Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kindness Matters!

"Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end." ~Scott Adams (1957)

Ripple effect on water
Water Drop ~Explored by Sergiu Bacioiu licensed under C.C by 2.0

What are the most important things you want your students to know? -- How to write a multiple-paragraph persuasive essay? How to solve a multiple step mathematical equation? What about identifying the unique characteristics of each region in the USA? Or, how about carefully & accurately recording the results of a science experiment? How about creating & sharing a book talk based on their latest chosen independent book?

These are all things that I want my 4th graders to know. But, even more importantly, are these things that I want them to understand:
*how to be kind
*how to be a friend
*how to work as a team
*how to show empathy to others
*how to respect & celebrate differences
*how to be persistent in dealing with challenges

In an earlier post, I mentioned that this would be my mission: a kindness campaign to help my students understand the value of kindness and in turn show that to others.

With more ideas than I can even wrap my head around, I've decided to set up an outline plan of how I intend to implement "KINDNESS MATTERS" in the classroom this year.

**I was so thrilled to do a GHO (Google +Hangout) with Jena Ball & Marty Keltz a few weeks ago. They have offered to work with me & my team on a project. Using literature (including Meet the Mutts and Lead with Your Heart both by Jena Ball) we will listen to & read stories as well as do PBL using blogs, Pinterest, local animal shelters, and more. I can't wait to see where the students take this. Check out the CritterKin website and CritterKin Pinterest pages for more info about what they do. After planning this project I was able to get a class set of Lead with Your Heart books thanks to some great people that donated money for a Donors Choose project I submitted. In the spirit of kindness and "passing it on" I donated some $ to another educator's book project.

**The book Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a piece of literature that will be a key story in my effort to show my students that "different is special" and the spirit of kindness and understanding can go a long way.

**A few favorite books I've used before and will fit nicely into this unit:
      The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
      Every Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

**Many of the book suggestions from Pernille Ripp's (@PernilleRipp) blog post about her students' favorite picture books were found to be perfect pieces of literature to integrate into my kindness unit. You can read her blog, "Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension" at, and this specific post here. A few picture books I chose to use from her list include:
      Pete & Pickles - a cute story about a pig & elephant that have a special relationship. This will be good for showing how to value your friends and include others that are different from you.
      Zero - a story about how zero feels compared to the other numbers. This book shows how you can add value when joining together with others.
      Spoon -a story that shows how spoon feels less important than the other utensils. Good book for showing how everyone has unique abilities and should love the way they are.
      The Invisible Boy - a story about a boy that feels invisible in his classroom. This will be an excellent story to share how leaving others out might make them feel & as well as how including someone can change their whole perspective.
      Bluebird - this unique "wordless" story is about a bluebird and a boy. It's touching without even including a single word and gives you a sense of kindness and friendship.


**The fourth grade classes at my school will be packaging meals for Meals from the Heartland's Annual Hunger Fight during their August 27-30, 2014 event at Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines. This is an annual "first field trip of the fall" for our fourth graders and has been for several years. It's an opportunity to bond as a team and to do something that helps others. The two-hour shift goes by quickly with lots to do a "cheers" every time a box is filled.

This video will give you an idea of what the students do to
package meals that help our state, country, and world.

**RAK - (Random Acts of Kindness) - anywhere, anytime. I want to extend the idea of RAK and make sure my students know that it can happen anytime, not just when we usually emphasize it in February. Tamara Letter (@HCPSTinyTech) has a blog, "Celebrate Kindness", with incredible stories of RAK. I encourage you to read some of her posts - you can help but smile. The people that do the right thing are often gifted with the blessing of being in the right place at the right time.

**Kindness through Writing Projects - Writing is always more meaningful when it's in an authentic context. I was inspired by Derek Bezeau (@MrBezeau) and his blog post about his 4th grade students. They were given a chance to participate in a writing contest about the opportunity to give $100 to a charity. Even though only one child was able to win, the rest of the class still wrote to their chosen charities. The outcome was very touching. I think this helps students know that there are others that need our kindness and generosity.

