November 12, 2012

You don't know what you don't know, do you?

After reading a great post today, How to Connect the Dots, from Brett Clark, I ended up on a post from Tom Whitby which really got me thinking about this question, How do educators get to what they don't know?
This overarching question, how do educators get to what they don't know, is a challenging one.  I think of the phrase "you don't know what you don't know," and wonder how do we move beyond it?  I feel I did move beyond it because I felt stagnant in my trajectory as a teacher and knew there had to be more I could, and should, be doing.  But how is this accomplished when teachers may be complacent, simply because they don't know what they don't know?
The model of Flipped PD that I've implemented within my school has been one way to bring this overarching question to the front of our minds- mine included.  One hour a month of face to face time, with consistent and personalized support in between meetings, has provided the time for teachers to think, to consider, to wonder, to dream-- what don't I know, how else can I do this, what do my students need, how can I cultivate this...
How do we get educators to what they don't know?  I know now it goes slowly, with caution and regard for their experience, comfort level, and personal and pedagogical beliefs.  It's about building relationships and trust so that the unknown doesn't seem so isolated and scary, when impending observations loom.  It takes time, a lot of time, maybe more time than I ever imagined.  Consistency, encouragement, celebration and reflection are so important along this journey. 
I think now, getting to what they don't know is not simply about a piece of technology, or starting a class blog, or using the online features of the science curriculum.  It's about getting to know who we are as educators and truly what we believe about teaching and learning, beyond that philosophical paragraph on the parent welcome letter at the start of school.  It's the shift to not only student centered, but learning centered classrooms.  We're changing our school culture through collegial conversation that is deep, challenging, and meaningful.
I didn't know how this model would work or IF it would work, so for me, getting to what I didn't know meant simply to try, and not give up on my teachers no matter their fears, resistance, or struggles.  Growth, change and progress take time, as does learning.  Looking back over the first few months of this journey, I'm awed and inspired by the goals and projects which have tremendously impacted student learning in my school.  We have momentum and I believe this momentum will continue to inspire teachers to question, wonder and seek out what they don't know.  My calendar and to-do list are there to support them all along the journey.

October 2, 2012

Mars Rocks!

From the first week of school in our STEM classes, we have been following the Curiosity rover's exciting mission on Mars.  We check the time on Mars using the Mars24 Sunclock, catch up on @MarsCuriosity's latest tweets and tweet a question or two of our own, and usually check in with NASA JPL's Curiosity Week in Review.  Students greet me at the door with excitement, questions, and their stories of looking up Curiosity at home (or building their own rover out of Legos!).

We geeked out over Martian rocks this week with the discovery of an ancient streambed.  I was so proud when one 4th grade class erupted into applause over smooth, round rocks on Mars!!  But it's emails like this one below that literally bring tears to my eyes, because this is why I teach.

This email was sent to myself and a 3rd grade teacher whose class had read a great Time for Kids article about the Mars rovers.  Check out Renzulli Learning for more information about this unique platform for student directed learning.

September 11, 2012

Caught in a Web

Today was one of those days that affirmed my choice to leave the self-contained 3rd grade classroom and take a leap into the world of being a grades 1-4 STEM teacher.  My first week, I didn't think I would survive 1st graders, but over the past few weeks 1st graders have won me over.  Today was the icing on the cake.
We were exploring the engineering design process and thinking about nature's engineers, like spiders.  After looking at how spiders carefully craft their webs, we decided to make our own web design as a class.

These kiddos were proud of their final design and noticed the different shapes and lines they had created.  Suddenly, one student called out to me to be the "fly" in their web.  Being an enthusiastic educator, I happily crawled into their web.  Standing in the middle of their intricate design, I heard one little voice shout "Dinner time!" and was promptly bombarded with hugs from 20 awesome 1st graders.  Their excitement in that moment was a reminder to me that we teach kids, not subjects, and building community- even in a "specials" class - is vitally important.  
I eventually untangled myself from a mass of red yarn and am eagerly awaiting my next class of 1st graders.

