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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thinking About Learners; What They Need and Desire

I'm pondering about the many learners in my midst and what they need.

As I think about these learners, young and old, there are some thoughts that stand out.

First these learners want to be encouraged, not discouraged. With a strengths-based mindset and model of teaching and learning, we can always begin with the strengths.

Next, these learners need to know how to learn, and they can learn this with good introductions to tools, mentors, strategies, and spaces that will develop their teaching and learning.

These learners want to be celebrated and congratulated from time to time for their extraordinary efforts. The response does not have to be great to be significant, but positive responses go a long way when it comes to noticing learners' good endeavor.

The learners profit from good routines, time to talk, and time to let it all sink in too.

I really like working with learners. I like helping them to find their way amongst all the choices, dreams, and hopes exist. I see tremendous potential in each learner I work with, and I'm often amazed by what they do and where they're headed. That's a strong suit of the teaching profession.

Teaching Well: Fighting Discouragement

It was a great day of teaching, yet I left discouraged. Why?

Mainly the discouragement was based on efforts I hoped for that didn't occur. My sister would say, "I don't know why you think things that have always been one way will suddenly change," but forever the optimist or too idealistic to see the reality, sometimes what I expect is far different than what is.

Teachers get discouraged at the end of the day for many reasons--they may be tired, a lesson may have failed, a support did not arrive, or there was challenging debate. Discouragement will happen from time to time, and it can take you down if you don't have good strategies to fight that discouragement.

As I coach myself forward, I am reminded of the following strategies that work well to fight discouragement.
  • a healthy, positive routine
  • prep and planning ahead
  • realistic expectations for what you can do
  • celebrating the small wins
  • focus on what's positive 
  • strategically working with others for change, and knowing that positive change takes time

Is Silence Safe?

Today I engaged in a school conversation on Facebook. It was clear that my ideas were not embraced by those I debated with. I honor those folks' ideas and perspective, but I also honor the experience and context where I teach and learn too. When it comes to teaching well, almost everyone has an opinion, and truly, there are lots of right answers depending on context. The best I can do is to continue to engage in these conversations to both question and inform my practice.

Many might not engage in discussions like this because they feel that their words will not be honored and their voice may not matter, but when we stay silent we don't grow as individuals or communities. Of course, too much noise gets in the way. Like all things, there's a good balance here.

What My Students Need?

As I think of my students this year, I'm thinking about what they need. Here's my list.
  • Some need more dedicated one-to-one time to learn to read and enjoy reading too. 
  • A positive teaching/learning program.
  • Some need more dedicated time to learning how to use computers as intelligent assistants so that tech can support their learning needs and interests.
  • Some need more deep, rich, engaging projects.
  • Some need more comfy chairs.
  • Some need more teacher time to talk.
  • Some need more playground equipment beginning with badminton rackets and birdies.
  • Some need a bigger lunch as they are growing and the typical elementary school lunch is not enough.
The children are well loved and cared for by their families. They come to school ready to learn. As I think of the list above, I realize it's a less cumbersome list than other years, yet a list that helps me to form the efforts for the days ahead. 

What Does Engagement Look Like?

Engagement makes teaching and learning enjoyable. Engagement depends on good tools, student-centered teaching and learning, and a welcoming learning environment. Sometimes engagement is challenged due to curricula or environmental issues--the school is not welcoming, and the curricula uninteresting or dull.

There are so many positive things we can do in schools to create a more engaging and student-friendly environment. And in the best of circumstances, administrators/educators have a servant-leadership mindset which means that their efforts are focused on the students and families we serve, and they work to create the best possible student-friendly schools possible.


Dream School: What I'm Wishing For

While I've typically advocated for better in school, this year I'm focused more on the classroom details and efforts to support each child's successful learning and experiences of school. Yet, my advocacy spirit has not dimmed, and I dream of so many positive changes for schools--changes that will make schools more inviting, successful, and future ready for all students. What do I wish for?

Deep, Meaningful, Engaging, and Creative Tech
Rather than workbook-on-a-page technology, I want to integrate more deep, rich, constructive technology like 3-dimensional printer software and machines, coding such as SCRATCH, learn at your own pace, well-designed intelligent assistants like Khan Academy, multi-player games, and three-dimensional modeling programs like Minecraft. My hands are tied in this area and my options are limited with regard to what technology I can use with students. I've spoken up, and now it's up to others to try to deepen the tech we use. I know that this is a right direction for education.

Better Purchasing Systems and Protocols
I am spending more money than ever for my classroom. Fortunately the PTO will reimburse me for some of those purchases. But the way our purchasing system works is that you have to order most of what you need during the very tired last weeks of school--weeks where you have little to no time or energy to give ordering your best thinking. Now that I'm fresh, new curricula is introduced, and I know my students, I find that I need many more materials to make the class a successful, happy place. Sometimes our behavioral problems occur because we don't have the kinds of supplies that welcome students' comfort and good learning. Sounds silly, but in a small classroom with 24 students, traditional dice are loud and don't land well on the surfaces available. Yesterday I was introduced to foam dice which were so much better. I wish I could order those right away to make learning better, but the process is lengthy and detailed so if I want them, I have to order them myself. I also know that comfy chairs relax this class so I'll order a few more, and while I can support the STEAM lab with lots of recycled goods, I don't have the storage space or time to drum up all those supplies. Instead, I can order well-made supplies to support the projects which I have done. The list goes on and on with regard to supplies I could use to make the learning better, but given our current purchasing system and the time I have available for paperwork/advocacy, if I want those supplies, I mostly have to buy and pay for them by myself if I want them in a timely manner.

More Playground Equipment
I've noticed how well received our latest playground equipment is. Children LOVE it! We could use more climbing, stretching, and swinging equipment. I'd also like a gazebo space with picnic tables and some open space for too-sunny and drizzly days so students can still be out in the fresh air. Big swings for student/teacher swing and talks would be nice as well, and newly painted sports fields lines will support more peaceful and organized play for those who enjoy sports games at recess.

Strategic Teaching and Learning Roles and Staffing
I think we can go deeper when it comes to strategizing the way we use our time to help every child learn. This will take a whole-school approach, commitment, and creativity. I think there is some lost time and staffing in this regard, and I can think of ways to improve this.

Communication
I still long for that kind of deep, reflective, transparent, and inspiring regular communication. I don't know why this does not occur often, and perhaps I am alone in desiring this. I find that teaching well takes lots of inspiration and encouragement, and the kind of newsletter or communication my husband used to receive weekly from his boss who is now the governor of Massachusetts is something I long for with regard to our shared efforts to teach and learn well. I looked forward to Mitchell Chester's weekly note at the state level, and now that he is gone, his voice and leadership is missing.

Less Leaders, More Time-On-Task Support
I continue to be a fan of distributive leadership where almost everyone has responsibility for, and time-on-task, with children. I find that too many leaders leads to confusion and less support for children, whereas models of shared teaching and co-coaching lead to more dedicated and collective work with and for children.


While I desire a lot, I am thankful that I have a cozy corner in the classroom for professional work, substantial paper, one-to-one chromebooks for every child, a great grade-level team and systemwide colleagues, a terrific teaching/learning schedule, invested students/parents, dedicated colleagues, a large grassy playground, lots of natural spaces, specialist subjects, community support, and more. There's a lot in place, and I think there can even be more with little additional cost, and potentially promising results.

Classroom Details 2017-2018

The class takes shape as students demonstrate their preferences related to all kinds of teaching/learning events.

Read Aloud
Our read aloud space keeps morphing and changing as I notice what students need. Many in this class likes to draw as they listen, and I understand that as that's what I like to do too. Drawing while listening helps me to pay attention, relax, and understand the story. Some prefer to relax n the comfy chairs too. The comfy chairs almost hug the children, thus relaxing them. Others spread out on the floor or sit on hoki schools. We've had some good discussions as we read the Young Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen--a trilogy that lends itself to good book talk.

Morning Routine
We have extended time for morning routine this year which is good. We're working to make this as independent time as possible giving students control over the start of their day. This is a time to catch up with individuals and answer questions too. The morning routine typically includes signing in, choosing lunch, and following the morning work menu which varies from day to day.

