Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Intro to Health Careers - Students Part I

By Alyssa Trausch, Matt Crimmons, Giselle Cordova Yanez and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.  You can read all of the previous posts here

I'm blown away by the student reflections this week.  They write to what they want for their future.  They write about how they learn best.  They are honest. They know themselves.  I wish I was this clear in my vision when I was in high school.

A few of the highlights reflected on by the students:
  • The course itself is really helping me learn more about my interest and my capabilities as a student.
  • By learning more about the careers I also hope that I can figure out more about myself.
  • Being able to do activities and take notes all in the interactive journal has been one of my favorite additions to my learning method.
  • Mrs. Glosson had taught us how to study these new topics on ourselves.
  • I’m interested in learning more and finding out more about the medical career and what it has to offer.
Alyssa Trausch 

What did you learn in this lesson?

In the first couple of units of Introduction to Health Careers, I have learned a variety of terms along with examples of words used in the medical field of work. During the first unit (chapter) “Building Blocks of Medical Terminology” I learned that the Latin and Greek language is where many of the terms used in medicine come from. I also learned the basic skill of note taking during unit one because Mrs. Glosson had the whole class take notes all the same, specific, way which really helped me stay organized, and made studying for the quiz much easier. I can now use this note-taking strategy to be more organized in the other class in the future.

Honestly, in the beginning, it seemed like there was lots of note taking about prefixes, suffixes, and word root, which made the class feel pretty slow and I just didn’t think it would be a class I would enjoy the whole year. Then we got into unit two “The Human Body” which is when we started to learn about not only what makes up the body, such as atoms, tissues, organs, etc., but then I got to personally learn something new which was the regions of our body.

My art skills were put to the test during the notes in this particular unit because we have to draw some bodies in our notebooks and then label them based on where the regions are located. At first, when doing this it seemed like they would be no help and really confusing to study however this wasn’t the case at all. The pictures helped me visualize them on myself and others where the regions are located rather than them just being listed as bullet points in my notebook.  So far this year in Introduction to Health Careers I’m not really sure if going into health care is still what I want to do, yet the course itself is really helping me learn more about my interest and my capabilities as a student.

What do you hope to learn for the next time? 

For next time I hope to learn more about the specific jobs of different medical careers and the amount of post-high school education some of them require. By learning more about the careers I also hope that I can figure out more about myself. I want to learn more about my interests because all I really have to base my interests off of is what I’ve seen on tv and in movies. I think that if I learn more about different jobs then I can figure out a plan on which class to take later in high school.

Matt Crimmins 

What did you learn in this lesson?

Since the start of the school year, I have learned some of the basic vocabulary and skills in health care. We have started learning word structure and word construction in medical terminology. This process has been effective so far because of the organization of all of our work in our notebooks. In both this class and AP Bio, organizing our work with the notebook has been an effective form of not only the organization but also as a study tool. Being able to do activities and take notes all in the interactive journal has been one of my favorite additions to my learning methods and has assisted me greatly in learning the material in the class so far.

Throughout the year, I want to learn in this class the specific healthcare jobs to see if this field fits me.

Giselle Cordova Yanez

What did you learn in this lesson?

In these units I have learned many new things like in unit one I learned lots about the medical terms that come from greek and latin words, as well I have learned about many of the meanings behind these words and their prefixes, suffixes, combining vowels, and root words; Which are commonly and will always be used in the medical field. I also learned many new ways to organize my notes. In a way where I’ll be able to always add on if needed.

These new ways to organize notes has helped me find a way to study faster it also is easier to the eyes instead of just reading bundles of paragraphs stacked on top of each other. In unit two we learned about new prefixes, suffixes, combining vowels and root words; but other than that we learned about body regions and it’s placement along with how the body is made up. Here Mrs. Glosson had taught us how to study these new topics on ourselves which has been really helpful considering I don’t need to worry about reading books or study pages of notes. We also had to do at one point in the Unit make play-doh people which were fun and also very helpful especially with having to label them. Which is a plus for me because I learn better visual then oral or writing methods.

All in all, I’m still confused about what I truly do want to do for my future but for now, I’m interested in learning more and finding out more about the medical career and what it has to offer. This class, however, has helped me keep organized in my other classes and also has helped me figure out my strengths and weakness as a student in high school and what I am really interested in.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Intro to Health Careers - Teacher Part I

By Krista Glosson and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.  You can read all of the previous posts here

Words matter.  As much as they matter, a shared understanding of them matters more.  In the medical profession, not having a shared understanding can lead to life-changing results. That important foundational understanding of key vocabulary in the medical profession starts somewhere.  At Elk Grove, that foundational understanding can start their freshmen year.  Students have the amazing opportunity to become a Certified Nursing Assitant before they graduate.  They can leave high school with the ability to get a job in a hospital and directly care for patients.

In Krista Glosson's Intro to Health Careers class, the students spent the first few weeks doing that crucial work of developing that shared understanding of words that can lead to life-changing care for people.  The students self-assessed, reflected, shared with each, and continued to strengthen their understanding of a common vocabulary.  Read how the students begin to learn as they start on their journey into a possible life-long career.

Krista Glosson

What did learning look like in the lesson?

The first two units in Introduction to Health Careers are important to student success for the entire year.  These units ensure that all of our students have an equal chance of being successful in the course.  Many students come with the knowledge and have a working vocabulary that allows them to be successful rapidly, while other students need to have some knowledge gaps filled before they can move forward easily.

In this lesson, students received feedback on a recent quiz that they had taken.  After receiving the feedback students evaluated their errors and then took a survey to evaluate their personal satisfaction and progress in the course.  Students were asked questions about their grade satisfaction, personal progress, and organization tools.

After the survey, students created a foldable for their interactive notebooks and reviewed five new vocabulary words.  The students were engaged with their notebooks to work on the new material.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Finding Purpose: Understanding Gen Z

By Rachel Vissing

This is part of an ongoing series in which I am working on developing my own mission statement of student and personal learning.  You can read the first post here.

