I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

The Whole Child: Putting the Pieces Together

My Why and What Happened

I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it. Make a difference…we’ve heard the phrase a million times, but my “why” has deep meaning for our society: the world needs change, and who better to serve as active agents for change, than those who work directly with the future adults of our world? I get to work with the young citizens of our country when they are just 5 and 6 years old, for 10 consecutive months of their lives, seeing them for more hours in the day than their parents even get to see them. And even though I may only work with an average of 20 students each year, I can use my voice to help impact education at my school, in my district, and abroad, through the tools we have access to in this day in age.

When I picture myself making a difference, I envision a class of Kindergarteners with no more tattling, because they’ve learned to work out their differences without my help. I envision a group of students who can build and create to display their thinking, because they aren’t one-dimensional students who need paper/pencil every time. I envision students who collaboratively put their different strengths together to solve a problem, rather than preferring to work alone because it’s easier. I envision students pursuing their personal passions, even if no one student’s learning path looks the same as another, to become experts in what matters to them. These are ways I envision myself making a difference…creating group after group of prepared and thoughtful citizens, who will eventually become the adults and leaders in our society.

These are the thoughts and visions that led me to get my degree in Elementary Education, but these are also the thoughts and visions that temporarily came to a screeching halt when I was thrown out on my own during my first year of teaching. In our district, state, and nation, there is a large emphasis on the curriculum standards, particularly CORE standards (English Language Arts and Math), that students are expected to master by the end of each year. In elementary schools throughout the state of North Carolina, we have even transitioned to Standards Based Grading, where students are given a 1, 2, or 3 in each particular curriculum standard. I became a teacher to make a difference in our world and the people living in it, but without even realizing it, my focus had shifted to standards, standards, and more standards. As a first year teacher, and really as a teacher with any level of experience, the amount of “standards” that need to be taught and assessed each quarter seems astronomical; so naturally, this becomes the focus, and for me, it overshadowed the whole reason I became a teacher. At this point in my career, teaching the standards became like checking off a mandatory checklist that drove all my instruction. When teaching becomes centered around checking off boxes, our lessons lose relevance for the learners; and for me, I lost sight of the big picture, my why. 

Teachers can’t get rid of the curriculum we’re expected to teach; in fact, we do need a curriculum to guide us and to ensure that our students are getting similar experiences, are being held to a set of common, high expectations, and are learning content skills that will help them be successful in the real world. But finally I realized…there are effective teachers out there finding a way to get it ALL in, not just the standards, but the real-life, 21st century learning skills also. After a year of building a comfort level with the curriculum and taking baby steps in 21st teaching and learning, I was ready to bring back my “why,” and more than before, make a real and true difference in the lives of students. Teaching the whole child isn’t simply about training a book-smart society, it’s about teaching the standards AND MORE.

Things are Looking Up

I am honored to be a part of the Instructional Leadership Team for my school, where we hear directly from our district, take part in learning about components of our district’s vision, and discuss as a team how we will tie these components into our school’s personal plan for improvement. It has been so refreshing to be a part of our district’s movement to #becomebetter for students, and to understand our new emphasis on both the standards and the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity). The 4Cs really are the foundation of relevant, 21st century learning…the 4Cs line up with all those visions I mentioned above. And even our district is now saying that these 2 things are linked together, so when I’m teaching the standards, I should be having the students learn and practice the standards by communicating and collaborating with one another, thinking critically, and coming up with creative solutions and ways of displaying their learning. When digging into our district’s vision, there is a new emphasis on teaching the WHOLE child…this is music to my ears! Teaching effective life skills is no longer something I feel like I have to creatively sneak into my day; I am actually being asked to align my why with the standards I am expected to teach.

