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winding roadIn the fall of 2014, I had an amazing professional opportunity to join a venture called the Cross-State Mathematics Teacher Leader Project. There were teachers from Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana who formed a collaborative group. Our mission was to assist teachers in rural states with professional development to improve mathematics instruction. We were interested in creating professional development modules to best support teachers in implementing the Common Core Standards for mathematics. I had an awesome opportunity to work with educators from various size schools as we collaboratively studied the book Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematics Success for All to guide our work. 

Before reading and discussing Principles to Actions, I would usually want my students to enter a problem the same way and to use one pathway to the solution. This was convenient for me as an instructor because there was a set script for solving problems. I realized that I was doing what was best for me, not what was best for my students.

Learning through Principles to Actions made me realize that my students needed to have multiple entry points to the problem and be able to develop their pathway to the solution. Now, students are presented with the problem and allowed to determine where they want to enter the problem and what pathway they will take to get to the solution. Students share their solutions with each other and justify why they chose their pathway. 

My students are frequently heard saying “Here is how I solved the problem.” Instead of following my old method to solve the problem, students are devising their own path, which has led to a better understanding of math concepts.

Reading and learning about the mathematics teaching practices outlined in Principles to Actions caused me to ask questions. Was I doing each of these practices on a daily basis? If so, which ones did I do well and which ones do I need to do better? How do I know if I am doing things better? Getting the answers to these questions required me to learn more about these practices. My own questioning caused me to choose to focus on posing purposeful questions. I wanted to effectively use purposeful questions to formatively assess the reasoning of my students and allow them to make their own sense about really important mathematical ideas and relationships.  

As I was learning about posing purposeful questions, I reflected on my practice and asked if I was using questions that would allow me to determine what my students know so I could differentiate instruction to meet everyone’s needs. Was I helping my students to make mathematical connections? Was I supporting students to pose questions of their own? Was I using the different question types at the appropriate times for my students?

I realized for time and efficiency, I was asking questions that were lower order and required answers that were more about gathering information. Students gave answers and I informed them if their answer was correct or not. By changing my practices and asking probing, thinking questions, I required my students to defend their answers and explain how they arrived at a solution.  

Now when a student gives an incorrect answer, the student, in explaining his thought process, will usually discover his error and correct it. Students also discuss among themselves their misunderstandings. Instead of being the giver of information, I have become the facilitator of learning. Students are also making mathematics visible through their discussions of problem solutions.  

Through learning about Posing Purposeful Questions and applying this practice, I have found that my students are able to understand mathematical standards and standards for mathematical practice at a higher level of rigor. This ties different areas of mathematics together and allows a focus on the skill our students need for the real world – problem solving, communicating their ideas and solutions, and modeling with mathematics.

If you’re interested in learning how to make these kinds of changes in your instruction, the Iowa Department of Education is offering an opportunity to improve your teaching practices. Join me and other mathematics instructors across the state by registering for the Summer Mathematics Institute, scheduled for June 13 and 14, at Des Moines Area Community College. 

Principles to Actions Summer Institute Flyer - Sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education - Space is limited and filling up quickly!

Additional Resources for Principles to Actions and the Eight Effective Teaching Practices for Mathematics can be found on the Iowa Core Website for Mathematics. See links below:

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Posted by : Scott Kehrberg

The new standards are coming! The new standards are coming! The new standards…..enough already! After new science standards were adopted by Iowa, many of the science teachers in the state probably felt either a twinge of panic, a wave of “not this again,” or a strong desire to “get it done.” I felt a twinge of panic that quickly evolved into a desire to embrace the chance to up my game and improve my classroom.

I dove in without even testing the waters. I attended my local Area Education Agency’s Module One training, I attended a regional National Science Teachers Association conference in Kansas City, and began sifting through mountains of Next Generation Science Standards-related articles, websites, and social media outlets. By June 2016, I suffered some overload.

As the new school year approached I mulled over what steps I could take in my classroom that would expose my students to NGSS-styled approaches without drowning them in new strategies and new terminology. I decided that I would focus on phenomena. I decided to expose my freshman biology students to a phenomena in each unit that will lead them to developing a new understanding. As the first unit came together, I struggled to find an appropriate phenomena. I wanted something that would capture the student’s curiosity but still benefit the structure of the unit. Then I came across a bizarre photograph from the Rio Olympics:

So...forgive the pun...we dove right in! I chose the photograph and showed it to the students. I asked them to look at the photo and discuss it with a partner. Their goal was to list as many questions as possible about the photo. Comments/questions included:

“It looks like Voldemort swam in the Olympics.”

“Where is the nose?”

“Does this swimmer have any arms?”

I was hoping for more depth to the questions, so I asked the students to come up with three questions that felt “scientific” to them. Soon I heard:

“Why does it look like the swimmer is wrapped in Saran Wrap?”

“How fast would the camera have to be to capture a swimmer before they broke through the water?”

“Can water stretch?”

Finally, success!  Questions that a scientist could do something with! That is one goal with NGSS-styled standards: Get the students thinking and working like scientists.

