Skip to main content

Recipe for A Perfect Day?



Today marks the end of 6 weeks of the school year.  It might be a bold statement, but I can't imagine a better day than the one I just had. If I don't sit back to capture some thoughts on why it was able to happen and not simply what happened, I feel that I'll miss the point. That includes not time to proofread.  This is all off the top of my head.  Errors just add to the flavor at least that sounds like a good excuse.

 A perfect day doesn't just happen.  A perfect day is one you make happen.  And if today is any proof, it never happens because you did it alone.

There were a couple of distinct phases to my day.  The first half of the school day involved a collaboration between one of my physics classes and Kate Sommerville and Angela Patterson's 5th grade class at Swanson Elementary school.  It was a collaboration planned during the summer days when the thought of frost was far from our minds. that day we sat down and mapped out all of our collaborations for the school year.

Kate and Angela bring a lot to my work.  They are super intimidating in terms of their ability to push the envelope on what great education looks like.  The push me to be the best and not let down the young citizens they are nurturing in your classroom.  They force me to take bigger risks than I ever would alone. The don't see their students as fifth graders.  They see them as individuals who are just waiting to be challenged and they find ways to challenge all their learners.

Kate and Angela provided the essential ingredients today of risk taking, collaboration, the need to challenge all learners, and a safe place to fail. They always have the energy and optimism that I don't get to encounter when teaching on my own. Also, Angela got me coffee this morning.  She knows how I like my Americano. Doesn't even have to ask.

Anytime a teacher takes students outside of the school, there is always a fear that their students will devolve into lesser beings. I can honestly say that I have never seen that in my students and our collaborations with Swanson.  They step into the elementary school and they become future leaders.  I see them truly take control and show pride in who they are and what they can bring to those young minds. Today, I saw why they take such pride.  Before we left. two of my students asked whose class we were going to see.  When I told them that Mrs. Sommerville was one of the teachers, they eyes lit up and they got so excited.  They were asking each other, "Do you think she'll remember us?" Both agreed that she wouldn't. Well, guess what.  She remembered them by name!  She even pulled out their old 4th grade photos. These high schoolers walked into the classroom and saw the impact they could have on the people they once were. They remembered what it was like to be that age.  They understood they power a positive experience at school can mean. Over the course of our time there today, more teachers from the school popped in to see the men and women their former students had grown into.  There were smiles, hugs, and laughter.  The power of strong relationships with caring teachers from a young age cannot be underestimated. These are the moments when you step back and not see these as students. You see them as individuals who are simply starting their journey in life and we have only a short time during which we watch them grow and maybe spark an interest or be a caring face for a while.  It is magical when we get to see those individuals develop into their future selves. I was so proud to bring these great students back.

But what does it take to take 3 days of class time (4.5 hours) to such an experience? It takes support from an administration that understands that learning is more than memorizing facts and meeting content standards.  We are developing whole students.  We are developing individuals who are able to master content and teach what they've learned.  The work we were sharing with the elementary students tied directly into content standards from our first unit on electricity. But it went beyond course standards of physics to include coding and use of technology. The fact that our district has designed our courses around clear standards which allow for this exploration in terms of not simply teaching breadth of knowledge but reaching depth which allows for incorporation of skills is key to this. Just as important is an administration at the school and district level that understands they are interested in graduating citizens not simply test takes.  To take a field trip like this requires that kind of support.  I am so pleased with the leadership in my district in supporting this vision.  They have never said no to any of my request to take a risk as long as the reason is clearly in the best interests of learners.

The second half of my school day was just as exciting. But, it required just as much planning and by in from my students. Because I teach the same class all day, I had to be creative with what I did with my afternoon physics classes due to the fact that they weren't able to participate in the field trip.  That mean designing 3 classes of alternative activities for them. In previous feedback, students had asked for more interactive experiences in class. So, I set about creating a new one and brining back a great one.

