Thursday, December 31, 2015

From Why to What If

About a month ago I asked why ( in regards to an interaction I had with my son Skyler.  I ended the post with this question:

Why do my son's most meaningful learning experiences occur outside of school?

I have been thinking about this for a number of reasons and I would like to shift my question from Why to What if?  

What if our interaction was the jumping point for his learning?
What if he entered his classroom after our car ride and informed his teacher that he would be researching and learning about fog in class today?
What if his teacher embraced his declaration of his learning path for the day or days or week and said "Go to it Skyler!"

With that in mind, here is my vision for my school district and my path as the Coordinator of Curriculum and Instructional Technology:

My vision is to create a 3 - 5 year plan of changing pedagogy by backward planning from the conversation Skyler and I had in the car in November of 2015.  

You are welcome to share insights, resources and information!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Is It a Chain?

Today (12/04/2015), during Chelsea's STEAM time, our maker activity/challenge was for the students to make the longest "chain" using one piece of printer paper (8.5 x 11 inches).  The students were in groups of three and immediately went to work to create the longest paper chain.

Now, I am thinking that you have a mental picture of what you think a chain looks like as do I.  As Chelsea and I walked around watching the students make their chains I came upon a chain that did not fit MY definition or picture or understanding.  I asked the groups making this chain if what they were making was a chain or a strip.  They replied emphatically - it's a chain and I thought to myself that these students did not know what a chain is.  My pre-conceived notion of a chain had temporarily blocked my acceptance of what others might think a chain is.  Luckily, instead of dismissing their understanding or idea of a chain, I decided to throw the question out to the class once the challenge was completed.

When time was up, the students laid out the chains next to each other.  We started off the discussion by asking what is a chain.  Here is a picture of the chains the students created:

As the students grappled with what constitutes a chain, We (Chelsea and I) decided to Google the definition and this is what we found:

  1. 1.
    a connected flexible series of metal links used for fastening or securing objects and pulling or supporting loads.
  2. 2.
    a sequence of items of the same type forming a line.
    "he kept the chain of buckets supplied with water"
    "a chain of events"
  1. 1.
    fasten or secure with a chain.
    "she chained her bicycle to the railing"

We did not share these definitions until we allowed the students to ponder the question did you make a chain?  Interestingly, all of the groups believed that what they created was a chain.  

When this activity started I believed that only the groups that had followed the first definition had created chains.  Fortunately I was able to let go of what I thought was RIGHT and chose to model seeking UNDERSTANDING.  

I projected the definitions for all to see and let the students take in the definitions.  These are 2nd and 3rd grade students so I asked for a volunteer to read the definitions out loud and then let the room think and ponder.  after a couple of minutes of letting the students discuss amongst themselves, we asked for a thumbs up if the students thought that all of the creations were chains.  All students put their thumbs up.  Then we asked put your thumbs up if your understanding of what a chain is has broadened.  All students put their thumbs up.

The final part of our discussion was the celebration of others teaching us to have an open mind.  Each group did not consider the others chain as a possibility.  We all acknowledged that we need each others perspectives to create and innovate.

The discussion included many other rich topics like the group who made the very small chains but had a pile of stripes of paper left over when time was called.  The students wondered if that group had had more time, would their chain have ended up longer than all the rest?  

As educators we have to let go of what we think is right and let our students discover as we support and provide resources.  And ultimately we need to let the students decide if something is a chain or not. 

Friday, November 27, 2015


A venture capitalist searches for the purpose of school. Here’s what he found.
The Wonderful:
Yesterday, as I drove Skyler to school we came upon incredible fog formations.  We had had two glorious days of rain here in Northern California.  When we left our house, it was crystal clear but as we meandered up and down and twisted we drove into pockets of fog which sparked Skyler's inquisitive fourth grade mind.  As he picked the songs for our morning playlist, he began his stream of questions which I dutifully answered with a question or an "I don't know - we better find out." Here is a brief example of our exchange:
Skyler - "Why wasn't it foggy at our house?"
Me - "Hmm, I'm not sure."
Skyler - "Why is it foggy in some places and clear in others?"
Me - "Well, what do you notice about the areas that are foggy and the areas that are not?"
Skyler - "The canyons are full of fog, why is that?"
Me - "It sounds like we need to do some research on fog, why don't you start our search of resources by asking Google?"
Skyler - "Okay Google, why does fog form in canyons?"  (he often absconds with my phone and asks Google questions...)

