Thursday, July 31, 2014

Community Engagement is a Win-Win For All

by Dr. Rebecca Smith

Children succeed educationally in environments where community, parents, and school stakeholders are all committed to the same priorities for student learning.  Such settings are represented over and over in educational research that demonstrates schools that are “beating the odds” for student performance.  Our schools are an essential part of the development of our communities and the sustainability of progress for our future. Therefore, the commitment of partners to learning is at the nexus of a school’s success.  So the question is why are we not involving our community supports in our schools to the greatest possible extent?  In many cases – it simply is because educators may be reluctant or overwhelmed due to the many demands of their time, focus, and priorities in an age of accountability.  However, partnerships with parents and community can be a best practice for reducing the stress and providing necessary support to lighten the load of such demands resulting in positive outcomes for all who are involved. 

In high-performing schools, community members, parents, civic groups, Faith Based partnerships, and businesses can help develop, understand, and support a clear and common focus for learning.  Prioritized and aligned academic, social, and personal goals contribute to improved student performance and the support of varied partners has a meaningful and authentic role in achieving these goals.  The educational community works together to actively solve problems and create win-win solutions.  Mentoring and community- engagement models make for a win-win for community and schools with our children ultimately being the benefactors of such efforts. 

Some examples of ways for parents and communities to be involved include:

  • Lunch, breakfast, book club and field trip, club and special interest activity buddies
  • Tutoring supports before, during and after school 
  • Mentoring relationships which provide modeling of specific job skills, educational attainment, visits to successful work and post-secondary environments
  • Community partnerships for funds or in kind contributions for food, gas cards, school supplies, and clothing needs on site for families/ students who have emergent or hardship needs.
  • Access to quality and interesting books and support for parents on specific skills to help support their emergent readers
  • Expanded learning opportunities via partnerships with Arts Councils, Theater Groups, Universities –(events on campus that are developmentally appropriate, athletic events, etc. which provide cultural capital and experiences for children)

Early Literacy efforts with book and numeracy supports for school feeder programs including daycares, Head Start, and Pre-School programs that are connected to the school’s literacy and numeracy goals.

All schools need and benefit from successful partnerships within their community.  There are a variety of business, civic and publisher opportunities for such efforts that offer free resources and support. Check with your school to see what is currently available, reach beyond the school and initiate partnerships and be a catalyst to engage the community at your school. You will personally benefit from your efforts and so will the community and children who are impacted by your efforts!

Dr. Rebecca Smith has a background of 32 years of work as a teacher, administrator, and trainer K-12 at the school and district level as well as undergraduate and graduate teaching experience. She has Masters degrees in History and Educational  Leadership  and a doctorate in Educational  Leadership. Dr Smith  has published various curriculum guides and articles on effective teaching models and has provided training for staffs across her district and state via staff development and state conferences.    

She has most recently served as Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for Rowan Salisbury in NC where she was able to create and lead  multiple literacy, technology, global ed, Common Core, Poverty awareness, brain based learning efforts, and various school reform initiatives.  Dr. Smith also wrote, secured and managed  many state and national grants for her district and worked on collaboration models to foster 90 new partnerships for the schools and community.  She is currently working on a publication on Reducing drop out rates and helping teachers improve student engagement.  Working with teachers and students to make learning relevant and interesting for reluctant readers  is her passion.  Dr. Smith serves as an adjunct professor for graduate education  for the University of Cumberlands in Kentucky and provides online instruction and advising for their School of Education.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Engaging Students with Project Based Learning

by Dr. Nancy Betler

As an educator, it is important to continue to learn and grow.  I currently teach students who are gifted and  continually need to be challenged.  At the end of the last school year I reflected on how the year had gone and decided that although things went well I wanted to push my students to another level.  There was a need to help them grow even further.  During my research on how to help students grow I came across the strategy of Project Based Learning.  Project Based learning is active learning that is student-centered.  Students learn about a subject through the experience of problem solving and creating a project.  According to the research, Project Based Learning helps the students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation.  This was just what I needed to push my students. The Project Based Learning environment changes the roles of students and teachers and puts learners in the driver’s seat.

