Saturday, November 15, 2014

Scratching the Itch

It has been too long since I last sat down to write. This week was the end of the quarter, so there was a lot to do. Add in my kids' sports schedules and my own workout routine and that made it even busier. All week I knew I needed to sit down and write, but did not think I had "anything to say". I felt like I did not have a "voice"...

Even as I sit here, I am not quite sure what I want to write about...
But I am writing anyway...
I am not sure if any of this will make any sense...
But I am writing anyway...
This will not be one of the most profound pieces on education ever written...
But I am writing anyway...

I think that is it for me. I have reached the point in my reflective process that I need these few minutes to just stop and think. I like to try and block out all of the other things (see first paragraph) and really think about the impact I am having in my classroom and school. This may be the only positive from the new teacher evaluation: an emphasis on educators reflecting on their craft. Stopping the nonsense for a while and HONESTLY thinking about the learning that is taking place in your room or school. Honestly asking ourselves are we pushing the learning forward or blocking it from happening? Are we giving our students a fighting chance in an ever-changing world? Regardless of the latest jargon that people are using, the bottom line is this: are we creating a culture of learning that people want to be a part of? Learning new things is fun. Learning is something that must be shared. Learning is what we need our focus to be on. So again I ask: are we creating a culture that people (students and colleagues alike) want to be a part of?

Whew. That feels better. Thank you for letting me "scratch the proverbial itch".
What are you doing to help push the learning forward in your class/school/organization?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Now, Round (Chapter) 3!

We have spent the last few school days finishing up our assessments on chapter 2. Now, we are moving into the next chapter. For our 8th graders, that means an introduction to Functions and Graphing Linear Equations. We will still be reviewing two key parts of chapter 2: solving multi-step equations and  types of solutions to equations. After reviewing the assessments, these are two areas we still need some work on.

This equation work will be helpful when we get into chapter 5 and Systems of Linear Equations.

The 7th grade is moving into solving inequalities. We will be asked to not only solve them, but graph them as well. This chapter will be reinforcing the equation work we did in chapter 2, so I will be spending time reviewing solving equations with distributive property. This skill will reappear in chapter 3, but in the form of inequalities.

6th grade is starting preliminary work on fractions by working on least common multiples and greatest common factors. These skills will be very important when finding common denominators and simplifying fractions. I was introduced to a great Fraction of the Day worksheet that I will start with the 7th grade a few times a week. I will share this in a separate post. I need to get a lot of my students over there fear of fractions. This worksheet does a great job of raising their comfort level in this area.

What great strategy do you use for fractions with your students?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Continuing to Reflect

Reflection, according to the internet, is defined as: "fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration, a thought occurring in consideration or mediation."
I have tried, the last few weeks, to use this space daily as a way to carefully consider what we have accomplished each day in our class. I have intentionally spent a little bit of time each day to think back on what took place in class period. More importantly, I am trying to use the data I collect from my Formative Assessments to determine where my instruction needs to change for the following day. I honestly thought this would be more challenging than it has turned out to be.

Finding the time the first few days was difficult. I did not think I was going to find things to write about each day. But, as a presenter at the ECET2 conference reminded me: "If you can not find something to get excited about each day, you are in the wrong profession." That simple statement woke me up and got me writing again. I now look forward to these few moments of reflection at the end of each day.

Do not get me wrong, I sometimes need to do this reflection at home before bed. I do not always get the time at school to finish my writing, but I do not go to bed before spending just a few moments thinking about my day. I learned a lot from that conference in late September, but the most surprising thing was that I actually do enjoy writing and that I might have something worth writing about. I was always worried about not having "a voice", but through some hard work and persistence, I believe I am starting to find it. Who would have thought I could have learned so much from such a simple sentence.

What got you reflecting on your practice? Please share!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Continuing to Learn

The 8th grade classes received their assessments from Friday. I am happy to report that the class average went up from a 36% to over an 88%. The numbers are supporting my belief that the students are learning how to solve multi-step equations. I did notice one common theme with the ones we missed: students are still forgetting to distribute the second term in the parentheses. This will need to be reviewed before Friday. The summative assessment at the end of the week will hopefully support my claim of constant class improvement further.

The 6th and 7th grade classes were disrupted due to class pictures. I was able to get the students that were present in class into groups to work through sample problems from our class folders. I was able to use this time to visit with students that were having difficulty with particular problems. I was able to provide them feedback to help them work through the problems. Finding times for face to face discussion is important with may students. I had to improvise, but I believe it helped many of them.

I do think the inclusion of this group work in almost every class has been an important change this year in my instructional planning. This planned group work allows the students to practice what I demonstrated to the whole group. It allows them to collaborate with each other and ask questions. I make sure they have discussed the "issue" with each other before asking for help from me. I want them to discuss things with each other prior to coming to me for assistance. This gives them a chance to defend their answers/methods/procedures before coming to me to verify.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Like terms, Expressions and Equations! Oh My!

Needless to say, it was another busy day in our math classes. The 8th graders completed an assessment for me on the first three sections of our chapter. The data from other assignments showed that the students were at a point where an assessment was fair. I only graded one of the classes so far, but the numbers supported me belief: the students were ready. After completing the "quiz", students were given problems to solve in preparation for our work next week on more advanced linear equations. I was happy that I was able to provide some more advanced work to several students in both classes. I like doing this for two reasons: One, it provides the students who are ready for a deeper challenge. Secondly, it shows that how they will use the math we are using today will help them for problems later in the year.

Best part? Being able to work with a student on multiplying binomial radical expressions. Pretty advanced work for an 8th grader, but he was willing to be pushed. I had no problem complying....

The 7th graders were introduced to solving two step linear equations today. We will be working more on them next week along with solving equations with Distributive Property in them. I love the algebra work!

The 6th grade is winding down their chapter on expressions and equations by working on converting word problems into equations and solving them. This is a skill we will need to work on for a couple more days before looking at an assessment on this material. Only time (and the data on FAs) will tell.

Here's looking forward to next week...
What do you do to provide challenges for the students that ready? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Bits and Pieces...

Today was a struggle to get a rhythm going. I could not find my stride. I do not like to make excuses, but I think I do have one: today was our school-wide Lip Dub.

What is that, you ask? It is where the entire school lip-syncs different songs that will be edited together to show one continuous video. We post the final product on our website in the hopes that students view it when considering attending our school (I work in a school-choice school in NJ). Is it effective? Do potential students really use this in their decision making? We do not know because no one has collected any data to see if this is an effective tool.

Needless to say, between getting called down to film our portion and the students being off the wall because they were getting filmed, it made teaching anything even more challenging. I was able to get through some more practice problems with one of the 8th grade classes. I am hopeful they spend time tonight practicing for their quiz tomorrow. I guess only time will tell.

Also, the 7th grade is struggling with linear equations. I have tried several practice problems, but several still seem to be struggling. I will see if I can find an effective video for them to view. Maybe that will do the trick.

Here's to hoping tomorrow has a better flow to it...

What do you do when your daily routine for instruction is altered?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I will not apologize...

I have a confession to make. I am always trying to get my students to be better. I am the teacher that constantly pushes them. I am challenging them to get better. I want to see how far I can push the envelope...

Now, I understand with that comes frustration. Some students just want me "to leave them alone." They want to just blend in with the rest of the class. Fly under the radar. I will not let that happen. My job is to try and get you to be better than you were when we started working together. If you are not better after we are done working together, then what have I actually accomplished?

