Thursday, April 30, 2020

Virtual School: Week Six

This is our sixth week of virtual school. We had a one week vacation, so it has been seven weeks since we started remote teaching and learning. As I reflect on this, I notice similarities to school as we know it and differences.

Similar to real school, I find the need to coach myself forward every morning. Whether you are online with students, families, and colleagues or offline, you have to muster the focus, strength, knowledge, and skill needed to promote a positive education every day. For me, that means morning reflection and review about the day's challenges ahead.

Today, the teaching challenges and opportunities include the following:
  • Teaching fraction operations to small groups of math students throughout the day
  • Troubleshooting and planning with grade-level colleagues about issues related to specific students, curriculum areas, and projects planned.
  • Preparation for next week's lessons
  • Completing and distributing the weekly grade level newsletter to families, students, and colleagues.
To do this well demands a positive attitude, work space/tech preparation, lesson prep/review, and lots of good energy to efficiently, responsively, and effectively complete these efforts. Onward. 

What is the parents' role with regard to their children's educations?

I grew up in a loving home in a working class neighborhood. Many parents did not go to college, but in general, they valued a good education for their children. Yet, when it came to getting involved in school events beyond belonging to the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO), they were typically hands off leaving our education to the teachers within the school environment.

As a child, I mostly loved school and learning. I also noticed both the positive and not-so-positive effects school had on my siblings. I decided that I wanted to be a teacher at an early age. Then when it came time to teach, I landed a job in a wealthy suburb of Boston. I still teach in that town today, 34 years later.

Teaching in the wealthy suburb was as an education for me. I learned so much from the many families and educators I worked with. Until that time, I didn't realize what so many families do to support their children's education--truly, for the most part, the most successful students had a great advantage thanks to parental investment and, as Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book, Outliers, concerted cultivation. Concerted cultivation is basically the parental efforts to know their children well and to match that knowledge with all kinds of positive activities that help their children become the best of whom they are.

I valued what I learned and used concerted cultivation when raising my own children. I really tried to know who they are well and then match that knowledge with all kinds of activities, coaching, and care. While no parenting is perfect, I do believe that the process of concerted cultivation works to a child's advantage emotionally, physically, socially, and academically.

So, in general, when parents invest in their children's education by teaming with teachers, doing their part at home, and spending quality time coaching and nurturing their children forward, those children succeed more with respect to self confidence, self advocacy, self knowledge, and good living. When parents simply leave all things education up to schools, typically there is not as much success. This is not because educators are not invested in your children, but because to nurture a child well demands the investment of all people involved with the child especially parents and other close family members. Teachers work with large numbers of students--they typically can't provide the one-to-one support that a family member can provide or support.

To answer my initial question, What is a parents' role with regard to their children's education? My answer includes the following:
  • Work with your child's teachers, coaches, and tutors in a positive, collaborative way.
  • Make time to talk with your child, know your child well, and support your child's interests, challenges, and gifts.
  • Create a positive living/learning routine for your child.
  • Build a strong family culture based on your values, support for one another, and dreams and vision for the future.
  • Build your child's responsibility with chores, helping others, and decision making. 
  • When your child presents challenges, seek the answers via research, reading, expert help sooner than later. 
Too often families give up on children, not because they don't love those children, but instead because they really don't know how important it is to be apart of their child's lives in meaningful, helpful ways. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Reflections on Virtual Math Teaching and Learning

One math group worked on the concept of equivalent fractions with the lesson above. Using Google tables has been helpful for these virtual lessons.
I am finding that teaching math online to be a positive intellectual challenge. To date, there has been some good movement ahead including the following:
  • Creating a number of small teaching/learning groups from our 69 fifth graders.
  • Offering each group two 45-minute virtual lessons a week.
  • Creating an online menu that students can use to guide their meeting preparation, attendance, and practice/project work.
  • Including special educators and teaching assistants in the meetings and working together to teach the lesson, monitor the chat, call on students, and respond to questions.
  • Having students work with paper and pencil at home as they engage in the lesson.
  • Focusing the lessons on making meaning with math talk, model making, and problem solving.
  • Inviting students to attend as many extra meetings as they would like to gain greater repetition with learning specific skills and concepts.
  • Utilizing the MA standards outlined as a framework for this teaching and learning.
  • Opening up each session with a positive greeting and time for questions and ending the meetings with similar time for questions.
  • Building each lesson on the learning that came beforehand.
There are still some challenges to meet including the following:
  • Finding ways to engage the very small percentage of students who are not regularly taking part in virtual school. I have to think about this more and try out some other ideas. I'll work with my colleagues to figure this out.
  • Creating more efficient patterns for monitoring students practice efforts. This week I started with a decision tree Google Form which, I believe, helped students to make good choices and be aware of what was expected. I may try that next week too. 
  • Looking for ways to build the virtual lessons so that students are inspired to keep those lessons going via drawing, building, making, or exploring the concepts in interesting ways.
The plus side of virtual teaching and learning is the ability to focus in on students' math talk, problem solving, and questions with greater attention than in the busy, active classroom. The downside is fewer lessons and less ability to respond to questions and learning needs throughout the day and the reality that some families are better positioned to provide learning support than others for a wide range of reasons.

I'll continue to make the exploration of deeper and more meaningful math instruction as one motivating factor to propel me forward for the next eight weeks of virtual school. This is one way to maximize a silver lining of this stay-at-home time virtual learning event. Onward. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

How can we support the development of students' math concept, skill, and knowledge during virtual teaching?

How can we support the development of students' math concept, skill, and knowledge during virtual teaching?

This is the primary question for my time during the next eight weeks as a virtual math teacher. Essentially, via thirteen 45-minute small group lessons a week, I'll have the chance to work closely with math students to help them learn math with confidence and depth. How will I do that?

Present the problem
At the start of each lesson, I'll present the problem.

Grapple with the problem; productive struggle
Together we'll grapple with what that problem means. I'll foster this productive struggle with the following questions:

  • What do we have to do now? Why?
  • How might you rephrase this problem in your own words?
  • Does this problem remind you of any problems you've solved in math class or during your daily life?
Make models
Since we know that visual models are far quicker teachers than words and numbers alone, we'll turn the problems into visual models. We'll play with the models and discuss the many ways we may make models to represent the problem. We'll color our models since we also know that color helps us to distinguish math concepts, patterns, and meaning.

Looking at problems and problem solutions from many perspectives
Students will have the chance to describe and solve the problems from many perspectives. They'll notice the many ways we can approach and solve a math problem.

Expressing the solution in efficient ways
Students will explore ways that we can express problem solutions in efficient ways including algebraic statements, simple sentences, images/diagrams, and concise explanations.

As the teacher, I hope that these lessons will help students to develop their depth and understanding of many fifth grade math concepts, skills, and knowledge. Also, as the instructor, I hope that these lessons will deepen my ability to teach math well. Students will also have the opportunity to practice these skills via multiple online venues as well as math projects. 

This is a meaningful way to explore and develop math teaching for teachers and students during this learn-at-home time. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Virtual Teaching: Eight Weeks Ahead

This is what the top of our weekly learning menu looks like. The banner is updated regularly to motivate students and keep them up to date with the learning and teaching. 
For the next 8.5 weeks I'll be in virtual teaching mode. What does this mean for my students and me?

Fortunately I work with a great team of teachers, and we've created a good weekly pattern for virtual teaching and learning. Essentially each week includes a number of small group and whole class meetings for each student as well as projects and practice related to the many subjects students study.

With regard to math, my goal is to engage each child in at least two 45-minute math lessons a week. The lessons will provide the foundation for the follow-up practice exercises and activities. If students want to attend more than two meetings a week, they are welcome to do that. The focus of the lessons will be math problem solving and math talk related to the standards set by the system and state.

I'll also coach a team of students as they study a global changemaker with depth. There are many educators involved in this interdisciplinary project that will result in some kind of special, virtual project that children can attend in their cars such as a drive-in show or watch with their family members in the comfort of their own home. Whatever the final project will be, it will be special.

