In this week’s episode of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast, Steve is joined by Arin Casavant, a science teacher at Bismarck Public Schools in North Dakota, to explore how teachers can create parent support in order to maximize student learning during school closures.
Get in touch with Arin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve [Intro]: 00:25 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with educators at all levels, both nationally and internationally. I invite you to listen as I explore my thoughts and learning on a variety of topics connected to teaching, learning and leading with some of the best and brightest educators from around the globe. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:53 Teachers creating parents support for student learning. I’m excited today to introduce all of you to Arin Casavant, a middle school science teacher in Bismarck schools in North Dakota. For the last several weeks during the school building closures, I’ve been focused on actually, doing a podcast for parents to encourage parents to support students as learners. I initially started that podcast because I was hearing some people describe that the parents now needed to be teachers and I thought that was missing the role. The role we really need is for parents to understand how they can promote learning as the teachers are working with families to make the greatest learning possible during this time. And I was sent a copy of a letter that Arin sent out to parents and it caught my attention and I asked her principal if she could arrange for me to connect with Arin and see if I could get her to make this podcast for us and she she agreed to join us. So Arin, welcome.
Arin: 02:10 Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited.
Steve: 02:12 You bet. Could you start by just giving us a little bit in introduction to to yourself and maybe talk a little bit about what your classroom instruction generally looks like and sounds like?
Arin: 02:26 My classroom looks very different than a typical middle school classroom and I say that because my training is actually elementary based. This has actually been my first year at the middle school level and so you see a lot of hands on, you see a lot of just student centered classroom. I also worked at a science center for about six years before this as well. And so I always say I’m kind of an informal education teacher. I look at our standards more informally and I want students to create their own learning. So in my classroom, you’re going to see a lot of proof of learning weeks. And those particular weeks are when students are given the standard, that big glorious standard that we have to look at. And they’re asked to tell me or they’re asked to show me what does proof of learning this look like to you? And so you might see kids in the hall, making a video. You might see kids in my back room drawing pictures. Maybe they’re doing a painting, students create board games, online games. You see a lot of different activities in my room. Every couple of weeks we cycle through this proof of learning project.
Steve: 03:50 So folks, I’d like to read the letter that Aaron had sent out to parents because I thought she just stated it so well. So the letter says, “Dear parents/guardians, I’m sending this to you, not to your child so that you can decide which best fits your situation. I believe science is one of the most important constructs ever devised by mankind. I believe curiosity drives science and learning. With all that being said, I know this is a crazy time and I do not want school classwork to interfere with some incredible learning opportunities afforded to you and or your child to explore and ask questions. This is my proposal. If you would be willing to cook, build, engineer, knit, sew, etc. with your child this week and submit a picture for evidence, your child will be excused from science homework. So if you try a new recipe, built a Pinewood Derby car or plant some seeds, start a garden, take some pictures and submit them in lieu of science work this week. This may be done for any week, for the rest of the year in science. Science is anywhere, everywhere that you ask questions and find answers. I hope this provides a more enjoyable and curiosity filled end to the school year for your child. Thank you.” So Arin, tell me a little bit about what was going through your head as you compose this and put it out.
Arin: 05:31 This email, I must be honest, we have had a really good professional learning community, PLCs with the different colleagues in different grade levels what with the distant learning. And so this idea kind of came from a colleague as well. And really we want kids to have really that time to just explore and be at home. This whole new world and a whole new classroom for them. And so this isn’t just happening at the sixth grade. We have this email go to seventh grade and eighth grade and just across the school because we want them to see what they can really do and really pull off with those parents.
Steve: 06:10 So when you say this went out, so it was grade six, seven and eight from the science teachers?
Arin: 06:15 This came out from the sixth grade classes and then seventh grade and eighth grade. So we went across the whole school.
Steve: 06:24 I’m wondering what the initial responses are that you’ve been getting back from from parents and kids.
Arin: 06:32 I like my colleagues as well, we’ve had some really good responses and I’m just excited for the opportunities that I didn’t even think existed. For example, I have one student, a dad actually has a family of six kids, a very busy family, and yet he’s allowing his daughter to take charge of building a dining room table. And they’re drawing the blueprints. She’s sending me pictures every day and now they’re working on benches. Never would we have built a dining room table in my classroom. I had a parent talk to me and they said, I finally got my kid to go fishing. So it’s amazing.
Steve: 07:13 If you could talk to the parents individually as these activities are going on, what are you hoping or imagining that conversation between parent and child might be?
Arin: 07:26 I’m really hoping that that conversation is curiosity driven. It’s intuitive. So parents are asking their children, “what do you think would be best in this situation?” For example, I have a couple of families who are planting gardens and I want the parents to ask the kids, do you think putting these particular flowers in this part of our house would be appropriate or this part of our yard? And allowing those kids to have those deeper level thoughts, it’s what I would expect in the classroom and showing parents it’s okay to make kids think. It’s okay to let them guide and have those intuitive thoughts.
Steve: 08:13 Do you have a debrief planned for carrying out with the students to kind of see if they understand what they learned or if they can debrief what they experienced in whatever it is that they took on?
Arin: 08:27 Yes, that’s also important part of this type of learning is that reflection. And going back to that, I always say the engineering design process or the scientific method – going back and cycling, why did that work or not? And so these particular students are going to have a short survey sent out, but I’m also going to ask the parents to help with those as well. I want the parents to explain what they learned and how they supported. Because I think we really changed the way learning has happened and I think parents are going to see themselves become a lot more of a valuable resource in the future.
