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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Classroom Musings: Coaching Central

Today some students met in their STEAM Teams. They considered designs for their biodomes. One class got to hear John Graf, lead engineer at NASA speak about adaptive design for space survival. There was also excitement about the fact that our tadpoles are turning into tiny spadefoot toads. A few such toads proudly stared at us as they sat on the aquarium platform today. Tomorrow they'll leave us to start their journey in the new Drumlin Farm spadefoot habitat in Lincoln, MA.

There's also been a lot of activity with K'nex as girls and boys build a number of vehicles and other structures. Whiteboard drawing and coloring have been popular during read aloud. Recess games like soccer, whiffle ball, and four square dominate while others swing and practice gymnastics on the grassy fields.

It's crunch time for the biography project as students work towards writing about eight questions and answers for their fictional interviews with famous people throughout time--an interview modeled after the Boston Globe Koch Interview column so long ago. Students are also learning about the human life cycle and reproductive system.

The rest of the week will be spent creating biodomes, learning about ways to take care of planet Earth, and more human body systems study and biography project writing and poster making.

There's a lot of coaching involved in this end-of-the-year teaching/learning time. Clearly we have to keep students focused as they complete their projects--projects they'll be proud to share with classmates and family members, and projects that will serve as memorable events with regard to their learning life.

As a critical teacher, I always see room for change and improvement, but now is not the time, now is the time for coaching children well with the good plans and projects in place.

Next week includes multiple celebrations including the band/orchestra concert, a field trip, Field Day, and the Biography Celebration. And the week after that includes more STEAMwork, another field trip, and Move-Up Day. The choreography is integral now to the children's happiness and learning success. Pacing is paramount, and positivity imperative.

We want to end the year with the same enthusiasm and care that we started the year with. Onward.


Practice Routines that Matter

There are a few routines that matter a lot when it comes to a positive classroom community. It's so important to practice and instill those routines at the start of the year. These routines will differ from classroom to classroom, but a few that matter a lot include the following:

Sign-In

Morning Work

Clean-Up

Stack and Pack

Transition Time

I'll continue to reflect on this list in the last few weeks of the year as I think ahead to next year. I'm sure I'll add a few more items over the summer as well.


Reaching the Summit: Year's End

It's the last weary trek to the summit right now. Both teachers and students have their eyes on summer exploration and adventure. The key, as I'm repeating to myself over and over again, is to keep a steady pace.

Our steady pace is fueled by the biography project, read aloud, STEAM projects, and human body systems study. Today we paced ourselves as we learned about biodomes and students began to design the biodomes they'll make. We also had an impromptu visit from a NASA scientists who shared with us the physics involved in space design, the kind of design that supports human life in space. It was fascinating.

Later the Middle School teachers visited us and gave students a preview. Students were quite squirmy as they listened. Many, in my class, have Middle School siblings and neighbors so there was a good deal of familiarity with the notes shared.

At the end of the day we had lots of time for our read aloud, Night of the Spadefoots, as well as time for music and some free choice or recess.

Tomorrow we'll host a local naturalist that will share stories and wisdom about protecting the land and water around us. And on Thursday and Friday we'll have time to make the biomes, work on biography reports, and continue the read aloud. I have a sense that it will be a quick week if we keep a good pace as we reach for the year's summit. Onward.

Reflection: Year 30

Tomorrow a few colleagues and I will be honored for teaching in the same school system for 30 years. It has been a long and varied path of teaching and learning.

The four of us who share this honor have navigated our school responsibilities along with our family responsibilities throughout those years. We have all made some same and different choices with regard to our professional work in that time.

I must say that as I stand at this 30-year mark, I am humbled for there is still lots to learn and reach for as I move ahead in the profession.

Thanks to the Internet and the ready share of educators near and far, I don't think there has been a better time for teaching and learning with regard to knowledge access--we can easily access terrific teaching and learning information today, information that empowers our teaching efforts and student learning.

When I started teaching 30 years ago, the teaching/learning environment was much more relaxed. The teaching day was shorter and the accountability factors such as standardized tests much less. I continue to find myself on the fence in this regard since I do think that the accountability measures, in some ways, have empowered better teaching with regard to some at risk groups and students. My students read, write, and demonstrate math proficiency with much greater strength at fifth grade than in the past.

On the other hand, I think that teacher empowerment, confidence, and satisfaction is at a low point since these accountability measures have, in many ways, served to demean and demoralize teachers. I think we can do an even better job as we move ahead by streamlining and targeting accountability measures, invigorating positive, teacher/student-friendly environments, and looking to improve important systematic issues when it comes to teaching and learning well.

Another troubling change in my 30 years of teaching is the increase in student poverty and the gap between the have's and have not's. This is a very troubling trend and one that creates a real challenge to the work we do as educators. Recently at The MTA Annual Union Meeting, a teacher told a story of two siblings who shared a pair of shoes. A friend who works in a disadvantaged system also remarked that the lack of good shoes plays a big role for her students. Further we hear story after story about students whose parents are very challenged when it comes to providing the necessary supports that enable a child to learn, supports such as good nutrition, proper sleep, adequate care, safe homes, and health care. Teachers who work in systems where poverty plays a major role are challenged greatly, and I think our country has what it needs to remedy this terrible problem. I never thought I'd experience a downturn like this during my lifetime.

At this 30-year mark, I am making a renewed commitment to teaching well. I honor educators everywhere who meet each day with a will to teach well. I look to these educators for inspiration, new ideas, and the strength to improve and develop my craft.

I continue to believe that strong schools and a quality education lay the foundation for a strong country and a good life, and that's why I remain committed to my profession and the good work possible.




Demonstrate a Commitment to Strong Schools

As I look ahead to the 2017-2018, I am reviewing this renewed commitment to strong schools that I wrote last year. What does this mean a year later--how did I do last year?

A commitment to strong schools means making a commitment to the kind of work and effort that contributes to positive, proactive school environments. No matter where we work, we can make this commitment and demonstrate it through our good work and effort.

What does a commitment to strong schools look like?

A Positive Relationship with Every Child
This is the critical factor with regard to strong schools. This is not always easy, but it is what is most important. The golden rule leads our work in this regard, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you." Treat every child with respect. Make time to get to know every child. And teach every child in engaging, empowering, positive ways.

Overall I achieved this goal. In hindsight, I wish I wasn't as quick to conclude about programs or supports for a few students who presented a more complex profile. I wish I had listened a bit more and decided with greater discernment. I believe that I promised a bit too much, and then those promises stood in the way of a more streamlined, effective approach to relationship building with those students. This year I hope to use a more comprehensive, assessment process at the start of the year, and begin slowly with regard to promises. I want to choose quality over quantity of service and relationship building. 

Welcome Families as Critical Members of the Learning/Teaching Team
Partner with families to teach children well.

Overall this went very well, and like the point above, the one change I want to make is to listen more at the start of the year and promise less as I get to know specific students and their families. 

Create "Home Away from Home" Learning Environments
Take the time to create a warm, welcoming learning environment.

The atmosphere was definitely comfortable. Umbrella chairs were terrific additions. Next year I hope to write a grant to purchase new furniture for the classroom. 

Engaging, Empowering Learning Experiences
Inspire students with wonderful learning opportunities. Enlist student voice and invite student choice.

