Wednesday, September 27, 2017

September Curriculum Director's Meeting Updates

Below are some teacher-relevant updates and points of information from the September 27th Curriculum Director's Meeting. Please reach out to me if you have any questions!

Open Education Resources is a resource that provides and reviews a variety of open education resources in all subject areas and grade levels. This is still in beta testing, but I took a look and it's worth checking out. Unlike a site like TeachersPayTeachers, everything on this site is 100% free. You can log-in with your Amazon account, or you can browse without logging in. 

STEM Center Classroom Grant

There is a grant available to teachers in all subject areas to implement STEM projects in their classrooms. There are two different application periods. One closes Friday, but another is open until December 22nd. The grant is for up to $1500 and it can be used for field trips if they are related to STEM. It can also be used for technology that students use and a wide variety of other things. Check it out! There is no limit to how many teachers per school can apply:

Teacher Salary Supplement Program

Utah has a lot of money designated to supplement teacher salaries. You are eligible if you are National Board Certified or if you teach specific areas within science, math, or computer science. Enrollment to receive cash from the state begins in October for teachers who qualify. This is different from student loan forgiveness; this is money that goes directly to teachers to supplement their salaries. Here is the website: The contact person for this program is Jane Conway (

Free Utah Science Resources (3-9)

Utah has created a variety of open resources for our science classrooms. Some of you know about these and use them in your classrooms. These resources are updated every year and have improved significantly over the past years. The middle school ones are aligned with the new standards. You can access them for free online:

In addition, the website is a great site that includes a variety of curricular resources aligned with the new science standards. 

Science Standards 6-8

The SAGE test for science will be based on the new standards. The state is working to develop those questions now. Because questions are just now being developed, there are no interim or benchmark tests that deal with these new standards. For middle school science, this year will be much like the first year of SAGE in that scores will not be immediate and scores will be revised after questions are norm referenced. 


Utah has new health standards in the process of being reviewed. Updates included nutrition standards (upgrading to the plate vs. the pyramid), inclusion of e-cigarettes in the substance abuse section, integration of information about social media and safety. The first review meeting is in October. 

PD Opportunities: 

Utah Council of Teachers of Mathmatics Leadership Conference: 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Week 1 Curriculum & Secondary Discipline Recap and Updates

Teachers and Staff, thank you for a great first week!

Here are a few reminders and updates. 

K-9 Updates: 
  • Curriculum Maps: Curriculum Maps should be uploaded into your Team Drives and/or shared with me so I can upload them. The deadline for this is September 8th. 
  • Pineapple Charts: Thanks to those of you who put options on our Pineapple Charts for this week. Please continue to "advertise" the great things going on in your classrooms. We will be drawing for some tech swag at the end of September. Every time you put an activity on the Pineapple Chart, you will earn one entry into the drawing. 
  • Book Study: CTT leads, please see my email about the Responsibility Centered Discipline book study and communicate with your team. 
  • First Friday: New teachers, next Friday is a First Friday. That means the kids leave at 12:45 and we have training from 1-4. Please plan to be here until then. This occurs on the First Friday of every month. 
7-9 Updates:
  • 7-9 Assembly. THANK YOU for reviewing the expectations with students. Student behavior during the assembly met our expectations. Also, thank you to the LIA, AVID, and Leadership students and teachers for working on the expectations and videos. Please enforce our 4 Foundations with kids and use our common language. 
  • Secondary Disclosures: Please share your disclosures with me so I can use them in Give 'Em 5 conversations with kids to support your classroom expectations. 
  • New Kids: I have been meeting with all the kids new to OPA at the 7-9 building. It's been great to get to know them and hear their highlights and concerns. A few are stressed about Cornell Notes. So, if you use Cornell Notes, please remember to review how to take them and/or assign new kids a Cornell Note mentor/buddy. If you have concerns about any student, particularly these new kids, please come talk to me. 
  • Announcements: Kasey typically completes the morning announcements from the Elementary Building. He does secondary first and then elementary. The intercom cannot be used at both buildings simultaneously. In addition, homeroom teachers have requested that we do not have several sets of announcements morning, but instead one set right at 8:10. So, if you want students to make announcements, please send them over to the elementary before 8:10 so they can assist with announcements and not interrupt Kasey's ability to do two sets of announcements back to back. As an alternative, email or Google hangout any announcements directly to Kasey and he will make them. I'll be explaining this to any kids who come to my office to make announcements. Email me with questions or concerns. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Curriculum Director's Meeting (3/20/17)

For those of you who like to keep up to date on the big picture in Utah education, here are some of the important updates from this month's Curriculum Director's Meeting.

