Monday, June 24, 2019


In this information age, prioritization can be a challenge. I know for a tangental individual like me, one that likes to explore many paths, it takes lots of self-coaching to stay the course to achieve exactly what it is that I want to achieve. That's while you'll find me writing again and again about the priorities that mean the most to me, priorities that keep me on course.

Teach ALL Children Well
As a fifth grade teacher, my main goal is to teach each and every one of my students as well as I can. That's why I'm reading Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain this summer. It's a book that will help me to elevate the ways I teach all students.

Teach Math Well
The world of math education is exploding in wonderful ways right now, and I'll try to keep up by reading Routines for Reasoning, updating my math-related Google docs and website, creating two-three deep math learning performance tasks for the 2019-2020 school year, learning to use Graspable Math, advocating for an updated math RTI approach, and re-organizing math supplies and the classroom in general to support optimal math teaching.

Teach STEAM/Science Well
I'll work with my grade-level colleagues and naturalists/educators from Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm to update our standards-based environmental education efforts with a second-year focus on the SUASCO Watershed and Climate Change. We had a successful year one with this project, and now we'll work to better what we did in year two. To support this study, I'll also attend a Wade Institute multi-day summer science study which will give me a lot of information to inform this work.

Family First
Of course summer is a great time to focus on family relationships and good times. That focus means working to better organize/update our home and yard, preparing for and participating in family get togethers, and being there to support family members with various needs.

Health and Fitness
I tend to put this on a back burner, but I signed up for a sports event that will hopefully inspire greater attention to this focus.

Local Union
I have some work to do to update our union website and organize multiple emails and other information so we can keep good track of the efforts we're involved in.

Political Action
As one who believes we can do a better job in the USA to uplift all lives, there's lots of work to do. I know that my work as a teacher and union member contributes to this. I also support political candidates who mirror my beliefs about what we can do to make our country a stronger, better country for all. There is so much room for good involvement here, and I will continue to think about how I might best match my skills, knowledge, and abilities with this potential.

Blogger, Tweeter, Writer for Betterment
I love to think, research, read, and write. I like to share my questions, knowledge, ideas, and creations with others. I share in hopes that what I have to say may be what others are looking to read, wonder about, or respond to. I read ideas from all kinds of people in all kinds of places--their thoughts, research, and work inspire me in countless ways. I hope that my work will serve to inspire some. In many ways, I have felt that less share of good ideas has resulted in less opportunity. It seems that some like to keep good ideas, information, and opportunities a secret with the notion that sharing will dilute their opportunities. On the other hand, I believe the more we all know and share, the better we can all do. I write with the belief that there's enough to go around, and with good synergy, we can uplift lives all over the globe. In my long life, I've seen the results of good ideas, collaboration, and advocacy in better lives, more opportunity, and good living. I want to see that scale so that few to no people on Earth live with unnecessary suffering, inequity, pain, or struggle. While I understand that no life will be perfect, I also know that there is such a think as unnecessary struggle. For example, it's foolish for us to sit back and allow innocents to be injured or killed by gun violence when we know that new regulations, restrictions, and reduction will lesson such anguish and pain. Similarly we know that the Earth can produce enough healthy food to feed everyone, yet we don't work hard enough to eliminate starvation. There's so many ways we can better live for all, and that's why I research, read, write, advocate, and work for betterment at home, at work, and elsewhere.

What am I missing?
These are my priorities right now. If you have anything to add, let me know. Prioritization in this busy, ever changing world of limitless opportunity for positive effort and impact is essential so that we arrive at the places we seek. Onward.

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Chapter Two Reflections

Preservation of one's own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures. 
- Cesar Chavez

As I read the opening quote of chapter two, one I copied at the top of the page, I was reminded of a wish I had as a child. I always wished I could morph myself into people of other cultures and live amongst them to learn about their lives. I remember having this wish early on as we drove past high apartment building towers in New York City. I wanted to know first-hand what it was like to live in one of those towers. I found myself imagining that. Later as I learned about people all over the world, I found myself wishing that I could experience being a Native American person living on a reservation, a Muslim mother in a Turkish town, an Aborigine in Australia, a farm girl on a midwestern farm, and more. While I have a deep sense of pride and love for my own roots as the descendent of Irish and Polish immigrants who grew up in a warm, working class neighborhood as part of a big family in an industrial Northeast city in the United States, I also have keenly felt the limitations of my experience, an experience that is only one kind of experience in a world of multiple cultures, ways of living, and experiences. That's one reason why I'm drawn to social media, reading, research, and travel--I like to learn about our differences and commonalities as a people, and as an educator it is my aim to respect, learn from, and grow with the many diverse students and families I work with each and every year. That's why I was originally drawn to the #crttb Twitter slow chat, a chat focused on the shared reading, reflections, and share related to the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain by Zaretta Hammond. 

To prepare for reading chapter two, I first read an article about how to mitigate and eliminate white supremacist attitudes/actions at school. It was an article sent to me by a colleague I respect for her courage and deep study related to the struggle with racism in schools. Then I looked at this week's focus questions:

The solutions for closing the achievement-gap (opportunity gap) lie in tapping into children's cultures. To do this, educators have to build background knowledge and awareness related to culture.
Hammond points out that culture is the way that every brain makes sense of the world. The brain uses cultural information to turn everyday happenings into meaningful events.

It was very interesting and helpful to read about the differences between surface culture, shallow culture, and deep culture, and to understand that our core mental models created by our cultures stay with us--these mental models are the schema with which we interpret the world.

Since I've been studying about cultural proficiency and culturally responsive teaching, I have found myself often self-coaching related to the schema I have. For example, I might think to myself, my initial reaction to the situation is __________, but I know this is based on ___________, and the truth of the matter is _________________ so I will act _______________________________________. This helps me to coach myself away from a reaction based on my deep culture/schema to a reaction based on new knowledge, understanding, and equity.

