A Return to Paper Blogging

I’m back! And ready to admit that I completely failed in my goal to use this blog to reflect on my teaching at least once a week.  The lesson learned?  Don’t set such lofty goals.  

But let’s not dwell on the past.  Success lies in the future and after a whirlwind spring, summer, and fall, the dregs of winter are setting in and I am once again motivated to share my work with the people.  The latest project is jump starting our class blogs.  Last year’s experiment went really well – over 500 blogs posts!  Over 500 pieces of writing, artistic projects, personal experiences, and you tube videos about raining tacos shared.  I learned a lot (which I should probably write about in a separate post) and I am really excited to see what this class of students does with the opportunity.  Already they blew me away with our first step: Paper Blogging!

This year’s students really took the paper blogging challenge on with gusto (click here for a post on last year’s lesson).  First we watched a really great video from BrainPop on exactly what blogs are and discussed the purpose of a blog: to share ideas and connect with other people.  I explained that paper blogging would let us practice the three roles of blogging (writers, readers, and commenters) offline before we moved online to our KidBlogs.  Then students got to work writing their first blog posts on something that they loved.  

It was really fun learning more about my kids and the things in their lives that they like and love to do.  I think they enjoyed learning more about each other too – an added community building bonus!  They added an artistic design and submitted it for “publishing”.  This year we “published” the paper blogs on lockers.  We used post-its for “comments” and everyone was encouraged to make sure they continued the conversation.  They actually are going back to read each other’s comments, ask questions, answer questions and generally make their paper blogs a really vibrant place for discussion.   Some students took the opportunity to redesign their blogs or added updated posts – all really cool ideas that they will be be able to do with their online blogs.  The next steps are to transfer these skills online, get used to KidBlog as an app/website, and start sharing, documenting, and reflecting on our work! 


Homework – Argh!

I am taking an online class called Teaching For Understanding 1: Focus on Student Understanding offered by Harvard Graduate School of Education through their WIDE program (still wondering what WIDE stands for; can’t find it):

WIDE courses are developed using the Teaching for Understanding (TfU) Framework. The TfU Framework was developed by researchers and educators at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (1989-1996) as a tool to design, revise, and review curriculum and instruction that helps students develop understanding. 

The content is really interesting, but the format is driving me nuts.  Moreover, I don’t really have time to process the information they are offering.  I am totally winging it.

Luckily I am on a team and we are saving each other.  But I have homework.  Due tomorrow.

Assignment: Apply the Ladder of Feedback in a NEW way. You have already used the Ladder of Feedback to provide feedback to each other here online. Now, we want you to use the Ladder of Feedback right in your own classroom or work setting or with a colleague. Teach the rungs of the ladder to your students–young children may only use the clarify and value rungs 
  1. Select an important assignment your students will do, one for which you or you and learners can develop a list of criteria. The criteria should describe “high quality” work on that assignment. 
  2. Teach the Ladder of Feedback to your students.  Help your students or colleague to see the Ladder of Feedback as a tool for offering support and constructive, supportive feedback to others so that the feedback can be used to improve a major assignment or work project. 
  3. Ask your students to work in pairs (using the Ladder of Feedback and the criteria you developed for “high quality” work to help improve the assignment/work project before it is to be formally assessed by the teacher or a supervisor.
Need a visual of the ladder?

This must be how my students feel some of the time.  When their parents’ describe evenings where they did whatever they could to “just get it done”. 

I forgive them as I am going to forgive myself.

Luckily our students are in the middle of writing geography stories.  And some of them are “done”.  But I love telling them they are never really “done” because even our good writing can get better.   This ladder of feedback will be a nice step back, another opportunity to review their work with peers as we more thoughtfully set up a classroom culture that is safe for critical peer feedback.  

My question is should I do this exercise with a small of focus group of students who are in pretty good shape or subject students who really need more time to just write to all of my shenanigans?  Because lets be honest.  I just learned about this ladder of feedback and I am just using it to complete my homework. 

I should probably leave those kids out of it for now.  I can always share this model with them when they have more of their story written.  I only need a few kids to produce a write-up.  This course is trying to prove to us that this format works, and I will go ahead and just believe them.  

Phew okay.  I have a plan.  Thanks. Reflection on how it went and whether or not I finished my homework on time to come.  

Reflection: Order of Operations and Geography Stories

So one of the deals with this reflective blog business is that I want to make my practice visible and vulnerable.  Best to start with today.  Beware, extremely detailed lesson talk ahead.

Over the weekend I replanned our geography unit and set up another round of Algebra week for our fourth graders.  These are both units that I have loved teaching because the ideas are accessible at many different levels allowing for much differentiation and the information is useful for a variety of tasks in and out of school. There are a lot of fun activities and what we do now will be helpful later on in their studies.