Math
Students all have bags of math supplies, and we've started the math year with a variety of online and offline activities. So far, it has been a positive start.

STEAM
STEAM started with enjoyable team activities, and now leading into our first project: the solar oven project.

Science
Science and STEAM overlap, and this year we have new FOSS kits to support specific science teaching. I'll soon read all about the kit, and develop the hands-on activities to meet student interest, standards, and academic need.

Recess/Specials
Students have great recesses on our big playground. I want to buy more recess toys since we can use more. Students enjoy their many specials including tech lab, library, art, music, instrumental, and physical education.

Field Trips/Expert Visitors
We have a great menu planned, and now it's time to complete all the details related to this.

Cultural Proficiency/Orientation
We continue to do research in this area, and plan related events. Early year get-to-know each other activities such as selfie collages, birthday cake pictograph, math number, and upcoming culture flags have all fostered conversation about who we are, what we enjoy, and what we dream of. These conversations and activities have fostered positive class culture.

Class Meetings
We have regular class meetings to discuss student/teacher needs, interests, and current/future efforts. These meetings tie the team together in positive ways.

Buddies
We've yet to start our buddy routine, and will do that soon.

Star Classroom
Our school has a star classroom effort, and our class has started collecting their stars.

The agenda is full and well-planned, now it's time to stay the course.

Looking Ahead

It seems like our curriculum efforts are well organized this year which means that we have the time and knowledge we need to differentiate well. As I look ahead, I realize we are currently involved in the following efforts.

Assessments
Students are taking a number of informal and formal assessments that will help us to target the teaching and learning ahead.

STEAM
We started STEAM with a couple of team building activities, and next week students will begin their first STEAM project, the solar oven project.

Science
After the initial STEAM project, we'll launch our new FOSS science kits and units study.

Math
We're continuing the first unit, place value.

Field Studies/Expert Visitors
Some are scheduled, and some need to be scheduled.

Paperwork
I'm waiting on a purple form from some families, and some families still need to sign up for a conference. I'll contact individual families if I don't receive those items by Friday. I also need to make a few more family surveys and send those out as well.

Student Portfolios/Conferences
We'll prep portfolios and review assignments with students as we prepare for the year's initial parent-student-teacher conferences.

Professional Efforts
DESE TAC, MTA TPL, Faculty Senate, Child Study, and WTA make up the lion's share of my efforts that lie outside of the grade five team.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Playing Math Games

I enjoyed learning about managing and promoting math games from the math coach today. The coach gave a well-paced, developmentally-appropriate mathematical introduction to the game. We matched students with like ability, and let them play. We all roamed the room helping partners play the game and noticing how the game playing connected to each students' skills and interests. I will definitely play this game again, and scaffold it a bit more for the many different areas of need and interest in the class. I also really liked the way this game fostered the acquisition of math vocabulary in an engaging way.

Welcoming the Coach

If you read my blog, you know that I'm a fan of co-coaching and distributive leadership rather than a separate role of coach in elementary schools. Yet many elementary schools are embracing the model of hiring coaches to support educators. The reason that I am a greater fan of co-coaching over a separate position of coach is that I feel that separate positions add to the layer of support in schools that don't work regularly with students, whereas the co-coaching role gives that time and support to the teachers in the field who are directly working with students day-to-day. I believe that most people working in schools should be directly tied to time-on-task with students and direct accountability and care of those children. When the layers of professionals removed from students becomes too large, I believe that resources that can best support students are challenged.

That being said, I do work in a system that embraces the coaching model at elementary school, and with that in mind, I've been thinking of ways that I can best maximize that support to develop my teaching after all these years. So today and Friday the coach will come in to model math games that support dynamic student teaching and learning. While I know that math games are a positive part of the math curriculum and used to solidify and deepen concepts, I've never watched a skilled professional model that effort. I look forward to the learning ahead, and I'm sure that the students will enjoy the games.

As educators in thickly settled school systems, it will always be the case that there are initiatives in the works that you support, and initiatives which you may question. When it comes to initiatives you question, the key is to find ways to utilize and support those initiatives in ways that best support your learners and professional practice.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Strategic, Holistic Teaching

When we observe students closely in a number of formal and informal ways, we learn about the supports they need to learn more and better. Once the initial observations and assessments are done, it's time to think strategically about how to best help those students gain a strong foundation in concept, knowledge, skill, and interest.

Today I looked at a host of scores, and in the past ten days, I've observed the students a lot. Now it's time for the team to work together strategically to prioritize and teach well. What do we have to do?

All Hands on Deck in Purposeful Ways
We are fortunate to work in a school that has substantial staffing and support, and the challenge here is to utilize our collective time and energy in ways that matter. This requires transparent goal setting, scheduling, and time-on-task with students.

Prioritizing
As we look at students' programming, we need to prioritize. For example, if you're a specialist working with an at-risk student who cannot read well, that's likely to be a first priority. If that student faces similar challenges socially, you may think about how you can build reading fluency and social skills at the same time. Or if you're working with math students, and find that some have little foundation in number sense, that's likely to be the place where you start.

Looking Ahead
As we look ahead, we know what's most important is that children learn how to learn, and retain confidence, a love of learning, and engagement all along the way. How we teach today will impact children tomorrow, and that's why a holistic lens and effort is imperative. We want to mentor, coach and guide children ahead in positive, holistic ways so they may clearly see and maximize their strengths as well as learn how to strategically work on their challenges.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tomorrow: Directing the Teaching/Learning Path

Tomorrow is day 10 of the school year.  We've done a lot already, and now it's time to play catch-up to make sure that everyone has completed early year projects and learning efforts, endeavor mostly aimed at getting to know one another, building good relationships, and introducing initial learning/teaching patterns.

During the next few days, I want to focus on individuals--who is completing tasks and who is not? What do students need to achieve good learning and success? It's also a time to focus on routine--what's working well and what needs a bit of change to work better.

Essentially we're building a team, and preparing to learn as positively as possible in the days ahead.

Changing Patterns

Changing patterns is not easy, but it is often a good thing to do.

It's inevitable that we have to change patterns regularly, and it's best to take the time a new pattern requires in order to embed that pattern into your routine.

Too often we think that patterns can be quickly and easily changed, and don't give our children, students, or other family members the time time they need for the change.

In school this year, I'm paying a lot of attention to patterns. I'm watching carefully how students engage with the new school year's patterns, and making changes and providing more practice when needed.

I know that embedding good routines and patterns creates time for greater depth and focus with learning, teamwork, and engagement, so I'll continue to think about this and give the changing patterns the time it deserves in the days ahead.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Global Commitment to Protecting the Lives of Innocents

I'm listening to and reading about world leaders' will to protect the lives of innocents. I'm hearing their discussion about the responsibility of private businesses, individuals, and governments to partake in this important goal. I'm wondering if the key is to create a policy that we all share--a policy to protect the lives of innocents.

Who are innocents?

How can we protect their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

What is the responsibility of individuals, organizations, businesses, and government in this regard?

How can we define this better, and work towards this goal in ways that matter?

Pattern of Learning and Living

I find that patterns are integral to good learning and living. Yet, while I value patterns, I find patterns difficult to commit too. I grew up with less routine/pattern, and I often connect that to my interest and ability with creativity. Yet, a lack of pattern, can also be connected to disorder, confusion, and trouble too. Patterns are good, and no patterns are also good.

With that said, however, I'm working to build in a better pattern this year--one that acknowledges what I need to teach, learn, parent, and live well. What's needed?

Daily Time for Reading, Research, Reflection, and Writing
This creates the fuel and wisdom I need to do my job well and reach the hopes and dreams I have.

Time to Move, Play, and Be Active
Essential for health.

Good Food and Good Relationships
The sustenance and energy for living a good life. Both take time and thought.

Time for Play and Fun
There's so much to enjoy in life, and that invigorates us.

Practice
Time-on-task to do the good work and live the good life I reach for.

Onward.

Brain Study and Impact

I attended a mind brain presentation at Boston University on Friday. The presentation provided a snapshot of what is happening in this field, and gave me lots of ideas I want to develop and think about as I continue my work to  teach young children well.

