Professional Learning Challenge

I am creating a Professional Learning plan for our K-5 schools in the district for next year. We are experiencing the frustration of not enough subs (I’m sure that’s happening everywhere) so day long workshops are a problem to schedule, especially when the high schools and middle schools are trying to do the same thing. We have 19 elementary schools in our district, and I’m working on trying to build a PL plan which will reach all sites, all grade levels with minimal time and that doesn’t require me to be at all sites for this. That’s the first challenge. The second is, my plan is to schedule something once a month to create learning that will be consistent, viable and valuable to the teachers.

There are so many things that I am thinking about that are important; support and improve student learning, give teachers something they can use in classrooms and model good teaching. I also want to support good unit planning and classroom activities which allow low entry for all students to engage, yet have extension activities for students who are ready to move more deeply into learning. In addition, I want to create a program which strengthens the learning of our teachers, especially the ones who don’t feel confident in their own math skills.

We may also be piloting new math materials next year, which brings an added challenge to all of this. Teachers could be changing math materials in their classes, working on creating stronger unit plans, incorporating new and stronger activities into their classroom routines and learning more about mathematics and how to teach it? This seems ambitious at best. How do I prioritize the learning for everyone, and improve classroom outcomes for all our students with out overwhelming the teachers? Oh yes, the ELA specialists are also working on the same type of plan. Obviously a priority list is in order.

At the middle and high schools this plan seems to be unfolding well, the fact that teachers at these levels teach one subject area most of the time helps a lot. At the elementary level there is a very important consideration. All teachers facilitate all subjects in their classrooms all the time.

I feel the best way to do this is to model a PLN, and am working on how to make this happen. It will require administrator participation and willing teachers from sites, to take information back to sites and engage teachers at sites in collaborative, working conversations. A very important piece of this will be to model those strong collaborative conversations at a district PLN level, including discussing student work and utilizing these discussions to improve instruction. I’m writing this to help me think it through, as well as gathering suggestions from others who may have gone through something similar and found ways to make it work. I’ve found that when I discuss things with myself and others, things begin to become clear, and ideas form. Once again, I am hoping for this wonderful process to bring something new and important to life.

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La Cucina Matematica, Twitter, and the MTBoS

Saturday I spent in Alameda at the COE with Matt Vaudrey, John Stevens, and several other educators. We were learning about teaching math in an engaging and focused manner. I have actually been to their workshop before, and was asked by a colleague if I would attend again. I was happy to, I find Matt and John very entertaining and love learning from and with them. Their workshop is called La Cucina Matematica and their website is extremely helpful. Their workshop includes work from Fawn Nguyen, Sadie Estrella, Andrew Stadel, and others that I find inspiring from the MTBoS. When I first began using twitter approximately 1 1/2 years ago, I was fortunate to stumble upon this group, and I haven’t looked back since.

We spent the day engaged in several different activities, counting circles, estimation 180, the mullet ratio, visual patterns, and discussions of the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which are the foundation of all of the activities. We talked about how important and exciting it is to see kids who have not been very successful in mathematics come alive and begin to justify and stand firm on their mathematical beliefs. Kids believing in themselves and their ability to learn and use mathematical ideas. I love being reminded how important this work is, and that others are as passionate and involved in the learning of students and their success as I am. I often felt very alone in this at my previous site.

I want to thank the “Regional System of District and School Support” for supporting and hosting this and other strong and wonderful programs like this for teachers and teacher leaders around the North Bay area. While I have been fortunate to have been a part of the MTBoS and to learn from and with these wonderful educators, there are so many who are not connected to twitter and are missing a large part of this PLN. The group of educators to which I refer are dedicated, supportive, active, reflective and collaborative. We work together constantly to improve, strengthen and create strong teaching and learning. Sometimes we just have a lot of fun discussing nerdy and goofy things. One thing John said that really resonated with me, when he was working on a presentation for a classroom that he hadn’t taught for a bit, he put his lesson plan out there and asked for opinions and help. Within minutes he was receiving help and suggestions from many different sources. This just doesn’t happen consistently on sites.

My practice has improved immensely in the past year and a half, and as I work with teachers I am constantly thinking about, “How would the MTBoS think about or dig into that”, and “How can I use my PLN to strengthen my work with teachers?” I am sharing the things I learn from these marvelous people, and hope that I can offer something to this wonderful PLN of which I am a member.

Thanks once again for the learning, reflection, and reminder to always strive for more.

