9 Ideas You Can Steal from Teachers

After stumbling across Portent’s Content Idea Generator, I had a bit of fun… I threw in some favorite topics and generated some pretty giggly blog post ideas:

What’s YOUR idea??

10 Freaky Reasons Creativity Could Get You Fired.

How Learning Can Help You Predict the Future

12 Ways Technology Could Help the Red Sox Win the World Series.

20 Things Spock Would Say About Schools.  <~someone should totally write this!!


But those are all topics for another day….

9 ideas you can steal from teachers

So I started thinking about one of the topics that Portent generated….  What are ideas we teachers have, that others would find worth stealing?

Here goes!!

attention1: Attention Please

Whether teachers are clapping, chanting, counting, calling out, or throwing up Peace Signs – they are getting the attention of students coast to coast.  So, next time you need to get attention at the dinner table, or at the deli, or on the subway – try some tried-and-true teacher tricks.  Clap a rhythm, shut the lights off, or count backwards from 10.  Soon you’ll have the rapt attention of all those around you.

2.   Everything is more fun with Music

Music is a powerful medium. I can still remember all of the words from all the Schoolhouse Rocks videos of my youth. I can still sing my multiplication tables from 3rd grade (thank you, Mrs. Lynch!).  Classical piano and guitar help drown out all of the distractions of Real Life so I can focus on one thing at a time.  Sharing music in the classroom helps keep things calm and lively; serene and silly.  Students respond to rhythm, to rhyme, to rap, to relaxing tones.  So, try rapping that pesky list of chores to be done around the house, or singing the steps to cleaning a bedroom.  A little classical music during dinner never hurt anyone.

3.   Read-alouds are good for everyone.  

Read-Aloud time is one of our most favorite in Room 204. Whether we are sharing the next chapter in Charlotte’s Web, or rhyming along with Dr. Seuss, during read-aloud every student is engaged and involved.  Perhaps the next time you’d like to get an important point across to a family member, you could do it in the form of a read-aloud.  Gather them on the rug in front of you, muster up your best fluency skills, and have at it.  Whether you read the DVR user’s manual, summer camp brochures, or the latest junk mail, I guarantee you’ll have a committed audience.  Sell it.

4.   Mix things up.

We all know there is comfort in routine. Classrooms are environments based on routine – but even the best-built routines need shaking up once in a while.  Changing the schedule, the furniture, the materials we use, or the people we eat lunch with can all help avoid monotony at school.  Kids love it!  Give it a try yourself!  Switch up meals, schedules, furniture, and responsibilities – it will breathe new life into your predictable day.

curious5.  Reach out and help each other

Students are encouraged to work collaboratively together every day.  Teachers are always looking for opportunities to work with colleagues on projects as well.  In a busy world, with many responsibilities and little time, we must rely on each other to persevere.  Reach out! Helen Keller was right when she said “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  Buddy up!


6.  We are all icebergs.

One thing I’ve learned as I have aged, is that everyone is far more than they appear on the surface.  My work with students has only solidified this belief. Students are complex creatures growing into even more complex adults. In most situations, we are only able to see each other as iceberg tips; what lurks beneath the surface is always far more than appears.  Remember: everyone’s iceberg foundation is made of positives and negatives, of strengths and weaknesses, of similarities and differences.  When we can truly accept and respect those differences, we can learn more together.  “Iceberg ahead!!”

swing7.  Recess Rocks!

Every day, recess provides an opportunity for students to be free from obligations. On any given day, you can observe an intense game of football, or a creative music performance. You can see children swinging to the sky or rolling on the ground. Time is their own to fill as they choose, and it fuels the remainder of the day.  What can recess look like OUTSIDE of school?  Don’t we all need breaks? Couldn’t we all use a little refueling?  Remember – recess is more fun with friends!  Get out there!!

patience8.  Practice Patience

Patience is required by all of us, throughout the school day.  We need patience to deal with behaviors, with the learning process, and waiting our turn. We need patience when we misunderstand, or are misunderstood.  I wish that patience packages were sold at BJ’s in big club-sized boxes, as sometimes even I run a little short by the time I get home.  Patience is valued outside the school day even more so than in it.  Outside school, we still need to have patience with behaviors, with the driving process, and waiting for information.  Outside of the classroom, we need patience when we misunderstand, or are misunderstood. We could all stand to practice (and receive!) a little more patience every day.