The unit moved on as students started to apply some previous knowledge about scientific methodology and experimental design. Thinking on my feet, I decided to take the phenomena and direct our learning toward how we could apply our questions and develop experiments to test our ideas. The next step was an old penny lab I had used before. How many drops of water can you fit on a head of a penny?  The student’s love the competition of the lab but I directed them to make comparisons about what they saw in the swimmer photo and what they observed with the penny. To entice them to observe the penny closely, I asked them to photograph the penny with their cell phones. We got a lot of wonderful shots:

water on a penny

Now, I started to hear conversations that linked two different views of similar phenomena and within their comparisons, I began to hear ideas emerging. That was exciting.

Finally, how do I link up all their ideas and assess if they learned anything? I decided to have the students take all of their questions and claims from looking at the photo, combined with their observations from the penny lab and come up with a hypothesis about what was going on in the swimmer picture. Once a hypothesis was formed, they would begin to outline what sort of experiment they could do to test their hypothesis. 

The final step (the assessment) was a short student made video (filmed on Chromebooks using Screencastify) where each student described their understanding of the phenomena in the swimmer picture with a description of how they would test their hypothesis. They had to describe the variables in the experiment.

The results are not in. I still have to look at and assess the videos, but I already like what I see. Students thinking with a purpose. Students achieving some sort of “Eureka!” moment. Students engaged in what they are doing. Students developing thoughts not from what they hear from me, rather from conversations with their peers. Again, I like what I see.

My take away is much more revealing. As I watched these activities unfold, I was reminded that the division lines between the science disciplines (life and physical) are blurred. I wonder if we should have classrooms split by discipline. As students work like/as scientists, we should expect that they will cross discipline barriers and we should not be afraid to cross those same barriers in our instructional practices.

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Posted by : brford@lewiscen...

students analyzing slavery documentsHave you ever felt like there is not enough time to teach all the standards? This seems to be a prevalent issue, especially for social studies teachers. As teachers, we want to create opportunities for learning with space for students to use teachers as a resource but yet have the ability to question, research, and find evidence as a basis of their knowledge that meet all the Iowa Core standards. But how do you make this happen so it is not a check off of standards, but rather the development of metacognitive thinkers who know how to share their thinking and work collaboratively? The answer: the power of integration!

When I couple literacy and social studies standards together, it allows students to gain background knowledge and context into topics that pique their interest and meet all the targeted standards at once. Students become actively involved in a topic because they are continually asking questions, researching, drawing conclusions, and guiding me to determine what comes next in the learning experience.

So what does coupling literacy and social studies standards look like? First, consider what you want the kids to know and be able to do by the end of the unit. For example, I want students to analyze historical events and patterns and consider how they relate to each other and their lives today. I pose a broad inquiry question that can be answered in more than one way, but encompasses the essence of becoming a citizen who can analyze evidence and then take action on their findings. An example of an essential/compelling question: How do people overcome hardships? This is broad and can be answered in many ways. For our learning experience, I will be narrowing the hardship focus to encompass slavery through the Civil Rights Movement.

Next, identify Social Studies and ELA Standards in third grade that link together to provide a learning opportunity for students and how I will assess them. In social studies, SS.3-5.H.1: Understand historical patterns, periods of time and the relationships among these elements, will be my main focus. In literacy, it is (RI.3.1) Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers, (RI3.9) Compare and contrast the most important and points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic, and (RI.3.IA.1) Employ the full range of research based comprehension strategies; summarizing. When considering a formative assessment, I chose three aspects for the lesson: a story map because it addresses numerous standards, a close reading passage summary and a comparison of the texts with a Venn diagram and audio recording for explaining their evidence.

Finally, I am ready to plan my lesson(s) to couple the learning in both subjects. Kids naturally ask questions, so I need to choose purposeful complex texts that will allow them to question at a deeper level while considering answers that can be found in the text, but also intrigue kids to research and dig deeper into the social studies topic. When teaching social studies, the events and patterns in history naturally lend themselves to critical thinking, so it is important for me to choose sources that will allow them to see multiple perspectives.

Explicitly teaching children strategies of how to analyze sources is key to their success of citing evidence. In my class, students were asking questions about how slavery ended in the United States. To help answer their questions, I provided images and a KWL chart (graphic organizer) to analyze how slavery began. After analyzing the images, I provided a text set, Slavery, the Civil War & Reconstruction: The Emancipation Proclamation, from ReadWorks.org to read during our shared reading time. We used the close reading strategy to dig deeper into the text.

Viewing the images, completing the chart, and reading the text set are happening during the literacy block. During the social studies block, I integrated an interactive read aloud, The Wagon by Tony Johnston, to incorporate analyzing the primary source of the 13th Amendment. The outcome of this series of lessons piqued the kids’ interest to investigate and ask even more questions such as: How are amendments made to the Constitution? What happened after the amendment was made? Does an amendment stay in the Constitution forever? How many amendments are there?

It is important to consider a variety of sources, perspectives, and resources to truly meet SS.3-5.H.1: Understand historical patterns, periods of time and the relationships among these elements. If I had told the kids the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution to abolish slavery, they would not have continued the questioning process that developed with the lesson focused on inquiry. Instead, it would have been a fact to memorize, more than likely forgotten, and a checkmark by the standard to say, “I taught that.” But, when reflecting on the lesson, would the kids have learned it? When we empower our students to seek answers to their own questions and guide them with resources, we allow kids to “own” their learning.

