Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A World of Learning

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 Hello from sunny California! I am excited to share about the amazing journey our team experienced while in Napa, California for PBL World 2017.  It was a week of intense learning, deep reflection, purposeful work and team bonding.  The Bismarck crew included administrators, Library Media Specialists, an instructional coach and classroom teachers.  The following quotes are directly from the participants and I hope they inspire you to dig in and see a connection with Project Based Learning.

"PBL World...was a great experience!! I really appreciated the opportunity to attend the conference and loved both the project slice and the coaching workshops.  I learned the PBL process in a much more in depth manner as we really looked at the PBL teaching practices. This will help me personally as well as a resource in the school." --Gina Phillips, LMS at Century High School

"PBL World…..was a fantastic experience! I am truly thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference. The Slice was probably my favorite part as I was able to examine PBL from a student viewpoint. Alicia was a great presenter and really pushed me to look deeper and think more on the process. I also really enjoyed meeting and working with educators from all over the globe. It was fascinating to hear from other educators on their struggles or successes and their journey to it." --Jennifer Zacher, teacher at Simle Middle School

"PBL World was an amazing learning opportunity and I am so grateful that I was one of the team that was fortunate enough to be part of the PBL World experience.  Through the coaching workshop, I was able to delve deeper into the process of PBL as well as build greater understanding of the Gold Standard elements that are the heart of PBL.  I was able to return with multiple resources that will be utilized this year with BPS teachers.  Because of my PBL World experience, I am better able to meet the PBL needs of my building as well as support PBL at the district level." --Michelle Kuhn, LMS at Solheim Elementary School
"After attending PBL world, I now have a broader perspective on education and a renewed sense of energy regarding PBL. The tremendous effects it can have on students is inspiring. I met and networked with many principals, founders from High Tech High, and other educators who are continuing to challenge the traditional set-up of our schools. The concluding statement on the last day of learning was 'I once thought that PBL was something students could experience; I now understand I owe it to students to ensure they participate and learn through high-quality PBL.' "
--Meagan Sharp, Assistant Principal at Simle Middle School

"Before attending PBL World my understanding of PBL was limited. The time spent attending the PBL for Coaches gave me a rich understanding of the PBL process and how it can help support an engaging classroom environment that increases student achievement. After attending PBL World I feel better prepared to give the teachers I serve more tools to help them on their PBL journey."   --Nicole Szajkowski, Instructional Coach at Myhre Elementary School

 "Through the PBL Slice, I definitely gained some new insight into the PBL process through the eyes of a student. This workshop gave me some ideas and critical questions to ask of myself or other teachers when they are working through a project. I really loved the idea of building rubrics with the students and having their input in establishing 'At Standard' and 'Developing' expectations. We also read a wonderful article, 'How to Get High-Quality Student Work in PBL,' which I found was a wonderful resource for teachers to use during self-reflection of a project. Overall, I loved the experience of both the PBL Slice and the Coaching Workshops. I feel like I walked away with valuable resources that I will be able to apply and share with others!" --Rhiannon Roemmich, teacher at Wachter Middle School

Important Takeaways from Project Slice--Gina Solemsaas Instructional Coach at Legacy High School
  • Part of the PBL process is simmering in ambiguity.
  • It IS organized chaos with paced tasks; it is NOT a “free-for-all”
  • The importance of revisiting the Need To Knows! * Highlight of the Project Slice was when a community expert came in to address the NTKs that we did not have the knowledge to answer!!  MIND BLOWN!
  • Peer Feedback Practice - Small Group Gallery Walk:
  1. Low stakes
  2. Timely - early enough to make changes.
  3. Formative

  • Authentic Audience Presentations as formative.
  • An essential element is Reflection…. Including revisiting the Need to Knows at the end of the project to plan for areas of future learning.

"PBL World was a wonderful learning opportunity.  Project Slice gave me a chance to experience PBL from a learner’s perspective.  It was valuable to actually see the Essential Project Design Elements and success skills   embedded throughout the project. It also gave me more clarity and insight into the planning process involved in designing projects for my students. I appreciate the toolkit provided in the PBL Coaching Workshop.  This will be an excellent resource moving forward with PBL.  It was a great experience collaborating with other educators from across the country and hearing about their PBL journey.  The coaching workshop also gave me an opportunity to reflect on my PBL practices and ways to improve the quality of our projects.  I am excited to share the learning with my colleagues." --Renae Ely, teacher at Liberty Elementary School

As you can see each member of our PBL World 2017 team came away with new learning, useful resources and inspiration to support change within their buildings and our community.

Thursday, September 14, 2017



Collaboration:  the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.   
Let’s break it down:  
  • 2 or more people → team
  • Working together → process
  • Towards shared goals →  purpose

When we think of the epitomy of  collaboration, thoughts often lead to the  Apollo 13.  The Apollo 13 crew trusted each other and worked interdependently for one common goal.   If one person would’ve failed in their role the results would have likely been catastrophic.  

Collaboration is a critical skill for success in all realms of life. We'd like to kick off this year by telling you about a few things that LearnBPS Blog and Twitter will be doing NEW this year to hopefully increase teamwork and collaboration across the district.  

