November 21, 2017

Gobbling up Some STEM Experiences!


One way to enjoy a holiday is through STEM activities.  I am just venturing into STEM and it seems like a perfect fit for Student-Led Learning.  While I was thinking about what to do with the two days before Thanksgiving, STEM came to mind!  Why not?!  The students' brains would not be able to do much, they would loose whatever learning we were doing over the long weekend, and, well, I would be just to tired to teach-period!  Also, I have viewed STEM as a fun adventure-up until creating and implementing one!  

I knew I wanted to think of my very own idea!  The way I learn how to create something new is by developing something from start to finish.  I have always been this way.  It allows my brain to cycle through a cycle.  I know that's a lot of cycles, but that is truly what it does.  Suddenly, the Turkey Hotline popped into my head and that's where I went-turkey thawing!  Yep, but HOW?!  How do I implement such a crazy thing for kids!  

Here's how it went down!  First, I shared the basic concept with my students. I designed the pages in the Holiday STEM:  Thaw a Turkey to be both printable pages and a PowerPoint presentation. 



Then they dove into the process.  I designed this with the idea that they would complete the activity in two days.  The first day, students worked through the Ask, Imagine, Plan, and Create stages.  This took very little time actually.  In less than an hour students had worked through these stages and created their thawing devices.  Here they are! 



So, where were the "turkeys"?  My school has a freezer in the office.  Once I got permission, I started the freezing process there.  Then, the second morning, I sent students to the "grocery store" to pick up the "turkeys"!  They all wanted to go!  Once the turkeys arrived, we took off the "wrapping" and got started!  

There were some interesting designs for SURE!  This group actually defrosted their turkey in 45 minutes.  This equaled an uncookable turkey!  Yep-they better have a different plan! 



This group finished in about two hours.  Out of nowhere their turkey exited the ice!  Yep-uncookable!  



These two groups didn't make it but their turkeys thawed within 15 minutes of "time".  We talked about how they would have a dinner, but they would have unhappy guests because the meal would be late!  




And this teams took an additional hour to thaw!  They would have very unhappy guests, because their turkey would not have been able to be cooked!  



Overall, they had an AWESOME time with this STEM.  We had just finished learning about states of matter and freezing points, so that is all they had to go with scientifically.  Our next unit is energy, including heat energy and insulators.  We will finish right before the Holiday Break!  Guess what we will be trying again!  Yep!  Students completed the  Imagine stage at the end of our STEM.  I am keeping their papers and will give them back with their new found knowledge and give it a go again!  I can't wait to see what they come up with!  



You can grab the Holiday Stem: Thaw a Turkey in my store, The Best Days.  I'd love for you to try it out!  And, feel free to share what kinds of STEM have you tried in your classroom.  I'd love to hear all about it!  Leave a note in the comments and have an AWESOME Thanksgiving!  






August 4, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Classroom Design and Open Seating

Have you heard of Open Seating?  I hadn't and my first reaction was that it was just another name for Flexible Seating.  Was I surprised when I read that it was not!  Was I even more surprised when I decided it was just right for me!

Open seating, classroom design, student-led learning, student centered, classroom climate


I was tooling around the Net when I happened upon THIS ARTICLE from Scholastic.  The idea intrigued me, but, to be honest, I thought htis lady was NUTS!  Letting kids pick their own seats!  Well, the more my Professional Learning Community discussed this, the more it seemed to fit into the Student-Led Learning model.  We wisely began to look closer at this model and we decided to incorporate one more idea into this.  REFLECTION!  If kids really thought about what worked for them in seating, if kids really thought about location and issues with others around them, could they actually do this?  Could we trust them with this wisdom!  So, we made a decision!  We are trying it out!

With this came the idea that came the fact that students needed a way to be guided and to reflect upon the seats they were in.  Open Seating Posters and Reflection was built upon that idea.  Here is a little video explaining how I set up my classroom and how Open Seating will be used.  Sorry about the VERY quick change over! I'm still learning video!  



July 18, 2017

Student-Led Learning: What Does the Research Say?

competency-based pathways, classroom climate, student-led research, research,


"Ugh," I just have to say it, "UGH!" This is probably the hardest blog post I've ever written. Can I say, I really do love research. This is a picture of most of my collection of professional books. (Finally in one space!  Some, truly, are still at school-about 20 more!  Yep, I have a problem!)  

I've read most of these from the front to the back! Some are new and I'm working my way through.  So, I'm very familiar with research.  The UGH of this post is finding research about the actual practices of Student-Led Learning.  With that being said, we are going to start off this little look with...John Hattie!  

