All STEM’d Up!

Posted by Skip Johnson on November 17, 2013

All STEM'd Up with man on motorcycle at left(to the tune of Elvis’ All Shook Up)

A well we done our plan
What’s right with us?
We’re working really hard and creatin’ no fuss
Our peers say we’re actin’ wild and smug
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our plans aren’t shaky and our minds aren’t weak
We are standin’, standin’ on our own two feet
We can thank ourselves to have such luck
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Please don’t figure to read our minds
We might look shook up but we are feelin’ fine
When we present those lessons we love best
Our students so engage, it scares us to death

When we touch their minds, it’s a chill we got
Now let’s study a volcano that’s hot-hot-hot
We are proud to say this is our loving cup
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our tongues are steady when we need to speak
Our insides are excited as a circuit that is tweaked
There is no cure for this STEM gold mine
We’re gonna keep this system ’cause it’s so fine

We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
We’re all STEM’d Up!

Yes, at El Crystal Elementary School we are ALL STEM’d UP! On Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the governing board made El Crystal the first STEM Magnet School in the San Bruno Park School District,.  The next morning, we were full “STEM” ahead.  The 9 teachers and I have accomplished a lot since then:

  • Wrote the STEM Curriculum for grades Kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Participated in three weeks of self-determined professional development.
  • Conducted four informational meetings for families from other schools in our district.
  • Generated an informational brochure that we distributed throughout our area.
  • Achieved two $20,000.00 grants.
  • Worked closely with the STEM Center at the San Mateo County Office of Education to fine tune our curriculum.
  • Gave three presentations to the governing board to share our progress.
  • Invited to share our program at the Orange County Office of Education.
  • Arranged a partnership through a  Memorandum of Understanding with Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California to provide us with academic support in science and math focused on creating a student-centered learning environment.
  • Created a partnership with Walmart, whose eCommerce headquarters are in San Bruno.
  • Created a partnership with Facebook who replaced twenty-two of our computers that were stolen.
  • Established an advisory committee composed of parents, community members and representatives from Intel, Facebook, Walmart, and Gilead Sciences.
  • Remodeled our media center to accommodate STEM activities.

Earlier this month, we took time out to reflect upon our progress to date:

What is going well?

  • Student engagement in learning has visibly increased.
  • Students are demonstrating a positive attitude towards all aspects of the school including behavior and attendance to learning.
  • Teacher collaboration in grade alike and across grades has been a very positive outcome of STEM.
  • There is a tremendous increase in hands-on learning activities at all grade levels.
  • Teachers believe they are creating a more student-centered learning environment.
  • Overall, staff believes they are achieving deeper levels or understanding and learning with their students.
  • In most classes, parents are eagerly helping with needed supplies for all types of STEM activities
  • Parents report that they are pleased with our new program; that their children come home excited about the daily activities in their classrooms; and that they really like the teaching staff 

What needs to improve?

  • Generally, parents from families that have transferred into our program from outside our attendance area display higher levels of participation than those for whom this is their home school.
  • We have discovered that implementing STEM activities takes much more time than anticipated (not that this can be changed).

What to do differently if we had a fresh start?

  • Not write any curriculum for science until the Next Generation Standards were posted in their final form.
  • Spend the first six weeks of the year assessing the levels of the students and their abilities to handle increased STEM activities.
  • Concentrate on putting more procedures into place such as learning how to function in small, collaborative groups.
  • Get to know all the students better before implementing the STEM curriculum even if it meant delaying STEM activities until October.
  • Teach students how to have collaborative conversations and how to behave and function in collaborative groups.
  • Implementing STEM activities in the three lower grades has been more difficult than the two upper grades. Plan for that through practice.
  • Establish the partnership with Notre Dame de Namur earlier. It would have been helpful to have their sage advice when we had our first professional development activities during the last two weeks of June 2013.
  • Figure out a way to allow for more collaboration time for staff members for planning purposes.
  • Provide constructive feedback by observing each other teach STEM activities.
  • Right now most activities are on a trial and error basis. Staff is coming to grips with that level of anxiety.

Principal’s perspective

From my perspective as principal, our implementation of our STEM program, for the most part is going smoothly. My thoughts and observations:

  • I have never seen teachers so hard-working and dedicated to making a program successful.
  • Collaboration is at an all-time high.
  • As principal, I need to get into classrooms more and observe and validate STEM efforts.
  • This program is clearly worth the effort due to observable increases in student engagement and enthusiasm.
  • This is going to take about three years to perfect.
  • The collaboration with Notre Dame is well worth the investment in time and finance.
  • The relationships I built with parents and community members to gather support for our program has improved not only our school culture but my relationship with the school community.
  • The staff and I agree that given the opportunity, we would do this over again.
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Wait, wait! Don’t evaluate me.

Posted by James Scoolis on October 5, 2013

Man holding up hands, I have been evaluating teachers for 21 years, all the way back to a time when I was required to assess a teacher’s hygiene and appearance as “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”  Thankfully, we have progressed as a profession.