One, we will be blogging and tweeting every week this year!  Please tweet to share your expertise, highlight your successes so we can learn from each other.  Two, will also be taking more a building/local approach to the blog, with LMS’s coordinating stories from each of their respective buildings.  You are all doing great things for students in your schools!  Share them with your LMS and offer to collaborate for the blog.   Get Collaboratin’ and join in on Twitter Tuesday's @ 8:30!   #learnbps

Daphne Heid & Misti Werle

Monday, April 24, 2017

Personalized Learning Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners

Over Easter break, I was able to visit my sister and her family in Minnesota. My sister and I are 23 months and 5 days apart in age me being the oldest. We grew up in the same home, had the same rules to follow, and created enough shenanigans to occupy our time pre-technology. However, Stefanie and I are different in many ways. One of those ways is how we learn. Stef is an auditory learner and can memorize facts and information by putting it to a tune or song. She also likes to think things through before starting a project. Me, on the other hand, I like to jump right in with whatever I am doing and learn as I go. Which has got me thinking what does it mean to personalize learning for our students? With schools around the country looking at ways to meet students where they are in their learning and preparing students for the future. What are we doing to personalize learning for students?
Recently, I attended the conference The Art of Coaching Teams in Chicago. During our time one thing we talked about was the principles of adult learning two principles which really stuck out to me one adults want agency in their learning, and two adults come to learning experiences with history. I believe these two adults principles are also relevant to our K-12 students. Our students want agency in their learning and come to our classrooms with their own past learning experiences. What can we as educators do to accommodate and honor those differences?
When I think of personalized learning in the classroom the first thing that comes to mind is the power of relationships with my students. Student-teacher relationships are the key to student learning it’s through relationships where trust is built, and when there's trust students are given the security to take risks, and try new things in their learning. Knowing our students well allows us to fully embrace their unique differences and meet them where they are as learners.
During a recent walk-through, in 8th-grade English teacher, Kelly Moormann’s class students had just finished reading the “Outsiders”. The students chose two out of four RL standards and proved their knowledge on them by creating whatever type of project they wanted. They used the proficiency scales as a checklist for the items they needed to include. Projects included: writing a rap song, an essay, tri-fold posters, various models, interviews, and skits.  Students are able to use voice and choice when selecting items off of a learning menu. Here are a few of  the comments I heard from students:  “This harder than a worksheet, I like it better because I am actually learning what is means to find a theme of a story and support it with details.”  “I like this learning menu because I can choose what do as project with what I like doing.”

Using our district’s 5 rocks along with critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity is the framework to being personalized learning for our students. Stef and I are sisters who grew up together and have a lot of things in common, but our learning styles are not one of those commonalities. As educators, parents, aunts, uncles, and all the other important roles we are blessed to have we know the people in our lives learn differently and we have the privilege to make that happen for the students who walk through our doors.

Please join in on the twitter chat on Tuesday, May 2nd at 8:30 here are the questions.
  1. What does personalized learning mean for students?
  2. How can students have voice and choice in how they learn and what they learn?
  3. How can teachers take into account students' input in the process of learning?
  4. How can you implement personalized learning for students or staff?
  5. When has someone provided opportunity for you to experience personalized learning in your life?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meaningful Metacognition

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“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try!” – Dr. Suess 

Growing up I loved reading this book at my Grandparents' house. They had a dark wicker basket in the playroom full of books. I loved all the silly “thinks” on each page and how it encouraged me to use my imagination to think up any “thinks” I wanted to. This book really empowered me to “think” outside the box.

This year has been a big growing year for me and my classroom. I made the decision to join the Assessment Academy in the fall, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. I thought I would glean a few new insights to boost our current 3rd grade PBLs at Liberty. What I wasn’t expecting was a major “meta-shift” both in myself and within my classroom!

I say “meta-shift” because this all came from my study of metacognition. It all started one night when I was feeling particularly tired and a little bit grumpy that I had homework to do for the Assessment Academy. I remember grumbling under my breath about the homework being “a waste of time”. The workshop was on Metacognition and the article was titled, Metacognition: Nurturing Self-Awareness in the Classroom.

Today’s fast paced world is saturated in instant gratification. The other day one of my students said that his computer was “lagging”, I had to chuckle to myself. These kids will never understand what a lagging computer is really like. Patience is a lost art in America, and I didn’t fully understand this until I spent two years teaching overseas in New Delhi, India. In a culture where “time” is a relative term and an afternoon nap is a necessity, I had to learn how to slow down and through gritted teeth embrace this thing called patience. It wasn’t until I was put into a culture of early morning meditation in the park that I realized what a frenzied life we lead as Americans. Being busy is a trophy that we parade around under the guise of hating it. We say things like “Oh I’m so busy, I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done!” secretly hoping that the other person thinks we are a superstar! Yet everything I know about good reflection involves higher order thinking: reflecting, analyzing, observing, examining, critiquing etc. Good learning takes lots of time, lots of failure, and lots of uninterrupted thinking!

