Wednesday, July 26, 2017

3 Ways to Uplevel Yourself as a PYP Teacher

Dear Friends,

Here are three ways to up-level yourself as a PYP Teacher:

1. Start reading PYP Bloggers - Here are a few of my favorites:  

2. Using an Inquiry Journal to keep track of the inquiry process

3. Have the 5 Essential Elements everywhere (up in the classroom, 
on the desks, in your plan books, on your displays for other subjects)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Play in the classroom and in life

Dear Friends,

A previously written post, just waiting to be published...


I write from Thailand as the Thai New Year draws close! I love the festival that goes along with the Thai New Year.  Songkran สงกรานต์ - Many only know of it as the 'Water Festival'.  However, there is a deeper symbolic meaning to all that water throwing - a beautiful gesture of cleansing away evil deeds and bad luck. 

New Year always brings a time of reflection. For many of us in education, we reflect on our teaching practices and think about what we can do even better in the new year.  How can we re-arrange our classrooms for better learning?  Could we add a time for a passion project?  Along with this line of thinking, married with the Thai traditions, I have reflected on classroom practices as a way to inspire meaningful insights into our teaching practices. What have been my 'evil deeds' in the classroom? What 'bad luck' would I like to wash away? 

Most importantly, what would I want to tell teachers new to teaching?

The answer has to do with Play! 

At the beginning of my teaching career, I focused on student engagement and measured it terms of how much fun my students were having. I spent hours considering the question, "How could I make learning seem like fun and more like play?"

Later, bad luck hit, and 'play' and 'fun' became bad words for the classroom. Parent requests to a principal at one school said, "We want the serious teacher, not the fun teacher."  Reduced program funding severely undercut recess, PE and all things seeming 'non-academic' due to a perceived lack of importance.

Three books that I have been reading have influenced this year's reflection:


While reading three seemingly very different books, one about classroom environments, one about teaching ESL students, and another about how to do what you love and get paid for it...I was most surprised by the common theme of play.  The Words Came Down! By Parker and Parlini, recognises the value in play when teaching children to learn in English when it is not their native language.  Screw Work Let's Play by John Williams - introduced me to a new theory that presumes that we are at a unique juncture in history where we can choose what we do, based on our passions.  In essence, we can choose to do what we love so that work feels more like play. Therefore, we no longer need to create a workforce, but we can forge into the world of a new "play force".

This idea has me really excited. We know that the way we teach and learn needs an upgrade.  How many times have you heard the adage:  "Our Schools were built for the industrial revolution."  While politicians seem to argue about the money given to education, creatives are trying their best to either dig into their own pockets (@BillGates, Mark Zuckerberg) or trying to re-invent schooling themselves, like AltSchool

We know things need to change.  I have been thinking about every day, ever since I started teaching. Everything done in my classroom, is to try to heed this call for change.  I want to innovate... create... a new system for education! 

But a change in the culture of schooling isn't easy.  However, could it be, like Occam's Razor,  that 'Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, or the simplest answer is the usually the correct one?'

Could seeing play in a new way, be the answer?  Could we make schools more like life, but also more playful and fun?  But wait, Kate... you say-  No way!  What about our deeply held beliefs that school has to be work, it has to be HARD to be of any esteem? 

Such sentiments as Teddy's Roosevelt's quote shares:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Well into a life of putting my passions into education and the improvement of schooling of young children, I believe that learning is playful and is fun - inherently!  It is when we are not learning that school and learning are not fun. How many of us went to that kind of school - not fun because we weren't  learning anything we didn't already know? 

Furthermore, I believe that play is learning.  Think about it.  Consider... Is it possible to play and not learn?  As John Holt's classic Learning All The Time discusses, children learn through their experiences to make sense of the world, and those experiences and learning are not confined to a classroom.   

To me, there is no longer such a distinct line between play and learning or academics and play.  We don't have to have one or the other.  We can have both!  (Which will have to be a topic for another blog!  Ask me about GRASPS, as a way to combine academics, assessment, play and fun.) 

So, if you took this time to read this, comment below: 
Does learning today have to be hard to be worthwhile?
Can we shift our paradigm? Can play and academics be viewed as more closely aligned?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?

