Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 16

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, we may find ourselves at a loss for words. We may find ourselves questioning what we have always thought to be unquestionable. We may find ourselves searching for the resolve we may never find...

Angela Maiers' most recent blog post pushes us to do what we know and do best... TEACH.

Please take a few moments and read what she has to say about this tragedy: There is no lesson plan for tragedy - Teachers YOU know what to do.

In spite of what is going on around us, we have much to be proud of and much to celebrate here in Union. For example, last week at Beaufort Elementary, Mrs. Wiskur and Mrs. Vandiver teamed up their 6th grade students to create and act out "mystery plays."

Students from both classes were teamed up together and were all able to select a play they would ultimately act out and present to their fellow classmates. With this activity students were able to be collaborative, creative, and gained valuable social exposure as they worked together to accomplish this goal. Well done Mrs. Wiskur, Mrs. Vandiver and BE 6th grade students!

Last week at Central Elementary, Mrs. Dickman's 1st grade students had a special Friday morning treat. A 2nd grade student at CE (a former student of Mrs. Dickman), recently met his AR goal. As a reward he chose to read to Mrs. Dickman's 1st grade class! The book he chose to read was called, How Crocodiles Grow Up. The discussion the kids had about crocodiles was amazing as their inquisitive minds were thinking and sharing. The 2nd grade student thoroughly enjoyed playing the teacher role. What an opportunity for him to be a role model for the younger 1st grade students!

For the last several weeks, Mr. Wright's industrial technology students at Union High School have been working on a rather lengthy and complex project. Students have been given the opportunity to build their own bridge. As you can imagine, there is a lot that goes into designing and creating your own bridge.

Last Friday each student had the opportunity to test the "efficiency" of their bridge to determine the overall weight the bridge can handle in comparison to the overall weight of the bridge. The next step is to put the students in teams of four. They then will take the written reflections and the lessons learned and join up with Mr. Baker's Geometry students to create even higher efficiency bridges. Great idea and great collaborative learning opportunity for students!

~ Just another great week at Union R-XI!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 15

There is a significant difference between something 
being hard and something being rigorous...

For example, assume a student has been learning about the 50 states in the United States of America. The last two weeks of class have been focused on learning not just the 50 states, but also learning the history of America and the significant events that have occurred leading up to the current 50 state structure.

Assessment 1: Collaboratively design and create a presentation focusing on one of the major events in America's history that have affected and/or played a significant role in our current 50 state structure. Be prepared to present this to your classmates and be able to justify/explain why this particular event was so significant in America's history

Assessment 2: Using a blank map of the United States, write down and correctly spell all 50 states.

Assessment 1 is rigorous because it is complex and has depth. There are several steps to this assessment, and most importantly, the assessment is not specific to just the content, but also to skills that are transferable to other content areas and beyond. This assessment requires students to work collaboratively while providing them flexibility and creativity to present in a manner they so choose. This assessment can have multiple correct answers.

Assessment 2 is hard because it is asking each student to have memorized the location of each state, as well as have memorized how to spell each state correctly. This assessment is also hard because it disconnects much of the information presented over the last two weeks in regard to the history of the 50 states. Students will think the important focus is on just knowing the 50 states and how to spell them, rather than the history and background behind our current 50 state structure. This assessment can only have one correct answer.


Watch this 4 minute video discussing a rigor matrix comparing DOK levels and Bloom's Taxonomy.

Check out Karin Hess' Rigor Matrix mentioned in the video here: Rigor Matrix

Remember, the educational journey can be long and difficult... be sure to keep things in perspective!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 14

Karin Hess on Depth of Knowledge (3 minute video)
*Click on Karin's name for the Cognitive Rigor Matrix

"Whether you realize it or not, all your students are engaged all the time. The important question is, what are they engaged in?"

How can we continue making this shift in our classrooms? Shifting away from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. It's not about doing less work, it's about making education more purposeful, more relevant, and more engaging for our students.

It's all about the approach for our students... how can you help guide and direct them to the right approach?

These might not show up on a standardized test, but nevertheless they are extremely important. How do we and how are we teaching this...?

