Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer PD Book Report: "How to Teach Thinking Skills Within the Common Core"

Let's be honest--is there any better way to stick some PD in this summer than by laying in the sand and reading a book of your choice? Probably not. Although I attained a less than admirable sun burn that covered 85% of my body the other day, the real winner was still me for discovering, reading, and finding good use for a new favorite book of mine--How to Teach Thinking Skills With the Common Core.

Toward the end of the school year, I began to ask myself those age-old educator's reflection questions in order to help me choose some books to read over the summer. The goal, of course, was to be able to gain more knowledge to drive my instruction and planning for the following year. While I feel as though I have a firm grip on reader's workshop (newly implemented this year), math workshop, management, the inclusion model, etc. there are still things I am willing to admit I need to know. I have lost count of the number of days I have driven home from work beating myself up over one child not "getting it" or an 80 second disconnect I had with others during small group instruction. It was not until I found this book that I could even pinpoint one major area I was not exploring enough of with my students--critical thinking.

I am well aware all of our students are supposed to have a solid foundation of higher-order thinking skills in order to meet the rigorous demands of changing state curriculums and assessments. Assessments that will one day (as of now) determine their college and career opportunities. What I was not entirely convinced of was just how much brain-training would need to go into attaining these critical thinking skills. In other words, yes, in schools teachers must explicitly teach students how to think before expecting them to think. Add that to high ESL populations, Title I, Special Needs, Basic Skills, teacher collaboration, demands of your district, curriculum changes, PARCC....suddenly you are asking yourself things like, "Hmm..If I only eat canned soup for x years, will I have enough money to move and never work again?"

Until you read this book. Authors Bellanca, Fogarty, and Pete have made it so simple for teachers to hit the ground running with teaching thinking skills to students. I actually read all 186 pages thoroughly in about 2 hours (sans sunscreen...woops) giving me enough time to post-it, highlight, and annotate. The book is organized very effectively--one unit for each thinking area educators should teach to their students, otherwise known as the 7 Cs (they sure know their way into our hearts).

1) Critical Thinking--Analyze, Evaluate, Problem Solve
2) Creative Thinking--Generate, Associate, Hypothesize
3) Complex Thinking--Clarify, Interpret, Determine
4) Comprehensive Thinking--Understand, Infer, Compare and Contrast
5) Collaborate Thinking--Explain, Develop, Decide
6) Communicative Thinking--Reason, Connect, Represent
7) Cognitive Transfer--Synthesize, Generalize, Apply

It seems like a lot, but let me tell you. This is a short, quick, easy read and very beneficial. The authors organize the information and teaching strategies so clearly. Haven't you seen all of those words before, anyway?! Problem Solving. Oh! Problem Solving! We do that in math! Yup...but you coouuullllddd explicitly teach it through acronyms, song, and concrete objects first to ensure students acquire the skill with accuracy and finesse. It's pretty simple--the more you talk to them with familiar words, objects, and situations, the more successfully you train a part of their brain that they'll need to use later.

My favorite part of this book is definitely the road map given for each skill. There are variations of explicit teaching lessons, a walk through of integrating the skill into a content lesson, and a CCSS performance task lesson. I especially adore these "Look-Fors and Sound Bites" tables:

Wow, I did not expect to write this much at all--sorry everyone. Long story short, this book was probably one of the best I've read since I began teaching. I  am so excited to incorporate a short "Thinking Skills" period into my classroom schedule in September (I have a few open blocks). I'm going to attempt to use this book to drive instruction and truly teach my students how they are going to need to use their brains throughout the year.

So after a long day at the beach....My skin- 0, My students- 100!

Post any questions or share your favorite PD reads below!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

KNJ Hits Wheel of Fortune *Teacher's Week* !

About a month ago, KNJ participated in Two Truths and a Lie hosted by Teach Talk Inspire. It was hard to come up with a lie to trick you all, but we did it! We had so much fun getting to know our fellow bloggers, and we hope you had fun getting to know us! Listed in our three facts there was indeed a lie. But while many of our followers thought it was this...

2. One of us will be auditioning for Wheel of Fortune.

...that was actually true! In fact, I was even selected after the audition process and got the chance to fly out to L.A. and be on the show last week! What.a.surreal.experience. One I could never forget. Let me tell you a bit about it...

