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Training Wheels

September 27, 2014

My six-year-old son and I took off the training wheels to his bike in August.  Once we did, he enthusiastically wanted to go out and try to ride right away.  It was challenging.  I didn’t help because I was completely directing his every decision.  School started and I struggled to find time to get out there with him.  We went out last weekend and his frustration level was high.  He only lasted about 15 minutes before he was ready to stop for the day.

This last week I did some research on different ways to help kids learn to ride a bike.  I changed my approach from teaching him to ride a bike to helping him learn how to ride a bike.  Yesterday, we went out again and I started to try some of the techniques I had learned via the web.  He latched on to one in particular.  He tried and tried using the new technique.  He was improving!  After about 20 minutes, he told me he wanted to keep trying but that he was going to adjust the technique.  Within 5 minutes he was riding!  As a father, it was one of those very special moments.  I was ecstatic, and his younger siblings were amazed  He was proud.

The Classroom

Far too often, we have a set blueprint of what we want to do in the classroom.  In fact, we are usually commended on our ability to plan effective lessons.  There is no doubt that planning is important.  I will not argue that.  I would argue though that we, as educators, over plan.  We devise, schedule, and execute lessons that might be hitting on all the necessary standards and objectives but are denying the authentic learning that should be happening in the classroom.

My experience with my son this weekend is the perfect example.  I planned to go out on Friday to work with him.  Before then, I researched and prepared for my time with him.  During the “lesson”, I introduced him to multiple ways to complete the objective.  Sounds good, right?  Here is where we all have to improve.  My son took my help and changed it to fit his needs.  He listened, learned, made a choice, and completed the objective.

I have taken this opportunity away from my students too often.  I try to have an open learning space that allows my students to make real decisions.  Even though that is my intent, I fail.  I don’t mind admitting it because I understand that my failures are just steps along a bigger path.  Not every failure leads to success but every failure does help me grow as an educator.

I learned a few years back that I needed to take my own training wheels off in the classroom.  I needed to let my students learn without their every move being controlled. If they need space, give it to them.  If they know a better way to solve a problem, get out of their way.  Let them make decisions.  Let them fail.   Help them and guide them but let them have their own wheels.

 

 

Our Galaxy

May 17, 2014

 

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Student learning how to knit via a Galaxy. After she learned, she shared her resources and helped teach other students in the classroom.

About 2 months ago, I was lucky to receive a class set of Samsung Galaxies.  My students were previously using 4 generation iPods.  They loved the iPods but within one week they were all but forgotten.  My students use the Galaxies for everything. They are not kept hidden.  They are accessible and are used without direct permission.  In fact, they even know what to do if a Galaxy is close to running out of  battery.  Yes, that seems simple.  But it speaks to their confidence and comfort in the classroom and in using the device. Writing They use the Google Drive app on the Galaxies for most of their writing.  A few students still prefer a laptop over a Galaxy for writing but the majority enjoy writing on the 7 inch tablet.  Here is an example of a story.  The smaller keypad does not hinder their desire to write.  One student has been working on this dragon story for weeks.  The class is also using the device to type their magnet experiment.  After typing directions, they use the Galaxy to video their experiment. Last week, we collaborated via Google Docs to write a script for our second grade performance.  Students were on their device adding lines to our part of the production.  Next week, we are going on a trek around the school.  The students will bring a Galaxy with them so they can document the walk by taking pictures.  They will then write on the Galaxy about what they saw.  They will be able to add their photos into their writing because it will all be done on the Galaxy. Reading  They do quite a bit of reading on the Galaxies via the Raz-Kids app.  The app allows you to set them up with a folder of books that is on their level.  They also do most of their research reading via the Galaxies.  My students are always researching things that interest them.  They use the Galaxies to learn new information and take notes before presenting to the class. Apps and more There are thousands of Google Play apps to choose from.  Some are better than others but that is no different than the iTunes store.  We recently finished a checkers tournament using the Galaxies.  We have explored matter and molecules, worked on addition and subtraction fluency, problem solved, explored the world via Google Earth, and much more. This is important The vast majority of my students have parents with iPhones.  From what I have gathered from the students, many also have iPads.  There is no doubt that Apple has great products.  I say that with confidence as I type on my Macbook Pro and check my iPhone for missed messages.  But, I previously had a Samsung Galaxy 2 and a Kindle Fire.  Both helped me learn a different operating system.  That has helped me as an educator.  I think our students need the same exposure. Below are pictures of a few ways we are using the Galaxies in the classroom.  In addition to the pictures below, you can view a few more pictures here.

