It's hard to write about being finished with the Innovative Learning Masters Program. I have been living, breathing, eating, and (not) sleeping in the world of this program for so long that I'm not sure how to function outside of it. After working so hard and seeing everything come together, I must say that I feel very proud of the work I have done. It almost seems like a dream, because one year isn't that long and I clearly remember when the idea to apply to the program was just an idea. I was telling my husband last night that this program has been exactly like the marathon we ran together so many years ago. One step at a time. And now we are at the finish line! Much like the marathon I ran, and the all-natural delivery of my daughter (born butt-first and folded in half), this masters program will go down as one of the things I'm most proud of accomplishing.
I am ever so grateful to all of the Touro instructors for the high level of learning and growth we have received during this program. Teachers aren't always the easiest group to handle, and you all have done it with steadiness, rigor, and compassion, I am also eternally grateful to each and every member of our beloved Cohort 16 for their friendship, support, and the high standards they set in our learning together. Finally, I am so thankful and excited to have the opportunity to put all that I have learned into practice with the wonderful second graders of Donaldson Way next year!
I feel that the work I have done during the Innovative Learning program at Touro University fits well within the university’s universal values of commitment to social justice, intellectual pursuit, and service to humanity. My research and projects on the topic of working with families and communities to improve the early literacy of young students address the all of the specific values to which Touro is dedicated:
My capstone project guides educators through the steps for reaching out to families and communities in order to work together for the benefit of our youngest students’ literacy skills. Along the way, this learning outside the classroom will solidify the importance of education and embed this value within the relationships these students have with others. I believe that each and every one of these values are addressed in my work.
I am proud of my path in Touro’s program, and the work and discoveries that have resulted along the way. Touro’s instructors have been there every step, encouraging individuality and excellence. They have each continued to remind us that our commitment to learning and excellence should not stop when we get our degrees. I do intend to share my work with my colleagues, and have already shared my work with my principal. She is extremely supportive and has already expressed interest in finding a way for my work to continue at our site. Since my role is changing from Academic Specialist to classroom teacher this year, I will commit to finding new ways to involve families and community partners from a different perspective--the second grade classroom. Where my project is concerned, this might be a blessing in disguise. When I am able to modify and expand my work to a new grade level and scale, perhaps even more teachers will be able to make a connection to it.
I love the idea of tweeting the next steps of my journey along the way! This year I have learned about the power of Twitter as a way to connect with teachers all over and learn from them. My challenge will be to find the discipline to take time to stay connected with Twitter in the face of the new challenges I will encounter heading back into the classroom after such a long hiatus. I would love to hear from any of you reading this about ideas and tips for staying on top of Twitter!
Though it was admittedly hard to keep straight at first, TPACK has become my new foundation for thinking around teaching. We’ve always known about the relationship between Content and Pedagogical Knowledge. “What will we teach?” (content), and “How will we go about teaching it?” (pedagogy). Enter 21st Century. Technology has infiltrated nearly every aspect of daily life and if we’re smart, we’ll “go with it.” The new question TPACK asks is, “How can we select, use, and integrate technology that provides quality content in a way that improves student learning?”
When we constantly ask how the content, technology, and pedagogy interrelate to provide rigorous learning for our students, we win as teachers. I feel it is important to break down the relationships between each of these concepts to make sure we are not missing anything.
For my project, considering the intersection between pedagogy and content knowledge (PCK) asks the question, “How do I approach different learning styles and scaffold content for student understanding?” Since I put the role of teacher in the hands of family members and volunteers in my project, I included a variety of activities at different levels for tutors to offer students, as well as scripts for encouragement or transitioning to new activities.
Where technology meets pedagogy (TPK), I ask, “How do I choose and manage the technology to best help students learn?” This prompted me to develop criteria to guide my selection of technology and activities. For TPK, the following two criteria apply: Activities must be free, and there must be a high focus on teaching the letter names/sounds, as opposed to higher focus on a game concept. Also, as Ruth Clark suggests, activities should mostly be drill and practice for fact teaching.
How is technology used in a content area for rich and lasting learning? This is TCK, where technology and content knowledge meet. Here, criteria is useful once again. To be considered for my program, online activities and tools needed to:
As it did with my project, familiarity with TPACK helps teachers make informed choices around integrating pedagogy, content, and technology to effect the best possible outcomes for their students. TPACK has been a pivotal piece of learning through this program, and an essential study for 21st Century teachers.