As far as science, we're promoting a number of hands-on, Earth-friendly, hands-on explorations that students can do at home inside or outside to learn the standards set for fifth grade. For example, this week and next week, students will learn all about composting, and then their job is to make a composter for their home or yard.

As far as social studies goes, we've shared some movies and videos that help to teach the standards in engaging ways.

The key to keeping the students and families engaged is to stick to a pattern that's easy to follow and easy to respond to. The pattern is shared on a weekly menu that includes a news banner at the top of the page (see above). The news banner includes highlights of students' efforts plus links to engaging videos and other learning activities. We update the banner regularly.

Today was a good start to this eight-week leg of the year, and then we'll likely spend that last half week engaged in celebrations of one kind or another. We can do this.

Virtual teaching demands new routines

After a week's vacation, I was a bit sluggish about returning to virtual school. I feel the same way when I return to school as we know it. It's never your first choice to leave a week of doing what you want to a week that's more tailored and demanding, but it doesn't take long for the children to arouse your spirit and get you back in the game of school whether it's in a school building or virtually--their spirit is contagious like that.

So as I got ready to start back to virtual teaching and learning today, I recognized that it is time to update my routine to meet this new reality of teaching and meeting online throughout the school day. What updates will I make?

With a theme of healthy living and maximizing the silver linings of virtual school, I'm making the following updates:

  • Replacing water for coffee most of the day
  • Making time to get outside and learn, move in nature
  • Creating assignments that get students outside
  • Making short term goals for myself and students similar to Coach Bill Belichick's theme of chunking it. 
  • Spending each day looking over student assignments and efforts to date.
I'm sure I'll think of more ways to update the schedule for me and the students as we move on with this next eight-week, virtual chunk of the school year. Now it's time for the first class of the day. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

School dreams exist even during virtual school

A school dream marked the move from a week of vacation to back to virtual school. It is surprising to notice what features of school as we've known it transfer to virtual school and school dreams is one of those features.

Almost all teachers have school dreams--dreams that expose our worries, hopes, and experiences before, during, and after the school year. Last night's dream dealt with the issues of equity and discretion. In the dream, children who distanced from the mainstream in a number of ways demonstrated those needs and also during the dream I noticed the level of discretion that's critical to the virtual sphere. When you are working in the virtual school, your words are the key communication tool whereas in real school, even though your words count, communication involves a lot more action, not just words--at school, you're constantly reading a person's actions and body gestures as well as words. We have to be even more careful about discretion with what we say in virtual school.

Also, in virtual school, we have to have new organization systems. I can't just reach for a teaching tool in a cabinet or find a file in the draw, instead, almost every item we use in virtual school is either online or close at hand--we don't have an entire classroom to rely on.

Next week is the start of the final leg of the school year, and this year, it will be a virtual period of teaching and learning. Online we'll lead essential standards-based lessons that promote hands-on and online offline practice, exploration, and investigation. For example, during the next two weeks students will be asked to explore the standards-based science topic of composting. There are a number of articles and videos students will be asked to read, and then there's the hands-on part of the project which is to build and use your own composter.

I always cull some wisdom and truths from my dreams. Last night's dream demonstrated the need for good discretion as well as working for greater equity with regard to student services. Good lessons for any teacher. Onward.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Virtual School: Wild West of Education

Education today is a bit like the wild west since, within days, teachers across the country transitioned from school as we know it to multiple models of virtual school. And now that we're more than a month into this new education paradigm, people are trying to make sense of it.

Yesterday, I listened to school committee members grapple with this new reality as they looked at education from multiple perspectives including preschool programs, before and after school programs, summer school, and K-12 programs. They were eager to understand what is happening, but clearly as they spoke, I realized how difficult it is to understand the many efforts at play across so many different people and programs. I found myself desiring a better framework for this discussion, a framework with a sense of priorities, goals, and mission.

Where could this start?

First, I do think it has to start with safety? Are students, families, and educators safe? What does safety mean at this time, and what is a school system's responsibility for that? First, most, if not all, school systems are ensuring that students get their free and reduced lunch support. Also, most school systems are making sure that children are attending virtual school programs in some way, and if not, systems are reaching out to find out why to make sure that children are safe. This is very important.

Next, I think system leadership has to look at current funding issues. What is the best way to financially sustain school systems at this time? In this regard, it's critical to decide what you are going to do about services that are not utilized at this time, and decide what is in the best interests of the employees and the system. There are many financial support programs available, and the financial experts have to make those decisions hopefully with the lens of what's best for people's lives and the long term sustainability and success of the school system.

After that, it's time to think about program priorities, realities, objectives, and vision going forward. As I listened to the school committee discuss these issues, their commentary streamed related to multiple topics, topics I've been working with for the past six weeks, and topics that I know my colleagues have been thinking about and acting on too. The responses to program priorities, realities, objectives, and vision differ due to students' developmental stages, family supports, program standards, professional relationships, and more. How do you begin discussing this "wild west" of teaching and learning? What takes priority?

I think a discussion like this would profit from the following framework?
  1. What are the overarching priorities for each level including preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school? How are schools meeting those priorities now?
  2. What are the current successes and how do we know those are successes?
  3. What are the current challenges and how do we know those are challenges?
Once there is a comprehensive understanding of what is happening now, then I think it is time to think ahead with the following questions:
  1. What more do we need to know? I know that I would like to know more about what families are thinking--what do they need, what works best for them with regard to virtual school, and what other ideas/comments do they have at this time? I believe a well designed, easy to complete and analyze survey may be a good way to get an initial review of this information.
  2. What is working for my colleagues? What have been the highlights; where are the challenges? I believe that the best way to gather this information is via building level administrators who can meet with teams in their buildings to query about these details, and then present that information in an easy to understand shared document or presentation.
After that, I believe it is important to think about what we've learned with the following questions:
  1. With clear trends about what families desire most, how can educators respond to that more?
  2. With clear trends about what appears to help students learn in engaging, memorable, meaningful, and successful ways at various developmental levels/content areas, how can we do that more?
  3. Moving forward, how can we respond to upcoming parameters from the state/national levels in timely, sensitive, and logical ways--what processes will we use? What will the timeline look like?
  4. With regards to long term vision and "silver linings," what can we cull from this transition from school as we know it to new ways to think about school? How can we think about this? What kind of research should we do? How do we understand well what's happening in our schools while also finding out what's happening around us? Are there ways to maximize the strengths and capacity of our own system and systems around us? What are our long term goals for students and families in this regard?
Overall, at this time, it's important to create loose-tight frameworks and timelines for sensitive, thoughtful, and helpful response directed towards what serves students and families best. Obviously, to serve students and families well, educators and other staff need to have realistic expectations, professional respect, and the supports they need to do their jobs well. There's much to learn at this time, and with thoughtful, inclusive, respectful action, much can be accomplished.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Summer 2020 Sport: Creativity

The best response to the pandemic crisis is creativity!

While we can't do a lot of the activities we're used to, we can be creative in all kinds of ways.

Creativity is the silver lining to this pandemic.

As one who always preferred the Ideas section in the Boston Globe to the Sports pages, I am excited about this summer sport proposition. Creativity is an ideal match for American's spirit of ingenuity and drive.

How can we best promote creativity with the same enthusiasm that people have for sports? What can we do?

First, with regard to the pandemic, we can follow and support the many scientists, medical professionals, government leaders, and essential workers' creative responses to this crisis. Creativity will find a cure and make us safe. This is good.

Next, with regard to children, we can inspire their creative genius with all kinds of engaging projects and contests. I was reminded of this today as I thought about how we might morph the Global Cardboard Challenge into virtual school. It may be a good idea for there to be a series of creative contests for children to take part in over the summer such as the creation of great summer games, chalk designs, murals, meals, desserts, gardens, play structures, lyrics, music and more.

And, of course, there's the share of so many creative ways to stay social, explore nature, travel, and have fun.

The sport of summer 2020 just may be creativity, and the long term results of that sport may be a stronger, happier, and smarter society. What do you think?

Virtual School: Post Vacation Plans

Our school system has been on vacation this week. I must say that this stay-at-home vacation was a welcome reprieve that brought perspective. I'm sure that when we meet at PLC and staff meeting next Monday, people will share all kinds of new ideas, questions, and plans. As for my part of the virtual school puzzle, these efforts take priority.

