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 time....do 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!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Inclusive Schools Week

"Ms. Albert, says, that everything we do goes out, like a ripple into the world." This excerpt is from the book, Each Kindness, written by Jacqueline Woodson, which our principal read to the class the other day as part of "Inclusive Schools Week".  The story is about a young school girl who misses several opportunities to befriend a classmate.  She finally makes a decision to be friendly to the other child only to find out that child moves away.  The end of the story is not what one would expect as the main character is left feeling she should have done things differently. 
Creating ripples by adding a kindness rock
The students (and I) were moved by this book.  So much so they were asking if there was a sequel. It gave us an opportunity to talk about friendship, inclusion and simple ways to make someone feel connected.   Next we discussed "Random Acts of Kindness".  Students brainstormed how to "Treat Others Like You Want to be Treated".  A few thoughts included: holding the door for someone, passing the ball to someone who usually doesn't get it; help find a missing item and Smile at someone.  

Knowing I must do something with these ideas,  I decided I needed to find a way for students to create "ripples" of their own.  I grabbed a container and filled it with water.  As I have a container of rocks in my classroom I grabbed those too.  And so, the Ten Days of School Random Acts of Kindness was born.  Each student who performs a RAK at school will drop a rock in the container at the end of the day.  We will celebrate the ripples that will surely ensue from these simple yet grand gestures.  
Creating Ripples of Kindness

We started on Friday and were able to collect 12 rocks in our container.  While hoping to fill that bucket before the holidays the long-term goal would be that these acts of kindness will continue way beyond our holidays and creep into our lives by habit!

Others:  What are some other RAK that could be added to our list for school?

Several other activities students completed as part of "Inclusive Schools Week" celebrated everyone's uniqueness.  A banner was created and each student in the school added their Thumbprint as well as their name.  The banner acted as sort of a pledge for students to include all in their daily activities.  To show commonalities as well as differences students wrote "I AM" poems.  The poem described student's role (brother, son, cousin etc); their hobbies/interests and their personality traits (thoughtful, caring, friendly etc). Students shared and displayed these wonderful pieces of themselves. 

While these were just some of the activities our school shared during this 'highlighted' week, our plan is to continually promote acceptance of diversity. I leave you with this quote by Max De Pree, "We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing and inclusion"


Inclusive Schools Week  - Information by the Inclusive Schools Network

Teaching Kids to Embrace Diversity - Ideas broken into age categories from 0 - 11

Cybraryman: Character and Ethics. This collection is filled with all kinds of resources for Character Education which includes Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

20 Random Acts of Kindness for Kids: A list of other ideas that go beyond the classroom. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Analyze Text using Keep it Or Junk it

Adding words to Keep it or Junk it List
While writing my post about the Scoot game last week, I stumbled upon a new activity shared by Mrs. White, a fifth grade teacher.  She learned and wrote about a strategy to help students answer focus questions and analyze text using words from the reading selection.  This inspired me to try this with my students.

The activity is called "Keep it or Junk it!"  Here is a great video of another fifth grade teacher showing how she uses it in the classroom.

A small reading group provided me with the perfect opportunity to try it out before forging ahead with the whole class.   Students finished reading and discussing a story called, "Ranches in the Southwest." After re-reading a certain section I gave them the focus question: "How do cattle ranches affect the environment?"

To start Keep it or Junk it, the students should be familiar with the text (having read the selection more than once.)  Using the focus as a guide, students were instructed to select words from the
Final Product
reading that will 'help' them answer THAT question.  Once students created their lists they worked with a partner to make one list of words using their own lists.  Then as a group, they shared their words and we started the "Keep it or Junk it" list.  Each word was shared and students had an opportunity to decided should we Keep the word, Junk it or put it in the "Cloud" to be discussed.  Making an argument why a word should be kept or junked further helps students think about the focus question.

When the list was finalized students got down to actually answering the question.  The great thing was that by the end of this activity (which spanned 2 small group times) they students had seen the focus question many times and discussed the words in relation to the question.  So in essence, they had been answering the question all along!

Listen in as our group works through this activity: (apologize in advance for the noise in background - still worth a listen).

This activity is something I plan to incorporate with the whole class as I really saw the benefits.  Each student was able to correctly articulate the effects of cattle ranches on the environment.  It is my hope that after modeling this enough times that students will transfer that and complete the activity without prompting.

Have you tried this type of activity?   What are some of your strategies for guiding students to analyze text? Please share in the comment section below!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scoot Games in the Classroom

Scoot in the Classroom - A Favorite
SCOOT! The students in my class LOVE hearing that word (or variations like Scooch, Scurry, Skedaddle during the game.) They know "Scoot" means they will be doing an activity that involves moving around the classroom.

