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The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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7 Reasons Why Real-World STEM Education Matters to Alabama Students
August 5, 2016
By Anne Jolly

Teaching wasn't in my career plan when I finished college. I focused my studies and early career on looking for treatments for specific viral diseases. Then my husband and I moved to Mobile and no jobs were open in virology, so I applied for a position with the Mobile County Public School System and soon found myself teaching 8th grade math.
Although I originally intended teaching to be a placeholder until I found another job in my field, I soon realized that I loved every minute I spent in the classsroom with kids, trying to galvanize their love of learning. What emerged from my first, tentative experience was a life-long love affair with teaching and education.
I took some time off to have three sons and become certified to teach science. I reentered the classroom and taught middle schoolers for the next 16 years – using unorthodox methods at times and taking some risks with teaching approaches. (Thank goodness for principals who are willing to let teachers be unconventional.)
After a brief hiatus to serve as Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, I went back to the classroom, then later plunged into several other education initiatives, working with fellow teachers around Alabama and the Southeast to solve instructional dilemmas and grow as cutting-edge teachers.
I eventually landed in a think tank of STEM curriculum writers at the Mobile Area Education Foundation. These insightful colleagues became friends, critics, and mentors as we spent the next eight years together writing and developing integrated STEM curriculum for the Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) program. That adventure has resulted in my newly released book, STEM by Design (Routledge, 2016).
STEM by Design can help educators understand the goals of STEM curriculum more deeply; adapt or design authentic STEM lessons; and turn students into creative thinkers, communicators, and collaborators.

This book will be useful to school leaders, instructional partners and coaches, and especially teachers – the folks closest to the students. Although the book targets grades 4-8, the STEM principles and teaching approaches are useful at all grade levels.

Why should educators do this STEM stuff anyway? It means more work and more learning on your part, and it might require some changes in your teaching during STEM lessons. Can it really make a difference for your students? Read on to learn my "7 Whys of STEM."Read More
BOOK REVIEW: Teaching Better with Storylines and Lesson Study
July 20, 2016
By Cathy Gassenheimer
Movie and television directors use it; advertising agencies use it; and now teachers in Japan, and a growing number of teachers in America, are using it too. What’s the “it?”
It's a storyline. For educators, it captures a lesson from beginning to end in a way that is compelling, clear, and provides both students and their teacher(s) with lots of feedback.
For years, I had heard about lesson study as a key practice in Japan. I watched some of the videos that TIMSS researchers Jim Stigler and James Hiebert recorded of teaching in various countries, including Japan, Germany, and the U.S.
But I didn’t discover the concept of a lesson storyline until I picked up a new book titled Teaching Better: Igniting and Sustaining Instructional Improvement, by Brad Ermeling and Genevieve Graff-Ermeling.
The storyline begins with teachers working together to identify what they want the students to know and be able to do at the end of the lesson. This backwards design process becomes quite elaborate as teachers map out a design that is transferred to the chalkboard (most Japanese classrooms still use chalkboards).
In addition to mapping out the lesson, the storyline also “provides a record of problems, solution approaches, and key principles over the course of a lesson (p. 16).” This enables students to see the entire lesson, options for learning, and it can help them trouble-shoot in the case of confusion or misunderstanding.Read More
Transforming the Feedback Process to Accelerate Professional Growth
July 8, 2016
 By Cathy Gassenheimer
Quick, how many of you remember the days when professional learning was known primarily as “inservice training?” If so, you'll also remember:
► This type of inservice consisted mostly of a presenter, an overhead projector, and loads of transparencies full of words that weren't quite big enough for eye comfort.
► The learning style was most often "stand and deliver" – while you were "sittin' and gittin'."
► The only feedback you were asked to provide was through an end-of-session form that asked about the setting, the temperature, and the food.
Hopefully, we’ve come a long way since that type of “training” was the rule rather than the exception. More and more educators now recognize that the most effective professional learning (not training) happens when teachers work side-by-side to perfect their practice. Of course, there is still great value found in learning from people outside your own school or district, but whatever is learned still needs to be put to the test in real situations.
Unless the educator applies his or her new learning and involves colleagues in some deep consideration of the new practice, whatever has been learned will quickly fade. Whether we're classroom teachers or instructional coaches, we all benefit from a collaborative process that results in quality feedback.

Just what is good feedback?

I believe we need to understand more deeply the role feedback can play in transforming professional learning. And we need to add it to our repertoire if it is not already part of what we do.
If you agree, I’ve got a book for you!
Joellen Killion, the senior professional learning advisor to Learning Forward (and ABPC’s external evaluator), has written a new book that ought to populate the shelves of all instructional coaches/partners and those who spend time facilitating professional learning.

Titled The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning, the book offers insights into reinforcing both learning and continuous improvement through a process that helps the learner "construct" feedback by engaging others in observing and critiquing their application of new practices.Read More
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