Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Joys of Expeditionary Learning

I teach at an Expeditionary Learning school. While we do try to follow much of the Expeditionary Learning philosophy, we are also part of a larger school district and sometimes make modifications to how we teach to fit district requirements.

This morning during our Morning Meeting one student, Owen, shared his Expeditionary Learning notebook during share time. What makes this special is that this is not a notebook that we created at school. He created this at home because he is so involved in our latest Expedition.

Our first Expedition was a comparison of families. We began by studying our own families and then branched out and studied and compared our families to families in China. Owen was enthralled with China. He spouted facts about China, made books, drawings and banners with Chinese characters - both in school and at home. His mom told me how fascinated he was with the Chinese culture.

Then we began our second Expedition about interdependence between plants and animals. Our first case study is about how worms and soil depend on each other. Owen is once again enthralled with our topic - worms. He has already completed many self-assigned projects on our new topic. The notebook he shared this morning was just one of those projects.

His mom and I talked again and she said that now she thinks that what is inspiring or motivating him is how Expeditionary Learning works. He is drawn right into the topic by our mystery piece, by generating our own questions, by building our background knowledge, by having discussions around our guiding questions, by reading expert texts and more. I think that she is right. Owen is a learner and Expeditionary Learning blends nicely with his personal style of learning - it tends to do that for most students.

Owen with his homemade Expeditionary Learning notebook.
Owen's worm puppets and backdrop from his presentation on how worms move.
Owen's notes on his learning about worms.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

ShowMe Showcase 2 - Math

The following post was cross-posted on my classroom blog. I wrote it to highlight how we use the ShowMe app in our classroom. The original audience is parents. I thought I would share it here, too.

ShowMe Showcase 2 - Math
Yesterday I shared some of the crew's ShowMes that were about books that they have been reading. Today I thought I would share some Math ShowMes with you. These are also posted on each student's individual Kidblog if you would like to leave them a comment. Enjoy! (If you get this post by email, you will need to go directly to the blog to view the ShowMes.)

Leyton shows us how a function machine works. Henry also shows us how a function machine works. Cheyenne shows a fact family using the numbers 4, 5 and 9. Logan shows us a different fact family. Rylan tells us a number story. Ashlyn explains a name collection box. Abby also explains a name collection box. Charlie teaches us how to count by 25. Asher shows us a little about how to tell time. Caleb shows us 11:30 on a clock. Trey shows us another fact family.

Monday, February 25, 2013

ShowMe Showcase ~ Reading

The following post was cross-posted on my classroom blog. I wrote it to highlight how we use the ShowMe app in our classroom. The original audience is parents. I thought I would share it here, too.

ShowMe Showcase
For today's post, I thought I would share a few of the more recent ShowMes that some students have created. The ShowMes in this post will be all about books and reading. Students have been taking pictures of their favorite books or pages in their book and then recording their voice telling why they enjoyed this book. I love this type of ShowMe. I can see what books the crew is enjoying and I can listen to them talk about their favorite parts or summarize the story. I can learn so much about what a child knows about reading from watching these. I can also see that they have been watching the older crews very closely as they share "Good Reads" during our All School Meetings - our crew is using the same language that they use. These are also posted on each student's individual Kidblog if you would like to leave them a comment. Enjoy! (If you get this post by email, you will need to go directly to the blog to view the ShowMes.)

Reese shares her favorite book in the Magic Tree House series. Cutter also shares about a book from the Magic Tree House series. Jonathan shares his favorite part in an Elephant and Piggie book. Phoebe tells us a little about her favorite Henry and Mudge book. Matt tells us all about his favorite book in the Cork and Fuzz series. Sophia shares a book from the Boxcar Children series. Van also shares his favorite Henry and Mudge book.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Attitude Adjustment

We are having a blizzard today and I used the quiet time this morning to give myself a bit of attitude adjustment. Actually, this attitude adjustment started on Friday when I really worked to shift my focus back to what I love best - helping my students. I watched my crew very carefully and really thought about what they need and how I could help them in the best way possible.

I have been worrying about some of my reluctant readers and so I asked for our Reading Recovery teachers to come in and watch me and model for me some ways to help these readers. (I need to remind myself that I feel like this about this time every year.) I felt so jazzed after these sessions with my support staff. I can't wait to go to work tomorrow and refocus my attention in new areas.

I have also spent some time this weekend browsing some of my favorite books (One Child at a Time by Pat Johnson and Catching Readers Before They Fall by Pat Johnson and Katie Keier) and favorite blogs (A Year of Reading, Reflect and Refine, Two Writing Teachers, To Make a Prairie and Our Camp-Read-A-Lot) and following the #dublit13 hashtag on Twitter. (This annual conference always makes me want to move to Ohio.) All of this has left me feeling uplifted and ready to move forward.

This morning I spent some time watching and listening to some ShowMes (created using the ShowMe app on the iPad) that my students have created in the last week or two. I can't even begin to explain how listening to them puts me in a better frame of mind. Seeing them share what they have learned makes me smile. I now have created two blog posts for my classroom blog for the upcoming week so I can shine the spotlight on these ShowMes for parents. I think I will cross-post these posts onto this blog later in the week also so I can share them with you, too. I am ready to begin sharing again.

This doesn't mean that I have a better handle on all of the "stuff" that I mentioned in my last post but now I am going to focus on adding it in piece by piece while still focusing on what matters most first - my students. I will work hard to keep everything from overwhelming me again. I think know I can do it.

Monday, February 18, 2013


So, it has been three months since I last posted here and the simple reason is that I am stuck. Really stuck. I am still reflecting all the time but those reflections are all jumbled and confused and I can't quite form them into a blog post that doesn't sound like I am angry or complaining. I am struggling with many new initiatives in my district. I am usually very good at sifting through all of the "new ideas and plans" and finding the things that I can get behind. I am still trying to do that but there is just so much new "stuff"* to learn/balance/deal with that I am feeling befuddled and confused.

I can usually focus on my personal goals for my professional development but even that isn't happening right now. I don't have the time or energy needed to read new professional books, blog posts or tweets.

I have kind of dropped out of the online community I was part of and I miss it. I have tried to push myself to reengage but when I do I feel like I can't keep up or spend any energy focusing on new ideas that I want to try. I did try to force myself to participate in #1stchat last night but it still felt forced to me.

I do still love my job and the time I spend with my crew but all the other "stuff"* is hard to manage right now. I can push those thoughts and feelings aside when I am with my students but as soon as they are gone it all comes rushing back.

Yes, I know that I sound depressed and I probably am. I also know that I am usually very good at pulling myself out of a mild "depression" by creating new plans for myself and my professional development. I know that I will get a handle on this eventually. In the meantime, I am simply stuck.

* "Stuff" could include but is not limited to:
  • the uncertainty of working without a Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Backwards Planning
  • BAS - Balanced Assessment System
  • Restorative Practices
  • GVC - Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (our version of CCSS)
  • the application process to the Discovery program - gifted and talented program
  • implementing the 4Cs including explicit teaching and assessing of them
  • the discussions around what creativity is and isn't
  • pay for performance
  • CITE - Continuous Improvement of Teacher Effectiveness
  • World Class Outcomes
  • PGIs - Professional Growth Incentives
  • relearning old vocabulary to fit new ideas - formative, interim, summative and performance assessments
  • Sustainable Learning Strategies
  • teaching other 21st Century skills
  • Integrating World Class tools
  • differentiating instruction
  • creating a teacher e-portfolio
  • and more
(Some of this "stuff" may be great. My problem is that there is just too much of it to manage right now even when I look carefully and pick out the things I am already doing, there is still a lot left.)