The many ideas I gained were like tiny seeds implanted in my brain, seeds I'll read more about and begin to grow as I develop my understanding of this arena. Initially however, the day-long event provided me with the following school-related ideas and emphases:
  • Our school system STEAM efforts are well directed, and the work I do to manage and develop these efforts with good research and intent matters. Creating opportunities for students to work together and integrate multiple disciplines to understand facts, patterns, and relationships as well as to invent new solutions is key instruction for the future our children will face.
  • Quantitative literacy is essential for our students, and the more that we can model mathematics in multiple ways online and offline is integral to their future success in any discipline. My advocacy for 3-dimensional modeling programs like Minecraft, 3-dimensional printers, and other sophisticated technology is right-on when it comes to developing the ability to create and understand computational models and analysis. 
  • Modernizing schools and teaching is essential to preparing students for the incredible opportunity for exploration, investigation, and innovation that exists. Old time school is not relevant to our world today.
  • Interdisciplinary Study, Thinking, and Innovation is the way of the future, and we need to foster deep, relevant, engaging problem/project base learning to build this skill and perspective.
As I noted, much of what I learned, I am just beginning to understand, however, I did add my cryptic notes below, notes I'll share with students as rationale for much of the study we do. For example, when I return to school, I'll say to students, overall I learned that scientists are basically trying to figure out how to make a Google map of the brain that shows all its parts and clearly defines how the brain behaves too. This is very complex since every brain is unique and ever changing. In some ways, our brain exploration mirrors space and ocean explorations since all three areas of study are essentially frontiers where there is much to know and understand. I'll likely discuss this before I show The Powers of Ten movie, a movie that brings this connection to life and helps to teach the fifth grade math standards too.


Philanthropy
I will introduce children to philanthropy, the desire to contribute to the welfare of others, expressed especially in the donation of money to good causes. I will tell them the story of Rajen Kilachand, who recently donated $115 million dollars to Boston University to jump-start more collaborative science research, and for whom Boston University's new integrated engineering and life science center is named. I had the chance to meet Rajan and his family at the event. I also learned the impact and information related to philanthropy and the basic sciences and math.

Marc Kastner, President of Science Philanthropy Alliance, discussed the role of government funding and philanthropy. Kastner noted that Kilachand's donation was a "spectacular example of what science needs." He further noted that research and development impact the long term health of the economy which we can use to infer that research and development impacts the long term overall health of organizations including schools. Kastner mentioned that the United States dropped from first in research and development in the world to tenth, and that this could have consequences. He spoke in support of federal funding for the sciences, and said that philanthropy cannot fill the gaps that less public funding creates. The discussion moved to the need for greater collaboration amongst research universities and organizations.

Seeing the Depth and Vitality of Math
I had the chance to talk to Peter Robert Kotiuga, a Boston University mathematician who recommended that I read The Enjoyment of Mathematics and Pioneering Women in Mathematics. I learned a bit about his research, research that, in part, focused on the visual aspects of mathematical thinking and learning.

Recognizing the Impact of Interdisciplinary, Investigative Science Study and Impact
Later, during a symposium of scientists, I learned about new inventions in the biology and engineering:
  • Robert S. Langer introduced a new method for drug delivery, and noted that delivery systems is a main focus of biotech today. He explained that in days of old and still today, physicians and scientists, looked around their homes to find materials and models for needed invention, and used "trial and error" to invent, but now scientists are using computational models to invent via technology. He looked forward to a time when we will make organs on a chip and design body parts on a computer. An example of the production of skin and how that can much more quickly help burn victims was amazing. 
  • Richard Kitney discussed synthetic biology, and mentioned that we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution which is a time of interdisciplinary invention. He talked about new ways to make vaccines, and the fact that the flu is predicted to be big this year. He told of the use of biosensors in the body and synthetic biology. During the symposium, it was noted that DNA Code and Binary code will likely synthesize in a biodigital fusion. 
  • The discussion led to genome editing to mitigate or end disease, and the invention of the CRISPR. Diseases with single mutations are much easier to understand than diseases with multiple genetic mutations. This science depends on interdisciplinary efforts. For example the data collected in the labs is then interpreted by computational models to find patterns and relationships that lead to greater understanding and innovation.
  • At times, due to the extent of data, computational modeling may not work, and the human eye and interpretation may be better. 
  • It was noted that working close to one another leads to good synergy and interdisciplinary work because of the relationships that develop, relaxed nature of the connections, and the proximity. Creativity flows better in these environments. Yet, we know there is a good rhythm of creativity that exists with close-proximity share and global share via social media and other means.
  • The inventions they are creating essentially promote a feedback pattern of assess, choose, and activate to solve biological problems. Involving the public in a dialogue with regard to biotechnology was seen as positive, and it was also mentioned that embedding the social sciences in all new research programs was important too. 
  • Networking was emphasized, and the need to seek and identify the terminal points, points of effective exchange, is valuable. 
  • The future of neuroscience was discussed. With regard to brain disorders, the role of heredity was noted, and the potential to treat these disorders with gene therapy was illustrated. The study of brain disorders is still in its infancy, and the fact that every brain is different makes this research very complex. The fact that parts of brains can be made in a dish, makes progress in this area possible. Animal studies with mice are not as effective in this regard since the mouse brain is so different than the human brain. Studies with primates are more promising. Good research and innovation in this area will create better lives for individuals and the nation--brain disorders cost our communities lots of time, money, and trouble. 
  • Robert DeSimone mentioned that the Boston science community is the most interactive community, and that's great for the city of Boston and its universities. 
  • DeSimone said that the goal is to make a Google Map of the brain to make the brain parts and interactions transparent. 
  • It was further noted that the goal is to make activity maps of the brain to show how the brain works. Optogenetics is a study that is promising in this regard. 
  • The fact that the brain is continually developing makes the science more complex. For example brains of twins that begin as identical personalize over time. 
  • Quantitative literacy is important to understanding this science. The new world of medicine will be a world of genotyping and interdisciplinary work. A mechanistic understanding of the brain is desired. 
  • Boston University is doing some ground breaking work with anxiety, and they are working with local school systems in this regard. 
There is terrific energy and enthusiasm related to neurology and the potential for bettering lives this study brings. There is lots to consider, and much we can do to prepare our students for the world they will inherit and develop in this regard. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Choosing

It's is a privilege to have choice--choice over your time, where you live, what you do, and your loved ones and acquaintances. Many in the world have much more limited choice than others. With choice comes responsibility and the need for reflection, collaboration, and thought. Time to gather your ideas, dreams, and responsibilities together, and reflect that in the choices you make.

How we use time is a wonderful choice. How we make those choices won't always be perfect, but with thought, we'll do well with time.

Whom we choose to spend time with is also an important choice. When we neglect spending time with those we love or care about, the relationships suffer. Yet when we make the time to spend time with those we care about in ways that matter, the relationships grow strong.

The time we devote to our professions matter, and how we spend that time makes a difference too. There's always a balance to be made there, a balance that's not always easy to find.

Time for the places we live is important too. Without making the time to care for our homes and yards, we lessen our potential for good lives and living.

Time for fun is equally important--we need to make time to have fun and enjoy life too.

I'm thinking a lot about choosing today, and in particular, I'm thinking about how I use time in that regard.

Full Brain

Yesterday I attended a day-long alumni event at Boston University about neuroscience. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot that will impact my teaching in the coming days. I have a lot of notes, and I'm going to let my brain rest a bit before I begin to organize and solidify the ways I'll embed the new learning into my practice. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Noticing Betterment

I am noticing evidence of betterment.

First, I am noticing greater lead time with dates and events. This is positive and very helpful when it comes to planning and doing a good job.

Next, I am noticing betterment with the tech venues that assist the daily duties. For example our attendance was just put online and this is much easier than off line attendance routines. Soon we'll be able to ask parents to pay for field trips online which will save us considerable time and effort. The use of Google calendar is another time-saver and example of betterment.

We have increased planning time which is also evidence of betterment. Finally we have a planning period every day, and many planning periods in common with colleagues. This is a significant improvement from the past.

