November 21st, 2014
More to come later about this year’s amazing NCSS Conference. For now, here is a link to our Women’s History at the Core presentation on DropBox.
More to come later about this year’s amazing NCSS Conference. For now, here is a link to our Women’s History at the Core presentation on DropBox.
My Innovation Project this school year is my LA/SS Interactive Student Notebooks (ISN). I used them to a limited degree in the area of science years ago when they were all the rage and a “new and innovative” idea. When I left the classroom and became an administrator for six years, I watched and admired my talented teachers use them, also in science. I’ve been to PD and workshops about them – all years ago. Well this year, they are happening in my LA/SS classroom in a big way. Why, you ask? My answer is simple – Focus. Actually, the whole title is Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning. This is the book that my small group of colleagues was assigned to read over the summer.
After 25 years of teaching and learning, this book gave me simple ways to focus my attention and the attention of my students on what is most important. One of the author’s recommendations was to use journaling across the content areas. Mike Schmoker repeats throughout his book that the most important elements are “what we teach, how we teach it, and authentic literacy.” His premise is that we need to get back to the simplicity of direct teaching using excellent literature, implement consistent check for understanding, and have students apply and explain what they know in meaningful writing assignments daily. Schmoker summarizes his book in a Power Point PDF that is available on-line, https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=mike%20schmoker%20Focus%20powerpoint. I also shared a few highlights of this text with colleagues at UTES in the following Prezi, http://prezi.com/atqvwnn60d8n/copy-of-back-to-basics-with-authentic-literacy-in-content-areas/.
Three to four days each week, my large group language arts and social studies lessons include journal entries of vocabulary words, graphic organizers, reading, writing, or social studies writing. We enter the topic and page numbers in the Table of Contents and then go to the next even numbered page to record vocabulary, skills, and strategies. Students then are given an assignment to write or create a graphic organizer on the odd numbered page facing their journal entries. Even-numbered pages are input from me. Odd-numbered pages are output from students. I use these output pages for exit tickets, writing assignments, assessments, and reading analysis. I collect journals each week to review, assess, and respond to student responses. They love getting their journals back and reading my responses to their writing. They truly take pride in their work and use their journals as a reference when they need information. My language arts and social studies instruction is highly integrated so my LA/SS Journals (ISNs) are integrated as well. When I give a social studies test, I give open-journal tests. It is exciting to see my students mature and take on more responsibility for their own learning. Our Interactive Student Notebooks (we just call them Journals) are one way I’ve simplified and improved instruction so far this school year.
How do we, as teachers, get kids to develop the habits of mind and skills to be thoughtful, participating citizens? I think about this question often. Daily, as a matter of fact, in my 5th grade classroom. Children have a great capacity for caring, an endless supply of energy and creativity, and are dauntless in their sense of duty.
The ways that I encourage civic participation are integrated into everything that I do in my classroom. It all starts with our Morning Meetings which include sharing about our lives and current events that the kids have seen and heard about at home or in the media. I question and listen. I require my students to question and be active listeners. We read books together that have themes of caring and civic involvement. We adopt service learning projects that help others and our school. I take time to recognize students for their selflessness. I encourage them to recognize one another. My language arts and social studies curriculum is chock full of people who’ve found a way to inspire and help others. If these ideas sound interesting, read on.
Social-emotional learning (SEL) is one of the pillars of our school mission. Every class has a Peace Table. Every teacher has resources to teach skills like empathy and peaceful problem solving. Every child recites our Peace Keeper Pledge daily and has the tools to be agents of change. My classroom Peace Table is not just a place to solve problems between students, but it is a place for my students to re-enact times in history where a protagonist and an antagonist can discuss their differences and solve problems from history. These Peace Table Talks require my students to apply what they know about history and problem solving in a creative simulation. They are fearless.
Another aspect of our SEL program is Morning Meeting. In 5th grade we have formal Morning Meetings on Mondays and Fridays where we follow the Greeting, Sharing, Activity, and Morning Message format. Other days our Morning Meeting is less formal and includes current events, read aloud, and Second Step (our SEL curriculum). Providing time for my students to share and discuss personal, community, and world events inspires them to be aware of current events so that they can discuss them. I bring in the newspaper daily so that on Fridays they can spread out all over the classroom and find interesting articles, editorials, and political cartoons that we analyze. This simple act builds civic awareness and involvement. The events in Ferguson, Missouri have led to many interesting conversations and connections to the Civil Rights Movement of the 5os.
