Archive for the ‘elementary’ Category

Questioning the Paradox: Teacher Leaders

February 26, 2012

I am generally regarded as outspoken and realize I should choose my words carefully, taking a step back to examine my own emotional triggers. Meeting regularly to discuss aspects of leadership has been very beneficial for me. Our weekly grad school classroom conversations have revealed to me an increasing skepticism about the future of education, the role of teacher leaders and the potential for disruptive innovations from the business community. When people speak about the current educational system as a throwback to the industrial revolution, it makes me wonder about the underlying assumptions. It seems to assume that corporate leadership dictates to educational leadership, that education is devised as a mechanism to support capitalism, and that human capital is groomed for production alone. This strikes me as a gloomy portrayal of Ann Rand’s Soviet school years; simply replace totalitarian regime with capitalism.

Use your brain

Questioning the wisdom of the ages..

I question the value of simplifying, reducing the complexities of society to reflect the top down architecture we in the US strive to avoid, by embracing the notion of Democracy. In contrast, however, our government and governmental systems such as education appear to have the earmarks of Socialism designed to provide the appearance of equity and uniformity valued by a people who desire fairness and equal opportunity. A paradox exists. Katzenmeyer & Moller (2009) too, seems to acknowledge the second class status of teachers, saying that although teachers, like miners rarely see the light of day, they would relish the opportunity to contribute their expertise to those who are in more elevated positions and are able to take credit for all underground success by virtue of a tireless and loyal staff. Even the title of her book, Awakening the Sleeping Giant evokes a sense that teachers, like Rumpelstiltskin, have been passive and ineffective in determining the future.

As for adopting a business model for education, I see opportunistic service providers attempting to generate a regular income by securing government funding as an avenue to prosperity. Just like textbook companies and other purveyors of materials, schools find themselves beholding to long term agreements that do not make sense over time. Schools cannot afford to be locked into contracts that are not mutually beneficial. Teachers need to be involved in the decision-making process. Think employee ownership models, instead of pay for performance.

I have developed more empathy for administrators and the expectations set for them by a top-down system. Knowing how committed my fellow teachers are to providing student-centered education, it is particularly incumbent upon me to act as a change agent, helping to remove barriers that may prevent teachers from reaching this important objective.


Katzenmeyer, M., & Moller, G. (2009). Awakening the sleeping giant. Helping teachers develop as leaders. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Leithwood, K., Day, D., Sammons, P., Harris, A., & Hopkins, D. (2006). Successful school leadership. What it is and how it influences pupil learning. (Research Report 800). University of Nottingham.


Are Essential Questions really essential to students?

December 16, 2010

The other day as I was listing several EQ’s on the board for students to copy into their agendas, a student inquired, “Why do you have to write these questions every day?” I wanted to know exactly what he meant. It seemed to me that I had been following the charge set for by our curriculum department to use EQ’s to guide instruction and as a kind of end-in-mind target for students to achieve, by developing their own answers to the questions as an assessment of their learning. I probed for a clue.

How many questions does it take to determine authenticity?

The response was surprising. “Shouldn’t we be the ones asking the questions?” he persisted.Is it possible that by stating EQ’s we are robbing students of the curiosity they need to drive their learning?

I teach 3rd grade and it’s a wonderful age because students are going through a self awakening. They are becoming better observers of the world, connecting the dots and truly questioning things. They do raise questions and from time to time these question challenge me to take a closer look at my practice. I have always been interested in questions and questioning. Like most teachers you have been taught to use a variety of questioning techniques to get the neurons to fire more furiously inside a students cerebellum. Now I wonder, how can I teach my students to ask better questions so they can really learn what they desire to learn? Imagine a classroom of students who really knew how to dig and probe and question! It sounds exhausting but somehow it just might unleash the wisdom of creative problem solvers to tackle the challenges of the future. Self directed learning comes from asking intrinsically meaningful questions.

So I ask you, how can we get our students to ask more and better questions so they will not be satisfied until they discover the answers?

