Growing Poets

Recently, my @FourthGraders spent time in the schoolyard, writing free-verse poetry to add to their personal anthologies. All of our poetry writing to that point had been confined to the classroom, so their writing had become confined as well. Mother Nature beckoned to us, so we packed up our white boards, paper and pencils and headed out for inspiration.  With visions of similes and metaphors dancing in their heads, I scattered my 20 students around the side yard of the school to write.

I couldn’t help but notice how so many of my students struggled to sit and observe. How difficult it was for them to separate from classmates they work so closely with every day.  They really didn’t know how to sit and absorb their surroundings in a way that was enjoyable to them.   They were restless.  They were concerned about what others were doing. Some couldn’t sit. Some couldn’t stand in one place.  Some couldn’t be alone.

Here is the poem I wrote that day:


Seeking Poetry in the Schoolyard

“Spread out,
find a solitary space,
let poetry find you”

As I sit in the sparse shade of a newly-budding tree,
voices of Kindergarten recess rain on me like a summer storm,
rising louder and louder until individual voices become a song of sorts.
How is it that
the buzzing of a bee,
the chime of a church bell,
the song of a robin
can break through the symphony?
To hear? We have only to listen.

As for my students…
Some are as restless as fall leaves blowing across the park,
while others focus fiercely, share their dreams, write as true poets.

My wish for them is to find peace in the solitude of a quiet moment.
To notice the world beyond.
To think deeply.
To reflect honestly.

Some lessons can not be taught,
only shared and experienced.

I hope they learn.


Louis L’Amour says ” “Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.”  My students are always ready and waiting for “what’s next” instead of enjoying “what’s now”.  While I understand anticipation can be inherently exciting, mindfulness can be as well.   Though they enjoyed being outside, their poetry didn’t reflect their enjoyment.  During our next poetry lesson, we talked about how important it can be to sink into to the task at hand.  We  were creating parallel poems for Mother’s Day, and I challenged my students to spend some virtual time with their moms while writing.  When you are writing for your mom, nothing else should matter – and your writing will reflect that.

Our inspiration poem was Think Like a Tree, a poem written by Karen I. Shragg from the book The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science and Imagination.  We wrote poems entitled “Think Like Mom”, which I believe reflect my students improving ability to be mindful:

Think Like Mom
By Lillian

Sleep in late, it’s your day off
Kiss us goodbye
Wave while the bus drives away
Sip your coffee slowly and think about yesterday
Ponder us
Share your ideas, you know they’re great
Save a flower
Believe in yourself
Hope for a sunny day after a long winter
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Work like a bee (sometimes!)

Be still long enough to
Embrace the smell of sweet-scented flowers.

Think Like Mom
By Abbey

Take no shortcuts, as the hard work passes
Get ready for the not-so-normal day
Challenge me so I succeed
Count on others when you’re feeling gloomy
Treat everyone like you would like to be treated
Work hard and give the effort
Try to feel the wonderful breeze
Do whatever it takes to find your dreams.
Look up at the heavenly stars as you and I drift off.
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Feel so alive!
Be still long enough to
hear the peepers outside on the porch hammock

Think Like Mom
By Jackson

Jog with me together
Support me when I’m in trouble
Feel free to laugh out loud
Be proud of every day’s work
Admire life how it is
Inspire in me to do amazing things
Cheer me on at all my games
Unwind and rest in your bed
Remember the amazing times with us
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Remember, you’re the queen, not the maid
Be still long enough to
realize you have breakfast in bed

Think Like Mom
By Chloe

Enjoy a balanced life
Relax yourself and admire the world
Savor every moment and breath you take
Express everything you do with enthusiasm
Create bravely and happily
Have faith in the ones you cherish
Adore all the things you do
Admire yourself and the people around you
Be a star because we need you, too
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Smile like you’ve never smiled before
Be still long enough to
Hear the cricket chirping in the afternoon.