You have to give this man kudos! It isn't rocket science to take all the best research and find out what it says, together, in one place!  If you haven't heard of Hattie, this is exactly what he did.  Gather it up, synthesize it, and spit it out so teachers know what is best. Yet, we, as teachers, have barely heard of him!  Now, I have to admit, I don't have the most up to date book either, but fact is fact, there are some key points to Student-Led Learning that are targeted in his synthesis of studies.  They parallel claims made by the author's of Fearless Learners.  Let's take a look, shall we!

(Please note:  I have not taken these claims word for word from the text.  I have synthesized myself and put their ideas into my own words!)


Claim #1:  Students understand and can explain the mastery of standards.

Hattie:  Self-Report of Grades 1.44 (High Impact)
This is the highest impact on learning in Hattie's book.  It DOES NOT mean that kids are explaining their grades.  What it means is that students have views of themselves and how they learn. The level of achievement they believe they have directly impacts what they do.  Student-Led Learning allows students to feel successful, makes them aware of what they have mastered, and builds their self-belief systems.  I believe that this directly impacts their ability to walk into another grade level believing they are better, stronger students, even if it isn't a student-led classroom!  


Claim #2:  Students master materials instead of working through units at a teacher paced learning outcome.  

Hattie:  Mastery Learning 0.58 (High Impact)
This claim states that if students are provided with clear explanations of what it means to master the material, they will learn with more success.  This one comes with some tie-ins.  There include cooperation with classmates, classroom climate, lots of feedback, corrections of mistakes, and using diagnostic formative tests.  Interestingly enough, these are all claims made by the author's of Fearless Learners!  The little I have done with student-led learning also points to this being a valid claim!  SCORE!


Claim #3:  Students improve verbalization of skill understanding and self-question in the classroom.  

Hattie:  Self-Verbalization and Self-Questioning 0.64 (High Impact)
In one study that Hattie read, self-verbalization was among the highest returns in student strategies!  This is key in task oriented skills, such as writing and mathematics!  Awesome!  And, as far as questioning goes, it shows that the return for students is biggest in the lower ability and special education students in the study! Win/Win!!!  


Claim #4:  The teacher/student relationship grows and is key to the learning in the classroom.  

Hattie:  Teacher-Student Relationships 0.72 (High Impact)
Both authors in the text specifically discuss how much their relationships with their students change.  From my experiences with this type of learning, I have to agree.  Their needs and feelings become a core part of the classroom, creating a key community of learners that support each other without the teacher's interventions. They thrive.  According to Hattie's work, this is called a person-centered teacher.  This person-centered teacher builds a classroom of respect that allows for fewer resistant behaviors and higher achievement is the outcome! Who knew!  The key to all of this-the teacher needs to facilitate students' development within the classroom through empathizing with the students and providing feedback to self-assess, feel safe, and learn to understand other students in the classroom as well!  I'd call that a Student-Led Classroom for sure!  


Claim #5:  Students are able to meet goals they set for themselves.  

Hattie:  Goals 0.67 (High Impact)
According to the author's of Fearless Learners, goal setting is found throughout the student's day, week, month, and year in a student-led classroom.  This comes from the schedule they build each day for the next and all the way through each academic task and activity that they do.  Hattie's research says that they provide the link between the past and the future.  This is most valuable when students and teachers set challenging rather that "do your best" goals!  The most important thing in goal setting is the difficulty of the goal.  It directly connects to the performance of the person who sets that goal!  The student-led classroom is full of goal setting opportunities, making it, yet again, a classroom reaching for success simply by the make-up of design!  

And, there you have it in a Hattie nut-shell!  Oh, there's a lot more out there, and I'm reading up on a few more great research moments.  I think that's where the UGH really lies. This one was easy to locate and understand, which is what makes Hattie's books even nicer.  I look forward to sharing more information with you as I research deeper into this.  I can't promise that any time soon, because I'm finding some really meaty stuff!  Anyways, let me know what your thoughts are about this research and your experiences with the Student-Led Classroom!




July 13, 2017

Where Can I Find More Information on Student-Led Learning!

student centered learning, classroom climate, students as leaders, student centered resources

We are always looking for great resources as teachers, but I've found that discovering Student-Led Learning resources are not that easy.  I've found tons of information on Pinterest about Student-Led Conferences, but very little on Student-Led Learning.  However, I've found some excellent sources!  Here's a round-up of some great sources out there!  

The Student Centered Learning Podcasts

These podcasts share the stories and ideas found in a variety of learning ranges.  They are easy to listen to and provide personal experiences within the Student-Led classroom settings!  Follow them on Facebook as well!  


Models of Excellence



This amazing site provides great exemplars from REAL students who have gone through the Student-Led Classroom model!  This site is a MUST to save and come back to often!  


