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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lessons on the Go - The Walking Classroom

"I feel pumped up now!" shared Domenic after our first official Walking Classroom  (TWC) lesson.  Other student comments included: "I'm more awake now - sometimes I'm tired when I come to school." and "I think this is going to be great - we get to go outside and learn!"

Last year I saw a tweet about the "Walking Classroom" program and I knew I HAD to use this with my classroom.  The premise: get kids moving and learning - the perfect combination.

I had to find a way to get the WalkKits (WalkKit is a device-like an mp3 player-that is preloaded with podcasts specifically geared towards 4th grade) into the hands (and ears) of my class.  So I applied for a GO! Grant but my proposal was not accepted. Knowing that this program would have many benefits to my class I reached out to TWC to see what else I might try.  They suggested applying for a donation through their site. My application was reviewed and our class was put on a waiting list (waiting for a donor). A few weeks later an email arrived saying we would be receiving a class set of WalkKits.  My class and I were beyond thrilled.

On the day the WalkKits arrived a resounding cheer reverberated throughout our hallway. Students knew they soon would be outside and learning.   After permission slips were signed, we took our first walk WITHOUT the WalkKits. This allowed us to check out our route and practice walking as a class.  The following day we began with our first podcast.  Listening to walking safety tips and learning about different question types, the students will be ready for their next "Lessons on the Go!"

Thank you to Laura Fenn, Executive Director of The Walking Classroom, for her idea and wonderful podcasts! And Thank You to the generous (anonymous) donor for providing us with a class set of WalkKits!  We can't wait to share what we learn!

What are some other ways we can make learning more active for students? 


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Building a Growth Mindset

Building and fostering a "Growth Mindset" doesn't happen overnight.  The year began with several activities to help inspire the idea that "intelligence can be developed" and that "you can learn anything through hard work and effort!"

On the first day of school we watched this video created by the Kahn Academy titled "You Can Learn Anything!"

The video really resonated with many students because they could directly relate to it. Students posted their thoughts on a sticky note which were displayed in the classroom.

Take a minute to watch the Khan Academy video to see what positive message you take away from it.

The following video was shared at another time.  From this video we talked about the idea of  "Training Our Brain" to accomplish things we want to learn. This happened to coincide with International Dot Day so we completed an activity where we drew on a dot something we wanted to learn.

For the first school assembly we decided to share some words that will help change your mindset.  It was inspired by this TeachersPayTeachers bulletin board by Pinkadots Elementary. For the lesson students were given the Fixed mindset statements (I give Up; I'm not Good at this; This is too hard, etc) and asked to replace them with positive statements (I'll try my best; I'll keep working on this; With some effort I'll get this; etc).  Then students carouselled around the room and added more statements to each others' posters.

The final step in this process was to select some phrases that would be added to some homemade speech bubbles, which would then be presented to the school during the assembly.  Students worked hard and did a fabulous job presenting.

Training your brain doesn't happen overnight so we will continue the process of working towards a "Growth Mindset" throughout the year!  The ultimate goal is about 'Learning' and how we can do that best!


Here are some other resources about Mindsets:

Feel like sharing your thoughts on Mindset?  Please leave a comment below!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

YOU Made a Difference

Grade 4 Class of 2006-2007
As teachers we often wonder if we "make a difference" in the lives of our students.  (In reality and in our hearts we know that somewhere in our career, we MUST have positively impacted someone.)

But, I wonder do our students ever WONDER if they have made a difference in OUR life?  I'm not so sure they think too long about it as they progress to the next level.

Today some of my former students graduate and I'd like to share the story of why this ENTIRE class made a difference in MY life!

In July 2006 I heard those three words no one ever should hear: "You have Cancer!" I immediately thought of my young family and then started thinking about my 4th grade class.  Starting off the year was not going to be a possibility as I had to undergo some aggressive chemotherapy treatments.  The teary call made to my principal was one I'll always remember because I assured him that I WOULD BE returning as soon as my doctors gave me the okay (sometime in January or February).  

