"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"
Nelson Mandela

Saturday, February 22, 2014

My Teacher's Perspective: Colorado Academic Standards

Part of the honor of being Colorado’s Teacher of the Year is the opportunity to be a voice for educational issues I am passionate about. I recently attended a Senate Education Committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol and gave my perspective on the Colorado Academic Standards, including the Common Core State Standards.  The bill being heard was advocating for pausing implementation of our new standards. I wanted to show support for continued implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards because I believe they are the right step forward for our students. Here is the testimony I shared at the Capitol:
The wonderful thing about my role and teaching physical education is I teach lifelong skills and knowledge that affect our students’ every day.    I teach communication skills, cooperative skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing and math skills on top of the fundamental skills of staying active and healthy.  This knowledge will help make my students successful adults in our society.
Common Core State Standards are a unified set of standards for English language arts and mathematics created to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to prepare our students for college and careers.  The standards reflect real world skills and knowledge, helping to make our students successful in the future. The Colorado Academic Standards provide standards in 10 content areas, two of which are blended with the Common Core.  As a teacher I take these learning expectations and use them to design my own curriculum. For example, I do a vocabulary review halfway through my nine week curriculum.  During this physical exercise my students get to practice short hand note taking skills.  Students are still getting the physical activity they need and are also gaining more exposure to a skill that will enhance their education.  I truly believe the more exposure a student has to essential common skills the more likely they will see the relevance and learn the skill.  
With the Colorado Academic Standards guiding our curriculum, all teachers are working together toward the success of our students. Not only are we teaching our specific curriculum, but we are all teaching critical skills and knowledge like reading, writing and math. For example, the teachers in my school are great at collaborating with the language arts and math teachers. We find out where our students are struggling and then actively incorporate those skills into our classrooms.  As a physical education teacher I found out our 6th graders struggle with graphing data so I began having them graph after fitness testing. This allowed students to see their progress in fitness over the quarter and gave them extra practice graphing.  Our 7th graders struggle with composing complete sentences so all teachers in our school expect students to answer questions verbally and in writing in complete sentences.  Students are getting more practice which helps teach the skill.
I believe the Colorado Academic Standards are working, are an improvement over past standards and are good for our students. Are they perfect? No. But what is perfection when you are setting guidelines for thousands and thousands of students?  Our school has already seen tremendous growth in our students when it comes to English language arts and mathematics because all of the teachers are supporting the essential common skills in their lessons.  With more exposure and practice our students are learning the skills.
Change is hard but I believe this change has been a beneficial change to ensure the success of our students.  My question to those who are in doubt is, if we don’t use these more rigorous standards, what do we use?  What learning expectations will we have to help guide teachers to teach what our students need to know to be college and career ready? 
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education has done a great job working with teachers across our state to create voluntary resources for this transition.  Available on the CDE website are sample curriculums lined up with the content standards, examples of lesson plans and assessments for different grades and content areas.  I’ve found these resources to be very helpful.
I also think these resources will have a huge impact on retaining teachers from novice to expert.  New teachers coming into our profession have great guidelines to follow until they are confident in creating their own curriculum, lesson plans and tests.  Also our expert teachers who have been teaching for many years can change their curriculums to keep up with the specific skills students need today, which can be very different from what students needed say ten years ago.  The times are changing and I am very excited to see how students succeed with the Colorado Academic Standards in place.  


Representing Colorado Teachers, What an Honor!!!!!

            Being a Representative

                What an amazing experience meeting all the State Teachers of the Year in Scottsdale AZ last month.  It amazed me how similar we are as teachers, our passion for teaching and wanting to make sure we are providing the best curriculum's possible for our students.  It was also amazing how different each of us are and that was when I realized that any great teacher could have been at this conference and we as the 2014 State Teachers of the Year were representing all the incredible teachers in our profession.  Are we the best of the best not necessarily but we are a great group of representatives, thank you again Colorado for giving me this opportunity.
                Networking and creating a platform for my year as the Colorado Teacher of the Year was a main priority.  My platform came down to educating and getting the word out on how physical activity can impact the brain and how important it is to make sure our students are staying active through-out the day; before school, during school and after school.   I also want to become a support system to novice teachers starting their incredible journey in education, something I think we lack in our profession which is why we lose great educators in the first 3 years.  What really influenced me at the conference is how our profession is very linear.  Once you are a teacher the only professional growth is administration.  I learned about a more lattice growth path in our profession, giving teachers more opportunity to expand in their profession from mentoring novice teachers to expert teachers coaching proficient teachers. More money would always be nice for the movement through our profession from novice to advance beginner to competent to proficient to expert but in my eyes the opportunity to support my fellow teachers and helping them grow into expert teachers so that every student is getting the best education possible.  That would be an ultimate goal for me. 

