Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Perfect Field Trip: Everything in Order

May 2013. Time to take our annual trip to the San Diego Natural History Museum. Payment sent. Check. Chaperones scheduled and chaperone groups organized. Check. Cafeteria notified. Check. Museum scavenger hunt printed. Check.
We were ready. Our sixth-grade teachers could all rest assured that everything was in order for the big day - because as we all know, while nice diversions from the humdrum-daily-school-routines, field trips can be sources of anxiety for teachers. However, we had it all: precision, efficiency, and control.
            But had we planned everything? If so, why were my students caught throwing paper airplanes made from museum maps off the second floor balcony on the day of our visit?
What had I done wrong? We had arranged the logistics, but had we really thought about the learning objectives? We had ensured that the students would at the very least look at the exhibits, as they scurried around looking for the scavenger hunt answers. And the exhibits complemented the science curriculum, right? But what did the trip mean to the students? Did they feel compelled to explore? What did they take home? Would they be excited to learn more? I knew something was missing.
            Consequently, when Kim Douillard at the San Diego Area Writing Project emailed me to find out if I’d be interested in participating in Intersections, a collaborative project with the San Diego Area Writing Project, the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum, I couldn’t have responded more quickly or with more enthusiasm. This was a chance to “reimagine the field trip experience.” We would take a close look at students’ field trip experiences and develop strategies for best practices with dedicated professionals. I would have the opportunity to work with San Diego area teachers and museum staff educators on five different Saturdays over a six-month period.
In November, we began our journey of exploration and study.

Next up -  Just what do we want our students to take away?


Friday, July 13, 2012

I'm Gonna Flip (Flipped Learning)

It's summertime. It's the time when many people head off to the coolness of a swimming pool to beat the heat. I, too, feel like taking a plunge, but it won't involve chlorine.  I'm planning on diving into flipped learning - or at least getting my feet wet.  

When I first was introduced to the idea of Flipped Learning at the San Diego Area Writing Project (#SDAWP on Twitter), my eyes narrowed and my arms crossed. The idea, I learned, was to assign the instruction as homework, and the practice would be completed at school. Usually, but not always, the home instruction would be delivered through a teacher-created video.

I scoffed at the idea of replacing the teacher and classroom discussion with a video.  My thoughts went to Once again, they're trying to digitize teachers' jobs in order to save money, and  Some people always think that digital instruction is the magic bullet. It reminded me of a classroom that I had witnessed where the teacher proudly presented a lesson that consisted of having the whole class watch a computer "Khan Academy" type math lesson. 

I left SDAWP  knowing that I'd never use this strategy and thinking it was a "dumb idea."

Fast forward to the ISTE 2012 Conference where the big buzz was all about Flipped Learning.  The creators of the approach, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sims, offered several sessions about this new teaching strategy, and at the beginning of the conference, I had no intention of attending these presentations.  

It wasn't until my ride home on the first night of the conference with a fellow colleague that I started warming up to the idea.  She had attended the first session on Flipped Learning and could see the possibilities.  For every negative question that I posed, she was able to answer with a reasonable argument.  For example, because I have 1:1 iPads in my classroom and the students are able to take them home at night,  access to the Internet for my students shouldn't be a concern.  I also have an after school program in my classroom every day, and students are welcome to stay and use our facilities.  I do, however, wonder if students without these advantages should be required to figure out the connectivity issues.

Because of her clear reasoning, I decided to attend the next presentation by the authors.  Once again, teacher collaboration had opened up new approaches to teaching. The next day, I not only attended the session, I bought the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Class Every Day.

I have come away from the conference with persuasive reasons for creating a flipped lesson:
The students can rewind and reread a lesson if they don't understand something.
Parents can view the video and better understand what we are doing in class.
If a student is absent, they can read the material and watch the video to catch up.
I can use the time in class to assist my students with mastery of the concepts.
I could use it when I need a substitute teacher
Students have more control over their learning

As I leisurely contemplate my next year's teaching strategies, I'm beginning to develop my first flipped lessons. I'm creating a Google Site for writer's craft where I can explain each craft and offer simple videos.  I'll restructure the lessons so that the students will be expected to read the information, watch a video and take notes or write a question about the topic.  When they return to the classroom the following day, it'll be my job to make sure that they understand and are able to apply the concept.

