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Highland Park Elementary School Santa Clarita, California. Section 1: Effective teaming strategies and results from a 21 st Century Learning Team. Part I: About the team. Highlands Elementary School. School name. Santa Clarita, California. Grade 5.

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highland park elementary school santa clarita california

Highland Park Elementary SchoolSanta Clarita, California

Section 1: Effective teaming strategies and results from a 21st Century Learning Team


Part I: About the team

Highlands Elementary School

School name

Santa Clarita, California

Grade 5

Amy Panama-”Innovative Digital Native”--provides youthful energy and artistic driveCindy Hallman, M. Ed. -”Project-Oriented Ex-Administrator”--provides focus and pushBonita DeAmicis, Ed. D.-”Process-Oriented Researcher”--provides Lesson Study background and educational research emphasis

Leadership and other roles in our group are flexible and organic. The above descriptions show our perceived strengths, although many times we switch roles.

Team members and roles

How and when team was formed

Our team evolved over a period of three years. In 2004, Cindy Hallman and Bonita DeAmicis taught 5th grade next to each other and, due to compatible teaching and learning philosophies, and similar passion and drive, decided to plan units together. In 2005, Amy Panama joined Ms. Hallman as her student teacher when Ms. Hallman, Ms. DeAmicis, and two other teachers were developing a math lesson using the Japanese lesson study model. Working over a period of months on a single lesson led the three of us to want to work collaboratively on all aspects of lesson design and student assessment. In the fall of 2005 Ms. Panama was hired as a teacher in the 4th grade and was able to continue in our discussions on lesson planning and assessment, but the real teamwork began once we were all assigned to 5th grade in the fall of 2006. At that time we began to design units and projects, plan lessons, develop assessments, and have fun together.


Part II: Goals and team time

To challenge each other professionally to get the best out of our students. To create a classroom and grade level environment that facilitates student engagement, perseverance, deeper thinking, reflection, and pride in work.

Team goals

Common norms, agreements and learning beliefs

We believe that all students can learn and have something special to offer. We agree that students need a variety of instructional approaches, that both the arts and use of technology are important parts of schooling, that our creative impulses do not outrank student learning, that student success goes beyond traditional academic learning, and that teachers need to be learners, too. Four important norms that we follow: everyone puts in their ideas, it is acceptable to challenge ideas, delegation of work is organic, and longer work hours may be necessary.

As a result of open architecture in our building, we can see and hear each other teach from our respective classrooms. We also gather in a central area to plan, correct papers, debrief, and rest. We meet almost daily after school (and sometimes into the evening and weekend) to plan, grade papers, and share. The district provides one afternoon each month for collegial planning. We have developed ways to continue our dialogues online via email, a group blog, and a planning wiki.

Team meeting time, duration, and frequency

In addition to our open architecture, the email, blog, and wiki mentioned above, we also share materials and ideas via the school server, where we have set up a grade level folder and store all of our activities. Our best communication strategy has been walking together. Realizing that our physical health leads to more energy and better thinking, we combine walking 3 times per week with planning and reflecting on our curriculum and students. We have found once you pass the third mile the creativity flows!

Team communication tools and strategies


Part III: Teamwork in action (page 1 of 3)

How does the team organize its work to stay focused on student achievement?

A few realizations came from that first lesson-study lesson. We recognized that to keep a focus on student achievement we have to design questions and assessments first, and lessons and assignments after that. We also learned the importance of stopping to review how things went, with an eye toward whether the students demonstrated the learning or whether it all stopped at the teaching. Finally, we consistently seek to design our teaching around two purposes: content and student opportunities.

Teamwork strategy 1: Teambuilding and goal setting

How does the team use best-practice strategies to foster professional growth and student achievement?

