Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning Labs (aka my new favorite PD)

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a learning lab.  If you don't know what a learning lab is, I'll try to give a brief explanation.  A teacher agrees to "host" a lab in their classroom.  This means they will create a lesson (with the guidance of an instructional coach) and teach it in front of a bunch of other teachers (we had 7).  Then everyone (including the host teacher) would reflect on the lesson with some noticings and wonderings.  So here's what happened...

We all met after lunch for about 30 minutes to learn about our host teacher's lesson.  What she was hoping for when she planned it, where her kids are academically, the make up of her class, what she's worried about, etc.  We also set some norms for when we actually observed her lesson, like where to sit, if we're allowed to move to hear students better, should we talk to them at all, etc.

After that we spent about 55 minutes watching her teach her lesson...and it was awesome!

Her lesson was essentially teaching her 4th graders about the concept of inverse operations, which is typically a pretty dull topic.  In our pre-observation meeting she told us that she was trying to focus on purposeful talk, and utilizing the Guided Release of Responsibility lesson planning model during her lesson.  She also admitted that she personally has a hard time letting the kids talk as much as they should because she LOVES to teach, and she had in her head that teaching meant direct instruction.  That's probably an exaggeration, because I've seen her teach, and I know she does a lot of things that aren't just direct instruction.  At any rate, she acknowledges that she needs to be very intentional about letting kids work together and learn from each other more.

She started her lesson with a really fun hook, pretending to be a math magician (when in reality she was just using inverse operations to figure out a students starting number).  The kids bought it, it was awesome!  Then she let them struggle with how she did it.  They worked in pairs that had been set up & were guided to use some "purposeful talk" cards that they have to help with their discussion.  Eventually she stopped them and they worked through some of their ideas...still no one had it quite yet.  Instead of just giving them the answer, she turned it back to the kids after they had a class discussion.  I think she was noticing that a few were on the verge of figuring it out...they knew she worked backwards, but weren't getting the inverse operations yet.  After turning it back to the kids, several of them figured it out.  Then she moved them into groups to figure out her starting number.  They worked together, and tried to practice their purposeful talk.  Purposeful talk is really hard to do, but they were making an effort to talk math and help each other.   After that, they gathered together again & she showed a visual with cubes of adding/subtracting fact families (knowledge they had from 1st-3rd grade).  She had them write the "inverse" operations with a very simple example 3 + 4 =7.  They got it...then she challenged them to moving it into 4th grade math and gave them a much harder problem...I don't remember the exact problem, but it was something like 643 + 395 = 1,038.  Then she challenged them to show the inverse operations.  All tried, many succeeded.  Then she ended up doing some direct instruction with solving it, and visually connected the parts of the original problem to the parts in the inverse, proving she was right, it was like 28 little light bulbs went on at the same time.  At that point we had to leave, and she sent the kiddos back to their seat to do some independent practice.  We missed her wrap up, and I'm pretty bummed about it.  Apparently she asked the kids why she taught them that...why in the world should they know how to do inverse operations.  One little girl raised her hand and said, "because then we can always check to see if our answer is right."  Whoa...they got it!

After the lesson was done, we all met together to debrief, talk about what we noticed, and often follow up with a wondering of our own.  The discussion we had was so powerful.  It reinforced something I've known for a long time, but tend to forget...reflection is powerful.  I thought back and realized I started this blog to give myself a place to reflect on my teaching, specifically about my flipped classroom.  In the past few years I haven't been very consistent about blogging because I wasn't sure what else I had to share.  I started to think too much about my audience, and not enough about why I started writing in the first place.

SO, I plan to start weekly reflections again.  Only this time it won't be about just my flipped classroom, I'm going to reflect on my teaching as a whole.

My next post will be about all the things I want to try now that I've experienced a learning lab ;)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holy Changes Batman!!!

There have been a LOT of changes in my district this year...I mean a ton.

  • We are moving to a mastery system.  
  • We are implementing a new ELA program.  
  • We have a new instructional model.  
  • We are starting learning labs. 
  • We have mandated running records on every child.  
  • We have a new spelling program that blows my mind (I'm not sure if it's in a good way or not)
  • Not to mention that I'm constantly revising & improving my math flipclass.  