Math Teaching/Learning
Similar to what I do at school, I typically motivate students' math learning by all kinds of learning goals. This week's goal is a typical end-of-year assessment that students take. Students are motivated by doing well on assessments, so their job this week is to choose one of our practice sites and commit to that practice this week. I created a Google Form decision tree that gives students a format for making the decision about which practice site they'll focus on. I'll look carefully at the results and then follow students' practice efforts online related to the choices students made. I'll reach out to students who don't complete the survey or who don't stick with the plan they made to see how I can help. The assessment data will be used to inform the virtual math teaching ahead. It will not be used to grade students.

For the small group virtual math lessons, we'll focus on addition and subtraction models for fractions. This is a review topic with the added depth of looking carefully at how we make models that demonstrate mathematical concepts. Students will be asked to draw these models on paper as they take part in the lessons.

Science Study
In Massachusetts, every fifth grader is supposed to learn about composting. For the next two weeks students will learn about composting and how to make indoor and outdoor composters. Students' assignment will be to make a composter in the next two weeks and share an image of their composter as well as description of how they made their composter. This is a positive, Earth-friendly activity that can be completed with recyclables and food scraps.

Social Studies and ELA
My colleagues are leading this signature fifth grade project where each fifth grader does a deep study about a Global Changemaker that "speaks to them." The project has many facets that are engaging and enriching. All the teachers associated with our team will coach a team of student researchers on this project and then there will be some kind of virtual presentation of the project. Since this project has been a signature project that children look forward to every year, I expect that there will be a lot of motivation to do this well.

This study area will also include continued independent reading and the encouragement to study United States history via books, videos, and historic walks.

Changing Bodies
At the end of fifth grade, we generally spend a few days discussing changing bodies. This year we'll likely send the video links to family members and encourage those family members to watch the videos with their children and discuss the topic.

Global Cardboard Challenge
Since many camps will be closed, it may be fun to focus on this project in June with the entire school. The theme could be "Summer Fun" and the challenge could be to make games, toys, and play structures that help children have fun during the summer.  We could ask students to share what they've made on a slideshow and then that slideshow could be turned into a video to share with the community to inspire students' creativity ahead.

Learning in Nature
As we approach the end of the year, creating opportunities for students to learn in nature more and more will be positive.

I'm sure that we'll also focus on transition efforts as we put this school year to rest and plan for next year too. Onward.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Silver Lining: Strengthening the Family-School Team

One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is the opportunity to forge stronger, more promising connections with students and families. To strengthen the learning community ties and commitment to one another may be a positive result of the challenge this time presents for so many. Strong learning teams of family members, students, educators, administrators, and community members truly enrich a child's experience of school. How can we make this time matter in that regard?

At the foundation of strong learning community relations is listening. The better we listen to one another, the better the relationships will be. How can we enhance listening at a distance via technology?

We have to find ways to open up the channels of communication so that all members of the learning team are able to "talk" to one another via ideas, comments, and questions. We have to meet the commentary, ideas, and questions with an open mind, positive attitude, and willing response. We must have the attitude that we're better together and that everyone has something of value to contribute. There is no one-size-fits-all here as the situation for every family will be somewhat different, but there can be a one-size-fits-all attitude which is together we can best serve the children.

Our common focus has to be what's best for the child beginning with essential needs such as healthy food, a good night's rest, a safe home/neighborhood, and basic tools for learning. As we work with school teams and families, we have to make sure our students have what they need to be safe and healthy. I know that so many in the community are there to help, and if a child is in need, it may simply mean providing the family with a phone number or link to an organization that can solve the problem. By asking families/students, "What can I do to help?" is one simple way to open up communication about the needs that exist and then by working with colleagues, it's likely you will provide some support.

After a child's essential needs are met, the next step is to coach the child in ways possible to continue learning. Questions such as How can I help you to continue to learn? What are you curious about? How would you like to learn that? What do you need to help you learn better? can all help direct the learning in positive ways. The more you listen to your students and focus on what is best for their overall health, happiness, and continued learning, the better you'll be able to meet that potential.

Transparency and Information Share
  • Virtual Class Website: There are many ways to make your learning/teaching program transparent and helpful to children and families. A "virtual classroom" website that hosts the essential learning links and information helps everyone on the learning team. Our team has a website like that, and in the past few years, I have noticed that students and families use the website as a resource often. Families distanced by language or cultural barriers find the website particularly helpful as they can easily translate articles and information into their home language and/or take the time they need to read, understand, and, if needed, ask questions about the information presented. So, if you don't have a website now, this is a good time to make one.
  • Daily News Banner: On the daily or weekly learning menu, it's great to have a news banner. On that banner you can add the latest news, links, and inspiring messages to coach your learning team ahead. We've been updating our banner regularly to make it fresh and to keep the learning team engaged, inspired, and recognized.
  • Learning Menu: Our team has created a weekly learning menu that students can access to understand the daily expectations. The banner offers a number of learning options in every subject area as well as Google Meet addresses, times, and names. This helps everyone to know what the expectations are and how to access the related materials, videos, and support. 
  • Google Slideshow Shares: We've also created a slideshow that's open to all learning team members so that they can share the learning they are doing at home. This is one way to recognize the amazing at-home learning that's happening such as building with legos, cooking, creating a youtube channel, gaming, gardening, and more. This slideshow also provides a good vehicle of sharing ideas since one child's creative learning may inspire another child to do the same. 
Emails from learning team members will range from super positive to super negative. Prior to answering any email or phone message, please remind yourself of the toll that this pandemic is taking on so many families. Last week at the grocery store, an older man threw his grocery basket on the floor and stomped out of the store. He was the only person without a mask on in the store and he was recognizably disgruntled. The kind clerks in the store all tried to imagine why the man would do that. As I talked with them, we reminded each other that we have to be sensitive to the many experiences people are facing now. The man could have had the virus; he could have been scared; he may have been lonely, or had a sick relative. With that in mind, we must expect emails that are similar to the loud thump of a grocery basket thrown to the ground, and when we receive those emails, we have to respond first with empathetic words such as, Thank you for letting me know this information. Let's see how we can make the situation better. 

Clearly, none of us are experts in this situation, but we can all work together with the common focus of doing what's best for children--that's the glue that connects our learning/teaching team members.

Pay it Forward
I recommend keeping a list of all the positive efforts and interactions that occur amongst and between learning/teaching team members and using that list to continue this good work when we hopefully return to our school campuses and classrooms in the fall. Strengthening the learning/teaching team is certainly one silver lining opportunity of this pandemic, and taking advantage of this opportunity will only better what we can do in the future together.

Forge new paths

Beautiful paths at Chanticleer Gardens 
I have always been intrigued by stories of adventure and new beginnings. In part, my father's love of the outdoors and tales of adventure such as the film, Jeremiah Johnson, inspired this quest. His interest in adventure may have been inspired by his mother's interest in the topic since her favorite book was Mrs. Mike, the story of a young girl from Boston who moves to Canada, marries a mountie, and journeys into the frontier lands of western Canada. As a child, stories of struggle and adventure like Jubilee brought me on journeys that illustrated struggle and the strength of the human spirit. As a family, we only went to two movies altogether when I was young, both movies depicted struggle, adventure, and the search for freedom, Swiss Family Robinson and The Sound of Music.  And, when I learned about Lewis and Clark's adventures, I mimicked those adventures in backyard play. Still today I love stories, series, and movies about adventure. Most recently I've been hooked on the series When Calls the Heart, Anne with an E, and BBC's Sense and Sensibility. I have even been rewatching Little House on the Prairie and looking into Laura Ingalls Wilder's life story inspired by the fact that she began writing in her 60's.

These adventure stories match my quest to build a warm, welcoming home, advocate for better living for all, and seek the best ways to live and work with others. Returning to the Little House on the Prairie series almost fifty years since I first watched it demonstrated that the series still provides inspiration, knowledge, and positive challenge for children and families. Each episode deals with how families work together to get past challenges that we all face as well as challenges unique to the westward expansion period in American history. I find that watching and reading stories like this betters who I am as a person. In contrast, so many modern series focus on the worst aspects of humanity and provide little inspiration.