We read a great deal of professional literature, sometimes sharing the same books, sometimes just sharing the learning, constantly examining what we read from our own experiences. We participate in online professional listservs to learn from others outside our school and district. We have gone so far as to pay for our own travel to a conference in Connecticut with the opportunity to observe Japanese students and to see lesson study in action. Doing these things as a team helps us to push each other and provides the benefit of three different perspectives.

Teamwork strategy 2: Instructional planning

We plan our academic year by sitting together in front of an interactive whiteboard and using brainstorming software to list and organize our ideas. We then categorize our thinking into content areas and compare it to the standards and expectations of our state and district. We use textbooks and resources to check our thinking against a larger norm. From our idea chart we develop lessons and questions to drive the lessons. We design assessments and checklists for projects to hone our thinking about the learning that we expect from our students.


Part III: Teamwork in action (page 2 of 3)

How does the team use best-practice strategies to foster professional growth and student achievement?

Teamwork strategy 3: Examining student work

Our examination of student work is multilayered. Again, because of our shared physical space, we have continuous exposure to each other’s lessons, and we take full advantage of this situation, including observing the lessons of our partners for student engagement and responses to teacher instruction. We explore the student work displayed in each other’s rooms and regularly seek out the opinions of our team on the work of specific students and assignments. We sit and grade together after school almost daily which enables us to examine student work from the perspective of lesson differences, student results, learning goals, and our varying perspectives.

Teamwork strategy 4: Co-teaching and sharing new instructional strategies

In addition to our initial lesson-study lesson, we have co-designed and taught a number of lessons to both students and teachers. We have co-taught other teachers by offering professional development through our school, our district, and through the Los Angeles County Office of Education. In these instances we have co-taught how to employ technology in the classroom (handhelds and Smartboards) and how to provide differentiation--especially to gifted students. We have also co-taught a summer “lab classroom” for gifted students and the training of teachers. We periodically co-teach lessons bringing all of our students together in one classroom in order to best use our own areas of expertise. We often have teachers from other schools come to observe our instruction.


Part III: Teamwork in action (page 3 of 3)

How does the team use best-practice strategies to foster professional growth and student achievement?

Teamwork strategy 5: Developing student support strategies

We consider our selves “teacher-researchers” in that we are always testing out methods to better reach all of our students at their level and in their best modality. We employ the use of curriculum “compacting” which allows students a ticket out of lessons that they do not need. A constant dialogue we maintain is about process versus product oriented instruction. We test out the use of projects side-by-side with methods like reader and writer workshop that provide greater student choice and leveled learning, and then we discuss student results. We employ the use of GATE icons to give students the vocabulary to deepen their own questioning and thinking.


Part IV: Team success (page 1 of 4)

As a team we find our lessons are vastly improved due to multiple perspectives; we keep each other focused on the student learning and how to judge it; we share ideas for helping struggling students as well as enriching the learning of high-achieving students; and we develop assessments that are more real for the students. Students observe us working together and are quite fascinated by our process, often wanting to stay after school to work in the classroom and to join in our discussions.

How has the team directly contributed to improved student achievement?

The life-changing moment for us was developing a lesson using the Japanese lesson study technique and realizing that a lesson can be developed that reaches all students on their level without a need for high and low groups. Imagine a single lesson that challenges student thinking on a multitude of levels. We work to make all of our lessons turn out similarly. As a result, we have come to appreciate the importance of student struggle and giving time to student figuring and thinking--instead of always jumping in to fill in the blanks or make it easier.

What has been the most significant team learning thus far?

As mentioned before, we have provided professional development to our school, our district, and our County Office of Education. This has led to many visits throughout the school year from educators wishing to see our technology and GATE lessons in action, and those visitors are leave wanting to recreate our culture at their schools. Our school staff is now technologically driven and demands more technology and training from our administrators. Our parent group purchased Smartboards and projectors for every classroom because they saw how committed our staff has become, and the bug has traveled to a number of schools across our district.

How has the team impacted the school structure and culture?


Part IV: Team success (page 2 of 4)

What are other indicators of team success?

