1 Year Ago

Ok…we’re going back 3 years ago for just a moment. Like any good teacher I had the capacity to say “no” surgically removed when I got my credential and, as such, was coerced (read “volunteered”) to be part of our district’s Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) through an RGK grant. On the ILT I was trained to facilitate “Learning Walk” and “Lesson Link” (now called “Lesson Study”) – and then was instructed to run 2 of each over 2 years. I was shy, nervous, I wanted to just be left alone to teach in my classroom. I could not facilitate the amazing teachers at my school… but in the end I LOVED it and I LOVED Lesson Study!

So now onto a year ago. High on my success and enjoyment of being an instructional leader, I applied for California Teacher’s Association’s Teacher Leadership Cohort (CTA’s TLC), hoping to continue work in instruction and professional development (PD). I was accepted! And that’s where this AMAZING journey began – in Burlingame, CA in July 2013.

CTA’s TLC was funded through a National Education Association (NEA) grant. I wanted to continue to improve instruction in our schools – especially around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). My project idea was new since our lesson study would cross schools in the district (where our RGK training was to implement this solely by school). So this became my project. You can read all about it below. It was a success! And one of my cross-school collaborators and I have been asked to present it for our district at our convocation in August.

Meanwhile at CTA TLC, we continued to meet in our regions throughout the school year. I was continually inspired by our fantastic cohort members and CTA’s Instruction and Professional Development Department (IPD). Here I thought all along that unions were only for politics and bargaining! I was never a “joiner” and never wanted to be political…but CTA has an IPD department, which I could get behind. And they run some amazing PD’s! I strongly encourage checking them out!

So in the meantime, unable to say no, I actually presented at quite a few on these conferences (remember I’m shy). And it was a blast! I got to travel, meet amazing educators, sit in on fantastic presentations, and inspire others! And so why not apply to be an NEA’s Greater Public School Network Facilitator?

Yes, I got that gig too (see previous post). I was officially a joiner! In the meantime I joined committees at our school district around the CCSS (and bargaining CCSS money) and got more involved with my local union. But, really, this last week at NEA’s RA (Representation Assembly) really takes the cake!

NEA logo

I got to go to Denver, Colorado to NEA’s RA as an “Empowered Educator” – (along with CTA TLC’s Danesa Menge)

Empowered Educator

This meant I got to participate in the “Raise Your Hand” events even though I wasn’t an elected delegate. It was a day of panels, speeches, collaboration, learning and inspiration. Lots of inspiration! We were called to raise our hands and raise our voices for Great Public Schools, Equal Opportunity, Social Justice and Student Success! And if I wasn’t empowered when I arrived, I was certainly an Empowered Educator when I left!

We also had some great training from NEA’s GPS Network and worked at the Expo to help sign up new members for NEA’s GPSNetwork – a place where all educators and stakeholders can connect, collaborate, share and learn.Un Conference


Meanwhile, my husband, an artist, stayed home and held down the fort with the kids. He also created this amazing visual that expresses the voice we all have within: (credit www.joelharrisstudio.com)


On my final day in Denver I got to attend NEA RA’s opening ceremonies where Mr. Obama even sent a video message. It was amazing! Music and dancing and confetti and beach balls and love and inspiration with about 9,000 educators from all over the country….Confetti

Me and Gaby

With my fellow CTA TLC member, Gabriela Orozco-Gonzalez who runs a great PD at http://www.commoncorecafe.blogspot.com/ and is a CTA Delegate and GPS Network’s Natalie McCutchen.

My takeaways from this week are that educators are held to a different standard. We are expected to be kind, collaborative, creative, intelligent, dedicated, hard-working, and compassionate human beings who are champions of social justice, equal opportunity and student success. And we are!

AND that if we are in education, we are political – there’s no separating it! So mark my word, I am now a joiner who will continue to use my voice to stand up for Great Public Schools and Student Success in all ways that being a mother of four will allow!

And our unions? FAR MORE than bargaining and politics – they are behind us to help us grow to be the best educators we can be! HUGE shout out to CTA and NEA for making me see the light as a mid-career educator. I have grown immensely this year! Thank you!

