What Good Learning Looks and Sounds Like

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.”
John Dewey

“Give me liberty or give me death” proclaimed a Patriot this morning at our fourth grade debate. The students in our fourth grade classes have been intensely and feverishly preparing for their debates, this class specifically on the merits of diplomacy.

For the past several weeks the students have been learning about the causes of the American Revolutionary War. They were randomly placed on sides of either Whigs or Tories, Patriots or Loyalists and spies were assigned. Lines were drawn -literally drawn down the middle of the room) and so began the immersion in the learning. There was not a teacher reading from a text book nor students regurgitating information. This was a classroom transformed by the chronicle of events to the point that they became these historical characters.

This morning the children shared their learning and understanding of the causes of the Revolution as they debated their side of the argument. Each student argued their point as if they themselves had been alive during those years. The students were not just reading from a script that each had written, they knew their argument because they lived and breathed it these last few weeks.

To say that they did a tremendous job and that they understood the curricular content to be able to take on the role so perfectly is an understatement. It is what good learning looks like; what good learning should look like.


Overdrive, DOGOnews & Thought Leaders & Innvoators Worth Following

This is a copy of an email I shared with my colleagues back at the end of October

Guess what?! I found another FANTASTIC EXCELLENT AMAZING GREAT news site for kids and it’s called DOGOnews (but I read it as dog gone news at first). Kids can ready by category (Current Events, Science, Sports, and more) or filter by Grades (K-3, 3-5, 6-8. Note: When you filter by grades, you will not necessarily get the most recent news). Kids can look at news on the map and see where in the nation/world news events are happening. There is also sections on Books, Movies, and Sites where students can read reviews and see trailers. Try it- bookmark it, and let your students have options for getting the news (other FABU options: Youngzine, Tween Tribune, and Tween Tribune Junior ALSO HAS TWEEN TRIBUNE IN SPANISH, Time For Kids, and Newsela— I gave you that link last week). 

Surely you must have seen or heard of the movie High School Musical. Well, then you’ll appreciate this “We’re All in this Together” reference when I strongly suggest that you read this WashPo article on WAIT FOR IT— math. Since many of you are feeling that we are all math all the time, you will get a lot of enjoyment of this article on math. It might say Common Core, but it can easily apply to our MIF as both encourage teaching understanding rather than the rote way we learned back when teachers used blackboards that were either black or green and clapping erasers outside was high on the job chart. Anyway, you will get a chuckle about halfway through at Stephen Colbert’s words and a at what one of the dad’s wrote in response to an assignment. I’m serious— it’s FUNNY! So, be like Dora and just keep swimming (after you read this article).

I love Pinterest and get weekly updates on great boards. Here is one for Spanish teachers that has a lot of lessons, videos, books, and sites to share with your classes. And here is an annotated list of 30 Pinterest Boards for elementary teachers including SPECIAL SUBJECT TEACHERS like Art, Music, and Science :) Yay, something for everyone!

By the way, if you are like me, you love to read. At this point, I go from book to book on my Kindle or my Kindle app. Well, you can kick your book habit into Overdrive (literally) and rent ebooks and audiobooks right from your local library using the Overdrive app.This article will explain. And you’re welcome; I just saved you $7.49/book or $9.95 if you were using Oyster Books monthly.

Checking in with your students before, during, and after a lesson is important to your teaching as it informs how you progress with a lesson. Here are 52 ways to formatively assess your students. There are some really easy and excellent ways to do this. Some involve technology, like using PollEverywhere, Geddit, Padlet, Google Forms; others are simple, no tech ways like a show of thumbs or paper slips. However you choose, make formative assessment a regular part of your teaching day.

Yesterday’s #edchat was about educational innovators and thought leaders. It was a great conversation talking about who we thought was inspiring to us as a thought leader; who challenged our thinking. I immediately thought of Sir Ken Robinson, Alan November, and Seth Godin. Another chimed in with Alfie Kohn . It was a great online discussion about what kinds of people inspire us to to look at our practices and beliefs about education.Someone shared this link in the chat that lists 30 Education Innovators Worth Following on Twitter. If you are making your way into Twitter, these are some people you might want to check out and follow.