We love working together as evidenced by the time and energy we expend together. We walk together, look for professional development opportunities together, and talk about education incessantly. Some folks think of us as obsessive--including our own families (who are often recruited into the whirlwind).

Teaming challenges & solutions

We have been challenged by the status-quo. Administrators, district officials, parents, and other teachers that feel comfortable with a transmission-model for instruction voice displeasure at our unconventional approaches, our lack of textbook focus, and our heavy emphasis on student work with art and technology. Our classrooms can be loud with talking and working. We have resolved some of these challenges because we can show how the standards are being met, our test-scores do not appear to suffer, and our students demonstrate their learning in later grades. We have noticed a growing body of supporters over time as evidenced by our parents rallying to purchase Smartboards and handhelds for all classrooms. Another challenge is with student culture. Students coming from a transmission culture seem almost deadened to thinking for themselves. We find technology helps because it is a natural learning avenue for children of this decade.

1: Core subjects

How does

the team demonstrate 21st Century Skills?

We plan and discuss instruction from the point of view of disciplinarians. It is not unusual to find us arguing about math processes and which are more efficient rather than resting our laurels on the most common algorithms. In history we look for primary documents and key artifacts that will lead to better classroom involvement and discussion. In science we look to understand before we teach, sometimes taking additional courses online to extend our learning.


Part IV: Team success (page 3 of 4)

How does

the team demonstrate 21st Century Skills?

2: 21st Century content

We participate in online teacher communities to learn and share globally with other teachers. We visited a Japanese School in Connecticut to understand their ideas about teaching and learning and we bought a set of Japanese math texts to use in our own planning and instruction. We walk to improve our health and stretch our minds further.

3: Learning and thinking skills

Our most important shared belief is the idea that in order for us to be good teachers we must give ourselves over to learning. The number of professional books we read and share fills many school and home book shelves. We do not leave our teaching decisions to textbooks. We would much rather innovate and create our own materials. We actively use technology to further our learning.

4: Information and communications technology literacy

In our team infancy we quickly realized that our work was growing exponentially. Since that time we have used a number of ways to organize and save all that we create: a shared file on the school server, a wiki for brainstorming lessons, and CDs to store student and teacher artifacts. In addition, our use of the Internet means an explosion of information that is challenging to navigate and to decide proper use. We now rely more closely on materials meant and designed for teachers like the partner-sites of Thinkfinity (aka Marcopolo).


Review the skills online

www.21st centuryskills.org


Part IV: Team success (page 4 of 4)

4: Information and communications technology literacy (continued)

How does

the team demonstrate 21st Century Skills?

In terms of communication, we use email a great deal, we participate in our school district blog discussions, and have our own private team blog for entertainment purposes. Our participation in the Mosaic, LessonStudy, and RealWritingTeachers Listservs has led to excellent online booktalks, one of which will be run by Dr. DeAmicis this summer.

5: Life skills

Our families are integral to our mental and emotional well being. They often join us in our efforts as teachers. Our husbands and fathers build sets, wire computers, and bring dinners; our children help to organize papers and clean up desks. They also help us to “get away.” It is difficult to break off the teacher-think at times and our friends and families give us that impetus. We have all developed outside interests, one of us gardens and decorates, two shop, and two love to make art.

We believe once teachers have experienced a team like the one we have developed, it would be difficult to envision a professional life without it. Other teachers on our campus have begun to migrate toward our group--hungry for the types of professional dialogue that we provide.

Anything else your team would like to share?

Review the skills online

www.21st centuryskills.org

section ii 21 st century projects

Section II: 21st Century Projects

An effective student project design and results from the Highlands Elementary School learning team


Part I: Project overview

Science Centers - A unique opportunity to integrate the study of body systems with the inclusion of technology, writing, and research skills

Project title

Fifth grade: Science, Reading, English, Technology

Grade & subject(s)

Highlands Elementary School Santa Clarita, California

School & location

Bonita DeAmicis – instructor for student science lesson, Amy Panama – facilitator for Smartboard discussions, and Cindy Hallman – manager of self directed student groups

Team Members’ Names & roles

Project duration

The total project lasted approximately forty days.

