Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gears and Dinosaurs

This week in kindergarten enrichment, students led centers including one on gears and one on dinosaurs.

I am sad to report that I was unable to take photographs of the gear center as students were using my iPad to manipulate gears on the program Geared2 by Playful Art. This center was designed by a student who had seen a set of toy gears sitting in a room and was curious about them. I was able to borrow the gear set from the Student Support Center and I received a donation of a gear game from a parent too! Students were engaged as they built gear contraptions and played with the idea of using one gear to move another. I also enjoyed seeing students support one another as they tried various strategies. I heard many words of encouragement and witnessed students working together to solve problems with no adult intervention required.

The other highly popular center this week was all about dinosaurs. I am always amazed by the students knowledge of dinosaur names and facts. Students created dinosaur fossil footprints in clay, constructed dinosaur bones, read books, colored pictures and played with a set of dinosaurs.

As always I am excited about what next week will hold for these creative students!

Bringing Far Away Places to Life

This week during third grade enrichment classes, students have been on the continent of Europe performing a variety of challenges. Today, in addition to their various paper resources and maps I placed Google Earth on the board. Suddenly students were at the Eiffel Tower. They were seeing views of pictures from the top, what it looked like to stand underneath it, what the geography of the city looked like around it. The exploration had a purpose, it was connected to their study....but it was also just FUN!

Critical Evaluation of Internet Sources

Information is all around us!  For the past few weeks in enrichment/library the fourth graders have been focusing on developing an awareness of the information that they consume.  From paper to digital media we have been working to be more aware information consumers.

( In addition to consumers, we have also taken on the role of creators of media. You can find blog posts about these creative activities at:,,,

This week we have turned our critical thinking skills to the Internet.  We have been discussing the best way to analyze Internet sources.  Through the use of several 'hoax' websites and an excellent website rating scale from Common Sense Media ( we have been analyzing potential sources of research information.  When we began this discussion we found that many students had not considered the possibility that someone may post something on the Internet that was false.  We had particularly lively discussion when I proposed that I create a website about my world travels to places I have never been. Several students felt that there must be someone regulating information and were surprised to hear that anyone can post anything!  Our discussion continued as we worked together to rate a fairly reputable website.  Students began to see the value of certain information in helping them to determine whether sources were worth using (or even believing!)  We looked at the author and the content with a critical lens.  Students also realized the value of our school website as a source of 'vetted' information. 

Individuals went on to rate several recommended websites, and lively discussions about whether or not there were Rennets or Tree Octopuses or Jackalopes ensued.  Students reasoned, they argued, they sought proof to back up their statements AND they learned the value of consuming the Internet with a critical eye!  As teachers, we did not direct their opinion, instead we asked open ended questions "Why" "Are You Sure?" and "Prove It!"  Although some of the hoax websites were extreme examples of false information, our hope is that students will use these developing analytical skills and apply it to all of their Internet use. We are still thinking about how we could add to our rating web sheet to include advertisements and web author purpose, and we have not decided how many errors a website can have before we consider the whole site invalid--but we are now an awesome group of thinking consumers of media!!

If you are interested in seeing if you can determine the validity of some interesting sites, or if you want to look at some of these sites with students, check out:

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
The Jackalope Conspiracy (
Save the Rennets ( )

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Moon Trek in Grade 2

This week in enrichment, second graders took a break from their school/community projects to work on a team challenge.  The exercise, put together by NASA, challenged students to decide which materials might be vital to a 200 mile trek across the moon surface.  I knew before introducing the activity that students would not have all of the schema to assess all of the material choices--  BUT my goal was for them to talk to each other, to work together to make decisions (even when they did not have all of the data).  During one class, an adult volunteer whispered that they were not sure about one of the materials.....and I encouraged her to repeat this out loud.  I think it is so important that students realize that learning does not always involve knowing everything--that sometimes we are guessing based on what we do know.  Sometimes we are relying on the knowledge of others without being sure ourselves, and sometimes no one answer is absolutely correct! 

Student engagement on this project was high.  Each group really worked together to make decisions, and all were able to agree on a ranking scale.  I was excited to see them applying things they had learned to a new scenario (they all ranked air, water and food at the top of their lists--understanding from their studies that these were necessities to survival).  I enjoyed seeing several students really shine as they shared facts that they knew about the moon----the lack of oxygen, the decrease in gravity that would allow them to carry heavy oxygen tanks, how far 200 miles was, etc.  And then students had to add up their scores.  They had to apply their knowledge of combining multiple addends to see how close they were to the NASA recommendations.  Students worked on this collaboratively! Some scribed, some counted, some checked--they all discussed strategies for making sure their work was correct.  When we met as a group, teams compared results and talked about why they had chosen different ranks for different items, and I shared the NASA recommendations.  None of the groups were upset that they did not get all of the answers 'correct', instead they were thoughtfully asking for clarifications that might add to their knowledge base.