Standards AND 4Cs

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So how are we doing it in Kindergarten? Now that we’re starting to get over the first month of K beginning of the year hump, we used a fun project as a springboard for introducing the 4Cs as our foundation for the school year. This is a project that Linnea Gibson introduced me to and co-taught with me during my first year of teaching, but doing it again year 4 has allowed me to really link the standards and 4Cs, make it my own, and be even more intentional with the goals and learning I want students to walk away with. We worked with the story Spookley for about 2 weeks, thinking critically about the key ideas and details from the text (standard RLK.1). Students responded to the text in writing by completing the picture and illustrating a scene from the story (standard WK.3). We compared the story Spookley, a fictional story about a square pumpkin, to a nonfiction story about how pumpkins grow and change (standard RLK.5).

 

It is easy to see how we linked this story to our reading and writing standards over these weeks, but to culminate our unit with the book, we focused in on a key detail from the story: the problem with the fence in the pumpkin patch. The fence broke, and many pumpkins rolled out of the fence into the ocean during a storm. UnknownSpookley helped save the day by using his square shape to block the crack in the fence. Our job was to create a new solution to the story: using a chosen material, students were put into groups to collaboratively build a fence with their material. Students were asked to build a strong fence that would not break when the storm came and shook up the pumpkins.

Before making an official plan, we focused on communication and critical thinking. Students first chose the material they wanted to use. Then in their group, they took turns thinking critically about and communicating their individual ideas for the fence, and responding/giving feedback to the ideas that were shared.

Shout out to my teammate Claire Morrison for taking the risk to jump in and try this project with her students too (during her first year of teaching)! This open-ended element of the project is something I would have been so scared to try my first year…how would Kindergarten students have productive and effective conversations without an adult present to facilitate each group? But with a structured protocol and role play modeling beforehand, they CAN! You just have to let them try it, even if it seems like organized chaos!

To make their official plans, we focused on collaboration and creativity. Students each took on a job in designing the plan they had communicated about the day before, and made their own creative, collaborative plan. I also completed our 4C anchor chart shown below.

And finally, we put all the 4Cs together for the final day of creating our fences!

Shoutout to another teammate, Kelsey Clarke, for intentionally integrating the 4 Cs with her kinders on this project also!

After breaking the large task into smaller daily sub-tasks, with explicit modeling and instruction on the 4 Cs, each group successfully built their fences! We tested them with pumpkins, I shook up their fence for a storm, and every fence was strong enough to hold the pumpkins inside!

Final Reflections

It could’ve been easy to skip the fence building part of the project. We had already checked off standards RLK.1, RLK.5, and WK.3…why do anything else with the story? But if I chose to skip out on opportunities like this culminating Spookley project all year long, I would deprive my students of practicing and building on the skills they will need to be valuable and effective citizens in society. If all I did was teach the standards, I would be creating one-dimensional learners, who may or may not even be interested in learning the standards without the relevance the 4 Cs bring.  Most of us did not sign up for education to teach standards, but to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. If we don’t bring relevance to how students are learning, practicing, and problem-solving through the curriculum, our learners will not be empowered, and we will NOT make a difference in the way our society functions. The WCPSS district is encouraging us to link the standards and the 4 Cs together, so those of us in this district don’t even have an excuse to deprive students of this connection that brings relevance to the curriculum. Educators, let’s not forget our why….let’s communicate with one another; collaborate to think of projects like these; and think critically about how to get it all in; so that we can help create a multi-dimensional, well-rounded group of problem finders and solvers that help make our world a better place. IMG_8539

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Voice and Choice for Littles: Kinder Research Project

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In the past, my Kinders have always participated in “shared research.” With a whole or small group, I have modeled how to use various tools for research (W.K.7), I’ve shown how to scan through the text to seek out the important parts, and I’ve shared how I can use this information (W.K.8) to write informational text all about a topic (W.K.2). From there, students used the information that we collected in our shared research to follow my modeling and also write all about that same topic.