Think Like Mom
By Anna

Laugh and sing out loud
Feel free to live your life
Stay true to who you are
Adore your beautiful family
Remember memorable memories
Believe in your dreams
Inspire others to do the right thing
Help us when we need it
provide more than you receive
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Dream Big
Be still long enough to
Have peace and love in your heart

Think Like Mom
By Ashley

Enjoy all of my gifts
Remain calm
Pick me up when I am down
Share your gifts, you’re smart and funny
Be proud of yourself
Make sure we are always safe
Be the best that you can be
Love Avery and I always
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Take care of Avery and I
Be still long enough to
Let me give you a kiss

Think Like Mom
By Tyler

Support your very own child
Dream of their future
Inspire your child to do great things
Ask them how their day was at dinner
Try to teach them what they can’t learn
Be careful on what you hold back
Love your children with all your heart
Give your children good names
Worry for your child’s safety
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Take them on sea glass hunts
Be still long enough to
Hear your children’s secret talks.

Think Like Mom
By Hadley

Be proud of yourself in everything
Help me accomplish challenges
Lie down and rest sometimes, I’ll take care of you
Be the change you desire to see in the world
Show the most affection
Teach me the ways of life
inspire me to do amazing things, like you did
Adore me and our family; you always do
Be yourself, everyone else is taken
Emerge Renewed at the first signs of dawn
Remember, you’re the queen, not the maid
Be still long enough to
Hear me saying “I love you”.

Think Like Mom
By Adam

Do nice things for me and others
Encourages me to get my dream job
Yell and cheer at my games and events
Cut hair better than anyone
Go bowling with me
Love me every day
Take the dog for a walk
Relax at night time
Emerge Renewed at the first signs of dawn
Be the best mom I could ever have
Be still long enough to
Hear me make a mess and the dog bark.

Think Like Mom
By Kayden

Laugh when you’re happy or cry when you’re sad
Cook meals like no other
Love the little things; they matter most
Cherish precious moments, they only come so often
Look on the bright sides of life
Make the most of the situation, no matter how difficult
Hug us when we’re feeling down
Teach us on our journey through life
Be the person that you are and never change
Emerge Renewed at the first signs of dawn
Get ready for another day in this great world
Be still long enough to
Realize your greatness!

Think Like Mom
By Taytum

Have faith and love in your heart
Feel the breeze when you wake up
Like to bake delicious cookies
Go sea glassing with family
Laugh and sing out loud
Never stop exploring
Run and jog with no fear
Have care at all times
Believe in yourself
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Wake up and stretch
Be still long enough to
Relax and drink hot tea.

Think Like Mom
By Charlie

Stay home with Lyla all day
Still don’t quite know how you do it,
Make us dinner all on your own
Outline a great life
be these not the only things you do
Drive me to auditions
buy me food, and you love me
Make your favors accumulate
do not forget them
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
feed the family, eat, sleep, repeat.
Be still long enough to
Hear Lyla and I laugh.

Think Like Mom
By Rose

Open your window and hear the birds chirp
Believe that you can fly
remember that your dreams come true
never stop exploring
have love and care in your heart
express yourself
have success in the effort
live, laugh and dream
always be yourself
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
stay deeply rooted and reach for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear the bees buzz.

Think Like Mom
By Nicholas

Make me breakfast, it’s always good
Believe in me
seeing you makes me smile
work out at the gym
Say I’m going to be a football player
Go to Papa Gino’s with me
Help me with hard homework
Care about me
Wouldn’t want a different mom
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
like who you are
Be still long enough to
Sit outside and hear birds chirping


Think Like Mom
By Yolanda

Be sympathetic to most things
Urge me to practice my ukelele
Prepare the most delicious meals
fold the laundry perfectly
Calm me when I’m crying
Conceal my book (secretly) to get my attention
Preserve a deep regard towards me
Laugh out loud when hilarity reaches your ears
Dance no matter how strange it is
Give me the most creative ideas
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Drift toward your dreams around 11:00
Be still long enough to
hear the paired tunes of “tears for Amalia”
drift from my ukelele

Think Like Mom
By Paige

Think about me
Make breakfast, lunch and dinner
Help me up when I am down
Turn people’s frowns upside down
Plant in the garden
clean the house
love me every second
relax all day
wash all of the clothes
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
go to the store
Be still long enough to
hear me coming home from school.

Think Like Mom
By Kaylynn

Make every one feel good
Works fabulously with other people
Helps me with hard homework
Loves having people over and having fun
Dream as big as you can
inspire little kids to be who they want to be
enjoy your morning coffee
go run around and have fun
be who you want to be
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Dream until your dreams come true
Be still long enough to
Notice great things around you.