August 17, 2012

First Week Reflections: Full STEM Ahead

Two months of planning, moving classrooms, reorganizing a science lab into a STEM lab, all led up to Wednesday: the first day of school.  This year I have stepped away from 8 years as a classroom teacher into a role as a grades 1-4 STEM teacher and coach.  I was feeling incredibly excited, a little nervous, and a little wistful since I would not have "my own" class.  Class after class proved to be an extraordinary week in many ways.

3rd and 4th graders took The Marshmallow Challenge.  We had innovative design of those spaghetti structures and great reflections on how to build a stable structure.  During one class I overheard a 3rd grader reassure her frantic group, "Don't worry, stay calm and relaxed!  We're in this together!"  That was a pivotal moment for this group of students where they regrouped with focus and went on to meet the challenge successfully.  What a smart kid.  What a lucky teacher.

1st and 2nd grade participated in a simple, but very cool density (lava lamp) demonstration.  Setting up for the first of the first grade classes, I was feeling a little more nervous than I thought reasonable.  But, I'll be very honest here, my last experience one-on-one with a 1st grade class was summer of 2003...  So, the class stampeded came in to the lab and sat down on the carpet to bombard me with questions and bathroom requests.  They were darling, inquisitive, squirmy, and eager to learn.  Our demonstration went just okay, but they enjoyed the end result and we shared lots of high-fives at the end of our time together.  My son is a first grader this year (his class will visit me on Monday!), but I was not prepared for a class full of first graders.  Lesson learned.  I will be better prepared next week!!!

I ended my Friday with an amazing class of 2nd graders.  They were more enthusiastic about STEM than any other class this week, and that enthusiasm was contagious!  We had a ball going through the lava lamp demonstration, but they were a little disappointed that there wasn't a grand explosion finale.  As I reflected on my day - 1st grade fail and 2nd grade win - I was feeling a little ho-hum.  Then tonight I received this email from a 2nd grade parent:

I've been given a gift with this opportunity to cultivate curiosity in roughly 380 students.  While I know it will have its challenges, I know this is where I'm supposed to be and I do believe this is going to be one of the greatest adventures of my career.

And now for the grand explosion finale!

August 6, 2012

Cultivating Curiosity

Today the real work begins.  The STEM program is explained, curriculum maps available, collaboration has begun.  I love my new role in learning.
The “motto” for Z’STEM is Cultivating Curiosity as we share a vision to cultivate curious and skeptical students who understand process thinking, have a mindset that is confident and positive about STEM, and have a work ethic that supports problem solving.  As I watched the live stream for the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, I was struck that Curiosity sent “heartbeat tones” back to the team at JPL.  Curiosity has a heartbeat.  Isn’t that the truth?!   There are amazing young people who are about to walk through the doors of this building and their heartbeats are precious, we're going to cultivate their curiosity together. 

July 25, 2012

How Will We Spend Our Inheritance?

Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations.  All this is put in your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children.   - Albert Einstein

This quote hangs next to my desk as a reminder of the many teachers who imposed significant influence upon my learning, career choices, and mentorship as a teacher.  I've always loved Einstein's way with words, but this particular quote is a call to action to honor the legacy that has been left for the education profession and make our own meaningful contributions.  While one could see this quote referring to education and schools as a whole,  today I choose to honor the legacy that educators have left throughout my schooling.  I share this in the hopes of spending my inheritance of this profession wisely as I continue my work to make a meaningful impact.

Mrs. Keller and Mrs. Stapleton were my 3rd grade teachers who truly changed my life.  They introduced me to my first love- the stage!  My debut at Mrs. Claus in our class play "Santa Claus Takes a Vacation" was a defining moment in my young life and I am forever grateful for how this experience shaped my interests and pursuits in theatre.

Mr. Erikson was my 5th grade teacher and while I don't remember much about the class, I do remember a lot about him.  He entrusted me with a very important job out of the many classroom job choices.  I was in charge of filing papers.  Yes I know it may seem like a rather boring task, but you see, I did it so well that Mr. Erickson asked me to continue my job throughout the year.  I helped him reorganize all his teacher files that year!  In Mr. Erickson's class, I mattered.

In 6th grade, my teacher Mrs. Crider asked us to do a presentation about anything we wanted.  I was set on being a marine biologist when I grew up so I wanted to do something about ocean animals.  Being the child of a foodie/caterer, what did I do for my presentation?  I made an entire scene of ocean animals out of fruits and vegetables.  Oh how I wish I had pictures of my eggplant killer whale!