And I recognized that while I was on the right track, showing students the importance of research in 21st century learning, I was the one picking the topic, doing the work, giving the information, and modeling the writing. Students, rather than gathering their information through research, were gathering their information from me to write all about a topic. Additionally, students were learning about a topic as a group – a topic that I chose for them to watch me research and potentially one that they had no interest in. I was the one doing, rather than them.

When I asked myself how to change it up and make this a more valuable experience, I was overwhelmed: overwhelmed with the idea of how to give a class of K students choice in what they researched, overwhelmed with how students would be able to independently gather information through research with limited reading skills, and overwhelmed with the idea of how to effectively organize personalized research for 22 Kindergarteners, where they have access to a variety of tools,

It was a risk, but one that I wanted and needed to take. In this post, you’ll see the steps I took to make it happen, the sharing and collaboration that started to take place among teachers along the way, and my reflections on the success of the project.

The Project

I broke the project into a 3 week time span.

Week 1- the research

Week 2- the “all about” books

Week 3- green screen informational movies

Week 1: The Research

I knew if students were going to be researching different topics, they would be working in small groups with common interests. So I figured that learning stations would be the best way to organize the research that went into the project. While I wanted to give voice and choice to students in this research project, I also knew that to make the project more effective for them and less scary for me, there needed to be some structure also. I narrowed it down to animal research, and from there, picked a diverse variety of animals students could pick from. On a simple, hand-written slip of paper, students ordered the animals 1-5, based on their research preferences; and from there, I was able to group students into research small groups. Students’ choices and interests were varied, allowing me to give them either 1st or 2nd choice.

5 animals meant 5 learning stations, and student small groups would rotate through all the different stations in 1 week: the 2 teacher-led stations (by me and my TA) would be the stations where the bulk of the new learning took place, and the other 3 would be more observational-based learning stations. We did one rotation per day during our 20-30 minute writing block each day. Each animal group had a folder, which gave them their task/materials for that day’s research. This is how I kept the stations organized, and, after thorough modeling, how students knew what to do during their station. Students knew that after all of this research, the goal was for them to know the characteristics of their animal, their animal’s habitat, what their animal eats, along with any other information that they find to be interesting about their animal and what it can do. Participating in these research stations would allow me to assess W.K.7, how well and effectively students participated in shared research.

Station 1: Brainpop/Make a Map: I led this station, as students would be logging into their individual Brainpop accounts, watching an informational video, and using the “make a map” tool to show their new learning.

Station 2: Habitat: Students observed pre-printed pictures of their animal’s habitat (located in their folder), and from their observations, spent time drawing and labeling the parts in their animals’ habitats.

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Station 3: “Nonfiction Boxes”: This is one of my “work on writing” centers that students are already familiar with, which is why I thought it would fit perfectly into an independent research station. While looking at pictures/info about their animal, students wrote down observational facts about the animal.

 

 

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Station 4: Informational read-aloud/puppet making: My TA led this station. She read them information about their animal using an animal encyclopedia, asked several comprehension questions for discussion after the reading, and then monitored while they made a “puppet” of their animal. This is the puppet they would use in the culminating green screen project.

 

 

Station 5: Pic Kids app: Students used a grid within the tool Pic Kids to insert photos of their animal and write can, have, are facts about their animal collaboratively.

Students rotated through the stations during week 1, periodically reflecting in their journals along the way.

Week 2: The All About Books

After a week of research, it was time to apply their learning to write informational text. Students were now going to organize their learning onto a planning sheet, and from there, create their all about books. Their planning sheet contained 4 sections for them to organize their information, indicated by pictures: characteristics, habitat, diet, and other interesting information. Students worked for a couple of writing blocks to plan, and a couple of writing blocks to make their books. This was the section of the lesson that addressed the majority of the learning objectives: W.K.8 (recalling information from research) and W.K.2 (write informational text).

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Feel free to use my Animal Research Note Planning template!

 

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Feel free to use my Writer’s Checklist template!

