Insights Into Learning

Archive for the ‘Learning’


Dangerously Relevant: My Skype with Scott McLeod

McLeodMost of you know Scott McLeod from the legendary Shift Happens videos. I can remember being at an in-service a few years back and watching Version 1. I was mesmerized. I ended up showing to to 7th and 8th graders because I thought kids needed to know how quickly the world, their world was changing… “We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist.” I can honestly say that the seed that was planted by Scott ended up eventually leading me to becoming a connected educator.

 

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Scott as he returned from San Francisco where he purchased Google Glasses. Scott said that he rarely jumps into new technology, but with the Google Glasses he couldn’t resist. He is excited about how the Google Glasses will enhance classroom instruction, observations, walkthroughs and instructional rounds. I asked him what he “saw” when he looked through… He said it looks like a computer display a few feet ahead of you.

 

mcleodtwitterspaceboy2

Scott’s twitter pic

I was joined on this skype with one of my 5th grade teachers, Ryan Hudson. Ryan and Scott hit it off immediately because Ryan is the type of teacher that Scott has created… innovative, risk taking, student centered, and grounded in 21st century instruction.

 

I asked Scott to talk about Shift Happens. It all started with Karl Fisch. Karl wanted to do a PD session on the changing nature of the world. All Scott did was clean up Karl’s video, shorten it and put it on his blog, and it went viral.. The rest is literally history… It’s been a wild run, 60 million viewers..So, I asked him if “shift” happened? He said its happening slowly…human, social, organizational factors continue to hold us back from truly shifting… Many are still not ready for it… Many are not ready for the shift!

 

Scott talked a great deal of the future of education. He sees a continued movement to one-to-one devices. More kids will have a device and wireless will be everywhere. In addition, Scott believes that more and more districts will realize that learning doesn’t have to tied to the school day…traditional hours, but rather a more open and flexible structure.

 

If schools and student learning will change, I had to follow up with a question about teacher Professional Development… Scott talked about the one size fits all model for learning and if its differentiated and individualized for students, then it must be for teachers. Social media will help with this he added.

SMcLeod

Scott is always hard at work!

Currently, Scott is working on two rather large projects. He is doing research on connected principals and how they use social media and web 2.0 tools. With that, he is working on a checklist for principals and administrators who want to become more connected. He is leaving no stone un-turned in this research. He will be looking at job descriptions, postings and matching that with day to day responsibilities. He really wants to learn more about how technology is really being used, and how districts are documenting the process.

 

Scott was such a personable guy. He really took time to talk with Ryan and I. In fact, he encouraged Ryan to look at the University of Kentucky Doctoral Program that he was influential in developing. Scott said that the UK program is an excellent opportunity for educators to earn a doctorate in School Technology Leadership.

Learn from Scott:
Scott McLeod’s website

Scott McLeod on Twitter 

Scott’s CASTLE Project 

 

What Scott and his Innovation Team are reading?
Influencer:The New Science of Leading Change 
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Touch?

The end is coming…

summer sunYes, the end is coming to  the 2012-13 school year. We are in our last days. We are so close….. so why does that matter?

 

I feel the traditional school year (based on the agrarian calender) is antiquated and I am not alone in this thinking. For many students we provide something they are not getting at home, or in their community… What a juxtaposition… In a few short weeks teachers and administrators will be cheering, celebrating, and making their summer plans a reality…. and many students will be sad, upset, and realizing their summer will pale in comparison to the school year. Sad isn’t it.

I certainly do not have the answers but I sure do have a lot of questions as to why we continue to follow this antiquated system.

summerlearning1-10b

- Do we make school calender decisions based on our needs, or student learning needs?

- Could we restructure the school year to build in more time for students (Currently we have 180 days beginning in September and ending in June, can we get everything accomplished during this time?)

- Does the current calender maximize student and teacher effectiveness? (I hear a LOT of chatter about burn-out during certain times of the year)

- If given the opportunity to restructure the calender, what would YOU suggest? What are some other states, countries doing to maximize their calenders?


 

Let’s discuss… I’ve got all summer :)

 

 

 

 

 

We can do better…

Our school recently participated in the annual state testing of students in grades 3, 4 and 5. I noticed after the first day was complete that we had a lot “free” time in the afternoon. Not to mention, there were a fair share of kids who ended up in my office for discipline related issues that emerged from…. you guessed it…. “free time.”

 

Considering the fact that the actual assessments were only about 90 minutes (at the most) I was a bit dismayed at the lack of structure after the testing. I heard a lot of comments such as “they need a break,” “this testing is overwhelming,” and even “these kids can’t take anything more today.” I sent out a blanket email detailing my expectations, and highlighting what I valued. This whole situation took me back to my first year of teaching when I learned a valuable lesson about how we can do better.