My 8th grade science teacher, Mr. Arnold, showed me that I actually was good at understanding science through his patience, extra help, and very creative projects.  In high school, my French teacher through all 4 years, Madame Gruwell, made learning French the most delightful experience, even when my verb conjugation wasn't the best.

But my #1 favorite most influential teacher of all time came in college, when I was least expecting it.  Meet Dr. Fred Kiesner.  I had declared a minor in Business Administration and registered for one of his classes, another life defining moment.  He challenged me to scrutinize my dreams and failures, and insisted on absolutely nothing than my best.  Dr. Kiesner roped me into an emphasis in Entrepreneurship (which was perfect since I was set on becoming a producer and opening my own theatre one day) and opened many doors for me through internships at theatre companies.  He believed in me and my insatiable ambition.  When I decided to go back to school and become a teacher, he wrote an amazing letter of recommendation that made me believe I really could be the teacher he saw in me. 

What does my inheritance have in common?  The teachers who shaped my educational journey let me focus on my interests, gave me choices and valued my creativity, they were patient and did not give up even when I wanted to.  Most of all, they believed in me and helped me believe in myself.  It's encouraging to look back and see these examples of personalized learning.

With the opportunity to work with 350+ students this year, personalized learning seems like an enormous task.  I will make a difference through believing in each student's unique strengths and talents, spreading enthusiasm for learning and discovery, and I will challenge my students to accept nothing less than their best.  This seems like a good place to start with my inheritance.

July 7, 2012

Trying on a New Hat & My Blog is 1!

Happy Blog-day!  With Enthusiasm is 1!

Baking is one of my favorite hobbies and I never need a reason to make cupcakes, and I certainly couldn't let the first anniversary of With Enthusiasm pass by without a sweet treat!  THANK YOU to all who have read, commented, and supported me this first year as a blogger!  I reread my first post today and was inspired with how far I have come on this journey, and look forward to the new adventures as a new year of blogging begins.

Putting on My "Coach" Hat 
Knowing I would be my new role as a STEM teacher and coach as I headed to ISTE was helpful.  I was able to focus my experience to learn more about the roles of technology coaches and instructional technology specialists.  I attended the "Standards for Us! The New NETS*C for Technology coaches.  This session unpacked this new NETS*C in a very succinct way, focusing on the elements for the standards:
Visionary Leadership
Teaching, Learning, & Assessments
Digital Age Learning Environments
Professional Development & Program Evaluation
Digital Citizenship
Content Knowledge and Professional Growth.  
This session put my new coaching role into perspective as the NETS*C are no small feat of accomplishment, however, it was also eye-opening as to the depth and breadth of coaching we could provide teachers.  Rubrics for the NETS*C will also be available soon, and there was discussion about the inclusion of language regarding coaches building positive relationships with teachers.  I see the rubrics as a valuable tool in my practice as my school corporation adopts a new teacher evaluation system this fall.

Thanks to a tweet by Sandy Rollefstad (who I met at the SocialEdCon after party as she was just beginning her Twitter account), I made it just in time to "Peer Coaching Panel: Meeting Teacher and Student Needs", presented by Matt Huston, Mary Lou Ley, and Tracy Watanabe.  This was probably my favorite session from my ISTE experience because of the panel's use of video in their presentation.  It was a brilliant choice to contrast interviews from Year 1 and Year 2 collaborative coaches.  I was able to hear the change from a teacher-focused classroom to a student-focused classroom as the interviews were played.  The changes that the presenters observed are that Year 2 Coaches are:
- Focusing more in learning outcomes
- Finding technology to align with learning
- Coach using more protocol and structured procedures
- Don't focus on one tool, focus on lesson improvement then evaluate if there are tools to integrate to improve the lesson
- Have a measurable way to collect data about lesson improvement
Final words of wisdom included that while some coaching conversations may feel contrived, it's important to work through it and stay focused on the work and student learning.

With my "coach" hat on, I returned home from ISTE and found myself sharing this post about Flipped Faculty Meetings by Steven W. Anderson with administrators in my school corporation.  Which led to participation in #flippedclass chat and great discussions with Kristin Daniels about Flipped Professional Development as a model for coaching, which is also aligned to the NETS*C.  More tweets and emails began to fly and now we are all abuzz with enthusiasm for what #flippedpd could look like in our elementary schools and faculty meetings.