 

Once we finished the planning and writing of our books, students buddied up to peer edit their “all about” books: they gave each other feedback, and checked each book with a writer’s checklist. This was the first time I had my students use a writer’s checklist collaboratively, rather than independently, and it was the most successful my kinders have ever been using this rubric tool! 2 brains are better than 1!

 

Week 3: Green Screen Informational Movies

As an extension of W.K.8 (recalling research), I wanted students to work together to create informational green screen movies on their animal, and consequently create a teaching tool so that others could learn about their animal. Again, I was overwhelmed. How were small groups of Kindergarteners going to take their individual notes and information to make collaborative, collective green screen scripts. I wracked my brain for the best way, and thank goodness I ran into Chris Tuttell that morning! She took the best of my ideas, added her own ideas, and we had a plan.

Each animal small group worked at a table, with each student holding their individual scripts. Students in the 4-5 student animal small group formed smaller groups by partnering up and taking on 1-2 sections of the planning sheet. They partnered together to share their sentences in their particular assigned section (for example: habitat), and from there, partners circled the sentences between the 2 that best summarized and taught others about that section. Then, the partners in the small group came back together as a whole, and shared their circled sentences with a recorder in the group, who made the official script for each section.

To make it kinder-friendly, the script template was structured very similarly to their original story planning sheet.

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Feel free to use my Green Screen Research Script template!

Once the script was completed, we made copies for each team member and highlighted their respective lines. Students rehearsed and were ready to make their informational movies.

As we wrapped up this project, I was left with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I had taken a risk, it actually worked, students actually learned, and best of all, they had so much fun. In listening to their sweet voices in these green screen movies, I can hear a confidence and maturity in some of my students that I’ve never heard before. I love how certain tools can excite students in ways that I, nor they, ever imagined.

Click here to see our final green screen informational movies!


Collaboration Along the Way

Collaboration is where I should have started with this project, but since I had never tried anything quite like it with Kindergarteners, and struggled to find online resources/information of other K teachers who had tried it, I felt like the idea may not work and wanted to try it before mentioning it to my team. Once I started my research learning stations, I got excited that it was working and, with that boost of confidence, started sharing with my team! They were immediately excited about the structure, yet voice and choice, in the research project and started the project in their own classrooms, with slight adjustments/differences that helped fit the project to the learning and needs of their own students.

Kelsey Clarke, one of my teammates, and myself had meanwhile been anticipating a visit to our classrooms from Lisa Poirier, a K teacher we have connected with this year through different PD, events, and of course, Twitter! It so happened that Lisa was coming to observe our literacy blocks, and was able to see both of our projects in action. She got the perspective of my project, as we wrapped up the all about books and started making our green screen scripts…

….and Kelsey’s project, as she introduced and began the research centers.

Lisa, also excited about personalized research for her littles, took back some ideas as she began the project in her own classroom! Each of our projects had slight differences in implementation and outcome, but were all derived from the same common theme and idea.

After we all finished up the project, we used the green screen videos from each class as teaching tools: students teaching students about their animal. To amplify overall student learning, we gave students the opportunity to view the green screen movies of all 3 classes, and then Kelsey, Lisa, and I connected through Google Hangout for some student reflection.

It was amazing to hear students speak to what was easy and challenging in the project, what they really enjoyed about the project, along with the similarities and differences that they noticed between the 3 projects. Lisa’s class even asked for some tips for collaboration, to which students from the other 2 classes responded saying things like “Don’t fight…be kind! Listen to all members. Remember, it’s not just about 1 person’s idea…it’s about what everyone thinks!” These student-created green screen movies became authentic teaching tools, and gave us the chance to connect and reflect with others for added relevance and excitement.


My Own Reflections

What would I change next time?

>Next time, I would start with collaboration, rather than end there. Collaboration up-front will help finalize those challenges/intimidations before starting. Now that this project won’t really seem like a risk anymore, it should be easy starting here next time.

