Hello Darkness: Light Bulb Moments for the Longest Nights of the Year

Hello Darkness

There are many teachers who serve as sources of inspiration in our lives, but the one that we hope to emulate most is undoubtedly Professor Albus Dumbledore, of JK. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

During this hectic holiday season, as the days are shrinking but the pile of grading is not, we cleave to his wise words:

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“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times,

if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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As Gretchen Vierstra recently pointed out, teaching in December can be tough.

Many of us find ourselves at school before the sun makes its grand appearance and are still there long after it quits for the day.

What is it that’s causing the daylight hours to hasten by, providing us additional hours of darkness?

Is there a way to embrace the “Darkside” of the season, while still resisting the negative forces at work?

Whether you’re looking for ways to get students engaged with the darkness around us during this time of year or enamored with the bright lights of the season, here are some tips and tricks to use around the solstice to help students embrace phenomena and enjoy the holiday season.

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The Power of Student Voice in First-Person Commentaries

Educating for Democracy Blog Header

It’s easy to have an opinion these days. But getting someone to see the world from your point of view — that takes a little more skill.

Enter the first-person commentary.

From newspaper op-eds to radio perspectives, there’s a growing market for content grounded in one person’s individual lived experience. Done well, commentaries can inform, persuade, and build empathy — making them powerful tools for civic engagement and fostering deeper community conversation.

This lesson on commentary writing comes to you from Youth Radio, an award-winning national network of next-generation storytellers.

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KLEWS: Supporting Claims, Evidence & Reasoning

Supporting Claims, Evidence and Reasoning

What are the KLEWS to real learning in the classroom?

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In order for the vision of the Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) to be successful, science education cannot be something we only tackle in secondary school. In some ways, it’s easier for us to get buy-in from middle school and high school science teachers, who often have a background in science content. The challenge of supporting elementary classroom teachers, who sometimes lack the same confidence when it comes to science, is critical when it comes to NGSS implementation.

In order to meet this challenge, Urban Advantage (UA) has been working on a pilot program with about 40 New York City classroom teachers, from third through fifth grades. This program, a collaboration between education staff from the American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Queens Botanical Garden, aims to support these teachers by engaging students in authentic science investigations.

The KLEWS strategy has been a key feature of this work.

teacher using KLEWS strategy

A few years ago, I was sharing with Mary Starr, executive director of the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network, the work I’d been doing around scientific explanations for middle school teachers, referring to the book, Supporting Grade 5-8 Students in Constructing Explanations in Science, by Kate McNeill and Joe Krajcik.

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What's Your Evidence book cover

Mary then asked if I was familiar with the book, What’s Your Evidence?, also by Kate McNeill, along with Carla Zembal-Saul and Kimber Hershberger.

That was how I discovered the KLEWS strategy, a powerful tool to support the Claims-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R) work we were already doing in our program.

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So how can teachers begin to use the KLEWS chart right now in their science instruction?

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Calling All Bloggers: Submit Your Teacher Retention Ideas

Share your voice. Blog with Tch. Teacher retention

When did you first realize that you were called to be an educator?

As a child, I can recall teaching “classes” full of stuffed animals, dolls, a few live puppies, and even a captive audience of neighborhood children. But it wasn’t until high school that I really knew I wanted to be a teacher. It was an ordinary day during my sophomore year in high school, in the middle of a world history lecture, that I remember thinking to myself — Yes, I want to be a high school history teacher.

I was watching my history teacher, Mr. Sterling, at the time, and I could sense his ease with the content, his passion, and his excitement. When he wasn’t captivating me with his ponderings on the state of Abu Dhabi, he was likely teasing me after catching me waving out the door to my boyfriend for the 100th time that semester, or encouraging me to keep going after I missed that one point I needed to meet the goal I’d set for myself in the class.

I knew he was doing exactly what he was called to do in this world — and I knew I wanted to do that, too.

I loved teaching. And that’s why I know that making the decision to leave the classroom is one of the most difficult decisions an educator will ever make.

Yet, for more than a decade, we’ve been having an ongoing conversation about teacher shortages and the difficulties we now face recruiting and retaining teachers. Notably, the data suggests that retention is no longer an issue that only impacts teachers in their first five years, but that teachers are leaving their classrooms in increasing numbers throughout the trajectory of their careers. This is a problem we must address, and we believe that you can help!

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What to Do for the Most Challenging Students in Your Class

Tch Deep Dives: New Techer Survival Guide

You’ve set up your classroom. You know your kids and curriculum. You have the basics down.

Everything is running smoothly, except…

There’s one student who disrupts your class on a regular basis. One student who doesn’t respond to the expectations of the classroom.

The whole situation may have you feeling frustrated and discouraged.

Stop right there.

The first thing you need to realize is that this is not about you.

As personal as some students can seem to make it, your first task is to change your own perspective. Children who misbehave or adolescents who act out are almost always expressing an emotion or a problem that’s just beneath the surface. The key to improving their behavior is to figure out what function that action serves and then address the root of the problem.

So, where do you start?

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The Human Side of Teacher Teams and PLCs

the human side of teachers teams and PLCs

When it comes right down to it, teaching in general, and working as part of a professional learning community (PLC) specifically, are very human endeavors. Our charge as educators and the interactions we have with each other in pursuit of that charge are very personal, indeed.

As such, it’s easy to forget when we’re in the throes of a PLC meeting and working on processes like writing SMART goals, that we’re dealing with people, and with all of the talents, knowledge, curiosities, skepticisms — and yes, baggage — they bring to the table.

By comparison, it’s easier to blindly forge through and tick off items on an agenda than to be in touch with and respond to the interpersonal dynamics that play out as those agenda items are executed. This is the road less traveled, in a sense; acknowledging and honoring the humanity of teacher teams, and not forgetting for an instant that everything we accomplish (or not) happens squarely in this context.

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Tch Tips: Four Tips for Surviving December

Tch tips

It’s that most wonderful time of the year. Well, sort of.

Teaching in December can be tricky and sometimes downright difficult. You may find yourself digging deeper and deeper into your bag of tricks. You may need something fresh to keep you and your students on track. You may simply need a break.

You can survive and even thrive in December! Here are four tips to get you through the holiday season.

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Become an “Exhibitionist” of Student Learning!

Become an Exhibitionist of Student Learning

“I’m an exhibitionist of student learning”

– Public Presentations of Learning Stimulate Deeper Learning

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I loved being a teacher and relished in the futuristic vision of myself.

I’d sport salt and pepper grey hair like my Grandma Lu, thoughtfully sip my decaf coffee from my Wonder Woman traveler mug, and still execute perfectly timed dance moves through lessons, discussions, and projects for the enjoyment of my students. I always knew that if I ever left the classroom it would have to be for something important, and I couldn’t think of anything more important than positively impacting the lives of young people. Then I learned about a career opportunity that would allow me to do just that, but on a national scale, and I was all in.

I was asked to Co-Direct the Share Your Learning Campaign, a national initiative that aims to empower 300,000 teachers to shape the path for five million students to publicly present their learning to an audience beyond the classroom by the year 2020, and I said, “Yes.”

Although I had strong reservations about leaving the security of my classroom and the mutual love and respect of “my babies,” aka my students, I was eager to be a part of a nationwide transformation of student learning.

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