Great quotes from this week:

“When we begin to build the capacity of our teachers, we build the capacity of our students.” – teacher Daniella Robles

You have the power to push passions, to help healing, to hand out hope, to empower inspiration.” – Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year

“Proceed until apprehended.” –  NEA President Dennis Van Roekel


So no, we didn’t have a chance to bask in this lovely rooftop pool in Denver, CO


But we did build a strong team of nation-wide educators who are here to facilitate groups for all stakeholders in education on the GPS Network so I hope you will join us! All funded by the NEA and here to help us be better educators and leaders!

GPS Group

Brandy Bixler, Kelly Bouteiller, Barbara Ransom, Sara Bill, Patricia Gramer Roach, Ramona Brown, Troy Rivera, Greg Hobbs

And while you’re at it you can check out my cute kiddos in my GPS stop motion “ad”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVkDKH3kK6o

…and in the best Union News EVER! NEA elected three women of color to lead it:

President: Lily Eskelsen Garcia (who started in education as a cafeteria worker)

Vice President: Becky Pringle (amazing inspirational speaker for raising our voice)

Secretary-Treasurer: Princess Moss


Congratulations to all of us!

Next week I head to Sacramento to meet the new members of CTA’s TLC #2! I can’t wait!


Collaboration Continues on a National Level

I was fortunate to be chosen to facilitate a group for the National Education Association’s (NEA) new website – the Greater Public Schools Network.  The plan is for this to be the Nation’s largest Learning Community!IMG_20140425_034635

The NEA’s purpose is  to bring educators and stakeholders together through this site to:

“Collaborate, advocate, and organize to improve public education by leading a student-centered Association agenda.

The Great Public Schools site has many components:

1. Collaborate on professional issues

2. Search for resources to enhance lessons plans and share ideas

3. Read educational blogs and up-to-date educational news

4. Share your opinions through a feature called Today’s Poll

5. Explore Practical Tools provided by NEA and other partners

6. Join events of interest that are announced via the GPS Network, i.e., webinars, podcasts, etc.”

I spent a long weekend training in Washington DC at NEA Headquarters just 4 blocks from the White House:

IMG_20140425_154519 IMG_20140425_155713 IMG_20140425_170426 IMG_20140425_170439 IMG_20140425_192236I also got to meet and work with some amazing and enthusiastic educators from across the country – as well as some of NEA’s staff. It was an inspiring, yet tiring, weekend.NEA GPS Network Facilitators Training with staffWe did get a chance to do a little sight seeing too…White HouseI look forward to our second training and networking this summer in Denver, Colorado at NEA’s Representative Assembly (RA) where I will also get to participate in NEA’s Empowered Educator Day! Can’t wait to reconnect with this amazing group!

And if you’d like to join my group, anyone interested in education is welcome (parents, grandparents, etc…) I’m facilitating the CCSS Math 8th Grade group.


Common Core Seminar – Oxnard/CTA

Yes! Even near the end of the year, 200+ dedicated educators are working on a beautiful Saturday to better themselves and their schools.


I was happy to attend a technology session with Danesa Menge where I learned about a lot of new apps to engage students and encourage them in CCSS.

CCS 2Afterward, I led a session on Lesson Study. What a fantastic group! Some really great questions and discussion going on as to how we can work collaboratively in our schools to improve our instruction. Here’s a photo of my group watching a clip from The Teaching Channel called “My Favorite No.” It is one of the strategies we can use to encourage and normalize mistakes – because we learn SO much from them.

CCS 3Some of my participants wanted the link to my Prezi presentation so here it is here: http://prezi.com/ydynxedy72_t/lesson-study-ccss/

And then it was lunch! A beautiful spread poolside. That’s the thing about CTA’s conferences: great educators, great presentation, and great food! And so low cost! Check out those desserts!


Finally I attended George Cheung’s presentation on building a technological ecosystem. After having an iPad and “Reflector” in my classroom for over a year NOW I finally can see how I can use it! I am also taking steps toward flipping my classroom so I’ve got a lot of great ideas from Danesa and George to try out.


If you want more info on attending or presenting at these conferences – visit CTA’s Conference website! 

Math Practice Wordle

Here’s my Wordle from the CCSS 8 Mathematical Practices (feel free to steal!):


I love using Wordle and so do the students. Just add text and it will generate different designs, colors, etc. (or you can customize it too).