 

 

I was finishing up my first marking period and I had to get my grades finished. In order to accomplish this task I put in the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about fall, Halloween or anything other than keeping the kids occupied so I could get my work completed. I needed time. My mentor, a fantastic, passionate teacher who I admired, asked me about the movie I was showing. I told him that I really needed to get my grades finished. He was understanding, but then he said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “I really hate it when my son comes home and tells me that he just watched a movie in school. I really think, as educators, that we can do better than that. These kids can watch movies anytime, we should be able to do more.” That was like a dagger through my heart. Ouch. He was right. We can do better.

 

Since that time I have never showed a mindless movie, and refuse to allow it as an administrator. I firmly agree with my mentor…. we can do better. Sure, kids can watch movies that are connected to the curriculum, or even parts of movies but we should always make sure that what we do is connected. We should always be raising the rigor, extending the line, raising the bar. Always! We can do better!

 

So what happened the rest of the week? Honestly, I saw more engagement, projects and even more of what I had seen before we started the assessments. I had to have some conversations with teachers about my expectations and why I feel so passionately that we need to continue to send the right message to the students, parents and community. I know some of the teachers were not happy with me and I understand. I was there before and I am so thankful that someone challenged me to keep the bar raised high! We can do better! 

 

We can do better! 

 

Teachers, You Make Kids BLOOM!

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Dear Teachers,

My wife developed and implemented the idea…

You have no idea the power that you possess. You make kids BLOOM!

 

When I think of teacher appreciation, I start by thinking of my second grade teacher Mrs. Levin. Second grade was tough for me and I almost didn’t make it through. Yes, I actually had to go to summer school in order to pass into 3rd grade. I missed a lot of school that year, chose not to wear my glasses, had trouble focusing, rushed through assignments, did silly things to end up on the bench and was an overall pain in the (you know what).

 

My second grade class (I’m back row second from left)

Despite all of that, Mrs. Levin cared about me and was patient with me even though I probably let her down very often. Reflecting back on second grade, I realize that she taught me a lot more than just Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science, she taught me to believe in myself. Had it not been for Mrs. Levin, I would not be where I am today.

 

The down side of teacher appreciation is that you may never hear or know the impact that you have had on a student (in my case I never told Mrs. Levin) but you must realize that you too have made a difference in the lives of children…. There is someone, somewhere who truly appreciated what you did for them (or their child)…

 

Here is a video I had the students at RM Bacon make to show appreciation to their teachers while they are still here! The message of the video is quite clear… Students like teachers because they are nice, help them learn, and support them…


And that is why we are teachers!

 

Thank You!

Solving the achievement gap through cooperative grouping

Part 3 of the ongoing series where students are solving the achievement gap issues at RM Bacon….

Cooperative learning requires patience

During our 3rd week we had the students spend the entire day steeped in cooperative learning. In preparing  for this, we thought a lot about how we teach kids to work cooperatively as opposed to just having them work on an assignment in close proximity. Cooperative learning is difficult… especially when you combine students in grades 3, 4 and 5 who may have never worked together prior to this program. Honestly, how often can adults say they really work collaboratively? (that’s another blog for another time).

 

We spent the first part of the morning teaching the students how to work cooperatively. We made sure that they understood that everyone in the group needed a responsibility  We taught them how to honor brainstorming ideas. We taught them group consensus tools (thumbs up, down or in the middle). Everything had to be voted on and the students had to learn the art of consensus. For instance, in one group the discussion boiled down to one question… How could they get Timothy from thumbs down (he opposed it) to thumbs in the middle (he could live with it).  Ironically, it was Timothy’s own idea that he eventually couldn’t live with and the group had to re-work their plan. Frustration! Tears!

 

Cooperative learning is not always fun

All three groups had tears. It was difficult for students to truly honor ideas, plans and even concerns regarding their projects. Even though we modeled cooperative learning and facilitated the groups, we still had struggles. The students became very frustrated with each other, some felt left out…. all of the kids wanted to give up at some point. We stayed with them and helped them through the struggles. After seeing the frustrations evident in each group we all looked at each other and said ‘they need a break.’

 

During the break, we took the kids outside for some fun team building exercises. Although it was a simple activity, the kids loved it. They had to get a ball around the circle (without giving it to the person next to them and they could only touch it once). We modeled manners (which actually helps the students understand the pattern of the game). Anytime they passed the ball they had to say the person’s name. Anytime they caught the ball they had to say “Thank you” and then the person’s name. As the students figured out the pattern, they were able to add in multiple balls and one team were able to have 7 going at the same time. Success!

 

The second half of the day went much better. Eventually the groups were able to able to plan their PBL projects. One group chose to do an imovie, another group chose to do a dramatic song, and the 3rd group chose to do a classroom skit. Next week we begin filming!