Curriculum is better outlined, organized, and communicated at local and state levels. Since there is always change in this regard, there's still room for growth in this regard.

And, people are beginning to respond to emails in a timely manner which means that I need to write a lot less emails. That's awesome!

It seems that our work environment is becoming more organized and service-oriented which means that I have the time and capacity to heighten my ability to lead and serve the colleagues, students, and family members in my learning/teaching team.

I am also noticing that more educators are speaking up, sharing ideas, and becoming active in our local union. Since I work with many committed and dedicated educators, this involvement spells betterment for all.

This is good news.

Revisiting Summer Research

It's so easy to read and research, and then to let go of what you've learned. To truly embed new research into the school year, one has to revisit that research often and reflect upon application. This morning I'm reflecting on the research I read by Friedman, Darling-Hammond and others, and Emdin. I highlighted main points in these mini posters, and then reflected on what needs to happen in the classroom below. In the days ahead I will review other research posts related to brain-friendly learning and cultural proficiency to look more deeply at how research may positively affect the teaching/learning this year.







Continued dialogue with students as we co-construct the classroom. Infusing this language into the daily teaching/learning efforts.

Curriculum Focus:
  • Reading and talking/writing about reading daily.
  • Math everyday utilizing the math practices effectively and deeply
  • Blended learning and focus on how to maximize the use of "intelligent assistants."
  • Critical and creative learning projects, activities
  • SEL focus throughout the curriculum that emphasizes respect, ethics, character, metacognition, and more. 

Equity Efforts
  • Team emphasis
  • How can we provide opportunity to students?
  • When and how do we listen?
  • Differentiation
  • Informal/formal data analysis to lead learning/teaching
  • Everyone belongs focus
  • Effectively embed equity efforts.
  • Revisit the "No Prejudice Here" theme/discussion regularly.

Starting with Emdin's research, I have the following to do:
  • Institute call and response routines
  • Create expression/question bulletin boards
  • Foster positive team competition (we'll do that with upcoming STEAM activities)
  • Continued teaching with the arts
  • The hello project - multiple greetings. We'll focus on this in Open Circle too. 
  • Continue to co-construct class protocols.
  • Open-ended math teaching project. We'll do this at the end of the place value unit.
  • I've used recess as a time to have open ended, friendly conversations with students regularly.
Darling-Hammond and others' research about future-ready teachers and students.
  • We started showcase portfolios earlier, and have slowed down the classroom to include more reflection, analysis, and reasoning.
  • I've advocated to include lots of tech into teaching, and have received some refusals here, but I am including what tech I can, and will continue to advocate for more and better as I research.
  • We've done initial assessments, and as new data comes in, we'll continue to analyze. 
  • As I get to know students more and have more analyses, we'll begin to differentiate more. At this point, we've begun to differentiate in small ways with teaching assistants' support.
  • We've been focusing a lot on vocabulary across the curriculum, and looking at curriculum through multiple lenses. 
  • Teamwork has been a strong initial focus and will continue throughout the year. 
  • Our initial STEAM explorations have fostered creativity as did our initial selfie project--we have many more projects planned that will include lots of creativity. 
  • We began with a deep look at cross-cultural issues with a historic lens and will keep that focus going with projects, discussions, current events, reading, and more. 
  • We've emphasized that students need to lead their own learning in brain-friendly ways. We also discussed that the sum of passion plus knowledge equals success. We'll continue to focus on growth mindset and brain/cognitive knowledge.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Weekly Wrap-Up: September 2017

It's hard to believe it's the first full week of school as it feels like we've been back for a long time. The children quickly grasped new routines, finished a short read aloud, and are almost done with a number of introductory activities. Next week will find students completing early year assessments, completing introductory activities, starting the first math unit, reading the remaining books in the read aloud trilogy, attending reading, writing, and social studies rotations, reading, adding to their showcase portfolios, attending specials, and reading on their own.

I'll spend some time in the days ahead reviewing students' study efforts that will later be placed in students' portfolios. I'll also attend to some new assessment data as I begin to get a good picture of the class as a whole and think about how to best coordinate the curriculum efforts ahead.


Learning Tears

Sometimes learning is very challenging, and when you face that kind of learning it can bring you tears. It's happened to me and it has happened to my students.

To cry over learning is not all wrong, but it does signal a need for reflection with the learning endeavor. Sometimes a person may cry over learning because their expectations are off--they expect the learning to be easier or their skills to be better. At other times, the tears can be due to frustration, the kind of frustration that occurs when learning doesn't come easy even after many tries. And tears too can arise from competition when a learner sees everyone else quickly completing a task that he or she simply can't master. There's lots of reasons that tears can arise from learning, and the fact of the matter is that sometimes it's not such a bad thing to cry when learning evades you or provides you with a challenge.

When those tears come, it's important to reflect with questions like these:
  • Are my expectations too great?
  • Am I using effective effort?
  • Have I made good use of the intelligent assistants available such as colleagues, computers, experts, and learning events?
  • How can I break down the task to make each step more reasonable?
  • Am I celebrating the small wins?
If students cry, a teacher has to analyze the situation. Is the task too much of a reach? Were the proper supports put in place? Is this time for some coaching for a learner who, perhaps, has sky-high expectations?

Learning well is not a simple affair. Good learning takes practice, mistakes, reflection, revision, and collaboration. It's a step-by-step affair that profits from the intelligent assistants around us, assistants both human and technological. Good learning is not always easy, and can make you cry from time to time, but that shouldn't obstruct the learning journey ahead. Onward.

Professional Learning Keeps You Fresh

Any job can get old without continued professional learning. New learning reinvigorates investment and effort. As I think of that, I'm focused on a new learning path or shall I say a deepened learning path which is the path of brain-friendly learning.

How can students and educators teach and learn with the brain in mind? What can we do to learn in ways that are friendly to our brains. A colleague and I often say, we teach to students' brains. That means we watch carefully how the children respond to information and make our choices dependent upon what appeals to their brains or ways of learning.

A few years ago, I read Daniel Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, and learned a lot about brain-friendly learning and teaching. I relay a lot of that information to students as I teach during the year. On Friday a colleague and I will attend a day-long event at Boston University about the mind and brain. I expect that we'll learn a lot that will help us to teach and lead in brain-friendly ways. I also want to watch these TedTalks related to brains and learning as part of my study.

It's exciting to deepen an area of interest particularly when you know that the learning path will positively affect what we can do for students in important enriching ways. If you have links, books, or other resources to offer me, please do. In the meantime, stay tuned as I'll likely share my learning via this blog.


Related Links
Book to Increase Children's Cognition/Science Literacy

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Teach the Children or Teach the Curriculum

This is a familiar debate in schools, and of course the right answer is both. Yet, if you don't teach the children first, you'll make no headway with the curriculum. What this means is that you can't jump right into the curriculum without building a relationship with the children.

A little boy in the back of the room didn't follow directions during the third day of school. I watched him carefully to notice what he was doing. I noticed that he was clearly uncomfortable and distracted. I didn't ask him to move as I knew that would upset him, but I did move a child near him as I knew that child would not mind. That calmed the child down. Later I talked to the child about his discomfort--we came up with some strategies.

On another occasion during the first week of school two girls who wanted to work with each other were unable to get anything done. I wondered about that, and for the next challenge, I changed the groupings. Both girls were more successful.

In neither case, did I have to scold, reprimand, or have a consequence. That would not be right so early in the year when I hardly know the students, and they hardly know me. Instead, I chose to let some things go as I tried to figure out what the students needed.

I've slowed down the way I start the year a lot. I'm doing that because of what I've read related to cultural proficiency and building strong teacher-student relationships. It's the key to a good year of teaching, and when we forget that, and rush too fast into the curriculum, we deny both the students and ourselves the chance for that successful relationship, the kind that leads to a successful year of teaching and learning.

So if the year is starting with a lot of problems, it may be because you have to back up and focus on learning about the learners first, developing a good repertoire, and then moving into the curriculum. That's the advice Ruth Charney gave us so long ago in her great book, Teaching Children to Care, and that's the advice Emdin's book, For White Folks. . .reiterates. Onward.

