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

Posts tagged “Field Trips

Field Trip: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra

I’ve written about field trips to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts many times over the past seven years that I have been teaching at Wiley. They are some of my favourite trips to take with students, most likely because they are short bus rides and they expose students to an amazing world-class performance space that is right in their own neighbourhood. Today the two fourth grade classes at Wiley got to go to the Krannert Center for the second time this school year, this time to attend the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra‘s youth concert. When we arrived, a student noticed a bus from Effingham and wondered aloud why someone would come so far. I explained that not every community has a place like the Krannert Center and reminded the students who were listening how fortunate we are to have a space so close and so accessible. (I said this then and write this now while still acknowledging that ticket prices for general admission are often well beyond what my students’ families can afford, especially if they want to take the whole family. This is something that I wish the Krannert Center Board of Directors would consider changing.)

During today’s performance, the students not only got to listen to movements from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, movements from Georges Brizet’s Carmen Overture, and a complete piece by CUSO’s current Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop, but they also got to learn about music composition and orchestration as Music Director Stephen Alltop explained concepts such as melody, colour (or timbre), and harmony.

Later in the afternoon, I had my students write letters to the C-U Symphony Orchestra, thanking them for the performance and sharing their favourite parts. I was impressed with the number of students who recognised some of the melodies, the knowledge of different musical instruments, and the personal connections many made. (One student shared that she loved the Peer Gynt Suite because that is the music her mom uses to wake her up each morning.)

I was so proud of all of our fourth graders! They were a model audience, listening intently at the right times, clapping at the end of pieces, responding when asked to, and ignoring the distractions of classes around them that were not quite so well behaved. A huge shout-out to our music teacher, Mrs. V, who arranged this, and the parents who were able to come and help us out!

[NOTE: Neither video is of the C-U Symphony Orchestra, but I wanted videos with the music in case students’ parents saw this and wanted to talk to the children about the music they heard today.]

Halloween 2017

Monday was Halloween. It is absolutely my favourite real holiday of the year, even if I do greatly enjoy celebrating Australia Day (because it is my birthday) and Talk Like a Pirate Day (because it is silly and fun). We had our regular school-wide Halloween costume parade in the afternoon and classroom parties immediately following, but my students also had a pretty awesome experience in the morning that I have never been able to do with a class before.

We went with the two third grade classes and the other fourth grade class to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for a half-day workshop with the Lyric Theatre at Illinois to learn about their production of the opera Hansel and Gretel. Many of the students knew the basic story, but this experience was unique in that we weren’t watching the show or an abbreviated version of it. Instead, the students got to work with cast members to learn about some of the dances, songs, and costume design.

It was really neat learning with my students about these aspects of opera, some of which I didn’t know before. (For example, Hansel and Gretel is written so that the parts can be played by anyone, regardless of gender. So the witch can be played by a male singer and Hansel can be played by a female singer.)

It was also fun to spend time with students I don’t normally get to see. Although we had four classes going, the Krannert Center folks asked us to divide the classes into three groups. Instead of trying to mix and match all four classes, the teacher coordinating the field trip suggested that my class divide evenly among the other three classes. As a result, I was with the other fourth grade class and a third of my own students. Even though we were only together for a few hours, I noticed today that many of the other fourth graders seem much more comfortable talking to me and approaching me with concerns.

Oh, and our Halloween party was pretty great, too: lots of goodies, lots of fun costumes, lots of chances to chat with my students in a more informal setting, and a few chances to talk with parents who weren’t able to make it to parent/teacher conferences last week.

All in all, Halloween 2017 was a great success! Now to convince Congress to declare November 1 a national holiday so that students don’t have to come to school the next day when they have likely eaten too much sugar and gotten too little sleep…

Collaborative Storytelling

The other day I had the opportunity to accompany five Wiley students to the 39th annual Urbana School District Young Authors Celebration. I have written quite a bit about the Young Authors program in the past and continue to feel a great deal of gratitude that I get to work in a district that so thoroughly supports this program for our students in grade K-8.

During the celebration, we got to listen to a professional storyteller, Mama Edie, who told students that we are all storytellers: any time we come home from doing something and start off with, “Guess what?!” we are preparing to tell a story. I love telling stories. It is often the way that I introduce new topics in my classroom, whether it is fractions (talking about the time I messed up a recipe because I didn’t double the ingredients correctly), or early American history (the story of the Revolutionary War), I am always telling stories.

I also love listening to stories. My students have wonderful experiences and they rarely shy from telling them, no matter how silly or how serious they may be. I listen to podcasts as I bike to work so I can listen to the stories of other school leaders, I watch documentaries, television shows, and movies to listen to the stories others have to tell, and I surround myself with music to embrace those stories, too.