To teach a culturally diverse group of students well, we have to focus on the roots of culture: worldview, core beliefs, and group values. Hammond helps us to think about the roots of culture through a discussion on cultural archetypes. First, she discusses the the common cultural archetype connected with collectivism vs. individualism. She also focused on oral vs. written traditions. Hammond further discusses implicit bias (the kind of bias and stereotypes that are hard wired in us from our cultural roots) and structural racialization that focuses on the interplay of social and institutional practices that may negatively impact particular groups in our organizations, communities, and nation. As I think of structural racialization, I wonder about the structures in place where I work that distance students from successful independent learning, higher order thinking, and overall success in the school community. As I think of this and read Hammond's words, I immediately think about the potential that exists if we bridge the geography divide, ensure that all students are working with qualified staff, and provide other supports that give every child the opportunity to succeed. It's interesting to me that Hammond sees the achievement gap as a gap between dependent learners and independent learners. I want to read more about this.

Hammond demonstrates the difference between poverty and sociopolitcal context as she describes the myth of poverty and the reality of sociopolitical context. She describes poverty as the condition or symptom of structural inequities built into our social and economic systems. I remember learning about this a long time ago, and what made it the most clear to me was the idea of the "old-boy network" - a network of advantage that some are connected to and some are not, and to not be connected to this system of economic advantage often holds people back from opportunity.  To see poverty as culture promotes deficit thinking and demonstrates a lack of true understanding of what poverty is, why it exists, and the impact of institutionalized racism, structural racialization, skin color privilege, or language discrimination. We have to understand how we create intellectual apartheid in schools in order to build intellective capacity (intellective capacity is the increased power the brain creates to process complex information more effectively). To do this, as Hammond guides in chapter one, teachers have to be well-versed in brain science and cultural understanding.

Working against a white supremacist culture

The list below helps us to work against a narrow White supremacist culture towards a more inclusive
culture. Attributes of a White supremacist culture are found by clicking the link to this article.
The list below shows ways that we can work against a narrow White supremacist culture using these
key actions:

  • Appreciation
  • Embracing and learning from mistakes
  • Deal w/problems right away w/good process
  • Start with the positives
  • Encourage people to solve their problems, support them
  • Reasonable and realistic work plans
  • Good work takes time
  • Make time as a team to discuss what respect for diversity and inclusion looks like at school
  • Decide on the processes you will use for problem solving with colleagues
  • Know that abuse will happen, and when it does, it's time to act
  • Be aware of and deconstruct defensiveness
  • Establish process and quality goals that reflect how you want to do the work
  • Establish value statements - what do we value?
  • Emphasize and model that there are many ways to successfully learn & study
  • Together we do better
  • Understand the roles of others in the organization, observe, listen and learn from them
  • Use continuum think, don't oversimplify
  • Assume everyone has a valid point of view and world view and work to understand that
  • Avoid making important decisions under pressure
  • Give people breathing room; don't create or expect tight protocols for sharing important issues
  • Use seven generation thinking/acting
  • Use a broader lens for cost assessment including morale, credibility, use of resources
  • Welcome review and critique
  • Sit with discomfort
  • Deepen your understanding of racism and oppression

An online colleague sent me an article related to working against a white supremacist culture.

I took a close look at the notes from this article and made a list to help me incorporate the ideas into the teaching/learning culture. With regard to inclusion of all cultures and fair use of power in the school setting, I believe that we can better what we do overall in the following ways:
  • Make sure that we are finding ways to communicate well with all families, students, and staff that work with us and our students.
  • Make sure that we are taking problems seriously, even small problems, and working as a broader team to solve those problems.
  • Listening closely to the goals and objectives of the people we work with including families, students, colleagues, administrators, and community members, and finding win-win ways to synthesize those objectives into a strong teaching/learning program. 
As I read through the notes, the following points spoke to me. 
  • “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good”; beware of perfectionism
  • Express appreciation, acknowledge what’s right about an organization, group, effort
  • Strengths based teaching/leadership; acknowledge strengths before dissecting/analyzing challenges.
  • Go hard on the problem, not the people - see mistakes for what they are, stepping stones to success.
  • Make the time to reflect, dissect, and learn from mistakes as a community
  • Work as a team with honesty and respect for one another to better what we can do.
  • Think long term, make time to analyze and improve efforts.
  • Use democratic process for decision making.
  • Don’t sacrifice allies for quick, visible results--take the time needed to work in inclusive ways that build community.
  • Be reasonable about what’s expected--match funding, time realistically with efforts and objectives.
  • Revisit organizational structure to make sure that everyone has the power and support they need to do their jobs well.
  • Invite critique and open dialogue about all initiatives, efforts.
  • Set protocols related to having an open mind, good process, and fair analysis when it comes to new ideas and initiatives
  • Find ways to eliminate defensiveness and replace it with acceptance, open minds, good process, and respect with regard to new ideas, initiatives, honest analysis, and efforts to improve.
  • Don’t let a focus on quantity overtake a focus on quality; value quality of relationships, democratic process, and ability to constructively deal with conflict.
  • Embrace emotion and feelings.
  • Communication is more than words; take note of the many ways ideas, response, and experiences are communicated in your organization.
  • Value more than the ability to communicate in writing, take note of the many ways that people demonstrate and use a variety good skills such as relationship building in an organization.
  • Understand and embrace the fact that there are many paths to doing good work, not just one. Understand and embrace multiple positive paths and ways of looking at and acting in similar situations.
  • Be explicit and inclusive with decision making processes; and be open to related questions and ideas.
  • Make time to listen to others; hear their point of view, and work together to synthesize ideas, objectives, goals.
  • Use continuum think rather than either/or think.
  • See the details and complexity of issues; listen to what all members of a team have to say.
As I think of all these points and the article in general, it seems that the more we can truly regard every individual we work alongside with as a valuable, essential, and worthy member of the team, someone we can learn from and with, and an essential individual in our collective efforts to teach well, the better we will be able to deconstruct detrimental white supremacist attitudes and behaviors of the past.

Related links and resources: 


Sunday, June 23, 2019

Homework: Question of the Day and Reading Log?

As I looked over the rubrics for high quality tasks provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, I wondered if my team should make home include a question of the day plus independent reading.

By focusing on a question of the day, students would have one interdisciplinary notebook in which they would put the question at the top of the page, then for home study, they would reflect on that question with pictures, numbers, and words.

Why is this a good idea?

