Messy Making in the Makerspace

In October and November during Library, second graders had an opportunity to participate in the Global Read Aloud, an initiative to promote diverse literature and voices to students. This year’s picture books were all by author and illustrator Yuyi Morales. Students learned about the author and analyzed inspirations for her stories and art. One book, Viva Frida, pays homage to Mrs. Morales greatest inspiration, Frida Kahlo.

After listening to Viva Frida and discussing Kahlo’s work and influence on Mrs. Morales, second graders headed to the makerspace to create their own original works. Kahlo is well-known for her unique self-portraits, glimpses of everyday life, and her imaginative scenes, and students were offered those three options to come up with their own piece using objects available in the makerspace. The following week, students typed up their inspiration for their art during Tech Lab.

The Library/Tech block allows for collaboration between the two spaces, whether to support a topic or information skill we are working on, or by supporting activities in the classroom. Teachers can schedule a time to come use the makerspaces with Lillian, and grade levels can work with both Kate and Lillian on bigger projects. 

Recently, first grade completed a project on biomes. Students learned about five biomes in class, and then broke off into groups based on their favorite. During Library, students learned about using the online encyclopedia PebbleGo to find facts and information about their biomes. Each student found one unique fact and typed it in Tech Lab. Teachers also scheduled time in the makerspace for students to come and design their biome using shoeboxes and what was available in the makerspace. Groups had to create their biomes based on the information they had learned through classwork and their online research. The unique facts were then cut out and taped to the outside of their biome box. 

‘Tis the Season: Embracing the Ebb and Flow of Innovation & Inspiration

Sometimes I just wake up uninspired.  I might not have slept well the night before.  I might have had a weird conversation in which I felt misunderstood, underappreciated.  Often I’m just overwhelmed with a million different things pulling on my minutes and hours, things that even though I know aren’t my priority just have to be done.  And sometimes, perhaps the weirdest times, I just can’t put my finger on the why. I just know that today I’m not going to reinvent, reimagine, or think big picture, because all of my band width is stuck with sludging through the muck of the everyday.  

Interestingly, in schools, such states of mind are often contagious.  And they spin up in relation to particular times in the school year. When I taught college, I could guarantee that both faculty and students would reach a boiling point of stress right before all major breaks: Fall Break, Thanksgiving Break, and of course, final exam season.  These were not the times of momentum, of big picture thinking, experimentation. These were the times of survival. For all of us.

Type A self that I am, I used to try to resist the pull back to boring, grounded, “put one foot in front of the other” mentality.  I felt huge amounts of guilt for not “doing things to the very very best of my ability” 24/7. I might have planned on submitting five publications by November, but I only got out one! I might have planned on doing an incredible community partnership with a school, but it totally flopped.  I thought goal-setting with concrete, time-bound tasks might save me from these perceived times of regression. It did not. I thought surrounding myself with other positive, heroic types might save me. But more often than not, they too were pulled into the slog.  

But now as I peer into middle age, I feel quite differently. Namely, I rest assured that states of mind, styles of productivity, priorities, and levels of enthusiasm change.  Or, as good old Ecclesiastes reminds us: “to everything there is a season . . . .” And I’ve begun to identify the times of year and the times of day and even the days of each week that are most likely to fuel a creative, thoughtful spark.  Even more than this, I am beginning to have a sneaking suspicion that my seasons of relative “boring survival mode” actually help generate my seasons of big picture reinvention. After all, if slow and steady wins the race, who is to say that my moments of creative inspiration and risky innovation represent my best hour? What inspiration might be growing, unobtrusive and unnoticed, under the surface of the every day?  

So no matter what season you find yourself in, ultra inspired or totally exhausted, know that the only thing that is certain is that this too shall pass.  You might find yourself a week or a month or two months from now in an entirely different work and energy flow. Learn to appreciate the season you are in, and to milk it for all that its worth.  And, perhaps even wiser, try to deliberately infuse a spark of balance into whichever season you are in. If you find yourself caught up with mundane planning for final exams and study guides, take a moment to remind yourself of the big picture goals you had when you first started this semester;  then make a small tweak in your culminating assessment that will better measure that larger vision. And next Fall, when we could potentially feel all sorts of momentum and energy, we all would do well to remember this particular late November state of mind in order to build in a dose of reality into our year’s plans.

Oh and one more thing: you are educating tomorrow’s leaders.  You are magical wranglers of adolescents navigating a very tricky world.  You are content area experts and you are pedagogical unicorns that make what is arguably the best school in our state, the best school in our state.  By virtue of showing up and doing what you do, whether it is study guide day or a lesson plan so impressive that marketing folks want to take pictures and post them on the website, you are inspiring.  And by coming back and trying to do a better job the next day, you are innovating.  

In this season of gratitude, I am thankful for this.

Shhhh…don’t tell teacher! (

As many of you know, I’ve been exploring the idea of “backchannel chat” in my senior English class.  A backchannel is a conversation that happens concurrently with whatever is going on in the class but is not officially part of the lesson – much like passing notes in elementary school.  I’ve implemented it as part of my ongoing quest to find new ways to engage introverted students in the class conversation.  At first, I marketed it to the students as an add-on – totally optional with no teacher guidance.  Nobody took the bait.  Oh, sure, they all posted “hi’s” and “yo dawg’s” but nothing of substance.  Then I began posting focus questions that pertained to the lesson.  For example, when discussing Japanese internment, one backchannel chat question was “What is it that enables one group of human beings to treat another group as though they were subhuman creatures?”; for the conflict in Kashmir, “How does cuisine reflect culture? Give a specific example.”; for South African Apartheid, “Why do you think music and art have such a powerful effect on people’s attitudes about injustice and discrimination?”  Suddenly, the kids began having really substantive discussions with each other – often disagreeing and then finding common ground.  I love that they’re exploring and creating avenues of knowledge that are of their own making.  Of course, it means that I’m not necessarily the star of the show in my class, which is a really different teaching mindset.  “Guide on the side” rather than “sage on the stage,” right?  But empowering the kids to be creators of content has given even my most reticent students the opportunity to lift their “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” (Walt Whitman)

30 Things I’m Thankful For

During the month of November, our lower school community is practicing “30 Days of Gratitude”.  This 30 day focus is an intentional way for us to dive deeper into our gratitude practices as we’ve set gratitude as the theme for the complete school year.  A recent email from our wonderful school counselor, Chelsea Freeman, to our faculty about gratitude has inspired me to brainstorm 30 things I’ve seen in classrooms and around the school that stir gratitude within me; gratitude for this place, the students and families we serve, and the amazing teachers who are doing amazing things “in the trenches” each day.  Typically, brainstorming 30 items of any topic would be a challenge for me, but not when you have the job I have. It’s been truly humbling this year to visit classrooms, watch our lower school teachers in their craft, and coach a group of educators who honestly teach me more than I could ever teach them. Here are 30 snippets of awesomeness at the lower school that fill my heart with gratitude.

