Letting Go to Grow

Returning guest blogger, Jonnie Becker, shares her teaching/learning journey…

I was given a plant.  I can hardly keep up with school, kids, and a husband let alone a plant.  Thank goodness it was a spider plant, and a little neglect won’t kill it.  This summer, I finally noticed it had a lot of dead leaves and even the new ones would only get so big and then turn brown.  So, I watered it, moved the curtain so it would get lots of sunshine, I trimmed the dead parts off, and made it a priority. But it was ugly, and the more I worked on it the less beautiful it became.  I put a bottle of water by it so in passing I may give it a trickle, and I left it alone.  When I checked on it again some weeks later, it had long beautiful leaves that dangled and curled in a way I had never seem.

Every teacher I know has waged war in the battle over covering the content or teaching the kids.  There just seems to be so much pressure to make sure our students “know” all this stuff.  So we plan these elaborate lessons weeks and even months in advance.  Then we put the kids through all the hoops of these lessons.  Sometimes it all works great and we are all smiles.  So I think, wow, I am a great teacher.  But I am wondering, are they any more prepared for a future we cannot predict?  Yep, they know more, but how did they come to know it.  I did the work, I set them up to figure it out, I limited the ways they could fail or get confused.  Did I do more harm than good?

In implementing the IACOPI e-curriculum, I have been working hard to make my Face to Face (F2F) time more about each student moving at their own pace.  They are working on whatever part of our project they think they can do.  This has taken most of them by shock.  They are all trying to run the rat race when there isn’t any race.  Needless to say, I was feeling all their stresses.  They wanted to “get done” so we could move on.  I felt like I was needed to get them back on track, as if this strange place I had taken them to was OFF TRACK.

Oh, what to do!  Do I plan a great teacher led lesson, take back the wheel and steer the ship into port?  Nope, I let go!  I sat down.  Yes! SIT DOWN, in the back.  I watched them.  Guess what happened?  Leaders emerged, collaboration began, and they were learning without me. The classes where I followed them, where I spent our precious time together letting them show off their work, modeling how be make our room a safe place, and suggesting what they needed after seeing where they were are the ones that grew by leaps and bounds.  Yeah, we are not covering the mountain of content, but they went from yes/no questions to REAL hypothesizing. From not knowing they don’t know to knowing how to dig and hunt and then work it together.

Like my plant, my students came to me used to care that only let it grow to a point.  When the care style changed it became stressed and didn’t bloom or really grow.  Then going back to the old method would have killed it completely.  The plant, like our kids, knows how to grow-it is just in them.  If you try to control the growth it has the opposite effect.  When you let go, they create something beyond what you thought was desired.  All this time we were going about growing our kids all backwards.  Redefining the meaning of Teacher.


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Parallels Between the Iowa Education Blueprint and #IACoPI

Hello, I am Shaelynn Farnsworth, a high school English teacher at BCLUW.  We are a rural school located about 15 minutes from Marshalltown. We are also currently in our third year of 1:1 laptop implementation, meaning that all of our students have laptops that they take home with them. Last year I was given the opportunity to be part of Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation, I was excited for the opportunity and feel that this work must be continued to offer students in Iowa the best education in the world.
Being an educator at a laptop school, technology infusion and blended learning is status quo. IACoPI does this but in a community setting. Passionate teachers from around the state creating curriculum that is aligned with the common core in a collaborative setting has changed the way I teach and allows my students access to a multitude of engaging units. After reading the Iowa Education Blueprint, it is clear in my mind that IACoPi must be continued and supported if we are to meet and exceed goals set by our Education Department. There are 5 points I wish to highlight that show the parellel between IACoPI and the Iowa Education Blueprint.
1. The Centerpiece: “Great Teachers” The Blueprint specifically mentions the need for quality educators in each classroom to create a world-wide school and education for our students. Nothing is more powerful than when these educators are given time and means to collaborate together to plan, discuss, and create curriculum that is engaging, relevant, and aligned with the Iowa Core. IACoPI does this. Nancy Movall brought together carefully selected educators to pilot the project. The time that we spent together was amazing. Broken into content areas, I met with 40 other English teachers across the state, and together ideas were shared, best practice strategies demonstrated, and innovative curriculum designed that would provide students rich content within a 21st century model. When my students work through the various English units they have 40 great teachers in their classroom not just one! If you ask any of the members of the group, they will all agree, the time we spent together was a key to success. A model that all of us wish would be replicated in the future.
2. “Learning how to design dynamic and engaging lessons and greater support” is another important piece in the Blueprint on how to support “Talented Educators”, and although it states for new teachers, this should be a goal in every school district. If we continue to teach the way we always have taught, ignoring the ever changing world around us, we become dated and students’ learning decreases. IACOPi offers training in pedagogy and tools to aide in the development of the blended curriculum. We learned about Project Based Learning, Symbaloo, and Moodles last year. Organically, we also taught each other. Wikis were created, resources shared, and google docs compiled suggestions. In fact, I offered 2 webinars on how to blog in the classroom to support student learning. IACoPI offers educators opportunities to learn new skills and then utilize what they have learned in curriculum development. This support strengthens the groups knowledge and teaching practices.

