Why Grades Don’t Work

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“I think I deserve better than ‘meet expectations,” commented the STEAM assistant in a follow-up meeting after her review for the year. We were asked to fill out an assistant teacher evaluation for our STEAM assistant in the preschool. This position was new this year got defined as the year progressed. We have two PreK 3 and two PreK 4 classes with a teacher and teacher assistant in each room. The STEAM assistant works with the four teachers, the STEM coach, the math coach, the preschool science teacher, and the innovation team to come up with centers that integrate all these subjects for our preschoolers. Now the year is drawing to an end, and all of us were asked to complete an evaluation. Not a big deal, right? Well…

The innovation team met, we came up with a ‘rating’ system and presented the form to our team member. That’s when it was evident that our rating system did not work. The STEAM assistant is a person who is motivated to grow and learn. She likes to take the initiative and is reliable. We all know there is always room to improve and technologies are changing fast. We went with ‘meet expectations’ because it was her first year and she is learning different tools she can use to incorporate during the STEAM activities. The format was wrong. Together we came up with a goal sheet for next year with measurable and attainable objectives for the next year. That encouraged her. Ding, ding, ding, ding! That’s when it dawned on me what a disservice we are doing our children with grading them. They feel the same way!

Yes, we want to hold our students accountable. Yes, we want to motivate and empower them. Maybe we are going about it in the wrong way. The goal is for students to become happy, self-reliant, confident, and responsible learners who love the process and know how and where to go for resources. There is always room for improvement, right? I think of myself as a lifelong learner. Does an A encourage me, or does it tell me I mastered it and there is no deeper learning possible or necessary? Perhaps short-term goals and narratives would create a lot more lifelong learners. I would love to hear your opinion.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School takes part in the global #HourofCode movement

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The Hour of Code takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, December 5-11, 2016. The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. For the past three years, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School took part in this campaign. This year the Innovation Team stepped up the effort, and we witnessed incredible engagement.
Computational thinking is a fundamental skill, made up of both concepts and approaches in which students learn to think analytically. Equipped with computing devices, students can find solutions that otherwise would not be possible. According to Carnegie Mellon Professor Jeannette Wing, “<Computational Thinking> complements and combines mathematical and engineering thinking” (2006). These computational concepts help how we approach and solve problems, manage our daily lives, and communicate and interact with other people. It helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic,
and creativity. By starting early, students internalize skills for success in a world where exponential growth of technology is happening.
The following video is a snippet of what took place at St. Stephen’s. The goal is to make learning happen with these activities during the regular school year woven throughout our curriculum. This year we used unplugged activities, BeeBots, Ozobots, LED Circuitry, LittleBits circuitry, Dash & Dot Robots, and Code.org throughout the week.
Please enjoy the video! Pre-K and JK are not included in the video but partook in the Hour of Code with unplugged activities in Pre-K and BeeBots in JK.

Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational Thinking (Vol. 49, pp. 33-35).

And It’s Only the 11th Day of School with Seesaw…

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It’s the beginning of a new school year! All teachers are getting their rooms and plans for the year ready. Excitement, disbelief summer is over, new ideas, and plans are the buzz on campus. Our little school by the bay looks more amazing than ever. The flexible learning spaces outside of our classrooms, the new butterfly pathway, and the preschool outdoor hangout spot not only amplify the beauty of our school but enhance the mission we set out to live. “We believe that each child is created in the image of God, we exist to educate and inspire our students to lead by example and become forces of good in the world.” Children need to feel safe, be comfortable exploring and wondering, as well as be encouraged to ask questions.

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School is ready to carry out our mission and vision for 2021. Teacher work week set the tone for this journey. Our school chaplain opened with a talk about community, teamwork, and how we all are part of one body. The faculty shared in team building and mindfulness exercises to consider everyone’s genius to create goals. Angela Maiers, through her message of Choose2Matter and Liberating Your Genius, coached our faculty and staff on the importance of listening, getting to know one another, and finding out what matters to you. These exercises will find a way into the classrooms this year. One can only imagine what this is going to look like for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School. We experienced comradery, emotion, common goals and interests, and more importantly the invaluable experience of listening loudly. It set the tone for the rest of this coming school year.

Besides liberating our genius, we launched Seesaw for Schools. In the summer, our innovation coach, Jenny Diaz, set up our school account. Faculty received the PD webinars offered by Seesaw in the summer and two sessions the innovation team scheduled during our work week. The innovation team is helping to sign parents up during our Back to School Coffees. What a success it is so far! It’s only the eleventh day of school and teachers posted 715 items, and we have 255 comments, 1290 likes, and 505 parent visits in the first week alone.

The Eleventh Day of School

 The initiative promises to be a real world experience, as we encourage our parents to comment on posts to their students’ journals. The ease with which this has gone so far is a contribution to the detailed launching plan by Seesaw. The Seesaw Plan for Success lays out a schedule for how and when to send, plan, or implement different aspects of the program.

