Welcome New Staff!

I am proud to introduce these fine new educators who will be starting at South Park this year.  Actually, they wanted to introduce themselves!!  Please join me in welcoming them to South Park.

Kori Kelly – Kindergarten

Hi there! I’m Kori Kelly, and I am a new kindergarten teacher at South Park. Upon graduating from Indiana University in 2013, I had the privilege of working as a paraprofessional and then as a 4th grade teacher. I am beyond excited to teach kindergarten in this incredible district and can not wait to meet my new class! When I’m not at school, you can find me teaching dance to children of all ages. I look forward to working with the amazing staff, supportive families, and smiling students at South Park!

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Jessica Morehead – First Grade

Hello! My name is Jessica Morehead. This school year I look forward to joining the South Park team and the opportunity to work with the wonderful community I grew up in. I received my Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education and Special Education from the University of Northern Iowa. I come to South Park with teaching experiences at various schools in Chicago. I have loved the opportunities to teach in multiple grades but I know my heart belongs in first grade. I look forward to meeting each of my students and their families in the next few weeks!

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Nicole Marak – Third Grade

Hello, my name is Nicole Marak, and I am happy to be joining the third grade team at South Park!  In May, I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in elementary education.  My student teaching experience took place in Wheeling, District 21, in a second grade classroom.  I was fortunate enough to take part in a year long student teaching program.  This past summer, I taught 7th grade language arts in Wheeling.  I am very excited to become a member of the South Park family.  I look forward to a year filled with lots of fun and learning.  I can’t wait to get to know all of my students and their families!

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Alison Alves – School Psychologist

Hello South Park community! I am Alison Alves, the new School Psychologist joining the South Park Team. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Special Education from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia before going on to teach English Language Learners and Special Education in Massachusetts. I moved to Chicago in 2010 to earn my doctorate in School Psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. I look forward to collaborating with this special team to support our students- cheers to a great year ahead!
Alison

Jenise Sterling – Helping Hands Pre-school

Hello, my name is Jenise Sterling and I’m excited to introduce myself as the new Helping Hands Preschool Teacher! I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from Indiana University and I am currently working on my Master’s. This will be my first year as a classroom teacher in District 109 Helping Hands Preschool program, but I was a teaching assistant under Kat Armstrong, and I have spent the past two years teaching preschool for Carpentersville District 300. I am very excited to come back to District 109 and work with the amazing South Park Elementary Staff!  I look forward to creating a working partnership with families and a sense of community in the classroom while providing meaningful activities that my students can apply to real world situations. I believe in creating a classroom community based on empathy, kindness, and respect and I’m excited to support my students both as learners and citizens of the world.
Jenise

How Fast the Years Have Flown By

In early June, my younger daughter graduated from high school.  Aside from my pride as a father of two high school graduates, both of whom are either starting or continuing college later this month, I was struck by another thought:  We no longer have a child in our local public school system.  After 16 years with kids in school, we no longer have open houses, conferences, concerts, ice cream socials, BINGO and family game nights, and the myriad of other events that parents with school-aged children attend year after year.  These are bittersweet thoughts, for sure.

After coming to terms with the fact that this also means that I am old, I started to reflect on all of the experiences my kids had in school.  My reflections may be slightly different than some other parents in the same situation because I can reflect through two distinctly different lenses: one as a father and one as a principal.  Here are my “take-aways” from our experiences watching our kids proceed through the system.

My girls had many different teachers between their kindergarten and senior year of high school.  Some were amazing and a few were mediocre. This includes all of the self-contained elementary teachers and the more content-centered middle and high school teachers.  This also includes all of the specials teachers and a few special education teachers.

Upon reflection, here is what I learned during the last 16 years.

The very best teachers brought out the very best in my kids.  There is no doubt about that.