Science Stations allow students to practice self directed study while acquiring grade level science content. In order to provide multi-sensory and differentiated experiences student groups encountered eight challenging learning stations for three different rounds of study that focused on the respiratory, digestive, and circulatory systems. Each round included the following centers: 1) a teacher directed lesson, 2) Seymour-an interactive biological model, 3) various experiments, 4) research using books and models, 5) PowerPoint and Paintbrush, 6 and 7) two Smartboard activities with interactive websites, and 8) creation of a model incorporating all systems. Due to the multi-modal nature of these centers, students were able to employ the use of various technologies including Palm handhelds, desktop computers, Smartboards, and the Internet. This enhanced learning, and helped students to meet and exceed district and state standards.



Part II: Project development (page 1 of 3)

Our concept of Science Stations originated in 2001 as a single teacher attempted to utilize the classroom’s PCs most effectively while engaging her students in an advanced study of science. In 2002, Smartboards enhanced the already blossoming idea of student directed learning and allowed many students to work on a single computer. By 2005, Dr. DeAmicis had the support and respect of a teacher team willing to take Science Centers to a new level, adding a better assessment and student tracking system, improved task requirements, and increased opportunities for teacher interaction and assessment.

Idea source & design steps

Students will acquire knowledge of the human body and gain an appreciation for the complexity of the body systems and how they depend on one another.


Essential questions

Why do we need human body systems? What is required to keep them running smoothly?

How do the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems work together to sustain life?

Science standards were seamlessly incorporated into the content areas of reading, writing, and technology. Each station required students to use critical thinking skills and reading strategies to follow directions, decipher information, and gain knowledge. Students were also required to produce written work including research notes, Cornell note-taking, and a poetry piece for each body system. Technology provided a way to learn as a group, to research, to create PowerPoints, to create graphics using Paintbrush, and to engage in a virtual dissection of a frog to compare body systems. Handhelds allowed for mobile note-taking and easy conversion to PowerPoint and Word.

Core subject area integration


Part II: Project development (page 2 of 3)

California State Content Standards for Fifth Grade:

Life Sciences

2. Plants and animals have structures for respiration, digestion, waste disposal, and transport of materials.

2.0 Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials)

1.0 Writing Strategies

Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. The writing exhibits the students' awareness of the audience and purpose.

Essays contain formal introductions, supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students progress through the stages of the writing

process as needed.

National Educational Technology Standards for Students:

6. Technology Operations and Concepts

Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations. Students:

a. understand and use technology systems.

b. select and use applications effectively and productively.

c. troubleshoot systems and applications.

d. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.


This project placed a strong emphasis on the 21st century content of Health and Wellness. Students engage in physical movement to see how it affects their heart rate, discover the purpose of certain foods for their digestive system and the benefits of water in their diet, and the affects of smoking and air pollution on their respiratory system. While the purpose of this project did meet the goal of science standards it has also had the effect of increasing student awareness of their body systems and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

21st Century content

Review the skills online

www.21st centuryskills.org


Part II: Project development (page 3 of 3)

Students were constantly challenged to think in new and different ways as they worked both independently and collaboratively to meet the challenge of each new station. Students worked to critically examine information for relevancy and importance. Students tested the validity of online resources and cross-checked information for accuracy. They examined and experimented with authentic materials and were asked to formulate conclusions. Students were challenged to be innovative speakers and presenters as they communicated their new knowledge through a PowerPoint presentation.