I found this resource, when I googled ‘students ask the questions’

“Real thinking never starts until the learner fails.” -Robert Schank

Impact of Economic Crisis on Future of Education, Your Move

January 31, 2009

Higher student:teacher ratios and no part-time staff support were this week’s headlines. Our Superintendent made it clear: 86% of the county budget is in personnel so this will be the area hardest hit by budget cuts, or will it? At present we have a 21:1 student teacher ratio in 3rd grade. This number promises to increase 30% to 1:27 by next fall. When teachers are already struggling to cover the curriculum efficiently enabling students to pass required state tests, how much harder will this be to accomplish when one teacher is serving 27 students? Who is hardest hit? I think it will be the students. Hearken back to 50’s when some teachers were responsible for 40+ students. How did those teachers make it work? Did they have to individualize, differentiate, accommodate students at the same time appeasing parents? Hardly. They didn’t have nearly the accountability teachers face today.

How many of you have viewed the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail? If you have then the image of the Black Knight should easily come into focus.

Crisis Crippling Education

Crisis Crippling Education

There may even be a smiling forming on your lips at this very moment. What does he have to do with me/us and the current state of affairs in education? It’s simple. Every time we, as teachers are asked to perform the task of teaching under increasingly difficult circumstances, we are confronted by impossible odds for success. The increasing layers of orders for compliance, demands for data, burgeoning class size and the lack of viable means to accomplish these goals, leaves us as helpless as the black knight. He/we are valiantly shaking our heads and defending our students rights to learn but we haven’t a leg to stand on.

So what does all this mean for the future of education? Something’s gotta give and when it does change will have to follow.

Crisis v Ingenuity

Crisis v Ingenuity

The change will be painful but necessary. All the lip service about 21st century teaching and learning will never amount to anything unless we as educators and community members are forced to make major changes in instructional delivery. A paradigm shift will have to occur in order to save money and delivery quality education. I see the necessity for blended learning programs taking off. Alternatives to the traditional 5 day school week will collapse under the pressure to save fuel, electricity and to address individual student needs. Clusters of learning coops will spring up in homes to receive instruction in a facilitated study-group setting with access to a classroom entered synchronously online complete with two-way video streams. Students may only attend the physical plant location 2-3 times a week.

The reality is, we have been heading in this directions for years by creating a demand for outside forms of educational support. Look at any strip mall and you will find small businesses poised to deliver educational support and enrichment. You will also find families paying up to $60 an hour for elementary school tutors to ensure students pass the gateway tests and are promoted to the next grade. Homeschooling too has been on the rise. What is wrong with this picture? Clearly schools are not able to meet the needs of all students and parents find themselves spending above and beyond the school tax allotment to address their child’s educational needs. Something has to change, and it won’t be easy.

With less disposable income and more at stake in the classroom than ever before, parents are going to reach a breaking point. When they look around and see more money going into Special Education programs and less and less going into the regular ed sector there is bound to be some kind of backlash and an outcry for equity. Change is painful but in if we can hang on through the storm we should actually come out better and stronger on the other end. Ingenuity will triumph over crisis.

How Do You Catch a Cloud

December 14, 2008

“A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed…It feels an impulsion…this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.” – Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

What is cloud computing and how will it impact k-12education? In this post I explore several blog posts which provide clues to the impact cloud computing may have on our education system. Here’s a snippet of what Thomas Bittman a member of the Gartner Blog Network has to say in his November 26 post entitled, Cloud Computing and K-12 Education, “I’ve read a number of “current” technology plans (including the one for my state) that could have been written in 1990. They simply don’t get the significance of the web and cloud computing on technology purchases, technology use, and how and what we teach.”virtualization

The Techie blog O’Reilly Radar attempts to clarify the clouded issue of cloud computer definition by identifying three distinct types: utility, platform and end user application. This post points to the complexities of cloud computing. Matt Williams writes for Government Technology blog. Cloud computing is being touted as a significant trend. “Tight budgets could force governments to ramp up green IT, and server and storage virtualization, said David Fletcher, CTO of Utah. He also predicts that more attention will given to the IT needs of mobile workers and citizens, including more utilization of software as a service for improved execution, and the deployment of an expanded suite of business productivity applications “Web 2.0 will continue to evolve and more governments will interact with citizens on a personal level via the Internet,” he said. It seems to me that cloud computing and virtualization can be viewed as a money saving measure that improves communications.