Our signature events are powerful, engaging events for students. I would like to build in more math-centered signature learning events. 

Student Choice and Voice
Make sure that students take center stage in the learning and teaching.

Frequent meetings led to this and I will continue this practice. 

Practice
Give students the time they need to practice new concepts, knowledge, and skill to make it their own.

I want to pay greater attention to unit roll-out and include greater practice time. 

Programming
Work with colleagues, administrators, families, students, and the greater community to craft the best possible programs for engaging, empowering teaching/learning programs.

Our team will give this careful consideration in August.

Professional Learning
Know the content well. Be a lifelong learner. Target your learning in ways that matter with regard to your teaching.

I truly enjoy this area of learning/teaching, so I will continue. 

Shared Teaching/Learning
Look for opportunities to collaborate with colleagues to teach students well. Support TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More

I belong to great teams at school and outside of school, so this will be easy to accomplish. 

Advocate for Streamlined, Effective Learning/Teaching Organizations, Systems, and Institutions
Find ways to advocate for best possible teaching/learning organizations, systems, and institutions--the kind that forward best possible work for and service to students.

I continue to look for ways to advocate well. I am all ears when it comes to forwarding my practice in this regard. I have a number of events coming up that will help me in this regard. 

There will be challenges in every teaching/learning organization, but individually each of us can demonstrate our commitment to strong schools with the actions listed above.

Monday, May 30, 2016

STEAM Weeks: Emphasizing the TEAM in STEAM

Tomorrow students will begin to work on their biodomes. We'll start with a number of videos, a discussion about team roles, and time to design.

We'll begin by revisiting team roles and adjust accordingly. We'll use the roles below as a starting point.




Friday, May 27, 2016

Last 15 Days: Attention to Students

There's fifteen days of school left, and this is the time when you have to postpone some of the events that are not related to current student needs, so that the time left is focused on the children.

As educators, it's not uncommon to have a curriculum plan that equals more than a whole teaching year. You do all that you can to fit it all in so in the final days you complete the final tasks.

For this educator, that means the following:

Biography Project
We work with all students to reach mastery. That's why it's almost senseless to give projects like this a grade because we coach all students to a high performance level.

STEAM Projects
To do these projects well takes lots of time. These were add-ons this year, so we'll do our best. Students love these projects, and I hope that I can weave them into the curriculum with greater time and planning next year. In the meantime though, we'll have fun working with the students to complete the tasks.

Field Studies
We have a couple great field studies planned which will be lots of fun, but demand great attention and care.

Special Events
We also have a concert, field day, a safety training, firefighter talk, changing bodies talk, clean-up, move-up day, and final celebrations.

Required Paperwork
Progress reports, cum cards, conference lists. . . .

It's a busy time, and what continues to be most important is keeping the program as steady and focused on students as possible. That's what matters now.

Future plans will be put on hold until summer ease permits that kind of creativity and imagination.

Masterful Fifth Grade Play

A lively group of pirates and stowaways.
In so many ways this blog is a collection of teaching highlights. Once again our school's music teacher, Ms. Pohl, has masterfully orchestrated the fifth grade play. She worked with another colleague to personalize the script adding local references and humor. She took keen interest in all 68 fifth graders and found a special role for each of them in the performance. In addition, she highlighted student's special singing, dancing, instrumental, and speaking talents throughout the performance. Her kind, caring coaching led the fifth graders to collaborate for many weeks to prepare for Wednesday's morning performance for the school students and evening presentation for the students' families. The videos below capture a couple of highlights from the practice sessions, and the photos demonstrate students' enthusiasm. Enjoy!




Creating, Teaching, and Practicing Cultural Norms

Our classroom teaching community has been very chatty lately and listening has been a challenge. Partly this is due to the wonderful energy, social drive, and multiple activities that currently exist, and part of this belongs to the need I have as an educator to deeply instill a sense of positive cultural norms in the classroom from the start of year.

The teachers that instill positive cultural norms the best are patient educators. These educators carefully work with students the first six weeks of the school year to create the norms together and then practice those norms daily to create an atmosphere where 20+ students can work and learn together day after day.

So as this year ends and next year starts, I'll focus on the important norms that set the stage for good learning, norms including the following:

Kindness Matters
That's our school motto, a motto which the principal has supported and forwarded in multiple ways.

Listen to Each Other
We will practice this skill too, and we'll also practice the skill of good presentation which makes the listening easier.

No Body Contact
That's our safety norm for in the classroom and outside. I always say "We're a body contact free zone" which is a comment that works to promote a culture of no hitting, pushing, or inappropriate touching of any kind. (Yet a pat on the shoulder, handshake, or occasional hug are acceptable)

Put Forth Your Best Effort
The aim is for everyone to do their best, and for educators to support children in any way they can.

Know You're Capable of Learning
We have a growth mindset mentality.

Work Together
Collaboration is often the key to good learning.

Contribute
The classroom belongs to all of us so pitch in and help out with classroom needs such as clean-up.

Responsibility
Follow the daily routines. I'll do my part in keeping these routines simple, and you do your part by following up.

Conversation
We'll meet often to make collective decisions and discuss common issues.

Respect
Respect for self, respect or each other, respect for school property. We need to discuss what that looks like from the start of the year and then remind one another of this throughout the year.


Stories from the Past: Biography Focus

Today students will focus heavily on their biography projects. It's the time in the project where they need to make that big push from research to synthesizing their findings into a written "interview" report.

The report calls students to step into the shoes of both the "interviewer" and the famous person they are studying when they craft questions as the "interviewer" and then answer those questions from the point of view of the famous person.

As I work with students I enjoy moving through time and hearing many stories from the past. For example one student and I had the chance to think deeply about the only meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X--a meeting that surprisingly only lasted about a minute, but resulted in a famous photograph. I also had the chance to read about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to continue baseball during World War II as another child and I read stories about Satchel Paige's baseball talent and success. The teacher in charge of this project has emphasized the use of anecdotes in the reports as one way to bring a significant individual's life alive. A further strength of the project is that students are reading about people in history and today who share their own interests, talents, and questions. This results in a source of inspiration and a historical "mentor" for each child.

Even though it's the Friday before Memorial Day and the end of an especially busy and wonderful week in school, I'm hopeful that students will get a lot done today with the support of the teaching team.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Experience, Evaluate, or Develop

Recently I was apart of an education conversation that included a lot of talk about evaluation. I found myself somewhat bothered by the focus, and I wasn't sure why. Overall I respect the elements that lead our teaching and learning work in Massachusetts. I've studied each one with depth and I'm inspired by each element's focus.

As I thought more about it, I felt like there was an opinion in the chat that learning is static and there's one way to teach a lesson. Yet I know that learning is much more like a river than a static experience. Also, as my colleagues and I develop a naturalist thread in our fifth grade curriculum, it's so clear that each experience contributes to the next lesson, event, research, question, and study--it's a process that's ongoing with lots of revision, reflection, and enrichment along the way.

I believe the richest teaching and learning happens when we take an experiential approach, an approach where we fully invest ourselves in the work, then reflect and revise or enrich as necessary. As we build these programs we consider new research, our evolving contexts, and students' interests and needs.