We bantered about fog and hypothesized during our 25 minute drive to school.  It was one of the many inquisitive conversations that we have that has lead to further exploration, curation, creation and sharing.  Later, we whip out our dueling Chromebooks and gather resources; read, discuss, and process the information; decide on a platform to create a place to curate our resources; share our creation with others.  These are the real-life, meaningful learning experiences that Skyler is passionate about and they only occur outside of school (until he shares his creation at school when allowed).

Why do my son's most meaningful learning experiences occur outside of school?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

... And I Only Died 32 Times - Lessons from a Video Game


Just a quick pondering as I watch my son play a video game.

Skyler - "I'm stuck, I'm stuck, I'm stuck...
Dad - "What are you going to do?"
Skyler - "I'm going to figure it out - Mom says it's okay if something is hard because I need to be challenged.  I'm unstuck!  I made it to the next level!"  he exclaimed with confidence.
... and I only died 32 times.

I have a few questions:
  1. When is education going to stop putting a time limit on learning?
  2. When will mistakes and failure truly be embraced as learning experiences and growth opportunities?
  3. When will we look for the little incremental successes within the mistakes and/or failures to help students persevere and keep doing (remember according to Yoda there is no try)?
  4. How do we provide learning experiences that allow for multiple redos?
  5. How do we as educators support the students where they are to help move their thinking and understanding forward?
I could go on and on...

Sunday, October 25, 2015

STEAM Parent Day #BestDayEver

I've been coaching three multi-age teachers this year.  It is year one of a 3-5 year plan to integrate STEAM, Chromebooks, robotics et. al.  This year (as I have stated in earlier blog posts) I spend around 90 minutes in each class helping the teacher facilitate a maker activity and a Chromebook SAMR activity.  Our first trimester ends this Friday October 30th.  The pedagogical shifts that have happened in 2+ short months are incredible and will be shared in a different post.

One of the three teachers planned to have a showcase at the end of each trimester.  So, Friday October 23rd was the day we invited the parents and/or caregivers to come and experience STEAM time with their kiddos.  This was something I tried when I was a middle school math teacher after reading this Blog Post by Josh Stumpenhorst.  Chelsea sent out the invite to the parents and 28 RSVP'd.  It is AMAZING because our STEAM time is from 12:30 - 2:10 smack in the middle of the day and the parents were taking time in the middle of their day to come.

When all was said and done, 18 of Chelsea's 22 students had parents and many of those had BOTH parents.  We had one board member attend also.  This day was about the students sharing what they have done each week as well as model making for their parents.  This day was all about the students and Chelsea.  I stood back and let them all lead. It was a huge success and I was honored to be a part of it!  Here are a few pictures:

Parents working with their kiddos on the Mt. Rushmore HyperDoc

Parents work on Mt. Rushmore HyperDoc with their kiddos
Maker Supply Table and some of the catapults
We are ready to test the catapults

Here are the links to the activities:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What is Your Story?

Click HERE to go to StoryCorps Great Thanksgiving Listen

I am a huge fan of NPR.  I often find myself in my car parked at a destination not able to get out because I am so entrenched in a story and I'm usually crying so I definitely can't leave until I pull myself together.  When I was in the classroom, I would use things I heard in my math classes. Most often it was a story that had interesting math tied to it.  I would also use stories that would give my students pause - an opportunity to "consider" something.  One of my favorite Morning Edition staples is StoryCorps.  Again I am usually laying in bed knowing that I will be listening with tears in my eyes.  It is my favorite way to start Friday full of empathy and thankfulness for the blessed life I lead.  StoryCorps also teaches me about resilience and bravery and that the challenges we face in life are learning experiences that make us stronger and better.

I am so excited about StoryCorps Great Thanksgiving Listen Project I've downloaded the app onto my phone and perused the questions and all the other tools to create an interview experience.  They are asking teachers to have their students add interviews.  I am thoughtfully contemplating how I will use this powerful tool with the teachers in my district to collect their stories.  Here is a link to the Morning Edition story from October 14, 2015

How will you use this opportunity to have your students, teachers, parents, site leaders, etc... create interviews for themselves and StoryCorps?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Cars Maker Activity

I created this activity for my STEAM teachers after attending Cuerockstar admin I wanted to follow Ramsey Musallam's plan he shared with us"

Cars Maker Activity:

  • 3 Straws
  • 4 Mint life savers
  • 1 piece of paper
  • 2 paper clips
  • Tape

Make a car out of the above supplies and make sure it moves, by the way, you can only blow on it to make it move!

