Saturday, October 14, 2017

Showing up #Curious4Class

Safety First
We all understand the first priority of a school is to keep the students safe, and in today's world that means adding security features.  Cameras, doors that buzz open, and everyone's favorite... the man trap.  School lobbies have gone from welcoming and inviting to a security zone where visitors must be screened before they are allowed to enter.  While these safety precautions are absolutely necessary, it does take away from the feel of a school as you first enter.

Does Safety Kill Curiosity?
With this in mind, as a school we are always searching for ways to have students show up "curious for class".  Some of our math teachers use the site, Estimation 180 to spark curiosity in our students right as they enter the classroom.   We have have had discussions with teachers about how we can set up the outside of a classroom to prime students for learning before they show up, as suggested by the book, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.   I started to think about Ken Robinson and how he believes schools are killing creativity.   I thought about visiting Tony Sinanis at his elementary school, where the walls were alive with student work and you could feel the energy in his school.  I thought about our teachers returning after visiting Glen Robbins and his middle school.  They were in awe of the freedom students has in the hallways to explore and be curious learners.  As the building principal how could I model what it means to encourage curiosity?

Simple Solutions
With these two seemingly divergent situations, safety and security, I was surprised they led to an interesting idea.  Everyday before school we have between 20 - 30 students who wait inside our school in the 'man trap' for school to start.  Once music begins playing, the doors open and they depart for their zero period, or morning meeting.  But we have these students, usually on their phones, for about ten minutes.  A few weeks ago I displayed the problem below on the glass with Expo Marker.  I placed an eraser and about four other markers and waited to see what would happen.

The first morning...nothing happened.  Not a single student tried to solve the problem.  The second morning, nothing still.  Not one attempt by a student.  I walked out into our lobby area and asked if the problem that was up on the window was too difficult for the students, and the responses I received were, "What problem?"  "What are you talking about?"  After I showed them where the problem was we had all Expo Markers busy at work.  Every day for the rest of the week we had students trying to solve the problem, writing their names next the their answers, and choosing to talk about how to solve a math problem instead of picking up their phone.  What really surprised me was that we had students on their way out to recess stop to solve the problem.  Some of which, so driven to solve the problem,  wound up missing their entire recess to trying to complete it.

I do not want to be disingenuous, not every student in our school stops to solve these problems, but we are three weeks in to our 'lobby math' and every week we have lots of work displayed, and lots of students who I hope are showing up curious for class.  This is a small change, but one that I hope allows visitors to see that the students at Byram Intermediate are curious problem solvers.  If someone comes to our school the first thing they will experience is a camera and an intercom, but the second is math problems over the lobby.

If you are looking for ways to have students show up #curious4class I would love to see what you are doing.  I hope to learn from your experience, and if you could post any pictures to Twitter with the hashtag '"#Curious4Class" so we can all learn from one another.

If anyone has math problems they would like to share that would be great for our lobby, or other questions that would help students open students' minds in the morning I would love to learn what ideas you have.  Feel free to post a in the comments sections below or connect with me on Twitter @JohnFritzky.

Reference:  Growing Staircase Problem:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Opening School

It has been quite sometime since I have blogged, but I wanted to share how we addressed teachers as we welcomed them back to school.  I believe that inspiring our teachers and acknowledging their strengths is what empowers them to grow and improve.  I'd love any constructive feedback and if you can use any of this to help you in your role I am happy to share.

You'll also notice that at the end of the year last year I asked our staff to rate my performance on many different aspects of the role I play as a building principal.  The lowest area of my rating was 'sense of humor' so I tried to lighten the mood with some bad dad jokes for the staff.  It seemed as though they appreciated the effort but they were laughing more at me than the jokes...I can take it.

