Summer Learning

My brain is about to explode!  I know it is summer vacation, but I have used the first few weeks of vacation for my own personal learning.  I started out reading two amazing books.  The first one is by Carol Dweck, entitled Mindset The New Psychology of Success.

The first time I had heard about this idea of mindset was during an SDAWP writing conference.  One of the presenters talked about fixed mindset versus growth mindset.  I won’t go into too much detail, but this quote is taken directly from the Mindset website.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

Reading this book had a profound impact in the way I view things.  As a teacher, I want to make sure that I encourage the growth mindset in my classroom.  As a parent, I want my daughters to understand the importance of a growth mindset in their learning.

When I finished this book, I read the book Drive, by Daniel Pink.

Wow!  This book also made me more aware of the ways we use extrinsic rewards to motivate.  Here is a youtube video that outlines his findings.  However, I would highly recommend you still read his book.

Again, reading Pink’s book made me think about the implications of student engagement and motivation.  How can I as a teacher make sure that students are involved in their learning?  As I read the book it reminded me about all the work I did last year with my Genius Hour time.  That whole experience lit a fire within me.  How amazing would it be if I could create that spark in all subjects, not just Genius Hour time?  What impact would that kind of learning environment have on students?  It’s a lot to think about and implementing this inquiry-based learning would be hard work.  But man, it would be so worth it in the end.  Learning can be fun.

I also signed up for a massive open on-line collaboration (MOOC) through Stanford University.  This MOOC was about how students learn math.  It is not a free course, but anyone can sign up to take it.  Here is the link to the site.  I thought this course would give me some insight on how to teach math in more meaningful ways.  I was not disappointed.  Although I am not going to be teaching in my own classroom next year, I can still use the ideas I learned in my math coach position.

Finally, I know I have mentioned before that I am going back to school to get my administrative credential.  I just completed a course in school improvement leadership.  In this class we talked about change theory.  We discussed the benefits of Professional Learning Communities and formative assessments.  We learned how to create effective school growth plans.  I just finished the final project and wrote a culminating reflective essay about my learning in this course.  It feels good knowing that is one less thing for me to complete.

Did I mention that I feel like my brain is about to explode??  The beautiful part is that all my learning is connected.  The principles I learned in each activity overlap with one another.  I think I need to take a break from all this learning and read something light.  However, I ran into a former colleague of mine, and she was so excited to talk to me about a book she was reading.  It’s funny because I had just ordered the same book and it arrived the other day.  It’s next on my list of school books to read.  The book is called The Writing Thief, by Ruth Culham.

I can’t wait to cram more knowledge into my already packed brain.  🙂


It’s Official

My room is packed up.  Lights are off and door is locked.  Keys are turned in to the office.  Today, I officially checked out of the school that I called my home for the last 16 years.  It was strange leaving, knowing that I would not be returning there to start the 2014-2015 school year.  I am going to be a Math TOSA (teacher on special assignment) for my district which means I will be going to a new school next year.  Packing up was difficult.  I got rid of a lot of things.  I needed to downsize tremendously because my new room is more like an office and not a classroom.  Files were sifted through.  Duplicates were tossed.  It was hard trying to figure out what to save and what to get rid of.  Teachers are notorious for hanging on to stuff.  I finally had to tell myself that if I hadn’t touched the item in the last 3 years or more, then I should get rid of it.  My dilemma is that I don’t know where I am going to go after my year as a TOSA is up.  So, I wanted to hang on to certain books and resources in case I am back in the classroom in two years.  I had a lot of boxes and thought I would need to rent a storage unit for a year.  For a small, closet-sized space it was going to cost me over $1,000 to store.  Fortunately, my friend, Nicole, came with me when I was ready to move out of my classroom.  She talked me out of bringing my shelves and my plastic bins/crates.  We combined boxes and downsized even further.  I am happy to say that I didn’t need to rent a storage unit after all.  Everything I packed is now at my new school.  🙂

