Sunday, August 30, 2015

Puzzle Pieces

Dump out a new box of jigsaw puzzle pieces and it can look a little overwhelming.  Subtle shades of the same color blend into the pile and it's hard to distinguish the features of a single piece until there's a closer inspection of detail. However, there is anticipation and excitement about the prospect of completing the puzzle. It's a challenge but one that can be successfully completed. And so you start.....first by flipping over each piece so that you can clearly see them face up.

The start of another school year is similar to opening a new box of puzzle pieces. There are feelings of excitement, anticipation, hope, and of being a little overwhelmed with all that needs to be accomplished before the kids come into the classroom/school for the first time. A new challenge is motivating! Great educators are constantly seeking ways of improving their craft.  A new year, a new puzzle, is a fresh start to tweak and implement all of the ideas that have incubated over the summer.

How do you complete a jigsaw puzzle?
  • Look at the cover of the box. The picture gives you an idea of the direction that you need to take. It's your vision of what can be. 
  • Start with separating the pieces into groups. For me, the puzzle pieces include the various groups of people that I'll work with throughout the year. The pieces are also the different components of what I want to accomplish like implementing PBL, a maker-space, STEAM, genius hour, content, and a more student-centered classroom. 
  • Connect the border pieces. Border pieces are the foundation. Building relationships with my students are my priority. Although I feel the pressure to start immediately with content, I know that taking the time to build trusting relationships far outweighs any curriculum standard or objective.
  • Assemble small groups of like puzzle pieces together. Start with what you know. I don't know all there is about Google and Chromebooks. I'm starting with what I know. I know that @edmodo is my foundation for all of my online class activities. My students and I will learn about the other various puzzle pieces together.
  • Stop working for a time. Come back to the puzzle with fresh eyes. Reflecting on what I've accomplished, what I need to improve, and where to go next is crucial for growth. Here's a taxonomy of reflection that was shared by my PLN. 

  • Engage the help of others. Part of the fun of putting together a jigsaw puzzle or trying new things in a classroom or school is collaborating with others. I want the help and experience of others as I try and put my puzzle together. I know that there will be mistakes. Some puzzle pieces are not going to fit together. But, I know that my PLN has my back. They are there to support me every step of the way.
  • Celebrate the success. When all of the pieces start connecting, when the vision of what you want to accomplish starts to come into focus, when the momentum of connecting the pieces speeds up, that's success! Take the time to celebrate. I'm really looking forward to the time when everything starts to fall into place.

Tomorrow, I start my sixth week of school. My how time flies! The puzzle pieces are face up. The border is almost completed. I've managed to connect little groups of similar puzzle pieces. I have a vision in my head of what I want my classroom to be. If I close my eyes, I can see it, feel it, hear it, touch it! I'm just a little unsure about which group of pieces to assemble first. My instinct tells me to ask my students....and so I will.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dreams Come True

Chromebooks are here! Unpacked! Connected! And...last Monday...we turned them on for the first time. At first, kids couldn't get into their accounts. I held my breath...pleading/praying that I could troubleshoot and get them working. My whole day was planned around using the Chromebooks. Kids were really excited. I didn't want to disappoint them. With a few little clicks, everything worked! All my kids were able to use "their" Chromebooks. Actually, the kids are calling them "Chromebabies" because we talked about the special care that they'd need. Some "Chromebabies" have names.

I've waited nearly five years to have this dream come true! I never imagined that it'd be Chromebooks, but I'm tickled pink to be 1:1. Once again, I owe my PLN. It was through my PLN that I found out about the grant (that paid for the Chromebooks) only days before the deadline last year. 

Last week, a lot of our time was spent getting into the various accounts. Honestly, it was a little painful. I'd set up the accounts, but if the students didn't type the information correctly, they couldn't get in and I had to walk around and help them. I used my tech savvy students as much as possible. I had to keep my patience (or lack of it) in check. I knew that there would be a big learning curve. Patience. I was expecting my kiddos to learn a lot in a short amount of time. They loved using the Edmodo apps. Zondle was a favorite. We also started using Google Classroom, TypingAgent, Wizenworld, Quill, and NoRedInk. I'm also teaching the kids how to watch/interact with a video for flipped instruction. It's a lot to learn and I definitely don't want the kids in front of a screen all day. We did enjoy a great game of Kahoot! Kids are very excited to learn more and parents have sent me some very positive emails.