Think Like Mom
By Tony

Smile when I tell you jokes
biking with you is amazing
learn math as I learn math
love me 24-7
buy me wonderful foods
watch scary movies with me
take me on long walks
share your soup with me
dream of me
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
let me sleep in
Be still long enough to
hear me saying “I love you”.

Think Like Mom
By Brady

Remember on Wednesday to pick up Brady
Inspire your kids
Help them with homework
Bring me to Wendy’s
Cherish every moment with your kids
Support your kids in rough times
Share your wild stories
Encourage your kids to try new things
Dream Big
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Whisper to your son “I love you”
Be still long enough to
hear “I love you, too”.

Think Like Mom
By Jack

Dances with a dress
Zooms through the air with her hair
Be prepared to be loved
Make me feel better
Speak like a charm
Be a teacher, don’t be taught
Be nice or the Kissy Monster will kiss you
Be talented and beautiful
Care for me
Emerge renewed at the first signs of dawn
Say “good morning!”
Be still long enough to
Stand next to me, not behind me.

Decisions, Decisions: Picking and Choosing

Mother’s Day is usually one Sunday I choose not to write a weekly newsletter.  Not this year, though. This past weekend was a great one for me, and I’m left feeling exhausted and refreshed all at the same time.  Much of my quiet time this weekend was spent reflecting on decisions we make as parents.  As a parent of two teenagers, lately our list of decisions seem hopelessly endless…


When our kids are little, we are making every single decision for them. We decide when they will eat, what they will wear, what toys they will play with. As their personalities grow, so do their desires to have a say in decisions. They start having preferences for food, clothes and activities.  On the surface, it seems they have *some* choice in the matter, but ultimately it is still the parents driving the decisions, so to speak.  You don’t want steak for dinner?  That’s okay! I’ll give you a choice instead:  chicken nuggets or Cheerios? Do you want your healthy drink in your purple sippy-cup, or in the green one? Our young children are still wrapped in a parent-designed safety-bubble.  We are the dictators – they can pick, but they cannot truly choose.


As our children become older, decisions become a bit bigger (and decidedly more expensive).  Does Carson pick football or soccer this fall?  Do we make him finish out the season when he chooses to quit? Does playing the flute have to last Kendyl a lifetime? Should it at least last until the squeaky thing is paid off?  Our older children learn the difference between picking and choosing and they face decisions beyond Cheerios and chicken nuggets. They start making decisions to shape their personality, to teach them about life. Our role as dictators morphs invisibly to managers.

expecting teens

Right around this age would have been a great time to buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting Teenagers. Except, I don’t think they carry that on Amazon?

alaska airport

Now our two children are wrapping up their final years of high school, and we are naively faced with REAL decisions. To be honest, many of these choices were a bit of a blindside to us as parents.  We still can’t figure out what happened to those years between ages 12 and 16 (let alone 18!!).  If anyone finds extra years laying around, please send them our way.  Seriously. The stalling techniques our kids used when balking at bed times could come in SUPER handy now that we are trying to stop Time ourselves.  We have been let-go as Managers and find ourselves to be reassigned as Expert Guides.


Our daughter is a senior in high school. I cannot even begin to describe the number of decisions we have navigated this year alone.  Though we have always had an open, honest relationship with our daughter, we weren’t really prepared to pass her the Decision Baton. No longer can we make choices for Kendyl. It is time for Kendyl to move past picking and choosing, and start deciding for herself.  She will begin making her own difficult decisions, and discover many wonderful ones as well.  She is forging her own path, and we are once again changing our roles as parents.  We are transitioning from guides to Supportive (Supervising) Cheerleaders.  Eventually, we will drop the supervisory role.

Kendyl collage

Sound simple? Try telling that to parents sending their oldest child off to prom.  ::DEEP breaths:: .  While she had the time of her life at her senior prom and will hold her memories dear, Mr. Brooks and I really struggled to make good decisions as parents while allowing Kendyl to make good decisions as an adult. In the end, we feel both happened.  In fact, I feel I grew up a little over the weekend, too.

One thing that made me feel better – I shared the story of our decisions with my own parents.


Thank goodness we have parents to turn to when faced with decisions. I guess we never stop guiding our children, or needing guidance. Though the power of parental influence waxes and wanes, it is never truly discarded. In fact? I welcome my parents’ expert guidance and cheerleading much more now than I did when I was 18.  These things take time, I guess.

