Coming Soon

Austin Green School is in the beginning stages of development and planning. We hope to open our doors by fall 2013. Our school will be kinder through high school with the possibility of an early childhood center.
If you are interested in helping us in any way please email us at
In the mean time please enjoy our blog as we make public our efforts and experiences.
We know the road ahead will be filled with many challenges but we are determined to give the community of Austin
the gift of a progressive educational community. Wish us luck!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Alfie Kohn: Every parent and educator should know him

Every parent and educator should familiarize themselves with Alfie Kohn. He is an expert on human motivation and education. I have been fortunate enough to hear him speak and trust me I felt motivated to create a better learning environment for my students afterward. His lectures, books and videos all make you question the way you have approached classroom management and parenting. One of the things I like most about Alfie is that all of his work is backed by extensive research.

Here are some of his DVD's I suggest watching

Here are some excerpts from his talks and videos....

You can get his videos, books and read his articles at

Great Reggio Video

This video is great! It is in Italian with English subtitles so you may want to watch it on mute. The video shows work and images from Reggio Emilia schools. Enjoy!

"Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement"

From Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement

Project-learning teaching strategies can also improve your everyday classroom experience.


Project-learning teaching strategies can also improve your everyday classroom experience.
Headshot of Tristan de Frondeville Tristan de Frondeville
Credit: Courtesy of PBL Associates
As a teacher, my goal was to go home at the end of each day with more energy than I had at the beginning of the day. Seriously.
Now, as I travel the country coaching teachers on how to successfully use project learning, my goal remains the same. And I try to teach educators the strategies they need to achieve this goal in their own classrooms.
A teacher in one of my workshops said, "When my students and I are in the flow, then I don't feel like I have to work as hard." I heartily agree. When 90 to 100 percent of my students are excitedly engaged in their tasks and asking deep and interesting questions, I experience joy, and joy is a lot less tiring than the frustration that comes with student apathy.
Project-based classrooms with an active-learning environment make such in-the-flow moments more common. Yet these same classrooms require many teacher and student skills to work well. As teachers, we can feel overwhelmed when we try something new and experience chaos instead of flow.
The good news is that the strategies for creating and managing high-quality project-learning environments are productive in any classroom, whether project learning is a central part of the curriculum or not. Here are ten ideas that you can start practicing in your classroom today to help you create more moments of flow.

Create an Emotionally Safe Classroom

Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. Consider having a rule such as "We do not put others downs, tell others to shut up, or laugh at people." Apply it to yourself as well as your students. This is the foundation of a supportive, collaborative learning environment. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.

Create an Intellectually Safe Classroom

Begin every activity with a task that 95 percent of the class can do without your help. Get your students used to the fact that when you say, "Please begin," they should pick up a pencil and start working successfully. This gets everyone on the bus. Then make sure your students know that these initial easy tasks will always be followed by increasingly challenging ones. Create rich and complex tasks so that various students have a chance to excel and take on the role of helping others.

Cultivate Your Engagement Meter

Be acutely aware of when your students are paying strong attention or are deeply engaged in their tasks. Master teachers create an active-learning environment in which students are on task in their thinking and speaking or are collaboratively working close to 100 percent of the time. Such teachers notice and measure not only when students are on task but also the quality of their engagement.
Although it may take years to develop the repertoire of skills and lessons that enable you to permanently create this active-learning environment, you can begin by discerning which activities truly engage your students. The more brutally honest you are with yourself, the faster you will get there.

Create Appropriate Intermediate Steps

The first question I ask educators when I coach them on project learning is how many of their students say, "We can't wait to do another project," versus "Oh, no! Not another project." Teachers tend to get the first response when they scaffold challenging tasks so that all students are successful.
For example, take the typical task of interviewing an adult outside the classroom. Some teachers assign the task on Monday and expect it to be done the following Monday, confident that by including the weekend, they are providing sufficient support. Other teachers realize that finding, cold calling, and interviewing an adult are challenging tasks for most young people, so they create intermediate steps -- such as brainstorming, searching online for phone numbers, crafting high-quality interview questions, and role-playing the interview -- that train all students for success.