Steve: 09:10 Yeah. I hope that you will will forward me some of the things that you’re that you’re finding with that. One of the podcasts that I did for parents was on questioning. You know, what are the kinds of questions you ask that help your learner to go to go deeper with what they’re uncovering. Again, not teaching doesn’t have to be a right answer, but knowing that your questions are going to to probe the students to go further. I had one parent suggest to me that what we were really dealing with now was a a gift of time. That generally, in the hassle of everything that kids needed to get done and their participation in sports and outside school activities and mom and dad having their own schedule and everything kind of in order to survive, we had to stay on this parent driven kind of process, that there was a new opportunity here to actually allow kids to take risks that we normally didn’t allow them to take. So let them schedule things the wrong way, let the first two attempts at completing this task not work because I can look to see what I can learn from that and, and how I can take it to the next step.
Arin: 10:36 I love that you say a gift of time. You know, I’m a teacher of 180, so kids, but I’m also a mom of three and I never had this much time with three young boys as I ever wanted possible in my life. Particularly my third grader, he has a wonderful teacher who’s really just reached out. But I have allowed my son to take more risks than I have before. And last week he rode his bike and typically I’m kind of this helicopter mom of staying within eyesight. And I said, you know what? Ride. And I ended up getting a cell phone call that he biffed it. He fell. He was about a half a mile away, but he was so proud of himself because he got his first big bruise.
Steve: 11:22 [laughter]
Arin: 11:23 He loved it. He said, look, mom, I cleaned it up and it’s really not that bad and I don’t think it’s going to bruise that bad is what I think. And what a learning opportunity to let them be brave and go out and explore.
Steve: 11:36 It’s so powerful ringing to me because I’m working on a piece for another podcast for parents, “looking at resilience” and without those kinds of experiences, resilience can’t develop.
Arin: 11:50 I agree.
Steve: 11:53 Have you gotten input from teachers from other content areas regarding – I’m kind of wondering in my mind if people see this as a thing that fits in science, but they maybe aren’t so sure that it fits into other areas. Have you been in any of those conversations with colleagues?
Arin: 12:12 I did share this email to several different English teachers as well as a couple of math teachers. And one of the math teachers expressed that this would be a cool opportunity to allow them to design or build something, kind of in a 3d dimension and have them measure and figure out the volume and the base. So they’re doing those content areas, but yet they’re allowing that exploration of build whatever you want. And for this example, it happened to be a robot. They thought they could build some kind of recyclable robot at home. So I do believe it can be used throughout all content areas. I think in English, let’s have the family sit down and watch one of these movies that we’ve been binge watching the last few weeks. Really look at those characters and maybe write a story about a new character. Let the parents have fun with these kids, you know, see what they can do. Because when learning about our kids, I didn’t even know my five year old could read. I didn’t know Steve, my five year old can read. I didn’t know that. He was amazing. I’m learning that through this experience.
Steve: 13:27 That’s powerful. That’s powerful.
Steve: 13:28 So the big piece that I’ve been exploring with everybody is, this is a critical time for reflection. So I see teachers who are
teaching online, teaching through distance and the need to reflect on what did I learn today that can have me do a better job of this tomorrow? And then at the same time, what is it that I’ve learned that I want to keep so that when the classroom school doors open back up and we move in that direction, are there pieces that I want to take back with me. And I’m wondering if you’ve got any thoughts on on the learning that’s come out of your last couple of weeks that you’ll be taking ahead with you?
Arin: 14:19 I think going back into my classroom in the fall and I do hope it’s the fall. I think we’re in a kind of limbo of a few three weeks, that I don’t think we should jump back into a classroom. I think what we have right now is really beautiful. I think what we have right now is such job embedded training. This is amazing what’s happening. And so I do hope it’s the fall I want to bring back to the classroom, that ability to let kids continue that proof of learning on their own and let kids explore with what they like and give them the choices, but also include the parents. When I was in the elementary classroom, I would assign my kids homework, but my homework was always do this with your parent, do this with your parent, have dinner with your parents tonight.
Arin: 15:14 If it was a national holiday of board games, I would say have your parents play a board game with you tonight. And they would submit pictures and every morning, the next day we would celebrate whatever the kids did that night. I got a lot of positive feedback. So next year I’m going to try to bring middle school parents back into that classroom that I’ve done in the past and seeing it be successful these last couple of weeks, I know I can do it and I think I have a wonderful school on board that would continue that.
Steve: 15:47 Well that’s great. Thank you. I will definitely be checking back with you and I would say that bringing parents more deeply into the middle school can have just positive ramifications all the way around. It’s an important connected time. Kids are trying to figure a lot of stuff out and if we can, as a school, create more opportunities to assist the parents and how they work with their children, how they support their kids’ learning, that’s all positive outcomes. So listen, you have a great next couple of weeks here and I will then looking to check back with you.
Arin: 16:31 Yes, I’m sure you’ll the parents comments as well, so I’m excited about it.
Steve: 16:36 Yes, I will. Thank you very much. Have a great day.
Arin: 16:40 You too. Bye.
Steve: 16:41 Bye.
Steve [Outro]: 16:42 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.