As my new STEM meets this week to create our vision, plan, share and learn from one another, I am eager to be part of the collaborative process of developing our coaching model to support student centered learning experiences.

July 3, 2012

A Changing Vision

Yesterday I had to begin the arduous task moving out of my 3rd grade classroom and into the new STEM Lab.  It was surprisingly bittersweet and overwhelming.  As I paged through several of my favorite read alouds and anchor texts, I realized that I will not be reading these to a class of eager students next year.  My favorite read aloud of all time is Roxie and the Hooligans.  I love everything about Roxie, her good nature, her "Do not panic" mantra, how she wins everyone over in the end.  Sometimes I get carried away and think I could write a stage adaptation of the book, but I get hung up on the whole garbage barge and island setting issues.
My finger tips are sore from the stupid staple remover and I accidentally stabbed my fingers a number of times.  The the reality of this huge job change set in today.  I worked all day back and forth between two rooms and felt like I didn't accomplish much.  Then I got in my car and had a good cry (which I just don't do) realizing that I'm in the midst of my own catharsis. Change is so necessary and undeniable.

This morning, back in my classroom and making much better progress, I came across this:

It's called a "Vision Stick," from Native American tradition I think.  I made it during the Teacher Leadership Academy years ago.  The experience crafting my "vision" was very cool, at the end of a long day of PD we had time to reflect and set personal purpose to write a vision statement.  Then, we wrapped our vision statements around the stick and decorated.  It's been sitting up on my top shelf for a very long time and I would see it and smile remembering that experience.

Today, however, I was curious about the vision statement I had written so long ago, so I took it off the stick.

"My vision as a teacher leader is to inspire by example, inform with respect to the tried and true traditions, and to encourage those who are ready for something new."

I kind of want to give my 2007-budding-teacher-leader self a big hug and say, "Look how far we've come in working toward that vision." It's time for an updated version, but first I need to finish packing.

Many thanks to Steven W. Anderson who shared great encouragement this morning and gave me a renewed "can-do" attitude to keep moving forward.

June 29, 2012

Updated! Courage to Be Real - ISTE12 Reflections

I boarded my connection from Las Vegas to San Diego and waited to see who would take the middle seat.  Fortunately for me, the woman who sat down next to me, Miriam, struck up conversation.  After a few minutes of conversation we realized that we lived in neighboring cities in Indiana.  Our conversation continued and I discovered that this was no ordinary woman.  Miriam loved school when she was young and had wanted to go to college but put aside her aspirations for marriage and raising her 3 sons.  With a twinkle in her eye, she told me her story of receiving her Bachelors degree at age 65 and how much she had desired her own cap-and-gown moment.  Now at age 73, she wants to get a Masters degree, perhaps in Hebrew because it's something she has never studied.  Miriam is leaving her job soon to become a full time caregiver for her husband and she was adamant about needing to keep her mind engaged.  "My mind is as hungry as my body has ever been," she said, ever so poignantly.

That statement resonated with me in many ways.  At present I resemble Miriam's remark as I am intentional in my professional learning and growth, an information omnivore at times.  But I was struck by this statement and was in awe of this woman next to me who was a voracious learner.  I can only hope to have her hunger for knowledge and connection when I am 73.  We talked at length about how much we both love technology and our devices, so I encouraged her to start a blog and share her amazing story.   She laughed and said I was probably the 45th person who had encouraged her to blog. Then Miriam looked at me and quietly said that she had written a book once, it was titled, The Courage to Be Real.  I told her it was the perfect title for her blog.

My ISTE experience began with an inspiring and meaningful conversation that formed a new friendship.  I walked off the plane in San Diego feeling confident that I would make the most out of ISTE.  Miriam gave me that extra push, the courage to be real, to be open to the unknown experience that was before me.  I met so many friendly, charismatic, welcoming, talented people and shared amazing experiences and stories with them.  My new learning is tremendous and will have lasting impact on my professional practice.  Presenting my poster station about student blogging was exhilarating and satisfying to engage in professional and pedagogical conversation.  ISTE was a place where we all spoke the same language and were passionate and enthusiastic about the same things.  I loved the energy each morning as a new day of eager learning began.