Edutopia 


I have a number of great articles about Student-Centered Learning at Edutopia! Be sure to check it out, including this great article, A Case for Student-Centered Learning!

Personalized Learning Toolkit  


There are some AWESOME materials on this site to get started mentally thinking about the transition!  It is WONDERFUL!!  

EWA:  Student Centered Learning


This is an amazing site full of articles to get you going on your journey!  

And, finally, 
Students at the Center Hub


This is, literally, a HUB of EVERYTHING you need! There are articles, tool-kits, inservice materials, places to connect, and more! Fabulous!

And for more about my journey with Student-Led Learning, you can check out my overview of posts at 


student centered learning, student centered learning sources, student-led learning sources, student-led learning research,

Be sure to stop by and check out more posts as I share my experiences with Student-Led Learning!  Take a moment to leave a comment of any great sites you find or sharing your experiences too!  I'd love to hear from you!  





July 11, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Celebrate Good Times, Come On!!

Student Centered, classroom climate, classroom design, students as leaders, celebrate learning, fearless learners

You may be joining me for the first time or you may be joining me by following along in this series of posts about Fearless Learners, but I welcome you all to the CELEBRATION!  Yes, that's Step 6 in the books we've been enjoying this summer-Celebrate!  It's time!

Sutton and Westberry have done it again in this chapter!  There is no way you can't get through this text without knowing, deep down inside, that you can do this thing, this Student-Led Learning thing!  You feel grounded and passionate and READY even with so much to think about and/or prepare!  That is something to celebrate!!

But, be prepared!  You will meet resistance and get "those" looks!  It happened to me at a recent inservice.  I just mentioned the Student-Led Learning model at my last inservice to my table teachers and two things happened.  The younger teacher turned to her computer and started looking at the dieting website she was exploring and the older, almost retired teacher rolled her eyes.  This was NOT the first time in these four days this exact thing happened with the two of them!  The whole premise of the inservice SCREAMED Student-Led Learning and each time one, if not both, said, "My students could NEVER do that!" Why, you ask-they were from Title 1 schools!   Yet, research shared in Make Just One Change by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana points to something else!  You see, I'm making a connection here that Student-Led Learning falls into the category of creating divergent thinkers!  It IS the ability to generate a wide range of ideas, options, hypotheses, and possibilities!  It is the combination of convergent thinking and metacognition!  It is all of this and more!  So, what do they say about the students that these teachers were speaking of?  Here's what they found, "Divergent thinking is almost always seen as a gift rather than an acquired and developed skill.  But this view is far from the truth:  divergent thinking is a distinct form of higher-order thinking that can be taught to all ages and all students....low academic performance showed an ability to learn divergent thinking and gained greater self-confidence in their overall abilities the more they practiced."  Let's celebrate THAT!  Stop thinking that your students CAN'T and let's celebrate that research says THEY CAN!  Give this model a try-it may very well surprise you and your students!  

And, with that, I am a little perplexed right now as to HOW I'm going to celebrate successes.  I have to say, this has always been my weak spot.  I always give high-fives, etc. as students learn, but it is important within the class for students to celebrate each other.  So, my first week I'm going to practice what I've read and let some control go over all the steps in this process.  I am going to recruit the help of my students to develop a plan for this.  It is leaving me with a pit feeling in my stomach, but it's my first big step into what I can't see.  And, yet, I know I will be celebrating the awe of seeing my new third graders make decisions that will impact us for the whole school year! After all, it is their class, not just mine!  

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment with your successes or even your fears about this process!  It's going to be an awesome journey this school year, so stop back by!  I'm not even ready to end this this summer, so expect more posts as ideas and new knowledge found comes my way! 


July 6, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Failure IS an Option!


Interesting, isn't it?  To think of failure as an option-because, as Sutton and Westberry point out, it IS going to happen!  Welcome to Step 5-Failure!  

As I shared last time, I did try a similar ideas many moons ago. What I can't remember are the failures.  Honestly, I can tell you the how I did it, I can tell you the why I did it, I can even tell you about the specific moment I realized that remediation was instant!  A very bright young man came up to me with his paper.  Students were allowed (and still are in my room-and in Sutton and Westberry's class) to self-check papers.  I pull my pages out of the teacher's student edition and I create a key.  Students go to the assigned area and check their work with an approved grading tool (a red or blue grading instrument-instrument so no one asks if a colored pencil is ok, a crayon is ok, etc.).  There can be no more than 3 kids at the paper at once.  I label the word problems they do with Mrs. Santello so I check those for accuracy and understanding.  This is the system I've used now for all these years-whether I've taught whole group or small group, it was something I never gave up! Anyways, back to young man...

