Monday, September 10, 2012

Rubrics- More than an Evaluation Tool

At the end of last year I became very aware that I needed to do a better job of documenting the learning I knew was going on in my classroom through curriculum models; such as Challenge Based Learning, Inquiry Based Learning and other interdisciplinary approaches. At the same time empowering my students to self and peer evaluate each project and ultimately continuing to hone high level thinking skills.  So as I began constructing our first project of the year I decided I would not only build an compatible rubric, but put that rubric in my students' hands. 

Before I go too much further, I should say that our first project of the year was “All About Me” Paper Slide Videos. To give credit where credit is due, I should also mention that this project was put out on Twitter by Lance Rougeux/@lrougeux who was sharing Martha Rougeux’s brilliant idea. Just two of the wonderful educators I have met through Discovery Education Network.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to observe that as my students worked they referred back to the directions and the rubric on a regular basis. As time progressed, I was no longer being asked if things were good enough or if their projects contained enough details, because those were topics of conversations that were taking places between students. While at the same time the process of revision was slowly becoming a student endeavor as well. If I were honest this project did take a bit longer than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent. I LOVED listening to all the learning in action and let's face it I learned a lesson as well.  My first lesson of this school year is that rubrics need to take a larger role in the learning process within my classroom and should not just be used as an evaluation tool.

Finally, I have found a couple of wonderful resources on the subject of authentic assessment that I thought I would pass along as well. I know I still have a ton to learn on the subject and can't wait to explore these resources a bit further.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything- Assessment and Rubrics

 Jon Mueller-Authentic Assessement Toolbox

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CBL and Common Core K-5-What I need to do?

I once heard a speaker say, “Our schools should have an academic focus not a project focus.” This is a statement I full heartedly agree with and due to the integrated model of literacy feel that Common Core Standards also supports. With that said, just because projects are present does not mean that the academics have taken a backseat. On the contrary, they are as front and center as ever before and Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is an excellent example of Common Core in action. It is important that with both CBL and Common Core we, as educators, focus on the process rather than the solution, which means our role, as educators, will need to change. We will need to make the shift from being less of a dispenser of information to being more of a guide and lead researcher. As a lead researcher, we will need to be prepared for many conversations and coaching sessions during our CBL challenges. Most of our conversations, will result in mini-
lessons on the hows and whys of doing quality research. To raise students that are career and college ready we need to rethink not only how work is being done, but how and when lessons (or mini-lessons) occur. Throughout the CBL process the educator, that is acting as a guide, is giving instruction through mini-lessons when a student need arises or when a standard fits into the purpose hand. Since Common Core K-5 is chalked full of standards that focus on strategies rather than specific content incorporating them into a CBL challenge becomes quite natural. However, this is going to require educators to become very familiar with the Common Core so that when learning opportunities arise they are more than ready to address both the standard and the need.
Honestly, I believe that real learning takes place in the process and due to that belief I feel that, as educators, we should not be doing anything for students that they can do for themselves. When involved in CBL challenges students are not only involved in the process, but are holding the majority of the labor responsibility. They are no longer waiting for the answer, but going out to discover their own answers. In my observations within our CBL Challenges engagement has been very high and both research studies done by New Media Consortium have shown that as well. Living out this type of engagement Common Core Standards K-5 are not just covered, but honed as well. 

With that said, I must be better at documenting the learning that is taking place and the progress each child is making. What mini-lessons need to be taught? When do these mini-lessons need to be taught? How am I going to document these lessons? What is being used to document learning and mastery of standards? Basically, if I believe that the learning is truly taking place in the process then where is my proof. Maybe, the fact that I am asking myself these questions is part of the process and that is where my learning is right now. Which leaves me the summer to read up and review research on authentic assessment and portfolios (ePortfolios). As well as, working on a lesson plan template that will do a better job of meeting our needs. I suppose what has been said is true, "One can't do better, until she knows better."

Sunday, April 29, 2012

First Impressions of The Common Core

I have been hearing about The Common Core for about a year or so now on Twitter and other mediums. Still, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I began working on a team, with five other educators throughout our district to write a K-5 Gifted Scope and Sequence, that I actually took the time to read through The Common Core.  As I read through the introduction, the key design consideration and the standards themselves I actually got very excited about the possibilities. Sure it is wonderful that most of the country will be working towards the same standards and that the overall goals are to prepare students to be college and career ready.  However, the more time I spent exploring them three main principles caught my attention: 1) that the standards suggest interdisciplinary approach, 2) that critical thinking is expected across all content areas and 3) at their core they were about learning strategies that students can be use while exploring any new content and/or problem.

