Routine

Adapting to a new routine can be tricky. Currently, my routines are being revamped. For the next six weeks I am confined to crutches. Every regular action now requires a new set of steps. Showers are an ordeal of logistics and positioning and making small lunches requires many more action steps. Before starting anything I need to think it through to make sure all my parts are ready to move in a coordinated way. All of this is mentally exhausting.

I am sure this is what it is like for students during their first week of school. The old and familiar have given way to a new classroom, new classmates, and a new set of expectations. First day jitters are normal and building a community of learners takes time and will experience bumps in the road but there are some strategies that might help make the transition towards new routines easier.

  • Collaborate with colleagues for common language

Schools can become a collection of independent nations forcing students to “naturalize” every year. Some of the challenges of facing a new year can be lessened if educators can agree on common language and expectations. These basic tenants can be applied to all aspects of the school day. Instead of a long list of what not to do try to frame what should be done. Perhaps, take care of yourself, take care of others, and take care of the environment? I appreciate the resources and trainings provided by the Responsive Classroom to help educators foster a cohesive learning community.

  • Write to future students during the summer

Everyone loves to get personal mail. Your first contact with your students should come well before the obligatory school supply wish list. Write your students during the summer to help build relationships with them and their families. Students may not choose to write back but they will enjoy the letter and will begin to learn a little bit about their new teacher. Consider sharing an Instagram or Twitter feed that houses your summer adventures and the work being done to prepare for the school year.

  • Host an Open House

Before giving a presentation or playing in a sporting event I like to visualize what I will be doing. The mental preview helps calm my nerves and allows me to see alternatives in case things go topsy turvy. Consider opening your classroom to students before the first full day of school. In doing so they can begin to visualize their new workspace. They can get a lay of the land, identify important areas of the room, and see where they will be spending the next 175 school days. In doing so they may begin to get a feel for their new room and new teacher.

During my Open Houses I like to share slide shows of my summer reading mixed with pictures of summer adventures. I provide a scavenger hunt for random objects such as a plastic camel and garden gnome. I also identify the major work areas of our classroom and ask students to start thinking about how we should arrange the furniture. I want my students to know that we will be working together and that our room and our community will grow with our collective hard work.

Create Rather Than Consume: Summer Edition

Thanks to Kim Simmons (@KmSmmns) for responding to my plea for questions and ideas to consider while on the mend from ankle surgery. I have been confined to a reclined position, toes above the nose, for nine days now. I have read many books, accomplished many tasks, and have enjoyed the birds in the apple tree outside the window.

Kim asked a number of great questions which sparked my thinking and I hope my responses help in some way. Feel free to add your own thoughts and resources in the comment box so we may take advantage of this great PLN!

 

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Most of us (adults, teens and children) consume rather than produce digital media. Most of us are products of a factory-based school system where we sat, received data points, and regurgitated to “show” understanding. We have been trained to be consumers. Additionally, music, YouTube videos, television shows, and social media memes are very easy to digest. Our mobile technology allows us instant access anywhere. It is brain candy and we are happy to consume.

Producing media is harder, more time consuming, and takes planning. It also puts you in the spotlight. Producing and sharing work makes you vulnerable and many people are uncomfortable receiving feedback. Producing demonstrates persistence, patience, and creativity. In the end, stretching our creative chops makes us happy, always has. Creating ushers in our childlike excitement for discovery and adventure.

We can all agree that future success will depend on flexibility, problem solving, communication, and collaboration. Creative adventures will help develop those skills. So how do we leverage technology to help students, and specifically in response to Kim’s question teens, become creators of knowledge rather than simple consumers? For me it is simple, start with the student. A student-centered approach will guide us to a more personalized experience. The more personalized the learning the more personal the understanding becomes. Once there, students will have a unique and passionate message to share with others.

As Dan Ryder and Amy Burvall state in Intention: Critical creativity in the classroom, “Intention sits at the heart of critical creativity.” Any creative product should act as a window to understanding. Every decision and step is an opportunity to share knowledge.

Since it is summer, I am framing my suggestions with vacation in mind. What better time to experiment with creative endeavors than the lazy days of summer? Just telling someone to go and be creative is silly. It is funny to say but creativity needs boundaries. Just doing for doing sake is also pointless. Focusing on the passions, interests, and curiosities of the student and encouraging to share in meaningful ways adds intention to the creative work.

 

Take advantage of social connections

I think being creative is a social endeavor. It requires that we go out for a walk, listen to others, see contraptions, and simply hangout. Here is an idea: As friends, agree to create a DIY video for crafting a family monument in the yard. Each will do their own research, create a plan, gather the resources, and record their own DIY video. The recordings can be posted to a shared YouTube playlist. Next, each member of the group records themselves attempting to follow their friends’ DIY videos or they use the inspiration from a friend’s video to move in a new direction thus remixing the original idea.  