During this stay-at-home time for so many Americans, it is a time to rethink who we are and how we live. We can look back into days of old to see how people coped with hard times, worked together, and made the best of things to get ahead. My sister has been reading the stories of World War II in England as a source of inspiration. She's been sharing those tales of sacrifice, camaraderie, and strength--good inspiration for today.

I hope that our will to find silver linings during this pandemic will lead us to better living on our own and together. I hope these days will help us to work for laws and government that serve the people in healthy, positive ways. I hope that these days will help us to reinvigorate our will to protect the environment and recognize that we all share the environment with the knowledge that a healthy environment empowers and enriches all of our lives. I also hope that this time at home will show us that we can reduce, recycle, reuse, refuse, and repurpose more to slow down the rat race we've created and live better lives.

I continue to be thankful to the many intelligent, hard working, and good leaders in hospitals, health facilities, food banks, grocery stores, transportation, government, and other essential jobs who are protecting our lives and livelihoods. I trust those whose hard work, expertise, and experience are leading the way. Of course, there are some self-serving, ignorant fools who think that that quick fixes and short-sighted efforts are the way to go, but history shows us that those superficial solutions don't hold strength or promise for the long term.

What new paths will you forge during this pandemic? Where will you find the inspiration for these new paths? What difference will these paths make in your life and the lives of your loved ones in the days ahead? I wish you well on this journey.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

What drives you?

When you've lived as long as I have lived, you are able to look back at the chapters in your life to what drove you at that time. Each of us experienced different drivers throughout our lives. I took that journey back today.

Family Joy and Creativity
As a very young child, I was driven by family joy and creativity. I loved our family's many joyful adventures and celebrations. With dozens of cousins, many aunts and uncles, and a fun-loving Dad and Mom, I had very joyful early years. On my own during those year, I spent lots of time playing all kinds of imagination games.

When I walked up those shiny mahogany steps of my old fashion school building, I thought I died and went to heaven. I LOVED school from my very first days in preschool and kindergarten. The experiences I had were life changing. I still remember holding the giant six-foot snake in pre-school, planting seeds in kindergarten, reading for the first time in first grade, paining a mural in second grade, learning my facts in third grade and so much more throughout the grades. I was a very curious child who loved to think, draw, write, and create. In fact, every night before I went to sleep, I drew stories on paper in my bed. Then I would hide those pads of paper under my bed. My favorite presents were paper and markers. I remember wishing for what we now know as the Internet when I was very little and I also wished for what has not been invented yet, the ability to morph yourself into other beings in order to experience other lifestyles. I remember driving by the big apartment buildings on the outer edge of New York City and wishing that I could live there for a short while to really understand what that was like.

There came a time when I was driven by popularity. I wanted to be the popular girl, but I resisted the actions that many of the popular kids were involved in. I sat at the outskirts of spin-the-bottle games, cigarette and marijuana smoking, late nights of drinking on train bridges, rowdy concert trips, and other somewhat risque behavior. I didn't have the popular look of the time or the popular kid mindset either, yet like many my age, popularity stood front and center in my mind commanding hours of time.

The quest for romance hit me early, but like popularity, that quest evaded me too. I didn't know where to start even though I had crushes on boys from my early years in elementary school and beyond. There were outside pressures with regard to finding a boyfriend which didn't make things easier. I spent a lot of time thinking about love, time, in hindsight, that would have been well directed towards my interests instead. It wasn't until my twenties that I began to happily find love, and now I've been married to my best friend for over thirty years.

The freedom of college led me to the question, "What is Truth?" I spent many a day seeking that answer in countless ways. I still love that question today and remain driven by it.

Good Living
Once I passed the expectations of my family to get a college education, I became driven by what it meant to live a good life. Like an architect, I set about researching, then designing, and working on living that perfect life. Of course no life is perfect, but since that time I've been striving to build the elements of good living with both success and failure too.

From the early days of playing school in the basement of our house to being the kindergarten helper in fifth grade, I wanted to teach. Mostly I wanted to teach because I know how positively life changing a good education can be. I don't want children to suffer in their wonderful young years, but instead, I want children to understand their worth and potential. I have always wanted to be a person who strengthens children's ability to live good lives and teaching has given me a path to do that. Teaching children well still drives me today.

From my earliest days I dreamed of being a mother. I used to pretend I was my little sibling's mom when I was young. I also played house a lot, and loved caring for children in my extended family, the neighborhood, and organizations I belonged to. As a mom, I have always been driven by being the best mom that I could be. Of course, as every parent knows, that's not an easy task. And like every other quest that has driven me over time, I met with both successes and failure in this realm. All in all though, I've put family first and I'm happy with the wonderful family my husband and I enjoy.

Home has been a long term driver too. I've sought to create as warm and welcoming a home as I can. I continue to be driven by this quest.

With time and money left, I am typically drawn to what I'd define as safe adventures. I'm a bit of a scaredy cat so I don't like to adventure in ways that put me or my loved ones at risk, but I do like to adventure into new places and events, particularly beautiful natural settings and events that include music, art, and inspiration.

Recently during the pandemic, I spent some time learning to palm read. I did that for fun, but wasn't surprised when my palm reading matched my life's quests and drivers. My list is quite ordinary, predictable, traditional, and in so many ways, that's who I am.

What are your drivers in life? What has not driven you? These drivers tell a lot about who we are and where we are going.

Return to school or virtual school?

I read the recommendation from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) yesterday. The MTA recommends that we don't return to school, but instead, continue the virtual school routines that we've started.

I agree.

At first, I hoped to return to school in June for a few weeks of closure, but now, after reading the MTA's recommendations as well as the research related to the virus, I think we're better safe than sorry. To stay apart for the next six-seven weeks will ensure greater safety, which hopefully, in turn, will spell a safe return to school in September.

Of course this is not ideal. Virtual school has demonstrated the limitations of remote learning, yet this online learning has also revealed some positives. So if we are to continue the learning online, I'll lean toward the positives with my virtual school practice which includes lots of small group coaching online, some virtual whole class and grade level lessons and meetings, and considerable individual coaching via email, Google docs, and Google classroom. In summary, my greatest focus will be to encourage and coach students forward with their math learning and interdisciplinary biography project. I'll also support the grade five virtual performance that all fifth graders will take part in across the system. At the end of the school year, I'll likely take part in possible car parades and other virtual celebrations of students' fifth grade year and graduation from elementary school.

The professional development focus of this time will be a focus on bettering my virtual teaching, learning, and collaboration skills. This has been a positive learning curve for all teachers and students, one that we'll likely incorporate more when we return to school buildings and classrooms in the fall.

So, I hope the Governor, Commissioner, and school leaders across the state will make a wise choice that puts the health and safety of the community first. Seven weeks of stay-at-home learning and teaching is a small price to pay for long term safety and success.

Monday, April 20, 2020

COVID-19: Planning ahead

Like many, I was dismayed to see President Trump inciting unsafe protests across the nation. Keeping with his me-first mantra, he tweeted in ways that inspired these protestors to put their lives at risk. As I looked at the many overweight, older male protestors, I felt both angry and sad. I was angry that some Americans feel that they are above the health and safety of all all Americans--these people clearly don't read or regard the details about this pandemic with care. If they did, they would understand how the disease spreads quickly and puts so many lives in danger, lives including the lives of the doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who care for us. I was also sad because these people are truly creating danger for their own lives, the lives of those they love, and lives of strangers too--they create an unsafe situation for all of us and this is sad.

Clearly the economic impacts of this pandemic are frightening too, but I believe if we handle the pandemic with intelligence, we'll be back on track economically sooner than later, but if we don't regard the expertise of scientists, the economic hit will be much greater. The protesters, like President Trump, are short sighted--they choose for the day and not for the future. The Trump team has done that again and again which has put our country in danger. Their short sighted policies that pollute the planet, widen the wealth gap, inflame international relations, and elevate the deficit are all examples of the shoddy foundation he's created for the United States--a foundation that quickly crumbled in the face of the pandemic because of President Trump's ignorant, self-serving, short sighted efforts rather than deep, intelligent decisions that maintain our country's strength for the long run.