First, as the rubric describes, a high quality task demands that students explain their thinking, the solution, or process they completed and reflect on their learning/growth as scientists, engineers, and students of the humanities. By asking all fifth graders to reflect on a similar question each evening, we will promote this thinking in a manageable way and a way that prompts collaboration, discussion, and debate by students, family members, and educators.

For example, if we simply started the year with the question, What is the recipe for successful learning? We would create a conversation about successful learning that we could follow-up with the next day. The next question might be, What creates an effective team? These initial questions would help set the stage for a strong learning community, and later the questions would become more specific to a particular discipline such as Which numbers from 0 to 100 has the most factor pairs? What are those numbers, what are their factor pairs, and what did you do to figure this out?

Since math guru Jo Boaler's research points to the fact that if you are going to give homework, make it reflective, and other research points to the challenge with assigning homework that's doable, meaningful, and productive. I believe this kind of homework is doable, meaningful, and productive as it focuses on meaningful content, is open-ended inviting a variety of responses, sets the stage for good debate/discussion, and provides students with a daily opportunity to write. For those who don't like paper/pencil tasks (even though the research points to the worth of this), we could invite them to puzzle out the questions on line and then print/paste their results into the notebook.

On the backside of the page, students could chart their reading by listing the book, the pages they've read, and a sentence or two and/or visual images that connect to their reading.

This may be the kind of manageable, home study we need to support reading, writing, and content knowledge, skill, and concept. What do you think?

Chart your study for greater gain

As I study this summer, I'm aware of the importance of charting your study. First, by focusing in on your study with good charting, you better hold on to the learning and more able to embed the learning into your teaching in the year ahead.

What does apt charting include?
  1. Choose study options such as courses, books, online follows, conferences, and more that fit your central questions with regard to your teaching/learning development.
  2. Prior to reading or engaging with the learning event, pose your questions and what you hope to get out of the learning--that focuses your learning.
  3. As you read, research, or interact with the event, synthesize learning by writing or making mini posters that demonstrate how you will use the knowledge to develop your teaching/learning program in positive ways. Also pose new questions that arise so that you may focus on those questions as the study continues. 
  4. At the end of the study, go back to the resources you use and update those resources with new information. 
  5. During summer or when schools starts, share the new learning with colleagues and students in positive ways. 
This approach ensures that you embed worthy, new learning into your teaching practice in meaningful, helpful ways. This ensures that you don't lose the good ideas, and by having a good log on personal or public blog, that information becomes easy to share as part of your evaluation evidence, during collegial meetings, or as you advocate for new or better procedures, materials, and support in your school community. 

Wade Institute Science Study: Day One - Summer 2019

The Wade Institute Introduction focused on Inquiry
Educators met at Beyond Benign, an organization focused on green chemistry education, yesterday to begin a multi-day investigation of environmental education and science literacy. There were many great takeaways that will strengthen my science teaching next year. 

First of all, the course is well organized both online and offline. This makes the learning highly accessible to all. We do the same with our 5th grade science program--most resources are available both online and offline allowing all students to learn where they are when they want. 

We used a hands-on solubility activity to understand the difference between structured, guided, and open inquiry. This helped me to think deeply about the types of inquiry learning I promote with fifth graders. It was also affirming to hear middle school and high school teachers discuss when greater structure is needed for science and engineering study--that helped me to think about how I'll refine and develop inquiry that we integrate into the fifth grade program.  It also helped me to think about the difference between guided inquiry (driven by a question) and open inquiry (driven by I wonder statements/exploration). Further as we explored inquiry, the exploration supported the work we've done at fifth grade related to systematic thinking, logic, and computational thinking--the book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain further affirms our need to explicitly teach students how to maximize their brain potential/processes to learn in ways that profit from explicit teaching and practice of logical, systematic, and computational learning processes. 

We were reminded of the importance of leaving room for failure which made me think about the number of repetitions or time we build into exploration--do we just allow students to investigate a phenomena or design a solution once, or do we leave time for several iterations so students can fail, fail often, and respond to failure by analyzing, trying again and doing better.

Teachers in the room talked with excitement about the ways they teach students to write concise procedures. While many were familiar with the peanut butter and jelly lesson, one educator noted that she teaches similar procedural thinking/writing with a radish lab. This work ties nicely with Massachusetts' Department of Elementary and Secondary education computational thinking lessons and efforts. Educators also discussed the pros and cons of using phones or other digital devices to capture exploration steps. At fifth grade I'd like to integrate the iPad more into our environmental studies as a way to capture what we do, see, and analyze. It was mentioned that the phone is very helpful when it comes to microscopic work.

Specifically I began to think about how we can elevate and deepen our fifth grade standards-based environmental education problem. I realized we could start by distinguishing between engineering tasks which asks students to define a problem and design a solution, and science tasks which guide children in developing a hypothesis and conducting an investigation to test the hypothesis and explain the phenomena. 

Since our team will meet on Thursday to begin our fifth grade project work evaluation and development, I'll read the assigned articles before then so that information can inform our meeting. And then what we do at the meeting will inform the summer study that will occur both at Fitchburg State University and in the field. 

If you're interested in developing your science teaching knowledge this summer, Wade Institute summer programs are still accepting students even though the deadline has passed.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Learning in the field; professional study

I'll join a small number of middle school and high school educators today to begin a multi-day inquiry-based field exploration of the local environment with educators from Beyond Benign, The Wade Institute for Science EducationHarvard Forest, and Mass Audubon.

I signed up for this exploration in order to deepen my knowledge of and ability to teach science to fifth grade students. I have found that the more I know, the better I can teach. Overtime I have engaged in many learning experiences like this which have had a positive affect on my teaching craft and practice.

What do I hope to get out of this institute?

First, I look forward to learning from the educators there. Many will be educators who teach science every day. I want to hear those instructors talk about the ways they approach science education day in and day out in the schools where they teach.

Next, I want to challenge myself as a learner to learn in efficient and effective ways. I've learned a lot and taught a lot about how to maximize optimal brain-friendly teaching/learning strategies, and I want to employ those strategies to learn well and increase my knowledge.

And, I want to look for ways to update and deepen the environmental education program we teach at school. I updated our environmental program outline early this week and later next week I'll work with the program team to continue to update the interdisciplinary program we promote. I'll continue this revision process throughout the days when I take the course which will include about 6-7 days beginning today, then in July, and again next fall.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

What is your social media strategy?