Click Here  for information on powering with “wind”

APPLICATION: Continue working on your PUFF MOBILES
On the chromebooks: - Mrs. School’s Class - Mrs. Lucas’ Class

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Creativity and Learning Take Time

I first learned about Genius Hour two years ago when attending a Classroom 2.0 Live Saturday Meeting  (this is the archived recording and all the resources).  They started off with the video below:

As I have been coaching 3 STEAM classes this year I have noticed each class has a thoughtful learner who carefully takes their time.  In the four sessions I have collaborated on each of these students has had his/her success and struggles.  

I ask all educators, please give these kiddos the time they need to find success and struggle through an activity.  The struggle and frustration are key to their learning.  If there is a time limit placed on these kiddos it will cause them to shut down in SOME instances.  

Now, I understand that they need to work through their time issues, however, if you are implementing #geniushour, or #makerspaces, or #robotics, etc...  PLEASE let these thoughtful kiddos have as much time as they need to go through their process.

On that note, I want to share one more thing:
I often tout myself as a relationship builder on this blog, in twitter chats, and elsewhere.  It is one of my core beliefs.  Sylvia Duckworth sums it up in this sketchnote: (However, I believe it true for all not just children)
Click Here to watch Rita Pierson's TED Talk
I believe that relationships are the foundation.  You are thinking, the foundation of what?  The foundation of everything - not just learning but changing thinking or beliefs, risk-taking, creativity, problem-solving, innovation,  etc...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Creating our "Ish" Selves

Last week, I posted our "Ish" lesson from the STEAM classrooms I am coaching this year.  Part two of our lesson was to create our "Ish" selves:

I saw these picture collages when I attended the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference in San Diego, CA way back in 1996 (wow! 19 years ago...)  I have had my students make these collages of themselves every year I was in the classroom since then.  The past two years I have not had a classroom so it was a gift to do this in/with the classrooms I am coaching.  Here is a quick how to:

  • Have the students stand with their legs apart and their hands out (palms facing me, fingers spread)
  • I take two shots:
    •  one from the bottom of their hands up to their heads zoomed in so that the student fills the entire frame. 
    • one from the feet up to wherever the frame is full of the student.
  • Order/Make/Print two copies of each photo so the students have 4 photos to work with
  • Have the students cut each picture into horizontal strips
  • Students create their collages by placing their strips onto construction paper
  • No gluing until they have played with the layout of their strips

As Chelsea (Mrs. Atkinson) and I watched the students cut and place and play and share and collaborate and talk and laugh and create and... 

We were taken aback and at the same time she asked me "this noise is okay, right?"  I assured her that this was the noise of creativity, engagement, and discovery and I also assured her that it would get louder before it got quieter.  The students were making sure that everyone in the room saw their "Ish" selves.  

After finishing our 8th day of school, I am so thankful that I get to spend time in classrooms with teachers and their students.  

As a coach I will defer to a twitter post by Michael Niehoff 
"Sometimes you have to believe in someone else's belief in you until your own belief sets in..." - Manny Scott

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Are "Ish"-es This School Year

Every since Joe Wood introduced me to the book "Ish" by Peter Reynolds 4 years ago, I have looked at myself as a learner and the adult learners I work with in a different way.  SPOILER ALERT: in the book, Ramon realizes that if he sees himself as an "ish" then there is no need to strive for perfection.  It is okay to be artist-ish.  When I share this book with students, teachers, administrators, all learners, I stress that when you are an "ish" you are continually growing and learning.  It is the perfect moniker for me because I know that no matter what I know or can do, there is always room for more learning and improvement, I am an eternal "Ish".  

I have the privilege of modeling being an "Ish" for the teachers in my district this year.  Interestingly, Friday our third day of the new school year was very "Ish-Ish":

I began the day helping a fourth grade class log into their GAFE (Google Apps for Education) accounts for the first time.  We had students who did not exist and about a third of the students were asked to change their passwords (not good).  Luckily patience and flexibility reigned and we worked through the issues.  

Later that day, I worked with a multi-age 2/3 STEAM class.  We began by reading "Ish".  I asked the students to think about something they are really good at and gave them a quiet moment.  I then asked the students to think about something they wish they were good at or were working at being good at.  Then I began reading.  At the end of the story I asked the students to raise their hands if they have something they are "Ish" at, here are some of the responses:

tennis-ish, karate-ish, reading-ish, math-ish, drawing-ish, video game-ish...  