IMG_8415.jpg>Brainpop jr. is such a great tool with lots of new features. I had created individual student accounts, so that students could watch the video and make-a-map in their individual accounts. Little did I know that the video software was out of date on half of my desktops and would not play the videos. So we got creative. Sometimes, we would watch the video as a whole group, then go into our individual accounts to make a map. Sometimes, for sake of time, we’d watch the video together and then students would make a map as a small group, taking turns with the dragging and typing. Next time, I would have my students already familiar with how to login and utilize Brainpop in their individual accounts, and also ensure that the proper updates were already put in place on the desktops.

>I would love to make my stations more rigorous and more learning-packed next time. This time, I had some stations where actual learning and research took place, but other stations were more observational, simply looking at pictures to gather information. When taking a risk, sometimes we add in elements that bring a sense of comfort and make a task seem more doable. That way, when attempting it again later, those original risks seem less scary, and make room for new risks you might take the next time around. So next time, I would like my kinders using additional tools in their research stations, for a wider variety of experience and learning. Maybe youtube kids? NC Wise Owl? Pebble Go? Discovery Ed? Adding a variety of nonfiction easy readers to my classroom library? Not only would I like to add new research tools, but have my students already accustomed to using them when they get into their learning stations for a research project. As research is such a relevant skill, I’d love for student research to become a consistently-used skill, rather than a skill simply used for 1 big research project.

>Quality-wise, Google Hangout was a bit lacking when it came to the visual and sound elements. We’re wondering if there’s a way to connect and reflect more clearly?

>This time, I gave voice and choice on what animal students researched. As I continue trying this project in future years, I can’t wait to see how it will grow. Some possibilities I’m contemplating: How could I structure it for students to choose their research tools? Rather than having everyone complete a green screen movie as their culminating teaching tool, how could I give student choice in the teaching tool they will each create? These are all possibilities that would have seemed overwhelming during my first trial run of the project, but possibilities I now feel inspired to consider, in collaboration with my teammates.

As always, my little ones have proven to me that #kindersCAN. Throughout and after the project, I shared my hesitations with them in trying this research project, and how it was scary for me to turn it over to them, knowing how chaotic all of the different topics and tools could get with a room of little people. But I told them that I believed in them, because they had never given me a reason not to. And as they worked, they took part in similar reflections. Throughout the week, we took time to reflect and describe what we were finding easy and hard in our research. Seeing my students’ awareness and grasp of their own learning, just as I had shared my own reflections with them, was powerful.

Each time I do this project, I believe that it will get better and more effective. And at some point, maybe research will stop being referred to as a project in my classroom, and become a frequently and consistently integrated tool for learning and exploring our personal curiosities……maybe #geniushour is in our near future!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A Whole New World: Being a Connected Educator

I set my alarm to wake up at 6 a.m. yesterday. Yes, yesterday was a Saturday, and no, I was not forced to do so. And as I sit here reflecting today, I can officially say that I GET IT –  I get why all of these other educators want to spend their Saturday together learning at EdCamps. Yesterday’s EdCamp Wake experience was full of amazing learning and connecting; and EdCamps, by design, set themselves up for these genuine experiences: attendees write down what they want to learn about, and sessions are generated based directly off of these ideas. These sessions are packed full of great information…we ask questions, share thoughts, and simply learn from each other! I attended sessions on podcasting, technology for young learners, and PBL, leaving with many takeaways in addition to takeaways gained through collaborative session notes and following the #EdCampWake twitter hashtag during the day.

But what resounds inside me most after yesterday’s experience is a thought that is in many ways new to me, and one I’ve kept coming back to for the past month: the value in being a connected educator and the excitement and learning that it brings.

We, as educators, are so much more powerful together than we are individually. Without sharing and connecting, we would each have to do all of the inventing and work ten times harder. And there is so much going on beyond the walls of just one school. During this day in age, connecting with those at your school in meetings/collaborative planning times isn’t always enough. The more people we connect with, the more fresh ideas we have access to. George Couros’ words resonate in my mind: Isolation is now a choice educators make.

