How Will You End Your Year

Learning+word+splashYears ago, when I taught 3rd grade, I was never fully satisfied with the various ways I ended my school year. Too many times, after an amazing year of incredible experiences and powerful relationships, it just seemed…anti-climactic. I hated it. It bothered me. The bell rang, they walked out, and I felt that I missed an opportunity to do something with real impact.

My last years in the classroom I knew something had to change. We did all kinds of projects the last weeks of school, and one of my favorites was a Claymation project. I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I jumped in the deep end, the kids stepped up, took ownership, and they really came up with some amazing final products. Here are couple examples from two groups if you’re interested…




I didn’t fully know the impact this made until recently when a couple former students randomly reach out to me and told me they loved making these projects and missed being in my class. It was truly a rewarding moment. I was simply coming up with some engaging lessons that at least I, myself, would have fun with, and it hit home with some students a lot deeper than I expected.

I want your last moments with your students to be powerful, too! As the year is coming to a close it is important that we continue to deliver those meaningful and engaging lessons. I know that sounds cliché but every moment we have with our students is a chance to make an impact on their learning. So, how will you end your school year in a way that is worthy of the significance of these last moments?

My Principal is Following Me on Twitter??

sorry-marketers-you-re-doing-twitter-wrong-report-692a5ff817Last year, while finishing up my Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Richmond, one of my assignments was to create a Twitter account (more than complete before taking the class) and start building our own Personal Learning Network, or PLN which I love to expand and grow everyday! I missed the class when everyone set up their Twitter accounts because I was presenting at the FETC Conference, but it was really fun participating in class through Twitter at the airport helping show the power of Twitter. One of my classmates, Sara Luckert, posted a funny article about 17 things you can do while actively monitoring a standardized test, and she also mentioned that she is now being followed by her principal, Dr. Brian Fellows, on Twitter. Adding to that, she said she wants to make sure she maintains a level of professionalism. This really got me thinking. Other than my two years as an ITRT, I’ve never had an immediate supervisor following me on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media platform. Do you think people would act differently through social media if they had their administrators following them? Out in the “real world” I have seen stories of people being fired for things they have posted.  Here is just one article on 17 people who were fired for ways they used Facebook. (Four of the 17 are teachers!)

The way I see it going down the road, I don’t see many of my near future bosses following me.  (Update: My principal is following me this year, and I love it!) I don’t say this as a knock on whomever they may be, but rather these people, more than likely, being a generation of people who aren’t as connected on social media. I also say this hoping social-media4that I am wrong! I welcome them to follow me because I see it as a way to let myself shine in other ways than being observed in the building. My own county’s @HenricoSchools Twitter account is following me as well as my school’s @SandstonElem account that I run. As intimidating as this could be, I really feel this is powerful knowing my own school system is interested in the following the information I am sharing. Knowing the power of it makes me want to lead the way and entice more of my teachers and instructional leaders to become involved in social media in professional ways. Many of my teachers follow me on Instagram and Facebook, and I follow them. I don’t think they are looking at it as me “watching” them, but rather as a way to build our relationship as coworkers. In doing so, I know I am taking the opportunity to show them how I can hold myself to high standards on these platforms in a personal and professional way.

Social-Media3Like it or not, as educators, I think we have to hold ourselves to a little bit of a higher standards than others in public. We’ve all had those interactions with students out in public. As an elementary educator I feel like a rock star seeing kids freak out or get real nervous seeing me in public which is totally different in the way they way they act in the school building! Putting ourselves out there in public on sites like Twitter opens us up to a broader market. It is like being out in public but on a grander scale. I use my same Twitter account (@trockr11) professionally and in my personal life, and I find myself censoring myself on certain topics. As educators, in my opinion, we’re always leading, teaching, and modeling. I’ve always viewed being on any social media as a perfect opportunity to model digital citizenship. As I noted before, I want more of my colleagues to join social media platforms – not only to better themselves, but also to help motivate and engage our students. Although I may not have my elementary students following me, I do have many former students in middle and high school who follow me, and I know the professionalism I hold to whomever sees my posts carries a lot of weight in the way people perceive me as an educator and education in general.

Relationships Reign!

FETC-EXSToday, I attended the first day of the The FETC Executive Summit in Orlando, FL. The Future of Educational Technology Conference is one of my favorites to attend, and being invited to the Executive Summit that includes state- and district-level IT leaders, superintendents and administrators was a huge honor to me. This is the 2nd year FETC held an Executive Summit in hopes to bring these people together to gain new insights and knowledge about major societal and technology trends impacting their schools.

