Engineering the End of the School Year

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

As students walk into class, they gather all their materials and get to work right away on their collaborative projects.

Groups are independently engaged in their learning.

“I think greenhouses are going to be too expensive, but let’s look up the costs.”

“I think we should make a movie to tell others about our plan, because that’s more interesting than a PowerPoint.”

Does this scenario sound like a dream classroom, especially during the last few weeks of school? Well, what if this could be your classroom reality?

Keeping yourself and your students charged at the end of the school year sounds great and somewhat daunting. June can be taxing for students and teachers alike. However, the end of the year can also be the perfect time to try out new teaching practices and student-centered learning strategies.

If you lean in to the opportunity to reinvigorate your day-to-day routines, you can set yourself up to finish on a strong note, in terms of both instruction and social-emotional learning.

So, what’s the secret?

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3 Steps to Successful Student Collaboration

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Why We Hang In There

Deep sighs, rolled eyes, slumped shoulders, and hanging heads, met with eyes yearning for hope… No, it’s not a summons for jury duty, it’s the reaction I get from teachers when I say, “student collaboration.”

#realtalk for a moment: Getting students to work successfully in a group is REALLY hard!

And yet, despite the complete exhaustion it brings us, we hang in there. Why do we do it? Because we know our students need it. And not just because there are flashy frameworks and graphics that tell us collaboration is important in school. And not just for their future career, college, relationships, or global competition; but because it helps students develop into more empathetic and cooperative human beings. And regardless of what our future looks like, we’re going to need those!

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Why It’s Hard

If you’re responsible for any number of human beings, you know that it’s difficult to facilitate effective group work — whether you’re working with children or adults. It’s hard to work through our differences — actively listening, embodying selflessness, and orally communicating one’s thoughts is a challenging process to navigate. Not to mention that issues of status and equity rear their ugly heads during any sort of group discourse (see Horne, Boaler, and Cohen). That’s a lot to manage in a classroom where available minutes continue to shrink with competing initiatives and demands. But all hope is not lost. With some basic systems and structures in place, the conditions for effective classroom collaboration can be established — read on to find out how.
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Starting from the Beginning at Year 20

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Have you ever taught a lesson and realized too few of your students learned what you taught? You’re not alone! We’ve experienced this numerous times in our years as classroom teachers and in our current roles. In this blog post, Gabe shares his experiences from teaching and his role as elementary school principal. Together, we share insights from our collaboration and shared experiences.

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Gabe:

After 20 years of working with elementary school children, I finally started to find answers to the pedagogical questions nagging me since my first days teaching mathematics. I also realized how powerful it is to expand my understanding of math concepts beyond the narrow scope I’d experienced — and taught — my entire life.

As a systems thinker, I’d constrained math instruction to a series of prescribed steps, completely disconnected from the mathematical concept. I streamlined tasks into a sequence that could be introduced and modeled — steps that students could rehearse as many times as necessary. Most lessons were a version of,

Here’s the lesson objective, relevant vocabulary, and the steps we need to follow. Now, we will practice these steps as many times as we can before lunch.”

Over the past two years, I began to emerge from my constrained view of math instruction. More than any other aspect of teaching, math instruction is the domain I would revise if I could revisit my years as a classroom teacher. Now, as the principal of an elementary school, my role is to be the lead learner. To me, this means I must first experience the steps it takes to learn new instructional strategies and implement them in classrooms at various grade levels. To do this, I schedule the time to co-teach math lessons in classrooms at the school where I work.

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4 Tips for Planning Better Lessons with Purpose

Tchers Voice Professional Learning

Think back to your undergrad work. If you’re like me, you probably can still remember the first lesson you ever created for a methods class. “Caring for Commas” — that was my first lesson (I guess I was a grammar geek even back then). I spent countless hours planning this 15-minute mini-lesson, working tirelessly to ensure all the variables were considered before delivering this masterpiece to my college classmates.

We can all think back to that first lesson, and the hundreds of lessons that we’ve planned with a similar focus and fervor throughout our careers. But there are so many more lessons that we plan with less intensity, less excitement, and that’s okay. However, I’ve recently been thinking about the ways that I’ve grown as a planner, and how I’m able to save time and energy, while still planning purposeful, precise, and passionate lessons for students.

These four tips may help you plan better lessons on purpose, too.

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Surviving Group Work: Essential Student Collaboration Strategies for the Diverse Classroom

English Language Learners

Group work.

Two seemingly innocent words that cause both teachers and students alike to tremble with apprehension. The ghosts of bad group work past conjure haunting memories of disagreements, distractions, and indifference. Yet, as educators we know student-to-student interaction is a crucial component in increasing both engagement and academic language development.

So, how do we avoid the pitfalls of bad group work and foster an environment of stimulating discussion and student collaboration?

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Embracing Virtual Journeys in Science

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

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“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

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When I was a classroom teacher, this quote was posted on my wall to remind my students that they would have many choices in life. I wanted my students to be ready to explore the world and walk through all the doors that would open for them.

I was recently re-inspired when I saw these same words posted on the wall of a classroom I visited. It reminded me not only of the inspiration I find when reading many of the Dr. Seuss books, but also that each of his books has a message — some buried deep within the text, others more obvious, almost jumping off the page.

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Tch Talks 23: School Startup to Curio: Redesigning Deeper Learning

Tch Talks

When teachers solve problems, they inspire their students to solve problems, too. How can teachers use their best strategies as a launching pad for deeper learning and professional growth? And how can curiosity, co-creation, and collaboration before a lesson idea is formed be a game-changer for classroom practice?

On this episode of Tch Talks, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, Instructional Specialist and Deeper Learning Coach for Fern Creek High School in Louisville, Kentucky and 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, joins us to talk about her work with School Startup. This pilot program is where three cohorts of Teacher-Founders are engaged in the design process to rethink and redesign deeper learning in their classrooms and professional learning communities.

She also shares her recent adventures as founder and CEO of Curio Learning, an app that helps teachers discover new ideas and curate them in a personalized way. The app also facilitates collaboration with other educators in order for them to grow as professionals and find the ways to best help their students.

Ashley believes that if every teacher woke up to the awesome influence he or she has, there would be a drastic overhaul of the system and that — bottom line — it takes a teacher to transform learning.

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Practices in Action: Ecobottles as a Model Ecosystem

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

Anyone who has spent time learning about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is familiar with the three-dimensional aspect of the Standards — an integration of disciplinary core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. While most would reason science education has always involved themes and practices in addition to the content, the integral shift the NGSS offer is that each of these is given equal status.

The Next Generation Science Standards changed how science is assessed. Students must show proficiency in all three dimensions, not just content mastery.

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PodcastPodcastSTEAM-ing along with Science

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

In October, Tch Next Gen Squadster Meg Richard was recognized with SmartBrief Education’s monthly Editor’s Choice Content Award for her creative post on how to engage students and STEAM through Halloween with 13 fun and creative lesson ideas.

Listen to Meg talk about her work with Larry Jacobs on Education Talk Radio.

Check out Meg’s Happy Hallow-STEAM post and more:

And be sure to check out the NGSS Deep Dive for more great ideas!