  1. Art Science and it’s beautiful blend of creativity and the scientific world

“This is a beautiful flower!”

-PK4 student as he admired his own work in Art Science

2. The sense of community and belonging fostered in classrooms through daily Responsive Classroom practices

Students in Ms. Touchstone’s class greet one another during Morning Meeting, a beautiful time of every student’s day.

3. Student masterpieces serve as our wallpaper.

4. Students aren’t afraid to step up to the challenge of leadership.

4th Graders guiding 1st graders in a review of our school-wide rules

5. Dedicated staff who pour their time and energy into working with students

Polly Bourne, one of our many amazing assistant teachers, leads a group in math practice

6. Student-directed classrooms foster ownership, choice, and responsibility of one’s own learning.

7. Students think it’s a party when really it’s a wellness lesson!

8. Intentional lesson and activity planning by expert teachers build skills necessary for our students to succeed.

What looks like a simple art activity is intended to build fine motor skills in PK classrooms.

9. Students collaborate and share ideas to support their friend’s learning.

In Mrs. Hardy’s class, students worked together to support each other in building number sense while understanding regrouping.

10. Students having a blast while learning

“I can’t wait to be in the play!!”

-PK4 student as her teacher tied her scarf as part of her costume for the retelling of La Tortuga

11. Writers’ Workshop provides rich instruction while building confidence as writers.

Students in Mrs. White’s kindergarten class couldn’t wait to share their stories with their friends!

12. St. Andrew’s teachers motivate students as they demonstrate passion and enthusiasm about their topics.

Senora Buford enthusiastically leads her students in a game of Simon Says…in Spanish!

13. Amazingly beautiful classroom spaces

Who wouldn’t want to spend all day in a space like this? The vaulted ceilings, natural lighting, and artistic resources along the walls make this Art classroom space ideal for exploration and creation.

14. Teamwork: Teachers at St. Andrew’s plan and collaborate together to integrate across subject areas.

After a lesson in class on choosing “just right books”, 4th graders extended their learning on the topic with Mrs. Dutro during their library time.

15. Watching students journal about math…and LOVE it!

When visiting Mrs. Maples 1st grade classroom, students transitioned to journaling after math stations. I overheard one student say, “I love math! This is fun.”

16. Students in some classes learn from other children all over the world.

Second graders in Mrs. Doggett’s class video chat with friends from their partner school in Ghana.

17. St. Andrew’s teachers are dedicated to meeting students where they are.

First grade teacher, Mrs. McArthur, meets with her students in small groups regularly to lead them in math activities that are tailored to their needs.

18. St. Andrew’s teachers have the courage to try new things.

Beth Peterson leads her class in an interactive lesson on the new Smart panel in the i2 classroom.

19. If I’m having a rough day, I can hang out in a PK classroom, and instantly my heart is full.

20. Daily hugs, high-fives, and handshakes, also known in our community as “H, H, or H”

Mrs. Sewell’s students greet one another with enthusiastic high-fives!

21. Student support staff who have a dedication and passion for students, faculty, and families like I’ve never witnessed before.

Working alongside the other 5 ladies in this picture is an honor. Each one cares deeply about the needs of this community, and they clearly know how to have a good time on Halloween (dressed as the emotions from the movie Inside Out).

22. Opportunities to lead students in innovative work

Julie Rust and I had the fun privilege of leading an “Innovation Station” at the 4th grade retreat where students collaborated to create and innovate using limited resources to build structures.

23. Teachers who love to get down and have fun with their students

Kindergarten teacher, Summer Keane, is known to have a little fun with students during movement and brain breaks. These moments are a blast to watch!

24. Students’ hopes and dreams are considered when creating classroom rules that help everyone achieve their goals for the year.

25. Student talent is showcased on a regular basis.

26. Weekly time together as a community in Chapel

27. Outdoor learning spaces

28. Creative projects in classrooms promote problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Mrs. Freeman and Nurse Wadlington kick off a fourth grade unit on wellness in which 4th graders will choose topics to complete their opinion essays and then lead the direction of their final product for an authentic audience to promote wellness in our community.

29. Buddy classes build community and lasting bonds across grade levels.

Buddy classes meet regularly to read together and participate in fun activities, building friendships while giving older students opportunities to lead and mentor.

“Hey, I know you! You’re my buddy!”

-Kindergarten student to my 3rd grade child as we all crossed paths in the hallway after school

30. Teachers engaging students daily in rich conversations about their learning

I’m truly grateful for the whole-school perspective that my role provides. I come to work each day witnessing passionate, dedicated teachers pouring their hearts into their work. I interact with children who are way cooler, smarter, and more creative than I ever was at their age. I partner with families and get to work on support teams that help students progress and reach goals. I bet you’re thinking, “Man, she really loves her job”. You are correct. How could one not love this type of work?! You may also be thinking, “Man, this is a long blog post”. Correct again. I clearly have a lot to be thankful for thanks to all of you.

Using YouTube to Strengthen Collaboration with Parents and Student Learning

Let’s face it, the math instruction today is quite different than the way we learned math as kids.  As mathematical instruction shifts, many parents are curious as to how they can help their child at home. Teachers also desire consistent messages for students while they are completing work outside of the classroom. One way I attempt to accomplish this is by creating video tutorials for parents to equip them to support their children with school work at home.

The topics that are covered in the first few weeks of fourth grade are double digit multiplication and division with three and four digit numbers. As a student myself, I remember doing these types of problems on graph paper and making sure my numbers stacked up “just so” and following steps to solve the problem. This definitely contributed to strengthening my “following procedures” skills but left me with little to no problem solving skills or number sense. Don’t get me wrong, traditional algorithms are quite efficient and speedy, but it does not show as much true math understanding. As a teacher, I am trying to create students who are problem-solvers instead of students who can follow the steps. 

Fourth grade students problem solving during math studio time.

To help students recall the different types of strategies taught in class, I decided to videotape myself during introductory lessons. Our school has a GSuite which includes Google Photos and YouTube. After the videos are uploaded to Google Photos, I upload them to a private YouTube account for students to access while they are at home. After uploading the video on YouTube, I select “unlisted”. This is important because now no one can search the video on YouTube; they can only access it via my email with the link. After copying and pasting the link to an email, I send it out for parents to watch. It is also a good, short mini lesson for kids if they need reminding of how it was taught in class! Click here to see an example of one of my videos on division with remainders using a method we refer to as the “break it down” method, which requires number sense while decomposing numbers.

I have had many parents thank me for this and share with me that they feel more equipped to help their child with their math homework without teaching differently from what their child’s teacher taught. In doing this, I feel like my parental relations are stronger, making me feel more supported in my teaching strategies and strengthening partnerships with families as we work together as a team to meet students’ needs.