I admit I truly enjoy social media. I love the fast pace of new ideas, opinions, and links that travel my computer screen. I like the way that this information sparks ideas, creates connections, promotes synthesis, and keeps me aware of the world around me. Yet, similar to traveling through a populated city sidewalk or dense forest, you need to have a strategy to safely and productively use social media.

I use the following plan with regard to social media.

Be Wary: Trends rather than facts
I rarely trust the truth of a post or poster unless I know that person or fact-check the post via multiple sources. Rather than think of posts or posters as truth, I see those posts and posters as parts of trends-tides of information, thought, individuals.

Know the Truth
If an idea or an individual deeply sparks my interest, I'll make the time to research that idea or individual. Once I even took a four hour ride to and from a conference to hear an individual that inspired me on Twitter speak. I wanted to know this person in real time. Once I heard him speak, I was confident about following him more closely. Since that time, I've reached out to meet social media follows via multiple events. That's helped me to create a Professional Learning Network that includes many people I know and trust. With facts, I do more research to see if the facts are true.

Block & Report Disrespect
I block almost all disrespect on social media. I'm not a fan of profanity, humiliation, violence, slander, exaggeration, lies, shaming, and blaming, and will block almost all who share in that way. If the disrespect moves to what I believe is a dangerous level, I will report it.

Share Ideas
I mostly see social media as an idea exchange, and I freely share my ideas via social media.

Humanize Hackers
It's my hope that we can humanize the hackers who are relegated to quiet spaces everywhere and use their time to disrupt the good that can happen.

Bot, Troll, and False Information Alarms and Alerts
I'd like to see the government come up with a way to alert people of trolls, bots, and misinformation in quick, efficient ways. For example, perhaps there would be a daily report of trolls, bots, and misinformation available to social media fans like me.

Rules for Share
I generally use the following rules for social media use:

  • Only share what I'm comfortable defending as front page news
  • Rather than discuss singular negative topics, I generalize to the greater issue
  • Rarely using names of others
  • Sometimes using names of others if it's positive news or if they are a well known figure
  • Writing with respect
  • Acknowledging I'm one point of view
  • Leaving out a lot of detailed, personal information (I probably share more than most, but don't advocate that)
As you can see, I'm still crafting my rules of the road when it comes to social media, so I'm interested in what you have to say about this too. 

2019 Summer Study Starts

Study and creating are sports for me. I can't wait to dig deeply into learning/teaching topics to make our grade-level program better. I spent this morning reviewing our environmental education efforts. First, I matched up the efforts to date with the existing science, social studies, and math standards. I cleaned up the project website, shared the update with the grade-level educators, and invited members of the broader grade-level team including administrators and specialists to review, join, or weigh in on this project if interested (no pressure!).

Starting the summer with a focus on environmental education is perfect since it sets the stage for a summer camp-like experience, one that includes spending an afternoon at Drumlin Farm, a week at Audubon's Wachusett Mountain reservation, and follow-up reading, research, hands-on projects, and outdoor exploration to prep for the 2019-2020 school year when we teach the updated interdisciplinary unit.

Today was a good day to start this study as the year's efforts are fresh in my mind. I have a good grasp on what worked and what could be better right now, and I know that by solidifying my thoughts now, I'll be a better participant at our team meeting next week.

If you're interested in the work we're doing to update environmental education, please take a look at our website. If you have ideas about how to better this work, we invite your commentary. Also if you have an interest in joining this project, I believe there may be room for a few more schools in the Metrowest Massachusetts region to join us. Let me know if you're interested.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Big, Empty Room: Lots of Possibility

As I look out into my big, empty classroom. I'm thinking about how I'll set it up for school next year. A good plan will lead to a positive teaching learning environment.

Essentially the room will be split into an active learning space, and a quiet meeting/thinking/supply space.

The active learning space will be filled with tables, learning tools, and a variety of seating. The quiet meeting/thinking/supply space will include books, more learning supplies, and a science station.

The main task will be to sort the many, many materials I have into categories and then store them in easily accessible spaces throughout the room in the following ways:

  • Science cabinet: materials that can easily spill, awkward to store materials, and materials that are best stored under lock and key.
  • Yellow cabinet: Lots of lesson materials that are used infrequently.
  • Drawers: Materials for student use--those that are used often
  • Metal Shelves: Outdoor education materials
  • Basket: Playground balls, jump ropes, and more outdoor materials.
  • Book baskets - those baskets will be stored around the room and organized by subject connections--drawing books, fiction, science informational books, picture books. . . .
  • Walls: I'm going to hang up fewer posters this year in order to leave room for students' 3-word posters--I want those posters to illustrate who students are and what their goals are for the year. I'll work with colleagues to create a mock-up of the poster that leaves space for student individuality.
In August, I'll refer to this list, sort and organize, and likely do another purge of outdated materials. With a few years to go, my long term goal is to leave the classroom highly organized with the most important learning materials. Onward. 

Teach Well: Slow it Down

I watched an exemplary colleague lead a group of approximately 50 children masterfully. The children were happy, engaged, and collaborative. There was no disruption, rude comments, or inappropriate behavior. I have observed this colleague over many years, and this year I took an extra deep look at what she does.

I noticed that she speaks slowly and chooses her words carefully. She doesn't over-talk or talk too fast. This calms children down whereas too fast and too much talking makes children anxious. This teacher is always prepared and her lessons are wonderfully engaging and student-centered. There's lots of active learning.

Next year I want to better employ the way this educator uses language, and I also want to make the initial investigations simpler. Sometimes I believe that I have started lessons with a too-difficult start which makes many students nervous and anxious whereas if I start with a simple task and scaffold the follow-up tasks, there will be a more even growth/challenge opportunity. Starting with a fairly easy and engaging task gives students confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This is a good way to begin.

Apt lesson choreography is integral to good teaching. As educators we are always learning and improving our craft. I'm sure I'll think of other ways to improve my teaching/learning practice during the summer study months--rich months of reflection, reading, research, and study. Onward.

Math Learning/Teaching Routine

Every year I change the math learning/teaching routine. I find that the more solid the routine, the better students are able to independently learn with depth, confidence, and skill.

I thought about this today as I looked ahead to the math teaching year for 2019-2020.