Charlotte Danielson’s work that synthesized research on effective teaching and put it all together in a rubric form was published in 1996.  It took several years for her work to make its official way to San Luis Obispo, California, where I work as an elementary principal.  I know that for years, many administrators here were unofficially using her work to evaluate the work of teachers.  Eventually, the district made the leap to accept the four domains (planning, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities) and 32 components.  Just two years ago, we abandoned “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” ratings in favor of “unsatisfactory, basic, proficient and distinguished.”

Last year was our pilot year for collecting data/evidence of teachers’ work as it related to specific components and then scoring with the four level rubric.   Data collection was all done by analog scripting and note-taking.  When it came time for us administrators to write up our evaluations, we were faced with collating and reviewing piles of handwritten feedback cards and two-column legal pad notes.  Hearing the complaints from administrators on increased workload and time commitment, our district purchased a software solution called TeachScape.

Seven uninterrupted hours?

There are three components to this software.  One is a series of videos of teachers teaching with commentaries on how the video evidence relates to the rubric. All of us were required to watch the videos and then pass the assessment piece at the end.  What I didn’t know was that the assessment piece itself requires seven hours of uninterrupted time!  I arrived at this point in the training module a few days before school started.   Well, it’s a month later and somehow those seven uninterrupted hours have eluded me.  Nonetheless, having made it through all the videos, and given my previous experience with the framework, I feel qualified and calibrated at this time.

The second component is a digital communication system for sharing data and observational notes with teachers. Implementation glitches abound.  First of all, it’s tough when the software is not intuitively designed.  You know what I mean?  (Apparently Apple engineers were involved elsewhere when this product was designed.) To their credit, the TeachScape folks are attentive and helpful.  They actually answer the helpline when you call and speak understandable English! But there are terminology problems.  What I call a walk-through is, to TeachScape, apparently something much more structured.  And I am just now trying to figure out why I would have to “schedule” an informal observation—wouldn’t that make it formal’?

Missing modules?

In addition, it seems our district hasn’t purchased all the right modules that allow us to input data. I don’t want to start the arduous process of entering all my handwritten notes and observations in one place and then, at the end of the year, find there are two different systems to collate. These issues may be solved by our new personnel director, who has taken over as the single point of contact for getting questions and glitches addressed.  She calls the helpline on our behalf, and she is learning the system along with us.

TeachScape’s third component?  At this point, I do not know exactly what it does.  Heck, I’m still looking high and low for those seven uninterrupted hours.

How will this all end up? Who will save us?  Will we be saved?  Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Evaluate Me!”  Coming soon!

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Getting Parents on Board, Part 2

Posted by Sheila Grady on July 5, 2013

Men, ladders, standards cartoonAs our elementary school prepared to take the STAR tests this spring,  a parent—who, as it happens, is also a former student of mine (sigh!)—stopped in and said, “Hey, whatever happened to the old CTBS test?  What’s this STAR thing?”  Oh my, did  I feel, well, experienced.

At the same time, the question made me realize that we have some parent education to do!  Smarter Balanced is on its way and our parents should know what to expect!  Here is what I came up with for my parent newsletter.  Fellow principals, feel free to cut, paste and mash up for your own purposes.  It’s all about collaboration! 

Common Core State Standards

California’s state education standards that have been guiding curriculum and instruction for years are being replaced with Common Core State Standards.  This new set of standards began development in June 2010 at the request of the Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.  Now simply known by the shorthand “Common Core,” they represent a change in our expectations of student learning.  Keep in mind the 21st Century Skills (see “Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core)—critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration—as we explore the Common Core.

We will start off with a comparison of the current California standards to the Common Core.   As you consider the contrasts shown in the chart below, think of how the world has change since 1997, the year that the current California standards were adopted. To help ground you, in 1997 the movie Titanic hit the theaters for the first time; Steve Jobs returned to a pre-iPhone Apple; and the new name “Google” was coined for a fledgling search engine that had originally been called BackRub.

California Standards Common Core
Adopted by California in 1997 Adopted by 48 states 2010 – 2012
Purpose to establish content of learning for California students at each grade level Purpose to prepare students to compete in a competitive global society
Developed by California Department of Education for California to reflect a strong consensus among educators Developed by educational professionals in 46 states and informed by national and international research, evidence, and standards from countries that are recognized for high-quality education.
Current (albeit 1997) state standards Built on the strengths and lessons of the current state standards
Each state had its own unique set of standards, varying in content and rigor. Standards are the same for students in all states that have adopted the CCSS.
Assessments designed by commercial educational testing services Assessments designed by two consortia; each state choses one.  CA has chosen Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).
Assessments are multiple-choice items based on the California State Standards 1997. Assessments are “Next Generation Assessments” that assess depth of knowledge by analyzing and synthesizing information, writing essays and applying knowledge.
STAR Test for all students in California in Grades 2 – 12 Smarter Balanced Assessments in Grades 3 – 8 and Grade 11
STAR Results reported 3 months after test. Smarter Balanced Results reported within several weeks.
STAR testing consumes several days of class time. Smarter Balanced is expected to take 1 to 2 hours of student time.

