Sunday, November 23, 2014

Seven Wonders of the World

I am immersed in projects. Because my students are technically too young to have gmail accounts, the nice easy idea of using google drive slides can only work with students who happen to already have permission from parents. I do have a few of those, but otherwise I have a kitchen table littered with USB drives of all shapes and sizes. I have spent most of the weekend viewing, saving and organizing those.

Each grade 5 student has created a slideshow presentation depicting answers to critical questions about a "wonder of the world" (who what when where why how) and they also analyzed and compared information about the country of its location. These are actually very interesting and well done.

The most fun will be seeing the 3D models the students submit next week. I know from my own experience in 5th grade the topics you remember most are those you engage in first hand. Perhaps I have mentioned my oak tag pop up Patrick Henry and my Mayan temple made out of sugar cubes ?

Grade 6 students are working on mastering information about one of the River Valley civilizations. (they are in 4 small groups, chosen by me, in each class covering one of the 4 major civilizations) after they demonstrate mastery about vocab and concepts I will making the brave move to allow them to request their own groups for a project which will ask each team to compare all 4 civilizations. I'll report back about how that goes.

I was in a fascinating meeting recently where a parent was voicing concerns about their student of average intelligence being expected to "think and analyze based on this new common core stuff", when this professional knows several adults who aren't even able to do this. Isn't that the point of reform ?.... we realized that we allowed a generation of adults to memorize and regurgitate their way through school and are surprised that they now are unable to critically think.

I know it is painful especially for students who hit reform movements in the middle of their education but I am so hopeful that students coming through K-12 from the beginning this way will be used to being asked to think.

Thankful this week, that my family and friends have good health and fortune. Wishing all my blog readers a fabulous holiday.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Two funny stories from the classroom...

I am trying my best to really enjoy my students this year. It has been very engaging and busy in my classroom ( and my life) so forgive the long lapse in posts.

Here are two funny things that happened this week.

Grade 6 students were working on a skit assessment. Given 8 vocabulary words from the prehistory unit.. things like Paleolithic Era, hunter- gatherer, tools, distribute, hominids... etc.. groups of students were asked to create a short skit to demonstrate what scientists guess life might have been like in that time. The " narrator" of the group will tell the story since language skills were limited for these early humans.

Now this activity gives me a chance to see students work together and organize a task. It lets me hear their conversations about the vocabulary and how they are using it. It also provides an outlet for those  who like the "the spotlight" and this job especially with grunting and hunting is appealing to 11 year old boys.

But as you can imagine it is possible for beginning of the year sixth graders to struggle with this task.

During a particularly long scene where the "buffalo" complete with a taped sign saying "buffalo" was wondering around the front of the classroom, and some hominids were using tools (crushed paper to represent rocks and pencils with erasers taped at ends as spears) to hunt their prey, and the buffalo was experiencing a particularly long slow death.  I THOUGHT in my head really loudly "This is painful" ... but judging from the two "gatherers" who were plucking " berries " that had been taped to the whiteboard... I had actually said this OUT LOUD.

The girls giggled as I said " oh my gosh, did I say that out loud ?" and they said .. we think it is painful too!. Just a side note the following two groups' skits were actually excellent and just maybe we all understood how tough it was for early man.

The next incident was during my grade 5 students reading of a Time for Kids feature.  The story was about an 11 year old girl from Mexico City and her typical day. In the article the girl stated " Because we sometimes run late, my mom was doing my hair while I ate my breakfast" . I had asked students to comment, question or make connections and a 5th grade boy brought that up as an interesting part of the article. Since I figured he may not have much experience with mom "doing his hair" I wanted to make sure he didn't think she was getting it washed or anything. so I said .

"What do you think that sentence means ?"

He drily proclaimed.... "It means, she is definitely getting hair in her food and that is disgusting."

These are just a few tid bits from this week. A few weeks back I had to also regretfully redirect a student from listing " Chris Christie" as a "dictator" when we were trying to brainstorm government leadership examples and categories. However I may feel personally about his treatment of New Jersey teachers, he probably doesn't belong on the same list as Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein!

So, new administrators in our district, and no movement professionally for me on the horizon means I get to keep plugging away and exploring with new strategies. My new commute is a bit insane but so far so good .  More posts sooner than later I hope !

Sunday, September 7, 2014

How life's challenges are a lot like Candy Crush...

On this Sunday morning as I am faced with a mountain of lesson planning I am distracting myself a bit with Candy Crush. It strikes me that there are a lot of reasons that life's challenges resemble this game.