I will use the following simply daily routine for the core math time:
  1. 5 minutes: Read the morning message, collect the supplies you need and write the daily question at the top of your math journal page.
  2. 10 minutes: Engage in the introductory discussion  - a question that relates to yesterday's key question and today's question.
  3. 30 minutes: Participate in the daily task - typically a hands-on and/or online task that's individual and/or collaborative.
  4. 5 minutes: Clean-up
  5. 10 minutes: Final discussion/clean-up/transition
  6. Home study: answer the day's question in your math journal with pictures, numbers, and/or words. 

Essential Fifth Grade Questions

As I dive into updating and deepening the fifth grade program this summer, I'll think about what the essential questions are? What questions will lead our efforts?

I'll add to this list and make revisions over the summer, but to start with here are a few?


  • What do I need to do to be a successful team member?
  • How do effective teams work?
  • How can I be a good friend and classmate?
  • What is the expected social etiquette and behavior and why is knowing this important?
  • What routines, behaviors, and efforts set me up for success?
  • What does effective practice look like? Why is that important?
  • What is proportion? Where do we see and use proportional reasoning? 
  • What are numbers? How do numbers work?
  • What is a system? How can knowing and understanding the concept of systems help me to learn?
  • What is the base ten number system? How does the base-ten number system work?
  • How can I use numbers, shapes, diagrams, graphs, pictures, and more to solve problems, analyze information, and prove truths?
  • What is science? Why is learning science important?
  • How can I effectively learn science in the classroom lab and in the environment?
  • How do my senses help me to learn science?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

2019-2020 School Year

The past year was an outstanding school year in so many ways. We ended on a high note. What will next year bring?

  • Focus on building a strong, respectful, kind class community
  • Developing the math and science program with a focus on the details
  • Integration of SEL into the curriculum
  • Continued optimal collegiality and collaboration with the grade level team
  • Continued role as secretary of the local union
  • Professional learning to support goals above.
I'll step back more from systemwide think to a greater focus on the grade-level community and school community. I'll essentially continue the path that has been laid in the past few years, a positive path for good teaching and learning. 

Last School Day 2018-2019 Year

It was a beautiful last day of school. Since it was the principal's last day, the chorus sang a beautiful version of Thank You Very Much. They even added a kazoo version to the mix which made it lots of fun. There was the reading by two students of a poem crafted by our reading specialist with words written by many students, and later all staff members sang a farewell song. After that there was time for Memory Books, recess, a slideshow and finally the clap-out. All in all it was a very positive day.

The clean-up is almost done. Of course, I'm leaving some of the organization until late August when I'm filled once again with that new school year anticipation and energy. Until then there will be some days for summer fun, summer study, and a bit of summer work too.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Tomorrow is a Special Day

Tomorrow's Menu

  • clean the computers, make a choice
  • school assembly
  • recess
  • Memory Books and autographs
  • more play
  • early lunch
  • slide show
  • final pack-up and meeting
  • clap-out!

Global Cardboard Challenge Arcade Success

From 10:30-2:00 students entertained schoolmates in grades K-5 with a myriad of cardboard arcade games. Students lined up to play games and win prizes during their lunch recess on the playground. There was table tennis, skeet ball, miniature golf, miniature basketball, and many, many more imaginative games.

Thanks to the generosity of Gentle Giant Moving Company, we had plenty of boxes delivered to us in good time for lots of wonderful planning and creativity.

The day overall went well. As far as changes for next year, I want to consider the following:
  • Consult the custodian about the best containers for recycling after the event, and have those containers ready.
  • Start a bit earlier collecting prizes and have the prizes ready to go. Most prizes were recycled toys, books, art supplies and games. 
Other than that, I thought the timeline worked well including the following:
  • early morning meeting
  • recess
  • Global Cardboard Challenge talk
  • set-up
  • arcade game playing with each grade-level
  • clean-up
  • more play
This is a joyful event to have at the end of the school year, one we'll likely repeat next year. 

Nice is not always right

Sometimes nice is mistaken for right. Of course, it's awesome to be nice--when you're nice, people feel better and you're more approachable. But sometimes, people choose nice over truth or right. They may choose to be nice, but not do what is right.

In general, the aim needs to be nice and right. For example if you're asked a tough question, and you know the answer will not be welcome. You can be right and nice. You can answer with empathy, care, and kindness, and tell the truth too. That happened to me recently. I asked a tough question. The response was empathetic which made the tough answer a lot easier to take.

If you take the advice of the book, Getting to Yes, which is to go hard on the problem, not the people, it's a lot easier to be nice and right because instead of taking the situation personally, you remove the people from the problem and focus hard on the problem with the question, How can we make this better?

Nice and right are two ways of being that intersect time and again. This is another area of organizational life I want to think more about. Onward.

Angry educators

Sometimes educators become angry?

I know that because there have been times when I've been an angry educator.

The key reason for the anger has been isolation, disrespect, and lack of support. When you are a well meaning, dedicated educator and you don't receive the support you need, anger might be the result.

While we know that anger is not positive in the schoolhouse, what can we do to eliminate anger or experiences that lead to anger.

Voice and Team
Sometimes educators are greatly isolated. They have no team, and they have no voice. Their jobs are taken for granted, and no one works with them to help them do what they can to support students. It's essential that every educator belong to a team, and that every educator has the chance to use their voice in discussing their work, planning good events, and making the difference they are skilled to make. When educators are distanced from voice and team, that isolation can create a situation where they are not able to teach in the ways they know are positive, ways that truly make a difference in students' lives. How can we make good change in circumstances like this?

First, every educator needs to be apart of a team, and every team needs a common focus and time to support one another in fulfilling that purpose. For example, my team has the goal of teaching an engaging, empowering, standards-based program to fifth graders. We work day in and day out to support each other to this end. It is very positive. Every educator deserves a good team and support for their goals and objectives.

Scheduling and Support
Every educator deserves support and good scheduling so they can achieve their objectives in the school house. For example, if you are an educator who needs a quiet space to achieve your objective and there is no quiet space available in the school for you, then you will be unable to achieve what it is you need to do. Or if you're an educator that needs a specific type of schedule to achieve your objective, and that scheduling is not taken seriously, you'll be unable to achieve your goals. It is essential that scheduling and supports are available for every education so that they can do what it is they are charged to do.

