Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Do YOU remember about 5th and 6th grade ?

As I attempt to reflect on 2013 and plan for 2014 I always wonder what parts of the experiences in my class students will remember years from now ?

From 5th grade, I remember creating a Mayan temple and a pop up display I made with Patrick Henry proclaiming "Give me liberty or give me death"..from his little oaktag podium that I painstakingly attempted to make stand up straight. ( he wilted nonetheless) .. I also recall a gerbil travesty; they died, or ate each other or ate their babies.. something tragic.

6th grade was the year that Mrs. Perri read "the Lion the Witch and theWardrobe" aloud to us. This is how I know that you are NOT too old to be read to, even when you think you might be. It was magical.

So... I read to my classes aloud from the "Grossest moments in history", fun and gore. (I spare them the actual animal death part) And I do want them to do hands on projects to make experiences come alive. I am preparing for our annual "Greek Plays." I think the kids understand the time period better when they act it out and they remember it longer.

I am having a lot of fun with my classes this year. It is a terrific bunch of kids. Don't get me wrong. I really want to find an administrative job. If you follow my twitter account you know I am looking at all levels and subjects of education for best practices. I spent several hours today doing tutorials of Excel 2013 .. bring on the data !

I am reading a book on leadership to write a review on middle web.. so I'll be posting that link soon. Keep thinking of me if you hear of any administrative job opportunities. And do respond and let me know what you remember about 5th and 6th grade. (And not just if you are a teacher now!)

Hope you had a Holly Jolly Christmas (or other winter holiday!)


Friday, November 15, 2013

MP 1 in the books

First report cards finished, conferences finished.

Few surprises here in grades 5/6 Social Studies.

If you don't read to prepare for class, it is difficult to excel in social studies. If you are a sweet, nice kid who works hard, it is easy to get "A"s through 4th grade, but it gets increasingly more challenging to get by when we are asking for and evaluating critical thinking. That being said... a "B" is not a failure, contrary to what some parents in our little part of the world believe.

No, you can't do extra credit at the last minute to bring your A up to an A+

The A+ is reserved for kids who have been excelling all along.

If you got a "C" in my class, you had to try not to do well. I gave so many opportunities to "show what you know."

Conferences: The time when you realize "apples don't fall far from trees."

To be fair, I'd hate to be judged as a person by my children's performance since I DO beg plead and threaten and still they put forth less effort than I like, Or I would put forth.

Of course I get the serious expressionless stare from the parents who I have tell "I hope your child can relax a bit as the year goes on and enjoy class more."

And the hyper vigilant note taker parent who wants to know why the class notes are not written in complete paragraphs to help explain all the concepts to the students.. (umm, cause that is the textbook), and my child studied for 4 hours a day for 2 weeks for your test but only got a 98% on the test... and she is feeling stressed out by 5th grade .. (really, how surprising ?)

But mostly there are good trees which have deposited great apples. I am really enjoying my students this year.

The analogy that comes to mind is how terrific my hair always turns out the day before I plan on getting a haircut. As I hopefully prepare after the holidays for my full on job search to become an administrator with my shiny new certificate, I have to remember that in June these particular students leave me anyway.

These could be my last official conferences as a teacher... how scary/exciting !!

Monday, October 7, 2013

A unicorn threw up in the boys' bathroom...

I have been so excited about my students' progress in the first month of school. They have been reflecting, commenting, extending, questioning, making connections and generally being very enthusiastic about world geography and ancient civilizations. So much so, that sometimes I forget they are just 10 and 11 years old. Until I am reminded by today's report after lunch.

Some Boys: " Mrs. Procida, We think a unicorn threw up in the boys' bathroom."

Me : "Hmmm what sort of evidence do you have for this."

Them: "come see"

Me: (flagging down a male coworker, who confirmed a pink substance on the bathroom floor,,, could be soap, could be pepto - bismol )

"I think someone was unsuccessfully trying to treat a stomach ache with some stomach medicine guys.. sorry to debunk your theory.. but good imagination there!"

We are still pinning down the fantasy/ reality line here in social studies.

I am also looking forward to attending the overnight trip this week with the 7th grade. It is such a fabulous opportunity for students to learn about themselves and such a great time for them to start to reflect on the people that their classmates are becoming. It is so easy to stay with first impressions in a school system where you are classmates since kindergarten. This trip gives students a chance to get out if the regular school environment and utilize many skills that are not emphasized in the classroom. Sometimes a very unlikely candidate is your savior in the group compass activity helping you to navigate out of the  middle of the woods.