  • Over the course of the years, they each experienced some of the very best instruction possible – but not every year (see the next point).
  • The girls learned in spite of the few mediocre teachers they had over the years.  Why?  Because we helped them persevere through the nine months in the classroom.  We helped them understand that they had to take a certain amount of responsibility for their learning and successes, regardless of the circumstances of the classroom environment or the teacher’s instructional practices. No doubt they are better prepared for college and the world of work because of the variety of adults they had to deal with.
  • The girls were placed in classes with and without their closest friends over the years, and they actually did better socially and academically in classes without their very best friends. They were forced to come out of their shells and make new and different friends.  In addition, they were not as distracted as they would have been with their BFFs in class.
  • There were times that both girls experienced failure and disappointment.  But, they made it through these times, and they are stronger and much more resilient now because of these experiences (what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, right?).
  • There were times that both girls felt the pain of teasing, exclusion, and “girl drama.” In some cases, this was quite severe, which was heartbreaking for my wife and me to watch.  I also admit that there were times when they each doled out some not-so-nice comments and actions to others.  But, I believe the girls are more sensitive, caring people now because of these experiences.
  • Did we fight with them about homework, studying, watching too much TV, eating right, going to bed, playing video games, and all the rest?  You bet we did.  Did we survive?  Absolutely!  Were the teachers and staff members on our side all along the way to guide us through the tough times?  Yep, and I truly appreciate that.

Yes, the years our kids go to school are stressful for us parents, and I can’t possibly explain how fast they have flown by.  But as I look back, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  I am very thankful to all of the adults in all three schools who were there to mentor, teach, encourage, assist, praise, and even scold my girls’ (hopefully not too many times!) throughout their journey.

Social Media and Young Children

This week we completed the Hour of Code in all of our classrooms.  The purpose of this activity was to give the students a “taste” of what it is like to do computer coding.  This was a big deal all over the world (over 74 million people!), and we are proud to have joined the millions of others who participated. The Hour of Code was a fun activity for our students, but it is only one small piece in this new era of education.  As you may know, all of our district’s students in kindergarten through eighth grade were given a device to use in school and at home.  The idea of a 1:1 computing environment is one that was percolating in the district for a number of years before we were able to make it a reality.  As we finish the first half of the 2014-15 school year, we have learned much about the use of computers in all of the students’ hands.

From our experiences thus far, we have learned that the majority of our students have been very responsible with their devices. Sure, we have had some Chromebooks break and we have had some issues with the iPad apps, but for the most part the 1:1 experience has been a  very positive one.  Most importantly, the students are respecting the power of the Internet, and they are using their devices in responsible ways.  We have had very little trouble with kids acting inappropriately online, and we are very proud of the kids for this!

With that in mind, I want to take an opportunity to share some of my thoughts on social media use for elementary students. I’ll start with a personal story of when my own children (now 20 and 17 years old, respectively) were in elementary and middle school.  Back when my younger daughter was 12, she begged and pleaded for her own Facebook page.  However, Facebook’s policy was (and still is) that children must be 13 in order to sign up.  My wife and I stuck to our guns on this, and at 12:01 am of her 13th birthday, Gillian created her Facebook page!  Five years ago, when we were dealing with this “drama” I wrote a blog post about it. Here is the link in case you are interested in reading my thoughts from November, 2009.  Facebook Blog Post.

I share this personal story again because the issue of young children joining social media networks has sprung up around our school district. I do think there is a distinction between educational uses of technology and social uses of technology. I am an avid fan of social media and I use it regularly to communicate about our school, for my own professional development, and personally to keep up with family and friends (@dbsherman). However, we must always be conscious of the difference in how we as adults use social media and how our children do. There is an appropriate time for students to establish social media profiles.  Please note that the terms of service for sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter clearly state that users must be at least 13 years old. Reading the terms of service of these companies leads me to think that none of the students in our elementary school should have personal profiles on these sites. There are several reasons for this but the main reason is that students of this age do not have the understanding and maturity to use these sites appropriately. Unfortunately, often times students establish accounts without the knowledge of their parents or guardians.

We do not allow the use of these sites during school hours nor do we allow personal electronic devices such as cell phones to be used during the school day or on the school bus. However, students create and use social media accounts outside of school.  That being said, young children are still using social media.  Although their posts and tweets are made outside of school hours, the impact can carry over into the school day causing a disruption in the teaching and learning process.  I believe that elementary aged children might use social media in ways that can be harmful to themselves or others, and this is something about which we adults must be cognizant.  A great resource to help parents navigate these issues with their children is Dr. Devorah Heitner’s blog on her “Raising Digital Natives” website.  I encourage everyone, but particularly parents of intermediate-level students, to be aware of your child’s potential social media activity.

Are others dealing with social media issues among elementary and junior high students?  If so, what are you doing about it?  I am curious to know what is going on, especially in schools that are now 1:1.

