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 I 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!

You don't believe, that is why you fail - Yoda:  I have to add this clip because it really represents the two types of people I meet whether they are students, teachers, parents, friends, or anyone.  One type is the people who will try and take a leap of faith, trusting their gut, no matter the consequences to achieve something.  They do this because they have a support system, are not afraid of failing and see it as learning opportunity.  They believe that no matter what happens, there will always be the opportunity to improve and learn.  The other type will try and give up, or not attempt at all because they are blinded by the fear of failure.  Luckily most folks float between the two extremes depending on what they are doing.  As an educator, what leaps of faith do you take for your students and yourself?  Do you believe?

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.

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...  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Last Day of School That Wasn't

 by Krissy Venosdale

One of my favorite things about being an educator is building relationships and connections with students, parents, other teachers and leadership.  The end of a school year always brings a shower of mixed emotions:

I am elated that I get to spend time with my family, relaxing, reading, writing and renewing my love of education all at a slower pace than during the school year.  I'm invigorated by the professional learning I will do by reading, collaborating with others on twitter and Google +, and by attending one or two focused learning opportunities - this year it will be #cuerockstar Las Vegas Teacher Camp.  These are the all about me relationships and connections I look forward to.

In contrast, as I spend the last couple of weeks with my students, I experience a whole different set of emotions.  I often catch myself looking out at my students and thinking about how far the class has come growing together as learners and collaborators.  I think about each student and see his/her individual growth, struggles, successes and year long transformation into a stronger learner and thinker.  My heart smiles as I scan the room re-living the moments we shared and watching as they complete end of the year explorations.  At the same time there is a feeling of sadness at the thought that I won't get to see their faces everyday as they enter my classroom and I struggle thinking about letting them go.  I wonder how I will ever build connections with the next group of students coming in a couple of months at the same time I am excited about the prospect of new classes.  Then internal fight inside my brain takes me from tears to laughter with just a thought.  Finally there is always the nagging feelings of emptiness as I say my final goodbyes for the summer.  I call the entire rush of emotions "The End of the Year Magic"

Many of you experience similar emotions at the end of a school year, or the end of a sports season.   Finishing up my first year as a curriculum coordinator brought me to the end of a school year at a loss for what I was feeling.  There was no classroom(s) of kiddos to experience the  "The End of the Year Magic" with.  It is a similar feeling to celebrating a holiday or the birthday of a loved one who is no longer with us for the first time (ironic that I am writing this on Father's Day, my first one with my Dad as an angel).  I was surrounded by a global sense of emptiness and wondering of how do I get the "The End of the Year Magic" emotions back in my new position at the district office.

Those thoughts bring me back to the picture and quote from above, it is all about the connections and relationships that you build and so here are my goals for next year:

  • Continue to build connections and relationships with teachers, administrators and learning support staff
  • Work with administrators to become instructional leaders for their sites and not just building managers
  • Look for teachers' strengths by getting into classrooms as often as possible (instructional rounds using Google Forms to make notes)
  • Build capacity in all teachers by emphasizing their strengths and providing support in their areas of struggle
  • Create a district resource of "experts" (I'll probably call it something less intimidating) so that teachers have colleagues they can ask for help or support.
  • Provide the foundation and supports for the teachers to grow as lead learners (it's not about me!)
  • Implement a #geniushour for teachers who want to learn and collaborate and share new knowledge
I will continue to work on this list, but the main thing is to do for the teachers what I did for my students when I was in the classroom - make it so they do not "need" me.  Then at the end of each year, I will look back on the teachers in the district with the same emotions and feelings I felt for my students for the 23 years I was in the classroom.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Google Teacher Academy Mountain View - The Gift of a Near Win

A couple of weeks ago I found this TED Talk by Sarah Lewis on Twitter: Embrace the Near Win.  As I reflect on my second Google Teacher Academy (GTA) rejection, this talk resonates with me.  Here are some quotes:

"Success is a moment of time..."
"The pursuit of mastery is the reaching not the arriving..."
"The near win shows you how little you know..."
"What, right now, do we plan to do to address that mountain in our sites..."
"We thrive not when we have done it all, but when we have more to do..."
"Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you attain more than you thought you could..."