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Students are using the Galaxies to video science experiments, plays, Lego demonstrations, dances, and puppet shows. This picture is from a puppet show performed by a few of the students.

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The students are using IOS and Android devices together. This enables them to make tool decisions. This is a critical element when developing independence. The devices are always out on tables or in the closet with the door open.

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My students do a lot of research. The Galaxies are great for research. We bookmarked KidRex and the students prefer to use Voice Search more than typing.

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Even though I have enough for everyone, they often choose to collaborate and share rather than have their own.

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The students like to “travel” via Google Earth. The Galaxy is great for that. In this picture, a student is traveling through Hershey Park’s Chocolate Factory. They did this on their own because we were reading a book on Milton Hershey.

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We recently had a paper making project. These students were interested in origami. So, without direction, they used a Galaxy to find a video on origami sharks. This is the end result.

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We obviously use the devices for apps as well. This picture is of an app that enables students to see molecules within objects.

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Research

Polar Vortex + Inside Recess = Creativity

January 12, 2014
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A few girls created costumes.

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Summarizing the Warrior Book she is reading. :)

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Academic Choice: choosing to do math during recess!

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8 boys working on one marble run = collaboration, creativity and critical thinking

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One student created a math game. The dragon shoots math problems that need to be answered. Trying to get this idea turned into an app by high school students in our division.

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Costume design

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Drawing a character from Warrior series.

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Boys created a football field and football players using straws and Legos.

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Marble run

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This student got a new keyboard for Christmas and wanted to practice at school.

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Character creation

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Building and collaborating

Victoria Soto

December 14, 2013

The Oxford dictionary defines tragedy as “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress”. Baby Boomers discuss where they were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Millennials talk about where they were when the Twin Towers were hit on September 11, 2001. These tragic events have shaped our country into what it is today.

December 14, 2012 is now etched in the minds of every generation. One year later, the Sandy Hook School tragedy is still looming as one of the darkest days in American history. I remember being outside during recess when my colleagues and I first learned about the tragic event. It was a surreal and saddening moment. As I watched 60 five-year olds play joyfully on the playground, I struggled to grasp the horrific events that happened just 360 miles away.

As an educator, my number one priority is to keep my students safe. Every school across this great nation as this same goal. Sandy Hook Elementary was no different. Neither was Victoria Soto. I didn’t know who Victoria was before December 14, 2012.

After December 14, 2012, her heroic act will forever touch my heart.

Ben Harper wrote a beautiful song titled, I Shall Not Walk Alone. I can’t listen to the song and not think of Victoria and all those lost on that tragic day. Victoria’s memory should be carried on by all educators. Most of us say we would do anything for our students. Victoria did. She gave her life. In return, she should be honored and revered for her sacrifice. Furthermore, she, the teacher, taught us all a lesson. That love is real. Thank you.

Connected Educator Tweetup: Meriwether Lewis Elementary’s vision of Choice and Comfort

October 18, 2013
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Students need opportunity to choose to sit where they are comfortable and able to work to their full potential.

Today, the Meriwether Lewis Elementary School staff participated in a global tweetup.  With October being Connected Educator Month, the MLES staff wanted to showcase how choice and comfort have become common place in our school.  Below are pictures from todays tweetup.

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Choice in presentation tool: Not all students want to present the same way so they must be given presentation options.

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Choice in learning: students completing independent or partner research projects on topic of their choice.

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Hallway: Hallways are learning spaces not punitive places. This student left the room during snack so he could continue to work on his research.

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Some students need to be able to move even when they are sitting. Meriwether Lewis’ principal and assistant principal bought at least one of these Hokki stools for every classroom.

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Choice in presenting

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Tool Choice: At Meriwether Lewis Elementary, we are mixing Android and Apple products so our students can make tech tool choice decisions.

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In a third grade classroom, students are allowed to sprawl out on the floor in the cubby area. They are comfortably working hard.

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In library, students are using ipads and Galaxies to research, learn, make and create.

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In kindergarten, students are making designs of their choice and also choosing where to sit or to sit at all.

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In that same kindergarten classroom, some students are opting to create via Kidpix instead of with marshmallows.

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Next door in another kindergarten class, students are creating on the computer in seats that allow them to move and be comfortable. 6 year olds are very good at making decisions when given the chance to do so.

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Meriwether Lewis Elementary has an outstanding art teacher who leaves building tools out in the hallway for students to create with.

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In a third grade classroom, the students are sitting and standing while creating Greek amphoras.

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In that same classroom, the teacher has changed the lighting to increase student comfort.