All that being said, I am really enjoying this year.  Part of that may be that I am connecting really well with the majority of my class.  Part of it may be that I am being hyper vigilant about being productive.  But if I'm being honest, the biggest part of it is that I have a student teacher this semester.  I LOVE having student teachers.  I love learning from them, and helping guide them into becoming great teachers.  I cannot speak enough to the fact that having 2 bodies in the classroom helps me reach double the students!!!  It probably helps that I don't view having a student teacher as an opportunity to not be with my students, and hang out in the lounge.  I view having a student teacher as an opportunity to double student contact.  Thus far it's been fabulous!

Of course there are always things that aren't going so well...lots of little piddly things, but my big one is that I can't find enough time in the day to fit in everything I need to fit in.  When I break down my mandated time to teach the core subject areas, my specials, my lunch, and my intervention time, I literally have 5 minutes to spare...and that doesn't include a time for Words Their Way, which is a totally new method of teaching's what I know about it so far - it takes more than 5 minutes a day (okay, I know more than that, but I'm struggling to fit it in).  It would be easy for me to quit/give-up/throw-in-the-towel/etc.  Instead, I keep trying to tweak things just a little to make things run more smoothly.  I haven't found the perfect schedule yet, but I'm confident that at some point I'll manage to get everything squeezed in that I need to...right?!? There's got to be a way!

Monday, September 14, 2015

If money & time were no perfect PLC?

If I could create a perfect PLC, what would it look like?  I can honestly say I haven't really thought about it that much, which must mean my PLC runs pretty well.  I probably should start with how we set it up.  My grade level partner and I have common planning 3 days a week.  Once every couple weeks we have a "formal" PLC, and talk about kids.  We don't teach any of the same subjects (except reading), so our conversations revolve around that.  We have "informal" PLC's pretty much every day when we run across the hall to share what we're doing that went well (or didn't go well).

Every month we have a half day where all the 5th grade teachers in the district get together.  We have a plan for what we're supposed to accomplish, and there is never enough time.

I guess if I could live in a perfect world, I would have grade level buildings, so we could meet as a large PLC more frequently.  I would also LOVE to get a chance to spend a day in each and every 5th grade classroom in my district, I know I could learn an absolute ton from them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Wish My Students Knew

After my enlightening #IWishMyTeacherKnew lesson, it got me thinking, there are so many things that I wish my students knew about them.  Things like:

* I wish my students knew that I dislike standardized tests just as much as they do.

* I wish my students knew that their score means nothing about the kind of person they are.

* I wish my students knew that they are not alone.

* I wish my students knew just how often I think of them when I'm not at school.

* I wish my students knew how much better they could be doing if they stopped talking so much.

* I wish my students knew that just because their parents didn't go to college doesn't mean they can't.

* I wish my students knew that there are so many of them I wish I could bring home with me.

I could go on and on and on, but I want to hear what you have to say...tweet it #iwishmystudentsknew or comment below.

I Wish My Teacher Knew...

Recently, I read an article about simply getting to know your students.  I've always considered my ability to build relationships with my students one of my strengths as a teacher.  The article I read revolves around #iwishmyteacherknew.  If you haven't heard of it, here is one of many versions of the article.

My daughter's 2nd grade class did this activity, and I asked her if she'd be willing to tell me what she wrote.  She said she wrote two things:

#1 I wish my teacher knew that my mom is home sick today.  I happened to have a sinus infection and was home for the day.

#2 I wish my teacher knew that I sometimes I still confuse my b and my d and that's why I write in capitals sometimes. How interesting...I talked to her teacher about it that weekend (she's a friend of mine), and she said it was good information to get because several of her students will write in capitals, when they know they shouldn't.

I decided to try it out with my students...I would like to say that their answers shocked me, but they didn't.  It did become clear that my class has a lot of father figure issues, amongst other things.

I wish my teacher knew...

"that my friends don't respect me for who I am."

"that my dad left me when I was 2 and I struggle because I miss him & I wish he could be with me."

