Are You A Good Digital Citizen?


This is a new project I am planning for my 4th grade students. We have been learning a lot about digital citizenship this year, and we think it would be cool to create something that would help spread this message to other students (and for teachers to use if they want). I like that this gives them an authentic audience and a very relevant topic to work with while hitting several ELA standards. They will choose their own way of presenting their information. These might include:

Write and illustrate an eBook

Produce a “Kid President” style PSA

Design a website

Perform a parody/skit with informational video.

I am hoping several of my students will want to write and publish their very own eBooks! I am so excited to offer this choice to them! I will be honest and say that I don’t know much about writing an eBook, so it’s a great opportunity for me to learn with them.

The image at the top is a snippet of a practice page. Using Storybird.com, you can sign up for a teacher account and then add students to your account. They can select their own pen name (cool!) and use all of the art found on the site (though the free version offers less choice than the Premium. I am using the free). They can also upload their own pictures or illustrations. It seems fairly user friendly. After uploading the picture, the student just types each page, adding pages as needed. The final piece is to create the cover. This can then be saved and downloaded as an eBook. 

Below is a link to the unit I wrote for this using a simple Google doc.

Digital Citizenship PBL

Here is the rubric I created for them to use as they work:

Digital Citizenship PBL Rubric

I will stop back by and share their products with you when they are finished. This will be a great learning experience (for them and me) and I can’t wait to get started! We hope teachers find these useful and share them with their students next year. Feel free to use anything you find useful!



A Reading Safari


Are you looking for something new and fun for your students to do during reading, while also hitting multiple standards? I am!

In looking at the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), there are several reading standards that I want to specifically target in the coming weeks. I also want to make sure I have some solid time scheduled with my small groups. Today I thought I would share an activity I recently created. I think it allows for student choice, reinforcement of skills, and active engagement for my students while I work with small groups and individual kiddos. I used the TEKS to design each activity, focusing on the ones that I really want to hit in the next few weeks. You could easily adapt this to fit whatever your state standards are!

I have often wanted to start using this particular set of magazines I have, which until now have been residing on the back table in my room-not touched by the kids. These are a little like booklets, with laminated and sturdy front and back covers, and are by a company called Mondo. I actually received these last year but, quite honestly, I just have not taken the time to dig into them and figure out how to best use them. But they are way cool!

These magazines are in sets of seven, with each set centered around a different topic. Multiple types of text are found inside each one, so even though there is a variety of genre, it is all related to the same central topic. Each magazine contains a fiction story, non fiction article, poem, play, persuasive letter, and vocabulary builder. And yes, these have just been on my counter not being used! FAIL!

I dusted these off and laid them out in my room. Here are the ones I chose for my students to select from for our first Reading Safari:

  • Hot Air Ballooning
  • Mountain Sports
  • International Explorers
  • Smart Animal Adapters
  • Life in Bali
  • Extreme Weather

They will be using this safari board I created with their chosen magazine. If you click on that link, you will find not only the activities I designed, but I’ve also included the safari music  I will be playing. This is also a great excuse to wear a safari hat to school 🙂

Here is a peek inside the “Bali” magazine (my personal favorite):

bali collage
These are really well designed with interesting stories, unusual facts, and compelling images. Another great  feature….they each come with a set of chapter books that I could use for my guided reading groups. Here is a picture of the books that come with the Bali magazine:


I can use these for book clubs as well as in guided reading groups. How cool!

Everyone will complete the same safari menu using their chosen magazine. Since all magazines are structured the same, I tried to design a safari board that would function with any chosen text.  I am not going to grade these safari’s; instead my assessment will be in the form of feedback and probing questions to get them to thinking more deeply. I am hoping that this safari will lead to my students’ becoming fully immersed in our latest addition to the classroom library!

This weekend, my students will be thinking about how they want to showcase their work. I have a group who thinks they might want to make a wiki and upload onto that. I have another group talking about creating little books using construction paper and notebook paper, and a few who might want to compile all the work into a live binder. A few are still thinking about the possibilities for how to organize this information and share it. So, it seems like an added bonus to this Reading Safari is that my 4th graders are going to be curating!

Today my students were able to look through each magazine and make their selection. They were very excited about these, as I anticipated!  I think they will be really engaged in reading, writing, and creating quality work while I am working with small groups and one-on-one during reading workshop. Looking forward to using this new resource!

What about you? Do you have any hidden treasures sitting on the back counter in your room? You might want to go on a safari yourself, to see what you can find!safari


Self-Contained Classrooms: Day Designers


I am a self-contained teacher. Although I don’t really like the term self-contained. It sounds too much like working all alone, shut off from the rest of the world.  I actually prefer the term “Day Designer”.  I design days, through each content area. Much cooler. Teachers who teach one subject often tell me they would never want to be self-contained, for a variety of reasons. Some of them are:

I have 6 subjects and 3 STAAR tests. Three out of five days, I am either at grade-level PLC, Math planning with the math team, or LA planning with the LA team.  Teaching all subjects requires one to be a sort of Jack (or Jill) of all trades; having a firm grasp on each content area and the state assessments that align with them. So why do I prefer this? It’s simple. I don’t teach content, I teach kids. For me, this is the best way to do that.