1. Every day starts out with pretty, colorful "objects" and it is only after you get into it that it gets difficult. Although, some people look at it and it seems insurmountable (but eventually everyone gets through it)

2. Every day has different challenges.. sometimes you have to "clear the jelly" and sometimes you have to "bring down the fruit" sometimes you are timed, and you always have a different amount of chances.

3. It always takes at least one play through a level to figure out exactly what was important at the outset.

4. Sometimes you get through three levels in one day.. other times you spend weeks at the same level.

5. Part of it is luck, (which pieces fall into your board) and part of it is skill (how you arrange those pieces)

6. Some of your friends are way ahead of you, some way behind.

7. Everyone has different strategies and priorities.

8. You do have "lifelines" available to you.

9. If you get really stuck you either need friends or money.

10. The only way you lose the game is if you give up!

Games are good; for learning, for life, and they are great metaphors for the real challenges we face.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014-1015 begins!

When we last left off, our exasperated protagonist (me) was a finalist for a supervisor job, and since then for a few more principal jobs. Ultimately the timing/situation has not been right on any of these opportunities. So.....September 2014 will find me in front of 120+ more students as a 5/6 SS teacher for another school year.

I have been learning a lot of exciting technology over the summer and thinking more and more about how I can give these students opportunities to explore and critically think. I have many exciting projects planned and hope to enjoy this year as much as I have all my other years.

This summer was a busy one, adjusting to my newly married life, selling a home of 20+ years and moving to a city more than an hour away from my school. My two children are settled in their colleges (and I owe Bed Bath and Beyond MORE than my first paycheck).

We have a new superintendent in Old Tappan, Danielle DaGaiu. All evidence leads us to believe we will have an excellent year under her leadership. A cornerstone of Old Tappan school culture, Dennis Rossi announced his retirement. We will be getting a new principal too. While I wish that could be me, I don't think those stars will line up either. Dennis will be greatly missed as he has been a passionate advocate for kids and teachers for many years.

I have been communicating with our new technology leader, and I hope to have great access for my students to technology. I am also excited about finding ways to motivate families to get digitally involved with our work from home. I abandoned blogging with students several years ago when board policy dictated that every post be moderated before being posted . That just killed the whole immediacy concept and made it a daunting task for me.... but I have some ideas about how to get feedback to and from students with some different kinds of learning systems. It may take me a while to put it into place, but I will be sure to share results.

I am so privileged to get the opportunity to influence another set of students in a positive way to enjoy studying people and places now and in ancient times. I'll try to post more frequently and summarize my strategies as I experiment with them. Also don't forget you can follow me on twitter (@HollyProcida) to see what I am reading and reviewing.

Have a great school year !


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Signing off for 2013-2014 School Year

So, as I write this, I am a finalist AGAIN (for the 13th time) for an administrative position I would love to have. The number 13 has to be lucky for someone right ? I'll know more next week.

Is it unlucky to presume I may not be (only) a teacher in September ?, (because I will ALWAYS be a teacher at heart. ) Perhaps it is bad luck, and I do comprehend the "everything happens for a reason argument." But certainly the decision is out of my hands at this point.

So back to the classroom. It is June. It is hot, and rushed, and chopped up with a million distracting activities. But it is so fun!

My fifth grade students each got a random country to find some basic info on. Straightforward, pretty boring activity to start with, but then I asked them to "Show and Tell" something cool about the country they picked. So we have some cool and interesting presentations. I learn even more when each student goes home to work on an "interactive assignment" with the notes they took from their classmates presentations. The United Arab Emirates project was fascinating with all the facts about the man made island and the incredible Burj Khalifa. Of course the encyclopedia websites will list Indonesia's major export as copper, and construction equipment. But, a graph of how many sneakers are made there compared to other countries is a lot more appealing to a ten year old... why... labor costs... etc. good stuff. And the student that bought the Baguettes from France (technically Panera Bread) and had a cool powerpoint with photos from top of Eiffel Tower, found himself pretty well respected that day.

And for my sixth grade classes it is the annual Middle Ages Festival. Partners get a chunk of content, become the experts, teach to the class, assign and check in homework (Some of the best homework participation comes when you have to show your peers your work!) The lessons include skits, power points, games and simulations... since they have witnessed those strategies all year long.

They need to devise a "carnival game" that communicates content. We have all sorts of fun games based on knights, lords, vassals, clergy, serfs,  an Italian Renaissance art contest, there are large motor games like kick ball (Popes vs. Kings) , an obstacle course trying to get through the challenges of the Spanish Inquisition and the Black Plague. In short they are excited to be making flyers, painting banners, and getting all their supplies ready for a (hopefully sunny) afternoon next week.

