Friday, April 13, 2018

Hybrid Rotational Model

During our training for the 1:1 program that's coming to our school in a few years, I had the opportunity to attend a variety of professional development sessions and school visits. During both the sessions and the visits I learned and experienced the hybrid rotational model, so I thought this would be a good place for me to dabble the rest of this year.

I've been trying to do a math workshop model, but after trying assigned daily stations, a math menu, and my own version of a Daily 5 type math, I hadn't found anything that felt right. It seemed that this model was very similar to stations, so I thought I would give it a go. You guys. I'm loving it. So much so that I signed up for a three day training this summer to really develop an understanding of what I'm doing since I know I'm not quite there yet.

The premise of the hybrid rotational model is that the students rotate through three stations: direct, independent, and collaboration. During the independent station, the students get their instruction in the form of a video or some method besides the teacher lecturing (think flipped classroom, but instead of the work happening at home, it just happens before they meet with you). The collaborative station allows the kids to work together on some sort of meaningful, challenging project, and the direct station is where the kids work with you, ideally to practice the skill they learned in the lesson.

It was a comfortable place to start because it seems just like stations or a workshop setting, and it was really easy to get the kids into the flow. When I started, I started in a more traditional way; I did what I would have done in a whole group lesson during the direct session, and then gave the kids work to do during the independent. I know that's not optimal, but it gave me a place to start. Now that I'm getting more comfortable with it, I feel like I may be able to start transition to what it's really supposed to look like.

But here's the thing. Because of a huge time discrepancy and a pretty significant difference in the levels of my classes, I was doing this with my morning group and not with my afternoon group. (I teach math and science to one group of kids in the morning, and then I do the same with a completely different group of kids in the afternoon.) And it felt yucky. I felt yucky because my mornings were amazing. The kids were engaged, I felt like I was REALLY getting to talk with every one of my kids every day, I felt like I knew where my kids were and what my kids needed, and we all were pretty happy. IT FEELS GOOD! So the fact that I hadn't figured out a way to do it with my afternoon kids..... well, it made me feel yucky.

We had PSSAs this week, and I just couldn't bear the thought of doing the same old thing today. So I sat down during my planning and I figured out a way to take my math and science and make it a hybrid rotational model. You'll see I noticed that I added a 4th station to cover our science lesson, so the stations looked like this:

  • Independent - complete our ticket out the door for measuring angles, work on the Geometry strand in Front Row (now called Freckle)
  • Collaborative - work together to create a Tiny House
  • Direct - lesson on polygons, perimeter, and area
  • Science - watch a video and take notes on bar graphs, begin working on analyzing data on bar graphs
Before we started this afternoon I was honest with my kids. I told them that the other teachers and I were talking about how we didn't think kids could do anything this afternoon. I told them how we felt like they had "lost it" since we did PSSAs, and they weren't going to be able to do what they needed to do. And then I told my kids how awful I felt thinking that, and I decided to change my mindset and see if they could prove me wrong.

I introduced each station and answered any questions. I reminded the kids that if I was working at the direct station, I couldn't babysit; they had to take responsibility for their own learning. And I assigned each group a leader to be my eyes. Their job was not to boss anybody around. Instead, their job was to ask their teammates what they needed, and they were also asked to report back to me and tell me what I needed to do to help the kids be more successful. 

The students stayed in each station for 20 minutes, and I felt like that was a good amount of time. The kids were able to work on their tasks for the full time, but it gave them the opportunity to transition and move onto something new before they got burned out. My learning support teacher was in for about 1/2 an hour, and she provided support to the different groups while I was doing my direct instruction. I didn't like this part; I need to figure out how to get her involved with the direct instruction even though her schedule only allows her to be in my room for 1 full rotation and 1/2 of the second. I also had an instructional paraprofessional, and when she arrived (after the 1st rotation) she assisted the other three groups with the video and note taking at the science station.

It. Felt. Amazing.

When the last timer went off the kids were like, "Wait? What? It's time to go home already????" They were engaged. They were trying tasks that were REALLY challenging. One of the leaders came to me at the end and said, "The first three stations went great, but the Tiny House - we were just fighting and arguing. I think it's because we really didn't understand it." That was music to my ears because I know what that group, and likely others, needs to be successful.

