Sunday, October 27, 2013

October 27, 2013

This was a very busy and exciting week at Crystal. We had our 1st Spirit Week that culminated with our Super Hero dance Friday afternoon. Each day there were many staff and students that participated in the theme of the day.

Sports Day!!
Sports Day: 49er Territory!!

Disney Day!!

College Pride Day!!

College Pride Day!!

We had a great assembly put on by Kaiser, Nightmare on Puberty Street. The actors were able to touch on some sensitive but very important topics with our 7th and 8th graders. The students were glued to the presentation and were able to gain a lot of useful information.

We had our Coffee with the Principal on Friday with another good turnout. The number one thing that came out of the meeting was our parents want to learn about technology so they can help support their students. I am going to work with Geoff Belleau and see if we can provide some evening classes for parents on how to navigate GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and Digital Citizenship. It was very encouraging to hear that they want to learn too!!

As I say each week, take some time to get into a colleague's classroom. You can gain so much by watching a lesson in action. It is always nice to see your own students in a different setting. It helps give you a new perspective. Below is a snapshot of a "fishbowl" activity in Balthazor's math class. If you remember the video that was shown at our last faculty meeting where we saw a high school class engage in a "fishbowl." Well, it is now happening here at Crystal too. The students are placed in an inner circle and an outer circle. All students are given a math problem (word problem) and then are given a one minute think time. The inner circle students each have a whiteboard to write their solution and steps on. As soon as the minute is up the inner circle has to immediately jump into their conversation. Each student has to speak before anyone can speak a second time. When a student speaks, he/she must explain the steps that he/she took and the answer that was achieved. Students in the inner circle will also say if they agree or disagree with one of the speakers and why.  During the inner circle conversation, each person in the outer circle is taking notes on what is being said and preparing to make a constructive response.  Once the inner circle is complete then the outer circle must all provide feedback/constructive criticism. Once that is complete the groups switch and a new problem is posed and the process begins again. I spoke to a few students about this and the feedback was very positive. The students liked being able to talk about the process of solving the problems and also commented that they liked to hear the feedback from their peers. This is a great way to get all students problem solving, thinking, citing and providing specific and immediate feedback to one another. Common Core all the way!!!

Students during their one minute think time in the fishbowl.

The group set up for the fishbowl. Each student used this to set up their note taking sheets.
On Saturday, I had the privilege of presenting with Josh Harris, Cynthia Merrick, Jonathan Dunsworth, Shannon Balthazor, Geoff Belleau, Britanny Hietala (student), and Erina McSweeney (student) at the Fall CUE conference, Diving to New Depths with the Common Core at American Canyon High School. We presented on our Innovation Day from last school year. We talked about why we did Innovation Day, the planning process, the ups/downs, what we learned, and the students gave the student perspective. It was a great opportunity for us to share with other educators from across California what we did and how they too can make it happen at their sites. A comprehensive digital folder was provided to all of the participants and was made public on the web for anyone to be able to access. We are going to more than likely also present in April at the LEAD conference. It is a great opportunity for us to share what we have done and provide others access to do the same with their students. I encourage you to attend a CUE conference if you get a chance. You can also follow CUE on Twitter @cueinc.  CUE stands for Computer Using Educators.

Innovation Team and Erina McSweeney (8th grade) & Brittany Hietala (9th grade)

Josh, Geoff, Jonathan, and Shannon

Britanny and Erina right before the presentation

The Innovation Team: Shannon, Josh, Cynthia, & Jonathan
The audience/participants listening to our presentation. Tim Goree also stopped by, you can see him standing on the side.

This week is our Red Ribbon Week!! We will have our Red Ribbon Assemblies on Monday. Each day at lunch we will also have additional activities to spread the word to be Drug Free!!

Continue to have your students writing every day in every class. Encourage your students to be the problem solvers and you be the facilitator of the learning. Continue to have students explain and cite their reasoning. Share with another. There are amazing things happening in many classrooms that can easily be adapted and duplicated in your classroom!!

Word of the Week: DESCRIBE:  to say what something or someone is like by giving details about them.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20, 2013

"Student Voices" Update:

I shadowed my third student on Friday. I was able to attend two of his classes, Physical Science and Honors US History.

