August 10th, 2014

New Year, New Perspective

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.

Peace,

ml

June 9th, 2014

Digital Turf, Student Engagement, and Digital Safety

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.

WorldVuze.com helps create thoughtful global citizens.

WorldVuze.com helps create thoughtful global citizens.

I’ll be updating my blog as I find just the right ways to make it all happen. Stay tuned! Peace, ml

 

 

April 22nd, 2014

Gratitude

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.

Mr. Mickey Klein shares Civil Rights Summit experiences with 5th graders.

Mr. Mickey Klein shares Civil Rights Summit experiences with 5th graders.

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.

Malcolm holding Mario on a typical day in Mrs. Ledbetter's class.

Malcolm holding Mario on a typical day in Mrs. Ledbetter’s class.

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.

Peace, ml

April 9th, 2014

Sea Camp, Service Learning, SEL, and Soon-to-Be Graduates, 2014!

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!

Peace, ml

March 23rd, 2014

Lil’ Longhorns Celebrate World Water Day 2014

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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo38UoULMrE&feature=youtu.be

Peace, ml

March 20th, 2014

Innovation Challenge Entry 3 – The Common Core Conundrum & Testing Trials

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).

  • What are the Common Core State Standards?
  • Opponents of the Common Core argue that the standards tell teachers what texts they should teach. Do they?
  • Will the Core come with new standardized tests?
  • How do teachers unions feel about the Common Core?

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.

Peace, ml

 

 

 

February 7th, 2014

Women’s History Google Presentations

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.

Barbara Jordan - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1cmc2gWsUV6J–Ds6XTf8Y1W9VIqKc2uME81doORYzrY/edit?usp=sharing

Jane Goodall - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1j4xzKccK2MhxGKvtDoFqGgGnAS3ewbtgAvmY1JYOf20/edit?usp=sharing

Madeline Albright - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1HCgVwco7lCykt2CAiLPC5fFwo1MZzibY8IUVsj4SfFA/edit?usp=sharing

Ann Richards - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1k3ANzUf6M8s3eVW57y3I6shmfV9cmARhcSw_Z0Xs2xc/edit?usp=sharing

Helen Keller - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1X5r-U3k-Zfav0G_BhQzUwSVzVwuuIPbtXC3KEXlIsog/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Oyhj6oNFFYpKu_60W6tqoyfi0PPh_1U47Al3ypbY0fA/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Ak7mNRU8R258SO3CTsU-fuJPtp992935jBE8KzN_TME/edit?usp=sharing

Jackie Kennedy - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1qsZGScTxF2UE3L8o_jlnpqFxnepDTYnebNiCkErkGWM/edit?usp=sharing

Rosa Parks - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1h5gKK2-Li1O-vfR1gU-WGumnRXdWtq5WgxiYUeoCH9E/edit?usp=sharing

Ella Fitzgerald - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ix2h10Jxyhkgw2rMOKoZ8M2zZgTsr6KRhyciRd07rc4/edit?usp=sharing

Sally Ride - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1vEbe9aEMfv097n64WhvGaR9LQWIaSK07joZ0JAnIRjY/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XyXPkOF-NZ9S27-tINRgCZH4U8HLN4cOcpfj9AxSQHY/edit?usp=sharing

Harriet Tubman - https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Dz74oNlz26zEC4SWtjsBEl5pOYlmhGG9IV86-2s5Ytw/edit?usp=sharing

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

 

January 21st, 2014

Lights, Camera, Action!

We took our Women’s History unit to a whole new level today, I must say. My Little Longhorns are the fortunate recipients of a grant from ACCESS to Learning, Inc.(http://www.austinaccess.org/), a new and local non-profit dedicated to enriching students’ learning. ACCESS (Austin Collaborative of Cultural and Educational Sites and Schools) made it possible for us to have a Humanities Texas mobile museum exhibit in our school and our classroom. The exhibit we currently have in our classroom is Citizens at Last: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Texas. It has been exciting to have such a unique exhibit at our fingertips, actually we do not touch the exhibit with our actual fingertips, but we’ve examined, analyzed, queried, inferred, concluded… you get the picture. Humanities Texas has a wealth of resources available to teachers and students, with Citizens at Last being just one of their exhibits available to schools (http://www.humanitiestexas.org/exhibitions/list/by-title/citizens-last-woman-suffrage-movement-texas).