Hi Friends,

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?  This question, posted on #sunchat by @starsackstein, gave rise to a lot of thinking...  Do my students work harder than I do?  What have I done to help get students do the heavy thinking? After some thought, three things popped into my head that I have learned over the years: don't give out the answers (even when you know them), ask more questions, and provide some time for students to correct their own work.

1. Don't give out the answers...

Leading a science workshop for teachers I learned the power and result of not answering questions and not explaining things.  Thinking!  In the workshop, the participants had to complete a seemingly impossible experiment.  The participants just wanted to know the answers, when I absolutely refused to tell them how to it would work or if their ideas were on the right track or not.  To my surprise, this only motivated them even more.  

2. Ask even more questions... 

Try this strategy that Dylan Wiliam's discusses in the video above, entitled pose-pause-pounce-bounce. Ask a question, wait, pounce on a students question and bounce it to another student. Do this and your students will be doing more of the talking and more of the thinking than you are!  The result for me has been that I know more about what my students are thinking so that I'm better able to plan, in the moment, to meet their needs.

Another way to do this is to answer a question (or a statement) with a question.  Are you sure?  Tell me more?  Why can't it be?  How could it be?

#3 Provide some time for students to correct their own work...

Today in classrooms, many activities are hands-on, but when they aren't - who corrects the work?  Does student work sit in a pile on your desk making you feel guilty?  Does it go home with you in your bag each night?  Giving students the opportunity to see and realize their own mistakes makes their learning deeper, it is a more immediate way to give feedback, and allows teachers more time for other things that always need doing like planning! 

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Are you a connected learner?

Hi Friends,
Are you a connected learner?  If you are reading this, you probably are and are already aware of the benefits. 
As a part of my Flat Connections Global Educator Course, I have been tasked with inquiring into why an educator should become a connected learner and how does connecting with the world change teaching and learning?

Innovation in Education:  Connected Learning

Connected learning affords teachers the opportunity to see, hear, and learn about a myriad of educational experiences that can be replicated, tweaked, played with, and amplified. When a teacher has a question today, numerous answers are just a tweet away. 
When I started teaching in 1996, I was the only Grade 1 teacher in a very rural school, with very few teachers and hardly anyone to collaborate with.  My classroom was lodged behind the cafeteria in an old, forgotten and outdated wing in the 'old' part of the building, nestled between two special needs classrooms.  No one ventured down this hall, unless it was necessary. Eating in the teacher's lounge was the only time of day when I would see other teachers.  As a curious new teacher, between bites of my packed lunch, I would strike up conversations about how the other more experience teachers might approach a behavior problem or how they might help a struggling reader. I was just out of college and by the looks and comments I got, most of my more senior colleagues felt I must have been "given" the answers there, so why in the world would I be asking?  This sparked the maternal drive to take me under their wing and give me the answer from their 40+ years of teaching, as I must not know anything. To my big surprise, dismay would follow if I had not implemented their advice exactly. I walked away after two years feeling that if I was curious about how things were done in the classroom, it was best to keep it to myself.  
With weekly educational Twitter Chats covering topics like "Bring your own device questions" and teacher blogs that usually end with a question like, "How do you manage your literacy block?"... the connected teachers and learners of today will never need to experience the aforementioned type of seclusion and isolation. And that is a great thing.  
Connected educators share not only their questions, they exchange ideas, resources, visuals, lesson plans, frustrations, joys, and the lessons they have learned along the way.  And we are all better teachers as a result. That's my opinion. Could it really be possible to spend time your very little free time tweeting, blogging, commenting and thinking about education while reflecting on your practice and not improve your the learning and teaching in your own classroom?  

Create:  Create your own PLN

One question that remains, is the question Tom Whitby asked in his article The Connected Conundrum - How do we connect the non-connected educators?  Things like Connected Educator Month are designed to do just that, but the educators that participate are usually the ones who are already connected. 
To illustrate this point, last year, I lead a workshop entitled, Developing Your Own PLN. I was surprised to find out that many teachers at the conference had yet to be exposed to this term, so didn't sign up to attend. The few who did take part were the already connected learners and tech leaders of schools. It was a great audience, with a lot to share, but I wasn't reaching the non-connected. 
So, should this reach any of you just starting out on your connected learning journey... here are some resources to get you started:  




Can you relate to teaching in isolation? What's your opinion-should teachers be connected?  Does it change teaching and learning?  I'd love to hear your story...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Breaking Down the Walls

Hi Friends,

Receiving a Grant, joining the Flat Class Global Educator Course (FCGE), and reading so many incredibly helpful blogs has invigorated my desire to blog and share what is going on in my classroom. I hope it may be useful!

