Friday, February 26, 2016

Where Did I Leave My Cheese? Moving Practice, One Slice at a Time

By: Lisa Manross

One of the most difficult things about my job as a personalized learning coach is shifting teacher practice or “moving cheese” so to speak.  When I first began my job, I really did not know what to expect or exactly what my future held. Only being in my school for a few months, I can honestly say that I was surprised by the connection I quickly felt to the teachers and administrative staff.  I find myself constantly looking for the best ways to help move their practices to personalized learning and wanting them to succeed. It has become my passion and desire to become a part of the school culture and build relationships with each one of them. I know I do not have all of the answers nor do I think I should, but every day I appreciate the teachers who give their everything to provide students with new innovative lessons and work tirelessly to make it happen, even though it is not perfect. I am humbled by not only who they are as teachers but by their integrity and spirit as well.

As we travel this road together, challenges surface that we must work through in order to create learning environments where students are engaged and go beyond what is expected. Some are self-imposed barriers and some are just everyday barriers that students and teachers face through the constraints of our educational system. It is my experience, that if we want students engaged then we need to foster a love of knowledge where students can take control of their learning.  This can be a daunting task as teachers are used to being the person who delivers the content and creates the activities. Letting go of the control means trusting that students really do want to learn and that their ideas are valuable. We all want to be heard and feel like we are contributing to something greater.


“Moving cheese” takes time, patience, and a lot of reflection on what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to change.  It takes dedication to the work and getting messy through the process.  It takes living through the process and having courageous conversations to propel teachers and students to the next level. It takes focus, revising plans, regrouping thoughts, and processing ideas differently to find the balance.  It takes passion, dedication, and the willingness to fail to find ourselves as the new 21st-century educator.  It takes dedicated PLC’s to create a culture of trust and encourage change. As teachers step into the challenge of shifting their practices, we should proceed with compassionate caution. If we are not careful, we will create pockets of teachers asking “where did I leave my cheese?”, as they are wanting to hold on to their old practices and feel left behind. One thing is for sure, it can’t be done alone or in isolation.  As we go through this journey of new discovery, we will conquer many mountains, trudge through several valleys, and often swim upstream looking for answers. This work takes a community of committed individuals striving for the success of ALL students, bridging the waters with each other’s knowledge and expertise.

 Who it's all about........


 our students.



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A 12th Grade Teacher in a Kindergarten Classroom: How Inquiry Bridges the Gap



If that title doesn’t capture one’s attention, I don’t know what does! Yes, it’s true. I’m a former twelfth grade teacher (straight out of the classroom) currently serving a local elementary school as a personalized learning coach. I have to say, I never would have thought I would be here, yet I can’t think of any place I would rather be.

Upon finding out I was entering into an elementary world not only frightened me, it also ignited a multitude of self-doubt. Can I really impact students this age? How could I possibly model a lesson to five year olds? How can I model lessons to assist elementary teachers? All of these feelings and thoughts both consumed and overwhelmed me. That is... until I tried to. Yep, I went into a kindergarten classroom to model an inquiry-based lesson.
To. Five. Year. Olds.

It all happened with Mrs. Parker. While listening to my array of ideas and ways I could assit, she invited me to model a lesson in her class. My initial feeling was a joyful “Great”! However this was soon followed by a shallow “great”. What in the world am I going to do in there?

So I pulled up my boot straps and relied on what I knew best….inquiry. I gathered resources and relied on my intrinsic value of asking the questions “why”. As a veteran AP Government teacher, I always asked my students “why”. It was a standard procedure in my class. After all, I learned so much from them when they shared. I would have them justify their reasoning, I would pose different scenarios (whether they were fictitious or real) in an efforts to have them justify and defend their knowledge. My students never knew how I voted because I wanted them to discover their own thinking. I never needed fancy resources to do it. It was my “go-to” method, even when technology was broken, even when I didn’t feel well, even when half of my class was absent….so I began to think why should this be any different?

So off I went, into this kindergarten classroom with my penguin lesson, my YouTube entry event of Happy Feet, my anchor chart (which, by the way I never knew what an anchor chart was before) and my array of colorful markers. Yes, I even had markers.

As I relied on my instincts, I immediately realized how trusting our students naturally are. They show up to school each day trusting that the we educators will serve them to the best of our ability. They trust the lessons we create, the decisions we make, and the values we portray. It soon dawned on me that I needed to trust myself in return. I needed to trust that, even though it was different and new, I could deliver this meaningful lesson, portray the purpose in learning it, and engage them in an experience. And though it didn't launch fire works, I have to say it was fantastic.

As I wrapped up the lesson, I realized two very important things. First, that regardless of the age or ability level of our students, the process is the same. Of course it’s differentiated, but the process and scaffolding that was centered around inquiry, was the exact same. I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, I just needed to adapt the lesson to the ability levels, interest, and goal of my students. The second thing I learned was that if students arrive to school each day trusting us, we need to trust ourselves in return. I could have folded on Mrs. Parker and called in a colleague to model the lesson, but I had to trust myself and know it would be okay if I failed.

