#Culturize #CYS Book Study

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is thinking about their school culture and ways to make positive changes. Even if you already have a positive school climate that puts kids first, this book has some great community builders and the stories really help you to see how to reach “Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.”

Why I chose this book

This book was the second digital book club I facilitated with a small group of teachers from my school and one other school across the district. We chose this book because it has a focus on reaching EVERY student in a school building especially those who can be difficult. I loved the personal stories Jimmy Casas shared throughout the book.

Major takeaways

Jimmy Casas shares the importance of relationship building conversations in the first chapter and the importance of kid-centered conversations. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the video “Every Opportunity.”

He talks a lot about disrupting average and going above and beyond for our students. I constantly reflected on my “why:” To cultivate lifelong learning through perseverance and personal interests. My why has a lot to do with going above and beyond for my students and I try to create the best learning experiences for them. To me, this is their only time in first grade and it should be the BEST first-grade experience ever!

On page 38, Casas talks about ensuring every student gets the necessary support they need to grow at their personal pace based on their needs but that students also need to be exposed to grade level content because if they aren’t exposed to it they will never reach that level. This hit home for me. I’ve always thought my one-on-one instruction for intervention was more important than the core instruction for struggling learners. Now I know that if I want kids to fill their gaps and reach grade level mastery, they need time with both personal level and grade level content. That is true individualized learning. “What is important to remember is that working with all students, regardless of their level, takes time, patience, a positive attitude, and a certain level of persistence to inspire our children to believe they can do anything.” (page 40)

The section about being a leader struck me as well. You don’t need a title to be a leader. You just need to passion and mindset to make positive impacts in your school culture.

Core Principle 3 might have been the chapter that spoke to me the most. It talked a lot about taking chare of sharing the story of your school. Filling the community with positivity when talking about your school. I really liked the section about being life-fit over balance. I struggle with balance because I tend to focus on what I think is the most important at the moment. Being life-fit allows me to choose depending on the ebbs and flows of life and what I can ACTUALLY accomplish.

 

Making it accessible for Littles

This book was mostly about creating a school culture in which kids feel “safe, connected, and valued” (page 26) and that starts in elementary school. We need to create relationships with our students that help us understand who they are, where they come from, their interests, and how they learn so we can reach them. I don’t have specifics about how to make this accessible to littles because the book does a great job of showing how this is important in every school, every day, at every age.

The book study PLN

Having conversations about my reading with others reading the same text has pushed my thinking and allowed me to see different perspectives and perceptions. I truly enjoyed our talks on Culturize as we connected 2 schools on different sides of my district and helped to create a more positive school culture at both our school sites. View the conversation on Twitter and Flipgrid

Learn Like a Pirate

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I was interested in shifting from a student-centered classroom to a student-led classroom.

Major takeaways

First off, I loved the Easter eggs in this book! The author, Paul Solarz, included additional content throughout the book using QR codes to his blog posts and documents he created that support the chapter. I felt like I hit the jackpot each time I scanned one of those things! I couldn’t get enough!

I am laying off the jobs and turning up classroom responsibilities. After reading this book, my class was charged with the responsibility of answering the phone and relaying messages, running morning meeting, running math routines, and changing the calendar and schedule. I wanted to get rid of classroom jobs altogether, but my firsties were up in arms and did not want those assigned jobs to go away. Instead, I let kids choose their jobs each week.

We had major conversations about growing as leaders in our classroom. When the kids were in charge, I would sit and wait for them to move things along rather than moving it along myself. This was awkward and uncomfortable at times because I would just sit and wait. Once they realized what needed to be done, 4-19 kids would jump up at once to do it. We had to talk about the difference between active leadership and passive leadership. I needed to explain that if someone gets up to do something, let them be the leader. You can be a passive leader by allowing them their turn.