SeeSaw: Sharing Learning with Parents in Real Time

This year, teachers in the Early Childhood Center have adopted a new form of documentation of a child’s learning in class. This form of documentation comes through the innovative app called SeeSaw. This app allows teachers to document learning that many times is missed on the youngest learners. Normal documentation is mostly found in the form of worksheets, assessments, illustrations, and writings of children. Children in PK4 classes do not show their best learning through these mediums. They are best able to convey their learning through collaboration with other students, building, role-playing, and creating.  SeeSaw allows a teacher to take photos and videos of children in the process of learning and immediately categorize the learning into areas like mathematical concepts, reading readiness, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, etc. They can then send it to one parent or the whole class depending on whom they choose to send it. Children can also have an active role in the application by providing audio, adding labeling to the picture with their finger, and eventually being responsible for their own documentation. SeeSaw is a game changer in how teachers can document, and parents can receive a constant stream of communication about their child’s learning without adding extra time to a teachers’ workday. It’s a win-win for everyone!

Our class read Big Pumpkin, a story about team work and cooperation among a witch, ghost, vampire, mummy, and bat.
 At center time, Zoe wanted to make a pumpkin out of Legos, so we got out the book and she found the picture she needed to look at the pumpkin. This is a picture of her finished work. She made the whole illustration matching the colors and sizes of the characters in the story to the Legos she used. I then labeled each character and documented it on seesaw. It was a great visual to show conceptual learning at work!

Homework: Bringing Purpose to the Practice

During last week’s Late Wednesday, faculty at the middle school began a conversation about homework, led by our incredible MS Learning Facilitator, Lynda Morse. (Click here for a link to the slideshow.)  Rather than fixate on the question of quantity (a well-worn topic by all accounts) we began with the notion of quality.  How intentional are we about the “so what” for the homework we assign, and, perhaps just as important how do we communicate the often deliberate and multi-faceted purpose(s) of homework assignments to students so that they have a sense of why they are spending time outside of class writing sentences with vocabulary words, interviewing a trusted adult, blogging about a reading, or doing some practice problems on a worksheet? 

In order to begin with some common vocabulary, we used the table below to introduce four possible types/purposes of homework: practice, preparation, extension, and integration (Fairbanks et al., 2005).  Faculty then used post it notes to document sample homework assignments they’ve given that connect to each category and stuck them to the appropriate posters.  

Faculty were given just a few minutes on an early morning Wednesday to jot down the range of homework assignments they have designed to accomplish specific purposes; the results were inspiring.

By clicking on the hyperlink of each type of homework below, you can view an image of the poster and the homework ideas that were elicited.  

PRACTICEReinforces learning and helps the student master specific skills
* Quizlet flashcards to learn vocabulary
PREPARATIONIntroduces material that will be presented in future lessons (but does not require mastery of the information)
* Write 2 questions you have concerning the chapter you just read.
*Watch a BrainPop video introducing unit measurement to prepare for a lab 
EXTENSIONStudents apply what they learned in class and connect it new situation (promotes the shift of previous learning to new tasks)*Create your own Hero’s Journey graphic novel
 *Design a game of your choice  on a topic we have covered in history, depicting your voice  as a ______ as the events occurred.
INTEGRATIONStudents apply information to an unfamiliar situation by applying many different skills to a single task*Read the chapter on letter-writing. Then write a letter that breaks every single rule you know.
* Write a 30-second radio spot using George Washington to sell deodorant soap. Work in four facts about his role as a general. 

I’m a bit biased, but I think our faculty came up with an impressive breadth of potential homework assignments that are more than just “creative” or “fun” . . . they are purposeful and steeped in their distinctive disciplines.  For more ideas for alternative homework assignments, check out this resource

Graphic Design, (Re)Designed: The Case for Community Engagement

When Emmi Sprayberry sits down to plan her classes, she probably does what a lot of us do.  She thinks about her course objectives and maps out a tentative timeline of activities that build toward those objectives.  But for her, that is just the beginning. Her next step involves phone calls, emails, and meetings with potential community partners.  In the case of this semester’s Graphic Design class, Emmi found herself sitting down with (1) the owners of Urban Foxes, a local small batch baking coffee and courtyard known for their pies; (2) Daniel Johnson, the owner of Significant Developments who uses art to connect community and businesses through creative engagement; and finally (3) Lauren Shields (Senior Manager of Advertising and Creative Services ) and Jennifer Hill (Graphic Designer), professionals that work for C Spire, a locally owned large network provider.

Urban Foxes has invited Emmi’s class to come up with a branding item for their company. This is the most creatively-demanding of project opportunities, as the company is open to a variety of ideas (t-shirts, buttons, etc.) that could enhance and grow their customer base.
Daniel Johnson’s brainchild is Significant Developments, and he has invited Emmi’s class to design a logo for “dj cereal,” his persona, in order to make his community-improvement efforts stand out.
As a very successful local provider of internet and mobile services, C Spire is the largest business partner in this semester’s project. They have invited youth in Emmi’s class to create a interactive package

Planning a class is hard enough without the headache of all of these phone calls, but for Emmi, it’s worth it: “Teenagers have a negative view of education and don’t understand how, why, when they’ll ever use what they are learning in school,” she explains, “they need skills like independence and taking risks and figuring new things out.” To test her hunch, Emmi spoke to graphic designers in the work field and students at local universities to ask what they wish they had known before college, while in college, or after college.  Overwhelmingly, the answer was that some sort of authentic community partnership would have made a difference in their learning. For Emmi, art is the perfect discipline to incorporate collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and innovation: “Kids want to know exactly what [an assigned art project] is supposed to look like, but in real life this is not how it works . .. they need to know how does brainstorming work, what are the right questions to ask on a project?” Sure this all sounds good in theory, but how does community engagement look in an actual class? Emmi explains more below.

The work for changing the Graphic Design 2 course started last spring, with lots of brainstorming and research. I began with the question: “What do I want them to learn and how do I want them to get engaged with the community?” I then made a list of all the amazing people and community members that might be willing to take a leap of faith and let high school students come in for collaborative work with their brand. The idea was to make sure that throughout the year students had the opportunity to work with multiple levels of businesses: entrepreneurs, small businesses, corporations, non profits, city-centric businesses. I always wanted to make sure that the businesses we partnered with were very Jackson focused – that they were about the community in which they live and wor , and that they give back in some way, enhancing life in Jackson. As I started to reach out and have meetings in the summer with these prospects, I began to map out a timeline to make sure the work flowed well, that there was this balance. Now does that mean it looks like currently what I envisioned? No. I actually think it’s better. I have had to make sure that I stayed flexible and adapted. So for the Fall Course we were able to work with Daniel Johnson, Urban Foxes, and C Spire. Each collaboration has a different focus and need and the students are getting to see commonalities about branding but also experiencing marketing and all the different aspects that go into the user experience with these company brands. They are also getting to see the differences between each company- their unique voice and story.