I promise that I will meet you where you are, but that will not be for long. I will quickly try and see how far I can push your learning. I want you to get better. I want to see improvement. The same old same old is just not good enough...

That is why I work so hard to create a positive learning environment. I want students to feel secure to make mistakes, learn from them and improve. They need to understand that we all do not learn the same way on the same day. My classroom culture needs to support that growth mindset.

As a coach, I am constantly making the practices harder than I think the games will be. I do not want it the other way around. I want my players so prepare through hard practices that game time is second nature...makes sense, right?

This sums up my motto with the 8th graders during our voyage through linear equations. Many of us are getting frustrated, but I like the grit we are showing to persevere through the multi-step problems. I will use the data I collect from Friday's quiz to see how we need to adjust or review.

Do you agree with my belief on the role of a teacher/coach? I would love your feedback/comments!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Plugging along...

 Today we introduced solving linear equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign. In addition, we reviewed simplifying algebraic expressions and solving multi-step equations. I am planning an assessment Friday that will cover three different areas: solving two step equations, combining like terms and simplifying expressions. Students will receive three separate grades on this. Again, I will use the numbers to help determine which direction the instruction should go.

In 6th and 7th grade, we are doing work with linear equations. On the 6th grade level, it is a basic introduction that deals with simple steps to solve them. The 7th grade, however, includes more integer work. It is very important that we remember of rules from chapter one when completing these.

I am still working on getting some students to realize that the group work sessions of the class is not circle time to discuss various non-math things with the rest of the group. I do encourage discussion, but I would like it to be on the actual math work. Looks like we may need to revisit our group rules to help remind some of them the reason for working with someone else is to collaborate on the problems, not to blab about whatever they would like. There is usually a direct positive correlation between the people that do not use group work effectively and the students that claim they do not understand what is going on! Will keep plugging away tomorrow...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Chipping Away...

After analyzing the FAs from Friday, I have found a couple of errors that we are making: One, we are still making mistakes with our integers. I may need to revisit some websites for games the students can play to refresh this concept. Second, we are still uncomfortable with fractions in the equations. This may also require additional review, but I would prefer to find some games they could play as oppose to worksheets. I will see what I find.

On a separate note, I am frustrated with a few students' effort already in this unit. They are very quick to "give up" when they stumble on an equation or expression. I have met with these students during group work, but I do not know if it is making any difference. I will continue to chip away at the wall they are putting up. Hopefully, I get them to break through it before it gets too high.

The 6th and 7th grades both were introduced to solving linear equations today. We also reviewed simplifying expressions with like terms. We seem to be getting these concepts. The FAs tomorrow in class will give me a better indication of how much we are understanding.

I need to remember that not all of my students share my enthusiasm for algebra. I am hopeful, however, that it will be contagious soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Drowning in My Own Progress

I have not written in a couple of days. I did not plan it this way, but I have been overwhelmed with paperwork and outside schedules to dedicate time to write. I am back, however, and excited to report on the progress of our classes.

The 8th grade has been plowing through our unit on Linear Equations. They were given a formative assessment today (FA) in both classes. I would like to report I am please with the morning class' average (85%), but concerned with the afternoon (60%). I am obviously going to have to analyze the FAs to see where the errors were. Then, I can pinpoint where the instruction needs to adjust. I am happy, overall, with the work ethic of both groups starting off this unit. I am also pleased that I have been able to provide extension activities to a few students who want to push themselves further into Algebra.

The 7th grade is working hard on simplifying algebraic expressions. We introduced Distributive Property over the last couple of days. We are still getting stuck on our integer rules from chapter 1. We would do better if we continued to review these concepts on our free time.
Also, we took a look at factoring expressions as well. We will be solving linear equation next week.

The 6th grade is writing algebraic expressions and simplifying them when give values for the variables. We did a group activity today where the students were asked to create two order of operations problems using only numbers 0-9 once to create the largest number and smallest numbers possible. This went so well that we decided to extend this over the weekend. I am interested to see what answers we get.

I am considering changing my corrections policy. Currently, I allow students to correct homework assignments for a higher grade. In addition, I allow them to retake tests and quizzes. I am considering asking them to conference with me to show how their learning has improved in the areas they feel they are not doing well in. This is still in the planning stages, but I really like the possibilities of meeting with them. Does this sound like feasible idea?

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Algebra...Algebra and more Algebra!

We dove into solving two-step linear equations with the 8th grade today. Period 2 took a pre-test on this material today. I am going to use these results to determine where I need to focus my instruction through the remainder of the unit. These pre-tests were marked, but will not end up in the grade-book. We further our discussion by looking at simplifying algebraic expressions tomorrow.

The 6th grade will be taking their final assessment on Order of Operations tomorrow. Today, we reviewed these steps again. In addition, we did a lesson on exponents. I am interested to see how the students do on this, because we seemed to know what we were doing during class.

The 7th grade looked at turning word phrases into algebraic expressions. We looked at words that we might read that would lead us to use any of the four main operations. We also introduced substituting values in for variables in algebraic expressions. We will do more work in this area tomorrow and introduce simplifying algebraic expressions as well.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chapter 2 Introductions

I returned tests from our Unit One Assessment from Friday. I spent a good portion of both classes explaining the process for a retest: Students must show their work on all corrections and hand-in to me. I will then go over their answers and provide feedback. If it appears the student is able to explain their errors, they can then retake the Unit One Assessment. The grade would be for a replacement grade.

I follow this process because I have found students rush to retake the assessment without really learning from their errors. Completing the corrections allows the students to ask for help prior to retaking the test.

We are starting Unit Two which involved solving various linear equations. We started to reviewing one-step linear equations from last year. I am hoping to build on this success tomorrow with a little more advance equations.

The Sixth Grade dove a little deeper into Order of Operations when we introduced exponents. We will cover this new topic over the next couple of days along with our basic introduction to variables and expressions. They will be able to retake their assessment as well as long as they follow the process described above.

Lastly, the Seventh Grade began our introduction into our Algebra Unit by talking about some basic vocabulary terms: variables, coefficients and expressions. We will continue tomorrow with simplifying some of these expressions through the Substitution Property. We will be solving linear equations soon. I really enjoy this work with algebra. Love having the students learn to do something they first thought was impossible.

Friday, October 3, 2014

TGIF (10/3)

Students do not mind taking risks if they know that the  environment both encourages the risk taking and provides ample opportunities to improve our learning. After reviewing the assessments taken today, we still have a lot of work to do in several areas:
1. In 8th grade, finding the length of a leg when we know the other leg and the hypotenuse.
2. In 6th grade, lining the decimals up when we add or subtract.
3. In 7th grade, we need more work on dividing with decimals.

Even though I am planning to move into Chapter 2 next week, we will still be spiraling back to make sure we secure up these areas. I consider each of these to important to just breeze through. I will be able to provide better numbers next week after analyzing the results a little better Monday. I still have several students in a couple of classes that did not finish.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review Day 10/2

The students worked through review problems today for all three grades. We spent time going over answers and reviewing any problems they had incorrect. We also spent time in groups to give the students a chance to collaborate further on topics they knew they had difficulty with before the test tomorrow. I am working hard at giving the students chances to control their own learning.

I also gave several 8th graders some Enrichment work on adding and subtracting radicals. This is 9th grade Algebra work, but I had several that showed an interest in trying the next level. I enjoy providing my students with this opportunity to see how what we are learning now will make next year's work easier. I am anxious to see how they did.

