IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Remote Learning in 3-2-1…Go!

It’s hard to remember what life felt like a month ago, interacting face-to-face 5 days a week with my students and teammates. And here we are now, “enjoying spring break”…AKA making final preparations for a totally different way of doing school that will all begin next week. Education across the world is seeing some temporary yet significant shifts (and who knows what the long-term impacts on education will be). Shifts toward virtual/online options for “doing life” – education related or non –  have been happening for years, and we are so lucky to live during time when we have all of these digital options. But in the last month across our state, country, and world, things have reached a new level of “remote.”

In education, when the governor of the state you live in says that schools are going to shift to remote learning during this time of school closures, that is indeed what the schools of that state will do. One day at a time, teachers have been getting new bits of clarity on what this remote learning will look like and what our district’s expectations for this state-promised remote learning are. And each day therefore has become more overwhelming, not just for educators, but for our families too. There isn’t physically enough time to work out the kinks that impact both teachers and families prior to the start of remote learning: access to devices for students, access to internet for students, building a remote learning plan that fits the needs of everyone involved, planning new ways of teaching content, creating virtual instruction, creating assignments and options for submitting them, informing students and families of all the expectations, and assisting families as they too prepare and connect to our virtual classrooms.

Then you add the element of Kindergarten to the whole situation: how will such a young group of learners be able to independently access, create, and submit work for remote learning? IMG_6814The Kindergarten grade level has rigorous curriculum standards, so just telling the kids to have some playtime or build something creative or paint something they like for every assignment would unfortunately be failing to meet the expectations of the grade level (not that we don’t try to integrate those types of play-based activities into the curriculum any chance we get). But just as high schoolers on the Common Core will follow a remote learning schedule, receive virtual CORE instruction, and submit assignments digitally, so will Kindergartners. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on the parents and guardians of Kindergarten and elementary-aged students right now. And then imagine the pressure on parents, particularly working parents, with MULTIPLE children of this age group.

My team and I, among many other educators right now, are in an entire realm of unknown. Yes, the WCPSS district is emphasizing grace, grace right now for all the educators and families who are traveling through this uncharted territory. But giving grace does not mean that this isn’t all starting on April 13th. So being aware of the inequities, impossibilities, and uncertainties embedded in the remote learning we are heading for next week, here is how my Kindergarten team is navigating it all:

1. Make a teacher space within our homes. IMG_7069Here is what was previously my kitchen table, but now serves as my classroom! All I need is an iPad, iPad stand, whiteboard/marker/eraser, and my laptop/its resources to make this happen! Oh, and some pasta shells that I used as my math manipulatives to video a lesson on adding. But that’s it! Which just further shows that the most important part of learning is what is not pictured here……the teachers and the students!

2. Connect with families and listen to their needs and concerns. Our team called each of our families to check on them and find out about their device and internet needs prior to even knowing anything about what remote learning would look like. We gave them a chance to voice concerns they had health-wise as well as with remote learning. Their concerns helped shape our understanding of the impact that learning at home will have on their lives, and gave us insight we needed before jumping into all the planning.

3. Get ready for a whole lotta Google Meets together. IMG_7058

The Google Meet seen above was from last week and lasted almost 4 hours…it takes so much planning to make decisions about how and what to teach and create in this new school “environment,” while also taking into account how families will receive and be impacted by whatever decisions we make. You may notice the blurry picture quality, due to poor/shared internet connections at home. You might also see that the Google Meet screenshot pictured says that “Lisa Baildon left the meeting,” while she is also there at the top of the screen- we’ve only had a few of these little “technical difficulties” (and lots of laughs about them) so far.

4. Make a hyperlinked schedule that outlines weekly expectations with as much flexibility as possible.
Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 1.05.39 PMWe created a hyperlinked schedule, which has become both how we plan/embed instruction and assignments, as well as how students will access the learning. Our schedule incorporates a lot of flexibility. We’ve given recommended time blocks for different subjects, but not a time of the day it must be done. We plan to share the schedule of instruction and assignments a week at a time so that families can have access to 5 days at a time and see what lies ahead. Assignments are not due on the day they are given, but the following week. We hold daily office hours, as well as flexible Fridays, to connect with students and answer questions students and families have.

5. Create a letter for parents, with embedded videos, outlining what to expect and how to access the learning. This letter to families from our team explains how to access online learning, what to expect, and as much as we know about how it will all work. Parents are receiving this letter over a week prior to the start of online learning, so that we have time to answer their questions and get everyone prepared for a successful start.

6. Give choice in how to complete and submit assignments, and not ALL tasks are digital. We created a box at the bottom of the hyperlinked schedule that gives options for submitting work. Students might type a document, hand-write a writing piece and take a photo of it, or video themselves presenting the content on any given assignment! We’ve also given them multiple online platform options to access and submit work so that they and their parents can do it the way that they are comfortable. Printing materials is an option for some student assignments, but never a requirement. And most importantly, not every assignment involves learning and working on a digital device. While tasks have to be accessed digitally, not all work has to be completed digitally. It was important to parents to have a balance of learning with and without technology.

7. Get feedback using a Google Form to see how things went and what changes we could potentially make for improvement.

Screen Shot 2020-04-09 at 10.40.34 AMWe will share this Google Form with families after week one. Thanks to our Literacy Coach, Dan Gridley, for this idea! This will allow us to continue gaining feedback to improve what, in some ways, feels like a brand new practice!


These are stressful times, but I’m so thankful to take this on in collaboration with an incredible, supportive team and in partnership with amazing school community and families! We whole-heartedly support our families through this change in education and understand that they will each complete and prioritize online learning differently. People don’t always think about the role parents must play in order for young children to take part in remote learning- parents deserve major recognition during this time for any efforts they are able to put forward to support their children’s learning while schools are closed. We are ready to give this our best try, and hope to be back together, face-to-face with each other and with our students again soon!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

#kindersCAN Embrace Failure, and So Can We!

