Monday, January 28, 2013

Want Innovation in Education? Involve Teachers

In Los Altos School District, we support new ideas and practices to strengthen teaching and learning. Our goal in offering Innovative Teacher Grants is to fund and share successful strategies to educate and prepare students in a way that meets their individual needs.   We are especially interested in grants that will help teachers explore ideas to help us achieve our district vision of “becoming a leader in revolutionizing learning for all students.”  All proposals must align with LASD’s mission and with one of our goals as outlined in the Educational Blueprint:

    • Individualize Learning for All Students
    • Explore, Develop and Implement Innovative Practices
    • Increase Learning Opportunities, Professional Development and Sharing of Best Practices
To build our knowledge base and to uncover new, great practices in public education we have  invited all LASD teachers to apply for these grants.  

Throughout this school year, LASD will be able to provide up to $50,000 for teachers grants.  These grants have been made possible by a generous private donation that is a direct result of the incredible collective work we are doing to improve the learning experience for all students.  

Grantees must agree to share their work with the broader LASD teaching community and prepare materials to be used in public presentations.  We have just completed the second round of the grants and are pleased to report out the following projects have been funded.

Fall Cycle
ePortfolios:  A fourth grade teacher will focus on using electronic portfolios to move towards becoming a paperless classroom.
Lego Robotics Elective:  A junior high teacher will be creating a Lego Robotics elective for the 2013-2014 school year
Chromebooks in the Primary Grades:  A team of second grade teachers will be working on using four Chromebooks in each classroom to determine the effectiveness of this tool in primary classes using a small group instruction format.

Winter Cycle
Design Thinking:  A team of fourth grade teachers will create lesson plans using design thinking and pull together a prototyping supply rack to use with students during the process.
Sound/Filming Studio:  A grade six teacher will create a small room for students to use for filming with green screen and basic sound equipment that is accessible to all students and teachers on campus for multi-media projects.
STEM Project:  A grade five teacher will create a new STEM project aligned with a current fifth grade science unit incorporating materials from “Engineering is Elementary.”
Multi-media Projects:  A team of first grade teachers will work to develop best methods for incorporating the creation of multi-media projects into the first grade curriculum.
Programmable Robots:  A team of sixth grade teachers will collaborate with Khan Academy to have students create simple robots that can be programmed during their CSTEM class.

All grantees will share results from their learning project later this spring.  We believe there is great power in providing our teachers with both the freedom and resources to explore how to best “revolutionize learning.”  We look forward to sharing the results of their collective work and would love to hear any other ideas you have on increasing the teacher voice in rethinking instructional practices.

By: Alyssa Gallagher, Asst Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction

Reflecting is Knowledge

Reflection – what does this mean?  When seeing this word many thoughts might come to mind… looking in a mirror or a pool of water, in mathematics it might refer to the inverse function across an axis or it could be looking back on one’s day or a specific event.  There are several definitions of reflection, but the one that I think applies to this topic for educators and students is, "a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration."  The type of reflection I’m referring to is reflection on one's practice.  Oftentimes reflection is used informally.  After an event or lesson has occurred one considers how it went.  What would stay the same for next time? What should change? Did this work at all?  It is deeper reflection that offers the best opportunities to enhance instruction.  The point is not only to look at what could have changed about the lesson, but also how the students responded to the way the lesson was taught.  Reflection can happen while instruction is occurring.  It is the ability to “read and flex.” “David Hunt once noted that excellent teachers are able to 'read and flex.' In effect, he meant that teachers can be responsive to learners (read) and then flexibly adapt instruction (Reiman & DeAngelis, 2003, p. 9).”   This is something that develops over time but can be practiced every day through reflection – “practice in practice.”  An article written by Sprinthall, Reimand and Thies-Sprinthall (1993) summed up teacher reflection nicely by stating, “Higher order reflection and action by the teacher indicates a disposition to react and flex, to select an appropriate repertoire of skills and materials, to vary the instructional structure by pupil’s needs, to create an empathetic yet challenging atmosphere, to adapt new strategies for new educational problems; in short to educate in the root meaning of that word (p. 296).”