As I waited for the airport parking shuttle at 2:30am this morning, a gentleman and I were discussing our flight's hour wait on the tarmac when we realized we had both attended ISTE.  Our mutual excitement led to yet another meaningful conversation.  My ISTE experience is wrapped in a tapestry of remarkable conversations held on common ground and in unexpected ways.

I am leaving ISTE with a remarkable PLN who are all so truly supportive and inspiring, and taking with me a deep appreciation for the courage to be real.  I am so grateful for having connected with Tracy Watanabe, Joan Young, Jerry Blumengarten, Rurik Nakerud, Jena Sherry, Paula Naugle, Lisa Sjogren, Heidi Ellis, Matt and Dan at Kidblog, Angela Seits, and Caroline Haebig.  I can't wait to see you all again at #ISTE13!

Miriam and I have a lunch date planned and we'll be setting up her new blog.

June 17, 2012

Worth the Risk?

Photo by
Today I had the chance to catch up with an old friend and former colleague.  In our brief chat, I learned how he was following his passion to start a new venture as an educational consultant and coaching high school football.  Tone can be tricky to read in a chat, but with the smiley faces and exclamation marks, it was easy to read the spark and joy behind these decisions.  He joyfully took a risk to leave the classroom and start out on a new journey.

Taking risks - big life-changing, jumping-off-a-cliff type risks - is exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.  I know this from first hand experience.   Recently, I made the choice to leave the comfort of my 3rd grade classroom and become an elementary STEM teacher and coach.  At present, I don't know which school I will be at or the specifics of exactly what my role entails as this is a brand new position, but opportunity knocked and called and tweeted and... well, I couldn't do anything other than answer.  Exhilarating and terrifying!  

This jumping-off-a-cliff risk is a career defining moment for me.  I chose to try something new where I can focus my passions and enthusiasm and I can guarantee that my teaching and learning will never be the same because of this risk.  

The first weeks of school I always talk with my students about taking risks in the classroom.  Risk is unnerving, it's anything but comfortable, and the potential for failure is looming.  Fail?  Terrifying!  So what, go ahead and fail.  Failure is a part of life, you will fail at something sometime.  There is always a lesson to be learned in mistakes and failing, even if it's learning how to accept failure graciously.  But what if you take the risk and succeed?  Exhilarating!  

In my situation, the goal of being able to focus my passion and enthusiasm is well worth the risk of leaving my 3rd grade classroom.  It's important, necessary, to create a safe classroom environment which supports students taking goal-oriented risks and learning to grow from their successes and failures.  Blogging is one way my students took risks this year as they put their thoughts out into the world, transparently sharing their writing and finding their voices.  Comments and feedback, or lack thereof at times, have been teaching tools in the risk-taking of young blog authors.  Through the collective experience of blogging and commenting as individuals and part of a class, my students were able to take different risks with their blog posts, some more serious, some more often, some still lurking.  I believe that as these students become young adults and find their passions in life, they will be all the more prepared to follow these passions, having had supportive experiences in taking risks.

How do you follow and sustain your passion?  How do you encourage students to take risks in the classroom?  

June 13, 2012

Off to Camp: EdCampIndy

My first edcamp experience this week was fantastic at the first edcampIndy.  Reading about the "unconference" style and loose planning made me a little wary about topic choices, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Frankly, I should have known better, because in a  room full of educators who have sought out the edcamp experience, someone was bound to have an opinion and something good to share.  And WOW did these teachers share!

Discovering new web tools was very exciting, like symbaloo, where you can create a webmix of your favorite bookmarks in a visual app-style layout.  This symbaloo features several web tools shared at edcampIndy.  Organizational tools like Evernote, Diigo, and LiveBinders were also popular topics.

Some new favorite web search tools are InstaGrok, a concept map style search engine, and StumbleUpon, which "stumbles" you through the internet based on your interests.  

For curriculum support, check out Thinkfinity and Edutopia, but I really got excited about Edsitement which focuses on Humanities and has lesson plans complete with helpful resources.  

