The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Archive for January, 2015

Eye On The Ball

I came down with something on Wednesday afternoon that kept me home from class in the evening and lingered long enough to keep me home from work on Thursday. It wasn’t too serious, though, and I was pretty much back on my feet by Thursday afternoon, which let me go to a birthday celebration for my wife with her parents and siblings. Because my birthday was just this past Monday and my wife’s birthday was actually Wednesday, there is a lot of birthday-ing in my family during the last week of January. There is also a tradition of stretching out gifts. My mother-in-law gave two professional books that I have wanted for quite some time now: The Ball and What Great Principals Do Differently: Eighteen Things That Matter Most, both by Todd Whitaker. (I already have a copy of What Great Teachers Do Differently, a book that I thought I reviewed a year ago but apparently never did. Oops!)

I read The Ball this morning while getting ready for work. It only took me about 20 minutes. It is a short story about a teacher and a former student who meet and discuss the challenges they have experienced in their lives that have managed to knock them off course, to take their eyes off the ball. Through their conversation, they both realise changes that need to be made to reinvigorate themselves and, in the process, reinvigorate those they work with.

This was a very timely read, as it is something that I have been discussing often with my colleagues. It seems like there have been so many new initiatives and laws and regulations and procedures and policies thrown at us from every direction that we have a hard time focusing on what is most important. I thought about some of the things I have done in my classroom over the past three and a half years that have fallen by the wayside because we just don’t seem to have enough time to do it and I realised that I need to make the time. The small things that bring joy into the classroom are the same things that bring engagement. As I wrote earlier this week, I want my students to want to be here. That’s not going to happen if they don’t find school to be a joyful place.

So I made a decision to bring back something that has been missing for several months: Read, Write, Think! This is my time for my students to engage in preferred activities that foster improved metacognition, teamwork, collaboration, and skill development. I announced this morning that we would be bringing it back on Fridays. We did Read, Write, Think! in the afternoon this week, but I will probably move it back to the morning next week because I have a tutor who will be coming to the room on Friday afternoons and I want to honor her time.

It is a small change, but I think it is something that will help us get our eye back on the ball, back on the goal of schooling being somethings students want to do, instead of something they have to do.


This past summer, I got to participate in the Moveable Feast technology conference in Bloomington. For one week I traveled back and forth and networked with amazing educators who are passionate about infusing technology in the classroom in a way that goes far beyond substitution and augmentation and taking it to modification and redefinition. I learned about so many different resources and have been trying them out this year, exploring options and receiving input from my students about which resources are a good fit and which are not.

One of the tools I discovered was Kahoot! This is a wonderful resource for creating online quizzes, surveys, and discussions that allow anyone with access to a web-enabled device to participate. As soon as I knew I was going to get Chromebooks in my classroom, I knew I would be using Kahoot! in my room. It has taken me this long to finally do it, because I wanted a large display screen in the room.

The first thing I did with my class using Kahoot! was to get input from them on the groups they would like to be in when we go to the Krannert Art Museum next week. All I had to do was given the the URL ( and the PIN (displayed on the Promethean board). Students logged in, entered a nickname (my only requirement was that it include their first name), and used their Chromebooks to indicate preferences. I was able to download the results of the survey to use when organising groups.

Then I had them take a quiz to review the American Revolutionary War. Students were able to get instant feedback on their responses,  see what they got right, what they got wrong, and also see how many of their classmates were in the same place as them. At the end, I asked them to evaluate whether or not they liked the quiz, whether or not they felt I should use it again, whether or not they felt it helped them learn, and how they felt at the end.

Just for fun, I let them do a brand logo quiz I found over the summer while exploring Kahoot! further. There are forty questions total, but we only did ten of them. The quiz shows a part of a company logo and asks them to select from four choices which one is correct. They really enjoyed it and wanted to keep going, but I told them we would only do a few. I have it set up to randomise the questions, though, so we can do it again and have completely different logos! I will build up a library of quizzes for them to use, some related to content we are studying and some that are going to be just for fun brain breaks.

I’m glad I discovered Kahoot! and I am even gladder that my students enjoyed it! I am planning on using it nearly every day for quick reviews, exit slips, breaks, and checks for understanding. It is simple to use, engaging for learners, and free! That’s a triple-crown win for me!