When we support students with appropriate resources as they ask questions and empower them with thinking and citing evidence skills, they begin to be citizens who can navigate situations, draw conclusions, and make connections to real world situations. Teaching essential concepts and skills while integrating literacy and social studies allows students a platform for deep thinking and understanding – and teachers more time to teach all the standards.

Resources

Reading Passages:

  • ReadWorks.org (You will need to set up an account, but it is free.)
  • Newsela.com (You will need to set up an account, but it is free.)

Books:

  • The Wagon by Tony Johnston (lesson focus)

Other Related Books:

  • Meet Addy: An American Girl (American Girls Collection) (Melodye Benson Rosales (Illustrator), et al; 1993, Pleasant Company Publications) Rosales (Illustrator), et al; 1993, Pleasant Company Publications)
  • Follow the Drinking Gourd (Jeanette Winter; 1992, Dragonfly.)
  • Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Deborah Hopkinson; 1995, Dragonfly.)
  • If You Lived During the Time of Slavery (Anne Kamma; 2004, Scholastic.)
  • Night Boat to Freedom (Margot Raven; 2006, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.)
  • Freedom River (Doreen Rappaport; 2000, Jump At the Sun, Hyperion Books For Children.)
  • Henry’s Freedom Box (Ellen Levine; 2007, Scholastic Publishing Company.)
  • If You Traveled On the Underground Railroad (Ellen Levine; 1988, Scholastic Publishing Company.)
  • When Harriet Met Sojourner (Catherine Clinton; 2007, Amistad, Katherine Tegen Books, An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.)

Graphic Organizers:

Primary Sources (slavery images for analyzing):

How to Explicitly Teaching Historical Thinking Strategies in an Elementary Classroom:

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Posted by : kheckart@crprai...

When Iowa adopted the Iowa Core Standards, I was teaching high school mathematics. In my school’s professional learning communities, we would discuss what the standards meant. We would sometimes differ on what we thought was important when it came to the key vocabulary, domains, depth of knowledge, strategies for assessment, and so on. I found that we could read the same standard and each interpret it a little differently.

One of the things that helped us was looking at the resources available on the Illustrative Mathematics website. It contains math tasks written to align to the standards that would help give us ideas about interpreting the standards. We could go there and see examples of what the standards looked like as a problem, example questions, commentary, etc. Doing that helped us identify what the standard meant, how they would build on other standards, and what the important concepts were which would help us have meaningful conversations that deepened our understanding.

Now, I am an elementary mathematics instructional coach and still work with teachers about what the standards mean and how that translates into classroom instruction and learning for students. I still use the Illustrative Mathematics site but also find myself using many of the resources on the new Mathematics Resources webpage on the Iowa Core website from the Iowa Department of Education to gain a deeper understanding of the Shifts for Mathematics, the Content Standards, and Mathematical Practices in the Iowa Core. The resources on these pages have been vetted by a group of expert Iowa mathematics educators called the Statewide Mathematics Leadership Team. I found lessons aligned to the standards as well as videos that demonstrate what the classroom instruction might look like. It is helpful to see what other educators are doing and it is very handy to have so many tools to support instruction and assessment for students to meet the expectations of the Iowa Core in Mathematics.

As the state moves toward the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I find myself wondering what the standards look like when assessed. I have found many resources that could help me on the Iowa Core website Mathematics Resources webpage. On the Summative Assessment in Mathematics webpage (Note: This webpage has been removed), there are grade level documents that give the characteristics I am looking for like DOK, vertical alignments, achievement levels, evidence required, vocabulary, response types, materials, attributes, questions types, and examples according to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This helps me to look at our curriculum and see how the standards and assessment are connected.

As educators, we know our content, pedagogy, and students. However, we do not always know what standards aligned resources we should use. It makes the life of a teacher a little easier when they have access to resources vetted by Iowa experts rather than needing to invent everything from scratch. These resources give me a deeper understanding of the characteristics of the standards and help me focus on how they translate into teacher instruction and student learning in the classroom.

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Posted by : lisa.syfert@mtp...

violinMany times I hear people say, “Teachers have their summers off.” That’s a comment that makes me smile because so many in our communities do not realize how much preparation takes place during the summer months.

In our district, over half of our staff recorded June curriculum writing days as well as attended workshops on science standards and best practices in math instruction. Others spent time learning about common classroom assessment, attended Project Lead the Way workshops, and extended their knowledge at conferences on instructional coaching. Many took continuing education courses and graduate classes. Time is the cost we are willing to spend to ensure we are ready to provide our students with meaningful instruction during the school year.

When preparing for this school year, it would be time well spent exploring the Educator Resources webpage located on the Iowa Core website. Besides containing a list of all standards for content areas, you find near the top of the Iowa Core website on the right hand side three gray or yellow boxes – Iowa Core Standards, Educator Resources, and Parents & Community. Clicking on Educator Resource takes you to useful information on Subject Area Pages, Instructional Resources, Implementation Resources, and Assessment Resources.