I think the kids had the most fun when I gave them the boxes and introduced the cardboard challenge. Wow! These kids were so creative! They had a blast! A parent helping me was completely delighted to see her twins so engaged in the creative process and the collaboration that these kids exhibited. It was a little messy. It was a little "chaotic" to an outsider maybe walking into the room. But, it wouldn't take long to see the great learning happening!

Now the hard part comes. I'm figuring it out as I go. For some reason, my dreams never revealed the speed bumps along this journey. I want to have the learning personalized as much as possible. I don't want to get caught up in the semantics of buzz words. But, I do want to use the technology to meet the individual needs of my learners. That's a challenge! I'm still trying to figure out their skill levels, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. I have no budget for programs. But, I do have my Chromebooks!

Sunday, August 9, 2015


 I Can't Change Everything,
But I've Got A Good Arm And I Can Throw A Stone To Cause Ripples

 A great childhood memory that I have is learning how to skip rocks across the surface of a pond, lake, or reservoir. My two brothers and I spent hours along the shores of Tibble Fork in the American Fork Canyon. There was no shortage of stones to toss in the water. I was always amazed, in particular, at my mom's skill at being able to skip a rock multiple times across the surface- sometimes over five skips. I don't remember ever making a rock skip more than once or twice, but I still had a lot of fun and delighted in the ripples that it'd make across the surface.

Learning to skip rocks is a lot like building school culture. There's some skill/leadership necessary. The choice of rock, grip, angle of the throw, body position, the flick of the wrist, and the amount of practice all come into play in the success of the rock being able to skip. Vision, mission, investment of stakeholders, diversity, communication, relationships, and timing of any change are all integral parts of school culture.

My #leadupchat PLN is an amazing group of educational leaders pushing and challenging each other on a daily basis to lead and make changes. School culture is an important topic and one that we've recently discussed. I'm in awe of their leadership. The culture that they are developing or have nurtured in their schools and districts is unmatched. It's caused me to think about the culture at my school, my sphere of influence, my responsibility to be a contributing member, and how I can lead change.

Here's my action plan:
  • I will be positive in my thinking and my actions. 
  • My classroom is where I have the most influence. I will make sure that I develop and nurture a classroom culture where it's student-centered, and kids can learn. (This is another post for another day.)
  • I consider all of the 5th graders my students. I am making a huge effort to learn all of their names as quickly as I can. But, I've been inspired to go beyond 5th-grade students. I've made a commitment to learning the names of as many kids in the school that I can. Last week, I had bus duty and gave high-fives to kids as they came to school and left to go home. Yes, I got some strange looks, but it felt amazing. Kids smiled, said hi to me when they saw me around the school, and even came up to me to tell me their stories. It was a blast interacting more with kids of all ages! They ALL are my kids.
  • Staff recognition is really important to me. I've thought about how I can do this without stepping on toes. I knew the answer after about 30 seconds of thinking. My kiddos can do it! Of course, I need to ask them their opinions, but I think that they will love highlighting the great work of teachers and staff members in the school. How will they do it? I don't know! I'll let the kids decide! Maybe they'll start a podcast, make videos, Tweet it out, or use a web tool. That will be fun to watch!
  • Positive calls home are also important to me. I will continue this practice.
  • Starting tomorrow, Aug. 9, 2015, I secretly want to start doing nice things for people in my school. Being anonymous is so much more fun! I've delighted in making some plans. I can't afford big prizes and treats, but I don't think it's about that. Little things like writing a positive message on the whiteboard or leaving a sticky note on someone's desk can mean a lot.
  • Share. I will continue to share ideas, resources, and the happenings inside my classroom. I also want to involve my kids in finding positive happenings around the school and sharing it out to the world. 
My action plan is nothing new, grandiose, or worth announcing to the world. It's not even something that I haven't done before in the past. It's a focus. I'm excited to see how far the little ripples will extend. Truth is, I may never know. And that's okay.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Have you ever really thought about the time that educators have to change the life of their students? Eric Jensen, in his book, Teaching With Poverty In Mind did. Here’s the thinking.

