitless problem to consider, one that every educator can continue to work on.

Bottom line is that when we ignore problems or treat those problems with shame, blame, and disrespect, we waste time and make the problem bigger. We can see this happening on a national level every day as our President spends so much time with shame, blame, and disrespect rather than working with the best and brightest in honest, intelligent, and collaborative ways to truly move our country forward rather than leave us mired in divide and disrespect.

I want to be cognizant of the potential that positive problem solving leadership and effort holds for my own work and the work of others. I know that this is a positive focus. Onward.

Field Study Process and Payment

I was evidently nervous when I arrived at the main office of the field trip location. Outside were 65 students and about 20 parents/teachers. Inside I hoped that the work to plan the trip and the check-in-hand would suffice for the number of children there and the planning done. I expressed my anxiety to the person in charge who responded that every teacher who arrives with a check in hand is very nervous and expresses that field trips are tough to plan and carry out. I felt better knowing I wasn't alone. I waited for the receipt, tucked it away in my backpack, and then joined the group for a fun day at a historic location.

Our team plans a lot of field trips, expert visitors, and special events for the students. I believe this is a good idea because it demonstrates to students that learning occurs everywhere we go and amongst multiple people and events. I also believe that field trips build great cultural proficiency by introducing students to many people and experiences that are often different from what they naturally engage in, and field trips provide the learning community with common experiences that help to strengthen our community of learners and provide valuable reference points for later learning. This is all good.

The challenge with field trips is the time it takes to plan these trips. Our team generally plans most of the trips during the summer months since that's a time when we can wait on the other end of the phone for up to 30 minutes or more as we contact field trip coordinators, discuss trip plans, check schedules, and complete all related details. To plan a field trip altogether takes a good hour of phone time and a good hour of collegial time too as we think about all the logistics related to the trip.

The money is often the difficult part for multiple reasons including the following:
  • families generally pay the fee for field trips. That means we have to collect the funds from family members and find funds for families unable to pay. That also means we have to figure out the cost per family, create permission slips, collect the money online and/or offline, keep track of who has paid and who has not, follow up with regard to missing payments,  and request deposits and payment from office staff. 
  • we also have to order busses for these events which are expensive. This also means figuring out each child's portion of the bus fee and collecting the money.
What makes the money part of the field trips most difficult is that teachers generally don't have much time during the work day to make phone calls, remind parents to pay their fee, and work to figure out how to fund the trips for students who are unable to pay. We don't have this time because we are generally working with large groups of students most of the day, and when we are not working with large groups of students, we're typically setting up or planning for all those students' learning events. 

Some recommend that we don't do field trips given the amount of time and strife the trips create, but I believe our team is committed to sponsoring these field studies because we know how enriching these events are for students--we know these events help to create a strong, smart, and enthusiastic learning team.

How can we make sure that field studies are easier to plan, manage, and execute. What might we do differently? As it stands now, I think this process may work in our environment.
  1. Summer planning for most trips which means checking the calendar, contacting the field trip location, securing a date, and figuring out the fees.
  2. Completing field trip approval forms during the summer and sending those slips to the office online so they can secure busses and  establish fees. (I'm wondering if it would be better for teachers to secure the busses--I'm not sure about that). Make sure that the amount we are asking students to pay account for potential increase in bus costs and decrease in number of students attending (numbers of students at a grade level or for a trip often change due to a large number of factors).
  3. Creating permission slips, passing out those slips, and collecting the fees about one month in advance. Keeping track of all payments w/a common payment book for the grade level. 
  4. In most cases getting a check early and having that check sent to the field trip location so we don't have to worry about the money on the day of the trip--this might be helpful. In these cases, receiving a receipt online will be ideal. When we have to pay at the place, requesting a check a few days ahead and then once we pay, receiving a receipt and when we return to school making a copy of the receipt and handing the original to office staff. 
  5. Keeping a grade-level book that includes copies of all checks, receipts, and paperwork to keep a log of the trips' documents in case issues arise later.
  6. Reviewing the trips' finances and logistics right after the trip to see if our funding was accurate and if there are other logistical issues that need attention. 
  7. Reflecting on the trip or special event with students and colleagues soon after the trip, and making decisions about the trip or special event for the future.
Field studies have amazing potential with regard to dynamic teaching/learning programs. I'm wondering about how many schools and educators shy away from these events due to the complexity of planning and carrying out the events, and how many have streamlined the planning and preparation in order to make these events a regular part of the school program. 

Should field studies be an afterthought or an extra, or should field studies be considered a vital part of a meaningful, engaging learning program? If field studies are considered vital, should we find better ways to support and pay for these events so that children in all schools and from all communities can enjoy and learn from these events? 

Thinking about the school year: The Big Picture

The school year, not unlike the agricultural year, is broken up into multiple time frames for ideal teaching. To understand this yearly organization is to help you teach better.

What does the year look like?

June Transition: Good byes and Hellos
The school year actually ends and begins in June. In June we say good bye to the year's students with a number of celebratory and closure events, and we also say hello to our new students with an introductory meeting, supply list, move-up letter, and class lists.

Teachers generally spend some time during the summer months reviewing the year in general, planning special events, and studying topics to deepen and improve their craft.

September: Relationship Building and Introductory Exercises
In September we get to know our students, collegial team, and families. We host a curriculum night, collect survey information, start showcase portfolios, and engage in community building introductory academic and social/emotional activities.

Generally in October we begin to practice and get used to the learning/teaching routines as we begin to dig into the curriculum program.

November - January
These months include lots of focus on the academic program with a variety of activities. We end this period with a few assessments and progress reports.

February to Early April
We dig in more with the curriculum and end this period with more assessments.

Early April to End of May
This marks the MCAS period when the school schedule changes to accommodate MCAS tests. The days are spent with curriculum review activities, MCAS tests, play rehearsals, STEAM projects, and biography project efforts.

End of May to June
This is our big project based learning time when students perform their fifth grade play and Global Changemakers character presentation. They also engage in a number of celebratory events, a stewardship hike, and the global cardboard challenge.

Generally each part of the year includes a few field studies, expert visitors, and/or special events. There are also unit assessments and projects that break up the traditional learning events.

Good choreography of the school year makes a school year program engaging and meaningful--to look at the big picture of the year first, and then to input the specific events helps a lot in this regard.