What do these quotes have to do with my failure or "Near Win"?  They are motivating me to work to improve and become the educator who is chosen for GTA.  Here is my plan for improvement:
  • As I watched the video submissions of other applicants, I realized how much my video sucked.  I was so stuck with the process of making the video that who I am as an educator did not shine through.  BIG MISTAKE!  I tried to follow David Theriault's advice about creating a winning short video:  CLICK HERE (thanks for sharing David!), I was frozen with fear.  Instead of being myself and letting that come out by telling a story, I did the opposite and made it forgettable.  So, I will make sure my video tells a story and that who I am as a person and educator shines through.
  • Even though I have been using Google Apps for the past 5 years, I still have much to learn about infusing GAFE tools.  So, I will become a Google Educator by July 2014 and a Google Education Trainer by October 2014.
I have to say that the past and present "Chosen Ones" are impressive and truly innovative educators.  It seems like each round gets more competitive and the bar gets raised just a bit higher.  It is truly inspiring to know that all of the recent applicants (successful and not so much) are making a huge difference in their classrooms/schools/districts and they impact student/adult learning and motivation.  I will continue learning with/from them on Twitter and Google+. 

I look forward to the process of completing my next application for GTA Austin.  I will be like astronaut Jose Hernandez from Stockton California.  He applied to the astronaut program 12 times before getting accepted.  Hopefully it won't take me that long!? 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Building Balloon Cars - Ambiguity and Cognitive Dissonance

NOTE: These beginning paragraphs are the "Background" to the what and why I do this activity with my students, you can skip to the lesson link below if you are short on time and want a fun and challenging activity to do with your students the last weeks of school.

 from: Krissy Venosdale:                                                                     
Way back in the summer of 1995, I attended a summer institute on integrating technology into the classroom.  I received a computer with a dedicated phone line for internet access, a stipend, and two weeks of STEM (not called that back then) activities.  There was a cohort of 25 Idaho teachers who would build what we now call a professional learning network.  The expectation was that we would use our computer and dedicated phone line to collaborate and stick together as a group since we taught in different areas of the state.  One of our first activities (and the only one I remember) was experimenting with rubber band cars leading to the building of balloon cars.  It took the entire first week to test the cars, collect data, make observations, and then transfer what we learned to build our own balloon powered car.  Of course we were working in collaborative teams and using the computers to organize data, graph data, and make notes (much more clunky than using Google Docs/Drive).

The University of Idaho science professors who were leading our group used ambiguity to force us out of our comfort zones.  There were no guidelines, just guiding questions.  When they introduced the rubber band cars they handed them out, dumped a pile of rubber bands on each table and we sat in silence for a few minutes thinking and waiting to be told what to do.  As the seconds ticked away, our looks became more perplexed as we continued to wait for instructions.  Finally the professors broke the silence and said "Get to work".  "What are we supposed to do?" one brave student asked.  They answered with two simple and profound words, "Be scientists!"  They gave us the ultimate statement of ambiguity to send us on our thinking way long before #geniushour and #20%time existed.  After continuing to sit with dumbfounded looks on our faces, (we were all very obedient science teachers/students who wait for instructions and procedures) the professors realized they needed to gently nudge us forward.