Upon entering Physical Science the students were already seated and busy working on their warm up activity. My "shadow" student and the other three students at his table were all busily writing vocabulary words with definitions and pictures into their notebooks. As I sat down my "shadow student" showed me what he was working on. As I was setting up my paper to complete the vocabulary, my "shadow student" turned to the pages in the book that I would need to complete the assignment. He graciously pointed out each vocabulary word to me.

 Each student also had a States of Matter worksheet. Mrs. Spinelli gave me a States of Matter worksheet and I quickly got to work on it. At first glance I was a little apprehensive that I may not know how to correctly identify the items in the table. However, Mrs. Spinelli went to the Smartboard and did a whole class 30 second review of how to complete the table. Her explanation was clear, she modeled it for us, had us repeat the vocabulary multiple times, and it made the expectation of what to do much clearer for me. Honestly, it was her 30 second review/model that enabled me to fill out the table with 100% accuracy. I can say that the way that she modeled how to first identify the state of matter then go back and check it it takes the shape of the container, if it has definite volume, and/or if it has definite shape made a huge difference. She explained that liquids will have the same properties, that solids will have the same properties, and that gases will have the same properties. So, by first identifying if it was a liquid, solid, or gas, you could then quickly be able to identify the properties.

After about five minutes, Mrs. Spinelli had fourteen student volunteers go up to the Smartboard and mark their answers on the table. The rest of us were asked to check our answers against the answers the students were putting up. Each student that approached the Smartboard placed their answer quickly and each student gave a correct response.  Everyone at my lab table also had their tables filled out correctly.  We then transitioned to our next part of the lesson.  Mrs. Spinelli went back to the board redirected us to the objective of the day and explained what we would be doing next that would work us towards that objective. We were going to begin working on making a graphic organizer to display the different states of matter and the different phases that they go through. We each received a large piece of drawing paper and were told to get out two different colored pencils or pens. Each table was given enough rulers so each person could have one. Mrs. Spinelli showed us a few excellent examples of finished products and then walked us through step by step how to set up our organizer. We had to use our measurement skills to block off the columns based on the specific dimensions that were given. We had to place the appropriate vocabulary words in the correct columns as well. The last step was to use our second color to place arrows showing changes in states and we boxed certain vocabulary words.

Throughout this process, Mrs. Spinelli modeled for us, walked the room and provided one on one guidance and encouraged and provided positive feedback to students that helped their table members. As we were working on our graphic organizer my "shadow student" said to me, "So, do you have any big plans for this weekend?" I answered him and asked him what his plans were. He let me know that his older brother was going to be in a video game competition which was a pretty big deal. I was rather excited to hear that and shared something with him that I had read just the day before about a 20 something year old that was in a video game competition. Now, you might think why did you engage in off task conversations with the student. Well, it happened very organically and it didn't stop either of us from continuing to work on our graphic organizer. We both were still measuring and completing our organizer but it did allow us to have a moment of sharing/getting to know each other.

Mrs. Spinelli wrapped up the period by enthusiastically telling us we would continue this on Monday. When I say enthusiastically, I am not exageratting. She made this learning not only accessible to all of us, but also enjoyable and fun at the the same time. I want to go back on Monday and learn more about the phases and be able to put together my graphic organizer that shows how much I know. That is a very good feeling. I am confident in saying that the majority of the students in the class feel the same way as me.

I left my "shadow student" to go to his next class alone, PE, and I met back up with him in his Honors US History class. The first part of the class each student was asked to answer in his/her notebook one of the two warm up questions. The two questions were: "Tell me a time you were falsely accused of something. Were you able to prove your innocence?" and "What did you bring today that defines who you are?" Each student was allowed to pick either of the two questions to respond to. I liked that there was choice on the warm up, so that students could respond to the question that was most relevant to them. After about five minutes Mr. Lau asked for student volunteers to read their answers.  About six students shared and all but one answered the first question on being accused of something they didn't do.

 What Mr. Lau did that I thought was impressive, was after each student shared their own personal response, he then tied it back to the content of the Salem Witch Trials. He never once just let a student share the answer without connecting back to what the learning objective of the day was. This was a great way for the students to be able to see relevance in what they were learning.  This also made the transition from the warm up activity to the primary source activity more seamless.