Hopefully they all learn through this process and come to grasp and understand problem solving in a deeper way, but also are empowered and encouraged by who they are and that their voice and point of view matters and has worth.

At this point in this semester, each business has come to the class and pitched to the students to present what their brand is, what they do, how the branding functions in the world, and what their need is.  Once the pitches were completed, instead of the original plan of all the students working on one at a time all together, I decided it would be better to have more focused groups- playing to the the students’ likes and desires. I wanted to make sure that the companies received strong quality work and that it wasn’t watered down by quantity. This gave the students a chance for choice but to also be enthusiastic about their pick and really giving it their all. Hopefully they all learn through this process and come to grasp and understand problem solving in a deeper way, but also are empowered and encouraged by who they are and that their voice and point of view matters and has worth. So now we are in the process of designing for these three brands. Terrifying and exciting all at the same time.

Lauren Shields (Senior Manager of Advertising and Creative Services ) and Jennifer Hill (Graphic Designer), share details about C Spire to get students going on their project.
Daniel Johnson shares more about his creative engagement business, Significant Developments, in hopes that Emmi’s students will be able to design a impactful logo.

The only thing harder than planning a community engaged learning course is implementing a community engaged learning course.  When youth are tasked to do something authentic and difficult, such as designing a welcoming package for a large company for new customers, they are bound to make some mistakes.  Real life is messy, and it doesn’t always come with clear rubrics or participation trophies. But it’s learning how to manage this mess, to get back up after failure, that makes CEL so generative.  Stay tuned for part two of this story, in which Emmi shares (after the conclusion of the project) the ups and downs of Graphic Design (re)designed.

Through the lens of a 5th-grade musicologist: Mississippi Delta Blues

At the end of quarter one, the 5th graders wrapped up a thrilling final unit in the performing arts quarter rotation! Using primary sources as the entry point for discovery, students learned about the Mississippi Delta Blues and applied their greater understanding through a culminating jam session. 

In small groups, students cycled through centers comprised of ethnomusicologist field notes, old photographs, original audio recordings, and supporting secondary sources to discover major themes, cultural context, instrumentation, and musical form. Using centers allowed me to incorporate primary sources into classroom instruction in a way that preserved the practical aspect of music education and kept students in the driver’s seat as the interpreters, creators, and performers.

Working with the i2 team, each center was outfitted with an iPad for audio access. These held a range of tunes from field hollers collected during a 1939 expedition to a new music video of local bluesman wunderkind, Kingfish, recently highlighted by Rolling Stone magazine. 

I created a packet of multi-modal assessments to guide students in their discovery. Students created mindmaps, drew pictures, crafted color-coded representations of musical form, and filled in thought bubbles to demonstrate their understanding within each center.

As a culminating activity, I invited Scott Albert Johnson, a  jazz and blues harmonica player, to work with the kids. He brought in his collection of instruments and taught us about the history of the harmonica, the influence the blues tradition has had on popular music throughout the western world, and life as a performer. Applying the historical and contextual knowledge in a very practical way, we wrapped up the unit with a jam session. 

Click here to watch a clip of the jam session!

I first presented this unit as a final project during a Teacher Institute at the Library of Congress. Through this unit, I was able to make use of a number of sources from their digitized collection. Follow this link to the Library of Congress Teachers Page to find more information about pre-compiled resource sets, primary source classroom activities, and professional development opportunities.

Love & Mandarin: Scripting and Staging for Chinese Valentine’s Day

When sitting in Grace Pei’s Mandarin 5, you better be ready for all-Mandarin, all-the-time. Near the end of my observation of her class, students worked collaboratively on a script (in the target language of course), and I just had to ask to be invited to the big performance of a well-known Chinese Valentine’s Day story. After seeing a very animated and Mandarin-filled enactment, I had some questions for Grace.

Students enrolled in Grace Pei’s Mandarin 5 perform their iteration of a famous Chinese Valentine’s Day story on the stage in the Commons.

So I just left the big performance, and I can’t believe how fluent your students were in Chinese!  Did they write the play themselves and, if so, how?

Yes , students write the play themselves. The steps are: Mandarin 5 students learn a Chinese Valentine’s day story called “Niulang he Zhinu 牛郎和织女” in targeted language, then they write the play with guidance from Ms. Pei.

Why did you choose to have the students memorize their lines? 

This is a high level Mandarin class; students have had four years solid language skills. Even though the play was long, I gave them time to learn the story, to learn the culture that is behind the story, to write their own story, and to practice in order to make the performance perfect.

What was the most challenging part of the entire project?

To help students to understand my expectations of them in this particular project.

What was the most rewarding part of the play project?

When my goal was reached, which was students could perform this play in their level.

What advice do you have for teachers interested in similar kinds of performance based assessments?

Set up expectations first, then guide students step by step to reach the goal!

Want to learn more about how Grace scaffolds language instruction? For more ideas and modeling, check out this video and article featuring Ms. Pei, published by the Center for Global Education last September.

Going downtown, where the French gets tough!

For lesson 2 in French 4, the theme is “downtown” and everything we come across. We talk about the different activities that happen, the different places we can come across and we also make comparisons between living in the city and living outside of the city (albeit in the suburbs or in the country). The activity I have decided for this theme is a skit of a car that breaks down in the city and asking for directions. The students receive a scenario and the characters but they are responsible for coming up with what happens. They decide on who will be who and why the car breaks down. They are asked to not memorize a script but rather just keep in mind who they are and to stick to their goals in the script. For example, the police officer is required to get the car out of the area since it is causing a traffic jam, a pedestrian is supposed to walk by and want to help the visitors with their predicament and make suggestions, etc.

I must say, I thought this activity was successful. They were creative and ready to complete this activity to the best of their ability. I even surprised them by asking the other groups (on the spot) to sit in chairs behind the “car” and pretend to be impatient and angry. This created a certain ambiance of hurriedness and some anxiety. The students still managed to perform the task very well. I was very proud of them.

Illustrating Self: Middle Schoolers Finding Identity in Graphic Novels

This year I asked my 7th grade students to read Gene Luen Yang’s wonderful graphic novel American Born Chinese, but I also asked them to finish the unit by writing their own graphic story. I’ve struggled in the past with implementing project-based learning curricula in my classroom, so I was excited to give it another shot this year. For many of my students, this was the first graphic novel they’d ever read “for school,” as they often say of books they read. Many of them already read graphic novels for pleasure; it’s one of the reasons, I think, our library is so stocked with graphic novels—students love them. But it was surprising to me that so many of them had not yet been introduced in an English class to the literary and academic value of the books they already seemed to enjoy. I wanted to fill that space, but I also love graphic novels.

