Sunday, September 14, 2014

First Day of School for the 25th Time

We all know the first day of school is special no matter what! But this first day was extra special - for the teacher!

Each year before our students return to school, the teachers and staff from our district gather one morning for a "Welcome Back" meeting.  Here, we learn about new initiatives, professional development opportunities as well as what transpired during the summer in the area of research & development.

Besides catching up with fellow educators we haven't seen for a while, my favorite parts of the meeting include recognizing the New staff (who are asked to stand and be welcomed) and celebrating those educators who have been servicing students for 25 years.

This year was a little more exciting than others as this year is MY twenty-fifth year of teaching (as well as about 6 other colleagues!) During the summer I received a letter from the Superintendent of Schools asking if I preferred to be recognized privately or at the meeting.  Anyone who knows me, knows how I feel about teachers being recognized publicly - I'm ALL OVER IT! (Apparently my colleagues were all over it too, as they decided to receive their recognition at the meeting as well!)

(In a field where one's efforts can often lead to feelings of under-appreciation, it's nice to have the opportunity to be validated, especially in front of one's peers.  For newcomers who are starting out their journey in this profession, it's important to see the longevity of their new colleagues, which shows loyalty and dedication.)

Walking down the auditorium isle as my name was called, tears in my eyes, I felt incredible pride at the thought of serving the community (where I grew up!) for the last 25 years!  As I heard the applause and the hooting & hollering (not generally allowed at assemblies in our school) I couldn't help but hope that everyone in that room would one day have the chance to be making that same walk toward the superintendent to receive their 'pin' for 'dedicated service'. 

The celebration has continued (probably because I don't want to let one single moment go by without sharing my excitement with others).  I carry my pin with me and whip it out to show ANYONE who is interested in seeing the recognition one receives after 25 years!  Beyond the pin, I hope people feel the passion, enthusiasm and love I have for being an elementary school teacher after all these years!  After all, it's the BEST profession in the world!

I'll leave you with one last thought.  Saw this Tweet on Twitter at the start of school. Tina sure has it right....

Here are some resources that pertain to the topic of recognizing teachers publicly...

The Power of Positive Employee Recognition
Awards, Competitions & Grants for Teachers
Teachers are Heroes - Inforgraphic

(Slate Clipart:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Elementary Science Resources - Part 2

In part 1 of my series "Elementary Science Resources - Part 1," I mentioned a site that I hope to use this from Mystery Science.  While that alone should be enough, I have found some other notable resources.  Here they are in no particular order.

The Norwood Science Center:  This comprehensive resource for K-5 teachers was created by Mr. Haffey & Mrs. Lockwood, two elementary science teachers. The site includes Lesson Plans with Vocabulary, Powerpoints and Videos. Topics include: Animals, Plants, Geology, Weather, Energy the Solar System and more which are broken down by grade level. Be sure to check out this free site with Creative Commons license!

Singing Songs of Science: I first stumbled upon J.P. Taylor's site when looking for information about the Scientific Method.  His catchy song, Scientific Method Blues,  got my kids learning and moving!  He's got tons of them.  They do cost money but worth checking it out! Listen to the Scientific Method Blues and you'll be singing right along too!

Science Kids: Fun Science & Technology for Kids: While this is geared towards kids with experiments, games, facts and quizzes there are simple lessons and science fair projects for teachers.  The site also has videos and images according to different topics.

Topics in Science Kids

The Ultimate Science Weekly Five This Teachers Pay Teachers resource is something a colleague just shared with me.  Geared towards 3rd and 4th grade, this resource organizes the unit using 5 stations.

Stations in each unit:
Station 1- Read and Comprehend (short reading passage with paraphrasing graphic organizer and sentence stems for students to complete)
Station 2- Explore! (hands-on activity to create a model and diagram)
Station 3- Organize It! (using a graphic organizer or diagram to help students organize concepts in a visual way)
Station 4- Center Activity (activity to explore concept more in depth)
Station 5- Vocabulary (cut and paste matching of concept terms and definitions and a Vocabulary Four Square for one important term)

While you can pay for the Bundle of 17 Units, you can also purchase the units you need individually.  