Board of Education Rules: 

The new State Board has worked quickly this year to change and update a variety of rules. While some changes are minor (changing language of "Utah State Office of Education" to "Utah State Board of Education"), others are significant and will impact OPA.

You can track all the rules and where they are at in the process on this website: (This link has been up and down all day, so if it doesn't work, try again later.) Remember that even when rules are passed at the State Board level, most still have to go to the Utah legislature and be passed into law or written into the budget there.

Legislative Updates: 

One of the most important jobs of the Utah house and senate is to pass the budget, which includes the education budget.

  • Highlights of this year: 
    • Utah has moved to cover all future license fees for teachers (my interpretation is teachers will still have to pay for fingerprinting/background checks, just not the license fees - more info on this to come).
    • HB 212 passed, which gives stipends for successful teachers in high poverty schools. The list of schools defined as high Poverty has not been released by the state yet, but I'm hopeful OPA will be included. 
    • Utah now has funding available to cover the cost of teachers who would like to pursue their reading endorsements. See Debbie or me if you are a teacher who is interested in this endorsement.
    • There is an overall 4% increase in school funding for the entire State.
  • Other news: 
    • Utah Futures and the Utah Electronic High School were both defunded. However, Utah Futures has the money to sustain itself for at least another year without additional funding.
  • Non-budget news: 
    • Changes were made to the Health Education standards that positively affect the LGBTQ community. If you have not been following this legislation and want an update, please come see me.
    • Utah now has a state-wide Kindergarten Assessment. This is overall a good thing, but some of the wrinkles of implementation are still being ironed out. OPA was already administering its own assessment as a means for placing students, so the Kinder team will discuss next steps so we can fulfill state requirements and place our target learners into full day kindergarten. 

If you want to read more details, here is a Public Education Budget Handout that is a great snapshot of the session:

Public Media and Public Schools:

A speaker from the State Office discussed how the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 relates to Utah Public Schools. Many citizens don't realize that the public funds from this act are used for much of Utah's online media, including sources vital to our public libraries and schools. These funds have been identified by President Trump as something he recommends removing from the national budget, which is determined by congress. The speaker shared this website, which you can go to if you would like to ask your representatives to keep this funding in the national budget: Of course, regardless of your personal stance, you can contact your representatives and senators at any time to let your opinions be known on this issue and others.

Effective Math Instruction: 

We experienced some professional learning on effective math instruction. Some of the techniques profiled are on this handout, which may be beneficial for some CTTs to discuss:

As always, please come talk to me if you have questions, concerns, or things you would like me to communicate to the powers that be at the state.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Literacy Director Update (2/7/17)

Here are a few updates from the Literacy Meeting on 2/7/17.

1. New Kindergarten Assessment:
  • The state has been developing a common Kindergarten assessment that will be given twice a year (note the pre and post tests are not identical).
  • Amie and Janet had the opportunity to attend one of the informational work sessions. 
  • This legislation is still in process and has not been approved for next year. We will know in a few weeks where it stands. 
  • I will update you when and if this legislation moves forward. 
2. Early Intervention Software (Waterford and Imagine Learning): 
  • We receive Waterford and Imagine Learning software via legislation from Utah; the current legislation states, “A public school that does not use the early interactive reading software in accordance with the technology provider's dosage recommendations for two consecutive years may not continue to receive a license.”
  • In 2015-16 school year, 84% of schools did not meet dosage recommendations and will therefore have their software taken away after this year if they do not meet fidelity. 
  • The Utah Literacy Directors (Sara Wiebke and Jennifer Throndsen) are desperately trying to get the legislation amended so more schools can keep their software on more of a sliding fidelity scale. 
  • All year, OPA has been right on the cusp with some teachers meeting fidelity and some not. Please try your best to meet fidelity with this software so we don't lose it. If you have any questions about fidelity, please let me know!
3. SAGE Writing:
  • The State has moved forward to reduce the SAGE writing test to 5th and 8th grades only (under this plan, 11th graders will take the ACT with writing, but that will not impact OPA). 
  • There are also plans to move from a "soft" time limit to a strict time limit, which will affect how we prepare kids for the test. 
  • These changes will not impact this year. Here is the current implementation schedule (it could change):
    • 2017: 2 writing prompts in all grades 3-8. 
    • 2018: 1 writing prompt in all grades 3-8. The prompt will either be argument or informational and the prompt each kid receives will be random. 
    • 2019: 1 writing prompt in grade 5 and grade 8 only. The prompt will either be argument or informational and the prompt each kid receives will be random. There will be a 50 minute hard time limit. 
  • Debbie and I will provide you with more information at the May first Friday training. Many of these changes are still being discussed and the State Board is aware the prompts would have to change if a time limit is included for 2019. Please do not allow these changes to stress you out at this time! At OPA, we have always taught writing in every grade and we will continue to do so. The literacy advocates at the State are aware of the negative impacts of these changes and are trying to communicate them to the Board. 
4. Student-Friendly SAGE Rubrics
Please talk to me if you have any questions! As we learn more about legislation, I will keep you all in the loop. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Classroom Libraries

