Thursday, March 23, 2017

Learning Doesn't Stop Over Spring Break!

As I know I have mentioned before, learning does not stop when a child leaves the classroom, and spring break is the perfect time to create unique learning opportunities for children.  With our families and students looking forward to spring break next week, I cannot help but reflect on many of my own spring breaks as a child.  Every year until I was in eighth grade, my mom, dad, two sisters and I would pile into the family minivan and drive to Ohio for a week-long stay to visit family.  Having grandparents in a suburb of Dayton as well as in Sidney, Ohio, a small town about an hour north of Dayton, made for some less-than-exciting stories to share in comparison to some of my peers who went to Disney World, Arizona, and other exotic places.  However, I always truly enjoyed the time I spent with my family during that week in Ohio.  I would get to read books (still one of my favorite parts about having a day off school!), play checkers with my grandpa, and get frozen yogurt from TCBY with my grandma.  We would go visit the farm where my dad grew up and explore local parks.  When I was younger, I would keep a spring break journal to document these different activities, which was a great way to hone my writing skills and now provides some good laughs when my family and I look back at the journals together.

So how can spring break be an opportunity to further your child's learning, whether you are staying around home or traveling afar?  Here are a few ideas!
  • Traveling over spring break?  Have your child write in a travel journal to document adventures, or perhaps he/she can create a photo journal if a camera is readily available.
  • Read, read, read!  Encourage your child to use car rides and/or time on airplanes to cozy up with a good book.  This Huffington Post article provides some ideas for how to keep your kids reading over spring break as well.
  • Experience another culture.  Whether it is listening to music, taking an art class, or trying a new type of food for the first time, there are always great learning opportunities embedded in exploring new points of view. has some itineraries compiled to help you to plan a fun cultural day in the city.
  • Go for a walk or a hike to explore the great outdoors!  The Forest Preserves of Cook County have a helpful website with hiking trails for more information or check the DuPage County Forest Preserve website for upcoming activities.
  • Visit museums.  Here are a few Chicago favorites:

Finally, I need to make one more plug for our Summer Academy program!  We have extended the registration deadline to April 7 in hopes that more students will take advantage of the fun classes our talented teachers have created this year.  Please take a look at the program book with your child over spring break to see the learning opportunities available for this summer!
What: Pleasantdale District 107 Summer Academy
Who: Pleasantdale 107 students currently in grades PreK - 7
Where: all classes held at Pleasantdale Middle School
When:  June 12 - July 7 (no class July 3 or 4 in observance of Independence Day); courses offered between 8:30 - 11:45 AM
Why: "To create a community of inspired learners"

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Fostering a Growth Mindset at Home

One of my most vivid memories from my late elementary school days is the day I got a math test back from my fifth-grade math teacher, Mrs. Johnson, with an F on the top of the paper.  To say I was devastated would be an understatement.  At the age of 11, this was quite possibly the most traumatizing event that had happened to me in school.  Fast forward eleven years later, and I ended up graduating summa cum laude from Miami University (OH) with a degree in Middle Childhood Education, with concentrations in math and English, and a job teaching sixth-grade math and reading.

So what happened following my moment of failure in fifth-grade math that allowed me to bounce back rather than continue down a path of academic strife?  Although the term "Growth Mindset" had not yet been coined, that is exactly what my parents and teachers helped me employ to move past my mistakes and to realize I had the great capacity to learn and grow, despite what I felt was a tragic setback at the time.

Carol Dweck, PhD., a professor of psychology at Stanford University, coined the phrase "growth mindset" after spending years researching students' attitudes about failure.  Ultimately she and her colleagues found that students who rebounded from failure and were resilient did so because they embraced failure as an opportunity for learning, which is now known as having a growth mindset.  On the other hand, students who seemed devastated by setbacks and struggled to bounce back had what is called a fixed mindset approach, meaning they believed their learning potential was fixed.  The sketchnote above by Sylvia Duckworth  shows a great comparison between statements showing a fixed versus growth mindset.

Many teachers now integrate growth mindset conversations into their classroom in conjunction with goal setting and reteaching opportunities.  But how can a growth mindset be supported at home?  There are so many learning opportunities presented outside of school, which means there are a plethora of ways that parents can help promote a growth mindset in their children.