Kids are visual learners (adults too!). It’s rooted in our development. Even at the earliest stages of learning how to read, students learn with pictures. Alphabets with pictures—E is for Elephant, D is for Dog. We all remember Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, or A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh illustrations. And for those of us lucky enough, we’ve shared in the particular childhood joy of Tarō Gomi’s Everyone Poops. Not to mention that, by middle school, many of our students are plugged in to the visual maze of the internet in some way (e.g., YouTube, Snapcat, TikTok, and Instagram). So it made sense, to me at least, that teaching them the moves that authors make through graphic novels spoke a language they’re all familiar with, while still introducing them to the essential devices and concepts I wanted them to understand as scholars of literature. Which is why, this year, I made the decision to teach a graphic novel that would culminate in an assessment requiring each student to make their own graphic text—a scaffolded project—building into a personal narrative essay they would later compose, their first major writing assignment of the year.

As we read Yang’s novel, I taught the kids the various techniques of graphic form, alongside the staples of literature like point of view and plot structures. I also asked, almost daily, that students consider how each of these techniques worked visually within the novel to help us understand what Yang teaches through his characters. By the time we were ready to embark on our project, students were quite familiar with the terms and ideas I would be asking them to use creatively in our project. 

Most importantly, each student had to tell a story, visually, in at least twenty panels—of various sizes and shapes—that was important to them and their life experiences. This was key. They had to tell a story that mattered to them, not just any old anecdote of silly story they wanted to tell. Specifically, I told them they needed to tell a story that taught them a lesson about themselves or helped them arrive at some new understanding about something. That’s not an easy task, but it’s a skill we’re constantly asking of students e.g. college essays, letters of intent, personal narratives. And because I knew they’d be writing personal narratives after this project, I told them that they could use the same story for this project they might also tell in their personal narratives. This was intentional. I wanted them to be able to start developing and revising and thinking about that story, with the hope that this would make for better final drafts of their personal narratives. It was optional, but many students took this route—and I’ve read some exceptional personal narratives! Sure, there were a few kids still told rather funny stories, but they were funny stories that had an impact on them in some way.

The project also required them to use all the terms and literary elements that we’d discussed in the unit. They needed panels, frames, gutters, bleeds, etc.—in addition to their story having a clear beginning, climax, and resolution. There was a lot they needed to juggle beyond simply telling a story with pictures! But the students and I also had to account for the fact that not everyone is an exceptional artist. I’m always doodling, so they were quick to remind me that not everyone likes to draw like I do. I allowed them to use some online tools like Storyboard That and My Comic Life, and I emphasized to those students who didn’t think they could do their best work with their own, hand-drawn artistry, that they should try out these online tools if they felt this way.

I think the results of the project speak for themselves. I met one of my goals this year: teaching with more project-based assessments. But also, the students had fun doing it!

“Yeah, but when will I actually use this in the real world?”: Making Relevance Visible, One Angle at a Time

If you have taught even a day, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of the the sometimes-sincere, sometimes-snarky question: “When will we actually use this in real life?”  Math teachers probably have heard this more than most, and we are lucky to have faculty in our math department at St. Andrew’s that are ready with answers. Math, after all, is everywhere . . . in the exchange of goods for money in a store, in the designs that underlay the construction of a bridge, in the stock market that shapes our economy. David Bramlett recently engaged his Pre-Calculus students in an angle of elevation activity that proved that math is, quite literally, all around us.  

Youth enrolled in Dr. Bramlett’s Precalculus course work together to capture and label angles around campus with the help of the Angle 360 app.

In this activity, students applied what they learned about angles of elevation and the trigonometric functions to calculate the height of various objects. The students set out across campus in groups of 3-5, and with the aid of the Angle Meter 360 App they took pictures on their phones capturing the angle of elevation from a classmate’s feet to the top of the object. At the same time, other students in the group measured the distance from the object to the classmate’s feet.  The students then imported their photos to a word processor to create a properly labeled right triangle and solve using trigonometric functions. The task was completed with each group making a lab report of their results.

Next time a student asks you, “What does this have to do with real life?” take a nod from David.  Ask them to find out for themselves. They may find that angles lurk in our very own plaza, that rhetoric underlies politicking, that to understand culture today you have to understand culture yesterday.  In fact, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that this particular reality-steeped version of inspiration and innovation is happening all over the place in St. Andrew’s classrooms. I’ve borne witness to it.   I saw it last week when Marty Kelly started class with a snippet from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to ensure that students see the far-reaching intertextuality of Old Testament stories.  I saw it when Margaret Clark made connections to Latin vocabulary and words in the English language.  I saw it just a few days ago when Harriet Whitehouse asked her sixth graders compose graphic novels to highlight the elements of “the hero’s journey” that lurk within popular books, movies, or video games.

What do you do in your classroom to bring content alive? Feel free to share ideas in comments below!

Two Flavors of Flipped: From 5th to 12th Grade

Several weeks ago, I had the honor of visiting our extraordinary lab-stuffed upper school science department, and in the process, I learned a lot, including: rollie pollies prefer rough surfaces; lab report writing takes explicit instruction and precision; and, take heart all of us who were traumatized by labs when we were in school: there is no such thing as “wrong data”- your data is your data, plain and simple.  

By a stroke of divine fate, I happened to visit Rebecca Bernhardt’s fifth grade science class right around the same time, and noted that, while the gulf between fifth and twelfth grade science may seem gargantuan, there was actually one distinct similarity: both featured faculty that integrated flipped classroom into their teaching practice.  I decided to interview Krissy Rehm (12th science) and Rebecca Bernhardt (fifth grade science) to learn more. What I found was that there are many flavors of flipped, but all of them have implications for more than just science instruction. (Note: For a storehouse of flipped instruction resources and examples that originate outside of our campus, check out this storehouse of articles, videos, and blogs from Edutopia.) 

Julie: What is flipped classroom?

Krissy: Students do the note-taking and lecturey type stuff at home and then when they come into the class they do activities and labs where they have to work on applying the material that they learned at home.  

Rebecca: So instead of the traditional model of the teacher bringing the students to class and then saying “now we’re going to talk about this new topic” and then assigning practice as homework, the topic is introduced via a homework assignment (it could be a video, it could be a reading, etc.) so that they come to class with that prerequisite knowledge.  I was originally introduced to it ten years ago by my little cousin who is a bit of a prodigy.  She’s now 14 years old taking college courses, but at the time was 4 or 5 and doing Khan Academy . . . It was such a novel idea: kids are getting introduced to the lesson via video and then they’re practicing it with their teacher.  

Julie: Why did you choose to implement it in your classroom?