But you know what really feels good? It doesn't matter that I don't have the same time, and it doesn't matter that my afternoon class may not be at the same level of my morning class. They took charge of their own learning, and they were proud to do so. I have a lot to work through, but the way I see it, if my kids can do this on a Friday afternoon after three days of PSSA testing, they are going to knock it out of the park the rest of the year. I'm so excited, and I can't wait to see what we can accomplish!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Of Empowering Kids and Science Assessments

This year I have really been trying to make my classroom one where kids have choices, options, and a voice in their own learning. Reading the book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning has helped me see I'm on the right track with many of the things I've been incorporating in my classroom, and it's also given me some ideas of where to go next. Helping my students understand what it means to have a growth mindset has also been a goal of mine this year, and while it's difficult to fit into a pass / fail, take one test, here's your grade system, I'm pretty happy with how I've been incorporating that as well.

So my dabbling here and there lead me to think differently about how I wanted to assess my unit on the scientific process. This year, instead of giving the big, summative assessment, I decided I wanted to take the ideas of student choice and growth mindset and apply them to determine my kids' knowledge of the scientific process. I also wanted to try and get away from the one shot, here's your grade assessment strategy that I so often have to follow. The answer was having my students design and carry out their own experiment following the scientific process.

I have been embedding the idea of the scientific process throughout the year as we have carried out different experiments, so all of my students have had a preview to the steps and the vocabulary we would be using. To examine the parts of the process more closely, we conducted four different experiments, and we worked on writing mini lab reports so the kids could see that writing is a very important part of science.

Along the way both of my classes had the opportunity to participate in the Skype a Scientist program. If you have not heard of this, please, please check it out! Both Alex and Ehren answered my students' questions about what is it like to be a scientist beautifully and with passion! They helped my kids see that experiments are more than just "fun" things you do, and both men are working hard to make a difference in the world.

After building my kids' background knowledge, it was time for them to take charge. I created a mini lab report form, and the first step was for the kids to pick their favorite experiment that we had done in class since the beginning of the year. Just to make it a little easier, I did limit it to four choices:

  • evaporation experiment
  • the gummy bear experiment
  • the food coloring experiment
  • the paperclip experiment
Once the kids chose their favorite, they got into groups based on that choice. Depending upon the number of people in the group, the kids could choose small groups to complete their experiment. In the end, between the two classes, I had 12 groups collaborating to design and complete their experiments. 

After going over the rubric (an area where I could get the kids' input -- maybe a goal for next year) the kids were eager to get started, and their first task was to create an short abstract and a shopping list for me. They had to present their idea and get approval before beginning their process. Once they had approval, then it was time to work on each step. The kids collaborated to:
  • Share their observations from the original experiment and their background knowledge about their new idea.
  • Explain the variable of the original experiment.
  • Explain the variable of the new experiment.
  • State their research question.
  • Determine their hypothesis.
  • Come up with a detailed plan.
  • Carry out the experiment.
  • Analyze the data they collected.
  • Draw conclusions about the results.
The kids had as many opportunities as they needed to conference with me about each part of the report and make changes to improve their grade. Some kids were perfectly happy to just score proficient, and others eagerly accepted feedback and worked towards the advanced mark on the rubric. The only step that they kids could not redo was the experiment; because of the sake of time we had to limit it to one shot, but the could explain what they would do differently in their conclusions section.

While it certainly would have been much easier to send home a study guide and give my kids a test one day, assessing my kids' knowledge of the scientific process was so much more beneficial in so many ways.
  • Students had the opportunity to practice the basic tenet of having a growth mindset: you have to persevere when things are challenging, and you have to go back and fix a mistake when you make it. That's how our brains grow.
  • Students had the opportunity to work on their communication skills, whether it was in their experiment group or sharing their ideas verbally or in writing with me. There were many, many revisions as we went through the process, and nobody ever gave up.
  • I got to see exactly where the holes were for my kids and reflect upon how I need to change my instruction next year: I need to give them examples of detailed plans when we do them. I need to do a better job of helping them understand how to analyze data before they have to do it on their own. 
  • I got to see exactly where my kids' learning was right on track. They really understand that there can only be one variable in an experiment, and they did a great job using the tools to measure and collect data. 
While I originally intended for this process to end with the students turning in their reports, an unexpected little twist popped up. As I was sharing pictures of their work on twitter, a friend who teaches in California tweeted back. After a few messages, we decided that my students would type of their plans and share them with her class so that her students could try and duplicate the experiments and the results. This is such a vital part of scientific discovery, so I am really excited to make this connection and see how it works out.

While it certainly took more time than a test, I saw my students continuing to learn and grow throughout the assessment period, and according to my students, they feel like they understand the scientific process "way better" than they would have and think they will remember it much better, too. I'm hopeful that I can continue to find ways that I can offer the kids some choice and adapt our assessments so kids have the opportunity to showcase their learning and continue to work toward mastery.

