Saturday, March 7, 2015

STEM in the Elementary Classroom

Materials Used in Creation of Sail Car
Back in February I received an email from Catherine Logue, Associate Editor, Scholastic Instructor asking if I'd be interested in reviewing a STEM product.  Of course I jumped at the chance!  As I waited for the supplies to arrive, I tried to imagine what exciting materials would be shipped to us.

When the box arrived I couldn't open it fast enough.  Peering inside, I was less than thrilled!  Seriously, I was disappointed!  Inside were about 400 notched craft sticks, many clear straws,  6 inch long, thin dowels, elastics and some large and small cardboard wheels.  As I looked at the lot, I wondered what the students could possibly do with this collection or ordinary items.  Then I noticed there were directions for a "Sail Car" provided by Pitsco Education (Try This Engineering: Sail Car).

As I gave my word I to review the product I decided to forge ahead and give it a chance.  When I presented the project to the students the fist pumps and 'oh yeah's' showed their eagerness to begin. Some parameters and basic directions were shared with the students.  They were allowed to work with a partner, small group or independently.  Students were asked to plan/sketch up to 4 designs on an organizer.  In their fervor to get started their drawings were crudely thought out and drawn.  (I purposely didn't give them the direction sheet as it had a picture of a completed car depicted on it.  My thinking was that they might copy this car & not create their own.)

Students worked steadily for about 40 minutes.  When it was time to "shift gears" for other instruction the room erupted with a loud "AWWW!"as students shared their displeasure at the interruption.

During indoor recess almost all the students worked on their cars...not because they HAD to but because they WANTED to! This alone speaks volumes of using STEM type activities in the classroom!  It took some more class time to finish the car (over a couple of days).  It was rather a trying experience as students had difficulty attaching the wheels - had I read the directions carefully, I could have saved them some frustration (but in the process I learned a bit about engineering too - Thank you Nancy F. for helping!).  Of course throughout the building process discussions were being held about things that were working, not working - students collaborated between groups and were happy to share their successes. At one point, we even examined a "lego" car that a student made during recess one day so we could compare the wheel structure! Great ideas coming from these 10 year olds!

The day arrived that we were ready to test the cars to see which one would travel the furthest.  A START line was created and several tape measures were secured to the floor!  Students were only allowed ONE blow through a straw - then the distance was measured.  Each car had 3 tries.  Students all lined up along the start line and awaited their turn.  It really was fun.  You could hear the students discussing why someone's car worked well or didn't work as well.  The cars' distances ranged between 6 inches and 60 inches! Huzzah!

To wrap up the project students all discussed what they learned and wrote a "Sail Car Reflection".  “Awesome! Fun! Confusing! Hard! Challenging!” – these are the words my students used to describe the project.  They loved being able to “create something using their own ideas.” "Next time I'll take time to make a better plan." "I liked the materials because they were simple to use." 

This is only one example of STEM in the classroom (and not a very overly planned activity).  The next activity will involve research - as students need some foundational skills or at least the background knowledge.  What's the next activity???? I'm not sure, but I do know that IT will happen again and SOON!  

I would love to hear your ideas about STEM in the classroom and how you manage it! Feel free to share in the comment sections below!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Active Shooter Training for Schools

Twenty years ago "Active Shooter Training" would not have been a topic for a school's in-service day for teachers.  Unfortunately, with so many shootings happening in a school setting it was inevitable that it take place. According to StopTheShootings.Org since 1992 there have been 387 recorded shootings in schools across the United States.

It's good to have a plan and practice it in the event of an emergency. We prepare our students for Fire Drills and Lockdown Drills (and depending where you live Earthquake or Tornado Drills).  Currently, our lockdown drills consist of locking our classroom doors, shutting off the lights and huddling in a corner while keeping our students quiet and calm. 

However, yesterday our district went to the 'next level' of preparedness and had all elementary school personnel participate in a "realistic" training provided by SynergySolutions, which is comprised of trained instructors from law enforcement, military and federal agencies. (Please note - NO STUDENTS were in the building or took part in this training. It was strictly school personnel.)