You know it’s been a while away from the blog when this post has been sitting in your drafts for months and it features only pictures of last year’s students! It’s been quiet on here for a while, not because I haven’t been “Learning with the Littles,” but because I have not been as intentional as I’d like in terms of reflecting on that learning. I figured now is a better time than ever to stop neglecting the important process of teacher reflection and resume/finally share this post that sheds light on where I am right now in my journey!

Not so recently, I highlighted the imperfections of a typical day in Kindergarten, both to reflect the reality of a day in the life, and to begin bringing new meaning to the word failure. That post can be found here. Growing up, failure was something I avoided at ALL costs. Granted, it has never stopped me from trying like it might have for some, but until recently, failure has never been something I’ve embraced.  For a long time, I even struggled taking constructive criticism, because I felt like I had done a “bad job” or wasn’t “good.” I’m so thankful that failure never caused me to quit, but it DID affect my mindset negatively and cause me to dread any experience that could result in failure.

It breaks my heart to see how even Kindergarteners are already aware of failure, and many have developed fully negative connotations of the word. I really started to think about failure more when I read Hacking Project Based Learning. This idea stood out to me:

After reading this book, I went into the following school year ready to use the horrifying “f word”…failure…in my everyday language, but as a positive term. The Class Dojo growth mindset and perseverance videos have been the perfect outlet to integrate the word failure during morning meeting time. These videos help teach students the science behind exercising and growing our brains by doing challenging things, and how we can learn and grow from moments of failure by reflecting on our mistakes.

Our work around failure and attempt to bring the term new meaning was especially crucial in implementing my 3 Kenan Fellowship lessons during the previous school year. I created these science lessons in an attempt to bring a chemistry experience to Kindergartners. Some of the failure along the way has been on my end, and some on their end; but that is the beauty in learning alongside one another. Failure has led to learning for both them and me. Here are the 3 lessons I designed as a result of my fellowship, along with some of the fails along the way and how we responded to them:

Lesson One: Creating Adhesives and Testing Varying Force Among Samples

For this lesson, I created my own adhesive (wet glue) recipe that students would create batches of in table teams. It took lots of my own tests and tweaks for me to settle on the recipe we would implement in class. After the students learned some of the scientific vocabulary we’d be using and discovered real world examples of how adhesives impact our world, it was time for students to put my adhesive recipe into action! The day before they created, I modeled the process for them, making the wet glue and bonding different pairs of wooden craft sticks together with my own batch of adhesive just as they would do the following day.

When I came into school the next morning, NONE of my samples were bonded together anymore (*insert horrified emoji here*)!!!!!!! My mind all of a sudden went to the “worst” case scenario. I had volunteers coming today, all student ingredients pre-measured and ready, and students were SO amped up for the creation process……and what if THEY came in 24 hours after creating samples and none of THEIR samples had remained bonded?!?!?!!? In a Kindergartener’s world, that would lead to devastation and disappointment because the glue simply “didn’t work”! 

But when I thought back to what scientists do everyday, this actually seemed like a perfect comparison of failure scientists encounter daily. Even at LORD Corporation, scientists were creating failed sample after sample to get to the “just-right” creation they wanted. So I now had an example of my own failure to share with students, and one that could result in one of two learning paths that we could take as scientists:

  1. If the student samples were not bonded together the next day, I as a scientist, with the help of my students, needed to continue tweaking my adhesive recipe for us to try it again.
  2. Maybe students would have more success with their samples than I did, meaning we would need to further analyze what variables had impacted different levels of bonding among mine and theirs when we had all used the same adhesive recipe.

This was a REAL science moment, not failure as we often think of it. No matter how it ended for students, I was confident that both students and I could learn together through whatever “fails” came our way. When I shared what had happened to my samples, and that the same could happen to theirs, they were fully on board and understood that we would reflect and try again if all of our samples came apart the next day.

When testing day came, they were thrilled that most student samples stayed bonded the next day. We would determine the strength of the different tables’ wet glue batches by using a spring scale and measuring the force it took to pull the 2 bonded craft sticks apart. The whole goal was for students to see how different variables could cause different results of force, even when we all used the same adhesive recipe.

However during testing, I could still hear comments that showed me we had work to do on our mindset of failure:

  • “YES!!! Ours took more force to pull it apart! We won!”
  • “WE GOT TO 50 NEWTONS!!!!!!”
  • “Noooooo ours fell apart!!”
  • “UGH ours barely held together…only 5 Newtons to pull it apart!”

Those comments revealed a mindset that science was about winning and losing, not about learning and reflecting. It’s amazing how a learning experience is consumed by passing versus failing even in our youngest learners.

Lesson Two: 2D and 3D Wooden Structures Bonded with Varying Adhesives

See this post I mentioned earlier for a full list of imperfect moments from this particular lesson, that guided how I knew both I and my students needed to do some reflecting. It’s crazy how failure and imperfections can be embedded in such an amazing learning experience…or is it?

Lesson Three: The Culmination- Building Cargo Ships with Adhesives

Any STEM project is full of fails…and fails can easily become discouraging due to the mindset we so often maintain regarding failure. So last year, I created some unique steps to launching a product, from a combination of the engineering design process and LORD’s Stage Gate Business model. Rather than the traditional steps to create, test, and improve; I made the first of those steps “Create initial design,” in hopes that students would go ahead and expect failure, with the following step to “Test and tweak.” After my time at LORD, I saw that it’s the testing and tweaking that takes the most time, and that the initial creation hardly ever works. So when students also go into creation expecting to have to test and tweak, they aren’t as discouraged when their product doesn’t work at first.

screen-shot-2019-03-04-at-10.56.45-am-e1551715134123.pngScreen Shot 2019-03-04 at 10.56.57 AM

Before students started to create their cargo ships, I asked them to be on the lookout for fails…any little thing that went wrong, didn’t work, or needed tweaking as they designed. We would post “fails” to a failure board in the classroom after the initial creation.