Today was extra special because ACCESS to Learning, Inc. brought in a videographer to document our use of the exhibit in our classroom. The purpose of the video is to help get the word out to administrators and teachers about how ACCESS can help them bring resources into their own schools and classrooms. Today, our UTES 5th graders used the exhibit to answer questions using a Document-Based Question, created by yours truly. My hope is that this DBQ (Citizens at Last DBQ) will be made available to teachers by both ACCESS and Humanities Texas. My Little Longhorns made me proud this morning with their manners, optimism, collaboration, and critical thinking. They truly exhibited the traits of a 21st century learners. They worked as teams and asked questions that led to more learning. The videographers were here from Hector Galan, Inc. (http://www.galaninc.com/site/) who, it turns out, is an award winning filmmaker who has worked on films for PBS’s Frontline and This American Experience. So cool.

Seeing is believing, so here you go. Catch a glimpse into our classroom today. This Women’s History unit has been a wonderful journey of discovery and learning to appreciate the men and women who paved the way to the freedoms we have today. Our Little Longhorns voiced that appreciation today.

Little Longhorns analyze primary sources in Humanities Texas mobile exhibit, Citizens at Last.

Little Longhorns analyze primary sources in Humanities Texas mobile exhibit, Citizens at Last.

 

 

 

Little Longhorns demonstrate how to integrate and use primary sources for ACCESS to Learning, Inc.

Little Longhorns demonstrate how to integrate and use primary sources for ACCESS to Learning, Inc.

On Friday, ACCESS to Learning, Inc. has made it possible for our 5th graders to take a local field trip to the Elisabet Ney Museum. As we wrap up our Women’s History unit, this field trip will take us inside the studio of a famous woman artist and Texan. We will spend the remainder of this week finishing our DBQs, finishing research projects on Famous Females, and learning about Ney and how she promoted the suffrage movement right her in Austin. Student research projects will including a visual presentation. Donna Vliet, ACCESS to Learning, Inc.’s founder will join us along with the videographer on our field trip. We can’t wait. Where art and history intersect, magic happens.

 

December 17th, 2013

Planning a Women’s History Unit for January

I thought it would be fun to include you in my planning process for a special Women’s History unit for that I will teach in January, 2014. Where did I get my idea for a this unit you ask? Well from Sherry Field, of course. This is how all of my best units start. Dr. Field has an inspiration and shares it with me. We’ve collaborated this way for the past 6 years on units covering The Great Depression, Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Austin, Civil Rights, and now Women’s Rights. Most of our projects include her observation and research in my classroom, my brainstorming and blogging, and our collaboration on research and writing. Every teacher needs an idea generator because, if you are like me, you sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees (papers to grade, lesson plans to write, report cards, parent conferences, etc.). You know what I mean.

So as I began thinking about a Women’s History unit, I also began gather resources: story books, chapter books, artwork, articles, project and research ideas, related basal reader and leveled reader resources (our current state adoption is Texas Treasures which includes When Esther Morris Headed West. Esther Morris was an early suffragette. I’ve been brainstorming specific women and icons to spotlight. So far I’ve considered women and icons in politics and government ((Sandra Day O’Conner & Ann Richards) including First Ladies (Abigail Adams & Eleanor Roosevelt), technology and innovation (Amelia Earhart & Balloonist Jeannette Piccard), , sports (Babe Didrikson & Wilma Rudolf), the arts (Elisabet Ney), writing (Laura Ingalls Wilder & Margaret Mitchell) , and culture and history (Margaret Mead & Rosie the Riveter).

I’ve also been collecting websites to explore such as: http://womenshistorymonth.gov/index.html (Women’s History Month), http://www.nwhp.org/whm/honorees2012.php (National Women’s History Project), http://www.timeforkids.com/news/womens-history-milestones/9731 (Women’s History Milestones/Time for Kids), and http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/resource_library/women_resources.html (Smithsonian Education/Women’s History Teaching Resources), just to name a few.

My plan is to start with a basic KWL chart and have students tell me what they KNOW about Women’s History and Women’s Rights. Then I will ask them to generate questions of what they WONDER. I will follow the advice of friend, Barb Knighton (NCSS Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year, 2013) and give students credit for lessons that help answer their questions. For example, when/if a student asks the question, “Who helped lead the women’s suffrage movement?” I will honor that student’s curiosity by thanking them for coming up with such an interesting question. Any time I give students credit, they just beam. Thanks Barb!

One other special component of my Women’s History Unit plans is a mobile museum exhibit from Humanities Texas. Thanks to Access to Learning, Inc., we will have a Women’s History photographic exhibit in our classroom and in our school library for the month of January. We are very fortunate and excited to have these primary sources at our fingertips. We will then, also thanks to Access to Learning, Inc., get to take a field trip to the Elisabet Ney Museum here in Austin. Yes, that’s right folks. We are taking a social studies field trip. Thank you Access to Learning, Inc and Donna Vliet (www.austinaccess.org) for making this possible.

Okay, that’s enough planning for today. I hope it gives you something to think about and maybe even inspires one or two of you.