 Also, while I was in my early exploration of the Common Core, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs at FETC in January 2012 and viewing Alan November’s TEDxNYED Talk.  It was then that my brain really began to imagine what putting these standards into practice might look like. I was picturing classrooms involved with curriculum models like; Problem Based Learning, Inquiry Circles, Challenge Based Learning and other Constructivist Learning Models. Along with, school hallways and classroom websites full of meaningful and well developed student driven projects. 

Then a couple of weeks ago the buzz started about The Common Core a bit closer to home. Since this has happened I feel that what  has taken the lead focus in many conversations has related to the assessment and materials. These things are important and in no way am I saying that they should not be discussed. I am just not sure that these topics should be taking the lead in early conversations. It would be like gathering a group of college freshmen together who want to be Certified Public Accountants (CPA) to discuss their future. Then leading the conversation with the format of the CPA Exam and which specific software to buy so that your customers' IRS audits will be most effective.

Honestly, I truly think The Common Core could bring about some real exciting changes to education, but as educators we need to be involved. With that said, I would like to suggest every educators go to The Common Core website, download the standards, read, explore, discuss and think critically about them. Let’s approach these standards the same way we would want our students to approach our curriculum. We would expect them to start by reading the actual document, think, reflect, discuss with their peers and then build something from the knowledge gained. Seriously, here is our chance let's lead by example.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


In the summer of 2007 I took a week long writing instruction workshop that was simply amazing.  We read A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher, which is a wonderful book to use with students. Also, during our time we each created our own Writer's Notebook in which we wrote a lot. I have pulled mine out from time to time while working with students the several years and have continued to write in it. Today, I pulled it out to add an entry while working with my second graders. As I pulled out my Writer's Notebook I began to read a few of my past entries, which is when I ran across an entry on Wonder. I do believe the official assignment was a quick write on something we wonder about, and for what it is worth here is what I came up with.

Honestly, it is truly hard to write about one thing that I wonder about. You see, I wonder about so many things, I guess the thing to do is write about wonder itself.  It is one of the things that allows to me to feel alive. If we never took the time to wonder true learning won't take place nor would any sustaining change occur.  For instance, what would the world be like if Christopher Columbus  never wondered about sailing around the world or astronauts didn't wonder what was out in the universe. Without wonder would anyone explore the spiritual or emotional sides to thing. Truth is, we would be very shallow creatures without wonder in our lives.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One Take Video/ Book Trailers

During the Discovery Education Summer Institute in 2010 and again while attending The DEN FETC Pre-Conference in January I learned about One Take Video from Dr. Lodge McCammon.  Basically,  One Take Videos are videos shot in one take with no editing needed. I had a ball in these workshops and loved that these activities lead to many deep conversations around the content we were working on. However, until this spring I had not attempted to use this with my students, but the last couple of months we have been able to fit several One Take Videos in to our curriculum. One of my favorites has been my second grade reading group's Patricia Polacco's Paperslide Video Book Trailers. I am a big fan of assigning projects and activities that cover as many standards as possible. Within The Common Core Language Arts Standards second grade students will be asked to: 

-Retell stories including key details and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
-With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed revising and editing.   
-With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers. 

 I could not have been more pleased with how these videos turned out and at the same time allowing us to hone the above standards. Thank you Discovery Education and Dr. Lodge McCammon for adding this fun and innovative activity to our to curriculum and classroom.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another Email

This is a copy of an email I sent out to the staffs of the two schools I work with this year. 

Every once in awhile I am asked about what we do in Oneco's Gifted Program or what is meant by "We are a Laboratory and NOT a Factory" and I do my best to explain. I have talked about Constructivism Learning Theory, Challenge Based Learning and students honing a multitude of cross curriculum academic standards through their experiences. Yet, the process goes much deeper than that. Recently, I read a fantastic article from 2008 "School as Inquiry" by Steven Wolk and thought it really does a great job of explaining the principles behind our projects and activities well. Different verbiage is used, but the principles and concepts are the same. In fact another author said it best-"Well, as long as real, student-driven inquiry is at the core, what's in a name?" I think my favorite quote from the article is,"An inquiry-based schools at there very best do not just practice inquiry with their students, they also invite -even expect- teachers to use inquiry to improve their practice." With that said, please know that I am consistently working to improve our process and helping prepare students for their futures through these types of activities. I have read several books that have explored these principles. My favorite being Starting from Scratch by Steven Levy that was given to me by Linda Rollyson (one of the BEST) before she retired five or six years ago. Also, strategic reading skills have been incorporated into our endeavors; including the lessons from both The Primary and Intermediate Comprehension ToolKits throughout the last three years.  I am currently devouring and loving the book several of you are reading Inquiry Circles: Comprehension and Collaboration by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (thanks Liz Reilly for the recommendation). I actually will be part of an informal book club based on this book with a teacher or two from other schools. As well as, being in constant communication with other teachers from around the world implementing Challenge Based Learning on Apple's Challenge Based Learning Community Website , Twitter, Facebook and email.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Oneco's Gifted Program Newsletter-Spring 2012