An October 24 announcement in Information Week by Mary Hayes Weier says, “The cloud offering is actually an expansion of what to date they’ve called the Virtual Computing Lab (VCL), a 2-year-old, on-demand computing platform powered by donated IBM BladeCenter servers and software, and developed in partnership with North Carolina State. VCL has primarily served the university’s students and faculty, but the partners are now opening it up to students at grade schools and colleges across the state.” Note the very last line. It is opening up to grade schools. This internet climate change will improve they way we communicate and collaborate and should be a primary consideration in technology planning. How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

new small voices vodcast on podomatic

April 14, 2008

I just completed editing and posting episode 31 of small voices.  This is my third annual play based on a piece of childrens’ literature.  A friend and coworker of mine, Heidi Holcomb, soon to be EdS in EdTech loaned me a containing examples of literature illustrating the butterfly effect.  I wondered how readily my students would make the connection between the cats in our story and the safety of the island. They listened intently to the tale.  I told the initially to listen carefully to see if they could solve the problem on the island. They each wanted to be the one to find the answer! Stories can be excellent teachers when students assume a role/purpose within the context of the a book.

My role was to ask questions and to help the students take ownership of the play. I call it a play but in reality it would take months to be able to produce this kind of thing sequentially and before an audience. Videotaping is the answer.  It enables the teacher to reduce each the play to scenes or even parts when filming. With 18 enthusiastic kindergarteners, the rule is divide and conquer!  Parental help is key as is a mind reading assistant.  I had both!  See for yourself. The editing is so so but I think you’ll agree, the movie is a living lesson for these children.

I found this lesson plan today based on the book I used.  Some of you may find this helpful in creating your own plans.

Teacher can hinder learning, agreed?

April 9, 2008


Read this recently published article from Education Canada by Michael Wesch and challenge yourself to consider the possibility that teaching hinders learning.

Wonderful Project HP & Brian C Smith Support Teacher Innovation

April 9, 2008

pond partner project

This is a wonderful example of what children can be motivated to produce with guidance from motivated teachers! This is by far the best example I have see thus far of teacher,

student and technology integration/collaboration at the elementary level. I am very encouraged by Brian’s work on this project and plan to get more details from him, show parts of the recorded video to my staff and hopefully inspire this kind of innovation at my own school.

ELA integration into science curric

Brian’s project also has a wiki:

This incredible collaboration shows teachers how they can develop a strong interest in science investigation among students, compassion for the environment, the use tech tools such as probes to collect data, ELA skills of documentation, the excitement of project based learning and collaboration across grade levels.

inquiry based learning

This is possible. This is what we should be striving for. Please, can we move beyond dioramas and posters. Think big! Use Multi-media and empower students to educate the world!

Jen Wagner Steels (not a typo) the Show!

March 26, 2008

Today I facilitated a session introducing some faculty members to Web 2.0. This was a new PD topic for our school and the participants had no prior knowledge of Web 2.0. In fact they hadn’t a clue what it might mean. It reminded me of my own reaction a little more than a year ago when I first heard the term Web 2.0. I couldn’t pin down a definition. After much blog-reading, conference-attending and experimentation I finally have a handle on the term. So I ask, how do we typically describe something that is new and improved? I might hear, “This new generation of flat screen TV lets you view in TV in high definition.” New generation, an improvement, that’s what Web 2.0 is. It is a new generation of online internet tools. (see jeff Utecht’s video explanation) Most of these tools have two things in common that enhance internet user experience. Firstly, they are free. Secondly, they embody some collaborative features. In short, Web 2.0 is to the internet of yesterday what Vista is to Windows XP. It is new and improved. (theoretically)

The mystery of Web 2.0 quickly disappeared. It was now time to demonstrate some of the features and benefits. I opened Delicious to the CreekViewElementary page and displayed the contents on the Promethean board. I explained the benefits to using this kind of system for bookmarking over the traditional ‘favorites’ . Delicious links are available any time and anywhere you have internet access. Next I made four simple requests.