                If you have any reflection on the professional growth pattern in teaching I would love to hear about it.

Brain Breaks; Sheets on the Wall

            Brain Break 

            You are in the middle of an intense review in class and 15 minutes into your review you notice students are spacing out, starting to become off task, not as engaged.  “Time to get your students up and moving.”  This is a great brain break for any class.  Before class starts hang large sheets of paper around your classroom with a marker.  Have students utilize the paper as a tool in their review for vocabulary, grammar, math, reading comprehension (Venn Diagrams), critical thinking and more.  Once they are done have them move across the classroom to another paper and add on, correct what is already written.  Not only are students up and moving around but they are still practicing the skills you are teaching. 

           The average attention span for elementary students is 30 seconds- 3 minutes, middle school students is 3-5 minutes, 7-10 for high school/college students and up to 20 minutes in adults.  This is an average there are lots of resources out there with more intense research.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Brain Exercises and Testing

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey

                As a Physical Education teacher I am a huge supporter of students taking time to be active.  Not just walking form class to class or running around the playground for ten minutes but taking 60 minutes a day to get their heart rate up.  There has been a lot of research that proves that if your students get even 30 minutes of rigorous activity, getting their heart rate up their brain function can be used more to its full potential.  I remember growing up in elementary school in Bangkok Thailand and after the busses dropped us off at school we went straight to the playground, the older students hit the fields, courts or even just walked around.  Classes did not start straight away; there was time to get our brains ready for the absorption of the knowledge we were going to learn that day.  John Ratey wrote a book called SPARKS: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain and he made some key points that I would like to pass onto you. 

·         Inactivity is killing our brains, physically shriveling up.

·         Exercise cues building blocks of learning in the brain; it affects mood, anxiety and attention, guards against stress and reverses aging.

·         Physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another.

·         Exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing and able to learn.

Research shows that physical activity directly affects how the brain obtains information, we should use this knowledge to better prepare our students for our rigorous curriculum and teach the importance of staying active which is a lifelong skill. Around TCAP time I will have resources for your classroom to engage students in physical activity; these activities can take 5 minutes of your time or 20 minutes depending on what works for you and your students.  A great example to get you started is called the brain cross over, trying to get students to use both sides of the brain for critical thinking.  Have students stand up and while they are reciting multiplication facts or spelling vocabulary words have them alternate elbow to knee every time they say a letter or fact.  For those of you who cannot wait for more look up Brain Breaks at www.emc.cmich.edu/BrainBreaks  which is a great way to start. 

Philosophy, Philosophy That is the Question

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey Philosophy

I have the daily privilege of guiding students down the path of success, and at the same time, I continue to learn and grow myself.  I don’t believe that an effective teacher can show up every day and not be invested in at least one child.  Even though my time with each student may be brief, I make sure that every student I come in contact with learns something they will use in the future.  This could include how to respect others, be a leader, be a follower, work in groups, deal with frustration, anger and success, and develop tolerance, and responsibility.   I am a believer that teachers are instructors, but we also are called upon to be doctors, counselors, mediators, suppliers and accountants, among other things. As teachers we need patience, non-stop energy, and passion.  All together, this is a demanding profession, also the most rewarding.  There are days that I get to go hiking with my students up a mountain behind our school and I say to myself, “I cannot believe someone is paying me to do this job”.

Physical education is extremely important because it guides students into a healthy lifestyle, which affects them physically, mentally/emotionally and socially.  I truly believe that if people do not engage in an active lifestyle they will struggle mentally.  The brain’s functioning is directly affected by the fitness of the body.  In order for the brain to work at its fullest capacity one needs to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.  Exercise improves learning on three levels according to Dr. John Ratey author of Spark, “first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness attention, and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells form stem cells in the hippocampus. “  For example a lot of my students who are physically skilled struggle with core academics.    I had a parent approach my principal and discuss the impact that physical movement had on her two sons.  When they were in physical education class she saw an increase in obtaining knowledge in other classes, they were able to succeed more and struggle less.  Over the years I have shifted away from teaching competitive sports and concentrated on individual fitness by introducing “lifelong sports” like hiking, strength conditioning, aerobics, yoga, and running.  These are activities students are more likely to do as adults and will help them be healthy and happy in the future.  The purpose of education is to teach students the knowledge and skills that make them college and career ready, I take this a step further and teach students skills that they will use to enrich the rest of their lives.   