 

Share a message

One great thing I have come to appreciate is that children and teen agers have a lot to say. They have great concerns and fierce wonderings about their world but they don’t always have a sounding board to share their thoughts. Technology has allowed people to amplify their voice and young people should take advantage. Is there a cause or concern that needs to be shared with others? Health care, violence, stereotypes, immigration, multicultural communities, state and local budgets, and mental health have all had their fair share of the news cycle and young people have an opinion. Maybe they seek out local experts and interview community members and hear their stories. In doing so, children develop their ability to empathize and understand other’s point of view.

As an example, A 4th grade student was deeply concerned about global warming. He did some research and gathered some powerful facts. Using Minecraft, he created his vision of what the world would look like if global warming trends go unchanged. Lastly, he created a screencast video of his world, narrating a tour of his creation and sharing his understanding with classmates, family, and friends.

 

Share a discovery

Create movie trailer for a favorite book. Start with a basic summary or a storyboard and plan a digital representation of that summary through acting, media, or art. Perhaps the final product is supported by music and the movie trailer can then be posted on Facebook or Twitter using hashtags to guide interaction. Friends can support one another by being cast members and they can share on social media and tag with their own personal hashtag.

 

Create art

It inspires and provides a creative outlet. Poetry read aloud in a setting that connects with the poem in some way, images of sidewalk illustrations set to music, stop motion animation, and musical performances are all opportunities to create.

 

Swap shop fun

Our small community has a swap shop nestled inside the recycling center. Others’ unwanted goods can become a maker’s treasure. Use reclaimed objects to unmake and recreate. Play with recycled materials to create a new design for a fidget spinner or whirligig. Unmake a discarded keyboard and reorder the keys to create phrases. Gather supplies and design a rocket powered by simple kitchen chemistry. All of the creations can become part of a larger project that can be shared with others.

Almost anything will work to get the creative juices flowing. The trick is to focus on the intent of the creative task. With the proper intention, the process of creating and the product itself will expresses personal understanding and interest and that will captivate an audience. Sharing the work responsibly, through social media, requires partnering with an adult. Begin with social networks already in place on a parent or teacher’s Facebook and Twitter account. Friends can also set up a G+ community to curate and share work. However, it is important to model sharing with your children.

After a summer of creating, young people will have stretched their creativity, learned a thing or two, and developed a positive digital presence (your creation of how you want to be seen on the Internet).


If any part of this post interested you I highly encourage you to explore Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom by Dan Ryder (@WickedDecent) and Amy Burvall (@amyburvall).

A Summer & Growth Mindset

There continues to be a great deal of healthy conversation around growth mindset and rightly so. Though we all probably understood the concept early in our careers it was brought into the spotlight by psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Now, many educators are aware of the research and Dr. Dweck’s theories inform some of the work being done in schools today.

In education, the conversation of mindsets focuses on the differences between “fixed” and “growth” mindsets and how we as educators can instill a growth mindset in our learners. According to Dweck, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.” In other words, those with fixed mindsets believe they are what they are and nothing will change. As a result, when students with fixed mindsets fail at something they tell themselves they can’t or won’t be able to do it or they make excuses for the shortcoming. They also tend to resist challenging work, fearing it will expose their inability.

On the other hand, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.” In my opinion, this view is healthier and inspires a love of learning and a certain level of resilience. Students who embrace growth mindsets believe that new learning is hard work and perseverance is required to slog through the challenges of new learning. They also understand that the hard work is essential to success and they view challenges and failures as opportunities to improve.

I have been lucky to spend all of my summers with my two children, now 7 & 9. I see, their creativity, ingenuity, and perseverance on a daily basis as they invent new games, review math, and explore the natural world. I see the natural curiosity of childhood lead them to wonderful questions and discoveries. I also see them challenged by their questions and projects but am happy that the do not give up so easily.

They seem to have very healthy, evolving growth mindsets now, but it makes me wonder when and if this will change. I have seen the research and listened to the TED Talks which indicates that students lose the love of learning as they progress through school. Will their current mindsets be challenged and overcome? What are the signs, and how can we make sure school experiences don’t squash the growth mindsets that are innate in our curious kids.

Perhaps the key is combining academic rigor with playful exploration. Why can’t our classrooms inspire children much like summer vacation inspires? Open project time where students follow an interest? Gardens in the playground, physics on the play structures, paper airplanes off the stairs, and books in piles on the floor to pour over. As a practice, student choice does not absolve students from learning. In fact, it enhances it.