The best part is the formative quiz I gave to both grades.  Grade 5 :Tell me three interesting facts about the countries we learned about, make a comparison statement between two countries, if you could live in one place besides USA tell where and why... Grade 6 :Tell me about a person in the middle ages, a place in the middle ages and a concept or idea from the middle ages, Make a comparison between modern times and Middle Ages. If you could live then or now, tell where and why. The richness and variety of their answers was very gratifying .

Do my students know the Core SS content they should ?... yes. Do they enjoy the topic of learning  about different people and places over time ? Most do, and that makes me very proud and happy to be a teacher.

But I still really really hope to start blogging as an administrator very soon and sharing great things not just from MY CLASSROOM , but from a whole school !

Happy Summer... I'll be updating soon and using my new married name Holly Foley for my new blog  whenever that new opportunity for a new position comes along, hopefully sooner than later :)


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Common Core ... Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the biggest challenges to education is overcoming popular opinion from people who are not fully educated about education, but insist on weighing in. You rarely find this in health, law or automotive repair but education is one field that everyone feels qualified to judge.

The latest example of this is people who are very misguided about exactly what the Common Core is, and how educators are using it.

It is normal to fight change but it is especially dangerous to do so in education when change takes so very long to achieve in the first place.

So several years ago it was decided that having a "Common Language" and set of standards across our country for our students would be a good idea on the way to improving education for all. Educators were involved in the process of setting up these standards and before anyone can comment I believe it is imperative to read these specific expectations.


They make sense. They ask students to back themselves up with thought process and proof rather than stressing memorization. They are not a subversive national curriculum (Glenn Beck) It doesn't mean you have to know less, you also have to know WHY. There are not specifically correct answers in those cases, so it can be frustrating for people. But helping students learn how to think deeper and more critically is not something that it is a good idea to stop doing. Students need it now more than ever, as the 21st century unfolds careers that don't even exist today.

And most of us have yet to see the National Assessments that will be used to assess how students are meeting the benchmarks. But these tests PARCC and Smarter Balance have been field testing and making sure they are fair.

Is it fair to hold teachers accountable for their students performance ? Does this put too much pressure on students and teachers? Not if it is done correctly. Parents over emphasizing the testing by boycotting it doesn't help make it a valuable useful part of education.

NJACHIEVE laws use comparison of student growth. It is not a direct score based on performance. There is actually an advantage to teaching lower level students who have more room for growth. And you are judged by an average of all of your students  on a scale between 1 (low) and 4 (high) .  There is no way mathematically you are likely to get below a 2.5 and the evaluations that get flagged for improvements are below a 2.0 . Teachers have to have non existent growth by a majority of students AND get poor evaluations from your observers to get put on warning for dismissal of tenure. I know unions want to protect their paying members. I don't think it is wrong to expect teachers to do their jobs. You don't have to be perfect, just effective.

Once we get the facts straight and get rid of the pressure, the new standards and assessments actually provide a great way for teachers and administrators everywhere to say. Where are our students now?, where would we like them to be ? and how are we going to get them there...

Part of the problem is naming the new movement... anything that you have identified as a new and different concept gets met instantly with disapproval. Anyone remember the "Whole Language" fights of the early 90s .

As a personal story I started last year with specific "Common Core" initiatives in Social Studies classes.  I gave students specific Math and Language Arts  tasks to see how they are meeting the benchmarks and how I could help them then learn more about these concepts as they relate to Social Studies . The tasks are not easy or obvious, but after they are presented we broke them down gave lots of examples and had them keep trying. Some students were frustrated at being asked to do something they had not already been taught. (I wasn't grading these, just keeping track of effort as classwork)

I got complaints from parents.. why are they doing math in Social studies ? What is this "Common Core" (I made the mistake of using the name) I don't know... area, perimeter, graphs, charts, all useful no ?

So this year I stopped calling it Common Core but kept doing it.... no complaints, and they are getting much better at thinking critically all the time.

My suggestion is maybe we should keep asking students to think, maybe parents who haven't been trained as educators could be a little more trusting of those of us that have. Maybe we should abandon  the name too. Some recent criticisms actually implied that we are making the goals "Common" and lower for students.  If you actually read the standards they are anything but low.

I do understand states that are on the lower end nationally panicking and pulling out of testing. But Northeast States and especially New Jersey should not be afraid at all of these new initiatives. We should Keep Calm and Carry On !

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Risky Curriculum

As a Social Studies teacher with the responsibility of covering World Geography for 10/11 year olds, it is difficult to make choices that are relevant, exciting, but safe and appropriate.

I will admit that choosing to study Ukraine this month was risky.