Also a few of our teachers are starting an #ObserveMe movement to improve not only the instructional practices in our classrooms, but the climate and culture in our building.  As a teacher isn't great to be able to get into another classroom and see something new!?  I wanted to help model this and on the last slide I'm asking for continued anonymous feedback throughout the year on three specific areas.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

4 Things I Would Like to See at My Parent - Teacher Conference

1.  Show me you know what my child is passionate about

Every student who comes to school is passionate about something.  It could be a TV Show, a video game, a sport, music, dance etc.  For my six year-old son it is Star Wars.  I'm not sure exactly when this happened but he has bought in fully to the power of the force.  He is putting together lego Star Wars, is dressing up as Luke Skywalker for Halloween, and has checked out every book possible at our library on Star Wars.  When he wakes up in the morning the first thing he does is grab a Star Wars book, look at the pictures, and begin to decipher the words that go along with them.  He has spent countless hours trying read these books on his own.  My son doesn't see reading these books as work, or an assignment, he sees them as a way to uncover the secrets about what happened ... long, long ago ... in a galaxy far, far way.  As educators we need to understand every student has a passion like this.  They have something they are so excited about they don't see it as work.  It is our job as educators to identify this passion so we can connect with our students, to show them we care about them as people.  Identifying this passion will also allow us to relate school work to them in a way they can understand, and see the importance of.   

2.  Show me you know what his strengths are

Every student has talent.  Every student is amazing before they walk through the doors of school and then somehow we lose sight of some these talents the further students go in their academic journey because they aren't reading, writing or math.  This takes some work as a teacher to identify strengths in every student.  It might require you to go to recess and watch him/her play, watch the way they interact with others, or ask them about their weekend and what they did.  For my son I know at home he works hard, is kind to others, and has a love learning.  And just like any other parent I hope to hear he has some of these same strengths at school, that they don't stop when he enters the classroom. 

3.  Show me how you think he can improve

This one can be difficult because every parent, myself included, thinks their children are the most exceptional people in the world.  Sometimes teachers fall into the trap of merely explaining what skills a student is weak in, we can do better.  At conferences bring student work to show parents what their child's current level of performance is.  It also helps to bring other student work (with the names removed) to show what a typical student is doing.  It is difficult to understand what a teacher means when they say things like, "your child's writing needs to improve" or "inferencing is a skill he needs to work at."  SHOW me through student work how you believe the student needs to improve.  This way when I discuss these issues with my son we can speak the same language.  I can say, "Remember that assignment you were working on..." and we can begin to have a conversation because I understand the types of assignments that take place in the classroom.

4.  Work with me to develop a plan

By the end of the meeting parents should have a plan of action moving forward.  As a parent I want to know what I should do more of, continue to do, or do less of when it comes to my son.  Should we be spending more time reading?  Should we alter the place he does his homework?  Do we need adjust his pencil grip and check back in a few weeks?  As a parent I need a plan of action to work as a partner with the teacher, something that works for the both of us, not just the teacher or just the parent.  Like most families, my wife and I both work but we will find the time to do whatever is necessary to help our son.  All I ask is that we develop the plan together, as partners. 

These are the four things I would like to see at my Parent - Teacher conference.  Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear what you are hoping to see. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Do more...Continue to...Do less...

One of the most important aspects in education is developing a growth mindset.  This doesn't mean taking what you have done in the past and throwing it away for some new idea that is now suddenly in-vogue.  For me, having a growth mindset means reflecting on what you have done in the past and designing a way you can improve on past performance for the benefit of students.  So here is my list of Do more of...Continue to...Do Less of...

Do More...

Put it in Writing

This year I tried to meet with grade level teams as often as I could.  These meeting helped to gain a collective vision on writing samples, disseminate school information, develop helpful teaching strategies, listen to concerns of teachers and much more.  I tried to keep these meetings as informal as possible so teachers felt comfortable bringing up concerns or issues they might have.  As the year went on there would be occasions where grade levels would have a different interpretation of what I was saying.  This may have come from different people interpreting information in different ways, or I wasn't as clear in one meeting versus another.  This coming year I will do my best to create a paper and digital agenda for teachers to access to ensure everyone is on the 'same page' throughout the year.