Thirty-Two Things I Love About My Job

Today is my birthday. My thirty-second birthday, to be specific. And I have to admit: it was a rough day with my class. A lot of things that I expected to go smoothly didn’t. At a lot of things that I expected to be received with excitement went over pretty flat. And it seemed like we just didn’t have enough time to get the things done that we should have.

But I don’t want to focus on the things that didn’t go well. So instead, I am going to try to make a crazy list of thirty-two things I love about my job. These are going to be in no particular order, but will simply be in whatever order they pop into my head. And I haven’t written these out in advance, so I am making this list up as I go. So, let’s get started!

  1. My current coworkers. They are passionate, dedicated professionals who truly want to see all students excel.
  2. My past coworkers. People have moved or retired but they are still folks who taught me and mentored me and helped me as a young new teacher.
  3. Being able to help train new coworkers. Because of various things that have happened, I’ve had the opportunity to teach with four different amazing women in four years. Three of them were new to teaching fourth grade at Wiley and so I have been able to help them get adjusted to a new school and, in the process, have learned a lot about my own job.
  4. My students. Even on the days they drive me crazy, they are constantly pushing me to improve my teaching.
  5. My former students. There is something awesome about seeing students who used to be in my room stop me in the halls, on the street, in stores, or at public events, just to say hi and tell me what they are up to.
  6. My future students. I walk through the halls of our building a lot and I see the younger students and love how they stop to talk to me and share what they are doing.
  7. Technology. As the instructional technology specialist for my building, I get to find new ways to implement technology in my classroom in ways that I never believed possible.
  8. Silliness. As seriously as I take my professional obligations, I love that I can have fun and be silly, too. Whether it is wearing a birthday tiara today, shaving my head because students read over 1,000,000 minutes, or answering silly questions with silly answers, I enjoy being able to laugh and have fun.
  9. Books. This should be a no-brainer, but being an avowed bibliophile and life-long member of the Nerdy Book Club, I love being able to share my love of books with students and have them share there love of books with me.
  10. Authors. I have had the opportunity to get to know some amazing authors over the years. There are some that I have chatted with only via Twitter, one I’ve chatted with via Skype, and others that I have met in person.
  11. Conferences. I get to go to some pretty awesome education conferences on all sorts of topics and I get to meet colleagues from all over the state and sometimes all over the country.
  12. Student teachers. I have had the opportunity to host several pre-service teachers in my classroom over the past couple of years. They have each brought their own unique ideas and beliefs about education and have helped me think deeply about what I do and why.
  13. Inquiry groups. I am part of a group of teachers across the district who meet once a month with Teacher Collaborators from the university to talk about best practices in literacy and math instruction. It is fantastic to learn and grow with these folks.
  14. Student artwork. have a collection of pictures and notes that students have given me that are taped on my desk and windows.
  15. Field trips. Springfield, the Krannert Art Museum, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, sporting events. I love taking my students to places and events that they might not otherwise encounter.
  16. Student growth. There are few things in this world greater than seeing a student grow and accomplish something that he or she couldn’t do before.
  17. Blogs. There are so many educators that write about their experiences and share their online. I love reading their blogs!
  18. Blogging. I love being able to share my experiences with others, even if I don’t have as many followers as more famous bloggers.
  19. Secretaries and office managers. The women who work in the offices of schools across the country are so great! The ones in my building are particularly wonderful and patient, whether it is helping me find a copy of a form or giving me a spare key to my room when I accidentally leave my keys at home.
  20. Parents. I have been really fortunate to have supportive parents in my classrooms. It is nice to be able to call home or send an email and have a parent promise to help resolve an issue.
  21. Compassion. Every now and then a student does something that just blows me away. I am thrilled when I see a student reach out and do something kind for another student.
  22. Cupcakes. Birthdays in classrooms are weird events. No matter what else is going on in the room or between students, once someone brings in a thing of cupcakes, everyone forgets their problems and enjoys spending a few minutes celebrating a birthday with a classmate.
  23. Family Nights. Our school sponsors several different family nights throughout the year. I love seeing parents come in with their children and see some of the things we are doing in our building.
  24. Bulletin boards. I don’t think I ever really thought that much about bulletin boards when I was in school, but as a teacher, bulletin boards are the super cool. I get to showcase student work, share important ideas, and brighten up the hallways.
  25. Morning drop-off. I have morning supervision at the car drop-off. I get to greet all of the students as they arrive at school. I love seeing the bright smiles and hearing the cheery hellos.
  26. Student writing. My students have great ideas. At the start of the year, their writing is really choppy. But as the year progresses, it gets better and better. I love seeing the growth!
  27. Ties. I wear a tie to work every day. I love ties. I am becoming a necktie aficionado, with about four dozen ties that I tie with about a dozen or so different knots.
  28. Cardigans. I love my cardigans. I have three. I would like to get more. They go with just about everything. Seriously.
  29. Questions. Students ask the strangest questions, often seemingly out of the blue. I love the questions. They allow me to take advantage of teachable moments and sometimes help me learn new things!
  30. Going above and beyond. I love when my students take a project or assignment and go way above and beyond what is expected.
  31. Being able to keep work. When a student creates something awesome and lets me keep it. I love these treasures that I get to share with future students! My best friend and I gifted a book we wrote to our fourth grade teachers. I asked her about it years later and learned that she kept that book until she retired. I hope to do the same.
  32. New days. As I said at the very beginning, today was birthday. And it was a rough day. I love that each day is a new day, with a fresh start. I can go back to school tomorrow, ready to start a new day with my students, letting go of past troubles and moving forward.

