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Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Care

Lately, I've been discouraged.  I've been discouraged because I care.  I know that when systems are carefully constructed and thoughtfully carried out, change occurs with strength and potential.  I know that when teachers are given time to complete tasks in a thoughtful fashion, the tasks are completed well. I realize that good work matters, and choosing the best person for a job makes a difference. It's never perfect, but when same systems are repeated year after year without revision, it can be discouraging.

Endangered Species Continued. . .

The furniture has been shifted to make room for our upcoming endangered species open house.  The projects are nearing completion.

Now it's time for the final project list:
  1. Finish your Google presentation. Spell check. Share with teacher by Friday, 6/8.
  2. Finish your iMovie, export to desktop or Youtube, upload to presentation by Friday 6/8
  3. Finish your animal drawing by Friday 6/8
  4. Choose from this bonus list to make your exhibit inviting.
    • create a word find.
    • practice presenting your presentation.
    • make a crossword puzzle
    • create a diorama.
    • write a song or poem.
    • make signs about the animal's amazing facts.
    • do you have another idea? If so, let me know.
  5. Or help out with an open house job:
    • make an open house invitation.
    • make a welcome sign.
    • help to organize and clean up the room.
  6. Download a powerpoint version on 6/11 just in case the server doesn't work on the Open House morning. 
On the 14th we'll share the projects with family members as a way to celebrate a job well done. 


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lessons From the Basketball Court

I've been observing students closely lately to see the reasons for their behavior. In particular, I've been watching play on the basketball court. I have one student who plays like a high schooler. He's also as big and strong as some high school freshman.  That puts him about four grades above the typical fourth grade basketball level of playing.  We could consider him an "advanced basketball student."

As I've watched him play, I've realized many things.  First, when he bumps into other students, they typically fall down due to his strength and size. It's not on purpose, it's just a result of his size.  He frustrates others by his ability as they often can't keep up.  He too becomes frustrated because he's ready for an equal match, a good contest, but that's rarely the case since most of his classmates can't play at his level.

What's a child to do?  You find similar challenges for students who demonstrate giftedness in all areas of school life.  How should they react when their peers can't keep up?  What's the best way to discuss this and plan for this in the classroom.

For starters, it's a good idea to discuss the situation with the class.  Today, I told the students that I noticed that one person is a bit stronger than the others on the court. I also explained that due to his size and ability, he sometimes causes people to fall down or become frustrated.  I then explained that this can happen in any area of school life as some are better at math, science, making friends, staying organized or coming up with a good idea.  Further, I explained that your abilities today do not predict your abilities in the future as with practice, interest and effort, students reach the goals they set out to reach no matter what their skill and ability is at fourth grade.  I proceeded to give examples of students I've known who have reached unimaginable success in areas that they struggled with in fourth grade.

Finally, I pointed out how our one strong basketball player is a good metaphor for challenge.  When students play ball with this student, they struggle, but they also become much better players.  The strong player also learns from the others as he's becoming a much better team player.  It's a win-win, but not one without struggle. Our challenges make us stronger, but not without a lot of effort and some struggle along the way.

As we all know, learning is not restricted to the classroom.  Instead it's a 24-7 process in life, and helping students to acknowledge that creates happier, more successful students.

Teacher Voice

I play a very small, but important role in the work place.  I'm in charge of the education of a classroom of bright and talented children. I have many ideas about the ways our systems can grow and change to better effect the work we do with students, but the processes for idea exchange and communication are not in place for ready discussion, debate and delivery.

As you may imagine, it is discouraging to see potential without a ready vehicle for sharing and implementing those ideas.

Currently in education,  to have a voice usually means you have to be an administrator or friend, otherwise it is expected that you will stick to your role and your charge by focusing on the children, and letting the leaders do the job of discussing ideas and best practice.

The problem with that mindset is that the system greatly affects the work teachers do each day, and the system influences motivation, direction, interaction and vision. When there is shared investment and clear communication and protocol, systems thrive, and serve children well.

I recognize that I see things through my lens as a classroom teacher, and there are many other lenses and viewpoints with regard to an organization's vision and process.

Do teachers quiet their voices since systems of  fluid idea management and exchange usually don't exist, or do we find ways to speak up and share ideas. We can be quiet and unsatisfied doing mediocre work, or teachers can play a vital system role by shaping schools with conditions for excellence.

How do you support and employ teacher voice in your system? Do you embrace passionate voices?  How do you collect, reflect and manage ideas from those in the front line of schools: students, families, teaching assistants, educators and service providers? Do your administrative structures support the best possible work when it comes to students, and do you make time to include teachers in the big questions affecting their daily work or as Jose Vilson states "give teachers a seat at the table" when it comes to policy and decisions.

Teachers are sometimes invited to share their ideas through surveys, evaluations, one-to-one conversations, ideas/grants realized, and that's a first step. Yet, fluid systems of idea exchange, communication and forward thought will encourage and employ teacher voice in dynamic ways that serve to better meet students' needs and interests.

Personally, I want to remain a classroom teacher, but I also want to have a voice.  Is that possible?  Thoughts welcome. Debate embraced. I'm seeking solutions and processes, and I invite your discourse.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Keep the Child Center Stage

A day in school can be long particularly when the demands outnumber the minutes in a day, but no matter what we do, we will do a good job if we keep the child center stage.


Warning: Idealist Crossing

Are you an idealist? Are you led by visions of excellence and a job well done? Do you sometimes drive your colleagues and classmates crazy with new ideas and possibilities?

What prompts your idealism? What makes you crave change and growth?

Since my earliest days, I've been an idealist. As a young child I would "draw my dreams" every day, and my dad would preach, "a little for today and a little for tomorrow." I have also always been keenly aware of aspects of life that hurt, harm, and hinder, and the way that purposeful change can transform those events into life enhancing, positive paths of living.

When I look into my school buildings and community, I see so many wonderful events and actions at play--that's why I've stayed in my system so long; it's truly a school system that makes a difference in students' lives. Yet, as I see promise, I also see room for revision and growth--we all know there's always an opportunity for betterment and improvement, thus the idealist.

I've often commented that cynics are disguised idealists. Their cynism is a protective covering that guards them from disappointment and discouragement when ideals aren't met. Also, the idealist who is not a good communicator or collaborator has less of a chance of effecting positive change, growth or ideals realized. So it's possible that cynics are idealists lacking optimal communication/collaboration skills.

How do you nurture ideals in your organization, school or classroom? Is there a role for ideals in the place that you work? What is the best balance for today's efforts, tomorrow's goals and future ideals?  I'm ready to learn more about this topic, and look forward to your thoughts.


The Weekly Memo?

Weekly Classroom Memo
Do you write a weekly memo--a memo that lists the week's focus, main events and future considerations? I believe that the weekly memo centers an organization by providing a weekly reminder of the organization's vision and matters at hand. The weekly memo supports transparency, shared goals and collaboration rather than conjecture and separate paths. A regular memo creates organizational rhythm and greater harmony.