This eerily reminds me of the journey to personalized learning. Education reform is not about the perfection of a finished  product or a perfectly crafted lesson plan,  it’s about the relationships we create, and the experience that is waiting to be had. Not just for the sake of others, but for the sake of ourselves. It's not just a personalized journey for students, but a personalized journey for teachers as well. It was a hilarious, exciting, challenging opportunity that I could have passed up, and I'm so glad I didn't.
As personalized learning continues to push teachers into un chartered territory, I have two words: trust and try. Trust you can make it your own, for your own students, in your own classroom...and just try something new! After all, Michael Jordan got cut from the eighth grade basketball team. Just sayin’.


Suggested Resources:


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Google Cardboard & Augmented Reality

By:  Kimberly Sheppard 

 Imagine, trying to learn about South America but not having seen anything about it.  Is it easier to understand the culture and the context if you have visited?  Sure you have pictures and you can use videos from the internet, but what if you could take your students there virtually?  

  With Google Cardboard this is possible. The device looks like the Viewmaster toys from old, but you use a phone with free downloaded apps as your "round picture disc."  The Google Cardboard blinds out everything else to the world around them.  With great visual images and videos, the students feel transported because they are not only see straight ahead but they can also turn around and look up and down.  

  I recently worked with a High School World Geography teacher to introduce their unit on South America by "taking" them there.  Using the You Visit app, the students were able to visit ancient ruins of Machu Pichu, go the village fresh food markets in Brazil, and go to the major cities of South American countries.  Their excitement was contagious! 




    This activity didn't teach the lesson but it did engage the students.  They were excited to learn more and they had more of a foundation for the lessons they were about to learn. From this activity, there are a number of ways for students to reflect.  It could be that they reflect on what they have viewed, either in an informational, that will help them to think about what they have seen. 

    Your question might be, "How can I use this in my classroom?" Google Cardboard is literally made out of cardboard.  You can print the instructions for free and using an Exacto knife to create your own.  Amazon has them for around $4 - 10.  If you want something a little more sturdy, Amazon also has Google Cardboard options in plastic for around $10-25. You can use your personal phone or an old phone, wiped free of any information, but that has WiFi capability and a few Google Cardboard apps downloaded.  If you want a few that are helpful for various subjects click on this link for specific examples.  The Arts, Social Studies courses, English, Sciences, and even Math can benefit greatly from the apps that are available. 

  Google Expeditions is another app to consider and this video provides ways that you can use this with multiple grade levels.  

  When it comes to Personalized Learning, how can using Google Cardboard help you engage your students? Can you think of a lesson that you could try using Google Cardboard?  How would you have the students reflect about the experience? 
  If you haven't viewed this Thinglink, we have provided a number of resources for you consider for each of the five tenants.  
https://www.thinglink.com/scene/687372589496008706 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

PBL Project Walls with Purpose with Jennifer McCrary

Buck Institutes PBL units have many moving parts. One way to help keep your unit organized is a PBL wall. A project wall can be used for many aspects of a project; such as vocabulary, your need to knows, documents, it can serve as a meeting place, and most importantly it should host your driving question. Keep Reading to see how you can smoothly manage a project with your project wall. 

A major component of PBL is that students learn how to take responsibility for their own learning. Shifting that responsibility away from the teacher to the student is one of the most challenging aspects of PBL. Our jobs are to help students learn and it is so easy to step in and give information, answers, and explanations. Project management is a dance between teacher guidance and student ownership.

See excellent examples from K. Smith Elementary School in San Jose, of dynamic project walls.


Smooth project management relies on the smooth flow of information. Providing as much information as possible gives students the opportunity to get the information themselves. Is your wall supporting the flow of information as much as possible? 
Here, we use the 8 Elements of PBL and the Project Wall Rubric as your guide, provided by pblconnections.com. 

1. Significant Content: Does your wall clearly indicate what content the students will learn? It should. The list of significant content should flow naturally from the Need to Know conversation at the launch of the project. This is also a flexible list, you can add to it as you review your Need to Knows throughout the project.

2. 21st Century Skills: Does your wall clearly indicate what skills the students will be learning and practicing? It should. Students need reminders of what the heck they are doing and why. This is especially true for students new to the PBL process. Include pictures, examples, conversation/question stems, and rubrics that remind the student of what the skill is, help them learn the skill, and know if they are doing it well.

3. The Driving Question: This is a no-brainer! It is driving the whole project so it must be large and in-charge! There are countless times when I point to the DQ, or run over to the wall and ask students “how does what you just did help you answer the DQ?” This helps keep the student inquiry and work time flowing in appropriate directions, which is the main goal of project management. 

4. Need to Know (NTK): Is the student voice of what they need to learn visible? The NTK goes hand-in-hand with the DQ. It not a static, unchanging list to be forgotten during the heart of the project. The NTK list needs to be constantly revisited, revised, and growing.

