September 5

Tackling Multiple Life Events In a Few Short Months

Happy Day!  In March I turned 50 years old.  (First Event) So far there hasn’t been an age that has bothered me.  I don’t feel old, but I wonder where all those years went??  We also decided to move from our neighborhood that we had lived in for 10 years. (2nd Event)  It was time to get some space.  We were planning to wait a little closer to retirement, but why not right? We found a lovely house on 5 1/2 acres that we lovingly call the Farm.  With 3 dogs and 1 turtle plus all the moles in our yard, it is a farm.  This place wasn’t especially close to my school and after 12 years I really wanted a new adventure (3rd Event).  So I changed school districts.  I left Kirkwood and began teaching 5th grade in Union Missouri.  I only live 8 miles from school.  It takes me about 15 minutes to get to work, that’s if there is traffic. My son and daughter-in-law have been on a journey for years to start a family.  I get to meet my grandsons, Maddux and Griffin, in November.  (4th Event).  While on our family vacation this year celebrating 50 years of life and 30 years of marriage, my daughter got engaged (5th Event).  It is only September!  What will the rest of the year bring?  Stay tuned.

November 17

Weekly Photo Challenge

At the beginning of the school year we read Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.  This was my favorite book this summer, probably because of the photography contest the two main characters, Lucy and Nate, participate in.  Each week I give the kids a photo challenge from the book.  I made a slight change to the contest, with each photo students have to include a six words or less title.  They can interpret the challenge anyway they want.  Students have a week to complete the challenge and email them to me.  We view and vote for the top five most interesting and original interpretation.  We have enough challenges for the entire school year.  I look forward to sharing more as we go.

One challenge was “Design”.








Another challenge was “Three Feet”






Here is a challenge for you…can you comment below what the Six Words or Less description would be for these photos?

November 17

Socratic Seminar-The Lorax

Our class participated in our first Socratic Seminar today.  A Socratic Seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others.

Day 1: The class was introduced to the process of the discussion.  We talked about the difference between a discussion and a debate.  We also set “rules” that we would all agree to follow.  We watched a few youtube videos showing students participating in Socratic Seminars.  They were quite impressed that most of the videos showed middle school students.  I assured them they were up to the challenge.  

We also talked about roles some students would take in the seminar. We would have a Time Keeper to keep us moving through the conversation; two Score Keepers to keep track of responses; and the Focus Keeper to be sure we stay on track.  I told them these jobs would be filled randomly by me this first time, but next time they can volunteer for these.  We also discussed how having this conversation was like talking with your family or friends.  We wouldn’t be raising our hands, instead we would jump in when we had something to share or ask and if two people spoke at the same time we would politely take turns.  

Day 2: We read the book The Lorax By Dr. Seuss.  As part of the process students prepared for our discussion by highlighted parts of the text they wanted to be sure and site as well as answered open ended questions, they would use during the discussion.

Day 3: The Seminar!  We sat in a circle on the floor.  I sat on the outside of the circle because my only job today was to read the questions aloud.  Students had their copies of The Lorax and  discussion questions, a pencil to take notes and we were ready to go.  

The conversation was AMAZING!  I was so completely impressed by thisimg_2118-min.  I have had Socratic Seminars in the  past with 4th and 5th graders, but this was quite different.  For their first ever seminar they did so well.  img_2124-min

On the surface, The Lorax seems like a book about the environment and each of us have an important role in saving our natural resources.  This was definitely discussed but that was only the tip of the conversation.  Deeper messages of sanding up for those that don’t have the courage or voice to do so and that one person can make adifference.   I didn’t have to prompt anyone or bring up these underlying messages.

We did a quick debrief about how they felt it went.  It was funny I was applauding them for a job well done and they were pointing out how they could improve.  Love that mindset…we can always do better, we can always go further.

img_2126-minThe last piece is the self evaluation.  Students answer a few simple questions about what they learned, what the agreed with, and what the
y disagreed with.  They scored themselves on a rubric as well.  The rubric covered everything from preparation to participation in the discussion.  We are already talking about our next Socratic Seminar!


September 29

Author Visit C. Alexander London

We were so lucky today to have author Alexander London visit and talk about all things writing. He is such an amazing storyteller.  I think we could have spent the entire day listening to his stories.  His excitement was contagious. 