Because of the time of the year and because it's Monday, you probably need a little encouragement to smile, laugh, or cry... or perhaps all three at the same time; watch this 4 minute video to kick start your week!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 13

Hopefully everyone had a great holiday break and hopefully everyone was able to take advantage of some down time to recharge and re-energize. Take a few moments to read the short blog post below on Character Education Partnership's blog in regard to gratitude in education:

"Nothing in education puts a bigger ceiling on learning than limiting kids to what’s in the textbook. We live in the age of iPads, Google, and Skype. To the learner that wants to know more, do more, and explore more, the opportunities are there. We just have to think outside the book." via @mcleod

Protect your dreams... protect your students' dreams. (2 minutes)

Working together toward a shared and common goal couldn't be more important than it is now...

Consider how you respond when a student or a colleague says, "yeah, but..."

"The No Complaining Rule" ~ 2 minute video (try not to be like this guy...)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 12

A new essential curriculum...

"Do our students feel like they are time traveling as they walk through the school door each morning. As they cross the threshold, do they feel as if they are entering a simulation of life in the 1990s? Then, at the end of the school day, do they feel that they have returned to the 21st century?"

"As educators, our challenge is to match the needs of our learners to a world that is changing with great rapidity."

~ Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Rigorous Curriculum Design by Larry Ainsworth
(2 minutes long)

Our students must gain the skills to "perform work that overseas knowledge workers can't do cheaper, that computers can't do faster, and that satisfies the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time." ~ Daniel Pink 

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink: Right brain vs. the left brain
(4 minutes long)

How does this fit & align with the new Core Academic Standards?

For a lot of our kids, we only have one chance... 

~ are we making that chance count...?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 11

We are all well aware that the Core Academic Standards are going to require our kids to do more at a younger age. Our students will be asked to approach learning and classroom instruction in a way that is different than what they are accustom to. Likewise, we will need to approach student learning and our teaching in a slightly different way as well.

As part of the many discussions we have been having with staff throughout the district, we have had numerous requests about assessments and the ways they are going to change. Consequently, we wanted to provide some sample and example questions that might help in tweaking and refining our current assessments. This will help to ensure that our assessments are more closely aligned to the CAS and to the higher levels of rigor with which our our students will be faced. 

(Be sure to click on "view more" at the top to find your grade and topic)

Sample math problem for 3rd grade:

Sample math problem for 4th grade:

Sample math problem for 5th grade:

**Check out Shaunteaches YouTube channel for more practice math problems. Simply search his channel to find what you need.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 10

Increasing literacy in all content areas...

"The simplest acquisition of literacy can have a profoundly empowering effect personally, socially and politically.

Literacy gives people tools with which to improve their livelihoods, participate in community decision-making, gain access to information about health care, and above all, it enables individuals to realize their rights as citizens and human beings.

Literacy is not just about reading and writing; it is about respect, opportunity and development..."

Use "Word Walls" throughout the year and personalize them to your content area as well as the specific classroom focus at the time:

Word walls can also be used:

  • To support the teaching of important general principles about words and how they work.
  • To foster reading and writing.
  • To promote independence on the part of young students as they work with words in writing and reading.
  • To provide a visual map to help children remember connections between words and the characteristics that will help them form categories.
  • To develop a growing core of words that become part of a reading and writing vocabulary.
  • To provide reference for children during their reading and writing.

Ways that you can increase opportunities in regard to literacy in your classroom:

~ When your students do a project, solve a problem, or answer a question, have them write a response answering the "how" and the "why."
~ Do more "read alouds" in your classroom and give your students time to focus on oral and audio comprehension. (this is especially important at the elementary levels)
~ Encourage AND allow your students to read more than just books for your class, and don't limit students to reading just printed books.
~ Push the level of rigor in your classroom as it relates to reading materials and writing expectations.

~ Make reading and writing a priority and a central focus in your classroom. When districts make this commitment and transition, the positive effects on student success are huge.
~ Consider having your students start a reflective blog and/or journal to document and monitor their learning and progress. (when students see their progress and growth it can become quite powerful)

And... if all else fails, check out this Education Week article titled, "Five reasons why teaching is still great." 