I am reflecting on my 16 years at Shoal Creek Elementary-home of the Otters!  I was one of the original staff members who opened the school so many years ago.  I am going to miss the people I worked with.  Everyone there is an amazing teacher.  I have learned from each of them and have improved my teaching practices as a result of my interactions with them.  I have so many happy memories that I am taking with me.  It will be strange not seeing my friends (who I think of as family) next year.  I am also going to miss the students.  They are the main reason why I love going to work each day.  I am going to miss the smiles, hugs, and love notes that I often received from them.  I managed to save a few in my file box.  I know when I am feeling low, I can read those notes to remind me of why I am doing what I do.  I am truly going to miss the connections with teachers and students at Shoal Creek.

Although driving out of the parking lot and away from the school was bittersweet, I know this new adventure is going to be a great experience for me.  I am excited by the possibilities of being a math coach for teachers.  I am still not sure what my new job entails.  It’s a work in progress.  There will be lots of opportunities for messing up.  But, I am learning that mistakes are necessary in order for growth to happen.  So, next year, I am going to embrace all my mistakes.  I am going to remember to persevere.  I am going to make the most of my opportunity.  All I can think is that my new job is going to be AWESOME! 🙂

A New Adventure

I am on my way down a new path in my teaching career.  Three weeks ago I made a last minute decision to apply for a Math TOSA (Teacher On Special Assignment) position.  I had heard about the position last month, but thought against applying.  I have so many things going on in my life, and I felt going for the TOSA job would be too much.  However, the day before the application was due, I decided to at least apply for it.  The process would be a good learning experience for me.  After reading the book Mindset, by Carol Dweck.  I am trying very hard to embrace the growth mindset.  The problem was that I made the decision to go forward with applying the night before I was to turn in all the paper work.  Fortunately, I was able to gather all the necessary papers and recommendations and turn my application in to the District Office by 4:00.  A few days later I received a phone call for an interview.

The interview went well, I felt.  I had prepared by thinking of possible questions I thought the interviewers would ask me the night before the interview.  I got to my interview a few minutes early so I could go over my notes and meditate before-hand.  I was calm, and I was ready when I was called into the little room.  There were four people on the interview panel.  It helped that I knew two of them.  It’s always nice to see a friendly, familiar face when you are in these stressful situations.  I was able to answer the questions thrown at me.  Then, I was asked to watch a short video clip and provide feedback.  I thought that was interesting.  I liked that there was a task involved instead of just answering questions.  The interview ended, and I was told that we would hear who was selected the next week.  I forgot to ask how many people had applied, but I knew they were going to select five to serve as math coaches for the district.

The waiting game is difficult. It was Tuesday afternoon when I decided to just go home early from work.  I was exhausted, and I wanted to spend some time with my three kids.  I am normally at work until about 4:30, but on this day I left work around 3:15.  I think I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t heard anything yet.  I arrived home, talked to my daughters and helped with homework.  The house phone rang at around 4:00 and my youngest daughter, Allison, picked it up.  I was thinking to myself, “Who is calling me at 4:00 on the house phone?”  Most friends and people I know call me on my cell phone.  My daughter handed me the phone and it was one of the interviewers calling to tell me I got the job.  🙂  However, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about making it just yet.  Things had to be completed on their end and a formal announcement would be made.  When?  I did not know.  So, I went to work the next day unable to tell my friends.  That was the most difficult thing to do.  I was so happy and wanted to share my news.  When they would ask me if I heard anything, I had to say no.  My friends were starting to get a little angry about them not letting me know anything.  Finally, an email was sent to the whole district announcing who the math coaches would be, and I could share my story.