My next step was to discuss this idea with the teachers who I work with at my school.  I wanted to get their insight and collaborate with them to help enhance my growth as well as student growth. The teachers I connected with were enthusiastic about trying this with our students.  We planned how we would implement this active learning strategy during the next school year.

PictureOver the summer I developed and adapted two Project Based Learning projects based on what I had found on the subject to use with my students.  The initial project I started with was to have the students answer questions about a cupcake bakery in our project Cupcakes Configurations.  After being introduced to the project with cupcakes students were required to work in groups and develop the best way to package cupcakes for transport. The students had to discuss potential problems when transporting cupcakes.  They also had to make a list of possible solutions.  They had to create and defend their model.  They also had to discuss pricing and decide on a fair price.  This was more complex and had more pieces than what we had done in the past.  The teacher I was team teaching with and I were excited to get started with the students.  We could not wait to see how they responded to this learning opportunity.

When the problem based learning questions were introduced during our math lesson the students were thrilled.  There were leading questions and the students had to incorporate multiplication and division.  They were allowed to work in pairs or groups of their choosing.  The students began to work immediately and started to plan their strategies.  This process was different for us as teachers since we had to let them plan rather than take our usual role of teaching the topic.  We could guide but not give direct instructions on how they should answer or what they should produce.  They had to be prepared to present to another class their final finding.  We had to let the students be active learners and it was amazing!

The quality of their solutions and the models they created were fantastic.  Students were able to incorporate technology as they presented using PowerPoint or their Gaggle accounts. Some students created video demonstrations, some created songs to get their points across and others developed full scale models.  One student dressed as a giant cupcake to give her presentation.  It was a positive process for all involved and the teacher that I was working with and I decided that this would not be the end of Project Based Learning for the school year.  I wanted to work with the students and help them learn through there various learning styles.  Not every child learns the same way and it is essential as an educator to make sure that the students have opportunities to learn in different frameworks.  One student said that “this was the first time I felt that my project for an assignment was actually my project.”

Through collaboration with another teacher, we determined that we would also use Project Based Learning for another group of students.  We decided to have the students solve the following problem based on our curriculum.  We used a project that had already been developed and added to it.  Students were told that the state fair would no longer be held at its current location.  They were then told that the governor had chosen their team as the representative and event coordinator of their region.  It was their job to convince the governor and his advisors (an unbiased group of students from your school) why the state fair should be held in their region.  The students once again were allowed to pick their own groups and were guided through the process.  We met with the students to confer and go over the question, their solutions and the rubric.  The student projects were once again outstanding and incorporated different learning styles and the use of technology.  The final step was that the students presented them to other students in our school.  They presented with rave reviews. Project Based Learning definitely has helped my student develop the 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity!

As a result of the research, collaboration with my professional community and student learning I grew as an educator through the use of Project Based Learning.  I shared this information and the work that my students completed with our Talent Development Department.  I contributed to our district wiki some of the problems and enhancements I have used.  This is something that I am proud of as a professional.

This October I will be presenting with another teacher, Melissa Mooney, about Project Based Learning at the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators Conference.  We will be sharing an overview of the process, tips, lessons and student projects.  It is exciting to me that I am now considered an expert on this topic.  My pedagogical knowledge has bloomed on this subject.  During this school year I have grown professionally in response to the need of the students.  The students needed to be challenged more and to be able to use this approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges has really helped my students grow. Next year I plan to continue to integrate Project Based Learning into my instruction.  I plan to refine what has already been created as well as create new ones.

To learn more about Project Based Learning and how it can be used to enrich learning experiences and engage learners, check out the archives of a recent #cmsk12chat, which I co-moderated  with Joshua Lemere. The archive for our PBL-focused chat can be found here.

Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5.  As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree.  Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Disciplinary Literacy

by Dr. Steve Masyada

My turn to blog! Hi! My name is Dr. Steve Masyada (I just earned it, so I can at least use it a couple times before it’s pretentious, right?), and I am a consultant with the Social Studies Section within the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at my friend and yours, the Department of Public Instruction. There are so many things that I could talk to you about, but I thought for my first blog post, I would focus on literacy. Because reading, of course, is fundamental. So, we have all heard about traditional concepts of literacy, and as good teachers we do a pretty decent job overall of getting our kids prepared as readers and writers. How many of us, however, have paid attention to the idea of disciplinary literacy? Moving forward into the next school year, much of our work here in the section will be focused on helping teachers at all levels, but especially in the elementary grades, develop ways to approach disciplinary literacy in their classrooms. 

What is Disciplinary Literacy?

In simple terms for our purposes, disciplinary literacy refers to the ways in which the different disciplines within the social studies consider the world. A historian considers the world differently from a political scientist, who in turn views through a different lens than a geographer, who sees the world in a light different from a cultural anthropologist, who most certainly has a different take than an economist! Beginning in kindergarten and going all the way through the high school courses, we should be helping our students understand the different ways in which each ‘lens’ can be used to develop questions, research and explore topics, and consider ways in which we can interpret primary sources. Actually, I have a wonderful graphic for you here! In this graphic, you will find a description of each of the lenses and the types of questions that some considering something through that lens might ask!  Over the course of the next year, we want to spend more time with you exploring how disciplinary literacy, as we illustrate in the graphic, can work for you. Click here for a full sized version of the graphics below.

Resources for Learning More

Naturally, we in the Social Studies Section have begun compiling a number of resources for you to use as you explore the elements of disciplinary literacy. 

Our Webinar Series: Did you know that we hold FREE webinars at least 4 times during the school year? We do, and we want you to come! Webinar Four on this page was developed to expose participants to disciplinary and you can find a number of relevant research and resource links under that webinar (please be aware that we are still transcribing and videoizing (is that a word?) the webinar itself, but the presentation is there!). You will also find links to our webinars on inquiry and the C3 Framework on that page! 

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework: On this page you will find the newly released College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework. This Framework, a model for standards and curriculum development, contains a significant section on disciplinary literacy and its role in quality social studies instruction. While we here in North Carolina are NOT using it to create new standards, it DOES inform our work with curriculum! Check it out! 

Summer Institute 2012 Resource: This site, used during NCDPI’s 2012 Summer Institute, contains some quality videos discussing literacy within the social studies disciplines and also includes a very good document discussing what it actually means to be disciplinary literate.  I encourage you to explore the site deeper as well. You find a number of useful links from that wonderful summer of twenty aught twelve! 

Contact Us! 

Well, sadly, my time here on the blog is done for now. Please know that any questions you have concerning this or any other issue relating to the social studies can be answered by any of our consultants! Contact information can be found at this link. We hope to hear from you! 

Dr. Steve Masyada is currently a K-12 Social Studies Consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. He currently serves as one of the NCDPI representatives on the NCAEE Board, and has spent over 12 years in public education, 10 of them in the classroom. He recently earned his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Florida, with a focus on civic education. To learn more about social studies in North Carolina, visit their wikipage here. Steve is a tweeter, and you can follow his tweets @SocialStudyMasy. He hopes to hear from you soon! 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Five Domains of Development: Providing a Picture of the Whole Child

by Dr. Cynthia Dewey

As educators, we understand that how children learn is connected across multiple learning domains. For example, how children approach a learning task is connected to their cognitive development, their emotional-social development, their health and physical development, and their language development and communication skills. Observing for behaviors within these developmental domains helps us to get a more complete picture of what children know and are able to do. How well children perform in one area impacts how well they’ll perform in others, which could ultimately affect whether or not they reach their potential.