Blogging to Stay Positive

Even after saying a couple of months ago that I wouldn’t apologise if I miss a day of blogging, I feel like I do need to apologise now because I have missed two days of blogging. The new semester has started, not just in my classroom, but also for my graduate coursework. I have classes on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings this semester instead of Monday and Wednesday, and I had a meeting with my Cub Scout leaders last night that went longer than anticipated. None of that is to excuse me from not keeping my personal commitment to blog each day; rather, it is just a reason for my absence. And as I so often tell me students, a reason isn’t necessarily an excuse.

However, I have recommitted myself to keeping my blogging goals, not because I feel like there are people who are upset when I miss out, but because I feel like I am depriving myself of a much needed time to reflect on my day and share my thoughts about what positive things we have been doing in my classroom.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the positive. I have a rough days. Every teacher does. Anyone who tells you that every day is calm and peaceful and focused and on task and magical is probably trying to sell you something. I don’t say that to be cynical by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply the reality of what it is to be a teacher, especially in a public school. I have 22 students now. Each and every single one of them comes to me with a unique background and unique experiences. And each student has his or her own worries, concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams. All of that comes with them in the classroom. No one student is alike. We are all different. And that means we are not going to all do the same thing at the same time. Unless you transport us all to Camazotz. But, even then, there are going to be variations.

And so our differences, which can cause friction and strife, are ultimately what cause all of the good that happens, too. Blogging about the good stuff helps me keep a more positive attitude. So I want to keep it up. There is enough negativity in the world as it is; I don’t want to contribute to it if I can help it.

And we do have good things happen! Every day something positive, something great happens in my classroom. My students are learning. They are growing. They show compassion and empathy. They help each other. They help me. They want to do right, not because they will get rewarded, although sometimes they will, not because they fear punishment if they don’t, although some will, not because it is expected of them, although it absolutely is, but because they know that it is simply the right thing to do. But they are still children. They are young. And they are going to make mistakes.

One of my students got frustrated with a classmate today and expressed that in a way that was not as positive and healthy as it could have been. When I was speaking to him about it, he started to take out that frustration on me. It was hard to keep control because it was making me feel frustrated, too. But then he calmed down and i was able to talk to him about what happened and he said something that was so simple yet so profound. He said, “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean it.”

I wish more of us would take the time to do that. It reminds me of some fantastic advice from a young man who is an inspiration to me and so many others: Kid President.

So now that the first couple of weeks of the new semester have gotten started, I am going to work at getting back into blogging each day. Thank you for your continuing support! Please feel free to share something positive that has happened today!

Google Classroom

In my ongoing quest to find quality, worthwhile tools to integrate technology in the classroom, I recently decided to follow the lead of some my colleagues in my building and across the district and I registered my class for a Google Classroom account.