Reflection enhances our learning.  This is important for adults as well as children.  Educators take the time to reflect on their practice, but students should do the same.  If students can be taught to discuss or write about what they have learned it becomes part of their knowledge bank.  Reflection can be a journal entry, KWL (what I know about…, what I want to know about…, what I’ve learned about… – the first 2 questions are asked in the beginning of the lesson and the last question at the end), drawing a picture, an exit ticket or a skit that students perform etc… When students do any kind of reflection another important component is feedback on their reflection.  This helps guide their understanding of the concepts and also allows teachers to clear up any misconceptions students may have on a topic.  It also gives the teacher the opportunity to encourage students to dig deeper into the concept as well as provide a positive reinforcement for what they have learned.  Another element to feedback is that it keeps the line of communication open between student and teacher, which enables a trusting relationship to form, thus providing a comfortable environment for students to ask questions and to learn.

“We must be the change we want to see in the world”
-   Gandi

Reiman, A. & DeAngelis Peace, S. (2003).  SUCCEED AT Mentoring, Coaching & Supervision.  

Spinthall, N., Reiman, A., & Thies-Sprinthall, L. (1993).  Roletaking and Reflection:  Promoting the Conceptual and Moral Development of Teachers.  Learning and Individual Differences, 3(4), 283-299.

By:  Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Building Teacher Capacity & Recognizing Excellence

Anyone who has tried to inspire change in an educational organization knows how hard this can be.   An easy way to introduce change is through teacher development, but is it sustainable?  How do you ensure that the learning translates into the classroom?  Unfortunately, there are lots of non-examples where a tremendous amount of money has been spent on teacher professional development and yet there hasn’t been lasting change.  This is why we have changed the model in Los Altos School District and developed iLearn.  iLearn is unique because it helps to build teacher capacity at all nine of our schools while also recognizing teacher leaders who act on the knowledge by not only making a difference in their classroom but by also having a positive impact on colleagues.

The idea started out fairly simple - invest in a group of teacher leaders and empower them to help build capacity and inspire colleagues.  To accomplish this, we created a week-long professional development training for teachers on rethinking their instructional practices while integrating technology.  In order to participate in this summer training as a “Lead Learner” we asked teachers to commit to the following:  one week of training in the summer, three follow-up meetings during the school year, a commitment to share knowledge with colleagues at their site and a creation of an eportfolio that documents their experience over the course of a school year.  And in return we offered teachers $1,000 stipend for attending the training, $500 to spend on classroom resources and the ability to earn up to an additional $2,000 at the end of the following school year dependent on the impact they had at their school site.  The response from teachers was overwhelming. While we originally only planned on selecting two teachers from each site, we ended up selecting three Lead Learners from some of our larger sites and had a waiting list of teachers who wanted to be involved.  Then in June 2012 we held our first iLearn Summer Academy.  

iLearn Summer Academy was an intense learning experience that was planned and facilitated by four LASD teachers who had demonstrated their ability to rethink instructional practices with great success.  The first two days were incredible as our group of Lead Learners were excited about all they were learning.  And then at the end of day two we hit a wall.  There were a range of emotions - frustration, exhaustion,  and feelings of being overwhelmed.  We expected this and supported teachers through this critical stage of the learning process.  For many the realization as to just how much work was involved in rethinking instructional practices set in.   We pushed through and the week ended on a high, with great reflection and lofty goals for what they would accomplish with their students and their colleagues come fall.

Fast forward to January.  We are now half-way through the school year and just recently held our second meeting with our Lead Learners.   The goal of these meetings is to provide a structured opportunity for teacher leaders who have shared common learning experiences and created common goals to get together and reflect.  Our Lead Learners reflect on the goals they set as site teams and goals sets as individuals.  More importantly they share their  successes and frustrations of being a leader at their site.  The accomplishments inspired by this group of teacher leaders in our district is amazing.  