As a former engineer, I believe strongly that science can provide students with amazing learning opportunities! I am going to continue to be on the look out for activities like this one that combine this level of inquiry with the need to work in a group.

Want to take the Survival Challenge?  Here is the link to this activity as part of a complex lesson (at the end):

The condensed version I used for in class work, I found at:

We All Scream for Teamwork!

This week during enrichment first graders have been working in small groups on several team building activities.  Over the course of the week, as I taught each class, I learned quite a bit as a teacher about how to facilitate these groups. During my first class I had students working in groups of three or four. This allowed each group to meet at a table in the classroom, which I thought would support classroom management.  But, what I found through these activities was that it was very difficult for groups of four first graders to agree upon ideas and strategies for carrying out their tasks together.  In the next class, I divided the groups into three with some groups of two.  The difference was measurable. Although we did not have tables for all groups, we were able to spread out and find separate spaces for each group. I saw a marked change in student ability to decide on plans for their group and to really listen to each other.  In the first class I had to support each group in listening to each other. In the class with smaller group sizes, I was able to move around the room and listen as opposed to facilitate.  This was a great lesson for me in team structuring and classroom planning....and at the same time, students really worked together on some great team challenges!

Students were asked to move an object from person to person in their group without use of their hands (students slid things across the table- pushing with their elbows, they used their feet to pick up the item, they used their elbows, or they each did something different that helped them connect to the next person!) They were thinking and supporting each other through the process.  Next students created a physical movement chain reaction--in total silence.  The room was full of energy, but not sound. This approach helped them to really 'listen' to each person (everyone had a role to play) and no one voice was louder than another, because voices were 'turned off'! Next the teams built machines with physical movement. We had gumball machines, candy makers, stamp machines, star wars robots, and much more!  To complete the lesson, each group wrote a song about teamwork.  The end product was not polished, but the discussion that went into creating a song about teamwork was excellent!  

My favorite song might have been "teamwork, teamwork, we all scream for teamwork!" Because I could not agree more! The ability to work together will make a difference in student ability to thrive in school and beyond.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rhythmic Ribbon Dancing and Paper People

This week in enrichment kindergarten students continued to offer great student driven centers for their peers. We were treated to a lesson in rhythmic ribbon dancing for one center. In another center a student directed friends to decorate paper people in a variety of ways. Encouraged by a book where a girl demands to wear a wild outfit, despite her families best efforts to persuade her to wear something less flashy, students decorated their paper people with flare!

Each week the kindergarten students amaze me with their desire to share and learn with and from each other.

Welcoming a Volunteer!

Last Monday in the enrichment room we had a new volunteer who will be joining us to support student learning and exploration. Martha Colyer was an art teacher at RES several years ago and has volunteered to work with me on Mondays to support the enrichment curriculum. Martha has a BA in Studio Art and Art Education, and a Master’s in Education. She also has Montessori training and many years of teaching experience, AND most importantly she is enthusiastic!

I feel very honored that Martha is volunteering to spend time in the enrichment classroom and I am excited for the opportunities that it will offer to our students.

Are you interested in volunteering? I welcome participation in my classes on a regular or one time basis! Please contact me to make plans to visit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Third Grade Racers in Europe

Third graders are continuing their amazing race on the continent of Europe. After identifying the capital and Prime Minister of England students travelled across the Channel to either France or Poland to complete a team challenge. Students watched videos on their country from the National Geographic Kids website, where you can find videos and presentations on a huge number of countries:
Next they selected to either construct the Eiffel Tower out of Legos or do a Polish paper cutting technique called Wycinanki.

We are approaching the end of our world race, and I am proud of the excellent teamwork and perseverance that I see each week. Students are solving problems and working together!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A National Geographic Floor Map at RES

Swimming the Atlantic Ocean, surfing in the Pacific, walking around the entire perimeter of the United States--and all in the same day!! Students  will be doing each of these things, and a lot more with the National Geographic Floor Map which has been installed at RES on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Darcie Rankin, enrichment teacher and Linda Riell, physical education teacher have been working together to share the giant floor map with students from all grades.  The map of  North America covers most of the gym floor and allows students to experience geography through physical movement and play.  In the younger grades we have focused our time on identifying major physical features of the continent, as well as finding our home state and areas of student interest.  In the upper grades we have connected our exploration to classroom learning. Third graders are mapping the Oregon Trail as a connection to their unit on Westward Expansion and fourth graders are identifying states and capitals via a team relay to connect to their study of the various states.