They began by asking us a question, "What is a scientist and what do scientists do?"  Make a list in your groups, you have 2 minutes to brainstorm.  For the first time that morning the room was a buzz with chatter.  After the brainstorm session, we shared and made a collective list to help us remember our role as active, thinking, tinkering, and information seeking scientists.  The next guiding question the professors asked was, "What are you going to do with the rubber band cars in front of you?"  Again they sent our groups into a brainstorm session and the room was once again a buzz.  We shared with the whole group after 2 minutes and wrote the collective list on the board.  The professors asked one last question, "How many of you have enough information to get started?" All of our hands went up and we spent the rest of the day and the next two days "playing" with rubber band cars in the halls of the science building.  At the end of the three days, we had rubber band car races down the halls.  We used the data and knowledge we gained from tinkering and experimenting with them to find the combination of tweaks that resulted in the fastest car and the farthest car.

Day four began with the professors dumping piles of materials down in front of us and challenging us to use only those materials to build a balloon powered car that would be the fastest and/or the farthest.  We experimented for a day and at the end of day 5 we had balloon car races in the halls of the science building.  The ambiguity and cognitive dissonance was at times extremely frustrating, but it lead to a strong commitment to the process and a willingness to persevere and get it figured out.  And, way back then, we could not Google It.

So, the next school year in my middle school science classes in Twin Falls, Idaho, we played with the rubber band cars and then built balloon cars.  And from that time, the project became a yearly staple in my classroom.  Before I share the lesson plan, I want to share some interesting observations I have noted as my classes have completed the exploration over the years:

  • High achieving students struggle with this process because of the ambiguity - they don't do "play and figure it out" well
  • You will be surprised and inspired by what your students create.
  • Be prepared to provide questions to guide struggling groups so that they do not give up
  • Remind everyone that this learning experience is about the process and that there is no failure 
  • Figure out ways to give the students hints without telling them what to do
Here is a very basic outline of the lesson and supplies you will need: 

I will be going into third grade classrooms this week to have them build balloon cars and I will add pictures here.  You can use the links and information below to have your students explore NASA's Balloon Car Challenge.  I would do this part with middle school students.

  • Pick 8 of the cars, write their name, distance and time.  Then calculate the rate of each one (SPEED).

Have a great end of your school year!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Building a District Innovation Team

This quote is something I work to aspire to as a classroom teacher with my students, as an instructional leader sharing and presenting with other educators, and most recently as a curriculum coordinator.

A few weeks ago the topics for #satchatwc were Creativity and Innovation.  As usual the discussion inspired me to think about how I can facilitate creativity and innovation in my school district.  This year has been a transition year for me from the classroom to a coordinator position.  As I have worked to define and figure out my new role, connections to my life as a classroom teacher have started to help in my transition.  As a classroom teacher I worked to empower my students to take control of their learning.  Now instead of directly impacting students, I need to empower the administration, teachers, and anyone else directly linked to students and instruction to do the same.  Just like in a classroom, I do not get to hand pick the adults who work in our schools and district.  In the classroom I worked hard to empower all students whatever their background or experience and now I need to do the same with the adult learners I work with by meeting them where they are to begin movement however fast or slow.

One of my projects for next year will be to leverage the instructional experts that already exist in our schools.  The following is a "rough draft" of an idea to foster creativity and innovation in my school district.

My goal is to create a district "Innovation Team" to empower teachers to become leaders, share their expertise, their learning process and inspire them to lead and support their colleagues.  Next year we will be expanding our use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) into our K-5 elementary schools.  So our Innovation Team will be focused on GAFE and other instructional technology tools.  Keeping the quote from Lao Tsu in mind I want to use a model that I am familiar and comfortable with.  I want to build a Professional Learning Network based on the National Writing Project summer institute model.

