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September 2009
Welcome, Teachers and Learners!

Classroom teachers, teacher leaders, coaches and other educators ... welcome to the Teaching and Learning in Action newsletter.

This new monthly publication from Houston A+ Challenge incorporates local stories, best practices, research and news specifically designed to help inform and improve your practice. We hope you find it useful, and we welcome your feedback.

Note: Educators who previously subscribed to Teacher Externship Connections or Coaching Facilitates Greatness e-newsletters have been auto-subscribed for this new, combined teaching and learning newsletter. If you do not wish to receive Teaching and Learning in Action, scroll to the bottom of the page and click 'unsubscribe'.

This month we look at how technology is changing work in the classroom, in our own office, and across the nation.

From the Field: Math in the Digital Classroom

Pam Parrish (top) and Candy Gilmer (bottom) assist students working on Reasoning Mind

In the summer of 2008, when Youngblood Intermediate School Principal Pam Bruner asked veteran teachers Pam Parrish and Candy Gilmer if they would like to pilot a new math program for the school year, they were interested but cautious.

It's a typical response from teachers when they hear about Reasoning Mind, a technology-driven math program for elementary students where students work through online curriculum as the teacher provides additional real-time support, resources, and instruction. Youngblood receives funding to implement the program through a partnership between Houston A+ Challenge and the ExxonMobil Foundation.

After a year of implementation at the Alief ISD campus, Parrish and Gilmer's skepticism has been replaced by enthusiasm as they've seen their students succeed. "In the fall of 2008, we were given the kids that needed the most help. They hadn't passed the TAKS test -- in some cases, ever. We moved the passing rate for them from 0 to almost 70 percent," says Gilmer. "They succeeded unlike they ever had." With such success and the start of a new school year, both of them see the opportunity to grow.

Parrish and Gilmer, both master teachers, say they are excited by the way the Reasoning Mind (RM) allows them to differentiate learning based on student needs. "I feel like I know my students better than I ever have," says Parrish. "RM has given me the chance to work with each student individually, to assess what they need and then help them with it on a daily basis." Adds Gilmer: "Every bit of time, we are spending with the students teaching math to each one as they need it. It's great."

Not only are their students learning, but so are they. Reasoning Mind teachers undergo a rigorous certification process requiring them to demonstrate mastery of the curriculum and pedagogy before becoming an RM teacher. "It was great refresher for me. Especially the algebra," says Parrish. But for Gilmer, the learning wasn't all textbook. "I've learned that the kids we typically say don't have a chance to make it, do have a chance. RM has made me see that."

Both are quick to point out something else they've learned about computer-aided instruction. "You can't just sit a kid down at a computer and walk away. It won't work," Parrish contends. "Teachers are needed to facilitate, respond to questions, and pull kids off to intervene when necessary." Gilmer adds that the program has allowed her to use her math manipulatives in a meaningful way. "Now, I can pull kids off the computer and sit a group down with manipulatives targeted at specific areas."

When asked what they hope to see with the program this year, both Parrish and Gilmer said they hope it looks like it did last year. Gilmer sums it up, saying: "The kids love to learn math. They can't wait to get in here. They love it, and they learn, and that's all I can ask for."

From the A+ Office: Critical Friends Webinar

Last month, Houston A+ Challenge staffer, Alejandro Morua, utilized web technologies to conduct an online "Looking at Work" session for teachers who participated in this summer's externship for teachers.

Teachers used a structure tuning protocol to provide feedback to one another on lesson plans that incorporate skills students need to succeed in life after high school. Morua facilitated the session by inviting teachers to log in remotely to an online webinar. Teachers discussed the work and provided both verbal and written feedback regarding the lesson.

When asked about the new online process for looking at work, Morua stated, "It was awesome. Teachers were looking at their own practice and providing others meaningful feedback about their work, and they did it from all over the city -- without leaving their homes." Houston A+ Challenge will begin rolling out a series of such opportunities and other avenues for educators to connect and learn via technology in the coming months.

From the Headlines

How tech savvy is your school? Check out these links to see what's happening across the nation in technology and education.

Network with Nation: Educators across the nation continue to connect over the web at sites like http://www.classroom20.com where teachies and techies are collaborating on what the future holds for the digital classroom.

The New Tech Classroom is Collaborative: "Collaboration Generation," a recent article by Grace Rubenstein published in Edutopia, contends that technology requires students know how to collaborate in and beyond the classroom -- not in the future, but now.

The Blended Class: A recent study conducted by the Department of Education has found that blended classrooms that utilize both teacher and technology to provide instruction are faring better.

Do you Tweet?: Educators are utilizing Twitter as a tool in and out of the classroom. A recent article in EdWeek looks at how this technology is being used.

College Degree: $99 a month: Check out this Washington Post article that looks at the changing face, and cost, of a college education.


September 12
6th Annual Reach Out to Dropouts Walk
All Day
Districts Across Houston

October 1
Charles Payne: 'So Little Reform, So Little Change'
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Houston A+ Challenge

October 13
'The Power of the Network' Dinner, benefiting Houston A+ Challenge
6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
River Oaks Country Club

October 15, 16, 17, 23 and 24
Critical Friends Group New Coach Training
8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Houston A+ Challenge

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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Mike Webster,
Teacher Leadership Coach


Houston A+ Challenge's support for teacher leaders is made possible through grants from:

The Brown Foundation

ExxonMobil Foundation

and other supporters