Over the weekend, I heard it again.  I was getting my oil changed, and a man noticed my school apparel and said "Oh so you're a teacher?" to which I replied "Yes, I am!"  He then replied with a sarcastic "Oh good luck.  Kids these days don't know anything besides how to use their cell phones." 

Flash Forward to Sunday night.  I'm sitting watching the Bears/Packers game with my husband, and I heard it again.  "Rachel, get off your phone."  I hear this more times than I can count on a regular basis from him, along with "Get off your laptop or your iPad."  Now I always try to justify that I don't touch social media all day long or that I need to check my work e-mail or something of the sort.  In reality, I see that I many times I am just as bad as the "kids these days".  

In thinking about this more, I realized that so many people of the older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y) find all of the faults with the newer Generation Z, however, we don't find out what skills are their strengths.  I decided to do some research.

Differences in Generation Z

Pulled from two different sources ( and, I have found these notable differences between Gen Z and the prior generations:

- Generation Z is the last generation with a white majority.  As this generation is still considered "ongoing", they are growing up in a more global community and thinking about the future in a larger and more inspirational sense than ever before.

- The population of Gen Z is the most tech-savvy and can pick up new technological developments quicker than other generations.  They are also able to multitask much better, with one source referencing using up to 5 devices at a time!

- Gen Z actually watches less TV but spends more time on YouTube and social media.  They are more focused on products, brands, and celebrities rather than experiences and emotional connections.

- The members of Gen Z are more realistic than idealistic.  They also want to be entrepreneurs and create their own businesses as opposed to creating a loyalty in working for others.

What Does This Mean in Education?

There are many ways to view and use this information.  The first thing that I think of is Apple (not that teachers get apples...the company Apple - I can be punny and see if you're still reading!).  There have been 14 versions of the iPhone to date.  There has been the iPod, iPod Touch, iPad, iPad Mini, iPad Pro, Apple TV, Apple Watch, etc.  These are all technology advances since January 2007.  In 11+ years, our world has changed dramatically in the world of connecting with others, multitasking, and access to information.

Now let's look at education, well at least from my perspective.  I have taught for 8.5 years, of which I have never used a textbook.  To many I encounter, this is crazy, yet this is all I know.  I have used an iPad for 7 of those years, 6 with 1-to-1 student devices.  I also have taught with white-board tables for 3 years now.  I have explored numerous instructional practices: discovery learning, flipped classroom, standard-based grading, various formative feedback methods, and many more.  I have rewritten curricula every single year that I have been here.  My question is...why?  Has this been of benefit to my students?

I always felt that I was adjusting curricula based on new technology and my students skill needs.  Was that practical?  Was it worthwhile?  Right now, after reading these articles, I found that maybe I was searching in the wrong place.  I was altering my practices to help build and strengthen the skills that they were struggling with instead of learning and understanding the skill strengths of their generation.  

So What...?  Connection to Developing My Personal Mission Statement

Last post, I articulated my need to focus on my students as individuals, not numbers.  This post, I dove into learning the skill strengths of my students and how they differ from those of my generation and those before.  In moving forward, I now have a better understanding of the "kids these days" and what they have to offer to the school, community, and society moving forward.  

I'll be honest, this post was a long way off from where it began.  I intended to look up some information and ended up falling down a rabbit hole and got a bit overwhelmed with the idea that I thought I knew the "kids these days" so well because I work with them daily, however, it is eye-opening that I have not looked into how their experiences and environments are drastically different from those of previous generations (ie: Powerpoint was still a new thing for teachers to use when I was in high school...).  Anyways, I'm saying this because this post may not make sense to all who read, but it has been very helpful for me to process this information of students' skill strengths thus start focusing on how to support their future needs.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Pre-Calculus-Part I

By Dave Dompke, Kesha Patel, Alyssa Cobb, and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.  You can read all of the previous posts here

I loved math class in high school.  It always made sense. There was a logic to it and the mental gymnastics to figuring the solution was intoxicating.  Yet, the structure to it required a lot of practice.  My visit to Dave Dompke's class left me with a different view on the structure of a math class.  The students were free. They had flexibility on how to learn the material.  Dompke created the conditions to allow students to do what works best for them.  In the one class I visited, I saw students engaged with each other in how to solve the problems, debates, working by themselves, working in groups, at their own pace, asking the teacher for help, going over previous material, and challenging themselves with tougher questions.  

This is a great starting point for what learning could and should be in a math class.  Read the teacher and the student responses below.  I asked Alyssa what she wanted a school to be.  Her response will push your thinking a little on what school should be.  

Teacher Dompke 
What did learning look like in the lesson? 

Students were accessing previous knowledge to solve current problems on functions.  They were learning new concepts while at the same time.  They were trying to learn something new while using concepts they learned from the past.  They had direct instruction initially but then were able to work with their cooperative groups to practice these concepts.

What do you hope to do for the next time? 

I would like to test for understanding and see how many students are already familiar with the concept before I begin teaching it.  

Kesha Patel:  What did you learn in this lesson?

There was a lot of review work involved, and I was generally able to grasp the concepts pretty quickly. There was a problem I learned to do that I’d never seen before. The problem required me to use my prior knowledge of functions in a different way. That’s one of the reasons I like math; I’m able to take different steps to solve a problem to get one single answer. This lesson showed me how to do problems differently and how to use things I already know. 

What do you hope to learn for the next time? 

I hope to learn to solve even more complex math problems and use what I already know in different ways. I like being able to arrive at one answer but in various ways. I feel like this class will help me enjoy math even more since I’m gonna be exploring new material and new ways to solve problems.

Alyssa Cobb:  What do you hope to learn for the next time? 

I hope to learn the in-depth parts of the problems and how they can apply to us in everyday lives.

What do you want a school to be? 