  • Begin by sharing a best practice or sample lesson (model the instruction)
  • Discuss/debrief the lesson see how it can fit into each teachers practice
  • Take it to your classroom and try it out and document the results to share with the team
  • Read, watch videos, reflect, collaborate, struggle, invent, design, and question as a team
  • Encourage members to choose a #20% or #geniushour topic within our team to become an expert
The goal is to build capacity and confidence within the team so we can leverage their expertise and use it to provide models of professional development within the district.  At the beginning I may need to facilitate with ideas, documents, resources for discussion, but the true strength is that the team will take over and guide the direction.  I will sit back, ask questions and provide needed materials and they will do it themselves. This will enable a variety of practices to be established such as:
  • #edcamp staff meetings or staff development days
  • Professional development planned and lead by Innovation Team members
  • Instructional rounds where teachers go and observe each other and discuss
  • Administrator/leadership team participates in this process as coaches rather than evaluators
Again, these are the beginning thoughts and draft ideas.  We are starting from scratch with Google Apps for Education and I want to start small with a team that is willing and able to explore and learn and then share with their colleagues in a supportive way.

I'll take any suggestions, ideas and input you have to share.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Happens to the Thinkers and Tinkerers?

My favorite chat on twitter right now is #satchatwc which is a bunch of educators who gather at 7:30 am pacific time to chat about education.  This morning's topic was about telling our stories and the stories of our students, and others in our organization.  The thing that I have greatly appreciated about #satchatwc is that it gets me thinking, reflecting, scheming and plotting.  The rich conversation and sharing of resources and ideas sticks with me throughout the weekend as I contemplate my place in the education world and how I can affect change in my organization.  Synchronicity often keeps me company throughout the weekend as I proceed through my mundane activities and find interesting connections to the morning's conversation.  Here is the story that slammed me in the face as my son and I took a morning stroll shortly after #satchatwc ended.

We live in the Sierra Nevada foothills above Sacramento and below Truckee/Tahoe, so a stroll for me is my daily workout with lots of hills to get my heart rate up.  For Skyler a stroll is a chance to look for bugs, scat (various animal droppings), plants, and a connection to nature and time with Mom.  Today on our walk, I had many brick in the head moments that made me pause as a parent and as an educator.  I will try to share the conveyance of many different events that culminated on our 30 minute walk.

What happened on the walk...
As I headed outside with my Google Glass on, Tater was jumping on/from rocks waiting for our Saturday stroll.  I had just set up an app that would track our walk and provide us with important data on our "workout".  We began our walk and I had glass on to record the logistics of the walk.  As we traipsed down the driveway, I could tell that Tater wanted to try them out so I swiped down to get to the home screen and handed them over to Tater.  He gently put them on and started the usual conversation one has with glass... "Okay Glass"... We stood and I coached him to speak slowly, pause between statements and after many head bobs, tapping, swipes, and yelling a picture was finally taken.   We continued to walk slowly and Tater continued to tinker with the new tool.  He was slightly frustrated but continued to try.  I was giving him input and advice because I wanted to speed the pace of our walk and to "help" him.  15 minutes and 100 yards later, Tater was yelling, "okay STUPID Glass" over and over and I knew we needed a do over.  We stopped and I turned on screencast from glass to my phone so I could see what Tater was seeing and we went through the process of taking a picture and recording a video calmly together.  He handed glass back to me and we went on our merry way.

What my brain did as a result... (and the connection to thinkers and tinkerers)
I started thinking about Tater's impatience with glass

  • My son has learned in his short 3 years of school that if you can't do something quickly - read, math facts, worksheets, etc... then it is not worth learning or doing.  
  • He is a thinker/tinkerer and needs more time to learn, create, and do.  Unfortunately for him, his strengths have not been valued in his classes at school.   
  • Movement is integral to his learning and understanding as he works to make sense of what is going on around him. 
  • Unfortunately he is shutting down in school and losing interest and perseverance because being thoughtful makes you look stupid.
  • As a result, he gives up at the drop of a hat and expresses anger and frustration.  At home we spend a lot of time pausing, calming down and re-starting embracing the process rather than the product.
  • As a middle school math teacher I saw this behavior everyday in my classes when I asked my students to problem solve, explain, write, and be thoughtful - huge resistance that took many months to break down.
As a curriculum coordinator, I need to find ways to help our teachers value the thinkers and tinkerers and support them as they re-imagine their classrooms by creating "Innovation Teams" (another blog post).  I am so thankful for my PLN who shares ways they are changing the students learn and I will be calling on you for your ideas and support!