Assessment Data

Our elementary schools had an interim district level assessment in November. There was a lot of groaning and complaining about this assessment because we have 19 elementary schools, at least 3 resources that are being used at different sites, and grade levels are in many different topics even at the site level. The assessments we had ready to give covered approximately 45-55% of the topics that had been covered in classes in grades K-3 and the teachers were very upset about giving a test to their students that had topics they hadn’t covered. There was no way to write a test that would work for all schools, so we decided that due to our lack of math data on our students over the last year, we had to do something. We decided to have grades 1-3 give the previous level EOY assessments, Kinder gave an interim assessment from the most popular resource currently being used, and grades 4-5 would give the available assessments as they covered at least 75% of topics covered by the sites. This was quite an ordeal to make happen, and many teachers were not happy with the outcome. Quite a few felt these assessments were ridiculous, and couldn’t possibly give us any valid information. Furthermore, why would we give an assessment the kids had already taken the previous year? What could we possibly learn, we’re just giving tests for the sake of giving them to get data.

I have to admit, I was a little worn down through this. These discussions encompassed approximately one month, I spent quite a bit of time researching order of topics that had been taught across our sites, which resources were being used, and studying standards being taught against standards being tested for all of the ready assessments and in search of how to create more reasonable assessments. I felt like a broken record discussing the importance of having some data on our students so we had an idea of what they did and didn’t know, and that any data would be valid and important for informing our instruction. Many conversations required me to be patient and understanding in hearing the teacher’s concerns and validating those concerns.

I spent quite a bit of time going over the results of these assessments the first part of December, and was quite pleased with the information we attained from them. We learned that approximately 20% of our grade 1-3 students were not proficient on the previous year’s standards. We learned that our kindergarten students are doing very well and even scored well on topics that hadn’t been yet covered. We learned that our grade 4-5 students are doing well on topics that have been covered and not so well on topics that hadn’t been covered. This was consistent across the district, and at sites there were some slight differences, enough for me to encourage discussions between grade level PLC’s about teaching methods and sharing learning.

Today I was at one of our elementary sites for a scheduled PD day for the teachers. The on-site academic specialist and I worked together to guide teachers into evaluation and discussion of these assessment results. It started a little slow, we were hearing things like, “we know what to do with numbers, but these numbers aren’t even worth discussing. The information isn’t valid to what we are currently teaching,” and a few other old arguments. I started with a comment about how the CCSS are vertically aligned through the grades, and that this information could be quite informative about how we should be planning our instruction and possible re-teaching. There were a few rolled eyes, but we were able to get them comparing district level and site level results and start looking for patterns. I had a discussion with one grade level group that went something like this:

T: We notice that our students did well on these topics even though we haven’t taught them yet.

Me: What could that mean for planning and teaching of those topics?

T: We may not have to spend as much time on them, but it would allow some of the students who didn’t do well to be able to spend some time on them.

Me: Is there anything else that could be done with those topics?

T: We could work on some higher level skills in those topics since most of the kids are already proficient.

AH HA! Success. We actually did manage to get some useful information out of these tests. Across the room discussions took off. Teachers were talking about what their kids knew, seemed to be struggling with, how to plan for re-teaching, extension work, and sharing teaching ideas on topics.

I love teacher collaboration, even with invalid data. 😀

Math for Our Smarty Pants

The California Mathematics Project at UC Davis has been conducting professional learning for our elementary teachers this month in grade level groupings. It has been a great way for our grade level teachers to get together and talk a bit about what is going on at school sites, as well as learning about designing curriculum around the CCSS, rather than the text book. I love the way that Pam Hutchison has been reinforcing the things I have been telling teachers as I work with them, as well as giving them hands on experiences that allow them to walk away with some very concrete ideas and lessons to use in the classroom. The teachers have been very positive about the experience, while letting me know that they need a new curriculum that is more focused on the CCSS. Well, at least they are realizing that the CCSS should be their focus?? One can hope I guess.

One of our principals has asked me to come out to the site when they are having their staff meetings to reinforce the information the teachers are learning in these professional learning sessions and to help them incorporate the information into their lesson planning. He has given me the time to talk with them as a group and then allow them to work in grade level groupings as PLC’s and to rotate among the groups to be a part of the planning discussion. I had my first meeting with the K-3 teachers this past Wednesday.

I had the opportunity to work with Justin Lanier this summer, both at TMC and again in his SMOOC: Math is Personal. Several educators worked together to solve problems, discuss readings, and reflect on practice. Justin is a wonderful leader, and knows just what questions to ask to get us thinking deeper and better about our teaching and learning. One of the readings assigned was the Getting Started portion of “Math for Smarty Pants” by Marilyn Burns. She is a gifted educator, with a focus on elementary learning. After reading and identifying the type of learner each of us is, we wrote a small piece about it. I was very excited about it and told Justin that I would love to use this with the elementary teachers I am working with.