**I was inspired by Andy Smallman (@kindnessandy), who is the founder and school director of Puget Sound Community School. The following video shows how he built a school on the concept of kindness and integrates ideas of appreciation and gratitude into the school's plan. This is so AWESOME. I especially love how some of the students wrote notes & left them in places such as library books. I think leaving kind notes in other students' desks, books, cubbies, or lockers could be little bits of kindness that could spread a long way. Thanks Greg Armamentos (@dashthebook) for mentioning Andy and his work.

Puget Sound Community School

**Morning Meeting (or afternoon): I think briefly meeting as a class to discuss issues & learn about each other is a great start to building our community of learners. Simply sharing how we've observed kindness, respect, & friendship could start a positive discussion.

**Kindness Quotes - choosing quotes to share with students on the topic of kindness is a great idea for think-pair-share, quick writes, and idea brainstorming.

**Kindness Corner -(I did a small version of this on a chart paper last year). Have an area set up where students can share something kind that someone has done for them, positive comments about each other, and news stories about kind acts.

Other Kindness Resources: and and @TBKtobekind "To Be Kind" is an anti-bullying organization that focuses on being kind. I like their daily challenges on Facebook. I was introduced to this organization by Adam Sherman (@AShermanEDU). Check out links for "Be Kind Breaks" & Kindness Ideas "Dance for Kindness" on November 9, 2014 & other ideas

Thanks for reading ~ I know this was a bunch of thoughts and ideas, but it was important for me to think through the ideas I had found so far this summer before school begins. There were many more connections and posts I didn't mention here that will probably find their way into my kindness plan this year.

In the meantime, work hard and be kind - it matters, and so do YOU. #YouMatter

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ISEA Summer Leadership Conference

"There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors." ~ Jim Morrison

This quote shared today by Sarah Brown Wessling (2010 Iowa Teacher of the Year & National Teacher of the Year) captures the idea of teacher leadership, the focus of the Iowa State Education Association's Summer Leadership Conference (#iseasc14) held on July 28-29, 2014 in Altoona, Iowa.

I didn't honestly know what would happen at this conference, who I would meet, or what it would be like. My local education association recommended it as a great conference to attend, and since it was a FREE two-day conference FIVE MINUTES from my house, how could I say no?

If I've learned anything from reading about the amazing conferences some of my PLN friends have attended this summer, it is that making connections with others is one of the best take-aways. Since I walked in by myself, one of the first things I did was to bravely ask if I could join another couple of ladies that had already taken their seats at a table. To make a long story short, we ended up spending most of the day talking & sharing what we had learned and by the end of the day we had exchanged names and emails ~ thanks Lindsey and Jill from West Des Moines. :)

There were a variety of speakers & leaders from Iowa and beyond that provided many interesting keynotes and small workshops. The food was amazing as well (did I mention it was free?). Joyce Powell, NEA Executive Board Member from New Jersey, said something that resonated with me. She said that we became educators to make a difference. She also asked if we were willing to stand up and be counted.

My favorite session on Monday was about the Core Curriculum (or the Iowa Core as we call it in our state). The speakers were Tania Johnson (2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year) and Jane Schmidt (2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year). On Sunday, July 20th I was able to watch the #IAedchat LIVE Google Hangout and online Twitter chat, during which I was able to "see" & listen to Jane online and even tweet a question to her. But she's even more amazing in person and I can tell she has a great heart for her students and colleagues. I also had a great time talking with her and teachers from her school at lunch on Tuesday. Tania and Jane provided ideas on professional books & online resources for teachers and discussed these key points:
       *the focus is on learning, not materials
       *the Core is not a "curriculum"
       *expectations will need to be raised as we dig deeper
       *we need to help our students cite textual evidence and validate sources
       *consistency is key
       *we need to work toward proficiency, complexity, and independence
       *the Core will challenge us to be more innovative

Monday evening we were able to hear from Dr. Bill Withers, a professor at Wartburg College. He focused on the topic of CHANGE and proactive, visionary, & active leadership. He said there will never be "calm waters" in education again. We have to learn how to "shoot" the white water rapids and deal with the varying levels of change ahead. He also repeated two concepts that I've heard so many times lately:
        *It's all about RELATIONSHIPS
        *You don't need a position or title to LEAD
        *We need to lead change with both "oars" in, lead through service, and have passion and urgency.

