Friday, December 19, 2014

K - 1 Demo Lessons - My Shot of Uncomfortable Part 1

On Sunday December 14, as I was having my first cup of coffee and hanging out on Tweetdeck (my 20+ columns of twitter hashtags and groups), I found this post by Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19), Why Teachers Need a Shot of Uncomfortable.  It was one of those serendipitous moments when you receive just what you need to hear or in this case read.

This week I have been doing demo math lessons in Kindergarten and First Grade classes.  In my 23 years as a classroom teacher I taught grades 3 - 8 and all but 4 of the years were 5 - 8.  So, you can say I'm not known for my expertise in the primary grades.  That being said, I also believe that effective educators can teach any grade with the skills/tools they have.  So, in my role as an instructional coach and leader, I know that I have to leave my comfort zone and practice what I preach - taking risks with and for the sake of students actively learning and understanding.  I knew going into the experience that I would be modeling failure which is something I believe makes me a better learner and educator.  I am modeling the lessons for two teachers I am coaching as part of their beginning teacher induction program.  I have been learning a lot about myself as an educator this week and I wanted to share some of the insights.

I purposely chose this week (December 15 - 19), because I knew the teachers would allow me to stray off their "pacing guide" the week before winter break.  I also purposely chose to do this for a week because I knew if I really wanted a glimpse into the lives of these teachers and their students, I would need to be in the classroom for an extended amount of time.

My goals for the week:

  • Model CCSS math lessons - using our new math adoption (which I did not do).
  • Model the "lesson study" process of pre-assessing, providing instruction, post assessing (this process is the focus for their next induction module).
  • Use the "lesson study" process to start a conversation on what standards based learning looks like in each classroom.
  • Use the CCSS math fluency expectations for Kindergarten and First Grade to guide my lessons.(K-fluency with + - up to 5 and 1st - fluency with + - up to 10)


  • To make sure I modeled effective questioning and did not tell students how to do something but question them to guide them.
  • To model engagement strategies as a classroom management tool and to make sure students are actively learning instead of passively complying.
  • Try and model classroom management for the new teachers - (I know, I'm going against Yoda)

FAIL FORWARD - I expect to show failure as a way to learn about myself as an educator and model how failure forces me to make shifts and adjustments.

General reflections and insights from the week:

  • Teaching Kindergarten and First Grade is HARD!  Because I am doing this with teachers who have a relationship with, I feel comfortable taking risks (watching the students get out of control), and instead of being stressed, I can model calm and problem-solve to recover (Simon Says is a great way to capture kids attention and get them focused on the task)
  • I found some great resources for Formative Assessment Lessons - Thanks Jenny (@jenny4math)!!  K - 5 Formative Assessment Lessons MATH
  • After the first three days I was wondering what I had gotten myself into - I was extremely uncomfortable and wanting to "get sick" or find some other excuse to not finish the week.
  • At the same time, I knew this was exactly what I needed to be doing and this feeling of discomfort is what I need to continue my growth as an instructional leader.
  • Students eat a lot of sugar the week before winter break - it affects their behavior!
  • For myself and the two teachers, watching the students discussing, debating, justifying, and working things out for themselves was magical.  It was also a struggle because it was new to them, they wanted to be told what to do - we just asked questions.
  • My relationship with the teachers has moved to a new level of understanding and empathy which will enable me to better coach.  
  • My observations of their teaching will have a new perspective which can only be gained by having stood in their shoes - something more site leaders need to do (my personal opinion!)

Part 2 of this post will be a reflection of specific learning from each day.  I challenge all who read this post to go out and find your "Shot of Uncomfortable" and make a New Year's resolution to take it on.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Family Movie Night - Lessons for Educators

Last weekend our family had a movie night and we rented The Edge of Tomorrow.  The cover of the movie has the words live, die, repeat.  As I watched it, I began to do what I usually do when watching movies: make connections to education and my life as an educator.  This brought me back to a blog post I started back in March 2014 see below:

I think I have joked with many of my friends about writing this post.  However, this evening I was inspired by Jennifer Kloczco's post This I Believe: Life Lessons and Sports Movies.  Like usual I am going to provide a "brief" explanation to provide a bit of background on where I am coming from.