"that my dad is in the Coast Guard and had to move to Washington."

"that I haven't seen my dad in 2 years, and he hasn't come to any daddy/daughter dances because he chose to live in DC with his wife instead of here with my & my sisters."

"that I barely see my dad & I wish he could get a new, better job so I could see him more often."

"that I never finish my lunch."

"that my mom sometimes argues with me about my homework because she won't help me with it."

"that I haven't seen my brother in 5 months."

"that I don't take my coat off because I'm always cold."

"that I'm afraid to go to Middle School."

"that I'm afraid I'm not going to pass 5th grade."

"that sometimes I feel left out by my own friends because I tried to talk to them but they ignored me, which made me sad."

and my most insightful post was...

"I wish my teacher knew that I goof off in class because I don't get a lot of attention at home."


If you haven't done this with your class I'd highly recommend it.

For Part 2 of this post please go here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Genius Hour...Passion Projects...Being Innovative

What does it mean to be innovative? To me, it means being willing to try new things, even if you don't know if they'll work or not.  It also means being able to reevaluate and tweak things on a moments notice.

One thing I do that I consider innovative is my passion projects.  I don't consider it innovative because it's a new idea.  I consider it innovative because each time we do it, it looks different and unique, depending on my kids.

My students have done 3 different projects so far.  I've found that my kids need to start with a little more structure in order for them to be successful with less structure (did that even make sense?).

For our first project my students all chose a dream job to research.  They were totally into it, and loved sharing what they learned.   For that project they didn't really have to make anything, rather write up their information and share it with the class.

For our second project the kids all chose a famous person or place.  After writing their research report they had to choose the 3 most important facts they learned to share.  Then (and here is where the innovative part comes in), I decided to bring in a giant tub of Lego's from home.  I set them around the room and told the kids to impress me.  They had to make something that represented their project.  While they may not look like much, the kids had a blast and could explain in detail the creations.

Tony Hawk

Abraham Lincoln

Muhammad Ali

For our most recent project the students had to learn how to do something.  This has been the most interesting so far.  I had students learn to do soccer tricks, frost cakes, fold origami, code computer games, do a fishtail braid, and even make these crazy intricate bracelets.  I was SUPER impressed by their work.  The funniest thing was, my project (what I wanted to learn how to do) was an epic failure.  I desperately want to learn how to whistle with 2 know that loud shrilling whistle that some people can do? After weeks of trying, all I ended up doing was successfully spit all over the place!  What was really cool was that my kids taught me some new tricks on how to make my normal whistle louder :)

Soccer Tricks

Learning how to bake cupcakes

Teaching the class how to make origami fingers

Making donut cats

They tasted amazing!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pushing My Students Beyond "Good Enough"

My class using a rubric system for grading ELA and math...The scoring, be it the academic content or the behavior content, is essentially the same:

1 - I need help.
2 - I need some reminders.
3 - I got this (independently with no help).
4 - I can use this knowledge to impact others.

Student created content comes when my students are trying to push themselves from a 3 to a 4.  There are a variety of ways they can do are just a few:
  • Review videos (my kids LOVE this)
  • Review games on Kahoot (my kids LOVE this too)
  • Create a board game (I have several laminated blank board games they can fill in)
  • Solve a "real-world" problem (I have at least 1 of these for each math unit)
  • Student choice (I always leave an option open where students get a chance to come up with their own idea for a project)
While not everyone has a chance get to this point, there are many who work really hard to get the opportunity.  

I would love more ideas on what kids can do to show that they not only get it, but can push themselves deeper into the content, push themselves to do more than what is just "good enough".

Monday, March 2, 2015

10/10 Project

So I'm sitting in Pittsburgh chatting with my good buddy David Fouch & he says to me.  "You know what, I think we should do a project together."  At first I thought he might be kidding because he teaches AP US History & I teach 5th graders, not to mention the fact that we teach in different districts...seriously, how in the world could we do a collaborative project with our students.

As it often happens, one comment leads to an idea, which leads to another idea, which leads to something awesome!

So here's the project...his 10th grade students will be creating some video lessons on topics in history (topics my students choose).  My 10 year olds will watch, and complete an assignment (which his students will also be planning and giving feedback on...yeah me!).