All classes should be able to be chosen thoughtfully while keeping in mind what we want in our future careers with classes that adhere to such careers. Also, school should allow you to focus on your social bonds and not just how “smart” you are because intelligence is not all of life.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Curriculum - Why do we have to get through it?

by Mark Heintz

When I first started teaching, world history at my school largely focused on western civilization through World War II.  As a team, we did a really engaging genocide project at the end of the year that brought up some events post WWII, but we mostly stopped at the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Then we attempted to get a more global perspective.  We added more Indian and Chinese history.  Then Africa.  And then we added events post WWII.  In the end, we pretty much had everything in our world history class.  I mean that literally.  Our curriculum guide was massiveAuthoritative: It felt "official" and told students what they would "learn."  It mimicked the AP World curriculum guide.  Every day had learning targets and we moved at a rapid pace to cover the topics of the ENTIRE WORLD'S HISTORY in less than a year.

Add to the mix 21st Century skills, SAT focus, and a lot of writing.  It was a very packed course.  As a teacher, I felt good about what we'd created. The course was documented.  It exposed kids to as much of the world's history as I thought possible.  And, as the class marched through the course, most kids were "successful" by traditional metrics. They took tests and displayed "mastery."

Yet, I knew something was off. After the year was over and the kids returned from summer, I started asking what they liked or learned from the previous year.  Most kids could barely remember the units we covered.  So, they went from mastery in May to not remembering what the units were.  So, did they learn it?  Was it worth covering everything if they didn't even remember it?

Thanks to Dan Saken for bringing up this image.  

I'd say no.  My desire to get through everything only led to students putting it in their short-term memories for the test.  Now I'm thinking, who says we have to get through everything?  I, with a team of others teachers, created the course.  But, we created it.  Then felt obligated to cover it.  There was this feeling on our team, and I suspect in all schools, to cover more and to get through everything and add skills and competencies. It's just too much.

Even as I write this, authoritative curriculum guides like AP are cutting their content. Specifically, AP World History is cutting half of the content. I feel they were finding the same thing that I was: covering topics isn't learning.  When we attempt to cover every topic, the students have little interest and agency in the course.

Over the last few years, I've cut a lot of topics that were in my curriculum; AP and non-AP. And every year I cut something, students do better on "tests," and interest increased.  I'm able to spend time with topics that students are interested in. Students have time to talk and write about what they feel on the subject.  Because learning is for them, not the prescribed guide I set up for them.

Now what?

I'm starting to view curriculum as a series of open-ended questions.  It can't be a prescription and a series of outcomes. It has to be an exploration.  If I do it that way, it will be relevant to them because they'll be exploring what they want to learn.  It will be inquiry-based as they are searching for their understandings.  Finally, it gives students agency over their learning.  In the end, they will read more, write more, talk more, and remember more, since it'll be about them instead of me.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Introduction to Strength and Condition-Students

By Daisy Crus and Jaina Pfister

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.  You can read all of the previous posts here.

In this post, two freshmen students reflect on what they learned in the first few weeks in Introduction to Strength and Condition.  You can read the teacher's reflection here.  The students are in control of their learning in this class. Here is a quick video the students talking about what they want in the course and how best to hold each other to those expectations.

Daisy Cruz

What did you learn in this lesson?

Something I learned in this lesson is that if you put your mind to what you are doing and you stay focused, you will always work through it till it’s complete. I also learned that when you are working out you always want to work on three things.  Those are strength, auxiliary and core.  Working with those three things will complete your daily workout. One thing I learned in this lesson is that you have to work on both parts of your body to not have one small leg and the other a lot muscular.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

Something I would like to learn in the next lesson is how to make the exercise more challenging if we feel it’s not pushing us to work harder. The teachers make us work hard and they are great but some people have already been in sports or activities and done harder workouts. They should have a specific workout and have it in two different ways, the normal way and the experienced way.

Jaina Pfister 

What did you learn in this lesson?

Today we learned about box jumps and step-ups with the boxes. It was mostly a learning day but days like those are a crucial step when it comes to working out. Learning the correct form will ensure we won’t get hurt and teaches us to become better athletes.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

For next time I hope we can incorporate the boxes in our workout so we can use the knowledge we learned. An important part of learning to me is being able to practice our learnings and continue to grow from there.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Introduction to Strength and Condition-Teachers

By Anthony Furman and Mark Heintz

This is part of a blog series intended to document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.  You can read all of the previous posts here

Going into a physical education class conjures up a lot of memories.  I personally always had great experiences but from movies, tv, and friends it seems that p.e. was great for everyone.  The class has been under fire across our country and most recently our state.  But going into Anthony Furman's 844 class highlights what p.e. should be.  Students owned the class.  They created the expectations and they did the work.  I'm in awe of what he was able to do in the first few weeks of school.

What did learning look like in the lesson? 

Furman: In this lesson, the “learning” focus was two-fold.  First, we completed our class culture expectations to work by.  This taught the students to genuinely think about what kind of environment they want to create and work within on a daily basis.  It is the beginning of understanding how to create a “culture” that will aim at improving the internal and external vision of what we expect from ourselves, our class and then throughout our school.  Students were given the opportunity to share expectations that were felt as important to have in class.  The list of I WILL, WE WILL and WE WILL NOT statements all came from the four sections of 844 students.

The exercises learned on this day were box jumps and variations of step-ups.  We have a template of exercises that we want our students to learn during their freshman year that will not only prepare themselves for future P.E. classes but also building a basic foundation of exercises for students to understand and build upon.  They learned the basic technique and purpose of each exercise and then were given time to practice each within small groups.  These exercises will be combined with other learned strength, core, and auxiliary exercises as we continue to learn our intro to a strength program.

What do you hope to do for the next time? 

Furman: I will be looking to see that we are practicing our “Building a Culture to be Proud Of” statements. That will come from teacher to student as well as student to student.  Exercises learned will be practiced and then given was to be made more challenging.  Ideally, we begin to build an atmosphere where class expectations are maintained by all students and we continue to build on the program focuses set each week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Policies don't instill character traits

By Mark Heintz

When I first started coaching, I wanted my team to be dedicated; disciplined.  I used a common attendance policy, athletes would have three absences.  Fair.  Logically, the policy would force athletes to be dedicated to the program.  I put a policy in place, I get the results I want.  Right?