I informed the students that during our time together each week we will be actively practicing "Ish-es".  Sometimes we will have successes and sometimes failures and ALL times we will learn.  There was a collective sigh of relief as we embark on our year-long journey.  

My pre-assessment activity took place after the students got logged onto chromebooks for the first time.  The student pairs built straw towers.  I call it a pre-assessment because the classroom teacher and I were able to assess the students risk-taking level.  I was surprised that there were 3 students who were so frozen with fear of failing they completely gave up, even after pep talks from the teacher and myself.  At the end of the 15 minutes the towers were a little sorry looking and the students were forgetting that they were "Ish-es".  I took pictures and told them that this was our first try and that this is our starting point.  We will look back at the end of the year and see incredible growth.  Next week we will use the chromebooks to do some research on building straw towers and let them do some planning before they try again.

The year of "Ish" has begun!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One at a Time - Go Slow to Move Fast

Image by Krissy Venosdale @venspired

This is a quick post about a shift in my perspective.  For those who chat with me on twitter and elsewhere, you know I often talk about the importance of building relationships - with students, fellow educators... the list is long and distinguished and I'll narrow it to one word: EVERYONE.  Mistakenly, I have thought that I need to reach many teachers at one time as I work to move my district and shift culture.

However, this year I have learned that ONE device, teacher, student, and/or Google tool can have a much larger impact.  This year has been a series of ONES.  So in the spirit of starting a new school year my word for the year is ONE.

Let me share (a few):

  • Working with one first grade teacher who wanted to try Google Hangouts lead to 3 virtual field trips: Central Park Zoo, Scotland, and England and one mystery hangout with a first grade class in New Jersey - all during the last 2 months of school.
  • Working with one fourth grade special education student helped 5 teachers better understand accessibility tools available on chromebooks and started me on a path of inquiry and discovery around Universal Design Learning
  • Working with one IT director and one superintendent has moved our district from zero chromebooks a year ago to nearly 200 being rolled out this year with more on the way.
  • One Sphero led to my third grade son learning to program and drive it using the app Tickle and demonstrating for his class and school
  • The many other times when I would sit with one educator face to face and figure something out together.
All of my interactions with the teachers I work with are learning experiences for me.  They usually begin with a question that I probably do not know the answer to.  So when I go to meet with him/her/them, I get to share and coach and demonstrate what I have learned from addressing the question(s).  The teacher drives the learning, I ask questions, support, coach and become a learning partner.

This year I will be coaching 4 STEAM multi-age teachers.  I will use this space to document and track the effect my work has on each of them, their students, their colleagues and our district.  Can coaching one teacher at each school start a snowball effect that takes over the district?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One (Google) Slide Newsletter

A few months ago Ryan O'Donnell shared his "One Slide Newsletters on Google Plus:
Ryan's Tech Tips.  He shared that he had stolen the idea from another member of my PLN, Wanda Terral CLICK HERE for her examples.  As I thought about the coolness of their slides, I knew they would be something I could get my teachers to look at and perhaps use as resources.  I have shared my document with my first five slides above.  There are no rules or whys or hows, you just need to make it fit your classroom, school, or district informational needs.  Here are a few tidbits if you are planning on "copying" or "stealing" the idea from us:

  • I have shared as a view only so if you want to steal, click on file and then make a copy (this will help if you want to use one of my slide templates to cut and paste your own links, information, videos, etc...
  • I used text boxes and Google has made it simple to center and right or left justify things as you move them around.
  • Make sure you use pictures that are licensed for non-commercial use (here is a quick video on how to do an advanced Google Search for images: Click Here)
  • If you use images from fellow educators who give their permission - GIVE THEM CREDIT! (Check out Sylvia Duckworth's sketchnotes and Krissy Venosdale's inspiring posters)
  • Be picky, do not try to include too much, and keep it simple.  Your goal is to make it something worth checking out and clicking on (I'm still working on that one!)
  • The one's I have created are tied to our district's areas of focus.  
I have just begun my journey with creating and using one slide newsletters.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  If you create some, please share!!  Feel free to share mine or make them your own!

Happy 2015-2016 School Year!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Finding My Center

Image by Krissy Venosdale

Be me, that is a message I heard loud and clear in Pernille Ripp's blog post Try To Be You.  As I read through the post I realized that the past two years I have lost who I am as an educator when transitioning from a classroom teacher to a curriculum coordinator.  The past few months I have begun to return to my roots or center as an educator and find my way as my "students" have shifted from kiddos to adults.  As I think about the beginning of a new school year, I am ready to use my foundation of beliefs about learners to support my teachers as we embark on a year of newness, challenges, fears, failures, struggles, successes, collaborations, celebrations and unknowns.