Dear Parents,

A couple of months ago I heard a speaker say, “Your school should have an academic focus not a project focus.” This is a statement I full heartedly agree with. However, just because projects are present does not mean that the academics have taken a backseat. On the contrary, they are as front and center as ever before and as I have stated in the past I throughly believe in the Gifted Program's motto WE are a Laboratory and NOT a Factory. Personally, I feel that by isolating skills we never quite get to the deep problem solving skills needed to prepare our students for their future. The gifted students have worked on several quality projects that demonstrate this principles this quarter. 

First our Healthy Eaters’ Campaign was released and the students have spent some time promoting it. Fifth grade students were in charge of creating a brief survey that Ms Brigance, Ms. McDonald and Ms. Schade so graciously allowed their students to participate in. After that data was collected these students created triple bar graphs, analyzed the data and created a plan to promote our campaign to optimize its effectiveness. After FCAT, we will again ask these three classes to complete our survey again use the data to evaluate the campaigns effectiveness.

Grade 2 students have been exploring Manatee County Schools’ Strategic Objectives and creating a grade level ePortfolio. The Four Strategic Objectives are rooted in The District of Manatee County School’s Mission Statement and is at the core of educations throughout the county. These students have spent a great deal of time reading through The Strategic Objectives and using a graphic organizer (called a Frayer) to break down the rubrics to help them define each Strategic Objectives. Then students wrote and video taped reflections that demonstrates not only their understanding of each, but also how they relate to real tangible things in their lives.

 Grade 3 has been investigating Simple Machines. They have built each machine using legos and other classroom materials and discovered ways to make the workload less difficult. These students also created paper slideshows, much like “Common Craft Videos”. These videos can be found linked on Oneco’s Gifted Website under Gifted Highlights.

Grade 4 are continuing to work their way through Navigate Your World, where they have been learning about basic geography. Soon after FCAT, these students will be learning to use both compasses and global positioning systems.

 Finally, our 5th graders also work together to compete in The Fizz Dr. Lodge’s Video Challenge hosted by Discovery Education. For this challenge the student learned the Kinesthetic Lectures for a song, based on an academic content, in our case geography. We worked with the song entitled “People Move”, which covers The Five Themes of Geogaphy. This has served as a great review for us as we make our way back into Navigate Your World, geocaching and Challenge Based Learning. Our video can be found linked on Oneco’s Gifted Website under Gifted Highlights.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DEN Summer Institute Application

Here is my application for the DEN Summer Institute in Montana this summer. I was lucky enough to attended DEN Summer Institute in Boston in July 2010.  Where I met some wonderful educators from around the country, learned a ton and brought back many wonderful ideas I still use in my classroom today.  I really want to be chosen to attend this year's event and each week I open up the DEN Update email hoping and praying my name will make that list. So far, I have not been part of the lucky few, but my fingers are still crossed that by March 26th it will be.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

FETC 2012 Update

I did want to give a brief update of the highlights from my trip to FETC last week. It was a busy week with lots of talk about Mobile Devices, Apps, Web 2.0 sites and digital textbooks.. I really could go on and on, but I think I need to stick to the highlights.

First, I was able to spend a fantastic day with Discovery Learning.  Who brought in Dr. Lodge McGammon and Katie Gimbar from North Carolina to learn one take video ideas for the classroom. Here is what is a list of ideas discussed with links video explanation of each:

        Flipping the Classroom-
            Katie Gimbar -Why I Flipped My Classroom
            Dr. Lodge McGammon-Flipping the Classroom

         Teach Concepts with creating a Music Video- This was a blast.
            Dr. Lodge McGammon- Explaining the process

        Paper Slide Video to Differentiate
            Dr. Lodge McGammon-Explaining the process 



Then there were two Keynote Speakers that I personally found fascinating:
        Michael Wesch-Wired Magazines

 He discussed how when new media is introduced  the rules of communication and the structure of society changes. Interesting not just as an educator, but as a person. Really made me think.

        My favorite speaker was Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs/
Executive Director of Curriculum Mapping Institute
        Love her idea of Strategic Upgrades!