I shared this activity that I tweeted about this week with the trip director. We both think it is a powerful activity and would be a great addition to any positive school culture. Watch the video yourself. It is really inspiring !

Happy October!
Holly P

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Right answer, Wrong idea

This little story should help you understand the value of asking more probing critical thinking questions in a lesson when you are hoping to understand more about how much students are really understanding the content you are presenting. 

The most notable part of the story is that my principal was observing the lesson, so we got a (neat?) opportunity to share in my reflection of this experience. 

Some background is that I am a 5th AND 6th grade social studies teacher and have many repeat customers in my classes. The 5th grade curriculum is world geography, the 6th ancient civilizations.

We can't cover every bit of the world in grade 5 so we focus on different regions as current events allow good connections. Last year I did focus on India and its neighbors but did not get to cover Southeast Asia in depth.

So when I was playing an interactive online review game with my 6th graders to help see how much geography they did remember from last year, when we got to this question. 

Which of the following countries does not border the Bay of Bengal ?

A. Myanmar

B. India
D. Bangladesh

I knew they would probably struggle. I hoped they would group together India and Bangladesh as neighbors and realize it couldn't be either of those that wouldn't border the bay. I wasn't sure they would know which side of the peninsula Myanmar and Vietnam would be on to border Bay of Bengal, but I hoped they might associate the culture of Myanmar (if they had any knowledge of it) closer to the India group...

So when the student who volunteered answered "Vietnam" I was pleasantly surprised. I said "Great! Tell me about what you were thinking as you tried to figure that out...."

He said .. "well, Vietnam is a war , not a country, so I know that couldn't be the answer."

Hmm.. me: "You have a point, many wars we know, like Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II, have names that are NOT countries so I can see your logic... BUT some wars do have names of countries like the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.. so it IS a still have the right answer but let's try to figure out a different way we could explain why it is correct.

Student number 2 : I knew it was Vietnam, because Vietnam is landlocked so it couldn’t be near a Bay….(well good, they do remember the definition of landlocked and can apply it to ruling out answers in this question… except Vietnam is not actually landlocked) Good try…. Landlocked would work as a reason, but not for Vietnam… Anyone else ? I reluctantly ask…

Student 3 my final hope to avoid complete embarrassment in front of principal….

India, Myanmar and Bangladesh are all in a similar region, (good!, good! I am thinking) But Vietnam is in South…….. (excellent!) …… America …. (ughhh Nooooo! .. In my head of course)

As I was virtually picking my head off up the desk with my limp arms flailing (all the while maintaining my positive smile and good posture in real life) Student 3 redeemed himself by saying …. Wait I was thinking of Venezuela in South America, .. Vietnam is somewhere near Indonesia and China…( YES!!!!!)

So,  from one simple question I learned 7 or 8 concepts that they knew and/or didn’t understand. But I only know that because I asked “why”, otherwise I just would have thought they had the right answer and the right idea.

Fortunately my principal also sees the value in this formative assessment in the form of critical questioning.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

THAT student

The first week is complete. We've met all the shiny new faces. Most students are ready to learn, understand how to behave appropriately and will make this year another great opportunity to grow for everyone around them.

But we all know who THAT student is. The one who hasn't been quiet yet. Who has many silly questions. Who is trying his or her best to distract everyone within arm's length.

A long time ago a wise parent shared something with me that changed my perspective. It was a great compliment. Her very quiet child came home from his first day of 5th grade and shared with her his surprise that I had been fair, quiet, and kind with THAT student that year. It was remarkable because a natural teaching reaction is to "Show them who is in control" early, to avoid undesirable behavior later.

The truth is.. I don't believe I am .. " In Control" of their learning. THEY ARE. As much as I would like to believe all learning begins and ends with me as a fountain of information, the truth is, all learning takes place if everyone feels safe enough to take risks and interact with each other. And the quiet kids are watching you like hawks to find out your tone with anyone who tries to cross any lines. In their minds.. speaking is such a risk they would never ever risk reprimand or ridicule. 

Making the "testing" students feel respected takes a huge responsibility off of the hard work they are doing to make themselves noticed. I will notice them, and pay attention to them, without the elaborate show. It balances out in my room pretty quickly, the quieter ones become louder and the louder ones become quieter until there is a nice hum of learning.

