Math Curriculum Changes

Math curriculum changes are taking place in K-8 for the 2013-2014 school year and teachers are preparing through workshops and other trainings  to be ready. The shift in some of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills from one grade level to another has teachers rethinking content and lesson experiences for the coming year.

STAAR Instructional Strategies for English I

When our English I teacher, Karen Yoder, sees the results on the STAAR EOC, her bottom line is checking for student learning and achievement. When you see the plan for the year to achieve those results, it becomes very clear there is no magic curriculum or silver bullet to get those kind of results. Instead, it is a commitment between teacher and students to tackle a very challenging class load that ultimately produces confident writers and critical thinkers. As you will see in the link below, the prep work begins with the teacher. Karen logged somewhere between 55 and 60 hours of professional development last year to ensure that she had run the gamut on resources, tools, and lesson design to prepare her students. Then she works 60 hours per week planning, strategizing, designing curriculum, providing immediate feedback, and grading. The load is rigorous for both she and her students, and they have a relationship of respect and admiration that pushes them to exceed her expectations.

In the information provided in the link she stresses several very important points that hopefully will help teachers across the region to add to their toolboxes. In addition, Karen shares some resources and tips for creating a program that can work for any classroom. It is a job…….it requires lots of preparation to be ready with the challenging curriculum it takes to be successful in the course and on the EOC. She grades stacks of essays in a very narrow window, [multiple times per year], so students see the progress they are making, and she writes with her students. She provides quality writing examples so her students take away the relevance and importance of strong writing, while also realizing that she has already done what she is asking them to do.

Please take a moment to read through the information provided in the link. The link will direct you to my Curriculum & Instruction page, then scroll down below the STARR Test icon and click on Karen Yoder. Best wishes for a great 2013-2014 school year.


5 Important Elements of the 21st Century Classroom

Things are changing so rapidly that it’s hard to imagine what we will be facing in the years to come. But, the one constant in all of this is our compelling and moral obligation to provide students with a cutting edge education that embraces technology and inquiry-driven learning, and promotes school-wide collaboration. Now, that’s  something I want to be a part of.

Learning to Learn

Through the work we are doing with Powerful Learning Practices, one of the focal points has been on engaging in powerful professional development and connectivity to help us be the best we can. To meet the needs of the students of today and tomorrow, there is a need to recreate ourselves. That means rethinking the way we do our job. It means redefining our actions as educators so that we are teaching students how to learn, in part by modeling the role of the lead learner.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, in her book, The Connected Educator, also says “we must stop thinking of a teacher as a giver of all knowledge and students as passive receivers of all knowledge and adopt a learner-first attitude.” She also goes on to say that, “teaching does not make learning occur. Learners create learning.” 

In recreating ourselves, we take on a new role of responsibility and we must give serious thought to how we teach and reach kids. Some of the attitude change can come from quality professional development, but the other part, maybe even the most important piece is the realization that connected learning is a process of learning, unlearning, and then relearning………just something to think about.



Transforming Instruction

In light of my recent posts (and future posts) on transforming classroom instruction, I thought this quote was timely and appropriate.

“Education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed. The key is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

~Sir Ken Robinson

Designing instruction for today’s learners

The longer we’re in this business, the more changes we see. Some of these changes are unsolicited, while others are necessary if we are to stay current with educating today’s learners. We are constantly inundated with new ideas, initiatives and mandates being thrown at us from the federal level, the state level, and others. All, in an effort to find the magic bullet to improve academic instruction and meet accountability standards.

A critical area that I am dedicated to seeing improve is the method by which we provide  instruction. Before entering administration I was a veteran teacher who vowed never to forget the environment shared by teacher and student. Perhaps that’s why the shift in lesson design and instruction is so important and necessary.  More than ever we have the opportunity to take the best of our current practices and add innovation, rich content, the digital environment, creativity, and student voice and choice to the mix. And, the method by which we start this shift in instruction starts with our district leadership supporting teachers and principals, and making it a priority to provide the resources and training necessary for change to occur.

With all of the resources and tools available, classroom instruction can absolutely be the most powerful it’s ever been. We have the opportunity to engage students like never before with technology integration, student-driven, teacher facilitated lessons, high-level questioning and critical thinking, and creating project-based lessons that empower students to be curious and accountable for their own learning.

In today’s world of high-stakes testing we are often overwhelmed by all of the demands for students to perform well so accountability ratings will be solid–after all, that’s what we’re known for. But we must look beyond the current system to a new system that strikes a balance between teaching rich curriculum & content, stretching students’ imagination & creativity, and helping them find their voice to be successful in the 21st Century. When we see these changes occur, we will see significant academic gains and achievement gaps close.