The bigger words are more frequent in the text. Classroom applications are vast.

Save it, print it, link it, share it!


Share yours?

How can you use it in the classroom?

CTA’s Good Teaching Conference South 2014 – Anaheim

I got the chance to attend and present at CTA’s Good Teaching Conference South this weekend in Anaheim. So while my spouse and the girls enjoyed some Disney adventures, I presented about our lesson study and with the Teacher Leadership Cohort. I believe the attendance at the conference was around 700 (originally planned for 400). But I think with the Pre-GTC Common Core focus, teachers and schools were ready to learn all they could about CCSS.

My first session went well with a nice group of about 36. My second session was standing room only! They added about 20 chairs and closed the session. A little overwhelming, but still a good crowd. Thanks to my Principal and our Secondary Math Coordinator I had some good resources to share. Also thanks to Gabriela Orozco Gonzalez, Norma Sanchez, and Monica Cooper for the friendly faces and support in my big session (they had to con their way in!) I had a fabulous facilitator from CDE too.

GTC Pic 2

That’s me with the crowd

GTC Pic 1

John Hattie activity








It was a great experience  presenting and I also learned a lot in the sessions I attended. I would recommend any of CTA’s conferences –  great speakers! And it was a nice way to rejuvenate and refocus at this time of year (when spring fever is in full bloom). If you are interested in viewing my Prezi you can find it here

And if you want to apply for CTA’s Teacher Leadership Cohort apply here (apply by March 24, 2014) – it is an AMAZING experience.

Math Practice 3: Higher Level Questions and the Mistake Game

After a bit of frustration with Math Pratice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, a colleague sent me this link to “The Mistake Game”. So I thought I’d try it to see if it helps students critique the reasoning of others. All students want to be smart and making a mistake is scary!

But first I wanted to teach higher level questioning skills. So I started by showing them this graphic of Depth of Knowledge:

DOKThen we brainstormed questions they’ve been asked on tests or assignments in any of their classes that relate to different depths of knowledge.

Then we played a couple games: 20 questions and The Great Brain. Really this only takes about 10 minutes max so it is worth the time.

20 Questions:

  • One student is a secret celebrity
  • The rest of the class asks questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer – but only 20 – to try to figure out who the celebrity is.

The Great Brain:

  • Three students are one entity known as The Great Brain who can answer any question you could possibly ever want to know like “Why is the sky blue?”
  • The students answer in order, one word at a time, which turns out to be funny, full of gibberish and a lot of fun.
  • Make sure to preface that the questions are “school appropriate.”

So, as a recap, the 20 Question questions are “low level” depth of knowledge – not a lot of thought needed to answer them, not much brain activity, just recall. The Great Brain questions are only fun if they are “higher level” and require more than one word answer. They mostly start with “How…”, “Why…”, and “Explain….” The Great Brain questions are the ones we are going to use in the mistake game.

We played the mistake game and I offered some extra credit for the students who could ask higher level questions. They did great! It took a little time and was a little scary – but very worthwhile.

Test corrections became Mistake game #2 and was awesome! First, the students asked to “do that mistake thing again because it was fun.” So after our unit test, we played again.

I handed back their tests and assigned 1 problem per group to present – and to pick a mistake that someone in their group made on the test. Instead of students hiding their tests from each other, they actually brought them out, picked apart their work together and shared their mistakes. I found myself walking around the room saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good mistake! Quite a few people made the same one.” A good mistake!

Best.Test.Corrections.Ever! No one had to stay after class and ask for extra help. They got it. They asked great questions. Everyone was happy with their mistakes.

Time to put Math Practice 3 into practice (outside of the mistake game): a partner test.

I hoped they would start to critique each other after this game while they worked on this one real world problem. As I walked around, I heard them critiquing each other and not just accepting the other students’ ideas. Were they just showing off for me when I was in hearing range? Did I need my teacher team to come and observe? Well, fortunately the school district Principals decided to walk through our classes that day – and suddenly in walked 8 outside observers! Yay! (really who says “Yay” when a bunch of administrators suddenly descend on your classroom?) But yay! The observers were able to confirm that yes, indeed, the students were actually explaining well and asking questions! Yay for math practice 3!

Now to keep it going….for a short review next week I will have students in groups choose a small object from their backpack and create 2 low level and 2 high level questions.