What does NVUSD have to say about technology and 21st Century Learning?
When you navigate to the home site, you can find these topics sprinkled throughout different board policies, education code references, and various site pages. After clicking through a bit of a maze, I found that the district has a page devoted to 21st Century Learning. This page is the most centralized place to find information about the role technology plays in student learning at NVUSD:
This page promises that “technology-rich classrooms that engage students in relevant, rigorous inquiries” are important to the district’s vision for student centered, 21st Century Learning. The Six C’s are also cited as a critical component of the NVUSD mission. From this page, you can also access the district’s philosophy, goals, and objectives page. Highlights from that document:
While it seems that technology and 21st Century learning are an important focus within the pages I visited, there are not many specific details which outline exactly how the goals mentioned will be addressed. For example, the last bullet above discusses the importance of teachers being well trained and supported in 21st Century skills. However, I found a doc on the website titled, “Master Plan for Professional Learning” that doesn’t support this claim. The master plan includes professional learning for ELA, Math, Science, PBIS, Intervention, GLAD, PBL, Special Education, AVID, ALPS, etc...but no mention of technology. I must note that the only tech based professional learning I can currently think of has always been supported by NapaLearns. Every February, we have the InnovatEd conference, which is heavily supported by NapaLearns--and don't forget about the growing population of teachers who have been supported in this wonderful Innovative Learning Masters Program.
I wanted to also mention that the district has a page dedicated to the Bring Your Own Device program. On this page, the Tech Use agreement and consent forms are linked in, as well as a Digital Citizenship resource (Common Sense Media).
In final reflection, my main suggestions to NVUSD would be:
I’ve always had a heart for working with populations of people in need, in particular, struggling students. My position as an elementary Academic Specialist has allowed me to do this at both an administrative level, as well as in the classroom with students. I coordinate all K-5 intervention for the school, and have taught intervention for grades 3-5 the past five years. During this time, I have noticed that our earliest learners (Kindergarten-first grade) who arrive less prepared have a nearly impossible time finding their way out of the achievement gap.
After several trimesters of tracking these K-1 students’ growth, implementing interventions, and analyzing the data, I knew that something had to be done differently. Thankfully, I entered the Innovative Learning Masters Program, where I’ve been afforded the opportunity to explore this issue deeper.
In the first semester of our program, we studied the work of Linda-Darling Hammond in A Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. I was reminded by the author that inequitable situations and experiences before students ever set foot into a Kindergarten classroom start them off at a disadvantage. I remember finishing the book feeling like it was up to me to find a way to make a difference.
After working with parents, an after school club, and with siblings to help Kindergarteners achieve more, I have found an unexpected desired outcome: joy surrounding the activity of learning outside the classroom. I don’t know how to measure it, but I know it’s there, and I know it’s valuable.
When I began my research project in our first trimester, I was all about quantitative data. I learned how to build pre and posttest data charts, and how to measure the p-value. I wasn’t too interested in collecting qualitative data, because I wanted to prove something quantifiable.
I think something changed for me when I realized how the SITE Model truly applied to the heart of what I was trying to accomplish: the value of learning. If we plant a seed in the relationship between parent and child, the seed will grow. The seed represents the value of learning, and we can plant these seeds in a variety of relationships our students have outside the classroom. We may be able to measure an amount of growth now, but my hope is that the value placed on learning outside of school will carry on for years to come, affecting our students, and students in generations to come. I know it’s a big dream, but why not?
Moving forward next year as a second grade teacher, I want to bring elements of my research to life in my classroom practice, and build on them for years to come. I want to acknowledge and celebrate the value of existing relationships students have, and help them make room for learning together. I want to help parents, colleagues, and administrators to remember, that it is our job to work with families and communities for the good of our students, and for the good of an educated country!
This week, we took some time to review some completed capstone websites with the focus on audience. I previewed Jen Ellison’s “Game On,” and Nai Saelee’s “Personalized Learning” capstone websites. This was an incredibly valuable and timely assignment! Even though we’ve had access to these sites for sometime now, going through and specifically looking at audience was extremely useful as we begin the first steps towards creating our own capstones.