Our Classroom Trainer
This proactive approach shared by Synergy Solutions Co-Founder, Sgt. Jason Brennan, includes the philosophy of "Lockdown! Leave! Live!"  which encourages folks to "Locate the problem then make a decision on how to react."  Sgt. Brennan stated that law enforcement officers and first responders have already been trained how to handle these types of situations.  But he feels the teachers are the "missing link" in the training process. These are the folks who will be in the situation before help arrives.

Below are just some of the notes I took.
  • Lockdown includes some of these ideas:
    • draw the shades
    • turn of lights
    • barricade doors with furniture
    • rope tie the door 
  • Leave based on 'real time' information
    • avoid hallways
    • auditoriums
    • cafeterias
    • find another space
    • if outside - zig zag pattern to find cover
  • Live not fight but attack if necessary using nearby items
    •  fire extinguishers
    • laptop
    • chairs
    • keys
    • books
    • purse
Part of this training included participating in a REALISTIC event.  We were each assigned to a classroom where we received further instruction by one of the highly trained members of Synergy Solutions.  Looking around the room he pointed out different ways to "lockdown" the room.

LOCKDOWN: We knew ahead of time there would be gunfire (blanks) which would simulate what it might sound like if a shooter were in the building.  Pop! Bang! The sound of gunfire was apparent in the hallway. Knowing it was going to happen didn't make it any less scary either!

Barricade at the Back Door
Quickly we all reacted by grabbing desks and chairs and piling them up near the doors, jamming door stoppers under the doors, pulling shades, shutting lights, etc. Although we knew it was a drill the adrenaline was still pumping through our veins as we worked together to achieve the goal of securing the room.  Waiting silently in the dark against the wall for the all clear made it seem real.

LEAVE: Next, we were all asked to go into the hallway.  Again, instruction was given as to what precautions/reactions we should take.  Pretty soon shots rang out and people scrambled into a nearby classroom.  Soon the the task of obstructing doorways commenced.

Second time around we worked more rapidly than before as we understood what to do...practice makes perfect! (or close to it!)

LIVE: Finally, we were all together in the open auditorium. Jay explained what would happen next and gave us some precautions. Again knowing there would be shots didn't take away the surprise and panic.  When confronted with the ear-piercing sound people immediately started scattering for any one of the exits.  The goal: leave and live!

I ended up perched precariously on a bench behind a curtain in the girls locker room!  Not the safest place for sure!  Other colleagues had locked themselves in the bathroom and used their pursed to secure the door handles even further.  Others ran from room to room trying to gain access only to find locked doors. 

Time  s l o w e d  as we waited for the time to report back to the auditorium (which was only about 5 minutes!)  All the while, knowing in a real situation we might be waiting for hours.  Certainly an eye opener for all.

Realistic trainings like this have their pros and cons. Initially, I wasn't keen on the idea because, if truth be told I can't be sure how I would react in this kind of a stressful situation.  Having a plan, being walked through it, makes me a little more comfortable.  Would I in a real situation grapple with desks and chairs to barricade a door? Would I instruct my students to leave the building and run in a zig zag pattern to a pre-determined meeting place?

Knowing I'm responsible for 20+ students makes me take this seriously and think about an event too unfathomable to comprehend. All I know is I'd go to the ends of the earth and back to make sure my students were safe - even if it means training in a school with the sounds of gunfire blanks.


Local Article about SynergySolutions

ALICE Training Institute - How to Respond to an Active Shooter Event  

Department of Homeland Security - Active Shooter Preparedness

School Lockdown Calculus: The Line Between Preparedness & Trauma-by Dr. Steven Schlozman

What are your ideas about REALISTIC training scenarios such as this?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Managing a 1 iPad Classroom (Well actually 2 ipads)

It's the age old problem:  What do you do with 1 iPad (or in my case, TWO) and a room full of 4th graders? (Had this same question when I had only one Apple IIGS in my classroom a hundred years ago!)  Didn't quite have the answer then and sure wish I had the answer now!  For years I've struggled with a fair, equitable and appropriate solution.