On Tuesday, I was able to attend a session led by mentor induction leaders as well as a panel of beginning teachers (beginning their 2nd-5th year). It was really eye-opening to find out some of the statistics related to teacher burnout and turnover and how we as veteran teachers can help new teachers. It was helpful to hear from the beginning teachers themselves as they offered some advice and tips:
       *a great mentor is very important
       *regular meetings are essential
       *patience and listening are appreciated
       *help with the "little things" isn't such a little thing
       *even if you don't know the answer, you can guide us to other people/resources
       *trust is crucial
       *offer but don't push advice
       *having your own classroom is a huge reality check - be there for your mentee

Next I was able to dig a little deeper into learning about myself as I went to a session entitled "Identifying and Leveraging Your Leadership Style" moderated by two trainers from the Center for Teaching Quality in North Carolina. We completed a self-assessment, identified our leadership style, discussed the implications of our style in teaching and working with others, and completed a task where we had to take on the role of a leadership style in which we had a weakness. It was helpful to identify and learn more about styles of leadership. (I possess the "Empathy" style, with "Analytical" in second with a one-point difference). That's SO me.

It was amazing to hear from Sarah Brown Wessling at the luncheon today. She had so many great ideas to share besides the fact that she is such a seasoned speaker and educator - you can't help but be inspired. I also attended her session immediately following the luncheon about using videos to propel professional growth. Among the pages of notes that I took, these were a few of my favorite take-away's:
       *Shift from a focus on the "task" to a focus on the "purpose"
       *We need to make the implicit --> explicit
       *Projects need purpose, meaning, and an audience
       *Saying "yes" to something means saying "no" to something else
       *You should feel pulled to change, not pushed
       *There is a gap between the ideal classroom we envision and the reality that walks in the first day. That's ok because the GAP is where kids learn. If there is no gap, we need to figure out how to create one. (Wow that was huge)
       *The truth about innovation is that it often comes at the price of isolation
       *Uncommon teaching means messy hands
       *Standards do not equal standardization

One of the things Sarah shared that I thought was very interesting was the fact that while she was on her year-long "tour" as National Teacher of the Year, many people asked if she was really going to "go back to her classroom" and after being asked so many times she started to say, "No." She wasn't going to go BACK to her classroom, she was going to go FORWARD to her classroom. This is a big shift in thinking.

This is how I'm internalizing it --- As we think about going back to school and back to our classrooms - we need to remember not to go back to old thinking and old ways, but instead go forward to our classrooms with a renewed sense of passion, purpose, and pride in what we do and how it affects our students.

These were just some of the highlights of the two-day conference. Above all, I'll remember the amazing educators that are working so hard in our state. I hope to attend next year and bring along more of my colleagues to share in the learning and fun.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Inspiring Week at Camp Invention!

Today ends a week of exploration, invention, creativity, and inspiration. Nearly 75 students grades 1-6 participated in our district's first year hosting Camp Invention. There are camps all over the United States, and you can find more info at

Our crew consisted of a Director, Assistant Director, 4 teachers, and 4 high school interns. The students participated in 5 full days of FUN, rotating through 4 modules each day. By the end of the week they made some amazing creations & hopefully learned a lot about how science is cool.

The short 40-second video below describes the module I taught, called Super Go. There were 3 other modules ~ Amplified, I Can Invent: Pinbug, and Design Studio: Morphed.

Day 1 of Super Go: Students learned about the green sea slug and how it gets its energy from the sun after having its one and only meal of algae. They made a model of this "plantanimal" - it was awesome and slimy. Next, they used their imagination to design prototypes of vehicles that could morph for land, air, and water transportation & use a nature-inspired fuel.
Day 1 of Super Go - Slime & Group Vehicle Models
Day 2 of Super Go: Students learned about the motions of animals in nature and used the movements as inspiration for their creative vehicle designs. Next, they were given a kit with many parts and had to follow directions and pictures to put together their propeller-based cart. The students had loads of fun trying out their vehicles and zooming them across the floor. We had a few minor crashes and a couple propeller accidents when vehicles crashed against the walls and cabinets, but luckily no crushed vehicles as many feet criss-crossed the room.