It is important to us, in the NC Office of Early Learning, to utilize Learning Domains and a whole child lens as the K-3 Formative Assessment is developed. The five domains included in the K-3 Formative Assessment are: Approaches to Learning, Cognitive Development, Emotional-Social Development, Health & Physical Development, and Language Development & Communication.  

The following examples from the NC Foundations for Early Learning and Development demonstrate what each domain might look like in K-3 classrooms.

Learning Domain
Classroom Application

Approaches to Learning

·         During a class meeting, the teacher may listen and respond to students as they share thoughts.
·         Encouraging students to think about new ideas and/or approaches.
·         Helping students to think and talk through different approaches to problems.
·         Ask probing questions to help students stay focused on task.

Emotional and 
Social Development
·         Allow students to participate in discussions related to classroom decisions and helping to establish rules and routines.
·         Read a familiar book and discuss each character’s feelings or reactions.

Cognitive Development

·         Making planning a regular part of the day.
·         Introduce a problem and encourage students to come up with as many solutions as possible.
·         Field trips to museums, galleries, plays, concerts and other cultural events.
·         Provide opportunities for students to respond through music, movement, dance, dramatic expression, and art.
·         Involve students in school and community service projects.
·         Prompt thinking and analysis by asking open-ended questions.
·         Have students use the scientific method of inquiry.

Health and 
Physical Development
·         Several periods of active physical play each day that includes child-directed play and adult-directed play, with the adult participating in the activities.
·         Students regularly use a variety of hand-held tools and objects (pencil, crayons, scissors, manipulatives, etc.).
·         Provide opportunities for students to practice self-care skills independently as they are able (open milk carton, zipping jacket, packing up book bag, etc.).
·         Practicing a fire drill and talking about the students’ responses.
Language Development and Communication
·         Model good conversational skills and encourage students to use them.
·         Provide and share fiction and non-fiction books that stimulate children’s curiosity.
·         Give students frequent opportunities to write for a variety of purposes.

Dr. Cynthia Dewey is on the NCAEE board and serves as the Director for Region 3. Cynthia recently celebrated her 10th year of service in public education in North Carolina. She is passionate about her work serving children, teachers, and families at the NC Department of Public Instruction in the Office of Early Learning. To learn more about the exciting work in the Office of Early Learning visit the wikipage. Prior to her work in NC, Cynthia served in Ohio and South Carolina as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, district administrator, and literacy professor. Her career in education spans 27 years. You can connect with Cynthia on twitter.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Math Fair Mania: Connecting Math to the Real World

by Lisa Pagano 

For the past five years,  I have enjoyed collaborating with classroom teachers, students, and parents to make math come alive with an annual Math Fair for 4th and 5th grade students. The Math Fair is an enjoyable and energizing learning experience for all!

What is a Math Fair? 
A Math Fair is similar to a Science Fair. Students select a mathematical topic, conduct research, and ultimately, create a display, written report, and three-dimensional model, and prepare a brief oral presentation to share what they have learned. The purpose of the Math Fair is for students to connect math to the real world and to extend their mathematical knowledge.

Developing a Math Fair project provides each student with an individualized opportunity to research and develop a mathematical topic they are interested in. It integrates math, reading, writing, and also emphasizes listening and speaking skills. Multiple Common Core Standards are addressed and essential 21st Century skills are embedded in the project, especially critical thinking, creativity, and communication.

The Process
I usually launch the Math Fair by showing photographs and images and explaining the purpose of the project.  I've also used video clips from prior Math Fairs so they can get a sense of what judging will look and sound like. Selecting a topic can be challenging and the classroom teacher and I confer with students to help them choose their idea.

We emphasize the importance of using multiple sources to locate information and encourage students to use primary sources, such as interviewing someone in the field.  Class time is devoted to teaching students how to research and paraphrase information learned. Students are also guided and supported throughout the process of writing their project report. They are encouraged to sketch and plan what they would like their trifold board to look like. The trifold board and three-dimensional model is worked on exclusively at home.