IMG_3367During the creation, students definitely experienced frustrations. It was so beneficial for them to see the struggles involved in genuine, challenging learning. So often, students think learning should feel easy and they want to give up when it isn’t. Granted, there were different levels of struggle among different groups of students, based on who had more or less adult support and what materials, adhesives, and design they had decided on. But they persevered amazingly! I even caught a picture of one big fail moment – multiple open wet glue bottles, a glue spill on the foam and table, and a tipped over stool. This fail photo may look like a mess from the outside, but I felt like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, embracing chaos and craziness that previously would have sent me over the edge. It’s like I had impacted my own mindset in efforts to impact theirs. We enjoyed sharing and posting fails on our own failure board after the lesson. Students were able to laugh them off and relay them with a positive mindset.

We reflected on what was easy and hard after the project. Failure shouldn’t just stop right after the fail- it’s what we DO with failure that matters. And journal reflection is a great way to think about and learn from challenges!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo Feb 26, 1 48 18 PM

When testing time came, they took their fails with determination and perseverance…after all, we were in the “Test and Tweak” phase and there would be plenty of time to improve the ships and keep testing!


My students and I still have work to do on embracing failure, after all, we each have years of the opposite mindset in the making to counteract. I hope that in education, we can continue to bring new meaning to the word failure, because it could take decades to counteract the damage. It will also take the consistency of students hearing a common positive message about failure from year to year of their schooling. And as long as grades and testing data have such a strong emphasis, it will be hard to reverse the damage being done to the way our students think and learn, which is also the way that most of their parents were trained to think and learn in school. But for now, I will hold onto these special moments…AMAZING moments of failure, imperfection, mistakes, struggle…and hope that my students will continue to remember the learning and success that can result from these moments.

II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Behind the Scenes: Kindergarten in Real Life

No matter what you see me showcasing from my classroom and the amazing world of Kindergarten…there is a real life element that is ever-present, though you may not always see it or think of it. After all, my students have been alive for only 5 or 6 years; though that real life element still exists in classrooms of all ages. In the day-to-day routines, students are so busy stepping up to meet the immense curriculum demands, along with my own high expectations for structure and hard work, that I often forget how young they are. It’s the little imperfections that bring me back to reality and remind me how little they really are. And many of the imperfections I encounter daily as an educator aren’t even related to the students themselves! There are so many intricate pieces of the job that make being an educator highly stressful and highly demanding.

One really tough day, I found myself adding a post to Twitter about an incredible learning experience where my students had really blown me away!

After posting it, I felt a little odd, seeing as it had been an extremely difficult day. I had even spent the majority of my lunch break crying about an upsetting situation with one of my families, while my team comforted and gave me advice. Any form of social media or online post usually tends to highlight the positives, but there is also a real life element there we don’t always see. I am not a magician, and the amazing classroom experiences I showcase are never perfect.  My students and I are human, so it is important that we don’t let mistakes, chaotic moments, and imperfections discourage us. They happen in every classroom everyday…and of course beyond the classroom walls as well! It’s how we reflect on and handle those mistakes that matters.

I’m going to do something a little out of the ordinary and take the time to highlight the not so perfect moments of this particular day, the same day where I posted the above Twitter post. So here is a different view of this day – a day that included a lesson that in many ways, I considered to be a huge success! And if you manage to get through the whole school day bulleted below, you may be in for some laughs along the way…

  • You know it’s gonna be a rough day when you find yourself at Walmart at 6:30AM buying supplies you forgot you needed. It was a big day with more than usual added pressure. In the afternoon, I would be implementing one of my Kenan Fellow lessons where students would be exploring all different types of adhesives and building structures (see more about that here)! A photographer, observing visitors, and parent volunteers were coming for the lesson. It was in the middle of the night that I had made the decision to go to Walmart before school. I had woken up around 2AM realizing that I needed enough craft sticks for 20 students to rotate and build structures at 5 different stations. I was doing some crazy middle-of-the-night math…if 20 students used 10 craft sticks at each of the 5 stations, then I could need up to 1,000 craft sticks?!?!?! What if they went crazy and used more than 10 craft sticks at a table???? That was when I knew I’d be starting my day at Walmart.
    • Sidenote- it was POURING DOWN RAIN that morning….just a little added depression.
  • I pulled into school ready to get inside and get all my velcro dots cut in half and added to craft sticks, along with the many other lesson elements I needed to prepare. Right before getting out of my car I checked my parent messages, only to find a very upsetting message from a parent revealing an entire situation that needed to be handled right then and there. I had gotten to school an hour and a half early to prepare for the day, yet this situation consumed my whole morning prior to the arrival bell ringing!
  • I got through the morning alright. Then SURPRISE! Students will be eating lunch in the classrooms today. Those situations are never thrilling, particularly when the room should ideally look clean for the photographer who is coming later. It also makes my own lunch break shorter while I supervise students in the room and my assistant takes lunch buyers to the cafeteria and back. However many teachers don’t get a “duty free” lunch, so I am thankful for any lunch break I can get.
  • My team and I ate lunch in the hallway while the assistants supervised students eating in classrooms. I was late to our 30 minute lunch, as I had been supervising students with lunch boxes in the classroom and assembling all the velcro dot craft sticks I hadn’t gotten to in the morning. And as mentioned earlier, I cried through most of that lunch once I did arrive, still emotional from the student/parent situation that had come up earlier and was still not fully resolved.
  • I picked my students up from specials right before our big, exciting lesson. I gave them a little pep talk about showing self-control in the hallway all the way back to the classroom to earn our fun adhesive exploration lesson. Less than 30 seconds later, I turned around to witness a student spanking another right on the bottom, followed by a combination of laughing, yelling, and tattling.
  • Time for a fresh start, refocus, and ANOTHER pep talk on the carpet 5 minutes before visitors are scheduled to arrive. 30 seconds in and I hear the words, “I did pee pee.” I look down, and there was a puddle of pee on the classroom rug. This was the 2nd potty accident I had helped with in the classroom that day.
  • I call a custodian, and while we wait, I threw some paper towels on the spot to soak it up. The students were amazingly patient and quiet during this little mis-hap, which made me proud.
  • The lesson goes on, potty accident soaking into the carpet and all. We rearranged students to new places on the carpet, and those routine switch-ups of course set off 2 of my students. It caused them to react anxiously and impulsively throughout the entire time I gave directions during the whole group part of the lesson.
  • We were not as far into our shapes/geometry unit as I had hoped before getting to this lesson, where students would build 2D and 3D structures. Visitors watched eagerly as we reviewed the difference between 2D and 3D shapes. During this review, students basically acted like they had never heard the terms 2D or 3D, always a great feeling for a teacher! Inside I was cringing, but I tried not to let it discourage me too much…I instead looked at this lesson as an opportunity to reinforce these apparently unknown concepts, as students built flat and solid structures. If they didn’t know the terms before the lesson, hopefully they would by the end!
  • When it was time to rotate after the first center, I realized I hadn’t discussed any sort of clean-up procedures. And that was very evident as we cleaned up. Students were so excited and distracted that it was pure chaos…they were running around the room with their sticky structures, materials were spilled all over the place, and it was all I could do to get students to freeze and listen to procedures.
  • 2nd rotation in, and the custodian finally makes it down to clean the rug, which the photographer is doing a great job of avoiding in photos. The custodian starts up the carpet cleaning machine, which lets off a terrible odor and makes it so that none of us can hear one another. Students continued building their structures amidst the distractions, only a couple of students set off by the noise and change in routine.
  • When you’re trying a lesson for the first time, there is a lot of unknown and risk-taking involved. I had planned to implement some accountability into the lesson by having students carry a recording sheet with them from station to station, to record structures created and what adhesive was used. Students were so engaged in the building of structures that many recording sheets were untouched and blank at the end of the 5 rotations.

