Changes

 

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Tulip, my dog amazed at the amount of books we are moving.

 

This post has been a long time coming. I just spent the weekend with Molly and I was both inspired and energized to start blogging again, and to tell the next part of our story.

Last spring, my husband and I made the decision to leave Seattle and move north about 90 miles. This decisions was hard and sad, but we realized this was the next step for our family. I was fortunate enough to find a job in a district that belief system closely aligns with my own. I was hired to be a third grade teacher. I was unsure about third grade–I’ve always seen myself as a primary teacher not to mention I would no longer be teaching the same grade level as Molly. Change can be hard. I’m two weeks into third grade and to put it bluntly,  it’s rad. I’m loving it and excited for how it is stretching me as a teacher.

As Molly and I talked and talked this weekend ( so much catching up to do!), we realized we could keep blogging together-our beliefs are still the same as when we began this journey.  We both still have things to say about digital citizenship and supporting and empowering all students. We both believe that our classrooms should be safe, nurturing places for all students. Our post may have a slightly different perspective now since I’ve moved to intermediate but Molly is still my person, my teaching soul mate and still the person I run just about every crazy idea I have by. Our lives and teaching situations have changed but not who we are. I hope you continue to join us on this journey.

~Alicia

Adding Purpose to a Student Centered Classroom – A Reflection on PBL

Every year at this time I am celebrating my successes and reflecting on what I can do better.  For many years my colleagues and I  have integrated project based learning in our classrooms. These projects are guided by a driving question and  incorporate all of the PBL  essentials: student voice, collaboration, problem solving,  critical thinking, reflection and a time for student presentations.

 

For the last 6 years my 1st graders have done a Spring project that focuses on birds.  This project was designed to meet state science standards as well as allow students plenty of time to research practicing what it means to synthesize information and to put that learning in their own word.  This learning culminates in a bird symposium where students present what they’ve learned  in a way that expresses all that they know to an audience.  Every year Alicia and I have tweeked this project, adding art and music components, numerous field trips, tuning in to bird cams so that students could observe  fledglings in their nests. We brought in experts and used twitter to connect with ornithologists.  We immersed them in the study of birds and their habitats.  We knew that our students were engaged and that their understanding was multi layered and deep.  Students were asking questions and helping each other find the answers.  Yes,they were learning a lot about birds.  But could they do more?

In our 1st project of the year, our students had done a project in which they built a city of the future.  To do that they brainstormed a list of what they saw as “problems” in our city.  Homelessness, traffic, pollution and loss of green space. All of these were mitigated in the city that they imagined for their future. fullsizeoutput_3a1c

It was learning that stuck and when we started talking about birds they were immediately drawn to the problems they had already identified. Pollution in our city had to to be hurting birds too. This time they wanted to make a difference and they asked if  they could reach out to the Seattle Audobon Society.

 

 

The letters were delivered and we had permission to do a fundraiser.  Our neighborhood holds a farmers market in the Spring and luckily they were happy to host our 1st graders who signed up for shifts after school and into the night.

 

In the end these children raised  575 dollars and 25 cents, money that will be used to help protect bird habitat in our city. But more than that they demonstrated that their voices mattered and  together they could make an impact on our world.  This urgency and sense of purpose made a difference in their lives.  And mine.  And as I reflect back it’s what should drive all of our teaching.  We must lift expectations and let students lead the learning in real and authentic ways.

~Molly

 

Digital Schools or Digital Learning?

I sat down at my computer today to write a blog post about the impact project based learning has had on my students.   I had just gone through my camera roll and tagged the pictures and videos that showed my 1st graders researching, collaborating, struggling, using feedback to try again and I was so proud to share their success as self directed learners.  1st graders who use technology and are empowered to share their thinking and learning with the world.  But writers block set in so I decided on this gloomy June day in Seattle that I could do a technology training that’s been on my to do list since September.  ( my district will pay me 8 hours of pay to get it done) or I could check my twitter feed.  Perfect.  That’s when I saw that George Couros had retweeted Mike Crowley’s blog post:

Google, ISTE, and the Death of EdTech

I read the post then retweeted the post and then decided to get a cup of coffee and maybe go for a walk.  But Crowley’s post stayed with me. Mainly because Alicia and I had the opportunity to pilot the  first 1 to 1 iPad program in an elementary school in our district.  We also  started this blog because we watched how these devices transformed teaching and learning in our classrooms.  Now, 6 years later, even though there is lots of technology in our public schools, the inclination is still to control and even to block students from using these devices.  And professional development?  Teaching teachers how to use technology in meaningful ways that impact students?  It’s happening but it’s teacher driven.   Which brings me back to the technology training that is still on my to do list.