Teachers, as facilitators, guide students in forming questions, scaffolding learning, and demonstrating documentation. They stress that the brain is malleable and challenges created from new learning are healthy. Teachers highlight the process of learning rather than the product, pointing out the actions that lead to success. Teachers provide time for and reinforce the iterative process where we learn from our mistakes by creating prototypes and drafts. Lastly, teachers enhance growth mindset but adding the phrase “not yet” to the classroom culture. “I can’t multiply” is transformed to “I can’t multiply yet.” This is a wonderful promise to make.

Do you have suggestions that will transform a classroom to enhance growth mindsets? If so, please share in the comment section.

Reverse Engines

We need to change our narrative. Turn on any news program and the lead is war, sadness, and conflict.

In school we work to develop hope, passion, and a growth mindset. In my class we start each day with a Morning Meeting and begin each meeting with a greeting. We celebrate our company and start our day from a place of excitement sharing the news of the day, what we will look forward to, and the challenges we want to address.

What if the lead news story was positive? What id the headline above the fold highlighted the change we want to see in our communities?

Collective Professional Learning

We are about to launch an experiment in professional learning. For the past year, we have been planning how best to improve how teachers choose to grow and develop their skills, mindsets, and pedagogies and it all starts this week.

Up to this point dialogue about personal professional learning was isolated to one or two conversations between supervisor and teacher. Observations were scarce and rich discussions constrained by time and the administrator’s work load. It was also a challenge for some teachers to be observed by their supervisor, an individual who is also responsible for evaluations. It would not be a stretch to imagine some teachers “playing it safe” with lessons when being observed by their supervisor. With that is mind we wanted to change the dynamic of the professional growth model. The challenge is in making our professional learning public and a focal point of conversations. 

To that end, my co-Dean and I have developed a new support system for professional learning. Central to the new system is the creation of families based on self-defined goals. Here’s how it works:

-Each educator highlights a handful of goals to focus on during the next school year (a tradition at our school)

-From these goals, we’ll form families

-Families will ask an essential question connected to their shared personal goals that they will then explore and work on throughout the school year. Training will be provided on goal setting, reflection, experimentation, data collection, and giving actionable feedback to colleagues.

-Families will meet regularly to reflect, and provide support and critical feedback through lesson study and observations. Administrators will continue to observe and provide feedback as they have done in the past.

-They will curate resources and document their progress to share with the faculty. A small budget will let each family purchase resource or contract with an appropriate facilitator from outside the community.

-Each year our professional learning will be celebrated, EdCamp-style, with families presenting their questions and experiences with the entire faculty 

We predict this multifaceted endeavor will raise awareness, confidence, communication, and the capacity of our teaching community to give and receive feedback and ultimately benefit teaching and learning school wide.

 

This experimental plan has been a year in the making. I look forward to sharing what happens.

Flipboard Magazines

We have access to a wealth of information. Curating resources helps me stay organized and connects me with other educators. By making my learning transparent I am documenting my growth as a learner and sparking dialogue. Along with this blog, Twitter, and Diigo (for sharing resources with my teaching team) I use Flipboard. I feel the tool has improved over the years, learning from Zite, which it acquired and sadly terminated, to be personal and informative. I have a few magazines that I keep private since many people could care less about my exercise regimen (thin) or my cooking habits (butter, chocolate, cheese). However, the articles that I have collected about edtech integration and professional learning might be of interest. I invite you to flip through my flipboards.

EdTech Provocations: View my Flipboard Magazine.

Professional Learning:  View my Flipboard Magazine.

Minecraft Mill Cities

One of my favorite studies in our two year curriculum is a focus on immigration and the Industrial Revolution. As with all our studies, it is a cross disciplinary approach to help our students gain a deep understanding of the concepts. As part of this study students explored current and historical issues of immigration in history classes and literature. The focus on push and pull factors as well as adapting to a new life were central to these classes. Students interviewed a recent immigrant and crafted a non-fiction narrative about their experiences in Writing Workshop. Students also explored their own family history.  In science, students explored the changing use of land and watershed as they related to industry. We also focused on how new industries required a larger workforce and new ways of manufacturing. A field trip to Lowell, MA provided a rich experience for our learners. The entire unit culminated with an Ellis Island Simulation in our small gym where the entire community could come together in celebration of learning.