Wow!  I still can’t believe it.  This means I will be spending next year out of the classroom.  Instead I will be coaching other teachers and supporting them with their math instruction.  Because our district is focusing on the Math CCSS, they are trying this new model of math coaches.  I don’t think it has ever been done in my district this way.  I explained at my interview that I did not profess to be a math whiz.  In fact, I was a bit of a math phobic as a kid.  I saw math as a set of rules and formulas that I had to memorize and remember.  I could never remember!  It was only as an adult, when I took my math methods courses in college for my teaching credential that I understood how important the conceptual foundation of teaching math was.  It began to make sense to me.  Even though I am not a math guru, I love teaching math.  I know. . . strange.  My husband joked with me when I told him I had applied for this job.  He said, “You do know this is for MATH.”  He knows math is not my strong suit.  However, I am thinking I won’t necessarily be teaching math concepts.  I will be coaching other teachers on best mathematical practices.  I am just guessing, because I don’t really know yet.

Now the hard part really begins.  I have to pack my classroom up.  I have 25 years of stuff to go through.  The good news is a few years ago, I moved from one classroom to another and got rid of a lot of things.  But, now I have to dwindle it down even more.  I have already been told by my husband that I cannot bring my boxes home.  There is just no room at the inn!  🙂  I don’t know what I am going to do.  I may have to think about renting a storage unit.  The other thing I am wondering is how this is going to affect my work with the San Diego Area Writing Project.  Since I am no longer in the classroom, I will not have a chance to practice writing strategies with students.  In my interview, I explained to the panel that writing was another passion of mine.  I am hoping I can incorporate what I have learned about writing instruction and merge it with math instruction.  I am going to work hard to accomplish that.  I think it will be just as beneficial for the teachers as it will be for students.

The position is only for a year.  After that, I will have to return to the classroom.  But, who knows?  I will be done with my administrative credential work (I hope!).  Then, I may be on an altogether different path in my teaching career.  For now, I am just so happy to be on the path I am at the moment.  I can’t wait for all the growth and learning that is waiting for me.  It will be hard work, but I am also hoping it will be fun and fulfilling.  We shall see.  🙂

Game On!

Today was a great day in my classroom.  Today was the day when the 5th graders from my friend’s classroom came over to our classroom to play the government board games my students have been creating.  Christie’s students helped by reading through my students’ papers in which they described the rules and objectives to their games.  On the first draft, my 2nd graders were pretty certain that their directions were clear and easy to understand.  That’s when I told them that I was going to walk their papers over to Christie’s classroom and ask her 5th graders to comment and ask questions about their games.  The 5th graders were awesome.  They made comments on little sticky notes.  They asked questions.  They wanted clarification.  When I got the papers back, I was impressed with how much time and effort they put into reading them.  I showed my students the sticky notes and told them they had some rewriting to do.  I instructed them to read every sticky note and try to address them in their rewrite.  When students were finished with their 2nd draft, I sent them back to the 5th grade for a second read.  In the meantime, my class worked in small groups to create their board games.  We worked for several weeks on them.  It was interesting to see the creative juices flowing.  They all seemed to work well together.  Most groups shared the tasks of planning the game board.  They discussed how their game would be played.  I did have a few groups where some students were not sharing the tasks at all.  One group complained about a member not helping.  However, these complaints were rare.  Everyone worked together.

When we got the 2nd drafts back, my students were disappointed to see all the sticky notes on their papers again.  But, this time, my students were really happy.  I could hear comments like, “Oh this one is a positive comment.”  Or, “This is a good one.”  And, “We just got a compliment.”  This was followed by high-fives and pats on the back.

As our game development continued, I stressed the fact that students should not forget the purpose of the games.  The purpose was that people would learn about the three branches of government through playing their board game. After some thought, students would go back and re-do or re-work what they had already done.  When groups said their games were finished, I had them play someone else’s game.  I would then ask, “What did you learn about the government?”  They would either say some facts they learned or tell the group who created the game that they didn’t learn anything.  That meant some groups had to go back to the drawing board.  The games went through so many different iterations.  In fact, my groups were still trying to make their games better right up to the moment the 5th graders came over.  It was pretty amazing.

When the 5th graders arrived, they found the game where they had provided feedback.  They were able to sit with the 2nd grade developers and play.  All the students were excited and engaged.  They were learning together.  They were also laughing and having fun.  My friend, Christie, and I marveled at how well they were interacting.  Here are a few pictures of the students together.