So here are the ways that I am working to stay connected in the ever-changing world of education.

Twitter:

A month ago, I joined the Twitter world, and my biggest regret now is that I didn’t join sooner. I have learned so much from educators in my own school, in my district, and all over the state and beyond since creating a twitter account a month ago. How much more could I have shared and learned by getting on Twitter sooner? Outside from connecting with your own team and school, twitter is the first step to connecting on a larger scale. I have genuinely enjoyed expanding my PLN, spreading the #kindersCAN movement, and meeting and learning from so many awesome educators I never would have known, all through Twitter.

And another George Couros inspiration…

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Looking forward to starting our own Twitter challenge at WES, in hopes of increasing staff motivation to connect on Twitter and join in the fun!

Blogging:

2 weeks have passed since my first blog post, and here I am on post number 3! Even in this short amount of time, I’m realizing how little I was taking the time to sit down and ask myself the same questions I ask my students to ask themselves: How did it go? What could I change for next time? Where am I in my learning? When you look at blogging as a reflection, it’s a lot less intimidating. And really, people learn the most from hearing the thinking behind an idea or the challenges someone faced in an experience. Blogging connects educators on an even deeper level, as we take the time to share, read, and respond to one another’s personal reflections.

Awesome PD that doesn’t feel like “PD”:

Convergence. NCTIES. EdCamp Wake. These are the experiences that bring innovative educators together and inspire us to keep raising the bar. These are the moments that we get to learn together face-to-face, while building and expanding our PLNs with new educators we meet and interact with. In addition to connecting us, PD like EdCamp Wake gives educators the personalized experiences we want to provide for our students: it groups us together by common interests in what we are seeking to learn and opens up the floor to discussion-based wonders, questions, and sharing.

Connecting Classroom to Classroom:

We should never underestimate the value in class-to-class connections and opportunities for students. My kinders are currently connecting with kinders at nearby elementary school Underwood GT Magnet (teachers-Star and Tanya), to learn about community together as they seek to improve the community in some way. We’ve done a Google hangout, used Google maps to view and compare our schools, and have each student buddied up with a member of the opposite class to reflect and share with. (I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our kinder #20Time project and where it ends up taking us!) I share a little bit about this class-to-class connection to to say, that even just in these beginning stages of the project, it has been so exciting to see the meaning it has for the students and how they are so engaged in this authentic learning experience. Thanks to EdCamp there are lots of new ideas in the works for more collaborating across classrooms!

Reading:

This is my weakness…I’ll go ahead and call myself out- it’s that same old excuse of not having the time. But it ends here. I usually keep an ongoing list of all the books I plan to read to further my professional growth, knowing that during the summer, I’ll order them all and read them when I have time. But I know I’m missing out on learning by waiting till summer. So I’m MAKING the time, and I’m starting today. I can’t wait to connect with educators by reading their stories and their learning. And by taking this step, I open myself up to the opportunity for additional book studies with other educators.


This whole idea of being connected is something Kelsey and I just shared about at a staff meeting this past Thursday…in hopes that more would want to become part of this awesome, connected world of educators – a world that I am newly discovering. So one of my biggest joys this weekend was seeing 2 of our staff members, Hayley Parker (3rd grade teacher) and Sarah Kichefski (P.E. teacher), get twitter accounts and join us at EdCamp Wake! While our profession is all about the kids, our fellow educators are also teaching kids. So it’s just as important for us to spread the fire of passion and innovation to other educators, as it is important to implement passion and innovation with our own students. We want to increase the overall impact we’re having on kids. To me, our school is now 2 steps further from isolation with 2 new teachers on board to connect and learn more.

Being connected is all part of how we reflect on our practice. I used to make excuses about the time commitments of being connected, but in reality, we make time for what is important to us. Being connected is a new priority for me…and I can’t wait to see where it continues to take me in my teaching and learning!