My thoughts on being a Glass Explorer
I became an explorer not because I am a gadget lover but because I am infatuated with all things Google.  I normally do not spend exorbitant amounts of money for things especially as an educator, but I knew I had a month to "tinker" and then I could return them.  At first I thought I would definitely return them but I have changed my mind and here is why:

  •  The Glass Explorer program is about thinking and tinkering with a new technology tool to make it better and usable for the general public.  
  • It is a process that takes time which goes against what most technology consumers want - they want something that will make their life easier, more organized, efficient (plug in your own adjective) and they want it NOW
  • Glass explorers are taking their time and tinkering, reflecting, sharing, creating, building and innovating and sharing some more and it is invigorating to be a part of that energy.
So I will be keeping my Glass not to be cool or a first adopter, but to learn from and about a new technology and how it will become a tool for me and my school district.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Did the Mountain Lion Catch the Mule Deer? A Lesson Draft

The other day my son and I were walking on our property, we have a few acres in the sierra foothills above Sacramento.  It had been raining and we found something interesting... deer tracks with mountain lion (cougar) tracks right next to them.  Our first question to ourselves was, Did the Cougar Catch the Deer?  Being the crazy teacher who is always looking for ways to connect real life to learning, I began scheming in my mind and I am sharing the results with you here.

Because the tracks were so close to our home and I have an 8 year old son, I wanted to find out as much as possible about our neighborhood mountain lions.  I also thought it would be interesting to create something for the K-8 students in my school district which is located in cougar country.

I created this interactive image on Thinglink one of my new favorite teaching tools.
Click here to access this thinglink

Lesson Plans for using the above Thinglink: CLICK HERE

I am in the process of creating K-8 Real Life Math problem solving questions using the facts about mountain lions and will post those soon.  Here is what I have for K-2 so far (very rough): CLICK HERE.

This is just a draft of my ideas that started flowing after participating in #satchatwc this morning.  It will be tweaked and changed.  Feel free to make a copy of the Google Doc and make it your own.  You will see my edits as I make them if it is added to your Google Drive.

The goal of this activity is to model for the students so that they can create their own Thinglink (or other tool) to teach their classmates something interesting and/or pose an interesting question for exploration. This could also be a #geniushour "mini-lesson" or "mini-20% time" project.  There are numerous ways this can go depending on your willingness to let your students run with the process and make it their own.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Modeling Standards Based Learning by "Failing" a High Stakes Test

On February 13th I took the California Preliminary Administrators Credential Exam (CPACE).  On March 13th I received my results, and I did not pass, I scored 217 and 220 was the passing score - OUCH!  Instead of wallowing in my perceived failure, I decided that it would be better to use this as a Standards Based Learning #sblchat teaching moment.  I knew when I opened the email attachment that I had not passed because there was a score staring me in the face.  After reading the score reporting information, I knew that if a score was showing, I had not passed.  What I did not realize was the score report would give me some useful standards based information that would enable me to work on my weak areas and allow me to celebrate the things I did right (we will get back to this shortly).

First I have to say that my ego really thinks it sucks to fail.  When I saw the score instead of the word: PASS, I felt embarrassed, stupid, angry, and just a little confused - three points, really?  I thought about all of the people I would have to share my results with: my superintendent, the principals in my district, and all of the other folks I had told I was taking the test.  It was a grueling 4 hour test that was made up of 50 or 60 multiple choice questions, 2 short essay questions and a case study essay question.  It was a brutal test that took every second of the 4 hours to complete.

Although my ego was battered and bruised, my enlightened educator knew that failure is necessary for growth, learning, and understanding.  If I truly believe that FAIL means First Attempt In Learning, then I need to model and share this experience with those I am attempting to lead in my district.

