An Unexpected Class Visitor

The Fruit of Making Thinking VisibleMy sixth graders and I recently began our student-driven inquiry and project-based learning on human rights. This is my second year to use project-based learning into my classroom, and I hope everything I learned from last year’s Dive Into PBL will merge with my growing expertise at making thinking visible to help my students better explore and understand the topic.

I have several drafts about our learning and the second iteration of this inquiry in my queue, but I’m not ready to share them yet. I need a few more days to reflect and write before publishing. Never fear though, friends, I have a goal of returning to reflect, write, and share on a regular schedule again soon. So…

A Little Background Information

This week my school with The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence and CASIE is hosting Project Zero Perspectives: How & Where Does Learning Thrive? As part of the conference, we invited educators to visit PDS during our regular school day to see how we have integrated ideas from Project Zero into our school. My students and I are in the middle of our research and inquiry, but we were expecting visitors to stop by our class this morning.

Over the past few days we have used several thinking routines to help us design our learning and explore our chosen topics. Specifically, we’ve used question starts and question sorts to find our topics and write our driving questions. We used  a modified version of think, puzzle, explore to decide on our knows and need to knows. Then, we began researching. We’re using Diigo to bookmark and annotate our resources, and we make our thinking visible about the resources by writing comments on them using the ladder of feedback. We also have specific roles for our annotating (PDF) thanks to my friend Bill Ferriter.

An Exciting Day

Peel the Fruit #photo365 #PDSmemToday, my class spent time working on our personal understanding maps and sharing some of our previous thinking (wondering) on the class map. The boys then jumped into their research and annotating roles. We had a limited amount of time, but the boys worked hard and had a few minutes to share with the class and our visitors what they learned from their personal research today. The boys then went back to their individual maps to peel the fruit of their own understanding. They also shared new understandings on the class map. (See above.) During the few remaining minutes of the class we reflected on our learning with the compass points routine and shared those reflections. Near the end of our class time, Mrs. Susan Droke (my administrator) and Dr. Ron Ritchhart (PZ researcher and author of Making Thinking Visible) visited my class, and they were able to see a bit of what we are doing. I felt honored and humbled to have Ron in my room. I’m not sure I can fully explain how much his work has affected mine.

After class I raced across campus to enjoy lunch and conversation with our visitors (completely forgetting about my lunch-time duties). I also participated in a brief panel discussion with several of my PDS colleagues before racing back to my room just before my next class arrived. I had given up my prep time to interact with our guests, and I still had several things to do before the boys arrived. Fast on my heels, another of our administrators arrived to let me know that Dr. Ritchhart was on his way to spend the afternoon in my room. “Yikes! An unexpected class visitor!”

The afternoon was fine. The boys in the afternoon class did a good job, but our time allotment was different so I modified some elements on the fly. I also felt a little scrambled because I had not taken down the work from the morning class and I had to carve out time for a Valentine’s Day celebration. Nevertheless, it was an exciting and productive day of learning, and I really enjoyed the interaction I had with Ron about the thinking and learning in my room. I’m also a little starstruck. While Dr. Ritchhart may not be famous by Hollywood standards, in D218 at PDS he’d receive a star on our walk of fame. I was so excited about the visit that after texting my wife, I had to contact my friend and visible thinking/inquiry pal Edna Sackson just to share the news.

Seeing, Thinking, & Wondering About Today

Seeing:

  • I saw Dr. Ritchhart observing everything happening in the room very closely.
  • I saw him pull out his iPad and record my giving instructions and facilitating the learning.
  • I observed Ron asking questions about Diigo and our annotating roles.
  • I observed him taking notes, snapping pictures, and writing down observation as the class progressed.
  • I noticed boys reading, researching, and tackling their selected roles.
  • I saw boys needing redirection back to the assigned tasks.
  • I watched two boys get frustrated with one another and my having to step in and referee.
  • I saw boys making great progress in their understanding.
  • I recognize some boys didn’t fully understand how to do their roles well.

Thinking:

  • I think my room was more chaotic than it would have been had I had just a few minutes more notice.
  • I think Ron is genuinely interested in our PBL and how I’m using PZ routines and protocols in designing of the learning.
  • I’m gathering that PZ hasn’t focused much on technology integration.
  • I think Ron showed interest in how and why I designed the learning space the way I did.
  • I think he appreciates my efforts to have a student-centered class with student-driven learning.
  • I think he appreciates my students’ thinking and questioning.
  • I realize some of my students need better scaffolding or modeling.