And if some of you find those lost years for me, then I’ll have some extra time to figure it all out.   To sound cliché, enjoy this time while your children are young.  Our now-fourth graders will be seniors in high school in the blink of an eye, and you will wonder where all your time went.  I wish you a decision-filled journey. ;)

#MakeADifference Letters

My @FourthGraders are 7 weeks away from leaving Mullen-Hall! That’s crazy talk! We’ve been chatting and brainstorming ideas on how to thank the many people who have helped #MakeADifference in our elementary school experience.  Students came up with incredible lists ranging from folks who work in our school, to those who cheer us on from the sidelines.  We will spend the next several weeks composing letters to the people we feel have impacted our lives as students and as individuals.

letter menuI have reminded students these letters are not just “rah-rah” letters where we say someone is awesome, and cool, and really fabulous.  We want to give specific examples of what that person says or does that makes him or her stand out to us. What sayings are they known for? What life lessons did they teach you? What did they do to bring a smile to your face when you think of them? What is it about these people that have left a lasting impression on us?  Each letter written should be as unique as the individual it is given to.

Students know that we don’t use marker on our letters, but I encourage them to decorate each letter with crayons, colored pencils, stickers, etc.  Materials can be borrowed from the classroom. There’s room in the margins to make it special.  All students are required to write 5 letters, but are welcome to write more if they are so moved.  Neatness ABSOLUTELY counts. We do not want these wonderful folks to struggle to read our writing.

When we make transitions in our lives, it is only natural to take time to reflect on who has helped us along the way.  I am extremely proud of my @FourthGraders and look forward to seeing how their thoughtful letters #MakeADifference in the lives of others.

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures


Our field trip to Woods Hole is in the making! Volunteers are welcome during this full-day trip. Email me to find out more details!
Thank you to parents for taking the time to “grade” student homework last week. Students discovered more about themselves as writers in the process of analyzing their own work more closely.
Friday is Walk to School Day. If you did not receive an automated call on Sunday from Ms. Ashworth, please let the office know so they can be sure you are on the call list.


Whales off of Sagamore Beach 5/2/15. Right Whales spent the weekend feeding just off shore in Cape Cod Bay this past weekend. Onlookers had the opportunity to see these endangered creatures right up close. It was just awesome.

fourth graders video of the week

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 7.48.56 AM

Rocks and Minerals

Measuring angles with a protractor

Measuring angles with a protractor

An Eight Week Journey

I know it seems impossible, but there are only 8 weeks left of school. Crazy, huh?  I can scarcely believe we are almost finished with our first year in 4th grade.

After looking at my calendar, and my plan book, I can’t help but notice we have an adventure ahead of us!  Concerts, field trips, fun activities, tests, projects and lots and lots of learning.

As we get closer and closer to the last day of school, there is no doubt in my mind that students might grow in excitement.  My message has been, and always will be – every day we are in school is an important one.  I work just as hard on Day 1 as I do on Day 100 or Day 180, and I expect them to do the same.

With vacations and snow days behind us, we have a wonderful opportunity to delve deep into our lessons and develop an even stronger foundation for moving on to Morse Pond.  So, hopefully everyone had a wonderful break and is ready to hit the road running, so to speak.  I am super excited to see what these last two months bring!!

Wednesday evening is our musical/concert – students have been asked to dress to impress or as their favorite fairy tale character. Cast should arrive by 5:45 and remaining students by 6pm.
Nightly homework is (mostly) a success! If your child is struggling in some way, remind him or her that there are lots of options to “make the problem better”. Help them become part of the solution so they can learn to take responsibility for their own learning. As always, I appreciate your support and look forward to these last two months together!

Some photos from our April vacation:

Summer is almost here... the journey is but a short and sandy one!

Summer is almost here… the journey is but a short and sandy one!

We drove past this elderly gentleman who was riding his bicycle  in Sagamore Beach. Mr. Brooks thought at first his pant leg was stuck in his chain, so he had me pull over so he could help. The chain had fallen off the bike, and Mr. Brooks had to help the rider safely dismount (quite the feat!) so the chain could be fixed. All I could hear was him saying "Thank you, Kevin.... Thank you". He lives locally and it was a beautiful day for his first bike ride of the year. He said to Mr. Brooks we would meet again. I hope we do.

