A Day in the PARCC

As the sun came up Saturday morning, I was bound for UMass Boston for a day filled with testing. I don’t mean I was being tested. Phew! I was asked by TeachPlus to join a group of teachers who came together in an effort to analyze and give feedback on the next generation of standardized tests for students. Feedback groups were assembled in cities such as Boston, Chicago, DC, Memphis and Nashville.

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Taken from the Student Center at UMass Boston – what a beautiful campus!!!

As we all know, MCAS has been around for about 17 years. With the onset of the Common Core in 2010, there has been a need to improve testing to reflect the critical thinking and hard work students are doing in schools. To this end, a consortium of many Common Core states came together and are developing the PARCC test. Some students already field tested the computer-based assessment last spring, and Falmouth students will be taking the PARCC (instead of MCAS) as part of a pilot program this year.  With feedback from field tests, pilots and teacher reviews, the folks at PARCC will improve and adjust their product so it is rigorous, engaging, well-aligned to the common core, and appropriate for each grade level.

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On Saturday we spent a lot of time analyzing the variety of question types on both the ELA and Math portions of the PARCC. We used an extensive rubric to evaluate whether or not the tests met the criteria for high-quality assessments.

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I can say without a doubt these tests will measure what students know, understand and are able to do.  MCAS questions were limited in their variety. Students either chose a multiple choice option, wrote a short answer, or composed an open response. Students now will answer multiple choice questions where they may have to choose more than one right answer. They may have to defend why they chose a multiple choice answer by finding evidence in the text. They will drag-and-drop information to organize tables and graphic organizers. They will compare multiple pieces (written and video) and compose written responses using those sources as evidence. They will complete multi-step math problems where process and understanding are key to the solution. They will use many dynamic digital tools to organize and explain their thinking.

I feel good about the fact that the PARCC test developers and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education heard our hopes, concerns, criticism and praise.  As teachers, we were given a voice on Saturday, and I am learning what a powerful thing Teacher Voice is.  We want our students to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged and we all know tests are not the only measure of a whole child. While the system is not perfect, we are making strides in the right direction to improve education for all students. Thank you for your support this year as we scaffold students through a rigorous curriculum and find the balance between Play and Preparedness.

These tests will reflect the understanding students are developing as they become ready for college and careers over time. Though that “finish line” may seem so very far off from where we sit in 4th grade, I can assure you it is right around the corner.  My daughter is finishing her Senior year in high school, and my son will be taking the MCAS for his (hopefully) final time this year as a Sophomore as part of his graduation requirement.  They were little  just yesterday, believe me!  Their path towards who they will become is already being paved, and they are charting their own course. I can only hope there will be many folks lighting the journey for them along the way.


Thank you to those who made it to Meet The Teacher night. It was great meeting everyone! Also, thank you for returning your parent surveys. SO valuable!
Remember tomorrow is our first Early Release. Be sure to send in a note if your child’s dismissal plan changes.  Thank you!!

Speak Life,

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September 22fourth graders Letter of the weeksept 22 letter

fourth graders video of the week

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Sliding Into Summer

It’s that time of year when students are ready to go running off into Summer and leave school far behind. I don’t blame them! I still fondly remember the Promise happily held by every Last Day of School:  A summer filled with adventure, friends and fun.  My Last Days never promised me a summer filled with learning, though.

Ironically, if you Google the term “Summer Slide” and start reading, you’ll be given enough articles to fill your entire season.  Parents all over the country are providing learning opportunities for their children during the summer so they will hit the ground running come September. Bravo!!! Keeping student learning fresh and current is essential during the 10 weeks away from structured learning.  As a teacher, I completely agree.

Having said that, I am also the well-meaning and exhausted parent of two children who fully buy into the Last Day Promise.  They want adventure, friends and fun.  There has yet been one summer where I have convinced them to embrace the idea of summer learning.  I’ve tried special schedules stuck to the refrigerator, token systems, money incentives, schedules stuck to their bedroom doors, workbooks, library visits, book store purchases, chasing them around with the schedules, reading aloud to them and good old-fashioned temper tantrums (mostly mine).  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the Great Reader to improve her Shaky Math.  Similarly, I couldn’t get the Mathmagician to want read at all.

