Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here I am... 20 hours before our first official "trick or treat" experience as parents and I'm quickly realizing that I'm doomed for the next few years ahead of frantic, down-to-the-wire crafting (which we all know my son will probably resent me for later in's cool... I owned that reality the day I found out I was pregnant). :) Regardless, Jared and I were both SUPER excited to come up with a halloween costume for Owen that met our solution criteria: "has to be unique, not too much trouble to make, and has to be recognizable."  Then we threw out tons of options that we thought might meet our criteria (James Naismith, the Pope, the li'l boy who entered Harambe's exhibit....) then obviously had to choose one that met the criteria (AND didn't push the boundaries of "too soon"... one of us has to be the moral compass in our household... oyi)!   Unfortunately, I can't tell you what costume we chose... we've decided to keep it top secret until tomorrow's unveiling... BUT I can tell you that after we spent time putting it all together over the last few weeks, we are SUPER EXCITED to get him out there for his first Halloween night. Let's be honest.... we're excited to see if other people recognize our solution criteria in action, without us telling them all about it! (Do they think it's unique? Does it even matter that it was handcrafted? Do they recognize what/who he's supposed to be?)  It has been a crazy month of embracing the process, so we'll see how our final presentation turns out tomorrow night!

While Halloween isn't every day for you or your students, this has been a great reminder for me of the excitingly stressful process you venture into with your students at the beginning of each project design & the launch with students.  For you as you design projects, it probably feels a little like this:

  • Phase 1: Define your goal - What big ideas will students tackle in the discipline? What question(s) will drive student learning?
  • Phase 2: Identify solution criteria - What targeted standards & skills will students need to develop in order to be successful in the project?
  • Phase 3: Generate possible solutions - What type of authentic tasks could students engage in to deepen their understanding of the discipline?
  • Phase 4: Make a decision  - What are the pro's and con's of each possibility? Which is the most feasible and still meets the solution criteria?
  • Phase 5: Create, design, implement  - 
    • What need-to-knows might students generate and how can those questions drive the learning?
    • What project benchmarks will help guide the learning? What should students be doing in the various phases of the project (early, middle, and late)?
    • How will students engage in inquiry throughout the phases of the project?
    • What scaffolding activities will help to address students' need-to-knows & the targeted knowledge & skills?
    • What opportunities will there be for feedback & critique, reflection, & revision of work?
    • How will creativity & student choice be incorporated throughout the project?
  • Phase 6: Evaluate its success - Does this project meet my goal and address the solution criteria? Where are your Critical Friends when ya need 'em!? Do I need to move back through any of these phases re-address areas of this project's design?
And for your students, the 3-4 weeks of your PBL unit, or 3-5 days of your PBL problem should feel like a Halloween blitz as well! "What's the problem I'm trying to solve?" (This is when they might write/articulate the problem statement)? followed by "What will it look/sound like if I've successfully solved the problem?" (This is when they'll revisit the Entry Event for "criteria" and probably be introduced to the rubric which will guide them as well.) They will then begin to dream up all the things they can & want to do to solve this problem (This often means you, as the teacher, are creating time for them to do that and guiding them to keep solution criteria in mind while not jumping straight to making ONE decision.) Students will choose one of their many ideas and start bringing it to life (Students will need support in making decisions with many on the table, and if they're making a collaborative decision... they'll need some guiding prompts/templates/matrices to help them in this process as well). With a decision "made" (knowing they may come back to this phase and select another option after they start researching, applying knowledge, and creating towards their decision), students will begin diving even more deeply into questions they need-to-know to support them in reaching their goal (so get those workshops ready)!!!!  And as they gain solid momentum on their research, they'll want to ask their peers, or other teams, if it seems like they're on the right track. If so, they'll cycle back to phase 5 and keep pushing on. If not, maybe they move back to phase 3! Either way.... this excitedly, stressful process is certainly one that supports their ability to problem solve but also gives them voice and ownership in the project as well. 

Here's to many more project designs and weeks of implementation which eb and flow resulting in plenty of creative treats and not so many disconnected tricks in your classroom!

Peace, love, and Happy Halloween!!!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Say it like ya mean it

While on a site visit at Winton Woods Intermediate School last Thursday, I was able to be present for a staff conversation about the science of learning words. Did you know the word "run" has 62 different meanings?! (I'd be lying if I pretended like I haven't been trying to come up with all 62 since that staff meeting!) Since there are so many complexities to words that may seem so simple to us, you can imagine how difficult it might be fore a student who struggles to understand ONE word, let alone a whole bunch of them put together into a phrase or sentence! There was a strategy shared for supporting students comprehension of word meanings which really stood out to me. It's a strategy that I've seen/heard so many effective teachers and school leaders use multiple times, but we often take it for granted when thinking about using this particular for the purpose of supporting students sense-making of words. The strategy is this.... rather than telling others what they shouldn't do, tell them what they should do. 

Seems so simple, right!? Yeah.... I thought so too, until this strategy has been driving every interaction I've had since that meeting on Thursday!!!! My now 10 month old son, Owen, has found his inner-monkey. Seriously, this kid climbs on EVERYTHING!! My husband and I have found ourselves lowering our tone of voice, saying "Owen, don't step up there" or "No no. You'll get hurt" as Owen begins to step onto the fireplace hearth, the opened dishwasher door, the toy box, blah blah blah. Effective? Maybe. But all we're communicating is what we don't want to see him do (as we know it will result in a non-favorable outcome). Instead, we should start telling him what we'd like to see him do. "Come play on the floor" and "Let's roll a ball instead."  Not only does that build an entirely different vocabulary for him (whether he understands it at the moment or not), but in the long run, won't leave him feeling confused and thinking, "But I want to climb! What on earth would I do instead!?"