Wrong. As I write this, I see the idiocy of it. Also, spoiler alert, I struggled in the first few years as a coach.  The policy didn't instill the character traits I wanted.  At its best, a few people who were already tuned into the program and were dedicated stood out.  Most of the time, it hurt everyone.  I praised those who were "dedicated" and removed those who had a lot going on.  I hid behind the policy and the true problem.  I didn't create an environment that was inclusive, personal, and valued the individual desires and needs.

Schools do this a lot.  We create policies that have the best intentions.  I seriously applaud the efforts.  As a teacher, I've used them to say no to kids. At their best, it does address some students who need help.  Again, most of the time, it doesn't get to the real problem.  We don't create environments that are inclusive, personal, and value the individual desires and needs.

Last year, Kim Miklusak taught seniors during a lunch period.  That particular group of seniors were "struggling" students and had been labeled as such for most of their schooling.  As you can image, attendance was an issue.  Around mid-year, she found that writing kids up only furthered the problem.  Even her addressing the tardiness or absences pushed kids away.

So, what did she start doing?  She welcomed them.  She thanked the students for showing up late.  She encouraged them.  With the shift, the attendance problem stopped for almost every kid.  And to be clear, she continued to mark the tardies and followed up with chronic absences.  She just, to quote her, "treated people like people, and they did better."  She created an inclusive, personal environment that valued each student.

Seems logical?


In both cases, the policies in place had the best intentions.  They sought to punish or reward behavior to get students to have the desired traits. And the policies work for kids who already have those traits.  In my case, it drew in athletes who were already dedicated.  In Kim's case, only a few students remained who already valued at school.  But in reality, it removed a lot of people from the team or the classroom.  In the end, policies might force people to be compliant, which ultimately pushes them away.

So what works? We have to truly value our students. We have to value their opinions, ideas, and desires.  If we do that, then they'll see the benefit of being dedicated or working hard.  Their voices and reasons for being in the class or program will be heard and valued, which in turn will get them to work harder.  So what about policies? I doubt they are going away.  People can still use them. But ultimately, they remove kids. Most of us want our to value and learn our subjects. They can't do that if they aren't there. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Dual Credit College Composition-Students

By Madison Reed, Jake Mizialko, Alexandra Glinski and Mark Heintz

Emily Mikuzis reflected on learning in a previous post, but what do the students think? A group of teachers and students explore what learning is. From the students perspective, for deep learning to occur, they've got to be interested in it.  They have to find meaning to them.  Here are just a few highlights before you read:

  • This story’s argument really made me think about how much meaning I give things in my life and my perspective. 
  • I love the freedom of ideas and creativity it allows us as students to have most times.
  • I hope that students will be able to branch off of those three things and be able to incorporate it into their own writing.
  • I would hope to find a style of writing/narrative the best suits me.


What did you learn in this lesson?

In this lesson, I learned about narratives and arguments from a deeper perspective. We read a passage called ‘This is Water’ by David Foster Wallace. The story touched pretty heavily on the ideas of “you control the meanings on everything in the world” and “you control your own perspective and decide how much meaning everything gets”. The whole class was split into groups. After listening to this piece and annotating things we found important in the text, everyone in each group shared a sentence, phrase and word from the reading that we thought was important and at the end, the whole class discussed thoughts on the reading as a whole. This story’s argument really made me think about how much meaning I give things in my life and my perspective. I enjoyed this narrative a lot and I loved the message/argument it brought with it.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

I hope to learn more about the other types of writings that are out there. Writing is one of my favorite things to do in school. I love the freedom of ideas and creativity it allows us as students to have most times. Also, I hope to learn how to better my writing abilities. So far in my senior year here at EGHS, College Composition has been one of my favorite classes and generally my favorite English class I've taken.

What did you learn in this lesson?

During this lesson, we, as a class, learned how to fully understand a story by highlighting significant words, phrases, and sentences. These three things helped us figure out what the narrative, argument, and effect were on the reader. This way of annotating shows that students are able to concisely get to the point while still annotating and understanding the story completely. This was a unique lesson because once the student finished reading on their own they were able to talk to their group members to hear what they took out of the story and how they perceived it.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

For the next lesson, I hope to learn how you can you words, phrases, and sentences to help you learn more about the message that the author was trying to get across to his readers. I hope that students will be able to branch off of those three things and be able to incorporate it into their own writing. By practicing this task, this will allow students to strengthen their writing abilities and easily identify key parts of a story.

What did you learn in this lesson?

In this lesson, I learned how different narratives can be used to make an argument. We listened and read through a couple of texts which all had addressed an argument, but all using different narratives. Individually, we would complete a reading guide where we, the students, had to annotate for a sentence, a phrase, and one keyword from the text that we believed was important. By identifying these different things, we are able to identify what the argument of the text was and how effective the narrative was. While repeating this process a few times, I learned how narrative is a key figure to an essay and how a good narrative will help your argument, which together can create a successful piece of writing.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

In the next lesson, I would hope to find a style of writing/narrative the best suits me. Trying and testing different essay structures will be a big part of finding out what I like. I want to be able to write an effective essay that not only has a good narrative but also gets my argument across. Hopefully, in our next few writing assignments, my best style of writing will become more clear to me.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Dual Credit College Composition-Teachers

By Emily Mikuzis and Mark Heintz

In the continued effort of defining learning at Elk Grove, Emily Mikuzis graciously invited me into her class and reflected on the learning in her dual credit College Composition class.

From my point of view, students were finding their voice.  Not an easy thing to do.  But in this case, students had agency: they wanted to know how to express their opinions in their voice. Why shouldn't they?  They were finding their voice. In her reflection, Emily told me that last year, almost all of her students' first paper sounded the same. It didn't matter the student's experience, the voice was the same.  She thought back on why this happened. She was guiding them too much, created an environment that favored writing was easy and offered little opportunity to truly express themselves.  This year, her goal is to change that. She wants to empower her students and at the beginning of the year, to find their voice in writing.

I'm very jealous of her students as they get to explore who they are and how best to express themselves.  We would all be lucky to have that opportunity.  Right now, learning looks like a personal journey and struggle towards what is meaningful to each student and how best to express it.

What did learning look like in the lesson? 