I was happy with the way the 7th grade bounced back to show they understood the concepts that will be on tomorrow's test. During their group work, I was able to circulate enough to hear each student discussing the problems. Through those informal observations, I was able to determine that a large majority of the classes understood the material to have the exam tomorrow.

On a side note, we were introduced to Google Classroom Tuesday during our teacher common time. I am really excited about the possibilities this technology will bring to my classroom. I can not believe Google offers this for free. If you have not checked this out, you need to do so. You create classes that have "codes" the students enter to join the class. You then have the option of sending videos, documents or attachments to each student individually. I think I may be even closer to flipping my classroom in the near future.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities (10/1)

The 8th Grade did another great job working their way through the Unit Review for Pythagorean Theorem and Number Sense with Radicals. I am happy with their progress through using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between two points on a coordinate plane. I enjoyed walking around the room hearing the groups talk math. I have learned that my group after lunch needs that discussion to further their learning. So, I am making that a point to include that group discussion time in every class. The tough part is going to be getting me to stop talking early enough. I am excited to see how they do on their end of unit assessment on Friday.

We are wrapping up our discussion on Decimal Computation in 6th Grade. We did a little more work on dividing decimals and completed our review for chapter 1. We will do a quick formative assessment tomorrow in class to determine if we are ready for our end of unit exam Friday. I am happy with the progress we have shown, but may still look into timed multiplication drills for some of our students. I think we would be better if we were a little more solid with our math facts.

We stalled a little today in 7th grade. We are having a tough time remembering the steps when working with fractions. We are still getting confused on when we need to find a common denominator (addition and subtraction) and when we do not (multiplication and division). Unless they do a great job convincing me tomorrow, that end of unit test planned for Friday will be rescheduled. I can not proceed with an exam that I know only 1/3 of the class is handling the material. Not a good situation for anyone. I will need to brainstorm some ideas to get them some extra practice.

Again, I was happy with the group work for all of the classes. For the most part, the conversations are  centered around what we are working on. If not, they are quickly redirected. Also, I like that time to be able to meet up with the ones I know are struggling to reinforce some skill. However, I make sure I meet up with the students that show evidence of mastery already and provide them with a little more advanced work. Working hard to meet everyone at their level...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

9/30: Summary and Reflections

Today with our 8th graders, we further explored the Converse of the Pythagorean Theorem and the Distance Formula. I am very happy that the students do seem to be getting these rather advanced topics. I am happy that the students feel safe and comfortable to ask questions, but I need to balance that with an ability to try problems on their own. This a skill that will be ongoing throughout the year. I do think we are going to do well on our Unit 1 Test Friday.
I am thrilled that a good number of students submitted corrections from our first quiz today. This will allow them to retake the quiz once I look through their work and provide feedback. The group work today was productive because I was able to meet with the students who did not do well on the formative assessment yesterday and explain to them where their errors were. The one on one time is crucial. I am working hard to make that a staple in every class period.

Our 6th graders are doing a great job with Order of Operations. We still need to remember our rules for multiplying and dividing, but we are getting there. Our decimal test Friday should go well as long as we remember that we need to line up the decimals when we add and subtract.

The 7th grade is winding down their Unit on Number Sense with some work on multiplying fractions and decimals. We are also still working on adding and subtracting after reviewing the formative assessment we completed on this topic. I would like to move that average from the current 75% to over a 90%. I am going to make a point of meeting with the ones still struggling with this either in small group or individually to provide feedback.
We will be tackling dividing fractions and decimals tomorrow. I would like to wind down this Unit Friday, but will push back the assessment if I do not have evidence that the students are ready.

Monday, September 29, 2014

9/29/2014 Summary/Refelction

Today in 8th grade we introduced two new concepts: The Converse of the Pythagorean Theorem and Using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between two points on a coordinate plane. The classes seemed to do very well with both concepts. I will need to use the assignment in a couple of days to see how well they actually did understand both concepts.

In addition, we reviewed Using Pythagorean Theorem. The Formative Assessment I used showed that the classes are solid (95% get it when asked to find c), but only 70% get it when they have to find one of the legs. Therefore, we will need to do a few more example problems tomorrow before our end of chapter test Friday. Lastly, I handed back their quizzes from Friday on Estimating Irrational Square Roots and Classifying Rational/Irrational Numbers. Students can retake either part of that quiz once they meet with me to go over their corrections.

The 6th graders are finishing up their chapter on Decimal Operations by working on Order of Operations. We have been working on this the past couple of school days. Our pre-test data showed an average of a 35%. After giving the students a formative assessment this morning, that average jumped to a 75%. We are still going to have to work on consistently doing our parentheses work before multiplying or dividing, but we are getting there.

The 7th grade is finishing up their unit on Number Sense by remembering how to Add and Subtract fractions and decimals. I handed back their quizzed from Friday on Integers. The students can retake any part of that quiz for a higher grade once they meet with me to go over their errors. Both classes showed a lower average (65%) on subtracting integers than adding and multiplying/dividing (85% and 95% respectively).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Three simple words

Passion. Purpose. Pride. This slogan I heard from Jimmy Casas during my first session this morning at NJPAECET2. He was using this to describe his high school's vision/mission each day. He said if he could get everyone in the building to follow these three simple words everyday, it would be a great day.

This got me to thinking how simple school vision statements should be. We spend a lot of time saying how we are going to create 21st century learners with the latest technology. But is it something people can remember? Our vision should be so simple, yet profound, that a 5 year old in the school can repeat it and understand it. Then we know we are truly getting our message across.

So, my thought is, why spend so much time with lengthy vision statements that sound great, but do not mean much of anything? Does the public really care that we are striving to create these great citizens? No. They want a simple phrase that they can remember and restate. Stick to the basics. Breathe those basics. Everyday. Your school, and community ,will thank you.

Thank you, Jimmy Casas, for saying something so simple, yet so profound.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Pledge to You...

I read a great post by Stephen P. Santilli a few weeks ago (and yes, it took me this long to formulate a post about it!) entitled, "Building Expertise: Living Up to the Name! I enjoy reading Stephen's posts; he is one of many I am constantly learning from. At the end of the post is a quote that he shared via Robert Marzano: "If you come and work here, we will help you get better."

I instantly fell in love with this statement. In my opinion, there is nothing more important as a leader than to make the people you work with better. Regardless of deadlines, paperwork, meetings or emails, finding ways to help your staff improve is your main job. This goes for teachers and coaches as well. We should never settle with people being okay with just being okay. We need to constantly have conversations that challenge each other. This is the best example of a growth mindset I can think of...

Do not get me wrong, I understand with that comes resistance. Most people are comfortable with their current situation. They are happy with the status quo. As leaders/teachers/coaches, we owe it to our staff and team to challenge the status quo. We must be willing to have the tough conversations. We must create an environment where these are not seen as challenges (or a number assigned in an evaluation) but as feedback to help a colleague improve.

As a lead learner in a new school one day, here is my pledge to my staff:

1. I will always "Walk the Talk".
If I am asking you to attend professional development sessions, I will do the same. If I am asking you to stay current on best teaching practices, I will do the same.

2. I will remember what it is like to be a teacher.
I will respect your time. I will keep in mind that before adding something else to your plate, I must work hard to see what can be removed. That only sounds fair to me.

3. I will work hard to "Support in public, but criticize in private."
No one wins in an environment where teachers are not supported by their administration. I will never create a situation where you will walk away thinking to yourself: "He just hung me out to dry..."