5. Voice and Choice: This element is not so obvious to have on a project wall. Here are some suggestions. On the NTK list you could indicate what student added that element to the list. List the teams and the specific project focus, topic, and product that each team is taking on. . The more that students feel their voice is valued the more they are willing to take ownership of their own learning.

6.In-depth Inquiry: Does your wall show the progression of inquiry and learning in the project? To support the cycle of inquiry valuable information applicable to the project needs to be visible. Calendars and rubrics support the independent thinking and planning inherent in effective student project management. Also make sure you post as many resources - paper and digital - as possible, be sure to include sources that students find as well.

7. Revision and Reflection: Where does your wall show evidence of revision? This element can be supported through your continual referral to the Driving Question and NTK list. The NTK list should be a living document with items getting crossed out as students learn answers to specific questions, and items getting added as their answers lead to more questions.

8. Authentic public audience: Can a visitor to your room get an in-depth understanding of the project without even talking to you, or students? They should be able to know what the project products will be, when and how they are being presented. Progression of student learning should be visible. And best of all, they should be able to ask any student in the room to explain something on the wall, and get clear accurate answers. The wall puts YOUR hard work on display so use it for your own teacher assessment process - it contains evidence of a supportive learning environment, differentiated learning opportunities, and your ability to plan rigorous “units” for student learning of content and skills.

Wow! Don’t get overwhelmed if your wall does not have all of this. Just like with your students, you want to see improvement in your own work as time goes by. Pick one item that you will add to your wall in your next project. As your students get more experienced in project work, much of your work changes, and keeping the project wall current is one part of that.

Start using your project wall as a powerful management tool that is dynamic, raises student ownership of learning, and helps the flow of information which is at the heart of smooth project management.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Innovative Voice & Choice

By:  Julie Fowler


What if, when you entered a restaurant, the server never brought you a menu, but instead, placed a meal before you.  The meal was what they were serving that day-the only thing they were serving.  How would you feel about that?  Would you like the choices selected for you?  Are you possibly allergic to something on your plate?  Do you wish you had more of one thing than another?
    When you enter into today’s innovative personalized learning classroom at Mt. Carmel Elementary, there are a plethora of options for students.  Here, “voice & choice” is more than a vogue phrase. During recent interviews, students made is clear to me that, not only is it important to them personally, but is also a necessity for maximum student engagement.  In describing the importance of voice and choice in the classroom, they emphasize that it transfers student ownership and challenges them to try new things, pushes them further with personal goals, integrates technology tools, and gives them personal pride in their demonstration of mastery of competencies.   No two students gave the same exact reason that it is important to them, paralleling my thoughts during the interview, that no two kids are alike and if we are doing right by each one, this should be true.  
    Going from class to class, the choices are afforded in contemporary ways.  One very evident choice is a visual one. In a 3rd grade class, learners have been given the choice of work space by having a deskless classroom and non-traditional furniture. There are options such as bungee chairs, collaboration tables, large areas of pillows, futon seating, bar stool tables, and open rug areas.  Students work together to create real-world projects, independently to reach personal goals, in partners to critically think about research,  and with digital tools to communicate their learning in engaging ways.  Students in a 4th grade class are choosing tasks to demonstrate their learning about explorers, their challenges, and successes.  They eagerly want to share their products and when asked to give feedback to their teacher during a debrief of the menu process, give her “I wonders” about the next unit and the products they would like to create.  As we finish the debrief and reiterate their suggestions will be used to determine voice and choice in the next unit, it validates them and gives students buy-in for moving forward.  Moving into the a multi-age school club time, students explain that they were able to choose their top three club selections from a list of 15.  The school honored them by giving them one of their top choices for the semester.  For some kids, this is a time to focus on physical activities, like step club, cheerleading, or jump rope team.  Others work with special needs students making cards for our soldiers.  Many kids choose specialized interests such as technology, cooking, art, or gardening.  A fourth grade student emphasized that he enjoys choice because it allows him to work with his hands and physically be active, which is what he knows he needs to learn. The smiles on their faces during this time clearly tell me that they are learning about something they have a great interest in and that it is a special time that is cherished.  
    In thinking about your practice, what do you do to encourage student voice and choice?  Do you allow them to choose their reading materials?  Do you encourage them to write about something they are passionate about?  What does the physical space in your classroom and the way it is used speak to students about freedom of choice and voice?  How do you ask students to give you feedback so that you can empower them to share their voices?  Is voice and choice innovative in your classroom?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Welcome to the Road Less Traveled

Thank you for visiting and welcome to the blog for the Henry County Schools Personalized Learning Journey!  We are taking the road less traveled and would love for you to come along on the journey with us as we learn, grow, and redefine school for kids.  This blog is maintained by our team of personalized learning coaches and highlights our successes, challenges, and reflections. We hope by sharing our experiences that we empower others to also take the road less traveled........which ultimately leads to growth in student achievement!