Good Learning Takes Time and Attention

The start of the year can be a messy time as educators begin to know students. Rather than demand a lot of structure, I make the time to observe carefully. What are students doing? How do they react? What do they need? How do they appear to learn best?

This observation may look messy as children navigate lessons and classwork in a variety of ways, but I find that giving this open time for understanding who students are is valuable in the long run. As much as possible, teachers want to establish positive, student-centered relationships and learning in these early days.

Early-year projects take time too. As students warm-up to school year expectations and effort, their learning takes time. There's the temptation to rush the start of school, but experienced teachers know that rushing does not result in good routines or positive relationships in the long run.

With this in mind, our classes will continue on the initial path of establishing good relationships and getting the year off to a great start.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How to Help?

Today's classrooms are filled with many teaching assistants, volunteers, and specialists as well as the classroom teacher. At times, those assisting may not know how to help. There are some fairly clear do's and don'ts in this regard.

First, side talk is distracting. If the adults in the room are talking to one another, it's likely the students will lose focus. So as much as possible, don't side talk.

Sit with students. It's best to sit at a table group or along side students during the introductory portion of the lesson. This provides some special oversight and relationship building time with specific students.

Then when the work gets going, it's good to assess the room, and look for a student who seems to be lost or needing more attention if there is not already a targeted focus in place. Begin positively with that student by asking him or her to explain what he/she is doing, and then take an interest in their work. It's important to build good relationships during the year.

As you work with the students, keep your eyes on the class as well. If something is happening that shouldn't be, and it's expected, then provide a positive redirection.

It may often look like a teacher is casual in the classroom, but often that teacher is multi-tasking with targeted observation and help throughout the lesson. Students thrive when we model good learning and assist as often and as best as we can. Onward.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Team, Organization, Pride, and Perseverance

This week finds the class focused on team, organization, pride, and perseverance.

I'm observing a lot to see how I can help students meet those objectives. As I observe I'm thinking about seating, types of seats, lesson flow, work buddies, use of supports, and more. Getting into a good groove is essential for good learning, and we'll take the time we need to positively do that. Onward.

Sunday Classroom Prep

A number of colleagues were in the school on Sunday organizing their classrooms and prepping for the week ahead. It is a typical occurrence at our school. I joined those colleagues yesterday to get a lot of heavy lifting done--the kind of set-up work that's almost impossible to do during a typical school day. I must say I'm happy that I made the time as now I'm returning to a more organized classroom--one where a host of new materials now have an accessible place.

There's still more organizing to do, but I'll likely do that project-by-project since most of the materials are related to the many science and STEAM projects we have planned.  After Friday's notecard challenge, I noticed the need for more team spaces so I moved the tables around to make those spaces, spaces we'll use today for the spaghetti-marshmallow challenge.

The next professional emphasis is related to paperwork and record keeping. Now that the students are here and they've returned a number of early school year forms, it's time to create a notebook of that information  and follow-up with students/families who have yet to bring back the forms. The school year is taking shape. Onward.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Urgency?

There are those times in your life when someone says a few words that stick--unforgettable words that truly impact your work and living. When Austin Buffum visited Wayland to jumpstart our RTI efforts years ago, he encouraged us to work with urgency to teach all children well. He noted that one big problem in schools is that people don't take urgency seriously, and that's why important changes and targeted services sometimes don't occur.

I took Buffum's words seriously, and think about them all the time because I see that some meet issues related to young children with urgency and others do not. In fact, sometimes people chide me and ridicule me for the urgency I feel with regard to programming. Why get so passionate?, they question with their words, looks, and responses.

In my lifetime, I have seen the good that can come from great teaching and service to children, and I have seen the destruction that a lack of urgency can create too. While our students and children are resilient, they are also fragile. They demand the best that we can give, and that is why I take the job seriously, and I write with urgency to make change, advocate, ask questions, and forward the work I can do.

As I always note, I don't have all the answers. I am not always right. I make mistakes. Yet I'm always on the look out for how we can do things better--how we can improve the way we teach with and for students to empower, energize, and improve their lives and opportunities. I am passionate about the development work that is education, the development work that finds us growing our skill, knowledge, and understanding to teach, serve, and lead better.

I do think that because children are young, and that they don't have much of a voice, they are easily overlooked. I also believe that when those making the decisions about how we teach and what we use to teach are mostly removed from the day-to-day operations of a classroom, their urgency is often diluted. In fact, some of those decision makers who are mostly removed from the day-to-day operations of school, find urgency to be child-like, silly, and not important at all. But those of us on the front lines of teaching, have that urgency because we are right there with the children--we see the excitement, need, and interest in their eyes, actions, speak, and longing.

I am a great fan of professional autonomy. I am often baffled as to why many decisions regarding what teachers do are made by those who rarely to never visit or spend time in a classroom. This happens on all fronts--local, state, national, and international. Though there are efforts in all of those realms to create greater teacher voice and choice too. I serve on the state's Teacher Advisory Cabinet, and find that to be a powerful way to include teacher voice at the state level. Similarly we have committees and protocols at the local level that invite teacher voice in ways that matter too. Sometimes sadly, there are protocols and committees in place that seem to invite voice, but truly obstruct that voice instead. It's important to look deeper at distributive leadership models to really see if the voices, experiences, and commitments of educators on the front line are honestly represented, or if its more of a mask or marketing technique to appear to represent teacher voice, choice, and leadership.

I take urgency seriously. I know that every word we say, act we promote, and effort we invest in have the opportunity to make a difference for children. I also know that in this knowledge age, an age that is revolutionary when it comes to how we learn, the need for urgency is greater--we can work together vigorously to improve the way students learn today, and how they apply that learning  to best affect their lives today and into the future. It's an exciting time in education, but also a serious time because what we do will affect the future. We need to help students develop future-ready skills, knowledge, outlooks, and resiliency.

Of course, one can be too serious, and there needs to be room for humor, personal life, and enjoyment too. Like all things, there's a balance, but too often, I believe that balance shifts towards a lack of urgency, and I believe that has to change when it comes to teaching all children well. Do you agree? I am interested in your thoughts about this matter.

The Math Pre-Assessment

I reviewed a math unit pre-assessment this morning. Soon I will give that assessment to students, but prior to giving that assessment to students, we'll discuss the advantage of a pre-assessment, and how to use it to forward one's learning.

I'll tell them how I used the Massachusetts' Teachers' Elementary Math Test Pre-Assessment to notice what I knew well, and what I needed to study more. I'll tell them how I used the pre-assessment to create a learning path to passing the MTEL Math test.

Then I'll ask them to tell me how they've used the pre-assessments in the past to forward their learning of specific math knowledge, concept (big ideas), and skill.

Once they tell me, and I list their ideas on the board. I'll fill in with a few more ideas making sure that we include the following:
  • The pre-test tells us what we know well, and what we really don't have to work hard at learning since we already know it.
  • The pre-test identifies words we don't know--what language/vocabulary knowledge do we need.
  • The pre-test helps us to focus on successful strategies, and strategies that we need.
Before taking the pre-test, I'll ask students to do the following:
  • Place an asterix next to questions/answers you know well.
  • Highlight vocabulary you don't know well or at all. We'll focus on those words later.
  • At the end of the test, write down strategies that help you to do well with a test like this.
  • Also, at the end of the test, write down questions you have about the content of this test--what are you wondering about?
Later, I'll review students' notes and assessments. I'll use the results to inform the teaching/learning to come. Then students and I will revisit their efforts about halfway into the unit to see what they've learned, and what they still need to learn. This is one way to help students metacognate as well as learn to create effective learning paths to better their learning in any discipline. Onward. 

Working with Multiple Stakeholders

I work with a large number of stakeholders including students, family members, colleagues, specialists, administrators, coaches, and community members. Teaching finds educators interfacing with others online and off regularly as we work together to make the best possible choices for students' experiences and learning in schools. As you can imagine, this isn't always easy, but with the following actions, I believe I can foster good work in this area.

Scheduling
Right now, multiple educators are scheduling specialist services for students. These services are important. My job is to make sure I have a good map of all these services, and plan accordingly. Typically I don't like to have specialists and assistants just standing in the back of the room as I teach, but instead I like to choreograph the learning in such a way that when the specialists and assistants are there, they are actively working to coach/mentor individual students and small groups.