Day 2 of Super Go - Exploring Animal Movements & Propeller Vehicle Prototype
Day 3 of Super Go: Students viewed animal feature cards and learned unique characteristics that make living organisms special. They used these ideas for inspiration in designing their vehicles. Next, students changed their vehicle from Day 2 to be a pulley system instead of a propeller. After tinkering around with both models, they decided which model they liked best. Finally, they designed their vehicle and used their earned transportation "coins" to purchase items in the design store. Each child's vehicle was transformed into their own creative design.

Day 3 of Super Go - Animal design cards, materials, & creative vehicles
(more creative vehicles from Day 3)
Day 4 of Super Go: Students were given a chance to finish designing their vehicles and perfect their ideas. They drew blueprint plans including details about their nature-inspired fuel and living organism designs. Then, they used recyclable materials to create tunnels, obstacles, bridges, and ramps to test the abilities of their vehicles and prepare them for tomorrow's Road Race.

Day 4 - Awesome design ideas!
Day 4 - Ramps and a Tunnel

Day 5 of Super Go:  Students arrived in the classroom ready for the big race! They rotated through "Pit Stop" stations in which they tested various properties of their cars. They checked the weight of their car using a spring scale, found it's center of gravity, made some more "morphing" changes, and received a race tattoo. They had an awesome time racing their vehicles two-by-two down two tracks we created in the classroom.

Day 5 - Pit Stop Stations
Day 5 - Ready, Set, Go down the racetrack (fast cars = sorry for the BLUR!)
Day 5 - Lots of kids having an amazing time

Day 5 -  Vehicles are ready to race

Day 5 - Who wants to race next?

What I Learned:
* It's great to try new things, and this experience challenged me to discover how fun the unexpected can be.
* Kids can solve tough problems if you give them the opportunity (and not always the quick answer/fix).
* The youngest students taught me that enthusiasm, giggles, & smiles are the best "payment" for lots of big messes and a huge sense of tiredness by the end of the day.
* The older students taught me that you can't underestimate the incredible ideas that they will come up with when you don't set limits on their creativity.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Let's Chat

How do you grow relationships, show support, gain new ideas, and meet new people? By talking with them and having conversations.While Twitter chats may not be exactly like real "talking" they are, in fact, an excellent way to communicate. In addition, they are a great place to find new ideas to inspire both yourself and your students.

I couldn't help but think of Twitter when seeing this lovely
bird decoration on my mother's coffee table.

When it comes to chats on Twitter, I lurked awhile and stayed on the sidelines while watching others sharing their knowledge of education. It didn't take long before I wanted a piece of the action.

Twitter Chat TIPS for newbies:
*Before participating, it's a good idea to download Tweetdeck or a similar platform (Hootsuite is another)
*Open up a column with the chat hashtag (so you can follow the whole conversation)
*Open another column for the chat moderator(s) (makes it easier to notice new questions)
*I suggest one more column for your notifications or mentions (so you can reply to side conversations)
*Introduce yourself
*Always use the chat hashtag in your posts & replies
*Have fun & meet new people to follow that can add to your knowledge

For those of you new to Twitter:
~ I suggest #nt2t (New Teachers to Twitter) This is a chat with teachers that are new to Twitter, Twitter veterans, and many in between. It takes place on Saturday mornings at 8am Central.
~ Check out the TweechMe app (new) on iTunes for only $0.99 It has great info for those new to Twitter as well as those who are ready to dive in a little deeper. Check it out HERE.

Chats that I have frequented (some more than others ~ I have met some GREAT educators in all) are listed below. I often participate in chats based on my schedule, topic, and/or special guests. Find what fits for you!

State Chats:
#IAedchat (Iowa -Yes I'm biased, but this was my first & FAVORITE chat moderated by great, inspirational leaders from my own state) SUNDAYS 8 am and 8 pm Central
#MOedchat (Missouri) THURSDAYS 9pm Central
#NEBedchat (Nebraska) WEDNESDAYS 8pm Central
#SDedchat (South Dakota) TUESDAYS (every other) 8pm Central
#ALedchat (Alabama) MONDAYS 9pm Central
#ARKedchat (Arkansas) THURSDAYS 8pm Central
~As with any chat, you don't have to be an expert in that area, or a member of that state's community, they are welcoming to all educators.