1. Every student in your classroom gets 168 hours each week. (7 days x 24 hours)
2. Subtract the time kids have for sleeping, eating, grooming, and their busy lives. (12-13 hours per day x 7 days= 84-91 hours)
3. That leaves each child with a maximum of 84 hours each week, or 4,368 hours each year. Out of that block, you get at most 30 school hours each week (6 hours x 5 days) for 36 to 42 weeks a year. At the high end, you get 1,260 hours each year (30 hours per week x 42 weeks) for changing a student's life.

Here's the key ratio: 1,260 hours out of a possible 4,368. You have 28 percent of a student's waking time. You are outnumbered by more than two to one. "With the small proportion of their lives that you do have access to, you cannot afford to waste a single class or school day. " Eric Jensen
As educators, where is our sense of URGENCY?
We have little to no control over what happens in a student's life outside of school. With the fraction of the time that we do have, we cannot afford to waste a single minute! Nearly a million students will drop out of school this year. This is unacceptable! The future of our country, and the freedoms that we enjoy depend on our people being educated. Thomas Jefferson said, "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." It is frightening to me that so many of our kids (yes, all kids are our kids) are finding school so disengaging that they are choosing to drop out. This decision is one that will negatively affect the rest of their lives and future generations. It's equally alarming that students are coming to my fifth-grade classroom without knowing how to read, write, and to do simple math problems. I'm no longer working in a high-poverty school. How is this happening? I started school last Monday. As I looked into the faces of my fifth-graders, I felt a sense of urgency. I have nine months to make a difference! Academically, they are low. How will I get them to be where they need to be? The responsibility I'm feeling is overwhelming. I have no time to waste! My students, our students, are depending and trusting us to prepare them for life and an uncertain future!

We cannot afford to:

Ignore the Power of Relationships: As Rita Pierson so eloquently expressed in her epic TED talk, "Every kid needs a champion!" Every child needs an adult in their life that wholeheartedly believes in them. They need to know that they matter and that someone in their life "has their back". Teachers cannot afford to worry more about covering their content than taking the time to know their students. It starts with knowing the student's name. Read this touching story by Matthew Arend, "What's My Name?" There can never be enough said about the importance of building relationships with our students. In fact, if you think about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, students will not be able to learn unless they feel safe and can trust the teacher and peers in the classroom. It is well worth the invested time to build rapport and a culture of community and caring.

Teach in "Traditional" Ways and Spaces: We are no longer at the beginning of a new century! We are teaching 21st-century learners with a 19-th, even 18-th century mindset. How long will we accept this? A small fraction of innovative teachers does amazing things to engage kids every day. Technology is often a tool. What about the rest? What needs to happen to move teachers forward? What will it take for the teachers still assigning worksheets or lecturing to rows of kids to change? Why don't they feel a sense of urgency?  In my opinion, it's largely due to not being a connected educator. Twitter has been a game changer for me, but so was Edmodo. Teachers need to find what works for them but be connected. I think it's impossible to have daily global conversations about education and to stay satisfied with the status quo. Connected educators share, collaborate, discuss, and challenge each others' thinking. They move forward. One of my passions is to get my colleagues connected and for them to develop their PLN. It's a slow process. Everyone learns at their own time and pace. But, I know that it will forever change them as professionals. The kids need to have their teachers and administrators connected! I don't think it's an option anymore. I think it's a professional responsibility.

