Friday, January 30, 2015

Lesson Sharing & School Culture

By Kim Miklusak

One of the things I like most about the school culture at EG is our willingness to share lesson ideas and instructional techniques with each other.  I've done two lessons this week that were introduced to me by my peers.

The first was a QR code pre-reading activity that was originally done at our Freshman First Days event at the start of the school year.  I then observed Bonnie Kale use it with her freshmen as a preview to reading Shakepeare; it was so well received by her students that other members of her freshmen team started using it as well!  Many members of our American Literature team are now using that idea this week to preview the concept of race and conflicts surrounding race in the US today as we begin preparing to read Huck Finn.  What was great about this activity was that it was self-paced but still skills-centered and incorporated current events and conflicts via articles and videos.

The second idea is the gamification of grammar practice, an idea long championed by Rita Sayre.  Today I did brackets to make a head-to-head competition.  Students worked by themselves or with a peer.  Each English grammar passage was a round.  The students put the number of correct answers plus an answer explanation as a tie breaker.  Even if they were kicked out in the first round they kept playing because the team with the next highest total came back in for the final round!  The students really got into it--even students who normally wouldn't be as interested in grammar.  Another great way to do this would be through Kahoot!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Individualized Learning in Mathematics

Six years ago, the Math department at EGHS did away with textbooks.  We math teachers started from scratch, writing our own digital curriculum based on the ACT College Readiness Standards.  The curricula are based on a tiered model, with each skill broken down into four levels: review, focus in isolation, focus in context, and extension. A sample skill is shown here:

CRS Skill
Level 1
GRE 403
Determine slope from a graph, from two points, or from an equation in slope-intercept form.
Level 2
GRE 502
GRE 503
Graph a line from slope-intercept, point-slope, and standard form and I can determine the equation of a line from a graph
Level 3
GRE 502
GRE 503
Write an equation of a line in point-slope or slope intercept form when given two points, or the slope and a point.
Level 4
GRE 604
Write an equation of a line parallel or perpendicular to another line through a given point

With the addition of iPads, teachers can create video notes--using apps like Educreations or Explain Everything--that allow students to work at their own pace through an objective.  Students are not slowed down by others who need more time or not forced to move on to something they are not ready for.  Not only do students understand the material on a deeper level, they are now taking control of their own learning.  Students have taken more ownership of their work with the self-paced curriculum because it is clear what they know, how well they know it, and at what level they understand it.  The increase in formative assessment, through online quizzes, provides students with constant feedback and allows them to reflect on their understanding of the material.
Another benefit to this individualized learning process is the increase in diagonal movement of our students into higher level math courses.  There are more students moving from the regular level to the honors level, as well as from the preparatory level to the regular level.  When working at their own pace, motivated students are able to cover more topics than typically designated to a specific course.  Therefore, by the end of the school year, these students have learned sometimes 7-10 new topics that bridge them into the higher level curriculum.  This not only provides them with more opportunities in the future but also saves them time and money on a Summer School bridge class.
The increase in technology has made all of this possible.  Prior to the use of iPads, we would print out these documents on paper.  Now with our 1:1 iPad Pilots, we are better able to differentiate the curriculum through the use of the Schoology Checklist.  The checklist function guides the students through the curriculum.  Students must complete one task in order to have access to the next, throughout the entire checklist.  
A detailed “How-To” on the Schoology Checklist will be brought to you in next Wednesday’s blog post!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Collaboration on Assessments

I am fortunate enough to work in a building that has eighty minutes of time each week to work with my Professional Learning Team.  I am even more fortunate that the use of those eighty minutes is largely determined by the PLTs.  One of the things my PLT has spent a lot of time on this year is assessments.  Most weeks, Dan Davisson, Bruce Janu @Vir_Historia and I go through upcoming tests and read each question.  We look at the questions to determine several things:

-if the question is asking something we want to assess
-if the question is understandable to the students
-if the distracters are too hard or confusing
-if the words in the question are too difficult or too easy
-if the question is aligned to a standard

It has been a great use of time. In about half hour, we typically get through about four or five questions.  We discuss how we teach each question and the verbiage we use to teach it. Then, we discuss our understanding of the question.  This is the best part.  Each of use has a different perspective, and it is interesting to see how three historians have a different thought process for each question. 