Collaboration and Communication
It is essential that there is good time and place for collaboration and communication so that educators can achieve what it is that they are tasked to do. When communication is weak and collaboration unsupported, it is less likely that schools will be strong.

Respect and Decision Making 
When educators are ignored, and distanced from decision making, it is likely that their investment and potential will wane. There needs to be respect for all staff in school settings, and everyone needs to have some say in the work they do and how they do it.

I believe that the greatest reason why educators may get angry is that they are not receiving the voice, choice, leadership, and support they need to do their jobs well. When distanced from the good work possible, it's easy to become angry and frustrated. Of course when this happens, educators have to find ways to speak up and act for change.

As one who has been in a position that angered me in the past, I am now speaking up and acting for change to help educators who still face these circumstances. My experiences now demonstrate to me how awesome schools can be, and I want all educators to work with similar opportunity for excellence, respect, and serving students as well as we're able. Onward.

Deepening curriculum efforts


I like to have big ideas hanging out in the back of my mind while I'm working on more routine tasks. So as I think of the day ahead, a day that mostly includes lots of student support as they lead the global cardboard challenge arcade, I'll be thinking about the math and science practices.

The chart above demonstrates the practices we want children to employ as they learn math. How can I deepen their efforts in that regard.

Positive learning tasks will lead the way for these efforts. As I choose, personalize, and create standards-based math tasks for fifth graders, I'll be thinking about the pattern of learning that helps students to utilize the math practices. Positive tasks will include the following steps:

  • A meaningful question--the kind of question that inspires a child to "make sense of problems and persevere in solving them."
  • Modeling and opportunities to explicitly witness and use "abstract and quantitative reasoning." Translating problems into number sentences or numerical expressions is the way that children will study and practice this math practice.
  • Opportunities to present their learning and critique the learning of others. 
  • Using manipulatives, paper/pencil illustrations, and digital representations strategically to create structure and model math concepts, patterns (repeated reasoning), knowledge, and skill. I will spend significant time at the start of the school year teaching students about the manipulatives and digital tools available, and how we might use those manipulatives, digital tools, and paper/pencil to model math concepts, knowledge, skill, and patterns.
  • Using math learning process that includes self-editing, peer-editing, teacher-student editing, and presentation will foster precision. 
The first activity of the year will be an activity that relates to number knowledge including arrays, factors, multiples, proportion, and vocabulary. As students and I explore the number 24 together, we'll focus on the following questions:
  • What do you think about and know about when you consider the number 24?
  • What does 24 look like when turned into arrays? How can we draw those arrays? How do the varying arrays that equal 24 look the same (rectangles) and different (different dimensions, proportions)?
  • When we consider the multiples and factors of 24, what patterns do we notice?
  • How can we apply what we know about 24 to the number 48? What does this tell us about any numbers' arrays, factors, and multiples?
  • Work with your team to complete a number card for 48. Be prepared to present your card to the class. Be prepared to critique the cards of other students.
This will be a simple way to introduce and use the math practices at the start of the year. Later we'll deepen that work with more meaningful, rich problems and tasks.

Cross-cutting math/science concepts are another area of focus for fifth grade. How will we focus on these. At first thought, I realize that questioning related to multiple situations will support these cross cutting concepts. Questions such as these will help:
  • What patterns did you notice?
  • What were the causes for this effect? 
  • What scale, proportion, or quantity do you notice? How can we illustrate that scale, proportion, or quantity?
  • What is a system? What are the system parts; how do those parts work together to effect a singular or multiple effects.
  • What is matter? What is energy? How do matter and energy work? How can we describe matter and energy?
  • What is structure? What is function? How does the structure affect the function? 
  • What is stability? What is change? What creates change to a stable situation? 
I want to explore this language more on my own and with the students as I work with the curriculum. By creating related mini posters with this language and hanging those posters up in the class, I will make this thinking and language readily available to students. 

Looking specifically at the science practices, helps me to think about learning patterns we'll employ in the year ahead, patterns that support math and science education.
  • Rather than always presenting a question or problem, making time to present a scenario or event, and letting students define the problem and ask the questions. This related to the phenomena routine and three-act problem solving I was introduced to last week.
  • Developing and using models is a key focus of fifth grade math and science teaching. We'll explicitly focus on this throughout the year with particular attention in reviewing and explicitly teaching this skill at the start of the year. 
  • Planning and carrying out investigations. I'll begin by explicitly demonstrating this thinking and action with students. I'll give students a roadmap to initial investigations and provide the opportunity to come up with next step investigation plans and efforts. This will be a good way to teach this to fifth graders. 
  • Analyzing and interpreting data will begin at the start of the year. We'll collect and analyze data about our grade-level community and come up with a TeamFive profile. We'll play dice games, collect related data and come up with conclusions about numbers 1-6 using spreadsheets as one way to collect and analyze data. Further we'll collect data about multiples and factors of numbers 1-100. This will help students to warm-up their brains related to number knowledge, math/science practices, and more at the start of the year. 
  • Mathematical and Computational Thinking will be started via Massachusetts computational thinking tasks shared with me at a recent conference. 
  • Constructing explanations, designing solutions, engaging arguments from evidence, obtaining, evaluating, presenting/communicating information, and critiquing presentations will be a regular part of the teaching/learning day. 
As I work on my own and with colleagues to organize and plan for teaching/learning projects in the year ahead, we will embed the vocabulary and efforts named above. This will help us to deepen the work we do in ways that are rich, meaningful, memorable, and standards-based. This is good work, study, and teaching. 

Weak Spots

With summer around the corner, I'm thinking about weak spots. Summer is a great time to shore up those personal and professional areas of life that need a boost.

Positive Routines
Summer is a good time to practice new routines for the school year ahead. Some new routines are difficult to embed during the school year simply because the school year is so busy. Yet if you solidify those routines during the summer, there's a chance those ideas will continue during the school year.

Positive Communication
Again, a busy school year can challenge good communication. Thinking deeply about where communication was strong and where it could be better can help you to begin better communication patterns at the start of the next school year.

