On Super Bowl Sunday, a few hours before the game, I created a DonorsChoose.org account and started a project. My hope was to raise $800 in order to get four Chromebooks for my classroom. Just five days later I learned my project was fully funded. Naturally, I’m suddenly a believer in DonorsChoose.org and I will use it again.
If you are unfamiliar with DonorsChoose.org, you can read a much more thorough description here. In short, DonorsChoose.org allows a teacher to create a project that is shared with the public. Community members can then make a tax-deductible donation and when your project is funded, approved vendors ship you your items. DonorsChoose.org does not take a cut of any of the monetary donations but they add a “suggested donation” to your project. This may explain why my final project cost was closer to $1000 than the $800 in laptops I received.
The Good: DonorsChoose.org is intuitive and there are videos and tutorials to help you generate ideas, titles, and narratives. You are not expected to fill-out a lot of forms or comply with typical grant criteria. It took me less than an hour to complete the description of my project and find the items I was looking for from the approved vendors. Relative to the $800 I was asking for, the one-hour of time seemed reasonable.
The Bad: There are some minor formatting issues at DonorsChoose.org including separate paragraphs of text I submitted becoming one large paragraph. As a teacher, I didn’t want the public to think I did not know some basic conventions of English. Likewise, you do not get to choose your pull quotes that may or may not be the elements you want to highlight.
The “suggested donation” of $150 automatically becomes part of your project cost, which I had not anticpate.
Final Verdict: If you are a classroom teacher, I recommend using the site. I grew frustrated with the lack of consistent access to workable computers for my students and DonorsChoose.org gave me a strategy to remedy this issue. I suspect all classroom teachers have a wish list and DonorsChoose.org may be the perfect way of filling your room with the things you need.
You can view my DonorsChoose.org profile here and my Chromebook project here.
This week marks the beginning of the “20 Day Twitter Challenge.” The 20 days are an opportunity for educators to collaborate and share ideas, anecdotes, questions, pictures, and student artifacts around the implementation of the Nevada Academic Content Standards and the Common Core.
Consider being part of the conversation that begins Thursday, February 25th.
I recently started making regular visits to the website https://next.bloomboard.com/. I like the site because professional experiences have been curated around content directly matched to the classroom. Topics include early literacy, writing, classroom management, planning, Shakespeare, blended learning, Project Based Learning, math… in short, just about everything a sited-based educator is going to want ideas and support with. Paramount, all the experiences are free.
To illustrate what I am speaking to, consider this example Narrative Reading, Writing and Comprehension in Fifth Grade. The Topic has you review some learning, look closely at a couple of lesson plans, and watch a lesson demonstration. This is not profoundly different than most workshop models except any learner can opt into the experience. Moreover, you can see that the progression of experiences is targeted and specific.
There is also a community aspect to the site. Apart from learning from others, an educator can create their own content and learning exercises. This is the case with Karen N. Nemeth is an author, consultant and advocate for early education for children who are dual language learners. She has written books for teachers, administrators, families, and children on this topic. Karen has leadership roles at NAEYC, NABE and TESOL.
It is certainly worth taking a look at Bloomboard. Perhaps you will discover that platforms like this can level the playing field and allow all educators—regardless of what kind of state and district professional support they have—opportunities to learn and grow.
I was invited to review the instructional shifts with graduate students in the Educational Leadership program at the University of Nevada, Reno. You can review what was shared by clicking on the linked documents below.
A part of the evening was also spent debriefing a video Dr. Dan Willingham who subtly explains the huge challenges facing building educators. It is worth reviewing the video and considering the “mental obstacles” of the teaching profession.
EL 703 PowerPoint
EL 703 Focus Questions
I continue to maintain and post to the website www.63000resources.com. Recently, a number of teacher created Core Knowledge materials were shared with me and I posted these. Likewise, everything I am creating for my own classroom (here) are being uploaded.
The orientation of 63000resources remains unchanged: only free, scalable and vetted materials are shared so the user can focus on instruction.
One of the biggest challenges being back in the classroom is not getting a full picture or the context for the instructional changes I am asked to make. Often, by the time the message has made it all the way back to my school, it has been modified, simplified and—regretfully in some situations—completed altered. Consequently, new initiatives feels disjointed, obligatory and poorly connected to other tasks and efforts. This is why it is helpful to find primary source material to more fully understand why we are being asked to do the things we are asked to do.
Listed below are three videos that are worth taking a look at. The first is of David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core and now the president of the College Board, explaining changes to the SAT. The second is of Dale Erquiaga, Chief Strategy Officer for Nevada and member of Chiefs for Change and the last is of Dr. Donald Bear, the Director of the Duffelmeyer Reading Improvement Clinic, describing the value of Word Study. Taken together, they help contextualize the policy and pedagogy we are asked to implement in our classrooms.
Dale Erquiaga: Former Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga reviews the legislation that was passed in the 2015 legislative session and expands on what informed each initiative. Viewers will have a much better feel for the coming changes including Read by Grade 3, new funding formulas, and anticipated work in 2017. Full video here.
David Coleman: “Assessment without opportunity is dead.” This is how Coleman begins his speech at the 2015 Schools for Tomorrow Conference. Coleman highlights how more than 50% of students in the bottom quartile of income and scoring in the top 10% on the SAT, will not apply for a highly selective university. Coleman sees this as building a “wall” of inequality and reforming SAT and providing equitable test preparation is part of the solution. You can watch the full video here.
Dr. Donald Bear: Although a lot of educators are being asked to implement Word Study or are being asked to extinguish the use of traditional spelling protocols, few understand why. Dr. Donald Bear provides the research and relevant activities to promote, vocabulary, phonics, and spelling through the use of Word Study.
It is worth noting that all of these videos can be accessed for free. This is especially important as educators continue to transition from traditional modalities of profession development to something more aligned to the 21st Century.
If you look through the data for this blog as well as my companion site, 63000resources.com, a not so surprising trend emerges. Overwhelmingly, classroom materials are the most downloaded and clicked on links when compared to professional development resources, presentation items, and demonstration videos. Consequently, it seems pretty obvious to highlight one of the best resources available and explain how any educator—including those outside of Nevada—can use them to meet the expectations of the Common Core.
The Nevada History OUTs (Opening Up the Textbooks) are a teacher created resource that is free for download. Each OUT highlights an important part of Nevada history with an emphasis on students reading complex informational text and retrieving evidence to support claims. Moreover, the OUTs nurture historical thinking skills in which students see a single narrative—from the textbook—complicated, vivified, contested, and/or expanded. If you live outside of Nevada, there is plenty for you here with lessons on Westward Expansion, the Hoover Dam, and mining and taxation.
I have implemented three OUTs this year and what follows is why I am so enthusiastic. This includes
- The OUTs are well matched to the Common Core and the Instructional Shifts. Specifically, each lessons has students working with complex text—often challenging primary resources—and its academic vocabulary. Students have to read, write and speak using evidence and as students move through each OUT they are building a coherent body of knowledge.
- Students have to work cooperatively to build understanding and to gain full access to the texts. The OUTs highlight the value of academic discourse and fluidly align to the habits of annotating and Accountable Talk.
- They are free.
- They were vetted in classrooms before ultimately being shared online.
- Students enjoy the challenging work. I switch between the OUTs, the Basal Alignment Project lessons, and Core Knowledge during my literacy block. The OUTs have proven to be a hit and you can see them in action at my classroom blog here and here.
You can see an overview video of what an OUT is and read more here. You can here watch Stanford professor Dr. Sam Wineburg explain how students learn history here.