It would be easy to call it quits after this list of “fails” but that is why teaching has caused me to re-think the meaning and implications of the word failure. Sure, if I didn’t reflect on or change any of my practices after that lesson, there might be a problem; but reflection is the entire purpose embedded in failure. I have worked so hard this year to help my students accept and even appreciate failure, and I have to do the same thing with failures of my own. There are many instructional tweaks that I would make if I tried this lesson again. But here are my big takeaways from my reflection on failure itself…the failure that happened throughout this lesson, along with the fails we educators experience every day.

  1. You can’t always control what happens in the classroom, and even when you can, you don’t always facilitate each moment of the day perfectly. Instead, what’s important is how you respond to those “fails” in the moment and reflect on them for future instruction.
  2. It’s important to highlight the imperfections, as well as the awesome moments, that happen in the classroom. Not only should parents and community members be aware of the reality of education, but other teachers need to know they are not alone in these moments.
  3. The “fails” in life are what help us learn, not just in the classroom, but beyond. We should all be more honest about the imperfect parts. They often have just as much or more value.
  4. Failure is ever-present. No matter how amazing something looks on social media or however else it is displayed outwardly to the world, there were imperfect moments along the way too…in every single case.

Coming soon: more on how failure, yes failure, has become a central part of our classroom conversations, reflections, and learning.

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Collaborative Learning: Misconceptions, Misrepresentations, & What We’re Doing About It

Students and parents, raise your hand if you jump up and down when you hear the words “group work”?! If you’re raising your hand, you are not the norm. For most, phrases like “group work” or “group projects” create anxiety, dread, and resent. But why??? Collaboration as a means of 21st century learning has been a buzz word since before I started teaching 4 and a half years ago, and for great reason! Collaborative learning is an authentic replication of work in the real world, a way for students to learn from one another and experience other perspectives, a way of appealing to the interpersonal intelligence for those whose are motivated to learn with others, and so much more. Sure, collaboration is challenging…no one every said that putting a bunch of different ideas in the mix made it easier to come to an agreement. But collaborative learning should be seen as an engaging and worthwhile challenge for both those participating (students) and watching from afar (parents). I’ve noticed parents requesting more worksheets over collaborative learning, and heard of parents not choosing particular schools because of a focus on collaborative work. So why do the people being affected by collaborative learning often dislike it so much? They are the ones who should be benefiting!

In shifting from the role of a student myself to a teacher, I’ve gradually noticed a shift in my own perspective on collaboration as a means of learning. As a student, I generally didn’t care for it. As the stereotypical student overachiever, working in groups generally resulted in me attempting to micromanage the whole project as if it were my own individual project, or if that didn’t work, resulted in me stressing over whether others would follow through with their parts or negatively affect my grade. In both types of scenarios, grades were the focus and learning was stifled for me and/or other group members. Additionally, these types of activities were more about dividing the large project into smaller “sub-projects,” so each group member usually ended up working independently rather than collaboratively. But my shift to the role of teacher has opened my eyes to the value that collaboration can genuinely have on both social-emotional and content-specific learning. So what exactly are the problems students are experiencing in this dreaded type of collaborative learning, and what can we teachers do about it?

1. Teamwork vs. Collaboration

First things first, let’s be clear on the definitions of terms. Many “group projects” are not collaborative in nature, but activities requiring teamwork.

Teamwork is when everyone takes on a smaller piece of the larger project; and when each of those small pieces are put together, the larger project is complete. There is definitely a time and place for teamwork, whether students each take on a specific job in the work or complete a certain section of the work. Yes, in the real world, this is a realistic model for work completion. But the goal of these activities should not necessarily be to teach the concept of working together, or collaboration. When taking part in teamwork, people work more so individually.

