“Deep thoughts” from the week

4fingersAs any teacher will tell you, February can be one of the most difficult months of the school year, especially if you teach in New England and have to deal with the never-ending possibility of having your well-planned syllabus blown to smithereens by a snow day or 1-hour delay. As a result, I have found that February can be a great month to take some time to be more reflective about my teaching. I ran across several blog posts in the past week or so that allowed me to stop and ponder some of my practices and seriously reflect on my teaching that I thought you might find interesting as well.

I hope that you find one or more of these pieces as thought provoking as I did.  Enjoy!


Parents Weekend Brain Blitz

I have been pleasantly surprised and pleased with all of the neurobiology related pieces that have hit my radar screen of late. The research, much of which has existed for quite some time now, is finally making it into the mainstream discussions about teaching and learning. My hope is that people will not only read the articles and ponder their implications; but more importantly, they will actively think about how they can change or modify what they are actually doing in the classroom in order to incorporate some of the things we now know about how students learn.

I certainly have changed quite a few things in my own classroom as a result of all that I have learned about how students learn from the current and not so current research. Change is uncomfortable, but if we are to best serve our students, we have to willing to question and rethink everything we do as new information and research becomes available.

So, here are just a few of the brain-related items that I came across this week. I encourage you to read them and then engage in a discussion about one or more of the pieces with a colleague or two.


October is Connected Educator Month…Get Connected!

 This October marks the third annual Connected Educator Month. “Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Education and its partners as part of the Connected Educators initiative, CEM offers highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to educators at all levels.” Information about the program and a full calendar of events can be found on the CEM homepage. There is literally something for every teacher who is looking to continue his/her own professional learning and become a more connected educator. Some examples of events in the coming week alone include:

  • Sunday 10/5 at 8 PM EST Workshop: Beginners Guide to Becoming a Connected Educator.
  • Monday 10/6 at 4 PM EST Using Educational Technology in the Classroom.
  • Tuesday 10/7 at 8 PM EST Weekly Task Talk with Illustrative Mathematics
  • Wednesday 10/8 at 8 PM EST New Teacher Chat on Twitter #ntchat
  • Thursday 10/9 at 6 PM EST Twitterchat #whatisschool an interactive chat about education around the world
  • Friday 10/10 at 8 AM EST New Frontiers in Assessment Discussion

I encourage you to, at the very least, take a look at the calendar of events and commit to participating in at least one event during the month of October. Now on to the Friday 4 Finds of the week…


Settling in to the fall

 The beginning of the fall term is by far the best part of the school year as far as I am concerned. The school year is still fresh and full of optimistic anticipation of transformative learning and “AHA!” moments. The students are not too tired yet, they come to class with their homework completed and they are eager to engage in the lesson for the day. I love September!

I did not post a Friday 4 last week as I was rolling out an ambitious Professional Learning Plan with the faculty at The Loomis Chaffee School and got busy with that. If you are interested in the plan, you can see the document here. I would love to hear any feedback you might have on the plan or suggestions for additional items that could be added that you do at your school.

This week’s interesting finds:

Enjoy and have a wonderful end to your September!

The whirlwind of Connected Educator Month

4fingersA Time to Reflect

As most of you know, October was Connected Educator month (CEM) and was filled with a plethora of opportunities for educators to connect with fellow colleagues and engage in valuable professional development. I did my best to sample a bunch of the CEM activities and found them all to be worthwhile and have added many fellow educators to my PLN. Along the way, I have collected and curated several very good resources and articles that have been good reminders or have pushed me to think about my own practices. Here are a few of the resources that I came across this month; hopefully, you will find at least a few that pique your interest.



A Cornucopia of Interesting Items for Fall


4fingersFriday 4: Like the colors of the leaves of fall…random yet interesting.

