Book Madness at Willowbrook

We are just a few days away from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament #selectionsunday.  Maybe your bracket manager has already emailed you…

Meanwhile, Librarian Eichmiller has brought Book Madness to Willowbrook School!  Students and staff have nominated 32 books for the contest.  The books were assigned seeds (1 to 8) and posted on a giant bracket sheet outside the library.  If a student is unfamiliar with a book, they can scan a QR code to access a short book talk video.  I recorded one for Drew Daywalt’s “The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors”.

Do you believe each of the #1 seeds deserved their ranking?  Which chapter book will upset a popular Kindergarten picture book?  Students are voting all this week using Google Forms.  We can anticipate some upsets.  I wonder which dark horse will make it to the Sweet Sixteen next week?!

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Future Chef Recipes

Our school district’s food service provider has held an exciting cooking competition for our 4th and 5th grade students over the past few years.  Unfortunately, this year’s Future Chef competition was cancelled.  I want to share the creative and delicious recipes the 3 Willowbrook students submitted.  You may want to try one of these at home!

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Random Acts of Kindness Week

The Willowbrook Spirit Committee invites the whole school community to participate in Random Acts of Kindness Week (February 11-17).  This student video reminds us that it doesn’t take much to spread a little extra kindness.

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Big Ideas in Math

As you may know, District 30 adopted a math curriculum and a set of materials that place a strong emphasis conceptual reasoning.  Our program is rooted in the concrete, pictorial, abstract (CPA) approach developed by American psychologist Jerome Bruner.  Each year since, our teachers have worked to refine their instruction and evolve their math workshop to accommodate students of all ability levels.

I have the distinct pleasure of seeing students at Kindergarten through 5th grade wrestle with big ideas in math each and every day.  For example, I observed Kindergarten students generating different ways (i.e., number sentences) to get to 20 using wooden number racks this morning.  While the students were giggling with excitement, they were also building deep number sense.  This afternoon, I observed 3 student struggling with exponential growth.  The teacher asked them if they would rather receive a one-time payment of $1 million or a penny that doubles every day for a month.  The students played with this until they figured out the equation.

As Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler has argued, math is a set of big ideas and connections (see her graphic below).  When math is taught exclusively as a series of procedures or methods, students miss what makes mathematics a cohesive whole.   If you are interested in the topic, I recommend her article, What is Mathematical Beauty?  Links to additional resources and other related reading are included in the reference section.  Of course, her book “Mathematical Mindsets” and her Ted Talk on math potential are also fantastic.

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Play Pack #3

Our 17 play packs met for the third time this morning.  Students from presch00l through 5th grade returned to their packs for unstructured play.  I observed older students joining in imaginative play with younger students.  I was told a 5th grade boy reminded a 4th grade boy to keep the content of his imaginative play “more appropriate for the little guys”.  Here is a brief snapshot from the Screaming Monkey Play Pack.

We finished Play Pack #3 in the gym as a whole school.  Each Play Pack shared their name.  Some shared a pack cheer or dance move.  Several share that they made new friends today.  The last play pack invited the whole school to a Cat Party Dance (see GoNoodle).  It got a little weird… and very fun.

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Winter Sing

We have many traditions at District 30.  The Winter Sing at Maple School is one of our best!  Wescott and Willowbrook students are bused over to the Maple gym.  The orchestra performs “Chanukah Happening” and “Pachelbel’s Christmas”.  Mr. Vaananen and Mr. Barker lead the students in song, closing with “Jingle Bells”.

Back at Willowbrook, I enjoy reading a holiday book to each grade level.  Our talented PTO parents throw fun room parties.  We close our day as one school community in the gym.  Mr. Barker and his accompaniment entertain us with more music and song.

It was so wonderful to see all the grandparents, parents, and younger siblings pack the gym this afternoon.  What a strong community.  I wish everyone in the District 30 community a peaceful and joyous holiday season.  See you next year!

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Deep Understanding

District 30 is a learning system. We are fortunate to have a board of education that understands the power of professional learning and its effect on student learning. Our staff and administration are committed to their craft. The past 2 days are a reminder of that commitment.

The district’s 2nd through 5th grade teachers enjoyed working with reading consultant and literacy expert, Ellin Oliver Keene. Ellin engaged teachers on defining what deep understanding means to them. We began with rich discussion and conversation around our own comprehension and deep learning experiences. Of course, this is the focus of her book “To Understand“.

