If you know me, you know my husband and I are shopping for a new home. Wanting to downsize (I want a tiny house, he wants no yard, so we’ve compromised on looking for a condo), we’re slowly filtering through our belongings. We’re pulling items out of closets that we forgot we even had: placing in boxes the linens not used in years, the sweaters we no longer wear, and the camping gear we’re not even sure why we purchased in the first place.
Perhaps the hardest part of this downsizing escapade, is that we sometimes run into those items we should get rid of but struggle to part with. Those items that served a purpose in their time but no longer are of use. Items like:
Again, if you know me, you also know I love a good extended metaphor. As I see it, downsizing our course content is much like downsizing a home. Fourth quarter, and on into the summer months, we often find ourselves with a bit of extra time to focus on what’s next—and with no fifth quarter on the horizon, this often means making adjustments for the school year to come.
In our classrooms, just as in our homes, there are items that are easy to donate or toss:
However, also like with our homes, there are items that are hard to part with, although maybe we should:
To get inspired to downsize our home, my husband and I (along with much of the US), have been watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondō on Netflix. Having read her first book a few years ago--The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—this new Netflix series has served as a reminder of many of Marie Kondō’s key ideas. Ideas that, of course, work great in homes, but that also can be used to help create even more magic in our classrooms.
However, if doesn’t spark joy, set it aside. Consider making three piles or lists for those items that no longer spark joy in you and your students:
This, at least for me, is the hardest part of tidying up. It may help to keep in mind what Marie Kondō notes in her first book: “when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
| 5 |
Finish discarding before moving on.
Likewise, in our classrooms, we have to get rid of—or least commit to revamping—those items that no longer fit our students. Only then, once we see what remains, do we know what new format or structure might work best for the year to come. Only then, do we see if we have any gaps in our instruction.
| 6 |
Organize by category.
| 7 |
Designate a spot for everything.
This step reminds me of what I did about ten years ago when I revamped the American Literature course I was teaching. After having purged a few novels and some grammar units that were no longer sparking joy in my students, I rearranged. Because I figuratively laid everything out on the table, I was able to then see that my remaining content, texts, lessons, etc. fit into six themes. Embracing that fact, I rearranged from teaching American Literature chronologically, as I had always done in the past, to teaching it thematically. But it also meant I had some holes to fill: I was suddenly able to weave in a new book group unit and adjust how I taught grammar by embedding into our reading and writing tasks. It was a lot of work, but, ultimately, it lead to more effective learning in the years that followed.
As my husband and I are experiencing firsthand with our home, the act of downsizing can feel overwhelming while in the process of discarding. However, we look forward to placing all our remaining items back in the best order (ideally, in our perfect-for-us condo in downtown Rochester).
As Marie Kondō states, “the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming...not for the person we were in the past.” This is true for our classrooms, too: we need to make them a place where students can grow into who they will become in this ever-changing world...not for the students we taught in the past.
- Remember that big research paper in 9th grade? I hated every second, but I sure can decipher bias now...
- In Speech I learned how to use subscription databases like a beast. In college, ERIC was easy for me because Nieland showed me how to use it in 10th grade.
- Mr. Johnsrud had us create a mini-website as an end-of-semester project--that has really helped me with all the blogging and design work I do now.
- I would have died in college had it not been for those Process Papers you and Parker made us do. Those forced me to edit...to really focus on the details of my writing.
This conversation has stuck with me. It reminded me of when I was in college: finding that I could write stronger papers than some of my peers, I took an hour or so one night to jot a note to a few of my past middle and high school teachers who had helped me build those skills. I still remember, to a small degree (it was over two decades ago), what I said to them in those letter--what it was I thanked each of them for.
It got me wondering. Do these same writing skills, strategies, and modalities that impacted me as a writer in the late 90's still resonate with today's students and recent grads?
To no one's surprise, I let the nerd in me take over. I created a survey. It was a simple Google Form that I shared on social media. Then, some fellow English teacher friends shared it, too. Less than a week later, I had responses from 31 Rochester Public Schools (RPS) recent graduates.
The results? Insight upon insight. Despite the small sample size, these 31 2011-2018 graduates provided more perceptive statements than can be squeezed into one blog post. (Hence, this is the first part of a three-part series.)