What are my plans for the days ahead as I respect the decisions and leadership of intelligent state leaders and national scientists and medical experts.

Creating backyard and container gardens.

Finding ways to best support students as I work with colleagues and family members.

Supporting family members by preparing meals, staying in touch, and planning for good times and good events ahead.

Looking Ahead
I hope that we'll still be able to get together for special summer events in August, and I hope that my son will be able to go back to college in the fall. So I'm planning for those events. I also have a large number of home projects that I'm working on--these projects will serve us well in the future. The projects include cleaning and organizing rooms in the house, photo albums, the yard, and more. Later when life is busy again, I'll be happy that I did this work.

The theme for me during this COVID-19 time is to find the silver linings--look for the light in the dark. I'll continue to coach myself forward in that direction. Onward.

School Days Spring 2020: Thinking Ahead

I love to combine physical work with good ideas and plans to think about. So today as I do the labor of making backyard and container gardens, I'll think about what needs to be completed to have a positive end to this school year and a positive start to the next school year.

Academic Progress and Growth
Our team will continue to promote positive academic progress and growth with two main focal areas including math achievement and the fifth grade signature biography project. The biography project includes reading, research, writing, and presentation. My colleagues have morphed the project to an online study event and our extended team of grade-level teachers will coach individuals and small groups ahead with this project. The other focus is math. Students have made terrific progress overall with math this year, and I'll focus on the areas left for deeper attention in the weeks ahead.

Fifth grade marks the final year of students' elementary years. The end of the year is marked by many special events. We'll likely hold on to some of these events whether school is open or not. Parents are busy working on yearbooks. I suspect we'll have some kind of car parade "clap-out" and a virtual fifth grade play/performance. I expect that parents may move the traditional pool party and picnic to late summer, if possible, to bring students together prior to their start at Middle School. Many people are involved in these decisions, but no matter what we do, we will certainly celebrate these wonderful fifth graders in unique and positive ways.

School Year 2020-2021
We'll have move-up day virtually or in person depending on state decisions made. I can imagine a virtual move-up day when fifth grade teachers meet with all upcoming fifth graders, and then move into Google Meet's new breakout rooms to talk to our homeroom students. We'll send a move-up letter with suggestions for summer study as well as an introduction to the fifth grade program.

Later in the summer, I'm sure that our teaching team will  meet on one or more occasions to discuss the year ahead. We had a great year this year, so I expect that we'll forward many of the same projects and activities that we included this year.

Classroom Set-Up
I left the room in fairly good order in March so I expect that I'll do some more work on the room at the end of the summer before the new school year starts. We'll have to think about how we'll help students retrieve their materials from this year. One idea I had was that students visit school one grade at a time at the end of the year if we don't return. That way we can say good-bye, play a game, clean up the room, and have some closure. That may be possible. Time will tell. If not possible, we'll probably have to invite fifth graders back at the end of August to retrieve their supplies and learning materials if they want.

This creates some structure for the thinking and doing in the days ahead. Onward.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Virtual School Plans: After Vacation

Before I plan my staycation, I want to have plans for after vacation in place. This is the question that leads this planning: What teaching and learning can I maximize during this virtual learning time?

One answer to that question is math education. Math can be taught virtually with some success, so I will focus in on that teaching in the following ways.

Online Skills, Practice and Assessment
Students can make good use of online programs to boost math skill, concept, and knowledge. While a diet of only only practice is not advised, I will promote this practice in small chunks now and then throughout the virtual learning time. Steady practice will boost student skills. Regular formative assessments help too as I can see who is profiting from the at-home practice and who is falling behind. So the week after vacation, students' independent practice will include making good gains on their online practice sites, Symphony Math, IXL, and Khan Academy, and then at the end of the week they will take an assessment so I can get an idea of where they are at with their math learning and where they are headed.

Math Meetings
Math meetings will continue with a focus on fraction operations for the next two weeks. The online skills and practice for the second and third week after vacation will focus on practice related to fraction operations.

Math is a study that we can focus on with some success during the virtual teaching/learning time, so that's one focus I'll pay attention to.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Improving Virtual Math Lessons

Of course, teaching math virtually to elementary students is not ideal, but it is the way of the world right now, and I continue to wonder how I might use this challenge to improve math teaching and learning in ways that will transfer to classroom teaching in the fall, and in ways that will continue to coach my students forward. This is a positive challenge.

What's working?
The opportunity to greet students in positive ways, engage them in happy conversation, and tackle a meaningful math problem with a small group is positive. So far, so good.

The way to better this work includes the following steps:
  • Finding/creating the most meaningful problems: I want to focus on problems that connect to students' real life opportunities now. For example a problem about building forts inside or outside could be very positive since that's a fun activity that students can engage in during this stay-at-home time. Problems related to baking, making playdough, jump roping, and conducting science experiments with simple materials all work in this regard. 
  • Creating a best possible virtual worksheet: I use an online worksheet to guide the problem solving. Those sheets generally include math models that demonstrate the "behavior" of the math concept as well as pictures, words, numbers, and activities that engage children in the problem. The better I create these activity sheets, the more engaged the students will be. 
  • Connecting the online lesson with the follow-up practice exercises: Students have a number of practice exercises online. I want to make sure that those practice exercises are a good way for students to practice the concepts taught in meaningful ways with ready feedback. Platforms like Google forms and That Quiz offer targeted, quick feedback opportunities for students' math practice.
  • Assessment: We are asking students to complete at home assessments that we typically use. These assessments still offer helpful information and give students an opportunity for practicing their math.
  • Personalization and Parent Support: The children fall into three groups. There's an advance group that are motivated to do their work--these children learn math easily, and independently move ahead when given good tools. Then there's a middle group that profits from exercises that truly engage their interests--if I can make the exercises enjoyable and motivating, they'll learn more. Games really help all groups, but are particularly good for this group. Then there are the strugglers--they require a lot of support because their math learning is compromised for a large number of varied reasons. These students require a case-by-case response and lots of parent support. I want to think deeply about how to help these students more. The small group meetings are really helpful with regard to teaching these students well. I want to think about how to better the scaffolded practice opportunities as well as the meetings for this group.
Fortunately due to the team teaching model we employ at our grade level, I am able to deeply invest in students' math learning. This has been especially helpful as we quickly move into "virtual school" rather than our multi-modal, hands-on, rich classroom experience. 

I'm finding this challenge to be positive, and I'm finding that the positive attitudes of students, families, and colleagues energize the potential for optimal student learning. That's all good. I'm grateful that this is the situation. Onward. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Teaching Math Virtually

I've been teaching math virtually this week, and there is has been some true joy and positive challenge.

What's working?

Small Groups
We've divided our 69 fifth graders into about 8 small groups. Each group is scheduled to meet twice a week. The small groups really lend themselves to good math talk and learning. The group sizes vary and because we know the students well, we've been able to group the students in ways that lead to positive group dynamics.

The Welcome
As students enter the chat room, I greet them and we all talk a bit of topics such as cooking, playing outside, and other easy topics of interest. I make sure to make time for questions before we start.

I take attendance for two reasons--one to see who showed up and also to make sure I say each person's name. I generally have them respond to a simple question such as what's your favorite number, color, food. . . .This provides simple recognition to all who are there.

Two or More Teachers
We have two or more educators in each small group session so that at least one educator can keep an eye on the students and the chat room while the other(s) one focuses on the lesson.

The lesson is created on one Google doc and generally includes models, charts, and questions. The lesson is a scaffolded discussion. I use the same lesson with each group, but generally the lessons move in different directions or stop at different points along the scaffold depending on the group. Sometimes the lesson includes a game.

The challenge at hand is to better the virtual teaching by creating lessons that focus on the topics we want to cover that engage and involve all the students there, and ideally lessons that students want to replicate and continue on their own time.

This is a positive challenge for these COVID days. Onward.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Busy day of virtual teaching and learning ahead

Today is a very busy virtual teaching and learning day.

