Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do You Really Know Your Students?

This past week there has been much discussion in many educational circles and on social media of the twitter posts by a third grade teacher I follow - Kyle Schwartz:
Students Share What They Wish Their Teacher Knew

Initially, my ears and eyes perked up when seeing her postings because my son is a third grader. However, when I delved deeper, I saw many of the students that have entered my classroom throughout my 25 years in education in her students.

It is inspiring to see a new teacher create opportunities for her students to share in a safe environment with the intent to build relationships and an understanding of her students as they journey through life.

This takes me back to my first years teaching in a small town in the Salinas Valley.  Although I never explicitly asked my students what they wished I knew about them, I did know that their education depended on the relationship I established with them.  What they did not know was my survival as a beginning teacher hinged on the authentic and meaningful relationships I built with my at risk students. Some mornings they would come into the classroom to tell me they spent the night huddled on the living room floor while gun shots rang out in the neighborhood.  I remember leaving school each day ready to quit and waking up each morning excited to get to school and my students.  It was such an interesting dynamic and it provided the foundation for my life as an educator.

My last few years as a classroom teacher, I made sure that I had a face to face conversation with each of my middle school students each day.  I had 120 students that passed through my door each day, how did I accomplish this?

  • When the students entered my classroom, there was an activity for them to complete.  (If the students are engaged, I can touch base with all of them).
  • As they worked, I "checked homework" by going to each group and checking in with each student.  
  • If a student did not have their work, their book, their notebook or other materials, I made eye contact and ask them why (with empathy).  I had a coding system so I could keep track of each student's work patterns and level of understanding and look for work behavior patterns.  
  • I also made sure that I smiled genuinely at each student and acknowledged their successes or understood their anxiety, frustrations, and/or confusions.
  • This formative check I did with each student in each class everyday also enabled me to make sure the students knew I was there to challenge and support their learning in a respectful collaborative environment.
  • I allowed for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class to accomplish this task and build relationships.  It was the most valuable time of the day for establishing a foundation for trust and risk taking in a middle school math class.
Now I am working to transfer this process to the adult learners I work with.  What do you do to really get to know your students?




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some Ideas on the A in STEAM... Unorganized Thoughts


I have been thinking about STEM, STEAM, design thinking, maker spaces/labs, coding, robotics, integrating technology... and how this all looks in a TK-8 setting.  I have also been thinking about the A part of STEAM.  I like to describe the A as Creativity instead of Art because it immediately broadens the possibilities.  Below is a collection of random experiences and "finds" that have my thoughts churning...

03/23/15 - District STEM Visit
Our district is in the infancy in the implementation of all the above.  We (a team from AUSD) recently took a field trip to Los Altos School District to see their elementary blended learning in mathematics, STEM/Maker labs, a design thinking challenge (6th grade), Coding/programming (6th grade), and middle school robotics and engineering electives.  It was an eye opening day for the team as to what is possible when integrating and implementing a thoughtful STEM/STEAM program.  Click below to see what we saw on our trip.
Los Altos Site Visit CLICK HERE

03/21/15 - Facebook Find
This incredible woman is a TK-8 art teacher (we went to high school together).  Look at her face, she is glowing and passionate and she is wearing garbage (recyclables).  She put on a "Junk2Funk" event that included a runway show and sculptures, everything produced by her TK-8 students.  Junk2Funk Fashion Show CLICK HERE 
Junk2Funk Video CLICK HERE

03/18/15 - Sierra College Hacker Lab Visit
Our local community college in the Sierra Foothills above Sacramento is opening a Hacker Lab for Placer County.  I had the opportunity to visit an open house with my Superintendent and check the space out.  I also had the opportunity to hear the organizing team speak.

Ongoing
Jennifer Kloczko @jkloczko presented a Pecha Kucha featuring the show "Chopped" at Cuerockstar Petaluma.  I did not get to experience her presentation, however, it got me thinking about "maker" shows that can support and/or influence STEM/STEAM learning.  Here is a beginning list:
  • Chopped - Food Network
  • Project Runway - Lifetime
  • Craft Wars - Family Channel (I think)
  • Flea Market Flip (HGTV)
  • Ink Wars (maybe for older kiddos??)
There are many more "maker" type shows that I am leaving out and will add as I search for more...

So, I am letting these things dance in my brain as I help my district develop a path for STEM/STEAM learning for our students.  I want it to be wide open instead of confining and make it student driven.  There are many foundational structures that need to established and our teachers will need much PD and support as they shift their instruction.  

Please share any and all ideas etc...  I need all of the help I can get!!