Each of us were given two new primary source documents to analyze, one being a chart and the other a map. As a whole class we worked on summarizing what the primary source document told us about the Salem Witch Trials.  We had to describe the piece of evidence, explain what it was and we had to be able to answer, "According to this document, what was happening economically in Salem in 1692?" In this class over the last week or so students have been analyzing other primary source documents such as court transcripts that would give one perspective on the Salem Witch Trials. These two new documents would provide another lens to look through in understanding why the Salem Witch Trials occurred. Since I have visited this class several times in the last few weeks, I was familiar with the process of highlighting and annotating the sources. It was so nice to see that the expectations were routine for these students. As soon as they had been handed their primary source documents they immediately took out their highlighters and began to highlight. That most definitely brought a smile to my face. There was not enough time in the period to complete the analysis of the documents and Mr. Lau stated that we would continue on Monday. Students packed up and when the bell rang each student waited for Mr. Lau to directly dismiss them to lunch.

My experience on Friday shadowing a student was a positive one. It is interesting, because we have been experiencing  some very negative behavior issues out at lunch and in some classes over the last few weeks.  However, while in these two classes on Friday, you would never know that we have been experiencing discipline issues. As a student in the classroom, you see what is presented in front of you and you experience what the environment is providing to you.

The reason I mention this, is that there will always be struggles and challenges in everything that we do. Those issues that arise need to be addressed and resolved, without a doubt. However, we need to remember that we can't let resistance get in the way of our progress. We are making great strides with our students as a whole. We are challenging them every day to think. By challenging the students it will cause some to get frustrated, some to get excited, and some to shut down. We need to be prepared to respond to each of the different reactions that our challenges create for the students. Sometimes it means responding as a whole staff like we are with our electronics policy. Sometimes it means having a one on one conversation with a student. Some times it means stopping a lesson midway and going with Plan B or C because Plan A was just not working. Give yourself some room to make mistakes and give your students some room to make mistakes. We all have to make mistakes in order to see how to improve. To quote an educator, David Culberhouse, that I am following on Twitter, "People want autonomy...when they feel they have sufficient mastery.  Otherwise, they want and need support alongside that autonomy..."  Remember the three guiding principles in Daniel Pink's Drive, "Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose."  On Monday, when you walk through the door do everything you can to check all your negative thoughts and emotions at the door. Focus on the positive changes you will be able to make in your students' lives on Monday. Try and see the students that are being "difficult" as the ones that are screaming out for help. Those students need more structure and guidance on how to navigate the educational system. For whatever reasons, those students don't have the tools necessary to navigate the classroom or school environment. Make it your mission to help provide the necessary tools for success. It won't be easy, and I truly understand that, but try to approach the student that has been giving you a hard time, differently this week. See if that makes a difference. Whether we think so or not, our intent comes through in every action. From providing feedback to implementing change, we must always be aware of our intent.

Word of the Week: DEMONSTRATE: To  show or prove something clearly.

Professional Development Opportunity: Technology and the Common Core #4, Thursday, Oct. 24th 3:45-5:30 in the library. Presenter: Geoff Belleau from SCOE 

New Staff Member: I would like to welcome, Barbara Macfarlane, to the Crystal staff. Barbara begins Monday teaching our World History line in F103. Stop by and welcome Barbara to the family. We are very excited to have her join the History department and become a new member of the Crystal family.  

October 21st-25th: SPIRIT Week!!  Monday: Sports Day, Tuesday: Backwards Day, Wednesday: College PRIDE Day, Thursday: Disney Day, Friday: Superhero Day!!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

October 12, 2013

As I mentioned in last week's post I have a lofty goal. Let's create an amazing lesson plan app that works with Common Core. There are some apps out there, but none that do everything. I envision a template that focuses on our T4S Strategies and a bank to choose from with Common Core standards.  The lesson plan app should also be interactive in the sense it would allow the teacher it import YouTube videos, Google images, etc. Just my idea right now, but if we could make it a reality that would be amazing!!! I am serious about this one, so if you are too, let's start planning it!

What an AMAZING week at Crystal Middle School. Our College and Career Fair was a HUGE success. The math and English department worked hard on Benchmark #1. There were a lot of GREAT rigorous lessons delivered by many of you.