Learning & thinking skills

This project was uniquely created to help foster 21st century life skills. Science Centers provided students the opportunity to be self-directed and responsible for their own productivity within a framework that was workable for a fifth grade developmental level. Groups problem-solved together to resolve scientific and social issues. They worked together to figure out how to get the software to do what they wanted--often identifying “experts” who could tutor in specific skills. New leadership opportunities occurred at each station--offering students of differing skills and talents to help others. Ethical issues were discussed and debated as students contemplated topics such as animal research and substance abuse.

Life skills

Review the skills online

www.21st centuryskills.org


Part III: Project implementation (page 1 of 2)

We placed students from all three of our fifth grade classes into eight groups of 8-10 students. To begin with, these groups were heterogeneous, mixed in gender, school performance, and social skills. We wanted to allow a variety of modalities and skills in each group--much like the workplace. After our first round of stations (8 days), we regrouped students keeping all groups heterogeneous except one, which consisted of students requiring more teacher oversight than the other students.

Student teaming strategies

To carry out science stations as we designed them, it required a team of 1-2 teachers for oversight and assistance at stations and 1 teacher to provide specific lessons. Materials included a human body model, Seymore, with tapes to follow body part removal and study; various books and models on the human body; teacher copies of The Body Book--a work book with copies of human systems/parts that can form a human model out of paper; Aims science experiments on human body systems and materials (jump ropes, tasting ingredients--like lemon, balloons); and our own student science texts.

Required resources

(human & material)

Information and communication technology

It is possible to carry out our science stations with varied levels and types of technology. We used the following: 3 interactive whiteboards with projectors (2 used by student groups--one used for teacher lesson); an online frog dissection module; a computer station of 6-8 Internet linked desktops with PowerPoint and Paintbrush installed; a selection of online resources/web pages about the human body; Smartboard notebook software; and student handhelds with keyboards for note-taking.

Review the skills online

www.21st centuryskills.org


Part III: Project implementation (page 2 of 2)

Chose essential questions to drive the set-up of each station. Discussed/created/ found assessments to judge student learning during and after each round of stations (respiratory, circulatory, digestive).

2. Organized 8 diverse stations (for the respiratory system--round one of stations) to support and encourage student learning that might best lead to answers to essential questions. Gathered and created materials to support each station.

Grouped students heterogeneously and created a flow chart to show which station each group would attend each day.

Assigned teacher-roles and discussed possible issues that might arise and best interventions.

Taught key lessons to all students in one room prior to beginning stations, in order to set up background and skills necessary to work at each station and in groups.

Set up student packets and checklists to help students stay focused on tasks required at each station.

7. Carried out round one (8 days of stations), provided assessments, and reflected on our results. Made changes and carried out the next two rounds of stations.

Implementation steps

Implementation tips

Tips: Work with a good team where everyone pitches in. Pull from a variety of resources and ideas and consider the resources you already have as you organize. Set up assessments early and adjust as needed. Our best results occurred when we carried out our preparation and grading in the presence of each other so that we could call out thoughts/questions as we worked. Take a 1 to 2 day break at the end of each round of student stations to give summative assessments, judge progress, and make changes.


Part IV: Project results

Formative assessments involved:--Listening to student discussions/talk/questions within their groups and at stations.--Holding special small group meetings to problem-solve.--Teachers walking around/observing student work--Teachers periodically debriefing with classes after stations--Mini-quizzes to judge level of content mastery

Summative assessments involved:--points given for station performance based upon packet items--Student PowerPoint and human body models--tests on each system and writing prompts on essential questions

Assessment strategies

Student products/ performances

Products and performances included student presentations with PowerPoint display, student poems on body systems, and paper human body models, completed and labeled.

Students learned to compromise within their groups-sharing materials, ideas, advice and problems. Students listened to student leaders and learned to manage their time and focus at stations.Students gained an awareness of the complexity of human body systems and could describe both the complex interactions between systems as well as the importance of healthy eating and exercise.Students learned techniques for making meaning out of difficult science text.

Students’ most significant learning


Part V: Project artifacts

Student work samples

Project descriptors & rubrics

Other key project files, links, etc.