So it should be no surprise that, when given the opportunity, I find ways to let my students tell stories through their writing. Inspired by an activity I used at the Young Authors celebration yesterday, I had my students today engage in collaborative storytelling using Rory’s Story Cubes to start the stories.

Students broke up into groups of four and spread out in the room. Each group was given a sheet of paper, a pencil, and four random story cubes. Then they were given five minutes to start telling their stories. Every five minutes, they would rotate papers, read what the previous group wrote, and continue the story, using the story cubes if needed or just picking up where they left off. This provided a great way for them to tell stories together, have fun, and work on writing, all at once.

As students read each others’ stories, they began revising and editing, making corrections and clarifying confusing points. They supported one another and engaged in the writing process in a way that they don’t often do. While I won’t be able to do a writing activity like this every day, it was a great way to kick off the return of Mr. Valencic teaching writing. (My student teacher is finished on Friday and so we decided to transition back some instructional control to me today, starting with writing so that he wouldn’t start a new unit and have me finish.)

How have you engaged in collaborative storytelling? Do you find it valuable?

Springfield Tour 2017

I believe I mentioned, not too long ago, that my class somehow managed to have three field trips scheduled within a two-week period. The first was our trip to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to listen to the Youth Concert performance of Peter and the Wolf by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra.

Two days later, on Wednesday, we took our two fourth grade classes to Springfield for an extended-day trip. After gathering at the school at 7:30 am and hitting the road at 7:45, our first stop was actually an emergency bathroom break. (I guess we didn’t explain the necessity of using the restroom before we left as well as we had thought.) We quickly regrouped and made it to our first scheduled site, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, just a few minutes later than planned. The students got to explore the museum in small groups of five (thank you so much to all of the awesome parents who were able to accompany us and chaperone our groups!!!) for about an hour. I did not have a group assigned to me, which let me roam and keep an eye on all of my groups. An added benefit of this was being able to listen to fantastic conversations and observations from our students. I loved how quickly they discovered gems of information and eagerly shared them with their classmates and their adults!

Our next stop was the Capitol Complex Visitors Center, where we ate lunch at the picnic area. It was 20°C (almost 70°F), sunny, and clear: perfect weather for an outdoor luncheon! Once we finished eating, we walked the block or so to the Illinois State Capitol and had a guided tour of that beautiful building! The students got to walk all the way to the fourth floor, sit in the gallery seats of the House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate, see the Governor’s Reception Area, admire the ornate rotunda dome, and learn about the original Supreme Court room.

Our last stop for the day was the Illinois State Museum. Once again students got to explore in their small groups, learning about the geological history of our state and some of the early peoples who lived here before European settlers came through. We only had about half an hour, but it was a great way to wrap up a very long day!

As soon as we got back home, students were sent to either walk home or meet their parents, ready for a four-day weekend! (Teachers had inservice meetings on Thursday, so we only got a three-day weekend.)

I love bringing my students to Springfield! It was so awesome to see the learn together, explore together, and discover together. We will come back to Illinois history after we complete a unit on Westward expansion, and then finish out the year’s social studies inquiry learning about the history of our small urban community here in East Central Illinois!

Field Trip: Youth Concert

Way back at the start of the year, my fourth grade partner and I had arranged for our class to have two field trips in April: one to Springfield right before our Spring Holiday and one to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the end of the month to celebrate the end of PARCC testing. Several weeks ago, our awesome music teacher let us know that she was able to secure tickets for our classes to go to the Krannert Center for the Youth Concert, which happened to be scheduled for April 10. That meant that our three April trips would be on the tenth, twelfth, and twenty-first.

Today was the first of the trips. We got to spend a part of the morning at the Krannert Center listening to a performance by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra of Peter and the Wolf. It was exciting to bring our students to Krannert to see a very different kind of performance from the one we saw back at the start of the year. We talked to the students ahead of time about how to engage with a symphony orchestra performance: quiet and listening, applauding at the end of each piece.

(Obviously, the YouTube video isn’t the performance we saw today, but I wanted to share a video so that students could talk about and share what they saw and heard.)

I wish I could say that everything went flawlessly for my students, but the reality is that some of them have never been to a performance like this before and are still learning how to respond appropriately to such settings. There were many conversation afterwards about it and I hope that my students will find the opportunity to attend the symphony again at some point. I also hope that they will learn from this experience!

Thank you to the symphony members and the Krannert staff for providing such a great learning opportunity and being patient with the hundreds of students who were attending their performance this morning!

KAM-BAM 2017

[NOTE: I started this post several weeks ago. but couldn’t get the photos to load and kept forgetting to finish. Sorry!]