My husband worked in an organization that had a powerful memo from the organization's leader each week. The leader shared the latest news and vision related to the organization with warmth, humor and respect. I noticed how this memo lifted my husband's sense of purpose each week, and I must admit his boss's words of wisdom lifted my work each week too even though I worked in a very different type of organization.

I write a memo to family members each week.  My error is that sometimes my weekly memo becomes an every-two-day memo. Hence, my challenge is to stick to a once a week memo rather than too many messages. Then there are the weekly memos that are simply shopping lists--too long and dull so no one reads them. What's the best solution?

Organizational leaders need to keep work places' mission and vision up front as that builds collaboration and shared goals.  Managers have a responsibility too to coach the team with timely information and regular inspiration. When the information is hidden and the goals vague, organizations do not reach the potential possible. Yet, when information is too readily shared, people may not listen. Also, perhaps a weekly memo is one task too many.

How do you communicate with colleagues and those in your charge?  How does your organization share goals, vision and events?  What kinds of communication and communication systems best support optimal performance, rhythm and harmony in the work place?  I will heed your thoughts and ideas as I plan my classroom communication system for next year, and think realistically about the quality and quantity of communication I produce and expect for best effect.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Creating Your Dream List

There are so many options in our world today, so many paths to travel.  Your life, in so many ways, is only limited by your imagination and confidence. The first step in achieving your dreams is knowing what they are. Take a few hours on the beach, in your home, at a park or anywhere that inspires you to think, dream and create your dream list. The begin making your dreams come true!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nature's Beauty Inspires

The natural world inspires the best of us. As much as possible we need to create environments that evoke the wonderful potential humanity holds. Too often in our organizations, neighborhoods and homes we bury natural beauty. Technology's promise is that it will free us from tools and equipment that take up too much space harming the environment, and replace those old tools with streamlined, simple, small tools and equipment that leave room for nature's beauty to flourish and inspire us each and every day.




Why NING?

Ning Protocol
I have been using NING for the past five years as my class's closed social network. I'm convinced that upper elementary is the best time to start guided social media efforts because it introduces students to the medium and the language related to the medium at an eager and open minded age.

Since the law requires students to be 13 or older to interact legally on the Internet, I ask families to join the NING rather than individual children. It is up to the family members to guide and monitor their child's use of NING at home, and I do the same at school.

These are many of the reasons why I employ NING:

Ning Twitter-Like Stream
  • It's a closed network that family members, colleagues and I manage. When children post an inappropriate comment, we use it as an opportunity to teach students about safe social media use, and the comment is quickly deleted.
  • The platform provides a great vehicle for teaching digital citizenship and Internet responsibility.
  • NING melds many social media venues into one site. There's a Twitter-like stream, Youtube-like video area, Pinterest-like image area, blog options, and information posting places. 
  • Students can easily contact the teacher and each other via NING whether they are near or far. Recently a student traveled to China for a month, and he was able to correspond with the class via NING. When students travel, they can easily post images of their adventures on the site as well. 
  • As the classroom teacher, I easily forward newsletters and updates to all members of our learning team via NING.
  • NING interfaces with other websites well.
  • Parents and students are able to check in on class events 24-7. 
  • NING allows me to share the classroom events with colleagues and our building administrator too. 
Ning YouTube-Like Video Area
Next month on move-up day, I'll invite families to join our 2012-2013 NING. As in years past, several families will join during the summer months and stay in contact throughout the summer. That really puts some children and families at ease about the upcoming year.  Others will join in September.  I'll have a family/student tech workshop to guide those that want help in joining early in September so that I'm sure that I have included all families.  

Ning's Image Center
Then we'll utilize NING throughout the year with other online venues to foster optimal creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration. Every year NING is used differently by a class, and that's okay as every class presents a different set of interests and needs. I let this medium act as a casual communication part of our classroom efforts while our class website serves as a resource center; the content blogs/websites serve as vehicles for targeted learning and endeavor, and Twitter lends daily updates and focus.  This classroom communication system has served the class well this year and in the past.

How do you manage classroom communication? What tools do you weave together to meet the many needs and interests that your learning community presents?  How do you foster facile social media understanding and use with upper elementary school students so that they are ready for responsible, effective use of social media venues in the years to follow? Thanks for weighing in on this topic as we continue to navigate the ever changing world of education and communication. 


Blog Discussions

Friday, May 25, 2012

Direction: Defining Your Role

I've been looking for greater role definition in education, but now I realize that has to come from me.

Curriculum leaders, coaches and administrators are working to implement the common core, RTI, PLCs and a better schedule for meeting students' needs. They've asked for our thoughts, and now they are busy crafting the plans for our work next year. I imagine that we'll receive updates either at the end of this year, over the summer or at the start of next year about these new and revised initiatives.

In the meantime, I find myself thinking deeply about how I will use my time and run my classroom to personalize learning for each child within the collective frameworks mentioned above. In that regard, I am focused on learning about brain-friendly education--the kind of learning that teaches children how to learn in meaningful, efficient and successful ways that include their passions and interests.

In a sense, I'll have my own "mini sabbatical" this summer and focus on my summer reading list. I hope to return to school with a host of activities, guiding posters, classroom routines and a stronger mindset for teaching children well.  I'm excited by this journey because it's the first time in my life I've had the time to read and focus on a topic that intrigues me with energy and depth over several mostly-uninterrupted weeks (I also have a family to care for).

I'm sure I won't be alone on this journey.  Last summer I was able to connect with other educators near and far who were researching and thinking about the deeper questions related to the work they do.  I look forward to that collegiality again this summer. The cycle of teaching, then learning, then teaching again positively affects the work we do.  That's why I'm not in favor of 12-month school year, but instead believe that all children should have the opportunity to learn in new and invigorating ways during the summer at camps, local programs, on their own and with family members.

In education, defining our role depends on time to read, research and strengthen our craft--the kind of time I'm looking forward to this summer.  Let's see what happens.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheering Yourself Forward in Education

Each day is like the big game. You create strategy, prep materials, anticipate challenges and meet the day ready to win. The win is effectively meeting students' needs and bringing them forward.

Due to the complexity of the education environment, you often have to be your own cheerleader urging yourself forward with reflection, vision and strength--no one is looking over your shoulder and your work is often unnoticed. There's no bottom line, profit graphs or bonuses to reward your efforts. The rewards are mostly internal, intangible and invisible.

A child's smile, an earnest parent note or a pat on the back from a colleague or administrator provide glimpses of your work's result.  The paycheck, to-do list and job requirements are the real-world structure and reward.  But what truly fuels your work is your vision--the reason you chose this profession in the first place, an opportunity to positively effect what matters.

It's not much different for our students. The rewards for their hard work in schools each day are also often internal, intangible and invisible.  They too cheer themselves on each and every day to do their best work, and effect positive growth and change.