9.  NEVER stop learning

Life is a classroom.  When we all start believing education occurs inside and outside school, every day of the week, for the entire length of our lives, the more we will all learn.  Look for opportunities to tie School into Life in much the same ways we work to tie Life into School.  Ask questions, research answers, share findings.  Read articles. Share articles. Write articles! Watch videos. Share videos. Create videos!  Imagine if EVERYONE consumed AND created learning content within our society?  What would change?


Well, it seems to me after writing this, that there aren’t any real secrets teachers have, that everyone else doesn’t already know.  Hopefully what you already know and believe about teachers includes their all-consuming commitment to reaching every child, every day, every year.  Hopefully you already know teachers are icebergs who use their foundation and experience (sprinkled with patience) to bring the real world into the classroom.  Hopefully you already know that teachers love recess and read-alouds for all the same reasons kids do.  Hopefully you already know reaching out to help your children and their teachers makes all the difference in the world, so keep on doing it.
Thank you for your attention.

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Be sure to send in your choices for our upcoming Wax Museum. Students will receive their assignment on Thursday so they can look for a good book over April Vacation.  If you have any questions or need more information, be sure to let me know. :)



April 7

Video of the Week

We are still researching the importance of reading to babies…  The folks at Scholastic shared this video for parents, but 204 students will find lots of ideas, too!!

Fluency Finders

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss

For the 3rd year in a row, I just logged off of the Scholastic Book Clubs website, where I used all of my Bonus Points to order some board books.  You might think that board books are a bit babyish for our mature 3rd graders, right? Well, we have a Big Project in the works, and those board books will play a big part!

Students in 204 have already spent considerable time learning about fluency skills employed by great readers. We will continue next by researching and exploring early literacy, and reflecting on what our own experiences have been as readers.

As soon as the shipment of board books arrives, the real work begins!  Each student will receive a board book to keep for a few weeks.  They will read that book, upside-down, backwards and sideways until they are expertly fluent.  When everyone is ready, I will record them reading their chosen book and burn their recordings onto a CD.

Enter the gift bags: We will fill each bag with one board book, and one CD, along with a carefully planned, perfectly edited letter…  These persuasive letters will be written to parents of brand-new babies, informing them as to why reading to babies is so important, and convincing them to begin immediately!

In May, we will deliver all of our gift bags to Falmouth Hospital, so they can be distributed to all the new 2014 babies.  Who knows? If I stay in teaching long enough, I could see one of those cuties in my class someday!!
Visit the blog for updates and more information on this exciting project! If you are willing to donate a few board books, please let me know, as we are short by a few. We’re so, So, SO excited!!!


RemindersMr. Persico has opened a GoFundMe page and has some great literacy ideas in store himself!  Be sure to stop by his page and check it out.  Also, mark your calendars for next Thursday, April 17th, when he will have us all gather at Eight Cousins and build a new library together.  Details to follow, soon!!

April 7

Video of the Week

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Project-Based Learning

I recently presented a webinar for teachers on Project-Based Learning and was asked if many areas of the curriculum can be integrated into one project. I answered yes, and gave an example relating to a real-life project I am swimming in now: Putting our home back together after our Big Flood.

If you’re never renovated an entire home all at once, you are missing out on a great learning experience. And by great, I mean HUGE (not necessarily wonderful…)!


Photo by Richard Haag, taken at Bloedel Reserve

We’ve had to integrate problem-solving, conflict-resolution, cooperation, budgeting, design, communication, negotiation, patience, skill development, planning and scheduling in order to move forward.  Like it or not, we have touched upon every possible 21st Century skill!

