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The Unicorn, Realized

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BetterLesson launches TeachCycle, our new continuous learning platform

TeachCycle is the first scalable attempt to support any team of teachers, anywhere, in engaging in continuous improvement cycles.

Real professional growth is all about continuously learning. And for teachers, this means continually improving your practice by learning (as quickly as possible) what works for you and your students. There’s no silver bullet.

What’s cool is that everyone increasingly agrees. Teachers and administrators alike, think that continuous improvement processes are the bees knees when it comes to professional development. And what’s more, everyone we’ve talked with further agrees that teacher development should be:

  1. Collaborative: Innovation is a team sport.
  2. Job-Embedded: It can’t feel like one more thing added to your plates.
  3. Personalized: The specific needs and growth of your students must be at the center.

And yet, the humming, engaged, teacher-led PLC remains the unicorn of PD myth — often sought and rarely sighted.

So why does it remain such a mythical creature?

Because cultivating a bottom-up, beautifully-efficient PLC is hard to pull off. Very hard.  It requires that schools provide their teams of teachers with plenty of collaborative planning time, highly-trained coaches or mentors, and a shared continuous learning process that easily embeds itself into their daily practice. That’s a high bar when added to the already-overwhelming demands schools must meet daily.

With TeachCycle, our grand challenge is to make this high bar more attainable; to bring the unicorn within reach. And it’s a challenge we’re pursuing with all due gusto — thanks largely to a lovely, $1.8M investment from Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit, and his wife Signe Ostby.

Our model is simple:

  • Step 1: We pair up teams of teachers (PLCs) with an awesomely expert TeachCycle coach who joins the team remotely via the interweb.
  • Step 2: The team and coach select a Teaching Challenge based on a rich, actionable area of student growth. And they identify a single, simple metric by which to gauge progress.
  • Step 3: Finally, they tackle these teaching challenges by engaging in a simple 3-step process for structured experimentation: Teach, Measure, Learn (more on TML here).

After just a few weeks of implementing TeachCycle, the process of structured experimentation becomes integrated into teachers’ daily workflow.

And critically (we think, anyway), it’s a teacher-owned, school-supported process. It’s not some external provider foisting its notion of good teaching onto teachers and schools.

Instead, TeachCycle is a responsive set of supports to empower teachers to engage in structured experimentation to minimize the time is take to learn what work for their students (and what doesn’t).

It allows PLCs everywhere to realize their inner unicorn. And so far, teachers and administrators are pretty fired up:

“I felt that this was the first time PLCs weren’t just meeting for a meeting’s sake. I had an individualized goal and was working toward it. My time and experience were valued.”

Teacher Indian Trail Middle School, Plainfield, IL

“TeachCycle is small-group professional development that can be quickly modified to meet the needs of individual teachers. The components of reflection, discussion, sharing, and strategies mean that it is easy to make changes in the classroom right away.”

-6th Grade Teacher, Sinagua Middle School, Flagstaff, AZ

“TeachCycle allows teachers a rigorous and intentional model for which to have professional conversations regarding the learning of each individual child on a timely basis. Isn’t that the essence of teaching?”

-Principal, Oldham County Middle School, Buckner, Kentucky

Ready to join up? Holler at us: rachel@betterlesson.com. Or sign up for a demo here.


Background on BetterLesson:

BetterLesson is an edtech company committed is to to empowering teachers to learn what works best for their students (as quickly as possible). BetterLesson supports this mission in two ways:

  1. BetterLesson.com, a curriculum sharing community with over 500,000 registered teachers, is building a living, breathing body of knowledge around effective instruction. Through BetterLesson’s Master Teacher Projects, BetterLesson recruits the highest performing teachers in the country to share the full suite of their effective practice (all of their lessons and best practices). In partnership with the NEA, the Gates Foundation, and the Learning Accelerator, BetterLesson has launched four K-12 Master Teacher Projects in Common Core Math, Common Core ELA, Next Generation Science, and Blending Learning. BetterLesson currently has over 10,000 rich, comprehensive lessons across every single CC standard…and there are more on the way!
  1. TeachCycle, BetterLesson’s continuous learning platform, empowers teachers to learn as quickly as possible what works for their students (and what doesn’t!). TeachCycle pairs teams of teachers (PLCs) with an expert, dedicated TeachCycle Coach. Together, they engage in structured experimentation, using TeachCycle’s simple Teach, Measure, Learn process to tackle rich teaching challenges based on specific areas of student growth. You can learn more and read teacher and administrator testimonials here.