Monday, January 1, 2018

One Little Word 2018

I took some time this morning to read back through my posts, and I love sitting here reading the reflections I've done about both teaching and life. At one point, I hoped to be one of those bloggers that everybody read or talked about on Twitter, and I got a bit disenchanted when that didn't happen. So I stopped. But as I look back over what I've written here, I realize that this blog isn't for anybody but me. If others happen to get something from what I share, that's awesome - but that's not the point any more.  

I do a lot of my writing in a journal now, but every now and then I come back here. Maybe I'll start writing more here - who knows. But I wanted to come back and share my one little word, which I have not done in a while. I've been picking a word instead of making resolutions for a bunch of years now, and I really do like it. My last two words have been especially helpful for me.

In 2016 my word was believe. One of the things I learned going through my divorce was that I didn't believe in myself. I didn't believe I was worthy of, well, anything really, and I did believe that I deserved everything that had happened to me. 2016 was a year of growth for me, and I can finally say that I did start to believe in myself. 

In 2017, I chose the word courage because I just wanted to be brave enough to try new things, fail, and continue to believe that I deserved the best. While my amazing counselor was there to help me with many things, the biggest turning point for me was when I stumbled upon a 30 Days of Brave Challenge. Now it's a paid service (of which I am a member - I'm currently working on my 30 Days of Mindfulness), but back when I tried it out it was brand new. Each day I received an activity to try and a journal prompt to reflect and write about. Day 7. It was a life changer. The prompt for Day 7 asked me to think about the movie of my life, and it asked me to rewrite the movie and talk about how the actress would play me. That was the day when I realized that I put myself in the role of victim, and I never let myself out of that role. As the words of my new movie poured onto paper, I realized that I wasn't a victim any more, and the only person who was keeping me there was me. As I closed my journal that day, I felt like a ton of bricks (even more to be quite honest) was lifted off of me, and I think that's when I was finally free of everything. It probably sounds a little selfish or self-centered, but that's the day I started putting myself first instead of constantly trying to make everybody else happy. I wouldn't say that it's been smooth sailing ever since, but it has given me a new found strength to clear the clutter out of my life, see things a little more clearly, and focus on the people and things that truly are important to me.

Now here we are in 2018. I have batted around a few different words: mindful, present, centered, and I thought I had settled on present: seriously - put down the damn phone and be present! But in a surprising little twist just this morning, I decided that my word for 2018 is going to be OPEN. I realized that I'm saying I want things, but then I resist doing those things or letting people into my life. So, this year my goal is to be open to all of the experiences life has in store for me. Yes, I may be afraid. Yes, some of them might be pretty crappy. But I can't live life sitting on the sofa playing games on my phone, reading blog posts, checking Facebook, or looking at emails. I need to be open to the good and the bad because every single experience will give me the chance to learn and grow.

So here's to 2018. May we all be open to every experience life has in store for us, and may we all love, grow, and sprinkle a little good around every, single day.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Of Puppies and Kids

On April 21 my life turned a little upside down when we decided to adopt a puppy. Now, I've rescued dogs before, but I've never done the puppy thing. I've always rescued older dogs. Since I kind of looked at him like a fresh slate, I decided that if I was going to do a puppy, I was going to start right away with training so that eventually we could become part of KPETS.

Seriously..... how cute is this little dude?? He'll be 6 months old tomorrow, in case you were wondering.

Crosby and I signed up for our beginning manners program at a local pet food store, and began our classes at the beginning of June. The instructor was a wonderful lady named Kaye (seriously - anybody in the Lancaster, PA area looking for a dog trainer -- she has got to be your go to person!), and I loved the fact that she doesn't call what she does puppy training; she calls it people training for dogs.

We have been working hard to master many skills over the past two months: sit, down, stand, place, stay, wait, look, come, and tag were all included. Using what we learned Crosby is also, almost, sleeping on his own bed at night now. We did so well learning all of these new skills that we graduated on Monday night and are all signed up for our advanced class that begins in September!


I went into class expecting to come out with a puppy who could do some different skills, but what surprised me was how *I* came out with more of a growth mindset, my thinking challenged, and some ideas about how I need to do things differently in my classroom. You might be asking yourself how that could possibly happen, so let me share some of thing things that happened in our puppy class to help me grow this summer.