Parenting "Say This Not That" from MindsetWorks
As a starting point, it is important to let children make mistakes, whether this is related to chores, homework, or handling conflict.  Providing guidance and support through mistakes, as well as praising efforts for improvement and hard work, are all opportunities for parents to foster a growth mindset in their children.  The MindsetWorks website provides a helpful parent resource page, including an interactive list of "Say This Not That" statements that can immediately begin to transform the way conversations occur at home.  When you hover over each statement on the list, an explanation appears of why each statement may be helpful or a hindrance.  In addition, it is important for parents to model how they work through mistakes and setbacks for their children since it is important for kids to understand the growth process continues into adulthood as well.  MindsetKit offers a free 30-minute "course" for parents on the Growth Mindset, which consists of 10 online lessons to provide additional information on the topic, as well as how to model mistakes and how to use growth mindset language in conversation with children.

I am going to leave you this week with the video below of Carol Dweck's 10 minute TED talk, titled "The Power of Believing that You Can Improve."  It is a great starting point for understanding some of the basic brain research behind the growth mindset, as well as an overview of how to start transforming fixed mindsets into growth mindsets.  Pleasantdale District 107 appreciates the partnership we have with our parents as we strive "to create a community of inspired learners" together!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

All a Part of a Balanced Diet

Every few weeks, we like to revisit the topic of technology use.  Technology is so prevalent in our daily lives, ranging from work and school to personal usage, that it seems critical to constantly reevaluate how we and our students are leveraging the benefits of our devices while also maintaining a healthy balance.

In a recent conversation, the comparison was made between technology and food.  The key to a healthy nutritional diet lies in prioritizing the nutritious foods that sustain our energy and promote physical and mental health while limiting those treats that, while tasty, ultimately are harmful when consumed in excess.  The same goes for technology.  We need to prioritize technology usage that is beneficial to our minds and bodies, which may entail using a device for learning purposes or to track a workout, while limiting technology usage that may be detrimental in excess.  Essentially what we need is a "healthy technology diet".

This balance is important for both us, as adults, and our children to learn.  Upon Googling a "Healthy Technology Diet", I found there were quite a few articles on the topic!  The Huffington Post suggests treating technology as you treat food.   Moderation is the key, the author believes, and she suggests leveraging techniques like setting a timer for 20 minutes when going on social media if you notice you have been spending too much time browsing social media sites.  The Chopra Center, which is dedicated to health and wellness, gives tips on "5 Ways to Start a Healthy Technology Diet" with ideas like taking a technology vacation for a window of time each week, turning off your phone for short time periods, putting your phone on airplane mode for a period of time when you need to be productive, turning off notifications, or even simply creating a "device-free" zone in your home for times like when the family is gathered together at the kitchen table for a meal.

In Pleasantdale District 107, we are conscious of the fact that providing our students with access to technology also means teaching responsible usage of the tools.  However, it is important for us as we strive "to create a community of inspired learners" that we also educate our parents, too, on the tools we use with our students!  Therefore, on Thursday, March 16, from 6:00 - 8:00 PM we will be hosting our first Parent Tech Night in the Pleasantdale Middle School library.  Our library director, Mrs. Steinmetz, and our Innovative Teaching Coach, Steve Braband, will be leading the night.  All parents in the district are encouraged to attend to learn more about the websites and apps our students are using in school, as well as the online educational resources available to access outside of school.   Please mark your calendars and RSVP today!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Triggering Lightbulb Moments

One of the most exciting parts of being an educator is seeing a "lightbulb moment" flash across a learner's face; it's that moment of sudden understanding, realization, or inspiration that you can see sparkling in the learner's eyes.  Our dedicated Pleasantdale staff members strive day in and day out to provide students with opportunities for these moments in school.  Active, engaging, and collaborative learning activities tend to yield such moments, making educators revel in the amazing potential we have to inspire our students.

Students make a carrot keyboard in 3M Club.
However, we know these lightbulb moments are not confined within the walls of our schools.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Rich learning occurs on a regular basis outside the classroom setting as learners explore new interests, meet new people, and encounter new situations.  District 107's goal is "to create a community of inspired learners."  This goal is not restricted to 8:20 AM - 3:22 PM, nor to mid-August through early June.  We want to trigger these lightbulb moments before school, after school, and all year round.  This is why we encourage students to take part in our many before and after-school clubs and athletics.  Likewise, we provide community resources for parents/guardians to help them continue to learn about interacting with their child, and we provide professional development to our staff members to help them further their learning as well.

As we continuously look to provide our students with educational opportunities outside of school, we are most excited about the revisions we have made to this year's Summer Academy (aka "summer school").  Although we are a small school district, we felt the absence of exciting enrichment classes in our Summer Academy program was a deficit area deserving attention.  After looking at other districts' summer school programs and talking to our dedicated Pleasantdale staff members about their own passions, we were able to create a Summer Academy program which includes a rich offering of enrichment classes for students currently in grades PreK - 7.

Students can explore their interests in crafting, sewing, reading Rebecca Caudill books, and creative writing through this summer's enrichment course options.  Classes like cooking, woodworking, coding, and photography may trigger new passions!  These exciting courses and more are available in the Summer Academy program book, which is also posted on our district and school website.  Registration for these Summer Academy enrichment classes is open now through March 24 (spring break), and we hope to have many of our students participate!

As this blog post points out, the opportunities for learning nowadays are limitless if we take the initiative to pursue our interests and passions.  It is time to "start learning from [our] own mistakes, adventures, achievements, and bold actions."  Let's give our learners more opportunities to engage in experiences that will trigger lightbulb moments!

What: Pleasantdale District 107 Summer Academy
Who: Pleasantdale 107 students currently in grades PreK - 7
Where: all classes held at Pleasantdale Middle School
When:  June 12 - July 7 (no class July 3 or 4 in observance of Independence Day); courses offered between 8:30 - 11:45 AM
Why: "To create a community of inspired learners"... Let's trigger more lightbulb moments!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Our Greatest Asset: Our People!

"In the long run, your human capital is your main base of competition.  Your leading indicator of where you're going to be 20 years from now is how well you're doing in your education system."  —Bill Gates

Over the past few weeks, the District 107 administrator blogs have focused on our Future Planning process, highlighting exciting plans in the areas of Building Learning Capacity and Building Learning Environments.  Our third goal area of Building Human Capital is another critical piece of our plan.  The Future Planning Committee determined our goal in this area is to "Ensure PSD 107 is recruiting, hiring and retaining high-level professionals that engage in collaborative professional development and are committed to learning and implementing innovative strategies focused on improved student learning."

In the Bill Gates quote above, he begins to articulate why building human capital is so crucial.  Continuous learning is pivotal to capacity building.  In Michael Fullan's book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact (2014) he states that, "humans are fundamentally motivated by two factors: doing things that are intrinsically meaningful to themselves and working with others—peers for example—in accomplishing worthwhile goals never before reached" (p. 7).  District 107 is committed to building the capacity of our staff members by providing rich opportunities for professional development based on teachers' needs and interests.  Likewise, it is important for us to build collaborative time into professional development for staff members so they are able to do this meaningful work with others who our common mission, "to create a community of inspired learners."

PMS math teachers collaborate
 Research shows that when teachers are provided with well-designed, sustained professional development, which includes time for collaborative conversations and on-going support, student learning improves.  Currently, our staff members have been receiving on-going professional development related to NWEA MAP testing and how it can inform instructional practices, as well as Schoology the Learning Management System (LMS) we adopted this year.  Math teachers have been engaging in professional development as a part of the Metro Chicago Math Initiative, and science teachers have been working diligently with a consultant to revamp science units in light of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

As we look to the future of Pleasantdale professional development, the district is committed to creating a robust professional development plan aligned with best practices given teacher feedback on their passions and needs.  It is exciting to think of the growth ahead for our staff!
PES teachers collaborate

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Building Our Learning Environment

If you have not seen me in person recently, you may not be aware that my husband and I are expecting our first child, due to arrive at the end of April!  It has been so exciting to see ultrasound photos, hear the baby's heart beat, and share our joy with our family and friends as we anticipate this life-changing event.  As a part of our preparations, we are also spending time decorating a nursery for the baby.  We have a 10 ft x 12 ft room to work with, plenty of space for an infant, but we have still had numerous conversations about how we can be prepare the space for our new baby.  What colors will be calming and aesthetically pleasing?  What kind of furniture will be functional yet comfortable?  And will the furniture allow for enough flexibility to move the room into different configurations as the child grows and his/her needs change?