3. Educator Leadership Roles – Under this heading it suggest “a weekly meeting with small groups of educators to plan and collaborate as well as a teacher-led curriculum committee.” Again, I feel that IACoPI is a perfect example of how powerful these opportunities can be for students. It would have been easy for the state of Iowa to purchase an on-line curriculum that is avaliable for use, this would not sit well with the educators in our state, and I bet would be under utilized. We know our students best, plus developing our own curriculum allowed us to align it to the Iowa Core, as well as, collaborate together providing students with a collective greatness found within the groups. We all have invested interest in this project. It is our work and our voice that is being represented. Supporting this would be a powerful message to educators in Iowa that we trust you and we value your talent and time.

4. Improve and Expand the Iowa Core – one key bullet is “under the direction of educators across Iowa, designng a rigorous ‘model’ curriculum that can be used as a starting point.” This is exactly the aim of IACoPI. Together, we created stellar units and paths for students to investigate and ignite an engaging learning environment. These units were created by Iowa teachers collaboratively, keeping the Iowa Core in the forefront. Our vision would be to continue this work, adding to the repository, units that meet all of the goals of a world-wide education teachers and students. Much like we have done this year, teachers could pull out these units and design a specific curriculum strand for each student. An individualized plan that is relevant, engaging, and chosen by the learner all while teaching the important skills outlined in the Iowa Core is a new vision of education for Iowa Students.
5. Finally – According to the Blueprint, under the Spirit of Innovation and Education section, “the plan to provide our students a world-class learning environment and curriculum praises educators who are always working to improve, innovate, and accelerate, who arent afraid to try new things and take chances. Educators who are evaluating approaches and continuously seeking to raise student engagement and achievement.” This, in essence, is what brought us all to IACoPI. We are life-long learners ourselves. We understand the role of technology in society and its impact on education. Students need different paths to recieve an education that is tailored to them. Many of them turn to dual credit or online classes. IACoPI provides these opportunities for our students. This blended state curriculum will only increase in demand as technology saturates our schools. We want to make sure that the blended curriculum that our students receive is up to our state standards. By supporting IACoPI we are doing just that, the momentum and excitement will only grow.

Thank you for taking the time to allow me to share my story with you. Three years ago, I would have never dreamed I would have the opportunities to change the future of education in our state. I urge you to continue supporting our efforts. In its earliest stages many stories of success have been shared. Iowa Community of Practice and Innovation Teachers are forever changed by being part of this group. Our students find fun and relevance in learning. They just need the right delivery system mixed with a collective energy from Passionate Iowa Educators! “Better Together Iowa” is a slogan that Nancy continually uses. I agree with this and hope that you allow us to continue the revolutionary work that is ahead of its time. We owe it to Iowa students and  we have built a foundation in which to work from!

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Jonnie Becker, returning guest blogger, spends her time facilitating an improved vision of science in the minds of the teenage youth attending North Butler High School. A self-determined techie who wanders her way into learning all kinds of new things.

The borage of confused parents has begun again.  As usual, I am pushing the status quo to make revolutionary systemic change in how the students in my room experience “an education.” Sometimes a colleague or two gets curious about what I am up to and why as well as the parents of my students.

Every year at this time (which corresponds to mid-term or 1st quarter grades) I get a lot of questions about why am I doing things so differently than what “everyone else does.”  So, this year I am getting the why are you doing all this e-learning, why is my kid doing a quiz at 11:30 at night, why are you buzzing all over the room without the class focused together?  Needless to say, I am getting a little weary as usual.  So the promise of an in-service day was a needed relief.

Our school is starting the IPI process, and were blessed with a great in-service by Jerry Valentine himself.  (This was not the typical PD day without a take home. It really was good already changing my classroom!) This process trains you to be aware of what kind of THINKING is happening in your room.  The six options break thinking into three ranges: non academic thinking, low order or low on Bloom’s taxonomy, and high order or high on Bloom’s.

Mr. Valentine informed us that the kind of work that asks student to think critically while VERBALIZING with their peers is the best work for growing their minds.  I was instantly reminded of the research of  Lev Vygotski.  My class has been based in the social constructivism principles since I was awakened in 2003. However, this year the platform for this has shifted from just in person to some online learning conversations too.  After having experienced the way a Moodle forum can explode in conversation where you get addicted to see what will happen next, I wondered if Mr. Valentine would consider an online forum environment as equal as a face to face for student to student analytical conversations. Thank goodness one of my colleagues asked for me, because I was too intimidated.