We drove past this elderly gentleman who was riding his bicycle in Sagamore Beach. Mr. Brooks thought at first his pant leg was stuck in his chain, so he had me pull over so he could help. The chain had fallen off the bike, and Mr. Brooks had to help the rider safely dismount (quite the feat!) so the chain could be fixed. All I could hear was him saying “Thank you, Kevin…. Thank you”. He lives locally and it was a beautiful day for his first bike ride of the year. He said to Mr. Brooks we would meet again. I hope we do.

We came across Mother Goose while in Boston. Some kind Bostonians created a protected area for her to raise her family.  From the looks of it, there was also daily food and water delivery.  What a smart goose to find a home with folks to help keep her safe.

We came across Mother Goose while in Boston. Some kind Bostonians created a protected area for her to raise her family. From the looks of it, there was also daily food and water delivery. What a smart goose to find a home with folks to help keep her safe.

fourth graders Letter of the week

weekly letter april 27fourth graders video of the week

Math Antics: Angles and Degrees

Math Antics: Angles and Degrees



Wings Are For Flying

We are already working hard in Term 3.  Our pace is a little faster, our learning is a little deeper.  Students have to be engaged in learning to keep up. They have to do more than “good enough”. No more crawling. They have to put forth best effort every day, as we both know they are so capable and full of potential. I want them to use their wings to fly.

Wings Are For Flying: 4th Graders Dreaming Big

Last week, we wrapped up our simple machines unit in science by making our own Rube Goldberg machines.  Looks easier than it is, we discovered!  Even though we spent several hours building and testing our machines, we learned trial and error, careful planning and collaboration are all essential to pull off such a comprehensive project.  They really did a fabulous job.  This is one more video we are watching this week:

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.49.03 PM

Before vacation, we are going to Rock it out, so to speak.  We are going to talk about the Rock Cycle, which leads us to learn about the 3 different types of rocks.  Being new to 4th grade allows me to learn lots, too!

In we are studying and writing poetry, which is fun and challenging all at the same time. Students are learning there is a different between “feet” in poetry and “syllables”.  In fact, they make a big difference!  Be sure to ask your 4th grader about the difference between them.  So far, we have written in 3 different poetry styles, with several more ahead of us. Students are becoming more fluid in their language, and their vocabulary is getting juicier, too!

In math, we are continuing to manage decimals – comparing them, ordering them, adding them, etc…  Some skills are more challenging than others, but it helps when students can relate their knowledge of fractions.  We will keep practicing, as practice makes progress.

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming dates, and keep your family calendar nearby.  I know mine is starting to look busy, too!

Not-So-Simple Machines

We have been studying Simple Machines in our 4th grade class. Students became experts in one machine, and then taught the rest of their classmates all about the information they learned. Now that we are all in-the-know, we are applying our knowledge to compound machines.  There are no machines more fun than those inspired by Rube Goldberg.   We just started watching a few videos in class today, and the kids asked that I post them on our blog so they can watch them at home.

I’ll be adding more as we share in them in class.  Enjoy!!

National Geographic commercial - 1 minute. We watched this several times to find simple machines.

National Geographic commercial – 1 minute. We watched this several times to find simple machines.


A series of simple machines made entirely of LEGOs.  SO cool!!

A series of simple machines made entirely of LEGOs. SO cool!!

Mr. Porto's students and their Rube Goldberg machines from 2014.

Mr. Porto’s students from Lawrence School  and their Rube Goldberg machines from 2014.

The Page Turner.  Rube Goldberg machines are known for making simple tasks more complicated.

The Page Turner. Rube Goldberg machines are known for making simple tasks more complicated.


This MythBusters Rube Goldberg machine is fun to watch because Adam and Jamie walk us through the whole machine before it runs. Very cool!!

This MythBusters Rube Goldberg machine is fun to watch because Adam and Jamie walk us through the whole machine before it runs. Very cool!!

Edutopia video: At New York City's game-based learning school Quest to Learn, sixth graders take risks in the process of designing a Rube Goldberg machine, which enables more creativity, innovation, and engagement.

Edutopia video: At New York City’s game-based learning school Quest to Learn, sixth graders take risks in the process of designing a Rube Goldberg machine, which enables more creativity, innovation, and engagement.

The kids know how I love Sesame Street! Can't resist.

The kids know how I love Sesame Street! Can’t resist.