Here's what's worked this year:
  • Ensure Taking Turns
    • Created a Google spreadsheet with the date & student's name which is posted on the board for all to see.  Students excitedly check out this schedule first thing when they arrive in the morning. 
    • Sticking to the schedule - if for some reason, like...a snow day or two or three comes along, we adhere to what is posted. Unfortunately, some students might have missed their turn. Fortunately, it will come back to them soon.
Google spreadsheet
  • Change it Up or Lessen Up the Work Load
    • Changed it Up - Morning Math Routine consists of working on Daily Math problems and then practice math fact fluency with XtraMath (we have access to 6 chrome books - thank Donors Choose).  After completing their Daily Math paper students could work on XtraMath app and FrontRowEd app. It allowed students to continue with their routine.
    • Lessened Up - Decided students should be using the iPad to CREATE,  I "lessened" their morning math routine. As a matter of fact, on the day the students have access to the iPad they do NOT have to complete their morning math (even on a test day!) as long as they are "creating" something that is related to education. This shows students that their 'creative' work has value as well!
Friday Math Test (No Sticker added using
  • Use Apps that Promote "Creation"
    • Highlighted Apps for Use - Luckily we own many apps on our iPads which promote "Creation".  Once a week I "highlight" or review an app (around 10 minutes or less) that students can try.  While I give basic directions to get started students are encouraged to explore the apps to discover other noteworthy features. 
    • Listed Apps - Apps are clearly posted on the board for students to choose from. Apps used this week include: Tellagami; Pic Collage; ChatterPix, iMovie
    • Games - Let it be known that students are also allowed to play a game on the ipad as well. We have all kinds of math games, coding games, social studies games and more. While I'd rather see students creating content - every now and then I feel they can "practice" content as well.
  •  Share Student Creations
    • Immediately publicized workWhen students complete a project we share it with the whole class by connecting the iPad to the projector.  Or it is displayed (Pic Collages) outside our classroom in the hallway.  Making work public adds the extra authenticity sometimes needed to create quality products.
    • Extended Viewing Audience - Posting student work through social media has great power.  Posting work on Twitter, Facebook, Class blog as well as through email shows the students their work is meaningful & interesting. 
  • Allow Collaboration
    • Teamwork encouraged - Students are allowed to ask others to collaborate (However, other students are not allowed to skip any work - so this usually means during a "recess" or snack break. Depending on the product - maybe even class-time.) 
    • Accept ideas from students - Collaboration isn't just between students!  My students will often suggest different ways to make this process better for the classroom.  They know their thoughts and ideas are respected so they're not afraid to share.
Collaborating with the iPad (Underpainting effect using

Next steps: I am fortunate enough to have some Green Screen equipment and a great Green Screen App - DoInk (which is very easy to use). Since we have used it only a few times this year, I thought I would start "Recess Productions" so students can create more.  On the list of apps to share with students include Toontastic, TeleStory, StoryLines for Schools and a few others.

I don't profess to have all the answers.  I know that for now this system is working, but it's a work in progress, constantly evolving.  No one way is correct - it depends on the individuals in your class and what works best for you.

How do you manage your 1 iPad classroom?  What has worked for you that might work for others? 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Elementary School Reunion - Fisher School Alumni Reunion #2

Fisher School Reunion #2 (Dec. 2014)
Another year is just about on the books, but it wouldn't have been complete without our "2nd Fisher School Reunion."  (Read about the FIRST Fisher School Reunion here!) Gathering in the auditorium of the actual school, more than 60 former classmates and teachers joined in an evening of celebration of the 'wonder years'! 

The 'wonder years' could be described as the days between 1971 - 1981 when a group of talented, highly-motivated,  highly engaging, creative and caring teachers collaborated together which inevitably created long-lasting memories.

Visiting their Grade 6 Classroom
One of the highlights of the evening included a tour of the building.  What a sight it was to see as these long-ago students and teachers found their former classrooms.  Many more stories came spilling out as they lingered in the doorways or sat in the small classroom chairs chatting about events like how the walls between classrooms would be opened up so   review games like Jeopardy could be played or  reenactments of an Aztec Wedding could be witnessed! Each room brought back a flood of memories!

Pam was #1 Foul Shooter in Grade 6!