4. I will always maintain a growth-mindset. 
I believe we all have areas that we need to work on, and it is my job to find out what those areas are and help you improve in those areas.

5. I will work tirelessly to tell our school's story.
I will use all current social media outlets to get the word out to our community with all the great things my staff is doing. I want to share the great things going on in our building everyday because I believe a well-informed community has a better chance of being a more supportive one.

6. I will not be afraid to make mistakes. 
I believe living this way creates a sense of fear that stymies growth. Pushing ourselves is the only way we get better. With that, of course, so will our students.

7. I will work hard to create and maintain a professional environment.
You are a professional. You should be treated that way. Everyday. No excuses. But remember, so do our students...

8. I will not make decisions in a vacuum.
I will seek input and opinions on as many issues as possible. I want to hear different sides to things. I do not just want "yes" people. Now, I still may make a decision that you disagree with, but understand I valued your input in the conversation.

I think this is a good place to start. I may find myself adding to this list in the future. Many thanks to Stephen for sharing his post. I believe by following these 8 points, I will keep my pledge to create an environment where everyone is looking to constantly improve. I am excited about the possibility one day of being the lead learner in a school. When this happens, This is "My Pledge to You..."

Did I forget anything? Please feel free to comment...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My First 100 Days Plan


I have spent a great deal of time contemplating how I would treat my first 100 days as a new administrator. I decided the best to organize my thoughts was to create an outline of my goals. This would serve as a blueprint of what I would like to achieve during the first half of the year. With that being said, I recognize that a good administrator is flexible and that plans can always be revised and edited as needed. The following are simply guidelines that I would like to implement.

Goal 1: I want to view our district from a multitude of angles. I want to spend time talking to central administration, board members, faculty, staff, parents and students to better understand how they perceive our district and my school in particular.

Goal 2: I want to discuss the question: What are our biggest opportunities and challenges? As I attempt to answer this question, I will survey all of the above mentioned people in order to collect data to understand the challenges and opportunities that face our school and district. In order to be an effective administrator, I know it is imperative to have a comprehensive understanding of these situations.

Goal 3: I want to answer the question: What’s missing from this picture? I have an interest in using social media to market my school. I would like to create a Facebook page, a Twitter account and YouTube videos to help tell my school’s story.   

Goal 4: I want to spend some time figuring out what my staff expects from me and my office. This would be through conversations with my colleagues and surveys that I send to them. This would help me know my staff’s biggest concerns so that I can search for ways to effectively address them.

Goal 5: I want to start building a team of “A” players. I want to create a group of Teacher Leaders that I can rely on to help push district and/or school initiatives. I am also a firm believer that part of a leader’s job is help foster more leaders. I would love to start or continue a teacher mentor program, where strong teachers are helping to instill positive and effective teaching styles to novice teachers.

Goal 6: I want to try and go for some “quick” wins. I already know I would like to help tell my school’s story by using social media. I want to use these avenues to show all the positive things that are going on in my school. I want the public to see how great my staff is. I firmly believe that social media is a tremendous way to do this.

Goal 7: I want to “Walk the Talk”. It is important to me that my staff see me in the halls, interacting with students. I will make it a priority to regularly visit classrooms, using this time to make my presence known to students and teachers. I will gladly assist teachers in reading circles,  science labs, or any other other classroom activities they invite me to join. I do not want the only time I enter their rooms to be when I am doing an observation.

Goal 8:  I believe I am at my best when I take care of myself mentally, physically and spiritually. This is why I want to remain involved in my own kids’ lives. I am very involved with my children’s after school activities and help assistant coach their soccer, basketball and baseball teams. I have been doing this for several years, and it is something I thoroughly enjoy being a part of. I believe that by establishing a work/life balance, I will be a better administrator, father and husband.

I have been formulating these goals for the last few weeks and I am certain that I will continue to revise and edit them periodically. I believe using these goals as a personal “checklist” will greatly assist me during my First 100 Days as I strive to help make my school the best it can be.

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Did It for Me, So Why All the Guilt?

I hate missing days at school. I rarely call out. Sure, there is a random day I need to be home with one of my kids when they are sick, but I prefer to be in my classroom working with my students on a daily basis. I refuse to take vacations during the school year. In my opinion, vacations are to be taken when we have breaks in the calendar.

Twitter has helped me avoid leaving school for even Professional Development days or workshops. I try to convince my administration that I can get the same learning from participating in the numerous chats at night instead of missing a day of school. Actually, I find them a thousand times more informative than anything I have attended during school hours.

But, last week, I broke my own rule: I called out Thursday and Friday. The last two days of school.

See, my Grandfather died a week ago today. (Here is a link to his Eulogy that I wrote) We knew it was coming since he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer about six weeks ago. This did not make it easier to handle, however. I still attended our Dinner/Dance last week. This is a great event where our Eighth Graders get dressed up and have a great buffet dinner at a local catering hall. We have been holding this tradition for the last twelve years, and I am hopeful it is able to continue.

I was able to guide our students through Graduation practices and the actual ceremony last week as well. The Graduation Ceremony went off without a hitch. The graduates looked great in their blue and yellow gowns. We had several speakers and handed out special awards. There were smiles (and tears) all around.

Why am I feeling guilty? I missed saying goodbye to my students. I missed seeing them walk out our doors for the last time. I missed signing yearbooks and shaking their hands. I missed the pictures and the tears that usually accompany them. I would have loved to be there with them during their last couple of days, but I just could not do it. I tried talking myself into attending those days, but to no avail.

I hope they understand why I was not there. I hope they enjoyed their last couple of days. I would have given anything to be there with them, but I just could not go through with it. I wish them all the luck in the world. I hope they have a great high school career. I hope they remember what we taught them while they were with us. But, more importantly, I hope they hold onto the great memories they gathered over the years at our school. Best of luck, Class of 2014...

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday Calming

Sunday nights have always been a problem for me. I do not sleep well. I have a tough time shutting my mind off with the things that need to be done for the week. I read in a blog post that writing things down will help "ease your mind". What have I got to lose, another restless Sunday night with little or no sleep? I figured I would give it a shot...

I am excited about this week because we are trying something different with our 6th and 7th graders. We have created projects that are focused around a couple of Essential Questions. We will allow the students to choose a partner they will want to work with, but we will pair them up with a group of our choosing, giving them a group of four. Within this group of four, we will ask the students to investigate a series of questions that cover subjects across the curriculum. They will be able to collaborate with each and produce a presentation that will be given the last two days of school.

In addition, we will not have the students change classes. They will work with their group the entire day, regardless of the bell schedule. That's right, our students will not be changing classes. After a lot of discussion, we decided the teachers would be the ones to roam around the classrooms, assisting students with whatever they needed. We did not want the bell schedule interfering with the chance to learn for a longer period of time.

I am excited because we will be putting the students in charge of the class. They will be in control of where they take their learning. We will be there to support, question and provide feedback, but we will not be in the front of the room. We will be able to roam amongst the groups, providing assistance when needed. I am interested to see how changing this dynamic improves the learning of our students.

Will there be roadblocks? Absolutely. Will there be groups that will need help guiding their own learning? Of course, they are only 12 and 13 years old. But, I am hoping that allowing the students to be in control of their own learning will have them excited about working this late in the school year.

I am hopeful that this is the beginning of more changes we will implement for next year. I would love to see projects of this kind implemented during our Focus Periods next year where students have time to dive into areas they are passionate about. Give them time to dive into areas of interest. What a noble concept, school being about learning!