Collaboration, on the other hand, is when a group creates something together from the ground up. The team creates the idea collectively, and all members pitch in however possible to put the idea into action. These collaborative activities are the ones that genuinely teach students how to work effectively with others, appreciate perspectives different from their own, and respond to different ideas and opinions.

2. Grades vs. Reflection

In either situation, whether teamwork or collaboration, the emphasis should be on reflection to become better rather than on grades.

Grades often squelch learning, particularly collaborative learning, which is already a challenge without tying a grade to it. Placing a grade on collaborative activities creates a pressure that causes the learners involved increased frustration and resentment. When disagreements arise, now the goal has shifted from “How can we effectively come to an agreement?” to “If we don’t hurry up and come to an agreement, we won’t get a good grade,” or “If these people don’t listen to my idea we’re gonna fail.” Grades have the potential to teach ineffective collaboration and add frustration to an already challenging process.

Reflection helps learners think back on the experience in an honest way. Without the pressure of grades, students can feel freedom to be realistic about their learning and collaborative efforts in a given activity. When reflecting honestly, students can acknowledge mistakes they might have made during the process, in efforts to learn from those mistakes and become better for next time. In fact, reflection (over grades) might help learners see the positive, rather than the negative and failure, in mistakes.

3. Culminating Projects vs. Learning

Collaborative learning often takes place at the end of a unit, as a summative project reflecting what students learned (to give a grade), rather than as PART of the learning process.

Culminating projects involving collaboration usually remove learning from the experience. Often, collaborative projects are simply supposed to reflect what members of the group have learned for a final grade. Similar to the idea of projects versus project-based learning, a culminating project may as well be the word “test,” again creating added pressure to an already challenging skill.

Learning happens throughout a unit, not at the end. Collaboration is a great, engaging way to teach new content, while also building students’ collaborative skillset. A collaborative type of activity should more often happen along the way as students learn, not always at the end of the unit. If it could just be approached as part of the learning process, rather than a final “show what you know” group project, it might not be so intimidating and stressful.

In closing, if collaboration isn’t challenging students in a motivating way, something is wrong. So let’s reflect on our teaching practices, so that we can do something about it!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · II. Teachers establish a respectful environment for a diverse population of students. · III. Teachers know the content they teach. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

New Year, New Cats to Herd

Kindergarten is a lot like herding cats. I had never actually heard that expression until I became a Kindergarten teacher, and it is the perfect visual to reflect what our classes may look like at times, particularly at first.

 

And for that reason, every time that a new Kindergarten year circles back around, I find myself unsure of how to get started. So much growth occurs during the school year, that it’s hard to even remember what those little 5 year olds are like in the beginning, entering the formal school setting for the first time. It seems like every year I have to physically stop myself from planning a full-out writing activity for the first day/week…wait, we’re still learning letters and sounds! And I just never quite account for the amount of time it will truly take to complete activities…everything takes double the time to get through between expectation reviews, new routines to explain, thorough modeling needed, and transitions. They grow so much during the Kindergarten year that they make you forget just how much structuring it took first quarter to bring the chaos to a controlled and productive level. What makes it even more challenging: while students need to learn the structures, routines, and expectations of the classroom in order to actually function in school and activities, the curriculum doesn’t wait.

So how do I begin, teaching students how to go to school while jumping into the “real” learning right away?  

IMG_8627While this problem may be magnified on the Kindergarten level due to their young age and newness to school, I know that this is something that teachers of all grade levels encounter: starting over with a new class, a year younger than the class you just finished with. Shout-out to my friend Aubrey Diorio for getting me pumped for the new school year with her recent post on new school year must do’s, and for inspiring this reflection. While Aubrey’s post gives awesome examples of specific, beginning of school must do’s to set your class up for success (go read it!!!), my post more specifically tackles how to actually dive into and structure the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, just looking back at last year’s lesson plans isn’t always enough: those plans may not account for how routines and expectations were taught and embedded throughout the day, and for things you want to do better or differently for the upcoming year. Each year, it feels like I am re-learning how to structure the beginning of year chaos; but after some time reflecting, I have outlined some of my tips, priorities, and strategies for starting a new school year, or in a Kindergarten teacher’s case…”herding those cats,” as smoothly and effectively as possible.

1. Make lists

IMG_7326Before the kids arrive, I have found it helpful to make lists. Not just a list for the thousand things I have to do to get the room ready, but a list, broken into categories, to outline expectations, routines, activities, flexible seating expectations, and protocols students need to learn to get the classroom up and running. My list is categorized into 3 sections: expectations (embodying all behavioral expectations, flexible seating expectations, routines, protocols, and day-to-day skills needed), centers (both beginning of year literacy/STEAM and initial Daily 5 literacy centers), and technology (apps, systems, and activities for beginning of year). Your list may be more broad or more specific than that. In essence, this is a “Planning To Do List”…what your students need to learn in order to learn in your classroom for the year. Don’t just make the list, but try to prioritize it. For example, students can’t get through the first day of school without carpet time and work time, so expectations for sitting on the carpet, using supplies, and using flexible seating should be taught day 1. This is a list that I print off, cross items off of, and pull un-taught items from to put into my weekly lesson plans. And in the world of Kindergarten, these are lists I pull from throughout the entire first quarter. Time to spare? Teach something else from “the list.”

2. Build a strong foundation

All students need a strong foundation to learn the expectations and routines of their new classroom, but Kindergarten takes this one to another level! Using my running list of all the new “school things,”  daily expectations, and routines students need to learn, I will teach, practice, and reinforce new skills daily. Sometimes I act out the procedure, sometimes peers act it out, sometimes students illustrate a picture of themselves following the expectation, sometimes we search for examples and non-examples in literature, sometimes we make “do’s” and “don’ts” anchor charts. And while expectations are embedded into all areas, some aspects taught are more behavioral and some are more like classroom systems or routines for certain parts of the day. Our first writing project is all about behavioral expectations, as students practice their illustrating skills to reflect themselves showing given school expectations. Regardless of what foundational concept is being taught, there is SO much to learn in this department for Kinders that I’m usually building the foundation throughout first quarter, and of course throughout the year as things become more challenging.