When I first started teaching at Wiley Elementary School, I heard about a program the fifth graders got to participate in called KAM-WAM. Both fifth grade classes spent an entire week at the Krannert Art Museum on the University of Illinois campus, learning about and creating art. I admit it: I was jealous. The second year I was teaching, I continued to be jealous of this and wished that fourth graders could do something similar. During my third year, though, we finally got to do something with the Krannert Art Museum, too!

It wasn’t a week at the museum, but it was still awesome. We got to spend half a day at the museum. The students loved the experience and many of them excitedly brought their families back, many for the first time. The in 2015 we got to expand the program to a full day and KAM-BAM was born.


Wiley fourth graders recently participated in our third full day KAM-BAM with the art museum educators. We divided students into four groups and, after a brief overview of the day, the groups separated and spent the morning exploring, examining, and the discussing art in different exhibits throughout the art museum.




Following lunch in a classroom in the nearby Art and Design building, groups spent the afternoon creating artwork that was inspired by the exhibits they saw. One group repurposed materials to design drinking vessels of the future. Another group designed an exhibit to display items from the exhibit of decorative art. A third group created hidden messages in their artwork. The fourth group created fantastic creatures and told stories about their creatures.








We wrapped up the day by coming together as a large group and sharing with one another. It was an awesome day of art and discussion that gave students the opportunity to do things that they wouldn’t normally do. I left the Krannert Art Museum once again filled with awe at the amazing resources in our community and I hope that many, if not all, of our students will take advantage of these museums and performance spaces!





Field Trip: Black Violin

I love data. Really, I do. I find it incredibly valuable to look at data and interpret the story of what the numbers and facts represent. Data tell us so much about what a student is doing at a specific time, what is happening in a room or a school, and how students, teachers, administrators, and families are operating as a system. I love digging in deep and sifting through the massive amounts of collected data to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

A big component of data these days comes from standardised testing. There are many who thumb their noses at such assessments, rightfully arguing that not all students learn the same way or at the same rate, therefore testing them all the same way does not accurately tell us the whole picture. And I agree, especially with that last part: standardised tests should never be used to determine the whole picture. However, they do give us useful data about part of the picture and we can use that part of the picture to understand how some of the other components are working. Data drives instructional decisions and help us know what we need to do to help our students be successful.

But there are some things in a school setting that can’t be measured by hard data. There are some things that simply cannot be adequately measured, categorised, and tagged. I got a brief glimpse of this today as I went with my class, along with the other fourth grade class and both fifth grade classes, to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to see and listen to a performance of by Black Violin. This performance was a part of the Krannert Center’s amazing Youth Series, which allows young people the opportunity to watch fantastic performances in a world-class facility for a very low cost. Black Violin, for those who have never heard of them, here’s a video that provides a great explanation of what they do:

For about an hour, our students got to listen to a performance that energised and excited them. I saw students standing up, clapping, singing along, cheering, and full of a pure joy that will never be captured by a standardised test.img_4929

And that’s okay. In fact, that is more than okay. It is wonderful! The thing I love most about taking my students to Youth Series performances is that I am able to see a completely different side to my students than I will never get to see in the classroom. The message that Kev and Wil shared is that we should be willing to break out of our boxes, defy stereotypes, and do the unexpected. Watching these two guys on the stage with their violins, playing a synthesis of classical music and hip-hop, is all about breaking stereotypes!


Thank you, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Black Violin, for making it possible!

Book Review: The Sixty-Eight Rooms

When I first started teaching at Wiley, I heard about an off-campus learning experience that our fifth graders got to do called KAM-WAM. This was an opportunity for the students to spend a week at the Krannert Art Museum, learning about art and history and literature and movement and light and so many other things. As part of this project, most of the students would be reading the book Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett, Some of the students would read a similar book by Marianne Malone called The Sixty-Eight Rooms. This latter book floated in the background of my mind for several years until last year when I met the author at the Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington. Hearing her talk about the book and some of the processes involved in writing it piqued my interest and I purchased a copy (which I also got autographed, of course).


As with so many other books, this went on my To Be Read pile by my bed but then stayed there for months as new books went on top and other obligations got in the way. I finally read it this summer and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. This is the first in a series of books that incorporate a theme of magic in modern days along with interesting art history.

What I found most intriguing in this story was the incorporation of the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have only been to the Art Institute once in my entire life but now I very much want to go again so I can visit the exhibit and share in the wonder of the miniature rooms that Mrs. James Ward Thorne created to represent, on a scale of one inch to one foot, everyday life from Europe and America.

The characters from this story are equally compelling and I found myself wanting to cheer when they solved a problem, hug them when challenges were overcome, and laugh when they shared secret jokes that, as a reader, I was in on.