I know several teachers who are currently considering a move to self-contained classrooms, or their administrators are.  So I wanted to share my experiences and some of the good stuff you can find in this type of arrangement:


I get to know my students much better when I have them all day. We develop a close bond, and I am keenly aware of their strengths and weaknesses. And I don’t just mean academically. I know personal strengths. Learning strengths. Learning struggles. I get to know them in their entirety rather than just “as a math student” or “as a reader”. I know them as learners. We just happen to learn all subjects. Because of this, I am able to design extensions and interventions that provide just the right support each of my student’s need. Because I am so aware of their needs, I am better able to target, manage, and follow them. Learning is much more personal.  The students develop a very close knit community, and truly form a classroom family.  They freely question, commend, and challenge each other-without prodding or prompting from me-and a sense of safety and inclusion is felt not only by us, but visitors to our classroom as well. I have supported the development of this type of climate in departmentalized and team-teaching systems as well, but I would have to say it seems to be just a little bit different-more pronounced- in the SC class.


I am able to adjust my schedule in such a way that learning isn’t bound to a clock. At any given time, you might see a group of students engaged in a writing conference, another group collaborating on a challenging math problem, a small group with me engaged in a reading mini-lesson, a few students blogging about their science lesson yesterday, a book club in the back of the room…We learn throughout the day in a way that makes the content meaningful, relevant, and connected. Just because it is a certain time doesn’t mean we are all engaged in the same content. Such a time fixation is a system for departmentalization and I’m not sure it’s relevant for the self-contained classroom.

This is usually the point where departmentalized teachers become very nervous. In fact, it does require me to do more follow up and individual check-ins. It also requires a good set of rituals, routines, and procedures in place to make sure student’s are staying engaged and on task. There are times when they are not, and then we have to address it. But most of the time, we are.


Some say that there is no way they would want to plan for all the different subjects. Even with good, strong team planning, one still must tinker with and tailor the plan to capture the “how” for their own classroom and students. But really, it is much easier for me than you think! I am able to fully integrate content. We engage in writing and reading during math and science. We engage in PBL units or projects that encompass multiple subject areas and actually spend less time on some things than otherwise. Integrated content helps to reinforce concepts and helps children retain material. Cross-curricular units are much easier to design and facilitate because I know exactly what we are doing in each content area.  More importantly, I know where each student is in each content area. I can use this to front load or spiral back. I am able to bring to departmental meetings an awareness of current units of study in the other content areas and ideas for time-savers and cross-curricular connections.

Time and Tool Management Skills

We are now fully 1:1 in my classroom; each student has their own device and it resides on their desk or in their own charging area. They have customized their desktop, built their bookmarks, and are completely free to use their device to facilitate their learning throughout the day. I specifically did not establish any control over this, other than our digital citizenship lessons that we have. I wanted them to make mistakes so that we could learn from them how to best manage our time and tools. And yes, they did!

Now, my students will power up when they need to look up additional information or decide to present their essay using a form of technology…This is not controlled by me, and I think it has really empowered them to become independent learners. Many times I have students finish their writing assignment early, only to go get on their device to continue working on a lesson for math. That’s difficult in departmentalized situations. We have established norms, and we revisit and revise those as we go along and learning opportunities present themselves, but as a general rule, they are encouraged to be self-driven. An important goal for me is that my students come to recognize when- and how- to take advantages of both time and available tools to support their learning. They won’t develop those skills if I am the one dictating what, when, where and how to use them. And so the self-contained setting affords us the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and learn how we as individuals can best manage our tools and time.

Classroom Ownership

The desks are “theirs”, the lockers, the anchor charts, the reading nooks, the tables…all theirs. My students feel an ownership over the physical space, which I think helps build an ownership over their own learning and how they go about it. Radically different from just “visiting” my room for an hour and a half. I think this subtle shift in thinking is important. The physical space is often an area we overlook, but I think it really helps build ownership when they are not sharing it with another class. At least, that seems to have been my experience when it comes to elementary students.