 

3. Take the time to fill in gaps

IMG_9341Sometimes a routine or procedure has already been taught, but each day we complete it, there are issues. Whether it’s a flexible seating or classroom library procedure, it’s easy to become frustrated when it was taught but isn’t being followed. I used to keep the mindset that it has been taught, I just reviewed it impatiently, and it will be a waste of our time to go back and fully re-teach; but at a BT meeting a couple years ago, the mentors in the room reminded me that it was never a waste of time to strengthen a routine in the classroom. At the time, I had been feeling so pressured to keep up with the curriculum that I had undermined the importance of filling in those gaps. Filling in the foundational gaps students may have missed not only brings sanity to you, it brings clarity to them and helps the classroom run more efficiently in the long-run. So rather than become frustrated with myself or them, I’m learning to take the time to fully re-teach the expectation in a new way.

4. Make modifications

Certain groups handle things differently than others, and some groups aren’t ready for certain routines others may have handled easily right away. There’s no shame in modifications for success! Some years, I have had to make a special beginning of year classroom library, because the large sticker system library was too overwhelming for most students for the first quarter or two. Students still had books to access, so they could still complete tasks, but without as many choices and without as structured of an organizational system. Another example- last year, my class needed assigned numbers to line-up on for greater structure. We still got where we needed to go, but we modified how.

5. STATIONS

Many activities, both at the beginning and throughout the year, are structured into student stations. I have found student learning stations (or centers) to be effective for many reasons: they provide a variety of activities, they can be easily differentiated for ability and interest, they promote a small group learning structure, and they allow for a teacher (and/or instructional assistant) to lead stations that require greater student support and allow for less independence. In the beginning of the year, we ease our way into stations, with the eventual goal of implementing literacy centers in the Daily 5 structure. Beginning of year stations, implemented for a portion of our literacy block (but we also do math stations throughout the year!!), integrate different STEAM, reading, and writing elements. While keeping up with the curriculum, I try to implement as many themes for play (and creativity) as possible, since play sadly diminishes little by little throughout the year. I plan for 2 teacher-led (usually literacy and art), and 3 independent stations for students to rotate through. To go into a little more depth on some of the subjects and station activities we implement on the Kindergarten level-

  • IMG_7195Writing: We often work on self-portraits, illustrations to tell a story, and sketches to sequence events of a story. While sketching, we think in shapes; and while illustrating, we practice coloring neatly and using colors that make sense.
  • Reading: If a teacher directed station, we often work on parts of a book, print concepts, and reading behaviors at this point in the year. Students can all use any classroom library books of their choice with these open-ended tasks! As time progresses during the quarter, students begin to learn and implement an independent read to self time, either telling the story using the pictures in the book or using sticky notes to search for given items (sight words, colors, literacy concepts, punctuation, letters) in text.

 

  • Art: Students can create name art in different ways: crumbled tissue paper balls, miscellaneous craft materials, foam squares, newspaper cutting, etc. Students also create art that goes with read-clouds we read, which helps them build their fine motor skills and learn to follow multi-step directions.img_7181-e1533144487715.jpg
  • IMG_9374Tech: Students play with an app that has been newly introduced. While keeping it open-ended, it is helpful to give students challenges, for example: try to use the typing feature, camera feature, and drawing feature in your creation. After students have explored the app and can make connections to it and its features, I phase into some collaborative tech activities that begin to integrate curriculum and prepare for the ways they will use different creation-based apps in Daily 5 literacy centers. Implementing a tech station is also an opportunity for students to practice logging into their Google Drive accounts with our brand new Chromebooks.
  • IMG_9338Imaginative play: Students can participate in a free choice play center, like blocks, housekeeping, legos, or doll house.
  • Engineering/Makerspace: We have many “building tubs” in our classroom that enhance student fine motor and also give opportunities for imaginative play. These tubs often start the year without constraints, promoting free play. This year, I plan to start adding in more structure as students get comfortable, giving a specific category or challenge for students to create around. Students can also create using the makerspace.

 

6. Introduce permanent structures gradually

For students to take part in these stations, there is a lot of modeling and direction-giving that happens so that they can be successful independently. Young students struggle so much to actively listen for long periods on the carpet, so this can make simultaneously introducing more permanent, long-term routines and activities a challenge. It takes long enough to master the open-ended station structure described above, but by the end of first quarter, students also have to be ready to jump into our more permanent Daily 5 centers. It takes strategy to prepare students for the long-term, while promoting success in the short-term as well. To do this, I make time for 15-minute mini-lessons throughout first quarter, to teach the literacy centers (read to self, word work options, tech options, and work on writing options) that students will need to independently access as we make the transition.

 

Again, making a list helps. I’ve written down all of the centers students will have to jump into 2nd quarter, and that’s what you’ll want to break into mini-lessons. In the mini-lesson, I usually model completing the center myself, then complete it again with a partner to model the collaborative aspect, and finally have students repeat the directions back to me. Then, that particular center that has been taught may slowly make its way into our beginning of year stations, so that students see it again soon and get practice completing it independently. Tech is a little bit different, as young Kindergarten students need plenty of time to play with an app, with some specific challenges of features to try, before integrating a subject area right away. So modeling tech may start as modeling creating a “for fun” project, rather than giving students a task aligned with the curriculum right away. Implementing mini-lessons has helped me make a smooth transition from beginning of year centers to permanent centers.