If I ever have the opportunity to bring a class to the Art Institute of Chicago, I will make sure that they have read this book first and come to the exhibit prepared to question, to wonder, and to observe. And if I am unable to bring my students to the Art Institute, I would find a way to bring the Art Institute to them!

Shedd Aquarium and the Lake Guardian

Some readers may recall that I had the unique opportunity to participate in a summer workshop about the EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian on Lake Ontario three years ago. Part of this workshop included a commitment from me to include Great Lakes literacy in my teaching. I have done so and continue to be amazed at the depth of knowledge my students gain as they learn about the role of the Great Lakes in our lives and in the health of our world.

Several weeks ago I received an email from the Community Outreach Specialist with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant who helped organize the workshop. She informed a group of us that the Lake Guardian would be docking at Chicago’s Navy Pier for a week at the end of May and wanted to know if anyone would be interested in taking their students on a guided tour. I asked my principal what she thought about it and she agreed that it would be an awesome opportunity if we could find a way to cover the travel expenses. After several emails back and forth, funding was secured and we were able to schedule a trip to Chicago for Thursday, May 19 (yesterday). In addition to touring the ship, we were able to arrange a visit to the John G. Shedd Aquarium. (Side note: despite being a lifelong resident of Illinois, I had never before visited the Shedd!) The last task was to secure chaperones.

I had initially planned on nine adults to accompany my class, in addition to myself. Parental interest was so high, however, that I was able to secure extra tickets. We ended up with sixteen adults in all! This allowed for very small groups of students, much more freedom for students to explore the Shedd, and the hands-down quietest bus ride I have ever experienced in all my years of teaching. (more…)

KAM-BAM 2016

I’ve mentioned quite frequently the amazing resources we have in our community as a result of having both a world-class university and a top-tier community college right here in our backyards: the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Spurlock Museum, the Staerkel Planetarium, the Pollinatarium, the Arboretum, and the Krannert Art Museum, in addition to many others. (more…)

Mayhem Poets

The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts has an amazing Youth Series that they do every school year. They provide discounted tickets for students to attend abbreviated shows in their world-class theatres to bring the arts alive. In the past, students from my school have seen plays, musicals, concerts, and dance performances. Today we had an opportunity to see something new: spoken word.

The performance was by a trio called The Mayhem Poets. The performance included inspirational messages, stories from their own lives, calls for imagination, and audience participation. They made us laugh, they made us cheer, and they made us think.

They also inspired several of our fourth graders to think more deeply about different art forms, including poetry, hip hop, and rap (which I learned many consider to be an acronym for rhythm and poetry). I am hoping to see these students explore these art forms and consider ways that they can use them to share messages they consider to be important to others.

While I had a few students who were not the greatest audience members I will readily admit that, by and large, my class behaved quite well throughout the performance. They knew when to participate and make some noise and they knew when to sit quietly and listen. It isn’t often that 9- and 10-year-old children get to go to a performance space such as the Krannert Center so I am always delighted when the opportunity arises. Also, this was a good preview for our next Krannert trip in April. I definitely know which things I need to go over with my class to help them be even more successful visitors and audience members!


Springfield Trip 2015

My first year at Wiley, we talked about doing a field trip to Springfield, but it never materialised.

My second year at Wiley, I was determined to make sure it happened, so I took charge of planning, scheduling, and organising. I decided to shoot for right after Spring Break. We had an awesome trip visiting the Illinois State Capitol, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, and the Illinois State Museum. (We had scheduled the Old State Capitol but ran out of time and had to skip it.) The only downside was that we had planned to each lunch outside at a picnic area and the temperature was in the fifties and it was rainy. But we survived!

My third year at Wiley, I was teaching with someone new (again) and knew that I would have to take charge (again) to get the trip done. Based on the suggestions of many colleagues, we visited the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We planned this trip to be right after Spring Break (again). All was well except for one issue: it was cold and rainy (again).

This is my fourth year at Wiley. I am once again teaching with someone new and once again took charge of planning. I was hoping to avoid some of the problems of the past by planning the trip to be in early May instead of April. I submitted five different dates to the Springfield Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The last date I request was April 1 (right after Spring Break).

