I’m a Teacher Advocate

I moved to North Carolina to be a teacher in the summer of 2007. I didn’t know anything about the area and I didn’t know anyone here. All I knew was that I needed to get some classroom experience so I could go home to New York and get a teaching job. It’s been almost 12 years and I’m still here gaining classroom experience and I don’t see myself leaving.

Not long after I got my first teaching job, the state of public education in North Carolina started on a downward spiral that we are still trying to get out of. Since moving to NC, per-pupil spending has gone from $8,615 in 2007 to $9,528 in 2018. Not only are both of those numbers below the national average for that year, but the difference between NC per-pupil spending and the national average has increased over time. We currently rank 39th in the country in per pupil spending.

Teacher pay follows a similar story. I was excited about moving to North Carolina because the teacher pay scale had a scheduled raise every year. Before the end of my first year teaching, that pay scale froze. It remained frozen for 4 years. It was fine. I never got into teaching to get rich. I was living paycheck to paycheck and wasn’t able to save money but I could pay all of my bills. I have a master’s degree. I shouldn’t have to live that way. No one should.

Over my 11 years of teaching, I have seen a lot of changes in schools. From a decrease in teacher assistants to an increase in testing requirements. At first, I was baffled that the schools in North Carolina didn’t have a full-time nurse in every building but that is just the beginning. I now have fully scripted programs I’m required to teach for phonics and math. It’s coming soon for reading, I fear. My creativity and professional discretion has been stripped from me in the name of fidelity and equity.

It took me 9 and a half years of teaching in a deteriorating system to finally see the importance of joining our educators’ union, NCAE. I recognized the importance of organization and communication among educators when working toward better learning conditions for our students. I was starting to get frustrated with legislators taking advantage of passionate educators. I watched the work in Virginia and West Virginia and realized NEA was where the work was being done. I immediately joined my state and local chapter. I was even more excited to see the work in more states.

In May 2018, a march and rally were planned to show solidarity and begin to make moves on our general assembly. It turned into about 42 school districts closing and 30,000 educators, parents, and students showing up in downtown Raleigh to fight for schools our students deserve. We could have that same strength and power every day through membership.

After the rally, we worked together during the midterm election to support and vote for candidates who support public schools. We broke the supermajority in our general assembly which is a major win. Could you imagine the changes we could see in North Carolina through more members in NCAE?

In January I attended a full day meeting on a Saturday with other educator advocates. We discussed our dream for schools in North Carolina, the past and current political climate, and where we are going as an organization. We learned how to talk to elected officials and use social media to our benefit. Above all that, we build community. We made connections and friendships with like-minded educators from all over the state.

Last week, I had an appointment with my state senator, Wiley Nickel. I went prepared with a bulleted list of some of the important things we are asking for from the general assembly for public schools. I handed him my list and we chatted. I was so nervous. I had never talked to a legislator before. Turns out, they’re human. He was really easy to talk to. He wanted to know about my school, how we’re staffed, what is important to us, and what I love about teaching in North Carolina. He seemed genuinely interested and he asked to visit me at my school. Then he asked me not to leave North Carolina public schools. I look forward to meeting with him again.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that teachers shouldn’t be afraid or nervous to advocate for what they know is best for students. Legislators make the laws, but we know what we need and we need to make that transparent. We don’t need to be doormats that get walked all over and taken advantage of. We need to welcome the community into our schools and share the reality of educating young people.

I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Teaching is rewarding in so many ways. Senator Nickel, I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to fight for Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities for as long as it takes. Will you join me?

Reflections from #NSTA18 conference

In late November 2018, I attended my second National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference. This year was different from last year because this was a national conference and last year was a state conference. I was fortunate enough to get accepted to co-present with Caitlin McCommons on one of the many topics we are passionate about. We ran a hands-on session for teachers to grow their Professional Learning Network (PLN) through a real-time Twitter chat. This is the second time we have led a similar session and we have gotten good feedback.

I’d like to take some time to digest and synthesize my learning from the other sessions I attended. We attended 2 sessions on integrating trade books with science instruction. My Amazon cart is stuffed with books I want to add to my collection. When integrating literature with science curriculum, it is important to remember that the science content in the book should be accurate. The books shared during science lessons don’t need to be nonfiction all the time. Stories and poems can teach science content in a relatable way. In the second session on trade books in science instruction, we talked about partnering hands-on activities with trade books. One example was reading a book like Red Eyes or Blue Feathers and then having kids play with plastic insects and fabric samples to see if they can find where an insect will camouflage best. It was surprising that not all pairings were what I initially expected. Both sessions touched on including poems with science instruction. That is something I am going to try in the unit I am currently teaching on earth materials. Here is one of the lists of science trade books from one of the sessions (slides at the top and list around page 20).

We attended another session on maximizing your time in science class by streamlining your lessons and experiments. The presenters’ idea was that if you follow the same process for every science lesson, the kids will become fluent and will be able to complete an activity or experiment efficiently. Their framework involved 2 similar experiments one with an expected outcome and one with a different outcome that would inspire a question. Students would then need to come up with a hypothesis, written in an if/then frame. And begin testing their hypothesis. I used a framework similar to this when teaching kids about rock hardness in our scratch test lesson. It went well but I’m not quite sure where I can fit it in again.

By far my favorite session was by my friend Lindsay Rice and her colleague. They presented on the importance of movement within lessons and kinesthetic learning. By adding purposeful movements to instruction, teachers can help kids build their memory of content-specific vocabulary words. Brain research supports movement rich learning because it helps to fire up the neurons and get the blood flowing. They had us up and moving the entire time. It is always such a good reminder that movement shouldn’t be a reward or a break but can increase engagement and solidify learning.

I also really enjoyed the hashtagging with a purpose session by a local colleague, Kyle Hamstra. This idea has me hook, line, and sinker. I am not a fan of teachers pay teachers because I think teachers should be sharing freely with each other (that’s a soapbox for another post). Kyle’s brian child is #Hashtag180 and idea in which teachers add curriculum standard hashtags to their social media sharing of things happening in their classroom. How awesome would it be to search a curriculum hashtag and find tweets from other teachers teaching the same standard to help plan for learning experiences? He also shared his Flipgrid project (#GridSciNC) in which teachers can post videos to share activities and ideas organized by grade and standard. If you’re reading this, I encourage you to check out that resource now and add your own ideas to help it continue to grow! http://flipgrid.com/gridscinc

The last session of the conference was one on Citizen Science. I had no idea what citizen science was until I attended this session. Citizen science is a way for kids to actually do science in their community or on school grounds in a meaningful way that can even add to research happening by real scientists. I love the idea of getting kids involved in real science rather than controlled experiments but I’m still thinking hard about how to fit this into my current curriculum standards.

Over all, this was another great conference filled with meaningful connections with science teachers from my local district to Kalamazoo! While my post here focused on the content of the sessions I attended, it is important to state that the personal connections I made with people I knew, didn’t know, or recognized from twitter was by far the best part of the conference. I can’t wait to attend another NSTA conference next year!

#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!

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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