Meetings
Due to the great numbers of people I work with in relatively small quarters, there's the temptation to have hallway impromptu meetings. These meetings are rarely to never positive since when an educator is in the hallway, he/she is typically directed to an activity that needs to be done right away. One doesn't have the attention or focus to engage in an important discussion about student services during a hallway talk. Hence, it's best to arrange a time, focus, and protocol for positive exchange.

Email
Many don't like email, but given the fact that most educators are working with students most of the day with little time for communication, email does serve a purpose. The key is to try to keep it short and focused. I continue to work at that since I have so many questions and ideas that it's difficult to cull those down to very short emails, but I know it's important.

Project Work
I believe the best way to forward our work together is to work together to well design and carry out meaningful projects with and for students. This is typically rich, memorable, and impactful teaching and learning that maximizes everyone's contribution, experience, and skill.

Student/Family Member Conferences
Last year I felt that I rushed these conferences a bit by not making the time the week before the conferences to organize the materials and analyses with students. This year students have already started creating their showcase portfolios which they'll share at the conferences. We've already analyzed a lot of data and have had some impromptu phone conversations and meetings with family members. Further we've designed an information sheet to help us with these conferences, and we let family members know that we'd like to have the students attend the conferences. I think we're off to a good start in this regard. These fall conferences set the stage for a great year to come.

Prioritize
We won't be able to do all things--so it will be critical to prioritize about what's most important.

The fast pace and close quarters of a school environment can create a challenging atmosphere for positive collaboration. Further, if you're like me and feel an urgency to modernize our schools and teaching efforts, that challenge becomes greater. Yet, it's integral that we're respectful and thoughtful at all times as we collaborate and work together. That's the first priority. Onward.

First Days of School: Teaching Teamwork

Tomorrow, the class will focus on teamwork. As soon as the students arrive, I'll ask them to complete this short teamwork questionnaire. We'll discuss the teamwork related to Friday's notecard challenge--what worked and what did not. Then I'll introduce the marshmallow-spaghetti challenge via a number of videos. After that, students will work in groups of 2, 3, or 4, to build a sturdy marshmallow-spaghetti tower. I'll likely take a lot of photos, photos that students will use later as they reflect on their efforts and teamwork.

Later during our math class, students will create a Math Team bulletin board with their images and team numbers--numbers created via math review work and calculation. The activity is a good way to get to know a bit more about one another too. We'll also continue our efforts to complete Selfie projects too, and display those results as another way to build knowledge of each other which is important to good teaming. There's always that temptation to rush into the curriculum in the first few days of the school year, but good teachers know it's integral to set the stage for learning first by getting to know one another, teaching/creating main tools/protocols, and building team. Onward.

Teach Well: Give Students Wings

As I contemplate a host of teaching strategies, tools, and endeavor, I'm thinking about what strategies, tools, and endeavor give students wings and let's them fly ahead into the potential that learning holds today.

That potential is much greater today than in the past thanks to technology. Today, to have a laptop and know how to use it, is to have tremendous opportunity to learn. Yet, there's more than the technology that matters as there are a number of other tools, strategies, and endeavor that assist student learning in ways that matter today and into the future.

Basic Skills
Reading, writing, and basic math skills are essential to learning well and using that knowledge. One might also say that coding, digital composition skills, data analysis, and environmental awareness are also critical basic skills today.

Knowledge
Knowledge begets knowledge, therefore it is important to help students develop a strong foundation of knowledge. This is where the standards create a learning path. To master the standards, is to gain a strong knowledge base.

Positive Growth Mindset
To understand that anyone is capable of learning is to certainly give students the wings to learn today and well into the future. Dispelling old myths about who can learn and who cannot, is to build greater capacity for positive learning.

Know Your Brain
To understand well how brains work in general, and how your brain works, is to direct your learning in positive brain-friendly ways.

Teamwork and Collaboration
We can't effectively learn throughout life without good teamwork and collaboration skills and experience.

Emotional Intelligence
Learning and using that knowledge will benefit from developing strong emotional intelligence to forward positive relationships and learning.

Intelligent Assistants
Learning how to maximize and personalize the use of multiple intelligent assistants will help modern day learners. Those assistants can be coaches, mentors, tech devices, robotics, and more.

How we teach today to help our students be successful today and into the future is an important consideration for educators to discuss and focus on as the school year begins. What would you add to or change in this discussion?




Saturday, September 09, 2017

Advocacy Tightrope

Advocacy always finds me on the tightrope. If I push too much, I'll be punished. If I don't push enough, children may miss out. It's a fine line.

Since I'm on the front line when it comes to teaching and learning, I see room for improvement all the time--improvement in my practice, improvement in protocols, improvement in service, and more.

Yet you can't improve all things, and you do have to prioritize. However, when improvement that can positively affect a child is staring you right in the face, what are you going to do? You have to advocate--it's the right thing to do.

I remember years ago, I met a similar challenge. A child was due important services. The service provider never showed up. To speak up meant I would meet harsh response, but to stay silent meant a child was not going to receive the services she deserved. I spoke up, and then I spoke up again and again. There was some positive change eventually, but it wasn't easy.

Many complain about schools. They say schools aren't as good as they can be. I take that criticism seriously, and recognize that if teachers, who are in the front line of teaching, are afraid to advocate for what they know is right and good, then of course, schools are not going to reach the potential that exists.

A friend of mine who works in a system other than mine is in a somewhat disastrous situation. The teachers in her school have almost no say, and the mandates make no sense. Her students have significant needs, and will experience hardship and be a burden on society if they don't get a positive, uplifting, and promising education, yet the teachers in her school have their hands tied--if they speak up, they are looked down upon. The children there miss out.

Teachers do have some knowledge. We work hard; we read; we research; we talk to each other; we go to conferences; and every day we're right there with the children noticing what works and what doesn't work. It's true we that none of us have all the answers or all the perspectives, but dedicated teachers do have significant understanding when it comes to the work they do, and the work they've invested their lives in.

I don't like walking the advocacy tightrope. I don't like having to advocate all the time for what is right and good for children. I don't like the pushback, the ridicule, teasing, and the negativity that is often the response to advocacy, but what I don't like worse than that is to see lost potential when I know that the right tools, setting, supports, and services can dramatically and positively influence the life of a child at school and well into his/her future.

I'll continue to learn more about advocacy. I'll continue to work to hone my advocacy skills. And I'll continue to work towards teaching children well. Onward.


Why Read and Write on Weekends?

Some who spend their work days reading, writing, and researching wonder why a teacher would read, write, or research on the weekend.

What those people don't realize is that teachers, during the work day, are mostly taking care of large groups of children, copying materials, responding to unexpected events, cleaning/organizing their classrooms, and prepping needed materials.

The only time to read, write, and think with depth is before school, after school, and weekends. And that's why a teacher may send an email, read, research, or write over the weekends.

Why I Advocate for Good Tech

Good tech has a puzzle-like or creative quality to it.

Rather than workbook page-like tech for which you fill in the blanks, then wait until the end of the assignment to see if you are wrong or right, good tech leads you along the learning path with clues, hints, re-tries, video, explanations, and opportunity for creativity, construction, and collaboration too.

For example, I really liked Sumdog because students could play with other students as they practiced math facts. It was a fun way to learn information that also included many multi-cultural references. It wasn't perfect, but I've yet to find a perfect tech tool. Sumdog was fun and motivating--students put in a lot of time at home and even during recess to practice.

I like Khan Academy because it leads students through the standards with a large number of multi-modal practice including good interactive models, great use of vocabulary, reading, and multiple ways to look at a concept. Further students progress up as they master each standards--I like that mastery focus too.

I like Symphony Math because it helps students to create and learn with visual models that illustrate quantity and concepts. Symphony also progresses forward as students master concepts, and it's one more way to build skill.

I like Minecraft and SCRATCH because they are engaging, creative, and collaborative tools that can be used across discipline to learn in multiple ways, ways that mirror the types of coding and 3-dimensional models they'll use in almost any field in the future.

I like That Quiz because it is a simple tool for direct practice of discrete concepts, knowledge, and skill.

Google apps are a favorite too because there are countless ways to learn, create, apply, and present knowledge.

I'm sure there are many more good tools out there for learning and teaching math. I'll continue to be on the look out for tools that really help students think, question, master, create, present, and apply math knowledge, concept, and skill. Let me know if there's one you like that I haven't listed.

Passion + Knowledge = Invention

I told students the story of Go Pro Guy, Nick Woodman. They were inspired. It's good to bring the lives, study, and creativity of successful people into the classroom as examples of the way that passion + knowledge = success.


Heeding Signs to Persist

I had two signs that I had to persist. Two young smiling faces reminded me of what really helped those children learn last year. So even though, I've been directed down another path, I persisted with my advocacy to support learning for students like those whose smiles and good words greeted me recently.

Often some find it easy to dismiss an educator's plea for different and better. I think this, in part, may be due to the fact that they don't spend the minutes we spend with students. They don't hear those specific questions or see the bright eyes of a lesson that works, a meeting that inspires, or an exchange that lights a spark. In the classroom, we're constantly aware of what is working very well, and what is not working as well. Teachers understand a lot about the intimate details of learning, and that's why we sometimes advocate beyond our own and others' comfort zones for teaching/learning tools, techniques, and endeavor that make a strong and positive impact.


Seize the Moment: Energy Surge

I look forward to energy surges--times when the conditions are right to do work that takes a lot of energy. So, even though I don't really want to do it, I'll use this burst to organize all the STEAM/Science supplies in the classroom.

If you read my blog, you know that this is a perennial issue since the STEAM center keeps evolving as new units of study, supplies, and projects are introduced. Also, what's energizing this momentum is that yesterday, the students were full of glee as they engaged in an early team building STEAM event, the notecard challenge. I have a zealous, creative crew, and to have the supplies organized and ready to use means that we'll be able to do more hands-on investigations and explorations.

What will the organization look like?

I have a wall of sturdy metal shelves that will host the materials.

On top, I'll place all the new FOSS kits which we'll be using throughout the year, and then on the bottom shelves, I'll place all the individual materials. I'll likely throw out a lot of old materials in a cabinet that I have, and place some of the more fragile items in there.

Once the job's complete, I'll be able to then solidify the STEAM projects to come. Our team has set aside good time for this each week once the initial team building and class organization is complete. Onward.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Friday Musings: Week One 2017-2018

The notecard challenge was lots of fun.
Students were amazingly engaged and creative.
It was a wonderful week with colleagues and students. The children are a curious crew with lots of energy. This week we essentially started setting the stage for optimal learning.

Next week, we'll continue with a number of team building activities including the following:

Spaghetti-Marshmallow Challenge
We'll spend some time discussing what worked and what could have been better with regard to the note card challenge, and apply that learning to the spaghetti-marshmallow teamwork challenge.

Birthday/What's Your Number Math
We'll continue to build team by engaging in math related to birthdays and numbers related to our names. These are good activities to review vocabulary, number knowledge, graphing, and mathematical thinking. The activities also help to build knowledge of one another which helps to build a strong team.

Read Aloud
We'll continue the good read aloud we've started.

Selfie Project/Math Tech
Students will use the chromebooks to complete Selfie projects and complete math warm ups.

Brain Knowledge
I have a great opportunity to spend a day learning the latest brain research, research that will help me to teach and learn in brain-friendly ways.

Setting the Stage for Learning: No Discrimination is Allowed Here

Today students and I talked about the fact that they lead their learning, and the fact that, in this knowledge age, the potential for learning, as well as combining knowledge and passion to reach a happy, successful life, is incredible.

We also discussed the fact that there are obstacles to that potential, obstacles like poverty, lack of education, government/laws, little belief in one's self, and discrimination. We took off on the obstacle of prejudice and discrimination, with the idea that there is no prejudice allowed in the class or in the school--prejudice against gender, lifestyle choice, body type, skin shade, religion, interest, or anything else. Essentially, every child in the class has the right to be who he or she is. We further discussed how historically the shade of one's skin was associated with good survival for the climate/geography where one lived.

Whenever this discussion is raised, and the fact that we accept no prejudice, I always find that children relax, let their shoulders down, and feel better. I love it.

We moved into the prejudice of skin shade using the Jablonski quote that states it's too bad that the politics of skin is not as simple as the biology of skin as the foundation idea. We talked about the biology of skin shade and the fact that our skin shade is a miniscule part of our overall make-up and that our shade gives us hints about our ancestors and history.

I noted that many teachers don't talk about this subject because they are afraid they'll say something wrong or make a mistake, and I invited the students to correct me, ask questions, or tell me if they're uncomfortable. Later I checked in with a few individuals, and one boy affirmed the talk saying he thought it was good.

Do you set the stage for good learning by talking about the history of learning and the obstacles that interfere with this? Do you broach the subject of race and explicitly speak against discrimination at the start of the year? If so, what do you have to share? If not, why not? I'm curious.

Communication and Organization

Yesterday I received an informative newsletter. I found the information to be well organized and helpful to know. Communication matters when it comes to good work.

Also I noted good lead time with a number of events. That helps me to prep and prepare for those events. Lead time matters.

It's that time of year when we are getting organized and inspiring the teaching/learning team including ourselves for a good year ahead. In this regard, communication and organization are important ingredients.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Day Three: A Great Day of Teaching

After yesterday's disappointment and follow-up study/reflection, it was back to teaching and learning with my fifth grade students. I must say they were amazing today as we watched Jo Boaler discuss mathematical mindsets, share a wonderful Jane Yolen read aloud, and work on Google Draw Selfie projects. Then at night, it was Curriculum Night--time to share the classroom events and expectations with parents. I really enjoy giving the presentation with my terrific colleagues.

Tomorrow we'll dive into one of Boaler's floor-to-ceiling explorations, engage in the note card challenge project, work on the selfie projects which are just about finished, read aloud, and play some math games. Over the weekend, I'll chart out the next week's efforts.

I like positive days like this one--days when I can attend to the students with care. Onward.

Math Study: Getting Psyched for a Year of Math

I'll meet all my math students today for the first time.

We'll watch a Ted Talk about math. I'll tell them that one way that I begin study in any area is to watch a Ted Talk since that's a great inroad for me to new topic or a topic I will study in more depth. Typically the passion, background, and personal speech relayed in a TedTalk gets me psyched for learning more.

As we watch the TedTalk, I'll ask students to make a list of what matters when it comes to teaching and learning math well. After the talk, we'll share that information with one another, and then for home study, I'll ask them to complete an acrostic poem using the word Mathematician and writing a word, phrase, or sentence for each letter that relays a good way to learn and/or teach math.

I want to begin the math year by opening up their minds to the wonderful opportunities, new research, and learning venues in math today. I want to dispel old myths that only some can learn and that math is a paper/pencil subject only. I want to start big and sophisticated with my young learners as I think that will set the stage for a great math year to come. Do you agree?

Computer Wars: Raising the White Flag of Defeat

For years, I've been advocating for more open use of technology to forward student learning. In that time, we've gained more hardware, but met more software restrictions.

Recently I was told that Khan Academy and SCRATCH are banned in our school system. The reason for this has to do with student data privacy which is a complex area of tech decision making and process in schools. I am very disappointed with this decision for many reasons. Mostly I am disappointed because Khan Academy and SCRATCH are platforms that have helped me to teach students in positive, modern ways. They are the kinds of "intelligent assistants" that Thomas L. Friedman discusses in his book about the future, Thank You for Being Late. Khan Academy and SCRATCH are also platforms that provide global connections and good ability to create, utilize and understand visual models related to learning in math and other disciplines.

I will follow the directive given and disband my use of those platforms with students. I will continue to use the platforms on my own when needed as I plan and prepare lessons. I am afraid that my students will not reach the same level of progress and knowledge, skill, concept attainment next year without these tools, since the tools allowed students to navigate personal paths to mastery. This was especially helpful to students at the remediation and enrichment ends of the grade-level standard acquisition scale. For example, students who came to fifth grade already skilled at all fifth grade math concepts were able to broaden and deepen their math knowledge using Khan Academy in many ways. Others, in the past, who fell into this category were able to create amazing codes on SCRATCH to make games, radio stations, animations, and connections across the globe.