And, of course, that was the date we got. I also planned for the same three locations we went to last year: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Illinois State Museum. So even though we were going to the same places during the same time of year, one thing was different: it was sunny and warm today! (more…)


I love the many amazing community resources we have here in the Champaign-Urbana area! My students have been able to see an opera at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and we have had visitors to come in to present to our class. Today we got to experience yet another wonderful event: KAM BAM. (more…)

Field Trip: The Magic Flute

One of the amazing benefits of living and teaching in the Champaign-Urbana area (or Urbana-Champaign or Chambana or, as I prefer to call it, Chambanavoy, because Savoy is just as much as part of the wider community as the two bigger cities) is our access to amazing cultural arts that people and especially students in other areas might not get to experience. Even growing up near Peoria, Illinois, I recall going to the Peoria Civic Center in grade school once to see a stage production of The Velveteen Rabbit. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started going to broadway musicals, the symphony, the orchestra, and to performances of choral groups. And even though the opportunities were there, the first ballet I ever attended was just a couple of years ago when I went with a group of friends to see The Nutcracker and the first opera was about the same time. I don’t even remember the name of the show; I just remember that we all heard it was going on, the tickets for students were reasonably priced, and we thought it would be fun to dress up in fancy clothes and go to an opera performed in a language none of us spoke (probably Italian).

And yet today my students, who are almost all nine-years-olds (with just a couple of exceptions), got to go to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to see a South African adaptation of Mozart’s classic opera, The Magic Flute. (The show was Impempe Yomlingo performed by ISANGO Ensemble.) The opportunity was developed by scheming by my new fourth grade partner, our building instructional coach, and the education outreach guy handsome engagement director from Krannert who has worked closely with our building for several years.

To prep for this trip, we read two different adaptations of the story, discussed the main characters and the plot, and read about the performing group’s history and the history of how Mozart’s opera came about. Personally, I think it is pretty cool that I have a class of fourth grade students who can tell you that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed The Magic Flute (actually Die Zauberflöte) while in Salzburg, Austria, in 1791 at the request of his friend who ran a theatre in Vienna.

I was so proud of my students while they were in the auditorium for the production!  They were respectful of others, they showed that they know how to sit properly in auditorium seats (nobody was climbing on chairs or bouncing up and down on them), and they were a captive audience! This was our first outing as both a class and as a fourth grade and things went very, very well! I am very appreciative of the support staff who came along (as well as our principal) to help out! I am also grateful to my colleagues for organizing this trip. We are going to use it as a springboard for a future arts infusion project that is still in development that I think students and families are going to love! But even if this was just a stand-alone event, I am so grateful to be in a community where young children have access to other cultures and other styles of entertainment that they may not otherwise get to experience at such a young age!

DoCha Concert

We have had a lot of field trips over the past couple of weeks! It seems like every couple of days were learned about a new opportunity for our students that would not cost them any money and would expose them to things in the community that they and their families may not have known about. I know I certainly didn’t know about some of these wonderful things! The Downtown Champaign Chamber Music ensemble (usually known as just DoCha) is one such thing.

According to their website, DoCha “is a collaborative effort among University of Illinois faculty, students, community members and friends under the artistic coordination of a world renowned violinist and UIUC School of Music Professor Stefan Milenkovich to experiment with new and fun ways to present chamber music.” Chamber music is a style of classical performance that involves a small group of musicians creating music together. As the name indicates, the idea was that they would be able to fit within a chamber, or a small room, of a palace. This is quite different from a full orchestra or symphony ensemble that takes up a very large space!

We got to take the 3rd and 4th grade students at Wiley to the DoCha performance at the Orpheum Children’s Museum this morning. The performers shared a variety of classical music pieces demonstrating the different categories, such as baroque, classical, romantic, and contemporary. Between numbers, they explained the differences in the styles:

  • The baroque era is known for its elaborate, ornate buildings, paintings, clothing, and, of course, music
  • The classical era was inspired by the ancient Greeks and Romans and is noted for its clean, clear imagery
  • The romantic period is not so much about what we think of romance today (lovey-dovey stuff), but rather deep, passionate emotions
  • Contemporary classical is a modern application of some of these older styles

At the end of the performance, students were invited to ask questions about the music, composition, and performance. Then they made their own musical instruments taking plastic eggs and filling them with random objects like beads, pins, keys, and rubber bands. After taping them shut, they were able to shake them and see how the different combinations of items created different sounds.

It was a very enjoyable performance overall! The DoCha 2014 Festival is going on this weekend! All events are free of charge and take place at the Orpheum. I would strongly encourage everyone to check out the festival schedule and see if there is a performance that they can attend with their families!

Springfield Trip 2014

The fourth grade students of Wiley Elementary School went to Springfield today to visit the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. This is the second year that I have taken the lead in planning, scheduling, and carrying out this trip. I definitely felt much more confident about what I was doing than I did last year, which was my first time going on a field trip to Springfield since I had been in fourth grade way back in 1993! This trip has been used to kick off our social studies unit on Illinois history, and it was fantastic!