We Are Building The Plane

This week we deployed about 200 iPads to our K-2 students and about 240 Chromebooks to our students in grades 3-5.  We are officially a1:1 school!  It is the start of a very exciting time in the school for the students and teachers.  But, the 1:1 deployment brings new and very different challenges for us as educators.

To get this school year started, I shared this video with our staff at our opening meeting, and I asked them to contemplate this question before watching it:  This video is an analogy for the new school year.  Why?   I used PollEv.com to tally their answers which were right on the money.  Here are some examples of what they wrote:

“Teaching kids with technology as we are learning how to use it also.”

 “Learning as you go and building knowledge as you work.”

“Teaching students with technology that we are still learning about.”

“This video is a metaphor for our school year because we are using and teaching with computers while we are learning ourselves.”

“We are preparing students for things that don’t yet exist”

“We don’t have the luxury of “building” before we start with students – We’ll be doing all the “building” and teaching at the same time.”

“We are total risk takers! And hope we land on our feet.”

“We’re gonna wing it this year:-)”

I absolutely loved their responses!!  Our teachers totally get the concept of taking risks on something so new and different that there is no perfect, prescribed way to do it.  We could easily have waited a year or more before implementing a 1:1 learning environment, but would we really be any wiser then?  The idea that we jumped in, ready to experiment and learn along with the students, is refreshing and invigorating for our school, and it is a critical to meeting students at their level of learning.

Sure, the last few days have been tiring as we have run into some bumps in the deployment road.  But we did it with a lot of help from a lot of people.  And, now that the devices are in the kids’ hands, we have our work cut out for us.  We now have the challenge of engaging, inspiring, and empowering our students to become self-directed, 21st century global learners.

1:1 and Parenthood: A Different Perspective

And now, a few thoughts from the other side of the desk…

On Thursday, my 17 year old daughter went to school to pick up the iPad that she will be using for her senior year.  I had already completed the paperwork required by her school district, and I had paid the $30.00 insurance fee (knowing my kid, this will be money well spent!!).  So I was pretty excited to see the actual device in her hands.  Finally, after years of writing about the need for 1:1, my own child will be a willing participant in this new adventure in teaching and learning.  That is so cool…Right?

Friday night she asked me if I would help her set up the iPad.  I said yes, but I could not help until Saturday.  I actually had no intention of helping her, however!  Why?  Because as a Gen Y kid, she should be able to read the directions and do it herself.  Isn’t that part of the point of giving kids their own devices?  They need to become self-directed in their learning, and this starts with setting the thing up.  If she gets stuck, she will need to figure out what to do.  There are tons of resources on the Internet to help her.

On Saturday, I was very busy with honey-do projects, and by dinner time, my daughter had to meet her friends.  Alas, I was not able to help her, so the device sat in the box.  On Sunday we ran errands during the day, and then she went to a concert by some guy named Daughtry so the iPad sat in the box.  Finally, tonight my daughter lost her patience with her “exceedingly busy” dad.  She sat down and pulled up the very explicit directions on how to set up the device.  I looked over her shoulder, and I have to admit that the school did a great job detailing the process for the kids.

Well, my evil plan worked; the kid set up the device by herself.  Sure, she struggled a few times, but that makes the whole experience even better for her.  She figured it out on her own.  The iPad is ready to take her to the outer limits of her learning.  So, I ask this most important question…

Are her teachers ready to guide her to a new type of learning never before experienced by students in schools?  I will ponder the answers to that question as this new school year evolves.  Stay tuned.

What Really Engages All Students?

Is it a fun, friendly, and entertaining teacher?  Sure, for a while that works, until the novelty wears off.  Is it a rigorous curriculum that is filled with academic challenges?  No doubt, as long as the teacher is highly capable of differentiating for all learners.  Maybe it is the incorporation of a totally hands-on, manipulative-based classroom. Definitely.  Especially for those people who think in very concrete ways.  How about a classroom where singing, dancing, and drama are the focal points?  Have you ever heard me sing?  Enough said.
So what is the point of all these questions?  Simply, there is not one perfect teaching style or classroom environment for all students.  Yet, who would argue with the ideal that “no child should be left behind?” We are educators because we want to see all students learn, achieve, succeed, and grow.  I wish I could patent the way to incorporate all of the attributes listed above into one “super-teacher.”