Subject Area Pages: This resource provides links in three areas – mathematics, science, and social studies. Those seeking best practice information and professional development opportunities should check this out since numerous links are provided for tools to design instruction, tools to engage in assessment, and tools to use in professional development.

In addition to the tools, other useful connections are provided. Mathematics resources include links to Achieve the Core and the Illustrative Mathematics website. Science resources include an overview of the Iowa science standards. Social studies resources give information on statewide social studies professional development, links to a newsletter, and information on the status of the social studies survey conducted by the Iowa Department of Education. For those who missed the social studies professional development last year (year 1), there is a link provided on AEA PD Online for the course Building Literacy in Social Studies.

Instructional Resources: This resource provides information on Cognitive Complexity – Depth of Knowledge (DOK) as well as links to Iowa Learns, Achieve the Core, and EngageNY. Clicking on the link for Iowa Learns provides digital resources for teaching and learning.  There are numerous links where you can browse by grade, by subject, by standard, or by resource type leading to lessons aligned with standards.

Implementation Resources: This section will guide educators in Iowa Core planning with modules for professional development in the areas of Characteristics of Effective Instruction, common core video series, instructional practice guides, PD resources, facilitator’s guides including PowerPoints and hands-on activities. Also provided is information on Universal Constructs, and for those districts looking into a Standards-Based approach to learning, there are several modules to provide assistance with this shift.

Assessment Resources: For those educators desiring to learn more about assessment, resources are provided on Smarter Balanced Assessments, Assessment for Learning, as well as a Performance Assessment Resource Bank. Resources in Project-Based Learning and ideas for developing assessments for Next Generation Science Standards are also included. Along with assessment resources, a description is provided on the Common Core Shifts in ELA and Mathematics Assessment.

Back on the Educator Resources page, along with numerous tools to enhance instruction and professional development, there are also links to Iowa Core articles and an Iowa Core Spotlight of Iowa educators providing personal insight on their journey with Iowa Core implementation. Those spotlighted share their journey and their passion for providing quality instruction that is standards driven.

This school year holds much promise for continuous improvement in the quality of instruction in our districts in Iowa. With instructional coaches in buildings and staff organized into professional learning communities, educators are ready to move forward with developing collective clarity on the meaning behind the Iowa Core standards resulting in shared learning targets. The process of improving instructional practices takes time and commitment, but as we come back refreshed and ready for the push, we come back ready to learn right alongside our students and co-workers. The Educator Resources on the Iowa Core website provide one way to enhance professional learning that can take place individually or collaboratively.

As H.E. Luccock stated, “No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play it.” May your school year be filled with beautiful music.

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Posted by : jschmidt@maquok...

girl with butterfliesThis summer, I went to the statewide overview training on the Iowa Science Standards at our local Area Education Agency. I came away from the training with a new understanding of the role science plays in today’s world and the critical importance it holds in its future.

Reading and math are the foundational tools we use to understand science, but the Iowa Science Standards provide an avenue for truly understanding our world in the areas of life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering and technology. These standards embed both the English-language arts (ELA) standards and the math standards, providing authentic practice along with critical thinking and problem solving. ELA and math standards are the tools – science is the big picture!

The Iowa Science Standards training was completely engaging as we worked in teams of three to create a catapult to project a marshmallow four meters across the room. This creative activity helped us integrate the concepts of potential energy and force by constructing a small machine. We worked with a curling simulation and measured weight as it pulled the “stone” to the edge of the table, inspiring us to talk about the forces of friction and gravity. We used the science and engineering practices as we asked questions and defined problems, developed and used models, as well as analyzed and interpreted data. We constructed explanations and designed solutions. Team building, problem-solving, critical thinking – 21st Century skills embedded in the process of discovery through inquiry.

As I worked alongside district teachers representing grades K-5, we all agreed that science is one area that has been “set aside” in our classrooms as we focused on literacy and math instruction. We agreed that part of the resistance to science instruction is a shared feeling that we do not have the confidence to adequately instruct science with our students.

After our three days of training, we realized that it is time to get over whatever fear we may have about science instruction, in part because we were challenged to ask ourselves: Why science? We came to the realization that science encourages us to question the world. It is one subject that will assist us in meeting the problems in an ever-changing world. As we received training on the standards, we began to realize that science instruction is less about what we know and more about how we find it out.

With the Iowa Science Standards, we will see in our classrooms:

  • More integration and less isolation;
  • More math to predict what might occur in an experiment;
  • More teamwork and hands-on activities;
  • More connectivity between different disciplines;
  • More literacy, thinking, writing, and justifying embedded in science instruction as well as more explaining, evaluating, and constructive argument;  and
  • More noise and more mess.

The new Iowa Science Standards are based on the performance objectives found in the Next Generation Science Standards. They incorporate disciplinary core ideas in each of the areas of life science, physical science, earth and space science, and engineering and technology. They embed scientific and engineering practices along with crosscutting concepts. These crosscutting concepts (that cut across all disciplines) include:

  1. Patterns;
  2. Cause and effect, mechanism and explanation;
  3. Scale, proportion, and quantity;
  4. Systems and system models;
  5. Energy and matter, flows, cycles, and conservation;
  6. Structure and function; and
  7. Stability and change.