For now, here's some raw data and overarching themes.
Just the Facts
Trends Noted in the Graduates' Comments
Mr. Knipshield, 'Nipper' as we called him, showed us movies, told us stories and had us read articles about driving. Along the way, he would give us quizzes to ensure that we were ready to pass our permit test so that we could graduate from the parking lot driving to the open road. My guess is that he would adjust his lessons based on what we still needed to know.For this portion of our learning, the permit test was the summative assessment. If we did not pass, we would be stuck in the parking lot.
As we were driving back and forth or in an oval in the parking lot, Nipper was talking to us over the radio in our cars. “Slow down, speed up, car #6-leave more space between you and the car in front of you.”
On the road, he was continually giving feedback and was even equipped with a brake in case of an emergency. We had to do our part, but we knew exactly what we needed to work on at all times.
So, what does this reminiscing have to do with classroom teaching? Everything. When we think of the power of formative assessment, it is incredible. Many educators argue that this is the most integral part of effective teaching. With regular formative assessments, both the student and the teacher know the next steps for teaching and learning. The student knows what they know and don’t know, and the teacher knows what to do next. By gathering this information, classrooms become less of a “string of activities” and more of a direction on a clear path.
As an assessment expert, Paul Black put it, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s the formative assessment. When the customer tastes the soup, that’s a summative assessment.” One definition of formative assessment can be found here.
When I think of Nipper, he was continually individualizing our learning based on what we were doing at any given time. He would adjust our classroom lessons based on our quizzes, questions, and answer during class. He would adjust and give feedback on our behind-the-wheel lessons based on our driving performance. Depending on our need, he interacted with us differently. We all had the same goal in mind-passing the driving test! We just may have needed a different way of getting there.
In this article , there are 10 examples of formative assessments. By choosing the appropriate one for the situation, a teacher will be able to adjust instruction or practice to fit the needs of a learner or group of learners.
As I think back to Mr. Knipshield and his many classes of 15-year-old adolescents, I am thankful that he gave us all the feedback that we needed along the way. We needed to learn and practice in many different ways in order to become roadworthy. I am also aware that my learning is ever present. I am now the one that is formally assessing my driving. After 37 years of driving, I still need to check myself to ensure that my practice is up to par. This is the highest level that we can hope for our students to attain; to internalize the process and using it through life.
[Also, check out this blog for a peek at how formative assessment and self-assessment go hand in hand. This topic just may appear in a future blog post!]
As an educator I also feel the weight of the holidays and the responsibility I have to consider that others around me may not celebrate the same ways I do.
It's probably not a surprise to those who know me that I have always been interested in world cultures. I wanted to learn all the languages and travel all the places and meet all the people. That’s probably one of the reasons why I became a teacher. When I began my journey as an educator, I was ravenous for information about the different cultures of my students. I believed that if I knew all I could know about their home cultures, I could be the best teacher I could be for them.
However, the more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew! I don’t have to tell you how quickly I became overwhelmed and hopeless. I was convinced that I would offend someone if I said or did the wrong thing because I couldn’t possibly know it all. This fear led me to nervously gloss over questions students would ask or cobble together some half-truth from the bits of knowledge I had. The fear I had that I would be thought incompetent kept me from truly honoring the curiosity of my students. It certainly wasn’t that I didn’t care--I was simply not equipped. That is, until I encountered the notion of cultural humility.
Cultural Humility is a philosophical approach that pushes us to continually challenge our own biases or previously held beliefs, knowing we can not possibly ever know all there is to know about cultures other than our own. It is different from the notion of Cultural Competency, which suggests that by studying a culture we can know all we need to know in order to provide support to our marginalized students. Cultural Humility rather calls on us to examine power imbalances and work to fix them while developing partnerships with those who can advocate for greater systemic change. In other words, it is about lifelong learning and being comfortable with saying, “I don’t know, but I will find out!” It’s considering new understandings, not wallowing in the embarrassment of, “I never knew that,” and striving to rethink the old ways of doing things.
