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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!"    


Sunday, November 9, 2014

ChatterPix in the Elementary Classroom

At the 2014 MassCUE conference held at Gillette Stadium in October, I attended a session presented by +Greg Kulowiec  on "Advanced iPad Video Creation." He immediately caught my attention by talking about "app smashing" (the idea of mixing apps to create content!).

Well, one of the apps Greg shared is called ChatterPix, which is an app that "can make anything talk"! ChatterPix is so easy to use, just take a picture, draw a line to create a mouth, decorate the picture & add your voice! Share it through email or upload it to Youtube. It's quick and fun!  (Of course there is one catch:  You only have 30 seconds!)  (There is an app called ChatterPix Kids but the drawback is the inability to 'share' the creation.)

Something I especially liked about this app is that students can create content (across the curriculum) which can be shared globally via Social Media but doesn't necessarily contain their image.

In ELA this week the skill we were practicing was around 'Main Idea and Details'.  Students read various text and completed graphic organizers by identifying the main idea and three supporting details.  Students could then create a ChatterPix to share that information.

There are so many ways to use this app.  Students could:
  • share a poem
  • tell or retell a story
  • tell a story from a different point of view
  • solve a math problem
  • share a science hypothesis
  • highlight important information about a state
The possibilities are diverse and endless!

My next challenge will be to "app smash".  Greg shared how students can create content on ChatterPix then upload it to iMovie - thus using more than one app.  I'd like to collect all related student work in one place and have students create an iMovie using their "ChatterPix" creations.

What are some other ways we can incorporate this into the classroom?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Use of Thinking Blocks to Help Solve Math Problems

More and more we are asking students to solve complex math problems.  Along the way we do a lot to help them become successful.  We incorporate the use of many tools during the math classroom.

One of the tools we are using this year in the classroom is called, Thinking Blocks".  This website (there is even a 'free' app for the thinking blocks) poses problems around different types of models.  As a warm up before the regular math lesson this week we practiced solving addition and subtraction word problems using the "part whole model with two parts" and the "part whole model with 3 parts".

As a group we watch a quick 3 minute tutorial, practice several problems and then break off with a partner.  Using chrome books, students access the Thinking Blocks website and begin solving each new problem by first checking for understanding and then manipulating the blocks.  Working with a partner also gets the students used to 'talking' about math problems.  It's great listening in on conversations as students help one another understand why something is working or something isn't! The Thinking Blocks site also provides "feedback" when students are solving incorrectly.  It guides them so they are successful.

These Thinking Blocks help students identify the known and unknown quantities. Using these models students will gain confidence in solving problems while developing strong reasoning skills. They are also a great tool for students to use to 'discuss' math and explain their thinking. They also are a great way to incorporate many of the Standards of Mathematical Practices as students are learning to reason and make sense of the problems and persevere in solving them while using concrete models and appropriate tools. 

Eventually, students will be solving problems by creating these types of models on their own.  But for now, it's a great tool help attain understanding.

What types of models are you using with your students to help them solve problems?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Giant Traveling Map

Talk about seeing the world up close! This past week our school had the opportunity to get their hands AND their feet on the Giant National Geographic Map.  Quickly taking off their shoes, my students rushed over to explore the mammoth "Map of North America".  Squeals of delight could be heard as the students found various states and features.  On the day of our first visit we just so happened to have skyped @weswils5 's class in Alberta, Canada.  It was so fun to watch the students crowd around the province on the map! A stronger, 'bigger' connection was certainly made.

I had no idea such a thing exsisted! The map which measures 26' by 35' was brought to my attention by a parent last year. It was rented for two weeks through the generous donation from our Parent Advisory Council. All the classes in our school were able to visit the map at least twice during the two week rental period.

The first time we visited the map we played a "Simon Says" type game to familiarize ourselves with the map. "Simon Says find a state that begins with an M" or "Simon says put your left foot in the Atlantic Ocean". These type of statements had the students visiting different areas of the map.  The next activity was based around using the "Cardinal Directions". Using the compass rose, we found locations on the map while stepping North, South, East and West.  Student gained a better understanding and appreciation of directions after this activity. It's wasn't as easy as one would think.  Another activity involved finding particular states. Each child was given a card with a state name & had to find that state as quickly as possible. It sure was a lot of fun exploring the states in such a manner.

Every day the students asked if we were going to visit the 'giant' map.  They not only loved the size of it, but they loved exploring the different features.  Each time, someone learned something new! It makes me think that we need to be incorporating more activities like this in our classrooms.


National Geographic Traveling Map: 6 Different Giant Floor Maps for Students to Explore

National Geographic: Exploring Maps and Models of the Earth

Teaching with Maps: NEA site that has students learning about Longitude & Latitude; Reading a topographic map & more

Google Earth Lessons & Ideas

Map Skills and Higher Order Thinking

Maps are fascinating on many different levels. Some folks may argue that 'reading a map' is not longer relevant due to technological advances and GPS systems.  Others say that reading maps lead to 'global learning'.  Witnessing the allure and attraction of these enormous maps makes me realize that students LOVE learning about places using visuals. If you get the chance - you should rent one!

In what ways do you incorporate MAPS in your teaching? How are maps applicable to our everyday life?

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 and gave examples on how to apply this tool in education while 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 easel was in the presentation Slides

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!