Examples of documents and forms used can be found here.

Math Fair Day
Students buzz with excitement throughout the day of the Math Fair! In the morning, judges come prepared to interact with our students and their projects. Other teachers, math specialists, and gifted resource teachers from our district are invited to judge projects. Each student has the opportunity to present their project to a judge and share what they have learned about their topic.  Students set up their displays and are prepared to present their projects.
Students, teachers, parents, and families are invited to visit classrooms and check out the projects in the afternoon.  By this time, Math Fair participants are much more relaxed and eager to share their project with our different visitors. Younger students particularly enjoy seeing the different projects displayed and learning more about mathematical topics. This also helps build excitement about the project. I love when younger students leave the Math Fair exclaiming, "I can't wait until I'm in 4th grade!" or "That was soooo cool!"  
Are you interested in learning more about organizing a Math Fair at your school? Check out this link for a presentation I shared for additional tips & suggestions.  You can also find many more examples of real student projects here.

Lisa Pagano is currently an Academic Facilitator in Charlotte, NC and works to support 3rd-5th grade teachers and students at a magnet school for gifted and high-ability students. She also has experience as an elementary classroom teacher and an AIG resource teacher. Lisa is part of the NCAEE Board and serves as Secretary for the organization. She loves collaborating and connecting with educators and is passionate about gifted education and technology integration. To learn more about Lisa, check out her website or connect with her on Twitter.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Region 2 Conference Reflections

by Susanne Long

On Saturday, April 26, 2014, the Region 2 Conference was held for the first time in Onslow County at Stateside Elementary with 96 teachers attending.  Mrs. Carrie Morris, 2013-2014 Southeast Region Teacher of the Year, kicked off the event with a reenergizing message of how vital we each are, every day, in transforming our delivery of instruction, transforming our community reach, and most importantly transforming the lives of students.  We, as educators, truly are “more than meets the eye.”

Twenty four facilitators presented 22 engaging session topics including: problem solving, building reading stamina, STEM/STEAM, teaching in a global world, purposeful talk in math, foldables, and instructional intervention strategies for at-risk/EC students.  Participants were engaged in meaningful hands-on activities, learning how to foster understanding of critical vocabulary, boosting math PLCs and oh, so much more!  

The session on QR, quick response, and AR, augmented reality, codes was enough to get your mind reeling for months as to the transformation possibilities for your classroom, grade level or school. Besides the new strategies learned, great dialogue and collaboration, 12 participants went home with some awesome prizes!  A special note of thanks to Peggy Gooch, Blanchard Educational Services, for donating leveled texts and big books.       

If you missed the conference, it’s okay. Educators like to share! The handouts, resources, and snapshots from the conference can be accessed by any teacher on our regional website.   

As we enter the last thirty days or so of instructional time, we applaud everyone’s commitment to reach students and truly transform lives!  We hope to see you in October in Charlotte for the 11th Annual Elementary School Conference!

trans•for•ma•tion: noun: a complete or major change 
a : to change in composition or structure 
b : to change the outward form or appearance of 
c : to change in character or condition : CONVERT 

Susanne Long began her career teaching elementary school in North Carolina. After completing the NC Principal Fellows Program, Mrs. Long had the opportunity to serve as an elementary and middle school principal. Mrs. Long is one of 103 principals that completed the National Board Certification pilot for principals and is awaiting feedback. She currently serves as the Director of Curriculum, Research, and Development in Onslow County and serves as the Region 2 Director on the NCAEE Board. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Importance of Effective Questioning

by Kathy Drew  

An essential part of any lesson is questioning. According to Kenneth E. Volger, an assistant professor in the Department of Instruction and Teacher Education in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina,  questioning “is second only to lecturing as the most common instructional practice." Teachers asks questions to check homework, verify comprehension, keep students on task, and review and summarize lessons. These questions are usually a recall of information or knowledge. Often, teachers do not realize that the format, intent, or purpose of the question can actually enhance student learning and add more interest and participation in their lessons.