We can invigorate our environments by not only cheering ourselves along, but by also cheering our students and colleagues along with the creation of vibrant, responsive learning environments that focus on best effort, effect and care for one another.  Our collective vision and effort will invigorate our daily work and effect.

I'll start the day with this in mind.  I'll make the time to cheer my students on as we reflect on our common goals and the work we do.  I'll remark that our efforts are directed towards a goal bigger than today, and that's the goal of strong concept, skill and knowledge to support a happy, kind and active life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fourth Graders' 2012 Summer Olympics Intro Film

Students enjoy making films, and there are so many tools for easy film making available today. If you've made a film, you understand how challenging it is.  It is especially challenging to stop and say, "good enough," as a film can be a limitless project.

My small book group worked with a professor from BC and me to craft a script and create a movie.  They had a difficult time reconciling that the movie would not look just like a Hollywood film due to our inexperience and time limits. However we were able to include their ideas, voices and creativity.  They'll present the film at our upcoming Summer Olympics Assembly as a way of introducing the whole school to the games.

Take a peek at their final product.  This is one of many films to come for this small band of learners.

We'll end the school year crafting films for our endangered species projects. I'll challenge students to think deeply about their audience and message as they create each film.  I'll also take into consideration that creativity is a step-by-step, contagious process that will spread about the classroom with joy if I allow it. 



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nurturing New Ideas

The Weave of Performance
How do you nurture a new idea?  I typically use this process.
  1. Think about a need and how we can meet it.
  2. Read and research.
  3. The idea arrives. Analyze the idea and decide to act (or not). Sometimes ideas are born long before they are implemented as I'm waiting for the right moment, fertile ground.
  4. Read and research the specific idea. Send out feelers via Twitter, blogs, discussion.  
  5. Listen to, and reflect on responses.
  6. Try the idea out, revise along the way.
  7. Analyze the initial implementation, make plans for future development.
Idea streams like maypole ribbons twist and twirl in my mind. Generally they are all connected to the theme of teaching children well or living life to its fullest. I let the ideas flow and change as they grow without too much worry. Similar to the flowers in your garden, I know each idea will bloom in its own time.

How do you nurture and tend an idea?  I'm curious.


Note: I came across this older idea post I wrote that makes a good connection to today's post: Idea Management.

Everyday is a Puzzle

A day of teaching presents itself like a puzzle. The number of students, goals and the ways to get there create a puzzle-like situation for the classroom teacher.  Then there's usually the last-minute events such as scraped knees, absent volunteers, fire drills and the like that add new pieces to squeeze into the equation. Teachers are called to be amoebas as they flexibly manage the day for student learning and growth.

While it's important for educators to be flexible, it's also important that schedules and routines stay as consistent as possible since careful planning and preparation for targeted instruction fosters optimal student learning.

In what ways can teachers, schools and school systems foster a high level of consistency and support? I propose the following short list of actions:

Create a system-wide pattern for decisions and implementation.  With this kind of pattern, teachers, students and community members can anticipate events and changes.  This type of pattern establishment puts leaders about nine months ahead of what is happening in the classrooms providing educators with timely path to follow. A pattern might look like this:
    • January: Revision and creation of system-wide goals, efforts.
    • February: Plans for the following year's events, routines and activities.
    • March: Planning for program revision, change and creation with hiring, ordering and more.
    • April: Planning events to culminate the year.
    • May: Year-end culmination events, assessments. Creation of the following year's calendar frame.
    • June: Attention to detail with transitions for next year.
    • September: Revisit year's goals, schedules, action focus.
    • October: Research and Discussion regarding the next set of system-goals, efforts.
    • November/December: Review and evaluation of existing goals, routines and actions.
Establishment of a yearly calendar (May of previous year)
    • Main events are posted.
    • A process for choosing dates is established.
    • Teachers and others plan additional events securing dates on a first-come, first-serve basis using the established system-wide process.
School Routines (June/Summer Months)
    • School administrators create the school-wide schedule of activities, learning periods and duties.
Classroom Routines (summer months/beginning week of school year)
    • Educators establish classroom routines and schedules based on the school-wide calendar.
    • Special events and field trips are scheduled during the summer or first week of school.
    • Families and colleagues are introduced to the classroom routine and schedule at the start of the year so they can plan ahead.
    • The classroom routine and schedule make time for important learning events and special activities 
A Process for Change. Streamlined systems for change are established so that the addition of new students, new events or needs are met in efficient, child-friendly ways while not upsetting the current routines and schedules.
Working with people will always present a puzzle-like quality, and that's a wonderful challenge of the job.  Yet, a solid routine and consistency at the foundation of work with children will allow us to make time for the puzzles that matter: the work we do each day to teach children well.



Monday, May 21, 2012

Don't Crowd the Schedule: Leave Time for Thoughtful Transitions

A lesson gone wrong prompted me to analyze what happened. I determined that the main issue was the fact that the transition was too quick not leaving students or teachers enough time to transition from one point in the day to the other.

Earlier this year at Educon, Gary Stager prompted us to think about the schedule we create for students as he listed a long list of subjects in 45-minute blocks.  He challenged the typical school schedule and wondered aloud what that does to students' sense of engagement and investment in learning.

Rather than give students time to relax a bit after lunch, we rushed them into an RTI block that represented many groups and endeavors. We didn't leave time to discuss the lunch issues or answer questions related to the upcoming tasks. Some students didn't have the time they needed to gather their materials and transition.  It was too fast and too rushed resulting in a bit of confusion, stress and less than optimal start to the lesson.

It's our first year with RTI and overall the impact has been wonderful as we're meeting more needs with thoughtful, targeted teaching. Next year, however, we have to think carefully about giving transitions the time needed so that all lessons begin with a relaxed start that is understood by all the teachers and students involved.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Homework Solution?

Homework poses a dilemma for most educators.

One colleague describes it as "the three bears" dilemma: too much, too little, just right.

This year I opened the door to the homework discussion with parents through the use of a letter.

The letter fostered discussion, but the homework dilemma continued. At the end of the school year I will survey parents to gather more data about future homework decisions.

In general, most parents wanted homework. They wanted to provide students with the chance to develop independent, at-home study routines. They also wanted students to develop their skills and proficiencies in all academic areas.

I provided a fluid list of homework topics that students were able to work on at home and in school. I also provide a bonus list of learning options both on our class website and through links, images, videos and discussions on our classroom social network, NING.  Also most classroom projects are open-ended providing a limitless list of options for extension.

As I think ahead to next year, I want to advocate for more online self-paced homework.  We utilize a number of online resources to develop students skills and proficiencies.  The online resources are often independent, self-paced programs such as Lexia, targeted assignments (That Quiz), or venues that are easily manipulated for speed, repetition and focus (YouTube Videos, Content websites).