First you need to know that Kaye is an incredibly calm, even-tempered person. No matter how many dogs were barking or what she was doing to help a dog, she used a quiet voice, she moved slowly and calmly, and she always had a happy voice. She is also persistent. It didn't matter how many times it took, if there was a dog having trouble with something, she would work on that skill over and over and over, praising the dog for what it did do, until the dog actually demonstrated the skill.

Second, she was extremely organized and well planned. Each class we left with a homework paper that reviewed exactly what we did in class and what she wanted us to do at home. It was great to have a reference sheet when things just weren't going well.

Then there were some of the things she said (obviously these are exact quotes, but they're how I remember her words from class):

  • Your puppy doesn't want to be around you when you're angry or upset. Really, nobody does. Use a happy voice, and you'll get results.
  • Make it a game. Have fun with your puppy!
  • Praise, praise, praise! People always want to tell our dogs what they're doing wrong. Why don't we focus on what they do right?
  • Your puppy just wants to know you love him or her. Remember to always show them you do.
  • If your puppy is doing something you don't want him to do, you better make darn sure that YOU are more interesting than what you expect the dog to walk away from. How are you going to do that?
  • Keep at it. Puppies are just growing and learning. Some days you'll take 4 steps forward, and other days you'll take 10 steps back. That doesn't mean you're doing something wrong, your puppy is bad, or either of you can't do it. It just means it's not going to happen that day. 
  • Take a deep breath. Puppies can be frustrating, and some days you just have to forget about it and get ready to try another day or get ready to try another way.

So now, take a minute and go back and reread those bullets. But instead of puppies, put in the word student or students. Go ahead --- do it.

Pretty impactful, isn't it.

I thought a lot this summer about the times I got frustrated, lost my temper, raised my voice, gave up, and felt like a failure. Sometimes these thoughts made me sad, and other times I felt hopeful because now that I recognize it I hope that I can be different with my kids. Sure there are days when I still yell at Crosby or give him a swat on the nose for ripping the grass out of the yard, but I always catch myself and turn it around so he knows I love him and that I know we'll figure it out because he's still learning.

I thought a lot about how I worked differently with my puppy than I did with my students. Perhaps it's because there's no pressure. Yes, Crosby and I do have "assessments" we'll have to complete in order to meet our goal, but there's no time table; we take the assessments when we are ready. And if we don't get it the first time, we can always take them again. While I sort of have that chance with my students, I can work harder to offer opportunities to help them see that nothing is ever final, and we can always keep learning and working.

So thank you, Kaye. Thank you for training me to not only be a good mommy to Crosby but to also be a better teacher for my students.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Seven Months Later

And just like that, the school year is over. To say it was my toughest in 19 years is an understatement, but in a way the year was a very weird juxtaposition. Because, in a way, it was also one of the best years I've ever had.

On one hand, my new position as a professional learning leader allow me opportunities to lead professional development sessions for my colleagues in my building and talk about topics like helping students develop a growth mindset, trying out a genius hour, and incorporating creativity by connect with our special area teachers. The discussions that came out of these sessions were very powerful, as were the questions, so I'm hoping to move forward next year with a bi-weekly newsletter with tips and tricks and co-teaching with different people who are interested in giving some new things a try. I'm also starting to think that maybe being an instructional coach may be the next thing for me. Still not sure on that, but I truly have enjoyed working with the other teachers to change how they do things in their classrooms. I also really enjoyed changing how *I* did things in my classroom. It certainly was hard to turn my back on the PVAAS scores and all of that, but I feel like the opportunities for creativity and problem solving that I integrated in my classroom benefitted my kids way more than any test score ever will. I'm really hoping the think more about how I can do that and more closely connect the activities with my curriculum this year.

So, after reading all of that awesomeness, you might be wondering how I had such an awful year. I guess the easiest way to explain it is that I'm a bit of a sensitive soul. I know how hard I work for my kids, and I know everything I try to do to make sure they're learning the best they can. So to repeatedly hear that you aren't good enough, that you don't know what you're doing, and maybe somebody needs to teach you what to do for certain kids.... well, that can be a hard pill to swallow. Mental illness is also a very difficult pill to swallow. And when you're working with kids who are struggling with mental illness, every day feels like tiptoeing around a mine field. Every. Single. Day. And every single day it feels like you aren't getting through, you're not doing enough, and you're having to protect yourself and the other kids you care about from whatever words or actions come might come your way. It drains you when you get bombarded all the time.