This week, students will be building their own versions of Rube Goldberg machines.  We will explore using RubeWorks and will watch several videos for inspiration.  This particular website will be useful to students as they plan their inventions:

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 4.01.28 PM

This is our rough schedule for the week:

Monday: Learn

Tuesday: Plan

Wednesday: Build

Thursday: Share
Our only homework this week is to re-visit this blog post to watch videos and read articles.  Students are also encouraged to bring in materials to be used in their machines.  I will have labels available for students to use if materials need to be returned home.  Here is a list of items that would be helpful as we design our machines:
rube materials



Effort Affects Everything

Tomorrow morning both my @FourthGraders and my 16 year old son will take the state Common Core assessment.  Like the swallows to Capistrano, these tests come around faithfully each spring.  Though the swallows are welcomed with fiestas and cheering crowds, our requisite tests are not met with the same level of joy and wonder.


Though, there are things we wonder about….  There are many “sides” to the standardized testing conversation. A quick search on Google allows readers to experience the opinions of those who are anti-test, and those who are pro-test…   ;)     There are plenty of opinions inside and outside the world of education to fill in gaps in between.  I have never written about my personal opinion regarding these tests.  First of all, our classroom blog is no place for controversy, and secondly I could not choose a side.


Today? I finally choose a side.  I choose Effort.  I support Best Effort in all areas of the curriculum. I support Best Effort inside and outside the classroom. I support Best Effort 180 days a year as a teacher and I strive for Best Effort 365 days a year as a human being (though laundry piles and dusty shelves are a testament to my falling short sometimes ha ha!).


This afternoon, I chatted on the rug with my students to go over the logistics for testing tomorrow and to clear up any last-minute concerns. They were thrilled to hear there would be no homework this week. Whoop!! They asked if they should go to bed early.  They spoke of what snacks they would bring to fuel their pre-test brains.  They asked (again) about how long it would be.  They asked (again) about what to do if they have technical glitches.  They asked (again) whether we were taking the Math or ELA test tomorrow.


Then it happened – they shared what they have heard about The Test.  This year, “The Question” was asked quite respectfully  (most years, it is asked by a student in a way that isn’t so kind). When the student said “I was told the test only measures teachers and whether they do a good job. Is that true?”, there was a small sea of bobbing heads.  They have heard the same thing. Oftentimes, students are told the test is not testing them, it is testing their teacher.  Though I understand the rationale to reassure young students, hearing the question always makes me sad.


To answer the question, I was honest and true to my own feelings.  The test gives us a small picture of how we are all doing.  It might show whether or not our curriculum meets the standards. It might show whether or not my methods are improving each year. It might show students their performance over time.  It leaves out many vital, important facets of teaching and learning.  It is by no means a bottom-line measurement of who we are as teachers, as students or as parents. It is a blurry snapshot at best.


But I reminded them only ONE thing matters to me every year.  Only one thing matters to me every day.  Only one thing will make a difference in their lives as they move forward.


Effort Affects Everything.


Whether I am working with students on the first day of school, the 40th day of school, the day before a vacation, the day of a test, or the final day I spend with them before I hug them goodbye, I share the same message:  Effort Affects EVERYTHING. They hear me say it when I am praising them. They hear me say it when I am encouraging them.  They hear me say it when I am testing them. They even hear me say it when I am reprimanding them. Though they are still learning to do so, I expect my students to try their best each and every day.  I expect the same of myself. I know my inner middle-aged Pollyanna is speaking for me when I say it doesn’t matter what we are doing – we should always try our best.  Students in my classroom hear this, read this, see this, and know it to be true; it is the foundation of our classroom culture.


Effort Affects Everything.


I told my fourth grade students I expect them to treat tomorrow like every other day of the school year. I expect them to try their best. To read carefully. To employ strategies. To write thoughtfully. To be genuine, hard workers because THAT is what I expect of them every day.   Adults know there is pride in a hard day’s work; my young students are discovering it for themselves.

My Kendyl, learning to windsurf when she was 12.


As always, thank you for your support inside and outside the classroom.

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature Suzy


The Gift of Reading

If you told me to sit down and take 20 minutes to read silently right now, I would hug you. Taking time to dive into a book (or a magazine, or a newspaper, or a cereal box) is something I’ve always enjoyed.  But as my life has moved along, finding time to do so is tricky! The time I find to sit down and “just read” happens less and less.  My students are lucky!  Every day they are given what I call  the Gift of Reading, as we spend at least 20 minutes every day reading silently to ourselves.