I'm haven't completely decided to restructure every lesson, but I'd like to experiment with this new approach to teaching.  I still have questions.  For instance, what happens if a student doesn't complete his homework assignment?  Would this add a new complexity my daily lessons?  Or could they just watch the video in class and complete any unfinished work on their free time, like they would do for any missed assignment?

 I haven't gone off the deep end yet.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Connecting the Learning With Blogging

How can I link my students' learning from one year to the next?  On the last day of school, I didn't want to sweep up all of our accomplishments and lock up the doors to the classroom.  Our room was a laboratory for learning, and we need to build on this knowledge.  I want to extend our skills by revisiting the students' projects and sharing their skills with the incoming sixth-graders.  This idea of year-to-year sharing is not new.  Of course, they already know about this in Finland.

Over the year, the students and I spent a long time learning the basics of blogging. We thought about the needs of our Australian audience and how we could best engage and entertain them. For example, they knew they needed to make their blogs visually appealing, so they struggled over how to include graphics and video into their posts.   

And although they learned a lot, they encountered many roadblocks. Throughout our trials, we all became problem solvers, and I now have a group of students who are more comfortable with this writing genre.

Next year, I'd like to have our students focus on making more connections while blogging.  We can start by reading last year's posts, including those of our Australian partners.  Reading the writing will help my students formulate questions about their blogging partners.  We can also use our student blogs to examine the craft of blogging. By analyzing the posts, we can have a discussion on what we learned about academic online writing. 

We can build on the basics of blogging by creating more Internet connections.  Rather than simply writing their own thoughts, they can begin to make connections to other relevant sites through the use of links.  They can expand their messages by offering opportunities for further exploration.

Our classroom blogs will be a wonderful opportunity for collaborative learning, both in my classroom and the world at large.  Since I had a fifth-sixth grade combination class, I'll have  many of the same students in my classroom.  They will be my experts.  They will open the doors to the many possibilities of digital writing. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Twitter Poetry

Twitter is perfect for poetry.  I always tell my students that poetry is the writing medium with the most imagery and the fewest words.  That's why Twitter works so well.  Twitter writers only have 140 characters to express themselves, so they had better make the best of each and every word.
The idea of Twitter poetry is not new.  Last year, the New York Times had an interesting article on this writing genre.
Since my sixth-grade students would soon be moving on to middle school, I asked them to write a reflection of their memories of elementary school.  Before beginning the assignment, we discussed the effects of  limiting their letters.  We looked at mentor Twitter poems.  We noticed how the character limitations make the poems similar to haiku poetry.  These haiku poems even had a name: "twaiku."
I let the students decide how to organize their subject matter.  Some wanted to write a summary of all their experiences.  Others decided to write a snapshot of a moment in time.  My only precondition was that they include writer's craft (which we call Super Tricks) in their poetry.
The students looked through their writer's notebook for ideas about their poems.  They also reviewed the Super Tricks that they had learned throughout the year.
As they finished their poetry, they lined up at my desk to post their poems on our classroom Twitter account .

I was thrilled to see that many of them included metaphor:

As the lambs go by/ I notice the year is going to end/ I look back at all my memories/ I don't want to let them fly away. JP

Days go by like a books pages / as we get to our conclusion / we begin a new introduction. CD

I enjoyed reading Sienna's poem about a moment in time in the school's garden:

We sit on the stumps/Laughing and joking around with each other/As a circle of friends under a willow tree. SR

I realized that the format of a Twitter poem works well when the writer stops the action and writes about a short period of time.
I loved the poems and can definitely see the potential for this medium.  Next year, I can use this as a powerful tool for teaching many types of writer's craft. I will devote more time to revising the poems and using them as a strategy for instruction. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Classroom Tweets on Twitter

I had big ideas.  I could have the students tweet their responses and questions in class during a lesson.  Instant feedback! We could experiment with hash tags using ideas from They could use the Twitter search engine to look for articles related to research.   There was so much to explore.
I walked into class on Monday morning and announced, "We have a Twitter account!" The students gasped.  Their mouths dropped.  Smiles spread.  The room buzzed with excitement.