The advantages to online homework include the following:
  • Homework results are typically graded or lead to the next steps digitally saving the teacher time with regard to correcting and collecting papers.  Instead the teacher can easily access the scores or levels and make coaching decisions with that information, then utilize the time saved to plan rich, collaborative learning events.
  • Homework is less frustrating since students are moving at their own pace and level.
  • Homework requires less parental input since it's tailored to students' interest, level and need.
  • Homework doesn't rely on memory of a single lecture or assignment. Instead the digital format allows repetition and manipulation of the information to suit students' needs and interests.
  • Written homework benefits from digital tools such as spell/grammar checks, thesauri and easy access to editing and commenting features for teachers who coach writing skill.
  • Parents can access scores, reports and feedback at home, work or even in the car.
The lost homework or confusing homework factors should disappear with this format. 

So as I begin to think about homework routines for next year, I imagine that I'll employ the following actions:
  • Greater use of online, self-paced, responsive, independent programs. (I will continue to advocate that my school system supports this effort by opening up these programs to at-home use as well as in-school use.)
  • Reading books, articles and text of choice at home independently or with family members.
  • Practice packets for specific skills (online and off).
  • Family, student voice and discussion related to "just right" personalized homework goals and assignments.
  • Enrichment/bonus opportunities.  
I am open to your thoughts and ideas regarding this area of school life.  I will report on the results of my parent survey once the school year comes to a close.  

Teaching Gifted Students

I actually don't like the term gifted. Like every other label, the term gifted never fully and accurately describes a person. However, the term does give us trends, profiles and possibilities to consider as we teach.

Who are the gifted students in your midst? Simply, I identify the gifted students in my class as those that want more, do more and/or demonstrate specific traits and talents that match both the broad and specific attributes of giftedness.

When I set up learning endeavors I plan for the entire spectrum of ways students might interact with the information or task from a level of early teaching to advance mastery and creativity.  I never pose limitations on any child for any broad task--the entire spectrum of accomplishment is there for the taking and children can rise as high as they'd like with regard to that task, knowledge or concept. Thanks to the 50% one-to-one computer initiative at our elementary school's fourth and fifth grade, a successful RTI implementation, collegial collaboration, adequate staffing and the addition of wonderful technology tools, we are able to broaden our reach and focus with regard to serving students at all places on the learning spectrum.

For example in setting up the endangered species project outline, activities and resource website, I imagined how children might interact with this information. At a basic level, students will learn with the class about the reasons for endangerment through reading articles, watching films and classroom discussions.  Then they will read specific websites, collect facts and present those facts using a Google slide template guide.

If a student wants more, does more or demonstrates a specific trait or talent, that student might extend this project and learning in any combination of the following tasks:
  • A specific talent might be demonstrated by writing a song, creating an art piece, conducting extensive research or applying literary skill to the presentation text or prose.
  • Doing more might mean skyping with an expert in the field, conducting research at a zoo or museum, reading extensively about the species or creating a project which turns the information into a service learning project that combats endangerment in a meaningful way.
  • Wanting more may result in more targeted coaching from me or a project that is an offshoot of the typical endangered species project. In some cases, a child may quickly complete this project so he/she can work on a project that matters more to them.
All of the examples above put the child in the leadership role of their learning; the teacher acts as coach and mentor making sure that basic learning standards are met while children develop their ability to independently learn with engagement and success. 

NING, our social network, is the 24-7 communication piece that guides student work.  Well before the project began in the classroom, I posted the project outline, resource site link and introduction.  Students who wanted to get a head start used that information to work on their projects independently.  In one case, a highly artistic and creative student came to me and told me that she had completed all the required parts of the project.  I responded that I would soon edit with her, but in the meantime she should begin working on her public service message. The guiding information for that project was listed on the website.  

She took a computer and began reading and preparing for the message creation.  On a couple of occasions she came up to me and asked me for green paper.  I told her where she could find it.  Then she asked if she could leave the room to find more and I said she'd have to wait.  She responded by sneaking out or eventually convincing me (I can't remember which) to leave the room to find green paper.  I was busy working with a myriad of students on initial aspects of the project.  The next thing I knew the young girl had created excitement in the room.  When I looked up, I noticed that she had pieced together a large number of small green colored paper squares to create a green screen in the room.  She chose a place where she could prop up the computer to videotape herself "on location" using the green screen for her public service message.  It was an amazing example of independent, engaging learning.

As this example shows, setting the stage for all students to develop and demonstrate giftedness depends on thoughtful design of the classroom environment and program including the attributes listed below:
  • A social network to give all students a 24-7 voice when it comes to their education.
  • Online resource centers, links, blogs, images and videos that support and inspire independent learning, research and coaching.  I often post links to engaging videos, projects, organizations and problems that match my students' interests.  
  • Time to converse with and coach students online and face-to-face in order to understand and respond with care and focus.
  • Inclusive units and lesson plans that reflect a spectrum of interest and accomplishment from early teaching to mastery allowing all students to work to their potential.

It is also essential that educators take the time to read about giftedness and to understand both the challenges and advantages gifted children experience.  Defining giftedness however can be limiting because gifted programs are not inclusive.  That's why I prefer creating learning environments where all students have the chance to learn to their potential in real-world, diverse settings. This gives each child the opportunity to demonstrate and develop their areas of giftedness and passion in vibrant learning arenas.

How do you identify and respond to gifted students in your class?  In what ways do you create a spectrum of learning opportunities that maximize student potential and engagement?  What are your best resources for meeting the needs of students who display giftedness in one or more areas?  I look forward to continued study and exploration in this area.  When we nurture students' giftedness, we nurture the potential our world holds for positive change and endeavor, and that's a worthy pursuit.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Pruning the Path Towards Effective Work

If you've read my posts you know I like my work to be effective.  You also know that my dreams and vision far outweigh time and energy.  Hence, one main issue I contend with regularly is prioritization.

When it comes to prioritization, I like my time and energy to be spent effectively.  I don't like to waste time or work on redundant tasks.  Instead I like to move forward with as much fluidity, focus and care as possible.  So when what may seem like inefficient, unnecessary obstacles are placed in my way I become easily frustrated as I work to remove those obstacles with speed so I can get back on the road toward effective work.

In any large organization one is going to contend with multiple viewpoints and many perceived obstacles, hence it's essential to define the task at hand and prioritize actions in order to move towards that task with care. It's also important to recognize what you're going to spend time on and what issues you're going to ignore.

As I move forward as a classroom teacher, I've identified the following goals and efforts as priorities.
  • Students First: This is such a simple statement, but one that clearly puts educators on the right path when it comes to the work they do.
  • Streamline Systems:  Create streamlined systems with students for classroom routines leaving most of the time for collaborative, engaging learning tasks and endeavors.
  • Effective Communication: Establish effective two-way communication systems for family, student, educator (local and global) communication related to the classroom program.
  • Knowledge: Spend a considerable amount of time reading and researching so that the classroom program reflects state-of-the-art, student-friendly academic practices and endeavors.
  • Collaboration: With respect to student endeavor and growth, seek out and collaborate with like-minded educators with a similar students-first focus.
As I move forward as a classroom educator, I will put my energy and time into the tenets above.  And, as stated in an earlier post, I will center my summer study on learning about education practices that include optimal brain-friendly, cognitive strategies that optimize students' ability to navigate the knowledge-laden world we live in with strength, care, confidence and success.