It takes some work to establish a classroom climate. It is all about teacher reactions and tone setting in the first few weeks. I don't want it to be a battleground for a control, but a common ground for learning. Invariably I learn  just as much as they do throughout the year.

So if you are a teacher, especially a new one, and you find yourself in battle, try to remember you are all really on the same side. Some students cry out for attention because they legitimately need you. I know in middle school it doesn't present that way. But trust me, a smile and a bit of encouragement goes so much further than a glare and a threat.

Just a thought as we all take a breath after our week's worth of challenges :)


Friday, August 30, 2013

Teachers are People too

It is usually easy for me to separate my personal and professional lives. Once I walk into the school building or start my online quest for professional development I am immersed and I don't have time to think of any personal matters.

But the past month has reminded me that sometimes life demands extra of you. My Dad passed away suddenly on August 6th; the day I had returned from a fantastic week's vacation with my fiance. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life followed by one of the worst.

I was in the middle of interviewing, yet again, for an administrative position, frustrating after a summer full of "near misses". I did manage to attend a final interview in the few days between  his death and the funeral. Bad idea. I definitely was not on my game. How could I be really ?  My whole family structure had been thrown on its ear.

 Needless to say I did not get that position.

My son left for college two days later. Were any of us really ready for that ?.. probably not.

As I work so hard to try to help my mom and siblings adjust and handle this new reality, and try to support my son's litany of complaints from afar, and try to get my daughter focused on her senior year and college, and try to get my home of the past 20 years ready for sale his fall, I am realizing that I do have some limitations.

Will I be 100% attentive to the 150 students I am about to welcome in a few days? Yes, of course I will. Will I make time for this blog I really wanted to focus on ? Maybe not as much as I hoped. I still will review all of my incoming resources, it is sort of the way I relax and unwind. I will still tweet out good ideas I see (mostly so I can easily find them again when I want to use them).

The big plan for me said .. "No new administrative position for you this fall. " .. I get that things work out for a reason. And I am happy to continue to do the job I've loved for the past 24 years..

I went to the funeral today of a lovely mom in my school community. Two beautiful children in grades 7 and 9. I saw all of the friends and family hurting and suddenly changed. It reminded me (let's say hammered home the point that was already being made to me) that when we greet our students this fall we don't really know what their summer has been like or what is on the plate for them or their family.

I've done work with a colleague Steven Korner, on Emotional Attunement. I do try to connect on an emotional level with students. We all need to feel comfortable and safe to be productive in our learning and work environment.

So please excuse my potential spotty blog posts while I try to take some time to get all of my family and personal stuff back to comfortable and safe mode. And please take extra time this fall to consider that maybe your students and families have extra demands in their lives and won't necessarily promptly bring all the supplies you require or respond to all of your communications right away.

Best wishes for a thoughtful fall :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Making yourself a better teacher~ Community Connections

I had the pleasure this week of working with a team of instructional coaches in Northern Valley. It is a really remarkable group of teachers who have that attitude from the smartblog I tweeted earlier. We are all works in progress and can improve our teaching all the time. It was a rewarding and inspiring day. One conversation I had with some colleagues was about ways to engage community entities with the schools. I then read about the teachers in Leesburg VA (shout out to my friend ChrisG) who are doing an externship, and going into workplaces that feature math, science and technology to get ideas about how better to make learning applicable to life situations for their students. Very cool!

I also ran across two great resources from opposite ends of the spectrum. An archive website that takes our countries' charter documents (constitution, bill of rights, articles of confederation) and makes them very accessible to students. They also have an interactive timeline that pretty succinctly summarizes a US History 1 class. Fabulous resource!

And for emerging readers has a very nice sight word bingo game for reinforcement. I tried some of their other resources and not every App had easy directions but the sight word bingo was really good.

I don't want to fill up my blog with too many links, so follow me on twitter (HollyProcida) If you want more info about anything I mention here.

So... I am wondering what kind of community connections can you think of ? I know most businesses and corporations have a community service element. Do you think local workers would come into your classrooms to read? present? Does anyone have good experiences to share ? Either as the giver or receiver of community support in schools ? Don't be shy about commenting if you have things to offer about topics I bring up. Many people really are reading this blog and I am positive they don't ONLY want to hear what I have to say.. let's make it a conversation :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Read Alouds and Technology Hints

As I reviewed all of the overwhelming bits of articles and data that came my way this week, I wanted to add a few personal notes to some of the topics before I throw another opinion back in the mix. I am still in the baby blogging stages with this blog so I haven't made my full fledged effort to promote it and get into the rings of educational bloggers who might have real interest in the topics discussed. So for now I publicize it on facebook and a few of my super bored friends may read it. Many are teachers, so I hope I at least give food for thought.