Our community will use the commenting feature to give real-time feedback on posts. Students will learn to decide what to post to their journal, be it a picture, movie, drawings, notes, or a link. More importantly, they will experience others interest in their post. They learn that questions or comments might lead to further exploration of a topic. Some people argue we are not providing a real world platform for our students. My opinion is that even though students do not use a real world platform, they learn how to create posts, receive feedback and learn from it, reflect, and see that sharing is caring in this world. They learn how to become digital citizens who know how to synthesize this knowledge in the future

We made a few changes to the way we set up Seesaw. Our special area teachers are co-teachers on the homeroom teachers blogs, and they post items in a folder with their subject area.

In grades four and five we ran into a problem with homeroom blogs. The homeroom teachers in fourth and fifth grade teach either social studies or English to both classes. Also, math and science group their students differently, they are not by homeroom. The way we solved this for this year is that we combined the two different classes to one grade-level blog. Hopefully, this will make the Seesaw experience for all a smooth one.

A delightful anecdote. Our parents are part of our Seesaw community. We invited all parents to sign on at our Back To School Coffees. Parents are extremely excited to have a window into the learning that happens at school on a daily basis. On a Monday morning, a Kindergarten student walked into the classroom, and she was a little bit sad. She mentioned to the teacher that she had not seen her mom a lot over the weekend because she was working. We posted a message on Seesaw, a picture with a voice message. Within 30 minutes Mom replied with a voice message how she loved seeing what her daughter was doing in school, how much she loved her, and how they would see each other later that night. Now the little girl has a BIG smile on her face, and she was a much happier child for the rest of the day! What a magnificent example of how connecting is meaningful.

The purpose of Seesaw is to document learning, for students to reflect on their attempts and accomplishments, and to witness the growth that happens over time. Real-time feedback is significant, and we are looking forward to connecting with others around the world to comment on each other’s blogs.

What We Do as Innovators

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Why? Why do we do what we do as innovators? Do we want to make an impact on children’s lives, so they can become the best people they can for a future that we do not know what it is going to hold? We want to raise a generation that cares about the world around them, shows empathy, knows how to problem solve, make things better, or invents something new to create a better the world. Do we need to transfer knowledge? No. Are we to dictate what they should know? No.

To develop caring individuals we need to provide them with a skill set, so they know how to act upon a given situation or a new idea. They need to know where to find relevant and accurate information, who to connect with, synthesize that information, and then how to communicate their findings to a captive audience.  They learn how to collaborate and think outside of the box to solve a problem, build upon an existing idea, or design a radically new one. We are talking about innovation. Innovation’s definition is a new idea, device, or method. But it is more than just that it is to make something better. If we want (and we need to) provide our learners with skills, so they become successful, passionate, and applicable individuals, we need to innovate. And like George Couros says in his book The Innovator’s Mindset innovation is a mindset.

When we start with the youngest among us, we will have a bright future ahead. We can tap into knowledge with the touch of a button, but skills of identifying problems or opportunities and taking a vested interest in finding a solution give us an opportunity to teach the basics to learners and more. To research a topic, they need to know how to read. They need to know what the main idea is, how to summarize, how to make inferences. Data is most likely involved in some way, shape or form.  They need to be able to make calculations, interpret data, visually represent that data and even predict outcomes. They need to learn how to write, how to organize, how to get a point across, and how to narrate, so readers clearly understand their story. Learners need to write in a way that it is a colorful and touching because we want the audience listening to act upon the delivered message. Findings can be communicated through a visual presentation as well. What we want for our learners is to be able to spark the interest of experts in an original way. They need to be able to pitch a speech. To deliver, inspire, or persuade others, they need to know and recognize emotions and character traits. To make an impact they need to be able to think creatively, to think out of the box, try different angles when faced with obstacles, and persevere. Learners need to have a vested interest in what it is they are doing.

Innovative projects that capture the interest of our youngsters have the opportunity to teach basic skills. Research gives us history. When they think of new ways of doing things, learners will explore the sciences. The arts might find a way throughout the whole process because we want to present or represent our passion in an expressive manner. Furthermore, culture and languages find a way into these projects because of real world connections in an ever growing global economic world. We no longer live in isolation. The world is changing so fast, consider the first human flying drone. No longer is the person in this new mode of transportation in control of the vehicle. Disruption of transportation is happening. How long will it be, so we no longer need driver licenses? We cannot think that giving kids just knowledge like education did for so long, can be enough for learners in school right now. The speed of technological advancement is one of exponential growth: we do not know what the world we will live in looks like when they get out of school.

Applying common core standards throughout a skill set of finding out what matters, researching, synthesizing, creating, redesigning, and delivering a presentation is possible. When they document and reflect on the process, they assess the risks they took. They learn from it and grow. Learning is now in their hands. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they’re stuck. As educators, we can guide them by saying “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.” Learners explore their passions, interests, and future through play and purpose like Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith describe in their book Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. We want to design optimum learning environments where there is room for risk taking, critical thinking, self-assessment, reflection and connected learning. Never forgetting the person they are through character and citizenship. It is the skill set they can use for the rest of their lives. So I started with the WHY we do what we do as innovators. What possibly could stop you from doing so?