It is my son's 9th birthday.  When my husband and I were thrown into becoming parents by fate (a very long story for a later time) we had been married for 9 years, I had been teaching for 15 years, and I was at that test for everything under the sun to make sure your baby is healthy age.  I was familiar with Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and other movies because I would watch them with my students.  Little did I know that after becoming a parent they would dictate the major themes of my life as a parent and an educator. Here are just a few:

The Story of Route 66 - Cars: A great reminder that life is about the journey.  In our classrooms we need to make sure we understand our destination for our students and then plan a meaningful journey as they work to acquire new learning and understanding.  We need to individualize the journey as much as possible and let the students have a hand in creating their paths.  What are you doing everyday to make the journey more meaningful and fun?

My favorite quote from this segment - "Cars didn't drive on it to make great time, they drove on it to have a great time" - Sally

Ellie's Adventure Book - Up and Picture Momentos - Up:  These are a great reminder that life isn't about the exciting adventures and places and trips one experiences.  If you have the right perspective, everyday can be seen as an adventure.  Another message about slowing down, realizing that building relationships and making connections can turn seemingly mundane activities into "learning adventures" in your classroom.  What is in your adventure book and how do we keep our student's adventures alive?

A great quote from Up - "He used to come to all my Sweatlodge meetings.And afterwards we'd go get 
ice cream at Fentons. I always get chocolate and he gets butter-brickle. Then we'd   sit on this one curb, right outside, and I'll count all the blue cars and he counts all the red ones, and whoever gets the most, wins. I like that curb.  That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most."

Finding Their Way - Finding Nemo:  This clip is for the helicopter parents and teachers who have a hard time letting students struggle and face challenges they have to figure out themselves.  We need to stop "rescuing and spoon feeding" our students.  We need to let them explore, discover, struggle, create, revise, edit, think critically, and problem solve.  How do we know what they are capable of if we do not let them try and fail and revise on their own?

Finding Your Center - Rise of the Guardians:  This clip illustrates the importance of knowing what is at your center as an educator and/or parent.  Your center is what you bring into the world and it is what you protect in the students you teach.  This blog has helped me reflect and find my educational center.  When I am veering off course, I can feel it in my core and I know I am not listening and following my center beliefs and fighting for them.  What is your educational center that you will protect in your students and fight for?

First Flight With Toothless - How to Train Your Dragon:  This is my #geniushour and makerspace clip.  It illustrates that when someone is interested in something, they want to find out as much about it as possible.  They will study, learn, problem-solve, and create.  Another lesson in this clip is having the courage to throw away your "cheat sheet".  When you are in the "flow" you can trust your center or gut to guide you.  Making a "cheat sheet" provides you with the foundation and ability to trust you know the information and therefore can throw it out.  Are you creating or providing time for students to explore what they are passionate about?

Believe - The Polar Express:  So much of being an educator is in believing the impossible is possible.  You trust in others to share their knowledge and processes and you take a leap of faith and try new things.  You have to believe that it is worth trying even if it fails.  Either way, you will learn and try again another day.  This clip works with finding your center and using your beliefs to support you center and vice versa.  What do you believe is possible for yourself and your students?

Edge of Tomorrow Trailer: This movie is all about learning and has a strong connection to gaming.  I am a revision queen.  In my writing, someone usually has to rip the piece out of my hands because I believe I can always make it better.  As educators we need to embrace failing as a learning tool.  Moving ahead slowly one step at a time, failing forward is a great way to model for our students and all with whom we work.  It is scary and exhilarating at the same time.  This post: 5 Things Teacher Can Learn From Video Games by Alice Keeler connects to the premise of this movie: "1. Players do not read instructions; 2. Failure is expected; 3. Games are social; 4. Players are actively involved; 5. Challenging is fun.  How do you model failure for your students and colleagues?  Would you save the world with little on no recognition?  Oh Yeah, you already do that everyday!