There was an excitement in our training that taught us the value of “I wonder” statements. There was a newfound enthusiasm about observations and the sharing process using evidence-based thinking and using evidence to support our claims.

We ended our three days of training with the question, “If our district was at full implementation, what would it look like? What would be happening in classrooms? At the building and district level?”

We began to envision a desired state across our district where there is a strong presence of science instruction in all grade levels as we build a systemic approach to STEM in our district (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). We looked at our current reality and then began envisioning a transitional period that will require action planning. We discussed the positive forces in our district, one force being clearly defined science standards that will provide our students with an opportunity to use critical thinking skills.

Through our professional learning communities this coming school year, we will have team time to plan cooperative learning opportunities for our students. With teachers from each grade level (K-12) having received the three-day science training, we are now ready as a district to move forward with a systemic approach to science instruction. As a group, we admitted there are forces that will inhibit our progress – time constraints, cost of implementation, lack of teacher knowledge and understanding as well as an unwillingness to change as we are forced to give up some of our current curriculum with which we are comfortable as we develop curriculum based on the new science standards for each grade level.

I left the science standards training with a deep respect for the critical role science plays in our world and an enthusiasm for pushing our district forward with the implementation of the Iowa Science Standards.

In addition to the overview workshop I attended, the Iowa Department of Education hosted three Iowa science standards immersion institutes in June. At these institutes, national leaders in science education engaged over 800 Iowa educators in lessons that are aligned to the standards and challenged participants to have focus instruction on students using the three dimensions of the standards to explain scientific phenomena. As we enter the second year of science standards implementation, I am excited to know the AEAs across the state will be supporting teachers and districts by conducting follow-up workshops focused on using phenomenon-based instruction and designing/locating aligned resources, lessons, and units.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “To raise new questions, a new possibility, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” What an exciting time for both our students and staff as they explore the wonderful world of science!

Resources

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Posted by : jschmidt@maquok...

One thing in this world we can be sure about is that change happens. Just looking at the difference between how Great-Grandpa Schmidt farmed compared to today’s precision ag is astounding. We still have the harnesses Great-Grandpa Schmidt used to guide horses down the row as they planted a field. I can’t help but compare this with riding in a tractor controlled by a satellite and the only time a farmer has to steer is to turn at the end of the rows. Once the combine is turned, the satellite lines it up and maneuvers it down the row while tabulating bushels per acre. Change happens.

There have been many changes in the way we conduct the business of education. In districts across our state, teacher leaders have stepped forward to organize and deliver professional development (PD) in new and meaningful ways. In our district, one change we made this semester to professional development at the secondary level was providing staff an opportunity to choose workshops to attend. We know that at the secondary level, research supports the fact that students desire choices. It is no different for adult learning.

In February, teacher leader Jenny and I conducted a needs assessment and from the analysis determined one need at our secondary level was for strategies to enhance student engagement, a critical factor in the successful implementation of the Iowa Core. At our most recent PD day, teachers had four workshops from which to select. The sessions were ones focused on actively involving the participants in the learning. We chose to focus on Socratic Seminar, the Question Formulation technique, using Quick Response (QR) Codes in the classroom, and activities to use beyond a worksheet.

When organizing the morning, we listened to what they had to say about needing time to write lessons that used the strategy, so they were to attend two sessions and during session three they had time built in to create a lesson using one of the strategies they learned. The learning did not stop there. They also had to provide evidence of the learning implemented in their classroom by providing a reflection that included the strategy and results submitted in the following ways:

  • in writing (keep it simple)
  • a reflective lesson plan - lesson plan with margin notes
  • a brief video of implementation
  • observation by a peer with a reflection by the peer

The reflections have been arriving daily via emails and what a joy to read about both successes and failures but, most important, what they learned through the process.

The session on Socratic Seminar provided a strategy to take classroom discussion to a higher level. Students involved in Socratic Seminar listen closely to the comments of others, think critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others based on classroom text and use of open-ended questions. Earlier this year, I watched Kevin, a 7th grade literacy teacher, use Socratic Seminar where students were given the opportunity to read a text, write margin notes, and answer open-ended questions about the poem’s content. The day I observed, the students were discussing the poem “Captain, My Captain” by Walt Whitman, an extended metaphor poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln.

The seminar was lively and filled with timely discussion about politics and leadership. The overriding question was Who really controls the country? Students brought in what they had been learning in social studies and what they had heard on the news. With this strategy, classroom setup is important. Kevin had them sitting in a circle but included an empty chair. Half the class was involved in the discussion for a designated time while a partner placed behind them kept track of how often they participated. The empty chair was available for those standing behind if they felt compelled to join in on the topic. Rarely was the chair empty.

Keys to making this strategy work are using a rich text, providing an opportunity for students to become familiar with the text, preparing open-ended questions to keep the conversation flowing, and giving the set of questions to students ahead of time to jot ideas down before entering Socratic Seminar.

The students loved this opportunity to have rich conversations. Many said they wanted to have Socratic Seminar every Friday. What a joy to provide an opportunity for students to express their thoughts and learn about the opinions of others in a non-threatening environment where all conversation is treated with respect!