Valentine claimed that online conversations are NOT considered verbalized higher-order thinking situations. The comment was infuriating, and left me curious. How much do we know about the social construction of ideas in a virtual environment?  I would suspect not much, and if so, not in the way that the IACOPI does e-learning. Holla!  I am excited to find a way to show what I believe to be the key.  The real reason why online learning needs a teacher and face to face time.  After experiencing the IACOPI, I have come to understand that you build the human life force for learning when you make a community, a one from a collection of many, that can organically shift power, focus, and progress based on the subtle balances from within the community.   After you have that face to face, you don’t need to have the constant real life feed to create new understandings as a team. You can actually feel the humans with just a few key strokes.  I may argue a forum discussion can be more helpful with a community, because you risk less when you share.

I can’t wait to see how transitioning my students to be a community of learners in both the real and virtual realms.  Could we be doing something so new, that we are the activation that sparks a whole paradigm shift in how we apply and implement learning theory?  Could we be rewriting Vygotski’s chapters in social constructivism?   Someday, they will be referencing the IACOPI!  JUST YOU WAIT!

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Retraining My Gut

Jonnie Becker spends her time facilitating an improved vision of science in the minds of the teenage youth attending North Butler High School. A self-determined techie who wanders her way into learning all kinds of new things.

     As an active, enthusiastic member of the Iowa Community of Practice, IACOPI, I have been transitioning to becoming a professional who facilitates  a blended learning environment.  Basically, I am learning to retain myself on how to teach in such a way to create a community in my classroom where students use digital tools and virtual environments seamlessly within the actual face to face brick and mortar of our school building. Wow, it did take me the better part of three summer months to learn what that  meant to me.  The trouble is I got my mind, my consciousness, around that idea I just forgot to keep my unconscious mind in the loop. Here’s what happened…
     My blended teaching has taken shape in all my classes, not just the physical science class I do for the IACOPI.  Well, my chemistry students are just getting into their first Project Based Learning Task: The Riverwood Fish Kill from Chemistry in the Community 5th eds.  I don’t follow the curriculum as put together by the publisher instead I borrowed the idea and then make the rest of it as we go. Part of this process makes the project flow more organically.  I let the students propose what they think could have killed the fish, we split into teams and research that cause hypothesis, test for, and evaluate data with their team’s unique possible cause being the lens for how they approach the work. Most of my students proposed totally realistic hypotheses that they have no clue how to test.  So we spend some time digging for background research.  We are not a 1 to 1 school, so I do not have access for all students in my classroom.  I am blessed with six networked laptops just for me, so I am not really complaining. Yet, I still need them working and learning because really I don’t know the best way to test some of their ideas either.  Nevertheless, I sent some students to the business computer lab, some to the library, some to the general computer lab, and I had a few six or eight still in my classroom.  So of 20 students I was “monitoring” six to eight at the moment my principal stopped by to check on me teaching.
     Pause…my heart is anxious just remembering this moment.
I was sticken with horror!!! My mind knew that the students, where ever they happened to be, were working, thinking, collaborating, learning but my unconscious mind said THIS IS WRONG!  You are doing NOTHING, you are just  standing here (folding flyers for midterm to send home to explain the process of  standards based grading).  EEK quick LOOK BUSY, look like you’re teaching, look like a teacher, fake it quick!!! So, I interrupted a student reading an article she had just found and pretended like I was giving her advise on some possible search terms.  (Which totally wasn’t needed because she was finding better things than I had found on the same topic).  The string of endless judgements went racing through my head: she’s lazy, she left all her students off on other teachers, she’s irresponsible, she isn’t prepared, this isn’t learning, there is no objective for the class, there’s no assessment for this “lesson”, there’s no lesson, she isn’t teaching!!!
     My principal didn’t say anything, but if I was thinking those things with all I had learned about blended environments, then either he is too professional to say them, or he is just trusting me at this moment.  Everything I had ever experienced had created a deep internal knowledge that was in conflict with calling what  I was doing and promoting as “teaching.”  Like I was paid to be a conductor of the orchestra, but I was letting them write their own music as they played and I was letting their own ears decide the quality of the song.  I was just blended into the notes, making minor suggestions which spark the genius with the players already.  Yet, I, at that moment viewing the scene in the eyes of a stranger to the community could only view chaos because it was not the classic song an orchestra “should” be playing.
     How did it turn out?  I stopped bugging that poor innocent student, decided my own judgements were far more harsh than anything my administrator could ever conceive and went back to folding the flyers.  Retraining myself to trust in the power of my student’s starts today! Maybe it IS me who is HOLDING them back with my archaic lingerings of the industrial model of education. Today, I surrender to a better way, and hope it doesn’t get me fired. Comment if you know what this feels like.