Chapter 3 was all about collaboration. He talked about setting up your space to encourage collaboration which includes flexibility with furniture. This section challenged my thinking about flexible seating. The chairs and seating options shouldn’t be the only thing that’s flexible in your classrooms. Tables can move too. Kids should have the agency to decide when and where furniture needs to move to support their learning. This paradigm shift inspired me to write the post From Makerspace to Maker-Classroom.

After reading chapter 5, I tried my first literature circle with the support of our literacy coach Jessica VonDerHeide. We chose a book and introduced roles to a reading group and used the roles to help focus conversations about the book. Then, I decided to try this with the whole class and let them choose their books. The boys in the first group became the leaders and help to teach the roles. I made sure they were all in different groups so they could help to train the others. This worked so well, we did it twice before the end of the school year!

       

The 34 skills listed on page 180-191 are the skills I am now using to set goals for my students, PBLs, and other learning experiences.

Making it accessible for Littles

“Start small. Give your students simple jobs.” – Paul Solarz, page 20. This right here makes everything in this book accessible to littles. Pick one or 2 things then gradually release more and more as they are ready for it.

Paul talks about giving students the power of “Give me 5.” This is something I am going to do with my students this new school year. So many times littles come up to the teacher to ask a simple question that other kids might know the answer to. I would love my firsties to say, “Give me 5” then ask their question to seek clarification or get help. Teachers don’t always need to be the one with all the information or the one to jump in and save the day.

Littles naturally look for ways to improve. In chapter 4, Paul talks about portfolios and feedback. My students use Seesaw as a digital portfolio to collect their work. They leave each other comments on work as feedback. I ask them to focus their comments to glows and grows, say something kind, say something helpful, or ask a question. Focusing their thoughts and giving them sentence starters can really support littles in providing peer feedback.

The book study PLN

Caitlin McCommons and I wanted to lead a book study because we both love to read professional books but we’re both social and like to bounce our learning off of others. So we decided to launch our first digital book study using this book. We reached out to our PTA who was able to help supply some books to 6 lucky teachers! We gathered staff from our school and a school across our district who were interested in learning and growing with us. We decided to use Flipgrid as a platform for discussion because it simulates a face to face discussion but is much more flexible! You can check out our learning here: Also, feel free to add to it! We’ll never close it!

https://flipgrid.com/b39zdb?embed=true

We’ll also be launching a new book study in September so watch Twitter for the announcement!

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways! Please share in the comments below!

Stop Teaching Digital Citizenship!

I’d like to challenge the common conversation around Digital Citizenship. Typically we teach students specific guidelines for how to act when they are online:

  • Your information is private
  • Be kind
  • Things you put online are permanent
  • Copyright

All of these and more are good topics to cover with students. These conversations SHOULD be happening in schools and at home.

I challenge the idea that these are digital guidelines. Students should be respecting privacy, being kind, being original, and acting in ways that make them proud both on and offline. These conversations shouldn’t be labeled as digital citizenship, they are simply citizenship. The two don’t need to be separate.

My crazy idea?

Teach citizenship. Teach humanity. Teach kindness. Teach kids how to communicate and collaborate in the real world. Teach them how to transfer those skills to all aspects of their lives. In the world we live in today, being online and active in social media spaces is as commonplace as talking to the clerk at the grocery store or having a conversation with friends. You wouldn’t tell the clerk your life story and you wouldn’t (shouldn’t) talk bad about people who aren’t in your friend group. We don’t copy people out in public, we think about those around us and behave and speak in appropriate ways. When you’re online, the same rules apply.

We don’t need to teach digital citizenship. We need to teach kids to be good people.

**end rant**

 

Beginning of the Year Must-Dos to Set up for Success with #innovate4littles

I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.

I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.

Team Building

During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.

So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!

Flexible Seating

I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!

Roll out the Technology

We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.

Bucket Lists

It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspaceSTREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).

Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.

Active Listening

Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.

Growth Mindset

We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.

Up Next…

This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).

Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?

A Community Planning PBL

I designed this PBL after a middle of the night idea. It took me just a few hours on a Saturday to sit down and get the bones of the project laid out. I like to use the Project Design Template from the Buck Institute for Education. I modified it a little to make it work better for me. This blog post will be the narrative version of the plan I wrote including my reflections. Some of what I planned, didn’t happen and some things we did, were not on the plan. I like to take the lead from my students during a project like this which changes the plan sometimes!

In this PBL, students will design a community that meets the wants and needs of the people who live there. Students will consider the producers and goods and services needed to meet the needs and wants of the consumers. Students will create a blueprint and build a model of their community.

Driving Question

How can you as a community planning committee ensure that the needs and wants of your citizens are met through the goods and services you will provide?

Goals and Standards

Common Core Reading

  • RI1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
  • RI1.5 Know and use various text features (e.g., headings, table of contents, glossaries, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts of information in a text.
  • RI1.9 Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).

North Carolina Social Studies Standards

  • E.1 Understand basic economic concepts.
    • E.1.1 Summarize the various ways in which people earn and use the money for goods and services.
    • E.1.2 Identify examples of goods and services in the home, school, and community.
    • E.1.3 Explain how supply and demand affect the choices families and communities make.
  • G.1 Use geographic representations, terms, and technologies to process information from a spatial perspective.
    • G.1.1 Use geographic tools to identify characteristics of various landforms and bodies of water.
    • G.1.2 Give examples showing the location of places (home, classroom, school, and community).
    • G.1.3 Understand the basic elements of geographic representations using maps (cardinal directions and map symbols).

21 Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving – Designing a community with spatial constraints that fits the needs of the people who live there
  • Collaboration – Students will work on teams of 4-5 students to design their community. Each student will have a role.

Hook

For this project, I had students read 3 different books on communities and community helpers from Reading A-Z. We discussed the similarities and differences in the books and added our wonders to the wonder wall.

Student process

After reading and comparing the texts, I split students into groups of 4-5. I revealed the roles for this project:

  • Commissioner- makes decisions on behalf of the community
  • Architect- creates the plan and sees that plan is followed
  • Engineer- Checks for structure safety
  • Economic Development Specialists – Makes sure there is a balance of goods/services and producers/consumers

I knew these terms would be beyond their understanding, so I created a slide deck to explain each one in child friendly language.

Students then had conversations within their groups to select their roles. Groups with 5 students, decided which role they thought deserved 2 people. We have selected roles in my classroom before so students are familiar with the process. Basically, they go around the group and say which role they would like and why. If no one else selects that role, it’s theirs. If more than one student selects the same role (and they can’t both do it) they use one of our protocols to make a decision (rock paper scissors, bubble gum bubble gum, pick a number, group vote, etc.).

Their first collaborative task was to create a list of needs and wants of citizens in a community. Then using those lists, students made a second list of the goods and services that could provide each need and want. The commissioner needed to make sure they could meet all the needs of their citizens.

On chart paper, architects made a map to plan out their community. The engineer needed to make sure the roads were clear for the safety of their citizens. Then they labeled the stores on the map. The economic development specialist made sure that there were goods and services to support the citizens. The commissioner made sure that citizen needs were met before their wants. The planning process took us about 3 days.

The building process took us a while. Students used cardboard and construction paper to build their communities. They needed signs for each structure. The architect was to ensure the build followed the plan they drew on the map. The engineer needed to make ensure the buildings were sturdy and the roads were clear.

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Students shared their projects with the other groups in the classroom and with parents who came in for a genius hour writing celebration.

Mini lessons and how I knew students needed them

Needs and Wants – Even though this is taught in kindergarten, we had conversations that broadened their understanding. First, whole-group we completed a needs and wants sort. Then discussed additional things the people need in their community like doctors, police officers, housing options, etc.