Innovate -

This year, along with a small team and virtual friend that I have never met, I put forward a grant for the 2014 LRNG Educator Innovator Grant. While we were not one of the LRNG Grant recipients who received full funding, we were happily awarded a with small inquiry grant to break down the walls of our classroom, transcending time and space, to create connected learning spaces for our young learners. A large part of the grant was a vision that isn't possible with the small stipend, so in our search for other ways to break down the walls of our classroom, we look at connected learning projects that we could join. The first one that we, Dianne Shapp, (the teacher who I have only met through online collaboration projects) and I, have taken on is to sign up for the Globally Collaborative projects - Walking The World and the K-2 Building Bridges Flat Class Project.  Add to that the Flat Connections Global Educator Course and you have a winning combination for 'flattening' our classrooms. I hope to bring you along with me on this journey!

Create - 

Here's my create tip for this post:  Use Thinglink to create resource for your classroom.
Thanks to two colleagues and my FCGE class, I have been introduced to Thinglink.  After hearing about it for the third time in a week, I finally had the opportunity to spend some time figuring out this easy to use tool. Which, like as many of you must do, consists of watch Youtube Tutorials on how to navigate the app. Here's one of the ones I watched.
Here is the product of my learning. While playing around I created a resource for a lesson tomorrow: Tiger Thinglink.  We are studying endangered animals, and I have used the Tiger as a case study, since we have Tiger Kingdom right around the corner from our school and we live in an area where tigers very recently roamed freely.  I only created a few little dots (tags) on the Tiger and hope to co-create more with my class tomorrow as a way of showing how we might create a digital resource to inform and share with others as a way of taking action.

Relate - 

Whether its time spent of breaking down the walls of the classroom, preparing to connect learners, learning new technologies, or just having time to plan for my class, or provide feedback on assignments; I never seem to have the time for it all.  Can you relate?
When do you find time to blog?  Do you often blog in your head, only to find that those thought never reaches the page, let alone the screens of others?
It's an important question, it is part of the IB PYP Learner Profile that I teach - Balance.  How do you find balance?  Balance between work and play?  Work and family?

I'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mindful Teaching in the Mornings

Dear Friends,

I learn so much from reading all the great teaching blogs out there. It is late Sunday night here in Thailand, and I want some inspiration for the week ahead.  Where do I go?  Bloglovin'...  Clicking on blog, lead to another and another and I ended up at  A Teeny Tiny Teacher.  I read an old post of hers about her alternative to clip charts. I just can't wait to use her gold ticket system as a gold PYP Learner Profile ticket system.  Kristin you rock and I wish I would have read this posts back when it was originally posted. 

A Teeny Tiny Teacher
One of my continuing goals as a learning and teaching professional is to be more of a blog content creator rather than just a blog consumer.  Yes, this was my New Year's goal and I am still working towards it!  I always feel like I have nothing to share, but if these creative teachers didn't share their ideas, where would I get so many of the great things I do in my classroom? So, in the spirit of sharing, I hope to tackle my writer's block, be a risk-taker and blog more about what goes on in my second grade classroom. 

One of the conundrums we as teachers face, is how to organize those first few minutes in the morning when kids are entering the room... possibly over excitedly to be back at school, or feeling shy and maybe even a little tired, or with news of having just lost a tooth, or maybe hungry without having had a meal before they were rushed out the door at 6:30 to catch the school bus for their hour ride. 

Our precious little ones are looking to us for attention and approval, yet as teachers we a million and one other things need to do including taking attendance, managing the lunch count, saying the Pledge of Allegiance (America), or standing for the King's anthem (Thailand), collecting homework, sign-up sheets, talking to parents who are dropping off their kids, etc...  Deborah Schoeberlein David, who wrote Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything, a book I am slowing making my way though, has me thinking about these questions more mindfully (ha!) these days.