On Saturday, we worked with my brother to begin installing kitchen cabinets. There was lots of Direct Instruction as we started the day, as he has lots of experience, and we have none.  By late afternoon, we had moved on to Guided Practice, because he was here to help every step of the way if we needed him. My understanding of fractions rose to a new level as we measured accurately to fit everything together.

work collage

With my brother gone on Sunday, it was left to Mr. Brooks and I to take things from there.  Our Independent Practice was a challenge in every way imaginable, and reminded us once again why we aren’t doing this for a living.  Progress slowed to a screeching halt as we hit the current ceiling of our combined abilities.

I was reminded again of the importance of scaffolding when it comes to teaching and learning.  There are many tasks which have challenged us, and we have struggled in many ways. It is through that struggle we have learned the most. However, there are times when the struggle is too discouraging, and we have to rely on someone else to teach us a bit more.

You know the saying….   Two steps forward, one step back.

end of line

Our Screeching Halt.

So, half of our cabinets are up, and look great. But it’ll be another few weeks before my brother comes to help us with the next steps…

before after

Before & the “After” – so far…


Thank you for the wonderful notes you sent in with snacks during MCAS. Your children LOVED them!Those positive messages go a long way – get ready to do it again in May for the Math MCAS.

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March 24Video of the Week
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Fly Higher, See Farther…

Room 204 students have been focused on eagles lately.

“The bird that flies highest, sees farthest.” – Richard Bach

We recently read a story entitled Fly, Eagle, Fly by Christopher Gregorowski.  We often chat about the benefits of activating our prior knowledge before we dive into a reading.  With so many great eagle resources available, we really dove deep!  Because students were so interested in the conversation, I thought I’d post about some of the photos, videos and websites we shared.


My family and I were lucky enough to see many eagles during our trip to Alaska this summer:

These were taken in Ketchikan, where the adults and juveniles perched all along the jetty, hoping to catch their next meal:




We moved on to Juneau, where we were treated to  feeding frenzy at the end of our full-day fishing and photo safari.  Talk about fireworks on the Fourth of July!!



Here is a video as we watched dozens of eagles swoop in to eat chicken. Yum!


This last one was taken at the end of our trip at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood, Alaska.

Adonis is a gunshot victim found near a remote village in Alaska. His wing required full amputation, and he has lived at AWCC since 1995.

Adonis is a gunshot victim found near a remote village in Alaska. His wing required full amputation, and he has lived at AWCC since 1995.

I also shared the following site with students – but we cannot stream it at school (it uses too much bandwidth). Perhaps you’ll have time to check it out at home….  In Decorah, IA, there are a pair of American Bald Eagles who have made their home alongside a trout farm.  There are webcams trained on the nest, and they broadcast 24/7 for viewers to observe the comings of goings of the Mom & Dad eagle, as well as their eaglets.  This year, there are three eggs laid, and though the cold weather has threatened the viability of two eggs, it appears as if the 3rd egg will hatch in a few weeks.  Stay tuned – it’s pretty cool!!!

If you have any eagle wisdom to share, be sure to leave us a comment! We’re super excited to learn more. :)


“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” – J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

A Break in the Action

You will notice that our homework this week is a little different.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and students in Room 204 will get a chance to enjoy the change of pace.

Homework is an important part of school, but with MCAS this week, I felt that everyone needs some down-time.  As a parent, I LOVE nights when there’s no homework, but unfortunately, they are few and far between.

So, this week, students will have homework of a different kind altogether.  See the homework sheet for more details.

After I present them with their homework in morning meeting, there are bound to be some questions.  All I am asking is that they complete all of their items before Friday, pretty much like a regular school week.  They always ask if they REALLY have to do all of the things they see on the list.  OF COURSE they do!! Don’t let them wiggle out of it!  :)

Before we know it, the weekend will be here, and the Language Arts MCAS will be a wonderful third grade memory.

Praise your children for the hard work they have put in all year, as it truly pays off in the efforts they put forth.