Push Send

I just looked at my blogger and I have 10 blog posts stuck in 'draft'.  I wanted to come back to them and add quotes, pictures, more details etc., but never got back to these posts.  This upcoming year I will push publish and not worry as much about the details of my posts as much as sharing the learning and ideas in our school.  As much as I tell others to not allow perfect to be the enemy of great, it is clear that in this case I fell victim to that very phrase.  I just need to push publish.  Thanks Jon Harper for being an ongoing inspiration.

Highlight the Great

There are so many amazing things going on in my school!  Everyday I am amazed at the talented teachers we have who to deliver instruction in such a unique and meaningful way to their students, and I am blown away by the ideas students have to solve problems and improve their skills.  Many of these students have a schedule that is jam-packed from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, and are still able to perform wonders both in and out of the classroom.  This year we are going to have an assembly once a month, Byram Highlight, to acknowledge their greatness.  Thanks Jimmy Cassas for showing me, we should never apologize for acknowledging greatness.

Continue to...

Visit Classrooms

In order to know more about the great things taking place at my school, and even somethings that might need to change, I need to spend more time in classrooms.  Last year I felt I did a decent job of doing this, but my goal is for my default position to be, 'In a Classroom'.  Instead of people feeling they need to find me in the office, I hope they search classrooms or the halls for me.  Thanks Patrick Larkin.

Make Positive Phone-Calls Home

Last year I called a great deal of parents to share with them something amazing their son or daughter had done at our school.  This year I have created a spread sheet with every student listed and I am crossing students off one by one every time I am able to place a positive phone call home.  My goal is to reach EVERY student in the school by the end of the year.  These students show up for 180 days of school and I don't think it is too much to ask each of them to get just one phone call from me. Thanks Tony Sinanis for this idea!

Do Less...

Allow my Schedule to be Interrupted

The clock is what runs the day of a school, it is all powerful and waits for no one.   Too often I would allow meetings to run past their allotted time, and tell others I had time to meet with them when I already had scheduled another event like a classroom observation, a walk about, or just visiting classrooms.  Of course there are always going to be emergencies and I know I cannot control when/where they pop up.  But I need to do a better job os saying things like, "I would love to meet with you could you please schedule an appointment" so I can keep myself and our school on schedule.

Be in my office

The amazing thing with laptops is they work anywhere.  I am going to try and answer emails, type reports, and other office-work outside of my office and in the halls of our school.  I'm not sure if I need a mobile desk, or one I could use while standing (that would be awesome) but I am going to start this week.

Be the Focus of Faculty Meetings

Too many times last year I stood in front of the faculty and spoke.  It doesn't matter what they subject is I need to have our staff doing more at our faculty meetings.  My short list is for teachers to:

  • Be the deliverers of information
  • Work in cooperative groups 
  • Create lessons to improve their craft
  • Collaborate and discuss with colleagues

So this is my list, and I'll work hard to try and stick to it.   I know there are many other ways I can improve, but for now this is what I'm going to focus on.  What is one thing you would Do more...Continue to do...Do less...?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twitter in 5th Grade

I was reading through blogs that focused in on 'A Year in Review' from teachers who I respect greatly like @TechNinjaTodd, @pernillerippp, @DeliaBush and many more.  One thing they all had in common was how valuable Twitter had become to them, as a professional development tool.  I remember thinking it would be great to expose my students to something like this, however my students are only 10 years old, and I do not believe they are ready for the world of Twitter.  

When I returned to school this week my co-teacher, Dani Marangon, had a brilliant idea.  She said we should create an area outside the class where the students can post what they have learned and we can call it our class Twitter Feed.  I instantly liked it and though it would be a 'cool' idea to have serve as an exit ticket.  These were the steps we took:

1) Laminated sentence strips so the students could use dry erase markers to update their status, erase and create a new learning update.  

2) On each sentence strip we wrote with a black sharpie the students first name, last initial with an '@' to make them feel like they are part of Twitter.

3)Created a large Twitter Sign using Block Posters.  We copied and pasted images from Twitter and then printed them out over 4 pages. W taped them together, laminated and posted up on the wall.

4) After our Social Studies class we had each student post one thing they learned from class.