We just finished reading Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder tells the story of Auggie, a tough, sweet, 10-year-old boy, who was born with distorted facial features. My students made many connections to their lives and social justice issues throughout the story. By taking the time to see the world through the eyes of a boy their age with challenging physical differences, their awareness and sense of social justice was awakened. I believe it has changed the way they see the world and people who are different than they are. That is a valuable trait in our ever changing diverse community. Other books we read that encourage and inspire social justice are: Seedfolks, Any Small Goodness, The Graduation of Jake Moon, and Among the Hidden. Each of these novels has opportunities for students to get involved and make a positive difference in their school or community.
Making a difference in our school, local, and global communities is a theme in our Lil’ Longhorn 5th grade. We volunteer to collect, count, and send in our Box Tops for Education for the whole school. We volunteer to spend time with our Pre-K buddies each week to read and work on vocabulary and build trust and mentors along the way. We volunteer for Keep Austin Beautiful to do a lake-side clean-up and water quality testing. We also sponsor a school each year to help them have clean water and sanitary latrines through a non-profit organization called H2O for Life. Over the past 6 years, we’ve raised between $1,000.00-$2,000.00 each year for schools in Haiti, Tanzania, Guatemala, Kenya, South Sudan, and this year Democratic Republic of Congo. Our 5th graders research, make posters, blog, and write letters to Congress about the need for clean water so that children have the opportunity for an education. That, my friends, children as civic agents of change.
One last example of how we encourage our students to be agents of change is through a week-long dramatic experience called Creative Action. In 5th grade, our Lil’ Longhorns get to learn through simulating historical social situations and becoming secret “agents” of change. They join the ranks of other agents of change like Cesar Chavez, Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela, and others. These dramatic exercises are inspiring and give our students the confidence to take on the world.
Developing habits of mind and the skills to be thoughtful, participating citizens is such an important part of teaching. I hope some of these ideas will inspire you to do the same.
A new school year is upon us. Our Lil’ Longhorns get to meet their teachers tomorrow and school starts at 8:00AM on Tuesday, August 12, 2014. My summer was full of family, fun, and learning. From my family and the arrival of a new grandson, I learned that nothing is more important than the love we share. From my four days at the Holocaust Museum Houston (HMH), I learned that our history is full of heroes who rise up from hard times to change the future. From my colleagues at school and at the Capitol, I learned that we can all “be the change we wish to see in the world.” (Ghandi)
My new perspective this school year is thanks to the work and learning that I was fortunate to do at HMH this summer. The lessons we can all learn from the events of WWII need to be remembered and applied to today’s world. Racism still exists. Complicity still exists. Bullies still exist. Bystanders still exist. The question is, what are we going to do about it? My goal is to spark civic involvement in my students and a inspire them to love history and learn from it for our future.
Happy New School Year y’all. It’s going to be great.
In preparation for an interview later today about “ways that I engage students in learning on their digital turf”, I thought I’d think out loud on my blog. So here goes.
What comes to mind when you hear “digital turf”? What I think of is my students’ home turf – our classroom space, on our classroom computers and tablets, on our school secure Google domain, on their individual Google drives, email, etc. As teachers, we are constantly challenged to simultaneously teach our students to use technology and be competent 21st century communicators, and to also keep them safe.
This past school year, I was able to bring the world onto each student’s digital turf in a variety of ways. My students and I blogged about books, field trips, projects, and learning. We completed service learning projects that included reaching out on social media. Students created Prezis and used them to promote our service projects. We held Google Hangouts with digital learning community creators and authors, and we communicated with students all over the world.
Student blogs have become our 21st Century class journals. Instead of keeping composition books of student writing, my students blog. Using Kidblog.org has not replaced paper and pencil, but it has become a way for students to write and share with one another in a way that they enjoy. I am able to control content and comments by designing their webpage and only allowing comments within our class groups. Their blogs are visible to the public which motivates them to be published authors, but it is also safe. I receive an email when students’ posts are “ready to submit”. I can comment, edit, publish, or send back to students for revisions.
Our school, UT Elementary, added a Google domain this past school year, so our students now have emails, a Google Drive, and the ability to work from home on projects. This has made it easier in some ways and more challenging in others. Now that students can easily email and video chat with one another, we’ve had to establish clear ground rules and boundaries. On my list of things to do for next year is a formal training for both students and parents. My plan is to include levels of training and assessments that students must pass in order to earn more privileges and responsibilities. My plan is to start with learning.com lessons and assessments and build from there.
Global citizenship and helping others are important goals for 5th grade at UTES. We lead at least school-wide service learning projects each year. One of them is our annual H2O for Life Walk4Water campaign. For the past 5 years, we’ve raised awareness and funds for a school to have clean water and sanitary latrines. Schools we’ve partnered with so are are in Haiti, Tanzania, Guatemala, Kenya, and most recently, in South Sudan. Our public awareness campaigns have become more global with the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Prezis, and blogging). Our 2014 H2O for Life campaign raised over $1700 for South Sudan School 2.
