By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Dec 1st, 2017
Used to be, when students would stare off into space, we wouldn’t know what they were thinking about. Now, with all the screens in front of their faces—and ours—we at least know the topic of their attention. But what are they actually thinking? How can we get inside their heads to discern their thought process? If they’re on the mark, terrific! But if they’re stuck, how can we know?
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Sep 12th, 2017
This is a project that unfolded over the course of a year, Since this is the beginning of a new year, science teachers interested in meeting the CCSS literacy stands could consider the approach my colleague and I took to help students write like a scientist. ( is the term.)
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • May 30th, 2017
“It was wicked cool.”
That’s how one 10th grade student at McCutcheon High School summed up the collaborative learning experience orchestrated by English teacher Jennie Ruiz and science teacher Chris Pfledderer.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • May 2nd, 2017
Indiana Academic Standards (and the Common Core) call for all teachers—even teachers of physical education—to incorporate literacy into their classroom instruction. While some of those literacy standards—like writing an argumentative essay—have been waived for physical education, some remain. These largely concern the use of vocabulary and discipline-appropriate explanatory or informative writing, including the use of non-linguistic tools such as graphs, flowcharts, and diagrams. By basing the game on vocabulary and the rules of spelling, my colleague was honoring the directive from the state.
But Mrs. Oertel had another reason, too, for playing a game based on vocabulary. She believes that learning should be interdisciplinary. “We’re all a team here,” she said. “I want to help out with academic goals.” Indeed, she has a game based on math problems that involves fitness and stations where kids solve math problems on a whiteboard before moving on to the next challenge and another game designed to draw on knowledge learned in social studies.
She’s not alone in believing that interdisciplinary lessons bolster what students have learned in other classes.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Dec 2nd, 2016
Paul Tough, a journalist-turned-education-sage wrote a book a few years ago called How Children Succeed. In that book, he confirmed everything I’ve known for years—from experience and by instinct—about why some kids are successful and why some aren’t. It isn’t about IQ; it isn’t always about money and family resources.
It’s about having the discipline to make yourself study when you’d rather be playing video games or texting or driving around town with your friends on a fine spring night. It’s about persistence—about seeing a teacher after school to get something explained, about giving up a lunch period to visit the math lab, or revising that paper when the assignment to do so is optional. It’s about memorizing the formulas and going over the study notes. It’s about setting a goal and moving toward it, step by step by step.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Oct 1st, 2016
I’d learned that there’s no one right way to take notes (a big relief) and that some techniques—like trying to write down everything a speaker says—are largely ineffective. Nothing new there. And then I stumbled upon Rachel Smith’s TedX Talk.
When Rachel Smith was in school, she got in trouble for drawing in class. She describes, in her talk, a scenario I remember from my own school days of teachers berating kids for doodling—when, in fact, they were creating graphic representations of what they were learning. (A colleague—now an art teacher—told me she’d even been kicked out of Sunday school for drawing in class!) Smith makes the point that drawing while she listened helped her focus—not to mention that her drawings captured the content in memorable images.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Aug 1st, 2016
Many young people today are without real heroes. Their knowledge of individuals who have made a difference in the world extends to celebrities and sports stars, perhaps to someone in politics. Worthy as some of these people may be, students are generally unaware of the range of actions that can be considered heroic and, even more importantly, of the people in their own community who have made a difference by standing up for, rescuing, or serving another person, cause, idea, or the community itself.
This Unsung Heroes project expands students’ understanding of what it means to be a hero. My hope is that my students will be inspired by the person whose life and work they research and that someday, when they themselves confront an injustice, meet with a challenge, or perceive a community need (as they undoubtedly will), they will recall the courage, selflessness, and determination of these local heroes to “repair the world.” I hope that, from these individuals’ examples, my students will draw the strength to act heroically themselves.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Jul 1st, 2016
What is it that makes us write our names in our books, amass collections of books, enthusiastically lend our books to friends (but keep a record so we can call them back)? When we do cull our collections and take stacks to used book dealers, why do we cross out our names or obliterate them with labels? If someone has inscribed a book for us—a gift—we hesitate to let it go, and if we have books passed down from our parents, our grandparents, their parents before them, well, these simply cannot be discarded.
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • May 1st, 2016
I come from a time when girls were not encouraged to take science classes. I struggled with math in high school, so when my teachers said I didn't need to take chemistry or physics--the implication being I'd struggle there, too, and besides, why did a girl need chemistry and physics?--I just smiled and considered myself lucky. Big mistake. I should have been more assertive--I should have known I would be missing out.
My good friend and colleague invited me into her class a few weeks ago to observe a demonstration lesson in AP Physics I. As I watched, my own high school experience came rushing back. I realized what I had missed a long time ago, and I'm grateful now, after all these years, for the invitation to learn, right along with this class of--get this!--twenty-one girls (and one boy).
Here's an account of that class:
By Sarah Powley, Education Coach • Apr 1st, 2016
In my role as an instructional coach, I have met with teachers in secondary schools throughout my district. I’ve talked with them individually, in small groups, at whole faculty meetings. I have met outstanding educators and seen some spectacular teaching. I have been warmly welcomed, my calendar is full, and I feel valued and productive. I love supporting other teachers. I love my job. But there is something I still haven’t gotten used to, even four years into this work: I miss the kids...