What's the focus?

Math Meetings: Metric/Customary Conversions
The math meetings are focused on metric and customary measurement conversions. I began that focus yesterday with a couple of targeted lessons. I revised the lesson a bit for today's students after noticing a few areas of instruction that need greater depth. I always look forward to these 45-minute mini lessons where we share our math ideas and problem solve together.

Global Changemakers Project Launch
As we would be doing if we were in school, my colleagues who are taking the lead in reading and writing instruction will launch our Global Changemakers projects with a meeting that includes all 69 TeamFive members as well as the many educators that work with us to support the students' learning. My job at the meeting is to support my colleagues by managing the chat and observing the students to notice any needs, hands raised, and more.

Homeroom Meeting
Once a week we meet as a homeroom to check in on one another and share information that helps everyone to manage this learn-at-home time. A student leader takes charge during the meeting. Today students will share favorite movie titles. I look forward to hearing what they like to watch and why.

Student study review and response
I'll spend some time reviewing student, resetting That Quiz tests, responding to questions, and reaching out to students and their families who appear to be struggling with the schedule or expectations to see if I can be of greater help. We want students to continue the good learning program we've put in place, but we understand that every family is facing different challenges during this time. For example, many in our community are without power today due to the heavy windstorms we had yesterday.

Time to prepare the home office, set up the tech equipment, wear something bright and colorful, and ready to greet the students with positivity and the spirit that says, "We can do this!"

Sunday, April 12, 2020

What's the focus? COVID-19 Week of April 13, 2020

Similar to days at school, it takes self coaching, a positive outlook, and clear objectives to teach virtual school well.

Clear Objectives 
This week's virtual school teaching has a clear objective. I'll engage small groups of students in study related to many fifth grade measurement standards. The lessons are scaffolded so that small groups can take it as deep and high as they're able, but I won't rush the groups since the main focus is to get together to talk math and problem solve in meaningful, collaborative ways. In addition to the small group math meetings, students have a menu of math activities to complete. I'll check in on those efforts each day to see who is completing the assignments and who is not. At the end of the week, I'll reach out to families of students who are doing much less of the work than others to see what's going on and how I might help.

The objective of the homeroom meeting this week will be to check in on each other, exchange stories, and exchange titles of favorite movies. And the objective of the grade-level meeting will be to learn about the systemwide fifth grade signature project, the biography project. We've been doing this wonderful project for years, and this year it will go virtual, in part, or in entirety depending on how long we'll be out of school.

Our Professional Learning Community (PLC) will meet to discuss a myriad of issues related to upcoming virtual teaching/learning, student support, and typical school efforts and decisions for this time of the school year. The faculty meeting will likely inform us of upcoming efforts and areas of need or sensitivity. We'll likely discuss shared questions and efforts.

Positive Outlook
It is going to be a busy week of virtual meetings, and what is most important is that I have a positive outlook. Similar to school, I find that when I greet the children with a big smile and saying their name, their shoulders drop, they become more relaxed, and a positive exchange begins. To be able to exude that positive energy, similar to real-time school, I need to have a healthy routine and best possible energy. Virtual teaching and learning demands exceptional listening skills too, and this takes good energy, wait time, and attention.

Self Coaching
My self coaching will focus on staying the course with a positive daily routine that includes a healthy breakfast, attendance at a large group of virtual teaching/learning meetings, time to review students' daily learning efforts, and time to get outside, engage in home projects/chores, and healthy meals with my family. Good coaching for self or others demands best possible energy.

Not unlike the investment it takes to teach well at school each day, virtual school demands the very best of you. I'll give the week the best possible energy, and then the following week is a vacation so that will give me time to reflect on the week's efforts and better those efforts for the week after that. Onward.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Do we ignore our deepest longings?

This time at home has many rediscovering what it means to be who they are. Relieved of the rat race that many lives have become, people have time to indulge in pastimes they've forgotten about or ignored simply because there wasn't the time or those pastimes weren't the highest priority with the time available.

If you have the good fortune of health during these coronavirus stay-at-hoe days, what you choose to do says a lot about who you are? Some are cooking up a storm, others are hiking all over their communities, still more are researching topics or creating stories, songs, cartoons, film, gardens, and some are working on house projects. Americans are facing this crisis with creativity in amazing ways. This is a silver lining of a devastating pandemic. This is also a chance to recalibrate life as we know it--a reflective pause that we can use to revise routines, priorities, and endeavor to make our lives and the lives of others better.

As I think about this, I am wondering how I will structure my time going ahead to include the pastimes that I truly enjoy, the activities I am choosing without the pressure of the day-to-day expectations. I'll think about this in the days ahead with the focus on taking my choices and longings seriously. Rather than simply following old time expectations related to my age, gender, class, past experiences and associations, I want to forge ahead with a lifestyle true to who I am, the contributions I am able to make, and where I want to travel. Onward.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Thanks to the team

I have been so busy doing my part of virtual school that I haven't had a chance to look at what my teammates are doing. Then this morning I got an email from a parent praising my colleagues' efforts to promote science slideshows and I took a look at the incredible ELA menu of activities they put together for students. The reading/writing resources and projects they've invited students to engage with are amazing! What a gift to children and families.

I've been busy leading the math efforts, and I couldn't do this if I was also leading all the ELA and specialist activities. Instead, we are all working as a team, each doing their part, and this is making the efforts successful. Teamwork matters!

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Virtual School: The week of April 13th

Newscasters joke about people's inability to remember what day it is during this COVID-19 quarantine. I had to look back in my blog to remember what day was our last day of school. It was Thursday, March 12th. Earlier in the week, schools in our district were closed when it was reported that family members had COVID-19, and then on Thursday, it was decided that the whole system would shut down. Later in the month, the Governor closed all the schools in Massachusetts. The expected date for reopening is Monday, May 4th and time will tell if we return on that date or if we continue to teach from home.

So today marks one month of virtual school. It has been a busy month of collaboration with students, colleagues, and family members to promote remote learning. There have been many successes as well as areas that still need support and improvement. We haven't given up and will continue to forward the good and improve the not-so-good. Families have been incredible team members as we work with them to encourage their students' continued learning across all disciplines. The learning menu is rich and varied. It includes more than any one child could complete, but there's lots of opportunity or choice. Next week we'll offer more direct online support and instruction too. I look forward to working with small groups as I did a week ago--that was positive.

In addition to the small math groups, next week's agenda includes a daily menu of reading, writing, math, social studies, science, and specials. Students are expected to study for 3.5 hours a day. It is expected that they will complete reading, writing, and math, science, social studies, and the daily specialist activity as well as instrumental practice if they play an instrument. Science and social studies are short, entertaining videos related to the fifth grade content. Some of the science videos include easy-to-replicate experiments and activities. The math activities next week related to measurement including practice exercises, problem solving, and some creative tasks as well. Reading and writing include reading and listening to a number of good books including some that children choose and some chosen by the teachers and the start of the signature fifth grade biography project. Students are also expected to attend their homeroom meetings which are a good time to check-in, see each other, exchange helpful information and ask questions. There will also be a couple of reading/writing meetings for the entire grade level focused on the biography project.

Teachers will meet for a Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting, faculty meeting, and then a smaller grade-level planning meeting. The days will be filled with lots of student/teacher meetings and lesson creation and student response. While I miss the good work we can do in real time at school, I don't mind teaching from the comfort of my home especially now that we have a good pattern in place.

I'll continue to find value in this process with the exploration of deep ways to present, discuss, problem solve, and practice math. I'm interested in how the students react to each lesson and learning experience. I am taking a close look at what works well and what is less successful. I am finding meaning in this process as I'm working to improve my craft with the content students are learning and reviewing--this is good, creative, responsive work that I can bring forward in either a real-time school setting or via virtual teaching.

We're all doing what we can to make the best of this situation and taking it day-by-day. Fortunately I have the support of my family members a home and via computer/phone and my colleagues at school via virtual meetings and email.

Now it's time to wrap-up the school week and prepare for a very unusual Easter weekend. I'll focus on chores and tasks at home and then cook a really good Easter dinner for my family at home and the family members I'll deliver meals to. Onward.