We are currently studying Newton's Laws of Motion and this trip hit us right as we are jumping into the 3rd law of motion.  It states that for every action (force) there is an equal (in size) but opposite (in direction reaction (force).  So to study action reaction forces over the last couple of days students have been using our LittleBits kits to design small fan powered boats. I won't bore you with the details, but there is one thing that really struck me.  No student asked me about how this would be graded or what do I have to do to get an "A". Now, I will admit that out of my 60 students who were asked to do the activity, there were probably 2 who were not fully engaged. The others were all in. It's one of those experiences where you see students thinking and talking in ways that you would never see when they are doing a traditional problem set.  Believe me on this, I assign my fair share of problem sets and it's great to see the creativity and smiles during an activity like this. It's the kind of hands-on experience that really allows us to discuss the content before us.  These conversations usually happen at the group or individual level because everyone has a slightly different experience with the project but it's what makes them more meaningful.

So this ends up being a high tech experience in which we use the LittleBits kits to help power are low tech boats built from foil, possible sticks, and plastic cups. We spent the first half of class today working on those boats.  The second half of class we went down to the gym to study the 3rd law on a larger scale.  I've blogged about this activity before, but I really enjoy it.  It's a cart push competition where students work in small groups to figure out how to launch one of the carts the furthest distance. To make the most of this experience requires space.  The Phy. Ed. teachers were kind enough to give us the use of our large gym to hold our experiment.  Again, there was not talk of how do I get an "A".  It was a problem solving experiences where students discussed forces and the 3rd law.  The failed and were able to take these failures in stride and learn from them.  Again, there were smiles and reasoned hypothesis being made about what the best strategy would be.  At the end of the class, students were asking me if I needed any help bringing the supplies back to class.  It's nice to feel so supported.

There were so many ingredients that worked together to make this a perfect day: Risk taking, planning, collaboration, coffee, optimistic educators, responsible students, fearless students, technology in the hands of students, great bus driver, administration that puts the whole student first, standards that allow for innovative instruction, classrooms that feel like safe spaces, educators who are willing to share their space, students who recognize what it is to be respectful of others, and the willingness to accept failure as educators and students because we realize it is just an opportunity to learn. Days like today go by to fast.  There is never the time to take the pictures or videos that I'll remember.  But here are few highlights I was able to capture from today.



Popular posts from this blog

Waves of Innovation in Elmbrook Part 1

As a part of a graduate project, I am looking at innovations in education within my school district, Elmbrook Schools. I am specifically focusing on those looking to provide learners with more ownership over their own learning (a.k.a. personalizing learning). I've completed 4 interviews so far.  I had no intention of sharing them via this blog.  But, I think the stories and insights of these educators really are important for all.  They were vulnerable in a way that shows their passion for what they are undertaking.  They want the best for all learners not simply students, but educators who may hear their words.  So, please take the time to listen to their stories.  


In this video, Jeff Ortman a teacher in his 22nd year, discusses implementing strategies to give students ownership of their learning in his high school English classroom.  He discusses why he wanted to change his learning environment, his first steps to bring change, how choice and feedback are key to his classroom, a…

Can I Believe These Numbers?

Our union put out the results of a recent district survey.  The number of those who responded to the survey was low in comparison to the total number of certified staff. But the number and comments related to personalized learning struck me as troubling.


Based on this data, over half of the district staff polled are not onboard with the district's vision for personalized learning.  I would argue that not knowing the district vision for personalized learning is synonymous with not understanding what personalized learning is. The mission of the Elmbrook School Districtto inspire every student to think, to learn and to succeed.  By personalizing learning, we hope to achieve that mission.
I begin to question have we put the phrase before the meaning?  Have we thrown out this word without intention?  Have we made it to much of another thing to do rather than a method to achieve our shared vision.
These numbers shake me to the core.  After the recent presidential election, I realized I was…

How to Personalize Learning Part 3: Knowing How a Classroom Learns

Now, it may seem contradictory to state that teachers should create a classroom learner toolkit.  All individuals in our class have their own profile. We can’t simply design on blanket profile for the class.  That is very true.  That’s why Bray and McClaskey take a different approach to what a classroom learning toolkit looks like.  It is a 3-step process Class Learning Snapshot Preferences and Needs Class Learning Toolkit

Class Learning Snapshot In this model of designing tools for a whole classroom, the authors first recommend the teacher identify 4 learners who are diverse.  The Class Learning Snapshot records the specific strengths, talents, interests, and challenges of those four learners. If a teacher could meet the needs of these diverse learners through UDL, the needs of the other students in the class would probably be met.

Student Strengths, Talents, and Interests Challenges 1 It's easier for me to understand content when I am taught by a teacher and then am able to get informati…