Note:
I hope to use this post by Shawn Blakenship to guide my work as well.




Friday, May 18, 2012

Swimming Against the Tide

It's hard work to swim against the tide.  The crashing waves break all around you when you first jump in.  Then as you swim, the tide keeps pulling you back to shore. However, if there's something worth struggling for such as that giant wave in the distance or the place in the ocean where you can rest and simply let the rolling sea carry you, you'll give it the energy it takes to get out there.

From that peaceful spot where the giant waves roll, you see everyone on the beach playing, sleeping, snacking, reading and relaxing.  You notice the way the dunes reach to the clear blue sky.  As you rest and watch the world around you, there's always a bit of fear that you might be the one a shark chooses or an unruly wave catches up with so you're never completely at peace, but it's certainly worth the strong swim it took you to get out there.

Swimming against the tide in any organization is lonely, tiring and frustrating--you'd like to have a few more see it the way you do or realize it's worth the strong swim and twinge of fear it takes to get out there, but that's typically not the case. There's rarely more than a few out beyond the crashing waves.  It's the same on most mountaintops.

Some of us like the challenge, possibility and view from the sea or a mountaintop that an arduous climb or strong swim brings, but at times it's a lonely place to be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Endangered Species Project: The Research Stage

We've finally started the endangered species project. Throughout the next two weeks students will read and collect information about the endangered species they chose to study using a myriad of resources.

Models: I will read and show students past endangered species slide shows, story books and videos to give students models they can follow for their project research and presentation work.

Library: While students were anxious to go to Google and other search engines to research their animal, I began the research effort in the library. I told students that one great aspect of using our school library as a resource is that the librarian has collected a large number of well written books about endangered species over the years.  The books are written with many reading levels in mind, and provide wonderful information about the animals.  One child remarked that some books might have outdated information. I agreed that when it comes to population, current habitats and efforts to preserve that current websites would be better.

Video: Using a tip from a visiting author, students will watch one video about their animal and take notes for their introductory paragraph, slide or line.  The author encouraged us to look for unusual behavior to write about in order to make an engaging lead for the beginning of their story. Students will also choose one or two short videos to embed into their written online presentations. Later they will create their own public service message video as part of their presentation.

Internet Resources: I will guide their research using the Internet. I've created a resource website filled with great Internet resources.  I'll help those students who need to search in different ways online for specific information.

Zoo/Museum Visits: I'll encourage students to visit museums and zoos with family members to collect information and observe the animal they are studying.  I'll encourage them to take photos and videos at the site.

Skype: I'd like to try Skype Educate if we have time allowing students to converse with experts working in the field to save the animals they are researching.

Illustration/Sculpture: We'll discuss how drawing and sculpting an animal helps one to imagine that animal with greater precision and detail. Then we'll use the art materials available to draw and sculpt the animals we're studying.

Once we complete the research stage, we'll move into the presentation creation and writing.  Students have a menu of options for their project including a fiction story based on fact, a slide show, video, factual report or a combination of one or more of the options.  What's important is that they create their presentation with lots of information and a focus on the audience they will present to and the message they want to strongly convey.

Stay tuned. . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

2012-2013 Prep: Updated List

August starts tomorrow and I'm energized for school year prep and planning.  I'm revising this earlier list to share with colleagues near and far and to organize my work in the days to come. As teachers know, there is a great deal of work that goes into planning and preparing for the school year ahead--work, when well done, results in optimal student learning, engagement and success.

School Year Planning and Preparation Action List

Update website.  Delete outdated material and update with new pages, links and information.  The goal of the website is to serve as a quick class reference site that parents, students and colleagues can easily refer to during the summer and school year to learn about and interact with the classroom program. (completed)

NING: Our class social media, NING, is up and running and ready for student-family guided social media exchanges this year. Some families have already signed up and are actively involved.  I will work at getting all families to sign on during the first weeks of schools and taking the time to teach children how to use this media effectively.

Communication Protocols and System: I will devise a streamlined, regular communication system for our classroom learning team. I will outline the system on our class website, and introduce the system during Curriculum Night at the start of the school year.

Room Organization: Put aside about 40 hours for room prep--I'm going to give this task extra time this year as I know it makes a significant difference in student learning, engagement and success.

Program Review: I've organized the essential goals and process, the next steps include sharing, discussing and revising this work with the learning team i.e grade level teachers, coaches, curriculum directors and assistants.

Field Trips: It's almost impossible to plan and schedule field trips during the school year so I'll try to do as much of that work as possible during the summer months.  I've pruned this list down and now I have to spend a few hours making phone calls and completing forms to organize my share of this job.

Summer Study: I will center my summer study on learning more about brain-friendly education. I will continue to work away at my reading list and continue my efforts related to Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers #educoach chat.

iPad Exploration: I continue to not find the time for iPad exploration since I utilize the computer mainly for composing and I like the quick access to multiple windows, the keyboard and the many other tools the computer has that the iPad doesn't.  I will set up a schedule for iPad exploration with students in the fall, and let that exploration continue with student learning. Also one of my new colleagues is an iPad aficionado, so I'll learn from her.

Schedules: Once schedules are shared with staff, I'll create a draft schedule plan for the class to make sure I include all program objectives.  Then I'll work with the many specialists and assistants that work with my class and students to make sure we make time for all targeted instruction. I'll add the schedule to the website as soon it is available so students and families will know what to expect.

 Program review and collaboration with colleagues: During the first days of school, we'll meet as a learning team, grade level teachers, specialists and leaders, to discuss the following topics:
  • computer share schedule
  • year-long calendar, rotation schedule
  • schedule for special programs i.e. Just Like Me, Plate Tectonics, Immigration Museum, Field Trips.
  • Nuts and Bolts for first six weeks.
  • Materials sort, extra ordering if needed.
  • Parent-student tech mornings.
  • Curriculum Night: agenda, sign-up sheets, parent conference sign-ups.
  • Recess duty schedule.
Establish optimal routines including a birthday routine: I will think through the main routines for the classroom and work with grade-level colleagues to draft a plan, then I'll work with students to finalize a plan for the important patterns for a happy, productive classroom.

Committee Work/Professional Development: I'll have an open ear about the initiatives, professional development and committee work presented during the initial days of the school year.  I'll choose a few areas to commit to, areas where I feel I  have something to both learn and offer.  I also plan to use my student teaching voucher for a local University math course. 