Spring Break?

Systems differ on whether they are having spring break this year?

Teachers and parents differ with this decision too?

There's no one right answer.

Some want the break since they want a reprieve from the intense work involved in moving typical school to remote learning. Others want a break because they simply want a week in spring to concentrate on matters outside of school. Some may escape to second homes. Other say the it's good to have the break now so the year is longer leaving some time, perhaps, to close the year with the students at school.

Those that don't want the break, desire an earlier summer start or believe that it's not a good idea to break-up the virtual learning routines that have been put in place. Others who are working from home, want their children to have continued structure.

Either way, it's not going to make a whole lot of difference. A few extra days at the end of the school year are not impossible just as working through the spring break is not impossible either. We can do this no matter what direction a school system or school takes. On the scale of what's happening all around us, this is a small matter.

The Learning Menu: A Path Toward Independent Learning

Example of a Monday - Friday Math Learning Menu
For years, our team has been using learning menus to guide students' independent learning. These menus foster apt student decision making and skill/knowledge building related to their learning. The menus also buy teachers who work with large groups of children time to coach small groups and individual students.

The use of these learning menus has helped our recent move to remote learning. As I continue to work with these menus, particularly in the virtual sphere, I am reminded about the best ways to create and introduce these menus to young students.

Menu Creation
It is important to invest a good deal of time up front when it comes to creating helpful learning menus. It is important that the menu is streamlined, easy to follow, and easy to access. Our team places the main learning menus on our grade-level website. That makes the learning menus easy to access for all members of the learning community including students, family members, and educators.

The menu is best when it includes only the most important words and links. It's best to use the concept of nesting when creating these menus which is a process where the main concept is on the menu and as the child works through that concept, he or she uses scaffolded links to travel the concept into deeper, more detailed, and perhaps more challenging content.

Menu Practice
Clearly, after months of using these menus, many students are adept at reading and utilizing the menus, but there are a few who still are having trouble reading and using these menus. This tells me that I didn't make enough time up front to teach students how to use the menus. Next year I will provide more practice with this skill to give every child the chance to learn how to use the menus successfully.

Menu Updates
It is good to update the menus on a regular basis to keep the menu relevant and inviting.

Student Input and Interaction
The menus should invite student input and interaction. Children could become good at this by having the chance to make up their own menus for study.

As we work with "virtual school" I'll continue to think about how to better our use of student-centered learning menus, menus which guide students' independent learning in multiple ways.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Virtual School: April 8, 2020

What's on the agenda for virtual school today?

Today I'll take a close look at a number of assignments students have sent to me. That review will allow me to provide some feedback, chart who is doing what, and think about how these efforts will inform next week's virtual learning and teaching.

Similar to typical school, priorities with virtual school include keeping it interesting, motivating the learners, listening and responding to learners' questions, and providing feedback to student learning efforts. Teachers, to a large degree, are academic coaches, and not unlike sports coaches, our goal is to support our students for the academic win which, to me, is doing their best to make meaningful gains in positive learning endeavor.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Bring your value

Virtual school has realigned teaching teams in many ways. We had a good sense of place and what to do in the school community, and now that's been challenged. How do we transfer or revise our roles and efforts for virtual school, and how will that impact our teaching/learning in the days ahead?

Bring your value
The first priority to think about how you might bring your value to the new virtual school equation. Most of us have a good idea about what that value is within the real time school community, but what does that value look like in virtual school? For me, my value is the individual social-emotional attention I can bring to my homeroom students through virtual class meetings and online exchanges related to questions, encouragement, and information share. For my grade-level math students, my value is to bring those students engaging practice opportunities, meetings that bring us together to talk about and learn math, and personalized response with regard to review and response related to student learning efforts.

Make it count for today and into the future
I want my virtual school efforts to inform my real-time school efforts into the future. So I'm using this opportunity to dig into a number of fifth grade math concepts and think about how I might teach those concepts with greater depth and success in the future. I've created a number of math talk/problem solving opportunities for students that I'll be able to use now and into the future. I'm also trying to learn more about some of our online math programs so that I might use those programs well in the future to support students' math learning and proficiency.

Collaborate with colleagues
Our system administration is using this virtual school effort, in part, as a way to promote and strengthen teamwork. Educators are responding by setting up interdisciplinary and cross-school grade-level meetings to discuss curriculum initiatives and virtual teaching activities, goals, and challenges. Educators are also reaching out to one another to share learning activities, ask questions, and provide supports. I value the administration's focus on collaboration because I know that this COVID-19 event is hitting all of us in different ways and we need each other in order to provide the students with a holistic, positive, and helpful response.

Create a plan; bring some structure
I'm finding that it is critical to create some kind of structure for virtual school because if you don't, home becomes your work place alone or your work place is lost at home. During the next few days, our team will put together a schedule for the next couple of teaching weeks. After that, our efforts will depend on what state leaders decide with regard to reopening schools or continuing remote learning. Time will tell.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Looking Ahead

I imagine that most of us are thinking ahead and wondering what the days, weeks, and months will bring during this highly unusual time. If you read my posts, you can tell I'm trying to get some control over the situation. Here's the most recent path planned.

Review and Response Week
Students are taking a few formative assessments online to give me some trending data about where the next lessons should lead. So far the information I received tells me that there has not been a lot of lost math skill or ability in the past few weeks and things look fairly status quo. That's good. I can see holes here and there with student learning, and I'll work to patch up those missing parts in the weeks ahead. I'll take a close look at a number of other indicators of student engagement and learning this week, respond to specific assignments, and meet with colleagues to plan the days ahead.

Virtual Teaching
Next week I'll engage in a number of teaching/learning virtual events with students. We'll have some small group virtual games and lessons, and students will complete a number of online exercises. I'll pay close attention to who participates and who completes a fair amount of the tasks. For those that don't participate or don't complete many tasks, I'll reach out to see if I can be of greater help in any way. I recognize that families are facing many obstacles during this stay-at-home response to the COVID-19 virus.

Other Matters
Now that I have some semblance of a teaching/learning schedule in place, I'll make some time for close-to-home matters as well. It's easy to be consumed by school, but it's not healthy so that's the next step.

Easter 2020

As a child, I always looked forward to Easter. I loved the prayerful pageantry of the Easter church services. I loved the strength and promise the story of resurrection illustrates. I loved the family gatherings on Easter Sunday.

This year will be a very unusual Easter since most of us will be home and we won't attend services or gather for celebrations. How can we make this Easter meaningful?

Resurrection is about new beginnings. It is about rising above the struggle. It is about sacrifice and doing what is right and good. It is about the faith that we can do well by one another and build a good world. How can we let this time be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life?

The incredible service of essential workers at grocery stores, public works, transportation, government, and medical facilities and organizations brings all of us hope. These individuals are putting their lives on the line for all of us. We can derive hope from their selfless, skilled, and dedicated service.

This time at home is a good time to reflect upon our lives. It is time to renew what is good about our lives and a good time to rid our lives of that which is not so good. As a community, we really have to rethink the rat race we have created and work together to build a better world for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren, and generations after that. It is time to renew our homes, communities, country, and world so that we live in ways that help us to help one another more as well as create loving, peaceful, promising communities. Wherever there is struggle now, let's think about how we might do that better, and where there is promise right now, let's think about how we can fulfill that promise.

New Life
How can we build a world that protects our natural resources and provides everyone with the essential ingredients of good living including quality homes, schools, health care, nutritious foods, and positive recreation? How can we use our time and money to build these promising communities, and how might we advocate for good leaders rather than self-serving, bigoted, short-sighted leadership?

This unusual time in our world provides the opportunity to take another look at how we live and who we live for. In my opinion, it is time to strengthen our resolve to build more peaceful, equitable, positive communities. It's time to rid our country of self-serving, backwards leadership, policies, and efforts. We can do better and this is our time to start planning and advocating for betterment--we can resurrect our country from the grasp of heinous individuals. This is the promise that Easter holds for me this year.

