Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Time for the Olympics!

Every four years, we watch and cheer as athletes from countries all over the world compete in the Summer Olympics.  I love the Olympics!  Despite the conflicts between countries that may be occurring at that time, it seems that the Olympics embody what the world could and should be. We cheer for those representing our country, but we also cheer for those who may not win a medal but have overcome adversities to be on the world stage. 

I also love the Olympics for the opportunities it provides for students to learn about so many different aspects of the Games. Encourage your students to read articles or books or watch the Olympics on TV to get some background knowledge, then have them brainstorm questions they may have. Here are a few examples:

Social Studies - Where and why did the first Olympic Games begin?  How did the games evolve from those humble beginnings to become the world-wide event it is today?  In what ways have the modern day Olympics changed from its original inception?  What is the economic impact of the Olympic Games on a country? 

Science -- Science is an integral part of the Olympics.  Look at the swimsuits the swimmers are wearing and compare them to the ones they wore in the last Olympics (which are now banned).  How does technology help athletes' performance?  This AAAS Science NetLinks page has wonderful lessons and makes a key connection between science/technology and Olympics athletes.

Math -- The Olympics provide many opportunities for math, not just for graphing medal counts.  Check out these relevant questions related to math in Go for the Gold from the NY Times or review these questions on Olympic Circles then examine the countries that are participating and their population, and predict which countries will win the most medals.  Students can also compare times for the different races and come up with a statement about length of the race and difference in times between the competitors.

Personal/Social -- There are so many stories of Olympic athletes who have overcome obstacles to stand on the podium.  Wilma Rudolph, Jesse Owens, and  Duke Kahanamoku are but a few examples.  Read "Leadership Lessons from Olympic Athletes" and learn what makes these Olympic athletes stand out from others who may be equally talented.  This is a great opportunity to discuss goal-setting and developing a plan of action for the school year.  Students would then track their progress on their personal goal. 

Teachers can integrate other content areas into a study of the Olympics such as:
Health - How do Olympians train to be at their optimal performance level?  What do they eat?
Art  - What is the significance of the artwork on the medals?  Have students design a medal and explain the significance of their design.
Culminating Activity - Have students plan a grade level Olympics.  Wouldn't it be fun to apply what they've learned to plan some fun activities which integrate science, math, art, and language arts?

Resources - These are a few of the resources available for teachers to teach about the Olympics.  (Teachervision is only free for the first 5 resources you view.  After that, there is a cost to subscribe.)

School begins on Monday.  An Olympics interdisciplinary unit is a great way to incorporate rigor, relevance, and relationships into the classroom!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The School Year Begins!

This has been a busy week!  On Monday, we had a training for the teachers who volunteered to participate in an exciting hands-on environmental project.  Dr. Jones from UH-West Oahu provided us with background knowledge about a sea urchin project where our students will care for,  learn about, and raise these creatures to be released as part of the effort to save our coral reefs from invasive algae.  The teachers are so excited to be part of this inquiry-based, real-world, relevant project which will hopefully have a long-lasting impact on our students and their families!  The tanks are ready, and in about two weeks, we will receive the baby sea urchins.  This will be an example of project-based learning, and we look forward to learning through the 3Rs and 4C's and sharing with the community!

A new school year officially began yesterday when teachers returned to work.  Due to economic challenges in the State, we no longer have professional development days which is really a challenge since a number of State, Complex, or initiatives/mandates must be implemented.  Fortunately, we have a great staff, and they all did their assigned "homework," accessed through a scoopit! curated topic. Their discussions were richer because everyone participated and had the opportunity to reflect on what they read or viewed; it was like a flipped classroom model!  The groups then collaborated to complete an assignment and posted their statements (limited to 140 characters) on  (I wish we could have had more discussion, but teachers were anxious to work in their classrooms, and I promised to honor their time.)  Hopefully, by participating in these kinds of activities which infuse the 4C's, teachers will be able to implement similar kinds of critical thinking activities with their students.

 Our Data Coaches and counselors guided the discussions today with their respective grade levels.  As a school leader, one of my goals is to build capacity of our staff, so instead of whole group training, these teachers facilitated the training and discussions.  This was also an opportunity for building relationships between colleagues, an essential component for successful data teams.  We know that any new process takes time to work through, but if today's discussion was an indication, the data team process will lead to improvement in teaching and learning at Hale Kula.