Krissy: As a scientist I learned that the best way to learn science is to actually do science.  There is so much content that we have to cover in AP Biology.  We would never get through it all if I had to both deliver basic content AND do problems/activities/labs in class.  I wanted my kids to spend the most amount of time doing things in class where I can directly help them (and there peers can help them). If they’re doing problems at home I can’t help them, their friends can’t help them, and they certainly can’t do labs at home.  Students can answer any question they have with a simple click on their computers, so it’s not necessary for me to tell them basic definitions. Instead, it’s up to me to show them how to apply that knowledge. I deliver my at-home content through my YouTube channel.  So this is a way for them to get on Youtube and use it in a good way, to actually learn things to see there are videos out there that can help you learn information.  

Rebecca:  If they can get new content at home, that gives us time for more hands-on activities in class.  They’ve been front-loaded and we can immediately start applying it and do the hands-on stuff which is fun, and it gives me a chance to see if they actually understand.  It’s also a great way to give that introduction from someone who isn’t me. There’s a certain amount of trust that’s built between me and the student. They’ve learned they may not get it the first time. They are getting more comfortable saying “I don’t understand X, Y, or Z in the video.” Some of them just need one-on-one for these concepts.  So it’s a great evaluative tool for me. . . if they aren’t getting it from two different flipped videos, even when they can rewind and rewatch, they need another way. That’s been really, really valuable. The facts don’t lie. I gave the exact test last year [when my class wasn’t fully flipped] that I gave this year on observation/inference and there was an on-average ten point increase. 

Julie: So you both clearly see the value, but what do your students think about the experience of flipped?

Krissy: Mostly positive. The first year kids were more skeptical, but I think they bought into it after they saw I wasn’t going to budge about it.  My first year here the videos were awful. I redid all my videos the second year. And this year I’m redoing a lot of them again to make them shorter and including fewer figures I find in a book and making my own figures and building things like that.  So the first year they had a little bit of a struggle with it, second year much better, third year kids were like “these are the best things ever!” Kids seem to really like it. “Oh- I gotta go back and watch that video again!” . . . and “Oh- I missed that- let me rewind it” . . so they have it with them all the time and can look at it again if they need to.  I commonly hear from students that I write letters of recommendation for that the format of my classes helped them see the value in taking control of their own learning.

Rebecca:  Students are eager to do these assignments.  They enjoy breaking the monotony of having to practice problems at home  Students consider the break-down of homework- the difficulty versus due date versus desire-and even though the novelty of flipped classroom has worn off, they still ask me,  “Can I do your video assignment now?” The kids are craving it . . . they were nervous at first because it wasn’t what they were used to. I’ve explained to them the philosophy behind flipped classroom and why I choose video assignments, and there’s a lot of self-correction that happens. To quote some of my students, “at first I didn’t know how I’d like flipped classroom.  It was a little nerve-wracking doing a homework assignment in which I didn’t understand afterward, and I thought you were going to grade me poorly because I didn’t understand something in a video even after I rewound it. But then we came to class and you broke it down, and we practiced it, and when we started speaking about it, you reminded me of those things from the video, and if I went back watched the video later when studying it, all of a sudden it makes sense.”  They like that. I always leave videos accessible at any point so they become an invaluable study tool. Instead of me teaching a concept one time, they get to hear other experts in the field many times.

Julie: So what does this actually look like in your classroom?

Krissy: I teach seniors, so I’m not very hand-holdy. I expect them to [watch the video before class].  Sometimes I give them pop quizzes and they can use their notes if they’ve done it. We will do worksheets in class, so they will have to use things from the video.  If they haven’t watched the video, it’s usually not a huge deal (unless we had a pop quiz). Most of the work we do in class is in groups, so a friend can usually help to explain things.  This benefits everyone – the student that watched the video is now having to teach the material to someone else and the student that didn’t watch the video is learning by listening and asking questions.  Everyone is responsible for the material on the test. There are some [platforms] you can use to put your video and put your questions in it. It shows you who watched the video or not. I’m with seniors. They aren’t going to [have these checks] in college.  My job is to get them ready to use their time wisely – even when the teacher isn’t going to check to see if you did the assignment. 

Rebecca:  Generally I will introduce a topic via flipped classroom a day to two days before I formally address it in class, and so it slowly starts integrating into class. Full comprehension usually happens several days after they’ve gotten their lesson.  For example, I assigned a flipped homework assignment on calculating the volume of rectangular prisms. The follow-up class was yesterday where I passed them out 1 cubic cm unit cubes and had them measure the length, width, and height and then calculate the volume of one of them.  Then I asked them, “How many different rectangular prisms can we create using 27 cubic cm.” We had some time to manipulate numbers and visualize volume, and that moved into today where they’re actually taking different rectangular figures like boxes and books and calculating the volume of them. Ultimately, they are taking that video knowledge and applying it in class and lab settings. 

Julie: What platforms do you use to make flipped happen?

Krissy: I use Camtasia.  I can make a video, edit it, if I make a mistake I can put a little call out with “oops- I meant to say . . .“ If I make a huge mistake I can make the video over again. I bought it with my budget from the first year.  There are other free ones that others use (e.g. Screen-castify).

A glimpse of one of Krissy’s Camtasia Creations, featuring her own designed figures and voiceover.

Rebecca: Playposit’s pretty cool because I can upload any video, and I can pull from Youtube or really any video source.  But I can also add interactions to the assignments to check for comprehension. One of their assignments they had over their weekend is a video about measuring volume.  As the video introduces a concept or an equation or something of that sort, I can insert a question to check for comprehension. (For a preview of one of Rebecca’s Playposits, click here.)  So in measuring volume, the video introduces what volume is and three ways to measure it. Before the video explains what water displacement is, I inserted an interaction that said “What do you think displacement means?” I can go back and manually grade open-ended questions like that. But I can also add multiple choice questions. I also add in discussions, so sometimes an interaction might look like,  “Add to the discussion about what your current understanding of displacement is.” I’m trying to get them to think about where we are going with this. If the video gives an example, I’ll immediately pause and provide a similar example problem for them to solve, usually a little bit easier, to see if they can immediately utilize the same technique the video just explained. 

I’ve also gone through Google Classroom and Google Forms.  My videos are usually only 4-5 minutes max.  In one case it was only a minute, so I created the assignment on a google form and embedded the video with a quick check below it.  I also go through Brainpop; Brainpop doesn’t have videos with built-in interactions, but for lower and middle school students, the video content is top-notch, and there are great built-in quizzes, worksheets, and projects that I assign to check for understanding.

Rebecca utilizes Playposit to organize and insert formative assessment moments for many of her video assignments.

Julie: What are your thoughts on teachers outside of the discipline of science going flipped?