PLEASE let me know if there are any questions about our Snack Bags for MCAS.  I would like to have 100% participation as we had the last three years!  Students LOVE their parent notes!!

For those of you new to MCAS, the results of both the Language Arts and the Math tests will be mailed to your home address sometime in October.  It’s a long time to wait, that’s for sure!

RemindersPlease be on time this week, as we will get rolling right after our morning routine.  I don’t want students to feel rushed.
We will be doing an art project in class this spring. Please send in empty, flattened cereal boxes.

Thank you!!MyLiveSignature - My Signatures

March 17Video of the Week

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Set up for Success

Last week I wrote about all of the strategies we are using at school to help us prepare for the upcoming MCAS.  This week, I’m giving you some suggestions for what can be done at home to set your child up for a positive testing experience. (While I am giving these as strategies for the MCAS, they truly are effective year-round!)


Move it, Move it: Researchers have found that children who participate in vigorous exercise 3 days a week score 10% better in school than their less-active counterparts. With Daylight Savings in effect, get those kids outside running around.  Enjoy the fresh air and warmer weather!

ZZZzzzzz:  Extensive research has been conducted on the effect sleep has on academics. Students who lose even one hour of sleep can perform 2 years below their usual capabilities.  In the interest of Restful Slumber, there will be no homework assigned next week. Please be sure your young student has a calm, relaxing evening, and an early bedtime.   10-11 hours per night is the recommended amount for children at this age.

Breakfast is Essential: Research reveals students who regularly eat a nutritious breakfast, perform better on tests measuring math, reading, memory and speed and other cognitive abilities.  Spend some time planning ahead for some easy-to-prepare, yummy and healthy breakfasts.

Encouraging Snacks: Later this week, you will receive 4 paper bags along with 4 index cards, and an instruction sheet.  I am asking parents to fill these bags with snacks for their favorite little third grader, and to include a note of encouragement and/or pride.   We will snack before the test (healthy!) and after the test (fun!).  I can say that notes from parents are treasured by students, and give them the encouragement and reassurance they crave when faced with their first Big Test.  Please be sure to participate!!

bagsGuaranteed to GrowRemindersEarly Release Day tomorrow – be sure to let us know if dismissal plans are changing by sending in a note.

We will be doing an art project in class this spring. Please send in empty, flattened cereal boxes.

Thank you!!MyLiveSignature - My Signatures

March 3Video of the Week

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Getting Silly with Spelling

Today the kids and I chatted about some of the activities we’ve been doing since September. We all agreed on the fact that some of them feel boring after all this time. In particular, we mentioned our weekly word work – how we interact with our spelling words.  We’ve had 9 spelling task cards to choose from this year, so I thought it was time to liven things up.  Here’s our new Wacky Word Work!  Hopefully everyone enjoys these new options going forward!  Feel free to download your own Spelling Cards Menu

Spelling Cards Menu

We Are In The Know!

Boy – the buzzword in third grade is MCAS.  To ease anxiety and to help prepare Room 204 students, we have been doing a number of things.

During Morning Meeting, we now allow 3 questions from students about MCAS (sometimes more, sometimes less).   They are asking WONDERFUL questions, which hopefully clarify their view of the upcoming tests.

We have done oh-so-many practice selections, and we are using the Falmouth method of answering Open Response Questions. Developed by the folks at Keys to Literacy, The A.N.S.W.E.R. acronym helps all students in grades 2-6 organize answers when responding to an Open Response Question…  As teachers, we are already excited about the improvement we are seeing in all students’ capabilities when they use this new strategy implemented last year.

I have spent many professional development workshops teaching educators about the importance  and opportunity presented by the  Common Core State Standards. Being able to use text evidence in support of an answer is a key skill in these new standards, and students will be honing their abilities as the years go on.

I am always teasing students, saying they need to use the BOOK, not their brain.  They understand that I’m not completely serious – that using their brain is still important. But, when responding to literature, they need to physically GO BACK into the reading and find (and cite!!) evidence that supports their answers.