We are off to a great school year!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Growth Model

Yesterday, educational officers from around the State gathered at the Convention Center for our Educational Leadership Institute. The timing was perfect to celebrate the results from last year's statewide assessment which showed gains in both reading and math. While we are pleased with the overall performance of our students, we continue to move ahead at a fast pace to implement the Race to the Top components including teacher and principal evaluations, the statewide implementation of Data Teams, and a new initiative based on Colorado's Growth Model which measures progress over time and gives an indication of whether students will be proficient in three years or by the eighth grade based on their annual performance on the Hawaii State Assessment.

Today, we had a training session to build our understanding of the Growth Model.  I think it's great that there is a tool now to help us track data.  These past few years, we've been creating our own spreadsheets and meticulously tracking students on the Hawaii State Assessment so we could target those students who had not yet met proficiency.    Generally speaking, this tracking paid off, and with the extra assistance we provided through tutoring or extra support in the classroom, many of the students did improve their scores on the HSA.   

However, I do have some questions.  Can we implement project-based learning which embed the 4C's of 21st Century Learning while collecting the kinds of data we need to analyze as part of the Data Teams process?  As we examine student growth data, what are the instructional strategies which enable non-proficient students to make more-than-one-year gains to get them on-track to meet proficiency?  How can we share information about the Growth Model with parents so that working together, our students can catch up or keep up?  And finally, will there be a similar growth model tool for the  lower grade levels so we can see whether students are on track to be reading and computing fluently by the end of third grade? 

Next week, a new school year begins.  How can we introduce this growth model to our school community so it makes sense and leads to improved teaching and learning?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

Last week, I started a blog about our school's transformation to becoming a 4C's school.  I read that blogging is the new persuasive essay and I was inspired to step out of my comfort zone and commit to documenting our learning experiences at Hale Kula via a blog/persuasive essay.   It is now 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening, and I'm sitting here wondering what I was thinking when I made a personal goal to start a blog.

Let me digress.  Since I made the commitment a little over a week ago, I published my first two posts.  I thought it would be a challenge, but I never expected it to be THAT challenging!  I spent hours writing, reviewing, and revising before I finally had the courage to click "publish."  Even then, I kept going back to edit - replacing words, adding or deleting sentences, changing the order of paragraphs.  I read Heather Wolpert-Gawron's blog and checked to see if my blogs qualified as "persuasive writing."  (I'm still setting the stage, so no, not yet.)

What is going to keep me motivated to continue?  Well, first, I want to experience, first-hand, what we will be expecting our students to do.  I'm finding that it will take time and a commitment to teach persuasive writing because initially, it will be a challenge, not just for students, but for teachers as well.

A few years ago, writing was a focus at our school.  District resource teachers worked with our staff to go through the writing process, culminating in an open-mike session where individuals voluntarily shared their final piece, a personal narrative.  The idea was to get us to write with our students and to make a conscientious effort to set aside time for writing every day. (I admit that I journaled every day for a few months, but I wasn't writing anything "substantive" so I gave it up.)

 After that, we  utilized the Standards-Based Change Process and worked with SchoolRise to address writing at Hale Kula.  Unfortunately, and I am rather embarrassed to admit it, writing took a back seat to reading and math when No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress indicators did not include writing proficiency. Shortly thereafter, the State determined that writing would no longer be assessed statewide.  Teachers were encouraged to embed writing throughout the curriculum, but we no longer analyzed data or agreed on instructional strategies for teaching writing in a grade level.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards with an emphasis on persuasive and argumentative writing rather than just personal journaling, the expectations have changed.  No longer can we expect our students to understand and be able to use the art of persuasion in their speaking or writing if they are only journaling or researching and regurgitating information they have discovered.  Persuasive writing needs to take place in every content area.  Does an answer to a math problem make sense?  Why or why not?  What is a problem in our school, and how can we make a difference in addressing this problem?  Which book would you recommend to your classmates?  Why?  How much homework and what kind of homework should teachers assign to students?

Before we can expect students to understand how to write effective persuasive essays, however, we need our teachers to understand that persuasive writing is all around us.  Take a look at this video.  I think I'll use it with our teachers (that is, if we can find it on a site that's not blocked by our Department).

You Tube video

This video opens up so many possibilities for our teachers and students.  I have confidence that they will realize that technology and web2.0 tools are perfect for sharing persuasive writing pieces. I hope to share some examples during the school year.

Until my next post, aloha!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are we losing our boys?

My family and friends have heard me share my concern that too many of our boys are not reaching their potential in our traditional educational system.  I worry that so many more boys are targeted by teachers at the end of the year as being behavioral challenges in class.  I am concerned when I sit in on yet another meeting for a boy who is identified as learning-disabled and in need of special education services.  I feel guilty every time I think aloud that maybe that boy needs to be medicated.  Sure, there are challenging girls, too, but there are many more challenging boys, and our school statistics validate this statement.