Cultural humility is a motivating force behind the work we are doing in Curriculum and Instruction here in RPS. We know that the myths we’ve been told are not accurate and we know our students--all of our students--deserve better. It is our desire to do better that guides us as we work closely with our American Indian Liaison, Dawn Bjoraker, and our American Indian Parent Committee to improve the way we teach about those who are Indigenous to this land. We have much work to do, but it is with a sense of cultural humility, that we move forward, striving to honor the experiences of our American Indian students and families.
As the snow continues to fall and Thanksgiving approaches, many may be wondering how to best approach the holiday with our students. Luckily, we have some wonderful resources available through our media specialists. I’ve included some links to check out. Also, below is a short video that highlights some ways we can begin to take a new look at the way we teach the upcoming holiday.
- "Deconstructing the Myths of 'The First Thanksgiving'" by Judy Dow Abenaki (Abenaki) & Beverly Slapin
- "Good Books about Thanksgiving" by Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo)
- "Teaching Tolerance: Teaching Thanksgiving in a Socially Responsible Way" by Amanda Morris
If you'd like to warm up a bit with some learning, consider signing up for some of these recently added PD Express courses.
As you try to warm up this winter, consider warming up with some learning.
Sign up via PD Express today!
According to an article in the New York Times (May 2018), “94% of public school teachers in the United States reported paying for supplies without reimbursement in the school year that straddled 2014 and 2015. The teachers who reported spending their own money on supplies shelled out $479 each on average, according to the survey. Seven percent reported spending more than $1,000.” Additionally, this National Public Radio (Dec. 2017) report echoed the findings, noting that this trend occurs in Minnesota as well, although here in our home state teachers reported topping out around $2,000--almost double NYT's findings.
There are a few ways teachers are creatively getting their hands on the supplies they need for their classrooms. One solution: teachers are using is Donors Choose. Another solution: teachers are applying for grants. While these are both great avenues to pursue, they can take a lot of time to get up and running and/or written, and once funds are maintained it can take a lot of time before the materials make it into the classroom. So, don’t let cost become a stumbling block in your teaching, especially since you have a resource right here in town that can help: STEM Village.
STEM Village is a free resource that allows any RPS teacher to check out thousands of dollars worth of materials that help promote critical thinking, instructional dialogue, and hands-on problem solving--just to name a few.
If you're not a teacher of science or math, know that there are resources for you as well. Below, check out how even ELA and social studies teachers are utilizing such materials:
- "STEM & Writing: A Super Combination" by Heather Wolpert-Gawron (Edutopia: October 2014)
- "Why STEM & Reading Go Hand in Hand" by Stacy Kaczmarek (Reading Partners: April 2016)
- "5 Hands-On Activities for Connecting STEM & Social Studies" by Dorothy Crouch (STEM Jobs: June 2017)
See what is available for checkout via one of these three options:
- Kits and books will soon be able to be sent to district buildings via our inner school mail system (a benefit of being located directly next to the CTECH building)!
- Checkout forms will soon be accessible online (look for these at the start of next semester)!
- Soon, come see the STEM VIllage space and try out the kits during our Open House (this will be scheduled soon: keep checking the STEM Village Facebook page)!
If you have any questions or would like to brainstorm ways to utilize these materials available at STEM Village, please contact me.
We can not wait to see you at STEM Village! And, more importantly, we can’t wait to see your students problem-solving, collaborating, and growing their Twenty-First Century Skills!
This fall, I’m starting my twenty-sixth year with the Rochester Public Schools. I’m very committed to the students, teachers, and parents in this district--I can’t imagine being anywhere else. I have lived in Rochester for thirty years and my children, Ian and Makayla, are both graduates of RPS.
- Quarry Hill Teacher
- Substitute Teacher
- Sixth Grade Teacher at Hoover
- Sixth Grade Teacher at Willow Creek
- Middle Level Implementation Associate
- Continuous Improvement Trainer
- Ninth Grade Program Facilitator
- Administrative Assistant at Churchill/Hoover
- Assistant Principal at Gage
- Principal at Jefferson
- Principal at Bamber Valley
Student success depends on us, so let’s work together to do this work that is important to our district, our community, and our world.