My 6th grade teacher Mrs. Perry had a big impact on me. She would read aloud to us. I remember thinking "aren't we too old for this ?" but once I was mesmerized by her voice reading the" Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe " it didn't matter how old I was. I even recall having some of my later high school teachers read powerful pieces of Literature and helping it make more sense... Mr. Hurf and "Dante's Inferno"... Ms. Moceri and " Merchant of Venice".

I tweeted about the Global Read Aloud, an interactive internet project promoting read aloud in the classroom. I do some read aloud in my SS class.. they particularly LOVE the gross and whacky moments in history book. I would encourage all ELA teachers to check out the global read aloud!

I also passed along technology sites. It is very common to get small lists of sites sent in email, tweets, blogs with little blurbs under each. Because I see many of the Apps and tools referred to so often I get familiar with many new trends. It is nice to have these "tools" in your "toolbox" when designing lessons and instruction to achieve all of your goals. One interesting piece came up and it is a common problem with technology... On one of the lists was a sign generator.. you can alter premade signs to say what you want. For example it will be a photo of a McDonalds sign and where it usually says "billions served" you can type in other text to have it say what you want. There were lists of several dozen.. but one person wrote in and said they couldn't use this resource because they saw an example posted that wouldn't be appropriate for class. It is a very common problem when using the internet for technology that there will be parts of it not appropriate for class.

I have a pet peeve with people that seek out these examples and want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is so easy in class to move along and avoid bad examples. Kids have to do it all the time on the internet. There are frequently less than ideal advertisements. No different than driving down a road with a less than savory place on it.. you just keep driving.

So my advice for today.. read aloud to students whenever you can.. and don't throw the baby out with bathwater when using technology.. Good teachers react to teachable moments all the time. I trust good teachers in my school, my kids' school and hopefully a school I will be an administrator in to redirect professionally and promptly into technology that is useful and promotes the standards we want to teach.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

School Leadership/ Common Core

My stated purpose of this blog is to get educators thinking about what are best practices with students and teachers. I am attempting a shift to school administration and I would love to build skills of being an effective instructional leader. Just like with my classroom students, I want to create risk taking environments where learners of all styles get plenty of opportunity to collaborate and think critically. I have been tackling a new resource called "109 Resources for the Common Core" My goal is to wrestle through it and produce a presentation or professional development module which can be helpful to teachers to digest the tons of information available. Once I get some things together, I hope to get some feedback about how interesting/useful it is.

Also don't be afraid to interact with me even if you are not one of my "teacher" friends. Decisions about students need to know and be able to do, should come from all community members. You have to live and work with the products (students) we produce... you definitely get a say in what should be going on in schools.

If you are following this blog, it might also be helpful to follow me on Twitter (HollyProcida) because I sometimes reference things I've tweeted . (like right now) An opinion article in Chicago tribune by an English professor did a great job of questioning "freedom" this week... and I was happy to see a middle school summer course on 9/11 for younger students. It is a powerful and meaningful topic and I wrestle every year with how to do it justice.

So back to my Common Core work... I'll keep you posted :)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Thinking about Independence Day

Since I don't teach summer school, I have never thought about the teaching choices I would make about independence Day, but it is a similar reflection to other units and currents events. Now, with the Common Core I have a new spin when thinking about content. What should students know and be able to do to be college and career ready ? I think about what the holiday SHOULD mean and what in practicality it does mean. I also ran across a few great resources on Edutopia this week which I would like to incorporate in this Blog post.

A basic premise of my personal teaching philosophy is that I am going to give students something to start with... A lecture, a movie, a photo, a primary resource, a question or problem to solve. And they are going to have to expand on it. One way I keep track of their expansions is in an Interactive notebook. Here is a link explaining this concept fully  :  ( I also teach a course on using them) . So part of what I do, is think of what I can give, share, plan start with, and also ways students can expand on these concepts.

Edutopia had a post about Independence day and it made me realize that even though younger students traditionally make crafts, I have adult friends who take a lot of pride in decorating their homes and organizing parties and events to commemorate the holiday. Think of all the math that goes into planning a party ? hmm interesting. Also my Science friends probably are really jazzed up about the pyrotechnic aspects of fireworks another traditional aspect of a July 4th celebration. Of course as a history teacher the big idea of July 4th is our historical fight for independence. I read an incredible book this week by Jack Levin  It is a short but very visual and detailed account of the battle of Trenton.