You need to watch this… I will not let an Exam…

I was just sent this video by a good friend of mine… Besides feeling like I am a generation away from this spoken word artist, I had to step back and listen (twice) because he was teaching ME a great lesson… I hope he does the same for you (no matter what your generation)

 

 

Let’s discuss!

 

Saturday Success Program Week 2: It’s all about learning

Completed success with the tangrams

I have learned that the purpose of this program is create opportunities for our learners to achieve success! Believe me….. the tasks this week were frustrating (All the teachers have to do the activities and experience the frustration along with the students).

 

Our morning activity was a lesson on metacognition (how we process new information). The students did an exercise that allowed them to experience the metacognitive process (mull, connect, rehearse, express, assess, reflect, revisit and learn). I learned this exercise through working with Let Me Learn, an organization whose mission is to research and provide insights into the learning process.

 

In math and language arts, in addition to the allotted time on Success Maker, the students were presented with problem solving activities through the use of Tangrams. Our teachers assisted the students through the process as they experienced frustration with the task. All students eventually solved their Tangrams puzzles and were elated! This lesson integrated percentages, spatial sense, vocabulary, angles and revisited a variety of math concepts.

 

Success!

In the Problem Based Learning, we asked the students to reflect on three simple questions:

  1. What makes school hard for you?
  2. What would you do to show your teacher you learned something
  3. What activities do you like to do outside of school? How would you show a friend how to do that activity?

 

The discussion on learning was very interesting. The students were able to make connections about how they learn things naturally and how they are required to come out of that comfort zone in school.  Next week will build on their learner-awareness and they will begin to formulate their ideas on how they can help close the achievement gap!

 

Our final activity was Silly Cup. We split into 4 teams and we had to flip a cup over so it was right side up. Of course our team won, but eventually every student completed the activity and they all got to keep their cup. The students and teachers were cheering each other on, and we ended the day on a very positive note.

Happy Birthday, and don’t forget your image!

Happy Birthday from the entire 5th Grade

Yesterday was a special day for me. It was my birthday.

 

The days started out as usual. I had to wrangle the kids out of bed, while my wife got their lunches together. Fortunately, the kids were “morning drama-free.” Once everyone was ready, they sat me down for my cards and presents. My family knows me all too well. Coffee mug, and coffee. Yes!

 

When I arrived at school everything appeared normal. I knew I had a weigh-in for our Biggest Loser competition. By the way, I love weigh-in day. Most of our school, who are competing in teams, gathers near the Nurse’s office. We are very competitive, so there is a lot of banter. I lost another 2 pounds, and considering the week I had, I was happy!

 

Office with tin foil everywhere

We had our announcements (Which I announced everyone else’s birthday, but conveniently forgot to mention mine), and security drill squeezed in before an administrator meeting at our BOE office. At the administrative meeting, my colleagues wished me Happy Birthday, and made lots of funny comments about getting older. After the meeting, I had a few folks to catch up with which proved to be very productive. I rushed back to school. I knew I had a busy schedule ahead of me with walkthroughs, meetings, and a bunch of loose ends to be followed up on (I had been out for a day and 1/2 this week).

 

As I walked through the parking lot at our school, I heard a few kids inside say, “Here he comes. Here comes Dr. Cook.” I entered the building and went up to the room where I heard the chatter. They were working on “math” and everything appeared normal. I went to my office and noticed that everything was NOT normal. While I was out, staff members (who have remained anonymous), tin foiled my entire office. Pictures, clocks, computers, chairs, papers, staplers, the list goes on and on were tin foiled. I went into my office bathroom and the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else were tin foiled. Wow.

 

My bathroom was also covered with tin foil

As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of walkthroughs to perform, meetings, and items to follow up on, so I just left my office with the tin foil all over the office. Then, as I walked around, a great deal of my staff gave me that Cheshire cat smile as they wished me Happy Birthday. They knew something, but no one gave up any names. The rest of the day was a blur.

 

After everyone cleared out at the end of the day, I finally was able to start making headway with getting rid of the tin foil. I just wanted to be able to sit in my chair and work. I left a bunch of the tin foil up for Monday. I then went through the cards from the students and teachers. Reading the cards was the best part of the day.

 

Before one of the suspicious jokester/teacher’s left, she reminded me that tin foil could be a symbolic message. “Dr, Cook, remember what you always say, Your Image is Our Image. Have a Happy Birthday!”