Goods and Services – We completed a sort of goods and services using a smartboard file I have. Then we talked about the businesses they have selected to put in their communities and whether they provided goods or services or both.

Bird’s Eye View – When I asked my students to draw a map of their community, they began drawing a skyline view of it. I had to stop their work right away and talk about drawing from a bird’s eye view. I used google maps to show our community and how the bird’s eye view is different from the street view.

Building Shapes – Students really struggled with cutting down cardboard or using construction paper to build their buildings. Fortunately, we were covering 3D shapes in math and I was able to show them how to construct cubes and rectangular prisms to construct their buildings and tie it to our geometry standards! When sharing their community,  one student said, “we built it this way after Mrs. Diorio showed us how to build 3D shapes with paper.”

Community Helpers – Students did not initially include police stations, fire stations, doctor’s offices/hospitals, etc. in their plans. We talked about the different community helpers that citizens might need for their safety within the community.

Trash and Recycling – Right as we were finishing our build, it was Earth Day. This was the perfect opportunity to talk about how they would plan to keep their community free of pollution. Students added trash cans and recycling centers in their communities.

Mini lessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

Zoning – I totally skipped this entire part of the project I designed.

Naming a Business – Students chose to use the names of businesses they knew from in our community or they agreed quickly on other names.

Safety of structures – Engineers seemed to already know that the buildings in their communities shouldn’t wobble when touched and made sure they were secured to the ground.

OOPS!

I planned to focus more on taking anecdotal notes and using a rubric to help me grade students’ communities, but I got so involved in our building process, I completely forgot to carry around my clipboard! I will tell you that every student in my class understood the goals of the project and could explain them to others. I’ll do better next time!

Things I’ll do differently next time

Notes and Rubric – I plan to be more intentional with PBL in taking anecdotal notes and using a rubric to keep track of what and how my students are doing during the process.

Writing – This project would have been the perfect chance for students to write an all about book on communities. They also could have written opinion/persuasive pieces about the stores they wanted in their communities or to attract citizens to live in their community.

Zones – I initially designed this project to talk about how communities are zoned into housing areas and shopping areas. However, I never ended up doing anything with that. The next time I do this project, I will be sure to talk more about zoning.

History – We didn’t really touch on the change over time standard during this project. Next time, one student will have the role of town historian and will need to take pictures throughout the process so students can mark how their community has changed over the time they spent building it.

Self Reflections – I planned for students to fill out self-reflections during the process so they can see their own impact on the bigger project, but ran out of time every day to do this. Next time, I will have reflection days for students to think about what they are doing and how they are impacting the community.

 

I would love your feedback on this project. Please leave comments below!

The Playground Problem PBL

This Project Based Learning unit was developed by Kara Damico and myself. We participated in a year long professional development on Project Based Learning including business immersions called Summer STEM. This plan was developed based on our learning experiences during training and time at Plexus and The Frontier Building

Goals and Standards (21st century skills)

Social Studies

  • Explain ways people change the environment.

Math

  • Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.
  • Understand that the 2 digits of a 2 digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.

ELA

  • Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion and provide some sense of closure.

4 Cs

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Students design structures to address the problem statements after reviewing the data collected.
  • Creativity: Student designs should have unique features that are not already represented in your recess spaces. These designs may draw on creative efforts they find in their research.
  • Collaboration: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students may choose to work independently, in partners, or in small groups depending on the similarity of ideas to design and build their structures. Classes collaborate with business experts when available.
  • Communication: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students will give a 30 second pitch explaining their structures to PTA members, playground safety inspectors, facility planner, or other community members with a connection to playground construction.

Hook

We began by having students draw their dream playground without any constraints. To get kids thinking out of the box, we played a slideshow of photos of some unique playground structures from around the United States.

After drawing, students did a gallery walk to see their friends’ ideas. We then created a chart to list similar ideas and unique ideas. We collected ideas on a Padlet.