Discussions about flipped classrooms (or flipping the teacher) came up in every session, and these resources shared as support for the flipped environment included, Hippo Campus, and of course, Khan Academy.  Along with flipped classrooms, we talked about open source content and flex books, like the ones found on CK-12.  To display content in a different way, try ThingLink and make an image interactive with media, or students could create their own infographics with

edcampIndy was a great place to meet like-minded educators, like Justin Vail @TheVails and Jen Wells @madamewells who were powerhouses of information to share and facilitated great discussions. 

I enjoyed the casual atmosphere and open discussions, where there were no dumb questions.  The session facilitators did a great job of getting the conversations started and then turning over the dialogue to others.  At the end of the day there was a Smackdown of final thoughts, resources and take-away moments, which was a really fun way to end the day.  Overall, edcampIndy was a great success and I will be back next year!

April 23, 2012

We Are the Dreamers of Dreams

There is something extraordinary about the Chocolate Room scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Watching the Willy Wonka film version of this story with Gene Wilder, this moment always brings the biggest grin to my face.  It is the essence of wonder and inexplicable delight.

I'm 16 days away from opening night of my own directorial interpretation of Roald Dahl's classic story.   Our moment of the big Chocolate Room reveal has come a long way and it's just about ready for an audience.  Willy Wonka stands at center stage holding either side of the curtain, and with that glimmer in his eye and knowing smirk, proclaims "The Chocolate Room," as the curtain flies open.  Wonka's voice:

Hold your breath.  Make a wish.  Count to three.
Come with me, and you'll be in a world of pure imagination.
Take a look and you'll see into your imagination.

Listening to the song Pure Imagination over and over again, I've begun to hear it in a new way and wonder, shouldn't education be like the Chocolate Room?  I believe all children deserve the opportunity to experience this kind of wonder and delight with the world around them.  The classroom, or wherever children are learning, should be a place of limitless possibilities.

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it
Education as a pathway to paradise?  Absolutely.  Simply look around and see the limitless potential, abilities, and dreams of the dreamers in our own classrooms.  When there are so many limitations and tests and factors beyond my control, it's certainly hard to feel like I'm viewing paradise.  Hold my breath, make a wish, count to three...

Anything you want to, do it
Want to change the world?
There's nothing to it
These are powerful words, words that students need to hear again and again.  I would rank this phrase right up there with Angela Maiers' You Matter Manifesto"You are a genius and the world needs your contribution," and maybe also Ghandi's words "Be the change you want to see in the world."  These are words I tell myself, to believe it to feel it inside and out.  If I don't believe it, how can my students?  Want to change the world?  You can do it, the world needs you to do it.  There's nothing to it.  Do it.

Paradise may be within the eye of the beholder, however, I have a vision of education that fills children and adults with wonder and delight.  If we really are the music makers and the dreamers of dreams then my vision may not simply be pure imagination, but one day reality.  

March 25, 2012

Too Much Testing?

It's been a long three weeks of standardized assessments.  All this testing has me thinking, how much is too much?  At what point does the quantity of assessment outweigh the quality, purpose, and time apart from instruction?  With 27 school days interrupted by standardized testing this school year, when is enough finally enough?

District and state mandated testing serves a purpose of Data collection to measure student achievement and growth.  However, 27 days of testing throughout the year seems ludicrous.  It feels a little disheartening being in a position where there isn't much I can do about the quantity of tests, except to trust that my students are confident in the skills being assessed and how to follow the directions to take the test.  This year, the 27 days of assessment does not include the time spent preparing students on the "how to" of test taking.  My students take their first (of many...) content based state mandated standardized tests in 3rd grade and much of the preparation is simply about how to be successful with the directions and procedure of taking the test.

This past week, my 3rd grades took a state mandated reading test, which, if a student doesn't pass this test the student must be retained in 3rd grade.  No pressure, right?  There was a huge elephant in the classroom all week about the "consequences" that go along with this test.  We did not discuss the retention consequence in my classroom for a number of reasons, but I disagree with the scare tactics of this kind of testing.  

So, when we're not testing students to threaten retention, the assessments are justified as Data collection to measure growth.  Oh data/Data, you are double-edged sword when it comes to the standardized test.  On one hand, I have no choice but to accept the Data because the tests are normed and this is necessary Data I must have for purposes of my state's new teacher evaluation system (that's a whole other post...).  On the other hand, the consistent interruption of instruction to collect Data seems to defeat the purpose-- instruction.  