7. Longer morning meetings

Morning meeting is a great way to integrate so many of the foundational skills students need: expectations, social skills, team building, and growth mindset. This year, I want to plan my morning meetings even more intentionally and do a better job sticking to my daily structure I’ve outlined:

Math Monday (Math games, critical thinking, hundreds chart mystery number)

Character Trait Tuesday (Growth mindset, Empathy, Perseverence, etc.)

Wonder Wednesday (Mystery Doug video/critical thinking protocols)

 

 

Thoughtful Thursday (Positive words/interaction focus)

4C Friday (Collaborative challenge)

These themes follow a daily handshake and greeting that students give each other around the circle. First quarter, a longer morning meeting not only helps better build that foundation and classroom community, it also gives an opportunity to explicitly teach social skills. Students also, of course, need time to actually learn morning meeting routines (that handshake feels like it takes hours to get through at first!). And morning meeting is a time to review things that are and aren’t working in the classroom, so it is a great time to re-teach expectations needing review and for students to bring expectation suggestions and questions to the table. Last year, students suggested early on that I tape the floor to indicate where to put away flexible seating items after an activity.

8. 4C activities

IMG_9463Going along with the social skills foundation that students need, it is important to get students collaborating, communicating, thinking critically, and creating right away. While keeping up with the curriculum and teaching it effectively creates curriculum experts, we want well-rounded experts with 21st century foundational skills! Each of the 4Cs can be taught through one larger 4C activity, or through individual 4C activities highlighting each C. It is helpful to integrate literacy as these skills are introduced. Last year, Chris Tuttell and Janet Pride led our school in some PD, introducing us to 4 different texts that go along with and help teach each of the 4Cs. Along with each text, there are plenty of individual activities that highlight and have students practice each of the Cs. Last year, I instead ended up using one text to introduce a STEM challenge to students, and highlighted a different C that went with each day of our work as I added to our anchor chart. I later used the 4 texts mentioned above to reinforce the 4 Cs throughout the year. Regardless of how the 4Cs are introduced and practiced, it is helpful to define the 4Cs individually, so that students begin understanding and using the language. There are many ways to jump in, but the main takeaways: introduce each C, define each C, have students practice each C, and use literature as a springboard.


IMG_7357Taking the time to reflect on my beginning of year organization strategies for diving in with a new class has allowed me to more clearly define the structures I’ve informally adopted. Maybe this structure has given others some thoughts or ideas to ponder or tweak to make your own, or maybe you have some of your own tips to share in the comments below! I love the beginning of school and tend to want to rush right into the fun learning and excitement, but I and my students also thrive in a structured, organized environment. We teachers have to be strategic in order to dive right in WHILE building the foundation up! Even though I’ve worked most of my summer away and feel like I’ve hardly had a chance to blink since the last school year, I am ready and SO excited to get started with my 18-19 class of Kindergarteners!!!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

Warning: Kinder Teacher Enters the “Real World”

The Kenan Fellowship Experience Continues…

I entered the Structural Adhesive Department of LORD Corporation’s Process Development Center early Monday morning, the first day of my Kenan Fellows externship. Mistake number one: wearing a dress and sandals, not exactly “lab attire.” But that didn’t matter, because I was quickly overwhelmed with the buzzing excitement of the real world. As teachers, we prepare our students for the real world every single day, and hopefully we are providing ample opportunities for our students to interact with authentic, real world situations and materials…but as teachers, we rarely get the chance to be in the real world.

As I toured the facilities, my excitement for this special opportunity grew and my eyes IMG_1553were opened to the true value of the Kenan Fellowship program. There should be thousands of innovative opportunities like this, to broaden our educator perspectives and to remind of us of why we do what we do. Inside the labs were chemists and chemical engineers, working to create adhesives that both strengthen and increase the aesthetics of cars. My mentor John Lean described some of the new types of adhesives they were working on for electric car batteries, along with showing me the hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment used to test LORD’s adhesives. One machine even crash tests the strength of their adhesives to mimic that of a car crash…woah. 

My mind churned with ideas I could bring back to my kinders…big picture ideas that would help them see the value in science and how it solves problems and affects our daily lives. At this point, I still had no clue what I would be doing in the labs during my 3 weeks, yet I already had the beginnings of ideas for what my students might explore or create. I met with my mentor at the end of my first day to discuss my project, which would relate to my project for my students. Starting with the end in mind, I asked him what he sees as a need in preparing students for STEM careers like LORD. He began describing the impact that many variables play in affecting different outcomes of the same process, and then handed me a large notebook of process mapping information, accompanied by the actual process I would be experimenting with. I would be completing the same process repeatedly, bonding 2 metal coupons with the same adhesive, and after a day taken to cure for each batch, I would use an Instron machine to measure the force required to pull the coupons apart. He explained that while I might follow the same steps each time, there are different variables that will affect different outcomes in the force measurement each time. I was tasked with creating a process map to outline the steps, and then identifying any variables (room temperature, dispersion of adhesive, coverage of substrate, amount of glass beads, size of static mixer, etc.) that could possibly influence different outcomes in the process. The ultimate goal of my experimentation was to control the outside variables as much as possible in order to obtain similar results each time. Ready….GO!

My first thought: Kindergarteners? Variables? Process mapping? Hmmm…this should be interesting.

My second thought: Me? Dispensing adhesive? Bonding metal? Process mapping? Measuring force?

My third thought: There must be value in this process…what is it, and how can I share it with my students?

And when I thought back to how LORD affects the daily lives and safety of people with their products, I realized why it was so important that a process be as controlled as possible so that it can produce the consistently proven results it was designed to produce – results that end up in people’s cars. And that moment was when my head started spinning with ways I could not only keep the big picture ideas I had started with in mind, but blend those ideas with this new important aspect that my experience was already beginning to teach me.