Student process

After the hook, we went to observe our playground space and completed a padlet to list things we liked and didn’t like about our current recess spaces. We were able to decide upon 3 main recess spaces – hard top, playground, field. Students reflected on our spaces by listing likes and dislikes of our current set up and structures. We collected these on a Padlet.

We then needed data to see which areas of the playground were the most popular. We gave a bag of pompoms to every teacher in the school and set up big jars by the recess doors. Each jar was labeled with a recess area. Students placed their pompom in the jar for their favorite recess space. Students then analyzed the data from the jars. We discovered that the most popular spaces were the playground structures.

In order for students to find the problem, we interviewed our assistant principal and receptionist (who doubles as our nurse) about problems that occur during recess. They reported that we have frequent injuries and fighting incidents. Students were able to think about our popular spaces survey and connect that the overcrowding of the playground structures likely causes both injuries and incidents.

Students were then challenged to think about the ideal structures they drew and the recess problems we identified and create a solution. Students designed structures to add to our recess spaces such as zip lines, obstacle courses, sports fields, talk-it-out structures for problem solving, and more. Students then used makerspace materials to build prototypes of the structures they designed. Students collected feedback from each other and made improvements to their structures. Students researched materials they could use to build their structures on the Home Depot or Lowe’s websites. They used tens and ones to figure out an estimated cost. Students then wrote a pitch for their structure including it’s purpose and safety features. We used this planning sheet:

We invited administration, PTA, a playground planner, and a playground safety inspector to our final event. Students presented their structures to the visitors and collected feedback. We were not able to acually select a structure to build (but that would have been really cool).

Mini lessons and how I knew students needed them

  • Reading a bar graph for most and least.
  • Prototyping and using simple materials.
  • Giving feedback – In my class we use glows for positives and grows for improvements. We needed to talk about specific feedback and always giving a postitive first.
  • Using feedback – After students collected feedback from friends, we talked about how to decided if it was right to make changes to structures based on the feedback given.
  • Drawing ten sticks and ones to represent the cost of materials and counting it all up.
  • Writing a convincing pitch.

Mini lessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

  • Collaboration lessons and conversations – these are always great to have in your back pocket. We do a lot of collaborative activities in my classroom so my students didn’t need any of these this time.

Reflections from The Curious Classroom

These are my reflections after reading The Curious Classroom by Havey “Smokey” Daniels.

Why

In full disclosure, I selected this book because Caitlin told me to! There are many other reasons this book was good for me. It is right up my alley. This book is all about embedding inquiry into your everyday classroom. Inquiry-based learning and instruction: “I will implement inquiry-based learning in my classroom through the use of a PBL unit at least once per quarter.” Included in my actions and resources were active research into Project Based Learning and professional development. I selected this book and brought it to the rest of my first-grade team as a possible book study for us all to read and discuss together. My first-grade team along with Caitlin and one other member began reading and learning about inquiry classrooms together.

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Major takeaways

The biggest overarching idea that impacted me while reading is that inquiry doesn’t need to be this giant thing every time. There are small things you can do regularly or routines you can implement that don’t take a lot of time or resources. Some of the small inquiry shifts that I have made are soft starts, collecting questions, modeling my curiosity, and allowing for mini-inquiries.

Beginning my day with soft starts has been the biggest shift I made this school year after reading this book. Chapter 4 is all about soft starts. I stopped giving morning work every day. My students now have the opportunity to make a choice for how they spend their morning. Some students are engaged in open-ended STREAM centers while others may just sit in a quiet spot to gather themselves. I made this decision because play is a very important learning experience for students. I also saw this as an opportunity to level the playing field for each of my students and allow them to begin their day in an equitable way. I noticed that students who come right before the tardy bell would stress about not completing their morning work. They were starting their day already behind. That is not a great way to enter into a busy day of learning.