Miami Device 2015 Reflection

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Miami in November is a special treat: sunshine, warm temperatures, good food, and the best learning experience (Michael Jaber, I love that term!) for educators all over the world. Even more special is to be part of an event that inspires you to be that eager learner you want your student to be. Miami Device ignited a new spark in me, being an active part in some way or another of the present and future of education. The event happened a week after I presented and attended FCIS in Orlando where I heard Tony Wagner, Nishant Mehta and Christian Long, three inspiring people with a vision to transform education for our students. Play, passion, purpose, digital lockers for students, question journals, students being architects of their free time, certificates of mastery, and not to forget individual attention matters were some of the ideas that stood out to me. Now imagine coming home with these ideas, followed by Miami Device the next week. WOW! Affirmation indeed.

My heart is full of gratitude for being a part of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Day School, where all faculty and staff members are encouraged and given the opportunity and freedom to keep on learning. No wonder that visitors who come to our campus all notice that everyone has a smile on their face: both students and faculty. I consider myself fortunate working here! Thank you, Felix, for making a vision come to reality. Miami Device came out of many brainstorming sessions, and you realized it to what it is now: Not a learning event, but a learning experience! Happy to be part of the team!

Miami Device created a unique learning experience for each individual who attended. All keynote speakers inspired, gave hope and connected to what is important for learning: relationships. Adam Bellow mentioned the importance of creating a culture of learning. We can do that through empathy on all levels: among staff and faculty members, among students, and among student-teacher relationships. Dean Shareski mentioned Louis Gerstner’s book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?,  and how culture is not just one aspect of the game, it IS the game. What if instead of improving student achievement we worked to improve students’ well being? Maybe a model to follow is the New Zealand public school system presented by Richard Wells. I believe a field trip to New Zealand would be fun! Derek Muller left us at the end of the first day to find an element of truth about certain misconceptions having to do with science. Kids possess natural curiosity. It is up to us to foster that curiosity so they can explore, discover, create and build upon questions they might have.

George Couros further iterated the importance of always being a learner who knows how to connect to the heart before you can connect to the mind. He touched all our hearts, not a dry eye in the audience! George mentioned that the fear of adults often drowns the inspiration of youth, and he went on to show that a  measure of intelligence is the ability to change. Why shouldn’t we? It starts with courage. Angela Maiers left us with a message to encourage all of us to take that first step. And why? Because We Matter!

There were so many other sessions I could not attend that I would have loved to learn from, sessions by Vicky Davis, Wesley Fryer, Carl Hooker, Lisa Johnson, Erin Klein, Kyle Pace, Sarah Thomas, Silvia Tolisano, and, of course, Tony Vincent. Maybe next time I can clone myself! This weekend I spent both days going over my notes, reflecting, and reading George Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset.  I feel more than ever inspired to empower our students and teachers to take risks, foster their curiosity, never doubting they matter, and become confident leaders of their dreams. Thank you to all speakers at Miami Device.
Coming to work today, was like a kid going to the playground using swings, soaring in the sky, and jumping off and fly for a moment thinking the world is yours. I am happy to say I was able to apply a couple of things to make learning a little more innovative for our students. Students in grade 5 are working on an Explorer Unit, and they are wrapping up their presentations. A lot of them used AdobeDraw App (thank you Tony Vincent) as part of their presentation, and I added another option VideoScribe App to their choices. What brightened my day was that each student was using different apps smashed together to reflect on their learning. They have a choice and, therefore, feel empowered.

I just posted two post it notes on our You Matter board in our school. Thank you to Mercy Gonzalez for initializing the You Matter Manifesto by Angela Maiers  in our school. Knowing that John Spencer, author of Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard, was coming to Miami, Mercy engaged our fourth graders reading the book, had discussions online, collaborated with Robbin Simons to create robots during FabLab, and finally tying in the You Matter Manifesto as a wrap up for the book. Students created a You Matter board using the ComicLifeApp to show why they matter. When the author read the last chapter to our grade 4 class, you could see the excitement on each student’s face.

Today was a new day to contribute to the future of education. It is about intrinsic motivation: students learn because it is worthwhile and challenging. Innovation is the process, not the outcome. It’s not about the curriculum, iPad integration, or maker space: it’s messy. We all are a part of designing the future of learning as we go along. I consider myself lucky I can be a part of that.  And like Nishant Mehta said: “We are building the engine while driving the car.”

G4 Who Do We Stand By?

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G4 used the Pic Collage app to visualize their creative writing skills. Students discovered what risks and consequences family, classmates, or the school community experienced through interviews. They wrote about how they could stand by the person they interviewed by being mindful and kind. Finally, students reflected on what they learned and created a visual collage.