As of today, I'm raising the white flag in the computer war in my school system. I lost the war, and from now on will send all invitations to try new tech to the decision makers. I'll work within the acceptable tech parameters created by the decision makers, and focus my efforts and time in other teaching/learning areas at school. I'm sure those who have opposed my ideas, advocacy, and interest, are rising with cheer right now. Just think, they won't have to entertain my emails that share information, advocate for new tools, and forward ideas. They'll be free to choose as they will without my voice.

It's difficult to lose a war, and in many ways it has been a war--one that has brought me to tears and frustration time and time again since what I read and what I see don't match up. It's over now. I accept the defeat. I'm moving on.

When Doors Close: Persistence

A number of doors closed recently. Actually it felt like the doors were slammed in my face. A wake-up call. What's a teacher to do?

I'm not easily convinced when it comes to changing my direction, rerouting my path, and seeing things differently. I think a lot about what I do and why I do it. I frequently reach out for consult too--consult via talks, social media, research, professional events, and reading.  So when my path is challenged, I typically persist.

Yet, there comes a time when the persistence reaches an end, and the acknowledgement that what you dreamed for is simply not going to happen where and when you dreamed it. I read quite a bit about those dead ends last night. People know those dead ends well, and the sadness that comes with them.

People who have lost loved ones know this much better than me. There's no going back when a person you love has died. People who lose jobs, flunk out of school, experience the end to a relationship, face a disaster, or endure a grave illness also know this much more than me. Closing doors in relation to those you love, the health you value, or the environment where you live are devastating, and demand that you persist, reimagine, make change, and move on.

There are changes that are more subtle, less severe, but also devastating and demanding of change. These changes are less visible, understood, and shared, and perhaps, more confusing than the dramatic changes that occur because of death or disaster, but these changes, nonetheless, demand that you persist, reimagine, make change, and move on.

Persist
When doors close, the persistence is different than the kind of advocacy and drive you use to make a good idea come alive. This kind of persistence means that you keep your energy strong and observation keen as you look for a new direction, a place to put the drive and energy you felt for the original aim.

Reimagine
This is the kind of reflection you use to think about the situation you face, and to reimagine how you'll live, create, and learn. Instead of knocking your head against the closed door, reimagining allows you to find more welcoming, fertile places for your ideas and efforts.

Make Change
This is what you'll do. You will make change. At first the change will be a skeleton of the next step--the framework for change. This framework is a good routine, the daily actions that lead you toward what you have reimagined.

Move On
Once the change becomes a habit, you will begin to move on and beyond those slamming doors to open entry ways, new opportunities, and positive experiences.

As I read about change last night, I found the words about looking for the positivity and possibility in change to be the most uplifting. This positivity is akin to the phrase, "When a door closes, a window opens." I've used that phrase many times with my own children, friends, and siblings when they've faced closed doors in their lives. Onward.




Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Moving into the Year

The work with the children is going well. They are an enthusiastic group of students ready and willing to think big, create, and innovate. The more I learn about them, the better I'll be able to teach.

Today we had a big talk about the fact that students are in charge of their learning--they lead their learning. I told them about Thomas L. Friedman's book, Thank You for Being Late, and the fact that his research points to the fact that in their future, they will have to essentially think of themselves as their own start-up, and that they'll have to maximize the use of intelligent assistants like robots, computers, and even teachers.

They seemed to grasp the concept well, and it seemed to lift their outlook with regard to their work and study. We went on to talk about the combination of passion and study. I used the Go-Pro Camera story as an example.

Later we moved onto the fact that it's important to know yourself as a learner if you want to learn well and succeed. They worked on their Selfie Google Draw collages, creating avatars, and setting up their showcase portfolios. I was surprised to find many stumped when it came to the Happiness Survey and the need to list sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and events that make them happy. We talked about the connection between happiness, success, and good living too.

Finally at the day's end we watched a few short videos about teamwork, and prepared for tomorrow's notecard challenge activity. All in all, it was a great day of teaching and learning.

Tomorrow, students will begin their rotations from one subject area to another. In Math students will focus on what it means to teach and learn math well. We'll let Jo Boaler lead that learning in part via video.

We'll also complete the notecard tower project as noted above, work on the Selfie collages, and continue reading Jane Yolen's wonderful Young Merlon trilogy which I'm enjoying as much as the students.

Tomorrow night finds us presenting the curriculum to the parents as well.

At this time of year, I receive many scheduling notices from specialists, coaches, and administrators too all seeking time to work with students or visit the classroom. I'm responding to those at well.

The start of the school year is always a busy time, and what's most important is keeping your focus on what matters most--the children. Onward.

Lead Your Learning: Showcase Portfolio Start

Reality:
  • you are your most important teacher
  • you lead your learning
  • learning matters when it comes to living a good life
Activity
  • Why does learning matter?
  • Everyone can learn
  • To lead your learning, you need to know yourself well and reflect often.
  • The showcase portfolio is a vehicle for self-knowledge, reflection, and learning conversations.
  • Take some time to begin your showcase portfolio with initial reflections.

Teamwork?

The reality:
  • relatively small learning space
  • 25-27 bodies at one time
  • a good amount of materials
  • playground nearby
  • lots to learn, and lots of ways to learn
What we know:
  • good teamwork and relationships will lead to better learning
  • we can help one another learn
  • we are all teachers and learners in this room
What we need to do:
  • identify the attributes of successful teamwork
  • identify the attributes of what it takes to be a good team member
  • practice and use those attributes
  • make time to explicitly discuss and build teamwork and team skills/attributes
Today's Lesson:
  • focus on our collective goal: learning well
  • acknowledge that our goal depends on good teamwork
  • watch a video or two that exemplify great teamwork
  • identify the attributes that lead to great teamwork, and work together to identify how we can make those attributes visible in our daily teaching and learning. 

Unanswered Questions

A practice of not answering questions persists.

I hope there will be change, but for the time being, I'll have to be satisfied to question and not receive answers.

I will work to not to do this with my students as I believe that questioning is important, and responding to those questions with an open mind and careful attention is a positive way to build a dynamic learning/teaching community. Onward.

Note: Sometimes, some people ask lots of questions. For some that makes it difficult to answer. When a student in my class asks a lot of questions, we typically create a good, respectful, positive routine for those questions--a routine that respects the questions and makes space for regular answers and application.

Students Speak

I asked students to write me a letter telling me about themselves and how to teach them. Their letters were bright, and mirrored the latest research about good teaching and learning. Many wrote about the desire for hands-on, problem-based, creative learning--they want to learn by doing. Others wrote about special interests and specific learning/teaching needs. To read each letter was to get a good idea about who my learners are, and what I can do to help them reach their goals and learn a lot.

Good teaching requires the quiet, unsung efforts to build a strong, positive relationship with every child. Building that relationship includes daily collaboration in learning endeavor and review/response to those efforts. This work also requires advocacy. Children also wrote with desire to learn in modern ways with modern tools. Some of those tools are not welcome yet in our school community, and it will take advocacy by me and other teachers to make those learning venues available as those paths are paths of future success.

As much as possible, we have to find ways to let students lead the learning and speak in classrooms. I'm very focused on that effort this year. Onward.

Thinking Deeply About Students: Team Building

I watched the students carefully.

I noticed who needed more time and who finished quickly. I noticed who talks a lot and who is very quiet. I noticed who seemed patient and who seemed impatient. I noticed who asks questions and who doesn't.

As we moved from name word finds, to organization matters, to a tech project, and read aloud, I watched and listened carefully.

Today as we continue the projects introduced yesterday, I'll watch more, and as I watch I'll also coach important team skills including following directions, staying quiet at quiet times (in a small room with 25-28 people, it's sometimes critical to be quiet), asking questions when you don't understand or need support, and contribution.

If we can gain a number of common norms, protocols, attitudes, and behavior for our class learning/teaching team, we'll then be able to work together, learn, and teach with greater strength, skill, and result. Onward.