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SymbalooEDU for IACoPi

SymbalooEDU for IACoPi

SymbalooEDU is a visual bookmarking tool that helps you to organize and share the best of the web with your students.

We are so excited to have the opportunity to work with IACoPi to build an online collaborative learning environment to facilitate teachers with integrating technology into the classroom.

Together we’ve created a custom Symbaloo for each of the major subject areas where members of the IACoPi groups can communicate and collaborate on valuable online resources for their course modules. The links to the Symbaloos can be found below:


Symbaloo Forums

IACoPi Forum A dedicated forum was created for IACoPi with subforums for each subject area to allow the group to post topics, ask questions and have discussions. Come join the conversation!

Iowa Training IACoPi members needing additional training on how to use Symbaloo can visit: http://iowacertification.symbaloo.com It contains a series of short tutorial videos, assignments and quizzes to help you get better acquainted with using Symbaloo.

Better. Together.

The passion behind IACoPi is very inspiring. We hope that through the process of working together we can grow and improve our tool for education.


Even the students in Iowa are excited about Symbaloo. A student from Jordan Creek Elementary has created the following video to show how easy it is to use Symbaloo.

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Carver: “Printing Press Moment”

Preparing for the last large group meeting of IACOPi educators later this month, a small group of leaders met to discuss the plan of action. It was most fitting to have Mr. John Carver,  Superintendent from Van Meter, Iowa, speak to the group. As a leader in educational change in the state and across the country, Carver spoke about the struggles and joys that accompany change. He shared his own story about the transformation of Van Meter  into a 21st Century School, as well as his inspiring grandmother who predicted a return to “one-room schoolhouse” type of education. We appreciate the continued support of Mr. Carver in helping to give a voice to the innovative changes made by Iowa Educators! The following is a twitter story from his talk created on storify.


Read the story here




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Blending, Reshaping, Expanding

Laura Horan (@laura_horan) is the Curriculum Coordinator at Manson Northwest Webster.  She has taught grades 3-5 and 7th grade Language Arts.  She has been a part-time consultant with the Prairie Lakes AEA and was a member of the state Iowa Core team.  She blogs at Opening Doors to 21st Century Learning.

As I think the importance of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation work and what it means for school communities, teachers, and students, I think about an article written by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel entitled, “I Just Want My Kid to be Happy…and Successful.” The authors express what we, and particular parents, all want for our students. They say we want all kids to be, “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success…”

So, what does this mean?  My connections with my own work and learning are a simple example.  My definition of work has changed. Because of technology, I can now conduct my work from anywhere and it is more driven by results rather than driven by time and place.  But more importantly, the way I learn has changed dramatically.  My learning has changed from attending meetings and trainings, reading books and articles written by a handful of tried and true experts in the field of education, to attending webinars, reading blogs, websites and comments of experts and practitioners from all over the world. Some are educators, some are not.  While I still value my face-to-face meetings with colleagues, my learning has expanded to include a greater community, and I depend on this new personal learning network as I learn, share, and do my job.  My thinking has been challenged in ways that I never thought possible.  I have become much more of an independent learner which in turn has motivated me to stretch and learn more.  As I think of the IACoPi work, and the blended learning courses the teams are creating, I imagine students experiencing similar changes as we move away from the traditional classroom, instruction and learning.  How exciting!

As we prepare kids for their future, we know that the traditional fact-based, rote curriculum of the past won’t cut it.  We need the work of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation which is project-based, research-driven, and taps into the digital lifestyle our kids are growing up with.  As I follow the Twitter hashtag #IACoPi, and read the Better Together Iowa blog entries, I’m excited about what is happening in the content teams.  The curriculum is incorporating higher order thinking skills, technology, multimedia, and the multiple literacies of the 21st century. The teacher teams are striving to create the kind of online experiences we want for all students.  And while some may still worry, “What about the facts and the basics?” the teams are not forsaking foundational information, but instead are creating experiences that enable students to gain that information through investigation and relevant activities.

These blended learning opportunities will create a new learning environment that will enable all students to be engaged, motivated, independent learners.  Students will still have face to face contact and instructor support, but also experience expanded learning outside the classroom.  It’s the best of both worlds and is what we need to prepare our students to be “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success.”

The IACoPi teams are truly pioneers in the field of online learning.  I want to thank Nancy Movall, the IACoPi leaders, and Iowa teachers who are creating the blended courses.  Together you are reshaping what it means to teach and learn in Iowa.

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