Here's to a great week of student centered learning for our students. I am excited to see what final products their imaginations create. What a great job I have...this excited to get into my room, even during the last two weeks of school!

What are you doing to keep your students engaged these last few days of school?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Trip Around Europe

Hello Bloggers, My name is Aaliyah, and I decided to share with you my amazing trip around Europe to five different cities.The names of these five cities are Verdun, France being my first city, Marne, Belgium being my second city, Ypres, Belgium being my third, Berlin, Germany being my fourth and last but not least Stalingrad, Russia. I met many nice people and tried some food that was just plain gross. I tried other foods that were actually pretty good. Who doesn't love traveling around city to city seeing things you never saw before?  Come on, am I right everyone? I had the opportunity to bring along my dad and two sisters to have two weeks of family fun time.

All together my trip was three thousand two miles.You're right! You're thinking, what insane person would drive that long around Europe? Well you're reading about me right now. For this trip I drove a 2012 Ford Mustang, which is very cheap on gas and it fits, surprisingly, three other people besides the driver very comfortably, along with all of our luggage.The total cost for fuel for a two week trip was $2,783.21.To rent this car,which I did, costs $74.62 for 14 days. For one day the cost is $5.33, so that times 14 will give me $74.62 for the car rental.

My trip involved many things to set up, which stressed me out! Figuring out a cost of food for three extra people plus myself and the hotel was a lot of money, too. I stayed in five different hotels. My first hotel was a one star hotel for three days, my second hotel was a two star hotel for two days, my third hotel was for three days and was a three star hotel, my fourth hotel was a four star hotel for two days, and my last hotel was a five star hotel for four days.The price for the hotels was $2,070$, but it was worth it because they were lovely hotels. I can still taste the food till this day because it was just that good. Some days I went to fancy restaurants, other days I went to plain restaurants, and other days I wanted to buy something cheap and bought from a fast food restaurant. To calculate the amount of money I spent on food I used this formula: 4 meals times x amount of money = amount of money spent at that specific restaurant.  My total amount on food was $121.50 which in my opinion its not that bad of a price. I'm not a millionaire, but I saved up to go on this trip. You all are probably wondering when is she going to tell us the total amount for this trip? Well, the cost was $4,980.04 for a two week trip bringing along three people while travelling around Europe for two weeks.

One of my teachers said I should become a travel agent or talk about cheap vacations on TV.

sixth grade zoo project

Dear, whomever is reading this, our sixth grade math class just recently been assigned to make a project about a zoo we have to create from our head and choose a location, and  animals, also we had started with 6,000,000 dollars to spend! Every student had to spend at least 95% of the money. Some sixth graders may have ended up with no money left, around 15,000 dollars or around 5,000 dollars left. all of these end up with at least 95% or more money spent.

Our group was one of the groups assigned to make a zoo project. We had a choice of multiple types of animals to choose from to put in our zoo with only spending 6,000,000 dollars. We ended up with 5,000 dollars left out. The animals we chose were apes, whales, penguins, insects, and an aquarium. We had to go through a lot of tough choices to spend the right amount of money. We had to get rid of animal exhibits!

I think this project improved my, our, thinking for math, like perimeter and area. Also adding and subtracting for the money we spent, and living within a budget. In my opinion this project was fun, easy and educational. Fun, because we used creativity and actually used our heads. Easy, because all we really had to do was add, subtract, find the perimeter and multiply. I think this project was worth doing again and again and again. I also think you should do this project.

Sincerely, a random sixth grader

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cross Country in 40 Days

          Out of all of the projects and classwork papers I have completed throughout the school year, this project seemed to stand out. The project consisted of picking 5 destinations (cities) in the U.S that you wanted to visit; however, those cities also had to intertwine with U.S history. After you have chosen your preferred destinations, you have to figure out how many miles it would take to go round trip. Starting and finishing at Philadelphia, the stops I made along the way included, Austin, Texas, Sana Fe, New Mexico, Los Angeles, California, Portland, Oregon, and Charleston South Carolina. This trip was a sightseeing trip and like you would in a realistic situation, you had to figure out how much it would cost to eat, stay at the hotels, fuel your car, and rent a car.
          This entire project was at each individual's pace which worked out extremely well for me. I can go as fast as I wanted without having to wait, while I also could take time on specific parts of the project I might have been confused about. While this project tied in with U.S history, it not only taught me pre-algebra, math, and setting proportions, it also included a life lesson that I will know for a life time. Time management and being wise with your money are crucial understandings that I will need to know in the future. For example, I didn't want my trip to be a year long, and I also didn't want to pick the Jeep (the most expensive car available to drive my 7,650 mile journey) because it was a cool car.
          The math needed to finish this project is tedious and hard. The fact that this project had multiple steps really encouraged me to try and get one step done each day and to strive for two. The pleasure I received during this project was form part 2. In this section you had to figure out how many miles per gallon your car could go.  The reason why is because I feel as if I worked the hardest on this part over all of the others. The math needed to complete this portion was meticulous and I was intrigued even more each car I completed. Before the completion of this project, I was forced to face rough patches along the way. The hardest part might seem silly to you;nevertheless, it was pretty difficult for me. Sometimes choices are good and they allow you to do what you want; however, a bit more boundaries might have helped me finish this task a bit faster. Being able to pick your own cities was actually the hardest part for me because I am not very quick at picking choices. With over thousands and thousands of cities all over the United States,  to only pick five was a bit arduous.
          Overall, this project broadened my horizons and helped learn about math, social studies, and daily life situations. To be able to do projects similar to this one would be great because I really enjoyed everything involved with it. From the Civil War to the Battle of Fort Sumter, the cities I chose tied in perfectly with U.S history, while they also were cities that I would want to visit in real life.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What Drives You?

This morning started off like every other school day. I am at the gym by 5, home by 6 to enjoy a quick cup of coffee before getting my kids up to start our morning routine. During my coffee time, I enjoy checking out my Twitter feed to read about the great ideas that are shared by my Professional Learning Network. As many of you know, there is one post that you read every once in a while that really sticks with you. Really makes you think. The topic bounces around in your head all day, to the point that you can not shake it out of your head...

That is exactly what happened to me when I read this post by Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) entitled: What Drives You? Mr. Sheninger does an excellent job of providing his readers with several excellent points about what "Drives Him" to do what he does everyday. That made me think: What Drives Me?

I have had this question bouncing around in my head all day. Why did I choose this profession? Why do I do what I do everyday? Why do I love coming to school everyday? It boils down to this: I enjoy helping people improve. As a teacher, I love working with my students to help them get past sticking points in their learning that allows them to understand things they previously struggled with. I love helping students learn things they were convinced they could never do.

In addition, I love helping them in nonacademic areas as well. We have all had the students that are just excellent students. There are very few (if any) areas academically they can do better. Instead, I may try to help them overcome their fear of public speaking, getting better organized, learning how to take a joke or something as simple as just looking someone in the eye when speaking to someone.

Do not get me wrong. I know I do not have all the answers. Many times, my idea of helping someone is by pointing them in the direction of the person who knows more than me. That someone could be another teacher, a colleague or even another student. By doing that, I am hopeful that person will be able to give them the feedback they need to progress past their sticking point.