Lead time really helps with regard to scheduling big events at school. It's must easier to schedule special field studies, expert visitors, and other events during the summer when you can spend time on a phone and leisurely plan. Having these dates set in the early fall, helps everyone else when it comes to coordinating events during the school year.

Summer is a good time to prep some of the materials and efforts that are difficult to prep during the school year. It's sometimes possible to prepare teaching/learning materials while watching a good movie or relaxing at home on a summer day versus squeezing that prep in during the wee hours of the morning or after school when you're tired and have a lot of other work to do.

Professional Learning
Summer is a great time to study areas where you feel more learning will lead to better teaching.

I want to think a lot about the school year to come and the weak spots to shore up during the summer months--it's an ideal time to better what you can do and how you do it.

Good planning leads the way

In busy, busy schools and school systems, good planning is integral to success. Our systemwide music department has been recognized time and again for excellence, and one signature move that department makes is good planning. By June, all of their major events for the year ahead are scheduled. This helps all of us to schedule around their events so there is not confusion or too many events happening at once. This is a first step when it comes to good work.

As I think of the issue of good planning, I have the following suggestions:

  1. Schools should decide what the big events are--the events that will impact many, and events that are worth the schedule changes and collaboration required. 
  2. Big events should scheduled with lead time in ways that work without getting int he way of other events.
  3. There should be weather dates for main events--many events rely on good weather, so there needs to be a second date scheduled.
Our team will try to schedule most important dates by the start of September which should help others who are scheduling dates too. We'll also work with parents to schedule special fifth grade dates with lead time so students' families can plan on these dates. In busy, busy schools apt scheduling is integral to doing a good job. Onward. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Who are your child's teachers?

As children embark on their fifth grade year, this image
shows the great number of adults who will work
to serve each child well. It's a team!
The days of one-teacher-one-classroom are done. Today children are taught and served by multiple people in a school. There are specialists, special educators, office/lunchroom/custodial personnel, administrators, coaches, therapists, and more who teach and serve children each and every day. There is great promise in this team approach to teaching, and the positive challenge that this teamwork presents is how to optimize our collective efforts to serve every child well. Onward.

Preparing to end 2018-2019 year and start 2019-2020 school year

This weekend I am putting the finishing touches on the 2018-2019 school year. On Monday I'll have a class meeting and begin by sharing what I appreciate about this year's class. I want them to know that I value who they are, their many gifts of good energy and learning to me, and the wonderful contribution they will bring to each other and our world in the future. I will say that we are all on journeys in life, and while none of us will ever be perfect, we all have the capacity to uplift our own lives and the lives of those around us in special and significant ways.

After that, my teammates and I will welcome next year's students to the fifth grade program. We've written a move-up letter, supply list, and summer study outline. We've also updated the website and planned a TeamFive introduction. We're excited about this opportunity to meet new children and families, and to grow our program in new ways too.

Then we'll return to this year's fifth graders, support their cardboard challenge arcade activity, and join them in a number of celebratory end-of-year events.

Summer study plans are ready. Our school system has shared future goals and objectives with us so we can match our summer study to those efforts. In general, summer study will include a couple of team meetings, individual study/reading/prep, an orientation for new students and students distanced from the school's geographic location, and time to schedule and prep with the greater team.

Summer also affords time to shore up areas of challenge or need. For me that means a physical fitness goal, family focus, and goals related to teamwork--work I'll share with students since that is a central 5th grade theme. This week's bridge has been well planned, and I am ready to embrace it with as much positivity and care as I can. Onward.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Musings: It was a good year!

This was a positive teaching year all in all. We gave students a short survey, and overall they were positive. We asked them many questions about their favorite field trips, how to improve environmental education, and about the teaching/learning program in general. When it came to favorites--the answers varied a lot which showed that by providing a range of experiences, we provided everyone with areas of interest as well as areas of challenge. As far as the climate change projects, their overall responses matched my own observation which is that teamwork is a central theme of fifth grade, and a theme we can continue to support in multiple ways throughout the year. As we move into more and more project based learning and collaborative projects, learning to work as a team is essential. And, with regard to the overall program, the most common comments centered around more loving, kind, personal attention, the kind of attention that's not always easy when you are teaching large groups of students at once.

The big work is done, and the last two days will find students sharing their cardboard arcade games, collecting signatures for their autograph books, cleaning up their desks/drawers, and joining with the school and the grade-level for special meetings.

It's our principal's last few days too--he's taught and been a principal in our system for many years. He will be missed.

To put closure on the year, we'll have some warm and happy days, and then it will be time for a break before working on next year's goals.

Keepers from this year include the following:
  • lots of great field studies
  • positive standards-based program
  • significant personal attention to students 
  • great collaboration with the grade-level team
Areas where I want to grow the program include these main priorities:
  • continuing to develop positive partnerships based on a good teaching/learning routine and attention to students' needs with students, families, and colleagues who work with our fifth graders.
  • deepening and bettering math and science education based on an analysis of formal and informal program metrics
  • integrating social-emotional learning goals such as metacognition, teamwork, perseverance, self-advocacy, questioning, and more into the overall program
Good leadership at the helm affords me the time and ability to focus in on the classroom program. 

Again, it's been a most positive year-long journey with these wonderful fifth graders. I wish them continued success--they will bring the world good things. Onward. 

Global Cardboard Challenge Project: Ideas for Betterment

The project is mostly filled with smiles, but there's always
some teamwork conflicts that may bring a few tears and
frustration. That's part of the learning and innovation. 
Once again we engaged in the Global Cardboard Arcade Project, and I do think we get a bit better every year. Yet, it remains a BIG project that can be better. I'm sure that colleagues and students will have many ideas for betterment, but for now, here are some of my ideas.

More Time
We did rush the end of year activities because we simply had a lot to do with less time. Next year we are moving three of this year's spring projects to the fall which will create more time for this.

