Thursday, November 20, 2008

Live Video conference

Today first grade teacher Randi Timmons used the technology of video streaming to present a live lesson to our professional development center. Teachers were being trained at the Schultz Center in Literacy 101. Randi's lesson included a mini-lesson on inferring.

Connection - Randi began by connecting the lesson to a string of lessons that the class has been doing on things good readers do when they come to words that they don't understand as demonstrated by the chart behind her.

Teach - Randi then read one of the Houghton Mifflin big books, stopping three times in the reading to activate her own schema. She explained that schema is like file folders in your mind and she opened her own file folder three different times to share with student photographs of events that helped her to understand the words in the text.

Active Involvement - Next Randi reread some of the selections from the book and stopped to let the students have time to turn and talk and activate their own schema. Next she brought the students back and let some of them share what they had decided that the words meant. One more practice and she knew that most of the students had understood the lesson.

Link - As Randi gave the class instructions on what to do as they went off to independent reading, she reinforced the teaching point once again reminding students that as they came to sections of their text that they didn't understand that they should stop and activate their schema to help them try to understand what the words were saying.

After the mini-lesson Randi taught a flawless guided reading lesson to a small group of students reading instructionally at Level F while the other children read independently or with partners.

And then the class at the Schultz Center was shown on the television and they began to ask questions of Randi about the lesson. Now THIS is professional development!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Differentiated Professional Development

Once again this afternoon teachers had a chance to choose between several workshops about technology: Blogging 101 (with the principal!), Blogging 201, Excel, Voice thread, Web 2.0 Tools in the Classroom, and the Document Camera.

This time, I took the workshop about using your document camera with Media Specialist, KK Cherney. Each classroom at Chets Creek has a document camera (a very sophisticated overhead projector that doesn't need a transparency!) When we had the chance to add computers to each classroom last year, we opted instead for document cameras instead of so many computers. It was a wise decision. Teachers use their document camera every single day. They use them in the mini-lesson in many ways - to show student work as a writing example or the pages of a book to demonstrate a reading strategy. They use it in the Closing by putting the child's work directly under the camera for the class to read together or to put a book under the camera so the child can show exactly where he used a specific reading strategy.

Today however, we learned about the many other uses of the document camera such as it's ability to snap pictures of student work in the same way that a camera can.  One of our teachers is even experimenting with snapping pictures of student work to be used as electronic portfolios! I think we have only begun to scratch the surface of using this grand piece of equipment.

How fortunate are we to have professional development on the clock, to be able to choose what we want to learn about, and to be able to work with other teachers that we can go to for support if we forget a step along the way! This is really professional develoment at its best!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meet our Volunteer of the Year!

Nine years ago Nancy Whitaker had a dream and believed that she was being called to teach children to read. Rather than just tucking the dream away, she decided to take action. Nancy works at Landstar and decided to reach out to her nearest public school, Chets Creek Elementary, and volunteer some time during lunch. Before long it was obvious to Nancy that Chets Creek had many, many students that she could help but it was too many for her to help alone. She enlisted her colleague Sandy Adams and they in turn enlisted the colleagues in their office to join them during their lunch time at the school.

Nine years later, Nancy, with Sandy's most capable assistance, heads the Landstar Tutoring program that has touched hundreds of first graders over the years. They bring 30-40 tutors each year who come for a half hour during lunch and read one-on-one with a specific student. During lunch on Tuesdays - Wednesdays - Thursdays you can see them in the hallways in children-sized chairs or in the Media Center sitting side by side quiety talking and laughing and reading together. More recently we have even been able to match some of our Second Language Learners with native speaking tutors from Landstar! Over the years the program has grown to include chess tutors who come to teach our gifted students to play chess and offer them challenging chess matches. We also have a large group of mentors, many of them men, who mentor some of our 4th and 5th grade students under the direction of Liz Duncan, our Behavior Therapist. All of this - because one woman had a dream and acted on it.

A couple of years ago a parent called me to complain that her 1st grader needed a Landstar tutor. She explained that her older child had had a tutor and that had made all the difference. I explained to her that we just didn't have enough tutors to include her 1st grader. She was quite frustrated with me and said, "Well, where can I buy that Landstar program. I'll just buy it and teach it to my child myself!" But that's the whole point, you can't buy this program - there's not enough money in the world - because it's about relationships. It's about service.

This year our PTA selected Nancy Whitaker as our PTA Volunteer of the Year. I can't think of a better choice. Nancy has never had a child at Chets Creek. She gives because she is called - servant leadership. Oh, that we all could follow her example...

The First Grade Recycing Project

I have to admit that I am not a recycler. I don't have a good excuse really - I'm just not.
But we do have a first grade teacher, Haley Alvarado, that is passionate about saving our Earth and has been talking for a while now about getting a recycling program started at Chets Creek. When she first started talking about it, I thought it should be pretty easy - Recycling - Schools - should be an easy match. I was wrong. Nothing about getting the program started has been easy. Haley has made dozens and dozens and dozens of phone calls and has probably put hundreds of hours into the project by now. Haley's not a quitter. She has been quite determined. Good thing, because it certainly has taken perseverance! She wrote a Walmart educational grant and recently started working with a UNF group and so... Chets Creek first graders had their first "green" assembly last week. Haley introduced the children to the idea of recycling paper (in a school - imagine how much paper we can recycle?) and plastic. She provided each classroom with a recycling bin... and so we are off.