This month has gotten off to a particularly busy start in my world which prevented me from posting a Friday 4 last week. I was fortunate enough to attend and present at the OESIS (Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools) last week in Boston and then attended the Westminster Teaching Symposium this week so I have been busy trying to take in and learn as much as I can and share what I have learned with my colleagues and my PLN.

There is no theme to this week’s Friday 4 other than here is a bunch of items that I have come across of late that have made it into my Diigo library.



CEM ideas and opportunities


4fingersFriday 4 for October 4

I hope that all of you out there have taken up the “challenge” of Connected Educator Month and forayed out of your comfort zone and tried something new and different in order to become a more connected teacher, administrator or coach. If you have yet to get off the mark and need a few more ideas for how you can engage in CE month, this week’s Friday 4 is just for you!

  • The New York Times has a blog called The Learning Network that just recently published a piece “What ‘Connected Education’ Looks Like: 28 Examples From Teachers All Over” that is chock full of real life examples of ways in which teachers are connecting themselves and their students to a wider audience. If you are seeking ideas for your own classroom, this is a great place to start.
  • If you are in the CT/MA area (or will be on October 18) and are looking for some quality cheap PD, consider attending the 3rd annual Westminster Teaching Symposium. This year’s topic is Collaboration and Feedback: Protocols for Teachers. This event is a great chance to extend your professional learning network and share ideas with other passionate educators.
  • Want all of the hottest news items, blog posts, videos and other items related to CE month to be delivered right to your inbox? Visit the Connected Educators Month Digest: Highlights of the day paper.li page and sign up to receive the custom newspaper. If you are unfamiliar with paper.li in general, I encourage you to check it out. It is a way cool way to create your own online newspaper on any topic you choose.
  • On every weeknight during CE month, you can join the Connected/CEM cafe from 7:30 – 8:30 PM. The cafe is described as A nightly opportunity (7:30-8:30 PM ET every weeknight during CEM) for you with award-winning online education moderator (and Classroom 2.0 founder) Steve Hargadon to spend time and interact with special guests, recap learnings from the day’s events, and look ahead to what’s next in CEM, with galvanizing conversations moving from single location chat to Twitter everywhere, while the night’s still young.




Friday 4 – Three good reminders and one tech tip

 Friday Four – January 18

I ran across two pieces this past week from an inspring educator I follow on Twitter, Chris Lehmann(@lehmannchris), that I would encourage you to read. Chris is the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA. The Science Leadership Academy is an inquiry-driven, project-based, 1:1 laptop school that is considered to be one of the pioneers of the School 2.0 movement nationally and internationally.

The first piece is a good reminder for those of us who work in “high pressure” schools (what school is not high pressure?) who never seem to have enough time to complete the day’s tasks.

As a teacher of mostly seniors, the message in this piece from Chris Lehman about “letting go” resonated with me. I have thought a great deal about my role as a teacher over the years and this pece was a nice reminder of an easily forgotten aspect of the job.

I recently spent some time talking with our foreign and modern language teachers about class participation and how to assess it in the classroom. I suggested that it was important to provide the students with examples of what “good” class participation looked like, to develop rubrics for assessing it and providing the students with regular feedback about how they were doing with respect to the expectations. This week I ran across a blog post from Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins) in which he talked about the use and design of rubrics and models that was quite similar. Fortuitous timing I guess!

The final item for this week’s missive is for all the YouTube fans out there. Ten YouTube URL tricks that will make you a “power user” of YouTube.

As always, please share your comments or send along any feedback you may have. Enjoy!

Friday Four – September 21

The Seasons are changing….are you?

Technically today is the last full day of summer with fall officially beginning on Saturday, September 22, 10:49 A.M. EDT, the fall equinox. While it may still technically be summer (translated – “vacation”) as I write this week’s Friday Four, it feels as if we have been in school for quite some time already and that the fall term is well under way. To celebrate the astronomical beginning of fall and the beginning of the school year, I have put together a Friday Four that includes some “big picture” items that I hope you will mull over while the “newness” of the school year is still palpable.