Kevin shared his success with Socratic Seminar with our high school teachers during a PD day and had them experience their own Socratic Seminar. He inspired an Algebra II teacher to use this strategy in his class. The teacher described his experience in the following way:

I tried the Socratic Seminar for a little change. It was out of the ordinary in Algebra II. I used an article about the connection HS GPA has to the amount you earn. Anyway I tried to have a discussion using Socratic to discuss stats and the article. It didn't go very well; I have never heard my classes be so quiet. I tried to get things going by bringing up the difference between men and women as well as races; nothing fixed it completely. Good news was we did get it discussed and I thought it was good information for them. Many didn't understand the stats so we discussed it. Hopefully they now have a better understanding.

Another strategy teachers could learn was the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). This is a strategy that provides a simple, yet powerful way to get students asking their own questions and building off their peers’ questions. Students are used to teachers asking the questions and one way to engage students is to get them to ask the questions. QFT is one strategy that guides students to ask meaningful questions.

The use of the Question Formulation technique was summarized by a teacher in the following way:

This week my Introduction to Health Careers class was exploring diagnostic health careers. This unit uses a lot of medical terminology so I decided that I would use the method of question formulation to help students learn four of the terms in one of the chapters. I placed Hypertension and Hypotension on the board and had them formulate questions at each table. They wanted me to define the words first! But I reminded them that this is not the first time they had heard these terms. I gave them five minutes to come up with as many questions as they could. Boy, was I surprised when they came up with EVERY question that I would have covered, if I had just lectured the entire time! After changing closed-ended questions to open-ended questions, they then had 15 minutes to answer each of the questions that I thought were important. I feel they will now actually remember what each of these words mean and I did not have to do the work. Will I do it again? Yes!

QR Codes provide an opportunity to use personal technology in the classroom. The advanced math teacher who delivered PD on this topic embeds QR Codes on review worksheets for unit tests. Students solve the problems and then use the QR Code to compare their answer with the correct one. The high school special education teacher who used this strategy in her classroom reported:

Students enjoyed learning about QR codes. They caught on very quickly (faster than I did on Friday!). They were able to scan the codes I made, scan and generate their own codes, and were motivated to watch YouTube videos on how these codes are used in the business world. This was a fun lesson!!

It has been a joy to receive positive feedback from teachers about professional development but also to hear about their implementation of new strategies in their classrooms. With the theme “Our Learning for Theirs,” the culture surrounding professional development is becoming focused on learning with direct application in the classroom. With a focus on learning for both teachers and students, change happens that is good for both teachers and students!

Points to Ponder

  • How is accountability built into your professional development?
  • How are needs assessed related to PD topics?

Resources

Socratic Seminar

Question Formulation Technique Using QR Codes

Using QR Codes

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Posted by : jschmidt@maquok...

blossoming tree branchI love spring! It is that time of year when leaves begin to bud and flowers begin to bloom. It is a time of rebirth and fresh starts. The same happens each day in school – each day can be a fresh start, each lesson sparking a new birth of knowledge.

Recently, the middle school principal asked if I would begin working with our middle school Language Arts Professional Learning Community. Attending the PLC conference in Minnesota last summer and being in a book study with our superintendent focused on the book Learning by Doing, I looked forward to applying what I had been learning about the value of PLC work. This was my time to see how the PLC process could bloom.

Our building had tried PLCs several years ago and to me they simply settled into being another meeting. The value of what they could accomplish had not been made clear to me. I did not want to make the same mistake with this group.  

My first meeting with the middle school language arts PLC began with the words, “When we meet, we will not discuss managerial issues. Our entire meeting will be focused on data, instruction, and how to best meet the needs of our students.” I wasn’t even sure how I was going to keep us on that track, but I knew we needed to have that as our vision.

In order to focus on instruction, we had to start with unwrapping our English-language arts standards. Our work began with standard one - citing textual evidence:

  • 6.1 – Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says implicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • 7.1 – Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • 8.1 – Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

We broke the standards down by looking at the verbs and nouns. We asked: How is each grade level different? We began to take apart each standard and compare what the expectations were.

We decided to create our first common formative assessment (CFA) by agreeing on texts to assess the standard with our students. One of the teachers was not happy about the process. He wanted to use the book he was currently using in class to have them cite textual evidence. “Why can’t I just use what I am doing in my class?” he asked. My response was that the key was to see if our students could transfer this ability to other texts besides the one used in our classroom. Begrudgingly, he acquiesced and completed the CFA with his students.

PLC members brought their data to our next meeting. We sorted the responses into groups – who met the standard, who did not, and who exceeded it. I asked if there were any surprises. We discussed the new challenge: What were we going to do with those who did not meet the standard and what were we going to do with those who exceeded the standard? How could we enrich those who were ready to move on? How could we take what we were doing in our classes and move our students to the next level with this standard?

In order to enrich those who exceeded mastery, we examined the grade 9-10 standard to see what would be expected at that level. For those not meeting the standard, we looked at the standard below our grade level. We discussed how we could vary the depth of knowledge by what we were requiring of our students.

When our discussion ended, the teacher who opposed the process whispered to me, “This was a great process. I really got a lot out of it.” I could only smile.