It's Time to Let Go - Finding Nemo: And finally, a great life lesson about letting go even when you do not know what the outcome will be.  In education we take risks for our students everyday.  We have to believe in ourselves and our students and be willing to jump even if we are not sure of the results and are we are scared.  When was the last time you jumped and took a risk trying something new?  What will be your next "Jump"?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Would You Do With An Extra Hour...

As I laid in bed on a rainy Saturday morning, I listened to Scott Simon on Weekend Edition (NPR) as he discussed what if the time change occured during the day instead of the middle of the night, how would you use that extra hour?  CLICK HERE to listen to the segment.  As I listened, I agreed and thought about all of the great ideas he mentioned, I was relishing the fact that the weather had allowed me to stay in bed much longer than I would allow myself on a bright sunny day.  But the question also required me to ponder and reflect, what if I had the gift of an extra hour showing up in the middle of a day, what would I do with it?

  • The mom and wife in me immediately went to - spend more time with my family.
  • The educator in me immediately went to - I can participate in a twitter chat or hang out on tweetdeck, google+, voxer, reading blog posts, etc...
  • The housekeeper in me immediately went to - I can get the vacuuming done.
  • The property owner in me immediately went to - rake pine needles into piles, repeat, repeat.
  • The writer in me immediately went to - I can blog for an hour.
  • The daughter in me immediately went to - I can pay Mom's bills for the month.
  • The exerciser in me immediately went to - I can workout.
  • The guilty part of me immediately went to - watching Project Runway recordings.
  • The college student in me went to - take a NAP
There are many more "me's" that could go on and on.  With the craziness and connectedness of our lives today it is important to stop and take inventory of our priorities and wants and needs.

I think I will take an hour today to sit and be away from all of the me's above.  I find in my hectic life, quiet pondering and reflecting allows me to re-connect to the intuitive me.  That is the most important me because it guides everything I do and provides a foundation for growth and learning in every situation.

The gift of an hour, a luxurious hour... What would you do with an extra hour?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Moonshot Thinking

Many of you who read my blog know that I am in my second year as a Curriculum Coordinator.  I think I have expressed the struggle I am having in my transition from guiding students to guiding adult learners.  As I participate in twitter chats, I find myself sharing what I did as a classroom teacher rather than what I am doing with my adult learners. What does any of this have to do with Moonshot Thinking? Please keep reading because I will get there.


Back in 2010 as a math project fellow, I watched the following TED talk by Dan Meyer: 

Your Math Class Needs a Makeover:

This TED talk sent me on a trajectory of which there was no return. I had recently become a connected educator and was devouring the resources and information on twitter and other social media outlets. I was obsessed with making mathematics meaningful for students and progressed in the following ways:
  • Using my boring weekend family antics to create math problems for my students. This reinforced the connections and relationships, a great first step, but it was all about me... CLICK HERE for examples
  • Next, I looked for high interest resources for creating math problems and I even held a parent problem-solving day CLICK HERE
  • Then came the incorporation of Common Core and infusing literacy into my math classroom, which I called "Common Core Mondays" (that was our PLC day and I had shortened periods).  Career Earnings Example
When I left my mathematics classroom I was not sure how to transfer this somewhat innovative thinking to my new job.

Then a few weeks ago I was preparing my presentation for the California STEM Symposium CLICK HERE and as I prepared, I came across the video Google released on February 1, 2014.  The video became the cornerstone for my presentation.  

Moonshot Thinking:

As I watched the video over and over, I copied down the following quotes:

“Choosing to be bothered by something”
"You have to start over"
“How might I think differently about this?…”
“We don’t know how to do this yet, we are going to do it anyway”
“We are doing this not because it is easy, but because it is hard”
"I believe in the human spirit"
“We are a species of moonshots”
"Courage and persistence to try..."
" You can make amazing thing happen..."
“When you find your passion, you are unstoppable”
Another light bulb moment: All of the above quotes drove the why and what and how and where and when that started the snowball effect of change in my mathematics class.

These quotes are now driving what I am doing as I work with district teachers and administrators to shift the instruction that is happening in our classrooms which directly impacts student learning and achievement. It is not easy work, but it is extremely important.