Not only do our students help others globally from our own digital turf, but they also share their ideas, opinions, and questions students from different countries on WorldVuze.com, an online forum for students around the world to share their world views on topics and questions they create themselves. Topics range from “What was your favorite field trip ever?” to “Is your government trustworthy?” There are currently 113 questions with 3254 answers from 585 students in 8 countries. My students were fortunate to be one of the first classes to participate. WorldVuze became part of our weekly CAFE (Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expand Vocabulary) station time. My challenge has been how to actively monitor student activity while teaching a small group. I will be rearranging my classroom tables so that laptop and tablet screens are visible to me at all times. It’s difficult, but I’m determined. The benefits of engaging my students in learning on their digital turf is outweighed by the challenges. I am having to stay ahead of the curve myself and find creative ways to make these types of learning experiences safe and meaningful to my students.
I’ll be updating my blog as I find just the right ways to make it all happen. Stay tuned! Peace, ml
Good things happen every day. We just need to help our kids learn to notice them and be grateful for them. These past 2 weeks, my students have had numerous opportunities to practice gratitude. We never know when a typical school day will turn into an extraordinary day. In just the past 2 weeks, my students and I have been overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness and generosity of the people around us. Read on and find out how we’ve been so blessed.
As you know, we love our social studies in 5th grade at UTES. Whether it’s Women’s History, The Great Depression, Civil Rights, or the Constitution, we love it. So when we went to Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, we missed the Civil Rights Summit here in Austin. If you cannot be in a place, the next best thing is hearing about it from someone who was actually there. That’s exactly what happened. Our beloved mentor and supporter, Mr. Mickey Klein, came to our classroom and shared his first-person experiences of the Civil Rights Summit. He brought 2 programs for our classes to have and shared the excitement and emotion of hearing 4 U.S. Presidents and others speak on Civil Rights. He also shared about knowing LBJ’s daughter and how her life was affected as a child in the White House. My students felt like they were there and had many questions for Mr. Klein and thoughtful comments about the Civil Rights Movement. We found ourselves in awe and grateful for the experience of hearing about the Civil Rights Summit from Mr. Klein. Since he visits our classroom every week, we run the risk of taking it for granted that he’ll be there rain or shine. Mr. Klein shares his life with us and has done so since most of my students were in 1st grade. We are truly grateful every time Mr. Klein joins our classes and shares his wisdom and love.
We were also reminded of the unexpected gifts we receive last week when our classroom bunny, Mario, needed to go to the veterinarian. I was given the name of a Brykerwood Veterinary Clinic by Dr. Melissa Chavez our Director who also had bunnies in her classroom years ago. I called and they have one veterinarian who sees bunnies, Dr. Biehle. He was scheduled to leave early that day and be gone over the long Easter weekend, but they said that I could bring him right in. My talented student teacher took over and I rushed to Mario to the vet. Dr. Biehle saw Mario and x-rayed his leg and shoulder. He found that Mario had a broken shoulder. He shared this information in a way that showed the utmost kindness and empathy. He explained that Mario needed lots of rest. He’d given Mario a shot for pain, trimmed his nails, and prescribed eye drops for his eyes which are almost gone (red-eyed bunnies often lose their eyesight). I, of course, was emotional and Dr. Biehle teared up along with me telling me that Mario might recover and he might not, and he was so very sorry to be the bearer of difficult news. As I waited to check out and get his prescription eye drops, Dr. Biehle came up, hugged my neck and said, “There’s no charge, and stop worrying so much.” Gratitude does not begin to express what I felt and what all 45 of our 5th graders feel towards Dr. Biehle. Mario is at home now recovering and doing well so far. He’s mastered the 3-legged hop and seems to be happy and content.
You never know when an unexpected gift will come your way. We’ve talked a lot in class about “paying it forward.” Gratitude starts with recognizing when someone has shown you a kindness or maybe even forgiveness. All we need to do is slow down and notice the gifts, great and small, that we receive and then show our gratitude. The last step – pay it forward. Thank you Mr. Klein. Thank you Dr. Biehle. Our UTES Lil’ Longhorn 5th graders will work hard to show others the kindness and generosity that you have shown us.
Who are you grateful for? Make sure you tell them, and then pass it on.