The process of unwrapping standards is occurring across our state as we strive to improve instructional practices. The process of PLC work is valuable as we share common standards, have rich discussions about those standards, and analyze our instruction. When our group leaves our meeting, we have a clear picture of what the standard should look like in the classroom. This brings us one step closer to a guaranteed and viable curriculum.

Bailey & Jakicic (2012) state: “Collaborative conversations about what the standards mean, what proficiency looks like, and how best to assure all students learn” (page 1) leads to real improvement in student achievement. The result of this examination and implementation of common formative assessments provide teachers with a way to develop strategies to help all students learn. We are continuing to unwrap the standards one at a time – using common language, having the same high expectations, and developing a clear picture of what we expect our students to know and be able to do. As we move forward, our discussions will broaden beyond the standards toward sharing specific instructional strategies with data to prove they are effective.

From everything I have read, effective teams have a culture and a structure that helps everyone clarify their curriculum, monitor student learning, and provide differentiation so all students learn. Through PLC work we are on our way. We may be only in the spring of this process, but excitement is taking root as we begin to see the value of our PLC work.

 

Points to Ponder

  • How are you ensuring a guaranteed and viable curriculum in your classroom?
  • What process do you use to unwrap standards in your area?

 

References

Bailey, K., & Jakicic, C. (2012). Common formative assessment: A toolkit for professional learning communities at WorkTM. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

DuFour, R. (2006). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities at work. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

 

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Students and teacher playing math games.Welcome back to Voice from the Field! This is the time of year on the farm when we re-evaluate and make plans on how to improve crop yield and animal production. In school districts, instead of working on improving crop yield and animal production, we are working on improving student achievement and instructional quality.

We are well into the school year, and we need to look toward a strong finish to the year while keeping our eyes on the big picture of improving our practices. It is time to roll up our sleeves and dig in as we seek ways to enhance practices within our classrooms.

A shift in math

When examining the implementation of the Iowa Core, the area that is receiving public attention is math.

Math instruction is significantly different from the past. Several years ago in math, the problems were answered one way – the teacher’s way – and each step had to be followed with no variation. Today’s math classes have students determining the best way to solve problems, the way that each individual can best understand the math concepts. The Iowa Core math classroom is filled with discussion using metacognition – stressing active student thinking, and with three common questions:

  • How did you solve it?
  • Why did you solve it that way?  
  • How does your solution compare with your partner’s solution?

According to the Iowa Core website, rich mathematical tasks involve teaching through problem-solving with problem-based instructional tasks. These tasks are at the heart of teaching for understanding and provide a deeper understanding of how these math concepts can be applied to solve problems outside of the classroom.

Derek Roberts, Maquoketa High School math teacher, says, “I love when kids ask ‘when will I use this?’ Sometimes what we work on you will rarely use outside of math classes, but what you will use every day is the logical thinking, the backwards problem-solving.”

From the Iowa Core website, the ideal vision of problem-based instructional tasks include

  • Helping students develop a deep understanding of important mathematics;
  • Emphasizing connections, across mathematical content areas, to other disciplines, and especially to the real world;
  • Making tasks accessible yet challenging to all;
  • Providing an opportunity for problems to be solved in several ways;
  • Encouraging student engagement and communication;
  • Using connected multiple representations; and
  • Encouraging appropriate use of intellectual, physical, and technological tools

Rich mathematical tasks involve problem-solving but also involve using distributed practice that is meaningful and purposeful. Meaningful and purposeful learning not only applies to student learning but also teacher learning.

The math studio

In some districts across our state, the Area Education Agencies (AEAs) are providing professional learning in the form of a studio framework. This is an example of job embedded professional development that takes place in the math classrooms.

Teachers learn engaging instructional strategies and use peer observation to assess the impact on student understanding. This format is used to encourage purposeful, genuine questions to learn about students’ mathematical thinking.  

Our AEA is assisting teachers in districts to use the studio process.  They facilitate discussions focused on math research-based strategies and use multiple formats including video to provide an opportunity for peer observation. According to Sarah Harbaugh, numeracy coordinator for Mississippi Bend AEA, “Any time teachers can view another classroom or have a peer observe them using a researched instructional strategy is a win.”  

Numeracy Consultant Kim Awalt explains there are multiple ways to deliver a studio model. A classroom studio is implemented where a strategy is selected to use in a classroom based on a “snapshot” of data and classroom observations.

Within a Professional Learning Community, teachers bring back a lesson where the strategy was used along with student work samples to discuss results in a collaborative framework. This lesson may be in the form of a video or reflective log shared with co-workers. Discussion focuses on enhancing instructional practices and analyzing how the strategies were implemented.

This type of professional learning is not “one and done” because it is embedded throughout the school year. This process may include informal observations by peers in the classroom as an educator models the strategy. Follow-up discussion occurs on how it was taught, its purpose, the effects on student achievement, and next steps based on the data collected.

In the studio model, classrooms are looked upon as a place of action research focused on student understanding. Teachers ask, “How do our students respond when I use these strategies and how is that better or worse for improving student understanding?”  Ms. Harbaugh states, “This type of reflection creates an opportunity for teachers to look at instructional impact on the understanding of ALL students.”

She goes on to explain that “in math we are stressing active student thinking. We want our students to analyze problems and think through efficient strategies to solve the problems. Teachers are preparing our students by slowing down and taking the race out of math. They prepare lessons that allow students to apply their learning to new problems and compare strategies with one another.