This approach also leads to the need for almost everyone who works in a school system to be someone who regularly works with children. When too many are distanced from the work, they forget what it's like and have a difficult time working with educators in experiential and development ways.

So in summary, while I think evaluation is a critical step of the learning cycle, I believe that experience and worthy development trump evaluations. When we all work together to develop programs that reach children, we really teach well, and that's what is important.

Naturalist Study: Navigating the Playground Wilderness

Students walked through the dense forested wetland area next to our school today. They had their scavenger hunts with them, but the experience was so new that all they could do was move. They didn't have the patience to stop, look, and listen.

I found this to be similar to the experience of when we use new manipulatives. The rule of thumb is to let students play with materials before you use them for learning. The same is true for naturalist exploration--let students take it in, explore, ask questions, and meander before you start studying it with any depth.

I always enjoyed learning about the school in Vermont that spent every Friday learning in nature rain, snow, or shine. I think that's a great idea.

Overall the exploration was met with enthusiasm. In fact a couple of boys who were covered in dirt happily exclaimed, "That was the best field trip ever!"

Their comment leads me to wonder how often we forget to use our own playgrounds as fertile ground for learning.

And, it was great that our high school seniors and their teacher made the time to accompany us on this adventure. The high school teacher and I hope to work more on this next year as well.

Walking in Nature

Today students will venture forth into our school "wilderness" looking for animal eggs, plant variety, frogs, toads, evidence of other animal life (scat), animal homes, pollution, and more. What will they find in the dense, woodsy corridor that lines the border of our school?

A number of high schoolers, some parents, and many teachers will join us on the adventure. It's a great way to start the day. Later we'll all work on the biography projects, play at recess, and enjoy read aloud too. It's so great that we found a book that mirrors our classroom right now. It's a beautiful day--what surprises await?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Celebration

Tomorrow many in our staff will celebrate a special occasion. It's a great time of year to celebrate as we've all put in a lot of time and effort, and the children have achieved a lot this year. They're happy too, and I think that's a great sign of success.

It will be nice to spend some time celebrating our colleague's special event as well as taking a few minutes to sit back, relax, tell stories, and enjoy!

Disney Inspiration: Coach Yourself Forward

In a sense the blog serves as a place to visualize, analyze, take an idea,
vision, goal, experience apart in order to renew, recreate, or develop. 
Educators, probably like many professionals, have to continually coach themselves forward to do a good job. It takes that "pulling up from your bootstraps" everyday to focus your attention and care in the right direction and do the work well. That's one reason why I write as it helps me to forward my work well and move past the obstacles to teaching children with care, attention, and best effort.

Also, goal setting, vision, and looking forward helps to inspire one to move ahead too. The students and I are watching the story of Walt Disney's start. In the film his character discusses vision and how vision, in part, is what pushed him forward.

So on this grey, damp morning in May, I'll take a few minutes once again to consult my vision as I push forward to the good day ahead.

Shared Teaching Model
I continue to be grateful for the great team I work with. My colleagues are committed, caring, kind, and skilled. I am learning so much from them, and I truly love the sense of team we've created with our 68 fifth graders. Our programming has been good and our ability to coach each other forward wonderful. I look forward to continuing this sense of team next year as well.

Math Teaching and Learning
It's clear that math teaching and learning is undergoing lots of change as there are countless articles and examples of this in the education news. I plan to read a lot about this over the summer as I review last year's math teaching efforts and update the work to reflect new research and knowledge.

Outside Consultants and Camaraderie
I've connected with a large number of outside consultants and organizations to learn more about teaching, and those groups have a lot to share. I find that this collaborative learning and growth helps to keep my teaching/learning fresh, up to day, and invigorating. I will continue to look for ways to work within these groups to develop my craft.

Writing: Systems Think and Work
I really enjoy thinking about the ways that systems can change and develop to inspire better teaching/learning. I like the potential that systematic think and action hold. I'll continue to read about this and write about it with a broad lens with regard to education.

Union
I'm learning a lot about the union and there's more to learn. It's a point of listening as I move forward with my role(s) in this regard.

Still smarting a bit about the comments related to "writing too much," I find that it's essential to right the road each day in writing with regard to the teaching path. Teachers like me have to reach deep inside to keep the momentum going, push past the obstacles, and teach well.

I don't think I'm alone in this regard, as there are unique aspects to the job that only classroom teachers, and perhaps only teachers at the elementary level, would understand.

How do you coach yourself forward day after day? What helps you to energize and teach well? Where do you find your sustenance for the job?

With the topic of turnover a big topic in education, I wonder how most teachers would answer this question. Moving forward.


Last Days: Attention to Students Matters Most

A good chapter book brings a class together.
No one would ever call our school a dull place. There's always lots and lots of special events, new projects, and student excitement and enthusiasm. This is particularly true at the end of the year.

As I've stated before, the key to good work at the end of the year is following through with the plans with lots of care and attention to student needs and experiences.

This morning is a particularly special day for the students. There will be a lot of excitement and probably a bit of angst too as students prepare and perform their fifth grade play for the younger students in the school and later for their family members.

Fortunately we're reading a very good chapter book that fits our curriculum well, so we'll make some good time this morning for the book, Night of the Spadefoot Toads. The students and adults in the book are quite similar to our school context and like us, the characters are intrigued by and learning about the spadefoot toad.

The rest of the day will include the performance, art class, a special pool event for some, and then another performance. A good day ahead.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

You Write Too Much!

Many tell me I write too much.

Yet, the issues I write about may not be happening if others wrote even a little in the past.

There's a lot left to do in many arenas--work that's been left undone, and questions unanswered, opportunity left dormant.

For many years, a number of issues in education just didn't seem right to me--issues locally and issues beyond the local level. I was up to my ears with work and caring for family during those year so I struggled through.

Now I have a bit of time. I have years of experience. I have a large number of contacts who have taught me a lot. I can see where many struggles have started, and to a large degree, these struggles have been born from a lack of communication, disinterest in the foundation issues/efforts, and an unwillingness to really think about what's happening in education.

So perhaps I do write too much. Perhaps I should streamline, however, which issue am I go to let go of?

I suspect that a few, who don't like my questions, are planting the seeds of this discussion and speak about me and my ideas. I notice the trail and most of those who comment in this way are friends with each other outside of the professional realm. I've seen this tactic used in relation to other issues by the same group over time.

I will continue to write as long as the issues persist and little attention is directed in that way.

Do you write too much, do you write too little, or do you write just right. It's akin to the Little Bears issue, and I suspect the right answer differs depending on your perspective.

Wisdom is always welcome.

And just because I write it doesn't mean you have to read it. That's the glory of open blogs like this one--it's there for the taking, but you don't have to take.

Looking in the Wrong Places

Have you ever lost an item and found that you were looking for it in all the wrong places.

The same can be true for ideals, vision, and goals.

Perhaps you're frustrated because what you're looking for is not where you are looking.

That's when it's time to rethink and re-look--elsewhere.

Say it with Pictures: Influencers


When I created this "site bite" of influencers today, I realized once again how powerful visual imagery. Just looking at this picture of the agencies and organizations that influence my teaching with strength makes me think deeply about how I spend my teaching/learning time and energy.