On Wednesday, I wanted to start by having the teachers read this portion of “Math for Smarty Pants” and discuss it, while thinking about their students. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The principal had some agenda items and then when I had the opportunity to work with the teachers there wasn’t enough time to do that and to discuss the unit plan and how to put together viable units as a PLC, planning for all learners and allowing low entry with some extension activities planned to be sure all learners were captured and given learning experiences that would allow them to extend their thinking no matter what level they are at. This is really important for us. We have 19 elementary schools and a large ELL population, some of our kids are fresh from Mexico with no English background and little to no learning in their native tongue. At this time, we have little consistency across our district at grade levels, and in some cases at school sites in grade levels. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am going to need to plan very carefully and pick my battles wisely.

The discussions went well. I had created a simple unit planning template, focusing on student learning outcomes, the standards, prior learning and low entry activities with extensions for students who are learning more quickly. The discussions were wonderful and rich, teachers were discussing what extension activities should look like, what essential learning outcomes should be, and when to incorporate “nice to know”  learning.

All in all, it was a very successful time, even though I didn’t get to do everything I had hoped. I still have “Math for Smarty Pants” in my back pocket, and will be looking for opportunities to incorporate this resource and the valuable learning it contains into our discussions.

Pre-Wedding Jitters

I begin my new position in two weeks. I’ve already met with my supervisor, got a better idea of where to start, have no place to set up because the office where I’m supposed to be working is overloaded with curriculum materials that have been allowed to pile up, extra furniture, etc. and there is no room for a desk, bookcase, or anything else. I have to wait for my supervisor to get someone to clear out the room, and make a place for me. This is very difficult for me, I like to be organized before I start something, and I will be starting without this. I guess new experiences are good for us and help us to grow. Maybe it’s a part of helping me to see that this position comes with a lot of unknowns and I will need to be very flexible. I think I can be, only time will tell.

I’m finding myself thinking about the position I gave up. I would have been teaching in a New Tech Network school, teaching Math II and Pre-Calculus, my two favorites, and learning about integrating technology into my teaching at a higher level. Did I make a mistake? I have some misgivings, but not extreme, I think most of it is just the pre-wedding jitters of not really knowing how my new position will go, being on the edge because of not being able to organize, and knowing what being in the classroom is like, as opposed to be working with teachers in their classrooms. I love working with teachers, and enjoy planning and encouraging others to be the best they can be. I know I can be good at this job, I’m just nervous about starting something new.

After attending TMC this summer, and reading the blogs of everyone who is doing their planning for their classes, I think I’m jealous. I was planning some things for my classes this year before I went to OK, and I was getting excited about learning to use the smartboard, and having students all have devices to work with, being able to really incorporate geogebra and desmos and all the other neat tools of technology and learning along with my students. I’m finally beginning to make a switch in my brain to see the teachers as my students, and that I can be learning along with them, it just seems so different than having my own classroom. I still need to work on that part of my learning experience, and find that place that feels like mine here.

Maybe once I get started and settled all this will seem negligible, but right now it feels so big and I’m a little nervous about it all. I guess I need to get back to work and get busy, having too much time on my hands to think, and no planning to do at the moment is making me a bit crazy.

I’m excited for all of you and your new year. Seeing all your plans for your teaching and your student’s learning is making me excited. I wish you all the best, and can’t wait to see how things work out. I’ll be reading your blogs and watching on twitter to live through this with you. I’m sure that you will all help me learn also, as I learn from you what works and doesn’t, and how you could use support or help with your classrooms.

Thank you.

TMC – My Musings

Good morning.

I have read some of the blog posts occurring at the conclusion of TMC, I will read others as I am able. The ones I have read caused me to reflect on my time at TMC, and my experience and reaction to that experience.

I began to be active on twitter approximately one year ago. It was last summer after I had done all my planning that I began to lurk and wonder on twitter, to see if it would be of any use to me. It didn’t take me long to get drawn into a conversation and make a couple of comments, from there it has been “full speed ahead.” I love the people I have met on twitter, and some of them I have yet to meet in person, but I feel as if I know them better than some of the people I interact with face to face. The “passion” and energy with which they approach teaching and life is what drew me in, and continues to draw me.

I too felt a little overwhelmed at TMC, not because I felt I was nothing in a pool of greatness, but because I realized very quickly that the people there were every bit as real as I had hoped they would be. I was afraid that the energy and passion that I saw on twitter would quickly disappear in person, that it wouldn’t have the substance that I experienced in chats and conversations on-line. I was relieved to see that it did.

I was somewhat torn about how much interacting I could do. My husband was with me and I felt awful about leaving him all day and wanting to sit and talk with my new found colleagues in the evening, so I didn’t spend the socializing time that I really needed to with them. I am not very social, yet I know that I would have been easily able to socialize with the people at TMC. My husband, however, felt very out of place, and inadequate for the conversations that were taking place. He is not an educator.