Also, we each speak to how we think students will think about the question.  We look at it from their perspective to see why they might pick one answer over another.  It is great to put ourselves in the minds of the students.  It helps us look at their misunderstandings and how to help correct those misunderstandings. The reason we are going through the tests this year is because most of our questions have been taken from test banks and online sources, or we have written them, and it has been several years since we have collectively gone through with everyone present.  It is a very enlightening experience that has students in mind the entire time. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tech Tuesday Wrap-Up: Infinite Campus

We hosted our first Tech Tuesday today!  Our main focus was on Infinite Campus: grading tasks, message center, and checking grade category set-up.  It was a great to connect with people on the transition to Infinite Campus.

In case you were not able to come down, here were the two things we noticed most:
1.  During training we set up "Grade Calc Options" for one course; however, it seems some people forgot to go in and do the same for their other 4 classes.  Stop in to see us or refer to the handout from training for help in setting those up.

2.  On the settings tab, District would like us to have at least the last two options selected.  The other options are up to you!

Thanks to everyone who came by.  Please stop down Tuesdays or any time you would like to discuss instructional technology.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Collab Lab Happenings! Semester 2

By Linda Ashida

We are "off and running" for Semester 2 and the Collab Lab team is looking forward to even more opportunities to collaborate with our colleagues, guided by our mission: Connect - Learn - Share.

With that in mind, we would like to share some updates and some things to look forward to!

Infinite Campus:
Switching Student Information Systems mid-year is certainly a challenging undertaking! The Collab Lab team enjoyed collaborating with Infinite Campus Trainers and EGHS staff to support a smooth transition. We focused our training on two key functions of Infinite Campus:  Attendance and the Grade Book.  After our initial training sessions in early January, we provided drop-in support in the Collab Lab.  We are looking forward to collaborating with teachers throughout the semester to train on even more functions of Campus Instruction.

The Collab Blog:
This very blog, the Collab Blog, will move from posting twice-weekly to posting daily, allowing for more opportunities to connect, learn and share with each other. Look for posts on teaching and learning from the ITF / DTC team as well as guest-authors. Speaking of guest authors, we welcome posts from students, staff, parents, and community members. Let us know if you would like to write a post to share your insights, or examples, of teaching and learning experiences at EGHS.

NEW! Tech Tuesdays:
Each week, beginning January 27th, the Collab Lab will offer Tech Tuesday workshops (periods 3-8). These are informal workshops, offering support and instructional coaching, where teachers can drop in for 5, 15, or 50 minutes to connect, learn, and share with their colleagues. We will determine a theme for each Tech Tuesday based on needs identified by staff and our Professional Learning Team (EGLLT).  Our first Tech Tuesday will focus on Infinite Campus and grading.

We will also use Tech Tuesdays as a means to showcase instructional technology strategies from peer class visits, and as a way to foster interdisciplinary connections and best-practices.  For example, in an upcoming Tech Tuesday we will showcase interdisciplinary examples on the use of video assessment to facilitate peer and teacher feedback (examples from PE, Music, World Language, Math and Science ).

Peer Learning Groups: NEW!
In addition to the traditional Peer Observation Groups, we will begin to offer one-time peer observation opportunities. For example, after hearing from our PE teachers on Institute Day about the ways they use technology to impact student learning, they will be inviting staff to visit their classes to see some of the strategies in action! More information on that is coming soon!  Peer observations will be followed by meetings in the Collab Lab to share insight and applications to our own classes.

Classroom Connections:
Do you have a successful strategy to share?  
Are you looking for instructional support with first-time use of an app/technology?
Our ITF/DTC team enjoys visiting classrooms to learn more about and share our work with each other. We also offer classroom support by teaching or co-teaching lessons, conducting app demonstrations, or simply being available in the classroom to assist teachers when trying out an instructional technology strategy for the first time. 

PLC visits:
We will continue to visit PLCs to offer support and continue to learn about and share the work of the pilots.  We will also assist teachers with Infinite Campus and Gadebook setup.

Daily Support and Instructional Coaching:
As always, we look forward to daily collaboration with staff through drop-in visits to the Collab Lab or communication via email ( These connections often include sharing or brainstorming a lesson ideas, conducting lesson studies, conducting app demos, recommending resources, setting up peer observations, or helping a teachers connect the best tech tools to their learning goals. 