I believe that the typical classrooms of our youth have outlived their usefulness.  No longer can the teacher be the all-knowing giver of the information; the Sage on the Stage.  Teachers need to move past using lecture and rote memorization, and instead, they need to let students take ownership of their learning.  No longer can our teachers do 80% of the talking in a school day.  21st Century students need access to information and they need access to the tools for learning.  Our job as educators is to help them sort it all out correctly.

So how do we do that?  We need to incorporate much more authentic learning into our classrooms.  We need to provide students with work that has intrinsic meaning and adds value to their lives.  For students to be engaged, self-directed learners, they must create projects and solve problems that connect to the world beyond the classroom.  Working with our students to solve authentic problems is what will engage them in learning.  This is what will engage them in substantive conversations and whet their appetites for a depth of knowledge never before seen in our schools.

True authentic learning will engage all learners because the topics will be real for them.  The academically gifted student, the musician, the artist, the athlete, the mechanically inclined child, and the highly dramatic kid, all can find success in a problem-based environment in which they are expected to work together and use their individual strengths to solve real problems.

In a few weeks, our students each will be handed their own personal learning device to be used in school and at home.  In my opinion, this will be the moment of truth for our teachers.  Why?  Because the students will have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, and they no longer will need to depend on their teachers to feed them the facts.  Instead, students should be challenged to find the facts, and then use what they have discovered to collaborate, create, and solve real-world problems.

Teachers in the 21st Century must change and adapt to keep up with their students.  The time has come for teachers to move away from rote memorization, repetitive practice, silent study without conversation, and brief exposure to topics, and instead, move closer to authentic learning in a 1:1 learning environment.

 

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Image approved for copy by Creative Commons. Source: http://bit.ly/vYUkXB

Let the 1:1 Fun Begin!!

In 2009 I started posting about the idea of 1:1 computing in classrooms.  Five years ago, the idea of giving each child his or her own device was more of a dream than a reality for me.  Back then, the devices were more costly, and our Broadband capabilities were not in place to handle 600+ devices all connecting to the Internet during the school day.  The idea was exciting, but our school district was not ready for implementation.  We were able to purchase some netbook carts to be shared by teachers. This was a very good start at the time, and the staff and students were excited to use these machines.

The start of this school year, however, marks the realization of the dream to equip every student with his or her own device in a 1:1 learning environment.  All kids in grades K-2 will be receiving an iPad, and all students in grades 3 through 8 will be receiving a Chromebook on the first day of school.  Kudos to our board of education, district administrators, and some pilot teachers who worked so hard and tirelessly last year to make this a reality.  Well, here we are, ready to embark on more than a new school year; we are moving into a new era of teaching and learning.  NOW is when the really hard work begins.

So, what is my role in a 1:1 learning environment? I believe the teachers are the key to successfully implementing the1:1 initiative.  As a principal, I think my job will be to support them in as many ways as possible.  I will have to listen to them, problem-solve with them, celebrate successes with them, and support them when they feel frustrated.  I will need to work students as they are using the devices, and throughout it all, I will need to learn what types of PD will be needed to support the teachers.  I will need to stay current on the most effective tools and techniques for teaching in a new-era classroom, and I will need to find time for teaches to share, plan, and observe others using these devices.  Additionally, my role will be to model the use of technology and to be a “cheerleader” to the staff as they strive to change their teaching methodology.

Last week I attended the Leyden 1:1 Symposium.  The keynotes were very inspiring, and the sessions I attended were very informative.    I learned about such tools as Socrative, AnswerGarden, and TodaysMeet, and I learned more about the SAMR model.  I saw how Google+, Google Sites, and blogging can be incorporated into classrooms, and I learned about assessment in a 1:1 learning environment. Speaking with others who are either starting the 1:1 process or who have been doing it for a while was another important component of the three days I spent at Leyden.

Now, as we have entered the month of August, I am psyched to get the 1:1 teaching and learning started.  I have a sense that there will be a lot more questions than answers as we embark on this new adventure as a school and as a district.  But, that is what makes our work so interesting, and I plan on getting myself right in the thick of it all!  My goal is to use this blog as a place to share my experiences and points of view during the rollout and continuing implementation of 1:1 classroom learning environments.  I hope to write at least one post per week on this topic, and I hope to get some good dialogue going with anyone who is interested.

To quote my favorite baseball broadcaster, Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, “Sit back, relax, and strap it down” because this year is going to be quite the ride!