Next week I’ll write about ideas for preparing your child for the MCAS at home. Other than that, these kids have been preparing for a long time before 3rd grade.  They are totally ready!!

RemindersOur Snack Basket is dwindling – students are asked to return a prepackaged snack when they borrow one.  Keep your eyes peeled for Snack Tickets in student MOOSE books if they had one.

We’re now in Round 2 of Book Talks. I am just amazed by the speed we’re traveling at this year!!  SLOW DOWN! :)

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PS: We hope you enjoyed STEAM night at Mullen-Hall.  Room 204 had an augmented reality display in the 3rd grade pod. Each student used oil pastels to create their planet  (we’ve been researching) and then it was brought to life in 3-D using the ColAR app we used earlier this year for FableVision’s Dot Day!  Here’s a peek:

ColAR app Dot Day planets


March 3

Video of the Week
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ECET2 + A College Visit = Lots of Reflection

I spent most of my vacation traveling far west of Massachusetts. I started off in Snowbird, UT for the Gates Foundation ECET2 convening. Over 300 teacher leaders were invited from all over the United States to come together and talk about the problems of our practice and we developed strategies for solving them. I met and listened to inspirational teachers and came away with a renewed sense of what can be accomplished with enthusiasm and support. HERE is my reflection piece posted on ASCD Edge…
Utah2utahThe remainder of my week was spent with my family, traveling to visit the University of Minnesota during their worst storm of the winter. I spent time reflecting on the time in my life where my big decisions started.  My daughter is now at that impasse, and has so much control over what happens next.  Can you all remember that time in your life?

I remember when I started teaching. My daughter was in the 3rd grade and it seemed we had all the time in the world before she’d be heading off on her own. Now, we are on that veritable threshold, and I am seeing the plane that will whisk her off into her future.

for good

I went ice skating with her today. She loves to ice skate. I despise it.  However, I am now hyper aware of this opportunity I have to connect with her before she heads off on her own life adventure.  I guess it goes without saying… I am sharing this story with all of you because it was just *yesterday* that she was in 3rd grade playing Club Penguin and soccer. She was shy and reserved and appeared as if she would never leave home. Because of her newly discovered adventurous spirit, I am more deliberate in how I spend my time with both kids.
As they say…. make hay while the sun shines.


Wow, we are almost in MARCH of 3rd grade! That’s crazy talk! This Wednesday is the Mullen-Hall STEAM night. Hope to see you all there!
We are now back living in our home and have reliable Internet. Thank you for your patience as I continue to navigate this upheaval. We’ll be back to normal by summer :) .



Dream Big,

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February 24Video of the Week

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What Makes our Writing Worth Reading?

We have been hard at work on our writing skills. Students have been learning strategies to hook their readers and keep them glued to their story. We’ve been analyzing what authors do and we notice there are many common features in their writing…

We notice authors use sounds, dialogue, questions, action, thoughts and feelings in their writing.  When they combine these different strategies, the writing becomes more powerful and the reader is engaged.

204 students have spent considerable time writing in ways that make their writing worth reading. Whether it is crafting an opening that “hooks” the reader, or developing characters and details in a way that keep a reader engaged, we are developing our skills in amazing ways!

So, as we put Once Upon a Time and The End behind us, watch and see how our skills and strategies evolve.  Through reflection and revision, we will see vast improvement in grade 3!

I often share my own writing with students – so I thought my Valentine’s story might be a fun one to share with families, too.  Don’t forget to send in valentines this week! Here’s my embarrassing narrative.


“The Secret Admirer”

The sky was a brilliant blue the day my teacher passed out the class list for Valentine’s Day. “Be sure to bring your lists home!” Mrs. Pollak said brightly as she handed us each one.  It was February, 1980, and I was in the sixth grade. I was extremely shy, perfectly well behaved, and a great student.  I loved my teacher, I loved Valentine’s Day, and I was starting to think I was in love with a boy.


All I had to do, was look across the room at him, and my whole face would burn up like a ripe apple.  I would never have the courage to talk to him, or tell him how I felt, because I was just too bashful.  But thankfully Valentine’s Day was right around the corner, and I’d have my chance to give him a hint.