Here are some ways my perception is shifting:
  • I am working to build relationships by having #noofficeday once a week to get into classrooms and observe, and connect with teachers by having positive interactions as often as possible.  
  • As I build relationships, I take notes on what I am seeing using the following: Classroom Observation Google Form, I send positive feedback and I gain an awareness and understanding of what is going on in district classrooms.
  • I see myself as an instructional coach who asks questions to guide teachers and have them reflect on their practice, which is how I ran my mathematics/science classroom using Standards Based Grading/Learning (SBG/SBL) to guide students in facilitating their own learning.
    • (TANGENT LIGHT BULB MOMENT: I have been struggling with getting teachers on board with SBG and SBL, and writing this post has enabled me to realize that by modeling with teachers perhaps it will transfer to what they do with their students... I need to think about this - Sorry about my OUTBURST, now back to our regularly schedule blog post)
  • I find working with the most challenging students/teachers important and rewarding.  
  • Just like working to make learning for my students meaningful, I want to make sure that the teachers I coach are empowered to change.
  • I want to provide monthly opportunities for teachers to come together and learn from each other, unfortunately the district will not be able to provide compensation for the teachers.
As I face challenges, I think back to the quotes above.  All of the quotes remind me and drive me.  At the end of the day, when I am feeling discouraged, I have these posted above my desk to remind myself why I have been and educator for 25 years.  When I look at my 8 year old son, I am driven to work to improve education not only by taking baby steps in my district, but also by doing the following:
  • Modeling failing forward
  • Sharing all I do with my Professional Learning Community on Twitter and Google+
  • Instead of judging and evaluating, using a growth mindset - What have I done right?  What could I have done better? 
  • Modeling reflection, not to the obsessive level I do, but to get teachers to think about changing their practice
I am so overwhelmed with how to change or shift or guide teachers to change their instruction to provide active learning rather than passive learning.  I have so much respect for the teachers in our district. They truly care and are passionate about teaching, but these shifts and changes need to happen.  
I am taken back to when I was a high school math wiz - an obedient algorithm follower.  My sister was horrible at math (it took her 4 years to pass Algebra 1) and my parents expected me to help her. Unfortunately at that time, I could only follow algorithms or rules and I could not understand why or how my sister could not just follow the rules.  My sister need to understand why things worked the way they did.  

I want to make sure that I do not create obedient rule followers whether they are students and/or teachers.  Please give me ideas and input.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

What does 58% on a Math Test Mean to a Third Grade Student?

This week my third grade son brought home his first math test and there was a glaring 58% written in red ink with a large circle around it.  So many thoughts ran through my head as I tried to hide any reaction from my son.  There were also many frustrations welling inside me, but I wanted to turn this into a positive learning experience for my son, not a punishment or rag session.

I want to begin by saying that Tater's teacher is wonderful.  The red inked 58% was a result of the influence of her third grade team, and the fact that most teachers have no idea of the implications putting a meaningless grade on a paper has.

My first thought was WTF this is third grade...  My next thought was - who is this grade for?  My son has no idea what 58% means or the fact that he got 14.5 points out of 25.  It is all meaningless to him and for all he knows it is over and done.  That grade was meant for me, his parent.  I was supposed to get upset, take away television and electronics as a punishment for not achieving a higher score/grade.  The learning opportunity was done for both teacher and student.  Luckily for my son, the learning was far from done.

We sat down at the kitchen island and went through every question on the test.  I calmly told Tater that we needed to find the parts that were easy for him and the parts that were difficult.  I made sure to make it a positive interaction because I wanted to understand exactly where his struggles were without making him feel stupid.

As a huge proponent of Standards Based Grading I looked at evaluating his test using different criteria than assigning points to problems.

The test had the following areas of emphasis:
Even and Odd Sums, Commutative Property, Rounding, Addition of 3 digit numbers, Subtracting using Regrouping

This is what Tater and I discovered when going over his test:

  • He understands when a sum of 2 numbers will be even or odd
  • He understands commutative property
  • He can add three digit numbers 
  • He can round numbers to tens, hundreds, thousands
  • He struggles with subtraction with regrouping
  • His struggles with reading contributed to his low score
If I were his teacher, these are the notations I would have made.  Instead his teacher has a 58% in her grade book.  She has not noted that he needs help with subtraction, reading the problems, and explaining his thinking.  