If you created a chart of influencers for your professional life, what would it look like. Can you imagine what it would be like to make these charts with colleagues and then share the charts. We'd learn so much in such short time. That's the great power of visual imagery.

Opportunity for Collaboration: Union Membership

The images above depict some of my most important influences when it comes to teaching and learning well. New additions for this chart continue to come to mind such as SUASCO and of course, TWITTER which introduced me to most of the organizations included above. 
I met with a wonderful, creative education consultant yesterday who has so many good ideas about teaching well. It's rare to meet with someone from outside the typical education circles who is so teacher-friendly and concerned about the mission of what we do which is to teach children well.

As we spoke, she told me positive stories of collaboration between state agencies, unions, and outside agencies and consultants. I really enjoyed learning about the potential for this positive synthesis.

That propelled me to look closely at my own local union's mission, a mission outlined by the points below:


Unions often are met with negativity, but when you read our mission statements above, you recognize that the premise is positive and promising.

When educators work together to promote positive agendas, optimal work conditions, advantageous systems, strategic process, and fair salaries, then they have a greater opportunity to serve children well in professional, promising ways.

I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to meld my work in the classroom with that of outside supportive agencies, the state, and union too. That synthesis, if done well, holds great promise.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Curriculum Map: Special Events Consideration

Soon we'll think about next year's curriculum map. At this time it will be important for us to note the special events that were worthwhile and those that may no longer play an important part in the overall program. We may identify the need for new events too. Lots of considerations ahead.

Tomorrow's Focus: May 24

With only 19 school days left, every day is filled with special events and focus.

Tomorrow we'll focus on the play rehearsal, the biography project, and preparation for our nature walk.

I can't say it enough, the focus of the final days of the school year has to be a steady focus of care and attention to students first. It's a tender and celebratory time of year so good attention is more important than ever.


Refine Focus: Key Words


  • Math Education
  • 5th Grade Standards
  • Equity and Opportunity
  • Cultural Relevance and Proficiency
  • Collaboration, Respect, Dignity
  • STEAM
  • Collegiality
  • Learning

Who Are Your Allies?

Last week a number of interactions created deep stress by the time the weekend came around. I realize this morning that's important that each of us identify our allies, and those, on the other hand, may not support the work we do either purposely or without thinking.

Our allies can be identified in the following ways:
  • They ask similar questions of life
  • They have similar long range hopes/plans
  • They are honest colleagues, friends, and family members
  • They want the best for us
  • They're willing to risk in words and/or action to help us out
We can ally ourselves to everyone, and not everyone will be your ally. But, it's important to know who those faithful supporters are, and it's even more important not to use them up and to regard their kind, honest support with the respect it deserves.

As for those who challenge us and who are not our allies. It's important to be purposeful and astute when spending time with them. Listen to their words, hear their challenges, and learn from them, but don't expect them to be there by your side as you learn and develop your craft, life. 

As an ally, it's important to take your role seriously too. How can you best support those in your midst who you choose to forward, help out, and care for. What is it that you can do to support their individual and collective effort?

Problem/Project Base Learning (PBL): Collaboration

Students will engage in a large number of Project/Problem Base Learning (PBL) in the coming days of school. To complete these projects and solve these problems with strength, students will have to collaborate. Jo Boaler, in her book, Mathematical Mindsets, provides solid evidence with regard to the advantage of teaching students how to collaborate and giving them lots of opportunity to practice that skill as they learn.

With upcoming projects and Boaler's research in mind, students will focus on collaboration today
as they prepare for this week's nature walk. Though the walk is not an exact PBL experience, it is a learning experience led by the question, "What organisms and nonliving items make up the Dudley Brook ecosystem?" Students will choose roles and together we'll think about how those roles match this week's exploration. We'll use the roles later as we complete a number of STEAM and nature explorations too.

To prepare for this work, I revised the roles which are visible on the images on this page as well as on this document. I hope to build explicit ways to teach and promote optimal collaboration at the end of this school year and next year as I know that this is one way to help students learn with strength, confidence, and community.

What do you do to build and develop collaboration in your
classroom? What roles do you use? How can similar roles morph and change to meet multiple collaborative tasks across discipline? These will be questions I'll continue to consider in the days ahead. I look forward to your ideas and experiences in this regard.

Note:
With regard to the design process, I hope to use this document to lead students work and effort.

This Mindshift article relates exactly to this post. It's the first time I've read about the term "complex instruction," and I think it matches well to my thoughts about classroom choreography.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Path to Better

There are many ways to travel the path to better.

Respect
There is great diversity in our world, and respect for the varied voices, perspectives, lifestyles, cultures, interests, and more is essential.

Learning
There is always more to learn and an open attitude to new learning will help you travel this path.

Questioning
Though many don't like questions, questions are essential to righting your path.

Allies
You can't travel the road alone, seek out allies--people who will be honest, kind, support comrades as you travel the path.

Quiet
Take time out to listen, observe, reflect, and wonder. That will help you to travel well.

Happiness
Make time to laugh and enjoy the path.

Peace
Find ways to travel with peaceful consideration for the people and your path.


Why?

So often, we may ask why?

Why did this happen?

Why didn't that happen?

Why has it turned out this way or that way?

The challenge is to find a pattern of living that helps us to do the best we can, a pattern of living that allows us to love, enjoy, give, recognize, laugh, play, support, and care.

It's also okay to ask why? To ponder, question, and reach for that which we imagine to be right, good, kind, meaningful.

There are some who would like to quiet us, put us in our places, disregard our feelings, vision, ideals, and beliefs. These naysayers will always exist, but we can't let them lose our light, direction, and inspiration.

Moving on.

Wasted Time

We all waste time now and then.

Losing time can be frustrating as there is so much that one can do with time.

Yet, we will take wrong turns, arrive at detours, and get lost here and there.

It happens.

I geusss that the best thing we can do when we travel an errant path is to reroute ourselves, and after that, think about what it was that took you there in the first place so you'll know better the next time

What Trees Are You Planting?


The quote above by Warren Buffet was passed along on Twitter the other day. It's a great quote that leads to the question, What trees are you planting?

As we do our work each day at home and in our professional lives, we are basically planting seeds that will sprout in the near future and far future. This begs us to think about those seeds and what plants will grow today and in the future.

As educators our plants are the children we teach, the programs we create/nurture, the systems we invest in, and the example we display.

Children
What do we do that impacts children positively today and in the long run? How can we make sure that we singularly and collectively do what's best for each and every child in our schools and systems? Where do we need to advocate, learn, and create more and better?

Programs
Each day's work contributes to programming that will make-up a child's overall education and the collective education of a school and system? What program elements matter in this regard? How do we take this work seriously and invest good effort so our programming creates the vitality of dynamic teaching/learning programs--programs that matter with regard to children's lives.

Systems
How do we work in our systems to sustain good work and make positive change? When do we speak up in this regard? What kinds of independent and collective work can we do to strengthen the systems where we work? Why does this matter.

Example
How does our work day to day provide a positive example for the students and colleagues we mentor and work with? How can we be a better example of what it means to teach well? How can we learn from one another in this regard? What is our commitment to the profession and the work that's possible?

Each of us is but a seed, a glint of light, a drop of rain, and a grain of sand in the sea of time, we are ever so small in this universe, but each of us, nevertheless, has incredible power to affect positive change and nurture good work. This is not always easy, but together we can pave the way in this direction.