Listening to amazing Edu-Rock Stars George Couros, Dwight Clark, and Thomas Murray, brought me to the biggest theme I took away from today: Relationships Reign. There are so many issues debated in the the education world today: ed reform, school policy, technology trends, national standards, school safety, no child left behind–the list goes on and on. There is one topic that all educators can and should agree on: building strong and meaningful relationships and motivating our students will foster a positive and inviting classroom leading students wanting to succeed in the classroom. Dwight Clark notes, “no significant learning can occur without significant relationships.” When we create these meaningful relationships with our students AND teachers we can inspire innovative learning, come up with solutions instead of excuses, and not necessarily doing something new, but do something better. As educators, if we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.

Now, I’m not naive to think that this is the only thing that will help students or that it will even be an easy process.  That being said, making this a priority in schools and classrooms will only help the process of improving many issues that may arise.  If you’re a classroom teacher and think, “I’m tied to my classroom. I can’t do anything for the whole school.”  Think again! Think big, believe big, act big, and the results will be big.

Positive relationships and motivation are contagious! In an education system where many of the educators on the front lines—the classroom teachers—are frustrated, motivation to stay the course is imperative. As soon as the drive to be the best at one’s craft starts to diminish, the quality of work and work ethic will quickly follow suit, and so will the students’ drive to succeed. We need to continually ask ourselves, “Would I want to spend the whole day learning in my own classroom?” If the answer is no, how can we viably ask our students to do the same thing? We don’t want our classrooms to suffer from “The Cemetery Effect” as Thomas Murray so eloquently coined. (I particularly like the tennis balls on the headstones to keep them quiet)

A sense of contagious optimism from administration and teachers will help motivate the students in a positive direction. It’s not always easy, but as the great Julius Erving once said, “being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” There will be days that are hard to handle, but handled with a sense of contagious optimism for students and colleagues, can help motivate that sense of drive to get the job done in an innovative and positive way. As George Couros said, “we need to make the positives so loud, that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”


Use this positive relationship building and contagious optimism and take a stand to make education FUN! Make your classroom one that your students want to attend everyday! We want our students fighting to want to be at school. Make your students say, “NOOOOO!!!” when you tell them they will have a substitute the next day. Get your students to ask everyday, “What crazy awesome things are we going to do in class today?” Think of your class as a dance party, and you’re the DJ. Do you want your students sitting on the outside of the dance floor, arms crossed, just listening to the music? Of course not! Its your job to get them to dance! Get those students on the dance floor and rockin’ out to their learning! Find the “music” that innovates and motivates their learning and keeps them dancing and begging for more!

Vowel Surgery!

IMG_3240Is there a Word Doctor in the house?! Yes! There are 14 kindergarten doctors in Ms. Neff’s class!  The Neff Hospital was full of “CVC Patients” who required immediate surgery to complete the words!

The little doctors at Neff Hospital had to use their knowledge of word families and letter sounds to complete CVC words. They carried their “patient charts” around the room, and they had to perform vowel surgery on their “word patients” who were missing their medial short vowels. Students looked at the pictures accompanying the word, sounded out the word determining the missing vowel, and using the surgery tools, “healed” the patient and updated their patient chart.

It is so refreshing seeing amazing teachers at work. Ms. Neff took a basic language arts skill that could be done with a simple worksheet, and she turned it into one of the most engaging kindergarten activities I’ve seen. Not only did the students have the opportunity to enhance their learning in content, but they were overly excited to build their words! Check out some amazing pictures from today’s lesson!

Silent Movies in Reading?

51VcEWaqKWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love being amazed and in awe of awesome and engaging lessons that I see teachers use in their classroom. This week, a former colleague, Frank Fitzpatrick (Mr. Fitz), posted about a lesson where he taught his students about silent movies through a novel. His students were reading The Invention of Hugo Cabert. This book uses amazing imagery to tell the story. The imagery and illustrations are used to tell the story as a silent movie in book form. It tells the story of Hugo, an orphan, who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. When Hugo gets caught stealing a toy mechanical mouse to use in his attempt to repair a mysterious machine he’s trying to fix, everything starts to get a little bit messier. The owner of the toy shop who catches him is named Georges Méliès – who is also a real-life pioneer of silent film making. These little, real-life nuggets of information are intertwined throughout the entire book by Brian Selznick. Mr. Selznick references multiple silent movies and films and credits them all at the end of the book.