Friday, February 27, 2015

My CONTINUED Frustration with Math Timed Tests

Back in September, I wrote this piece on timed math tests: Another Personal Rant...  My frustration reared it's ugly head last week while working on math with my son.  Here is some background information.  In the morning when I wake my son up I count to 30 in a variety of ways.  On Monday I count by 1's, Tuesday by 2's, Wednesday by 3's, Thursday by 4's, and Friday by 5's.  I know it is strange and I can't remember how/why it started (perhaps it has to do with the fact that I constantly count steps, etc... in my head as I go through my day - I know...).  A couple of weeks ago I changed up our counting routine.    

In Skyler's homework packet there was a list of the times tables he still needs to pass (6's, 7's, 8's, and 9's).  So instead of exploding, I decided that I would remain calm and try to figure out a meaningful way for him to "memorize" his facts.  I made the connection to change my counting routine to include skip counting his multiplication tables.  

So, I started with skip counting 6's up to 60 three times (Remember I have to count to 30) the first day, then 7's the next day, etc...

Skyler was feeling confident.  I was feeling okay because I was supporting his desire to perform and making it slightly more meaningful than straight memorization (at least with skip counting there are all sorts of patterns to explore).

Then this past Monday as soon as Skyler got into the car he stated, "Mom, I did WORSE on my 6's!"  I could feel my face turning red and the frustration boiling up.  I replied in a calm voice, "I don't care how fast you can do your multiplication facts.  If I ask you how to find 6x7, what will you say?"  Skyler replied, "I'd tell you that it is 14+14+14."  I replied, "You are proving to me that you understand what multiplication is and that you know what to do to find the answer.  I'll say it again, I don't care how quickly you can solve multiplication facts."  It was the next thing Skyler said that really got to me, "Then will you buy me ice cream?  We are having an ice cream party for everyone who passes their multiplication tables next Friday."  Here is where my frustration immediately turned  into a heavy heart and I could feel myself sink in to the seat.  I collected my thoughts and replied to my 9 year old son.  "Of course I will buy you ice cream.  But Buddy, if you want ice cream with your class, I will work with you to make that happen also.  And I will do both if that is what you want.  What do you want Skyler?"

Initially, Skyler said he didn't care if he had ice cream with his class.  He later changed his mind and told me he wanted to do both.  So, I figured out a way to use our skip counting to pass his tests.  I realized that even though he could easily skip count he was missing the other factor. 
  • We decided that the very first thing Skyler will do is skip count and write the numbers at the top of his test page.
  • Then, he will write the numbers 1 - 10 above the numbers so he knows the other factor
  • Now he will have all of the answers at the top of the page for easy reference.
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10  (This line second)
6    12   18   24   30   36   42   48   54    60  (This line first)

Elementary teachers, please read the above link for other meaningful ways for students to learn their multiplication or any math facts.  Please start your timers at zero and count up so that students can write their times down and as runners and swimmers do, beat their best time.

I have realized as an educator and a parent that even though I have issues with this, I need to support my son and respect what he wants.  So, next Friday Skyler will have ice cream with his class and we will be going to Foster's Freeze on our way home.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Are You Asking Enough Questions?


Lindsey Lipsky @LindseyLipsky shared this quote on #satchatwc this morning.  It struck a chord with me as I consider why I do what I do as an educator.  I would like to add to the quote that not only do the best teachers not tell you what to see, but they also refuse to provide answers and only guide learning by asking questions.
I know that as educators we want to help and guide our students.  One of the most difficult things I had to teach myself was not to give students answers.  It is like the student who yells out an answer, once an answer is given, the thinking in the classroom stops.  This creates a cycle of passive learning in which students learn quickly that someone else will answer for them.  
My solution to students coming to me for answers is to respond by asking a question. 
I'm not talking about creating open-ended questions that are related to a specific lesson or unit of study.  I am talking about generic questions that you have on hand (on a clipboard as you train yourself) ready to use in ANY situation.  Here are some examples:

Mrs. Beck, how do you spell information?

  • Say the word, what does it start with? (student will hopefully say, "in"), if not I will say, "in" how do you spell that?  Write it.
  • What is next? (student will hopefully say, "for"), if not I will say, "for" how do you spell that?  Write it.
  • When I get to the "tion" I will discuss and ask the student, "what do you know about how to make the tion (shun) sound?  Are there any words around the room that can help you with this sound? 

This also works extremely well for mathematics.  I used this process in my middle school math classes.

Mrs. Beck I am stuck on this problem.
  • What do you know about this problem?
  • What have you tried or where do you think you should start?
  • What do you know about ratios?  (or whatever we are studying)
  • Can you go and work on the problem 
 
I  would love to give you more specific questions, but they really need to be tailored to the particular situation and/or student.  My suggestion is, DO NOT ANSWER, ONLY QUESTION.  It will teach your students that answers are found every where except from the teacher.  Teachers will guide you in your search, but ultimately it is the students' responsibility to find the answers. 

In my new role as Curriculum Coordinator, I am asking questions while working with teachers. When we work in PLC groups or leadership groups, I ask questions to move their thinking.  I model in the hope that they will question their students more. 