Emily: This semester, I am exploring ways to allow students to have greater confidence in their writing by increasing their investment and creating opportunities for student choice. 

In this lesson, students worked collaboratively to identify how narrative and argument, which are typically taught separately, can be used together to create an effective piece of writing. 

Students individually identified the story and argument present in a selection from Persepolis. I wanted students to begin to see that stories - even brief ones, can support a powerful argument. In this step, student learning looks like quiet reflection - low-risk exposure to a new topic. 

Next, students read and annotated a part of David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College. While they annotated, they watched this corresponding video clip: "This Is Water." Students annotated for keywords, phrases, and sentences. In this step, student learning looked like gathering information to share with their group. Learning looked like reading to understand. 

Finally, students worked through a text rendering protocol with peers. Students shared a single word, phrase, and sentence without commentary in order to identify the big picture meaning of the text. In this step, learning looked like working together to piece together and refine understanding of a text. 

Student learning culminated in identifying the narrative elements and argument present in the piece. From there, they can compare the structure to two texts which incorporate the same elements but have different purposes and structures. David Sedaris’s essay “Jesus Shaves” and a story from The Moth, "Whatever Doesn't Kill Me."

What do you hope to do for the next time? 

Emily: Through the comparison of three engaging texts with very different structures and purposes, I hope to give students options for attacking their first writing assignment, Narrative as Argument. My hope is that students will begin to build confidence to make their own stylistic and structural choices in writing assignments. I hope to, throughout the semester, continue to create opportunities for students to work together to build understanding and hopefully begin to develop their own writer's voice through greater investment in our writing tasks.

You can read last week's post on learning here. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Learning for Themselves

By Mark Heintz

I shared my last post about letting go of prescriptive lesson planning with my dad.  I was like a proud puppy.  He was a teacher, and no matter how old I get, I still want him and my mom, to know what I am doing and be proud of it.  However, most of the time, I don't share my work with them...I think that might have been a sign that I hadn't really been excited about what I was doing.

Anyways, my dad's response made me well up a bit.  Always spot on, he said,"Your students must be thinking about how learning is really for themselves."  Mic drop.

Learning for Themselves

I'm on the right track and I'm chasing this high. do I continue to create conditions that keep the learning in the kiddos' hands? Keep in mind that in the first week of school, my students and I came to common ground on what meaningful learning is.

  1. For learning to occur, we have to want to learn it: interesting.
  2. The learning has to be useful in their lives: relevance.
  3. It has to be a struggle and should force them to change: challenging

With my focus in mind, I was ready for the second week of school.  During that week, I laid out the driving question for the course: To what extent can we do whatever we want to the Earth and its people?

Not easy. So, it's challenging.  There are so many possible directions to go in; interesting.  And, man, is it relevant to their daily lives.

I had the students put two continuums down, one for the treatment of the Earth and one for the treatment of people.  Some said we can and should do whatever we want to the Earth and to people=100%.  Others had a much different outlook on it.  Each student was in a different place.

Then came their own questions.  Based on the driving question, the students generated their own questions.

From there, they researched their question and did a quick write up, they had a little less than two days to do this.  The only criteria I gave them: at least 200 words and any articles they read must be posted alongside their writing.  

The Result

This process resulted in the best writing I've ever had in teaching the course. It was interesting to read. Not really a shocker when you allow students to write about things they are interested in.  Seriously, kids wrote more than had to.  I didn't say how or if it would be graded.  They just explored.   I'm so proud of the work they did.  I just walked around the room and gave guidance when they asked for it and probed what they were researching.  

Here is one sample that is a first draft and unedited. 

Why are people treated unfairly?

Being treated unfairly happens a lot everywhere in the world, it is probably happening right now. But it mostly occurs in lower-income countries and mostly aimed at women. Like in Saudi Arabia, they allowed Women to start driving JUST now instead of in the earlier years which is because of the government choice that is controlling everything and controlling who.

Like another example: Malala, everyone knows about her story and why she was shot. Because she was a girl that wanted the same education that boys have but couldn’t get it until her story was heard around the world. Now girls where Malala live have education.

Some people in the workforce are also being treated unfairly, how? Because of the boss and how he or she wants his/her way to get more money, or maybe the boss is being respectful to one worker than the other that is being unfair or biased.

My last example is still happening today in America is police brutality, white officers killing black people. It is very common here and we are still wondering why it is still happening but some people know why, because of racism. Racism is still happening today as no surprise either against African Americans, Hispanics, Middle East people and more. We are still being treated unfairly because of our race that somehow makes people uncomfortable.

There are many different answers to why people are still being treated unfairly, is it because of racism, biases or the government's rules that are making these things happen today in the world.

Friday, August 24, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Intro to Engineering Part 1-Students

By Alexander Danan, Margi Patel, Ryan Libiano and Mark Heintz

Patrick McGing and I gave our insight into what learning looked like in Patrick's Intro to Engineering class. But what do the students think?  What do they want the class to be? If the focus of a school is meant to be on the learning, especially student learning, shouldn't we spend time getting their feedback?

A group of teachers met with me last May and agreed on a common mission and vision.  Part of that vision included partnering with students in an effort to document and define learning at Elk Grove.  Each week, as a teacher and I share our thoughts on learning, students who are in the teachers class I visit will do the same.  This week, three students in Patrick's class shared their thoughts on the first days of school. Here is what they had to say.


What did you learn in this lesson?

Although we did not yet dive too deep into the engineering process or have started any projects, I found the class still to be engaging in the sense that we were able to reflect upon how we do now and how we will do in the future (as in our future work life etc). Certain topics such as skills and interests seemed to have no meaning in the basics of the design process or literally anything that relates to engineering, but I finally realized that these topics would soon help me become aware of what strengths I have and fields they were applicable in. Furthermore, the class will teach me how to write a resume and prepare myself for future endeavors throughout my adult life.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

Although we did not cover any engineering related topic in this lesson, I am still very excited to learn more about how to write a resume and cover letter and prepare myself for the future. Along with that, I am still very excited to dive deep into the engineering process and design my first object/thing (I don’t know what it is yet). Another huge hope is to finally use machinery such as the shopbot, CNC mill, Laser cutter, etc.