His recent book, The Wild Ones, is already catching fire in our classroom.  We read the first four chapters in class and I admit I am hooked.  Check out the link to learn about the book and more about London.  


Alexander London hooked his audience from the beginning.


Storyteller extraordinaire!


Seven classrooms fully engaged!

This visit came at a perfect time for our class.  We are in the middle of our fiction writing unit.  Hearing London talk about how important it is to create characters first before even starting really reinforced all the work we have done to develop characters for our stories.  He also brings his own life into his stories, which again, is something we really impress upon the kiddos.  

When we returned to the classroom we had an great conversation about how we would love to rethink our stories and how we want to make changes based on the excitement London shared with us.  

It was truly a HAPPY DAY in Room 215.

September 25

PLTW Energy Conversion

Our first unit of study this year in our Launch series is Energy Conversion.  We begin with a story that involves a problem to be solved.  Then throughout the unit we participate in three activities that teach and reinforce our learning about forms of energy and how energy is converted.  In each activity students work together in small groups to identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, design and build models, test and evaluate those models, reflect, make changes, reevaluate and reflect.  

Each group is given the opportunity to create a presentation for the class about their group’s process.  We use various apps to share our thinking throughout.  We also have our Launch Logs that we are able to keep notes, sketches, thoughts, etc.  


The generator simulated mechanical and electrical energy.


The hand warmers represented chemical and thermal energy.


We keep notes in our Launch Logs.


So much thinking goes into the problem solving process.


The VEX kits are definitely well used.


3D plans on the iPads walks us through building certain machines needed for the problem solving process.


So many pieces!


The focus is real!

The level of learning in the classroom is on a whole new level. I can’t say enough.  Let the pictures speak for themselves.

Check back for more!

September 25

Classroom Design Challenge

First, let me apologize for the gap in updating this blog.  I would love to say I have a great excuse, I don’t however.  The beginning of the year is busy, but still no excuse.   I work better having things scheduled so I have decided to make Wednesday nights my Blog Night.  If I put it on my calendar it will happen, right?  Yes, I realize this is Sunday, trust me I know what day of the week it is.  Hehe

Now let’s get to this post.  This year’s challenge was the fact that our class sizes have increased.  I had to make a decision based on room size and storage needs.  I requested desks for my classroom.  I probably haven’t had desks since…well I don’t even know.  I asked for them for a couple of reasons, the first and most important, they are great for storage.  Each student can keep their supplies in their desk, instead of cubbies or bins that I have purchased in the past.  I didn’t have enough for the increased size, having to purchase 10 more didn’t seem budget friendly, so desks was an option.  I said two reasons, and for the life of me I can’t remember reason number two.  Hehe


I still love to have soft lighting and the stand up counters are still a popular option for work space.


Pods of six seem to work well. Notice I did cover them with blue vinyl, just like my tables in the past.


My daughter-in-law suggested the quiet reading space. This was our “patio” last year with deck chairs and no rug. I like this better.


Bought these two little tables from IKEA for $7.99. Sweet deal. I put labels for Open House that these were not benches. Hehe They are great for games, writing, and building with Legos.


My daughter-in-law also hung all our research QR codes for easy access.


I also tried these little u-shaped pods for a bit. They drove me crazy. It was also difficult for kiddos to work in small groups.


Sweet space for meeting.


Of course you can arrange, arrange, and arrange…but until there are kids, you just never know.

I have tried three different arrangements since the beginning of the year and finally found one that works for now.  There is still alternate seating so students can have choice.  The desks serve the purpose for storage and my 4th graders think they are cool (for now, that will wear off I am sure). I have a new idea that I am going to try after Winter Break.  Stay tuned for that post. 