Assessment absolutely has its purpose, but the purpose needs to be student focused.  Matt at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah writes concisely and eloquently about data and Data:
Any dedicated teacher who truly wants to inspire the greatest achievement in her students understands the value of good data. I get this kind of data from quizzes, conversations with students, observations of what they’re saying and doing, homework, and exit slips. When I interpret the data, I am able to determine what my next steps should be for individuals and the whole class. This is what is meant by “data-driven instruction.”
You see how nice it is? Don’t you want to cuddle up with some data and figure out how it’s going to help you better teach your students? Of course, you already do, and you do it reflexively. I know you do because you understand its value. Any teacher who uses data would be considered in tune with student needs and is actively considering every student’s unique situation. This takes skill and dedication and teachers who use data to figure out next steps ought to be celebrated because they are truly tailoring their instruction to meet students where they are.
Data with a capital d serves a whole other purpose and has an entirely different value, neither of which have been determined yet! It seems that Data is mainly used to point out just how awful teachers like you and me are. That’s because Data essentially amounts to student standardized test scores. Unfortunately, too many know-it-alls in the reform dialogue don’t know what to you, me, and most is self-evident: all students are not the same!  (read the whole post)

The humanity of our profession is lost when students are tested simply to collect numbers, numbers then used to bucket and label student achievement and potential, or used to measure teacher effectiveness (I argue this is also known as "how well students can take the test.").  I'm tired of testing, testing, testing for the sake of Data, and tired of having to tell my students that this is just the way it is and what they have to do.

Sadly, teacher's perspectives on the subject of standardized testing often falls on deaf ears with the powers that be.  Students and their parents are overwhelmed with the amount of standardized testing and theirs are the voices that also need to be heard.

What are your views of standardized testing, "data-driven instruction," and Data collecting?  When is enough, enough?

February 1, 2012

Goal 2: Highlight a Magical Teaching Moment #30goals

I've struggled with this goal as I've been mulling it over in my mind.  The school year is made up of so many magical moments, a mosaic of learning, growth, and creativity.  Reflecting on my years of teaching, there certainly are students who have made a lasting impression but focusing in on one magical moment has been a challenge.  The long-term part of this goal is so important- to keep a record of the magical moments as they occur.  So I revisited my blog posts and found some inspiration and affirmation in two particular posts, Opening Doors with the Wednesday Walk and License to Blog.

My reflection on these two posts with the frame of reference of a magical teaching moment:

  • An ordinary walk can become an extraordinary learning experience and break down walls for students and teachers alike.
  • I am overwhelmed with my students' response to blogging.  Our blog stats as of today: 287 posts and 896 comments.  The collective voice of my student blog authors speaks with such volume and intention as to why I do what I do as a teacher.
This school year I have taken up the role of a learner in many ways with curriculum changes and integrating technology.  I think the magical moments that stand out to me are the ones directly tied to the difference in the way learning occurs in my room this year.  This goal has been positive encouragement to continue to write about the successes and the magic that happens along the way.

With Enthusiasm,

January 20, 2012

When "Children's Theatre" Grows Up

One of my greatest passions in life is theatre.  Since my first leading role as Mrs. Claus in my own 3rd grade play, Santa Claus Takes a Vacation, I have been hooked, (line and sinker!), so much so that my undergrad degree is actually in Theatre.

If James Lipton, of the Inside the Actor's Studio fame, asked me what profession I would do other than teaching?  Simple.  Anything theatre.  Anything.  I could live in a theatre, on a stage, with only the ghost light on.  In my world, it's pure magic.  I feel theatre with my whole being that it's as much a part of me as motherhood.  My rival passion for teaching is equally as strong, so what happens when these two collide?  Children's theatre.

Ok, let's be honest, sometimes "children's theatre" has a stigma of being kitschy or cutesy in a way that it falls into a "not-real-theatre" category.  I've had to work hard to get over that silly stigma in my own mind in order to create an environment that truly allows students to experience the magic I see for myself.