Do you have feedback, ideas or suggestions for us?  We'd love to hear from you!  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Connecting with Teachers: Final Exams and Transparent Communication

By Mark Heintz @historyheintz

One of the best parts of my job is working with other teachers.  At the end of first semester, in my role as a DTC, I was a go-to person to ensure other teachers’ finals were setup correctly in the online grade book. I was able to talk with a lot teachers about what they wanted the final to represent and how the final would be communicated to their students.  It was incredibly uplifting to hear teachers be so positive about their students.  Furthermore, it was energizing in teachers desire to have communication of their final to be clear and transparent to their students.

The world language teachers at Elk Grove High School are a great representation of this.  They have their grading categories broken down by reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  Since the course is working towards mastery, the way the grade book is set up makes student progress transparent in the communication of their skill development. It is truly amazing. Their final exam is reflective of those skills.  In the electronic grade book the district had first semester (we have since adopted a new program), it was really hard to break each component of a final exam into percentages.  The program was based more off of points. Even though it meant a lot more work for the language teachers to convert each of their different skill rubrics into a points system, they wanted the students to know what they earned on each component of the exam.  The teachers really wanted the students to know what skills they had developed and mastered over the course of the semester.  It was just a great last week of the semester due to the teachers’ student centered work and willingness to go the extra mile for their students. Shout out to the language department at Elk Grove High School!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The EGHS Collab Lab: Semester 1 In Review

The Collab Lab, in its third year, continued as the hub for professional learning at Elk Grove High School. But there were new and exciting developments. As the semester comes to a close, we wanted to share some highlights.

A Timeline of Highlights: 

  • A new Innovative Technology Team is formed: 
    • Innovative Technology Facilitator
      •  Linda Ashida
    • Division Technology Coaches:
      • Rachel Barry - Math / Science
      • Mark Heintz - Social Science / World Language / ELL
      • Kim Miklusak - English / Fine Arts
  • A New Mission: Connect - Learn - Share
  • ~1700 iPads Deployed to students and staff
  • Established this CollabBlog
    • Highlights of learning and collaboration at EGHS
    • Staff and student contributions posted twice weekly
  • Peer Learning Groups begin their 4th year of job-embedded professional learning.
    • Teams of 4-10 staff participate in two-week class visit rotations
      • Week one: Visit a peer's class
      • Week two: Meet to discuss lesson and share learning
    • Occasional breaks taken from two-week class observations for mini-workshops
      • Workshop and sharing sessions on Schoology, Presentation Tools, etc.
  • A New Professional Learning Team is formed:  Elk Grove Lead Learners Team 
  • Digital Citizenship and Leadership Presentations to Classes
    • Four classes established Twitter Hashtags to :
      • Elk Grove Leadership Through Service: #EGLTS
      • AP Spanish: #EGAPSPAN
      • AP French: #FRAPEG
      • Business Entrepreneurship: #EGENTRE
  • EG staff participate in #EdCampChicago hosted by Buffalo Grove High School
  • EG staff participate in District 214 Twitter event:  #D214OneDay
  • ITF and DTCs participate in Training for Infinite Campus

  • Collab Lab Grand Opening
    • The Collab Lab rennovation exanded our learning space to create a more dynamic collaborative learning space for staff.  We hosted a Collab Lab House Warming Party to celebrate!
  • Preparation for New iPad Proposals for the 2015-16 School year:
    • Physical Education 866
    • Student Services:  All-school 1:1 Pathways to Success
    • Elk Grove Leadership Through Service
    • AP Biology
    • Personal Finance

  • Infinite Campus Training  
    • The Innovative Technology Team facilitated training sessions for teachers to support the transition to our new Student Information System. 
As we reflect on our first semester, we are looking forward even more opportunities second semester to "Connect-Learn-Share" with our colleagues.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Lesson reflection: determining relevant vs. best evidence

Today the CollabLab welcomes Alexa Rodheim, an English teacher at Elk Grove HS. She can be reached @AlexaRodheim

One of the biggest challenges English teachers face is how to help students improve their ability to analyze evidence in argumentative writing. We are constantly asking them to answer the questions “So what?” and “Why is this important?” rather than simply summarize the examples or data they have chosen to support their arguments. With this in mind, what I have begun to realize is that many students, especially freshmen, struggle with this skill— not because they lack the ability to explain or “dig deeper,” but because they often choose only relevant (and sometimes even irrelevant) evidence rather than the best evidence. In other words, we can only ask students to write strong analysis if we first ask them and show them how to incorporate strong evidence.