IMG_1551Now you might be wondering how I’m so comfortable using the lingo and terms above, maybe not…but if I had read this post before I began my externship, I would most definitely be wondering. The open-ended experience of creating a process map for my task, with nothing to go off of other than an abstract formula and example of the process mapping for making scrambled eggs (and Google), is what got me to this point of comfort with the terminology and steps of the process. And the best part – creating the process map gave me a genuine appreciation for how a challenge, without prior modeling or an outline of steps to follow for completion, can engage and grow someone. It also effectively prepared me for the chemical research and experimentation I began this past week. No one gave chemical engineers a guide to the adhesives they would create: they used their background knowledge and resources to problem-solve through trial and error, making mistakes along the way as I have. And it’s not often that I’m on the learning side of a challenge, but I am LOVING it! THANK YOU, KENAN FELLOWS PROGRAM!!!!

Wrap-Up: My Transforming View of Science

When I was offered this externship, I really wasn’t sure how I would get the job done. The description sounded so cool but also so out of my element, which is part of what drew me to it, but also what made it a little intimidating. But it has also taught me about myself and how I should never be scared to take on something that seems “not me.” Just because I have to wear a lab coat and safety glasses and am tasked with chemical research does not mean I can’t do it! The stigmas embedded in the words science and chemistry are probably what have held me back from diving all in for many years, and I know I’m not alone in that – there are many other teachers and students who feel that same way. Using a bunch of big words and conducting random experiments can seem confusing and meaningless…science is not. Now science can be complex, but with a growth mindset, those complex things can be learned when there is meaning and purpose behind them. This experience in the real world is just what I needed to continue transforming my view of science, and I am so excited to present science to my students from the new perspective I am learning this summer! Stay tuned to see how my project for Kindergarteners develops!

I. Teachers demonstrate leadership. · IV. Teachers facilitate learning for their students. · V. Teachers reflect on their practice.

A Much Needed Reminder that #kindersCAN

IMG_1106It is hard to believe that my 4th year of teaching is coming to a close. Being completely transparent, this year has challenged me in ways I have never experienced, both resulting from professional growth opportunities that I have voluntarily taken on and from the quality and quantity of needs among the students in my class. There have been glimpses of joy and rewarding moments that have of course made the year worthwhile, but I have also experienced my fair share of difficulty in a variety of ways. Even though I know it is my job to meet my learners where they are, it has felt discouraging at times to modify and even totally change routines and activities that have worked for past years. With many years ahead of me in my career and only a few behind me, I predict that there will be many “types” of school years, each unique in growing my practice and building the educator stamina that I have been building since year 1.

I have been aching to introduce my class to my brand new cart of 7 Chromebooks, devices recently rolled out to WCPSS classrooms at the end of this school year. But for several weeks, the feelings of a challenging and overwhelming school year, combined with continuous end of year literacy and math testing, prevented me from jumping right in with those devices. But with 6 days left of school and a newfound inspiration to take a risk, I decided to go for it. All year, I had planned to facilitate the creation of digital portfolios for each student in my room, and I was determined not to let that goal slip away. Student digital portfolios are a new push in the district, as a means of student housing of and reflection on work over time. The Kindergarten team and school leaders at my school believe that this should start for students at the beginning of their school experience in Kindergarten. So here is how I used our new Chromebook devices to make this happen on the Kindergarten level!

1. Practice logging in right away first quarter.

Yes, there is QR code option for younger elementary students to log into their Google account (a very long, time consuming process), and yes, that makes it faster. But in the long run, if students have been logging in the same way since Kindergarten, they will be faster in 3rd grade rather than having to learn “the long way” then. My team has learned the value in this over the past few years working alongside our ITF Chris Tuttell, and we have learned and evolved in our practice of working with Kinders in Google over the years. This was the first year we started the logging in process right away first quarter, and it has paid off! And now that we have our Chromebooks, several steps of this process (computer login + going into Chrome + entering web address) are eliminated and will allow us to move even more quickly next year!

2. Add work in Google Drive throughout the year.

Digital portfolios are really just a reflection on favorite pieces of work from the year, including work done in Google Drives. As the group prepared to create their Sites, they completed work in their Google Drives that would be linked to their sites, such as an animal picture and shape replication in Google Draw and an all about me Google Slide.

3. Advance student leaders in the digital portfolio process.

We have used upper grade student mentors while logging in and working in Google over the years, and I highly recommend this with younger students. With ambitions of having students create digital portfolios on Google Sites to link work from throughout the year, we started with a small cohort of K students from a couple of classrooms. This had 2 benefits: we could provide greater support to a small group of students as they created, and then these students could be tech leaders to assist the whole group in creating theirs.

These student leaders even taught our staff, along with educators around the state, about the benefit of a learning portfolio and how they reflected on their work from the year.

 

4. Start small with new devices.

With my own uncertainty about how to structure the use of 7 Chromebooks for 21 students, coupled with never having used a Chromebook myself, I decided that our after school program with 5 Kinders in my room would be the perfect setting to try them out! Starting small gave me the comfort I needed to go big! 

5. Create and add work to sites in small groups, with student tech helpers.

After reviewing Chromebook etiquette and procedures for taking out and putting away, students were put into 3 groups of 7. Student leaders who had already made Google Sites portfolios were strategically dispersed into each group. Groups of 7 rotated to 3 learning centers, one of which being Google Site creation on the Chromebooks. In this first step, students created a Site through their Google Drive, using the New Google Sites option. They worked specifically on the home page, typing their name and site title, customizing colors and background images, and linking in an all about me Google Slide. Next, we will add a Kindergarten page and link in more work!


After a tough school year, and with only 6 days left with this group of students, this was just the joy that I and they needed. Having 21 Kindergarten students successfully get their sites up and running reminded me of my strong belief in the capability of young learners. Each year brings a new set of challenges, talents, needs, gifts, and unpredictable circumstances. But I am reminded to embrace change and challenged to find the structures and modifications so that each year, #kindersCAN continue to do amazing things.