Wondering:

  • I wonder what he wrote in his notes and what he’d say if I asked him to do a ladder of feedback based on his visit.
  • I wonder specifically what his suggestions would be.
  • I’m curious if there will be opportunities for further interactions this week or in the future.
  • I’m curious about his own experiences teaching with project-based learning and inquiry.
  • I wonder if he noticed the freedom my students have to move.
  • I wonder why he chose to re-visit my room of all the classrooms in my building.
  • I wonder if he noticed how nervous I was. (I got over it.)
  • I’m curious if he noticed how much I modified things on the fly.
  • I wonder where this new connection could lead.

It was a full day. There is more to consider, but it’s late and I have several big days of learning ahead. Thank you, Edna, for the push to write about today. Hopefully, someone will find this post beneficial. I’ll do my best to get back on schedule soon. As always, I’d love to read your reaction and/or comments.

Running Thoughts: Fuels, Tools, and Mentors

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I had a crazy weekend beginning immediately after school on Friday and never had the opportunity to sit down and write. Well, that’s not exactly true because I chose to watch the Memphis-Arkansas State football game during the time I did have to write on Saturday, but I digress. This post is about my running thoughts from my run on Friday morning, September 7, 2012. Writing Time Limit: 45 minutes

I ran 5.28 miles in 51 minutes. It was a better run that the other runs last week. I maintained a 9:42 pace and ran well up until the last half mile.

I’ve been reading about and experimenting with whether or not I eat something before my runs. I’ve found mixed information online, and it’s hard to tell what’s trustworthy. I’ve been told Jillian Michaels says you must eat within the first hour after you wake up. I usually head straight for the streets and don’t eat until I’ve been up for 90 minutes or longer. But I have experimented with eating a little fruit, a piece of toast, or some graham sticks. Before this run, I went high tech and consumed a packet of Chocolate Outrage Gu. Honestly, I had to choke it down. It was really strong, and I’m not sure chocolate is the best choice for my first taste of the morning (Mocha Latte, perhaps…). After the initial swallow, the Gu became much more palatable. And I did have a good run…but I’m not ready to assign causation just yet. (I have no connection to Gu.)

This leads me to my connection to learning. How important is it that students eat a good breakfast? How much does it impact their learning? When I was growing up, my parents made us breakfast every morning. My kids tend to fend for themselves making cereal, grabbing pop-tarts, or microwaving sausage biscuits for breakfast. I do try to insist they eat something, but I probably need to do a better job of monitoring what they eat. Maybe I should use my early morning time to prepare them something instead of running and writing. I need to research this more and see if I can provide some better food options for them for breakfast.

Note: I have started a group Posterous with Scott Elias as a place to curate recipes and healthy meals for busy educators. It’s called Fuel 4 School. If you would like to be a contributor, we’d love to have you. Just send me your email (a DM on Twitter will work) and I’ll add you to the group.) 

As I mentioned in a previous post, leaking water bottles aren’t much use on a run. I pitched mine in the recycle bin, and bought a new Amphipod water bottle last week. I decided on the Hydraform Thermal-Lite™ 20 oz. model, and it was great! The thermal cover keeps my hand from freezing, it’s shaped so that it is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t leak so I wasted no water. I also purchased an ArmPod SmartView™ for my iPhone. I’m not as crazy about it, but mostly because I’m used to carrying my phone in my hand and I look at it way too much. that said the ArmPod worked very well. It’s nice to have useful tools for running. (I am not connected with Amphipod in any way other than as a consumer.)

Good tools are also useful in the classroom–especially when it comes to instructional technology. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about tools (apps, resources, etc.) over the past few years. Here’s a list of few of the places I go to first, when I’m looking for digital tools for teaching:

A final thought about Friday’s run was about mentoring. I’m leading a 6th grade mentor group this year at school, and I’m also mentoring/coaching a Martin Institute resident. I’ve been blessed to have some great mentors over the course of my life. These days much of the mentoring I receive as a teacher comes face-to-face with Alice or online through connections with other teachers. Because I love lists, here’s a short list of just a few of the people who have become not only friends, but mentors for me as I continue this journey of personal, professional reform:

There are others I could certainly add, but I have found these folks extremely thoughtful and generous. Also, they are willing to push me a little, and I appreciate them for it. You should read their stuff and connect with them.

Well, I’m out of time. I’d love to hear your thought son any or all of this.