Are there science resources you use that would be helpful to elementary teachers? Do you see yourself using any/all of these resources? Would love your feedback!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Elementary Science Resources - Part 1

My Students' Favorite Experiment: Making it Rain
"Science is a Verb!" That has been my motto for many of the 25 years of my teaching career.  Although, I will admit that recently it feels like more of a noun!  Students need practices that involve hands-on activities which will take learning to new heights.  In an effort to revert back to VERB status, I'm looking for some new science resources.

One new resource (to be launched in September) which I hope to utilize is called: Mystery Science. (See what grabbed my attention below:) The premise of this site is "open and go" (videos and lessons) making it very user friendly.  To start, the focus will be on 3rd and 4th grade (but adaptations could be made for older/younger learners with lessons to be created for 2nd - 6th graders soon).

The first four units are:
  • Spaceship Earth (Night Sky, Sun, & Seasons)
  • Plant Superpowers (Life Cycles, Adaptations, & Plants in Human Life)
  • Animals in Society (Life Cycles, Heredity, & Social Behavior)
  • Powering Machines (Simple Machines, Forces, & Energy)
Seven to ten lessons are included in each unit.  The key portion of each lesson can be completed in 45 minutes and there are extras (written response questions, non-reading selections & other activities) to extend those lessons. The lessons include guiding questions, videos and experiments (which list simple materials).

This site seems like it could be a great answer for those of us who need to be re-energized or those who don't have science resources readily available to them or those looking for resources to compliment the Next Generation Science Standards.  I'm so looking forward to trying it.

This is sure to be a great site that will inspire and motivate students and get them to really LOVE science!  Can't wait to try it out with my students!

Read the Press Release here and make sure you sign up to receive the units.  Don't hesitate to contact MysteryScience here if you have further questions...they respond very quickly!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ISTE2014 Takeaways

Newcomer, Novice, Tenderfoot, Greenhorn, Rookie - Yup, that’s me...I was an ISTE “First Timer” and quite excited about it!  I thought I'd share my three (3) ISTE Takeaways!
My FAB PLN: Jerry, Jenn, Billy, me, Paula
Background: This year I applied for and was fortunate enough to be awarded the Christa McAuliffe Living Memorial Fund  which financed my registration fee for the conference. This year the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia on June 28-July 1st.  My wonderful opportunity was sponsored by the Alpha Upsilon Massachusetts Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma International Society for Women.

Takeaway 1 -  Arrive a Day Early: Arriving a day before the conference, my ‘friend’ from Indiana and I planned to meet at the airport since we were flying in around the same time.  You should know, my friend, Jenn, and I had never met in person before (though we have known each other through Twitter and Google Plus Hangouts for three years!)  Folks in the terminal didn’t quite know what to make of us as we screamed and hugged and hugged and giggled.  

The day continued much the same way as I met (for the first time) other members of my PLN.  There was Paula from New Orleans, Hugh from Canada, Jan from Kansas, JoAnn from Hawaii, Tracy from Arizona, Kitty from North Carolina, Brad from Michigan, Jerry from Florida, Billy from New Jersey and so many others.  While we were meeting face-to-face for the first time it was as though we never skipped a beat. We picked up on our on-line conversations without hesitation.  Throughout the day(s) I was to continually learn from the members of my Personal Learning Network. Equally as important I was able to meet new folks who are now a part of my PLN!

One small portion of the crowd on Opening Day
Arriving a day early also allowed me to get my bearings at the Georgia World Congress Center before the more than 13,000 people showed up. The venue is enormous!  Walking around with so many folks can be daunting so getting the lay of the land was important for this “newbie”.

Many other folks were there too participating in the “HackEd Unconference”.
So much learning going on before the “official” conference even started.  One of the sessions I attended was about a tool used to communicate on a smartphone, called Voxer. Voxer works like a walkie talkie and allows you to connect instantly. My friend, Bill from New Jersey was the facilitator of that discussion gave examples on how to apply this tool in educator and other ideas were brainstormed.  Another session around the topic of Agency and Self Direction in Education was led by Steve Hargadon, creator of the Learning Revolution. The discourse was diverse and interesting.