In the meantime, my class will be learning about the elements of a good story and the historical fiction genre.  Throughout the month of March we'll be reading The Watson's Go to Birmingham - 1963 and the students will be writing their own historical fiction story.

Here's the catch...their story has to somehow connect to what they learned from David's class.  So let's say they are interested in learning about the Olympics. When they write their story, it needs to somehow involve the Olympics.  Maybe the main character is an Olympic athlete in the games, maybe the setting takes place in the Olympic skating rink...who knows???

When they finish their stories, we'll submit them to David's class (sometime after the AP test because lord knows he has plenty of material to get through before then), and they'll give feedback and help with any historical innacuracies.  Then they'll have 2 weeks to perfect/illustrate/publish their stories.

The really fun part of this whole thing is that close to the end of the year my class is going to go hang out with his class for a day & share our stories.

Today we started learning about historical fiction AND story elements.  Today David's class started planning their videos.

Today my class got SUPER excited because they found out that a bunch of 10th graders are taking the time to make something for them.  Today David's class got all worried because they don't think they'll have enough time to make their videos perfect.

And so the 10/10 Project was born (get it, 10th graders and 10 year olds)...I'm just hoping it's as awesome as I think it's going to be!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Trying to Make it Fit...the Neverending Battle

How to fit it all in?

I find that I am much better and getting all my ELA content in over my why is that? It's not because there is less material, it's not because I'm a better ELA teacher than I am a math teacher.  I think it comes down to the fact that I teach ELA during all my other subjects.

We write about math.  We form opinions, arguments and support about social studies topics.  We research about famous people & places.

Bottom line, my students are reading and writing in all their core content areas.  And what do I flip??? Math.  It seems odd that the subject I flip (which opens up my in-class time), is also the subject I can never seem to get through.

I don't have the answer.  I actually struggle with this.  I struggle with it Every. Single. Day.

What I want to do is take several of my math units completely off the table, which would give me a couple extra months to really dig in to the rest of the material.  What I want is to have the time (and resources) to create really in depth units that weave together science, social studies, reading, writing AND math into one beautiful inquiry...ahhhh, wouldn't that be awesome!  Unfortunately, that is not my reality.

If I'm being 100% honest, I can't blame it all on the curriculum.  I admit that a lot of the reason I don't get through all my math content is because my students waste way too much time during math class.  We have math in the afternoon, and the students are often times very distracted.  This has been a constant battle this year (and for many years).

As it is becoming painfully clear, I don't have the answer to this problem...I'd love some ideas from someone who does.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Willingness to be's a game changer.

Most teachers don't like change.  I am one of those weird teachers who needs change to keep me fulfilled.  For that reason I am constantly changing/tweaking/improving on how I run my classroom.  I have found that my year if fairly cyclical.

I start off strong with some whole group lessons on how to actually watch a video.  Then slowly, as the kids develop some independence, I let them take over the video & we start doing some whole class activities together in class.  

Sometime around the end of the 1st marking period I end up needing to change up my day-to-day lessons.  This year we moved into a math workshop format.  The students did really well with it...until they didn't.  As soon as they got too comfortable, they started to waste a lot of time, and do a lot more talking (about non school stuff) than is really necessary.  For that reason, we had to change things up a bit.

Right now my class is a hodge podge of things.  We're at the end of our most difficult unit of the year (seriously, could double digit division be any more challenging????).  I have some students who have already passed their test & are working to push their grade up to an "exceeding excpectations" mark.  I have some students who are still stuck, and are getting some help, and I have a large chunk of students who are taking their test.  

I plan to have math discussion groups using my math circles format when we begin our next unit.  We've done this for a few videos in the last unit & the kids did great.

What will I switch to when this stops being effective? No idea!  When asked what makes my classroom successful, I think it comes down to my ability to change when I realize something isn't working.  Change doesn't have to be scary, I'd argue that it keeps things interesting.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2 brains (or 3, or 4) are better than 1 #flipclass #flashblog

Last week my principal sent out an email asking us to prioritize what we want in regards to specials for next year.  It seems like a relatively simple email, but looking at it made me realize that I don't know how to make my class work like I want it to work...there's not enough time.  Not enough time for me to be with my students, and not enough time for me to properly plan what I want to plan.  I quickly ignored my email (okay, I didn't really ignore it, but I definitely closed it down & moved on to other things).