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 9

The "tipping point" in the Union R-XI School District.

Every single day we all get the opportunity to lead and push ourselves closer to the "tipping point." We lead with our colleagues right alongside our students, and we approach each day and each opportunity with a sense of opportunity and possibility...

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." 

~ John Quincy Adams 

Look around at those with whom you work and interact. Leadership is all around you and you have the ability and choice of being an active participant. 

You have the choice...

Leadership doesn't always start at the top, and there is no doubt that we need leadership at all levels of our organization. Leadership is about encouragement, support, and commitment.

You don't need permission to be a leader...

You probably won't get an invitation to be a leader...

Watch the short video below for an important lesson on leadership.

Are you willing to take a risk and be the "dancing shirtless guy..."

Are you willing to take a risk and be the first to follow...

We all need you, and now is your time... 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 8

It's all about you... how do you see the world?

When your glass if half full, your perspective and attitude unleash a world of possibility...

Your attitude in life isn't just important, it's REALLY important...

 When you practice the power of positive attitude & perspective, you are better able to balance the demands of life.

Watch this short video below and commit yourself to finding the silver lining in every situation; commit yourself to taking action rather than waiting for someone else; commit yourself to self-empowerment and a positive outlook in life!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 7

Assessments, and the role they play in student learning...

Assessment is an ongoing, systematic process that involves:
  • Establishing clear, measurable expected goals of student learning
  • Gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information
  • Applying information and using the results for continuous improvement of teaching and learning.
Student Learning includes the knowledge, skills, and personal development attained through curricular, co-curricular, and out-of-class learning experiences.

"The value of assessments lies not just in the quality of the test itself, but also in how the information from the assessments is used..."

Take a few moments and evaluate the alignment of your classroom instructional practices and activities to the types of assessments you are assigning. If your classroom activities are not matching up with the skills and application of knowledge you are requiring your students to complete on assessments, then your assessments will not provide you with valuable and relevant data. Likewise, if the level of rigor and DOK on your classroom activities are unbalanced with your assessments, you will not be able to make fair and/or accurate conclusions in regard to assessment data.

Lastly, personalizing the types and frequency of assessments for individual students may seem daunting and difficult, but consider this image below and reflect on your assessment practices. If the goal of assessments is to get useful and relevant data to drive and guide classroom instruction in an effort to best meet the needs of our students, then this image makes quite a statement...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 6

Class time (not all class time is created equal...)

Imagine this scenario: You teach at least 5 classes or 5 hours a day (this accounts for both elementary and secondary teachers). Each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early. 

This means that roughly 10 minutes out of every 60 minutes are underutilized. Over the course of the day, this means that roughly 50 minutes out of every 300 minutes are not spent learning.
Over the course of a typical 5 day week there will be 250 minutes not spent learning out of a total 1,500 potential learning minutes.

Over the course of a typical school year of 174 school days there will be 8,700 minutes not utilized for learning. Let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 4,350 minutes of time not spent learning.

4,350 total underutilized minutes divided by a typical 300 minute school day = 14.5 days (or almost 3 weeks) per school year we are letting slip through our fingers. 

Instructional time is precious... how are you using it?

Starting class on time and limiting transition time sets the tone for the entire learning period. When lessons are well-planned & designed around efficiency & a steady pace, kids are better able to remain focused & on task.

Too fast and you lose your class... too slow and you miss the show! A steady pace in class will benefit both you AND your students.

There is a misconception around what the teacher is doing to be considered appropriate usage of time. Utilizing instructional time more efficiently and effectively does NOT mean that teachers need to increase their workload in the classroom. Increasing the amount of group collaboration and student led projects/presentations/activities will have increased levels of rigor and DOK while also limiting any added workload to the teacher. We all need to do a better job of planning and designing our lessons so that the instructional time is used to its fullest potential.