What did you learn in this lesson?

It's only been a few days so we haven't really started yet. I found some things interesting such as how to operate the machines and how to write the resume. We are going to start a project very soon so I'm really excited to find out how to do the designs and stuff. We also learned the things that we are going do it throughout the semester and I found most of the things very interesting.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

I hope to learn how to use the 3D printer and the new technology. By end of the semester, I would love to know what I should put it in my resume and cover letter. I'm a senior and I'm glad I took this class because I'm sure it's going to help figure what I want to do after high school in specifically engineering. I'm excited to learn more about the topics that we talked about. I'm also excited to see what interests me the most.


What did you learn in this lesson?

During the class I learned what our class is going to be and some of the things that we will be using in for the future. One of the things that stuck out to me was learning how to make a resume. Since I'm only 14 and don't know anything about resumes or jobs, this was a nice piece of information that will be able to help me throughout life since people need jobs to make money and live. Another thing was knowing that we will be able to use a lot of cool tech that I've never even touched before.

What do you hope to learn for the next time?

What I'm interested in is going through the design process to create some different but amazing things. I also want to learn more about how to use all the machines to make 2D into 3D.  One of the biggest things that I hope I learn next time or later in the year is all the small things that I'm able to do while designing program so I can make what I've already made and make it better to the best of my potential.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Year in Learning at Elk Grove: Intro to Engineering Part 1-Teachers

By Patrick McGing and Mark Heintz

This is the first of hopefully, fingers crossed, a weekly series of teachers and students at Elk Grove reflecting on what meaningful learning looks like in practice.  A group of teachers all met with me in May of last year and we agreed on a common mission and vision for the 2018-2019 school year.


To document and define learning at Elk Grove High School throughout the 2018-2019 school year in order to increase student learning, give professionals autonomy, increase trust in our learning community, and foster a sense of personal-intellectual collegiality within the building across departments.

  • Connect teachers across all disciplines in the building in a quarterly meeting
  • Weekly class visits and sharing video segments with the larger community of the learning taking place.  
  • Involve the PTC by sharing the narrative of learning at Elk Grove and inviting them to possible future meetings with staff and students 
  • Document and share a weekly blog post that involves student and teachers 
Throughout the year, we are guided by the following questions

  • How do we define learning?
  • What conditions maximize student learning? 
  • How do we build trust with one another to increase professional autonomy and increase transparency? 
  • How do we share our narrative of learning with the larger community and stakeholders?
In this first post, Patrick McGing graciously "volunteered" to be first.  Patrick is just awesome.  Ever since he stepped foot in the building, he's been asking the right questions and is focused on learning instead of teaching.  He's in the trenches with his students, figuring things out alongside them.  He's ever reflective and constantly making changes to his already amazing classes. 

The Career Technical Education department continues to be cutting edge.  Seriously, it's an amazing place to be and I'm grateful every time I'm down there. I think the school placed most of the CTE classes away from the rest of the "core" classes so we wouldn't be as jealous.  Everyone in that department is so progressive and I'm blown away when I go down there.  But as this post is focusing on Patrick, his focus continues to be on the learning. Every time I connect with him, I wish I could be as focused on learning as he is.  

What did learning look like in the lesson? 

McGing: For this lesson, students filled out a questionnaire asking about what their interests are, activities/sports they participate in, employment history, volunteering experiences, skills they have obtained from previous courses/extracurriculars, awards/achievements, words/phrases that describe them, and goals for the year. I wanted this to be an opportunity for me to get to know students better, but more importantly for students to reflect and document themselves. Little did students know, this was going to lead to the development of a cover letter and resume.

Therefore, learning looked like reflection and basic goal setting.

Learning looked liked seeing how small reflections and goal setting applies in the larger picture of District 214 goals and their own future goals.

Learning looked like how starting small and documenting where students begin will, in the end, help document personal growth.

What do you hope to do for the next time? 

McGing: At Elk Grove, the majority of teachers, including myself in Technology Education adopted Standards Based Grading as the majority of the learning in our classrooms revolves around learning and developing essential skills (“Standards”). These essential skills sometimes get lost in “day to day school.” Therefore, part of my reasoning for having students create a resume and document their skills is so they know where they are starting the year off. As we continue the school year and cover more essential skills I would like to have students add to their resume; along with anything else that applies from school, extracurriculars, or other.

Students can then begin to see growth, even if they started with a very bare resume, personal growth will be documented.

On top of this, as one of District 214’s goals is career ready and we fall in a Career and Technical Educational course, developing resume building skills will further help students as they begin looking for careers that require the same skills they have developed in their CTE courses and others.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Finding the Purpose in Learning

By: Rachel Vissing (Barry)

Last week, I began my ninth year of teaching.  In this past few months, I have encountered a lot changes in my life: I got married, I stepped down from coaching track & field, I survived my first year teaching an AP course, and I increased the time in my role as Teaching & Learning Facilitator.  I notice that the first thing I mention is something personal.  This is unlike me when I'm in my "professional mode".  I have always thought of myself as driven, focused, Type A, etc.  For a while, I believed that I could separate the two, especially in the blogging universe, however, I now have found this not to be true.  We educators are people, first and foremost.  Our students are people, first and foremost.

In reflecting on these ideas over the summer, especially in seeing my students AP scores two days before my wedding, my colleague Mark Heintz wrote a blog post that really resonated with how I was feeling.  Why do I look at my students in terms of scores?  Whether AP or SAT or an exam score, I seem to focus a lot on numbers.  This made me I see my students as people or as a number?  

Not only do Mark and I work together in the education setting, but we also coach the girls' cross country team together.  One thing that Mark has always pushed me to do in all aspects of my life is to determine a purpose.  "What is the purpose of your course?" or "What is your purpose of this workout?" or "What is the purpose of school?"

Well...what IS the purpose of school?