Practice Journal or Blog Writing to Communicate with Students

Japanese teachers highly value the last five minutes of class as a time for summarizing, sharing, and reflecting. A nice way to change the pace of your class is to have students write regular reflections on the work they have done. Encourage and focus their writing with a prompt, such as "The Muddiest Point and the Clearest Point: What was most confusing about the work you did today, and what new thing was the most clear?" Use this approach to guide future lessons and activities. Consider writing responses to student journal entries in order to carry on a conversation with students about their work.

Create a Culture of Explanation Instead of a Culture of the Right Answer

You know you have created a rich learning event when all students are engaged in arguing about the best approach to the assignment. When you use questions and problems that allow for multiple strategies to reach a successful outcome, you give students the opportunity to make choices and then compare their approaches. This strategy challenges them to operate at a higher level of thinking than when they can share only the "correct" answer. Avidly collect problems and tasks that have multiple paths to a solution. As a math teacher, I create problems that have a lot of numbers instead of the usual two. For example, I can present this problem:
5 + 13 + 24 - 8 + 47 - 12 + 59 - 31 - 5 + 9 - 46 - 23 + 32 - 60
Then I can say, "There are at least three fundamentally different strategies for doing the following problem. Can you find them all?"

Teach Self-Awareness About Knowledge

All subjects build on prior knowledge and increase in complexity at each successive level of mastery. Effective learning requires that certain skills and processes be available for quick recall. Many students let too much of their knowledge float in a sea of confusion and develop a habit of guessing, sometimes without even knowing that they are guessing.

Credit: Courtesy of Tristan de Frondeville
To help students break this habit, paste the graphic at right next to each question on your assessments. After the students answer a question, have them place an X on the line to represent how sure they are that their answer is correct. This approach encourages them to check their answer and reflect on their confidence level. It is informative when they get it wrong but marked "for sure" or when they do the opposite and mark "confused" yet get the answer right.

Use Questioning Strategies That Make All Students Think and Answer

Pay a visit to many classrooms and you'll see a familiar scene: The teacher asks questions and, always, the same reliable hands raise up. This pattern lends itself to student inattention. Every day, include some questions you require every student to answer. Find a question you know everyone can answer simply, and have the class respond all at once.
You can ask students to put a finger up when they're ready to answer, and once they all do, ask them to whisper the answer at the count of three. They can answer yes, no, or maybe with a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways gesture. That also works for "I agree," "I disagree," or "I'm not sure."
Numerical answers under ten are easy to show with fingers, but don't limit yourself to math questions. For instance, if you're teaching time management, have students let you know what their progress is halfway through the class by putting up one or more fingers to show whether they are one-, two-, or three-quarters done with the assignment, or finished. Do these exercises at least two or three times per class.

Practice Using the Design Process to Increase the Quality of Work

Students in school get used to doing work at a consistent level of quality. Unfortunately, low-performing students get used to doing poor-quality work. To help them break the habit, use a draft-and-revision process.
Many professionals use such a design process to increase the quality of their work. Engineers build prototypes, respond to critical feedback, and refine their design before going into production. Artists make sketches of big works and revise their ideas before creating their final piece. Use the design process to drive your students to produce higher-quality work than they are used to doing when they create only a first effort. Include peer evaluation as part of the feedback they receive.