First Six Weeks Curriculum Preparation: I'll also begin to prep and plan materials for the first six weeks of school lessons including the following:

What have I missed?  What would you add?  Note that this is a working list I'll modify and enrich as the weeks unfold. 






The Learning Journey 2020

I'm imagining what college might look like for my 12-year old son in 8 years. College for my 21-year old already looks quite different than my experience many years ago.

This is what I imagine.

Place: Students will select home bases--places that they want to explore and live in as they learn.

Classmates: It's likely that students will place themselves with a group of similarly interested, curious students in places online and off.

Study: Using the Internet and other tech venues, students will pick and choose courses from all over the world. They will reach out to experts and mentors who have the knowledge they seek.

Travel: Travel will play a big role in their learning as students will want to place themselves in the midst of these experts or learning situations often throughout their learning experience.

Flexibility: Place, classmates, courses and travel will change over the course of their educational journey as they select from a menu of options.  Work and internships will help to pay the bills throughout the journey.

New Technology: We will continue to create and utilize technologies we can't even imagine today, but we can guess that those technologies will bring us closer together in terms of communication and knowledge.  We can also guess that those technologies will decrease the time of travel and creation.  We can hope that those technologies will protect the environment, promote peace and develop human potential towards "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

How does this vision affect the way I teach my students?

Learning to Learn: This vision reminds me that teaching children how to learn is the primary mission of schools. Students need to know how to access and navigate information in optimal ways to fulfill their curiosity and potential.

Solid Foundation of Information/Skills: The vision also tells me that our students need to have a solid foundation of basic information and learning skills so that they can make the sophisticated decisions they will need to make. These skills will have to be taught in efficient, engaging ways.

Tech Savvy, Experience and Knowledge: Students will need to be facile with the tools available, and flexible too so that when new tools are invented they are able to access and navigate those tools with ease.

Global Awareness, Experience: There is no doubt that our children will be working in a global society, hence students need to know how to live, learn, work and get along with others from all over the globe.

The education landscape is changing faster than I ever imagined.  The potential for greater learning is tremendous.

Do you agree with this vision?  What would you change?  How will you begin to change your teaching repertoire, classroom and school to meet this potential?




Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Communication and the Learning/Teaching Team

I refer to my class as Team 15.  We often talk about our goals and choices when it comes to learning.  We help each other gain knowledge, and we work together.

The students aren't all best friends, but they learn with respect and care towards one another.  Typically it's a happy, industrious community of learners during the day.  I consider colleagues and family members to be part of the team too.  That's why we all belong to the same closed NING--our class social network.

All are welcome to join the conversation on NING or to use NING as a way of sending out a message to the whole team or one member.  NING is a social network that combines features similar to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs. Our NNG serves as a central portal for all of our team's communication.  The class website serves as the team's resource center. The website contains all the facts and information that provide the structure and framework for Team 15. Unlike NING which is closed and private, anyone in the community or world at-large that wants to know about our class can access that page.

For specific initiatives, we use content blogs, websites and collaborative documents that serve as focused communication channels.

Our Website-Social Network-Content Blogs/Websites set up a good system of communication for Team 15. Usually everyone knows where to go to get the latest team news or to communicate with one another.  That system keeps us all on the same page and leaves greater time in the classroom for vibrant collaborative, creative learning. As team captain and coach (teacher), I use the communication systems to encourage, inform and converse with any and all team members.

Seeing the class as a team opens the door to many learning opportunities and adventures. Communication systems like NING, the class website, and content blogs/websites encourage and inform learning with vitality and efficiency for all team members creating a strong team spirit, camaraderie and learning success.

Monday, May 14, 2012

MCAS: Setting the Stage for Doing Our Best

Today we'll set the stage for optimal test taking.  Tomorrow and Thursday students will take the math MCAS tests.

Students and I will clean desks and organize the room today.  It's easier to take a test if the room is clean.

I'll also do some direct test taking teaching:

  • Read with your pencil: Underline key words, circle the question asked.
  • Do all calculations and work on the page so you can check it over.
  • Multiple Choice: Read the question, think of the answer and then and only then look at the answer choices.
  • Open Response: Be explicit.  Explain your thinking/problem solving in pictures, numbers and/or words. Then write: Answer:_____, putting your answer in a complete sentence for the corrector to find and read easily.
  • Write neatly: The corrector doesn't know you and if it's messy, it has a psychological affect on the corrector's time and care with your answer.
  • Most of all do your best, show off what you know--this test will let teachers know which test information you know, and which information we need to teach.
There's no official homework this week--students can work on their research projects if they'd like.

The other lessons will be fun, interactive, student-centered learning events.

I'll do everything I can to make the test taking a relaxed, thoughtful event with a focus on "showing off what you know" as you work quietly and independently.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dreams Outweigh Time

Dreams are greater than time.

The artful walk toward one's dreams is that of patience and prioritizing--one step after another toward the dream, one action after another, and sometimes a leap energized by passion, vision and ideals.

Clearly identify the dream in order to chart the course with care, sacrificing events and actions for the greater destination.

Teachers, by nature, are dreamers.  We work each day towards a future goal we will rarely be able to quantify or experience--the success and happiness of our students in a world that, in many ways, we can't even imagine.

As many have noted, it is the journey that matters--the way we interact with one another, prepare for the day, interact with students, and take care of ourselves, our families, colleagues, neighbors and friends.

Dreams urge us forward with promise and strength.  Dreams are meant to be greater than time.  Dreams are the sustenance of a life well lived.





Friday, May 11, 2012

Ask!

"Ask!"

That's been the primary focus of my classroom teaching this year, and my students have become very good at asking for help when they need it. Family members are asking too.

Now I'm working a bit more on helping students ask questions with greater detail and focus--the better the question, the greater the chance you'll get the answer you're looking for.

Sometimes it is challenging to answer all the questions posed due to time and numbers, but having the availability of email and our class social network provides families and children with a venue to ask questions with 24-7, and families and students in my class access that venue when needed and not to excess.

Historically some have viewed asking questions as evidence of weakness or ignorance.  Instead today, I tell students that asking questions is a sign of intelligence and care.

The simple tool of asking questions when you have a need or don't understand is the most important tool in a child's learning tool box--a tool we can encourage and respond to each and every day.


Note:
Boston Sunday's Globe article,  "Just Ask" supports this post and provides many resources related to it.




Thursday, May 10, 2012

One Tough Day!

Today was one of the toughest teaching days of the year.

Typically I work with a well-crafted schedule that provides students with a positive choreography of teaching/learning modalities during the week. This pattern lends itself to happy, productive days of learning. The pattern also includes a fair number of supports with respect to specialist teachers and assistants therefore students' needs are met with care.

This week teachers were pulled in all directions in order to provide the supports necessary to administer the MCAS tests, and that meant changes in the support and specialist schedules. Hence it's been a week with fewer supports and less variety. It's also been a week where students' patterns have changed, and yes, there's been a bit more stress since everyone feels the test pressure.