The Audition

I will go on the nerd record here, and say that being on Wheel of Fortune has been a lifelong (26 year) dream of mine. I dreamed about Wheel of Fortune like most young girls dreamed about their wedding day. Since the original Nintendo, I became fascinated by the game, and how I could put letters together and create words. It also gave me a leg up when kids started playing Hangman at school. And I'm there all like, "Is this a prize puzzle?!" Anyway...

I applied online about once a year and even followed the Wheelmobile to Atlantic City, NJ about two years ago. At the Wheelmobile events, there are over 1,000 people and you have to just hope, pray, and cross your fingers and toes that your name will be called. Long story short, that was not my time to shine. Then, in early June I received an e-mail to attend an invite-only audition in New York City. Naturally, I freaked out with excitement, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. For all I knew there would be 1,000 people there again. Until there wasn't. There were only FIFTY. I could see my chances of actually being chosen as a contestant getting stronger and stronger.

The audition process was pretty simple. There was a large electronic puzzle board hanging in the front of the ballroom of the Marriot Hotel and when your name was called you had to jump up and quickly guess a letter. If you wanted, you could even solve. My competitiveness and excitement were rapidly rising until I finally was chosen. I guessed a letter, and solved-- PACIFIC ISLAND PARADISE. I was nearly drenched in my own sweat at this point. A perfect concoction of joy and nervousness was mixing up and literally coming out of my pores.

Next, there was a 5 minute paper quiz of unfinished puzzles to complete. After they were graded, 25 people were asked to leave and 25 people had the opportunity to stay and play some more. Guess who got to stay?! After the audition we were told that if we were chosen for the contestant pool we would receive a letter in two weeks.

On the FOURTEENTH DAY I received a letter in the mailbox with the Wheel of Fortune logo on it from Culver City ,California. You could only imagine what I looked like...


Once you are chosen to be in the contestant pool, you could be on the list for up to 18 months. Lucky for me, I got my taping date one week after the initial letter. I was so relieved I did not have to wait in anticipation for over a year. I had to be in LA on July 16th to tape for Teacher's Week which was just the icing on top of the cake. This was the version of the game I truly did want to play, although I wouldn't have been picky.

When I tell you this is a once-in-a-lifetime, completely surreal experience, I truly mean it. It was the most exhilarating 22 minutes of my life, and entirely different from playing at home. They had told us that repeatedly since the early audition process, but I didn't truly believe it until I was there. You have to pay attention to so many things (unused letter board, scoreboard, timer, wheel, etc.) that you almost forget the purpose is to solve puzzles. I was also in the red spot directly next to Pat Sajak which added some gruesome pressure--but lots of camera time ;) .

The producers select the three people who will be playing together. There are 6 tapings in a day. Each group of three randomly selects a ball with your taping number on it--we were 4, which happened to be my lucky number AND the number of the overhead bin where I stored my carry-on luggage. I was golden. Then, each contestant randomly chooses another numbered dice which determines your spot in the game (red, yellow, or blue). Then, hours are dedicated to practice spinning, filming promos for your local news stations, makeup, going over rules, and more! We even got to meet Vanna behind the scenes--what a beauty! Let me tell you, the hours spent to practice spinning were without a doubt NECESSARY. My arms aren't made out of spaghetti or anything, but this thing was HEAVY. Like 2,400 pounds heavy. No simple flick-of-the-wrist was getting this wheel to spin.

The game FLEW by, but was absolutely incredible. One of the most unexpected surprises was how quickly all 18 of us contestants became instant friends. Since we spent so many hours together before taping, we all got to know each other so quickly. Being that we were taping for Teacher's Week, we were also all educators from all over the country sharing a love for our jobs, and also a love for this silly game we had all been playing since we were children. Also, as everyone knows, teachers are the best Wheel players. We all knew we were going to do fantastic, and I could not get over the outpouring of love and cheer we all had for each other. Every single person genuinely wanted everyone to do well. We got to sit in the audience and cheer on all of our new friends before it was our turn, which doubled as last minute practice.

While I'm in a sort of social media confidentiality agreement and can't spill the beans about how I did, I can tell you that my show will air on Thursday, September 17th during Teacher's Week. Every game from Monday-Friday is going to be fantastic and worth watching so make sure you tune in! I was even able to give a little shout out to my Robert Gordon School of Roselle Park, NJ and a little KNJ/TeachersPayTeachers semi-shout-out (we couldn't use business names).

I highly suggested applying and going through the audition process one day. It was an unbelievable experience and WHEEL LOVES TEACHERS!

My beautiful momma and I having celebratory dinner and vino. (I had a nametag and everything!)