‘Tis the Day Before School Starts

Back to school

 

‘Tis the day before school starts when all through the town

Busy teachers and students are everywhere to be found.

The classrooms are cleaned; each desk arranged with care

With hopes that great learning will soon happen there.

School zones signs flash, lighting up morning traffic

Causing groggy commuters a small bit of panic.

“Make sure you slow down,” these signs warn,

“for tomorrow morning, young children will swarm.”

Out and about, sun-tanned students visit store after store

Using supply lists to gather pens, paper, pencils and more.

Meanwhile, inside the schools, teachers collaborate, copy and plan

Making sure they are ready for each young woman and man.

Down in the lobby, new students check in

And counselors, office staff and administrators grin;

Good thing they are greeted by such an incredible team

Cause high enrollment is bursting each building seam.

Over in the library a group of teachers is meeting

Working hard to make sure that their lessons are keeping

with standards based units, concepts and assessments,

as well as individual student needs and investments.

The past week of in-service workshops

were enough to make any educators’ head drop.

But each moment closer to meeting our classes

Makes even the most boring PD session seem painless.

The afternoon wanes and I look around my desk

Which is slowly gathering its school year mess,

“Summer freedom feels fleeting,” I sigh,

as I look at the forms and papers stacking high.

As I get overwhelmed, thoughts of students interrupt my musings

And I pause to think of the rosters created by a computer’s choosing.

Each of these teenagers will soon be in my care

And I grow excited about all the adventures we will share.

All summer long, I’ve been reading and thinking

About all the ways I can be more engaging.

Professional literature and educational tweets

Are all fodder for ideas and plans I can now complete.

So bring on the students, the learning and fun

Even though it is hard to get up before the sun.

For each of my teacher friends far and near

Know that the 2014/15 school year is here!

 

By Jessica Keigan. Reprinted with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality, home to the Collaboratory, a virtual community for all who value teacher leadership. Original piece found here.

BetterLesson is Looking for a Director of Master Teacher Projects

BetterLesson is an edtech startup and our mission is to transform teacher development at scale.

Summary:  There is a full time opening in our Cambridge, MA office for an experienced individual who will head up Master Teacher Project Operations and support teachers doing amazing work to benefit their peers!  Master Teacher-created content feeds the BetterLesson PD product that, in turn, supports teachers across the country who want to drive their own professional learning.  You will be helping thousands of teachers!

The Role: This role will:

  • work with other senior team members to manage the vision, budgets, execution and evaluations of the Projects
  • manage project associates to support the Operations work
  • hire, train and support master teachers to: effectively create lessons on our site; connect virtually with their teams and coaches; share feedback/revisions around content as it’s being generated
  • will foster a high-touch, highly productive relationship between Operations, BL’s instructional team, and the Master Teachers.

About You:

  • understand and follow the latest trends in teaching and learning (ideally both in the classroom and in teacher development roles)
  • are self-directed, diligent teammate with 5+ years management experience
  • enjoy (don’t mind?) analyzing, extrapolating and responding to data
  • produce compelling verbal and written communication
  • listen closely but also participate in high-level strategy
  • gel well with others who work calmly in a fast-paced startup environment :)

The “Nice to Haves”

  • Well versed in the wonders of Google docs, Analytics, and Excel formula
  • Experience with large scale budgets
  • Previous classroom experience and/or knowledge of curriculum and instruction

 

Click here to apply!

BetterLesson Honored at White House Maker Faire

On Wednesday, June 18, President Obama will host the first ever  White House Maker Faire and meet with students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch new businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and fuel a grassroot renaissance in American manufacturing.  BetterLesson CEO, Alex Grodd and BetterLesson Master Teacher, Tommy Young,  have been invited join the inaugural White House Faire in recognition of BetterLesson’s commitment to highlighting and scaling the work of  exceptional STEM educators.