AND now in class, I won’t accept anything other than a high level question – no more “I don’t get it” for my students!

Living on the Edge

As we walked into the “other” middle school across town, one of the teachers teaching the lesson was running back in with a new package of rubber bands and a receipt. Apparently during a bungee test run the rubber bands they originally purchased were too tight – so he had to run out and get new smaller stretchier ones:

Big Ones

Big Ones

Little Ones

Little Ones

Barbie's ankle anchor

The original large rubber bands would be used as anchors for Barbie’s ankles.

Next we assembled what one teacher dubbed “pre-packaging” – but first we had to free the Barbies from their childproof packaging.

Prep 2

Each “package” was a large ziploc bag that included:

  • 1 Barbie with a rubber band anchor tied around her ankles
  • 9 rubber bands (size 19)
  • 4 rulers
  • 4 markers
Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

And one extra mermaid

And one extra mermaid

We also realized that Barbie needed to have her arms above her head and her hair tied back to make it easier to see the height of the jump. Accuracy could prevent a broken arm or a fatality.

After our assembly of packaging we got down to the nitty gritty. What were our goals for the lesson and what did we want to look for during the lesson?


  • Math applications
  • Creating a scatter plot with a best fit (trend line) and writing an equation
  • Understanding and applying slope and y-intercept
  • How to use data to make a prediction
  • Team work
  • CCSS Math Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • CCSS MP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • CCSS MP 4: Model with mathematics
  • CCSS MP 5: Use appropriate tools strategically

Look Fors: Each observing teacher would script the following while observing the lesson:

  • Team structure (participation and communication)
  • MP1
  • MP3
  • MP4
  • MP5
  • Pacing, timing, transitions

Each lesson started with the last 1.5 min of this video http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bungee%20jump%20victoria%20falls&sm=3

Then we were into lesson #1. I was scripting MP3. Amazingly it all went very smoothly. With the students fully engaged in the lesson, the time (and Barbie) flew by – but no rubber bands did (to my amazement!) Unfortunately, most groups only got to complete their data and set up their graphs. So the homework became completing the graphs, line of best fit, and making a prediction for the 5 meter jump Barbie will take later in the week.

Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3

Debrief Time:

We tweaked the data table and removed the column for averaging the 3 jumps. We also added a place for a prediction after the data was collected but before the graphs was complete. And then a space for a final prediction. We were hoping for more discussion, critical thinking, explaining. We also talked about what would happen if we didn’t tell the students to start with one rubber band and add one each jump. What if we gave them 9 rubber bands but no instruction on how to collect their data? What would happen then? In the interest of a 45 min class, we decided to keep the lesson as is – but if we teach it in our block days at the other school we could add this for a point of discussion/critical thinking.

MP 1 and MP 5 went well – no tweaking needed.

But MP 3? In general, the students were too polite. They accepted each other’s reasoning too easily. They let the “smart” kid lead without question. Do we need sentence starters to help the critiquing process? Do we need to teach higher order questioning skills? Or should we use the “mistake game“?


Starbuck’s, cookies and the Hulk are necessary for a good debrief

Lesson #2: The teacher also added this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVE5eqel5-M Again no abuse of rubber bands or Barbies, but lots more discussion, even some arguing. Several of the groups decided to find averages anyway “We’re geniuses!” one group proclaimed when the idea came to them. Adding that line about a second prediction helped facilitate MP 3. And some groups wanted to jump to the scatter plot before making the prediction. Really? Isn’t graphing just more work? Apparently not. Leaving the graph axes blank prompted quite a  bit of discussion as well. What scale should they use, how should they be labeled and why? This class got a little bit farther on the worksheet.

Lesson 5 Lesson 4 Lesson 6

Follow up? Once the students complete their predictions they will explain how and why they made them to the class. Then Barbie will jump from 5 m and we are looking forward to video and/or vine to see which group  will give Barbie the best ride. At the other middle school, we will also attempt the Barbie Bungee. Anyone have some Barbies you’d like to donate? Email me bransom@smmusd.org

Lesson Study #3? Yes! We all agree this is valuable so let’s do one on quadratics! This time our high school cohort can teach it since they’ve taught quadratics before.

Thanks to our team of 8 for participating and making this an awesome day!