I've always been all about building relationships with my students and my community (parents, colleagues, district leadership, support staff, professional learning network, etc...).  That is my "Center" (Rise of the Guardians - What's Your Center?) my foundation - because it allows me to build trust and push my learners to take risks and FAIL so that they can learn and move forward.  The past two years I've felt lost (like Jack Frost) not knowing what my center/foundation is.  And like Jack, it was right in front of my nose so obvious, yet NOT.  Because it was part of the core of my being, I did not realize it was the key to my transition from the classroom to leadership.

One of the activities I started with my math students, I will use with my teachers this year as we embark on a new school year:
The Dot by Peter Reynolds
International Dot Day

Why I read "The Dot" to my middle school math students and why I will be sharing it with my teachers (watch the video or read the book please):

  • You have to start (even if it is ugly and awkward)
  • You have to experiment and try new things
  • Face your fear (whatever it is) and work through it (I'll support and help you!)
  • One more step, small improvements over time constitute large gains overall
  • Track your growth and reflect on what's working or NOT
In my math classes I used "The Dot" as an opportunity to let students know that if they have struggled in math or if they have failed math their year with me will be different.  I acknowledge that no student comes to school the first day and thinks "I can't wait to fail math, (or any other subject) this year."  "The Dot" is my first attempt at building trust with my students.  It allows me to let them know that I expect them to start and make an attempt in learning difficult material.  They need to face their fear of mathematics and opting out is not an option.  One step at a time is growth and reflection will drive the next steps.

With my teachers I expect the same.  As we implement LEGO robotics, Google Apps for Education, Maker Labs, and Chromebooks into our instruction this coming school year,  we are starting from ground zero.  The relationships I started building two years ago will now provide the foundation for the trust required for risk-taking, failing forward and going all in.  It will be important for the teachers to use the lessons learned from "The Dot" to allow them to be messy learners this coming school year.  My job is to support them and model failing forward on a daily basis for them.  Ultimately the goal is to support our students as they become makers, thinkers, coders, collaborators, creators, and digital citizens.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Start the Year with a Bang!

So, I am sharing what our district is crafting for our welcome back activity for our teachers (and we will probably test it out with our principals a few days before.  We would love feedback and input.  Here is a link to our document that you can edit and provide input:

Click Here

I iterated the idea from the searching I did and found from this presentation by Lisa Highfill and Amy Fadeji's Principals Who Flip Presentation.  Click the link and check it out!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Free Summer PD

Right now I am one of many educators who is not attending ISTE 2015 (International Society for Technology in Education).  I will admit that I do feel a little left out but I am enjoying following the action on Twitter, Instagram and Google+.  It has also got me thinking about what I will be learning this summer so I thought I would share some less obvious PD gems available.

CueRockstar Teacher Camp Resources:  It always surprises me that people do not realize that all of the resources from each camp are freely available for any and all to see, use, and learn from.  Even the resources from past camps are available.  Below I have a short screencast showing how to easily access these resources.  There are so many that I will be learning well into the fall.  The beauty is I get to pick and choose which resources and when.  

Here are some examples of the types of resources that you will find:
Adina Sullivan's Day 3 Session Thinglink (CueRockstar LaJolla):  I need to learn how to help teachers integrate more project based learning and this will help!

I am also all about learning how to make, edit, etc... videos for myself and my students.  Doug Robertson's session from the Chico camp - Adventures in You Tubery - is not only useful information but an example of how to use a Google Site to share information.

Finally, I love how Jen Roberts organizes her resources on a Google Doc (a great example to use with you students whether they are kiddos or adults! Writing for Technical Subjects - Day 2 of LaJolla camp

Just a quick post to get you started on some free and meaningful PD this summer.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

#CueRockstar Tulare, Just Like Home

If you are a Californian, you know that Tulare is "somewhere in the middle of the state."  It is an area of immense farmland and an abundance of 100+ degree summer days.  Of all the #CueRockstar sites this summer, Tulare might be considered the least glamorous.  For this year's attendees and this presenter, attending in Tulare could be considered a homecoming.