Market Your Projects

When your students ask, "Why do we need to know this?" you must be ready with the best answer possible. Great projects incorporate authentic tasks that will help students in their lives, jobs, or relationships. Engage students by developing an inventory of big ideas to help you make the connections between your assignments and important life skills, expertise, high-quality work, and craftsmanship. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills provides a good starter list.
Also, search out the powerful processes and ideas experts in your own subject use repeatedly. (In math, for instance, my list includes generalizing and parts and wholes.) Keep a journal of the big ideas you've discovered simply by teaching your subject. By continually referring to these big ideas, you will encourage students to think and act like subject-matter experts and develop skills they will use throughout their lives.
Tristan de Frondeville, a former teacher who has also coached educators and written curriculum, heads PBL Associates, a consulting company dedicated to project learning and school redesign

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Big ideas of Sustainability"

We understand the importance of sustainability in this ever changing and evolving world. We have plan to build Austin Green School using as many sustainable materials as possible including but not limited to the installation of solar panels and the use of a wealth of recycled materials during the construction of the school. We consider sustainability to be a crucial part of our program and will encourage sustainable practices in many ways.
We plan on incorporating "Big Ideas of Sustainability" from
The Big Ideas of Sustainability - when we talk about sustainability, especially with young students, it is critical to break out important concepts and ideas to make the word come alive. Below is a list of big ideas we use to help frame curriculum, projects, and build student understanding.

• Ability to make a difference: everyone has the ability to affect change or impact a system, community, self.
• Change over time: all organisms/places/systems are constantly changing.
• Community: all communities involve nested economic, environmental, and social systems. We need to understand the interconnections to come up with sustainable solutions.
• Cycles: every organism/system goes through different stages.
• Diversity: systems/places function because of variety.
• Equilibrium: a state of balance.
• Equity/Fairness: resources need to be shared to meet the needs of living things across places and generations.
• Interdependence: all living things are connected. Every organism/system/place depends on others.
• Limits: every system has a carrying capacity.
• Long-term effects: we can project that actions will have effects beyond immediate reactions.
• Place: natural and human communities together make up one’s place. Every place has its own needs and limits.
• Systems: elements that affect each other and are connected through larger patterns.

Education for the 21st Century

Project based learning (PBL)
We believe in a curriculum that provides active learning experiences through project based learning (PBL). Projects engage the learner on topics of interest while providing cognitive lessons that in most cases well exceed the standards set by the Texas Department of Education.
What is PBL?
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for student "voice and choice," projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations.

In-depth Project Based Learning:
• Organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge. These focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, debates, questions and/or problems.
• Creates a need to know essential content and skills. Typical projects (and most instruction) begin by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once learned, give them the opportunity to apply them. PBL begins with the vision of an end product or presentation, which requires learning specific knowledge and concepts, thus creating a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
• Requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new. Not all learning has to be based on inquiry, but some should. And this inquiry should lead students to construct something new – an idea, an interpretation, a new way of displaying what they have learned.
• Requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. Students need to do much more than remember information—they need to use higher-order thinking skills. They also have to learn to work as a team and contribute to a group effort. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as "21st Century Skills".
• allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
• incorporates feedback and revision. Students use peer critique to improve their work to create higher quality products.
• results in a publicly presented product or performance. What you know is demonstrated by what you do, and what you do must be open to public scrutiny and critique.
If we are serious about reaching 21st Century educational goals, PBL must be at the center of 21st Century instruction. The project contains and frames the curriculum, which differs from the short "project" or activity added onto traditional instruction. PBL is, "The Main Course, not Dessert."

Why PBL?
Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.
For more information on PBL please visit
You may also request a sample lesson plan for any grade or subject through email at

Project-Based Learning Videos

If you are not familiar with PBL or would like to learn more there are many informative videos out there. Just go to YouTube and search project-based learning or visit edutopia or BIE both of which are very informative sites on PBL and education issues. Here are some videos to start you off...

Project-based Learning: An Overview


Five year-olds-Pilot their own project learning

Expert Talks: Examples of Project-Based Learning in the Classroom


The Reggio Emilia approach, a conerstone to our philosophy

Before reading please note that I typed this in word and copied into blogger. Some words are underlined for no apparent reason and I can't figure out how to change them. Also some of the images I got are from Let the Children Play, which is an awesome blog that I suggest anyone to follow. Thanks here you go.....