I am hoping to continue this belief when I obtain my first administrative job. I love discussing teaching and the art of teaching with people. I enjoy discussing topics that I read about on Twitter or someone's blog. This leads me to another thing that "Drives Me": Constantly Learning. I am passionate about reading whatever I can get my hands on that pertains to our profession. I have read numerous books, magazines and blogs trying to learn as much as I can about the greatest profession on Earth. Then, I love sharing that information with my colleagues. It is my hope that by sharing what I have learned, I create an environment where everyone is open to sharing ideas and techniques. An environment, that as professional educators, we are excited to collaborate with each other. By doing this, I hope to create a constant back and forth discussion amongst my colleagues that has one purpose: to make each other better!

Thank you, Mr. Sheninger, for sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you for giving us something to think about. Thank you for providing us with questions to challenge our thinking. Thank you for "Driving Us" To Improve?

So, to keep the discussion going...

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Smart board, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow..."

I love my Smart Board. I love the lessons I can create with it, the games I can share with my students and the presentations I can make. I always make sure there are extra light bulbs for the projector in case it breaks. Heaven forbid I go a couple of days without standing in front of the class using it...

Needless to say, I have not "powered up" this machine the last two weeks. No, it works fine. I have just committed myself to more project based learning with my students. During the last two weeks, I have had students throwing a Frisbee to calculate their experimental probability, a group shooting baskets with a Nerf ball for their Probability Project and another group with markers on their hands from making their game!

That is right, I have tried to create more of a Maker Space in my room the last two weeks. After spending some time reflecting, I have created a list of tips or suggestions for anyone attempting this:

1. You can not worry about noise: They will laugh, talk, giggle. But, as long as they are productive, I am okay with it.

2. Do not try and clean up until the end of the day: Early on, I tried to clean up my room throughout the day. I quickly realized I was missing interacting with the students. That's my job, right?

3. Apologize to the custodian. Repeatedly: Things will not be as neat as they were earlier in the year. Wear it like a badge of honor.

4. Know where you want them to go upon completion: Be prepared for the group that finishes in half the time. Know how they can extend the project. Or better yet, let them figure that out for themselves. For example, I asking a couple of 8th Graders today about the Science Fair, they began researching the idea of creating a school app!

5. Be a good swimmer: It is tougher to swim with your students than stand and serve as a lifeguard!

6. Provide them with steps (dates) to complete parts of the project by: This will help the student(s) that struggle(s) with time management.

7. Be flexible: Know what you want them to demonstrate to show understanding. Do not care so much what medium they choose to do so.

8. Be able to juggle well: You may need to be working with a group reinforcing a skill while listening to another group work out some struggles while finding your stapler that a group needs to use!

9. Be prepared. For most things: Understand that somethings will arise that you did not expect. Regardless of how well you planned.

10. Be well rested: Planning for a day where I am at the front of the room does not even come close to how tiring it is after "swimming" with your students for the day.

11. Still allow redoes/retakes: I have had several students take my feedback and alter their presentations to show a higher understanding of the concepts. I loved it!

Now, I still plan on using my Smart Board. I am not going to have it removed from my room. Come to think of it, I will be powering it up next week...for my students to give their presentations on a Recreational Center they are pitching! May have to dust it off before the students get in that morning.

Did I leave anything off my list? I am really excited about the changes taking place in my room. My students are working and creating this late in the year. I am learning (slowly) how to scaffold from the lessons to extend the learning experience further. Would love your feedback/suggestions on this.

Friday, May 2, 2014


What a great day. After spending over nine hours the last four days watching my 8th Graders work on their state assessments, I could actually teach today! I was looking for a great way to get the kids re-energized about learning after taking those "silly" exams for four days. I found two great projects for my students to work on: Create Your Own Carnival Game and How Will I Survive?

The Seventh Grade just completed a unit on Probability, and I wanted a different method to evaluate their understanding of the different standards within this topic. The groups were asked to create an original game of chance. They were provided with a brief introduction and then turned loose. Within fifteen minutes, I had students bouncing ping-pong balls into cups to test the Experimental Probability of someone winning their game. What I really enjoyed watching was how the students reacted to their errors. They quickly realized that adjustments needed to made to their game. Some had to make it more challenging, others less so. I thoroughly enjoyed circulating around the room listening to the discussions of each group. I was there simply to ask questions to get a deeper understanding of the concepts the were calculating or a change they made to a process or procedure. It looked like a circus in my room, but man, was there a lot of learning going on!

The Eighth Grade will be tackling a project on budgeting and working with graphs (How Will I Survive?). Here, they are given a job and a family status to factor in while creating their fictional family budget. They are being asked to research where they are going to college to earn the education for that job. In addition, they will be gathering information about the kind of car to drive as well. I was very happy to hear them question each other. They asked why someone was choosing to go there when a cheaper school was also available. In addition, a number of students whispered to me that they were looking to buy a used car to save more money. All I could say to them was: "Welcome to the Real World!"

What a great day at school! What a great change of pace for both myself and my students. Do not get me wrong, there was still a lot of planning that went into these activities, but when you see the excitement on their faces, it is all worth it. We did not crack open one textbook all day, yet it was a day full of learning...For ALL of us in the room!

What projects/activities have you done just to throw a change-up to your students?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"I Made It"

Well, this is it. Tomorrow, my Seventh and Eighth Graders will sit down and take the math sections of their state tests. They will be required to take three sections tomorrow and Thursday (for my 7th Graders) and six parts all tomorrow (for my 8th graders). These scores will then be punched through a formula to determine my "effectiveness" as their teacher. There are so many things fundamentally wrong with this, but that is for another post.

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of this school year: I was not doing any test prep! In the past, I have spent the two months prior to testing working from a "test prep" workbook and giving my students weekly "practice tests". We would review those tests (after slapping a grade on them, of course!) to get them to do better next time. I have to admit, it must have been effective, because for the most part, my test scores were high. So, that is all that counts, right?

This year I focused on altering my instruction to allow for more group work and higher level thinking problems. I worked hard at providing my students with a chance to work with each other to get guidance and/or support. It also gave me time to float around the room to engage my students in conversations about their work. This gave me a great opportunity to meet my students on a more individual basis. In years past, I never gave them that chance. I never claimed to be a "quick learner".

In addition to the intentional shift mentioned above, I have changed my instructional technique as well. In years past, it was a lesson a day. Period. I graded homework and gave frequent quizzes. I ended up with a lot of grades. It got to the point where I was spending all my time grading, that I could not prepare anything exciting to enhance the instructional part of the lesson. There just was not enough time in the day.

Now, I do not need to spend as much time reviewing homework because what they do at home is work from several days prior. I have worked hard at presenting material over several days with multiple chances to practice in the classroom prior to allowing them to work at home individually. This did take some time getting use to, but I really like this adjustment. I have found an increase in the amount of homework completed since it is a topic we have spent several days discussing in class. As a result, I am noticing an increase in my students' confidence as well.

That confidence is what I am hoping will carry my students through the next couple of days. I had to wait until the last minute to write this post because I had second thoughts (repeatedly) throughout the year about reverting back to my "old way" of doing things. I have to admit, I am glad I did not. I found this year much more enjoyable to teach without the test prep. I am just glad I had the will power to see it through...

Are there any changes you made this year to your instruction? How did it go? I would love to hear from you...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Feel Like A Number

I met with my Superintendent yesterday to discuss our school's PLC work, and how we are working towards our vision and goals of our Math PLC. The discussion turned to the new Teacher Evaluation Model and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs). We were discussing how we thought teachers were handling things considering all of the unprecedented changes that have taken place in Education the last few years. I enjoyed the conversation and the give-and-take between us. Everything was going well until he said the following to me: "I thought you would love this. You are a numbers guy. I thought this would be right up your alley."