Through their leadership, our teacher leaders have inspired all teachers to create class websites, worked with teachers on utilizing iPads as creation devices in k-3 classrooms, encouraged teachers to use edmodo as a collaboration tool and so much more.  These accomplishments are happening because we have inspired our teacher leaders to be creative in how they support colleagues.    Our Lead Learners have instituted supports such as “Appy Hour” a time after school once a month where teachers get together to talk about technology integration,  and a “Genuis Bar” set up in the staff room before the school day begins where teachers can get one on one support with technology.  These are just a few examples of how teacher leaders are supporting their colleagues across our district.

One of the really exciting aspects of our iLearn professional development is the ability to recognize our teacher leaders for their outstanding work at the end of the school year in the form of a stipend.  The stipends will vary from teacher to teacher dependent on the impact they have had on their staff.  Because this is a new approach for us, it is uncomfortable for some teachers. There is no set list of items that must be completed to earn the money.   Establishing a list of tasks that must be completed guarantees that everyone will accomplish what is on the list, but likely that is all that would get accomplished.  Without distributing such a list, we have left it up to our Lead Learners as to how to best share knowledge and inspire colleagues.  The ideas and action generated by the group are much more exciting than any list we could have generated centrally.  Come the end of this school year, we will ask each of our Lead Learners to reflect on their experience as a teacher leader and evaluate their work using a rubric with indicators in the following areas: mindset, leadership, technology integration, professional contribution and collaboration.  The Lead Learners reflection combined with their eportfolio where they documented their experience under the headings; iLearn, iTeach, iInspire will be used to determine the amount of their stipend.  It will be exciting to financially reward and recognize those leaders who have truly done an amazing job.

iLearn and our Lead Learners are helping to change the culture of our district to one of a true learning organization where all members of the organization are held accountable for learning. We are fortunate to have the support and trust of our parent community which allows us to develop initiatives such as iLearn.  Thank you Los Altos Education Foundation for making this possible.   We are currently working on securing funding for our next round of iLearn and will hopefully launch iLearn Summer Academy 2013 this June.

By: Alyssa Gallagher, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction

Monday, January 21, 2013

Publishing and Education - Facing the Same Issues

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Scandinavian Executive Publishing Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. The conference was sponsored by Schilling, a leader in providing specialized software and publishing know-how for the publishing industry and is located in Copenhagen. To be honest, I was a little surprised to be invited as a speaker to this event. My topic was introducing our work with blended learning and Khan Academy and my initial thought was, "Really? They want to hear from me?" I was interested to see what other speakers would be on the agenda and wondered how what we were doing fit into the world of publishing. 

Some of the topics covered included digital challenges facing the film industry, globalization, e-readers, and branding, along with social media and new players in publishing. I was there to provide an educational perspective and discuss the impact of online resources in the classroom. It was interesting to note that many of the challenges facing the publishing world are the same ones we are facing in education. Publishers are coping with a rapid change in technology, so are teachers. This is affecting how many of us access reading material, both at home and in the classroom. It’s also affecting how people are publishing that same material. No longer is an author required to go through an agent and find a publisher, they can simply just hop online and self-publish whatever they choose with a better profit margin. Teachers and students are creating their own textbooks, and if you can’t find an answer in a written resource, it’s probably on YouTube.  Who’s vetting the material? How do we point students to the best resources when everyday there are more and more available?

It’s more important than ever that we give our students good evaluation skills. They need to know how to analyze a resource and judge the validity of the information they are seeking. We need to give them skills to be smart consumers of information as well as smart creators. As teachers, we need to constantly model our methods for fact gathering and continue to blend many different sources into instruction. From publishers, we need valid and flexible resources that we can mix and package into our own lesson designs, making learning engaging and adaptable for different students’ needs. In this rapidly changing world of on demand learning, we need to teach our students to demand quality, not quantity, in what they consume, and most importantly, what they create.

By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach