Exemplary Schools and Practices from Edutopia

Film producer/director/screenwriter George Lucas believes that the audience for his award-winning website Edutopia is “Everyone with an interest in improving education.”  The site can be a valuable resource for those dedicated to furthering education, especially the classroom teacher.

Edutopia allows you to browse by grade level, core strategies, videos and more, providing information that ranges from introductory to in-depth material.  For example, for integrated studies – combining disciplines to reveal their interrelationships through student collaboration and critical thinking – you can view the 3-minute video An Introduction to Integrated Studies or a 10-minute video Common Sense: An Overview of Integrated Studies and then explore real-life examples.  One such example is an article, Reinvigorating Education in East Oakland with a video illustrating the success of expeditionary learning at the ASCEND School, where the principal says  the best education “teaches students how to ask questions — and how to discover their own answers.”

Another of the exemplary schools featured on Edutopia is Houston’s YES Prep, with the “cornerstone values of hard work, proactive thinking, honesty, and patience to life.”  Heavily invested in finding the best new teachers, the school hired consultants to identify their own teachers’ personalities to help in screening new teachers.  These seven attributes comprise the quiz Super Teacher Traits, which you might want to take.

Innovative Learning: Khan Academy

In a recently published NY Times article entitled Online Learning, Personalized we can see a paradigm for innovative learning in classrooms.  The article begins by describing a charter school classroom in California where a mathematics teacher views students’ individual work on a laptop while moving about the room interacting one-on-one.

Students are using software created by Salman Khan, Harvard-trained son of an immigrant single mother, whose Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube garner 3.5 million viewers a month.  Mr. Khan would like these digital lessons integrated into school curriculum and more than 36 schools have signed on, with lessons and software completely free to anyone with Internet access.

In a May PBS interview on Charlie Rose, Mr. Khan explained the genesis of his tutorial lessons and the effect they can have on students.  (He also gives a lucid explanation of learning gaps.)  While his program  has its critics, Mr. Khan  has funding support from donors such as Bill Gates and Google and has won support within the education community, many of whose members are influenced by his model.  Check out the interview below:

What are Qualities of Effective 21st Century Teachers?

eSchool News: Technology News for Today’s K-12 Educator  recently asked its readers what they found to be essential qualities of 21st-century educators.  While many would agree with today’s idea that teachers should be guides or facilitators rather than classroom “sages,”  other traits were also submitted.

Some of the following top five characteristics relate directly to technology.  Others are long-held characteristics that seem never to change.  Effective educators today:

  1. Anticipate the future, aware of fast-changing technologies and current projections for the skills/talents that students will need for their futures (e.g, in STEM) and advocating for those needs to be met.
  2. Are flexible, lifelong learners, learning from students as well as colleagues, embracing change and allowing themselves and students to makes mistakes.
  3. Foster peer relationships, modeling and teaching interpersonal skills so that students can learn how to develop and maintain relationships through courteous, respectful communication.
  4. Are able to teach all levels of students, assessing their current levels of ability and giving them a voice in what they learn.
  5. Identify effective technology, utilizing those tools that are most productive  in advancing students’ learning and making the best use of teachers’ time.

We’d love you to let us know what you think about any of these characteristics or what you might add to this important list.

Honored Educator: Nancy Mahoney

Continuing our commitment to feature outstanding educators from across western Massachusetts, here’s another bio from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching:

Name: Nancy Mahoney
School: Williamsburg Elementary School
Grade/Content Area: Art

As a teacher, where do you find inspiration?

“I go to museums and look at art to get inspiration for interesting ideas and combinations of materials.  I adore children’s art, and their pleasure working keeps me excited and inspired in my teaching.”

What is one of your most creative/successful lessons and how did it come together?

Three Tribes is a lesson I enjoy.”

Why did you become and why have you stayed a teacher?

 “My training and work was in pottery, but when my daughter entered elementary school, I got very interested in teaching art.  A few years later I went back to school to get my art certification. I have stayed a teacher because it is always interesting, always challenging, there is always more to learn, and because I get so much joy watching children create.”

 Congratulations Nancy!  Check back often to read more bios from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Elms College & WGBY partner on PBS TeacherLine

WGBY General Manager Russell Peotter and Elms College President Sr. Mary Reap

Through a special partnership with WGBY, Elms College is now offering PBS TeacherLine online courses for educators. These graduate-level courses, available for PDPs and CEUs, make learning affordable, accessible and flexible with an online format that respects teachers’ often demanding schedules.

With the high-quality you expect from PBS, these professional development courses allow PreK-12 teachers to collaborate with peers from across the country, sharing best practices, reflecting on their practice, and applying their course work to their classrooms.  In addition to learning about strategies and resources to integrate technology into their curriculum, teachers gain the confidence and enthusiasm that is essential for effective educators.

The Fall 2011 term begins October 26th and, thanks to this partnership, you can enroll in one of the  PBS TeacherLine courses offered by Elms College and earn graduate credit through its Division of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education.

Individual Learning Styles — Are They Important?

Should teachers base their instruction on students’ perceived strengths?  One of NPR’s most emailed stories this past week reported the findings of  psychologists who questioned the validity of targeting classroom instruction to students’ individual learning styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinetic).

In NPR’s Health Blog one psychologist at the University of Virginia stated that instruction should not be determined by learners’ differing learning styles. Another psychologist from the University of Southern Florida, prompted by the many workshops and companies that promote the need to target learning styles, found little if any evidence to support this approach, suggesting it would be better to focus on how brains work similarly rather  than differently.

An article in the Regis University CPS Blog raised strong questions about the findings in the NPR article.  In an impassioned rebuttal, the University affiliate faculty member cited numerous studies and well-known authorities to point out what she viewed as flawed research methods used to conclude that a focus on individual learning styles was unmerited.

You can read these opposing viewpoints in the original NPR story and the University blog (no longer available) .  We’d also love to hear what you think based on your classroom experience.

Honored Educator: Tina Crane

Continuing our commitment to feature outstanding educators from across western Massachusetts, here’s another bio from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching:

Name: Tina Crane Tina Crane
School: Sgt. Robert R. Litwin
Grade/Content Area: Grade 5

What is one of your most creative/successful lessons and how did it come together?

One of our standards is writing business letters. The students write a formal letter to a business, or organization, that they are interested in learning more about.  The response has been wonderful. We have received letters and press kits from as far away as California and even Japan!  Many times, local community members visit our classroom to address the students directly (bankers, firefighters, contractors, etc.). Each year this lesson is one of the most popular among students, giving them first-hand knowledge of that particular business or tradesman.”

What is your favorite website you use to support your classroom teaching?

My favorite website is www.smarttech.com as it supports Smart Board lessons and provides both interactive and static lessons across all subject areas.”

Why did you become and why have you stayed a teacher?

“I became a teacher because I always loved working with kids. I volunteered in various capacities at my son’s school throughout the years. I later became a paraprofessional and sincerely enjoyed the educational process. I began taking evening classes to obtain my teaching certification.  I continue to teach for many of the same reasons that brought me into this profession. Watching the student’s thirst for knowledge, and all of their successes throughout the school year.”

 Congratulations Tina!  Check back often to read more bios from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Honored Educator: Ashley Fitzroy

Here is another profile of one of the honored educators from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching:

Name: Ashley Fitzroy
School: Greenfield Middle School
Grade/Content Area: Grade 7, Language Arts

What was it like for you early in your teaching career?  What did you find particularly challenging and how did you address it?  

“I am still very early in my teaching career.  I am 24 years old and have just completed my first full year of teaching.  One of the many challenges I faced this year was finding the time to grade and provide meaningful feedback for 120 writing assignments at a time.  Throughout the year, I developed and re-developed rubrics that would help identify the most common errors in student writing, yet remain flexible enough to address students’ unique needs.  This is just one of many strategies that I’m sure I’ll try out over the course of my career.”

What is your favorite website you use to support your classroom teaching?

 “I really enjoy using the grammar and punctuation resources at http://www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm.”

What is one of the biggest rewards for you as a teacher?

 “It is so rewarding to watch students grow as writers and as thinkers throughout the school year. I have them keep a journal in which they write every single time my class meets.  For their final prompt of the year, they had to read their journals and write about how they grew over the course of 180 days.  Many students shared that not only did their writing become more clear and coherent the farther they got in the year, but their thoughts became more mature and organized as well.  As adolescents turning into teens, students took pride in their growth, and I took pride in helping them achieve it.”

Congratulations Ashley!  Check back often to read more bios from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Honored Educator: Amy Fremgen

Continuing our commitment to feature outstanding educators from across western Massachusetts, here’s another bio from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching:

Amy FremgenName: Amy Fremgen
School: Willie Ross School for the Deaf
Grade/Content Area: 9-12 English & Math

What was it like for you early in your teaching career? 

“I recall being on pins and needles my first several years hoping I was doing right by my students.  I found that finding friends in fellow teachers gave me an avenue to express my concerns and frustrations.  Plus, they were a great sounding board for new ideas and lesson plans.  Teachers are a generous lot ~ always willing to share ideas and materials.”

As a teacher, where do you find inspiration? 

“The students inspire every day!  I especially am inspired by those “Ah-ha” moments.  Those times when a student goes from not understanding a concept TO understanding the concept because of what I just taught.  This is kind of silly, but I look at teaching as screwing in light bulbs.  Most people who interact with our students see them as light bulbs either turned on, where they already know the information, or turned off, where they have yet to learn the information.  We, teachers, are the ones who actually twist and turn, teach and teach, the bulbs until they finally make the connection and turn on.  The “Ah-ha” moment!”

What do you find helps to bring humor and fun into your classroom?

“If I bring humor, myself, into the classroom, then the students will follow suit.  A conscious goal is to make my room safe and fun: A place where we can laugh and learn at the same time.  I find that if a student has a positive emotion attached to a lesson or concept, they can more easily recall that lesson.  Plus, my Lady Gaga glasses add to the fun.”

Congratulations Amy!  Check back often to read more bios from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

Honored Educator: Lauren Smith

As a partner to the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching, WGBY has committed to featuring outstanding educators from across our region.  Each honoree was nominated by a district administrator and has received an award for their contributions in the field of education.  In each of our bios, we will highlight an individual by sharing his/her thoughts on teaching.  Here is just one of the many talented individuals honored this year.

Name: Lauren Smith
School: West Springfield Middle School
Grade/Content Area: Physical Education

What is a favorite resource that you like to bring into your classroom to enrich a lesson?
“I think my enthusiasm and being a good role model are my favorite resources. I tell my students that I do everything that I am telling them to do!”

What is one of your most creative/successful lessons and how did it come together?
“When Harry Potter just came out, the first book, my colleagues and I came up with a form of Quidditch that was so fun and a great way to combine fitness and literature.”

What is one of the biggest rewards for you as a teacher?
“When I see my students out in the world as adults and they remember me and something we did together, that is a great reward.”

Congratulations Lauren!  Check back often to read more bios from the Pioneer Valley Awards for Excellence in Teaching.