So today when I read David Brooks' blog titled, "Schools are encouraging boys to rebel, disengage," I knew this was an opportunity to share my thoughts about educating ALL students at Hale Kula, not just boys. Mr. Brooks shares some sobering statistics about boys' performance in school and the growing gap between the number of males and females who are graduating from college or attending graduate school.  What can we do as educators to engage our students so that we can turn these statistics around?

I believe that our teachers have high goals for themselves.  They all hope that every one of their students will enjoy being in the class and learn what they need to be successful in the next grade level. Teachers spend countless hours planning for their class, and they sincerely hope their students will enjoy those lessons. It can be frustrating, therefore, when one or a few students upset the classroom with their antics or when they refuse to do their work as expected. So much time is expended in attempts to get those students to comply and often, it is a losing battle of wills between the student and the teacher and sadly, the student often wins.  The result is that the student -- usually a boy -- starts to fall behind academically.  Then, this student is labeled as challenging, difficult, and may eventually qualify for special education services. 

As we begin planning for the next school year, what can we do to change the statistics at Hale Kula?  The first step, I believe, is to build a positive classroom culture where all students feel valued.  Our school adheres to the Tribes philosophy which emphasizes that each person is an integral part of our community of learners with something to contribute.  In the coming school year, teachers will be working with their grade level counselor to address behavioral concerns by utilizing the Data Team Process. Through the process of analyzing data and agreeing on and implementing team-building and cooperative learning strategies in the classroom, we hope to see a decrease in behaviors which may be interfering with learning.  

Building positive relationships means that teachers know their students as individuals --their interests, strengths, needs, learning styles, and what's happening in their personal lives.  Knowing this information helps teachers as they plan engaging and relevant learning activities where students apply skills to create new learning for themselves.  Integrating different content area standards into an interdisciplinary unit, solving real-world math problems, infusing research and technology skills to answer student-generated questions on a topic, and creating projects using web 2.0 tools to share what was learned -- these are ways we plan to engage all students at Hale Kula.  It won't be easy, but by providing an environment and professional development for teachers which supports 21st century teaching and learning, we will hopefully see more engaged students in every classroom and fewer distractions to the  learning process.

Every year when I watch the latest version of  "Did You Know" I am reminded about how quickly our world is changing.  If we don't change the way we teach and learn at Hale Kula, we do a disservice to our students -- boys and girls alike.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What's next?

Yesterday, I met with some of our Hale Kula teachers who were able to attend the International Society for Technology in Education Conference in San Diego last week. We never know ahead-of-time whether it is "worth it" to send a team to the mainland for a conference. Well, it was obvious that not only are these three teachers raring-to-go with their awareness of new resources, apps, project ideas, and opportunities to collaborate and communicate with others around the USA and the world, they feel a responsibility to be change-agents at our school and in our District. One of the "big ideas" they emphasized in their conversation with me was something they heard over and over again at the conference - if we want to transform our schools,we need to start at the top.

 So taking that to heart, let me reflect on our journey at Hale Kula Elementary School and ponder how to move forward to infuse 21st Century technology skills and knowledge to equip our students for success in their future.

 When I became principal in February 2003, our technology lab consisted of fifteen old Macs. Classrooms were lucky if they had one computer for student use. We were already in the 21st Century, yet our students and teachers had limited access to the tools they would need to be successful. Today, thanks to generous grants and a different formula for school funding, we have two tech labs and three mobile labs, an iPad lab, an iPod Touch lab, and computers in every classroom. However, if I am honest about how we are using these tech tools, I have to admit that we are still in the early stages of implementation. These tech tools are mostly used to practice skills, take assessments, or to research information for a unit the class is studying.  Where are the 4C's which define how students should be using technology -to develop critical thinking, to communicate,  to collaborate, and to create?

Some of our teachers have embraced the use of technology with their students.  After attending local conferences or training sessions or by observing other teachers model use of a web2.0 tool and trying it out themselves, they are hooked.  We have exciting examples of student work as a testament to possibilities of what can be done.  However, we need to ensure that every student in every grade level has the opportunity to gain the skills they need to demonstrate the 4C's through their work.

So what's next?  Step one is to model the use of  tech and web2.0 tools in my role as principal.  With a new school year beginning in less than three weeks, there's not much time left to plan!  As we move forward towards a change in how we teach and learn at Hale Kula, my goal is to use this blog to share reflections, successes, lessons learned,, and next steps.  Hopefully, I'll have lots of student examples to share!