My mind began to race. I could actually feel myself starting to get warm. I was suddenly overcome with frustration. Maybe it was the proverbial "last straw" trying to deal with all of the new changes. Maybe I was letting my exhaustion get the better of me. I composed myself the best I could and replied: "I do not like these at all. What I do is so much more than a number on a scale. It is about relationships. Plain and simple. It is about relationships with the kids I teach!"

Mind you, I was very respectful, but I knew it came out a little more heated than I intended. I just firmly believe that what we do as Educators, what we really inspire, can not be measure by a number. The impact we have on the students we interact with everyday can not be summed up by the median score from a state test that arrives once a year. Make that now twice a year with PARCC! How do you measure the following?

* That I have a 7th grader that does not shut down when faced with a difficult problem like he did in September?

*That I have kids staying after school ON A FRIDAY to retake a test before the weekend begins?

*That I spent time working w/ an advanced 7th grader on multiplying binomials with radicals?

*That I had 2 8th graders inform me first thing this morning that they went home to Google the name of the race of people Christopher Columbus eradicated?

*That I had 2 different 8th graders come in with permission slips to read books I mentioned yesterday?

I understand how great numbers can be. I teach Math. I get it. Thye absolutely can be used to quantify anything. I just do not think what Educators do can be viewed this way. We work with children. Our students might be pre-schoolers or high schoolers, but they are still children. I just wish the people who crunched all of those numbers got that!

I had to laugh when I heard Bob Seger's song: "I Feel Like a Number" on the way home yesterday. Needless to say, I turned the volume way up!

I am interested to hear how you are handling the movement to dwindle what we do down to a number? I would love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

5 Words to Describe My Classroom

Can I sum up what happens in my room in five words? Is there a way to describe what happens when five classes pass in and out of my door everyday? Can everything I have worked on over the last 18 years be summed up in five words? With inspiration from @msssackstein and @garnet_hillman, I believe I have chosen the perfect words. It is just sad it took me all afternoon to think of them.

Challenging: I am selecting this word because I do not like the buzzword rigorous. I believe the work I ask my students to complete is right at their level everyday. I believe we handle topics that initially students think are above them, but through patience and hard work we tackle them together. I like working with them to push past what they initially did not think was possible to complete. I love seeing the proverbial "light-bulb" moment in my students.

Respectful: I work with 7th and 8th graders. Voluntarily. I really enjoy this age group. That being said, there is a high level of respect in my room. I expect that my students respect each other and themselves. I also expect that materials in my room are treated the same way. I believe my students are treated with a large amount of respect as well. I expect the same from them in return. If I had a nickel for every time I said, "You know things are done differently in here..."

Accountability: I work very hard at holding my students accountable. I hold them accountable for their actions everyday. I expect them to work as hard as possible everyday. I am always asking them to give me their 100% that day. I know some days will be better than others, but I want 100% from them. I have no problem asking this of them because I demand the same from myself. I work hard at not bringing outside things into my room. I work hard at staying in the moment while I teach. I ask my students the same in return.

Accommodating: I do not know if I like the connotation of this word. On the surface, it implies that I allow my students to walk all over me. It paints a picture of someone being taken advantage of. I prefer to use it as a way to describe the lunch times I give up so a student can retake a test or a quiz. I prefer to use it to describe how students are able to do corrections on assignments to show they understand something better. I prefer to use it to explain the various/creative ways I allow students to show me they understand a standard. In this context, I think I am 100% okay with this adjective.

Humorous: Again, I work with children. Humor and laughter are present every day in my classroom. I try to bring in laughter as much as possible to keep things light. I understand that several of my students see math as stressful, and I can not teach them until I break down that barrier. I use humor as a way to do that. I am okay with poking fun at myself because of my inability to draw if it gets my students smiling and relaxed. I have learned over the years that if they are laughing and smiling, the math is easier to learn.

Thanks again, Starr and Garnet for inspiring me to write this. I did not think what we do in my room could be summed up in five words, but I think these words paint a great picture of my classroom.

How would you describe your classroom?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's a Culture Thing

The change began several years ago for me after reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Rafe Esquith. He spends a lot of time talking about teachers giving up as much time as possible to their students. He is a firm believer that schools would be better if teachers would increase the contact time they can give to their students. Have time during lunch? Start a book club. Have extra time after school? Start a guitar club. His theory is kids will learn better if they have more opportunities to practice the skill.

As a sports guy, I completely related to this statement. If I have a player who needs to get better at free throws, I have them shoot more from the line. If I have player that needs to improve their dribbling skills in soccer, I make sure they increase their touches on the ball. Have trouble turning a double play in baseball? You got it! We are spending extra time on that part of the game...

I immediately found time during my school day to take students: lunch time. My school is still a walking district where students can go home for lunch. As a result, we have one hour for lunch everyday. I decided this would be the time to use and increase my contact time with my students.

Since that day, I am proud to say, I have created a solid culture of learning in my classroom. I go down to the lunchroom Monday through Thursday to take a group up to my room. This group has been as small as two or three and as many as standing room only. The students come back to my room to work on redoes/retakes or to do corrections. The students have also used the time to retake quizzes or tests that they would like to show improvement on. Also, the students may need to get extra help on a topic. I have found this to be a great way to get to know the students outside of the classroom setting. This smaller setting provides an environment where some students are more likely to ask questions. It gives me an opportunity to see where they are going wrong and help them correct it.

I did not realize that my practice was getting noticed until my Superintendent pointed it out to me about a year ago. He informed me that he overheard Fifth Graders saying to their friends: "That will be me going up next year." That had a profound impact on me....

What if we all made decisions based on how it would impact learning? What if every decision by every teacher was centered on this very question? Would we all have the same classroom? NO! That's the beauty of what we do. We all would have different styles or techniques that we would use to get the most learning out of every student that entered our room. We would push ourselves to focus on what the students are learning instead of what we are teaching!

Whether you are a teacher that uses project-based activities or hands out worksheets, if you make every decision about creating a positive culture of learning, you will have a positive impact on your students. That kind of culture is contagious. Students want to be in that kind of environment. They crave for the classroom that invites them in and challenges them while they are there. Our students deserve that opportunity!

I think as educators we get so caught up in the latest "buzz-words" that we forget that the most important thing a student wants is a teacher that is excited to be in the same room as them. A teacher that gives 100 percent everyday. A teacher that works hard at creating an environment that focuses on learning and all the ups and downs that go along with that.

I am still looking at ways to improve as a teacher. I am constantly looking at changing my questioning skills, pacing or grading practices. But the one thing that will not change is the culture we have created in the classroom. I will not agree to anything that will disrupt this. My students, and myself as well, are better because of it.

What are you doing to create a positive culture of learning for your students? Please share your ideas/practices. I would love to hear what others are doing!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Feedback...Feedback, Please!

We all want to get better. We all want someone to help us figure out what we are doing incorrectly that is causing things to go wrong. The hope is being shown what we are doing wrong will lead us to make adjustments to improve that part of our craft. How often do we seek the advise from PLN members to assist us in areas from varying our questions during our lesson to implementing genius hour?

Feedback is defined as: "Information about reactions to a product, a perons's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement. Over the last several months, I have attempted to increase the amount of written feedback I provide my students on their work. I am replacing the grade with a short list of my thoughts throughout the assignment. I have the great members of #sblchat and #colchat to thank for this change in my practice.