Ellin cited research on the conditions needed for deep learning.

  • Focus on a few concepts of great importance.
  • Teach in real depth. Explore…. Over a long period of time.
  • Find plenty of opportunities for kids to apply new learning. We may need 4-6 weeks for kids to get a reading comprehension strategy under their belt.

We talked about the value of an aesthetic experience or personal attachment to new learning and experiences. How can a book, a piece of art, or music transform us? We need to address this with our students. We need to model this for our students.

What do we see when a child understands at deep level? What are the cognitive and behavioral markers? We see excitement or astonishment. Sometimes is comes out all at once. Sometimes is comes out slowly over time. Sometimes it looks like deep satisfaction or inspiration to understand more… a call to action.

What do we do to make that happen? What are the conditions that are required? How do we bring our own intellectual lives into the classroom? It’s our presence as teachers. Ellin modeled some of the conditions needed for deep comprehension. These conditions included books with real substance or gravitas; teachers thinking aloud as they read; time for conversation, discussion, and argument; and time to reflect on ambitious questions.

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School Improvement Plan

I presented this year’s school improvement plan at our PTO’s “Second Cup of Coffee” meeting this morning.  Thank you to the parents in attendance.  I appreciate their thoughtful questions and the subsequent discussion.  We have a supportive and talented parent community!  The home-school partnership is a critical factor in the success of our students.

Willowbrook 2017-18 School Improvement Plan Goals

  1. Grow our literacy studio to provide differentiated instruction that aligns with the Common Core State Standards.
  2. Refine math workshop model to provide differentiated instruction that aligns with the Common Core Standards.
  3. Build capacity for play-based learning experiences.
  4. At Willowbrook School, 55% or more of the students will meet their individual growth targets on the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress Assessment in reading.

Willowbrook students continue to demonstrate significant academic growth.  I believe this is largely due to our teachers’ commitment to ongoing professional learning.  We are committed to a cycle of continuous improvement.  Our teachers continually access feedback from their peers, coaches, and supervisors.

For more information, parents are welcome to visit the Illinois Report Card website.


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Operation Gratitude

We are holding our Veterans Day Assembly on Friday, November 10.  The 5th grade Spirit Committee will be leading this assembly.  They will introduce Operation Gratitude.  Students are encouraged to write thank you letters to veterans and active duty service men & woman over the next week.  The front office will collect letters and mail them to Operation Gratitude on Friday, November 17.

Operation Gratitude’s mission is to lift the spirits the military and first responder communities. This organization began in 2003 and volunteers have shipped more than 1,800,000 care packages.  Below are some commonly asked questions that our Spirit Committee will address at the assembly.

Q: How should I start my letter?
A: We suggest that you start with “Dear Hero”, “Dear Patriot”, “Dear Brave One”, “Dear Service Member”, “Dear Veteran”, or create a greeting of your own.

Q: What should my letter say, and how long should it be?
A: Two paragraphs or more would be nice. One or more paragraphs that express thanks for their service, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, and/or time away from home. And one or more paragraphs about yourself, your school, interesting stories, etc. Please do not include the date or year.

Q: Can I write letters specifically intended for Veterans?
A: Yes. Please open your letter with “Dear Veteran” and refer to their past service.

Q: Can I write letters specifically intended for New Military Recruits?
A: Yes. You can start your letter with a greeting like “Dear New Recruit,” and thank them for joining the military and for their commitment to our country.

Q: Does my letter need to be handwritten?
A: No. Typed letters are fine, but we prefer you hand sign each letter.

Q: Can I write about my family members who served in the military?
A: Yes, as long as it is a positive story, and not about sad events. We ask that your letter be uplifting and serve to put a smile on the recipient’s face!

Q: Can I use colorful construction paper for my children to write letters?
A: Yes. As long as you stay within the paper size limit of 8 ½” x 11”.

Q: Will the troops write back?
A: Possibly. But, you will need to send them your first name, grade level, and the Willowbrook School address if you would like to receive a reply.

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GaGa Ball Rules

We are grateful for the Willowbrook Parent Teacher Organization’s recent gift of a GaGa Ball Pit.  This is a wonderful addition to our outdoor playscape.  Mr. Goss and Mr. Barker produced a short video with the rules of the game.  We shared this at today’s flag raising.  Enjoy!

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