(Oh, except this one time, which I think the jury is still out on whether this was actual “reading”.)


And PLEASE don’t even ask me about whether my two cherubs actually did any writing over the summers.  That’s just too embarrassing for all of us.


I don’t think this was getting anyone ready for 8th grade….

So, what’s a responsible parent to do, when it comes to supporting children during the expanse of summer, with the threat of Lost Learning at stake?  We certainly can’t lose learning!!!  WAIT!!! We are grown-ups!  We know what’s best! We have access to resources and ideas and allowances.  We are the ones with the driver’s license.  We are the ones who make all the Adventure, Friends and Fun possible.  There must be time during the summer for all of it, right?

I still have two children (though they are now 15 and 17) and they will still have to avoid Summer Slide.   I imagine they will still avoid learning like The Plague. They are well-versed in my usual tactics and will no-doubt see me coming from a mile away when I smile and take out the calendar.  So, instead, I have been trying to think and see things differently.  What “counts” as summer learning?  What is engaging to them while fulfilling the promise we have made to their new teachers?  How will I balance between my “Just Do It” motto for required summer reading books and “Let’s Try” when it comes to alternative ideas?  I’m off to explore those countless Summer Slide articles and hope to find some answers that work for our family .  Wish me luck!!

I wish you luck in your quest as you navigate the realm of Summer Learning.  If you have any great suggestions or advice, be sure to share!

Dream Big,

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Wax On!

In case you didn’t hear, the 3rd Grade Wax Museum is less than two weeks away! Talk about ramping up! I thought I’d take some time to make sure we are all on the same page.

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Last week I sent home some important deadlines for students so we can have them prepared for the 29th.  All students should be bringing in their Wax Museum speech this week so we can see if it needs adjustments, and to start practicing.

On Tuesday, students should bring in all of their materials for the Wax Museum. This includes their costume materials, props, final speech and button.  We will begin recording each student as they perform their speech.  Wednesday will serve as a day for overflow recordings.


Some students are asking if they can bring in large props, furniture, etc… I have told them they can bring in whatever they would like, but they need to remove everything by close of school on Friday.  If you have logistical questions about large items, (or anything else) please let me know.

The topic of memorization has come up dozens of times. By having speeches due by today, students are now on the road to being prepared to recite their speech from memory. That doesn’t mean that a small note card with key words listed to trigger memories isn’t allowed.  We do not want any students reading sentences or paragraphs during their speech, so our week will be spent “becoming” our character so it feels natural to talk like him/her.

The night of the Wax Museum, we ask that all students be inside the building by 6pm. Parents and other museum-goers will wait outside until the “Big Reveal”.
The past 6 years has proven to me that 8 and 9 year olds are amazing performers. Their efforts will shine in the halls of Mullen, and I can’t wait for you all to see it happen!!
Thank you for your support!!

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May 19

Video of the Week


Teachers Appreciating Teachers

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so I thought I would do just that. 90% of my school memories are from elementary school alone. I attended a neighborhood school from grade K to 6 and I adored my teachers, my classmates and the experience.

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Image created using FableVision’s Stationery Studio

I am fortunate enough to be connected to several of my school’s amazing elementary teachers via Facebook.   This morning, I asked them some questions about teaching, and learning.  I thought I would share a couple of responses with you!


Mr. Monaghan & Mrs. Noble (thank you for the picture, Carol!!)



Mrs. Noble was my 4th grade teacher. I loved her to pieces and one of my fondest memories was our end-of-year barbecue at her house.  I couldn’t help but smile wide when she shared with me a photo of myself from that day in particular, as it was a favorite memory of hers as well.  Common memories tie us together and make life special.