If I were to answer this question myself, I truly can't answer it succinctly.  I have tried.  Even if I try to break it down to "What is the purpose of math?" or more specifically "What is the purpose AP Statistics?", I get stuck in too much ambiguity: what do "understanding", "good", "respectful", and "knowledgeable" mean? 

As you can see, I am a long way from finding my purpose.  That is my goal this year, to develop a personal "mission statement" for my own learning as well as what I want my students to learn.  The one thing I do know is that I want my focus of my purpose to always view my students as individuals.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Letting Go

by Mark Heintz

I'm a planner.  I plan my day. I pack my lunches and set out what I'm wearing for the week. And, I plan as many lessons before the school year starts. A few years ago, I told my dad, who was a teacher for 33 years, how planned out I typically was.  His comment was, "Robo-teacher, huh."

I'd like to think I'm not Type A, but I'm good at kidding myself.  The problem, though, the more I define what I value, I find that being so prescriptive goes against my beliefs about learning.  In a previous post, I wrestled with my values around learning.  Now, I'm questioning how I was able to plan almost the whole year before I'd even met my students.  Shouldn't who they are matter in the plan? I'm glad I am no longer a Type A person; otherwise, I might get stressed out by that comment...

The Problem: Controlling Learning

It's hard to admit it, but the major problem is me.  Since I'm such a planner, I think having the lessons all planned out helps students.  And to some extent, it does because it's easy for them. I'm essentially taking the thinking out of the classroom.  By planning the second Tuesday in October before the school year starts, I'm dictating everything.  Kids just have to sit there and wait for me to tell them what they have to do and the way they have to think.  While the students are good at doing what I'm asking, I don't think that's learning.

Last year, I was really lucky to have a kid named Robert.  Robert was a reader.  Which was great, because this year the plan was to read Persepolis. I thought I'd hook Robert. Use something he was already doing, although I'd already planned on doing the book before knowing he was such a reader. But, Robert was reading a different book.  And one day, as he read his own book, I asked him if he finished Persepolis.  He told me, no and then asked why my book was better than his.  He wasn't being disrespectful, he just really wanted to know why he couldn't read his book.  I could have gone into teacher mode, but I didn't... only because I didn't have a great answer.

Back to Learning: The First Days of School 

How can I still plan everything, if that type of teaching goes against my beliefs about learning? Now that I've come to terms with my values, I basically have to throw out my plans. It's a struggle to do it. I had to make a new calendar, but I only could put down a few ideas.  As I continue to tell my Type A mindset to shut it, I'm keeping my focus where I want it: on learning.

So, what do I do?  For the first two days of school, my "plan" was to have the students and me come up with a common definition of learning and pledge to hold each other to that definition throughout the year.

To get at this, I asked them to define learning.  Here were a few of their responses:

I asked the students a few follow-up questions related to their definitions and almost immediately their definitions crumbled.

The students had been in school for the last eight or nine years, and no one had a great definition of learning.  Next steps: they read my blog post about learning.  Here it is again if you want to read it.
I asked them to tell me what they thought of my defintions.

We all talked about the post and my definition. We were starting to come to some agreements on learning. To push them a little more, they read two more excerpts. One for Seymour Sarason and Carla Shalaby.  
Your beliefs came from your experience, and you should change those beliefs on the basis of new experience and not because someone says you are mistaken.  Your obligation to yourself and your teachers is to listen, to “hear” what they say, to reflect on it, not passively to assume that the voice of authority requires submission.  Productive learning is a struggle, a willing struggle from which comes a sense of change and growth. It makes no difference whether you are a first-grader or someone entering a teacher preparation program.  Productive learning has its joys, but they are a consequence of intellectual and personal struggle.-Sarason

Reading #3: Schools engender trouble by using systems of reward and punishment to create a certain kind of person-”a good student”-a person suited for the culture of schooling.  Good students sit still; they listen; they follow directions; they conform; they take order; they adhere to the terms and standards of childhood as a marginal social position and to the whiteness as the ideal.  Students do well in school and will be counted as good when they allow others to exercise power over them.  -Shalaby 
As they read, I asked them to pick out something that struck them.

The conversations were amazing.  The students saw that learning should change you and be a personal struggle. One of the things I had to point out to them, even though they wrote it down, was that teachers should listen. They were taken aback by that.  Teachers are learners, too. If I am going to be less of a planner, I need to listen a lot more.

They also saw that schools favor compliance.  Schools reward the passive thinkers and the planned instruction.  But this year, I want the classroom to be about their personal journeys with learning.  I need them to hold me to that.  So, in the end, the class came to a few conclusions that we are a going to try to hold ourselves to.  
  1. For learning to occur, we have to want to learn it: interesting.
  2. The learning has to be useful in their lives: relevance.
  3. It has to be a struggle and should force them to change: challenging. 
The first two days were amazing. It wasn't easy and it took a bit to get them to buy into what I was trying to do.  But, there was a major power shift.  The students have the power now.  They are in control of their learning, and it is a very freeing feeling for me.  I am not sure I've been this excited about "teaching" in a long time.  I'm glad I'm letting go, but now I'm off to make my lunches and pack my clothes for the week

Side note: During the last two days, my students 

  • read articles that were at 12th and 13th grade level
  • read more than my students historically have in the first two days of school
  • wrote more than my students historically have in the first two days of school

Thursday, August 9, 2018

What do you mean by learning?

By Mark Heintz

My wife calls me an idea man.  I have ideas for everything and because of that, I use Pinterest. Yes, I use Pinterest. I use it to document and store a lot of those ideas, and I love it.  To add fuel to the fire, I perseverate a lot and will repeat the same idea over and over again, but with just a slight variation to make it worth repeating.  From time to time (ok, every day), I talk to my wife about my ideas for education.  I am very lucky to have her.  In addition to her, I'm fortunate to have a great support group in my professional community who are willing to listen and discuss my ideas.  But, as I enter my thirteenth year of teaching, I realize that I've had a lot of ideas I thought would be silver bullet fixes to problems in the classroom.  I thought that if I found the perfect curriculum or used the "best" strategy, then the students would learn at unprecedented levels. Early in my career, I dove deeply into standardized testing and data.  Then, I was an early adopter of the iPad and personalized technology.  Afterward, I flipped my classroom. If there has been a buzz-worthy idea, I have implemented it.  As I reflect back on those ideas, I wonder--what the hell do I actually stand for?