I have used Minecraft as part of our Westward Movement study  and see it as a valuable tool to capture student understanding. For years I wanted to integrate Minecraft into the rich study of immigration and Industrial Revolution. After collaborative discussions with our Director of Technology, colleagues, and students I created a Minecraft Challenge (my notes). My goal was to help students understand the connection between watersheds, changing land use, and industry. I wanted to provide an experience where students could develop their skills of collaboration and communication. I also wanted to students to share their learning with a wide audience. A Minecraft world connected with screen casts seemed like the best fit.

After exploring watersheds through hands-on activities and excursions into nature we examined maps of Lowell, MA. The maps depicted an agrarian Lowell and industrial Lowell. From this focused examination students began to explore the connection between watersheds, canals, and industry. With this foundation of experience students eagerly accepted the challenge of creating their own mill city to share their understanding of the subject matter and to express their creativity.

This was my first iteration and I am curious how I could make this experience better for my students.

 

Reflection from our admissions department

Fake News & Reliable Sources: A Reflection & Resources

This summer, before the onslaught of headlines, I wrote about the challenges young people must face when trying to decipher real from fake news. I wondered how we, as adults, build a filter to determine reliable from unreliable sources of information action. These ideas led me to create a mini-unit to help students build a filter to assess the reliability of news sources and websites. It all begins with a questionable container of yogurt.

What do you do when you find a container of yogurt close to its expiration date? You give it the sniff test. Yes, peel back the cover and sniff. If your nose gives it an all clear you give it a small taste. If that turns out well you enjoy the treat. If either test fails the yogurt is discarded. This concrete example of everyday life at home created the foundation for my 4th and 5th graders adventure into investigating the reliability of websites and news sources.

When you come across a story or website give it the sniff test using CARS.

Credible

Accurate

Reasonable

Support

After defining each phrase we put our new stiff test into play by exploring Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. Armed with a QR code, their iPads, and a CARS checklist students worked to determine whether the information regarding the Tree Octopus was reliable. Thankfully they were up to the task and rightly identified the source as unreliable however, this was a set-up for the next site.

After accessing All About Explorers many quickly assumed it was a reliable source for information. Why? It looked good. After urging them to truly explore the site students realized they were duped. This led to a rich conversation on how appearances can be misleading and how media literate individuals would deeply explore a site and engage in some fact checking. After accessing reliable sources of information we discovered Christopher Columbus was not born in Sydney, Australia in 1950, as the site points out.

In the coming days we will build on our sniff test. Students will begin to research topics of their own choosing as we add note-taking, and topic sentence writing skills to the mix,

It is more important than ever that we help students develop they skills they will need to navigate the incredible amount of information that they will be exposed to on their lifetime. What if every student left elementary school with the skills to be media literate and an empowered member of their community?

This is just one experience in a classroom. Please share this with others and pass along any resources and experiences that can help me make this a more powerful experience for my students.

 

Resources I gathered as I researched this topic. I hope they pass the sniff test.

Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone Of Civic Online Reasoning by Stanford History Education Group

Infographic Walks You Through 10 Questions To Detect Fake News by Dahlia Bazzaz

When Narrative Matters More Than Fact by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair

Battling Fake News In The Classroom by Mary Beth Hertz

The Classroom Where Fake News Fails by Cory Turner & Kat Lonsdorf

The Remedy for the Spread of Fake News? History Teachers by Kevin Levin

Fake Or Real? How To Self Check The News And Get The Facts by Wynne Davis

5 Tools To Help Evaluate Sources In A World Of Fake News by Shawn McCusker

Can Librarians Help Solve The Fake News Problem? by Donald Barclay

Did Media Literacy Backfire? by danah boyd

Secret Gifts

I am a huge fan of Twitter and the opportunities it provides educators. A Professional Learning Network is essential to our growth (and sanity) and Twitter provides a wonderful platform to connect with other educators. This is a recent example of PLNPower in action.

Earlier this month I was participating in #TitleTalk and was intrigued by an idea shared by @Fifthgrade4ever. The conversation revolved around how we as educators share books with our students. Wouldn’t it be cool if..? YES! Yes, it would be cool.  screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-2-39-41-pm

 

Three weeks ago I met with my students at Morning Meeting and we discussed what characteristics they felt made a good book. The following day students wrote a personal response in their dialogue journals about the components they most liked about the books they have read and examples of books read that fit the criteria. As we explored titles through read aloud, literature classes, and student book presentations the lists were refined. I enjoyed our critical examination of author craft, our personal connections to texts, and the rediscovery of our classroom library.

Last week I explained the “Secret Laurel” project (Laurel is our Librarian). We drew names of classmates and I challenged students to gather as much information they could about their secret reader. We practiced observing, asking good questions, and reflecting on peer’s past book reviews and reading logs. Throughout this process, my student explored our classroom library and generated a list of possible titles they could give their Secret Laurel as a vacation gift.