  1. Each participant had to download and install the Firefox browser.
  2. They had to sign up for a Gmail account.
  3. They had to set up a Delicious account.
  4. Next they imported the Delicious add-on to Firefox.

This took about 15 minutes and they were able to help one another in the process. Next I asked them to enter and then click the handy little delicious TAG button now found in their browser tool bar. I just love this feature. I explained how tags are used to file things by topic. The best part about tagging is being able to file one site under many topic headers. For instance, I put Voicethread under interactive, multimedia, projectbasedlearning, and web2tool. Now when I click on interactive, it appears as one of the options.

I pulled up an example of a 4th grade language arts project in Voicethread. The teachers could easily see how VT could be used within the classroom and even as a collaborative grade level project. Once teachers realize they has the necessary computer skills they get very excited about the prospects of using new tools. The necessary computer skills are very minimal and are virtually the same as the skills required to send an email. This is really another wonderful feature of Web 2.0. It is easy to use. Ahhh, finally and it keeps getting even easier. It really does. At this stage is you can read, type, attach pictures or documents and are willing to follow instructions, then you can enjoy all the web has to offer.

At this point, the participants felt fairly comfortable and were beginning to grasp the intrinsic collaboration component found in Web 2.0 tools. Suddenly they noticed a dialog box open on the Promethean screen from my laptop. It said, ‘ready?’ Oh, that’s my good friend Jen Wagner from California Skyping in to join our session. I will let her know we are ready. I typed back, ‘OK’.  I clicked the green call button and we connected. Jennifer Wagner is so warm and friendly she instantly gained the groups’ attention and started us on a journey exploring Google applications. She started with Google Reader and had everyone subscribing to her blog,! She is one smart cookie. She spent 45 minutes with us, covering Google-Calendar and Docs. Jennifer has an amazing way of bringing concepts to life with spot on analogies and concrete examples that teachers can relate to. She was the highlight of the session. Why? Because she is an amazing teacher and because she was speaking to us from California and it felt like she was in the room. Not only did the participants learn about Google apps they also saw the wonder of Skype in action. I was able to walk around and check on progress and offer assistance. It was a wonderful experience for me and I think now, it is the only way to really get teachers interested in the power of edtech.

Jen, I owe you one! You did ‘steel’ the show by strengthening the case for integrating technology. Now if we can just get one or two of them to listen to Women of Web 2 on Tuesday nights from 9-10PM EST … If you are a teacher who thrives on new forms of communication and enjoys participating in lively chats about the latest greatest teaching tools then you really must tune in to Jen’s Show on Tuesday nights. She and 3 other stellar women host a variety of edtech gurus. You listen and chat while they have a conversation. If you do decide to test the water by joining the chat on Tuesday nights please say hello to me (sendkathy) and Jen (jenuinetech).

YOU are your child’s best teacher.

March 9, 2008
  Question posted in recent forum I frequent:

Child Reading SaundraG flickrI heard that up until about 20 years ago, you could buy from the Broerderbond in South Africa a child development pack for the first 6 years of you’re child’s life so that they can read, write a bit, etc… by the time they go to school (as well as exposing other parts of the brain to development).

Does anyone know if there is anything good around like that today? I suppose there may be more than one company competing with that sort of thing. Does anyone know who the market leader is?

My response:

Do you really think sitting your child in front of a computer is the best way to go? I teach kindergarten and my experience has been that children gravitate to reading and writing when they are developmentally ready. This happens between 4-7 years of age. My own children love to read. (They are older teens.) I attribute this in part to my good friend Pam who insisted I start reading to my kids from the day they were born. I took her advice and my children began to associate reading and listening with the pleasure of bonding with their parents and caregivers.