Standards Based Grading Feedback
The best part of this experience is that I received useful feedback that will help me prepare for re-taking the test in June.  I have attached the pdf. of my test results as an #sbgchat example of useful feedback.  The first page gives the scores for each domain that was tested using a + system.  The second and third pages provide explanations for the scores received.

Here is a summary of what I learned from the feedback:

  • I scored 4 out of 4 (the highest) in "Visionary and Inclusive Leadership" 20% of the total score - Thank you Twitter PLN!
  • I scored 3 out of 4 (passing) in "Systems for Capacity Building" 30% of the total score - Thank you Twitter PLN!
  • I scored 2 out of 4 (not passing) in "Student Learning" 30% of the total score and "Resource Management and Educational Law" 20% of the total score
  • I also passed the Case Study portion of the test which counted for 16% of the total score (which was dispersed into the other four domains) - good and painful at the same time - so close to passing yet so far away...

Here is the pdf with my results.
Kristen's Administrators Test Results

My takaways:
  • I really appreciate the meaningful feedback I received on my test performance
  • I know exactly what I need to do to improve my performance when I re-take the test
  • It is difficult to share "failing" experiences
  • Remember that it takes a good 24 hours of sitting with the results and letting the ego have it's temper tantrum before a person can begin meaningful reflection on a graded assignment
How will this experience help me educate others - Administrators, Teachers, Students, Parents, etc... about Standards Based Learning (#sblchat) and Standards Based Grading (#sbgchat):
  • Even high stakes tests offer redo's - FOR FULL CREDIT (I get to take the test again in 45 days).
  • Help others understand that no matter how you score student work, even if it is a letter grade, some sort of meaningful feedback needs to be provided with a chance to have a "redo".
  • When handing back test results, don't immediately jump to asking the students to reflect on their performance - use WAIT time - at least a day for the results to settle and the students to be in a better mental place.
  • Continue sharing this experience and other similar ones here on my blog and in discussions I have with folks in my district and with my Twitter PLN.
Concluding Thoughts
One last thing I would like to share is my "learning style" because it affects not only me, but how I see the learners in my district.  When I took the CPACE test, I spent about a total of 10 minutes studying and/or preparing for it (I did not go in completely cold, I have been working in a leadership role for the past 6 months, and that provided much of my knowledge). I knew I could take it over if I did not pass and I went into the test knowing it would be a learning experience as well as a testing experience.  I need to consider this because this is how I look at everything I do as an educator.  I have faith, take what I know at the time and jump...  I know that when I land I can evaluate everything that happened, make adjustments and "revise" and go again.  I used this "learning style" when I jumped into using #sblchat and #sbgchat in my classroom and revised and edited as I went.  

I have to understand that many people do not prefer my way of learning, in fact is scares the heck out of them.  It brings up interesting conversations especially around standards based learning/grading.  So, in light of all of this, I am going to go back to my beginning implementation of sbl/sbg and think about my beginning steps, revisions, etc...  and share here on my blog.  

Thanks for sharing my "failure" experience.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How I Taught my Middle School Math Students to Blog

I posted this information last summer, however, it was embedded into a post that had other parts and pieces.  I am thinking it would be a good idea to post it individually so here it is.  This is not only how I start student blogging but also how I begin the exploration of student passions that will transfer to connecting their lives to mathematics and the start of #geniushour

Unit Overview:
It is my goal in the 2013-2014 school year to have monthly writing assignments that will become blog posts for each student in my math classes.  Each writing assignment will be tied to the 7th grade Common Core writing standards and the 7th grade Common Core math standards.  Since we start school August 20, our first assignment will need to be completed by the end of September.  