Sixth period Peer Observation Group members visited my double-period WOC/prep reading classes in October to observe a lesson in which I attempted to do just this. Prior to the lesson, my students and I discussed the difference between relevant evidence and best evidence, and I modeled examples from a non-fiction article that presented two sides of current, controversial issues in Upfront magazine. Next, I had my students rotate through stations in which they skimmed additional articles from the magazine, looked at the pictures and captions, and ultimately chose one based on interest. They then independently read and annotated their articles and derived two main ideas (arguments).  For each main idea, they chose three pieces of supporting evidence from the article and completed a graphic organizer.

For the observed lesson students worked in small groups with peers who had chosen the same articles. Their objectives were to compare the three pieces of evidence they had each chosen for each main idea and compile their “top three” pieces of best evidence.  I asked them to record these choices, along with explanations for each, in a new graphic organizer. I also made the last minute decision to have students record their conversations on Notability using the audio note feature. I had been inspired by a lesson I observed in Kim Miklusak’s classroom a few weeks prior. Each group was required to send their recordings along with their completed organizers to me at the end. From there, they would be asked to evaluate both main ideas along with their corresponding best evidence and choose an argument for which they would independently write a MEL-Con paragraph.

From my perspective, one strategy that worked well was allowing student choice with the articles; it led to engagement in subsequent parts of the lesson. I also felt that the scaffolding for the lesson was appropriate: modeling, guided practice, independent work, group work, and back to independent work with built-in checkpoints with the whole group along the way. For example, Kim Miklusak and Linda Ashida both commented on the effectiveness of my pausing the lesson to remind students of prior knowledge and activities to prompt them for their next steps. Linda also noted that there was an effective blend of tech and non-tech, which allowed students to simultaneously view and synthesize pieces of information with ease. Students, despite their varying learning and behavior profiles, also had mostly positive interactions throughout the activity. Katie Owen noted that most groups she observed were respectful to one another, despite the sensitive topics in some of these articles, and that they made sure to move through the steps together.

One challenge I experienced with this lesson was the misconception of some students that the activity required them to debate sides of the argument rather than best evidence. Even with the clear expectations I set at the beginning of the lesson, some students persisted with these discussions, which steered them away from the true purpose. By the end, through redirection from me and even prompting from their peers, most were able to get on track. Another challenge during this lesson was how to go about using the audio note recordings. Both Rachel Barry and Mark Heintz inquired about how I would use the recordings, and I realized I didn’t have a solid plan. Going into the lesson, I thought of it as a classroom management tool for keeping students on-task and accountable; on the other hand, the recordings had potential to inspire students for their analysis in their paragraphs. For this lesson, it became a bit of a wash, but for future lessons I plan to experiment with more effective uses for this feature and to seek ideas from colleagues.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to invite my peers into my classroom and receive valuable feedback. I am excited to continue finding new ways to help students improve argumentative writing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Interactive quests with QR Codes

Today the CollabLab welcomes Bonnie Kale, an English teacher at Elk Grove HS. She can be reached @EGMrsKale

When I started teaching, web quests were popular, but it took so much time to create the links, figure out a convenient way to distribute the assignment to students, and find an open computer lab, that I rarely had time to implement them into the curriculum. However, thanks to the development of QR Codes and 1:1 iPads, self-directed web quests can be authentically and frequently worked into lessons. For example, this past month I introduced Shakespeare and previewed Romeo and Juliet through a QR Code web quest. I simply located the websites I wanted students to view, copied and pasted the URL into a QR Code generator, printed out the QR codes, and posted them around the room. Total prep time: less than 30 minutes for a two-day lesson.

When students came into the classroom on the first day of the lesson, I simply asked them to download the Shakespeare Stations assignment from Schoology and instructed them to scan the QR codes scattered throughout the room to help them complete each station. When I had students work in stations in the past, I would dictate how long groups spent at each station. However, for this activity, I encouraged students to move at their own rate, and I especially encouraged them to spend more time at the stations they found to be the most interesting. And sure enough—the artists in my class spent the most time sketching The Globe Theater, and the comedians had a blast translating Shakespearean insults into modern day language. And since some of my students already had background knowledge about Shakespeare, they could move more quickly through the stations that were review for them.

Because of the high level of student engagement, I hardly ever had to redirect students to the appropriate websites, and this assignment garnered the highest completion rate of any assignment so far this year. As I reflect on the success of this lesson, I realize a few “teaching truths” that I need to remind myself of more often in my planning:

1. Not all learning is quiet and orderly.
2. When students are engaged, classroom management tends to take care of itself.
3. Flexible lessons allow students to take ownership of their work.