Feel free to connect with Wichmann via email
Top 10 Things to Keep in Mind
When You Implement Anything New
| 1 |
Approach it with a Growth Mindset
| 2 |
Be Up for the Challenge
up for that challenge and really enjoy it."
| 3 |
Be Kind to Yourself
| 4 |
Don’t Work Too Hard on the Unimportant Things
| 5 |
Don’t be Afraid to Let Some Things Go
--Elsa, from Disney's Frozen--
| 6 |
Give it Time
| 7 |
Know that You Are Not Alone
| 8 |
Take Advantage of All the Possible Professional Development
In regard to the new middle school math curriculum that some teachers are adopting this year, you may want to organize a cohort that uses the Curriculum’s Teachers’ Edition as a book study for CEU’s. This gives you the opportunity to study and have professional dialogue as you “unwrap” your new curriculum together. The Office of Curriculum and Instruction will be offering as much math support and training as it possibly can. Please contact us with questions, concerns and ideas as to how we can best support your learning.
| 9 |
Have Confidence in the Leg-Work Others have Already Done
When thinking about the new middle school math curriculum, trust that “great care” was given in the development and selection of this curriculum. You may or may not have been a part of the articulation or curriculum early implementation process. However, if you are a staff member in the Rochester Public School system, know that many of your colleagues spent a great deal of time reviewing data, current best practices in instruction and content as part of a process to select this new curriculum. Every step of this process focused on what is best for our students. Believe that the articulation committee made the best decisions possible in the selection of this curriculum. The early adoption team will be spending this school year working through the curriculum so that we have a running start next school year.
| 10 |
--The office of Curriculum and Instruction--
The journey may not be easy. You will not always be successful on your first attempt. You may love some things you are trying and dislike others. You may soar high and then crash but you will soar again; higher, farther and faster than you could ever imagine.
- Boyle, Russell. "Open the Door: Effective Teaching is No Secret." Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). 2018. CER
- Hattie, John. "Collective Teacher Efficacy." Visible Learning.
- Hattie, John. "Hattie & His High Impact Strategies for Teachers." The Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching.
- Hattie, John. "Teachers Make a Difference: What is the Research Evidence?" Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). 2003.
For the sake of context… I was a high school German teacher for five years, then a building administrator for nine years, and then a district-level administrator for three years. The closest I ever came in those 18 years to Career and Technical Education (CTE) was as a building administrator, but my level of understanding of the depth and importance of these program areas was limited at best. Additionally, it is safe to say that I was blissfully unaware of the workforce needs that currently exist within our region or the amazing opportunities our students have to gain valuable knowledge and skills that don’t require a four year degree (I recently came upon this MPR article that speaks directly to this very issue).
Fast forward one year and I count myself lucky to have been selected to work not only with our outstanding CTE instructors, but with a growing group of business and industry partners committed to the success of our CTE programs. As the cherry on top, I get to work each and every day in a facility that serves as a statewide model for innovation and collaboration within CTE. This school year alone we have facilitated over 30 tours of CTECH, from middle and high school student groups to statewide CTE administrators and other Minnesota and Wisconsin school districts looking to replicate what our community has created for our students.
Here is just a taste of the opportunities our students have within RPS career pathways:
Students can take coursework in both plant and animal science as well as biotechnology. Plus, in 2018-2019 RPS will be offering a second level Veterinary Studies course designed to prepare students for an entry-level position in a vet hospital and to take the certification exam for veterinary assistant.
Our students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with basic engine systems, auto repair and technology, as well as in-depth vehicle repair. Just last week students visited the Minnesota Department of Transportation to learn about transportation careers and earlier this year, as a result of a teacher externship with a generous business partner, several automotive students received job offers as well as post-secondary scholarships.
Courses offered focus on both finance and marketing, including a Sports and Entertainment Marketing course. As a capstone course, students can enroll in Entrepreneurial Strategies, working directly with industry partners to solve real-world business challenges.
Computer Science and Information Technology
Students have the opportunity to take coursework related to both programming as well as infrastructure. Newly added are courses that allow students to earn concurrent enrollment college credit in Mobile App Development and Java Script.
RPS Construction students complete their coursework alongside post-secondary students in the RCTC carpentry lab, accessing two levels of coursework focused on residential construction. Currently our construction students are working on-site at Mayo High School to complete a shed construction project.