I believe in a curriculum that is child based and gives each child the opportunity to explore and discover in ways which are exciting and interesting to each individual child. By using such a curriculum, I believe children develop a love for school and learning. I view children as capable and competent and I hold a strong image of each child. I also feel passionate about the concept of teachers as researchers-- also adapted from the Reggio approach. As a teacher it is crucial to my practice to constantly become involved in research on issues concerning child development, government policies and education in order to become a knowledgeable advocate for children and to constantly grow in my own practice.
The Reggio Emilia approach to education is based on the following fundamentals: The child as a protagonist, the child as a collaborator, the child as a communicator, the environment as the third teacher, the teacher as partner, nurturer and guide, the teacher as a researcher, documentation as communication and the parent as partner (Cadwell, 1997, pp.5-6)
The child as a protagonist- the Reggio approach emphasizes the importance of having a strong image of the child. This means believing that children are capable and curious. Children have a natural desire to explore the world around them and make sense of it. With the Reggio philosophy children are encouraged to become researchers and to explore their environment and world around them. Teachers also introduce materials such as working with glassor hammers and nails that othereducation approaches may notintroduce because Reggio teachers believe that children are capable of working with these materials, with the proper guidance.
The child as a collaborator- children collaborate with each other, with teachers and with parents on projects and activities. Small group work is very important. When children are able to work in small groups they benefit both emotionally and cognitively. Emotionally they are given the chance to work with others and express their ideas to a group of peers. Cognitively children are able to witness how others solve problems, thus learning that there are several ways to solve a particular problem. It is also important for them share their opinions as well as receive compliments or constructive criticism about their own work. Children are able to construct their own approaches to learning by collaborating with their peers. (Ed. Giudici &Rinaldi, 2001, pp. 251-257). Children also collaborate with their teachers. Teachers listen and take in consideration children’s ideas and thoughts. The children and teachers often work together when choosing materials, making plans, and developing ideas for projects.
The child as a communicator- this approach promotes the concept that children have a hundred languages. Children have the right to have access to quality materials and mediums for expression. Teachers understand that there are many ways that children can tell a story or express ideas. To name a few, childrenmay use clay, paint, natural materials, blocks, dramatic play, poetry, songs and wire to communicate their thinking. All children, regardless of age, ability, or interest are able to communicate in some way. This is one reason I feel this approach is not only good for young children but also older children and children with disabilities.
The environment as the third teacher- as a teacher who has worked in several different Reggio schools, I have witnessed how important the environment is and how much influence it has over children’s learning. This approach encourages very organized and aesthetically beautiful environments. Schools resemble that of children’s actual homes and places where they can be comfortable. There are many “intelligent materials” available that provoke thought and encourage exploration. These materials are organized thoughtfully so that children can gain the most from them. Every aspect of the space is thought out with intentionality and purpose. I have learned from this approach to always ask myself many questions, when setting up a room or redesigning one. All materials and spaces should be engaging and inviting. I believe that creating such an environment is very beneficial to children. Reggio teachers take a lot of time organizing the environment in their classrooms on a both an annual and daily basis (Strong-Wilson, Ellis, 2007, 40-47). Each year it is important to organize a classroom with materials that are developmentally appropriate for the children with which teachers are working. When organizing the environment at the start of a new school year, it is important to collaborate with colleagues and to share suggestions and ideas about a new environment. A lot of thought should be put into every aspect of the environment. With every new addition the Reggio approachhas taught me to, ask questions like: “what is the purpose of this?” ‘What might the children learn from this?” and “what are my initial hypothesis about how this space may evolve and what lessons will be learned?” I believe in making choices with meaning behind them. The physical characteristics of any school environment reveal a great deal about how children are regarded and the value assigned to the processes of teaching and learning that characterize the setting. The Reggio Emila school environments are noteworthy, not only because they are aesthetically and intellectually stimulating, but because they convey a respect for the interest, rights, needs, and capacities of those who use that space (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998, p. 266). I share these goals to promote a learning environmentand for the comfort and stimulation of the children who I teach.