But we had finished a unit on Russia and the students understood the basics of the Soviet Union. There was the concept that the Independent States formed at the breakup have many issues to contend with even 30 years later.

And how much more relevant to make that point than the recent news!

As this unit develops, literally I have to modify curriculum every day, the kids have made connections to .. other protests and civil wars, government systems (Crimea giving its citizens the right to express allegiance to Russia), military deployment, language and culture regions determining support, the importance of warm weather ports (why is Crimea so important to Russia?) How can and should the United States become involved ?

Last week a student asked.... If Vladimir Putin says he won't use force on Ukrainians, why would he send people with guns ?.... hmmm... yes this seems shady.

I love that my students are having relevant conversations about current events at home with their families and sharing that in school with us. We use a student news source (CNNstudentnews) that does a fabulous job of making the news kid friendly.

I must admit that along with my normal prayers that the world stays safe and peaceful, I have been praying extra hard that this region can work through these conflicts without a major act of war.

So far it has provided many discussions about people, places, resources, geography, culture, use of force, and historical connections.

I hope to make students aware that they have a responsibility as world citizens to stay in touch with what happens in our ever shrinking world. Picking my next unit now.... any suggestions ??

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lessons from Sochi

I took a risk with developing a project based on the Winter Olympics. Right before the Olympics there was so much bad press about Gay Rights, Animal Abuse and other political firestorms. Fifth graders really aren't ready to discuss those issues with full understanding. But I went ahead and designed it and I couldn't be happier.

Each set of 3 or 4 students worked on a "country project" I assigned each group one of the last 6 top winning countries from 2010. As a group they had to produce a puppet of the country's leader (you have to see the most awesome Vladimir Putin sock puppet!), a homemade freestanding flag, A poster which included; a medal tracker to engage with during the olympics, a map, a chart or graph reflecting culture (race or religion) . Their predictions (and justifications) of the top three sports and a  list and of the top 10 athletes from that country.  Each day we do a "medal ceremony" and update the posters.

They also had a partner from a different group. Their responsibility was to prepare a "news desk" report. They were to explain the sport fully, using video and diagrams. They have to be prepared with latest updates of stories from their sport, and predictions of what they think will happen.

And finally they each got an individual athlete to "follow" and portray. (not from their assigned country or assigned sport) They have a one page report due at the end of the month, but in the meantime they have to be prepared to be interviewed at the news desk.

Each day I pick two sports to focus on.. The interviewers do their "report" and then call on individual athletes to "interview them" These interviews have been fantastic.  I have heard things like "I have a disabled brother and I was so happy when he helped me celebrate my repeat gold medal." or I expected to win at the snowboard half pipe and didn't, but I've won so many other competitions and there is always next time." One girl said " I had a tough childhood and I really don't want to discuss my father, but my mother has been my biggest fan and helped me so much." We have heard about devastating injuries and triumphant comebacks. They know when and how they started their sports, what their hometowns are like, and just how much time, sacrifice and effort these pursuits take.

I have three classes doing the project so the hallways are filled with... "Hey who are you ? How did you do ? How is your country doing? You are my teammate! Did you see that race ? run? event?

There have been so many wonderful human interest stories and they have gained a lot of perspective about the world. They are listening, speaking, researching, predicting, and interacting.. pretty hard "CORE" stuff.

I love the Olympics!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 is here

This is bound to be one of the most exciting years for me personally.  I am selling my home of 20 years, getting remarried, sending my little one of to college, finding a perfect new challenging position.  I am thrilled with all of the exciting changes and new challenges I will face.

But heartbreakingly, a devastating story happened in our community this week. A freshman at Univ of Penn, who was friendly with my kids, took her own life. She was smart, beautiful, athletic and even was getting help for her stress.

It has made me remember and re- evaluate the life lessons I have acquired about SUCCESS. It is so easy to get caught up in numbers, averages, sports records, salary, awards on a shelf.

It is easy for educators to think that SGOs  SGPs  and teacher evaluation ratings are the measure of success.  When in fact, productive citizens who can think, problem solve,  and empathize is our true goal.

I listened to Carol Dweck from Stanford speak about Growth Mindset this week. Her studies show that if we can teach students to understand that people and situations are not fixed the results are impressive. Suddenly people don't think a bully will always be a bully, and a victim will always be a victim.  They can understand that a student has the ability to change their academic profile. Teachers can learn that they can grow and change as teachers.

It is sort of the core truth to all learning.

I hope to grow so much in 2014. I hope to teach my students their potential for growth personally and academically and I wish Madison had gotten an opportunity to understand that her situation would grow and change.

I hope each of you has a productive and growth filled 2014.