I read to my children until they were 12 and they no longer had time. We all missed the togetherness. Visits to the library and bookstore were frequent. Gifts of books were common and interest in books praised. And yes, they also read independently! The read aloud experience is invaluable. If there had been when my children were small I would have exposed them to it, but never require them to do it.

My kindergarten students enjoy the program and the students who entered as readers tell me they learned to read from which is a free phonics based reading program. I also know from meeting their parents that education is an intrinsic family value and they have exposed their children to countless classics in children’s literature. I can guarantee for FREE that if you take the time to read to your child and elicit their responses to reading by asking them to predict, identify common words and engage them in the illustrations they will love to read and learn to read more easily and more naturally from intrinsic motivation.

You are your child’s best teacher. aunty raffi by kim hotep flickrModel enthusiasm for reading and the power of the written word. Don’t completely outsource this very important role in the early years. By the way, I am very high tech in the classroom and do lots of great things with my students using technology to extend literacy skills so I am not opposed to a little software extension or intervention.

Horton Hears a Who?

March 2, 2008

Monday, March 3 is a tribute to Theodore Geisel and considered by elementary school children to be Dr. Seuss Day. As an author Geisel explored topics involving social responsibility. In Horton Hears a Who, Horton the elephant is able to hear the Who’s plea for help from a spec of dust. No one believes him because they cannot see it with their own eyes. For me, Martin Sebuliba is my Who. Have you heard him? In this day of modernity where the impossible is possible and previously unheard voices are beginning to speak over the internet, Martin is leading the chorus, “We are here! We are here! We are here! Can you hear him? He a pleads to help the children survive. He has a vision and the persistence of a man on a mission.

On December 3 I posted an overview of the Springs Alive community in Uganda and their pressing needs. As a result of the post I received an inquiry from a reporter:

Moira Sharkey Says:
January 23, 2008 at 1:39 am edit

I am a reporter with the South Wales Echo in Cardiff, UK and was wondering if the photo on the website is of children from Spring Alive School. The reason I ask is that I am hoping to do a story on a appeal fund launched by local Welsh children to buy equipment and supplies for the school in Uganda but I don’t have a photo of Spring Alive. If this is the school can we use the photo?

Martin reported that the school in Wales planned to send to adult delegates with some much needed school supplies. They acted very quickly perhaps because they had a fund for this type of venture. Here is the update from Martin about their visit.

I also have an update on the visitors from Wales that visited our school ie.Simon and Julian, in one of the successful encounters we have had as regards Global links. These visitors told us that the children in their school have contributed money toward renovating our old structure and they said that with time if this collaboration could be sustained, they would think of other ways on which to make the collaboration with their school beneficial, this needs to appear in the website, I don’t know how yet! Could you advise please? We also will write an update article which we will email Moira, Roath Park School and you.

In one of the most unfortunate encounters with them was when they said that they could not give us the video conferencing kit because we did not have electricity at our school, but they promised that if we got the electricity, they would give it to us. I have to tell you this Kathy in order for you to know that down here in our country, we really are having a struggle to make ends meet, and you being very close indeed you could be supportive in one way or another.


I have promised to create a website for SpringsAlive and if Martin can make some banking arrangements I will be able to post a Chipin.

My friends ask me if this is legitimate. I have been convinced from the outset that Martin is what he claims to be, the Director of Springs Alive and that he is in fact in Uganda. I will be contacting the school in Cardiff Wales for further confirmation and to ask them for advice as to ways of providing assistance effectively. I will admit that I want very much to help but I do not want any donations to fall into the wrong hands. I think this can only be arranged by partnering with a local Ugandan banking institution or perhaps through a University as a possible funding for a grant specifically designed to assist Springs Alive.


If you have any experience with this kind of partnership I would appreciate your advice.