 Throughout the next few months I received countless notes and cards from "my" students. (My students: these kiddos knew me only through their siblings or through school assemblies or interactions in the hallways.) Yet they still acted as if I were their teacher! They told me about their likes, their dislikes and their goals and dreams.   On my occasional visits to the classroom (where I would receive "elbow" hugs) their faces would light up with stories of what they were learning and always, always the question "when are you coming back?" These children embraced me without really even knowing me.  Their desire for me to return to "them" is what kept me motivated, positive and above all else, STRONG!

I DID indeed return to them (cancer free!) in late February where I was given a rousing round of applause and a tee-shirt that I still have to this day!  Walking into the classroom on that first day back, to those students who had such faith in me, I felt like I had known them all along!!

Written by Kyle in Grade 5
The story doesn't end their as it never does! The following year when the students were in Grade 5 I asked them to write some acrostic poems for some Cancer Survivors for the Relay for Life.  The poems they wrote were placed inside the Survivor's Tent at the local Relay.  After reading the poems, many tear-filled survivors commented about the inspiration and the positiveness that emanated from these young students!

Over the years, these students have remained dear to my heart as I heard they participated in the School Competition of the National Geography Bee; or the Middle School play, or became volunteers at After School programs for Kids; or scored many goals for the hockey team; or helped out with the Film Festival; moved or went off to a different school! 

Because of your faith, your encouragement, your desire to have me back in the classroom, your notes and gifts - because of YOU,  I BEAT Cancer!  You have MADE A DIFFERENCE in my life and I THANK YOU as you graduate on this beautiful day! I'm sure you'll continue to make a difference in the lives of many others!
WHS Graduation June 2015
As a final note:  I know the students wrote to me, made cards, presented me with gifts through the tutelage of my substitute that year.  Nancy Farris, none of that would have happened without you!  Your inspiration and your insistence that I visit the classroom (whether I was ready or not) absolutely helped me get through that tough part of my life!  I THANK YOU as YOU continue to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in my life!

So if you know or see:  Nancy F., Rachel, Allison, Kendall, Patrick, Oscar, Nick, Kyle, Jonathan, Angela, Chris, Andie, Madison, Meagan, Megan W, Mike, Stephanie, Lucy, Ashley, Emilee, Lolita, John, Joe, Kody, Dan, or Helen please tell them how they have made a difference in YOUR life!


Friday, April 24, 2015

Stem in the Classroom - Part 2

After our initial experience with Building a Sail Car (read about it here) my students (and I) were HOOKED with these building challenges! I knew I had to capitalize on their enthusiasm and determination and continue this type of learning!

However, changes had to be made to make sure it was a true and balanced learning experience.  This means starting with a REAL plan.  It just so happened that I stumbled across (while actively searching for appropriate & challenging STEM-type activities) this great resource geared for students in grades 4-8: Bridges: An Integrated Stem Teaching Guide provided by Elmer's in cooperation with STEMfest The Works.    It provided a lot of the structure I needed to proceed: Objectives, Discussion Questions, Research Activities & Hands On Activities.

Activate Prior Knowledge: To begin, I read the story: Bridges Are to Cross by Philemon Sturges with stunning illustrations by Giles Laroche.  This quick but engaging book shared different types of bridges (from ones that carry llamas loaded with firewood to covered bridges that are located in a neighboring state!).  Students were quick to share stories and make connections: "I've been to a bridge like that when my family went skiing in New Hampshire!" "My dad's been to the London Bridge!" "I know that bridge is in California - I've seen it in movies!"

Students also read selected passages from "": Building a Bridge (fiction) and it's paired reading text: Building a Better Mousetrap.  Because these were geared for fifth grade, the students used the "Partner Reading Strategy."