We gathered the students early in the morning, with plans to leave the building by 7:45 am. We actually ended up leaving closer to 8:00 am, but since the bus ride was only an hour and forty-five minutes (due largely to not having any unplanned stops), we were able to get to the Illinois State Museum in time. The students got together in groups of six and, along with their chaperones, were given about an hour to explore the museum, learning about our state’s natural history and the peoples who have lived here over the course of several millennia. I got to travel around from group to group, listening as students eagerly shared what they were learning, pointing out interesting features in exhibits, and grabbing their chaperones’ hands to drag them to the next exhibit!

Visiting a museum such as this was a first for many of our students. We have been to art museums, and some have been to the Spurlock Museum on the University of Illinois campus, but both of those museums are much smaller than the Illinois State Museum. I overheard several students talking about wanting to bring their families to the museum later so that they could see more and share what they had learned in person!

Next we headed to the Illinois State Capitol, where we had a guided tour of the building where our state’s government operates. We got to view the astonishing rotunda, enter the Senate and House chambers, and sit in the old Supreme Court room (now used for Senate committee hearings). We learned that the Capitol cost 4.5 million dollars to build in the late 1800s, and someone was able to use Google on their phone to determine that such a project today would cost over 1 billion dollars today!

Lunch was held in the picnic area of the State Capital Visitors’ Complex. It was a chilly, blustery afternoon, but we were able to eat our lunches quickly and get on the bus to head to our third and final stop of the day: the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. We did not make this a stop last year, and my last trip to Springfield when I was in fourth grade included a visit to President Lincoln’s Springfield home which was, as far as I can recall, the site of the museum and library at the time. The new facility is quite modern and has an amazing assortment of exhibits that help visitors learn more about the life and presidency of our 16th president. One interesting fact I learned was that there have been more books written about Abraham Lincoln than any other person to ever live, except for maybe Jesus Christ! (At least, according to several Lincoln scholars. I did some quick online research and learned there are approximately 15,000 books about Lincoln!)

As with the state museum, the students explored with their chaperones, viewing a multitude of exhibiting and learning more about Lincoln. The museum policy prohibits the use of photography, though, so I didn’t get to capture photos of the students there. I traveled with a group of five students whose chaperone was needed elsewhere for a time, which actually turned out to be quite fun as I have not had an opportunity to get to know them very well. (They are in the other classroom.) We have about two and a half hours in the Lincoln museum and then it was time to head home.

We had a wonderful day at the museum! I took several pictures but my iPad needs to be recharged and the cord is at the school. Come back and check later over the weekend, though, and I will hopefully have pictures posted!

Young Authors Celebration

As the building coordinator for the Illinois Young Authors competition, I have the privilege of promoting this writing contest, recruiting a panel of judges, and reading a wide variety of amazing stories written by students at my school. We had seventeen submissions this year, but I could only select five of them to participate in our district celebration. Of those five, one was selected as the overall building winner, who will get the opportunity to attend the Illinois Young Authors Conference in May. (more…)


For several years now, fifth grade students at Wiley have had the opportunity to spend an entire week of school at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign. The museum, affiliated with the University of Illinois, has an impressive collection of artwork and some amazing educators who are passionate about sharing art with students. This event, known as KAM-WAM, has been the envy of younger students. As I have watched my former students move up and participate, I, too, have felt envy that they had this remarkable experience. I love museums, I love art, and, no surprise, I love art museums!

So it was with quite a large amount of excitement that I learned last year that the fourth graders would get to pilot a sister program. Instead of spending a whole week at the museum, they would get to spend just one day, but it would still be the entire day. A team was assembled and we started planning over the summer and then met a few times over the course of this year, determining the format, the schedule, and the purpose. A date was selected, permission slips sent home, and finally the day, today, arrived. Noting that the day would be quick but powerful, it was decided that this shorter event would be known as KAM BAM.


Even though it was bitterly cold outside, we loaded our 45 fourth graders (three were absent today) onto the bus shortly after school started and headed over to the art museum. After a brief introduction and reminder of museum rules and policies, the students split into their four groups and went on a scavenger hunt around the museum for the morning, learning about the different galleries. Students got to view art from around the world, including eastern Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, Africa, South America, and even contemporary North America. They learned, they examined, they discussed, and they shared prior knowledge about cultures and art.



The afternoon was spent in four different groupings, participating in creation stations around the museum. I didn’t get to visit all of the stations, as I wanted to create alongside my group, but some of the art that students created included sculptures made with aluminum foil and tape, designer hats made with paper, eight-page graphic novel mini-books, storyboarding with statues as the inspiration.



The entire day went by so quickly I could hardly believe it was actually over! There were times in the museum that I felt particularly nervous, especially when we visited the gallery for the Mandala Flea Market Mutants, which has several fragile pieces on display in a relatively small space. However, our fourth graders proved once again that I had no cause to worry. They were safe, respectful, and responsible the whole time they were in the art museum. After returning to school, I informally polled my class and learned that many had a wonderful time and are planning on returning to the museum with their families to show the exhibits they saw and visit other galleries. A huge shout-out of gratitude to all the folks at the Krannert Art Museum, the Urbana School District #116 fine arts program, and my colleagues here at Wiley for helping to make this such a memorable experience!