Google Classroom is a tool available through the Google Apps for Education suite that allows teachers to create and collect assignments electronically. This is hugely important for me for a couple of reasons:

  • First, I am always looking for ways to cut down on the paper being generated in the classroom. While I want my students to be comfortable with writing with pencil and paper, but I also want them to use digital writing, too, so that we don’t go through thousands sheets of paper.
  • Second, one of the technology standards for fourth graders is to type a one-page document in a single sitting. While there is currently considerable debate on what a “single sitting” constitutes, it is definitely important for them to have plenty of opportunities to build their stamina in typing.

While my main focus will be for students to type responses, Google Classroom will allow them to upload various file types, including all those created through Google Docs and any files saved on Google Drive. I had my class use Classroom for the first time this morning with their daily journal topic. Up until now, the topic had been written on the whiteboard and then each student would write a response on a notebook. With Classroom, the topic is posted on the site and then each student can type a response and share it directly with me via Drive. What makes it even better is that I can easily track which students have completed the assignment and which students are still working.

I’m excited to continue integrating Google Classroom and expanding our use of 21st Century technology tools in our room! I also hope that my students’ stamina will grow and their ability to use these tools accurately and efficiently.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2015

Each year our school has a special assembly to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know how long this tradition has gone on, but I know it has been many, many years. This year’s assembly kind of snuck up on us, in part because of the two “cold days” we had right after winter break, which is when we usually plan and organise the assembly.

However, we were still able to put together a great program, in large part due to the Herculean efforts of our visual arts teacher and one of our dance/drama/music teachers. Different classes put together presentations, including songs, videos, and poetry recitals. The first graders sang a song about being peacemakers. One of the third grade classes shared a video about ways that they can make Dr. King’s dream a reality. A fifth grade class presented a video of students reading excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes. The other fifth grade class did a song. One of the fourth grade classes (not mine) did an animation based on a poem about Dr. King. (My class was going to do an animation to a song by the Beatles but we simply ran out of time.)

The entire assembly was led by the handsome engagement director guy from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, who has been a long-time friend to Wiley Elementary School and has become a part of our school family over the years. Families were invited to attend and join in group singing while celebrating the work of a man who dedicated his life to ending racial inequality and fighting for justice. Our society still has a long way to go before we truly achieve the dream that Dr. King shared, but I truly believe we are doing better than we were in the past. This weekend, take some time to reflect on not just what Dr. King did, but also the other men and women who struggled to bring about civil rights for all people.

Acoustical Engineering

Miss C and I recently started an incredibly awesome project with our Learning Buddies. They are doing a science unit on acoustical engineering, using resources recently acquired by our instructional coach. For the next several weeks, they will be exploring problems related to sound and using the engineering process to learn about the problem, imagine a solution, develop a plan, create a solution, and improve it after testing it out.

We started last week with a pre-assessment by asking the first and fourth graders to tell us what sound is and then to think about a way to communicate a song. This week we both read a story to our classes called Kwame’s Sound about a boy in Ghana who is going to be playing the drum for an Odwira with his cousin Kofi and has to figure out how to share the rhythm he came up with. The challenge is that Kwame is blind and so he can’t use traditional written music. He uses his knowledge of the engineering design process that his acoustical engineer father has taught him.

When the students were together this afternoon, we had the students identify the elements of the engineering design process and then had them work on an assignment coming up with different words (onomatopoeias) to describe the sounds made by drums, elephants, birds, cell phones, and other things. One thing we discovered pretty quickly is that it is really, really, really difficult to come up with words that represent the sound an elephant makes. We have words to describe how the sounds is made, such as trumpeting, but we don’t have a true word for it. As a result, it was a lot of fun seeing what our students came up with!

I am really excited about this project and can hardly wait to see what our students will do next as they learn about acoustical engineering and actually put it into practice! If you had asked me even a month ago if I thought children under the age of 10 could even say the word “acoustical,” let alone use it correctly, I would have laughed! Now, though, I know better! We have a group of nearly 40 students who can define acoustical engineering, describe what acoustical engineers do, and explain the engineering design process!

Oh, and my class also knows what fufu is. Two of my students have even eaten it regularly. I may see if I can get one of their parents to make some to share with the class.