The aforementioned Mr. Fitz could have easily read this book with his students, referenced some of the things talked about, and moved on to the next novel study. What really got me jazzed about this lesson is Mr. Fitz took the real-life teaching moments from the book and taught his students about Silent Movies. All of our students love watching movies, but learning the roots of something they love really set the hook! Mr. Fitz even got so far into the fun that he taught them about Buster Keaton, another comedic silent-film pioneer, and Mr. Fitz’s students used his “gag” style elements in their own movie making! I had to share this awesome video about Buster that Mr. Fitz had found and used with his students! Watching this mini-documentary about him and seeing his students’ work connected perfectly!

Not only did Mr. Fitz get into real world teaching and learning to go along with the novel, but he took it to the next level! Here’s my favorite quote from Mr. Fitz’s, “The Chase” blog post: “I always try to end the novels we read with a creative challenge. For Hugo, I challenged my students to create a silent movie that told a story in the style of the movies that we watched and the book we read.”  

This is what education is all about! Create the hook, engage them in their learning, and let them fly!! Check out this awesome Buster Keaton inspired work from his students!

Want to try this with your students? Check out my man, Jim Covais’ blog post today that has a video organizer you can download and use with your students to help organize their thoughts and plans for different scenes!

I Celebrate Me!

photoSandston Elementary’s School Theme this year is “I Celebrate Me!” One of the biggest things we want to accomplish is celebrating all the accomplishments our students achieve throughout the year. It can be academic related, conduct related, family related, or even something they’re proud of outside of school. Kim Powell, our principal, and I, along with the whole staff are working hard to build and strengthen the relationships we have with our students, parents, and our Sandston Community as a whole.  Being this is one of our big goals for the year, having Sandston STAR Shout Out Celebrations at the end of each grading period is a high priority.  Working closely with our Community Partners, Siemens and the Henrico Education Foundation (HEF), we were able to earn grants and fund this amazing project! What do these celebrations include? First, we have a huge celebration assembly in the morning. Here’s a breakdown of the fun we had at our first assembly of the year:

  • Recognizing student awards: A Honor Roll, A/B Honor Roll, Citizenship, and Attendance
  • Recognizing STAR Character Award winners from each class
  • An appearance from WebstUR, UR’s Spider mascot, to help pass out the STAR Character awards
  • A Whip/Nae-Nae Aerobics Workout performance from the 3rd graders and PE Teacher
  • Recognizing our Parent Honor Roll members who have reached 200 points
  • Awarding the Turkey King/Queen Crown to the teacher of the class who brought in the most cans for the Henrico Christmas Mother

image001For the second part of our Sandston STAR Shout Out Celebrations, the students participate in activities we plan with groups outside of school. As part of our School Wide Behavior Plan, teachers award points to students using Class Dojo throughout each grading period.  If students reach the Class Dojo point goal for the nine weeks, they receive their “Star Ticket” to the activity. Siemens helped provide us with Plush Gold Stars to award the students for this grading period! For our first activity of the year, we used a portion of our HEF Grant to have Richmond Ropes come out! This amazing group took groups of students in 4 one-hour sessions and helped the students work together in team building “low-ropes” activities.  It was an extremely rewarding experience seeing students critically think and work together to solve the challenges.

Today’s events were only the beginning of big celebrations we hope to provide throughout the rest of the year. Check out this small snippet from all the fun today!

Video Story Problems!

Over the past few weeks, many of my teachers have been working with word and story problems with their students in math. It has been fun seeing the work they have been putting in, and it reminded me of Video Story Problems! What are Video Story Problems? “VSPs” are a way to engage and hook the students with real world problems in the classroom. Traditional story problems can be dull, and sometimes it’s nice to spice it up and give the students a chance to work with materials or challenges that they can connect with in a meaningful way.

The best thing about VSPs: There is no set format in how they should be set up. My favorite was just pulling out my phone at random places such as the grocery story and throwing a question together. The kids loved seeing where I would end up next and solving the problem!

The best part about doing this – when the students get into it and start making their own at home to share with the class! This Video Story Problem is my all time favorite – Go Spiders!

Are you thinking this is something you would like to try with your students? Check out of few of these great links!

Video Story Problem Planning Template

Video Story Problem Think-Through Template

Video Story Problems 101 from Ben Rimes

My Past Blog Posts

Five Great Examples

Video Story Problem Channel on Vimeo

Student Led Parent/Teacher Conferences

original-386706-1Parent/Teacher Conference: That scary time many teachers dread. They love working with their students, but there is just something about those conferences that gets nerve wracking. Personally, conferences with parents was one of my favorite things. I love talking about student “glows” and “grows” and generally just making parents proud of their little ones–even if they are struggling.