As an amateur photographer (I have 32GB-ish of photos of Owen now, so that makes me a "photographer" now, right?!?) , ;) I was asked to take Senior Pictures for the daughter of one of my friends at the gym. As I started posing her at our photo shoot today, I found myself paying attention to what can make or break the flow of a picture... her hands, her arm & leg placement, the tilt of her head... it all matters! As she sat on a fallen log, I started to say to her, "don't slouch when you sit" and then the strategy of should's vs. shouldn'ts came to mind. "Roll your shoulders back and down".  YES! She went from scrunchy to elongated in just six words! All I had to do was communicate an alternate method for achieving the goal (one that I was able to see and she was unsure how to execute without guidance.... just like Owen and his monkey-like tendencies...)

At the gym, I know my form's off when I perform a heavy clean. I've found myself getting frustrated with coaching cues like, "you're pulling too early" and "your elbows are out on the 2nd pull." I KNOW I KNOW!! And now it makes sense! I'm feeling frustrated because, yes...while those are true statements (and good to know), what's lacking is a statement of what should be happening at those moments instead. "Use your hips & legs to drive the bar, with arms straight until the bar is weightless." Huh....alright then. Let's try that method!

You get the drift, right?! Pay attention to yourself as you communicate with your team teacher, support staff, students, significant others, children, pets....  What message are your words sending? Are you getting your desired results? How are you communicating, or could you communicate, alternate methods for achieving the goals? What specific language is/can be used to help others make sense of your expectations? Of the message you're really trying to send?

Peace, love, and too many examples,

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Stay the course...

11 years ago, I grated from Ball State University with a degree in Secondary Education: Mathematics. That was also the time I stared into my new reality of a hefty load of debt. As if having my own debt wasn't enough to pay off, I got married in 2011 and now we had collaborative debt to take care of. After the last 5 years of living every day with Dave Ramsey's financial guidance and holding one another accountable for our financial decisions, I am happy to say that as of 12:20am EST on Fri, Oct. 14, my husband and I are officially.....wait for it.... DEBT FREE (except for our mortgage, but after 2 undergrad + 2 master's student loans + 1 admin program, we're celebrating this win)!!!!!!! *loud cheers*clap clap clap* more cheering*

No, I'm not telling you this because I'm trying to help it sink into my head that it's real (ok...maybe a little of that...) but more importantly, because this is a goal I/we've been working towards for ELEVEN YEARS!!! I don't remember every moment of this journey, but I remember the highs of celebrating small victories along the way as we'd say goodbye to one credit card debt or loan after another, and I certainly remember the lows of getting frustrated with working so hard and feeling like we weren't making a dent. I also know I couldn't have done it alone and that the end goal seemed SO FAR AWAY when we originally started. But Friday night, as I hit the "submit final payment" button, I found myself in a sense of disbelief that we had accomplished our goal and this was the moment we had worked so hard for.

What are your long term goals? What pathway have you laid out for yourself to guide you along the journey? Who is supporting you...I mean REALLY supporting you?

What about your students. For most of you, your first grading period is coming to a close. Will you use this as an opportunity to establish long term goals with your students AND a pathway to guide them or will you carry on tomorrow in hopes they have their own agency aha-moment? How will you support them through the highs and lows? What will your celebration look like together when they accomplish their end goal?

You may not be planning an 11 year goal for yourself or your students right now, but I do hope you pause to ask yourself what feels "worth it." Worth the journey. Worth the structure and discipline of yourself. Worth the collaboration of others. Worth the goal.

Peace, love, and eye on the prize,

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Talk to me...

Hello, good to see you again!!! With the beautiful fall weather also comes the first round of stressors of our education system. Yes, you guessed it! First quarter grades! It's even more evident when teachers are focused on ensuring student's gradebook success because their questions and statements to students often begin to sound like, "Did you complete ____?" and "What are you working on?" or event "Have you submitted ____?"

You've heard me talk about this before, but as we get closer to the grading period, it's so crucial that we keep in mind how important it is to talk to students about their growth in learning and not only serve as their task-master to make sure things are done (which, by the way, is probably only "done" with a portion of the effort they are capable of, but they know they have to turn something in and so they do. They are appeasing the system). In that case, why not change the system!? Starting this week, I want you to choose ONE of these questions, add them to your conversations with students, and REALLY LISTEN to the responses they give you! Engage them in conversation about their personal discoveries, their new learnings, and not just how close they are to submitting their task.

  1. What did you learn today that you didn't know yesterday?
  2. What happened today that made you keep on going?
  3. What can you learn from this?
  4. What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  5. What did you try hard at today?
  6. What strategy are going to try now?
  7. What will you do to challenge yourself today?
  8. What will you do to improve your work?
  9. What will you do to solve this problem?
  10. What can/did you learn from your teammates today?
Go ahead...choose ONE. Build it into your whole class conversations, your 1:1s with students as you circle the room, as a warm-up or exit-ticket, and even your smaller group workshops. Next week...choose another question, then another. Before you know it, student's will be thinking with this growth mindset and striving not just to "get things done" but to refine their work in a way that they are proud to present. 

Peace, love, and grading periods,