What trees are your planting with your time, care, and contribution? How do you do this work in reasonable yet effective ways?

Pushing Forward: What to do about small injustices?


Perhaps I should just let the injustice occur, yet I know that every time an injustice occurs without speaking up, the injustices increase with strength and impact.

So many let injustice go. They just take it and don't speak up. They let it happen.

And when this occurs, it's often innocent, powerless people that suffer.

"You can't change the world" or "That's not your problem," so many will remark when they are asked to comment on conflict. They may find other ways around the conflict to smooth their own path or create a detour in order to not have to face or see the issue at hand.

There are conflicts that are so big that it's difficult to dissect them, yet there are small conflicts that can easily be dissected and remedied if people are invested in the solution or better work. Yet, we find that these small, and often painful conflicts, are not looked upon with any sense of investment or care--not that many want to make change so they persist.

I like to work in open, transparent, invested communities that seek to do the best they can. In many ways, I've found those communities, and in some places I still long for this kind of working, proactive group.

The cartoon at the top of the page keeps coming to mind as it speaks so much truth in this regard.


Teaching Well: The Week Ahead - Last Full Week in May

It's been a busy weekend of mostly school work due to a number of ongoing issues. For some reason, this stress rages at the end of May when many last minute directives surface.

I'm a big fan of planning and preparation that mostly happens nine months ahead of implementation. I think this keeps stress at bay and good, thoughtful work flowing. When we're playing catch-up, stress reigns and that kind of stress is not good for anyone.

Those distanced from the day-to-day work of classroom life probably forget the intensity of student need, programming, and paperwork that's a natural part of the end of the school year. Those of us in classrooms daily are fully aware of this and that's why we plan our programs carefully to leave time for the attention it takes to end the year with care, energy, and attention. In an ideal world, we'd have more hands-on support during the final weeks of school than less, and we'd have less new directives and initiatives than more at this sensitive time of year. The school year plans and patterns matter a lot when it comes to doing good work.

The week ahead is an exciting week of teaching and learning.

Fifth Grade Play
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the fifth grade play will take center stage. The key here is supporting students' end-of-practice efforts with enthusiasm, positivity, and good coaching. I've got to get my costume ready and practice my lines too as I have a small role in the performance.

Nature Walk
We've also got a great nature walk planned with high school students and parents. I've drafted the scavenger hunt which relates well to our science study. I have to carve out time with my colleagues to review the scavenger hunt with students, make groups, and prepare related materials for this short walk in the woods.

Spadefoot Tadpoles
They're growing big. It's time to pick up more food, clean the tanks, and continue to support these tiny endangered animals as they prepare for their new Drumlin Farm habitat. It's great to see how tiny creatures like this can spur a sense of calm and curiosity in the classroom.

Biography Project
During quiet times, students and teachers will continue to work on biography projects and presentations. I've signed out the computer lab for this and I'll likely place a desk between the classroom and the hallway lab so students can spread out and work in both places. We're at the challenging part of that project, the place where we push students to write more, research deeper, and find those facts and anecdotes that turn a basic report into a thought providing "interview."

Massachusetts Collaborative
I'm meeting with an education consultant this week who has a great idea related to helping teachers throughout Massachusetts improve and develop their teaching/learning efforts. This woman has a terrific vision, and I know that working with her will positively affect my craft as well as the connections I'm able to bring to colleagues too.

Celebrations
There's a couple of great celebrations this week too--one professional and one personal. I don't want to use up all my energy at the start of the week so that I still have energy to celebrate with those that I honor and those that I love.




School Spills Over Into Family Life

Spending a Saturday researching DDMs.

A garage full of STEAM supplies that don't fit into my classroom.

Stress from mandates and directives that continually change and are often unclear.

Unanswered questions.

All of this spilled over into my personal life this weekend to the frustration of many.

How can we teach well and preserve our personal lives too--what can we do?

As much as possible, clarity is important. When mandates and directives constantly change it's difficult to keep up, and backtracking becomes a mainstay. This is challenging especially when many of us do most of our planning and preparation on our own time anyways.

Adding new projects and activities can be exciting, but not making room for the time it takes to prepare and/or shop for the materials and store the materials can be troubling. I love what STEAM is bringing to our students, but it's a reality that it takes lots of supplies, and those supplies take up space.

Systemwide directives from the State should be taken seriously and rolled out with care. The fact that we are spending so much time backtracking on this DDM issue is worrisome. About four years ago when this started, I read what was out there which were a few articles. I followed directives set. I felt the issue was in good hands with multiple administrators and teacher representatives. Yet, now we find that the issue was lost in time, and everyone is scrambling to figure out what to do so it's fair and profitable.

I don't want to be a complainer. I don't want to spend so much weekend time working. I love to do a good teaching job, but time and again, my work is challenged by systematic issues that confound rather than promote the best of what can we do.

I know teachers everywhere are dealing with this situation. It's a big reason why turnover is so rampant in schools.

I work in a system with fair pay, tremendous parental support, eager students, and good facilities That's why I've stayed for so long, it has much of what I need to teach well. Yet, I know that with systematic attention, we can do it better and create less stress with regards to our family lives. Most teachers in our system don't mind putting in the extra time, but it is troubling when the time is spent on issues of organization, clarity, and communication rather than issues of teaching children well.

I know we can do this better.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Idea Kaleidoscope


In a large way, I see ideas as the beautiful patterns created by a kaleidoscope.

In my mind, ideas shift and sort similar to the beautiful colors and shapes in the scope, and as those ideas sort and shift, new synthesis occur. Thus new ideas are born.

The colors and contour of my mind's kaleidoscope are born from the multiple people I meet, experiences I encounter, and places I explore.

I focus my mind's kaleidoscope toward the promise and potential I know exists for the lives of individuals and communities. I understand that there is tremendous potential for good lives and good experiences, and much of that promise is born out of what we can do together.

How does your mind's kaleidoscope work? Where do you direct your scope, and what patterns emerge?




Shared Teaching Model: Year in Review 2016

This year two grade-level colleagues and I embarked on a three-classroom shared teaching model for the first time. Overall, I believe the model was a great success for a large number of reasons, reasons supported by research which shows that collaboration builds successful teaching and learning in the schools.

What worked?

TEAM
Mostly, the success was due to TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More. We worked together to care for all of the students, and with our varied skills, experiences, and strengths we were able to plan carefully to meet many standards and multiple student needs and interests in conjunction with the broader teaching team of teaching assistants, specialists, families, coaches, and administrators. Our team generally met during PLC with the broader team and one more time each week with just the grade level teachers.

Engaging Programming
Next, together we planned a good program with lots of special learning events including many field studies, grade-level projects, and celebrations. In addition specialists and leaders added to this by organizing each Monday's school assembly, orchestrating the fifth grade play, planning the upcoming field day, creating art displays, crafting tech projects, designing library learning, and many parent led celebrations too.

Scheduling a Pattern of Effective Teaching/Learning
We spent a lot of time in the spring designing a schedule that would work for our fifth graders. Then when we received the building schedule, and we spent more time finessing the schedule. There were a few tough spots in the schedule this year so we spent quite a bit of time this winter looking at how we might change that for the year ahead and made those suggestions to our building administrators and schedulers. The schedule is very important with regard to meeting the goals you set forth, and hopefully we'll have an even better schedule next year.