Beyond the Bake Sale, Our Visit to Knapp Elementary

The Background

Our vision for RM Bacon Elementary is to provide a world class school for all of our stakeholders. We work tirelessly to develop our teachers, and provide the best instruction to our learners. But when I looked into the reflective mirror, I realized that we were not engaging our family and community members as well as we would like. So this year I made it my mission to improve in this area. I started out by finding a teacher who was willing to take on this quest with me. Leigh Simpson, our music teacher and aspiring school administrator, volunteered to join the team. I then met with our Home and School President, Beth Markee, and asked her to join our team and help us increase our family and community engagement beyond the traditional avenues.

 

The Research

We scanned the twittervese researching family and community engagement. We looked at a bunch of schools and districts to see who we could model ourselves after. We quickly came to one conclusion…. Knapp Elementary embodied the type of engagement we were seeking. Knapp uses twitter, facebook, newsletters, events, to enhance their school culture and engage the family and community unlike anyone else. So we fueled up the car and went on a ROAD TRIP.

 

The Visit

Our team was comprised of Leigh Simpson, Parent and Community Engagement Chair, and Beth Markee, Home and School Association President, and myself. Fortunately for us, Knapp Elementary is only an hour and half drive from my school so we were able to accomplish the visit in one day.

Welcome to Knapp

When we arrived at Knapp we paid close attention to climate and symbolism of the school. We were welcomed by very pleasant and excited secretaries who were happy to see us. We scanned the foyer and soaked in the pictures, artwork, and design that sent a clear message…. Welcome to our home!

 

 

 

Welcome in different languages

Joe Mazza, the lead learner of Knapp, came out to greet us. I have known Joe for about a year and have seen him speak, read his tweets, and blogs, but it was especially refreshing to see him in his element… Knapp! He introduced us to Gwen Pescatore who is the President of the Knapp Home and School Association. After we exchanged pleasantries, we headed to the conference room to get to work. Even though we were there to learn from Joe and Gwen, they wanted the conversation to be a collaborative, learning opportunity for both schools. They asked us to talk about our school, the successes, challenges, and what we wanted to learn. As we were talking, a quote on the wall caught my eye, and I had to capture it (see “in this house”).

Our conversation flowed easily for about an hour. Joe and Gwen talked about Knapp and their journey to provide true engagement beyond the bake sale. Knapp Elementary has more languages spoken at home then most schools have classrooms… 22! They admit that their journey has been and continues to be a work in progress. Joe and Gwen’ s overarching message was simple… the core of true family and community engagement  is face to face contact with caring teachers. According to Joe, “First impressions are happening every day.”

We toured the building and visited a few classrooms. As we walked the building the message that we saw in the front of the building extended to the rest of the school as well…. Welcome to our home.

Art work was on all of the walls

A fish pond in an out-cove

Joe talking about family engagement

Discussing the takeaways on the ride home

As we drove away from Knapp we identified 7 key lessons we  learned from the experience:

1. Face to face contact with caring teachers

2. First impressions are made everyday

3. Make sure to have a menu of offerings for families and communities including social media, and traditional avenues

4. Televise HSA meetings in case parents are unable to attend

5. Think of the school as a 5 star hotel, and work to make it look like one too

6. Make sure that the HSA resembles the cultural make up of the school and community

7. Have designated places to recognize students

 

Since the trip we have increased our focus on family and community engagement. Stay tuned because we have just begun our journey. We are looking forward to report back on our progress as we embark on this extremely important endeavor to get beyond the bake sale, and into real family and community engagement.

Resources

Joe Mazza’s Blog 

Knapp Elementary School Twitter 

Parent Teacher Chat on Twitter

 

 

Opening Day in Real Time using Imovie Trailer

Using the Imovie trailer app on my ipad has allowed me to create an easy to use medium to document the amazing events happening at RM Bacon. As you may have seen from previous posts, we have had a lot of fun making  trailers this summer. The Extravaganza, This just in became internet sensations, and were completed in less time than it takes to watch a theatrical release (and a lot cheaper).

During my first staff meeting, I invited the teachers to make a trailer for Opening Day 2012. The first in this series (many more to be released soon) was from our 5th grade team. Here is their spoof on how they were paired together this summer with only 2 weeks before school was to begin.

During the second day of staff development, we simply ran out of time to do another trailer. So, we challenged ourselves. I met with my literacy coach, Celese Nolan, and we mapped out an idea for a “real/reel time” trailer. Our idea was to film the parents and students arriving for Opening Day, and then play it minutes later at the assembly. Since our “Red Carpet Welcome Back Theme” fit so well with the trailers, and we were able to get a real red carpet, we gave it a try. Here is what we were able to show the parents just minutes after “making” the trailer. Truly amazing!

I plan to do a whole separate post about the Opening Day 2012, and to thank everyone who assisted with making it a reality. I would like to specially thank my music teacher, Leigh Simpson, who’s creativity and determination to make the red carpet a reality for our students!

Ipad movie trailers are easy, fun, and allow you the ability to put something of professional quality in a matter of minutes.