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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My First PLN - Sending Gratitude

Tomorrow my son and I leave for our yearly trek to Lake Almanor, CA.  For my son Skyler it is a non-stop play fest with seven of his best buddies, they ride bikes, scooters, play in the lake, build sand castles, run, jump, laugh, repeat...  For me, I get to meet with my first PLN - 5 friends/teachers (now moms) who once worked together (over 11 year ago) in a small northern California school district.  We carpooled together, student taught together, attended conferences together, attended or were in each others weddings, got pregnant together, lost pregnancies together, went through divorces together, have always been there for each other.  Now, we make sure that once a year we get ourselves and our children together.

Because we are passionate educators we do spend a lot of time talking shop, we need to catch up on each others "school year" and then share resources, reflect on our practices, discuss our various school situations and problem solve together.  It is a face to face professional learning network.  We know that when we are together and pouring out our educator souls, it is possible that we get the "bullshit" card thrown out for a reality check and we embrace and welcome that.  Although we only see each other once a year, it is like we see each other frequently and we are transported back to the time when we all worked, taught, and learned together.  I am privileged to spend a week of my year with these incredible educators, moms, and women.

So, with our impending gathering, I have been thinking of an interesting pondering... what are the key educational resources and/or innovations I HAVE TO share with my girlies?  It is a daunting question (and I would love input on this!)  So, I began thinking, if I were giving them a short list of resources what would I share?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cooperation vs. Collaboration Is There a Difference?
I chose this picture for this post (thank you Krissy Venosdale for your incredible poster stream) because it has the word Collaboration. I also like that the message is to share and I take that as sharing your Talents, Passions, Creativity and Innovations as an educator freely. This past week I attended a Gifted Learner Conference (coincidentally, Krissy is a gifted learner expert) and we discussed the differences between Collaboration and Cooperation. Interestingly, I had not pondered the unique differences between these two words.

Please bear with me as I publicly work through my understanding (or lack there of).

Collaboration (Based on Dr. Sandra Kaplan's definition):
  • Collaboration is based on the strengths or talents of individual group members
  • Each member has a unique skill, talent, strength, or expertise he or she brings to the problem or session
  • Participation can be passive or active and participants may be generalists or specialists depending on the situation and the needed talent or expertise
  • Team members are chosen thoughtfully based on their needed contribution to the group
  • An example would be a district textbook adoption committee which is a group of carefully chosen educators with specific skills and expertise (you want to be picky about who you choose so that you have a mix of talents and/or expertise)
  • You are solving a problem or building or creating or designing
District and/or School Site Talent Teams (I don't have a better name right now):
  • I see these groups as collaborative in nature because they are formed to solve problems, design, build, create - in other words: be the innovators of the district
  • We have a District Instructional Leadership Team (DILT) in which members are carefully picked for their strengths and expertise.  This team is expected to create, innovate and share with others.  These folks are the visionary educators of the district
A pre-requisite for any "Talent Team" whether it be a group of students, teachers, or administrators is finding the individual strengths and talents of each individual.  This takes time and effort and is absolutely necessary if you want creativity and innovation to drive change in your classroom, school or district.

Cooperation (based on what I was taught from the Cooperative Learning Gurus - The Johnson Brothers:
  • Cooperation is based on "inter-dependency" all group members must count on or depend on every other group member for success
  • Each member has a defined job and the jobs are periodically rotated so that each person experiences each job
  • The jobs are practiced and understood by all students (adult or child)
  • Job assignments are not related to the strengths of the individual group members.
  • An example would be a grade level or department team made up of a group of teachers at a site or district level coming together to meet and discuss student learning (the group members are pre-determined by what grade level and subject matter they teach)
  • You are completing a needed task or assignment
Professional Learning Communities - PLC Mondays - (PLC's that meet weekly in grade level or department groups):
  • I see these groups as Cooperative in nature.  They are getting together to create common assessments, collect and discuss data based on student performance on the assessments, and plan instruction and intervention based on the collected data.  Because of the time frame (one hour each week) 
    • Inter-dependency and specific jobs will allow for optimal use of time
    • Each member contributes equally based on his/her assigned job
    • Jobs are switched so that group members experience each job
    • A specific agenda with guiding questions is followed so that group members come prepared and ready to discuss their students' performance or to contribute to the formation of common assessments
    • Because of the time constraints, the groups must be focused on how students are performing in their classes and who to provide interventions or extensions to when differentiating the curricula
    • PLC time is short and must be productive
As I stated earlier, this post is a result of unleashing the contents of my brain as I reflect on new learning and perspectives on Collaboration and Cooperation.  This reflection will lead to more ponderings as I battle and struggle to make sense of this.  

One connection I have made is to Google and Google Teacher Academy.  I have a friend who works at Google as a software designer.  The biggest frustration my friend had when starting work for Google was that after each project was completed the groups would be changed.  As a computer nerd who struggled with new group dynamics, this was a frustrating part of working for Google.  However, as I see it, Google constantly creates "Talent Teams" which emphasize individual strengths and expertise leading to superior products.  Google Teacher Academy participants are chosen the same way.  They are looking for a "Talent Team" of educators with a mix of strengths and expertise to build the strongest cohort possible.  So, those of us who are not chosen do not "fit" with the team YET...