Other Great Chats:
#complitchat (Comprehensive Literacy) WEDNESDAYS 8:30pm Central
#4thchat MONDAYS 7pm Central ~ There are many grade-level & content area chats, super for sharing ideas related to your classroom and finding teachers/classrooms to connect with.
#NBTchat (No Box Thinking) Innovative ways of thinking & moving forward SUNDAYS 7pm Central
#TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate - ideas based on book by Dave Burgess) MONDAYS 8pm Central
#TeachWriting ~ TUESDAYS (every other) 8pm Central
#ChristianEducators ~ THURSDAYS 8pm Central
#1to1techat ~ Using technology in 1:1 settings WEDNESDAYS 8pm Central
#geniushour ~ 1st THURSDAY of month 8pm Central
#Tleadchat ~ (Teacher Leader) THURSDAY 9pm Central
#whatisschool ~ THURSDAY 6pm Central

....and many more!

Twitter Chat List/Times <-- this list is a great way to find new chats

Some chats are taking a "summer break" but even when the chat is not in its weekly "session" there are great things being posted to these hashtags all the time. So take a chance, join a conversation, and meet some great people!

Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite chat!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Importance of Student Collaboration

(#MOedchat Blog Challenge #3)

Why do many students prefer to work with a partner or small group?

Why do students enjoy sharing what they have learned with a friend?

Why do children appreciate having time to turn to a partner and talk?


While some students may prefer to work independently if given the choice, I have found that most of my fourth grade students enjoy sitting with classmates, working on projects together, and helping one another solve problems.

Why not harness this social learning desire by allowing our students to work together and collaborate? Here are some of the best reasons:

*Student collaboration allows students to practice accountable talk. Learning to agree and disagree with reasons allows students to learn that there isn't just one right way to think. In addition, listening and responding can help students appreciate a variety of ideas or add more to the conversation.

*Student collaboration can help students learn to work together with others that have different strengths and abilities. In order to appreciate one another, it's important to have opportunities to work together during which each student is required to do their part. This also fosters dependency, trust, and a sense of teamwork.

*Student collaboration can give students a chance to try things that they might not have the desire or idea to do by themselves. With the support of classmates and the joining together of a collection of ideas, students can solve problems or create projects that lead to solutions and new learning.

These reasons for the importance of student collaboration show that learning in a social way is not only preferred by many students but also an excellent approach to enhancing their ability to work together to learn.

I believe in the power of students working together for common goals. It may not be traditional, but this year is the first year that I am starting out the first day of school with students in a small group seating arrangement. It's time to let go of the "row."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Leading by Taking A Step Back

Sometimes you have to take a step back to be a leader in your own classroom.

One of my "to-do's" this summer was to take a 2-day class on student engagement. I wanted to review and learn more ways to create a student-centered classroom, one where I lead and facilitate but don't take center stage. I learn the most from my students (including their learning styles & approaches to problem solving) when I take the "guide on the side" role. Here are a few thoughts from this class I took last month.

The 2-day class, taught & attended by teachers within the district, was a chance to learn & process different student activities while also getting the chance to connect with teachers in other buildings of every grade level. I love professional development that is practical, meaningful, and related to student learning, so I was excited to soak in as many new good ideas as I could.

I was reminded of many great techniques that I already use as well as some new ones as well. Here is a combined list of some of my favorites:

1) Graffiti Walls
          Give groups a large piece of chart paper & pens/markers of different colors. Students generate ideas or respond to a discussion topic in the form of graffiti. Groups can move to other papers and discuss and add to the ideas.

2) Four Corners
          The teacher poses a question and gives four potential responses with each response assigned to a different corner. Students decide which response they agree with and move to that corner to discuss. A discussion or debate between corners can also occur. Students can also write down their thoughts or evidence before moving to the corner so they have ideas already in place.

3) Numbered Heads Together
          Students sit in groups with each group member assigned a number. The teacher poses a problem or topic and all group members discuss. The teacher calls a number or rolls a dice and the corresponding student shares the group's ideas. Can also be done where each group also has a number and the teacher calls/rolls a group number and a student number and that student shares out with the whole class.

