Sunday, March 17, 2013

#TCRWP Saturday Reunion - A New Can't Miss for Me!

 This is the first post of three or four that I will be writing about the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion that took place on Saturday, March 9th.  There are so many wonderful things to write about the day, but in this post I wanted to start with what I see as inspirational.

There are some teachers and administrators in my district who have attended #TCRWP Saturday Reunion in the past.  I had the pleasure of attending the one in the fall of 2012.  I met up with several other administrators and teachers from the district; there were a handful, maybe 10 or 12.  I have to say that I was intrigued when I found out that I could go to Columbia University for a day and listen to keynote speeches by famous authors and progressive minds in the fields of teaching reading and writing (wait for it.....) FOR FREE!  The impressive selection of workshops numbers over 100 and the conversation is phenomenal.

After attending last fall, several administrators discussed getting a group together to go in the spring.  Our Coordinator of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction approached the Superintendent about supplying a coach bus for the trip.  In true Hopewell fashion our Superintendent basically said if you can fill it, we'll supply it!  So, over the next couple of weeks several emails went out to solicit participation in the Saturday Reunion.  After a couple of emails, the message changed from, "come on, it will be a great day" to "hurry up, seats on the bus are almost full!"  Soon we even had a waiting list for the bus.  I don't have the exact number but I know that we had around 50 Hopewell Valley participants!

I mentioned that I was going to tackle what I found inspirational in this post.  It goes without saying that the following things are inspirational:

  • A day devoted to concepts related to teaching reading and writing
  • Several thousand people from around the country (and world) descending upon Teachers College for this day
  • Hearing Catherine Paterson speak about creativity
  • Hearing Lucy Calkins speak about the state of education
  • Having 50 members of Hopewell Valley spend an unpaid Saturday at Teachers College to improve their craft and learn about the most up-to-date strategies, concepts, and ideas for teaching reading and writing!
I am sure the math that I am about to do is fuzzy, but if Hopewell Valley has approximately 400 teachers K-12 and 50 of them went to the Saturday Reunion, that is about 1/8 of the entire staff!  Imagine if we had another bus and we had pushed it at the secondary level like we did at the elementary!

I am humbled and honored to be a lead learner in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District.  Working with dedicated professionals who want only the best for our children is inspiring.  Veteran and new teachers alike spending a Saturday of learning together is my idea of a great learning community.  Edcamps and Saturday Reunions have taught me over the past year or so that the joy of learning is still alive in education and truly alive in New Jersey!

My next several posts will be about some of the wonderful sessions that I attended on March 9th.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Odyssey of the Mind, 21st Century Skills, and "That" Teacher

Why would I spend an entire Saturday, 7:15am - 8:00pm, at a middle school that is 40 minutes from where I live and and hour from the district within which I work? Must be an edcamp, right? No. Maybe a sporting event? No. Hmmm..... then why? Let me explain.

Last year and this year my daughter has had the great fortune of learning with a truly amazing teacher. One of those teachers who inspires you; one of those teachers who sees the best in you and makes it her mission to bring that out; one of those teachers that you truly love; one of those teachers who is the one you use as a security question online when you are asked, "who was your favorite teacher?" For my daughter Madalyn, that teacher is Mrs. Melissa Stager. I have had the pleasure of interacting with her on many occasions over the past two years because she is the teacher who encouraged Madalyn to try putting together a team to participate in Odyssey of the Mind (OotM).

OotM has been an amazing experience for our whole family.  My daughter has found an amazing group of friends with similar interests.  My wife has now coached the team for the past two years.  My younger daughter and I have had the pleasure of taking part in numerous meetings, competitions, and events with the families.

OotM is basically a creativity competition with a long portion that is researched, created and presented at the competitions, and a Spontaneous portion, which is practiced prior; however, no one knows what these questions will be until they are given to the students with a few minutes to prepare.  That description does not do justice to the amazing learning and growing experience that Odyssey of the Mind provides to students.  The Regional and State Competitions take place all day on two Saturdays and the World Finals take place at a large University over several days (last year it was at Iowa State University).
My daughter receiving her 1st place medal at Regionals

My daughter, after trying many sports, came to the conclusion that organized sports was not the path for her.  When Mrs. Stager suggested this avenue, it was like a whole world had been opened to her.  I am proud to say that last year my daughter was a member of the state champion team in her division and question.  They went to the World Finals and placed 25th out of over 50 teams from around the country and the world.  This year we just went to the Regional competition on Saturday and her team took first place once again.  Next month is the State finals.  (Please note that I am fully aware that the last several sentences are a shameless proud dad brag, but I am okay with that.)

The work students do to prepare for and perform in this competition is a perfect example of the 21st century skills that we talk about every day in education.  According to the 21st Century Fluency Project, the 21st Century Fluencies include:
An investigation of the skills encompassed in this diagram (and I encourage you to click the links to the 21st Century Fluency Project) shows a wonderful connection to this competition that fosters creative thinking, problem solving, using your resources to develop answers, discriminating between what works and what does not, working as a team, perseverance, and the list goes on.

Without belaboring the point, I would encourage anyone to check out the Odyssey of the Mind competition. I am going to investigate starting a team at my school in conjunction with the PTO.  I am hoping that we can bring this great opportunity to the children in our elementary school!!

So, hopefully I've answered my initial question. Why would I spend an entire Saturday, 7:15am - 8:00pm at a middle school that is 40 minutes from where I live and and hour from the district within which I work? 

Please leave a comment below if you are so inclined.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bear Tavern - iPads in Kindergarten

Bear Tavern Kindergarten teachers and students were highlighted on the front page of the Trenton Times on Saturday March 2nd for the use of iPads in the classroom to augment instruction.  I am very proud of the work our school community is doing to use technology as a tool for learning.  Please check out the article at:

Hopewell Valley school district experiments with iPads in the classroom

iPads in classroom at Bear Tavern Elementary in Titusville

Please leave comments below.  I would love to share them with the teachers.
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