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Learning at its Best

My week…so far

This past Monday our county had its yearly “Making Connections” conference.  We began this about 9 or 10 years ago, so that teachers in one school could find out what teachers in another school are doing…so that vanguards could share their trials and others could learn from them (and hopefully save making the same mistakes)…so that the central leaders could have a venue for sharing the good work being done around our system…and probably for many other reasons that ALL involve making connections –between people and subjects and schools and across the distance of our 750 sq. mile division.

It’s always a highlight of the year for me–one gets to see all 1200 teachers in our division in one school for one day, and connect with people one just doesn’t get to see very often.  I like connecting with my friends in schools where I have taught before and the people who have made a difference in my career or life. We always have keynotes and this year ours was a fellow co-op catalyst, Zoe Weil.  It was the first time I had met (or heard) Zoe and the hour I spent with her was well worth the time.

I also did a session myself–at 8:30, the first one of the morning. I had made 20 copies of the one page handout I had, but had to make more.  To host a standing-room-only session at 8:30 was a shock to me–there were about 40 other offerings going on at the same time.  Mine was called “Strategies to Promote Student Thinking and Understanding” and I had folks from K-12 and administrators come to learn and share. We used this wiki (Making Thinking Visible) and began with a chalk talk. (Thanks @nashworld, for teaching ME about those at Educon 2012.)  I went to some great sessions and had great conversations–what an awesome way to start the week!  My favorite might have been @pammoran and @beckyfisher73’s “Making Connections Between Space, Time and Learning” (which we’re hopefully repeating at Educon 2013, by the way). In the room were @chadsansing, @lauratdewald, @mtechman, @senorscott, @psubear, and many other great thinkers in the Albemarle County Public School system. It was a thought-provoking conversation!

Then, Tuesday, we were off school and it was Election Day. I enjoyed my day, and stayed up WAY too late watching the returns come in!

Today, my math class (first thing in the morning) was incredible! The kids were amazing, working hard at solving some problems with decimals, fractions and percents that would challenge some adults! I can’t even begin to explain the processes the kids used, but we were recording them, and when we post their conversations, I’ll share it here–the mathematical reasoning was just astounding! Kids were sharing thoughts and ideas, challenging each other and disagreeing while justifying why in very appropriate ways. Three kids came up after class, asking me for a challenge that would take them more than a day to complete.  They SO loved struggling with the hard problems we had given them!

Then, later in the day, I began a third grade reading group, one I’ll be working with until the holidays.  We’re using a wiki, Bridges Between, and if you want to see the books we’re using, check out the “For Parents” page. They haven’t arrived yet, though, so we’re doing some pre-book work–like looking at the book covers and predicting what the book will be about.

These 3rd graders are mostly 8 years old…but they began blogging today, sharing either their thoughts as to what one of the books will be about, or a time when they (or someone they knew) felt like they were “out of their mind.” (quick read of today’s posts here) Then, several of them went home and got BACK on the blog and responded to others. One cool thing, though, was that one kid, when I said we’d be blogging, shared with the others that it was really important not to put personal information on the web–that it wasn’t safe.  She was working to protect not only herself, but her friends, as well.

And that’s what’s been so very cool about my whole week so far–the sharing, the caring, the kindnesses shown.  I hope you read these young blogs–and look at the comments. They model the attitudes and  compassion we want in all people.

Thanks, Zoe, Chad, Pam, Becky, Laura, Melissa, Claire, Ashby, Anne, Karen, LeighAnna, Brandy, Atlanta and all the other people who have supported me and helped this week be so awesome so far. I LOVE being an educator in this day and time (and place!), “making connections” not only in my county, but here and across the world as well!

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


9 thoughts on “My week…so far

  1. I have, on occasion, wished that I could be an 8 year-old in your classroom! I know if circumstances were different, I would have been standing in your “Making Connections” seminar, for sure! Teach on, Paula White!

    Posted by Lori | November 7, 2012, 10:07 pm
  2. It is such a joy to see new Cooperative Catalyst postings from Paula White … I so agree with your experiences that students love tough challenges – as long as they see value in engaging!

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | November 7, 2012, 10:13 pm
    • And I bet you see that a lot in your job as well, John. Born in another age, I might have been an engineer. 🙂 Oh, well, maybe in my next life. I have absolutely loved working with kids–they have taught me so much.

      I remember my Dad having a drafting table in our basement….I had forgotten that until just this moment. Thinking about you being an engineer brought that memory back. Wish he was around so I could ask him about it.

      Thanks for your confidence in me…I wasn’t sure this post would be for anyone except me.

      Posted by Paula White | November 7, 2012, 10:29 pm
      • Imagine my fortunate situation: I get to facilitate effective learning efforts that involve engineering projects!!!

        Posted by jcbjr9455 | November 7, 2012, 10:36 pm
        • You ARE lucky!!! (Did I ever share my “artful engineering” wiki with you? I made it in conjunction with an amazing grad student, Willy Kjellstrom. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever done to help, especially girls, with visual spacial skills.)

          We’ve had 2-d fabricators in our room for several years (silhouettes- and recently got a 3-D fabricator. I can’t wait to see what the kids do with it. I also got a grant this year to take 4 of my teachers to the state engineering conference in February. Can’t wait for that either!

          So, John, do you have a web site with some of your engineering challenges there?

          Posted by Paula White | November 7, 2012, 10:50 pm
  3. I would like very much to have access to your wiki. I have blogged in the past at but have not added any posting since last December. The postings that are there dealt with K-12 mostly, with effective learning. Until you asked, the time since the last posting and my disappointment in response to those postings were buried out of my consciousness. I have an Evernote list of possible topics but … I guess now that you’ve reminded me of it, I’ll need to reconsider what to do. I do believe I have thoughts to share! Your thoughts on the existing postings and options for restart are always valued. Thanks for our dialogue!!!

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | November 8, 2012, 12:20 am
    • I’ll be extremely glad if my question helps you be re-energized to share. Our wiki is It’s where the students went each day to get their “directions.” Let me know if you have questions. The whole piece of work was predicated around them building, with snap cubes, a 3x3x3 cube with different parts (like a brainteaser–no piece they built could have more than five individual cubes, no 2 pieces could be identical, and they had to be facile with taking the 3x3x3 cube apart and putting it back together before they could fabricate it) and then replicating that on the digital fabricator.

      Hope that makes sense–trying to respond before walking out the door to school.

      Posted by Paula White | November 8, 2012, 8:23 am
  4. Hi Paula,

    I checked out your Wiki, great info there. I’ve had the David Perkins book on my Amazon Wishlist for a while. I need to pick that up. I noted your inclusion of the “Objects of their Attention” article. I teach with objects a great deal, and I read the article when it first came out, but thank you again for including it.

    For almost a decade I’ve been working with and taking my 7th grade students to an art museum on the campus of Ursinus College in my district. Working with the Prof. of Educational Outreach there, my students and I have had some amazing experiences and have learned a great deal about visual literacy and critical viewing. Are you familiar with the article “Teaching Yourself to Teach With Objects” by John Hennigar Shuh? It’s seminal for me in so far as getting students to learn through looking.


    For the past few years I’ve been involving my students in design-based learning. While not strictly engineering based, the students work through a similar process in terms of innovation, though their process is far more human centered and less technical (in terms of mechanics, I suppose) than engineers. We’ve even had the good fortune to work with Industrial Design students from a local college on several projects (just started another one with my 8th graders this year). Applied creativity, as in design thinking or engineering is so crucial to our future and keeps kids engaged…but you know this.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Posted by Garreth Heidt | November 8, 2012, 7:03 pm

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