Deep Learning and Teaching
Because we divided up the main teaching/learning focus areas, each of us was able to teach with greater depth. I had a great opportunity to think deeply about math and STEAM teaching while my colleagues focused heavily on writing/social studies and reading/science. The fact that I didn't have to teach all subjects, allowed me to read and study more about math which resulted in better, deeper learning experiences.

Interdisciplinary Study
While we each focused on specific areas for depth, we also worked together to create interdisciplinary learning events. For example while students were studying about space during science research, I was using space numbers with regard to place value and the powers of ten. Then together we all learned at the wonderful Christa McAuliffe Challenger Center at Framingham State University. We also all worked together on the Rube Goldberg Simple Machine project where students read and wrote about the study as well as designed wonderful marble mazes. Now we're working as a team to help students complete their biography presentations and also learn about and preserve the spadefoot toad. I'm sure as we continue down this path of shared teaching/learning, we'll find and embed greater opportunities for interdisciplinary study.

Professional Learning
Our weekly meetings spurred considerable professional learning as we discussed curriculum, student needs/interests, and professional endeavor. We learned a lot from each other. We also identified and attended professional learning events that supported our areas of specialty too and shared that learning with each other. This summer we are scheduled to share our model with interested educators at the MTA Summer Conference as well. While we teach, I'm sure that we'll also learn new ideas from the participants at our presentation.

Teaching/Learning Environment
Another advantage of the learning model is that our three homerooms in a sense serve as one large learning space. Each room is designed to mostly match the homeroom teacher's specialty area. This has been an advantage because we have more space for our specialty subject and materials. For example the back of my room is filled with STEAM supplies while my colleagues' rooms are filled with books, writing materials, and research supplies. Students move comfortably from room to room as they learn.

Student Collaboration
One plus of the model that I did not think about at the start was the strong sense of collaboration displayed by the grade level students and families. They see themselves as one team rather than three distinct groups. There's no competition between classrooms since all the students are getting the same program and all the teachers work together. Sometimes as educators we find we have that one student has more than another and we will relay on each other in that respect. For example, I had trouble helping a child yesterday so I asked her if she would rather talk to my colleague. She agreed and my colleague was able to help the child. This happens all the time as we work with each other to help all students. As students practiced for the play, we noticed that they quickly worked as a collaborative team this year, and we surmised that this happened because they had worked as a team all year.

Behavioral Issues
There have been few behavioral issues all year. Of course there have been some, but we've been able to navigate those issues together and support one another as we help children who struggle in that regard. Knowing all the students has really made a difference in this regard as we all share recess duty and other supervision responsibilities.

Communication
All of our grade-level information is hosted on one website that is open and available to all team members including students, families, colleagues, administrators, and community members. We send out a weekly newsletter that includes teaching/learning and programming updates. Those newsletters are hosted on the website too. In a sense, the website serves as a year book of all we've done this year. We also welcome ideas, questions, and feedback from the teaching/learning team and respond accordingly.

Late this year or during the summer months, we'll meet to review all that we've done and next steps for next year. Overall, it has been a very successful year, a year of great teaming and teaching/learning success. If you have further ideas for our team, please share, as we are looking forward to developing this model in the months ahead.






2015-2016 Math Program Review and 2016-2017 Plans

Post Update: I notice that this post is being read, and as I reviewed it, I realized a lot of the information is now outdated a couple of years later. 10/15/2017


As we discussed a few math questions this week, I was prompted to review the math year in general.

The challenge of the year was that we are rated on a number of assessments, yet the assessments assess different content and strategies. Plus the way the Math Scope and Sequence is laid out creates a situation where we are testing students a number of times on content they have not been taught yet if you follow the Scope and Sequence as timed.

Since teachers and students are tested on the information, most teachers accelerate the Scope and Sequence so that they at least introduce all concepts and information prior to the big tests--tests students and teachers are judged on. That acceleration may be a fact why some students lag behind as they may not be able to keep up with the program pace.

As you can tell this situation puts both educators and students between a rock and a hard place. If educators are to follow the Scope and Sequence as set then most students will not do well on the tests that contribute to their performance rating, yet if they accelerate the pace of the program, then some students won't be able to keep up. So I expect we'll collaborate around this issue in the days ahead.

In general, I feel that math should be a two-stage program. The first stage should focus on helping students develop a rich foundation of number and operation skills with lots of practice, games, tech exercises, and hands-on, visual learning.

The second stage could continue to be grade-level and this stage would focus on what Boaler describes as "floor to ceiling" differentiated, collaborative, meaningful explorations and investigations that embed math concepts and problems.

This two-stage approach, I believe, would be a good bridge from the current core classroom/RTI approach to a more differentiated, targeted, and focused approach that builds students' skills while also engaging them in rich math explorations and projects.

This kind of movement in math requires rethinking lots of school structures including staffing and schedules.

In the meantime, however, as I think about the past year's program, I am pleased with the way we engaged with Response to Intervention (RTI). In general students got a lot of targeted support with great teachers and activities. Students were generally eager to go to their groups and enjoyed the learning. Assessments demonstrated good growth overall.

I was also happy about many of the projects and investigations we completed related to the Common Core Standards. Of course, there's always room for growth and change. As I look at this great chart of the fifth grade standards, I have the following thoughts for the future.


Measurement and Data
To build greater team, I want to begin the year with a great measurement and data investigation where students are given the opportunity to "represent and interpret" data. We will create a class infographic which we'll refer to all year as we study and learn math. This will be a good get-to-know-each-other project. We will employ the use of line plots in this study at this point and later during our fraction study. (Hubspot will be a resource for this project)

Operations and Algebraic Thinking
We''ll look for ways to "analyze patterns and relationships" at the start of the year as we study the class infographic. We'll continue to "analyze patterns and relationships" as we study all later concepts. We'll review basic number concepts and information too at the start of the year as we study facts, factors, multiples, number vocabulary, and a little bit of number theory too. This is an exciting way to start the year, create helpful signage, and "write and interpret" numerical expressions. The Landmark Numbers unit and How do Numbers Define You? activities support this study. 

Operations in Base Ten
Students love learning the history of the Base Ten system, and then thinking about this in terms of the question, "What is a system." Later we create a large number of visual and animated models to "understand the place value system." Eames "Powers of Ten Film" brings depth to student study as they "explain patterns using the powers of ten." Statistical information related to the universe both matches the Eames' film and helps students "read, write, and compare decimals" and "round decimals using place value." Problem solving with money and other real world facts is nicely connected to learning to multiply and divide whole numbers as well as to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers with decimals to hundredths. Letting students code animated models of base ten number system "behavior" builds deep meaning of how the base ten place value system works. 