Within fifteen minutes of announcing our new Twitter account, I began to realize how complicated this might be.  First of all, the students would all need email accounts, and some parents had were not comfortable with this.  In addition, if they allowed their child to have an email, they were not quite ready for their preteen to be experimenting with social media on the Internet, even though Twitter enables users to have a secure and private profile. 
Quickly, I scaled back my plans.  The Twitter account would have to serve a different function. It would  have to be voluntary and parent approved. 

"Twitter.  Really?" began an email from one of my sixth-grader's parents when I began my classroom Twitter account. In response, I quickly sent her a link to 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom ( to assure her that we weren't going to be monitoring Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher.  I let her know that we would in fact be using it to better connect with our parents.  I immediately sent out an email to all the parents, explaining Twitter's purpose in the classroom.

Every day I leave the Twitter site open on Chrome, and I post tweets randomly a couple of times a day. I often tweet about a project or homework assignment.  But mostly, I like to capture a moment in time in our day. I am able to give the parents a glimpse into our activities, like the students reading in the shade of an oak tree in the school garden with their book clubs. 
These tweets enable them to see another side to their children.  I was able to share a touching moment when a sixth-grader designed a monkey end- of-year card with his kindergarten buddy.  These snapshots enhance their connections with their children and their school lives.  At the dinner table, they won't ask "What did you do at school today?"  They can share specific experiences.

Twitter has not only improved my classroom and home connections, but it has also created professional connections and opportunities.  Next blog: Twitter and professional development.
Visit the classroom blog at

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

India School Visit

Aaaahhhh, summer: time to relax and enjoy.  And if my husband's consulting business (Customer Centric Selling - Bosworth and Kenney) should take him to a distant country, I'm going too.  
Last July, I had the opportunity to travel along with him to New Delhi, India.  Because I teach my sixth-graders about ancient India, I was familiar with the country's history.  I could even sound somewhat knowledgeable about the Harappan civilization, but really my understanding was very superficial.  
July came, and I was finally going to see for myself what I had only read about in boring history books.  To add to the excitement, I had set up an appointment to visit an Indian school. Here is my journal entry of my visit.

July 6, 2011-

I have been told for the past several years that the Indian schools were light years ahead of the United States in science and math. Every time I heard this, I defended our educational system and made assurances that we taught critical thinking skills, as well as equally important subjects like writing, music, and art. I imagined the Indian children sitting properly at their desks, repeating the answers to algorithms.

It was with these expectations that I set off to visit Sachdeva Global School. I had chosen this school because of its flashy web page and commitment to technology-based learning. Prior to coming to India, I made a bold request via the Internet and asked them if I could drop by their school for a visit. To my surprise, after reviewing my resume, they agreed.

The school is located in a suburban area of Dehli. Sentinel high rise apartment buildings line the wide streets, which gives the neighborhood a sense of modernity coupled with orderliness. I entered Sachdeva Global School, located in a modern two-story brick building, and was checked in at the guard's station. Several people waited for me at the reception desk. They looked worried and whispered frantically to each other.

Finally, a woman came forth and asked me, "Didn't you get the director's email? She had to attend to a personal matter and is not able to be here. Is it possible for you to come back tomorrow?"

I assured her that I had checked my email before I left for the hour drive, and had not received any notices. I began to question whether I had overstepped my bounds. Who did I think I was? Did I think they would just except any stranger, willy-nilly?

I decided to be even bolder, and I asked the receptionist if it would still be possible to have a quick tour of the facilities. After more discussion between the staff, two women came out and said, but of course, they would show me the school. Thus, we set off, one math teacher, one preschool teacher, and myself, to walk through the pristine campus. I must have looked like the Cheshire cat; I was grinning from ear to ear with excitement.

The school services students from preschool to high school. Each classroom had twenty-five polite students. (I was told by another Indian that this private school had difficult entrance requirements and was quite expensive.) When I walked in to each class, the students all stood up and in greeted me in unison.

I was pleased to see that the children still had to be reminded to walk, just as our students do at my school. However, they were expected to walk with their hands clasped behind their backs and to greet the adults as they walked by, using the terms "Ma'am and Sir." They had impeccable manners.

In the classrooms, while they used green chalkboards, they also had Smart Boards. Several teachers gave me demonstrations of how they utilized this technology to instruct the students. The teacher would click on a learning topic, and the students would listen to the automated directions.