I have a confession: I am a recovering "chronic grader". I used to grade everything students handed-in to me. At the end of "good" marking periods, I would have close to 45 grades for each student. I was spending a lot of free time grading assignments. I used to believe that was the best way to get students motivated. Slap a grade on it! There, that should make them happy.

I have learned over the last several months how wrong I was. I am getting students stopping by at lunch or after school to ask about comments I left on their papers. I have used this as an opportunity to ask more questions to see what the student was thinking. This simple change has given me a great chance to stop bad habits from repeating. Well, for most of them, anyway!

Here are some guidelines I have found to providing feedback:

1. Keep it short and simple. Make it a bullet list of about 2 or 3 things. Anymore, the students will not read them.

2. Be specific. Don't write: "improve your conclusion." Share details that they can use to create their own.

3. Don't do the work for them. Stop short of writing the conclusion for them. Do not solve the math problem for them. This would be easier, but the student does not learn anything. Other than, eventually, you will solve the problem for them.

4. It is time-sensitive. Students should not have to wait several days to receive the feedback. By then, they have either forgotten what they wrote or have continued long enough that now it is a bad habit. This will now take longer to "unlearn".

5. There must be one positive thing in the list. No one wants to constantly read a list of things they do not do well. Find at least one positive to help "wash down" the constructive feedback you are providing.

The list above is a compilation of things I have noticed over the last several months of implementing more feedback. But, do you want to know what must be in place prior to any of the above mentioned working? You must have a connection with the individual! I have found that students are much more receptive to digesting and using the feedback if it comes from someone they have a connection with. If you do not have the connection, you might as well talk to the wall.

This brings me to another confession: I missed the "connection boat" on a couple of my students. I could not figure out why they did not implement any of the strategies I wrote on their assignments. They just kept repeating the same mistake over and over. Finally, I asked if they even read what I wrote. They responded with a resounding, "NO!"

I could not figure out why. My feedback was helpful. It was short. I praised at least one thing they did well on the assignment. What didn't I take the time to do? I failed at making a connection with them. Since realizing this, I make it a point to engage them in conversations when I see them in the hall. I ask about the music they listen to. Find out what kind of movies they enjoy...

I am proud to say they are slowly using my feedback to improve their work. It is not all the time, but it is a start. I am happy with this. I am going to continue reaching out to them with the hope that over time, they will incorporate more of my feedback. Only time will tell...

Did I leave anything off of my Feedback List? Do you use any different methods or strategies to get students to use your feedback? I would love to add your suggestions to my list.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where Did That Come From?

This Saturday morning was pretty normal at my house. Of course, it starts with #satchat and coffee. This morning's topic was Digital Leadership. There was tremendous conversation from what seemed like hundreds of dedicated educators. My TweetDeck had a difficult time keeping up.

Following this fast-paced hour, it was time to start house-cleaning. This seems to be a routine for Saturday mornings, as long as sports do not interfere. Scrubbing counters, folding laundry, dusting, vacuuming. I know, you are jealous how I spend part of my Saturdays...

While I was finishing cleaning the sink in my kids' bathroom, which always contains stains I can not place for the life of me, I dropped the towel I was using. After picking it up, I glanced back at the newly cleaned sink. There, in the center, was a stain! Why is this a big deal, you ask? I just finished cleaning this, and I thought it was spotless! No one had entered the bathroom in the three seconds between finishing and picking up the towel that I had dropped...

My mind quickly began thinking how important it is in education to revisit a new strategy/ tech implementation/connection/new program we just instilled. Often, we are so interested in creating new opportunities for our institution, that we forget to "look back" and see if we missed anything. Did a "stain" happen to be missed, even though we thought we had cleaned it thoroughly?

Constantly reminding ourselves to reconnect and/or revisit is not always easy. The news might not be what we were hoping for. The new program might not be working properly. The new technology may need a new component so it works properly. That once great relationship may be changing because of new situations. The good news? Finding this out allows us to grow. Learning why things did not work is extremely important as improving as an educator! We can not fear learning that something is not working. As leaders, we must be willing to eat a slice of "humble pie" to give ourselves a chance to grow in our current jobs. Always looking forward is very important, but so is looking in the review mirror. This will give us a chance to make sure things are still operating smoothly.

I understand we do not want to constantly look into the rear view mirror as we move push through our days, but glancing back periodically lets us see if anything is sneaking up behind us.

You may be wondering what that stain was in the sink. It was a glob of toothpaste I missed the first time. I never thought two years ago I would have found inspiration for a post from cleaning the bathroom sink. Does that show growth or educational insanity?

I would love to continue the conversation on strategies you use to get feedback or reconnect. Is there any technology you can recommend to help with this? I would love to hear from you...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Three Words: Present, Persistent and Proactive

I have been thinking for some time, okay the last couple of days, what to write as my first blog of the new year. I have enjoyed reading a number of posts during that time, each one as inspiring as the next. The latest one I read, by Jennifer Hogan (@Jennifer_Hogan) really resonated with me. She was asked to sum up her "New Year's Resolution" in three words. Yes, only three words! I liked this challenge so much, I had to jump in...

My first word is Present:

I vow this year to strive to be in the Present. With my busy schedule, I have developed a bad habit of always looking ahead to the next thing on the agenda. I have started to look at things as something to check off the "To-Do List". I am striving this year to be as present as possible as much as a I can. Professionally, that is going to help me when I begin to start conferencing with my students after the break. This is going to force me to stay focused on what the students are actually learning instead of just what I am teaching.

With my family, I want to keep enjoying what we are doing at the moment. My kids go back to school tomorrow, and my son is extremely upset. He loves when the family is together for either a long weekend or an extended vacation. He is only nine years old, but he already understands how powerful a strong family network is. I love how he constantly reminds me of that.

My second word is Proactive:

I vow this year to strive to be more proactive. I want to try and stay one-step ahead of up and coming strategies or policies that are current in education. I want to push myself to extend my Professional Learning Network. I want to stay proactive in current methods of instruction that will challenge both my students and myself to make our classroom the best it can be. If staying current leads me to getting involved in altering/challenging educational policies, so be it.

With my family, I want to try and create an environment with my kids where they do not hesitate coming to me if they have any problems or questions. They are starting to get to the age where they are using social media. I want to stay proactive in learning with them in this area. They need a positive role model in this area,  and I will do my best to try and stay one step ahead of the curve. My kids are worth the extra time and energy....

My third word is Persistent:

I am planning a major shift in my classroom this winter. I want to start conferencing with my students. I am planning on meeting with them individually to have them show me what they have learned. I am planning on using a series of "I Can" Statements for my students each chapter. They will be responsible for conferencing with me in order to show mastery of each topic. This is going to be a major change for me. I know there will be some challenging days. I know there will be times when I want to go back to the way things were. I am vowing to remain persistent to stick with this change of a more student-centered classroom. My students, and myself, will be better off for it.

With my family, I want to remain striving to be a positive role model to my kids. I want to stay involved in their daily activities. I want to have the strength to admit when I am wrong, and the courage to face them when I  do it. I want to have the strength to help them with their daily challenges as they grow up. I want to show them that it is okay to fight for what you believe in...even if others are telling you you are wrong. I want them to continue pushing themselves to improve...because you learn so much when you step out of your comfort zone!

Many thanks to Jennifer Hogan for her inspiration with this post. I am looking forward to a great new year. What would be your three words for 2014?