Numbers and Operations Fractions
The new year is typically when the fraction study starts. During that unit we focused on a large number of visual online and offline models, videos, problem solving, and exercises as we studied fractions step-by-step. We started with vocabulary and landmark fraction models. Later we looked at how we could add and subtract with models, then addition and subtraction algorithms. Again we used multiple models. We applied this learning to problem solving. We found that matching each fraction concept with a story really helped students to understand the concepts. The stories I used included the following:
  • Addition: A bag of jelly beans has 24 beans. Tom has 3/4 bag of jelly beans left and Henry has 1/8 bag of jelly beans left. If they put them together will the be able to fill less than a bag, a whole bag, or more than a bag? How many beans do they have altogether?
  • Subtraction: Jill had 2/3 of a bag of jelly beans left (24 in a bag). She gave 1/6 to her sister. How much does she have left now?
  • Multiplication (fraction by a whole number): Mary's mom bought five different chocolate bars at the candy story. Mary wanted to try 1/8 of each candy. How much of the five candy bars did Mary Try altogether?
  • Multiplication (fraction by a fraction). I had a birthday part for my mom. There was half a cake left over. I wanted to give my brother 1/4 of the leftover cake. How much of the original cake did I give my brother (1/4 X 1/2 = 1/8)
  • Division (whole number divided by a fraction). I went to the fireworks with my family. There were 8 of us in the van. I only had two pieces of licorice left and I wanted to divide the 2 pieces by 1/4 so that I could give everyone a piece of licorice (2 divided by 1/4 = 8)
  • Division (fraction divided by fraction): Amy had half of a cake left over after her mom's birthday. She wanted to divide that half into 1/8 pieces. How many pieces did she have? (1/2 divided by 1/8 = 4 pieces)
Focusing on those stories at first and drawing models brings meaning to fraction operations. Later having students write their own stories and make their own models brings even greater meaning to fraction knowledge and understanding. 

Geometry
The fifth grade geometry standards are generally quite easy to teach, and require repetition for memory. There's lots of fun activities you can do to develop these concepts throughout the year. For example students studied this topic, in part, when an origami expert came in. Students enjoy graphing points, making coordinate grid pictures, and finding and analyzing patterns using a coordinate grid. It's good to start this study early in the year and integrate it throughout other units as students look for patterns and deepen their understanding of concepts. Identifying and comparing 2-D figures is a great early year lesson that can be combined with an introduction to visual literacy, model making, and the use of multiple math tools. 

Measurement and Data
Teaching volume and measurement conversions also can be taught through wonderful interdisciplinary explorations and activities which I'd like to build more on in the coming year. For volume students started by making prism nets and figuring out the volume. Students also used cubes to create multiple models of volume problems. Next year I want to use sugar cubes for this. I want to explore the creation of more varied models in this regard and review the exact vocabulary used by the Common Core Standards as we "relate volume to the operations of multiplication and division."  I think we can look closely how we teach measurement conversions with regard to studying the base ten place value system, our science unit on matter, and fraction study. 

As I think about the program in general, there are a number of factors that support a strong program including the following:
  • Time on task. It's imperative to create a strong schedule at the start of the year and mostly stick to it.
  • Regular assessment that's both formal and informal to inform the curriculum program and students' success.
  • Student feedback
  • Rich, relevant learning experiences
  • Multiple math models
  • Well organized math teaching/learning resource center
  • Engaging exercises that help students learn, see, and explore math in multiple ways
  • Explicit focus on math vocabulary, math talk, and math writing
  • Math creativity--creating with math
As I look ahead to next year's math teaching/learning year. I'll reread these notes and review this year's PARCC and other data to look for trends. I'll also read upcoming information about Massachusetts' new Next Generation MCAS and reread Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets as well as other related information.

I really enjoy developing a strong math program with colleagues and students to teach well. Let me know if you have any suggestions. 


Note
I will utilize the articles on this page to inform next year's program as well as other resources.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Garden School

Our wonderful second grade teacher, Deborah Niles, parents, and our town's Green Team have created a great learning opportunity by building a school garden, collecting rainwater, and composting.





System Focus: Distributive Leadership

Schools today need to prepare students for the knowledge age we live in.

In this knowledge age workers are expected to work with greater autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Many old structures that exist in schools model top-down factory models rather than distributive leadership models.

It may be time for states to begin promoting new ways to think about decision making, leadership, and structure in schools in order for teachers to have what they need to teach well.

I am realizing more and more that until structures in schools change, schools will remain mostly the same.

If educators are not given greater voice and choice, their hands will be tied with regard to updating, uplifting, and developing their work in ways that really make a difference. This is true mostly with regard to long held problems such as meeting the needs of our most challenged students, teacher turnover, welcoming school environments, and engaging teaching.

How are your systems changing to flatten the hierarchy, promote distributive leadership, build trust, and grow transparency? These are important elements when it comes to developing better schools.

Structures that Promote Teacher Leadership

As I think about work I did yesterday related to math scores and DDMs, I was prompted to think about structures that develop greater teacher voice and leadership in school. These structures could potentially develop a greater sense of team and less isolation too.

It could be that teachers are invited to be apart of one or more curriculum committees that meet regularly. The committees would impact teaching/learning decisions in authentic, regular ways.

Committees that truly have voice and choice tend to persist, however committees that are created in name only, tend to die out simply because the work is not real, impactful, or connected to teacher effort.

Teachers from each grade level or representing two grade levels and perhaps a specialist or two could volunteer to serve on one of the following committees:
  • K-5 science/STEAM 
  • K-2 math
  • K-3 math
  • K-2 writing (many call this "composition")
  • 3-5 writing 
  • K-2 reading
  • 3-5 reading
  • K-5 social studies
The committees could meet regularly during school hours to make important decisions about curriculum design, professional learning, and other related matters. Then the educators who serve on those committees could bring the information back to their grade-level team and enlist their grade-level team in decision making. 

We had these kinds of committees long ago, but they never really got off the ground as they were too big, the time was too short, and there wasn't a good structure or communication patterns. To do this well would take a conversation with teachers and leaders prior to the start of the school year, and then during the school year, there could be a first try at this.

This kind of effort would build greater cross-school and cross-curriculum conversation. It has the potential to build a more trusting , transparent, and collaborative teaching/learning community--a community where there is greater collective voice and decision making.

I think this might be a good way to tackle issues at hand, issues such as choosing new assessments, revising scope and sequences, readying for Next Generation MCAS, writing grants, and more. 

How do you create opportunity for authentic distributive leadership in your system? How has this positively affected decision making, teaching, and team. What advice to you have in this regard?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What Can We Do For Students Who Struggle?

There's a lot we can do for students who struggle. Here are a few ideas.

"Home Away From Home" Homerooms
Homerooms dedicated to small groups of children who need extra warmth, direction, and support every morning. These homerooms could potentially be skilled staffed by people who don't have regular homeroom or classroom expectations. The focus of these homerooms would include a warm greeting, making sure a child has the right clothes for the day, checking homework and materials for the day, a nutritious snack or breakfast, read aloud, and a daily journal.

At-Home Tech Access
It's possible that certain staff would be responsible for making sure that these students have tech at home. Students with tech at home have an advantage to those who don't. To do this well it has to start on day one of school so perhaps a survey just before school starts would help with this support.

See Yourself in the Curriculum
Make sure that every child sees himself or herself in the curriculum. Design and choose curriculum that makes that happen.

School Signage
School signage needs to be welcoming and inclusive.

Positive Relationships
Find ways to make positive relationships with these children. Help children build meaningful peer relationships in strategic, regular ways.