Stuck in the Middle ?

Have you ever had a question that at 2 in the morning you happen to come up with another way of responding? Well it’s 2:29AM and here I am with another response to a question I was asked last evening at a forum for potential school board candidates. The question was posed, ‘Our school district provides excellent programming and support to our children at both ends of the spectrum, do we do enough for the middle of the pack?’ (I do not remember the actual wording but it was something like that.)

When I was thinking back on the question as I tend to do, I had a few different ways of approaching this response.

First, let’s think about how are children identified as needing support– whether it is support because they are deemed gifted and talented and therefore need to be challenged; or because they are not meeting grade level benchmarks and require additional support; or perhaps they are differently-abled and require a different style of teaching or assistive device. Maybe the children need behavioral support because they have a difficult time staying quiet in class.

So then who are the children in the middle of the pack? Are they the children who are not the best and brightest, not the academically challenged, not the differently-abled, or not the ones who cause disruptions in the class? Are these children average? Grade level? Above grade level but not gifted? The ones that are easier to deal with because they are not any of the above? Who are the ones considered to be middle of the pack?

Perhaps we need to rethink how we look at and define gifted and talented and needing support. My daughter is gifted and talented academically and socially. She is tall, lithe, and can dance. She is not at the top of the charts athletically, musically, or artistically. It is in those areas she could require additional support. My son was not identified as gifted and talented. He is very bright, does beautifully in his Honors and AP courses, but is not in the G&T or challenge program. He is talented athletically and excels on the playing field. At the time, my son was a little upset that he was not considered gifted and could not go to “challenge” classes. I suppose I would tend to say that he is the upper middle of the pack or the middle of the front of the pack.

Here are my questions that I am thinking about:

  1.  Should we pull children out for support and challenge, or special experiential programming, or should we bring that challenge, support, and experiential programming to all children?
  2. Should we as teachers just be better at identifying our students’ strengths and differences and support them in our classrooms by differentiating the curriculum?
  3. Couldn’t all children use support in some areas? I mean, everyone is not necessarily excellent in every area of the curriculum and we should not expect people to be great at everything, We do need to expect that they will work to their strengths.
  4. Is it fair to offer programs and opportunities to those deemed qualified and not to those who are just interested in these kinds of learning experiences?
  5. Are we offering the same learning experiences to some but not all? or
  6. Are we offering excellent academic and holistic experiences to everyone but in different places based on where students identify their strengths and talents?

Then I reconsidered and thought about the flip side:

  1. Is it unfair to keep students who need extra support in a classroom that might not move at a pace that is the same at which they learn whether it is more quickly or slowly?
  2. Is it unfair for all the students to have to move at a pace of learning that is different from their own?
  3. Is it unfair to expect that teachers can have a large class of students all needing different things at different times?

Thinking about this, all children are gifted and talented in some way, need support in others, and are middle of the road in still other ways. Perhaps what we need to be doing is finding out where the children are deemed gifted and help groom and nurture that gift whether it is in the classroom, the art studio, the music room, the stage, or the athletic field. And perhaps we need to see where the students could use a little more support and help them grow in those areas. Because if you think about it, all children deserve to be and should be challenged and supported, even if they are the middle of the pack.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ~Henry Ford

This is a huge WOW! This teacher whom I follow on Twitter (@MrsEvon1) is sharing how her 4th grade students are using their ipads in a 1:1 environment. All throughout the day the technology and creativity is embedded in their learning and in everything that they are doing. It is truly amazing. Just because you might not be using ipads does not mean you cannot do what she, is doing. Many of the apps that she is using are also websites (Haikudeck, Vocabulary and Spelling City, Storyline Online, Kidblog, Quizlet, Wonderopolis; the ones that are not also web-based can easily be found in other tools). 

I especially like the ipad menu of activities that Mrs. Evon is using to keep her students responsible for their learning. 