As I was reading through the posts I became a little disappointed.  Many of the students were just writing facts that you could look up on Google.  Things like, "Spices, silk, and customs made their way from China to Italy along the Silk Road."  It was a true statement, but it involved no higher level thinking.  

So as we started the next lesson I made sure I 'Favorited' a few posts that showed higher level thinking and then spent the next hour showing the students how to create a new idea that raises their level of thinking.  The students were asked to pull out four important facts from one section of reading and then use those four facts to develop a 'New Idea' based on what they learned.

As I was walking around the room assisting students I could see they were grappling with what they had to do.  The could identify key points easily.  But connecting ideas from different sections of the chapter to form a new idea that wasn't even in the text was difficult.  I was so happy.  They were struggling, grappling, learning, and persevering.  After about 45 minutes we had over half the class developing ideas and sharing them with people in their groups.  By the end of class everyone was able to produce a profound learning statement even if they did have help from others.  

With the Common Core emphasizing the importance of non-fiction I was so proud of what my students had produced.  They showed they could dive deep into a text, pull out was important, and re-arrange it to say something valuable and new.  I now feel as though I have a tremendous tool to teach a portion of non-fiction reading that I did not before.  It all started with an idea from my co-teacher, Dani Marangon, who brought this brilliant idea for how to bring #Twitter to 5th Grade.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Great Math Tool

Original Post 3/31/14

Ten Marks is a website that allows you to register your whole math class and assign work based on Core Curriculum Content State Standards.  For example I registered my entire math class, aligned with CCSS and each student was given a log-in name and password free.  Once the students are registered the teacher can pick a standard for each student, a small group of students, or the whole class to work on.  I envision giving the whole class the same assignments at first, but once I can see common deficiency areas I envision giving differentiated assignments   The website offers the students both hints as well as videos to help them through problems they are struggling with.  It records their responses and if the students earn enough points they earn a certificate or award that allows them game time.  Now if there were only a web-site like this for reading....

Seven Steps to Increase Student Responsibility and Parent Involvement

Original Post 4/14/13

Learning happens best when the student, teacher, and parent all play important roles in education.  Too often however it seems as though the teacher is playing a role that is too dominant in this process.  Teachers aren't sure how to engage parents more, parents aren't exactly sure what is happening in the classroom, and students don't have enough of a voice in their own learning.  This is my seven step plan to involve parents to so they have the opportunity to be a partner in the learning process and provide students with more of a voice in their own education.

Head Start Day
Students and parents are invited in to meet the teacher and see the classroom a few days before school starts.  Not every student will be able to attend, but the information will be sent to all via email, snail-mail, etc.  This meeting will be a little like an open house or back to school night, but it will involve both parents and students.  They will be invited into the classroom to hear about how the class will run, gather important information, take home books for the students to begin previewing.  In my class I am planning on providing students and parents with all the math assignments for the year.  As soon as the students go home they can begin learning. (see flipped learning for more information) If you are an administrator, would you consider having this Head Start Day as part of one of the in-service days teachers have before the students report to school?

Back to School Dinner
This was an idea @Joe_Mazza floated on Twitter and I loved it.  Since we have already had our first meeting, this will serve as a check in and problem solving session.  Students will not be in attendance in case the teacher or parent wanted to discuss a difficult situation involving the student.  Before Back to School Night I will send home information that I would like us to all sit down for dinner at Back to School Night.  I will be making a dish, with the help of my wife, and asking if anyone else would like to bring something as well.  We will keep track of it all using a Google Doc for parents to check in on so we don't have 6 families bringing brownies...although that doesn't sound too bad.  As we sit and eat I plan on having discussion topics posted on the SMART Board which are related to the subjects the students are learning about in school.  If your Back to School Night is an hour, think about how you could divide up that time between subjects.  For example, 20 minutes for Math, 20 for Language Arts, 20 for Science and Social Studies.  The parents would have each other to talk to and use as  resources.  The teacher would rotate from group to group answering questions.  These questions would be much more personal and the hope is that a sense of trust is built not only between the teacher and the parents, but among the the parents themselves.  Often times parents are better at solving problems at home than a teacher is, they walk the walk every day.