Waste Time Disciplining: Bored kids misbehave. When kids are engaged in their learning, given choices, are self-directed and are empowered to seek their passions, there are no discipline problems. PBL, Genius Hour, Maker Spaces, and engaging lessons that immerse kids in learning make a difference! Children are innately curious and want to learn. Instead of professional development about how to control students, learning to make them more compliant, and implementing any number of classroom management programs, teachers should try engagement! Kids love hands-on learning experiences, simulations, creating, collaborating, using tech, and a high-energy teacher. Yes, it's hard work. But, don't our kids deserve it? Don't they deserve to be empowered in a student-centered classroom? Don't they deserve to be highly engaged in their learning? As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate asks about his lessons, "How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?" Shouldn't other teachers ask the same question? I'm frustrated by teachers who continue to use outdated practices! I don't understand the satisfaction with mediocre and average. No wonder kids are bored! No wonder that they fail to see the relevance of being in school. Administrators are not off the hook. Teachers follow YOUR example. If you want student engagement and fewer discipline problems in your school, get up-to-date with how to motivate your teachers to improve their practice. Are your faculty meetings inspiring? We, as educators, need to stop doing "easy" and "convenient" for us. We need to do what's best for kids!

Think of PLCs as Irrelevant: All kids can learn and make progress! We need to know this, believe this, and ensure that it happens. Regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or socio-economic background, kids deserve a world-class education. We don't have the luxury of time to not work together as functioning teams. We can't spare the time it takes to not trust one another, to work in silos, and to complain. Data helps us to know our students better. It's a little piece of information that complements what teachers intuitively know from observations and other formative assessments. Common assessments allow a team to track progress and to support each other. We have to. We need to figure out what to do if kids don't grasp a concept. As educators, we can't move on and leave students behind. It's our responsibility to know the learner and find what works. The focus needs to shift from teaching to learning. Are we giving kids timely, specific, feedback? Are we setting them up for failure with grades, 0's, and no chances of redoing assignments or tests? We need to improve our practice. We can do better! We must do better! Our nation cannot afford to have a million kids drop out of school each year and others who slide through the system!

Have a Curriculum That Ignores Coding/Technology: Coding is part of being literate in the 21st century. Read this inspiring blog post by Dr. Ryan Jackson, "Code Talkers: Education's New Literacy". Every educator has the responsibility to teach their kids this important skill that will determine whether or not they are career ready. Tynker, Code Academy, and others have made learning to code so easy and enjoyable for kids that it is inexcusable for teachers not to have their students learn- beginning in Kindergarten and all the way through to 12th grade. We cannot afford to have our kids grow up without learning digital citizenship, media skills, and how to use technology for learning.

Abandon the Arts: Research proves the benefits of kids participating in music, art, dance, and theater. It's unsettling to see this important creative outlet and brain-friendly practice being squeezed out by the pressures to have higher test scores. The Arts give a voice to students. Whether it's through poetry, physical movement, or song, the voices of our students need to be heard. They need to be creating, collaborating, communicating and sharing their learning. Instruction with Arts integration makes neural connections to life experiences. This is how our students learn!

Not Take Time To Teach Empathy: We connect globally. Empathy is an important social-emotional skill that educators need to nurture. One way to teach this skill is through stories. Everyone has a story. Stories enable us to empathize and walk in another person's shoes who might have experiences different from our own. Along with empathy, students need opportunities to connect with their peers around the world. We can no longer afford to have our classroom bound by four walls. 

Keep a Fixed Mindset: Educators must model a growth mindset and teach this to their students. We must be willing to take risks, try new skills, get out of our comfort zones, and learn from our mistakes. We must be vulnerable, transparent, honest, and share our journeys. This is how we'll learn. This is how our students will learn. Students need high expectations, but they also need scaffolding. A growth mindset will help them keep focused, build perseverance, and reach their goals. 

The time is NOW! 

Twenty--eight percent (28%) is not much time to change a life!

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Edward Everett Hale

I believe in focusing on priorities. My 6-word GPS drives me and helps me to set goals. I know that realistically that I won't reach every student in my class. But, I'm going to try! I owe them by best every day! Parents have entrusted their most precious and prized possession to me for nine months. It's an awesome responsibility! I must do whatever it takes! 

What are your thoughts? I would love you to share.