In my last few blog posts, I explained how our District 107 Future Planning Committee has honed in on three goal areas on which to focus over the course of the next five years: Building Learning Capacity, Building Learning Environments, and Building Human Capital.  While designing our 120 square foot nursery is nowhere near as challenging or as critical of a task as designing the learning environments in our schools, many of the questions my husband and I have asked ourselves about the nursery are helpful starting points for our conversations about building the learning environments in Pleasantdale schools.  What kind of furniture will be functional yet comfortable for learners (staff, students, community members)?  And will the furniture allow for enough flexibility to move the room into different configurations as the learners grow and their needs change over time?

The Future Planning Committee decided our District's goal is to "provide flexible learning environments that promote purposeful collaboration and a balanced educational approach to create inspired 21st century learners."  This means we will dig into research related to collaborative spaces and furniture for teachers and students and develop responsible plans for replacing and renewing technology for these spaces so staff and students alike are able to extend their learning beyond the walls of the classroom.  Articles like this one from EdTech Magazine explain how some schools have begun to transform their learning spaces while also creating easy opportunities for learners to connect and collaborate with others around the world.  As stated in the article, "What we're moving toward is flexible learning environments...It's not just the physical space -- it's the mindset, the skills intended to be taught and the physical environment, all combined."

There is a lot of truth in this statement.  Our goal of Building Learning Environments goes beyond simply building the physical learning environment; it also extends to the culture of learning created within our schools.  In one of my January blog posts, I wrote about the sound of future-ready learning spaces.  The points I make begin to speak to the type of culture we hope to create in our learning environments, which also ties into our portrait of a Pleasantdale Graduate.  Everything we will be doing with our learning spaces will be done with the aim to create students who are strong communicators and problem-solvers, who are confident individuals and global citizens.  It is our goal to create flexible learning spaces that will enable us to cultivate these characteristics in our Pleasantdale community of learners.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Sticky" Learning: Building Learning Capacity

As I mentioned in my blog post last week, the District 107 Future Planning Committee spent a significant amount of time and effort shaping our district's new mission statement and portrait of a graduate.  These serve as the driving forces behind the action plan guiding our district over the course of the next five years.  With the mission and portrait of a graduate in mind, the Future Planning Committee was able to craft goals in three distinct areas: Building Learning Capacity, Building Learning Environments, and Building Human Capital.  This week, I want to delve more deeply into the first goal area of Building Learning Capacity.

I remember seeing a powerful quote on a Lululemon Athletica bag a few years ago which said, "The world is changing at such a rapid rate that waiting to implement changes will leave you two steps behind.  Do it now, do it now, do it now!"  This quote has really stuck with me, and I think it perfectly encompasses the way the Future Planning Committee looked at the goal area of Building Learning Capacity.  
Fifth graders Skype with
scientists in Antarctica.

Learning capacity refers to the way a person is able to process, consume, and internalize new information.  To the Future Planning Committee, this meant we had to look at how meaningful, "sticky" learning occurs in this day and age.  In the book my colleague Jamie Diamond and I (2014) wrote Literacy Lessons for a Digital World, we acknowledge that "teachers are entrusted to prepare students for jobs that do not exist yet, so we must constantly consider the future of our students as we plan our lessons and learning activities" (p. 8).  This means the way teachers look at shaping their students' learning experiences must transform since the future for which we are preparing our children is unknown.  However, given our new district mission "to create a community of inspired learners," we are not just talking about reshaping learning for students but also for staff and community members.  Will Richardson (2015) insists in his book From Master Teacher to Master Learner that "teachers must be learners first in the classroom, able to model clearly what it means to work perpetually on a learning curve" (p. 10).  Therefore, we had to consider how both the adults and children in the District 107 community can maximize their learning potential.

Students in the 3M club used
MakeyMakey to create a
vegetable piano!
The committee ultimately came up with the goal that "Pleasantdale leaders and learners will cultivate advancement of global competency and cultural awareness through innovative learning experiences."  The committee's rationale in creating this goal was that it will allow our students to be open to new opportunities and will promote adaptive, innovative, empathetic, articulate, and respectful citizenship.
 This means we will be looking to explore pilot opportunities related to new learning experiences, which may include STEAM, Maker Spaces, interdisciplinary units, and implementing Genius Hour.  We want to continue to foster, promote, and instill a growth mindset within our staff, students, and community members, and we will investigate a variety of strategies and resources related to differentiating learning, assessing student learning, and the effective integration of educational technology.

The creation of this plan is just the beginning as we think about building the learning capacity of our Pleasantdale community, and we are excited about what lies ahead for us!