Krissy: It works SO well with science because we can do so many hands-on things.  It doesn’t have to be on a video or anything like that. Some teachers will say “you need to read that chapter and take notes.” So that could be flipped.

Rebecca:  I would be exhausted if I did a true lab every day . . that would be impossible, so they aren’t always doing a full-blown lab, but we are always doing  some sort of breakdown and hands-on activity to practice the new content. In math, it’s “let’s watch a video about how to solve this problem and then in class let’s practice it.”  If you are introducing a topic in class it’s eligible to be flipped.  You can record your own videos, and I have for some of mine, but I guarantee somebody else out there already has quality videos on this topic if you want to dip your toes in the water..

Julie: What advice do you have for faculty that are interested in flipped but aren’t sure where to start?

Krissy: So if you want to get your toes wet, you certainly don’t have to make your own videos. I think the students appreciate that I make my own videos.  But you certainly do not need to make your own videos. There are so many great videos out there for everything, so those should definitely be used to see if could flipped learning would work for you.   I would recommend at some point doing a few of your own videos. I think the students kind of buy into it a little bit more if you have your own voice on the video. It’s like, “Oh- my teacher did this!”  Sometimes I post a video by Bozeman Science (AP Bio series- science videos) or Khan Academy.  Maybe the student needs to hear it a different way (or they are sick of hearing my voice); there are great videos so you don’t have to make your own videos.

Rebecca: Try it once. Come meet with me and let’s make a pilot lesson.  Let’s flip one lesson, a lesson that you would normally introduce in class.  The really fun thing to do that I did last year just to kinda get my feet wet: you often teach four sections of the same thing; do two flipped and two not flipped.  Do a week of lessons, two flipped, two not flipped. You don’t have to have a full-time commitment to it, but just see the difference for a week and prove it to yourself. I mean, you can take my word for it, but until you’ve really tried it and the kids get used to it and you get used to it, that’s when you’re actually going to see the results.  Assess student engagement and compare it with your traditionally-run classes; see if they are responding more appropriately to the material; see if you can get further with your classes. Because that’s what I’ve found. My timeline is different than it was last year simply because of this one component. And some materials I’m getting through quicker and some I’m going into more depth.  I would say “try it out.”  Come chat with me or any of the wonderful people in i2.  You don’t have to make your own videos to do this. You can assign a video, something upfront that is not physical practice but is an introduction to something.  You don’t have to take their word for it that they watched it. I can show you ways to check for comprehension before they come to class. Give it a try, and see what happens. See how you like it. See if it eases your stress knowing that they are coming into class with that prerequisite knowledge.

Transforming My Classroom With Flexible Seating

Many teachers have been using some variation of flexible seating years before it became a trend. As long as I can remember, I have always had students who needed something less traditional than sitting at a desk. Of course, there are students who will always prefer that, and that’s the beauty of flexible seating. It’s not about taking away from what works for children but giving them the opportunity for ownership of how they learn best in different situations. 

To start the process, I have them take a survey during a Morning Meeting. I ask them how they might do work at home. A bed, a couch, a desk, or on the floor are some of the choices I give them. I then think about those choices and do a trial run by what they’ve answered. What I have introduced this year that is new (to me) is a very purposeful and slow introduction to their options. We first looked at expectations of each type of seating and posted them in the room. I then brought out a different one every couple of days with a visual reminder of the rules or expectations for that particular seating. By being more methodical about how, when, and why they use flexible seating, the students now are familiar with the best ways they can learn.

Does it always work perfectly? Absolutely not! But they know if they aren’t using the seating correctly, then they have to turn it in for the rest of the day. Flexible seating can lean itself towards a more relaxed learning environment where I am able to move around the room as students work in pairs or independently in spaces they feel they learn and work best. I also use different lighting instead of overhead lights on all day. I’m fortunate to have big windows in my classroom, so we often use natural light with a few lamps.  If the “big lights” are on, many times the children will ask to turn the lights off. Another good example of being in charge of how they learn best!

Making Calendar Time Meaningful in Pre-K3

The daily routine of calendar time is something early childhood and elementary teachers are all too familiar with.  The skills students acquire during this time are crucial to their development in math, problem solving, vocabulary, and literacy.  The repetitive routines of calendar time are so beneficial for students, but when implemented each day, these routines sometimes need a little “sprucing up” to maintain enthusiasm and interest.  If you’re looking for opportunities to make this time meaningful and engaging for students, here’s a peek into what PK3 teachers, Lea Crongeyer and Taylor Davis, are doing to actively involve our youngest saints in the creation of their classroom calendars each month.

 Adapted from the Reggio Documentation Panel-Making, the innovative calendars in PK3 are created through teacher support in collaboration with students.  The calendars reflect the highlights and precious memories from the students’ days, and they symbolize the thinking and learning that are taking place in the classroom throughout the month.  The conversations around these calendars also provide students the opportunities to reflect and record learning through a variety of media including paintings, construction-paper creations, pictures, and other student and teacher work samples.  Calendar time has come to life in PK3 as students see their favorite memories as they practice days of the week, counting, passage of time, ordinal numbers, and many other rich skills. Students are active participants as teachers guide them in reflecting on their day and creating the calendar entry, sounding out words and weighing in on the information to include in their collaborative masterpiece that will be on display in the classroom year-long. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of the calendar teachers are seeing is the conversations students have with one another as they reflect on their month together.  “Students love to go back and look at the calendars,” says Taylor Davis. “They are reading the room at an early age because they had a say in creating it.” Lea Crongeyer recently overheard rich conversations between PK3 students that reflect pride and ownership in their creation: “Remember when we had the water party? . . . It was fun tasting apples that day!”  Re-thinking this daily routine in PK3 has not only brought calendar time to life with excitement, ownership, and enthusiasm, but teachers are also seeing a love of learning fostered in our youngest saints as they reflect on and document all the amazing memories they have with teachers and friends each day.

In Taylor’s classroom, calendar headings are prepared in advance, and students’ pictures are posted next to their birthday month, fostering anticipation and excitement for calendar building that’s to come.

“We’ve taken something and made it our own, and this adaptation has been a breath of fresh air! I’m getting so many skills in but in a developmentally appropriate way.”

-Taylor Davis as she reflects on innovating the typical store-bought, ready made calendar so that it benefits her three- to four-year-old students.

Podcasts: A New Generation of Listening and Learning

What started as a quest to endure painfully long road trips to North Carolina with children in tow has now become a family passion that has bridged into my classroom. That’s right, podcasts. On a lark I tried a popular family podcast with my students, and they loved it. To focus their listening, I challenged them to create one question (and the answer) to ask a fellow listener. After listening, we paired up and compared questions and answers. What a fun way to boost active listening and listening comprehension.