Although I did not see it presented, the math teacher told me that they also used a strategy called Vedic Math to help the students access the learning. It is somehow based on ancient Vedic schools of thought. She was shocked that I had never heard of it.

The school has two computer labs, but I did not see computers in the classrooms. One of the teachers told me that the students were not allowed to bring computers to school, nor cell phones. If they brought cell phones, they had to be checked in at the office.

During reading instruction, the students used textbooks. In fact, as I walked through the rooms, I noticed the teachers using textbooks for most subjects.

The teachers are required to post their monthly syllabus online. The parents can also access the homework worksheets, including the study guides, and any information about important events.

The teachers meet often, but not on a scheduled basis, to collaborate on instruction. They give many formative quizzes, in addition to summative tests (sorry for the teacher jargon.)

The school employs many ancillary staff members. They include two technology aides, one western dance instructor, a traditional Indian dance instructor, a piano and guitar teacher, an art teacher, a roller skating instructor, and a water play aide. I was awed by how the school encouraged the arts and creative expression. My initial assumptions were incorrect.

There is also a language component at the school. All of the students are instructed in English, although they may be given assistance in the early grades in Hindi. They also have an option of learning French, Hindi (written), or Sanskrit as a third language when they reach the secondary level. I saw children copying English sentences in journals in the primary grades. I was told that as they progress through the grades, they write answers to more open-ended questions in their journals.

The cafeteria looked like a deli. The children in the primary grades are expected to eat the school lunch, which is carefully crafted to include healthy foods. Signs are posted all over the school, reminding the students to avoid junk food.

After my tour, my gracious hosts directed me back to the reception area, where I was led into the headmistress's office. They brought me a lovely finger sandwich, along with some cold juice. I was stunned by their kindness and told them that they must let me reciprocate in the future.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mentor Text and Blogging

If you walked into my classroom today, you would have seen students grouped around iPads, discussing their blog designs, creating mathematical graphs, conducting surveys, and collaborating on texts.  Although to an outsider it might have seemed a little noisy, the students were all focused on the creation of their multinational blogs.  There was no need to manage behavior because the students were fully engaged in creating authentic text for a real audience.
We spent the beginning of this week looking at mentor text of blogs.  I knew that many students would not know what a blog was.  And if they were familiar with blogs, they would need to become familiar with the craft of writing a blog.
First, we looked at student award-winning blogs at  The students not only read the blogs, but they were invited to notice the writing craft within the blog. I asked the students to look at the topics.  What kinds of topics were selected?
After analyzing topics, we looked at the format of a blog.  What kinds of graphics and text did the authors use?  The  students noticed that most of the blogs used video and pictures. We also looked at the links.  Why would someone choose to link something to a blogs?
After our exploration of student blogs, we analyzed a different kind of text at  I asked the students to think about the purpose of the blog.  They could recognize that while some blogs were written to inform or entertain, others were written to persuade. We agreed that this blog was definitely meant to both inform and entertain.
They began to see that not only would the writers of the blogs need to engage the reader through interesting facts, but that they had to link to the interests of their audience.
We looked at the language within the blogs as well. For example, we noticed that the authors of the blog directly addressed the readers with questions. Since we had analyzed mentor text throughout the year, we already had a term for this type of writer's craft: direct address.  We began to see that the craft of writing crossed over to the genre of blogs.
Next, the students paired up and discussed the focus of their blogs.  They discussed their audience and its needs.  What would interest an Australian sixth-grader? (See previous blogs.)  How could they best describe the American culture, particularly the culture of Southern California?  
Through group discussions and teacher conferencing, the students began to develop the focus of their blogs.  For example, although several groups wanted to write about American food, they all took different tactics.  While some students decided to challenge the notion of American eating habits and describe the smorgasbord of choices that are seen on American tables, others wanted to write about just the American desserts.  
The students also began to develop ways to illustrate their beliefs. On their own, using statistics from the Internet, they began to create representational graphs.  They developed surveys and began to include their peers' responses in their writing.  They made authentic connections to mathematical reasoning.
At the end of the week, our first obstacle became apparent when the students wanted to embed their videos.  Some of the students had created video using iMovie.  Because they are not the administrators of the blog, how will they include media?  I have decided to go to the experts for answers.
To see our results, go to

Bosworth Traveler

Bosworth Traveler
The Taj Mahal