Teachers spend the beginning of the year trying to get their students immersed in books. We teach them how to find books, recommend books, enjoy different genres and how to build their reading stamina. Around the middle of the year we find many students reading from the same batch of books passed around from one reader to another.  Every year the series or the genre is different, but the same phenomenon occurs.  In 3rd grade, our weekly Book Talks changed the reading dynamic each year; introducing students to new reading options.  By the end of the year, 3rd grade students were absorbed in all sorts of books, and Silent Reading time was enjoyed by everyone.


Now that I’m in 4th grade,  I need something to shake us up.  Most of my students are hooked on about 3 series in the classroom, and the same 20 books are being passed around each day.  So, we are on a New Book Adventure.  Every day, I am reading the first chapter of a new book to my class.  The following day, that book goes into a special bin where students can grab and read it.  I’ll be keeping track of the books we share on our New Book Adventure page.   I’d love YOUR help!! What I would like to see is some Guest Readers come in and share the first chapter of their favorite books from 4th grade.  So, whether you are a parent, grandparent, school volunteer or a colleague, I hope you will accept this invitation. Hopefully with daily inspiration, my 4th graders will explore new adventures in the books they read.


Won’t you join us?

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures




fourth graders Letter of the week

weekly letter march 16

fourth graders video of the week


Making the change from fractions to decimals....

Making the change from fractions to decimals….


Sagamore Bridge, Cape Cod Canal @SimplySuzy 2015


Searching for PARCCing Spaces

Round about this time of year, I usually write my newsletter about the upcoming MCAS test. I share how we prepare in class and what families can do to support students as we roll along.  The last 9 years have afforded me the luxury of knowing the MCAS test inside and out so we can easily find balance within the classroom between test prep and other requirements we must fulfill outside of testing.


closerThis year, we are all venturing into new territory when it comes to standardized testing.  Many students nationwide will be taking the newly-developed PARCC tests in place of the MCAS.  As teachers, we have been learning more and more about the format of the tests, and you might remember I spent some time this past fall giving feedback to those who design the test.  This year, I have the added layer of being a new 4th grade teacher. The curriculum and work expectations are new to me, so at times I feel like a fish out of water. Sometimes it is a challenge to parse out the differences between what is New To Me and what is New To Everyone.

There are a few elements I feel we are working through as we prepare 303 students for this year’s testing while preserving other essential human elements in the classroom. I thought I’d share them with families if they are still unfamiliar with the new PARCC tests.

1.  The test is on a computer (for us, Chromebooks).  For most of my students, this is a big YAHOO!  For others, it is not as exciting as some might predict.  Keyboarding familiarity is important, as are some basic computer skills my students are honing.  We have two sessions in the computer lab each week, as well as several hours per week on the Chromebooks. Every minute students spend on devices is a step in the right direction, as we are making sure we have time to practice basic file-management-type-skills.  Student skills are on the rise, and anxieties are being met with reassurance and 1:1 assistance when necessary.

2. This isn’t your grandmother’s multiple choice. 303 students are learning the multiple-choice questions on the PARCC test are not always asking for one answer; sometimes they are asking for more than one. Sometimes the test asks us to choose an answer for #5, and then #6 asks us to choose the best reason to support that answer.  We keep reminding students to choose the best option, even though there might be other plausible ones. Truth be told, even as adults we are sometimes hard-pressed to figure out the right answer. These questions are tough and make us really think.  I’m very proud to listen to your children talk about these questions and their reasons for choosing particular answers.

3. What are we thinking? The PARCC folks want to know what students think after they are exposed to two or three selections on the same topic. They want to see how kids compare, contrast and convey their understanding.  We have been doing this since the fall, and I am thoroughly impressed with how students are now diving back into the reading to find supporting evidence when constructing answers.  One of the biggest challenges my students are facing is the fact that they have to include so many facets in their written answers.   With consistent feedback, modeling and encouragement, I am seeing huge growth in my students’ ability to express opinions using evidence from their selections.  A tall order for 10 year-olds!