Today I taught a lesson on the order of operations.  Now this is truly an idea they will explore extensively in 5th and 6th grade so why bother in 4th?  We have a pretty wide range of mathematical abilities, but these beginning algebra lessons have a little something for everyone.  They are learning to reason algebraically, recognize and construct equations,  and apply basic principles such as balancing values and using inverse operations fluidly, while practicing all sorts of basic operations and reviewing their facts.  We talk about working systematically and efficiently.  We talk about challenge as a good thing.  We are previewing material many students find scary in a fun way with little risk.   I don’t expect them to master this material.  We are just playing around with numbers.

Meanwhile we are asking some deep questions such as:

We will try and keep these lines of inquiry open and reflect on them as we review a variety of topics throughout the year.

The goals for the lesson were:

  • To introduce the order of operations
  • To practice writing equations that reflect our thought processes
  • To apply memorized math facts in a novel situation
We started with the equation 18 + 6/3 x 2 and asked them to provide an answer they thought would work.  We received mostly 4 and 16 from the students.  Teachers then threw out 40, 19, and 22.  We discussed why this was happening, tossing around the idea that everyone was starting in their own place and following their own path.  I presented the idea of an order of operations that mathematicians had agreed upon.  Then we played hopscotch and learned a rhyme to go with how we might solve an equation: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication or Division Left to Right, Addition or Subtraction Left to Right.

Students then practiced on 3 more equations with partners, looking for the most accurate answer.  They encountered parentheses and exponents and I explained how those worked.  They had questions about how the order of operations might work within a pair of parentheses.  They wondered about whether to do multiplication or division first and I reinforced the idea of them being equal so we just go left to right.  We found instances where the answer wasn’t dependent on the order of operations, but recognized it was important to not assume that would always be the case.  I am leaving the PEMDAS vs. GEMS debate to the middle school and did not introduce those terms at all.

Then I gave students the four 5’s problem. I had made cards with the 4 operation symbols,  a pair of paratheses, four 5s, and an equal sign (which I had forgotten but they asked for).

I asked them to make as many equations as they could and find out how many different answers they could get.  I had found two versions of this activity and was trying to simplify one and make another more open ended.  I realized from their questions that I had taken away some of the structures that made the problem particularly challenging and interesting.  I had also not predicted and prepared contingencies for some of the directions they would go.    Were they allowed to make numbers like 55?  Did the answer have to be 5?  Did they have to use all of the cards?  What if they wanted to repeat an operation, but didn’t have another card with that sign?  Could they make exponents?  Now I am pretty flexible and was mostly interested in watching them work it out:

It all went fine.  There were some thoughtful equations and some ripe for refinement.  Overall, I could see the benefit in going back to the original problems the way that they were presented, which should probably be the next step.  Instead of exploring the open range of equations (with no self checking mechanism) we can move towards puzzler models, uncovering equations that will allow us to get to 10 or 125 or 24.   

My writing lesson got smooshed between an art project and lunch.  As part of our geography unit we are going to write geography stories about places and geographical features that are meaningful to us.  I had prepared a pre writing activity, but after a vibrant work period involving watercolors, interspersed with PE and an emergency drill, I was left with only enough time to present the idea and then give it out for homework. Ideally we could have brainstormed in class, began the pre-writing activity, and shared our work.  This didn’t happen. We will see the consequences of this on Thursday.

It may be that I get away with it, or that we will need to compensate with more coaching on the back end.  It’s something I know I could have taught better and will teach better next time.  I am comforted by the fact that I am not the first teacher to run out of time or to sacrifice a darling for a greater cause. Nor am I the last.  It’s an occupational hazard.  Luckily, we all come back tomorrow and the project will live to see another day.

Winter Is Coming…

nd soon it will be time to stay inside, bundled up in sweats with cups of cocoa.  What will I do as the cold months descend upon us?

A) Reread the entire Song of Fire of Ice series.

B) Cook my husband dinner every night.
C) Start a new, more comprehensive, more reflective blog

If you guessed A, you are tripping.  I finished those books last winter and I am not reading them again. I am saving my energy for the 6th book or the devastating news that George R.R. Martin has died without finishing this story and we will never know who ascends the Iron Throne.

If you guessed B, you are either my husband, a friend of my husband, or someone else’s hungry husband.

If you guessed C, you are right and very perceptive as you happen to be reading said blog right now.

This is not my first blog.  No, I’ve been around the blogging block.  I blog here about our 1:1 iPad program.  I blog here about my trips to China.  Here you can find my amateur poems.  I kind of blog a lot, but I have become convinced I should blog even MORE.  By whom?  Steve Wheeler.  He gives seven reasons teachers should blog.  And it’s all about reflecting on our practice in order to better serve our students.

That gets me every time.

This month is Connected Educator Month and there are lots of events both live and online to help teachers use technology for good.  But Justin Baeder made a great point that if your connectedness isn’t helping your students, who cares.  Your students don’t need you to be a Twitter star.  Get back in the classroom and teach. Or plan. Or assess. Or blog.  Because apparently by blogging, I can become a better teacher.  Or so I hope.

Our technology coordinator keeps quoting John Dewey:

We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Guess it’s time to dive in.

However, this blog isn’t for you.  It’s not even for me.  It’s for my students.  And if being connected is all it’s cracked up to be, it’ll be for your students too.