Meeting my former principal, Mike Stanton
PLN Sidenote: Equally as exciting as meeting folks from my Online Personal Learning Network was meeting people I already knew! Literally, bumping into my former principal, Mike Stanton, in ISTE was certainly a highlight.  While Mike works for a neighboring district, I don't get to see him too often, so imagine my surprise when we spotted each other in the ISTE Welcome Center! And on the escalators, I spied Suzy Brooks, a gal who grew up in my town and is now a teacher on Cape Cod.  It was so GREAT seeing those familiar faces in the sea of people.  I felt like a little part of home was with me! 

GEMS: Girls Engaging in Math & Science
Takeaway 2 - Ask Questions and Engage with Presenters - One of my favorite parts of ISTE was visiting the “Poster Sessions”.  Poster sessions are displays from real folks, teachers, students, curriculum directors and more.  Each day presentations are set up for two hours at a time.  Initially, I went in and walked around and just looked.  If something peaked my interest I’d stop and talk.  Realizing I was missing out on a lot of great information, I stopped more frequently and started talking to the presenters. My favorites were the student presentations.  One group of young girls (5th & 6th graders) were involved in a STEM project where they made a xylodrum so students who were deaf would be able to play and “hear” it.  Another group of students created a stop motion animation storytelling project sharing the history of their city.  These students are English Language Learners.  All of the students waited for people to stop and ask them questions.  Thrilled that folks were interested in their projects, they spoke about them with enthusiasm.

Dont Judge a Book by its Cover:  This old adage comes to mind.  Had I not stopped to really look into these I would have missed out on many wonderful presentations.   I realized that I was passing by stations that did not necessarily draw my attention.  Quickly, I learned that I had to be proactive and ask questions and engage with the presenters.  My ISTE bag is filled with business cards, mementos and information that I can take back to my classroom to help me try out some of these wonderful ideas.

Brainstorming on how to Connect at Birds of a Feather
Asking questions and engaging presenters doesn’t just apply to the Poster Sessions.  It worked well in “workshops,” “Birds of a Feather session” and at the Bloggers’ Cafe.  There were so many people to connect with and learn from that makes ISTE an interactive experience.

Takeaway 3 - Choose 3 Practical Ideas to Bring Back: For a first time attendee there were so many aspects of ISTE that were overwhelming, awe-inspiring and down-right fun! My friend Jenn, heard that we should not worry about implementing all that we learned.  Someone stated that we put into effect just three (3) of the many wonderful ideas/resources that were shared.  So, in no particular order my practical ideas:
  1. Apps:  Here’s where it can get tricky - I learned about so many apps that it’s hard to pick just one to be a part of my “just 3” practical ideas.  So I’m not committing to choosing only ONE of these:
    1. Creator of Plickers: Nolan Amy
      Padlet (formerly known as Wallwisher): I have used this in the past but would like to renew my use (especially since I met the creator, Nitesh Geol!!!!) by having my students create Padlets (like post it notes online but beefed up) with Pre/Post assessment; Pre/During/Post reading strategies; explaining mathematical thinking; and using it during research.
    1. Plickers - They describe themselves (I met the creator Nolan Amy as well) as “Clickers made simple”.  Students hold a paper card with a multiple choice letter on it and you simply scan your audience and you can see who selected which answer.  Just a quick way to check in with your students to see if they are understanding a concept.
    1. Showbie -  This site allows the instructor to assign, distribute, collect and review assignments online or on the iPad.  Looking forward to trying these this year.

2. Genius Hour - Student Driven-Learning: At ISTE there was a panel discussion around this topic. Genius Hour allows students time to learn, create, research and choose their own topics.  It’s inquiry time based on the interest of the individual students.  Being more of a facilitator and guide would be my role.
While I have done this in the past on several occasions I would like to fine tune it and incorporate it into my year more.  It fits in so nicely with the common core. One suggestion was to try doing it in the mornings - what a great way to get kids energized for the rest of the learning day!  
Vicki Davis hosting: Genius Hour (My Bulletin board was in her presentation!)
Along with this idea of Genius Hour came the sub topic of CHOICE. Erin Klein, a 2nd grade teacher, spoke about giving students “Choice” in the classroom, especially in the area of Design while Karen Lirenman, a primary teacher from Canada, spoke about giving smaller choices throughout the school day. These ideas were infectious and have me doing more research.   