“Math time is viewed as an exploration and should be filled with student voice. Students inquisitively ask questions of one another and share ideas. It is no longer enough to memorize the steps to pass a test. Students will enter a technological world where information is at their fingertips, so our schools are challenged to ensure our children have the skills to analyze the abundance of data in their lives and apply it to creatively solve complex problems.”

Bringing in others

In some districts, special education teachers are brought in with a focus on co-teaching in the math classrooms, while in other districts, instructional coaching is just starting to set the foundation for a studio approach. In the districts that want to extend the impact of the studio framework to other subject areas, discussion is focused on the question: How do we take best practices in teaching and spread them throughout the building?

A studio model of professional learning is a framework that can extend to all content areas in a district. The framework encourages collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – the three C’s of the 21st Century. According to Tony Wagner, author of Change Leadership, we must create collaborative inquiry for continuous improvement. With an emphasis on working strategically, the studio is one method that focuses our attention as educators on continuous improvement.

 

Points to Ponder

  • How does your school support learning and teaching?
  • How are you assuring that learning involves deep understanding?
  • What role does the PLC framework provide for enhancing student achievement in your district?

 

Resources

Iowa Core: https://iowacore.gov/iowa-core/subject/mathematics

Teachers Development Group: https://www.teachersdg.org/

Books:

  • Five Practices in Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions – by Smith & Stein
  • Number Talks:  Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies (Grades K-5) – by Parrish
  • Making Number Talks Matter (Grade 4-12) – by Humphreys & Parker
  • Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching - by Boaler

 

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Posted by : jschmidt@maquok...

corn fieldI am but one voice in a field of many - just one voice with a place to speak providing an opportunity for many to respond. Iowa is known as a state providing Fields of Opportunities. So too will this blog provide an opportunity for those in the field to speak through my words or their own - a place to speak about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Iowa Core implementation.

During the 2014-15 school year, I was given a rare opportunity to give voice to what was happening in schools across Iowa as I traveled over 15,000 miles making visits to every Iowa county as the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year. It was an honor to see personally the dedication of school districts toward creating learning that comes alive for students.

In those travels one of the points that triggered a great deal of conversation both in districts and in communities across our state was the implementation of the Iowa Core state standards. During my term, I delivered several speeches on the Iowa Core to various community groups from Rotaries to Optimists along with retirement organizations and Lions Clubs. In the context of this speech, the quote of famous coach John Wooden came to mind: "Failure is not fatal but failure to change might be."

If we are to be relevant to today's student where information is but a click away, it becomes crucial that we work with students on what they do with this information. In every Iowa classroom we must guide our students to be critical thinkers who can meaningfully communicate and collaborate in a fast-paced world. This is a shift we must make, and the Iowa Core is a game changer for how we change practices in our classrooms.

The Iowa Core state standards provide the impetus to make us deeply examine the learning we expect to take place. It goes beyond a list of skills to master by providing a focus on what students are to be able to do with what they are learning while providing a common focus for all instruction across our state. Through the Iowa Core we are assured all grade levels across Iowa have similar learning expectations, expectations that are both rigorous and challenging.

The development of the Iowa Core is an answer to deepening the learning experiences in our classrooms. It is an answer to the call that came out in the early 21st Century for more rigorous, relevant, and results-directed curricula and instruction incorporating critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication. The focus is not on what activities we are doing, what texts we are using, what themes we are presenting. The Iowa Core state standards simply provide for us a backbone upon which to build instruction. The strength of the standards lies in their rigor and relevance and does not prescribe for us curriculum or teaching techniques. They give us a framework upon which to build authentic learning in the classroom. The selection of curriculum, the application of creative instructional techniques, and the use of characteristics of effective instruction are left to the discretion of local school districts and teaching teams.

Several years ago I served as the "Voice from the Trenches" for Iowa State University pre-service teachers. The intent was to provide that personal voice for those not yet in the field from a practicing teacher, a voice that described the weekly ups and downs, ins and outs of teaching in a classroom with living, breathing students. That is the intent of this blog - a voice from the field to describe progress in the implementation of consistent state standards. Honest reflection is a strong learning tool and can make us painfully aware if what we do in the classroom has the impact we desire for our students. Through reflection, we pull ourselves back and thoughtfully consider the impact of our instruction on learning. This blog will be a reflection of work in my district and other districts as we work tirelessly to bring alive in our classrooms the Iowa Core state standards.

If one carefully examines the Iowa Core website, you will find excellent ideas on the implementation of Iowa Core in the classroom. Resources include Characteristics of Effective Instruction, an Iowa Core Implementation Guide, and Universal Constructs: Essential for 21st Century Success. All of these resources will help us as we implement consistent state standards that will enable our students to be critical thinkers in today's information rich environment.

This is an exciting time to be engaged in education across Iowa - both exciting and challenging. I look forward to learning with you and sharing the Iowa Core journey as a "Voice from the Field."

Points to Ponder:

  • How has the Iowa Core been a game changer in your classroom?
  • How is it affecting the way you teach and what students are learning?

 

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Posted by : jschmidt@maquok...