Available courses cover the areas of Robotics, Civil Engineering, and Architecture and culminate in a capstone course where students engage in a comprehensive research and design project. In 2018-2019 we will be introducing an Apprenticeship with a national engineering firm that will provide a first-of-its-kind learning opportunity for a small cohort of students.
Effectively our first official career pathway, existing for nearly 20 years, Health Sciences offers students the opportunity to study Medical Lab Science, Pharmacy Technician, Therapeutic Medicine, and Certified Nursing Assistant. We are currently exploring the addition of a course in Phlebotomy in partnership with the Mayo Clinic where over 400 phlebotomists are employed in Rochester alone.
Student interested in Culinary Arts have the opportunity to take a menu of courses the expose them to international cooking, commercial culinary skills, baking, as well as employment in the restaurant industry. Starting in 2018-2019 students at the capstone level will have the opportunity to complete ServSafe certification, required by most restaurants as a basic credential for restaurant management staff.
Two distinct pathways exist within the manufacturing program, Welding Technology and Machine Technology. In machine technology students work closely with CNC mill and lathe machining while welding students learn and work with multiple forms welding. Students who complete both levels of welding are eligible for a tuition credit through RCTC for their one semester welding certification program.
Through the University of Minnesota’s College in the Schools program, we now offer two courses for students interested in becoming teachers. These courses are a combination of classroom as well as practicum experiences within RPS schools and programs.
- Gage Elementary Community Schools Collaboration – connecting students in grades K-5 with career pathways through enhanced curriculum, CTECH visits, and business and industry guest speakers.
- Aviation Collaboration – discussions with RCTC, Rochester International Airport, and private flight instruction partners on a secondary > post-secondary > workforce pathway.
- Post-secondary Scholarships – working closely with RCTC to increase student opportunities to earn credit and/or tuition credits for work completed in high school.
- Mayo Clinic Partnership – exploring opportunities for students in Health Science Careers to transition from RPS coursework into Mayo Clinic job-specific programs such as Phlebotomists and Pharmacy Technicians.
- Core Content – an ongoing goal of eventually providing CTE students with the opportunity to earn core content credit as part of a career pathway.
I fully acknowledge that my blog post comes across as an advertisement for the CTE pathways and CTECH, but I believe that when we find and experience something as powerful and meaningful as I have this year it only makes sense to share it with others. I would strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t previously had the opportunity to see firsthand our CTE facilities to reach out and schedule a tour. It is truly amazing what our students are doing on a daily basis and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future.
Below are links to a few recent postings (some middle school specific) along with some tantalizing snippets of the content of each one:
10 Favorite Math Blogs (Oct. 29, 2017)
submitted by Sara Van Der Werf, MCTM Past President
"Here are some of my favorite Minnesota Math Teacher Bloggers. You need to follow each of their blogs. They all have some fantastic things to say. (In no particular order)…"
Updated MCA Samplers and TE Items (Jan. 6, 2018)
Submitted by: Angela Hochstetter – Math Assessment Specialist, MNDOE
Ann Page – Math Assessment Specialist, MNDOE
"This article will answer the following two questions:
- How can a teacher find new items on the math item samplers?
- How can a teacher or student find all of the different types of technology-enhanced (TE) items that could be on a student’s MCA test?"
Highlighting Mistakes (Nov 30, 2017)
submitted by Amy Wix MCTM VP for Junior High / Middle School
“It used to be that when I handed back an assessment to my 6th graders, they would look at their score and be done. A few years back, after attending a presentation from Rick Wormeli, I revised my teaching to include standards based grading and the chance for re-assessing on any of the standards until they were met. This along with using some of the resources from Jo Boaler’s YouCubed site has helped me in my journey to promote growth mindset with my students…”
Meaningful Relationships (Oct 29, 2017)
submitted by Amy Wix, MCTM VP for Junior High / Middle School
"So how do we build those relationships with our middle schoolers? Let’s face it--their personalities can change by the hour sometimes! Here are a few things I’ve tried- some are the obvious types, others are stolen from #MTBOS folks that are so willing to share…"
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