We, as teachers, are good multi-taskers and we create systems... but even our systems can fail to help us follow through with our intentions. So, low and behold questions arise like: What am I going to do with this homework that they brought in? Are we even going to have time to look over it?  When will I have a chance to figure out who did it and who didn't?  How can I get the opportunity to greet each of my kids and give them a smile or hug and let them know that I care?  Just in the first few minutes of the day you may want to scream Seinfeld style, "Serenity now!"  (and it is only 8:20 am!)

So, what to do?  In the beginning of my career, some 18 years ago (gasp!) getting kids to write was a huge focus... So, I had the kids come in and write in journals to begin the day.  Later on, I started with circle time- doing some good old Calendar Math, then circle time turned into Morning Meetings (Responsive Classroom style).  Doing circle time meant that I needed to be front and center or at least watching from the sidelines if a student was running it, therefore not able to get attendance in by 8:30, not able to deal with a pile homework let alone acknowledge or check it. Morning Meetings were fun and I loved the way they generated a great classroom community, but it did not solve my issues and I did have some parent question its usefulness academically.  Writing first thing in the morning worked, but the reluctant writers wrote very little. Back then, I may not have put the time in to developing their love of writing first so that they would want to write just for the love of it.  Even though drawing and labeling a picture was acceptable, the blank page was just too much pressure for some.

So, without further ado, and curious about what you do,  I'll share my current strategy...

Every morning, when the bell rings at 8:15, the students come in to a quiet room where classical music is softly playing in the background.  They take out their Home Reading Record (a journal where they write about the books they have read the night before),  open to the page where they wrote about their book, and place it on their desk for me to read and comment.  They return the book they read the night before to their book box and take out a new book to take home read. Then, they get stuck into reading.  They can bring in books from home, but the books they choose have to be good-fit books.  That is it.  Those are the rules.  It works beautifully. It is a daily 'Read to Self' in modern terms and a good ol' DEAR for us who have been around the block.  You can see a funky short video on my classblog here

It has been modeled.  We have discussed examples and non-examples - Daily 5 style.  It is working.  The other day, a teacher walked in with an important message and I could actually take the time to receive it while the kids were all silently reading or writing about their books.  He was impressed!  The benefits?  My kiddos are reading, really reading, every night.  They do their home reading and are responding at like a 98% rate. Those who don't are expected to do it as soon as they come in.  I am acknowledging each student, sneaking around to each desk quietly whispering "Good morning." and composing a quick comment on what they read. I told them it was our way of 'texting' each other. The 'text' me and I 'text' back. When I am teaching about responding to texts, they have a real world connect, as they respond to texts night.  They are reading and writing for a purpose and I am getting my attendance done.  Meanwhile, the day starts in a very pleasantly calm, mindful way.  
Free Home Reading Record Template

So, tell me can you relate?  How do you start your morning with your students?

Monday, January 6, 2014

2014 Your New Year Linky Party

Happy New Year Friends!

I have had a vacation from my computer, so I am just now getting in on the Blog Hoppin' 2014 Linky. So, I'll try to do all 5 days here in one post! 

 So, here goes... My 2014 Goal's are:

The main thing we miss about living at home in the US or Ireland, is our friends and family.  Keeping in touch doesn't happen without a bit of effort on both sides.  So, I want to do my part and keep blogging about our amazing experiences as expats in Thailand.  It has been over a week since I posted there.  Here's to hoping for a new start and lots of posts!

I love the Clutter-Free Classroom blog.  In her recent post, she shared great 'frugal storage ideas'.  I love the 'up-cycling' idea, not just for the frugality, but for the sustainability.  How cute are those green and blue can. Now, if I could just find the spray paint in great colors!

Do you use MyFitnessPal?  I love it for monitoring my caloric intake and exercise. You can even see if you are meeting your daily allowance of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Iron! It helps me to make much better dietary choices and also motivates me to exercise.

This may be an unrealistic goal, and I do already have a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, but it can't hurt to write it down, can it?

 I am ready to clear out all the clutter and get rid of any and all messes at home and at school!