Chapter 3 is about capturing kids inquiries. We have a wonder wall in our classroom on which students post questions on sticky notes. These questions might come from their fleeting thoughts, a book, or a lesson I’m teaching. Kids are allowed to post a question to the wall at any time during the day. Students use the wall to inspire their genius hour work and in mini inquiries. Next year we will keep a wonder notebook to collect questions too.

Because of chapter 1, Demonstrating Your Own Curiosity, I began sharing my interests and curiosities with my students. I modeled writing and posting questions to the wonder wall and my own research process through looking for answers to my questions. Showing them how I use different resources and synthesize the information into my own understanding and then creating something to share my learning has helped them use that process as well as become more critical of the information they are taking in. I have modeled for my students how to choose a question, looking for similar questions and grouping them into a topic.

One of my goals this year was to try and include inquiry into my curriculum. Chapter 8 was all about ways to do that through mini-inquiries. I have included a few mini-inquiry days into my units. Some have worked and some did not. I have tried mini-inquiries to launch a unit, within, a unit, and after a unit to allow students to find their interests within the curriculum. I found mini-inquiries to be most effective in science units.

Making it accessible for Littles

This book, like a lot of education books, was not written specifically for teachers of littles. Any teacher can pick up this book and use the elements in their classroom. That said, it can be tricky to make things accessible for littles and developmentally appropriate. This book being about curiosity is great for kids because they are so naturally curious. When littles post curiosities to a wonder wall, they can write a sentence, phrase, words, or draw a picture. Allowing a student to communicate in a way they feel successful can make this accessible to them. When modeling inquiries, model ways in which they can access the question and research. I have chosen to write my questions in pictures and labels so my students know this is available for them. We also use a lot of kid-friendly inquiry tools. Modeling through individual steps also makes inquiry learning accessible for littles. Seeing the process in action and then copying it allows students to access information and share their learning.

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The book study PLN

I read this book with my first-grade team, a second-grade teacher, and our instructional resource teacher.  It was so great to meet weekly and discuss each chapter. I loved seeing others’ perspectives as they read through the chapter and shared their major takeaways. We were able to make plans for how we will incorporate our new learning into our everyday classrooms. We had some amazing conversations to step up our inquiry-based learning.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

#may16 #itspersonal – Why I Marched

May 16 was a big day in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was designated the day of advocacy by NCAE. What started out as a few hundred people planning to advocate for public schools in NC grew exponentially into tens of thousands of educators and parents marching together 1 mile from the NCAE building to the Legislative building to fight for our kids. 42 school districts canceled school and made it an optional teacher workday to show support for teachers attending.

Of course, the media twisted our narrative. The national news called it a walkout or a strike. It was neither of those things. Every teacher there took leave we earned to be there. For districts that didn’t cancel, teachers PAID $50 to take a personal day. For others, teachers took annual leave or a day without pay. Much of the news coverage also said out focus was to increase our salaries. And yes, that it is part of it but we were there for so much more. Schools across North Carolina need more funding to make learning environments better for students. Buildings are falling apart, don’t have supplies, technology is out of date, lacking in non-teaching staff (counselors, psychologists, nurses, teacher assistants, etc.), school meals are unhealthy, and so many other reasons.

I was there for the march and the rally. I stayed through the rain. I arrived by bus at 7:45am and left in an uber at 6:30pm.

This is my tenth year teaching in North Carolina. I taught 3 years in Durham County and 7 in Wake County. My experience is diverse.

My first year teaching, our school was in the middle of a major renovation. I moved my classroom 3 times that year as the construction phases moved through our building and new addition.  As they began renovations in each phase, the building needed asbestos abatement. We had to walk past danger signs warning of the asbestos. We marched our kids outside under the fans blowing air out of those rooms. The asbestos abatement was only one of our concerns in the 3 years I taught there. We also had mice, roaches, snakes, and mold all over our school. Our windows had bullet holes. We were warned not to stay past dark working in our classrooms. If the neighborhood wasn’t safe for me after dark, it wasn’t safe for my kids either. My third year teaching there, we went on an hour and a half lockdown because someone stole a car at gunpoint and the police chased them into our parking lot. I went every summer to Staples to purchase their penny deals. I bought paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, folders, and notebooks for my students every year. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. Parents couldn’t afford to send in supplies and the school didn’t have enough for every student. I knew I couldn’t’ teach without these basics, so I went to every sale and purchased the maximum amount they would allow.