You know how much I love all things Google. Well, Google has another new add-on which will make using Google forms for sign-ups like appointment times or bake sale donations even better. Now Google has added Choice Eliminator— when a selection is made that should no longer be available, Choice Eliminator gets rid of it. Now you will no longer have 5 people bringing paper plates or signing up for the 4:00 appointment. Yay!

More Google (because we could all use more Google in our life)- this from Kyle Pace in my Feedly (used to be Google Reader but, alas, sadly, that went). Anyway, when you go to Create something in Google Drive, your default choices are Folder, Doc, Sheet, Slides, Drawing, and Form; but if you look closely, you will see at the bottom of that list, “Connect More Apps.” There are many wonderful apps that once connected, can offer you and your students a lot of benefits and assistance. You can find the ones that Kyle B. Pace recommends here. I am a fan of Lucidchart, Pixlr, and Powtoons, but there are really so many options.

This next set of tools are great! I came across Wideo over the weekend, and have had it open in a tab so I could try it out (still open, am going to help my daughter make a math video for her class). Then I saw that Richard Byrne, aka Free Tech 4 Teachers, had a nice post about this and 2 other video creating sites. I have used We Video and found it fairly easy, but I have not tried Magisto (which seems to me to be similar to the easy and simple-to-use Animoto which I and my 5th grade students love). Anyway, you can read here about all 3 sites that will allow you to create your videos in the cloud (aka Web-based) then easily share them or embed them. I would say that in order of ease-of-use you should try Animoto, Magisto, We Video, then Wideo (which makes animated-style videos).

Last, for our folks teaching current events or doing current events with your students, here is Newsela— a site that allows you to search for topics by grade level, reading standard, or quizzed articles. You can sign up and create a classroom for your students and assign them articles, or just make it a job for our student to bring a piece of news to your morning circle. 

Looking for more classroom jobs? Have a class public relations person tweet out what your class is learning. Have an historian of the day find out what happened on this day in history and see that today is not just another ordinary day. I have more ideas but if you have been reading and you got to this point, you can ask me.

Shared in late October with my colleagues

Five Minute Activities, PhotoMath, and Musical Shares!

Photo on 2-17-15 at 2.07 PMIt might be snowy and cold, but that does not stop me from getting the Shipley PLN Lower School Edition to you. Like the postal motto: neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail will prevent me from delivering your mail (something along those lines); Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough . . . You get the picture :)

Singapore Math has a Facebook page where it posts daily questions that you can share with your students. Depending on the type and your age group, it might be a fun way to open your math lesson or even your day one day a week.

Speaking of math . . . This just might be one of the coolest apps I’ve seen after Wolfram Alpha! With PhotoMath you use your phone’s camera to scan a math problem from a text book or homework page, then PhotoApp solves the problem AND shows you step-by-step HOW to solve the problem. If you have or know middle or high school students, or upper elementary students, this might be something to share with them for when they need a little extra help with a problem.

If you can believe that I have another Pin to share you would be right! This pin board is all about critical thinking, but 2 of the pins stuck out for me because they are quick to implement: the first is about things you can do when you have 5 minutes- the 2nd is the invention box. I love the 5 minute activities for movement and brainteasers as they are great ways to energize and refocus your students. I love the invention box idea because we all have things lying around our house that students can repurpose when/if we give them innovation/genius hour time.

If you are having your students create written documents in Google Drive, and you want them to see which words they (or their peers if they are peer editing) use frequently, then try using the word cloud ad-on. See this post from Richard Byrne for more on how you can use this in your class.

Many of you are blogging or tweeting or are thinking about it. This from Vicki Davis and Linda Yollis talks about ways to build an authentic audience for your students. If you are on the fence about getting started, just ask the students who are receiving comments on their blogs or who have skyped with other schools how it feels when they see these comments or make these connections. They LOVE it! And by the way, our student bloggers are writing and commenting beautifully. Check them out and please leave a comment. 