Every teacher is aware of Bloom’s Taxonomy and his levels of intellectual behavior. The six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy range from basic information recall to creating a variety of solutions to a problem and determining which one was best to use to solve the problem. Most questions are found on the lower order of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Teachers ask students to define words, to list the steps to solving an algorithm, to share the methods used to solve a problem. These questions do not require a lot of mental activity from students. Therefore, the student does not exercise the brain to its fullest capacity. A lot of things are memorized and regurgitated upon command.

What we need to strive for as teachers is having students realize that they are capable of so much more than they know and have untapped potential inside of them. This can be accomplished through effective questioning. By using the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation, students become more motivated in learning, extend their learning skills to new ideas, develop their creative nature, and expand their thinking “outside of the box”.

Students do not think the same way. Therefore they need to be encouraged to think of a variety of ways to solve problems. This does not mean that teaching algorithms is not necessary. It does mean that after the students have been introduced to a method or process for solving a problem, they need to be allowed to develop their own technique for solving that same problem. This can be done through questioning. 

Whenever a student solves a problem in a way that is different from the algorithm taught, instead of trying to show a student why their method is not the method taught, teachers need to use that moment to determine why a students is thinking in a particular way. This can be done through a series of questions. (How is this related to the method used in class? What sparked the thought that led you to this method?) In non-mathematical lessons, teachers can ask students to compare and contrast similar ideas, defend their responses with evidence from texts or prior knowledge, connect what they read to something they already know, or give similar examples from other resources. What teachers need to avoid is the low level question unless it is being used to build up to higher level questions.

If students are not taught to think about why (why an algorithm works, why certain events lead to certain outcomes, why certain rules were established, etc.), we are not effectively preparing them to be productive citizens of our society. Questions that require students to provide more than yes or no, true or false, or the equally common “I don’t know” as a response, will prepare students to provide vital information when preparing resumes, select pertinent information when determining the worth of a product, and solve complex multistep problems based on what they know about similar simpler problems. 

Inconsistent and ambiguous questions confuse students and limit their engagement and participation in discussions. Low level questions often limit the challenge children experience in their learning environment. High use of these types of questions often lead students to believe that this level of learning is more important than it really is while not doing a lot to motivate students to engage in higher-level learning. The low-level questions usually require only one correct answer with the correct answers already pre-determined by the teacher.

Teachers should prepare higher level questions in advance and determine their best fit into the discussion ahead of time. The type of question naturally depends on the desired outcome. Some higher level questions may be a series of questions that lead to higher levels of thinking (What is a noun? What are the two types of nouns? What are some nouns found in the classroom? How many common nouns are there in the Pledge of Allegiance?) Other higher level questions may be questions that may range from narrow to broad, low-level specific questions to higher-level general questions, or  broad to narrow, low-level general questions to higher-level specific questions.

It is because of the non-conformists that we have some of the greatest inventions and leaders of our society. These are people who were probably asked the higher order questions or even asked these types of questions themselves. Students need to be encouraged to explore and investigate their ideas. They need to be able to manipulate and analyze information. We need to teach our students the “why” of things so that they can use their skills and knowledge in a variety of ways rather than in a set, compartmentalized, cookie-cutter situation. Effectively questioning students to not only assess their learning but to extend it will create a generation of citizens who will be able to go beyond what they see to innovators who can create, understand, and explain what they imagine.

Kathy Drew is a fourth grade teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School in Goldsboro, North Carolina, which is located in Wayne County. She is a founding member of the board of NCAEE. She took a year off from the association to assist in her son's recovery from wounds sustained in Iraq. She has served as the Director for Region 2 since its creation. This year, she is serving as the President Elect. She may be contacted at