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Choice in tools: In a second grade class, the students gathered natural resources and created wigwams.

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Students create in and outside the school…the creativity we see here happens because students are given opportunity to make creative decisions.

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Meriwether Lewis Elementary School is adapting hallways to enable students more comfortable and creative learning spaces.

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Math stations: This 1st grade teacher enables her students to choose which station is best for them.

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That same teacher creates word study menus to allow her students choice in learning.

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When given opportunity to have academic choice, students will work hard to learn and teach.

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Choice seating

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In this 1st grade classroom, the teachers provides choice seating by the window and that areas also serves as a creation station.

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Other students in that same class are creating throughout the room using stools they love.

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Kindergarten students build and problem solve using an assortment of resources provided by the teacher. They are building their capacity to fail as well as making decisions.

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Next door, this kindergarten teacher’s closet is open for her students to grab resources. Mi armario, su armario

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5th graders helped 2nd graders build a teepee. The teacher stepped back and let the students make every decision when building.

There were tweets from all across our school today.  There were tweets on comfort, choice, and combinations of both.  You can check out the entire tweetup here.

Today was a great day.  This tweetup offered a window into our school.  We are building and growing but in no way are we finished.  As a staff we are learning.  You can learn along with us by following #mlsstaff and our twitter handle, @MeriwetherLES.

Engaging Literacy

September 20, 2013

This week we have been working on story plots.  We started with the question:

 What is the plot of a story?

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 A few students sort of had the idea but mostly everyone was not quite sure.  Then we broke down the plot of The Three Little Pigs.  The students told me what happened in the story.  We wrote the plot down into different steps.

 I introduced stop motion videoing to the students with this app.  I also showed them this video from my kindergarten students last year.

 From there they formed groups and started to create a story/plot of their own.  Each group developed a simple story and wrote a script with the plot.

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After they created their script, they began creating characters and a setting.  Some students sketched out their setting before actually deciding on what to do.

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 They shared their scripts.

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They worked through snack (their choice) and began building their set.

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Here are the videos and plots.   (They typed this and proofread their work.)

 The Three Little Pigs go Sailing

1.  The three little pigs are on boat.

2.  The three little pigs are reading the book, The Three Little Pigs.

3.  The pigs are on a hammock.

4.  The wolf is in the water.

5.  The wolf sees the boat.

6.  He puts his hand out and tries to stop the boat .

7.  But the wolf cant stop the boat and the wolf falls of the boat.

A raccoon tries to get into a house to get food and gets stuck in the cat door. (plot)

1.  raccoon smells food

2.raccoon finds cat door

3.raccoon walks to cat door

4.raccoon pokes his head in cat door

5. raccoon gets stuck in cat door

6. a man hits the raccoon   the end.

 http://www.nicertube.com/3ba5je57

Plot: A bear doing a back flip.

1 The bear walks to the a party.

2 stared to dace.

3 he dose a back flip.

4 walks a way.

5 he lives happily ever after.

 http://www.nicertube.com/mqx8x4dm

The Football Game with the Mean Coach

1.  The coach quits.

2.  The football players go to practice before the game.

3.  Then the new mean coach comes.

4.  The the mean coach gives them a potion.

5.  Finally the nice coach returns and they win the game.

http://www.nicertube.com/2pe6bxgb

Build to Write

August 31, 2013

We have been back in school for 8 days.  For most of those days, I have had students attempting to build marble runs.  This was not a teacher directive.  They just love playing and investigating with marbles.

Today I challenged my students to either build a marble run or a tower. As they built, they had to record directions.  The project was a great success.  The students were engaged and they truly took a scientific approach to building and writing.

They were engineers.  This student combined two blocks using a rubber band so that the marble would roll over the blocks.

They were engineers. This student combined two blocks using a rubber band so that the marble would roll over the blocks.

Some finished while others still want to continue to recreate.

Some finished while others still want to continue to recreate.

They shared and taught 1st graders how they built it.

They shared and taught 1st graders how they built it.

They were unique and authentic.  This was a Greek house.  Now another student wants to learn about Greece.

They were unique and authentic. This was a Greek house. Now another student wants to learn about Greece.

Most importantly, they had fun collaborating and writing.

Most importantly, they had fun collaborating and writing.

Some chose to make small marble runs.

They deliberated as they collaborated.

They deliberated as they collaborated.

They measured as they built.

They wrote detailed instructions.

They wrote detailed instructions.

They were creative.

They were creative.

photo (15)Student Choices: partner choice, space choice, tool choice, building choice

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