In the fall, I hold weekly meetings that follow a workshop model, using a lot of improv to teach creativity, imagination, thinking and speaking on the spot, and getting comfortable in front of others.  After each activity, game, scene, etc. we reflect with positive and specific comments of what was working and what we liked about the choices the actors made.  It's a very supportive, collaborative, and hilarious experience for all participants- myself included.  The workshops are my way of getting to know the strengths and potential in these children.  Then in the winter we begin rehearsals for our spring play.  Many of them have participated in 3rd grade or in a summer workshop, so by the time they're in 4th grade and part of the cast for the play they have a solid foundation in performing on stage.

This past wednesday I held auditions with the 4th graders who will be the main cast for our spring play, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I had them fill out an audition interest form to gather information about their special talents, performing experience, intent to participate, and finally the type of character they would like to play.  Typically, I'd give them a cast of characters and let them rank their top three.  But let's face it, Charlie..., is a delicious story with some of the most memorable characters in the Roald Dahl collection, and they all wanted to be one of five main characters.  Instead of the cast list, I described the characters by type:
- calm and logical
- extreme and loud
- inspirational and creative
- an elderly person
- good at sharing information
- wise and loving
Students ranked these types of characters and then responded with why they wanted to play their number one choice of character.  Reading through their responses to these questions, I find myself going back and forth between hilarity and being humbled.

Question: I want to be part of this production of Charlie... because:
Student Answers:

  • I think plays just make me feel great and relaxed
  • I love being onstage because it makes me feel special
  • I love to act in front of large audiences (this student underlined large on her paper)
  • I like acting and now I have something to do after school
  • It makes me feel free
Question:  I would like to play this type of character because...
Student Answers:

  • I would like to be extreme and loud because I want to show something I am not.
  • Being creative and inspirational is what I want to be in life and even on stage.
  • (student chose "extreme and loud") It gets the inner me out in the fun.
  • (student chose "inspirational and creative") It sounds like what I love in a person.
Question: What are your special talents:
Student Answers:

  • limited hula-hooping
  • shopping
  • meeting people
  • smiling
  • winning 50pp in Mario Kart 7
  • making high-pitched sounds

The final question on the page is "I also want to tell Mrs. Hunter..." so they can write whatever it is they need to write.  This group was very sweet with their compliments and sharing that they do, after all, like me.   But there was one response that really stood out, it was simply "I trust you."

Suddenly "children's theatre" becomes a self-defining, legitimate, life-changing and hilarious experience.

January 19, 2012

My Me Manifesto, Goal 1 #30Goals 2012

I've loved making videos (like this goofy one) since I first learned how to import & digitally edit on the computer about a decade ago.  So, in thinking about sharing my Me Manifesto, video won out.  Enjoy!

My reflection...
I live an inspired life and have tremendous passion and enthusiasm, so it was actually difficult to narrow down my lists of what I believe in general and about teaching and learning.  Trust me, you didn't want to sit through an 8 minute Animoto video...  There has definitely been a shift in some of my pedagogical beliefs in the past year and it felt wonderful to express my beliefs in a creative medium.  There is freedom in sharing.

January 15, 2012

Don't Just Sit There

Thank you to my amazing literacy coach, whose wisdom, affirmation, and call to action woke up my educational enthusiasm from a long winter's nap.  You reminded me that it's okay not to do what everyone else is doing, and to go back to my roots and hold fast to my beliefs about education.  Change, just like learning, is messy.  Sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back.  

To keep moving forward, I've given this blog a more appropriate title and redesigned with some color.  My classroom is about to get an overhaul because, well, looks just aren't everything and it needs more functionality instead of "pretty. " My class is getting subscriptions to,, and possibly also  There are so many amazing ways to integrate these tools into the classroom and my students are going to love it!  I'm also coordinating Quad 80 for the next cycle of where we have two US classes and 2 UK classes of student bloggers.  Finally, a global collaboration!

When I write about my philosophy of education, I'm always drawn to use a comparison to the theatre.  The hours and hours of precious, priceless rehearsal that finally lead to the performance.  Those rehearsal hours can be rough, exhausting, and yet, exhilarating all at once.  Learning is so much the same, with the struggle to understand and the freedom and release of knowing and sharing.

With renewed enthusiasm,

Your thoughts:  What do you do when you need a little inspiration?