Saturday, April 25, 2015

Artist in Residence and the Definition of Enrichment

In my job as the enrichment teacher, I am constantly wondering how my time can best support the enrichment of students at RES.  Each of our students is a unique learner and their needs and their definition of what is enriching varies (and changes over the course of their time at school).  I spend a lot of time looking for ways to differentiate my instruction through the offering of choices as well as student driven projects that provide students with the voice to help me decide what can enrich their learning experiences.  As well as this work, I am always on the lookout for things that might just be enriching for everyone.  An opportunity that will be a first for the whole class (at the moment I am introducing students to green screen technology and how we can edit ourselves into any landscape with a simple app!) or sometimes for the entire school (the Cougar Cub Inventor's Workshop in November is an example of this work).

A year ago I began exploring the idea of an Artist in Residence as a whole school opportunity for enrichment.  I liked the idea of trying to connect this residency model to the performing arts and culture.  After having many one on one discussions with students about what they want to learn, and how they want to learn I have found that studying other countries and the performing arts are recurring themes.  I also received support to look at these ideas from all of the unified arts teachers at RES, as they jumped on board to suggest connections to their curriculums in physical movement (PE), art, library, music and Spanish. Our discussion as educators focused on what a true enriching opportunity it is for students to learn directly from caring, knowledgeable adults in our community that bring unique experiences and backgrounds to their art form.

With this great support I embarked on a journey to bring Jeh Kulu to Richmond!  We received a generous grant from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Their support allowed us to book Jeh Kulu and begin planning for three days of cultural and performing arts connections for all students in grades K-4.  In the fall RES families supported this effort through participation in the RES Fun Run.  That money combined with a donation from POMG Bike Tours of Vermont funded our three day residency. 

I also found great support from the Flynn Education Department.  We were able to connect our residency to an all school field trip to the Flynn theater to watch the performance of the African Children's Choir AND the Flynn worked with us to provide eleven grant funded companion workshops that developed deep connections to the performance. Grants were generously provided by the Champlain Investment Partners.  

The residency combined with Flynn companion workshops and the all school field trip was a unique and excellent experience for our students.  Jeh Kulu, means community, and as we danced, learned about drumming and participated in a new art form I felt our community grow stronger.  As students and staff we developed connections with each other through shared performances and learning. As a school we developed connections with another culture and with community members that showed their investment in our personal growth.  As an educator I was thrilled to witness students participate in all of these activities with energy and enthusiasm.  I saw students get to showcase talents that sometimes are not part of our regular school day, like dancing.  I also listened to students thinking deeply about what it means to be from a different culture.  AND everyone learned something new!

I often get asked what it means to be an enrichment teacher (check the blog links from my blog home page for a description of the RES Enrichment Program).  Enriching experiences should be joyful and unique--and I will continue to strive to provide these opportunities to our students.  Do you have an idea for an enriching experience for RES students?  I would love to hear it!

Many staff at RES have blogged about their experience during the residency. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Kindergarten Exploration in March and April

Although my blogging has been slow in March and April, kindergarten enrichment has been full of great student led centers.  Each student self selects a topic and then we work together to generate a center that other students participate in during exploratory play.  Students are excited to share their passions and classmates learn so much from each other.  By supporting students as the key learner on a topic of their choice,  I see amazing respect and community building as we learn together.  Here is a taste of many of the centers that have take place over the last few weeks.  After break we will continue with more great student led centers in kindergarten! 





Giant Paper Snowman



Block Towers and Building Projects


Exercise and Eating Healthy


Cooking (lemonade and popcorn!)

Princesses and Crowns

Shadow Puppets

Creating Books

Animal Tracks and Dinosaur Fossils
Writing Letters to Grandparents and Special Friends
More Space!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Engineering and Making in After School Enrichment

For the last four weeks I have been working with an amazing group of engineers.  The enrichment room after school on Thursdays has been filled with students making and exploring a variety of materials in an after school enrichment class.  I have been amazed at the work that students in first through third grade can accomplish in one hour.  Although I try to support their efforts with some preliminary guidelines and the right tools, they have been creative and innovative in their approach and their results.  I have also witnessed awesome collaboration.  This is a group of students who have been put together based on their interest in learning more about engineering through making....but they have shown great teamwork and support as they problem solve (sometimes  frustrating problems).

This post is to share their great work, but it is also to encourage other students to learn through making. Perhaps a project on here will spark your interest.  I have tried to include materials suggestions, but feel free to let me know if you would like more details about any of our projects.