 After the 5th graders left, I had my students reflect on their game making experience.  All the feedback was positive.  They all said they loved the process.  They enjoyed working as a team, even though they argued some of the time.  My students all agreed that I should do this again next year.  I was amazed by what I saw in my classroom this morning. That is what I feel learning should be. . . a truly collaborative experience.  Students had ownership in what they were learning.  They worked together toward a common goal.  My students were able to tap into their creative side.  I think they realized that learning is a process.  And, most importantly, they had a whole lot of fun!

A Day of Making

This morning I had the great pleasure of meeting with the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) for a morning of tinkering, making, and inquiry.  Christine Kane began the morning by sharing a brief history of the Maker Movement which started with Leonardo da Vinci.  She ended her presentation by telling us about Seymour Papert, the father of the modern day Maker Movement.  Papert was the father of constructionism (not to be confused with constructivism).  Constructionism is learning by actively constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable.  The motto of the Maker Movement is:

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.”

Then, Margit Boyesen talked to our group about systems thinking.  After that, the fun really began.  Kim Douillard asked all of us to hack our notebook by creating a simple circuit using a 3 volt battery, copper adhesive tape, and a light bulb.  After a few minutes of instruction she let us create.  At first, I was a bit frustrated because there was a lot of new information thrown at me.  It took me a few seconds to get started.  Thank goodness I was sitting at a table with supportive peers who encouraged me to start.  As with anything new, I find that just getting started is the hardest part.  However, once I began, I couldn’t stop!  Here is the simple circuit I created in my notebook.

simple circuit

It was an exciting moment when I got my light bulb to illuminate!  As I look at it now, I am thinking I don’t need to go that big with my initial rectangle!  I will have to remember that when I attempt this with students.  The circuit can be smaller.  🙂  The next thing we did was to incorporate the light into a picture or text.  Since we were instructed to keep the page before the circuit blank, we could draw our picture on that.  At first, I was disappointed that I had selected a red light for my circuit.  We were given several little light bulbs and I had not paid attention to the color scheme when I stuck it to my page.  I suppose I could have switched out the light bulb, but I was afraid to mess anything up, especially since it was working.  In any case, I decided to go with what I had.  I began thinking what the red light represented to me.  What do I relate a red light to?  The first thing that popped into my mind was a stop light.  This is what I was able to create with the red light from my circuit.

first attempt

It’s basically a picture to remind myself of things to stop doing, or things to stop and do.  Kim and Margit shared this video with us which served as inspiration for this light bulb activity.

After lunch, we were given more time to hack our notebook.  Kim brought out more materials for us to use.  She gave us a battery holder and 2 alligator clips.  We could tape the battery holder to the back of our notebook and that way we could create as many “light” pages as we wanted.  There were also filament thread, needles, and crochet hooks.  People were getting creative by sewing directly into their page.  I had a picture in my mind of what I wanted to create, but I was unable to get my circuit to work.  I tried several ways to try to get 3 light bulbs to light in a series circuit.  Nothing worked.  Then, someone suggested a parallel circuit.  I did that and got 2 of the light bulbs to light.  Unfortunately, it was time to stop working and go home.  When I got home, my husband helped me figure out a way for the third light bulb to be part of the parallel circuit I had already created.  He said that I needed to think about the circuit like water flowing.  Here is how I was able to get my third bulb to light up.

final circuit

I was so excited!  This conversation with my husband reminded me of the power of collaboration.  Kim asked us during the session what we do when we get stuck.  My first solution almost always is to ask an expert or someone I think can help me.  I want to build this kind of interaction in my own classroom.  I want there to be moments where kids are creating, discovering, collaborating, discussing, problem-solving, and sharing.  It is so powerful when these things happen.  Learning can be fun, exciting, and meaningful.

After I got my circuit to work, I made this picture.


I realized that I actually incorporated my 2014 word of the year!  🙂  I had a great morning learning, sharing, and creating with my SDAWP friends.  It was a productive day, and I am proud of what I accomplished.