While I have never recycled (I always used those green bins for extra storage in my garage), I do promise to give this a try and to at least do what I expect our first graders to do. (I did actually purchase one of those cloth bags from Publix recently because I was taking fruit to school for a morning meeting and didn't want Haley to see me bring it in one of those "will be with us for a million years" plastic bags!) I'll let you know how it goes!!

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 2008 Professional Development

Today first grade teachers met for a day of professional development to tie up loose ends and plan ahead. The morning started with teachers sharing with each other some of the lessons, students work and activities that are part of their non-fiction reading and writing reports.

Next Instructional Technologist Melanie Holtsman joined the group so they could work on adding web sites, files and videos to their newly designed first grade wiki space. The idea is to create a space where the teachers can house all of the resources that they use in first grade. With thirteen first grade teachers it gets harder and harder to share on such a wide scale so a place where everything is accessible is highly desirable. Each teacher brought at least five things to add. Some added web sites. Some added center ideas or resources they had created. Before long, they investigated taking a snapshot of student work using the document camera and how to add that type of document to the wiki. After a few months the teachers will open the wiki for public display!

During lunch the teachers viewed and debriefed short non-fiction conferences and mini-lessons by Lucy Calkins.

Next the teachers talked about the Pacing Guide and what they needed to be ready for lessons in the third nine weeks. A first grade tradition is the First Grade Sleepover in January that this year will include lots of read alouds - some narrative, some non-fiction in preparation. The time will also include a week of exploring writing in different genres. From writing stories and small moments about sleepovers to reports on "All About Sleepovers" to "How to Pack a Bag for Sleepover" students will immerse themselves in all the fun and excitement of preparing for the big event. Students will make stuffed bears as a home project and will come to school for a family night to make their own pillowcase to bring to the sleepover. Finally the sleepover event culminates in a Friday celebration beginning with a pajama parade and pancake breakfast and then centers to end with a pajama party in the Media Center! It's lots of FUN but takes lots of planning (and, in case you're wondering, the students don't really sleep overnight!)

After tweaking the pacing and inserting the Sleepover hoopla, the teachers previewed the Kevin Henkes Author Study emphasizing Response-to-Literature that will dominate the third nine weeks. Those teachers that have done the unit before shared an overview for those that would be doing it for the first time this year. The teachers planned a common Kevin Henkes Celebration Day to keep them all about the same place, finishing the unit at about the same time.

The teachers ended the day by stamping and leveling the 250 books that they received as part of the county's new book adoption. A few of the books were added to existing Science units or to non-fiction baskets, but our leveled libraries have become depleted so for us, we need the books to be leveled. It took an hour for each teacher to complete stamping and writing the levels on each book in her box. The collection is actually a little disappointing. The books are not what we would consider great literature, but seem a little like the company may just have cleaned out its overstock! The comment of the hour, "If the county paid $11,000,000 for this new adoption, you would think the books would come with levels already attached!" I couldn't argue with that!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Video Streaming for Professional Development

Video conferencing is not exactly new and innovative. It's been around for years but what is new is the way we've used it this week. We have the video conferencing equipment at our school because for several years now we have been sending live lessons to our professional development sight. One year we even sent lessons to an inner city school and debriefed the lessons together every other week. Last year we video streamed a lesson live to a national conference in Hollywood, CA! We have even video conferenced a few planning meetings with trainers at the Schultz Center, but for the most part, we have been on the giving end. Because we are so used to opening our classrooms to each other, teachers at Chets Creek have been willing to do the same thing to others in our county. We have long felt that we have a moral and ethical obligation to share what we do at the Creek so we have made staff available to help support the video streaming. It takes one person at our school to set up and run the equipment and then monitor while the lessons are being taught and another to just be there in case there is a problem with the children while the teacher debriefs with the class at the other end of the camera. Not only has our principal been willing to shuffle schedules to meet the needs of the video streaming but teachers have been willing to open themselves up - to be transparent, believing that to do so makes us all better. Can you imagine doing a lesson for 150 of the Literacy Leaders in your grade level from throughout the county? Our teachers do that regularly! One of the reasons that we have the equipment is because we have been so open and willing.

With all that said, we are now looking at ways that we might use this video conference equipment in other ways. This week, when we realized that we had 14 teachers who needed a training for ELL being offered by the Schultz Center, we asked about having it video conferenced to our school, if we were willing to provide the facilitators at our end. Although the Schultz Center trainers doing this particular training had never video conferenced, they were willing to give it a try and the session did take place very successfully. It certainly was a perk for our teachers not to have to travel for the training. You have to have a very forward-thinking and flexible administrator to put that together so easily!

We have mostly used this equipment for professional development and have only begun to look at possibilities for instruction. Melanie Holtsman collaborated with the museum last year video streaming a live lesson for her gifted students. Now we are looking at other places that might have the equipment so that we could do virtual field trips. How cool would that be! For instance, maybe first grade could visit the great barrier reef as they continue their study of Australia. Of course, it would mean having the kids come to school in the middle of the night for the experience because of the time differences, but that in and of itself might be lots of FUN!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Results Are In!

Based on the book of the Month, Grace for President, first grade classes set to work on helping their youngsters understand the election process. Several first grade teachers decided to have their own class elections for President of the class. The children decided on what characteristics would make a good leader, nominated friends, and then set to making posters and bringing in little treats to sway their constituents. Each nominee wrote and delivered a speech before the voting took place. Below are a couple of the speeches written by the nominees. Obama has nothing on this group of politicians!