Here in-lies the problem: Once the grade was given both she and Tater were done.  Instead of this assessment becoming a conversation for further learning and growth, it is an end point for both teacher and student and that is a tragedy.

As Tater and I worked through the problems he realized how he mis-read or skipped over important information.  We also established some strategies for him to be more careful when reading and solving problems.  We even developed a strategy to help him explain his answers and problem solving processes.  

I have not asked his teacher for a re-do, but I will be doing that soon.  I will also use this experience to find ways to move the teachers in my district towards standards based grading.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Another Personal Rant Against Timed Math Tests...

I am going to apologize upfront for my obsession with this topic.  As a STEM educator with a son who is 100% into STEM topics and is extremely literate in many areas, I am venting my frustration in public... May not be a good idea but it feels right at this moment.

Last February I crafted a post: Fluency Does Not Equal Speed, where I wrote a letter to grades 1 - 3 or 4 or 5 teachers asking them to re-think how they use timed tests with their budding mathematicians (students).  It was a cathartic process for me as I crafted a letter to share with all teachers who use timed math tests without singling out my son's experiences in his three short years of attending school.  I also made sure that I offered alternatives rather than just complain or whine... we all know those parents.  Unfortunately, I find it necessary to re-visit the topic after an eye opening experience I had with my third grade son this past week.

We were finishing up his homework after dinner.  He was moving back and forth from focused work to what I call his "border collie behavior" of pacing, jumping, and escaping to his happy place - (another post for another time).  He had completed the first page of his math and I do make it a point to sit with him and discuss his thinking as he solves problems (the math teacher in me making sure he is a problem solver not a rule follower).  He had six problems left to complete and we had 15 minutes before bath time, so I set the timer for 15 minutes.  Instantly, Tater fell into hopeless despair, crying, agitated, whining, and completely melting down.  SIX PROBLEMS!?  being a failure of a parent I assumed he was practicing his learned helplessness - acting like he cannot do something so that someone will swoop in and do it for him - another quality skill he developed in first grade and perfected in second grade.  He remained frozen, not able to complete his work and crying and tantruming for the entire 15 minutes.  I had taken television and the iPad away during what I thought was an Oscar award winning act being put on by my son (another parent of the year moment...).  As soon as the timer went off it took him about 5 minutes to calm down and he proceeded to complete the last six problems in less than 2 minutes.

The next morning while in the shower I was hit with a blast of clarity - he was not being helpless, he was frozen because of his experience being timed to perform academically.  He had begun being timed in mathematics and reading fluency in kindergarten.  Instead of practicing learned helplessness, he had learned that when a timer starts, the best thing to do is quit, give up, and/or not try.  Better to fail up front than to try your hardest and fail anyway.  Now I know where his "I'm stupid" comments that he made frequently last year originated.  My frustration with Tater the night before quickly became focused elsewhere.

  • If a teacher tells you that your child is "slower than the special education kids" in reading but you believe otherwise, ask for the assessment data, get a second opinion and kindly ask that your child no longer be assessed that way.
  • If a parent helper comes to tell you that your son is "bad at math" because he is "slower than the special education kids" on the timed tests (she corrects the timed math tests for the teacher) excuse your child from taking the timed tests and ask your child's teacher to tell his/her helpers not to discuss the achievement of your students with ANYONE.
  • Ask the teacher what research they are using to support their practice of timed math tests.
  • Please stop timing our children, your students.  
  • I will say it again Fluency does not equal speed, fluency is about being literate in whichever discipline you are learning and literacy is not based on how fast you can do something.
  • When someone asks you why you give timed math and reading tests, base your reason on research, if you don't have any research to support the practice, then abandon it
  • Remember what literacy is:
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines literacy as:
"the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts."  (I would throw in visual and audio resources also).