Wanted: More Technology

Picture this scene.  The bell has rung.  Students are filing out of the classroom to head to the playground for recess.  One of my students lags behind.  He is one of my reluctant writers.  Before heading out, he utters the words that any teacher would like to hear.  He says, “Mrs. Kozak, I want you to know that I love writing.  I am having fun writing about my animal.”  That comment really warmed my heart.

As a teacher, I try to approach instruction with excitement and enthusiasm.  Some days are better than others, if I must be honest.  For the past few weeks, my students have been working on informative writing.  They have been working on writing animal reports.  I have had to alter my plans a bit since we do not have access to the computer lab this month.   I had plans for students to type their report in the style of a news article with pictures and captions.  However, the computer lab has been closed so that 3rd through 5th grade students can take the Smarter Balance Assessment.  This means my 2nd graders have limited access to technology.  We are unable to do any research, word process, or blog about our learning.  It’s gotten to the point where I have invited my students to bring in their own devices to work around the issue of no computers.  It is frustrating at times, because only a handful of my students have a device to bring in.

Tonight in one of my Twitter chatrooms, we talked about the SAMR model.  It’s a way to integrate digital learning that leads to high levels of student achievement.

SAMR Model

The basic level is substitution.  The highest level is redefinition.  It is difficult to get students to redefinition when you don’t have the technology to do it.

That’s why I value the comments my students make about their learning.  Even with limited technological resources, we are making do.  I wish I had a cart full of iPads or Chromebooks, but I don’t.  Somehow, I have got to give my students a 21st century education, but I am lacking the tools to do so.  I was given one iPad to use with my group of 26 students.  I am still trying to figure out how to utilize it so all my students can get their hands on it.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear it.

My students are so amazing.  There are so many things we could accomplish if only we had the resources.  I am ready to show them how.  All I need are the technology tools.  In the meantime, we will keep plugging along.  I will have to find other ways for my students to show their creativity.  That means that I will also have to get creative!  Am I up for the challenge?  I hope so!


Hard Work Pays Off

Yesterday, my daughter, Malia, performed a solo piece and an ensemble piece during a music festival at the high school.  She had to play her clarinet solo in front of a judge.  The judge listened to her performance, wrote comments, and provided constructive feedback to Malia after her solo.  I am proud to say that Malia’s solo piece, Nocturne from Concerto in G minor, was rated as excellent in intonation, tone, rhythm, technique, and interpretation.  She received a superior in “other factors”, like music selection, stage presence, accompaniment, and proficiency.  After the performance, the judge spoke to her and gave her advice on what to work on.  What I liked is he started out with the positive before the constructive feedback.  What I also noticed is he only gave her 3 things to think about-timing, tone, and making sure her chin was down while she played.  These were all manageable things Malia could work on.

I can only think back to last summer when Malia first started out with the marching band.  In my post, Have No Fear, I wrote about how Malia wanted to quit competitive band and switch to non-competitive.  Since then, she has worked hard to improve.  She even goes to extra tutoring once a week after school.  Malia has put a lot of effort into practicing the clarinet.  I was amazed at how she could play by herself in front of a judge.  I told her I could not have done that when I was her age.

In the end, it wasn’t really about the judge’s score.  It was the sense of accomplishment that Malia felt about doing her best.  The lesson I hope she came away with is that hard work really does pay off.  I keep trying to repeat that to her.  I am trying to help Malia see that it isn’t the letter grade or the test score she gets that is important.  We just want to see her try her best and put effort in the thing she is trying to accomplish.

As I go back to my own classroom on Monday, I am going to make sure I remember Malia’s experience.  It helps to give positive feedback before offering constructive criticism.  I need to remember not to bombard my students with too much criticism and only give them what they can manage.  I want to talk about effort and remind my students that you get what you put into it.  Finally, I want students to remember that feeling of accomplishment when they know they gave it everything they had.  That feeling can carry them through life.