Week 1:
We made Jitterbots.  A basic Jitterbot includes an old CD with 6-8 golf tees hot-glued to one side (for legs). On the opposite side a small motor and battery are added.  Students must wire the battery to the motor, and then create their own character Jitterbot.  In our class we had bugs, aliens, buildings and more! In order to make a working bot, you must understand the basic idea of a closed circuit as well as how to create a jittery motion by the balance and design of your bot.
Week 2:
 We utilized the RES computer lab to learn about computer programming.  We began our time together with Mrs. Rankin acting like a computer. Students came to understand that unless their directions to me were very clear and specific that they would be met with "I am sorry I do not understand that command" in a silly robotic voice.  After a few minutes they got the idea of being specific and direct and we headed to the lab to try coding.    We utilized the website: which is full of great  coding activities at all levels.  The great part about this website is that it walks you through the steps of coding AND it scaffolds your learning as you grow your knowledge.  Several students ended the day with a Flappy the Bird computer game which they had generated.  You can even play one of the games they created here (This one is by second grader, Brady):
Although we did not get to it on this day, I also recommend for basic and challenging coding for students.
 Week 3:
We created squishy circuits.  Students used playdoh and a squishy circuit kit that I created from spare parts and some LEDs.  Squishy circuits are a popular tool for teaching the fundamentals of electricity, while at the same time enjoying the creativity that is sparked by the ease and accessibility of playdoh use.  For more information on how to make squishy circuit dough, or some ideas of activities, check out this site: 
Students made everything from light up trains to bugs as they experimented with how to complete a circuit using dough.
Week 4:
This year Ms. Darby,a third grade teacher, and myself were lucky to receive a grant for RES to purchase equipment which supported increased inquiry and hands on learning.  Part of this grant money was used to purchase Little Bits kits.  These electronics kits are magnetized connectable circuits of many types.  Students used these to build electric toothbrushes, hairdryers, games, jumping animals, lego and kinect cars and more!  

This week we will end our after school class by taking apart some old electronics and making something new.  I will be sad to see this class end, but I look forward to hearing about what these students continue to do on their own AND perhaps what you make after reading this post!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tomatoes in Space?

In first grade enrichment students are learning about plants. One essential question of our unit is:
How do plants change through their life cycle?

 A few weeks ago we planted bean seeds in window greenhouses and we are watching them grow (this type of planting allows us to see every part of the plant from the roots to the leaves and flower!)  We also dissected lima bean seeds to see the very beginning of a plant with our own eyes AND with a digital microscope. Students were excited to find the tiny root and stem system already growing underneath the protective seed coat. By magnifying our findings under a microscope students got a true sense of their tiny plant.  One student even became very sad at the thought that by opening the seed she had stopped the tiny plant life that was about to grow!  This hands on experimenting and observation is critical to foster meaningful learning.

BUT, experimentation is not just about looking at static things, or even growing things with expected outcomes. I also want our first grade scientists to wonder and inquire about plants and see how their learning is connected to many different things.  This goal brings us to the title of this post, tomato seeds in space. Several months ago, I saw a post on twitter from a fellow educator encouraging people that wanted to complete a real inquiry project to check out the Tomatosphere™ project.  I was intrigued and after some reading I signed up my classroom to receive seeds and become part of a blind study project.  I agreed to plant seeds with my students--one which had been exposed to space conditions, and the other which had not. 

When I shared our goals with the class, student engagement was amazing.  We had a great scientific discussion about why space travel might require us to look at seeds for a food source.  Students also argued logically about which seeds might grow better (or worse!) and why.  Some students were convinced that the 'space seeds' would be mutants---perhaps yielding better results, while others were convinced that they would not even grow at all!  This discussion allowed us to understand and participate in a true science experiment. We were learning alongside hundreds of other student scientists about a topic that was important not just to our classroom learning, but to the future of space travel (in FIRST grade!!!).

Stay tuned to this blog to find out our experimental results.

Here is more information from the Tomatosphere website ( ) on our project:
Tomatosphere™ uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. Students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food that will inevitably support long-term human space travel.  The program originated in Canada and involves over 17,000 Kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms across Canada and the United States.  In 2012, Tomatosphere™ was honoured by the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) as the best project promoting science in Canada.
Tomatosphere™ has strong connections to science curriculum and helps students develop science process skills through inquiry. The project enables students to make a contribution to real-life research related to the development of seeds with a high germination rate for prolonged space travel.
The project enables students to make a contribution to a real science experiment involving research related to the development of seeds with a high germination rate for prolonged space travel.

Food availability and life support are major limiting factors in extended space exploration. Plants will be needed to provide a source of fresh, nutritious food and to produce a vital life support system - including oxygen, fresh water and carbon dioxide uptake. Scientists need to know if space travel affects plant germination and plant growth, before these extended missions can take place.
Students will use two groups of seeds – a control/untreated group and a group of seeds that have been treated (exposed to space or space-like conditions).
The students will observe:

  • The time required for each seed to successfully germinate.
  • The per cent of successful germination in each treatment.