Monday, September 5, 2016

Creating a community of learners: new principal implements Smart Start

This year I was assigned an extra duty, principal of a small K-8 school. I am excited to add principal to my list of duties. To start the year right, I developed a Smart Start plan based on the work of my friend +Jon Corippo. I presented the plan to teachers before the school year started, and then scheduled time to be in class each day this first week of school. As a new principal, with a young staff, I wanted to model these lessons and set the tone for the year.  Before the first week Jon gave me advice that took to heart. He said a key component was to not get to fancy. I looked at what I had prepared, which was a bit ambitious, and pared it down into three days of academic mini mixers. I taught a lesson each day in our Grade 4-8 classroom and then again in our TK-3 room.

Here is my Smart Start Plan for Gasquet Mountain Elementary School.

There were many benefits from the Smart Start plan. Mainly, I got to know my students better, modeled academic tools and skills for students and teachers, and set a standard of learning and achievement for our school.

Here are some examples of the learning we did together.

Day 1: Frayer Model
1st Day Smart Start Activity was to Frayer a Friend - the TK-3 class "Frayered" their teacher. 
Our Grade 4-8 class started reading The Hobbit, so the teacher had the class "Frayer" hobbits that afternoon.

Day 2: Dog and Cat Venn Diagrams
After we read dog and cat diaries, students used details from the diaries to compare and contrast the dog and cat.

Day 3: Category Collages with Pic Collage

Students randomly selected categories which they had to represent in a collage. This one was triangles.

These students created a collage for circles.

They measured everything using a ruler without being told to!
By the end of the week we had a common understanding of Frayer Models, Venn Diagrams and iPad camera and photo tools. I can't wait to see how the teachers and students continue to use these skills. My plans are to do one or two more Smart Start refreshers throughout the year and after school breaks. At first, the thought of doing Smart Start for K-8 with multi-grade classrooms was a bit daunting. Keeping it simple and modifying the activities for the two different classrooms worked well. Have you tried Smart Start? Thinking of trying it? I would love to know how it goes! Please share ideas in the comments.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Using TED-Ed Lessons to Build Community

This summer I am taking the TED-Ed July Challenge and watching a lesson a day for 31 days.
Each lesson consists of a 3-5 minute video, 5-8 questions, resources to learn more a discussion.
I just finished lesson 10 and I feel smarter already! Topics have included the earliest Olympics, how to grow seeds and oddities of the first American elections.

This has started me thinking about ways to use TED-Ed lessons next year. I am a new principal for a small, K-8 school in rural northern California. I plan to share a lesson a week with my students, families and staff so they can watch them together and have discussions about the topics. These lessons are excellent replacements for traditional homework packets and inspire more learning and investigation. I envision all of us having discussions about cool new ideas and facts we learned each week from TED-Ed! This is just one small way I hope to build shared experiences and community at my little school.

With a TED-Ed account you can build a lesson around any TED-Ed original, TED Talk or YouTube video. You can create your own lesson or customize one of the hundreds of lessons available from TED-Ed. Here is the first lesson I created: What's an Engineer?

That nose! Image via

If you would like to join the challenge it is not too late. Start with today's lesson (on Narcissism) or start from July 1st and work your way to the most current lesson.

The best thing so far about taking part in this challenge is that the lessons are sparking interests in me and I find myself googling terms and people to learn more. With 10 lessons under my belt, my favorite so far has been The Scandalous Life of Tycho Brahe.  I would love to know if you take on the challenge and what is your favorite lesson.  Feel free to comment below.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

3rd Annual #NoWorksheetWeek - Looking For Inspiration?

During our #NoWorksheetWeek Twitter chat last week I was inspired by all of the energy and innovation of the teachers who participated. I am on the edge of my seat waiting to see the learning that takes place in the classrooms of these teachers May 2-6.

If you every wondered how students react when they hear that a teacher is throwing out worksheets check out the reaction from @MrsHolley2011 's class:

Click here to view video

So, what is a worksheet? It is NOT just a piece of paper. Going worksheet free does not mean going digital. A digital worksheet is just as dismal as a paper one.

A worksheet is an assignment you give students that:
  • is mass-produced, either by the teacher at the copier, a publisher in a workbook or shared on a device.
  • is given to every student in the classroom.
  • contains questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

Should you question the worksheet? YES!
Ask yourself if students are motivated to complete the worksheet, or are they doing it out of compliance. Is there another way to teach this information that is more relevant and authentic?

As adults, we have to fill out complex worksheets each year for taxes. We avoid it, procrastinate and even pay people to do it for us. How would you feel if you had to do multiple worksheets weekly or even daily?

Teachers are ditching worksheets and finding better ways to motivate and inspire students to learn. 

Here are a few examples:

+Matthew Weld's #noworksheetweek Ideas and Resources
Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules
Share your own ideas on our collaborative Padlet wall
Here is an example of a worksheet free math activity in Kindergarten

You can also see my previous collaborative post with the creator of No Worksheet Week: (Wûrk’ shēt)

If you want to be involved in the movement join our Badgelist group and Google+ Community and share your learning.

You can learn about the origin of No Worksheet Week:  here, here or here.

Also, check out all the tweets about it from last week in the Storify below.

Monday, February 1, 2016

5 Apps for Exploring Elections, Presidents and More

It's February and many classrooms will begin studying about presidents and elections. Here are some apps and resources you may not know about that focus on elections, the constitution, presidents and more. Information contained in these apps can be used for whole class presentations, discussion starters, bell ringer activities as well as for individual student research and exploration.

Thanks to +Guy Trainin for the inspiration for this post.

Constitution for iPad

A copy of the U.S. Constitution right on your iPad! Try the keyword search feature.

Real Clear Politics

 Updated daily with commentary, news, polling data and links to current political issues.

Electoral Map 2012

Maps of all previous US electoral college results. 

The Presidents Flashcards

Portraits of each president along with key information. From George Washington to barack Obama.


Create a customized class magazine to get you through election season.

Learn more about some of the resources above with this 5 minute video from Guy Trainin.

Want more ideas? 

Election 2016: Lesson Plans and Digital Resources for Educators
Checkout this list from Forbes Magazine: 5 Essential Mobile Apps for Election Season

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winner of Rae's Blog Challenge!

Thank you to everyone who blogged during December as part of #RaesBlogChallenge in December! I enjoyed reading your posts and learning about you.  Everyone who submitted their name for the challenge was entered into the random drawing for swag from my swag drawer.

And the winner is....
The Lucky winner was +Lara Hirt, an elementary principal who models being a learner for her staff and students every day. She is new to blogging and so please check out her blog Educationally Lara. She wins a beautiful, blue T-shirt from my awesome friends at +CURRICULET

I encourage everyone to read the thoughtful and fun posts from the other participants that I have linked below.

Renee Crook
Dan Gallagher
Charlene Knowlton
Angie Marshall
Vic Schoonover

Look for more blogging fun this Spring!