Student Led Conferences
Conferences are now approaching and usually the students are not present.  The teacher and parents sit down and discuss the performance of someone who is not even there.  Can you imagine your boss and your mom sitting down talking about your performance at work and you were not allowed to be there?

Student led conferences or SLC's allow the students to not only attend these meetings but have a voice.  With the help of the teacher, the student defines their strengths and weaknesses, sets SMART goals for themselves, and explains their plan for achieving their goals.  The parent is there to ask questions to the student about their presentation, but the student is the one presenting.  This provides the students with a remarkable sense of responsibility over their learning and will increase their initiative greatly.   This will allow the parents to have a touchstone throughout the year, "Remember when you said you wanted to be able to do X, and Y by the end of the year?  How is that going?"

Barbara Fidler and Jason Krieger from Central Junior High, in Euless, Texas, created this document to help me get started with my planning.

Standards Based Grading
I am guilty, guilty, guilty of mixing behaviors and performances on  report cards, and they really shouldn't be.  In the past I have counted completing homework as 20% of a grade, quizzes 20%, tests 50% and participation 10%.  How does completing homework equal mastery or understanding of a concept?  So if a student has all their homework done, and participates regularly, but has a 69 test and quiz average they will wind up with a 78, or a C+.  Students aren't really sure of what they know and dont' know, parents aren't really demanding their students improve because they were close to a B after all, and a teacher doesn't feel as though anything drastic has to be done, after all a C is average right?

With Standards Based Grading or SBG teachers would identify and grade the students on their ability to master a standard.  Their behaviors would and should be graded in a different section of the progress report or report card.  Often times behaviors are the reasons why students are not having the success they should be having and the behaviors need to be documented. This will show students  hard work really does pay off.

Flipped Math Instruction
1+ Year
There is too much to discuss when it comes to how to flip your classroom.  If you need some background information you can visit Jon Bergman's Blog, where I wrote a guest post, or see what my colleagues Todd Nesloney, or Delia Bush do in their flipped classroom.  One of the largest benefits as an elementary teacher to flipping one subject, is that parents  can see exactly how a lesson was taught.  A video is posted online and when a student becomes stuck and wants help, the parent can quickly click on the video to gain a sense of understanding to help their student.

It also allows for students to be self paced.  If a student masters a concept, why should he or she be held back with other students who need more time?  In a flipped classroom, if a student demonstrates mastery they are allowed to fly ahead.  I have tried this before in 5th grade and did not have the greatest success because I did not institute a floor.  In math instruction especially you cannot allow students to spend weeks, or months learning one new skill.  At some point they need to move on.  Now that I have the floor intact I have a feeling many in my class will fly.  You can read more about this self-paced plan here.

Window into the Classroom
1 Year
With all the social media today many teachers have found a way to document the learning as it takes place in the classroom.  Teachers are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flckr, and many more platforms to provide parents with a window into the classroom.  Parents need to see how learning takes place in the classroom, so they are able to continue the conversation at home.  If a parents asks, "What did you do in school today?" The students give very little in response.  But if a parents asks, "I saw you were working on in science today, can you tell me about it?"  The student will talk about it much more about their day.  It provides students with a much better chance to reflect on their own learning.   We created a private Twitter account where I take 3-4 pictures a day, and a picture of the homework board. Parents have been so appreciative to have this opportunity in my class this year.

Innovation Day
Scheduled June 12, 2013
This idea I got from Josh Stumpenhorts (@stumpteacher), Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp), and Karl Fisch, (@KLS471).   The students are given a whole day to learn about one thing they are passionate about.  From the moment students enter school they are at the center of their own learning.  Students have written songs, learned about lift and created a plane, and even created to scale models of the Sears Tower.  I'm really excited about this idea and can't wait to get started.  You can read Josh's blog about his day here.

By implementing these seven ideas we will begin tearing down the walls that separate the students, teachers, and parents.  We will have a more transparent classroom and learning environment, connecting three major players in a student's education.