You know you are asking enough questions when students come to you and say, "Mrs. Beck, I know you will not tell me anything about this problem, but will you please ask me some questions so I can get my thinking started and figure this out?" 
You will also know that you are asking enough questions when your spouse and/or child say, "Kris/Mom, I am going to ask you a question and I want an answer, not a question!" (there may be a tone in their voice as they make this request).
It is easy to provide answers, the challenging thing is to take the time to ask questions which allows others to think and grow as learners.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Gift of Being a Loser - Perspective

I am a loser.  A week ago I set out on a journey to say goodbye to my mother.  As I sat in airports and boarded planes, I looked at and watched my fellow passengers.  Knowing what I was experiencing, I wondered what the others on the plane with me were carrying with them.  The loss I was experiencing provided me with a perspective that I would not normally have had with my fellow travelers.

As a traveler with emotional baggage, I put my head phones on and listened to music and watched movies rather than engage with my fellow passengers.  All the while, I wondered why my fellow travelers were making their trips.  As I traveled with a broken heart, I made sure to smile at everyone that looked at me not knowing their situation but wanting to make sure that I acknowledged their existence.  It is all about perspective and isn't it interesting when major life events significantly shift our perspective and/or remind us of the perspective we used to have.

As usual, my personal experience translates to my life as an educator.  I will ask my fellow educators to consider the following:
  • Please don't embarrass tardy students by sending them to the office
    • You do not know what his/her morning was like - did they have to get siblings ready, were they exhausted from doing homework late into the night, do his/her parents chronically run late, does he/she have negative feelings about school and walked super slowly, etc...
    • By shifting your perspective and welcoming him/her into your classroom with a smile and a sincere greeting, you may change the course of his/her day by starting it off positively.  
Do you want to "teach him/her a lesson" or build a relationship and make a connection?
  •  Please don't blame parents for not participating or caring about their child's education
    • You need to know that the vast majority of parents love their child/children even if they do not know how to show it
    • Some parents are extremely intimidated by schools because of the negative experience they had while in school
    • We all struggle with parenting and question what and how we parent.  We feel isolated, ineffective at times. 
Change the lens you use to look at parents to one of empathy and understanding that they are doing the best they can with the tools they have.  Understand that your students love and admire and worry about their parents.
  • Please support your students while they are at school, do not punish them for the environment the experience outside of school.
    • When homework is not completed respectfully ask the student why it was not completed and show empathy - here is what I really think about homework - CLICK HERE
As I stated earlier, I am a loser.  I received a SARB (Student Attendance Review Boards) letter from the district I am a Curriculum Coordinator in because my son had over 9 tardies in one trimester.  Was it his fault?  Well that is a loaded question because I could blame our morning routine on his power struggles with me (the parenting issues that EVERYONE experiences).  However, if you look at my track record I am a loser parent that makes my son adhere to my schedule and when I do not have a required time frame, he is tardy to school. (By the way, just to let you know, he has not had a tardy since I received the SARB letter in December, I have to be careful because we are on our way to court).

Perspective is such a powerful thing.  My superintendent, assistant superintendent and I (curriculum coordinator) were in our weekly meeting.  All of our kiddos go to one of the elementary schools in our district.  As we sat in the meeting, the supt. started shedding tears while telling a story of how she had felt she failed her second grade daughter as a parent.  If we "educator parents" fail our kiddos daily, weekly, monthly, etc... think for a minute about those parents who are not highly educated and the feelings they have as parents.

In closing, we need to remember that we do not know what others are experiencing at any given time.  I ask that you stop, smile, and consider the person's situation.  

So many people have aching heart, don't you want to be the person who makes their heart smile?





Saturday, February 7, 2015

What is Learning #youredustory

What is learning in 100 words or less...

Learning is taking a walk with my 8 year old son on our 7.5 acres, finding a mountain lion foot print right next to a deer print.  My son asks, "Mom, did the mountain lion catch the deer?"  Let the learning begin.  Here is the result of our search:

Mountain Lion vs. Mule Deer Thinglink






Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Dreamers and the Realists

Last night while watching Modern Family with my son I heard this quote:

"Cameron Tucker: There are dreamers and there are realists in this world. You'd think the dreamers would find the dreamers and the realists would find the realists, but more often than not the opposite is true. You see, the dreamers need the realists to keep them from soaring too close to the sun. And the realists, well without the dreamers, they might not ever get off the ground. "
Modern Family Punkin Chukin Episode

This resonated with me in many ways.  I understand the logical realists and their perspective.  They keep the dreamers grounded and make sure that there is a foundation for the "out of this world thinking". Dreamers see the possibility in everything.  Their perspective is one of "why not".

After contemplating this quote, I understand that it is imperative to have balance - realists and dreamers working together for the good and learning of the students in our districts, schools, and classrooms.  

Are you a dreamer or a realist?