The Teaching/Learning Week Ahead

This week's "virtual school" will focus in on individual students and learning opportunities as I plan to return to a number of math meetings net week. This focus has been promoted by system leadership to give everyone time to recalibrate our efforts so that we are focused on helping students make some progress with the yearly learning goals.

I started reviewing students' efforts to date with regard to math, and many, many students have been engaging in a large amount of math practice and learning. I am so proud of these students and so grateful to their families for continuing to provide these practice opportunities to students. While some may believe math is a dry subject, the reality is that mathematical thinking underlies almost all we do and to understand math well is a real advantage in anything you do. If you look at every decision related to our response to coronavirus, you will find mathematics.

Since our students have chromebooks at home, it is easy for them to access multiple math practice sites. I can easily see evidence of their practice on my computer at home which guides the kind of coaching I can do for families. For example, yesterday I sent almost every family a note about their child's efforts to date with these math practice opportunities. For those who are doing less or no practice, I was able to reach out with opportunities to help and guide. With every note, I acknowledged the fact that I realize that every family is facing different challenges with regard to the coronavirus--I want to be sensitive to that.

Throughout the week, I'll review and respond to a large number of student learning efforts and plan more for the weeks to come. I expect that whether we return to school or not, the long term learning will include the following:

  • a system-wide assessment to see how children are doing. 
  • more study and learning about fraction with as much hands-on, meaningful project work as possible.
  • focus on completing either 5th grade Khan Academy or IXL--two practice sites that are worthy learning/practice for students
In addition to math, I'll support my colleagues in coaching students with a grade-level biography project. This is a signature project that students engage in every year and one way we can continue the positive teaching/learning in a somewhat similar fashion to what it would be like at school. 

Friday, April 03, 2020

Virtual School Continues: April 3, 2020

Yesterday I experienced a huge dip with regard to "virtual school" since I received directives that were worrisome and burdensome. After hours of processing the information and trying to make sense of it all, I reached out to the administration with my worries. I received words of support which helped me to make sense of the directives putting me back on track to forge forward with "virtual school" which is the attempt to continue the 5th grade learning program online. I am relieved to be at this place, and will use next week's teacher preparation time to review and revise the process to meet students' interests and needs in an even better way. What will I do to prepare?

Analyze efforts to date
I will make time to analyze the students' virtual learning efforts to date by reviewing the many, varied study opportunities they chose and completed. This will inform next steps.

Virtual Lesson Planning
I will plan a number of "math talk/problem solving" lessons that help student to review information taught and begin to learn new information. I will also plan a number of virtual math game lessons. I tried both of these types of lessons out this week and they were well received. I'm looking forward to continuing this virtual study with students the week of April 13.

Virtual Learning Schedule
I will work with the many teachers on the grade-level team to put a schedule in place for student-centered virtual learning. For every meeting and lesson, we'll make sure there are at least two educators there. I hope that this schedule will last for several weeks rather than just one week. This will add structure to teachers' and students' days which is good.

Revise the Learning Menu
I will respond to the suggestions administrators made for updating the learning menu to provide an easy-to-follow math menu with daily assignments and choices.

Teacher Meetings
I'll plan to attend a large array of teacher meetings as one way to plan and prepare with the broader team to support our wonderful fifth grade students and their families at this time.

This will be a full week of work that will hopefully result in a positive teaching/learning plan for the weeks at home and, perhaps, weeks back in school in May and June. Time will tell. Thanks to all who supported me on yesterday's bumpy path. I'm on the other side and ready to go on Monday when "virtual school" resumes.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Virtual Teaching: The Days Ahead

We've made a good start to our virtual teaching/learning days. Now that we are headed into the second phase of this at-home school, what's on the agenda?

Continuation of the Virtual Learning Menu
Next week on Monday and Tuesday, students will continue working on their virtual learning menu. I'll use the time to analyze who has been doing what to inform the weeks ahead.

Teacher Preparation Days
The system has set aside next Wednesday and Thursday for teachers to gather virtually to discuss next steps for the virtual school menus we are offering at each grade level. I plan to listen carefully to the many ideas shared and incorporate the overall focus and identified objectives/plans into the curriculum for the week after that. I expect that these plans will include a return to virtual math talk meetings and one class meeting a week.

Easter Holiday and Family Celebrations
We'll likely plan some virtual celebrations with creativity to celebrate the holidays and support one another.

Virtual Teaching/Learning
Then on the week of April 13, we'll return to the virtual world of teaching and learning. Onward.

Teaching Virtually: What's on the Learning Menu, April 2, 2020

Today's schedule includes virtual teaching, meeting, meeting, virtual teaching, meeting, virtual teaching, planning, prep, and response. It will be a busy day. Fortunately, my muse, the children, will energize me throughout the day with their bright minded questions, participation, and ideas.

One challenge of the virtual teaching/learning time is coordination. An NPR piece once described schools as "little cities." I think this is a good description because schools do act like small cities since schools are densely populated with a large variety of services at play. To transfer that busyness and great amount of varied services to the virtual world is no simple task. The reality is that we cannot transfer all that we do in real time online, but we are attempting to transfer the services and objectives that support students social-emotional learning as well as deepen their academic skills, concept, and knowledge.

The objectives of today's work include the following:

Small Math Meetings
The goal of the small math meetings is to solve multi-step math problems via collective conversation, model making, and numerical expressions and reasoning. Basically a small group of students and teachers gather to talk and do math.

Team Meeting
Our grade level team will meet to draft our weekly newsletter and plan the virtual week of teaching and learning ahead.

Class Meeting
One student will lead our virtual class meeting and each child will bring a mystery object to the meeting. Each child will read through clues about the mystery object and then another student will guess what that is. One child requested this activity months ago, and it's good to know that we finally have time to partake in this enjoyable, community building activity.

Math Meeting
A few math teachers, the math coach, and a school administrator will meet to discuss the 5th to 6th grade math transition process. We will have to alter the process somewhat due to this lengthy time at home and the cancellation of a number of typical math assessments, lessons, and discussions.

I'm sure that I'll be ready for a nice lunch at 2pm after this long day of back-to-back teaching and meeting sessions is over. The goal is to stay focused and positive as we make the best of these unusual stay-at-home days. I'm fortunate to be able to meet these days with health so far and the tools and ability to follow through with these tasks. Onward.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Virtual Learning: Support students, and do not judge

The bottom line is that you typically get what you put into something. If you practice and focus on a topic, endeavor, or skill, you usually achieve success in that matter. While I know this doesn't work every time, we all know that if you work at something, you generally achieve.

As I work with students on virtual menus that include a wide variety of learning experiences in differentiated and supported ways, the reality is that most will engage with those activities, but some will not. The example of minutes to the right demonstrates this. We see a range of practice minutes from 0 - 189 minutes or 0 - 3 hours and 9 minutes. That is a big difference of practice over a three-day period. As the "virtual teacher," I have tried many ways to encourage each student to complete this worthy math practice including contacting families, writing notes to students via family emails, and offering coaching support, but still some don't practice.

As a mom, I know that what we can do to support our children's learning is limitless--there are countless, varied opportunities to support your child's learning in school and out of school. What limits this limitless proposition is all kinds of issues related to capacity, schedules, will, confidence, relationships, settings, and more. This happens during typical school days and during virtual days too. That's why, after considerable communication, I simply have to let this issue be as it is--I can't judge why a family cannot support a child's school study, that's not within my role, ability, or right. What I can do is offer support and provide a realistic picture of why the study is valuable. After that it's up to the student and the family.

The limitless potential learning holds meets every family differently. Some families are very laid back and don't worry about helping a child keep up with their studies, and other families are relentless with their will to help their child achieve. People fall all along the continuum with this proposition. As a parent, I fell into different places for different children mostly due to life's challenges, commitments, and opportunity at the time. Sometimes I had the time and support to help my own children in countless ways, and other times I was greatly compromised about what I could do because of the circumstances of the moment. At all times, I did the best I could, and as I present learning opportunities to my students now, I know that the families are doing their best given the circumstances they have.

So as teachers during this virtual learning time, it's our job to provide a rich resource and support for our students. It is also our job not to judge, but to help in ways that we can.