Here are some resources to consider:
NCTM Teaching Children Mathematics April 2014 - Jo Boaler
Faster Isn't Smarter - Cathy L. Sealy
Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math - Emily Richmond

Friday, August 29, 2014

AUSD #throughglass Fear of the Unknown

Our new school year started on August 13th.  As the Curriculum Coordinator I have decided that Mondays are #noofficeday (the day of the week I will visit sites and get into classrooms).  I am also a Google Glass Explorer.  This year it is my goal to find as many ways as possible to integrate Google Glass into the learning environment throughout the district.  So, during my site visits on August 18th and August 25th, I wore Google Glass into the classrooms I visited.  I sent the following email to inform the school's staff I was visiting:

Good Morning,
Now that I have a year under my belt, I want to spend more time visiting sites and specifically classrooms.  So, I have dedicated Mondays to visit sites, get into classrooms to experience the learning through the eyes of the students.  This will enable me to also get a better understanding of the strength and areas of need related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.  I will enter quietly and smile hello.  You do not need to introduce me unless it fits in with whatever you are doing.  I will wave on my way out.  I will be using my tablet to take notes directly related to student learning and engagement.  I will share positive feedback with specific examples based on my observations with every teacher I visit.

I will also be wearing my Google Glass as I will be using it to take pictures (only posted with your permission) and share the wonderful learning experiences our students have every day.  If at any time you would like me to video a lesson or activity, I can do that also.

I look forward to getting into your classrooms to see firsthand the learning our students experience. If there is a specific lesson or activity you would like me to observe, please let me know.

Have a great Monday,
Kristen Beck
Curriculum Coordinator,
AuburnUnion School District

I had crafted this email thinking that the biggest obstacle to wearing Google Glass would be the distraction it would cause with the students.  I want the students to get used to seeing me wear it in their classrooms without it being a distraction.  However, what I did not realize was that it evoked fear among the teachers.

I assumed that this email was sufficiently providing information about my observations and specifically wearing Google Glass.  Unfortunately it was not.  I was contacted by teachers throughout the district informing me that there was stress surrounding the fact that I was secretly video taping and taking pictures of  teachers teaching in their classrooms.

I suddenly realized that my perception was completely out of whack with the teachers' perceptions, not because of a lack of communication but because of a lack of knowledge and understanding.  So, then I sent the following email:

Happy Thursday Certificated Staff,
I have been receiving many questions concerning my use of Google Glass as an Educational tool when I go out to visit classrooms.  The purpose of my observations is to know firsthand what is going on in our schools and classrooms so I can better support the teachers and other district employees to positively impact student learning. 
Here is what I have done on my visits so far…
·        During lessons I sit quietly and observe from a student's point of view.  I will take some notes on my TABLET so I can provide positive feedback on student engagement, effective teaching strategies and other POSITIVE things that I see directly impact student learning and understanding.  I will use these notes to send positive feedback notes to the teachers whose rooms I visit.
·        I wear my Google Glass while sitting, although I do not have them "awake" because they are anything but discrete and/or secret.  To take a picture, I have to tap the side of my head, or say "okay glass, take a picture" and that is a major distraction. 
·        If there is an appropriate time and/or place, I will ASK the teacher who's room I am in if I can take pictures of the learning environment - I do not photograph/video students or teachers.  If a teacher requests me to video tape a lesson, I am able to do that with Google Glass and would work with the teacher before hand to plan etc… 
·        When I am walking around campus I only photograph the learning environment NOT people.
·        At this time, Google Glass is a tool for me to document the incredible learning environments provided for our students.  Right now I want to make everyone comfortable having them around.  There are many other valuable ways they can be used to enhance learning and I will be asking for volunteers later in the year to try the other tools.

Please let your site administrator know if you would prefer I did not wear them when visiting your classroom.  He/she will compile a list so that when I visit your site I will know when to remove them and put them away.

Thanks so much,
Have a great Thursday!!
Kristen Beck
Curriculum Coordinator,
AuburnUnion School District

This email eased minds and became a step in our district's increased understanding of how technology can be an instructional tool.  We are in the infancy of integrating technology as a learning tool and as I work with teachers and site administrators to facilitate the integration we will continue to hit some speed bumps along the way.  I will continue to openly communicate and clarify as we learn and grow together as a district.  Please copy, cut, and paste as needed if you experience similar situations.