Here are some favorites:

Hosts Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz guide curious kids and their grown-ups on a journey into the wonders of the world around them. We’ll go inside our brains, out into space and deep into the coolest new stories in science and technology.

Wow in the World is a family favorite and includes a wealth of knowledge school-age children will enjoy. A delightful bonus is hearing from children around the world and their “Wow in the World”.

Brains On! takes a more serious look at science through the lens of a child’s eye. Explore the catalog of podcasts to find one that matches your learners’ interests.

A note from the producers: Brains On! is an award-winning audio show for kids and families. Each week, a different kid co-host joins Molly Bloom to find answers to fascinating questions about the world.  Our mission is to encourage kids’ natural curiosity and wonder using science and history…but there’s no age limit on curiosity, and episodes of Brains On can be enjoyed by anyone.

Finally, Circle Round is a wonderful, community-building podcast that allows listeners to experience a folk tale together.

 Created and produced by parents of young children, WBUR’s Circle Round is a podcast that adapts carefully-selected folktales from around the world into sound- and music-rich radio plays for kids ages 4 to 10. Each 10- to 20-minute episode explores important issues like kindness, persistence and generosity. And each episode ends with an activity that inspires a deeper conversation between children and grown-ups.

Two Weddings and a French Class

For lesson 1 in French 4, the theme is personal relationships and emotions and being able to describe your ideal roommate, friend and soul mate. At this level of language learning, I believe that more communicative activities is necessary, to show real life application and break on-the-spot translation in order to promote thinking in the target language. That being said, I have created one main activity per lesson. With lesson 1, I have created a mock wedding that is student led. Everyone plays a role: bride, groom, maids-of-honor, best men, priest, mayor, judge, etc. They receive an order of how they are to run the ceremony and what the basic responsibilities are but then they must write their own lines. Each student declares feelings, roles in the process and desires for the couple. It really is quite something special to see them take responsibility for their part. They all got to sign a “wedding contract” and I photocopied the contracts and gave them each a copy of the ceremony they took part in as a ‘souvenir’.

This year, we held two ceremonies due to the number of students in the class. Walter Johnson with Sarah Bradford Seawright and Yahya Naveed with Jo’vette Hawkins. They all either memorized their lines or wrote keywords to help them with remembering what they needed to say. I think it was probably the best mock wedding I have had the pleasure of seeing in my 5 years here. They all understood what they needed to do and it went smoothly. We were even fortunate to have pleasant weather and held the ceremonies in the courtyard, with guests. Each student was given an opportunity to invite one guest to the ceremony and I would deliver them (students included, if they were free during the block).

After the ceremonies, we held a little mini reception where I gave them each a petit four that I ordered and had delivered (thanks to the recommendation and help of Teresa Deer). After eating petit fours and drinking tea (oh so good, Sarah Beth Greener made a homemade mint tea with sugar), I used the rest of class to discuss a quiz they just got back, clearing up any errors they might have had. Of course, I am proud to say that I conduct the class entirely in the target language and my students respond well. I have build them up to it and they expect it. I started 100% target language teaching in French 3. I like to think of my language class as an experience. It’s not just a place to learn the mechanics of a language but experience it as well. I hope we will be fortunate to have you as a guest at our next mock wedding next year!

Wall O’ Teacher Awesomeness

A view of a particularly exciting segment of the North Campus i2 Lab Writable Wall.
Note from Author: Yes, my handwriting may look as though I’m an eleven year old who includes hearts instead of dots on her “i’s”. But I promise I’m not eleven. . . . and I only use hearts over my eyes when I write notes to my five year old.

So I’m a relative newbie as an employee at St. Andrew’s. And in this new teaching and learning gig, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of popping into an incredible variety of classrooms. I cannot say this with enough emphasis: “OUR FACULTY ARE AMAZING.” Oh hey, that’s you.

Anyway, I know the word “awesome” is pretty much a hot button issue. People that use awesome are probably too young and too enthusiastic and are likely contributing to the ruin of the English language. But listen: if you saw what I saw and heard what I heard on a daily basis, you might accidentally let an “awesome” slip out your own mouth. Here’s just a smattering to wet your whistle:

  • David Bramlett’s use of wix to help with visualization and video making to show off student understanding of parabolas.
  • Margaret Taylor’s well-designed characterization centers, my favorite of which asked youth to choose which beautiful postcard best exemplified a character from their summer reading.
  • Marks McWhorter’s use of animal toys to serve as springboards for students doing incredibly complex diagramming of the relationships between the traits of different animals.
  • Karyn Kunzelman’s escape room activity that engaged youth in a review of all things space-related and had them focused and in complete delight at 2:30pm on a Friday afternoon.
  • Price Chadwick’s use of the cup throwing in the fountain and this “Ok Go” music video to illustrate the magic of physics.
  • Toby Lowe’s use of expert tables to enable youth to both teach and get peer to peer support on four math skills in preparation for a test.
  • Nancy Rivas’ ridiculously well-organized group project which required youth to audio record directions (in Spanish of course) to a mystery place on campus for other students in the class to later guess.
  • Grace Pei’s Chinese class writing a script for a version of Romeo and Juliet and then memorizing their lines and performing the play with great gusto on the stage in the Commons.

Here’s the thing . . .


And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s kind of awesome.

St. Andrew’s 2019 Faculty Innovation Share Out

Lower School Edition

Fourth grade students listen to their peers explain strategies during math “studio time”, one of the many innovative ideas shared by math teachers Valerie Dembny and Mary Grace Jimenez.

The energy in the south campus auditorium was contagious last Wednesday afternoon as faculty members kicked off the year’s “Work-Late-Wednesdays” with a share out of innovative teaching strategies and school-wide initiatives. The five sessions were led by teachers eager to inspire colleagues and share the ways they are redefining teaching and learning strategies in their classrooms. Teachers enjoyed snacks together while they listened to colleagues share ways to reimagine the 100’s chart in math, new terminology to promote positive classroom communities, QR codes as a presentation mode for students, and exciting events on the horizon for the lower school like an Innovative Reading Fair! These sessions were inspired by a variety of ideas that emerged from collaborative experiences among faculty from summer workshops in beginning and advanced Responsive Classroom practices, The Number Lab’s Educators’ Collaboratory in Austin, TX, and Summer of Excellence meetings that resulted in the formation of a Lower School Literacy Committee, just to name a few!

Summer Keane, kindergarten teacher, taught faculty how to use QR codes as an innovative way to share student work within the community.

If you missed the power-packed hour of inspiration, you can access presentations and additional resources that are hyperlinked in the agenda, which summarizes each session. Additionally throughout the year, the lower school will host Work-Late-Wednesday sessions dedicated to innovation share outs. The dates of those professional development meetings can be found here. Mark your calendars to join us for collaborative times when faculty share to inspire one another towards innovation school-wide and in the classroom!