I left at the end of that year for Wake County. I opened a brand new title 1 school.  I was amazed by the vastly different access to supplies at this new school in a neighboring county. We had new technology. We had crayons and pencils! I was astonished. I shifted to buying extras for my kids: headphones, books, markers, baskets. This was the year I noticed the school meals. Every student in our building received free and reduced breakfast and lunch. But the food served is lacking in nutritional value at best. There were few fresh fruit and vegetable options. Breakfast was sugary option after sugary option. While my students and I were much better off, we still ran out of things like copy paper. We quickly outgrew our brand new building and we had 25 kids in our rooms. We had to hire 3 teachers mid-year in my grade level alone. But we didn’t have classrooms for them. We taught 2 teachers to a room in 2 rooms. They kept 30 kids and the rest of us went down to 18 students. The third mid-year hired teacher pulled out small groups of students from each classroom and taught them in the janitor’s closet.

The school I teach at now wants for nothing. We have a variety of technology at our fingertips, our supply closet is always full, our building is clean and taken care of, and we have manageable class sizes. I know that the story at my school is an exception. And, I know that isn’t fair. Nor is it normal for our PTA to be providing us with technology and supplies. As great as our school is, I know that I need to fight for equity across our state. Every student should have access to what we have. As educators and parents, we need to continue to come together to speak our truths and make our voices heard.

I marched on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 for every student in the state of North Carolina to be treated fairly, equitably, and with respect. What our schools has become is not ok and cannot continue.

Blended Learning with Littles

A blended learning environment is one in which technology and “offline” teaching are seamlessly intertwined throughout the day. Blended learning environments allow for student agency, passions, and mastery to grow.

21st Century Learning

In the 21st Century Framework, students use digital tools, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking (The 4 Cs), and other career readiness skills to curriculum standards. In the 21st Century Framework, teachers design lessons, and experiences that pull in multiple skills listed above. Teachers must model risk-taking and perseverance. Teachers must also look for ways to include a global perspective in their curriculum. A blended learning environment provides teachers with tools to use to teach the skills and perspectives outlined by the 21st Century Framework. In a blended learning environment, students can use devices to share their learning with the world through Twitter, Instagram, a Seesaw blog, or other tools. Students can complete work in a way that makes sense to them. They can use a digital tool like Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Google Classroom to collaborate and communicate with one another. They can use their creativity to respond to assignments or teacher prompts using tools like pic collage, Seesaw, Chatterpix, and more. Students can apply critical thinking by considering their digital footprint prior to sharing with the world, solving problems with a team, or deciding which digital tool works best for them when given a choice.img_0862default

The 4Cs

Blending technology into your lessons allows for opportunities for students to experience the 4Cs. Blended learning can consist of student choices in response to learning. Students need to think Critically (1) about the task at hand and the best way to Communicate (2) their learning with others. I have given students choices for Letterland phonics sorts to use either Seesaw or paper and pencil. My kindergarteners figured out which way worked best for them and stuck with that method. In my kindergarten and first grade classrooms, we use #BookSnaps to reflect on text reading. Students have a choice in how they respond to that text and are very Creative (3) in their text annotating using labels, drawing, and emojis to annotate the text. I encourage students to Collaborate (4) and work together on one device. You know the saying 2 heads are better than one. Well, it still holds true when kids are creating content using technology. They aren’t only sharing their learning but they are learning ways to work on a team. Because a blended learning environment encourages collaboration, we don’t need to be 1:1 with students to devices in order to have a blended environment. There are times in my classroom where we use 1:1 and times where only 4 devices get used and the kids work together.