What's the answer?

To run schools well you need the kind of well-crafted schedule with supports that we typically have at our school. And, to give the tests legally and responsibly you also need a tremendous amount of personnel since many students take the tests with special accommodations. Hence to teach well and give the tests well on the same day requires more staffing than a school typically has.

One teacher suggested that classes not taking the tests schedule field trips on those days.  That's a good idea particularly for grade levels that don't take the tests. It's difficult for grades that take the tests as teachers like to give that last minute review of the concepts taught throughout the year.  Another possibility would be to just have those students taking the tests come to school that day and let the other students have a day off--that would take care of the staffing problems, but it would also create significant issues for families who rely on school to care for their children each day.

It's a difficult issue that I don't have the answer for.  In fact, every day this week I've tried a different solution to keep my class engaged, on track and happy, yet every day we've been challenged by students who really need the supports or specialist activities. I'll keep thinking about a better way, and if you have the answer, please let me know. A good school is similar to a complex jigsaw puzzle-many pieces that fit together to meet many needs in optimal ways. The tests pose a challenge to this delicate balance.

The End of the School Year: Keeping Focus Amidst Change

The end of the school year signals change. Students move on, colleagues retire, new teachers are hired, and there are position and grade changes.

So as we end this year and prepare for the next, we also respond to the changing environment around us.

Nothing stays exactly the same in schools or for that matter in any organization. Change is part of the landscape all year, and it is especially apparent at the end of the school year.

What's the best way to meet this change?

It's best to be honest, positive and transparent with the changes you lead. For example, with my students, I'll talk about the change from fourth to fifth with cheer, "We've had a great year. You've learned a lot, and now you're ready for a new experience so that you can learn more and grow."  With colleagues who are retiring, moving grades or changing positions, I recognize the promise that change can bring, and sometimes the pain that change can cause. I'll try to be compassionate and helpful.

Then there's change outside of your control. With that change, it's important to stay the course and remain true to your professional values and beliefs. When it comes to school life, you can't let those changes get in the way of the primary focus of the work you do--teaching children well.

Change can add complexity to the end of the school year routines, but when possible that complexity can be minimized if change is dictated by clear process and open discussion. And, when that change represents the retirement of dedicated educators and professionals, it's important that we make the time to stop and celebrate a job well done.

Keeping change in perspective will help you to serve children well, and that's our mission as educators.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

This Year and Next: Goals

We have about seven weeks left in the school year.  The big plans have been made and now it's time for me to coach the students through our final endeavors including the prep for the math MCAS test which occurs next week, the endangered species project, fiction stories, portfolios and our routine menu of skills work. The days will also be filled with many end-of-the-year celebrations such as our final field trip, field day, classroom project presentations, a picnic and move-up day.

Move-up day signals that it's time to set the stage for next year. What will I prepare for my first time meeting with next year's students to excite and inform them about the year to come?

Hence, I've got one foot in this year and one foot in the next.

This Year
It's been a wonderful year. The students have been amazing learners. We've completed projects and accessed tools that have developed learning in new, efficient and creative ways.  I rarely have to redirect or worry about discipline, and we're on task learning, creating and collaborating all day long.

The primary focus for the end of the year will include the following:
  • Continued practice and development of essential reading, writing and math skills in differentiated, responsive ways.
  • Continued emphasis on coaching social, academic and emotional skills to foster an optimal learning environment for individuals and the whole class.
  • A heavy focus on project base learning and independent learning as students embark on endangered species reading, research, writing, presentations and action projects.
  • End year reflection by adding finishing touches to ePortfolios
For next year, I'll continue some of the practices from this year, and prepare for new learning techniques as well:
  • Continued use of ePals for our global exchange, letter writing emphasis.
  • Continued use of the current classroom communication system:
    • Website as resource center.
    • NING as virtual classroom and communication center.
    • Blogs and websites for focused student study and curriculum.
    • Greater effort to support student and family at-home tech use and access.
    • Twitter, chats, real time/online conferences and unconferences for pd.
    • Continued use of a "learning action list" to guide at-home study efforts.
    • Possible use of Edmodo with entire fourth grade related to our rotations work.
  • I will once again restructure my classroom environment to better support blended learning and RTI in the following ways:
    • More small group work spaces.
    • Better classroom library organization.
    • More quiet spaces for recording and video creation.
    • A mini tech center for storage and access to tech equipment.
    • More posters and classroom reminders of optimal independent learning actions and attitudes.
  • Employment of the helpful efforts of student teacher(s) and possibly volunteers to assist with classroom learning efforts.
  • I will see if we can get the zoo-school partnership project off the ground for next year's students--that will require preplanning this year and summer grant writing. 
  • With colleagues, we'll re-look at our field studies list and make changes if needed.
  • Greater employment of brain-friendly, blended classroom teaching endeavors to foster optimal confidence, growth and happiness. 
This is an intense time in school so I've planned a nice weekend away at the very end to inspire the best of what I can do in the next seven weeks.  Next week, with testing behind us, I'll be able to put all of my efforts into optimal project base learning.  I'm really excited about that work and the learning that the students and I will gain from it.  

Thanks to all who read and comment on my posts.  Know that you've been an integral part of our learning journey this year.  Your tweets, comments, blog posts and in-person conversations have invigorated my work and student learning.  I can't imagine teaching without this support.  And, as always, please let me know if you have ideas or questions related to this post  I want to keep the learning conversation going. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Worcester's South High Community School Students Take Art on the Road to Promote Reading


Worcester’s South High Community School Students
 Take Art on the Road to Promote Reading

        Seventy-five Chandler Elementary School first graders were treated to an interactive Read Across America extravaganza by twenty-five South High student artists in a unique celebration of reading in early March. This creative project was the brainchild of South High’s art teacher, Christine Lucey-Meagher. Ms. Lucey-Meagher never limits her students’ learning to the four walls of the art studio, instead she takes the time to design projects that involve the community and stimulate students’ imagination.  


    When Christine heard about the annual Read Across America initiative, she planned to combine that program with the high school’s illustration unit to show students how art inspires learning in young children. In addition to the art standards, she hoped students would develop their ability to present with confidence, teach with care and give back to the community.

      Ms. Meagher enlisted the support and collaboration of her friend and colleague, June Eressy, principal of Chandler Elementary School. While Christine’s students studied, sketched and painted life-size Dr. Seuss characters from The Cat in the Hat, Ms. Eressy’s staff prepared first graders for the celebration with conversation, sketching, and corridor displays.

      Many in the South High School community got involved. Two South High teachers, Ellen Parkinson and Patricia Falcone, sewed ten red and white striped hats for the celebration. Guidance Counselor, Delma Kusy, offered Thing One and Thing Two costumes.  Principal, Maureen Binienda, provided a bus and coverage for Ms. Meagher’s other classes, and Mr. Ben Badu assisted the presentation team by taking photos and videos of the big event.  Sam’s Club donated all the cardboard for the large scale paintings.