Pictures were being snapped as former students meandered into the gymnasium to reminisce.  Funny how the once expansive room seemed so tiny to these now adults! Of course the size of the gym didn't take away from the thoughts of those exciting long ago days of floor hockey, dodge ball or mother/daughter basketball games!

Songs from former grade 6 plays were sung by teachers and students alike.  The words seemed to be recalled seamlessly and effortlessly as this video well shows!  (Great job Steve - was that the original coonskin cap?) It was great fun to learn that all the main leads from the Wizard of Oz (not sure which year) were together in the same auditorium again! A couple of the teachers even sang duets with the now 45-55 year olds!


Of course another of the memorable highlights of the evening included the remembrance of former Principal, Richard Eldridge.  These teachers credit his leadership and trust for allowing them teach in unique ways. A video created by his son was shown on the big screen. In it were pictures of the beloved Mr. Eldridge (one wearing his signature holiday socks) as well as stories about the love he had for the school and its students.  There were many warm "ahs" as folks recognized the different school photos of Mr. Eldridge spanning his career at the school.

Suzanne Gillam (affectionately known as Miss Hopkins)
The evening rounded out with an "open mic" opportunity.  Humorous stories were recalled by teachers & students. While many spoke seriously to say 'thank you' to their former teachers by sharing a favorite memory.  Tearful accounts recalling the encouragement and interest that made an everlasting influence on their lives were shared by more than a few.  Even my quiet & shy sister spoke about the impact, rapport and support these teachers had with the parents in our community (including our own)!

One speaker to note was Sheila Monaghan, wife of our former 6th grade teacher, (Tom Monaghan - who started a Facebook page for Fisher students - read about it here).  She described the tremendous love that Tom, Suzanne (Hopkins) Gillam and the other teachers had for their students.  She mentioned how even during vacations, these teachers would collaborate to create lessons, plays and other opportunities for the upcoming year or how they would all come together to help a student in need.  Sheila said that while "the students' lives were enriched by the teachers, likewise, these teachers' lives were enriched by all of their students."

There is no doubt that all involved have fond memories and strong bonds.  We will forever be linked to those 'wonder years' and these wonderful people who made Fisher School a special place to grow up! Thank you to all those teachers that were able to attend and to those who are remembered in our hearts!

A special thanks to Ron Spicer for organizing this year's reunion & to Tom Monaghan for keeping reuniting so many through our Facebook Page and to all those who attended to make it such an amazing event!  


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attending to Precision & Second Chances

Every now and then we all need a second chance!  Wait til you see the difference another chance made!

We recently finished a Unit on Place Value in Math.  While students are exposed to Place Value in earlier grades, they make a giant leap in fourth grade.  They need to be able to read, write, compare, order and round numbers to the nearest 100,000.  This is the first time students are working regularly with such large numbers. 

One of the most difficult concepts (CCSS 4.NBT.1; 4.NBT.2) asks students to "recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right."  To examine this concept, I worked with students in small groups using Base Ten Blocks. Using the place value blocks, students could clearly see the relationship.  Students worked very hard to understand this concept. 

Before the actual test day there were Quick Checks along the way including a Review Day.  When I corrected the tests I was SHOCKED at the results.  I couldn't understand how the majority of students scored between 63-76!

Screen shot 2014-11-23 at 7.56.12 AM.png

The numbers incorrect certainly didn't match the formative assessments that were done throughout the unit.   My colleagues shared how they gave the tests back to their students to correct only those answers that were incorrect - no reteaching - just a second chance and suggested I do the same.  So I passed back the test and asked students to correct their answers and write the new answers in colored pencil.  EVERY student did better.  The results below show the drastic difference.

The students were thrilled to have the second chance and were pleased with the results as well.  While I love the idea of letting students review their work, somewhere in the back of my mind I hear my dad saying "Measure twice, Cut once!".   The Common Core Mathematical Practice #6 states that students attend to precision:

But how do we instill the "measure twice, cut once" habit the first time around?  Is it through more practice?  Is it through showing the difference between "try #1" and "try #2"?   Would love to learn how you teach 'Attending to Precision?'

Practicing what I preach: "We all learn from our mistakes" means I'll continue to give my students their "Second Chance!"