The traveling map was brought to Vermont thanks to the Vermont Geographic Alliance and teachers across the state working together to transport the map from location to location.

We hope this will be a memorable experience for students that is both fun and connected to their learning!

Monday, January 14, 2013

AfterSchool Enrichment Session 2

Each enrichment session begins with a flurry of activity as students get settled in to a new routine. It is always great to walk around the building the second week and see all the great learning. We have some new teachers supporting us this year, including a breaker!

With each Enrichment session I am reminded of all the people that put in extra time to support this opportunity for students. We have many staff who teach classes-- but there is also a whole group of people that work behind the scenes to make it a great experience for everyone. Mary Marcotte keeps track of attendance and gets all students to their buses at the end of the day. Susanne Parent works in the front office to answer questions and make sure everyone is helped and cared for. Julie Crenshaw continues her nursing duties even after the end of the school day to support our program. Diane Kane provides guest teaching when needed, and has even driven students home to make sure they can participate. The enrichment program is an excellent example of the community working together to provide opportunities for RES kids, and I am thankful to all those adults who make this happen!

Friday, January 11, 2013


In first grade this week we are continuing to talk about working together--especially listening to each other. We have moved from our peer interviews to working in small groups to create a mural. Students were asked to work together to create a large square of a wall mural that will represent the idea of teamwork. We will then be able to combine all the great pieces to have a teamwork mural!

During this exercise, students have to work together to decide how they will represent the concept--- will they use pictures or words?? How will they show the idea? Who will draw or write and where on the paper? During this creation process I moved around the room helping students to work through these questions. I made a few interesting observations:
*some students chose to divide the paper into parts so that everyone could do exactly what they wanted without compromising their ideas
*some students talked for a very long time before using any materials--the idea of the mural was very important
* some students picked a simple plan such as writing teamwork, while others had complex pictures with various ideas embedded

Students observed:
"Teamwork is hard because you do not get what you want"
"When I work with other people I have to be OK if they mess up because sometimes I mess up too"
"Sometimes I feel like no one listens to my ideas"
"I think it is easier to work by myself"
"We would have never been able to finish this if we did not all work together"
"I really like what we made together"

These comments made me feel that students are really starting to understand teams and how they work, and sometimes how they do not work.

Airplanes and Collages

Kindergarten students continued to lead more great interest driven centers this week. One student brought in material scraps and cardboard and students created collages. The discussions at the table were great as students decided whether to leave spaces or not and which colors to use.

In another class a student used his interest in airplanes to create an airport, as well as a paper airplane making and flying station.

Students have done amazing work in thinking about how to share their interests with others. One of my favorite parts of the day is when K students stand up to introduce their center to the class. Their peers ooh and ahhh, they ask great questions and they are EXCITED to learn from their friends! Today when I asked students which centers they were choosing, they ALL wanted to go to the student driven center!

Sharing Skills

Today some second grade students spent their enrichment class in the computer lab teaching Kindergarteners how to use a reading program called RAZ Kids. The RAZ Kids program provides an electronic set of leveled reading books. Students are able to listen, read and take quizzes on line. This program is great because it is individualized and accessible on any Internet web browser with flash.

The second graders did an excellent job sharing their skills and knowledge about the program and helping the K learners to engage with the technology. My favorite part of the learning experience was seeing K students reading books with their new student teachers!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Looking at Learning from the Student Perspective

After requesting that students fill the board with one important thing they learned in 2012 and a goal for 2013, I took these phrases and created a word cloud using Tagxedo.  Below, these images summarize important learning to RES students. All input has equal value, and words become bigger in the word cloud when they are repeated by multiple students.  Some of my favorite inputs as a teacher included the following reflections:

*I learned to read

*I learned that anything can happen
*I learned how to use harder math  

*I learned how to work as a team and have more fun that you will expect

*I learned how animals live in different ecosystems
*Finishing Fastmath. Knowing all my math facts.

*There is a difference between rotation and revolution
*Asking myself questions
*I learned to use my imagination

Just to name a few!

I hope that students will be able to meet their learning goals in 2013--after seeing what they accomplished last year--they are on track!