Targeted, Engaging Learning
Think creatively and strategically about how you can best help these children learn in engaging and empowering ways. Careful attention to learning interests, great tools and pedagogy, daily attention, lesson pace, and practice tools matter. Cross age teaching/learning can help in this regard. Often struggling students can mentor and teach younger students which is a good way to practice important skills and learning.

Collaboration and Play
Build collaboration skills, and provide opportunity for play.

Discover and Develop Passion
Discover where a child's passion lies and help the child to develop that passion.

Service Learning
Make doing for others a focus of deep, rich learning. This helps students to impact their community which in turn builds confidence and capacity.

Seek Supports
Help children to access the supports they need which may include medical care, psychological support, sports teams, art classes, and meaningful learning programs.




Tomorrow's Focus

Tomorrow students will take the second part of the Science MCAS test. After that they'll work on their biography reports--a straightforward day which is welcome after the many special events we had this week.

Super STEAM Study


Proud Inventor
 This morning I attended the High School Innovation Open House. I am still tingling from all the creativity and investment I witnessed not to mention the expertise, commitment, and learning design exhibited by the room's educator, Jay Moody.

I was struck by the students skill at "functional art" and creativity, and noticed so many terrific innovations that will better our communities and lives.

One innovation in particular named "Think" would be a great addition to our school. I'd like to write a grant to have that high school student implement that innovation to better our elementary community.

High School Principal and Student Entrepreneur
Another innovation immediately made me think of the work of entrepreneur, Sheila Marcelo, whom I've read about and met. I wanted that young entrepreneur to reach out to Sheila and show her the app she created as it's an app that would fit Marcelo's business focus well.

More innovations that I witnessed definitely could find their way into many markets, particularly the markets of aging baby boomers since they were innovations that make life easier and possibly safer.

The room itself was amazing, and the opportunities to use awesome tools to actually build your designs is terrific.

When I witness teaching and learning like this, I see so much promise for our future. The key here is to continue to develop, deepen, and broaden this approach to students everywhere. Great Job Wayland STEAM Stars!

Health and Wellness: Intersection of School Health, Food Service, and Physical Education

Our school system is looking to coordinate its wellness programs more in the days ahead. I've read about schools that create teams that include food service, physical education, and the health professionals.

How might this work?

First, the team of these wellness professionals would need time to talk on a regular basis. I can imagine a health and wellness Professional Learning Community (PLC) that meets regularly to discuss the overall health and wellness of a learning community. This PLC focus might include the following:
  • school signage
  • acquisition of grants
  • professional learning
  • integrated activities
  • assessment of school needs and follow-up response
  • parent-teacher-student initiatives
  • related service learning
  • connection and intersection with related community organizations.
Next, this team would report their findings, efforts, and vision to all staff, and perhaps integrate their work further into specialist and classroom activities including recess and special events. 

Creating vibrant teams within schools and then giving them time to work their magic is essential to the learning and teaching possible. These dynamic teams rid school staff of the hindrance that isolation creates and instead invigorate promise and possibility. We have so much potential in this regard. 

Program Strengths: A Holistic Lens

This morning as I think about our overall teaching/learning program for fifth graders, I realize that there are many wonderful components, components that could be replicated to teach children well elsewhere.

I've noted the elements below:

Art Class
Each week our students are taught by an art teacher who has devoted 30 years to her craft. She is also a professional artist. Her creativity is amazing and allows students to learn in invigorating, multi-modal, hands-on ways. They paint, work with clay, weave, draw, build, and more. She regularly integrates the stories of fine artists, and the school is filled with students' wonderful, thought provoking, colorful design and creation.

Music and Instrumental Classes
Our students all have at least two music classes a week. The first is a general music class where they sing, play instruments, compose, learn about musicians and composers, and more. The next is a more targeted 30-minute music workshop or instrumental lessons. Most students also participate in the weekly band and strings ensembles too.

Fifth Grade Play
At fifth grade students get an extra artistic benefit by participating in the fifth grade play. The play includes every fifth grader. They tell a story with words, acting, singing, dancing, and playing instruments. It's an amazing collaborative event.

Technology
Our schools are filled with computers, and for an average of 30 minutes a week students attend technology class. There they learn a lot about digital citizenship and learn to use countless tech programs and products as they created interdisciplinary projects. Students also use technology often in the classroom time.

Library
Our school has a wonderful library and librarian. Students have library classes for an average of 30 minutes a week. There they learn all kinds of library, research, writing, and reading skills. They also have almost limitless opportunity to visit the library and take out wonderful books.

Physical Education and Wellness
Once a week students attend physical education classes where they learn all kinds of physical fitness and wellness skills. They play many sports games and even include the arts as they participate in dance classes.

Recess
Our school has a great, big, green grassy playground where students love everyday. We have a good amount of recess. Our school sits nicely on the playground so it's accessible to teachers when needed. At times, students will have impromptu, short recesses just to move and play as a energizing transition. The community recently voted to update playground equipment too which all the children are looking forward to.

Math Study
Students engage in multiple math lessons including hands-on, tech, paper/pencil, collaborative, and projects. Students' overall math learning and success has been on the rise.

Reading and Writing
Students read and write a lot! There's been tremendous efforts to build these programs and there's been wonderful growth. As I always say, So many students love to read and almost every fifth grader is reading at a wonderful level.

STEAM
Our school system has been supporting a move towards more STEAM study. Every grade level is incorporating three or more STEAM projects this year. STEAM centers are beginning to develop at every grade-level.

Science and Social Studies
Every grade level engages in a number of interdisciplinary, engaging science and social studies projects. Most of those project include wonderful field studies, visiting experts, and other special events.

School Garden, Courtyard, and Composting
The Town's green team and committed parents and educators continue to develop our school gardent and composing efforts. Recently they moved the garden to a location where students can more readily engage with it.

Friendly, Welcoming Environment
Our school is generally a happy and welcoming environment. Efforts to buy more student-friendly, ergonomic furniture has helped to make our classrooms "homes away from home" which are comfortable for teaching and learning.

School Nurse
We have a very caring school nurse that looks out for students' needs daily and spends considerable time on prevention too.

Service Learning Program
We have a strong service learning program which builds tremendous empathy, collaboration, contribution, and interdisciplinary learning/teaching.

PLC and RTI
These constructs have helped to build greater teaching/learning collaboration and targeted response.

Local Foundation Support: Innovation
We have a local foundation that supports innovation in our schools.

After school and Before School Program
There's an after school and before school program at our school which is a great support for working parents. The program is playful and enriching. There are also a number of fee-based special programs offered such as STEAM workshops, foreign language, and drama. There are scholarships available for students who may not have the funds to attend.

Local Sports Leagues and Lessons
Although this is not part of the official elementary school program, there are countless sports leagues and lessons available in the area. Again scholarships are available if money is an issue.

Professional Learning
All teachers are welcome to take a few days each year for professional learning. Typically those events are supported through systemwide funding.

We have a lot at our school and I don't write this to boast, but to say that every school needs to have these essential programs to teach well. Of course there's room for growth and change to make the programming and results even better, but we can't forget how much we have in place at this time.

A lot of this wonderful programming and structure is due to substantial community support and investment in children and schools. I believe it's within our ability as a population to provide similar student-friendly programming for children everywhere.