-Teachers as partner, nurturer and guide-. The Reggio approach to education values children as partners in their own education. Teachers respect and listen to children, always taking in their ideas and thoughts on long-term and short-term projects, as well as their input on daily routines and events. Teachers in Reggio Emilia, and those who model their style after those teachers, are dedicated to extensive professional development opportunities. These may include meeting frequently with their teaching team and other teachers in the school, attending conferences and workshops on early education and researching on their own about what the children are learning and the children themselves. Reggio teachers are continuously evolving their practice based on research and experience. These teachers are knowledgeable and prepared every day when working with children. They provide children with provocations to further their learning and are able to listen to children and take what they hear from the children to help guide explorations. Unlike many teachers who use the direct instruction model, Reggio teachers consider themselves as researchers right along with the children. They do not stand at the front of the class teaching lessons and giving problems. Instead Reggio teachers learn along the side of children. They allow children to come up with their own problems and their own way of finding the solution. These teachers do help children stay on task by asking open ended questions to facilitate thought and discussion.
Teachers as Researchers- Teachers are constantly reviewing with one another informationthat they have learned from their children and discussing ideas about what the children’s theories and hypothesis may be. They also meet together to discuss strategies for sustaining a project or for working with children in a specific learning group oron a long-term project. Teachers also meet with a pedagogista, who helps teachers develop ideas for projects. It helps teachers to be able to have a conversation weekly with a very experienced teacher to talk about projects happening in their room. Children attending schools with pedagogistas benefit greatly from their teachers having this valuable planning time and the school investing so much into the work of the children.
Above: From the Hundred Languages of Children Exibit
Documentation as Communication: Documentation is very important to Reggio teachers and school communities embracing this approach. There are many reasons why documentation is important. One reason is that it is a way for teachers and children to reflect on their work. It serves as a reminder of the history of a school and projects. It is also a tool for teachers to use to connect theory and practice. Documentation usually is more than just telling a story about children. Often times it also connects the children’s story to child development research. By composing documentation, teachers are able to organize their thoughts and research topics that are relevant to their learning group. Documentation also helps communities and visitors gain a stronger image of children by showing the in depth and complex mental processes of which children of all ages are capable. It also serves as a communication tool between a school and parents. Many Reggio inspired schools use not only museum quality documentation for wall displays, but also use digital documentation to communicate with parents. Daily digital stories or journalsare often used to communicate with parents about their child’s day. These stories contain pictures, transcripts of children’s conversations and connect practice and theory. By connecting practice and theory daily, teacher’s help parents better understandtheir child’s development, the educational philosophy, and how the school promotes thought and interacts with their children. Documentation also shows children that teachers and parents value their work. It is very important for Reggio teachers to show children that they are important and valued.
The parent as partner: Parents are partners in their children’s education. They are seen as a valuable and essential part of the school community. Parents are welcomed and encouraged to participate in school activities and projects. They are also encouraged to collaborate with teachers and other parents on projects to help facilitate learning (New, 2007, p.8).

Moving back to Austin

We are so excited to be moving back to Austin to pursue our dream of developing this amazing school. Right now my new hobbies include pinning items for the school on pinterest and looking on craigslist for free items that we can use for AGS. I can not wait to get to Austin so I can begin collecting all of the FREE school furniture and begin with all of the DIY projects I have pinned. Here are some of my favorite pins so far.
Follow me on pintersest @ Jackie Coryell
This is an amazing idea for a reading nook

 I love anything that is inspired by nature. Love these stumps for causal seating. I also just found a bunch of free stumps on craigslist so I am super pumped!
Love this idea for outside. So peaceful and relaxing. 
 I will continue to post pics as I post them onto pinterest. Also, I realize as of today I have no followers as this is my first post. Hopefully that will change over the next few months :)