  • Alfie Kohn (@alfiekohn) is a nationally recognized educational writer and outspoken critic of homework, competition and rewards in schools. He has had a piece appear on the back page of the Ed Weekly Journal every September for nearly 20 years. This year’s piece “Schooling Beyond Measure” explores the fascination/obsession with using data-based measures of assessment.
  • One of the fellow educators I follow on Twitter and whose blog I read regularly is Brian Bennett (@bennettscience), a science teacher from Indiana. He recently posted a piece on his blog called “Three Questions” in which he describes a conversation he had with a colleague that led to what they saw as the 3 core questions we can/should be asking our students. I found the post inspiring and hope you will as well.
  • NPR recently aired a piece titled “Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform” that explores the significant role that bias plays in teacher expectations for students.
  • Starting this weekend (September 23) NBC News is hosting their 3rd annual Education Nation Summit in NYC. They have a website dedicated to the year-round initiative that is loaded with great resources, news and opportunities to be a part of the conversation about education in the US and the world.

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. Have a wonderful first day of Fall!


Students ask for Metacognitive tools

A colleague and I recently engaged our students in a discussion about their most recent quiz and heard some interesting things that inspired me to write this post. We were seeking feedback on why they had not done as well as we had hoped on the quiz and what we might be able to do in order to make it more likely that they would be able to demonstrate their mastery of the material. Not surprisingly, the students had plenty of suggestions! A little context might help to understand/interpret some of their comments. First off, we teach at Loomis Chaffee, a private day/boarding school where the vast majority of our students are highly motivated, enjoy school and are pretty bright. (Not a bad combo!) The class is Molecular Biology, a two term advanced course for seniors and a few juniors that is lab intensive. The two sections have 14 and 15 students, and we use a flipped model predominantly in the class, producing video podcasts for most of the initial content delivery.

Both of us were pleased with the discussion and heard some interesting thoughts from the students, many of which had a common theme; namely, that the students clearly wanted more metacognitive tools at their disposal prior to taking the quiz. Some of the comments included the following:

  • “I was not sure exactly what to study?”
  • “I did not know what I didn’t know.”
  • “It was difficult for me to know if I was truly prepared.”
Most of the comments like these were followed by qualifiers that were a good reminder to us as teachers. The students cited things we had done in the past, either in this course or in Microbiology this fall, that allowed them to better self-assess their level of mastery. More specifically, we have included or done the following things in the past that were particularly helpful for the students:
  • included a list of “questions you should be able to answer at this point” into the handouts for a lab or in the video podcasts.
  • we used “clickers” (Student response systems) more frequently in the fall as a way for students and us to gauge their level of mastery.
  • We have used Google Docs to have students report their progress in an experiment that stretches out over a week or more. This has helped many students keep track of where we are in a longer experiment.
The students clearly were yearning for ways to assess their own level of mastery along the path to the summative assessment and we had not provided quite as many “formal” opportunities as we have in the past. Some of this was intentional as we try to teach them how to become more independent learners and figure out the ways for self-assessment that work best for them. After the students were done giving feedback, we were able to shift the discussion to looking at what their responsibilities are as they work towards mastery of a topic. Their list included:
  • being sure to review the plan for the day before coming to class so that if they have questions, they can ask them in class.
  • thinking more actively about why we are performing each step in the experiment and not just following the procedure blindly.
  • making sure that they read/watch the background material before we begin an experiment and then again after they are done making sure to focus on “what they don’t know or understand.”
  • actively thinking about what types of questions we might ask that would require them to demonstrate mastery of the material. At this point, they realize that we rarely ask any regurgitation type questions.
All in all, the discussion was a productive one that will result in a more conscious effort on our part to build in ways for the students to self-assess their progress and the students’ increasing realization that learning is hard work and requires them to be active participants in the process. It was also a good reminder to us that despite how sophisticated and mature our students are, they are still very much novices when it comes to learning.
I welcome and encourage your comments.