Rachel Chang and students showing College Pride!!

Witt and students showing College Pride!

McCormick, Spinelli, and Baptista showing College Pride!

Marine Corps, Hoorah! 

Balthazor, Garcia, Cougar, and students showing College Pride!

We had ALL 956 students out and participating in our College & Career Fair!!

Student and Cougar showing College Pride! Notice her NEU shirt from elementary school!!!

Chang, Cougar, and students showing College Pride!

Our new banner that graces the entrance to our campus! Our message is loud and clear, Cougars are College Bound!

ASB students showing College Pride!

Great face paint!!

Suisun PD @ the College & Career Fair

Showing CAL Pride!

Solano Community College @ College & Career Fair

Army Strong @ College & Career Fair

Superintendent Corey and FSUSD Board Member Honeychurch visited our College & Career Fair

UC Berkeley @ College & Career Fair

Armijo High School @ College & Career Fair

Lewis, Accetolla, and Chang teachers showing College Pride!

Students enjoying the many "goodies" at the College & Career Fair

Mr. Walpole holding his weekly Wed. lunch with students

Students enjoying the College & Career Fair 
Students enjoying the College & Career Fair

Student receiving college logo face paint by Ms. Rockwell

Each week I continue to highlight classrooms that are implementing the Common Core and providing rigorous instruction to the students. This week was a great example of the Common Core being implemented from 6th-8th! There is also a lot of collaboration happening across the departments. English and History are working together on Primary Sources. Try and think outside the box with your allocation of FedEx time. The more you plan together the better your lessons will be. The better your lessons are the more the students will learn. Here is a snapshot of some the great work happening. A picture though can't speak as loudly as seeing it first hand. Take some time on your prep and get into other classrooms to see it in action.

Mr. Harris' US History Class: This is a display of an annotated primary source document. Every student had a document that resembled this. The objective for this lesson read as follows: "I will use video notes, close reading, and annotate primary sources to write a paragraph explaining what caused the Salem Witch crisis of 1692." Students engaged in Depth of Knowledge Level 3 questions/discussions in this lesson. Way to go Harris.

Mr. Walpole's US History Class: SmartBoard is displaying SOAPS. Mr. Walpole is walking the students through the process of determining the intended audience of the primary source document they are looking at. The students engaged in Depth of Knowledge Level 3 questions during this lesson. Way to go Walpole. 

Mr. Baptista's 6th grade math class. Students are exploring area. 

Mr. Baptista's 6th grade math class: Students were exploring different ways of measuring things. After a brief activity using various tools to measure their desks (rulers, yardsticks, paper, tiles, rocks, paper clips, etc), students explored the concept of area by covering their desks with paper tiles. They needed to estimate and use partial units to find the number of tile units needed to cover their desks. Lots of strategies for calculating the number of those partial units was evident and there was also quite a bit of discussion around precision (no overlapping tiles, no gaps). 

Ms. McCormick's Science class: Students recently took a field trip to the Suisun Marsh. Students needed to compile a report on the different things they learned. Here students are presenting to small groups. The students listening to the presentations had to fill out a graphic organizer on the information presented. 

More students presenting and recording information in McCormick's Science class. 

More students presenting and recording information in McCormick's Science class. 

I don't have a picture of it, but in Merrick's English 8 class on Friday students engaged in Depth of Knowledge 3 discussions as well. She is preparing students for research project they will begin in a week. There was also a seamless implementation of BYOD in the class. Students were told to use whatever resources they had available to them. About 80% of the students pulled out their smartphones and immediately logged onto the internet to begin finding answers to the questions. Students had to work together in groups to narrow down the topics to one. You could hear students problem solving, and sorting and ranking in order to find one topic their whole group agreed on.

I will not be on campus on Monday, but for a good reason. I will be at the Sonoma County Office of Education with Josh taking part in the 4C's Series. Digital Tools for Communication & Collaboration. I am very excited because one of the presenters is Eric Sheninger who is leading the movement of bridging the gap between technology and education. He will share his experience and expertise on the use of social media and Web 2.0 technology as tools to engage students, improve communications with stakeholders, and help educators grow. He is the principal at New Milford High School (NJ). If you aren't already you should definitely follow him on Twitter @NMHS_Principal. I am looking forward to the many things I will be able to bring back to Crystal. 