Sea Camp 2014 has been a huge success. As we travel home today, every student has a favorite story to share. Whether it’s this cool chartered bus with sky lights, restroom, TVs, and wifi, the Texas State Aquarium, the beach cleanup on Mustang Island, seafood at Snoopy’s Pier, the dorms at UT Marine Science Institute, the wetlands exploration, the RV Katy boat trip, or sunrise and sunset on the jetty – it all rocked. We had the prettiest weather to date and the beach was beautiful. Every person we met was curious about who these kids were all decked out in burnt orange, and they were complimentary saying they were the best group of kids ever to visit – no matter where we were. Everyone we came across was impressed with our Lil’ Longhorn spirit, service, behavior, manners, knowledge, and creativity. We are so proud.
As our 5th graders get closer and closer to graduation next month, they are being called upon to demonstrate all the academic, social-emotional, and service learning qualities and skills they’ve been taught at UT Elementary. They have been asked to show compassion and empathy as they raise funds for South Sudan School 2 to have clean water. They’ve needed to show perseverance and tenacity on state and national assessments. They’ve required adaptability and courage as they apply for and prepare for middle school. Their honesty and hard work has been evident in their everyday lives at school and home, and they’ve proven their global citizenship through service learning, lessons on advocacy, letters to Congress, and support of schools in Senegal and South Sudan. Our Lil’ Longhorn students are ready to take on the world.
As we approach another UTES graduation ceremony, I am proud to count myself as a very small part of the great things these kids have and will accomplish. It is thanks to donors like Mr. and Mrs. Lupton who made Sea Camp and Outdoor School possible, supporters like Mr. Klein who volunteer in our classroom every week, and mentors like A.J. Bingham and Libby Jacobson Gagne who have taught our kids about advocacy and leadership. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Our UTES village of teachers, leaders, servers, volunteers, donors, and encouragers has raised another fine group of Lil’ Longhorn graduates.
Lots of pictures to follow soon! We’re home!
Since I posted a brief blog on our UT Elementary H2O for Life Blog last night, I’ll share what we’ve learned so far this year in the past whirlwind week after spring break. I’ll convince you how much we need your support since we got a late start this year so that our Lil’ Longhorn Jump Rope for Heart could reach their philanthropic goal, and finally, I’ll bring you to happy tears with a slideshow of our walk yesterday.
People are so generous and anxious to share their time, treasures and talents. When lobbyist and recently awarded Ambassador of the Year by the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, A.J. Bingham, visited our classroom and spoke about advocacy we all learned that we need to:
1. Be authentic and honest.
2. Be persistent and respectful.
3. Face-to-face communication is always best.
4. Do what you care about and find strategic alliances.
A.J. brought a whole new level of knowledge, awareness, and passion to our service learning mission. On our walk we did ALL of the above and will continue these next few weeks as we continue writing letters and making phone calls to local, state, and national leaders about the need for clean water everywhere. Thank you A.J. for giving us the tools to make a more lasting impact today and in the future. As our school development officer, Angie Yowell, said yesterday, “I am telling you – one of the kids in this year’s UTES fifth-grade class is going to be President one day. I’d bet on it.”
Not only were we touched and inspired by A.J.’s visit, but we found people along the way yesterday who wanted to listen and GIVE. On my way to our Walk4Water, I stopped by the Post Office, told our Post Master, Sylvia, where I was going, and she asked if she could donate. She spontaneously and generously gave me $20 for South Sudan School! Thank you Sylvia!
After our caravan of cars arrived at Ladybird Lake battling traffic and construction on the way, we walked 5.68 miles (Now in SI (metric): 5.68mi x 1.61km/mi = 9.14km – Thanks Charles Soto!) with recycled containers full of lake water and posters. We were joined by our faithful and much loved supporters Mickey and Jeanne Klein and their precious pooches. They encouraged the kids to hand out fliers along the way and we raised $70 on the hike and bike trail! This is the first year (in the 5 years that we’ve walked for water) that people have given so spontaneously and generously while we’ve walked around the lake. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Klein for giving us the courage to speak up and reach out!
After we finished our long walk, we all headed home tired but happy. As I sat down to work on our slide show, I received my first “Good News” email from our on-line H2O for Life Donation page – we had our first on-line donation! Then I received a check from my supportive sister-in-law! Thank you Mrs. Miriam Parris for your $25 on-line donation, AND thank you Lesa Ledbetter for sending your check for $50. Your donations will help children in South Sudan have clean water and the gift of an education and brighter future.
Who’s next? Come on folks. Read our blogs, check out our Walk4Water 2014 slideshow, then GIVE of your time, talents and treasures. You will make a lasting difference in the lives of children at UT Elementary and South Sudan School 2. Be a global citizen. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Ghandi.
Now for that slideshow!