       With Cat in the Hat books in hand, and wearing colorful costumes and hats, the twenty-five student artists and Ms. Meagher boarded busses mid-morning for the project’s finale--the moment they had been planning for.  Enthusiastic first graders watched with eager smiles as the artists arrived and set up the colorful life-size Dr. Seuss character paintings. Ms. Meagher introduced the project, then each artist introduced a painting.  After that, high school students handed out student-drawn oversized coloring book pages and art supplies to the young students who happily began to read and color. Next, the high school students gathered small groups of students and read The Cat in the Hat to them. The cafeteria transformed into a reading room where high school students were reading to first graders, and first graders were reading to high schoolers.

      Students' reactions were positive. Kaleigh Brunell remarked, “It was awesome. The kids were so excited. They were so eager to sit down and read with us. They even offered to read.”  Norma Gully said, “The kids really got into it. Dressing up was a great touch and it really got the kids involved.” Julia Truong explained, “Seeing my board being displayed in a case in the wall was really cool. It looked nice, and I’m happy with the way it came out.” Louis Ponce said, “This kind of project helped me a lot. I never see kids watching our projects, and that felt so good.”

     The project exceeded Ms. Meagher’s expectations. She remarked, “I was so proud to see how caring my students were to these young students. I was particularly moved when my students came back and told me that the experience made them consider choosing a career working with young children. I know my students will remember this experience. I think it surprised them how much the young students looked up to them. They had not experienced that before.” The Read Across America Celebration for South High Community School and Chandler Elementary will always be remembered as a meaningful teaching moment for both students and their teachers. We are fortunate to have teachers and students who care enough about learning that they'll invest the extra time and care to make education a happy, meaningful, student-centered endeavor.
   
(Author's Note: I am a native of Worcester, Massachusetts.  Christine Lucey-Meagher is my cousin.  I am always impressed with the stories she tells me about her creative student-centered teaching methods, and her South High School's students' work, endeavor and effort.  I was particularly impressed with this project because it utilized students' hard work, creativity, collaboration and communication to enliven both their own education and the education of the young children at Chandler Elementary School.)

Challenge: Inspiring Optimal Tech Integration?

edcampbos is an example of inspiring tech integration
 and professional development
Challenge: Inspire a large group of educators to integrate technology with skill and enthusiasm to better educate students.

Rationale: Technology is an awesome tool that is revolutionizing the way we learn, interact, innovate and experience life.

Starting Point: 
  • Foster this initiative with time and intent. Take away some existing expectations and replace those outdated expectations with this endeavor--essentially make time for it, don't make it an add-on.
  • Prepare the environment by ensuring that teachers and students have access to engaging tech equipment and a solid infrastructure so that all tools work well when needed.
  • Ask educators to note how technology invigorates, personalizes and deepens learning for all.   Provide examples.
  • Show instructors the ways that technology develops independent, passionate, innovative learners, and how it changes their role from expert of knowledge to activator of knowledge acquisition. 
  • Encourage an environment that teaches in ways that mirror the best cognitive and interpersonal strategies.
  • Challenge educators to begin or continue to employ technology in the following areas of school life. Support their endeavor by modeling and assisting in the efforts outlined.
Communication
  • Create virtual learning environments that mirror and support the real-time learning environments independently or in conjunction with department, grade-level, discipline or school. These learning environments should act as resource centers, discussion platforms, presentation stages and news vehicles that have 24-7 access at home, in the community and in school.
  • Create communication protocols:
    • Student/family protocols for access and exchange in digital and real-time learning environments.
    • Teacher access protocols for real-time/digital environments.
    • Protocols for process and content related to communication.
    • Make protocols simple, consistent and easy to follow.
Essential Skills:
  • Determine essential skill needs, and identify technology tools that successfully develop those essential skills in engaging, efficient ways that students can access independently at home, in school and anywhere there is Internet access.
  • Create and implement essential skill menus of activities, tools, programs and assistance.
  • Target educators' response to intervention (RTI).
  • Determine assessment tools and process for essential skill development.
Project/Problem Based Learning:
  • Determine template(s) for project/problem/inquiry base learning design.
  • Implement project/problem base learning endeavors to develop learning independence, differentiation, content/standard knowledge/skill and 21st c skills: creativity, communication, critical thinking skills and collaboration.
  • Employ passion-based learning endeavor in this realm often.
Professional Development:
  • Discuss and develop guidelines for 21st century learners, and promote that learning design for both student learning and educators' professional development. Encourage educators to model the learning attributes we expect of students.
  • Encourage and assist educators' professional development with the following tools:
    • PLNs (professional learning networks)
    • Professional blogs and websites.
    • Professional presentations and attendance at online/real time conferences.
    • Collegial sharing/collaboration.
      • Access and creation of webinars and other online learning venues.
      • Membership in professional organizations.
      • School-Community-World Partnerships.
Structure:
  • Continue to evolve schedules and physical structure to compliment the implementation of successful student-centered, blended learning environments.
Response:
  • Create response systems to drive this initiative in educator/student driven ways in order to encourage optimal process and growth.
To invigorate a tech-friendly environment, the community members, administrators, educators and students need to communicate, model and share expectations and knowledge. Most of all, those involved have to work towards this challenge with student success as the central mission.  Process needs to trump content since the evolution of tools and pedagogy in this arena is constantly evolving, and "learning to learn" often trumps discrete knowledge, yet we still understand that a solid knowledge base is essential for optimal communication, innovation and endeavor.

How have you invigorated tech infusion in your learning environment?  What strategies have served to develop teacher/student knowledge in authentic, engaging ways?  What have you removed from the existing program to make way for this change?  

Essentially it is time for schools to embrace the technology habits and venues that exist throughout society, and also work to innovate and create new processes that promote learning and living success and happiness. 

#blendchat: First Chat Reflection

#edcampbos prompted me to lead a #blendchat last night at 8 EST to discuss blended learning.

What is a blended learning environment?  In the broadest sense, it is a learning environment that blends many techniques, tools and structures to promote optimal learning.

What did we discuss during the first chat?

We discussed what blended learning means to individual educators?  We shared our definitions, tools and links. We learned from each other about the many ways a blended learning environment can invigorate and optimize education. Our questions and rationale for blended learning were woven into the conversation.

The reason I offered to lead this chat is that I want to learn more about blended learning.  I want to study this teaching method because I believe it holds great promise for student engagement, empowerment and learning.

The first #blendchat was a great success.  You can read the discussion on my Storify page.
Please join us on Sunday, June 3 at 8 EST for the next chat when we'll discuss communication, assessment and the details associated with blended learning environments. #blendchat will be a first Sunday of the month chat.

Thanks to all the educators who participated in the discussion last night.  I know I left the discussion with new ideas, articles to read and tools to use.