August 21

First Friday of 4th Grade Photo Challenge

We are reading Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord as our first read aloud.  This was the first book I read over the summer and it quickly became one of my favorites. I love photography so it was easy to get into each of the chapters, also photo challenges.  I knew immediately I wanted to incorporate this into my class this year.  This will be a year long project for all of us.  To kick it off we had our first challenge.  Students were asked to photograph their interpretation of their First Friday of 4th Grade.  Because this was the first challenge I thought I would let them “make” what they would photograph.  This will not always be the case.  As we read this book we will going deeper into our creative mind.  Stay tuned for more photo challenges. Here are the submissions for our first challenge.1-min 2-min 3-min 4-min 5-min 6-min 7-min 8-min 9-min 10-min 11-min 12-min 13-min 14-min 15-min 16-min 18-min 19-min 20-min 21-min

June 6

Kids Teach Kids

I am a terrible teacher.  I let the time get away from me and haven’t posted in so long.  Now it is summer so the next few posts will be more reflections of great things that happened in Room 215. 

Kids Teach Kids is one of my favorites.  The kiddos get to pick topic that they are interested in.  They may already know a lot about the topic or they may want to learn more about it.  They prepare a presentation for the class.  Presentations can take any form.  We have posters, keynotes, videos, participation from class. Presenters sometimes even dress in character!  The ideas are limitless.  

Our KTK this year included the history of video games, world records, Abraham Lincoln, drawing lessons, Broadway, and aliens, just to name a few.  A huge THANK YOU to my friend and fellow teacher at Robinson Rochelle Marks for sharing this wonderful idea with me. 

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April 15

Problem Solving-The Lorax

Jami from HandMadeKidsArt posted a 5 Day Spring STEAM Challenge.   One mentioned  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, since I love that book (and all things Dr. Seuss), and we have been talking about solving problems it seemed like the perfect fit.  20160413_151550313_iOS-min

We read the book and then discussed how the Lorax had a problem and how important natural resources are.  I asked what could we do to help bring the Lorax and his friends back?   We thought if we could create a new species of tree it might bring back the Lorax, his friends, and maybe even new types of Suess characters would visit. 

We started, as we always do with our design challenges, sketching our ideas.  I am very impressed each time the kids do this.  They are all so creative in many different ways. Each artist labels and explains their thoughts so explicitly.  Anyone could pick up their sketch and know exactly what they were thinking when they drew it.  
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After we got our initial ideas on paper (or notability), I dumped materials on the floor.  Just like the Legos from the other day.   They went to it.  The only constraint we had was it had to stand on its own.  Because a tree needs roots to stay in place.  We learned that in 3rd grade. 🙂


20160413_151909519_iOS-min We dug in and started putting our designs into action.  I always find myself telling the kids that don’t worry about changes that come about in the building process.  Their model may not look like their sketch, but almost every time they build true to their design.  Funny.  

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I know you will find this hard to believe but you could hear a pin drop while they worked.  I never insist on silence in the classroom, because lets be honest I can’t stay silent, so how can I ask them to. But when they are in building mode they are so focused.   I walk around, taking pictures, asking questions and they just build, build, build.  

Next step…write.  Name your tree, what type of Suess character would it attract? How would it help bring back the Lorax and his friends?  What other important details should we know about your tree?  Then we take a tour of all the new species…  20160414_171355040_iOS-min
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Finally, we have our exit ticket.  Of course the first question was an easy one.  1.)What did you like best about this challenge?  2.) What makes this a STEAM challenge?  3.) How can we apply this to real world problems? 

I honestly thought the last one would give them trouble.  But they thought like true scientists and talked about how we can help by not abusing our natural resources.  But, realistically natural resources are not cared for, so we need to be ready to create new species of plants and trees to replenish what is taken away.  They also loved the idea that they got to create like Dr. Suess.  I really liked that part too.  

April 12

Lego Challenge-Innovation

Today Mrs. Sisul joined us with her tub of 3,000 legos.  She began by sharing a funny video of her kitten that keeps getting into the cat food.  Problems…they are everywhere.    We spent a little time thinking of a problem we wanted to try and solve.  A few ideas that came up were: Create a machine that will clean our room.  Create a car that won’t add any pollution to the environment.  Create the ultimate pair of basketball shoes.  Create a baseball uniform that is lightweight and protective as well. Create a watch that people with asthma will wear.  There is a button that you push when you have an attack.  The watch works with your body to open your lungs so you can breathe.  This will be perfect for athletes.  I was so thoroughly impressed with the work the kids did as well as the reasons behind each invention.  

We are the innovators, the inventors, the problem solvers. IMG_1625-min