I believe all classes should be taught with the highest rigor.  Even though my students walk into my gym with different skill levels, I expect my students to work their hardest and show personal growth in their fitness.  Ability is not the issue, work ethic is.  Every student is successful in my class.  All students show personal growth in their fitness.  Students keep track of their fitness and continually work towards goals they have set for themselves.  Even if a student does not meet their goal they all show growth in two or more areas of fitness. Growth is the goal not a skill level one has to achieve.

In addition to showing us what they can do physically, I believe my students should be able to verbally communicate their strengths and growth areas in fitness and to write their own personal health/fitness goals and strive to achieve them. This ensures our student’s show critical thinking in connection to their mental/emotional needs and their personal health and this will help them after they leave me because this is vital information to continue a healthy lifestyle.  I believe physical education is a progression from each grade level that continues beyond the classroom.  My students track their growth in their personal fitness from 6th to 8th grade and are also assessed on the Colorado standards including content vocabulary. By 8th grade all students can create written fitness plans that will benefit them in high school, college and throughout their lives.

I also believe the relationships we create with our students are an integral part of their education.  I work with kids at every level, physically and mentally.  Physical activity allows students to deal with frustration, stress, anger, sadness, incompetence, failure, happiness, elation and success.  I guide my students through their growth areas and strengths, and I find that a significant bond is formed between me and my students.  I remind students that all parts of school are important and I tell them that my class is just one aspect of their education.   I discuss with them that in order to be successful not only do they have to train their bodies but they must train their minds.  If they want to go on in life playing sports they have to understand the balance between being a student and an athlete.  Both aspects of their education are equally important.

Teaching is very rewarding to me because I know that I am preparing my students to be successful in their academic and non-academic futures.  I also cherish seeing that smile of accomplishment when a student accomplishes a goal. One of my favorite experiences as a teacher is when my students have to run the mile and those who struggle push themselves and reach the goal I have set for them.  For some, this is a big challenge.  Watching the students who have completed the mile go back out on the track and support those that have not finished, with encouraging words, always brings tears to my eyes.  These are the times that I take a moment to relish the fact that all of these students are amazing people and I can say that without a doubt I have found the career I am meant to be pursuing.

Reflection is Key to Our Profession

2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year Journey

So my journey to becoming the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year began in February of 2013 when my principal approached me and asked me if he could nominate me for this incredible honor.  Principal Watson had just joined us at Fitzsimmons Middle School at the beginning of the year and I was awe struck that anyone would nominate me for such a prestigious honor.  The long and sometimes frustrating process began; nothing like writing 15 pages about yourself, especially coming from someone who never thinks about herself only how she can make other people better.  It amazed me how much I learned about myself; from my personal philosophy, educational issues that I thought are important to writing an acceptance speach all in the writing process.    In July I got a phone call from the Colorado Department of Education announcing that my application was moved on the next phase, interview.  This was no ordinary interview this interview took place in a conference room with 15 knowledgeable faces watching me, slightly nerve racking.  As I learned later on I nailed it.  I also knew through this process if I could just physically talk to someone I could really show them what I was about as a Physical Education Teacher.  The third phase was having some of those knowledgeable faces come watch me teach for a couple hours.  This was exciting; finally I get to show someone outside of my school how passionate and dedicated I am to my students and my profession as a Physical Education Teacher.

The waiting began; I continued to teach, like the process never started, honored that I had made it to the final three teachers.  I never thought I was actually going to win.  The day arrived when my principal called me into his office and asked me to shut the door, his door is never shut!!!!!  He announced to me that I had won, I won!!!!!!  Wall of emotion washed over me, I could not believe that this amazing honor was bestowed to me.  My first thought was I am just a Physical Education Teacher, but then I realized that I am not just a Physical Education Teacher but a teacher that is driven to be the best teacher for my students.  October 11, 2013 I was announced the 2014 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

Honestly this was an incredible experience even if I had not won, the knowledge I obtained about myself and how I teach was enlightening.  I would recommend this process to any teacher who wants to reflect on their own careers.  Reach out to your school, district or community and nominate someone, you could even nominate yourself.  Go to http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeawards/trtoyinf for more information or feel free to ask me any questions you may have on this amazing process.