4) Inside/Outside Rotating Circles
          The class is divided in half. Each half forms a circle (can also be done in a line) and faces outward to stand opposite of a student in the other circle. Questions can be asked/discussed, information can be reviewed, or ideas can be shared. One circle (or line) moves so that a new discussion can take place between two more students.

5) Three Stay, One Stray
          In a group of four or more, students solve a problem. While they work, they can send one group member to "stray" to another group to compare the team's solution.

6) Pass a Problem
          The teacher creates problems for teams to solve and attaches them to envelopes. Teams read and work on the problems, placing their solution in the envelope. Then, the envelope is exchanged with another group. The other group can check their solution and determine if the problem can be solved in another way.

The great thing about these (and many other) activities is that they can be used across many grade levels and content areas. More importantly, they give students a chance to share their learning with others and give the teacher a chance to lead by taking a step back and having the students take center stage.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Building Community & Connections (In School & Beyond)

(#Tleadchat topic for 7/10)

I'm taking a big leap into the Twitter chat world of guest moderating on Thursday, July 10th (10EST/9CST). I'm excited, hopeful, and anxious all wrapped up into one. But #Tleadchat stands for Teacher leader chat, so that's a part of the territory - stepping out & trying something new. A big thank you goes to #Tleadchat creator Brian Costello (@btcostello) for the opportunity.

I decided on discussing two intertwined topics ~ Building a Community within the Classroom, and Creating Connections Beyond our School Walls.

Building a community within the classroom: I feel this is so important and needs to start from day 1 (or before if possible) because it is truly all about knowing your students and forming relationships. "Getting to know you" activities are so much more than just a first day mixer or "what you did over the summer" chat. It's about building a community of learners, a classroom family, and mutual feelings of respect. Only then can you expect to build the rapport that is needed to lead your students to take risks and to trust you to guide them down new paths.

Creating Connections Beyond our School Walls: This is an important 21st Century Skill that I hope to dive into with my students this next school year. I believe it's essential for students to collaborate, connect, and share their learning with others (besides just myself, their classmates, and families). I've also learned that the concepts of creation as well as application are very powerful in the retention of learning. I want my students to do more than just memorize facts & remember key points. Creating connections, making learning come alive, and collaborating with others outside of our city/state/country are learning targets for our students to have continued success in life.

Please join me & some great teachers from my growing PLN to discuss these topics at #Tleadchat on Thursday, July 10th at 10pm Eastern, 9pm Central. Hope to see you there!

A preview of the chat questions can be found HERE.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kindness ~ Is it Valued?

kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate

     synonyms ~ gentleness, concern, affection, care

Is kindness a virtue that is valued today? According to a June 25, 2014 report by Meghan Holohan for, 80% of youth surveyed say their parents value their achievements & happiness over their kindness. Read more on this article entitled "Parents value grades over kindness kids say in new study".

What I found from the article that I thought was most interesting was:
     1) A focus on achievement and accomplishments doesn't always lead to contentment; instead it can often lead to stress and bad behaviors, such as cheating, to live up to expectations.
     2) Teaching children about caring can enrich their lives through responsibility and relationships, which in turn can lead to happiness.
     3) All of these virtues (happiness, achievement, and kindness) do not have to be mutually exclusive.

How do we balance the high expectations we want for our students (and own children) to achieve academic excellence while still managing to teach them how to be kind and caring toward their classmates and community?

It's all about modeling kindness & giving them an opportunity to practice it.

So, that is now my mission ~ a kindness campaign.

I'm currently making lists & gathering resources to put this mission into action in my 4th grade class this fall. I hope to post again before school starts with my outline plan. Amazing circumstances, people, and reoccurring similar themes & activities have popped up in the last month through great chats & blogs that I've found through Twitter. I have learned that just reaching out and asking a question can connect you with great people & resources. 

If you have any great books, projects, lessons, or ideas you'd like to send my way, feel free & comment. I'd love to add it to my list. :)
Love my new Kindness t-shirt. Thanks to Adam Sherman (@AShermanEDU) for
connecting me with To Be Kind @TBKtobekind, a great anti-bullying group.
 More info at