As a part of the effort to  create a “nation of makers” and empower America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future, President Obama will announce an initiative to dramatically expand the number of students that have the opportunity to become Makers. BetterLesson joins  the Department of Education and five other agencies; over 150 colleges and universities; more than 130 libraries; and major companies including Intel, Autodesk, Disney, Lego, 3D Systems, and MAKE  in committing to create more Makerspaces, enlist more educators in teaching Making, and launch other programs that allow students access to the tools and mentors that will bring their ideas to life.

BetterLesson is committed to sharing “what works” in classrooms across the country. Our partnerships with the Gates Foundation and the NEA have allowed us to showcase  the exceptional work of Master Teachers across the country. These teachers embrace tactile learning, and engage their students through hands on activities.  As a natural extension of rigorous, Common Core aligned learning, they incorporate making and building into daily lessons.

Tommy Young, a 1st Grade Teacher, from Waitsfield, VT endows his students with the math skills to tackle rigorous challenges.  In his lesson,  Building Towers, his first grade students become architects of towers, in an effort to reinforce number sense.  In Building Monsters, Tommy wraps up a unit on money, by having his students create a budget, develop a plan, and then build their own monsters.

While Tommy is being honored at the White House, many other BetterLesson Master Teachers have incorporated making principles into their lessons. These talented educators enable their students to become “makers” by giving them the mathematical tools necessary to tackle any problem.

In her lessons Build a Bird Nest Box Day and Build a Bird Nest Box Day 2, 3rd Grade Math Teacher, Diane Siekmann (Phoenix, Arizona) features an open-ended task that also builds on other disciplines as students research the needs of bluebirds, and design/build a nest box from cardboard.

In Real Life Measurement,  an integrated math-science lesson, Cathy Skinner, a 5th grade teacher in Scottsdale, Arizona, has students design and  build self watering plant containers for their seeds.

In this great lesson (Design with 9s) 3rd Grade Math teacher, Jennifer Valentine of Tuscon, Arizona, challenges her students to create designs inspired by their knowledge of 9 facts. In the follow up lesson, students use household items to create the designs.

BetterLesson’s commitment to the Maker Movement will include future Master Teacher Projects as well. Building off the success of previous Projects, the Science Master Teacher Project and the Blended Master Teacher Project will create a critical body of knowledge around the Next Generation Science Standards and highlight strategies for successful blended learning.

In focusing a project around Science and the NGSS, BetterLesson (in partnership with the NEA) will spotlight science educators who embrace the ethos of the Maker Movement, and employ strategies in their classrooms that unlock the maker spirit in their students. The Next Generation Science Standards place an emphasis on engineering practices. This emphasis on engineering skill-building dovetails perfectly with the Maker Movement.

The Blended Master Teacher Project, created in partnership with the Learning Accelerator, will detail the effective techniques of teachers working in a blended environment. These educators who skillfully flip their classrooms and individualize learning give their students more space and time to be Makers. This project will emphasize this critical element of successful blended learning.

BetterLesson is thrilled to join the White House in celebrating the first ever “Day of Making”.  We will be joining the #NationofMakers in celebrating the the power and ingenuity  of Makers!

 

ELA Q & A with Dr. Erik Sussbauer

NEA Master Teacher Dr. Erik Sussbauer leads his Grade 11 ELA classes at Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. However, you don’t have be one of his students to learn from him. You can find Erik responding to users’ questions and comments with rich explanations on CC.BetterLesson.

Below, you can see a teacher reaching out to Erik for more information after reading his lesson “Revisiting Writing / Comparing Rhetorical Appeals”.

Alyssa Fligge: Hi Erik, Great resources! Thanks for sharing. Do you by chance have your Rhetorical Analysis essay assignment sheet and rubric posted on this site? I would love to see what you do with you students for writing within this type of content. Thanks! -Alyssa
Erik Sussbauer, Ed. .D.: I just posted the prompt (modeled after the AP prompts for writing a rhetorical analysis), and the rubric (I only have exemplary and proficient categories listed so I can provide comments in the last box, including if that standard is less than proficient) in the resources of revisit rhetorical analysis essays (the lessons for that unit will eventually be available here as BetterLesson continues to add content).