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Over the last few days students conferred with classmates to decide what would make the perfect gift. I appreciated that students wanted to share a good title, that they were willing to collaborate, that they could keep this fun secret, and they could think of someone else’s likes and dislikes.

Books were wrapped with great enthusiasm and they were sent home to be unwrapped with family members. The feedback thus far from students and families has been positive and I enjoyed celebrating our books, our readers, and the PLN I am very fortunate to be a part of.

Smell The Roses

It is a snowy day in Maine and I have been blessed with a snow day. For me, a snow day is a chance to relive my childhood with my own children. Snowballs, sledding, hot cocoa, board games, and movies.

As I start picking up from a day of fun I happen to notice my children’s tooth brushes. They are no longer kiddie sized. Both have graduated to the adult size though they are only 8 and 6.

A parent once said to me, in reflecting on their child at a parent teacher conference, “Every day is a year and every year is a day.” How very true! In looking at those toothbrushes, years felt like days and I heard the voice of my parents and grandparents ringing in my ears. Where has the time gone?

How do we slow ourselves down? How do we share with our children and students that they should take time to enjoy the world around them? What kind of environment fosters this mentality and do children even have a sense that time is fleeting?

In & Out, Up & Down

The past ten days have been a roller coaster. I have experienced the ups and downs of being surrounded by like minded people.

The majority: Last week I was fortunate to attend Ed Tech Teacher’s Innovation Summit in Boston. I was surrounded by hundreds of educators who came together to improve the work being done in classrooms. How might we leverage the philosophy of Design Thinking to engage students with hands-on work that has meaning to our students’ todays and tomorrows? The energy and passion for education was palatable and I was excited to be in the mix, talking the same language, and knowing what we were doing would lead us to a better place. (If you are curious here are my abbreviated notes.)

The minority: Last week I fulfilled my duty as a citizen and voted. I was hopeful for our future as a country and felt I had cast my vote towards a candidate I thought would help us reach our goals. The result I had hoped for did not come to pass. In the aftermath of the election, I was struck with how polarized our country has become. We have surrounded and insulated ourselves with so many like-minded people and talking heads that we can no longer hear the opinions of others. It is clear that we have lost our ability to empathize and to listen to understand.

As teachers we weave the social & academic curricula. Now, more than ever, it is important that we reinforce respect for others & ideas, & rebuild our safe spaces. We can leverage the amazing tools we have available to us to remove barriers so students can grow as learners. We can also leverage tools to help students connect with one another in order to build the capacity to listen, understand, and empathize.

 

 

Trust

 

Last week, my two kids went back to school like the rest of us. I watched their eager, anxious faces turn toward the bus as it rolled to a stop and saw their backpacks bounce up the bus stairs. I was filled with hope and excitement for them. I was also a little nervous. Even after 19 years as a teacher and so many back-to-schools, the nerves still kick in.

Sending children off to school requires an incredible amount of trust. We trust doctors with our health, airline pilots with our long-distance travel, and other drivers on the road to stay in their lane. We trust teachers to keep our kids safe and ignite curiosity.

But how do perfect strangers earn those varying degrees of trust from one another?

Specifically, how do teachers earn the trust of parents? How do we reinforce that trust?

Phone Calls – Starting the year off can be nerve-wracking for children, parents, and teachers. After the first weeks of school, we call each family to discuss their child’s transition. We answer questions ranging from field trips to recess to snacks to whether students are making friends and focusing on learning.

Open Doors – We welcome parents into our rooms in the mornings before school starts. It is an opportunity for them to explore the space, look at student work, and to see the faces of everyone involved in their child’s life.

Class Blog Posts/Tweets – Parents want to know what is happening in school. We make it a habit to capture and share moments on our grade level Twitter page. We also encourage students to write reflections of events and classes that are then shared on the blog. We encourage parents to provide their feedback through comments or tweets.

Teacher Blog Posts/Tweets – Building trust requires an understanding. We take the time to share our professional thinking through blog posts and tweets. We provide a snapshot into our pedagogy and make our philosophy of teaching as transparent as possible. We begin early in the year by simply sharing our summer reading.

Personalization – Parents want what is best for their child. They send their children to school not only to learn the “3Rs” but to also be energized by the world around them. Helping students find their passion and building the curriculum around individuals needs and interests helps connect teachers and parents.

Being Present – We are visible and approachable at morning drop off, dismissal, and at school-wide events. While our teaching and home lives are busy, taking a moment to watch an inning of baseball or to stand in the entranceway before a performance reaffirms our role in the lives of our students.

 

There are many other opportunities to build trust. What are your suggestions?