Share the Challenge: After reading the book I told the students that they would be building bridges in the classroom!  Lots of excitement, fist pumps & oh yeahs went around the room.  Many assumed we would be using craft sticks.  I waited until after the research to share the news that they would be building PAPER bridges!

Research: Students were asked to discover the different types of bridges.  They were given a handout with 4 different pictures and were asked to identify the type as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each!  Students were given the mnemonic: BATS to further interest them. (Beam, Arch, Truss, Suspension).  I found several websites that provided great information for the students. Some of the students found even better resources and shared with the class! Talk about student leaders!! (This wouldn't be possible without our recently "donated" Chromebooks to help out! If you'd like to help us further please visit my Donor's Choose page - we appreciate any/all donations on our newest project - it makes a difference EVERYDAY especially in activities such as these!!)

The Challenge: The first challenge in the Elmer's Guide is 'Building a Paper Bridge' that can hold 100 pennies! The parameters included using only 2 pieces of paper, no tape only glue (after all this was promoted by Elmer's!) and certain dimensions for width and span. Impossible you say? Students thought so too! 


Planning:  Before building could start, students had to PLAN their designs.  Reminding them about the Sail Car Challenge I mentioned how many said they wished they took more time to planI also mentioned that they would be getting 4 pieces of paper which meant that they REALLY had to plan carefully as resources would be limited.  Sharing the "Engineering Design Process" with the students helped them formulate, plan, create, improve upon and redesign if necessary.  Students used this graphic organizer.  One student even made 'secret' Blueprints!! Students were instructed to record their design changes.  (This is where I need help to make it easier for them to do this. I think a journal next time would make it easier.)

The Activity:  The day finally arrived and students began discussing, designing and building. A gentle reminder that only 2 pieces of paper could be used.  Rulers were gathered and measuring began. The bridges' piers were set in place.  More discussion, more measuring...."I think we should make an arch bridge because it's stronger." "How can we make this paper stronger?" "Don't forget it has to be 3 inches wide." "Let's ask if we can use tape!"  After about 20 minutes we had to stop to attend music.  Students wanted to leave things set up and try again after.  We spend about another 20 minutes after music and still hadn't finished. I've learned you can't RUSH these things.   We decided we would pick up again the next day and try again.

Post Activity: After day 2 one student successfully completed the challenge as her bridge held 102 pennies! Unfortunately, students didn't finish before we went on vacation.  So this activity will be resumed.  Students will complete a reflection (using Google Forms) and we'll gather as a group to talk about why the designs worked/didn't work. We'll again go back to our research and discuss the different types of bridges. We will also discuss ways to improve upon the Design Process.  More research will be conducted and other challenges to complete.  The other challenges include: the Bridge Tower Challenge, The Truss Bridge Challenge & the Toothpick Bridge Challenge.  Hopefully, the students will continue to be excited about these different challenges and learning opportunities.

While this activity was frustrating for some (as they wanted desperately to complete this challenge) I saw some wonderful learning happening.  Students from different groups helping each other with their designs - sharing what they thought would work or why the design might not work.  Referring to research websites and using great vocabulary while discussing the bridge in relation to the weight of the pennies.  Lots of measuring was happening during the challenge.  Students working on "attending to precision and persevering in problem solving" (these are 2 of the Standards of Mathematical Practices we've been working on in math!).  So many areas of the curriculum accessed in this one challenge! You gotta love it! WE DO!

Challenge for YOU: What ideas or suggestions could you make to help students record their design changes?

Resources Used:
Easy Science for Kids - Bridge Facts
PBS: Building Big - Bridge Basics
PBS: Building Big - The Bridge Challenge (Interactive)
KidsKonnect - Bridge Facts & Information
eHow: Advantages & Disadvantages of Types of Bridges
IKNS Bridges: A Wikispace - Strengths & Weaknesses 

Resource found by Sarah, a Girl Scout studying Engineering: Historic Bridges

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?