 

 

As you can see the PD that I can get paid to do is several modules that will help me learn how to use our district’s evaluation system, how to use office 365, how to use power teacher and homeroom which are systems that allow me to take attendance and look up data for my students.  It also includes schoology which is how I am able to access this training. (Schoology is also used by students in our middle and high schools I could get an hours pay to learn how to use gradebook but that doesn’t apply to me either.  The digital classroom and the personalized learning path gave me hope but again there is nothing here that will impact my teaching and/or my students.

 

So that’s how I ended up on twitter this morning.  A place where I am able to connect with educators like Mike Crowley and George Couros  who are transforming education.   Of course teachers need digital tools in the classroom and I will get better at using Onedrive and Power Teacher and Homeroom-programs that are used by our district.  But in the classroom the focus needs to be on our students. And if we are going to give our kids technology we need to support teachers in their professional development. We need to show them what’s possible and support them as they integrate technology in authentic ways. This will lead to powerful learning in all of our classrooms.   Quoting Mike Crowley, “Let’s imagine what learning can be.”

~Molly

 

Social Media in 1st grade

This week in my classroom  students are listening to one of my favorite read alouds, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  We’re reading a chapter a day, working as a class to infer word meanings (weep, cargo, inhabited ) pausing so that students can turn and talk about the storyline and  share their understanding of the text. We started by making predictions about what would happen in the book.  Why is there a lion on the cover?  Why did Elmer pack what he did in his knapsack?  But instead of just writing these predictions on paper, and turning them in for feedback, my students are using Twitter to share their learning with classrooms around the United States and Canada.img_0131 For the third year in a row my 1st graders are connecting with other 6 , 7 and 8 year olds in more than 20 different classrooms using the #1bc18.

My students are used to sharing on Twitter.  In fact, our class Twitterers, (there are two) is our most popular class job.  Most days these students will send out a tweet at the end of our day.  It’s their chance to share what they think is most important about our school day.  These tweets  are student directed.  My 1st graders  use their best guess spelling and they use our school hashtag (#QAE)  because they know hashtags bring specific audiences together. I don’t step in until their finished,  and then I read it, offer feedback and let  them tweet it out to the world. What’s most significant about this is that they are sharing their voices with an authentic audience.  img_0134

During the book club, my students are literally lining up in front of our classroom computer so they can share their predictions, thoughts, etc. about the chapter we are reading.  And because we are on the west coast, and 2 to 3 hours behind most of the other classrooms that are online, we are able to see what what other students are doing which  creates a lot of excitement that help push my students in ways that I alone cannot.  It is a connection that is authentic and motivating.  We are also noticing similarities about our thinking  and about the schools and classrooms that we learn in.  We have gotten out maps and put dots on the cities and towns that we now have a connection to,  we feel like we have made new friends and we’ve added geography to the 1st grade curriculum.

Learning is  also amplified when students can share their ideas and get immediate feedback from people who don’t even have to be in the room.  We have tweeted several authors and heard back from most of them.  My students also share their thinking on kidblog.   And you can find that link on our class Twitter account.  And if you are now thinking how am I going to find  time for this, it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes a day.  We check our twitter account (@MsMecksClass) during snack time. And surprisingly, or maybe not, I’ve never had to edit or admonish anyone  for anything inappropriate.  Already, my students understand what it means to be a safe online.  Digital Citizenship is taught explicitly.  Common Sense Media definies digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world.”