Kids expect immediate results and we have to show them that steady growth is anything but immediate. Our brain is a muscle, and just like resistance is the only way to grow your arms, legs, abs, etc., resistance is also the only way to grow our brains. The first strategy for improving metacognition mentioned in the article was to teach kids how their brains are wired. The last two years I have started off the school year teaching about the brain in the first 3 weeks of school and connecting it to Conscious Discipline, which is what we use at Liberty. The students learn about their Brain Stem, Limbic System, and Prefrontal Lobe so they understand how their brains function and learn. We need to change their “self-talk” from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. I don’t allow my students to say that something is hard. If a student says to me, “I don’t get this! It’s too hard.” I respond with, “It will take time and effort. We are growing our brains.” The students hear from me often that resistance is good and when they have their “a-ha moment” when that new concept clicks, I tell them to kiss their brain. Then I kiss my own hand and touch my forehead. At this point in the year, I hear the students telling each other to kiss their brain when they see a classmate connect new learning.
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Two practices that have changed my classroom are Think Alouds and Socratic Seminars. As teachers we are already good at explaining what we are doing, now we just need to explain what we are thinking, while we are doing it. So now when I am teaching a new skill at the carpet, I tell the students exactly what I am thinking instead of what I am doing. They can already see what I am doing. They need to know what's happening behind the scenes inside my brain. So I use vocabulary like, "So then I thought..." or "Now I wonder...", or "Oh, I just noticed that...". If I make a mistake, I draw attention to it before I fix it, and when I do fix it, I tell them why I am fixing it. Metacognition is not something concrete that can be taught through words like how to read or solve math problems, it is abstract so it must be taught through actions like how to love, show empathy, and develop friendships. 

My first time leading my students in a Socratic Seminar was very enlightening. I remember laughing to myself thinking there was no way I could sit 8 and 9 years olds down and have them facilitate a meaningful conversation. Sure, for the first five minutes it was awkward, and some of the questions/statements from certain students were off topic, but it didn’t take very long before the students were drawn into the conversation. I was amazed at their questions and insights and it was a huge “A-ha” moment for me. My students weren’t really having meaningful metacognition before because they were never put in a situation where they felt like their opinions TRULY mattered. If we treat our students like they are incapable of meaningful discussion, then that’s exactly what we will get! One of my students whispered to me from the circle “Mrs. Heiple, it’s like we’re having adult conversations!” Yet, 8 and 9 year olds are more eager and ready to have these discussions than most adults because they are constantly analyzing the world and formulating questions and opinions which are often hushed by our busy lives rather than fostered through meaningful “meta-moments”. The students also needed to understand that if they wanted their opinions to be heard and valued, that they needed to really listen to one another, and reflect before they responded. This has to be both taught and modeled since we all are usually quick to respond. Most of the time we are formulating our response before the speaker has even finished. 

If we want students to value learning, they need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, that their questions are important, and that resistance is necessary!   

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Taking Charge of our Learning

Our profession is evolving; there is no doubt about it.  Everyday, we must ask ourselves if we are ready for the challenges that await us when we walk through our school’s doors.  Technology, the economy, changing demographics and diversity, politics, and increased demand for accountability make our jobs high stake every day.   Ultimately,  we have two choices.  We can sit back and talk about the “good old days,” or we can march forward and model learning for the sake of the young people in our charge and our own sanity.  
Tom Whitby says that to be better teachers, we must be better learners.  Like the students we teach, we seek to be actively engaged in our learning to make it meaningful and authentic.  Also like our students, we come from different backgrounds, fields of thought, and experiences.  For this reason, the days of staff development, or “sit and get” are numbered.  
Today, I heard a potential teacher candidate say he “craved innovative learning experiences” for himself.  If that isn’t powerful testimony to the importance of personalized professional learning, I don’t know what is!  As administrators and coaches, we must provide a diverse menu of opportunities for our staff.  These opportunities should be job-embedded to be immediately meaningful and applicable.   At the same time, as educators, we must take responsibility for our learning.   As lead learners, our time is too valuable to wait until the next staff development day to be told what we are to learn. By consciously reflecting on our practices, we are better able to create purposeful learning goals for ourselves. We must actively seek learning opportunities in the form of workshops, learning walks, books, blogs, coaching conversations, and Twitter Chats which can all serve to expand our Professional Learning Networks.  
Two teams use peer coaching strategies to review lesson outcomes.
One strategy we have been implementing at Horizon is peer coaching.  With the help of Steve Barkley, our Instructional Leadership Team has been trained in strategies for peer coaching. They have been modeling the process by inviting colleagues into their classrooms to observe.  Prior to the observation, they meet and have a conversation to plan for what specific feedback the teacher might want from the observer.  Following the observation, a second conversation takes place to reflect and plan next steps.  It has been a slow, but exciting process watching literal doors open as teachers become more comfortable with vulnerability.   An added bonus is that feedback from those involved in peer coaching has allowed us to plan for workshops and book studies to differentiate for our more introverted crowd. Most importantly, this is teacher-lead and teacher-driven learning. Now, isn’t that what we want to be modeling for our students?