In the comments of Erik’s lesson “Close Reading Review”, a teacher compliments the articles used as supplementary resources in the lesson. Erik responds by referring to the types of texts he selected and why.

Susan Caddell: I really like the articles you are pulling to discuss a true education. I’ve done a synthesis essay with my AP Lang juniors two different years from The Language of Composition text, unit four (I think) on education, and part of the big question for the unit is defining a true education.
Erik Sussbauer, Ed. D.: Responding to Susan Caddell I also use the Language of Composition, 2e and in fact the next unit after this one is writing the synthesis essay, where students write on defining true education (that’s why so many of the lessons here are about “entering the conversation” to model that idea before they do it in writing). Some of these articles from the Atlantic and other sources helped contextualize the philosophical pieces for the students (and happened to be published at the same time I was teaching the unit!).

Check out all of Erik’s lessons on CC.BetterLesson. When you’re logged in you can leave him some feedback which will likely lead to a conversation with the Master Teacher himself. Hurrah for teacher learning!

Dive Into the Sea of Teacher Feedback!

If you’re looking for a week-long reading project for your Grade 3 class, CC.BetterLesson has what you’re looking for!
 
NEA Master Teacher Nicole Prejna has five awesome lessons built around Mary Pope Osborne’s chapter book Dark Day in the Deep Sea. It’s a week-long adventure during which students dive head first into the novel to explore and gain a full understanding of the contextual emotions, character traits and vocabulary. One user found Nicole’s vocabulary bookmark useful. See her comment and Nicole’s response on the lesson “Dark Day in the Deep Sea – Day One”.
 
The user wrote: “Nicole, I love this lesson and would love to duplicate the vocabulary bookmark for the novel I am starting. Is it possible for you to send it to me in a word document so that I can modify it? Thanks so much for sharing!”
Nicole responded: “Hi Colleen! I’m so glad you’re finding the vocabulary bookmark helpful! Please send me your email, and I’d be glad to send you the word doc. Thanks so much! -Nici”

 

Further along in the week’s adventure, another user praised how inspiring Nicole’s teaching is in the Community Feedback section of “Dark Day in the Deep Sea – Day Four”.

The user wrote: “Thank you so much for this wonderful series of lessons and resources. I am very grateful for your expertise and generosity. What great ideas, art work, in-depth resources and inspiration. THANKS!”
Nicole responded: “Hi Mary Ellen! I really appreciate your nice comments. I’m so happy that you’ll find this set of lessons helpful with your group of students in Oregon. That is one great thing about the Common Core, we are all working toward the same goals, and can share ideas across the country. Thank you so much! Take care. Nici”

Nicole’s inspired instruction doesn’t end there. Check out all of her creative lessons when you log in to CC.BetterLesson and leave her some feedback of your own.

Celebrating Memorial Day

We would like to help you remind your students that Memorial Day is more than just a day off of school. So we’ve compiled some thoughtful and relevant lessons from CC.BetterLesson that you could use to inspire your students to think about what Memorial Day really stands for.

Mission Impossible: Mission Complete!” is an Algebra II lesson taught by Jarod Hammel. In this class, students are assigned two missions by the Air Force. Here’s one of them. Pretty intense, right? Each mission gives students the opportunity to assess data and problem solve in a unique and fun role play.

Paula Stanton guides her Grade 9 class through writing reflective poetry about 9/11 in her lesson “Remembering the Sights and Sounds of 9/11 Through Poetry”. It’s a two day lesson that culminates in a gallery walk of the students’ work.

Tim Pappageorge’s lesson “Mapping a Place: Afghanistan at a Crossroads” puts forth the question ‘Why is Afghanistan important?’. In it, students use both fiction and non-fiction texts to broaden the inquiry and exploration of Afghanistan and its place in world history.

We hope you enjoy the long weekend!

Please take the time this weekend to remember the heroes who fought for our country.

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