 

In the simplest form, here are key changes in what we expect children to know and do at the end of K- 12 education:

English/Language Arts

Students must be able to demonstrate these skill “shifts” in English Language Arts/Literacy:

  • Read as much non-fiction as fiction
  • Learn about the world by reading
  • Read more challenging material closely
  • Discuss reading using evidence
  • Write non-fiction using evidence
  • Increase academic vocabulary

Mathematics

And under Common Core math, students must be able to…

  • Focus: learn more about fewer, key topics
  • Build skills within and across grades
  • Develop speed and accuracy
  • Really know math and really use it
  • Use it in the real world
  • Think fast AND solve problems
Map of states that have adopted Common Core State Standards
Green states have adopted Common Core State Standards. Click map for more information.
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Getting Parents on Board with the Common Core

Posted by Sheila Grady on June 10, 2013

When it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards, we have much to do, not the least of which is parent education.  Parent newsletters are one obvious avenue for getting the message out.  Here are some topics and ideas that can help you get a head start on next fall’s newsletters.  Principals, you are welcome to cut and paste and, of course, contribute your own “open source” musings in the comments!

 21st Century Learning

Things are clearly different in our 2013 world, and school is one of those things!  The model of schooling that most of us experienced was established in the 19th century and fine-tuned in the 20th century to develop a citizen workforce for the Industrial Revolution.  In many ways, the schooling we adults received was based on an assembly line model.  As we educate your children, we are not preparing them to work in a factory.  The skills they will need in the workforce will be a “blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise and literacies”.   (Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)

Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity

The new basics are critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.  In fact, at our school, we add a fifth “C” to this: conservation.   Let’s review what these skills are and think about how we may already see them being developed in our school.

  • Critical Thinking requires one to reason effectively, solve problems, make judgments and decisions.  We scaffold our students’ opportunities to think critically and provide a foundation upon which to base their thinking.  (Hint – our “Character Counts” program) 
  • Collaboration is the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams, to be flexible and able to compromise, to assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and to value the individual contributions of each team member.    (Hint – Parent-Teacher Committees, Fundraising Drives)
  • Communication is the ability to express ideas clearly in a variety of ways—written, spoken, drawn, built, acted out—and to receive ideas from others by effective listening, watching, and questioning.  (Hint – Reading and Writing for sure, but also Art, Music, Tech)
  • Creativity not only means having new ideas.  It is the ability to elaborate or refine  the ideas of others and to be open to new ideas and possibilities.  (Hint – PTA Meetings, Science Night)
  • Conservation means that our students will take individual and collective action towards addressing environmental challenges.  (Hint – our school Green Team!)
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Push to the core with “Teaching Channel.”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on March 22, 2013

TCH logoWe seem to now live in a world abuzz with the “Common Core,” and the resources are plentiful. Great problem to have, right? Wrong! Too many resources and so many require time to sift through for quality, applicability to our differing student populations, and then finding them later when we realize the resource was good.  It’s exhausting.  That’s why, when Teaching Channel (Tch) was recommended by a colleague, I thought, “Finally!”

As part of a county office team, I work with many school districts.  We regularly run across superintendents or board members who want to know, “How will classrooms look different in the Common Core era?”  Tch can help answer that question.  To start with, Tch has introductory videos the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with a toolbox and an ongoing series of video conversations that address the stages and challenges of implementation.

The next highlight is the depth of videos they have on every subject (currently 155 in ELA and 113 in Math) that are broken down by grade level and concept. For example, I previewed a 2nd-3rd grade video on “number sense.” When you click on the lesson, the standards are highlighted and when you scroll over each standard, it details each beyond the number and header. This particular lesson has an 8 minute long video that focuses on the teacher leading a group of students through the lesson.

The teacher models a couple of ways to count to a specific number using counters, with students attentively watching. She asks questions and students come up to model how they might record their answers.  A quick check for understanding leads students into a group activity that was rich with academic vocabulary and mathematical conversations. The teacher moves around the room, working with small groups and asking probing questions that require the students to defend their thinking and math processes.

Grade level ranges are broken down into preK-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. The videos are also delineated by topics, ranging from student engagement to differentiation to digital literacy. And although the actual lesson plans are not provided, there is enough solid modeling in the videos that a novice teacher can pick up the particular lesson and run with it.  Likewise, a superintendent or board member—or anyone—can get a good look at how classrooms implementing CCSS are different.

Since much of my work in CCSS also focuses on the arts, I had to check out some of the 41 videos already created for the arts. I was pleasantly surprised to find the art lessons were tied to other core subjects, especially the ever-so-popular STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). From high school vocal warm-up techniques to kindergarten science/math/art animal patterns, even the arts have a central place in Tch. More importantly, the videos on Tch are rich with student engagement, conversation, clear instructional objectives that students articulate, and strong examples of formative assessments.

I have been most impressed with the reach of Tch. Check it out.

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