While driving to and from work these past 4 days, I’ve heard several segments about the Common Core. Specifically, on KUT.org and NPR. Two different standardized tests are rolling out for implementation in the 45 Common Core states, so the media is covering the related pros & cons, ins & outs, ups & downs, and political arguments. The first, Q&A: A Crash Course on the Common Core, aired March 18th. The following questions are addressed in this article (which you can also listen to on All Things Considered).
If you’re new to the Common Core, this might be a must-read for you. I plan to revisit it.
In the second interesting article (also available with audio on All Things Considered), As Common Core Tests Approach, So Does a Sea Change in Schools, Claudio Sanchez interviews representatives from the 2 new Common Core-aligned standardized tests. The largest of the two groups, Smarter Balanced, is a consortium of 23 states that have already adopted the Common Core. The second group is PARCC; that’s short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Its consortium represents another 17 states and the District of Columbia. As Sanchez explains, “Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced will field test their exams on computer and in paper form. They’ll be about three to four hours long. Once these new tests are revised and ready to go this fall, states will for the first time be able to compare results across state lines.” This should be interesting. We currently rely on nationally normed tests like the SAT-10 to compare student performance across the states.
The third recent article, Common Core Creates Opportunities for Publishers, points out that “Some 45 states and the District of Columbia have now signed onto the new Common Core education standards. And that will draw in not just companies that make textbooks and teaching materials, but also publishers of children’s books – novels, nonfiction, the kind of books people read for pleasure.” As Lynn Neary states, “…if there is one thing that everyone might agree on, it’s that the common goal of the Common Core should be simple: to get kids reading more, and better, books. To do that, you have to get them excited about reading.” The Common Core promotes integrated, relevant, quality books and provides book recommendations in Appendix B. No one can argue that getting kids excited about reading books is an important part of the equation and has been a huge goal in my classroom for as long as I’ve taught.
So…when you consider the amount of attention the media is paying to the Common Core and the tests that have been developed to assess students’ progress, it is obvious that it’s a big deal. In 45 states. What about the other 5, including Texas? Well, we have out own big deals and they’re spelled TEKS and STAAR. We also have publishers, educational agencies, and school districts that have invested the majority of their resources in instructional and preparation materials. All of this begs the question, what about the kids?
As I sit here and steal a few minutes to research and blog, my 5th graders are completing 1 of 2 STAAR passages I’ve given them this week (passages, not 5-passage tests). The first was a paired passage on Monday that they completed together with a friend where they were able to share the reading, discuss, debate, find and cite evidence collaboratively.
Is today’s independent reading passage the best teaching I’ve done all week? Not by a long shot.
Is it fun and motivating? Not exactly, but the kids have a positive attitude nonetheless.
Is test-taking a necessary skill in this 21st century? Yes.
Is is test-taking one of the incredibly important 21st Century Skills we have talked about so much lately: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation, or Caring? No.
Is it what’s best for kids or what’s best for the adults who like to rank and evaluate schools? You tell me.
Should students be required to pass a standardized test in order to pass on to the next grade? According to the Texas state legislature, yes. What do the Common Core states say?
As I see it, tests should be tools just like books from every genre, primary sources, poetry writing, and debates. They should be a way to inspire and evaluate progress, and motivate students, teachers, and schools to challenge themselves to grow and develop.
So…it’s time to go over the passage with my students. They are troopers and hard workers who know that tests are here and must be prepared for and endured. They’re not fun, but they are important to their short and longterm well-being. For Now. As long as I’ve been teaching (24 years), standardized tests have been around and have grown in their power and influence here in Texas. It will be interesting to see how the Common Core states use their new standardized tests and how states, school districts, teachers, students, and families use all of this new information.
Having attended the Google Ninja Academy in Round Rock this year, I have a newfound love for our UT Elementary Google domain and so do my students. As a culminating assessment of my students’ knowledge and understanding of Women’s History and Famous Females, my 5th graders researched and created Google presentations to share and teach others what they’ve learned about amazing American women and how they’ve made history. I could go on and on about how they read and researched, planned and prepared, Googled and gabbed, but I will let some of their presentations speak for themselves.
It has been incredibly rewarding to watch both boys and girls learn about famous females and appreciate their accomplishments to not only win the vote, but to break through stereotypes and make history. Having the Humanities Texas, Citizens At Last mobile museum exhibit in my classroom for 2 weeks put Women’s History at the forefront of every student’s mind and heart, and on the tip of every tongue. The icing on the cake will be our field trip next Friday to the Elisabet Ney Museum here in Austin. As mentioned before, ACCESS to Learning, Inc. will join us to video the kids learning about a local woman artist and trail blazer for women’s rights.
So proud of my kids. Peace, ml