Greet kids at the door with a smile and a friendly "hello"
Activities and/or learning objectives visible for students so they know what to expect
Keep kids engaged by having "important" work available for them
Don't be afraid to let go; trust your students to do what's right
Always plan for more than you think you have time for
"Busy" work should NEVER be used to fill time!
Encourage exploration, discovery and inquiry in your classroom
Design "spaces" in your classroom for both group and independent work
Emphasize the importance of your class time to your students 

If your class time is not important and precious to you, then it will never be important and precious to your students... 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 5

"As we continue to focus on increasing the level of rigor in our schools, it is important to first agree on what rigor is. Rigor is more than just the content of the lesson or even what we expect our students to do. Too often, we simply raise expectations without providing appropriate support for our students to succeed. 

True rigor means creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so that he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels. 

Only by creating a culture of high expectations and providing support so that students can truly succeed does one have a rigorous classroom. Supporting our students so that they can learn at high levels is central to the definition of rigor. It is essential that we craft lessons that move students toward challenging work while providing scaffolding to support them as they learn. To simply increase expectations without helping students achieve at higher levels is futile."

~ At the end of the day, who is more exhausted and tired... you or the students? Don't always work harder, work more efficiently and effectively.

~ Assigning more homework & classwork more frequently does not mean we are increasing rigor.

~ Where do a majority of your class activities fall in regard to the Depth of Knowledge wheel? Make it a priority to shift at least one activity per week to a higher level.

Doing lots of worksheets and learning from the textbook can be really hard; not hard because it's difficult or challenging, but hard because they serve no purpose and have very little relevance to actual learning.

Schools become rigorous when students are pushed not only to know information but also to apply and demonstrate their understanding of that information. Requiring students to reflect on and analyze their thinking and learning might be the most challenging task you can require of any student.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Tuesday morning memo ~ 3

"Fortune favors the bold"

~ The phrase means that Fortuna, the Goddess of luck, is more likely to help those who take risks or action.

"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results" ~ Einstein

~ Don't allow fear or discomfort to get in your way of being great. Our students expect and deserve nothing less of us.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 2

Check out these 4 short posts below on positivity!

The Positive Teacher Pledge

Be sure to sign the "Positive Pledge."

14 Simple Strategies to be More Positive

An Original Tale for Teachers... Nikki the Giraffe

~ Your enthusiasm and positive energy set the tone for your students. Your attitude is one of the few things you can actually control, be sure to use it wisely!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Monday morning memo ~ 1

Union R-XI staff,

Hopefully you are all recharged and re-energized. The upcoming 2012-2013 school year is now upon us, and we are entrusted with perhaps the most important job of all jobs... educating and teaching our future's youth. This task is not to be taken lightly. It will require nothing less than the best we have to offer, perhaps even more...

There are rare occasions when everything seems to be aligned just perfectly. In the Union R-XI School District, that time is now... the time when we come together and refocus our energies on doing whatever it takes to personalize and positively impact the lives of our students. Going the extra mile and making that personal connection will be a fundamental piece in achieving our goals.

The Union R-XI School District has reached a "tipping point," and as everything comes seamlessly together, it is more and more apparent that the time is now...

Please find a colleague and spend 4 uninterrupted minutes (with the volume up) to watch this video.

Have a great school year Union R-XI, and be on the lookout for the Monday morning memo!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Monday morning musings...

Historical origin of the word 'administrator' is 'ministrare' (serve). Consider today how you can better serve your teacher leaders...

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." by Kurt Vonnegut

"Nothing in education puts a bigger ceiling on learning than limiting kids to what’s in the textbook. We live in the age of iPads, Google, and Skype. To the learner that wants to know more, do more, and explore more, the opportunities are there. We just have to think outside the book." via @mcleod

The Voice of the Active Learner:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back to school inspiration in Union R-XI

I wanted to share some blog posts, images & videos that could be beneficial to building and district administrators preparing for back to school meetings and kickoffs. If you have other great resources worthy of sharing, please be sure to leave a comment with the link!

Run your day by @bjnichols

The positive pledge by @jongordon11

Here there be dragons by @biebert

Today is YOURS by @coolcatteacher

Swimming against the tide by @lookforsun

Leave a legacy by @justintarte