Clearly, my athletic talent and potential was so apparent, even way back then…. lol…. (1979)

Mrs. Noble taught fifth grade for four years, fourth grade for three years, kindergarten for three years, and has now owned a preschool for 28 years! She is still working with children and loving it.  Life is so different now, than it was when I was in elementary school, so I asked Mrs. Noble what she wished she had available to her in the classroom back then, and/or what do she wished was still the same in today’s classrooms…

“I wish we had computers for communicating with kids and families back then. I wish that we still had the flexibility to spend more time on the whole child instead of focusing quite so much on the “standards”. Play and social skills seem to have taken a bit of a back seat, which I think is a shame. My teaching advice is remember to smile and take time to enjoy the children. They can tell if you really love what you do!”


Mr. Monaghan was a teacher on our 6th grade team. 6th grade was the year we participated in Outdoor Education – a week away from home in the woods of Ossipee, New Hampshire. It was during this week I came to know what a great teacher Mr. Monaghan was.   He taught Language Arts for thirty-five years: ten at Fisher Elementary School and twenty-five at Johnson Middle School. Each year he had four sections of ELA and one session of either Social Studies, Math or Science. For eight years at Fisher, he was the Grade 6 Music teacher. Throughout, he was involved as a drama coach either collaborating or working alone. At Johnson, the drama workshops were for Grades 6-8. His enthusiasm was (and still is) contagious. See for yourself:


“I miss the contact with children, their parents and my colleagues. I loved building the students’ self-confidence, meeting the different learning styles and helping kids navigate those tricky pre-adolescent years. Times change, but a child’s issues haven’t. Kids want to feel good about their life, their schoolwork, their friendships. The teacher creates positive memories that sustain children when the going gets rough.

Teaching is the best and the hardest job around.  I have teaching anecdotes for a lifetime. I am very lucky to still be in contact with many of my former students.”


I love being connected to these and some of my other former teachers all these years later.  I hope each of them have come to know the difference they made in the lives of  their students. My teaching style has become a mixture of the best my teachers had to offer.  Over 30 years later, they still make me feel special!


Have you connected with a former teacher lately?  Why not do so this week?  As for my current students – I always encourage them to write or visit anytime. Though I don’t always recognize their grown-up faces, I ALWAYS remember who they were and what they meant to me.  Those feelings never go away.  Thank you for sharing your children with me, I will cherish them always.

Dream Big,

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Video of the Week




May 5


April Showers Bring Many Projects

It’s funny – I took out a blank calendar and started adding in all of the upcoming presentations, projects, lessons, assemblies, visitors, celebrations, field trips and such… After all was said and done, I think I was left with less than an hour of open time.

Though I’m exaggerating to a certain extent, I also cannot believe we are in Post-April-Vacation mode already. The rest of the year is a down-hill slope, which will zip by faster than you think.

Math MCAS is next week. Snack Bags will come home later this week for the same routine as last time. Homework this week will have some practice problems so you have an idea of what your children will be working on. I think they are very well prepared, based on the hard work they have been doing all year.

Wax Museum will be a HUGE focus in the coming weeks.  Students are required to have their book and research materials at school each day. They are allowed to bring them home if needed, but they MUST remember to bring them back to class. Students who forget will come home with a Forgetful Frog, reminding them to bring in their materials.  Ribbit!
Books for Babies is also a big deal, now. Students will bring home a board book to read overandoverandover. Be sure this book also goes to school each day, in case we are practicing or recording students reading their books.
Forgetful FrogBook Talks are done, but will be replaced by Wax Museum prep. BE SURE to use these evenings to prepare for the Wax Museum. Activities can include researching, costume planning, prop collection, speech writing, memorization and practice.  Each year, all students are asked to make every attempt to memorize their speech.

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June 20th will be our Family Farewell Celebration at 2:00.  Please make every attempt to join us, as students love having their families present.

I know. I just wrote about a June date. It goes against everything I believe in, but I can’t escape the inevitable.  As these weeks fly by, be sure to reach out with questions as we soar. Dream Big!
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April 28Video of the Week


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 reach 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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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.

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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.

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March 3Video of the Week

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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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