I recently reread a few sections of The Daily 5 (Second Edition) by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser; it reminded me of the importance of classroom libraries in a Title 1 school and the challenge it can be for teachers to build those libraries over time. The book cites a variety of research, which all boils down to one idea: "children in classrooms with the most books consistently outperform their peers who are in classrooms with few books or no library"(58).

With that in mind, here are some tips, links, and resources to help you build and add to your classroom library.

General recommendations:

  • Boushey and Moser cite research that recommends primary-grade classrooms should have 700-750+ titles and upper grade classrooms should have 400+ titles (Allington and Cunningham 2007). The authors state they actually aim for 1,000 titles in each classroom.
  • Books should represent as many genres as possible, and should include a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Scholastic has a variety of grade-level book lists organized by core subject (you can also order sets that include all the books on each list). I've linked each of the grade level lists here:
  • Have clear check-in/check-out procedures if the books can be taken out of the classroom. 
  • Use an organization system that works for you. Some teachers use shelves; others have bins of books sorted by genre or reading level. At the younger grades, you will likely have one book box per student for literacy time and an organized classroom library (that feeds into those book boxes). This blog is a good example of how one teacher organized her 2nd grade classroom: Creating a Classroom Library.

Ways to build your classroom library:

  • Send a letter home encouraging parents to donate any unwanted books to your classroom.
  • Set up a project. During my time at OPA, I successfully funded 5 projects and two of the projects were for classroom library books. While it does take some time to initially set up DonorsChoose, it is worth the work!
  • Pair your classroom budget or legislative monies with discounted books such as First Book, used books on Amazon, The Book Outlet, Thrift Books, or books from second hand stores like the DI. 
  • Supplement your growing library with books from our school libraries. If you are a newer teacher who is just building your classroom library, take advantage of the excellent resources we already have available at the school. The librarians are happy to help and are a wealth of knowledge. 
  • Reading Resource Program: Order grade-level sets of 100 books. The books are "free" - you pay $0.88 per book for shipping. So, it's $88 per set of 100, which isn't bad if you split it among grade level teams. 

Classroom libraries for subjects other than Language Arts:

  • At the middle school grades, it's common for classroom libraries to be found exclusively in Language Arts. However, having a classroom library in your math, science, social studies, or elective class serves many purposes. For one, it helps with the perennial issue of what kids should do if they get done early - with a rich classroom library, one of the choices can always be to read a book related to your content. In addition, having these books available helps students see the real world applications of you subject area.
  • Include biographies of famous people who were successful within your subject area. 
  • Consider fiction books that relate to your subject. For example, Michael Crichton is great for 9th grade science and the 39 Clues is excellent for social studies. See more recommendations via the Scholastic links in the General Recommendations section above. 
  • Use alternative texts like the Guinness Book of World Records, newspapers, magazines, and other reference books. These can be quick, entertaining reads for kids and correlate to your subject area. Trivial Pursuit cards and other resources like ACT in a Box can engage reluctant readers. 
In the process of writing this blog, I came upon a variety of other grants and resources. If you have specific wants or needs, please talk to me to see what may be available. In addition, if you have other resources or tips, please leave them in the comment section .

Friday, January 13, 2017

Checking for Understanding

Checking for understanding is when you shift your focus from what you, the teacher, taught to what the students learned. It is a way to formatively assess students to see what they know and inform your next move as a teacher. Ideally, checking for understanding should take place frequently (multiple times per lesson) and with variety (visual, verbal, tactile, and written opportunities).

(As a side-note, Checking for Understanding is also a CAFE reading strategy students use with the Daily 5 activities Read to Self and Read to Someone. For this blog, we'll just focus on how teachers can use check for understanding to guide their lesson.)