I grew up in Pebble Beach, just a slightly different environment from the vast farmland of the central valley.  However, I attended college in Stockton and Chico which required driving through and living near farm country.  I remember getting laughed at when I was 20 for stating that I had no idea who or what John Deere was.  Ironically, a few years later, I ended up spending many hours riding in John Deere combines and tractors and starting tube lines to water crops so I could spend time with my husband while he worked fields.  During that time, I found a love and appreciation for the farming landscape and all it encompasses.

Tulare was the perfect place to attend CueRockstar because it is the convergence of all that is California.  The agriculture is the foundation of our state and we were completely surrounded by it at Sundale School.  Tulare's central location also pulls in the city influence from the Bay Area, Sacramento, and So Cal.  It truly could be considered:
THE nexus of the state - the central and most important point or place, a connected group or series.

The most important thing to remember about attending a #CueRockstar event is that it is NOT about the place, it is about the people and the relationships.  Although I was labeled a presenter, I was more of a bright eyed learner driven by the enthusiasm and energy of all who attended.  Everything about #CueRockstar nurtures interactions, sharing, risk-taking, active learning and leading, inspiration and innovation.  For those of us Lone Nuts, coming together is like coming home to those who accept you for who you are with all of your idiosyncrasies.

This post is more for those who experienced Tulare with me.  I want you all to know that my heart is smiling from the permanent imprint you all left.  For those who have not attended a #CueRockstar event, the only way you can understand the impact is to go and don't think that the place you attend matters because it is the people who attend with you that matter the most.

The 2015 #CueRockstar fever has begun and will continue throughout the summer.  If there is an opening, grab it, it will change your teaching and your life (I know, that sounds so cheesy!).

Here are the daily sessions from #CueRockstar Tulare CLICK HERE - another great thing, they share everything freely!

In closing, I wrote this post back in February 2012, Is it the Place or the Relationships?  It speaks to the connections we have/make to the places that are significant to us.

Thank you all who organized, attended, presented, supported, and shared!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

#Satchatwc Leadership Countdown

Media preview

Saturday morning is not a time for me to sleep in.  I set my alarm for 6:45 so that I can rise, make coffee and get ready for my favorite twitter chat #satchatwc.  It is a chat for all educational leaders wc stands for West Coast for those of us who can't make #satchat.  It begins at 7:30 am and it inspires many of the blog posts I write. This morning we had 7 questions and the responses were enlightening, humbling, thought provoking and gut wrenching.  There were over 2000 tweets in the hour which is pretty amazing.  CLICK HERE to read some of the tweets.

Thanks Shelley and Dave Burgess for moderating the chat!

I am going to share my tweets for each question (please use them as a beginning discussion, not inspiration).  Then I am going to challenge all readers and some specific folks in my PLN to share their countdown responses. 

Q1: You have 7 Words... Communicate the vision for your school.

For both of these tweets I was not only thinking of the student who might need an educator with this perspective, but also the teachers who need leaders to understand that in their hearts they do care about the kiddos.

Q2 You have 6 Words...  Build rapport and earn your staff's support.

For these tweets I also looked beyond the surface stress and fear of the student and/or teacher and wanted to show empathy.  I have always been a Pollyanna, one who refuses to give up on people.  In the classroom or or working with educators, I will not give up on those that are skilled at challenging me.

Q3 - Creating a positive culture is critical... How can you absolutely wreck a culture in 5 words...

Read my standards based grading posts...

Q4 - You have 4 words... What message do you want every student in your school/district to hear?

I want students to know that there are many perspectives and each one is valued.

Q5 - You have 3 words...  Empower your staff to take risks.

I want the teachers I work with to decide to change 1 thing and to connect it to their passion.

Q6 - What 2 words are essential if you want to enlist the support of your community?

Again when responding to this question I thought of the teacher who pushes and fights.  I want to just sit down and actively listen to find common ground.

Q7 - What 1 word will define your focus as a leader for the 2015-2016 school year?

I will be doing more coaching and I will be a better listener and be present when working with the teachers in my school district and be present with my family.

What are your countdown responses?  Any and all respond!  Please pass the challenge onto your PLN folks!

I challenge the following folks to provide their responses:

Eric Chagala Ed D. - He was not in the chat today and usually is a great contributor I want to hear his responses.
Any and all #GEGnorCal folks - perhaps a blogging challenge!
Any and all #cuerockstar folks.
Any and all #youredustory folks.

Have a great end of your school year!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do You Really Know Your Students?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

My CONTINUED Frustration with Math Timed Tests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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