Every year, students at our school designed Valentine’s boxes — beautifully decorated creations, which were then used to collect all of our valentines at school.  My box was extra special this year, with pink stickers and white feathers, and I had used shiny white paper to cover it.  It was beautiful. It was ready.

Next, I set about creating my valentines. Although I had left my list at school, I knew each name by heart and set to work…  I created one for every student in the class, including him.  The valentines were made of shiny white paper, with pink stickers and white feathers.  (Even when I was 12 years old, I had to make sure everything matched!)  Each student’s name was carefully written on the front, and I had signed each one with my name in cursive. They were beautiful. They were ready.


Back to the boy…   I decided that sending him an anonymous card would be my best bet.  He’d get the hint that someone liked him, and hopefully I’d get lucky and he’d notice me.  I wanted to be very careful to create a valentine that was different than all my others.  I used a deep red paper, with hand-cut white hearts and a few candies glued on the front.  Inside – I wrote the following:

Dear Kile – I think you are very sweet and very cute. Love, Your Secret Admirer.



I was especially careful to disguise my handwriting. I did not sign my name.  It was beautiful. It was ready.


The dark gray sky on Valentine’s morning did nothing to dampen my mood.  I was walking on air, and spent a little extra time getting ready.  I chose a special outfit, and had my mom help me with my hair.  I even put on my BonneBell lip gloss and Love’s Baby Soft perfume!  I packed up my box, my Valentines and my secret card, and set off for school.  I could hardly contain my excitement, I was so happy.  I was beautiful.  I was ready.


The time came, late in the afternoon, when Mrs. Pollak finally told us it was time to pass out our Valentines.  I left my box on my desk, and carefully made my way around the room, dropping cards into all the boxes I came to.  I took special care NOT to drop his Regular Valentine into his box at the same time as his Special One. I did not want them side by side. I was certain that no one noticed when I dropped the red valentine into his box.  My heart was pumping in my throat by the time I sat down in my chair.

Next came the part I had been waiting for – we all opened our valentines and arranged them all on our desks.  I could see from across the room that he had opened his Secret Valentine, as it was on his desk with his others…  My cheeks started turning pink.


Soon, Mrs. Pollak inquired “Did any of you receive any unusual Valentines?”


From the corner of my eye, I saw him raise his hand.  I started to blush even more.


“I did, Mrs. Pollak.” He said with a shy smile in his voice. “I received a card from a secret admirer.”


“OOOhh!” said Mrs. Pollak “Do you know who it is from?”


“I think so.” He said.


“Well that’s exciting!  Do you want to share?”  My teacher asked him.

The whole class was now turned towards him, waiting for his reply. He was now also blushing bright red.  He softly said “The mystery valentine has my name spelled wrong: K.I.L.E.  It should be K.Y.L.E.”


My face grew red hot as he continued…  “Only one other person spelled my name wrong the same way…..  it was Suzy.”


Every face turned towards me as I tried to turn invisible.  I was about to throw up all over my beautifully feathered box when I heard Mrs. Pollak, saying – “Well, Kyle – I wouldn’t jump to conclusions – I saw a couple of young ladies come in the room from down the hall while we were passing out valentines.  My guess is that you have several possible secret admirers…”


Then, my wonderful teacher changed the subject by saying it was time to eat our cookies while we listened to her read our read-aloud chapter book.  She read to us until the very end of the day.


As the bell rang, and I went to leave the classroom, Mrs. Pollak gave me a smile, a wink and quick hug as she whispered in my ear….  “Suzy, I admire how brave you were today, but next time?  Remember to use the class list!”


RemindersWe are still in need of drivers for Wednesday’s field trip to the Cotuit Art Center. Please let me know ASAP if you can help us out.
Our valentine share will be on Friday, but students can bring in their cards to hold on to at any point.   Thank you!!

Dream Big,

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February 10Video of the WeekScreen Shot 2014-02-09 at 8.51.19 PM