I am very passionate that every student should be learning how to use technology and social media in school.   My own kids (now 18 and 21)  were the 1st generation of kids to grow up in this new digital world and they were navigating social media with very little support from adults (I thought I knew what they were doing ) and absolutely none from their teachers. In fact, students were banned from bringing technology to school and were only told what they couldn’t do on school devices.  I believe that  the students that are in our classrooms  now will be more thoughtful and positive on social media.  And that they will not only be digital citizens but digital leaders who will use technology and social media to create positive social change. This today from one of my 1st graders who wanted to share her feelings about the thousands of students who walked out of schools everywhere to honor the victims of gun violence.

Thanks Edie!

~Molly

The Choice Driven Classroom

If there is one thing that drives our teaching, it’s giving our students choice in the classroom.  My students pick where they want to sit, they choose who they want to work with and with minimal exceptions they are all working on different skills, strategies and goals during reading, writing and math workshops.  They show their learning in different and creative ways and they understand that every single choice they make impacts their learning.   Alicia and I teach  6 and 7 years old and yet they understand what it means to be a self directed learner.   In our classroom this 21st century skill is explicitly taught.                                                                                                 img_4574.jpg

I understand and follow classroom routines. This sets the foundation.  My students walk into a fairly bland classroom on the first day.  There are no assigned seats, no name tags, there are no colorful bulletin boards,  no jobs posted, there are no anchor charts on the walls with guidelines for behaviors. In the first 4 to 6 weeks we will create all of this together. Students will help craft our classroom routines and make agreements so that we can spend each day with one goal in mind and that goal is to learn.  And because they have input into  how our classroom functions there is a lot of student buy in.  6 year olds want to learn and they want to have fun.  And surprising they want structure too.

I work independently for short than longer periods of time.  Alicia and I believe strongly in the workshop model and we teach reading, writing and math workshops.  The structure is predictable.   A short mini lesson on the carpet, followed by ample time to practice independently and then time at the end for reflection.  At this point in the year my students are reading self-selected texts for 25 minutes each morning.  They are writing for close to 40 minutes a day.  They pick their own books based on interest and their ability to read it.  On any given morning you would see students independently working on spelling  patterns, writing a blog post,  using bananagrams or spellominoes to make words or using their iPads to record a video blog in which they summarize a text of their choice.   blog phoeve

I understand that my choices impact my learning.  (and sometime the learning of others)    This is key to making a choice driven classroom work.  My students learn through trial and error, who they work best with and who they don’t.  And just like we do, as adults, they figure out that sometimes there  best friends are not the ones that help them most in the classroom. (And/or when they are supposed to be listening on the carpet.)

I am setting learning goals and persevering to meet them.   All of my students set learning goals.  These goals are sometime set with me and very often set on their own.  Because creating a mindset for learning is also a big part of our curriculum, many of my students will pick a goal around perseverance and persistence especially in subjects that may be hard.  Learning to not give up and to be resilient  are life long skills that will serve them well.

But becoming a self directed learner doesn’t mean anything if students aren’t allowed some time to explore their passions.  My students look forward to Wednesdays because they know that on this day they can pick anything they want to learn about.  As their teacher,  Wednesday means they are reading and writing and researching topics of their choice. But to them in means they are in total control of their learning, they pick the topic, they ask questions, they make a plan to share their learning.

They are empowered.   They take risks. They make mistakes. They begin again.   It’s what school should be.

 

 

 

Innovation and Risk-Taking – A Reflection Inspired by #IMMOOC, Season 2

I have been catching up on the Innovators Mindset Open Online Course and it didn’t take long to inspire me to start blogging again.   It’s so easy to be so busy that blogging just isn’t a priority.  Teaching,  family, staff meetings, parent meetings, National Boards, etc. etc.  But when I start listening to innovative teachers share their practice, my head starts spinning and I want to share what I’m thinking too.  So often we feel like we don’t measure up.   So here I go.  Again.

There are many things that make a teacher innovative.  Because I value collaboration, face to face, and with people I’ve never met, communicating using 140 characters or less – I’m innovative.  Because I take risks in my day to day practice -I’m innovative. Because I learn from my mistakes-I’m innovative. And  because I give everyone of my   1st grade students the support they need to make choices and take risks in their learning – I am innovative.  But  the hard part about being innovative is that nothing stays the same.  I can’t rely on what worked last year or the year before because ever school year brings a new group of students. And a new set of challenges.