How can we make conferences a little less stressful? How about having the students themselves run the conference. How would a 3rd grader be able to run a conference about themselves and still be held accountable? Our teachers work with their students to fill out a Student-Led Conference Organizer. To help the students fill out their organizer, each student is also provided a list of all the Learning Targets they worked on throughout the grading period.

Come conference time, the student and teacher can work through the organizer together to help lead the conference and talk to the parents about how things are going. It is such a great way for the students to gain a sense of ownership of their learning and education.

Check out all the documents you could use in this Student Led Conference Folder! Questions? Feel free to leave a comment and ask!

Number Sentence Hedbanz!

headbanzHedbanz is the popular “Who am I?” kids game. One of Sandston’s rock start teachers, Ms. Shepherd, decided to take a different spin on the game and bring it into her math lesson! This 3rd grade class is working on multiplication and division number sentences, so instead of the students trying to guess the certain item they were in the traditional game, the students had to guess which number sentence they were. Also, instead of students guessing clues, their partner gave them clues to guess their multiplication or division sentence.

IMG_2686Before playing the game, Ms. Shepherd and the class had a discussion on good clues using the specific vocabulary terms they needed to understand. For example, they gave clues such as “Your product is 30.” or “The inverse operation is division.” With the clues given, the students guessed the number sentence, and then they received a different number sentence on their headband.  Students continued with the game for about 10 to 15 minutes.

IMG_2687The lesson itself was super fun, interactive, and engaging for all the students. After one student got his sentence correct, his partner was heard saying, “Great Job! Hurry! What are my clues?!” The best part of the lesson was Ms. Shepherd’s conclusion to the lesson.

Once the game was complete, the students did not just put away their Number SentenceIMG_2692 Hedbanz. The class as a whole had a math vocabulary and number talk about their questioning and clues. The class had the prompts on the board throughout the game, but some students shared they provided the actual inverse operation for their sentence clue, such as saying, “The inverse operation is 18÷2=9” for the answer of 9×2=18. Other students discussed that using the word “product” worked for multiplication sentences, but they had to use the word “quotient” for the division sentences. Still others discussed how saying “factors” worked for multiplication sentences, but you had to use the word “divisors” for the division sentences. This math vocabulary and number talk to wrap up the lesson was the perfect thing to help the students understand new ways to provide clues, and they are even more excited to play the game again.

Back to my Roots with Context Clues!

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 10.29.57 PMFor the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to get into one of my 3rd grade classes and teach some whole group Reading Lessons. Not only did I get back to my 3rd grade roots, but I also got back to my ITRT roots as well. I love getting into all my classes at my school and helping out, but there is just something about going back to where it all started that just makes you feel at home.

This week the 3rd graders are working on Context Clues, and I knew exactly what lesson I wanted to use with them. It is the Nonsense Word Context Clues Game. Julie Goode, aka The Techie Teacher and ITRT I used to work with, came up with this amazing lesson. In fact, Julie is full of rock star lesson ideas you can use in the classroom! You should definitely check out her Teachers Pay Teachers Page and her Techie Teacher Facebook Page! You won’t be disappointed!

For the Nonsense Word Context Clues Game, the teacher uses a nonsense word in a small vague sentence. The teacher reads the sentence, and the students try to guess what the word means. After each student guess, the teacher extends the sentence with more context clues for the students to figure out the meaning of the nonsense word. Here’s an example of what the teacher would read to the students:

I like to lup.
I like to lup outside.
I like to lup outside during the winter.
I like to lup outside during the winter when the lifts are open.

Now, students could easily use a piece of paper to write down their answers as they go along, but a great way for the students to record their answers each time the sentence is read is using a website called Padlet. Teachers make an account, and then they can create a “pad.” Basically what the teacher is creating is a padlet_blog_300Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.13.12 PMcollaborative board where students can post notes in real time. Students connect to the board by entering the specific website for the board on a computer or iPad web browser, by using the Padlet App, or by scanning an automated QR Code generated by the website. When we play the game using Padlet, I have the students put their name on the top line, and then fill out their answer each time. Students can view what others are guessing in real time as they type which makes for great conversation if a student makes a guess that is way off, and it holds all the students accountable for actually participating. After the initial set up and getting used to it, we played the game a few times. Here’s what our board looked like after using the example above.  For this specific example we talked about how “ski” is the correct answer, and it sparked another student discussing how “sled” or “tube” could be a correct answer as well! (Click here to check out some other ways you can Padlet in the class!)

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