Better Organization
There's no way around it, the Global Cardboard Challenge is a messy, messy project, but each year we get better at it. Good organization of materials helps, and collecting the materials ahead of time helps too. These materials help a lot:
  • clean recycled bottles
  • cardboard boxes - a parent who works for a moving company donates some boxes every year.
  • duct tape
  • paint
  • paint brushes
  • box cutters (only teachers use these)
  • glue guns
  • small toys, stickers, and other items for prizes
  • (patience) - that's a joke, but in reality, this project takes a lot of patience
Better roll-out
As noted, our roll-out was a bit too quick this year, and I think these steps offer a better roll out:
  1. Time for students to preview the project if they like
  2. Review of project based learning (we'll do a good introduction of this in the fall, but for this project the IDEO shopping cart video is a good video to start)
  3. Review of what it means to work well as a team.
  4. Time to design and perhaps time to make a good prototype
  5. Time and space for building - ideally it's best to build outside where there's plenty of space. It's best to organize the materials well and introduce the materials prior to building.
  6. Time for painting - this should be done outside. It's good to set up a painting table with brushes, water, paint cups (recycled bottles cut in half), big bucket for dirty paint brushes. Extra tables to help with organization. 
  7. Time to divvy up the collected prizes, set up, and run the Arcade Day during lunchtime recess. 
  8. Time to clean up. 
The better that you can review the entire project with students with good time, the better the project will come up. Also it's best to mention the project throughout the year as you review teamwork, project based learning, and individual/collective responsibility. 

The more our fifth grade program evolves, the more I recognize that teamwork is a centerpiece skill and effort--one we'll continue to work at in the years ahead. 

Make space for final efforts

This morning I'll go in to clean up to make way for the final days learning efforts. All creative/project materials will be moved outside for an outdoor create and paint morning. Planting materials will be moved to science cabinets. Leftover odds and ends will be added to the creativity table so students can use those items to improve their cardboard creations or make prizes for the arcade games.

They are relying on you

Recently a number of educational leaders that I rely on did the right thing--their focus on issues that matter to the classroom teacher were significant and helpful supporting teachers like me to do a better job. I rely on their leadership, and they came through. That's awesome.

Now that we're down to the very last days of school, I am thinking of those that rely on me, and for the most part that includes my students and close colleagues. They rely on me to do the right thing which mostly means being present to support students with the final days' projects and learning, and to follow through with a number of tasks that support grade-level and school-wide teamwork which mostly includes paperwork and clean-up (not the most exciting jobs, but jobs that you do because you have to do them).

Today students will spend the morning putting finishing touches on their cardboard creations and painting those arcade games and play spaces. When I arrive this morning I'll organize the paint, brushes, and more to give them what they need to add wonderful colors to the cardboard masterpieces. We'll clean up before lunch and after lunch students will complete letters, postcards, and surveys related to the year's efforts.

With regard to collegial work, there's a number of follow-up tasks to clean up computers, return books, organize the classroom, and find final details related to last day events. Summer study dates and efforts are set, and there's a good routine ahead to reenergize, study, and have some fun. Onward.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Leadership Perspective: The Teacher as Learner

Lately I have been discouraged to find more coaches and administrators at professional learning events than teachers. I believe that educators need to have access to worthy learning events to empower teaching, and I hope that the growth in the numbers of leaders and coaches is not distancing educators from those worthy learning experiences.

Further, at one of the events, I heard a coach lament about her inability to convince educators to speak and/or act a specific way. The comment, in my opinion, was demeaning to educators and showed a lack of understanding about what it means to be a teacher as learner.

To lead educators and schools well, leaders must make time to think about teachers as learners, and that consideration expects leaders to notice the diversity of teacher learners that exist, a diversity that illustrates differences in time, experience, strengths, and challenges. No two teacher learners are the same just like no two of our students are exactly the same.

What is important to consider as we think about teachers as learners?

First, it's important to learn about that teacher and their experiences related to teaching. Why did you decide to teach? What is your main objective as an educator? What do you perceive as your strengths? What do you believe your needs are? A conversation, exchange of stories, and respect is essential to know and understand any teacher as learner.

Next, it's important to synthesize the system goals and the educator's goals in order to craft and support just-right learning experiences and opportunities. The Massachusetts Teacher Evaluation System provides a natural avenue for this conversation--a conversation where educators share their overarching goals with administrators who help educators to synthesize those goals with systemwide efforts and goals too. This is a win-win if done well.

After that, time and place matter. To learn well, educators need opportunities that fit in well with their time and place in life. For example as a young mom and an eager educator, what I needed more than anything was time to think, read, and learn. Repetitive, surface trainings were disappointing when I craved deeper, more meaningful learning opportunities during the school day. Now as a mom with grown children and more time, but perhaps a bit less energy, I enjoy the opportunity to attend a day-long training that meets my teaching/learning needs. For example this week I attended the Massachusetts Math and Science Institute which was terrific. The day-long opportunity to think and learn deeply about math and science education taught me a lot and gave me a lot of good tools and perspectives to bring forward to my students.

Reflection and analysis matter too. After learning events, it's important to reflect about how the learning can lead to change in an educator's practice, and then after applying the learning, it's critical to analyze the effect that change had on students. Essentially educators and leaders have to determine if the learning is making a positive impact on the identified goals. If so, you're on the right track, and if not, then it's time to revise the learning track. Honest conversations about change and effect are integral to the teacher as learner path.

Teacher growth is integral to this process too. In order for educators to stay invested and fresh, there needs to be growth opportunities. That's why I believe we have to re-look at roles and structures at school. To treat first year teachers and long-term veterans the same is problematic. Educators require a more personal approach to growth in education organizations. This personal approach should lead to professional learning dollars and events that are planned with a more thoughtful, personal approach--an approach that helps educators to better their craft and also move ahead in teaching. I don't think that the only movement up for educators should be coaching or administration, instead I believe there should be avenues towards teaching mastery since we need outstanding educators in the classrooms working with students.

All teachers need to be learners in order to continually evolve and better their craft. Teachers need to have the opportunity to share their learning in meaningful ways too. A serious attitude and personal approach towards the diversity of educator learning styles, paths, strengths, and needs will empower education organizations and better our individual and collective service to students and their families. I will continue to think about this topic, and in the meantime, as I work with colleagues, I'll think of them, like me, as a teacher learners who have unique experiences, questions, challenges, and needs on the teaching/learning path, and I'll wonder where we might find good synergy with the differing profiles we bring to the school and our students.

Taking a perspective of teachers as learners may be the best perspective with which to lead a classroom, school, or system ahead. This perspective may serve to empower our schools and what we can do with and for students and families.