Grab your chairs, some post-its, and turn on the music for this next idea. I came across this fun idea from Lisa Nielsen, the Innovative Educator. Though it seems to be geared towards adults for a post professional development reflection activity, I can see it working really nicely in the classroom as either a reflection at the end of a unit, or as a fun way to review for a test. It’s called Musical Shares and it’s a take off of the old birthday party game Musical Chairs (you know, the one where there are actually people who get out and someone who wins?). The kids move to the music, stop when it stops, sit in a chair and answer the question that is prompted on their chair.

Staying with the Music for a moment, this is a really cool video that visualizes rhythms and beats. Our music teachers and any musicphiles will find this informative and a may want to show the kids.

Finally, in many social studies classrooms, it’s mapping time. Well, here are some ideas to build map skills in the PK-8  (actually PK-6; I misread. We’ll blame it on 45) classroom.

Folks, I love sharing these with you each week. If you love getting them, and if you have found them useful, if you actually open them and maybe read them, drop me a line. Let me know that this tree is not falling in the woods with no one to hear it.

What if

What if we all decided to try something a little risky and something that makes us not entirely comfortable? This post from Justin Tarte talks about how we as teachers can stay relevant (which is something we all need to do!).

Food for thought: creating a classroom for social justice. Jeanne Stanley would be proud . 

For all our Science friends, this Pinterest Board from Steve Spangler (who will be a guest on the Ellen show).

Here is a math site that I think could work nicely with our Math in Focus. Thinking Blocks uses models to help students set up a math word problem. Once the students set up the model (they look like the bar models you are using with MIF), then they place the labels that go with each piece. Whenthey have the model set properly, then they place the numbers in the problem. This could be a viable option for additional math practice. PreK-grade 1 friends, please take a look at this because if you think this site could work with our new math program, there is an app for the ipads which could reinforce the bar model. All math functions can be modeled with Thinking Blocks! This is already a shortcut in the Lower School Internet Shortcuts, Math folder as it is one that I shared in the past. Nancy Carroll, a teacher on Twitter shared how she is using it with her 4th grade students and looking at it made me think it could work for you too!

You Don’t Need a Campfire for These S’mores

If you are looking for an easy, fun, creative way to share information with your parents, colleagues, PLN, students, customers (who knows, you might have a side business), look no further than Tackk. It is very similar to S’more in that you can easily add text, images, links, videos, and change the layout to fit your style and needs. Share your Tackk via facebook, twitter, email, link it, pin it, or print it. This is one that you will love!

This next is primarily for Science teachers or anyone who wants to learn how to make a circuit. Thanks to middle school’s Bethan Silva for sharing it AND the showme link from last week.

Here is one I have shared previously that I think your students are absolutely going to LOVE and so will you.  It has great potential for allowing your students to show their understanding of a situation while creating these fake text messages. You can see mine right here. I happened across this post in my Feedly from Richard Byrne and thought it was a good one to share again. His post includes a short video on creating the fake texts. This is one you can start using right away!

I love the idea of teachers integrating the reading and enjoying of poetry as part of their day. This post from Karl Fisch’s Fischbowl is an example of digital poetry. I’m sharing it because it reading it gave me an idea for you to try: what if your students took a poem and then found images to illustrate the idea, put these images in a digital storytelling tool like Animoto, HaikuDeck, I-movie, GarageBand (you get the picture) and then depending upon the audio capabilities of the chosen tool, add both text and their voice reading the poem (or just text or words). Hmmm?! Do you love the idea as much as I do? Then this could be part of a larger lesson on using writing to create descriptive, visual language so that others could then choose images to go with that student’s own writing. I have more ideas if you want to do some brainstorming . . . .

Who loves to use Post-its as much as I do? I know that Carole is currently using the to capture the  vocabulary that her students are finding while they are reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. Well, this app will DIGITISE your paper post-its allowing you to then toss out the paper ones when finished, and manipulate and share the digital ones. Totally cool if you are asking. Now, if you want to go digital right from the start, then just go to padlet or linoit.