4. Tick Tick Tick Tick….  This year, students may feel the pinch of a timed test. The MCAS had very little in the way of deadlines, but students mostly finished within 90 minutes or so.  The PARCC will stop (after a similar amount of time), which I find students are unaccustomed to.  We are trying to pay closer attention to the classroom clock throughout the day so students are more aware of how time passes.  They actually crack me up, in that most students aren’t tuned-in to the passage of time in general.

5. Basic Skills Remix:  In math, students are required to apply basic skills they have acquired over the past several years. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills will be pushed to the limits as students decide how to apply them in challenging problems.  I have told my students many times they already possess skills necessary to succeed. They only need to commit those skills to their problem solving to make it all come together.

6. Families can STILL help!  If you are the lucky family member of a 4th grader, you can still provide valuable support!  Make sure students are getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and staying active. Remind them every single day that Effort Affects Everything, and that everything we do in school is important.

My teaching emphasis hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years.  Though each spring my young students are faced with challenging assessments, I let them know they are so much more than a number on a paper.  We work hard to do our best on tests, but in the end it is the rest of our interactive, reflective learning that dictates the success of our school year.

Case in point:  Tomorrow morning we are walking the half-mile to Lawrence School to help 8th graders build their sleds for the upcoming Iditarod.  We will head back to Mullen-Hall and soon thereafter will practice our performance for our All-School meeting entitled “Be PROUD, Be YOU!”.  As always, we will blog, Tweet, sing, dance, laugh, write, read and problem-solve the week away.

We will personify Balance as we continue to navigate 4th grade together.  As always, thank you for your support as we work together as a team!

Dream Big,

MyLiveSignature - My Signatures



fourth graders video of the week

Our Science Fair Welcome video - created using DoInk, KomaKoma and iMovie

Our Science Fair Welcome video – created using DoInk, KomaKoma and iMovie



fourth graders Letter of the week

weekly letter march 9

Student Solutions

It’s official. In preparation for middle school, we have made the transition from weekly homework packets to nightly homework.   Having nightly homework has already proven to be a challenge for my @FourthGraders, so I thought I’d give them some suggestions on how students can be more proactive when it comes to taking responsibility for their learning.


I started coming up with some fabulous suggestions.


Then? I stopped and rethought the whole idea.  Why would I just hand them my wonderful list, when they could brainstorm their own?


So, today’s writing lesson started off with a Carousel of Advice.  Students were separated into four groups, and every 7 minutes they circulated to a new station where they faced the following questions:

homework questions

Created using FableVision’s Stationery Studio

By the end of our lesson, we had four posters filled with suggestions for the characters (above) to improve their homework situation.  Here are some of the suggestions Room 303 students came up with together:

Students who leave their homework at school could:

  • Go back to school and pick it up.
  • Do extra work that night instead and bring it in to show the teacher with a promise to finish the homework soon.
  • Write an e-mail to the teacher to explain the situation and to ask for the assignment.
  • Phone a friend and have them either photograph or scan the assignment and send a digital copy.
  • Check the class website to see if the assignment has been posted or uploaded there.

Students who do not understand their homework could:

  • Ask parents for help.
  • E-mail the teacher to ask clarifying questions.
  • Watch online videos to review the topic.
  • Skype or FaceTime with a classmate who understands the assignment.
  • Write a note next to the problems that were misunderstood, explaining why they might be wrong.

Students who know their schedule will be a problem during the week could:

  • Do homework on the bus or during breakfast or lunch.
  • Create a schedule for that week that will work better for homework.
  • Talk to the teacher to see if he or she has suggestions or ideas.
  • Ask for the homework early to get a head start.
  • Bring homework on errands to do when there is time.

Students who have been out of school absent could:

  • E-mail the teacher during the absence to ask for missing work.
  • Have a classmate bring work home to finish before going back to school.
  • Check the classroom website to see if the teacher has posted any lessons or resources.
  • Try and catch up by bringing home work to do on the weekend.
  • When the absence is over, go right to the teacher and ask for missed work.
  • Ask lots of questions and pay really close attention when it is time to go back to school.

As you can see, Room 303 students have some great ideas to help others who are struggling with homework.  Every response assumes positive intentions and values personal responsibility.  It asks for adults to help solve the problem while the student is still in charge of finding the solution.  I think I speak for many teachers out there when I say we are mostly looking for students to value learning, and put forth best efforts every day. It’s pretty simple when you really think about it.


Effort Affects Everything.  Try your best!

March 2 2015