The next morning one of our 4th grade teachers came in & said, "Did you get the email about specials? What are you going to say?"  Hmmm, I thought, I am not alone.  Then our interventionist came in & joined the conversation, and before you know it, the 3 of us were brainstorming possibilities, and instead of being all grumpy we began to get kind of excited about the possibility of doing something different.

Our big problem is that my district is moving to mastery based learning (which I 100% agree with), but we're not to the point where we don't move the kids on if they haven't mastered their learning.  It's a very awkward place to be in.  I know exactly where my kids are at, what they don't understand, and what they totally get, but I don't know when to fill in the holes they have, reteach what they're confused on when our day is so packed.

We talked about a number of things, and decided we should probably get more people involved in the coversation.  So now we are planning big meeting with all the 3rd, 4th & 5th grade teachers...and the interventionists...and the resource room teacher.  My hope is that all those brilliant minds will come together and come up with something awesome.

As I write this I am realizing how important it is going to be that we start off with a positive attitude.  It's so easy to spend an hour complaining, which gets us nowhere.  As of now, our meeting is scheduled for next week...we'll see how it goes!

Learning, Growing & Collaborating

So my weekend started off pretty sweet.  Thursday night a huge snow storm came through Michigan, and we got the notice that school was closed the night before.  That rarely happens.  Then on Friday my class was featured on our local news station as being the classroom of the week.  If you're interested, you can see the short spot here.  Then Saturday, I attended (and helped plan) the 3rd MIFlip conference, and it didn't disappoint.  I was fully prepared for there to be a small crowd, since the weather in west Michigan was brutal the day before.  As it turns out, we had over 70 people attend.

Steelcase was nice enough to host the conference at their Education Center...holy smokes is that an awesome facility! I kept trying to talk them into furnishing my room for me (for free of course), and I got no takers ;) Seriously, though, the venue was beautiful, and perfect for encouraging a collaborative feel.

David Tebo was our keynote speaker and he was unbelievably inspiring.  A few things he said that really stuck with me were: Flipping done right is an incredible tool...notice he said flipping done right.  That one little word is so hugely important.  The second thing he mentioned was that we need to change the way we're doing things.  Time has changed, but schools haven't.  In my district we are going completely mastery based, eliminating seat-time from our graduation requirements.  We are still in the very early stages of this process.  As of now we're at a point where the teachers are being asked to real go outside of their comfort zone & people are uncomfortable...really uncomfortable.  It was reassuring to hear someone outside of Kenowa Hills talk about what we're trying to do in such a positive way.

After the keynote I led an elementary session.  I didn't plan any sort of presentation because I was hoping that we could have more of a discussion.  It turns out that was a good plan because we had a great discussion and everyone had an opportunity to ask questions.

I spent pretty much the remainder of my afternoon working with David Fouch, a high school AP teacher from Forest Hills.  We had this grand plan to do something collaboratively, and we tried to work through some of the details together.  I will have a whole other blog post on that coming up, but I think it's going to be excellent!

To sum it up, I had another great experience at MIflip.  I am always surprised by how much I learn, grow & get energized when I get together with other educators in a positive environment like this :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Interested in Flipping? Live in MI?

Three years ago I was approached by Dan Spencer with the idea of starting up a Michigan based conference that revolved around the idea of Flipped Learning.  Together, with a group of a bunch of other really excellent educators, we started MIFlip.  Our goal was to create professional development that was a mixture of edcamp & informational sessions.  It was also really important to us that it was FREE.

The past 2 years we were lucky enough to have MIFlip at Byron Center High School, and it worked out wonderfully.  This year we were approached by Steelcase, who offered to host us at their Learning Center.  I am beyond excited about it, and I can't wait to hear what this year has in store.  For more information, please check out the link.

Looking forward to meeting, learning and growing with all of you :)