WORD OF THE WEEK: DEFINE: Define is to describe something carefully and thoroughly, and to say what standards, limits and qualities it has that make it different from other things.  

Student Voices Update:  I will be shadowing a student this Friday, October 18th. 

Technology Professional Development #4: October 24th, 3:45-5:30 in the library. Geoff Belleau from SCOE will be presenting on Online Smartsearching: Helping teachers and students search smart. 

No Excuses Lesson for October: Tuesday, October 15th during 4th period have your students fill out page 4 and 5 in their student agenda. They will be setting goals for themselves for second quarter. 

New Staff Members: I would like to welcome Clement Lau to the Crystal Family. Clement will be taking on the US History line in F204. Clement begins on Monday. Please stop by and welcome him. I would also like to welcome Judy Sorenson. Judy has joined us in our FA vacancy in G106. Judy has been with us for a little over a week now. If you haven't stopped by to say hi yet, please do. We are so excited to have both Clement and Judy be part of Crystal. 

Have a GREAT week!

Monday, October 7, 2013

October 7, 2013

Great things are happening at Crystal Middle School.  Teachers and parents are increasing their knowledge base.  Teachers are learning how to better implement technology in the classroom. Parents are learning how to better support their students to be more successful in middle school and high school which will prepare them for college. 

Participants working on their Ipads at the Technology PD that was held on Thursday, October 3rd. Geoff presented information in a very easy to understand and hands on manner. 

More teachers working on their Ipads at our recent Technology PD. 

Parent Participants at our very first PIQE, Parent Institute for Quality Education, night on October 2nd. Our next PIQE night will be this Wed. October 9th from 6:30-8:00 PM.

Last Friday was scheduled for my "shadow" day. Unfortunately, the "shadow" day did not happen.  But, I was in several classrooms and saw moments I would like to share. Any time you want to take a picture of something that is happening in your classroom, feel free to do so and e-mail it my way. I can't be in all rooms at the same time, so that is a great way to share what is happening in your classroom.

Math Journals in Cochran's math class. Each student has a journal and a page that lists the standards that will be covered. Students check the standards off as they are mastered. 

In RaNae Summers' Physical Science class students use element cards to sort and help them answer the question of the day. Students worked together to help each other understand parts they may not have known before. 

While on a field trip to the Suisun Marsh, Carole Schneider's students are asked to write and journal. We see writing everywhere now, even on a field trip to the marsh.  
Mr. Clay Blanco and several of his Armijo High School Advanced Woodshop students built a wood frame with plexiglass sliding doors to house our No Excuses map. This map will soon have pins identifying the locations of all the colleges that Crystal Cougars staff and their family members attended. 

A common question that has been coming up has been in relation to lesson plans.  Several people have expressed a desire to learn how to create better lesson plans.  With our shift to the Common Core, it is true that the approaches you take to create your lessons will be different.  There will need to be a greater focus on guiding questions that are purposeful and planned in advance.  Everyone is striving to make their lessons rigorous, relevant, and engaging.  Paul Walpole shared a resource with me on Twitter, #5minutelessonplan that can help. Go to

I have a lofty goal, let's create an amazing lesson plan app that works with Common Core. There are some apps out there, but none that do everything. I envision a template that focuses on our T4S Strategies and a bank to choose from with Common Core standards.  The lesson plan app should also be interactive in the sense it would allow the teacher it import YouTube videos, Google images, etc. Just my idea right now, but if we could make it a reality that would be amazing!!!

Angie Julien from West Ed will be here this Tuesday, October 8th to present Reading and Writing to Learn.  The professional development will be in the library from 3:45-5:30.  Our Department Chair meeting will be "virtual" via Google docs so everyone that wants to attend the PD can attend.

Our Second Annual College and Career Fair will be this Wednesday, October 9th during our single lunch.  Show your college spirit and earn a chance to win a prize. Joanna Rockwell and a few art students will be face painting your favorite college logos!!

Word of the Week:  CRITIQUE is to review and say how good or bad a book, play, or painting, or set of ideas is.

Have a GREAT Week!