But the good news is that it's over, and I'm looking forward to a restful and relaxing summer with all kinds of things planned to rebuild me and who I am as a person and a teacher.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Beat Down

I had such high hopes for this year. I look back over my posts for the summer, and I reflect upon the goals I set and how much I hoped to accomplished with my kids. I was so excited about all that I've learned about teaching students to have a growth mindset and having the opportunity to share my new learnings with other teachers. Although sad, I was getting used to the idea of teaching only two subjects, and I was very excited to plan well thought out units without having to spread myself too thin. I look back on the resources I found this summer, and what I hoped to accomplish.

And now?

We are only 10 weeks into the school year, and I am exhausted and feeling worthless. I'm a punching bag. Opening my email makes me start to panic. Walking into school has my stomach in knots. I come home every night wondering how I could possibly do more and what I have done so wrong.

We are the lightning rods, and the insults and threats are the lightning bolts. They hit, and they hurt.

"Just let it go in one ear and out the other. You know it's not true."

"You are a great teacher; don't let them get you down."

"It's not that they are mad at you. They just don't know what else to do so they're taking it out on you."

But it's not that easy. Each of those words sticks. No matter how many times I read the positive emails and replay the highlights of my days, it's the negative, stinging words that I'm lying awake thinking about at 3 AM.

I'm not sure how to make this better, but I can say that in my 19 years there has never been one like this. I hope we can figure out how to make it better before everything I love about teaching is gone.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mindset on a Plane

This year I have taken on a new position, 21st Century Professional Learning Leader, in addition to my daily teaching duties. While I was waiting to be given a "here's what you're going to do as a PLL," paper or speech, I found out very quickly that wasn't going to happen. I learned that I had the opportunity to take this new position and make it into something of my own.

When I met with my principal initially about my position, the focus was most definitely on technology. I agree that technology plays a huge role in our lives today, but it definitely is not THE only part of 21st century learning and skills. If you've done any reading on the topic, you may have seen this graphic from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning:


While tech skills are part of one piece of the puzzle, they aren't the entire puzzle. I wanted to help people understand that, and I wanted to really focus on the critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity piece and how it relates to the work we do in school. I was also extremely curious about how the concepts of growth and fixed mindsets, a topic my district has focused on from a philosophical perspective but not so much an instructional one, fit into all of this.

I decided to use the idea of developing growth mindsets as the vehicle for my part of our school's professional development we started in August and will continue through the rest of the year. I found a resource called Ready to Use Resources for Mindsets in the Classroom, and I used that to plan my first session in August. It was well received, but I knew there was more, so I got two other books: The Growth Mindset Coach by Brock and Hundley and Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler

Like every beginning of the year, I got busy and the other books sat on my desk at home waiting patiently for me to read them. The opportunity came when I flew to Houston to visit my brother's family. Because I was highly engaged the 3 hour flight to Houston was plenty of time for me to read through the Coach book. I was able to begin to develop more of a research based background as to why a growth mindset matters physiologically. I also started thinking about how I could redo the sessions I was to conduct on Tuesday when I got back to school.

I was just as engaged on my flight back, and I used that time to get about halfway through Jo Boaler's book. I'm pretty sure the people next to me thought I was cray for all the "Woah!", "No Way!" "Really!" and, "I've been teaching math wrong this whole time," comments that kept popping out of me. With an even bigger research base, I came up with a revised plan for my original session and my follow up session, and I was eager (almost annoyingly so) to share my new knowledge with my coworkers.

My first session on Tuesday went really well, and I received a lot of positive feedback. It truly was interesting to see my colleagues struggle with growth mindset activities because so many of us tend to have a fixed mindset. I blame the educational culture for this. We do not value mistakes and growth opportunities. We are evaluated on one score, one test, one day.... mistakes are bad. Perfect tests are valued... they're the gold standard. But I now understand that perfect tests are the one way that your brain will never, ever grow. 

As I read on the plane and listened to people share during my sessions, my thoughts wandered back to the students my district has lost in the last few months for a variety of reasons. Kids who, based on our recent suicide training, had all the preventative factors in their back pockets. They shouldn't have become a statistic. But they did. I can't help feeling like we as an educational system had something to do with that. The pressure to be perfect. The pressure to not make mistakes. Focusing on things they aren't good at. Keeping them from things they want to be part of to practice their weaknesses. We're cultivating the worst of a fixed mindset, and I can't help feeling like that has to be part of the reason some of our kids make the choices they make.

I have made a three year commitment to this position. If I can make even a small dent in the systemic problem of creating fixed mindsets in our kids, and if I can make a positive change to help my students develop a growth mindset, then these three years will be the most successful of my career.