The driving question for my capstone is “How Can We Use Partnerships to Improve the Early Literacy Skills of Primary Students?” My three action research cycles have utilized out-of-classroom relationships with people in Kindergarteners’ lives in order to provide tutoring in alphabet knowledge. Each round has enlisted a different relationship: parent-led intervention, after school program staff and middle school cross-age tutors, and finally, sibling tutors.
While my objective has been to improve the early literacy assessment scores of struggling Kindergarteners, my capstone could appeal to a wider audience than just Kindergarten teachers. My action research has hinged on a few concepts that could be applied to different grade levels:
As we build our capstones this summer, I am grateful to have this awareness so that I can be mindful about keeping it open to a broader audience. I also want to remember to emulate Ellison’s theme of “Anyone can do this!” I truly appreciated the enthusiasm I felt for the topic as I clicked through her capstone, due to the clear and straightforward composition of her pages. I hope I can accomplish this with my capstone. At least I have a clearer picture of where I want to go.
One thing is also clear: we have our work cut out for us!
GAME ON: Level Up Learning
The story of her journey to “classroom 1.0” was interesting and inspiring to me as I head into a second grade classroom next year. It was encouraging to follow her path towards finding what works for her, standards to work from, and the general development of her ideas. Jen breaks down all the needed components of a game based class and explains how to modify what you’re already doing to turn your class into an awesome game. Her content makes me feel like gamification is very “doable” and she showed how assignments would look before gamification, and how to modify them to include gaming elements. Jen also presented some creative videos that show how she collaborated with school staff to gamify social emotional learning! Although a few components of her site are geared towards tech teachers, most of her project felt like it was targeted directly at me. I think Jen did a great job of providing ideas, resources, and “think alouds” through her journey in a way that is inspiring and encouraging--not overwhelming or distant.
The intended audience for this project is math teachers considering personalized learning as a way to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. On her Home Page and Learn More Page, Saelee offers some great videos and tools that explain to the audience some of the whys and hows of personalized learning. While the majority of the lessons on Saelee’s Lesson Page are specifically suited for middle school math teachers, she includes many resources that anyone could find helpful: engaging videos, infographics, and additional resources that provide background, summary of benefits, and instruction around the topics of:
In the process of viewing these sites and considering the intended audience, I’ve discovered more about how I’d like to open up my idea to as many different types of educators as possible. Though Saelee’s research is directed toward middle school math teachers, her topic could be of interest, and her site a benefit, to nearly any teacher. I will try to keep this in mind as I design my Capstone and be as inclusive as possible.
Touro’s Cohort 16 in the Masters in Innovative Learning program is an amazing community. Although we all come from different backgrounds, levels of experience, and areas of teaching, we come together to learn and grow as educators--supporting one another all along the way.
My goals in joining this masters program were to challenge myself by stepping outside my comfort zone, and finding new ways to improve my practice as a teacher. This program has been so much more. Technology and innovation, design for learning, equity, action research cycles--and all of this learning has been alongside an amazing group of people. The high standards set by everyone involved in this program have elevated my learning and challenged me continuously. Each week, reading my peers’ blogs, checking out their work on the homework log, seeing their assigned presentations come to life on Wednesdays, participating in discussions--all of these things have impacted my thinking as an educator permanently. Equally impactful, is the nature of the people in this cohort. I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and have never met a group of people more kind, helpful, patient, and POSITIVE about growing as educators--ever!
Having one more semester of really hard work to finish this rigorous program seems like a lighter load, knowing that I share it with this group of people. I believe that positive cohesion already thrives among us. I know that we will continue to support each other through emails, zoom meetings, in person meetings (always preferred for the hugs), REMIND messages, texts, blog entries and responses, and even google doc sharing as we have over the past year.
As we move closer towards our Capstone projects, I think that focused and organized peer feedback with this group could really elevate our thinking. Since “presuming positive intentions” seems to be already naturally built in to the culture of our cohort, perhaps the classic “I like/I wonder” protocol would be a great way for us to give feedback to one another. Having an “I like/I wonder” protocol in place would leave room for both constructive criticism as well as new ideas and considerations.
Even though the next couple of months will be intense, I am looking forward to increased collaboration and accelerated learning with all of my amazing cohort peers. It is also my great hope that we continue to communicate after finishing this program, since it is a rare and wonderful thing to be included in a group of such positive and encouraging educators!