Right now I’m struggling with We Wonder Wednesday.  This is a day that I set aside for my students to learn about anything they want to.   They can work by themselves, they can work in groups – they just need to be learning.

 

I have students, 7 and 8 year olds, researching fish, dinosaurs, Michelle Obama, plants, bubbles, Mt. Everest and binary numbers.  ( crazy, I know.)  And they are learning.   They are picking a topic , doing basic research, and then creating a  poster or a book, often using technology,  and moving on to the next wonder.   And then they repeat.  Why aren’t they taking more risks?    Is it them or is it me?   By now my students have learned what it means to be a self directed learner, they know what it means to think critically and share their thinking.  And we  have also  defined what it means to be creative.

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For me being creative,  means not showing your work the same way again and again.   And  that involves taking risks.  Are all my student able to do that? I don’t think so.  So is it me?Or is it them?  What am I missing? Are students just picking a topic and saying, “OK, today I want to learn about fish?  Or are they asking questions, after all wonder means to be  curious about something.  They shouldn’t be picking a topic. They should be asking questions.    And if they don’t have a lot of questions about a topic, then they should find another topic.  One they are passionate about.  Maybe that is what’s missing.  Passion.  How do we create a classroom where children are passionate about their work?  Giving them voice and choice, time to wonder and ask questions, is a good start.  But how do we model passion?  That might be the key to innovation. So this Wednesday, I will remind my students  how I wonder continually-when I’m making my coffee in the morning, on my drive to work,  while I’m teaching, and most especially on a walk when I’m catching up on conversations  about innovation in teaching.   I will remind them  how passionate I am about learning and sometimes that means taking more risks, looking at things, even learning in a new way.  To do this we will need to be persistent, resilient and flexible.We will need to push ourselves to think differently about the world.  And if I can teach them that – I can consider myself innovative.

~Molly

 

 

 

 

My Why -Making a Difference in the Lives of My Students

Every summer I look forward to more time for exercise and usually that means a daily walk with something playing in my ear.  Last week, it was Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action.  This talk is not specifically about education but  as usual, as I was listening , my brain started thinking about school.  In his talk, Sinek  explains what he believes make organizations  and leadership successful.  He says that the great leaders and organizations in the world are motivated, by what he calls, the golden circle or the why, how and what.  And as he explained this theory, I was already applying it to what I have learned about teaching.   In  our job, we all know what we are supposed to do -educate students.   And we are usually given the how – curriculum, supplies, professional development.  But Sinek would argue that for most, it’s the why  that  is unclear.  He says that very few people and organizations in the world know why they do what they do.   What’s  your purpose,  your cause or belief, he asks.  Why do any of us get up in the morning?    Why do we teach?

I know why.  And it’s more than just wanting to make sure my students are academically proficient.   I want my 1st grade students to know how to learn, to ask questions,  to collaborate with each other, to be able to solve problems and to push themselves to learn more.  I want them be  concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world.

Alicia and I are lucky enough to  work at an elementary school that was built on the foundation of 5 pillars. These pillars not only guide our students ( K-5) but they provide the framework for our teaching.    These pillars are “my why.”

We are self-directed learners

We encourage each other to think critically and learn more

We are concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world

We earn everywhere, we learn together

We are creative

In my classroom, students are learning to read, write, and work with numbers.  They are doing projects and using technology to connect, capture and create new learning.  But I know now that it’s the work we do around these pillars that drive my instruction and their learning.  There is so much pressure around test scores and academics and yet very few administrators seem to care how we are teaching students these 21st century skills.   I have learned that it’s these skills that push my students to think critically and learn more.  It’s our daily classroom meetings that build community and help us work together to solve problems.  It’s a mindset for learning that is explicitly taught.

We start the year by learning step by step what it means to be a self directed learner.  Then we do the same to define what it means to be a critical thinker.  And every day of the year we practice persistence, optimism, empathy, and resilience. This is why my students and my fellow teachers at Queen Anne Elementary are successful.  It’s why I love my job, and why I look forward to getting to school each morning.   I would love to hear your why.   And of course, here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk.

 

~Molly