At the beginning of the year I like to build a classroom community of learners.  To do this successfully, we need to learn about each other and build a supportive environment filled with passion, empathy, and understanding.  This will enable us to create a collaborative classroom environment (either online or face to face).  The students will work together in a variety of ways, with a variety of people, and will look for commonalities rather than differences.  With this in mind our first writing assignment will be a “Passion Paper” which will address the Narrative Essay Standards:

Writing Standard 7.0:
The student will write grade-appropriate narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences (W.7.3):
• Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally
and logically (W.7.3a)
• Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters (W.7.3b)
• Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another (W.7.3c)
• Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events (W.7.3d)
• Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events (W.7.3e)

  • The students will create a heart map that will require thoughtful reflection on the things and people that are important to their lives.  They can create digital or hand made heart maps and we will post them around the room for inspiration and so that the students do not forget their hearts.  Heart Mapping and Inspiration Station Questions/Ponderings
  • I will introduce online discussions through Schoology by having students share what is important to their hearts and practice commenting (to at least 3 others) appropriately to each other by 1. writing a relation 2. asking a question 3. making a prediction 4. commenting appropriately
  • The students will create a “dot” that represents their mark on this world.  This activity is based on the book “The Dot” by Peter Reynolds.  Link to International Dot Day Again those can be digital creations or hand made
  • The students will use Schoology to explain their inspiration for their dots and comment on at least 3 other’s explanations.
  • All of these activities will lead to the writing of their 3 paragraph passion paper.

Passion Paper:
Based on the Common Core Standards for writing a Narrative, I will provide instruction and practice in all of the areas:
  • Interesting lead or begin by grabbing the reader
  • organization of events/paper
  • varied techniques: dialogue, pacing, description (showing not telling), development of characters, experiences, events
  • use of transitions and varied language to make writing interesting and varied
  • how to write a conclusion

Formative Assessments:
I have found that the best way for students to consider and revise their writing is to provide opportunities for them to “revise” someone else’s writing.  So my formative assessments will be on Schoology.  I will post a paragraph and ask the students to “revise” the writing keeping in mind the standards we are working towards.

Formative Assessment #1: Writing an Interesting Lead
  • I will provide three different leads and ask the students to “vote” on Socratic for the one they like the most.  I will evaluate their votes and note which students are struggling and need more instruction and/or support.
  • Then I will have the the three leads posted on Schoology and have the students critique and then revise using the standard rubric as a guide.  The students will see what others have posted and then discuss with each other.  I will provide guidance and questions.  I will evaluate the revisions and base my instruction on their understanding of what makes a strong lead (introduction) to their writing.

Formative Assessment #2: Using transitions effectively:
  • I will provide three different writing samples with transitions and ask the students to “vote” on Socratic for the one they like the most.  I will evaluate their votes and note which students are struggling and need more instruction and/or support.
  • Then I will have the transition examples posted on Schoology and have students critique and then revise using the standard rubric as a guide.  The students will see what others have posted and then discuss with each other.  I will provide guidance and questions.  I will evaluate the revisions and base my instruction on their understanding of what makes a strong lead (introduction) to their writing.

Formative Assessment #3: Showing vs. Telling
  • I will provide three different writing samples with showing and/or telling and ask the students to “vote” on Socratic for the one they like the most.  I will evaluate their votes and note which students are struggling and need more instruction and/or support.
  • Then I will have three samples of showing and/or telling posted on Schoology and have the students critique and then revise using the standard rubric as a guide.  The students will see what others have posted and then discuss with each other.  I will provide guidance and questions.  I will evaluate the revisions and base my instruction on their understanding of what makes a strong lead (introduction) to their writing.

Formative Assessment #4: Putting It All Together:
  • Using a Google Form I will have students write examples of an effective lead, varying transitions, and showing instead of telling.
  • This will enable me to evaluate each individual student and know where he/she is in his/her understanding of the important components of a narrative essay.
  • I will use the results of this formative assessment to group students and provide instruction as needed.

Summative Assessment:

After their Passion Papers are in final draft form with all revisions and editing done, the students will turn them into a word cloud and then into a paper blog (see example below) and then they will become the first blog post of the school year for each student using either Blogger or Kidblogs.