After our fantastic field trip to watch an Illinois Women’s Volleyball game on Friday, I decided I wanted to take advantage of the volleyballs we have in our P.E. supplies and have my students work on learning how to pass the ball from one person to another. The other fourth grade class has been doing volleyball for the past couple of weeks. (Their teacher is, or was, the UMS volleyball coach). I would love to have them play an actual volleyball game, but the system for setting up the volleyball net is complicated and would take up too much of our time.

We started our volleyball unit today. After the students did their five-minute warm-ups, I had them line up and then randomly assigned groups by handing each student a playing card. Then they formed groups according to suits. It is a great way to group students randomly!

For about half an hour, students passed the volleyballs within their groups of five or six. Because this was our first time, they dropped the ball far more often than they successfully passed it to another, but they kept trying the whole time. As they practiced, I circulated the gym and offered tips and advice, using the Illinois game as a reference point. For example, when I saw some students staying in one place and having the ball fall to the ground near them, I pointed out that the Illinois and Arizona State volleyball players were constantly moving around the court, going to the ball. One of the best parts of this activity was that all of the students were participating and taking my advice to heart, actually trying to move around more and keep the ball going.

We will continue volleyball for a couple of weeks and then we will move on to something else, but I am excited to see how my students grow in their skills!


(By the way, I finally got the photos for my previous post uploaded!)

Illinois Women’s Volleyball

A few weeks ago, my fourth grade partner and I were asked if we’d be interested in taking our classes to a University of Illinois Women’s Volleyball game against Arizona State University. We of course said yes and started making plans for our first field trip of the year.

We boarded the bus this morning at 9:15 and made the short trip to Huff Hall on the U of I campus. Eight of our students were chosen to be the ball kids for the match. The rest had prime seats for watching the five sets that were to be played.

We were sitting across from the Orange Krush student cheering section and joined in several chants of I-L-L I-N-I. We also got to see some of the fun dances they do during games.

ASU won the first set, U of I the next two, then ASU won the fourth. The final set was a game of 15 with a 2-point lead, and the score near the end was 15-15. Illinois scored two more points to win the game.

The game went almost an hour longer than anticipated, so lunch was late and while there were a few students who complained, most of them were real troopers, cheering on the Illini until the very end! When we got back to school, we grabbed our lunches and picnicked outside behind the building.

It was a great trip. There are some things I have learned so that our next field trip (whatever and whenever that is) will be even better! Oh, and huge thank-you to the two parents who asked if we needed chaperones to help. We hasn’t planned on it initially, but it seemed like a good idea and turned out to be much appreciated. They helped with bathroom and drink breaks and helped us keep tabs on 45 fourth graders!

[NOTE: I have pictures but I’m writing this on my phone so I’ll get them uploaded later this evening!]







Another Year Gone By

It almost seems unreal that school is over. It seems like just a few weeks ago that it was August and my students were entering my classroom for the first time. We have accomplished so much this year! I told my students back on that first day that fourth grade would be the hardest, most challenging year of their lives. For the first four years of school, their main goal was to learn the answer to “what” questions. Then comes fourth grade, when we start to ask the deeper questions of “how” and “why” (as well as “what,” “when,” and “where,” of course). We talked about metacognition and the idea of learning how we learn so that we can learn without anyone telling us what to learn.

We read this year. My goodness, did we read! Stories in our basal reader, read alouds, reading groups, nonfiction books for social studies and science, our own writing, our classmates’ writing, the writing of other students in the building… The list goes on! As a school community, we set a goal to read 1,000,000 minutes this year. Not only did we exceed our goal, but we have received very positive attention, including from the marketing people with Scholastic Books Fairs! (Wow!) My class contributed a total of 296,801 of those minutes! Double wow!

We researched. The students learned about the lifestyles, habitats, and life cycles of different animals. They became masters of the European explorers who expanded the world’s view of itself, and they taught one another about the American colonies. We learned about electricity, magnetism, weather, the water cycle, force, and motion. We discussed Illinois history and had an incredibly successful field trip to our state’s capital, where were visited the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Capitol, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office.

We mastered multidigit arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division! We learned all of the multiplication facts from 0-12 and explored the relationships that exist among the different operations. We studied geometry, measurement, and data analysis. We learned fractions and remembered that, when adding or subtracting fractions with like denominators, the denominator does not change! We learned equivalency, comparison, and ordering. We explored greatest common factors, least common multiples, and the ways we can use both concepts when working with fractions. We also learned decimal notation.