I have been passionate all my life, about everyone and everything. It is what makes me the educator I am, and the person I am. It is that passion that drives me to be the very best I can be in whatever I am involved in. The passion that I have comes from the God that I know intimately in my life, it is what makes me feel that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and drives me to work so hard at it. Because of that passion and drive, I have often in my life run into people who are drawn to me, and want what I have. Because another one of my strong characteristics is to give, I often give so much of myself and my passion to others that I am “sucked dry” by them, and then need to refill. Ayn Rand refers to this type of person as a “second-hander” in her novel “The Fountainhead”. BTW, for all you passionate people, I highly recommend both “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged”. They gave me a very personal and enlightening picture of myself and why I do what I do.

The educators I have become involved with and consider my PLN on twitter are also very passionate and driven people. Not only do they not suck me dry, they fuel the passion that I already have, and drive me to desire to learn, grown, and create even more. That is the energy that I felt this past week in Jenks, OK; and the energy that I will continue to strive to be a part of this coming year as I shift gears to a district level leadership position and work to create that passion in other teachers in my district. I know now that I will definitely need to look to my twitter PLN for the energy and fuel that I need, and realize that most of the educators that I will be working with on sites will need me to be that fuel and energy for them. Thank God, I know where to go to get what I need to continue to do my work.

While most of this post has been a response to what I was hearing about TMC, I need to give another shout out to a very special and important twitter group in my PLN. The Christian Educators have been a life-saver for me this year! I have gone through some of the toughest experiences ever this past year at school and personally, and my weekly chats with this group, as well as the constant encouragement from very special educators such as Rik RoweDavid GeurinWade Stanford, and many, many others too numerous to name, I made it through and have a renewed desire to create some greatness this year.

I am meeting today with my new immediate supervisor to get some insight into where to begin, and to see my new corner of the world. I am hoping to come out of that with a better idea of what the district expectations are, and begin my own creative process on defining myself and my position. This is all because of the passion I have, and the PLN I have which renews this passion in me constantly.

Thank you all more than I can ever say or possibly show. You are all the bomb! Keep up the good work.

July Challenge – TMC 1st day

All right, I have not done well this week at blogging at all. I have truly enjoyed the time with my sister, however, and have been doing some sightseeing and learning. We spent one day in Coffeyville, KS and learned about the Dalton Gang and their demise. We also visited the Precious Moments Chapel and museum and learned the story behind the creation of those wonderful figurines and paintings, and spent a rainy afternoon in Groves, OK perusing antique shops. It has been very interesting and enjoyable, and has definitely left me not wanting to blog.

Today was the first day of Twitter Math Camp, however, and I do feel that I need to write a little. First of all, what an incredible experience, being in a room of 150+ math educators who are all seeking information, collaboration, and interaction with other math educators seeking the same thing. The workshops and presentations are completely given by classroom teachers and coaches and people interested in creating better math education at all levels. There is an energy that just can’t be explained in words, you have to experience it yourself.

The morning session I decided to attend is a group workshop facilitated by Elizabeth, who had several ideas for creating a working relationship for groups, as well as activities to encourage students to become group participants. After lunch we heard from Steve Leinwand, who is well know in the math community, NCTM, and an author of “Principals to Action” the newest publication on the CCSS. He is a dynamic speaker, had us laughing, problem-solving, and reflecting on our own math learning, as well as how we introduce topics to our students. It was very enlightening.

The afternoon session I attended was led by Chris Luzniak, again a discussion on class discussions, and how to encourage student justification of their ideas and claims. It was a wonderful extension to the morning session with Elizabeth, and gave me some good insight into the work I will be doing with teachers, PLNs, and coaching. The final session for the day was Jason Valade from Tech Smith discussing Snagit, and it’s uses for classroom teaching and enhancing lessons.

I only wish I could have attended everything, there were so many great workshops and sessions going on. It was very difficult to choose one per time slot. I will definitely be collaborating with others who attended sessions I was unable to attend, and sharing information with them from mine. This is definitely a great professional collaboration opportunity, and I am grateful to be here this year. I highly recommend it, and give a might shout out to the people who spent the time and energy to put it together! Great job.

This evening before dinner a group of teachers who will be teaching geometry next year met to create a list of blogs, discuss a twitter chat time, collaborate and meet each other so that they will have a PLN to work with during the school year. Ideas were exchanged, blog sites compiled, and a list of possible guest speakers for Global Math Department’s webinars which air on Tuesdays at 6pm PST. I love twitter and the MTBoS! There is no better way to teach and learn!