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Access to multiple types of devices grows flexibility

I’ve heard people say they don’t like technology in the classroom because technology changes frequently and just when you get used to something there is something new out there. I love that technology changes all the time. It forces us to be flexible, a super important executive functioning skill. In my classroom (not by choice) I have 2 desktop computers, one laptop, 5 iPad 2s, 1 newer iPad, my teacher laptop, my old iPhone 6, and 2 of my personal devices I let kids use occasionally (a chromebook and an iPhone 8 plus), and because of BYOD we have various models of iPads and iPand minis. Soon, we are getting new chromebooks from the district. The variety of devices that my students have access too requires them to transfer skills to different types of operating systems and to problem solve when something doesn’t work. I have kids who prefer the desktop computers for one task, an iPad for another, and my old phone for another. We have that flexibility for them to find what works best for them.

Learning first Technology Second

It is important to remember that the learning always needs to come first. Technology should support the learning. It never comes first in my planning process. I start by looking at my standards and unpacking what that means for students. My next step is to decide how we will approach the standard and how it should break down for student learning. Sometimes technology fits in and amplifies the learning, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes my devices sit without being touched all day and sometimes we use them in every block. Sometimes I don’t plan for technology but my students find a way to amplify their own learning and voices during a lesson or learning experience using technology and clearly I have to allow it! Like I said at the top, a blended learning environment includes both technology AND “offline” learning. It is important to know your standards, know your kids, and plan appropriately.

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My Teacher Heart is so Full

There are days the teaching is incredibly difficult. It’s not an easy job. There are days that teaching is incredibly rewarding. We have the ability to impact so many lives. There are days that teaching is incredibly draining.  We are given other people’s children to love and nurture daily. There are days that teaching is incredibly energizing. It can be a lonely job but, if we are intentional we can make some amazing connections!

Today is a day that I feel rewarded and energized. Today is a good day.

Yesterday was #EdCampWake. Yesterday was #TheEdCollabGathering. Yesterday was a day for learning, growing, and connecting. Were you at (physically or digitally) one of these events? I would love to continue connecting with you.

I went to my third #EdCampWake yesterday and presented at my first #TheEdCollabGathering. I love EdCamps because it is conversation based. Teachers show up on a Saturday morning, write down topics they would like to discuss, choose a session, and have conversations around the topics. There is no presenter. People just share and ask questions. Sometimes you are the expert and sometimes you know nothing! I attended sessions on Digital Portfolios, Equity, and PBL. In each session, I was able to both share and ask questions. I made some connections with educators I know and ones I don’t. I’m super excited for #EdCampBeach next weekend! Let me know if you are going. I would love to connect.

My buddy, Caitlin McCommons and I presented at a digital conference called The Education Collaborative yesterday. We shared tips and tools for Inquiry and Technology with Littles (#innovate4littles). We were so nervous because we couldn’t see the audience and how our message was received. We were so energized after the presentation! I’m so excited to go through their archives to see all the other presenters!

But that’s not all! This week was another Slow Flip Chat with #InnovatingPlay and #GAfE4Littles. I absolutely love this community! This week’s topic, Play through Nature, really stretched my thinking! I love the style of this chat because we participated on both Twitter and Flipgrid. It is slow and runs through a whole week with a different question each day.  It’s flexible and I can participate whenever I can fit it in. Jessica and Christine always manage to stretch my thinking through their questioning. I love connecting with educators through the reply videos on Flipgrid. I encourage YOU to check out this community and participate in the next chat! Reach out to me and I’ll make sure to share it with you!

How is your teacher heart this weekend? Are you feeling challenged? Rewarded? Drained? Energized? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! But most importantly, be mindful of it and take the time for YOU!