  1. Overlooking the Expo Hall
    Partnering Technology and Parents and Students: There were several discussions and ideas around this.  At an Ignite Session Monica Burns of ClassTechTips, asked “How are you using technology to reach families?” She suggested sending home an iPad with students so their families and they could create ‘something,’ a presentation, a photo collage or a story about their family, what they like to do, their  history or just something to help them connect with others in the classroom.  I am hoping to come up with some specifics so I can try this and make our classroom more about family!

In the giant world of ISTE I might still be considered a beginner, learner, fledgling and initiate.  However, the experiences gained, the ideas learned and the connections made have helped me become more skilled and more knowledgeable in my craft.  Looking forward to next year’s ISTE in Philadelphia!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Elementary School Reunion - Celebrating a Special School 40 Years Later

On a cold, rainy, Sunday evening about 40 former students of the Fisher Elementary School, Walpole, MA joined 7 former teachers to celebrate an incredible time in their lives at the first ever Fisher Elementary School Reunion.  These teachers and students all attended the elementary school between the years of 1971 - 1981.  In attendance were siblings, former camper/counselor, neighbors and friends.  While for some it may seem this was a trip down memory lane - for most it was a way to celebrate a special school, special educators and a special decade.

Paul Sowden, Pam Nobel, Ellie Muldoon, Tom Monaghan, Judy Donovan, Sue Kelly, Sue Gillam
It all started back in 2011 when Tom Monaghan, my former sixth grade teacher started a group on Facebook: "Students of Fisher School 1971-1981."  It didn't take long for former students and teachers to join.  (I think the group is up to 266 members and growing!).  Read about it here:  Social Media for Educators - Forty Years Later.

My Grade 3 Reading Teacher & Me
Conversations occur almost daily on the Facebook Group.  Recently, one of the conversations surrounded the idea of a "reunion".  Ron Spicer (Fisher class of '74) decided to do more than talk - he quickly organized the reunion (from his home in St. Louis).  He found a function room at a restaurant in the town.  He put out an all call for photos and memorabilia and created a slideshow.  He created a form to survey former school members and prepared name tags.  In two short weeks a "Fisher School Reunion" was born.

One of the many highlights of the evening included a game. One of our beloved teachers, Suzanne Hopkins Gillam, recreated her famous Quiz Show (which, back in the day it was rather revolutionary) based on Fisher trivia questions.  She even brought along her Quiz Show Buzzers!  Coins were given to teams who answered correctly! The team with the most coins received the coveted "Fisher School Trivia" Certificate.

My Trivia Team Captain (Sue Pollak-Kelly)
Throughout the evening some common themes emerged: "I'm here because I wanted to say Thank You!"   "I'm here because Fisher School set a strong foundation for me!"  "I'm here because I remember those days fondly".    Former students shared stories about their teachers and shared the difference these teachers made in their lives!  Former teachers shared the behind the scenes stories about that special time and how connected they felt to students and their families. (These were, after all,  the kind of teachers we invited to dinner, who played games with us at recess, who have attended our weddings - who were truly the Rockstars of that time!). 

I think Carol Reardon Hawk summed it up the evening best with her following post on FB:

"All I can say is if you ever have an opportunity to go back in it! Had an incredible night of reminiscing and laughs with elementary school classmates and teachers!! Couldn't miss the opportunity to get a photo with my 4th grade, 5th grade and 6th grade teachers" Carol Reardon Hawk - Fisher Class of '78

Of course we are all looking forward to the NEXT Fisher School Reunion!  I know with more planning time and word of mouth - it will be even better attended.

Thank you Ron Spicer and Tom Monaghan and thank you Facebook for keeping us connected!