On a daily basis I get to observe many of our teachers reaching beyond their comfort zones to pursue instructional practices and create lessons that are designed to meet the needs of today’s learner. It isn’t an easy process, but it is extremely rewarding. We must continue to provide an education system that is relevant and challenging if we want our students to be college/career ready and prepared for the future.

The transformation in classroom instruction that is described here will not happen overnight, but with the appropriate training and professional development and a resolute attitude to push forward, the transformation you see in students will resonate far beyond their expectations, and yours.

Transforming Classroom Instruction

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to visit the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA, and meet their high school principal, Chris Lehmann. Although  I had researched him and the school extensively, and had communicated with him via Twitter, the face-to-face meeting was important to me as I pieced together what SLA was all about with regard to innovative practices and educating today’s learner. I can say without a doubt that he is a guru of instructional leadership and sets the tone for what is expected in every classroom–which translates into modern learning or today’s learning at its finest.  SLA is an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning and all classes use a common rubric based on Design, Knowledge, Application, Presentation and Process. Their mission is based on three questions: 1. “How do we learn?” 2. “What can we create?” and 3. “What does it mean to lead?”

Through a number of visits with students and unannounced classroom observations over a two-day period I witnessed students collaborating on a variety of lessons and topics, all of which involved technology, group discussions, high-level questioning, role-playing, and more. I was more impressed at not seeing worksheets, reading out of a textbook, and row after row of student filled desks. Instead students were gathered in groups at tables or had created their own seating arrangements to reflect a cafe-style learning environment, all the while continuing the learning experiences as outlined in the daily objectives.

One might say teachers and students were using their ‘dog and pony’ show for the visitors, but when SLA hosts over 300 visitors per month, there is NO show to put on; instead they model everyday what is expected from their administrator, parents and district level supervisors.

And, while this particular school is a high school campus, campuses at any level, in any district, in any state, can emulate these instructional processes;  some already are, while others are moving in that direction.

Because of our important work as one of 23 districts in The Texas High Performance School Consortium, we must continue to forge ahead with some of these very same goals in mind when we are working with students. We are seeing some great instruction across the district, with many of our teachers willing to step out of their comfort zones into unknown territory because it’s best for kids. We are seeing that we must combine a variety of instructional strategies and tools into our classrooms so that we meet the needs of ALL students. We have teachers incorporating more inquiry-driven lessons through Project-Based Learning, resulting in impressive student presentations that go beyond the scope of the original objective. Technology continues to be a focus in this district, and through campus instructional leadership we are seeing additional technology integration into classroom instruction with students. In other words, the digital learning environment is a necessary part of student engagement and helps to equip them with skills for the future; fortunately, we have teachers who recognize this. We are also seeing the perfect blend of lecture (chunks of instruction) with collaborative work, student engagement, and high-level questioning and critical-thinking–all with the goal in mind of reaching ALL students through a variety of instructional strategies and differentiation.

So as we look ahead to the eight or so weeks of school left and reflect on where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and what we have left to do, I must ask you to reflect on these three questions: “How did we learn?”, “What did we create?” and “What does it mean to lead?” It would be interesting to gather information from your students to see if their answers align with your answers. Then, in the end, you will have the answers to how, or if, you truly transformed instruction in your classroom.

Something to think about………………………




Environmental Science class showcases PBL project

I had the privilege last week to serve on a PBL panel for the high school Environmental Science class. Students had created Energy Conservation curriculum units for each campus and correlating grade levels to use as a part of their respective science units.

Having worked with these students over the past 3-4 weeks, I was so impressed by the students’ work ethic, their commitment to completing the task at hand, and the ability to create units that were engaging, collaborative and relevant for students, grades K-11. This effort was a result of studying Energy as a part of their classroom curriculum.

Initially when the assignment started, the high school students were hesitant and unsure of how this project would be meaningful and impact students. Having had personal conversations with them, they shared their concerns about this project and whether it would make a difference for others. I told them the projects would impact students at all grade levels and serve as a great resource for teachers. The students also got to experience first hand what lengths a teacher goes through to plan thought-provoking, relevant lessons that students will enjoy and learn from.

They did a great job with presenting information using technology as a teaching tool, and the panel seemed impressed with what they saw and heard. I commend their teacher, Rob McFall, for taking risks in using PBL in the classroom, and for his vision of what the classroom learning environment could and should look like. It was a proud moment to see all of this come together. Congratulations.

When the students post to their blogs, I will link this page to the blogs so all can see and enjoy. Great process for all involved.