I know I am not the only one with a similar story.  Many teachers leave the profession.  Many more burn out.  It’s not for a lack of caring; often it's because we care so much.  But, I think the problem is that we don’t have a common mission or understanding of our core beliefs.  Because of a lack of a clear mission, we continue to make large sweeping changes almost every year.

What is the purpose of school? 

Seriously, what do I stand for? If I don’t have a clear purpose, then the buzz-worthy topics will continue to pressure me to adopt the latest trends prompting me to redesign the courses I teach every few years.  As I am sifting through my last decade of ideas, I come to one core belief that is above everything else: learning. I value learning.

As I reflect on all of the fads I've adopted and reworking of courses I've done, I wonder what my beliefs about meaningful learning are.  If I had a core understanding of my own definition of what meaningful learning is, would I have been so quick to make changes?

Now, the only ideas I am interested in are ones about learning. Because of that singular belief, I conclude that schools exist to create conditions that maximize learning.  But what do I mean by learning?

What do you mean by meaning learning?

I have struggled with my own definitions of learning.  It's not easy to come up with a definition of it that really holds any value. It's easier at the moment to adopt a new fad rather than define learning and develop a mission statement.  But for me, I'm at a point in my journey where I need to define it.  Here is what I have come up with. Meaningful learning is being engaged in the process of developing new understandings or skill sets that are useful in our lives.

While people can discuss at length what should be learned, there needs to be common understandings in a school community about what learning is for those conversations to be meaningful.  I firmly believe that a lot of energy can be saved in schools if people sat down and talked about their beliefs on learning.

What do I mean by engaged? 

Engagement is one of the major buzzwords in education and is used in so many different contexts.  Because of that, it's almost lost all meaning.  I don’t want to create a superficial definition that crumbles the second I doubt what I am doing.

Most of what we "learn" is lost.  As I think about everything I have "learned," or more appropriately, been exposed to in my lifetime, almost all of it is consumed and forgotten quickly.  How many times have I looked something up and forgotten it in a matter of hours?  The same goes for the students in the classroom.  I tell them things and most of the time within a day they have forgotten it! This is because true learning that is meaningful and lasting does not take place unless there is a personal agency in the new understanding that is purposeful beyond the moment.  This means that people must have a desire to learn the topic or skill.

Therefore, engagement means the desire to learn.  True engagement in learning boils down to desire.   If a person has a desire to learn the topic or skill, they are engaged.

What do I mean by useful in our lives?

The dreaded question: "Why are we learning this?"  I'm big on explaining to my students why I'm having them learn something.  I explain the role it has in the subject and the overall payoff.  Even when I am really good at setting the stage, I think most students "learn" for assessments, grades, projects, or the vague possibility of a future payoff because there isn't much personal agency in all of the things I am teaching them. I dictated the exact topic they will learn.  Over the past few years, I noticed that when I ask greater opened ended provocations, the students are more prone to exploring the topic in meaningful ways.  But when the learning is disproportionately for a grade, something is lost.  The learning has to go somewhere other than for school purposes for it to be meaningful and is most powerful when it is going someplace useful for their lives.

There is a natural curiosity to engaged learning that drives the use.  If the provocation is thought-provoking or there is a real-world problem to solve, the use is in the forefront.  The use then is to gain new insights into the world or to create a solution.  Either way, the engaged learner has an intrinsic purpose.

What if we don't have a common belief about learning?

Simply put, trust is lost.  Trust is lost between any combination of administration, teachers, guardians, students, and businesses.  When the stakeholders in a learning community don't share common beliefs about learning, we lose respect for each other.  For example, while we wonder why students aren’t learning a topic the students are wondering why they are learning the topic. We will continue to focus on niche items in learning or topics that distract us from our focus on meaningful learning.  Some of these topics are deadlines, discipline, social-emotional issues, implementing technology, arguing over curriculum, assessments, bell ringers, projects, and rigor.  But the focus should be on learning.

Call to Action

I challenge you to write down your beliefs about learning.  Do so without concern for assessment, curriculum, discipline, or your own educational experience.  Just write down what you believe about meaningful learning. I look forward to reading, hearing, and discussing your thoughts!

Thank You

A huge thank you to Kim Miklusak for editing this post and her constant willingness to debate, to my district for creating conditions for me to have great discussions with my colleagues and community, and to the Modern Learners community for pushing me to find my voice.

Friday, July 6, 2018

I feel terrible

by Mark Heintz

I feel terrible.

Another year of AP is officially over. The scores are released.  The data is tabulated. This time of year never brings out the best in me.  Let me state this: this year was amazing and my scores were great!  I documented the whole year (shameless plug, you can read about it here).  Yet, once I look at the data, I still feel terrible.

I feel terrible because I reduce a students experience to a score.
I feel terrible because learning gets reduced to data.
I feel terrible because I use the term "pass rate" to describe my class.
I feel terrible because I get excited about the number of 4's and 5's I get.
I feel terrible because I cheer myself up and bring my self down as I read through each kid's score.
I feel terrible because scores will change how some students feel about the year, for better or worse.
I feel terrible because I make excuses for myself as I read through the scores.
I feel terrible because I make excuses for the students as I read through the scores.
I feel terrible because I overly praise myself for scores.
I feel terrible because I compare myself to last year.
I feel terrible because I compare myself to other teachers.
I feel terrible because I compare myself to the national data.
I feel terrible because I see how much pressure I put on myself.
I feel terrible because I see how much pressure students put on themselves.
I feel terrible because the numbers mean so much to people.
I feel terrible because I know history means so much more than a test and a course.
I feel terrible.

Even the College Board does not place as much emphasis on the scores as I do. They just make qualifications based on the scores.  I know that is not exactly true, but still, I think we put too much emphasis on the scores.

I don't think I'm alone.  I wanted to put my voice out there because I care about my students, and because they are more than a number and so am I.