This fine young man came up to me and had many incorrect problems.  We stood together while I checked his work very quickly to see how he mismanaged the algorithm.  I discovered the problem, quickly showed him again right there, and sent him on his way to redo.  In that moment I got it! I didn't have to create some extra grouping the next day!  I didn't have to do an additional reteach page!  All he had to do was have feedback right away!  And he got it!  He was able to prove it on a number of problems I gave him.  This moment has stuck with me for about 14 years now!  This is the power of the model!  

So, how does this show failure-it took me a few good months to figure out that whole system I just told you about, just as it did for Sutton and Westberry!  Their many failures led to successes FOR THEM!  They are clear to point out that there is no perfect model, just the cycle of trying something and failure within it to try again!  This is a chance for us, as adults, to model perseverance for our students!  They do give a few good tips along the way, too, so that you don't make some major snafus they did!  One HUGE point-be preplanned a few units ahead if you are targeting math, just in case!  But, again, they consistently point out the fact that you must never give up because our students deserve better!  

Are you ready to take the plunge?  I totally am!  I'm super excited and I've preplanned a number of my math units!  It just so happens that my district rearranged our Science this year, so I'm ahead of the game there too!  Here are some of the products I will be using to get the Student-Led Learning model going in Science!  These are fun to use and, theScientist Craftivity will allow students their first taste of becoming a leader in learning in the Science block!  


Read the post HERE




Again, I think the key takeaway from this chapter is to expect failure and model perseverance!  What a great way to be a role model for the very students we want to embrace and grow in our classroom!  I'd love to hear what you have to share or your experiences along the way!  Be sure to share them in the comments to help us all grow and learn together! 


July 3, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Connect with EVERYONE!



Everyone wants a connection... a spark wants to ignite anything it can to continue to burn.  With Student-Led Learning, it is the same thing.  Fearless Learner's authors Sutton and Westberry are quick to point this out in Step 4: Connect!  

As I read this step, I happened to be attending an inservice where we learned an AWESOME technique by Dr. Larry Chew!  Honestly, it is a BRILLIANT method of learning and requires specific student interaction, one that allows for trust in a student centered classroom.  We also focused on the 5 E's, which fit perfectly into Dr. Chew's technique.  To me, it was a no brainer to put this into the lesson we were required to write with other teachers for other teachers in the inservice and the district itself.  If you put together the requirements of the inservice into your output to prove you were there-YOU WIN!  Yet, neither one of the teachers I was working with would consider including this technique at first.  One clearly stated, "I know the kind of kid I work with and they could NEVER do that!"  "They could NEVER do that, or you couldn't lead them to do that!" was what I thought-because that's what it really comes down to!  WE decide how our classrooms are run.  WE decide how much of "ME" we put out there and how much of "YOU" we allow!  And this is exactly what the authors point out.  We must be prepared, as we examine this model for the reality of having other teachers be negative and judgmental about what we are doing.  We must be prepared, and proactive, in helping administrators understand.  It starts with us.  Gather a friend or two to walk this journey with you!  You will need them.  Although I am writing this blog solo, I am working with three other teachers at my school and one other teacher from another school.  The five of us set up our own social media page where we can share and discuss beyond the school day because we all know there is no time.  We are working to build a community where there is "safety" in numbers!  Find your tribe at your school and try it out!  

In addition to connecting with professionals, I can agree wholeheartedly with the authors on the relationships you will build with students and parents.  I love the idea they share of connecting with parents through a set of promises (see page 141) and I plan to develop that in my Back-to-School Brochure.  Build that team work into your connection with them.  It is going to be key!  And the students!  Be prepared to know them like you never have before!  When I have used this model in the past in math, I knew the ins and outs of every kid.  I could look at their work and know what steps they were missing.  I knew strengths and weaknesses and holes!  I could remediate on the spot-literally-and never have a student miss a beat!  From the highest student to the lowest student-I knew them all-and, more importantly, they knew me, could come with a question for me, could trust me AND their other classmates.  It was wonderful, and I'm so looking forward to that again.  Plus, both authors point out-and I can back up-that their test scores rose!  I can clearly remember my two ESE students scores when they came back the first year I used a similar model to this one in my classroom.  They had both gone up a whole level-and it was the second year I had them!  So, the only thing that changed (little did I realize then) was that they were involved in a student-led learning model!  

So, I stand with Sutton and Westberry and call to you to FIND YOUR TRIBE, build those relationships with parents, and get ready for the best relationship with your students you have ever had!  Let me know what you think in the comments section or leave any tips or ideas you have!  I'd love to hear them!