The idea of checking for understanding relates to many things we have been working on as a school over the past few years. It connects to Feedback, Opportunities to Respond, and Teach Like a Champion - just to name a few.

The following video gives a great overview of Checking for Understanding with a variety of examples from World Language teachers:

Checking for understanding can start with something as simple as a hand signal, as it does in the clip below from Teach Like a Champion. That hand signal reveals to the teacher that many students solved the problem incorrectly, which leads to the teacher breaking down the problem in detail so students can see where they went wrong.

Notice how the teacher asks a variety of targeted questions in the follow-up to see the specific aspects of the math problem that students did or did not understand. She also gives them chances to show agreement or disagreement with others. By the time she finally reveals the correct answer, many students have changed their answers to the correct one.

Edutopia has published a great resource called 53 Ways to Check for Understanding. One of my favorites on this list is called 5 Words. It asks students to select 5 words that describe a subject, concept, or skill they learned during the lesson. What they describe could be anything from a scientific concept to a mathematical operation to a physical education game. You can take this a step beyond the 5 words and have kids compare their lists and justify their choices.

Teach Like a Champion emphasizes one more important point about checking for understanding: master teachers work understanding checks into their lesson plans by identifying several times per lesson when they will check for understanding and selecting the specific method ahead of time. A master teacher may even create multiple paths within a lesson plan with one path to take if kids understand right away and a different path to take if a check for understanding reveals gaps in learning.

So, I challenge you to look over your lesson plans for next week. If you have not already identified specific times and methods to check for understanding, then plan them in.

Do you have a favorite or unique way to check for understanding? Describe it in the comments.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Procedure Reset: Teach Like a Champion Strategies

As we return from Winter Break and close out second quarter, it's a great time to think about the procedures in your classroom. Do you need a new procedure? Do you need to tune-up the way your kids complete a procedure? Are there procedures you want to eliminate?

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 gives some great tips for a classroom reset, which works best after an extended break or when a grading period changes.
  • Connect the change to important news: Maybe your classroom is about to start meditating after recess. Perhaps you are starting math centers to try and make sure all kids are mastering the Engage New York curriculum. Give your kids an attention-grabbing "headline" or a goal when you explain the switch or the new procedure. One recommendation from the book is to tie it to a countdown. For example: "We only have 92 days left of school, and I want to make sure you are ready for 7th grade when you leave my class." 
  • Be transparent: Explain to kids why you are making the change or tuning-up an existing procedure. If you don't explain things, students may become confused. Be sure to emphasize for kids that your reset isn't a punishment, but is based on the fact that the procedure is important to their learning and that you know they can meet your expectations. 
  • Model and describe: If you're tuning-up a procedure, have exemplary students model it as you reintroduce the process. You can also let an outstanding student observe the class completing the procedure and then discuss what was done well and what needs to be improved. 
  • Use precise praise: Praise students with affirmations of the specific things they are doing correctly. Pay particular attention to students who have shown growth throughout the year in their ability to meet your expectations with the procedure. 
As you are doing the procedure reset, don't forget about the 4 stages of creating any classroom routine: 
  1. Number the steps: Chunk the procedure into small, easy to remember steps. Use verbal or visual cues as students connect these steps together. The younger the students, the more steps and cues you should have.
  2. Model and describe: It's important to both tell students and show students how to correctly follow the procedure. Also, anticipate common mistakes and describe how to avoid those mistakes before having students practice. 
  3. Pretend Practice: Have students practice the procedure multiple times. While they do this, narrate with precise praise and corrections. 
  4. Transfer ownership: As kids master the procedure, you can transfer more responsibility to them. Perhaps a student leader replaces the teacher and walks up and down the lunch line checking for nametags. Maybe calling out "Step 1: Go....Now, Step 2: Go..." becomes unnecessary and the teacher can simply say: "Take yourself from Step 1 to Step 4: Go." Be sure kids have earned their autonomy by performing the procedure to your expectations before rewarding them with more independence. 
This video shows several teachers going over a common procedure: lining up for the hallway. Almost every one of the techniques described above is used at some point in the video. 

Below is a clip of a teacher going over the procedure of tracking the speaker. She goes through each of the steps for teaching a new procedure. 

This is a great time to do a quick reflection on the procedures in your classroom. Which will you keep? Will you add any? What procedures need a tune-up? Select one or two procedures to introduce, tweak, or tune during the first week of second semester. Feel free to post any ideas you have in the comments!

Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov (366-371).