Some other bonuses: We don’t lose time packing up and switching classes; I am able to arrange for extra learning opportunities designed to enhance their critical thinking, motivation, and “connectedness” to the global community. For example, this year my students have participated in an Hour of Code, Genius Hour, and even a Google Hangout with some computer designers. We’ve read about the start up of Khan Academy and generated a list of traits that were instrumental in seeing this creation flourish, including visionary thinking, problem solving, patience, and service to others. We make connections with and highlight these traits often in our classroom. Now, we are reading biographies and generating our own list of “Habits of Successful People”, employing these throughout our day, in whatever content area we are working in. Because I have the opportunity to design learning experiences within each subject area, I can make sure to highlight, reinforce and include opportunity for the development of these habits.  If I were not the math teacher, would I have even had reason to explore an online learning startup company with them? Not likely. Would they have recognized the same “innovative” mindset in both “Mr. Khan” and “Pa”, the father in a historical fiction book we are currently reading? Making it a point to spend time on such things in one area just seems to make things so much more meaningful and real to them in other areas. I have found the self-contained setting to be a great opportunity to do this.

I have tried to find research into the effectiveness of self-contained vs. departmentalized settings in the elementary classroom, in which areas, and to what extent. I found exactly none.   At least none since 1965.  I immediately think of the following quote by Toni Morrison, “If there is something you want to read, and it isn’t yet written, you must write it yourself”. And so, that’s a current “hmmm” I have.

There are positives around being departmentalized, teaming, and being self-contained, and each has merit. I have been a teacher in all three types of classrooms, and I would say that without a doubt, this design has been the most rewarding.  I think my fourth graders would agree!

What about you? Are you departmentalized or self-contained? Which type of structure do you prefer, and why?


Creating Moments of Joy


There is a need within each of us that is often overlooked in the day to day hustle and bustle of our lives. Overlooking this need can have such a major impact on us all. Indeed, when we don’t tend to this need, we often feel the energy drain from our schools, our spirits, and our progress. One of the most important things we can do for each other, and ourselves, is to find ways to develop a state of peace, of happiness.

  To create moments of joy.

Here are a few ways we try to do that in my school:

We notice kindness.

Our students do this by leaving these sticky notes on a bulletin board in our main hall. They let everyone know about an act of kindness they witnessed. Raising awareness fuels others to want to participate, notice, and be recognized! We purposely highlight kindness on a special, physical display reserved only for that…right in the center of the building.blog1 The staff notices kindness by emailing Thankful Thursdays (a little like a “Friday Follow”– but just for us)! We give a shout out to those whom we appreciate and want to thank for a specific act. Purposeful and Simple. Another way is to give each other a special note, hole-punched-to place on our “Blessing Rings”. We each have one, and we let each other know when they have been a blessing to us! photo

We celebrate each other’s successes.

We do this by having our weekly assemblies, where we recognize our students for many different accomplishment, including extracurricular, or having GRIT, or exceeding a standard:

blog10 blog11 blog8

We sing, we dance, we shake pompoms. We have a song we play sometimes called “Everybody’s So Happy”. You can’t help but smile during this brief but beneficial time when we all gather together to be joyful.

We celebrate each other.

We celebrate our kids: blog7

And we celebrate our parents:


By taking the time to acknowledge and celebrate the time and efforts of all our stakeholders, we create moments of joy which, over time, create a culture of joyful giving. It helps make those “extra duties” seem more like “extra opportunities to give”. Extra opportunities to spread a little joy to so many other lives.

We make special time for each other.

It might be our counselor, who every month invites a different class in the building to have daily lunch with her (5-6 kids per day). Through this activity, she is building relationships and creating opportunity for future dialogue should a student need to talk through something. Paving the way for students to seek out help when needed and creating moments of joy while doing it!



It might be “us”, having another of our monthly lunches, this time Italian!


This gift of special time we give each other monthly. A lot of love and care goes into feeding others; this type of welcoming and joyful activity just makes us feel good. The day is full of high spirits and we like to share the recipes we’ve used to create a certain dish. We are building community and taking time to create something good for one another. Food is  a universal “welcome” sign.

We all pitch in.

Many times, I have left something in the copy room to be cut, or copied, or laminated, and return later to find someone has already done it for me. No name or “claim to fame”, just a job complete. It’s wonderful when that happens! I have returned the favor and it just makes me feel good to do something for someone who is likely running short on time. Teamwork builds many moments of joy.

We share what our students are doing with other faculty.

Many times, teachers will send students up to the office to share their great work with whoever is there! They return to the classroom smiling from ear to ear because someone took the time to give them a pat on the back and a kind word. By modeling this, our students learn the value of acknowledging the gifts in others and they begin to compliment each other on work they are doing in class. Compliments are contagious.

Finally, we make sure that we never forget the joy that comes from just being goofy.

goofy2 goofy

Creating moments of joy, even small  ones, is a way to build a larger feeling of happiness throughout the organization, which fuels our day to day activities. It is a place where students, staff, and parents want to be. And when you want to be somewhere, you approach each task with a vibrant energy and peaceful, happy spirit.

How do you spread moments of joy in your school? I’d love to share ideas as we continue to seek ways to engage all our stakeholders in the joy of learning and living. Thanks to my principal, students, parents and school team for filling the days with moments of joy. .