We played. We had recesses and P.E. and had opportunities to run around, develop our locomotor skills, and learn to have fun while staying safe, respectful, and responsible. The students beat the teachers in kickball for the first time in three years! We developed our cognitive skills through games that challenged our thinking and spatial reasoning.

We grew. As a class and as individuals, my fourth graders reminded me that they come into fourth grade as young children and leave older, wiser, and more prepared. We learned to ignore people who annoy us, to recognise that the world around us is a place that is as diverse as it is big. We learned to welcome new friends and say farewell to old ones. We got a glimpse of the future as we watched the fifth graders participate in KAM:WAM and the musical. We set goals, reached goals, and set new goals. We stretched ourselves and learned that we could do much more than we thought.

It has been a great year! It has had its share of frustrations and setbacks, but as I look back, I choose to focus on the positive. I am sure that I will see some of my now-former students around this summer. I will be teaching a class on building bridges as part of our district’s STEM Enrichment Camp. I’ll also be attending several conferences and workshops: The Chancellor’s Academy with the University of Illinois, the Lake Guardian research cruise on Lake Ontario with the New York and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grants, and the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute. But I’ll be around town, too. If you see me, please say hello and let me know what you are reading!

Have a fantastic summer! Come back and visit my blog periodically. I’ll be updating over the summer to share what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been doing to further my own professional development. I would love to know what you are doing, too!

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

One of the most amazing resources we have in our community is the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Illinois campus. My students were able to go to a few performances at the Krannert Center last year, but we haven’t had as many opportunities to go to the Krannert Center this year, but we’ve been fortunate to have guests from the Center come to Wiley.

A few weeks before we started ISAT testing, I was chatting with the engagement director from Krannert and mentioned that the fourth grade was interested in a part-day field trip to Krannert to maybe see a show or something. He brought it up with me a few times over the past couple of months, but we never planned anything out specifically. (more…)

Last Exit to Springfield

Today was a fantastic, amazing, wonderful, little-bit-chilly, little-bit-windy, little-bit-rainy, awesome, incredible day for the fourth graders at Wiley Elementary School!

Why was this day so fabulous? Because I, along with four other teachers and five wonderful room mothers, took 47 of our 50 students on an all-day field trip to Springfield, Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to expand students understanding of Illinois history (both natural and geopolitical) and to allow them to visit places they may not normally have the opportunity to visit.

Our day started at 7:30 am, when the students arrived at school half an hour earlier than usual and gathered in the gym to prepare for our trip. By 7:45, we were all ready and headed to the  bus. Then we hit the road for the two-hour trip to Springfield! (more…)

We Haz Jazz!

One of the worst-kept secrets at Wiley Elementary School is our fine arts program. Everyone in the community seems to know about it, and the amazing things that happen with our students and the fine arts teachers. Whether it is the Week at the Museum with the Krannert Art Museum, special trips to the Krannert Center for Performing Arts to see Tales of the Pacific Rim or the Spirit of Uganda, special in-school musical celebrations for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, beginning band and strings concerts, visits from the middle school band, strings, and choirs, or visiting professional musicians, or just the day-to-day fine arts experiences the students have with visual arts, dance, drama, and music, our students are immersed in the arts and we are proud of it.

Each year, the fine arts teachers work together with the students to present a musical at the end of the year. If I understand correctly, this used to involve all of the intermediate grades, but it has been changed to just the fifth grade fairly recently. But even though it doesn’t directly affect the students in my class, it is something that we hear about, learn about, and have looked forward to for several weeks. I have had a rather minor role in this, too. I helped out after school with making sure the set was straight and ready, donated cardboard boxes that were piling up in one of my closets to be used for said set, and supervised the fifth grade boys as they got ready for the performance of the musical this afternoon.

The fine arts program this year has put a fairly big emphasis on jazz music and how it has impacted American culture throughout the years. So it is no surprise that the musical this year was also about jazz. The show, We Haz Jazz, is an elementary-level musical presentation that takes the audience through the history of jazz music, starting with the music of African slaves in the south and moving up to the time of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Thelonious Monk.

My students had been asking me about the musical all day and were very excited as we entered the darkened gymnasium and took their seats as jazz played softly in the background. The fifth graders, most of whom I don’t really know, did a great job. The fine arts teachers did an amazing job teaching the music, the dances, and creating the set. This was an awesome way to cap our penultimate day of straight instruction! Tomorrow is the last day of instruction, and then we will spend Monday and Tuesday celebrating our accomplishments, sharing our successes, reflecting on the year, and closing our time together as a class before we come back on Wednesday for an hour. And then we are done! Crazy!