Here's how it works:  1. Place a task card at each student desk.  2. Students create a recording sheet or use a handout.  3. Students begin by answering the questions at their own desk.  4. When prompted by the word Scoot (or whatever you decide) students move to the desk that would be next in numerical order.  5. When you see that the task is completed - prompt the movement again and repeat until all cards are complete.

Over the last few years I used Scoot games sporadically.  However, this year I find myself incorporating it on a more regular basis. These activities, which are usually a quick 5 minutes, can be a lesson activator, review of a concept or used as formative assessment.

While first I started purchasing games like Rounding Scoot through TeachersPayTeachers, lately I have created my own 'simple' versions.  For instance - I take 20 math flashcards (addition/subtraction/multiplication/division or a mix of all) and place one on each student desk.  I will instruct students to write a number on the card or on their whiteboard and place the card next to the number. Then students quickly number their papers 1-20 and we're ready to "move on!"

I've also used it for Vocabulary.  I will place the vocabulary words we are learning in ELA (or other content areas) and place them on student desks.  Again - we number the cards and paper - then SCOOT!  I've used it for spelling (I leave out the vowels and students write the whole words including the vowels.  Fact and Opinion can easily be reviewed with a quick Scoot activity. Students can identify states by their shape - cut up a worksheet that you want students to complete - put a piece at each desk - the possibilities are endless.

Some Scoot games can be more challenging like this Inference Game.  Naturally, the more difficult the skill the longer the activity.  So you need to decide the purpose of your scoot game. Whatever the purpose, Scoot is a learning activity that appeals to many!

Have a favorite SCOOT activity - please share it here!


Mrs. White's 5th grade Class: Using Scoot Game & QR Codes

Teachers.net Lesson Plans:  Scoot for Money

Think Share Teach: Renaming Numbers (Free)

TeachersPayTeachers: Scoot Games  (Pay)

ProTeacher Community: Task Cards by Unseen (Membership is Free) This is a resource of over 100 Task Cards!


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Connected Educators Sometimes Do This

October is Connected Educator's Month and I just arrived home after a great experience at the Edscape Conference held in New Milford, New Jersey.  On the long ride (4 hours) home, I had plenty of time to reflect upon the events of the day. One of the recurring themes was the topic of the "Connected Educator." The following is what occupied my thoughts.

A Connected Educator sometimes:
  • Goes out of their comfort zone - Met a gentleman at Edscape who happens to NOT be connected on Twitter.  In front of a crowd he mentioned this, but also how he wanted to learn more. We've all been in his shoes but might not have had the courage to speak it out loud.  Way to go Mark! (FYI- This little country bumpkin went out of her comfort zone and drove over the GW Bridge!)
    Jessie, Dan, Billy, Nancy, Dave #4thchat PLN
  • Opens up their home to those they know 'virtually' - My PLN pal, Billy Krakower and his wife not only invited me to stay at their home but they treated me to a wonderful dinner at their favorite restaurant.  While @wkrakower and I have worked on projects together for 2 years - this is the first time we met face-to-face. 
  • Travels great distances to learn and share - Ten different states and two countries were represented at Edscape.  Bob Dillon traveled from Missouri while Daisy Dyer Duerr came all the way from Arkansas.
  •  Takes time out of their weekend day to "virtually" present at conferences:  My #4thchat friends, Paula Naugle joined our presentation from Natchez Mississippi where she was attending the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race. and Jenn Regruth participated via Google+ Hangout from Cincinnati, Ohio where she was spending time with family. Both added valuable information to our presentation.  Thank you ladies!
  •  Connects their students - New Milford High School principal, Eric Sheninger, has literally connected his students with his 'Charger Stations' at his school.  Since students use their mobile learning devices in classrooms he found a way to keep them connected.  Of course, there are more in-depth ways that the teachers and principal at NMHS work at connecting their students. 
  •  Reminds one another that it is about the learning journey and not the tools - Keynote speaker, George Couros, in his engaging address: Create, Innovate and Voice, reminds his audience that "learning is creation and not consumption" so we must "connect to heart before changing minds". 
  •  Meets up with their virtual friends - Friends through Twitter sometimes "Tweet Up" and actually meet.  And when they do, it's like old home week!  Conversations don't skip a beat as those connections have created a bond beyond the state/country boundaries!  I not only got to meet for the first time some of those in my Global Collaborators Network but I got to PRESENT with them as well! What a treat to spend the day with Jessica Bamberger, Dan Curcio, Dave Craig and Bill Krakower
  •  Shares information Learned - While at Edscape I couldn't help but text my colleagues and friends about the wonderful happenings at the conference.  Perhaps my principal will be able to use information I learned from Will Diaz and Dana Sirotiak in their Parent Engagement session.
If you're thinking about becoming a more connected educator click on the links provided in this post to follow some pretty amazing individuals on twitter! 

(If you want to connect with me - you can use one of the links to the side!)