Friday, October 25, 2019

School year review

I stop often to think about the school year in general--what's working and what could be better? Like every school year, some of the challenges were unexpected, and some of the changes to the curriculum program unplanned. This is what happens with any kind of people-work as people are not completely predictable or similar thus creating new challenges.

As the year stands now, this is where our ever changing efforts and goals currently exist:

Science/STEAM Teaching and Learning
Our first exploration is behind us. We brought the learning full circle with a final review where students showed what they know with words and models. That review demonstrated some misconceptions that led to some re-teaching. Next year, I'll change the introduction to the investigation a bit in an effort to avoid the misconceptions that many students left the learning with this year. Last year we didn't add that final review so we didn't have a chance to assess the learning that happened as well. I think this review was a good addition. Next week, we'll embark on our next investigation, a standards-based solar oven investigation. Students look forward to creating these ovens and cooking s'mores. I'm looking forward to the greater full-circle approach we're utilizing with these projects to see if we can teach with greater depth and impact. The greatest challenge with this deeper approach to STEAM/science teaching is time. While new standards have streamlined our curriculum, there is still a lot to teach given the time and students' readiness for the learning.

Math Education
Similar to science/STEAM, the challenge here is the time it takes to go deeper with learning via project work and other investigations. Working collaboratively to learn math via investigation, inquiry, and project work takes time. Yet research and observation shows us that this kind of learning is student-centered, brain-friendly, and successful. Students will take a test to show what they know related to our introductory unit. I'll be interested to see what students can do independently with regard to the many concepts introduced and reviewed. The test results along with more informal assessments throughout the unit including observation, performance task assessments, and other learning activities will inform next steps in the curriculum program as we begin the base-ten place value system unit.

Reading, writing, and social studies
My colleagues lead this work with lots of engaging study. Students are reading Front Desk and participating in the global read aloud. They're also reading a wide range of high-interest books regularly at home and in school. They wrote high-interest survival stories modeled by the read aloud, Hatchet and many are getting involved in the grade-level story contest, a contest where they can write stories on their own or with friends. ELA Response to Intervention has started which finds students who are working towards stronger fluency and comprehension working with teacher intervention and those who have achieved grade-level standards with those skills, reading books of choice on their own. Social studies includes trips to local historic sites and films about local historic events as children focus on colonial times.

Learning community
Recess is mostly a joyful time as students engage in a large number of playful games and activities. Watching the movies, Hatchet and Jump In, together creates good conversation and a sense of team as students grapple with the social/emotional learning (SEL) challenges as well as good examples exhibited in those films--challenges they face and examples they might follow in their own lives. Movies, shown in small bits here and there, have a positive impact on classroom community and SEL. Our upcoming field studies will also help to strengthen the learning community as many family members join us to learn in wonderful real-world learning locations.

Expert visitors
Yesterday, Gregory Mone, a terrific author and wonderful presenter joined us to talk about his life and process as a writer. He captivated students' attention for more than an hour and particularly related to many boys who are sometimes reluctant writers. Kim Russel, our naturalist coach, also opened students' eyes to our interdependence as an ecosystem in an engaging way. Expert visitors like this help us to teach the curriculum with new lenses and perspectives.

We have a large team of dedicated educators who all want to do the best by students. I think that the fact that the grade-level, in some ways, has presented itself a bit like a puzzle has been challenging for a dedicated team that doesn't have that much time for good communication or planning with regard to specific challenges. Yet, we're not giving up, and we have many efforts and time in place to work towards serving all students well. In many ways, the broader teaching team is a relatively new team too and it takes time to find the sweet spots of working together too.

Professional learning
We're engaged in a large number of professional learning initiatives including focus on deeper and better reading conferences, evaluating the interdisciplinary environmental education project, sharing our environmental science unit with others, and deepening our efforts in science and math education. We're excited about these efforts, but as in all areas of school life, time is often a challenge.

All in all, we're on a good path towards a successful year. It's time to settle in, stick mostly with what we have planned, and work on bettering and deepening those efforts to meet students need and uplift the learning for all. I'm not exactly sure why this year feels a bit like chasing a ball down a rolling hill, but I'll continue to wonder about that and see how we can instead catch that ball and begin to use it with joy and skill towards a terrific teaching/learning year. Onward.