Peace, ml

 

December 17th, 2013

Innovation Challenge

At NCSS this November, I was on the lookout for data on the Common Core and how it is being used across the nation. There was a plethora of presentations that mentioned the Common Core and an enormous number of booths in the exhibit hall promoting or selling products that met the Common Core Standards for social studies. A few presentation titles included:

  • Developing Students’ Historical Literacy Practices: Integrating Subject Matter and Literacy in the Age of the Common Core;
  • CHOICES: Curriculum and Professional Development for Meeting Common Core;
  • Worksheets Don’t Teach the Common Core;
  • Common Core and the Document Based Question;
  • Cure for the Common Core: Strategies for Teaching Complex Texts; and
  • Beyond the Common Core: Internationalizing the Curriculum Above and Abroad.

These were listings on just the first 16 pages of 122 pages of presentations from CUFA (Council of State Social Studies Supervisors, NSSSA (National Social Studies Supervisors Association, and NCSS (National Council for Social Studies) members over 4 days. This national conference draws over 4000 attendees and presenters each year, so any topic that is at the forefront of social studies can be found there.

Common Core is definitely a hot topic at this time, which begs the questions (again):

  • How are the 45 participating states using the Common Core? Do they still have their own state standards? Are their annual assessments based on the Common Core, or on their state standards?
  • Why would Texas (and 4 other states) decide not to participate in the Common Core Standards? How do our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) compare to the common core?
  • How can I present at the national level and continue to make my content relevant to the Common Core?

The 45 states using Common Core appear to have whole-heartedly embraced them and are using them to expand and enrich their existing state standards. As with all new standards, programs and related resources, keeping the focus on research and evidence-based strategies and materials is key to success. In my experience, even the best materials need an effective, caring teacher. If the Common Core is used as another layer and level of integrated instruction, it seems to be a useful tool, but if it is considered a Bandaid or a “teacher-proof” tool is will not benefit the students it’s meant to serve, in my opinion.

Texas and 5 other states have not jumped on the Common Core band wagon. In a November 18th Dallas Morning News article by Staff Writer, Jeffrey Weiss writes,

“The Common Core curriculum, an effort to create voluntary national standards and testing for math and English, has long been criticized by some conservatives who say it’s being used to   promote a liberal agenda.” It goes on to say,

“Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The Texas Legislature was so leery about Common Core that it passed a law this year that bans the state or school districts from requiring use of the national curriculum or standards.

Still, companies that produce school materials nationally also sell to Texas. And much of Common Core matches Texas requirements. It’s likely that Texas schools will use some materials also sold to states that adopt Common Core.” (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20131118-common-core-critics-see-examples-of-agenda-in-class-assignments.ece)

In an October 29, 2013 Politico article by Caitlin Emma, says:

“Texas has arguably been one of the loudest critics of the standards, Aldeman said.

The state’s refusal to explore the Common Core was at the heart of why Texas didn’t apply for Race to the Top funds in 2010. Texas has its own college- and career-ready expectations for its students. Republican Gov. Rick Perry has been defiant in communicating with Duncan, saying he will not adopt “unproven, cost-prohibitive national curriculum standards and tests.”

‘In the interest of preserving our state sovereignty over matters concerning education and shielding local schools from unwarranted federal intrusion into local district decision-making, Texas will not be submitting an application for RTTT funds,’ Perry wrote in January 2010.” (http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/texas-no-child-left-behind-waiver-means-concessions-to-feds-98964.html)

A third article/blog from Challen Stephens at http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/11/unlike_alabama_these_five_stat.html states, writes

“Texas never left much doubt about where it stands. In 2010,Gov. Rick Perry wrote the White House and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to say that Texas leads the way in education reform and would not waste tax dollars on ‘the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests.’

Perry estimated adoption and implementation of the Common Core at $3 billion in textbooks, training and testing materials for Texas. He also dropped references to ‘state sovereignty’ and ‘unwanted federal intrusion.’”

From just these three articles, the Common Core issue in Texas appears to be highly political and controversial. Another article I read (not sited) mentioned that a Tea Party Activist likened the Texas C-scope curriculum to the Common Core and both are unpopular in the conservative camp.

Politics aside, my hope is that Common Sense will prevail and Texas will allow its professional educators to voluntarily do their own research into the Common Core and other comprehensive resources. Denying teachers access to a resource for political reasons is to deny students the access to resources that most other students in the U.S. have. Since I’ve been presenting at national, state, and local conferences these past 5 years, before and after Common Core, I’ve found that it has not helped or hampered my ability to present relevant, evidence-based strategies to other teachers. Since I am most definitely not trying to sell anyone anything, I have no stake in the Common Core. Any product that is being promoted as a “fix” for a school, a teacher, or a student needs to be analyzed carefully. Bottom line,

The most important component of any classroom is an effective, caring teacher who builds a community of confident learners.

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