Another note about having students, particularly younger ones, have to interpret world events was addressed in another Edutopia Blog this week. As a Geography and World events teacher, countries gaining, fighting for and winning or losing Independence is a constant theme. Often times it is difficult to judge the groups fighting, but this blog does a good job of helping to keep a positive and fair attitude.

Finally, I just wanted to mention a really cool bit of technology that I think could enhance all of these concepts including my interactive notebook concept as well as things about a holiday or a big unit or theme like independence. Augmented Reality Using this Aurasma App students take a still picture and similar to the QR codes on a smartphone they connect to additional content. But the coolest part is having the students THEMSELVES create the link to the content.

I feel like Goldilocks when I am blogging, first not enough content, then too much. Don't worry eventually I will get it just right!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summer and Kids

Let's try something a little lighter - 

What kind of experiences should children have in the summer ? 

Yesterday I tweeted about a Computer Science summer camp for girls. It allowed girls to be on computers for the week, exploring all of the capacity; games, puzzles, apps, programming, art, math, music etc. There were female speakers in the computer science field. It sounded really interesting but I wondered how you could make an equal offering for boys.

So as a parent Do you want .. sports.. down time.. reading (forced?) .. travel.. pool.. chores.. camps (day or sleep away). Should kids be connected , disconnected ? On bikes and out alone.. or in structured programs ?.. what ages is that OK ?. Our childhood summers seem very different from a perfect summer for our children. Are we missing educational opportunities ? , should school be year round ?

What are your kids doing this summer ??

Monday, July 1, 2013

Jumping in... New Fiction/Traditional story, myth or religious work

Thought to work on this week :

I am a social studies teacher. My 6th grade curriculum focuses on ancient civilizations. What is enduring ? What should we take away from earlier groups ?

I am an avid reader. What are the themes do I see recurring ? How do they relate to these same themes, or characters or plot events that also were important to earlier cultures ?

Here is one of the new common core LA  curriculum standards for 8th grade literature :

Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of
events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or
religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the
material is rendered new.

Questions I'd like to explore when "unpacking this standard"  and deciding how students can benefit from having this skill .....

 What is considered modern fiction ? 20 years ? 50 years ? If this is a grade 8 standard do you think they mean a childrens story or one for adults ? 

What are the "traditional stories", myths or works from religion that YOU consider worthy of being part of our cultural texts.

Should we talk about American culture or multicultural ? 

So teachers, friends, parents, scholars, professionals.. chime in ... list some texts new or old that you think are worthy of being explored to address this standard.

Also a prediction on assessment. Do you think students will be asked to provide their own example of this in an essay ? Do you think they will be given two texts ? Will it matter if they are/ are not familiar with these texts ? 

I'd love to hear from you, but will also be trying to collect my own examples and share them as we go along !

First Post

This situation is much like the summer I spent in 1984 at Crystal Lake Pool hanging around the high dive platform much too afraid to actually dive off. Oh, I easily went in the rest of the pool with great confidence, making it seem as if I was an expert swimmer. I even spent a good portion of the time on the platform flirting with the lifeguards to disguise the fact that I was actually sizing up the jump.

But here I go... I am going to blog as a professional educator. Now to be fair, I have blogged as a classroom teacher so I am not a complete novice at this. And I actually misuse facebook as a mini personal blog all the time. But my purpose in this blog is to hone my educational leadership skills. I want to process the large amount of interesting information I collect from the internet and observations I have about teaching and schools. I’d like to put my spin on it through my lens of experience and be able to get others to comment, interact and add to my understandings and perspectives. I am going to keep my window wide open and process all subjects K-12.

In a complete all-out technology effort I am also simultaneously going to begin to use Twitter to also interact with educators. I have many websites forums and blogs I follow now,  but so many of them are excited about Twitter, I figure if I am jumping..... I should really jump, and hurry up before the next trends come along and I am too far behind.

I hope you will follow along and give input. I am interested in my educator friends interacting with me, but also parents and professionals in other fields I would be very happy to have your perspectives on the trends and issues I will be discussing. After all, our job as educators is to get students ready to be productive citizens, so the types of learning and behaviors that you successfully use as a productive adult are what we are aiming for.